Why do we stick to a course when we know this course is not serving us?

I live in South London. I regularly catch South West Trains into Waterloo station. It’s throbbing with people all the time. One morning around half nine, I was listening to my favourite meditation app whilst looking out the window at the London skyline – possibly not paying attention to much else around me.

Autopilot is the death of life

The train pulled into platform twenty-two. Everybody started to pile out of the eleven-coach train. Hundreds of people. It’s quite peculiar watching people in everyday, run-of-the-mill circumstances. There we all were walking towards the turnstiles at the end of the platform.

Imagine a sea of people gushing towards the turnstiles. A wall of people moving towards the end of platform twenty-two. I noticed most people were congregating in a bunch, all huddled together like a swarm of bees with their heads down looking at their phones. All bunching behind a collection of turnstiles. Not a very good decision.

But just to their right were half a dozen empty ones. No-one was paying attention to them.

Paying attention improves decision-making

The tensions and frustration started to build. You could taste the annoyance in the air. Look up for a moment, I thought to myself. When we do, we see opportunities and give ourselves permission to feel the freedom of taking an alternative route. I find it amusing.

Why do we not use our intuition to make better decisions? Why do we live so mindlessly? When will we live intentionally we tap into our intuition. We end up making better decision. Better choices.

I know I sound rather melodramatic, but seriously! It’s funny. Next time you take a train or a bus, do yourself a favour and look up and pay attention.

Starting a theatre company was one of the best decisions of my life

Years ago I ran a successful theatre company, receiving critical acclaim for our productions at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Not only was it fun, it was such an adventure. It taught me a very valuable lesson. I started my journey into making better decisions.

To be a good actor you must learn to observe. Notice what is happening around you – the external stimuli: the tone of voice, body language, actions, words and emotions of others – and recognise what is happening inside you – your response to the external stimuli. Mindfulness. I became better at noticing the space between stimulus and my responses.

Mindfulness doesn’t ask you to stop doing or thinking

Mindfulness asks you, is this what you intend to do? Mindful speaking and living asks you, is this what you want? If not, choose an alternative.

From a speaking perspective, this is extremely powerful. Imagine for a moment you are talking to a large auditorium of people. Hey, maybe it’s a keynote. Or perhaps it’s your board of directors. Imagine being able to choose how to be moment to moment when you stand up there. Not how to think; you do this automatically – you’ve spent your whole life building your capacity to assess, analyse, judge, and make assumptions.

But imagine being able to decide in the moment, to persue alternative ways of engaging the audience. Imagine being able to choose how you want to come across in each moment.

Improvisation taught me to experience the moment

To begin to master the craft of better decision-making, here are two brilliant questions to keep asking yourself as you go through every day.

  1. What am I experiencing now? (paying attention)
  2. How am I responding to this experience?

Notice your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations.

Improv is about two core skills: listening and responding. These skills come into their own when we live mindfully, when we simply pay attention. Playing mindfully in this life, when leading others is choosing a response informed by mindful-analysis.

Putting it another way, it is just being able to commit oneself fully to an experience, and thereby make better decisions.

The Practice: Ten Times Speed…

Here is a brilliant exercise to bring this to life:

Get a few people together, people you trust. This is fun and a little wacky, but it works. Take a playful scenario, for example planning the  office party. Plan it, discuss it, brainstorm it together at ten times the normal pace.

Everything has to be really fast so you don’t have time to think about what comes next. Notice. What are you experiencing? What is happening around you? Let it happen. Don’t try make it happen.

Reflection Questions/Points:

  1. What did you notice about the decisions you made? How effective were their contribution to the planning exericse?
  2. What did you notice about your personal energy – your presence? How does your ability to alter it feel to you?
  3. What messages did you pick up from others’ non-verbal signals? And what relevance does this have for you when speaking and leading
  4. What sensation did you notice for yourself? And what do they tell you about what you were experiencing?
  5. Where might you use some of this new-found awareness to your advantage when speaking and/or leading a team?