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.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Let's get over the notion that positive is easier

In the work I do at NLP Canada Training, I teach people to notice the relationship between their own state (the combination of their thoughts, emotions and physiology), the states of people around them, and their behaviours. It's a complicated web: we are influenced by our own stuff, by the people around us, and by our situations and all of that gets processed by our brains and transformed into action. Our actions determine how our state changes, and what becomes possible as a next step.

Our situations and other people influence us because we pay attention to them. Some of this attention is involuntary: it's part of how the human equipment works. Other human beings are especially important because they can both help and hurt us. Our brains track their expressions and behaviours in an ongoing effort to predict what they will do. There's a downside to this. Our brains track other people's states by reproducing them in us. That means that negativity is contagious and we are all at risk for picking up each other's bad moods and less-useful states.

Positive states and moods are also contagious, but they tend to be in shorter supply. In any given group, the strongest state will document, where strength is a combination of the intensity of the state and the number of people who are choosing it. So one person determined to be positive is likely to be challenged by a room full of moderately negative people (or at least one blazingly negative person). It takes energy and will power to hold on to the positive focus when it is not supported by the people around you.

There's a good reason for all this negativity. Your brain looks around the world for trouble so that it can keep you safe. The problem is that it can keep you safe by keeping you negative, and that limits your options for both satisfaction and growth.

Here's a better way: understand that staying positive will take hard work and it will take support. As you walk into any situation, look for the elements in that situation that will support your positive focus. Practice withdrawing from rapport when you encounter states that aren't useful to you. That means deliberately changing your body, voice and focus to mismatch any state that you don't want to share.

See the clouds but pay attention to the sun.
Don't expect to be positive all the time: it wouldn't be safe or practical. Instead, practice experiencing tiny hits of positive - a moment when you notice that something is funny or beautiful or interesting; a moment when you catch something positive in someone else. Then amplify that feeling, not so that you can hold it (you can't) but so you can get back to it. Over time, your brain will learn that it is safe to pay attention to the positives for longer periods of time. You will find that your mind and your mood improve, and you will take action more often with less resistance.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

The Power of Positive Attention

It's a Saturday morning, so let's have coffee while we chat.

This week I have been teaching people to pay attention to what they want, what they value, what works. It's what I do most weeks. I condition people to turn their attention to what is working for them, not what is broken, missing or undesirable.

This isn't about denying reality and it's not about playing 'Suzy Sunshine' and living in a bubble. It's about noticing what you can build and building it. It's about saying: "Yes, we have a problem here. And what will be true after we solve it? How do we imagine a future beyond the problem?" This is the best way to encourage your vast super-computing powers (your unconscious mind/brain does have super-computing powers, even if your conscious mind has trouble believing that) to get to work on solving the problem so you can get to the future you imagine on the other side.

There are side affects to practicing positive attention.

You might experience better relationships. These often happen after you stop paying attention to what you don't like, don't value and don't handle well and start paying attention to what you like and respect in other people. As social creatures, people respond to what we send them. When we send them positive attention (attention to what we want in our future), they send it back.

You might experience curiosity. When you practice positive attention, you find that there are lots of details that catch at the edges of your perception and make you want to know more. Everything becomes a puzzle you can put together with just a little energy, knowledge and imagination. There's always a curve on the path that makes you wonder what good thing is just out of sight.

You might become more productive. There have been times when you have been stopped by a problem you didn't know how to solve. There have been times when you slowed down because you felt crummy about what you were doing or how you had to do it. But I bet you can't remember ever being stuck because you were practicing positive attention. When you look for more of what you want, you are motivated to find it or to make it happen. You can't solve every problem immediately, but you can always find a way to do something productive.

Take a moment and ask yourself: what would change if I spent more time thinking in specific terms about what I will see, hear and feel when I have more of what I want? The search for sensory specific information always triggers some realism: after all, you are working to compile a realistic version of the future.  Instead of vaguely wild ideas with high costs, you generate specifics that you can work on today to make tomorrow better.

Don't trust me. Test me. Stop yourself three times today and ask: "In this moment, what do I value? What do I trust? What do I want next?" Then observe the results. That's how you practice positive attention.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Putting the frame on the outside

The beautiful building where we train at NLP Canada Training is currently covered with scaffolding. The roof is being repaired and replaced, and it will be a slow job. In the meantime, our warm brick is covered with a metal skeleton.

It's not pretty, but it is useful.

Think about this scaffolding when you have to repair or replace the way your audience understands the thing you want to communicate. Be especially careful when that understanding is keeping them safe from the elements in an unpredictable environment.

For instance, people frequently come to me with a version of "I don't like this thing that happened to me in the past and the way it has me stuck now."

Their understanding of the current situation is like a roof: it both limits how far they can see and gives them a measure of predictability in an unpredictable world. It's a trade-off: to protect themselves from a world where bad things might happen, they focus on a bad thing that has already happened (but they survived that one). What we need to do is the big work of repairing and replacing sections of that roof so that they can be more comfortable in the present as they think about both the past and the future.

What kind of scaffolding would you use to do that kind of work? I've already suggested some of how I build the external framing that will help people begin to work on the meaning they assign to their past experiences. The first layer of scaffolding is time: I remind them of the difference between past and present and future. This is like the metal frame you can see in the picture.

Next I need to put up the boards (the floors) that allow workers to move on and around the scaffolding. The boards will facilitate a new way of moving from past to present to future without going into the building (their core experience). In my work, these boards are often observations about how human perception works to give meaning to sensory reality. More specifically, our sensory representations (what we imagine seeing and hearing and feeling) provide the floors that allow us to move between the levels of past and present and future. Thinking about how we perceive and interpret instead of what we perceive and interpret is like moving on a scaffolding, going up and down without going into the building itself.

In your work, people might be afraid of a new goal, and you might allow them to imagine the tools, conditions, and results of that goal before they were ready to tackle the steps necessary to achieve it. Or you might need to introduce a very large problem by creating a framework made up of the history, the willpower, and the resources that give people the courage and resolve to face it.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

The many meanings of "make" all lead back to this: you make yourself

We'll open this post with a quote from W. B. Yeats, my favourite poet:

What does it mean to make something? The Oxford Online dictionary lists 13 different meanings for this one little word (one of the 1000 most used words in the language). That's a hint: this word is important (and "make" doesn't always make sense, but it does always make a difference.)

You can make a bed without creating one. You can make a change or a mess or a mistake (and sometimes have a hard time knowing which it is). You can make art or make things happen or make yourself go there. But whenever you make anything, you become a cause of something and not an effect.

Making matters because when we make, we are active in the world.

Whenever we are active, we encode both the action and its results in our brain/body/mind and the combination becomes a pattern we use to predict. When we act, we learn how action leads to changes that will satisfy or hurt. As we make, we make our expectations, which makes us into a kind of person who expects some things and not others. Whatever else we make, whenever we make, we make ourselves.

What's the alternative to making? You can be made: you can be defined by someone else or something else. You can be acted at or acted upon instead of making action happen. You can remember effects without causes and live in an unpredictable and mostly frightening world. You can be shaped by expectations made without willpower and lived without hope.

It doesn't matter all that much whether you make a mistake or you make a pie. Either way, you are giving yourself agency: the ability to change the world so that you can also change yourself. When Yoda tells Luke, "There is no try" what he means is that making an effort always has a result and that result makes a difference in determining how you predict what is possible.

So choose to make.