How to make big changes in work and in life…
When I joined a speakers club 12 years ago, I didn’t expect that
it would lead me to doing a doctorate. And I really didn’t think that doing a doctorate
would lead to me making lasting changes in my life.
I joined my local Toastmasters speakers club because I wanted
to get over my fear of presenting to the project teams I was leading. Over the
years, I got better at public speaking, sharing stories and running workshops. It turned out that the magic ingredient in
creating confident speakers was to give and receive lots and lots of feedback. We become better speakers through going
through cycle after cycle of observing, feeding back and trying out.
After many years of learning and leading in Toastmasters, I
reached a quiet period and wondered “what next?”. I considered doing postgraduate research, but
I imagined miserable years of being stuck at a desk, just reading and writing
Then, I was delighted to discover that there was a kind of practitioner
based learning that anyone can do. It’s called
action research and it involves going through cycles of experience, reflection
and action. It involves working with
other people and the kinds of feedback loops I had found so valuable in
Toastmasters. I started this research 18
months ago, and it is already having a big impact for me in my life and work. How does it work? Well here are the stages I go through, with
an example of one big personal change woven into the story.
- Noticing experience
The first stage is about noticing what is actually going
on. We repeat patterns, playing out
“rules” we’ve learned about how life works and how we are expected to be. In my case, one of the “rules” I had learned
was that a proper Irish girl’s dinner involved meat and two kinds of
vegetable. To not eat meat would be a
terrible sacrifice, I thought.
But a different kind of noticing was going on for me. I was now paying much more attention to the nature
on my morning walks with my dog Betsy. I
felt much more connected with it, but on its own, the noticing of nature
wouldn’t have led me to make a big change.
But then I went deeper…
Here we delve into our subconscious minds and pull out
what’s really going on in there,
going past the “rules” and repeating patterns in our lives. There are loads of ways to do this. Some people do painting and sculpture, some
do poetry and stories, others do photography.
Some people, including me, do a bit of all of these.
When I first came to this, to be honest, I thought this was
a bit weird. I am supposed to be doing serious research and instead I am
playing with paint and poetry!! But
you know what, it really made a difference.
I shared stories like when I first visited an abattoir in my early 20s,
I drew pictures of me sitting inside trees (yes, really) and wrote poems about
the nature I walked in with Betsy.
Finally, I found a satirical and surreal picture that switched realities
with a giant lobster holding a human over a pot of boiling water. He was explaining to a fellow lobster that
the human isn’t screaming, it’s just the noise it makes when it touches the
water. That picture was the tipping point that
brought it all to life, all of that reflecting and going deeper. I felt really, really uncomfortable about using
animals for food anymore and I decided to try out not eating meat or fish for a
- Exploring concepts and ideas
Experimenting with being a vegetarian after almost 50 years of
being an avid meat eater meant big changes for me. I imagine I wouldn’t have lasted long if I
hadn’t engaged in this third stage. It’s
all about exploring ideas and going beyond the “rules” and “facts” we take for
granted. I explored concepts and ideas
from lots of different perspectives, writers and stories. It allowed me to see
what other people had to say about nature, how we often separate our bodies
from our minds, how we absorb expectations about how to feed our bodies and how
to appear. I discussed it with other
people, some who thought I was mad, some who were delighted I had made the
choice. Exploring others’ ideas allowed
me to understand and develop my own. I became
clearer about what I stood for, what was important to me and how I might keep
the change alive.
Over time all of this came together into a new and more
confident way of being with food. I no
longer felt obliged to eat meat and fish just because it was the way I had
always done it. I could handle other
people’s responses to my choice. I
became more confident about trying out new foods to replace the ones I was no
longer prepared to eat. And I was no
longer quite so nervous about ordering food in a restaurant when I wasn’t sure
what it would be like. There have been
a few times when I have been really tempted to buy a nice big steak because
that was what I would have really enjoyed before, and an easy choice. But I quickly remember what I have
experienced, felt and thought in this process, and I find something vegetarian
These steps to change
are things anyone can do. Pay attention
to what’s going on around you, find ways of going deeper into what it means for
you, and explore the ideas behind it all so you can be clearer on what’s
possible and what’s important to you.
These things together can help make lasting change in your life and work.
For me, there’s still
a good few years to go with my research.
I wonder what else will get changed!