Monday, January 31, 2011

Red Light Flashing

“How do you make decisions when there are so many choices, many of which appear on first glance to be attractive?”

Many years ago, I heard the expression “Red Light Flashing”.

You know the experience of coming to an intersection, and the lights are ‘on the blink’, when there’s been a malfunction of some description. Often you're alerted to the potential hazard by the lights in all directions flashing red. It says WARNING! proceed with extreme caution. It doesn't always mean stop completely or turn round and go back, but to take extra care, look in all directions, and only then, proceed when safe.

Red Light Flashing and decision making
Many people use the technique frequently, as often as there are decisions to be made. Others only when they feel uncomfortable, and aren't sure why.

The method is to sit quietly and settle your mind, then allow each option to float into consciousness and observe the sensations that are produced in your body in response to the option. At this stage you're not putting a value judgement on what's happening, but observing and learning with a sense of curiosity.

A sense of unease
Sometimes you’ll experience a vague sense of discomfort, a niggling feeling of unease. You might squirm a bit, and feel less enthusiastic than you logically expected about this particular option. The sensation can be subtle and elusive. It's rarely the all-singing, all-dancing billboard, shrieking “Don’t Go Here”, “Wrong Way, Go Back!” These are quite clear and generally harder to ignore!

Proceed with Caution!
Whenever you become aware of a Red Light Flashing, it’s always best to proceed with caution. You might next ask yourself “What’s going on?” and explore gently, yet more deeply - “Is there something here that’s not as it should be?”
Ask questions
Sometimes you can’t see any reason for the ‘caution’ and you may choose to continue in the same direction, but more slowly. You'll ask more questions, particularly if it’s about a job offer, or financial investment that’s too good to refuse. You'll gather more information, and then choose to continue or not once you have the extra information.

Taking the time out allows you to be more thoughtful and aware; to observe and assess the pros and cons of the situation.

Sometimes only when you have the answers to your questions will you become more wary and stop completely. Things really don’t look good with the ‘once in a lifetime’ offer.

Often, however, you don't need to intellectualise - simply observe and acknowledge any discomfort in your body as a warning. But whatever you find works best for you, the message is to tread slowly and see what happens next.

I sometimes find my dreams will make some commentary, particularly when I’m being stubbornly obstructive and don’t want to face or make a difficult decision. (You might find the Drabble on The Small Wooden Box interesting for a particularly vivid dream that couldn’t be ignored).

So, in the same way as you’d proceed carefully at the cautionary lights at an intersection, the internal Red Light Flashing is your cue to take the next steps slowly, and with eyes wide open.


Thursday, January 20, 2011

Barriers to change

Do you know those days you wake up and it seems that obstacles are scattered around for miles in all directions littering the landscape with menace? Some appear large and immovable, others small and soggy or smelly, and over there one appears very thundery. All, however are unyielding or impenetrable: they are not a welcome sight.

You’ve worked on your goal, thought it through and hoped you’d be able to move. It might have been eating more healthy food, enrolling in a course, searching for a job, or simply getting your resume together.

But this morning, the whole world seems to conspire against you. Obstacles take over. Negativity abounds. Your goal seems to recede 'till it's barely a pinprick of light in the far distance.

Thunder clouds roll in.
No gallant knight in shining armour galloping masterfully on a white steed is going to emerge from the black and ominous sky to rescue you.

Looking in detail at the whole range of obstacles adding to your misery isn’t going to help you, and would possibly be off-putting for the strongest amongst us.

When this kind of mood descends on me, one way I tackle it is to pause, breathe slowly and adopt the tried and true “one step at a time” method.  I’m not implying that this is easy. It can be extremely difficult to extract yourself from the “pity party for one” as a friend describes it.

There are also times that even though we know what to do, we need a reminder. So, here goes with one of many methods for beginning to extract yourself from the sludge.

Firstly, stop. Breathe, and make room for the jangled thoughts. Don't fight them or argue with them. In a way, they're a bit like a bad smell that's best avoided for a while! Take a few moments to settle.

Now, find a blank, unlined sheet of paper (copy paper from the printer, sketch pad, A3 if it seems needed, the back of a receipt if that’s all you can find).

Some people find it helps to have a visual reminder of the goal stuck at the top or centre of the page. I like to use the centre as it reminds me that there are many ways to get where I want to go, if it’s at the top it seems too linear to me, as if there’s only one way to get there.

The idea is to sketch or use a picture from a magazine - so that you have something that represents the goal/s you’re trying to achieve.

Next, have a rational think - as much as humanly possible (!) about the obstacles you see, name them, jot them on the paper. Stick It Notes can be useful; they allow for lots of changing of the mind and allow for easy re-arranging. They’re also a good visual reminder that many of our obstacles aren’t set in cement, but transient. They can also be satisfyingly scrunched up and tossed away! Again a great reminder that obstacles can be overcome. Use colour, remember you're encouraging a creative solution, and this will help.

It’s important not to get caught up with the barriers and obstacles. No whinging and whining or getting involved in them; just write them down. For starters this step usually stops you going round and round and round like that broken down record from the 70’s – repetitive boring and slightly “ho hum I’ve heard this all before”.

You now have your goal, with the obstacles spread round the page.

Next, if any creative thoughts spring to mind about how you can overcome the barriers, jot them down too, no matter how bizarre.

The next steps are very important. If you’re feeling calm and rational, have a think about how someone you really admire as being extremely “can do” would approach these obstacles. What tactics would they use? When in the past have you adopted similar strategies? How would a creative soul look at these? What opportunities would they see?

Cycling lifts a heavy mood
If calm and rational aren’t the correct words to explain your emotional state when confronted with all these apparently insurmountable horrors take a break. Some folk will choose to do some mindfulness mediation, at other times vigorous weeding, exercise or other activity will encourage your brain to go into free-fall.

Focusing on problems You know the feeling of having stubbed your toe, you focus on it, and think about it, and it throbs more and more. Our problems can be like that too, when we focus on them, it seems to support them and they can appear to become larger. The “woe is me” “I can’t do xyz because …”. These sad phrases become a habit strengthened by repetition.

Now, I’m not promising, but what often happens if that by allowing your brain to go into free-fall, it frees up the creative part and allows new connections to be made. The ones that became squashed and repressed in the worrying, misery-guts phase.

What many people find is that when they come back to their paper over the next few hours, days or weeks, that they begin to see a way out of the murk, that the mud begins to settle, and they start saying “I wonder if I could…” “What would happen if…” “I know someone who could help me here”.

Sometimes the clarity that comes, is “I need help” and that’s good too. It’s a positive step.

Remember too, that we’re all different, and what works for one person may not for another. Also, that what works for me this time may not next, so be flexible in your problem solving approaches.

Let me know how you go.


Sunday, January 16, 2011

A teacher's legacy

The following rant is my grumpy reaction to David L Macaulay's recent stream of consciousness post where he talks about a teacher: "He bawled at me to look at my tables book and I buried my head in it, so deeply that I wasn't coming up for air. Suddenly the light was cut off again and I realized in horror I had missed the cue to put my book down."  You'll find the whole post here: (Brits in the USA).

I felt quite distressed when I read this, and was compelled to respond.  In no way am I implying that what follows is a reflection on David, his life or experiences.

Working as a Study Skills teacher I've supported many students keen to gain the education they missed when they were young. I've heard countless heart-wrenching stories from mature adults dreadfully hurt and wary of the school system, which in their experience was unsupportive. Then there are the refugees, finally finding safety far from their country of birth, confused, misunderstood and perplexed about our local culture and language, yet desperately trying to fit in and find a productive role to play in their new home.

I acknowledge that there are extremely challenging students that teachers face daily. Some are certainly very, very difficult kids. It's no excuse though. We need to do better. Better teacher training, more appropriate resources, better facilities ... the list goes on and on, forever maybe, but our education systems desperately need to improve to benefit all learners.

Governments in countries where it's affordable, need to be generous is their response to the needs of children and schools; the individual students, their families, their classrooms, our diverse communities, and our countries will reap the benefits - not just for one generation, but for many years to come.

The following quote from the  Winter 2011 edition of 'Brain World' captures beautifully the awesome power of a teacher. As I've noted before (here) and which you can read in many articles, such as this one appearing in Life's a Poodle, the power of a teacher can be used for good or ill.  It sometimes seems that too many teachers become complacent (or were always ignorant) about their impact on fragile lives, and this forgetting has ramifications for years to come.
"I have come to a frightening conclusion." writes Haim Ginott, in his book Between Parent and Child: The Bestselling Classic That Revolutionized Parent-child Communication (Three Rivers Press, 2003). "I am the decisive element in the classroom. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I posses tremendous power to make a child's life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated, and a child de-humanized or humanized."
I'd like that quote to be writ large and for all teachers to read it before they enter a classroom; to reflect again at the end of each day, asking "How well did I perform today?" "How can I improve tomorrow?" and if they need help and support to achieve that aim, for that help to be readily, generously and uncritically available.

and in another part of the magazine:
Parents and teachers make learning more memorable for children not by threats of punishment but by bonding their thinking and learning with their emotions. There are two consequences of punishment - both negative- that should be kept clearly in mind:
First, when stressed, people show a heightened amount of activity in the amygdala... During these stressful episodes, there is a reduction in higher-order ... activity... in the regions of the brain responsible for generating complex intelligent solutions.
The negative impact of fear on learning
Basically, you can't think clearly if you've got a large, powerful person standing over you, threatening verbally, and being intimidating by their sheer furious presence or shouting. Equally frightening can be vicious, under the breath threats uttered in a hissing tone. 

During one of my study skills classes with a group of adults who I'd been working with for some weeks, we, as a group decided to do a role play. I introduced and explained the scenario above, and after extensive discussion and gaining the permission of the entire class, including the student who'd volunteered to play the child being growled at, we role-played this scenario: 

I (on the short side) stood over the seated adult male student and shouted at him (not loudly, I'm not good at and don't enjoy role plays). He was a large bloke. Standing, he towered over me. After this short, pretend outburst, the group, including the "victim" discussed their reactions at length. 

The effect is sobering. A short person, in a position of perceived power, is intimidating, even when the students are adults, and even when the group is prepared and knows what's going to happen.

The observers in the class discussed how they also felt afraid, not only for the victim, but on the off-chance they would be targeted next. They wanted to fade away. This group trusted and respected me. Imagine if they had reason to fear me.

Angry parents
The parents among them were convinced they'd remember this class when they wanted to shout at their own children. They said they really understood how frightening they'd appear to their children when they're angry - the impact was so powerful, and they felt so powerless.

I want teachers, parents and employers to remember this: No one learns well when they're being yelled at.

Pay attention!
Second, students and children are frequently and unfairly admonished for "not paying attention". Their little brains are processing over four billion bits of information every single second! So they are paying attention to a myriad of things; the teacher, the parent or the lecture just don't happen to be among them at the moment. However, once the content is made personally relevant, we have their undivided attention."
And remember, we're not talking about kids who have a difficult home life here, just regular kids, no learning difficulties, no dyslexia, no ADD or ADHD, or Auditory Processing Disorder or Autism Spectrum Disorder - nothing out of the ordinary. How much more difficult is learning for the kids who need additional help and understanding?

We can do so much to support students in their learning. Huge amounts of research have been conducted into how to create a learning environment that supports all students. We know how to improve outcomes for all students - and cutting funding isn't the way

Sadly, I'm not confident of positive change to our education system any time to soon.

John Medina's "brain rules" has lots of accessible, relevant, easy to read nerdy stuff about the brain, or visit

For a great read on schooling in Pakistan and how vital schooling is in underdeveloped countries, (indeed for the whole world) borrow or buy "Three  Cups of Tea. One Man's Mission to Promote Peace ... One School at a Time" Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin.


I think I'm off my soapbox for now, but I need a 'post rant' cup of tea.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

An interview with a future Victorian Premier

What on earth would make someone run in a State election, especially when they know they don’t have a snowballs chance in hell of being successful?

But maybe, just maybe it’s important to have another look at the meaning of success.

I’m not a particularly political animal. As my mum would have said, “Politicians give me the pip”, meaning that they generally big note themselves, they make grand promises and don’t deliver, and all too often avoid the things I hold dear. Little things like honesty, integrity and valuing the resources that will enable us to survival on this planet we call home…stuff like that. Cynical? Possibly.

Recently, however, I had the opportunity to sit at the kitchen table and really talk with a young man about his motives for putting himself out there, and throwing his hat into the state political arena.

I’m not sure that Facebook is the standard method of declaring ones political intentions; perhaps it’s a Gen Y thing. Nonetheless, Facebook it was, and I was so impressed by his gutsy move that I was enticed out of my secluded “family and very close friends only” cave to 'friend' Matt Taylor: Independent candidate for Mornington (Victoria, Australia) in the 2010 State election.

It’s rarely easy to stand out from the crowd. But here was a young man, who my daughter had known at school, only just finished his University course, declaring that he was unhappy with what was being presented in the current political arena and he was prepared to make a stand.

I’m deeply impressed by Matt’s determination to ‘do something’. When others (including me) were saying:

“Politicians, you can’t trust them”

“Both major parties are pathetic”

“None of them are worth voting for”

“They’re equally as bad as each other”.

Matt was equally unimpressed with what was being offered at both Federal and State levels, and decided that he wanted to learn more and “give it a go”. He really felt the need to do something and be involved in some way that till then had been an unformed need. Matt’s experiences after this reminded me of the expression “bite off more than you can chew, then chew like crazy”.

He really didn’t have much to go on. He has no close family or friends involved in politics, so there was no one to show him the ropes and introduce him to the basic requirements let alone the complexities and demands of running your own campaign on a very small shoestring budget.

But the first hurdle was registering himself as a candidate. He took a day off work at his new job to register, nervously announcing his intention to the seasoned Electoral Manager in Dromana, a small beachside town on the Mornington Peninsula.

The way Matt described it, the manager (very politely and kindly) looked askance at him, enquiring if he really wanted to go through with it, and did he know what he was getting himself in to. The implication was clearly: the other blokes have been doing this for years, they know the ropes, they’re seasoned veterans, this is a safe *Blue Ribbon seat … “What on earth are you thinking!” (*Meaning that the Liberals have been comfortably ensconced here for many many years, and it would take more than a young buck like Matt to knock them off.)

One of the many things I was intrigued to hear was the amount of support Matt received from other very politically astute and experienced people. He explained that most people he met were encouraging and happy to share their wisdom. He described them as being friendly and supportive, and he enjoyed meeting new people and hearing their different viewpoints.

Matt described the experience as being a huge learning curve (really!). He knew he didn’t have a hope of winning, and he’s still keen to become more involved in politics in the future - possibly standing for local council. He feels he’s gained an enormous amount of confidence and has become more assertive. I observed drive and determination, and quite a matter of fact attitude of ‘there’s a problem, what can I do to fix it’ not in any way arrogant, but almost as questions: “How can I help?” “What can I do?”.

I know I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again, young people often get bad press. We rarely get a balanced view or hear of the gutsy young people prepared to get off their butts and see what they can do. We’re leaving them a pretty shabby planet, and they have to pick up the pieces and it’ll take quite a bit of ingenuity to get it back to a good working order again.

Quiet, unassuming, and prepared to follow his heart and seek out new challenges to fulfil an inner need. Matt was rewarded with over 600 votes. For a beginner, learning from the ground up, with few mentors, I think the appropriate word to use is success.


Monday, January 10, 2011

How to find the Email Notification Form for comments

There are three versions of the one form!

The 'cut to the chase' explanation:

You go to "Settings" then "Comments" then scroll down to "Comment form placement", click the one you want - then scroll to the very bottom to "SAVE".

It's as easy as that!

That little tick-a-box is not just about the placement of the form, but how it appears.

If this is what you're searching for but want more detail, read on.

It's already there (sort of)

Last month I posted a question on the Blogger forum asking something along the lines of "Where do you find the email follow up form?"  I'd read the answers to similar questions, but they weren't what I was looking for.  It's hard to describe when you don't know the correct terminology.  Roberto finally managed to help a bit, then a friend pointed out that what I was looking for was already in my blog. It just looked different.

I had felt like a bit of a git and was embarrassed to publicly acknowledge my incompetence. However, given the number of people who stumbled on my original post on this topic, I know I'm not alone. 

Below, you'll find screen shots of two versions to save you going through and checking each one out. I didn't bother with the full page one, its just a full page of the "pop-up" style.

Each form basically does the same thing. The one that appeared when I started my blog is called the 'embedded version', and is possibly the default.

How to choose? 

The embedded is supposedly more aesthetically pleasing, but always sits at the bottom of the post. So if you get lots of comments where people will want to refer to your post and perhaps quote you and make specific comments, the "pop-up" or floating one is easier for them. They can then click and drag it next to the words they want to refer to, and scroll up and down within the post, and the comment form stays where they want. (I hope that's clearer than mud?)


Here's where you find the Comment Form Placement.

Pop-up Comment Form

Here's what  "Pop-up window" looks like at the bottom of a blog post.  Any person who wants to say kind things clicks on "comments", and then sees the 'floating' version of the comment box like at the top of this post, ie the one I was expecting to see all along.

 Embedded Comment Form

Here is the "embedded" one, the one that is possibly the default. For someone to comment on your brilliant post, they click on "comments"...

And this is the comment box that appears for the embedded version.

For someone to get emails to see what others have said, or to receive your comment on their comment, they click on the words: "Subscribe by email". That's when they will probably get that word verification thing that you will have selected to try to prevent the scourge of crappy spam. (But which must be a pain in the butt for people with visual difficulties).

Oh, and if anyone is curious, to insert the screen shots, I used "Grab" then saved the selected part of the screen as a JPEG - because the TIFF one doesn't work (which I forgot when I saved them...grrr).

For helpful Blogger answers check out Roberto. You might find the answer to your question already there.

I wonder what questions others are embarrassed to ask, or can't find the words to express...

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Shadow Shot Sunday #137 (my 2nd)

Seaweed with stars

Water. Essential for survival. Beautiful. But also devastating in its power – sweeping away animals, homes and businesses throughout Queensland.

But here all is serene. A delicate fragment of seaweed broken from a much larger branch, swept up and caught in a sandy pool. Catching the pale sunlight, magnifying…something, a speck of quartz perhaps, casting unexpected stars of exquisite beauty, floating on the pale floor of the pool. Swaying back and forth as the uncertain breeze catches the water.

Life’s a bit like this at times. We find unexpected gems at the end of twisting pathways. We rejoice.

A Drabble is a story told in 100 words. No more. No less.

Thanks to Hey Harriet for hosting Shadow Shot Sunday.