Fly Casual


Here’s an example of how I apply the Solution Focused Approach to my everyday life:

One of my favourite pastimes is playing a tabletop miniatures game called ‘X-Wing’, based on the space combat dog fighting scenes in the Star Wars movies.

Next weekend, I’m taking part in ‘UKTC’ – the X-Wing UK team championship.

My best hopes from writing this blog post are to be as prepared as I can be come next weekend, so that I get the most from the experience that I can, and also so that my teammates and opponents on the day are also getting as much as they can out of it, where I have any influence over that. In other words, I’d like to be at my best.

As tabletop games go, X-Wing is an extremely well-designed game; fun, easy to pick up, hard to master. But the main factor players often talk about as to why they enjoy it so much is the community that exists around it. There is a mutual recognition amongst players that everyone is doing this for fun, so there’s a catchphrase that we all use to remind ourselves and each other of this; “fly casual”.

‘Fly casual’ is basically a way of saying “be sporting”, with a nod to the Star Wars saga (bonus points to anyone who can tell me the character who says it, plus the movie and the scene they say it in!). Actually, it may be more than that. It also encapsulates “remember why we’re all doing this” *, alongside the commitment to show respect, play fair according to the rules, be gracious in defeat and considerate in celebrating victory.

‘At my best’ therefore, also translates as ‘fly casual’

So when might I notice that I’m flying casual?

I can picture myself in a moment, at the start of a match, shaking hands with my opponent, with a smile on my face, saying “good luck”. I’ll feel proud at my conduct in that moment, and for anyone watching who knows me fairly well, they’ll recognise the little signs that I’m enjoying myself, being at my most relaxed and friendly (flying casual), such as the way my shoulders are down, my eyes are shining and I’m continuing to smile calmly.

My opponent might then notice the way I genuinely congratulate them, sharing in their sense of accomplishment, when they pull off an awesome move to destroy one of my ships. The difference this might make to them would be that they would most likely continue to enjoy playing this game. I’ll know that this is happening from signs such as the way they also smile calmly, and chat in a friendly way as we play. The difference this might make for me is to feel increasingly ‘in the moment’. Feeling like right here, right now, there’s nowhere I’d rather be. This might then help me stay focused and undistracted on my next move. I’ll be confident of finding a way to ‘stay on target’ (bonus points for that one too!) towards the possibility of winning the game.

My main objective here is to have a great day out with my friends, doing something I love, meeting other people with shared interests. I’m aware this is also a competition, however, and I don’t want to let my team down. Instead, I’d like us all to come away feeling satisfied that we all did the best we could, as well as being proud of our conduct.

So what’s the first small step I might take towards this happening?

I’ll find some time to put some practice in this week. I have other responsibilities and a busy schedule, so I’ll take the opportunity to practice flying casual even when I’m doing something completely unconnected with playing X-Wing.

Let me see now…

I’m dropping my wife off at the train station this afternoon. I’ll wish her a safe journey with genuine hope for her trip to go as well as possible. This’ll be similar to the way I’ll be in the moments I’ll wish my opponents and teammates good luck next weekend. Again, I’ll be smiling calmly with shining eyes, and probably slouching!

Also, I can reflect.

I’d ideally like to win at least one game next weekend. When I think back to the games I’ve won, I can I ask myself how I did that. The more detail I can recall about how I did that the better. I’ll take some time to do that over the next week too.

None of us can predict the future. I can ask myself the question, that even if for some reason (say, illness or unexpected circumstances) I don’t end up going, how might I still remain at my best, flying casual, through the adjustment to changing circumstances?

Whatever happens, I know I can continue to fly casual throughout the future, whatever it holds. I know what flying casual looks and feels like. I know how I’ve done it before. I know what the noticeable signs will be that I’m continuing to do it.

I’ve got this!

Fly Casual 😊


*One of my teammates recently wrote an excellent blog post about exactly this, which you can read here:



This weekend, hundreds of thousands of new students across the UK will arrive at the university where they will live, study and grow over the next few years.

If you are one of those students, here are some questions I hope might be useful:

(By the way, these questions might also be useful for family and friends to be aware of)

What are your best hopes from attending university?

Please note I ask from, not for.

For would be straightforward: Whatever you’re hoping for, it’s probably safe to assume that there will be ups and downs, new friendships being formed and old one’s adapting to new circumstances. Support and solitude. Competition and collaboration. Parties, debt, fun, boredom, new discoveries, opportunities to draw on experience and wisdom. Laughter and tears, success and failure, challenges and rewards.

From might require more thought. The answer is more likely to be profound and particular to you, especially if you think of the detail. The more detail you come up with, in fact, the more you’ll be answering as you. The you of your best hopes. You at your best.

To put it another way, if this all turns out to be a worthwhile few years, how might you know?

Sure, you might get a decent job. Interestingly, this never used to be so much of a priority for students. It’s grown over the past 20 years or so. Historically, the main reason for attending university has tended to be to dive deeper into learning, with a view to ultimately making new discoveries, breaking new ground and contributing to the advancement of the human race. For many it was seen as a liberation from the distraction of paid work, freeing up the privileged few who were granted the good fortune to attend university so that they could indulge their higher functions. Things have changed now. More people go to university, and although I’ve no doubt that learning for the sake of learning is still part of what attracts students to higher education, the perceived consensus that a degree is a pre-requisite of a rewarding career opportunity is clearly a huge driving force, whether it’s accurate or not.

So, that being the case, suppose it does help you get a decent job. Or perhaps it deepens your fascination for a particular subject to such an extent that you decide to stay on into postgraduate study and research. Or even if neither of these are direct consequences, but you’ve had a wonderful time, made some close friends who’ll always have your back and learnt some valuable life lessons. Whatever the outcome, what difference do you hope it might make in your life from that point forwards?

For example, your answers might be along the lines of experiencing happiness, pride, a sense of achievement, confidence, optimism (these are just examples. Some, none or all might apply for you, and there might be others not listed here that are important for you).

What signs might you, and the other people in your life, notice that this difference is present and real?

How might this show up in the details of your everyday life? The way you answer the phone? The way you walk out of the house in the morning? The way you think about the past, present and future? The way you feel when you see your name on your mail? Any other typical moment in your life?

Even if things don’t go according to plan. Even if you fail, how would you most hope to respond? How might a moment of, for example, happiness, optimism, confidence, peace of mind (whatever you hope for) look to you and others even under those circumstances? How might you keep going and head back in direction of your hopes when obstacles have been placed in your way? What would be typical of you at your best?

As you go through the next few years at university, what small steps might you be pleased to notice yourself taking towards these hopes becoming your reality, more and more of the time? Starting from today, what can you see yourself doing in the moment which might provide even just a fleeting glimpse of you being the person you most want to be? Right here, right now, in that moment. At your best.

What steps have you already taken to make the progress you have so far? How did you do that? What did it take? What does this say about you and what you might be capable of achieving in future?

Chances are it hasn’t always been easy. How did you manage to get through the difficult times to arrive in the better ones? Out of the things you did to get through, what are you most proud of? What would you most like to notice yourself continuing to do?

Chances are, perhaps, that if you got to university, you’ve got what it takes to get through and get whatever you want from it. What might you find yourself doing that could remind you of that? What might your doing that look like?

What are you pleased to notice about yourself as you think about these questions? How are you doing that? What part are you playing in creating your preferred future?

There’s no need to share any of your answers to these questions with other people if you don’t want to. If you do want to, go ahead, some of their responses may be useful too.

If you don’t know, that’s fine. You could choose to put the question aside for now or take some time to think about it. Whatever works for you. You might find an answer in an unexpected moment. Legend has it that Newton came up with his law of gravity when he was hit on the head by an apple, and Archimedes proclaimed “Eureka!” after stepping into a bath!

Often the best answers to life’s hardest questions begin with a first draft of “I don’t know”!

Whatever happens, I’m quite certain of three things as I witness your arrival at university:

  • You’re doing the best you can right now
  • You’re capable of achieving your best hopes
  • You have everything you need

Enjoy your journey 🙂

Do Androids Dream Of Electric Solutions?


I recently read an article on the University of Surrey website about driverless cars. Oh boy!

It was predicting a point in the future at which it will be considered the right thing to do, morally, to hand over control of cars to machines.

This is because of our continuing efforts as a species to develop artificial intelligence technology.

They’ll eventually, inevitably become sufficiently advanced to make quicker, more intelligent decisions than humans.

That means it’ll consistently be safer for them to drive (we’re apparently a long way from that point at the moment, by the way, but steadily making progress in that direction).

I couldn’t help but wonder about the implications of this endeavour for the wider aspects of human existence, including the practice of using conversation to facilitate change in people’s lives.

Solution focused practice can be viewed as applying a relatively simple algorithm with persistence and attention to detail.

This, like driving a car safely, is actually a very difficult thing for humans to do consistently well for all sorts of reasons.

These reasons include the incredibly versatile nature of the human brain, which could be likened to a swiss army knife/multi tool, compared to the more refined fitness for purpose of a machine designed to concentrate purely on a single task.

Even those people who devote as much of their time and energy to mastering solution focused practice as possible, also have to occasionally concentrate on other important activities in order to live a full and rich life as a member of the human race.

I wonder how long it will be before we consider it to be the right thing to do, morally, to hand over the roles of solution focused practitioners to machines, in recognition of their single minded efficiency.

I wonder what difference that will make for us all.

Consider, if you like, the way that drawing upon the experience we gain from all of our different, human activities contributes to the effectiveness of our communication.

Perhaps we’re simply recognising that part of the task in hand, for future machines, will be to also replicate, and further perfect, all of that experience too.

Perhaps machines will become just as or more versatile than us, whilst retaining absolute adaptability, to focus purely and efficiently on a single task in hand when called upon to do so.

Even if we point to the most human aspects of what we do that account for our effectiveness, such as the love we have in our hearts for each other, what if we eventually produce machines that do that too?!

The same article mentioned the advances that have already been made in machines producing works of art, and applying the medical model to accurately and efficiently diagnose and prescribe.

The challenge applies to any activity of people working in helping professions.

I’m thinking about it in relation to solution focused practice because that’s my particular interest. Exactly the same goes for anything you like; CBT, counselling, mindfulness, hypnotherapy, psycho analysis, cooking, gardening, even writing a blog!

The catch is that human conversation is deceptively complicated, even at it’s most simple.

This was beautifully and hilariously demonstrated by Jim Al-Khalili, a colleague of mine at the University of Surrey, in his BBC Four documentary ‘The Joy of AI’, which aired last week (still available on BBC iPlayer at time of writing and which I highly recommend).

So it’s very possible, likely even, that future manifestations of artificial intelligence will be facilitating the process of people becoming their best selves through effective communication.

This might be to the unprecedented benefit of the human race.

However, this really isn’t something that looks likely to happen overnight, or any time soon.

In the meantime, I predict that our humanity will both hinder and help in our efforts to do the best we can, and we’ll all no doubt continue to do something very human:

We’ll continue to dream.

The Human Condition


Something that a lot of mental health nursing students still seem to do, which I and most of my peers also did 25 years ago, is freak out at some point because they’ve noticed things they have in common with patients.

Elements of this freak out might include speculating about whether they might also have the exact same condition as their patients, and worrying about what their fate might be if they have.

Some comfort is then usually found in learning more about things like diagnostic criteria and coping strategies, so that reassuring differences can be found.

I believe that one of the key things I did that led to me getting much better at what I do was that I let go of this way to find comfort and instead decided to accept that actually there is no difference at all between me and anyone I meet.

It’s simply the difference in the terrain we might pass through on our journey, the different choices we make about how to best negotiate that terrain, which we all do to the best of our ability, using whatever means we have at our disposal at the time, that leads to an encounter in which one of us finds ourselves in the position of being a patient and the other in the position of being a nurse at the point in time when our paths cross.

Human experience includes a vast spectrum of emotion, perception, interpretation and expression.

Our culture determines the conventional parameters within that spectrum, and anything communicated within those parameters is therefore common ground amongst people with similar cultural influences.

Less conventional communication of experience is therefore less familiar, perhaps harder to relate to, and this can lead to the discomfort of feeling a disconnect with another who seems to be different in an unfathomable way.

Naturally, because humans have evolved to generally seek connection with each other as a survival instinct (we’re essentially pack animals), this is often seen as a problem that needs to be fixed if possible, or mitigated if not, and ultimately in a medical/psychological paradigm, as a diagnosis or disorder.

Meanwhile, whilst we notice, categorise and attempt to resolve this deviation from the conventional, we all remain fundamentally human, so we seek to connect, we form hopes, we draw on our resources, we look for reassuring signs of progress and we continue on our journey.

We do indeed all have things in common with each other, and we do indeed all have the exact same condition.

It’s the human condition.

It’s being human that defines our journey, leads us into every encounter with every other human we meet, accounts for any position we find ourselves in, explains every conventional and unconventional experience we have, and equips us with everything we need to negotiate any terrain.

And I find that comforting.