Screen Shot 2016-03-02 at 13.50.41Here’s a video I shared recently on my YouTube channel.

What is the underlying structure of your life?  What habits are made easy because of the layout of your home, your office, the friends you hang out with?  How might you change the structure of your life in order to make certain positive habits more likely to happen?

Our surroundings affect us more than our intention and our discipline.

Making Changes that Stick, Building Good Habits

Right or wrong? 😉

I find it hard sometimes to listen to someone who just wants to tell me about the problem. They have a lot of energy and passion to describe their problem, but I can’t get them to engage in positive ideas for how they can move the situation to a better place.

I am empathetic for a while, then I get tired and tune out.

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The Approach of Leadership Coach Dan Rockwell

Dan Rockwell in his recent TEDx talk shared a scheme for bringing a conversation away from problem description. When people call for his help, they want to talk about their problem. He has 45 minutes to make a difference… he needs to get the conversation moving on from the problem. How?

He uses the acronym: PITSIT’N

  • Problem – Problem “Other people are doing bad things”
  • Imagine – Imagine if things were going perfectly. What would it be like? (they have no idea)
  • Trying – What are you trying to make things better?
  • Stop – What do you need to stop? (try harder doing the same things is never a real strategy) “You seem smarter than this” repeating same and becoming more frustrated
  • Imperfect – What is the imperfect behaviour that will move this forward? (little steps, trying little positive things, “if you can’t see it, it doesn’t count”, “we don’t need a touchdown, we just need a first down”)  What are possible behaviours that will move this forward?
  • Try – What would you like to try this week? How, when? “Pretend I’m that person and say it to me”
  • Next week – Next week, I am going to ask you four questions: What did you do, how did it work, what did you learn, what are you going to try next time?

Watch Dan’s TEDx Talk

What tools work for you?  How do you decide when somebody wants you just to listen to their frustration, or when they really are interested in your coaching to make progress?

Psychologist Martin Seligman explained that there are three ways in which our internal beliefs or narratives  become damaging: we make them personal, pervasive, and permanent.

Personal: I failed, so I must be a failure

Pervasive: I failed in this instance, so I’ll probably fail in every instance.

Permanent: I failed once, so I’ll probably fail always

When something goes wrong, watch how you speak to yourself.  Be careful of the words “never” and “always”.  A failure is a single instance of particular context and a particular version of your past self – taken positively, each failure makes you a better version of yourself.

It is not what happens that makes life hard, it is the perspective we chose to take on what is happening.  We can chose which questions we ask ourself.  If I ask myself “Why am I such a loser?”, my brain happily provides a long list of good answers.  If I ask myself “What would I change next time?”, my brain engages in a more positive search for answers.

The only true failure is to let one setback stop you completely.  You are not your current situation, you are the fullness of the journey that you will complete over your lifetime.

A mountaineer is not a failure when they are at base camp and only a success when at the summit.

On Psychologically Resilient Self-Talk:

  1. 10 Habits of Resilient People
  2. All Life demands Struggle

The basic freedom we have in life is the freedom to make mistakes.  If we can’t make (reasonable) mistakes and learn from them, what freedom do we really have?

“The first time it is an accident, the second time it is a decision.”

My girlfriend likes to say: “The first time it is an accident, the second time it is a decision.”

My daughter is 8.  She is starting to develop the ability to be guilty about something, and expresses anxieties about the world like never before.  I assume this is a normal part of the growing up.  She has a powerful creative imagination and it can develop some pretty powerful scary future scenarios.  She hears about a plane crash and imagines her family on that plane.  She hears about a boat sinking and imagines her family on that boat.  She does something that hurts her friend (accidentally) and now spends 15 minutes feeling guilty and wallowing in the sadness.

Slaves to Guilt?

The limit on our freedom in most western societies has nothing to do with rules or laws or police.  It has to do with guilt, and imagined potential guilt.  Animals have a freedom in that they don’t lay awake at night painfully reliving their mistakes of the day and reliving the crap in a self-destructive guilty wallowing.

The first time you try anything, you should not be able to feel guilty.  I am able to feel guilty about certain things when just imagining them… and then feeling guilty that I even imagined it.  This then puts me in a crappy mood and I give up all efforts to be a better version of myself.

Sometimes it would be good to fall sleep with the guiltless calm of a dog or a cat.  A deer watches another deer being caught by lions without dwelling on the idea: “it could be me.”

Accident or Benefit?

I wonder whether guilt and anxiety are evolutionary advantages or they are accidents that came with the enlarged frontal cortex?  Our ability to imagine the future and plan how we will meet challenges is no doubt a powerful survival advantage.  The agonising feelings of anxiety, of low self worth, of being “bad”, of guilt – do they help?  Maybe they help us survive, but they do not help us thrive.

With my daughter, I don’t try to tell her to not feel the anxiety or the guilt.  What she feels is real.  I loved a conversation she had with a wise 11 year old.  My daughter asked “what is the worst thing that has ever happened to you?”  The older girl replied “I don’t find that a good thing to think about…  I prefer to ask what is the best thing that has happened.”  The older girl has a great imagination but has learnt to direct her imagination towards the positive.  It doesn’t mean that she ignores reality, but it does mean that she doesn’t wallow in the negative feelings of what could go wrong.

Life can be scary and bad things do happen.  We cannot pretend that this is not the case.

We can cultivate the belief that we are resourceful and when we face challenges we will do the best that we can do – but we don’t have to spend our hours, days and years preparing for every horrific potential scenario.

Are you a parent who has seen a child face anxieties and feelings of guilt?  How have you helped them deal with these uncomfortable feelings?

 

Screen Shot 2014-11-24 at 21.50.55
The Art of Mentorship

The Art of Mentorship

I just posted a short presentation to slideshare: The Art of Mentorship

3 Types of Mentor

  • Sponsor (or Advocate) – puts their reputation on the line and takes responsibility for your personal success. Protege = “one who is protected”. Protege must do everything in his power to make the sponsor look good, or is wasting the sponsors time. “you provide a perspective that I otherwise would not have”; must be senior and influential, must be willing to make a stand
  • Experienced Guide – “so, what’s your next step?” helps you learn to trust your own decisions.  I personally have learnt to trust my own decision making processes in people decisions (hiring, firing, recruiting) from my recent mentors.
  • Coach – focus on performance improvement, sets clear goals, asks good questions to widen your perspective; seniority not necessary if can establish good credible relationship

5 Powerful Mentor Questions

  1. What is it that you really want to be and do?
  2. What are you doing really well that is helping you get there?
  3. What are you not doing well that is preventing you from getting there?
  4. What will you do differently tomorrow to meet those challenges?
  5. Where do you need the most help? (Who can help you?)

How do you set limits on “Free”?

I teach communication skills.  I help entrepreneurs deal with leadership challenges.  I find it hard to effectively manage the gap between free advice and paid consulting.

“Would you listen to my speech?”

or “Can we meet for a coffee, I have an important meeting coming up?”

I find it hard to do the “American Lawyer” mode – bring a clock and start timing the conversation as soon as I talk about communications.

I like the little conversations, but I am conflicted about how to set some limits.

How do you set limits on your service?

Are you a coach – how do you distinguish between “free advice to friends” and “professional services”?  How do you have the conversation when someone assumes that they should get your help for free (and you’re not so sure)?

…And The Overly Complicated Sales Cycle

The other area that I have challenges is keeping the sales process under control.

I have a Swiss client that calls me, says they need a specific date, signs the contract and pays.  Minimal admin.  Zero hassle.

I had a Spanish client that asked me to come back and explain my services 11 times before signing the contract.  I would not have done the 2nd meeting if I had known that there were 9 more to come.

This post was originally published on Alternet and it is written by coaching guru Cloe Madanes.

The 14 Habits of Highly Miserable People

Cloe Madanes
Coach Cloe Madanes

Most of us claim we want to be happy—to have meaningful lives, enjoy ourselves, experience fulfillment, and share love and friendship with other people and maybe other species, like dogs, cats, birds, and whatnot. Strangely enough, however, some people act as if they just want to be miserable, and they succeed remarkably at inviting misery into their lives, even though they get little apparent benefit from it, since being miserable doesn’t help them find lovers and friends, get better jobs, make more money, or go on more interesting vacations. Why do they do this? After perusing the output of some of the finest brains in the therapy profession, I’ve come to the conclusion that misery is an art form, and the satisfaction people seem to find in it reflects the creative effort required to cultivate it. In other words, when your living conditions are stable, peaceful, and prosperous—no civil wars raging in your streets, no mass hunger, no epidemic disease, no vexation from poverty—making yourself miserable is a craft all its own, requiring imagination, vision, and ingenuity. It can even give life a distinctive meaning.

So if you aspire to make yourself miserable, what are the best, most proven techniques for doing it? Let’s exclude some obvious ways, like doing drugs, committing crimes, gambling, and beating up your spouse or neighbor. Subtler strategies, ones that won’t lead anyone to suspect that you’re acting deliberately, can be highly effective. But you need to pretend that you want to be happy, like everybody else, or people won’t take your misery seriously. The real art is to behave in ways that’ll bring on misery while allowing you to claim that you’re an innocent victim, ideally of the very people from whom you’re forcibly extracting compassion and pity.

Here, I cover most areas of life, such as family, work, friends, and romantic partners. These areas will overlap nicely, since you can’t ruin your life without ruining your marriage and maybe your relationships with your children and friends. It’s inevitable that as you make yourself miserable, you’ll be making those around you miserable also, at least until they leave you—which will give you another reason to feel miserable. So it’s important to keep in mind the benefits you’re accruing in your misery.

  • When you’re miserable, people feel sorry for you. Not only that, they often feel obscurely guilty, as if your misery might somehow be their fault. This is good! There’s power in making other people feel guilty. The people who love you and those who depend on you will walk on eggshells to make sure that they don’t say or do anything that will increase your misery.
  • When you’re miserable, since you have no hopes and expect nothing good to happen, you can’t be disappointed or disillusioned.
  • Being miserable can give the impression that you’re a wise and worldly person, especially if you’re miserable not just about your life, but about society in general. You can project an aura of someone burdened by a form of profound, tragic, existential knowledge that happy, shallow people can’t possibly appreciate.

Honing Your Misery Skills

Let’s get right to it and take a look at some effective strategies to become miserable. This list is by no means exhaustive, but engaging in four or five of these practices will help refine your talent.

1. Be afraid, be very afraid, of economic loss. In hard economic times, many people are afraid of losing their jobs or savings. The art of messing up your life consists of indulging these fears, even when there’s little risk that you’ll actually suffer such losses. Concentrate on this fear, make it a priority in your life, moan continuously that you could go broke any day now, and complain about how much everything costs, particularly if someone else is buying. Try to initiate quarrels about other people’s feckless, spendthrift ways, and suggest that the recession has resulted from irresponsible fiscal behavior like theirs.

Fearing economic loss has several advantages. First, it’ll keep you working forever at a job you hate. Second, it balances nicely with greed, an obsession with money, and a selfishness that even Ebenezer Scrooge would envy. Third, not only will you alienate your friends and family, but you’ll likely become even more anxious, depressed, and possibly even ill from your money worries. Good job!

Exercise: Sit in a comfortable chair, close your eyes, and, for 15 minutes, meditate on all the things you could lose: your job, your house, your savings, and so forth. Then brood about living in a homeless shelter.

2. Practice sustained boredom. Cultivate the feeling that everything is predictable, that life holds no excitement, no possibility for adventure, that an inherently fascinating person like yourself has been deposited into a completely tedious and pointless life through no fault of your own. Complain a lot about how bored you are. Make it the main subject of conversation with everyone you know so they’ll get the distinct feeling that you think they’re boring. Consider provoking a crisis to relieve your boredom. Have an affair (this works best if you’re already married and even better if you have an affair with someone else who’s married); go on repeated shopping sprees for clothes, cars, fancy appliances, sporting equipment (take several credit cards, in case one maxes out); start pointless fights with your spouse, boss, children, friends, neighbors; have another child; quit your job, clean out your savings account, and move to a state you know nothing about.

A side benefit of being bored is that you inevitably become boring. Friends and relatives will avoid you. You won’t be invited anywhere; nobody will want to call you, much less actually see you. As this happens, you’ll feel lonely and even more bored and miserable.

Exercise: Force yourself to watch hours of mindless reality TV programs every day, and read only nonstimulating tabloids that leave you feeling soulless. Avoid literature, art, and keeping up with current affairs.

3. Give yourself a negative identity. Allow a perceived emotional problem to absorb all other aspects of your self-identification. If you feel depressed, become a Depressed Person; if you suffer from social anxiety or a phobia, assume the identity of a Phobic Person or a Person with Anxiety Disorder. Make your condition the focus of your life. Talk about it to everybody, and make sure to read up on the symptoms so you can speak about them knowledgeably and endlessly. Practice the behaviors most associated with that condition, particularly when it’ll interfere with regular activities and relationships. Focus on how depressed you are and become weepy, if that’s your identity of choice. Refuse to go places or try new things because they make you too anxious. Work yourself into panic attacks in places it’ll cause the most commotion. It’s important to show that you don’t enjoy these states or behaviors, but that there’s nothing you can do to prevent them.

Practice putting yourself in the physiological state that represents your negative identity. For example, if your negative identity is Depressed Person, hunch your shoulders, look at the floor, breathe shallowly. It’s important to condition your body to help you reach your negative peak as quickly as possible.

Exercise: Write down 10 situations that make you anxious, depressed, or distracted. Once a week, pick a single anxiety-provoking situation, and use it to work yourself into a panic for at least 15 minutes.


Cloe Madanes has teamed up with Tony Robbins to launch a coaching certification program. They have released a new series of eye-opening educational videos that will show you how to create profound changes in yourself and others – within a short conversation.

I encourage you to sign up for this training series (affiliate link) – you’re going to be inspired by what is possible. Tony has been an inspiration for me for over 20 years and I love how practical and direct he is in his trainings. His focus is on making a real difference in people’s lives.


4. Pick fights. This is an excellent way of ruining a relationship with a romantic partner. Once in a while, unpredictably, pick a fight or have a crying spell over something trivial and make unwarranted accusations. The interaction should last for at least 15 minutes and ideally occur in public. During the tantrum, expect your partner to be kind and sympathetic, but should he or she mention it later, insist that you never did such a thing and that he or she must have misunderstood what you were trying to say. Act injured and hurt that your partner somehow implied you weren’t behaving well.

Another way of doing this is to say unexpectedly, “We need to talk,” and then to barrage your partner with statements about how disappointed you are with the relationship. Make sure to begin this barrage just as your partner is about to leave for some engagement or activity, and refuse to end it for at least an hour. Another variation is to text or phone your partner at work to express your issues and disappointments. Do the same if your partner is out with friends.

Exercise: Write down 20 annoying text messages you could send to a romantic partner. Keep a grudge list going, and add to it daily.

5. Attribute bad intentions. Whenever you can, attribute the worst possible intentions to your partner, friends, and coworkers. Take any innocent remark and turn it into an insult or attempt to humiliate you. For example, if someone asks, “How did you like such and such movie?” you should immediately think, He’s trying to humiliate me by proving that I didn’t understand the movie, or He’s preparing to tell me that I have poor taste in movies. The idea is to always expect the worst from people. If someone is late to meet you for dinner, while you wait for them, remind yourself of all the other times the person was late, and tell yourself that he or she is doing this deliberately to slight you. Make sure that by the time the person arrives, you’re either seething or so despondent that the evening is ruined. If the person asks what’s wrong, don’t say a word: let him or her suffer.

Exercise: List the names of five relatives or friends. For each, write down something they did or said in the recent past that proves they’re as invested in adding to your misery as you are.

6. Whatever you do, do it only for personal gain. Sometimes you’ll be tempted to help someone, contribute to a charity, or participate in a community activity. Don’t do it, unless there’s something in it for you, like the opportunity to seem like a good person or to get to know somebody you can borrow money from some day. Never fall into the trap of doing something purely because you want to help people. Remember that your primary goal is to take care of Numero Uno, even though you hate yourself.

Exercise: Think of all the things you’ve done for others in the past that haven’t been reciprocated. Think about how everyone around you is trying to take from you. Now list three things you could do that would make you appear altruistic while bringing you personal, social, or professional gain.

7. Avoid gratitude. Research shows that people who express gratitude are happier than those who don’t, so never express gratitude. Counting your blessings is for idiots. What blessings? Life is suffering, and then you die. What’s there to be thankful for?

Well-meaning friends and relatives will try to sabotage your efforts to be thankless. For example, while you’re in the middle of complaining about the project you procrastinated on at work to your spouse during an unhealthy dinner, he or she might try to remind you of how grateful you should be to have a job or food at all. Such attempts to encourage gratitude and cheerfulness are common and easily deflected. Simply point out that the things you should be grateful for aren’t perfect—which frees you to find as much fault with them as you like.

Exercise: Make a list of all the things you could be grateful for. Next to each item, write down why you aren’t. Imagine the worst. When you think of the future, imagine the worst possible scenario. It’s important to be prepared for and preemptively miserable about any possible disaster or tragedy. Think of the possibilities: terrorist attacks, natural disasters, fatal disease, horrible accidents, massive crop failures, your child not getting picked for the varsity softball team.

8. Always be alert and in a state of anxiety. Optimism about the future leads only to disappointment. Therefore, you have to do your best to believe that your marriage will flounder, your children won’t love you, your business will fail, and nothing good will ever work out for you.

Exercise: Do some research on what natural or manmade disasters could occur in your area, such as earthquakes, floods, nuclear plant leaks, rabies outbreaks. Focus on these things for at least an hour a day.

9. Blame your parents. Blaming your parents for your defects, shortcomings, and failures is among the most important steps you can take. After all, your parents made you who you are today; you had nothing to do with it. If you happen to have any good qualities or successes, don’t give your parents credit. Those are flukes.

Extend the blame to other people from your past: the second-grade teacher who yelled at you in the cafeteria, the boy who bullied you when you were 9, the college professor who gave you a D on your paper, your first boyfriend, even the hick town you grew up in—the possibilities are limitless. Blame is essential in the art of being miserable.

Exercise: Call one of your parents and tell her or him that you just remembered something horrible they did when you were a child, and make sure he or she understands how terrible it made you feel and that you’re still suffering from it.

10. Don’t enjoy life’s pleasures. Taking pleasure in things like food, wine, music, and beauty is for flighty, shallow people. Tell yourself that. If you inadvertently find yourself enjoying some flavor, song, or work of art, remind yourself immediately that these are transitory pleasures, which can’t compensate for the miserable state of the world. The same applies to nature. If you accidentally find yourself enjoying a beautiful view, a walk on the beach, or a stroll through a forest, stop! Remind yourself that the world is full of poverty, illness, and devastation. The beauty of nature is a deception.

Exercise: Once a week, engage in an activity that’s supposed to be enjoyable, but do so while thinking about how pointless it is. In other words, concentrate on removing all sense of pleasure from the pleasurable activity.

11. Ruminate. Spend a great deal of time focused on yourself. Worry constantly about the causes of your behavior, analyze your defects, and chew on your problems. This will help you foster a pessimistic view of your life. Don’t allow yourself to become distracted by any positive experience or influence. The point is to ensure that even minor upsets and difficulties appear huge and portentous.

You can ruminate on the problems of others or the world, but make them about you. Your child is sick? Ruminate on what a burden it is for you to take time off from work to care for her. Your spouse is hurt by your behavior? Focus on how terrible it makes you feel when he points out how you make him feel. By ruminating not only on your own problems but also those of others, you’ll come across as a deep, sensitive thinker who holds the weight of the world on your shoulders.

Exercise: Sit in a comfortable chair and seek out negative feelings, like anger, depression, anxiety, boredom, whatever. Concentrate on these feelings for 15 minutes. During the rest of the day, keep them in the back of your mind, no matter what you’re doing.

12. Glorify or vilify the past. Glorifying the past is telling yourself how good, happy, fortunate, and worthwhile life was when you were a child, a young person, or a newly married person—and regretting how it’s all been downhill ever since. When you were young, for example, you were glamorous and danced the samba with handsome men on the beach at twilight; and now you’re in a so-so marriage to an insurance adjuster in Topeka. You should’ve married tall, dark Antonio. You should’ve invested in Microsoft when you had the chance. In short, focus on what you could’ve and should’ve done, instead of what you did. This will surely make you miserable.

Vilifying the past is easy, too. You were born in the wrong place at the wrong time, you never got what you needed, you felt you were discriminated against, you never got to go to summer camp. How can you possibly be happy when you had such a lousy background? It’s important to think that bad memories, serious mistakes, and traumatic events were much more influential in forming you and your future than good memories, successes, and happy events. Focus on bad times. Obsess about them. Treasure them. This will ensure that, no matter what’s happening in the present, you won’t be happy.

Exercise: Make a list of your most important bad memories and keep it where you can review it frequently. Once a week, tell someone about your horrible childhood or how much better your life was 20 years ago.

13. Find a romantic partner to reform. Make sure that you fall in love with someone with a major defect (cat hoarder, gambler, alcoholic, womanizer, sociopath), and set out to reform him or her, regardless of whether he or she wants to be reformed. Believe firmly that you can reform this person, and ignore all evidence to the contrary.

Exercise: Go to online dating sites and see how many bad choices you can find in one afternoon. Make efforts to meet these people. It’s good if the dating site charges a lot of money, since this means you’ll be emotionally starved and poor.

14. Be critical. Make sure to have an endless list of dislikes and voice them often, whether or not your opinion is solicited. For example, don’t hesitate to say, “That’s what you chose to wear this morning?” or “Why is your voice so shrill?” If someone is eating eggs, tell them you don’t like eggs. Your negativity can be applied to almost anything.

It helps if the things you criticize are well liked by most people so that your dislike of them sets you apart. Disliking traffic and mosquitos isn’t creative enough: everyone knows what it’s like to find these things annoying, and they won’t pay much attention if you find them annoying, too. But disliking the new movie that all your friends are praising? You’ll find plenty of opportunities to counter your friends’ glowing reviews with your contrarian opinion.

Exercise: Make a list of 20 things you dislike and see how many times you can insert them into a conversation over the course of the day. For best results, dislike things you’ve never given yourself a chance to like.

—–

I’ve just listed 14 ways to make yourself miserable. You don’t have to nail every one of them, but even if you succeed with just four or five, make sure to berate yourself regularly for not enacting the entire list. If you find yourself in a therapist’s office—because someone who’s still clinging to their love for you has tricked you into going—make sure your misery seems organic. If the therapist enlightens you in any way or teaches you mind-body techniques to quiet your anxious mind, make sure to co-opt the conversation and talk about your misery-filled dreams from the night before. If the therapist is skilled in dream analysis, quickly start complaining about the cost of therapy itself. If the therapist uses your complaints as a launching pad to discuss transference issues, accuse him or her of having countertransference issues. Ultimately, the therapist is your enemy when trying to cultivate misery in your life. So get out as soon as possible. And if you happen upon a therapist who’ll sit quietly while you bring all 14 items on this list to life each week, call me. I’ll want to make an appointment, too.

Source URL: http://www.alternet.org/personal-health/14-habits-highly-miserable-people Hat tip to Eka

I am currently reading “The Power of Story” by Jim Loehr.

In the introduction he puts a name on the widespread condition of “presenteeism“:

“Without investing high-quality, focussed energy in the activity before you, whatever it may be, setting time aside simply takes us from absenteeism to presenteeism – a condition increasingly plaguing American business, a vague malady defined as impaired job performance because one is medically or otherwise physically or psychologically compromised. Is a worker who’s too fatigued or mentally not there for eight hours really better than no worker? How about a parent? A spouse? Time has value only in its intersection with energy” Jim Loehr

Disengaged but Present

In what areas are you disengaged right now?  These are the areas of life where you are doing the time, but distraction really has a hold on your conscious attention.

There are always good reasons that can explain your distraction:

  • too much work
  • challenging family situations
  • frequent travel
  • unsupportive kids/spouse/friends
  • high maintenance team
  • debt and financial challenges
  • health problems

The Author of Your Life Story

Another lovely paragraph from his introduction:

“Funny: We enjoy the privilege of being the final author of the story we write with our life, yet we possess a marvellous capacity to give ourselves only a supporting role in the “writing” process, while ascribing the premier, dominant, true authorial role to our parents, our spouse, our kids, our boss, fate, chance, genetics, bad weather, or lousy interest rates.”

Are you planning the final story of your life?  Or just letting it drift into tragedy or comedy or thriller or farce?  Maybe better a romance, a heroic adventure, a dramatic epic tale of exploration, lessons learnt and other’s lives touched for the better?

The most important story is not the one you are explicitly or implicitly telling to those around you via your actions and words, it is the one you tell to yourself.

Here’s a very timely tweet that I came upon last night:

Toastmasters is a wonderful organisation for anybody who wishes to improve their ability to speak with impact.

However, there is something that has often challenged me with the “best” toastmaster speeches. They are very clearly the work of someone who has worked very, very, very hard on the words, gestures and voice that they use to deliver the speech. The “best” toastmaster speeches verge on the theatric and sometimes leave behind a sense of a natural conversation.  Toastmasters evaluations can focus on bringing attention to symbols of hard work on the art of public speaking – big gestures, long pauses, wide ranges of volume, tone and pace in voice.

I am reading Sims Wyeth‘s book “The Essentials of Persuasive Public Speaking” at the moment.  One of his sections is called “Hide the Art”.  It speaks about the need to hide your brilliance as a speaker.

Hide the Art

Why hide the art?  Why would you want to go to the effort to hide the work you have done on being a great speaker?

Sims refers to a number of great political orators of the Athenian state.  They knew that if the people saw them as relaxed and natural, they would be more open to listen to their ideas.  If the people saw how much they worked on their ability to speak, the people would be worried about being manipulated by them.

It is a paradox – being visibly “too good” makes you less likely to connect and persuade.

Hiding the art does not mean that you intentionally are a poor speaker.  It means what Bruce Lee refers to as Natural Un-Naturalness (see final paragraphs of post).

“The natural instinct and control need to be combined in harmony – one to the extreme you become very unscientific, the other you become a mechanical man… no longer a human being – the ideal is unnatural naturalness, or natural unnaturalness… yin yang” Bruce Lee

The swan swims gracefully over the water of the pond – only the fish see how hard her little feet are paddling beneath the surface.  This is the art of great speaking.  The art is to go through theatrical and get back to looking authentic, human and natural.

Moving people to action requires that you go beyond the level of preparation that allows you to deliver an excellent performance and arrive at an ability to hold a peer-to-peer conversation with the audience.

The path to Natural must pass through Contrived

The path to natural unnaturalness must pass through “contrived unnaturalness” – you have to do the work to move through discomfort and expansion of your natural range as a speaker – and Toastmasters is the absolute best path.  However, taking your message beyond toastmasters requires integrating the gestures, voice, words back into yourself so that the audience feels like you have not worked so hard.  This way they trust the person and listen to the message, rather than are impressed by the person, but distrustful of the message.

Great artists mastered the basics over many, many years before they found the path back to what we might call “authentic” or natural.

When I worked at Accenture, we were often in the business of identifying the existing business processes and then analysing how we would enable these processes with technology. Sometimes it was putting a mobile phone purchase process onto Siebel CRM, sometimes it was putting insurance sales onto SAP ERP.

A senior partner used to say to me “we are not here to just pave the cow path”.

Don’t Pave the Cow Path

Photo Credit: Polifemus via Compfight cc
Heading along the old cow path, Photo Credit: Polifemus

The cow path was the old way of doing things. Sometimes the old way was not a good way. Sometimes the old way was a terrible way.

The Green Book and the Blue Book

My father tells a story of when he was first working as a consultant back in the early 1970’s in a hospital in south west Ireland.

On his first day, he was required to sign in to enter the building. Strangely, he was asked to do this in a blue book, and also in a green book. He asked the girl behind the desk “why the two books?”.

She responded “there have always been two books.”

After a week of this double sign in, my father began to have a curiosity as to why these 2 books were both needed. He would ask managers, he would ask doctors, he would ask others who had worked there for years. Always, the same answer “there have always been two books”.

After months of work my father was coming to the end of his project at the hospital. As part of the final phase of the project, he was to meet with a retired doctor who had been around since the very beginning of the hospital.

At the end of the meeting with this eminent doctor, my father again asked his question “why the two books?”

The doctor laughed and said “Back in the war years, there was rationing of petrol. A lot of our staff were unable to easily get to and from work. The hospital bought bicycles for staff to use to get home quickly. The blue book is for signing bicycles in and out, the green book was the original attendance book. Somewhere along the way, the bicycles were no longer necessary and were sold… but we never were able to get rid of the blue book”.

I have seen so many blue book processes in companies. It is much, much harder to stop something that we are already doing than it is to start a new thing.

In each of our lives there are also many blue book processes. They may have served us well several years ago, but are just busy activity now. They are processes that do not serve.

In productivity, removing the blue book processes is more important than adding efficiency to the green book processes. Removing busy-ness. Stopping using the old cow path when we now have a six lane motorway.