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Showing posts from January, 2006

Wanting is also an achievement

In a world where everyone seems to want more, it is easy to forget how hard it is to really want something. To be left wanting is obviously difficult. It is also difficult to take the risk of saying "this is what I want." It is okay as long as we only admit to wanting the easy stuff, or the stuff that we can live without. But to know real want is to say, "I will be lacking if I cannot have this or do this."

And so the motivational speakers have their cake and eat it too when they preach the virtues of knowing what you want. Because it is much easier said than done, this knowing what one needs and this knowing that acknowledging the want means that something is missing in your life that you might not find. If you really want it, the speakers say you will find it. If you do not find it, they imply you did not want it. We all know that is neither fair nor true.

Sometimes it seems that all the work we do on outcomes and framing and congruency are only ways to define…

Learning is Achievement

We taught a new course on the weekend. Learning to Achieve is a development of previous personal development courses and our current coaching program. As we worked on noticing what is involved in learning that leads to achievement, I was also noticing that deliberate learning is achievement. When we decide to learn, we do not so much stretch as grow into a self big enough to hold the new learning.

Learning is a good model for achievement: by definition, we cannot know precisely what we will learn until we have learned it. If it were already within our experience, if we did not have to change to accommodate it, we would not have to learn it. Achievement is like that too: there is a dimension to achievement that surprises us, a confirmation that we have changed and learned and grown into what we have done. A dimension that feels so good that for a moment we glow with the pleasure of a baby discovering peek-a-boo for the first time.

That's what I remembered in the room this weekend. …

Stories, lies and listeners

The morning after an election is a good time to reflect on the difference between stories and lies. Some say, of course, that all storytellers are liars and others say that the only way to tell the truth is to tell a story. During an election, we hear a wide variety of divergent narratives. Whether they are seen as facts or lies or stories depends entirely on the people listening.

Since stories are seen as embodying both truth and lies, it may be useful to consider how what we know about stories helps us understand what has been said and what will be said next. Stories are an interactive form; they create a shared space between teller and listener (and, more subtly, between writer and reader, but that is a story in itself). If someone is telling a story, we expect it to be different in response to different listeners - as shared space, some of the story is created by what the listeners bring to the space. If you do not already understand this, simply try telling the same story to…

Canadians, please vote on January 23

In his book, The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki explores the conditions under which groups make better decisions than individuals. As groups, we depend on multiple, diverse and simultaneous streams of information if that information is to be collated in a way that results in good decisions. What this means in the federal election is that no matter who you vote for, or what basis you have for your choice, when you vote you add to the number of different data points in the pool and make the country's decision better.

It is likely that almost everyone who reads this will choose a different candidate, a different party or different issues than I will choose in making my own decision. While there is a place in an election for encouraging people who think like me to make it to the polls, there is also an overriding concern that as many people as are eligible make their voices heard. No matter how little you think you know about the issues, there is something you know that will ma…

Working with a partner

My business partner asked me to explore the difference between partnership and other kinds of collaborations. Since the word 'partner' has become a widely-used verb to describe almost any kind of mutually beneficial activity, I'm going to start by defining my terms. My husband, for instance, is my husband and the love-of-my-life. That relationship encompasses partnership but is not limited to it. My clients are also not my partners, although I might partner with them in limited ways on defined projects, and although I pull from them the effort they need to make in order to reach their goals.

I was not someone who easily embraced the concept of partnership. I hated group projects in school, because I was ambitious and competitive and the marks my group could achieve were seldom as high as the results I would get on my own. Now I understand that had more to do with the nature of the assignments and the group process than it did on the nature of partnerships.

My current pa…

Wrinkles and straight paths

I have always believed that all city streets should form a neat grid pattern; it seems unreasonable to me that a street would start out running east/west and wander until it runs north/south. A spoke pattern, as in the old Celtic cities (like Dublin) makes a kind of sense, too. If you start out a little bit wrong, you move farther and farther away from where you want to be going.

So I have sympathy with people who think in straight lines, people who are great a drawing maps so precise that no matter how many turns one makes, the impression is always that the destination is straight ahead. I appreciate the notion that it is always possible to get there from here, just by following the information we have in proper sequence and with appropriate rigor.

Except. . . one of the books that influenced me as a child was called "A Wrinkle in Time" (by Madeleine L'Engle). In it, a wise character compares the paths that two ants might take across a woman's skirt. One ant has a…

Looking into eyes

I'm reading a book called Mind Wide Open by Steven Johnson. It offers a fresh look at some of the eye-reading and calibration patterns that are taught in neuro-linguistic programming. Let me recap for those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept. Early in its development, NLP taught that people moved their eyes in ways that reliably indicated something about how they were thinking - eyes up meant visualizing, eyes to the side meant "hearing" and eyes down meant either accessing feelings or talking to yourself. Except that the patterns could not be consistently verified in experiments. So a clash existed between true believers, who insisted they got great results reading eyes, and scientists, who insisted it just didn't work.

We have long realized that what those early practitioners of NLP were really learning was that the eyes are a reliable indicator of information about someone's emotional state. Facial expression, as Paul Ekman has shown us, is a univer…

Paying Attention to What's Not There

Technically, of couse, we only perceive what is not there: we experience the world indirectly, through neurological experiences that inevitably lag, ever so slightly, behind the events which trigger them. We trick ourselves into believing that we can perceive what is really there if only we pay close enough attention. This is hard to do with sound (whatever we have heard is gone as soon as we hear it) and easier to do with pictures. We pretend that we can see what is there.

We also pretend, of course, to see what is not there.This is partly to notice that we observe figures and ground, and the separation that tells us which is which is what is not there and yet the focus of our attention. Think about that slowly. The figure is what we are looking at and the ground is the setting in which that figure appears. No figure ever appears without a ground, and we never look at a ground without making some part of it the figure. Try it: look out your window and notice what you notice. You …

Paying attention through stories

One of the ways we pay attention is to tell stories. When we tell a story, we allow ourselves to focus on different elements that join to form single meaning (if what the story really meant could be conveyed in a phrase, then we would not need the whole story). As we listen to a story, we focus on one element at a time - the colour of a shirt, the kind of chair in the dining room, the lampshade or the leaky ballpoint pen. Each detail catches our attention - it sparks activity in the part of the brain used for processing that particular kind of information - and then connects to the next detail in a web that is not only external (in the language of the storyteller) but internal, in the complex patterns of brain activity it causes.

The best stories are full of detail - some that supports the story's moral and some that appear random or circumstantial. Does it really matter that her dress was red or that his eyes were blue? Why is there a twist of humour or of fate as the story unf…

Paying attention matters

This is a quotation from a book called The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force, by Jeffrey Schwartz, M.D. and Sharon Begley:

"Physical changes in the brain depend for their creation on a mental state in the mind -- the state called attention. Paying attention matters. It matters not only for the size of the brain's representation of this or that part of the body's surface, of this or that muscle. It matters for the dynamic structure of the very circuits of the brain and for the brain's ability to remake itself."

What fascinates me most is the correspondence between our internal experience and the world around us: the micro and the macro. Paying attention does matter. Educational experiments done with children have to control for the possiblity that it is not the intervention that produces change; it is the attention itself. In politics and society, the issues that catch our attention are also the ones to which we direct dollars and ch…

Asking for what we want

For many years, I have had a certain ambivalence about asking for what I want. Somewhere, I acquired a belief that it was not exactly wrong, but maybe tacky, to ask directly. So it always seems somewhat unfair to me when I notice that people are getting what they want simply because they ask for it.

I notice that I am not alone, when I search out sales experts and find them divided between the ones who say "you have to ask for the sale" and the ones who say "you do not have to ask if you have done everything else well." Asking for the sale is hard. It presupposes a risk of rejection. It also presupposes that we know what we want and are willing to be held accountable for wanting it. It is convenient to hope that we will not have to ask if we do everything else right. I am always suspicious of this kind of convenience.

Some people carry this further: they do not want even to let themselves know what they want. Nothing will stand between them and the things they …

What will you do today that will change 2006?

We are all familiar with the concept that a small shift early in a trajectory makes a big difference to where one arrives ultimately. While course correction is always possible, it is also possible that what you do today will have significant impact on all of 2006.

So even though grey Wednesday mornings are not typically the most compelling time of the week, it is possible that what you do this morning will matter: what you think will matter. As you imagine the arc of the year, you notice how a small change today offers new possibilities that widen out enticingly.

What small change will you make today so that 2006 takes you where you want to go? Will you smile instead of snapping? Grab a water instead of a coffee? Write someone a note of congratulations instead of another problem report? Will you adjust your attitude so that you can once again pick out what you want from the heap that waits on your desk?

You can think whatever you want to think this morning, turn your senses to notici…

Outside of Time

We are all familiar with being out of time - everywhere we turn, we meet time-pressed people running from one activity to the next. I used to say that I was looking for a role model who wasn't busy - but everywhere I went I met people who told me they were very busy -- too busy. Although different people have different standards, almost everyone seems to feel that they have at least one thing too many in their datebooks.

Being outside of time requires stepping away from the world of change and hurry and understanding that some part of us belongs to a different reality. We remember living outside of time in the summers when we were children and days stretched endlessly in front of us. We remember living outside of time when someone we love has been ill, and the world has narrowed to prayer and presence. We remember living outside of time in that future when we recognize that we have become what we wanted to become.

The trick with goals that sit outside of time is that to realize the…

Consider your sense of time and timing

When someone asks you what you want, where do your thoughts go? Would you think about something you want immediately, something you want this year, something you want ultimately? Try it. Allow any answer to come to mind to the question: "What do you want?" Then notice when you want it. How does the question change when you are asked: "What do you want now?"

There is no right or wrong: all perspectives are useful in some contexts. A cliche reminds us "Even a clock that has stopped is right twice a day." When we have trouble knowing what we want, often we are really having trouble wanting things within a time frame that does not come naturally to us. If our time frames are short, we will be accused of being "short-sighted" of selling our futures for immediate gratification. If our time frames are quite long, we may seem to be unambitious and unproductive to people with shorter time frames.

Optimal time frames change with different activities. …