Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Who am I?

It's not a matter of if we will ask this question, or even a matter of when. The human "I" is elusive, even to itself. It emerges from biology and will power and history and hope. The "I" that has a brain is more than the brain and more than heart and more even than its presence in this time and this place. Uniquely, it seems, "I" is what asks the question "Who am I?"

No one can fully find an answer to the question. No one system or philosophy will provide the whole of the map we need to move towards an "I" that is elusive and possibly changing as our lives change and unfold. For long stretches of time, we manage just fine without even asking the question. It is often enough to have a sort of rough sketch of our own identities and then to act as if they were, roughly, accurate.

And then it's not. Then we are facing a situation and it finally matters that "I" knows how "I" is going to respond. Sometimes these are matters of life or death. Sometimes they are matters of personal connection (who will "I" wed, bed, boss or support)? Sometimes we simply come to a crossroads with no clear reason to choose one path over another. Then we want to know: who is the "I" who will choose?

The Enneagram does not answer this question. Some enthusiasts might tell you it does, or that it is a path that leads to an answer. Everyone always hopes they have found a way to slip out of the puzzle.

What the Enneagram will do, is give you an interesting set of principles by which to approach the puzzle and an appreciation for how the puzzle is shifting.

The Enneagram suggests that you might deduce the answer to "Who am I?" by discovering patterns in how you change. What do you move towards or away from? How are you different when you are alone or in company, relaxed or under stress? How do you convince yourself or create doubt? The answer to "Who am I?" is that I am the pattern of the ways that I change.

Think about: my stable identity is a pattern of changes.

Monday, April 27, 2009

How the Enneagram enriches your experience

This is the first in a series of entries that will give examples of what changes in your experience as you filter it through the lens of the Enneagram.

On the weekend, I was at a conference listening to a speaker who was explaining quite a complicated system in ways that sometimes made it hard to follow and sometimes simply made it more complicated. I found I had a lot of common ground with the principles of his system and much less interest in the details, particularly since the details seemed to involve some mixed or quirky metaphors. On the other hand, the change work that he demonstrated was good work, and the presenter was also communicating strongly that he was the kind of person it would be fun to get to know.

In terms of most communication theories, including NLP, this was a recipe for dissonance: two different perceptions fighting for attention. Dissonance generally leaves human beings distracted and edgy: it's not comfortable to be the rope in a tug-of-war between different thoughts.

Here's what happened instead. I found myself thinking: he's a 1 with a 2 wing. (The point in this case is not whether that was accurate because this example is about how that acknowledgement changed my response to him. ) What I was thinking, for readers unfamiliar with the Enneagram, was that I was listening to someone who had a lot of different voices (or maybe just one) insisting that he get things just right - that he build a system that was inclusive and logical and perfect. And he was also someone who found his place in the world by helping others. As a trainer of a systems-based model, he was being pulled between the desire to modify his explanations to help his audience find the particular understandings they required and the voices in his head insisting on a clean and perfect explanation of the requirements of the system.

Now step back and look at what has changed in the relationship between the presenter and the lady at the back of the room. I am no longer fighting with his material: as I explore the Enneagram, I am also shifting from understanding the content to connecting with the presenter. It's quite a different focus, and one that has immediate implication for non-verbal communication. The result was that we began to connect, that we actually had some opportunities to chat, and that I walked away from the seminar with a strongly positive reaction. As the description above will demonstrate, I didn't change my mind about the material presented. I did shift my own experience of being a captive audience.

Would it be useful in your experience to make strong positive connections without softening your evaluation of ideas or proposals? The Enneagram doesn't mean giving up what you think in order to connect: it does offer you shifts in perspective so that you can begin to notice the usefulness of building connection (empathy if that word works for you).

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

This J.J. Abrams article in Wired ends with a story that will delight me for some time. It's a tale about the hazards of needing to solve a puzzle so badly you become willing to cheat to get to the end. You might want to read it now, and then come back to finish this post.

J. J. Abrams on the Magic of Mystery:
http://www.wired.com/techbiz/people/magazine/17-05/mf_jjessay?currentPage=3

That was kind of a test. Could you leave this post half-finished so that you could understand more of what I was talking about? Or was that too many clicks?

First, let's notice that two clicks is sometimes too many clicks. We live in a particularly impatient age.

Second, let's talk about the moral of the story. Cheating doesn't work with puzzles because the answer is not the point. The figuring it out is the point and if you cheat, you miss it.

There is another moral, I think. Whatever you do, it's not an entirely lost cause if it results in a story people will remember.

And no - that wasn't entirely a pun. Ten years from now, I think that very few of us will remember the plot of Lost - but we might have moments when we remember the characters.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Rainy Days and Mondays

I remember singing Rainy Days and Mondays when auditioning for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. I was in Grade 7. I didn't get a part in the play (the singing didn't go so well) but I did stay involved. It took another generation, but both my kids sing and the younger one has starred in a very demanding musical.

It is both frustrating and hopeful that some things that seem so straightforward take an extra generation. It reminds us, on rainy days that are also Mondays, that hope is real especially when it is hidden around several corners. The thing that was really important and didn't work might have nonetheless planted seeds. It might take time.

Watching your kid perform is not the same as being the kid who is centre stage. But it's good. It's worth a wait.

What do you want today that you will still want - passionately, in your heart of hearts - 20 years from now. You will be a different person in a different world. Yet still - history suggests - you might plant a seed now and enjoy it in 20 years or more.

Today it is rainy. Today it is Monday. It is a beginning that feels like an ending (I worked all weekend, so this is the day that feels like the week coming to an end). I still don't sing very well. Perhaps it is not the right use for my voice yet.

I'm taking guitar lessons. Ten years from now, I might be pretty good.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Getting centred by getting outside yourself

It seems like a paradox. There are two ways to feel more centred, more balanced in your own experience. One is to focus on your own experience - to 'navel gaze' in one not-very-respectful metaphor. Breathing intentionally will do it - so will any effort to pay attention to all of your sensory experience. You might have heard this called 'being present.' It's not complicated: you can do it mechanically by noticing 3 things you are seeing, 3 things you are hearing, 3 things you are feeling, and cycling through. Essentially, you are filling the capacity of short-term attention with your physiological reality which blocks concerns about anything outside of you.

Now shift. Imagine yourself outside your body with your attention riveted on - you. You no longer have feelings (those are inside your body). You have ideas, but those ideas are now directed from you to the person who looks and sounds like you and who is inside your body. From this position, you can see the look on your face, the tilt of your shoulders, the way you walk. None of those is available to you when you look out through your own eyes. By getting outside yourself, you can put yourself in the centre of your field of vision.

When you are looking at you - the rest of the world disappears again. You have a centre and the centre is you.

It is strangely difficult to displace yourself. You are the centre of your world.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Happy Easter

If you celebrate Easter, enjoy this especially beautiful spring day. If you do not celebrate Easter, enjoy this especially beautiful spring day.

April is a tricky month. There are hints of softer days ahead, but the wind still has a bite and there seem to be many hours of work between us and long evenings on the patio. This year especially, much of the cold is not weather-related. We are chilled by the fear in us and the fear around us. Things are still really good for most of us, but we are increasingly conscious of the possibility of loss.

Loss happens fast. It happens fast whether it comes from accident or illness or malice. We know it. We fear it. But somehow, we never really expect it and we cannot quite believe it when it happens to us.

Joy is different. Good surprises can happen quickly but happiness grows like the spring flowers outside my window. The daffodils and tulips wait for a long time. When they finally poke their tips through the almost-frozen ground, it seems like they're ready. But they're not. They're beginning a new phase of quietly making their way into life. They won't bloom for several more weeks.

It's Easter, the season where sorrow gives way to good news. Good news, like tulip shoots, tells us that happiness is coming: it doesn't always mean happiness has blossomed.

If you're happy today, look at the blue skies and sunshine and be happy. If you're not happy, look at the blue skies and sunshine and hope.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

5 Things to Do at a Red Light

How many times a day do you get stopped by a red light? I wonder if you have thought about the best way to spend the time until the light changes. It's not a good time for a short nap. It is a good time for a little mental exercise.

The next time you're stopped at a light try one of these five tips. Begin by reminding your senses to stay alert for any change or danger. You can trust them to bring you all the way into focus when danger arises or the light changes. In the meantime, you can:

1. Take slow deep breaths until the light changes. Notice how good oxygen feels when it enters your system.
2. Say a prayer for someone else (if you don't pray, just bring them to mind with an intention of helping). Pray for people you know or people on the news that day.
3. Watch the light and the cars around you with so much attention that the voice in your head goes quiet. Discover how quickly the light changes when you focus quietly on watching it.
4. Listen. Listen to the sound of your engine or the radio or the sound of the traffic outside. Notice how many different sounds and rhythms you can hear when you listen.
5. Sing out loud - with the radio or without it. Music stimulates more parts of your brain than any other activity. Be curious about the sound of your voice.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

The secret to success in influence

There's only one real way to become more persuasive: you have to be willing to stay on common ground.

No one likes to be told they're wrong. No one wants to know why your idea is better. No one especially wants to make you feel better. Everyone is willing to listen to someone they believe to be smart and reliable.

How do you get to be perceived as smart and reliable? You have to move on common ground.

If you want to become more persuasive, be better at the discipline of moving from one stepping stone (of common ground) to another stepping stone (of common ground). The longer you move on common ground, the more solid the ground underfoot becomes.