Sunday, September 29, 2013

Manage pain with NLP: Simple, powerful, reliable

Pain is scary. It occupies so much of our attention that it begins to feel like nothing is possible beyond it. It makes it hard to connect with our best selves, our best help, and our best goals.

The best strategy for managing pain is to look beyond it, to know what you want more than you want to pay attention to the pain. This is true of emotional pain and of physical pain. Purpose trumps pain.

It's a big leap for most people from wanting the pain to stop to wanting to actually accomplish something satisfying. If you would like to help someone to manage pain, try 5 reliable steps:

1) Connect with their intention to be healthy and engaged. If they really don't want to heal, they won't connect. If they do connect, make sure your presupposition is that they do want to heal and to look beyond the pain to a more satisfying experience of themselves and the world.

2) Distract them from the pain. Pain only hurts while we it engages our attention, so the first step in teaching someone to manage pain is to introduce a surprise. They can't surprise themselves (on purpose). Surprise interrupts attention and opens up possibility.

3) Be curious about the strengths that will allow this person to manage their pain. Curiosity is contagious and very hard to resist. That makes it a great motivation for this person to be curious with you and to search their experience for the strengths they need now.

4) Stabilize strengths as you become aware of them. When you see signs that curiosity has led to a discovery, use your attention and your language to draw attention to the strength. Remember that this is a strength that was out of awareness and your role is to pull it fully into awareness so that it stays operational and can be applied to managing the pain.

5) Encourage a vision of a future where pain is not the point. You can't promise that someone will be pain-free (that might not even be a good thing) but you can help them focus on what they want and what they can accomplish.

Milton Erickson, the famous psychiatrist, was one of the models on whom the practices of NLP were based.  Erickson spent much of his life engaged in managing the pain caused by two bouts of polio. His pain did not stop him from becoming a happy and engaged husband, father and grandfather and the inspiration or several different models of changework.  Pain happens. It doesn't have to dominate.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Is certification important?

You want something more, a change in your thinking, an edge to motivate you. You've been exploring NLP because you heard something or read something. But it's complicated. It's almost overwhelming. There are so many different trainings with official-sounding names and long lists of techniques. How do you know what you need?

Here is one hard truth: anyone can print a certificate. Anyone can make up techniques and then give you a certificate to say that you were in the course.  If you are pursuing a certification to "prove" yourself or to find the difference that finally wins you the job or promotion, you will probably be disappointed. This is not what certification does well.

Here is what our certification in NLP does very well. It trains you in a set of techniques (sometimes called patterns in the NLP jargon) that allow you to change what you give your attention so that you can change the opportunities you see and the results you get. The certificate is not important for what it says about you. It is important for what it says about us. When I sign a certificate, I am saying that I am willing to have my training judged by your results. You have proof that you participated in my training and that means that I have tied my success to your success.

The best guarantee I can offer is a certificate with my name on it that says the world can judge me by the changes you achieve. I sign a certificate when someone has participated fully and I can see that they are beginning the changes that will make a difference for them. For some people, the changes are complete within a training, and for others it will take months to make all the changes real that begin in our practitioner training. The certificate means that I will stand by and support a graduate while those changes work through their lives.

Our certificate means I and my fellow trainers stand behind the work we have done and the work we are doing. You could learn the techniques without a certificate (you could learn many of them without a course). Without a certificate, you would not know that I am willing to tie my own success to the results you get when you train with me.

That is the power in the certificate.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Are you bigger on the inside than you are on the outside?

It seems unlikely that people are bigger on the inside than they are on the outside. But if you've ever spent any time with a young child, you'll know they frequently carry more excitement, creativity, power and perspective than they could logically have based on the size of their bodies and the length of their experience. Children are almost always bigger on the inside than they are on the outside.

Sadly, adults are sometimes smaller on the inside than they are on the outside. Although they look like they are competent and energetic and capable of generating visions of the future, they know themselves to be weak, blind, and tightly bound by invisible constraints.  Although the rest of the world sees what they could do, they themselves are mesmerized by their limits.

No one can stay little for ever. We all grow up. A few people even manage to continue to get bigger on the inside even after their outsides stop growing. It's worth noticing them and wondering what they are doing different.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The power of the listener

We often assume that the person with a voice is the person with power: we equate holding the microphone with directing a meeting. There is some truth in this. The words we choose and the connections we make with them are great ways to influence what happens around us.

But having a voice is only one kind of power.  Who is most powerful? The one who talks or the one who influences the speaker?

We talk because we want to be heard. Our listener's attention acts, usually outside our awareness, to edit our speaking as we speak. Performers know that the quality of the audience changes the quality of the performance. This is true everywhere someone speaks and someone listens.

You have had experiences where you lost your voice because someone chose to hear something else. What I mean is this: there was a time you wanted to talk to someone but you couldn't capture their attention. You got frustrated and you stopped talking about the topic on your mind.

Listeners change what we can say because our brains pick up signs of attention and feed us suggestions to do more of what captures attention and to do less of what does not get attention.

Flip that around. Be intentional about your listening. You could bring out better, more useful ideas in someone.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Thin slicing, leverage points, and elegant solutions to everything

In some ways, I have a mathematical mind. I love the idea of elegance, of solving a problem in the fewest steps.  This idea also appears in my work as leverage points, the point where the smallest effort results in the largest effect.  In Malcolm Gladwell's work, blink, he called it 'thin slicing,' the ability to make more accurate judgments from a select set of information than from more complete information.

I have always loved the moment when a slight pull unravels the whole of the knot.

My own work is about helping people connect the way they think with the results they get. I am always looking for the key criteria that I am actually using in training and coaching to allow clients to make the connections that allow them to solve their problems. Because I respect the research on how people think, I know that I need to discover my own process because it inevitably contains elements just outside of my awareness.

Today, I was reading a new book from my friend and mentor, Roz Usheroff, The Future of You: Creating an Enduring Brand (yes! you should buy it and read it and think about it).  As I read, I was picking at the knot that is my explanation of what I do and how I do it.  I knew that the best answer would not be technical and it would not be complicated.

The best answer is this: I uncover the enthusiasm and curiosity that drive my clients to change the world.

This is my ultimate thin slice of what makes people both satisfied and successful: enthusiasm and curiosity.  With them come purpose and resilience and relationships. With them come a focus on the connections between thought and action and what is real and present. With enthusiasm and curiosity come energy and acuity and meaning.

Maybe in a theoretical world, you could have all those benefits without having enthusiasm and curiosity. But why would you want to?

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Uncover the urge to do better

What makes you want to improve? There's a lot of evidence that rewards are not the best way to drive performance. This is especially important news if you have been wondering why the treats you promise yourself so seldom lead to the discipline to make the changes you want to make.  Lots of people end up telling themselves that they did not really want the change or that the rewards were not worth the effort.

There are rewards that are always worth the effort. They are the changes that happen in your sense of yourself and the world when you are doing stuff that feels important. It may feel important because it is feeding your kids or maintaining your community. It may feel important because it connects you with other people in a bigger cause. It may feel important because it serves your faith.  All of these are motivations to do the hard work to do better.

If you want to make a change in yourself or your habits, begin by thinking about that bigger purpose that feels important to you. It's okay if you do not have exact words: our bigger purpose is frequently bigger than the words we have for it. Just ask yourself: how does this change fit into the stuff that I know is worth it?  And then take the first step towards making the change you want.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

We shape our responses so we can shape ourselves

I just dropped all the work I had planned to do to watch a livestream of a Theatre Sheridan performance of Come From Away. I had meant to attend the performance live last spring, but you know how it is.  My back was bad; work was busy; I didn't follow through.

It's the story of how the town of Gander responded when dozens of flights and thousands of people were stranded there when American airspace was closed on 9/11.  If you think the musical sugar coats the story, take a look at what Snopes has to say about the events. Sometimes, under the most difficult conditions, people choose to be amazing.

Do you remember the choices you made on 9/11?  Choices about what to tell your kids, or whether to change your plans, or how to feel about crowded spaces? I remember standing with my kids and their friends in our family room with the news playing endlessly.  I remember that we decided to go ahead with the first youth orchestra rehearsal of the season that evening. I remember sitting at a keyboard and writing a prayer to send out to people I knew well and people who just happened to be in my contact list.

I remember reading an email from a man I hardly knew, who talked about his very young sons and who also wrote a prayer.

Looking back, what changed my life was not the events of 9/11. It was the prayers. The prayers led to another email and that led to a meeting, and that led to all the work and learning I have done since. I suppose that from a certain point of view, all the people I have influenced in the past ten years are an answer to my prayer that day.

From another point of view, all that changed grew from my decision to respond to terror with affirmation. A prayer is an affirmation that the fear is not all that we are as human beings, and that hope is a choice we can make even when the facts are against us. You might not be a person who believes in prayer. But maybe you read this as a person who believes that how you respond to life makes a difference and that the difference you make begins with your willingness to let your best response shape who you are becoming.

When faced with something overwhelming, we ask "what can we do?" The people who then do something are taking an opportunity to be shaped by their will, their heart, and their impact. Our actions grow from who we are. And then our actions shape who we become.

Friday, September 06, 2013

What does restless mean to you?

There are many Mastermind groups out there. I want to create a group for restless minds. I do not aspire to the mind of a master: I want to continually renew the mind of the beginner, to be as curious as a two-year-old. I want to surround myself with people who are not satisfied unless they are growing, learning, moving in a new direction.

There has never been a time when I was surrounded by curious people that I was not fully engaged, alive, and full of both ideas and the resolve and energy to keep moving. For restless minds, good enough is a place to start, not a place to sleep. It's not that restless minds are not able to value what they have: it's that they know that change is inevitable and living their values means continuing to learn and explore and make changes.

I love restless minds and I love what happens when they gather and share and provoke and create.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Taking the equipment seriously: state-based performance for everyone

When do you need to be at your best? Is it okay for you to be at work and be distracted or impaired? Most of us would say that we need to be consistently clear and competent, and to be at our best for tasks or events that will have a significant impact on us or on our organizations.

Are you at your best when you are stressed or sleep deprived? At home, you probably know the answer is an emphatic "no." You probably know you are at your best when you are clear-headed, well-fed and well-rested. You probably know that regular exercise improves your mood and makes it more likely you will be clear and able to connect with those around you. At home, you know what the experts say is right: human beings rely on their bodies to support their performance and their bodies require predictable things to function optimally.

Too many workplaces function as though an adrenalin rush were the same thing as optimal clear thinking. Too many workplaces think that you function without sleep or exercise and run on coffee and take out food. This is true in public services like policing, in hospitals and in businesses where millions of jobs and lives may be at risk.

The good news is: you can make choices that support your best functioning. You can recognize the importance of your body in supporting your mind, and the importance of your relationships in supporting your ability to make the right connections under stress. You can consider yourself, dispassionately, as the key ingredient in your own well-being and success.

You don't have to be a singer, actor or athlete to recognize and develop high performance states. You just have to be aware of doing what it takes to be at your best when it counts.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Success, achievement, results

I have been wondering about the words success, results, and achievement.  Which do you think best describes what you have accomplished when you get what you want?

I think people like the word success because it takes the stress off the action and places it on the person. this corresponds to the way most people think. When we succeed, we feel that it is because of something we have done, but also it is somehow because we deserve to succeed. When other people succeed, we look more closely at the way a situation rewarded an action, and sometimes that leads us back to the conclusion that success is a matter of personal quality. Some people are just lucky. We deserve success because we are good and we do good work. These attitudes are so basic to human beings that they are called the fundamental attribution error.

It's useful to believe that we deserve our success: it encourages us to persist in our efforts until we get a result we like. It keeps us motivated, and that increases our chances to live and procreate and be an evolutionary success. Even when we do the analysis and understand that success is often the result of being in the right place at the right time, we live better by believing that we are the kind of people who shape our own lives and make our own success.

Results are the products of our actions. They are real: you can observe them and often you can measure them. Businesses like results: they emphasize that what matters is what is produced (not the amount of effort or the quality of the intention). People are a little skeptical of results. We all know that there are times in our lives when we get great results without working very hard and other times when we are clear and intentional and make big efforts and the results are not what we hope.  We would like to believe that we can control our results, but we always have experiences that in our instincts and unconscious processes and remind us that maybe we cannot control our results. So we want to buy in to other people's promises of results, but we are a little hesitant to promise results of our own.

Achievement is the scariest word. Achievement sounds like a success that is somehow more permanent than other good results. Achievement sounds like a success that means something to us and also means something to other people. It is a result that lines up with values and beliefs. People are often asked what they have achieved and almost everyone is thrown a little by the question.  When they are honest with themselves, they are not sure that any of their results is important enough or reliable enough to be called an achievement.

I am looking for a word that means having an idea and using it to make something change. We do that all the time: we think of something we want and then we make it or find it or acquire it. Getting a good cup of tea might not seem like an achievement (although I remember one late night in Paris when I really, really needed a good cup of tea. . .) but it is something that starts as an idea and ends up as something that can be seen or heard or felt in a real, physical way. It begins as a suggestion you give the world and ends up as feedback the world gives you.

This is what I do: I help people make it more likely that the real, tangible feedback they get from the world will line up better with the idea they put out into the world.

Monday, September 02, 2013

What kind of first impression do you want to create?

What comes to mind when you think of making a good first impression? Do you start with a word one description of an impression?  We often begin with abstract thinking: People who make a good impression are: attractive, confident, welcoming, etc. Then we might begin to tailor the word to a particular situation. The first impression we want to make at a party might be different than the first impression we want to make on our child's teachers.

It's hard to live up to a one word description. It's easier to step into a connection with someone we know who has made a great impression on us. When we think of situations we will encounter, we could begin by thinking, "who do I know who would be great at this?" As you think of that person and the kind of impression they make, it's possible you might start changing some of your attitude, your expressions, your movements to be more like them.  It's possible that just paying attention to a person who made a great impression makes it more likely that you will make a similar impression.

Perhaps you are overwhelmed by this advice.  There are dozens of reasons why you might find that the only people you are sure make a great first impression are so different from you (or in a situation so different from yours) that you can't possibly benefit from the model they provide. You just can't be tall enough, confident enough, loud enough, or discreet enough to do what they do to make the impression they make.  Are you just stuck with making whatever impression you make?

Maybe in the situation you are considering, you are someone who needs to make a first impression by the quality of the attention you pay to the people you are meeting. People find it easier to connect with people who want to connect with them, and easier to be fully engaged with someone who is fully engaged in interacting with them.  Your best bet might be to be yourself and to simply open all your circuits to paying attention to the person you want to impress. If you're not distracted by self-consciousness, ego, or the places you would rather be, you will give the impression of someone who is fully present and attentive. That's unusual enough to make a strong impression.

Your job is not to create an impression. It's to be present enough in what you're doing so that just being your best self leaves an impression.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

The parents in your head

I wonder if you've ever told yourself how different you are from your parents. I wonder if there's been a time when you heard your mother's voice or your father's voice come out of your own mouth and immediately stopped, shocked. "I am not my mother," you said. "I am not the father that my father was."

You're right. You are not your parents. It's possible that your parents are not even the same parents you carry around in your head. It's possible that the voice you hear is the voice your mother had several decades ago. She has learned and changed and maybe softened. But the old voice surfaces with a commentary on your choices and abilities that your real mother would no longer share.  It's possible that your father's voice is different now too, with less of a young man's anger and more of a grandfather's concern.  But the voice in your head is still a demanding, commanding authority.

What will you do with the parents in your head?  They may or may not be the same parents you encounter over family dinner but they are still telling you what you can think or do or be.  They are still putting up barriers for you to knock down or crawl over or just accept.  They are still driven by voices they carried in their heads, twenty or thirty or more years ago.

You might as well listen when they speak. You don't really have a choice anyway.  So listen.  Hear the tone of the voice as well as the words.  Let yourself go back and see and hear and feel the context that belongs to those voices.  Notice the details.  Then notice: they are not the details that govern your choices now. Those voices are mostly just a child's best guess at what it would take to be an adult.

It's only by listening to those voices that you will begin to notice the good stuff they represent and the good news that you have overcome much of the bad stuff they also represent. The parents in your mind are always and only parents, the strong patterns you recorded when you were only a child.  The parents in your life are people; you might even be older now than they were when you recorded those voices.  Even if your parents are no longer alive, the parents you know now are people in a way that the voices in your head are not.

When you listen to the parents in your head, you can separate them from the parents in your life. And then you can decide whether to turn the volume down and live with a hum of disapproval or turn it up and enjoy the continuity of attitude or values. Choice begins with listening, and then it moves from there.