Communication, Confusion & Irish-isms

The author, a fellow blow-in, and I have often discussed the challenges of understanding and being understood – even though before my arrival from America and his from England via Israel – we’d thought of English as our first language.

Lest you think we exaggerate – I refer you to this “So You’ve Got an Irish Passport Because of Brexit…” article

IRISH-ISMS

Many Irish people share a powerful belief that they are the world’s best communicators. While foreign visitors are encouraged to kiss the legendary Blarney Stone in Blarney Castle if they wish to become more eloquent, the Irish are reputed to have a natural way with words and a natural gift of the gab.

But do they?

As a veteran 20-year blow-in, I have noticed a distinct gap between what many Irish people say, what they really mean, and what the listener interprets.

For example,

  • if you are told that you are “brutally efficient,” you are not being given a compliment. It is being intimated to you that your efficiency is putting others to shame.
  • if you are told that you are very decisive, do not be tempted into believing that you have just been complimented. You are being told that you are too pushy.
  • if you are told in a meeting that you should feel free to ask further questions, be careful. The real message is that you shouldn’t ask any annoying or embarrassing questions.
  • if someone giving a presentation asks for honest feedback, your honest opinion is the last thing they want to hear. All they are asking is for you to go easy on them. And
  • if someone describes your presentation as “desperate,” it does not mean that the presenter was in despair. It means that the presenter was rubbish.
  • Be careful when someone tells you “I am a little disappointed.” What they mean is that they are mightily disappointed.

You have to learn to interpret what might sound like encouraging feedback.

“I’m interested in your idea,” “Could you please expand on your idea?” and “The jury is still out on this” all indicate that the other person thinks that your idea is rubbish.

When someone says to you, “I didn’t understand”, don’t make the mistake of believing that they did not understand. You are being told categorically that you don’t understand.

You might be tempted to interpret “Don’t get ahead of yourself” as advice to slow down. In truth, you are being told not to be such a big-head.

If someone is being described as “bold”, the intention is not to praise that person’s bravery. It is to indicate that the person is brazen and cheeky.

And do not be confused when someone asks you, “What’s the story?” or “Anything strange?” All they are asking is “How’s things?

If you are told that something is grand, do not expect anything large to appear. It’s the Irish way of saying that “everything is fine”.

And do not expect a technician to come around to check your gas meter when you hear that someone is a “gas man”. It simply means he is funny.

“Oh, stop!” is not, as it sounds, a request to stop talking or to stop what you are doing. It simple means “Don’t go there”.

If a person is described as thick, it is not their physical girth but their (lack of) mental faculties that are being described.

And if you hear someone being described as giving out, do not wait around to receive a free lunch or a free anything else. It means that the person likes to complain.

A person who is described as being on the pig’s back is not participating in a strange race, and a person sucking diesel is not really indulging in this dangerous pastime. Both expressions mean that a person is doing very well.

My examples so far involve possible misunderstandings and misinterpretations.

But there are also plenty of Irish-isms where the visitor has no inkling of what the other person is saying.

It is quite a stretch of the imagination to realise that an eejit is an idiot, that the jacks means the bathroom, that banjaxed means ruined and that ‘a cute hoor‘ is ‘a chancer‘ or someone Americans would say was “unqualified” or “pushing his luck

My favourite impenetrable Irishism has to do with compliments.

Most people in Ireland do not know how to take a compliment. It makes them uncomfortable. Often the body language that follow is to actually push it away.

If you compliment a woman on the dress she is wearing, the stock response you are likely to receive is, “I got it at Penny’s.”

Instead of simply saying thank you.

The wearer will ward off the compliment by claiming that the garment was purchased at discount clothes retailer Penny’s.

What follows is comical – if not sad: A newcomer to Ireland, and to English – anxious to sound like the locals, was told that her hair looked nice. She answered, proudly primping the new do and responded: “Penny’s”.

In addition to authoring business books and articles- Yanky is available for training – for both corporates and individuals new to Ireland in both our nuanced language and our comfort and facility with “Constructive Ambiguity”.

Yanky Fachler is a copywriter, author, corporate trainer. He has written literally millions of words for his clients, thousands of blog posts, ads and articles. He has authored and ghost written dozens of books; 200 business book reviews, speeches, articles and newsletters. His way with words also extends to the spoken word: he has made dozens of appearances on TV and radio; he gives motivational talks and keynote speeches; he delivers communications skills training; and he has given over 100 history talks. Yanky’s speaking engagements outside Ireland have taken him to the USA, UK, Poland, Canada, Israel and the Czech Republic. Yanky brings oodles of imagination and his own brand of infectious enthusiasm to everything he does.




Dear Daddy…

I miss you. And Happy Father’s Day.

I miss your sense of humour, your wisdom and the very un-Irish, Talmudic way you drove home your messages, with questions.

And yet, even selfishly, I’m not inclined to “wish you were here”. The world you imagined has not yet materialised.

How lovely it would have been had your story neatly concluded as did Judy Collins’ My Father story in her song.

Remember telling my 5, 6 & 7 year old self all about the natural world? All about Five Acres and Independence?

You’ll be pleased to know it’s still in print. Good thing too – because while it was meant to teach subsistence living to a post-depression generation – there are a few generations coming who will likely need it.

More on the economics of that why, another time.

Recently, I found a musty old copy of “The Silent Spring” which looks a lot like this one here.

Though a funny thing happened as I re-read it. I heard your voice. Not while reading Rachael Carson’s words – but in remembering all your asides. You know – the ones where you imagined that I’d live in a house with a rainwater cistern built into the plumbing or irrigating the garden. Where the sun and wind would contribute to my energy usage. And where I’d be using grey water from the dishwasher and washer to flush the toilets.

Sadly though, not yet. And likely not even in my lifetime.

Do you remember telling me that the oil embargo in ’73 was a good thing? We were going to drive smaller cars, rely less on fossil fuel and run cars on electricity. Electric cars took another 40 years and they’ve still not caught on. Cars only stayed small until we forgot. Less than a decade on.

We recycle now, as you said we would. Though not universally. Landfills overflow, and the oceans are full of plastic. A dead whale was found in Thailand with 17 lbs of plastic in its gut. Even fresh water streams are polluted with micro beads of plastic from the synthetic clothes we wash.

And while the bald eagle is back, I’m afraid the last male Northern White Rhino died this year. Few seem to notice that we’re losing about 150 plant, insect, bird and mammal species every day.

I remembered another lesson recently, on encyclicals, labour and social justice.

I was six.

How much did you think I could understand? Did you know we wouldn’t have enough years to talk about these things when I was grown? Or was it just the heady, optimistic times in which we lived.

I can still hear your belly laugh when I came home from First Grade with the campaign rhyme –

Kennedy in the White House talking on the phone, Nixon in the dog house chewing on a bone.

And then he won. An upstart Catholic in the White House! You were sure that meant there would be attention paid to social justice. Sure wasn’t that why the “Power Elite” fought so hard against “the papist”?

And it was John XXIII’s time. I can still here the passion and faith with which you explained why you’d been an organiser, why labour unions were so important and how it had been the words of Pious XIII’s Rerem Novarum which inspired all that in you. You explained it all in my Communion year. You wanted me to understand the significance of a that year’s Papal Directive on Christianity and Social Progress.

For what it’s worth – the only part that really sunk into my young brain was the point you made about my uncles, your brothers. They were steel workers. You said they worked harder at back breaking work, than you did at a desk. You could do your job to 65 or 70 or beyond – but their bodies wouldn’t last to pension age. That was why a balance between labour and capital – as well as respect for the difference in an earned vs. an unearned dollar – was important.

How did you know that I’d remember enough?

Is that why you went on at great length about social justice, job provision and social safety nets? By then I was 10, 11 and 12. I loved the long drives and the stories you told during our Sunday visits – touring through the reservoirs, parks and forests built by the CCC workers. I remember well your stories that their lives in those camps, bleak though it was, offered the only homes and work available.

I remember all the buildings we visited – most artfully embellished with friezes and sculptures owed to the New Deal’s WPA architects. Pragmatism born of desperate times, enhanced by a respect for the creative.

Often I recall your awe for the power of what the public and private sector could accomplish in the sheer depth and breadth of the infrastructure projects, iconic skyscrapers and the monuments you’d point out in our drives around New York City, upstate New York and New England.

I live in Ireland now.

We visit and I giggle most Saturdays mornings in all but July and August. It’s then that I bring in wood and peat for the stoves. It makes me recall your beleaguered expression and shaking head when you described life in Ireland on return from Grandpa’s funeral here. You always began with – “Kiss the American ground you were born on…” followed by vivid and unattractive descriptions of the third world country Ireland was then.

With each filled basket, I can conjure the look. Your loving eyes are firmly fixed on me from over the top of your glasses. I hear you exclaim, “You silly witch, did your grandfather not see to it that we were born in a world of boilers and indoor plumbing?”

And so he did.

But clearly there was a circle in need of closing.

I returned a century after he left. Nearly 50 years after he died. I wasn’t actually aiming for ‘his Ireland’, though I find myself stuck in it. As penance for some as yet undetermined failing, I work at telling your stories, sharing your wisdom and hoping that as America has abandoned it’s promise, moving forward, Ireland can adopt it.

The call to ‘my Ireland’ came after years on an annual course. The week long events were set in Sligo, Cavan, Antrim, Donegal, Down and Mayo studying Jung and archetypal psychology.  Here I met Bridget, Grace and Maeve – in a place where feminine characters and the land dominate in myth. That divine feminine is what called me and where my hope for this place resides.

Here I experience the ancient and natural worlds as you shared them. Living close to the land demands a respect for riotous springs, abundant harvests and the work of just showing up for the hard labour in between.

It invites us to celebrate the seasons.

I closed a circle with that as well. I am at home with an agrarian, eight season calendar. I felt it while rearing your granddaughters in a faith tied to festivals like Imbolc and Lughnasa known to them as Tu Bishvat and Sukkot.

And I live in medial space.

Literally. On the border of Ulster – just beyond the Pale. And not far from Mary Gale Earley’s home place. Her journey informs so much of my understanding here. From Ireland to America, Protestant to Catholic, who could have imagined that a quote from John Henry Newmans faith journey printed on her memorial card, would serve as insight into my struggle to understand this land of them-uns and us-uns?

And figuratively. I live as you did. Devout in your faith, and excommunicated nonetheless. Neither in nor out of Rome’s good graces. I too, live as the other – an American neither Catholic nor Protestant neither in or out of communion with my neighbours.

And always, I carry with me your good humoured observation that –

We’ll get there, by degrees. The way an Irishman goes to heaven.

And while ‘we’ll’ not get where you thought we were going in my lifetime, I’ve every confidence that your granddaughters will move the world in the direction of your dreams.

They made those very same road trips, they heard you marvelling at those miracles of social and economic progress albeit through my voice, and learned the optimism and sense of possibility that your “Greatest Generation” brought to the world. And I’m reminding them here.

I offer every 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 and 12 year old too much information, enthusiastically – knowing that something will come of it. Even if it takes a generation or two.

And because, it’s been 38 of these June Sundays without you – I’m reminded of another song from the sixties, Who knows where the time goes?

So for now –

Good-night; ensured release,
Imperishable peace,
Have these for yours,
While sea abides, and land,
And earth’s foundations stand,
And heaven endures.

When earth’s foundations flee,
Nor sky nor land nor sea
At all is found,
Content you, let them burn:
It is not your concern;
Sleep on, sleep sound.

Reciting Parta Quies comforts me.

And makes me smile remembering another look over the top of your glasses, with a beleaguered expression and shaking head. All while lamenting over your lot to have had a daughter who favoured the work of Houseman over Yeats, Joyce and countless other Irish poets.

He was, in your words, “That drunken, gay, Brit”.

Sleep on, Daddy, sleep sound.




“Where will you be five years from today?”

The question is posed by author and creativity consultant, Dan ZadraHis book has the look and feel of a child’s book, which leaves us open, available and curious.

This book celebrates the “want to’s”, the “choose to’s” and the “I can’t wait to’s” in your life”. Whether you’re just finishing school, starting a new venture, celebrating a milestone or envisioning your retirement, you are the hero of this story.

It’s less a work-book than a play-book.

Random list-making exercises invite us to explore what we value.

“Live your life on purpose” is a call to action – and we’re encouraged to write a personal mission statement.

It’s a book of motivation and inspiration. This isn’t a to-do list – it’s a road map.  And a training manual.

“You are the hero of this story”

…and you’re thinking – “Who me? There’s not a heroic bone in my body!”

So, let’s make “hero” a bit less intimidating.

First, throw off the superhero images. Just showing up and being available is Job #1.

Accepting the challenge to live life more purposefully, to imagine a new future and to lay the foundation for a new life stage – is what we in the storytelling business call – “The Hero’s Journey”.

It was described by Joseph Campbell, author of The Power of Myth.

Myths give external explanations and stories for internal strifes. Slaying monsters is slaying the dark things inside of you. If you’re telling yourself “oh no! I couldn’t do that! I couldn’t be a writer!” that’s the dragon inside of you, and you have to slay it.

Simply stated – our heroic journey begins with saving ourselves.

And then:

“Strong people stand up for themselves. Stronger people stand up for others”  Chris Gardner

And #DontGoItAlone – get in touch if you think I can help.

Not familiar with Joseph Campbell’s work?

Hollywood film development director, Christopher Vogler summarises it brilliantly.

 

Here’s what we know about heroes, they-

  • are usually reluctant
  • are often resistant
  • will have to face down fear
  • will survive, wiser for the experience

 

 




The Eighth…if you’re on the fence please consider this

The Eighth Amendment to the Irish Constitution was added in 1983.

The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right.

In a ludicrous adjustment to reflect reality, a provision was passed in 1992

Since the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment (Travel), the right to travel for an abortion has had constitutional protection.

Hence only women of means have a right to choose. On 25 May 18 we’ll be asked to change this.

I won’t ask why you’re on the fence. I respect your right to an anti-choice view. I do not, however, consider you pro-life. Because you see, I am for choice and pro-life.  I steadfastly believe that every child should be a wanted child, welcomed into this world by one or two loving parents who can and will provide a safe and nurturing environment.

I respect and will protect your right to believe life begins at conception. I would never support legislation to force you to use contraception or to terminate a pregnancy.

I’d ask you to consider only the compassion in which my passion is grounded.

I’m passionate about this because I, among millions of others, grew up with an unfortunate message:

I’d have been better off if you’d never been born

as I heard it – or in the versions of the message countless others heard:

I curse the day I met your mother/father…

If abortion had been legal…

What becomes of these children who “should never have been born”?

Some of us make it. After decades’ long journeys of hopelessness, depression, addiction and despair.

Many don’t. It is to them that I dedicate my efforts to see that the 8th Amendment is repealed.

The anti-choice people will tell you that they are the disabled who will be aborted. And yet, disability groups in Ireland have asked them to stop using their children as an excuse. Most disabilities won’t be identified by 12 weeks. Please work on legislation to protect the disabled children of your concern. I will support your efforts.

I will tell you there are many more otherwise able-bodied children born, whose lives and potential were undermined by being unwanted, unaffordable or simply born to parents who were too young.

I’ve met many.

Those in addiction treatment centres and 12 Step rooms where substance abuse is little more than numbing the pain of being unloved. Never having experienced that unmitigated love of parents – many addicts believe themselves to be unloveable and unworthy of life. Carers and partners may try, but that earliest rejection is not easily overcome.

Those who gave up and finally completed suicide attempts. Consider the expression – the light at the end of the tunnel. The experience in a cocoon of utter and complete parental care – is the first ‘light’ humans experience at the end of the tunnel that is birth.  Unwanted, unloved newborns instinctively can’t trust that there ever will be a ‘light’ at the end of any tunnel.

To the very young offenders I have met, born to very young parents.A few will have turned their lives around. Many will not. Sixty percent of their children can be expected to offend. That’s a lot of knock-on pain for families and communities.

I am grateful to the many who were born unwanted, wounded or not, and who have enriched my life in my experience of having known them.  I a defer to the words of John’s Hopkins University Professor of Psychiatry and author Kay Redfield Jamison. In an interview about her book on her own experience of manic depressive illness  An Unquiet Mind, A Memoir of Moods and Madness,  she shared and I paraphrase from memory, that

while there were times in my life that I was suicidal, I never ‘wished I’d never been born’

I share her sentiment, on my own and my brother’s behalf. I loved him and he enriched my life. And yes we were wounded by my mother’s sentiment, regularly.

Our experience went on to inform my choice in 1972 when, availing of the change in New York State’s abortion law, I terminated an unplanned pregnancy. Absent the law, I’d have sought an illegal abortion as did many of my older friends, one of whom died.

I chose, not without regret, not without prayer, but with the conviction that I would never bring a child into the world who would not be the ‘light of the world’ he or she was entering.

Nearly half a century later I pray for that lost soul and celebrate the lives of the three well-enough loved, well provided for and entirely wanted, planned and celebrated children I went on to rear.

Let God judge me. Let women in crisis choose and let their higher power judge them.

And let us all remember:

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 

Matthew 5:7

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




Nothing changes until we do!

In a recent LinkedIn article, Ready for a Change? – I made the case for choosing change. On one level it’s selfish – I work with people and small businesses when they’re ready for a change.

On another level it’s in service to those clients, neighbours and friends who require change in their wider worlds. More on that later.

Navigating change, personally, professionally or systemically, requires safe spaces.

So whether that involves creating a safe space personally – by throwing off old habits, distancing yourself from the crazy-makers in your life or quieting your undermining self-talk (all three?) – the work begins when we make up our minds that the pain of changing outweighs the pain of staying stuck.

Or more eloquently – as pictured, it’s time to blossom.

Change in our work lives is no different, although creating this safe place is somewhat more fraught. It requires us to bring equal parts of self-confidence and humility to the process.

Unsafe at work may look like

  • the boss is mad
  • the workplace is intimidating
  • I’m a payday away from disaster

Let’s accept that every situation is “out of our control” and all we can control is our reaction to it.

What if we agree that-

  • the boss is mad! We might ask ourselves: Am I bringing my best self to each encounter? Am I consciously or unconsciously pushing his/her buttons? Have I even asked what they might be?
  • the workplace is intimidating! Does my demeanour (fear, lack of confidence, reticence) inadvertently contribute to the dynamic? What changes in my response might change my experience of it?
  •  am a payday away from disaster! How can I manage money more mindfully, get out of debt and expand my options?

What’s going on here is a kind of archeology. Or as it’s called in 12 step rooms – taking a searching and fearless inventory. We’re not judging or chastising, we’re observing our patterns. Not for anyone else’s purposes – just our own.

Because-

  • Every insight is power
  • Every repaired or rejected relationship emboldens us
  • Every safe place we create empowers us

Empowers us personally, professionally and should we choose to widen that sphere of influence – civically.

Back to what I meant by service.

Typically my clients (and often I) am stressed by failures in systems meant to support.

  • Caregivers waste time, energy and resources navigating the social service and health care delivery systems. Should it require a whole day off to take you ageing mother or child to the doctor, or for a scan? Should you have to go on a day that suits the health service or on an appointment day of your choosing?
  • Healthcare professionals are faced with uprooting themselves and their families while retraining or emigrating because working conditions have become too stressful, chaotic and in many cases dangerous.
  • Financial institutions insistent that they “owe no duty of care” to their clients – exacerbate homeowners attempts to renegotiate indebtedness – causing unimaginable pressures on families.
  • A culture of silence renders workplaces and schools inherently unsafe. Our default to, “sure you can’t change that”, “it’s always been that way” – allows for bullying, sexual harassment and exploitation.

Collectively more confident, we would be willing to speak out against systemic ills – without worrying about being labelled bold or cheeky.

Choose change, find your voice and take care to create safe spaces for yourself. Ask for help if you need to – just don’t go it alone!

Finding our voices simply means we willing to tell the truth. For more on what that would look like, I’ve profiled some ordinary citizen-activists doing just that in a blog post On Echoing Irish Voices Congruent with Irish Values.

The systemic abuses I was addressing were unique to the Republic of Ireland. The call to action is equally relevant to my Northern Irish, British and American colleagues where we face different, but equally concerning failures of leadership and governance.

Change is hard, #DontGoItAlone.

If supportive peer groups, workshops to help you gain clarity or one-to-one coaching would would help – learn more.

 




A Collage, A Vision Board & Action…

“It works if you work it”

Simple, tried and true – it’s an adage heard often in 12 Step fellowships.

So what is a “Vision Board”? It’s a tool for creating authentic outcomes in our own, ideal life. And yes, they work.

This Huffington Post article got my attention in early 2015: “The Reason Vision Boards Work and How to Make One“.

The term “Vision Board” was new to me. Somehow I’d missed the years of evangelising by Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres, and other celebrities – and I was skeptical.

Yet, I knew they worked, I’d actually been doing them for years.

It Works…

Twenty five years ago, I discovered the book and 12 week The Artist’s Way program.

This was long before ‘vision boards’ existed.

There was a “collage” assigned during Week 7, and it opened the door to a career change and more lucrative work; five years later a second collage inspired a major shift personally. Fifteen years ago, another collage catalysed a move from America to Ireland. 

Twice yearly now, I usher Artist’s Way groups through the process of making their own – and often, I join them.

Updating the images provides an insight into the effectiveness of your efforts. It’s like the infernal voice emanating from a GPS after a wrong turn: “Recalculating“. It’s a call to action. Re-route and get focused on the path of your own choosing.

Clarity about and a focus on your destination, keeps the chaos, distractions and busy-ness of life at bay.

From Seeing is Believing: the power of visualisation:

There’s ample science to support the fact that “Mental practice can get you closer to where you want to be in life, and it can prepare you for success!”

If you work it…

Doing a collage or a vision board just didn’t seem like work, so I was skeptical.

And thankfully it’s not! But occasionally, we need reminding: work isn’t all it’s cracked up to be!

Work is our linear, thinking, logical brain, in action. And our logical brain is our “censor”. In the “Basic Tools” of The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron advises: “Logic brain was and is our survival brain. It works on known principles. Anything unknown is perceived as wrong and possibly dangerous…the brain we usually listen to, especially when we are telling ourselves to be sensible.”

Creativity resides in our “Artist Brain”. It’s our inventor, it’s childlike curious and apt to take chances – collecting images, being present to possibilities while silencing the “censor” is what’s unleashed while we’re creating the boards.

To quote Stephan Spencer’s article –  Vision Boards, Because New Year’s Resolutions Were So Last Year

“Vision boards help make all of the jumbled, abstract feelings in your head into a foreseeable future. If you’re skeptical about making a vision board yourself, ask what you really have to lose by trying it. Not really much. But perhaps it makes you more in tune to the repercussions of your choices and how they align with getting what you want.”

Images are powerful. This photo taken by Riley Robinson  during a 2005 course we attended in Ireland became my screen saver . Three years later I was living in that very village.

Action

Aligning our intention with our values, staying tuned in to the repercussions of our choices, and focus, is what ultimately determines whether we can sustain the changes we “think” we want to make. Let’s get back to that Logical Brain and the Artist Brain. Creating the vision, imagining what is unknown – requires turning off the logical brain and tuning in to the associative and freewheeling nature of our ‘Artist Brain’.

Keep the vision board up – and return to it’s message frequently, because –

“It’s like selling our own ideas to ourselves.”*

Now you have to close the sale. And I advocate doing that with support.

To that end I’ll be delivering a series of Vision Board Workshops. in 2018. They’ll provide a full day immersive experience during which you can achieve clarity in the company of like minded people. Groups challenge each other. On the day, you’ll find you dig deeper and are supported. Later, should you find your enthusiasm is waning, your peers are there to reflect back the best of what they’ve heard you commit to.

A goal is a dream with a deadline- let’s get dreaming!

The next workshop is on Saturday, 23. June 2018. Interested in laying a foundation for your best future? Click the link or leave your details to the right.

*Lucinda Cross




Embracing Uncertainty, the space in-between

OptimistAdjustSailsNavigating the space in between what was, what is, and what will be, can be daunting.

Yet, in those days, weeks, months or years, we conceive and create our future.

“Choose to live in the present moment” is fine advice. Living mindfully, embracing self-care and a sense of prosperity requires skill building and support. But where to begin?

Might I suggest that we take a lesson from the business world. Just for a moment, let’s not think in terms of a therapeutic or spiritual journey. Consider it a “personal change-management” program.

“The Quest for Resilience” (Hamel & Välikangas), got my attention a few years back. Originally published in the Harvard Business Review (2003), the paragraph headed, “Zero Trauma” was captivating. This followed:

“The quest for resilience can’t start with an inventory of best practices. Today’s best practices are manifestly inadequate. Instead, it must begin with an aspiration: zero trauma. The goal is a strategy that is forever morphing, forever conforming itself to emerging opportunities and incipient trends. The goal is an organization that is constantly making its future rather than defending its past… In a truly resilient organization, there is plenty of excitement, but there is no trauma.”

Now try re-reading it. Substitute “individual” for “organization”.

The human condition is unlikely to allow for “no trauma”, but when one frames this process as the “avoidance of pain”, we’re returned to the discipline of living one day at a time, mindfully and to its fullest.

The article continues:

“Sound impossible? A few decades ago, many would have laughed at the notion of “zero defects.” If you were driving a Ford Pinto or a Chevy Vega, or making those sorry automobiles, the very term would have sounded absurd. But today we live in a world where Six Sigma, 3.4 defects per million, is widely viewed as an achievable goal. So why shouldn’t we commit ourselves to zero trauma?” 

6sigmaPyramidAnd in the business world  the SixSigma process is the gold standard.

What would a “Personal Six Sigma” process look like? Pretty much the same.

Existing interventions and methodologies such as 12-Step Programs, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and self-help programs all employ similar methods.

Which makes a powerful case for skill building in support of well being. Particularly when taken out of the realm of pathology and treatment, while delivered as fitness training and education. To begin –

Define the problem

Consciously or unconsciously we have all adopted rituals and habits in our daily lives that either support or undermine well being.

  • Perhaps there isn’t a problem that is easily named, just a sense of wanting more, a feeling that we’re not “firing on all pistons”.
  • Perhaps we are struggling with a weight problem, issues around drink, gambling or drugs.
  • Perhaps we are in transitional relationship, work or academic situation or a life stage.

Measure

As you map your current processes, ask yourself:

How are you sleeping?

How stressful is everyday life?

Are you living within your means?

Are you satisfied with your career?

Are you passionate about your work or your hobbies?

When was the last time you found yourself “the zone” – entirely immersed in an experience?

Analyse

Choose to identify the cause of the problem. Don’t go it alone!No problem can be solved from the same consciousness that created it. copy

Ask for help. Join a group, find a coach, a trainer, a therapist or consult your GP – because analysis requires perspective.

Going it alone means you’re working with an often undermining ‘committee in your head‘ .  It repeats and reinforces your doubts and your negative self-talk.

To quote the linked article:

“Like any healthy organizational board, you should consider a term limit and invite new members to the committee.”

Asking for help is not about diagnosing a problem. It is simply about defining and isolating causes and effects.

Begin by asking yourself: What pain am I self-medicating when I’m over (or under) eating, sleeping, exercising, drinking, drugging, spending, etc.?

Improve

Implement and verify the solution in a supportive environment. One process at a time. This does not involve grandiose schemes or major life changes.  Isolate a single sentiment – “I’m miserable, I’m going to quit my job, leave my marriage, or move or whatever”.

Then isolate a small, simple, discrete change. It will make a difference. Choose one – or suggest another.

            • I’ll take to my bed at 9pm with a good book, leave the phone and tablet in the next room and get more rest.
            • I’ll reduce my caffeine, alcohol, drug, and or sugar intake.
            • I’ll monitor, chart or list my eating, drinking, gambling or spending.
            • I’ll keep a mood chart and note my periods of irritability, exhaustion, high energy, sadness or lethargy.
            • I’ll walk for 20 minutes three times a week.

Control

If an intervention or changed behaviour works, map it out, monitor it, make it a habit, and embrace a new ritual.
1

Then start again. You’re training for resilience.

Nothing succeeds like success with each incremental change you’ll be energised.

That’s it, simple but not easy, and achievable.

If Personal Change Management seems like a good approach, get in touch.

Introductory sessions, six and twelve week groups are forming to help you navigate the process.




Personal Change Management; the tools

A post entitled, Embracing Uncertainty, suggested an alternative description of the practices often recommended to support resilience.

It has become clear that the language helping professionals use, is often one of the most significant obstacles to supporting significant life and career change.

So, if you’ve embraced mindfulness, a daily meditation practice or have already found your way into a supportive recovery community – this post is not for you.

If you’ve explored mindfulness, worked with a trainer, have made multiple attempts to adopted a healthier and more balanced lifestyle, yet find it is difficult or impossible to maintain – this post is for you.

If you’re struggling with periods of malaise, outright depression, anxiety or physical symptoms which might be stress related, or if you have a sense that your work/home life could be better – this post is for you.

And if you’re living well, but have a niggling feeling that something is missing – keep reading. It can’t hurt.

Personal Change Management

Change management has been formally studied and implemented in business and industry for over half a century. In the early days it was characterised by a top-down exercise in defining goals and strategies; in recent decades the focus has moved toward ‘stakeholder-driven’ change.

This shift is important to note. Industry has determined that sustainable change and innovation follows bottom-up management by individuals, team leaders and ‘change champions’.

Boss yelling imageOur personal top-down change management system appears to need updating as well. New Year’s Resolutions are a great example:

  • I’m going on a diet
  • I’m looking for a new job
  • I’m training for a marathon

Good in theory, but arguably top-down. There’s a ring of “the boss says I should” to it.

Personal Change Champion

What would bottom-up personal goal setting look like? How different would it be when you, the ‘stakeholder’, is in charge?

  • Would you decide to diet, or would ask yourself what pain you are medicating by overeating or not exercising?
    Ask
    : What feelings are you shovelling down or numbing with sugar, carbs, drink or drugs?
  • Should you get a new job, or could you confront the stressors at this one?
    Ask: Are you bored? Is it the right field for you? Do you ask for what you need? Do you bring your best self to the workplace – or simply punch a clock?
  • Planning to train for your first or fifth marathon?
    Ask: Are you doing it to benefit from the exercise, discipline and camaraderie – or are you running away from something or for the sense of accomplishment? “Accomplishing” seems more like work than self-care.

Setting achievable goals and ultimately moving from knowing what you don’t want to what you do want, begins with more than a few tough questions.

It requires us to fine tune or re-calibrate our ‘receivers’.  Specific obstacles that have undermined us in the past, become apparent when we learn to listen in a whole new way.

Fine Tuning Receivers

Bandwidth. It’s a perfect metaphor for our attention span and focus. It’s not limitless. Which station are you tuned into? Favourite programme on 88.5? you can hear it on 88.6 or 88.4 – but through some static. In re-calibrating our receivers, it’s the static we’re out to eliminate; the noise characterised by that judging voice and negative self-talk that reinforces the message: why bother?

step.staircaseThe Method

Take one small action every day on your own behalf. The tools outlined below are designed to be adopted into your daily life and routine.

The process is fundamentally the same as the  “DMAIC” model used for Change Management in industry – Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve and Control.

If you’re in “I’ll do it myself” mode, we’re inviting you to embrace one small change at a time!

The Tools

These are modified slightly from their source for introductory purposes, links to the original work follow.

Morning Pages

The best case I can make for adopting this practice is laid out in journalist Oliver Burkeman’s 2014 Guardian article.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised at how powerful Morning Pages proved, from day one, at calming anxieties, producing insights and resolving dilemmas. After all, the psychological benefits of externalising thoughts via journalling are well-established. And that bleary-eyed morning time has been shown to be associated with more creative thinking: with the brain’s inhibitory processes still weak, “A-ha!” moments come more readily.

Julia Cameron, who devised the practice, calls it “meditation for Westerners”. Absent our habit of embracing stillness or silence, three pages written in those early moments of wakefulness between dreams and consciousness, we can achieve the same effect. In her words –

“They are a trail that we follow into our own interior…”

After nearly two decades of doing them, I can attest that the days I write them go far better than the days I do not.

Simply put they are three hand written pages of whatever comes to mind – think of it as a stream of un-consciousness. Some mornings they flow, other mornings they look like a petty list of gripes, a to-do list for the day or a silly unreadable scrawl. They are meant to be private and not shared. They are rarely even re-read.

There is no wrong way to do them. Put your inner critic to the side, take pen to paper and focus on the fact that “done is better than perfect”. Perhaps you can consider them “mourning pages” –

“…a farewell to life as you knew it, and an introduction to life as it’s going to be”

Still skeptical? For more in the author’s own words you can listen to a brief description on her site .

It may just be simpler to try it!

Walking

Introduced in Cameron’s subsequent books, with this tool, she reminds us that

“…walking is a time-honoured spiritual tradition. Native Americans walk on vision quests, Aborigines go on walkabouts…Walking brings a welcome sense of connection…optimism and ….a sense of health and well-being.”

Make it a point to take a walk of at least 20 minutes, twice a week.

“Walking is a luxury, an escape from our frantic pace. When we walk, we experience the richness of the world”.

Time Out

Relax. It’s doable – it’s only five minutes!

Once in the morning and once at night – sit quietly for five minutes. Check in with yourself. It’s an opportunity “for self-appraisal and self-approval”.

Set a timer, make an appointment, silence your inner critic and listen. Simply ask yourself, “How am I feeling and why?”

Play DateCoasteeringPlay

Yes, I know Cameron calls it an “Artist Date“, but it is the single most resisted tool, usually while clients are emphatically insisting they are not “artists”. We’re taking liberty in describing it, as even Cameron calls it “assigned play”.

And to make the case for calling it a “Play Date”, consider this:

“What you begin to see when there’s major play deprivation in an otherwise competent adult is that they’re not much fun to be around,” he says. “You begin to see that the perseverance and joy in work is lessened and that life is much more laborious.”

That from Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the U.S. based National Institute for Play.

Once a week, imagine “what sounds like fun?” – then allow yourself some time alone to try it. Focus on the word “date”.
Cameron’s genius is never subtle – she is inviting you to “woo” yourself into doing something fun.

“Artist Dates fire up the imagination. They spark whimsy. They encourage play.”

And they need not be adventurous – a hour or two at a gallery, take in a film or a play, head off to an antique show, gaming convention or go berry picking. Just a few hours away, on our own and without a phone or technology is good for re-charging.

Techniques

The process is simple, but not necessarily easy. So choose one of the tools above and try it. If it serves you well, make a habit of it and add another. If you are struggling with one, add a different one and come back to it. And don’t go it alone!

The method, tools and techniques described are outlined in a series of books on creativity, resilience, perseverance, writing, abundance, money and starting over. Published over the last 3 decades and grounded in Julia Cameron’s own recovery, the techniques have evolved over the years, been embraced by millions worldwide and reflect much of the mindfulness based interventions for emotional well being.

You can find all of them from her first, The Artist’s Way to her most recent It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again online and in most bookshops.

Her intention was that small groups would come together into “creative clusters” and work through one chapter a week for 12 weeks at a time. There is information available on forming a cluster, joining a facilitated group, or individual coaching here.

For inspiration you can follow the hashtags #morningpages #artistdate on Twitter.

Thank you to our friends at CoasteeringNI and Firewalking Ireland for challenging us to play and push outside our comfort zone.




Mother’s Day, Martin & Me

“If you want to understand any woman you must first ask about her mother and listen carefully. Stories about food show a strong connection. Wistful silences demonstrate unfinished business. The more a daughter knows the details of her mother’s life – without flinching or whining – the stronger the daughter.” Anita Diamont

Mothering, all parenting – is not a benign undertaking. We give as good as we got. Well mothered children grow up to be parents who can offer the same. For less well-mothered children, even in spite of our best efforts, our woundedness becomes inter-generational, having rendered us less than perfect parents.

English paediatrician and psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott addressed this in outlining the concept of good enough mother. He was writing 50+ years ago, so it’s fair to read ‘mother’ as ‘parent’.

Dr Jennifer Kunst describes Winnicott’s ‘good enough mother’ as:

… sincerely preoccupied with being a mother. She pays attention to her baby. She provides a holding environment. She offers both physical and emotional care. She provides security. When she fails, she tries again. She weathers painful feelings. She makes sacrifices. Winnicott’s good enough mother is not so much a goddess; she is a gardener. She tends her baby with love, patience, effort, and care.

And in a TED Talk, Why good leaders make you feel safe, the author Simon Sinek compares good leaders to good parents.

“The closest analogy I can give to what a great leader is, is like being a parent…What makes a great parent? We want to give our child opportunities, education, discipline them when necessary, all so that they can grow up and achieve more than we could for ourselves.

Great leaders want exactly the same thing. They want to provide their people opportunities, education and discipline when necessary, build their self confidence, give them the opportunity to try and fail, all so that they can achieve more than we could ever imagine for ourselves.”

I’d like to pitch the idea of “good enough leadership”.

This week’s coverage of death of Martin McGuinness – Northern Ireland’s former Deputy First Minister, IRA Commander, and one of the main architects of the Good Friday Agreement – reminded me of the Diamont quote.

Praised by many who knew and empathised with the details of his life, vilified by others – his legacy was and will be debated for decades. I’m choosing to see it her way:

“The more a [people] know the details of [a leader’s] life – without flinching or whining – the stronger the [people].”

Those who saw him as a great leader, experienced great leadership and benefited. Those who saw him as a good enough leader, also benefited.

And I’d like to believe that the impact of “good enough parenting” and “good enough leadership” is not what it says about us – but rather how it may benefit the next generation.

Because even those who have vilified him – having suffered horribly as a result of his paramilitary leadership, are now experiencing the benefit of a generation of Northern Irish Nationalists reared to be unwilling to take up arms.

Rationalisation? Perhaps – but on this Mothering Sunday, 2017, I’d like to believe that ‘good enough’ really is good enough because for all our missteps, we shared a commitment to providing:

… opportunities, education, discipline… when necessary, all so that they can grow up and achieve more than we could for ourselves.




On depression as a necessary winter before the spring…

suicide placardImagine if we, as a culture, could embrace depression. Imagine that in any life cycle there are, as in nature, seasons. Depression does not always have to be viewed as pathology.

The industrial age introduced clocks, the digital age upped 9-5 to 24/7.

We are not meant to operate outside of the natural order of things. Riotous springs are followed by productive summers. In fall, as energy wanes we’re motivated to prepare for winter and muster the energy to get things done. In winter we accept that little grows, days are short and if we give over to the darkness and rest, we’ll recharge.

I’ve learned from the creative people around me, as well as my own experience, that a depression is a terrible thing to waste. We will emerge from them. When we do, we can allow for the riotously creative personal spring that follows. It will be there when were ready to embrace life again.

To every season there is a time and a purpose.

Accept the winters. And please keep faith, your personal spring will follow.

 

Courtesy GardeningAtTheEdge.wordpress.com

Courtesy GardeningAtTheEdge.wordpress.com

See also: The Rose, Bette Middler’s timeless hit.

“Just remember in the winter, far beneath the bitter snows,
lies the seed that with the sun’s love in the Spring becomes the rose.”

Reframe your understanding of it. Imagine it as a love song for yourself.

Seasonal Affective Disorder” (SAD), is also predictable and seasonal, but the above reflection is on the experience of major depression.