Friday, October 30, 2009

The way the river flows

I am sitting in the Bata Library at Trent University and I have deliberately chosen a seat on the side of the library that I remember best, a seat suspended over the Otonabee River. As I begin to write about flow, my eye is caught by patterns moving on the river below. It is raining, and the rain spatters while the river flows, and there are disruptive swirls of foam making patterns on the river’s surface.

At first glance, the picture is still, a portrait in shades of gray as my memories of Trent are of grey (my back is to the Peter Gzowski residence. I like that is is hugely yellow, a determined effort to bring sunshine, however artificial, into the gloomy grey of the academic year). But it only takes a second glance to notice that the picture is a pattern of constant and ever-changing flow.

I know that flow can be dangerous. In my first year, a friend drowned in that flow. It’s a powerful current.

It’s a current that runs through my life powerfully, connecting the self who sat here and got lost watching the river twenty five years ago to the self who sits now, fingers moving lightly over the keyboard. There were no sounds of keyboards then. No one had desk tops, much less laptops and cell phones. And yet, still, my eye catches on the movement of the river, the people walking across the bridge, and I drift with the river away from my intention, spell bound by quiet power and shades of gray.

When I was young, I came here to read. Now I come to write. The writing is a more compelling outcome. I turn to the river for inspiration, for a pattern of continuous movement, for the energy to drive my fingers over the keyboard. I turn to the river so that my mind can be fixed within the boundaries of my purpose, inexorable in its movement as the great river beneath me.

On the bridge, streetlights are brightening.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Taking a step back

One of the hardest paradoxes we face is in our relationships with the people closest to us. When we are uncertain, we need those relationships. Yet there is also tremendous possibility in standing back far enough to take a look at what is happening in those relationships.

Watch two people together, any two people. To see them both without moving your head back and forth, you need to be standing ten or fifteen feet away. Socially, you are outside their circle when you are about six feet away, but visually you can't see them as a single unit until you get twice that far away. And you may have to get farther still to see the context around them so that you can tell what is integral to the relationship and what is coming in from outside.

If it's hard to see other people's relationships, it's much harder to see our own. We are so entwined in other people's lives, that we need some external pressure if we are to break away enough to see ourselves instead of just seeing the other people in our relationships. Think about the physical perspective you have standing two feet from someone else. Not only does it limit your ability to see them (up close, you probably focus on their face and shoulders and miss lots of information held in their bodies), but it also gives you a distorted relationship of context (you only see 180° and the person in front of you blocks much of that).

That's why it is frequently a shock to catch a glimpse of yourself in a relationship. You see a photograph or video clip, and you notice something. Someone else says something or reacts to something and you slip into that person's perspective and see yourself in relationship. You find that someone outside holds a piece of the truth about you and you make a choice. Will you acknowledge the truth or will you say "you had to be there." We often make ourselves safe by pretending that the information we have from inside a relationship is deeper, more accurate, more privileged.

Yet, if we stick to what we could see with our physical eyes, it is apparent that someone at a distance has information about our relationships that we cannot get from where we are. The only way to judge that information is to pretend we can take a step back (a big step) and see what they are seeing from a distance. And to do that, we have to admit that we are prepared (however briefly) to be at a distance.

In a world where things disappear and change, it can be scary to take a step back. We can remember that when we are reluctant to check out what other people see in our relationships. We can remember that when we are talking to a friend who is unwilling or unable to step back and see what we see.

And we can remember that the information is only information: it is how we assign meaning to the information that determines the results we will get.

Monday, October 26, 2009

A goal to last one hundred years

Lots of people talk about big goals. They talk about goals that stretch beliefs and capabilities and relationships. But for most people, really big goals are a little like lottery tickets: the purpose of the big goal is to give you a shot at a big win.

There's another kind of really big goal. It's the kind of goal reflected in one of my favourite quotations (usually attributed to Socrates?):

A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they will never sit.

So much meaning is packed into that one sentence. Planting trees is not like making art that will last a hundred years (and more). Artists seek some kind of fame, some acknowledgment or justification or legacy. Often scientists seek the same kind of reward: we mark their discoveries with their names so that what they have achieved lives on after them.

With the possible exception of Johnny Appleseed, we don't remember the people who plant trees. Quite often, we don't think about them at all. We look at beautiful old trees and admire the trees - not the people (or squirrels) who planted them.

My favourite poet, Yeats, said "all things fall and are built again/ and those that build them again are gay/ Gaiety transfiguring all that dread." To paraphrase, crudely, he was saying that the nature of the world is that nothing will last, but building nonetheless gives us a kind of happiness, a happiness that changes us from people who are afraid of life to people who are living it.

What would you build if building would reward you only with the happiness of being a builder instead of a victim (of time, of fate, of an unfriendly world)?

The next time you find yourself thinking, "if only . . . .then I would be happy" try planting a tree. Maybe you'll find that society grows great when people build for a future that promises them nothing as individuals except the happiness that comes to builders.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Just enough time

Someone is late and I have twenty minutes. I could surf the web or I could read. Or I could write a blog post. Instead of having extra time, I find myself with just enough time for something I didn't expect would fit into this day.

Maybe it's appropriate that we had new windows installed in our house today. They are clean and shiny and they frame the view a little differently than the old ones did. It's the same view, but we're not in the same house.

I wonder what you could do with twenty unexpected minutes.

Would you play a little music and let your mind wander? Research suggests that's an excellent idea if you'd like the minutes that follow to be productive. Apparently daydreaming is actually a slow, easy waking of various centres in our brain that are extremely helpful in creating solutions to problem.s

I daydream in blogs. When I write, I am connected with people I cannot see, people I may never have seen. That's a very daydream-y kind of concept.

Twenty minutes. Don't make them productive - make them a gift. . . .

Friday, October 09, 2009

More thoughts for thanksgiving

I sent a newsletter out this week with a thanksgiving message. But I have grown accustomed to the flexibility of doing things when I want and sending them out into the world immediately. I won't send this to my mailing list, but I want to say thank you.

If I have trained you this year, thank you. Thank you because you let me see some part of you that is strong, or creative, or shy. Thank you because I learned from you and with you.

If you are one of the many clients who is more friend than client now, thank you. You keep me going when it's hard to keep working. You make me smile. You reply to the blog exactly when I need a word of affirmation. You convince me that I am smart enough to work with people who are brilliant and resourceful and fun (people just exactly like you).

If you are my training partner, thank you. Thank you to everyone I have trained beside (you know who you are). Together is a powerful word. Whatever I do as part of a team is part of the model of collaboration and cooperation that I want to grow in the world. I can be a good trainer on my own - but I can only be a model of how much better we are when we connect because you chose to connect with me in front of a room.

And special thanks to my mom who is my business manager and my ferocious advocate and the nicest lady who ever called to remind you that your payments were late or bounced. And thank you to Tosca, our financial mainstay and balance and support who allows me to trust that the business end of business is being watched over (as if by a guardian angel - not by a guardian auditor).

And thanks to Chris - my friend and my teacher and my partner. Thanks for showing me that I think without words, and that connection is faster than thought, and that disruption can be marvellous and productive and even healing.

Thank you all.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Supporting change in the people around you

I've been thinking (even more than usual) about what it means to support people in their efforts to make tangible, sustainable changes in their behaviour. In particular, I am pulling together information from a variety of experiences and sources about how to support change in people's automatic behaviours.

If you've taken NLP programs with me, you know that the most elegant and sustainable change takes place at the level of presuppositions. When you change what feels "natural," you set in motion a whole range of behavioural changes with minimum resistance. Whatever learning is required seems to flow out of the change in defaults (the change in what feels like the natural state or attitude).

The first opportunity to support positive change comes at the level of the presupposition: how can you influence someone to make different assumptions? The answer is remarkably simple: you catch them making the assumptions they want to make, and reinforce the assumptions while they are open to suggestion. The complicated part is discerning what assumptions will be useful, finding times the person is already making those assumptions, and noticing how to connect the dots without imposing yourself.

Okay - it's a tall order, but it's doable - and it's doable as an intensive intervention (you could work it into a coaching session or several coaching sessions).

The second opportunity is quite literally harder to see. It's easy to notice when we interrupt patterns (our own or other people's). It's very hard to notice the opportunity to use our patterns to reinforce and support someone else's patterns.

Let me give you an example. Let's say that I would like to help my spouse break out of a pattern of snacking after dinner.

I can, with a little ability in NLP and hypnosis, help my spouse set a default that includes enjoying dinner and then settling for the evening, by putting aside daytime concerns and preparing to allow all his/her daytime systems to unwind and rest. We can establish together the presupposition that no new resources or information should be introduced as we prepare for the integration that comes with sleep.

So far so good. But is that really my presupposition or just a program I have installed for my spouse's benefit? What if someone else entirely (a life coach or trainer, for instance) works with my spouse on that presupposition and I have heard about it without accepting it into my own neurology?

Here's what will happen in my experience. We finish dinner. We slide into our usual pattern for after dinner. I reach for a snack without even thinking about it. . . because I have a craving or because I have a habit. As soon as my spouse sees my snack - s/he wants one too. The newly rooted presupposition for healthier patterns is easy to uproot.

And. . . notice that I could do the same thing metaphorically. I might bravely and through will power support my spouse by resisting my urge to snack, even if I haven't accepted the same presuppositions. But. . . what if I suddenly need to discuss the news on television or begin some household chores, or work through plans for the weekend. I haven't had anything to eat - but I have signaled that this is the time for new inputs - for new resources and new activity.

New inputs require new sustenance. Snacking fits this presupposition. My spouse responds to my introduction of new stimuli by reaching for an old friend - a snack to provide the energy burst necessary to deal with new information late in the day.

To the extent that my spouse is connected with me, s/he is influenced by my choices and my attention. Setting the presuppositions is not enough - s/he needs a way to use whatever I offer as support for those presuppositions (following the principle of utilization and incorporation where whatever is available can be used to deepen focus and move toward outcomes). The alternative is for me to hold my spouse's outcome so firmly that I allow my own presuppositions to shift. That way, we will be mirroring back to each other behaviours that support a single presupposition.

This is different than just acting as though what is important to him/her is also important to me. I might resist the urge to have a snack in order to be a good example. It's much better if I set the presupposition within me so that I do not experience the urge to snack. That way, we are both aware of winding down and preparing for sleep together and neither of us has to expend will power at a time when we want to minimize effort.

There's a slogan that says "be the change you want to see in the world." If you want to see natural, effective change in someone close to you, ask yourself "how can I most strongly hold the presuppositions that would set the desired behaviours or attitudes as the default?"