Welcome to The Living Room!

Welcome to The Living Room!

I'm developing this blog to foster a warm community of people interested in ideas, art, science and practice around personal development and flourishing.

I work as an executive coach, and founded a company whose mission is helping people to find success at work in a way that provides satisfaction across all areas of their lives (you can check us out at www.madeleineshaw.com.au).

Leadership, learning, the wonderful brain/body connection, presence, influence, emotions, thinking, effectiveness, flow and FUN.

I want to know more, and do more!

The world is our living room so let's get living.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Metaphor: A helping hand

The New York times ran a completely fascinating article recently. It was about the brain science of metaphors. We know that metaphors are powerful. Tell someone you need to get 5 days work done in 2. Or tell them you're squeezing a house through the eye of a needle. Which is more evocative? 

Dirty, dirty boy.

Now we are increasingly understanding that the same parts of the brain that process physical sensations and emotions (pain, hunger, happiness) also process concepts. What's more, we confuse the two. Various studies are demonstrating this effect. In one study described in the article, volunteers were asked to think about either a moral or immoral act in their past. As a thank you gift, they were offered a choice between a pencil or some antiseptic wipes. Those who had thought of their "dirty" acts were more likely to choose wipes.

Mmm, vinegar, yes please

NLP (neuro-linguistic programming) uses metaphor to help people change the way they think and feel. For example, imagine you want to like coffee less – say, about as much as you would like to drink a glass of vinegar. A simple NLP technique would involve understanding how you mentally conceive of coffee (probably, when you think of coffee, it’s a large, clear picture in your mind –perhaps with smells, warmth and the motion of the steam rising) and how you mentally conceive of vinegar (probably small, black and white, still and distant in your mind’s eye). 

You would then be guided through a short process that amends your mental image of coffee so that it takes on the attributes of the vinegar image. Coffee will still taste like coffee to you, not vinegar. But now, the idea is your mind is storing the attractiveness of drinking coffee in the same way as it stores the attractiveness of drinking vinegar. And chances are, you’ll find you just don’t crave those coffees in the way you used to. 

Just what's going on at a neural level, we don't know and there's not much scientific research (though I'd love to see it), but I'm fascinated by the overlap with neurolinguistics and psycholinguistics. In fact, the whole area of brain research is so exciting at the moment, and our understanding is growing exponentially.

Your point being?

So, how does this apply back in the everyday? 

A client of mine was working on having a less angry response to certain situations. We didn't talk much about it in those terms though. Instead, we spoke of "triggers" and finding ways to shrink the trigger button, and "cut the wires" to it. We use metaphors intuitively, and it's been my experience that deliberately finding and using metaphors to adjust our thoughts and responses is enormously powerful. 

Which discipline that sits under isn't so important to me - there are always turf wars - but I am excited at the prospect of learning more about how our brains work, and how we can tap into that knowlege to increase the health and happiness of ourselves and those around us.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Get clear with an offsite - solo style

I'm chuffed to have my article published on FlyingSolo.com.au!

Getting away to clear the head, think differently and create your plans is not just for corporate bunnies. Here’s how to have an offsite on your own. 

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Ask yourself this one question and nail that meeting.

Ever thrown every fact in the book at someone, but failed to budge them? Or conversely, how often have you sat firm in an opinion despite the best efforts of someone to convince you that you were wrong? It happens when people use facts to try and persuade – when emotions work much more convincingly.

More and more, we’re understanding that emotions play a central role in decision making. Neuroscientist Antonio Demasio discovered that people who injured the part of their brain governing emotion were left otherwise intellectually intact - but unable to make decisions. He has shown that emotions and thinking are intertwined - often unconsciously.

It’s not that facts are unimportant – they’re very important. It’s just that we’ve tended to give them all the weight and ignore emotions. When you get that equation back into balance by restoring the role of emotions, you’re going to be much more effective.

I often coach clients who have an important meeting coming up – such as a job interview, performance review or a presentation to key people. My clients are smart and successful, so they’re definitely prepared – they’ve got their facts straight, they’ve done their homework. I often ask them:

How do the other people want to FEEL when they come out of a wildly successful meeting?

If it’s a job interview, the answer might be “confident”, “relieved”, “excited” and “secure”. Those people have to take a gamble when they decide who to hire. Yes, you need to show them that you can do the job (facts) – but if they come out of the room feeling even a tiny bit doubtful, on-edge, bored or worried, they ain’t hiring you.

Your job, then, is to do what you can to put those people in the right state. Think about what would make you, if you were in their shoes, feel those things.

Gain confidence.

Thinking about how you can make the others feel good also tends to reverse your perception of the hierarchy in the room. This helps with nerves. Instead of thinking of them as powerful superiors looking for your flaws and shortcomings, you are now thinking of them as what they are – human beings with emotional needs that you can meet.

Take that awareness and intention into the meeting with you and notice what happens. In my experience, consciously following this process makes a huge difference to the energy and success of interactions with other people. 

What about you?  How do you prepare for those important meetings?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Get excited about finding time.

Do you want to find more hours in the day? Here's how: first, cull unnecessary meetings..  blah blah blah. WAIT. Before you get into the nitty gritty of how to cheat a few more minutes here and there, stop and ask yourself:

Why do you want the extra time?
Is it to keep doing exactly what you do now, but have it spread out over an even longer period? No, I didn't think so. So many of us feel we don't have enough time, but trying to find more, just "because", usually isn't enough to motivate us to make a real change. 

Someone stuggling to start an exercise program might genuinely protest that they couldn't possibly find an hour a week to get to a class at the gym. But could you find 5 hours a week to sit in a meeting room, if I were to pay you $500,000 each time? Yes, I thought so!

A consultant, Ron Ashkenas (see here) did some research that illustrates nicely that we can find time if we really want to:

"Imagine if the president of your company personally asked you to take on a special assignment — working directly for her. The project would take one day per week but you would have to continue your regular job in the remaining time. Would you take the assignment? By now we've asked this question to hundreds of managers — most who complain about not having enough time already — and 99% say they would take the assignment."

Most of us know we can find time in our week if we really want to. The problem isn't time - it's motivation. So, if you haven't got the company president knocking on your door, or a lazy half-million from me on offer, how do you find that motivation?

The 3 step process for getting excited about time management

Step 1 - Find your underlying driver.

(a) Grab a piece of paper and write down the answer to this question:
If you had more time, what would it allow?
(b) Now write down the answer to this question:
When you have that, what will it give you?
(c) Now write down the answer to this question:
When you've got that, what will it allow?
(d) Keep going until your answer resonates powerfully and you don't see any need to go further. Take a look at that final answer - that's your underlying driver - the basic reason you want more time.

For example, Peter might say:
If I had more time, it would allow me to get the sales reports done on time.
When I get the sales reports done on time, it will give me my Thursday nights back.
When I have my Thursday nights back, it will allow me to get to the gym.
When I am going to the gym, it will give me more energy and a clear head.
When I have more energy and a clear head, it will allow me to be more focused and calm.
When I am more focused and calm, it will give me a sense of control over what I'm doing.

So John's underlying driver is have a sense of control over what he is doing. For you it might be more time with your family, a sense of freedom - anything. But it needs to be the ultimate reason - the one with nothing else underneath it.
By focusing on the deep motivation underlying your urge to find more time, you will be more driven to make the changes. 

Step 2 - Decide what changes will support you.

I just googled "time management tips" and got 17,300,000 results. But simply following someone else's list isn't necessarily going to work for you. You need your own list, and you need to create it with your underlying driver in mind.
Brainstorm options - without analysing.
Without thinking too much, jot down 3 things you'd do differently, if they would guarantee you wild success in achieving your underlying driver.
Just for fun, jot down another 3 things you'd do differently, in order to free up those 5 hours a week and pocket the $500,000. Quick - no analysing - just get them down.
Now scan your calendar for the past couple of months, and the couple upcoming, and generate 3 more ideas.
What else would you add? Remember, you're not committing at this stage - so capture whatever comes up. What other options do you have - if they guarantee you will successfully achieve your underlying driver?
 Step 3 - Commit to Action

Now it's time to analyse and commit. 
Take a look at your list of options and decide which ones you will commit to putting into action. Which ones are most likely to work for you? Which ones have you feeling excited and motivated?
When you have your action list, rate it: On a scale of 1 to 10 (where 10 is certain), how likely are you to stick with it?
If your answer is less than 10, what do you need to change to make it a 10? 
Make those changes.

Now go and do it.

Have fun, and enjoy your time!