The Wright Way

The Wright Way

Monday, November 26, 2012

See Me After Tea

Apportion control
Life can be bitter-sweet – in fact life IS full of potentially bitter-sweet experiences. We can experience bad things on a good day and good things on a bad day.

Here’s the thing though – they are all just days, and they are all just things. It’s all down to how WE frame them, code them up, react to them, post-rationalise them and keep re-presenting them to ourselves. And that’s just a load of thinking – a load of scenery painting.
It’s how we build our own personal histories and superstitions, it’s how we match patterns – however spurious – and then generalise and distort them to make “more meaning” out of them. When all the time – in the cosmic scheme of things, of things like that - their nature is about as random and their movement is about as Brownian as our logical brain would normally discard.

If the world is an empty stage populated by people and events, then who paints the scenery and puts it in place? Who writes the dialogues, the sub-plots, the actions, the movements? Who manipulates the lighting and the sound-track?
To whom do we apportion control of this vast edifice?

In the Spotlight
In my small corner of the stage I first grappled with the nature of the bitter-sweet on my 12th birthday. I was at boarding school, in my second term, and my parents were 10,000 miles away. Yes I had family nearer, and I had a handful of school friends and a boatload of school acquaintances – but no loved ones with me in person to share my birthday.

My parents, bless them, knew that if we’d all been together the thing that would have meant most to me AND them, as a shared experience, was a fabulous birthday cake. OK presents were fine and I had a good number of those, but sharing the cake would have topped the lot. So they arranged for the best confectioner and cake-maker in town to make and deliver to me, at school, a fabulous cake.
And it was fabulous!
Cream, meringue, my favourite soft fruits, all interwoven with the most delightful sponge. A veritable Supercake!
250 boys were sat in the school dining room eating away, and there was a hubbub of voices, and sounds of crockery and cutlery. That’s the noisy scene. One of the cook’s assistants walks in with a presentation box and the duty prefect calls for silence and then asks “Where’s Wright?” I was the only one thus named in the school so I called out ‘yes’ and was duly presented with the cake box. The lads on my table were chuffed and excited since they got to share my fabulous cake. I became the glowing nucleus on that table, in that part of the dining room. The hubbub and noise swirled around once more. The scene continued to play out.

Some more minutes of the mealtime passed and then silence was summoned once more. “Where’s Wright?” came the call from the same prefect. There were expectant murmurings as I called out yes and he approached me. Some people were obviously anticipating another fabulous cake or more goodies!

“The Headmaster wants to see you after tea in his study.”
The table fell silent as I, blissfully unaware, thought that he probably wanted to wish me Happy Birthday as well! This was short-lived though. The table knew better however, as the wording of the summoning to the HM’s study meant only one thing.

The true awakening to the serving of life’s bitter-sweet portions arrived shortly after tea as I received six strokes of the cane with the taste of that fabulous cake still on my lips.
From then on the times around my birthday have been particularly bitter-sweet.
Or so I made it seem.
Birthdays are always abundant with good experiences so it’s very easy to notice the not-so-good-stuff – especially if you go looking for it, are prepared for it, are expecting it. And my reaction to that stuff was always to code it up as
it’s my birthday and I always get bad amongst the good at my birthday. There’s always something bad on my birthday to spoil it.”  Even if the bad was pretty mild compared to something bad a few months back, I would distort it, emotionalise it, and still code it up as Bad Birthday stuff!

Rainy Days and Mondays
We’re all very good at doing this – people will talk about “these are never very good times for me”, where there are associations with events, anniversaries etc. Some people even get places with negative associations; certain songs or pieces of music can do it for us too. Weather and days of the week also play a big role. We are very susceptible and can get very good at it!

Essentially we are pre-framing our scenes and painting our own upcoming scenery – and the irony is we are painting our scenery using the very paint from right back at that first instance, that first experiential scene.
If I look back at that 12th birthday scenario for me, the traumatic tipping point wasn’t the cane since that was real. It was the coding of my negative emotional reactions to a collection of things, all painted up with the colour of loneliness. I’d been caned in May and February, and it was no big deal. But around my birthday it was just SO unfair, it spoilt my celebrations, and reminded me that – for the very first time in my life – I was very much alone at a time when I’d always been surrounded by love.

Excuses and Reminders
Now it’s very easy to make the excuse that this all happened to a little boy who was just twelve, and how could he be expected to react in any other way than be upset. And of course you’d be right. We deal with things with whatever resources we have at the time, and a 12 year old does not have the resources of someone much older. There’s this widely held belief that experiences like this are “character-forming”. Makes a man of you – teaches you how to handle yourself – and other well-worn phrases get bandied about. And there’s a degree of truth in that. Getting the cane on my birthday gave me an unexpected chunk of street-cred at school; I learned how to handle myself in terms of ‘future-cane’ and other retribution; it definitely formed my character.
However – it’s the stuff going on in the confines of our psyche where the pernicious damage is done – by ourselves to ourselves.

When I get these reminders nowadays I don’t get anything triggered in the way I used to. I’ve been able to dismantle the aftermath of that imprint (and the numerous subsequent carefully distorted bad experiences) which I carried for years like another large set of emotional baggage.

Just as well really as today, in the midst of opening some delivered birthday presents, I innocently took a cup of tea up to my Dad ** in bed. I normally notice if he is not himself – his regular persona – and today (understandably) I was caught unawares. He threw the tea all over me and launched into a string of foul-mouthed invective about what an awful person I am! I did what I usually do when he is like this, and beat a hasty retreat – soaked in hot tea.
Now, old patterns of birthday experiences would have turned this into a major upset – but this time nothing prevailed – and eventually it got round to humour.

And for me, following today’s revisited trauma, “See me after Tea,” takes on a whole new meaning!

** (I live with and care for my Dad who is 93 and has dementia)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012


There was an amusing episode at the end of our rugby strength and conditioning session this week, where – just for fun - the players were leapfrogging tackle bags stood on end. It all went well until one of the guys decided he would leapfrog from a standing start. He got up fine but had no forward momentum and landed on the top of the bag. With his weight, the bag then collapsed and he went down with it, landing horizontally on his back on top of the (now) flat bag.
Remember that TV activity game Wipeout? Well it was like a scene in that!

This got me thinking about how things go much better for us when we are grounded compared to when we’re stressed out and tense. In terms of the player, all eyes were on him, he was trying extra hard to impress, plus his body was tired after an hour-long session. In terms of grounded, he certainly was afterwards – even if not before!

Our Thinking versus our Groundedness

It is all in the nature of life how we feel about things ahead of time, how and if we attempt things, how well we do things, and how we get to feel about ourselves afterwards.
Of course this colours how we might do these same things next time, right down to whether or not we even attempt them.

I used to subscribe to the notion that the more thought I put to doing something, the better I would be. “Get your mind around it!” I would keep repeating to myself – “Focus!”
Does this sound familiar? Is this you, or your team mates? Is this your manager, your boss, your teachers? This idea of it being “best practice” is - to my mind - a total myth.
If it is “pay attention” that they want, then surely you are already doing this. What you really need to do is to “Get your mind out of it!” The only focus you need to do (if at all) is visual – and that is all part of your necessary processes anyway.

You need to be grounded for optimal execution of the tasks in hand – and thinking about anything, especially about anything personal, will degrade the optimal level.

Lock-out or Wipeout
Executing closed skills, after the set up, requires total lock-out of thought. There is a ratio of lock-out to wipeout – more of one leads to less of the other.

So what about complex processes – where tasks are stepped in a linear or sequential way or maybe in a concurrent way?
A good example is driving a vehicle where there are both types of complexity happening. Now for the learner there is plenty of focus AND attention going on, and part of getting to grips with driving skills is to master the shifting nature of that attention.
In terms of Visual, Auditory and Kinaesthetic there is a huge amount of incoming data – and when we are new to driving we are very ‘clunky’ when it comes to dealing with things in the visual field. We LOOK in the mirror instead of glancing, we LOOK to find the gear stick or pedals instead of feeling for them with our hands and feet. We’re so busy paying attention to what is happening outside and inside the vehicle that we don’t totally hear what is being said to us by our instructor or passengers.
Eventually we trade in our white knuckles and L-plates and cope admirably with the complex processes. That is, until circumstances are tweaked and our abilities are tested. That is when we’ll try and think our way out of the problem. And when we do, lock-out diminishes and wipeout becomes a distinct probability. Whether it is icy roads, alcohol, fog, or anger - the skills always degrade.

If we are grounded then there is a smoother linkage between all our concurrent and sequential processes.
Being grounded in our lives

All of us are fairly capable of many things on a functional level – we can all do plenty of stuff to a reasonable level of competency. If we are GOOD at something then we become more competent and more functional. If being EXCEPTIONAL at something is what we want, then the biggest hurdle we need to be aware of is the level of groundedness required from us. We need to develop an ability to locate that ground when necessary.
If there is something we are NOT GOOD at and would like to get on top of, or get better at, then again groundedness is a huge factor in sustaining our progress towards more competence.
It’s interesting to view the progress of celebrity competitors every year in Strictly Come Dancing. These are people who have excelled in some other part of their lives and are now taking on a particularly complex set of skills and disciplines around expressive movement. Listening to their language, witnessing occasional scenes from their practice times and viewing their week-by-week execution of the dance, it is a showcase of both their progressing skillsets AND their ability to draw upon levels of groundedness within their psyche.

In essence being grounded is about having a good relationship with ourselves. A relationship that supports us by knowing that our feeling is down to our thinking – and that if we’re feeling down or low then it is looped in to our thinking also being down or low. How we nurture and foster that relationship is surely one of life’s most fundamental quests.