Written by Savannah Consulting's founder, Rhonda Morton, this blog is intended to offer you news you can use. Click here for the RSS feed or click here to subscribe by email.  Please comment to your heart's content by clicking on "no comments" or "# comments."
  • Why Smart People Don't Change

    Think of something that you know you shouldn’t do, but you just keep doing it. Having the same fight with your partner. Overspending every time you go to Lowes. Lecturing your daughter when all she wants is for you to listen.

    Or think of someone else you know who is really smart and capable and lovely, but just keeps doing something stupid that’s really perplexing. Dating an idiot who cheats on her. Over-promising and under-delivering at work. Lying when it would be easier to tell the truth.

    Thanks to more and more research in the field of neuroscience, we are beginning to unravel the reasons smart people don’t change, and finding effective ways to deal with it.

    Here is what it boils down to: intelligence does not reside only in your head. It’s also distributed throughout your body via your peripheral nervous system.

    In fact, you have a HEART BRAIN which has its own intrinsic nervous system. The heart assesses safety and danger. It assesses the level of connection with others. It even forms and stores memories. Consider this: Heart transplant recipients don’t just receive a new blood pump…the heart brain and its “personality” and memories go with it.  Recipients have experienced wild new desires (like riding motorcycles, or hunting), that their donors enjoyed, and they can have vivid recurring dreams and memories that aren’t theirs but that come from their heart donors’ intense experiences.

    We all listen to our hearts when we “think” about love. Your heart brain is actually sending information to the brain in your head. When you are struck speechless by someone’s beauty or courage, it’s your brain fumbling the ball. Your neocortex can’t find the words to express what the heart knows.

    Likewise, and even more importantly, you have a GUT BRAIN. It is the complexity and is the equivalent size of a cat’s brain.

    The gut has its own nervous system that acts largely independently of the brain; the gut “thinks for itself.” No other part of the nervous system can do this.

    The gut influences the brain in the head far more than vice versa. It can learn, form memories, take on new behaviors and grow new neurons. So when your stomach starts to churn in the face of danger, or it flutters when you’re excited, those sensations are indications of its intelligence.

    Think of the times when you just had a gut reaction, or followed your gut instincts…Long before neuroscientists could study the gut brain, we all knew it existed.

    brain structuresCONCLUSION OF ALL OF THIS:
    Two-thirds of your triune brain (the limbic system and brain stem), the right hemisphere, and the whole peripheral nervous system are devoted to non-verbal, non-rational, non-analytical body-based processes. Your body has its own intelligence, and it has nothing to do with the functions of the brain in your head.

    So if something is keeping you stuck, and traditional “understanding of the problem” isn’t changing anything, then the best way out is through your body.

    I’m offering a workshop on January 19, that will provide you the means for making that shift at the level of your neural pathways. That’s why it has the tongue-in-cheek title of "Total Transformation in Three Hours."

    Register here, or click here for more information. I hope to see you there!

  • Moving Possibilities

    On this New Year’s Day, I woke up thinking about the brain-body connection…a favorite topic of mine. As the Franklin Institute’s Resources for Science Learning notes: “It is important to challenge your brain to learn new and novel tasks, especially processes that you've never done before.”

    That’s why when clients come to me wanting to be more Visionary, one of the assignments I often give them is to move improvisationally for five to ten minutes a day. By moving in novel ways, they create new neural threads in their brains, while simultaneously allowing old habitual neural “cables” to unravel. That adds up to a more nimble brain able to see more possibility.  Plus, it’s fun!

    Try it at home with this simple exercise: see how many different ways you can traverse a space. A few years ago, I spontaneously gave myself this challenge and ending up moving for an hour, never moving the same way twice. That hour inspired a poem, which inspired a performance project, which inspired a broadside and video, which inspired an art exhibit…

    But most importantly, that first hour spent answering the question, “How many different ways can I traverse a small room?,” led to a greater one that guides my own daily life, and my work with clients: “How is it possible I have ever, ever felt limited?”

    As we enter 2013, may your body teach your brain just how expansive and full of potential you and the world are!  (Click on the image below for a copy of the broadside.)

  • Start with...

    On most Fridays for the past few summers, a jazz quartet played on the patio at the Canandaigua Wegmans.  Because it's a beautifully inspiring setting, I would go and take my journal to see what words wanted to be born.  This came out, pretty much as printed below, one evening in August 2012.  I offer it as a gift to any creative spirit looking for inspiration.

    Start With

    Start with bits of bread flicked to the birds.
    Start with a nine-string bass and the heart behind it.
    Start with 31 days after her 26th birthday.
    Start with a drawing of the plate and what foods will go where.
    Start with tastes of red and decide on white anyway.
    Start with dreams of the ocean and end up in a cottage at the lake.
    Start with a wheelchair underwater propelled past schools of orange fish.
    Start with a 23-inch waist.
    Start with three broken noses he does/doesn’t want to explain.
    Start with an invitation to play All Blues.
    Start with a bulldog panting in the car.
    Start with olives, a crusty bread, soft cheese at sunset.
    Start with attentive listeners, a girl in a chignon.
    Start with a stack of journals, next to a bonfire.
    Start with train doors closing on your one true love who has your passport.
    Start with vegetables, skewers, and marimba music.
    Start with a man wearing socks pulled halfway to shorts.
    Start with two kayaks, sunrise, and a dog left behind on the shore.
    Start with cloud-colored linen pants, shades of the ocean shirts.
    Start with pink toenail polish, chipped.
    Start with a playground slide in the rain, wet sand at the landing.
    Start with halfhearted applause.
    Start with large goblets filled to the horizon line.
    Start with the drummer’s spastic solo.
    Start with sun glinting off water, blinding.
    Start with white cotton curtains, billowing.
    Start with a cat, eyes closed, inside a cage.
    Start with a wobbly table, coffee splashing into saucers.
    Start with hunger, an aversion to flesh.
    Start with a song you know by heart.
    Start with the wall of chlorine you hit in the locker room.
    Start with the stranger’s eyes every time your glance sweeps his table.
    Start with crickets, a tent in the yard, cold feet.
    Start with missing your father, jitterbug music on the radio.
    Start with singing at the top of your lungs, legs pumping the swing.
    Start with remembering the smoothness of his skin and how long it’s been.
    Start with music swelling, credits rolling.
    Start with a swan dive into a forward bend.
    Start with an old woman, a rolled up newspaper and a fly.
    Start with dusk, grass, damp shorts.
    Start with getting locked out, naked.
    Start with not knowing the secret handshake.
    Start with a few drops left in the bottle.
    Start with dentures soaking next to the bed.
    Start with coconut oil melting at body temperature.
    Start with an empty gas tank in Wyoming at night.
    Start with jazz musicians laughing, “Yiiiiiiiiii!”
    Start with the folded bills in a blind woman’s wallet.
    Start with a chocolate éclair, slightly sweating on a hot day.
    Start with a mint toothpick, cognac, the ship’s deck in the moonlight.
    Start with a jacket wadded up in your father’s canned goods cabinet.
    Start with someone a year dead.
    Start with the corner bar, an hour past closing.
    Start with fireflies in a jar, the wind picking up.
    Start with headlights running the perimeter of the dark room.
    Start with bubble bath turning the suds pink.
    Start with a Dorothy Hamill cut, an 80-year-old Swede.
    Start with a persistent cough.
    Start with a ceiling fan pressing its hot breath down your neck.
    Start with windows rolled up to hold the speaker at the drive-in.
    Start with lights flashing in the rear-view mirror, everyone else asleep.
    Start with an empty marriage and a half-eaten package of pinwheel cookies.
    Start with voices floating across the lawn.
    Start with a membrane of light, penetrated.
    Start with buckets of ice thrown over the fence.
    Start with quicksand, the whites of a tiger’s eyes.
    Start with a battery running low.
    Start with a seven-year-old girl up a tree, a rooster below.
    Start with flip-flops slapping down the stairs.
    Start with “Start with….”


  • Kneel and Kiss the Ground

    "Let the beauty we love be what we do. / There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground." - Rumi

    Think for a minute.  What lights you up?  What makes time disappear and worries melt away?  How do you kneel and kiss the ground?  I do it through improvisation.

    Back in 2008, as my annual sojourn to Berkeley, CA, was coming to an end, I vowed to spend more time improvising in my studio when I got back home.  I wanted to give myself more open-ended creative time—simply because I know that when I do, my batteries stay charged, I'm more patient and generous with others, and I experience a sense of well-being that I never get at the gym.

    Here's a journal entry I wrote after one of those sessions:

    There is that moment...lying on my back...voice soaring to the ceiling...guttural, then up an octave, then up two, sliding around but always landing on the Ground of my Being.  I notice, out of the blue, that my hands are dancing.  I notice that the world has fallen away like four sides of a collapsible box—silently and stealthily—laying me bare.  But by that time I have lifted into the air and am floating, oblivious.  No, not oblivious—the opposite of oblivious.  Totally aware, deeply connected, sewn into the fabric of the universe without seams, without thread, without needle.

    I know there are many, many ways to kneel and kiss the ground. Cristina Zenato communes with sharks. 

    Can you let the beauty you love be what you do more of in 2012?

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  • Body Intellectuals Unite!


    My mentors and friends, Phil Porter and Cynthia Winton-Henry, are the co-founders of InterPlay, a global social movement dedicated to ease, connection, human sustainability and play. Phil and Cynthia proclaim themselves to be body intellectuals, and after studying with them and becoming a certified InterPlay leader, I too proudly took up that mantle.

    InterPlay LogoWhat is a body intellectual? In their book, “The Wisdom of the Body,” Phil and Cynthia explain that body intellectuals “strive to understand and articulate the fullness of physical experience.” Body intellectuals use the whole body as a tool for discovering and exploring ideas.

    This makes so much sense to me that I’ve put it at the center of the work I do with individuals and groups. In fact, my “office” is a big open space with a wooden floor. There’s plenty of room to see what the body has to say.

    To be a body intellectual, you start, like Phil and Cynthia taught me to do, with body data. Body data is all the bits of information your body is processing in any given moment: My hands are cold. I have a slight ringing in my left ear. I’m aware of the smell of popcorn and notice I’m hungry.

    Body data collected over time becomes body knowledge—the accumulation of data into noticeable patterns or habits: I like sleeping with the window open. I prefer driving with the radio off. To be my best, I need to eat every three or four hours.

    Body knowledge can then be applied in service to the self and the world—and at that stage, it becomes body wisdom. You take what you know about your body (or other bodies) and change your behavior or environment in response: I’ll pack myself an apple to avoid getting cranky when I’m picking up the kids after work. Let's start today's staff meeting with a riddle to get everyone thinking outside the box and having fun.

    InterPlay Gold HandSo simple. So powerful.

    Here’s another way I use body data, body knowledge and body wisdom with clients. I begin by having them make two lists: what’s working, and what’s not working in their lives. Then through a series of steps, they learn to embody the essence of how each list feels. For example, maybe “what’s working” feels joyful and expansive (arms out, chest open, spinning and laughing) while “what’s not working” feels cramped or stuck (sitting in a tight ball with arms clasped around knees, head down).

    The magic key comes from the final step: creating a physical transition from “what’s not working” to “what’s working,” and noticing the first tiny impulse that starts that transformation. Does it begin with looking up? With taking a breath? With expanding the shoulders?

    What I’ve witnessed over and over is that if a person invites that subtle physical change into his body when he’s smack dab in the middle of something that’s not working in real life, then that’s often all it takes to get things working again. No complex multi-step plan required—just a shift in posture, a conscious intake of breath or some other minute physical change—and the body’s wisdom takes over.

    Notice body data + Gather body knowledge + Apply body wisdom = A better life for you and everyone around you—co-workers, neighbors, friends, and family. Cheers for body intellectuals everywhere!

  • What Gets in the Way


    Clients come to me with all kinds of goals—to be more visionary, to deal with a difficult boss, to make a fork-in-the-road life decision. But once we’ve scratched the surface of those pressure points, more often than not we find underneath a longing for a bigger, more authentic life driven by purpose and meaning.

    With courageous vulnerability, my coaching clients take on the task of telling their truth, venturing outside their comfort zones, and learning to create lives that bring them joy.

    They come to me perfectly capable of meeting their goals. What they end up doing in the coaching sessions is eliminating whatever’s in the way: self doubt, a sense of not being worthy, the tyranny of perfectionism, fear of being in complete alignment with their purpose in life.

    So when I saw this video of researcher Brené Brown talking about our universal need for connection and authenticity (and what gets in the way), it really hit home.


    Brown points out that the definition of courage is to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart. In my experience, it starts with telling ourselves that story, then sharing it with someone we can trust, and finally, sharing it with the world.

    To talk about our passions, to state our purpose in life, to take a stand for what’s worth living for—all of these are deeply revealing. To live your life joyfully, completely aligned with your essence, no holds barred, is radical. And scary. And possible.

    I am honored and humbled by the coaching process, because it allows me to hold the space and intuitively guide my clients on that journey of vulnerability to a life of joy, creativity, belonging, and purpose.

    Please watch Brown’s June 2010 presentation at TEDxHouston. (She’s smart. She’s funny. She’s real.) Then add a comment below. I’d love to know what you think.

  • Why Improvisation is a Practice for Life

    While driving to meet with a client this week, I popped in a CD that I hadn’t listened to in awhile. It opens with an improvised song by my friend and vocal mentor Rhiannon.  She steps out in front of her audience at Tomales Bay, CA, and sings an homage to the Visionary energy pattern. Have a listen:



    The song reminds us of how powerful it is to surrender to the moment, to what’s actually happening—regardless of our pretty Organizer plans, our tough Driver goals, or our cherished Collaborator agreements. Through years of studying improvisation with Rhiannon and performing with Alligator Mouth Improv, this is what I’ve learned: being Visionary is about staying present and authentic, so that when it seems you are stepping out into mid-air, you can trust there will be something to stand on.

    Improvisation is not about the shackles of ego—am I good enough? Or the dictates of convention—is this stupid? Right and wrong, good and bad, don’t live inside the Visionary skill of improvisation. Only maybe, and what if, and “Huh?! Where’d that come from?”

    Cultivating the ability to “not know” is always an adventure. It allows us to open doors fearlessly, ready to welcome whatever greets us. On stage, as in life, you can learn to stay with whatever comes, even if it’s unpleasant, disconcerting, confusing. “Staying with it” is like testing a branch, seeing how much weight it can bear as you go hand-over-hand out to the very end. Maybe it will bend sweetly to the ground. Or maybe it will snap and you’ll fall, hard. But you will have learned something, and you’ll be able to say, “Oh, that wasn’t so bad.”

    When I coach clients to trust their instincts and intuition, sometimes it’s like an avalanche holding….holding…..and then letting go into an unbelievably powerful cascade of rock and snow and ice—that reveals gold underneath. No amount of rational analysis could have led to their new riches.

    For all these reasons, improvisation is practice for life. Things fall, buildings crumble, financial systems collapse, random sparks ignite—and suddenly our lives are on fire! What I’ve learned is that we will not be abandoned. Our savior may not be the one we were expecting, but someone, something, will appear. Wings will grow, gills will open, the silence will soften into a thousand, thousand notes to sing.

  • I Think I Can, I Think I Can: Why the Little Engine Could

    I'm training for a marathon.  I started about six weeks ago, and so far my longest run was today.  I clocked a whopping 2.25 miles. That's only about a tenth of a marathon.  What makes me believe I'm capable of eventually running 26.2 miles?  Self-efficacy.

    I heard about self-efficacy this week when I attended the Signature Awards Dinner, hosted by one of my clients, the Technical Community Women's Network of Corning Incorporated.  The guest speaker, Dr. Margaret Bailey, from the Rochester Institute of Technology, talked about self-efficacy as it relates to female students' success in the engineering program there.  (They have an amazing program called WE@RIT that helps women engineers succeed.  Check it out!)

    Dr. Bailey told us that self-efficacy, according to Albert Bandura, the man who first defined it, is "the belief in one's capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to manage prospective situations."  In other words, self-efficacy is my belief in my ability to succeed in running a marathon.  Or to paraphrase the Little Engine That Could: "I think I can, I think I can."

    As I was running those miles today, I got to thinking about a client I met with this week who said, "I can't be a Visionary."  In a flash of oxygen-rich thinking, I realized that low scores in a particular FEBI pattern may be tied to low self-efficacy around those behaviors.  If we believe we aren't capable of thinking strategically, being imaginative, or discovering radical solutions, then we probably aren't going to indicate a preference for the Visionary energy pattern, and we'll score low in it.

    But one of the FEBI system's tenets is that people can learn to access a pattern simply by uncovering what's keeping it hidden, blocked, or underused -- and then practicing and strengthening it. One of the first things that has to change is their sense of self-efficacy related to that pattern.  In order to access a pattern, they have to believe it's possible to do so.

    In their book, The Art of Possibility, Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander use the famous nine-dot puzzle to illustrate this point.


    Can you join all nine dots with four straight lines, without taking your pen from the paper?

    If not, the Zanders point out that it is probably because "your brain instantly classifies the nine dots as a two-dimensional square.  And there they rest, like nails in the coffin of further possibility, establishing a box with a dot in each of the four corners, even though no box in fact exists on the page."  If you want the solution, check out this wikipedia entry.

    But the Zanders point out the real solution when they say, "The frames our minds create define -- and confine -- what we perceive to be possible.  Every problem, every dilemma, every dead end we find ourselves facing in life, only appears unsolvable inside a particular frame or point of view.  Enlarge the box, or create another frame around the data, and problems vanish, while new opportunities appear."

    That is my favorite moment in working with clients.  When their whole bodies light up with a new sense of "I think I can!" then I know it's all downhill from there.  And for me, as long as I think I can run a marathon, then it will be like all 26.2 miles are downhill too.

  • Chance Favors the Connected Mind -- Or "Then Suddenly!"

    Steven Berlin Johnson wrote in his seventh book, Where Good Ideas Come From, that “chance favors the connected mind.” Espousing the theory that innovation comes from the chaotic, unexpected collisions of two (or more) hunches, he certainly debunks the myth of the lone inventor toiling away in an ivory tower waiting for a singular eureka moment. Johnson advises us to regularly hang at the local coffeehouse (it was, after all, the Age of Enlightenment’s version of the Internet), and to gather around the conference table to connect ideas rather than protect them.

    John Marshall Roberts, author of Igniting Inspiration, says that new solutions to old problems come from dialogue and collective surrender to a larger vision. Part of that larger vision comes from removing limiting assumptions…and it’s nearly impossible to see our own limiting assumptions without looking through someone else’s eyes.

    I’ve been working with kids at the Chemung Valley Montessori School this past month. One of their favorite activities is shared storytelling. One child begins making up a story, and when I point to someone else, that student has to start from where the first child left off and go from there. We go around the circle until everyone has a chance to contribute.

    At any moment, I can also proclaim, “Then suddenly!” and if I do, that is the storyteller’s cue to drastically change the direction of the story. Maybe it rains purple socks, or a monster appears, or the sword in our hero’s hand melts into chocolate to feed his enemies.

    After a good 15-minute romp through our collective imaginations, we’ve giggled our way to some pretty cool life lessons. First, since you are the author of your own life story, it never has to be boring—just use your imagination! Second, whenever you get stumped, you can say to yourself, “then suddenly,” allowing new options to replace whatever limiting assumptions are blocking the path. And third, the best way to create a life full of excitement, fun, imagination and inspiration, is to rely on other people to inject their ideas into your storyline.

    So when I’m looking for a little managed disruption and collaborative creativity, I remember that an idea is literally a new network of neurons firing in my brain. I try something new, take a risk, invite my nemesis to lunch—anything to give my half of an idea the chance to bump into someone else’s! And then suddenly!

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