The Wright Way

The Wright Way

Friday, February 25, 2011

When you're an 8 year old there's no "box" to think outside!

I was working at some cricket fielding exercises with a group of six Under 11 cricketers - and in particular I did a competition with them at throwing and hitting the target stumps from about 15m away.

After we finished this I asked them what is the most important thing to do when trying to hit the stumps, and they all echoed at once, "We need to concentrate by looking at the target." - Pretty straightforward so far. Then I invited them to consider something a little 'outside the box'. "How good do you think you'll be at hitting the stumps when you throw with your eyes closed?" Some thought they stood no chance because they'd only managed one or two hits with their eyes open. Others (especially all the youngest ones) just took it in their stride, without even considering it was an 'outside the box' request.

We ran the same competition, this time throwing with eyes closed - with some hits and a lot of very near misses. Eventually after 2 rounds we had two contenders for a deciding throw-off. One was a young county player and the other was a beginner aged only 8 (though quite technically astute.)
The eventual winner was the beginner. I got them all in a huddle and then did a post-competition "interview" with the winner. "What was your secret to winning," I said, "what did you do specially so we can give your advice to everyone else here?"

Completely unfazed he said, "I looked at the stumps as if I was taking aim, and then closed my eyes and threw the ball."
"Brilliant," I said. "And could you still see the stumps when you closed your eyes?"
He nodded.

The learning spin-offs from this little exercise are considerable.

All these youngsters will go away with:
* An uncomplicated belief that provided you take aim and trust your eyes then there's every chance of being succesful.
* This spills over into what happens (a) when you try too hard and (b) when you just relax.
* When they encounter it properly, they'll understand that visualisation can be a very powerful tool.

For me its a reminder that hitting targets is something we can do with our eyes closed! And, most of all, that at some point in our development we meet a 'box of conventionality' that rationalises our way of thinking about what is possible, what is the norm - and for some of us this conventionality is the carrier for limiting beliefs.
Clearly for this particular 8 year old there is no 'box' to think outside. He accepts everything as normal, there's a lack of anything called convention, and his ability to experiment, discover and learn continues unabated.

Long live Youth!

Monday, February 21, 2011

"That's a load off my Mind"

I last wrote about the "Cloud Technique" back in April 2010 (see archive) and as to how effective and flexible it is - not just for state change and enhancement, but also for removing elements of unwanted mental (particularly emotional) baggage.

The technique is just one of Kevin Creedon's** hugely useful developments, and I'm indebted to Kevin for it and to Nigel Hetherington** who first brought it to my attention.

I've used it many times now, and the most recent for a client who had been struggling for a couple of years to find closure after leaving a previous job.
This lack of resolution was starting to impact into other areas of her life, affecting her objectivity and ability to focus on a variety of things and, most importantly, chipping away at her self-esteem. "Everyone else affected has dealt with their issues around this change of job for me, but I have a lot of anger, frustration, and resentment going on still and just can't shift it." Her physiology, as she told me about it, tensed up - especially around her neck and shoulders - and her voice took on a terse quality to back this up.

She'd actually come to see me about something else - however this seemed a good opportunity to tackle this issue as it was clearly the more dominant!

PW - "So is there a colour you associate with this anger, resentment, this frustration?"
CL - (after a pause) "No - but I'll tell you what its like. Its like a big, heavy weight." It was good of her to give out this metaphor so early!
PW - "Its like a big, heavy weight - and is there anything else about that heavy weight?"
Cl - "It sort of encloses me, but its not in front of me." I already knew where it was from her earlier body language, so I pointed towards her neck and shoulders:
PW - "Kind of, around here enclosing you - but not out here in front..."
CL - "Yes that's it. Big, heavy, weighing me down..."
PW - "And what would you like to have happen really?"
CL - "For it not to be there - to be behind me."
PW - "What happens to it when its behind you?"
CL - "It just dissolves and disappears..."
PW - "It just dissolves - almost like 'out of sight out of mind'..."

Next I got her to stand up, ensuring that the feeling was still there on her neck and shoulders. She was fully associated into the whole scenario now. I invited her to see what it was like when I helped her lift the big, heavy weight off her neck and shoulders with my help.
CL - "That's nice, that's much better - but its not fair on you. Now you've got it."
PW - "Not a problem for me," I said, "because I'm going to get rid of it by throwing it out of the window. So now - as I hold it, as I take the weight, I want you to step forward and away from it."
This she did, and after another step I got her to turn around and face me (holding her imaginary weight) and the window. I asked her if there was any weight left still on her neck and shoulders. There was none. I then 'threw' the weight out of the window - knowing of course that for her it was going to dissolve, evaporate, disappear.
PW - "Is there any of the weight left behind in the chair you'd been sat in, or anywhere else in the room?"
CL - "No its all gone!"
PW - "Absolutely sure?"
CL - "Yes - I would see it if there was because it was dark grey."
So there WAS a colour associated with it after all!
She was visibly surprised and somewhat bemused that she could feel so different. I got her to sit down in the chair I'd occupied and asked her about how she felt now about her closure issues. She reported nothing at all - a totally neutral response.

We conversed a little further, and she became almost tingling with excitement that the weight had gone, the emotions surrounding closure were neutral, and that it had been quite so simple, saying, "Heavens! Quite literally that's a load off my mind!"

** - You can find Nigel Hetherington's website at, and about Kevin Creedon here

Additional thanks go to Judy Rees, for helping my understanding with framing the questions and eliciting and working with the client's metaphors. Her website is here

Perfectionists - Do NOT read this!

In the wide range of perfectionist habits from people who have fallen off the "Good-for-Me Foods and Drinks Wagon", to the sportspersons who beat themselves up, even in practice, the reasons are inevitably the same - they are trying to match what they're doing to a model of perfection - and coming up short.
This model of perfection allows no faults, no deviations from the 'right' pathway - these are the all-or-nothing people, the 100%ers. And they judge, and they try, and they fail, and they try harder, and fail even more because they are trying harder!

There's a great quote by Bruce Lee:
"The less tension and effort, the more faster and powerful you will be"....and it starts with a deep calm breath, and a sense of being grounded.

The biggest cause of failures in dietary control is because the participants are not tolerant of their personal shortcomings. The biggest barrier to advances in sporting or performance expertise is that same intolerance, plus the 'try harder' syndrome. They, each of them, fail to acknowledge themselves as they are Right Now.

There's a well worn mantra "If you keep doing what you're doing, then you'll keep getting what you've got" - and this works well with those who are not bound in to the strategies of the 100%ers. But the bindings that hold those perfectionists to their excuses, their judgements, have been building over many years. They've learnt, over that span of time, to be as comfortable as possible with those bindings so they can get by, so that life goes on as best it can. "Its part of me - its who I am" is what they say about themselves, and what others say about them too.

It doesn't have to be this way - but the bindings are there to hold these attitudes in place - and the exit strategy is to release the bindings.

I feel that when people release THEIR OWN bindings then permanent change is made possible. This way they possess their own "change of mind" - instead of it being something imposed upon them from the outside. There are a number of ways of showing them their bindings, and part of what I do with them is to discover the nature of their bindings and what might be the most appropriate pathway for release.

These always start with questions, questions that eventually lead to questions and notions they can ask and explore for themselves. There's a really good set that I find opens things up, particularly for those 'stuck' on a plateau of progression...

"With whatever you're good at, how did you get to be as good as you are already? There was some point - back in your past - when you weren't as good as you are now. So in order for you to have become as good as you are, you must have allowed yourself to become better than you were."

Try this on the perfectionists you know (even the closet ones) and see what happens. Notice how they frame their answers - notice how their state shifts. See if any of that ice melts and becomes not ice!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Eradicating food compulsions - more encounters with "The White Plate"!

In April 2010 I blogged about the recurrence of the white plate as the featured receptacle when mapping across 'Liked' foods/drinks and 'Disliked' foods/drinks. (See blog archive).

On all occasions since, when clients have actually wanted to eradicate some particular excess or craving, then the foul and obnoxious has always been represented by them as being on a white plate.

This latest encounter was with, initially, cans of Cola vs Black Pudding.

I first got her to map (or locate) where the spatial representations were of her sensual perception of both a can of cola (the liked) and then some black pudding (the disliked).
There wasn't a huge directional difference between the liked/disliked locations - however the distance away from the client was substantial and, as it turned out, very usable. I had to be quite creative (and manipulative) with this because the drink was inside a metal container! However, as the white plate adorned with black pudding was "brought" from its distant location right up to where her can was represented, for the purposes of her imagined experience, I broke some of the black pudding into small enough pieces to drop into the can once that had been opened. We duly tested and she visibly recoiled from any indulgence in partaking of the can of Cola.

Now she had a situation where she would be unsure about every future can she would open - so the reality sequence would be < open can - pause - check if drink contains particles of black pudding - but how to do this? - smell to check or pour into a glass? - or (great alternative) just don't bother >.
In all these interrupts of her former habitual 'addiction' is the conscious opportunity to take a 'better drink' option.
So - what if she DID pour the can into a glass? "Its not the same in a glass, not as fizzy," she said. It would appear that for her the 'quality of fizziness' was key and so cola in a glass or, even worse, flat, is quite unattractive.

After this routine she said, "Well - so what about all the sweets and stuff that is not good for me as well...can we do something about them?" She was clearly up for taking advantage of this 'opportunity for change'.

With time not being on our side as far as her appointment was concerned, I took a bit of a punt on her mapped position of sweets being in the same location as her cans of cola. We brought the white plate, black pudding, can and all, and put it back in the requisite location for her - and I invited her to enlarge the plate into a kind of platter. One that was big enough to take those things already there PLUS any sweets, cakes etc that she had an unhealthy compulsion to consume. I reminded her about all the unsavoury delights of the black pudding, as it sat there, in her vivid imagination, rubbing shoulders with cakes and sweets.
After a bit of contemplation she said, "Can you please move this platter away?" With this done we concluded her appointment shortly after running through some future pacing and encountering her erstwhile compulsive favourites.

Time will tell whether the hurried second part of the process has any effect, though I have to say that her state and particular physiological reactions bear out my gut feeling that it has. I await to receive her feedback in due course!

And this left me thinking, yet again, about the white plate! White crockery is very popular, so why does this popularity extend to using it quite in this representative (or metaphorical) way. I've asked everyone - including myself - what is it about the white plate? Some say it just sets the disliked thing off really well; some say the pure of the white is the best contrast for the disliked thing; some, like me, just don't know.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Working outside the 'Bubble of Expertise'

Last weekend I coached 3 young district level cricketers for an hour each, and it was my first coaching at this level for the best part of two years. I have to say it was a real pleasure, both in terms of our interaction and their outcomes. Also I'm hoping that they'd gained enough ideas for change to stimulate and motivate them to taking their (batting) game onto the next level.

I approached them as clients, rather than coachees or (even worse) schoolboys, and looked to establish an atmosphere where they could express themselves. Although I knew all three, only one of them do I coach privately - and he is well versed in my 'atmosphere' of practice and experiment! The others (both aged 13) took a short while to become accustomed to the kind of freedom afforded to them, because essentially they are usually accustomed to being coached from a different perspective.

I spoke to one of them in particular about how learning something you like is not a chore but rather a pleasure - the very reason being that you like doing it. "Think of school," I said, "and the lessons in subjects you like. You look forward to them, you relax, pay more attention, and the whole learning thing has momentum before the lesson even starts."

The key action next is to capitalise upon this positive state and allow them to open up to all the possibilites afforded by what they are experiencing in practice. These possibilities exist outside the box (or bubble) of current expertise. Now, they could perhaps just want to 'groove' their current expertise - but that's not a learning experience, it is more of a conditioning exercise. And I wanted to engage them in learning (discovering) more about the breadth and limit of their capabilities by getting outside the bubble!

Interestingly, this bubble (or box) of current expertise is also the domain of the perfectionists and "finite-masters". These are the ones who are habitually prone to beating themselves up because they are trying to match what they're doing to their pre-conceived (and often perfect) model of their capabilities.
"I want to perfect what I'm good at, and THEN I can move on!"
Mmmm - so much for learning as you go; plus it makes for a stop-start-stop type of learning curve!

Sometimes I talk to players about the box or bubble and what happens when they're inside or outside it - and there's a great question I use for bursting the bubble or the finite-masters or perfectionists.
"Consider this - how did you get to be as good as you are already? There was some point - back in your past - when you weren't as good as you are now. So in order for you to have become as good as you are you must have allowed yourself to become better than you were."

So, once outside the expertise bubble the chance for learning is down to experimenting, experiencing, finding out what works and what doesn't, noticing what's happening on a sensual level and on using outcomes only as a means for collating results of the experiments. A kind of advanced TOTE Model if you like.

By the end of each of their sessions all these three lads had trodden some new ground. It was challenging going to these new places - but they were invigorated and enthused by realising that, through experience and experiment, when they came back to their 'bubble of expertise' it was now bigger!

Little wonder these guys are already much better than they were a year ago - and they are still capable of far, far more than they think they are. The difference is that now they have an inkling that for every new "Now" moment they experience they discover even more about their capabilities and, more especially, about themselves!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Staying a Maverick - seeing the straight and narrow for what it is!

I was talking to a parent of one of the lads I coach recently, and the conversation eventually came around to how I see things as a coach, the paths I encourage the players to pursue, and how I like to coach from a neurological perspective. As he looked rather quizzical I qualified my approach accordingly:-

In all my working areas - Technical Sports Coaching, Performance Coaching, Life and Business Coaching, Therapy for Change, even Caring for my parents in their old age - I take elements from each one of the others and use them to make things work better in the one I'm working in.

Because I coach performance, where the balance between technical, tactical, psychological and emotional needs to be in harmony Right Now, I think probably this discipline is at the hub of my working areas.

When I started out, I used to think Performance was all about doing, and bringing resources to bear to enable that - however now I view this differently.
I now know that Performance IS about being - being in balance, in harmony, at ease, at wellness in everything we do.

And its probably fair to say that once I'd 'twigged' this rather simple point, then I began to step off the straight and narrow of technical sports coaching, of life and business coaching, of therapeutic and changework paradigms, and onto the paths less trodden, the strange but exciting 'less-than-half-worlds' of crossover.

The gentleman I was speaking to, it turned out, was an Occupational Therapist - and the more I explained my approach to coaching sport in particular, the more he became enthused about how things were happening for his son.
He also talked about confidence and how important this approach is not only for young people, but also for the people he sees in his profession. Now, as an OT he certainly wouldn't see me as a 'maverick' cricket coach - only other cricket coaches see me as that.
This is where the 'maverick' distinction starts to emerge - within any of the disciplines I work at there is middle of the road, and there is off the beaten track. And the judgement as to which 'road' I occupy (or should occupy) comes from fellow coaches, or fellow therapists, rather than clients or people from other disciplines.

Given that my only purpose in all I do is to make a difference for people so they can run their lives better, there is a need to for these differences to be effective and timely. After all, life is finite! So I go with what works, avoid what doesn't work, keep looking for new stuff that works, and put everything in one big melting pot! I use bits of this technique, mixed with that strategy, and apply it in another way. Because every client is different, then every approach should be flexible - to my mind.

SO - what is 'maverick'? - Dictionary definitions seems to hover around "independent in behaviour or thought". However, even this is quite bland as it stands.

I recently visited my osteopath and while he was 'cracking my bones' we had a chat about where our professions meet and crossover. I mentioned the 'maverick' in me, and also how I'm drawn towards those in the therapeutic, changework and influence worlds who are pushing back the boundaries for tranformative thinking. His comment was profound: "Thank goodness for the mavericks," he said. "Without them much of what we take for granted now in the world would not have happened or have been developed. Take away the mavericks and we would stand still."

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Dementia Diary

Living with and caring for my Dad and his dementia has increasingly, over the last couple of years, become something of a fertile field for me in terms of understanding the shifting states of our realities.

It started out conventionally with my world and his world, and there were times when our worlds were 'out of sync'.
Because the chronology of his memory, post a certain date, has been randomised or totally misplaced he cannot remember a whole chunk of recent experiences and all things associated with them. The area most affected is short term memory - so in conversations he will repeat things because he can't remember he's already said them, and have a displaced perception of things related to temporal matters such as day of the week, year etc.
At times, when our worlds collided, I found his condition quite an emotional experience for me - saddening, upsetting, frustrating, irritating, and probably some others I've since forgotten!

This then evolved into a second phase, where I gained a better understanding of the 'flash points' of his condition, and adapted my behaviour to smoothe the passage of our day-to-day interactions. At the time I was looking after both my mother AND father, and part of this adaptation also involved helping her to have a greater understanding of what was happening for my Dad. Tough as it must have been for her, especially in emotional terms, she really took on board the things she needed to do behaviourly in order to make their latter times together as pleasant as possible for them both. Throughout this 'second phase' I was still viewing his world from the perspective of my world - ie from the outside outside.

Things then evolved into third phase, where I am now able to project into his world, his realities - and its rather like swapping my set of virtual reality goggles for his. (This referential metaphor comes via Jamie Smart and Dr Aaron Turner, and fits with this experience like a glove.)
The upside of using this bit of engineered facility is that my understanding of how the day to day stuff is happening for my Dad is now very much clearer. It is more open and simple, it makes sense, and all the emotional debris I would encounter back in Phase 1 has absolutely gone. Because I'm in HIS reality none of MY agenda, or baggage, is there to clutter up proceedings or interactions. It's like being able to communicate with him properly again - something I haven't really been able to do for some time!

The downside has got to be in terms of a caveat for me and my 'sanity'. The projection into and switching of my perceptive realities needs to be dealt with on a cognitive level. To put it bluntly - if I feel I am "losing it" then I'm spending more time in his reality than I should be! For as long as my own world is populated with many other people, experiences, interactions and thoughts - then a daily 'stocktake' should keep me firmly centred in my world. For this I do trust my unconscious to intervene if needs be. And if there's something simply and intuitively childlike about that statement then I'm happy with that!

One of the more interesting observations I have of my Dad's memory recall is in musical terms. He spends a lot of time playing a small pedal organ, or harmonium, that we have. Its great for him physically as the playing exercises both his hands and feet - and his digital dexterity is quite remarkable for 91. Mentally, too, it is really useful and his recall and recognition of tunes AND chords and harmonic structures is infinitely better than his recall of lyrics.
Clearly the way he has mapped and processed auditory experiences has not just been different from the other senses - but has also been differentiated between types of auditory experience. Spoken word - and words included in a song (say) - are mapped to a different place from the tunes and musical notes. The only thing that seems to bind the words and the tune together in a song is the 'label' or title.
Interestingly this suggests that (for him at least) songs are broken into words and music - each labelled with the same title - and then mapped to separate areas in memory.

These discoveries and conclusions I will expand into a future blog or article as I am sure they will be of further use and interest as time progresses.

What, on reflection, am I gaining from this very personal caring experience? Well, every day is similar and yet different at the same time! Every day certainly contains the opportunity for more discoveries and insights in a field I am hugely interested in anyway. Every day has a range of purpose, and not just for dispensing care and comfort - it brings me a step closer to my Dad by being able to understand HIS world much more.