Context is everything!

Sometimes, context is everything. It’s how you understand the meaning of a given word, right? When I was a kid, we played a game where the words “coffee pot” were substituted for two versions of a homonym, and you had to guess what the words were. So my mom would say, “I coffee pot the ball” and “I drove coffee pot the tunnel” and I had to guess the words “threw” and through”.

And sometimes it’s how you recognize people. Bear with me, here.

My office is very private. It’s pretty separate from the house; it’s downstairs, behind the garage, with its own door to a private patio. The patio is accessible only by a gate to the front yard and stairs up to the main deck and yard, which I can see from both my desk and the sofa where I sit to “read”. No one ever comes in unless I invite them. Even my husband checks the phone line to see if I’m busy before he comes down, and he comes from the inside; there’s never anyone except the cable guy or the phone guy on the patio, and that’s because I’ve called them. When I work, the only other creature there, besides me, is my cat, Creature. That is, my office is very private, and very safe — which is important, because I need to be completely secure in the outer world so that I can focus on the inner world for/with my clients.

Last Wednesday morning, I was in my office, doing a reading/NLP session for a client. I had my eyes closed, paying close attention to the inner landscape, and was therefore not particularly aware of what was going on in my office. All was well. We had gotten to a place where my client was touching one of his big issues, which, frankly, he would rather have avoided. (This is how many issues get to be big issues — when they’re little issues, we avoid them because it’s easier or more comfortable to avoid them than to deal with them. That lets them grow unchecked, attracting other experiences like the one that caused the issue in the first place. But I digress.)

BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! BAM! Went the back of the patio door.

Oh, my God! I practically screamed into the telephone, and then apologized to my client for blistering his ear as I rushed to the back door. There was a man standing there! And all the possibilities of who this could be flashed through my mind (PG&E? PacBell? The cable company? But I haven’t called any of them. A new neighbor? But why would a new neighbor come to this obscure, protected door?)

“Who are you?”, I asked the stranger.

“Steve”, he answered, with a slightly shocked look, as if to say, “you idiot!” — and immediately his very ordinary features morphed into the unique ones of one of my best friends from decades ago, as if all my experience of him suddenly populated his face. (Actually, we’ve known each other since we were teenagers and have stayed in touch all these years. No, I haven’t seen him in 5 years, but he really doesn’t look different from how he looked then.) It’s just that I talked to him the evening before, on his home phone, in NC, to say “thank you” for the birthday present he sent, so I “knew” he was home in NC. Since I didn’t expect him, I didn’t “see” him. I explained that I was really “out there” from doing the reading, and he readily forgave me.

How do you prevent this from happening? How do you ensure you recognize someone? I’m not 100% sure you can, but I have a couple of ideas.

The first one comes from my late father, who was a doctor in a small town in NJ, with a huge practice which spanned the state. Almost everywhere we went, someone would say, “Hi, Doc!” and he’d look momentarily blank, and then greet whomever by their name, and ask them something relevant to their lives. Once I asked him about that blank look, and how he remembered everyone, and here’s what he said: “When someone says, “Hi, Doc!, I know it’s someone from my practice, so I “see” them in the office — and then I know just who they are, their name, what they do for a living, kids names, all that stuff.”

So the first trick is to widen the visual frame of your memory, to see someone in the context in which you met.

The second trick is from “memory experts” who tell us to envision someone’s name stamped across his or her forehead.

Put the two together, so you see the person’s name, stamped on his or her forehead, in the context in which you know each other, and you’ll be all set!

Hollis Polk is a personal coach (, who has been helping people create lives they love for 15 years, using neurolinguistic & hypnotherapy techniques, decision science, clairvoyance & the common sense learned in 20+ years of business. She is an NLP Master Practitioner, hypnotherapist & has a BSE in engineering from Princeton & a Harvard MBA. She is also a successful real estate broker, investor & business owner.