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.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Shopping and Selling Are Life Skills

I teach in a college business department and I am always surprised by how few students are sales savvy. They don't seem to have any idea of the difference between selling a concept and saying a concept. This leaves them with a lot to learn before they are prepared for a world where selling and shopping are both life skills.

Shopping is a life skill: no one survives without doing some shopping. People who are good at knowing what they want and identifying suppliers who provide good value are good at making the most of what they have. They can live better on less. Frequently, they can take the same attitudes and analysis and use it to build careers and profits.

Sales is also a life skill. For one thing, understanding sales gives you an edge in shopping. You know what to expect and what to avoid as a buyer when you have thought through the process from the seller's point of view. If everyone needs to shop, then everyone needs to understand sales.

Everyone also needs other people, in ways that range from practical to emotional to neurological. Involving other people in our goals and preferences is a sales process. It begins at birth, when a newborn uses a limited skill set to enthrall her parents. As we age, we lose some of the natural advantages of a baby, and have to pay more attention to how we connect.

By the time we are young adults, we have been conditioned to think that power and sales are the same thing. Someone with more power gets to tell others what to think or do. That's how it seems when you have been taught and parented for as much of your experience as you remember.

It's an illusion, of course. People rarely do what they are told consistently just because someone else is in a position of authority. People earn their authority by selling others on doing what needs to be done. I wonder how my students will fare as they move to a world where telling is cheap and persuasion changes lives. Selling is a life skill.

Monday, March 23, 2015

What does theory add to NLP?

I suppose the answer to this depends on what you mean by theory.

Theory can mean academically serious, peer-reviewed thought about why something works the way it does.

Theory can mean "I just made this up, but it makes sense from a certain point of view."

Much of the theory in NLP (neurolinguistic programming) has roots in the first type of theory. But that type of theory changes as knowledge grows. Theory changes as information supports new ideas. Common beliefs about how the mind works were not common forty years ago.  Current ideas about schizophrenia, for instance, are quite different than the theory put forward by Gregory Bateson so many years ago.

If you read "theory" about NLP now you'll find there are two camps. One camp is desperately trying to party like it's 1979. They want to stabilize what they helped to develop forty years ago but many of "them" want to do it by teaching the same theory as they used to support the practice then. It doesn't matter that practices like meta-programs, sensory preferences and eye patterns do not have a theoretical basis outside NLP. They remain useful constructs according to the people who teach them. Just don't scratch too deep or you will find that the theory supporting them is as thin as the supporting research.

On the other hand, the relationship between physiology, sensory coding and language is now supported by theories across many fields. It's not always the theory taught in NLP courses, but there are interesting conversations going on about how the mind/brain/body system functions, and NLPers could contribute to those conversations. They are contributing in organizations where the leaders seek cross-pollination with thinkers from related fields. I'm thinking of organizations that combine neuroscience with NLP, and of the research in therapy that overlaps various theories from mainstream mental health or positive psychology.

It's why I read mostly around the field of NLP (rather than in it). There is no forum in NLP itself where theory would matter (there are associations that would like it to matter, but they are usually promoting theories that go back to the early days of NLP). There is no peer-reviewed forum for original contributions to the field and there are few opportunities for thinkers to explore alternative explanations for the observations generated by NLP without immediately being decried by the purists who are quick to say that any way other than their way is not really NLP at all.

Most of the books are practical rather than theoretical. This doesn't matter very much to most of the people who come to NLP looking for practical, hands on training in communication and choice. Theory is not the only thing that makes a field worthwhile.

But. . . theory is a sign that a field is mature and resilient enough to discuss more than one way of understanding it.