Thursday, June 29, 2006

when connections get stretched

It is now summer. We've had smog days, humid days, lots of heat and loud thunder. The season of kicking back to relax is also the season of temperatures rising. Tempers rise with them.

What do you do with your anger? Do you keep it on the back burner or let it flare? Restrain yourself or make others tremble? Relish it or run from it?

Eventually, you know it is time to let go of anger. Do you release it like a balloon or burnt it out?

What gift is hidden within your anger and why is it useful to you?

What gift is hidden by your anger and why do you need to uncover it?

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

winning in the final seconds

The World Cup this year is making a good point: a game includes every moment from starting whistle to final whistle. Every moment in between contains all the potential of every other moment. Spectators watch and think, "what can happen in 15 seconds?" Winners focus on scoring until the whistle blows.

I watched the Australians fight bravely against the Italians. Although my recent trip to Italy has me cheering for the Azzuri, I couldn't help but cheer for the Australians. Like almost everyone watching the game, I thought they had pushed the Italians into an overtime they could very well lose. And then, with only seconds left on the clock, the game ended. It ended because no one told the Italians forwards it was time to give up. The charge up the left wing was intent on goal.

The charge ended with a foul and the game ended with a penalty shot. Just before the shot, the camera went in close on the eyes of Franceso Totti, the man taking the shot. I had no doubt watching him that he had no doubt. The shot was just a formality.

The odds don't win games. People who seize every available moment win games.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

blank slates, fresh starts and instant satisfaction

I am writing this post on a brand-new, fresh from the box, the battery isn't even fully charged yet macBook (that's a laptop computer for those of you who do not yet speak Apple). I knew that my business partner would consider it money wasted if I was not excited enough to try the computer right away, although I need to acquire a cable and a certain amount of free time before transferring files from my trust iBook and making this my main machine.

Truth be told, I need the time to think about what I want to transfer.This is one of those pivotal moments: I have a chance to start fresh, free of stuff that kinda sorta works. The computer truly is a blank slate - although this computer is a blank slate that will take care of all my photo/movie/music/internet needs and might even allow me to do some work. Thisis the moment to figure out which of my bookmarks I actually visit, which of my documents can be labelled "archive" and which programs I enjoy using.

It's exciting. My last laptop served me well for four years and is now going to get passed on, not passed over. I look at the words appearing on this screen and know that hundreds of thousands of words will follow them (doesn't that make me sound industrious!). All the work that awaits seems a step or two closer, and I love my work so this is a more-than-good thing. Somehow it also seems that the person I will be as I do that work is also a step closer as my hands move over these pristine keys.

That person is not a blank slate. The web cam captures the lines around my eyes that prove I come with a history, maybe even with some footnotes. The fresh start offered by the computer has significance because it's not really a fresh start for the person using it, because it offers the chance to move forward carrying the best of me, the core of me that knows what I want and what I value, a chance to hope. There is no hope in being brand new: hope requires that we have been treasured and we have been beat up and we know the difference.

Summer is a fresh start every year, a chance to have the right holiday, to get into shape, to take some time and allow our minds to grow blank so that we can fill them with new thoughts. Will your summer give you a lovely mix of excitement and hope and potential? If the answer in your head is "no" then do something about it.

You deserve a not-quite-blank slate, a fresh start, and the pleasure of diving in clean.

Friday, June 23, 2006

psyche, cupid and the rest of the world

One of the Greek myths tells the story of Psyche. An oracle foretold that she was to marry a monster; her parents abandoned her to her fate. Instead, she found herself in a paradise - a beautiful, isolated palace where invisible servants tended to her every need - and some of her wishes.

There's the rub. She was not entirely alone (a mysterious husband appeared in her bed each night), and yet she was completely cut off from everyone human. What price would you ask in order to live without human connection? Psyche had everything she could want - every physical need met (the mysterious husband in her bed was Cupid himself, the God of love). It wasn't enough. Before long, she was pleading with her husband to let her visit with real people again.

We are all like Psyche: what we want includes other people. As human beings, we have evolved precisely for social connection. Like Psyche, we all find that connection a mixed blessing. In the myth, Psyche's sisters influence her in ways that cost her the palace in paradise. And yet, they also set her on the path that takes her all the way to Mount Olympus, the only mortal to be granted immortality and a place among the gods.

Our connections with other people make us more than we are alone - we can learn and gain an almost unlimited amount from other people and the way we change in their presence. We can even form teams that allow us to experience thoughts and achievements we would not be capable of alone, no matter the circumstances or the gifts we received. Like the gods of ancient Greece, we can move beyond natural limitations and ordinary boundaries.

How many of your goals could you achieve in an isolated paradise? Which of your goals depend on your ability to connect with, learn from, and collaborate with other people?

Social connection is not a necessary evil. Social connection is a necessary wonder.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

What are you doing in class?

We began a new nlp practitioner certification course last week - new in that we are training new practitioners and new in that we have redesigned our program. What was not new was how hard it seemed to be to find words to answer the question "what are you doing in your nlp course?"

What they were doing this weekend was fine-tuning their awareness of states in themselves and others. As human beings, we experience the world as a chain of unified states.That means that all different parts of our experience (mental, emotional and physical, for instance) are experienced simultaneously, not in sequence. What we do in a situation depends on the fit between circumstances and the state in which we experience them.

If you think of our clients as being in training for a competition, this is the phase where they develop strength through exercise and repetition. Strength is the ability to exert force in a particular direction to meet a particular purpose. In order to develop a stronger ability to match states to experiences to achieve particular goals, clients first strengthen their ability to pay attention to the individual components of state and the way those components fit together. On a rudimentary level, this means learning to match someone's physiology with his/her state (whether that someone is yourself or another person). This learning is different than the way the strength will be applied once developed just as athletes or musicians practice drills and exercises in order to perform better.

The next level of skill building (also in the first weekend) is the ability to notice how an individual's state directs the outcome of various situations. Exploring their personal past, clients learn various ways of recognizing, "Because I was in X state, Y happened. If I had been in Z state, something different would have resulted. When I encounter a similar situation in the future, I will have a choice than includes X state and Z state and maybe others as well. The same situation can lead to a different result."

Sometimes people think that being able to make choices about which states to access is a matter of control. This is a distortion: people do not thrive by 'controlling' themselves. They thrive when they regularly achieve states that create a fit between their internal drives and their external situations. They are both in control of their state and infinitely responsive to the world around them. They are both strong and flexible.

What were our clients doing this weekend? They were practicing the skills that will allow them to be the people in the room who know what they want and move with strength and flexibility to get it.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Running your course

Have you heard these expressions?

"It's just running its course."
"of course"
"race course"
"the rain was coursing down"
"the course of true love. . ."
"taking a course"

I'm running a course this weekend, and thinking as I do about what the language tells us about all these different courses. Some of them mean something like "to move quickly through a path or channel," and the others preserve this sense of something set moving so that it's direction can be foreseen.

Running a course is like flowing smoothly and naturally in a direction that is set and flexible. It is like putting all of mind and body to work to get somewhere quickly while responding to what is going on around me. It is like being immersed in movement, even while standing still. And it never does run entirely smooth.

Before I run a course, I set its course with plans and outlines and strategy and hope. It's the hope that provides the speed as other people run the course, their thoughts and energy moving through the channel carved out of the interaction of material and intention.

Monday, June 12, 2006

How do you rest?

What makes you feel rested? It is an interesting question, an interesting and very human concept. We do not know if hibernation or seasonal change allow other organisms to rest. My dog sleeps about twenty hours a day - it is hard to believe she needs this much 'rest'. People are often aware of needing rest, less often of being well-rested. We cannot sustain continuous activity for very long and yet we often wake feeling less than rested. What's up?

Your best source of information about the rest you need is you. You probably have many strategies for being tired and needing rest. As you think about them, you can sort out the kind of tired that comes from physical activity, the kind that comes from thinking of too much information, the kind that results from powerful, and powerfully mixed, feelings. Since none of these is a situation that can be avoided, you need to look from here to the times when you have rested effectively.

Trace a time when you were tired and follow it until you are no longer aware of needing rest. What happened in the middle? Did you become aware of being rested or did you just stop being aware that you were tired? You can notice different kinds of rest: the best rest you have had this week, the best rest you have ever had, the rest that preceded or followed an extraordinary burst of productivity.

You may have fallen asleep exhausted only to wake up too early, tense with whatever was unresolved when you went to sleep? You may have gone days and nights in a consistent pattern, comforted as much by the routine as by the sleep. You may even have gone weeks at a time on much less sleep than you are sure you "need" and yet been extremely productive and happy. Only you have access to your patterns of stress and rest.

Use those patterns. Trust them. They are as unique as a fingerprint and as you begin to notice their details, you will begin to notice that it is hard to focus on the need for rest. It is much easier to focus on the need for engagement, for connection, for achievement. As you focus on those needs, you might find yourself automatically programming the precise amount of rest you need in order to thoroughly engage in what you really want.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Come and play

The email and phones have been strangely quiet this week. As the weather remains good, we sink into summer, daydreaming about long days of deep relaxation. We will dream about them until August, when we will start to launch back into high-speed with worries about all the things we have not yet done to prepare for fall.

How can we escape this cycle of longing for a break that never materializes in the way we hope? Watch little children. What do they do? Left to their own devices in a stimulating and supportive environment, children play until they are tired. Then they sleep. Then they play.

Maybe its the lack of planning that gives kids so much energy. Kids do not plan: even when it looks like planning, they are merely playing at planning, cococting schemes knowing that the pleasure is not in the product but in the process. Planning means keeping one part of our brain for life now while the rest of it engages with something that might or might not happen. It is useful in lots of ways. And it is tiring. It takes us out of the moment we are living, a moment when we could be fully engaged in what we are doing.

As adults, we cannot give up planning. We can put it in its place. We can think about it later, or we can think about it when it provides relief from activities we do not enjoy. We cannot take a break in order to plan: planning replaces the break. We cannot take a break by "resting": our brains never stop processing information. They need something to process.

We need to play if we want a real break. We need to engage our attention thoroughly in something that promises us physical movement, social interaction, and a happy ending. Isn't that what kids do? They play with companions (real or imagined), with movement (even if it's only lightning-fast fingers on a video-game controller) and with the knowledge that all will end well - if not this time, then next time. Ending well might mean winning a game, or it might mean that the sunflowers will survive the squirrels long enough to turn their faces to the sky. It might mean staying friends forever, or it might mean the bad guys get spectacularly defeated. It's all good.

If you want a break, open your eyes and find something that fits the criteria: something that gets you out of your comfy chair and allows your attention to become thoroughly wrapped up in something that you know ends well. Learn something just because you want to and it feels good. Find people to share your adventures. Play.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Where your attention is, there change will be

To what did you pay attention today? Paying attention makes a difference - sometimes in situations or other people, sometimes in ourselves. When we pay attention, our minds work differently and the way we access information is changed.

Consider experiments on what happens when a particular patch of skin receives stimulation. If the tip of one finger, for instance, is touched repeatedly over a period of time, then the "brain map" of that tip will grow larger. By this I mean that the tiny collection of brain cells associated with information from that finger tip spreads sto include neighbouring cells. The tip of your finger now takes up a bigger part of what is, quite literally, your mental real estate. Unless. . .

Unless you weren't paying attention. If your attention were elsewhere while that fingertip was touched, the stimulation would not result in a larger number of brain cells associated with that finger tip. No attention, no growth.

When we pay attention to something, we can actually change not only how we think but the neurological equipment we use to think. Attention makes a difference. It alters our 'mental real estate' by creating larger or smaller collections of neurons dedicated to particular kinds of information.

What did you miss today? When you chose to be distracted, you chose to give up the possiblity of thinking about something now, and the possibiity that it would be easier to think about in the future because you gave it attention today. Most of the time, we are okay with that. Most of the time, what we miss is not what we needed today and not what we will need tomorrow.

But what did you miss today? Can you fill in the blanks? If not, think about where you could get the skills and information necessary to have more choice about what catches your attention and how you process it.

Monday, June 05, 2006

What if learning is like eating?

We've all talked about food for our brains; we all have known times when we were hungry to learn, and times when we were so stuffed full we could not digest a single new piece of information. Food keeps us alive physically. Thought keeps us alive.

In a very real sense, consciousness is life: we cease to be ourselves when we cease to be aware of ourselves. Life means thinking and thinking changes what we have stored in our minds so that all thinking is learning of a sort.

That's a lot in one paragraph. It depends on readers to realize that what I mean is that everytime we "think" we access a particular neural web, and in accessing it, we change it. When what we think changes, we say we have learned something. So everytime we think, we also learn because we also change the neural representation of our thought. Sometimes we change it by realizing that we want to hold on to that particular thought. Neurologically, we change our representation so that the pathways are deeper and its easier for us to find and use them again. To change a thought might be to change its content: often it is to change its context within our mind, within our life.

Thoughts keep our selves alive just as food keeps our bodies alive. Without consciousness, we are just a jumble of sensations and memories competing for energy and attention within a single body. To be ourselves, we need to think: and we need to think in appropriate amounts and ways. We have all had the experience of eating too much; we have also had the experience of losing ourselves in too much thought.

Many people daydream about situations where precisely the best food will be available to us at precisely the right times. These daydreams prompt both the diet regimens of spas and the spectacular smorgasbords of cruise ships. When we have a particularly satisfying meal, we long to repeat the experience. When we let days and weeks go by without paying attention to what we eat, we generally do not eat well. Mindless eating is not good for the tastebuds or the rest of the body. We eat too much or too little or the wrong stuff. It doesn't usually kill us- it just slows us down.

In Italy, I did tastings of olive oil, of balsamic vinegar, of wine. A quarter teaspoon of flavour, savoured and subject to attention. It is astonishing how much one notices when just one flavour is present to the palate, how much one notices when a flavour gains all of our attention, even for just a few moments. It changes the way we think about that flavour, even when we go back to blending it with the hurly burly of our lives.

Take a moment. Notice just one thing you eat today. Notice it with all your attention.

Take a moment. Notice just one thought that moves through your mind today. Notice it with all your attention.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

When did you learn the most?

Think about the times when you have made changes in your life, the times when you have needed to acquire a whole new set of skills, the times that have followed or preceeded milestone moments. As you think about one of those times now, allow yourself to become highly aware of the learning you were doing. Move your attention through the things you learned to the process you used to learn them. Now notice how much of that learning you did without teachers.

Through our years of formal education, we are conditioned to think of learning as something that is done with the guidance of teachers. Most of us remember that our most significant learning - even in school - was done without teachers. We learned all the unspoken rules of the playground and the classroom without teachers. We learned most of what we know about relationships, personal and professional, without teachers. We learned most of what we know about how to simply get things done - whether that meant raising a baby or taking on a new management position - without teachers.

We are experts at learnning without teachers. The vast majority of how we learn to do things, to make decisions and take action, takes place without teachers. We observe the world, model different experiences by imagining ourselves doing them, and then do them. We take action, notice the consequences, and take more actions. We talk to other people; we do research; and then we notice when we have hit our personal criteria for knowing enough to do something and we do it.

Here's the catch: attention underscores the effectiveness of what we do. When we pay attention to our goals, we are more likely to achieve them. When we pay attention to how we actually learn, we are more likely to develop new learning skills. When we pay attention to how we pay attention, we get more information and we filter it better. When we pay attention, attention pays off in tangible ways.

When was the last time you noticed how much you were noticing? When did you stretch your senses or your ability to choose words to pull in more meaning or to send out meaning with more precise impact? When did you let yourself become aware of a particular gut feeling or sensation that is a reliable guide to your learning?