The crackling of the red-hot carpet of coals is enough to put anybody off. If the sight of the angry glowing bed is not enough, the blast of searing heat from the coals should do the trick. But the two dozen men and women, most of them high-flying executives in corporates based in the UAE, do not walk away – although a few of them move further back in the queue.
The throbbing beat of African drums rises to a crescendo working up the participants. A woman stands in front of the pit, pausing briefly, perhaps contemplating the consequences.
Then her irresoluteness is wiped out by the pounding drums and the encouraging chants from the others. Staring straight ahead, she walks across the six-odd metres of glowing coals to whoops and cries of “well done” from other participants. For a moment, the woman can’t believe she’s done it.
Then as the realisation sinks in, a glow spreads across her face, warmer and redder than the coals she’s just walked across. The shift in her mindset is palpable – if she can walk on fire, which until moments ago she thought was impossible, she can do anything.
Chalk one up for Carol Talbot – a motivational speaker, master trainer and neurolinguistic programming (NLP) expert, and the architect of this evening’s firewalking designed to build self-confidence and give participants an insight into their psyche that will help improve their lives.
It’s not for nothing that she’s known as the Fire Starter. “I often ask people ‘How did you feel after doing something that you initially thought was impossible?’ Their reactions vary from ‘relief’ to ‘fantastic’ to ‘Wow, I can’t believe I did that!’.
One of the things I do is help people tap into that feeling of ‘wow’ or ‘fantastic’ so they can use it in other areas of their life as well. In simple terms, when you feel motivated, confident and energised, you get better results than when you are depressed or anxious,” says Carol, who has worked with more than 20,000 people in her 20-year career.
The idea is to work towards maintaining that feeling all through life. “It’s a bit like the difference between a matchstick and a volcano,” she says. “When you light a match the fire lasts for a few seconds, flickers and dies out.
It is similar to a lot of people’s initial enthusiasm or motivation for something – it doesn’t last long. However, a volcano that comes from the core of the earth has a power to last for a very long time... sometimes forever.”
Similarly, when you tap into your subconscious – your core – you will be able to maintain that enthusiasm for a very long time. “The power inside you is enormous and if you can channel that power properly you can get the results you want, the life your want. That’s really what being a ‘fire starter’ is all about.’’
One of the tools Carol – who is working with self-help author Jack Canfield on a Success Profiles kit, a soon-to-be-released 12-part DVD series that aims to inspire and guide individuals to achieve success – uses in her workshops is what she calls ‘action metaphors’.
“We introduce people to a concept or metaphor – such as breaking a board with your bare hands or walking across burning coals or bending a steel bar – and people’s first reaction is ‘no way. I can’t do that’.
I then talk to them and encourage them to step outside their comfort zone, to take that first step forward if they would like to change their lives. I also walk the talk – after a few sessions of having intense one-on-one and group motivational sessions with them, I myself take the first step.
For instance, in the case of fire-walking I walk across the coals. Once people see it’s possible, they follow suit and once across the coals, realise it’s not as difficult as they imagined. “It’s all in the mind really. If you can control your mind, you can control the way you want your life to be,’’ she says. Of course, walking across live coals should not be attempted without professional supervision!
The rationale behind the metaphor
So does one have to literally walk over coals to become a better person? “No, not really,’’ Carol says. “What the world needs – and what a lot of organisations want to see in their staff – is for them to break through their fears... to face their fears with courage and stay motivated and enthusiastic.”
She adds that a lot of people are convinced some tasks are impossible for them. “But when they actually break through their fears and do what they previously considered impossible, it leads them to think about other things they can do to improve their lives.’’
Fire-walking has been around for thousands and thousands of years; it’s practised in almost every culture around the globe, for different reasons. Sometimes it’s for power and energy, or sometimes as a rite of passage or a cleansing ritual, for example. “I believe it’s been around for so long simply because it works,” says Carol.
What motivates her to use the fire-walk metaphor are the dramatic results it produces. “It shifts people’s mindsets very quickly.” Carol believes the feeling people get from coal-walking is very powerful. “It’s the same when we set ourselves goals or decide to go for a job interview or we walk into a social gathering.
Questions such as ‘Am I good enough for the job?’ and ‘Will everybody like me?’ can get you worried,” she points out. “And what is in our head or on our mind does affect us. The negative thoughts will impact the results we’re going to get. What I keep underscoring is: Change the mindset, retain the change, focus on what you want, switch off the self-doubt, get yourself fired up… and you will be able to walk across the coals unharmed.”
Carol says they organise safe events, and nobody’s been hurt at any of them. “What can happen is they may feel heat on the soles of their feet, the same stinging sensation as when you clap your hands together hard. It’s energy. The energy of the fire is used as a healing process in many cultures. We also burn the land to cleanse the earth. Likewise, this is a cleansing ritual. But to be honest, it’s not for everybody.”
The role of NLP
What led Carol to the ‘fire starter’ route was the fact that most people who attend seminars don’t stick to making the changes they desire in their lives. “I’ve noticed that people make massive shifts while attending such courses, but when they go back to their regular environment they find nothing’s changed,” she says. “They go back to the old ways. What is it that creates the shift permanently?”
After many studies, Carol found that the subconscious was at work here. “That’s why we use NLP programmes, which work more on the unconscious level,” she says.
“Whereas the law of attraction [the belief that like attracts like] or The Secret [the best-selling 2006 self-help book written by Rhonda Byrne based on this law] – focuses on what you want, I realised that you actually get what your unconscious focuses on. So, if deep down you’ve got beliefs or values that are not supporting what you want, in real terms you are sabotaging your own success. For example, if at the unconscious level you believe you aren’t good enough, if that belief is driving you, then how on earth can you have great friends, or a great life? How can you be in the job you really want? The belief that you are not good enough will sabotage everything that you’re focusing on. That’s what needs to change.”
With this realisation Carol decided to incorporate the ‘action metaphors’ into her workshops to cause a shift in people at the unconscious level very quickly and to break through those limiting beliefs.
Carol is convinced that unwanted mental baggage – such as unnecessary fears, anxiety and self-doubt – is what ties people down and hinders them from achieving their full potential. Getting rid of this baggage is crucial to helping yourself grow, she says. “It’s much like cleaning up your house. You need to get rid of the trash so you’ll have more space to develop.’’
Carol’s is the classic example of a person who lived the change. “I’ve always been interested in personal development,” says the Briton, who moved to the UAE in 1989.
“I’ve read a lot of self-help books, and when I moved into learning and development, training and speaking, I started attending all the courses I could. If you are encouraging people to learn and change, then you need to be doing it yourself. You have to be authentic, walk your talk. That’s why even today I attend all the self-improvement courses, and talks and seminars I can. I go for the best of the best – whether it is [American self-improvement experts and authors] Jack Canfield and Tony Robbins, or even going off into the rainforests in the Amazon as I did recently. It was truly an amazing journey, life-changing.”
Carol’s foray into the world of self-improvement was, however, convoluted. “I was a person who gets bored very easily, so I’ve held a lot of jobs,” she says. “My mother Betty would say I would never get to the top if I kept switching jobs. I used to see someone in advertising and think that looked like a nice job, or someone in recruitment and say I wanted to do that.”
Carol held a job in the music industry when an opportunity to become a life coach came unexpectedly. “I was helping a friend set up a human development training franchise at that time when he invited me to join the company,” she says. “I did and was promptly sent off to be trained in certain areas.” While the franchise ultimately did not last, it was here she was hooked and first considered setting up her own outfit.
One day at the training class “one of the delegates was so impressed with me that she spoke to her HR manager and her company became my first client,” says Carol.
“That’s how I started out on my own. My passion is creating fast and rapid shifts for people – getting people fired up and offering NLP programmes that help people make shifts and changes in their lives.”
Carol quotes her own example of how she got over a feeling of self-doubt that she was not intelligent enough because she did not have a university education.
She decided to counter that by writing a book – Hitting the Wall and Breaking Through. It’s about how to realise your full potential. “Everybody believes that it’s very difficult to write a book,” she says. “I wrote it in three months, with the help of a book coach, and it was a very enjoyable experience.” It became a best-seller on Amazon.com.
Lessons from the Amazon
The self-confessed ‘course junkie’ who does not miss out on any self-improvement programme that can teach her anything new, found a fresh challenge this summer when she went on a journey along the Amazon.
“I went on trip with the Pachamama Alliance, a charity that seeks to empower the indigenous people of the Amazon rainforest to preserve their land and culture.” Carol learnt of a way of life that seems as old as the land itself.
“Their’s is very much a dream culture. They are very much in touch with the earth and animals, and they live very much in harmony with nature. Their progress is in a different direction to ours.
"While we dream of accumulation, they are about environmental sustainability, social justice and spiritual fulfilment. We have many lessons to learn from them. I joined them in some of their rituals and ceremonies. It was an experience beyond this world.
“But their very survival is endangered by us going in and polluting their rivers. They live very simple lives. The land there is very pristine, but if their community increases above a hundred, the families move because the land around cannot sustain more than a hundred people. So they keep their population under control… It is very difficult to walk there without having your heart and soul touched.”
Now, one of Carol’s dreams is to start sharing what she learnt in the rainforests through a symposium called Awakening the Dream, saying, “It’s time to think more about our place on this earth.”
Inspiring changes in others
As a fire starter, Carol says she starts the fire in people so that they can light the fire in others. “It’s as simple as that,” she says. “I don’t profess to make changes to people; they can only do that themselves.
However, if I have the opportunity to switch on a light bulb, start the fire in people and get them to think or feel a little differently – which then allows them to make shifts and changes that gets them to use their full potential – I feel blessed to have played a part in that.”