Friday, November 30, 2007

Rice at the edge of your awareness

Have you visited www.freerice.com yet?

It is a vocabulary game (you are given a word and four possible meanings and asked to choose the right one) and a charity (for every correct answer, sponsors donate 20 grains of rice (recently increased from 10) to a United Nations agency. It is addictive.

The game is addictive because it is very good at calibrating your vocabulary and providing you with words that are just outside your comfort zone. Reports are that this is true for a wide variety of vocabulary levels.

My own background means I play the game at high levels (Shakespeare, Anglo Saxon and French all help). What intrigues me is how often I can "guess" the right answer for a word I don't know and have no memory of having ever seen before. It is possibly good practice for my vocabulary. It is definitely good practice for my experience of accessing information at the edge of my awareness.

Think about how often you "almost" know the solution to a problem. How useful would it be to be able to jump from "almost knowing" to having confidence in your "guess"?

Visit www.freerice.com. You can provide food to a hungry world while you learn to sharpen your sense of how to move from using what you know you know to using more of what know.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The season of November

Do you ever feel that seasons were carved out of the flow of time by people living entirely different lives than yours? They were, of course, unless you are currently engaged in archaic forms of agriculture and living in the Mediterranean. Either we have too many seasons or too few.

Canadians on the whole are less interested in the cycles of agriculture than the cycles of sunshine: we have light months, dark months and bright months. The light months last from May to October. The dark months are November, December, March and usually April. The bright months are not months at all: they are just the few days between November and April when the sun shines down on bright, white snow. They are the days when we like winter.

So, as you will have noticed, in Canada we really have two seasons: light and dark. On light days, we feel better. We smile more. We believe the world to be a mostly friendly place. On dark days, gloom creeps into every corner of our thoughts. We are skeptical. We are cranky. We are stressed.

Fortunately, even in the dark, light days break in and break up the gloom. The sun shines and we shine back. Warm sun makes us sleepy: the sun in the cold wakes us all the way up.

The sun is shining this morning. Wake all the way up.

Friday, November 23, 2007

It is Thanksgiving in the States

It is not Thanksgiving in Canada. We cleverly schedule it while the weather still encourages a state of gratitude - while the harvest is all around us and the sun might be shining. Today the sun was shining on the ice.

I could live without reminders to shop for Christmas (I might even get the requisite shopping done without the reminders). I could not live well without reminders to be thankful. Without the glorious sense of connection and blessing that comes when I am thankful, my life would be much less.

Someone was upset with me this week because he believed a study had proven that prayer doesn't work. The study had proven that prayer doesn't work the way the experimenters thought it might. That did not upset my belief. Prayer works for me. It works in me when I connect my sense of who I am with a sense of what the world might be. It works for me when it carries a group past difference to a point of rich and effective connection. The best prayers are often thankful - especially when they are prayers for healing or prayers for help. All prayers are hopeful.

Thanksgiving seems to me an inherently prayerful idea: a supportive connection between self and world. Today, that connection may be celebrated by shopping - a supportive exchange in celebration of abundance. Other days, other people, will celebrate it differently.

I could live without the shopping. I need to give thanks.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Just one idea

Think about your work. If you had only a few words to describe what you do, what would you say? Your company might have a mission statement; you might have a job description or an elevator pitch. You know what you do.

Now think again. If you had only a few words to describe what you want from the work you will do today, what would you say?

What shifts when you think about working today in terms of what you want instead of thinking in terms of some higher level purpose?

Today, I want the people with whom I connect - readers, students, colleagues - to enjoy feeling more wide awake.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Just listen

What if you were to listen to your next meeting at work with the same quality of attention you give your favourite music?

Imagine yourself at a concert. Even before the music begins, you are absorbing the rhythms of the crowd, getting in sync in dozens of ways. As the music begins, your eyes move across the stage, across the crowd. Your body moves, subtly or more obviously. Your breathing changes. Your mind goes where the music leads you. You hear the words as part of the music, one seamless invitation to become part of the flow.

Now imagine yourself at a meeting. Imagine being conscious of the rhythms in the room as people come in and sit down. Imagine noticing that you can pick up the beat that will dominate, or you can select a less dominant beat and join it. Notice the way people look, and then draw back and notice yourself mirroring their gestures, their postures, their expressions. Notice as one person speaks that your attention can move effortlessly between the speaker and the listeners, picking up in your own body the points of connection and the points of difference. Notice that your attention moves with the connection, following the words most closely when the connection is closest.

Try it. You can practice on your own or, if you will be in Toronto on Tuesday evening (Nov. 20) you can practice it at NLP Canada Training. We'd love to meet you. Just leave a message at 416-816-9324 so that we have materials and a CD ready for you.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Scientists discover the power of rapport

Recently, I have been reading Emotional Intelligence (first published 1995) and Social Intelligence (published 2006) by Daniel Goleman. What I find remarkable is how little they add to what we actually teach in our NLP courses. Take, for instance, this quote from Social Intelligence:

The more two people unconsciously synchronize their movements and mannerisms during their interaction, the more positively they will feel about their encounter - and about each other.

Goleman goes on to say that this doesn't hold true if one person intentionally mimics another. I wonder how long he thinks one can be artificial in matching or mirroring outside the confines of an experiment. I often put rooms of strangers together and watch them go into deep rapport within an evening. They begin with intentional mirroring and within only a few minutes, they are deeply engaged in the natural process that Goleman describes.

A better explanation for the experimental results, given Goleman's celebration of how precisely human beings pick up one another's emotional states, is that people do not react to mirroring (physical rapport) when it does not match other emotional cues. In an experiment, people are accurately reading the state of the confederate which is, quite precisely, the intention to make a physical connection without making a real connection.

In an experiment, it's possible to hold intention stable for the length of the experiment (typically a very short encounter studied intensively). In real life, intention moves and shifts and we adapt to changing intention in ourselves and others. You do not have to wait for new brain technology to tell you the truth about your own experience: you can simply pay attention to what is really happening in your own experience. Notice when you really want to connect with someone. Notice when you want to shift your attention away from that person. Notice that your intention changes the quality of the interchange.

If we think of natural human processes as new territory, recently 'discovered' or 'proven' by scientists and technology, we are at the mercy of what we do naturally. Understanding of how the brain works with other brains will be too rudimentary to lead to 'proven' methods for teaching or improving the way these processes happen in particular situations. It does not allow us to tell someone how to be natural and effective.

There is a better way. We can pay attention to what really works and then replicate it, knowing that what we did once by accident we are likely to be able to do a second time by choice. If there is someone with whom you need to build rapport, don't wait until you are in the right mood. Intend to form a positive connection, then start paying attention to that person with all your resources - the mind that thinks through language and the mind that thinks through your body. Allow yourself to mirror consciously until you have enough information in your own body to allow you to mirror unconscious and naturally.

It's Friday. The weekend is coming. It's a great time for deeper connections. Enjoy them.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Can't believe it's already Thursday?

The pace of life can be crazy, and the distance between Monday morning and Friday evening seems to get shorter all the time. It could be part of the aging process- I know that time speeds up as we slow down - but my kids tell me the same thing. We are all rushing from one project or appointment to the next; we are all caught up in a current that makes it harder to stop than to keep moving.

Within the current, it requires enormous strength and effort to change direction or to slow down. The point of rest is the point at which we are able to relax and go with the flow, to exert just enough force to keep our heads above water. The way to go with the flow is typically to take relaxed, regular breaths and to relax all the muscles that are not acting to keep our heads up.

The easiest way to change direction, or to rest in one place, is to step out of the current. Since the current that is pushing us forward is the product of our expectations interacting with the world's expectations, we can step out of it by clearing our minds of all expectations. We can take a few moments to simply be.

Take a deep breath. As you let it out slowly, let all your thoughts out with it. Let your mind be still. It will start again in a moment and discover you have given it fresh resources and fresh perspective. Try it one more time. A breath in. Gather your thoughts. A breath out. Let go of your thoughts.

Repeat as necessary.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Stop right there

That's what my back told me Friday. Apparently teaching really was back-breaking work last week. I woke up unable to straighten up. It was definitely time to stop moving forward and think.

There was a time when I believed thinking involved words and clarity and perhaps writing or charts. There was a time when I would have assumed that what I was reading about was what I was thinking. There was a time when I thought that resting and thinking were different activities.

It aint necessarily so.

Sometimes I still think in words - lots of them. And sometimes what I am reading makes me sit up straight and take note.

On Friday, and through this weekend, thinking meant allowing my body to be still and the voice in my head to chatter. I knew the real work was going on underground - I could feel the current of thought and preparation moving just below the noise I was hearing. When it needed more space, I went to sleep.

Sometimes there is top much to do to be busy. Sometimes the fastest way forward is to stop for a moment.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Laughter and Learning

Good moods, while they last, enhance the ability to think flexibly and with more complexity, thus making it easier to find solutions to problems, whether intellectual or personal. This suggests that one way to help someone think through a problem is to tell them a joke. Laughing, like elation, seems to help people think more broadly and associate more freely, noticing relationships that might have eluded them otherwise--a mental skill important not just in creativity, but in recognizing complex relationships and foreseeing the consequences of a given decision.

Daniel Goleman, Emotional Intelligence

Too often, it seems to me, serious thinkers mistake being serious for thinking seriously. Reading about emotions is almost always discouraging. Psychologists usually maintain a therapeutic predisposition to see the world as a series of disturbances and dysfunctions. In general, they seem sure that human beings are predisposed to a wide variety of miseries relieved by occasional moments of (largely unpredictable and unreliable) happiness.

Despite the quotation above, much of Emotional Intelligence is written in the standard vein. It does not inspire laughter in order that we learn better. It explores the many, many ways that emotions derail intelligence. Emotional intelligence seems to be largely a way of regulating emotion so that thinking can take place. This is already a dated understanding of neurology, although it is still a very current understanding of how we relate to one another and the world.

What if laughter really is a way of enhancing performance? What if high spirits are really a path to high achievement? What if the thing that will put you in a terrific mood this weekend is precisely the best way for you to move toward the things you want in your life?

Laugh. Hope. Enjoy the people around you.

Happy weekend.

Friday, November 02, 2007

How big is your blindspot?

The interesting thing about blindspots is that they are so well camouflaged that we are very seldom aware of them. It's especially hard to notice their edges.

You might be aware that you do not have eyes in the back of your head, and so you have quite a large blind spot whenever you are in the middle of something. You might even be aware that your peripheral vision is a bit blurry and your foveal (focused) vision is a bit slow - so that you catch movement best out of the corner of your eye and edges best straight on. So you know that what you see clearly is not even close to the whole picture. You have to make mental adjustments in order to live in a world with nicely defined edges.

What you cannot notice - except theoretically - is that you also regularly create visual information to replace information that should be there but is not. There are places (one per eye) in your field of vision that you cannot see because of the way your eye and brain process information. This is not a problem for your brain: it sees all around the blindspot and fills in the missing information with what it believes should be there. It fills in your blindspot, continuously and effortlessly, whenever your eyes are open.

You never realize that you are missing information.

Unless someone else is present. Someone else who is viewing the world from a different position. Someone else who has a different blind spot.