Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Anxiety between the covers

Were you ever dead tired and pleasantly sleepy just until the moment when you slipped between the covers? Suddenly or gradually, you realize that you are no longer sleepy. Your mind begins to work at old problems. Your muscles tense up.  You wonder how you have twisted yourself into such an uncomfortable position.

All day, you were busy and productive and mostly positive. Now you feel that your life is a snarl of unresolvable problems. Now you feel cornered and resentful and you wonder how so many people seem to be more capable of satisfying lives than you are. It doesn't make you feel better to know that many of those people believe you to be competent and successful and a model for good choices.

So you begin to tell yourself a story about how dumb it is to feel this way. Some part of you knows that the anxiety that is driving this is pointless. Some part of you wants to give up the old, old battles and rest to fight another day. But telling yourself to stop thinking is like telling yourself to see how long you can hold your breath. It's only a matter of a few minutes until it all begins again.

Don't stop. Be anxious. Think about the times when you were really terrified and then the bad thing happened. Because the one thing I know from here is that thing that made you crazy didn't kill you: it didn't even stop you from reading this.  So think about that thing and notice that you survived it.

Then notice that you have many, many terrifying memories of things that didn't happen. That you were sick with worry and then things got better. The bad stuff and the anxiety about it are two different things: sometimes they are related and sometimes they are not. Sometimes there is just too much activity in the alarm centres in your brain. Sometimes you guess wrong about what happens next.

So let yourself guess. Let yourself notice that you are anxious. Let yourself feel what you feel. Acknowledge that it's probably not real and that it really is uncomfortable. Persist in finding the edges even if they seem to be outside you and around you. Notice that even if every muscle in your body is tense and every nerve is on edge, there is still a part of you that is apart from the anxiety, a part that is watching your mind run in circles.

And then imagine that you could turn up the intensity switch on the watching and turn down the intensity switch on the anxiety so that more of you is watching and the you that is anxious is further away.  And if it's hard, then play with it, being anxious and then being detached and then being anxious and then being detached.

After a while, you will begin to learn. You are anxious for good reasons and you are anxious for nothing and it is all the same. There is no reason not to sleep once you are between the covers and the lights are out.  There is no reason not to fall deeply asleep and watch your dreams as you have watched your anxiety.

And then just sleep.

Monday, April 29, 2013

So what do you want? Courage and Goal Talk

Would it surprise you that many of the people who lead others to achieve their goals have a really hard time creating compelling goals of their own?  I don't have research to back me up on this, but I have a lot of experience of people who are excellent coaches and who struggle with their own goals.  They may struggle more than other people.

The more we think about goals, the more we admire the courage it takes to own them.  Imagine that someone walks into the room where you are reading this and says "So... what do you want?" It's likely that there are not many ways to say this that don't sound like a challenge. Wanting something is challenging: it means:
1) taking some of the attention you use to keep yourself safe and putting it to work on finding opportunities instead,
2) admitting that if you don't get what you want, it's going to hurt,
3) deciding you are good enough to do what you want to do.

It's probably true that many people choose to work for organizations largely because someone else will tell them what to want. With their own choices limited, some of the pressure is off and they can pursue goals with all the energy it would take if they were to choose goals of their own. The problem, of course, is that organizations are less reliable than they used to be at providing life-long goals. We live in an age where having goals feels dangerous and not having goals is also dangerous.

So use the gentlest voice that lives inside your head and ask quietly, calmly, insistently, "if you knew what you wanted, what would it be?"

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Integrated thinking: learning in corporations

I was at an event tonight where entrepreneurs "pitched" their businesses.  The lady who pitched her work as a corporate learning consultant didn't get much reaction for either her pitch quality or her business prospects. I sympathized.

Here's what I think is the most important thing that corporations need to know about learning:  your biggest challenge is owning the skills possessed by your best performers.  Corporations build results and resilience when they have a proven strategy for allowing everyone to learn to replicate the work of their best performers. If you could clone your best people, wouldn't you want to do that?

You can't clone them, but you can teach your people how to observe and replicate the behaviours that are making your top performers successful. This doesn't mean turning your top performers into teachers or mentors: you want them producing. It means giving everyone else a skill set for heightened observation and chances for systematic practice (with feedback) of the behaviours they observe.

Think of little kids: they learn new skills by watching and practicing. Over time, they are educated out of these natural processes. They begin to associate learning with being taught. And while having experts transfer information has its advantages, it slows down the learning process and weakens the ability to acquire skills. Corporations compound this problem when they associate corporate learning with courses and classrooms. There isn't enough time for either observations of real skills at work or to intentionally and safely practice those skills.

So what is the future for corporate learning? It's time to train people to be more effective at observing skills and then, when they have tools for effective observation to provide safe places for them to experiment with different elements in the skills they have observed. If you don't have the skills internally to build this kind of program, you need a consultant who can build you a terrific program.

I'm not sure that's what the lady I heard tonight does. But it is what I can do.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The ethics of trainers

Have you ever wondered what some people mean by words that seem familiar? Ethics is one of the words that is often puzzling in its application.

One of my competitors has registered my company name as a domain (my domain is www.nlpcanada.com - it's shorter and easier to use than www.nlpcanadatraining.com). People who know my company well have absent-mindedly typed in the longer URL and found themselves redirected.  The competitor is an IT expert (I'm not) and must have thought this was a good way to snatch some extra traffic.

That's okay. I'll go through the domain register and eventually he will not be able to use the domain to willfully mislead people. There are rules.  What won't change is that this competitor will continue to proclaim that he is an ethical trainer – he sometimes claims to be more ethical than other trainers. I do not know what he thinks that means. What kind of training relationships does he begin by misleading people to his site?

I don't often talk about the ethics of my training. To me, it's more important to demonstrate them: I don't trick people into finding me on the web and I don't expect them to take my word on my integrity. As much as possible, I post information and samples and invite people to evenings where they can experience my work first hand. I talk to lots of people, and when they want to hear from my clients, I often match them with someone in their own field.

My site is not crowded with testimonials from people no one knows. Instead, I hold a conference and invite people who have trained with me to speak. When they do, they post their biographies and links to the work they do. They are willing to allow themselves to be associated with me because they know my work and value it. I value their trust and their support.

To me, it's about ethics. There is no way for me to explain what you will learn before you learn it. Whatever words I use will mean something different after you have taken the training. To make up for this, I give everyone as much information as possible about how I develop my material and the kind of people who have found it useful. When we do meet, I do my best to evoke their strongest, best decisions. I want them to have their best stuff when they decide to train with me.

To me, that's ethical.  What I am selling is the ability to identify and make better choices. I want every client relationship to start as they will continue: with a well-considered choice that leads to great results.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Integrating more of the world outside of you: "I'll know it when I see it"

You probably find it irritating. Someone close you to you - a friend, family, a work person - is clearly trying to find something. You want to help (or to stop the restlessness) so you ask helpfully "What are you looking for?" and the response is some variation on "I'll know it when I see it."

How can you look for something if you don't even know what you're looking for.  You can't.  That's why you can't help your "I'll know it when I see it" friend.  You can, however, look to find correspondence between a feeling you have and something outside yourself.  In fact, that unspecified drive can be particularly powerful.

There are two huge benefits to "I'll know it when I see it." The first is that you filter out much less information than usual. When you know what you want, everything is either "something like what I want" and "not what I want."  This isn't possible when you don't know what you want yet, so you are forced to look at everything and ask "are you what I want?" It's a little like the children's book "Are you my mother?" You get to meet the most interesting collection of people and circumstances when you are not sure which one is already what you want.

The second benefit is that it is very irritating to know that you want something and not know what it is. And that irritation is a great motivator. You really want to solve this puzzle and so you look more places. Or you put the search on the back burner, and then find it is surprisingly resilient. You just keep looking for that thing you know will satisfy your very specific, unspecified want.

When what you want is something new, something that widens your frame, something innovative, try telling yourself, "I'll know it when I see it." Then go hunting until you can find something outside you that integrates perfectly into the pattern of what you want.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Were you a little scattered today?

It is the day after someone put bombs near the finish line at the Boston Marathon, timed to explode as ordinary people crossed the finish line, fulfilling dreams and promises. Their families and friends were waiting to cheer, not because they were the best at running, but because in some way crossing that finish line meant they were the best to someone.  It is the day after a little boy died waiting to be swept up in a hug as his dad crossed the finish line.

Did you find it harder than usual to concentrate today? Yesterday I was busy with work, on my computer but not on media.  I didn't know until I got into my car.  I hadn't heard the news.

Today I listened to part of an audio blog that argued that our job as business people and bloggers is to go on doing what we do.  Tragedy happens every minute to someone, somewhere.  They are all important and we cannot honour them all.  Boston is not my home. This is not my fight.

Today, my world was largely unchanged. I did what I do, and I wasn't afraid or furious or hurt.  It's just that I felt vaguely sick all day long and I cannot think about that father who didn't get to hug his kid. I cannot think about all those people, parents and kids and friends and runners.  And not thinking takes some mental energy.

What will we do now, you and me and all of us?  How will we integrate the images we have tried not to see? I will tell you.  We will integrate it because we have done it before. Because we still remember teachers hiding tiny children from a boy with a gun. Because we remember a beautiful young woman shot in the face, half a world away, because she believed in education for girls. Because our memories of sudden horror are bred into the bone.  We will pull the grief and horror in, and we will live around it.

We won't forget and some part of us will always feel a little sick when we remember. But we will allow our energy to flow around this stone of hurt and rage as though our lives were a stream, light playing along the surface of the water.

Monday, April 15, 2013

My tribe are people who want to know they are living their lives well

The people I teach at NLP Canada Training come from many different backgrounds, locations, and fields. They are therapists, entrepreneurs, managers, explorers, teachers and coaches. They are between 20 and 60 years old (mostly). They have been Canadian for many generations and they are new to Canada.  It doesn't look like they have enough in common to be a market or a tribe.

What makes them a tribe is that they really want to make a difference in their own lives. They don't want to shut down, opt out, or settle for less. They want to be able to end each day feeling that they made good choices and at the very end of the day, they want to know they lived a life that was satisfying to them and that they will leave a legacy that furthers what they value.

Some of them are highly successful and some of them are at a crossroads.  All of them believe that it matters that they want to feel good and to do good. All of them believe that our choices make a difference.  If they are winning, they want to explore and enjoy. If they are failing, they want to endure with grace while they uncover better choices.

My tribe believes it is worth practicing the skills of attention, intention and influence. They already know that opening themselves to new information will allow them to shape better goals and to have a more predictable impact. They also know that knowing isn't enough. You have to practice to get better.

My job is to guide people through the practices that support their drive to live better and do better.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Why don't people practice?

In the middle ages, craftsmen learned for many years before they became masters of a craft.  It's likely that by the time they did become masters, the habits of practice and improvement were so deeply ingrained that they continued.  Our most famous writers and artists have also continued to work to get better throughout the whole of their careers.  Do you know this quote, attributed to Michelangelo at 87 years of age?

Somewhere, the idea that we should practice to get better got lost along the way. Continuing education came to mean sitting in a room while someone did their best to make an entertaining presentation of techniques and ideas, almost all of which would be forgotten or abandoned within weeks (or hours). We came to accept that if we were being paid we should already be our best: practicing would somehow suggest that what we had been selling to that point was not our best.  Who wants to go into surgery with a surgeon who is still learning?

I do.

Everywhere I go, I want to interact with people who love what they do enough to want to do it better. I want to surround myself with people who say that "good is a terrific starting point." I want to learn from people who are determined to learn every day that they breathe. Does that make me unusual? I think it makes me an artist.

It makes me a teacher.

Sometimes I teach neurolinguistic programming. Sometimes I teach literature. Sometimes I teach storytelling. Sometimes I teach influence and communication. Always I teach people the skills of precision, practice and patience. This is much harder to sell than it should be. There are many times each day when each of us wants to be more clear about what is desirable, when each of us wants to know how to solve or avoid a problem, when each of us wants the willpower to stick with something until we like our results. Precision. Practice. Patience.

What are you learning?

Given the choice, I will always choose to work with people who have an answer to that question. They are the people who know that their best can be very good without being good enough. They are curious about how much they can improve, how much new information they can integrate, how much more effective they can become. They value every gift that practice has given them enough to honour those gifts with more practice. I love to connect with wonderfully accomplished people who say

I am still learning.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Owning your history allows you to move forward in interesting ways

"But in jazz music, there’s no escaping what came before you. Each new player does their best to understand the contributions made by others before them and to expand, reinterpret or say something new with that knowledge in hand. History is vital to jazz music."
Chris Ferguson, SteelCity Jazzfest

Full disclosure: I take some credit for this quotation because I raised the guy who wrote it.  And I am very proud that I raised someone who is immune to the opportunism and amnesia that plague both our businesses and our self-help movements.  Every day I see Facebook memes that suggest dumping anyone who does not seem to be immediately useful to you. They do this in the name of owning your energy and developing personal power.  It's nonsense. Power comes from congruence and congruence comes from owning your situation.

Some of your situation is the history you carry within you, the accumulation of events and beliefs that your past has given you. Some of these are old news: they are not immediately useful in their original form. Jazz is only one of the many art forms that tells you that the richest way to create something is to re-imagine something that worked once and now needs to change. This is not just true of musical forms: it's true of what your parents taught you to believe, of what broke your heart (the first time), and of what drove you anytime you worked and struggled and sacrificed to achieve something.

Some of your situation is the relationships that are part of your life, the same relationships that the Facebook means and simplified slogans are urging you to dump. The people who wear you out, drag your down, and generally seem to be much more trouble than they are worth.  Don't believe it. The people you discard are more likely to end up under your skin, changing you in ways you don't recognize and probably wouldn't like. People should not be disposable.

What do you do with the negative energy of people who once made an amazing contribution to your life (and may do so again)? Act like an artist. See the bigger picture and the longer time frames. Grab what they're throwing at you and transform it.

History is vital to jazz music. It's also vital to shaping a life worth living.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Replace advice with curiosity when you want to make a difference

One of my favourite things about my work is that it frequently reminds me that the best thing I can do for other people is to help them connect with their own best selves.  It's a little paradoxical: even when they come with questions for me, what they really need is the answers they will generate themselves. It's always easy to give advice: after all, any question will launch us on an internal search for an answer.

And that's what we need to remember most of the time that people seek our advice.  We can give them information but the information we give will rarely give them any real help.  It can be a good way to keep a conversation going until we locate what they really need: a memory, a model, a hope that is within their experience and precisely what they need in the current situation.  They can find it more easily when they come to us, because we can ask them questions. And they, like us, find questions almost irresistible.

In my personal life, when I am not in fully coaching state, I am as prone to give advice as the next person. It's my helpful nature or maybe my problem solving mind. Any puzzle is enough to start the wheels turning, even if the puzzle is not mine to solve. That's why I value my training in NLP and solution focus.  It gives me a better puzzle to solve, a better outlet for my curiosity: I can puzzle out what questions will uncover answers and build resourcefulness in ways I could never predict.

Monday, April 08, 2013

What are you doing to be mentally prepared for your day?

Some people have a routine for getting up in the morning that includes some time to prepare mentally for the day ahead. They pray or meditate or workout because they find that starting that way often leads to a better day.  You might think about that and instantly feel even more stressed because you cannot imagine how to fit yet another half-hour into a day that is already much too full.

Even people who prepare for the day need to refocus during the day. Their concentrated practice does set them up for success, but it is not enough to carry them through a day of encountering other people and difficult ideas. Even people who start the day right need to be able to refocus more or less on the fly.

I'm going to suggest you test just two things today. You don't have to believe they will work, but they will take only a moment and (if you remember to check in after) you will be able to tell within a day whether they are making an impact.  Deal?

The first thing is to take three breaths.  Do you remember counting seconds as a kid? Maybe you said "one one thousand, two one thousand" or "one firetruck, two firetrucks."  Most people speak at about 125 words a minute, so saying at least two words gives you a rough count for one second. When you take these three magical breaths, count five seconds in and five seconds out (if you finish early, wait for a second before going on to the next inhalation or exhalation).

There will be a moment between the third breath and the next breath.  That moment will feel longer than most, and more quiet.  Into that quiet, send a one word description of what you want to be in the next part of your day.  You might choose a word like calm or unshakeable or peace. You might find that your day requires something more externally directed a quality like motivating, energized or pumped. It might feel more intellectual: sharp, focused, analytical. Or it might feel more physical: relaxed, charged up or balanced. You only need one word and you might as well trust the one that arrives first when you ask yourself: "What do I want to be now?"

You probably won't notice a huge impact (although you might!) if you do this just once. Try doing it before every new meeting, encounter or stage in your day.  It will take you a total of less than 5 minutes.

Aren't you curious? How much better could you make your day by knowing what you want from and for yourself in each situation?

Saturday, April 06, 2013

The most important tool for reading other people

NLP (neurolinguistic programming) gained fame for two things: the promise that you could achieve anything you could clearly imagine and the promise that you could read people accurately enough to detect deception or perform amazing acts of covert influence.  It seemed like magic, and people flocked to it to find out how to become magicians.

When I started in NLP, I was the smart, conventional one and my partner was the one with the magic: he was the one who could freak people out with mind-reading and hypnotic presence. Over the years, as I began to work on my own more often, I learned to do a little quiet magic of my own.  Sometimes now, the magic is less quiet, more - well, more magical.

But I am a teacher, not a magician. So I will tell you the one thing I think you need to learn to do magical acts of reading and influencing other people.  The secret is: metaphor.

In case you've forgotten your high school English course, here is how Wikipedia defines metaphor:

metaphor is a figure of speech that describes a subject by asserting that it is, on some point of comparison, the same as another otherwise unrelated object. Metaphor is a type of analogy and is closely related to other rhetorical figures of speech that achieve their effects via association, comparison or resemblance including allegoryhyperbole, and simile.

It sounds a little dull for magic.  So let me give you an alternative definition:

A metaphor is a sensory-tangible indication of the conscious and unconscious motivations that are driving a person's attitudes and behaviours.

What does this mean? It's magic: it takes years of serious study and practice to really understand. The superficial meaning is this: when a person is working on a problem or intention, all of that person's behaviours and speech will combine to tell the truth about where they are at, what they want, and what they fear. The less there seems to be a logical relationship between their "small talk" and their real issue, the more available the truth is likely to be in their metaphors.

Metaphors work a kind of instant transformation from one field of being to another. Sounds a lot like magic to me.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

How do you respond to people who aren't paying attention?

On Wednesdays, I teach from 3pm to 6pm. It's a terrible time slot: students are tired, distracted, and when the sun is shining outside, a little hyper. They care enough to show up, but once in the room they can have a hard time tuning in for more than a few moments at a time.

I love it. It reminds me that this is the world into which I am sending most of my words. The people who are looking at my emails (and deciding whether or not to open them) are just as busy and distracted and, I think, just as well-meaning and energetic as my classes.

Here's what I do with my class: I pay a lot of attention to them. I move to them instead of waiting for them to look up and find me. I repeat things in different ways. I spend much less time than I used to worrying about information and much more time working to give my students incentive to uncover and own information.  Most of my words are spent persuading them with my tone that what we're doing is worthwhile and that I believe they are capable of "getting" it.

It takes a fair amount of energy to engage individually with 30 or 40 members of a class. You can't do it on auto-pilot.  But it takes less energy than it would to be frustrated because my well-qualified, motivated audience only seems to be sitting in front of me. Really their minds are restlessly moving among many different places. That could make me crazy.

It doesn't make me crazy. It makes me work harder and it makes me value all the connections more. When I'm really on my game, it even lets me find the energy hidden in their distraction and coast on that a little.

Monday, April 01, 2013

How to make a decision (ask lots of questions)

Have you ever been astonished by a decision made by someone close to you? You know this person well. You respect them. And then - apparently out of the blue - they make a decision you didn't see coming.

Sometimes, of course, the person who makes an astonishing decision is even closer to us: we all surprise ourselves from time to time.  As much as we gather information and perspective, as much as we truly believe that it's important to think things through, as much as we are committed to living smart, intentional lives: we surprise ourselves.

There's actually quite a lot of information on how people make decisions. Daniel Kahneman's book, Thinking Fast and Slow, is likely to be a classic on the subject for some years.  For those who prefer a little less density and a more direct line to application, there's Decisive by the Heath brothers. There's no reason for someone who is involved in motivating, coaching or managing not to have at least a little familiarity with the complexity of human decision making.

My own training is all about pushing people through a process that delays their decision making until they have gathered multiple perspectives and used a variety of techniques to test the new information.  I use the word push because this delay does not feel natural for anyone. If they were not a part of training, it would take some real discipline for my clients to go through all the steps. When they apply what they have learned later, they are tempted to skip steps. That's human nature. It's hard enough to make a decision about what we want: when we think we know, we really don't want to question it.

Questioning turns out to be the key to good decisions. This is whether our criteria for deciding come from our own minds or from expert advice. Asking questions allows us to gain emotional distance, to test possible consequences, and to understand the relationship between our own decision and typical results achieved by other people. Asking questions improves the odds that we will make a decision and like the results.

If you are someone who asks a lot of questions, people will often shut you down. They'll choose to be offended by your questioning of their expertise; they'll accuse you of being difficult or resistant or unwilling to change.  All of this is a way of saying that they believe they can predict your future more clearly than you can.

The research says they are unlikely to be right (and if they are right, the best way to show you is to answer your questions). Asking questions uncovers risks and benefits and probabilities and emotions. It's our finest tool for understanding the present so that we can step into the future with just a little more confidence.