Showing posts from October, 2007

Thoughts for Samhain

Have you ever been away with the fairies? It's a Celtic term for daydreaming or, more accurately, for drifting deep into the unconscious mind. On Samhain, the Celtic precursor of Halloween, the worlds of people and faerie came close together, the boundaries blurred, and creatures from both sides crossed edges and got lost. It's a good reminder that the unconscious is not the answer to all our problems: it is wonderfully beautiful and strange and powerful, but it is not always the answer.

Maybe you know someone who has danced at the ball of the fairy queen, someone so wrapped up in the wonders of an inner vision that the rest of the world seems strangely dull and plain. These are people who would rather paint lovely pictures of what could be than take one mundane step towards making a change in their lives. They are the people who believe in world peace - but not in making peace with their neighbours.

Maybe you know someone who has squandered three wishes, or whose riches have …

back to 110%

We are in the process of relaunching our CD, Signs, and I am reminded that Chris does a really nice bit on what happens when we push other people to give more than 100%. He talks about what happens to kids on the sports field when their parents start to yell "try harder." The harder they try, the more they miss. They miss the ball; they miss opportunities; and they miss the intrinsic joy of being fully engaged.

As human beings, we fully engage at some point where our minds and bodies still have some flexibility. We perform at our best when we still have some stretch in us. At 100%, we become uncomfortably aware that we have nothing left. Becoming aware that we have nothing left takes attention away from our actions, and so we drop down below 100%. It's a really useful feedback loop that automatically kicks us back into a place where we have the flexibility we require.

It's not possible to give more than 100%. When we try to push ourselves to give more than we have t…

Hypnotic language, focus and manipulation

It seems to me that hypnotic language has been largely misunderstood and misrepresented. On the one hand, it's largely dismissed as filler or nonsense; on the other, grandiose claims are made for its usefulness in controlling other people's behaviours. Both factions miss the point: hypnotic language is immensely useful for the same reason that hypnosis is useful. It is chosen precisely because it gives focus to the audience's imagination. The audience (the listener or reader) of hypnotic language is pulled away from outside influence and encouraged to play with his or her own perceptions.

If I were to write this using more hypnotic language patterns, you would begin to slip out of the frames I am setting and into a deeper focus on whatever is now within you, calling for attention in the midst of all the noise you hear from other people. You would begin to drift away, comfortably, not into the world I chose, but precisely into the world of your own making. Ideas might click…

110% (or more)

We want you to give this 110%.

Maybe it's just the math that confuses people. You can have a rate of growth that exceeds 100%, so the people who say such things must reason that you can also grow your efforts by more than 100%. What they want is probably an exponential increase in effort, but relatively few people are comfortable with the mathematics of exponents and even fewer are comfortable with what exponential increase means to human beings. The few stories we tell about exponential growth (one is called The Token Gift) are nightmares of small things that suddenly become overwhelming.

Let's assume that there are only two groups who can hear the sentence "give this 110%": there's the group that can do the math and the group that can't do the math.

The group that can do the math hears the statement and knows that you think they are incapable of doing what you have asked, even if they put forward 100% of their best effort. Depending on the situation, they are…

burnt pizza

At the moment, my house smells of burnt pizza. Turns out the oven was set to broil - not bake - and my hungry teenager has been reduced to eating pizza that is soft on the bottom and crispy on the top. His language was also rather heated when he discovered that setting the temperature and waiting the recommended time had not produced the perfect pizza he was anticipating.

As so often happens, the instructions were not adequate to the context. They assumed that the cook would use the appropriate setting on the oven. The cook assumed the same thing: he didn't check to see that the last person to use the oven had left "bake" as the default. That person assumed that when all the indicator lights were out, the oven had been turned off. These are all reasonable assumptions. They were not all accurate.

I spoke to my business students today about the need to be ethical in writing. They all agreed that writers should be ethical; they were only a little vague about what constituted…

Your brain on collaboration

Today I bought a book: I think the title is Your Brain on Music. As is often the case, I bought it online and will not have it in my hands for a few days. It's by a rock musician turned neuroscientist and one of the things it talks about is how many parts of your brain must work together to make music. It claims that music integrates even more mental resources than language does.

That got me thinking. I wonder how much of my brain lights up when I am actively collaborating. My training partner and I often lead trainings together - both of us at the front of the room, co-creating the experience we offer our clients. When we are at our very best, it feels like every part of my mind is fully engaged - tracking information, drawing on memories, creating new thoughts and sometimes, a new way to think. There's lots of traffic on my neural pathways and it's moving fast.

This may account for much of the difficulty we have in tracing where thoughts or practices begin, and who is l…

what is different when you become the seed?

Imagine, for a moment, that you are a young explorer from another planet, a place where things do not grow or do not grow as they do here. You are sent to observe a garden on earth. And you have been trained well, and you are a careful observer. You take good notes, and you base your judgments on solid evidence.

You watch the garden and what you see is the gardener. She appears every day; she works hard. You watch her care for the earth, and then for the plants as they appear. She weeds and fertilizes; she supports and prunes. She shelters young plants from cold and wind, and she waters the plants when rain doesn't come. She creates drainage.

It seems to you that she creates growth. Of all the things in the garden, she is the one who takes action. Without her, you think, nothing would thrive.

And that's what you report.

But because you have come from a different world, that is not the end of the story. Once you have learned all you can by observing the gardener, you are give…

I just have to make myself do it

Do you catch yourself saying that you will make yourself do something? I wonder how often that works out for you. When I hear the phrase, I will admit that I do not count on hearing that "something" got done. "Make myself" is often a plan to expend more energy on thinking than on doing.

If you really want to get something done today, tell yourself "I will do something," imagine yourself doing "something" and then imagine yourself after you have done "something." No "making" is required. If you have the ability, do "something." If you are missing a necessary skill or resource, acquire it. And if it's not worth doing, let it go.

You cannot "make" yourself do something - you can only "make yourself" into something.

Why do masters take classes?

In the visual and performing arts, they are called master classes. In sports, they are called training camps. In both, performers who have already reached peaks strive to develop new skills and acquire new knowledge.

Academics is not much different: research grants and publications depend on the interaction of peers to monitor and encourage top performance. The point is not competition: the point is that everyone benefits from scrutiny and process. Top performers learn from one another and from the synergies created by their interactions.

Do you take your results as seriously as top performers in other fields take their results? Is your passion for improving deep and compelling? Are you energized by the thought of achieving something that is just beyond your reach now?

Getting better requires a commitment to working through confusion as you try new things and pay attention in new ways. It requires a guiding hope - something to which you aspire and which provides incentive. And it r…


There is a lot of wisdom in counting our blessings and more wisdom in remembering to be thankful for them.

Many, many motivational movements are built around the idea of focusing on the positive and noticing the things we have already acquired and achieved. Some of them move from noticing the positive to offering something positive to others - either through charities or through acts of random kindness. All of this is good.

To be thankful is more than this, and trickier. Thankfulness means acknowledging that we are not, alone, responsible for our achievemnts. Thankfulness means acknowleding that we are not, alone, responsible for what we have acquired. Someone or something has given us a gift - many gifts. We resist knowing this because knowing it means acknowledging that things could have turned out differently. Someone could have given us different gifts (or no gifts at all).

I remember sitting in a math class in grade eight and realizing that I was lucky that I could do math. It wa…

Absolute dollars and relative value

I am enjoying Stumbling On Happiness, a recent book by Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert. It's an effort to make sense of how human beings decide what choices to make in order to make themselves happy. As anyone who has stood by a friend through a bad relationship knows, those choices often seem mysterious or even perverse.

In particular, I am enjoying the distinction Gilbert makes between our sense of value and absolute dollars. He gives this example to explain the distinction: you order your favourite beverage and discover that it's price has doubled in just one day. It is likely that you compare the new price to the old price and make the decision that you are not willing to pay twice as much for the same amount of enjoyment (relative value). It would be more logical, Gilbert says, to compare the new price to other things that you could purchase for the same amount of money (absolute dollars) and decide whether or not the purchase is still worthwhile.

Is the argument int…