si dawson

experiments in self-improvement

Month: March, 2009

Better Communication In One Second

I’m going to start a little geeky, but be patient, I’ll keep it super short & it’s totally relevant.

What’s interesting about TCP (heard of TCP/IP? Yeah, it’s part of that) is how the initial communication, the ‘handshaking’ bit goes. Very roughly, it’s goes like this:

  1. Hello? [SYN]
  2. I can hear you! [SYN-ACK]
  3. Me too! [ACK]

Here’s a picture I found to stop you falling asleep. See? They’re just starting a wee conversation:


(ok, geek stuff over. Told you it’d be short.)

So what, I hear you say. Well, TCP runs everything. The entire internet, any smart phone, hell they’re even talking about using it to talk to satellites out across the solar system. Anything smarter than a toaster these days depends on it to operate properly.

So yeah, it’s important.

And so are those “ACK”s. Notice how 2/3 of the initial conversation is just ACKs? Computers like to be ACKnowledged. It makes them feel safe & secure.

Well, here’s a secret – so do people.

See, the ACK doesn’t really add any useful information to the conversation, and yet, it’s critical.

It doesn’t answer any questions, doesn’t actually ‘do’ anything, and yet everything falls apart without it.

Same thing with human communication, we’re just more resilient, so that falling apart is less obvious.

If you say “Hey!” to a friend, and they don’t respond, how are you going to feel? Pretty terrible, I’d bet. At the very least, you’d wonder if they saw you, or maybe if you upset them somehow, or if there was something wrong.

All it takes is a flick of their eyes or a smile to let you know that your communication has been received & all is well in the world.

Of course, face to face communication is pretty obvious like that.

How about other forms, like email (or even twitter)?

How often have you received an email that you weren’t ready to answer immediately? Maybe you were busy, it was long, required thought, or you just weren’t in the mood. A response as simple as “Thanks for email, crazy day, will respond later tonight” can work wonders. It lets the other person know that their email has been received, that you’re just busy, and that they’re not being ignored. Plus it buys you a little time.

Twitter (or texting) is even more extreme, of course. But how often have you tweeted someone & got no reply, then wondered “Did I offend them?” “Are they ok?” “What’s going on?” Any of these thoughts would be a reasonable response, and all could be removed with a simple “Thanks! :)” or equivalent.

It’s not the length of reply that matters, just the emotion behind it. In fact, the shorter the reply the better, generally. Just enough to let the person know you’re there, you care, & you’re thinking of them.

It may feel like you’re over-communicating, but really you’re just acknowledging the importance of that other person to you.

How long does this sort of thing take? About as long as flick of the eyes across a crowded room. Maybe a second.

Quality communication is not about length. It’s about emotion & clarity. A quick genuine reply followed by a considered response later is far superior to a mammoth missive in a week, with the other person left hanging the entire time.

Also, it’s much less stressful for you, as you don’t have it hanging over your head with that same sense of urgency. You win, they win. What’s not to like?


    The Mirror Exercise

    This is an oldie but goodie. Its simplicity belies its power.

    Regardless of how easy it is to lie to someone else, it’s much, much harder to lie to ourselves. At least, it’s much harder when we’re actively paying attention.

    Find a mirror & some personal space. Look yourself in the eyes, & say “I love you.”

    That’s it. Just say that. Over & over. Out loud. Try to mean it, feel it.

    Now, don’t be surprised if you find this difficult. Saying it & really meaning it will often trigger things deep within us. Doubts, fears, negative self-image, and so on.

    pic by leenah

    Deep down, everyone harbours dark thoughts about themselves.

    That’s ok. The important thing is just to be sincere. If saying “I love you” is too difficult, start small.

    “You have nice hands”
    “Your hair doesn’t totally suck”
    “Umm, nice socks”

    It really doesn’t matter. In fact, it’s better to say something small & seemingly irrelevant with deep conviction than something stronger with no energy behind it.

    Some tips:

    • Compliment yourself sincerely.
    • Be specific, go into details.
    • Keep eye contact, don’t let your eyes gaze over.
    • Use your name, like you’re talking to another person.
    • Mix it up – try to think of every positive thing you possibly can about yourself.
    • Be persistent, don’t be afraid to say the same thing over & over if you feel things shifting
    • If any emotion or tension arises, this is good. Just accept it, & let it go.

    The important thing is just to give yourself approval, no matter how small. Larger things will come easier with time.

    The other thing that will make a big difference? Do it for a while. More than just a minute or two. 5 minutes, 10 minutes, half an hour or longer if you can manage it.

    I know when I first started doing this – I couldn’t even look myself in the eye. I’d catch myself looking away, or blinking. It was quite surreal. When I finally managed to hold my own gaze, I felt I couldn’t say “I love you” without feeling like a phoney. Another surprise. Then, I just felt waves of emotion cascading out of me. Tears. Relief, then finally joy & peaceful self-acceptance.

    Anytime you want to feel good about yourself, this is a sure fire way to do it.

    It’s surprising, but such a simple little thing as giving ourselves genuine approval is some of the most powerful self-healing we can do.


      You Are Not Your Thoughts, Emotions Or Body

      Here’s an old, but useful exercise:

      Pay attention to your thoughts. What are you thinking right now?

      Ok. Good.

      Here’s another one:

      What are you feeling right now? What is your primary emotion?

      Ok, excellent. Bear with me.

      If you lost your little finger in an accident, would you still be you? Or, put another way, since every cell in your body replaces itself every 7-10 years, or sooner, at any point do you stop being you?

      See, it breaks down like this. If you can be aware of your thoughts, then you are not your thoughts. We have thoughts, but we are not our thoughts.
      With emotions, it’s even more obvious. Unfortunately in English we say things like “I am angry.” In French or German things are more instructive. They say “I have anger.” We have emotions, but we are not our emotions.
      We are obviously not our physical body either. We have a body, but there’s something more going on.

      If you’ve read a little bit, I’m sure none of this is a surprise. Eckhart Tolle talks about these realisations as part of his enlightenment experience. Oh, & if you get the chance to see him live, I thoroughly recommend it, he’s a superbly entertaining speaker.

      Of course, this is the point where I could totally understand you saying “Well, ok, so what?” & fair enough too.

      This is one of those understandings that it’s easy to have intellectually, but might take years before it’s really cemented into your being. Really knowing something in your heart can be funny like that.

      If we’re not our thoughts, emotions or bodies, then what are we? Well, that’s another good question. I don’t have any easy answers to that, except to say that we’re what’s left when thoughts & emotions are taken away. We’re the space in which they form.

      I’m not generally a huge fan of philosophical posturing. You can sit around & talk nonsense for years, but how does it help unless you actually apply it, or do something, or change something?

      So, here’s something useful you can do with this information.

      If you’re not your thoughts, or your emotions, then when you sense these things arising, you can let them go, just as easily as they arose.

      If you start thinking something that takes you out of your place of joy (or just generally makes you feel bad), then realise they’re just thoughts, spontaneously arising. You don’t have to keep thinking them. You don’t have to stay focussed on that subject. Just let it go. Drop it, or if that doesn’t work, distract yourself with something you enjoy more. Why not? I mean, who’s the boss – you, or your thoughts?

      Same thing with emotions. Feel a negative emotion, you don’t have to keep feeling that. You’ll only keep feeling it for as long as you choose to. I realise this is a little inflammatory, we’re more or less raised to believe that emotions are these powerful things that we either feel intensely, or completely deny (There’s that “I am angry” or “I am not angry” thing again).

      Bottom line though, who’s the boss of you? Are your emotions the boss of you? Well, no, they’re not. You can see this when you see two people experience the same event, and react completely differently. Or by watching how much people vary in terms of calming down after an upsetting event.

      Emotions do tend to be a little more overwhelming at times. There are many ways to gain control back though. EFT is a good one – that’ll allow you to drop any negative emotional reaction altogether. Meditation, Yoga & exercise are helpful too. Anything that helps you maintain your centre, your sense of self – rather than being swept away with events around you.

      Once you realise that thoughts & emotions are not you, just things happening to you, you’re taking a huge, positive step towards freedom. The more you let go of them as they occur, the less power they have over you, & the more they start to disappear. The more they disappear, the calmer your life becomes, & the more you become, well, you. That sparkling ball of light, love & energy right at the core of your being. The part of you that people fall in love with. The part of you that your friends (the good ones, not the bitchy ones) adore so much.

      Well, that’s a pretty tall order, so where to start? Just start by paying a little attention. Notice when thoughts or emotions are running away from you. Give yourself a chance to step back a little, let them go. Even just doing that tiny little thing will start to pay dividends immediately. After all, what do you have to lose? The real You, not the thinking/emoting/farting you?


        These Are Not Your Stories

        I was at a shaman workshop last weekend, and the concept of “the stories of our life” came up.

        This makes a lot more sense than merely the singular “story of our life.”

        Our lives are a multitude of layers, thousands of experiences, all layered upon each other, all combining together to make the gloriousness that is us!


        So, first thing to do is recognise these stories for what they are. How do we find them? Easy, just switch off your thinking brain, & start writing!

        Eg, for me, they’d go something like:

        • I was born in Australa (that’s a story)
        • We moved around a lot when I was a kid (another story)
        • I grew up in a lower-middle class family

        and so on..

        The critical thing here is this – when we think about identity, ourselves, who we are, it’s these stories that define us. These are the things that we tell ourselves over & over each day, in the back of our minds.

        And that’s exactly the problem.

        The more we tell ourselves these stories, the more they define us.

        You get in a troubled relationship, make the mistake of extrapolating a bit too much, & start telling yourself “I always fall for the wrong guy/gal”, and hey presto, you’re going to start doing that in your life. These are self fulfilling prophecies.

        Imagine having a guy who followed you around all day, whispering in your ear “you suck!” or “you’re a failure!”. How long do you think before your life really did start sucking? (or, perhaps a better move, you punched him out).

        The problem is, this is exactly what our mind is doing to us. It’s why shamans deliberately let go of their stories as part of their training. Why buddhists learn to detach themselves from their egos. It’s all the same thing.

        Now, that’s a pretty big goal, so what’s a good first step?

        Well, how about realising that a whole bunch of these stories aren’t even ours?

        90% of what happened before I left home? Those aren’t my stories.

        Anything I didn’t directly choose, or was just something I was told? Those aren’t my stories.

        I didn’t choose to move around as a child. I didn’t choose where to live, how much money the family had, & so on. These were my parents’ decisions. Sure, they affected me at the time, but they’re only my stories if I choose to make them so. They only continue to affect me if I choose to make them part of the collection of stories I tell myself.

        Even just changing the focus can help enormously. “I’m from a lower-middle class family” to “I had lower-middle class parents” or “My parents were lower-middle class.” At each step removed it’s less & less self-defining, so the story has less power. If you want to keep it at all.

        Ditto with relationships. How many relationships have you been in where this person, that you chose, respected & loved has told you something terrible about yourself? You’re a terrible lover, useless in business, embarrassing to be seen with, and so on.

        Why are you choosing to continue telling yourself that story? (“I’m embarrassing to be seen with”). It’s not your story, it’s just their opinion, their story.

        We have the choice, we always have the choice not to continue telling ourselves these stories.

        Realising that we have these stories is an important first step.
        Identifying which ones we can let go of is enormously empowering.
        An easy first step is to chuck out all the ones we have that were never ours to begin with.
        When we can finally release them all, then we’re well on the way to being truly free to live.