Monday, August 31, 2009

Refreshing the Spirit with Al Bakker

As you know, this blog is about Life Enhancing and how to inspire yourself to live a wonderful life. To support this, I've been doing email interviews with people who inspire me and who I think live amazing lives.

This blog is also about what I call 'Life Enhancing Devices' (LEDs) - things that truly add value to our lives. And one of the key LEDs for me is kayaks. They allow us to go places and do things that are truly wonderful, inspiring and uplifting. They are a great form of exercise and can provide a very calming and meditative experience.

So today's blog entry is an interview with someone who I believe lives a wonderfully enhanced life, and who inspires me to get out and do more paddling, adventuring and living.

This person is Al Bakker, the founder of Southern Sea Ventures, a company that offers awesome kayaking adventures in some of the most beautiful places in the world.

I've been on a number of Southern Sea Venture kayak trips, and I think that what Al and his company does is fantastic and life enhancing. I'm always amazed at the new trips he is organising and the great paddles that he does. Al searches the globe for new and amazing paddling adventures and then opens them up so the rest of us can safely enjoy these life enhancing experiences. As Al says "Exploring the world’s beautiful places by kayak is a wonderful way to refresh the spirit. The quiet and unobtrusive dip of a paddle is a panacea to life in the modern world. I feel privileged to be able to show people different places and share skills that give them enjoyment."

Al has paddled whitewater and sea kayaks for 36 years in North America, South America, the South Pacific, Japan, Australia, NZ, Antarctica, South Georgia, the High Arctic and Greenland, Russian Far East and all across Europe. He has led commercial sea kayak tours for the last 21 years and developed sea kayak, rafting and cross country ski programs in many countries. Al is also a qualified SCUBA diver, Nordic ski instructor and examiner, swim instructor and examiner and holds swiftwater rescue and national lifeguard certification. He has worked as a helicopter ski guide, rafting guide and wilderness first aid consultant and is a keen photographer.

I caught up with Al via email as he bobbed across the Greenland sea heading towards the Arctic, and asked him why he felt kayaking and outdoor adventuring was so life enhancing.

* Hi Al, trust you are well and still out living amazing adventures!

Yep, enjoying getting to some lovely spots and feel privileged to be able to.

* What do you do to enhance your life? What is life enhancing for you?

I always try to balance work and play. It is easy to get overwhelmed with running a business and sorting out details but I find that getting out in the mountains or on the water is refreshing. It doesn’t have to be paddling but sometimes it is easier to get to some out of the way places by boat. Sharing some quality outdoor time with someone you care for is real important for me.

* What is so life enhancing about Kayaks and paddling? Why do you do it? What makes it so special?

Kayak tours are my business so that is part of it but my wife and I very much love to get out and paddle on our time off. Not so much for short paddles but on an overnight or week long trip.
It gives us a chance to leave the phone at home, breathe some fresh air and just live a simple day without distractions. Cooking a camp meal, setting up a tent in the wind, working out how to take the extra bottle of wine in the kayak is all fun.

For me, part of what makes paddling special is sharing it with someone. Whether it is going out for a surf or on a 2 week trip. I don’t paddle competitively and never have so it is recreation and work, and I like keeping it for that.

* You seem to fill your life with adventure and challenge... how do you motivate yourself to do the life enhancing activities such as kayaking in Antarctica and creating amazing new paddling trips?

Mate, one has to earn a living somehow! Seriously though, having the opportunity to paddle in the Antarctic and other places is not taken lightly. I very much appreciate how lucky I am to be able to do it. But it is equally enjoyable seeing others get the same enjoyment out of it. So. Making it possible for folks to get to some difficult places is really one of the most rewarding aspects about having such a tour business.

* Why do you think 'life-enhancing' is important? What's important about having dreams, goals and inspiring purpose?

I guess I would prefer to say it is important to take some time out from whatever job or stress you are in and do something that makes you feel good, whether it is playing music, taking pictures, hiking in the mountains, paddling a new river or seeing a new country or area in a sea kayak. I like the details of picking a trip, planning it, preparing but when on it, I don’t like to have every day structured and try and make it as flexible as time constraints allow so you can make the most of whatever comes up. From meeting an interesting fisherman, or a wildlife encounter or lazing around camp. Dreams or goals for me, make the difference of getting beyond the daily routine and commitments that just living can impose on your 24 hours.

* Who are your role models for 'life-enhancing'? Are there any exemplars that live enhanced lives that you look to for inspiration in your own life?

Many throughout my life, but my current hero is an 82 yr old who has been on a number of our trips. Started paddling 5 –6 years ago and get out of his kayak and climb back in upside down and roll it back up. He paddles 3 times a week and just loves to get out. I see many things in people I work with that is inspiring and constantly amazed at how families balance their work with being parents and still finding time to learn or play.

* What would you put on the list of the most: Life Enhancing Devices, Life Enhancing Values, Life Enhancing Beliefs, Life Enhancing Skills/Strategies and Life Enhancing Behaviors?

Enthusiasm, good humour, an interest in learning, curiosity, being aware of what is happening around you, and patience. One particularly rewarding pastime is watching wildlife. Simply being patient enough to watch, smell, and observe and see what the animal is doing can be fascinating.

Thank you Al for sharing your thoughts and experiences.

What Al says resonates with me. The experience, skill and flow of paddling a kayak, of moving your craft through the sea, of exploring amazing parts of the world, and sharing that with others are all so incredibly life enhancing.

If you've never paddled a kayak, then do yourself a big life enhancing favour and go hire one for a few hours, get some instruction and have a play. Better yet, book yourself on a kayak adventure trip. Most trips are suitable for beginners and will teach you the skills you need to enjoy the experience safely.

And if you are already a paddling aficionado then I encourage you to get into your boat and do some more paddling soon 'cause kayaks really are such wonderful LEDs.

Finally, let me point out that kayaking is not without risks. You should always wear and use appropriate safety equipment and take lessons from qualified instructors. Paddle thoughtfully and safely and you'll live to enjoy kayaking for many years ahead.

much happy paddling
smiles, Grant

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Life Enhancing Language

Language is a powerful tool for enhancing your life. The way we think and express ourselves is crucial to how we make meaning and how we unconsciously motivate ourselves and others.

“Our language influences our perceptions”
Peter Senge
“Incorrect use of language leads to incorrect thinking”
Buckminster Fuller

Through language we create our reality

“Language is the means by which we organise and shape our experience"
Dr. Annabelle Lukin, Dep’t of Linguistics, Macquarie University

Language is one of our key tools for thinking and making sense of our world. It’s also how we communicate between parts of our multi-mind and with other people around us.

As will be pointed many times throughout this blog, and as suggested by both the fields of NLP and General Semantics, 'unsane' use of language leads to 'unsane' thinking and this in turn leads to 'unsane' actions and outcomes in life - not very life enhancing!

As highlighted by the field of NLP, there are three basic modelling processes we use to create our maps or models of the world. These are:

  • Deletion
  • Generalisation
  • Distortion

Each of these modelling processes has language elements that are indicators of the process. In NLP, these language distinctions are described by what is called the NLP Meta-Model.

By becoming aware of and tracking for these distinctions you can become more precise in your thinking and communicating with your self and others. You can also gain more life enhancing choice and control over how you are modelling and generating your world by choosing language that supports your outcomes.

Wants vs Shoulds

When you create absolutist rules and generalisations about what you ‘should’ do and what you ‘have to’ do, you limit your freedom and apply pressure that can lead to parts of your multi-mind sabotaging your success.

No one likes to be pressured or forced into action. In NLP, generalisations such as ‘must’, ‘should’ and ‘have to’ are called ‘modal operators of necessity’. They indicate rules about the mode of operation you are following or requesting. Thinking that you “absolutely must do X” often leads to stress and procrastination.

A much more generative and useful way to communicate to yourself and others is to use ‘modal operators of desire’. Words such as ‘want to’, ‘like to’ and ‘desire to’ are much more compelling and are linked with life enhancing notions of value and attraction.

So when you are thinking and talking about your outcomes and goals, notice the words you are using. Practice and form habits of replacing the modal operators of necessity with modal operators of desire. For example, rather than saying something like “I should go wash the car now”, instead choose to express the statement as something like “I want to wash the car now so that it looks fantastic”. You’ll notice it has a different feel to it when expressed that way and is much more likely to lead to the intended outcome.

Powerfully using language that supports your outcomes can really make a difference to the happiness and success you are generating in your life.

Remember, words are powerful. So do languaging that aligns, encourages and supports all the parts of your multi-mind.

Cause and Effect

Cause and Effect thinking is an example of linguistic distortion.

This type of thinking is expressed in utterances that imply or presuppose belief that one thing causes another. When these beliefs don’t match the way the world really works, they are semantically ill-formed and impoverish a person’s model of the world. In this way, Cause and Effect beliefs limit your perceived choice or ability to act.

The most usual form that Cause and Effect distortions take is statements that a person’s actions or environmental circumstances ‘cause’ an emotional response in another person.

For example, the thought “My boss makes me angry” is a Cause and Effect belief that is inaccurate and not entirely rational. It doesn’t match the way the world fundamentally works.

No one can cause an emotion in another person. Your response to stimuli is effected within yourself. This is shown by the fact that a number of people can experience the exact same event and yet each of them will generate their own unique meaning and response. What one person gets angry about, another may find humorous.

This is a powerful and life enhancing insight. Emotions are not something that happen to you from external agency. Emoting is a process your mind/body does, with unconscious competence, in response to your environment. You can influence and change how you are emoting and responding.

No person or situation causes your emoting. However, if you operate from the semantically ill-formed belief that you do not have control, and that the world causes and creates your emotions, then you limit yourself and remove choice from your world. And that’s an enemy to happiness.

To counter this, listen for language, thoughts and beliefs that have the form:

X causes Y

If you hear yourself saying or thinking things such as “person X pisses me off” or “situation X depresses me” or “X causes me a lot of pain” then you are distorting your world and limiting yourself with Cause and Effect modelling.

The way to expand your choice is to turn such causal relationships around so they are more sane and rational. Put the locus of control back into the expressions by re-languaging them as “I cause Y when X”.

For example, instead of saying “My boss makes me mad”, re-language this as “I make myself mad about my boss”. Notice this now puts you at choice. You can now focus on outcomes and decide whether this is a response that is useful or whether perhaps there might not be a more generative way to respond.

Remember, choice = control.

Blaming Others

The field of Rational Emotive Behavioural Therapy (REBT) has also determined a number of irrational beliefs that people use to anger themselves.

Fundamentally, REBT has shown that the process of angering occurs when we blame others for not meeting unreasonable rules or expectations that we have generated in our model of the world. Beliefs such as “people must never make mistakes or else they are totally useless”, “everyone must always treat me fairly” and “I must always be totally loved by everyone” are irrational and unrealistic. Using such language to think about people and situations can only lead to disappointment, anger and low self-esteeming.

Listen for such irrational self-talk and actively dispute it. Replace it with more useful beliefs that match the way the world works. The truth is, people are fallible and will occasionally make mistakes, treat you unfairly or not meet your expectations.

Getting angry at this is pointless and unsane. Of course you’d prefer that they not do this, but recognise this is just your preference. Don’t take yourself and your expectations so seriously. Blame is an enemy to happiness and definitely life diminishing, so listen for it in your language and challenge the irrational beliefs that underlay it.

Escalating Anger

Intelligent people do not use words that escalate anger. They understand the power of words and know that anger is an emotion that down-regulates intelligence and creativity.

Thoughts and expressions such as "How could they!!!??" and "How dare they!!!???" will only create and escalate the unconscious process of angering.

Really listen carefully to the languaging you are doing and refuse to use hateful or vengeful words or expressions that escalate anger.

Universal Frighteners

An insidious form of linguistic distortion is known in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) as 'Universal Frighteners'. These beliefs are generalisations about FUD – Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt.

Universal Frighteners are indicated by global qualifiers associated with generalisations about fear. Comments like “It’s totally shocking”, “That’s completely horrifying”, “It’s all really scary”.

Challenge these linguistic distortions by asking yourself and others questions like “How specifically are you scaring yourself about this?” and “What specifically about this are you fearing?

Language is Life Enhancingly Powerful

You can gain power over your thinking and believing by listening for and questioning your use of linguistic deletions, distortions and generalisations.

Because we are habit forming creatures, you can overcome old habits and patterns of thought by using words and expressions that presuppose possibility and hope.

Language and thought really are powerful and can definitely enhance your life or diminish it - so listen to what you say and ensure you are using words that support happiness, choice and meaning in your life and the lives of those you love.

wishing you great life enhancing thoughts
smiles, Grant

And for those interested in learning more about the NLP Meta Model and other hypnotic language skills, I highly recommend the following books:

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Life enhancing fluffy white stuff

Well... seeing as we are enjoying one of our regular sojourns up in the snow, I figure it's timely to blog about how playing in the snow is very, very life enhancing :-)

I don't think it matters what sort of snow play you do, whether it's downhill skiing, snowboarding, x-country skiing, riding a skidoo or just tramping and camping out back-country with a pair of snow-shoes strapped to your feet, they all add refreshing life enhancing value to your life. I've done them all, and every year we get out and about in the snow using every available form of snow play equipment, and we always come back feeling more alive, filled with delight and having had/done an awesome time.

So what is it about the mountains and snow that is so wonderful?

To begin with there's the beauty. Snow flakes falling and drifting from the sky, painting a pristine world of cleansing, calming white, creating a visage that lifts the spirit. The snow blankets the ground and dusts the trees with icing. Crystals hang from branches. Sun glints and rainbows across the softness like diamonds cast by natures hand. In the snow, everything seems more real, clearer, more alive.

Then there's the exhilaration of movement, speed, acceleration as you move and glide down the fall line. The feeling of riding a snowboard or a set of skis, over moguls, cutting swathes through the powder is akin to the petro-sexuality of motorbike riding. It's visceral. The adrenalin is addicting. It's blissful.

Added to all that, there's the value and effects of exercise. Snow play gives you a great workout. More oxygen flowing through your lungs and blood stream, bringing muscles alive. Washing the toxins from your system.

The flow of skiing, boarding or even snow-shoeing provides a 'broaden-and-build' positive emotional experience. It increases levels of serotonin and dopamine flowing in your system. It expands your creativity. It's pretty much impossible to carry the stress of work or life into a day of snow-play. To successfully and safely ski or board from the top of a mountain, you need full attention and the whole of your being committed to the unconscious competence of rider and device as one. This engagement is meditative and engenders peace and joy in your spirit.

Finally I guess I'd like to add that it's just plain awesome fun! Snow play brings out the wide-eyed spirit of the child. And the apres ski adventures add to the fun. If you stay up in the snow-fields then there's wonderful food, great company, lots of good wine, the odd sauna and spa experience and delightful walks after dinner in the star filled sky, crunching over fresh fallen snow crystals. Ahhhh, does life get any better than this?!!

So, if you aren't already a convert to snow-play, I seriously and playfully suggest you add some snow-play life adventure to your life. And if you are already an aficionado of the snow, then may I encourage you to go do some more of it. Make sure you get out and enjoy the life enhancing beauty and delight of playing in the fluffy white stuff every year of your life.

Treat with care

Just one small reminder and caveat... snow is cold and slippery, you need to be skillful, careful and treat it and alpine environments with respect. Be aware of the risks of hypothermia and always dress appropriately and take the necessary safety equipment with you. If you love and utilise the snow intelligently it will love you back and add immense value to your life.

happy life enhancing snow play,
and many smiles, Grant

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Sharing and Savoring

Putting feelings into words produces therapeutic effects in the brain

I came across some fascinating research the other day that supports the intuitive insight that verbalising your feelings helps dissipate and make them less intense.

The brain imaging study by UCLA psychologists examined the effects of verbally labeling negative emotional images and showed that the amygdala, a region of the brain that serves as an emotional alarm system, was less active when subjects labeled the feelings engendered by the negative images. The study also found another region of the brain, the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, was more active during emotion labelling. This region is located behind the forehead and is associated with inhibiting behavior and processing emotions.

According to the study's main author, Associate Professor Matthew D. Lieberman, "When you put feelings into words, you’re activating this prefrontal region and seeing a reduced response in the amygdala... When you put feelings into words, you seem to be hitting the brakes on your emotional responses." Lieberman also suggests, "Putting our feelings into words helps us heal better. If a friend is sad and we can get them to talk about it, that probably will make them feel better."

To me, this is a life enhancing research result that backs up what we all intuitively know: talking with a therapist, a loved one, a good friend, or even writing in a journal, helps us cope with and overcome feelings such as anger, fear and pain. Conversely, holding our feelings in, not expressing them and not consciously acknowledging them gives them power and makes them more likely to overtake you.

We all have times when we experience negative life events and are overwhelmed by negative emoting. The cool thing is that you now know that by practicing self-awareness and consciously labeling your emotions, you'll shift the response in your brain. Additionally, you now have life enhancing research evidence to encourage you to verbalise your feelings and share them with supportive friends. Getting your feelings out in the open makes them less intense.


Another life enhancing and useful tool for coping with negative emoting is the NLP technique of 'meta-emoting'.

The word 'Meta' (from Greek: μετά = "after", "beyond", "with", "adjacent", "self"), is a prefix used to indicate a concept that is an abstraction of another concept. So for example, a meta-language is a language about languages. Meta-data is data about data. And meta-emotion is emotion about emotion.

According to wikipedia, "Meta-emotion refers to the emotional reactions to one's own emotions (second-order emotions about primary emotions). An example would be being angry (the primary emotion) and being afraid of one's anger (the meta-emotion)."

This is a very powerful concept. You can get yourself into all sorts of psychological and emotional strife if you don't track your meta-emoting and control it.

For example, if you get scared of something such as talking in front of people, then you get scared about being scared, you create a loop that feeds back on itself and amplifies the fearing. This is typically a recipe for inducing a phobia - fear about fear about fear...

On the other hand, if you choose a meta-emotion that is more resourceful and positive, you can easily transcend and transform primary emotions via your meta-emoting. In the example above, if instead of fearing the fear, you chose to find the fearing as humorous and entertaining, then you'd find that the meta-emotion magically changes the primary emoting of fearing into something more resourceful. It's hard to do full on fearing when you are laughing at the fear :-)

By bringing your emotions to consciousness, labeling them, then consciously deciding on what your outcome is and what meta-emoting you are going to do, you create amazingly generative responses to the 'negative' events that occur in your life. And that is very life enhancing!

For those who are interested, here's an insightful read at that talks in detail about the effects of meta-emoting: Meta-Emotions - The Downward Spiral to Unhappiness and How to Avoid Them

Celebrating Failure

Another thing I want to bring to your attention in discussing the importance of verbalising and sharing your emotions with others, is the notion of 'Celebrating Failure'. In NLP we make the distinction between content and process, and suggest that 'process' is often more important for control and change than is 'content'.

For most people, the word 'Celebration' evokes the notion of positivity, happiness and joy. However, from an NLP perspective we would say that this is the typical 'content' of celebrating.

The 'process' of celebrating on the other hand involves intense emotional responding, performance or sharing with others and stimulation. This process is normally applied to positive content. However, without realising it, many people apply the process of celebrating to negative content. They 'celebrate' failure, disaster and negativity.

So the thing I want to highlight, is to make sure that when you share and verbalise your feelings, you don't overdo it and transgress into celebrating failure. The idea is to express your feelings so that you alleviate them, not to amplify and celebrate them and make them an ongoing focus. Express them and let them go. Your life enhancing happiness and peace of mind depend on it.

Savoring Positivity

The other thing that links to enhancing your life by expressing your feelings is the research from the field of Positive Psychology on 'savoring'.

Dr. Fred Bryant, Professor of Psychology, Loyola University, Chicago has studied the effects of savoring for the last 20 years. His recent book, Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience, describes the numerous benefits of savoring and its links to happiness.

Savoring involves enjoying and appreciating the good moments and aspects of each and every day. It's about sharing and celebrating the positive. This includes reminiscing about past experiences, really savoring and amplifying what's happening in the present and building strong positive anticipations for future events.

Fred's research shows that people who strongly savor their lives in an ongoing way, report higher levels of joy and life satisfaction. These positive emotions then broaden and build across contexts helping to buffer against stress and negative emotional experiences.

In his book, Fred recommends a number of strategies for enhancing your life through savoring, and of them the following are incredibly aligned with this blog entry:

  • Sharing - sharing the emotional experience of an event with others increases enjoyment of it.
  • Journaling - Writing a daily journal in which you recall the day's positive events enhances the savoring experience.
  • Awareness - Intentionally sharpening your awareness for an event by focusing on and verbalising the positive emotions enhances the experience.

Practicing Mindfulness

So I hope you are now convinced of the usefulness and importance of becoming more conscious of your emotional experiencing, including both its negative and positive aspects, and of expressing your emotings appropriately. The wisdom of such 'mindfulness' practice is backed up by ancient esoteric traditions, such as yoga and buddhist philosophy. It's healthy and life enhancing.

With negative emoting, express it, share it and let it go. Become aware of and actively practice positive meta-emoting. And finally, savor and share every positive emotional experience that you can.

Get the most juice out of every moment of your life. It's your life, and you and those you care about will benefit immensely if you enhance your life through sharing and savoring.

positive smiles and great wishes,

Fred Bryant's Book on Savoring:

Excellent books on Positive Psychology: