work or play?


I must finish my work before I can play


I can play anytime I like

Which of these is more you?

Often when I ask a room of people to make their choice, the room divides.

Those choosing the former, talk of not being able to enjoy their relaxation or play until the work is done. The list of jobs needs to be ticked off. Completing the work is in itself enjoyable. The play is a reward for completing the work. They sometimes mention responsibility or duty.

Those choosing the latter, talk of performing better when they have had down time, play or relaxation. They speak of choice. They describe making work into play, to increase their enjoyment.

Occasionally someone stands between the two, recognising a different stance in different circumstances, such as work or home.

I’ve never experienced someone not knowing.

I don’t recall the lesson in school where we learned this? I don’t recall the conversation with mum or dad, where they explained the pros and cons or the virtues of each approach?

It seems we just know. Somehow in life, we have learned through experience. That learning is often so well ingrained we don’t even see a possible alternative. It just is.

There are many opposites like this, not just work and play, where we have a position, a life stance. Many, I suspect, we have never been consciously taught which is best, we have just absorbed this into our existence, our way of being.

Weird eh? Enabling sometimes, disabling at other times. Strange that such life impacting choices seem invisible, out of conscious awareness. They just are.

do onions really smell?


“Ogres are like onions.”

In the movie Shrek, the ogre is walking with Donkey through a field. Shrek is trying to describe his complexity. “Ogres have layers” he continues. Donkey doesn’t get it and wonders if Ogres are like cakes, because they have layers too and more people like cake. It’s an amusing, but deeply human moment. The analogy of a simple vegetable revealing real human depth, in an ogre. But as in many of today’s great children’s animations, there are messages, metaphors, analogies for the adults.

And… we are all like onions.

Layers of complexity. People we meet will see the outer layer. Those who look deeper may see what lies in the next layer down, or even the one beneath. If we pay attention to people and really take the time to notice, we can all see layers of their complexity and a depth of ‘human being’ in those we meet. We can never see it all though – even in those we are closest to.

We, in turn, may let friends, and those close to us in. Sometimes sufficiently to see the three, four, five layers beneath the outer layers, but there may be a core we don’t let anyone in to see. We may not even know ourselves what lies at the heart of our humanity, our self, our soul. What we are really made of, capable of.

Experiences can reveal our own layers to us. Sometimes difficult experiences, moments of conflict, moments of pain, moments of personal challenge. These can reveal deeper truths to us, but only if we take the time to notice. Only if we are resourceful enough in the moment to learn. And often we are not.

We need to be curious about ourselves, take time to notice, be compassionate with ourselves, learn to reflect, give ourselves time. And we need to recognise the times when we are avoiding the difficult learning, by telling ourselves that well trodden story we have always told ourselves. We need to look for our true truth. Learn to learn. About ourselves.

An onion flavours our cooking.

Your layers flavour you.

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?


learn to unlearn you must

yoda unlearn
Your brain is a meaning making machine. The greatest meaning making machine we know.

It works through patterns. Once learned, those patterns repeat, time and again. Once meaning is learned, it is adhered to relentlessly.

Most of this is out of consciousness. Some estimates suggest that the unconscious mind is as much as 95% of brain activity. Trigger … response, carried out automatically without what you might consider as ‘thinking’.

The challenge is that most of these patterns are shaped in childhood. Experiences early in our lives create emotions and child-like cause and effect reasoning; meaning making which creates our sense of self, our rules of the world, our beliefs about our place in the world and how to belong in it, all at a time when we are very unworldly.  A necessary process for the very survival of our ancestors – the ability to learn quickly and create strategies, crucial.

This process continues today though, and patterns and strategies learned in childhood repeat, over and over, as we progress into adulthood. Often the patterns no longer have relevance in an adult world, or the meaning has changed, or maybe was simply misinterpreted originally by the seven year old?

Running on automatic with patterns, strategies and meaning which disable rather than empower, limit rather than enable, constrain rather than offer choice, is at the heart of our struggle to reach our potential. These are limiting beliefs.

So, unlearning patterns of thinking, patterns of feeling, patterns of doing could be the most important learning you will ever do.

The first step is to become conscious of the pattern. Then explore its origins – where did it start, what’s your earliest memory of believing that? Is that belief or strategy relevant now? Does it serve you? What are you distorting in that memory? What has been deleted? Where is today’s evidence and what gets generalised in your thinking?

Start now, be curious, what needs to be unlearned?