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The lost art of noticing

I was at a Christmas carol service last night. I arrived in good spirits after a meal with friends. As the service started I found my mind wandering back to the lively conversation we’d had at dinner. My thoughts then moved on to my Christmas shopping list. I suddenly became aware that I hadn’t been paying full attention to the amazing talented choir of young people. From that moment of realisation I put my thoughts aside and concentrated on what was going on in the moment. It felt amazingly relaxing to just soak up the wonderful candlelit atmosphere and beautiful music.

One key element of my coaching model is termed ‘The Art of Noticing’. I work with clients to help them pay more attention, to notice what’s around them, to notice other people and to notice themselves and their behaviours. The first step in any change is to pay attention. How much attention are you really giving to this blog? Do you give your partner your full attention when you arrive home tired and distracted by a tough day at work? How much attention do you pay in meetings, or do you half listen and spend the time catching up on your mails?

Distraction is the scourge of our modern life, exacerbated by the ubiquitous technology around us. It takes practice to improve our skills of noticing, so try this as a practice over the festive season. Make a conscious effort to take note of something about every person you meet. Perhaps the colour of their eyes, something they’re wearing, the way they walk, the way their face wrinkles when they smile, what words they put emphasis on. Paying attention not only improves relationships, it allows you to be more productive and creative. And, bonus, you’ll probably also find that people find you much better company as a result!

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Breaking the rules of belonging

This Christmas many of us will spend time with the most influential human system we have – our family of origin. We’re shaped by the norms and emotions around us when we grew up. One question worth pondering this Christmas might be this: “Which emotions were allowed in your family of origin and which emotions were not allowed?” As you consider this, you’ll begin to identify the so-called ‘rules of belonging’. One rule might have been ‘never be sad’ or ‘always put a brave face on it’. We bring these (often unspoken) ‘rules’ into our adult life and this is where it gets tricky. As we’re exposed to different human systems such as our partner’s family, university, workplaces, clubs etc, we come across different rules of belonging, some of which conflict with those of our family of origin. In order to grow, thrive and develop strong adult relationships, we must understand how these engrained rules help or hinder us. We can then make choices about whether we are to stay loyal to the original rules, or break the rules. In breaking the rules we risk alienation from the original system, but we also have the promise of new experiences, relationships and growth.

Take attitudes to money as an example. Continue reading