Light at the End of the Tunnel

 

“What’s true of all the evils in the world is true of plague as well. It helps men to rise above themselves.”   Albert Camus, The Plague

It was a peculiar weekend right enough. Shorter than planned, and one that, like Alice, saw us enter and re-emerge from a tunnel into a world that had undergone a surreal transformation during our brief excursion. The news from around the globe of a spreading virus was building, but in most parts of the British Isles people were carrying on with their daily lives quite normally, albeit with a slight awkwardness when it came to greeting friends and relatives. We had been looking forward to our trip on Eurostar, one that I saw as a practice run for many more non-aviation journeys into Europe.  On arrival at the terminal in St Pancras we were warmly greeted by an animated and cheerful attendant who told us to “go and enjoy a cup of coffee and some breakfast, and to ignore the published checking-in time, as the numbers travelling were down, and they were not going to be strict about it this morning”. This was delivered in a manner clearly intended to make us feel relaxed. It had a different effect. As we drank our coffee at a faux-French outlet, only twenty metres from the gate, we pondered as to why numbers were so far down, whether we were doing the right thing, what if we got stuck in France, were we being irresponsible, and many other thoughts that took us on a downward spiral of self-doubt. We finished our coffee and decided to get through check-in at the time instructed, just in case she wasn’t even a real attendant, but someone who enjoyed hanging around the station and making people miss their train.

Check-in and embarkation were smooth, the journey commenced, and before long we were sliding effortlessly through the Kent countryside and down into the blackness of the channel tunnel. We began to relax. The train was not busy and people were spaced generously around the carriages. We were very soon gliding into Gare du Nord. Five minutes later, we had been embraced by the late afternoon Parisian foot-traffic, and eased seamlessly into that familiar walking pattern. The one that differentiates the tourist who is not in any hurry to get anywhere in particular from the deliberate and determined stride of the local with somewhere they need to be.

Once the hustle and bustle that always surrounds major transport hubs had been left behind, it became easier to distance ourselves from passers-by. No-one appeared concerned, there were no more masks in evidence than had been spotted in London, and everyone looked like they were glad it was the weekend.  We strolled miles and miles, soaking in the sights and sounds. We people-watched, we stopped to drink in the majesty of the bridges crossing the Seine, we reminded ourselves of previous trips to the city and reminisced. We paused and stared as the sun set behind the Eiffel Tower illuminating the west of the city in a magical red glow. As the light faded, the old lady started to put on her sparkles, and a different face gradually appeared. The lights of the Grand and Petite Palais bestowed a quality on the architecture and the skyline that was enchanting.

The next day began with a gentle hint of something different. Four young people, at a table in the breakfast area of our hotel, sat together but socially distant. Not just because, like most young people of their generation, their attention was exclusively focused on the content of their mobile phone screens, but by the fact that they were each wearing a mask. Continue reading

Are we ready for the Future?

Are we failing our children by what is taught at school?  How much has the basic curriculum changed in the last 30 years?  Are our children still having to endure an education program designed for the 20th Century?  I believe so.

credit: Inc.com

There is little evidence that governments around the world have really got to grips with what is happening right underneath their noses.  It is perhaps little wonder, as the politicians and leaders of our states, institutions and corporations are, almost exclusively, products of the 20th Century.

The steady spread of computers and mobile devices that we have become used to over the past twenty years has lulled the baby-boomers into a complacency. A state of believing that this pace will continue, and that they, as the first generation to really get to grips with the IT revolution, have a handle on it and can even teach the youngsters a thing or two about programming or big data. Continue reading

Spark Inside

This blog has been copied from a blog written by Jack Merritt on The Exceptionals, an organisation that helps businesses employ ex-offenders by connecting them with relevant organisations who provide training, recruitment and ongoing support.  

“Sometimes when we talk about prisoners and prison, we forget that we’re talking about people. These are parents, siblings, children.” – Baillie Aaron, Spark Inside Founder and CEO

Spark Inside Founder Baillie Aaron: ‘Why we need to rethink England’s prison system.”

“Spark Inside’s work is vital and unique. It is the global pioneer in offering life coaching to young people in prison, enabling those facing the most significant life obstacles to have more fulfilling, purpose-driven futures. Spark Inside provides that rare antidote in today’s complex criminal justice climate: hope.” – Rt. Hon. David Lammy MP, Member of Parliament for Tottenham

According to Spark Inside, prison doesn’t work, because it isn’t effective in reducing crime. Although 97% of prisoners say they want to leave crime behind, 49% will go on to reoffend within one year. This figure increases to 65% for 15-18 year olds. Spark Inside wants to see people leaving prison break this cycle of reoffending. Founded by Baillie Aaron in 2012, Spark Inside aims to bring about a criminal justice system which prioritises rehabilitation.

How do they plan on doing this? Through two innovative and effective coaching interventions.

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Talismanic coaching: where science meets superstition

This Article was published originally in Coaching Psychology International, Volume 8, Issue 1 (Summer 2015) – ISSN 1758-7719 – pages 16-19. 

In Daniel Goleman’s (2013) Focus, he proposes that in a world of ever-increasing 24/7 distraction, we need to become better at focusing in the here and now. In this paper we propose the benefit of “superstitious conditioning” through the use of a Talisman to help
clients focus their attention in post-coaching situations.

Learning, at its most fundamental, is based upon the creation of neural connections which either strengthen or inhibit behaviour, facilitated by attending or not attending to stimuli. Learning can be said to happen when a new state (ie, a new connection) or a new association of existing connections occurs. The stronger the associations become, the more they become embedded, meaning the associated behaviour will be more readily enacted.

As coaches, we are in a highly privileged position, able to utilise this knowledge of how learning occurs for the benefit of our clients. We can share with them tools and techniques to create and strengthen associations. Once changes are fully embedded, then the tools may no longer be required, but, in the early days, having a proxy association to aid the formation of a neural association assists with sustenance of early progress.

However, all too often in coaching, after gaining insight, clients return to the everyday fray of work. Here, they lose conscious awareness of their coaching goal as it becomes displaced by more demanding pressures. Continue reading

Who Do You Think You Are?

“Dad! Dad! Can I be an astronaut?”

“Don’t be stupid son. You come from Doncaster.” ~ Steve McDermott

 

Last month I published a post in the wake of the killings in Paris called Hands up if you’re scared. The thrust of the piece was about fear, and the natural (and adaptive) reactions we have to dangerous situations. It was also about the exploitation of that fear, by both terrorists and political hawks.

In addition to those external voices of doom, we also have to be on our guard against our own internal enemy. The voice from within plays into the hands of the arguments of external fear-mongers. Many people have studied and written about the many forms our internal voice takes. Sometimes we can think of it as our conscience, our guide, our fairy godmother, looking out for us and keeping us on the straight and narrow. Or it may manifest in more malevolent form, talking down your talent or competence, criticizing your ideas or dreams, mocking your attempts to break free from “who you are”.

Over many years of working with people as they seek to overcome internal obstacles, I have heard people describe their ‘inner critic’ or ‘gremlin’ in many different ways, but whatever form they take, they tend always to say the same sorts of things to us.

  • “What makes you think you can do that?”
  • “You’ll fail and look stupid.”
  • “You’ll never amount to anything.”
  • “Who’s going to listen to you?”
  • “Who do you think you are?”

Screenshot 2015-12-11 13.26.33I recommend watching this interview between Oprah Winfrey and Brene Brown. The whole interview is fascinating, but if you only have a few minutes to spare, Continue reading

Hands up if you’re scared

Liberté, égalité, fraternité

Hands up if you are more scared this week than last?  Hands up if you believe you are more likely to be the victim of a terrorist atrocity than you were before the Russian airliner fell from the sky? Or the killings in Paris?  I see a fair few hands raised. I’m guessing that your hands are not raised having quickly calculated the complex statistical probability associated with being mixed up in such occurrences. More likely, it is coming from something in your gut, or in your heart. Somewhere far away from cognitive reason and rationality.

creative commons

creative commons

And, of course, that is what terror intends. To switch people off from reason, rationality, logic and constructive discourse, and switch on our more primal decision-making systems. “I feel it in my water. In my gut. I can smell it. My heart is ruling my head”. Believer v Non-Believer. Black v White. Love v Hate.  For v Against. Polarisation, simplification. No room for the grey. Choose your side.

Operating in a state of fear is commonplace. Workers fear for their jobs, their livelihoods, and being able to fend for their families. Patients fear the worst when waiting their medical results. City traders fear the flashing lights on the trading board when they glow red for what it might be about to signal. Could this be another crash in global markets?

Fear serves a useful evolutionary function. It kept our ancestors alive, and we have their fear to thank for us being here today. Unfortunately it is the enemy of progress. It stunts creativity, blocks new ways of thinking. Neuroscience shows quite clearly that, when the fear system in the brain is active, exploratory activity is turned off. In other words we stop looking for new ways to solve problems.  We resort to what we know worked in our evolutionary past. We either cower and hide and hope the danger passes, we flee and turn our backs on the problem, or we retaliate with force and hope to win with might. Continue reading

It’s the hope that kills you

“It’s not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair.  It’s the hope I can’t stand. ~ John Cleese (as Brian Stimpson in the film Clockwise)

Those who know me well will know that I am a long-suffering Scotland football fan. I have followed the national team for more years than I care to remember. Anyone who knows anything about sport in general, and perhaps football in particular, will recognise the dilemma that most football fans face. That is, they cannot always ‘choose’ their team.  As a professional coach and a psychologist who spends most of his life spreading the message that we all have choice, this does not sit well with ‘what I know’.  Why don’t I simply support Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Argentina or whatever team is top of the division on any given week?  That would be easy. It would take away a lot of the pain and disappointment that inevitably occurs when you follow Scotland’s world cup and euro championship qualification ambitions.scots fan in despair

But, I think that is to miss the point.
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Can Emotion Recognition be Taught?

Being able to accurately process emotional cues from others is a critical ability that underpins effective and appropriate interpersonal relationships.  If we misread signals, or miss cues from others altogether, it can lead to some embarrassing and uncomfortable moments.  We are neurologically wired to scan the faces and body language of others in our social groups to help us determine emotional states, providing us with clear survival value. Detecting anger or fear is useful, not least in helping us avoid getting too close to danger or making situations worse, while being able to identify happiness or joy in others is key to establishing or enhancing positive connections and initiating relationships.

Some recent studies on emotion recognition have concluded that individuals with conduct disorders (CD) and antisocial behaviours (ASB) are significantly worse at recognising emotional signals associated with sadness, disgust, anger and fear, relative to controls.

It perhaps wouldn’t come as a surprise to people working within the prison system, and exposed regularly to ‘angry’ young men (most studies have focused on men within the criminal justice system), that their ‘sensitivity’ to cues may be different to the general population. The reasons for this, at least at an anecdotal level, may appear obvious. For example, take a young man who has been raised within an abusive environment, where the levels of anger he was exposed to were extreme. His normal baseline for detection of anger is likely to be set higher than the average person. He is used to seeing and hearing the cues of extreme anger, while possibly also experiencing their direct impacts. It may be reasonable to assume that this exposure to negative emotions will impact his sensitivity to detection of negative emotions such as anger, fear and sadness. Continue reading

Why don’t we do what’s good for us?

I have toothache as I write. I am in pain.  My tooth needs to come out. I am
attached to it, but, it has done its job and we now need to part company. But don’t let me fool you into thinking that I have taken a completely quick and rational pliersdecision. I have had recurring problems with this particular tooth for some time. Each time the pain flares I know that it needs extracted. My dentist has confirmed this and told me to arrange an appointment whenever I feel it needs to happen. However, just before I make the call, the pain inevitably recedes.  Why is this? Does it really? Do I imagine it has? Do I fool myself that it has? Whatever the reason, I end up putting off thoughts of calling the dentist until the next time the pain returns.

So why is it that we avoid taking action that we know would alleviate our pain? Why is it so hard for people to do the things that are actually good for them?  A study published in the British Journal of Clinical Psychology (2014), Gilbert, McEwan, Catarino, Baiao and Palmeira, suggests that the fear of experiencing a positive outcome might be stronger than the desire to heal.

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Fail Big, Fail Fast, Fail Often!

In the week of the 2015 US Masters golf championship, many eyes are on Rory McIlroy. In 2011, an even younger McIlroy was on the verge of making golfing history. He carried a 4-shot lead into the final round, having played sublime golf for the first three days of the championship. However, on his final round he shot the worst round in history by any professional golfer leading after the 3rd round of the Masters. Not the piece of history he was after. Rory suffered what can only be described as a ‘meltdown’ in the unforgiving glare of the TV cameras and the golfing world.

Some pundits questioned his bottle, his psyche, his temperament, and his ‘big game’ mentality. Some said, “history shows that players who cough up big leads in big tournaments often don’t get another chance, their psyches permanently shattered by thoughts of what might have been.” (TwinCities.com

But, McIlroy went on to win 4 majors in the next three years, starting with the U.S.Open championship, just a few short months after his Augusta meltdown. He achieved his victory in some style too, setting a new championship record and becoming the youngest winner since 1923.
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