Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The most significant influence

Imagine a five-year-old on a beach, a child who picks up a stick and draws complicated designs in the sand, a child who gathers leaves and shells and rocks and carefully arranges and rearranges them. As you are watching this five year old child on the beach, you think: this child is destined to be an artist. And you feel that this is so true and so right that you want to help. But you have limited resources.

You have to make a choice. You could buy this child art supplies - paint and paper and clay and pencils. Or you could buy this child art lessons. You cannot do both because you do not have the resources to do both. Which would you choose?

When someone gives us lessons, we know that we are being influenced. When an artist becomes famous, their teachers may also become famous. People write books tracing the influence in colours and shapes and brush strokes and ideas. Teachers get credit, well-earned, for the way they shape and support the talents of their students.

But theirs is not the primary influence. There is nothing to teach without the tools of the trade. Artists can become artists without teachers. They cannot be artists without the stuff out of which they make their art, whether that is pens and paper or rocks on the beach. We remember the teacher who gives ideas. We often forget that the person who gives us the right materials to do our work.

It's very hard even to thank the person who gives us the raw materials out of which we will shape ourselves and our influence. When we get stuff, it often looks like debris on a beach - fragments without meaning. We might say thank you for a box of paints. But how would we know that same box of paints would open doors for the rest of our lives? How would we know that what we were given would have significance long after it was used up or discarded? We wouldn't know at the time we said thank you how much there was to be grateful for.

This is a thank you to someone who once gave me a box of paints.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Come sit with me on the front step

Not many offices feature a front step, but mine does. In all the world, it is one of my favorite places just to sit. I have a lot of memories here.

Today, I am sitting here with a large mug of tea, writing and waiting for my students to come back from their field trip. In a little while, they will start to arrive, full of ideas or full of conversation, but this is the time before. It is not quiet. The birds are especially loud, and the traffic is racing around the park. It feels like rain.

And I am sitting by myself, and I am sitting with all the people who have shared this front step with me for the past eight years. So many faces, so many voices, unwinding and sharing in this space between. It is a space that reminds us that the people moving by in a rush are part of our stillness, that nothing is owned or lost, that the city is full of energy and possibility.

If you are reading this, and you have shared this step with me, sit down for a moment and remember the park and the people and the traffic and the feeling of being at home and apart. And even if you have never sat on this front step, wondering and sharing and opening to the city, stop and notice. Now you have been here too, and your eyes and ears have opened wide and your voice has stopped and your heart has flowed with the stream of city life.

Thanks for sharing the step with me.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Looking for the child in the grown up

I am in love with children, with almost all children. Every child contains so much resilience, so much wonder, so much determination. Whether I am holding a baby who is working himself up into a really good crying jag or watching a four year old with finger paint, I am watching a model of self-affirmation in the face of a very big world. There is no time when it is not useful to remember that we all start from the presupposition that we can take action to make life more satisfying. Sometimes, we can even make the world take note.

Often, I catch a glimpse of a child in the face or body of a grown up. I am looking at a colleague or client, and suddenly I am in the presence of a six year old exploring or a ten year old piecing something together. In that moment, I lose awareness that the adult is flawed or angry or hypocritical. I cannot, in one vision, hold both the brokenness of the adult and the wonder of the child. I get to choose the wonder, if only for a moment.

You might want to protest that there is nothing romantic or lovely about a childish adult, and I would agree with you. I am not talking about the moments when grown ups act as though they are entitled to the same care and hope as children. I am talking about the moments when there is no separation between the adult self and the child that adult was and is and holds. These are the moments when everything is possible and the world is a friendly place.

Children do not always live in a friendly place and they can become broken and fearful far too soon. But even children who are scared and hurt can sometimes find themselves in an intense and joyful focus on that one thing that engages them. They can sometimes find themselves in a moment of knowing that they do know what they want and it is good.

Two boys in my life turn thirteen this week. They walk that edge between childhood and whoever they will grow up to be. I hope that as they do, the adults around them stop periodically and see the child that is usefully, joyfully part of them. I hope that one day, many years from now, they will be talking about a big decision or a new project and someone will look and see the traces of the boys who exist this week. I do not hope that for their sakes: I hope it for the sake of the people who will see and smile and become a little more resilient.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The power of noticing

The thing that drew me into NLP first was that I met someone who knew how to get me on the radar. For no particular reason, I got a response to an email that I had sent to dozens of people, and that response was the beginning of the path I have been walking for the past nine years.

Since then, I have met many people, read many books, and explored many possible ways to get, shape and hold the attention of other people. The most powerful lesson for me remains that first lesson: there is immense influence in simply giving someone your attention and then sending a message of acknowledgement. We all long to know that we are knowable, to be recognized for who we are. Paying attention is a way of giving people what they want most: an acknowledgement that they are.

It's funny, isn't it? That last sentence sounds incomplete, as though it is missing an adjective at the end. But I mean what it says, that we crave acknowledgment of our being, separate from a recognition of the qualities of that being. It's not that we are tall or clever or that we have sparkling blue eyes. We can get at that information by ourselves. It's the recognition that we have a unique existence that we get when we see someone who sees us.

From time to time, I meet someone who is exceptionally good at acknowledging that I am. And that's a gift that is forever: even if circumstances change, that moment of recognition has happened and can be held, always, in memory. It is like the fragments that Eliot said we shore against our ruins, a piece of an experience that may outlast a job, a relationship, an accomplishment. Any of those things can disappear, but once we have seen ourselves to be real and present in someone else's eyes, we hold a resource.

And it's so easy to give this forever gift. Calm your thoughts, and really just be present with someone. You don't even have to say anything. Just let your mind be full of them for a moment or two, and you will have done a powerfully good thing.

Monday, May 23, 2011

When was the last time someone let you copy from them?

It was often part of being one of the smart kids in a particular subject. Other kids would ask to copy your work - or might copy it without asking. Either way, it was generally seen as a form of cheating.

Maybe we should rethink the way we teach our kids to learn. The most effective way of learning in the workplace is to do exactly what you were taught was cheating - to copy someone who has more skill or gets better results than you do.

If you are blessed with a wonderful teacher, you enjoy learning and you get results. But most of the people who excel in the workplace are not wonderful teachers: they are busy professionals making the most of each of their days to get their own results. We can try to turn them into teachers, or we can learn to watch and listen and copy better than ever before. That way, the better their results, the more likely we are to be able to replicate them.

I learned NLP from a wonderful teacher who seldom taught at all: he just let me pay close enough attention to understand how he was getting results. He not only let me copy him: he encouraged it. As a result, I picked up both the skill and the ability to describe it to others as I described it to myself while I was learning.

If you're really good at something, consider noticing that person who is watching from afar and invite them to get a little closer. You don't have to be a teacher and you don't have to hold hands. Just let them copy you for awhile.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

My favourite teacher

I read my horoscope this morning, and it asked a question about the quality that made a teacher my favourite. The suggestion was that I take that quality into my interaction with a group of people.

Paradoxically, perhaps, this is one of the few weekends this spring when I am relaxing with my family and not teaching. But I have been thinking about this question, and focusing on one of the teachers who got the best out of me.

Here's what I believe, and it's not really a good fit for our test-monitored, credential-rich model of education. The quality shared by all of my best teachers is the ability to be curious about how I will encounter a subject or solve a problem. Whatever the subject matter expertise or technical skills of my teachers, the difference that made a difference was a curiosity about how I would learn.

I think we often miss this piece. It's easy to mistake it for a curiosity about the subject or a general "passion" for learning. These are both good things, but they are not the same thing. This piece is the ability to sit with me and pay attention to the way my mind is working as if it were likely to be interesting and useful and pleasing.

As a teacher, I know how easy and hard it is to not only enjoy someone's learning, but to remember to be curious about it, to hold the expectation that every learner offers me something new, that every student is a learner. That's why I am so grateful to the teachers who have given me this gift that nudged me deeper into learning and wider into the world.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Energizing a room

While presenting at ProjectWorld yesterday, I was reminded again that energy in a room does not require extraordinary presentation skills or deep, wide information. Whenever people have a chance to make positive connections, to other people and to hope for the work they do, energy thrives.

Think about that the next time you are looking at a room of people on another rainy day during typically difficult circumstances. Most of the time we are not in crisis: we are just tired and grumpy and frazzled. Most of the time, we have spent too much time away from the sun and too little time feeling engaged. We mean well, and we lack energy.

The best way (I believe) to start is with a story. Stories are a beautifully inconspicuous way of waking up the senses and making connection feel like a good thing. A roomful of people listening to a story unwind some of the tension in their minds and find themselves strangely relaxed and focused.

Follow this up with a chance for people to share their own stories within clear limits and I guarantee the energy in the room will rise. The sharing of stories is always good, but the limits help because they allow everyone to anticipate that the sharing will be fair and that the demands on their attention will be manageable. Limits create focus and sharing stories creates engagement.

Presenters don't have to be amazing to do great work: they just need to nudge their audience towards feeling amazing.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Farewell and good bye

It's never easy to say goodbye. We find all kinds of way to avoid the word - to get off the phone or away from the meeting with any phrase that doesn't bring us smack into the reality of separation from someone whose welfare matters to us.

Goodbye comes from "God be with you" or - if you are not a believer - 'good be with you.' Farewell or fare thee well - means "I hope things go well for you." Think about that. Both words mean I care how you will do and be and I cannot go there with you. It's no wonder we are careful about saying it.

And yet, these are also words we use without much thought. Maybe that's because thinking about them is scary and it hurts. People come and go in our lives, often unpredictably. As much as we live in the present, there comes a time when we are on the edge, when someone is about to go. So we tell them "Go and be well."

My partner Chris is leaving the business he founded. He has given me new ways to think, new ways to teach, and new experiences. He has been my co-dreamer, my supporter, and my friend. We have kept each other going through good times and not-so-good times. And now we are at the edge.

Good bye, Chris. God go with you. Fare very well.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Why do I write sad things in an NLP blog?

Sometimes I am asked this question directly, sometimes it is just implied by the context. If you check the twitter feed, you will find dozens of NLP "experts" writing cheery motivational sayings. They imply that you can out-think your life: that you can set goals and focus on them and build rapport and be happy all day, everyday.

I write what I write because I believe NLP and enriched communication help us build better lives. And I think we have to live those lives - not out-think them.

This spring, something I love and trusted and believed is disappearing. It's possible it is making way for something better. I have strong moments when I believe that. Not all of my moments are strong.

I am writing this for people like me, people with strong, bright goals and good heads and hearts who are struggling with something they didn't expect. Some of them have been blindsided by relationships, some by illness, some by changes in their work. Some of them are my clients and friends, and some are readers searching the web for company in a tough time. I want all of them to know that they do have company.

There are billions of people on the planet, and I suppose it's possible that some of them lead sunny, blessed lives where they only focus on good stuff and everything else just slides away. I have met people who are having hours or days or even years like that. I have never met anyone having a whole life like that.

As I write this, I am sad and tired and my heart is sore. Later today, I will lead a program and laugh and feel strong with the energy of the participants. I will stretch to get there, and I will get there with the help of some really terrific people in my life. I teach people to communicate and connect because everyone I teach is capable of giving something good to someone having a bad day. And everyone I teach is going to have some bumpy days that will be made better by the practices of reaching out and leaning on the connections they have with terrific people.

So if you are one of the people watching from near or far and giving me a lift in a difficult time, I am grateful. As my yoga teachers say, 'the light in me honours the light in you.' And if you are someone searching for reasons or a way forwardm I don't have either one for you. I do have this for you: 'the light in me honours the light in you.'

If there were no darkness, our lights would not shine so bright.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

The waves in Varadero

I have just returned from five days on the beach at Varadero. I have never been in the ocean that far south, so this was my first experience with relatively warm ocean water (our Cuban tour guide told us that it is still much too cold for Cubans to be in the water). I am also used to the cooler colours of the ocean farther north.


The waves in Varadero are the most brilliant turquoise. Well, they are a lovely turquoise, but through the lenses in my sunglasses, the colour becomes really spectacular. There are bands of a bright dark blue that cross the bands of lighter and deeper green, and all are flecked with white tops here and there. It is lovely and inviting. The waves while we were there were gentle: they moved in and out with just enough force to move us and with less force than the winds on the beach.

Rob and I arrived in Varadero late on Saturday night. Sunday, we went to a meeting with the tour rep, so we were later getting down to the beach than we would have liked. Our preference is usually to get to the beach quickly. We love walking at the edge of the water and, when it is warm enough, to go right into the water. Two years ago, we were in the waters of Myrtle Beach when I was surprised by an unusually playful wave. When I surfaced, I had lost my prescription sunglasses.

This trip, Rob stopped at a stand at the airport to buy strings so that we could be confident of holding on to our sunglasses. We were wearing our glasses safely on those strings as we took our first walk on the beach at Varadero. I was so enthusiastic about the rich, wonderful colours of the water, that Rob wanted to see too. So I handed him my sunglasses and he let his fall on their string while he took a look at the vision I had been describing.

When he handed back my glasses and reached for his own, he discovered that he was missing a lens. The tiny screw was still in place, but the frame was open and the lens was gone. We began to search the sand at the waters edge. It's a tricky thing to look for anything at the edge of the water, while the waves sweep in and out without any interest at all in our search.

Any sensible person knew right away that the lens was gone. We hadn't noticed it fall, and had no idea how many times the sand had shifted over it, how many waves had pulled it in different directions. We looked for several minutes, with our eyes and our hands and our toes. It was gone. We were ready to give up.

Not quite. One more chance. I watched the movement of the waves and moved fifteen feet farther along the beach. My eyes were pulled to the light on a piece of glass. I reached down - it skidded away. My eyes held the lens before my fingers did.

It would have been sensible to give the lens up for lost. We almost did. But two more minutes and fifteen feet gave us both the lens and a story.