“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.” – Albert Einstein

scienceOver the years it has become apparent to me that for many people on a journey of personal development or spiritual path, the subject of science often doesn’t sit very well. It is as if taking a scientific approach to living in the world somehow devalues the ‘art’ of living and finding true fulfillment.

Perhaps this is due to the association of skepticism that science carries with it. When we position it in that light it seems pretty obvious that we don’t want to put our most treasured beliefs and values under a skeptical scientific microscope. I’ve yet to meet anyone who enjoys having their beliefs and behaviours scrutinised with the soul intention of being proved wrong.

I have found in my work, though, that personal development and science have always been able to share a bed quite happily together. This is because (to me anyway) the real purpose of science is not to pick an argument with what we hold to be true, but rather to seek more truth; to keep investigating and experimenting with different approaches in order to discover the true nature of how things work out best for us. This can be applied on multiple levels:

Thought – “I have discovered that when I frame my thinking in this particular way as opposed to other ways I seem to feel happier and more creative, even though my circumstances remain the same.”

Action – “When I do it this new way rather than that old way I seem to get better, quicker results and experience less conflict or resistance.”

Others – “When I interact with other people using this approach rather than that approach they tend to agree with me more and we enjoy a stronger depth of rapport.”

That’s the essence of science!! It is realising that the world and everything in it responds in exactly the right way according to the uniqueness of whatever triggered that response.

If I walk into a well lit room, find the dimmer switch and turn it to the left, the room is likely to go dark. Now, I could get upset by that and blame my luck or convince myself that the world is a cruel and unfriendly place, or I could realise that, due to the nature of electricity and electrical resistor devices, that my action could only ever have led to darkness. If I want the room to be brighter I’d have to experiment by turning the switch the other way. When I get a better result I can take the new learning and ensure that my experience reminds me to do it that way again in the future.

Obviously, that is a ridiculously simplistic example, but principle remains exactly the same when applied to more meaningful and complex aspects of life; how we get things done, how we relate to others and how we treat ourselves. What we see unfolding around us is, for the most part, only a response to what we have specifically done, said or thought. But unlike in the dimmer switch example, where we know it was the action that was misaligned to the desired result, in life we tend not attribute our negative experiences to the specific ways that we went about triggering those effects in the world.

If we consistently find ourselves having the same kinds of conflicts with others it is usually more palatable for us to blame them for being so unreasonable or neurotic!! But all the conflict is alluding to is that the way we have been interacting with them up until now doesn’t create the effect we want. In the same way as we don’t have to know everything about electricity in order to turn a light on, we equally don’t have to understand everything that is going through some else’s head in order to tweak our approach to see if that changes their response.

There is an old Hawaiian saying that I originally heard from Michael Neill. It goes:

“you can have anything you want in life, but you have to pay… attention”

This is probably the best advice you could ever adopt. Contrary to what we like to believe we don’t get to choose how the world works. All we can do is be curious as to what naturally occurs within the law of cause and effect as we shift thoughts and behaviour. If what we’re doing isn’t causing the effect want, that’s great news. It means we don’t have to do it that way again! And because we are not in control of the way the world (or the Universe, or nature) works, then that means we don’t have to beat ourselves up about getting it wrong. When all is said and done, you are simply conducting one big experiment in Life’s great science lab.

Some may think that is too much of a cavalier attitude, but it is actually a pretty healthy way of looking at things. Regardless of your personal values or spiritual beliefs, being willing to pay attention to what happens in the world in relation to what you think, say or do, and to keep trying out new approaches (even if you don’t fully understand why things haven’t worked out the way you hoped) means you are only ever getting closer to what you really want. Doing the same things over and over whilst expecting a different result is like trying to push a square peg through a round whole (and it will drive you mad!!)


HOMEWORK


Think about what is going on in your life right now and pick an area where you have not been experiencing the kind of outcomes you want. That may be to do with your goals, your relationships, your finances, your health, your work…

Now think about what you have been thinking, saying or doing repeatedly despite the fact that the same result keeps cropping up time and again.

Next, grab a piece of paper and write down at least 5 other ways you could look at, speak about, or respond to that same situation that you haven’t considered before. If you need inspiration, contemplate how your most trusted advisers might do it differently.

Now, here’s the fun part. Pick one of those new ideas and go out there and play with it. Remember, you’re not looking for this to be the answer to all your problems, you’re just experimenting with cause and effect. As and when you do it in that new way take a step back and, with a genuine curiosity, pay close attention to how the world (or other people) responds differently than before. Be patient.

If that new way still doesn’t get you what you want, move onto another idea from your list and give that one a go. Keep experimenting, adapting and tweaking, but most importantly, keep going!


Take great care. Namaste. 

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“Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go.” – E. L. Doctorow

writingI have written and spoken many times about strategies for creating authentic happiness, and the recurring theme has always been “Happiness is not something you can pursue; it is who you are”. Experiencing the kind of lasting happiness that can maximise your overall satisfaction with life is less about accumulating and more about acknowledging and allowing; to make a genuine connection with that quiet part of you that has always been OK regardless of your circumstances and the stories you tell yourself about what is going on (or not going on as the case may be).

As happiness expert Dr. Robert Holden would put it, “To be truly happy is to finally end the search”.

There are many ways to access your natural wellbeing that are far more effective than trying to ignore your problems and convince yourself you are happy, “No, really… I AM happy”. One of the most powerful and rewarding techniques is to practice writing about specific positive aspects of your life in a way that pushes the pleasure buttons in your brain.

Now, I doubt that I am the first personal development bod to harp on at you about the benefits of putting your thoughts onto paper, but here I’m not so much referring to writing in order to clarify your goals or to keep track of your progress and development. I’m not even talking about writing to help you make sense of things. I’m talking about writing for writing’s sake; to take advantage of the profoundly different psychological effect that writing has on your neurology as compared with speaking or daydreaming.

Humans are designed to be happy. It has been hardwired into our make up to return to a natural state of wellbeing when we are not experiencing stress. The issue for many, though, is that stressful thoughts linger on in the imagination long after any real stressful event has passed (and often on events that either didn’t or won’t take place at all). This causes the natural path back to wellbeing to get a bit clogged up. What we need is a way of cutting through the debris.

Extensive research by Positive Psychologists shows that giving people exercises to do that require them to focus on particular positive aspects of their life consistently increases their happiness over the long term. It has been shown to be even more potent when participants are asked to engage in written activities. The act of writing about happiness related topics causes the brain to make deeper, more meaningful connections that not only improve your mood in the moment, but that ensures the happy effect sticks around long after your conscious attention has been directed elsewhere.

I explain the difference as being, when we speak (either out loud or to ourselves) we are simply narrating our thoughts. When we stop speaking, those thoughts dissolve like chalk being wiped off a blackboard. When we write, however, we have to go on a deeper search in order to bring the meaning to life within a well constructed sentence. We are essentially stirring up the river bed of our knowledge and experience, on which the unconscious continues to ponder long after the writing has ended. After all it takes a while for a river bed to settle down.

There are a set of common ingredients for happiness that we are all naturally programmed to enjoy, and when we focus on each of them we cannot help but feel an elevated level of wellbeing. These ingredients include:

– The experience of experiencing gratitude
– Remembering happy times from the past
– Fantasising about a great future
– Acknowledging the importance of others in our lives
– Reviewing our recent successes

Regularly setting aside little windows of time to write about these areas gives your mind a wonderful opportunity to steer itself in an upwardly happy direction. Literally spending 5 minutes a day on one of these topics, and alternating the topics you write about, not only keeps your spirits lifted but, according to the research results, is highly likely to make your more successful too. To me this makes a lot of sense. Being happy brings with it a sense of openness to new possibilities, heightened creativity and a natural desire to keep going. Happiness leads to success far more often than success leads to happiness (are you bored of me saying that yet? :o)


HOMEWORK


I’ve stolen this exercise from Professor Richard Wiseman (author of “:59 Seconds – Think a little, change a lot”). It is called ‘The Perfect Diary’. I think its brilliance lies in its simplicity. There is no excuse not to find 5 minutes a day to do this! It covers many of those compelling happiness ingredients and encourages your mind to think more broadly about how you derive deep pleasure from your life:

Unlike a conventional diary or journal, ‘The Perfect Diary’ is designed to simply direct, capture and enhance your happiness thoughts in a different way each day over a five day period (you can have the weekend off for good behaviour!) The purpose is not to try to come up with a right answer or to sensor what you write. Just spend a few minutes freely writing from the heart and then get on with the rest of your day, leaving your unconscious to devour the learning. Repeat again the following week:

Monday: Thanksgiving – Write about a least three things you are truly thankful for in your life. They could be absolutely anything: family / friends, health, food, education, work, nature, etc…. Be sure to cover why you are so grateful for them.

Tuesday: Terrific Times – Cast your mind back over your life and write about one of your happiest memories. You might start of with big events, but as the weeks unfold you could equally write about less official occasions when you just had a really great time. What was it about this time that was so happy?

Wednesday: Future Fantastic – Spend a few moments writing about how you would love your life to be in the future. What has gone really well? How have you grown as a person? What are you doing? Who are you with? It doesn’t matter whether you think this can be achieved, the purpose is to put a smile on your face right now (it’s up to your unconscious mind to look for ways to bridge the gap)!

Thursday: “Dear…….” – Pick someone in your life who is really important to you and then spend some time writing them a little note to express your love and appreciation for them. What is it that you value about them? What kind of a difference do they make to your life? You don’t have to actually give the letter to the person; the idea is for you to linger on that ‘feel good’ aspect of your life.

Friday: Haven’t you done well!! – Think back over the last week and write down as many things as you can that went well for you. It doesn’t matter how big or small, could be anything from a promotion to a simple compliment; from winning a competition to find a parking space.

I encourage you to keep this up for at least a month so that you can experience for yourself how a just little written focus in the right direction can make your world a very happy place indeed. Happy writing!


Take great care. Namaste.

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“The world is what you think it is.” – Serge Kahili King

cinemaHumour me for a moment and just imagine that you’re in a cinema. Everything around you is dark apart from the screen that’s showing the latest blockbuster suspense thriller. You’re sat there wide-eyed, holding a piece of popcorn in front of your open mouth as if it’s frozen in time. It’s just getting to the really juicy bit – the girl is being followed, but by who? And what will be her fate when they catch her? She trips! The chilling music gets faster and louder; the camera zooms right in on the action. You hold your breath; your heart beats faster; you push back into your seat; the anticipation is almost too much to bear…..

And then all of a sudden, for no apparent reason, the music changes to the Benny Hill theme tune! The colour gets really bright and vivid, and the film speeds up to double time so that the characters start to move in a kind of comical fashion. Now, as you look up at that screen, no matter how hard you try, it’s impossible to continue the feeling of fear or anxiety about what is unfolding in front of you. It just seems ridiculous.

I’ve used this kind of cinematic example many times before with my clients and workshop attendees, because it’s a perfect metaphor for understanding how our experience of life is created purely through the projection of our thoughts. Now, replace the movie of the girl being followed with that other movie of how everyone will laugh at you if you fail. Or how about the one where you know you’d be rubbish at a particular task so it’s not worth even attempting it? Or the one about your boss firing you; or the one about how someone might somehow expose you as being a fraud; or how your parents never take you seriously; or what ever movie you like to run on a regular basis.

Notice how compelling and realistic you make it, and as you replay the scene over and over, pay attention to how you begin to feel in response.

But it’s just a movie; a thought.

If you knew that you were the Director of that movie what direction would you want to take it to make it more enjoyable to watch? Horror movies are great for entertainment, but when they are about your own life, that’s another story. Wouldn’t you rather be watching a ‘feel good’ classic?

One of the best explanations I’ve discovered for simplifying the whole subject of how our thoughts create our realities comes from the success coach, Michael Neill. He describes that there are three vital ingredients that must exist in order for us create a life-like experience of the world around us. They are Energy, Consciousness and Thought.

To understand the part that these three elements play let’s go back to that cinema, only this time I’ll meet you up in the projection booth. This is where the magic happens.

 

Consciousness is like the projector itself. It sheds lights onto whatever happens to be in front of it at the time, in this case a reel of film, and the result is the image that you see on the screen. It only ever shines the right amount of light to illuminate the area of that screen with everything remaining in darkness. To put it another way, if it’s not lit up, it’s unconscious.

Of course, nothing could be projected if the projector is not plugged in because it needs electricity. You provide the energy to your consciousness by simply being alive. Some would regard this energy as being your life-force, your essence, your soul or your spirit. You’re plugged in!!

Thought is the reel of film itself. We each have thousands of thoughts every day, most of which glide by harmlessly in the background of our awareness, but some make it to the front of the projector. They get illuminated and magnified larger than life onto that big screen, complete with panoramic and Technicolor qualities and dramatic score and sound effects. Before long you are gripped by the emotional impact of the compelling plot, this is real on-the-edge-of-your-seat kind of stuff.

 

But here’s the thing. What if you don’t like the movie? It’s no good going up to the screen and trying to get it to change from there. No amount of shouting at the characters or being frustrated with the storyline is going to alter the ending; that has already been decided. The world doesn’t care what thoughts you project out onto it, in the same way that a screen doesn’t care what images is cast onto it.

The only way to swap this movie for a better one – say a comedy or a romance or one where the good guy always wins – is to realise that that up there in the projection booth is a library of film to suit any taste. All you need to do is go up there, select the one you’d like to watch and put it in front of your projector.

When you own the cinema, you get to choose the movie, and the quality of the movie you choose determines the quality of your life. So wouldn’t it be a good idea to start getting really picky about what you want to watch?


Homework:


Be a film critic this week. Plan to check-in with yourself at least a couple of times a day and review the kind of movies you are running in your head. Are they ones you’d pay good money to see, or would they win ‘Worst Picture’ at The Raspberry Awards. If they are more “boo-hiss” than “bravo”, change them for better ones. It’s that simple!

You might want to take it a step further and decide to play the leading part in the most wonderful adaptation of your life.

Namaste.

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“I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.” – Jimmy Dean

fingers crossedWhen I was a kid I would imagine that I could make things happen just by thinking about them. For example, if my best friend was coming over to play I’d look out for him from my bedroom window and try to control the exact moment he would come cycling around the corner into my road (I was an odd child!). I would close my eyes, count to ten and then open them again, expecting to see him arriving right on cue. I was never very good at it though!

What interests me about that childhood memory is that it follows a very similar pattern to how many of us still operate as adults. Not that that we consciously go around believing that we are controlling the external world with our thoughts, but that we do place firm expectations on how things are supposed to turn out and by when. When we are clear about what we want to have happen in the future we often rely on optimism as a way of assuring ourselves that everything will turn out just right.

I believe optimism is a vital quality to have, but there are different ways of doing it. Generally speaking there are two strategies for being optimistic, each of which leads to a very different kind of experience:

1 – HOPEFUL PREDICTIONS

This is the strategy that most people learn to adopt early on. It is partly based on the belief that Positive Thinking is the key factor that influences the outcome of a desire. It is also based on the belief that what seems reasonable to one person must also seem reasonable to another and therefore the intended result should be pretty much guaranteed. E.g. “It seems reasonable to me that I have worked in this company long enough to be included in the next round of promotions, so I don’t see that my boss will overlook me this time.”

‘Hopeful predictions’ involve us imagining desirable future scenarios and then placing our demands on how and when we expect them to manifest. This is all well and good if our predictions are based on sound probabilities, but when it is more of a finger in the air job we are often just setting ourselves up for a fall.

* I’m optimistic I’ll have been promoted within 6 months
* I’m optimistic I will win this year’s X Factor
* The sun will come out tomorrow
* This time next year I’ll be a millionaire
* I’ll be well again by Summer

Of course, when our ‘hopeful predictions’ actually do come true (by luck or otherwise) we naturally congratulate ourselves for staying positive and not letting obstacles get in the way. However, when they don’t, we get frustrated and feel hard done by. That is why it is common to hear people say things like “I’ve tried to be optimistic, but it just doesn’t work!”

The problem isn’t that Positive Thinking as a way of being optimistic isn’t effective. The problem is in thinking that the Universe should be working to our schedule! The law of cause and effect is the most reliable enabler of results, but when it comes to making optimism work for us rather than against us we must lose our obsession with timeframes!

 

2 – FAITH BASED OPTIMISM

Using faith as a basis for optimism is really about trusting the natural law of cause and effect. We all know that given the right conditions a flower will grow and bloom in its own good time. We don’t need to give it a deadline.

If the ‘effect’ is a beautiful flower opening up, the ‘cause’ must have been someone planting a seed in fertile soil and making sure it had the right amount of sunlight and water to encourage growth. We can always be optimistic that a flower will result because it is the nature of flowers to flourish under such conditions. What we can’t always guarantee is the precise moment the petals will burst open from the bud, but that’s ok – we can be patient ;o)

This is how faith based optimism works best for us. Rather than making hopeful predictions that circumstance will just swing in our favour, we need to understand the conditions that are most likely to cause the effect we want. As we go about providing those conditions we can have genuine faith that we are doing exactly what is needed for our seed to flourish. We cannot guarantee the exact moment it will bloom, but we can have faith that it will.

Faith based optimism can also mean not insisting on a specific goal having to be met, in order to free up some space and creativity to satisfy the fundamental desires that were driving that goal in the first place. For example, rather than pinning all her hopes on being promoted within 6 months, Sally may need to recognise that what is really important to her (besides money!) is the principle of being recognised and rewarded for adding real value to her employer by doing work that is challenging and meaningful. The key is then for her to ask “What kind of conditions do I need to create for myself in order to make that kind of outcome inevitable?” If she is then willing to drop her expectations of the specific deadline, her optimism can continually reassure her she is on the right track.

 

Here is another example of how to turn a ‘hopeful prediction’ into ‘faith based optimism’:

Hopeful Prediction:

“I am optimistic I’ll meet the girl / boy of my dreams and be married within 3 years. I’ll then have someone who can give me the life I want.”

What is the REAL underlying desire?:

“To enjoy companionship with someone who compliments my personality and who is open to giving and receiving affection within a loving relationship. I am quite an adventurous person and it would be great to share my life with someone who also sees life as a bit of an adventure… Oh, and kids would be nice too!!”

Conditions for Faith Based Optimism:

“I know that when I take full responsibility for nurturing my own wellbeing and happiness I am naturally more attractive to others. When I am happy in myself I tend to do the things that bring fun and adventure to my life, which causes me to express authentic joy in a way that reflects who I really am. If I am expressing my true happy self whilst doing fun and adventurous things, I’m likely to meet lots of other fun and adventurous people, of which one may well turn out to be… THE ONE.”


HOMEWORK


Pick an area of your life that you would love to be genuinely optimistic about.

Rather than being specific in exactly what needs to happen and when, take a step back and investigate the deeper, more general desire that wants to be satisfied.

Ask yourself, “If the kind of result I am looking for were a seed, what conditions would I need to provide to allow it to flourish?”

Then with patience, faith and love continue to do what you know to do give that seed every chance of life.


Take great care. Namaste.

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When it comes to being optimistic about the future it is important to know that there are different ways of going about it. In this episode Paul talks about the two strategies we tend to use, and how each can lead to very different kinds of experience.

“The significant problems we face cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them.” – Albert Einstein

u turnHave you ever noticed how much easier it is to spot something that’s wrong as opposed to everything else that is working well? I’m sure we can all think of people in our lives who have a special gift for shining a light on just about every broken thing there is to notice in the world :o)

But before we all hastily jump onto the ‘we must think positively’ wagon, it is worth knowing that it is actually a hard wired part of our mental functioning to filter our experiences by what might need to be fixed or improved. The underlying intention is not so much about being negative as it is about being efficient. Can you imagine how exhausting it would be for us to remain in a constant state of awareness of everything that doesn’t need our attention?!?!

Rather than trying to override this inbuilt talent for problem spotting, how about if we were to creatively utilise it as a catalyst for improving our circumstances instead.

A great exercise to demonstrate how this can be accomplished is the ‘Reversal Technique’, borrowed from Edward De Bono (the “Godfather of Lateral Thinking”). I first used this when delivering leadership training in the business world, but I’ve also found that it works brilliantly when applied to other general areas of life too.

The idea is to identify something in life that could really benefit from some improving. As an example, let’s say it is the relationship with a significant other.

The traditional approach would be to start off with the obvious question:


“What can I do to improve this relationship?”


While you are likely to come up with some answers, the chances are they will be few in number and not particularly ground breaking. After all, if it were that easy you would probably be doing all that stuff anyway!

A more creative way of getting the juices flowing would be to turn it around, and ask:


“What would I need to do really mess up this relationship?”


Almost immediately you’ll notice how quickly answers start flowing to you. Examples:


* Completely ignore them
* Spend all the money without consulting them
* Go AWOL for days at a time without telling them
* Constantly insult them or make them feel small
* Do all the things you know will annoy them
* Take no interest in their hobbies / passions


In order to make this fun (and more useful) include as many outlandish possibilities as you can think off. Resist censoring yourself; just let your imagination run riot. Examples:

* Make up embarrassing stories about them and post them on the internet
* Invite the entire England Rugby squad to move in for a month
* Donate all their prize possessions to charity
* Pretend you don’t even know them
* Encase yourself in a huge hamster ball so they can’t come anywhere near you


Now, if we left it there it would be a pretty rubbish exercise!! So here is where the reversing comes into it.

Go back to each of your answers in turn and determine what the complete opposite would be. Don’t just go for the obvious literal opposite; ask yourself what would be a truly wonderful way of ensuring this would never happen?

So if the answer you are reversing is ‘completely ignore them’, it won’t be particularly enlightening to just say ‘don’t ignore them’!! Instead you might decide on ‘ensure that I set aside at least half an hour every day to listen to them deeply and to really understand what is going on for them right now’.

Likewise, if the answer to be reversed is ‘make up embarrassing stories about them and post them on the internet’, a nice reversal might be ‘make a point of dropping it into public conversation that you are very proud of something they have done, or just how much you appreciate them.’

By all means don’t limit yourself to just one reversal per ‘problem’ answer; keep going and going until you are brimming with genius ideas for catapulting the both of you into relationship heaven ;o)

The point of doing it this way around is that it engages the part of your brain that will inevitably uncover many more realistic strategies for making improvements than had your original question been “So… erm… how can I make this work better?”


HOMEWORK


Identify any area of life, big or small, that you would like to improve (Suggested areas: finances, family, friends, skills, knowledge, processes, career, happiness / wellbeing, spirituality…)

Grab yourself a piece of paper and a pen and write out all the creative and ridiculous ways you can think of to completely mess up that area of your life. Remember, this time is for you to just get everything out, and not to prematurely try and find the solutions.

Then, when you’ve exhausted your brainstorming juices, reverse each of your problem answers to identify ‘World Class’ ways of taking action towards your desired outcomes.

Have fun and let me know how you get on.


Take great care. Namaste. 

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