Philosophy, Booklists and The Tiger Who Came to Tea

Under the Rainbow at the Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival

Blue sky, white clouds and a rainbow over a beach scene

My day at the Budleigh Salterton Literary Festival began with John Gray on ‘The Soul of the Marionette: A Short Enquiry into Human Freedom.

book cover The Soul of the MarionetteThere were a lot of questions:

  • Can knowledge set us free?
  • Will we ever understand ourselves well enough to design a better version?
  • Do we really want to be free?

There weren’t a lot of answers but I did come away with a list of authors who might help with my research: Philip K. Dick, Theodore Powys, Gertrude Bell, Michel de Montaigne might help me see life a little more clearly which might mean less disturbed by the beliefs of the world around me.

I’m all for a closer examination of beliefs, their nature, their shifting sandiness and our unwitting of living as if they were true and this was a thoroughly enjoyable stroll in that direction.



On, then, to A Celebration of the Life and Work of Judith KerrA little girl opens to the door to a huge, lovable, cartoon tiger

What a life and what wonderful work Judith Kerr continues to create. 92 years old and as entertaining, gently profound
and moving as ever, Judith Kerr is an absolute delight.

I read ‘The Tiger Who Came to Tea’ to children at school, to my own children, and now to my grandchildren and it has an irrepressible charm. Who knew that the illustrations include two versions of the father? I must go back and have another look.

And then, of course, there was ‘When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit’ and now we have ‘Mister Cleghorn’s Seal’ based on her father’s real experience of saving the life a seal pup and taking it home to his flat to live on the balcony.

I hope I can be so irrepressible, good humoured and lively when I’m 92.


“Can you remember a time before you could read?

Hilary Mantel’s Life in Books conversation picked up a thread touched upon by Judith Kerr who questioned the content of the Janet and John books she encountered in school.  Whether it was Janet and John, “John has two caps.”; Nip and Fluff “Nip is a dog. I see a dog.”; or Peter and Jane, it seems wonderful that we ever saw the point in learning to read unless, like Hilary Mantel, you managed to discover a world of books actually worth reading.

Amid this fascinating conversation books and authors tumbled like a glorious domino rally with one book prompting another until my notebook was almost full.  ‘Kidnapped’ clearly deserves revisiting as I had completely failed to notice the perfection in its form. Oliver Sacks, Beryl Bainbridge, and Ivy Compton-Burnett are all favourites of my own who were highly commended while I admit my ignorance re Molly Keane, Sybille Bedford and Alison Lurie.

I’ve added them all to my ‘must read’ list, and I still haven’t finished reading “John Aubrey – My Own Life” by Ruth Scurr so I’m ill-prepared for tomorrow!


Life Coaching Wherever You Are

‘Phone Coaching using Narrative NLP Principles


a phone amongst office equipment

People often ask me how coaching can work on the ‘phone. I wondered this myself and was even a little reluctant to give it a try but the truth is that it works remarkably well. In many cases it makes life coaching possible when the demands of life, work and family make it seem impossible.

When you always have your phone with you it makes sense that coaching conversations can take place whenever, and wherever, is most convenient for you.

Maybe you work from home and need to book appointments into your own schedule. It might be that you have family commitments and have limited opportunities for talking to someone about your own needs and wishes.

Telephone coaching makes it easy to fit our conversations into your busy lifestyle. You can speak to me from the comfort of your favourite sofa, from a clifftop overlooking a beach, or from your office at lunchtime.


Phone calls can take place in the most unexpected of places

For many clients it is a combination of home, away and workplace calls that works most effectively. You know when you can fit it in, where you will feel safe and comfortable, and how often you would like to speak.

Best of all you don’t have to travel to Honiton or Budleigh Salterton. I am in Devon and you can be in another county, another country or even on another continent. Whether you live in the UK, Europe, or the other side of the world, all we have to do is check time zones before we book that first call.

For me, the coach, it is about a quality of listening that comes with training and practice. Both NLP and Narrative practice pay full attention to your telling of your story. You will be surprised by the unexpected discoveries you make about yourself as you tell me what’s on your mind and I listen and ask carefully chosen questions.  Together we will discover how you can make the changes you have been looking for by looking for them differently.

Many people are surprised to discover that they prefer this style of coaching. You save the time and expense of travelling and you don’t Kitchen, garden, park or office, wherever you are we can speakhave to sit in an unfamiliar room with a person you don’t know. Instead you choose the date, time and place to tell me what you would like to change in your life. You can even choose how long we spend on each call as I understand that you may only have half an hour to spare or you might be one of those people who would rather talk all morning, or at intervals throughout a day rather than spreading a programme out over a series of weekly calls.

Life Coaching by ‘phone is easy, convenient and effective. Give me a call right now and let’s begin exploring possibilities.

Jamie Smart’s CLARITY – One Man’s Clarity and One Woman’s Response

A book offering clarity of mind lies on an empty beach

Jamie Smart has developed a clarity of mind which allows him to achieve ‘better performance and bigger results’, and in this book, he sets out to explain what he considers to be the essential foundations, deep drivers and way forward in the direction of focus, problem solving and success.

If you are looking for a book that investigates the process of thought; examines how we come to experience feelings as a result of our thoughts; and explains one man’s understanding of the discovery of his own innate capacity for clarity, then this is the book for you.

There are many points at which Jamie Smart and I agree and, as I re-read his chapter titles, I can see how the book appealed to my coaching curiosity: How Perception is Created; Habitual Thought Patterns; Creativity and Disruptive Innovation; Authenticity: Your True Identity; Capitalizing on Chaos, Complexity and Uncertainty; Living a Life You Love.

And, if I have a criticism, it is prompted by an admittedly very subjective sense of disappointment. It is true that this is a very interesting and thorough book. It is well written and the argument develops coherently. As a reader I am fully convinced that the clarity which Jamie, and many others, experience can make a profound difference to their lives. My disappointment lies in the author’s apparent conviction that his ‘understanding of thought’ is the only route to achieving the ‘necessary’ transformation.

Almost every chapter stirs my indignation with the author’s insistence. Here’s a classic example re Chapter 14, “The Power of Presence”. While I agree that you don’t need to be meditating to be in a meditative state, I can’t agree that “Deepening understanding of  the principles behind innate thinking” will necessarily bring you more and more fully into the present.  On the contrary, I believe that it is in fact being more and more in the present that will bring you still further into the present, and that the access portal is an experience of being in the present which can arise in an infinite number of ways, many of which involve no understanding of thought whatsoever.

I fully accept that my own response to the book could be described as being just a part of my own ‘story’. I can see that, in appearing to want to ‘defend’ NLP, Narrative Practice or any other ‘traditional application model’, viewed from the Clarity model, I run the risk of undermining my own argument and yet I believe I have something to offer in speaking my thoughts and do so from a position of open minded integrity.

It is not just that Jamie Smart seems to deny that a powerful Narrative Conversation, a significant NLP session, or a profound experience in any other context can be the experience that allows you to discover that you can let go of searching; that ‘getting’ of something clear and profound that lets you know you don’t need to improve yourself, you are already fine. No, it is the black or white, either or nature of the author’s view of the world. It’s either Clarity, by the author’s definition of the word, or it’s superstitious thinking.

Even while I agree with most of what I am reading, I am alienated. As I reread Chapter 21. Living a Life You Love, and experience a cumulative sense of free-flowing, in the moment, resilient, open, fearless, reflective, appreciative, innovative connection, by the end of the same chapter I am dismayed at its exhortation to ‘Keep increasing your clarity of understanding’. The clear message throughout the book is that it is only when you ‘make it a priority to increase your understanding’ that true transformation becomes possible.

Near the beginning of CLARITY I was assured I was going to ‘catch’ something. That it would ‘spontaneously result in “symptoms” of increasing clarity, resilience and peace of mind’. Towards the end of the book, I began to wonder whether it might be less the well-intentioned offering of a new way of experiencing life and more an exercise in the promotion of the Innate Thinking brand. That’s how I was disappointed. If I recommend this book it is with the proviso that, as you read, you engage your own vital and enthusiastic curiosity about what else might be possible.

To the author I would say, Yes, I agree that new thinking can show up at any moment and I invite you, from my Narrative / NLP perspective to consider a few questions.

What else might you discover if you were to also engage in not-understanding?

Might you have missed any possibilities about outside-in understanding?

What might an alternative 4th wave (thought revolution) be if it was not dependant on understanding the nature of thought?

If the 4th wave could include not only outside-in and inside-out understanding but also not-understanding, what might this make possible?

What might a 7th wave include?

What if, instead of a deeper, more profound understanding, we experienced a deeper acceptance of the mystery?

Might both be possible?

And what else?

I quote the lines that Jamie chose to end the book:

Forget safety.
Live where you fear to live.
Destroy your reputation.
Be notorious.”

Rumi, Poet

When I find myself reading a book with a pencil in my hand I know it’s a book worth reading, and reading CLARITY resulted in an entire notebook full of notes, arguments and questions.

It doesn’t get much better!

Taking Shortcuts

What does this doodle say to you?

 doodle od a dark cloud gradually lifting to reveal the sun and the possibility of a short cut

Doodling is a great way to explore ideas without too much conscious attention. 

What does this doodle say to you? My guess is that it will say different things to different people. It depends upon your current experience, your thoughts and your mood or ‘state’ as we might label it in NLP terms.

Here’s a closer look…

a closer look at the image reveals that there is more than one way to reach your goal

sometimes a closer look reveals something unexpected


Click on the image to open it fully and look even more closely. begin to notice details that you hadn’t previously noticed.

I have shown it to a few people and asked the question… “If this doodle had a message for you, what would it be?” and got a surprising number of different replies:

  • “It’s about how the sun is always in the sky, even when all you’re thinking of is the clouds.”
  • “Even when you think you’ve solved a problem, something can come up that seems to set you right back to the beginning again and yet it’s not quite the same this time and you can keep going.”
  • “The clouds are your problems. The sunshine is feeling better, sorting something out.”
  • “Is it about depression and the depression can lift and come back and then lift again?”
  • “The arrows are all the different paths if you want to escape from something.”
  • “It’s about shortcuts. Sometimes you have to go the long way round to get out from under the grey sky but sometimes you might spot a short cut, and sometimes there’s an even shorter one.”

There isn’t a ‘right answer’. I was concentrating on something else at the time (my most interesting doodles seem to come during online meet-ups, TED talks or Tony Robbins videos). I would love to hear from you about what you make of it.

Better still, have a go yourself and maybe ask a few people what they make of your unconscious doodling.

How hard have you been trying?

The target seems to keep moving

There is no point in trying

If you think you have tried everything but nothing has worked, the one thing you probably haven’t tried is to let go of trying. It’s more difficult than you might think.

From childhood, well into adulthood, we are bombarded by messages about trying.

second chances are only for those who are not afraid to try again

try, try. try again

“If at first you don’t succeed”; If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again“So, try harder”; “Second chances are only for those who are not  afraid to try again”; “Try, try, try again”.  
We’ve all heard it many times and in many contexts and so it’s not surprising that, at some level,   most of us believe it.

But let’s think about it differently for a moment…  


What is the presupposition of the word ‘try’?
             “As long as you try your best, no-one can ask for more.”
             “Try not to…”
             “I’ll try.”

Don’t all these ‘trying’ phrases imply the likelihood of failure?

I suggest it’s time to let go of trying. Either do something or don’t do it. Trying; trying harder; and trying even harder will sap your energy and can lead to a sense of failure.

Maybe it’s true, maybe, in spite of everything we have been led to believe, there really is no point in trying.

What could you do instead?

Thoughts on Transformation

These are some thoughts I collected over a recent weekend workshop.  Most of them are my own (others are credited where possible but if I have failed to credit you, please let me know and I will correct the image).


Narrative thoughts

What I’m wondering is, would these thoughts mean anything to you if you weren’t part of the weekend experience?

  • A conversation can always make a difference.
  • What you see of me is just the tip of the iceberg.
  • What I see of you is just the tip of the iceberg.
  • When you’re looking for the best (in human beings), miraculously, that’s what shows up.
  • Every time I retell the story I notice something different.
  • A rippling moon looking up sees a sister riding the sky.
  • If I peeled my image off the mirror, what would I see?
  • And if I drop the future it shatters into a million sharpened futures.
  • I don’t know. You don’t know. We don’t know. Not knowing is a great place to start.
  • When I am upset about something, that’s not what I’m upset about.
  • Transformation lies in things we would rather avoid.
  • We are constituted in conversation.
  • I came from a nowhere that might have been somewhere and sometimes I glance back.
  • The completion of a story is the beginning of a story.
  • We all have a story, we are not our story and the story does not predict our future.

 Is there anything here that speaks to you and if so, what does it suggest?

If you’re curious I recommend you check the programme out. Here’s a link.

A Maze of Possible Pathways out of a Problem

At the heart of the maze lies a problem

Where do you start?

As soon as we try to find our way out of a difficult situation we discover that just thinking about it can become part of the problem.

How often have you felt overwhelmed or thought ‘I just don’t know where to start’?

Helping you sort this out can be part of the role of a coach…

It can help to identify which pathway you have been going down already in order to try something different.

While thinking through some recent conversations with clients I came up with this maze-like doodle, identifying typical strategies my recent clients have described as they began telling me their stories.



As you read through the list of ‘ways of working it out’ you might recognise something that you have been trying. Better still, see if there is something here that you haven’t thought of because trying something different, something new, will give you the best chance of getting an unexpected result. It may not be the result you thought you were looking for, but it is likely to be a result that leaves you feeling more positive about the future.


What have you tried?

  • trying to solve the problem
  • trying harder
  • trying harder still
  • acceptance
  • avoidance
  • denial
  • hearing a message in the problem
  • seeing the problem as ‘ a part of myself with special needs’
  • talking to the problem
  • asking the problem what it thinks it’s doing for me

In future posts I will look at each of these pathways and invite you to contribute to my musings. Do you have an experience you would like to share; an observation on the list or a part of it; or an entirely different pathway to suggest?

I look forward to hearing from you.



Trying to Find a Way Out

At the heart of the maze lies a problem

Looking for a Way Out
Sometimes we find ourselves not knowing which way to turn. By allowing ourselves to consider different directions for our thoughts, we create new perspectives, find new pathways and allow possibilities to appear where none seemed to exist.


By accepting the specifics of a situation we can often identify a hint of the direction in which an answer might lie. The ‘W Questions’ can be a good starting point: Who, what, when, where, why. Ask yourself;
       Who is with me when this happens?
       What do I do specifically?
       When and where does it happen?
       Why does it happen?
Once you have the answers to these questions, consider what is possible for you to change. Even one small change in your thoughts, behaviours or actions can trigger further changes leading you in a new direction.         


Trying and Trying Harder 
The word ‘try’ is defined as ‘to make an attempt’ or to strive’. Both definitions imply the use of energy but not achievement. When we think of trying we often infer that we will not succeed. Trying harder suggests doing more of the same and if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you always get what you’ve always had. Replace ‘try’ with ‘do’ or ‘be’ and notice the difference.


A Part of Myself with Special Needs
Within the problem is a clue to something you need. By feeling for any emotional associations you may be experiencing you can identify what you need.  Identifying and giving yourself what you need can often be the answer.


Hear the message in a problem
What aspect of yourself is crying out for attention or has gone unnoticed, overlooked, forgotten or denied? Allowing a problem to be a pointer in this way can help you find a new direction where you might stumble across an unexpected opportunity for change.


Well if you were refusing to accept that there is a problem you probably wouldn’t be reading this post! Denial rarely leads to new possibilities and it’s new possibilities that make a difference.


Choosing to ignore a problem can sometimes seem like a good way of dealing with it but of course this allows it to persist and its effect and influence spread. A different pathway is more likely to result in your discovering a way out.


Metal door in stone wall with NLP CREW graffittiSomething I haven’t thought of yet
There are always possibilities that haven’t yet occurred to us. Being curious and open minded, looking up and beyond ourselves are habits and practices worth nurturing because this is where we discover that the possibilities really are endless. 


sweep over the past and focus on the present moment

3 – 2 – 1 Summary

An adult's hand cradles a child's hand holding seeds

Thinking about life…

  • Recall 3 positive things you have learned
  • Think of 2 ideas that you still find interesting
  • And take with you 1 value or principle as a guide right now

This brief 3 part strategy is a great way to end a day. You can apply it to a single day, a particular experience, or life in general.

I based it on a teaching strategy which asks students to summarise their learning as a ‘ticket to leave’ as described here by Laura Sagan.

The beauty of it lies in the fact that it serves as both a cumulative experience; each time you think it through you are building on all your similar past experiences; and a moment of focus; what one value or principle could you chose right now? It enables you to sweep over the past and focus on the present moment.

Secrets of the NLP Masters by Judy Bartkowiak

 50 techniques to be exceptional

Metal door in stone wall with NLP CREW graffittiPrompted by my own curiosity and enthusiasm for exploration – described by Judy Bartkowiak as ‘key drivers of NLP’ – I opened this book enthusiastically, and I wasn’t disappointed.

 I like what I think of as ‘Pick and Mix’ books; books that can be read with both an open mind and, simultaneously, a mind ready to gather information relevant to my life and work; books that can teach me something fascinating. This book fits the bill perfectly.

 It is a book for everyone with an interest in change, overcoming obstacles or achieving goals. For the NLP practitioner the book is full of prompts and reminders alongside new perspectives on techniques you will already be using. For newcomers it is a comprehensive and readable explanation of NLP’s powerful insights into how NLP can make a real and lasting difference to your life. If you have children, or work with children, you will find much here to throw light on strategies and techniques that work well with young people.

Of course you can read ‘Secrets’ from beginning to end, it is interesting, informative and well written, but you can also flick through and find the part most relevant to your current experience.

Its style, organisation and layout make it stand out from many of the NLP technique books I have encountered. I particularly like the chapter numbers down the right hand edge meaning that you can open the book at any page and know immediately where you are.

Each chapter begins with a selection of well-chosen quotations from people generally acknowledged to be the ‘NLP masters’ such as Gregory Bateson, Sue Knight, Virginia Satir, Tony Robbins, and others from different contexts like Albert Einstein, Carl Jung and Helen Keller.

 ‘A few well-chosen words at just the right time can transform a person’s life’ Joseph O’Connor 

Repetition – so often the missing ingredient in books which set out to help us learn – is used with a light touch so that you don’t need to flick back through the book to find that neat ‘how to’ of a technique. At the end of each chapter you will find ‘Putting it all together’ and I suggest that if you read these first in the light of the chapter heading you will know how directly a particular chapter will speak to you.

If there was a single addition that would improve Secrets of the NLP Masters for me it would be an index. Children, beliefs, and goals, for instance, appear throughout the book and sometimes it would be helpful to be able to find them all.

The book ends with an Appendix perfectly placed to sum things up and be a readily accessible, and very visual, reminder of these two keys to being exceptional: The filters through which we make our own peculiar sense of external events and the logical levels which model the context in which it all takes place.

Knowing your purpose facilitates exceptional behaviour and if your behaviour disappoints you in any way then re-examine it in the light of your purpose. You could do well to take this book with you on the journey.

front cover of the book

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