Happiness At Work #119 ~ latest signs that our wellbeing matters and will matter even more in 2015

Photo: Mark Trezona

Photo: Mark Trezona 2014

Every single person could become more effective and more able to relate to others by developing greater understanding about – and practical capabilities in – their own and each other’s happiness and wellbeing.

We have a tendency to overestimate our “mindreading” abilities, ascribing to people intentions they don’t have, based on our projections of how we would act in a certain situation and on our assumption that others think like us when they don’t. We also err in the other direction: exaggerating perceived differences between members of other social groups and ourselves, which can lead to stereotyping.

The sad conclusion is that we may underestimate the richness and variety of other people’s minds (while not depreciating our own), creating misunderstandings and even dehumanisation  To counteract this, we need to better understand the way our minds work and consciously deeply listen to those who are different than us.

Vertical development comes about when we understand the role physiology and emotion play in decision-making and that unless we can consciously control our physiology and emotion, we will continue to fall prey to sub-optimal decision-making across society.

Those who aren’t aware of the place of physiology and emotion won’t even know they’ve made a sub-optimal decision.

The quality of the thinking – and by extension the decision-making – of the 500 people who run the 147 companies who control the multinationals affects the lives of us all.  And the quality of this thinking is inextricably linked to the physiology and emotional states in which these people operate. 

True equality isn’t just a numbers game. Of course we need more women in senior positions and in the boardroom, but a seat at the table isn’t enough. What is more important is creating a business environment where female leaders have visibility, a strong voice and a central role in driving the future of the company.

If you really want to take advantage of this new science – rather than falling back on the old Maslow pyramid of hierarchical needs – you should focus on: autonomy, relatedness, and competence.

Autonomy is people’s need to perceive that they have choices, that what they are doing is of their own volition, and that they are the source of their own actions.  Relatedness is people’s need to care about and be cared about by others, to feel connected to others without concerns about ulterior motives, and to feel that they are contributing to something greater than themselves.  Competence is people’s need to feel effective at meeting every-day challenges and opportunities, demonstrating skill over time, and feeling a sense of growth and flourishing.

A survey carried out by The Institute of Leadership Management (ILM) in 2013 found that 31% of respondents stated that the one thing that would motivate them to do more at work was better treatment by their employer.  A more motivated workforce ultimately makes for a more profitable and successful organisation.

Even small companies, maybe more so than big, must attract people not just on the job but with the purpose and mission of the organisation.  We’re coming out of a recession and are now in a global values system of giving back, taking care of the environment, being part of a global community. In some way these are memes that we’ve become attuned to.

Young people today – and we know this from the data – don’t only want work they like but they want something that’s bigger than them. They want to make a difference. Maybe it’s always been true but it’s particularly true now.

Positive education rests on the premise that teaching skills that promote positive emotions, relationships, and character strengths and virtues also promotes learning and academic success.  And a rising epidemic of young mental health problems and a narrowing of the school experience makes the need for a new approach to education urgent…

Nearly all of the above words are a mashup from our highlighted stories in the new Happiness At Work #119 and give us this week’s headline.

Here then are these top stories that I have spliced these lines from…

Photo: Mark Trezona 2013

Photo: Mark Trezona 2013

International Positive Education Network: New Global Campaign Group Challenges Narrow, Exam-driven Approach to Education

A new global organisation, the International Positive Education Network (IPEN), has launched, with support from Dallas-based Live Happy LLC. IPEN’s campaign calls for a radical shift in how young people are educated.

IPEN’s campaign is built around evidence showing that developing pupils’ character strengths and wellbeing are as important as academic achievement to their future success and happiness.

With a rising epidemic of young mental health problems and a narrowing of the school experience, the need for a new approach to education is urgent.

IPEN is calling on like-minded individuals and organizations to sign our Manifesto for Positive Education and demonstrate the strong desire for change we believe exists around the world.

Commenting on the launch, James O’Shaughnessy, chair of IPEN and former director of policy to UK Prime Minister David Cameron, said:

“Young people are crying out for a new approach to education, one that prepares them to live a good, meaningful life that is full of purpose.

“That is where positive education comes in. It supports intellectual development and the cultivation of the mind, but it places equal value on the development of character strengths to help young people flourish.

“We are calling on everyone who supports this broader approach to education to sign our Manifesto and make their voices heard.”

Martin Seligman, Senior Adviser to IPEN and the Zellerbach Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, said:

“The high prevalence worldwide of depression among young people, the small rise in life satisfaction, and the synergy between learning and positive emotion all argue that the skills for flourishing should be taught in school.

“There is substantial evidence that students can be taught good character, resilience, positive emotion, engagement and meaning, in such a way that also supports and amplifies their academic studies.

“By taking this broader approach – which I call positive education – we can give our young people the skills and knowledge they need to thrive.”

Link to read the full IPEN press release

Positive education challenges the current paradigm of education, which values academic attainment above all other goals. Drawing on classical ideals, we believe that the DNA of education is a double helix with intertwined strands of equal importance:

  • Academics ~ The fulfillment of intellectual potential through the learning of the best that has been thought and known

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  • Character & Wellbeing ~ The development of character strengths and well-being, which are intrinsically valuable and contribute to a variety of positive life outcomes.

The IPEN Vision

We want to create a flourishing society where everyone is able to fulfil their potential and achieve both success and wellbeing. Every institution in society has a moral obligation to promote human flourishing, and none more so than those responsible for educating young people – families, schools and colleges.

The IPEN Mission

People flourish when they experience a balance of positive emotions, engagement with the world, good relationships with others, a sense of meaning and moral purpose, and the accomplishment of valued goals.

The aim of positive education is to equip young people with the knowledge and life skills to flourish and contribute to the flourishing of others.

Link to the IPEN site and the invitation to sign their manifesto

The Case for Positive Education

by James O’Shaughnessy and Emily E. Larson

Unless we can show that the arguments for positive education are true in practice, as well as in theory, then we will not deserve to change education in the way the International Positive Education Network (IPEN) is proposing. This post, therefore, tries to answer some of the most burning questions with the strongest evidence currently available to support our proposition. Its structure is based on the kind of questions we tend to experience when discussing positive education with an interested but sceptical audience.

Positive education represents a paradigm shift: away from viewing education merely as a route to academic attainment, towards viewing it as a place where students can cultivate their intellectual minds while developing a broad set of character strengths and virtues and wellbeing. This in a nutshell is the ‘character + academics’ approach to education.

Positive education rests on the premise that teaching skills that promote positive emotions, relationships, and character strengths and virtues also promotes learning and academic success.  So it is important to argue that, aside from its own intrinsic value and the wider benefits it brings, educating for character and wellbeing can help the quest for academic excellence.  School interventions that focus on social emotional learning, character development or wellbeing have been shown to increase academic performance as an outcome.  A report by Public Health England has shown that an 11% boost in results in standardised achievement tests has been linked to school programmes that directly improve pupils’ social and emotional learning.

Further evidence suggests that positive educational interventions have been found to increase facets of the student experience that contribute to academic success such as:

  • Hope
  • Engagement in school
  • Academic expectations
  • Motivation
  • Perceptions of ability
  • Life satisfaction
  • Self-worth
  • Classroom behaviour

In separating mental health and wellbeing from academic achievement we are ignoring the fact that depression has been on the rise since World War II despite increasing national wealth, and even worse, almost one in five will experience a major depressive episode before graduating from high school.

This is deeply worrying in itself, but it directly impacts academic achievement too. Adolescents who experience poor mental health at ages 16 to 17 have been found to be less likely to obtain higher education degrees than adolescents without such challenges, suggesting that mental health problems during secondary school have lasting implications for achievement later on in life.

The raw intelligence of an individual is an important determinant of future success and wellbeing but it isn’t the only thing that matters. Research by Angela Duckworth has shown that the character trait called ‘grit’, or passion and perseverance for a long-term goal, is a better predictor of some success outcomes than IQ.  And James Heckman has show that character traits are malleable or ‘skill-like’ and can be improved with good teaching and practice.  In a meta-analysis of positive education interventions, researcher Lea Waters found that interventions targeting students’ character can indeed lead to development of character strengths.

So even if our characters and IQs are partially determined by genes and upbringing, then there is still plenty of room for improvement.

We strongly favour rigorous, stretching academic development as an essential route out of poverty. But on its own it is not enough. Carol Dweck has popularised a construct called the ‘Growth Mindset’, which is the belief that intelligence is malleable and can be changed through hard work and perseverance. It stands opposed to the ‘Fixed Mindset’, which is the belief that intelligence is inherited and cannot be changed.  Blackwell, Trzesniewski, and Dweck supported this research in their study, which found during difficult transition periods at school, students who have a growth mindset displayed superior academic performance even though the students entered with equal skills and knowledge.  Additional research has found this effect was especially prominent in students who have a stereotype against them, such as being female or from a minority.

A note of caution must be sounded, however. Impressive as these results are, Dweck and her fellow authors note that, “believing intelligence to be malleable does not imply that everyone has exactly the same potential in every domain, or will learn everything with equal ease. Rather, it means that for any given individual, intellectual ability can always be further developed.”   What this means is that, like academic education, character education can make us better version of ourselves, but it cannot change everything about us.

Link to read the original IPEN post

Photo: Mark Trezona 2014

Photo: Mark Trezona 2014

Creating physiological and emotional coherence is one of the biggest challenges of our time

Dr Alan Watkins is an ex-physician dedicated to transforming business and society by vertically developing business leaders. Vertical development is, according to the Global Leadership Foundation, “building our ability to distinguish and let go of our own limited thinking and perceptions.” Alan’s book, Coherence, is a how-to guide.

“People think things but they don’t really understand the phenomenon of thinking and what determines it,” explains Alan.  “We don’t just ‘have a thought’ – every single thought we have occurs in a context of our biology and our emotional state. Both are crucial to not only what we think but how well we think it.

“Despite this, we over-privilege cognition and under-privilege emotional regulation.”

Poor thinking comes as a result of incoherence in our biological and emotional signals. You see this problem in children. Those who are bullied, agitated, nervous or upset simply cannot learn. They lose the cognitive capacity to take in and assimilate new information.

As adults, we less commonly face bullying peers or overbearing teachers. Yet the problem presents in a different way and has far-reaching consequences.

“Part of my mission is to reduce suffering on the planet and we believe big business, while it could be an incredible force for good, is often the source of the greatest suffering.  Some of the companies we work with have 650,000 employees, so when leadership is wrong it affects the lives of 650,000 people.

“Furthermore, business determines outcomes on the planet. A study in New Scientist in October 2013 analysed 40,000 multinationals and found 147 companies basically controlled those multinationals. Assume you have two or three power brokers in each of those 147 companies and you find you have around 500 people that run the planet.”

Basically, the quality of the thinking – and by extension the decision-making – of 500 people affects the lives of us all. And the quality of this thinking is inextricably linked to the physiology and emotional states in which these people operate. That’s why Alan focuses on leaders.

The problem is more acute because of globalisation and the ever-increasing complexity and uncertainty of the world around us. To make optimal decisions, we must consider ever more variables and consequences.

“The amount of pressure and the intensity of business structures these days is so overwhelming. Robert Kegan, professor of education at Harvard, says most leaders these days are ‘in over their heads,’ dealing with a level of complexity that they literally can’t cope with.”

Alan’s model of decision-making looks like a pyramid and is built on layers. At the bottom is physiology, topped with emotion, then feeling, and then cognition. Finally comes the decision we make. We think we’re clever for ‘coming to’ a decision, when in reality it’s heavily influenced by the bulk of the pyramid that has come before.

What is emotion really? According to Alan it’s the ‘tune’ played  by all the various physiological parts of the body interacting in a multitude of ways, like an orchestra. The feeling is our conscious awareness of this tune.

In order to adapt and become better at thinking and better at decision-making, we need an orchestra that is aligned, tuneful and rhythmic rather than one that is erratic. This is effectively ‘coherence’ throughout the system. With that comes a solid, stable breeding ground for clear thought production.

The pyramid is a two-way street. Our thoughts and feelings can influence our physiology and our emotions. When we remember a stressful occasion we feel our body lose coherence. Our heart rate intensifies. Our pupils dilate. We can’t think straight.

It feels like we have no control of our physiology and our emotion.

Alan teaches people the skills they need to take back conscious control of their physiology and emotion and therefore prepare themselves for different situations depending on what type of thinking or emotion is needed. About to go on stage to make a presentation? You need to put yourself in a ‘passionate’ state. About to make a big pitch to a client? You need to put yourself in a ‘competent’ state.

One of the biggest influencers of our system coherence is heart rate variability. A smooth, consistent, rhythmic heart rate can actually entrain the rest of our physiology to ‘beat in time.’ And the best way to influence our heart rate variability is through breathing to a set pattern.

What else can we do? Better emotional literacy and management is key. Alan says that if he could only teach his children one skill it would be emotional management. This is the ability to identify, classify, deconstruct and invoke emotions at will.

This is important because unless we know how we’re feeling at any one time then how can we know how our thinking is affected? And from that, how can we know which emotional state we need to be in?

In his book Coherence, Alan distinguishes between two emotions, frustration and disappointment. They feel very similar. But while frustration should encourage you to push forward and tackle obstacles, disappointment is designed to make you take a step back and reassess before deciding on a new course of action.

How can you come to an optimal decision if you can’t differentiate between the two? The decision you make, however rational you think it is, will be created in the context of the emotional interpretation you make, yet you’ll feel like you’ve come to the decision through rational cognitive process.

Once we understand and can label a wide range of emotions, we can better identify how we feel and ensure we are aware of how this affects the decisions we make.

“If you transform your own capability, your whole orientation and the whole way you perceive yourself and your own identify and the world around you, the situation, transforms. You see it completely differently, it’s like moving from black and white to colour.”

This vertical development comes about when we understand the role physiology and emotion play in decision-making and that unless we can consciously control our physiology and emotion, we will continue to fall prey to sub-optimal decision-making across society.

Those who aren’t aware of the place of physiology and emotion won’t even know they’ve made a sub-optimal decision.

Every single person could become more effective and more able to relate to others by vertically developing along the lines of emotional regulation and system coherence.

Link to read the full HRZone article

Photo: Mark Trezona 2014

Photo: Mark Trezona 2014

Six Tips for Business Leaders to Show Staff They’re Cared For

Learn more ways to improve your workplace wellbeing with The Ultimate Wellbeing Toolkit – a practical learning hub brought to you by financial protection specialists Unum, designed to equip HR professionals with the skills and knowledge they need to show employees that they are valued. You can also find out more information about the Institute of Leadership and Management.

Showing your staff that you care about them simply makes good business sense. Staff who feel that their employer cares about them are likely to be more engaged and productive.

A survey carried out by The Institute of Leadership Management (ILM) in 2013 found that 31% of respondents stated that the one thing that would motivate them to do more at work was better treatment by their employer.

In short, a more motivated workforce ultimately makes for a more profitable and successful company.

So what does a caring employer look like? Below are some practical tips to help managers increase caring while boosting productivity and profitability:

1. Thank the people who put you there

First, consider who your organisation has to thank for its success and how you can demonstrate your appreciation to these key stakeholders, whether it’s the employees, suppliers or communities you operate in. This means taking the time to understand their needs and aspirations and meeting them. This could include:

  • Structured praise and recognition/development opportunities/team-building days
  • Charitable donations to the local community/allowing your staff to volunteer with community projects

2. Nurturing relationships is not just a “nice to have”

ILM research reveals managers find working relationships (within teams and with customers and suppliers) increasingly important. Developing and maintaining good working relationships are the key means of, not distraction from, doing real work.

Organisations are using the strength of working relationships as a market differentiator. Managers should take time to properly engage with colleagues and understand their aspirations and concerns. Twenty-nine per cent of managers have had training in relationship management.

3. Keep lines of communication open

In a world of digital working, with more people working flexible hours, you might not be the same location as your staff as often. Therefore communication has become a top priority. It’s not surprising that communication has been noted as the top skill managers would like to develop.

However, recent ILM research has noted that this is also the skill which managers state their peers tend to do most badly.

The key to communicating well is fostering good two-way communications. It’s essential that people feel consulted and listened to.

4. Help your managers manage 

Communication, planning, and leadership and management are all cited as being increasingly important but they can be hard to achieve, especially in large organisations.

Training and qualifications will help, especially for people who are newly promoted into management: frequently they are promoted on the basis of technical/subject ability and left without support when it comes to putting management and leadership into practice.

ILM has found that only 57% of organisations have a leadership and management talent pipeline, even though 93% recognise that a lack of management skills is affecting their business.

5. Find out what your employees value

We know from ILM research that the top-ranked (by both managers and employees) performance motivator is job enjoyment.

  • Only 13% of employees rated bonuses as a top motivator
  • 59% of employees rated job enjoyment as a top motivator
  • 31% of employees identified better treatment from their employer; more praise and a greater sense of being valued would make them more motivated.

This could be non-financial recognition and reward, improved office environments, team and company away days or schemes to encourage innovation and creative thinking.

Think how jobs are structured and what opportunities there are to provide development – whether formal training and qualifications or informal opportunities such as secondments or varying the projects or roles of each staff member.

6.  Ensure everyone works towards the goals of the business

Have clearly stated values and work out with everyone what those look like in practice (abstract words on posters or screen savers are not enough).

This will help everyone to pull in the same direction and will also help people applying to work for your company to gauge their suitability.

Having a clear vision which managers can pass on to staff will help everyone to work towards the same thing. ILM research also indicates that it will improve staff positivity and performance.

Specific training and development will help aspiring and current organisational leaders to turn dry objectives into something tangible that their people can reach.

Link to read the original article

see also:

The Art and Science of Giving and Receiving Criticism at Work

Understanding the psychology of criticism can help you give better feedback and better deal with negative reviews…

by Courtney Seiter

Photo: Mark Trezona 2014

Photo: Mark Trezona 2014

Companies  Are Realising They Must Hire Self-Learners

Josh Bersin, founder of Bersin by Deloitte,  shares his insights from their Global Human Capital Trends study with 1700 organisations around the world and his observations of current trends and movements…

…It would be nice if employees took a holistic view of their job and their company but most don’t. Most go to work, try to do the best they can, and hope they get paid well, then they go home.

We must build a work environment that works and select for people who suit our culture. Job fit is not just skills and capability but cultural fit e.g. we’re a fun-loving company, we’re a serious company, we work late, we don’t work late etc.

All these are cultural things. These statements will attract different people. If you don’t characterise your culture, you’ll get some percentage of people leaving because the company just isn’t for them.

We have to build organisations that attract the right people.

I think cultural fit does not mean uniformity of thinking and uniformity of race, gender etc. So most of the time when you look at culture you’re looking at behaviour that crosses different work styles and thinking styles.

Deloitte is at its roots a financial services accounting firm, so there’s a certain amount of rigour, quality etc. That doesn’t mean you need to be this race or this gender but you do have to be comfortable with that culture.

A lot of innovative companies have cultures that are very open. One of Zappos’ culture attributes is ‘we like wacky people,’ and they are saying, we want you to be yourself, it’s ok to be different, to look different. Culture doesn’t mean we’re all the same.

Even small companies, maybe more so than big, must attract people not just on the job but due to the purpose and mission of the organisation. Some people will go to work and do their job anywhere – some engineers, for example, even though might be making a nuclear bomb.

Young people today – and I know this from the data – don’t only want work they like but they want something that’s bigger than them. They want to make a difference. Maybe it’s always been true but it’s particularly true now.

We’re coming out of a recession and are now in a global values system of giving back, taking care of the environment, being part of a global community. In some way these are memes that we’ve become attuned to.

The word talent has been overused so it’s now a buzz word. But more and more economic studies are showing a higher and higher percentage of the economy is driven by services, intellectual property, creativity and innovation – things that require human beings.

At the same time there are the machines that are as smart as people – like Watson from IBM – starting to replace white collar jobs. So you go to a fast food joint and there’s no one there to take your order, you just press a button. And that’s happening in law and accounting and almost every other discipline.

Companies are realising they have to look for people who are creative and self-learners. There’s an accelerating obsolescence of skills. If you’re a software engineer and you don’t know machine learning, you’re falling out of the mainstream. The rate of change in all these technical disciplines is going up.

Companies want to hire self-learners who are passionate about their domain, hard-working, collaborative, creative and want to stay ahead.

More and more learning is pull-driven – by the person. The training department still has to do a lot of formal training but they have to create a learning environment where they can learn on their own.  Otherwise, staff will go outside and learn it somewhere else. That’s why MOOCs are so big and all these online learning systems – people are scrambling around trying to keep their skills and careers modern.

Deloitte just published this study from the Center for the Edge based on profiles of personalities at work. One is called the Passionate Explorer – these are people who are domain experts who love their domain and who continually educate themselves in their domain. Around 15-20% of the workforce falls into this category.

They aren’t always the most execution-focused people, but companies realise you need some of these people in your organisation.

Link to read the full HRZone article

Photo: Mark Trezona 2013

Photo: Mark Trezona 2013

Five career lessons to live by

From accepting that you can’t always have a plan to making sure your voice is heard above the noise,  shares these words of wisdom are relevant to us all from five inspirational businesswomen at this year’s annual  Institute of Directors Women in Leadership conference

“You don’t need to have a plan to succeed” ~ Dr Suzy Walton

The “what are you going to do with your life?” question pops up at a worryingly young age, and while it’s wonderful if you have a clear passion and vision for your career path, it can be hugely intimidating for those of us who have never really had a clue.

Setting goals for yourself can be a positive step forward, but it can also leave you blinkered and unable to see the unexpected opportunities that might come your way. Trying to stick too rigidly to a plan can also mean that if life throws you a curveball, it can knock you sideways. Being open to change and accepting that things don’t always work out the way you thought they would could be the key to a happier life and a more exciting, varied career path.

“Sometimes you need to pretend to have authority” ~ Anne-Marie Huby, founder of Justgiving

When asked how she dealt with the difficulties of asserting yourself as a young person in a new role, Huby’s advice was clear: “pretend to be the person you want to be.”

Self-doubt is one of the biggest career stallers out there. You could be brilliant at what you do, but if you don’t act with conviction then others will doubt you and your leadership. If you have trouble being authoritative and believing in yourself at work, perhaps its time to see how far a little acting takes you, and how quickly the way you project yourself becomes the reality.

“You have to speak up if you want to get noticed” ~ Dr Leah Totton, winner of the Apprentice and founder of Dr Leah Clinics

If you work in a company where good work is always rewarded and credit is always given to the right person, then you’re one of the lucky ones. For most of us, sitting back and hoping that someone notices that we’ve been in the office since sunrise isn’t the route to career success. If you want to stand out from the crowd and prove that you deserve that promotion/pay rise/investment then you have to stand up for yourself so that you can be heard over the noise.

“Starting a new business always takes longer than you think” ~ Pippa Begg, director of Board Intelligence

For many women, entrepreneurship offers a rewarding alternative to the corporate rat race. Running your own business is often painted as the perfect situation, offering motivation, job satisfaction and the opportunity to set your own rules. The reality however, can be more challenging than you could possibly imagine.

“People will tell you that it takes twice as long as you think it will to get your first client,” said Begg. “Forget that – it takes at least five times longer.” It took Board Intelligence over a year to get its first client; a time frame that would have left many entrepreneurs ready to give up. For Begg and her business partner, a firm belief in their proposition kept them going, and a few years down the line they boast an impressive lineup of clients.

“Diversity is a seat at the table; inclusion is having a voice” ~ Cindy Miller, president of European operations at UPS

Miller joined the famously male-dominated company she now runs 25 years ago as a package car driver and worked her way up to her current position. She described her first promotion to manager, and how she later discovered that she had been fourth choice for the role, behind three men.

She spoke about current company developments, including mentoring, support and community building for female employees, emphasising the importance of cultural changes as well as practical ones.

True equality isn’t just a numbers game. Of course we need more women in senior positions and in the boardroom, but a seat at the table isn’t enough. What is more important is creating a business environment where female leaders have visibility, a strong voice and a central role in driving the future of the company.

Link to read the original Guardian article

Photo: Mark Trezona 2014

Photo: Mark Trezona 2014

What Maslow’s Hierarchy Won’t Tell You About Motivation

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What you can find amongst this week’s toolbox of practical techniques

Playing To Your Signature Strengths

24 SMS ‘ till Christmas is the initiative from Happy Newcomer that presents a movie and a song that reflect the spirit of each the 24 Character Strengths from Seligman & Peterson’s model that we are using more and more.

In this week’s collection you will find the next six Character Strengths:

  • Gratitude
  • Humility
  • Love of Learning
  • Social Intelligence
  • Zest & Enthusiasm

Three Critical Conversations that Boost Employee Engagement

by  and 

Employee engagement is an individual experience, and here are three types of conversations that will give you critical engagement-boosting information from your employees…

1. The “Start, Stop, Continue, Increase” Conversation

Here’s how this conversation might sound:

Lisa, one of the things I like to do with each new hire is get specific feedback on how I manage … specific feedback on what works for them and what doesn’t. So, with that in mind, I’d like to get your responses to the following questions:

  • First, what’s one thing that I do that is really helpful in terms of bringing out the best in you that I should keep doing?
  • The second question I’d like to get your response to is ‘What’s one thing I do that irritates or frustrates you, so that would be the one thing I should STOP doing, if I want to bring out the best in you?
  • The third question I’ll be asking is, ‘What’s one thing you recommend I START doing, because by doing this, I will make the biggest positive impact in your work experience and in my ability to bring out the best in you?’
  • Finally, what’s something I do that is really positive, but, I could be doing it a lot more?

Those are the four questions I’d like to get your take on. So, here they are on a sheet of paper. To give you some time to think rather than catch you off guard, how about if you think about your answers and then we can go through them next week when we meet?”

Because most employees have never been asked such questions, and because many people need time to think through their questions and responses, you will get better quality answers by letting them reflect on their answers.

2. The “What Would Be Most Helpful?” Conversation

This is a more focused, situation-specific request for feedback on your management style.

So, here’s how it might sound:

When I asked you to go search out that difficult answer, was that helpful or would it have been better for me to have teamed you up with Joe?”

Asking “What would be most helpful?” in the conversation gives you valuable information you can use to tailor your approach to each specific employee. As we discussed in our previous article, each employee has their own unique combination of motivators, de-motivators, preferences, and aspirations.

One size does not fit all, and your ability to bring out the best in each employee depends on your ability to tailor your approach to meet each employee’s unique combination.

Asking this also strengthens your relationship with the employee. Even if they don’t have a ready answer, your asking the question demonstrates that you want to manage that employee in the way that works best for them. It communicates that you care enough to want their feedback.

Also, the courage and humility demonstrated in such a request engenders tremendous respect and appreciation in the employee.

3. The “What would You Like to Know About Me?” Conversation

This conversation is especially useful for new employees. It saves them from the unnecessary anxiety caused by an uncommunicative boss who won’t express explicitly what they want from their employees and what makes them happy.

Here’s an example of how this conversation might sound:

Just as we’ve been having conversations about what works best for you and how I can bring out your best, I’d like to have what I call a “What Would You Like to Know About Me?” conversation with you. I have found this to be really helpful with new employees.

This is where they ask anything they want about what I look for most in my team members, my core values, specific business goals, things that drive ME crazy as a supervisor … that sort of thing. So with that in mind, what would you like to know about me that you would find helpful?”

Besides helping them get to know you, this question also allows you to model that it’s beneficial to be direct and open about who you are and what you want. This is a subtle invitation to the employee to do the same with you.

Link to read the original article

Favourite Books of 2014

Berkley’s Greater Good editorsJill Suttie, and Jeremy Adam Smith list their top picks from the previous year – perhaps one or two of these might make a good gift for someone you care about about.  This might well be yourself of course…

the-truth-about-trust- David DeSteno

The Truth About Trust: How It Determines Success in Life, Love, Learning, and More by David DeSteno

Trust is the social glue that allows us to do more together than we could ever do alone. But trustworthiness is a moving target, argues psychologist David DeSteno, dependent on our moods, circumstances, and competing needs; therefore, it’s best to learn how trusts works if we want to connect with others without being taken for a ride.

As social animals, we’ve developed shortcuts for knowing whom to trust—“gut reactions,” based on subtle cues, like folding arms across one’s chest or leaning back—that signal someone is untrustworthy. While some of these can be quite accurate, others are subject to manipulation and prejudice, which DeSteno demonstrates with ingenious science experiments. Some of his findings fly in the face of conventional wisdom—most notably, the view that trustworthiness is a fixed trait. Instead, he argues, being trustworthy depends on an internal calculus, where we weigh the benefits versus the costs of acting with integrity in any given situation.

Our ability to predict our own trustworthiness—like trusting ourselves to refrain from adultery—is hampered by our inability to predict future cost/benefits and by our tendency to rationalize our own behavior. He argues that we should work toward nurturing our trusting nature and our trustworthiness if we want to succeed in life and contribute to a more harmonious society.

Mindwise - Nicholas EpleyMindwise: How We Understand What Others Think, Believe, Feel, and Want by Nicholas Epley

Though we humans are equipped with a brain specially attuned to predict what others are thinking, feeling, and planning, there are many cases in which our “mindreading” powers lead us astray. Social psychologist Nicholas Epley presents fascinating research on how our social brains work and why we sometimes can’t look beyond our own preconceptions.

Epley suggests we have a tendency to overestimate our “mindreading” abilities, ascribing to people intentions they don’t have, based on our projections of how we would act in a certain situation and on our assumption that others think like us when they don’t. We also err in the other direction: exaggerating perceived differences between members of other social groups and ourselves, which can lead to stereotyping.

The sad conclusion is that we may underestimate the richness and variety of other people’s minds (while not depreciating our own), creating misunderstandings and even dehumanization. To counteract this, we need to better understand the way our minds work and consciously deeply listen to those who are different than us.

Making Grateful KidsMaking Grateful Kids: The Science of Building Character by Jeffrey Froh and Giacomo Bono

Many parents worry that our modern culture, with its focus on materialism, will make their kids spoiled and entitled. But, while culture can have a negative impact, researchers Jeffrey Froh and Giacomo Bono suggest ways parents can avoid this outcome: by helping kids develop gratitude.

Research has shown that grateful kids have all kinds of advantages later in life—better relationships, higher levels of happiness and optimism, and more commitment to community, to name a few. Froh and Bono’s book outlines that research and provides thirty-two research-based tips for parents to encourage gratitude in their children. Much of what they suggest falls into the category of overall good parenting—i.e. being present for your kids, encouraging their talents, and providing needed support. In other cases, their tips involve specific gratitude practices, as well as role-modeling the gratitude behavior you want to see in your kids.

But, their goals go beyond wanting parents to enjoy their kids more: “The ultimate function that gratitude may serve in human development…is to help individuals find their own life story for elevating others and to make a difference in the world,” they write.

The Upside of Your DownsideThe Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self—Not Just Your “Good” Self—Drives Success and Fulfillment by Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener 

“Every emotion is useful,” write the authors of The Upside of Your Dark Side. “Even the ones we think of as negative, including the painful ones.”

Kashdan and Biswas-Diener delve deep into the research to understand why “negative” states like anger or sadness have evolved; they also look at what happens when positive emotions aren’t restrained by negative ones that may cause us to reflect, take a stand against unfairness, or speak our minds. Of course, not all anger is useful; not all sadness is healthy. This is where the book shines: The authors tease out the differences between, for example, anger and rage, and then provide very concrete tips for managing negative states so that they don’t run out of control.

But The Upside of Your Dark Side also contains a larger cultural critique of movements for greater happiness and well-being. Positive emotions are good, argues this book, but focusing excessively on them can cut us off from our whole selves.

Empathy - why it matters and how to get itEmpathy: Why It Matters, and How to Get It by Roman Krznaric

Roman Krznaric, a philosopher and founding faculty member of London’s School of Life, explains how we humans are wired for empathy and why empathy is so important to cultivate.

Science shows that we literally have brain circuits devoted to trying to understand how another person is feeling and to “feel with” them. Yet there are social, political, and psychological barriers to feeling empathy that can get in the way. Krznaric’s book argues that we need to understand these barriers and find ways to overcome them if we are to create the compassionate society we want.

Empathy is not about pity or sympathy, he writes, but about truly putting yourself in another’s worldview and treating them accordingly—“Do unto others as they would want you to do unto them.” He outlines six habits of highly empathic people—i.e. immersing yourself in another culture, engaging in conversation with people who don’t share your views, or joining a choir with people from many walks of life—as a way of decreasing prejudice and developing empathy.

Brainstorm - the power and purpose of the teenage brainBrainstorm: The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain by Daniel Siegel

The cultural view that impulsive teen behavior is due to “raging hormones” is outdated and just plain wrong. These two books explain what’s actually going on in teens’ lives and what we can do to support and nurture them on their path to adulthood.

 

Age of Opportunity - lessons from the new science of adolesenceAge of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence by Laurence Steinberg

Their advice rests on what scientists now understand about the human brain and teen development. During adolescence, the brain starts to become more efficient by “pruning” out neural connections that are less needed, making adolescence a period of both great neural reorganization and creativity.

Ha! the science of when we laugh and whyHa!: The Science of When We Laugh and Why by Scott Weems

You may assume that the appreciation of humor is too idiosyncratic to study scientifically; but you’d be wrong. Psychologist Scott Weems has delved into the science of laughter and come up with an entertaining read about what humor is and what it does for our brains, our health, and our relationships.

It’s true that not everyone finds the same jokes funny. But the common thread in different types of humor is that they all involve dealing with surprise and resolving the ensuing cognitive dissonance in the brain—neural processing that has benefits in other realms of our lives, such as creativity and insight.

Laughing at jokes also releases the feel-good hormone dopamine in the brain, and can increase blood flow and strengthen the heart, much like aerobic exercise does. Perhaps that’s why a sense of humor often tops the list of desirable qualities in a mate.

People say that “laughter is the best medicine,” and laughter has indeed been shown to decrease pain and to reduce stress. Weems suggests laughing at jokes even if they aren’t funny is a good strategy. It will make your life happier and healthier and, because laughter is contagious, spread good feelings to those around you.

Link to the original Greater Good article

Photo: Mark Trezona 2013

Photo: Mark Trezona 2013

Happiness At Work edition #119

All of these stories and many more are collected together in this week’s latest edition of Happiness At Work

Enjoy…

Resilience ~ the increasingly must-have skillset for us all

Southwick & Charney's 10 Essential Resilience Capabilities (BridgeBuilders STG Ltd. 2014)

Southwick & Charney’s 10 Essential Resilience Capabilities (BridgeBuilders STG Ltd. 2014)

The following post is adapted from materials we use in our resilience workshop and eLearning programmes.  We hope you find these useful.

Resilience is becoming one those things we are all expected to be good at – and it may even be starting to be seen as some kind of new panacea.

Last year Forbes predicted that it would be one of the key new trends in business.

The UK Government has called for resilience to be taught in schools and resilience is being looked to for our economic recovery and future success.

In their book, ‘Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back,’ co-authors by Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy feature a type of workplace resilience which has involved innovative CEOs all over America and abroad to hire Marketplace Chaplains to provide pastoral care and go some new ways to meet the increasing sense of value in employee wellbeing.

 Zolli described the thinking in a recent New York Times piece, Learning to Bounce Back

“[A] new dialogue is emerging around a new idea, resilience: how to help vulnerable people, organisations and systems persist, perhaps even thrive, amid unforeseeable disruptions. Where sustainability aims to put the world back into balance, resilience looks for ways to manage in an imbalanced world.”

Similar trends are being noticed in the UK.  Here are some thoughts by Stefan Stern from his January 2014 Guardian article:

Yes, teach workers resilience – but they’ll still have a breaking point

"Everyone has a breaking point, no matter how stiff their upper lip"

“Everyone has a breaking point, no matter how stiff their upper lip”

As the global economic race sets in, it is leaders’ responsibility to organise work in a way that does not harm people’s health

This “global race” business is no laughing matter. It’s as if the organisers of the London 2012 Olympics want us all to stay in training. The language of fitness and athleticism is everywhere: we have to be flexible, we have to be agile, we have to be nimble.

And now, it seems, we have to be resilient too. The civil service is the latest organisation to support “resilience training” as a way of helping staff deal with the pressures of work. Ursula Brennan, permanent secretary at the ministry of justice, told the FT that colleagues could benefit from developing coping skills in today’s tougher climate.

Who could be against resilience, or greater fitness come to think of it? The healthy worker may be more resistant to colds and flu, and will have the energy to keep going when others start to tire. Economists continue to worry about the chronic poor productivity in the UK. A lack of resilience may have something to do with it. Whether you are on a late or early shift, there is work to be done and targets to be hit. That means being ready and able to perform.

But what are we really talking about when we use the word “resilience”?

Calmly rising above the daily irritations of the workplace is one thing. Suppressing anxiety in an attempt to appear in control is another. If the demands being made on people are unreasonable then trying to stay resilient may be unwise. Everyone has a breaking point, no matter how stiff their upper lip.

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of the mental health charity Mind, says this. “Talking about mental health is still a taboo in many workplaces,” He supports “any training which can equip staff with the skills they need to help look after their own mental wellbeing”.

There is a caveat, however. Resilience should not be seen as a way of putting up with anything. “Nobody should be expected to cope with ever-increasing demands, excessive workloads and longer working hours,” he says.

What really adds to stress and a sense of powerlessness at work is a loss of autonomy, either as a result of poor work organisation or the impossibility of being able to speak up. And while it might seem refreshing to hear a senior civil servant discussing the need for a more open culture and better two-way communication between bosses and employees, if this doesn’t happen in practice then stress levels are likely to rise.

But a positive mindset can go a long way to help individuals to overcome the most difficult of situations.

Resilience is definitely something that can be learned and is worth cultivating – it increases our power and range of choices over our circumstances – whatever they may be – and therefore, ultimately, the outcomes we produce.

And it is important to note that healthy adaptation to stress depends not only on the individual, but also on available resources through family, friends and variety of organisations, and on the characteristics of specific cultures and religions, communities, societies and governments – all of which in themselves may be more or less resilient.

Mark Trezona 2014

“The forces of fate that bear down on man and threaten to break him also have the capacity to ennoble him.” – Elisabeth S. Lukas, a protégé’ of the neurologist, psychologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl,

What is resilience?

It is estimated that up to 90% of us will experience at least one serious traumatic event in our lives.

Traumatic events throw our lives into turmoil in unpredictable ways; no two people will respond to them in exactly the same manner.

For some, the stress of the event will become chronic, lasting for years.

But most of us find ways to meet the challenge and continue with purposeful lives. For a period after their ordeal we may become distressed, but in time we will bounce back and carry on. For some, it will be almost as if the trauma had never occurred. For others, the distress will persist, but they will find healthy ways to cope.

And some survivors will even grow stronger and wiser because of their trauma. These survivors may report that their tragedy has helped them to appreciate life more, to become closer to family and friends, to find greater meaning, and sometimes to embark on a new mission in life. In the words of Elisabeth S. Lukas, a protégé’ of the neurologist, psychologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, “The forces of fate that bear down on us and threaten to break us also have the capacity to ennoble us.”

Shawn Achor – who talks about resilience specifically in Principle 4 – “Falling Up” of his Happiness Advantage model:

“The people who can most successfully get themselves up off the mat after failure or setbacks are those that define themselves not by what has happened to them, but by what they can make out of what happened.”

Defining resilience

Resilience is complex, multidimensional and dynamic in nature.

Resilience - an increasingly must-have skillset

Resilience – an increasingly must-have skillset

Zolli and Healy define resilience as “the capacity … of a person to maintain their core purpose and integrity in the face of dramatically changed circumstances…”

In people, resilience refers to the ability to continue to survive and even to thrive after encountering difficulty. The American Psychological Association defines it as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats and even significant sources of stress – such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace or financial stresses.’

In his book Aging Well, Harvard University psychologist George Vaillant (2002) describes resilient individuals as resembling “a twig with a fresh, green living core. When twisted out of shape, such a twig bends, but it does not break; instead it springs back and continues growing”

Resilience has been defined as an attitude that enables the individual to examine, enhance and utilise the strengths, characteristics and other resources available to him or her. Further expansions of this definition of resilience include:

An individual’s response and methods used to allow them to successfully navigate through or past an event perceived to be stressful.

“The flexibility in response to changing situational demands, and the ability to bounce back from negative emotional experiences” (Tugade et al, 2004) or “a set of flexible cognitive, behavioural and emotional responses to acute or chronic adversities which can be unusual or common place.” (Neenan, 2010).

“The capacity to mobilise personal features that enable individuals, groups and communities (including controlled communities such as a workforce) to prevent, tolerate, overcome and be enhanced by adverse events and experiences” (Mowbray, 2010).

The term “bouncing back” is used to describe resilience, but this belies the struggles and adaptations that an individual has to make in order to emerge stronger from a stressful situation and the growth that is part of resilience.

Dimensions of Personal Resilience

Resilience is far more than a simple psychological trait or biological phenomenon. In order to truly understand it, researchers must approach it from multiple perspectives and examine it through a number of different scientific lenses,

Here are the five human dimensions of resilience, mapped on to our favourite tool for developing greater resilience: Southwick & Charney’s 10 Essential Resilience Capabilities model (more about this below):

 

5 Dimensions of Resilience mapped onto Southwick & Charney's 10 Essential Capabilities (Mark Trezona 2014)

5 Dimensions of Resilience mapped onto Southwick & Charney’s 10 Essential Capabilities (Mark Trezona 2014)

Emotional   Organisation, problem solving, self-determination.

“Approaching life’s challenges in a positive, optimistic way by demonstrating self-control, stamina and good character with your choices and actions.”

When faced with a difficulty we will appraise the situation and make an assessment of whether or not our own skills are sufficient to navigate the event successfully. If we feel there is a deficiency, this can lead to reduced optimism and positivity. Having prior experience of successful problem solving increases our confidence and can assist in the development of a positive attitude.

People with high levels of determination are strong self-believers: they believe that they will be able to tackle most things, which gives them positive feelings of being able to make choices and keep at least some control over what is happening.

Psychological   Vision, self-confidence, self-determination.

“Strengthening a set of beliefs, principles or values that sustain you beyond family, institution and societal sources of strength.”

Having a vision gives us a sense of purpose and direction to one’s life. Without a life vision, activities and actions have a reduced value and therefore affect the effort and determination that will be applied to overcoming the obstacles that get in the way of achieving the goals associated with the vision.

It also means that when competing demands arrive it is easier to allocate time and energy according to your goals/vision, giving precedence to the things that have the greatest worth for you.

Having goals is essential to our survival, and having a strong personal vision contribute to our self-confidence, hope and excitement about the future.

Physical   Self-determination, vision, self-confidence.

“Performing and excelling in physical activities that require aerobic fitness, endurance, strength, healthy body composition and flexibility derived through exercise, nutrition and training.”

This dimension recognises that feeling as physically fit and healthy as we can be is an essential aspect of resilience. What physical exercise contributes to our resilience comes from the degree of effort we make, and the commitment to an exercise programme over a sustained period of time, usually a minimum of 20 to 30 minutes of significant effort three times per week over three to four months (Leith, 2010).

A commitment to a lasting and stretching exercise programme requires self-determination, and achievement of this contributes to mood control, creates positive emotions and raises self-confidence and, consequently, self-belief.

Social   Interaction, relationships, self-confidence.

“Developing and maintaining trusted, valued relationships and friendships that are personally fulfilling and foster good communication including a comfortable exchange of ideas, views and experiences.”

We need others in order to survive, and more we are able to reach out and strengthen our interactions the better. Mowbray advocates strengthening our ability to create reciprocity, the ability to respond, understand and assist in the needs of others – ‘first seek to understand…’ – and, in return, others will respond what we need.

Our own personal resilience can be hugely affected by relationships at work, including the effect of line managers. If our manager is limiting our progression, subtly or overtly, it will be a challenge not to allow this to affect how we feel about ourselves,. Our resilience demands that we can avoid feeling “hard done by” attitude, and remain connected and engaged in our work. (Of course, a manager who invests time in encouraging and nurturing us helps us to build up our psychological capital and to be more resilient when we need to be.)

Family   Relationships, interaction, vision, self-confidence.

“Being part of a unit that is safe, supportive, loving and provides all the resources needed for all members to live in a healthy and secure environment.”

Everyone needs a relationship where they feel safe enough to “just be themselves” without any fear of belittlement, ostracising or other forms of behaviour that make the individual feel that they need to adapt and modify their behaviour. Usually this comes from within the family structure and it is these relationships that can either be supportive and nourishing, or the most punitive and damaging, in which case we will need to develop considerable resilience.

 

What makes some people resilient?

Can the average person learn to become more resilient?

We now know that most of us bounce back naturally from the setbacks and hard times we face.

 

Resilience Curve - most of us with come through whatever setbacks and traumas we face; some us will make ourselves better as a result of dealing with our difficulties (Mark Trezona 2014)

Resilience Curve – most of us with come through whatever setbacks and traumas we face; some us will make ourselves better as a result of dealing with our difficulties (Mark Trezona 2014)

A small minority of us will get trapped and unable to move beyond the trauma we have faced without significant help – this is what we recognise as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The same percentage of us are so experts at resilience, that they not only bounce back, they grow stronger and believe things to be somehow finer as a result of their experience dealing with the tough times they have had to face.

And these are the people – dozens of them – that psychiatrists Stephen Southwick and Dennis Charney studied to create their 10 Essential Resilience Capabilities that we have based our starfish model on

Southwick & Charney interviewed three different groups of people:

  1. Former Vietnam Prisoners Of War who, like Viktor Frankl, had to survive and come through severe deprivation and sometimes long periods of what might appear to have been insurmountable and never-ending hopelessness
  2. American Special Forces Instructors – who have to train their people to be resilient in advance of almost certain trauma and who are now systematically using techniques for this not just from this model but from Martin Seligman’s Signature Strengths and Positive Psychology teachings too, and are seeing significantly reduced numbers of returning servicemen and women suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  3. And the third group of people Southwick and Charney interviewed were civilian men and women who had not only survived enormous stress and trauma, but had somehow endured or thrived, including many of the survivors and protagonists from the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Bouncing back is a choice – but the choice is easier for some

Here is what they write in summary of their extensive research:

When we began this project we assumed that highly resilient people were somehow special, perhaps genetically gifted. We assumed that resilience was relatively rare, reserved for a select group of individuals. But we were wrong.

Resilience is common (Masten, 2001). It can be witnessed all around us, and for most people it can be enhanced through learning and training.

Millions of people all over the world exhibit resilience in their responses to challenging events and circumstances of all kinds.

Most us have been taught to believe that stress is bad.  We have learned to see stress as our enemy, something that we must avoid or reduce.  But the truth is, when stress can be managed, it tends to be very good and even necessary for health and growth.  Without it, the mind and body weaken.  If we can learn to harness stress it can serve as a catalyst for developing greater strength and even wisdom.

And yet we need to acknowledge that building resilience and bouncing back is easier for some that it is for others.

And it is important to say that if you ever feel what you are facing is too much to cope with, and do seek expert help and guidance.

It is vital not to feel that simply by learning these techniques we are then on our own and should be able to make things work for ourselves

Sometimes we need to ask for help and sometimes that help needs to come from a professional in this field.

 

"Falling Up" - Principle #4 of Shawn Achor's Happiness Adavantage

“Falling Up” – Principle #4 of Shawn Achor’s Happiness Adavantage

How Resilient Are You?

Jan Bruce, CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium.com, the online stress management system that teaches people “how to find balance, once and for all,” concludes that there are four key components that contribute to resilience. 

 If there’s a word people in the top ranks of human capital are buzzing about these days, it’s resilience…

The fact is, resilience in a person is far more than a tough-as-Teflon surface or rubbery resolve that helps you rebound from stress or disappointment. Because while we humans are arguably all made from the same stuff, some of us clearly have a way of thriving even when times are tough and stress is unabating.

The four essentials that make the critical difference between hanging tough to get what you want in life and never quite getting there. The most resilient among us can summon these components at will—or, better yet, make them habitual so they don’t have to think twice.

1.   You believe in yourself. Seems simple and obvious, but in fact, you won’t get very far without this. A resilient person is not cocky or overly confident; quite the opposite: they have a clear sense of their own potential, capability, and ability to cope and achieve — a top trait of resilient people.

It’s this belief that contributes to self-efficacy, which means not only your ability to do a thing but to access the resources to get the help you need.

2.   You have the ability to see what is possible, while also seeing what is.  Optimism has been touted as above-all important, but resilient people temper this with a less-is-more approach. Blind optimism is a liability, but tempered with clear vision, an optimistic outlook is an asset, and I’m far more likely to trust someone with a sense of realistic optimism than someone who refuses to take into account the downsides in the “spirit of positivity.” The most resilient people assess their surroundings as well as their own strengths and weaknesses in context, and know where they will excel — and where they will fall short.

At the same time, they have a positive bias—they expect good things from the world and from other people. It’s this kind of outlook that allows them to do what’s also critical: to see the world for what it is. And you need both. The clear vision is what gives you the power to assess what is and what you need to do about it (realism), and at the same time keep expecting good things. Because if you truly believe that there’s nothing and no one good left, you won’t be able to function, let alone thrive.

3.   You have control over your impulses and feelings. With the ability to self-evaluate and assess a situation must come the willingness to manage the impulses and emotions that result. This is where a resilient person’s rubber meets the road.

The most resilient people aren’t hotheads; they don’t combust over little (or big) things. They’re able to take everything into account before they respond so that they don’t make mistakes, rash decisions, or other actions they may regret. Unchecked emotions and impulses not only contribute to those actions, but can cost them some self-preservation, as they’re big contributors to stress. This takes a lot of practice, no question! We’ll spend our lives learning to be better. But it is a skill that can be learned and honed, and the most resilient among us know that.

4.   You aim high and reach out.  A resilient person doesn’t curl up and die over the slightest rejection or failure. In fact, a resilient person does the opposite of curl up; they expand. They reach out—even in the wake of crisis.

This is one of the most distinguishing characteristics of resilience: Your ability to continue to aim high and reach for it, as opposed to lowering your standards, expectations, or efforts. So when things don’t go your way (as they sometimes don’t), and you feel hindered or pushed back, your inner resilience can keep you coming back, and reaching out, not just to “try again,” but to outdo yourself, once again.

Link to read the original Forbes article

We can all learn to be more resilient

We have chosen the starfish to be the poster image of Southwick & Charney’s model, because starfish are one of those extraordinary beings that are capable of growing themselves back if they lose a part of themselves – in fact they can re-grow themselves from a single cell. So if they lose an arm , little by little over time they can grow it back.

Neuroplasticity is our human form of this perpetual capacity for growth.  This is “the ability of the nervous system to respond to intrinsic or extrinsic stimuli by reorganising its structure, function and connections.”

You may recognise this idea from other teachings from the science of happiness, for example Shawn Achor’s Tetris Effect principle, and we know from other studies that if we keep a Gratitude Journal or make a 3 Good Things list every day, after 21 days we have physically rewired the circuitry in our brains so that we are autonomically scanning for these things without any longer having to deliberately choose to.

When cells in the brain are actively used, they transmit their messages more efficiently, and form more connections with other cells. On the other hand, when brain cells are not stimulated, they die and are pruned away. As with other regions of the body, the well-known adage of “use it or lose it” also applies to the brain.

By repeatedly activating specific areas of the brain, we can strengthen those areas. In other words, by systematically following the advice of the POWs, Special Forces instructors and other resilient women and men from Southwick & Charney’s study, we. too, can become more stress-resilient.

So here are the 10 capabilities that Southwick & Charney discovered that all of the highly expert resilient individuals they interviewed used in their response to stress, difficulty and trauma…

 

Southwick & Charney's 10 Essential Resilience Capabilities, (Mark Trezona, 2014)

Southwick & Charney’s 10 Essential Resilience Capabilities, (Mark Trezona, 2014)

Expert resilience involves…

  1. Realistic Optimism ~ keeping an optimistic but realistic outlook;
  2. Facing Fear ~ confronting fears;
  3. trusting and relying upon our own inner Moral Compass;
  4. Religion & Spirituality ~ having a religious or spiritual practice and finding a way to accept what we cannot change;
  5. seeking out and accepting Social Support; and
  6. imitating strong Resilient Role Models;
  7. Physical Fitness ~ attending to our health and wellbeing, and exercising sufficiently intensively to stay physically fit;
  8. Brain Fitness ~ keeping mentally sharp and emotionally strong;
  9. Cognitive & Emotional Flexibility ~ active problem solving, looking to uncover meaning and opportunity in the midst of adversity and even found humour in the bleakest moments;
  10. Meaning & Purpose ~ Finally, resilience means accepting to a very high degree responsibility for our own emotional wellbeing, and even deliberately using our most difficult experiences as a platform for personal growth.

Taken together these are the capabilities that can make us strong and highly resilient and, thus, far more able to – as Shawn Achor words it – Fall Up when we encounter problems and setbacks in our work – as well as in our lives.

 

1. Realistic Optimism: belief in a brighter future

Ignition: Realistic Optimism, Resilience Capability #1

Ignition: Realistic Optimism, Resilience Capability #1

Optimism serves as fuel that ignites resilience and provides energy to power all of the other resilience factors. It facilitates an active and creative approach to coping with stressful situations.

Optimism is a future-oriented attitude, involving hope and confidence that things will turn out well. Optimists believe that the future will be bright, that good things will happen to them, and that, with enough hard work, they will succeed. Pessimists, in contrast, see the future as dim. They believe that bad things will happen to them and doubt that they have the skills and stamina to achieve their goals.

BUT Blind optimism doesn’t work

Realistic optimists pay close attention to negative information that is relevant to the problems they face. However, unlike pessimists, they do not remain focused on the negative. They tend to disengage rapidly from problems that appear to be unsolvable. That is, they know when to cut their losses and turn their attention to problems that they believe that they can solve.

How does optimism increase resilience?

Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson observes that positive emotions have been shown to reduce physiological arousal and to broaden our visual focus, our thoughts and our behaviour. When people experience positive emotions and an accompanying broadening of attention and behaviour, their thinking tends to become more creative, inclusive, flexible and integrative. Experiments have shown that inducing a positive mood (e.g. by showing participants a funny movie or reading them a funny story) increases people scope of attention, their abilities to solve problems accurately, and their interest in socialising and in strenuous as well as leisurely activities. Thus, by broadening attention and action, positive emotions can contribute to our creativity, physical health, relationships with family and friends, and our ability to acquire new knowledge, and our psychological resilience.

Three coping mechanisms related to broadening attention include:

Positive reappraisal of trying circumstances

When optimists broaden their attention, they increase their capacity to positive reappraise situations that initially appear to be negative. The process of reframing allows them to approach hardship as a challenge and to find opportunity embedded in adversity. Optimists who are realists don’t deny the difficulties they face, but they do tend to look for a silver lining.

 Goal-directed, problem-focused coping

Optimists tend to cope with stress by actively employing strategies to solve problems. They gather information, acquire necessary skills, plan, set goals, make decisions, resolve conflicts, and seek social support. Research has shown that optimism and positive expectations tend to promote active striving, while pessimism and negative expectations are associated with feelings of weakness and helplessness that may lead to unhelpful behaviours like self-pity, resentment, denial and avoidance of problems.

Infusion of meaning into ordinary events

Optimists are more likely than pessimists to report that their lives are meaningful. While it is widely believed that a sense of meaning and purpose enhances positive emotions and happiness, researchers have recently begun to ask whether it also works the other way around – whether positive emotions and feelings of happiness can enhance one’s belief that life has meaning. The optimist may be more likely than the pessimist to see the ‘big picture’ and to view daily experiences within a larger framework of meaning.

The neuroscience of optimism

The prefrontal cortex is essential for guiding behaviour, regulating emotions, and understanding the difference between potential rewards and punishments. It is also essential for imagining the future and setting goals – functions that relate directly to optimism. The prefrontal cortex enables us to engage in optimistic processes like hoping for the best and imagining a bright future, anticipating and preparing to meet a challenge, and making plans to achieve and enjoy success.

The prefrontal cortex is also involved in learning. Even though optimism has a substantial hereditary component, it can be augmented through learning. Even if you are a born pessimist, or a very limited situational optimist, you can teach yourself to increase optimistic thought.

Ways to become more optimistic

One way to increase optimism involves learning a set of cognitive skills that are part of what Martin Seligman has termed ‘learned optimism.

Social scientists and cognitive behaviourists describe two basic approaches for learning and enhancing optimism: increasing positive thinking; and refuting negative thinking. With practice we can teach ourselves to think or insert positive thoughts. We can also teach ourselves not to dwell on negative thoughts. To do this we must learn to distinguish negative thoughts and then to challenge their accuracy.

  •  Use the power of Positive Thinking

Here are some of The Power of Positive Thinking author Vincent Peale recommendations:

Make a true estimate of your ability and then raise it by 10%.

Formulate and stamp indelibly on your mind a mental picture of yourself as succeeding. Always picture success no matter how badly things seem to be going at the moment.

Practice positive and peaceful thinking by making a list of positive and peaceful thoughts and pass them through your mind several times each day.

Practice the technique of suggestive articulation, that is, repeat out loud some positive, success-oriented and peaceful words.

Do not build up obstacles in your imagination.

Adopt an “I don’t believe in defeat” attitude.

Start each day by affirming positive, successful, peaceful and happy attitudes and your days will tend to be pleasant and successful.

  • Spend time with positive people

Two of Peale’s other recommendations, to cultivate friendships with hopeful people and to avoid “worry conversations,” bear special emphasis. Optimism and pessimism can both be contagious, so it is often beneficial to intentionally surround ourselves with people who are positive, confident and encouraging. Under adverse circumstances, people are best able to call upon their own resilience and keep their hopes up if people around them are doing the same.

Ways to Develop Realistic Optimism

Ways to Develop Realistic Optimism

How optimists and pessimists think

Psychologists like Martin Seligman have found that pessimists and optimists have very different explanatory styles (ways of explaining bad a good events to themselves and others.) Optimists tend to respond to adverse events by viewing the consequences as temporary and limited in scope. They are likely to use words such as “sometimes” or “lately.” In addition, optimistic people tend to have an internal locus of control – the belief that they can influence events in their lives.

  • Learn to modify your explanatory style

One practical approach to enhancing optimism involves learning to recognise and modify your typical explanatory style. Developing these cognitive skills may also prove useful when dealing with adversity.

When something bad happens:

Remember that these difficulties won’t last forever. Take one day at a time. Where now there may be only pain, over time good things will return.

Keep the adverse event or situation within its limits: don’t let it pervade other areas of your life.

Think of strengths and resources you can use to help deal with the problem.

Notice what is good, for example, acts of kindness by those who recognise your struggle.

And when something good happens:

Give yourself credit for whatever part you played in making it happen.

Allow yourself to feel grateful for whatever part you didn’t play in it – the efforts or generosity of others, or just simple good luck.

Get the most out of it: think of ways to expand the scope and duration of the positive event or situation.

  • Question your negative beliefs

There is also evidence that we can build optimism by confronting negative thoughts and emotions.

One practical approach to enhancing optimism involves learning to recognise and modify your typical explanatory style. Developing these cognitive skills may also prove useful when dealing with adversity. Here are a few tips.

When something bad happens:

Remember that these difficulties won’t last forever. Take one day at a time. Where now there may be only pain, over time good things will return.

Keep the adverse event or situation within its limits: don’t let it pervade other areas of your life.

Think of strengths and resources you can use to help deal with the problem.

Notice what is good, for example, acts of kindness by those who recognise your struggle.

And when something good happens:

Give yourself credit for whatever part you played in making it happen.

Allow yourself to feel grateful for whatever part you didn’t play in it – the efforts or generosity of others, or just simple good luck.

Get the most out of it: think of ways to expand the scope and duration of the positive event or situation.

In his book Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman recommends responding to negative thoughts “as if they were uttered by an external person whose mission is to make your life miserable.” Sometimes it is helpful to ask yourself specific questions in order to refute negative beliefs. These may include:

  • What is the evidence for this negative belief?
  • Is there a less destructive way to look at this belief?
  • What are the implications of this belief?
  • Am I catastrophising or exaggerating the potential negative impact of the situation?
  • Am I over-generalising, falsely assuming that this particular situation has broad implications?
  • How useful is my pessimistic approach to the problem at hand?

2. Facing fear: an adaptive response

To become more resilient, sooner or later we will need ton face our fears.

Moving Forward: Facing Fears, Resilience Capability #2

Moving Forward: Facing Fears, Resilience Capability #2

Can we prevent or undo fear conditioning?

What happens if you don’t get back on the horse right away? Does there come a time when it’s too late? The answer appears to be no. Until recently it was believed that once a memory had been consolidated into long-term storage it remains essentially permanent. However, newer research suggests that every tie a memory is retrieved it once again becomes unstable for a brief period of time until it is reconsolidated. This unstable period provides another window of time during which the memory can be updated and transformed.

Focus on the goal or mission

“What are my goals? What is my mission? What is the mission of my group? In order to meet my goals and accomplish my mission, I know that I must make a choice, either back down and fail, or face this fear and forge ahead. It’s that simple.

Acquire information about what is feared

“A big part of true fear is the fear of the unknown, when you don’t know what’s going to happen to you. You can’t anticipate, but you think it’s going to be horrible. But most scenarios that we face, we have already learned about from people, from our own experience, or whatever.

Learn and practice the skills necessary to master the fear

“Of all the autonomic responses to the adrenaline rush – including heart rate, respiration, skin conductivity, and muscle tension – the one that we can best control consciously is respiration. Deep, controlled breathing is largely incompatible with the other elements of the fear response. Physical relaxation can get you to the point where mental relaxation, and therefore outward focus, can be re-established and maintained.” (West Point instructor Col. Thomas Kolditz)

Face fear with friends or colleagues

Most people find it easier to face fear with other people, especially those that they know and trust.

Get someone or an organisation to push you

“After you do one thing and conquer it, the next thing will be a little bit easier.”

Fear is ubiquitous. No one escapees its grip. But what is the best way to deal with it? The bottom line: the best way around fear is through it. To conquer fear one must face fear. That’s what resilient people do.

 3. Moral Compass

Moral Compass, Resilience Capability #3

Moral Compass, Resilience Capability #3

In their interviews Southwick & Charney found that the most resilient individuals possessed a keen sense of right and wrong that strengthened them during periods of extreme stress and afterward, as they adjusted to life following trauma. And they also showed high levels of altruism – selflessness, concern for the welfare of others, and giving to others with no expectation of benefit to the self – often stood as a pillar of their value system, or their “moral compass.”

Actively identifying your core values, assessing the degree to which you are living by these values, and challenging yourself to adopt a higher standard can strengthen character and build resilience.

Training for moral compass

Courage is a learned quality, an acquirable set of skills, a practiced competence. If I want to develop my moral courage, where do I begin? In his book Moral Courage Rushworth Kidder outlines a three-step process.

  1.  First, I must perform a candid self-assessment by examining myself, openly and honestly. We all have core values and beliefs. What are mine? Which are the most important to me? Am I living by these principles and values? Am I falling short, and if so, where? Am I motivated to change? Do I have the courage to do so?This self-assessment is only the first step.
  2. Next Kidder recommends that I discuss these questions with highly principled people whose ethics I admire. These discussion can then help me recognise and analyse the numerous situations in life where my actions have moral implications, and to honestly evaluate the risks and dangers involved in defending my core values.
  3. In the third step I practice my moral values and try to uphold them in challenging situations. I need to remain vigilant because it is all too easy to relax our values, make compromises. By repeatedly doing what I know to be right and by taking a stand I solidify my moral compass and grow stronger.

 

Adherence to our own moral compass and resilience are often inextricably linked to one another. We can become more faithful to our moral compass by taking an inventory of our most closely held beliefs and values, by learning from the writings and examples of ethical men and women, by discussing our beliefs with people whose values we respect, and by practising our values, particularly in times of adversity. Step by step we can build our moral courage. When we most need to do the right thing, we will be ready.

4. Spiritual Practice

Spiritual Practice, Resilience Capability #4

Spiritual Practice, Resilience Capability #4

Perhaps more than any of the other resilience factors, religion and spirituality are deeply personal matters about which people have strong feelings. As a potential source of strength and resilience, religion and spirituality, mindfulness and meditation are practiced by billions of people across the planet.

 

There is no one best way to explore the spiritual dimensions of your life or to build spiritual practice. Here are some approaches that may be useful if this is something you do want to try:

  • Set aside a time for contemplation, meditation or prayer as a part of your daily routine. This is often first thing in the morning, last thing at night, or both.
  • Make a regular habit of reading writings pertaining to your beliefs or practice.
  • Designate a physical location for you daily spiritual practice.
  • Practice a physically active form of spirituality such as walking prayer, yoga, martial arts or liturgical dance.
  • Practice a creative form of spirituality such as chanting, singing or playing music, painting or drawing or writing poetry.
  • Become part of a group – physical or online – that worships or practices together.

5. Social Support

Whenever we look at learning to be happier and more resilient we repeatedly find the importance of having strong relationships. They are essential for our happiness at work, they are essential for our success and productivity and they are an equally essential element in our repertoire of resilience capabilities.

In order to thrive in this world, people need other people.

Giving & Getting Social Support, Resilience Capability #5

Giving & Getting Social Support, Resilience Capability #5

Far from signifying weakness, interdependence with others can provide a foundation for resilience.

Social neuroscience provides clues to the biology of relationships

Researchers have found that oxytocin is released during social situations where it appears to facilitate interpretation of social signals, enhance recognition, increase feelings of affiliation, and promote social approach. Oxytocin’s actions to reducing amygdala activation and arousal may help to explain why positive support from others can reduce stress.

Supportive social networks have the power to protect us and strengthen us.

Those who know how to build strong social support networks reap many benefits. Strong positive relationships are associated with better physical health, protection against depression and stress disorders, enhanced emotional wellbeing, and longer life. In our experience most resilient individuals take advantage of the profound strengthening effects of positive social networks.

But for most of us, our support network, even if it is extensive and strong, will not automatically reach out to embrace us when we are most in need. Rather, we would be wise to follow the example of the resilient people in this study by taking action, reaching out, and ‘leaning into’ those who care about us most.

Very few resilient individuals go it alone, and neither should you.

6. Imitating Resilient Role Models

All of the resilient individuals interviewed have role models whose beliefs, attitudes and behaviours inspire them.

Imitating Resilient Role Models, Resilience Capability #6

Imitating Resilient Role Models, Resilience Capability #6

Role models need not be perfect. Everyone has their own unique strengths and weaknesses and we believe that searching for the perfect role model is futile.

How can I use role models to become more resilient?

When trying to model behaviour begin by carefully studying the behaviour. Then:

  1. Break it into simple segments: if you want to use modelling to learn a complex skill, it helps to subdivide it into simple segments and then focus on one segment at a time. If, on the other hand, you try to model the entire complex behaviour (e.g. becoming more resilient) you will likely be bombarded with too much information, will make many errors, and will have great difficulty mastering the skill.
  2. Observe the skill in a variety of settings: breaking a complex skill into simpler segments will require time and concentration. You will need to observe the skill numerous times and in a variety of settings.
  3. Practice: you will find it helpful to practice between observations. You may do this by imagining that you possess a particular attitude, personality style or behaviour that resembles that of your role model, or by actually enacting the desired attitude, style or behaviour. Both forms of practice appear to be effective, although real life enactment is eventually required for successful imitation.
  4. Obtain constructive feedback whenever possible. An expert, or someone with a trained eye, can point out similarities and differences between what you are doing and what you are attempting top model. This expert can then recommend steps to correct deviations from the model.

7. Physical Fitness

Training, physical fitness and strengthening

Training, Physical Fitness & Strengthening, Resilience Capability #7

Training, Physical Fitness & Strengthening, Resilience Capability #7

It’s no secret that physical training is good for your health.

Physical training and mastering physical challenges can also improve mood, cognition and emotional resilience.

Exercise makes us tougher, boosts recovery after trauma and improves our physical and mental health.

How can you use exercise to increase your resilience?

In his book The Power of Full Engagement Jim Loehr writes:

“Growth and change won’t occur unless you push past your comfort zone, but pushing too hard increases the likelihood that you will give up. Far better to experience success at each step of a progressive process. Building confidence fuels the persistence to pursue more challenging changes.”

Building physical fitness habits

  • Learn as much as you can about how physical fitness can improve your health and wellbeing.
  • Consult a physician before beginning a physical fitness programme.
  • Try different forms of physical exercise. Find what works best for who you are and the lifestyle you live.
  • Develop a set of well-defined goals for your physical exercise regimen and try to stick to those goals. Record the details of your workouts to ensure you are achieving your goals.
  • Reward yourself as your goals are met.
  • Gradually increase the intensity of your cardiovascular and strength training. While continually repeating the same comfortable routine with the same level of intensity each time you work out may help you ward off some medical illnesses, but it will not do as much to enhance your physical resilience. To increase your physical as well as your mental and emotional strength, you need to stress yourself and your body beyond your normal comfort zone, but not to the point of damage.
  • After each workout allow your body to recover adequately before beginning your next workout.
  • Practice healthy eating and sleep habits.
  • Find friends or family who will support your physical training. Even better, train with a friend or family member who also has the goal to become more resilient.
  • Notice and focus on the positive feelings and greater sense of self-esteem and mental toughness that typically accompany increases in physical resilience.
  • Try to reach the point where being physically fit becomes part of your sense of self, a part of who you are.

There is no easy way to becoming physically fit and resilient. It takes planning, desire, drive, consistency, perseverance and the willingness to live with discomfort. But the benefits are many.

8. Mental Fitness

Challenge your mind and heart

Brain Fitness, Resilience Capability #8

Brain Fitness, Resilience Capability #8

In challenging situations it helps to be mentally sharp. It helps to focus on the problem, process information quickly, remember what we already know about coping with related challenges, find strategies to solve the problem, make wise decisions, and learn new information. It also helps to regulate our emotions; to control them rather than being controlled by them. These mental and emotional abilities equip us to face challenges, find solutions and recover from setbacks – in essence, to be more resilient.

Just as we train our body to become fit and resilient, so we can train our brain. Southwick & Charney found the most resilient people tended to be lifelong learners, continually seeking opportunities to become more mentally fit.

Brain plasticity: a possible key to brain fitness

One of the most exciting findings of brain research over the past decade has been the observation that we can enhance brain fitness. This means that through a series of brain exercises we may be able to improve our cognitive abilities. The vast majority of us do not reach our full brain potential.

Training the emotional brain

One effective technique that can help regulate emotions is the practice of mindfulness. “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present and non-judgementally.” (J. Kabat-Zinn in Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness, 1990) The practitioner of mindfulness learns to develop calm and accepting awareness of thoughts, feelings, perceptions and bodily functions. Through this practice we learn to tolerate negative emotions better without impulsively acting upon them.

Emotions and brain activity

In most but not all studies mindfulness meditation has been shown to help individuals cope with the symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. Mindfulness meditation has also been associated with improved ability to focus attention, increased flexibility of thinking, more rapid speed in processing visual information, and improving verbal memory as well as greater feeling of psychological wellbeing.

Researcher Richard Davidson raises a fascinating question:

“Might meditation strengthen the cortical circuitry that modulates the activity of the limbic system, like a thermostat regulating the furnace of emotions? Might mental training rewire the brain’s emotion circuits and alter forever the sense of wellbeing and contentment? … Just as people now see the value of exercising the body consistently and for the rest of their life, it’s similar with emotional skills. … Training is seen as important for strength, for physical agility, for athletic ability, for musical ability – for everything except emotions. The Buddhists say these are skills, too, and trainable like any others.”

If mindfulness is something you haven’t tried yet but want to learn about, you will find lots of different exercises on the internet

As with all of these skills, keep experimenting and exploring to find out what works best for you.

Taking responsibility for your own brain fitness: practical applications

Change requires mental and/or physical activity.

We cannot become physically stronger simply by wishing for larger muscles. Similarly, we cannot develop or enhance mental skills by allowing the mind to wander randomly from one thought to the next. Instead, change requires focus as well as systematic and disciplines activity. The principles are simple, but the execution demanding. To change in a desired direction you have to identify what needs to be changed, develop a rigorous but realistic training schedule and then follow that schedule. Becoming more resilient may require training in multiple areas, such as mindfulness and meditation, physical strengthening and endurance. It may require adopting new styles of thinking in order to view hardship and failure as opportunities. The process of systematic self-initiated change, while challenging and often difficult, is highly rewarding and can foster a powerful sense of mastery.

In a brief book titled; Keep Your Brain Alive: 83 Neurobic Exercises, Duke University neurobiologist Lawrence C. Katz describes simple, everyday ways to build and maintain brain fitness, such as writing or brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand, or getting dressed with your eyes closed. When you make these small changes in your daily routine…

“Suddenly your brain is confronted with a new task that’s engaging, challenging and potentially frustrating.

“Neurobics require you to do two simple things you may have neglected in your lifestyle: experience the unexpected and enlist the aid of all your senses in the course of the day. By doing so, rarely activated pathways on your brain’s associative network are stimulated, increasing your range of mental flexibility.”

By placing ourselves in environments that are conducive to learning, by surrounding ourselves with people who stimulate our personal growth, and by systematically practicing specific desired skills, we have the capacity to influence the structure and function of our brain and acquire new skills.

9. Mental & Emotional Flexibility

People who are resilient have to be flexible.

Mental & Emotional Flexibility, Resilience Capability #9

Mental & Emotional Flexibility, Resilience Capability #9

They are flexible in the way they think about challenges and flexible in the way they react emotionally to stress. They are not wedded to a specific style of coping. Instead, they shift from one coping strategy to another depending on the circumstances. Many are able to accept what they cannot change; to learn from failure; to use emotions like grief and anger to fuel compassion and courage; and to search for opportunity and meaning in adversity.

As entrepreneur and motivational speaker Pete Koerner observes: “Life = change. If you’re changing anyway, why not change for the better? Better or worse are your only choices; you can’t stay where you are forever.

Applying cognitive flexibility in your own life

Recent research on coping has shown that successful adaptation depends less on which specific strategies are used, than on whether coping strategies are applied flexibly in response to the liveness of the situation. Sometimes it is wise to accept and tolerate a situation, while at other times it is better to change it. Similarly, emotion theorists argue that expression of emotion is not necessarily better than suppression. What helps people to cope is having the flexibility to express or suppress emotions in accordance with the demands of a given situation.

We can summarise the strategies for cognitive and emotional flexibility as:

  • acceptance;
  • reappraisal;
  • dealing with failure; and
  • generating humour.

Here are some suggestions that may be useful if you wish to further develop your cognitive flexibility.

Using Acceptance to Increase mental & emotional flexibility

Using Acceptance to Increase mental & emotional flexibility

 

Acceptance

Accepting the reality of our situation, even if that situation is frightening or painful, is an important component of flexibility. To remain effectively engaged in problem-oriented and goal-directed coping, we must keep our minds ‘wide open’ and acknowledge, rather than ignore, potential roadblocks. Avoidance and denial are generally counterproductive mechanisms which may help people cope for a while, but ultimately they stand in the way of growth, interfering with the ability to actively solve problems.

Sometimes acceptance not only involves acknowledging the reality of our situation, but also assessing what can and cannot be changed, abandoning goals that no longer seem feasible, and intentionally redirecting efforts toward that which can be changed. Thus, acceptance is not the same as resignation and does not involve giving up or quitting. Instead, acceptance is based on a realistic appraisal and active decision-making.

The well-known Serenity Prayer captures the essence of the kind of acceptance that contributes to resilience:

“Give me the courage to change those things I can change,

the strength to accept those things I cannot change,

and the wisdom to know the difference.”

 

Using Cognitive Reappraisal to Increase mental & emotional flexibility

Using Cognitive Reappraisal to Increase mental & emotional flexibility

 

The science of cognitive reappraisal

Studies have shown that individuals who frequently use positive cognitive reappraisal as a mechanism to change their emotional reactions to stress report greater psychological wellbeing and more positive outcomes compared to individuals who do not use positive cognitive reappraisal as a coping mechanism.

Reappraisal

The technique of reappraisal is at the heart of Cognitive Behaviour Therapies. But even without working with a therapist, great questions we can ask to help us in to reappraise a testing situation include:

 

  • How else can I think about this?
  • How would someone else think about this?
  • What was it like for the other people involved?

Questions like this help to get us out of our own narrow view of a situation and open up new possibilities for coping and problem solving.

In their book Resilience At Work: How To Succeed No Matter What Life Throws At You, Salvatore Maddi and Deborah Khoshaba outline seven steps for a type of reappraisal they call transformational coping:

  1. Fully describe the stressful situation
  2. How could the situation be worse?
  3. How could the situation be better?
  4. Create a story about a worse version of events.
  5. Create a story about a better version of events.
  6. What can you do to create the better?
  7. Place the situation in perspective.

The US Forces Resilience training has a shortened three step version for reappraisal:

  • What is the worst case scenario?
  • What is the best case scenario?
  • What is the most likely scenario?
Learning from Failure to Increase mental & emotional flexibility

Learning from Failure to Increase mental & emotional flexibility

 

Cognitive reappraisal of failure

 

Resilience demands the emotional stability to handle failure, what Admiral James Stockdale referred to as “ability to meet personal defeat with neither the defect of emotional paralysis and withdrawal nor the excess lashing out at scapegoats or inventing escapist solutions.”

People who are who are most resilient generally meet failure head-on and use it as an opportunity to learn and to self-correct.

 

 

Remember Thomas Edison’s advice that “Creativity is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”? He also famously said in this classic example of reframing:

“If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”

Learn from failure

In their book Mental Toughness: A Champion’s State of Mind Kark Kuehl and his co-authors point out:

“The ability to make adjustments begins with attitude, and the first attitude is accepting that failure is an education, then learning from the experience rather than becoming engulfed in frustration.”

Using Humour to Increase mental & emotional flexibility

Using Humour to Increase mental & emotional flexibility

 

Humour: another form of cognitive reappraisal

In his classic book, Man’s Search For Meaning, holocaust survivor and neuroscientist, Viktor Frankl referred to humour as “another of the soul’s weapons in the fight for self-preservation. It is well known that humour, more than anything else in the human makeup can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if for a few seconds.”

For Frankl, humour provided a healthy means to gain perspective. And with perspective comes the capacity to reappraise and generate alternative approaches and solutions to problems.

Like other positive emotions, humour tends to broaden one’s focus of attention and thereby foster exploration, creativity and flexibility in thinking. In so doing, humour may incorporate a number of other resilience coping mechanisms such as cognitive reappraisal, active problem focused coping, and infusion of positive meaning into everyday events.

Humour manages to present positive and negative wrapped into one package, combining “optimism with a realistic look at the tragic.” Consider director and screenwriter Woody Allen musing on mortality:

“I’m not afraid of dying, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

In Toughness: Training For Life Jim Loehr recommends:

“Think nutty, goofy, funny, silly, off-the-wall thoughts. In almost every situation, being able to laugh puts you in emotional control.”

In sum, people who are resilient tend to be flexible: knowing when to accept that which cannot be changed; knowing how to positively reframe life’s challenges and failures; using humour to reframe the tragic and that which is frightening; regulating emotions by sometimes suppressing feelings and at other times expressing them. In many respects, resilience requires creativity and flexibility: creativity to explore multiple viewpoints and flexibility to embrace a positive but realistic assessment, or reassessment, of a challenging situation.

10. Meaning, Purpose and Continual Learning

Meaning, Purpose & Continual Learning, Resilience Capability #10

Meaning, Purpose & Continual Learning, Resilience Capability #10

And the 10th and final essential of high resilience is having a strong sense of Meaning, Purpose and continuing growth and development

And this connects up back to our very first Module when we looked atThis connects with Jessica Pryce-Jones central importance of Achieving Our Fullest Potential in her definition of happiness at work work, and, too, to two of Martin Seligman’s five essentials for flourishing: Meaning and Accomplishment.

In psychological research, studies have found that having a clear and valued purpose, and committing to a mission, can dramatically strengthen one’s resilience.

When philosopher Frederick Nietchze wrote: “He who as a why can endure almost any how,” he was referring to the power of meaning. Other renowned scholars have also recognised the power of meaning, of having a worthy goal or mission in life. As Carl Jung wrote in his classic book, Man and his Symbols,

“We can stand the most incredible hardships when we are convinced they make sense.”

South African dissident Nelson Mandela will shine forever as an inspiring example: tolerating 30 years of imprisonment with grace and dignity because of his dream of equality that he never lost his conviction for, and of course was ultimately able to help bring to his country.

Meaning can give us strength and meaning can give us courage.

Hopefully throughout our lives we will have the freedom to choose a direction that allows us to see our own talents, strengths and interests, and hopefully we will have the option to periodically re-evaluate our talents and strengths, particularly when we encounter a setback or event that shakes our world view. It is through this process that we can, in the words of Ann Graber, “become more than we were before.”

 

Using these 10 Essential Capabilities to develop and grow your own resilience

Here is how you can use this model as a tool to develop and strengthen your own resilience capabilities.

Southwick & Charney's 10 Essential Resilience Capabilities (BridgeBuilders STG Ltd. 2014)

Southwick & Charney’s 10 Essential Resilience Capabilities (BridgeBuilders STG Ltd. 2014)

Work through each of the 10 elements and …

A – score yourself out of 10 according to how strong you believe you are in each

Once you have scored all 10 elements you will be able to join up your numbers to draw your own resilience starfish to see see very clearly which of its arms are fully extended, and which ones you might want to invest some new time and action into developing and growing strong.

B – identify up to five actions you can take to grow those capabilities that will best strengthen your resilience.

C – And then the challenge is to take action – to actually put your ideas for building your resilience stronger and stronger into what you are doing – first to get you started and then to keep building them over time.

Top Tips for Increasing Resilience, BridgeBuilders STG Ltd 2014

Top Tips for Increasing Resilience, BridgeBuilders STG Ltd 2014

Remember – Creativity – choosing to think and act differently – takes courage

This painting by Spanish painter Goya called The Dog is still one of my favourite images for resilience – whatever happens next you just know from looking that this dog is not beaten yet.

And my absolute favourite picture is this self-portrait drawing Goya made when he was in his 90s and exiled from his Spanish homeland and living in France, nearly blind and unable to walk without sticks, but here he is going out into the world

And the title he has given this is “Aun Aprendo” which means “I am still learning”

Goya: "Aun Aprendo" (I am still learning)

Goya: “Aun Aprendo” (I am still learning)

 Happiness At Work edition #118

You can find several other articles about resilience, as well as this week’s new ideas about happiness at work, creativity and learning, leadership and collaboration in our new Happiness At Work collection here

Happiness At Work #117 ~ Positivity & Overcoming Self-Doubt

“We would accomplish many more things if we did not think of them as impossible.”

I happened to notice this Forbes Thought For The Day on Tuesday 18th November by French statesman and defender of Louis XVI, C. Malesherbes, and it chimed with many of the articles I have been reading this week.

Most especially it connected me with the video I watched of an interview with Oprah Winfrey by a Stanford student.  I heard much in this to be inspired and motivated and emboldened by, and so I am making this this week’s lead story and keynote to this week’s self-mastery theme around building our self-confidence and self-belief and self-determination as the heart and engine room for our happiness and highest aspirations.

Oprah Winfrey on Career, Life and Leadership

During a student-led interview at Stanford Graduate School of Business, Oprah Winfrey shares seminal moments of her career journey and the importance of listening to your instincts. Winfrey also offers advice to students on how to find their calling:

“Align your personality with your purpose, and no one can touch you.”

Here are some of the words from Oprah Winfrey that stood out especially for me, and might perhaps resonate for you too…

During this interview Oprah tells stories from her career that end with her thinking: ‘I will never do this again.”

“I started listening to what felt like the truth for me…From the very first instant I have listened to my instinct and stayed attuned to what felt like the right truth for me… If I fail I will find out what the next thing is for me.”
On how you navigate on paths when you feel alone…
“I am often the only woman in a room of white men and I love it…
When I have to do something especially demanding, I call on those that come before me, especially those women who have forged a path that has helped to get me here, and so when I walk in, I never walk in as just myself and I have all that energy with me.  And I love it.
If you wrote a book on women and leadership what would you call it?
“Step Up and Into Yourself
You can only change the world if you know yourself.  You have to take the time to know who you are and what you want your contribution to he planet to be…Mine is to raise consciousness….  You cannot fulfil your purpose unless you know how to listen to your own inner voice.  Every time I got into trouble it was when I overrode my instincts with my head.
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction‘ is my religion.  And the intention propels the action and decides what the reaction, result or consequence will be.
What are the qualities of your leadership that works in so many areas?

“My leadership is fuelled by my being and it works the same in all areas.  It comes from my passion, because that’s just my nature – it comes from my need to understand and to be understood, and it comes from my desire to connect…I keep grounded in myself…I work at staying awake.

What is your spiritual practice?  What do you do to take care of yourself? What do you do to keep yourself centred?

Everybody wants to fulfil the highest truest realisation of yourself as a human being…

I have interviewed more than 30,000 people.  At the end of every interview, from the murderer to Beyonce’, everybody asks ‘Was that ok?’.  Everybody wants to know ‘did you hear me?, did you see me? and did what I said mean anything to you?’.  Every human being is looking to confirm ‘are you fully here with me, or are you distracted?’

The success I have is because I pay attention.  When you’re at home with yourself…you have unlimited power.

I am here to connect people to ideas and stories so that they can see themselves and live better lives.

How do you strike a balance between emotion and logic – especially when you’re giving?

“You need both.  At the beginning I was purely emotional and I made a lot of mistakes…

You first have to change the way a person thinks and sees themselves.  So you’ve got to first create a sense of aspiration, a sense of hopefulness so a person can begin to even have a vision for a better life.  And if you can’t connect to that then you lose and they lose.

You have to decide how you are going to use your money, your talent, your time so that it’s going to serve you first, because if it doesn’t help you to be filled up, you get depleted and you can’t keep doing it.  So my decisions now are emotional and logical…

You don’t have anything to give that you don’t have, so you have to keep yourself full…

I say to my daughters, the number one thing you have to do is to figure out where your power base is, and to work on the alignment between your personality, the gift you have to give, and your real reason for why you’re here.  And to fill yourself up, and to keep yourself full.

I used to be afraid of that, particularly when people would say ‘oh she’s so full of herself.’  Now I embrace it, I consider it a compliment to be considered full of myself because only when you’re full to overflowing and not afraid of honouring yourself, and have the ability to honour yourself do you he ability to offer yourself, your full expression of who you are to the rest of the world.

After 26 years making her show Oprah said

“Gratitude is the single greatest treasure I will take with me from this experience.”

Is there anything left that you’re scared to try?

No, but I know what my lane is.  I know what my calling is, I know what I’m here to do.  But I still haven’t done what I’m here to do, I haven’t yet hit my supreme moment of destiny.

Resilience and post traumatic growth

Watching people step out of tragedies and define triumph for themselves, those are the people who have shaped me and made me a better person.

Call to action for us all

Align your personality with your purpose and no one can touch you.

You real job is to find out what you are here to do…

Every body has a stage.

What’s your stage?  Use it.

How can you start and keep living the highest fullest truest version of yourself?

What would you say to your younger self?

What everyone would say, in one form or another: ‘relax – its going to be okay’

Know that your life is not defined by any one moment.  The way to get through a challenge is to be still and ask ‘what is the next right move?’  And then from that space make the next right move, and then the next right move.

(One stitch at a time)

Link to read an article with more insights from this interview

See also Oprah Winfrey’s current interview show Super Soul Sunday which can be a streamed – interviews with thought leaders around he world and asking the questions that really matter…

The 3 Entrepreneurial Traits Kids Should Learn for a Successful Life

Sharing the values of entrepreneurship with your children can be a great way to teach them some very important character tools they’ll need and use for a lifetime ahead. Here are three character traits that entrepreneurship will help instill in your children and how to teach them.

These are, suggests Matthew TorenSelf-Confidence, Durability and Creativity and here is what he has to tell us about the first of these…

1. Self-confidence

A belief in yourself and your ability to get through life’s challenges is the building block of adult success and a huge component to children’s healthy growth into adolescence and young adulthood.

According to Jennifer Crocker, a psychologist at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, kids with a strong sense of self through internal motivation develop into adolescents who are less likely to engage in dangerous social activities such as drugs and alcohol and perform better in school.

Entrepreneurship embodies self-confidence based on your own internal motivating factors better than perhaps any other activity. It taught me the importance of believing in my ideas and believing in my ability to find solutions. It taught me how crucial good and honest relationships are. Those are values I want my children to have and that you can teach your kids, too.

How? When you foster entrepreneurship in your kids, you have to let them make decisions and support them through those choices. Even when you know they may not be the right decisions from your adult perspective, allow your kids to think up their own ideas and start to take the steps to see them through.

If you child wants to start a lemonade stand or paper route, work with them as a parental partner, but not necessarily as an authority figure.

When you give your kids the space to learn and make decisions, it increases their confidence in themselves and in their own decision-making. They already know you know the answers, encourage them to find their own that don’t involve you making the choices for them when and where it’s appropriate.

When my kids ask me questions I like to challenge them by asking right back, “I’m not sure, what do you think?” This encourages them to think through problems, builds their own sense of self and develops their voice.

Link to read the rest of this article and how to teach durability and creativity

How To Overcome Self-Doubt

by Tony Farhkry

“Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.” – William Shakespeare

Taming the monkey mind

You cannot remove doubt any more than trying to eliminate negative thoughts. Doubts are woven into our psyche during childhood as we learned to integrate into our surroundings. Similarly what begins as the voice of reason echoed through loved ones, soon becomes the doubtful inner critic given the passage of time.

Did you know that by the time you reach adulthood, you would have heard the word ‘NO’ repeated 50,000 times throughout your life? In contrast the word ‘YES’ is only heard 7,000 times. It is no wonder doubt manages to weave its way into our minds with such intensity.

We are notorious for falsifying tales about ourselves. Doubt is one such story often repeated through adulthood. Whilst it is healthy to entertain doubt from time to time, being at the mercy of the debilitating thought is not conducive toward living a fulfilling life.

In a similar vein, doubt can become self-deprecating while wreaking havoc with your personal confidence if left unchecked.

“Willpower is the key to success. Successful people strive no matter what they feel by applying their will to overcome apathy, doubt or fear.” – Dan Millman

Feeding the doubt

Self-doubt requires examination if it prevents you from living an enriching life.

Some people are quite content to shy away from honouring their highest potential. They conceal their emotions deep within, hoping they will miraculously vanish.

Unfortunately as time passes by, the buried emotions may resurface in the form of illness, destructive relationships, addiction to substances or unhelpful behaviour, etc.

In his book Spontaneous Evolution, author Bruce Lipton states that 95% of our behaviour is controlled by our subconscious mind. In many ways our behaviour is reflected in the blind decisions we make every day without a moment’s consideration. Reflect on how much of your daily life’s decisions are automated – that is devoid of conscious intent?

In another example, author Michael S. Gazzaniga further illuminates this point in his book, Who’s In Charge: Free Will and The Science of The Brain. As a neuroscientist investigating split brain personality, he offers the following observation about the choices we make, “Your interpreter module accounts for as much of your behaviour as it can incorporate and it denies or rationalises the rest.”

Overcoming the inner critic

Overcoming self-doubt requires taking affirmative action while being attentive to the inner critic – that is, you choose to take action in spite of the doubt.

In a recent documentary highlighting the sport of accelerated free falling, the jumper was asked by a reporter if he entertained fear prior to his jumps. He reassured the reporter that fear was present during every jump and served to remind him of the inherent dangers associated with the sport. He managed fear by choosing to turn down the volume on it so as not to overwhelm him.

Take a moment to consider the spectrum of doubt inherent in your life. What tools or resources do you frequently call upon to navigate self-doubt when it emerges? It should be stated that doubt is merely a self-imposed speed bump in your life’s journey. As you know speed bumps are intended to slow you down, not halt your progress.

If self-doubt is wreaking havoc in your life, you may wish to reconnect with your vision or purpose. Your vision cannot be blocked by obstacles.

Attributing self-blame in relation to past failures leads to more of the same destructive thoughts. Instead, choose affirmative action with respect to your goals and attend to your doubts with self-compassion. It is your responsibility to reconcile them in a peaceful manner free of guilt.

You’ve heard it said that it isn’t the goal that fuels our desire. It is the journey towards whom we become that ignites our passion and sustains us in attaining inner victory.

Remember, your journey towards inner peace and fulfillment is lined with many detours. Embrace your challenges with attentiveness and enthusiasm.

Link to read the original article

Science-based strategies for using positivity to feel better by Jonathan Fader

1. Look through your camera roll and select pictures, such as that of a pet, children or friends that trigger a joy response. Once you have settled on a picture, name a few reasons why looking at the picture brings you joy. Does it remind you of a funny experience or remind you of a source of happiness and nurture? Studies indicate that thinking about previous events and the actual sensory experience which made you happy in the past will bring those same emotions to the present, immediately increasing your mood. What I also love about this tip is that it’s also customized: those photos of your kids or your dog resonate most with you because it’s something real drawn from your life and nobody else’s

2. Start your day off with a positive self-statement based on fact. This is a tip drawn from my experience as a sport psychologist—instructional and motivational self-talk have been linked  to enhanced athletics performance—but the concept can be applied equally well to all situations. The underlying truth, that what we think influences our actions and emotions, is universal.

Note that I say “based on fact” for a reason. If you start your day by saying, “I’m the perfect parent, no exceptions!” – well, it may be true, but if you’re in a bad mood, odds are that you won’t believe yourself. A better example of effective self-talk is “I am an excellent parent because I brought my daughter to the park after school and saw how happy she was.” The more specific the statement, the better the chance that you will actually believe it—and the better the chance that it can actually help you.

3. Compliment three people every day. By complimenting others you may also gain new friends and newfound confidence. A study  had college freshmen give three compliments a day for twenty days to see how it affected them. After this was completed, the subjects reported higher levels of self-confidence that resulted in an increased sense of belonging. The study believed that this was due to the fact that compliments are often reciprocated. So by complimenting others, you can induce a cycle of happiness.

Link to read the original Psychology Today article

The Skill of Self-Confidence (Dr. Ivan Joseph)

In this inspiring TEDTalk, athletics coach Ivan Joseph reminds us of the power and necessity of praise and  positive feedback to build our courage, risk taking and self-confidence – further endorsement of the potency and worth of Appreciative Inquiry, or deliberately recognising and learning from what is already working best.

As the Athletic Director and head coach of the Varsity Soccer team at Ryerson University, Dr. Joseph is often asked what skills he is searching for as a recruiter: is it Speed? Strength? Agility?  In this TEDx Talk, he explores self confidence and how it is not just the most important skill in athletics, but in our lives.

The easiest ways to build self-confidence: repetition, repetition, repetition…

Or maybe the word should be persistence: do what you want to do and do not accept failure as a reason to stop you.

The other way is through self-talk…We all have this negative self-talk that goes on in our head.  With so many people ready to tell us what we cannot do, why do we want to add to it?…  We know that our thoughts influence our actions… We need to get our own self-affirmations…There need to be quiet moments with ourself when we reaffirm “I am the captain of my ship and the master of my fate.”… If I don’t believe it, who else can?

How do you build self-confidence?  Get away from the people who will tear you down…

How to Change Your Self-Perception to Leverage Your Hidden Strengths

by Eric Ravenscraft

Our self-perceptions are often instilled in us before we have a say in them. Learning to change how we see ourselves helps us find our hidden strengths, or improve weaknesses we didn’t know we had, to get along better in life.

Accurate self-perception is a necessary component of self-improvement. If you don’t know where your strengths or weaknesses lie, you don’t know what areas you need to work on. Or how to leverage your assets! Self-perception is simply being aware of who you are, what you’re like, and what you’re capable of. Your self-perception goes beyond positive self-esteem, though. It may involve acknowledging your shortcomings (“I suck at playing the violin, and that’s okay”), adjusting how you view your skills, (“This skill I thought was boring is actually useful and neat!”), or recognizing your problem areas (“I’m not as hard working as I like to think”).

Adjusting your self-perception comes down to being honest with yourself. Recognizing your weak points helps you identify when you need to ask for help. Acknowledging your strengths can give you the courage to assert yourself even when you don’t feel like you deserve to. What you do with the knowledge is a whole different can of worms, but here’s how to adjust when your perception doesn’t line up with your reality.

Prep Work: Identify Your Own Self-Image Fallacies

Often, we have self-perception problems because our emotions or misconceptions lead us to false conclusions. Anyone who’s ever argued on the internet for more than a minute knows how easily logical fallacies can sneak in. When those leaps in logic face inward, though, they can alter how we perceive ourselves. For example:

  • “I screwed up, so I am a screw up.” This all-or-nothing mentality lends itself to low self-esteem, but it’s a false correlation. We’re good at dwelling on our mistakes, but bad at remembering when we got it right. The negative doesn’t eliminate the positive.
  • “I’m not good at this yet, so I never will be.” Everyone sucks at everything until they don’t anymore. Failing a hundred times at something is discouraging, but it’s incorrect to assume that those failures mean you’re not good enough. In fact, those failures are how you get better.
  • “Someone doesn’t like me, so no one likes me.” People who like or approve of us may not say it as often as someone with a grudge, so it’s easier to focus on the negative.
  • “I’ve never had any complaints, so I must be good.”Unfortunately, those closest to us may not always be the most objective reviewers of our talents. Until your skills have been put to the test in an arena free of bias (like the workplace or public performances), a lack of complaints doesn’t prove talent.

You’ll probably never be completely free of internal logical fallacies. However, identifying when you’re making a logical leap can kickstart the process to learning the truth. From there, you can start making the necessary changes.

Step One: Perform a Self-Assessment

The first step in fixing your perception of yourself is to identify how you see yourself. One way to get started is a technique from cognitive behavioral therapy (or CBT) programs. Psych Central recommendswriting ten of your strengths on one side of a paper, and ten weaknesses on the other. This exercise forces you to take an honest look at yourself:

This is your Self-Esteem Inventory. It lets you know all the things you already tell yourself about how much you suck, as well as showing you that there are just as many things you don’t suck at. Some of the weaknesses you may also be able to change, if only you worked at them, one at a time, over the course of a month or even a year. Remember, nobody changes things overnight, so don’t set an unrealistic expectation that you can change anything in just a week’s time.

You may need to seek outside input from others if you can’t come up with ten for both sides. Once you’re done, keep the list because it will come in handy for the next thing you can do.

Step Two: Seek Outside Input (and Listen to It)

Outside input has the ability to either validate or negate how we perceive ourselves. If you think you’re not that great of a singer, but the crowd at karaoke disagrees, you might start to change your opinion. For that reason, if you really want to adjust your self perception, seeking outside input is absolutely necessary.

Author Scott H. Young offers some tips on how to get honest feedback. As it turns out, not everyone is completely forthright when you ask for an opinion (often for good reasons). Depending on the topic, you may need to coax out the full answer, or explain that it’s okay to be honest:

  • Read Between Lines. Look for what they didn’t say, not what they did. I’ll admit this can take practice, but when you receive feedback where you question the sincerity, notice what wasn’t said. If you wrote a how-to book, did they actually use the advice? If you gave a persuasive speech did they enjoy it or did it change their opinion?
  • Pull Out Gradual Honesty. Some people need encouragement to give you their honest opinion. Make it clear that you are okay with the harshest of their remarks and give them an opportunity to reveal more.

You can check out Scott’s post here for more specific tips. Most importantly, though: once you get feedback, listen to it. One of the most common mistakes we make when getting input from others is filtering out the stuff we don’t like. I can totally play the guitar, they’re just jealous, right? Nope. You asked for feedback, now accept it. If it’s true, you’ll probably hear it from more than one person. Be prepared to accept that the feedback you get is at least somewhat true, even if it’s uncomfortable.

Step 3: Challenge Yourself and Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

Of course, feedback from others is only one way to find out what you’re capable of. There is a faster, more effective way, too: doing it. You may not think that you’re good enough to get a job as an actor. However, nothing will prove you wrong faster than getting hired.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that someone with asthma and high blood pressure should join the Army on nothing but a wish (unless your name is Steve Rogers). But having a realistic approach to what you can do, coupled with some optimism that things could work out alright, can be a key to making it happen. One psychological researcher named Sophia Chou at the National Taiwan University examined this concept of the realistic optimist. To put it simply, people who understood the risks but chose to be hopeful about the outcome not only performed better, but were happier:

Interestingly, the realistic optimists also got better grades, on average, than their less grounded peers — probably because they didn’t delude themselves into thinking they would do well without studying or working hard, Chou said.

Traditionally, a more realistic outlook is paired with poorer well-being and greater depression, yet the realistic optimists managed to be happy.

As Chou explains, people who evaluate their situation, but still challenge themselves anyway find that they’re better equipped to handle those challenges. The result is a more successful outcome due to their preparation, but also an increase in satisfaction due to their moderate expectations.

Step 4: Emulate the Habits of Others

How you perceive yourself may affect how you behave, but the relationship also works in reverse. We’ve discussed before how something simple like faking powerful body language can help you feel more confident. This concept works fairly broadly. If you think you’re too cynical, try being intentionally optimistic on social media. If you start deliberately hunting for the good in something, you may find it.

As The Guardian explains, our perceptions of our self and our relationships can be manipulated by things as simple as having a cell phone out at dinner. Putting the device away may make us feel as though we’re more “in the moment” and strengthen the bonds we have with others. That means (somewhat ironically, in fact) that if your perception of yourself doesn’t line up with reality, changing your external habits can influence how you perceive yourself:

It’s weird enough that a phone on the next table at a restaurant might reduce the chances of two people hitting it off on a date. But the Swedish study points towards something weirder: not just that we’re subconsciously influenced by our environments, but that we infer our very sense of who we are from our behaviour. Normally, we assume things work the other way: that a person who thinks of herself as compassionate will therefore act compassionately. But “self-perception theory” proposes that the opposite’s also true: we observe our behaviour, then reach conclusions about who we are. “After purchasing the latte, we assume that we are coffee connoisseurs,” as the psychologist Timothy Wilson writes on edge.org. After returning the lost wallet, we conclude that we’re honest. In reality, many pressures shape our behaviour – maybe, Wilson writes, we “returned the wallet in order to impress the people around us”. But we conclude “that our behaviour emanated from some inner disposition”. Or we’re tricked into believing we answered a survey favouring one side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – and assume that must be our view.

In practice, this can be something as simple as getting a new wardrobe, or starting a new habit. Say, for example that you don’t feel very confident. Try working out. Get a piece of clothing that you think makes you look cool and start wearing it. Learn how to enter a room with confidence. The more you walk in the habits of confidence people, the more you’ll start to feel confident yourself.

Our perceptions of ourselves will probably never be perfect (and a little self-delusion can sometimes help). However, many of us go years without fulfilling our potential or trying new things because we simply don’t perceive ourselves as able. Or worse, we live with flaws because it never occurs to us that they’re problematic. If you don’t think you can go after your dream job, you’re worried you can’t attract that person you’re really into, or you simply lack confidence, the problem might not be your situation, but just your perception. Your ideas about yourself determine the course of your life, so don’t leave them to chance.

Link to read the original Lifehacker article

see also: Parker J. Palmer – What is a Divided Life?

“There are pieces of ourself that we don’t dare bring into the world for fear that something bad is going to happen to us.  So we try to get by, we try to pass, we try to play a role that’s acceptable.  But then there comes a point in life where that divided life, that gap between who we really are and the face we put on to the larger world

Do you want to show up in the world with more of your true values and gifts, connecting with others in authentic ways?

In this short introduction to the vision of the Courage & Renewal approach, Parker J. Palmer, talks about how as human beings we are born whole, integral, with no distinction between what’s going on inside of us and what’s going on outside. As adults we may ask, “Whatever happened to me? How did I lose that capacity to be here as I really am?”

We have to find a way to build a bridge between our identity and integrity as adults and the work that we do in the world.

see also: Parker Palmer on Power and Powerlessness

Parker Palmer is interviewed about the power of the human heart.

How Guessing Helps You To Learn, Even If You Guess Wrong

Things To Remember To Overcome Low Self-Esteem

Whether you’re going through a low self-esteem phase in your life, or you just occasionally feel bad about yourself, it’s important to have some mental tools to help you recalibrate your thoughts so you can live with confidence and joy.

Here are 25 things to remember when you have low self-esteem…

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This week’s top practical tips and techniques

Here is this week’s toolbox of the practical techniques that have especially caught our attention this week…

9 Moments the Happiest People Have Every Day

by Dave Kerpen

Here is great new Daily To Do List to maximise your happiness at work and, as a result, your productivity and performance success too…

  1. Make a moment of laughter…
  2. Make a moment of celebration…
  3. Make a moment of reflection…
  4. Make a moment of stillness…
  5. Make a moment of pride…
  6. Make a moment of humility…
  7. Make a moment of connection…
  8. Make a moment of joy…
  9. Make a moment of gratitude…

The Secret To Loving Your Work

Five simple questions, all taken from my just released book Screw Finding Your Passion: It’s Within You, Let’s Unlock It by Susanna Halonen

5 Questions to Lead You to Loving Your Work

1. How is the work you’re doing, or the company you’re working for, aligned with who you are?
Think about how your values and beliefs are aligned with the work you’re doing or the company you’re working for. Explore what attracted you to take the job in the first place. Really make sure you come up with some concrete answers on this one as this is the critical foundation for you learning to love your work. And I’m not taking “Nothing at my work is aligned with who I am”, as an answer. I want a list of at least five things. I guarantee you that you can find them if you look for them.

2. What is the positive impact you’re creating with the work you do, or by being a part of this company?
Connect with the why behind your job (or your company). What kind of positive impact are you creating when you’re with your colleagues, or working with suppliers, or providing something to the end customer? Acknowledge that you’re a small but powerful piece in the bigger wheel which drives the world forward. Whatever you are doing right now is having an effect on someone in a good way (otherwise why would you be doing it?). Connect with that why and you’ll create a meaningful bond with your job that will be hard to break.

3. How is your work helping you to learn and grow as a person daily?
You don’t need to be in a training workshop to learn and grow (though they do help, especially the Happyologist workshops ;). With every challenge, with every human interaction and with every email send you can learn something new – if you choose to do so. Life is the best teacher of all but only if you actually make time to reflect and digest the learning. Do this at work regularly and you’ll realise how much you’re learning whilst coming up with new ideas on how you could keep learning even more.

4. Who are the people in your work that you connect with in a way that they form a part of your tribe?
Having friends at work is one of the key drivers of engagement in the workplace so make sure you make some friends if you haven’t got any. This doesn’t mean you have to force it. This is about getting to know your colleagues on a personal level. Who are they outside work? What do they like to do? What kind of holidays do they like to go on? You might find similarities that you didn’t even know existed and these similarities will help you create connections with your coworkers. Are you a self-employed entrepreneur without a team? Go out there and find other entrepreneurs who are looking for fun, ambitious people to brainstorm with – or simple have a drink with them. Our relationships are a key driver of our passion, happiness and fulfilment so making sure that these relationships exist through our work makes it easier for us to love what we do.

5. How do you use your natural strengths in a variety of ways in your work daily?
Become more aware of how you are using your best, natural abilities at work in different ways. Own up to what you’re good at and play with these strengths in new ways to challenge yourself and to keep your days exciting. Make time to do what you do best daily and you’ll not only perform better but also enjoy your work more – and even learn to love it!

10 Books on Happiness at Work

Unhappy employees spend only 40% of their time on task, according to research from iOpener. This means that unhappy employees are only working two days a week. Besides slowing down production and innovation, unhappy employees are sharing their negative perceptions with the rest of your workforce and consequently spreading discontent. No one enjoys working with a “Debbie Downer.” More importantly, no one enjoys being a “Debbie Downer.”

Building good will, showing genuine care and valuing employees should be a priority at every organization. Employees are responsible for their own happiness, but this does not preclude organizations from providing the tools, resources and culture that will inspire more joy at work. With that in mind, we have compiled a list of 10 books that offer advice, strategies and tips to help managers and employees improve workplace happiness.

7 Simple and Actionable Ways to Be Happier At Work

  1. Work On Improving Yourself…
  2. Think More Than You Work…
  3. Take Advantage of Benefits…
  4. Celebrate Together…
  5. Take Frequent Breaks To Avoid Burnout…
  6. Give Your Time To Help Others, Even When You’re Busy…
  7. Become Happier By Finding A New Best Friend…
  8. Bonus Tip:  WellnessIs Important – Get Some Exercise…

Are You a Great Listener?

by 

If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two tongues and one ear. Mark Twain.

To succeed in today’s business world, we must be proactive, skilled listeners. Leaders who make themselves accessible for conversation and listen regularly are well informed of the goings on in their workplaces. They better understand others’ opinions and attitudes and are able to take this information into consideration when making decisions.

There are other benefits to listening well. One is demonstrating care. Effective listening conveys a sense that the we are interested in the person we are with, their thoughts, opinions and concerns. A leader also builds stronger commitment within others when people feel that she cares about them personally as well as in how they fit within the organisation.

Here’s what we can do to become better listeners and gain the feedback, confidence, support and buy-in that we seek…

  • See eye to eye…
  • Use receptive body language…
  • Stop talking and start listening…
  • Humbly take on their point of view…
  • Summarise and clarify…
  • Leave the door open…
  • Thank them for approaching you…
  • Create a listening culture…

Coaching models explored: VISTA

by Tim Hawkes

Here is a great practical framework for making a coaching conversation that both keeps the other person actively in their own driver’s seat, and at the same time moves the thinking from creative thinking through reality checking and into next steps action…

V – Visualisation: The client should build a clear mental picture of the subject of the conversation, whether that be the solution to a problem, a goal to be reached, a decision to be made; whatever is relevant.

I – Insight: The client is invited to explore the causes or the purpose of what has drawn them to seek coaching.

S – Self-Awareness: At this point the client should be asked to recognise what their contribution to the issue might be. For instance, in the case of a problem, were they in fact contributory to the problem having arisen?

T – Thinking: This is the point of the conversation during which the self-exploration turns towards finding a solution. An exploration of how much they already know about how to find and implement a resolution.

A – Action: Once the client has recognised that they may have one or more possible avenues to explore in order to take themselves in the direction of the visualised result, the coach invites them to define steps and timetables to achieve the stated goal, thus putting the matter firmly in the hands of the client, and giving the coach a means by which they can hold the client accountable should that become necessary.

As models go, I rather like this one. It’s elegant, and it encourages the client to focus on themselves and their own ability to recognise and deal with issues. It doesn’t shrink from having the client accept responsibility not merely for the fix, but also for whatever lies at the root of the matter.

Debunking 7 Common Public Speaking Tips That Do More Harm Than Good

A set of terrific tips for making your presentations great from Gary Genard that remedy some of the worst guidelines that have taken a toxic hold of public speaking guidelines…

7. PowerPoint Prescriptions

You’ve probably heard this advice before: Use no more than 10 slides in a PowerPoint presentation. Don’t go longer than 20 minutes. No slide should have more than six bullet points. Use only six words per bullet point.

Dizzy yet?

Instead of these ironclad rules, here’s what you should remember: Every time you speak, you need to tell a story. PowerPoint is a tool that can help you tell that story—but only if you use it as a visual tool and not a literary one…

6. Memorise Your Presentation So That Nothing Can Wrong

Everything will go wrong if you follow this advice! Your audience is hoping for a speaker who can share something you all have an interest in. For any talk to be interesting, the speaker needs to be fully present in the moment—not trying to retrieve information that was memorised in the past.

Write down key words and phrases to remind yourself what comes next in the talk you’ve outlined. Memorisation—which of course can fail—is a high wire act without a net.

5. Look At One Person for Each Sentence

Here’s another artificial prescription for public speaking effectiveness. The one-person-for-one-sentence rule is simply too rigid and metronomic for a speech or presentation.

That’s because we write in sentences, but we speak in ideas. An idea may take three sentences to express; or a single sentence may encompass three ideas. Just remember to include your entire audience at one time or another in your eye contact. That’s the simple and natural solution to connecting with everyone.

4. Start Out with A Joke

I once conducted group training in presentation skills for 11 vice presidents of a leading manufacturer. As part of the workshop, each executive gave a 10-minute videotaped presentation, and then received instructor and peer feedback. One of the participants told a 3 ½-minute joke at the start of his talk which, believe me, had nothing to do with his topic.

What was wrong with this? First, taking up a third of your presentation time with a joke is not a good idea. Worse is the fact that the joke was unrelated to his subject. When I asked why he’d made this choice, he said he once took a public speaking class and was told to always start out with a joke.

But jokes are dangerous. If you want to get an audience on your side, use some gentle humor and always be sure it’s related to what you’re there to talk about. A joke with a failed punch line will make you look foolish, which of course is a terrible way to launch your presentation.

3. Don’t Greet Your Audience

Some public speaking trainers suggest that you dispense with any sort of greeting. “Good morning,” “It’s nice to be here with you today,” and similar pleasantries should be banned in favor of a power opening that hits the audience immediately.

Banishing a greeting from your talk, however, is a mistake. Your greeting is the segment of your speech where you first connect with listeners. It’s the moment when you talk to people with nothing else—i.e., your topic—between you and them. It’s also when you express your personal pleasure at being there. Most important, it’s when you let the audience know you’re a trustworthy speaker because you have their interests at heart.

So say hello and indicate you’re pleased to be speaking . . . then give them that grabber that you know will seal the deal and open up their ears and their hearts.

2. Tell Them If You’re Nervous So They’ll Be On Your Side

Speakers sometimes think they can disarm an audience by announcing their nervousness before anyone notices it. But the even better news is they may not see it at all.

Most nervousness isn’t visible because it’s an internal state. When you tell people you’re nervous appearing in front of them, chances are they’ll look for signs of it from that point on. Why undermine your own credibility?

1. Imagine The Audience Naked Or In Their Underwear 

This, of course, has been touted as a “cure” for speech anxiety since time immemorial. But was there ever such a ridiculous and counter-productive solution to public speaking fear?

Maybe you think differently from the way I do, but mentally undressing audience members isn’t going to do much to improve my focus and mindfulness. Instead, remind yourself that the people in this audience are the same ones you talk to effortlessly and without any self-consciousness in personal conversations. Speaking to them as a group is simply a wonderfully efficient way to get your message across to as many of them as possible.

So the next time you’re chatting with a friend on the street and someone taps you on the shoulder to offer public speaking advice, refer to the list above. You’ll be doing the world of your listeners a genuine service.

Happiness At Work edition #117

As usual, all of these articles are collected together in this week’s Happiness At Work collection of articles and research news

Worker Wellbeing and Wellbeing Performance ~ Dept. for Business Innovation & Skills Report, 2014

This communicative and richly informative report is well worth reading in its entirety, but here is a summary of its main findings in relation to the question:

Does Worker Wellbeing Affect Workplace Performance?

a report by Alex Bryson, John Forth and Lucy Stokes, NIESR (Department for Business Innovation and Skills)

published October 2014

an extract built from the Executive Summary

Employee wellbeing is increasingly a focus of government attention in the UK and elsewhere. It is viewed as a legitimate target of government policy in its own right, but there are also reasons to think that improvements in employees’ wellbeing may be conducive to economic growth.

This paper focuses on the the subjective wellbeing of employees and its potential impact on workplace and organisational performance.

As yet there is relatively little empirical evidence on the relationship between employees’ subjective wellbeing and workplace performance. This paper begins to fill that gap for Britain by carrying out a literature review and new empirical analyses.

Background

The term subjective wellbeing (SWB) is used to cover a number of different aspects of a person’s subjective mental state and has been defined by the OECD to include “all of the various evaluations, positive and negative, that people make of their lives, and the affective reactions of people to their experiences”.

For many years, policy makers focused on GDP growth as the best means of securing a better quality of life for citizens.  But governments and their advisers have recently turned their attention to other measures, including of individuals’ subjective wellbeing. One of the motivations has been research indicating that citizens in developed economies have not necessarily become ‘happier’ as a result of increased prosperity.

Aims and objectives

This study focuses on the links between employees’ subjective wellbeing at work and workplace performance. It sets out to address four questions:

• How do we measure and define wellbeing in the workplace?

• What employee and job characteristics influence wellbeing in the workplace?

• What employer practices have the greatest positive impact on wellbeing in the workplace?

• Is there any evidence to link employee wellbeing and business performance?

Our approach

The study consisted of three main substantive stages.

In the first stage of the study, we sought to develop a conceptual framework around SWB and its possible links to workplace performance.  Within this conceptual framework, we sought to describe the different approaches to the definition and measurement of SWB, drawing heavily on the existing psychological literature which points to its multi-dimensional nature.  The framework also considered the factors that affect employees’ levels of SWB at the workplace.  It then went on to consider the potential ways in which employees’ SWB might affect their job performance, and the likelihood that such effects will aggregate in such a way as to form a causal link between employees’ SWB and the overall performance of their workplace or firm.

The second stage of the study comprised a review of the existing research literature on the two broad questions of:

~ which employee characteristics, job characteristics and employer practices affect employees’ levels of SWB at work;

~ and whether employees’ SWB has a causal impact on individual or workplace performance.

The third and final stage of the study involved new empirical analysis of the links between employees’ SWB and workplace performance, based on the 2011 Workplace Employment Relations Survey (WERS).  These linked employer-employee data contain multiple measures of employees’ SWB and provide the basis for a robust investigation of the SWB-performance link in British workplaces.  Using various multivariate regression techniques we sought to isolate the independent relationship between SWB at the workplace and workplace performance.

Key findings and policy implications

How do we conceptualise and measure wellbeing in the workplace?

There are two broad – but complementary – approaches to the conceptualisation and measurement of SWB.

Hedonic approaches focus on the type of affective feelings that a person experiences (e.g. anxiety or contentment) and also on the adequacy of those feelings (e.g. whether the person is satisfied with a certain aspect of their life).

Hedonic approaches to SWB Hedonic approaches to SWB are focused on whether a person’s affective reactions or  feelings towards their job are either positive or negative. The term 'hedonic' (alt.  hedonistic) is used here to indicate that these approaches focus on the extent to which  work gives rise to positive or negative affect (pleasure or pain).

Hedonic approaches to SWB are focused on whether a person’s affective reactions or feelings towards their job are either positive or negative. The term ‘hedonic’ (alt. hedonistic) is used here to indicate that these approaches focus on the extent to which work gives rise to positive or negative affect (pleasure or pain). from Worker Wellbeing and Workplace Performance report

A second hedonic approach to SWB focuses on the adequacy of one’s affective feelings towards aspects of the job, asking (for example) how satisfied a person is with the work they do or the pay they have received (see column 2 of Table 1 below).

Feelings of satisfaction tend to be correlated with the pleasant-unpleasant dimension of job-related affect shown in Figure 1 above (see Weiss et al, 1999) and so there is some relation between the two hedonic approaches.  However, the important distinction in the ‘satisfaction-based’ approach to SWB is that it involves an implicit comparison with some alternative state (for example, the features of that job in a prior period, or the features of jobs held by other employees).

Whilst a focus on the type of job-related affect may therefore arguably give a more direct indication of an employee’s core feelings at work, a focus on job satisfaction can be particularly informative as it indicates how the employee evaluates those feelings.  Such evaluations may factor into the  employee’s decision making – for example whether to begin the search for an alternative job (see Green, 2010).

This is potentially significant, since attitudes are usually described as having three components: affective, cognitive and behavioural, which are reflected in feelings, beliefs and actions. For Warr, there is then an “action-tendency” embodied within the concept of job satisfaction that is not present in core affect.  In other words, one can expect job satisfaction to have a greater influence on an individual’s actions or behaviour.

In contrast to these hedonic approaches, the eudemonic approach to SWB focuses on the extent to which a person experiences feelings that are considered to demonstrate good mental
health (e.g. the extent to which they feel a sense of purpose).

The eudemonic approach therefore starts from the position – derived from psychological and philosophical literature – that some actions or personal states are more appropriate or worthwhile than others, and views SWB primarily in terms of self-actualisation and virtuous behaviour (psychological ‘flourishing’) rather than in terms of self-gratification.

The essential distinction from the hedonic approach can be illustrated by reference to an employee who, like a parent, may find their role stressful and be dissatisfied with its financial rewards, but who may nevertheless gain a strong sense of purpose from that role.

The three differing approaches to the concept of SWB illustrated side-by-side. from Worker Wellbeing and Workplace Performance report

The three differing approaches to the concept of SWB illustrated side-by-side.
from Worker Wellbeing and Workplace Performance report

Most research into employees’ SWB has adopted the hedonic approach, with job satisfaction being the most frequently studied aspect of job-related SWB. The study of job-related affect has a more recent history, but a growing body of empirical research investigates this dimension of SWB.  The eudemonic approach to SWB has been less frequently operationalised in organisational research. The term SWB is used hereafter as a catch-all for research in any of these three areas, although the focus of particular research studies is highlighted within the main body of the report.

What employee and job characteristics influence SWB in the workplace and what employer practices have the greatest effect?

An individual’s SWB at work is influenced both by their own characteristics, and those of the job and workplace in which they are employed (see Figure).

From a policy perspective, it is the features of the job and workplace (i.e. those on the right-hand side of the Figure) which are of most interest, as these are typically more amenable to policy influence.  Nevertheless, an understanding of the relationship between individual characteristics and SWB is also important, not least because these shape employees’
experiences of work.

An extensive literature discusses the characteristics of jobs which influence SWB at work, SWB tends to be higher when employees have:

autonomy over how they do their job and a measure of control in relation to the broader organisation, e.g. participation in decision-making;

variety in their work;

clarity over what is expected of them, including feedback on performance, e.g. via appraisals;

opportunities to use and develop their skills, e.g. via the provision of training;

supportive supervision;

positive interpersonal contact:, with both managers and co-workers, but also with
customers or the general public (where the job requires it);

• a perception of fairness in the workplace, both in terms of how the employee is treated themselves but also how their co-workers are treated, with disciplinary and grievance procedures being one way for employers to address this;

higher pay, although this relationship depends not only on the absolute level of pay but how this compares with pay of other workers;

physical security, including the safety of work practices, the adequacy of equipment and the pleasantness of the work environment;

• a sense of job security and clear career prospects;

• a perception of significance, both in terms of the significance that the job has for the worker, and the perceived value of the job to society.

SWB tends to be lower when the demands of the job are particularly high.  Job demands result not only from the amount or type of work, but also from any incompatibility with pressures from outside of work.

These relationships are fairly well-established in the existing literature.  Employers therefore have the potential to influence the SWB of their employees through changes in job design.

The picture has its complexities, however.  An employee’s SWB will reflect not only the actual characteristics of their job, but also the value which they place upon them.  In a similar way, individuals differ in their expectations; if an individual has lower expectations of their job, they may rate their job satisfaction more highly than someone who expects more from their work.  This has the implication that, in thinking about job and workplace changes that may raise SWB, employers and policy makers need to bear in mind that there may be differing effects for different employees.

Any analysis of the factors driving SWB at work therefore needs to take account of individual traits as well as job and workplace characteristics.

In addition, the relationships between the human resource practices adopted by a workplace and its employees’ SWB are not always clear-cut.  Practices may influence more than one aspect of an employee’s job, some of which act to improve SWB, and others which serve to reduce it.  There may also be different effects for different employees within a workplace, and different effects of policies from one employer to another.  For example:

• Practices which aim to give employees more involvement may raise autonomy, but may also increase the level of demands placed on them.

• Practices aimed at raising the SWB of one group of employees within a workplace may do so to the detriment of others (e.g. if they give rise to perceptions of unfair treatment amongst those who are not covered by the practice).

• Practices may have differing effects on SWB dependent on workplace characteristics (e.g. formal arrangements may be better received in larger workplaces than in smaller ones).

Much of the literature in this area relates to the impact of systems of human resource management (HRM) practices on SWB; here the evidence is inconclusive.  Evidence for the UK to date points to a positive correlation between HRM and the job-related anxiety measure of SWB, but also a positive, or at least neutral, impact on the job satisfaction measure of SWB.  However, it is clear that there is a case for more robust studies of the impact of employer practices on a range of aspects of SWB.

How can SWB affect workplace performance?

There is a considerable amount of evidence to indicate that there is a positive association (a correlation) between SWB and an employee’s job performance.  Moreover there is some evidence which indicates that higher levels of SWB may lead to (cause) higher levels of job performance in some circumstances.

The empirical literature indicates three causal mechanisms through which higher levels of SWB can bring about higher job performance.

The first is by affecting employees’ cognitive abilities and processes – enabling them to think more creatively and to be more effective at problem-solving.

The second is by affecting employees’ attitudes to work – raising their propensity to be co-operative and collaborative.

The third is by improving employees’ physiology and general health – improving their cardiovascular health and immunity, enabling speedier recovery from illness, and securing greater levels of energy and potentially effort.

There is not necessarily a straightforward link between an employee’s SWB and their job performance, however.  For example, raised levels of creativity and improved social interaction is only likely to generate better employee performance in jobs with a substantial degree of autonomy and those that involve team work or customer interaction.

In addition, it is possible that employee behaviours or work attitudes may be most heavily affected when levels of SWB are particularly high or particularly low.

There is a need for further examination of the links between SWB and employee performance in real world settings to address these issues.

There are also reasons to think that the relationship between SWB and job performance at the level of the employee may not necessarily be replicated at the level of the workplace. One reason is that low levels of SWB among a small number of workers may spill over to negatively affect levels of SWB (and thus levels of job performance) among the wider workforce.

Another relates to the differing contributions workers make to workplace output, because of variations in their ability and their span of control; the contribution of all workers may not matter equally for the performance of the workplace, and so it may matter who has high or low SWB.  Whilst there are some studies which do show a robust causal impact of employees’ SWB on the performance of the workplace or firm, the evidence is more limited at this level.

The review concludes that more research is needed at the level of the workplace or firm
in order to generalise beyond the small number of existing studies.

Findings from analysis of the 2011 Workplace Employment Relations Survey

Statistical analyses were conducted using the 2011 Workplace Employment Relations Study to explore the relationship between SWB and performance at workplace level, thereby contributing new evidence to the literature.

The level of employee SWB in the workplace was measured in terms of the two most studied aspects of SWB: job satisfaction and job-related affective feelings (WERS did not collect eudemonic measures of SWB).

WERS measures nine dimensions of job satisfaction (pay, sense of achievement, training receipt, job autonomy, skill development opportunities, job security, scope for initiative, involvement in decision-making and their satisfaction with the work itself).  It contained six indicators of job-related affect, covering the frequency with which the employee feels tense, depressed, worried, gloomy, uneasy and miserable.

Workplace performance was measured using the manager’s subjective assessment of the workplace’s performance relative to the industry average on three dimensions: financial performance, labour productivity and the quality of the output/service.  An additive scale formed from these three individual measures was used as a fourth measure of performance.

The analysis was carried out using data from workplaces that took part in the 2011 WERS (the cross-sectional analyses) and workplaces that took part in the 2004 WERS and were followed up in 2011 (the panel survey).  The cross-sectional analyses examined the extent to which a workplace’s performance in 2011 could be accounted for by the level of employee SWB at the workplace in 2011.  The panel analyses explored whether changes in workplace performance between 2004 and 2011 were linked to changes in the level of employee SWB at the workplace between those two years.  The panel survey also assessed whether the level of employee SWB in 2004 was predictive of workplace closure by 2011.

The analyses showed a clear, positive, statistically significant relationship between the average level of job satisfaction among employees at the workplace and workplace performance.

This finding was present in both the cross-sectional and panel analyses and was robust to various estimation methods and model specifications.

Employee job satisfaction was found to be positively associated with workplace financial performance, labour productivity and the quality of output and service.

Workplaces experiencing an improvement in job satisfaction – whether measured in terms of the average level of satisfaction in the workforce, or measured in terms of an increase in the proportion “very satisfied” or a reduction in the proportion “very dissatisfied” – also experience an improvement in performance.

By contrast, there was no association between job-related affect and workplace performance.

These findings are significant because this is the first such study for Britain.

Considering the findings in more detail, the results from the cross-sectional analyses can be summarised as follows:

The average level of job satisfaction among employees at the workplace was positively related to all four workplace performance measures.

Workplaces with “very satisfied” employees had higher labour productivity, higher quality of output, and higher overall performance.  Workplaces with “very dissatisfied” employees had lower financial performance and lower overall performance on the additive scale.

Non-pecuniary aspects of job satisfaction were positively correlated with overall workplace performance, the quality of output (and, less robustly, with labour productivity) whereas pay satisfaction was positively associated with workplace financial performance but not with other performance measures.

• Job-related affect was not correlated with workplace performance, regardless of the measure used.

The results from the panel analyses can be summarised as follows:

• Increasing overall average employee job satisfaction was associated with increases in all four workplace performance measures.

• Increasing average non-pecuniary job satisfaction was positively associated with changes in all four workplace performance measures.  Increasing pay satisfaction, on the other hand, shows varied associations with the performance measures, depending on the model specification, but it is never positively associated with performance measures.

Workplaces with rising job dissatisfaction experienced deterioration in all four performance measures, whereas workplaces with an increase in “very satisfied” employees experienced rising quality of output or service and an increase in the additive performance measure, but not financial performance or labour productivity.

• Changes in job-related affect were not associated with workplace performance, regardless of the measure used, although there was some evidence that an increase in employees reporting “ill-being” most or all of the time was associated with deteriorating quality of output or service and a decline in the additive performance scale, at least in some models.

These findings are consistent with the proposition that employers who are able to raise employees’ job satisfaction may see improvements in the performance of their workplace.  These improvements are apparent in profitability (financial performance), labour productivity and the quality of output or service.

Although we cannot state definitively that the link is causal, the findings are robust to tests for reverse causation and persist within workplaces over time, so that we can discount the possibility that the results are driven by fixed unobservable differences between workplaces. Thus the results are consistent with the causal relationship suggested by conceptual work in this area.

What are the implications of the study’s findings for policy makers and employers?

First, there is a prima facie case for employers to consider investing in the wellbeing of their employees on the basis of the likely performance benefits.

The study sets out a conceptual framework indicating the ways in which raising employees’ SWB may improve performance, and also presents evidence which is consistent with there being a causal relationship between the two. Specifically, if the average employer is able to raise their employees’ SWB, the theory and available evidence suggest that they are likely to see improvements in the performance of their workplace.

It should be noted, however, that the evidence of a causal link between the job-related affect measure of SWB and workplace performance is limited, and indeed the WERS analysis conducted here finds no such association. Thus there appears to be no clear case yet for employers to invest in that dimension of employee wellbeing – although equally we find no clear disadvantage to doing so.

Equally, there are likely to be routes to commercial success that employers can pursue without regard to employees’ SWB. We find no link between employees’ SWB and workplace closure probabilities, suggesting workplaces can continue to trade and, perhaps even prosper, whether employees’ SWB is high or low. Thus the “low road” may be a viable option for some employers, although we do find clear evidence that an increase in job dissatisfaction within a workplace is linked to deteriorating workplace performance.

There is, of course, also a rationale for promoting employee SWB based on benefits that go beyond the private returns to employers, since the wider society can benefit from citizens who are “happier”.  There are spillovers to employees’ family life, their participation in social activities and their consumption of government services (most obviously welfare services and health care).

A higher level of job-related SWB might then be considered a goal in itself – a point reflected in broader arguments about moving beyond purely economic measures such as GDP when considering levels of national progress.

Nevertheless, judging by the descriptive information presented in Appendix C of this report, most employees in Britain appear reasonably satisfied with most aspects of their jobs and they are not suffering in large numbers from particularly adverse SWB.  The percentages saying they are depressed or anxious most of the time are low.

As regards policy responses, it is apparent from the literature review that we do not yet fully understand what it is about jobs and the working environment that change employees’ SWB.  Some things we know quite a lot about.  For example, higher pay leads to higher job satisfaction, but even here the relationship is not linear, tailing off at higher pay levels.  The complexity of the job satisfaction concept is illustrated by the pay satisfaction literature which emphasises the importance not only of pay levels but also pay relativities.

Moreover, even if employers and policy makers were to promote certain policies or practices that, on average, engender greater employee SWB, this does not mean that this will lead to improved SWB everywhere or that, even if it did, this would translate into improved workplace performance for all. There is likely to be substantial heterogeneity across workplaces and employees such that different policies might work better for some employers than others.

Policy initiatives should therefore be carefully evaluated so that this heterogeneity can be better understood.

Summary and conclusions

It is generally accepted that success makes people happy, but we have argued that there are good reasons to expect that causality can run in the other direction, such that employees with higher SWB will perform at a higher level in their jobs and, moreover, that inducing higher SWB among employees has the potential to raise their performance. The possible mechanisms through which this effect might arise include positive effects of SWB on employees’ health, cognitive processes and attitudes to work tasks.

Link to the full report

Happiness At Work #116 ~ surviving the mid-point slump

What is it about the middle that seems to suck away at our happiness?

This week’s headline research news reports a mid-life slump in our happiness levels in the West, which then progressively rise again from the age of about 55 on through to the rest of our lives.  And in another research story looking at what really are the factors that contribute to high flying success for women leaders, Harvard Business School researchers point out a mid-career slump in optimism and ambition for women that is not experienced by their male counterparts.

Midlife crisis: Happiness Nose Dives As Westerners Hit Middle Age

Middle aged people suffer a huge decline in happiness, a new study has shown. The phenomenon discovered by the Lancet Global Health, however, only affects those living in the affluent West.

The study, which uses global survey data, found that western countries, including the UK and USA, experienced a dip in levels of life satisfaction between the ages of 45 and 55, with happiness levels rising again into old age.

The report used four years of Gallup World Poll data from more than 160 countries and covered more than 98 percent of the world’s population.

Professor Andrew Steptoe of University College London said that the reasons behind the dip were numerous and highly complex, but that there were potential explanations and many lessons to be learned.

Co-researcher Angus Deaton, of Princeton University, suggested that one reason for the dip in satisfaction could be the increased pressure to become financially successful during middle age.

“This is the period at which wage rates typically peak and is the best time to work and earn the most, even at the expense of present wellbeing, so as to have increased wealth and wellbeing later in life,”he said.

The results of the study further showed that levels of life satisfaction worldwide followed a predictable pattern depending on geographical location.

African countries experienced low levels of satisfaction, with sub-Saharan Africa facing prolonged and continually low results.

Other areas such as Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union saw a steady decline in satisfaction with age.

Despite being the most affluent geographical sector, the West was the only region which saw levels increase after a decline. The increase of satisfaction appears to coincide with the common retirement age, suggesting that the decrease in pressure to earn could contribute to rising levels of happiness in the elderly.

This new research report is interesting for lots of reasons:

  • Firstly it uses data from four years of Gallup research and includes 98% of the world’s population and the fact that we can now develop intelligence drawn from the experience of most of humankind is in itself is worth noting.
  • Secondly it’s author, Angus Deaton, wonders whether the midlife happiness slump for 45-55 year old Westerners his study has uncovered may be partly due to a peak of felt responsibility to earn at this stage of life, and thus show a connection between earnings and happiness at work that is far less apparent for other age groups.
  • Thirdly, this study points up Westerners as the only the group who show an increase in our happiness levels after a decline.  The trend for African populations is to stay relatively low throughout their lives, and for Eastern Europeans to become less happier the older they get.  The capacity that Westerners have to become happier again from the age of 55 and to keep getting progressively happier right through into our eighties is both wonderfully encouraging and compelling evidence that our happiness is not a fixed state and is influenced as much by our attitude to life as it is to our current circumstances.
  • And finally, this study highlights – superbly and once again – that our happiness is a complex dynamic quality of life that cannot be nailed down to any one or two factors. I am always pleased when this point is recognised because the more we try and boil down happiness into something simple, fixed and finite the more useless and even potentially harmful it becomes to us.

Of extra interest is the tangential finding this report references from a different study that suggests we British folk are genetically predisposed told the glums because of a short form of the gene responsible for producing serotonin, the neurochemical responsible controlling for the brain’s happiness levels.  This contrasts with the Danes who seem to possess something closer to a happiness gene, and may perhaps help to explain why they routinely top the happiest country index.

Link to the original article

Where Age Equals Happiness

This article reports the same story and presents its data in graph form, noting…

In a study published yesterday in The Lancet, Deaton and researchers from University College London, Stony Brook University, and the University of Southern California put the U-shaped curve in context by looking at the relationship between age and well-being across four different groupings: wealthy English-speaking countries, eastern Europe and former members of the Soviet Union, sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean.

Looking at data from the Gallup World Poll, which measured well-being in different countries, and the English Longitudinal Study, they found that not all patterns of well-being are created equal. While the U.S. and similar nations did indeed stick to the U-shaped curve, elsewhere around the globe, the relationship between age and overall life satisfaction looked markedly different…

A generation from now, however, the relationship between age and wellbeing—across the board—will likely look different still.

Link to read the original article

Research: How Female CEOs Actually Get to the Top

by Sarah Dillard and Vanessa Lipschitz

Continuing the mid-point slump theme – this research emphasises the extra need for women to work in an organisation that will encourage and support her development, especially because most women report lowered ambitions in their mid careers, unlike the men who start with high ambitions and tend to maintain high expectations throughout their careers.  The research findings here challenge the advice being presented to potential women high flyers to hop-scotch their way up, company by company via high stake roles, and show instead that the majority of the (only!?!) 24 women who lead Fortune 500 companies have stayed a long time with the company they now head up, many starting in the lowliest of positions and working their way up.

Ambitious young women hoping to run a major business someday are often advised to take a particular career path: get an undergraduate degree from the most prestigious college you can, an MBA from a selective business school, then land a job at a top consulting firm or investment bank. From there, move between companies as you hopscotch your way into bigger roles and more responsibility.

That’s what we were told as undergraduates, and later on as students at the Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School. It’s what Meg Whitman did, more or less, and it’s what Sally Blount, dean of the Kellogg School of Management and the only woman running a top-ten business school, recently recommended: “If we want our best and brightest young women to become great leaders…we have to convince more of them that … they should be going for the big jobs,” which for her meant “the most competitive business tracks, like investment banking and management consulting.”

We decided to put our expensively honed analytic skills to work testing that advice by looking at the career paths of the 24 women who head Fortune 500 companies. What we found surprised us.

Most women running Fortune 500 companies did not immediately hop on a “competitive business track.” Only three had a job at a consulting firm or bank right out of college. A larger share of the female CEOs—over 20%—took jobs right out of school at the companies they now run.  These weren’t glamorous jobs.

All told, over 70 percent of the 24 CEOs spent more than ten years at the company they now run, becoming long-term insiders before becoming CEO.

Even those who weren’t promoted as long-term insiders often worked their way up a particular corporate ladder, advancing over decades at a single company and later making a lateral move into the CEO role at another company.

The consistent theme in the data is that steady focus wins the day. The median long stint for these women CEOs is 23 years spent at a single company in one stretch before becoming the CEO. To understand whether this was the norm, we pulled a random sample of their male Fortune 500 CEO counterparts. For the men in the sample, the median long stint is 15 years. This means that for women, the long climb is over 50% longer than for their male peers. Moreover, 71% of the female CEOs were promoted as long-term insiders versus only 48% of the male CEOs. This doesn’t leave a lot of time for hopscotch early in women’s careers.

An immediate implication of the long climb is that for ambitious young women, company culture matters a lot. If a common pattern is to spend multiple decades advancing in a single environment, that environment had better fuel female ambition rather than stifle it. A recent Bain survey shows that while women in entry-level jobs have ambition and confidence to reach top management in large companies that matches or exceeds that of men, at mid-career, men’s ambitions and confidence stay the same, while those of women drop dramatically. A company capable of maintaining the drive of its women as they progress in their careers is a better bet for a long stint than one that allows the more common diminishing trend to occur.

It may be that the playbook for advising young women with their sights set on leading large companies needs to be revised. Just as important, there is something inspiring for young women in the stories of these female CEOs: the notion that regardless of background, you can commit to a company, work hard, prove yourself in multiple roles, and ultimately ascend to top leadership. These female CEOs didn’t have to go to the best schools or get the most prestigious jobs.

But they did have to find a good place to climb.

Link to the original article

Podcast 01: Happiness At Work and Work Holidays

Huge congratulations to my friend and eLearning trainer colleague Pilar Orti on launching her new podcast series: 21st Century Work Life.

This very first episode includes some words I wrote about this subject, as well as Pilar’s own intelligent reflections on why happiness at work has come into importance and what this might mean for us.  The second part of this podcast is a virtual coffee conversation between Pilar and Lisette Sutherland.

So, I think the fact that we’re starting to talk about Happiness at Work now makes complete sense. It also shows that our attitude to work is changing. Happiness and work just wouldn’t go together before we talked about things like finding your passion, being fulfilled at work and generally, just knowing that work can be something we enjoy if we have the right conditions.

But also, now, many of us feel like we can be a bit more in control at work. Like we can find information when we need it, like we can connect to others when we want to, not when luck throws us in the same room together. Technology is having a really important effect in our lives by facilitating connections (with others, with information) that we never dreamed we could find. So no wonder that now, we feel like we can control our levels of happiness, to a certain degree. There is still much luck involved, but maybe, just maybe, there are small things we can do here and there to make this world a better, or dare I say happier, place.”

This was also the week that Anne-Marie Rodriguez launched her new radio talk show for urban jazz radio with me as one of her guests.  I loved doing this and will hope to bring you the podcast of the show in next week’s post.

Bit by bit, we are all becoming happiness at work experts together…

And here are some more of our favourite articles from this week’s new Happiness At Work edition #116 collection…

Why Does Happiness Matter?

by Mark Williamson, Action For Happiness

Happiness relates to how we feel, but it is more than just a passing mood.

We are emotional beings and experience a wide range of feelings on a daily basis. Negative emotions – such as fear and anger – help us to get away from danger or defend ourselves. And positive emotions – such as enjoyment and hope – help us to connect with others and build our capacity to cope when things go wrong.

Trying to live a happy life is not about denying negative emotions or pretending to feel joyful all the time. We all encounter adversity and it’s completely natural for us to feel anger, sadness, frustration and other negative emotions as a result. To suggest otherwise would be to deny part of the human condition.

Happiness is about being able to make the most of the good times – but also to cope effectively with the inevitable bad times, in order to experience the best possible life overall. Or, in the words of the biochemist turned Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard: “Happiness is a deep sense of flourishing, not a mere pleasurable feeling or fleeting emotion but an optimal state of being.”

One popular misconception about happiness is that happy people are somehow more likely to be lazy or ineffective. In fact research shows the opposite is true: happiness doesn’t just feel good, it actually leads to a wide range of benefits for our performance, health, relationships and more.

For example, economists at Warwick University showed different groups of people either a positive film clip or a neutral film clip and then asked them to carry out standard workplace tasks under paid conditions. The people who were primed to feel happy were 11% more productive than their peers, even after controlling for age, IQ and other factors. Similarly, researchers at Wharton Business School found that companies with happy employees outperform the stock market year on year and a team at UCL has discovered that people who are happy as young adults go on to earn more than their peers later in life. In healthcare, doctors who are happy have been found to make faster and more accurate diagnoses, even when this happiness was induced simply by giving them the small gift of a sugary sweet. In education, schools that focus on children’s social and emotional wellbeing experience significant gains in academic attainment as well as improvements in pupil behaviour.  Happiness has also been linked to better decision-making and improved creativity.

So, rather than success being the key to happiness, research shows that happiness could in fact be the key to success.

But it doesn’t just help us function better: happiness also brings substantial benefits for society as a whole. For example, a review of more than 160 studies found “clear and compelling evidence” that happier people have better overall health and live longer than their less happy peers. They are around half as likely to catch the cold virus and have a 50% lower risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or stroke. Happier people are also less likely to engage in risky behaviour – for example, they are more likely to wear seat belts and less likely to be involved in road accidents. Happier people are even more financially responsible, tending to save more and have more control over their expenditures.

But perhaps most importantly of all, people who are happier are more likely to make a positive contribution to society. In particular, they are more likely to vote, do voluntary work and participate in public activities. They also have a greater respect for law and order and offer more help to others. There is even evidence that happiness is contagious, so that happier people help others around them to become happier too. An extensive study in the British Medical Journal followed people over 20 years and found that their happiness affected others in their networks across “three degrees of separation”. In other words, how happy we are has a measurable impact on the mood of our friend’s friend’s friend.

When it comes to the happiness of society as a whole, however, the sad truth is that in recent decades we have become substantially richer but no happier. The positive benefits of higher incomes have been undermined by rising inequality and falling levels of trust and social cohesion. We’ve also reached the point where mental ill health is one of our greatest social challenges – causing more of the suffering in our society than either unemployment or poverty. This is why increasing numbers of policymakers and leaders are now calling for measures of progress to be based on human wellbeing and happiness, not just economic factors such as growth in GDP.

Here in the UK, the government has introduced a programme to measure national wellbeing, and influential figures – including former cabinet secretary Gus O’Donnell – are calling for wellbeing to become the overall measure of prosperity and the main guide to public policy.

This shift towards prioritising happiness is important because this also reflects what the majority of people want. In a YouGov poll commissioned by Action for Happiness, a majority (87%) of UK adults said they would prefer a society with the “greatest overall happiness and wellbeing”, rather than the “greatest overall wealth” (8%). The findings were consistent across all regions, age groups and social classes.

So happiness does matter – the scientific evidence is compelling.

The pursuit of happiness is not some fluffy nice-to-have or middle-class luxury; it’s about helping people to live better lives and creating a society that is more productive, healthy and cohesive. As Aristotle said: “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”

Of course, being happy is not some magical cure-all. Happy people still get sick and lose loved ones – and not all happy people are efficient, creative or generous. But, other things being equal, happiness brings substantial advantages.

Perhaps the most powerful insight of all comes, not from the research, but from the responses I’ve heard from many hundreds of parents when asking them what they want above all for their children. Nearly all say something like: “I really just want them to be happy.”

Link to the original Guardian article

The Effect of Resilience on Workplace Environments

adapted from an artcle by Debbie Nicol

Things will always challenge a leader; after all, a leader creates the future.

No recipe exists explaining how to build the way forward. No secret formula has been written for the unknown, as a leader creates it as progress occurs.

A leader lives in a world of vulnerability, something painfully evident when a challenge comes out of seeming nowhere and stamps its presence in every thread of the organisational fabric:  a government law with huge financial consequences; a competitor’s new strategy; a customer’s negative review — all have the propensity to put pressure to potential breaking point on the organisational bubble.

But with resilience, the pressure from those events will never burst it completely

Resilience is to a leader as resourcefulness is to Richard Branson. So what conditions must exist for leaders to apply the concept of resilience?

Inner confidence and positivity about themselves and the future, for one. This allows any pressure to be circumstantial, matched or even negated. A positive attitude towards pressure allows it to be welcomed as an invitation to find new ways for change — it becomes just another source of reflection and learning.

The American author Bruce Barton says it so well: “Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dared to believe that something inside them was superior to circumstances”.

That inner confidence and the ensuing resilience can influence others to follow, and with an army tagging along no amount of pressure will ever be able to take hold. Resilience is also about staring down the barrel of challenge, and so a balanced approach and a good state of mind will minimise risk of an explosive response. When the source of agitation has become a source of learning, balanced perspective and even hope become possible.

Many leaders find it easier to be resilient in times of change when they feel they have control over their life; they have a healthy work-life balance in place and plenty of personal time. Nothing can faze the leader who is both grounded and balanced. Resilience, when combined with optimism, ensures no pressure will destabilise completely.

Resilient leaders seem to live in the world accepting that we ourselves can’t possibly predict what’s right or wrong, so it is best to move ahead, knowing that the pressure could result in myriad solutions — meaning we become the creators of the future. Take, for example, an inefficiency in a business that is having a draining effect. Resilience allows this inefficiency to be viewed as a sign that something else is trying to happen in the business system and there would be no better time than now to explore that. An open-minded environment is one that will see things not for what they are but for what they can be.

On the other hand, a closed-minded environment will become stuck in what is, as it is argument-based, divided into camps of right and wrong.

Environments open to possibility can separate the issue from the emotion, gaining clarity first and foremost to what the issue is. This does not mean that no mechanism exists for the emotional side, it means it does not cloud future possibility. If a leader has been made redundant, resilience shines through when that leader is observed almost immediately going into another direction — creating something that was not possible in the past environment, perhaps choosing to channel her entrepreneurial spirit into her own business.

With resilience there’s just no way for a leader to be derailed; the inner push is simply too powerful to allow any source of external agitation to have a permanent detrimental effect.

Link to the original article

Collaboration: It’s Not What You Think

We have noticed in our learning and development work with organisations over the last several years that the word ‘collaboration‘ seems to have completely replaced what we used to call team working, and is now the main word for all group activity at work.  I am not convinced this is always – or even often – what we really intend, and the word could use some stronger interrogation before we hurl around the room to the people we are about to work with.

Executive coach, Mary Jo Asmus agrees – offering this clarification…

Three words that begin with “C” broadly describe the types of interactions and relationships you may have with others. On a continuum, they look like this:

Competition ◊ Cooperation ◊ Collaboration

Collaboration is a step above cooperation, and it’s rarer than hen’s teeth. When people collaborate, they give up their own vested interests for the greater good (often the greater good is fostered by a “compelling vision” of the future). They’re driven to work through their differences to achieve a goal while trying to understand other’s viewpoints, being open and genuinely willing to change their minds. The stakes may be high, but such people are able to collaboratively bust through barriers to reach the end goal.

If you look hard enough, you may see “moments” of true collaboration in your organisation, but it generally doesn’t happen as often as it should. It takes time, effort and ongoing attention by a leader to make collaboration work.

True collaboration is a powerful way of making great things happen. Listening for understanding, co-creating the way forward with all interested parties, and a willingness to sometimes let go of deeply held beliefs can make collaboration part of the culture.

Not to mention that collaborative work can be great fun and seem almost magical for those involved.

Link to the original article

Rethinking the role of the strategist

Strategic planning has been under assault for years. But good strategy is more important than ever. What does that mean for the strategist?

Achieving real impact today requires strategists to stretch beyond strategic planning to develop at least one of a few signature strengths. Several important facets of the strategist’s role emerged from our research, including reallocating corporate resources, building strategic capabilities at key places in the organization, identifying business-development opportunities, and generating proprietary insights on the basis of external forces at work and long-term market trends. A number of these roles are more appropriate for some strategists and organizations than for others. But the core notion of stretching and choosing is relevant for all.

Since 2010 we’ve sensed, in our work with a wide range of global organizations and strategists, a growing recognition that traditional strategic-planning processes are insufficient to absorb the shocks and disruptions characterizing their markets and to stimulate the ongoing deliberation that a top-management team requires. Increasingly, they recognize a need to rethink their approach to strategic planning and to embrace a more frequent strategic dialogue involving a focused group of senior executives.4Effective organizations seem to be transforming strategy development into an ongoing process of ad hoc, topic-specific leadership conversations and budget-reallocation meetings conducted periodically throughout the year. Some organizations have even instituted a more broadly democratic process that pulls in company-wide participation through social-technology and game-based strategy development.

These experiences are consistent with our own findings. We’ve found that companies that consider themselves “very effective developers of strategy,” and that enjoy higher profitability than their competitors, for example, are twice as likely to review strategy on an ongoing basis (as opposed to say annually or every three to five years). They are, for instance, twice as likely to have a corporate-strategy process that goes beyond the aggregation of business-unit strategies.

Our research also supports one of our major observations about what it takes to innovate in the development and delivery of strategy: over and over, we’ve seen that the chief strategists best at driving more dynamic approaches have a professional credibility that extends well beyond a traditional process-facilitation role. At the same time, we’ve seen tremendous diversity in the characteristics of effective strategists. In a quest for greater precision, we applied statistical cluster analysis to the 13 facets that chief strategists responding to our survey described as most important to their efforts. The analysis yielded five clusters in which the strategist’s role becomes more than the sum of its parts. Widespread across industries, these clusters embody choices that face every strategy leader:

Our Five Chief Strategist Archetypes

The Architect

The Mobiliser

The Visionary

The Surveyor

The Fund Manager

The complexity of today’s strategic landscape places a premium on good strategy. And just as crafting strategy requires tough choices, so does shaping the role of the strategist. The good news, according to our research, is that strategists have a range of powerful options for adding value to their organizations, and nearly 90 percent of the strategists responding to our survey thought they were effective at the elements of the role they prioritized. The bad news is that over time it’s easy for mismatches to develop between those areas of focus and a company’s strategic needs. By identifying those mismatches and reprioritizing accordingly, strategists, chief executives, and other members of the top team can boost the quality of their strategic insights and actions.

Link to the read the full original McKinsey Company article

Workaholism Is Harmful to Health and Happiness, Study Finds

Despite being tagged as a “positive addiction,” workaholism has negative consequences for employees and employers alike.

Being a workaholic is bad for employers and employees alike, damaging one’s health, happiness, and interpersonal relations, according to a new study.

The meta-analysis, published in the Journal of Management, used existing data to relate the causes and effects of workaholism, a term coinedby American psychologist Wayne Oates in 1971.

In a culture that glorifies workaholism, some researchers go so far as to call it a “positive addiction,” according to Malissa Clark, lead author, assistant professor of industrial and organizational psychology at the University of Georgia.

Workaholism is not defined by hard work itself. It is when one’s need to work becomes so excessive that it inevitably interferes with personal health and happiness, interpersonal relations, and social functioning. The quality of work is not relevant, but it is the act of working, itself, that defines workaholism.

Clark refers to this as the difference between workaholism and work engagement. “One is feeling driven to work because of an internal compulsion, when there’s guilt if you’re not working—that’s workaholism,” she said. “The other feeling is wanting to work because you feel joy in work and that’s why you go to work everyday, because you enjoy it. And I say that is work engagement.”

The study revealed that other aspects of a workaholic’s life are negatively affected by this behavior—such as stress level, health, and relationships—which ultimately causes one’s productivity to suffer as well.

“My prior research has shown that workaholics experience negative emotions, both at work and at home. Similar to other types of addictions, workaholics may feel a fleeting high or a rush when they’re at work, but quickly become overwhelmed by feelings of guilt or anxiety,” she said. “Looking at the motivations behind working, workaholics seem pushed to work not because they love it but because they feel internal pressure to work. This internal compulsion is similar to having an addiction.”

The next generation of workers inspire hope that the workaholic culture will not last, said Clark, making way for a more family-friendly culture. She noted that millennials tend to “care more about work-family balance than previous generations,” which could mean that in the future, more companies will promote a healthy work-life balance over working too hard.

Link to the original article

How playing an instrument benefits your brain – Anita Collins

When you listen to music, multiple areas of your brain become engaged and active. But when you actually play an instrument, that activity becomes more like a full-body brain workout. What’s going on?

Anita Collins explains the fireworks that go off in musicians’ brains when they play, and examines some of the long-term positive effects of this mental workout.

Slide1

Here are this week’s best practical tools and techniques

Three Ways To Be Happier At Work

“Happier people are more successful, more creative, energetic, resilient,” says the founder of Happy Brain Science, Scott Crabtree. “They work better together. They absorb more information. They have more tools in their tool belt to help them handle whatever life throws them. They are healthier, they live longer—and they show up at work more often.”

There’s a common assumption, he says, that you will be happy when you are successful. But the reverse is actually true, and not just anecdotally. Hard neurological science supports the idea that happy people have more capacity to succeed.  And beyond that, that happiness is not a genetic mandate, or a product of circumstance. It’s a choice.

Crabtree boils this choice down into three opportunities for change that can make people happier, and are also the building blocks of high performance:

1. Achieve greater flow and engagement by structuring your goals, making them meaningful and aligned to your strengths (and then avoid multitasking)

2. Prioritise people

3. Practise positivity (you can retrain your brain to maximise your happiness advantage)

12 Worst Habits For Your Mental Health

Twelve simple everyday routines to change to live a happier life, including not slouching when we walk, not taking pictures of everything, less procrastination, less multitasking, more exercise, more sleep, more time alone and more conversation…

Ten Tips for Better Work-Life Balance

  1. Step away from the email
  2. Just say “no”
  3. Work smarter, not harder
  4. Leave work at work
  5. Forget about perfection
  6. Don’t be a martyr
  7. Ease off the adrenaline
  8. Think about retirement
  9. Make ‘em wait
  10. Set your own rules

5 Questions That Will Help You Be a Better Leader

  1. What are you willing to take a stand for?
  2. What do you believe will happen if you let go of control?
  3. What do you really believe about making mistakes?
  4. What standards do you set for yourself?
  5. What do you expect from your team?

10 Tips and Quotes from the Best Leadership Books of the Year

1. Resilience is critical to success in leadership

Denise Brosseau in her book Ready to Be a Thought Leader: How to Increase Your Influence, Impact, and Success

2. You must bridge the communication gap created by leadership

Mike Myatt in his book Hacking Leadership: The 11 Gaps Every Business Needs to Close and the Secrets to Closing Them Quickly

3. Leadership is, at its core, about the mobilization of ideas

John P. Kotter in his book Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World

4. Good leaders are highly aware of their own vulnerabilities

Robert Bruce Shaw in his book Leadership Blindspots: How Successful Leaders Identify and Overcome the Weaknesses That Matter

5. Leaders equip people for success beyond their own purview

Derek Lidow in his book Startup Leadership: How Savvy Entrepreneurs Turn Their Ideas Into Successful Enterprises

6. The role of a leader is primarily to care for others

Simon Sinek in his book Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t

7. Take time to reflect and lead in the moment without stopping only to focus on problems

Kathryn D. Cramer in her book Lead Positive: What Highly Effective Leaders See, Say, and Do

8. Trust in leadership can be distilled down to four basic elements

Joanna Barsh and Johanne Lavoie in their book Centered Leadership: Leading with Purpose, Clarity, and Impact

9. Body language trumps spoken instruction

Nick Morgan in his book Power Cues: The Subtle Science of Leading Groups, Persuading Others, and Maximizing Your Personal Impact

10. Hope in leadership comes from analyzing success and feedback

Stewart D. Friedman in his book Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life

How To Be A Great Public Speaker

Harnessing the power  sources of the three golden principles of

  • Authority
  • Authenticity and
  • Audience

6 Ways To Take Care of Your Customer

  1. Appreciation
  2. Service
  3. Human Touch
  4. Periodic Checking In
  5. Shared Expertise
  6. Simplified Experience

Happiness At Work edition #116

All of these articles and more are collected together in this week’s new clutch of ideas, tips and news stories

Happiness At Work #115 ~ new science, old philosophies & everyday wisdom

This week’s headline articles include words of wisdom about happiness from a billionaire, from happiness at work scientists and from people like you and me figuring out what happiness means and how to make it through the challenges and encounters of their everyday lives.

The Anne-Marie Rodriguez Radio Show – featuring Mark Trezona

And the really exciting news for me is that Anne-Marie Rodriguez has invited me to be one of the expert guests, with wellbeing expert and trailblazer  Nic Marks and Adrian Pancucci from ORSCC, in the launch programme of her very first  brand new weekly radio show exploring ways for people to create working lives worth living.

This first programme will focus on happiness at work and you can tune in to hear the live programme live between 7.00-9.00pm GMT this Wednesday 5th November at urban jazz radio

But if you miss it I will bring you the link to its podcast version in a future post.

Wish me luck…

The Golden Circle of our wisdom about happiness (BridgeBuilders STG Ltd 2014)The Golden Circle of our wisdom about happiness (BridgeBuilders STG Ltd 2014)

We are slowly developing our own Golden Triangle to pinpoint the three sources of wisdom about happiness:

  • The New Science of Happiness

Loudest of all at the moment is the clarion call of the burgeoning new science of happiness that is sprouting exponentially from diverse fields including positive psychology, neuroscience, biology, economics, and contemporary organisational and leadership practices.

  • Old Wisdom from our Past

But these are built from a strong and long historical framework of older wisdom that extends as far back as our human story.  For as long as we have been human we have wondering and thinking and writing about what happiness means and how we can be happier.  And, whether or not we continue to believe in their tracts and tenets, our old philosophies and religious teachings are written into our DNA and continue to inform how we define and understand and reach for happiness today.

  • Lived-Through Personal Wisdom

And then there is another much less visible but equally reliable and important source of knowledge that we all draw from  to understand and learn about happiness, and this is the practical lived-though personal experience of happiness that every single one of us knows something important about from our daily enactment of being alive and human.  Happiness is individually experienced and understood and for each one of us it will mean something unique and particular.  The surer we trust our own understanding about happiness the greater we can draw from the other two sources in ways that will be be meaningful and relevant for ourselves.  And whatever we derive from the new science of happiness or the older heritage from our past thinkers, its real potency and value comes when we apply it into the practice of living our lives.

These three sources of wisdom about happiness are inextricably, interdependently and synergistically connected:

  • without the intelligence from the new science of happiness we deny ourselves its vitality of the fresh oxygen of the new knowledge about what it means to be human it gives us;
  • without the older wisdom from our history we lose its foundations and the solidity, universality and deep insights our past gives us about what how to live a truly good life and to live well and happily with each other;
  • and without the same care, attention and legitimacy for our everyday wisdom we lose our way to put what we learn to work, to develop our mastery and weave ourselves the incremental, iterative aspirational tapestry that continually learning  to be happy makes of our daily lives.

In the film, Four Chambers, Imanuel Goncalves has gathered together four everyday stories that movingly illustrate the wisdom of everyday people making extraordinary choices, offering us intelligence that we cal all draw from in our own encounters and aspirations along the path of becoming happier.

And here is a summary of the other articles you will find in the rest of this post, all taken from this week’s new Happiness At Work edition #115 collection…

“Happiness at work comes from your own attitude…”

- Jack Ma, Alibaba billionnaire

One of China’s most successful entrepreneurs, Alibaba founder Jack Ma writes that “happiness at work comes from your own attitude”, a message that is thoroughly endorsed by science of happiness experts like Shawn Achor, whose principles for achieving what he calls The Happiness Advantage are cinematically introduced in a new series of 1minute movies.

If you are still doubting whether happiness is really a force to be reckoned with, this week’s news about the new What Works Centre for Wellbeing that the UK government is launching next Spring is clear evidence of their continued undertaking to take our happiness seriously and make it more influentially and centrally closer to the heart of policy and economic decision making.  The new centre will initial be led by Lord O’Donnell, who last year published an international study that cited meaningful work as one of the key drivers for happiness, along with mental health, social support and the physical environment, so we dare to hope that this will have positive benefits for our working lives as well as our wider environmental and society conditions.

We know from research across a variety of contexts that inequality one of the greatest destroyers of happiness.  The greater our sense of unfairness, the greater our unhappiness.  This is as much a mounting challenge for our societies as it is for our organisations, and in The Consequence of Unfair Workplace, Art Markman advocates the need for shifting the terms of engagement between us and our organisations away from a ‘contract’ and towards more a ‘covenant’ – which my Collins Dictionary defines as ‘a binding agreement’ from the Latin convenire meaning ‘to come together and make an agreement.’

…companies do not engage in agreements with a group of strangers. Instead, they create a neighbourhood in which everyone understands the role they play to help the company to succeed in its vision…A covenant is what allows employees to feel like they are part of something bigger then themselves. They are engaged in working toward a significant future. People with that level of engagement put in the level of effort that is required to allow that vision to become reality, regardless of what the letter of an employment contract might say.

When the organisation does things that seem unfair…people ask whether they are truly part of a community. They begin to wonder whether the organisation really deserves a covenant. And at these times, people may begin to revert back to the letter of the contract they signed rather than the spirit of the vision of the organisation.

Jessica Pryce-Jones found compelling evidence about the importance of perceived fairness  in her research with more than 9,000 people from around the word.  Writing about organisational culture, one of The Five Drivers for Happiness At Work, she highlights:

Performance and happiness at work are really high when employees feel they fit within their organisational culture. Not fitting in a job is like wearing the wrong clothes to a party—all the time.

It’s hugely draining and de-energising.

If you’re in the wrong job, you’ll find that the values mean little to you, the ethos feels unfair or political and you don’t have much in common with your colleagues. What’s interesting about our data is that employees like their organisational cultures a lot less than they did in pre-recession times: in particular “generation Y-ers” or “millennial” workers really don’t seem to like what they’re experiencing at work.

So any business which wants to attract and retain top young talent and find the leaders of tomorrow, needs to start addressing this issue today.

The need to respond and work in very different ways with younger employees, as well as the essential importance of feeling like we are able to work towards our fullest potential that Jessica Pryce-Jones writes into her happiness at work methodology, are themes  picked up and emphasised in Leadership For The Millennial Generation: An Interview With Lindsey Pollak:

To best develop Gen Y leaders, organisations need to understand their deep desire for personal and professional development. In The Hartford’s 2014 Millennial Leadership Survey, Millennials said employers can most demonstrate their investment in them as a future leader by offering training and development (50%), a clear career path (35%), and ongoing coaching and feedback (34%).

 

“…for too long Government has tended to use the blunt measurement of increasing GDP to assess the success of the country when actually it was unconnected with people’s general happiness.”

- Lord O’Donnell

Ministers aim to boost the nation’s happiness with new wellbeing centre

by Whitehall Editor, The Independent, Wednesday 29 October 2014

Increasing national well-being is to be put at the heart of Government policy-making, ministers will announce today, with the establishment of a new centre to measure the impact of policies on people’s happiness.

Two years ago the Office for National Statistics began publishing the first data on national wellbeing as part of its Integrated Household Survey. Now the Government is to set up a centre to assist Whitehall policy-makers assessing whether Government initiatives are likely to improve or diminish the happiness of those they affect and the wider society.

The plan is that eventually all decisions from building a third runway at Heathrow to best approaches to cut crime should be subjected to a well-being assessment in much the same way as they are assessed for economic impact.

The new What Works Centre for Wellbeing will launched by next spring and will initially be led by the former Cabinet Secretary Lord O’Donnell.

Last year he published an international study that identified mental health, meaningful work, loneliness and the physical environment as some of the key drivers of happiness or unhappiness often overlooked by policy-makers. The centre will initially develop a methodology for assessing wellbeing in policy terms before commissioning work designed to assess the impact of specific interventions to help improve quality of life.

Lord O’Donnell said that for too long Government had tended to use the blunt measurement of increasing GDP to assess the success of the country when actually it was unconnected with people’s general happiness.

“The ONS recently re-assessed the level of the UK’s GDP upwards by including things like illegal drugs and prostitution,” he said. “But they don’t measure things like volunteering which we know have a tremendously positive impact on wellbeing.

“So you could have a society where everyone gave up volunteering and took up crack dealing and prostitution and that society would have a much higher GDP growth rate. That’s crazy.”

Lord O’Donnell added that whatever methodology that was used would have to take account of the fact that some decisions could have a beneficial effect on the happiness of some people but a detrimental effect on others. For example an extra runway at Heathrow could increase the number of direct flights to different destinations – reducing hassle for travellers. But at the same time it would increase noise levels for those in the vicinity.

The new centre will be supported by an initial £3.5m grant with from other organisations.

The Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood  said it was “vital” that the Civil Service had the capacity to ensure that decision-making was supported by “high-quality evidence”.

“We are using evidence and behavioural insights to drive real change across government. The What Works Centre for Wellbeing is the latest step in embedding evidence-based policy-making across government.”

Link to read the original Independent article

…When the morale of an organisation suffers, it is important for leaders to think about things they may have done that would push employees from thinking themselves as neighbours to thinking of themselves as strangers. At those times, it is important for leaders to hold out an olive branch and to do what they can to welcome disgruntled employees back into the neighbourhood.

The Consequences Of An Unfair Workplace

by Art Markman for Fast Company

…life is not fair.

Bad things happen to good people. Projects begun with the best of intentions and developed with people’s full effort can still fail. And, in some organisations, people are not always rewarded equally for the same level of work.

Why does this matter?

A Contract vs. A Covenant

We generally think of business as something done by contract. I sign a contract with my employer that states my responsibilities, and the company makes an agreement about how I will be compensated for that effort.

The thing is, contracts are agreements that are designed for strangers. If I don’t know you very well and you don’t know me, then a contract is great. It stipulates exactly what you will do for me and what I will do for you, and the legal system enforces the letter of the contract.

But, companies do not function if they run only contractually. A good company has a mission to build a great product or to provide a first-rate service. That company has to succeed today and to look forward toward an innovative future. It is not possible to enumerate all of the tasks that go into making this company succeed.

And so, good companies do not really have contracts with their employees. They have covenants.

A covenant lays out the vision of the company’s future. Employees agree to give their effort collectively to create that future, and the company agrees to support their employees through compensation, benefits, training, and the creation of a fair work environment.

In this way, companies do not engage in agreements with a group of strangers. Instead, they create a neighbourhood in which everyone understands the role they play to help the company to succeed in its vision.

And that is where fairness comes in.

A covenant is what allows employees to feel like they are part of something bigger then themselves. They are engaged in working toward a significant future. People with that level of engagement put in the level of effort that is required to allow that vision to become reality, regardless of what the letter of an employment contract might say.

But, when the organisation does things that feel unfair, it causes people to question why they are part of this community. If upper management is compensated far more than rank-and-file employees, even in economic downturns, it creates a sense of unfairness. When one person is promoted despite the presence of other people who seem more deserving, it creates a sense of unfairness. When projects that people have worked on for a long time are cut without explanation, it creates a sense of unfairness.

That feeling that the situation is unfair leads people to ask whether they are truly part of a community. They begin to wonder whether the organisation really deserves a covenant. And at these times, people may begin to revert back to the letter of the contract they signed rather than the spirit of the vision of the organisation.

For example, teachers and nurses will often engage in a “job action” when they are involved in contract disputes. In those situations, the employees believe they are being treated unfairly. So, they only perform the duties they are contractually obligated to perform. Teachers arrive exactly when they are required to and leave as soon as they are able. They do not engage in extracurricular activities or stay late to help struggling students. The community suffers, because the teachers have gone from treating the workplace as a neighbourhood to treating it as a collection of strangers.

That is why it is so important to think about fairness.

When the morale of an organisation suffers, it is important for leaders to think about things they may have done that would push employees from thinking themselves as neighbours to thinking of themselves as strangers. At those times, it is important for leaders to hold out an olive branch and to do what they can to welcome disgruntled employees back into the neighbourhood.

Link to read the original Fast Company article

Jessica Pryce-Jones 5 C's Science of Happiness At Work model (BridgeBuilders STG Ltd.)

Jessica Pryce-Jones 5 C’s Science of Happiness At Work model (BridgeBuilders STG Ltd.)

The Five Drivers of Happiness At Work

Jessica Pryce-Jones writing for the Wall Street Journal

“We’re here to talk about happiness. Happiness at work.”

The words sound so flaky; “happy clappy” and “happy hippy” ping into my mind even though the numbers tell their own story.

We’ve all had to face and deal with a very different working world, especially since the financial crisis and ensuing recession.

Data which we’ve gathered since 2006, shows that people everywhere feel less confidence, motivation, loyalty, resilience, commitment and engagement.

And whether your local economy is in a state of boom or bust, employees are experiencing similar pressures and bosses can only squeeze until the pips squeak for so long.

But imagine a mindset which enables action to maximise performance and achieve potential in these tough times. At the iOpener Institute for People and Performance, we understand that this is another way of describing happiness at work.

Our empirical research, involving 9,000 people from around the world, reveals some astonishing findings. Employees who report being happiest at work:

  • Stay twice as long in their jobs as their least happy colleagues
  • Spend double their time at work focused on what they are paid to do
  • Take ten times less sick leave
  • Believe they are achieving their potential twice as much

And the “science of happiness at work” has big benefits for individuals too. If you’re really happy at work, you’ll solve problems faster, be more creative, adapt fastest to change, receive better feedback, get promoted quicker and earn more over the long-term.

So how can you get to grips with what it’s all about?

Our research shows that there are five important drivers that underpin the science of happiness at work.

1. Contribution.

Contribution - inside-out and outside in, Jessica Pryce-Jones Science of Happiness At Work model (BridgeBuilders STG ltd. 2014)

Contribution – inside-out and outside in, Jessica Pryce-Jones’ 5 C’s Science of Happiness At Work model                  (BridgeBuilders STG Ltd. 2014)

 

This is about what you do, so it’s made up of some of the core activities which happen at work. Like having clear goals, moving positively towards them, talking about issues that might prevent you meeting your objectives and feeling heard when you do so.

You’ll do all this best when you feel appreciated and valued by your boss and your colleagues. So it’s not just about delivering: it’s about doing that within collaborative working relationships too.

Here’s what Daniel Walsh, executive vice president at one of the world’s leading transport and logistics organisations Chep, said about his insight into the value of his colleagues’ contributions:

“I was very task-focused and goal-oriented early in my career and I delivered significant deals. But afterwards it would take a few weeks to mop up the wreckage because I was more gung-ho than I needed to be. I had a meeting with my mentor who said, “look this has got to stop. You’re delivering fantastic results but you’ve got to take people with you.

“Now I try to create an environment where people feel their opinions or views matter and I appreciate what they bring to the table. I can’t do my job on my own.”

2. Conviction.

Conviction, Jessica Pryce-Jones Science of Happiness At Work model (BridgeBuilders STG ltd. 2014)

Conviction, Jessica Pryce-Jones’ 5 C’s Science of Happiness At Work model (BridgeBuilders STG Ltd. 2014)

This is the short-term motivation both in good times and bad. That’s the key point: keeping going even when things get tough, so that you maintain your energy, motivation and resources which pull you through.

Key to doing this is feeling that you’re resilient, efficient and effective. In fact, our data clearly shows that we’re much more resilient than we are aware but we’re much less aware of how variable our motivation is and how to manage it.

Actively deciding to do this can make a huge difference.

As Adam Parr, CEO of Williams F1 said, “a driver who gets out of a car when it’s spun off or he’s been hit and it’s all gone horribly wrong and reminds himself that he’s privileged to do the work and there’s a job to be done—that takes him to another level.”

3. Culture.

Culture, Jessica Pryce-Jones 5 C's Science of Happiness At Work model (BridgeBuilders STG Ltd. 2014)

Culture, Jessica Pryce-Jones 5 C’s Science of Happiness At Work model (BridgeBuilders STG Ltd. 2014)

Performance and happiness at work are really high when employees feel they fit within their organizational culture. Not fitting in a job is like wearing the wrong clothes to a party—all the time.

It’s hugely draining and de-energizing.

If you’re in the wrong job, you’ll find that the values mean little to you, the ethos feels unfair or political and you don’t have much in common with your colleagues. What’s interesting about our data is that employees like their organizational cultures a lot less than they did in pre-recession times: in particular “generation Y-ers” or “millennial” workers really don’t seem to like what they’re experiencing at work.

So any business which wants to attract and retain top young talent and find the leaders of tomorrow, needs to start addressing this issue today.

4. Commitment.

Commitment, Jessica Pryce-Jones 5 C's Science of Happiness At Work model (BridgeBuilders STG Ltd. 2014)

Commitment, Jessica Pryce-Jones 5 C’s Science of Happiness At Work model (BridgeBuilders STG Ltd. 2014)

Commitment matters because it taps into the macro reasons of why you do the work you do. Some of the underlying elements of commitment are perceiving you’re doing something worthwhile, having strong intrinsic interest in your job and feeling that the vision of your organization resonates with your purpose.

We’ve seen commitment decline for the majority of employees post-recession as leaders and organizations think that tuning into this soft stuff is a waste of time.

It isn’t.

It’s how you enable your employees to understand why they should make a greater discretionary effort for you. What is important is to recognize that the five factors work as an ecosystem.

That means if one of the five drivers isn’t functioning well, the others will be affected. For example if you don’t feel high levels of commitment, it’s likely that your contribution will be affected. When contribution goes down, conviction, especially the motivation part of it, tends to go down with it. And that obviously has an effect on your confidence too.

5. Confidence.

Confidence, Jessica Pryce-Jones 5 C's Science of Happiness At Work model (BridgeBuilders STG Ltd. 2014)

Confidence, Jessica Pryce-Jones 5 C’s Science of Happiness At Work model (BridgeBuilders STG Ltd. 2014)

Confidence is the gateway to the other four drivers. Too little confidence and nothing happens: too much leads to arrogance and particularly poor decisions. Without greater levels of self-belief, the backbone of confidence, there will be few people who’ll take a risk or try anything new. And you can’t have confident organizations without confident individuals inside them.

Here’s what Dr Rafi Yoeli, founder of Urban Aeronautics, the leading Israeli fancraft aviation entrepreneur said:

“We’ve built a flying machine that’s half way between a Harrier jump jet and a helicopter. We work very differently here, it’s organic engineering. You need a high level of curiosity and of expertise if you’re going to make something extraordinary. And you need an even higher level of confidence to put it together.”

And finally, understanding what makes you happy at work and how that affects your performance offers a whole new way of managing yourself, your career and your opportunities.

Link to read the original article

What are you doing to ensure your leadership capacity is in sync with today’s marketplace?

Leadership For The Millennial Generation: An Interview With Lindsey Pollak

by Caroline Ceniza-Levine for Forbes

Lindsey Pollak is the author of the recent New York Times Best Seller, Becoming the Boss: New Rules for the Next Generation of Leaders. She is one of the country’s leading experts on the Millennial generation and consults with top corporations on attracting, engaging and managing their future leaders.

Caroline Ceniza-Levine: What prompted you to write a book specifically on leadership for Gen Y?

Lindsey Pollak: …I [partly] wrote this book because I am frustrated by the common portrayal of Millennials as “entitled,” narcissistic and overall a “lost” generation. I believe very strongly that today’s young people have tremendous potential, but they do need some guidance on “soft skills,” such as face-to-face communication, work ethic and professional patience. This book is my attempt to provide that guidance and support this huge generation of out world’s future leaders.

Ceniza-Levine: On the subtitle of ‘New Rules’: Are there rules that apply to Gen Y specifically as opposed to X and Boomer leaders? How is Gen Y leadership different?

Pollak: I do believe we need new leadership rules today, but they are not replacing the classic rules; they are additive. We are living in a time of massive generational change, with the enormous (76 million strong) baby boomer generation finally giving way to the enormous Millennial generation (80 million strong). (I’m a member of Gen X, the tiny 46-million member generation sandwiched between these two.). While there are tons of great leadership books written by and for the older generations — and I have an entire chapter of the book dedicated to reviewing the classic books and concepts any new leader should know — I believe Millennials are leading in different times and also see the world in a different way.

Ceniza-Levine: What can X and Boomer leaders learn from these New Rules? What should X and Boomer leaders know to best develop Gen Y high potential leaders?

Pollak: There are many tips in the book that are relevant to any leader of any generation today. For example, leading people virtually (through Skype, instant message and other technologies) is a new leadership competency.

To best develop Gen Y leaders, organizations need to understand their deep desire for personal and professional development. In The Hartford’s 2014 Millennial Leadership Survey, on which I collaborated, Millennials said employers can most demonstrate their investment in them as a future leader by offering training and development (50%), a clear career path (35%), and ongoing coaching and feedback (34%). Leadership is a learnable skill and if we want the next generation to be great leaders, we have to teach them how to do it.

Ceniza-Levine: In your research for the book, what’s a surprising fact you learned that may not have been in your initial hypothesis?

Pollak: Great question! I was most surprised by the percentage of Millennials who already view themselves as leaders today, whether or not they hold a traditional leadership or management role. According to the same survey mentioned above, 83% of Millennials consider themselves to be a leader in some aspect of their lives — work, community, family, sports, etc. I knew Millennials were a confident group, which is terrific, but this number is much higher than I anticipated.

If, as Pollak highlighted, leaders today need to navigate multiple generations, know how to lead via new technologies and prioritize professional and personal development for themselves and their teams, what are you doing towards these ends?

Are you regularly networking with people outside your generation, including adopting a reverse (younger) mentor if needed?

Are you staying updated with the latest technology (holding your next meeting on GoogleGOOGL +1.02% Hangout, perhaps)?

Are you blocking time out on your schedule (and your team’s schedules) for professional and personal development?

What are you doing to ensure your leadership capacity is in sync with today’s marketplace?

Link to read the original Forbes article

In One Simple Sentence, Alibaba’s Jack Ma Shows How Easy It Is To Find Happiness At Work

by Eugene Kim

Alibaba founder Jack Ma is the richest man in China. His rags-to-riches life story serves as a true inspiration to many startup entrepreneurs.

He also runs his own blog where he often shares his thoughts on business and life in general.

On Tuesday, Ma wrote on his blog how work happiness could be achieved with a simple change in mindset.

While resting at an airport in Alaska in a small, simple room, I watched the night shift employee Jennifer. In just ten minutes, she and my colleague discussed the influence of genetics on disease and her own unique take on the influence the earth’s rotation has on atmospheric warming.

Off to the side, I was shocked by her level of knowledge, so I curiously asked about her background. She was a geneticist from the American south, she knew how to fly a helicopter, was over 50 years old, and had three kids. She came to work in this small, polar town after her husband’s work transferred him here. She said she had already worked at that customer service desk for nine months, and she laughed: “I like this job because I don’t have to think too much, it’s simple and pleasant.”

Happiness at work comes from your own attitude. There are always people who can find happiness even in their tedious, repetitive jobs, and yet others are always dissatisfied regardless of how important and interesting their jobs are.

A good job isn’t something you go out and find, it’s something you discover while you’re working.

Meanwhile, Wall Street analysts started coverage of Alibaba on Wednesday and estimated that its shares could go as high as $178. That would make the company worth $500 billion.

Link to read the original Business Insider article

Shawn Achor's 7 Principles for The Happiness Advantage (BridgeBuilders STG Ltd. 2014)

Shawn Achor’s 7 Principles for The Happiness Advantage (BridgeBuilders STG Ltd. 2014)

Shawn Achor’s Happiness Advantage  Principles – (Megan  Early)

We are huge fans of Shawn Achor’s Happiness Advantage and use his seven principles in our Happiness At Work workshops and eLearning programmes.

These short 1minute movies by Megan Early are a great taster and introduction into Achor’s six of Achor’s seven principles:

Principle #1 ~ The Happiness Advantage – becoming happier in order to become more successful and productive

Principle #2 ~ The Fulcrum and the Lever – leveraging positivity

Principle #3 ~ The Tertris Effect – training our brains for optimism

Principle #4 ~ Falling Up – growing from set backs and failure

Principle #5 ~ The Zorro Circle – gaining control and mastery one small step at a time

Principle #6 ~ The 20-second Rule – reducing the obstacles and getting momentum

(Principle #7 ~ Social Investment – building strong relationships does not yet have a movie in this playlist)

Four Chambers: The Film

Four Chambers is an extraordinary film about life and living it to the full.

Imanuel Goncalves explores four life affirming and uplifting stories about compassion, courage, vision and wonder. Featuring the viral sensation, “The Cab Ride I’ll Never Forget”, wisdom and insight from the world’s top neurosurgeon Ben Carson, and the unforgettable stories of 5 year old Austin, and the horses of Greatwood, Four Chambers could change the way you see the world forever.

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Happiness At Work edition #115

All of these stories and many more are collected together in this week’s new Happiness At Work #115 collection.

And here are our seven favourite practical guides you will find in this week’s toolbox of tips and techniques:

 

There Are Always a Million Distractions. Here’s How to Silence the Noise and Pay Attention.

…what are the main sources of intrusion, how do they affect us, and what can be done to curb them?

 10 Great Habits For Working From Home

…Regardless of whether you work at home once a month or every day, there are a handful of crucial habits you’ll need to adopt if you want to work effectively…

14 Things Successful People Do At Weekends (Infographic)

…from No.1 Making Time For Family and Friends to No. 14 Recharging…

How To Manage Every Personality Type

…if you know Myers-Briggs Personality Types this is an excellent resource to adapt your influencing approach to best match the people you want to connect with from, from ‘staying strictly logical with ESTJs’ to ‘always acknowledging good work from INFPs…

How To Encourage Growth Under A Controlling Boss

…three measures that can help both employees and leaders who have to deal with a controlling boss who is clearly stuck in the ‘this is the way things are done around here’ mindset to ensure that they are able to promote growth and collective success in their organisation.

How to be positive and realistic, at the same time

Psychologist and leadership consultant Kathy Kramer on what makes great leadership these days…

“Leaders do not realise how important they are in driving the change. They have a ripple effect that they often underestimate. People follow people, not just great ideas. Leaders have to put themselves into the equation – you are as important if not more so than any other strategy. People need to look at you, hear from you, and they need to know how much they matter.”

500 Most Popular Positive Psychology Pieces

…an really useful searchable, downloadable resource of free online resources in a database containing 500 of the most popular webpages, writings, articles and pieces written on positive psychology.  Worth filing away in your library of resources…

I hope you find plenty here to enjoy and use to your own happiness advantage.

Link to the full Happiness At Work edition #115 collection

 

Happiness At Work #113 ~ a toolkit of practical techniques for getting and staying happier

This week’s featured Happiness At Work articles highlight a clutch of articles that offer us some down-to-earth tools and techniques for being and staying happier.

These include how to manage our emotional intelligence, our time and work-life balance when we are feeling especially stretched, how to be better at stopping and smelling the roses, and how to enhance your state of being in flow – those best moments when we feel at the frontier of our abilities, playing to our strengths and doing our finest work.  Plus some tips on how to jumpstart employee happiness in your organisation, and some reasons why we now need to be teaching the new science of happiness in our schools.

5 Ways to Reset Your Work-Life Balance When You’re Crazy Busy

No matter how much you love what you do, striking a balance between work and your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing is essential. Studies have repeatedly shown that happy workers are more productive workers, so keeping up stable relationships with friends and family, making time for fulfilling activities, and taking a break from work is key to maintaining a quality of life that serves you and your employer best.

To maintain your happiness and keep your wellbeing in check, Melody Wildings hares her strategies to stay balanced and stress-free, courtesy of The Muse.

 

1. Communicate with your boss

Even if you choose to embrace the extra work and additional responsibilities as a challenge and way to grow your skill set, it’s important to communicate with your boss about expectations such as deadlines and the duration of the project. Be sure you’re both aware of when the craziness will start to wind down, whether the project is on schedule, and any potential roadblocks that could arise.

Not only will having this information help you feel in control of your workload, it will actually help you control the process. With full knowledge of your boss’ expectations, you can step in when things aren’t moving along to suggest a change in direction, and you’ll be able to weather surprises (like the project getting extended for an extra week) with grace and ease.

2. Create a morning and a bedtime routine

Research shows that following a morning routine can help get your day off to a productive start—and that good feeling can boost your mood throughout the rest of the day.

Create a routine around a daily morning practice, such as meditating or waking up a half-hour early to get work done before ever checking your email. By sticking to this morning after morning, you’ll automatically begin your workday on a positive note, with a sense of accomplishment.

Then, at the end of the day, make a point to go to bed at the same time each evening (more or less), and designate some time beforehand to wind down by reading, jotting down tomorrow’s to-dos, or another calming routine that isn’t in front of a screen. Engaging in a nighttime ritual signals to your body it’s time for bed, and clearing your mind before bed also helps calm your nerves, which improves sleep.

3. Move your body (even a little)

Exercise is often one of the first things to go when work gets crazy, but its stress-reducing benefits make it even more important to incorporate during demanding times in your life.

If there’s no way you can squeeze in your normal gym routine, think of smaller ways you can get the blood flowing, like changing up your commute to walk or bike to work, YouTube-ing a short yoga or abs routine that you can do at home, or even just spending 10 minutes stretching when you wake up. Physical activity is proven to reduce stress and can help calm you down when you’re amped up—which will help keep you sane during marathon workdays.

4. Set Aside Quiet Time

When it feels like you’ve signed your life over to your company or clients, carving out some time for yourself is essential to stay grounded. Whether you squeeze in time to call a friend or just sit and decompress sans electronic devices, designating uninterrupted time (however short!) to clear your head can work wonders for your mood and will help you to think more clearly when things are moving fast.

Try getting in early to take advantage of the empty office, or, if most days you’re starved for a peaceful moment, pop on some headphones and jam out to your favourite Spotify station on the way to work. Or, taking lunch away from your desk—especially if you can find a quiet park or courtyard—is a great way to de-stress.

5. Make Room for Creativity

Making time for creative expression—whatever that looks like for you—will help stay centered when it feels like work is taking over your life. Creativity is cathartic: It allows you to channel stress, anger, resentment, or whatever other negative emotions you may be holding onto in a productive, healthy way.

So, be sure you’re still making time to sing your favorite jam in the shower, write posts for your blog, or send your mom a thoughtful card in the mail, no matter how busy things are in the office. Yes, there is always one more thing on your to-do list and you can always find more reasons to work, but if you don’t pause to take a timeout, you’ll stop being productive.

Finally, when it seems like all you do is work, do your best to maintain perspective. It can be helpful to remind yourself that the stress will not last forever, and in the meantime, you have plenty of resources to cope with the stress and take back control of your life.

Making time for yourself amid the dozens of other demands on you is what will help reset your balance—and what will make you a better employee and happier person in the long run.

 

Read the original article here

 

 How To Increase Your Emotional Intelligence

by Preston Ni

Here are six keys to increasing your emotional intelligence:

1.  The Ability to Reduce Negative Emotions

Perhaps no aspect of EQ is more important than our ability to effectively manage our own negative emotions, so they don’t overwhelm us and affect our judgment. In order to change the way we feel about a situation, we must first change the way we think about it. Here are just two examples:

A. Reducing Negative Personalisation. When you feel adversely about someone’s behaviour, avoid jumping to a negative conclusion right away. Instead, come up with multiple ways of viewing the situation before reacting. For example, I may be tempted to think my friend didn’t return my call because she’s ignoring me, or I can consider the possibility that she’s been very busy. When we avoid personalizing other people’s behaviors, we can perceive their expressions more objectively. People do what they do because of them more than because of us. Widening our perspective can reduce the possibility of misunderstanding.

B. Reducing the Fear of Rejection. One effective way to manage your fear of rejection is to provide yourself with multiple options in important situations, so that no matter what happens, you have strong alternatives going forward. Avoid putting all of your eggs in one basket (emotionally) by identifying a viable Plan B, and also a Plan C, should Plan A not work out. For example:

Increased fear of rejection: “I’m applying for my dream job. I’ll be devastated if they don’t hire me.”

Decreased fear of rejection: “I’m applying for three exciting positions. If one doesn’t pan out, there are two more I’m well qualified for.”

For more in-depth information on reducing or eliminating over fifteen types of negative attitudes and feelings, see my book (click on title): “How to Let Go of Negative Thoughts and Emotions.”

2.  The Ability to Stay Cool and Manage Stress

Most of us experience some level of stress in life. How we handle stressful situations can make the difference between being assertive versus reactive, and poised versus frazzled. When under pressure, the most important thing to keep in mind is to keep our cool. Here are two quick tips:

A. If you feel nervous and anxious, put cold water on your face and get some fresh air. Cool temperature can help reduce our anxiety level (1)(2). Avoid caffeinated beverages which can stimulate your nervousness (3)(4).

B. If you feel fearful, depressed, or discouraged, try intense aerobic exercises. Energize yourself. The way we use our body affects greatly the way we feel (5)(6). As the saying goes – motion dictates emotion. As you experience the vitality of your body, your confidence will also grow.

3.  The Ability to Be Assertive and Express Difficult Emotions When Necessary

“Being who we are requires that we can talk openly about things that are important to us, that we take a clear position on where we stand on important emotional issues, and that we clarify the limits of what is acceptable and tolerable to us in a relationship.”

― Harriet Lerner

There are times in all of our lives when it’s important to set our boundaries appropriately, so people know where we stand. These can include exercising our right to disagree (without being disagreeable), saying “no” without feeling guilty, setting our own priorities, getting what we paid for, and protecting ourselves from duress and harm.

One method to consider when needing to express difficult emotions is the XYZ technique – I feel X when you do Y in situation Z. Here are some examples:

“I feel strongly that I should receive recognition from the company based on my contributions.”

“I feel uncomfortable that you expect me to help you over my own priorities.”

“I feel disappointed when you didn’t follow through when you told me you would.”

Avoid using sentences that begin with “you” and followed by accusation or judgment, such as “you are…,” “you should…,” or “you need to….” “You” language followed by such directives put the listener on the defensive, and make them less likely to be open to what you have to say.

4.  The Ability to Stay Proactive, Not Reactive in the Face of a Difficult Person

Most of us encounter unreasonable people in our lives. We may be “stuck” with a difficult individual at work or at home. It’s easy to let a challenging person affect us and ruin our day. What are some of the keys to staying proactive in such situations? Here are three quick tips:

A. When you feel angry and upset with someone, before you say something you might later regret, take a deep breath and count slowly to ten. In most circumstances, by the time you reach ten, you would have figured out a better way of communicating the issue, so that you can reduce, instead of complicate the problem. If you’re still upset after counting to ten, take a time out if possible, and revisit the issue after you calm down.

B. Another way to reduce reactivity is to try to put yourself in the difficult individual’s shoes, even for just a moment. For example, consider the person you’re dealing with, and complete the sentence: “It must not be easy….”

“My child is being so resistant. It must not be easy to deal with his school and social pressures…”

“My boss is really demanding. It must not be easy to have such high expectations placed on her performance by management…”

To be sure, empathetic statements do not excuse unacceptable behavior. The point is to remind yourself that people do what they do because of their own issues. As long as we’re being reasonable and considerate, difficult behaviors from others say a lot more about them than they do about us. By de-personalizing, we can view the situation more objectively, and come up with better ways of solving the problem.

C. Set Consequence.The ability to identify and assert consequence(s) is one of the most important skills you can use to “stand down” a difficult person. Effectively articulated, consequence gives pause to the difficult individual, and compels her or him to shift from violation to respect. In my book (click on title) “How to Communicate Effectively and Handle People,” consequence is presented as seven different types of power you can utilize to affect positive change.

5.  The Ability to Bounce Back from Adversity

“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

— Michael Jordan

Life is not always easy. We all know that. How we choose the way we think, feel, and act in relation to life’s challenges can often make the difference between hope versus despair, optimism versus frustration, and victory versus defeat. With every challenging situation we encounter, ask questions such as “What is the lesson here?” “How can I learn from this experience?” “What is most important now?” and “If I think outside the box, what are some better answers?” The higher the quality of questions we ask, the better the quality of answers we will receive. Ask constructive questions based on learning and priorities, and we can gain the proper perspective to help us tackle the situation at hand.

“Abraham Lincoln lost eight elections, failed twice in business and suffered a nervous breakdown before he became the president of the United States.” 

— Wall Street Journal

6.  The Ability to Express Intimate Emotions in Close, Personal Relationships

The ability to effectively express and validate tender, loving emotions is essential to maintaining close personal relationships. In this case, “effective” means sharing intimate feelings with someone in an appropriate relationship, in a manner that’s nourishing and constructive, and being able to respond affirmatively when the other person does the same.

A person’s “heart withers if it does not answer another heart.”

— Pearl Buck

Psychologist Dr. John Gottman calls the expression of intimate emotions “bidding.” Bidding can be any method of positive connection between two people desiring a close relationship. For example:

Verbal bidding: “How are you doing?” “How are you feeling?” “I love you.” “I appreciate you.” “I like it when we talk like this.” “I’m glad we’re spending this time together.” “you’re such a good friend.” “I’m sorry.”

Body language bidding: positive eye contact, hugging, smiling, patting the elbow, arm around the shoulder.

Behavioral bidding: offering food or beverage, a personalized card, a thoughtful gift, a needed favor. Empathetic listing. Engaging in shared activities that create a closer bond.

Dr. Gottman’s research reveals that close, healthy relationships bid with each other in ways large and small up to hundreds of times a day. The words and gestures can be a million variations, all of which say, in essence, “I care about you,” “I want to be connected with you,” and “you’re important in my life.” Constant and consistent bidding is crucial in the maintenance and development of close, personal relationships. It’s the vitamin of love.

Link to read the original article

 

Riding Your Flow: 8 Steps for Enhancing Your Creativity and Productivity

by Dr Kelly Neff

Why is that we tend to be more successful at pursuits we are genuinely passionate about? Why does time seem to drag when you are completely bored and uninterested in a task? How come you can easily lose yourself in a task that really piques your interest?

According to positive psychology, doing things that you find genuinely interesting and stimulating can put you into a state Flow, which is defined as an ‘optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.’ During flow, self-awareness and the ego can dissolve, meaning you become completely focused and immersed in the activity for its own sake. Flow has been linked to enhanced performance and creativity across a wide range of activities, such as sports, artistic pursuits, and even in the workplace. Perhaps you can visualize a time when you became so focused and passionate about something that time just dissipated?

WHAT DOES FLOW FEEL LIKE?

Psychologically, riding a state of flow can feel incredibly pleasing and liberating. As we immerse ourselves in an activity that stimulates our passions, curiosity and interests, we lose track of the world around us and can enter unusual states of creativity and productivity.

According to psychologist Mikhal Csíkszentmihályi’s landmark book Finding Flow, the feeling of flow is associated with these ten factors, although not all of them need to be present to experience it. Have you ever experienced some or all of these?

  1. You feel a complete focus of attention
  2. The activity is intrinsically rewarding
  3. You have clear, attainable (although still challenging) goals
  4. You have a feeling of peace and losing yourself
  5. There is an element of timelessness, or, losing track of time during the activity
  6. You receive immediate feedback
  7. You know that the task is doable, and you can strike a balance between skill level and the challenge presented.
  8. You feel a sense of personal control over your efforts
  9. You lose track of your physical needs.
  10. You experience an unusually high level of concentration

WHAT DOES FLOW LOOK LIKE IN THE BRAIN?

A variety of processes occur simultaneously in the brain when we enter a state of flow. Essentially, these processes are threefold and together they help explain why during flow, the brain is capable of enhanced creativity and productivity: Transitions in brainwaves, deactivation of the prefrontal cortex, and changes in neuro-chemistry.

  • Brain Wave Transitions:

While in a state of flow, our brainwaves transition from the more rapid beta waves of waking consciousness to slower alpha waves, and even to the border of much slower theta waves. Alpha waves are associated with relaxed and effortless alertness, peak performance and creativity, while theta waves are associated with the deeper dream-state consciousness and experienced predominately during REM sleep.

  • Pre-Frontal Cortex Deactivation:

During flow states, the Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC) becomes deactivated in a process called “transienthypo-frontality.” The PFC is the area of the brain that houses higher-level cognitions, including those that help us to cultivate our ego and sense of self. During a flow state this area becomes deactivated, helping us lose ourselves in the task at hand and silence our criticisms, fears and self-doubts.

  • Neuro-chemistry:

Flow states also trigger a release of many of the pleasurable and performance- inducing chemicals in the brain, including dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine and endorphins. A recent study shows that when are intrinsically curious about an outcome and driven for answers, dopamine is released in the brain, helping to solidify our memories. These findings suggest why flow states are good for promoting learning and memory in addition to creativity.

EIGHT STEPS FOR ENHANCING YOUR STATE OF FLOW

In addition to being a pleasurable and productive experience, riding the flow also has a host of other benefits to well-being including increased self- esteem, self-confidence, life satisfaction and overall happiness. Here are eight steps for enhancing your state of flow:

  1. Do something that interests you.

Flow comes most naturally when we are intrinsically motivated, excited and curios about the task. So if you are looking to get creative and productive, choose to focus on a task that you enjoy and already feel passionate about. If this is for work, or you don’t have a choice of the task, try to identify elements of the tasks that excite you. Maybe there are certain parts of project or elements of an assignment that interest you? Pay special attention to those.

  1. Set Clear Goals.

Be specific when you are getting started on a task. What is the goal you are aiming for? Are you trying to finish a painting? Write a new song? Complete a presentation? Or perfect a new yoga pose? This will help to hone your focus and keep you on task. If you try to do too much it could overwhelm you, and if you do too little you might not spend enough time in deep concentration to reach a flow state.

  1. Find A Quiet and Productive Time.

Most people find that an environment of peace and quiet works best for inducing a state of flow, possibly because of how brainwave patterns shift into slower frequencies during flow. When you begin your work, try to cultivate a calm, quiet environment. Also, make sure to identify when you are most productive: For some, this is first thing in the morning, and for others it is afternoon. For me, it is late at night. Identify the right time for you to be creative and block it off to engage in your flow time.

  1. Avoid Interruptions and Distractions

Interruptions are the nemesis of flow. Every time get distracted, whether it is a roommate speaking to us, our phone beeping, emails coming in, a distracting song, or a messy desk, it can pull us out of flow and quicken our brainwaves to beta state. When you decide it is time to get into flow, turn off the phone, ask your friends, family or roommates not to disturb you, and tidy up your work space before you get started.

  1. Focus as Long as you Can:

Once you are able to sit down during a quiet productive time without distractions, try to stay focused for as long as you can. At first, especially if you are new to the task, you may only be able to focus for five or ten minutes. This is OK: Just keep practicing! As you continue to direct your energies to focusing, you will train your brain to more easily and fluidly drop into the flow state and before long, hours will be passing by like minutes.

  1. Match Your Skills to the Task

We can best enter flow when we are working on a task that is suited to our skill level. In other words, when we are well prepared for the task at hand, we are more likely to experience flow. Csíkszentmihályi gives the example of a runner experiencing flow during a marathon for which she has trained for several months.

  1. But There is No Harm in Stretching Your Skills Slightly

Your skills should match the task at hand, but it is also possible to stretch your skills slightly past your comfort zone to maximize flow. A little bit of a challenge can be a great thing. So perhaps you are trying a new yoga move that is extra difficult. Or you are recording a song using new software. As long as the background skills are there, pushing yourself a little bit can be excellent for bringing you into a concentrated, productive state.

  1. Emphasize Process, Not Outcome

Finally, please remember that the experience of flow is a PROCESS, not an outcome. In other words, working and creating from a place of flow is a life skill that you can strive to master with practice, and this usually does not happen overnight. Just keep trying and do not give up even if you don’t nail it right away. Remember, flow is all abut enjoyment and living in the present moment. If you become to wrapped up in the outcome, then it can take your enjoyment away. Who really cares what the painting looks like, so long as you enjoyed painting it right!? Just keep trying and continue to be open to the creativity flowing through your space

Link to read the original article

Meditation Techniques for People Who Hate Meditation

by Stephanie Vozza

Brooks, director of the Austin Psychology and Assessment Center, says our thoughts are like a river. When we’re thinking about what we need from the store, the river is calm, but when we’re having negative thoughts–worrying about a presentation, for example–the current becomes more turbulent.

Mindful people–those who live in the present–can step back and stay on the riverbank, watching their current of thoughts and not getting swept away by their content.

Meditation fosters mindfulness, but the practice seems difficult in today’s world of constant stimulation: “People think the goal of meditation is to empty the mind,” says Brooks. “It’s not about clearing the mind; it’s about focusing on one thing. When the mind wanders, the meditation isn’t a failure. Our brain is like a wayward puppy, out of control. Catching it and putting it back to the object of focus is the mediation.”

Brooks says meditating is like exercise; a full workout is preferred, but there is value in short bursts.

“Research shows that a total of 15 minutes of meditating each day for several weeks produces detectable, positive changes in the brain as well as corresponding reductions in stress, anxiety, and an enhanced sense of well-being,” says Brooks. “You can get the benefits of a formal meditation practice by weaving mini-meditations into your daily life.”

He offers six ways you can effortlessly incorporate meditation into your daily life:

1. WALKING MEDITATION

While walking your dog, taking a hike, or simply getting the mail, focus your attention on one item, such as the sound of the cicadas, the feel of the ground beneath your feet, or the color of the tree. When the mind wanders, catch it and return to your original focus.

“Research has found that just being in nature reduces stress,” says Brooks. “We weren’t meant to sit in cubicles all day and when we disconnect from nature, we suffer a lot of stress.”

2. RED LIGHT MEDITATION

While stopped at a red light, turn off your radio and focus on deep breaths. When your mind wanders, go back to your breath.

“Breathing meditation is one of the easiest because it’s always with us and exists in the present moment,” says Brooks. “You can’t listen to yesterday’s breath.”

3. RUNNING/CYCLING MEDITATION

If you run or bike, leave your headphones at home and focus on the experience.

“Tune into a physical sensation, such as the ground beneath your feet, the wind in your hair, or the warmth of the sunlight,” says Brooks. “Choose one item and maintain your focus. Don’t jump mindlessly from one sensation to another.”

4. EATING/DRINKING MEDITATION

As you eat or drink, focus on the various flavours, textures, and sensations of the particular food or drink. Drinking a cup of tea or enjoying a piece of chocolate can be a form of meditation, says Brooks.

“Savor what you have in the moment,” he says.

5. WAITING MEDITATION

While in line, observe your breath or surroundings. Use the time to do some inner observations. For example, are your muscles tense? Are you cold or hot?

“It is important that when you do the observations, you do them without judgment,” says Brooks. “If you’re in the supermarket checkout line, for example, avoid judging people for what they have in their shopping carts. Observe and notice without opinion.”

6. TASK-RELATED MEDITATION

You can also incorporate mindfulness meditation into daily activities, says Brooks. For example, washing your hands, folding laundry, taking a shower, washing dishes, or brushing your teeth can serve as mini-meditations if you focus on the experience and stop your mind from wandering.

“Focusing on what’s happening now pulls us out of our river of thoughts,” says Brooks. “The benefit of meditation is that when something in the real world comes up, we’re much better at catching our thoughts instead of getting swept into their current.”

Link to read the full original Fast Company article

Five steps to jumpstarting worker happiness at your company

by Amy Westervelt

The workplace happiness trend is sweeping through corporate America, but overhauling a company culture is no easy task. Businesses big and small share their most effective strategies

Companies of every size and in every industry have whole-heartedly embraced the idea that happy employees are more productive, and that engaging employees in a company’s mission is one of the best ways to ensure success. But let’s face it: not everyone is Etsy, with an entire team devoted to such endeavors, or Bank of America, with a budget for extensive sociometric studies of its workplace, and even fewer could justify the sort of investment Google makes in attracting and retaining top talent.

Fortunately, it’s not an all-or-nothing endeavor. According to Alison Davis Blake, dean of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, there are myriad ways for companies to pick and choose the positive business strategies that best suit their size, industry and particular needs. Here are five strategies some of the world’s most successful businesses have deployed to help them not only hire employees that are a good fit, but also keep them engaged over the long term.

Step one: consider your culture

If the idea of re-engineering your company’s culture sounds overwhelming, consider the case of Mercedes-Benz, which had to figure out how to accomplish the task across a geographically distributed franchise dealer network with more than 25,000 employees.

“How do you build a strong culture, especially with an organization like ours, which has 3,000-plus employees and then a dealer network wherein each organization has its own initiatives and agendas?” said Gareth Joyce, the automaker’s vice president of customer experience. Tasked with improving customers’ experiences across the brand, Joyce knew he needed to start with the employees that interacted with those customers daily.

“You have to create a vision for people to follow, and once you succeed in doing that, you have to tell the story, again and again,” he said. “Eventually the story begins to feed itself. People start to feel good about what they’re doing. If you know what your purpose is and you start to see the connection between what you’re doing every day and the company’s vision, you see that you’re making a difference. Then tomorrow you want to get up and do more of that.”

The first step in that process for Mercedes was giving each employee access to the company’s product. “We got them into a Mercedes to take home, to show their families, their wives, their kids, their boyfriends and girlfriends, so that they could say: ‘This is the brand I represent. This is what I take pride in,’” Joyce said. “If they haven’t experienced it themselves, how are they going to sell it to anyone else with any passion?”

Next, the company created a culture survey that it regularly administers to both corporate and dealer employees. Mercedes provides one day of consulting to each of its dealers to go over the results of the survey and turn the information into action, which then gets evaluated in the next survey.

Instead of using software or IT tools, “we’ve opted for a people-centered approach because we think that goes straight to the root: if you get your people behind what you’re doing, it takes you further, faster than any other approach,” Joyce said.

Ari Weinzweig, co-founder of online food seller Zingerman’s, puts it simply: “If you want customer service to be better, give better service to the staff.”

Step two: rethink hiring

Once your company has set its culture and vision, the next step is thinking really carefully about who you hire, Blake said. She recommends evaluating candidates not just for skills, but also for temperament and fit.

“The problem is that hiring tends to be based on attraction bias – I like people who are like me – which has nothing to do with features that are relevant to the sort of firm you want to build,” she said.

This approach to hiring, sometimes called “attribute-based,” is growing more popular for companies of all sizes. In some cases, companies are ignoring resumes, references, and even the traits traditionally associated with success in a particular role, and opting instead to look at the attributes that make employees successful (and likely to stick around) in their particular culture.

It requires a bit more planning and potentially a lengthier interview process, but figuring out which attributes work well in a specific company and role – and documenting those traits – is helping businesses to get better talent and keep it. ATB Investor Services, a mid-size financial advisor firm in Alberta, Canada, for example, saw its turnover rate drop and sales increase when it adopted this approach.

“It doesn’t cost any money to be more disciplined in hiring – in fact it costs less in the long-term because you make fewer errors,” Blake said. “Companies should think carefully about not only a candidate’s skills, but also their attitude about work, attitude about the role of business in general, about the company’s products and so forth, and be intentional about writing that stuff down.”

This is especially important for small businesses, which often have loose hiring practices, she said. “Smaller firms will often say ‘we don’t need HR; we don’t need all that bureaucracy,’” she said. “But mission-aligned, culture-aligned hiring is important for companies of any size.”

Step three: increase performance reviews

The idea of conducting more performance reviews doesn’t sound like something that would catch on, but more and more companies are doing just that. The idea is simple: only giving employees and managers one chance a year to sit down and talk about what does and doesn’t work all but ensures that things will slip through the cracks. It doesn’t give managers time to improve an employee’s performance, nor does it give employees time to raise important issues. The result is typically higher-than-necessary turnover rates.

Instead, some companies are opting to conduct quick weekly surveys that not only help the companies deal with issues but also help employees pass good ideas up the management chain regularly. Luke Ryan, a spokesperson for 15Five, which provides performance review software used by eyewear brand Warby Parker, software company Citrix Systems and invention website Quirky, says the idea is to “create ‘trickle-up’ communication, to surface ideas and problems on a weekly basis”.

Other companies have created their own performance review processes, incorporating input from employees and external HR experts. Australian software company Atlassian conducted a year-long program aimed at replacing its performance-review process – a standard bi-annual, 360-degree review – with something that took less time and did a better job of engaging employees.

In a blog post about the project, Joris Luijke, the company’s vice president of talent and culture, wrote: “Twice a year, the model did exactly the opposite to what we wanted to accomplish. Instead of an inspiring discussion about how to enhance people’s performance, the reviews caused disruptions, anxiety and de-motivated team members and managers. Also, even though our model was extremely lean and simple, the time investment was significant.”

In the end, the company created its own new process, which has since been duplicated by hundreds of other companies. It got rid of the scale associated with performance reviews, and replaced bi-annual review meetings with monthly check-ins. Atlassian managers were already meeting weekly with their employees, so the company decided to devote one of these weekly meetings per month to a broader conversation about performance, with a different focus area each month.

Eventually the company discovered and began using software from Small Improvements to manage this process, joining several other companies, including social media company Pinterest, ride-sharing company Lyft and home décor business One King’s Lane.

Step four: be transparent

Transparency is often discussed in terms of how a company communicates with the public, but even companies that have transparency down pat in their external communication can falter with internal transparency.

There are, of course, companies that manage to be transparent in the extreme: Zingerman’s Deli, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for example, opens its books to every single employee. Digital payment infrastructure company Stripe, based in San Francisco, has a famously open email policy wherein all email is internally public and searchable. And social media app Buffer has made its internal salary formula public, along with all employee compensation packages, as part of its commitment to the “radical transparency” CEO Joel Gascoigne says is intended to “breed trust, the foundation of great teamwork”.

But even companies that are either unwilling or unable to be completely open could benefit from a bit more transparency with their employees.

“A lot of public companies in particular are worried about legal and financial issues with opening up their books, but they could still be transparent about their operations and some aspects of the finances and reap the benefits,” says Wayne Baker, who teaches open-book finance at the Ross business school.

Baker cites Whole Foods Markets and Southwest Airlines as large, public companies that use a modified form of open-book finance to help keep their employees engaged.

Step five: empower employees

In addition to educating employees about the company’s mission, it’s important for executives to find ways to empower their employees to contribute to that mission in every way they can.

Mercedes’ Joyce sees this as critical to the success of his company’s customer service goal of delighting customers. Mercedes’ internal brand program, MB Select, provides a framework that gives employees who have direct customer contact the flexibility to do what they deem necessary to keep those customers happy.

“In that moment, where the customer is right in front of someone, and they see that something is going in a direction it shouldn’t be, you have to empower people to act,” Joyce said, describing MB Select as a “no-rules program”. “It’s about saying to our employees, ‘we trust you to do the right thing’ and enabling them to truly wow a customer in the moment.”

For Zingerman’s Weinzweig, it’s not just about making employees feel empowered but also about doing what’s best for the business.

“Why wouldn’t you want to tap into all the intellectual and physical capabilities of your staff?” he said. “People are smart and they want to do good work. Our job is to create an ecosystem in which that’s ever more likely and to create processes that encourage them to use that intelligence, and a system in which they have agency so they’re not helpless victims of some big corporate entity.”

 Link to read the original Guardian article

It’s time to teach our kids happiness, says psychologist

A Trinity College researcher says students need to develop resilience, by focusing on their strengths.

Jolanta Burke believes not enough attention is paid to what makes children happy in the Irish curriculum, and yet it has a huge bearing on how well they perform in school.

Ms Burke, a psychologist and PhD researcher at Trinity College’s School of Education, believes we should embed positive psychology in the Irish curriculum. She has been advising guidance counsellors on how to use it in schools and says teachers should also receive training.

Positive psychology is defined by Jolanta Burke as the “science of well-being”.

“Until now, psychologists in schools have tended to focus on students with problems. They focus on the students’ weaknesses and how they fall apart.

“Positive psychology looks at the school differently. We look at the top students and learn from them as much as possible, so that we can help the majority of students become better. Rather than focusing on the weaknesses of students, we focus on their strengths.”

The psychologist is keen to emphasise that this is not a “happy clappy” approach, where children are told how wonderful they are.

“It is not about building up self-esteem. That was a mistake among the 1970s generation of parents. They tried to blow up their child’s sef-esteem by telling them how fabulous they were and that they could do anything. That is actually not good for a child because it reduces their resilience.”

The positive psychology programmes in schools place a strong emphasis on developing character strengths and encouraging resilience.

Jolanta Burke believes resilience can be encouraged in three ways:

• children can be taught to bounce back after disappointments – for example, if they fail exams

• they can be taught to build up a shield that protects them from hurt in certain situations

• kids can learn how to keep going and the importance of perseverence when facing up to the challenges in life

The psychologist says perseverance and an attitude of not wanting to give up are hugely important when it comes to performance in schools.

“You might have a talent for music, but unless you are prepared to put the effort in, it can be wasted.”

While Jolanta Burke does not believe in inflating self-esteem, she wants to encourage more positive emotions and a more optimistic outlook.

“An optimistic way of thinking is very important. I am doing research on bullying at the moment, and it is associated with a pessimistic thinking style.

“Adolescents who think optimistically believe adversity is temporary, and that it affects only one aspect of their lives, and they do not tend to blame themselves for the situation.

“Those who are pessimistic believe adversity is permanent and affects all aspects of their lives and that they themselves are to blame. We try to get students to think more optimistically, and this can reduce depression and anxiety.”

Read the original article in full here

Happiness At Work edition #113

All of these articles and many more can be found in this week’s new Happiness At Work collection