Sunday, September 17, 2017

Small things that capture attention


Do you get trapped into thinking that something has to be big to make a difference?

Take a look at the picture. I bet there are two things you noticed: the pathway and the golden leaves.

Neither of those occupies much space in the picture. The picture is more green than gold, but what you noticed was the cue that signalled a change. In the same way, the path changes what the picture means. When there's a path through the woods, the setting is not the wilderness, even if the rest of the picture looks wild enough.

Now think about that thing that isn't big enough to make a difference. How can you make it a focal point so that it takes up more attention than it does space?

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Don't Fixate on Labels: Keep Your Eyes on the Horizon


I was reminded this week of how important it is to keep looking out at the horizon instead of backwards. Words help us stabilize thoughts so we can remember them. That's useful much of the time. But sometimes, those words transform a temporary problem into a permanent identity.

Therapists are not the only ones who offer us labels and invite us to own them longer than we should. Bosses do it, and so do teachers. Maybe you owned "messy" a long, long time ago (when it applied to your grade 2 printing). Maybe you owned "fearless" at a time when it applied to going for the goal in a soccer game (not impulsively leaping into a relationship or out of a job). Maybe you owned "analytical" so thoroughly that you forgot that the most creative people are often analytical too.

Don't go back to fight with your labels. Just take a look at the picture here and notice that if you said it was dark or cloudy, you would be missing the point. It was going to get darker, and then brighter again (because the sun would set and then rise again). Labelling a moment in a process is not a way to define the whole process.

You are a work in process. If you're going to use labels on yourself, make sure they are timestamped. Better yet, look at the horizon in front of you and attach a label to what you want to find when you get there.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Stuck? Maybe You Should Talk to Someone

We have two illusions about solving problems.

The first illusion is that smart people think best when they are alone. We imagine people hunched over computers or pacing in front of whiteboards until they have an AHA moment  and solve the problem using their solitary genius.

The other illusion is that we only learn from experts.  We expect therapists to help us with emotional problems and subject matter experts to help us with everything else. After years of conditioning in schools, we think that the people who make us smarter are people who know more than we do.

The result of these illusions is often that we stay stuck for much longer than is necessary. We wait for access to an expert. We beat ourselves up for not being smart enough or competent enough or confident enough to think it through all alone. But it's all based on a faulty premise: we believe that smart people think best on their own.

Take a closer look at what really smart people are doing. They are hanging out with other smart people. They're not trying to think it all the way through by themselves. They are looking for perspectives that check their blindspots or open up new possibilities. Smart business look for diversity because it checks more blindspots. They're not trying to find the most expert thinkers; they're looking for conversations that offer new thinking to complement their own expertise.


When you're stuck, you probably don't need an expert. You need a fresh point of view or a piece of information that's lurking in your blind spot. Both of those could be found by engaging with anyone; with a friend, a child, a person you meet in a coffee shop. Anyone who is willing to engage with you offers difference. And as we say in neurolinguistic programming (NLP), difference is the difference that makes a difference.

Stop waiting for an expert. Connect, engage and then reflect. You'll find you're moving before you know it.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Use your common senses to communicate more clearly

What's the difference between a concept and a formula?  Between a strategy and a blueprint? Between a hypothetical and an example?

In each of these pairs, the first one is impossible for most people to imagine. They know what the word means, but it is not attached to any sensory representation.  The second one is equally "business-like," but it's something a reader or listener could imagine using their senses. They could see or hear or feel something that would tell them more than the word itself about what you wanted to communicate.
© Can Stock Photo / Konstanttin
Artists regularly turn concepts into images. Good speakers and writers do the same thing: they evoke the senses so that people have something easier to observe and remember than abstractions are. This doesn't mean being choosing more descriptive words: it means imagining what you want to communicate as something you can see, hear and feel and then stripping your language down to match what you are imagining.

Of course, abstractions are great for telling the truth without making it either memorable or emotional. They help people understand that there will be some risks involved in a situation (none of those words turn easily into an image) without engaging them in those risks. If they felt like a decision meant stepping off a cliff, they would have a hard time exploring the benefits that would make the decision worthwhile. When you're jumping off a cliff, you might enjoy the rush, but you don't have a lot of focus left for analysis.

So help people understand what you want them to analyze and remember by using words that allow them to imagine - to make a mental representation using sights and sounds and feelings. When you want to acknowledge something without having it stick, let more abstract language do the work for you.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

The difference between affirming a truth and wishing something were true

"Affirm" is such a strong word. Just say it out loud and you realize it lands with weight. Affirm sounds like something you can trust. "Wish," on the other hand, is a bit wispy, a bit flimsy. You don't expect wishes to become real, but you should expect that what you affirm is already real, already true.

Merriam Webster defines affirm as meaning to validate or confirm. It's a solid word.

You have to turn the word into a noun (verbs lose their oomph when you turn them into nouns) to find the Oxford English Dictionary defining affirmation as "emotional support or encouragement."

In the self-development world, of course, affirmations are something that you repeat in the belief that saying something will make it true. This is a sort of combination of saying something solid and saying something encouraging.

© Can Stock Photo / Ostill


If you want affirmations to work, either in encouraging yourself or in supporting others, you have to validate or confirm something  you believe to be true. You need to transform affirmation (noun) back into a verb (I affirm) to give the affirmation power.

It's an instance where grammar matters: using the verb changes your perception and makes it clear that an affirmation should be the opposite of a wish. When you affirm something, you say that you believe it is already true.

If you don't believe it, don't affirm it in the hopes that it might become true. That's roughly like telling the guy you're dating that you really, truly love him because he's a nice guy and you think it would be good if that were true. It's not going to lead to a happy future for either of you. You need to state your feelings as clearly as possible if you want to build on solid ground.

If you want a better affirmation, begin by telling yourself that truth about what is right with you and your world. Sorting out what is reliably good is a powerful way to find solid ground that will allow you to move and change.

When you're talking to yourself, you are talking to the friend who will walk with you through the whole of your life. That friend deserves the truth. When you affirm it, you'll be rewarded by a stronger relationship with the "you" you're talking to when you make your affirmations.