Zen and the Art of the Motorbike Accident

It was just a year ago that a lovely lady pulled her VW Golf across in front of me to enter a petrol station and…in a matter of seconds, my prized blue BMW 1200GS motorbike was no more. Following the thought, “No,no, no, don’t pull across, don’t do it, stop, stop!” and the next resigned thought, “I’m going to hit it” as I contemplated the inevitability of my coming fate, the front of my bike plunged reluctantly into her passenger door, I sailed in a rather ungainly double somersault over the roof of the black Golf thinking (in that split-second eternity that is the slow motion experience of a crash) “So this is what it’s like” and promptly hit the tarmac with a resounding ‘squelch’ … so I’m told.

The old bike, and the new one (above) in Wales

Then more pain than a brave man like me should be called upon to admit to, let alone endure, assailed my tender torso.   Before long, the emergency services were on the scene and I was being looked after by an understanding paramedic – and told to “stand up and blow into this tube” by a less than understanding member of the Government’s ‘special forces’. Eventually it dawned on the young policewoman that I couldn’t stand up as I had just had a slightly traumatic few minutes lying on tarmac and she let me blow into her little alcohol machine sitting down. It was green of course.

Fortunately, I had ‘only’ a broken elbow, pain everywhere,  two sprained wrists, “soft tissue damage” to my ankle, (read ‘knackered’) and bruises in places I never knew existed. Nothing much then. In informal discussion with the paramedic, I turned down the kind offer of a blue-light ride to hospital (no, I didn’t fancy six hours in the company of the intoxicated-and-falling-over wounded at Epsom Hospital A & E on a Sunday night) but there followed what can only be described as a substantially ‘bracing’ few weeks. A visit to Worthing hospital at a more civilised hour (and no drunks) the following day revealed the full damage, and before the week was out I was covered in a glorious array of autumn colours. They lasted for the rest of the winter with most of the sunset-tinted ones spreading to bits of me that I would rather not mention.  Ah, well…

Everyone confirmed that it was the dear lady’s fault (including the protagonist: “I’m so sorry, I didn’t see you, I’m so sorry”) and the guys at BMW Motorrad took one look at the crumpled wreck and wondered how long the bloke would be in hospital – with the distinct possibility that he would never come out. Sobering thought. Needless to say, its write-off status was confirmed by the assessor, and another shiny 1200GS arrived within a few weeks for me to continue my GS adventures, albeit a little more tentatively.

It’s always good to have a kind and loving wife at these times. Sue took what was left of me home to Sussex and was very sweet, kindly pointing out that I wouldn’t have to clean a bike for a few weeks. It also meant she had to soap me in the bath for a while. (Not altogether bad then?!) Within a week or two my BMW insurance coughed up and a 2008 GS arrived – a Promo bike with 7K on the clock and new tyres, how kind. And with it arrived  the compelling desire to get past the fear and plan the next trip…

I have to report a certain success in this department. In the last year I’ve done another 16,000 miles on it, from Spain, to Scotland, to Scandinavia, to Snowdon, sleeping each night beside the bike, wherever I could discretely pitch my little one-man tent. I absolutely love the GS (now with its two extra driving lights so people can see me coming) and I love the utter freedom of seeing the world from the saddle of my silver steed – and yes, she does have a name.

Sadly, the accident has meant my limbs no longer work quite as they used to – a few of the previously working joints have been permanently knackered. Their malfunctioning can be frustrating – and a lot of other things – but let’s keep the GS wheels turning. As a personal and executive coach who works with people who live inhibited lives, I know how freedom-threatening fear can be and, just for the record, I’m determined not to make defeat my final destination.  I think it will be Finland instead.

Look out, Europe, I’m on the road again. (Cue Willie Nelson on guitar.)

Thinking Hurts

Here in Powerchange HQ we are currently doing some deep thinking. Like many other people, we want to make the world a rewarding and happy place to live in, with you and me able to enjoy the freedoms that are the privilege of responsible people.  We want our deep thinking to pay off, to be worth it, to be useful – to WORK for us all!

It always does, given time. In a world of instant messaging, fast food and 20 Tweets a day, (and that’s without the call of work, family, travelling, and sleep) most of us do not take the time to think, not least because thinking hurts. It hurts in several ways, but hurt it does.  If you want to go deeper, mine a richer seam of thought-gold, or lead others to a stronger place in their thoughts, be prepared. Thinking hurts because of…

Conflict. People who want to think beyond the confines of everyday life will meet unresolved conflict within themselves. No one I have met has a fully resolved life. No one understands everything. There is always a vast scope of opposites that, at least initially, appear at war with each other, and thinkers have the courage to allow them into their lives and give those opposites time to become friends. Conflict is part of our human experience and, like human beings themselves, it is available in all sorts of shapes and sizes. I’ve found that a willingness to engage with these opposites has a maturing effect on my life, bringing depth and strength.

Creativity. In the same way as human thinkers arrive in this world through the pain of childbirth (though the initial creativity itself is generally a most pleasant experience!) so each new idea, each new concept is born out of old ideas that are stretched beyond comfortable limits. It hurts to give birth to new ideas, not least via the reception they initially receive. A new baby, however welcome, disturbs for ever the home into which it arrives. It demands to be paid attention to, it calls out in the middle of the night. It gets its parent up in the early hours so that it may be fed and ‘changed’. (Interesting parallel that, and the feeding and changing seems to be never-ending!)

And thinking hurts because it involves cremation. In the same way that, in many countries, forest fires are now understood to be essential for the regeneration of the very trees they burn up, thinking cremates old ideas so new ones can develop.  Often those new ideas cannot arrive until AFTER the burning. It is not that we have the new thoughts and the old ones then die away. The old ones, even though they are living and active, must die to provide a seedbed for the new.  For a time we are at a loss, but eventually new thought drives its way into the visible world like shoots that are forced up by the life within them into the space left by the razed forest. Without that cremation there will be no new growth.

Thinking hurts because it is compelling. In my experience, just like that human baby, it has a life of its own. New thoughts WILL be born, and we WILL be affected.  Our normal everyday lives WILL be upset.  People WILL think I am slightly odd, or worse! And just like a human child, the mature thought may bear only a very little resemblance to the original idea.

However, I want to encourage you:

Firstly, it’s worth it because of the deep joy and satisfaction in the birth, the cultivation and harbouring of new thinking. There is so much reward in the experiencing and overcoming of that inner conflict, becoming a proud parent  in the mutual creation of a new idea (new ideas come through engaging with something beyond yourself), coming through the fire and feeling the compulsion.

Secondly, it’s worth it as the results of your thinking change the world for the better. Like every worthwhile skill, thinking takes practice.  Our brains get better at it and the plough is able to cut a deeper furrow. Better quality thinking results in deeper insights, greater clarity and more useful practical solutions to the challenges of the world.

Three thousand years ago a poet wrote, “Sorrow endures for a night, but joy comes in the morning.” Or as an old African elder once said, “As surely as the Lord paints the sunsets, the dawn will come.” When it comes to thinking deeply, we can be quietly reassured that thinking may hurt and hurt a lot, but just like the dawn, the answers DO come and if we will endure they are well worth any discomfort.

Psychological ‘Junk Food’ – or a Healthy Diet?

As you probably know, Powerchange focuses not merely on external behavioural change, as the standard life-coaching and CBT models tend to, but on the underlying Auto-Response systems of a client’s life. Whilst much of the ‘Success’ industry feeds its ever more desperate junkies with addictive ‘success fast-food’ and turns its back as they become psychologically obese, we’ve been taking a different tack, digging ever deeper to uncover more of ‘how human beings are designed to work’, as we put it. We spend time explaining to our clients HOW thinking works, HOW it is that they have been unsuccessful in the past, and HOW it is that they were unable to follow through despite being so committed, determined and motivated. Consuming psychological junk food will make you fatter and hungrier, but not happier.

Pricey.

Just like the ‘burger meals’ on the street, psychological junk food is very expensive, with people forking out huge sums for what they believe to be ‘the answer’, only for their success to be sabotaged by another part of their psychological system – and the unnerving suspicion that they’ve been taken for a ride.

We’re not alone.

We recently were introduced to the work of Dr Robert Kegan and Dr Lisa Lahey at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education, and found that many of the principles they and we have been working to over the last decade are highly complementary. Whilst having a conversation over lunch with Mary Orr, Professor in Southampton University’s School of Humanities, we were again aware of the importance of working collaboratively with those deeper inner drives that make us human beings what we are. Mentally healthy people honour the essential ingredients, the staples of psychological long-term health, the fresh vegetables of human well-being. Among other key qualities of character, we deem these to be the pursuit of truth and integrity. Without these essential vitamins, individuals – and the societies they make up – become diseased, corrupt, poor and sick. The subjection of that natural desire to live with the freedom self-sustaining truth and integrity brings eventually means that the essence of our communities dies of a kind of ‘values starvation’. People stop believing and trusting one another.  When seeking truth goes, trust goes too – and society with it. Noticed?

I guess none of us would pretend that we know it all, but we do know that confidence and self-trust are wrapped up in knowing deep down that we are trustworthy, that YOU can trust YOU, a key foundation stone for a truly successful future. People who have high integrity levels experience massive inner strength, and they can use that to power their own change.

Do I always live with integrity? No.

Although seeking truth and living with integrity are pursuits, in order to meet my own current standards of integrity I must answer ‘no’ to that question. No, not always. Am I always truthful?  I’d like to say yes, but no, not that either. Am I pursuing those as desires for my life. I can say an honest YES to that one, and am pleased to say that I’m getting more honest at a deeper level, not least with myself. Do they work as foundation stones that help me to feel secure and safe – a trustworthy launchpad for what I do and teach? Absolutely. Unlike my physical body that is naturally weaker than when I was twenty one, the core of my psychological life is probably stronger than it has ever been.

What about you?

My clients live more fulfilling and successful lives because of my invitation to discover the truth about themselves through Powerchange coaching. For many it is a very rewarding positive ‘shock’ to find out just how valuable they are! The coaching we provide will take you into a much better place personally, regardless of whether you end up with the touted millions deemed to be evidence of success by other coaches using other methods. The people we are now working with suddenly realise that they can live a healthy psychological life free of the ‘junk food’ that has become embedded into the mental eating habits of their life and work. They may have consumed much of it over the years and are fed up with it. They are redefining success. And yes, we DO discover those well-intentioned assumptions, attitudes and behaviours that are pulling them away from where they sincerely want to go.  Together we sort those out too, so that those inner values become an unstoppable vibrant engine of personal power and freedom.  If that’s what you want really, you know what to do!

Quitting the Fear Factory

How to become an Employee in the Fear Factory (They don’t like to use the word ‘slave’)

1. Sign on – you’ll be able to find any excuse, the one most people use is ‘I had no choice’.

2. Take a mix of simple, widely available and common unpleasant experiences and exaggerate them. You won’t need many, but make sure they are not SO exaggerated that they lose any sense of being faintly possible.

3.  Add the yeast of an uncontrolled, pro-active imagination. Dwell on them by returning to them in your mind, talking about how bad they are to yourself and others in a frightened spooky over-emotional voice. Make sure you think about them regularly, especially when you are alone, first thing in the morning and just before you go to bed at night.

4. Bake them well for many hours by imagining that you cannot NOT think about them.  (Focus on anything and it will get bigger in your thinking. If you keep visiting the same tree in a wood you will create a well-worn path to it. Keep visiting it for long enough and you’ll build a motorway).

5. Remove, in your imagination any possibility of those experiences being neutralised or mitigated in any way, so they hold no hope or chance of escape. Make sure no one can possibly rescue the situation and that you are paralysed from helping yourself to get away.

6. Wrap them up with normal everyday items (newspapers are excellent for maintaining good fear quality) so that everything around you reminds you of how afraid you are..  That way you will not be able to get away from them.

7. Create a web of statistics that ‘prove’ that the chances of these things happening are overwhelming. You will perceive your fears to be permanent, personal and all pervasive.

The Fear Factory, of course, has no windows that might let the light of reality in, and has lots of dark corners where invisible unidentified evil ‘presences’ might hide, silently observing your vain attempts to escape and waiting patiently until your courage has been completely destroyed and you are paralysed by fear so they can come and ‘get’ you unhampered by humour, reality or common sense.

Terrified yet?  Keep thinking that way and you soon will be. You can do it with everything from people ‘getting’ you, cancer ‘getting’ you, and unemployment ‘getting’ you.

Quitting the Fear Factory.

1. Resign from the Fear Factory with immediate effect,without waiting for the end of the week or any back-pay you are owed, and simply WALK OUT NOW.  Avoid entering into conversation with any current employees of the factory or the management staff.  They want to keep you trapped. After all, they will want to convince you of their (wrong) belief that there is no hope of a better life. (The back-pay argument is a trap, by the way. The owner of the Fear Factory has no intention of ever paying you what was agreed, but he needs your energy and imagination to keep the fear factory delivering the goods in your area.)

2. Whistle, hum, sing and play encouraging songs as you feel the warmth of the sun on your skin, and smile as you walk out of the factory gates. Smiling works to increase the seratonin levels in your blood and annoys the security guards. It also makes you happier and even more inspired.

3. Choose a mountain top destination and walk towards it, knowing that anyone who lives with purpose and who has a mission in life lives longer, experiences less illness and enjoys each day much more fully – even though life is tough. There are many good things ahead but the finest ones are a little reserved – they do not make themselves obvious. You need to look for them before you see them, and when you do meet them, treat them with respect. The best things in life are not for the casual observer. Whenever you notice them treasure them and they will serve you very well indeed. You’ll be surprised at how little you need to be truly happy now you are no longer a slave in the Fear Factory.

4. Be kind to yourself, forgiving yourself for the mistakes you’ve made in life (include the mistake of signing on at the Fear Factory), noticing that the seeds of courage, happiness and joy that you were born with have sparked unbidden into life and are starting to germinate. They grow slowly and strongly, more like oak trees than mushrooms, so tend them well. Take time to be quiet, away from others, so that you learn how to grow your strength without the need for the hubbub of other people’s opinions, busyness and activity.

5. Focus on growing your COURAGE. Deliberately set yourself some interesting challenges that will need courage from you, and take on things that you really want to achieve. You’ve left the fear factory now so you won’t be afraid of not getting something quite right or perfect. Failing from time to time is normal, and it shows you that although none of us intends to fail,it is part of learning how to be successful. Choose new activities where you are clearly the learner.

6. Weed your life, and tend it well, keeping it productive and bearing fresh fruit. Link up with other ‘Quitters’ who have learned the lessons of contentment, courage, freedom management and self-control you are learning.

7. Review the above six steps, and commit never to sign the control of your future over to anyone else or for anything else ever again.

Welcome to freedom. Those of us in Powerchange have set off for the mountains too. It’s great to have you sharing the joy and the journey.

Ten Years From Now…

Here at Powerchange Central we have been spending most of today looking, not just at this next year, but how we might be in 2020, ten years from now. What will Powerchange look like? Who will be with us then?  Who do we need to have on board? How would someone outside ourselves imagine us to be in 2020? What are the next steps we can take towards those outcomes? What attracts us – draws out the passion, energy and inspiration we will need – sufficiently to bring about this growth?

Believe me this is not just a theoretical exercise. As a personal development organisation we KNOW the psychological power of this kind of thinking. As we sat, thought and chatted in East Beach Cafe in Littlehampton,  Powerchange was subtly being formed in a new way, as a family is formed for the future by the conception of an infant. As we allowed our thinking to bring these concepts to mind and played with the ideas, they became real.  As with any pregnancy, they are treated with tender respect and care, for there is always the possibility of a miscarriage. There are also all sorts of things we will not know in detail until much later (will it be a boy or a girl?) but that doesn’t put us off.

Of course such thinking is inevitably speculative. (Who knows where the next ten years will take us?) But that speculation has a habit of  guiding us on the pathway of life, and often coming about. Lesley, one of my clients describes how she wrote down her plans for the year in January and forgot all about them until she turned them up in July.  To her surprise and shock, several of them – including a major house move and complicated job change – had already happened by July without any attempt on her part to consciously implement them! She had also set some financial goals which were coming to pass.

Our thinking has been one of looking at the LONG term. This is not about fixing up a load of appointments to fill the diary or the bank account.  It is about refining what we are ready to work for, live for and sacrifice for as we live through these coming years. We’ve looked at what truly motivates us; what we REALLY WANT to check if we still really want it. (We are also ready to be flexible, ready to modify our aspirations as we travel the road.)

Powerchange celebrates its 10th birthday this year in March. During this time it has grown, developed, died off a bit here and there, and is now in a very healthy state.  We’ve learnt a lot, experimented a lot, achieved a lot and made a lot of mistakes in the process.  But our hearts have been in what we are doing, our motives and intentions have been healthy.  The result is a platform of foundations that we are happy to build on, knowing that they will not fail.

When I founded Powerchange in 2000, the statistics predicted 4 out of 5 businesses fail in the first year. I was deeply thankful that Powerchange hadn’t. Then I learned that 75% of the remaining businesses do not get through a full five years in business.  I was excited that Powerchange had – just! I don’t know if there are statistics about a company lasting twenty years or more, but I do know that we have coached, trained, supported, encouraged and inspired thousands of people in the last ten years, and now we will set our hearts, minds and wills to continuing to support the transformation of as many lives as we can in this next ten years too.

If you want to know how we are going to do it, you probably need to be on our team. Call me on 01903 744399 or email.  I’d love to talk with you.  In the meantime, remember this:  In both life and business, taking the long view makes all the difference.

Obsessive, Compulsive. Disorder?

I’m studying obsession at the moment, and I’ve some questions:

Good or bad? Obsession describes a scientist working all hours to prove a theory. It describes a person exclusively focused on a finely defined ‘compulsive behaviour’.  It speaks of single-mindedness and eccentricity. It describes the hunter, the detective, the art collector and the painter, the perfectionist, the musician.  It describes an unbalanced person, someone who cannot stop, who is driven forward by an inability to get closure.

What is the difference between obsession and strong passion? Or between compulsion and exceptionally high motivation?

In my field, obsession is associated with the word ‘disorder’, which in and of itself has judgement attached, as if ‘order’ is good, and ‘disorder’ is not.  Yes, you’ve got it: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, or OCD, a psychiatric label attached to a group of actions that constitute a ‘syndrome’ that seems to give a certain satisfaction to the bearer, who clearly loves order more than me.

Let’s deal with those words separately.

Compulsive? Compulsive behaviour includes many of the fatherly and motherly actions we associate with family life – things like picking up a crying baby or protecting the said infant from ANY sort of perceived harm. (Consider the parent compelled by love to rescue their drowning child?) It includes our own desire to conform to norms like wearing clothes and eating. Compulsion is built in to us, an unconscious Auto-Response to many of the things we experience in life.

Obsessive? Yes, obsessive behaviour, as we have already discussed, is demonstrated by every committed adventurer, explorer, inventor and scientist.  Obsession can be VERY productive.  You and I are alive because people have obsessed about our welfare. Obsession is very very important to human safety, as any obsessive Health and Safety officer will tell you.

Disorder? So when was ‘order’ such a good thing?  And who decides what that ‘order’ might be? Public ‘disorder’ has produced massive sociological changes to bring us freedom down the ages.What about the person who is so obsessive about getting the highest grades in their exams or determined to get an Olympic Gold that they willingly sacrifice their emotional health? Or maybe it is their parents and motivational coach who are obsessive, compelled and… disordered?

Perhaps we need to ask the question, ‘Who decides?’ Please don’t leave that to your GP or psychiatrists – they are some of the most compulsively and obsessively ‘ordered’ people in the world! And don’t leave it to writers, artists and others practising the creative arts. They seem to be the ones who, some would say, are obsessively and compulsively ‘disordered’.

Maybe we are using those negative-sounding words to describe someone whose world has a different focus to our own, and who we are inconvenienced by, or somehow their differentness offends our sense of what ‘order’ is, or should be?

Maybe in our obsessively prescriptive, authoritarian world where compulsion comes in the form of a soldier with a gun, and where conformity is the way to acceptance and non-conformity the way to prison, we could make a case for more disorder, not less? Just maybe the ones with the disorder are those so obsessed with their own standardised version of ‘order’ that they are compelled, by their own fear of a society out of their control, to suppress, bully, section, incarcerate, treat, drug, mock, and otherwise dis-empower those they don’t understand.

Such people, given the power, may obsessively and compulsively attempt to force their environment, perhaps even the climate, to shrink from any semblance of disorder.

OCD appears in all sorts of different guises, doesn’t it?

Enjoy this blog? Please spread the word :)