Signs of Alignment

Posted: Category: Personal, Reflections, Coaching

 Nigel Singer

Signs of alignment

 

This blog is about helping us to notice what is going on when we are aligned – or more specifically, when we are not.

 

Most of us move in and out of alignment all of the time, some of us dwelling more at one end of the spectrum than the other – depending on our psychological make-up and background.

Alignment is the way I think about whether I am ok, whether I am taking the correct action in a situation, whether I am speaking truly.  There are three key components to alignment, the thoughts I am having, the emotions I am I noticing and the signals that my body is giving me.

In any circumstance these three aspects will give us information that lets us know how we are doing and also gives us clues about what actions we should take (or not take).

My own experience of alignment is pretty simple;

·         If aligned my brain is relatively quiet.  Thoughts appear slowly and in response to external stimuli

·         My emotional/feeling state is either neutral or positive

·         My body feels relatively relaxed- as I scan my body, I feel ‘normal’ – whatever that is for me

 

Out of alignment

·         Thoughts are buzzing around – repeating and come with a sense of distraction and discomfort

·         My emotions are negative – often some fear/concern/worry is present

·         My body will be doing something that causes discomfort.  Typically for me the place I notice this first is in my belly which will feel tight

If any of these latter are running in you, its good news. It means that you have noticed that you are out of alignment and this then gives you a chance to do something about it.

 

 

An example. 

I was talking recently with a friend about a difficult relationship from my past that still affects me.  I said a bunch of words about the situation and paused, in the pause I noticed a tension in my gut, the realisation dawned that I had just ‘told my story’ and not what was actually going on now.

I said to my friend ‘I’ve just told a story and am feeling out of alignment, give me a moment’.  I stayed with my discomfort and then some tears appeared and then some new words.  As I spoke the new words my body moved back towards a feeling of ease and I learned something new about this old relationship that I had been hiding from myself up until that point.

When our actions take us out of alignment there are indicators that let us know that something is going on.  These indicators are sometimes blatant and sometimes subtle.  It can be really easy to ignore them especially if paying attention to them might have complicated consequences.

My challenge to you is to pay attention to these indicators, take a little time to figure out what they are telling you and then make a decision about what action to take.

 

 

React or Respond

Posted: Category: Personal, Reflections

 Nigel Singer

 

How are you? No really, how are you?

How are you moving through your day?

Is life happening to you as a passive participant or are you getting to make choices?

At every waking moment there is a possibility that you can make a choice.

How are you choosing right now?

Before I take this further let me offer you a couple of definitions

A reaction is something that I seem to not have control over.  Someone pushes me and I push back.  Another driver causes me to brake sharply and I get angry with them. My partner accuses me of neglecting them and I get upset or angry.

A response takes the same situations as above but introduces the element of choice.  The event occurs and I make a choice about what I do.  I might be angry or upset or I might choose to ask why they feel I am neglecting them.

 

So back to your day…

Are you reacting to it or responding?

Your life might be busy, full of deadlines imposed by other people or by yourself.  Loads of emails to answer and decisions to make.

Your life may be quiet – you may not have paid or unpaid work.  There may be no push on you to get out of bed in the morning.

You may sleep badly.

You may have a life that is comfortably paced for you but your brain is always buzzing.  ‘I should be doing more; I should be earning more; if only….’

If you are happy with your situation and your life is comfortably responsive, then stop reading here.

If you are not happy then there are three keys to shifting from a reaction to a response:

Move, Breathe and Think

I will explore all of these in more detail in later posts but for now here are a few quick options.

Move

Leave your chair, go make a cup of tea, stretch, touch your toes (or your knees), walk your dog, go for a swim. Do something that causes a change of posture as it will help you get out of reaction.

Breathe

Take a deep intentional breath, it will immediately shift you from reaction to response.  Breathing is the quickest way of changing your state and helping to relax so give yourself a moment to pause and breathe on purpose, then do it again. 

Story

Examine your thinking.  Are you telling yourself a ‘story’ about your situation?  If your story includes the words ‘should’, ‘ought’ or ‘must’ then you are probably in a reactive place.  Are you justifying yourself?  What starts to happen if you notice ‘shoulds’ and justifictions?

 

It’s your life, is it having you or are you having it?

 

 

Moments of Grace

Posted: Category: Reflections

 Nigel Singer

Early morning cycle, enjoying the cool air on my cheeks, the sun shining, a blue sky. A woman walking toward me, holding a dog on a lead. My guess is she was returning from a walk, on her way out of Ashton Court a large local estate that I was heading into.   

She was walking in what an old teacher of mine called the ready to hug position. Arms out slightly from her sides, the beginning of a smile on her face, her fleece unzipped letting in the air. My eye contact with her was almost non-existent but it was there and she was present and full of life.

She was offering me a wake up and pay attention moment, which I shouldn’t have needed as I was still full of a murmuration.

A few days ago I watched the starling murmuration at dusk on the Somerset levels.  The sun was setting; a fine crescent moon was visible in the sky.  Perhaps 60 or 100 people had gathered, there was light chat and talk as we all waited, getting colder and wondering if we were going to be graced.

A small group of birds fly past and then another is seen in the distance, soon people are looking in all directions, seeing more and more birds.  Glastonbury Tor is in the distance is surrounded by thousands and thousands of birds, only visible at this distance as a sort of thin black smoke, moving of its own volition.

The birds come closer to us, near to the reed beds and then there are a lot, near us, around us, creating their patterns in a way that looks entirely choreographed.  People are laughing and exclaiming; I am full of wonder and delight.

We linger as the birds land, they seem to dive into the fields and disappear, then they rise up, move and land again.  I suspect most of us are waiting for another spectacular show and in their apparent disappearance, the loss of the sun, a few stars and the moon, we have something spectacular.

Its finishing is as important as it happening at all.

Life starts and it finishes, it’s meant to do this. 

I can feel myself being both at ease and profoundly disturbed by this thought.

In amongst the disturbance I know that I am feeling moments of grace – they are powerful food.

 Nigel Singer

My last post started to explore the idea of being centered and offered a simple breathing technique to help you move in the direction of relaxed attention and focus. This post will look at the concept of the comfort zone and will offer a second practical approach that can help you become more centered.

The comfort zone can be shown as the diagram top-right.

The comfort zone (CZ) is a name given to an area of psychological safety.  Within our CZ we feel safe, outside we feel unsafe.  A sense of real or perceived threat keeps us inside this area and the possibility of taking a risk allows us to expand it.

Immediately outside the CZ is a stretch zone – an area that we can see the possibility of entering but that also looks scary.  Most types of change, new learning, new jobs or relationships all sit in this area and often contain a mix of excitement and trepidation.

Beyond the stretch zone is the danger zone.  This is the area where we feel distinctly unsafe, where it is probably a bad idea (for some of us) to spend time. 

As we change and grow over time the different areas shift and change, what at one time seems dangerous, will at another be part of our CZ.

The zones relate to all aspects of our life.  As babies we have an innate fascination which leads us to constantly be moving into the stretch zone.  As adults we vary, some of us choose to keep stretching or moving toward danger, others of us grow comfortable within what we know.  What we think of as risk taking will vary, some people may take up sky diving, others may have a tough conversation with their partner, for some people leaving the house or making social connections may feel like a trip into the danger zone.

If we want to leave or expand our CZ, what is it that enables us to move into our stretch zone? 

There are two facets to this, one internal and the other external.

The external is to do with other people and influences.  The influences may be books, people we hear about, something that we want that drives us.  It is also other people who actively help us, possibly by direct encouragement or by modelling a type of behaviour that enables us to stretch.

The internal is our own sense of resilience, competence or drive.  What we know about ourselves and how we act on this knowledge. It is fostered and supported by our ability to be centered.

If we can center, we are able to look at the stretch we wish to take from a responsive place rather than a reactive one.

Being centered will help us pay attention to our emotions without being overwhelmed by them.   We will be more accepting of our thoughts and feelings and then able to take greater responsibility for them and the choice we are about to make.

This choice may include not taking the stretch – but if we are centered then it is a choice, a response and not a reactive shying away from something difficult.

In my last post on centering I focussed on breathing – I suggest that you keep using this and I realise that if you are reading this post then you have successfully been breathing since reading the last one.  What I mean is choosing to take an occassional deep and mindful breath and now to also pay deeper attention to your body.

How are you sitting or standing right now?

Are you relaxed or tense?

Which parts are relaxed, which are tense?              

How is your posture?

Are you slumped in a chair or rigidly holding yourself in position.  Are you leaning toward or away from a sore hip, shoulder or other bodily ache?

It will be easier for you to breathe if your posture is comfortable.

What I  notice is that when we change our posture both our thinking and our sense of well being changes. 

When your spine is straight and head, heart and gut in vertical alignment you may feel more alert and have more mental clarity.

Being centered is not a static state;  it is not about sitting in a lotus position on top of a mountain bathed in sunlight.  It is a choice at any time, anywhere.  I move, bend, slump, switch off and get unfocussed but when I need to support myself, remembering that it is okay to sit up or stand up straighter and take a breath helps me get centered.

Our comfort zone is often a relaxed place to dwell but the following quote also fits:

“if we always do what we have always done, we will always get what we have always got”

If you want something different and that requires a move into your stretch zone, take a breath, adjust your posture, ask for help and take the step.

 Nigel Singer

Being effective and clear may be your usual state but what happens to you in moments of stress, conflict or crisis; can you hold onto the part of yourself that operates well?

Centering is a simple key to effectiveness. It is a way of taking a moment to check in; of managing what is going on and supporting yourself to make clear choices.

Centering affects your body, your mind and your emotions.  It is a way of looking after yourself in any situation and importantly, it’s a choice.

No matter what you are doing, if you aren’t centered then you will be operating at less than your capacity.

Being centered is the feeling that you have when you are focussed and relaxed at the same time.  There are a range of things that you might do which encourage centering.  Some sports help, being in ‘the zone’ whilst running, playing a musical instrument well enough that you make music rather than notes, gardening, cooking, writing.  Some activities focus on centering like meditation, yoga and some martial arts.

It is the state where you have a sense of relaxed control, where you feel prepared and are breathing easily.  It is a choice and you can bring this state into your moment to moment interactions and activities.

Centering is the ability at any moment to gather yourself together, recognise who is in charge of you (which hopefully is you) and to then make a decision.  It is about having a response rather than a reaction.

A reaction is what happens when you receive a stimulus and instantly get triggered into some form of action.  We will never stop having reactions, we are designed to have them, what we can do is limit the hold that reactions have over us.

A response is what happens when we start to have a reaction and then notice that we are reacting.  We can then engage with our thoughts and feelings and this in turn helps us toward making a choice.

It’s okay to not be centered, but can you choose it when needed?  It’s easy when you are relaxed and things are going well, the challenge is to be able to choose it when you are feeling stressed or under pressure.

Whether you are at home looking after young children, winning (or losing) a game of tennis or running a large business, there will be a mixture of times when our sense of being centered slips. Perhaps you need to have a tough conversation, there is a moment of conflict or you are  feeling negative stress.

You may be blaming others for your situation, or doing a great job of avoiding something that you know is going to be tricky.  You might spot yourself getting very busy doing lots of things except dealing with the key issue.  Conversely you may seem entirely unable to focus on anything - -flitting from task to task without focus.

These are all great examples of being reactive – caught by the thoughts and feelings that accompany what we imagine will be a difficult situation.

As a coach I often feel that part of my role is getting people to stop ‘doing’, to take a moment to reflect and think and just ‘be’.  Helping them get off the treadmill of reactive behaviour and moving toward making useful responses.  As a mediator, one of my tasks is slowly to help people gain a bit of perspective, so that somewhere a choice starts to seem like a possibility.

There are lots of routes toward getting centered and the two exercises that follow are an easy start.

Quick centering exercise:

  • Take a breath, just one, right now. 
  • Let your belly relax and expand as you breathe in and then contract slightly as you exhale.
  • Now take another, slowly and deliberately

That’s it, you can do it anytime but make it a choice.

Slightly longer exercise:

  • Take a moment, close the door, and put your phone and computer on silent
  • Pause
  • Take a breath and then another one.
  • Try to notice what is running through your mind?
  • Is your thinking relaxed or tense?
  • How are you reacting to being asked to pause?
  • What is going on in your body?  Check it over from your toes to the top of your head.  Which parts are relaxed and which are tense.  Are you still or moving?
  • What is your body telling you (if anything)?
  • Take another breath and when you are ready carry on with your day.

Leaking and identity

Posted: Category: Coaching

 Nigel Singer

This disc represents me (or you).

The blue raised segment is my general sense of who I am in the world and the way that I usually appear and behave; my identity as I and others tend see it.

This segment of this disc has formed due to a range of influences. When I was young, as a consequence of the other people around me I learnt to behave in particular ways. These were usually ways that met the spoken and unspoken requirements of the adults and children around me.  An easy example of this is that I grew up in a middle class family in Liverpool, my parents made sure I didn’t speak with a scouse accent because they thought it wasn’t ‘appropriate’, as a consequence I now have a neutral accent.

As I grew I also learnt that I liked people to like me and also to think I was competent and relaxed – so I behaved in ways that drew those responses.  I saw friends who wanted people to think they were rebellious or different, so they behaved in a manner that led people to view them that way.

At any given time in our lives we will be being ‘us’ in a way that elicits particular responses from the people around us.

When working, I turn up for meetings clean shaven and reasonably smartly dressed.  My preferred state is unshaven and sloppily dressed, but at work I find it easier, usually, to meet other people’s expectations rather than set up an immediate potential barrier.

In the circle above, the blue area represents the ‘me’ that usually appears in the world. 

So my question is - what’s in the other parts of the circle?

In my case a few of these sectors contain things like, the man who had a long term conflict with his dad, the man who cries easily, the man who paradoxically gets lonely and also doesn’t want to be around other people, the man who knows he  is right – and lots more.

These other segments contain bits of me that I don’t always pay a lot of attention to.  Some of these bits I know quite well but I am certain there are plenty that I don’t even know exist (the unknown unknowns).

What happens often when we are in conflict or under stress is that we leak. 

Bits of us that are not normally on display (the other segments) start to appear in our day-to-day behaviour.

Due to our ‘blue’ identity being under pressure our usual identity can’t quite manage the new situation and other bits of us leak from the more hidden aspects of ourselves into our visible behaviour.  We usually don’t notice this as it is happening, but fortunately – or not - other people do.

Ever had someone you know come up to you and say ‘what’s going on, are you okay?’  You may say ‘I’m fine’, you might tell them in detail or you may get angry with them and say ‘of course I’m okay, why are you asking’. 

The reason they have asked in the first place is because you have been leaking.  They have seen a part of you that is often under wraps; you don’t seem like ‘you’.

We all leak, some of us recognise it more than others.  Sometimes when others tell us we are leaking we may get upset, or we may be grateful; it may feel like an attack or a gift.

To manage our own conflicts it helps if we get clear about our leakage – the parts of us that want to say hurtful things, attack others, run away or burst into tears.  If we know these bits exist then there is less chance that they will unconsciously leak.

Knowing these facets doesn’t mean to say we will be perfectly at ease all of the time but we will be better able to take responsibility for ourselves and the impact we have.

If I am feeling ikky (to use the technical term), I may not know why but I will probably be noticing that something is going on.  The way that I can take responsibility is by letting people around me know that I’m not okay. I might say ’I’m feeling ikky and it’s possible that I will be leaking unintentionally’ or just, ‘something’s not okay in me, watch out’.

Naming what is going on makes the leak visible and helps other people to not feel that it is something they have caused. It can also provide an opportunity for me to look at a bit of me that I might sometimes shy away from.

If you are with other people and you notice that they are leaking you can help them to notice it.  Do it gently, the idea is to help them not to criticise them - remember you may need help to mop up your leaks one day.