| by Emma Pownall
2nd March 2021
Episode 14 -
Quality of Mind
Hi, I'm Emma Pownall, and welcome to Business Futures, the show from Datel where we take an honest and challenging look at the technologies and people that are shaping business.
Nobody thinks the past year has been easy, and that's particularly true for business leaders who have had to make plenty of tough decisions. So you might like the ability to think differently, to handle life's ups and downs with a new perspective.
My guest in this episode is Piers Thurston. Piers is a world-class practitioner of Quality of Mind: an approach to the mind that transcends psychology. It's being used to unlock new potential in every aspect of work and life, increasing performance, well-being and resourcefulness. With 20 years of individual and group coaching experience under his belt, Piers is bringing his transformational advice to business leaders around the globe, and he's here with us to record this episode.
I started by asking him to describe Quality of Mind.
Quality of Mind is a way of pointing to a variable, if you like, that's going on for all of us all of the time, whether it's in work or at home. And it's about how we see the world, and resourcefulness to do with that world that we perceive we see. Sometimes you're having a day and whatever's going on really, you just feel flow you've just got a capacity to be resourceful, you have new ideas. Even when it's miserable weather it feels okay, you can listen deeply, you can connect well with things. And on other days, it doesn't feel like that it feels like you've got too much on you feel overwhelmed, you can't make decisions, you're procrastinating, it looks like the world's out to get you. Now, we would normally point that to being something going on in the world, the circumstances, the events, the situations, the people. Now what we're putting to a quality of mind is saying a lot more of that, actually all of that, is your aperture to the mind, rather than what's going on. And quality of mind is the name we give to point to that variable that's slightly hidden, normalised, invisible and misunderstood. So it determines our resourcefulness, well-being and potential at any moment.
And why should businesses and business leaders care about this or be interested in it?
If you think about a business, a business has various assets - some might be machines, some might be software, some might be processes, some might be buildings, or whatever. But the biggest asset they've probably got is the people. Directly or indirectly, even in a non-people business, your people are still making the machines work. So if you can get more from less than those people if you can allow them to operate in a higher level of resourcefulness, productivity, performance, efficiency, creativity, agility, let alone all the lovely well-being things they'll get, then that's got to be better for A, the organisation and B, them.
Can you tell me a bit about the basic principles of it then?
It's one of those things that's quite hard to get a gist of. For quite a few hundreds of years now we've all considered that the mind works in a particular way, which is there's a kind of a world out there that we see and interpret and make sense of. Now what we start to point to with quality of mind is it might look like that, but actually it isn't. Very pioneering science is pointing to the fact that actually the mind, and by the mind we don't just mean the brain, we mean something bigger than that even things we can't see, is generating our perceived reality in any moment. Once we start to see that, at a realised level, we get more psychological freedom, we get more flow, we get more resourcefulness, we get more insights, more wisdom, more intelligence, not academic intelligence, but just new ideas, creativity, resilience, connection, love, all those kinds of things. So what quality of mind is pointing to is a very fresh, different understanding of the mind itself. When people realise that, they get all the benefits I just talked about. The reason why this is a little bit different is most of us have been taught, and I did for the first 10 years of my career and personal professional development, to give people tools and techniques and psychological strategies to try and help them in the world and in their lives. And they kind of work, but what we're talking about with quality of mind is, we're going what we call upstream to that, having people explore the very nature of thought and consciousness in the mind. Once they see that, there's no application of it, you just see it and things start to look and feel easier and better.
So you say things start to feel easier and better, and you use the word aperture. What does it mean?
So let me give you a couple of examples. The first might be just a minor one. Let's say you can't find your wallet or your car keys or just for your audience, you're looking at a spreadsheet of numbers and they don't add up and you can't see the error in it. And you're rushing around trying to find the keys or the problem in the column of the numbers or whatever it is. And then you come back 10 minutes later after doing something else, and there it is right in front of you. And to start with you're like, 'was that there before? Did someone move it? Has someone changed this?' And you realise you just couldn't see it. But then it was there right in front of you.
Let's give another one. Everyone over the last six to eight months as we've been going through this global pandemic would have had moments when they feel isn't it nice to slow down and feel peaceful and be more connected and excited about what this new normal could be? And they might have moments when they feel worried, anxious, isolated, under threat, fearful? Now both of those can appear even though the outside circumstances haven't changed at all. It sometimes looks like oh, it's because I heard on the news that this was going on. But really nothing's changed, it's just the aperture of how we're seeing it changes. So how we see other people, how we see the world, the economy, everything, changes on how the aperture is, and so does our resourcefulness to deal with it. Did those two examples help?
Yeah, definitely. I think a lot of our listeners will have heard of techniques like mindfulness, that sort of thing. Where does that fit in to, or sit alongside what you specialise in?
There's some similarities. So people who maybe do mindfulness, meditate, do yoga, or even just go for nice walks in the countryside, what they're experiencing is a widening aperture. So that they might feel a bit quieter in the mind, a bit more connected, some new ideas might come through, a bit more rested. We've been taught that that's come from doing the yoga, the meditation, or the mindfulness or the walk in nature. Now, what we're pointing to in quality of mind is actually those activities, those rituals, those habits are correlations, not causal to that lovely space of connection and well-being and widening the aperture you're in. Therefore, what quality of mind is exploring is the very nature of the space, if you like, the aperture that comes from things like meditation, mindfulness, but you don't need the technique, the tools, the psychological strategy to get there, because you realise it's innate and inherent in really what we are, once we have an understanding of the mind. So they're really going one step further than those practices, which are attempts to reverse engineer something. And we're getting to the very nub upstream of what it is that we are. And that then symptomatically has that wider aperture and the same kind of space that you might get from doing mindfulness or something like that.
So if we can tap into this aperture using things like mindfulness or yoga techniques, what is the difference with what you're describing with quality of mind?
At a very practical level, there's differences because those things take time. There's people I've worked with who used to spend a good couple hours a day meditating, or even half an hour in the morning, half an hour at lunch, half an hour in the evening, and they have that time back now, which has helped their productivity as well. But I think the more foundational point is that many of us are innocently invisibly doing things like mindfulness and meditation, as a kind of fix, or as an antidote, 'need to do my mindfulness need to do my meditation'. Now what we're pointing to with quality of mind is seeing through that illusion that there's an outside world that needs fixing, or you need to feel better about or you need to rescue yourself from because once people fully realise what we're pointing to [with] a quality of mind, you realise there's no causal power in that outside those situations, circumstances, past, future, that you need to use your meditation or yoga or mindfulness to rescue you from. So it becomes less of a crutch. I do yoga, I really enjoy it. But I'm not using it to fix anything. I'm just doing it because I think it's nice to move the body when you've been sitting down all day. So it's a very different paradigm, when we're talking about this, rather than just let me make myself feel better by doing some mindfulness.
Okay, so if this is something I want to explore further and tap into, what are the steps I need to go through to get there.
There's good news and bad news, Emma. Good news, nothing you need to do. Bad news, nothing you can do. A lot of us have been conditioned that when we want to make something change, or better, we need to take action, or we need to do something in our head, some mindfulness, yoga, some NLP, some hypnotherapies, some tools or techniques or psychological strategies, and we're quite action by the do. The very interesting thing about quality of mind is because it's already actually working and happening, and we're just in the way of it, it's a very subtractive psychology, because actually, all that needs to happen is someone needs to have these realisations about the true nature of the system for themselves. And what we mean by realisation is that people start to let go of their current view on how they think that human experience, reality, and the mind works, and see it differently. That is something that I can't do to someone you can't read about in a book or press a button on an app, it just occurs to us.
Having said that, when we orientate ourselves in this direction, so I coach people, or we do programmes or in organisations or whatever, and we might spend a couple of days doing that. Immersing ourselves in this way of seeing, things start to pop for people, drips and drips of insight, as you will go, oh, and they start to see it. Now, what they're not seeing to start with is, oh, I need to do something different in life, they're starting to see something different about the mind itself. And the very nature of what it is to be a human being. To summarise that is what we call a realisation-based approach, which is very powerful. The challenge we have is a lot of people want to do something, they're very used to doing something, give me five top tips or techniques or strategies or artists podcast, what can I go and do. All of those in a way are a slight red herring, because they're still doing something in the current understanding.
Now, if there is something to do, or to practice or to play with, now, as a result of listening to us talking, then what I would suggest is that people start to notice something. And the notice I would ask them to notice is just to see how the mind aperture does vary. I gave a couple examples earlier about the keys and the pandemic, but it can be, you get an email in from someone and it feels a certain way. And then later on, it feels a bit different. Now was that because the email changed, probably not. And also start to notice that there's a very helpful indicator about where our aperture is. It's not what we're telling ourselves and what someone else is telling us or what the world is up to. It's what we feel. When we're feeling anxious, or a little bit alone or a little bit scared, we would think that has to do with something: a circumstance, an event, a past or a future. Now what we're saying with quality of mind is no it isn't, that is a sensation, giving you an awareness that the aperture is a little contracted. And that the way your reality is coming through your system right now, the way your perceived reality is turning up for you, is a little off. The feeling or the sensation isn't telling you anything to do with the outside world, it's telling you to do with your aperture.
So I'll give you a little example of this. A lot of people, for example, in the workplace don't like public speaking. If you said to someone, 'oh, next week, can you do a presentation to 100 people?', some people will go 'oh my word' and they will start getting a little anxious, the heart might start going, they might have lots of thoughts in their head going 'I'm no good at public speaking, it always goes wrong'. And they would think that feeling of trepidation or anxiety is coming from public speaking. Now what we're saying is start to notice it's not coming from there. That feeling is coming from your contracted aperture. And it's super helpful, because it's telling you don't buy into all these thoughts and images you're having about this public speaking thing because your aperture is contracted. Instead, if you just see that as what it is, it works its way through the system, it dissipates off, you then have a more expanded aperture, and you think, 'okay, it's 100 people to talk to. I'll do some prep, but 100 people is no different to one person, I'm just speaking'. So you start to notice that the feeling sensation we're in is actually helpful if we don't buy into it, and then the aperture opens.
By the way, two or three year old kids are the best example of that, because they don't buy into their feeling state and guess what happens? Their reality is very dynamic. That's why they keep changing their mind and they come out of tantrums so fast. Now they don't need to notice their feeling state because they're already beautifully close to the innate nature of the system anyway, but because we've had 30/40 years pointing the other way, we have to do a bit of noticing first. But once we have a realisation of this stuff, we don't even need to notice it just nudges by itself.
It's about spotting when your aperture is limited, and not allowing that limited aperture to affect what you do as a result of however you're feeling at that moment.
Yeah, I'd add a slight nuance to that, it's actually spotting the aperture and then recognising that's creating everything in your reality right then. And it's not letting it do anything to you. It can't, it's a mirage, it's a dream. Now it's a very real looking one, admittedly. One of the foundations of quality of mind is we say that reality is real but never true, but it appears real. For the more we go, 'oh, that's just my aperture in this moment', and if we realise that, there'll be an automatic opening of the aperture. It's like when you wake up in the morning, and you might be still in your dream for a bit, the dream feels very real and vivid and your heart is going if it wasn't a great dream. And then, as soon as the system notices it's a dream, it nudges the system and your whole new reality appears in front of our eyes.
So it really sounds like this has an implication on each element of your life, whether that's business, personal, looking after children, you mentioned two and three year olds there and that comes with its own life stresses and definite apertures. Have you got any examples you can share on where thinking in a more quality of mind way can help these scenarios?
Absolutely. Let me give you a work one to start with - a lot of us go to work and we're trained and conditioned to deal with what's going on. We're a leader, there's big challenges and all these kinds of things going on, and we'll look at them, and then we'll try and solve them. And I work with many business leaders who that will be their approach. I've been working with a business leader over the pandemic over last year, and they were in a sector where revenues went tumbling down, not to zero, but to probably half with the other half of the customer base saying we might be following suit soon. And everyone had to work from home as well, [there's] a lot of people involved in this business so there's redundancies to be made. And strangely, the way he said he dealt with it was he had more clarity than he's had over any of the business challenges he'd ever faced. And actually [he] is now coming out the other side with a much more optimised fit for purpose business strategy with the people really in a great space.
He puts it all down to quality of mind, because he said very easily, he could have gone the other way, and had lots of layering in his thinking about what to do, got bogged down in it, tried to save the business in a way that wasn't going to be making it fit for purpose now. He funnily enough said it was easier to make those bigger decisions than it was some of the smaller ones. That's just an example of how seeing the same situation differently, made a huge difference to what he thought his role was. So he didn't burden himself with the role of 'I need to try and fix everyone's lives'. He's a nurturing person. It wasn't like he was being heartless. But the role wasn't, 'how do I fix this in the old way?' it was just 'I need to see this completely differently, renegotiate with my suppliers and everything like that, because it's going to be different', and he gave himself the freedom to do that. That's probably saved that business I would say, and made it actually much more fit for purpose now.
Personally, or outside of the work, there's lots of examples I could pick on. But one that crosses my mind is earlier this year, I accidentally put my car in a ditch and turned it on its roof, it was very icy. And it was on this back road, it was so interesting, because people came to try and help me which is so kind of them. And all the people trying to pull me out of this thing was spinning on the ice, and it looked like the car wasn't going to come out. And then fresh thinking just seem to occur to people who weren't getting frustrated and upset by it, of how to pull the car out of the ditch and how to position it in a certain way with the angles of the ropes and all this kind of stuff. And it was fascinating to see us go from a, this is stuck, we're gonna have to get a crane in or something to lift the car out to actually, if you do it in this way it worked. And it seemed to be that everyone was in a very good quality of mind when doing that. And he's a complete stranger I didn't even know these people. But there was real collaborative, fresh thinking from a bunch of random strangers, and a guy from a garage. And it was actually quite a lovely experience. And it was about two degrees and no one seemed to notice the cold, there's an added benefit of quality of mind. I was fine, nothing wrong with me. The car wasn't great. I'm not going to do it again, by the way.
And the cars out of the ditch now?
The car has been overhauled and a very nice insurance company have fixed it for me. But that wasn't a bad experience at all. It was actually quite a creative one.
Interesting that example draws upon creativity because as you were talking about the pandemic example, it felt like that quality of mind the business leader had enabled him to have more creativity in his thinking. Are there other benefits that working in this state can give business leaders?
Yeah, so I think there's so many foundational attributes that it will bring. So there's creativity we've talked about, there's agility, so you don't get so fixed on one thing, so you're more adaptable, which is perfect for a modern society. You've got the ability to deal with ambiguity. We've come from a way that in business particularly, you need to know what the future is, plan and make a budget and then go for it. It's not like that, you have to deal lots and lots of unknowns. And that's one of the things that's been driving people mad in the pandemic is wanting to know when they're gonna finish and all this kind of stuff. If you embrace sort of the unknown ambiguity, it's fine. You also find real benefits in presence and connection. And this is very key for leaders, or actually, if you work with customers - it's the ability to be with someone, and them feel that you really understand and got them and are there there for them. Particularly nowadays, with so many devices and all this kind of stuff distracting ourselves, we're not present very often. If you look at surveys that organisations do, one of the biggest things that they feed back is they don't feel heard and recognised and listened to. So, it's a real skill for a manager and a leader to actually be present, hold a space for someone just to talk and feel recognised and validated as a human being.
The other benefit of that connection is you hear behind their words. So you're able to tune in on a wavelength, a resonance, that helps you understand where they're at even if they can't articulate it. And you can say something and they'll just go, 'yeah, that's right'. And after the meeting with them, they just feel like you got them, which is gold dust really, especially when we're doing more remote working. So there's things around sort of presence, listening, connection, which helps teamwork, customers, be able to see new perspectives, not being welded to something, you'll probably find inspiration goes up. A lot of people want to change habits. And at the beginning of a year, people like to go 'I'm going to have five new habits this year, I'm going to run more, and I'm going to eat less processed meat', we all have some don't we. And we can either do that through willpower and discipline, like, 'I'm going to do that and I'm gonna use carrot and stick to motivate myself to do it'. Or we can just feel inspired. And when we feel inspired, it's like sailing, it says a kind of, 'I'm just going to go for a run now'. Not 'I must go for a run or I'm useless', or 'I'm going to go for a run and then reward myself'. There's just an obviousness. Or 'yeah, I don't really want to drink so much at the moment'. It just comes through the system for inspiration rather than willpower and discipline, which is a lovely space to be in, because you get quantum productivity out of that as well.
So coming back to this concept of there's nothing that you can specifically do to tap into your quality of mind. How can we get into the right frame of mind?
There are things you can do, and we've talked about them, you can do mindfulness, you can do yoga, you can just go for a walk, you can you know, zone out, because what we're saying is to have a pervasive, transformative, sustainable shift in this direction, then we need to have the understanding realisations. And there are things you can do to help yourself explore that. There's books and podcasts and videos I can point people to that would help them because what happens is that once people start to get curious about it, it starts to want to trickle in by itself. And you start to catch yourself seeing it a bit more and you're like 'oh yeah, there it is'. Now it's nonlinear. It's not like losing weight where you have to go linearly through the process. But you start to get curious.
So the first thing we actually need, and this is really, as an antidote to all the conditioning we've had the other way, is to press pause on how we think the mind works. We've all been told, this is how mental health works, this is how reality works. And the first thing is to have some what I would call intellectual humility, maybe it doesn't work like that. People don't always like doing that, because they think then they're gonna go into a conspiracy theory. And we're not talking about that, we're not talking about taking leaps of fantasy. We're saying, just explore this for yourself beyond what you've been conventionally taught. So there's little thought exercises you can do. If you pause just in a moment during your day and ask yourself, where do I think my experience is coming from right now? Our common response is, well, it's coming from the fact that I've got 15 things to do and I've got the kids screaming and I've got my bank balance not doing very well and I've got my boss jumping up and down, and we're just going to pause. Whoa, no, it's not coming directly from those things. It may look like that.
And then also to ask ourselves another question, which is, 'what do I think [of] the potential of the human being in me?' There's the path of realisation and inspiration and connection, resilience and clarity, do I know that those things are truly what I am, rather than things I have to learn or be or some people have some people don't? So there's a couple of foundational things that we can start to play with that nudge ourselves in this direction.
Piers have you got any examples of where we limit our thinking, based on the reality we're seeing?
Yeah, and actually we even have a name for this it happens so much, so we call it invisible lids. One of the implications of how we see things is that we believe that what we are perceiving in our reality is coming from a situation or the world. Now in quality of mind we're saying no, it's not, it's coming from the mind. So let's say in the business world, you've got a customer who never wants a price increase, or would never buy that product, or you've tried to get him to do something, or a colleague who's always a certain way. We would go, that's just how they are. Or we might even say, in this economic condition, that's going to happen, and we wouldn't think that's to do with the mind, we would go, that's because that's what that is. Now, if we start to see, that's actually an invisible lid, and there's no such limitation, then we have a lot more freedom.
Another little example of that, if people can remember a few years ago, that thing went round - a picture of a dress. And some people thought it was blue and black, and some people thought it was gold and brown. They were the same picture, but someone sitting next to you could have gone 'no, it's blue, and black', and you'll go 'no it's beige and gold'. And you'll [go] 'come and look at it on my screen', they come round, and they're still thinking it's the colour they saw before. They couldn't believe that it's the mind, because we would assume it's a picture and a picture is a colour. So invisible lids are when we think the limitation we're seeing is inherent in reality out there. And actually, it's only ever the mind.
What do you think the implications are in terms of mental health of this way of thinking?
Huge, actually. And the reason I say that is because most of the way we deal with mental health nowadays, which is a lot better than we did 5/10 years ago - it's acknowledged now - but the problem with the way we're dealing with it is we are assuming it is something out there that needs dealing with or something in my mind that needs dealing with. So we forget two things in the way that the current paradigm of understanding deals in mental health, we forget that within all of us, there's an inbuilt restorative mental health system, just like your cut on your finger heals by itself, then so does your mental health. So that's the first thing we don't appreciate.
And the second thing we don't appreciate is, we think that we can control mental health by controlling what we do in the world. The GP might diagnose you with what's called situational depression, as in, you've got depression when you go to work, or they will be looking at trying to reduce stressors in the workplace. So no emails after seven o'clock at night. And that is saying that the stress comes from an event or a situation, which it doesn't, there's no causal power on the outside. Whereas it's great that we've got more focus on mental health for the moment, my preference would be that we understood the mind differently, and then dealt with it because we'd find it so much easier. Because actually, a lot of the things that people are being told to do with their mental health at the moment, are a bit hit and miss. And some are actually making it even worse, because we're putting more psychological focus and effort on it, which just gets in the way of the inbuilt system that I mentioned before.
Okay, so if this has piqued the interest of our listeners, where can they find out more?
We'll put some links in the show notes. But I think if people have resonated with something or got curious, they want to know more, then there's some great books and podcasts that we can point to. There's thequalityofmind.co.uk podcast where we've got a whole series of episodes, some go deep into the understanding, some look more at the implications in different areas of workplace like leadership, decision making, productivity, those kind of things. There's also some really interesting pining scientists - a guy called Donald Hoffman, who are pointing in this way. The number one thing I'd recommend to anyone is to get curious, but to get curious to see fresh in what you don't know. So press pause on how you see the world, right, on how you think it works, and go in with an open mind a bit like a six year old, who's like, just curious and wanting to see more. Don't overthink it, just see whether it feels resonant. And then we work with people, we have open programmes, in-house programmes, those kind of things. So if anyone does get curious enough to want to reach out for a conversation, then I'm definitely up for talking to you about it because it's such a wonderful thing for people to realise.
I hope that's given you some inspiration. That was Piers Thurston, the UK's leading practitioner of Quality of Mind: a way of thinking that some business leaders have called transformational.
Thanks for joining us. We'll be back very soon with more guests at the cutting edge of British business strategy on Datel's Business Futures podcast. Until then, stay safe and well.
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Piers Thurston - Quality of Mind specialist
Piers is an established personal & business coach, with over 8,500 hours of experience. He also designs and facilitates workshops in mindset transformation, innovation, strategy alignment, and leadership across the world.
After reading law at Durham University, Piers worked in marketing and innovation with large FMCG companies. He is a graduate of the Three Principles Professional Institute and SuperCoach USA, and an ex NLP trainer. A thought leader in the field of state of mind in business, he is also a skilled facilitator of coaching skills in others, having trained and mentored over 750 coaches.
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Emma Pownall, Marketing Director at Datel
My team and I provide our customers with a range of events, guides and tools that bridge the gap between business leaders and technology. From large conferences connecting customers with each other and the software world, to sharing customer stories that explain what is possible with the right business solutions, I'm focused on sharing how people and technology can support business success.
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