constrained by knowing


If I asked you to draw a picture. A picture which portrayed the act of making tea. The intent being to communicate the process. What would you draw?

You might depict a kettle boiling. You might draw a teapot. Water pouring into the teapot. You might sketch a teabag or you might show a tea strainer. Maybe a cup and saucer, or a mug. You might have a jug of milk, or a bowl of sugar. Maybe even a biscuit being dunked?

But would you draw tea plants being dunked in hot bubbling geysers? Would you show a cocktail shaker being vigorously oscillated with its tea and water contents?  Would the teabag be shaped like a rubber ring stretched over the cup so that the water could pour through, into the cup? Probably not.

Now it might well be that the tea making process has been honed. Improved beyond improvement. Maybe the teabag or the teapot and strainer are supremely efficient and effective. Maybe putting the tea into the water is the most practical method, rather than pouring the water slowly through the tea? But we probably thought we had it all worked out, for many centuries before the teabag was invented. Now we have at least three shapes of bag in the world.

Day to day, in everyday ways, we are constrained in our thinking by our knowledge. By historical experience. By custom. It makes us lazy. Deprives us of imagination and true creativity. Diminishes our ability to think divergently. It denies us new choice.

What are you doing right now, which you simply take for granted?

It is the way it has always been.

Instead, learn to unlearn. Learn to experiment. Especially in the way you live. The way you come to the world. The way you are.

Try breaking away from the constraints of what you know.

Maybe not knowing, will grant you a new freedom?


the hidden art of hiding

hiding dyslexia
In recent months I have spoken to a number of people with dyslexia.

One common aspect of our conversations has intrigued me. The tension that is created between a need for some support, balanced with a desire not to be marked out as different. I want some help, but I don’t want to be seen to want help.

Those I have spoken to have talked of their shame. A sense that in some way they are inadequate. Unable to do things that others find straightforward. Many hide their dyslexia for this reason. Preferring to find their own coping mechanisms. Choosing roles and work where the challenges arising from their dyslexia aren’t exposed.

Whilst my dyslexic confidants have shared their fear of judgement, their desire to hide their ‘condition’, they have also shared heart wrenching stories of the efforts required to cope. To stay afloat. Many are desperate for some simple supports.

The reality here of course is that these dyslexic individuals have other strengths, other capabilities which are more developed and stronger than their non-dyslexic colleagues. Just as with any human being, we are all different. All unique.

We all hide too.

Sometimes we hide a part of ourselves from those around us. Often we hide a part of ourselves from ourselves. Yet we think that the hiding is hidden.

Honesty and truth seldom bring blame, judgement, criticism. When they do, it is those criticising, judging, blaming who are the individuals who are really hiding. Hiding behind judgement, criticism and blame.

We need to come out of the shadows.
To learn to be, in all our unique glory.
To stop hiding.

image by: Sally Green


simulating life

I got to sit in a simulator last week. A flight simulator for a 747.

The complex software can mimic situations the pilot might find themselves in. It looks and feels like the real thing. Climbing, banking, landing, shuddering in turbulence. The flight crew can test handling the plane in any emergency, as well as practising routines like take off and landing.

Every year they return to the simulator to effectively take their driving test again. Useful. Reassuring.

Where are the life simulators?

Why can’t we practice?
Test out possible life situations?
Run the routine ones, over and over, to ensure we get them right?
Where is the life test?
And where is the re-test?

does Father Christmas exist?

belief future Christmas
When I was a child I believed in Father Christmas.

In part because my parents told the tale and I believed in them. I trusted them as parents. As adults.

In part also because it served me well. I was rewarded. Brightly wrapped presents, sweets and other childhood delights were bestowed upon my compliance. My letter to Santa, brought me gifts.

In part also because everyone else in my child world believed too. I was fitting in by believing, rather than being outside the group.

*Spoiler alert* I don’t believe in Father Christmas now; although I perpetuated the myth with my own children when they were small.

Our beliefs about the world change over time. So too our beliefs about ourselves.

What I believed about work when I was 12 was quite different to what I believed twenty years later at 32. What I believed about the value of money has shifted again in the last twenty years. Certainly my beliefs about girls were very different at 12 to those I held at 22. My beliefs at 40 about human beings, compassion, possibilities are quite different to those my sixteen year old self held. My beliefs about what is important have shifted too. So too my beliefs about my abilities. And much more.

The point here is that our beliefs change over time.

I wonder how would it be if we set an intent to shift a belief in advance? Rather than it shifting simply through the ageing process and maturity, as a result of situation, life experience, context. What if we decided now, what we wanted to believe in say a decade?

What do I want to believe in ten years about money, about fun, about time, about learning, about being healthy, about happiness, about relaxing, about pleasure, about society, about religions, about conflict, about equality, about difference, about humanity?

Can I in some way change my future if I set out, now, to have a different belief about these things in my own future?

Maybe different gifts are possible? Not those delivered by Father Christmas, but by increasing my awareness of myself and by setting out to believe different things about me and the world I live in… what might be?

Now that, might be worth wrapping with a bow.

run, hide, tell

I have just been signposted to the Government’s stay safe advice in the threat of armed terrorist attack.

In a nutshell, run, hide, tell.

Run away, if that option exists without risking further danger to yourself
Hide somewhere if you can’t run
Tell someone official where the threat is

I don’t seek to disparage what might be necessary advice to keep me and others safe, but I was immediately transported back to the age of six.

I was in a field at the back of my house playing hide and seek with some friends. As the seeker I held my hands over my eyes whilst my playmates ran to their hastily identified hiding place. Like most six year olds, I peeked through my fingers. Only peeked mind, because if they could see my eyes they would know I was looking. My friends ran, randomly. No plan of where to hide, just run away from the seeker as quickly as possible and then, once a safe distance away, look for somewhere safe to hide. As seeker we would prowl the area, hastily darting between the same places they hid last time and the time before. Always looking for a shoddily concealed arm, or a careless toe, peeking out from the impromptu hiding place. Then we would tell. Shout out where they were, or run back ‘home’ to declare them found.

I was struck by the transportation of those skills the child in us takes into adulthood.

Running. Running from difficulty. From inner truths. From facing ourselves. Running from others. From uncomfortable situations. Running from feelings. From inner voices. From fears.

Hiding. Assuming that if I don’t look at you, you can’t see me. We do this all the time. Not literally. Not peeking through slitted fingers. But not showing our true selves, for fear of being truly seen.

Telling. Seeing a part of someone, like the carelessly exposed arm or toe from the child’s game, but as adults seeing one action, one behaviour, one socio-economic or cultural badge, one gender or sexual preference and ‘telling’ others who that person is or where they are hiding. Judging. Exposing them.

Run, Hide, Tell.

Childlike simplicity.
Safety in the face of terrorism.
Safety in the very humanness of our humanity.


the importance of wheelbarrows

In modern language we seem to have over developed the idea of the nominalisation. That is, the turning of actions into things. The nounification of verbs, if you will.

For example, we talk about ‘our relationship’, as if it is a thing. As if we can stand and look at it.  As if we can pick it up, turn it around, look at it from a different perspective. As if we can move it somewhere else. As if one of us has influence over it, owns it, can change it, or is to blame for it.

I see this all too often in organisation speak. “This person is accountable for the customer relationship.” Good luck with that.

In point of fact what we are really referring to is the verb of relating. I relate to you, you relate to me, and if that is balanced, useful and rewarding to both of us it could be said we have a relationship.  However we can only change the relating. How we behave and relate. We have no direct influence over how the other party relates, so how can we be accountable for the relationship?

This language appears everywhere now. Organisations talk about ‘engagement’. ‘Employee engagement’. We survey it, measure it, agonise about it. It isn’t a thing! It’s a nominalisation. What we should be doing is engaging. Engaging with our employees. Engaging each other. Engaging with other human beings.

We talk about ‘change’. ‘Change management’. We should be talking about changing. It’s active. Change and change management are cold terms that absolve us from acting. Corporate speak.

Someone once said to me, if you can’t put it in a wheelbarrow, it isn’t a thing. I’ve never tested the total truth here, but they are wise words, nonetheless.

Show me the wheelbarrow with a relationship in it. Show me the one with engagement in it. Wheel round the change. Pop down the garden and bring me back some competencies. Oh and get me some growth whilst you’re there.

As human beings we need to get back to doing. The good old fashioned verb.

Nominalisations give priority to the action rather than the person doing it. They prioritise products and outcomes over the actor and the process by which they are achieved.

This is unhelpful at best and dangerous in the extreme. It absolves the individual of responsibility.

I can change, provided I am motivated to. It’s my responsibility. A change management programme isn’t going to cut the mustard, it just provides smoke and mirrors to a leadership lack of engaging me, motivating me, inspiring me.

I can alter my behaviour.  Me, not some invisible behaviour management programme, enhanced benefits package or competency based review framework.

As human beings, let’s relate to each other, engage each other. Let’s focus on being responsible for personally growing, personally changing, reflecting and learning about ourselves, developing our skills.

Let’s keep the wheelbarrow. But only for the things we can put in it.

get out of my shoes now



Empathy is the new black.

Schools are teaching empathy to children. Leaders are encouraged to display EQ as much as IQ. Many books explore building empathy. It’s a core coaching skill. Developmental psychiatrists and psychologists are exploring the roots of empathy in animals and the deep nature of its place in our humanity. True empathy is good. Deeply human.

To be clear empathy, as opposed to sympathy, could be described as feeling with someone, rather than feeling for someone. “I feel your anguish” as opposed to “I am sorry you’re hurting”.

It is standing in their shoes to experience their emotions.

But empathy requires thoughts as well as feelings. It is also a two person activity. So to be truly empathetic we need to balance thought and emotion as well as balance self and other. Recognising and sharing in someone else’s complex emotional state is in itself a complex inner experience, and it requires considerable self awareness and control to walk that line, be useful, be safe, keep them safe.

Otherwise empathy becomes a trap.

We can feel we are being held hostage by the other person’s feelings. Imprisoned in our own thought / feeling response. Balance requires us to have the self awareness and the dexterity and subtlety to pay attention to another’s needs whilst not sacrificing our own needs. We need to be able to recognise what is our stuff and what belongs to the person we are empathising with. Also what emerges in the soup of the empathetic interaction. What needs to stay in the soup, neither theirs nor ours.

Putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes is something the receiver can find deeply rewarding. Addictive even. That puts the onus on us to know when to extract ourselves from their shoes. And how.

Equally, overly empathic people may lose the ability to know what they want or need. They may have a diminished ability to make decisions in their own best interest, experience physical and psychological exhaustion from deflecting their own feelings.

We need to be able to stand in our own shoes too.


time to flex your happy muscle?

happiness mindfulness meditation
For many centuries, great sages, such as Aristotle, Bhudda, Confucius and Epicurus have advocated the pursuit of happiness. They have suggested happiness comes from within, from creating an inner peace, from reflection. Happiness of the mind, rather than of things.

Now science appears to be catching up. I have just been reading about a study at Kyoto University. The research, reported here, has identified a part of the brain, the precuneus, which appears to be larger in people who self declare themselves to have meaning in their lives, who report positive emotional and cognitive experiences and describe themselves as happy. This has been correlated to studies into meditation, which show that the precuneus grows in people who make meditation a part of their lives – it seems that calming our thoughts, being present in the current moment can exercise our happy muscle.

The research speaks of psychological training that could increase the volume of grey matter in the precuneus, which in turn may enhance subjective happiness. The report’s summary says…

Psychological studies have shown that subjective happiness can be measured reliably and consists of emotional and cognitive components. However, the neural substrates of subjective happiness remain unclear. To investigate this issue, we used structural magnetic resonance imaging and questionnaires that assessed subjective happiness, the intensity of positive and negative emotional experiences, and purpose in life. We found a positive relationship between the subjective happiness score and gray matter volume in the right precuneus. Moreover, the same region showed an association with the combined positive and negative emotional intensity and purpose in life scores. Our findings suggest that the precuneus mediates subjective happiness by integrating the emotional and cognitive components of happiness

Time to flex the happy muscle?

Now that’s a happy thought…


would you step through?


If there was a doorway. And through that doorway was a world where something you desire, was true. Would you step through?

What if you knew you would never be able to come back? There was a risk you would lose some things you currently have. A chance they would be absent, or different, on the other side. There would be many unknowns, through the door.

But the promise of something you long for too. A deep longing.

Would you step through the door? Would you take the risk? The chance to gain a deep desire, but with the risk of losing some things you value on this side? Would you take a chance? Would the excitement of the possibility draw you in? Would the call of the longing be too great to resist? Or would the potential loss, the fear of the unknown keep you this side?

The red pill or the blue pill?

A fabricated reality or the reality of truth?

Which is which side?

Risk or safety? Unknown or known? Heart or head?

Would you step through?