Beliefs and Propositions

Last night on my weekly Master Your Mindset ZOOM call with Jo Naughton and her excellent Tribe, I articulated the following belief that I felt served me well – ‘I am a clever and ambitious writer’.

But then something prompted me to add – ‘but no one notices or cares’. 

There are many reasons why I might have added that negative qualifier and although I believe that negative qualifier must also serve me well, the reason why must be less than obvious. On the surface, it would seem that such limiting belief can only hold me back from achieving my writerly goals. 

Jo suggested that such qualifying beliefs unconsciously protect us from something which we fear – and that something we fear is more powerful than that which we desire. If that isn’t insidious enough, get this!  The more evidence we gather to bolster such qualifying beliefs, the more they increase their stranglehold. 

This brings us solidly to the interesting question of differentiating a ‘belief’ from a ‘fact’ because if we are being honest with ourselves, only ‘facts’ can produce that evidence. Yet as Jo rightly points out, both ‘facts’ and ‘beliefs’ are mental constructs and so when we say this is a ‘fact’, we are only saying ‘this is what I believe’. 

Jo didn’t go into details, but I ‘believe’ that I get what she means, having recently taken a philosophy course called ‘What is Truth’ at the University of Oxford.

The takeaway point here is that ‘truth values’ (i.e. something either is true – yes or no – there is no in-between) naturally attach to beliefs and propositions; a sentence expresses a belief that XYZ is ‘true or not’ – such as when someone says, ‘it will rain this afternoon’. The only truth involved here is  ‘that’ someone believes the proposition ‘that’ it will rain. Interestingly, whatever comes after ‘that’ doesn’t matter – i.e. rain or not. If you are tempted to argue this isn’t true (or doesn’t make sense) consider further that ‘rain’ is also a belief – I may believe  that the word ‘rain’ includes an icy drizzle but someone else may believe that ‘rain’ requires more, like a heavy downpour. 

The plot thickens when we consider negative statements such as there are no eggs in the refrigerator. How can something be true if it has no truth value (yes or no)? In other words, there are no eggs here to talk about. To make matters worse, a ‘truth’ or ‘fact’ can change over time. For example, when my mother went to high school in the 1930’s, it was a ‘fact’ or ‘truth’ that the atom could not be split, end point. However by the middle of the next decade, that ‘fact’ had not only been negated, but its negation had created nearly a quarter of a million casualties when the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

I could go on but I won’t – the takeaway point is that if something is objectively true, it must be mind-independent – and unable to change over time – and oh, by the way, that ‘truth’ or ‘fact’ must also be 100% independent of societal views and norms – the suggestion being that as Jo rightly points out, very (very) little of what we choose to believe is ‘fact’ is actually nothing other than a ‘belief’.

If I wish to get rid of my qualifying belief (i.e.  although I am a clever and ambitious writer, no one notices or cares), I need to re-programme my mind to allow for change in my thoughts and belief. Unfortunately, given that I’m not yet certain what that qualifying belief is protecting me from, I’ll need to do this in stages, and I’m guessing that I could use some help with that. 

I’ll report back when I figure this out.

Have some fun…

Astrologically, responsibility equates with Saturn.  With Saturn, we undertake our duties and obligations seriously and achieve.

When things go wrong however, we’re more reluctant to take responsibility. The downside of Saturn is fault and blame.

Nietzsche has suggested that fault and blame are the bitter fruits of ‘responsibility’. In our society, responsibility is not understood in terms of our ‘ability to respond’ but instead in terms of the spirit of revenge.

On the Genealogy of Morals (3:15)

In existentialist terms, the spirit of revenge is a powerful narcotic that numbs the inevitable pain and misery of existence. When we respect misfortune as an inevitable part of living, we can utilise our innate ability to respond to life  (Nietzsche).

 ‘Shit happens’.  It happens despite the ‘best laid plans of mice and men’.

But whilst embraced by the spirit of revenge, no man can respect true misfortune.  He can have no understanding of the context in which misfortune manifests.  Focused on channelling his passions into vengefulness and spite, such a man can never respect, let alone love,  anybody or anything including himself.

Only a foolish man believes that each misfortune which befalls him, was intentionally directed at him. Yet many of us do just that.

Hands up! Just this morning when I was hurrying to get ready, something fell on my foot and left a huge bruise and I blamed my husband who wasn’t even home. 

A more productive approach might be to take ourselves less seriously.   This could be achieved through the more positive aspects of irresponsibility – i.e. having some old-fashioned, light-hearted fun.  Not only does  light-heartedness promote health, but it also helps us to accept the basic realities about life.

The natural antidote of Saturn is Jupiter.  

When your Jupiter  functions properly,  you’re optimistic, take chances and experience good luck.  Too much Jupiter however leads to extravagance and frivolity,  hence the bad associations with irresponsibility.

In my book, balance is the key to health and happiness.  It would seem Nietzsche might agree.  According to him (in a theme developed by Kundera in his novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being,) the heaviest burden (responsibility) is also boundless freedom (irresponsibility).

In this regard, taking responsibility for our own lives allows us to accept it for what it is: a game of chance in which sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.

Blaming yourself or another achieves nothing but more pain.

Keep on Trucking (or not) – Part 2

If you enjoyed yesterday’s post about things suggested by Connie Podesta that you ought to quit doing in order to increase your well-being and material worldly success, here’s five more:

Keep on Trucking…
  1. Quit depending on others to make you happy– as noted in the previous post, there is no such thing as the perfect partner or for that instance, the perfect anything. According to the positive psychology folks, ‘happiness’ is an elusive concept, a mix of the following, none of which depends on securing the affections of another:
    • Autonomy – ‘I am authentic and enjoy being myself’.
    • Meaningful contribution – ‘I connect with others.’
    • Acceptance – ‘I know the difference of what can and can’t be changed’.
    • Positive emotions – ‘I find something to enjoy each day.’
    • Personal and professional growth – ‘I learn something new every day.’
    • Skills, competence, and environmental mastery  – ‘I have what it takes to thrive in my world.’ 
    • Achievement & the reward and acknowledgement that comes with it – ‘I’m recognised for my efforts’.
  2. Quit playing games – Consider this: after graduating from university, a young woman moves away from home to a distant city and although it’s an uphill struggle, she is makes progress and is proud. Each week she speaks with her mother who uses this precious time to tell the young woman that unless she does this or that, she’ll never get married and by the way, has she lost any weight? The young woman would love more than anything to tell her mother about the promotion she just gained at work, but she’s too exhausted by her mother’s continual onslaught of emotional manipulation. Who wins this game, do you suppose?
  3. Quit sabotaging success – Consciously, we want to feel good and achieve our goals, but if at the same time our unconscious message to ourselves is that we don’t deserve it, then we’ll find a million ways to sabotage our success and never understand what happened, much less why. We can combat this unfortunate state of affairs through learning to examine the choices we make in a detached way. Techniques include cognitive reframing, meditation and mindfulness practice.
  4. Quit fighting for your limitations – on the surface, this sounds silly –  doesn’t it – but in reality, we do it all the time. Consider how many times we rationalise our bad behaviour (‘I was tired, or ill, or whatever and so it only makes sense that I’d snap’) and justify our failures (‘that’s just the way that I am’ or ‘I was confused as to what I was meant to do’). We also fight for our right to be sad or angry (‘It’s my party, and I’ll cry if I want to’). Think about this rationally for a moment – where does such behaviour actually get you?
  5. Quit thinking that you deserve to be successful – we all have a right to make our lives as wonderful as possible but none of us has an entitlement to be happy, rich, or even successful. The positive psychology folks are very clear that being ‘happy’ requires effort – lots of it, every day – and unless you’ve just won the lottery or have a trust fund, ditto for being rich. Even success requires daily effort but perhaps not quite in the ways you might think. For example, studies have shown that those who keep a daily diary of the things about which they were grateful were more likely to achieve their goals, then those who kept a diary about that which had gone wrong each day. 

Keep on trucking (or not)…

We’ve all been told to hang in there – don’t give up – practice makes perfect – it’s the tortoise, not the hare that wins the race. 

But having just listened to an interview with the highly celebrated and inspirational speaker, Connie Podesta, I have to admit that ‘keep on trucking’ is not always the best advice. As Connie points out, it’s easier to stop doing something than to start doing something completely different, or at least we often believe that’s the case. 

The reality, however, is quite different and often the only difference between these two seemingly polarities is a matter of point of view.

Keep on trucking…

The following are some of Connie’s suggestions for what you should ‘quit’ in order to increase not only your well-being but also your worldly success:

  1. Quit waiting to be happy– the reality here is that there is no perfect partner, perfect job, perfect weight. Here’s the scoop. We attract what we put out – so if you’re perpetually ‘unhappy’ because you’re not yet happy, then all you’ll attract to you is more unhappiness. Try this. Walk down one side of a crowded street, looking down at your feet with a frown on your face. Watch (and feel) what happens. Walk back on the other side with a huge smile looking up and making easy eye contact with others. Which result do you like best?
  2. Quit living in the past– easier said than done, you say? You might be right. But if you keep milling over and over in your head all the bad stuff that’s happened to you, you’re bound to be sad. We attract what we put out. You learned that above and so if you’re sick of being sad, then STOP IT. It’s a rational choice where and how you focus your energy and if you fail to believe that, then you’ve not yet done the exercise as suggested above.
  3. Quit blaming others– this one is really tricky – not only because other people often really do ‘stupid’ or ‘horrible’ things that negatively impact us but also because it’s so easy to do. Whatever went wrong may not have been your fault (at least in your eyes), but when you’re focusing on others and what they’re doing, you’re actually handing over to those ‘stupid’ and ‘horrible’ people, control over your life.
  4. Quit expecting life to be fair– this one is really tricky for me because with four planets in Libra, my first reaction to any injustice is ‘that is not fair’, and, it isn’t. But that won’t change anything. I’d do myself a huge favour by focusing my energy not on complaining about the injustice of it all, but instead on finding solutions to work around it.
  5. Quit being afraid – fear is a natural reaction, meant to keep us whole and safe. It works very well when someone or something is really threatening us. In such situations, it’s never a mistake to retreat. But 9 times of 10, what we’re really afraid of is moving out of our comfort zone in a situation where there is no real possibility of lasting harm. If in doubt, ask yourself ‘what is the worst that can happen’ in this situation. If your honest answer flags up physical danger, then do not do it. But if it’s only a little temporary discomfort – or potential embarrassment (that by next week will be long forgotten), well, that’s a different kettle of fish, is it not?

The Art of Working to a Common Goal

‘Strike while the iron is hot.’

Traditional Proverb

Case study: Staples, the office supplies retailer, had fallen from being a market leader to only 1/3 of the new market leader’s size. In comes the new guy, John Wilson, who had a fantastic reputation for fixing organisational ills. In no time, Wilson ramrodded through much needed change – he was, as one colleague described him, an ‘in-your-face kind of guy’. Initially what Wilson delivered hit the spot and revenues nearly quadrupled over the next four years. Yet, even as Staples continued to grow, profitability dropped. In comes another new guy, Basil Anderson, who focused his expertise on reducing costs and targeting opportunities based on profitability rather than on contribution to revenue stream. Finally, during the next five years net profit also increased significantly and so last, Staples was ‘fixed’.

Common Goal

Take Away: Imagine how much faster the situation might have improved if Wilson and Anderson had been brought in at the same time and encouraged to work together to achieve a common goal?

Application: In any partnership, be it business or personal, everyone is working towards some common goal. The overall situation can be expected to improve faster and more economically through compromise, mutual consideration, and comradeship rather than through any single member of the partnership taking action alone.

  • What’s the goal?
  • What’s the action plan?
  • What resources do you need to make it happen?

Two heads better than one?

Why is it so easy to advise someone else that that she should leave her job (or her partner) or whatever, when faced with a similar decision,  I would agonise for months (maybe years)?

Apparently, the reason is because when we make decisions for ourselves, we tend to limit ourselves to only a few options, perhaps in order to retain a (false) sense of control. Then whilst evaluating the identified options, we drill so far down into the nitty gritty, that we are soon lost in the minutiae of what might – or might not – go wrong. The end result is usually endless rounds of second guessing ourselves leading directly to perpetual procrastination and similar spurious delays. 

Yet when we make decisions for others, we are more creative and adventurous. We brainstorm on a multiplicity of possible scenarios and outcomes. Amazingly, this free flow of ideas comes without judgment, second-guessing, or overthinking. We also tend to be much more optimistic and action-oriented – do it and do it now, we advise our friend (but not ourselves).

friendly advice

The takeaway is that when faced with a decision, we would do well to act as advisors to ourselves. Instead of asking ‘what should I do’, we might ask ‘what should YOU do‘. By viewing your situation through the eyes of another, someone you admire, you gain valuable distance and perspective. You might consider outsourcing your decisions, taking advantage of a growing number of businesses and apps that make it easier for people to ‘pitch’ their own decisions about clothes, food, books, or even home décor, to us. 

Research has shown that indeed, in this context, two heads are better so now Mercury, ruler of communication and thought, has moved into Gemini, sign of the twins, why not give it a try?

The Art of Persuasion

For success in any meeting or information exchange, the following four steps are essential:

gain their confidence and they’re putty in your hands…
  1. Build trust and rapport with your audience and thus set the scene to your advantage.
    • The quickest and easiest way to build rapport is to assume that you already have it.
    • Simply imagine that the persons with whom you’re speaking are very dear and close old friends. As the result, your body language and attitude will change subtly and without overtly trying, you’ll make your audience feel comfortable and at ease.
    • Smile and make eye contact in a non-threatening and confident manner.
    • The more confidence you inspire in your audience, the more willing they are to respond positively to your suggestions.
  2. Fix the desired outcome for the meeting firmly in your own mind.
    • Be very clear regard exactly what behaviour you desire from the others as the result of the meeting – i.e. sign here, go there, or simply, accept this or agree with me.
    • Ensure that everything you say do during the meeting is aimed at bringing them to that final result (see below for ideas) and then ensure you overtly ask them to do whatever it is that you want them to do.
  3. During the course of the meeting deliver at least one hook or incentive designed to appeal to each attendee.
    • Although you may not know much about your attendees, you have statistics and astrology on your side. Each person must fall into one of the 12 zodiac signs – cover them all – at least briefly – in your delivery:
      1. Aries – appeal to her need to take action now.
      2. Taurus – appeal to her need for simple, practical solutions.
      3. Gemini – appeal to her natural curiosity. 
      4. Cancer – appeal to her need to feel safe and secure.
      5. Leo – appeal to her need to take centre stage.
      6. Virgo – appeal to her need to get it done and done right.
      7. Libra – appeal to her need to maintain harmony.
      8. Scorpio – appeal to her need to get to the bottom of things.
      9. Sagittarius – appeal to her need for exploration and personal adventure.
      10. Capricorn – appeal to her need to earn responsibility and respect.
      11. Aquarius – appeal to her need to challenge the status quo.
      12. Pisces – appeal to her need to help someone.
  4. Carefully choose the words you will deliver – keeping in mind the benefits of the following techniques
    • Develop YES sets – get them on a roll with answering a series of simple questions with a ‘yes’ and chances are they’ll keep rolling on in the affirmative.
    • Anticipation Loops – keep them paying close attention through the entire meeting by delivering only partial explanations with a promise to explain more fully, later.
    • Agreement Frames – everyone feels better when others agree with them – so meet any objections with the following – ‘I agree with you and (not but) I add this…’.
    • Awareness Patterns – innocuous little words like NOTICE, REALISE, EXPERIENCE, SEE, and AWARE are all great for slipping in ideas under the radar. For example, ‘’I’m certain that you realise that our numbers aren’t great this quarter and that means some redundancies.” If they question anything here, it’s more likely to be either (1) whether they did realise the numbers weren’t great or (2) whether in actual fact – the numbers weren’t great. This leaves them much more likely to accept (as a given) whatever comes after that, i.e. your main aim – redundancies.

The Art of Calm

Imagine that you’re about to commence a difficult conversation with a colleague or friend. Are your shoulders starting to tense? Is your stomach knotting up? Do you feel like you’re bracing for a fight?

Instead of being at the mercy of your emotions in a stressful situation, why not choose to feel calm?

Not only is this possible, but probably easier than you think. It’s all down to moving off auto-pilot and developing the habit of paying attention to what’s going on with your body. 

It’s not difficult to notice when you’re in the grip of an extreme emotion like intense anger. But it’s not so easy to notice your lesser emotions, the general run-of-the-mill emotions that you experience every day. But you should. Because every emotion that you experience impacts how you will behave.

Try this – right now:

  • Sit back. 
  • Close your eyes. 
  • Notice how you’re breathing – fast/slow – shallow/deep? 
  • Silently scan your body starting with your feet and then move on up through your legs to your face and neck – don’t forget your arms, hands, and fingers – did you find some discomfort? Where? What does it feel like?
  • How would you describe your mental state at this moment – tired/alert – open/preoccupied?
  • What’s the connection between your bodily discomfort and your state of mind?

Jot down your observations in a notebook and then in a couple of hours, repeat.  With practice this exercise should only take a minute or two and if you’re to become master of your emotions, you’ll be doing it, at a minimum, several times a day. Once you’ve established a track record with your practice, you’ll soon start to spot unhelpful emotions as soon as they arise.

OK, now what?

There are several options. The least helpful, is to ignore your feelings. The most helpful is to actively choose them using anchors.

How does it work?

Some triggers, like the knotted stomach, make your feel tense and anxious. But other triggers, like seeing a friendly, familiar face, make you feel excited.

All triggers are external stimuli that lead to an emotional or behavioural response and that response will usually be automatic.  

But not all triggers are naturally occurring like the familiar face. Some triggers will be self-created using anchoring in order to experience the emotion that serves you best.

Managing difficult emotions is as easy as relaxing in the bath

Try this – right now:

  • Sit back.
  • Close your eyes.
  • Think back to a time when you were feeling really relaxed – maybe you were soaking the bath – was the water warm – what music, if any, was playing – what fragrances were lingering in the air?
  • As you let yourself go, allow the feeling of calm to pervade your whole being and when that feeling is at its most intense – ANCHOR IT – physically, by touching the tip of your nose or pressing together your thumb and forefinger.
  • Stop.
  • Wait.
  • Repeat.

Now, back to start a difficult conversation with your spouse or colleague. Are your shoulders starting to tense? Is your stomach knotting up?

USE YOUR ANCHOR – exactly as you’ve been practicing – if you’re now feeling calm, great!  If not, keep practicing and in no time, you’ll be ready to handle stress-inducing situations of all kinds with the same calm and ease as taking a relaxing bath.

The Art of Communication

Communication is an artform; it’s also a two-way street. 

But before you even open your mouth, do yourself a favour and pay attention to the person you’re about to address and gain some crucial insight into how he or she processes information. 

We can each process only 5-9 chunks or nuggets of information at a time and so we use ‘meta-programs’, or unconscious filters, to ‘select’ them from the shower of stimuli we constantly receive. These patterns run behind the scenes in our brains. They are so automatic that we usually don’t even realise they’re there. But they are there. So, if your favoured ‘meta-program’ differs from that of the person to whom you’re about to speak, you’ll want to adapt your communication style.

match your meta program to theirs for best results

Research suggests that there are six basic ‘meta- programs’ that most of us use to varying degrees. Here’s how best to approach them:

  • First decide your own patterns and preferences.
  • Next advance to the person with whom you are desirous to communicate and test them out.
  •  If you meet with enthusiastic nods, you’re on the right path but if you get a stern-faced response or anxious questions, try something else. 
  • This approach works equally well at work, at home, and with friends/neighbours/acquaintances.
  • The focus is always on having whatever it is that you wish to convey enjoying a good reception and being understood.

The Six Metaprograms

  1. General/Specific– this pattern controls how much information should be given and how best to be deliver it.
    • People running with a ‘general’ program, are likely to respond well to a conceptual overview but people running with ‘specific’, need lots of details so they can build their own view up step-by-step.
    • Research shows that about 60% of people are ‘general’ whilst only 15% are ‘specific’. This leaves about 25% responding equally to both.
    • To discern which you’re dealing with, ask the person about a  project or hobby with which he’s currently engaged. A response with lots of detail (he said/she said, I feel, they did), provided in specific steps with plenty of adverbs and adjectives tossed in, suggests he/she operates on the ‘specific’ program. Alternatively, someone operating on the ‘general’ program will probably give you a brief, comprehensive overview and/or summary often presented in short sentences delivered in random order.
    • Beware that context matters. Even someone usually operating on the ‘general’ pattern will, from time to time, need details.
    • Equally, you can tell much from someone’s written communication – emails, for example. If their usual style is to keep it short and sweet, then match it and do the same. If not, adjust your own electronic missives accordingly.
  2. Proactive/ Reactive– this pattern deals with how best to channel energy during the communication.
    • Some people are more inclined to initiate things than others – and so when you’re dealing with a ‘proactive person’, you need to always be pushing forward. These folks do not like delays and want to get started at once.
    • By comparison, a ‘reactive’ person wants to consider all the options/implications of situation presented to him/her before doing anything. These folks are great at research/analysis as well as fire-fighting and problem-solving.
    • 60-65% of people have a mix.
    • Spot the ‘reactive’ person by his or her ability to sit for long periods of time. Also, he or she will tend to use long, incomplete, and convoluted sentences. They will use passive verbs and conditional words like should/could/would/might.
    • Give the ‘reactive person’ plenty of time to think – if you push, they will not respond well. Use the alternative strategy for the ‘proactive’ types who are ready to get started right away. 
  3. Toward/Away-From– this pattern is key when trying to motivate someone to do something.
    • People take action primarily for one of two reasons – they want to move ‘toward’ something (like a target or goal) or they want to move ‘away from’ something (escape).
    • The ‘away-from’ folks are problem solvers – they look for potential problems and thus can avert crises.
    • The ‘toward people’ tend to be self-starters – give then a goal and they’re on it.
    • Each of these polarities tends to judge the other poorly – ‘away-from’ people think that ‘toward’ people are naïve or sloppy because they don’t see potential problems and the ‘toward’ people think their opposite is negative or cynical.
    • A few questions will help you to tell the difference – when asked what is important to them and why, they’ll reveal their type in their answers – do they want to succeed or not to fail.
    • About 40% of people are ‘toward’ and 40% are ‘away-from’. This leaves a grey area of about 20% in between.
    • To motivate the ‘toward’ people, use words like – get – attain – achieve – accomplish – advantage – obtain.
    • For the ‘away-from’ people, use words like – fix – avoid – prevent – wrong – solution – remove
  4. Sameness/ Differencethis pattern is key when it comes to selling change especially in a fast-paced environment.
    • Those with pure ‘sameness’ (5%) feel comfortable in a highly stable and unchanging environment – consistency their mantra.
    • The ‘difference’ folks (about 20%) thrive on change and love to switch jobs frequently as well as reinventing and reorganising their environment/organisation.
    • About 65% of people are ‘sameness’ with allowance for some minor changes/improvement that are more evolutionary than revolutionary. Some of these folks (10%) can tolerate even more difference as long a major change doesn’t happen too frequently – every 3-4 years is good for them.
    • To tell where someone sits on this spectrum, ask them what is the relationship between something important (for example, their job) between last year and this year and then listen carefully:
      • the ‘sameness’ person will tend to focus on things that haven’t changed – although he may toss in a few difference and make comparisons like more – less – improved – better – fewer.
      • The ‘difference’ person will point out all that is new and different and may even be surprised you asked the question.
      • Other people will mix and match the differences and those things unchanged – listen to their emphasis and their assessment of both sides of the equation.
    • When explaining to people about ‘change’ – adapt your weighting of ‘sameness’ and ‘difference’ according to their preferences.
    • Choose words ranging from – as usual – similar – better – identical – improved – revolutionized – upgraded – more – fewer
  5. Options/ Proceduresthis is about how one tackles his/her work – do they rely on the tried and tested approach or look for new, improved alternatives.
    • ‘Options’ folks (40%) like choice and variety – and are great for deciding how something should be done but not necessarily doing it themselves. New projects are started with zest but following through to finish is less predictable.
    • ‘Procedures’ folks  (40%)  believe there is a ‘right’ way to do something – start with point A and move through these procedures to get to point B. Too many choices are not helpful. 
    • About 20% of people are a mix.
    • The ‘options’ folks says things like  I can or I could whilst the procedures folk say I must or I should.
    • To influence the ‘options’ folks use words like – possibilities – choice  – play it by ear – options  – break the rules – variety.
    • To influence the ‘procedures’ folk, use words like – right – tried and tested – first, second, and then (this or that).
  6. Internal/ Eternalthis is about giving/receiving feedback  – there is an optimum approach and amount.
    • ‘Internal’ folks tend to believe they’ve done a good job regardless of what others think. Their own judgement of their work (measured against their own standards) is what matters most.
    • Give these folks much space as possible to make their own decisions and when that is not possible, negotiate the standards to be used for measuring in advance. Generally, these folks don’t want feedback and when they get it, they tend to ignore it.
    • For ‘internal’ folks, a set of advance instructions is informational only.  Use words like – you may wish to consider – only you can decide – here’s a suggestion – up to you – what do you think?  
    • By contrast, ‘external’ folks love lots of feedback – they need to know on a fairly consistent basis ‘how they are doing’. Use words like – I’ve noticed – word in the street is – statistics show – opinion is

The Benefits of Magical Thinking

21 million Americans suffer from Paraskevidekatriaphobia or fear of Friday the 13th. Yet, according to a 2008 Dutch study, Friday the 13th is statistically safer than other Fridays because people either choose to stay at home or those that do venture out, take more care than usual.     

13Yesterday, I was privileged to attend a lecture at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum entitled The Natural Origins of Supernatural Thinking given by Professor Bruce Hood (Bristol University). Hood provided curious anecdotes such as that cited above in a very matter of fact way. As an experimental psychologist specialising in developmental cognitive neuroscience, his major research interests include discovering the cognitive processes behind adult magical thinking.

According to Hood, we humans are pretty much hard-wired to develop beliefs as a way to make sense of our world and these beliefs carry with them manifest consequences. We’re also hard-wired to impose structure and order in our lives by developing certain rituals around those beliefs (touch on wood) and one of the most intriguing involves what Hood calls sympathetic magic – or the belief in naturally occurring correspondences (or sympathies) between things such as food, colours, animals, gem stones, fabrics, plants, and days of the week. Imagine two violins. Sympathetic vibration occurs when two strings are tune to the same pitch. When one is plucked, the other sings out ‘in sympathy’.

The implications of Hood’s work for coaching are two-fold:

1.    When someone believes that she cannot do XYZ, then at least until she changes her belief, she probably can’t do. Likewise, if she believes that she can do ABC, then, it’s a pretty good bet that she will. One of the primary goals of coaching is to eliminate (or strengthen) such beliefs as needed and this is why a good coach focuses less on asking ‘why’ than ‘what’. For example, if I ask my client ‘why’ she feels so terrible, then in answering, she is only reinforcing her negative beliefs about herself. But in answering the question ‘what’ situations make her feel terrible and what do they share in common, she has a genuine opportunity to examine the origin and triggers of her beliefs.

2.    Let’s face it, change is hard work. If it weren’t then New Year resolutions would stand a better chance of success. But if my client creates a ritual or talisman that can rely upon in times of stress to remind her of the changes she’s chosen to make, she’s in a stronger position. Even better, if her chosen rituals and talismans are in line with long-accepted sympathies, she might accomplish even more. For example, if she has an important meeting or interview set for Thursday, she might tap into the ‘luck’ traditionally associated with Jupiter, the planetary ruler of Thursday. Choosing to wear a royal blue dress or suit or maybe a piece of lapis lazuli, turquoise, or amethyst jewellery reminds her of this ‘luck and who knows but that this might give her little extra boost.

Certainly Professor Hood would not be surprised if it did.

In his book Supersense: From Superstition to Religion – The Brain Science of Belief, Professor Hood reminds us that Tony Blair always wore the same pair of shoes when answering Prime Minister’s Questions and that John McEnroe notoriously refused to step on the white lines of the tennis court between points. He also reminds us that President Barack Obama played a game of basketball the morning of his victory in the Iowa primary and continued the ‘tradition’ the day of every following primary.

Let’s face it, most are us are more into magical thinking than we might like to admit and according to both Hood and those Dutch researchers, this is probably not such a bad thing.