Two of my top mentors

It’s a con. You don’t need confidence to do things.  You need unstoppable determination. I’ve learned that again this week from two of my top mentors.

Katie and Joseph's temporary laboratory. Mine too.

I’ve spent the last week or so watching them learning to do new things. In the last year these two obsessed little toddlers have gone from only being able to suckle and cry to walking, learning a new language, mimicking adults, collaborating with complete strangers, performing stand-up comedy, learning building techniques and mastering their own version of ‘sales skills’.

There’s no stopping them. From early morning till early evening, with a hour’s break or two in the middle, they’ve  been obsessed with experimenting to find out what works in life and what doesn’t, and how to get people to help them. They don’t know it but if they stop learning new things they’ll start to die.

Fearlessly they’ve climbed stairs (one step at a time), learned to get past anything in their way (one obstacle at a time), eaten unfamiliar foods (one spoonful at a time), and generally sucked life dry (one second at a time).

Not overly concerned about what people think, yet looking out for the admiration of anyone who happens to be in the vicinity, they’ve explored, exercised, and engaged, until they’ve collapsed in a weary heap and keeled over to sleep, after a final experimental session in the bath and a slow luxurious bedtime drink tucked in somewhere comfortable.

Self-confidence? It never occurs to them that they might need such a thing (if it ever existed.) They wake up each morning at 5.30 dying to get going and have a boredom threshold of 20 seconds. Probably less. They never know whether they can do something or not when they start, are completely unfazed to find they CAN’T when they start, and keep going regardless till they can. They then practice for a while and move on to the next challenge. From time to time they go back to what they know they can do, practice again, then move on.

I’ve learn a lot this Christmas. From Katie and Joseph.

Lesson 1.  Learning is the most natural, exciting – and essential – process in the world.

Lesson 2. If you reward them with smiles and people can see you’re making every effort, those people will help you.

Lesson 3. EVERYTHING you learn can help you get a better life, even the painful things. Especially the painful things.

Lesson 4. Or you can give up, lie whimpering in your cot and have someone change your nappy. So sad.

Whatever you get to play with this year, stay curious and learn all you can.

Happy New Year.

Speaking to Strangers

Yesterday I was one of the mentors and judges at an Enterprise Day for young people held at Butlins in Bognor Regis. There were 150 youngsters, all from Year 10, from perhaps eight schools learning about business. Brilliant. They listened, worked and learned, and so did I.

One of the organisers pointed out to me that a whole generation of children have been brought up being told not to speak to strangers, As I looked around, it seemed that she was right and they had learnt the lesson well. Here were a cross-section of teenagers who struggled to communicate confidently. With people they knew, their peers and teachers, they were fine –  more or less.  With others around them it was a different story. None of them crossed the bridge, or the room, to say ‘hello’ to each other. ‘Don’t talk to strangers’ was the unwritten rule.

Today, when interpersonal communication has never been so important, when networking is crucial to the survival and growth of business, when family relationships crumble for want of communication skills, society continues to create fear of strangers from the earliest formative years, and wonders how we can get that same generation into work.

I love it when it snows here in the UK for this one reason: people moved beyond that highly irrational fear of one another, and take a step towards community once more. Our need for each other overcomes the negative beliefs we have about one another. People are generally good, are generally trustworthy, and have no desire to damage each other. It’s true that a tiny percentage are not, but I’m not going to let their bad behaviour stifle my good behaviour. That makes me their prisoner, and evil triumphs over good.

Here’s how you can do it:

Build a reputation for being a ‘Kind Stranger’ yourself, wherever you are. Be encouraging, inspiring, caring – and be available. Live beyond the fear of being thought of as slightly strange. (At one time it was ‘strange’ NOT to wish those around you a good day.)  I speak to everyone – little children in the shop, teenagers in the car park, an older man on the train, a younger woman walking along the street – and it is very rare that I’m ignored or rebuked. Almost without exception, the invitation to connect is accepted for a few moments and I can brighten that person’s day with an honest, respectful smile and a brief, appropriate conversation or a sentence or two of approval or encouragement. It takes 15 seconds, that’s all – and the readiness to INITIATE the conversation. People soon realise you’re OK.

Please, speak to strangers. In the queue at the checkout, filling the car up with fuel, eating out, walking along the street, on public transport, take a moment to invade the negativity we have about one another, especially young people, and initiate a brief conversation. Yesterday as soon as the youngsters came into the room I excused myself from our little peer group of adult business people and went over and introduced myself to them. Soon we were chatting away, and they personally invited me to join them on their table. How rewarding is that!

In our reasonably large local village I’ve deliberately chosen to speak to young people. I remember feeling nervous about speaking to children, even though I was Chairman of Governors in their school!  How silly.  How I had been intimidated!  I’m not any more. I want them to know that people do not need to be feared. I talk to little children, with mum or dad nearby. It’s so rewarding – and has an added benefit of them learning by my example that fear of strangers is unnecessary and unwelcome. I want children to be free to walk to school on their own without the nagging anxiety of being abducted. I want them happy to grow up initiating their own conversations.

I want the tribal, gang, and class suspicions that afflict us to go. Forever. By reconnecting with one another wherever we can, across every rift and gully of age, gender, class or culture, we’ll become part of the answer in our exploding world instead of part of the problem. And it will get our country back on its feet again.  Isolation and suspicion beget the death and devastation of war. Connect with others around you and you’ll foster trade, prosperity and freedom. It can be a bit messy occasionally, but much less messy than the war alternative.

So do it. Be a Kind Stranger today.

Quitting the Fear Factory, Part 2

Remember Part 1 of Quitting The Fear Factory?  Click on the link to refresh your thinking – or enjoy it for the first time.

This is another dose!

In these traumatic days, when uncertainty needs to become a friend rather than an enemy, understanding HOW fear works might be useful, so here is part 2, in which we consider HOW those deep paralysing fears might get locked in.

Your Fear Factory is believed to be located in your amagdala, a part of your brain that operates the Fight Flight, Freeze and Faint (4F!)  mechanism of your life. It is a very powerful – and pretty crude – system that often misbehaves, causing you to fight, run away (or avoid in some other way) freeze up, and even faint, when you feel threatened deep within you. Like most things, its’s great to have it on your side and terrible to have it controlling you.

All of us experience fear (thank goodness, as it keeps us safe most of the time) but sometimes for most people, and constantly for some people, it works overtime, producing far more fear than you need. The secret is to control production in the factory.

Fear can be a very nasty invasive slave master, bringing a reign of tyranny into the life of anyone who submits to it.  Many people learn the power of fear at a very early age, perhaps by experiencing overwhelming fear, particularly in the early years (1-10), or living with a fearful person, or perhaps through some sort of traumatic experience. The owner of YOUR  fear factory is actually YOU, but if you don’t keep control of what goes on there, and allow it to run out of control, like a badly run explosives factory it may blow up in your face, – or terrify those who live near it. Before long the factory manager will turn against you and threaten you. It happens.

You may of course find yourself working in someone else’s fear factory, threatened by them.  Again, see Part 1.


The Fear Factory needs to keep its employees from rational THINKING, paralysing them with an overload of fear. ANY fear will do. It can grow into a monster. Usually that happens by piling in every possible reason to fear and multiplying it.  It has the effect of cramming dozens of people in a lift so tightly that no one can reach the UP, DOWN, or more importantly, the OPEN DOOR button.  When I’m working with clients to break the Fear Factory’s power over them, I don’t even TRY to get into the lift. I press the Open Door button on the outside, and everything tumbles out.

Reasons people give in to fear:

  • I do not want to wake a sleeping dog
  • I have experienced significant pain for not conforming to fear regimes. I can’t go through that again.
  • I do not believe I have the capacity to win or even succeed.
  • I have learnt that pain comes from resistance.
  • This is justice – I deserve it.
  • I want to be the same as everyone else.
  • Any alternative is worse.
  • I’m reasonably successful here – carved a comfortable niche.
  • I like the people – they are weak like me.
  • It’s not possible to escape.
  • I don’t have to think.
  • This is my (fatalistic) lot in life.
  • I don’t have any choice.
  • People have tried to escape before and failed.
  • My parents would be offended if I left.
  • All my friends/supporters are here.
  • It gives me the basics.
  • I don’t have the energy/motivation to get out.
  • I’ve got some status here.

There is absolutely no need to live in tyranny any longer. There is a way out.  Call the Powerchange office on 01903 744399, or visit the website. We’ll press the right button.

As a professional psychological coach, I suspect that fears like this are a result of a communication problem in the brain, with lots of sensory input INTO the amygdala (dentritic activity), and not much OUT into the neocortex to be properly and rationally considered (axonic and synaptic activity), but I’ll leave the official neuro-scientists to check that out.  If it proves to be a right hypothesis, remember you read it here first!

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