Loss aversion – could it explain why we put up with bad situations?

When you consider making significant changes in your life such as changing your job or leaving a relationship, you may well experience a level of anxiety. 

Sometimes this feeling is strong enough to keep you in that bad relationship, that mediocre job, and it’s very important to understand what is happening in order to give yourself the best opportunity to overcome this potentially paralysing behaviour.

Cognitive psychologist and Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman and his partner Amos Tversky first identified that the pleasure of gaining and the pain of losing were experienced differently back in 1979 even when the gain and loss was the same $5.

Further tests have shown that we experience roughly twice as much pain in losing as we experience pleasure in gaining. Exactly why this is so isn’t known for sure, but it could be related to the different parts of the brain that experience gains and losses.

Why do we experience more pain than pleasure?

Losses occur in the amygdala, which performs a primary role in processing of emotional responses such as fear and anxiety. These emotional responses kept our ancestors safe, and natural selection ensured those with strong survival traits passed these on to their children; and those children who had strong survival behaviours passed them on until after thousands of generations most of us have extremely strong survival instincts, even though we now live in a far safer world without the dangers that our brains are hard-wired to respond to.

What our brains respond to in the modern day are perceived threats to our well-being and self-esteem.  For example, at work many people resist speaking out against the ideas of a senior, because our primitive brain sees the situation as one of danger, and we enter a fight/flight or freeze state. This state diverts energy and resources away from our intellectual brain and towards our physical bodies resulting in us sometimes acting as cavemen, either attacking others, running away or freezing in the moment.

Do you find you are able to think of a more suitable response later on and wonder why we didn’t respond more appropriately in the moment? The reason is that in the moment you didn’t have the capacity to think coherently. When the danger passes, your intellectual capacity returns to normal and that’s when you think of that brilliant retort!

If you are considering leaving a relationship, you may be able to intellectually understand that by completing your unsatisfactory current relationship you are opening up the possibility for a better relationship. At the same time your emotional response kicks in and fear and anxiety follow. You can dwell on everything you stand to lose, and this can blind you to the opportunities beyond.

In fact, this process can impact on any changes you look to make and is one of the key reasons why coaching is such an effective form of support when you are looking to make changes.

How can coaching help?

What happens in a good coaching relationship is that an environment is created in which you feel safe. So safe that considering change doesn’t trigger the negative emotional states that have held you back in the past.

In this safe space you are able to access your full intellectual capacity, so that you become clear on your purpose and your goals. Your innate creativity comes through to discover solutions to challenges, and your commitment is engaged so that you can take the actions that lead to results.

It’s both the environment we live in and our humanness that stops us achieving all we could be, and it's our humanness that allows us to be all that we can be when we place it in the right environment.

If you are in a situation that you wish to change, reach out to a professional who can support you find your unique solutions and create the life you deserve.

New Beginings

Sometimes, letting go can be the hardest thing.

Nothing is perfect and looking at the imperfect thing from one perspective allows us to hide the imperfections and pretend that everything is ok.

We then hold on to the thing, because of the positive elements, not realising that letting go and freeing ourselves to create something new may be the best option.

That’s a way of describing the situation with Conscious Communication.

We created something that was, in my opinion, the best work I have ever done, with great benefits for those who used it, and at the same time wasn’t the finished article, mainly because it remained inaccessible to many, particularly those people who are of a more fixed mindset.

I recognise I was also in a fixed mindset, and in an attempt to move beyond this, I am opening up Conscious Communication to be something more or different to what it has been up to this point.

I am very interested in opening up opportunities to use Conscious Communication to achieve positive results in all sorts of different forums. To do this will require creativity and collaboration. The good news is that Conscious Communication allows us to access the highest levels of creativity and collaboration!

I have come to the conclusion that in order to move forward I need to share the Conscious Communication methodology with potential collaborators so that they can experience it for themselves and discover the possibilities that excite them. The link between communication and the discoveries of neuroscience make this such a rich area for work as we discover how combining them produces new opportunities in so many directions.

I am planning to run a weekend workshop to share the methodology, and I will also run some introductory evenings if people want to have a little taster before committing to a whole weekend.

If you are interested, can you please email me on nick@dynamiccoaching.co.uk indicating your preference for either coming to a weekend workshop or a taster evening.  My intention is to cover the cost as an investment in a new future.

Once I have quantified the responses and interest, I will be able to plan appropriate dates and venues.

If you have any questions, I would welcome them, please do get in touch.

And is there anything else about... asking questions?

On a recent visit to the Museum of Modern Culture in Seattle, the exhibition arranged aspects of culture into groups, and compared them, which invited a different perspective on familiar television shows and films. Even though I didn’t see anything in the exhibit that I hadn’t already seen somewhere before, the visit was both enjoyable and enlightening. It was thought provoking to see the material set out in a new way. As we left the museum I was struck by the similarity between the exhibition and our work with Conscious Communication.

Using Conscious Communication we rearrange words and questions, in order to become more conscious of their impact. The words are all familiar, but set out in a different way. This was demonstrated in a discussion in a workshop this week, about the question ‘how do you feel about that?’. This common question is used in English to elicit more information about a topic, but we were asked why it wasn’t one we would recommend using.

We would recommend instead, using questions such as:

and is there anything else about that?  or

what kind of ...., is that?

to encourage someone to say more.

There are two reasons for this. Firstly, asking the question: ‘How do you feel about that?’ narrows the focus to feelings, excluding potential thoughts about the subject and any actions taken. Secondly, potential problems may occur if we are speaking to someone of a different culture. Because culture can be diverse across generations, interest groups, or education, as well as by country or ethnicity, we simply cannot guess or assume someone’s cultural background, or judge their reaction to being asked how they feel.  In some cultures, feelings are regarded as private, and we might have unwittingly overstepped a boundary and caused offense by asking about them.

Conscious Communication highlights that our use of language has impacts that are often unnoticed. When our awareness is raised we can be specific and more effective, reducing misunderstandings and increasing trust leading to improved relationships. 

Thoughts on the effectiveness of communication in today’s workplace

Before we talk about the communication between two (or more) people, let’s take a brief look at the equipment used by them (the brain), because learning how to communicate better without understanding how brains work is like playing chess without knowing how the pieces move.

Although Neuroscientists are regularly discovering new information about how our brains work, much of the brain’s function currently remains a mystery.  What we understand is:

·         The brain weighs between 2-3% of our body weight

·         The brain uses 25% of all the energy our body generates

·         The brain has developed many ways to save energy

Daniel Kahnemann (Thinking Fast and Slow) suggested that the brain keeps some information ready to hand and easily accessible. For example: your route to work, simple maths, the Capital of France etc.  Other information requires some more brain power: what is 16 x 27? Or name as many African countries as you can, or how can we resolve the staff shortage situation caused by the wedding of 2 of our members of staff?  He called these parts of the brain System 1 and System 2.

System 1 is fast, but limited to simple ideas/thoughts/solutions, whereas System 2 is slow, energy draining and potentially creative, collaborative and clear.

System 1 contains our fight/flight/freeze response which is mainly interested in our survival, our emotions and social interactions which seem to be ‘triggered’ by external events. When driving someone does a dangerous manoeuvre and you have an instant angry reaction, or if your child is bullied you go into ‘protect’ mode.  These examples, and many others like them seem to happen automatically. There’s no conscious thought involved.  And when we are triggered we move to a state that is effective in one sense, it protects us, and allows us to operate at a certain level, but it makes the state of ‘us at our best’ elusive.  We cannot access the highest levels of our thoughtfulness, our consideration or our effectiveness.  

Our modern way of living produces ‘low level’ triggers in such large quantities that we don’t even notice them.  Every time you feel stressed, or have an emotional reaction (both positive and negative) recognise that you have been triggered.

Your System 2, or conscious brain, is a wonderful tool, allowing us to question and reach clarity, work with others collaboratively, and to spark creativity and find solutions to the most challenging situations. Unfortunately, for most of us, we don’t have access to it enough, either because the outside world (or our negative thoughts) is triggering our System 1 responses or because System 1 is jumping in and dealing with the situation to save effort and energy.

One tell-tale sign you could look out for is when you hear people say the phrase “You know what I mean”.  Notice if the words are accompanied by a nodding of the head.  It’s like they are trying to persuade you to say “yes”.  Almost certainly what they said before ‘You know what I mean (YKWIM)’ or it’s shortened form of ‘you know’ wasn’t 100% clear. (Or they wouldn’t need to add YKWIM) and their System 1 brain uses the phrase to shortcut the effort of explaining the situation with complete clarity.  And most of the time people respond ‘yes’ to YKWIM because their System 1 brain has created its own interpretation of what was said. For example, imagine someone you like saying to you: “Do you fancy doing something fun this weekend?”. Most likely your brain will come up with a thought or an image of what that ‘fun thing’ could be.  And it may be the same idea as the other person, or it may not.

Checking in on what the other person really means (If they are clear on what they mean) takes effort and time.  Sometimes we take that effort, and sometimes we just assume we know what they mean. It may not matter that much if we are discussing a fun weekend activity, but it may matter a lot if your boss (or a client) suggests that you ‘raise your game’ and you feel intimidated and unable to question the phrase and its implications.

Assumption is one of the key traps we can fall into with our communication.  And because it is performed by our System 1, we can be unconscious of the assumptions we are making.  It is not our view that assumption is always bad and inappropriate, indeed it saves a lot of time and effort, and it’s this positive benefit that makes it a trap.

Here are some suggested actions to take:

·         Listen out for assumptions in your conversations (both yours and theirs)

·         Flag up your assumptions, and check in with others if its correct

·         Some people don’t like their assumptions highlighted – ensure you have permission to challenge assumptions

·         There are ways to challenge that range from gentle to brutal – be appropriate

The quality of any relationship is correlated to the quality of the communication within that relationship. The communication is in service of the relationship, unfortunately many relationships are damaged by the communication within it. It does take effort and time to engage our conscious brains, and we can train our brains into better habits, leading to fewer misunderstandings, and greater effectiveness.

The Curse of Busyness

If you don’t have time to read this, you may have the most to gain by doing so…

For busyness is a blight on our lives. It gets in the way of us operating at our best. The rate of progress in the world is increasing rapidly, so that we need to improve just to stay still.  If you are not going forward, you are going backwards relative to others.

I appreciate that you have a lot on your plate, an ever-increasing to-do list, demands on your time from all quarters and people demanding an immediate response irrespective of the real urgency of the situation.

This can lead to a feeling of being dragged in different directions, or of being a puppet whose strings are being pulled by others, or a sense of not really being in charge of your life.

The solution may feel counter-intuitive. Many answers are.

You are probably aware of the phrase: “I need to stop and think”

Stop comes first, then think. 

It doesn’t mean you can’t think while you are busy doing, of course you can, but the quality of your thinking can improve immeasurably if you first stop, and then create the best conditions for creative thinking.

Different people need different conditions to thrive, but almost universally are the need to feel safe, comfortable with the people you are with, not judged or fearful.

What most people are unaware of is the impact that communication has in creating these positive conditions. Assumption, expectation and influence lead to negative feelings such as anxiety, concern and distrust. This leads to us ‘shutting down’ our creativity, not ‘opening it up’ to create possibilities and ideas.

Conscious Communication protocols can help you create these positive conditions.

Within these possibilities are ideas that can change the world, or at least change your world for the better.

Food for thought

I’m going on a diet.  I can’t stand the way I feel anymore. Dispirited, lethargic, and worried. It may be time to admit that I might be addicted. So, I’m going to stop consuming all this junk.  It’s having a negative effect on my health. The problem is, it’s not like smoking, where you can quit absolutely. I can’t shut myself away and consume nothing. 

For my addiction is the news. And I have come to realise the negative impact it is having on my well-being. Recently, the news is so overwhelmingly negative and fear inducing, and although any particular story may not affect me directly, I am beginning to recognise a constant low level anxiety, just below my conscious awareness.

In her excellent book, Neuroscience for Coaches, Amy Brann explains the impact of fear and anxiety on the amygdalae in our brains. (These are 2 almond shaped groups of nuclei within the limbic system). ‘The amygdala responds to environmental stimuli that may be picked up consciously or unconsciously. It is specifically involved in motivationally relevant stimuli such as fear and reward. And because fear is very significant, it gets processed ahead of other emotions.’

I am concerned that this negativity build up within me could impact on my creativity and my ability to empathise, collaborate and connect at the level necessary for the work I do. In evolutionary terms, I can understand why fear is more important, but in my life I want to have more creativity and collaboration, particularly as the threat is not a direct one. 

I recognise that the more negativity I consume, the stronger the neural circuits become.  Last week a colleague offered me some feedback.  When he said “Can I give you some feedback” I became aware that my body flooded with adrenaline, a sure sign that I was in ‘fight or flight’.  That is not the response I want, it doesn’t help me learn and improve, and it won’t help others because who wants to give feedback to someone and feel you are in a fight?

So I am going to focus on those things I can impact.  Not the latest doom laden Brexit news or the latest Trump headline.  It may be entertaining, but I am not prepared to pay the personal cost. If you have any thoughts on what we can all do to stay up to date with current affairs, managing some required level of detachment, without having to go into hibernation or denial I would be keen to hear your ideas. In the meantime, I am going to focus on improving my life, cutting out negativity and serving others with my work.

If you want to join me, you could share this post with a comment, and let’s see where it goes!

A wish for 2017

As we welcome in the unit of time we call 2017, my hope for our society is we begin to re-evaluate our relationship with time.

With the same amount of time available to everyone of us on a daily, weekly & monthly basis, there is a huge range of productivity and effectiveness that people produce. Surveys published in the last few months have shown the average British worker produces only 80% of the average German worker.

Is this down to an attitude that values ‘doing the job’ above preparation, planning and investment? For example, how much of your working time do you spend ‘doing the job’ versus preparing to do the job? My friend Jon is a semi-pro musician (in addition to his consulting job) who has a gig coming up supporting a youth group performing the musical Oliver! He practises between an hour and two hours per day, on his own to be ready to perform at the necessary standard. That’s approximately 50:1 ratio of time.

What’s your ratio? I would guess for most organisations it would be around 1:50, and I would suggest there is a correlation between this figure and how good a job we can do.

We each have a finite amount of time, and I notice that we seem to be getting busier, whilst also either wasting time or having time stolen from us by social media, television and irrelevant meetings. We need to take control back from the time stealers and consciously invest to bring out the best in ourselves and our people.

Looking into the future, the advent of Artificial Intelligence offers the opportunity to free ourselves of many mundane jobs (and most jobs are a mix of interesting and mundane parts). We have the opportunity to design our jobs and our lives so that we get the maximum value, interest and enjoyment we can.

This year, let’s work together to free ourselves from slavery to time and become the masters of our time.

Spinning Worlds and Superpowers

I recently had an episode of Labyrinthitis.  The symptoms included the world spinning really quickly every time I opened my eyes or moved from lying down on my left side. Because this was extremely unpleasant, I laid still and did my best not to move my head at all.  While in this prone position my entire focus was on remaining still, and I noticed things that were normally outside of my awareness.  I could feel blood (I assume) pumping around my head, smells became stronger, and most noticeably of all, my hearing improved dramatically.

The Doctor confirmed that this was normal. She called it hyper-sensitivity. To me it was like a superpower!  Like many people of my age, I am having to get used to an amount of hearing loss, but here I was, able to hear like a guard dog.

I couldn’t understand (I still don’t, to be honest) how my hearing could improve so much.  It was like speaker volume being turned up from its usual setting to something 30% higher.  Like a vehicle which can go at 100mph, but is limited to 65.

And that got me thinking.  (Later, when the world stopped spinning). How we have our ‘normal’ settings, and that we are unaware that we could be so much more effective. 

My specialism is communication.  And as you read that last sentence and this one, your brain will make connections to your existing knowledge of communication.  You may be reminded of things like open and closed questions, active listening techniques, body language, tone of voice, personality types, or something else you have learned in this field.

Because our minds automatically make connections to what we already know, what is quite unlikely is that your brain will be triggered into thinking of ‘what’s possible’ in the field of communication.

In sports, we can take a look at how they were played in the past, and compare to how they are played now and see that in many of them, massive improvements have taken place.  Look at gymnastics from 30 years ago, look at high jump before Dick Fosbury introduced his ‘flop’ or the skills that today’s footballers or cricketers have at their disposal.  Many of these were completely unimaginable only a few years ago by people at the top of their sport.

Sport is a useful comparison because is it observable and measurable. What happens inside our heads is less so.  But are you prepared to accept that there could be ways that we communicate, both with ourselves and others that could improve our performance?

Albert Einstein said: “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere”

What’s possible in this field is really exciting. Neuroscience is expanding our knowledge of how the brain works, and it’s almost a full-time job to keep up with all the latest discoveries. An area that I am focusing on is how our communication can be a gateway for improvements in three key areas:

Clarity.  We see what we see. If you’ve ever had the experience not seeing something that was in plain sight, or only noticing something when you slow down and focus on what you are looking at, you will be aware that only a limited amount of what our eyes absorb do we consciously ‘see’.

When I ask a client a question like: What kind of work would you like to be doing in 2 year’s time, I normally get an answer, but it’s not specific. It’s vague, doesn’t have a lot of energy around it, and the words seem to tail off. If I ask a different question, like: What kind of relationship are you looking to create with your new partner, or what is the culture you want to create in your team? I get answers with a similar quality. 

Yet using different communication methods, we can access levels of clarity not experienced before.  It’s as if this information is just below the surface of our awareness, and is happy to show itself in the right conditions.  It leads to a rise in energy and positive emotions. 

In much the same way that we don’t notice certain things in plain view, most of us cannot see where we are not clear, but with the right tools you can discover a clarity within you, that you didn’t know you had.

This clarity can lead to two further improvements: creativity and collaboration.

As we see more, we can see connections between things that lead to new ideas, and we can work with others in a way not possible before. We create a culture, both within us, and around us, that fires our imagination in ways that didn’t seem possible previously.  We connect with people with respect, with curiosity, and with care that allows a collective increase in clarity and creativity. 


Clarity, creativity and collaboration – each enhancing each other.  Now that’s what I call a Superpower!

There’s ‘Out of the box’ thinking, and then there’s ‘Thinking about the box differently’ thinking!

There’s a story in the papers today about Dutch company Vanmoof who manufacture quite expensive electronic bikes (up to £2,000 each) and the innovative solution they created to a major problem.

They had a number of bikes damaged in transit.  I don’t know about you, but if I had spent £2,000 on a bike, I would be very excited to receive delivery, and I would find that excitement dissipate if the package, and most importantly, the bike was damaged, and that bike would be sent straight back.

They changed couriers a number of times and the problem persisted. The solution they came up with was to print a television on the side of their boxes and they discovered that the couriers treated the boxes better and it resulted in over 80% reduction in the number of bikes delivered damaged, with all the positive ramifications of delighted customers.

What I particularly liked about this story was how the solution was so clever and cost virtually nothing. It was ‘just’ a brilliant simple idea.

Except brilliant ideas are not always simple, not always welcome, not always cultivated.

We human beings are blessed with incredible creativity, yet many people do not consider themselves creative, and many organisations either consciously or unconsciously supress our ability to access our creativity. Our creativity needs certain conditions to flourish. When both internal and external conditions are in place, clarity, collaboration and creativity combine to produce amazing results.

The internal conditions are created though our communication. If a person feels threatened, manipulated, or undermined, they will unconsciously direct attention to survival, to protection, to avoidance of risk.

Unfortunately, much of the communication in our society is negative, with people having expectations and making assumptions because they are focused on their own agenda. This does not lead to an environment where people can come up with creative solutions which have the potential to make significant improvements.

A new service that I am offering is a ‘Communication Needs Analysis’ where we can look at the current communication in your organisation, and allow an outside view on the impact that the communication has, together with some recommendations, if appropriate, on how to change for the better.

I salute Vanmoof for creating a culture that supports creative thinking and solution finding, as well as amazing bicycles. Check them out if you are interested in cutting edge bike design, and check in with me if you are interested in making your team’s thinking cutting edge.

How to deal with uncertainty

Since the referendum vote, there has been market, economic and political uncertainty.

As it dawns on us that our politicians do not have a plan for how to leave the European Union, and the economists issue dire warnings, it’s no wonder that a number of Leave voters are now feeling ‘buyer’s remorse’. I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of taking some action or making a decision, swiftly followed by that thought: “Oh what have I done?” as we realise that we have stepped into the unknown in some way.

The markets hate uncertainty, and so money flows to a safer haven.  The media love uncertainty because it increases viewership or readership, and increases their influence, so don’t expect to find an ally for calm there.

Speaking to friends and family over the last few days both in person and watching Social Media, there is a lot of upset, confusion, anger, and especially uncertainty. It seems to me that the uncertainty that we feel personally and the group uncertainty feed each other resulting in almost a frenzy of fear.

Fear is a basic human emotion.  It serves us by keeping us safe, and the safe survive. Those who survive pass on their genes, their traits and their habits to future generations while the brave and foolhardy got themselves killed.  So over thousands of years we have learnt that safety is ‘good’ and that risk taking is ‘bad’.  So we unconsciously crave safety and security, and when it is taken away, or the perception of it is taken away, we can get a strong negative reaction because we feel vulnerable and scared. Of course we do, because we are human.

However, I would argue that what we lost last Friday was not certainty but the illusion of certainty.  Because certainty with regard to the future doesn’t exist.  We like to think that it does, that the sun will rise tomorrow, that my savings will support me in my old age, that we will be able to live in relative peace.  Maybe we need to believe in some kind of positive future, to enable our society to function, but let’s be honest with ourselves and accept that it’s an illusion, a hope, a dream.

So if we can’t trust our vision of the future what can we trust, where can we place our hope? Firstly in the present.  Do I have everything I need to function now? Do I have sufficient air to breathe, water to drink, food to eat? Do I have people to love? Do I have work to do? Check your reality, and I trust you will find some certainty there.

Secondly, take a look at what matters to you.  What really matters to you. This world is amazing, and yet it has enormous unmet needs.  What are you passionate about?  What are the principles that are vital to you?  Which values drive you?  Here’s where you can place your trust.  Your thoughts are unreliable, your feelings change, people will come and go in your life, but your values are rock solid. Your values will never let you down. 

Whichever way you voted, however you feel about the merits of EU membership, there are now opportunities, new opportunities for you to demonstrate personal leadership, by moving your focus away from uncertainty and towards the here and now and your values.

You can be positive and make a difference right now, improving today and maybe all of our tomorrows.