Wednesday, May 20, 2015

How to evaluate your self-development learning

This weekend, I attended a conference in a self-development model that I quite like.  Sitting in the chairs (instead of standing at the mike) gave me a chance to look at what people liked, what they wanted, and what they engaged with at the conference.

What I like about this model is that it encourages people to notice diversity: the big picture is a continual reminder that not everyone in the room thinks like you do and that's okay. What I didn't like about this particular experience was the emphasis on sorting everyone out so that they only really had to engage with people who were most likely to think like them.

No one was saying: come to this conference and be safe: no growth or change will happen here. And yet, the structure of the presentations allowed people to sort out some of what was true about themselves without asking them to stretch to accommodate other ways of thinking and without asking them to commit to actions that would create movement and growth.  I attended 5 sessions and came away without one action item.

If you think that the point of self-development is to make people more comfortable with who they are and what they think, then this works.  It seemed to work for many of the people in the room. They happily wore their labels and chattered about how their labels gave them permission to be exactly who they were.  It seemed to feel pretty good.

There's an element of good in that and when you are particularly tired or beaten up, it's not a bad thing to be reminded that you're okay as you are.  Safety can encourage people to explore, to stick their noses out of their safe tunnels for at least a quick sniff and a look around at the bigger world.

You're not a tree: you grow by moving
But I couldn't help but wonder - didn't the presenters want to do something more than reassure people that their preferences and limitations were tolerable? Didn't they want people to find out the kind of new information that would generate new actions and new possibilities?

Here's what I want when I am the trainer: new thought leading to new action.

I don't care so much whether people can repeat back what I have said or pass a multiple-choice test on techniques and concepts. I care that they move back into their real life and something has changed for them so that they can see new possibilities and take different actions than they would have taken before my training.

If the purpose of self-development training is for you to think or do something different, then the best time to evaluate it isn't at the end of the presentation: it's the moment when change takes root in action.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

How growth feels while it's happening

I love to go outside with a camera in the spring. It's a great time to get some perspective on what growth really looks like.

Often, people imagine that growth appears fully formed. That's like moving daffodils from the pot to the garden already in bloom. It's real and it's sort of natural, but you're seeing the product, not the growth.

Real growth is messier. When you walk in the woods, you see all the dead stuff on the ground with wildflowers poking through the debris.

In NLP (neurolinguistic programming), the period of pushing through the debris is called integration. It's what happens after the course ends and the learning begins to take root. Sometimes it is inconspicuous: it happens in the background while you become really productive in your usual work and life. Sometimes it take more energy. It calls on you to slow down and be patient while all the shifts come into alignment.

I've just come through a deep, intense period of learning, through action and reading and through leading groups of really smart, committed people. This week, discipline is calling me to go for walks, to meditate and to wait. I know what needs to be done and it will require my very best stuff. My best stuff isn't ready yet. It's on the back burner (as one of my favourite teachers used to say). When it's ready, I will know. Until then, it's important to keep the heat low and steady and give it the time it needs.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Sustainable Change Begins with Noticing What is Already Working

I sometimes say to people. "I am not a therapist. I do not want to be a therapist. I do not believe that people who work with me are broken." The result of working with me (one to one or in a class) is frequently that people feel better. We don't get there by focusing on what is wrong.

This can be hard for people to understand. Like me, they learned to believe that focusing on what works is okay for academics, but not good enough for the "real" world. In the "real" world, people have problems that cause them real suffering. What kind of person would ignore those problems to focus on what works? It sounds a little like a case where the rich get richer, doesn't it?

It is. The more we assume that we have the strengths, skills and resources to live satisfying lives, the more we live satisfying lives. The more we assume that we will become happy after our problems are solved, the more problems we find that need solving. Problems are like the Hydra - when you cut off one head, two more appear.

Here's the alternative: offer all of your curiosity and attention and effort to identifying all the resources you have that allow you to achieve what you need to be happier and more satisfied. Dr. Barry Duncan is the author of What's Right with You?  In this five minute interview, he explains why he believes that people have what they need to solve their problems and live their lives well.

In this video, Dan Heath explains how 'bright spots' enable us to navigate through periods of change, feeling better and doing better.


It's not easy to look at the bright spots instead of the problems. It takes a continual refocusing of our natural attention (we automatically search for disasters-in-the-making). It requires our best analytical thinking and more than a little detective work. It's not easier than wallowing in despair. It just works much better.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Bring out the Best

What's the difference between your best result and your typical result?

Sometimes the world does align to support your performance and you get a personal best result. But that's probably not what came to mind first. Research shows that we usually attribute our best performances to our own skills, strengths and effort. We believe that we have more influence over our outcomes than is probably the case. What came to mind first was probably your own skill, attitude or effort.

Before you rush in to correct this error, consider its usefulness. Whether or not it is true that our efforts determine our results, it is a useful belief that motivates us to change the only things we can change: the factors within our own control. To get a personal best, we believe that we need to be our personal best.

We use a different version of this logic when we are managing the performance of others. We attribute much of their success to circumstances outside their control and blame their less-than-stellar performance on their lack of skills or knowledge or effort. This, too, is useful. As managers or coaches, it motivates us to create the conditions and motivation to bring out the best in our people.

There are three essential steps in bringing out the best in ourselves or others:
  • Be clear about what we want. The desired result provides a yardstick for measuring achievement. Without it, we do not know if we've hit a best performance.
  • Create congruence. Set up external and internal conditions to support the same focus.
  • Identify a leverage point. Micromanaging of yourself or others is exhausting. Find just one change to make that will have a disproportionate influence on the attitudes and efforts necessary to a best performance.
At its best, NLP (neurolinguistic programming) is a set of techniques for observing the alignment of internal and external conditions that supports a personal best. It provides processes for defining desired results, creating congruence, and testing for leverage points that will allow one to make the biggest change with the smallest effort. This means, in part, that NLP observes the mind/body/brain system when it achieves its best results, and reverse engineers the process to make it replicable more often.

Your personal best depends on the way that your attitudes and actions line up with your circumstances. Some of that is out of your control. But working with your best self to make your best choices makes your personal best more likely in every situation.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The fun is not a sugar coating; it's the experience of learning as it happens

Kids learn. Adults are educated.

When was learning transformed into something inappropriate for competent grown ups?

All adults learn, even the ones who resist it most strenuously. Quickly or slowly, they develop the skills and gather the information necessary to adjust and adapt to changes in their experience and in their environments. Suffering is optional. Or it should be.

I have seen adults (some of them quite young) who have been convinced that fun is the spoonful of sugar that makes the learning palatable. They believe that learning is a necessary evil, a drudgery best overcome by distraction. They believe that stasis is natural.

Stasis is not natural to human beings. Their brains and bodies and minds are continually changing. Use it or lose it, the saying goes. If you're not growing, you're decaying. Learning is what this particular equipment has evolved/ was designed to do.

The fun is not a sugar coating: it is the realization that every single one of us was born to learn and learning can feel splendid. It is quite literally its own reward, as the brain stores up new patterns that make life easier or achievement possible. Learning is strength made available when it is needed.

I only seem to be a trainer of NLP. Really I am a voice that calls to the learner in you: come out and play. My passion is for reconnecting grown ups with their shining desire to learn with mind and heart and more.