Thursday, October 20, 2016

The difference between being grounded and being stuck

Could you use a little quiet forest time today? There's evidence that trees are good for people, but you probably don't need a study to tell you that walking in the woods can help you calm the noise in your head and begin to find space to move and to breathe.

Language is funny. Running and stuck seem to be opposites. In life, they are more like team-mates. Running holds you down while stuck jumps on you. The faster you move the smaller the intervals in which change is possible.

The solution is not to stop. Stopping is terrifying when you are already stuck. It sets off alarm bells that make it hard to think. The solution is to set yourself up for slowing down. That means walking instead of driving so that your muscles and your breath adjust. It means finding some trees and allowing them into your consciousness just enough to make space between the thoughts.

All of your time belongs to you. You may choose to give it to something or to rent it to something else. But you still own it. And it keeps on moving. The one certain thing in life is that it's not possible to stay stuck: even if you don't change consciously, your cells will continue to be replaced, your body will age, and the world will change around you. If you run too fast or too far, you will fall down.

The trees understand the difference between being grounded and being stuck. If you hang around with them for awhile, you will, too.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Holding yourself accountable for your results

I love the word accountable. It's tricky and it's often misused, but it also opens up the opportunity to step fully into owning what we can change and where we can move next.

Here's what accountable doesn't mean: it doesn't mean taking the blame and it doesn't mean meeting someone else's expectations. It doesn't mean being embarrassed if you haven't achieved what you set out to achieve.
Photo credit: Sepehr Ehsan, Flickr

Accountable means that you have the ability to give an account of something within your control. This account can be a record of what you did and what result it had: in accounting, everything must balance so every action must have an equal and opposite reaction somewhere in the books.

Outside accounting, giving your account of an event or action means telling your story of how it happened. What I love about this is that every good story requires an interaction between the main character, other characters, and an environment. Everyone is "at cause" (capable of making things happen) and no one is the sole cause of an achievement or a failure.

When you hold yourself accountable for your actions, you should not be beating yourself up for not getting a result you wanted. You should be weighing your actions against the things that triggered them and the things that resulted from them. Your story helps you see that you are both responsible and part of a bigger system of causes and effects.

When you give an account as though you lived in a vacuum, separate from other people and circumstances, you give only half of an accounting: your books don't balance. When you tell the story of an action or event, you see that there was much going on outside the choices you made. This may show you openings in the circumstances that will lead to a better next step.

The next time you are tempted to beat yourself up because something didn't turn out as you hoped, take the time to tell your story. Put in the other people and the circumstances. Find the balance. And then find the opening that lets you move forward.

Thursday, October 06, 2016

What are you giving when you're giving thanks?

It's Thanksgiving weekend in Canada - a time to step back and give thanks. Lots of people will be thinking about what they are thankful for. I'd like to take a minute and ask a different question. What are you giving when you are giving thanks? 

There is nothing in your hands when you give thanks, so what you are giving is not a thing. And there is no action implied by giving thanks, so you are not giving service. What is left to give?

When we give thanks, we give attention to what supports or delights us. When we give thanks to someone, we give thanks to the characteristics and behaviours that support and delight us. This is what makes thanks-giving so powerful when it is directed to someone. For just a moment, we give all our attention only to what we see in them that helps and gives hope and makes us happier.

When we teach small children to say thank you, we teach them to prepare for a moment of connection. The child doesn't quite know how to give thanks, so instead they give a word and watch. And what happens next feels like magic. They give a word and they get full, pleased, respectful attention.

It's the beginning of a virtuous cycle - a cycle where attention to what is good about being with other people resonates and amplifies. When we give thanks, we give attention and when we give attention, we help others to connect with the qualities in them that we are noticing. As they connect, they become more of what we noticed. A child is pleased and says thank you and another child or grown up is pleased by the thank you and notices good things in the child.

Find someone this weekend and give them your thanks for something they do or something they are. And notice what happens next. It will be good.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The invisible force that speeds things up or slows them down

Photo Credit: Jose at Flickr
I don't play the drums. You probably don't play the drums, either. At least, you probably don't have a drum kit in your office to set the beat for your work communication.  But it might be really helpful.

Rhythm is the invisible force in language. While everyone is preoccupied with what words mean and how long they are and whether they are spelled correctly, rhythm nudges attention in different directions, changing the effect that words have on a listener or reader.

Long can be complicated or long can be a gentle ramble, soothing the reader into a calmer, more open state. What's the difference between complicated and soothing? It's the rhythm of the sentence.

Instead of trying to understand the technical practice of rhythm in language (it's complicated), why not simply practice noticing the rhythm in speech or writing? As you read this, tap a finger to what you think is the rhythm you are picking up. As you listen to someone speak, tap a finger or toe inconspicuously, just tracking the beats in the voice.

As you become aware of rhythm, you will feed your bigger self (unconscious, super conscious or brain, depending on your preferred terminology) an instruction to notice the correspondence between rhythm and results. This is too complicated to track consciously, but well within the capabilities of our mind/brain/body systems (which are already tracking multiple rhythms continuously and syncing them to different people or aspects of the environment). The question is not whether you can use rhythm effectively, but how to open yourself to noticing the relationship between the rhythm of language and the impression it makes.

You don't have a drum kit with you at all times. But you have fingers or toes or eyelids that blink. You have the tools you need to notice rhythm, and as you notice it, you will begin to change your own rhythms. And you'll find that there are more good listeners around you than you thought there were.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The best language for motivating action

If you want to be effective in motivating action, choose sensory language that represents your desired outcome.

That's a tough start to a post. But I wanted it to be tough and straight-forward and clear (all of these words direct you into your senses, even if they are not specific). I wanted you to know that I mean what I say when I say that to motivate action you need to put yourself or others into their imagined bodies.

Neurologically, when you use sensory language you direct people to activate the parts of their brains that would be active when they were having that kind of sensory experience. It's like you are creating an echo of lived experience that also resonates (both echo and resonate are auditory words) so that it prepares the listener (or reader - or thinker if the language is internal) to make this experience happen in reality.

The best way to get the result you want is always to decide what you want and test it by imagining that you have stepped into the future and are seeing and hearing and feeling the new situation. If it is what you want, then describe this future to others in terms of the sights and sounds and feelings that will let them know when they have arrived there.

Imagine trying to drive through a new city where all the road signs told you where not to go. It's hard, isn't it? That's what it's like trying to follow instructions from someone who is clear on what they don't want instead of telling you what they do want.

You don't get someone from point A to point B by telling them where not to go. You give them a map that shows them what roads to take, and what they might see on the way. This is the best way to give instructions on getting from now to the future you want. Tell people what steps they need to take and what they will experience along the way.