Light and Life…Reflections

Mountain and valle scene, late summer misty morning

I am breaking my 14 month blogging silence with a post inspired by the work of my good friend, photographer Ken Goddard. Whenever I see his photographs I am blown away and feel the need to write. Just as he strives to capture and reflect his own observations and perspective on life and the beauty of nature, which he does brilliantly, I try to do the same in words and music. 

While we will never truly do our subjects justice, the quest is always rewarding. Like all true artists, we are quite selfish in that we are really pursuing this holy grail for ourselves – yet we live in the dichotomy of simultaneously craving, or at least thriving on, the positive reactions of others to our efforts.

The idea behind this and what will hopefully be a series of posts, is to take one of Ken’s photographs and express the multitude of thoughts, memories and emotions that it evokes in me. I know a picture speaks a thousand words, and these words are personal to the beholder. In some ways it seems all the more futile to give my own reactions, but I hope at least to spark, in turn, some positive reactions in you as you read them. And at best, that you are inspired to view the world in an ever more positive and beautiful light that will shine through and reflect in your daily lives. 

Some of my reactions and emotions are quite intense (as a quote I recently discovered says, “it is both a blessing and a curse to feel everything so very deeply”…) but for me this is what being – and feeling – alive is all about. So while it is my sincerest wish that everyone be happy and at peace, I differ from those that view certain art (in which I include music, film and all other forms) as “depressing” because they make you cry or feel sad. I recently watched The King’s Speech and Hotel Rwanda in quick succession and I will remember those two days for the rest of my life…I am also using the emotional intensity to positively influence my life and my efforts to make a difference in the world – our emotions and reactions are our own and we are responsible for – and capable of – controlling them and using them for good. 

So if I do manage to provoke a reaction in you then my mission is accomplished and I hope you will make the most of the feeling and use it positively in your life.

My first photograph is actually very different from what I thought I would start with. As the title of Ken’s personal page (“Sinanju – Reflections and Shadows”) implies, much of his work contains the often mysterious and always fascinating effects of light, reflecting and projecting on contrasting surfaces. Needless to say, his page is meant to be taken both literally and figuratively. 

The literal reflections are stunning enough, and very clear to observe. Not so much the figurative interpretation, which is almost always present, often hiding, in his work. So in a sense the photograph I have chosen relies less on obvious reflection or shadow – though light clearly plays a central role. It therefore called out to me as the one to choose first as its perhaps more subtle light provokes an equally more subtle reaction (it is an achingly beautiful scene but it does not scream at you from the page!) and a more metaphorically reflective one.

Sinanju – Reflections and Shadows

-Ken Godard’s photo blog (click to visit)

The scene is a late summer’s morning, mountains casting shadows over the fertile valley. A hazy mist still hangs lazily in the air and reflects the warm sunlight, adding a nostalgic glow. As the light continues its journey, trees dissect it into a million rays, punctuated by their twin shadows (Yin and Yang in naturally perfect balance). Leaves, still endowed of newly-sprung sheen, sparkle through the haze, creating a million more points of light.

Meadow grasses and wild flowers compete for light and pollinators as they make their last efforts of the season, as remains of last harvest’s hay leave a background reminder of the imminent rupture of the idyllic peace. A peace imagined and evoked by the image but experienced only in the mind, which superimposes the chirping of birds and the rhythmic clicking of grasshoppers.

The mind wanders further into the scene, colours becoming more intense, sounds more distinct: individual crickets vying for attention in the grasses nearby, the vibrant tunes of the songbirds and the busyness of the bees defying the observer’s lazy restfulness. 

Yet as much as the observer is drawn into the scene, so does the scene enter in and draw out of the observer. As the imagination morphs a static and detached snapshot of a remote and unknown place, consciousness drifts too, to distant thoughts and experiences, past memories and future dreams. The symbiotic relationship between photographed and photographer, image and observer, creates a nurturing will to preserve and a personal desire to explore and grow. To know the scene and to know oneself better. A wistful reflection of what has been or a growing urge to experience what is to come.

Light, as life, will always cast shadows. But as relief from the burning midday sun, or as refuge from hunters at dusk, they would be friends if we let them. How we live with light and shadow shapes who we are and who we will become. We are reflections of what we have thought and done; life events cast their shadows, both good and painful: all that we have experienced makes us who we are. Living now with what we have and committing to ever better lives can turn every day into a scene as inviting to explore as this one.

Flying a Cessna, dining on the beach and experiencing an astonishing electrical storm: a birthday to remember!

A good friend of mine has just surprised me with the best present ever: an introduction to flying, in a CESSNA 172 four seater light aircraft. It was an experience that will remain fresh in my mind for the rest of my life.

Cessna 172 Aeroclub Sabadell

The Aeroclub Sabadell Cessna 172

It was a perfect day for flying, slightly overcast and so cooler than it has been and with virtually no turbulence.  Starting with the pre-flight checks, including a look at the engine and its reassuringly rudimentary (non-electrical) engine, the calm and confident instructor explained things in enough detail to satisfy my curiosity without overwhelming with information. And in no time at all he was letting me taxi the plane down the runway – I hadn’t expected to take the controls so soon! Steering with my feet was an initially unnerving experience until I got used to it, realising as I did that every muscle in my body was tense and my hands were locked in an involuntary clasp of a non-existent steering wheel.

Trying to avoid following the other beginner in the aircraft in front, who was waving back and forth across the taxi runway, I successfully got my plane to the beginning of the take-off runway, stopped and awaited clearance from the Tower. Which came almost immediately.

If I hadn’t been expecting to manoeuvre the plan across the runway, I certainly didn’t expect to actually take off! Ok, so the instructor helped control the steering but I was in full control as I throttled up, guided the plane down the runway and on cue pulled the “horns”, as the Spanish call the flight yoke (steering wheel to you and me, even though it’s not actually a wheel and does more than steering…) What a feeling. Pulling the nose up and lifting off the ground just like in the movies felt surreal and yet smooth and natural. Soon I was banking right, keeping the nose up, and heading for Montserrat, the iconic mountain just outside Barcelona, home of the monestary I had visited in 1992 during the Olympic Games trip that sparked my ongoing love affair with Catalunya and Spain.

Montserrat from the air - HD iPhone photo

Monstserrat as I never expected to see it – from the air (HD iPhone pic)

Apart from the amazing views, especially of the monestary, what struck me most was how easy to fly it was. Sure, there is a lot more to flying than what I experienced, but when you think of flying I, at least, certainly didn’t think it would be so easy to control the aircraft. Even the part where I failed so many times in flight simulator games as a kid, finding the runway, didn’t seem difficult. I decided to let the instructor land ;-) though he insisted I pushed the throttle in to slow the plane down, which was the only slightly nervous part of the flight, as the revs dropped down to a point it felt a little to slow to keep going. With the computer monitors displaying instrument readouts and no warnings (plus the inherent confidence in a commercial flight and instructor) that feeling soon passed and we landed gently on the short runway of aerodrome and taxied home.

We then headed to the coast for some local seafood and cava sangria right on the beach (with the sea just a few metres away) followed by a long siesta and a dip in the gloriously warm Mediterranean Sea. On the way back, the sky darkened with storm clouds. During the first pounding of welcome rain I stopped for fuel at the Panadella, an ancient stopping point between Lleida and Barcelona now bypassed by the Autovia (dual carriageway).

2013-07-13 21.25.33

There we were greeted by a setting sun burning red through a gap between storms. And having sunk below the horizon we were treated to a spectacular and continuous light display as what was to be one of the most violent and destructive storms to hit Lleida in many years rolled down from the mountains.

Next year’s 40th will be hard to top after that! But I’m looking forward to trying!

ps Will post a video here soon…!

Music, emotion and the positive side of being run over…

At the end of May I made the headlines of the local newspapers, though not for the reasons for which I had hoped – testing my secondhand knowledge that a car could run over your foot and not break it. It was probably made more newsworthy (within a news dessert) by the fact I broke the wing mirror with my lower ribs, accelerating the Toreador spin manoevre I successfully pulled off and causing me to become intimately and rapidly aquainted with the tarmac, which I duly blessed for breaking my fall with a generous dousing of spare haemaglobin.

Rewinding a few seconds, it seems I had picked up the bad habit of crossing the road where I shouldn’t: through two lanes of stationary traffic waiting at red lights. As I crossed these lights turned green and unlike in the UK they go straight to green which here in Spain usually produces a Formula 1 like rush to get away (unless someone is not paying attention, in which case within milliseconds the offender and surrounding innocents will be subjected to outraged tooting of car horns from those not quick enough to make it to pole position). In my attempts to finish crossing quicker, I failed check that the empty bus lane was indeed empty and was met by a charging bull. Taxi. Bull…(sorry, it’s San Fermin this week..)

Cutting from the local newspaper, Segre, following the accident.

Cutting from the local newspaper, Segre, following the accident.

This is one of the reasons it’s been so long since my last blog post, as I took the accident as a message for me to take some time to review, refresh and reinvigorate my life. The other reasons are what lead to the message being sent in the first place…Ok, so I also had a bit of a headache and sitting at the computer with my foot raised was not the best position to create.

Anyway, I am now back to my projects, which include finishing the book I started at the end of last year, creating a new Leadership and Music website (15 pages/12 thousand words and counting) and developing new courses, following my Conscious Learning course earlier in the year. You see I’ve finally found a way of building my passion for music, an ever-present part of me, into my professional life by drawing on my lifetime of experience in music, primarily through the lessons it offers in leadership and teambuilding. This is a relatively unexplored, but huge and fascinating in its potential to effect positive change, which links it back to my life purpose of making a difference by helping people help themselves (and so others).

There will be a lot more on this on the new website, which I will announce shortly, but I just wanted to briefly split infinitives, I mean (apologies to the purists!) highlight one area which unites all these things – and my attitude to being run over. Some people have misinterpreted my positive reaction to the incident as me being glad it happened. My comments on leaving hospital simply reflected the enormous gratitude that I not only survived but escaped with no serious injuries – and the Harry Potter scar on my forehead will provide my friends and family much amusement for years to come. :D

Probably the most important (non-human) thing that helped me maintain this positive attitude is music and its effect on my emotions. Even at its most intense, music can have a long-term calming effect. You may feel very emotional, excited, sad or dreamy, but just by listening to music, your brain can function better and if you are focussed on the music, it can help you put aside current troubles, which gives your sub-conscious mind the opportunity to look for solutions. This can have a very positive effect on your life.

Learning to manage your emotions is key to achieving inner peace and happiness which in turn is necessary to function healthily in life. You can use music to help evoke positive emotions and deal with negative ones.

I know as a naturally emotional person that it is difficult to function when you are in emotional turmoil and with such a natural trigger to help, music and emotion seem to be a perfect partnership to help deal with the challenges of life. Including being run over by a bull. Taxi.

Cue the Toreador song from Bizet’s Carmen…

How to develop self-confidence

Calm and confident like a mountain - developing self-confidenceIf, like me, you were a shy kid, you’ve probably spent many hours wondering how to develop self-confidence. In this post I’d like to share with you my own journey and experience so you, too, can experience the transformation in quality of life you can achieve by following a few fundamental principles.

When I say “shy”, I’m talking “wouldn’t say boo to a goose” kind of shy. I was literally terrified of speaking to pretty much anyone. I’d get palpitations just thinking about it. I always thought this was because I was naturally shy and introverted so it was a genuine surprise when, late last year, an off-the-cuff comment about my not being “a natural extrovert” was greeted with equally genuine dismay. I suddenly realised that the comfort I now have in my own skin is inevitably visible in my outward demeanour.

Shortly afterwards I wrote a post called Pull back the curtains and let your light shine in which I talked about the way in which so many people hide behind layers of self-consciousness, the result of years of negative programming. Because of my passion for helping people see the light and indeed the power they possess to achieve what they want, I felt it was time to share what caused that transformation and show you how to develop self-confidence yourself.

By far the most important thing, as I’ve alluded to already, is being comfortable in your own skin. It’s ok to want to improve physical fitness as this has many other benefits, but it’s vital that this is a positive goal, not a whip with which to punish yourself every day if you don’t succeed. The only whipping I will permit, as my coach taught me, is “50 lashes with a wet noodle”…! And as hard as it may seem (I was bullied about my appearance at school, I know!) it is most definitely possible to feel good about how you look. Just watch an episode of Plain Jane on MTV for inspiration…(my daughter watches it after homework, before you ask…!)

And I’m not just talking physical appearance. Learning to be comfortable being yourself, instead of trying to be what you think others want you to be, is essential. Sometimes your true self is so buried you may not even realise or remember who that person is, so it’s very important to spend time getting to know you.

How to develop self-confidence: Principle 1 - Know and love yourself

So how do you accomplish this? Well, first of all, think about how you react to situations and people. Are you reacting out of fear or concern as to what others may think? Many of us do, much of the time. If so, how do you really feel? How would you react if you knew the person were guaranteed to accept your answer, even appreciate your honesty? That is really who you are. Start recognising that and you start to recognise the true you.

I’m guessing your instinctive response is not to hack them to pieces with a chainsaw…! So just think about this: all anyone can do is think and act according to their own principles and if you do this consciously, no-one can legitimately criticise you for doing what you feel is the right thing. If they disagree, maybe they’ll have a good reason – in which case ask calmly and find out; but maybe they are also acting out of fear and insecurity. After all, in the same way you are responsible for your actions, so are they and they are also subject to the same internal and external pressures as you.

Secondly, you want to stop judging yourself. Often, we reject or criticise ourselves before we even give other people the chance to! Worse, when people do pay us a compliment, we dismiss it with a “yeah, right!” or “clearly you’re blind”, which if you think about it is repaying a compliment with an insult to that person’s own judgement. If you’re going to learn how to develop self-confidence, start accepting compliments gracefully – and believing them!

These two steps were probably the biggest for me and changed my life. Suddenly I started to notice that people were listening to what I had to say and agreeing with me. And I learnt that accepting and feeling happy about my physical appearance did not constitute conceit or vanity, just a healthy self-confidence – a natural magnet for other people. I started attracting people I never thought possible, which, of course, grew my confidence even more.

To help me discover and love myself (and remember “discover” simply means “to take the cover off”), I also did something that comes naturally for me: I followed my heart – my passions (especially music) and the way of thinking and behaving that felt right in my heart.

How to develop self-confidence: Principle 2 – Follow your heart

You could also call it “following your bliss”, trying to avoid situations and people that do not contribute directly to your happiness, focussing instead on those that do. In my life, this meant I started attracting positive people and situations which were much more in tune with who I am and what I am passionate about. With less and less negative influences (I can’t think of any in my life now) holding you back and more and more positive people surrounding you, your self-confidence can only grow.

By focussing on what is important to you, what makes you happy, you create positive energy that naturally attracts more positive people, who will confirm and support who you are. It will give you the strength, resources and determination to keep growing in confidence. At the same time, you will become more successful in other areas of your life as you will feel more fulfilled and energised.

This positive energy can then be harnessed to take specific action to meet the challenge of how to develop self-confidence. Think that woolly thinking leads to woolly results. If you really want to grow your confidence, as with anything in life, you need to set specific goals and take specific actions that will lead to you achieving those goals.

How to develop self-confidence: Principle 3 – Set goals and take action!

How many times have you made – and broken – New Year’s Resolutions. Most people fail because of a lack of preparation (thinking they can instantly go from over-indulgence in holiday time to cold turkey) and woolly thinking with no clear objectives.

As I teach in my new course on “Conscious Learning”, having a goal like “I want to improve my English” is too vague – how can you measure it or know if you’ve achieved it? Similarly a goal like “I want to be more self-confident” needs clarifying and investing with detail. Here are a few questions to help do this:

  • In which situations do I most want to feel and appear more self-confident?
  • Are there any individuals or types of people that I particularly want to communicate more effectively and confidently with (your boss, attractive men or women, etc.)?
  • What are some specific outcomes I would like to achieve (asking for a raise, going for that promotion, asking someone out on a date, etc)?
  • Are there particular skills I would like to master (e.g. speaking in public or on the phone)?

These questions will help more clearly define the what. In answering them, again, be as specific as possible and use them to create goal statements which you can carry around with you to remind you. This helps the brain work on solutions that will take you closer to your goal. In writing the goals statements, make sure you avoid saying things like “I would like to” or “I want to” as these give the sub-conscious mind an excuse to add the deadly three-letter word “but” afterwards. Instead write “I will” – this itself is a statement of confidence and will kick-start the process.

So, for example, you might say “I will ask my boss for a raise.” Or “I will ask Christina out for dinner”. Remember that if you can achieve these specific goals, your overall level of confidence will shoot up. Make sure you set challenging but realistic goals (see below in step outside your comfort zone): just as when you start exercising you need to raise a sweat but do not expect to run a marathon.

Next you need to set a timescale. By when do you want to achieve the goals. Again, be as specific as possible: “I will enrol in Toastmasters by 30 June 2013 at 12pm”. Why that specific? So that someone else could (if you chose to share your goals, very helpful if the person is truly supportive) check on that date and time that you have done it!

Clearly, at the beginning of your journey towards greater self-confidence, these might seem intimidating, even frightening. That’s ok. In my experience, and after reading and listening to many successful and confident people, the more you fear something the more you should do it – because the rewards are so much greater. Think about it: if it weren’t the case, if it didn’t matter, you wouldn’t worry about it, you’d just do it.

How to develop self-confidence: Principle 4 – Step outside your comfort zone

What is your comfort zone? Whenever you are ticking along, when nothing threatening or too difficult comes your way, you know you are in your comfort zone. Equally, chances are you are not getting what you really want, just what you are used to and expect (including bad things). Things involving more effort, overcoming fear or committing to some concerted action, like learning a new skill, speaking in public (especially for the first time) or losing weight, changing habits, etc., require you to step outside this safe place and into the unknown.

Most of us have had some experience, probably as a child (when our parents didn’t give us a choice!), where we stepped outside out comfort zone and were rewarded with a sense of accomplishment. The trouble is, our Inner Critic (the subject of another article and in the book I’m working on) is a master at making us forget those times and remember the times when we tried to do something but felt foolish in the act, and punishes us ruthlessly, sometimes for years after the event.

The fact is that these experiences of “failure” are usually the result of a lack of preparation. If you follow the principles in this article, you are preparing yourself emotionally and physically for the challenge, and while there are no guarantees you will get the result you want, what is certain is that you will learn and grow, so you are still better of for having tried.

And as the Japanese proverb says, “Fall down seven times, get up eight”! This is so true when learning how to develop self-confidence – being afraid, doing it anyway, falling down at first, but getting stronger with each fall. Like learning to ride a bike. I can tell you definitively, recalling all too well the person who was totally lacking in self-confidence to the calm and confident person I am today. Occasionally I still hear a small voice of disbelief, but it is drowned out by all the voices reminding me of all I have accomplished and the situations in which I have demonstrated the confident me. The True Me.

I mention being calm. One of the ways I have achieved this is through managing my emotions. This does not mean suppressing them, quite the opposite, but being in control of them rather than letting them control you – or letting others control your emotions.

How to develop self-confidence: Principle 5 – Manage your emotions

Most of our lack of self-confidence comes from letting others affect you negatively, as if they had their fingers on an invisible switch (especially those that seem to deliberately cause you pain and shame). My turning point here was realising that, when I spluttered something incoherent in a taxi or on the phone (something particularly common when first living in a new country!) the other person – unlike me – would not go on thinking about me and the “foot-in-mouth incident” for the rest of the day, week or even month. At most she might have a laugh with her friends in the evening, but she probably would not give it or me a second thought. That was a real breakthrough as it meant I could move on instantly and not dwell on an embarrassing situation. To the extent that I think about these things now, I do the following:

  • Look objectively at the situation: did I accomplish the objective? Get the to the airport, order the new phone service or pay the bill? The answer is always yes (for the factors within my control – I didn’t get out of the taxi in Barcelona because I couldn’t pronounce “airport” in Spanish!) So despite the awkward language or faux pas, the conversation was a success.
  • Identify how to improve next time: by practising saying “aeropuerto” (the Spanish do not have diphthongs and separating vowels used to cause me huge difficulty) I was able to say it better next time. And before speaking on the phone or ringing an intercom, I still practice saying my name in Spanish with the roll of the tongue when I have to speak to people here who still know me as “Arturo” as they cannot pronounce my name in English. The more you practice the better – and so more confident – you become.

This means I do not waste time and energy on negative emotions which serve to limit self-confidence and have more of the same for positivity. Again, like a switch.

We can achieve spectacular results if we can learn to manage our response to these situations and keep calm. Remember the following:

  • We never set out to do the worst we can (unless we’re a moody teenager…!)
  • If we make a mistake it’s just because we are human
  • Instead of focussing on the past, focus on the future – make amends for offence caused, work on improving your performance next time, and so on.

On that path lies freedom and confidence.

A note aside: 
Understanding and managing emotions is something I’m very interested in, being a sensitive soul who always used to let everything affect me far too much. I am still on the journey but that journey has led to some breakthrough moments such as described here and I am much more balanced – still sensitive to others, but not crippled by anxiety and self-doubt. It’s even led me to start writing a book on a technique I am developing. So expect more on this site on that subject, which will also include a scientific dimension as more is understood about the relationship between the brain and emotions. I have become more and more interested in neuroscience, partly because of “attacks” I used to have before I made a lifestyle change and moved to Spain (thought at one point to be epilepsy but ruled out then disappearing with the stress of my previous life).

How to develop self-confidence: Principle 6 – Celebrate every success

My final principle (for now!) ensures you build on all the other steps you take to increase your self-confidence

As I’ve said before, focussing on mistakes and failures is unproductive and only produces more of the same. To quote another old adage: “if you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got”. Flip that on its head and you realise that focussing on success will bring more success. Just as beginning to feel fitter and more energetic after a week’s exercise makes you feel good and want more, any success, no matter how small, will motivate you to tackle greater and greater challenges. I guarantee that if you do this you will surprise yourself in what you can accomplish.

I know the initial reaction of many will be “I can’t think of anything”. As has been repeatedly drummed into me, you need to look harder. It is precisely your self-doubt that is feeding you that answer. Ignore that voice or tell it to go away and be helpful instead of self-destructive – tell it to look for times which, however mundane, you have achieved something. If you’re really struggling, start with “I got out of bed this morning”. Unless you’ve not left the bed for weeks (in which case you’ll be needing a doctor not this blog..) you will have summoned up the motivation to leave the comfort of your bed and face the world, if only to go shopping for food.

This may sound silly, but denial is worse. Acceptance is the first step to change and if that’s where you are, recognise and start from the bottom and work up. You’ll soon find more and more things to feel good about and that will help develop confidence to do more. A daily ritual of thinking hard about and celebrating every success gives you energy and motivation to do even better the next day. Especially if you’ve followed the rest of my principles of how to develop self-confidence and, for example, set specific objectives which you can work towards every day. Focus and direction generate momentum and it is a universal human trait that people respond better to positive stimuli and validation than negative methods. This is especially true in people with low self-esteem and while they may not believe the compliments (see the first principle) at first, deep down they want to hear – and believe – them. Once you allow yourself positive validation, you open the door to more and greater success.

So, let’s recap my principles of how to develop self-confidence. I’ve expanded one of them slightly here to come up with a rather nice acronym ;-)                          

How to develop self-confidence

So you see, with a little love and KISSES, you too can learn how to develop self-confidence and as you do, you will see your life transform and become happier and calmer. I’d love to hear from you with your own stories or questions and I’ll answer them as best as I can.

Here’s to a more self-confident you!

I will be developing a series of audio courses dealing with this and other issues. For now, why not read my post on How to summon up positive emotions, which also has a new audio recording I have made which will help identify times where you have felt good about yourself and help you help yourself learn how to develop self-confidence

How to summon up positive emotions

Summoning up positive emotions: an amazing view of the Plain of Lleida

I met a good friend for a beer last night and as we were talking and I was describing the new Conscious Learning course I have just launched and the book I have started writing, he asked an interesting question about emotions. He described the feeling you get when you complete a challenging project or perform well in some professional situation and wondered if it were possible to summon up that positive emotion on demand. Clearly this would help increase your performance and so deliver more of the situations which naturally produce that high, in a virtuous circle of growth.

There is a technique I first learned from Paul McKenna in Change Your Life In Seven Days back in 2007 and I told a story to illustrate it and said I would write an article to make it available to everyone. So here is my six step process to achieve just that.

Six step process to summoning up positive emotions

1. Find some “me time”

First of all, find a time and place where you can be alone in peace and quiet – I know this seems hard these days, but as I always say, we spend more time repairing cars and appliances than on ourselves and that makes no sense! If you want to change your results and grow, think “I can” and “I want” and your brain will figure out how.

2. Invoke the emotion through a wonderful memory

What you want to do is think of a time in your life where you most strongly felt the emotion you want to experience. The more specific and real the better, but it works almost as well with more general feelings as long as you can (re)create the emotional intensity, the key to this exercise. The story I chose related to my building confidence as a professional in my internet software business. I am not a trained salesman and while I have learnt a fair bit of traditional “wisdom” on selling I adopt a different approach to most of this, which is simply to be myself and let my passion for what I do shine through.

The specific situation I described involved what was one the most lucrative yet “easily”-won contracts I ever sold (preparation was everything) in my small business web development days. Having created a web application for a client and through my copywriting and SEO skills got that site to the top of Google on some top keywords, I was contacted by a lovely husband and wife team who were starting a similar business and wanted “one of those, please”. My enthusiasm for new business and the obvious interest I had in them and their ideas generated an instant rapport and having listened and explained what I could do for them and how, they signed up there and then using the full contract I had prepared (with the back-up plan of an order from which would record their requirements and the quote) and handed me cash for the deposit. Total time from call to sale: two days. Total value of the contract: some £12,000. 

I came away from that meeting on such a high I was later able to capture and use that positive energy and summon up the positive emotions whenever I felt less confident or needed a boost. It’s an incredibly powerful and easy technique to learn. You can do the same using, for example, warm memories from your childhood – family celebrations or holidays, birthdays, graduation…any time you strongly felt the positive emotion you want to feel now. Happiness, love (and crucially feeling loved), joy…

3. Free your mind of daily concerns and connect with your body

So, back in the silence of your “me time” (if you live in a noisy neighbourhood, put on the headphones and some calming music), start by focussing on your breathing to begin to empty your mind of the rush of daily thoughts and demands. Slow, deep breaths also help relax your body and feed and cleanse your body through increased oxygen in-take. There are various meditation techniques you can use but I will just focus here on the exercise/experience itself.  What is key to this particular exercise, though, is that you place your index/pointer finger and thumb together, on both hands…these are key pressure points in the body and will help embed the memory of the emotion and your ability to recreate it on demand.

4. Re-live the memory and feel the postive emotions

Next begin to recreate that memory in your mind, putting yourself inside the memory – become that person you were, rather than watching from the outside. Think about the place, the decor, the colours. Then see and interact with the people there, hear their voices telling you how much they love and appreciate you, or thanking you for a job well done. Now add the emotions you felt as you experienced those moments and heard those words.

5. Turn up the intensity, let your emotions flow

The brain responds to sensory and emotional stimuli, so give it plenty to feed on! Increase the intensity of the colours, the sounds and the positive emotions, as if you were turning up the dimmer switch of your lights. The brighter, more vivid the colours, the louder and clearer the sounds and the more intense the emotions you feel, the more easily you will remember, as with all memories (don’t be surprised if you shed a tear – this is good, as long as it does not come from regret or pain (we are what we think) and you are focussed on the positive memory and harnessing it to create new and equally happy memories in the present).

6. Press your finger and thumbs together tighter and tighter

As you do the exercise be aware of your fingers and thumbs pressed together and as you increase the intensity, press them together ever more firmly. This creates a strong physical association which can then be used to summon up the positive emotion later.


I cannot understate how powerful this can be. It becomes almost a Pavlovian reaction, where simply by pressing your finger and thumb together you can recreate the emotional impact of that memory in a heightened state of awareness and use it to boost your confidence, reduce stress, avoid confrontation and generally perform to your maximum ability through harnessing the huge power of your sub-conscious mind.

The best part is, you can do it subtely under the table at a meeting, on a crowded train or anywhere without people thinking you’re crazy!

Update: I have produced an audio recording for this exercise to help bring it to life. Right click this link to download my How to summon up positive emotion audio recording.

I hope this helps you become more aware of the power you have literally at your fingertips. Please share your thoughts and experiences of summoning up positive emotions and the impact this has had on your life.

Just Do It!

Vines Raimat, CataloniaI’ve just been recommended a book called The War of Art. Yes, I did write that correctly. You will no doubt be familiar with The Art of War by ancient Chinese general Sun Tzu, which contains some excellent lessons for life and business, albeit I would rather focus on the art of peace. This is a play on words of that evocative work, primarily directed towards writers, but adopted by entrepreneurs, actors, painters, photographers and many others. It deals with something which we all suffer from, to a greater or lesser extent: that thief of time, procrastination. Or as author Steve Passfield calls it, Resistance.

I would challenge the writer of the forward, screen writer robert McKee, that it was written for expressly for him (“I hold Olympic records for procrastination”). Ok, so I’ve never, when feeling blocked or generally uninspired to take action, taken out my entire wardrobe, tried it on and organised it into seasons, tried it all on again and sub-divided into season and style. But I know I’m a contender for countless World Records for procrastination, not least for this blog – I have enough in me to write every day for years, but so far that daily discipline has eluded me. So although he doesn’t know it (yet), I reckon Steve wrote this expressly for me.

And already, before I’ve even got into the book proper, I’ve been inspired to stop procrastinating and write this. Yet all he has done so far is point out that writing is not the hard part, but sitting down to write. Something I know all too well. I used to fear that what I wrote might be considered woolly, incoherent, even boring. That stopped me in my tracks. But I am now not afraid of that, so that’s one less Resistance I have to contend with. I have so much I want to say and even if what I write has a fraction of the impact that my reading of other’s work has, I will be happy. Because I know that what I have gone through, others have or will too, and that I take confidence and courage from the sharing of experience and the resulting wisdom that others have shared with me.

So regardless of the inner voices that give you a million reasons why you shouldn’t do something that, deep inside, you have a burning desire to do – and that might actually change your life, I would simply say these three words: JUST DO IT!!

When the moon and people drift away…


Tonight I stood on the rear balcony of my flat and watched the moon, a swollen crescent on the ascent, gracefully sink behind the castle walls. I stared, enthralled, a cool breeze wafting through my hair on an unseasonally clear and mild night, until it dipped below the wall, two points of bright light, then one, then none…

But for a long while after, her glow hung in the sky. It made me think how some people disappear from our lives but leave a glow in our hearts that lives on, sometimes for ever. Maybe, like the moon, they will return to our lives. But the moon doesn’t change her mind about rising, leaving you wondering if she’ll shine on you again. So all we can do is trust in the certainty that tomorrow, as the moon returns, bigger and brighter, so will our journey continue; and be ready to grow a little more each day and night. The constancy of our hearts and minds and the ever-present beauty and power of the universe is there for us to harness and provide the certainty we need when people drift from our lives.

Pull Back the Curtain and Let Your Light Shine

A few weeks ago I started a new “daily ritual” which has increased my energy levels, awareness and general well-being immensely. Since I am lucky enough to work basically to my own timetable, this usually includes watching the sun rise above the building opposite my apartment as I do my stretching exercises (before you start, it’s only 10-15 minutes but it makes a big difference!)

Sun behind curtain, representing hiding our inner light

Pull back the curain and
Let Your Light Shine!

This morning was particularly inspiring. And amusing to my furtive imagination…With morning mist still colouring the sky, the sun peeked above the building like a bald man’s scalp after a day on the beach. Ok, not as poetic as my usual analogies, but that’s what I remember thinking :-D  As the pink scalp turned to an orange ball of fire, something made me take a picture through the net curtain. That something was a certain modesty and sense of self-preservation, as I was doing my stretching exercises, which as you may imagine, I was not doing fully clothed to face the icy air outside…

Seriously, though, I realised a little later what that something was. It made me think about how I see people. Well, most people, anyway. Some people’s light shines so brightly it lights up the room when they enter. But most of us hide our light behind layers of self-consciousness and, as I said in my last post, our fears of how the world may judge us.

From an early age I learnt to see the good in people before the bad. I have also always been very quick to open up to people, way beyond what you might describe as “wearing your heart on your sleave”, though that is also true (my face always gives away my feelings..!) That did mean people took advantage of me, it’s true, which was my particular reason for drawing the curtain over my light. I use the past tense because these days I only attract into my life people who respect and love me for who I am. I can truly say that I have pulled back the curtain and am not afraid to let that light shine. So far I can report only the most amazing experiences and relationships.

Now, when I meet people, I actively seek out the light in others. I know it’s there, everyone has it. It is one of the manifestations of my Life Purpose that by listening and prompting with a few key questions, I can at least begin to see the glimmer of what really inspires them. Actually I can usually sense it before I see it and with some it’s very easy – it may be veiled but only with the sort of thin net curtain that protects my modesty in the morning.

So I challenge you to look inside yourself and be inspired to pull back the comfort of life’s protective curtains and let your true self show. Those around you will either hide away from your light or be drawn to you as never before. These are the people that you need around you and will reflect your light back on you. The rest are negative influences you can definitely do without.

You can burn brighter than the sun, too*…here’s a cover of the Fun song I just love…

(*As my astronomer brother pointed out, the sun is only “a poxy type G Yellow Dwarf. Aim higher”. So the definitive version of my own affirmation is: “I will shine brighter than a Gamma Ray Burst. Or something-even-brighter-that-hasn’t-been-discovered-yet”. Inspiration with a touch of humour – I don’t take myself too seriously. Life is for living and for laughing. :-))

Fear and The Rewards of Stepping Outside Your Comfort Zone

Woman in Red - Ken Goddard Photography

What would you do? A thought-provoking and dramatic photo by Ken Goddard (click to visit his website)

A photographer friend of mine recently published a thought-provoking article asking how well we know ourselves, following an experience which pitted his professional and personal instincts against each other. Apart from the impact of the dramatic picture, I was moved to comment on one of the most limiting elements of our nature: fear. Fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of looking stupid.

Fear can paralyse us, preventing us from having new and rewarding experiences and taking advantage of new opportunities. Whether we are asking for a pay rise, a date or even just a helping hand – not to mention the “really big” decisions like giving up your day job to pursue your dream or taking up skydiving. I put “really big” in quotation marks because the truth is, all decisions are affected by the same limiting factors and while clearly some decisions have a bigger impact on your life than others, if you can remove that fear, the decision itself is as easy to make. It’s the impact that makes them feel bigger. And of course, the bigger the risk, the bigger the fear but also the bigger the reward if you succeed. Psychologists have a neat way of describing fear:


This results in physical and emotional reactions designed, millions of years of evolution ago, to prepare us for “fight or flight”. We’ve all heard this, yet we fail to take action to deal with it in our own lives or often even realise or accept we have fear. Step back now and have a think about the times in your life when you have not done or said something you wanted to. Why was that? Instead of blaming circumstances or other people and complaining about it (I’ll deal with that in a future post!) recognise what it was you were afraid of. As with all progress, from recovering from alcoholism to fixing or ending a relationship, half the battle is recognising you have a problem. Only when you do that can you deal with it and grow.

Jack Canfield, my “new best friend” from whom I’m learning a huge amount from his 40 years researching and training people in how to succeed, suggests that in order to understand how we create fear, first make a list of all the things you are afraid to do. Next, go back and restate each fear by adding the key words “I scare my self by imagining”. So “I am afraid to ask for a pay rise” would become “I want to ask for a pay rise and I scare myself by imagining he would say no and be angry with me for asking.” Put like this it becomes clear it is us creating the fear. By doing so we are actually rejecting ourselves before giving others the chance to!

I have lived a long life and had many troubles, most of which never happened.
Mark Twain

Probably the biggest impact on my life over the last two years or so has been my ability to recognise that what was stopping me doing or saying things were my own fears. I was painfully shy as a child and into my teens. Now, by learning to be myself – and be happy about it (I’m ecstatic!) – I have the confidence to talk and act in a way which is consistent with my character and the fulfilment of my dreams. I was not born an extrovert and still have self-conscious moments – mainly stemming from my wanting not to appear arrogant – so I was still surprised to see the reaction of a student recently who was herself surprised when I told her I was not a natural extrovert!

What happened was that I realised that I wasn’t allowing people to say yes to me! And that even if the answer was no, I would be no worse off than I was before asking. We all know the sayings “nothing ventured, nothing gained” and “nothing to lose, everything to gain”, and when we eliminate that fear, we can truly apply the advice. With remarkable effects. At first, it was definitely a big step outside my comfort zone. But the more I did it, the more I found that people actually said yes! Which itself gave and continues to give me the courage to carry on asking.

Of course there will be rejections along the way. Plenty of them. But don’t start out by assuming it will be a no. Assume it will be a yes and go for it! If someone says no, move onto the next person! When you do so, you find more and more people saying yes or reacting in a way you were hoping. And the more you get a positive reaction the more you come to expect it, which increases confidence which directly affects people’s reaction to you, increasing your chances of success.

My student’s reaction to how I perceive my character was a reminder I still have a way to go until I truly know who I am and act completely consistently with it. But it was also a major ratification of the progress I have made in my journey of personal growth. It makes me even more determined to try to help others achieve more by first looking inside, not outside, for answers.

*        *        *        *        *

Ok, time for a disclaimer!  I don’t actually know the co-author of the best-selling of Chicken Soup for the Soul® series and The Success Principles (which I am reading now). Yet. I will, though, because I know this will help catapult my success and am not afraid to ask anyone and everyone until I get to meet the man.

Life Purpose – a Reawakening

Pla de Lleida

Lleida and environs taken with my trusty iPhone (click for a full size image – it’s worth it!)

Every other week, on my way back from dropping my daughter off at school outside town, I always stop off to breathe in the fresh morning air and spectacular view of the Plain of Lleida. It renews me, inside and out and makes me ready to continue my journey through life towards my goals.

This morning was particularly special. The fiery pre-dawn glow on the horizon had aready given me a special feeling as I peered from my bed through the window – I’ll never tire of that and will miss it when the fog finally covers the town in a mysterious icy blanket in the coming weeks. From my balcony I had seen a narrow but dense band of fog hanging over the river, a single factory roof peering over from beyond the fringe.

The so-far benign autumn has finally brought a real chill to the air and the trees – especially the many fruit trees – are ablaze with colour. As we drove up the hill out of the plain and descended again into the hilly landscape beyond, we found ourselves passing in and out of a bank of low cloud, the mass of vines shrouded but still penetrating the fog with their autumn colours. Having kissed my daughter goodbye with as much positive energy as I could transfer, I headed back, into a truly magical scene, the cloud pierced here and there by the still warm sun, now shining straight onto my face.

As I stood on the top of the hill and looked down on the town and the surrounding plain, with its layers of mist and deeper pools of low cloud and fog, I determined to make the last preparations for my new journey towards my Life Purpose, starting with this post. I have had a calling since I was 14, perhaps even earlier, when I experienced the joy of receiving a baby brother into my life aged 5. That calling to help others soon became a mission to help others help themselves.

Over the last few years I have been reading more and more about personal development and growth. And as I read, I’ve always thought “well, I already do that instinctively”. What I lacked are specific tools and the self-discipline to clarify and work towards what I really want to achieve with my life. Or rather, how to achieve what I know I have to do. I knew I wanted to work for myself, to have a business that generated enough for me to be independent and so to be able to help others achieve their own independence. Now I realise that a major part of that is helping people grow themselves and experience the clarity and joy that brings. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, this realisation has come through my time teaching English: my instinct to work on my students’ underlying lack of confidence and feed their desire to communicate better and more easily.

It has been very challenging allowing my true nature and purpose to emerge and be seen and I know most of us go through the same. We go through life trying to please everyone or be someone we think people will like or want us to be. While I have always worn my heart on my sleeve, I have been afraid to use words like “spiritual” for fear of being labelled. In “real life” I am now surrounded by people with whom I am not afraid to show this and now I am opening up for everyone to see, so that you can all see and hopefully be inspired by my own journey of self-discovery and purpose.

This is just the beginning. I am working on my own personal growth courses which I will begin to run here in Lleida soon, following which I will produce audio recordings for the web and start various other online initiatives to support my offline work and reach a wider audience. It will be the convergence of everything I have learnt, my own techniques I have developed and the amazing results I have already achieved. From eliminating limiting and negative beliefs to attracting the people and experiences you want, and from goal-setting to discovering your life purpose (which may simply be to be remembered for who you really are!)

Crucially, it will make use of my experience in business and draw on my growing success in the field of social responsibility and ethical business through the website I have built with my father,, which is now approaching 20,000 visits a month. I want to combine the two with some training and mentoring in the area of Social Entrepreneurship, as that is the basis on which I am building my businesses.

It’s taken a while to get this far and I know there is a long road ahead. I intend to live it to the full and invite you to do the same.