The Day of the Zombie Executive

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Over the last 18 years of living in London I have watched people crossing the bridges across the Thames or shuffling into, through and out of tube stations in the mornings. If you take the time it is impossible not to notice the way many people not only drag their brief cases and laptop bags with them, they seem to drag their bodies along too. It’s like watching a bad B movie called ‘The day of the Zombie Executive’. People have picked up the habit of living in their heads and forcing their bodies to comply, treating their physical selves like their car; you drive it like an extension of yourself, have it serviced occasionally but have absolutely no idea how it works let alone have a clue how to maintain it or fix it.

The main reason for this is virtually nothing most business people are required to do on a daily basis asks very much of the body – we even avoid stairs in favour of escalators and lifts. We spend most of our days sitting down, using mostly our finger tips to make a living. Utterly disconnected from the vital yet silent majority of ourselves. The sad fact is that most people only hear what the body has to say when they take a holiday and then it’s quite common for it to tell you how badly you have ignored it and how unhappy it is. Before I took up Aikido just over six years ago I had been doing the sporadic gym session here and there and some running in the mornings. I even took lessons in the Alexander Technique to try and get my body to behave how I wanted it to

All of those things were fine but they didn’t have a purpose, discipline or a set of benchmarks to be tested against. Mostly they just perpetuated the problem of treating the body like a rented car and not a valued loved one and the only home most of us will ever own mortgage free. I would of course experience periods of improvement, better wellbeing etc but then always a slip back into being a business-mind dragging a body around with me. Gravity consistently winning the battle until, at the end of each day, I would crumple into bed and have less than enough sleep to face another day without my body fully on my side.

Six years later I found myself in Japan doing an intensive 16 day training program with a possible black belt grading ahead of me. I had to maintain my body and fix it in order to make it to the next days’ training sessions, let alone those scheduled for the following week. After about four days I found myself moving with my body and not ‘dragging’ it. My body started to regularly give me more than I could have asked for. It got me up in the morning and told me what it needed in order to be sustained, really clearly. It prompted me to stretch and to practice when not in the dojo. I found it easier to manage more than one thing at a time in my life than ever before, as I did not experience a conflict or dissonance between them.

I also just stopped focusing on a bunch of stuff that isn’t really important, like what people might be thinking about me. Believe it or not I actually took up Aikido to get this from it and had seen glimmers of it along the way. Do I think you have to take up a martial art for 6 years then travel to the other side of the planet to immerse yourself in a full time training program and be tested at the end in order to get this? Essentially no. I have however learned some things that I strongly advocate – here are 5 of them that I think could be very helpful if this article has connected with you.

  1. Take up a practice in a martial art or some kind of physical endeavour that requires you to use both your mind and your body, and that can be pursued weekly over the course of your life; even into old age.
  2. Choose an activity that has both a program of measuring your development by an instructor but also agree with yourself why you are doing it and have one of those reasons to become a better person (I.e. fewer of your decisions are influence by fear).
  3. Check in with yourself regularly and contrast how your relationship with your body is changing and if your relationships with others are being affected in any way, good or bad.
  4. When you experience positive changes along the way look at how they can be of benefit to others and spend time applying what you are learning in the working and home environments. This can serve to further integrate developments in the body and yourself as a whole in the training space and with who you are becoming in other areas of your life.
  5. Enjoy the new developments and insights when they come whilst also taking the plateaus as a reassuring investment into the quality of your future life and the lives of those closest to you. This kind of ongoing personal development cannot fail to improve the quality of your own life without having positive effects on everyone around you.
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Black Belt NLP

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Firing on all neurological levels..

In my end note to the 50th Edition of Rapport Magazine entitled ‘Plan to surprise yourself’ I had one goal still outstanding from my 5 year plan. This was to attain my Black Belt in Shodokan Aikido. 2016 started with a few low points, some of which affected my regular training in Aikido. Work and family commitments increasingly conflicted with training. Catching up the missed hours so that I could join my peers at the July Black Belt Grading in Edinburgh became impossible.

A number of factors started to bubble to the surface. Questions about my environment, motivation, identity and purpose. Just about everything in our family’s little world was changing. With our daughter about to go to school in a different part of London we needed to move house, prepare for the new school and secure a new nanny for afternoon pick-ups (to name but a few). Two new businesses I had been developing for a while were starting to move from embryonic to needing bank accounts, trading agreements and staff. My Telecommunications business (NSN) was still growing and, although my business partner in his new role as MD largely managed the business, there was still plenty there to occupy my time (including NSN winning a national sales and marketing award!).

My Coaching Company Brighter Lives, which represents my long term purpose, had just taken on corporate clients for the first time and was also testing my time management and prioritisation. So how important really was this Black Belt? Why couldn’t I just accept that it might not happen until 2017? One answer was that so much of my new coaching methodology (Neuro-Somatic Coaching) that I have been developing from my Masters Degree in Applied Coaching focuses on the body, movement, proprioception and reducing fear in the body and raising conscious choice.

The Black Belt would give me the ability to create a space in which to experiment and continue my coaching research. Without it my research would suffer; and so would my mission and purpose. Admittedly my sense of identity struggled with this. Mid-May I set up a dojo space for an Instructor to support them in exchange for Black Belt coaching. They backed out from active Instruction at the last minute due to financial issues. Left with a two month commitment to the owner of the training studios, and no extra Black Belt training I asked a senior training colleague to be my co-instructor. I was nicely surprised when not only did she agree but my reasons for doing it going forward as a space for experimentation and development worked for her too.

One evening mid-April I reviewed my options, priorities and core drivers and came to the conclusion that I had to go to Japan and train daily towards grading. If I was to still meet or even beat the July deadline I would have to seriously play full out, modelling fiercely on all the excellence I could find and put myself out there without guarantee of being offered a grading. Gathering my resources, the support of family, friends and reaching out well beyond my comfort zone saw me landing at Osaka airport on May 29th at 10am in the morning. I was welcomed by my mentor Michael Mccavish, a 6th Dan Instructor in Osaka who had become a friend during my 6 years in Aikido.

I was on the mat in the Shodokan HQ at 12pm for private tuition with him, followed by a class lesson. I did approx. 50hrs of training, closing in on my return date, when during a private lesson kindly given by Nariyama Shihan suddenly the word ‘Shinsa’ (examination) was announced. An hour later he was congratulating me on attaining my Shodan (1st Degree Black Belt). At every stage of the journey I drew on my NLP training, leaning heavily on the Neurological Levels laid out by Robert Dilts, Values work from Tad James, my own developing work on Authoring the Self by awakening the body and aligning deep drives with conscious purpose.

I don’t think it is a gross exaggeration to call this application of NLP methodologies and principles – Black Belt NLP.

Plan to surprise yourself

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Over the last 5 years I have set and achieved more goals than at any other time in my life. I have generally been a focused and driven person, but this last 5 years have been a whole other deal. It began with the final goal setting phase of my NLP Master Practitioner course wherein I laid out some key milestones i.e. become an NLP Trainer, design trainings, get a degree, launch a new company, make enough money to keep going, get a Black Belt in Aikido and teach it, find the right significant other, become a published author to name a few.

All in all I achieved, and in some cases exceeded, my goals. I started an awesome family (with exactly the right significant other) and achieved a Masters Degree in Applied Coaching along the way whilst designing my own integrated approach to coaching. My Telecoms company was listed amongst the fastest 50 growing UK Tech companies in the UK in 2015 (and in the fastest 500 in Europe, Middle East and Africa). My next grading in Aikido will be my Shodan (1st degree Black Belt) later this year. I had initially aimed for it to be in 2015, I did however achieve my Instructor certification at the end of 2015 so my core aim to be able to teach was achieved in good time.

In every respect I have either nailed my goals or knocked the ball out of the park; I faced failure dropping out of an undergraduate degree in 2012 only apply in 2013 for a Masters Degree. I honestly could not have achieved as much without first setting my goals out clearly, in a well formed fashion and along my time line out to, well right around now. I am in fact, for the first time in my life in fully uncharted territory, and in the process of setting out my next set of goals. It is an insanely exciting time.

However, I should return to the subject for this article – planning to surprise yourself. When I set out my goals I made them specific enough to focus my attention. Thus beginning the process of enlisting my unconscious mind to start marshalling the resources and connections that I would need along the way; adjusting my values and priorities in the process accordingly. I did not in fact plan to surprise myself. That I think it is a good idea is only afforded to me in hindsight.

Planning for surprises, at least to me, really means to allow room for how the lives, purposes and qualities of others will affect your own life plan. The most surprising factor in my own experience is that people will help you more than you expect if you respect them. For example my entry onto a Masters Degree programme was an unexpected opportunity that was offered by the same person that heavily criticised the design of a workshop I was putting together for the first time. Without respecting that person I highly doubt I would have even learned of the opportunity (I think that was a classic example of curiosity saving the cat).

There are in fact people you will meet along the way who will directly and indirectly enrich your journey. Some will clearly support you and help you and others will hamper and delay, if not outright obstructing the road ahead. My key learning throughout has been that people must always be related to as having value (which is what I mean by respect), and never as being unnecessary hurdles to be negotiated with minimum delay. This kind of resistance on your journey to achieving your goals is the most common and is actually pretty straight forward to resolve.

Resistance in Neuro-Linguistic Programming is a sign of a lack of rapport, and more importantly it means you are not accepting feedback. Over the last 5 years I have learned that not accepting feedback can be fatal both metaphorically and even literally. It can also mean that you are not learning, and not learning means not taking responsibility for your own progression. I also learned that whatever it is that you do not take responsibility for you will be reduced to time and time again until you do. This particular lesson has been a gift that keeps on giving.

I encourage you to take responsibility for meeting all kinds of new people and creating strong, deep value based relationships with them. Eventually integrating them with those already in your existing circle of relationships, and allowing yourself to be integrated into theirs. In my experience, all of the good things I have learned, experienced and been enriched by were outside of my comfort zone and there is nothing on this planet that will push your comfort zone to shift like other people. May you be pleasantly surprised.. and often!

The importance of asking

The importance of asking

I have recently been reflecting on the beginnings of my telecoms company NSN, and developing some coaching exercises for my business coaching clients based around how it went from nothing to something. Approximately a year before NSN launched I asked a previous employer and investor a cheeky question. “Any chance you can have my partner and I come and stay for Christmas at your place in the Caribbean?” A couple of weeks later we were on his boat heading out towards open water. Another question “I’ve always wanted to drive a speed boat – may I try?” And then I was bombing out into deeper waters and having an awesome experience. Later on during that trip, whilst sitting at a bar by gentle azure waters I asked some questions about a possible new business venture called New Star Networks (NSN).

Thinking back to creating my coaching exercises I wondered what if it was the very act of asking that invited an exchange of value? And what if that act of creating an exchange of value creates a bond of trust? And from a certain perspective could it not therefore be said that we build our lives on many levels of bonds of trust? What if nothing actually moves forward until a question gets asked? And so on and so forth until my coaching exercises began to focus acutely on the importance of asking questions. This article looks at examples of questions and scenarios that relate to waking up to our purpose in the business environment and how, through investing our time in asking a variety of questions, almost anything is possible.

Let us imagine you have found yourself to be a bit stuck, repeating experiences you don’t really want to have and little by little, losing sight of a way forward. Simply asking yourself some questions can be invaluable. For example if you were to ask yourself the question ‘what is really most important to me right now in my career?’ you might surprise yourself with the answer. You might further surprise yourself with how different your answer is from what you’re actually doing or what you are putting most of your energy into at this point in time.

Now what to do if the answer is something like ‘‘working on my business plan for a business I want to launch’’ when you are currently employed by someone else? Do you ignore your job and risk dropping the ball and losing your main source of income? Do you ignore your new business aspirations and lose the energy and drive that could well be all that’s keeping you energised about your professional life in general? Simply by asking yourself these questions and writing out your answers you will start to get closer to achieving what you want. All of this newly conscious information is vital in helping you to identify the resources you will need to make your next moves.

For example a question to ask yourself could be who do I know who has already done what I am trying to do? Can I identify others who have already made the jump from non-stakeholder employee to being the first employee of their own company? Doing this will eventually give you a valuable group of people to whom further questions can be directed. If you really look it won’t take long – and these kinds of people really do love real questions from driven individuals. Imagine then asking them how they shifted their centre of gravity from being an employee to a self-employed entrepreneur? And what happened next? And what was most important at each stage of the way? After 3 or 4 conversations like this you would most likely already be making the changes in your thinking that will lead to the changes in the real world that you were struggling to get your head around.

Now imagine you connect really well with one of these people and they like your ideas – how about asking them if they would consider benefiting from your new enterprise? Then perhaps ask yourself how much of this new venture do you really need to own in order to have meaningfully moved forward in your career as an entrepreneur? How much income can you survive on and for how long? Asking your new business partner how much of a stake they need in return for the level of funding you need will get you into the beginnings of a detailed business plan. Then, asking “if this business plan is acceptable to you will you invest?” will get you a final yes or no.. either way it’s all invaluable information and experience that will lead to eventually creating the right business plan to get started with the right business partner to get you further down the road than you previously imagined.

How much ground have you now covered from what could previously have been a dream displaced by your current duties and stifled by a lack of vital insights that could make all the difference? If this article connects with you then the number and variety of questions you ask should start to exponentially grow immediately, and so too will the insights and your vision of what really is most important to you right now in your career in business. Who knows where your next question will take you or how wonderful that next ride out into open waters will feel?

The impossibilities are endless

The impossibilities are endless..

This article is dedicated to everyone who has ever faced a dead end or a giant obstacle or immensely unhelpful people on their journey in business (or all of them at once).

The impossibilities are endless..

This article is dedicated to everyone who has ever faced a dead end or a giant obstacle or immensely unhelpful people on their journey in business (or all of them at once).

Impossible people, situations, ideas, problems – they hem us in, pin us down and waste our time.

Most importantly, they limit our possibilities and deny us a way forward. They make us settle for less.. little by little stealing ground and hope.. if we allow it. And yet hope.. especially for anyone who likes to break down impossibilities.. like sugar cubes in their coffee before breakfast.. is everything. Hope breeds resilience. And resilience ensures that we can stick around long enough to grind down the impossibilities we face and get what we hoped for.

The impossible begins with us

In the working environment impossible situations often emerge from poor communication. Firstly with ones self, and then of course this affects how we communicate with others – big time. The same can also safely be said of the home environment. Where we see people saying they want one thing and then we see their actions leading to a different outcome.. clearly not communicating fully with themselves.. this is a key part of what helps to create an impossible environment.

More often than not the impossibilities we experience represent a boundary in our life, perhaps marking out the line between who we have been so far and whom we may evolve into next. This stage can sometimes be a nightmare mesh-work of identity defense, delivering a sweeping projection of fears until we find a way to close the gap between our actions and our desired outcomes. Possibilities arise when we see these impossibilities as simply representing a developmental breakthrough waiting to happen.  From this bitter sweet vantage point there are endless possibilities.

Continuous learning cycles are the key

We can all immediately start to make the impossible possible by aligning our behaviors with our desired outcomes. We can learn so much about what works on the way to our goals by trying and failing and calibrating until we hit the mark. And you will know that behaviors are changing to support goals when this kind of learning starts to happen.

Learning in an adult environment can be difficult as real learning is made up of lots of mistakes – as children this was included in play and was integrated into games. As adults we tend to take a dim view of other adults making mistakes as it can mean that risks increase.  As we get older we become more risk averse, which impacts on our ability to learn, and this has a direct impact on our ongoing neuro-plasticity.

Good learning cycles go on longer than we allow for in society and often need many iterations to fully move a person or group forward to another stage or level of development. We need to get better at re-coding what it means to learn as an adult. Ideally we should always be either in one learning cycle or entering the next one, and they will always be connected. We should encourage creativity and play as these bring innovations and the possibilities that transcend the impossible.

A Culture of Possibility – Creating possibilities for others

One way of supporting this is by creating a Culture of Possibility by developing those around you to become empowered and autonomous. In order to make sure it really becomes a culture we need to encourage shared behaviors and values, both seek and give regular feedback. Employers should act as conscious empowerers of people, setting them up to succeed rather than to fail. Whoever you are you can contribute to a culture of possibility right now by being more conscious of those around you.

Taking time to listen and being slightly more flexible in our thinking can be the difference that makes a difference. Owning our fears and desires and communicating clearly what we want and need can be incredibly powerful and often this is what will make things possible for you and for others. Consider regularly the things that you think are fixed in your reality, walk around the rooms of your mind tapping occasionally where unhappiness lies.. it’s quite likely that the wall is hollow there and just waiting for you to knock it through. And then sharing these breakthroughs with others is vital in creating a culture of possibility.

Impossibility killers – beliefs and attitudes

As the famous impossibility killer Mohammad Ali once said “impossible is nothing, it’s just an opinion”. Another renowned killer of impossibilities, Tony Robbins, says that “what we can or cannot do, what we consider possible or impossible, is rarely a function of our true capability. It is more likely a function of our beliefs about who we are”. The opinion of this writer is that the impossible can go and do the proverbial. It’s profoundly irritating and almost always wrong. Anything is possible if we take the attitude of Hannibal when he was faced with crossing the Alps and said “I will either find a way or create one”. The leading public speaker Simon Sinek sees constraints as “an opportunity for creativity. ..and the.. results are called innovation.”

To my own mind it seems true that if you are considering it then it must be possible. Whereas the really impossible stuff doesn’t even enter our imagination. In most cases the impossible is actually really just bloody hard, but with creativity, perseverance and a collaboration it’s eventually just a footnote to whatever you do next.

“If my mind can conceive it, and my heart can believe it—then I can achieve it.” Muhammad Ali

Adults Without Leadership

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If you want to develop your business, develop yourself and others

Having worked in lots of different company types and environments my own business environment is the product of various influences. As we at NSN grow in size and move on from being a youthful start-up, now in our 6th year of trading, the influence of some of the larger corporate structures are starting to emerge. Processes, metrics and the management of a larger body of human resource are coming into play. The key employees of today are the middle managers of tomorrow, and this presents both immediate challenges and benefits. In some ways, as a business and life coach, and a business professional I am in my element and have the ground nicely covered. In others I find myself with gaps in my awareness and skill-sets, with lots of ground ahead of me to cover in my own personal and professional development.

An environment of openness supports development

As a mature adult it is in my experience more important than ever it was before to be open to learning, and I work hard to create an environment where people can openly learn together, sharing information and questions quickly and easily. We still reach the limits of individual comfort zones from time to time, which is always a journey into the next stages of someone’s person and professional development; all the richer for being shared as a community within a business. Sometimes we hit bumps along the way and some adults handle these better than others. In my experience it is those who are open to leadership in these times that handle it the best.

Find leadership where you can and provide it in return

Over the years many different leaders and mentors have emerged in my life, some of them chosen by me, many not so much. The ones that stand out as I look back are the ones who didn’t have to provide insights or take the lead – they just did it, whether I enjoyed the experience at the time or not. As I look back I am grateful to all of them, they all had passion and the best of intentions. The ones that took extra time to help confusion turn into understanding are of course the ones that shine the most in memory. But it’s not necessarily the case that the ones who were abrupt and hard on me were any less helpful. In some cases leadership comes in the form of a perpetual relay race. For example, when people ask me how I have managed to work so successfully as equal owners in NSN with my business partner, who works thousands of miles away, the answer varies according to experience to date. What is always true is that we somehow manage to take turns in taking the lead as and when required – not perfectly, but well enough to keep moving forward.

Put yourself in situations where you have no alternative but to model, learn and apply the learning

One of the benefits of being younger is that the ego is a little less set in its ways. As time goes by and we occupy positions of responsibility both at home and work it gets harder for adults to get the feedback they really need to keep changing and developing into the next stage of their potential. This is one of the reasons that around 5 years ago I took up a martial art called Aikido. Subscribing to a fairly merciless feedback space like a dojo is hard for an adult to do as they get older. Picture the white belt on an older body with high grades zipping around at almost half your age; it’s a never ending identity crisis unless the adult accepts that this is a space in which the journey is more important than the journey markers, seniority or pecking order. These things exist in a dojo – they just matter so much less than the learning process itself.

Unlearning and relearning are key in the pursuit of mastery

In Aikido this is a perpetual process; you will always be outclassed by someone who came before you and there will always be another insight that will make you stop and consider everything you have learned to date in a whole new light. Sometimes taking you all the way back to the beginning in some way or another. The outcome being that you come to understand your chosen endeavor, be it Aikido, or anything in the working environment, at a deeper or more fundamental level. This experience is as invaluable as it is challenging; we as adults so often marry our progression in life with our sense of self – this can make us driven but it can also severely limit our ability to unlearn and relearn. Both of these things are essential in achieving new levels of development and indispensable in the pursuit of mastery.

Choose a space in which to stretch yourself.. and make mistakes!

It is something I encourage in all of the adults that I coach, train or manage in the working space – find a space in which you can be a beginner and submit to it fully. This for me brings great degrees of flexibility in learning and ensures that at least in one space I get the luxury of clear and consistent leadership. It has taken me a long time to appreciate the value of those who continuously stretch my capabilities. If you can find a space like a dojo or a diligent mentor who will give you space to find the understandings you need then you really are in a good place to make mistakes. Mistakes are fundamental in learning and achieving a working body of knowledge that will support you when times are hard and nothing comes easily.

In my experience it is this attitude to making mistakes that will help you to stay flexible in your mind and body, generating the best kinds of learning as you work to achieve your potential.. however old you are.

Playing full out..

St Augustins Swimming Pool, Norwich

Back when I was first starting out – as a fresh faced, black suited, door knocking salesman working for an East end telecoms company – I could not exactly have been described as ‘outgoing’.

In fact, talking to people I didn’t know needed something akin to a ‘run-up’ and speaking to more than one person just brought back bad memories.

Cue traumatic flashback, speaking in Norwich Cathedral at 16 years old with knees knocking, and around a 1000 people feeling uncomfortable (both for me and themselves). All as a favour for a friend who was ill and couldn’t read his part in a Christmas charity event (I remember thinking at the time ‘why not, how bad could it be?’).

Norwich Cathedral, Pulpit eye view.

Shortly after the aforementioned palpitating public pulpit presentation I had also made the decision that I would try and master another fear in my life. That of jumping off the top board at the main public swimming pool.

My recollections have that top board as being a straight drop off into oblivion; jumping off it was absolutely off the menu. And yet, others were doing it – and they were just fine, even racing back up for another go.

Somehow I found myself up there and looking down – it was now or never. I vaguely remember preferring the risk to living with the fear of the thing. I jumped. I was very quickly just another kid running back up the ladder to have another exhilarating drop into the deep end.

Since then I have found the phrase ‘always in at the deep-end’ to be one I’ve used time and again when faced with a serious learning curve. It just so happens that total immersion is a highly effective way to learn. Flash forward to my first days and weeks as a door to door salesman and I was to get an awful lot of deep-end and not a lot of exhilaration.

If by exhilaration you mean getting told to F-OFF!! at the top of someone’s lungs then ok, I’ll give you that one. My response at the time was to look over my shoulder, then look back to the customer and say ‘I think they’ve gone’ and just continue walking into their office – and sell them some lines and calls. I couldn’t tell you why I looked over my shoulder when I did, other than that the force of the shout kind of made my body swerve.

Walking out of that meeting high on success, having sold a product I knew next to nothing about, to a hostile customer that didn’t know me from Adam, I was never going to fear another customer again.

In fact I was beginning to really get an idea of what my then (and now) hero, Anthony Robbins, was talking about in his blockbuster books. He had (and still has) an electric passion for the phrase “playing full out”.

The concept that a fearless approach to life might be a serious advantage was fully dawning on me – and ‘playing full out’ was just the kind of attitude adjustment I needed in order to get my head around the transformation my life needed back then. In that sales pitch I had experienced the kind of creativity available when you let go in the moment, give yourself to the task and open up to the possibilities – I had played full out.

Since then, and at three subsequent times in my life, I have left secure and nicely paid jobs to start, and then drive new businesses to increasing levels of success. Each time has been a lot like the view from the top board. Each first set of new customer pitches with a new brand a little bit like the moment in the pulpit at Norwich Cathedral (only with slightly more positive exhilaration!).

When it comes to your moment, when the fear of the leap is all that is stopping you from meeting your purpose and living your dream – I fully encourage you to ‘play full out’, embrace the exhilaration and jump. Most of all I encourage you to enjoy the experience as it’s all invaluable knowledge for the next time.

And there’s always a next time.