Some Information About Landmark Education – Post Revisited

It works something like this: each one of us has an identity. This is kind of like a narrative story we tell ourselves about who we are, what we do and the values we possess. This is, for the most part, an unconscious and automatic thing – we do not often find ourselves asking the questions “is this the right thing to do” or “do I believe in what I am doing?” The entire thing is so powerful that we almost always act in a way that is congruent or aligned with our identity, all without much or any conscious thought or analysis.

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On March 23, 2012, I attended the Landmark Forum in Toronto. A few of my friends at the time had suggested that I go because they had both enjoyed and grown from the experience. It was something that I also found useful and it has had an impact on a lot of my life. In August 31, 2012, I posted Some Information About Landmark Education that covered my feelings about the process, at least as they existed at that moment in time. I suppose my feelings have evolved over the last seven years, so I have decided to write a follow-up post.

A few things before I begin:

I was only a participant, I have never worked or volunteered for them, and I have no reason to believe that I ever will. There is a near zero percent chance that I will ever take another one of their courses. This isn’t because I think they are useless, the people I know who took a few of them got a lot out of their experiences, so anecdotally they are valuable. I don’t think I’ll take any more of them because I don’t want to. Since I began my meditation practice, the source of most of my demons has become crystal clear and most of them have disappeared.

Education alone does not set people free, consistent action over time probably can. It is hard work, thankless and void of any immediate gratification, so most people never really change in a fundamental way. We throw a new coat of paint on our life and go back to doing what we have always been doing. Knowing that we are full of crap and getting very clear on how exactly we are filled with it makes us enlighten-to-our-bull-shitting, it does not make us honest brokers of truth. I suppose that’s fine, I’m still hopeful that one day I will grow-up and become the person I was destined to become. But maybe I already have….

There was nothing unique or revolutionary about the information they provided EXCEPT for the way it was packaged. This isn’t a fault or even a problem. It’s actually more of a universal truth about facts and wisdom. These things exist even when they have not been discovered, and even when they have been uncovered, not everyone who listens will hear them. The exact reason why a message will find its way into our brain and then into our consciousness is not always clear, so Landmarks repackaging of the information is helpful and I dare to say needed because it is good information, it is true, and it allows for a solid de-cluttering of the mind of anyone the ideas happen to infect INDEPENDENT of the source.

Regardless of the eventual outcome, some things are just crap. They are no worse when the outcome is awful, and they are no better when the outcome is a transformation into the realm of greatness. As happy as I am with my experience at the forum, the information that I acquired and how it all continues to echo on in my life, I remain convinced that the seminar afterwards was not nearly as benign. This, I say, knowing full well that there is a very good chance that I would not have met my wife Heather had I not attended it. The ends however do not justify the means. When compared to the Forum, the seminar is an entirely different animal.

The Forum is introductory and transactional, the seminar is a long haul experience aimed at capturing people for at least the next seminar but hopefully for a long time to come. Everything about the Forum was single serving – short concise impeccably scripted lessons, a short one on one interaction between you and the person who was sitting beside you, and then a quick pivot onto the next lesson. It was highly choreographed to the point that I am nearly certain that each time the leader reached for and ate a mint, that it was part of the script. I don’t know and it doesn’t matter because it very easily could have been, meaning that I paid for and got a world class performance.

The seminar was not so good, and for this I cannot fault the leader. I don’t think I liked her very much, but I’m not sure. She had a job to do and she did it well. My main beef was the amount of time consumed with the attempts to sell the next seminar; which I don’t think is necessary for something that is very high quality. That makes me laugh because maybe it wasn’t high quality and they knew. Maybe it was only my experience with it that was high quality and the results were the outcome of my subsequent actions to generate a different future. Again, the information that was presented weekly was useful. It was neither new nor revolutionary, but it was packaged and presented in a Landmarky way, building upon the lessons from the Forum, and using the Forum languaging to help consolidate the experience. This makes for easy predatory listening and a click-whirr type of interaction that have people fire off fixed responses when the speaker says one of the trigger words.

I suppose I should be as honest as I possibly can be here because I am kind of reviewing a service that a business offers and who I am will have a big impact on what I think and feel about the service. In fairness, I can be a real dick from time to time. It happens less frequently now than before, but it can be very easy for someone to form a piss poor first impression of me that only reflects who I am about 5 to 10 percent of the time. This 5 to 10 percent just happened to coincide with the seminar group meetings. They were awful and I didn’t do a single thing to make the experience any better for most of the group members.

At the first seminar, we formed groups of six people who we would have phone meetings with once a week to talk about the material, our experiences trying the material on, and to talk about any of the challenges we had. As a rule, I don’t like this type of thing because it is the phone and it is strangers. My group members were fine. They were just people who, like me, imagined that there was an easier or better life available and were willing to try things out to see what could be done to make it happen. I wasn’t the same type of person as most of the members. I straight-up know that I can be an obnoxious asshole and I exercise my right to choose to be that asshole whenever I feel like it. My life was crap or great because of my actions and NOT because other people didn’t do what I wanted them to do. Superficially that contributed but when I get right down to it, other people’s action have nothing to do with my response and assuming that I use my personal power to think, feel and do what I need to, screw everyone else. This isn’t a bad thing, it’s freeing actually. I make the life I want to have and I leave other people alone to do the same. But this live and let live approach was a little out of place with most of my group.

This is a problem with self-help groups, religions, cults, and any collection of people who identify around a particular thing, a problem that only shows up when resources are scarce and competition for them is high, or in times of turmoil, stress, or uncertainty. Basically, it is the combination of the cognitive biases of the fundamental attribution error (the tendency for us to view our own actions in situational terms while viewing the actions of others as indicators of intent or character), the self-serving bias (the tendency to view ourselves in more favorable and self-esteem enhancing ways) and the in-group–out-group bias (the tendency for us to show more favorable views towards members of the group to which we are affiliated while viewing more harshly those who do not belong to the group). These things come together to render much of our thinking about other people as subjective and a reflection of inaccurate heuristics. Available cognitive capacity and then the willingness to use it is the antidote to this problem, but when it came to the seminar group discussions there wasn’t much of either to go around.

It works something like this: each one of us has an identity. This is kind of like a narrative story we tell ourselves about who we are, what we do and the values we possess. This is, for the most part, an unconscious and automatic thing – we do not often find ourselves asking the questions “is this the right thing to do” or “do I believe in what I am doing?” The entire thing is so powerful that we almost always act in a way that is congruent or aligned with our identity, all without much or any conscious thought or analysis.

Being a participant in the Landmark Forum can surface this identity and the information can influence it. Those who resist the lessons or are unwilling to see themselves in the story of another participant are displaying their identity in so far as they are claiming, “I am NOT like that.” That is neither here nor there because it is a self-improvement workshop, so your role as participant is to try on EVERYTHING to see what comes out of it. And it also doesn’t really matter much with the Forum weekend because it is over and done with very quickly. This means that none of the other participants will ever have the opportunity to notice you assimilating the new information into your identity and observe some of the messiness associated with this process. To automate anything, it requires consistent mindful practice over time, which is energy consuming and can be very destabilizing as a once held value disintegrates to make room for the integration of an updated one.

Being a participant in the seminar, you remain connected with people over a 10 to 12 week period, so you begin to see the efforts people are taking to move into a different future as they get better and better at working with the information they are being exposed to. This is particularly obvious during the weekly group calls, at least with some of the members. But it is messy and since no one is starting at the same point or at the same time, the progress is frustratingly random. This was something that I was used to, given the amount of time I had spent as a personal trainer. Some people get things instantly, others improve at a consistent slow pace, while others will get worse only to suddenly improve dramatically. It’s an individual journey in the gym, just as it is an individual journey everywhere else in life. The problem is the “group-think” that the three cognitive biases mentioned above triggers. Well, the problem is when you are NOT a part of the group that has been infected with the “group-think,” which was me, unsurprisingly, given my tendency towards assholism.

In my defense for how I act, I try hard to not automatically assume that my feelings are correct. I have been suspicious of my brain and my emotional system for a long time, well before I knew when it cannot be trusted and why that happens. Feelings are not thoughts, and while both tend to influence each other in a way that makes them seem inseparable, they are not the same and they can be pulled apart if you are willing to put the work into it. It’s hard though, and like any skill, it’s nearly impossible at the beginning, messy in the middle and effortless at the end. While I had not yet gotten very good at doing this back in 2012, I had been working on it for a while and had made some headway. This is why I was like poison to the majority of my group.

Having no desire to be a leader, and no interest in blindly following what the instructor was saying, I was seeking evidence or the truth. A good idea is a good idea, and the better an idea is, the larger the evidence pool will be for its truth. This meant that I asked a lot of “why” questions and was guilty of asking “what reasons do you have for saying or believing that?” which is really annoying for people who are in the process of trying to recreate their identity. They are fine questions, the answers are important, but having to put the work into finding out and then explaining the answers to someone like me seems more like a disruption than an exercise in good intellectual hygiene. It became very clear to everyone that I was not automatically on-board with what the instructor was saying. If I had drank the Kool-Aid, my liver had metabolized the poison very quickly allowing me to be curious about everything that was going on.

This is the problem with in-group-out-group biases. Because my behavior was not the same as the behavior of everyone else, I was clearly in the out-group. Under normal circumstances, this doesn’t matter, people have the available mental energy to consider two different points of view. But personal development courses are NOT normal circumstances. Most of the people are in flux, moving from one identity to the next, which casts a massive cognitive shadow on the available resources. The lack of available mental energy, when coupled with my lack of conformity to the group norm, cast me as an out-group member which triggered all of the associated nonsense and erroneous thinking that are associated with cognitive biases. Things degraded very quickly and it was not all that pleasant.

The upside is that I did learn a lot about what it makes sense to stand-up for and what it makes sense to just leave alone. My own personal development and that of my clients is worth taking a stand for, but I’m less convinced that I should attempt to play a role in the journey of others simply because it isn’t helpful for them and I have better things to do with my time. It probably makes things worse. As soon as their brain flips the switch and transports me into the out-group, the lens of preconception has been dawned and my actions will obviously indicate my true intention.

But more interesting is the fact that struggling to explain why something is the way it is or why a feeling you are having is an indication of truth are symptoms of something problematic. What the actual problem is can be any number of things; at the simplest would be an unwillingness to say out loud what ones intentions or wants actually are, but on the other side would be an over reliance on gut feelings, a lack of self-awareness, a need to belong to group or the desire to experience the rewards associated with social validation.

The way I see it, if you do not know why you feel the way you feel, you cannot actually claim to be feeling anything at all. You are having an emotional response, which may manifest as anger, sadness, concern, etc… but it is not anything more than that. I’m of the school of thought that in order for it to be anything other than an emotional response, it needs some weight behind it and in this case, that force is supplied by thoughts, thinking, logic and rationality. Without any of these, it is just something that is being triggered by some number of unconscious thought processes which are valid but since we do not know what they are, we have no idea what the feeling is all about. This is not to suggest that the emotional response is not real, it is a thing that can be measured so it is therefore real. But it is a subjective experience that has no transferable meaning to anyone else. The narrative reason for a feeling CAN be shared and transferred to others, so it can also be interrogated for accuracy, validity, and appropriateness.

An example here would be for the Landmark Advanced course – this is the second course in their curriculum and it is assumed that everyone who takes the Forum and who enrolls in the seminar afterwards WILL take the Advanced course. My friends who suggest the Forum to me did recommend that I take it, but they were also not so set on me doing it right away. Their advice was to take it at some point, but ONLY if I put into action any of the lessons that were taught in the Forum. If I wasn’t willing, able, or open to doing that, there wasn’t any value in attending anything else. As it would happen, the next Advanced course was scheduled to run on the weekend of the third or fourth week of the seminar, so on weeks two and three, there was a big sales push to encourage people to sign-up. I was unsure about going, so I made the call to wait and see what value I was able to extract from what I had already done. On the last group call before the course, 3 of the 5 had signed-up and they were encouraging the other 2 to join them.

The next call was unreal in its strangeness. The only other non-attendee was not on the call, so there was a full court press to get me to sign-up for the next Advanced course offering. Now I will not lie, I was slightly more interested at that point in time given how they were all gushing about how transformational and life changing it was. Whatever they had experienced had made an impression upon them, at least in terms of what a weekend experience has to offer. But, me being me, I asked them why I should go? What they each got out of it? How they believe their futures will be different and better because of it? The usual types of questions I ask when someone recommends an outlier experience to me. A $1300 weekend course is very different from a $12 movie or a $50 dinner, so I was seeking the specifics. The thing was that no one had any. They had had an experience and since it seemed powerful, they took that to mean that it was significant and therefore a worthwhile thing. A bar fight or a hangover is a significant experience, but that does not make either one worthwhile. I was hoping to find out why the Advanced course was like a hangover in terms of significance but unlike a hangover in terms of the worthwhileness.

Looking back on it now, I realize that it was a kind of dickish thing to do because it was based off of a less than genuine set of assumptions. I KNEW that they had no idea about the answers to those questions because the experience had not landed yet given that it had just wrapped-up a couple of days before. I also knew with near certainty that 2 of the 3 people would not be capable of answering the question accurately based on the limited information they did have access to. My memory does not serve me well here, but I have a sense that the remaining person was less vocal about the recommendation and was passively going along with the other two. When I started with the questions, she was able to answer with something along the lines of “it got me into a different head space and allowed me to consider things from a different perspective that I would not have done on my own or without going to the course.” That is an answer that I can believe and that doesn’t really apply to me. I have no trouble considering things from a different head space and my life is simple enough that I just take the time when I feel like doing it. She needed a commitment device and a sequestering and had no trouble justifying the spend to get these. She didn’t ever bring it up with me or the group again and for that I was grateful.

But it didn’t really make any difference because the other two were relentless about how I MUST go. And yet, they never were able to give me a reason why or any indication that they had figured out why they felt so strongly about it. Which brings us back to the legitimacy of feelings if there are no thoughts to back them up. They were having an emotional response to something but they did not have access to the reasons why they were having it. That isn’t anything that I will spend much time considering because when you get right down to it, thinking up a reason why an experience is transformative shouldn’t even be necessary if the experience was in fact transformative, you would just know why. They have a great weekend, they were taken on a roller coaster ride and when things wrapped-up on Sunday evening their memory buffer was filled with the peak parts of the experience and how they felt on Sunday when it ended. This is how experiential memory works so it wasn’t a shock that they thought that everyone should take it. That is fine, but it isn’t thinking and it isn’t a logical rationale for spending time doing something. Factor in the ease at which people are capable of thinking up justifications for anything and their lack of insight or even an answer becomes even more revealing.

Their experience was so transformational that not only can they not give a specific example of something that will be different, but they are not even able to come-up with a justification on an ad hoc basis. This did not sit well with me. For example, I can be a dick and call someone out publically for some nonsense perspective they have. When asked later I am able to say why I did it – in terms of my reason at the time – and I’m then able to think up a variety of other possible reason that were not part of the decision making matrix at the time. That’s what a brain does when it is trained to do it. The third person had trained their brain to do it and answered accordingly. The first and second people had never asked their brain to perform this function so when I made the ask, their brain threw an error and they just said “you gotta do it, it’s transformational and it will move you towards your future possibilities.”

“I don’t, it might be, and the jury is out on whether or not that happened for you so I’m going to table my decision for a while so I can collect some more evidence.” The fact of the matter is simple, what you get out of life is linked to what you put into it. A weekend course is just a weekend course if, upon its completion, you close the work book and never think about it again. But a weekend course, or a ten second conversation with someone for that matter, can be transformational if, upon completion, you never close the book or never allow the conversation to go silent. The initial experience is just the introduction so your actions afterwards are what will determine if it was a beginning or if it was the beginning, the middle and the end, all wrapped-up nicely in a tight 48 hour period.

The first and second did more to shape my decision than I ever let on. Frankly, I wasn’t going to tell them that they didn’t have any useful insight or that they had turn me off by recommending something to me that they couldn’t actually recommend or which was recommended simple to bolster their view that it was fantastic because there was another checkmark in terms of social validation. My opinion isn’t worth that much and how I choose to spend my weekends should have no impact on the lived experience of strangers or my cohorts in a personal development class.

That was then and it was a while ago. I am very comfortable with my having taken seven years to reach this point and will say that the Forum remains a highlight in my journey through life. It wasn’t the best thing that I ever did but it has a positive emotional valiance. There are some crappy things about the weekend, the seminar and the company – primarily the push for continued enrollment and the slightly dogmatic way a few of the people end-up acting. Both of these reveal a lot more about me than anything else.

Why do I hate being sold to? Why do I care if someone else has been sold to so effectively that they instantly change their identity into someone who LIVES Landmark? These questions are neither difficult to answer nor are the answers interesting. I hate being sold to when I am not expecting it because it obliterates my flow in terms of thinking. The solid stream of information about the subject matter hits my brain and makes it do dynamic and fantastically rewarding things. I LOVE thinking and the reward systems of my brain respond to the spontaneous generation thoughts that are triggered by the material. A quick sales plug lands like punishment when I’m floating along on a dopamine bliss. As for why I care when other people drink the Kool-Aid and get after their new passion like it is their first crush, well the answer is kind of boring, this is no longer something that I do. I have given-up hoping that I can know or control the content of other people’s minds and have found the experience of letting go to be exceptionally liberating. Some people like cars, some people like the sports, others like furniture, while others are passionate about being outraged. And none of it impacts me. I’ll talk about cars, the sports, listen to people talk about furniture, and really connect about things that trigger outrage, but it’s all transient and pointless for the most part.

This final fact is really what the Landmark Forum is all about. Almost everything is completely pointless and there are a tiny number of the actions that we take that actually matter. Maybe there is more on the line for those who have children, but I’m not qualified to answer and I do not know. And even then, if there isn’t and people act like there is, or there is and people act like there isn’t, it still won’t matter all that much. The world is a big place, and it is statistically nothing when compared to the mass of the universe. I’m just a bag of molecules, seven dollars worth of carbon, and if the earth is nothing in comparison to the universe, and I am nothing in comparison to the earth, what am I in comparison to the universe? I’m going to give that question exactly the amount of consideration it deserves.

How I Have Been Wrong

There is this thing people do that used to annoy me but that I now use as a vetting tool and that is a persons ability to admit that they were wrong. Regardless of their motivation, if someone isn’t able to say that they were wrong they are not a scientist, so their inflated opinion of what they know is tainted by an unmentioned emotional need and biased by something that isn’t an objective truth or reality.

I have been wrong a lot, even if it was well intentioned and based on everything that I knew at the time. And it is important to be wrong and to admit it because only the divine and the foolish do not change.

Here is a list of some of the ways that I have been wrong and changed over the last 15 years in the realm of the fitness industry:

Believing that nutrition is more important than food. This mistake, like a number of the ones I have made while in the fitness industry, was based on the need to make statements that sounded correct, were thought provoking, and that were sticky. But it is nonsense. Human beings NEED to eat food to get nutrients, they cannot thrive consuming the nutrients alone. Whole food is a natural concoction of 1000’s of chemicals that work in a synergistic way inside the body. When these chemicals are taken in one at a time, they have a different impact on the body and there is no certainty that this is going to be a health promoting.

Believing that the program is more important than consistency. I used to believe a lot of the hype and I would dispense this advice as though it was scientific fact. The fact that my clients were getting good results I interpreted as proof that the programing was effective. But over time I started to notice that the clients of some other trainers who programed using the same methods were not experiencing the same results. Furthermore, I noticed that clients who were using extraordinarily simple programs were experiencing great results. What I had missed was the fact that doing small things consistently will generate better results than a perfectly crafted program that is done occasionally.

Believing that by creating an emotional response a transformation has occurred. This one is false, completely false. While there may be times when an emotional response indicates a readiness for change or that a person has started their transformation, setting out to make a client cry is not helpful and will usually permanently damage the relationship. This is not to say that there is no useful information revealed when a client has a spontaneous and organic emotional response, there is just very little useful information to be gained by setting out to create an emotional response. It’s a sales tool that is used to breakdown defenses so someone can sell their services. It’s unforgivable and anyone who sets out to do it is trying to help their own bottom line and doesn’t care about the well-being of the person they are trying to take money from.

Believing that EVERYONE should workout and become more healthy. Morally I struggled with this one for a while. I believe that everyone is entitled to live an amazing life, rich in health and vitality BUT they must choose to live this life. Any coercion or pressure that forces them to choose it will usually result in more suffering as they fail to achieve success and feel worse than they would have had they not tried. I am always enthusiastic and possibility driven with anyone who is suffering the effects of poor health choices, but I’m only at their service when they choose to transform their life. Everyone CAN be more healthy but people shouldn’t be pressured into it.

Believing that what gurus said was more useful than what I knew. Within the fitness industry the gurus have a field day selling their wisdom to anyone who is looking for a shortcut. These people in turn make money dispensing this wisdom to the people they convinced would benefit from it. The problem with believing the gurus is that they rarely have any scientific basis for supporting their claims, and given that they have a financial motive for stating anything, there is a conflict of interest that motivates them to lie. Their well of wisdom in poisoned and unless science supports their claims, you shouldn’t buy into them. After 15 years in the industry, the formula for success is very simple, consistent intense work through a full range of motion, moderate amounts of good quality food (mostly vegetables), adequate rest and recovery, and a positive outlook on life in general. This isn’t flashy and it won’t make me millions of dollars, but it works for everyone and it is based on science.

Tell Us How Much – We KNOW the Context

Just received an email from a mailing list that I joined telling me all about this great opportunity that is going to close on Friday. Thing is, I need to act soon because there are only 60 spots left and it would be a shame if I was to miss out on it. I got a very similar email from them a few months ago about the same program so I’m confident that if I miss this chance another one will come along before the end of spring. Opportunity sometimes keeps knocking.

My challenge with the email and the mailing list in general is that they never say that price of anything; it might be available on the information video clip they link to, but I haven’t watched them because I don’t feel like watching them. There is also an email address that I can send any questions to, but I don’t feel like doing that either.

When I worked for Canada’s big chain gym, they forbid us from giving out prices over the phone. If someone called, our job was to book them in for an appointment to tour the facility because a membership coordinator (sales person) would be able to create the proper context for the price. We were trained on how to paint context and everything we did was based on statistics. It was better to not book someone in for an appointment while not giving out the price than to give out the price over the phone.

And I think this practice is pretty stupid; not just for big chain fitness clubs but for anyone who believes that they’ll be able to create a context by which the price isn’t actually what the price is.

In this day and age, if you are concerned about price, you’re probably going to buy based on price vs. any other variable. It doesn’t matter who is sitting across from me, if they work for a company, they have a conflict of interest that is going to have them act in a way that serves this interest BEFORE my needs. This happens not because they are bad people but because most human beings cannot act in any way contrary to their best interests.

Take the big gym for example, their biggest selling features are that they are the largest in the country and that their group exercise programs are well standardized – you can workout at any club and will get effectively the same class experience from any of their particular classes. The price of the club doesn’t really matter because almost every club in the country costs about the same price. The equipment is basically the same, the weights weigh the same, they play the same music, they are clean, they have parking lots, sell water and other drinks, and they offer child minding and personal training at additional fees. The big companies are corporation, they pay their staff poorly and they are profit centered. This being said, the reason they want you in front of them is because they want to sell you a membership for their club and their sales tactics cannot be employed over the phone.

The same thing applies to the coaching course I just received an email for, the personal training company I used to work for, the sports conditioning centers I used to work for, and the self-help organization I participated in a few years ago. They exist to make money so getting you to sit down and talk to one of their representatives is critical for them to create the context that gets someone to buy a service. Some of what they will say is accurate – in most cases, some professional coaching will end up being safer and faster than doing something uncoached, and there is greater accountability when someone else is helping you stay on track.

BUT the price is the price and the context is that they are trying to sell you something. If your program costs $1497 put that on the literature. Doing that will actual mean people like me will be more likely to buy. Put another way, if you don’t put it on the literature you aren’t going to sell to me because I’m not calling. And I’m not calling because your context is obvious, and you have no problem wasting my time.

8 Lessons From 2012 – Part Two

2012 was a remarkable year for me. Below is a follow-up to Part One – 8 Lessons From 2012.

Life is suffering” – M. Scott Peck (The Road Less Traveled) – March 9, 2012. This is regarded as the first of the four noble truths of the Buddha. For a very long time I did everything I possibly could to avoid or escape the suffering. But given that it is a truth, the suffering will always come.

“Because you are an adult” – Adam McDonald – March 15, 2012. Adam has always treated me with the utmost respect, he asked questions and listened to the answers, he trusted my judgment with clients, training programs and nutritional advice. So when he gave me a stern warning that I should probably get my crap together because I was about to blow it in terms of a promising career in fitness, I thanked him and said “you have always treated me as an adult”. His reply didn’t gel with my identity at the time, so I took some time to figure-out what my next move was and straightened things out.

“You are always in a hurry, slow down” – Ben Schoene – June 2012. On way way out of the gym after a workout and Ben said that to me. I stopped in my tracks, turned to him and walked up to the counter and started chatting. The conversation made me late for the meeting I was going to, but it was the first of many great chats with him. Had he not invited me to slow down, I’m not sure when I would have found-out that he’s a stand-up guy and a great mentor.

You don’t sign-up for your worst day, you just find yourself in it alone, regardless of who is with you” Sara Burton – March 2012. Sara could see that I was suffering and she gave me a copy of her book and told me that. It felt less isolated knowing that she (and everyone else who has been in a position of loss) had gone through more or less the same experience. It didn’t make it easier per-say, but she’s very accomplished and living a full life so I knew things would get better for me soon.

I can depend on myself during crisis situations – March 2012. I happened across a mini crisis at the gym one evening and in-spite of my best efforts to find someone else to take care of it, I ended-up taking the lead role in helping the person. I didn’t enjoy the experience much, but it wasn’t like anything at all – I just reacted appropriately and saw things through to the end.

I can convince myself of almost anything, almost instantly and with complete conviction. Me & Heather Arthur – May 2012. After our first date I was certain she was an incredible person. A few more dates and I was convinced that I will be with her forever. My level of certainty was a little distressing for her, but, at the same time, my conviction did take care of a lot of questions about my intentions. It was a little over the top, but Heather quickly realized that no matter what the future brings, I see myself in her life as her loving partner.

I am persistent, analytical, and have a strong tendency to be very nice to everyone. When these traits don’t help me out, I use humor to lighten-up the situation – LandMark Forum – March 2012. Things happened in my life that caused me to develop these traits or tendencies. As a consequence, they’ll flow out of me without my thoughts or consideration. Even if the situation does not call for them.

Things are just things, regardless of the emotional attachment you may have with something, it’s just stuff” – Heather Arthur – July 2012. Following a conversation she had with one of her friends who was separating from her husband, Heather shared this with me. “You know that big TV upstairs that has the Xbox connected to it? I need to get rid of it because no one uses it anymore. But a few years ago I fought hard to get it, I regarded me leaving the marriage with it as a win.” I had never noticed the TV before because it’s in a cabinet and the doors are always closed, so it was peculiar that it was once a trophy. The lesson Heather was passing along to her friend, and to me, was that you get rid of almost everything you buy one way or the other, so it’s easier to let someone else take it because it will save you the effort of throwing it out later.

8 Lessons From 2012 – Part One

In no particular order and with credit given whenever it can be.

You don’t have a lot of time” – Sean Sullivan. This lesson was given in 2011, almost as soon as I told him that my dad had a brain tumor. Sean lost his father to cancer and he witnessed the rapid decline associated with this disease. I didn’t know exactly what he meant when he said it, but I took his advice and did everything I could to make the best of the time that was remaining. The family ate, talked, and enjoyed each others company and spend little time spend dwelling on what was about to happen. I understand what “you don’t have a lot of time” means now and I understand that it doesn’t just apply to dying relatives, it applies to everything in life.

Life is meaningless and empty so you’re free to create whatever purpose you like” – LandMark Education – March 25, 2012. I find this very empowering because I spontaneously do right by most people. Given this, setting out to make life be about what I want is a lot easier and gratifying than searching for some universal meaning.

So, how is life going to be better than before?” – Heather Arthur – May 4, 2012. It was our first date and Heather was doing what Heather does, rattling things to see if they stand-up to the challenge. My answer, after a lot of squirming, was to say that I didn’t have a plan to make them better, but that I wouldn’t be repeating any of the same mistakes so life was going to be different, and that meant the possibility for better. I had never felt so vulnerable and alive.

Teaching is not like other jobs, teachers have a much bigger impact on the world than almost every other profession” – Des McKinney – December 18, 2012. We had been talking about the rotating teachers strikes in Ontario and I was struggling to understand the teachers position. Once Des laid this one on me I gave-up any notion that they have an unreasonable sense of entitlement. Let’s face it, teachers have shaped every single person I talk to each day and my ability to earn a living is the result of a lot of their intervention. Teachers are kind of important.

Language alters the context which impacts how we view the world – Heather Arthur – May 4, 2012. During our first date, we were talking about the fact that we were both single. I commented that all of my past relationships had failed. Heather gave me the sour face and said “change the context, try saying that you have had great experiences with some amazing people and now you are all growing forward with life.” So I said it and immediately felt my past unfold into something more palatable. I’ve done this with a bunch of other things and have used this technique with some of my clients with similar success.

Thoughts created feelings which create actions, change the thoughts and notice how the feelings and actions change” – Leigh Moore – February 20, 2012. After my dad died I was having some struggles piecing certain things together. Leigh gave me some therapy and focused on one thing that was going to change my state very quickly. She noticed that some of the things I was saying weren’t based on an objective reality and were based on an internal narrative that wasn’t working for me. Her coaching created the possibility that things were not how I thought they were and as soon as I introduced a different possibility I started to feel differently.

How you think you’ll feel about things in the future is different from how you will feel about them – Life – anytime in 2012. I knew my dad was going to die for 6 weeks before he actually passed. But when it happened, how I felt about it wasn’t anything like how I thought I would feel about it. I was sad, but there were moments of gratitude, joy, and nothing at all. The lesson I’m taking out of it is to just accept that things are going to happen and that I am going to feel something when they do, but not to spend much time thinking about what the feelings will be because I’m going to get it wrong.

How you feel right after something happens is not the same as how you will feel in 3 months, but how you feel about it in 3 months is usually how you will feel about it in a year” – Des McKinney January 30, 2012. The day after my dad died I asked Des how he felt. Instead of answering the question I asked he decided to change my life and reveal the answer to a more existential question. Right after something happens or as it happens we’ll feel very strongly about it. That probably won’t last.

This is part one. Last year presented me with some amazing growth opportunities that I dived into.

Getting Back To Leading

“What other people think about you is categorically irrelevant” is something that I recall one of the Landmark leaders saying to one of the participants. Intellectually I got it, it’s all meaningless and empty so peoples opinions are equally meaningless. Emotionally it isn’t as easy to grasp. As social creatures, we want to belong; heck, we need to belong. There has been an evolutionary imperative for us to be motivated to be part of a tribe given the certain and rapid death that a solitary individual would face.

This is not the case anymore. Sure, we need caregivers to raise us to adulthood, but the general cuteness of babies almost ensures that this will happen. But after we become adults and start paying taxes, our need to belong decreases, quickly diminishing and then eliminating the need to be liked.

But be the need to be liked by others is often a roadblock to making better choices and transforming breakdowns into breakthroughs and can be the reason why we fail to take action or make decisive decisions. It can keep us grounded in what we believe to be possible and is often the reason for not thinking differently and acting with vision in mind. Holding a need to be liked above everything else will prevent you from becoming a strong and trusted leader and will stop you from making a very real difference in the world.

This need to be liked actually has us act in very unlikable ways. Consider some of the lies that have be uttered to avoid the scorn of telling it like it is. We’ll save peoples feelings by lying to them about how their hair looks, their choice of clothing, the way they sing, about their work ethic, about their irresponsible actions, etc….

The need to be liked prevents us from saying it like it is for fear of alienating people. Instead, we indulge them in their delusions, further enabling their self-abuse and lack of accountability. We squander the opportunity to foster a relationship built on trust and let them get away with being average because we care too much about ourselves to actually try to make a difference in another persons life.

Leading has very little to do with being liked – that is to say that being likable is not a requirement for being a good leader.

Your ability to lead depends on your ability to create trusting relationships with people, your ability to inspire people to do the things they need to do and your ability to communicate a vision of a reality that does not yet exist but that others play a role in creating. These are easier if you are respected as a person and leader, which does not mean you need to be liked. In fact, getting people to believe in and do the impossible is about not letting them off the hook – something that can make people feel really uncomfortable. But expecting the best out of people and holding them to their highest standard is what leaders do.

Take a moment to consider the impact that your moments of not being completely honest have had on other people. Consider the possibilities of what could become reality if you had spoken your mind and called it as you saw it.

Some Information About Landmark Education

For the most part, I am content with my experiences with Landmark Education. The information they offer is interesting and has its place, some of the coaches and unpaid staff are friendly and professional, and many of the participants are interesting, open and arrive with compelling stories. Up until two weeks ago I would have passively recommend the Landmark forum to most people. The only group I wouldn’t have recommended it to are those individuals who have (or are) borderline personality disorders or those who have some psychological issue because the unpaid staff isn’t qualified to handle the acute breakdowns that the intensive stress that participating in the forum places on a person.

I have changed my mind on that. I would only suggest Landmark Eduction to the same individuals but only after they read-up on the organization and watched France 3 documentary: “Voyage to the Land of the New Gurus” along with some of the reports / descriptions available on the site.

The video is captivating! The techniques of the French leader are a little more aggressive than those that I witnessed, but the essence of the experience remains identical; mind you, I mentioned that I had a blood sugar issue and needed to eat frequently so I was allowed to get-up and leave whenever I wanted and I didn’t spend a lot of time sharing, listening instead and offering my opinion of the story that was being told.

My experience with the organization has soured considerably since my forum weekend. I previously described the unpaid workers as “distant, guarded and lacked something that those who suggested I would gain from attending possess in abundance – authentic fearlessness” and this opinion hasn’t changed much. Almost everyone I have talked to sounds like they are using a script – I did mention this to one of them and was told that I was being obnoxious; a fact that I do not dismiss.

They attempt to sell constantly and have a very misleading way of articulating what they mean by “enrollment conversations”. Most of the participants, when told to go out and have enrollment conversations have them about enrolling other people in the Landmark forum. My enrollment conversations where about enrolling others in the possibility that I created for myself – of being authentic, creating a strong brand and helping people through my coaching activities. Less than 5 people at the forum and follow-up seminar regarded what I was doing in anyway at all, the rest simply wanted to know who I had enrolled in the forum and why I was so resistant to sharing it with others.

I did have an offline conversation with the seminar leader about this and she informed me that another male had gotten the same impressing from her (that enrollment conversations are about getting people to come to the forum) and that she was sorry that we had been given the impression. I thanked her for clearing it up, but she was on message about who are you sharing the Landmark forum with for the next special event the next time she was in front of the group.

Other than the some of the processes that they teach, the key thing I take from Landmark is their effective use of psychology to control the participants. The environmental manipulation is only a part of it – they control breaks, treat the people like children (including the unpaid staff) and create a contrived order in the room. But how they engage the people to create fear, a sense of ostracization, and a group think mentality is alarming in its aggression and effectiveness.

Admittedly, I was impacted by some of the techniques. I felt them happening but didn’t take the time to interrupt the process to ask and answer the question “so what?” While I never found myself seeking the approval of the leader or the people in my group, I felt off because I wasn’t getting along with them as well as others appeared to be. My allergic reaction to the sales stuff was noticed and not appreciated. Members of my group told me to get off it and just enroll people, as they had attempted to do. I personally felt stupid even considering it given that the first 3 months of anything are leveling period. I haven’t been in a position to know what I would have been advocating for until recently; and now that I am, I’m not advocating for it. The only egg on my face comes from my actions and these I can live with as they are both life lessons for me and chunks of information that I am passing along.

How To Live In The Present Moment

This version for living in the present comes out of my weekend at the LandMark Forum in Toronto.

It comes down to accepting that we are the designer, creator and actor in a play that is our life – we influence almost everything in it and are responsible for almost everything that happens to us and EVERYTHING we perceive.

Once we accept the truth of the above statement, we uncover our strong traits, our trump card, work on a list of possible things that we don’t know we don’t know, our list of rackets and then spend time talking to people who will tell us the truth and not what they think we want to here.

It’s easy and just requires hard work. There’s no paradox there, it’s just mindless effort once we have the instructions.

Imagine if you were able to see yourself from the outside, see your actions in an unemotional way that doesn’t impact you. This view would help you make strategic or tactical decisions that move you closer to what you consciously want. That is what this process will do for you.

If you disassociate from your body / life and realize that the mental processes are just programs running, you gain the ability to see the input and output without judgment / bias and this opens up the present moment into something that is as long as you want it to be. It’s a skill, you need to develop the muscle, but each of us have this ability within them. It’s the willingness to put in the work that may be in short supply.

Learning To Play Your Brain

Just wanted to follow-up on my comment last night about not doing the home work.

Regard the LandMark skills as learning to play a musical instrument. It’s going to take 10000 hours of practice before you are an expert.

You’ll get good after a 1000.

You can become proficient after 200 or 300.

You can show some improvement after 75.

In the company of others, you will show some signs of progress after 20.

There is a reason why we’re always invited to the open house nights, the advanced nights, the such and such nights and that is because they offer us practice. They provide us hours that move us towards the 10000. The reason why we’re encouraged to enroll others is because they can help us work towards the 10000.

My stern comment about wasting your life if you aren’t doing the homework is just my compassionate way of saying speed things up people. I want the same boost in productivity in your life that I have had in mine so the world gets better. If you need me to tell you to do your home work and to say you’re wasting your potential by not doing it, it’s because no one else is being as forceful because they don’t care as much. They’ll let you be average because your being average makes their average seem better.

In a few months our ride together is going to end. You’ll read about me, some of you may even pay to see me talk, buy one or more of my books and tell people that one Monday night, a number of years ago, you heard me sounding off about wasting your life and it actually pissed you off enough to get you moving.

Or I could just be some as$hole from your past.

You have 10000 hours to work towards and you aren’t going to get there by doing one a week.

It’s your future, you can learn to play your brain like the perfectly developed instrument it is or you can let it play your body for a fool. It’s up to you.

What are you going to choose?

Context, Language and Re-framing Our Past

“Oh yeah?!?!? Well here I am batting a 1000 at failed relationships.” It was a throw-away comment which was supposed to be equal parts humorous and something else that I can’t remember anymore.

“Can I give you some coaching?” was her reply, to which I quickly said “sure”. Things had been going, blendery – as if the evening was being mixed on high and going all directions a once. The truth was, I knew that whatever was about to come-out of her mouth was going to change the course of my life. This was her first formal request to alter the path of history, the rest had been uninvited and simply just part of what two people do during a first date.

“Consider that you have had a series of successful relationships that taught you a lot and moved you towards now.”

My initial thought was to recoil and laugh, and point out the way me and various whats-her-names don’t see eye to eye anymore, but a few moments abated this into a dumb look on my face that got her to continue. “It’s about language Patrick, some of your language is powerful, it lifts and moves people, it’s exciting to hear because it shapes the future. Those words about failed relationships don’t belong with the rest of the things you say. Your words create feelings and those words are a dead stop in terms of possibilities.”

I wish I could have seen my face and body language at that moment because the entire evening had been a marvelous dialectic joust; to which I added nothing by replying “okay?”

“You can’t change your past, history has been written, but you can change the context very simply by selecting the words that empower and alter the narrative tone.”

Heather took the LandMark forum a month before I did, so we were already connected – this is one of the worlds new truths, there are those who took the forum and there is everyone else; there’s a third group containing those accepting enough of life to see it for the stories we tell but without a proper framework to place our history upon, it’s really difficult to bridge the gap between knowing your past is a story to believing it happened EXACTLY as we tell ourselves it did.

“Okay” was my next attempt to say something intelligible, then “so I’ll rephrase. I have had a series of amazing relationships with wonderful girls all of which taught me something that I needed to move me forward in my life.”

“Wow, that sounds enlightened, how does it make you feel?”

“Peaceful and calm, and strangely lighter.” This was true. It was a little over a month from completing the LandMark forum and while I was still riding the perspective bliss, reconnecting with my ex’s hadn’t re-framed the relationships completely. I wasn’t angry or anything, I had still been regarding them as experiences I should have ended sooner. But at this moment in time I was feeling settled. It didn’t matter which girl I looked back on, they had been amazing, our time had been well spend and I had learned a great deal from them and our time together.

What does this all mean?

Language is important, the stories we tell are impactful, what happened isn’t very important because it is subject to change. Yet for a very long time I had remained fixated on my memory of the events and believed that the stories I told about them were fairly accurate. Maybe they were I suppose, but the words I was using to tell the stories didn’t really do much to add a positive context to them. Sure, I became a compassionate person because I felt that being nice was the only way to make sure I fit in – my story of ridicule during my first day of class in Canada demonstrates this very well. But the context has changed. Becoming compassionate was a trait I developed to overcome the feeling that I didn’t belong, when I was 9 years old!

Now that I’m much older I get it. I’m able to use language to re-frame the past – to transport new resources back to that day – to give the younger me exactly what he needed to manage the situation more effectively. When Heather coached me to alter the story I was telling about sex, love and romance, she created a cascading tidal wave in my consciousness which flooded my unconscious mind.

EVERYTHING works out. Those things that occur that didn’t yield the result I was anticipating taught me something, those people who graced my life were my teachers / mentors for some lesson/s, life moves us forward and experiences shapes us, creating the opportunity for NOW. When we choose to use the language of empowerment, we are choosing to frame or re-frame these experiences in terms of us being the protagonist in our life. And that is a valuable lesson!