[Article] A Good Read

I can’t remember a time when I couldn’t read. My older sister says she taught me to read as soon as she learned, which would mean I was not yet three years old when the mysteries of the written word began to be revealed to me.

Whether or not that’s true – and you and I know that early memories are far from reliable – I do remember reading aloud fluently to the teacher in my first week at school, and wondering at the others around me who stumbled and mumbled and made no sense of the words on the page.

Perhaps that’s why I’m a compulsive reader. I read everything. Books, newspapers, junk mail, the back of the cereal packet, billboards, road signs, public notices, planning notices and menus. Very little passes under my eyes without being read.

And novels. Everything from Jane Austen and Thomas Hardy through JRR Tolkein and George RR Martin to Bernard Cornwell, Iris Murdoch and Margaret Attwood.

For me, there isn’t much that beats the pleasure of a good book. I love to lose myself completely in a story. As a child, I used to read under the bedcovers at night. As a student, I would reward myself for ploughing through academic papers and text books by stealing an hour to read fiction.

An unhealthy obsession? A waste of time? A distraction?

Actually, I think not. (Well, I wouldn’t be writing about it if I thought it was a problem, would I?)

A large part of the learning we do as human beings is learning to live in social groups. We live in interdependent societies and unless, as individuals, we are able to cope with other people we are at a disadvantage.

Stories are part of the fabric of human history. Every culture and civilisation has its myths, legends and stories of everyday folk. These metaphors of everyday life teach us about others and – less obviously – about ourselves.

In NLP the power of metaphor has been demonstrated over and over again. A great story slides under psychological defences and engages directly with the deeper levels of the mind. What seems to the conscious awareness to be ‘just a story’ is taken much more personally at the below conscious levels.

Metaphor delivers subtle learning and intuitive insight. Reading offers a glimpse into the world of the writer – not just in the invention of the story, but in the use of words. Every writer puts together the language in their own unique style, giving the reader a privileged insight into the workings of the writer’s mind.

This is my justification – if I needed  one – for a lifetime of reading fiction and a dining room full of books:

Reading a novel gives the reader an alternative view of life. However divorced from current reality the story may appear to be, it speaks to our essential nature and leads the reader to explore new possibilities and different perceptions. It fills out our understanding of what it means to be human.

So, what have you been reading over the summer?

[Video] How to assess your own development needs

Sometimes people come to me and say: “I don’t really know what I need, but I know I need something.” Which is interesting – because how would you know that you need something if you have no idea what it is? And yet somehow we do.

So I got thinking about this and I believe there are some ways we can figure out – for ourselves – what our development needs are…

[Article] When goals are not enough

As I look around everyone seems to have such busy lives. Even schoolchildren have an endless round of after-school clubs, ‘playdates’ and parties. Business people race from one meeting to the next, with no time in between to think, plan or delegate tasks.

Small wonder that everyone seems to be reading email on the go (or in meetings). What did we do before we had smartphones?

Today’s problem is not about how to connect. Today’s problem is when to disconnect. We’re all overwhelmed with information, opportunities and requests. And many of us don’t have a reliable way of managing all this input. Marketeers tell us that in today’s world, most people scan an email, news item or reports initially to see if there’s a reason they can legitimately ignore and delete it:

“I’m on holiday that week.”  “I’ve passed that project on to my colleague.”  “I don’t use an iPad.”  “I’m not a frequent flyer.”  “I have to go to the dentist.”  “I looked at this 3 years ago and decided not to pursue it.”  “I’m self-employed.”  “I’m a manager.”  I’m too busy to think clearly?

While this kind of thinking can be helpful in scanning the ‘spam’ in your in-box, it can lead to overlooking or disregarding valuable opportunities.

That’s why goals are important. If you’re not clear about what you want to achieve, it’s very hard to decide what’s relevant and what isn’t. It’s hard to decide what to spend time on and what to avoid. It’s even harder to decide whether or not you’ve had a good day!

So, if you’ve got clear goals for the year, the quarter, the decade or your life that’s good. But is it enough to keep you focused and productive?

There is something else as well.

Maybe one of the greatest skills required in any job is being able to focus in on what matters and not get distracted by everything else. But a relentless focus on your goals can make you blinkered to other relevant opportunities as well as to the irrelevant distractions.

The latest neurological research shows that people feel most alive and are most motivated when they are learning something new. So closing down our field of vision in relation to our goals is counter-productive to that. It’s good to have focus, and it’s even better to balance that focus with times when you step back, look around and ask yourself, ‘what else?’

So as well as your current goals, how about allocating some time, space and energy to pursue something new, to take up one of those unexpected opportunities and to stop retreating into ‘I’m too busy’ when you can’t immediately see the benefit of doing something. You might be pleasantly surprised.