Learning to laugh at our foibles

Just how much success, money, fame, material goods, power, etc. would you need to eradicate your insecurities?

I recently read an article about the actor Brad Pitt and it was interesting to read how he is still beset by self-doubt.

He said:

‘It’s a constant battle. You gain wisdom as you get older, so self-doubt gets less, hopefully. But it’s universal, that battle in the mind between beating yourself up and finding a place of peace.’

Let’s reflect here for a moment.

Brad Pitt is one of Hollywood’s most successful actors. He is not a bad looking bloke either (twice voted sexiest man alive) and he is reportedly worth £240m.

But he still feels self-doubt from time to time.

One of my favourite authors is the late Dr. David Hawkins and I read in one of his books a suggestion that you should write down your foibles.

So, I began to make a list. It is still growing but here is some of what I wrote:

I can sometimes feel low and negative. I can feel insecure about the future. I can take life too seriously at times. I have some insecure thinking around money. I experience self-doubt. I worry sometimes. I can fear rejection.

How it seems to me is that people can spend a lifetime, as Brad Pitt alluded to, having this battle in their mind between their insecurities and a place of peace.

But here is the thing…

This internal battle, if you make it a battle, is one that you can never win.

The fact is that, as a human being, you will experience insecure thinking, low moods and negative thinking. We have very little control over our thinking. We get what thinking we get.

This may seem somewhat defeatist, but we have something huge going for us too.

The capacity to understand what is happening in a completely new way.

Our insecurities and uncomfortable feelings are not caused by our circumstances. They are thought in the moment. They have no meaning unless we make meaning out of them.

No matter how bad you feel, you can only ever feel your thinking.

The only reason we hang on to insecure thinking and create a battle in our mind is because it does not look like thought.

I had someone say to me only last week, ‘I know we feel our thinking and all that, but this time it’s real. I’m really feeling what’s happening to me!’

When it seems as though there is real substance to what we are thinking it unsettles us and it leads to even more errant thinking.

But battling with our errant thinking does not make it go away.

The ego is reinforced by condemnation – beating yourself up with criticism or punishing yourself for your own thinking does not bring peace of mind.

It just adds fuel to the fire.

Real progress is when we see thought for what it really is. We can laugh at our foibles because we are seeing our humanness rather than getting caught up in the illusion.

The power behind the throne

The world we live in consists of the visible and the invisible. The form and the formless. The finite and the infinite.

The business world focuses almost exclusively on the form and what is visible.

If you want to improve results in any area – marketing, sales, leadership, management, communications or the game of life – there is a huge amount of help on offer.

How to think. How to behave. What to say. Strategy. Tactics. The 10 steps to… . The 7 habits of… .

A lot of fascinating material but how much does all this information help people?

Are we like robots who can simply follow the instructions of other people and get similar results?

Or does the invisible have far more to do with it than we may ever imagine?

What about…

Presence? Charisma? Timing? State of mind? Inspiration? Grace? Momentum? Creativity? Confidence? Resilience?

These and many other things are in the realm of the formless and yet are they any less real? Are they not the real power behind the throne?

People talk about the invisible dimension but the words can only point.

The business world likes what is concrete because the intellectual, conceptual mind loves form. It likes content, processes, steps and formulas.

To the intellect (and boy do we live from our intellects!) it is highly attractive to discover that to get what we want there is a process, a formula or some steps to follow.

Even though life does not lend itself to this approach.

The business world tends to struggle with the invisible, formless dimension.

I often hear people talk about mind-set, for example, but the talk is almost always about form.

People offer prescriptions – change your words, choose the mind-set you need, surround yourself with the right people, create a new set of habits, take a small step each day – the list must be endless!

Back in 2004, when I began coaching people, I focused on the form too. I thought that people just needed to know what to do. They needed a technique, strategy or instruction.

But I began to see inconsistencies.

For instance, with exactly the same information or technique, why did some people get great results whilst some got dismal results?

Why did people’s performance seem to randomly fluctuate (my own included)?

Why did some people change but others not?

I did not know the answer but when you sit with enquiry things show up. Often in unexpected ways.

A series of seemingly chance conversations lead me to the inside-out understanding and I had a huge ‘Ah-ha!, so this is what is going on!’

For the past seven years I have been pointing people towards this understanding and how it creates our moment to moment experience of life.

Has it all been plain sailing?


I stumbled around in the beginning. When sharing it with people you must be patient and stay present because the formless is difficult to grasp; the intellect is of no use whatsoever.

And some people do not hear beyond the words because the illusion they live in is precious to them.

But this is all fine with me.

Everything comes back to the understanding in the end because our experience of life is thought created – every problem or challenge we can ever face exists only in our thinking.

This is not to say there are not things in life we need to deal with or get through because, of course, there are. But if we see ourselves as victims of circumstance, being bullied or pushed around by our circumstances, then we lose our spark.

The world of form is limited whilst the world of the formless is limitless.

The clearer and deeper you see the mechanics behind how we perceive life the more you live with presence, intelligence and free from struggle.

Instant freedom from limiting beliefs

A client and I were in a coaching session and he had been sharing how he seemed to run into the same problem in his life, again and again.

The subject of beliefs and how pervasive they can be came up.

Beliefs are just thoughts yet when something looks true to us we live through those eyes. In fact, when we believe something to be true we are constantly gathering evidence to support it.

I shared the story of Ellie, a lady I met several years previously. She was beautiful, intelligent and talented. This is what I and others could see.

Yet Ellie could only see what she thought was wrong – with everything!

In other people she could only see their mistakes. In situations she could only see problems. In herself she only saw defects.

I remember, at a training event one time, Ellie was asked to evaluate the work of a colleague and the instruction was to begin with what she saw was good.

But what happened next was not what people were expecting at all!

The first words of her evaluation were, ‘Well, what I think is wrong with this is…’

She was stopped, reminded to begin with what she saw was good, and given another chance.

Her next words were, ‘Where I can see this is just not right is…’

Once again she was immediately stopped. The atmosphere got a little tense. We were all wondering what was going to happen next.

Ellie was asked if she understood the instructions. She said ‘Yes!’ She was asked if she could manage to carry them out, by starting with praise and she said ‘Yes!’

So, she was given another chance.

The next thing that came out of her mouth about her colleagues work was, ‘What I can see is wrong here…!’

Some people gasped. Others were open mouthed. I remember being fascinated.

What was going on?

The trainer was brilliant. He saw an opportunity and asked Ellie’s permission to explore why she responded in the way she did.

She agreed and we all sat in silence as the trainer skillfully asked questions and listened.

It turned out that when Ellie was a little girl her mother had entered her into lots of beauty contests and being as beautiful as she was, she had won many of them.

However, her mother had always been quick to point out what she thought was wrong with her. Ellie’s attention had repeatedly been drawn to looking for her (in her mothers opinion) imperfections.

Innocently, she had begun to look at everything through these eyes and yet, until now, this thinking had been invisible to her.

In our own individual way we all get caught up in illusory thinking.

We think we are living in ‘reality’, forgetting that our thinking is made up and that our ‘reality’ is just one version of an infinite number of possibilities.

Our mind is not like a camera, taking in an objective reality that exists independently of us.

It works the other way around, with no exception.

Our state of mind creates how we see the world. As Sydney Banks said, ‘Your thoughts are like the artist’s brush. They create a personal picture of the reality you live in.’

The clearer you see that you live in a thought created reality and that the mind will naturally provide new and fresh thinking with no effort, the more you live in the present.

Living in the present simply means being free from the past and the future. Instead of responding to life in habitual ways you are free to respond to how you see things in the moment.

How important is this?

All suffering and struggle is created through attachment to thoughts.

As old, habitual and unnecessary thinking drops away because we see no value in it, what we naturally experience instead is freedom, joy and clarity of mind.

The surprising truth about happiness

Although happiness is something that is hard to define it is something that we seem to want more of.

There are dozens of books written on it and the subject seems to pop up on a daily basis on social media.

I was reflecting on this and it seems to me that there is one single question, innocently asked, that is at the root of all this wanting…

What will make me happy?

And this is the problem because the answer is… nothing.

Nothing can make you happy and yet our entire society is built upon the belief that ‘things’ can make you happy.

The advertising business is built upon the idea that the lack of something is the cause of unhappiness and then the product rides in on a white horse and saves the day.

They even try to convince you that floor cleaner will make you happy!

Many people believe they need the right person or a relationship in order to be happy. Some have such stringent criteria about the required qualities of their perfect mate that this person may not even exist!

Thinking that happiness is a result of external circumstances leads to the most common trap of all…

‘I’ll be happy when.’

We create an imaginary list of what will make us happy and this is what we put our time into.

I used to be a regular meditator and my teacher made a point that I never forgot.

He said you will never experience a better meditation by really going for it. It just does not work that way.

Happiness is just the same. The harder you pursue it, the further away it gets.

The imaginary content of the ‘I’ll be happy when.’ list is the barrier.

Is there a secret to experiencing greater happiness?

The natural backdrop to the mind, beyond our intellectual thinking, is a space of inner peace, contentment, grace, resilience, engagement in life, perspective, love – there are a many words that point to what is available to every single one of us.

When we fall into this space it would not even occur to us to ask ourselves if we are happy or not.

So, there really is nothing to do.

The logic of the inside-out understanding is that the mind only works one way, no exception. The clearer we realise this truth the more happiness, contentment and peace of mind we experience.

The most effective sales programme of all

I recently met up for coffee with a friend who runs a business networking group.

At one point our conversation drifted on to some of her members and what business they were in. She was telling me about one particular member who had a business teaching people about how to sell.

The basis of the sales programme (which was a franchise) was that for every and any possible thing a prospective client could come up with, you would have a pre-prepared answer.

So, if the prospect said this, you’d say that. And so on…

The problem was, for this member, was that people didn’t really connect with her and she wasn’t getting any business. Which isn’t great when you’re teaching how to sell!

Here’s an observation.

The more we fill up our minds with thinking the less able we are to connect, in a meaningful way, with other people. To connect with others we need to be interested (in them), attentive, curious, willing to listen and unattached to the outcome.

This is impossible to do if we are listening to our own thinking at the same time – you cannot effectively be in two conversations at once.

This just isn’t possible.

Sales in an interesting activity. Although for many business people selling is an essential part of what they do, whether this is gaining new clients, continuing to add value to existing relationships or sharing ideas with co-workers, it’s an area that holds more than its fair share of challenges.

Just the idea of it can send many otherwise high-functioning, confident, personable and potentially great sellers onto an emotional roller coaster ride of negativity.

Why does this happen?

They create all this thinking around selling that makes them feel insecure – ‘I hate selling.’, ‘I’m just not cut out for this.’, ‘What if they say no?’, ‘I just need to convince them’, etc.

If it looks like the situation (i.e. selling) comes with all these feelings attached to it, then its avoided. People force themselves to cope under the circumstances or they go on a training programme (like the one mentioned) that fills their mind up with even more thinking.

None of these really help but, thankfully, there is another, better approach.

The most effective sales programme you could ever go on would have its foundation in just one fact –  there is no link between our inner experience and our outer circumstances. Selling cannot make us feel a certain way. Our experience comes from thought, not our external world.

It wouldn’t teach you mind management techniques, sales techniques or closing techniques because doing so would be adding thinking to your mind when it is having less on your mind that helps most of all.

Also, it actually doesn’t matter if we get negative thinking or nervous about selling. What matters is our understanding of what is really going on if we do.

When we see that our experience is coming from thought then the mind will self-correct back to clarity and presence. No techniques required.

With a quiet mind, selling becomes a joyful experience of simply giving time to another human being and seeing if we can be of help or not.

What’s the difficulty in that?

The ‘don’t know mind’.

I am currently giving a series of presentations about ‘Creating a transformational client experience’ and have been as far apart as Glasgow and Exeter over the past couple of weeks.

One of the first things I share with the audience is that the value they get from the presentation won’t come from me. It will come from their own insights because seeing something new or differently and real change always come from within.

One of the barriers to seeing something new is when we think we already know something and during my presentation, I share a quote from Jiddhu Krishnamurti:
“The most difficult thing to learn is something you think you already know”

Of course, there are times when using what we already know is valuable. My series of presentations are to financial advisers and they have put a huge amount of time and effort into gaining their professional knowledge and qualifications, which is vital so they can give accurate and correct advice.

However, if we always look at life and listen to people through the filters of what we already know, think or believe then we are also filtering out a great deal too.

This reduces the potential for both us and our clients.

The advisers who have the most impact with their clients are excellent at the advice part of their business but what they are really good at is having people get reflective and connecting with what matters most to them.

This is what really brings the advice part of their work to life and takes it from something that can easily be an intellectual exchange to something far more meaningful.

I don’t think it matters what business we are in, there is always that opportunity to reside in the ‘don’t know mind’. To be curious about what could come to us or to whom we are with.

Many people seem to avoid this place of not knowing because we are so used to living out of our intellect. But this becomes very stale and, ultimately, doesn’t bring us any joy.

Eckhart Tolle, author of ‘The power of now’ observed, “When you become comfortable with uncertainty, infinite possibilities open up in your life.”

Getting over my ego trips!

I don’t know about you but when I used to think of the term ‘ego trip’ my mind was drawn to the idea of showing off or drawing attention in some way. When I looked up a definition it said;

‘An activity done in order to increase one’s sense of self-importance.’

So far, so good but a while back my attention was grabbed by a much broader definition that has proved both useful and enlightening.

Insecure thinking

I use the word ‘insecurity’ as a catch-all term for the feelings we have that are based in some kind of fear, anxiousness or tension.

We all experience such feelings from time to time and yet if we don’t understand what these feelings are really telling us it can cause all kinds of problems.

Let me share an example.

I used to sometimes find myself getting very distracted during business meetings with potential new clients. Instead of paying complete attention to the client, really hearing what they were trying to communicate and responding appropriately, I often felt tense and my mind was filled with inner dialogue like…

‘How am I doing?’

‘Am I coming across ok?’

‘Is this going to work out?’

All this inner mental activity was contaminating the communication, lowering my impact and, ultimately, my chances of actually landing the business.

The ultimate ego trip

It was Dr. Judith Sedgeman, on a webinar I took part in, who said ‘Insecurity is the ultimate ego trip’.

When I heard this I thought ‘Wow – I have never thought of my insecurities as an ego trip before’.

We can so easily pin our sense of well-being on external things – like winning business, being liked or getting approval. We think that if the outside world conforms to the way we want then our own inner world will be ok too.

But this is an illusion. The outside does not cause our inner experience. Not ever.

When we see the illusion then we stop giving in to our insecurities because we see no value in trying to fix what we made up in the first place!

Insecure feelings are a fact of life. It is not whether we get them or not that is the issue. Trying to get rid of them is a waste of energy because fighting a feeling makes things worse. Adding more bad feeling on top of bad feelings does not make them go away. How could it?

The truth is that it is ok to feel insecure. What really matters is how much you care about how you feel. If you’re not insecure about feeling insecure then you can feel anything and be ok with it.

I found that the less attention I paid to my insecure thoughts the more available I was for what really matters.

The road less travelled

Just recently I went to an evening hosted by One Thought and the lovely Susan Marmot, who said something that really resonated with me.

The subject was relationships and we talked about how our feelings about other people come from our thinking about the other person and not the other person directly. The implications of this fact are far reaching and highly significant, in every aspect of our lives.

For instance, when we realise that our experience is being generated from the ‘inside-out’ then it completely changes how we might approach any kind of conflict or difficulty we perceive we are having with another person.

Traditional approaches in therapy and mediation encourage people to air their grievances and, in some cases, even in the presence of the other person too. As Syd Banks once said, this is like burning your hand and then sticking back in the fire to make it better!

Life is difficult… is this really true?

Many years ago I read a book called ‘The Road Less Travelled’ by Dr.M.Scott Peck. I loved the book at the time and it contains a line which has become particularly famous:

‘Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it.’

So, what is it that makes life difficult? 

How it looks to me is that bad feelings that we attribute to circumstances are what make life seem difficult. After all, in good feelings we tend to transcend our ‘problems’ because our thinking is so much more generative.

The thing is that what we tend to label ‘bad’ feelings are as normal, natural and to be expected as much as good feelings. You can’t have only good feelings, we just don’t work that way. I have never meet anyone who only gets good feelings and no bad ones, have you? (even though advertisers, certain sections of the media and other vested interests would love us to think that it’s true).

What does happen though is that people can have a lot of thinking about their bad feelings. They think it is wrong to have them, they fight them, try and make them go away and yet this only makes them worse.

The most intense examples of this are addictions. People feel bad and then try to get rid of the feeling by numbing themselves with substances or distracting themselves with certain (often destructive) behaviours.

A fundamental truth about life

At one point during the evening Susan said ‘There’s an easier way to do life.’ and I thought this brilliantly captured the essence of the three principles understanding.

The inside-out understanding tells us that our feelings are coming from our thought in the moment, not our circumstances. And the nature of thought is that it is transient – a thought comes, we experience the feeling of it and then we get another thought.

We live in a flow of thought, some we label ‘good’ and some we label ‘bad’ but, in reality, thought is neutral and the more we see this fact the less we are bothered by our experience, whatever it may be.

The biggest mistake that we can make is to try to manage our thinking and control our experience. We have about as much chance of doing this as we do of controlling the weather.

Our thinking changes all the time – in this respect it IS just like the weather (especially in the UK!). But, if we believe that our thinking is a representation of our life then we are going to be for a very, very bumpy ride.

The principles never change – they are 100% reliable, all of the time with no exception and whatever our experience is.

There is a life force, we think and we are aware of our thinking. These three spiritual facts are providing our experience of life, constantly, reliably and perfectly. This is all we need to realise to move through life with ease, gracefully and more enjoyably.

The invisible variable

Life is full of variables. In business there are many variables that we have no control over whatsoever, for example, the economy, legislation and the markets we operate in.

Then we have the internal variables of our business, our product or service, pricing, how we choose to deliver it, who we do business with. These are things we can determine and have control over.

When we want improvement we invariably focus upon the variables we can control and that are visible to us. Behaviour being one of these.

But what about what is not so visible?

Just recently, a company I came into contact with had committed to spending a significant amount of money on external sales training because their team were not performing as well as they wanted.

I had a couple of conversations with members of the sales team and what was immediately apparent to me was that they were being put under pressure to meet their targets. The way this was playing out was that in client meetings, instead of being totally focused upon the client and helping them get what they want, they were more concerned with making their numbers.

When we feel under pressure, tense, and self-orientated it is like having a stone in our shoe. It is uncomfortable, aggravating and affects our performance. Our human interactions, especially, are compromised and it creates a feeling of separation, not collaboration.

Buying in sales training, in this situation, is like trying to make someone run faster with the stone still in their shoe. Maybe there will a spike in performance but such a situation cannot continue.

State of mind is a critical variable and yet it is invisible and, therefore, not considered as a relevant factor. It simply does not occur to people that they could simply remove the stone and by doing so performance would go up.

The mind only works one way – from the inside-out. External factors cannot make us feel a certain way – it just looks this way through our innocent misunderstanding.

The sales people were feeling under pressure because of their thinking abouttheir targets. The targets are completely neutral. If they could realise this truth then it would set them free.

When we realise we live in a thought created world we drop a great deal of the unnecessary thinking that we are doing. 

When this happens we feel increasingly good. The stone is no longer in our shoe. This will have a hugely more significant impact upon performance and results compared to giving people some extra behavioural tips and techniques.