The beauty of Silence

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” Martin Luther King Jr.

I love when the extended family gets together. The vibe and the feeling of being together is wonderful. As a family of daughters – I have two and my brother has three – this means that there is always lots of chatter, discussion and often happy laughter. Generally, at the dad’s expense!

This Christmas, was the first opportunity for all of us to be together over a few days and the atmosphere was relaxed, gentle, but at the same time very, very noisy. I am not sure if it is modern trend, but teenagers tend to talk “at one another”, rather than “talk with one another”. Group talks tended to be noisy, rowdy affairs. With little, or no possibility or reflective dialogue and discussion, I felt that topics tended to be glossed over, rather than understood and agreed with. But, hey, that’s only my opinion. And the girls loved being together.

Whilst, I loved having all of the family around, it also made me appreciate the quiet times when everyone was out of the house doing “their thing”.

The near complete silence.

No one talking. No TV. No music. No radio. No phones ringing. Strangely, even my grandmother’s chiming clock that hangs in the dining room  had stopped.

I had no desire to fill up the silence with noise. Rather I was able to sit and practice mindfulness. Focusing on my breath, I even was able to “hear” my heart beating. It does not happen often, but when it does, it is amazing. The time seemed to flow by.

Then people came back into the house, chattering away. Noise levels returned to normal.

When was the last time you were in an environment where there was complete, total, silence?

Apart from our lives being full on, with so many distractions, I have come to realise that, we have even filled up our worlds with noise. Perhaps we are afraid of the silence? I am not sure. But if you do get a chance to “turn down the volume” on your life’s noise, give it a try. You might be pleasantly surprised at what you find.

I was out walking and reflecting on this article, when  I realised that it reminded me of one of my favorite songs from the 1980’s by Depeche Mode – “Enjoy the Silence”. Here is a YouTube video of the official video from that era.

I leave you with the following quote…….

“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.”

Robert Frost


The power of 5

“The trouble is if you don’t spend your life yourself, other people spend it for you.” Peter Shaffer, Five Finger Exercise: A Play

I was asked recently to try to help some graduates in my organisation prepare for a training course. The course was entitled “Personal Impact” and it concerned your own personal impact in business. As the course outline stipulated:

“….designed to help the Graduates be more self-aware and therefore, help them understand how they can capitalise on their personal strengths to make an impact in the business. During the module they will learn their individual Myers Briggs personality type, understand how to adapt their style to get the best out of different situations and influence others in the business.”

The grads asked me, as their mentor, for advice as to their current personal impact and style. As I prepared to share my perceptions with them, I realised that in order for them to be able to get the most from the feedback and also from the course, that they needed a short concise list of feedback items. I wanted to make sure that the feedback was positive and insightful. Not negative, or pointed. Helpful and honest.

There is a raft of publications and articles that talk to the optimum number of items or chunks of information that you should give. From Wikipedia, you can see:

The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information” is one of the most highly cited papers in psychology.It was published in 1956 by the cognitive psychologist George A. Miller of Princeton University’s Department of Psychology in Psychological Review. It is often interpreted to argue that the number of objects an average human can hold in working memory is 7 ± 2. This is frequently referred to as Miller’s Law.

I have spent many years in business, preparing and giving presentations and talks. I have also worked  with and managed a lot of people and had to give and receive feedback. I have learnt that the optimum number of topic items to talk to in a presentation and also the optimum number of feedback items to give is 5. Yes. 5. People tend to get lost if there are more than five topics or items of feedback. I have tried to give 7 or more and you can see people getting confused. So I would challenge Miller’s Law and state that the optimum is 5.

Anyway, back to the grads. Both of them have great skills and capabilities. Both are different. For example. One item we talked about was how they verbally communicated. One is quiet and thinks before speaking. This can give the impression of being a thoughtful person, but also can mean that the conversation has moved on before they have a chance to contribute. The other chatters away, vocalising their thoughts as they go. This can give the impression that they are always contributing to the conversation, However, they can also give the impression of being a “chatterbox” and not prepared to listen.

Neither approach is wrong. As I said to them, “you have used your individual skills to great success and have achieved much in your lives so far. But, perhaps we can work on some tips to help going forward.”

Both of them recognised and knew of their own abilities. However, rather than just recognising them, I wanted to give them a couple of tips to help them. I had prepared a list for each grad and made sure that there was only 5 items on the list for each of them. Alongside each of the item, I listed the positive, as well as the challenge. And then an alternative approach. Some very quick tips, but they really appreciated the feedback. A couple of examples are listed below:

 Observation: Talks too much.

    1. Positive: You can follow their thought process
    2. Challenge: Can mean they don’t listen
    3. Suggestion: Pause for a second and write down query


Observation: Too quiet in meetings

    1. Positive: When they contribute, the question is well thought out and insightful
    2. Challenge: Can mean they miss out as the conversation moves on. Can be overlooked as a contributor to the meeting
    3. Suggestion: Prepare before the meeting, based on the topics, suggestions and thoughts. In effect, pre-work


I checked in with them after they had attended the course. Their feedback was that the feedback was extremely helpful. They completed a Myers Briggs assessment on their preferred personality type [I guessed correctly their types!]. They also did assessments of the types of engagement to expect in business. I’ll follow up in a separate article on the tools & techniques to use in this space.

I really do believe in the power of 5. Whether it is used as the formation of the content of a presentation, or used as a feedback tool.


A great quote to finish today, enjoy…….

“My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She’s ninety-seven now, and we don’t know where the heck she is.” Ellen DeGeneres

Choosing a Habit

“Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference.”  ― Robert Frost

Part of the January ritual that society seems to have developed is this concept of New Year’s resolutions and the concept that we should develop new habits. i wondered where it originated and a thirty-second view of Wikipedia came up with some of the origins. They include:

  • Babylonians made promises to their gods at the start of each year that they would return borrowed objects and pay their debt.
  • The Romans began each year by making promises to the god Janus, for whom the month of January is named.
  • In the Medieval era, the knights took the “peacock vow” at the end of the Christmas season each year to re-affirm their commitment to chivalry
  • At watch night services, many Christians prepare for the year ahead by praying and making these resolutions

It made me realise that the concept of making promises is almost as old as creation. And as as old, people have probably tried to keep the promises and then broken them. Sunday is always that time of the week when I reflect, write and catch up on blogs, videos and podcasts. One of my favorite people I follow is James Tripp. He is currently on an extended world tour with his family and published a youtube podcast. The link to it is at the bottom of this article. Anyway, he was talking about “Choosing Vs Yielding”.

This made me realise that the key to creating a habit, keeping a promise and maintaining your New Year’s resolution is all about choosing to make that habit stick. I have in the past made a conscious agreement with myself that Mindfulness is an important part of my life. If it is as important to me as the rest of my life, then it should be as central to my daily life as possible, That is why, every weekday morning, I get up at 5:30am to practice. Why on earth 5:30? Well, if like me, you have to get up and go to work and that involves travel, then you know that for most of us, the hour’s drive, commute, cycle or train journey and you need to be at work for 8:30, then early starts are the key. So for me, to be able to practice 30 minutes of mindful movement and meditation every day, I need to be up early.

The start was hard. I got tired and ratty. The opposite of what I wanted to achieve, but, I was making that choice. After about a month, the effort got less, the idea became more unconscious and after about two months, it was a habit. Now I can do it or not and I do not feel guilty if I miss a day. I just accept and practice the following day.

Choice is one of the most powerful concepts. You choose to do something. To be someone. Moment by moment, day by day. Every day. We all make choices. Sometimes good ones. Sometimes not so good ones. For me, I made the decision and made the effort. Even if I missed a day, I did not remonstrate with myself, but accepted that sometimes, events meant I could not do it.  

James, mentions a riddle about frogs on logs. I came across it when I was doing a major change programme for an international company, changing the complete Services Delivery organisation for Europe. The book was given to each of us, as part of the Management of Change programme we were leading. I do recommend the book to read if you are going through major change at work. Though the bok is quite old, a lot of the premise and concepts are still valid. The riddle goes like this……

A riddle:

Five frogs are sitting on a log.

Four decide to jump off. How many are left?

Answer: Five


Because there’s a difference between deciding and doing.

Five Frogs on a Log: A CEO’s Field Guide to Accelerating the Transition in Mergers, Acquisitions And Gut Wrenching Change by Mark L. Feldman, Michael F. Spratt


I leave you with the following quote. It is from one of my favorite authors and books:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’

‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.

‘I don’t much care where -‘ said Alice.

‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.

‘- so long as I get SOMEWHERE,’ Alice added as an explanation.

‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.”

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland


Choosing Vs Yielding – A Dynamic Transformative Meditation by James Tripp

New Year, new resolutions and tips on how not to fail

“I made no resolutions for the New Year. The habit of making plans, of criticizing, sanctioning and molding my life, is too much of a daily event for me. ” ― Anaïs Nin

This blog was originally going to be called “New Year, Old Habits, New Habits, New Beginnings” but I realised two things. Firstly, I was being too positive and making the assumption that we would all be succeeding in our new year’s resolutions, rather than failing in the first week and secondly, the no one was really talking about the practical steps we can all take to help support and make the changes we want stick.

Come the New Year, comes the idea that we should have a “New Year’s Resolution” to do something different. Diet exercise; relationships; work/life balance; savings and spending; change of life direction; smoking; drinking; eating meat [or other types of food]; we get to January and want to make a new start.

We set out with the best intentions in the world and then work / life / family / something else, gets in the way and we fail to achieve what we have set out. Why does this happen? Let’s start with a view of why our best intentions falter…….

[A]. Change is easy

We create the idea that whatever change we want to make is going to be easy. Let’s be truthful here. Any change is hard. We are creatures of habit. Small habits, like what type of toothpaste to use, types of food we eat, the types of clothes we wear, the types of places we visit, even the type of friends and relationships we have. All are based on comfort and a reluctance to change.

[B] You assume you have a plan, are following it and are being successful.

Or as they say about “assume” you can make an ass out of you and me.Come on, really. you have a plan? We might, if we are lucky sketch out on a piece of paper or write on a diary / calendar the end point that we want to get to, but the journey in between is written in fog or not at all. You are making a life choice. Think about examples like buying a house; getting married; or moving to another country / place. Do you do these on the spur of the moment or do you think and plan for them? We are making personal changes and we should plan and celebrate milestones of achievement. More later.

[C]. Time and Milestones of achievement.

There has been a raft of research on how long it takes for a habit to “stick” and become part of your every day life. Some say 21 days, other research says as much as 66 days. Pause for a moment, please and think about the last time you made a successful change in your own habits. Go on think. From the moment you had the idea to make the change, through to the point where it became part of your life, can take anything from 1 month to 3 months. Dependant on the depth of the change; how much effort you had to put in and obviously, how much you wanted it to happen as quickly as possible.

So, we have dealt with why change resolutions falter. I want to turn it around to how you can make them successful. Oh, by the way. Even if you have started a resolution, it is still worth thinking about how to make them “stick”. And for those of you that have dropped one of your goals, you might want to think about taking some of these tips and trying again.

Understanding your “Change & Learning Styles” to achieve your goals:

How? We all use the “VAK” model in our everyday lives. What on earth is “VAK” and what does it mean? Which type of person are you? What is your preferred learning style? That is the key here. How do YOU learn….

We all have a preferred learning style, be it through looking at; listening to;or touching. These different approaches are called Visual; Auditory or Kinesthetic learning styles. If you don’t know what is your style, there are links at the bottom of this article to help you identify yours. So, how can you leverage this to achieve your goals?

Visual Aids and Tips

  • Use pictures from magazines, or from the web and place them in noticeable places in the house for example, for foods that you want to eat, rather than foods you should not
  • I saved the money when I gave up smoking. Every day I would add a £5 note to the jar. After a week, I realised that if I was to start smoking again, I would have to begin by taking out the £5 notes and burning them! After a month, I had £150 and went out and treated myself.
  • If you have put milestones on the calendar, put pictures on it, highlight key dates. If you have a smartphone, put in reminders and include positive congratulatory notes.
  • An interesting tip, is if you use a PC, tablet or smartphone and have a password, why not change the password to reflect the phrase of your goal, i.e. “I no longer smoke”. It does work. Check out this article for details:
  • Feel free to comment on examples you use….


Auditory Aids and Tips

  • Why not record yourself saying what you want to achieve and how you want to achieve it. Then play it back to yourself.
  • If the resolution or goal involves a trip abroad, why not play the music from that place. Or the sounds of the sea if you happen to be by the sea.
  • You can use music, videos or movies to help re-enforce the places, events or activities you would like to happen.
  • Why not talk to a friend or family member and talk about the goal you want to achieve and get them to remind you on a regular basis – in a positive way – that you are doing really well

Kinesthetic Aids and Tips

  • This all involves moment, so in some respects is the most simplistic and at the same time, the most difficult to develop.
  • One of my goals for this year is to focus on exercise, so I have been focusing on standing up and movement. This encourages me to want to move more.
  • Have an object near you that you can touch. For instance, a tennis ball or golf ball if you want to learn tennis or golf.

The key elements to creating a new habit, is understanding what the goal you want; develop the routine and then reward the change. The power to positively reinforce the changes you want to make is the biggest element in any success.

As for me, I have three resolutions for 2016 and every day I am trying to achieve elements of each one. This first week back at work can only be described as manic, but even so, I have managed 3 out of 4 day to achieve my goals. Not perfect, but again, I am moving forward. I will write a separate article on my “3 words for 2016”.

I leave you with the following quote:

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.


If you want to find out what you prefered learning style, you can check out these links: