Friday, June 26, 2015

Surprising yourself: How unconscious process reveals healing

I am writing this from a desk on the top floor of Massey College, looking out over the courtyard on a beautiful sunny morning. It is a scene from every movie about scholars in long gowns thinking deep thoughts. It is a dream from a long, long time ago.  And it's an alarm. It's time to wake up.

In 1990, I defended my doctoral thesis. One of the examiners was then the Master of Massey College. And it wasn't until today, wondering why I was reluctant to go to the dining room for breakfast, that I realized I had made a choice. I wasn't here because I needed a bed close to my training. I was here to remember, to revisit the spectacular debacle that was my thesis defense and see it with new eyes.

I'm not sure why it has taken more than 20 years for me to know, absolutely, that Yeats, the poet we were discussing on the day in late summer 1990, would have been baffled by the conversation. I was young and fiery and I had written a beautiful, complex study of how beauty confronts violence and the deep roots of different kinds of injustice in the world. They - the examiners - were the leading edge of the baby boom (or just before) and every door had opened to them. They inhabited the pretend castles of universities, living solidly middle class lives without much need for quiet desperation.

I look back at my younger self and say, Be Brave. What they are saying is wrong for you and wrong for Yeats. He would be confused and unhappy to find that the middle class was using his writing to show that good poetry could smooth desperate violence into meaning and elegance. Yeats made meaning out of rage and embarrasment and his love for broken, hurting people. How could his point be to make these people more satisfied with themselves?

On that day so long ago, I argued that Yeats wrote poetry to disrupt, to pull the mind in different directions, to show that we must respond to unthinkable evil and hurt but we must not shape it into something that is safe. It is not safe. He was never safe.  And on that day, so long ago, the Master of Massey College (a woman) suggested quite kindly that I could not see the flow and perfection because I had two babies at home who must have disrupted my thought.

They passed the thesis that day, because it was undeniably good. But they passed it with faint praise and without support. In a time of excruciatingly few opportunities for young scholars, I was done.

And yet, here I am, twenty years later. Like Yeats, I am on the outside, not really part of any system. Like Yeats, I work to discover how it is that we are shaped for a world of such disruption. I teach people who have been hurt and trapped and show them that they already have what they need to look forward, to shape their meanings and their relationships, to see beauty. Like Yeats, I do the work I do because I love it and because I know that being on the edge of the systems you observe offers you a point of view where you can see useful things.

He never lived in a quadrangle. And as much as I love the designs of Ron Thom, neither will I.

Monday, June 22, 2015

The difference between the focal point and the message

What do you see when you look at this picture?  I took it on the road between Pacific Rim National Park and Port Alberni. It's a twisting, turning drive that reminds you how hard it is even now to make one's way through the mountains. The beauty combined with the twists and turns can put a passenger into a kind of trance. The camera interrupts the flow. It reminds me to look at something instead of everything.

I'm just starting to experiment with a camera, to move beyond "spray and pray" with a point and click and work at seeing through the camera. The point is not to take pretty pictures (although that helps with social media posts). The point is to understand how what we see is a composition - an interaction between what is there and how we choose to frame it.

When you look at this picture, you can see that the camera saw the young maple at the front in sharpest detail. That seems to make it the point of the picture. And yet the point of that drive is those mountains that wrap around every curve of the road and the lakes that are both still and fluid under their watch. What you see depends on both the content of the picture and your beliefs about what makes a scene like this worth a second look.

Every interaction you have, every situation that motivates or traps you, is like this picture. The focal point, the thing that grabs your attention, might be the most important thing. Or maybe it's the frame, the thing that wraps around the focal point and gives it context and structure. Or maybe there is a relationship that flows through the middle and carries the real meaning. You get to choose what you see when you look. You have to choose.

The camera has a focal point, but it's focus does not always carry the meaning you see when you look at the picture. The point of your next meeting might not carry the meaning of what happens there. The thing that leaps out at you might not be the thing you need most to consider.

Somewhere I saw an eye doctor quoted as saying "It's not the eye that sees. It's the brain." But that's only part of the story. It's the mind's eye that defines the message in the picture.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

How to Find What You Need to Write

One of the many things I love about my work is that I get to know great people who are as dedicated to learning and language as I am. One of those people is Sheri Andrunyk. Sheri and I connected over tea one day, and we have been supporting each other as teachers and writers ever since. I'm very proud to have trained Sheri in NLP, and it has been fun to cheer her on as she founded and has nurtured I C Publishing.

Here's the short version of what Sheri has contributed to so many writers, entrepreneurs and coaches:

"Sheri Andrunyk is the founder of I C Publishing (tour sponsor) and the I C Bookstore, entrepreneur expert, mentor, and author of Working From Home & Making It Work and Hearts Linked by Courage. She is writing two more books this year, and is extremely passionate about providing more choices, resources, and high level support to other writers, business professionals, wellness coaches, and spiritual mentors."

In my contribution to this year's Blog TourI will explore a little about how to connect to the stories you tell best, the stories that will inspire change in the world.

How to Create Content That Connects

The best way to create content is to not think of what you do as content creation. Think of it instead as conversation. Whether you're writing a blog or posting to social media, you're not just pushing stuff out there and hoping it sticks. You're taking a moment of someone's day to provide a human interaction that allows them to refocus and recharge. 

You don't have to be brilliant. The jokes that work in the lunch room or in line at the coffee shop do not have to be particularly clever. They just need to reflect a desire to connect and relax and heighten awareness. Great social media works the same way. It connects to a reader's desire to be a little more perceptive, to see something they have been missing, or to feel a human connection while they go through their day.

For me, the mark of being 'on track' is that someone reaches out to let me know that although a newsletter has gone out to a mailing list, they felt like the newsletter was written just for them - or that a blog post seemed to have just what they needed. Sometimes they 'like' a picture or post that felt a little random when I posted it. It's not about being "shareable" for me: it's about something real changing in someone's day because of what I have shared.

So, practically speaking: use what comes into your life as you would use it in a lunch room conversation. Sometimes you'll share something you've seen or read or done. Sometimes you'll give a little advice based on expertise or experience. And sometimes you'll talk through an issue so that you can manage it better yourself (and let your readers come along for the ride).

Creating Workshops, Programs or Keynotes

For me, all of these things are less about showing off expertise and more about creating an experience that allows people to engage their own best thinking in an idea or issue. Everything has a storyline: a sequence of feelings and actions that lead from a problem through adventures and confusions into a fresh place to start.

You might wonder about why it's a good idea to inspire confusion.  Research shows that people learn better when they struggle a little. The effort they make is rewarded with learning that sticks. So I create experiences that give people room to get confused and then resolve their confusion. Sometimes readers wonder how it's all going to fit together and then get a big AHA! when they realize it does.  This means I use a lot of interaction and storytelling, to help people stay engaged as they work through to a meaning.

The only "steps" I follow are these:
  • begin with an idea of the problem I want to explore
  • use mind maps, diagrams and lists to consider possible stages in moving through the problem
  • build interactions, metaphors or exercises that allow people to achieve the stages
  • go back and take another look at how I have defined the problem
  • write, consider, edit, repeat.

Writing a Book Begins with a Story Circle

If you're just at the beginning, play. Draw pictures (especially if you can't draw). Place words and ideas randomly on a page, and then draw in some connections. Create icons or words that represent big chunks of what you want to cover and move them around. Give your material different shapes by choosing to arrange it differently.

Some people think they have to start at the beginning of the first page and keep writing. That's rarely the best way to see the whole of your story and shape it for a reader. Instead, imagine that you are stepping into a story circle with the people who will read your book. Imagine that you are the teacher with a story that must engage active minds and bodies. You need to know the listeners and what they can imagine. You need to know the beginning and the ending of the story, the reason you have chosen it for these listeners, and what needs to happen in the middle to keep their minds busy and get you to the end.

Remember that once it is read, it is not longer your story: it's the reader's story too. So write it with them, not just for them.

Advice to a younger self?

I can't think of anything I could safely change, so I think I'd just give her a hug and tell her to trust her instincts.

My new work is about conversation

I've recently joined CAPS (the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers) and I'll be doing more speaking as part of our new program on how conversations get results and enrich lives. We often think of conversation, coaching and public speaking as separate activities. I believe that all are done best by people who know that language only works when it is completed by a reader or listener. I'll also be reworking my first book for publication and looking forward to launching a new version of our annual celebration of NLP and conversation, our 7th annual Symposium on October 17.

There's no substitute for community, so I'm always looking for new people who are willing to listen and then to add their voices to our ongoing conversation about how the human mind/body/brain system works and how our connections allow us to be our best and truest selves.

Passing the pen. . .
And now I'm delighted to introduce two of the writers it has been my pleasure and privilege to have as clients.

Balaji Raghavan is a writer, motivational speaker and trainer who loves to help people to get inspired. His first book "Awakening the Genie from within" was published this May. He has a background of sales and training in FMCG industry. He is now running his training and consulting firm TAP IDEAS in Toronto. Visit his blog at

Eirinn Boots is a fierce competitor, a great motivator and a thoughtful trainer who is committed to getting results for the people she serves. Her blog, Best Yourself, combines her personal quest for improving her own results with strong advice to help her readers do better than they did the day before.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

What to do when it is a matter of life and death?

I will always remember the training where I first realized that what I teach is sometimes a matter of life and death. One of the participants was a young soldier preparing for deployment to a war zone. His ability to anticipate the actions of others and to control his own state would, quite literally, be a matter of life or death. It's rare to think of self-development, self-reflection or communication in this way. Maybe it should be much less rare.

Yesterday we held our annual NLP retreat, in which a small group gathers in a wonderfully inspiring location to reflect, share and practice. Our theme yesterday was "Finding Your Voice" and in many ways it looked like we were working on how to speak more effectively in conversation or presentations. While knowing yourself is a requirement for speaking with power and presence, we didn't seem to be doing any change work or tackling any major life issues.

Except that there were some really big back stories in the room (and I only knew a few of them). The brave and wonderful people who come to these events bring the whole of themselves, including their biggest challenges and most troubling life issues. And they work quietly on those issues in the background while they go through the same exercises as everyone else. They even laugh as much as everyone else (and everyone laughs a lot).

I have become much less confident over the years that what I do is not a matter of life and death. In fact, I have become convinced that what I do is a core matter of life. It's not always a matter of choosing your own path. Sometimes it's about the choices you make on a path you would never have chosen for yourself. While you will encounter some steep challenges that are not of your making, you get to choose who you will be as you face them and what your choice will mean to the people you lead or influence.

There are many people who think that the kind of work I do is flaky and that my clients must be easily led. They have that backwards. My clients are easy leaders: they have the natural commitment to finding a better way that makes others want to follow them. They do not come so that life will be easy: they are preparing for the parts of life that will not be easy, the challenges and painful choices and hard times they know come into all lives.

And what I have learned is that I do not need to be wise enough to lead them through this. I only need to be respectful and present and curious about how their strength and courage and determination will carry them through whatever they are facing.  I only need to know that the will to connect better with yourself and with others is the force of life itself, a power strong enough to show you the next step on a difficult path.

Nothing can keep you stuck if you can take just one more step.