Your Anxiety is Not You – you are you.

All of us have certain things that trigger anxiety – these differ for each person because our life experience is different and therefore we have differing beliefs and perspectives. For some a trigger might be public speaking and for others it is dealing with someone who is a bit “difficult.” (We could have a long debate about what difficult means, but I’ll save that for another blog.)

We feel our anxiety because a specific part of our brain sees these things as threatening. Unfortunately this bit of our hard wiring reacts as if we are facing death. Therefore, our bodies get ready to run away (from a sabre-tooth tiger) or stand up and fight (with the axe wielding member of an enemy tribe.) It’s a primitive response that is not so helpful if what you are trying to do is speak to your boss! Phobias, like fear of heights, spiders, snakes, the dark etc, are extreme versions of this anxiety.

Understanding what’s going on is part of the battle. I took a friend sailing  a while back and was able to help him see a new perspective on his anxiety. I’ve written about it here. We have learned to be anxious about certain things. And we can unlearn it.

What Skills Are You Investing In?

According to the World Economic Forum, analytical, creative thinking and complex problem solving, are key skills for now and over the next few years.

 

 

The pace of change, particularly around working lives, requires a workforce that can remain flexible, think creatively and make effective choices. Understating how the brain might actually get in the way of these skills and having a kitbag of strategies to boost thinking power, may be more important than experience. Knowing how we have done things in the past will not be as useful as coming up with ideas on how to do things differently.

“We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein

 

 

Join me on the 25th January, 2019, to explore the kind of strategies that will open up options and creative problem solving.

Impasse to Insight – creative problem solving for business.

 

We Were Born Creative – what happened?

Photo of the Eagle Nebula’s Pillars of Creation taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope

We were born creative. We were born clever. We were born awesome.

Everything we learn for the first years of our lives we teach ourselves: through experimentation, through putting two and two together and seeing the results, through wondering “what if?”  During this time we teach ourselves a language; some people teach themselves more than one.

We then get told to sit still, be quiet, colour in between the lines. Most of us, for whatever reason, start to develop beliefs about ourselves that are unhelpful; beliefs that are contrary to this reality.

“You aren’t creative, you’re not that bright, you’re not as good as…”

I heard twenty years ago about some research that was done with engineers at a car manufacturer. They were trying to establish what made the creative ones that bit more creative.  The answer was this – the creative ones believed that they were creative. That’s it, the only difference that they found.

I don’t know whether this story is true (and if anyone could find me the research I would be very grateful) but I have been exploring this ever since. I was someone who believed that I wasn’t creative. And yet:

  • I could dance from the moment I could walk
  • I was musical
  • I was good at creative writing
  • genetically speaking I should have been creative since both of my parents were

And yet!

It has taken some time for me to say “yes, I’m creative.” What a waste!

So what is stopping you? What beliefs have been holding you still, when you could have been dancing, drawing, singing, writing, learning?

You were born awesome – you still are; let it shine.

For The Future

I spoke at Chichester College’s Professional Student Graduation ceremony last night. Students from Marketing, Accountancy, Human Resources and Learning & Development received their certificates and then contemplated their futures. As the guest speaker, this is the heart of the advice I gave them.

1 – Say Yes If You Can

When life offers you an opportunity, grab it with both hands even if it isn’t part of your plan and not what you were expecting. This is particularly important if someone else is saying “I think you would be great at this.” Doing a wide variety of things opens your horizons and makes you more effective.

Opportunities don’t always work out well but they are never wasted. We learn from the bad times as well as the good times. Say yes and make it yours.

2 – When You Say No, Let It Go

If you have to say no to an opportunity don’t waste your time wondering what would have happened differently – you will never know.  Sometimes we come across two paths and have to choose which one to go down. Whether you choose the path “less travelled by [1]” or the massive motorway, travelled by a million people before you, let the other path go.

3 – Stay A Student Forever

You will learn things today that in a few years you will discover are not true. You must keep looking, studying, learning, challenging, testing yourself and what you know. Never give up being a student; it hasn’t finished, it has only just begun.

 

You can’t see the road ahead, only what is now and what has gone before. You can scream with excitement or you can scream with fear. Your choice – choose excitement.

 

[1] Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken

Why Is Miscarriage So Upsetting?

Next week is Baby Loss Awareness Week.  Miscarriage and stillbirth, even in these enlightened times, are still taboo subjects.  But not being able to talk about it, just makes a very painful experience even worse. Here is a blog, that I posted as a guest blog last year, that might answer some questions and give a different perspective for those going through it – and for those seeking to support.

The Darkness and Dawn of Miscarriage.

Darkness

Miscarriage is not the happiest of subject matters but a topic that affects so many people – about one in four pregnancies. I have written this in the hope of answering two questions:

  1. Why is it quite so upsetting?
  2. How do I support someone going through this?

I worked in a hospital at the time of my miscarriages. The obstetrician was fantastically supportive and kind, but many of my colleagues said the most appalling things to me; not from malice but from misjudgement. It was really confusing. It was hard enough to get my head around the fact that I had been a mother who had never held or kissed her child. To be subjected to pseudo-medical guesswork was just more than I could bear. After the first miscarriage I went into a form of shock. I was back at work on the Monday, apparently fine. By the Friday I was in pieces and I didn’t really understand why. Now I do understand why but it took a while to work it out.

For those going though miscarriage one of the hardest things to deal with is other people’s reactions. The problem, I believe, is created by a difference of perspective. For friends and family the miscarriage is a medical event – the pregnancy has stopped – but for the hopeful parents, what is lost is not the pregnancy but the baby in their arms. And it is this baby, fully imagined, fully cherished, that is lost. I have many friends who have also had this experience. Loved ones wanting to support but unsure of what to say, and because of their perspective getting it horribly wrong; the very people who should be pouring love and support, just end up pouring more darkness.

 

So How Do You Be Their Dawn? – for the mothers and their partners.

  1. Understand that you are helping someone who is grieving (as well as dealing with chaotic hormones and probably having undergone a fairly grim, clinical procedure.)
  2. Don’t assume that when someone says “I’m fine” that they are. Don’t assume that the “I’m fine” from yesterday is still true today or even in a month’s time.
  3. Don’t keep going on about it. Don’t get frustrated when they do.
  4. Do NOT say:

    “it was for the best” (it wasn’t – it really, really wasn’t the best)

    “at least you have your other child” (they are not consolation prizes)

    “well at least you know that you can get pregnant” (this was not a dress rehearsal; this was the real thing.)

  5. If you notice anyone saying the above, have a word.
  6. DO say:

    “I’m so sorry.”

    “How can I help?”

    “This is really sad news.”

    “I’m sorry that I don’t know what to say.”

  7. Hug them. Remember to hug the partner; they’re grieving too.
  8. Help. If you can, turn up and do the washing up, hoovering, making tea for visitors. They’ll be mortified that you did their washing up etc. but will also be relieved that it’s done. You have to play this one really carefully so have empathy dials up to max.
  9. Turn up with food; my friend Sarah turned up with a casserole and jacket potatoes already cooked and still hot – I just needed to put them on the plate. I sobbed.
  10. If you are their manager, treat them as you would after any bereavement. Take particular care to remember point 1 and 2.

I had a very spiritual experience a while ago that helped me deal with my own miscarriages. I share that here in the hope that it brings some peace, clarity and hope.

One final point; if this is you then you are not alone. The miscarriage association have a fabulous website. Speak to your friends and family; there will be people close by who have been through exactly what you are going through. Lean on them. Say yes to help. Be difficult. Rage. Love. Grieve.

Breaking Out

Here is the third entry into the VERY occasional series, responding to the Artwork of My Friends – the first being here and the second here.

I asked my friend Doug Shaw to select a piece of his work for me to write about. Here is my response.

Painting by Doug Shaw

Breaking Out       by Janet Webb

Warm, familiar, not loud, not bright,
This comforting place is my delight.
This shell keeps me secure, held and still,
Away from the cliff edge, safe from ill will.

These bars protect me from unknown harm,
Enclosing with nothing to cause alarm.
They stop me from doing what’s foolish, what’s rash,
Protecting me from what’s harsh, what’s brash.

But painfully bound to a familiar game,
Repeating, repeating, repeating the same,
The solid walls smother and stifle the din
And I shrink and contract; my outlook looks in.

So I break from this jail that’s safe but a bore,
Cut the rope that tethers and learn to soar.
Looking over the edge I see a different view
And risking the fall, I learn something new.

I’ll leave the comfort of what I know
And explore what is hidden in order to grow.
To climb like a vine and snatch at the sky.
And if I fall? Well, for a moment I’ll fly.

 

Content or Delivery; which is better?

About a year ago I was running a session for some Learning and Development professionals on the Neuroscience of Learning.

I was contacted before the event by one of the potential delegates and asked this question:

“Will there be some actual content or will it be all of us just sharing what we know?”

The person in question was unwell and the thought of turning up to an event, expecting to learn something new and instead being given post-it notes and coloured pens was more than they could cope with. We had an interesting discussion.

I have noticed more and more of exactly what they were talking about – a move towards L&D people being less about the content and more about the delivery. But is this a good move? I have a concern about lazy being dressed as facilitation and that the delivery becomes so important that good content is not included at all.

Last month I facilitated a similar group of L&D professionals looking at some techniques for learning that were definitely not chalk and talk. At one point, dotted around the room, were flipcharts with provocative statements on. People were invited to look at them and discuss the statements with whoever was there, for as long as they wanted to, before moving on. I tweeted one of the statements and Twitter responded.  This was the statement.

 

 

Replies ranged from “Never!” to “Agreed.”

There were a lot of responses around good facilitation taking dry content and making it great and that bad delivery can suck the life out of a learning event. Conversely, that great delivery can mask poor design. There were thoughts on how good questions can deliver amazing results. There were some feeding analogies. The word context came up. “Context is the missing word. The dance between content, delivery & exploration depends on context.” from Chris Nichols @chrisnicholsT2i

There was also some talk about the importance of participation; that you can’t make someone learn.

 

All true.  So what’s the problem?

 

I was reminded a while ago about a time when a group of us were running a residential and we ran out of activities. So we divided the delegates into two teams, asked them to design an exercise for the other team, then swapped the activities and sat back. Of course we facilitated the reflective session afterwards; we didn’t just walk away altogether, but I felt at the time, and still do years later, that this was utterly lazy. Yes they got something from it. Yes we helped them process the learning. But honestly, did we do the best for them? Could that time have been used better?

I adore action learning sets but it has to be done right, for people who want and need it, when they want and need it. I remember once being on a course as a new manager where the facilitator gave us the opportunity to spend an afternoon together, with total freedom to manage our own learning, exploring whatever came up. I think the term T-group was used. So we all went back to work! We had left busy work places to come and get help with our busy work places. We didn’t see the benefit of chewing the fat with other, equally busy colleagues. This was probably a sign of our immaturity as learners but it was also a sign of a Trainer (they weren’t called L&D professionals then) experimenting on us with an idea and doing it very badly. They were a bit cross with us for not engaging. We were furious for being given so little when we needed so much.

I love great facilitation. I think it’s an important, potentially life changing skill. I did a course 20 years ago at Surrey University about the dynamics of group work and facilitation that was possibly one of the best things I have ever done. However, I think there is also a place for designing great content. I think there is a place for lectures and teaching and instructional training.

If I’m going for surgery I want my surgeons to have attended some recent lectures on the latest techniques and breakthroughs. I also want them to have discussed this between themselves and thought about how they can use these things effectively. I want them to do the full 100%.

When I learned to drive I wanted the instructor to say

“That peddle in the middle is the break”

not

“OK, how do you feel about this? If this car was a stone you are carrying, what colour would it smell like?”

Great facilitation should not over-ride the need for great content, when that great content is what is needed. Chewing the fat can be amazing – give them something worth chewing.

When It Comes To The EU part 2 –

Is This The Best Atmosphere In Which To Negotiate?

On the 23rd June the country voted in the EU Referendum. We made our decision on gut feel, research based on conjecture and hope. Then someone had to deal with the aftermath.

Some, who thought that they might want to handle the job, just walked away when the time came. Theresa May stepped up to the plate and thank God she did; someone had to and the alternative choices don’t bear thinking about.  She didn’t want to leave the EU and almost certainly still doesn’t but has been handed a task that needs doing; negotiating a deal in such a way that gives Britain the best possible outcome.

For me, the worrying issue now is that everything that the Prime Minister does, every single step, is done in an atmosphere of challenge and turmoil. Each decision triggers hoards to shout at her that it is either too far or that it is not far enough. The papers scream. Each breath, each move, each laugh, each item of clothing is used to stir. The commentary is constant. The noise is deafening.

There will be no pleasing of all of the people. There will be no unification of ideas, hopes and dreams. The best outcome will not appease everyone or be fully agreed on. She will not complete this task and get a sense of success.

This is an appalling atmosphere to work through possibly one of the most complex negotiations of our time. And yet she must continue.

My hope, my prayer, is that she has the strength, courage and willpower to see it to the end. The temptation to walk away must be overwhelming. And that would be utterly disastrous.

When It Comes To The EU part 1 –

We Have The Perspective Of Z

Perspective of size – I highly recommend the animated film Antz to you, a delightful tale about a colony of ants. The main character is a worker ant called Z, pronounced zee, voiced brilliantly by Woody Allen.  Z tries to break away from the insignificance of his existence and accidently becomes a hero, saving millions of lives.  At the end of the film the “camera” pans away and you are shown that this huge colony, that seems vast and complex, is just a small mound in the middle of Central Park. The point is well made; these tiny creatures, that we have come to love and cheer for, are insignificant in the grand scheme of things and so they have a very limited perspective on the whole world.

Perspective of time – When the Romans invaded Britain, no doubt it was a terrible time; a time for fighting against their oppression and for deciding how to deal with these invaders. What would be the best thing to do for your family, should you collaborate or resist and what on earth is garlic?  Now we can look back on that time, almost with fondness, and celebrate some of the ways our country changed – the food, the City walls, the straight roads, Hadrian’s Wall and Fishbourne Palace.  If we had the chance to change history, would we have stopped them?  It is impossible to say.

For weeks before the EU referendum I was trying to make a decision about something that I couldn’t fully grasp. I was confused by the arguments for and against. I couldn’t understand (and still don’t) how anyone could be absolutely certain either way. There were big businesses supporting either side of the argument and there was a lot of noise, but little in the way of facts, because all of it was conjecture – we have neither the perspective of size or time.

I decided to vote remain but I was not sure. I had a feeling that if the country did decide to remain then there would have been a bit of me that wondered if that was the right choice, an opportunity missed.

I am certain that some leavers voted so for utterly racist reasons.  I am equally certain that many did so for logical, strategic and hope filled reasons.  And I am also certain that many who voted either way did so for self-serving reasons and in a position of arrogance.  We all voted from a position of ignorance.

The irrefutable truth is that we democratically voted to leave; well England and Wales did anyway.  It may well mean that Scotland leaves the UK.  On the other hand, it may well unite Ireland. It is impossible to know now if in generations to come this will be seen as a great decision or a disastrous decision – we have the perspective of Z.

 

Five Levels of Twitter and Counting – which rung are you on?

People use Twitter to achieve different things and in different ways.  I’ve noticed that there appears to be a sort of hierarchy and, like most hierarchies, it’s unhelpful, especially to those on the lower rungs.

The Monarchy – the celebrities who Tweet about their meal choices. They do this because they think their fans want it, not because this is a normal thing to do in real life. They have to ignore the overwhelming flood of response.  They could of course just not Tweet but that’s not the point.

 

The Aristocracy – they Tweet to share their world view, opinions and experience. They expect to get a response; they just aren’t really interested in what that response is.  They have their connections already – they don’t need to make any more through Twitter, that’s not the point.  If they had to meet you in real life they would be frankly appalled.

The Gentry – they Tweet and generously respond and engage with their audience. They aren’t really interested in anyone on a lower rung but it looks like they are. After all, those people on the lower rungs may actually be unidentified Aristocracy.  If they met you in real life they wouldn’t recognize you, despite communicating with you for years!

The Yeomanry – they Tweet to share and receive. They want to use the process to build relationships with other people.  When they engage with the Gentry they think that they are engaging on their own rung, but they’re not. They want to meet you in real life – that is the point.

The Artisans – they have no idea what the fuss is all about and are just getting on with real life.

Please note:

This is just my opinion. None of this is true about anyone all of the time.  People who describe themselves as thought leaders have a special rung all of their own.