Archive for January, 2008

Notice… what you notice!

Thursday, January 31st, 2008

Have you ever noticed that, for example, when you are thinking of buying a new car, say a little MX5, suddenly you start spotting them everywhere? The times I was particularly aware of this phenomenon was when my wife was expecting, suddenly the world was full of pregnant women, and then again when we were thinking of moving and suddenly estate agents boards littered every curb side.

There is a reason for this and links to the way our brain filters information (you might also be interested in referring to these blogs filtering and intuition.) Because the amount of information coming into our brain is literally overwhelming, we have to filter it to stay sane. One of the mechanisms we use is the bit that only presents that which is important to us; this is why a mother can always hear her baby cry even when others fail to. This mechanism goes by the catchy little name of the Reticular Activating System.

So we notice what is important to us, and the reverse is also true, if we don’t notice it, then it isn’t very important, so perhaps you should notice what you are noticing if you want to know what is truly important to you right now!

“Of what significance are the things you can forget.” Henry Thoreau

We are Stardust… (or My Mummy is a Black Hole)

Wednesday, January 30th, 2008

Scientists now believe that not only are black holes not particularly rare or distant objects, but in fact we have one as a (relatively in cosmic terms) close neighbour; and not any old black hole, No Sir! This is a super massive black hole. That would be deeply scary stuff, this unstoppable monster sucking all matter into its voracious maw… just down the Milky Way from us. However, it turns out there are two phases of a black hole’s life span, an active one (when it does gobble up everything) and a passive one where it just kinda sits there, being a good neighbour. To give you some sense of scale, this thing is equal to .5% of the mass of the whole galaxy, and it is 3 billion times as large as our sun, and ‘just’ 25,000 light years away.

The scientists now believe that these super-massive black holes have a fundamental part to play in the creation of our galaxies. They suck in gas clouds and condense them down into solid matter that eventually becomes new stars. So they are the birthplace of our Universe. Given that all matter on Earth comes from the detritus of failed stars, including mankind, then they are literally our cosmic womb!

“We are stardust
Billion year old carbon
We are golden
Caught in the devils bargain
And we’ve got to get ourselves
Back to the garden” Joni Mitchell

So, the Universe has at its heart a huge black hole that is the creative force behind Creation. We are a little like that too. On the surface all this rationality and organisation, and within every one of us is a seething, roiling mass of insecurity, fears and doubt. When we deal with each other at the surface level only we have limited effectiveness, and we gain little satisfaction. Once we look a little deeper and see both the ‘stardust’ and the ‘black hole’ we can touch each other in magical ways.

So today, put away your telescopes and look a little deeper… act on that and see what happens!

Getting in touch with our inner fish!

Monday, January 28th, 2008

Scientists have discovered a 375 million year old fossil in Arctic Canada called the Tiktaalik, which they believe to be the remains of the first creature to leave the water and start live on terra firma. Their fins had strong interior bones that allowed for evolution of all quadruped (and thence biped) life. So this fish is responsible for the shift of Life on Earth from the aquatic to the terrestrial. “Interesting and so what?!” you may be musing…

Let me blend in another scientific factoid. There is a branch of science called Evolutionary Development (evo devo) which looks at the process by which organisms evolve, and what that shows is that rather than different organisms having radically different sets of genes, in fact they are remarkably similar (for more interesting facts on these similarities read this article), in fact, we share about 60% our genes with the humble fruit fly. It is just that the process of evo devo has shuffled our genetic ‘decks’ in different ways. It reminds me of Eric Morecombe’s famous quote “I am playing all the right notes.. but not necessarily in the right order!”. So we have all the right / same genes just organised differently.

This got me thinking about all the potential we have as human beings and what we are innately capable of, given half the chance; and guess what? The person who most often fails to give us that chance is us! That little negative voice that tells us we are bound to fail, so what is the point in bothering… If a fish can learn to walk and to breathe on land, then what are we capable of? And from that first, small fishy footstep, look what ensued! So today I would encourage you to bit a bit braver, and take a step into the unknown… who knows where it might lead you.

“The charm of fishing is that it is the pursuit of that which is elusive but attainable, a perpetual series of occasions for hope”

Guest Contribution: “You are the elephant, you are the rider”

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

How is it that you can want to stop smoking but still continue to smoke? Or want to eat healthily, but still give in to the temptation of junk food? Or resolve to be a better person, but still find yourself getting irritable?

Much has been written down the ages about how puny will power is when compared to our habits and desires, especially over an extended period of time. Sooner or later, our attention strays or our resolve weakens, and old habits reassert themselves.

The best metaphor I have seen for this mismatch between conscious intentions and unconscious behaviour comes from Jonathan Haidt’s excellent and very readable book The Happiness Hypothesis: Putting Ancient Wisdom to the Test of Modern Science. He likens these two aspects of our selves to an elephant and its rider. The rider represents the ‘controlled’ processes of the mind, the planning and reasoning that takes place one step at a time in conscious awareness, while the elephant represents the hundreds of automatic operations we carry out every second outside of conscious awareness.

The elephant has been around a lot longer than the rider. It includes emotions, gut feelings, and visceral responses, and, like Pavlov’s dog, responds to stimulus control, whether the stimulus-response pairings are innate (like the startle response) or learned (like the urge to answer the phone when it rings).

The rider, by contrast, has very little influence on behaviour. Although he can look into the future, imagine hypothetical scenarios, and make plans, he cannot order the elephant to do anything. Essentially, the rider is an adviser. Usually, though, we don’t realise this: we think either that we are in charge of the elephant, or (perhaps more often) don’t realise there is an elephant, and then are baffled or give ourselves a hard time when we don’t stick to our resolutions and don’t carry out the actions that we know we “should” be doing.

Problems occur when rider and elephant are not operating in harmony. The great hypnotherapist Milton Erickson used to say that the reason his clients had problems was because their conscious and unconscious minds were out of rapport.

In a direct contest between the rider and the elephant, the elephant will win every time. It’s a lot bigger and stronger, and, as Haidt points out, our automatic processes have been honed over millions of years of evolution to work pretty much perfectly. The controlled processes, by contrast, are a recent development – ‘Rider 1.0’ – and still have some bugs to be ironed out.

It is possible, though, for the rider to use his ingenuity to train the elephant in various subtle ways, to distract it from harmful stimuli, and to refocus its attention on more productive goals. Nor should the flow of information be just one way. The elephant is aware of much more of what is going on in the surrounding environment than is the rider, so listening to what the elephant can tell us (in the form of feelings, intuitions, dreams and even physical symptoms) can help us to make much better plans and decisions.

In future articles I’ll be exploring the nature of the elephant/rider relationship further, and outlining some practical ways in which our conscious minds (the rider) can both influence and learn from our unconscious minds (the elephant).

Haidt’s book is about much more than this, by the way. Despite being easy to read, it’s so rich in information, useful perspectives and research information that I expect I’ll be integrating some of its implications and thinking about the many ways in which they can be useful for some time to come. Highly recommended!

Read more about the book: US | UK

Andy Smith

Alpha Waves & how I use them & how I use them

Sunday, January 27th, 2008

Having flown back from Singapore on Friday, I had the most delicious sleep I have had all year yesterday. I was aware on waking of just drifting in this comfy, cosy, creative place. For many years now I have been aware that the state between drifting off to sleep and waking (I find the latter more useful), is a highly resourceful one. I am not quite asleep and not quite awake either. I can have rationale, sequential thoughts but they are connected ‘differently’. I am certainly more creative and resourceful and can resolve problems in minutes than might at other times take ages.

This state is when we produce Alpha brain waves; they range between 7-12 HZ. This is a place of deep relaxation, but not quite meditation. In Alpha, we begin to access the wealth of creativity that lies just below our conscious awareness – it is the gateway, the entry point that leads into deeper states of consciousness. There are all sorts of tools and techniques to help us access this, but we do as naturally as we wake and drift off to sleep. Alpha, if you like, is the borderlands between consciousness and unconscious.

I use this place/state for creating programs, writing articles and even this blog! A while back I wrote about Intuition, which is another way of using other parts of our brain. We so over use rational brains, our very language reflects this obsession. In reality, this obsession with ‘being rational’ is the equivalent to a carpenter trying to build everything with a only a hammer. Try using alpha to solve your problems and watch them melt away….

“Sleep that knits up the ravelled sleeve of care
The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath
Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,
Chief nourisher in life’s feast.” William Shakespeare, Macbeth


Friday, January 25th, 2008

I have just touched down from my first visit back from Singapore and as they are 8 hours ahead of the UK, I am have the déjà vu experience of regaining those 8 hours. We have all seen the Sci-Fi movies when the hero revisits the past, having seen the future and changes some event to avoid a calamity. This got me thinking about changing the future, because, of course, we are all laying the foundations for our futures with every choice we make now. Do we eat that cream cake or go on the diet, do we pick up the phone or let the argument linger etc. etc.

Nothing too profound in those ideas, but the fact is we all busy, many of us would claim to be “too busy” to do the very things we need to do, so we mortgage our futures and ensure we will waste much more time and energy trying to rectify these oversights and mistakes. If you are happy and healthy now then chances are that you are making some good decisions, but if you aren’t, then now is the time to choose a different future by acting NOW.. .because one thing is for sure, if you don’t make any different choices today, tomorrow will be that same… again!

It is exactly the same for businesses, if you are enjoying success, great, but what seeds are you planting for tomorrow’s harvest? If it is a little tough right now, then you need to be changing things, now. This applies to people, strategies, investments, the whole kit and kibuddle! Taking the time and making the choices is the key to a happy future… Good Luck!


“We do not grow absolutely, chronologically. We grow sometimes in one dimension, and not in another; unevenly. We grow partially. We are relative. We are mature in one realm, childish in another. The past, present, and future mingle and pull us backward, forward, or fix us in the present. We are made up of layers, cells, constellations.” Anais Nin


Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

I recently had some uncomfortable moments when working under great pressure, with team of new colleagues, all very experienced, very talented and with strong views on many things. We were discussing how the day had gone and what needed changing for tomorrow, what we had learnt etc, and I was aware, several times of feeling uncomfortable.

They seemed to be worrying about things that didn’t seem like an issue to me. Spending ages debating things which seemed obvious. Needless to say if they had felt that way we wouldn’t have spent 3 hours in discussion after a very long day and a very short night! Perhaps those of you who are married might have some experience with this… However, from inside me it just felt like we were ‘wasting time’. No doubt I communicated some of this and they no doubt responded by thinking I was either too thick, too insensitive or too unprofessional to care!

Now we worked it all out and came to a really very good conclusion but this all had at its root the different way in which we not only perceived things ,but processed them in our brains. I think they were following a stepwise, linear process, pawing over every detail along the way. I think I was responding to patterns and making intuitive leaps. I am certainly not claiming to have been right about every point, the end product was a cocktail of everyone’s views and experience.

However, when people process / perceive things differently then you need to find ways to bridge between your worlds, to respect their processes and pace. Ideally, you learn to take form each other the best of what you each ‘bring to the party’ so that if one person is great at ‘big picture’ connections, accept those, and the other really strong at sorting out the details, grab them.

Working this way is true synergy and everyone wins; the alternative is we get frustrated and emotional and it goes slower and slower! The key is to try and get them to vocalise their concerns and for you to address them in similar terms. I freely admit, I could have done this better
It would be great if you spared yourself this experience!

“Not until we respect ourselves, can we gain the esteem of others, or rather only then will it come of its own accord” Albert Einstein
“When people do not respect us we are sharply offended; yet in his private heart no man much respects himself” Mark Twain


Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

In the real world, I think that in that it Change is a bit like a tree. Each day it is a slightly different version of itself. Buds appear that weren’t there the day before, perhaps leaves fall, fruit ripens, flowers produce seed etc.

In other words, hundreds of tiny changes are taking place all the time, constantly modifying the tree. It is the same with a business; different aspects of it are always changing. Successful businesses, like good gardeners, keep an eye on what bits need tending & encouraging and which bits need pruning or pinching out.

Turning up to the same place and greeting the same faces every day can easily blind us to this constant flux. Today, perhaps you could walk round your ‘garden’ and see what is growing and what needs your attention….

“Excellently observed,” answered Candide; “but let us cultivate our garden” Voltaire


Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

So today I have follow literally across he world and am writing this from Singapore. I have moved my body, I have inverted my time zone, but of course I’m still me. Of course I bring ‘me’ with me wherever I go. I am working with new clients, new products and new colleagues, so I need to ipen myself up to this change and allow all of these new influences in.

It is a common reaction to not only take ‘me’ with me every where but to try and reproduce my home too; this is part of the reason that there is McDonalds on in every city, as Starbucks on every block and Coke in every bar!
So I’ll try to leave open a window to Change whilst I am here, and see what wanders in. How can you open yourself up to something new today?

“Aim for success, not perfection. Never give up your right to be wrong, because then you will lose the ability to learn new things and move forward with your life.”


Saturday, January 19th, 2008

The other day, I was discussing the way in which our intuition worked, and talked about the vast background processing capability of our subconscious brains. Well there is another facet of this too, our ability to spot bullsh*t. Of course this is at one end of the spectrum, but it is there to scan for whether we can trust people. It wants to know if we can believe what we are being told or seen. Another way to put it is “Does the audio match the video?”

A lot of you will be familiar with the (mis)quote that we only take 7% of our meaning from the actual words that are spoken (for more on that see this article); however the important thing that this tells us is that all the time we thing we are listening to their words, the rest of our brain is scanning their tone and their body language to see if they are congruent with their words. To take a simple example, if someone says to you that they are “really happy to see you!” and their face has no animation and their voice is monotone, then it is a pretty safe bet there is no excitation taking place. On the other hand, if they sound slightly out-of-breath, perhaps speak in a higher register, appear very animated, possibly have high colour, then we can probably believe them.

So all the time we receive any communication we are running this filter; in addition we have other mechanisms to speed up the process, like “Does this come from a trusted source?” “Is it important anyway?” and a series of other tests that decide how much time and energy we spend on it. For example we will screen & dump most things that come through mechanisms like adverts, but we will listen to our boss more carefully.

So that is how it works and it is almost flawless in its accuracy, so what does this mean to us? Well, this leads me to the conclusion that although most of us spend a lot of our time (and energy) hiding our lights under a bushel, and telling people what we think they want to hear, this is a total waste of our time! Think about it… when we are being incongruent we trip their bullsh*t filters and they screen us out as either ‘Dangerous’ or ‘Irrelevant’. So, in fact we get a lot less of what we want when we don’t have the courage of our convictions and speak our truth. Today, why not take a ‘risk’ or two and play with this and see the difference in the results you get… Good Luck!

“Most people are other people.  Their thoughts are someone else’s opinions, their lives a mimicry, their passions a quotation.”  Oscar Wilde