Liberating your subconscious mind

I was listening to Olivia Colman interviewing Sharon Horgan on Chain Reaction on Radio 4 last week. They were talking about work pressures and Olivia said ‘When I get stressed, I say to my husband “there’s too much to do, I can’t cope.” So I’ll list everything I have to do and he’ll say “you could do that in an hour”.’

Laugh out loud funny right?

Sound like you? It sounded like me.

I think we all recognise that we waste energy worrying about things that we should be doing but aren’t.  It would be a far better use of energy to just get on and do them.

But that approach can also be counterproductive when we are facing complex, ambiguous challenges. Making quick decisions and focusing on action can lead to us choosing the ‘wrong’ option.

Take career transition, for example. I have worked with a lot of people since 2007 whose careers have been disrupted by the financial crisis. A phrase I often share with them is ‘don’t just do something, sit there.’ This is because for big decisions, the ones that affect the rest of our lives, it is often really helpful to tap into the subconscious. And you can’t hurry the subconscious. If you try to, you run the risk of neutralising it.

I think there are two key reasons for this:

Firstly, your subconscious needs space and time to work. Taking careers as an example; your thinking about what you could do is governed by what you currently do. This is restricted by several boundaries. The organisation you work in; the role you fulfil; the level you work at and the department you work in. Your subconscious can’t explore your hopes and dreams of what you could do because your conscious mind is focused on the pressing demands of doing your job, hour by hour, week by week, month by month, year by year. Take these boundaries away through redundancy, handing in your notice or, as happened to me, getting the sack, and it frees up your thinking.

But it isn’t instant. Your subconscious needs time to explore this new world of freedom. And it appears you can’t force it; if you do, your subconscious will default to working within the old, established boundaries.

The second factor is related to ‘gut feeling’ or intuition. These non-linear, decision making processes get a bad press in the West. We don’t trust things that can’t be described logically.

So what is going on when something emerges from your subconscious that is so obviously the ‘right answer’? Something that takes you by surprise? ’The last thing I would have thought of’ but deep down it feels right.

One theory is that some decisions are just too complex to be solved by SWOT analysis or listing pros and cons. These conscious activities are too simplistic to account for all the variables. When we are faced with these decisions, our subconscious comes to our aid – subconsciously. It draws on our whole life experience in an integrated, creative way to offer us the way forward. This is why things pop into your head at the most unexpected times and why we are sometimes woken up by a brilliant, breakthrough idea.

So what can you do consciously to make the most of the awesome capacity our brains have? Well, perhaps the most important action is to stop doing things that block the expression of this hidden potential. Probably the most critical thing you can do is stop making decisions about issues that you are struggling to resolve. If you switch off the decision making process you will switch on the process of exploration. If there is no pressing deadline, trust yourself to live with uncertainty for a while. This will send an invitation to your subconscious to do the deep thinking that is often the only way to reach a complete, lasting resolution.

Mindmapping is also a great technique for facilitating this process – have a look for books by Tony Buzan if you haven’t come across this process before. You can also try asking yourself the ‘big question’ last thing before you go to sleep, which is another way of inviting your brain to work things out subconsciously.

So, yes, definitely get on and do those urgent, pressing jobs as Olivia’s husband suggests. That will feel so much better than just continuing to worry about them. And it is a far more productive use of your energy.

But if there are things on your to do list that are big and complex, take them off your to do list and put them on your to think list. You will be amazed by the imaginative, thoughtful gifts your subconscious will give you. And all free of conscious effort.

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Listening to Nancy Kline

I was fortunate to have the privilege of listening to the inspirational Nancy Kline’s talk at the Association for Coaching Conference on September 10th.

I was inspired by her brilliant book ‘Time to Think’ and was really looking forward to hearing her speak. What impressed me immediately was her ability to engage the audience and hold the room. She has a wonderful, authentic presence that perfectly models the values and behaviours that she is so passionate about. She just talked from the heart, quietly and gently, but with absolute certainty and conviction and she held everyone in rapt attention, underlining the importance of what she was saying with simple, but compelling stories.

I was reminded of the Ghandi quote, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’.

She actually had a very challenging message – that coaches talk too much and get in the way of their clients’ thinking. That is quite tough to absorb – that maybe there is more value in what you don’t do than what you do. Yet I don’t think there was a person in the room who didn’t ‘get’ it and I’m sure will have been reflecting on their practice since. Quite an achievement, to bypass our collective defensiveness so that we could explore the possibilities of her message with curiosity and creativity.

On reflection I think this was because although she was the speaker, her attention was actively and completely focused on us, the audience, and this was reflected back to her. She helped us to be better listeners because she is such a fantastic listener herself, and that enabled everyone there to absorb her message.

These quotes were particular highlights for me.

The first is a great reminder each time we are tempted to make an input – ‘How can I be sure that what I am about to say is going to add more value than what my client/colleague/friend is going to think?’

The second helps us to remember just how much we are relying on assumption – ‘For every 30 words a person speaks they think 300; and yet we deal with the 10% as if it was 100%’.

And the one which I personally found most thought provoking – ‘We leave by speaking’, because each time we speak we run the risk of exiting the dialogue by breaking our focus and attention on the most important person, our colleague, client or friend.

I would really encourage you to explore Nancy’s writing if you haven’t discovered her so far, her ideas will create a more creative, compassionate world.

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6 Compelling Reasons why Thinking Digital should be an ‘absolute must’ in your calendar

It’s Thinking Digital 2015 in May. Can’t wait for my annual fix of new ideas and creativity. If you haven’t heard of Thinking Digital you can find out more at I am a big fan and I wanted to share with you, from my perspective as a leadership coach, what Thinking Digital offers ‘non techies’ like me.

A Trip into the Future – technology is pretty much central to most of our lives nowadays and Thinking Digital offers an amazing window on the future, a taster of the fantastic new stuff that we will all have access to not far into the future. This opportunity to do a bit of time travelling is invaluable for prompting dialogue about the world of unlimited potential we live in – but often don’t notice. It’s also great to spend some time in the company of a bunch of people who live and breathe technology and have embedded it seamlessly into their work and social lives. I’ve learned loads from this and just to share one example – I’ve seen how the Conference community collaborates to massively extend the reach of the event through blogging, twitter and lots of other online activity.

Ideas – I had no concept of how much it was possible to learn in a day until I went to Thinking Digital. Herb and his team do an incredible job of putting together a fantastic line up of speakers that will take you on a creative journey through an amazing range of subjects. There is so much to absorb that my head is buzzing with ideas for weeks afterwards. It’s a bit unfair to single out specific talks but particular highlights for me were Dan Pink’s session on whole brain thinking, Nancy Duarte‘s session on story telling in presentations and Tara Hunt’s whuffie factor presentation on social networking. All have been hugely influential in my coaching and development work over the last couple of years.

Networking – these days we all operate in a global economy which is driven by networks, partnerships and collaboration. Friendly, trusting relationships are at the heart of making these connections work – as Stephen M R Covey says ‘nothing is as fast as the speed of trust.’ And Thinking Digital is the place to be if you want to add more creative, inspirational, thought leaders to your network. There is an amazing buzz about the conference from start to finish and it is the place to be if you want to increase your social capital.

Presentation Styles – content aside it would still be worthwhile attending Thinking Digital as a presentation masterclass. I love the informal, conversational style of the speakers and the confidence people have to do it their way. They aren’t worried about breaking ‘the rules’ taught on lots of presentation courses, which are responsible for making much of what we sit through to in business so dire. They are also brilliant role models for simplifying incredibly complex ideas, making them accessible, understandable and entertaining. I discovered Prezi ( from one of the TD 2010 talks and this has since become my default presentation software and I got some inspiring ideas on presenting from Nancy Duarte‘s brilliant session in 2012.

The Sage – there is no doubt that The Sage plays a massive part in enhancing the Thinking Digital experience. The auditorium is perfect for the event, big enough to accommodate everyone but small enough to maintain an intimate, personal connection between the speakers and the audience. And the public areas provide the ideal space for networking, as well as being visually stunning and providing a drop dead gorgeous panorama of the Quayside and the city, day or night. (I love Newcastle – despite being a plastic Geordie). Herb’s team also do a fantastic job in selecting lots of brilliant complementary venues for the other events that take place during Thinking Digital, including the Conference Dinner and Closing Party.

Culture of the Digital Industry – for me this has been an added and unexpected bonus of attending Thinking Digital. I have discovered a huge collective passion within the digital community, not just for technology itself, but for what we can do with technology. People are driven by a belief that technology is an immensely empowering, democratising force for good, which can be used to shape a better future for the world. This is associated with a generosity and openness to share discoveries, making them freely available for people to use to accelerate the pace of development. This is such a refreshing contrast to the world of copyright, protection and competition that we are emerging from. And finally I’ve noticed how positive, forward looking and optimistic the digital community is. In 2009 and 2010 when the world outside was wallowing in the depths of depression over the credit crunch and cutbacks, Thinking Digital was an amazing oasis of hope and confidence about the future.

Go learn and enjoy.


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Why is the 8th waste one of the most important in Lean?

Today we are pleased to welcome a thought provoking guest post from Lean Manufacturing expert Giles Johnston of Smartspeed Consulting

One of the central pillars of the lean movement is the idea of waste in a business. Not the rubbish that we find in bins kind of waste, but the types of activity that we undertake as part of our jobs that doesn’t really benefit the end customer. You probably recall these types of waste from posters in your business, or from courses that you have been on, they are:

  • Defects
  • Overproduction
  • Transportation
  • Waiting
  • Inventory
  • Motions
  • Processes

The ‘7 wastes’ is a simple way to communicate the idea of removing the waste within a business and it helps you to identify specific areas for improvement. However, as Lean is a people centric approach to business improvement, there is another waste not on the above list. The 8th waste is known as ‘untapped human potential’ and means that the people who work in your business know all kinds of things that could improve the business, but aren’t telling you. They will see things differently to you. They will see things that you won’t. You need to take advantage of this.

Getting engagement with any kind of change programme is usually a challenge for most businesses, but one of the simplest ways to do this with Lean is go ‘waste walking’. It’s a bit like playing the childhood game of eye spy, with the list above as the items you are looking for. Taking your team’s observations, adding in a little bit of problem solving, and (hey presto!) you have an improvement plan ready to execute.

So if you’d like to improve productivity and on time delivery performance (without the usual hassles), try using all the brainpower in your team to help you strip out the unnecessary lead time and complexity from your processes. It’s a great way to make the improvements you seek.

Go for a walk with your team and get your improvement projects back on track!

Giles Johnston

Author, Consultant and Chartered Engineer

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What would you choose – a sheepdip or a spa?

I’ve recently joined an entrepreneurs support network. There are five of us; Graeme Pegman (Vital Wealth Management), Giles Johnston (Smartspeed Consulting), Simon Heal (Simon CGI) and Colin Bell (Paramount Associates) and we get together every month to share ideas and suggestions on how we can each develop our businesses. We cram a lot into the sessions and I always come away from them with lots of great new initiatives to work on.
Yesterday when I was giving the guys an update on Sogno I used the phrase ‘we don’t do ‘sheepdip’ training’ and Simon wanted to know what I meant by that. I explained it’s a term used to describe the one size fits all, mandatory training programmes that we will have experienced if we have spent any significant time in a large organisation.
Simon shared with us the little movie that ran in his head when he heard the term – sheep being forced into a pen, no choice in the matter; feeling anxious and fearful about what they are about to encounter; wanting to escape but realising that resistance is futile; having an unpleasant experience, even if it might have been ‘for their own good’; feeling incredibly relieved to be out the other side; and running away as fast as possible. I thought that’s exactly it – that is why we don’t do ‘sheepdip’ training. Why would you ever want to repeat an experience like that?
Our model is based on a spa. Somewhere you can really immerse yourself in the joy of learning.
We ask people what they want; what they need to learn and how we can design workshops to enable them to learn in a way that works best for them. We then give participants an enjoyable, personalised learning experience that gives them new insights and knowledge that they want to put into action immediately. An experience that they want to build on, repeat and tell their colleagues about. We ask them what they liked so we can do more of it in the future and we find out what we can do to make the experience even better the next time. Then we put what we have learned into practice.
As HG Wells said ‘History is a race between education and catastrophe’. Creating a learning culture which fosters a thirst for continuous, lifelong development is at the heart of organisational growth and success.

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Be mindful out there

One of the recurring themes of the reading I have done on the subject of positive psychology has been the importance of learning to live in the moment in order to savour the present.
It seems kind of obvious but the pace and complexity of life in the 21st century means it is something we need to learn, or re-learn.
The temptation is to spend much of our time in our own heads, thinking of how we want things to be in the future or reflecting on things that have already happened. While we are doing this our lives can pass us by, moment by moment, unnoticed, unlived.
To compound this, for many people, these thoughts swirl around negatively without any outlet, either focused on reliving unhappy events from the past or wishing/hoping, often unrealistically, for a change in fortunes in the future. So we can be hit by a double whammy, we run the risk of sleepwalking through our lives and in the moments when we are conscious we feel bad because of what went wrong in the past or because of our awareness of a deficit between what we want and what we have.
But as Tim Gallwey says ‘our only option is to live fully in the present because we can’t live one moment into the future or relive one moment of the past.’
That is not to say that reflecting on past events and planning for the future are in their own right negative, it is just that we need to be conscious of the dangers of overdoing them.
To redress the balance we need to learn to savour the present. It was through exploring how to achieve this that I encountered meditation and mindfulness.
I had dabbled with meditation quite often on various courses and found it helpful, but hadn’t incorporated it into my life on a consistent basis until I discovered the Compassion Kadampa Buddhist Centre in Hexham. They run regular sessions to enable people to learn the principles of meditation which are run by a Buddhist monk, Kelsang Sherab, who has become my role model for the attainment of inner peace.
Over a coffee he told me he is also a musician and he mentioned that music had been a stepping stone along his path to enlightenment. He referred to a book by jazz musician Kenny Werner, called ‘Effortless Mastery’, which had a big impact on his thinking. The concept of ‘effortless mastery’ is something that he feels is at the heart of his spiritual practice.
The idea of ‘effortless mastery’ leading to a state of flow is incredibly powerful. In the west we still seem to be wedded to the Victorian work ethic that ‘effort equals results’. It comes up in lots of other guises, ‘no pain, no gain’, etc and it is drummed into us by teachers, parents and bosses so consistently that it is difficult to contemplate there may be an alternative. But if you look to sport and think about Usain Bolt, Jess Ennis, Roger Federer or Lionel Messi for a moment, maybe another possibility will begin to take shape. That effortlessness could be the ideal state to achieve maximum performance.
Maybe it’s possible to enter a mental space in which your senses are heightened, you are at one with your task and your skills are developed to an entirely intuitive level, enabling you to flow with ease to the most astonishing outcome. Meditation is one element of personal development that helps to bring this potential into reality.
If you scale up the idea to team or organisational level the cumulative effect would be immense. If organisations could create the culture in which a state of flow could be accessed on a consistent basis it would save so much wasted interpersonal and intrapersonal energy which could then be re-invested in new creative, forward thinking initiatives.
This has been my experience in my personal life. My learning curve, which led me into meditation and mindfulness, has helped me become much more connected to the people around me. This in turn helps me to get more done, with less effort, whilst having more fun doing it. I am also much more trusting of my sub conscious and intuition, which enables me to reach better decisions. One word, I think, sums it up – ease.
I believe that organisations can gain so much from Buddhist teachings on mindfulness and meditation. So much of organisational energy is centred on pushing, driving and incentivising when much better results could be achieved by focusing on creating a climate of respect and openness in which things can take root and grow naturally. Friction is such a waste of energy in organisations and a key source of frustration and bad feeling. If it could be neutralised through the creation of a state of flow, in which objectives are achieved through ‘effortless mastery’, we would have a much more creative, motivating and self sustaining organisational model. We have much to learn.

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Book Review – ‘The Happiness Project’ by Gretchen Rubin

The Happiness Project’ Gretchen Rubin

‘The days are long but the years are short’ is a quotation that echoes through this uplifting, inspirational book. It serves as a call to action to Gretchen, a writer based in New York, to begin a year long project to bring more happiness and fulfilment into her work and family life.
The practical nature of the book really appealed to me as a lot of self development literature is long on abstract theory but short on day to day application. And often it is only when you listen to someone’s story of applying the theory that you begin to understand how challenging it can be to introduce new, positive behaviours in the face of life’s daily pressures. Gretchen’s writing is honest about this; she shares her joy when things go well but is equally frank when things get tough and she sometimes falls short of the person she is aspiring to be.
Before beginning the project, during which she sets herself the objective of concentrating on a different aspect of happiness each month of the year (kind of the ultimate New Year’s Resolution), she reads everything she can find on the psychology of happiness. Not just contemporary output on positive psychology, but also classical literature, philosophers and novelists, so this is a book based on very sound research on what makes us happy and how we can be happier.
She starts in January by boosting her energy as this will be the fuel to get her project off the launch pad and sustain it through the year. This contains an interesting section on how she improves the quality of her sleep and the book is peppered with brilliant little insights – for example in this section she reflects on why it often seems easier to stay up than go to bed, even when you are exhausted.
She also focuses on becoming better organised and appraises everything in her apartment from the perspective of Toss; Restore or Organise. She invokes the one minute rule; don’t postpone a task that can be done in less than a minute and keeps telling herself ‘if you can’t find something – tidy up.’
In February she focuses her attention on her husband Jamie, her daughters Eleanor and Eliza and her family. Called ‘Remember Love’, in this chapter Gretchen concentrates on strengthening the bonds that tie her family together and bringing more love into all their lives. This begins with the realisation that the only person’s behaviour she can change is her own, so she works on appreciating Jamie as he is rather than how she would like him to be, recognising, and suppressing her need for praise, giving lots of proof of her love and ‘fighting right’ ie only dealing with the issue in hand, de-escalating disagreements and making ‘repair attempts’. Really important, as she learns from John Gottman’s research that for a marriage to thrive, positive experiences need to exceed negative experiences by a ratio of 5 to 1. So avoiding or minimising negatives has more impact, and is potentially easer to achieve than trying to create lots more positives. Another priceless little nugget she shares is that you need to hug for at least 6 seconds to get a full dose of feel good serotonin.
In March she sets herself the challenge to aim higher and during the month launches a happiness project blog, committing to post every day. This had a strong personal resonance for me as I want to do more writing and is one reason why you are reading this review. Thanks Gretchen.
As the year progresses she shares posts on her blog from her readers and these add richness and new perspectives as the book unfolds.
Other months that particularly impacted on me were June – ‘Make Time for Friends’, July – ‘Buy some Happiness’ which gave me some really helpful insights into my own spending habits and November – ‘Keep a Contented Heart’.
There is also some great stuff on parenting when she puts into practice some of the ideas she learns from the book ‘How to talk so kids will listen’. And a really touching story about the importance of living in the moment when she describes how she spends time helping Eleanor, her one year old, practice climbing some stairs rather than go and read an interesting article in the newspaper she has just bought. ‘This is it’ she says ‘this is my precious, fleeting time with Eleanor as a little girl.’
In December, in ‘Boot Camp Perfect’, she pulls together everything she has learned into 30 days of radiant, vibrant perfection. Not really……. she writes ‘Did I have one single day perfect day in December? Nope. But even when I had a bad day, it was a good day’.
It’s a book that makes a very compelling case for actioning the changes we can all make to create happier lives for ourselves and those around us. If Gretchen can do it we all can.
Check out her blog at –

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How to facilitate

For all you facilitators out there struggling with how to design a really engaging and productive workshop you might want to channel the wisdom and experience of Stewart Pearson, PR/Communications Guru from ‘The Thick Of It’.

First of all start with some ‘mental housekeeping’ so that people ‘respect the free space of the circle’. Now you are ready to go ‘truffling in the forest of ideas’. Ensure that people don’t ‘burst the thought bubble’ as you encourage participants to let go and have lots of ‘ideagasms’. Depending on what comes up you might want to take the best suggestions and ‘McIntyre’ them or ‘architecturalise’ them into a more structured form. If no-one has throttled you by this stage you might think about slipping out unnoticed and getting your invoice in before the client sees the feedback sheets.

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Drama Based Learning Taster Workshop – June 15th

We are running a free Taster Workshop with our friends Helen McCree and Jo Huband from Capability Partnership and Luke Pennington, at Jesmond Dene Conference Centre on June 15th from 9.30 am to 1.00 pm. It will showcase our approach to drama based learning, focusing on how we can do more to help students manage the transition from education into the world of work.

We would love you to join us for this interactive and experiential workshop using new ideas and techniques in facilitation and coaching. You will discover how this approach can be used to enhance development and create a high impact learning environment.

The scenario for this event will explore the challenges (and opportunities) young people face in entering the world of work. The Workshop will be of interest to anyone who wants to explore creative ways to accelerate learning and of particular relevance to anyone working with young people, especially with regard to apprenticeships, careers and the transition from education into the world of work.

The Workshop will give you the opportunity to: –

Develop new ideas for creating imaginative, energising and powerful learning interventions
Explore how drama based facilitation and coaching can be used to help people work through difficult situations
Explore the special challenges facing young people and how they can maximise the opportunities emerging in our rapidly changing world
Network and share ideas with other learning and development professionals.
Amaze yourself by effortlessly learning new skills during a fun and memorable morning

The day will be facilitated by The Capability Partnership and Sogno and is free to participants. It will take place at Jesmond Dene Conference Centre, Millfield House, Jesmond Dene, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE7 7BQ.

Coffee will be served from 9.30am with the Workshop starting at 10.00am and ending at 1.00pm. You are very welcome to join us for lunch from 1.00pm until 2.00pm.

You can register for your free place at the Workshop here –

For further information on the Workshop contact Mike Cockburn of Sogno on 07786 266595 ( or Jo Huband on 07581 424353 ( or Helen McCree 07879 624059 ( at The Capability Partnership.

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North East Premiere of ‘HAPPY’ on World HAPPY Day

North East Premiere of ‘HAPPY’ on World HAPPY Day

‘“Well” said Pooh, “what I like best,” and then he had to stop and think. Because although Eating Honey was a very good thing to do, there was a moment just before you began to eat it which was better than when you were, but he didn’t know what it was called.’ A A Milne.

On World HAPPY Day, February 11, 2012, thousands of people will join together in communities across the globe to watch the film HAPPY and begin their journeys toward healthier, and happier lives. We want everyone in the North East and Cumbria to be part of this amazing, worldwide event so we are screening the film twice, at 2.00pm and 6.30pm, at The Centre for Life in Newcastle.
World HAPPY Day inspires action for increasing happiness in our own lives and in the world. Research suggests that happy people are healthier and live longer, they are more likely to care for the environment and less likely to commit crimes or go to war. Happy people help others more often and are more optimistic and creative. Increasing happiness benefits us as individuals and communities in infinite ways – it is a goal worth sharing.
Roko Belic, director of the Academy Award® nominated “Genghis Blues” now brings us HAPPY, a film that takes us from the bayous of Louisiana to the deserts of Namibia, from the beaches of Brazil to the villages of Okinawa to explore the secrets behind our most valued emotion.
Screening Programme
2.00pm/6.30pm ‘Happy Networking’ – an opportunity to relax over a drink, catch up with friends and meet lots of new, like minded people
3.00pm/7.30pm ‘HAPPY’ – be one of the first in the North to experience the inspiring new film by Roko Belic
4.30pm/9.00pm ‘Happy talk’ – share your feelings about the film, learn more about the psychology and growth of happiness and find out more about forthcoming Happiness events.
This is a not-for-profit venture. We would like to use the screening as a platform to establish a regional group to develop the understanding and application of positive psychology and happiness in our lives, and in time the wider community and workplace.

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