Applying Tai Chi to Physical Therapy – Part 2: Gait Training

Walking is a skill that many of us take for granted – let’s face it, when was the last time you actually thought about the way you walk? Yet it is still a skill, and when your ability to walk is suddenly impeded, or lost altogether, you realise just how important it is to your life. Even with disease or injury, many of us find a way to maintain our ability to walk, however any deviation from ‘normal’ gait (the medical term for walking) can often result in the development or compounding of other problems: pain, muscle imbalance, and arthritis being some of the more common, not to mention the difficulty in attending to day-to-day activities.

What is ‘Normal’ Gait and Why is it Important?

I often explain gait as a “controlled fall”. In order to walk, we shift our center of mass (CoM – see Part 1 for an understanding of the importance of CoM) forwards so that our body starts to move forwards. If we allowed this shift in CoM to continue unchecked, we would fall flat on our face. To avoid this, we use a complex pattern of movements to support ourselves on one leg while we place the other one in front of us to arrest our fall. If we keep our CoM moving forward, we have to repeat the pattern again: the leg in front now becomes the supporting leg, and the leg that was supporting us must now swing forward to save us. Repeat over and over again and you are walking.


The way our limbs and body produce this – not just the movements themselves, but the way they are coordinated – is referred to biomechanically as a ‘gait pattern’. A ‘normal’ gait pattern is a complex, ideal version of these coordinated movements that result in a stable and efficient means of locomotion which has minimal impact on our musculoskeletal system. It is defined by a number of different factors, including joint angles, distribution of mass (ie: the location of CoM), forces applied to the body, and synergy of movements. For a more in-depth explanation of normal gait, check out this article on Physiopedia.

Anything that doesn’t comply to a ‘normal’ gait pattern is considered to be an ‘abnormal’ gait pattern. This is not to say that it is wrong as such, merely that it does not conform to the ideal that is normal gait. Physical Therapists strive to teach people to walk with a normal gait pattern, or as close to a normal pattern as is achievable. For some people this might not be possible, for example, due to anatomical differences, muscle weakness, imbalances, or tightness, neurological changes or deficits, pain and/or injury, disease, aging, or some combination of these factors. However, while the ‘perfect’ gait pattern might not always be achievable, many people who experience problems with walking can be assisted through Physical Therapy to improve their gait pattern, and in doing so their overall functional capacity.

How Can Tai Chi Help?

Tai Chi

Photo courtesy of Gold Coast Tai Chi Academy

Students of Tai Chi spend a lot of time learning to walk correctly. One main example of this is the technique known as mao xing, or ‘cat walking’. In mao xing, the Tai Chi practitioner shifts weight into one leg while stepping forward with the other. The stepping leg has no weight in it right up to the point the heel makes contact with the ground. The practitioner completes the step by gradually transferring weight from the supporting leg to the stepping leg, involving a shift from side-to-side and back-to-front. As the stepping leg is loaded it becomes the supporting leg, eventually freeing up the other leg to take another step forward.

This sounds very similar to normal gait, however a key difference is the location of the person’s CoM. As already described, normal gait requires the CoM to be displaced forwards outside the person’s base of support BoS), providing momentum. In mao xing, however, the CoM is maintained within the BoS while weight is shifted from one limb into the other, effectively eliminating the “falling” part of walking. To do this successfully, the Tai Chi student must develop a deeper understanding and awareness of how their body moves, in terms of coordination, weight shift, loading and unloading of the limbs, and placement of the feet. As a Physical Therapist, if I could have all my patients mao xing I wouldn’t have to worry about any of them having falls!

Applying Tai Chi to Physical Therapy: Recovery from Joint Replacement Surgery

Recently I’ve been applying the principles of mao xing in retraining normal gait patterns in patients who’ve undergone total hip or knee replacements. In the first weeks after surgery, many joint replacement patients demonstrate a very “stiff-legged” gait pattern: they tend to hold the operated leg very stiff when attempting to mobilise, and limit the amount of time they bear weight through the limb. In some cases the patient will circumduct or swing their leg around rather than bend their hip and knee in order to take a step forwards. Some patients may also have been walking like this for sometime prior to their surgery due to the nature of the condition that required joint replacement.

It can be quite challenging to retrain patients to walk with a normal gait pattern again, and often requires very precise practice. This has been particularly true in patients who have had bilateral joint replacements, who don’t have a ‘good’ leg to support themselves on and so are very guarded with attempting to walk.Though I haven’t been trying to teach my patients mao xing as such (though I often think I would like to), I’ve found that incorporating a number of the principles of mao xing – stepping onto the heel, rolling through the foot to come up onto the toes and push-off – as well as instructing the patient in a similar manner to how I would teach the technique to a Tai Chi student, provides a much more correct and consistent result than other methods I’ve tried. I’ve also found in practice that focusing on the principles related to the foot (heel strike, weight shift, stance, toe off) produce a subsequent improvement in the pattern of movement at the knee and hip – that is, an increase in the amount of flexion at the hip and knee during swing phase – and tolerance to weight-bearing during stance phase. When I apply these principles to gait training, I seldom have to draw attention to or correct movements at the hip, knee, or lumbo-pelvic area as these seem to correct themselves when the patient is applying the principles to their feet.

Lastly, and in some ways the most exciting part, is that I’ve found that patients are more likely to practice this “creeping” (as several patients have referred to it) way of walking as part of their home exercise program than they are other techniques or exercises designed to improve their gait. The exact reason why is unclear, however I would suggest it is because it is easier for the patient to conceptualise, understand, and apply, than other techniques that are more detailed and require a higher level of cognitive processing. In practice this apparent increase in compliance and attendance to exercises between therapy sessions does appear to translate – in general – into a more timely improvement in gait and physical function.

Again, this is at best observational evidence of a specific application of Tai Chi principles to physical therapy. However, it does support the increasing body of evidence-based research advocating  Tai Chi as a means of improving balance and mobility, and in my opinion, is worth further investigation as an adjunct to physical therapy.

Recognising the Modern Aboriginal


When I was a student at the University of Canberra I spent a lot of time hanging out at the Ngunnawal Centre, a drop-in/support centre for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students. It was a great place, not just because of the services and support it provided, but because we had such diversity of students, from all over Australia, all different backgrounds, all different ideas and experiences. It was, generally speaking, a place of acceptance, and my time there and the people I met there certainly helped strengthen my identity as an Aboriginal person.

I remember once walking into the common room into a very passionate discussion about maintaining culture. One guy was making his opinions known about the evils of materialism and how we were all becoming “white fellas” and how he wanted to get back to “traditional life”. It was a stirring speech that many of us could identify with, especially those who had limited exposure to a ‘traditional’ cultural upbringing. That is, until someone said, “watchya on about? You’re not gonna give up your Nikes and your mobile phone for a spear and a lap-lap!” Which, needless to say, we all had a good laugh at.

Since then I have often thought about the challenge many Aboriginal peoples face with regards to living a modern life in a modern world while attempting to live up to cultural values and beliefs that are considered the definition of ‘being Aboriginal’. It is truly a case of walking in two worlds, a walk that would be much easier were those worlds allowed to merge into one.

Adaptation is a key component of evolution; a marker of whether a species thrives or dies. If there is one thing I’ve learned about my Aboriginal culture, it’s that we have survived for so long because of our ability to adapt. We have adapted to the environment, to the availability – or scarcity – of resources, to contact with other cultures, and even to invasion. Yet despite this ability, it seems there is an unwillingness to allow Aboriginal peoples to ‘evolve’ into the 21st century. That to be ‘Aboriginal’ is to remain in a pre-invasion state of existence, and any deviation from this somehow makes us less Aboriginal.

Adaptation is not assimilation. Yet that seems to be the view that many Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people take when Aboriginal peoples take advantage of the modern world, the modern conveniences, or even the modern ideas that exist today. Drive a nice car, live in a nice house, in a nice suburb, have an advanced education, a career, a desire for nice things like clothing, furniture, or lifestyle, and suddenly you’re assimilated, a sell-out, a big-noter, a coconut. You’re no longer a ‘real’ Aboriginal, because ‘real’ Aboriginal peoples don’t have, nor want, those things.

Yet think about some of the things that we wouldn’t have if Aboriginal peoples hadn’t adapted the the changes that surrounded them. There would be no repeal of the various Aborigines Protection Acts. There would be no Freedom Ride. No 1967 Referendum. No NAIDOC. No Aboriginal flag. No Aboriginal doctors, nurses, lawyers, teachers, police, soldiers, politicians, sport stars, business owners, writers, musicians, actors, tradespersons, or journalists. You would not be reading this article. Aboriginal peoples would still be considered part of the Australian ‘fauna’. If we existed at all.

Most, if not all, Aboriginal peoples have already lost so much of their culture and heritage. It is critical to our survival and our identity that we preserve as much as we can. Yet if we are to thrive – not just survive – we must allow ourselves to embrace those elements of 21st century life that can be used to our advantage and for the betterment of our peoples.  We need to understand and accept that an Aboriginal person today is not the same as an Aboriginal person 250 years ago, or even 25 years ago, and recognise that can be a good, even desirable, thing.

Yes, we must value, retain, and give to future generations as much of our cultural heritage as we can. However, we must also live in the modern world, take advantage of it, adapt it to our needs, and use it for the betterment – the empowerment – of our peoples and communities.

How else can we expect to progress?

What is your take on what a modern Aboriginal person is, or should be? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Why Texting is the Worst Form of Communication

couple textingI know you’ve heard it all before: texting is impersonal, it’s antisocial, and it’s ruined our ability to communicate with each other. Yet we all do it. Why? Because it’s also easy, convenient, and often timely. So why would I call texting the worst form of communication? The answer lies not so much in texting itself, so much as how we are using it to communicate.

When we use it as a messaging system to convey mundane, day-to-day information like, “I’ll be finished at 6:30pm”, “can you get milk on your way home?”, “you have a doctor’s appointment at …”, it can actually be very effective. It’s when we try to expand this from an expression of facts or data to something more abstract – for example, thoughts and feelings – that the message tends to get lost amongst the text. As I see it, there’s three main limitations that texting has over other forms of communication that often causes it to fail.

1. Communication is much more than words

You’ve probably come across the idea that over 90% of communication is non-verbal. While many linguists and sociologists dispute this figure and the ability to actually quantify the contribution of verbal and non-verbal components when communicating, it is generally agreed that effective communication relies significantly on vocal intonation and body language. In other words, how we represent ourselves physically, and how we sound, puts what we have to say – the actual words – into a certain context that the words alone cannot achieve.

Consider this snippet from a text conversation that perhaps all of us are familiar with:

Person A: Are you ok?

Person B: I’m fine.

What was your gut reaction to this? Did you accept Person B’s answer as literal? Did you find it dismissive or evasive? Or did it send a chill down your spine thinking they are anything BUT fine?

The fact is, we cannot know for sure whether Person B really is fine, or whether they are just saying that to avoid (or encourage) further discussion, or whether they are being sarcastic or passive-aggressive, because we have no other information – a look, a tone of voice, a body position – to help us put this statement into context. Person A then has two choices: they can either request more information, or they can interpret the meaning Person B intended.

Many of us don’t make the former choice, because we feel there’s an expectation (either our own, or from the other person) that we understand what is being said to us, so we come up with our own interpretation. The problem is our ability to make that interpretation is not only influenced by the person communicating with us – not just the words they use but our connection to and understanding of them – but also by a whole myriad of internal and external factors affecting our cognitive and emotional state at the time. Consider for a moment how you might interpret Person B’s response if you felt happy, worried, angry, or confused. How does it influence what you’re hearing them say?

And this is only from what appears to be a simple, everyday exchange between two people. Imagine how it is once the content becomes more complicated…

2. We are always communicating, even when we aren’t.

This is another way of expressing a fundamental principle of Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP): you cannot not communicate. That is, even if you are not saying something, you are still communicating with someone through your actions. Consider as an example someone listening to you speak: are they leaning forward, focussed on you? Are they leaning back, arms crossed? Are they turned away from you or focused on something else? In each instance, although that person isn’t saying anything, they are still sending you a message.

When you can see someone these non-verbal interactions are generally easier to interpret. When texting, it’s almost impossible. Imagine you are texting back and forth with someone and they suddenly stop responding. You cannot know why they stopped responding until you get some sort of indication from that person. However, as we cannot not communicate, no response can be interpreted as a response in itself. In fact, the longer the ‘silence’ goes on, the more we try to interpret that silence. Did they get interrupted? Did the device they’re using suddenly stop working? Did they get offended by what you said or just lose interest in the conversation? Did they even get your last message? Again, your interpretation of what has happened will be very dependent on the internal and external influences on your own cognitive and emotional state at the time, including the context and perceived importance of the conversation you were having.

3. We have developed an expectation of instant gratification

There was once a time, not too long ago, when we were not always instantly accessible. If you wanted to speak with someone, you either had to know where they were and go to them in person, or you had to call them on the phone and hope they were able (or wanted) to answer, or you had to write them a letter and wait for them to receive it and respond. And as a society, we were quite accepting of that. We appreciated that being able to communicate required timing, effort, and in many cases, patience.

Today, we are all expected to be instantaneously available on demand, and texting is one of the primary causes of this. While we recognise that everyone has their own lives and responsibilities, and therefore may not be available to meet in person or take a phone call, texting is believed to be so unobtrusive that any of us should be able to do it at any time. That’s a problem in two ways.

The first relates back to our point about not being able to not communicate. When we text, we expect a timely, if not instant response. When we don’t get one, the scenario discussed in the second point above plays out.

But there’s also the responder to consider. Receiving a text message is often welcomed, however it can also be invasive. What if you’re at work, or at a family event, or a romantic dinner with your partner and you receive a text; do you answer it? That’s a hard question to answer: if you don’t, how’s the person who sent it going to react? If you do, how’s the person you’re with going to react? Seems like a no one situation, and in many instances, it can be. Either way you are sending a message to both people, and that not be the message you want to convey.

This is not to say we shouldn’t use texting as a means of communicating, in fact it can be a very valuable way of staying in touch with people or conveying important information. However, like any form of communication, texting is only useful if you consider its limitations, and work around those limitations.

Maybe the most effective text you can send someone is, “Hi. Can we get together for a chat?”

Applying Tai Chi to Physical Therapy – Part 1: Weight Shift

I have been an advocate for Tai Chi (taiji quan) for at least as long as I’ve been a Physical Therapist, and have previously written about the benefits Tai Chi can bring to physical therapists and physical therapy. In this series, I aim to share some of the ways I’ve been able to apply the principles and practice of Tai Chi to my therapy skills, an in doing so enhance my patients’ care.

What is ‘Weight Shift’ and Why is it Important?

In basic terms, weight shift is our ability to move our center of mass (CoM) – our ‘weight’ – around our body in order to maintain – or disrupt – our balance. Think of your CoM like a pendulum or a plumb-bob; when you stand with perfect balance, your CoM sits right in the middle of your base of support (ie: the area around your feet). Once you start moving, your ‘pendulum’ moves as well, generally in the direction you are moving. We do this all the time  – in fact, if we couldn’t move our CoM, we couldn’t move at all.

An easy way to understand weight shift is to attempt to stand on one leg. To do this, you have to move your CoM – or ‘swing your pendulum’ – over your supporting leg so you can lift the other leg off the ground. If you don’t, you won’t be able to lift your leg, or if you do, you body will want to fall over to that side. You can try this for yourself to see how it feels (just make sure you do it by a table or counter top so you’ve got something to grab onto if you need it!).

20131110232510-fall-menBeing able to weight shift not only facilitates movement, it can help prevent unwanted or undesirable movement, for example, falling. Falling is a major contributor to injury and death amongst many populations: in the US, falling is considered to be leading cause of both fatal and non-fatal injuries. Physical therapists spend a great deal of time trying to both prevent falls in patients, and help patients recover from falls. Teaching patients to understand both how their CoM affects their balance, and how to shift their weight appropriately for safe movement, is critical to achieving functional movement and stability. However, in many patients the ability to weight shift is impaired either because of disease (eg: neuropathy, arthritis, vertigo) and injury (eg: stroke, spinal and nerve injuries), and regaining the ability to control weight shift can be very difficult.

How Can Tai Chi Help?

Weight shift is one of a number of fundamental skills Tai Chi training can improve or enhance. Almost every movement in any form from start to finish involves a gradual, controlled transfer of weight in coronal, sagittal, and transverse planes of movement. In order to perform the forms correctly, Tai Chi practitioners control the displacement of their CoM in all planes through slow, precise movements. In most instances, the CoM remains ideally located within the practitioner’s base of support, making it easy to maintain balance. This is evident even when the practitioner is performing ‘unbalanced’ movements, such as standing on one leg.

A classic example of this is the technique known as mao xing, or ‘cat walking’. In mao xing, the Tai Chi practitioner shifts weight into one leg while stepping forward with the other. The stepping leg has no weight in it right up to the point the heel makes contact with the ground. The practitioner completes the step by gradually transferring weight from the supporting leg to the stepping leg, involving a shift from side-to-side and back-to-front. As the stepping leg is loaded it becomes the supporting leg, eventually freeing up the other leg to take another step forward. (Note: this is a very simplistic description of mao xing and there is a lot more involved in it, however this illustrates the basic concept. I recommend trying Tai Chi to better understand mao xing)

One main difference between mao xing and regular walking is the way weight shift is controlled. In regular walking, the CoM is displaced forward of the body, and the body’s reaction is to shift weight to one leg while stepping through with the other. Keeping the CoM displaced forwards and alternately repeating the sequence facilitates movement while preventing a fall forwards. In effect, walking is a repeatedly controlled fall. (Note: again, this is an overly simple description of walking, however is biomechanically accurate) Mao xing on the other hand, keeps the CoM positioned ideally within a person’s base of support at all times, even when one leg is not supported on the ground. Consider this in terms of a person who has an impaired ability to weight shift, such as someone who has a dense hemiplegia following a stroke. Which method of walking would you consider safest to have them perform?

Applying Tai Chi to Physical Therapy: Stroke and Femoral Nerve Injury Examples

Recently I was able to apply the principles of mao xing to improve the mobility of two patients who had difficultly with weight shift: a middle-aged male with a dense left hemiplegia following a stroke, and an elderly female with the inability to maintain knee extension following an injury to her femoral nerve. Neither patient was able to support weight on their affected side and both were consequently such a high risk of falling they could only mobilize in a wheelchair. Therapy included exercises to encourage weight shift and improve the ability to bear weight over the affected side, however in both instances progress was slow and their was little retention between therapy sessions.

Using the principles of mao xing, I had both patients practice stepping into a lunge stance with their affected side, then returning to a neutral standing position. Patients practiced the gradual loading and unloading of the affected side, first supported and then with standby assistance as their skill improved. In both cases, within the completion of 2 sets of 10 repetitions there was an observed improvement in the patient’s understanding and ability to shift weight to the affected side, and in maintaining standing balance. With successive therapy sessions and in conjunction with other exercises, both patients advanced their ability to weight shift to the point where they were able to stand and mobilize with an appropriate aid. The male with the hemiplegia was ultimately able to mobilize with a cane independently. The female with the femoral nerve injury has so far progressed to be able to mobilize with a standard frame under supervision.

This is, at best, observational evidence of a specific application of Tai Chi principles to physical therapy, and weight shift is only one aspect of maintaining balance. However, it does support the increasing body of evidence-based research advocating  Tai Chi as a means of improving balance and mobility, and in my opinion, is worth further investigation as an adjunct to physical therapy.

Opportunity from Disaster

Three years. A hundred posts. At least that many comments. That was as I had grown and nurtured it. And with a click of a button, it was all gone.

That’s what I discovered about a week ago, and it was devastating. My blog wasn’t just a project or a hobby. I poured a lot of myself into those articles. It wasn’t just words I lost; it was a large part of myself. A part I had chosen to put out there for anyone and everyone to see.

My first instinct was to contact the host of my site to see if they had a backup they could restore. An unlikely solution, given that they were the ones to delete it in the first place, but when disaster strikes you’ll try anything. As I waited for customer service to come to my rescue, I questioned myself about the value of what I was attempting. Was there any value in attempting to restore all those musings? For that matter, was there any value in continuing with the blog at all? I hadn’t written anything for it in months (though in my defense, I was [am] still adjusting to moving to the opposite side and hemisphere of the planet). Was it really worth continuing with? Did it matter? If it disappeared from the digital universe, would it be missed? Perhaps this disaster had occurred for a reason. maybe it was time for me to give up. Draw the curtain. Fade to black.

The thing is: that isn’t me.

Funnily enough, that revelation came to me not in relation to the blog, but to my personal life, and once that fact broke through the gloom that had descended upon my heart and mind, I realised this wasn’t a disaster but an opportunity. An opportunity to reinvent myself. Not necessarily a complete personality and life change, but an opportunity to review where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going. More importantly, an opportunity to choose where I want to go, and what I want to do next.

That was my problem: I didn’t realise, or perhaps hadn’t accepted, that making major changes in my life would also impact all the things I had previously planned. I was stuck trying to follow a map that no longer matched the landscape, trying to find the path to something I had already left behind.

It took a ‘disaster’ of this proportion to shake me off that path, to make me realise that my direction has changed, and so too has my destination. There will be similarities, even sameness to a certain extent; I’m not going to simply through everything I was working towards away. However, this is an opportunity for change. An opportunity to re-evaluate who I am, and who I want to be. Where I am, and where I want to go. What I’ve done, and what I’ve yet to achieve. It is a good thing, and most likely it’s exactly what I needed.

So, although there is still some heaviness in my heart, I will not be trying to resurrect my old blog, or my old posts. That was then, this is now. This is a new beginning. What this blog ends up being remains to be seen. I might be part diarisation, part documentation, part manifesto, part insight, and maybe even part egotism. What it will be is all me, based on the many hats I wear.

Whether you are one of my previous readers returned, or a new reader recently discovered, I hope you will stay with me as I chisel away the debris to reveal the masterpiece underneath. It will take some time, and it will likely look rough for a while yet. However, I look forward to discovering, with you, what it looks like.A New Day



Never Give Up

never_give_up_640_29I’d be surprised if anyone reading this has not experienced some point in their life when they felt like giving up on something. Maybe it was a relationship, a job, or a lifelong dream. Maybe it was trying to understand something, or help someone else understand. Maybe it was just trying to get your computer or phone to do what it’s supposed to do. We’ve all had times when it got too hard, too frustrating, too hurtful, or too impossible to keep going, and the only viable option seemed to be: give up.

Plow through the multitude of advice and self-help guides both on- and off-line and you can find innumerable references to make it easier for you to give up on things. Knowing when to quit – when to give up and walk away – has become a life-skill. There is merit in this: engaging in exercises of futility benefit no-one, least of all ourselves. If anything, they might cause far more harm or grief than abandoning them would. But how many things we pursue, or cling to, or believe in, are truly futile? How many just seem that way, because we lose hope, or faith, or motivation, or sight of our goal, or what set us in motion towards it in the first place?

The great African-American human rights advocate Frederick Douglass is often quoted as saying, “if there is no struggle, there is no progress.” Inherent in this statement is the concept of never giving up. In the remainder of the address this quote is taken from, Douglass effectively states that all things worth having require effort. More than this, there is no promise that our efforts will be rewarded with what it is we want, however without that effort we guarantee we will not have it. Within this ideal, futility is not the effort required to do something exceeding that which we are capable of, but rather our own fears, doubts, and insecurities overcoming our resolve to keep striving for what is important to us.

This is not to say that we should just persist with things no matter what. There are numerous situations where continuing to do something would be detrimental, even harmful, to yourself, or even to others. What makes the difference is your thoughts, feelings, and beliefs about the thing you are deciding whether to give up on or not.

If something has true value to you, if it has true meaning, or is truly important to you; if something has true significance to you, is something you truly believe in, or is a fundamental part of your life, or the life you want, then never give up on it. It is worth the effort it takes to have it, and hold on to it. It is worth the fight, the struggle, the pain, the heartache, and the sacrifice required to have it.

I know when the lights go out in the universe, I would rather bow out knowing I never gave up on the things that meant everything to me, than spend my final thoughts regretting those I did.

Knowing When to Do Nothing

art_628465There is a concept in Taoism known as Wu Wei – literally ‘no action’, and often interpreted as ‘do nothing’. It goes hand-in-hand with another concept, Wu Bu Wei – ‘not no action’, or ‘do everything’ [1.] Those who study Taoist philosophy seek to achieve harmony in their lives by doing nothing and doing everything. The idea of doing everything is one that’s probably familiar to all of us: from the moment we wake up we attend to the tasks, chores, and activities of our day right up to the point we close our eyes to sleep again. Doing nothing, however, is a stranger concept. It does not mean being slothful, lazy, or apathetic. Instead, it is about recognising the times when there is nothing you can, or should do – that the right course of action is to not act.

It is a challenging concept to get one’s head around, so let me try to illustrate with an example. Think about the last time you had an argument with someone. It may have been over something of significance to one or both of you, or it may have been – in hindsight – over nothing. If you go back and think about it, you can probably see that it all started from something that was said or done that induced an emotional response in one of you. That response got expressed, which led to an emotional response in the other person, and back and forth it went. Like many arguments it probably heated up as it continued on, perhaps it even got out control and one or both of you were yelling at the other. Chances are at least one of you got their feelings hurt. (If so, hopefully you’ve resolved that by the time you’re reading this!)

Think of that argument as a timeline, like a scene from a movie. You can probably see how the argument started from nothing, and then developed into a full-blown argument. You can probably also see that it took two people to have that argument. Even if it was just one person berating the other, it still took the interaction of both for the argument to happen. Now imagine you can edit that scene. You can move along that timeline and pick a point and edit what happened at that moment. What might have happened if, at some point in the timeline, one of you had stopped arguing? It may have been as simple as saying, “stop, I don’t want to argue anymore”, or perhaps it needed one of you to walk away. If one of you had simply stopped, could there even have been an argument? And if there was no argument, could the problem have been solved faster, easier, or better?

This is where doing nothing becomes important. Using this example, you can think of the argument as doing everything. In fact, you probably are doing everything while arguing – yelling, shouting, trying to put forward, or impose, or defend, your view, and getting emotional. You’re trying to ‘win’, and you will do everything to ‘win’ – and sometimes, ‘winning’ leads to some very undesirable outcomes. If you’ve ever ‘won’ an argument but didn’t feel better for it, you’ll understand what I mean.

To not argue, or cease arguing, is to do nothing. It does not mean turning your back and walking away (though in some instances that might be what it takes). Rather, it is about recognising that continued action is not going to make the situation any better, nor achieve the outcome you really want. In that case it is better to cease your actions – to do nothing – and in doing so, avoid creating a new problem through arguing. As my Tai Chi master says, “you can’t resolve a problem while ever someone is trying to fight you. It is only when they stop fighting you can sit and have tea and work out what the problem is.”

Makes sense, doesn’t it? Of course it’s easy to say, yet much more difficult to put into practice. I’m going through a process now which, for the moment, is out of my control, and all I can do is nothing. And yet, for my life to go forward in the way I want it to, this process must happen, and quickly. I have people who need me and who are relying on me to get this done. I have opportunities that are dependent on this happening. And for my own well-being, I need this resolved. The fact that it is taking time is very oppressive and hard to deal with – it’s causing unnecessary strain on me and those I love. I feel responsible and I feel I need to do something to change it – I am trying to do everything, because I’m afraid if I don’t I will lose what it is I’m striving for. Yet the reality is that there is simply no more I can do until it is put back into my hands. I need to do nothing. I know this, and I know that in doing nothing I will be better off, but knowing and doing are often different things, aren’t they? So I am trying to do nothing, however I will be the first to admit it’s not easy.

We can all reflect on our lives and find instances where it seemed that no matter what we did, not matter how hard we tried, no matter how much effort we put into something, we didn’t get to where we wanted to be. We often think that if we stop, everything stops; that inactivity is somehow detrimental to achieving. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is like sailing: you can hoist your sails and work your lines and rigging all you want, however if you’re sailing against the wind, you won’t get very far. But if you stop, and just let the wind fill your sails, you’ll find it takes you to where you need to be.

The trick is not to just do nothing, but to know when to do nothing. And as the Taoists say, in doing nothing, leave nothing undone.

  1. Zhao, Qiguang. (2010). Do nothing and do everything: an illustrated new Taosim. Minnesota: Paragon House

4 Benefits Indie Authors Can Gain Through Traditional Publishing

Ever wanted to write and publish your own book? Maybe you’ve got the next blockbuster novel inside you? Or a ‘how-to’ guide that will make life easier for everyone? You’re in luck. These days, thanks to electronic (e-)publishing it has never been easier to get your masterpiece out into the public arena for all to enjoy.

In fact, a lot of self or ‘indie’ published authors have taken the e-publishing route because of the challenges of traditional publishing: having to submit your work for scrutiny, waiting for it to work its way to the top of the slush pile, only to have an editor – or more likely, an editor’s assistant – send it back with a big “NOT INTERESTED” note attached to it, or, should it be deemed worthy, having to hack and slash your hard work to bits just to shoehorn it into the publishers idea of what the marketplace wants, all for a relative pittance in compensation. (It’s not always like that of course, however any writer who has gone through the traditional route will tell you it feels like that sometimes!) Who wants to deal with that when you can just write something, upload it to the e-marketplace directly, and sit back and wait to be adored?

Unfortunately, there are now millions of other people who feel the same way, and competing with you for an audience that has very quickly become over-saturated with product. The days of winning fame and fortune simply by skipping the middle-men are over. With so much on offer and a lot of it – let’s be honest – not exactly the polished product we’ve come to expect from traditional publishing houses, audiences are becoming much more critical, and consequently much more selective, when it comes to indie publications. In this marketplace, you really need to stand out if you want your writing to be read.

What’s interesting is that many indie authors have viewed this as a marketing issue, and subsequently invested their time and effort into branding and promoting. Social media, website campaigns, and promotional videos are just some of the means by which indie authors are wedging themselves into the market. As an example, I’ve seen one up-and-coming indie author recruit over 14,000 followers within several months – all before publishing a single word of their novel. How?  A clever teaser video, supplementary information only available by registering on their website, competitions where the prize was a preview of the novel, and lots and lots of social media self-promotion. The result? About 1% of that audience went on to actually buy the book. Was it worth it? Well, you’d have to ask the author about that.

To help put this into perspective, it’s important to note that this author had never previously been published in any form, and always intended to self-publish rather than sell their novel to a publisher. With that in mind you could ask: did this author achieve more through publishing independently than they would have by pursuing the traditional route? Again, it depends on your perspective. On the one hand, you could say the fact they have a published novel that has been read by anyone is an achievement beyond what most people attain in itself. On the other, a 1% strike rate from a pre-committed audience is not a high uptake – in fact statistically, this author could have potentially doubled their readership just by including their novel along with the junk mail people get in their mailboxes (it’s estimated that between 1-2% of junk mail distribution translates into sales – and let’s face it, wouldn’t you be more inclined to read a free book than another catalogue?).

Would this result have been different if the author had decided on the traditional publishing route?

I would suggest the answer is a definite “yes”, however, it’s almost impossible to predict whether the outcome would have been more or less favourable to the author. Regardless of the outcome though, I do believe this author – as a first time writer – could have benefited a number of ways from pursuing traditional publishing in the first instance.

  1. It makes you a better writer

It might be hard to believe, but all those rejections you get from potential publishers can make you a better writer, and there’s two main ways this can happen.

Firstly, it forces you to critically examine your writing. Speaking as an up-and-coming writer, none of us like to be told our writing isn’t very good. It can be a massive blow to the ego, and one that can be very hard to recover from . Those that do get past it ask that ageless question, “why?” and answering that requires critical reflection. Sometimes the answers are obvious: you can see that there’s too much repetition, it doesn’t flow, there’s unnecessarily wordy sections, or other stand out issues. Sometimes it’s not as obvious, or perhaps your experience isn’t such that you can identify the issues with your work. That’s where the second way come in.

A good editor (or agent) will recognise good work, even if the writing itself – structure, grammar, etc. – isn’t great. If the work itself is really good, there’s a good chance they’ll be willing to work with you to make your writing better. This is because writing – structure, style, grammar – is, in relative terms, more easily correctable than content is. Writing after all is a skill, and skills can be learned and honed. An editor or agent with a solid interest in your work will invest time and effort into refining your writing skills because it is ultimately in their best interest to do so. (It should be noted that for this investment to be made, you do need to demonstrate some rudimentary level of ability, or have what they believe will be ‘the big thing’.)

  1. It gives you access to a range of support

As an indie author, it’s not just the writing and publishing you need to do yourself. Everything, from the typesetting, layout, and cover design, to the printing (or generation of a compatible e-format), distribution, and marketing and promotion are all your responsibility. Of course, there are a wide range of specialists who will be willing to assist you with these things – for a price.

One of the main benefits of traditional publishing is that the publisher will take care of all of this for you. More than that, if they’re a quality publisher, they will already have a sound idea of how best to achieve the maximum readership for your work. Remember: a publisher’s business is not buying books, but selling them. If they think they can sell yours, expect them to do whatever it takes to maximise that.

  1. It familiarises you with the industry

Most authors will tell you they write because they love writing, and that’s a very noble reason. Publishing, however, is an industry, and it’s one that works with one of the toughest marketplaces in existence. As an author, it’s understandable that you probably want to separate yourself from all of that. You just want to concentrate on your writing, right?

Unfortunately, attracting an audience is more than just putting your work on display, and if you want a wide readership, you will benefit from knowing at least a little about how the industry works. Anything from understanding what’s hot – or going to be hot – in the current market, to how the timing of a release influences sales, to how to protect yourself from being ripped off, can only benefit you in terms of ensuring your work reaches the people you’re writing for.

For indie authors this can be a very steep learning curve, and one that can be unforgiving as you work through trial-and-error. The curve can be just as steep with traditional publishing, however there’s a degree of separation. Once the publisher decides to run with your work, you can watch the process unfold and see how it’s supposed to look when handled by experts. Whether they get it right or wrong (and you would hope in all instances they get it right!) you will learn from the process without the risks that publishers take when trying to sell a new author. These insights are invaluable for your future publishing endeavours, whether they’re through a traditional publisher or not. If you understand how the industry works, you are much better placed to be successful within it.

  1. It builds your audience

What’s the difference between an audience, and a group of people? Engagement.

Why is engagement important? Consider for a moment some data from Forbes magazine, that estimates approximately 20 million Kindle e-readers of one type or another were sold in 2013. That means if you publish a book in the Kindle format, you have access to group of greater than 20 million people. However, this is not your audience. Let’s make a conservative estimate that 10% of new Kindle owners will see that you have published a new e-book. That means your reaching about 2 million people. However, this is not your audience either. In fact, it isn’t until at least one person engages with you and your book to download it onto their Kindle that you start to develop an audience. Like the earlier example showed, having a group of people looking at your work, or even interested in it, is not the same as having an audience engaged and reading it.

Building and retaining an audience is a challenge for any author, particularly when potential readers have access to a plethora of choices. Attracting an audience is about far more than good writing. In fact, as a new author your writing makes no difference whatsoever until people actually start reading your work. Even for an established writer, retaining, and then building your audience requires a constant effort.

Any good publishing house understands how to develop an audience for an author. They are in the business of engaging people to want to pick up your book and buy it. They can do this because they understand the reading audience. They know what section of the audience your work is going to appeal to, and they have strategies to target that audience to engage with you. A perfect example of this is the way publishers target celebrities, for example, Oprah Winfrey, to promote their authors. It has been demonstrated time and again that an author’s sales (and thus their readership) increase exponentially once they’ve been recommended by Oprah’s Book Club. Why? Because the publisher’s understand the engagement Oprah’s fans have with her, and use this to engage with their authors.


The rise of self-publishing has offered new and up-and-coming writers unprecedented abilities to get their work out to the public. The decision whether or not to publish independently is a very personal one, and one that has a lot of pros and cons to be weighed up. However, all indie authors – whether new, or established – can benefit from the lessons and insights pursing a traditional publishing path. The intent here is not to convert indie authors to traditional publishing; rather it is to recognise that what you need to know about being successful at publishing your work has already been learned, and in many instances perfected, by traditional publishers, and even in the worst case scenario, you can use that to your benefit.

Are you an indie author? Have you tried traditional publishing? Tell us about your experiences in the comments area below.

The World Needs Heroes – Are You Ready?

kid-heroIt might sound like a throw away line from the latest superhero movie, however the fact is that the world does need heroes. We all do. Heroes inspire us and motivate us. They give us hope. They give us something to believe in, and something to aspire to be. They make us feel good about ourselves, and about the world at large.

For many of us our heroes are the larger-than-life people who have achieved great success in their lives. We find heroes amongst sports stars, entertainers, business and community leaders, and dare I say even politicians. These heroes are obvious because their success has put them in the public spotlight. They are interviewed and talked about and promoted to the extent that even though they might not be our personal hero, we cannot miss the fact they are heroes to somebody.

But then there are the others, the ones we often refer to as the ‘everyday’ or ‘unsung’ heroes. These are the ones whose faces you won’t see advertising the latest energy drink or sports footwear, or promoting their latest book, fragrance or clothing line. We find them in all walks of life: health professions, emergency services, military service, educators, religious leaders, volunteers, and parents to name a few. They become our heroes not just for what they do as much as for the fact that they do it at all, often without thought or need of thanks or compensation. They do it because to them it is the right thing to do – and for that they gain our admiration.

I have a number of heroes, and I would like to introduce you to two of them.

Jade is your typical 9-year-old Australian girl, who is constantly coming up with ideas to raise money for charities. She has supported everything from the preventing animal cruelty to research into childhood diseases. In her latest venture, she has taken it upon herself to make and sell what she calls ‘pink puppies’ – a folded piece of pink paper with a puppy dog face drawn on it. She drew her inspiration from the pink ribbon campaign known worldwide for raising funds to combat breast cancer – something she became aware of when her best friend’s grandmother commenced her own battle with the disease. Jade’s intent is to sell her pink puppies for 25 cents each, and donate all the money to Cancer Council Australia. She started by folding 50 pink puppies, which if sold will raise $12.50 for Cancer Council Australia. When asked if she thought it was worth all the work for a relatively small amount of money, she said, “it still helps, doesn’t it?”

Across the world, Emma is an all-American 10-year-old girl, who recognised a problem in her school and made a decision to try to fix it. That problem is bullying – an anti-social behaviour that is being increasingly recognised and publicised for the physical, mental, and emotional trauma it causes, particularly in school-age children. To tackle this in her own school, Emma decided to form an anti-bullying club to help other kids recognise bullying and give them the confidence to put a stop to it. In Emma’s words, “We don’t want kids to be bullied because we think it is wrong. We are hoping that when we are doing this we can encourage the bullies to stop! We want to help people feel better about themselves, which will help people step up to bullies.” Emma took a proposal to form the anti-bullying club to her school principal, and is waiting for the green light to go ahead.

Jade’s and Emma’s stories show us what it is to be a hero. At ages where all they should be worried about is what they’re going to do with their friends on the weekend, they have taken it upon themselves to make a difference in the lives of others, and to make our world a better place. Their selfless actions and altruistic intentions should inspire all of us. They show us that it is not just the act itself, but the intention behind the act, the desire to stand up and do something – anything – to make a difference, no matter how great or small, that is what makes a real hero.

Jade and Emma show us that we all have it within ourselves to be a hero. Are you ready to be a hero to someone today?

“I think a real hero is any person really intent on making this a better place for all people.”

– Maya Angelou

Who are your heroes? What makes them a hero to you? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

4 Things You DON’T Need to Start a Business (Part 2/2)

3e3556eWe’ve already established that you don’t need money (at least, not a lot of it) or an office space or store front in order to start a business. Now let’s look at what else don’t you need.

  1. (Paid) Staff

Many people starting out in business start out by themselves, as sole-traders/sole-proprietors. For many new businesses or business ideas, this is all that’s initially required. There is so much that you can do yourself in the early stages. In fact, depending on the type of business you want to set up, you may not actually want to bring anyone else in at the start-up stage.

However, what if you need other people right from the beginning? What if your idea is bigger than one person? Or requires a lot more time, effort, or assistance than you can devote to it by yourself? You need staff – but that’s a huge expense, especially if it’s going to take you a while to generate cash flow.

This is where finding helpful volunteers can be a great benefit to any start-up business. I put volunteers of this kind into two categories: 1) the helpful friend/family member; and 2) the like-minded interest. It isn’t unusual for a volunteer to be both, which can be even more beneficial. Let me illustrate with a couple of examples.

When I first had my clinical practice years ago, I found I was on-selling a number of products to patients; wheat bags, braces and supports, that sort of thing. As a very small and new business, I didn’t have the purchasing power to buy and stock items in bulk – I could only order one or several items as the need arose. This meant I paid very close to retail for items, and could only charge enough to recoup the expense of ordering them (sometimes not even that). One popular item was the wheat bag – a fabric bag full of wheat grain that people could use as either a hot or ice pack. These were popular, but the quality ones were expensive, so to stock cost a lot of money, and demand wasn’t such that it justified keeping a large surplus. It is a really simple product to make – I’ve known a number of patients who end up making their own – but I knew nothing about cutting out a pattern or sewing. And to be honest, I had no desire to learn. Fortunately, I had a family member who knew lots about it and was willing to help me out. After purchasing the materials at less than the cost of two wheat bags, we were able to come up with our own design that was every bit the same quality as what I had been purchasing. Once we had a template, we could make about five wheat bags for the same cost as purchasing one. And because I had a volunteer, I didn’t have the expense of hiring someone, or contracting the work out, so profit was immediate. I was even able to start compensating my volunteer for their time and effort.

It was similar when I helped establish the National Association of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Physiotherapists, Inc. (NAATSIP). NAATSIP was formed completely by volunteers – by a group of like-minded people – of which I was one. We had no money, no location, no staff; all we had was a group of people who shared a vision, and a desire to make it happen. We formed a board of directors, registered a business name, established ourselves as a not-for-profit organisation, and put ourselves into the Australian health arena. With no support staff (and no funding) we did everything ourselves, from developing our strategic plan to preparing reports, establishing services like our mentoring program to representing ourselves on local and national bodies. In our first year we made connections with all key stakeholders in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, participated in State and National policy-making decision processes, and became recognised as the peak professional body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander physiotherapists by other peer peak health organisations. All without a single dollar being spent on salaries or other form of compensation. How? Because we all shared a vision, and while that vision was beyond any one individual to achieve, by coming together we made it realistic and achievable.

Volunteers can be the lifeblood of any organisation, even ones that are already established. For the budding entrepreneur, they can be an invaluable form of assistance to get your business idea off the ground and in motion.

  1. (Paid) Advertising and Promotional Materials

There’s no question that advertising and promotion is a must for any business, and should be part of any marketing plan. The problem for start-ups is that it’s very expensive, not just in terms of cost, but the initial return on investment is usually very low, and sometimes nothing at all. It is very easy to invest thousands, or even tens-of-thousands of dollars in advertising and promotion and not make that money back for sometime, if at all.

Fortunately we live in the era of one of the best free ways to advertise and promote yourself – social media. In my opinion, social media is still either grossly under-valued, or ineffectively utilised, as a marketing and networking tool for new businesses. Yet consider these statistics:

  • Facebook has a reported 1.3 billion active monthly users;
  • LinkedIn and Google+ have 300 million users each
  • Twitter has 255 million users.

At those numbers, the chance of being able to expose your business to potential customers/clients is enormous, and (at this time of writing) it is all free-of-charge. All you have to do is sign up, create your business profile, and start promoting yourself.

One of the ways social media can promote your business is by finding people who will advocate on your behalf. You’ve probably heard it said that ‘word of mouth’ is the best form of advertising – never has this been more true than in the world of social media. Encouraging clients and supporters of your business to share that with others is one way you can attract ever-expanding interest in what you’re doing. Having people write reviews or testimonials about who you are and what you do, and then sharing that as far and wide as possible, is another way.

A good example of people who are using social media as part of their marketing strategy are independent (indie) authors and publishers.You’ll find indie authors and publishers on every social media platform, promoting their latest work or achievements to their followers, and encouraging said followers to share with everyone they know. Many actively engage in building friend/follower lists, and soliciting reviews of their work which they can then further use to promote themselves. The have to do this because, thanks to e-publishing, it has become such a highly competitive market: there are literally millions of self-published authors out there, all vying for your money. If you want to see how it’s done and how effective it can be, looking up the indie authors in your social networks can give you some pretty good examples.

Starting a business does not have to be as daunting or as expensive as it sounds. So many successful entrepreneurs – Richard Branson, Robert Kiyosaki, J.K. Rowling, Sara Blakely, and the Teutel family, just to name a few – have started out with little more than an idea and the desire to make it happen. One of the keys to their successes was that they made a start. If you have the desire to start your own business, you now know at least four things that won’t stand in your way.

Good luck!

Got more ideas on what you don’t need to start a business? Please feel free to share your tips in comments section below