coaching

IT AINT WHAT YOU DO, IT'S THE WAY THAT YOU DO IT

I went to an event yesterday. The Big House Expo, arranged - naturally enough - by The Big House, who are responsible for supporting Nottingham entrepreneurs and businesses operating in and around the creative and digital sectors to think and act differently about how they do what they do. And they’ve done a fine job, juggling their resources and contacts to deliver a programme of workshops, seminars, coaching and mentoring that’s benefitted a whole range of people.

Yesterday was an opportunity to meet a wonderfully diverse group who have in common a desire to do more of what they do. I learned lots speaking with a Palestinian woman about the work she’s doing to make UK universities more welcoming to overseas students. Chatted to an artist whose love of bold colours has led to painters travelling from other parts of the country to attend her workshops. Swapped stories with Phil Hughes, whose no-bull approach to marketing is producing some great work. Caught up with Lucy Brouwer, who as well as doing her brilliant Watson Fothergill tour is planning other Nottingham walks. Checked in with Lamar Francois, whose brilliant photography documented a festival in Mansfield where I’ve been been going in recent weeks to support a group of young people creating social media content and - more importantly - working in teams to deadlines with whatever resources are at hand. Listened to someone describe with relish how she’s found renewed zest in geeky creativity and pungent jokes. Heard doer-of-all-things-media Rachael van Oudheusden deliver the talk she said she’d never do, and (no surprise) make it funny and real. Talked to a savvy producer and filmmaker with heaps of experience who’ve set up a production company I really like the look of. I could go on. You get the idea.

The Big House for me has also been an opportunity to work as a coach with some brilliant people at different stages of their journey - from leaving the security of full time work and putting the hours in to creating what could be a new way of life, to taking a business forward that’s been getting quite a bit of attention and needs more focus for its founders. Every story is different, because each of us is different. How we get where we are is unique, and it’s a privilege to listen to people share what’s led them to the point where they’ve sought support. What they have in common, is the recognition that however well they’re doing now, there’s an extent to which the future requires some kind of transition. Course corrections often start inside, if they’re going to have the desired effect on the outer world.

Billing myself as an escape consultant yesterday allowed for some great conversations about that issue. Expectation is a prison that we all spend time in at various points. Sometimes getting out is as simple as understanding the implications of the language you use to describe what’s going on, or at any rate what you believe to be the case. Other times, it’s more useful to abandon words and rational structures and connect with what your body tells you. For every way in, there’s a way out, and some of the ones I’ve come up with - always a response to the individual and situation - are pretty way out. What matters is that they work. An impromptu chat yesterday led to someone I’d never met before realising they were capable of something they’d considered impossible until that moment. Other conversations were more about eating crisps and swapping jokes. Get in touch, and we’ll see where it goes.

THE WOOD NOT THE TREES

I met a friend yesterday, who was listening to jazz in his car. Though the instant I said it I realised I was wrong, I identified the trumpeter as Miles Davis. A safe bet, given he and Louis Armstrong are the world’s most well known jazz trumpeters and the song didn’t have that New Orleans feel. Neither was it Miles, whose tone is often melancholy - this was friendly, extrovert. A pause would have led to me accept that I didn’t know the mystery player - but could say who it wasn’t.

Rush for certainty is a classic example of premature closure. We identify what seems to be a gap, and plug it with whatever at hand seems to fit. It’s a smart move at one level - we’re wired for survival and picking up on hazard helps us do that. We start to perceive something in our field of vision within around 50 to 75 milliseconds. In that time, an awareness of colour and boundaries and distance forms. By 200 milliseconds we’ve shifted from perception to recognition. That particular combination of textures, movement, and sounds is a dog – one you may like if it reminds you of a pet, or fear if you were bitten by one of the same breed.

All very well, but that process means we’re wired for picking up sameness and can miss vital differences. Once a label’s in place, we’ve got no incentive to change it. Dogs aren’t the only things we can have prejudices about. If we’re lucky, someone will point it out and we can update our concepts - or get angry with them. Otherwise, it’s like the guy rocking a defiant mullet long after they’ve been even ironically fashionable - something that helps define who we are, that not only others mistake for us but so do we.

As with bad hair, so with beliefs.

A bit of uncertainty helps shake things up. There’s an interesting paradox in all this. Robert Anton Wilson noted “imposition of order equals escalation of chaos”. One classic example is the groundnut scandal in the country we now know as Tanzania - on maps at the time the area was marked Tanganyika. It was an attempt in the 1940s to develop the local economy, instigated by a senior Unilever manager who believed peanuts could produce vegetable oil. What followed was an escapade costing many millions of pounds as tens of thousands of British soldiers and engineers turned up with tractors, most of which never even made it to the intended site. Undeterred, men and money continued to pour into the region. The few nuts grown were flooded away, and the British finally went home leaving behind them land needing a long time to recover thanks to their antics.

If only they’d thought to pay attention to their surroundings, and listen to the locals.

Something similar happens when a professional of whatever sort attempts to attach a pre-fabricated solution in the erroneous belief this is another instance of something they’ve seen before. It won’t be. Even if there are many things the previous and current situation have in common, focusing on those will blind you to their differences. And it’s in difference that the particular tells its truth, if only we can pay attention.

Shaking up patterns can be really helpful. And there are many implicit in what happens between people when one is paid to support the other, as in sessions that get names like coaching or therapy. Quite often such interactions happen in an office or over a coffee. For quite a while now, I find more interesting results emerge from a walk. Around town can be fine, but city settings are by definition blaring with logos and other markers defining ownership of space.

Get out into greener areas, and something else starts to happen. Walk in places where physical demarcations are unclear, and personal boundaries too can take on different forms. The physicality of what’s happening is also beneficial - people walking at a pace with a rhythm in an area maybe neither has been before has a different quality than ‘person with intention’ and ‘person with solution’.

We might not be able to label what’s happening to us and around us, but that doesn’t make it bad. The badness is often our felt response to an inability to create such a label. Relax into that distinction like a dog rolling in leaves. Somewhere in your experience you’ll have a reference for what it’s like as perception slides from the unknown to the known. It’s a state worth accessing again. Novelty helps, and one way to encourage our resistance to difference is to make the experience of discovering it something fun.

Feelings work much like perceptions. They arise, followed by whatever linguistic tags go with those emotions: fear, anger, disgust, etc. As neuroscientist Rick Hanson notes “The brain is Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones.” We skew to the negative because survival requires that we respond, even though much of the unpleasantness we are made aware of at this point in history is fake news. Worse yet, people know that and want more of it, not least because they’re sick of being lied to by experts who won that status by being better at schooling geared largely for rewarding obedience.

Advertisers clamour for our attention, lying about why we should invest the survival tokens we work for in them and not rivals. What truly does matter is the consequences of such acquisition and competition based thinking on a global scale, but so successful have political classes and the branded world been at installing their priorities we’re more concerned about mortgages and holidays and student loans than what’s happening to the planet we share and people we’re invited to hate. And yet - there are glimpses of hope. Younger people intolerant of the intolerance of the older generation. Technologies that can help heal the environment. A surge of interest in alternative ways of thinking and doing, old and new.

It’s a lot to take on, and many prefer not to. Yet, simple choices can make a real difference. Time in the woods can reduce stress, depression, and blood pressure. Children playing among trees increase cognitive skills, manual dexterity, and ability to assess risks. I’m willing to bet that’s because they’re dealing with things as they are, rather than referring to a mental template. The branded world fools you there’s such a thing as consistency and reliability: see logo, feel good, spend money, get stuff. Rinse and repeat. Nature makes no such pretence. Instead it presents pattern, and there’s a big difference between responding to those and mass producing illusory solutions.

All of that loops us back to Wilson and his observation that chaos arises from imposing order. Between the two there’s a space where each possibility can be perceived. In that space is paradox. As Durrenmatt noted, exposing yourself to paradox exposes you to reality - because it’s in those moments beyond language we start to get some sense how much of reality we have a hand in creating.

That realisation will fade, but while it exists the possibility of change can be glimpsed and acted on. If you’d like someone to go on that journey with, to find and hold that space, get in touch. I regularly work with entrepreneurs and artists, coaches and counsellors, mothers and managers, to support them in escaping constraints that limit their awareness and ability to achieve results. Let’s plan your jailbreak together.

HOW I LEARNED BAD CORPORATE ART IS A GOOD WARNING SIGN, EVEN IF THE ALIENS AREN'T REALLY INVOLVED

Woven into much of the material written on and around personal development, and implicit in what goes on in many coaching sessions and workshops, is that humans are more or less rational. Goal setting is the epitome of that worldview - get yourself an ambition, break it down into manageable steps, and launch yourself at it. The intensity of your commitment will see you through. 

I'm not so sure. People are multi-faceted. There are aspects of us we don't know very well, and would prefer didn't exist. Getting all whooped up and motivated about achieving a dream doesn't stop that being the case, though for a while it might be you can kid yourself that what matters is the loudest voice in your head rather than the soft chorus at the back.

I had a couple of stays in mental hospitals, in 2004 and 2006. The experiences were vile beyond belief, and I'm incredibly grateful for what ultimately came out of them in subsequent years. There were particular themes running through my psychoses which for a long time I couldn't make sense of. I identified with King Arthur at one point, and had a sense of Britishness that was surprising, and seemed to connect with deep historical currents. And in that Arthurian mode, I was concerned with how my country was under alien influence, easily identified by the kind of banal corporate abstract art that's bought by the metre and hangs in lobbies. 

The pinnacle of this fantasy involved me wandering through a hotel in central London. I was in the belly of the beast, and strode my way from floor to floor looking for the extra-terrestrials who had infiltrated Albion. Instead, I found the roof of the building, and pissed on it as I looked across the skyline to express my contempt for the interlopers. Heading back down to ground level I was wrestled to the ground by about half a dozen members of staff and bundled into the back of a police van. 

Prior to all this I'd been immersed in projects that I'd set outcomes for, broken down into achievable chunks, and I was making good progress. I'd written my first script for a BBC show, impressed the most powerful producer in British film with my work, and was picking up a reasonable amount of freelance copywriting jobs. 

Why I crashed and burned was for a tangle of reasons that hadn't been touched on in my personal development journey. Fast tracking myself through a range of NLP trainings had been an amazing experience that catalysed my ability to get things done, but there was deeper and stranger stuff lurking within. In the mash-up, it was me that got mashed. And it's taken years to make sense of that, during which I've become a fundamentally happier and more fulfilled person.

A good percentage of that NLP experience remains something of real value to me, not that percentages is an adequate way of thinking about it. And those learnings now exist within a wider context. All of that stomping about a hotel with shitty art on the walls looking for bad guy ETs turns out to have been a metaphor complete with minibar facilities, and a supporting cast of cops and waiters. It was about me understanding in some fundamental way who I am, and what I'm not. The King Arthur bit is admittedly grandiose, but the idea of a man standing up for values older than the era he lives in registers. And that's where the crappy corporate art is perfect, symbolising the kind of crass culture I have no desire to work in or contribute to. 

There's more too, about my growing sense of connection with nature, and how spending time in unspoilt places reinforces what's important in my life, and helps me make better choices about what I do, and who I do it with. I've also benefitted immeasurably from bodywork, counselling, and meditation, all of which have helped thread together unconnected strands of the person I'm becoming. Making stuff happen matters, sure. I'm doing more of that, about things that matter more. Intuition and heart guide me increasingly, and they lead me to forest walks and poetry, beach days collecting stones and watching waves, and happy times with friends and lovers. Psychotic episodes were an extreme form of escapology to help me get out of a life heading in the wrong direction, even though it was what I thought I wanted and had set goals to achieve. 

In turn, that growing sense of what I'm about has affected my approach to coaching. If you're after someone who'll get you hurtling towards whatever you think success is, odds are I'm not the person you need to speak to. If instead you've experienced some of that success and discovered that life hasn't somehow become fantastic as a result, or that something you can't account for seems to keep success at bay despite doing what the books and videos say, then you know where to find me.

 

 

WHAT'S IN YOUR ESCAPE KIT?

I had an insight yesterday, a new way of looking at what it is I do. From the inside, I've always known that my activities as a writer who does work as a coach and trainer are connected. Part of that, I knew, was to do with creativity and language. Now though I see the potential those domains have as providing tools for liberation. Another way to say that is to acknowledge, whatever it is we're doing, we're constrained by what we believe our situation to be. As much freedom as our current condition gives us, sooner or later its limitations will become apparent, and at that point an escape kit is needed. And, there are a lot of occasions when life will get better quicker if you consult someone like me, with a knack for the kind of lock-picking needed to escape what Blake called our 'mind forg'd manacles'.

I worked with an artist once. She usually painted with whatever colours interested her. But for a while she'd just been painting in shades of blue. The work she was producing was great, but she wanted restored access to the full rainbow. As she talked about her experience, she touched her left arm, and that led me to ask how she saw her painting process work. She envisaged a pot of blue paint towards her elbow, which travelled through tubes into her hand to guide what she did with a brush. It made sense to her, and that's what matters. We all have interesting ways of coding our experience, and that was one of hers. I suggested that further up her arm, towards her shoulder, was a dial connected to a pipe that fed paint to her pot. And the dial could be set to whatever colour she wanted. Next day, she was painting with the whole spectrum as she had been before.

To help someone escape, you have to respect how they're boxed in. Telling the artist that she needed to just toughen up and splash other paints about wouldn't have acknowledged whatever internal conditions had led where she was at this point. I didn't need to know what those conditions were, but it made sense that if something in her came up with that solution, it would be wise to honour the wisdom of that choice.

There are ways to learn about how you function and using their logic is helpful if only because whatever within you came up with that logic clearly likes it, which makes it an elegant way to game the system. Naturally, I am my own guinea pig for these explorations. One time I saw someone I recognised but didn't know where from. I realised in attempting to figure that out I wanted to associate him with a place, so mentally inserted him in a variety of settings where I might know him based on how he was dressed. In each case I got a 'no' feeling in my gut.  Then I figured that 'how he was dressed' was itself a constraint. He was in a pretty snappy outfit at that point, so I imagined him in another outfit - straight away my mind produced an image of him in a white lab coat. Of course - it's the dude who works in the pharmacy I go to!

Those are two small examples of escapology - the artist from her blue period, me from my inability to recognise someone. I have bigger and more dramatic examples of this kind of approach. But it'd be easier then to be impressed by the content of the story and not pay attention to the details of how - as in these instances - a person's means of conceiving who they are and how they do what they do necessarily provides the clues needed to escape whatever limitations that model has built in.

Much of what I do in coaching and training is support people to consider the way they function in a new light. With that insight it's possible to transform those defaults we have into ones that offer us more scope to be who we'd like to be. That's where it overlaps with my writing - stories are often about how people go through a process of transformation of whatever sort and scale. In time, that new way of being will itself reveal limitations, and so on, and that's fine - there's always another Russian doll waiting to incorporate a bigger sense of our capabilities and possibilities.

 

 

 

 

THE PROBLEM WITH LIVING YOUR DREAM IS YOU'D BE SLEEPWALKING

I realised something was up for sure the second time I managed to upset a friend with some misplaced snark. Same had happened with someone else who matters in my life the previous day. Drive-by shootings like that aren't my usual style.

Unsettled, I continued the day paying more attention to how I was feeling and what was going on with my internal chatter. In the evening, I passed a homeless guy. He was in my field of view, and got caught up in whatever churning ugliness was happening with me at that moment.  And I realised that wasn't good enough. 

There wasn't even a quid in the coins I handed him, but they were all I had. And I gave him half of the cookies I'd just bought to snack on. It wasn't about him being homeless, particularly. More that it wasn't fair I'd caught him up in whatever nonsense was going on within me. Something enabled me to see that happening as it happened. And that meant an opportunity to do something else. Immediately I felt lighter, and realised I was happy again - or at any rate content, and not spraying those I came across with the day's detritus.

The intent, by the way, isn't to approach the world in a stupor of positivity. But at least give it a fair chance, rather than draping it with the day's cognitive gunge courtesy of the latest political upsets, social media chatter, and reheated moods.

There's no shortage of ways to deal with this kind of stuff. I've explored plenty, got results from time to time with quite a few. Careful though - some people call such interventions brainhacking, and that doesn't bring to mind images I'm happy with. Besides, any method to reset yourself that can be described in three cheery steps or a 2 minute YouTube video probably doesn't offer much of real value.

I've been fortunate to have some extraordinary mentors over the years. As I wrote the last paragraph I was reminded of a nugget from one of them: knowledge is self. Which is to say, all you can ever really know is you. You are the lens through which you experience the whole caboodle. Family. Love. Work. Health. Money. All of it.

Anyway, even if one of those three step processes or videos is helpful, it won't be for long. We are more complex than the means by which we seek to be what we'd like to be. And that means we need to be wily. Hence the words of another much loved mentor: 

It is recommended to break habits, any of them, from the silliest to the most serious, and to try and do things that you don't normally do - breaking up routines and habits and not making a routine or habit out of breaking routines and habits is a Zen koan which you can puzzle your way through. It will reward you richly with moments of incredible insight, intuition and all of those magical things that light up life so beautifully.

(Thank you, K.G.)

All of this, by the way, will also serve to give you a feel for how I approach the work I do with coaching clients. I'm not interested in magic bullet solutions because I've yet to meet anyone with a magic gun. I like working with individuals keen to embrace their uniqueness, not people who want to experience someone else's idea of success because they're uncomfortable with who they are. Whether you're looking to build a business, open a restaurant, or sing to an audience of thousands, I want you to do that your way and not someone else's. Other people are there to learn from, sure enough. But when you wake up in the morning, it's a warts and all person who's doing that - bedhair and bad breath included - and that's the one I want to work with.

 

 

 

 

YOU'RE NOT ON A HERO'S JOURNEY. DEAL WITH IT.

There's a myth going round that we're heroes, or at any rate can be. It's a myth that started with Jung, infected Hollywood, and is now rippling through the personal development and marketing communities like avocados on Instagram. And it's a myth about a myth. One known as The Hero's Journey.

Joseph Campbell was a student of Jung. Influenced by his mentor's fascination with archetypes and an interest in stories, he discovered that stories have an archetypal structure. Just the one, hence he called it the monomyth. The fact that he boiled down thousands of stories from hundreds of cultures and concluded there was actually just the one story should raise an eyebrow. It's reminiscent of the bit in Hitchhiker's Guide where the entry in the Guide for Earth reads 'Mostly harmless' - and that's the longer revised version.

For sure, Campbell discovered something when he distilled all those myths and legends and folklore into one handy dandy template. George Lucas consulted Campbell when he made the first Star Wars film. Thanks to Chris Vogler, who wrote a memo about it when he worked at Disney that shaped films including The Lion King, Campbell's monomyth has become the default shape of Hollywood films for a couple of decades now. You know the one. The hero is called to do something that disrupts their life and ultimately answers a fundamental question for them, in the process changing them for ever more thanks to an experience of rebirth. Neo in The Matrix, getting the cheat codes for reality. Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, redeeming himself from a meaningless life through love. Any film where an unlikely mentor supports our plucky hero in their hour of need, eg Splinter - the giant rat who teaches ninjutsu to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And who could forget Legally Blonde?

Boil a story down to the essence it has in common with thousands of others, and by definition you lose what makes it unique. And there's something too conveniently Hollywood-friendly about Vogler's condensed take on Campbell. The success of Marvel's superhero movies suggests that filmgoers are tiring of the tried and tested. That might seem counterintuitive given how self-evidently heroic Marvel heroes are, and yes - they have their own kind of saminess. True, but it's only part of the story. Part of what audiences are loving in Marvel films is the way characters recur. And it's in those multiple appearances we see them in a new light. Captain America, hero in his own film, is the butt of jokes in other Marvel movies. Black Panther was clearly the star of his own movie, but in Infinity War he's got a supporting role. Iron Man has a major but not lead role in Infinity War, and if anyone's the protagonist it's Thanos - and he's the villain, in a film which also cheats audience expectations powerfully with its ending and yet is still doing huge box office.

Research demonstrates that when Japanese people respond to a painting, they are concerned with its setting, taking the whole in. Americans focus instead on the dominant image, particularly if it's of a person. And there's something about that which connects with the American Dream, the notion that anyone can go from log cabin to Whitehouse. That's the story of the entrepreneur too, a strong-willed individual who is driven by their dream to change the world and profit from it. Not much sense of the context and supporting cast in that picture - the market which might simply be ready for someone's idea and wasn't a year before when someone else tried the same idea, a handy beta for their successor. Then there are employees, whose talent and hard work created the detail of the founder's dream without which it would be vaporware. And what about suppliers and customers?

The point isn't to be picky, but to present a different picture. It's something that can be seen in Japanese work culture. In the day, working together as a team, colleagues collaborate to achieve outcomes. It's at night when they socialise together that it's acceptable to criticise bosses when alcohol is a means of expressing truths that would be less tolerable in the office. There's a sense of communal endeavour, and setpiece boardroom chestbeating and people standing their ground don't figure in it in the same way.

These differences of perspective matter. Not least at a time when strong-willed individuals in the form of billionaire oligarchs and the politicians they bankroll are carving up the world for their advantage and willing to sacrifice others in pursuit of their greed. Back in the day, a strong-willed individual like James Stewart would stand up for what was right in the films of the day. Today's political titans are more likely to speak on behalf of an oil lobby-funded belief that climate change is a myth, wilfully oblivious to the bigger picture we're all part of. 

Do we need people willing to take risks and make sacrifices? Sure. And we need them to do so in alliance with others rather than through their pig-headedness. Another of the central tenets of the Marvel movies is that superheroes were once like you and me before being granted their powers. It's as a team and with shared goals that they get to put the world to rights - and that doesn't mean in their own image, because as Peter Parker learned tragically when he became Spider-Man, 'with great power comes great responsibility'.

Countless websites detail coaches and trainers who reckon they fit the role of mentor in your Hero's Journey. Can you really imagine Frida Kahlo or Martin Luther King attending a seminar on manifesting their hero within? Even as a typology, the Hero's Journey is just one of those available. Vladimir Propp checked out Russian folklore and mythology a decade or two before Campbell and came up with something equally valid. Propp's schema is not as glamourous, noting as it does the likelihood of the hero being scarred along the way, and doing a lot of their work without even being recognised. That's not going to go down well on a weekend workshop, which as much as anything are about inflating the participants' sense of who they are and what they can achieve. 

Take a note from the Japanese. When you're being sold someone's big heroic story, ask questions which will give you details about who else was involved, and the environment which supported their success. And do it over a beer. It's great that we have ideas and do things to make them come true - but the Hero's Journey fuels the story that change happens without a social and economic context to make it possible, and that's a myth we can do without.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WOLF MOON

In some traditions the first full moon of the year is called a wolf moon. We had one last night, and there'll be another this evening. You don't have to buy into everything to do with that metaphor to accept the romance of it. Oh, and New Year? That's a metaphor too. Our world is rotating as it always has. Any notions of there being something new about that come from the science, the history, the stories we drape over raw elemental reality to make it bearable to us. With a bunch of words in place, we can tell ourselves we know what's going on, as long as we stop where those words indicate and don't peer beyond. We don't want to fall off the edge.

Where stories come in useful is when they provide pointers. What becomes apparent with the notion of a wolf moon is a connection to our primal state. Wolves are thought of as solitary creatures, but in truth are pack animals whose sensory skills attune them beautifully to their environment. That's something we can learn on, and if the idea that the year is new is a prompt to contemplate our lives in relation to wolves, where does that take us?

"No wolf drags a long bag of yesterdays behind them today." Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estes. 

I removed a whole bunch of stuff that didn't belong in my bathroom and chucked it out - a big bag of yesterdays. And the reason they were there, in part, is because of another yesterday that I realise I drag with me: the one that says I shouldn't throw stuff away, because it might be useful. That one was given to me by parents who grew up during World War Two, particularly a mother who was an evacuee with powerful emotions attached to those few things she took to Devon when she was sent there from London as a child.

Odds are you'll have had some success on your journey to date, maybe achieved some of what's important to you in life, and yet - the world continues to frustrate either your progress or your understanding. Whichever it is, it's a phenomenon that results from the stuff we cart around with us, even if it's the belief that we don't. One pernicious aspect of some contemporary thinking is that our past can be overwritten just so. Another is that we are able to have whatever we want, with no obligation to the web of social structures that allow us to be granted our desires. In different ways, both are expressions of the myth of the lone wolf.

Wolves look after each other pretty well, it turns out. It takes fucked-up thinking to mess yourself and others up, the legacy in part of language. We can believe impossible things before breakfast, and do the same for other meals too. Some of those thoughts become works of surpassing beauty and power - a design for a house made from recycled materials, an effective cancer treatment, an opera, a business plan that creates jobs in an impoverished community. Others are harmful, to ourselves or others - an obsession with an ex, a belief that money is a bad thing, hatred for a neighbour, addiction to alcohol. They all start as ideas, woven into our thinking and bodies, and then shaping what we do and the way we do it.

I say this as someone who is both an award-winning screenwriter, and an expert self-saboteur. Just now it took me 45 minutes, speaking to 4 people at a bank, to untangle a problem it turns out was my fault. I dealt with it promptly, and stayed calm throughout - two things which wouldn't have happened in the past. Plus I have dealt with the issue in question, sorting it promptly and without anguish. Change doesn't just take insight, it requires commitment.

How's your 2018 looking? What excites you? What's holding you back? In either case, do you know for sure that you can accomplish what you'd like? Especially if you've been down this road before, and have explored counselling, coaching, therapy, to help you get more of what matters to you, and less of what doesn't, you'll know that the start of the year is a time for anxiety as well as excitement. That's fine - and you're still faced with the potential to be more of the person you are at your best, today as any other day.

With an ally to support you, things don't get any easier. The value is in having an ongoing conversation where you're called on to be real, and accountable. To examine what you're still carrying from the past and do something special with it, whether that means sorting out what you don't need and is no longer true, or building something magnificent to showcase what you're capable of - a business goal, a life dream, a creative ambition. I've supported people as they've made all of those things happen. For some, that's plenty. For others, there's that extra thing that needs working on - especially if you've succeeded in making good stuff happen but sense there's still something missing. 

I don't do much formal paid 1:1 work with people in part because my primary focus is on creative projects. And my approach is not for everyone. I ask questions you won't find in the books and workshops that coaches have typically learned from - because I'm interested in getting to grips with what's going on with you, not applying someone else's models. My role is not to be your cheerleader, though I'll applaud if you really are doing what you want, and together find ways to make doing what you want and need more straightforward and more effective. Big shows of dynamic performance don't impress me - I'm about making it the most natural thing in the world to do more of what you sincerely want to do, not putting energy where it's wasted. If you're up for your ideas and sense of who you are being challenged in the name of experiencing more of what matters for you, we can talk. An initial conversation, in person or on Skype, will cost nothing and give us a sense of whether we want to work together. You can also check out these audio pieces I've done giving examples of what it is I do. 

You'll have gathered I'm not a lone wolf. I'm a proud member of several packs. And there are times I call, to see who will respond.

 

 

LOOKING IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES

Someone comes along, sees a friend under a streetlamp, looking for something.

'What have you lost?'

'My keys.'

'Where were they when you last saw them?'

'Over there.'

'So why are you looking here?'

'I need the streetlamp to see.'

Last night I went to the final evening of Nottingham's First Tuesday networking event, at least in the form it took under the fabulous and irrepressible Debbie Doodah. She's moving on, and leaving the event in the highly capable hands of her ThinkInNG allies. 

I remember a particular First Tuesday, a year or more back. One of the speakers was a guy who'd gone out of his way to tell Debbie about how she really needed to book him. Which is fair enough - you've got to be your own ambassador after all. And he came, and talked. He knew exactly what he was going to say,  and he said it, which is how people often do these things.

He told us about a book he'd read. In that book, the author left his job, inspired to train with some Hong Kong martial artists. Doing so helped him in all kinds of ways. Having read the book, the guy doing the talk decided - that he'd do the same thing himself. He went to Hong Kong. And had the same experience he'd read about, with the same martial artists.

How often is someone else's dream identical to yours? How likely is it that someone else has already hit on the very thing you need to make your heart sing, in the course of fulfilling their own dreams? 

The abiding sense I got from hearing this ostensibly successful man talk about how he'd replicated someone else's dream, was that he wasn't in touch with himself. That he knew what inspiration looked like...because he'd read about someone else's. And the best thing about that is - it's OK. There are times we all fail to challenge ourselves enough. That we take a peek outside our comfort zones and decide that someone else's success is what we want. Safer that, than risk finding out what it really is that gives your life purpose - and fail to bring it about.

Of course, I realised that having so often done the same. Not in quite so blatant a way as to arrange to pay strangers to beat me up in Hong Kong. But there've been times when I've wanted to have achieved what some of my creative idols have achieved. Grant Morrison say. Or Kate Tempest. Only, they got to do their thing and have it work by - doing their thing. And they in turn will have had role models and mentors who in time play less of a role in their own sense of self as they create more work that feels like who they truly are.

It's OK to want someone else's success. And a lot of the time, that's what coaching offers. Strategies that helped someone else achieve what was important to them. And that's great. But how often do borrowed clothes really fit?

I experience that old clothes stink when I hear the majority of coaches and trainers talk. Can hear in their words the books they've read, sometimes see the mannerisms of those who've trained them. And that makes me sad. Telling other people how to achieve whatever, as the local budget version of someone your clients would get more from if you had the guts to tell them to go to the source of whatever skills and knowledge you've gleaned. It's not for me, and if training with some of the people I learned from is going to be a better solution than working with me, I'll tell you that.

If I'm different, it's because my mentors are different. You'll notice the irony. And also, my life isn't defined by coaching and training. I'm an award-winning scriptwriter, who wrote and helped make a short film that recently played at a festival in Hollywood where it stood shoulder-to-shoulder with films made with much larger budgets and name actors. I've written a speech for a world champion boxer; successfully pitched to a team who masterminded some of the world's biggest film's franchises; been headhunted by a leading London ad agency; written TV drama for the BBC without having an agent to get the work for me. 

Those are things I mention because they're achievements. And, by the way, I've also been through the hell of being sectioned twice. Of recovering from that and being suicidal at times for most of a year. So when I talk about getting up and starting again, of looking at what you've got and thinking about it in another way, of finding ways to make the unlikely happen, I'm talking at first hand.

Let the stories of others be an inspiration. Let them surge through your veins, inform your choices, shape your dreams. But do not mistake them for what you're about. It's not what others have achieved that matters. The ways they accomplished it are largely irrelevant. What's important is that a spark was lit in you, or that seeing something outside allowed you to become aware of your spark inside. And it's the spark that counts. 

It's the spark that ignites the pilot light. Great name, huh? Pilot light. A light that guides you. And that's what matters more than anything. Yes, strategy matters. Resources count. Contacts are crucial. But above all nurture that spark. And if it grows when you're around a particular coach or trainer, then that's a good indication they're good for you. If not...then walk away - even if you have to make your way back from Hong Kong, because you realise that was the wrong direction and your feet ache because you're wearing someone else's shoes.

If that light is dimming in you, I can be a good person to talk with. If you want to discover what lies beyond your mentors and models, we can do that. If you've discovered you're living someone else's dream - a parent's, a role model's, whoever it may be - that's something we can talk about. And if you're getting the sense that whoever you've been getting coaching from is going through the motions, there's plenty we can discuss. You know where to find me. Now how about finding you?

 

WHY SHOULD YOU LISTEN TO ME?

I'm ambivalent about being a trainer and coach. While I'm happy - and continuing to learn - about what I do with clients, and the ripples that creates, I'm largely unimpressed by the field I find myself in. The death today of David Bowie has brought that into focus, and helped me realise why I feel as I do.

Bowie's achievements were characterised by an ability to be inventive in any context he was placed. He wasn't just a singer and musician, he was an artist conscious about how he did what he did, always looking for ways to surprise himself. That famous capacity for reinvention is his true legacy, and along the way he created a series of remarkable recordings that will remain memorable for as long as humans listen to music.

I'm willing to bet he did all that without the aid of someone hired to tell him to take massive action, believe in himself, confront his innermost fears, or step into the unknown. And though he did walk into the fire, it was in the context of a collaboration with David Lynch and not the cheesy highlight of a personal development training.

Now, you could argue that the Twin Peaks spin-off where Bowie and Lynch collaborated was not a highlight of either man's CV. But if you're going to work with anyone in the realm of personal development, you absolutely should be asking about their accomplishments. The tragic reality is that the great majority of those encouraging others to take bold steps and achieve great things have done very little of either themselves.

One of the characteristics of my mentors in the training world is that they have made notable accomplishments outside the narrow confines of that scene. Michael Breen was already a well-regarded actor and successful business consultant running trainings internationally before he had anything to do with NLP. He was asked to look at some previously unseen papers of W.B. Yeats because of his appreciation of the poet's work by people who had precisely zero interest in his association with Paul McKenna. Eric Robbie similarly did advertising work that I was aware of when I was growing up, edited publications including Radio Times, published the UK's first newsstand magazine about personal computing, and was active in the NUJ. And way before NLP he was already exploring leading edge psychology with people who came up with it. Those were the qualities that led both to stand out in the domain of training - each had experiences to draw on outside the limited confines of a workshop.

My issue then, is of people claiming that they can help others to put something new into the world without having experience of doing so themselves. And that's why I continue to identify primarily as a writer rather than a trainer or coach. The work I do in the latter contexts is shaped in major ways by my ongoing experiences creating or co-creating work that's so far got out into the world through the BBC, film festivals, live performance, and digital distribution, and is set to scale up this year with the print publication of my first graphic novel, interest in making a feature film I scripted, and with a project I can't yet discuss about to get very interesting. 

If you don't know what it's like to live with the consequences of taking big risks, you have no business telling others to do the same. I'm very aware of the ripple effects of taking a high-risk approach to making my way in the world - how that affects relationships, shapes choices I make every day, what it makes possible or impossible at a given moment. And I'm very aware of the skills I have that go into it all, and which of them are explicitly a consequence of my own training, which come from other parts of my life, and just how useless some of the knowledge I've acquired at great expense is in practice.

This matters. And it matters in particular given some of the fakes and flakes you can run into if you have much to do with the world of personal development workshops. For the most part, what's offered is watered down from someone else's work in ways that would make a homeopath blush. Result is that when a trainer offers something of substance - as NLP trainer James Tsakalos does for instance - people who've done previous classes elsewhere realise to their dismay that instead of expertise they paid someone to make them feel good. And there's a big difference between supposed skills acquired at a seminar, and the reality of working with people outside of that cosy bubble...my skills sharpened through being a support worker at a hostel for homeless people with mental health and substance issues. 

The decades-long experience of being a creator comes first for me. I'm able to work with others in putting their work into the world because it's something I live the reality of for long hours every day. I love what I do, and that love and experience allows me to work with individuals and groups in ways that create difference for them. And sure, I have a bunch of impressive certificates about my own training - but so have any number of people. I might not be the right person to work with you, but please do ask any coach or trainer who you're considering working with just what qualifies them to be in the business of affecting the lives of others.

Only someone as devoted to artifice as Bowie could have achieved such a sincere impact with his death. The nature of his final work, and the timing of its release, showed just what's possible if you really are prepared to take things further than whatever ledge you're perched on. The announcement of his passing acts as a kaleidoscope through which it's possible to perceive the lyrics and videos of his new music afresh. Daring not just to the end, but beyond it, revealing as some old paintings did a skull concealed by perspective. 

 

MAKE 2016 YOUR BEST YEAR YET

Why do we have weeks, and months, and years?

It's all down to the advantages of having a cyclic understanding of time. Once upon a whenever, we knew that the sun would be warmer at some points, and to prepare for the return of the cold when the nights began to get shorter.

We're not subject to the demands of agriculture in the same way now, but knowing that February will be back in due course and with it a work anniversary, or if it's the 12th that makes it a month since something special happened, gives us the opportunity to perceive two separate instances simultaneously, and compare them.

That comes into its own with New Year. We make a big deal of the fact that the calendar has changed, and use it as an opportunity to assess just how we are changing. So we congratulate ourselves on the victories we've achieved, and wonder just how we'll move forward with some of the things we said we'd do, but one way or another didn't get round to.

I've got no shortage of methods that I find helpful to make me more likely to do what I want, and find continual amusement in how I fail to make the most of those resources in some contexts. Weight is an issue for me, and I decided a while back that I wanted to lose a chunk of what I'm carrying. I somehow didn't get round to actually doing anything about that goal until I chanced on some coconut water in a supermarket at a price I liked. All of a sudden, I was fired up to get in shape. How come? Well, a previous diet was built around an abundance of cheap coconut water that I invested in, and every day for 3 months I had a smoothie made with the stuff, losing 35 pounds.

Now I have discount coconut water in my possession again - therefore I can lose weight. Sounds stupid when it's put like that, but so it goes. We all make similarly eccentric choices, and I now realise that I can use regular water instead of the coconut version, but for now I'm happy because I'm having smoothies once more and am feeling better for it already after about 10 days.

It's this kind of thing that can make it useful to work with a coach, who can help identify and work with some of the blind spots you have, as well as reminding you of those contexts in which you shine and where else they apply. And I'm fortunate in having experienced a one year coaching programme with Michael Breen, who worked with Paul McKenna some years back and was instrumental in the success of their training business, as he has been behind the scenes in corporate settings, and with some well-known people in the entertainment world.

Getting more of what you want, and dealing with what you actually get, calls for the ability to outwit some of our own habits of thought and behaviour. Often, the key to approaching life differently comes down to some very straightforward basics. Like, using a voice within your own head that coaxes and convinces you, rather than berates and bullies. Like, using language in the way you record your goals and tasks that engages you to perform to a high standard, and not just offer the bare minimum. Like, realising what values drive your choices, and how to engage with them more fully and consistently.

2015 has seen me step up to a whole new level in the nature and scale of the creative work I do, and 2016 is about beginning to deliver the incredible potential of a deal that I couldn't have even conceived of a few years ago.

I don't know what it is that matters to you. I do know that on Saturday Jan 16 in Nottingham, you can join me and a group of other people in spending a day exploring ways in which we can make 2016 our best year yet. Join us, please.