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Posts Tagged ‘attention’

Creating Systems of Wellbeing

October 26, 2014 2 comments

One burnt out candleIt’s not surprising how many of us consider “problem solving” to be one of our strengths. Simple human nature probably explains why our attention is consistently drawn to what’s not working, what’s broken or missing, what’s causing us inconvenience or pain.

And that’s not a bad thing. Because there are plenty of things that are broken right now.  From the classroom to the congress to the climate, there is no shortage of critical problems to be solved.

But what if our relentless focus on Fixing is undermining our best intentions? As we consume an endless litany of examples of human suffering, wrongdoing, short-sightedness, and imperfection do we lose track of what IS working and diminish the spiritedness we need to envision and create our best future?

One of the exercises my partners and I feature in our Coaching from a Systems Perspective course is called the Engine for Success. In it, participants identify those mutually reinforcing variables that are feeding their success as coaches and leaders. For example, curiosity feeds learning, which in turn feeds curiosity.

From November 6 through 8, we’ll be in DC facilitating conversations that similarly accentuate the positive at the 2014 Systems Thinking in Action Conference—a gathering of change leaders devoted to creating systems of wellbeing in our organizations and in the world.

I hope you can join us in spirit. Or even better, join us in person!

The Power of a Systems Perspective

Graphic facilitation by Elise Crespin In Warren Berger’s book, A More Beautiful Question, he recalls an anecdote from education pioneer Deborah Meier that stopped me in my tracks when I read it:

“We had one of those world maps with the U.S. right in the middle—remember those? And one of the students looked at it and said, ‘How come the East Indies are in the west?’ And that question got me thinking about the impact of what you put in the center and what it does to everything else.”

I love this story because it so nicely illustrates the value of what my partners and I call “coaching from a systems perspective.” Like a good coach with a provocative question, this little girl created an opening for Meier to talk with her students about their place in a larger system and the perspective they were holding about that. Meier changed the curriculum as a result of this inquiry because “it had so many implications for how you see yourself.”

This is exactly the kind of opening we try to create with leaders who are grappling with the challenges of effecting sustainable change for themselves and their organizations. We find that it is often new insight about the vantage point from which they’re viewing a complex systems environment—and their ability to try on other vantage points—that allows them to break through to new ways of thinking and acting.

One tool we use to get a fix on what our coaching client has put in the center of her awareness, and what that “does to everything else,” is the Butterfly Framework of Complex Human Systems.  Like Meier’s world map, this framework allows us to step back and ask, “Where in this landscape of internal and external systemic forces is our client’s awareness focused? What would be possible if she shifted her awareness to another part of the system?”

Having just returned from the SoL Global Forum in Paris, where I had the pleasure of presenting a workshop on the Butterfly Framework, I can report that there is a vibrant international community of coaches and consultants who understand the evolutionary importance of greater systems awareness. Colleagues from no fewer than fifteen countries shared stories with me about how they are catalyzing transformation by helping their clients ask more beautiful questions and better see the systems they are and the systems they’re in.

What question, if you asked it right now, would move you to a new perspective?

Long Odds

August 1, 2011 3 comments

Pastured horse in sunsetWhen Australian Cadel Evans took to the podium last week as the winner of the 2011 Tour de France, he said, “I just want to say thank you to everyone who’s had faith in me.”

It was a poignant moment for Evans who at 34, became the oldest winner in the Tour’s modern era, rewarding the patience of fans who had been disappointed to see him settle for runner-up status in the race several times over the past few years. But the loyal support he alluded to in his remarks after the victory had an even longer history. When he was eight years old, Evans was kicked in the head by a horse and spent several weeks in a coma, throwing his very survival into question, and making his eventual success at the pinnacle of professional sports truly improbable.

There are few story lines more appealing than the triumph of the underdog. Maybe that’s why so many of us carry around our own version of the tale, nursing along our awareness of the “horses” that have kicked us in the head to complicate our road to success.

But can we all really be underdogs? Don’t get me wrong. I’m not denying that each of us has been kicked in the head a few times. I’m just raising the possibility that from the vantage point of Now, we might find that we’ve been complicit in preserving some vestige of disability to explain why that ultimate prize has eluded us.

What if we had the courage to put those cantankerous old horses out to pasture for good? What’s stopping us from going for the yellow jersey now?

Dream, Not Dread

When fear dominates our awareness“Fearless,” is how his collaborators described Neil Patrick Harris for being willing to deliver an exuberant, on-the-fly rap to end the 2011 Tony Awards broadcast. A quick scan of recent news stories finds the word fearless applied—with notably different shades of meaning—to other performers, film directors, journalists, athletes, explorers, soldiers, activists, and even politicians.

Whether we’re talking about life-or-death situations or simply the possibility of embarrassment, we admire people who are willing to take a risk when the stakes are high.

But, are these people really fearless? Surely not. Some measure of fear is essential to our survival and to escape it completely would be folly. On the other hand, to let fear dominate our awareness is equally dangerous because it erodes our capacity to create and produce—in fact, to live.

What we can learn from the risk-takers around us is that it’s possible to make fear the footnote instead of the headline. Grounded in clarity about their values and purpose, risk-takers choose to pay more attention to what they want than what they fear. And that makes for a richer, more meaningful life.

Watch and share this one-minute animation to remind yourself to tune in to the channels that energize you rather than the ones that frighten you.

Poets as Coaches

April 25, 2011 1 comment

book cover, Eating Her Wedding DressThis coaching business is nothing new. Helping people shift their perspectives, question their assumptions, follow their hearts—poets have been doing this for millennia.

In fact, metaphor, one of the tools that coaches find most useful in moving clients forward, is borrowed straight from the poet’s pen. There is magic in the way that metaphorical imagery can draw us out of our heads into a full body awareness of our challenges and dreams.

So, on those rare occasions when your coach isn’t available, you might consider consulting a poet who can guide you to new ways of sensing and thinking. And of course, continuing with the celebration of National Poetry Month, I have a recommendation for you.

The poets represented in Eating Her Wedding Dress, A Collection of Clothing Poems, from Ragged Sky Press, deliver joyful and poignant insights about what it means to be human as revealed through what we wear and what wears on us: How do we present ourselves? How do we connect with each other? How do we change?

How, for example, do we inhabit the experience of being laid off? You might read a thousand news reports and human interest stories about the effect of the recession on individual lives, and still something surprising clicks when a poet reflects on it:

My First Pink Slip
by Mary Langer Thompson

Not a lacy half or whole
silk of lingerie, but
a sheer missive
delivered today, needing
my unfashionable signature
saying I received it, not
that I agree not to cling
to a position gone.

The smooth Board decided
in private session,
secret even to Victoria,
taking action pursuant
to code section 44951
to unclasp me.

Four a.m. I awake
under a rusty moon
in a cold-hot sweat,
neglected in my negligee
drenched in worry.
I’ve finally been noticed.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Poets, like coaches, help you do the noticing. What are you noticing now?

Shadow Boxing

jumping shadow, photo by Mike SchubertCan you escape your shadow?

Probably not. It might be nice to think all those doubts and fears that we confound ourselves with could someday be retired for good. But most evidence and opinion suggests that those self-defeating voices are inseparable from our essential selves. We are no more likely to escape them completely than we are to wake up one morning as someone else.

Carl Jung formulated that our negative impulses are rooted in a universal, archetypal aspect of the human psyche: “Everyone carries a shadow, and the less it is embodied in the individual’s conscious life, the blacker and denser it is. At all counts, it forms an unconscious snag, thwarting our most well-meant intentions.”

What does it mean to embody our shadows in our conscious lives? I think one answer is simply to get to know them; to bring them into the light of day, name them, and hold them where they belong—subordinate to our aspirations.

Since April is National Poetry Month, I thought it would be fun to share Robert Louis Stevenson’s playful consideration of the shadow, published in 1885. You might wonder, “How can a poem written for children illuminate my adult tendency to sabotage myself?” The poem gains dimension when you remember that the author was also the creator of one of the most iconic representations of inner struggle with the shadow in English literature: The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

My Shadow
by Robert Louis Stevenson

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me,
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see.
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head;
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed.

The funniest thing about him is the way he likes to grow—
Not at all like proper children, which is always very slow;
For he sometimes shoots up taller like an india-rubber ball,
And he sometimes gets so little that there’s none of him at all.

He hasn’t got a notion of how children ought to play,
And can only make a fool of me in every sort of way.
He stays so close beside me, he’s a coward you can see;
I’d think shame to stick to nursie as that shadow sticks to me!

One morning, very early, before the sun was up,
I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup;
But my lazy little shadow, like an errant sleepy-head,
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.

How well do you know your shadow? When do you find opportunities to leave it home in bed?

Nowhere to Put It

February 2, 2011 3 comments

Light through snowy branchesGreg Heavener, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Mount Holly, New Jersey, might have been speaking for all of us when he reported a couple of days ago, “There’s nowhere to put it.”

He was talking about the snow, of course, but he may as well have been referring to the sense of beleaguered exhaustion that this relentless winter is visiting upon us here in the Northeast and elsewhere across the country.

Now, I know, I’m the one who’s always cheering us on to adopt new perspectives when circumstances have us feeling defeated. And I stand by that! But part of exploring new perspectives is getting perfectly clear about the one you’re in.

Robert Fritz, an important voice in the realm of personal growth, identified the creative potential inherent in the “structural tension” between what we have (our current reality) and what we want (our vision). His formula calls for a frank assessment of the now. And sometimes, let’s face it, a frank assessment makes us want to scream or cry.

I think of John McEnroe exploding into a fit of rage on the court after a line judge didn’t see it his way: “You CANNOT be serious!” He probably reaches his breaking point quicker than most, but it’s a sentiment we can relate to as we absorb one more layoff, one more foreclosure, one more rejection letter, or 21 more inches of snow.

So, yes, I’m all about getting from here to the vision. But I also know that tears and tantrums are built into the system for a reason. Don’t be afraid to let them do their work. They help you know when you’ve reached your limit. When “there’s nowhere to put it,” there’s nowhere to go but up.

Time Lapse Photography

November 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Then and nowA friend of mine sent me a link to Young Me/Now Me, an entertaining web project that invites you to upload “then and now” photos illustrating how you and the people around you have changed (or seem not to have changed) over the years.

When I visited the site, I was both amused and touched by the images people had selected to share. There’s a spirit of exuberance in the exercise, and at the same time, something poignant about celebrating the durability of self.

Even as time has changed our bodies and our relationships, even as we inhabit a different world now than we did then (witness the revolution in the medium of photography), we retain something precious and essential at our core that guides our continual becoming.

Will you try it? Find a snapshot of yourself from years ago and place it side by side with a current image. Ask yourself, “What was gloriously, inextinguishably true for Young Me that is still true for Now Me?”

Knowing that, who will I be a few years from now when photographic images are rendered in three or four dimensions? In other words, what’s possible for Next Me?

Categories: Wake Up Tags: , , ,

Growth Spurts

November 12, 2010 Leave a comment

flowers growing among the ruinsStand back. I’ve got a theory. I won’t be quoting any esteemed researchers on this one; it’s just a blurt from observation.

Over the past few months I’ve met up with or spoken to several women with whom I had been good friends in high school and college, but hadn’t spoken to with any depth for close to twenty years. (Yes, thank you, Facebook.)

We all remarked on how we were able to pick up right where we left off; how hearing each others’ voices and seeing each others’ faces immediately transported us back into the comfort of close relationship. It occurred to me that one reason those bonds are so supple is because they were forged while we were each in the midst of a dramatic growth spurt, a time when we were transitioning, when we were wondering more than knowing: What career should I pursue? What’s it like to be independent of my parents? What is sex all about?

Similarly, going farther back, our childhood relationships with parents and siblings owe some of their intensity to the explicit state of becoming we were in while they formed. Actively engaged in learning and change every day, as children we’re particularly receptive to the feedback we get from others about what’s good about us and what’s bad about us. We’re paying close attention to this incoming data because our success and safety depends upon it, and as a result, the love—and resentments—we share with those individuals throughout our lives are rooted in the very soil of our hearts.

My theory is simply that the sponge-like quality we take on during growth spurts can lead to deeper relationship with other human beings. I’ve also experienced it as a young parent growing alongside other young parents and as a member of a project team growing with my colleagues at work.

So, if you’re feeling a gap in the area of meaningful relationships in your life, you can help test this theory. Choose to be in growth spurt mode! Is that even possible?

I think the answer is yes. It starts with a courageous question: Am I a work in progress, or a done deal? If you’re a work in progress (Hint: If you’re alive, you are) get curious and then intentional about who you want to be. Make time for reflection. Notice what you’re paying attention to and ask yourself whether it’s drawing you forward or holding you back. And most importantly, choose to be with other people who see themselves as works in progress.

I can almost guarantee that you will grow together.