The Wright Way

The Wright Way

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Pear Tree

Every morning my Dad looks out of the kitchen window at a large pear tree adjoining our house and a neighbour. It is a flowering and fruiting pear, and the blossom emerges prior to the leaves, approximately end of March or early April every year.
Pretty much every morning my Dad says, “You know that tree used to have beautiful white blossom flowers all over – but this year it never bloomed.” Depending on the time of year he would say either ‘this year’ or ‘last year’ – and he has said this in excess of 1000 times now.

This year I took a photograph of the tree when it was in its fullest bloom and it was truly magnificent. I even took my Dad outside and up close with the tree, in the hope that this would cure his repetitive comment. This was, however, to no avail – the comments just keep on flowing. However I do say to him, “Well it did Dad, actually – and here’s a photo of it. Thing is, the flowers were only there for about a week and then they began to fall.” This gives him the chance (each day) to move on from the loop of the repeated comment.

The Kettle Accident

Now, I’ve often wondered why it is that he keeps averring the lack of blossom...until today, when I got one of those glorious lightbulb moments!

In the year of his 90th birthday (2009) he had an accident in the bedroom whilst making a cup of early morning tea for my mother. He’d boiled a kettle and then dropped it on one of his ankles. The boiling water severely scalded his flesh and he suffered second degree burns. The pain and shock must have been excruciating and in the midst of helping him and all his crying out, he still insisted that I didn’t call an ambulance. “I’m not going to hospital,” he said. “People my age go in there and never come out!” I complied with his wishes, and although he did receive a doctor’s visit shortly after, the doctor concluded that with our close attention and a daily call by the district nurse (to change the dressing on the burns), my Dad would be better off convalescing at home. This duly happened – and although the skin on his ankle recovered remarkably well with time, he actually spent 6 weeks ‘bedroom bound’. In that time his birthday came and went, and his birthday is in April.

My lightbulb moment (and we always wonder how we’d never realised it before the very day we do) was that, due to his burns experience, it meant that in 2009 he never came downstairs between the end of March and early May, and as a consequence NEVER saw the blossom on the pear tree! And as far as he is concerned – because he never saw it, then it never happened.

The other point here is that the traumatic imprint of the kettle of hot water accident has overprinted all occurrences of pear tree blossom in short term memory since that date. He could remember what the pear tree did look like in full bloom in 2008 and before – whilst in 2010 and 2011 – although he has experienced seeing the blossom (even up close), his short term memory has never been written to. The non-year in 2009 now overrides everything.

The facility of writing away memories to short term, then long term, hard and soft-wiring, imprints and traumas, is a fascinating process. Similarly – where and how we stow away (and recall) those memories in our virtual “filing cabinets’ is complex and individual to each one of us.

I believe that the more we come to understand the workings of these processes, the sooner we will be able to better deal with dementia and Alzheimer’s. Whilst chemical interventions are the conventional scientific way at present, it is most likely that the greatest alleviations will come about through neuro- and psycho- science.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Dementia Diary #3

With my Dad’s dementia condition, the “waking centre” is like a centre of reality, where he’s able to recognize everything as it is right now, and which he is able to use as a ‘ground zero’ for proceeding with the activities and the tasks that fill his day.

Watching for and managing the flashpoints

In terms of those activities and tasks he is fine and well, provided all things proceed smoothly and unabated. If there is an interruption in the sequenced structure as he is going through it, then there is like a fork, a junction, a crossroads or roundabout in his path – and consequently this a source of questioning and potential confusion. He then tends to either make a choice or continue on a loop around the roundabout depending on the complexity or the question.

If he is to make a simple choice – say, to put something away in what he thinks is ‘the right place’ – then things proceed and he is out of the loop.

If he feels that he can’t make a choice because it is complex, or confusing, or if that loop on the roundabout provides no answers for him, then he has some emotional responses to the confusion that vary between humour, anxiety, frustration, anger. These are the ‘flashpoints’ that I do my best to ‘manage’ for him in order to bring him back to the “waking centre”. There is a degree of dependency on my being with him, or noticing his confusion quickly, in order to help this happen more readily. Occasionally this will not be the case, and these will be times when (depending on the complexity of the questions that arise for him) matters can go a bit haywire.

One of his sisters and nieces came to visit us yesterday which, while being wonderful for him to see them, actually got him into one of those loops of confusion. The confusion was that the seeing of them and hearing their voices prompted him to think about them – and then talk about them. Only thing was - he talked about them to their faces which was initially quite a challenge for them! They saw the funny side which was great, and eventually he was able to put 2-and-2 together!

Another flashpoint happened this morning (probably brought on by the extra levels of cognition he had to bring to bear the day before). He had woken from (presumably) quite a deep sleep and was looking for my mother, who has been dead five months, because her bed was empty and he wondered why she had already got up and not ‘given him a nudge’. Detaching myself from the various levels of emotion this whole episode carried, I was able to engage with him and guide him back towards his “waking centre”. Once he’d arrive there, I knew the rest of his day would proceed in the usual way.

Vitamin B12

A deficiency in vitamin B12 tends to exacerbate memory-related dementia. Over the last couple of weeks his GP Surgery has been ‘catching up’ with his B12 levels to such a point that he will then only need a shot every 3 months. The difference in the quality of his cognitive recall and short term memory has been noticeable during this catch-up period and this has been really helpful in broadening his reality base.

Phases of the Moon

Rather like children become more hyperactive when the weather is windy, it seems that dementia sufferers are susceptible to changes in the phases of the moon. A time of particularly hyper levels of behaviour is around full moon, and so when my Dad’s comments and actions are a bit off-kilter then I check to see what ‘time of the lunar month’ it is. Many years ago I remember studying, quite extensively, my bio-rhythms and related it to particular highs and lows, greater or lesser moments of clarity etc. There were lunar aspects of these as well, so I can easily recognize how the balance of my Dad’s own perceptions and moods are affected in this way.

The “Appointment Card’

Going out somewhere has always been a considerable ‘flashpoint’ moment for my Dad, because it cuts across his daily routine and is something that he feels he is being forced to do against his will. Once he is out of the house and that moment has passed, he is fine – and enjoys the experience. In the midst of the flashpoint, however, his anger can bubble and boil over into tantrums and florid swearing. However – he has always been a great believer in discipline, respect for professional people, and the requisite order of things (rather than chaos!) One of the features this brings is the Appointment Card – which I have latched on to as being the means of getting him out to (say) the Health Centre without any undue fuss. Provided I show him IN WRITING that he is required to be at a certain place at a certain time, and that this requisition of his time has authority that is not to be questioned, then he goes willingly. The next trick is to get him out to a restaurant for Sunday lunch by making up a printed ‘Invitation’ – requesting his presence!

Time alone will tell – but it will surely work better than whatever ways we are attempting at present.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Effective Communication

People have often asked me “How do you balance your work as a mind therapist, trainer and presenter, performance coach, carer and technical sports coach – given the scattered and diverse nature of the working disciplines and the ages and types of people you’re dealing with?”
My usual answer begins from the standpoint that the working disciplines are not as diverse as they might seem on the face of it.
The key to all these disciplines however is Communication and Communicating Effectively.

Here is a link to my blog at Ignition Training - where I have written quite an extensive article about Effective Communication and how we can all enhance our qualities of Listening, Building Rapport, Deepening Sensory Acuity, Understandingthe wider ranges of Languages of the Senses, and some of the ways to get started using the subtlety of Linguistic Tools.

I hope you enjoy and find it useful.

...And how are you drinking YOUR wine?

A lady came to see me with a whole menu of issues around food and drink. I say a whole menu, because this metaphor was not just table d'hote but an extensive a la carte as well. When confronted with such a veritable ‘banquet of choices’, and a lengthy narrative of how it all impacts upon her day, her life – where should I start? What to sink my teeth into first? Plenty of food for thought here, I mused as I got her to start talking...

Out of control and in a downward spiral

“I’d like an Anchor to help me deal with my habit of drinking too much wine” was an opening request as it seemed this had been suggested as being something that might be useful for her by someone else.

Now to be fair to her she was not an alcoholic, she was not remotely dependent, she wasn’t particularly overweight either – however, she talked a lot about being out of control, on a downward spiral, having no willpower and that the ‘way out of the pit seemed too much’.
Her biggest issue was that she had no set routine in her working lifestyle, and this translated back to her personal lifestyle. She was sometimes in meetings all day – then sometimes working from home – it was all “out of control”.

The irony is that she is a Project Manager – so we decided it would be useful for her to become her own project. We also identified what having willpower was like for her and how and where she experienced it in terms of her physiology. There were some noticeable changes in her demeanour through this part of the session and there were definite signs that some things (at least) were on the move for her.

The Anchor

“Now then,” I said eventually. “Tell me what happens at home when you decide to have a glass of wine. Make it detailed because I want to map out the structure of what you’re doing.”
She duly told me what took place step by step which was like this >

Decide to have wine > Get glass > Go to ‘fridge > Open door and see what wine is there > Choose wine > Open and pour into glass > Put wine away and close ‘fridge door > Consume wine.

“And is that what (pretty much) happens every time?” She nodded. She’s good on narrative so there were a raft of mini-details thrown in as well.
“Ok let’s look at the decision now,” I said next. “When do you decide to have a glass of wine – at home, before you get home, when? ” Her answers here were unclear, vague, muddied. She felt like it was just habitual, she certainly didn’t anticipate the pleasure of the wine passing her lips at any stage except perhaps when she was at the choosing stage gazing into the ‘fridge.

I explained to her about how the quality of any decision making process is greatly enhanced when you finish the deciding section before you start the action section. “What’s been happening up to now is that you’ve not felt in control of the part where you decide to have a glass of wine. You’ve just gone to get a glass through force of habit and everything has taken that course – Yes?” She nodded.
“You drink liquids for one of 2 reasons – Thirst or Pleasure – or a mixture of both. But only those 2 reasons. You need to decide – your Decision Making process – needs to be clear on whether you’re going to drink for thirst or pleasure. ONLY once that’s done can you move onto the next bit of action. SO - what happens when you go and get a soft drink or a drink of water?” She described it as she had described the ‘drink wine’ routine.
“I get a glass,” she started
“Same kind of glass?” I asked
“No - Different glass. And they’re in a different cupboard.”

The glasses were kept in separate cupboards that were side by side. I got her to close her eyes and show me what she did to get out (a) a wine glass and (b) a glass for water or a soft drink. She used her left hand to open one cupboard and her right hand to open the other. The wine glasses were on her left hand side. “Close your eyes and show me how you’d open the wine glasses cupboard with your right hand.” She laughed as she discovered it was quite an uncomfortable action. “You can do a number of things here,” I said – and here’s your anchor. You need to put something visual on the wine glass cupboard door that stops you and gives you thinking time. You need to be aware these cupboards can only be opened with your right hand.”

I left her to choose what visual trigger she’s going to use – and we went through the whole routine for her from start to finish (future pace) several times to see how she reacted to the strategy. She liked it, felt it would work.


This procedure coupled with the clarity of the decision making (the Thirst/Pleasure choice) was certainly going to be simple yet adequate enough for her to allow it to become a regular routine. This way she could still have a wine – if she REALLY consciously wanted it – which is quite appropriate for her. Plus this whole installation of a level of control, even in just this one area of her life, was enough to show her that willpower is a habit she can wear all the time.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Getting out of our Own Way

Earlier this year (March) I blogged about 'trusting the unconscious' when in flow, and how this will help us to remain "Presenting Perfectly".

I've since had three instances (a client discussion, a personal discovery, and and observation of a televised event) which has led to more understandings.

The Young Musician

A young coaching colleague talked to me about when he is in performance as a musician. He outlined how things would be going well, and then, almost driven by internal dialogue or brought about by some distraction, he would find himself in mid-passage and forgetting whereabouts he is in the music. He described it as "the more I try and remember where I am in terms of the score, the less I feel able to remember."
I described how he has suddenly gone from Flow state, (which takes place on an unconscious, almost detached, level) into a conscious state. It feels rather like waking up and thinking 'where am I?' In musical terms it'll feel like you're lost.
When I used to perform and got 'lost' it was usually with lyrics, although occasionally with the music also. My escape strategy was to chop the piece into a series of sequences, each with a cue-in. This way I would only get lost within the sequence I was in - provided I remained calm, bluffed it and muddled through, and remembered to fire the start cue for the next sequence.
The other thing to remember, I told him, is that the person who knows the MOST that he is lost is You! Most of the audience have no idea. However, if you let it fluster you, they will certainly notice and the situation will only get worse for you. Keep going regardless and things will return to where you want them to be much sooner. It is just a hiccup - and like those physical hiccups, if you deal with the physical triggers to get back on 'normal track' then they'll go. The more conscious you are of them, the longer they remain!
This 'keeping going' is really the invitation to 'trust the unconscious', and when you do there is every opportunity to get back into Flow.

My two 'identical' lessons

The second instance was last week when I was coaching at a school where I'd not been before. I was doing two class group sessions, one either side of morning breaktime. Each session was identically planned so lesson #2 was going to be exactly the same as lesson #1, in terms of content.
My delivery from start to finish in the first session was unconsciously delivered, smooth and uninterrupted, and was just a reflection of my regular style of delivery.
The thing was - the teacher had never seen me before and was somewhat bowled over by how good it was; how her children had reacted, been stimulated and enthused by the whole proceedings. And she told me so, with instant and detailed feedback!

Chuffed as I was by this, it is not something I am used to - and as a consequence I delivered much less unconsciously in the next lesson; inwardly trying to replicate verbatim the 'how' of the delivery content from lesson #1.

Big mistake!

If I'd paid less attention to the glowing feedback and just launched into lesson #2, then I'd have re-engaged with my unconscious and just done 'another' well delivered session. As it was - the only person who knew this was ME! For the teacher of class #2 and the children, the session was 'brilliant, fantastic', they loved it and all was hunky-dory. The exception was for me, because I came out feeling less relaxed than after the first lesson.

Interestingly, I know that if I praise players in the course of practice, then the time they are most prone to getting things wrong is in the very next action! Their level of engagement, concentration, focussed attention is degraded through their auditory dialogue taking up foreground processing my praise!! We call it 'commentators nightmare'.

Snooker World Championship Final

The third instance was when watching Judd Trump playing John Higgins in the Snooker World Championship Final. It was Day 1 and the score was 7-5 at the time. Trump was in total Flow in frame 13 when he inexplicably changed his playing persona, from sharp and clear cut decisions that always turned out succesfully, to a sudden long period of consideration and pondering. It was totally out of character (compared to what had gone before) and clearly something had changed for him 'on the inside'. Up to this time, if he made a mistake or an error of judgement, then he was clearly unaffected by it - the single mindedness of his playing continued unabated.
After this long period of contemplation - from which the outcome did not work for him - the match score went to 7-6 and then 7-7. He was clearly thrown off-kilter by some distractive internal dialogue. Although he recovered to finish Day 1 leading 10-7, the air of invincibility had gone and he was now just playing upon his opponent's slumped quality level of play.

Come Day 2 of the Final, although still proving to be an excellent competitor, Judd Trump never actually regained that 'air of invincibility' and Higgins eventually secured a lead he was never to relinquish.
It rather reminded me of a crack on a car windscreen - it didn't shatter at the time, but through instability the crack widened until eventually, (next day) it led to the demise of the windscreen.


There are miriads of things that can interfere with Flow states - and the biggest carrier is ourselves, in the guise of our internal dialogue. Recognising this and trusting our unconscious to do what it does best, is the best way to becoming a consistently high level performer at our 'mental game'.