I came into 2020 with an undeniable feeling of optimism. I was certain it was going to be a good year. I was certain because it was there in black and white in my diary. Stimulating and worthwhile work for fantastic clients around the world. Training and coaching sessions scheduled right through to November.
We all know what happened next. The certainty on which my optimism was based disappeared overnight and for a while, it felt like an unmanageable loss.
But what had I actually lost? Nothing in life is guaranteed. Any number of events could have happened to get in the way of my plans for the year. Certainty about tomorrow is an illusion created by us to help us feel better, to plan, to feel secure, to breathe. It’s a very helpful illusion and an illusion all the same.
So I lost the illusion of certainty, something that didn’t really exist apart from in my head.
Could I create something in place of it? Something to restore my balance, and my optimism.
Over the last week I have created the Illusion of Trust. Trust in myself, my clients, my knowledge and experience, my flexibility and my resilience.
I’m even beginning to trust the British weather and I don’t get to do that very often.
It may be an illusion, but since everything created by our minds is, I’m choosing a really helpful one and I feel better already.
I came across the quote from JR Tolkien whilst searching online for some post-covid-19 holiday ideas. My search was random at best, so the irony of his words struck me. Then I paused and considered whether it was indeed ironic? I asked myself how ‘wandering’ appealed to me so much? The answer was swift, my search strategy had changed because I am planning on going somewhere completely new to me; I love the uncertainty of it, it has an energy that I thrive on. As the saying goes, I was getting ‘lost in the right direction’ and it felt good because my ‘why’ for the search was in the bag already; it was time to identify my ‘where’ and that felt equally good; hello to the mindset of curiosity.
Natalie Turner, author of ‘Yes, You Can Innovate’ and inventor of the Six ‘I’s® of Innovation, qualifies the mindset of curiosity as ‘a compelling desire to learn or experience something new’. In the world of innovation, being curious is all about identifying opportunities; about making sense of the trends and patterns of the world around us, of being open to new ideas, new possibilities and providing strategic focus.
When training NLP here at ‘Learning, Behaviour and Change’, we actively invite delegates to adopt ‘an attitude of wanton curiosity’. The majority have turned up because they’ve already had their curiosity piqued and want to know more. We encourage them to examine the ‘how’ rather than the ‘why’ of what has brought them to us. The difference between ‘how’ and ‘why’ questioning is subtle yet powerful. ‘Why’ requires a justification, whilst ‘how’ requires an exploration, just like life does; life is an experiential exploration with a fair share of ups and downs.
If you and I were to go on holiday together, and you were of the same mindset, we would find ourselves wandering down good-looking streets not knowing where they will lead; taking a tram because it arrived at the tram stop at the same time we did; both examples pre-fixed with ‘let’s see what happens’ and executed in the mindset of ‘we are not lost, this is exactly where we are supposed to be right now’. And then comes the delight as we pass something or somewhere that we already know, and we start to piece together the connectedness of it all. It is all about opening our minds to possibilities and embracing the unfamiliar knowing that culturally we will be richer for it afterwards. A friend might ask, ‘but what happens if you get lost?’ – well, that question is predicated on lost being a bad thing – and how else are we to explore?
Curiosity is all about exploring; and the good news is that we have all done it many times before, because each one of us was a child once. Their default setting is curious, it is how they discover stuff, it is how they make sense of the world. And so, our horizons broaden, we have awoken our interest and our motivation to learn abounds. We begin to discern between our likes and our less-likes and so is born doing the stuff that floats our boat.
Being curious comes naturally, we just don’t always choose that word to label it. Science might label it experimenting or research; social science might label it sociology or anthropology; dreamers might label it wonderment; and the neighbour we see twitching the curtain we might choose to label a nosey parker.
As humans, we are very ‘good’ at labelling; being curious allows us to examine those labels and in doing so challenge our judgements around them. On a personal level this can be hugely liberating inviting the individual to get out of the box they had so firmly placed themselves in earlier; and on a corporate level it can provide clarity on an opportunity as we ask ourselves ‘hmmm, OK, I can see why not, but what would happen if we did …? And so, curiosity leads us to pastures new, innovating how we work, both professionally and personally.
Curiosity is often cited as having killed the cat, yet cats can trace their ancestry back over 10 million years and still they thrive; curiosity wins.
In an article about the new normal, Natalie Turner used the phrase ‘a new extraordinary’ – now that sparked something; it invited me to question the concept of ‘normal’.
As a coach/therapist I spend a lot of time examining the language people use and what it belies; after all, “words speak us more than we speak them” said Hercule Poirot, one of the greatest detectives of all time. Why do people choose certain words & what do they think they mean? Why have they made it mean that? And what else could it mean if looked at through a different lens or frame.
I realised I had fallen into my own trap where ‘normal’ was concerned; I was just bobbing along with the societal collective hunch meaning of normal – time to get ‘Poirot’ I told myself.
The origin of the word ‘normal’ is from the latin ‘normalis’, meaning ‘pertaining to the carpenter’s square’ – not what I was expecting. OK, so I looked up a carpenter’s square, watched a couple of YouTube clips about them, and it all became clear. This instrument gives a carpenter the confidence to create accurate angles and perfectly straight lines, to the same standard each time every time; ideal for cutting timber frames precisely.
As ‘normalis’ gave us standard wooden frames for a sturdy building or ship, so normal has given us standard conceptual frames to navigate a sturdy life.
However, necessary change has been visited upon us all at the same time. There has been a collective grieving over the loss of ‘normal’ and the imperative to adapt and fast. The psychological and physiological result created a collective national stress, the body’s first line response to any call for change. Is now the time to be more Carpenter, to calibrate what frames will help us feel secure? With our own Carpenter’s square our normal only needs to fit us; we need not all be in the same-framed boat whilst successfully weathering the same storm.
Virus or otherwise, change is always on its way; it teaches we humans the art of evolving. Change will happen to us whether we like it or not, however, whilst change is inevitable, suffering remains optional. Stop for a moment and think, what has this ‘new extraordinary’ given me, that had it not happened, would have passed me by? What has it helped me notice or reveal or appreciate? And how much of that do I want to keep?
Here is where change becomes opportunity if we choose it to be so. We are but the sum of our choices; we are where we in life today because of all the choices we made (or didn’t make), all the things we said (or didn’t say). I am reminded of the neurologist Viktor Frankl, an Auschwitz survivor, who tells us that between stimulus and response there is a gap, and that gap is called choice. This is an opportunity to use our carpenter’s square for a reset.
Four years ago on a work trip to Holland my friend lost an earring. Not just any old earring either. A diamond earring. A precious gift from his husband.
My friend told me that losing such a precious thing had sparked feelings of self-doubt and loathing that had stayed with him ever since.
But here’s the thing.
The earring was never really lost, because four years later it has turned up. It had worked its’ way into the lining of his suitcase. It has travelled with him for work and pleasure many times since, close by and invisible. Its’ loss was a mistake in perception because it was there all along.
Could that not now also mean that the self-doubt and loathing were also a mistake?
What if so many of the conclusions we have drawn about ourselves over the years are also mistakes? Errors of our understanding in a single instant, given what we believe to be true at just one moment in time.
What’s possible for the self-doubt and loathing now? They have no basis, no justification, no origin, no place.
Our lives offer us plenty of opportunities to lose earrings and draw conclusions about ourselves. Perhaps if we were able to free ourselves from harsh self-judgement long enough to realise it has no real basis, no real justification and no useful place, life might just be a little lighter.
After all, my friend’s suitcase is a few grams lighter forever.
Doing the washing up and listening to Radio 4 this weekend I became aware of an unfolding story centering on a school in a refugee camp.
Education, the narrator maintained, was the key to transforming the lives of the children. But what do you teach them? That was simple, ‘I teach them to make good choices’.
In NLP we learn from the Presuppositions that having a choice is better than not having a choice and that everyone makes the best choice they can at the time. So why did the idea of making good choices resonate so strongly with me?
I mulled this over a cup of Earl Grey. How do we know we are making a good choice?
A quick Google (other search engines are available) later and I uncover some quirky facts about making choices including:
• An un-cited reference that we make 35,000 a day
• That leaning to the left helps us make better choices…
• …and so does having a full bladder!
It occurs to me that we can only know if a choice is ‘good’ if we are working towards an outcome e.g If I am going on holiday next week (which I am) and want to get into last year’s linen trousers (which I do) then eating a green salad instead of chips is a good choice.
Is it possible that we can only know if a choice is ‘good’ if it helps us towards our desired outcome?
So next time you are required to make a choice, notice how you know it’s a good one, and we’d love to know what you discover.
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Now that the modern world can be communicated on the go via smart-phones and social media, you may be more familiar with the hash tag symbol #
Used to ‘tag’ or code posts so that they can be found more easily (where have we heard language like that before NLP’ers?) ‘hashtags’ have found their way into the everyday. I digress with a purpose, I’m still talking about filters.
For the sake of this blog, filters work in two ways; helping us to sort information through a process called “delete/distort/generalise” or to change perception – like a polarising lens on a camera like the picture above. We want a distortion so we apply a filter. In social media the #nofilter is used to show others that the photo has not been changed in any way, and it remains as a code or index so that the post can be found by others (the social element).
In our world of NLP the Communication model is used to show how language, metaprogrammes, values, personal history and more can all act as a filter, or sieve, allowing our mind to delete information, or change it through distortion and generalisation so it can be more easily coded for retrieval later. Understanding this is important as we seek to understand our world and the other people in it.
What we look for is what we find; how many of us have been told to wait on a corner for a friend in a certain colour car, only to literally see more of that colour than we think possible? The same principle applies to positive things in the world and in our lives, we will find what we filter for. What do you want to see?
Make your choice a wise one.
At this time of the year one of the great linguistic truths of NLP emerges; the concept that words can be “semantically packed”.
What do we mean?
We mean they can be rich with intended and unintended meaning (and understanding that we all use words in this way is a gift NLP can give us)
Let us explain….well, for one person the word Christmas can mean warm fires, the smell of a roast in the oven and genuine feelings of joy – all in an instant.
Some others are not so lucky.
Hang on though.
If we are “meaning making machines” and all meaning is context dependent in a world where our reality is constructed by us – we can re-engineer what Christmas means for ourselves, heck anyone.
If you could look back in a year and laugh – why wait?
If you can pick up the ‘phone and say hello (or send an email if you’d rather) – why wait?
So whether you are with friends or family, volunteering at a shelter, out carolling for charity, or under the covers in your fleecy jim-jams on the big day, make it just right.
For you. Now.
Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year – we’ll be seeing you soon.
It feels so good when we get what our heart calls for, the journey may be tough it may be easy, it is our own and we make of it what we can.
We were privileged to spent 3 wow weekends with another group of (now newly graduated) Practitioners of NLP, what they taught us, and showed themselves and each other will stay long in our memory.
So whatever you have earned, learned, or shared take pride (yes really) in your achievements, as well as those plans – and buff up your invisible crown and make it shine.
You never know who needs to see it, and when they do they will – be who you would most like to meet, and because P is P, you will.
A physicist will tell you that it comes from the sun, a biologist will tell you from the food you eat. How would you answer that question?
In NLP we might look at the first 2 answers in the form of ‘chunk size’ (something our new students of NLP will experience from the 18th September when our Practitioner course begins) the physicist has a higher chunk size view – yet they are both right and their answers are connected.
Perhaps if I asked you “where does your energy go?” you would find that an easier question to answer. On challenges at work, mind freezing homework with the kids, charity work in your community? Or something else?
Wherever you get your energy and wherever it goes, make this week the week you start to be more certain that you can have flow in both directions. So our gift to you is this; find a quiet space where you can’t be disturbed. Sit comfortably in whatever way suits you and close your eyes. For the count of 3 in, a pause, and then a count of 3 out just be aware of 10 breaths. Allow yourself a moment and then open your eyes, more ready for the rest of your day. Enjoy.