Breaking free from what holds us back

Last month Write Limited hosted the international Clarity2016 conference in Wellington. This conference featured more than 70 speakers from around the world, each addressing topics related to ‘the business of clarity’.

Marjon Leemborg was one of the 250 people attending the conference. Marjon works for Dutch communications consultancy Loo van Eck. Writing a guest post for our blog, Marjon talks about her experience listening to an address by New Zealand Doctor of Psychology Paul Wood.

In his address, Paul talked about transformation and growth. He spoke about five steps he’s developed to help people through the process of change. He described what can hold people back from change and what tools people need to enable change. 

In this guest post, Marjon highlights Paul’s ‘Five Steps to Freedom’.

What’s your prison?

Get your tissues ready…

Seventy percent of the audience is female. I look around. Halfway through the presentation every single woman is grabbing a tissue from her bag. Quietly sniffing away.

Paul Wood is a mindset coach, motivational speaker, and leadership specialist. I’m not entirely sure what this last title exactly entails, but it doesn’t matter. Paul is a charismatic, authentic and — let’s be honest — not unattractive man. I can’t wait to hear his story.

At just 18 years old, Paul ended up in prison for killing his drug dealer. He spent the next 10 years behind bars, in harsh and often terrifying conditions. Going as low as you can go. But in that same hellhole he discovered who he really is. Who he wants to be.

Do you know how you can be who you want to be?

1. Recognise that we are born free

Have you ever tried Zumba? I did. Last week. And no matter how hard I tried, I did not move like a 3-year-old would. Free. Not holding back. No limitations. My mind kept my body from moving like no one is watching. Believe me: it wasn’t pretty. But trying something new might make you realise that you could’ve been wrong. Paul Wood thought he was not an academic, because he never did well at school. Until he tried learning…

2. Break out

While he’s in prison, Paul Wood starts reading. He reads and he reads. He enters a whole new world. He even decides to study psychology. He sends his first paper to university from prison.

‘I wrote my first paper all in capitals, because I thought that would look neater. Imagine their reaction when they received this envelope with a stamp from prison on the front and all the shouting inside! They probably thought, “We’d better give this guy a chance.”’ 

3. Make the escape

‘What can I do today to improve my life? Not later, not after prison. Today.’ Paul Wood decides to enrol at Massey University.

4. Fight for freedom

Massey University gives Paul permission to do his Masters in Psychology behind bars. And he can count on more support…

‘Every weekend for 10 years, my dad came to visit me. We could not touch each other; we could not hold each other; we sat behind glass. Often he would see me with black eyes or a broken nose. And every weekend he went back home … knowing there was absolutely nothing he could do.’

I hear some sniffing around me.

‘If I could be half the dad for my son that my dad was for me, then my son is a very, very lucky kid.’

And there we go. Bring on the tissues. Of course, you had to be there. Because earlier on Paul Wood told us about the tough man his dad was for himself and his four brothers. ‘There was no affection, no hugs. You showed him that you loved him by chopping wood for the fire.’ He also tells us that he now has a 2-year-old son, who he gives as many hugs as he can find every day.

5. Living free

Paul Wood sends us home with a powerful message: ‘Focus on getting better, not staying good’. I’ve heard this advice more often at Clarity2016. And I think we should all embrace this advice. In everything that we do.

Let’s start with what we write and share with each other.

‘The limits of our language are the limits of our world’

Dr Paul Wood
Dr Paul Wood presents his ‘Five Steps to Freedom’ at the Clarity2016 conference in Wellington