The Wright Way

The Wright Way

Monday, October 27, 2014

Loosening Our Grip

(this article accompanies ‘Horses for Courses’ – though is also a stand-alone article in its own right)

Security and Protection

When we want to move on, and yet struggle to make any progress because we cannot let go of something, then we hold that ‘something’ in place for the purposes of security. We are using it to protect us from the unfamiliar, the unknown, that which we perceive as threatening, or is a perceived danger to our well-being.

Of course an actual danger to our well-being, in the moment, would, as a rule, be whisked out of the domain of our thinking and be dealt with by our ‘fight or flight’ response. It is a response in that pre-evolved ‘lizard’ part of our brain that facilitates our instinct for survival.

In my article “Throw Caution to the Wind”
I look at the whole area of caution, being cautious, having a cautious mindset, and running many things in our lives from that perspective.

Now a lot of our present day ‘security and protection’ facility operates at the level of the perceived threat, or the unknown or even the unfamiliar – rather than an actual threat. We will think about the threat, and then respond to our thinking rather than the threat itself. We will run through a whole load of “what if” scenarios and play out the nature of the threat, and calibrate our subjective response to our imagined scenarios.

Making mistakes

Some of us have issues with making mistakes. 

This is the home-town domain of the perfectionist personalities, who place particular demands upon themselves within an atmosphere of zero tolerance of anything less than 100% successful outcomes. Others, mere mortals, are excused having to operate within such strictures – yet for the self is reserved much wailing and gnashing of teeth, and varying degrees of beating up. Most of the drama is played out at a verbal level, yet sometimes objects close by take the wrath. At the extreme end of the scale there is even self abuse of a physical nature.

People who fall off the wagon in terms of dieting or other forms of abstinence will binge eat, or go on benders. Sports persons will hit out, kick out and smash equipment - bats, rackets and clubs are easy targets. Whilst this is frustration played out at the level of behaviour, the aftermath is often guilt or remorse followed by cautious protection.

When I was younger I would be very wary of attempting anything new, because – as person who didn’t like to be seen to make a mistake – I would protect myself from the threat of being imperfect. The greater irony was that the person I was trying to hide the possible making of a mistake from was - Myself the Judge.

Judgmentally, perfectionists over-ride curiosity, maybes and possibilities with “if I make a mistake then I can’t do it. If I can’t do it then I am no good - and not just no good at IT, but no good at ANYTHING.
So we don’t go there. We protect ourselves. 

In my case, if it was something I really wanted to do, I would sneak away and try to practise in private so that I gained a level of competence that exceeded the threshold of judged perfection.

It sounds crazy – yet all of this strategy is designed to protect us from feeling threatened.

Symptoms and Help

“Have you got any tips, or strategies Pete, to help when this happens for me?” This is a question I get asked regularly and, of course, it is about alleviating the symptoms that accompany the perceived threats. These are real and tangible symptoms, felt in some way shape or form in the body.

Of course there are a whole range of tips and strategies available to all of us, and often we just come up with ideas and go off and use or build our own.
The perfectionists build theirs, for some others there’s the ‘chemical’ route, there’s the avoidance route I’ve already mentioned, some grit their teeth and brace themselves against ‘a bumpy ride’,  and there’s the ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ route.
The list is long, and is about as long as we can be ingenious in our protective strategy building.  

We rarely ask for help as a first resort, unless we happen to know someone who might help. If a particular strategy isn’t working then we’ll come up with another. Or we might share our problems with a friend, who will then share what they know and tell us “I know a friend of a friend who did THIS when they had something like THAT affecting their lives.

The thing with symptoms is that they sit, like guards, at the gate, door or entrance to the places where the real issues are. “If you plan to go in there, then you’ll have to get past us first,” they seem to say.

The other thing with tips how to deal with symptoms is that the answer usually lies in the symptoms themselves, which can often give a really good clue to dealing with those ‘guards.’

Where, Way, Shape or Form

Earlier in this article I wrote this line:
These are real and tangible symptoms, felt in some way  shape or form in the body.” And, for me at least, the clues are - where in the body are the symptoms, and what way, shape or form do they take?

For some, describing where (usually in the torso) is straightforward, plus they often can also identify the way, shape or form the feelings are taking as well. The symptoms may have some colour, or direction or type of motion. They may also have a particular shape, density or temperature.

For some, however, they may describe that they feel the symptoms in their head or, more specifically, in their thoughts (which are in the mind and hence, needless to say, are in the head.) Now, though they are in the mind, they may actually still carry way, shape or form attributes – but often these are not always identified straightaway and need investigating to ascertain any ‘identity’.

And it is this investigating that we rarely undertake for ourselves – mainly because those ‘guarding’ symptoms are just SO strong that we cannot deal with anything else whilst they are raging.


This brings me to the very real issues of the client I mentioned in the article Horses for Courses – the client with the over-analytical mind (sic).

It was in our first meeting where her ‘guarding’ symptoms actually rose to the surface whilst she was talking to me about them. They certainly were powerful and my client was somewhat distressed to say the least.

One of the things about guarding symptoms, like that, is that they raise the frequency of brainwave activity and narrow our mental focus. At the extreme end of the symptomatic spectrum I can best describe it as being like a mental panic attack. 

I have a personal recollection of more than twenty years of intermittent and unpleasant experiences of this nature and so am quite familiar with both how it appears on the outside and, more to the point, how it feels on the inside.

I asked her to rest her hands near her lap, to open the fingers out and let them interlock but not touch each other. If they did touch then it didn’t matter and she was to just let them move away from the accidental touch. I invited her to notice the spaces between her fingers and to let her focus drift to a point way beyond.

Although clearly upset she complied and held her hands thus open fingered as I talked to her gently about the distant focus and noticing the fingers, and the spaces, for just under a minute. 

I then invited her to relax her hands and notice how her breathing pattern had changed and, when she was ready, to tell me how she now felt and what was different from how she had felt prior to the brief fingers and spaces exercise.

She was quite astonished at how quickly she had been able to get from such a distressed state into such a well grounded one, and I assured her that she could use this whenever she chose or felt it was necessary. Plus, the more familiar she got with it, the more accomplished she would become.

I also explained to her what it was, what had happened, and how it had enabled her to release that particularly non-resourceful state of mind that she had previously struggled to let go of.


For me, one of the most significant pieces of my recent learning and discovery has been in the area of mental focus which began when an esteemed friend and colleague recommended the book “The Open Focus Brain” by Les Fehmi and Jim Robbins.

From within the concepts and exercises outlined within this book, I have developed both an open-eyed and a close-eyed hypnotic induction that I would describe as being equally brief in content and rapid in effect. 

I use each of them quite regularly now with clients and also myself. They can be either stepping stones, gateways to therapeutic changework or positive transformation etc., or a brief stand-alone means of alleviating agitated or ‘perturbed’ states of mind. I have found them beneficial in alleviating physical pain, as well as being useful as a short yet effective demonstration of how closely linked our physical and mental focus can be, and how we can quickly become calm and grounded whilst still maintaining a good state of alertness.

It might be described as a part of distraction technique, or as a pattern interrupt, and to an extent I would agree. Yet, there are some really beneficial effects also going on here which don’t just emanate from interrupting a pattern or distracting a train of thought or perception. 
The key elements are focus and the engagement of sensual language.

We engage with the material (fingers) and the immaterial (the spaces) and we notice the relationship between them. We draw our focus from the material in close and narrow focus to the immaterial in wider or broader focus. We are engaged with sensual language and drawn away from inner dialogue. We are invited to notice, yet to avoid, touch. And in the midst of all this, our agitated or perturbed state, and the associated high frequency of brainwave activity associated with it, dampens down, levels and settles into something much more grounded. 

My client, clearly enabled by this little routine, was now much better placed to investigate beyond the guards at the gate of her underlying issues. And thus it was that she moved on, and what happened next for her is described in the adjacent article “Horses for Courses.”

Friday, October 24, 2014

Horses for Courses

The digital and the analogue

I encountered a client who described herself as having “an over-analytical mind.” Of course there are many of us that fall into such a category as well I know, and for a large chunk of my own life I too was a regular communicant visitor to this particular altar-rail.

Now having an analytical mind is the domain of the thinker, the thoughtful, the ordered and the logical. These are elements in our hard-wiredness that can serve both us and the world very well in the right context. Yet context for folk with such digital attributes is crucial, and what can be crucially constructive in one area can be crucially destructive in another.

Emotion, on the other hand, we might consider as not being the home town of the thinker, the thoughtful, the ordered and the logical. It is decidedly analogue in nature. And, like the over-analytical ones, there are the over-emotional folk for whom, in a perceptive sense, both constructive and destructive contexts emerge as a result of their hard-wired attributes.

For most of us, striving to achieve equilibrium within the mixture, the synthesis, of the digital and the analogue in our nature, this maps out how we are being – or how we are showing up – in the world.

Now, when, in the mind, the digital and the analogue in us share the same context, we begin to encounter dilemmas.

The particular dilemma for my client was that the Course she wanted to take was to:
Lose weight, be fit and healthy, sleep well, be less anxious and overcome her depressive moments, increase her confidence and become happy.
And she was endeavouring to ride that course with a Horse that had:
An over-analytical mind, a perfectionist nature, was her own harshest critic.

When, in her mind, the cold and logical meets the warm and emotional, the outcome is that­­ she gets “thrown”

And – here’s the thing – for as long as she intends to ride this course with this horse she will continue to get thrown.

Now, my client has a sharp intellect and an analytical mind.
She KNOWS this.
What will happen if I do this again?
What won’t happen if I do this again?
What will happen if I don’t do this again?
What won’t happen if I don’t do this again?

The Four Cartesian Questions provide her with everything she needs to start to make things change.


Now, when we encounter such things we know the changes can take many forms – yet, they come down to a few straightforward and conclusive pathways:

We can change the Course or
We can change the Horse or
We can change both the Course AND the Horse.

The easiest yet ultimately the most compromising choice is that we will change the Course.
We’ll put up with carrying a bit more weight, with not being as fit as we’d like. OK we know it’ll make us feel less confident than we want to be plus we’ll continue to be anxious and get depressed from time to time. We’ll tolerate that by assembling an array of excuses to moderate our disappointment and we may even throw in the delusion that we’ve made some changes – albeit these are only to the Course we originally wanted to take!

The hardest and most single-minded choice is that we will change the Horse.
We know this is the only way we can achieve what we really want for good and forever.
We tell ourselves that we are firmly resolved to change the Horse – even if we don’t yet know how we are going to do that.

There’s a simple, yet pivotal and intriguing story of five seagulls perched on the railings of a pier. One decides to fly away. How many are left?
Of course the answer is still five, because one has only decided to fly away. It is firmly resolved to fly away, even if it doesn’t know when or how. Yet, until it actually takes off there will still be five seagulls perched on the pier.

So, after the hardest choice of deciding to change the Horse, we might think the next hardest decision is to take some action. We can plan as much as we like about the how, when and what to do and where - yet that planning will count for nothing until there’s some action.

My client knew this so she took some action, and sought out some help.

So we talked about these metaphors, the course, the horse and the seagulls – and she admitted to being anxious.
“But what if I can’t fly?” she said.

Unlike the seagull, she had an analytical mind – worse still, an over-analytical mind – from whence came the postulate “but what if?”

The railings on the pier provide a secure base for the seagulls that wish to stand.
The perspective of “but what if” merely provides us with railings, like that.
Yet these are only a temporary security – the metaphorical railings buy us time, for we feel we need courage before we can let go and take flight.

She wants Confidence. It is on the Course she has chosen. She knows the only way to run that Course is to change the Horse. Yet to make her “but what if” questions get answered and go away she needs Courage – and for her Courage equates to Confidence.

The crucial thing for my client was to realise that the Horse will only be truly changed when she no longer asks the “but what if” questions.

Holding on or letting go.

I then showed her this picture and asked her to study it as I talked through a series of short statements.

The hand touched the rock.
The man’s hand felt the rock.
The climber’s hand gripped the rock.
The climber’s hand firmly gripped the rock as he reached up.
The climber used his hand’s firm grip on the rock to help lever his other hand and his feet into a position so to control his weight and balance allowing the climber to pull himself up onto the rock.
The climber’s hand let go of the rock and he stood up.


The hand touched the rock.
The man’s hand felt the rock.
The climber’s hand gripped the rock.
The climber’s hand firmly gripped the rock as he reached down.
The climber used his hand’s firm grip on the rock to help lever his other hand and his feet into a position so to control his weight and balance allowing the climber to lower himself onto the rock below.
The climber’s hand let go of the rock and he stood up.

She looked up and our eyes met for one of those infinite moments of suspended time. Then, as she handed me back the picture I said, 

“Keep it and study it every day. Keep it until the moment you know you are ready to let go and change the Horse.”

Monday, October 6, 2014

Living The Dream


I paid a visit to my regular barber’s last week and, like most of his genre, he is a chatty and – to my mind at least – a witty fellow to boot.

Whilst his assistant dispensed my coupe de cheveux with her usual aplomb, we both chuckled as he (the Barber) used the phrase “Living The Dream” at least four times in as many minutes. This was either in reply to incoming clients who had asked him how he was or, his own observation of one particular punter who was clearly a friend rather than just a client.

“How are you, Mate? he said to this chap (I’d describe him as a Dude in the old-fashioned style of a city slicker in a rural location, to paraphrase Wikipedia.)
“You look like you’re living the dream.”

I looked at the Dude in the mirror, as my own hairdresser also turned to take a look. “So what does a Dude who is living the dream look like,” I thought.
His face never registered any response as his serious countenance remained undisturbed, almost like a mask. He then gave a bluff reply to the question,

“Yea I suppose you could say such a thing.”

At that moment, I realised who the Dude reminded me of – even though he was probably in his early thirties and had a dark beard. It was the voice and the tenor of the remark that was the biggest clue – it was Trigger. *

My witty Barber continued with his banter, clearly hoping to draw some more remarks from the Dude as the rest of us choked back our laughter. And in this unscripted and spontaneous episode of high - yet deadpan - comedy I understood why it was that he used the “Living The Dream” phrase just SO much.

For my Barber, plying his trade in this small corner of England, The Dream is not about being famous, or living The High Life, or having a fancy car, a flash pad, or any of that kind of stuff. His Dream is all about serving his clients and enjoying a laugh along the way. He may be very astute and deft with the scissors and clippers, but his real art is as an influential communicator, an entertainer almost, a connector of people with what he sees as what best makes the world go around. And for this I salute him – and his attitude to his business, which is refreshingly simple.

Happy Talk

So what about your Dream?

Have you got one? If not, why not?
And if you have, are you living it in the style of my Barber?

The song “Happy Talk” from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical South Pacific, puts it really quite simply – so simply in fact it is hard to see why having a dream and living it wouldn’t be something that everyone on the planet might have. 

The chorus closes with these words:-
You gotta have a dream, if you don’t have a dream,
How you gonna have a dream come true?

So take a fresh look at the simple message of Happy Talk in terms of your life.

And how difficult might it be for you to have a dream or, to make your dream come true? How long is the catalogue of shockingly realistic difficult reasons?

And if you have one - what needs to happen for you to make your dream come true? How many are external to you? Once again, how long is the catalogue of “what ifs” and “if onlies.”

And, most of all, what needs to happen inside of you to make that dream come true?

For here’s the thing:-
When my Barber set out to be a barber he knew he probably needed to get good at being a barber – as a pre-requisite. He may have started out as an apprentice, then working as a barber for someone else, and then eventually having his own business. 

He may have had that ambition, but in order to stick at it he needed more than just ambition. Quite simply - He needed to love cutting hair and being himself. These would sustain him through the duller moments, and the tougher times. If, say, his dream had been to make loads of money, or become a famous barber, then would fame and fortune have enabled him to express his authentic self? They may be the trappings of success, yet there's a lot of truth in the saying that money can't buy love, health or happiness.

And so the thing that really allows him to genuinely say, “Yea Mate – I’m Living The Dream,” is his love of just cutting people’s hair, balanced with his ability to express his authentic self.

Perhaps the greatest dream in Life has to be this -
For when we are expressing our authentic self AND we are doing what we love then there is nothing better.

* The character Trigger, played by the late Roger Lloyd Pack, was featured in the BBC TV Comedy Only Fools and Horses

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Nothing but the Kitchen Stink!

Getting egged on

Last evening I posted on social media “Never let a pan of boiled eggs burn dry – what a sulphurous stink!”

After putting a couple of eggs on to hard boil slowly in a pan on a low heat, I had walked away from the kitchen to get on with something else. I then became aware, sometime later, of a foul stench pervading the air around the house.

Now modern living and our approach to life in the 21st century, involves us in a lot of multi-tasking. We are required, by society it seems, to be able to do a number of things at once. Our level of adroitness, how adept we are, gains us points on the ‘cleverness’ scale. How effortless our physical or mental dexterity IS or is perceived or judged, when performing this array of tasks, also gains us kudos on that self-same scale. 

We even have a word for it – artistry.


In ski-jumping, style marks are awarded to a jumper’s score – because in this event it isn’t just about coming down the ramp at 50mph, executing a perfectly timed take off, optimally controlling the body in flight and then landing as far away from the end of the ramp as possible though now is it?

With entertainment programmes like Masterchef and Strictly Come Dancing, the audience are invited, over weeks, to witness the competitors’ growing levels of multi-ability, of artistry, of sustained and increasingly effortless finesse.

Yet, as I admire, marvel at and even egg on my various favourite performers – what is the common thread between what goes on in their metaphorical “kitchens” and my own real live one?

A tension, or attention?

We often set up actions in our lives that should remain part of our undivided attention. These are things we should be “in the present moment” with – yet for various reasons and excuses we aren’t. In terms of performance, this is where we get in our own way and – at some unspecified present moment later – discover we have messed up big time.

If we are performing ANY kind of action - when we divide our attention we are sowing seeds of failure. These may germinate and grow into little failures, medium failures or big failures.

I’d define “failure” here as not doing something as well as we possibly could do, given our level of skills. If we are attempting something beyond those levels of skills then there is NO failure. There is an outcome, a result – yes. And sometimes that outcome will open a door to increasing and progressing our skills levels.

Failure – if it occurs – is down to a dilution or a distraction of our absorbed attention, from its maximum of 100%.

“Oh, he’s not on form today.”
Reason – he’s paying less than 100% absorbed attention to what he’s doing. He’s not suddenly become a poor player, or a less than capable player. Nothing has changed there. He’s just not bringing 100% attention to what he’s doing.
“My mind was not in the right place,” he might say in the post-match interview, which rather suggests that his mind moves around from one place to another. A wacky notion if ever there was one!

Often, when we divide up our attention, tension creeps in to fill the void. We might not necessarily be aware of this – until the moment we do, of course. And when there’s tension in mind (as it moves from place to place!) we’ll react to it, in varying degrees. That reaction can take the form of panic, anxiety, a degradation of motor or cognitive skills, all the way down to a minor adjustment or perhaps nothing at all.

The Quick and the Dead

I was making my way down the High Street in my home town yesterday and observed a man walk out from behind a bus into the path of an oncoming car. I knew the car was there as I’d seen it a few seconds earlier. The man hadn’t because the bus had blocked his visibility. 

What happened next – as I tensed up, preparing myself to witness an RTA? 

Well both the man and the driver reacted with minor adjustments – man increased his walking speed and driver slowed down. They were both “lucky” in the sense that neither carried any tension, and they were both attentively “on task” in the moment they saw each other.

Of course a faster moving car and a slower moving man would have changed the dynamics of the potential RTA – yet, still, the key “lucky” component here was their collective levels both of attention and tension. 

Change the man for an old lady, anxious about crossing the road, and the attentive driver for one who was talking on his mobile phone – and now there is another dynamic.

As it was, I was able to admire the artistry of the man as he smoothly lengthened his stride to reach the pavement opposite with aplomb, whilst at the same time marvelling at the driver’s effortless application of the brake without even batting an eyelid.

Task Management

So what’s my advice via this 21st century parable – both to you, the reader, and also to myself?     

  •           Multi-tasking is possible through task management
  •       However, multi-attention is not possible
We can only attend to one thing at a time. 
You may consider this not to be the case because you cannot yet see the difference between multi-tasking and multi-attention. It will help you with that realisation if you divide the time-frames of attention into moment-by-moment ones.

If I leave the kitchen in the frame where I know I’m multi-tasking, then my task management will help me remember I’ve left eggs in a pan of boiling water. However, if I leave the kitchen in the frame of switching my attention over to doing something else, then I’ll ALWAYS stink the house out, and maybe even burn it down! Unless I’m “lucky” of course – or someone else points out my lack of attention.

Yea But, No But, Yea But

But – I hear you cry – what about the pianist, or the touch typist? Or the Grandma, knitting whilst reading a book AND listening to music on the radio; or the airline pilot, or grand-prix driver, or even the ordinary driver? 

Aren’t they doing what they’re doing in multi-attention?

Nope, they are multi-tasking. Some tasks seemingly run on “autopilot” – and these need very little moments of attention in terms of execution.

Grandma doesn’t need to stop knitting so she can read or listen. She may need to pause her knitting to turn the page, or change the radio programme – yet her knitting artistry may be such that she can knit with one hand! Ergo she CAN knit and turn the page of the book at the same time! 
The thing with clever Grandma is that there’s a lot of knitting she can do via kinaesthetic attention, reading by visual attention and listening via auditory attention!

We can get very, very clever in our artistry and seemingly turn what was once multi-attentional into multi-tasking. Compare your own learning-to-drive experience with how it is once it has become an “unconscious competence.”

I had a client who wanted to learn to drive yet he had an excessive anxiety, which he characterised as a phobia, about driving. He constantly struggled to reach 100% absorbed attention when driving – and this inhibited his ability to learn all the competences and advance his skills. His lack of absorbed attention was replaced by a considerably large amount of tension.

Similarly, we can be doing one task, one action, and have an awareness of other things – yet that awareness does not divert our attention from the task ... until the very moment that it does. In that precise moment our attention to the task drops from 100%.

And those precise here and now moments are pivotal ones in terms of our choosing. 
We may seem powerless – yet we can be extremely powerful and redirect our lives, our actions, our tasks, our attentions back to where we want, simply by keeping tensions out of those pivotal moments.

The comparison between the performance of Brazil v Germany at the 2014 FIFA World Cup and what happened here to Christian Zacharias in a concert at Gothenburg may seem poles apart. However, what happened in both instances was a loss of attention followed by the aforementioned pivotal moments.


Things, events, distractions, will happen in performance - whether that is a sporting contest, a concert, or right down to the boiling of some eggs. How we manage attention, tasks and those crucial pivotal moments is a key factor in whether we succeed or fail, crash and burn or perform well, or – in my case, enjoy some egg sandwiches or stink the place out!