our eyes face the wrong way…

Our eyes face the wrong way.

Oh sure, looking outwards has its uses – fewer lampposts walked into, glorious sunsets to admire, great novels to read, smiles to warm our hearts, choosing your next Krispy Kreme donut (that may just be me)

The problem is that so much of our truth, our success, our learning, our qualities, our gifts, our struggle, our reason for being, our beauty, our essence, our soul … lies inside us.

And we can’t see it.

Yet it drives our behaviour, our choices, our joy, our sadness, our fulfillment, our happiness.

The world outside can be beautiful, but take a moment to look inside.

That can be beautiful too.

the courage of truth…

truth self be
I have just read an article in the paper.

The story is told by a grandmother and is of her five year old grandson, who wants to be a girl.

The author writes of the challenges the parents face, buoyed by a steely desire to support their son’s ‘wholeness’, but conscious of the white rapids of gender politics, judgement and bigotry society will toss them through.

The author also writes how her five year old grandson is teaching her. Teaching her about truth, mostly her own. Wrestling with her own inner dialogue daily – are we indulging him, what will people think of me? – she describes how she has had to turn to her own discomfort, own her own prejudice and confront the worst her imagination can conjure. She recognises the most unpalatable truth; that her own thoughts, words and actions questioning what she and the family are doing, have been about protecting herself.

What courage. What honesty. What love.

Would that we could all face our truth as this grandmother and her grandson are.

what’s your worst bad habit?

bad habit chewing pencil
From childhood we are alerted to the dark path of the bad habit.

Don’t suck your thumb
Don’t bite your nails
Don’t twirl your hair
Don’t fidget, sit still
Don’t pick your nose…

Of course in these examples it is the parent speaking, the adult. They have decided this behaviour is ‘bad’. For many, this is because they were conditioned as children to believe these habits were bad, by their own parents, by ‘society’. It is as if we have passed the judgement ‘bad’ down through the generations.

But what is a habit? Convention might say a habit is a practice, a manner, a behaviour that has become a pattern. A pattern that is hard to give up. Change requires the exercising of that thing we call ‘will power’.

I have spoken before here about behaviour being purposeful, having a structure. Trigger, behaviour, reward.

Those childhood habits I have mentioned might share similar triggers … a sense of worry, anxiety, restlessness, feeling exposed, alone, needing comfort? They might also share a reward? They all seem to have a property of physical connection to ourselves, be it thumb, hair, fidgety bottom, fingers, nose. Maybe a form of comfort from connecting to our own bodies?

So why bad?

One definition of a bad habit is one that has the potential to be detrimental to our physical or mental health.

Convention in the adult world might list such things as smoking, eating too much fast food, gambling, drinking too much, late night snacking as bad habits. Again, maybe it is society that creates this assessment, this valuation of bad? Not just invented though, not just handed down in stories and tales from elders, we have researched the medical implications of smoking, drinking, over-eating. We have hard evidence. We know.

Take a smoker. They know it is harmful, yet they persist. Why? Lack of will power? Maybe. Maybe that’s just another way of saying the reward is too important to me?

I was once in a training, where we were asked to list the benefits or rewards from smoking. Many were social – an opportunity to socialise, connect with like-minded people. Some described it as relaxing. We listed over forty benefits, from a room of sixty people, only a quarter of whom smoked. But one delegate offered a very powerful benefit. They described how it helped them remember their father – who had died of lung cancer. An odd behaviour at a logical level? But, that’s a very powerful reward. I suggest it might trump will power every time.

So paying attention to the triggers and rewards, might be useful here? It is these that drive the habit. The rewards can be well hidden, logically hard to rationalise and so hard to unearth. Seeking them out can be tricky. Be persistently curious. Keep asking ‘what do I get from behaving like this?’ Finding another way to get that reward will help you change the habit.

Maybe we need to talk not so much of ‘bad habits’, but more of ‘rewarded habits’?

So, what IS your worst bad habit?

Not because society labels it bad, but because it carries a reward you very much want or need. Your most rewarded habit? And, if you would like to change the habit or behaviour, how might you get that reward another way?

where is your career going?

career life journey
We are encouraged to think about our career, constantly. It starts from an early age. Parents, teachers, school and further education all refer to career, as we make choices about schools, subjects, classes, areas of study, qualifications… We are encouraged to aspire. Aspiration often measured by the grades we get, the university or college we go to, the job we get, the seniority we attain, the pay level we reach…

How will we spend our working lives? In a profession, as a manager, owning our own business, with a portfolio career, following a vocation…? What kind of work do we want to do? What expertise, qualifications, skills, learning do we need for that?

Then when we start work, chances are we have a performance review or a discussion with a line manager, exploring how we might develop our career. We are encouraged to seek new challenges, new opportunities, new skills, new experiences. Maybe we get bored with our job, or learn what satisfies us or motivates us, and so seek to move our career to a different path?

Career seems almost to have become a synonym for life at work, for progression, recorded by the job sequence captured on our CV, our roles, our employers, our promotions, our job titles…

The origin of words is fascinating, especially in the context of how they are understood and used today.

Career comes from the Latin Carrus – a wheeled vehicle. Taking us on a journey. Adopted in French as Carrière and Italian as Carriera, it referred to the road we take. One Oxford English Dictionary definition of career is a person’s “course or progress through life”. Life’s journey if you will.

It doesn’t specify work, job, promotion, pay, skills, grade or profession.

So, maybe the question “Where is your career going?” is in itself limiting? Perhaps a better question would be “How do you plan to progress through life?”

This bigger perspective widens our choices. I might, for example, respond to this question, ‘being kind to other human beings’ or ‘being at peace with myself’ or ‘learning forever’ or ‘having fun’ or ‘being exhilarated by new challenges’.

This opens up possibilities. My choices are more rounded, more whole life. I can still occupy myself and earn a living in the context of these responses, but equally I can pursue them in all parts of my life. Home, hobbies, pastimes, leisure. With family, friends, alone or with like-minded individuals.

So maybe ask yourself not “Where is my career going?”

Instead ask yourself “How am I going to progress through life?” Or “What life course do I want?” Or “What will my life journey be?”

This may afford you more possibility, more freedom, more balance, more happiness.

why do we question?

question listen silence
Some time back I facilitated a workshop during which we experimented with silence.

It’s a difficult art.

Delegates had individually completed a five minute exploration of one aspect of themselves, resulting in a few written sentences. The second part of the exercise was to pair up and share that with a colleague. The only ask I made of those listening was to say nothing. Yes, to remain fully present. Yes, to listen completely, not just for what was said, but for deeper meaning and what wasn’t being said. But to remain silent. For the full five minutes.

They were all unable to avoid asking questions. So we explored that when we came back together.

It transpired the questions were all for the benefit of the questioner. Questions to clarify the questioner’s understanding. Questions for the questioner to understand context. Questions for the questioner to compare with their own experience. Questions for the questioner to shape appropriate feedback, input, opinion. Questions for the questioner to demonstrate they were listening. Questions for the questioner to collude. Questions for the questioner to feel they were adding value, helping in some way. Questions for the questioner to demonstrate empathy.

“When does this happen?” “What have you tried?” “What happened when you…?” “Could you speak to…?” “How long has this been like this? “If you approached it this way…?” “I know what you mean, it’s hard isn’t it?” “What did they say when you did that?” “How can I help?” …

It seems we have become accustomed to ask questions for our own benefit.

Shifting focus to only ask questions for the benefit of the other person is a skill. It offers the other person a way to expand their own understanding, broaden their own awareness. It offers the other person an opportunity to explore choices, possibilities. It offers the other person the opportunity to learn, to grow.

Above and beyond this enhanced learning, to have someone be with us, solely in service of us, is rare. To have someone listen that deeply, to witness but not judge, to empathise not sympathise, can be a very connected experience. To be given space to be with our own experience is a gift, humbling and trust laden. At this level, silence becomes the deepest form of listening. The purest form of being with someone.

In many of our conversations, our human interactions, we fall into the pattern of asking questions to broaden our own understanding or to feed our own need to be useful. Questions to find solutions for the person, to be helpful and affirm our own value… to ourselves.

Seeking questions solely to broaden the speaker’s awareness offers a different way.

Be curious about the true intent behind the questions you ask.

Practice seeking questions which broaden the other person’s exploration of their own experience and to find new learning, new possibilities, new meaning for themselves. Practice too the art of silence.

how will your future you advise the younger you?

If you were your own mentor … what would you tell yourself?

If an older, wiser you could guide the younger you and impart some wisdom, some gem of learning from life’s journey, what might that be?

Novelist Cheryl Strayed’s advice to her twenty-two year-old self from a viewpoint two decades further on was …

“There are some things you can’t understand yet. Your life will be a great and continuous unfolding. Understand that what you have resolved will need to be resolved again. And again. You will come to know things that can only be known with the wisdom of age and the grace of years. Most of these things will have to do with forgiveness.”

Sound advice. What would yours be?

time to clean up?

human clean
Our lives are spent cleaning up.

At home for example, we’ve just had breakfast and we are headed out for the day. Each of us has showered, washed hair, groomed in our respective ways. We’ve cleaned up in the bathroom, to make space for the next visitor. We’ve washed up the breakfast crockery. Cleaned down work surfaces. Even washed the car windscreen for the drive ahead.

In our human lives we clean and tidy other things too, constantly – we seem compelled to keep order, space, a standard of existing, room to ‘be’. We tidy rooms, dust, vacuum. Clear garages. Windows are cleaned, inside and out, so that we can see the world more clearly. Cars get hosed and washed, waxed and polished. Gutters are cleared. Furniture gets realigned, wiped down. Gardens get tended. Old shoots are clipped away, grass mown and neatly edged. Leaves swept. Yards and paths are brushed and ‘broomed’. Toys are cleared up after use. Children’s faces wiped. Partially consumed foods are repackaged and stored, wrapped, clipped, boxed in a plastic container. All aspects of our selves and our homes kept clean and ready for re-use.

Our places of work are tidied too. Factory floors, office corridors, desks. Electronic storage is deleted, archived, filed away in folders. Physical storage too, books, articles, paper, reports. Each evening the cleaners arrive to ensure the place of work can function, efficiently, effectively the following day. Processes are run to ensure a state of commercial readiness. Billing, order processing, overnight processing schedules, backups and archives.

Even relationships get cleaned up. Apologies made. Gifts bought. Farewells said. Hugs offered. A good ‘let’s talk this through’ often used to clear things up for the next leg of the journey. Friends are remembered, some are forgotten. In social media we follow and unfollow, friend and unfriend to keep our electronic worlds clean and tidy for the next visit.

We are even learning to clean the planet.

But still the mess comes. More to tidy, more to clean.

Yet, there seems to be a focus on the exterior.

Our outside and the places it inhabits, works, moves to and through, all get attention. Our connections to others on occasion.

I wonder about our insides? Our memories and beliefs that we drag with us through life, limiting our potential, creating worry and angst. Our way of being. Our hurt, our shame, our grief. Our patterns of thinking and acting that run on automatic and serve us poorly now? When do we spring clean those?

our connections through time and space…

human connection
Systems of connection intrigue me. In Organisation Development we describe the organisation as a complex social system.

People are connected to each other. Connected to their friends and colleagues, to other individuals, teams and functions by responsibilities, processes and activities. Their behaviours, in part, defined by those connections and systems.

This isn’t just the realm of organisation though. It is like this in society too. People are connected to their neighbours, the street, the village. They are connected to their relations and friends.

If you were to float above the earth you would see the ‘neural pathways’ created on the earth’s surface to support these connections – the motorway network, the wider road system, the rail system, the canals and rivers all acting as arteries to facilitate people connecting, whether for trade, for shared interests, for friendship or for love. If you float higher you may also see the trails of aeroplanes, creating a less permanent or tangible network of connections, spanning greater distances, with semi permanent hubs. If you subscribe to the right app for your phone, or visit the appropriate website you can see the planes moving through this network, with surprisingly fixed patterns and pathways; following each other with a regularity and spacial deference not obvious to the person standing on the ground. Another system network connecting people.

Think about the cables and pipes underground, carrying gas, water, electricity, data, TV broadcasts etc. Tunnels for trains, moving us around, underground, under seas.

Now refocus your eyes and imagine the invisible network that connects us through the internet, through social media. Invisible waves of data, passing between masts and satellites, connecting people in this virtual world, globally.

Think about footpaths long overgrown, about Roman roads long lost to the eternal march of nature. Archeology long since buried. Relics, remains. There are many older networks which connect us but which lie like a faded script under the dominant visible thoroughfares of today. Another system, another network.

This may seem all man made. But nature works this way too. If you could map the path of each ant from a nest, or see the trails followed by foxes at night, or monitor the community of bees in the hive, or track the migratory routes of birds circumnavigating the globe, here too you would find networks of connection.

We are also connected through time. Connected to our ancestors. Invisible gene pathways that pass down traits, such as the colour of your eyes, the size and shape of your ears. Pathways that also pass down family and community stories, customs, behaviours, cultures.

Within our own bodies we are connected, tissues, veins, arteries, neural pathways connecting one part to another. Beyond that, chemical signals and communications, passing messages, connecting. The sounds of our organs, heart beating, blood rushing, enzymes deconstructing, all speaking to each other in an orchestral symphony.

We are, as human beings, connected.

And just like in the organisation, that complex social system, those connections shape us, enable us, influence us and limit us.

Take a moment to reflect on your connections.

The next time you are in front of another human being, pause for a moment to honour their connections, for those connections are a large part of their humanity.

Pain is a feeling. Yet feelings can be painful.

pain and hurt
I’m in pain.

A sleepless night. A trapped nerve in my shoulder.

It’s hard to concentrate and hard not to. I can’t think and I can’t sleep. The pain is my focus.

Physical pain can do that. But so can emotional pain.

Feelings can dominate your very being. Consume you. Just as much as physical hurt.

I have painkillers now for my shoulder. They should soon help the physical pain. Chemicals in tablet form that I acquired from the local pharmacy. Even though I’m in a fairly remote location, I can get help with physical pain.

Emotional pain is harder to treat.

Yet just as debilitating.
Maybe more so.
Harder to get help.
Harder to cure.