Friday, September 29, 2006

what's your story for the weekend?

It's Friday afternoon, and an exchange of emails has me thinking in particular ways about the stories we tell ourselves. This weekend, my own stories will be musical. I'll be listening to my son's jazz band, and to a concert performed in part by a singer I first met when she was about ten years old.

Sarah began by helping her mom and I lead the singing for our church school. Margaret and I were not musically accomplished but we had the one most important quality in church school music leaders: we believed the music could be fun and bring the kids closer to each other and closer to God. We believed this in the absence of any evidence or any particular talent. Sarah went to a Christian school and knew good songs to sing, so she helped us lead.

At the time, I did not think of Sarah as a singer - I knew she competed as a Scottish dancer. One thing led to another, and Sarah dreamed her dreams and graduated in music theatre and played a lead role on Broadway (and in Toronto, until the show she was in closed early). Sometimes she comes back to church and sings to bring us closer to God - with her voice and with her story. Tomorrow evening she will sing, and soon she will move to London to try her luck in music theatre there.

My son listens to jazz greats and punk/alternative/ska bands. He plays saxophone and acts and wants to study chemistry, he thinks. He moves without effort or irony between the past and the future, relaxed and ready.

When I move the camera a little, the focus shifts from their stories to my story. And I notice how passion and belief leak from the corners of boxes and spread themselves improbably in the world. I notice that I am now just one degree away from singing on Broadway, and it's not even a big degree. I have had my place in the choir next to someone whose voice soars and inspires. I have communicated a love for freedom within form, so that my son can improvise in a way that would have terrified me. My story has spread out without wearing thin.

Hold something you love within your story this weekend. You never know who will pick up a thread of your story and weave it into something wonderful.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

What's stopping you?

It's not the most important question you can ask, but it is certainly in the top three. You know that there are things that you want, things that would be good for you, things that would make a difference for you and for people around you. There are things you are not doing. What's stopping you?

My husband tells a story about his first day lining up at the kindergarten door - and about the friend who pushed him through that door and into kindergarten. He's still not happy about being pushed; he is happy about education (he ended up with a Master's degree). His journey began not with a step, but with a nudge in the right direction.

A nudge in the right direction is often the difference between knowing what we need and going to what we need.

The first car I ever drove was an old standard. In its final years of service, in the days when the rain came up through the floorboard, it was often hard to get it started. Sometimes it needed help, and I would be grateful to hear the offer:

"Can I give you a push?"

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

inspiration and posting

It's been a week since my last post - but not because I have been uninspired. I have been running, and my inspiration has flowed - and flown - into other activities.

We ran an event on inspiration last weekend. No one is self-inspired - to breathe in, we must first be aware that the resources we need are outside of us. Most of what people consider dry spells or slumps are really just examples of looking for inspiration internally instead of externally.

Inspiration begins with noticing things outside our own skin and our own experience. We notice and then, as we do when we breathe, we make an exchange with what we have noticed. We take in some kind of energy or insight, and we send energy out into the world. That exchange sparks change and the change is either the result of our inspiration or the beginning of its manifestation.

The rest of dry spells can be explained as the "are we there yet" syndrome. The easiest way to make a journey last longer is to ask at regular, short intervals "are we there yet?" When we connect with something outside ourselves, we have a choice. We can focus attention on the connection, or we can focus attention on how the connection is affecting us. When we focus on ourselves, we ask, "are we there yet?" And we kill the inspiration.

Be inspired today. You know your own experience: notice something different. Begin with the obvious: I am sitting in a room. The room has a window. Outside the window are. . . Anyone, however uninspired, can make a list of what s/he is noticing.

Just notice. And then breathe.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The problem with role playing

Much of training begins with some sort of lie - role playing and case-based learning both begin by asking people to pretend that they are in a situation that is significantly different than the training room. This has definite advantages - all stories have definite advantages. It also has definite drawbacks.

Many people will admit that they are more likely to tell the truth than lie because it is so much easier to keep track of the truth: when you begin to tell lies, it gives you much more information to track. You have to remember all the hypothetical context that you created when you created the original lie. Life gets complicated.

So what happens to students when we ask them to pretend to be someone they are not doing something that they are not really doing? We not only give them the task for which they are training, but the much more complicated task of pretending - of tracking all the information associated with a hypothetical situation. We give them the same problem that lies create - the problem that ideas are inevitably less rich and complicated than real life. However much we elaborate, what we are pretending is not as interesting or as complicated as the information we would have if we were dealing with real experience in real life.

What is different when training asks you to stay firmly in your own skin, noticing your authentic reactions and the way they grow from your own life experience, strengths and interests?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The lag time in social learning

I have been taking a course designed for teachers at a local community college. There has been a nod to some social science research on generational differences and a general sense that teens and adults might learn differently. There has been no discussion of the neurological bases for those differences.

Every day (literally - I read several neuroscience blogs and they have lots of news) someone is learning something new about how our brain works and how that relates to how our minds work. Today I watched a video (on Google video) of a young academic discussing what neuroscience tells us about music and what music tells us about neuroscience. Brain scientists are at the beginning of a magnificent voyage: they send us tantalizing postcards.

None of these postcards are more dramatic than those describing the differences between the teen brain and the adult brain. It now looks like we do not fully develop an adult model of thinking until we are 25-30 years old. Until then, young people use different centres in their brains to make decisions, they have different circadian rhythms, and their brains exhibit remarkable plasticity (which means some areas get bigger and others get smaller).

What does this tell us about how those same young people learn? At community college, everything is supposed to be goal-directed: it's possible that very young college students (those under 22) do not understand goals in the same way adults do. They cannot use the same equipment to chart their course or understand the relevance of skills and information. They really do see the world differently.

Why is no one teaching teachers to use these differences to give the best possible education to these students? There is a lag time between what the best minds in our society explore and what we actually use. Sometimes, that lag time eats up important innovations (the next great thing distracts us before we implement the changes we need).

There is no necesary reason for this. The human mind has not evolved for slow, step-by-step, trickle-down learning. It is brilliantly evolved for rapid, simultaneous processing of multiple stimuli. We are better at "AHA!" than we trust ourselves to be.

Reduce the lag time in your own learning. You are so much faster than you believe yourself to be.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Be Inspiring/ Get Inspired

Below, I have copied the definition for inspire. It contains many variations on a single theme: to inspire is to put spirit/breath into someone or something. It is close to metaphors like "putting the wind in your sails." Breathing into someone inspires them - it gives them the most immediate stuff of life so that oxygen will circulate throughout their body, nurturing and maintaining their cells and giving them the capacity for action.

The length of the list of definitions suggests that most of us could use a little inspiration now and then. While we usually have air to breathe, often it feels like that air lacks the spirit that maintains and motivates us. We need someone else to add to our oxygen supply so that we can find our optimal state. You need inspiration and so do the people around you. You cannot inspire yourself (just imagine trying to add to your breath without breathing and you'll know why this doesn't work) but you can seek out people who will inspire you - and you can inspire other people.

Read through the list. Then pick one or two definitions that are really important to you. Take a deep breath as you reread those, allowing your mind to fill with memories of time you were inspired in that way. Then every time you need the wind in your sails today, you can take a deep breath - and be inspired. Unabridged (v 1.0.1) - Cite This Source new!
in?spire? [in-spahyuhr] Pronunciation Key - Show IPA Pronunciation verb, -spired, -spir?ing.
–verb (used with object)
1. to fill with an animating, quickening, or exalting influence: His courage inspired his followers.
2. to produce or arouse (a feeling, thought, etc.): to inspire confidence in others.
3. to fill or affect with a specified feeling, thought, etc.: to inspire a person with distrust.
4. to influence or impel: Competition inspired her to greater efforts.
5. to animate, as an influence, feeling, thought, or the like, does: They were inspired by a belief in a better future.
6. to communicate or suggest by a divine or supernatural influence: writings inspired by God.
7. to guide or control by divine influence.
8. to prompt or instigate (utterances, acts, etc.) by influence, without avowal of responsibility.
9. to give rise to, bring about, cause, etc.: a philosophy that inspired a revolution.
10. to take (air, gases, etc.) into the lungs in breathing; inhale.
11. Archaic.
a. to infuse (breath, life, etc.) by breathing (usually fol. by into).
b. to breathe into or upon.
–verb (used without object)
12. to give inspiration.
13. to inhale.
[Origin: 1300–50; ME inspiren < L insp?r?re to breathe upon or into, equiv. to in- in-2 + sp?r?re to breathe]

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Taxonomies and learning

I have just spent the day with college instructors considering the fundamentals of learning. The facilitator was enthusiastic about Bloom's taxonomy - a hierarchy (it's in ranked levels) of cognitive abilities: from lowest level to highest it includes: knowledge, understanding, application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation.

As I listened to his examples of how this model opens up the teaching of skills and information, I thought about Maslow's hierarchy of needs and wondered what would happen if we applied it instead. For those of you who need a refresher, it moves from a base to a peak: you can't move up the pyramid until the needs below are satisfied. They are (from the base moving up): physiology; safety; love; status; actualization. Isn't it worth asking to which of these needs a particular course will contribute? Isn't it worth asking how teaching and learning together should be contributing to each of these needs?

It turns out Bloom sets some of the groundwork: he separated out affective skills from cognitive skills. His affective skills were (from the lowest level): receiving, responding, valuing, organizing and characterizing. Dangerous stuff: it means that some of what we teach might make its way up the chain and actually become part of how someone identifies himself/herself.

When we put all this together, it says that teaching and learning is a single process in which we collaborate to exchange information in ways that range from limited, sensory, and transient to ways that change how we understand our relationships with others (love/ value/ application levels) to ways that finally change who we are (evalution = actualization = characterizing). Understanding where a particular course should fall on this continuum depends on a number of factors.

The most important of these is the teacher's willingness to be changed by the course. Teachers and learners are in connection: what impacts one influences the other. If students are to have a life-changing experience, so will their teachers.

I am left considering how much I am willing to change through the courses I am about to teach. Am I ready for a peak experience, or a hike through the foothills?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Don't take any training if these apply

There are people who are guaranteed to not love training - ours or anyone else's. If you are one of these people, save your money. Not only will you be happier - so will your prospective classmates!

Don't take training if:

1) You are unwilling to learn. Training is not an opportunity to say "I told you so" or "I knew that before you were born." (Where, exactly, would you want to say those things?) If you already know everything you need to know, then take a bow (not a course).

2) You want something that you know is going to screw up your life. Perhaps you are looking for someone to tell you that this is the perfect time to have a fling - or to fling yourself out of a plane (with or without parachute). Training is not good for this. All training (especially ours) is about paying attention to all the information you have - even when it contradicts what you think you want.

3) You really don't like other people. Technically, I suppose, you could do correspondence or online training even if you don't like to connect. Yet even in those circumstances, you have to open yourself up to someone else's thoughts and experiences. If you are convinced that you already have the best of all possible thoughts and experiences, why open yourself up to something of lesser value? Find a way to isolate yourself. Sorry - this doesn't make you the teacher. Teachers and trainers have to be open to other people all of the time - connecting is the only way to teach effectively.

If these apply to you only in part, then you will only be uncomfortable for part of your training experience. Learning new things always allows you to make new choices, to experience more of yourself, and to make new connections with other people (this is true even of technical learning, although it would take too many words to explain why here). If you can handle a little discomfort, you'll go through some changes and come out with something positive. You'll probably even become (eventually) one of those people who love training.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Experiencing NLPCT

I have been reading marketing blogs talking about customer experience. It makes me think about the experience that our customers have as they make their way through our certification trainings. What is it like for the people who really love what we do? What is it like for the others?

I'll deal with the others in another post - there are reasons for people to benefit hugely and not particularly enjoy the experience, and for people to enjoy hugely and benefit. This is about the people who are the best possible fit for what we do.

First, the training is different from what they have ever experienced in a classroom and strangely familiar all at once. That's because we push hard for people to pay attention to what and how they are thinking (that push is not always obvious; it's always there). So our training is like meeting someone for the first time and realizing that after a half-hour you feel like old friends.

And. . . people who take our training get very, very curious. There are other heightened states (or so I have heard) where some of your senses become more acute and your curiosity about what you are perceiving grows and grows. We produce this effect without any chemical intervention. People in our trainings simply start becoming disproportionately aware of their sensory perception, so that they thoroughly enjoy sensory stimulation. Food tastes better; rest is deeper; light appeals in new ways.

Then, there is a sense of urgency that starts to develop. Like the state that makes people especially effective in emergencies, this sense of urgency is combined with a sense of clarity and calm. It's not a matter of getting too excited about what needs to happen next; it is a matter of being fully mindful of taking actions that will lead to the right result. It is a matter of feeling that you are moving towards your purpose, whether or not you have consciously or adequately defined that purpose.

And throughout, there is laughter. Spontaneous, joyous laughter. Laughter that means that connecting with other people feels good. Laughter that means, "I can do that." Laughter that means the world is worth exploring with creativity and confusion and caring. There's really a lot of laughter.

So that is who we serve best: people who love to laugh, who love to be curious and to explore, people who love to create and connect. Those people come to our trainings as if they were five years old and we were the theme park with the best rides in the world. And they come because they know that even as they play our games and pay attention to new things, they are working on old problems and developing mental muscle that they will apply out there - in their real lives. They can laugh a lot because they know that they have lots of real work to do - and that they will enjoy getting it done.

growing great on long timelines

This is a picture of the Cathedral in Florence, popularly known as the Duomo. It is a wonderful, wonderful building. And it took more than 150 years to build, at a time when that represented at least three lifetimes. Most of the great cathedrals were built over similar periods.

It's hard to us to imagine conceptualizing work that spans many generations. We think of ten years as long term planning. As I grow older, I realize that ten years goes by far too quickly to qualify as long term. Ten years ago, I was raising little boys. I still see their eyes when I look at the young men who now (sometimes) occupy their rooms.

I wonder how their lives would be different if they were required, as part of their education, to conceive and begin a project that would be completed by their children's children. I wonder how their sense of the world would change if they had to make real, practical plans to begin something on that scale. I wonder how their sense of happiness would change if it included the impact of their actions two or three or ten generations from now.

It might have been Socrates who first said that a society grows great when old man plant trees in whose shade they know they will never sit. Almost every day, I sit and seethe with frustration at how little I have managed to get done. This is when I am measuring in terms of immediate impact and obvious success. When I sit back and measure in Socrates' terms, I am often less hard on myself.

I am finally old enough to see some seeds push through the ground, to see hints of how lives are different because of something I did ten or fifteen years ago. Sometimes, I am grateful for a seed come to fruition in my lifetime, planted long before.

Your life is different because someone worked at something once that had no immediate benefits for them.

Whose life will be different because you looked down through the generations and did something that made sense on that timeline?

Monday, September 04, 2006

get involved, get working, get results

Three steps to a terrific day on this last day of summer:

1) Get involved in the moment. Here you are. These are the people around you. Become curious and passionate and awake. Right now.

2) Do something. Anything. And do it with your full attention. Do it as if it really matters. Whatever you do uses up some of your time on the planet. Whatever you do produces change in yourself and the people and stuff around you. Whatever you do matters.

3) Notice what you've done. Become as energized and interested in noticing your results as you were in doing the activity. Just notice what happens when you do this one thing. Notice what changes inside you and what changes outside you. Notice that doing something gets something done.

Get moving. It's going to be a great day.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

coming out as Christians

My partner, Chris, and I believe that the stories we tell about ourselves convey more information than we consciously place in them. They are important revelations of how we have integrity, and of what is integrated within us. Much of our work invites people to consider new stories and all the different possibilities they hold.

We talk about the many different reasons why we hold this belief: I frequently refer to business books or psychology books or websites on the power of story and storytelling. I am interested in narrative - including the narratives held in business plans and narrative therapy and narratives in the arts. This is all true, and all well-documented. It is only part of our story.

When I met Chris, I was in the process of being certified as a candidate for the Presbyterian ministry. After one year of study towards my Master of Divinity degree, I came to a decision that God was calling me in a different direction. I began to work with Chris at NLP Canada Training. I came to this decision because Chris is also a devout Christian, and God was always and intensely part of our interaction.

This sounds strange, even to me. I was educated at a time when no serious literary academic could openly acknowledge religious faith as a way of thinking. Nietzsche said God was dead, and so began a whole lineage of scholars who were eager to agree. Academics are people who write about the beliefs and speculations of other people. So it was relatively easy to keep my religious beliefs separate from my work as a Ph.D. candidate. Just as it is easy to work for decades without colleagues ever knowing there is a bible in your "favourites" folder or in your desk drawer.

Chris and I are comfortable working with lots of different people with lots of different beliefs. We do not preach a part of our work. It's not the way we do business.

Shared faith is the reason for our business: it sits underneath everything else. It is our rock. We do not pray in class or in coaching sessions or in meetings (at least not out loud). We do pray - about and for the work, about and for each other, about and for our families. In our own lives, we use all the practices we teach to deepen our faith - to give us new ways to hear the voice of God in our lives, new ways to see the path being given to us, new ways to feel the presence of God as make our lives and build our business.

After much of what the Presbyterians would call 'prayerful consideration,' we have added some of this story to our 'team' page on our website. It's a little scary - we are not entirely sure how people will respond. We want all our clients to know they will be comfortable (and comfortably challenged) in our trainings, whatever their beliefs. We also want people to know who we are and how important our work is to us.

We believe that when God gives a gift, God expects us to look after it and to use it and to love it. Our work is a gift from God.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

be one of the first to check out our new stuff online

The graphic redesign won't launch for another month, but the site has new pages and navigation as of tonight. Blog readers can go to and be among the first to get the updates on our new courses, prices, and online resources.

It will give you something lovely to think about on this rainy long weekend.