Sunday, October 27, 2013

I'm Finished

Eeek!  Those words are scary. I am finished.

Without context, it is impossible for you to know if being finished means having accomplished something that took time or being washed up, kaput, toast.

I quite like toast. But being toast is not a good thing.

I have just finished the big edits on my new book. Tomorrow I will do some technical stuff, then post it to the publishing site and let it go.  I'll still need to support it, nurture it and worry over it, but I will no longer be able to change it.

Finished is a terrifying word. We are so used to everything being open to change, everything being in flux. The moment when we complete something is the moment we come face to face with a limit that cannot be crossed.

Of course, the book is only finished being written. Soon it can start having a life of its own, moving around the world and interacting with people in ways I might not even imagine.

And if I don't want to be finished, I just need to turn my attention to one of the projects, large and small, that I still have on the go.  I don't have to stay scared for long.

But it is Halloween week and I kind of like the fear of being finished. It makes me feel that what I was doing is so much a part of me that being finished hurts a little.  That's not a bad thing in a thought or a book.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

What if satisfaction isn't a possibility?

Self- help gurus like to talk as though we can evade the downside of life through the right kinds of visualizations and affirmations. Just set a goal and make it so. When times get tough, they cover it up so that no one will think that they were giving bad advice.

Life happens to everyone. There are days when a good result is just not possible and there are nights when you are not going to drift off into pleasant dreams. This doesn't mean you screwed up and it doesn't mean you will never be satisfied again. It just means that there are things outside of your control, and sometimes you are going to have to deal with death by a thousand paper cuts and sometimes you are going to be really scared or angry or hurt.

When life is happening to you, you will tell yourself stories and you will tell stories to the people around you. If you are wise and good, you will tell stories about value and meaning and hope. These will not be stories about the future. You do not control the future and when life is happening to you, you know that you do not control the future. It's out of your hands.  Your stories will be about what you can hold. What you can hold are the elements of today that matter to you, both the ones that are actually present and the ones that are present in memory.

There will be days when the stories life presents to you are unfair and hurtful. And you will wake up on those days and decide. Will you give yourself up to bad stories or will you begin to construct a better story out of those same raw materials? A better story tells you that you know who you are and what you value. A better story tells you that hope is not something that lives in the future: it is the belief you hold now that you are going to keep moving toward the things you value and keep fighting against anything that gets in your way. 

That's it. That's all we have: a relentless dedication to knowing what matters to us. Knowing it fully, richly, with all our senses, with all our thoughts, with all ourselves. So that on the days when satisfaction is not going to be possible, there's still a sort of defiant joy in telling yourself that you do know and you do value. And that makes just enough difference.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Why giving thanks is an NLP thing

Here in Toronto, it's Thanksgiving weekend.  It seems to me that thanksgiving is the most NLP of all the holidays. It involves knowing what you want and recognizing it in what you already have. When we pay attention to something, it tends to become bigger. Whether this is because we attract more of it, or because we simply notice it more, is not as important as the impact on how we experience our lives. When we recognize the value in what we already have, we feel better about ourselves and our world. Practically speaking, the fastest way to make your life better is to pay attention to what is already working.

It's hard to be thankful when you are focused on what is broken, lost or out of reach.

If you're feeling thankful now, stop reading and go celebrate. If you're not feeling thankful yet, if the holiday feels like words without meaning, then take a moment and think about what you would fight to save. It's easier to think about fighting than gratitude when you're in a certain mood, but those things that you want to protect are the things that you value. They are the things you already have that are worth appreciating.

Now do something with what you have discovered. If you are a person who prays, you can pray your thanks. If you have received something you value from someone else, you can say thank you. If you're not sure who to thank, you can pay it forward by doing something to create more of that thing you value in the life of someone else.

You started with some fight in you. Use it to make more of something that you or someone else can be thankful for.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Editing Your Experience

What do you think it means to edit something? We are familiar with the term from writing where, to most people, it means fixing the language and formatting so that the message is clear and presentable. But we might also know, somehow, that the Oscars have categories for sound editing and for film editors. Do they also fix errors and clean things up so the message is clear and presentable?

When we edit our experience, we are stuck with the content of our raw material in precisely the same way that editors are stuck with the story, image or sound they are editing.  While minor cuts might be made, with care and discretion, most of what counts has to stay.  The editor can change the format or the grammar, can pull some parts into focus and let others blur, but the content remains. This is roughly the same as what happens when we look back at our past experience and make an effort to understand it in a new way.  What happened in the past cannot be changed.

That doesn't mean you cannot make big changes in your life by editing how you represent the past. We give Oscars to editors precisely because editing changes how we assign meaning to something. When you edit a memory, you create new meanings out of old stories.  Those means then change all the things in your future that would have been connected to the old story.

Everything we do is generated by a combination of our conscious thought, our habits of thought, our emotions and other conscious and unconscious processes, and the influence of our environment. It's a complex mixture of forces that we cannot decode consciously. What we can do is change the emphasis we give to different forces as we represent the experience in our memories and communication. That changes what the experience means to us.

It takes courage and detachment and purpose to retrieve a significant memory and consciously edit what comes to mind so that it offers a clearer and more useful message. It is difficult to hold two memories at once: the edited version and the original. That's why so many people work with coaches or therapists to edit particularly strong memories. A person detached from the memory can help you hold your intention. But only you can get close enough to the existing memory to change it.

You are not just the author of your own story. You are also its editor.


Wednesday, October 02, 2013

How to make collaboration more than the sum of its parts

The best collaboration gets almost magical results.  Working together, people produce ideas that no one would have generated working alone and everyone discovers that their skills are a fit for one another and for the task.

Yet we all have experiences of collaboration that are much less than the sum of the parts, times when we have worked with others and been less inspired and less effective than we would have been on our own.  An NLP approach to the problem is to ask: what's the difference? What makes collaboration work?

It may be that focus is the difference that makes the difference. Groups that focus on developing a shared outcome and a shared state might be more effective than groups that focus on the problem they are solving or the task they want to complete. One of the things we know for sure is that states are easily transferred from one group member to another and that the strongest state in the group is the one that is likely to dominate.

Groups that focus on what they want to achieve together (not how they will do it) are likely to do two things: they put themselves in a bigger frame, which means that they have more perspective on whatever problem or frustration is the current subject. And they are likely to access states associated with achievement: it's just easier to maintain a positive state with your eyes fixed on the goal on the horizon. The advantage of a group is that the collective focus on outcome supports both focus and state in every member. People walk away feeling more confident that the problem can be solved and more safe in their efforts to solve it.

The primary role of collaboration is not to generate ideas.  The primary role of collaboration is to generate focus and a useful state in each member of a group.  The ideas are a secondary benefit that may only appear when individuals work alone after connecting with the group. This is why it is important to balance individual work with team work when approaching problems that require creativity. The creativity appears when people work alone, but it might be planted and nurtured by conversation and interaction with a group focused on the same outcome and willing to support useful states in one another.