A theme for LearnConnectDo 2019

On 14th March this year it’s the first LearnConnectDo event of 2019 as these events run into their 4th year now!  Wow.

“These are always thought-provoking and useful sessions!”

CH, previous delegate.

Huge thanks to everyone who has attended, facilitated and helped us along the way – including PKF Cooper Parry who kindly sponsor us by letting us use their amazing workspace for every event.  read more

Emotional intelligence made easy

Think of a time when you were in flow. Either on your own, or in a group or team. One of those times when things just seemed to happen really naturally and easily. When you didn’t have to put much effort in and yet you were making great progress, or getting great results.

Now compare that to the definition of emotional intelligence:

“the capability of individuals to recognize their own emotions and those of others, discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goal(s)”

When you were in flow, to what extent were you doing any of the things in that definition?

My guess would be not very much, if at all, and certainly not consciously. Not with intellectual effort.

This is because when we’re in our natural state, we don’t need strategies and tactics. We don’t need breathing and centring, or visualisations of the best version of us, or mantras about listening to understand not to reply.

And this is because, in our natural “flow state”, we aren’t paying attention to the thinking going on in our heads. We’re not grabbing hold of thoughts and believing them. We’re not analysing why someone’s said what they said, or why we ourselves are getting frustrated by something, and crucially we’re not trying to manage ourselves out of an emotional response we think we shouldn’t be having in that moment. We’re keeping our intellectual, egoic, personal thinking out of the way and we’re accessing a much deeper space of wisdom and intuition.

Why aren’t we in flow more?

For years we’ve been teaching people (me included until recently) that we need to intellectually manage what’s going on for us emotionally. That we need to use our brain muscle to fix ourselves, that we need to practice and repeat to build new habits and new neural pathways, all so we can be better versions of ourselves more of the time because we’ve been led to believe there’s some version of us which is not good enough and not acceptable to society right now.

The trouble is, the application of our intellectual capabilities to these emotional management tasks, takes valuable energy away from our ability to generate fresh new thoughts and ideas in any moment, from our ability to listen and hear others, from our ability to connect and collaborate.

Remember that flow state? All those things just happened naturally there because you weren’t stuck, caught, or getting tangled in your thinking. And I’m not saying that in flow everything is about positivity and full agreement, with permanent grins on everyone’s faces – but you and others will have felt able to express any frustration or concerns without it seeming like a big deal. In fact the complete opposite. Any such insights will have been gratefully received and discussed, leading to an even better way forward.

So if we’re not “managing” our state through emotional intelligence tactics, how do we get to this state of flow more of the time?

We understand how our human system really works.

What we’ve been doing with emotional intelligence is explore:

the “what” – the content of our thoughts, labelling the emotions we’re feeling,

and

the “why” – what’s triggered you to get to that response. Often then examined to be re-framed or replaced with a more helpful thought.

This different approach understands the “how” of our underlying system. Think of making a car go. There is no benefit in commenting on the shape or design of the bodywork (the “what”). And there’s also no benefit in polishing the paintwork to a high shine to make it look nicer (the “why”). Neither of these approaches is going to get the car going. You must first understand “how” all the parts of the engine work and fit together to make the thing move forward.

The exact same here.

So how does our system work?

There are two areas where we can see the system working the way it always has and always will.

  • Everything works inside-out. Everything you’ve experienced, ever, in your whole life has been experienced through your thoughts. There is no other way. Nothing on the outside can “do” anything to you or “make” you feel anything. It’s all seen through the movie projector of our experience. “We’re the writer, the director, the producer – and in fact the audience”*.
  • Our system rights itself. Without intervention from us, our thinking moves on, our feelings change and we move to a different state. Automatically. In fact, I might go so far as to use the new word I recently learnt “automagically”! We “think” we’re so clever and we’ve been taught all our lives to be clever: in education, by parents, and in work. The message we’ve received is that intellectual capabilities are THE most important capability we have. And it’s not that intellectual is unimportant, but it’s the fact that this is not all there is. In emphasising our intellectual, we’ve denied and hidden the rest of what makes us whole; the true source of our brilliance and innate wisdom. We’ve been so busy fixing ourselves to be better we forgot that we didn’t need fixing in the first place.
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    Racing with square wheels

    I was with a Board team last week who were talking about change. How it takes courage and can be hard because we’re having to lose something of us to adopt something new or move to something different.

    This is true but only when we attach to our personal thoughts

    When we attach to our personal thoughts it’s like putting square wheels on a racing car. We clunk along. Sometimes stopping all together, unable to move forward. Certainly not able to quickly change direction when needed.  But we believe in these wheels, we created them. Even if “horrible” or “negative” there’s a familiarity about them that brings comfort. We know where we are. We’ve adapted ourselves to drive with these wheels, forgetting how things used to be before we had them.

    Then we start to consider maybe this isn’t ideal. Maybe I would benefit from a smoother ride. Normally we start working hard to change the wheels. Intellectually analysing how they were fitted, what they are made of. But some of the bolts seem stuck. Or maybe there’s a square wheel we subconsciously like the look of so we find a justifiable reason not to change it.

    Now we’re driving with 2 square and 2 round wheels. Better but not exactly a smooth ride. Then you meet someone who glides on round wheels. You’re fascinated & slightly freaked out by their difference. It reminds you of glimmers in your life when you’ve glided, when smooth wheels suddenly appeared and for that short while you enjoyed it! Thinking it must have been what you were doing at the time that created that feeling, you repeat the activity, repeating the external conditions to create the smooth-ride magic as often as you can.

    Maybe you didn’t realise that you brushed off the truth of what was going on because it seemed so simple and we all know simple doesn’t win kudos prizes.

    The truth is that round wheels are our natural state. Round wheels are what we are born with. We just acquired the square as we grew up & blindly followed the square-creating rules of the world. Once we really see the truth of how the square are created, moment-to-moment, and what they really mean, then our attachment to them drops away with a natural ease and we slip into the round. The natural place we fall back to. Our innate state of clarity, wisdom and wellbeing. From here we glide round the corners, speed along the straights and rediscover a life of richness and fulfilment. All the while connected to our innate brilliance.

    If you’re curious to learn more, this is what we’re going to be exploring through LearnConnctDo this year. The thread that’s going to weave through all the sessions.

    We’re starting on 14th March* with an introduction to the psychological understanding that underpins this smooth-wheel place. The Eventbrite will be up very soon on this page – if you don’t want to miss it jump on the mailing list by getting in touch with me here. As last year, all ticket profits will be going to Twenty:Twenty as we continue our partnership with this wonderful charity.  Thank you to PKF for continuing to host us so we can maximise how much we donate.

    *3-6pm at PKF Cooper Parry’s East Mids offices (near East Mids Airport).

    Life is LITERALLY what you make it

    It really seems like that person is irritating / lazy / slow at their work / makes lots of mistakes.

    Or that this other person is amazing / so capable / always on it / full of great ideas.

    It really seems like this situation is upsetting, or that one is fun.

    That this one will make me cry, or that one will make me laugh out loud.

    It seems like these are definites.

    But when you see that our minds are entirely like projectors, that definite-ness shifts.

    Nothing, ever, in our whole lives, has “made” us think or feel any of those things.

    All those people and experiences are 100% neutral until we experience them through our thinking.  We are a projector, not a camera, and always have been.

    Life is LITERALLY what we make it because we can and have always experienced life through our thoughts.

    The thing that makes these experiences seem so convincingly true and makes them seem like they’re coming from outside of us is that we mostly agree about what’s upsetting or fun and what counts as irritating or amazing.  We get taught these rules from the moment we enter the world so our thinking around people and situations is mostly very similar.

    I witnessed it the other day in the supermarket. Someone talking to a baby.. “oh that’s better, there’s that smile” because clearly the baby not smiling wasn’t good or acceptable. Or at least that’s the message the baby – and we all – received. The thought that the baby attached its identity to.

    But then you meet someone who doesn’t see things the same way as you.

    A common reaction to these people is to find a way to not be with them.  The greater the differences the more we’ll psychologically or intellectually fight or run away from them.  Our ego likes to be right and certain and these people who remove such certainty and who challenge our right-ness are a danger – or at least our ego thinks so.

    I ran some happiness workshops recently and while most people were in agreement about the stress and pressures of diaries and conflicting priorities, about the difficult people and demanding bosses, the high expectations and reducing budgets…there was one person who was different.

    “You all seem to be thinking about this stuff far too much” he said.

    “This is just work.  You come in, do your best with the time you’ve got, you close things off well for the day, you go home and you do other things”.

    Most of the group held onto their own views and saw his as strange, or dismissed this difference with “well you must have an easy job” or “you mustn’t have the pressures that I have in my job” or, I’ve no doubt some were thinking, “your work isn’t as important as mine”.

    As far as I know this guy hadn’t had any special lessons in how to get the most from life but he really seemed to have a good appreciation for the nature of Thought, and that when you really see that, your thoughts naturally drop away more easily and bother you less.  When you see that the feelings thoughts generate don’t need solutions life gets easier, more obvious and more fun.

    Notice for yourself. Next time you find yourself confronted by a different view, see what it’s like to notice that thought and not follow it or hold onto it as if it were the truth.

    Parrots, Reality and Flow

    This parrot led to tears and upset.

    As my daughter drew it, copying from the video, she burst into tears. The tail looked all wrong, far too wide for the body. “But mummy look, the tail needs to go to under its first toe”.

    Trouble is, of course, my daughter’s parrot’s toes were slightly different to the one in the video so the tail going to there did make it look a bit crazy-wide.

    When we try to copy a pre-prepared plan to the letter, when we expect people to behave in a certain way that matches the movie in our heads, when we think it shouldn’t be raining today because we’ve got that outdoor event, when we think we should be earning more / achieving more….

    This is where our suffering begins: when we believe every single thing we think and see it as a solid, definite truth.

    Once you really see how our minds work, the more you live in the moment working with what is, instead of what you think it “should” be. The more you’re here, the more you stay fluid and flexible, adaptive and agile, adjusting and integrating, and the better you feel.

    All this without having to actively “do” anything. No mind-management techniques, no practicing of new habits. Once you “get” this understanding, the flow just flows.

    It’s hard work swimming upstream against the current of the world around us.

    Jump in and be in the flow.

    Get in touch if you want to know more.

    How do you create a community?

    On 13th September Cat Hase and I ran a Street Wisdom for September’s Learn > Connect > Do event, and welcomed an inquisitive bunch of wanderers to the PKF Cooper Parry offices up here in the East Mids.  You can *see some of them there in the photo 😉 (*courtesy of Cat’s creative skills and in the absence of us thinking to take photos!)  Thanks to these wonderful people buying tickets to find wisdom in the streets, we’ve now upped our total donated to Twenty:Twenty to £325 so far this year – more than last year’s total already!  We’re delighted!!

    As well as that great news, I wanted to share about the experience of one of the delegates because it led to learning and insight for me too.  This is the kind of brilliance that comes from Street Wisdom and I didn’t even wander!

    Jonny, Head of Fundraising at Twenty:Twenty, brought the question – how do you create a community?  Clearly an important question for his job, and for many in the world of work whatever the sector.

    His first thoughts as he began his quest were “well, an airport runway, how am I going to find inspiration here?’.  And of course he did, because our mind is a wonderful thing and Street Wisdom is an amazing tool to access it.

    This seemingly dead-end question led to a realisation that the runway is in fact itself a creator of community.  All the people who visit the airport, who work there, who transport people there, who work in the businesses that are only there because of their proximity to the airport.  These people are all part of that airport community.  They might all have different individual, small-group or large-group purposes to be there but they’re all connected by that central tarmac object.  All part of that community.

    Later that night, or the next morning, I can’t quite remember….I had a realisation too…..multiply that up.  Take it bigger.  Take the earth.

    We might all have our individual, small-group or large-group purposes here but we are all connected.  We are all together, living our purposes, connected by this shared central earth-shaped object.  All part of this community.  And not just humans – plants, creatures, weather, water, mountains…..  All connected.

    What does this change for you?

    You’re good enough as you are – but here’s some feedback

    The other day I wrote this piece about how we are all absolutely OK. We just forgot it.

    This has been a new realisation for me thanks to learning about the Three Principles with Piers Thurston and this particular realisation has helped to settle a paradox that I used to just accept I had to hold both ends of.

    That paradox was that I would hear people say “you’re good enough just as you are” but then I would hear and see others doing or saying things – maybe about their own work or feeding back to me – which would suggest I “should” be doing or behaving in a different way. So…I’m good enough as I am…..except when others (or me to myself) lay down a judgement and then I’m not good enough, I’m imperfect in some way and I “should” change and do something different.

    Now…..the paradox has dissolved.

    Two key realisations have been part of this happening….

    One is that I had a deep whole-body realisation that I’m actually, deeply, fundamentally OK. I am already a whole person. Good enough just as I am. I truly “see” that. I don’t just hear the words at an intellectual level.

    Two is that I see that everything I have ever experienced has been from the inside out. So all those times when I’ve thought I “should” be doing something because of what someone else is telling me or what I’m enviously seeing others do, have been created by me. Self-imposed “should’s”.

    And the result. The paradox is gone. I am deeply, fundamentally, good enough as I am and I know I have an innate capacity to be creative and resourceful which means I will keep moving forward, learning, improving and creating with the goal of making a positive difference. But not because I “should”, instead because it feels like the most natural and obvious thing to do.

     

    [Photo credit : https://unsplash.com/@rohanmakhecha]

    Don’t believe the hype

    Everyone.  Every.  Single.  One of us.  Has hang ups, neuroses, insecurities.

    They show up in different ways.  Some masked by confidence, others shaking with fear, others pursuing, driving and achieving to compensate for the empty space and the belief that they’re not good enough.

    But we’ve been sold hype all our lives and this is how it plays out.

    Hype in the form of…

    What counts as good and bad.

    What counts as acceptable and unacceptable.

    What will have you included and excluded.

    Which boxes to tick to be counted as good.

    All of which our ego attaches to and desperately works at to play the game, to be included, to be rewarded and praised.

    A game we’ve been taught.  A game we’ve been taught is the way to stay included, safe and OK.  A game which will stop us experiencing sadness or upset.  A game which we think will keep us alive.

    And our ego plays its heart out because it’s desperate to be accepted, to be good enough, to fill the empty space.  Keep playing the game.

    And yet it still doesn’t feel OK.

    And things go “wrong” and then it definitely doesn’t feel OK because it was taught that sadness and tears were things to be avoided.

    And it remembers – in body and mind – the times it’s been told it’s not good enough.  That it’s not OK.  And the hurt.  So it denies and ignores those feelings and memories and tries to be positive and look on the bright side and to work hard to get the stuff that it’s been told will make it happy.

    So it works (really hard through struggle and stress)

    to be successful (because it’s been told this makes you happy because you can buy the stuff of happiness)

    and it gets there and is happy for a while with the glow of the stuff.

    And the glow fades and the emptiness returns and the cycle begins again.

    Because without a true belief that it’s good enough, it can never truly be kind to itself.  That deep disbelief that it really is worth love or happiness or contentment just can’t be worked or bought or drunk or eaten or friend-ed away.

    And so sadness and suffering prevail and the masking behaviours come back because that’s all it knows.

    Isn’t it crazy then to discover this game of life doesn’t matter.

    That playing the game isn’t the thing that keeps us alive, or not.

    We can still play it, we can still enjoy it, we can still “do well” at it – whatever your measure of “doing well” is.  But it doesn’t matter.  It doesn’t determine your good-enoughness or your OK-ness.

    We’re all OK just as we are.  We always have been.  But we forgot.

    Maybe we’ve all been believing the hype?

     

    [Image source : https://rogerluethy.wordpress.com/2015/02/10/dont-believe-the-hype-efficiency-matters/]

    Break the habit of busy

    I’m seeing it everywhere I go.

    No time to stop.  No time to think.  Just get on and do, do, do!  And make sure others are doing the same.

    In this place your brain is in action mode (distinct from reflection mode).  You become more concerned about yourself than others.  You lose perspective.  It’s hard to see the bigger picture.  You don’t think with full capacity because you’re verging on threat state and some parts of your brain aren’t deemed important enough for good blood flow when you’re in that place.  More things become a competition than necessary.  Frustrations are everywhere.  And you’re more likely tip from the edge of “healthy pressure” into unhealthy stress and unhelpful reactions.  When that happens you damage relationships, often with those you’re relying on to get your “doing” done.

    It’s such a waste of human potential.

    Because what I also see is that when people do choose to stop and think, either in 1:1 or group sessions, they can then see clearly.  They raise their awareness.  And from that position of greater clarity they choose different, more effective, more beneficial actions – and get better results.

    And we need to choose it.  We need to choose to stop.

    The predominant culture in business today is “be busy” – because it makes you look/feel important and successful, because it makes you look/feel needed or wanted, because if you don’t your pay rise / bonus / job / career might be at risk….because if there’s a problem or something goes wrong fingers will be pointed at me because I didn’t look like I was doing anything.  I looked like I didn’t have everything under control.  I wasn’t dotting every i and crossing every t.

    Our need for control makes us think that doing stuff and keeping doing stuff – a lot – is our route to success.

    When in fact it’s our route to failure.

    When we stop, in reflective mode, we feel more relaxed, our thinking broadens, we see connections, we become more empathetic and therefore able to appreciate and be considerate of others’ perspectives, we’re more flexible, adaptable and resilient to the things that inevitably change the plan along the way.

    So ironically, even though we think that ploughing on and getting through the work is THE most important thing and the thing that will get us furthest.  If we only stopped for 15 minutes and walked round the block, or went to buy a sandwich outside the building, it would help our heads shift into reflective mode, help us process what we’ve just done, and have us ready for the next chunk of the day.

    And beyond that there are so many other ways and times and places you can stop and reflect.  The key is for it to become a regular habit.  You choose which of these sounds right for you.  Give it a try, see if it works, and if not, try something else.

    How Often and When:

    Daily (tiny version) – if you feel you don’t have time to reflect at all – start small – even just reflecting on #3goodthings every day can start to shift how you feel and think.  That only takes a few minutes on your journey home.

    Daily (slightly bigger version) – 15 minutes before you’re going to leave – what’s gone well today, what hasn’t, what do I want to do differently tomorrow / next time?

    Weekly – Friday before you finish – what’s gone well this week, what’s been challenging, what have I learnt, what’s coming up next week?

    Monthly – end of the month – what am I proud of, what’s been difficult, what am I learning from that, what do I want to do with that now?

    Who With:

    On your own – on paper, spoken out loud, recorded into your phone

    With a colleague who’d also like to experiment with this, talk and process out loud while the other listens, then swap

    Work with a coach* – protected thinking time with someone who’s entirely on your side, usually up to two hours, for in-depth reflection.  Probably focussed on a particular aspect of your life – maybe something that’s showing up as a pattern for you and which is becoming a hindrance.

    Where:

    Ideally outside amongst trees and greenery – nature has a positive effect on how we feel!

    If not then somewhere as comfy and relaxing as possible – maybe a coffee shop or quieter work area

    Or just at your desk, on the sofa…. you choose.

     

    Try some options.  See what works for you.  Form a habit you feel you can stick to.  Some reflecting is better than none.

    And see what impact is has on you and those around you.

     

    *Different coaches are different.  Talk to a few and choose the one you think will work for you.  Coaches are used to this choosing process and good ones will have no problem with you not choosing them.

    Confessions of a recovering Type A

    I’m a recovering Type A, maybe with a bit of Type C chucked in! 

    Like alcoholics, I’m not sure my treatment will ever be entirely complete, but I’m on the right track.


    I’ve always strived to achieve. To achieve with the hope of being ‘good enough’ for the parental figures in my life – be they at home or work.  Having always found good grades fairly easy to come by at school I expected the trend to continue in work, sometimes sorely disappointed by the different type of race being run there with politics and relationships suddenly part of the game – not just working hard to deliver ‘the work’. 

    And some Type A is good, it gets stuff done, it pushes boundaries, it challenges beyond what we first thought possible. But, as with most things, too much and it becomes a weakness. It’s downsides begin to outweight the up.

    When I look back on my days in HR I see a me who was shoulder to shoulder with the tough-minded commercial leader : “Well, if they can’t cut it this might not be the right place for them.”  “If their caring responsibilities are going to take priority over their job then this isn’t going to work.”  “10% growth again this year? Of course we can do it! *collective leadership battle cries* Are you in or out?”

    Some of this was because their Type A matched mine – deliver more, more, more, with less, less, less. 

    And this behaviour was underpinned by an unkindness, a lack of care, a lack of empathy.  I was so fixed on (supposedly) doing the right thing for the business, so aligned with these focussed, driven leaders – who were meant to be the role models to follow – that it didn’t occur to me that anything else was an option.  I thought it made me a “commercial” HR person – what all the books said you’re meant to be.


    I did change my attitude and approach to my role in HR in later years, seeing the importance of holding that space of challenge and providing balance to the Type A leadership style, reminding leaders of the human beings involved – my kids played a big part in that development for me.  And my attitude and approach have definitely changed again since leaving corporate life. 

    But the biggest shifts have come through working with my own coach, that this unkindness I showed towards others started from an unkindness towards myself.  That I believed I was only good enough, only deserved praise / attention / love if I was tough and resilient, if I showed I could deliver the results – be they A grades in exams or improved sales and profit, only good enough if I worked hard.

    These messages we get as kids, they reverberate through the years. 

    And so although I know I’ve come a long way in my journey from that version of me back there, I also know there is still more to do to keep myself grounded in believing I’m  good enough as I am.  From that self care comes a genuine care for others and the ability to make the right choices for the human beings in this world around me, more than the business results and hours worked. 

    Last week I had another realisation in this journey of mine and this little phrase that came to me resonated strongly – “I think if I’m being a high achiever it makes me better, but it only makes me worse.”

    If you’re on a similar journey you’re definitely not alone and I’d encourage you to keep going, keep exploring, keep understanding and empathising with yourself because from there comes understanding and empathy for others.  

    With levels of mental health concerns rising things aren’t going to improve unless we start here.

    And for my own latest exploring on this journey?  It’s brought me to Buddhism which has put a whole new mind-blowing spin on it.  I’m still processing a lot to be able to write on that.  But maybe for another post…

    [Photo credits : http://members.cogwa.org/man-blog/do-you-have-to-be-a-tough-guy-to-be-a-man/ ; https://www.surrey.ac.uk/quality-enhancement-standards/collaborative-provision