Come and join us in the playground.

The need for playtime is not limited to creatives or young children at school. As experienced coaches we know the effect of confinement and restriction on the human spirit. Extensive studies on people working in highly controlled, rule-bound, ‘enforced’ environments show that people HAVE to have space to use their creative potential to stay sane. Forced to conform, they will eventually suffer breakdown and insanity – or start breaking the rules. The more rules that are created (3500 new laws introduced in the UK in the last 10 years?!) and the more they are enforced, the higher the rates of absenteeism, physical and mental illness and unhappiness – and rule-breaking. Order is one thing. Oppression is another.

I’m intrigued that as a society we react so strongly to the confining of animals yet fail to see how utterly entrapped some people are at school, at work and at home.

  • How is it that we’re shocked by young people preferring to live on the street, easing their pain with drugs, than to spend six hours a day in a tatty stress-filled classroom with peers they have grown to hate, being told what to do by someone who they no longer respect?
  • How is it we are surprised when Social Workers, having spent years training to care for others in need, decide that they can no longer handle the sleepless nights, the multiple case conferences and overwhelming paperwork and finally the blame placed upon them personally when they have been unable to prevent injury to one of the vulnerable people in their personal ‘case-load’, and for their own sanity, they leave the profession for ever?

Roy and I are creatives. I think the reason we get on so well as business colleagues may be that we understand what being ‘a creative’ entails: space for thinking and room for mistakes, approval, praise for the attempt – even if the initial result isn’t quite what you want – and a readiness to allow for an intuitive response to those inner prompts and to the

Southern foothills of the Pyrenees

world around us. Although our respective wives and children may raise an eyebrow from time to time (often!) and our colleagues in Powerchange may have need of the occasional bout of added patience, when that creativity matures, it’s life-changing. Awesome.

Roy’s ‘out of office’ passion is music – he has a huge personal library of songs, and a mass of detail about each song in his head. Mine is my motorbike (complete with my tent and clever little stove!) – I love the freedom of the road, the sense of isolation inside a crash-helmet, the solitude of more remote destinations, and camping alone.

Completely different? No. Music and motorbikes provide us with the ‘other-world’ thought-space we need to live and breathe. They provide psychological ‘downtime’ for our brains to rest and play. Both of us find that this downtime is often when we get our best inspiration and results in our finest work. We may tease each other about the other’s taste, but we both know how important it is to live with a ‘playground’ close by and go there often.

Every human being needs to play.

For those of us who have forgotten how, now might just be the moment when you decide to put playtime back into your life. Just a little warning though: to do that, it is more than likely that something else will have to go – maybe several things – and you’ll need to be strong. You will need to reorder and simplify your world and stand against the huge pressure most people experience to do what they are told by some ‘expert’ or other.

Roy and I both know about that. We’ve both reordered our lives, and continue to do so, and now maybe you want to do it too?

Come and join us in the fresh air of the playground! You’ll learn a lot of good things out here. We’re happier than ever we used to be in those stress-filled days.

And more useful too.

What do YOU offer?

And please don’t tell me you’re not in sales. The truth is, we all are. Even the ‘exchange’ of a greeting on the street has an underlying element of healthy and important trading in it – even if you consciously have no intention to trade!  So you sell something – maybe your time, your skills, your knowledge – even your looks, your skin or your dress sense! Probably a package with some of all of those.max sells a good question

My colleague Roy, with a background in business development, recently reminded a client “If you can’t describe it, you’ll find it hard to sell it.”  It challenged me, and prompted me (yet again) to be clear about what I ‘sell’. In some ways I think I sell good questions, like Max, particularly when I’m coaching or mentoring, but my carefully formed questions are just a means to an end. Here’s the essence of what I really bring to the table:

The power to change.

Simple isn’t it! Professionally at least, I provide people with the increases in personal power they need to be different, to move on, to grow.  This inevitably comes carefully wrapped in a wealth of different outer packages.  People may buy the power in the form of questions and suggestions, creativity, specialist attention and professional friendship. They may buy empowerment packaged in courses, resources, books, packs of cards, and coaching conversations, and then go away and reprocess them into something else: perhaps being a better mum or dad, a higher quality of personal peace, or a sense of being whole. But I’m not offering them (you?) that. I’m offering you more power – the power to change your life for the better.

When you want someone to turn up your power, click here, or call me on 01903 744399.

Learning to be a Mega-Encourager

Yes, each of us has a choice: to criticise or encourage, to focus on criticism or focus on encouragement.

Personally, I’ve learned to listen much more to those who encourage me. Criticism has far more impact (up to 10 times) than encouragement as we seem programmed to be far more sensitive to threat and danger. And critics are two-a-penny, probably because it takes so little thought to be one.

So take up the challenge of mega-encouragement.  Ask yourself: does this person need more judgement or more courage? It’s a no-brainer, isn’t it!

Someone noticed.
Someone noticed.

The most powerful comments you can make, negative and positive, lock into these three categories: PERSONAL, PERVASIVE and PERMANENT.

PERSONAL:  It is about THEM.  Make your encouragement very personal. Generalised encouragement is fine “Well done, everyone!” but personal is so much stronger: a handwritten card of congratulations, a phone call to express you appreciation. And use their NAME, not words like ‘my friend’, ‘mate’, etc. The most precious word a person hears is their name.

PERVASIVE: It goes beyond their current situation into every part of their life. Notice several areas of their life where an attribute is gaining strength. “I love your commitment to living with integrity” [pervasive] is much better than “At least you accept that you’ve messed up here.”[local]

PERMANENT: “You’ve always cared for others and you always will.  That doesn’t change because you forgot to make that appointment.”

So do yourself, your friends, and the world in general a favour by moving your whole  philosophy of life a step towards the Encouragement Platform, and make your input personal, pervasive and permanent. After all, a person like you who reads this for into a blog already has a head start in making this a regular part of their life.  😉

Here are some practical encouragers – even when you disagree with what a person has done, you can help them change by using these phrases:

“Keep going! Someone who is as sensitive/determined/committed as you [personal] will always [permanent] get there in the end.”

“You’re great.  I know you [personal]  – you’ll find a way through anything [pervasive] eventually – it’s in your nature [permanent].”

“I love your unique [personal] determined attitude.  You’re the sort of person who can’t help but improve [permanent] – whatever you put your hand to [pervasive] – even when you make mistakes. I really like that.”

“How is it you’ve come as far as you have?! The fact you’ve come this far only goes to prove you’re a strong person underneath [personal]. You’ll make it through to your goals.”

“You’re a fast learner [non-specific, therefore pervasive], and don’t need anyone to tell you when you’ve messed up, least of all me. I’ve messed up myself too many times to lecture anyone else.”

Personally I’m a better person for having a impromptu funeral service for my mistakes – as soon as possible after they become evident. I mourn their passing and look back months later on what they taught me in the short time they were alive. I don’t need anyone to dig up their remains.  For really significant catastrophes, when I have messed up big time, I want people to help me leave the graveyard, recover from the overdose of human error and live life with courage again, so I tend to surround myself with such people and keep the others further out.  (People who invest a lot in each day, as I tend to do, are the very first people to know just how big the impending disaster is going to be. They don’t need ANYONE else to tell them!)

Endorsement, approval, kindness, and encouragement.  Spew tons of those powerful motivators into the world and I’ll be MUCH more useful to those around me when they come my way!

So will you.

Max Winchester?

Who is Max Winchester?  Well, I’ve been trying to find out.  He is a very evasive character to get an interview with, but I manage somehow.

Some say he is the epitome of ‘blue jacket man’, whatever that may mean, and that his slightly hang-dog expression indicates his vulnerability. Max faces his next controversy From his short pithy lines, I secretly suspect that he knows more about life than we realise. Perhaps in the coming days Max may want to extend his unwitting influence further afield. As the strap-line to Andrew Online says, you never know.

Or maybe he is an icon for all the reactive thoughts people think about the comments, accusations and so-called ‘views’ that come our way?

I understand he comes from a very interesting family background (we’re still trying to discover which part of the UK he hails from) and that he has learnt a lot in the last few years.

No doubt in my research I’ll uncover more about what he thinks in the future. In the mean time, if you have any questions you’d like me to put to him, just let me know.

Handling Criticism

Do anything, badly or well, and there is always a poor soul somewhere who feels it is their God-given right to tell you where you went wrong and how you should have done it! Because few people like to be thought of as judgmental (an even more polite euphemism for smearing someone’s efforts with the conceit of their self-promoting negative opinions) they call it “offering constructive criticism.” Don’t be misled; it isn’t.

Max makes an important decision.
Max makes an important decision

‘Constructive criticism’ – an oxymoron. Check out the dictionary definitions and you’ll get the overwhelming impression that criticism is destructive. It is an expression of the critic’s underlying insecurity, of their attempt to appear superior, wiser, cleverer – usually at the expense of your emotional well-being. Criticism is an easy virtue, it implies that the critic knows better than you and can do better than you without them ever having to prove the point. It is an attempt to behead the tall poppy because it is revealing how short the others are.

You won’t see ‘constructive critics’ on the pitch of any truly successful team. Criticism is the favourite occupation of the man or woman observing your performance from the stands – they’re not prepared to put in the effort, dedication and emotional investment you’ve made in order to play the game, so they stand ‘advising’ (or should that be ‘undermining’?) those who are giving their all in a worthy cause. The bigger the effort you put in and the higher the personal cost you’ve invested, the more sensitive you, the doer, become to the havoc wreaked by the observer, the ‘constructive critic’. It is almost certain that the critic has never succeeded in what you are attempting, and probably has never attempted it either.

And beware the critic in you. Those who have lived with a critical person for any length of time know how their negativity can be catching. Children grow up unwilling to explore new avenues of life or take on new challenges for fear of provoking the criticism of some inner perfectionist that sounds scarily like the voice of a parent or teacher. (In Powerchange we’ve considerable success in silencing those paralysing voices.)

My favourite quote on the critic was made in a speech by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1899 in Chicago. I have carried it with me for years. Do yourself a favour and memorise it. It will be well worth it and protect you when you are vulnerable to criticism:

“It’s not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or when the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly. Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though chequered by failure, than to take rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer much, because they live in the grey twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

That quote is an amazing gift to you and to every enterprising, boundary pushing, initiating, creative activist in the world from a gifted and passionate world statesman who knew what he was talking about. Criticism hurts (and is often intended to), there’s no denying that, but I’ve learned personally that it can make you very very strong as it inflames your determination to ‘spend yourself in a worthy cause’ and thus live a life you can be truly proud to own.

And remember, the very presence of criticism is evidence that you have succeeded in doing something that has grown big enough to be noticed and threatens the mediocrity of the status quo.

So keep doing it.

Who will I be?

Late in 1990 I experienced ‘burn out’, and made some decisions about being free from the tyranny of living my life to fulfil other people’s expectations.  (Some of them were really nice ‘other people’ too.) Here goes…

Who will I be?

The quiet and submissive heart
That, pressed by peers, will play the part
Selected for him by the common vote
Of those who stand, observe
And solemnly take note
Then gently urge him to conform
To fit the role
For which he’s not
been born?

Who will I be?

The one who scorns the social mould
And flirts with glorious liberty,
Whose heart, determined, wild and warm,
Laughs in the face of those
Who quietly continue to perform
And turning from the narrow stage
At last possesses that
For which he knows he’s born.

That’s who I’ll be.

I’ve now had nearly 20 years of freedom from ‘the narrow stage’ – though sometimes I’m tempted onto it for a while, allowing my life to become a bit of a performance. Not to be recommended.


My Song

For those who have read my blog (Success Part 3: Better) on writing and singing ‘your song’, here’s mine. Inevitably it is deeply personal and highly subjective, so please honour it as such, but, well, it’s my song.  I’ve titled it My Mission.

To worship Almighty God alone as Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer of the Universe, and King of All.

To live in the confidence that God has a unique purpose for my life, and for the life of every human being, that reflects His love for me and for mankind.

To work with Him towards the fulfilment of that purpose, guided and empowered by the Holy Spirit, cushioned by God’s grace, and accountable to Him.

To cherish the vision of a kind and forgiving world for future generations.

To seek truth and to keep eternity in view.

To teach life-enriching principles with enthusiasm and to narrow the gap between principle and practice.

To be an example of good health, contentment and personal prosperity for the rest of my life.

If you’re into poetry you might have a though or two on this one of mine: “Who will I be?” Again, it’s very personal, and for those who know me personally, it could explain a lot!

Success Part 3: Better.

Google says there are 51,100,000 references to ‘motivation’ on the web. So what motivates the writing of so many words by so many ‘experts’? Here is my ‘expert’ opinion: people are crying out for a clear sense of personal purpose, their song. Max, song writer.I started to live a much better life when I allowed that song to be created inside me and find its tune. I finally put it into readable words in the five years between 1997 and 2002.

Since then I’ve not been one of the ‘mass of men who live lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them’ as Henry David Thoreau put it.  I’ve written my song, the song I love to sing, the song that generously satisfies my desire for meaning. It is a song with verses about the deepest parts of my life, about my relationship with the Creator and his creation, about my relationship with my family, about my relationship with my friends, and in a rather bizarre way, with you and your friends too.

It is a song that I sing on happy days and on sad days, on muddy days when it is tough and on bright days when the cloudless sky invites me to play in the sunshine, a song for when I cry in private and when I laugh in public. It is a song that gets me out of bed in the morning, a song uniquely mine, yet a song that links me to many millions who may be singing similar words to a completely different tune, or no tune at all.

Of the millions of pages on motivation comparatively few of them get personal about the writer’s own motivation. They tell you how to be motivated, and how to motivate others:  “The Six Rules of Motivation” (rules!), “Motivation 123”, “100 Ways to Motivate Yourself” (a hundred!), “Seven Secrets of Motivation.”  Can you believe it, but there are even books on how many lies have been told about motivation!  “Words, words, words,” announced Eliza Dolittle, “I’m sick of words. Show me!”

Thankfully there are some people who lay their personal cards on the table, and in just a few moments I’m going to be one of them. Until then here is my three-word solution to those struggling with motivation today:

WRITE YOUR SONG.

And for the record, here’s mine.

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