Friday, March 30, 2007

rituals for ending a week

For some people, the weekend is a chance to escape from work: for some it might be a chance to escape into work. The weekend is not synonymous with time off or time to relax. Families often do more in a weekend than they do in the other five days of the week put together!

There is no necessary value in taking two days away from work each week. There is some value in noticing that weeks (unlike days, or lunar months) are made for people, and require that people make use of them. Whether or not you notice, one day ends and another begins. Whether or not you notice, the moon will go through its phases and the seasons will change. Weeks only change when we allow them to change.

We sometimes work "for weeks on end" and we all remember the endless summers of childhood, when there was no school "for weeks on end." Life flows differently when there is no difference from one day to the next, when weeks don't end and begin but blend into one another in a steady stream. As we grow accustomed to the flow, we resist change in pace or direction.

Consider the cost of that. Whether you have taken weeks away from work or put many weeks in a row into your work, you have stepped out of a pattern that makes it natural to change pace or direction. When you next try to change (whether to return to work or to turn to play) you'll likely find yourself rusty and stiff. One way to keep yourself loose and ready for change is to mark the ending of each week, even when it's not the ending of work.

Today is Friday. What will you do today that puts closure to the week? Do you have a ritual that allows you to notice how far you have come since last week? It's useful to take a moment and think through the patterns that emerge over a week. It's the right amount of time to take you out of the mood swings and accidents that can colour just one day, and still see clearly the details of your choices and their impact in the world.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

where do you find the best view?

Trying to understand a situation while you're in the middle of it is like trying to navigate in the heart of the city. There's no place that gives you the perspective to understand where you are in terms of where you want to be. There's no place that gives you the perspective to see who you are in terms of the system in which you find yourself.

In the city, you head for a map, or for higher ground. Anyone who has navigated an unfamiliar city with a map will tell you that it is better than trying to find your way around without a map and it is still far from a sure thing. There is something especially satisfying about climbing to higher ground and suddenly seeing relationships that were invisible from ground level.

Often our personal "higher" ground reflects a moral, ethical or disciplined perspective from which to view the particulars of who and where we are. This higher ground can look complicated to other people; to us, it as absolutely clear and complex as a mountaintop or a star. When we adopt its perspective, we know whether to cut ourselves some slack or to reach harder or to run away. Until we adopt its perspective, we are continuous with our environment: we are so much a part of the problem that we cannot imagine - much less implement - a solution.

Integration means retaining your individual integrity within the systems in which you participate. The edges are not always clear when you're in the middle. They become clear when you climb to higher ground.

Monday, March 26, 2007

The value of goals

Stephanie at idealawg recently posted on debunking myths about the value of goal-setting (http://westallen.typepad.com/idealawg/2007/03/debunking_anoth.html). It's easy to debunk a specific study that seems to have been apocryphal - it's easy to debunk almost any formula or convention. It's harder to ask questions like: why has this myth been so popular? What good has been done by this belief, whether or not it is true?

Have you worked with people who can't set goals because they are frozen or stuck or lost? Have you experienced a time in your ife when you could not look forward and see anything at all? Imagine what it means to someone to have given up on wanting, to have given up on expectation. To some people, it sounds very zen, very higher consciousness. To others, it sounds like giving up on life.

Goals do not always call people into connection and relationship and productivity. Sometimes, under some conditions, they do. It is one of the challenges of people who think about such things to notice the difference between goals that are good for people and goals that direct them badly. Perhaps life rewards the drifters and floaters who do what occurs to them without thinking about where it will lead for themselves or others. Or perhaps it is worth noticing what is occuring to you and making a decision about whether you want it and where it will lead.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

is it really this simple?

Today, I listened to a student give a presentation on writing correspondence to customers. He struggled through the formats suggested by his textbook, clearly having little experience on which to hang the information he was presenting to a small group. Afterwards we talked, and I asked questions. He knew that customers want to know you are listening, to feel respected, and to know what you have to say. You want, in return, for them to understand that your decisions (or product offerings) don't come out of thin air. All business is primarily a dialogue between individuals or entities with something to trade.

Why is this a difficult concept? It's quite likely that at some point today you had a business interaction where it was absolutely clear that no one was listening to you. It's quite likely that you said something that went unheard, in part because you yourself were not listening. You wanted to get the message out quickly, and you thought that meant skipping a step. We all tend to assume that listening is the least vital of communication skills.

Listening is not optional if you want to be heard. Voice is optional - people can "hear" between the lines even when you don't say a word.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Erickson, psychotherapy and influence

I just finished reading a book on Milton Erickson called "An American Healer." As much as hypnosis pervades the book, it is never central to it. No one says, "Erickson is important because he was really, really good at putting people into trances. Really deep powerful trances." Everyone says some version of 'Erickson believed people were deep and powerful and capable.' Everyone says, Erickson was a genius at working with what was given, whether that meant learning through polio or using the way a client entered the room to draw conclusions about his/her state or experience.

What if hypnosis was not the point, just a tool that Erickson happened to use? What if Erickson is remembered more for the influence he had on a legion of students and thinkers than for the impact of his therapeutic practice? Would that make his work less magical or more influential?

It is as hard for someone who has been influenced by trance to see trance as a tool as it is difficult for those of us shivering through February and March to believe that the world is getting warmer.

Monday, March 19, 2007

attention creates self

"I would never again accept anyone's word about anything having to do with my life unless, having examined it from every angle, matched it aginst how it felt in my heart, my gut, my head, I knew it fit my own real feelings, how I viewed life and my own real experiences. I, and nobody else, would determine what my own real experiences were and had been."
Sharon Butala, The Perfection of the Morning

The Perfection of the Morning is one of those works that has lingered in the periphery of my attention. There was a time when I studied Canadian literature avidly, and felt the need to read everything, and yet this book waited for me until now. It is not so much about nature, although nature is often used to categorize it. It is a book about discovering that interest resides not in the quality of the thing observed, but in the quality with which we pay attention to it.

It is no stranger that I should end up teaching NLP than that Sharon Butala should be taught to pay attention by an isolated ranch in a difficult landscape. Often, I notice similarities. Like Butala, I was not a good fit for the drudge work and politics of academics. And now I am aware of being a stranger in a world that seems arid and rocky: a world that combines the harsh realities of entrepreneurship with the extravagant, empty promises of the self-help industry.

Yet, in improbable places led by improbable guides, I have now a stronger sense of how one builds integrity by matching experience against how it feels in heart and gut and head. And I am privileged to see the people who train with us discovering that there is not only struggle in this process: there is also laughter and a surprising ease when someone takes something difficult and fits it into a personal puzzle. Paying attention to the whole of our perceptions offers a sense of things coming together, a deeper presence.

It is a remarkable experience to pay attention to people who are noticing, often for the first time, that they are capable of layering depth and precision into their experience of themselves and other people. They discover that paying attention does not drain their energy: it creates intention, integration and momentum.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

agreement: it's fun when two can play

Last night we ran a networking event in which people practiced being in agreement on multiple levels. There was a lot of laughter. People who normally dread speaking found themselves having a really good time. They discovered that interactions based on agreement are naturally energizing. Within an event, everyone wants to play.

The secret to agreement is that most people want to play. Almost everyone you meet will be more comfortable when connected and will be willing to stay connected given the opportunity to connect without violating their outcomes, beliefs or values. Almost everyone is willing to find common ground.

A few people will want you to do all the work. They will tolerate interchanges only as long as they do not have to make any effort to find common ground. They will let you know that your agreement can never be precise enough to meet their criteria. They are in hiding - from you, and probably from themselves.

Outside the training room, just one person can make agreement work for a time. It's possible to connect with someone else's experience even when they are unwilling or unable to connect with yours. You have probably had those kind of connections: connections where the other person refuses to play. You agree, and they take. There is nothing that is so small that it cannot furnish a chance for such people to disconnect and disagree.

There are lots of ways to invite people into agreement and connection. Practice them continuously. Refine your ability to connect. Then understand that what you learn from some people is how to disconnect - how to form an agreement with their model of the world, and then gently step away from it.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Influence and .....

Linda and I were sitting down for dinner with one of our corporate clients the other day. Our client mentioned that they were reading the blog and loving it and had begun to notice that I have not made any entries on it.

It is true that I have not. However I found myself considering how that meeting has begun to influence me. Our clients observation came at a time where I had been starting to draft blog entries and getting ready to enter some here. Also I have been been preparing a short 40 minute keynote on Influence. Linda and I were talking about it.

When we begin planning our courses it often begins with a starting point that is in a form of a question. Like what is influence? (I know rocket science eh)

So I have been conducting a personal study by asking people that question. I have had all kinds of responses like influence is kindness, influence is making people do things, influence is motivating people to your way of thinking. All of these things sound correct even maybe good. Then Linda said "what is influence to you"? I said it's about connecting. She said connecting and ... ?

There was a long pause and then I heard "purpose". I agreed that it is. We said Influence is connecting with a purpose.

We are really excited about our networking with NLP event coming up on March 13 and one of the most exciting things for me is faciliting the patterns and processes of NLP and the fun filled games we have scheduled for you and discovering each and everyone one of your purposes to connect.

You see, our business client connected with me and us with them and the purpose was to think and share and experience past success and future plans. I was influence into to writing this because our client noticed and I had a purpose to start writing and Linda is a writer and a great teacher.

Needless to say it was a very influential dinner.

Cheers.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

The paradox of role models

There is a fundamental contradiction at the heart of most processes using role models: the people who serve as models are unlikely to be people who followed models. High achievers in most fields do not follow in someone's footsteps. They carve their own path. They want to do something with such powerful integrity that they make it happen. All the energy, passion and focus they have works toward achievement. They are explorers, not followers.

Many of our models come from athletics. Athletics is interesting because the high performer is usually separate from the person who creates the model of achievement. Somewhere in the background (and sometimes in the foreground), a master coach sets the path to success. The relationship between coach and athlete is quite different than the relationship between a role model and a follower: it is rare for a high-performing athlete to become a coach of high performers. In the world of athletics, they are understood to be separate functions.

In other worlds - business, medicine, teaching - we assume that the best performers make the best coaches. We assume that being a role model is the same as being a great coach. It's not. The best role models teach us to stop looking at them and start looking within ourselves. They teach us to summon our own energy, passion and vision and put it to work. They teach us that high performers don't follow: they set their own course.

Role models don't know what is happening in your experience; often they are not even aware of what is happening in their own. Their eyes are always focused on the next step into new territory. If you want to follow a role model, forget the role model and become more completely yourself.

Coaches turn their eyes on their athletes. The new territory they explore is within someone else's experiences. Their own performance depends on the accomplishments of the people they coach. If you want to have the success you see in high-performing athletes, learn to choose great coaching - and to listen to it.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Balance versus Passion - and Compassion

I confess to being fascinated with the modern interest in balance. Balance is the current cure for all ills: everything not only in moderation, but kept within limits by equal and oppositie pressure.

It reminds me of my response to labels that proudly proclaim "all natural." So is ragweed. So are mosquitos. So is the plague.

Recently, I left a comment on a Fast Company blog that suggested that balance is not the answer to BS or bad behaviour: focus on values is better than focus on balance as a value. Someone else wrote back, incensed. She did not understand my insistence that the answer to bad behaviour is to focus on positive outcomes. She is one of a world of people who spend their time resisting problems.

If your model of the world involves resisting problems, then balance is an ideal: the whole idea of balance is that of equal and opposite forces. Of course, this means that If your ideal is balance, you need all the bad stuff to continue so that there is something against which you can balance your good stuff.

Stephanie at idealawg (http://westallen.typepad.com/idealawg) posted a link today that proclaims higher values than balance. It reminds us that when we focus on the good stuff, the bad stuff often falls away. We don't end up with balance - we end up with progress. The link takes you to a clip of Tim Sanders, of Love is the Killer App fame. You'll find it at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFEbWXwhQmU

Monday, March 05, 2007

Another disclosure: We do details, not formulas

Technically, I know that the word is formulae not formulas. That is probably changing. Language, like many human elements, evolves and changes over time. What was once absolutely right becomes recommended and then remembered and then archaic. The way to use language most effectively is to be aware of context and change. The way to use language most effectively is to develop a good ear.

That's true of most of the formulas that people use to take shortcuts in communication. Whether you read body language by the book or categorize people according to personality tests, you risk replacing accurate perception with a shortcut that will only be right some of the time.

We have evolved to understand one another and learn from one another in very precise ways. Multiple systems within our neurology work effortlessly and simultaneously to give us entry into another person's experience of the world. Multiple systems exist only so that we can communicate effectively with the people around us. When we are acutely aware of another person's experience, we can not only read their expressions and get in sync with their rhythms: we can accurately finish their sentences.

There is only one way for a normally developed brain to misunderstand people face-to-face: that occurs when a person decides to replace deliberate, honest and intense perception with preconception.

Formulas breed preconceptions (an interesting paradox).

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Full Disclosure on Balance

While it's true that some of the practices we teach give some people a better sense of balance, the balance we offer is a quality of movement - like walking across a balance beam - not a quality of standing still. Moving forward does not require balance - it requires the ability to be out of balance in useful ways - to shift ad move and respond to changes in ourselves and our environment. We teach people to find the strength and flexibility to move easily in and out of balance so that they can move easily.

Being stopped is a state of balance. Balance is easy when you're not moving.

Flow states are highly productive. They seem like states of balance because they hold the attention on just one thing or activity. The trick for most people is not to enter the flow state or to stay there, but to step in and out of flow without irritation. Balance draws us out of flow, reminding us that we have multiple priorities. Can you be interrupted while in a flow state and get back to it when you choose?

Momentum creates challenges to balance. Look at the people around you who are really moving: you will notice that they are experts in choosing to move in and out of balance without loss of energy. The faster we are moving, the faster we need to move in and out of balance.

Full disclosure on work/life balance

Chris and I don't believe in work/life balance. We believe that people are meant to be fully awake and alive at work, at home, and out in the world. We do not believe that work is one thing and life is another. We like to work with people who are vibrantly alive.

We do believe in honouring our connections and our goals and our sense of direction. Notice that this is not the same as honouring our commitments: it is more than that. It means finding value in our connectedness with other people and acknowledging our influence within those connections. We do not balance our goals with our connections anymore than we balance our life with our work. We strive to be alive in all of our connections, and to shape appropriate connections that allow us to move toward our goals and be aware of our role in helping others move towards their goals.

We honour our connectedness sometimes by writing work emails late into the night, and sometimes by leaving work to be with family. When we do, we are moving toward something that makes us feel alive. We are not balancing anything.