The Wright Way

The Wright Way

Monday, December 29, 2014

When to ease the cognitive load

See ball – hit ball

In certain sports where the players are endeavouring to hit a ball or a target, there is a very general coaching instruction to watch the ball or watch the target. The coach may specify this further by changing the word watch to focus, however there can be no doubt as to what the player is being expected to do. It is an instruction I myself have repeated countless times to countless players.
And yet here, in the minds of all players from beginners to experts, there runs a heuristic to ease the cognitive load. It is part of what “gets in the way” of performance for all players.

They start out by watching the ball or the target, and they may be expert enough at giving it their full attention.
However, the primary burning question is “For how long?”
The answer I got once from a very perceptive player aged just eleven was,
“For as long as I could tell what the ball was doing.”
It made total sense to her to do it that way every time. Digging a little deeper revealed that she gathered enough information to enable her to decide which way (direction) to play the ball and how to hit it. 

However, the crux of her answer was this:  
She watched it only for as long as she thought she needed to.

And when she missed the ball, or mis-hit it, it was her thinking that was at fault, not her watching. To put it another way - it was her decision when to ease the cognitive load on watching and switch it elsewhere (probably to initiating and executing the shot) that was at fault. She, like so many of us, was running a heuristic, a little macro routine, which turned watching the ball into an educated guess. Her decision to go into guess-mode was what, for her, lowered the drawbridge from the Castle of Cognition to the wide open intuitive spaces beyond the moat.

My job, as her coach, then became one of highlighting what was happening so she could change her map and navigate the entire routine to achieve a more productive outcome – a cleaner hit.

One time, I was explaining this to a fellow coach, who was well schooled in the more ‘conventional’ approach.
“So, Pete - isn’t this nothing more than getting her to change her thinking?” he asked.

“To a certain degree you could say that, but your language shows that your own thinking is taking you in the wrong direction,” was my reply. He appeared momentarily confused, but continued:

“So what about those coaches who point towards positive thinking as a means to help instil confidence, for instance? Isn’t that, too, all about changing our thinking?”
(He’s a great believer in the argument that for as long as we just focus on the positive then all will be well.)

“What I would say is this,” I said. “Every player watches the ball. Whether it is the eleven year old student player or the very best player in the world, they are both only ever going to watch the ball for as long as they think they need to. They will do that every time they hit the ball, or play a shot.
So I’m definitely not going to be changing their thinking in that area.”

“Yes, but ...”

“Look, it is all about the type of Language conveying the data, the information, the meaning. Positive thinking is all about filtering the Verbal Language content of the thoughts, conveyed via slow and ponderous cognitive processing. Watching the ball is a thought process about gathering data in Sensory Language – running much faster at an intuitive level. These are both types of “thinking” – but there is no comparison after that.”

“Ah, I see.”

“So in terms of ball watching, I don’t need to get my eleven year old student to change her intuitive thinking. We can certainly improve the quality of her sensory acuity, of course. However, that has nothing to do with changing her thinking! She needs to maintain that particular thought process and Understand that in order hit the ball better, she needs to watch for longer. No more – no less! This will inhibit the firing of this particular Heuristic for much longer AND mitigate the downside effects this heuristic causes – i.e. Forcing her into guessing what the ball is doing.

Likewise, I don’t need to coach the best player in the world about watching the ball because he Understands that when he misses the ball or mis-hits the ball it is because he hasn’t watched it for long enough. That’s part of the territory that comes with being the best in the world.”

“So what if the ball takes a dodgy bounce, or is blown by the wind? I’ve seen players go and look at the pitch or ground, or complain about the weather conditions. What about that?”

“They may look at the pitch to satisfy their curiosity as to what made them miss, or grumble about the wind - however, the pitch and the conditions are the same for all players.
So what kind of processing is going on in each of their Minds to make the difference? Looking at the pitch is visual sensory data gathering, whereas a whole load of slow and ponderous cognitive verbalising goes into the activity known as grumbling.”

Aside from the secondary major process of perfecting the physical form of playing the shots, hitting the ball – how they deal with the primary major process is what marks out the novices from the experts; and it is not the watching per se, but the thinking behind it.

  •  Novices and experts always run the default heuristic of educated guesswork once they think they can tell what the ball is doing.
  •  The experts have navigated enough hitting of balls to realise that they need to watch for longer, and that delays the running of the heuristic.

In terms of “brain-power”, the experts allocate more band-width to their watching process. They don’t ease the cognitive load on the primary major process, they ease, or even shut down on the other processes. They manage their mental resources better, in comparison to a novice. Even the experts though, can still fall into that mental trap of thinking they know and in those moments they become novices once more - because they are relying upon a Thought and not an Understanding.

Remember R D Laing’s quote:
“If I don’t know I don’t know, I think I know.
If I don’t know I know, I think I don’t know.”

Task Manager

If you look in the background at what is going on with your computer you’ll locate the Task Manager. It is like a report of what processes are running, and how much processing power is allocated to each task. 
There are often quite a lot of tasks - ranging from how the information is put on the screen so you can see it, to where that information is drawn from, and so on. 

Our computer has a set amount of RAM resources available to run tasks at a particular optimal processor speed. If we are running a lot of screens and some ‘meaty’ tasks then the Task Manager has a lot more on his plate in terms of how he is allocating resources through time. Some of the computer’s performance will degrade if it approaches the limit of its resources. It will run much more slowly.
Eventually we’ll get fed up with this downturn in performance and we’ll go and upgrade our computer to one with more resources. When we upgrade with more RAM and a higher processor speed, then the Task Manager can cope with a lot more – ergo there is now no degradation of performance. Things run much better – and we are happy!

Our upgraded computer can handle its cognitive load with ease. Then, of course, we’ll start getting it to do more for us by running more sophisticated processes that increase the cognitive load ... and so the whole cycle goes on.

However, that’s how it works in computer terms – so what about US and our amazing human brain, for we are a million miles away from being a computer! For this I need to go back to my eleven year old player.

When she Understands that she needs to watch for longer, her Task Manager will change the resource allocation and she’ll get better at her watching – and her playing.
We call this watching for longer a part of “paying better attention”, or “better focus”, or “better concentration.”

We can “road-test” her being better at watching by adding to her Tasks and seeing what happens. The best way to do this is to throw in some distraction.
If she is “put off” by the distraction then her Task Manager has allocated some resources to paying attention to the distraction and gathering information about it. This has moved some of the resources originally allocated to watching the ball over to the distraction – and the result is degradation of outcome quality.

In terms of see ball – hit ball she won’t be able to see ball as well so she won’t be able to hit ball as well, if at all.

Moving on, when she gets good at dealing with distractions, then her depth and longevity of concentration will go up dramatically. And when she gets really good at dealing with the biggest distraction of all – herself – then she’ll achieve a good level of self-mastery. She will be more expert than novice!

Mind you, she will still be vulnerable even then, because - for all of us - our attention ebbs and flows, our level of awareness fluctuates over time and through every moment.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Iceberg of Language

Language is an amazing phenomenon, a fantastic vehicle of conveyance – and it can take many, many forms. The vehicle has a whole variety of component parts comprising a huge and wide-ranging inner language and an outer language of bodily expression.

Part of that bodily expression is represented by sounds formed by the different shapes of our lips, mouths, throats and lungs. And we learn the ability to refine those sounds using a coded set of meaning and expression – verbal language.

Now extensive and diverse as verbal language can be, it is like the visible part of an iceberg. And as with the iceberg, there is a much greater part of language below the surface. The bit we can see (or hear) is only a small part of the entire structure of this amazing vehicle.

We need to remember that non-verbal and sensory languages make up a much greater part of the iceberg.

The Iceberg of Language
  • Spoken and written Verbal language
  • Non verbal and Sensory language
  • The Language of Time
  • Our own unique Inner Language

Now an entire iceberg is suspended in two mediums – air and water, and where those two mediums meet, connect, interface, is the surface of the water.

Spoken and written Verbal Language is almost exclusively above the surface.
Also, it is – in chronological terms – the newest and youngest part of our iceberg of language.

We are born with the other languages already in situ – and we have to learn our Verbal language. As we learn it and once we learn it, we then find ourselves increasingly capable of translating our Sensory Language, the Language of Time and our own unique Inner Language into words in order to convey meaning. That meaning we are either conveying to other living things outside of us, or back to ourselves on the inside.

Our Verbal language is like a particular of a specific gravity, or perhaps more of a currency. And the ways we spend that currency can work both in our overall favour and also very much against us.

When we use the gravity, or currency, of Non-verbal language, the meaning we wish to convey is NOT translated into words. Non-verbal language comes direct from the source – be it Sensory, Time, or Inner Language. When Non-verbal language is used then, since words are not in evidence, there is nothing lost in translation.

Sometimes our bodies can say one thing and we can speak another – yet the REAL meaning is always what the body says.
We can tell untruths and our bodies will give us away. We will get a “gut” feeling about someone, although our verbalised understanding of them might be quite different.
When we blush, our bodies have expressed some meaning, a sensory response to certain stimuli. 
We “know” if something doesn’t look right, sound right, feel right, taste or smell right – yet how do we know? It’s an innate “knowing”, evidenced to us through Sensory language. Yes, we’ll perhaps verbalise it afterwards, but that’s merely a translation into words after the event.

Some of our general Worldview has moved on in the 400 or so years since Descartes’ Cogito Ergo Sum led to the view that Body and Mind are separate entities – and yet there is a lot of vestigial thought and language that maintains that paradigm.
I happen to hold firm to the view that we are each unique beings with integrated bodies and minds.

However, what seems to make it feel to us that perhaps Descartes was right is that although we might recognise the thoughts that drive our experience in the Mind, we then go and interpret the experience in the Body.
This almost constant and regular occurrence is already giving the impression to us that Mind and Body are separate.

I think in the Mind and I experience in The Body.
And - because it is OUR body we make the assumption that the experience must be REAL, ignoring what has actually driven that experience.

The next stage in this illusion happens when we start to think about our experience and allow those thoughts to expand through more interpretation into further experience. And so the loops and the cycle continue!

And all the while Language is conveying information and meaning, although at this stage how aware are we as to which part of the Iceberg it is from?

What seems to make it feel on occasions that there are some parts of us in conflict with other parts?  The familiarity of certain phrases like -
“I can’t seem to stop myself”
“Another part of me seemed to take over”
“I need to explore my inner child”
“I looked at myself in the mirror and I didn’t like what I saw“
would seem to bear this out.

However this is still all down to the nature of thought, and our interpretations of thought conveyed via the diversity of language. The pivotal point to remember is that any interpretation involves language of one kind or another.
This is crucial.

Part of the nature of all living things is the phenomenon of transmitting interpretations of the power of thought. The vehicle by which thinking is transported is Language.

Our language expresses the gravity of our thoughts.

(The Iceberg of Language is taken from my book "Navigating The Ship of You.")

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Cartesian Twist

The ‘Questions’

In my coaching and changework I often make reference to The Four Cartesian Questions when getting people to examine their decision making strategy, especially when clients might find themselves motionless, ‘stuck’, in a quandary or between a rock and a hard place. 

They are:
What WILL happen if I DO X?
What WON’T happen if I DO X?
What WILL happen if I DON'T do X?
What WON’T happen if I DON'T do X?

There is a cold and unemotional mathematical logic in the operational landscape of the Questions that is very enabling for us as we search, garner and present our perceptions surrounding each of the four Questions. The effect of that cold logic is rather like a bucket of icy water being thrown over us when we are emotionally agitated and bothered by a head – and body - full of overheated and scatty thinking. It can rapidly cleanse us from all the “yea buts” and “what ifs” that hold that revved-up and overheated state of mind in place. Once revived from our icy drenching we can see things with much more clarity!

Another interesting spin-off engendered by the process is that of perceptual positions.

The most probable ‘geographical’ position we have adopted prior to considering the four Questions is at the centre of the issue, the decision, call it what you will. This is Point A.

Now, when we ask “What WILL happen if I DO this?” we’ll still be at Point A considering the possibilities from this perspective. The moment we move on to the next quadrant – whether we go to “What WILL happen if I DON’T do this?” or whether we go to “What WON’T happen if I DO this?” – there is a shift in our perceptual position AWAY from Point A. The shift may be to somewhere within the quadrant – or it may be in another plane or dimension, such as to a point directly over and above Point A.

Wherever we shift to, however, we detach or dissociate from our original position at Point A.
Once we’ve shifted from Point A, taking up different perceptual positions thereafter becomes SO much more straightforward, because we are out of our previous ‘stuck’ state and into a variety of others. Suddenly, we are no longer thinking “Yea buts” – we are now dispassionately considering just “What Ifs”. And, when use our imagination from this unemotional perspective then it is not only hypnotic, but also insights tend to emerge out of the mists!

If you want to take this to an even more powerful stage, use some REAL geographical space – say an open area of a room – and map out the co-ordinates using post-it notes and place some object (representing the issue) at Point A. Then you can walk to each quadrant in turn and look towards Point A, and associate with it from this perspective. Ask and NOTICE what your body tells you about Point A from these perspectives.

By doing this you’ll be surprised and astonished at what insights come up and engender new thinking around whatever is going on at Point A.

The Twist

Now the ‘twist’ I’d like to explore at this juncture is one that a good friend and colleague mentioned, which is this:
In  the context of personal relationships sometimes we ignore those who want us, and want those who ignore us – which leads us to a point where we love those who hurt us and hurt those who love us.

Now I’m sure, at some point in our lives, we can all bring to mind instances when this was happening for us. And I’ve certainly talked to a number of clients quite recently where this particularly poignant and emotional Point A has taken a grip over their lives.

Now as I see it, there is a distinct parallel between the Ignore-Want-Love-Hurt quartet and the Cartesian Will-Won’t-Do-Don’t quartet. As the “Four Questions” can shift our perspectives and perceptions so very well, and perform the change process on a number of levels – I’m curious as to whether there might be a “Cartesian” approach to resolving some change in the area of those things close to our heart.

Think of a plan rather like the four quadrants illustration above. Now imagine placing an overlay of the Ignore-Want-Love-Hurt quadrants on top of the original. Take a view of each of the four “new” aspects and notice what emerges for you – remembering that, although there are a number of personalities involved, the key one for you IS you.

Here’s some of what I found when I ran the exercise:-
First I noticed some sub-categories stood out from our two sets of four:
Actions and Behaviours:            Do + Don’t do; Ignore + Want
Projections and Feelings:           Will + Won’t; Hurt + Love

And straightaway there came some conclusions:-
Ignoring those who Want and Love us WILL lead to their Hurt.
Being Ignored by those who we Want and Love WILL lead to our Hurt.
Wanting those who Ignore us WON’T lead us to their Love.
Being Wanted by those we Ignore WON’T lead them to our Love.
To ignore is just a behaviour that may usually engender a response.
Often, by Ignoring anyone, someone will always get Hurt.

Then some deeper ones:-

Want is descriptive of feeling something lacking, in us or for us, and is a gap that we need to fill. On an inner level, Want is synonymous with Need.
Want is a personal desire to possess or own, and can engender particular changes in behaviour of all parties within a relationship.
Any pathway between Want and Love is tenuous at best, whilst the pathway between Want and Hurt is much more well- trodden.
Love, Hurt and Want are the personal property of the

And finally:-

Want may be about possession – yet what or who is it that is being possessed?
If I want something SO badly, if my Desire to possess it is SO great – then my Want, my Need, my Desire possesses me. I AM THE ONE WHO IS POSSESSED.
Desire OWNS me – and will continue to own me for as long as I maintain my Wanting of X.


For me, there is a very clear Need here - the Need to resolve my relationship with Desire. This has nothing to do with the object of my desire – just Desire per se and Me

If I am pushing so hard in the direction of Wanting something or someone then I am no longer free. I am owned by my Pushing! In wanting to own X I have handed ownership of myself over to Y.

And Y, like that, can be any manifestation or any metaphor we may care to choose.
In the case of Faust, Y was The Devil; in the case of any addiction it is the hit, the buzz; in the case of the mountaineer it is not the mountain, it is because it is there. There are countless others ...

What WILL happen if I let go of Desire?
What WON’T happen if I let go of Desire?
What WILL happen if I don’t let go of Desire?
What WON’T happen if I don’t let go of Desire?

Once we resolve our own relationship with Desire, then our entire perspective of Love changes, oddly enough. The real meaning comes through, clear as a bell or a mountain stream. This is because it is not only just about what won’t happen if we let go of Desire though isn’t it really about everything else being transformed also? Including us!

Friday, December 12, 2014

Standing Still


I was in the High Street of my home town today and bumped into an old buddy from my rugby playing days. We occasionally meet up this seemingly random way – where the paths of my going from A to B in my life and his going from A to B in his life cross.

Nothing unusual in that, you might think and say, and you’d be right - even though we rarely meet at the rugby club and yet, more often than not, we meet in the High Street.

So what sparked off something particularly notable this time round?

Have you noticed, Pete,” he said, “that when you stop walking for a while you meet and say hello to a lot more people you know than you would have done had you kept walking. In the act of my stopping to talk to you I’ve seen a load more people I know than I would have usually done here on the High Street.

On any given day, the street corners stand four square and witness many, many people who know each other passing by WITHOUT knowing the others have or will be there. The pivotal element, that only the static nature of the street corner owns, is that it is always present for itself and for us all.

Time Out – Time In

There’s a message here about how life unfolds and how we can, by slowing down or occasionally stopping, be far more engaged with what’s happening around us. In other words, we become – for a short period of time – like the street corner.

Of course, this only happens when we take the opportunity to calibrate our perceptual filters beyond our own “four walls” – what might be termed as our “walls of thought.” However, the mere act of slowing, and especially stopping, our physical AND mental motion, seems to open up for us the subculture of another world entirely.

To put it another way, we have literally no idea how much is going on outside of our perception except to say that it is an infinite amount. And thus it is, without doubt, a certainty that beyond the narrow bandwidth of “our world” is a world of infinite possibilities that we would happily describe as an alternative universe.

To be fair, we are talking more about a whole range of alternative universes here, which is somewhat mind-boggling in its magnitude. And what is it that holds this entire cosmic edifice together?


Now there are many perspectives on Time - and how ever many of these perspectives and meanings we hold in our lives, goes to make up our Understanding of the Language of Time. This then gives us our Sense of Time.

The particular perspective of Time I encountered today with my old sporting buddy was relative Time. Not just the micro-detail of his unfolding life through time relative to mine, but also the bigger detail of the whole consequence of that unfolding and its relationship with pausing with stillness, being in motion and synchronising location.

And, as I reminded him, he never got to know so many people in the first place by just standing still!


I was churning over some persistent and familiar thoughts today and bumped into an old chestnut that keeps coming back to haunt me. Mr Chestnut and I occasionally meet up this seemingly random way – where the pathways of my life become littered with incursions of energy that seem to come from somewhere out there yet look convincingly like they were my property all along.

Nothing unusual in that, you might say, and you probably feel that that was right. After all, our thoughts are always with us and they must be ours because they’re right there, in our Minds. We can’t avoid them or tell them to go away since they can be very, very persistent.

So what noteworthy piece of inner dialogue got sparked off this time round?

Have you noticed, Pete,” I said, “that if you pause your thinking for a while you encounter a lot less of what you know than you would have done had you kept thinking. In the act of my stopping to talk to you I’ve seen a load more of what I don’t know than I would have usually done.

In any given conscious moment, the thoroughfares and street corners of our Minds witness many, many thoughts just flowing by, yet if we are looking for what we know and are familiar with then we’ll filter out all the others, and only say hello to those we already know . The pivotal element, that can either imprison or liberate us, is that the power of thought is always present – and that no part of that stream is ours until we make it so.

“Is rain wet?
Not until it comes into contact with something – rain then makes that thing, whatever it is, wet. Rain, of itself, is never wet – it is merely rain.”


Pausing and standing still, for a period of time, is vitally important in our lives. We take stock of what is going on, we notice more about our surroundings, we recharge our batteries, we replenish and give ourselves “ME” time. Standing still enables reflection and renewal within us, both physically and mentally. It recalibrates our senses, and sharpens our perceptions – and it shows us perspectives that we lose when we are in constant motion, or that we never have when are in no motion at all.

So, to broaden our understanding of how we can enrich our lives we need both to get out more, and to regularly pause and stand still.