Monthly Archives:October 2011

Cocktail Party effect

31 Oct 11
Daniel Smith
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With a sea of information around us, it’s important to learn to chunk and filter. We do this automatically of course – we learn to focus on the voice of the person in front of us, rather than listening to every sound from any direction. We learn to focus our vision on what is most relevant at that moment, and to shift that focus as is appropriate. And we learn to focus on the physiological sensations that are of most significance to the task at hand.

But haven’t you noticed that some people can pick up amazing details that other people miss?

In a very early NLP training John Grinder referred to an exercise to help enhance your abilities in this domain leverages the Cocktail Party Effect. Here is a quick description of some steps:

  1. Find yourself at a cocktail party, cafe, restaurant, on the subway or even alone in nature.
  2. Deliberately direct your attention to aspects of the sensory experience. Notice what happens when you attend to a conversation at the adjoining table. Or the next table over. Notice what happens when you focus right in front of you, then shift that focus to something that is happening across the room, then broaden your focus so you can notice an increasingly large panorama of the scene.
  3. Once you can notice the limits of your deliberate attention, start to stretch yourself. While carrying on a conversation with one person, match or mirror the body language of another person – or match some of the body language of one person, and some of the body language of another person. For instance, you might adopt the rhythm of the person in front of you, fold your legs like the person to your right and play with the napkin like the person to your left. Then take on the gross posture of someone else across the room. All while maintaining the conversation.

NLP has powerful skills, though it’s important to do the practice. Just learning the theory is great fun though if you don’t do the practice enough to habituate the skills (some call it getting it ‘in the muscle’), you risk being stuck having to think so hard about the technique that there’s no extra attentional capacity to allow for artistry.

What Went Well – and Why?

15 Oct 11
Daniel Smith
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One of the exercises from Flourish is something that Seligman calls “What Went Well”. Here’s how Marty explains it:

  1. Every night for the next week, set aside ten minutes before you go to sleep. Write down three things that went well today and why they went well… The three things need not be earthshaking in importance… but they can be.
  2. Next to each positive event, answer the question: “Why did this happen?”

Simple process. And you can try it out yourself pretty easily.

According to his research, you’ll be less depressed, happier and addicted to this exercise six months from now.

They’ve been working to bring this style of thinking into classrooms. I wonder how different my school would have been if my teachers had asked each morning, “Children, what went well last night?”

BTW I refer to this exercise as “What Went Well – and Why?” (WWW+W). While this exercise is a useful tool to direct attention towards “positive” events, I think that a valuable part of the exercise, that broadens and deepens the impact, is the process of asking ‘why’.

Please note that this is one of the only times that I will ask “why?” In fact, most of the time, we don’t want to know ‘why’ – we want to know ‘what for’. But that’s a topic for later!

Flourishing: Positive Psychology, Well-Being Theory and NLP

06 Oct 11
Daniel Smith
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What do we want? What do you want?

Happiness? Success? Love? Peace? A sense of purpose and meaning?

Intention is an important part of NLP. From “old school” techniques like the 6-Step Reframe (or N-Step Reframe), Grinder’s OIC Pattern, Dilts’ Neurological Levels, to the Virtual Question/ Primary Question process, Values and Logical Levels, getting beyond the surface to the core intention is powerful.

Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being by Martin E. P. SeligmanIn his latest book, Martin Seligman, moves beyond focusing on just ‘happiness’ to “well-being” as the topic of positive psychology, and proposes five measurable elements (“PERMA”):

  1. Positive emotion (including happiness and life satisfaction)
    How? What Went Well and Why.
  2. Engagement (also known as flow – when you use your strengths to face the challenges coming your way)
    When people use their highest strengths to face the challenges that come their way they are more likely to experience flow.
    How? Identify your greatest strengths and identify specific ways that you can use them more.
  3. Positive Relationships
    How? Using Active Constructive questioning.
  4. Meaning (purpose and involvement in something greater than oneself)
    How? Write your vision of a positive future; Write your own obituary.
  5. Achievement
    How? Grit – ‘never give up’/ self discipline – predicts the top performers.

In Flourish, Seligman outlines an array of ‘tested’ methods for enhancing these elements, many of which overlap with what we’ve been doing in NLP for years… it is great to see the evidence building!

You can watch Seligman’s 25-minute speech that he presented to RSA in July 2011 on this topic here. Note that this is more recent than his comments on the state of psychology he presented at TED.