Happiness At Work #61 – how relationships matter to our learning, our communication and our happiness

The stories we are specially highlighting from this week’s new collection, Happiness At Work #61, draw out ideas and new understandings about the connection and importance of relationships, to our happiness, yes, but for our learning and our creativity too.  And as well, as of course, to our effective communications, for the very definition of communicate, from its Latin root communicare means to share, to exchange.  And thus communication without relationship is more than an oxymoron, it is an impossibility.

photo credit: Rojer via photopin cc

photo credit: Rojer via photopin cc

Six Habits of Highly Empathic People

–by Roman Krznaric

If you think you’re hearing the word “empathy” everywhere, you’re right. It’s now on the lips of scientists and business leaders, education experts and political activists. But there is a vital question that few people ask: How can I expand my own empathic potential? Empathy is not just a way to extend the boundaries of your moral universe. According to new research, it’s a habit we can cultivate to improve the quality of our own lives.

But what is empathy? It’s the ability to step into the shoes of another person, aiming to understand their feelings and perspectives, and to use that understanding to guide our actions. That makes it different from kindness or pity. And don’t confuse it with the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” As George Bernard Shaw pointed out, “Do not do unto others as you would have them do unto you—they might have different tastes.” Empathy is about discovering those tastes.

The big buzz about empathy stems from a revolutionary shift in the science of how we understand human nature. The old view that we are essentially self-interested creatures is being nudged firmly to one side by evidence that we are also homo empathicus, wired for empathy, social cooperation, and mutual aid…

…empathy doesn’t stop developing in childhood. We can nurture its growth throughout our lives—and we can use it as a radical force for social transformation. Research in sociology, psychology, history—and my own studies of empathic personalities over the past 10 years—reveals how we can make empathy an attitude and a part of our daily lives, and thus improve the lives of everyone around us. Here are the Six Habits of Highly Empathic People!

Habit 1: Cultivate curiosity about strangers

…Respect the advice of the oral historian Studs Terkel: “Don’t be an examiner, be the interested inquirer.”

Curiosity expands our empathy when we talk to people outside our usual social circle, encountering lives and worldviews very different from our own. Curiosity is good for us too: Happiness guru Martin Seligman identifies it as a key character strength that can enhance life satisfaction. And it is a useful cure for the chronic loneliness afflicting around one in three Americans

Habit 2: Challenge prejudices and discover commonalities

We all have assumptions about others and use collective labels—e.g., “Muslim fundamentalist,” “welfare mom”—that prevent us from appeciating their individuality. Highly Empathetic People challenge their own preconceptions and prejudices by searching for what they share with people rather than what divides them…

Habit 3: Try another person’s life

So you think ice climbing and hang-gliding are extreme sports? Then you need to try experiential empathy, the most challenging—and potentially rewarding—of them all. Highly Empathetic People expand their empathy by gaining direct experience of other people’s lives, putting into practice the Native American proverb, “Walk a mile in another man’s moccasins before you criticize him.”…

We can each conduct our own experiments. If you are religiously observant, try a “God Swap,”  attending the services of faiths different from your own, including a meeting of Humanists. Or if you’re an atheist, try attending different churches! Spend your next vacation living and volunteering in a village in a developing country. Take the path favored by philosopher John Dewey, who said, “All genuine education comes about through experience.”

Habit 4: Listen hard—and open up

There are two traits required for being an empathic conversationalist.

One is to master the art of radical listening. “What is essential,” says Marshall Rosenberg, psychologist and founder of Non-Violent Communication (NVC), “is our ability to be present to what’s really going on within—to the unique feelings and needs a person is experiencing in that very moment.” Highly Empathetic People listen hard to others and do all they can to grasp their emotional state and needs, whether it is a friend who has just been diagnosed with cancer or a spouse who is upset at them for working late yet again.

But listening is never enough. The second trait is to make ourselves vulnerable. Removing our masks and revealing our feelings to someone is vital for creating a strong empathic bond. Empathy is a two-way street that, at its best, is built upon mutual understanding—an exchange of our most important beliefs and experiences…

Habit 5: Inspire mass action and social change

We typically assume empathy happens at the level of individuals, but HEPs understand that empathy can also be a mass phenomenon that brings about fundamental social change…

Empathy will most likely flower on a collective scale if its seeds are planted in our children.  That’s why Highly Empathetic People support efforts such as Canada’s pioneering Roots of Empathy, the world’s most effective empathy teaching program, which has benefited over half a million school kids. Its unique curriculum centers on an infant, whose development children observe over time in order to learn emotional intelligence—and its results include significant declines in playground bullying and higher levels of academic achievement…

Habit 6: Develop an ambitious imagination

A final trait of Highly Empathetic People is that they do far more than empathise with the usual suspects. We tend to believe empathy should be reserved for those living on the social margins or who are suffering. This is necessary, but it is hardly enough…

Empathising with adversaries is also a route to social tolerance. That was Gandhi’s thinking during the conflicts between Muslims and Hindus leading up to Indian independence in 1947, when he declared, “I am a Muslim! And a Hindu, and a Christian and a Jew.”

Organisations, too, should be ambitious with their empathic thinking. Bill Drayton, the renowned “father of social entrepreneurship,” believes that in an era of rapid technological change, mastering empathy is the key business survival skill because it underpins successful teamwork and leadership. His influential Ashoka Foundation has launched the Start Empathy initiative, which is taking its ideas to business leaders, politicians and educators worldwide.

The 20th century was the Age of Introspection, when self-help and therapy culture encouraged us to believe that the best way to understand who we are and how to live was to look inside ourselves. But it left us gazing at our own navels. The 21st century should become the Age of Empathy, when we discover ourselves not simply through self-reflection, but by becoming interested in the lives of others. We need empathy to create a new kind of revolution. Not an old-fashioned revolution built on new laws, institutions, or policies, but a radical revolution in human relationships.

Link to read this story in full, including  another video talk

50 Smiles Guaranteed To Make You Smile (get happy in less than 5 minutes)

“Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.” ~Mother Teresa

photo credit: abhiomkar via photopin cc

photo credit: abhiomkar via photopin cc

Ken Wert writes…

It seems that with smiling, you can actually have your cake and eat it too!

Not only are smiles expressions of positive feelings (like happiness, excitement and enjoyment), the act of smiling, even if forced, enhances the very positive feelings that make us want to smile. So the smile is both cause and effect. The more we smile, even if we don’t particularly feel like it, the more we feel like it.

Moreover, one person’s smile is another person’s reason to smile. The smile, it turns out, is one of the most contagious of human conditions.

Why a post filled to the brim with happy faces?

This post is meant to instigate a ripple effect of smiles across the globe as you grin from your heart to your face (or your face to your heart, since smiling works in both directions) as you share your smile with others and they share theirs in turn (and please feel free to share this post with them too, while you’re in a sharing mood!).

Read the quotes and words under each photo and look at the smiley faces and see what happens to your own mood! Put yourself in the shoes of the happy faces and see if you can feel what they seem to be feeling.

And then just try not to smile. I bet you a 100 smiles you can’t make it to the end of this post without one creeping onto your kisser! :)

Link to this article and its 50 smiling faces

photo credit: Marwa Morgan via photopin cc

photo credit: Marwa Morgan via photopin cc

Steve McCurry’s Blog: When Words Fail

“When words fail, music speaks.”  (Hans Christian Andersen)

The brilliant photographer’s latest collection features his photos of people making music.

Ravishing and joyful and overflowing with relationships…

Link to Steve McCurry’s When Words Fail photographs

Looking To Genes For The Secret To Happiness

By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS

Our genes may have a more elevated moral sense than our minds do, according to a new study of the genetic effects of happiness. They can, it seems, reward us with healthy gene activity when we’re unselfish — and chastise us, at a microscopic level, when we put our own needs and desires first…

…those volunteers whose happiness, according to their questionnaires, was primarily hedonic, to use the scientific term, or based on consuming things, had surprisingly unhealthy profiles, with relatively high levels of biological markers known to promote increased inflammation throughout the body. Such inflammation has been linked to the development of cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. They also had relatively low levels of other markers that increase antibody production, to better fight off infections.

The volunteers whose happiness was more eudaemonic, or based on a sense of higher purpose and service to others — a small minority of the overall group — had profiles that displayed augmented levels of antibody-producing gene expression and lower levels of the pro-inflammatory expression…

…purpose is an elastic concept, not necessarily requiring renunciation but only that “you think first of someone else” or “have a goal greater” than your immediate gratification. Being a parent, participating in the creative arts or even taking up exercise so that you can live to see your grandchildren may ease you toward eudaemonia, he says. It may even be that this will enable your genes to respond more favorably to how you’re conducting your life.

Link to read the unedited version of this story

photo credit: Bindaas Madhavi via photopin cc

photo credit: Bindaas Madhavi via photopin cc

Business Renaissance Must Be Human-Centric

by 

…The typical approach is to define all the potential variables, then prioritize them based on impact, frequency, risk exposure…you see where I’m going with this, right? This is 20th century thinking to deal with a 21st century issue. Not the brightest approach, yet we keep banging our collective heads against the idiot wall and think something positive will happen if we just repeat it enough times.

The renaissance is, and must be, human-centric.

It is a return to seeing the value in a person as a person, not an asset to sweat. Life is complex. Technology is complex. Intertwining two complex systems results in chaos. We have learned to respond to chaos in our personal lives as a means of necessity. We seem to feel the organization should somehow be exempt from it. So, we create demanding and manipulative policies that only serve to frustrate, disengage and manipulate people…

It will be a changing of the guard that will be necessary, but difficult for many people. It will affect how we do business, how we define success and how we structure education regarding business. This is good. This is necessary. This is overdue…

Link to read the unedited version of this post

photo credit: jesuscm via photopin cc

photo credit: jesuscm via photopin cc

5 Steps To Building A Culture of Communication

It’s important to understand the gravity of effective communication in business, then build a culture around it. Putting great communication at the center of your business is the greatest way to ensure success. Bill Gates said it best, “I’m a great believer that any tool that enhances communication has profound effects in terms of how people can learn from each other, and how they can achieve the kind of freedoms that they’re interested in.”

Here are a few steps that will help you build a culture of communication in your business.

1. Don’t Punish the Bad Ideas…

2. Every Personality is Different, Think of Key Ways to Communicate with Everyone…

3. Async Communication… a simple and passive way of communicating with your team on your own schedule when messages aren’t urgent or time based. This can be through email, or third party tools designed with this type of discussion method in mind… 

4. Talk, Even When It’s Not Comfortable…

5. Enable Transparency in Every Aspect…

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: josemanuelerre via photopin cc

photo credit: josemanuelerre via photopin cc

Babies Learn To Recognise Words In The Womb

BETH SKWARECK

…The research team gave expectant women a recording to play several times a week during their last few months of pregnancy, which included a made-up word, “tatata,” repeated many times and interspersed with music. Sometimes the middle syllable was varied, with a different pitch or vowel sound. By the time the babies were born, they had heard the made-up word, on average, more than 25,000 times. And when they were tested after birth, these infants’ brains recognized the word and its variations, while infants in a control group did not, Partanen and colleagues report online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Babies who had heard the recordings showed the neural signal for recognizing vowel and pitch changes in the pseudoword, and the signal was strongest for the infants whose mothers played the recording most often. They were also better than the control babies at detecting other differences in the syllables, such as vowel length. “This leads us to believe that the fetus can learn much more detailed information than we previously thought,” Partanen says, and that the memory traces are detectable after birth…

…Just because babies can learn while in utero doesn’t mean that playing music or language recordings will help the child. Partanen says there is no solid evidence that stimulation beyond normal sounds of everyday life offers any long-term benefits to healthy babies. Moon adds that playing sounds to a fetus with speakers close to the belly could even be risky because this could overstimulate the fetal ear and the rapidly developing brain. Too much noise can interfere with the auditory system and may disrupt the baby’s sleep cycles.

Rather than playing recordings for healthy babies, Partanen sees potential treatments for children at risk for dyslexia or auditory processing disorders, if hearing certain sounds in pregnancy turns out to speed up language learning—”but that’s a big if.” His team’s study looked only at babies less than a month old, and it’s not clear whether the babies will retain the memories as they get older, or whether in utero learning has an effect on language learning or ability later in life.

Link to read this article in full

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Handling Conflict

By 

Stevenson Carlebach, who used to teach acting and directing, says there are many similarities between his former profession and what he does now. For starters, “when an actor takes on a character they’re actually sort of negotiating with their mind to think like the character. When you’re trying to negotiate, you’re doing the same thing, you’re negotiating with your mind to be less antagonistic or to be more cooperative, to be more creative,” he says.

In other words, a good negotiator is really just a good actor in that they’re able to put themselves in another person’s shoes which promotes both empathy and understanding. As Carlebach says, both actors and negotiators are essentially asking what’s driving or motivating the other person, what’s causing them to behave in a certain way, and whether they too would behave in the same way under similar circumstances. But unlike actors, negotiators have their own interests to consider in this process as well.

He employs various exercises to do this including one he calls the “hot buns exercise” where three participants each assume a particular role: that of enquirer whose job it is to stay curious and ask open questions about a topic of their choice, that of speaker who takes a different perspective to that of the enquirer, and that of enquirer’s coach whose job is to observe whether the enquirer is, in fact, asking open questions.

Carlebach notes, “Going into this exercise everyone thinks, you know, ‘how hard can it be, I’m an open-minded person, sure I can do this.’ But within a minute the enquirer is only asking leading questions. They can’t stay curious. You know, ‘how could you be so stupid’, kind of questions. For most of us, we’ve never observed ourselves being close-minded.”

Indeed for many folk, this realisation proves to be a light bulb moment…

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: It'sGreg via photopin cc

photo credit: It’sGreg via photopin cc

School Is A Prison – and damaging our kids

This research showing how young people are are at their most unhappy when they are in school mirrors research findings by London School of Economics Mappiness study, which found that people are most miserable when they are at work, second only to when they are ill.  What sort of world have we made for ourselves, and what will it take for us to start to undo and remake the conditions we live in and terms of engagement for the greatest time we spend of our lives: our education and our work?

As  writes in his article:

Longer school years aren’t the answer. The problem is school itself. Compulsory teach-and-test simply doesn’t work

…Most students — whether A students, C students, or failing ones — have lost their zest for learning by the time they reach middle school or high school. In a recent research study, Mihaly Czikszentmihalyl and Jeremy Hunter fitted more than 800 sixth- through 12th-graders, from 33 different schools across the country, with special wristwatches that provided a signal at random times of day. Whenever the signal appeared, they were to fill out a questionnaire indicating where they were, what they were doing, and how happy or unhappy they were at the moment. The lowest levels of happiness, by far, occurred when they were in school and the highest levels occurred when they were out of school playing or talking with friends. In school, they were often bored, anxious or both. Other researchers have shown that, with each successive grade, students develop increasingly negative attitudes toward the subjects taught, especially math and science.

As a society, we tend to shrug off such findings. We’re not surprised that learning is unpleasant. We think of it as bad-tasting medicine, tough to swallow but good for children in the long run. Some people even think that the very unpleasantness of school is good for children, so they will learn to tolerate unpleasantness, because life after school is unpleasant. Perhaps this sad view of life derives from schooling. Of course, life has its ups and downs, in adulthood and in childhood. But there are plenty of opportunities to learn to tolerate unpleasantness without adding unpleasant schooling to the mix. Research has shown that people of all ages learn best when they are self-motivated, pursuing questions that are their own real questions, and goals that are their own real-life goals. In such conditions, learning is usually joyful…

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

The Rise of Authority Or Why Being An Expert Is Not Enough

The importance of relationship is emphasised, too, in this post, by , which draws the distinction between getting power and influence from being able to speak with authority – dependent entirely upon the perceptions made by the receivers of your communication – as opposed to expertise, a more fixed position of claiming to be right.  Authority comes from a blend of Aristotle’s’ three modes of credibility: Logos (appeal to the objective rational argument), Pathos (successfully connecting into a shared understanding of our values, beliefs, feelings and the things we hold to be most important), and Ethos (the credibility, believability, perceived authenticity and trustworthiness – gravitas – of the speaker):

…You have authority when the audience says you do. You earn that praise by “bringing the thunder” every day…

How do you spot an Authority in a crowd?

First, they aren’t trying to be an expert. ** They are trying to matter.**

They want their skills, perspective, and tools to be useful. They are in it for the long-term. This is why they seem to stay relevant, even when the latest fad cools and disappears.

You will also see:

Confidence  They are willing to take a stand, point out error, and go it alone. Their confidence doesn’t come from a slick website or a clever book title. It comes from years refining their craft.

Openness  An Authority welcomes inspection. They hate black boxes. They believe they grow when everyone can collaborate on a point of view. For this reason, Authorities often frustrate their followers because they are willing to change their mind. They don’t confuse decisiveness with stubbornness.

Curiosity An Authority is obsessed with “what if”. They quickly tire of the same line of conversation. They are looking for new connections and they are intensely focused on the unconventional strategies that the expert’s dismiss.

Productivity An Authority embraces “the grind”. They know that Authority is perishable. Authority stays fresh when it publishes. They are more afraid of being inconsequential than being perfect. [They bring ways] to force the world to push back and make them better.

The good news is that you’re an Authority. You have to decide how you’ll grow and cultivate your skills and experience…

Link to read this article in full

Our own top tip for optimising the authority you can bring to your communications is to become obsessively interested in your audience: who they are, what they care about, what they know already, what position they are likely to be hearing you from, what problems, threats and difficulties they are wrestling with, and anything and everything else you can think of to wonder about them.  And then go into the communication ready to learn and notice as much as you possibly can during every stage of your encounter.

Another technique that helps to raise the level of authority you will be perceived to have is to surprise your listeners.  If people think they know what you are going to say, and you seem to start on track with these expectations, they are not likely to really listen openly to what you actually do say.

Here are some more ideas from  about increasing your powers of persuasion with more extravert, people-oriented people:

Keys To Persuading Expressing Personalities

…how best to persuade someone who is an expressive or influencer personality? When I think of an expressive, Oprah Winfrey immediately comes to mind because she’s someone who is more relationship-focused than task-oriented. Like the Trump, Oprah also likes to control situations and others.

The following describes this personality type:

Expressives like being part of social groups; enjoy attending events with lots of people; are more in tune with relating to people than working on tasks; are imaginative and creative; can usually win others over to their way of thinking; like things that are new and different; have no problem expressing themselves…

Some persuasion advice when dealing with an expressive-type person:

Definitely spend time engaging the liking principle with them, because they want to like the people they interact with. Oprah certainly cares about closing the deal but she also cares about you and your story so look for ways to connect with her. If she likes you it’s a good bet she’ll go out of her way to help you.

Expressive personalities responded more to reciprocity than any other personality type so look for ways to genuinely help them and they’ll respond in kind much more than pragmatics or thinkers will.

As was the case with pragmatics, in a business setting overcoming uncertainty is key for expressives.

Sharing trends and what others are doing – the principle of consensus – can be quite effective with expressives. Oprah types want to move the masses and they know it’s easier to swim with a wave rather than against it so share what many others are already doing.

Sharing hard data or using the advice of perceived experts is the most effective route with this group.  However, while authority was the #1 principle chosen by expressives, it wasn’t as effective as it was with the other personalities. Show Oprah the numbers or share insight from experts and it will give her pause to consider your request.

When it came to using consistency – what someone has said or done in the past – this was the #3 choice for expressives. For this group it’s not as much about being right as it is being true to themselves and what they believe. Look for ways to tie your request to his or her beliefs or values and the chance you’ll year “Yes” will increase significantly.

Scarcity was no more effective for this group than the others. Definitely don’t force the issue unless something is truly rare or diminishing. Oprah Winfrey and her expressive friends don’t like to miss out on opportunities but just know you won’t be as effective with the scarcity strategy as you might be with Donald Trump and his pragmatic buddies.

Link to read the unedited version of this article

photo credit: jurvetson via photopin cc

photo credit: jurvetson via photopin cc

Presenting? Take A Pause For The Cause

Here is some excellent advice from Steve Roesler about the power and potency of using silence in our communications:

Logical pauses serve our brains, psychological pauses serve our feelings.”Stanislavski

Watch a really good stand-up comedian. You see pauses between jokes. Sometimes even a pause between syllables.

Sometimes they do it to allow the audience a chance to catch a breath or to create interest about what’s coming next.

Why?

Because good comedians are masters of change.

Night after night they move a new group of people from one intellectual and psychological state of being to another.They knew the flow of human dynamics.

The Importance of The Pause

Psychological: When you pause to create a “curious” state of mind, the tension makes people want to listen. That gives you the opening to help them learn.

Logical: Change initiatives mean new information and new experiences. Periodic, intentional pauses allow everyone time to make sense of what’s happening and create new context.

Where can you insert intentional pauses in order to become a really good “Stand-Up” leader and speaker?

Perhaps this is connected to intelligence coming from a new study into our inhibitory brain neurones and the role they play in selecting, shutting down and filtering out the information coming at us:

Researchers discover how inhibitory neurons behave during critical periods of learning

We’ve all heard the saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Now neuroscientists are beginning to explain the science behind the adage.

For years, neuroscientists have struggled to understand how the microcircuitry of the brain makes learning easier for the young, and more difficult for the old. New findings published in the journal Nature by Carnegie Mellon University, the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of California, Irvine show how one component of the brain’s circuitry — inhibitory neurons — behave during critical periods of learning…

The brain is made up of two types of cells — inhibitory and excitatory neurons. Networks of these two kinds of neurons are responsible for processing sensory information like images, sounds and smells, and for cognitive functioning. About 80 percent of neurons are excitatory. Traditional scientific tools only allowed scientists to study the excitatory neurons…

…The prevailing theory on inhibitory neurons was that, as they mature, they reach an increased level of activity that fosters optimal periods of learning. But as the brain ages into adulthood and the inhibitory neurons continue to mature, they become even stronger to the point where they impede learning.

[But this new study] found that, during heightened periods of learning, the inhibitory neurons didn’t fire more as had been expected. They fired much less frequently — up to half as often.

“When you’re young you haven’t experienced much, so your brain needs to be a sponge that soaks up all types of information. It seems that the brain turns off the inhibitory cells in order to allow this to happen,” Kuhlman said. “As adults we’ve already learned a great number of things, so our brains don’t necessarily need to soak up every piece of information. This doesn’t mean that adults can’t learn, it just means when they learn, their neurons need to behave differently.”

Link to read the unedited version of this report

And for more ideas and knowledge about the fine art of persuading people, see:

42 Tips for Masterful Presentations

Posted by: Arnold Sanow

8 Must-Read Books on Influence and Persuasion

by JENNIFER MILLER

and in the week that we commemorate 50 years since one of the greatest speeches ever made, see:

15 Things You Might Not Know About the ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech

By 

 

photo credit: Steve Corey via photopin cc

photo credit: Steve Corey via photopin cc

 

The Poetry of Childhood

BY RICHARD LEWIS

…The ability of children to easily enter into the life of something other than themselves—to exchange their own mind for the mind of another—grows not only out of their innate playfulness, but out of a fluidity and plasticity of thought that is, in many ways, an inborn poetic gift. It is, perhaps, a way of seeing in which the seer does not distinguish between herself and the nature outside of her, an imaginative grasping of the whole of life before it becomes separated into subject matters and academic disciplines. One might think of it as a wilderness of thought that encompasses a multitude of growing worlds, each connected and dependent on the other—a truly ecological means of thinking and perceiving…

…the mind of the child and an event or object from outside of the child are subtly and gently brought together. This means of expressing and interpreting the world is not something that was taught, but a spontaneous way of explaining that what is of me is also what is happening around me.

Certainly this is true of Marilyn from New Zealand, who wrote lyrically and suggestively, when she was seven years old, of this shared mind between an insect and herself:

Nothing is better than the song the cricket sings. The sound of the cricket brightens my feelings and makes me sing too. My mind is the cricket’s mind and I wish I was a cricket. Hop, hop the black cricket. The cricket pokes out his feelers and I can hold them and the song of the cricket is my mind.

…So much of this childhood ease with both the visible and invisible, what we know and don’t know—the pure sense of expectation and delight in the mystery of what is happening and about to happen—is not only a function of our mind’s ability to balance opposites through the equipoise that is our imagination, but also a way of experiencing the world poetically. I don’t mean a poetry of verse and poems, but a poetic understanding that allows us to stand, for instance, in the middle of a stream and say nothing, and yet to feel, if only fleetingly, a sense of how we and the flowing water are of one being. Or to walk down a city street and accidentally walk through the shadow of a tree that seems to move with us, to want to follow us—an expectation, an incandescent moment of which we are suddenly made aware. Each is only an instant, but an instant that carries with it a form of knowledge accessible to children and adults alike, one we rarely include in our current estimates of intelligence or achievement. This awareness should not be seen as a lack of development or a passing innocence, but as a container of thought that we carry with us over a lifetime. Within it, we, the stream, the tree, and the tree’s shadow share the same language.

To Be Alive

It was there
Something—happened
What was it
A bird
A fish
A lizard
Was it the girl
Listen.
I hear it again
It is the wind
Wind.
It created me
I am its friend
The wind lives
in a secret garden
far away from me
It comes and I sleep
Sleep and the wind and I
drift to air.

by David, aged 10

Link to read this story in full

photo credit: jenni from the block via photopin cc

photo credit: jenni from the block via photopin cc

Design Thinking: Creating A Better Understanding Of Today To Get To A Better Tomorrow

Kevin Bennett, co-author of “Solving Problems with Design Thinking: 10 Stories of What Works,” co-authored by U.Va. Darden ProfessorJeanne Liedtka, writes about the importance of getting inside the thinking and perspective of other people to better solve our own problems and realise our own ambitions in these fundamentals of creativity:

…The value of design thinking is in allowing us to see “A” more clearly.  For it is in focusing on “A” that we truly understand ourselves, each other and our world.

Design thinking guides us through an archeological dig to better understand “A” with a sense of openness to exploration and discovery. In this archeological dig, design thinking takes up ethnographic research tools to help us truly understand customers and other stakeholders. “Journey mapping” enables us to map other people’s personal experiences by walking in their shoes. “Mind mapping” allows us to understand the values, assumptions, beliefs and expectations of individuals, to see the world through their eyes as they walk through their journeys.

Design thinking also helps us to see the world differently by looking to areas and organizations with seemingly nothing in common with our own. Throwing ourselves into another culture, industry or company can often shake up our own thinking. For example, in France, a group of banks and insurance companies said that design thinking “equipped us bankers and insurers with a new pair of glasses through which to see the world, our society, our clients and our jobs differently.”

In exploring “A” we open ourselves up to thinking differently, to innovations and solutions not previously contemplated. Many of the resulting insights and ideas will appear rough and not fully formed, but our research shows that there will be diamonds among them. And in finding these gems, we can not only better achieve our goals, we can test the very goals we set out to achieve.

Thus in focusing on “A” we can not only better achieve our goals in our businesses, organizations and lives, we can also better ensure we are picking the right ones in the first place.

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: paul bica via photopin cc

photo credit: paul bica via photopin cc

Stress Does Not Fuel Creativity

Never Eat Alone co-author Tahl Raz interviewed author, speaker and entrepreneur Jonathan Fields for the Social Capitalist about his recent book Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt Into Fuel for Brilliance. During the interview, Jonathan discussed how stress actually reduces your creativity.

Research shows the higher your anxiety levels ratchet up, the lower your creativity goes. Also, one of the key things for creativity in business is a type of problem solving called “insight-based problem solving.” So to solve problems, you can come up with innovative ideas in two ways, either insight-based or analytically based.

Now analytical would be, “Ok, I have a big idea,” and if somebody said, “How did you get to that idea?” you could explain the steps, you could reverse them and back out and tell them how you got to it.

The insight-based solution is the one where you have this tremendous idea, but if someone said, “How did you get there?” you would have no idea. It’s the thing that just comes to you. What we know and what the research actually shows is that creativity plummets as anxiety goes up.

But even more specifically, insight-based problem solving, which is the highest level of problem solving because it introduces new paradigms, also plummets as anxiety goes up.

To read the full transcript of Jonathan’s interview, click here.

For more ideas about being more creative see also:

Six Ways to Expand Your Perspective

by KEVIN EIKENBERRY

Wait, What’s That? The Science Behind Why Your Mind Keeps Wandering

IF YOU’RE EXPERIENCING AN ATTENTION DEFICIT, YOU’RE FAR FROM ALONE.

BY: 

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photo credit: premasagar via photopin cc

What Happens to the Brain When You Meditate (And How it Benefits You)

BELLE BETH COOPER

How Meditation Affects You

Better Focus…

Less Anxiety…

More Creativity…

More Compassion…

Better Memory…

Less Stress…

More Grey Matter…More grey matter can lead to more positive emotions, longer-lasting emotional stability, and heightened focus during daily life…

Link to read this article in full

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photo credit: wili_hybrid via photopin cc

Stifling Ourselves With The Need To Be Right

John Hodgman, author of The Areas of My Expertise, … provides some thoughtful – not to mention wry – perspectives on the importance of keep alive our sense of not knowing, giving compelling reasons for why it is that an acute sense of what we don’t know may be much more critical to our vitality and future possibility, than our certainties:

“What most people and societies become when they believe they know everything: incurious, self-satisfied, flabby, and prone to wearing tunics and lounging on grassy lawns…

“While there may be legitimate, eternal mysteries out there that are beyond our comprehension, history, in fact, shows us that if we do ask questions, we are likely to find answers eventually – which is perhaps more frightening than ignorance…. Being curious is the bravest human act, aside from skydiving.”

We shut ourselves off and limit our potential when we are certain we know what we really don’t, or maybe even can’t, know with certainty. We even make things up to make sense of life, and we confabulate, and [maybe unconsciously] “fill in gaps in memory with fabrications that one believes to be facts.”

Link to read more of this article

Schein on Dialogue

From the blog Theatrical Smoke, some reflections from Edgar Schein’s “On Dialogue, Culture, and Organizational Learning”:

…dialogue, for Schein…starts from a change in mental approach–the use of a somewhat unnatural “suspension”–instead of reacting when we hear discomfiting information that triggers us, we pause for a moment, and evaluate what we’re thinking. “Is this feeling I have true? Or is it based on a mistaken perception?” we ask ourselves, and wait a bit for additional information before we decide how to act. Dialogue means bringing a kind of mindfulness, or cognitive self-awareness as we talk–”knowing one’s thought as one is having it,” says Schein.  Thinking about a thought rather than being the thought. Leaving the animal-like, mechanical push-and-pull of a conversation, and watching, as it were, partially from above…

…if we’re using dialogue, we’re watching ourselves thinking as we simultaneously listen to what people are saying, we’re seeing and assessing our built-in assumptions as they pop up, we’re thinking about what language means, we’re holding multiple possibilities in mind simultaneously. … we create a psychologically safe space where we can efficiently develop new languages and new models…

…without dialogue, says Schein – and this is the kicker – you can’t do much at all. Dialogue is “at the root of all effective group action,” it allows groups to “achieve levels of creative thought that no one would have initially imagined,” and, finally, without it, you can’t learn, you can’t change, and you can’t adapt:

“Learning across cultural boundaries cannot be created or sustained without initial and periodic dialogue. Dialogue in some form is therefore necessary to any organizational learning that involves going beyond the cultural status quo.”

Link to read this article in full

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photo credit: country_boy_shane via photopin cc

Prompts That Get Us To Analyse, Reflect, Relate and Question

This technique is offered by  in Teaching Professor Blog as a teaching aid to help students learn, but we think it has excellent potential as a tool for us all to keep our own experiential learning continuous with our day-to-day activities:

This particular technique involves a four-question set that gets students actively responding to the material they are studying. They analyze, reflect, relate, and question via these four prompts:

  • “Identify one important concept, research finding, theory, or idea … that you learned while completing this activity.”

  • “Why do you believe that this concept, research finding, theory, or idea … is important?”

  • “Apply what you have learned from this activity to some aspect of your life.”

  • “What question(s) has the activity raised for you?  What are you still wondering about?”  [You might need to prohibit the answer “nothing”.]

Link to read the rest of this article

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photo credit: Mister Kha via photopin cc

How To Be More Creative

 offers these really helpful techniques:

Think left

…researchers have found that information in your left visual field is more likely to help you solve a problem creatively than information perceived by your right visual field – which means placing inspirational information or items on your left is one way to help promote more creative thinking…

Cut out distractions

When an idea starts rolling around inside your brain, part of your visual cortex shuts down … to allow the ‘germ’ of an idea to bubble up to the surface and into awareness.  New research shows that cutting off the distractions of the outside world, even for a short time, seems to help the brain have more insights.

Break patterns

…Activities that ‘open your mind’ by breaking established cognitive patterns enable new and original associations to occur. Scientists suggest trying something different, changing routines, reading or watching things that demonstrate creative thinking, or doing puzzles that require creative thinking.

Take it easy

…The trick is to immerse yourself in a mindless, easy task like arranging Lego blocks into colours, mowing the lawn, walking, doing the housework or meditating. Activities like these enable the frontal lobes to relax, allowing thoughts to flow more freely and subconscious ideas to percolate into conscious ideas more readily…

Link to read this article in full

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photo credit: Tambriell via photopin cc

Learning how to live

Why do we find free time so terrifying? Why is a dedication to work, no matter how physically destructive and ultimately pointless, considered a virtue? Jenny Diski urges you to down tools while you can.

BY JENNY DISKI

…What if you answered the question “What do you do all day?” with “Nothing”? It isn’t as if that could possibly be true. If you spent all day in bed watching television, or staring at the clouds, you wouldn’t be doing nothing. Children are always being told to stop doing “nothing” when they’re reading or daydreaming. It is lifelong training for the idea that activity is considered essential to mental health, whether it is meaningful or not. Behind the “nothing” is in part a terror of boredom, as if most of the work most people do for most of their lives isn’t boring. The longing people express to be doing “creative” work suggests that they think it less boring than other kinds of work. Many people say that writing isn’t “proper work”. Often they tell me they are saving up writing a book for their “retirement”. Creative work sits uneasily in the fantasy life between dread leisure and the slog of the virtuous, hardworking life. It’s seen as a method of doing something while doing nothing, one that stops you flying away in terror…

…Leisure, not doing, is so terrifying in our culture that we cut it up into small, manageable chunks throughout our working year in case an excess of it will drive us mad, and leave the greatest amount of it to the very end, in the half-conscious hope that we might be saved from its horrors by an early death…

Link to read this story in full

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photo credit: Brett Jordan via photopin cc

Happiness At Work Edition #61

You will find all of these articles – and more – with ideas and practical tips related to these themes of learning, making strong relationships and learning to be happier and more creative in this week’s new collection, Happiness At Work #61, as well as stories about happiness at work, leadership and resilience and wellbeing.

We hope you find things to enjoy and use.

Happiness At Work #60 ~ some of this week’s highlight articles

photo credit: Chris JL via photopin cc

photo credit: Chris JL via photopin cc

Here are our favourite stories in this week’s new Happiness At Work Edition #60  which we hope you will enjoy too…

Creativity is the Secret Sauce in STEM

Ainissa Ramirez Science Evangelist writes:

Creativity is the secret sauce to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). It is a STEM virtue. While most scientists and engineers might be reluctant to admit that, and to accept the concept of STEAM (where A is for Art), I’ve witnessed that the best of the best are the most creative.

So how do we make our children more creative?

Researchers have found that play is important for productive thought. Playing with ideas also increases learning…

Creativity is really the art of metaphor.

Metaphors create a linkage between two dissimilar ideas and are useful in the sciences because they allow information to be attained by connecting the unknown with the known.  And this is the key element to scientific creativity. Metaphors are important because they create a means of seeking answers, and sometimes they free us from the common thinking and enable scientific breakthroughs…

Link to read this article in full

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photo credit: nosha via photopin cc

Can Artists Make The World A Better Place? (The Forum, BBC World Service)

This 44minute podcast is one of the best conversations I have yet heard about the importance and value and worth of the arts and arts education for our world.  Highly recommended:

When you think about people trying to change the world for the better, should artists be near the top of the list? Bridget Kendall explores this question at the Aspen Festival of Ideas in Colorado, in front of a lively festival audience.

She is joined by: Damian Woetzel, former Principal Dancer at the New York City Ballet and the man behind an eye-catching initiative in inner-city schools called Arts Strike; ground-breaking designer Fred Dust, who says good design should be much more than simply creating beautiful objects; and art collector and philanthropist Dennis Scholl, who likes creating ‘happy surprises’ in the shape of Random Acts of Culture.

Link to listen to this podcast

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photo credit: woodleywonderworks via photopin cc

Don’t Just Learn, Overlearn!

By Annie Murphy Paul

Decades of research have shown that superior performance requires practicing beyond the point of mastery.

 “Why do I have to keep practicing? I know it already!”

That’s the familiar wail of a child seated at the piano or in front of the multiplication table (or, for that matter, of an adult taking a tennis lesson). Cognitive science has a persuasive retort: We don’t just need to learn a task in order to perform it well; we need to overlearn it. Decades of research have shown that superior performance requires practicing beyond the point of mastery. The perfect execution of a piano sonata or a tennis serve doesn’t mark the end of practice; it signals that the crucial part of the session is just getting underway.

Whenever we learn to make a new movement, Ahmed explains, we form and then update an internal model—a “sensorimotor map”—which our nervous system uses to predict our muscles’ motions and the resistance they will encounter. As that internal model is refined over time, we’re able to cut down on unnecessary movements and eliminate wasted energy…

While Ahmed’s paper didn’t address the application of overlearning to the classroom or the workplace, other studies have demonstrated that for a wide range of academic and professional activities, overlearning reduces the amount of mental effort required, leading to better performance—especially under high-stakes conditions. In fact, research on the “audience effect” shows that once we’ve overlearned a complex task, we actually perform it better when other people are watching. When we haven’t achieved the reduction of mental effort that comes with overlearning, however, the additional stress of an audience makes stumbles more likely.

“The message from this study is that in order to perform with less effort, keep on practicing, even after it seems the task has been learned,” says Ahmed. “We have shown there is an advantage to continued practice beyond any visible changes in performance.” In other words: You’re getting better and better, even when you can’t tell you’re improving—a thought to keep you going through those long hours of practice…

Link to read this article in full

We Feel, Therefore We Learn

By 

According to Dr Dan Siegel, one important point to bear in mind is that every experience we have causes our neurons to fire. Another is that when neurons fire, they wire together to create associations that are reinforced through repetition. Moreover, this involves the production of myelin or our brain’s white matter. “If you lay down myelin, you are 3000 times as effective as if you were a circuit without myelin,” says Siegel.

But that’s not all. The brain, or as Siegel describes it, “the social organ of the body” which has evolved over millions of years “has allowed us to survive because we have relationships with each other. We don’t have big claws, we don’t have big fangs, we’re not that strong. So how did we survive? Because we could look at another human being and figure out what was going on with them. This is why in terms of the science of learning, learning is a profoundly social experience.”

Lin k to read the rest of this article

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photo credit: schaaflicht via photopin cc

Human Brains Are Hard-Wired For Empathy, Friendship, Study Shows

Perhaps one of the most defining features of humanity is our capacity for empathy – the ability to put ourselves in others’ shoes. A new University of Virginia study strongly suggests that we are hardwired to empathize because we closely associate people who are close to us – friends, spouses, lovers – with our very selves.

“With familiarity, other people become part of ourselves,” said James Coan, a psychology professor in U.Va.’s College of Arts & Sciences who used functional magnetic resonance imaging brain scans to find that people closely correlate people to whom they are attached to themselves…

The researchers found, as they expected, that regions of the brain responsible for threat response – the anterior insula, putamen and supramarginal gyrus – became active under threat of shock to the self. In the case of threat of shock to a stranger, the brain in those regions displayed little activity. However when the threat of shock was to a friend, the brain activity of the participant became essentially identical to the activity displayed under threat to the self.

“The correlation between self and friend was remarkably similar,” Coan said. “The finding shows the brain’s remarkable capacity to model self to others; that people close to us become a part of ourselves, and that is not just metaphor or poetry, it’s very real. Literally we are under threat when a friend is under threat. But not so when a stranger is under threat.”

Link to read this article in full

See also:

When Empathy Hurts, Compassion Can Heal

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photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

Empathy can be painful.

Or so suggests a growing body of neuroscientific research. When we witness suffering and distress in others, our natural tendency to empathize can bring us vicarious pain.

Is there a better way of approaching distress in other people? A recent study, published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, suggests that we can better cope with others’ negative emotions by strengthening our own compassion skills, which the researchers define as “feeling concern for another’s suffering and desiring to enhance that individual’s welfare.”

“Empathy is really important for understanding others’ emotions very deeply, but there is a downside of empathy when it comes to the suffering of others,” says Olga Klimecki, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany and the lead author of the study. “When we share the suffering of others too much, our negative emotions increase. It carries the danger of an emotional burnout.”

…“Through compassion training, we can increase our resilience and approach stressful situations with more positive affect,” says Klimecki.

The positive emotional approach was accompanied by a change in brain activation pattern: Before the training, participants showed activity in an “empathic” network associated with pain perception and unpleasantness; after the training, activity shifted to a “compassionate” network that has been associated with love and affiliation.

Their new brain-activation patterns more closely resembled those of an “expert” who had meditated every day on compassion for more than 35 years, whose brain was scanned by the researchers to provide a point of comparison. This result suggests that the training brought about fundamental changes in the ways their brains processed distressing scenes, strengthening the parts that try to alleviate suffering—an example of neuroplasticity, when the brain physically evolves in response to experience.

Negative emotions did not disappear after the loving-kindness training; it’s just that the participants were less likely to feel distressed themselves. According to Klimecki and her colleagues, this suggests that the training allowed participants to stay in touch with the negative emotion from a calmer mindset. “Compassion is a good antidote,” says Klimecki. “It allows us to connect to others’ suffering, without being too distressed.”

Link to read the rest of this article

To Buy Happiness, Spend Money On Other People

In a new video, Michael Norton shows that spending money on others yields more happiness than spending it on yourself.

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photo credit: tedeytan via photopin cc

The Essential Link Between Happiness & Gratitude

By 

…consultant and founder of HappierHuman Amit Amin has assembled 26 separate academic articles and studies around the world that show the benefits of saying “Thank You.” Here are some highlights from those findings:

  • Expressions of gratitude reinforce pro-social and moral behavior.
  • Frequent opportunity to express gratitude leads to increased well-being, better health, better exercise habits, higher life satisfaction and increased optimism.
  • Grateful people get more sleep.
  • A one-time act of thoughtful gratitude produces an immediate 10% increase in happiness and 35% reduction in depressive symptoms that lasts for months.
  • Writing down one’s gratitude produces a cumulative effect that increases month over month.
  • Gratitude (which focuses us on others) and materialism (which focuses us on ourselves) are inversely related.
  • Those who are more grateful not only perceive the environment to be more benevolent, but actually make it so by helping others more frequently and accumulating social capital.

Link to the read this article in full

Happiness Increases From Giving When There’s A Social Connection, Study Shows

Giving makes us feel happy, and giving to someone we actually know makes us even happier, a new study suggests.

New research published in the Journal of Happiness and Development shows that social giving — where you’re giving to a person who you know, or your giving leads to a social connection — seems to foster more emotional benefits than giving without the social aspect…

Link to read the rest of this article

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photo credit: Lori Greig via photopin cc

10 Ways Happy People Prioritise Their To-Do Lists

Marc Chernoff offers some advice for making time work for us by keeping our happiness in the centre of our lives and the way we organise and plan ourselves…

In the seven years of this blog’s existence, Angel and I have had the pleasure of meeting, coaching and interacting with hundreds of truly inspiring, happy, prolific people.  And the more we have interacted with people like this, the more we realize the similarities in how they prioritize their lives, and how their priorities align with our own.

What becomes evident is that, to sustain happiness, we must focus our attention on the right things, in the right ways.  Every growing human being (that means all of us) has resource constraints: limited time and energy.  It is critical that we spend our resources effectively.

Here are 10 ways to prioritize your life and your to-do lists for increased happiness and fulfillment:

1.  One thing at a time, with full presence.

In other words, make the thing you have chosen to do the number one priority while you’re doing it.  Focus with your full attention.  See the value in where you are, while you’re there.  Enjoy what’s happening, while it’s happening…

2.  Family and close friends are at the top.

Nurture your important relationships in such a way that when you tell the people you care about that you care about them, you’re simply reinforcing what theyalready know based on how you have prioritised them into your life

3.  Focus on importance, not urgency.

As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said, “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”

Truthfully, the most important thing in life is knowing what the most important things in life are, and prioritizing them accordingly.  Sadly, most of us spend too much time on urgent things and not enough time on important things…

4.  Keep your efforts aligned with your purpose.

Getting anything worthwhile done is a matter of connecting with why you have chosen to do this thing in the first place.

Don’t allow others to confuse you.  Don’t let them convince your heart what is right for you.  Your heart already knows.  Listen to it.  Don’t let anyone else dilute the power of your inner voice.  You’ve got to stand up for something specific, on your own two legs, or you will achieve nothing worthwhile in your own mind’s eye…

5.  Play to your strengths and delegate when it makes sense.

When it comes to tackling big projects, you can try to do everything yourself, or you can reach out and find the right people to help you.  The first choice will raise your stress and blood pressure; the second choice will raise your consciousness and effectiveness…

6.  Socialize and share with peers.

Regardless of what you’re trying to accomplish, it’s always easier if you have a group of people who understand what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and what challenges you’re facing.  Staying in touch with these people and sharing ideas with them will accelerate your effectiveness and happiness.  Best selling author, Seth Godin, refers to these people as your tribe members.

A tribe is a group of people connected to one another via an idea, movement or common goal.  For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another.  Godin says, “A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.”…

7.  Give what you can, as you seek what you desire.

In many ways, life is a circle – what you put in to it comes back around.  When you make a positive impact in the world, the world will have a positive impact on you.

If you want to be rich, be generous.  If you want to make friends, be friendly.  If you want to be heard, listen.  If you want to be understood by others, take the time to truly understand them.  If you want to live an interesting life, be interested in the happenings around you…

8.  Leave the past behind as you plan ahead.

Let old problems remain where they belong – in the past.  No matter how many times you revisit the past, there’s nothing new to see.  Don’t let what once happened get in the way of what is happening.  Just because you’ve made mistakes doesn’t mean your mistakes get to make you.  If something important didn’t work yesterday, figure out what changes can be made today…

9.  Commit to self-respect, regardless of the issue at hand.

Whenever you catch yourself in a rambling bout of negative self-talk, stop and ask yourself, “If I had a friend who spoke to me in the same way that I sometimes speak to myself, how long would I allow this person to be my friend?”…

10.  Leave room to breathe.

Things don’t always go as planned.  Good things can’t always be planned.  Be flexible and open to life’s twists and turns.

Organize, but don’t agonize.  Keep your space and time ordered, but your schedule underbooked.  Create a foundation with a soft place to land, a wide margin of error, and room to think and breathe…

Link to read this article in full

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photo credit: SalFalko via photopin cc

Shorter Workday Isn’t The Key To Happiness, Says Bummer Of A Study

Workaholics of the world, rejoice? We’ll all be just as unhappy with a shorter work week.

When it comes to working hours, less apparently is not more. Proponents of the six-hour workday will be saddened to hear that, as delightful as shorter days sound, decreasing work hours might not make anyone any happier.

At least that’s what new research in the Journal of Happiness Studies suggests. The 10-year longitudinal study examined the impact of the reform South Korea instituted in 2004 reducing working hours on Korean workers’ happiness. While people’s satisfaction with their working hours increased, there wasn’t a significant effect on overall life or job satisfaction…

Link to read the rest of this article

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photo credit: Haags Uitburo via photopin cc

Your Boss Is Less Stressed Than You

By 

Several studies have now shown that autonomy – a sense of control over what we do and how we do it – is an essential aspect of our happiness at work.  This article reports on a new study that shows the higher up the pecking order you get at work, the less stressed you are likely to be, but then goes on to look at other studies that show that there are several other important apescts that help or hinder our happiness at work.

So who is better off at work, you or your boss? A Harvard study suggests that it’s your boss because your boss is less stressed. And why is your boss less stressed? It turns out that it is because your boss has control…

Results showed that leaders had statistically significant lower levels of cortisol and lower anxiety than nonleaders. The study was repeated on a second group with similar results.

The researchers then dug into what led to this lower level of stress in leaders and concluded that a sense of control, specifically to do with being in authority, was the main contributing factor…

Less stress may not mean more happiness, though.

Another Harvard Researcher, Professor Rosabeth Kanter, clearly thinks that stress is just one factor among several in overall workplace happiness. She describes the primary sources of motivation (in innovative companies) as ‘mastery, membership and meaning’ with ‘money’ a distant fourth. Mastery certainly fits with control, suggesting that the boss is indeed likely to be happier, but the other important factors do also come into play. Membership – meaning being part of a team, belonging to something bigger than you personally, can work just as well for you as your boss, perhaps even better since the manager role inevitably removes your boss from being part of the team to some extent. This also fits with the majority of people finding the people they work with as being most important.

Lastly there is valuing your work. Some of that comes from you – if you know you do a good job and are confident enough to value the work you do and its quality for yourself then you are probably in a good place. The rest comes from other people – one of whom is undoubtedly your boss.

A study in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, reported in Science Daily, that looked at common factors in 223 different workplace studies over a 30 year period suggests that happiness at work is most strongly linked to underlying happiness and attitude. Essentially if you are happy in your life and are generally a happy person you will be happy at work…

Link to read this  article in full

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photo credit: kyeniz via photopin cc

The 7 Deadly Sins of Happiness

By Dr. Mercola

Are You Guilty of These 7 Sins of Happiness?

…identifying the seven ‘sins of happiness,’ which author Trent Hand compiled for Lifehack.  That is, the seven habits or attitudes that make happiness very hard to come by. Hand explained:

These “sins” are so deadly that we often don’t notice we are falling into their trap until we wake up one day and wonder why we are glaring at ourselves in the mirror.”

1. Comparing Yourself to Others

This will either make you feel guilty for living more comfortably than others who are struggling, or make you feel inadequate compared to those who have more. As Mark Twain said:  “Comparison is the death of joy.”

2. Talking About Your Dreams Instead of Going to Work on Them

Talking about your dreams is great, but only if you eventually follow through with them. Make a point to set short-term action steps that will help you achieve your long-term goals – and act on them.

3. Listening to People With Nothing Positive to Say

Spending time around consistently negative people will drain your energy and bring down your mood. It’s generally nearly impossible to cheer a negative person up, you’re better off avoiding them as much as possible and surrounding yourself with positive people instead.

4. Focusing on the News

Watching the news is virtually guaranteed to bring you down and create feelings of helplessness and a lack of hope, as there’s not much you can do to improve the problems you’re seeing. Instead, focus on positive steps you can make in your local community, such as mentoring a child or delivering meals to the elderly.

5. Deciding Someone Else Needs to Change

Finding fault in others, and letting them know what they’re doing wrong, is easy. Much more difficult is looking inward to see how you can improve yourself instead. The latter will pay off by leading to a better you, while trying to fix others will likely be futile and interfere with your relationships.

6. Thinking “Happiness” is a Destination You Can Reach

If you think you’ll be happy once you accomplish a certain goal (like getting married or paying off your house), this is a myth. You must learn to find happiness during the journey, on a daily basis, rather than waiting to somehow find happiness at the end.

7. Forgetting to Say “Thank You”

It’s easy to take for granted all that you have to be thankful for – friends, family, loved ones, your health, your job … By focusing on all that you have to be grateful for (jot down whatever comes to mind on a notepad, for starters), you’ll instantly feel happier.

Living in the Moment: Another Key to Being Happy

Groucho Marx may not be the first person who comes to mind for a philosophy by which to live your life, but his words come with a definite air of wisdom:

“I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.”

How often your mind wanders is frequently a predictor of how happy you are. One study found, in fact, that the more often you take yourself out of the present moment, the less happy you are.  The researchers concluded:

“ … people are thinking about what is not happening almost as often as they are thinking about what is and … doing so typically makes them unhappy.”

So … allow yourself to be immersed in whatever it is you’re doing right now, and take time to really be in the present moment. Practice mindfulness and avoid replaying past negative events in your head or worrying about the future; just savor what’s going on in your life now.

Link to the full original version of this article

photo credit: drl. via photopin cc

photo credit: drl. via photopin cc

Positive psychology is mainly for rich white people

James Coyne PhD picks up Barbara Ehrenreich’s retitled book and mounts a hefty critique of positive psychology his understanding of the messages it is selling.  There are important points here, despite how badly we believe these writers misrepresent positive psychology and the mission of the new economics and Gross National Happiness indexing.  See what you think…

When Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking  Has Undermined America was published outside of the United States, the book was retitled Smile or Die. The publisher was concerned that non-native English speakers might not understand the play on words in the original title. I think the retitling is actually more apt in capturing the message of positive psychology: buy our advice, buy our books, attend our workshops or die…

…Undoubtedly, rich white persons in the suburbs are more likely to score high on these measures. Positive psychology is applied ideology, not science, in encouraging them to congratulate themselves on the personal achievement the high score represents.  And if they are still unhappy or in ill health, the problem lies with the personal characteristics and their modifiable attitudes.

As for the poor and disadvantaged, the physically ill, they have only themselves to blame. As a wealthy positive psychology entrepreneur recently declared “Your attitude is the reason you are poor.” He went on to cite Barbara Frederickson:

In an article in the Journal of Business Venturing, leading positive psychology researcher Barbara Fredrickson found positive emotions help build essential resources for entrepreneurs. Among those resources, the top three she found were social capital, resilience, and big picture thinking.

“It’s not just one of those things that’s going to matter more than the others,” Fredrickson said. “All three are part of a larger web that creates an upward spiral.”

So what is the solution to poverty and social inequality?  Poor people have to think positive, start smiling and expressing gratitude. What a program for individual and social change– or a shameful fraud. As Barbara Ehrenrich has pointed out in Bright-Sided (or Smile or Die), the downside of this ideology is personal self-blame and national denial. Reviewing Bright-SidedThomas Frank remarked:

“We’re always being told that looking on the bright side is good for us, but now we see that it’s a great way to brush off poverty, disease, and unemployment, to rationalise an order where all the rewards go to those on top. The people who are sick or jobless—why, they just aren’t thinking positively. They have no one to blame but themselves.”

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: Pörrö via photopin cc

photo credit: Pörrö via photopin cc

Cycling across America: lessons in sustainability and happiness

Rob Greenfield’s 4,700-mile ride on a bamboo bicycle towing solar panels taught him the power of living a simple life

…I learned the power of a bicycle. It is a relatively simple machine but it can take us great distances both figuratively and literally. Life is good when you are on a bike. Good for yourself, good for the earth, and good for the people around you.

I recognised that people do genuinely want to help and to be a part of something greater than themselves but they just need that extra little push and they need to see someone else do it first. I learned that positivity tends to create more positivity, as does goodness.

Lastly, if you live simply, you can live free. The less complicated you make your life, the more time you have to spend doing what you love and what’s good for you.

Change begins with the actions of individuals. A big action that anyone can take is to become a conscious consumer and support businesses that are doing their part to protect the environment.

Businesses will sell what we will buy so we decide through our actions what is on the market. If as an individual you want to change the way business is done, then start buying from businesses that are using it as a means of positive change in the world…

For me business is a tool to create a happier, healthier planet as well as support myself and my employees. I just hope other companies can also come to recognise this.

Link to read Rob Greenfield’s full Guardian article

photo credit: Todo-Juanjo via photopin cc

photo credit: Todo-Juanjo via photopin cc

Happiness and Gumballs

The Happy Show offers visitors the experience of walking into the designer’s mind as he attempts to increase his happiness via meditation, cognitive therapy and mood-altering pharmaceuticals. “I am usually rather bored with definitions,” Sagmeister says. “Happiness, however, is just such a big subject that it might be worth a try to pin it down.” Centered around the designer’s ten-year exploration of happiness, this exhibition presents typographic investigations of a series of maxims, or rules to live by, originally culled from Sagmeister’s diary, manifested in a variety of imaginative and interactive forms.  – from the city of Chicago website.

The exhibit was fantastic, and we spent over an hour enjoying the unique infographics and interactive displays, all relating the concept of happiness.

The most provocative art piece was Sagmeister’s attempt to show a graphical representation  of the happiness of the visitors to the show.  He did this based on the amount of gumballs that were taken from a row of ten old-fashioned gumball machines standing against the wall, numbered from 1-10, each machine signifying one higher level of individual happiness.

I thought about my level of personal happiness before I approached the gumball machines. I decided that I was relatively happy.  Even with some bumps in the proverbial road, I had my health, good friends, my hair, and I wasn’t bored yet with my existence.  I took a gumball from machine #7.  That put me in the top 25% of happiness…

Link to the rest of this story

The Happy Show by Stefan Sagmeister

Susan Schneider

Link to Susan Schneider’s post about her experience of this show

Happiness At Work Edition #60

See this week’s new collection for these – and many more – stories about happiness and wellbeing, creativity & artistry, resilience and learning, mindfulness and self-mastery, leadership and changing the world…

Link to Happiness At Work Edition #60

We hope you find things here to enjoy and incorporate in your own work, life and continuous learning.

Learning Mindfulness

photo credit: db_in_uk via photopin cc

photo credit: db_in_uk via photopin cc

I am at the early stages of teaching myself mindfulness, and am, so far, thoroughly enjoying its practice, the ideas and research findings associated with it, and the small incremental but appreciable benefits that I am already noticing and experiencing.

What Are The Benefits of Meditation? (Action For Happiness)

There is a plethora of materials available on this subject and its application, and mindfulness shows all the signs of having its moment of zeitgeist across an array of contexts and situations, from banks and city firms, to schools, Silicon Valley technology and new media companies, to new thinking powering into a contemporary women’s leadership movement, to health and community group contexts, to creativity, to psychology and therapy settings.  In fact it might be harder at the moment to find a context in which mindfulness is not featuring or making a central contribution.

In my earlier post, Happiness At Work #58 ~ happiness and balance, I featured a number of articles that considered the merits and popularity of mindfulness for the benefits its practice can bring to our greater sense of – and actual physical, emotional, psychological, even neurological – balance.

In this post, I am concentrating more on the practical application of mindfulness.

But first here is what I hope is a helpful introduction to what mindfulness is and works as a practice, from Corey Jackson, an accredited CEB trainer, majoring in psychology and sanskrit at the University of Sydney and is the Tibetan interpreter at the Vajrayana Institute:

In Their Words: Corey Jackson & How Long Is The Peace of a Meditator?

photo credit: Joffley via photopin cc

photo credit: Joffley via photopin cc

It seems meditation is the new black. So many articles about the benefits of meditation reach my inbox that I have trouble finding the time to read them all – even if I delete the ones about celebrities.

Public awareness and curiosity are increasing as the scientific and anecdotal evidence mounts. People are overcoming addictions such as cigarettes and alcohol, losing weight, reducing stress as well as increasing wealth, kindness and compassion. There are many accounts of improved athletic performance, people are overcoming severe anxiety and depression, heart disease and the list goes on…

Broadly speaking, there are three main types of meditation, designed to enhance different qualities and skills. When used together, their practice is like a balanced diet tailored to each of our personal needs.

The first of these forms of meditation is the one most researched and talked, known as mindfulness, which essentially involves strengthening our powers of concentration to overcome distractions and pay better attention. In mindfulness meditation, we try to keep an object (our breath for example) in the foreground of our attention and leave all the usual opinions, chatter and activity in the background. Over time, this ‘background noise’ subsides and we become better able to focus on any object we may choose for ever- longer periods of time.

It doesn’t take long before the benefits of these skills spill over into our daily lives, making us more attentive to the emotional lives of ourselves and others. This leaves us with a much better chance of maintaining our emotional balance and not being overwhelmed by them…

An emotionless life wouldn’t just be difficult or boring, it would be pretty much impossible. Fear, enjoyment, sadness and so on are all necessary to make sense of the world around us. They are the primary way we experience life and without them we would not wish the best for ourselves and others, nor would we strive to overcome difficulties and achieve goals. But they can also cause us to say and do things we later wished we had not and for most of us, control over this kind of emotional behaviour could be life changing.

This brings us to the second type of meditation which is designed to help us understand how our emotions work and identify particular traits and habits we would like to cultivate. It involves all sorts of fun emotional experiments performed on ourselves and helps us to see the world around us with a fresh curiosity we usually lack.

Finally, we use our improved ability to pay attention and the results of our emotional experiments to set about cultivating the qualities and skills we identified as desirable. Cultivating these qualities such as kindness and compassion in meditation means they will inevitably show up in our daily lives. These qualities traits have been shown to increase the overall happiness of ourselves as well as those around us, with even physical benefits such as improving the immune system.

When we consider the full picture: Sitting on a chair or cushion during a session of mindfulness meditation is like anchoring in a protected lagoon, relatively safe and unaffected by what might be happening in the open ocean. It’s peaceful, restorative but only a temporary stop before we move on through our day. Once we are back in the open water of our daily life, the mindfulness we have developed functions like a keel, keeping us upright as we are swamped and buffeted about in the turmoil of our own emotional oceans.

Link to read Corey Jackson’s article in full

photo credit: goingslo via photopin cc

photo credit: goingslo via photopin cc

For me the very best, truest, most helpful teachings have so far come from Jon Kabat-Zinn, founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and author of the book Full Catastrophe Living: how to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation,  which I am finding an immensely helpful and enjoyable read.

An Evening With Jon Kabat-Zinn (Action For Happiness)

If you can possibly give yourself 90minutes I really recommend this video of the talk that he gave in London for Action For Happiness in March.  I have no better introduction to mindfulness than this.  His presentation includes some moments of mindfulness practice, enormous warmth, intelligence and wisdom communicated with lightness and humour, and poetry.

Practical Guided Mindfulness with Jon Kabat-Zinn

The following two videos are in fact both audio guided mindfulness sessions, the first concentrating on the fundamental practice of mindful breathing, the second involving a ‘Body Scan’ you complete with your mind and which is also a core component of building this form mindfulness practice.  Each take about 20minutes and each provide a practical introduction to mindful meditation.  If this is new for you, know that you need to feel you can give yourself and your attention for the full time of the guided session to really try them and find out what they offer.

Jon Kabat-Zinn: Breathscape Guided Meditation

Jon Kabat-Zinn: Bodyscape Meditation

If you don’t have even 20minutes for either of these exercises, here is a much shorter way of tuning in and starting to practice mindfulness:

One Moment Mindfulness (Action For Happiness)

This’ll Make Your Commute A Whole Lot Less Dreadful

photo credit: davitydave via photopin cc

photo credit: davitydave via photopin cc

“In many ways, because it is something so ordinary — so familiar — it provides all the right conditions for us to practice [mindfulness],” says Andy Puddicombe, mindfulness expert and co-founder of Headspace. “The added bonus, of course, is that it doesn’t require us to take any additional time our of our day. Instead, it makes good use of potential ‘dead-time.’ Think of it as time better spent.”

Whether you’re driving, walking or commuting by train, a commuter’s mindfulness practice will deliver you to work and back home again with a nice dose of clarity and calm. Puddicombe’s meditation below will add an extra purpose to your commute and could actually make you look forward to your ride. Check out the simple steps below, then try it on your next journey to the office.

1. Take a minute to set up the right approach to the exercise. Take a couple of deep breaths and remind yourself what your intention is: To be present, open and curious about the experience, and deciding not to carry all the usual dread you attach to it.

2. Next take a minute to acknowledge the physical sensations in the body. It might be the feeling of your backside on the seat (if you were lucky enough to snag one), your feet on the ground, your hand on the rail, the weight of your bag, or anything else. Not judging, just feeling.

3. Every time you realize your mind has wandered off, simply come back to those physical senses. By bringing the focus back to the the physical sensations, you’ll be able to be less involved in your thoughts. Maybe you’d prefer to focus on the smell of something, the sound or even the taste.

4. The mind will most likely wander off often and will want to repeat the pattern of many years, getting caught up in thoughts. That’s fine, but when you realize you’re thinking, simply say to yourself (silently) “Oh, thinking” and then come back to the most apparent sense. No matter what the distraction (emergencies excluded), whether internal or external, treat it in just the same way, gently returning to the physical senses.

5. It really is that simple. In fact, it’s deceptively simple. The trick is to not get frustrated when the mind gets distracted, to not put in too much effort in simply being present with everything and everyone around you, to not getting caught up in the interesting stories or commentary in the mind. It is a fluid and effortless technique, all about cultivating awareness.

Link to read this article

I am combining my mindfulness practice with my Qigong exercises, the exercises that help to build and support Tai Chi.  Qigong and Tai Chi both involve a fluidity and constancy of movement that are very much like the flow of breathing, and therefore mindfulness, each moment passing into the next.  I am finding this helpful in developing my skill and discipline to keep my mind light and contained more on the momentary moments and sensations of my breathing and not so much on the rapid flutter of monkey thoughts that my mind naturally wants to pull itself away into.

So I am very pleased to have discovered this article, outlining the 3 different energy centres of Qigong, and how to nurture the all important lowest energy centre of the Dan Tien, located about an inch under the navel.  This form of breathing is familiar from my performance and voice training, and it is helpful to learn of its importance too to both Qigong and mindfulness practices…

photo credit: GMF-Productions via photopin cc

photo credit: GMF-Productions via photopin cc

Qigong for Health and Longevity

Simon Boylan

A great initial Qigong practice you can try to stimulate Qi (energy) in the lower Dan Tien involves abdominal breathing.  Abdominal breathing or diaphragmatic breathing, is a much deeper, natural way to breathe, and stimulates Qi production in the lower Dan Tien when practiced consistently.

As we age, the location of our breath gradually moves from deep in our abdomen to our chest.  Try this simple exercise.  Sit up straight and place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly.  Now, breathe naturally, as you normally would.  Which hand moves more?  If you are like most adults, your chest will move, and your belly may not move at all.  This shallow chest breathing does not fully oxygenate your lungs when you inhale, and does not prime the Qi ‘pump’ in your belly, thus not allowing the body to produce the Qi that it could.

Thankfully, the habit of abdominal breathing is easy to cultivate again with some conscious practice.  Place your hands back on your chest and abdomen again and this time, try and direct your breath down into your belly when you breathe in.  Try not to force this, allow your chest and belly to remain as relaxed as possible.  Feel what the sensation is like to breathe deeply like this.  Now allow your hands to come to rest in a comfortable position in your lap and continue to breathe into your belly for 5 – 10 minutes. Try and repeat this practice at least once a day, breathing in a deep, relaxed manner, expanding your belly as you inhale.  You may be surprised how quickly your body will ‘remember’ this way of breathing and you will naturally do it throughout your day without consciously thinking about it.

When this process is again ‘natural’ for you, you can move onto the next stage of this practice.  When you breathe in and out of your belly, place your mind down there, just below your navel and inside your abdomen.  Observe there quietly as you gently breathe in and out.  Placing your mind here will help Qi collect and grow.  In time, you will begin to sense a ‘ball’ of energy located here.

Link to read  Simon Boylan’s article in full

How To Be With The Breath

This article provides guidelines from a range a different practitioners, including…

U Pandita says to watch the abdomen rise and fall:

Now place your attention at the belly, at the abdomen. Breathe normally, not forcing your breathing, neither slowing it down nor hastening it, just a natural breath. You will become aware of certain sensations as you breathe in and the abdomen rises, as you breathe out and the abdomen falls. ~ In This Very Life ~

Ayya Khema instructs us to pay attention to the nostrils:

This [breath] is ideally experienced at the nostrils. Breath is wind, and as it hits the nostrils, there is feeling. That feeling helps us to focus at this small point. ~ Being Nobody, Going Nowhere ~

Ajahn Chah is more inclusive:

Simply take note of this path of the breath at the nosetip, the chest and the abdomen, then at the abdomen, the chest and the tip of the nose. We take note of these three points in order to make the mind firm, to limit mental activity so that mindfulness and self-awareness can easily arise. When our attention settles on these three points, we can let them go and note the in and out breathing, concentrating solely at the nose-tip or the upper lip, where the air passes on its in and out passage. ~ On Meditation ~

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: weegeebored via photopin cc

photo credit: weegeebored via photopin cc

See also

How To Practise Mindfulness Of The Breathing

I  Adapt your daily life so as to be conducive to practising mindfulness of the breathing

Lead an uncomplicated life — reduce or eliminate unnecessary activities such as eating, working, traveling, and social functions. Don’t worry about losing friends; some old friends may move away, but you will gain new good friends (kalyanamitta).

Concentrate on fulfiling your duties. Allocate more time for the important aspect of life; that is, find time for the study and practice of the dhamma. Compose your actions and speech by observing the five precepts and maintain a healthy mind.

2  Prepare a suitable place If you can find a quiet place, that is best.

Find a room or comer in your home where you will not be disturbed by others.

3  Prepare your body

Finish all matters that have to do with others. Wash yourself. You should not be too hungry or too full. Some light exercise is good in order to prepare your body for lengthy sitting.

4  Prepare your mind

Ask yourself if you have matters needing immediate attention. If yes, take care of them or note them down to remind yourself of all future commitments, e.g. tomorrow you have to meet someone or get someone to do something, so that you have nothing more to worry about. Once you have done this and are free from all worries, both internal and external, allow your mind to be neutral and serene.

5  Observe mindfulness of the breathing

The first step is to try to preserve the good feelings or wholesome states of mind (kusalacitta) with every in- and out-breath. In whatever posture, be it standing, walking, sitting or lying down, focus on the breath, cling to it as you would to your best friend. With mindfulness and clear comprehension, be conscious of the mind, whether pleasure or displeasure arises, so as not to cling to or follow cognitive objects or craving (tanha). Take deep breaths, release extended and relaxed exhalations while maintaining a continuous and unbroken awareness at each and every in- and out – breath. Sustain a tranquil and joyful mind.

Maximise Your Inner Happiness, With One Simple Mindfulness Practice

 offers this exercise, which is very like Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Bodyscape Meditation:

How we feel falls into three categories: pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. Most of us don’t stop long enough to notice, and yet this is precisely what we need to do if we are to maximize our inner happiness.

The practice goes like this:

1. Sitting down, eyes closed, get in touch with your breath and start paying attention to the quality of your experience, moment to moment, asking yourself the question, is it pleasant or unpleasant? Do this for a few minutes.

2. Then pay attention to how you react. Most likely, you will find you want to hang on to the pleasant moments, and you wil want to escape the unpleasant ones. This is how the human brain is wired. We are pleasure-seeking organisms.

3. Next notice the accompanying physical sensations in your body, particularly places of tightness. Whenever we react to our experience, our body naturally responds by tensing the muscles. We each have a place that our body favors. For me, it is a knot in the stomach, but it could just as well be tightness in the throat, or tension in the shoulders…

4. Without judgment, acknowledge the pain. The pain is two-fold, mental and physical. We stress our mind with our resisting thoughts, and we stress our body with our physical tensions. We can relax around this added discomfort, and discover the relief when we are just present for our experience, whether pleasant or unpleasant.

We can take this practice into our daily life.

Link this article in full

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photo credit: Swamibu via photopin cc

Handling Intrusive Thoughts While Meditating

Advice from 

…During mindfulness meditation you keep your attention on your breath, but you want to be fully aware in this moment. So you still take note of sounds and smells, aches and pains, all that makes up the present moment. When thoughts arise the instructions are to notice them, let them go, and return to the breath.

But to just blot out thoughts without paying attention to them would not be very mindful at all. Don’t ignore your thoughts… Instead, work with them.

As a thought pops up, acknowledge it, let it go, and return to the breath. Don’t carry it out to a conclusion. Don’t dwell on it. Don’t try to add reason at this time. Notice that you’re thinking, that your mind has pulled you away from your awareness of this moment, and place your attention back on the breath.

Labeling the thoughts may help you release them. If you’re sitting stewing about something you should have done differently this morning, label it judging and let it go. If you’re thinking about what to make for lunch or what to do this weekend, label that planning and return to the breath. If you’re taken by thoughts of beaches and the sun, label them fantasy and bring your attention back to the present moment.

The point is never to not think. The point is to remain aware of what is going on in and around you right now. Too many scattered thoughts can drag you away from the moment and cheat you of your present experience. Acknowledging thoughts, labeling them, and coming back to the present, to the breath, can help you stay centered and focused…

Link to read this article in full

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photo credit: loungerie via photopin cc

Email Is Killing Us: Reclaim Your Mind From Technology

An extract from Alex Soojung-Kim Pang’s “The Distraction Addiction”

…The monkey mind’s constant activity reflects a deep restlessness: monkeys can’t sit still because their minds never stop. Likewise, most of the time, the human mind delivers up a constant stream of con­sciousness. Even in quiet moments, minds are prone to wandering. Add a constant buzz of electronics, the flash of a new message landing in your in-box, the ping of voicemail, and your mind is as manic as a monkey after a triple espresso. The monkey mind is attracted to today’s infinite and ever-changing buffet of information choices and devices. It thrives on overload, is drawn to shiny and blinky things, and doesn’t distinguish between good and bad technologies or choices.

The concept of the monkey mind appears throughout Buddhist teachings — one small indicator of the fact that the mind and its rela­tionship to the world have been studied deeply for thousands of years. Every religion has contemplative practices, calls to use silence and solitude to quiet the mind. In John Drury’s introductory note to the Anglican Matins and Evensong, he exhorts worshippers “to be patient and relaxed enough to allow a long tradition to have its say” and “allow our own thoughts and feelings to become closer to us than life outside admits.” Only then can one fully enter “the cool and ancient order of the services which gives a space and a frame, as well as cues, for reflec­tions on our regrets and hopes and gratitudes.” Catholic monastics treat meditation as preparing the mind to receive God’s wisdom; the busy mind cannot hear the divine. in Buddhism, though, mental discipline is more an end in itself, rather than just a means to an end. The everyday mind is like churning water; learn to make it still, like the mirror-flat surface of a calm lake, Buddhists say, and its reflection will show you everything…

For too long, we’ve left the chattering monkey in charge of our technologies, and then we wonder why things go bad. We want to be like the cyborg monkey (albeit not as hairy and without the electrodes). We want that same capability to use complicated technologies without thinking about them, without experiencing them as burdens and dis­tractions. We want our technologies to extend our minds and augment our abilities, not break up our minds.

Such control is within our reach. Rather than being forced into a state of perpetual distraction, with all the unhappiness and discontent such a state creates, we can approach information technologies in a way that is mindful and nearly effortless and that contributes to our ability to focus, be creative, and be happy.

It’s an approach I call contemplative computing…

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photo credit: svenwerk via photopin cc

Contemplative computing isn’t just a philosophical argument. It’s theory and practice. It’s a thousand little methods, mindful habits informed by the four principles. Guidelines for checking e-mail in non-distracting ways. Rules for using Twitter and Facebook that encourage thoughtfulness and kindness. Ways of holding —literally holding —a smartphone so it commands less of your attention. Techniques for observing and experimenting with your technology practices. Methods for restoring your capacity to focus.

Information technologies are so pervasive, so much a part of work and home, so thoroughly embedded in modern life, it can be hard to know where to push back first. A good choice is to begin where many contemplative practices start. With breathing.

Link to read the rest this article , including details about the Cyborg monkey experiment referred to above, and Alex Soojung-Kim Pang’s principles and guidelines for contemplative computing

photo credit: Philerooski via photopin cc

photo credit: Philerooski via photopin cc

10 Habits To Make You A Great Meditator

Julianna Raye

Any time you actually sit down to practice meditation, you’re doing it successfully! But because meditation is an inner process, there’s lots of room for misunderstanding, which can go on for years if left unchecked. Many people practice meditation on their own, informed only by what they’ve read or heard. Even if you’re lucky enough to find a teacher you trust, that teacher will still rely on your input to support you in finding greater insight.
The hope is to make your time on the cushion as efficient as possible, so I created this general list of tips to help you optimize and accelerate your practice. It’s based on what’s been shared with me by my teachers, as well as what I’ve gained from my own experience.
Here are some suggestions to help your practice help you:
1. Develop clarity about what you’re doing and why.
 …Whichever you’re drawn to, do your best to understand the nature of that practice and each time you sit down, relate to practicing the way you would time at the gym. Don’t meander. Use proper form. Do the work.
2. Find a practice that resonates.
 …Listen to your instincts, find a practice you’ll want to stick with and be motivated to do and find an effective support system. If you’re not making progress, assess the situation and adjust. Avoid being dogmatic about it and do your best to trust yourself.
3. Make time for intensive practice.
A healthy practice involves a combination of daily sitting and periods of more intensive formal practice, like weekend or week-long retreats. Intensive practice shows you your true potential and can be life changing, but it needs to be supported in the long term with a daily or weekly routine.
4. Practice in action.
Bridge the gap between your practice and your life. While formal practice will naturally seep into the rest of your life over time, for faster results, you can also use strategies to intentionally integrate practice into the activities of your life.
5. Try strong determination sitting.
My teacher, Shinzen Young, recommends this as a fast track to his students seeking quicker results. The idea is to sit without moving for extended periods of time. You can start small and slowly build up your stamina. Not easy, but powerful!
6. Teach others.
 …Teaching nourishes our own practice in untold ways.
7. Get feedback.
The best way to know whether you’re making progress is through those closest to you. … If your practice is off track, the people who love you will make that clear. Likewise, if your relationships are off track, meditation can make that clear.
8. Sit, sit, sit.
 …Bottom line, at this point in history, lots of sitting practice is still the best solution discovered to ease our suffering. Just make sure the sitting is informed. See tip #1.
9. Practice with a group.
Group practice can accelerate the process of learning and spiritual growth. You can ride on the group energy and collective act of consciousness raising.
10. Become self-sufficient.
As long as you imagine your liberation is dependent on any relationship, you’re a slave to that relationship. Free yourself.

Link to read Julianna Raye’s guidelines in full

And if you are interested in the range and breadth of places and people that mindfulness is happening with, here is a selection of recent stories on this subject from across a sweep of different publications…

photo credit: michiexile via photopin cc

photo credit: michiexile via photopin cc

The new technique investment banks are using to keep employees happy and productive

by Paul Clarke

Stress is a growing problem in the financial sector. Psychology surgeries serving bankers are busier than ever, investment banks are employing resilience specialists to add some mental steel to their employees. And, increasingly, they’re turning to a psychological technique with roots in Buddhism.

The likes of Barclays, Citigroup, J.P. Morgan and the large professional services firms like PwC are offering their employees the chance to partake in mindfulness – a technique that emphasises active attention on the moment to block out the clutter of day-to-day life. The aim is to improve mental capacity, reduce stress and even counter depression. William George, a board member at Goldman Sachs, is also a big advocate of the technique, and is a member of the Institute for Mindful Leadership.

…Google offers mindfulness to its employees, although Grazier suggests this is further away from the clinical version of the treatment, and it’s being described as the ‘new caffeine’ in Silicon Valley. Its popularity is also helped by the fact that the U.S. Marine Corps is incorporating mindfulness into its curriculum.

However, it’s also gaining more traction in the financial sector. Louise Chester, director and co-founder of Mindfulness at Work, which works with City firms, credits it with saving her sanity during a “crazy period” working for UBS’s telecoms research team in the 1990s.

“HR departments like mindfulness because it makes their employees more effective,” she said. “It increases memory capacity, focus, emotional intelligence and makes you smarter. It trains you to use your prefrontal cortex, which allows you to make more measured responses in a way that adds value and reduces stress.”…

Link to read full article

Esquire Tackles Mindfulness, Meditation In September 2013 Issue

There’s something different in the latest issue of Esquire: a how-to guide for meditation.

Meditation, of course, is central to The Huffington Post’s Third Metric initiative, and it’s something that Esquire has embraced as well. The men’s lifestyle magazine is more known for covering fashion, culture and entertainment and running features like “Sexiest Woman Alive” than for tips for de-stressing. But that’s exactly what’s in the September issue.

photo credit: marimoon via photopin cc

photo credit: marimoon via photopin cc

Wilderness Festival: Best Quotes On Mindfulness, Wellbeing And Work-Life Balance

As part of our partnership with Wilderness Festival, HuffPost UK have been hosting daily panel discussions covering a range of topics. On Saturday, we explored Less Stress, More Living.

Hosted by editor-in-chief Carla Buzasi, the panel included Claire Hamilton (head of Secret Sanctuary and acupuncture therapist), Jayne Morris (burnout expert and HuffPost UK blogger), Cherry Healey (TV presenter and HuffPost UK blogger), Ruby Wax (comedian, TV personality and mental health activist) and Susie Pearl (happiness and wellbeing activist – who also has the best job title in the world).

We’re pulled the top quotes from our experts on mindfulnesswellbeing and striking work-life balance.

Questions from the audience included whether mindfulness is accessible to all, de-stigmatising mental health, and how gender affects our willingness to seek help for stress.

We need to start thinking about how to manage our minds” – Susie Pearl

Thoughts aren’t fact, so don’t take them seriously” – Ruby Wax

I want to instil a positive mindset on my daughter. I realised that to do this, I had to change my own mindset first. I needed to think about the way I think and speak about things – for example body consciousness – because Coco learns directly from me.” – Cherry Healey

The body and mind are intrinsically linked. Stress and anxiety are the root of many illnesses, we need to listen to our minds to prevent them.” – Jayne Morris

“You shouldn’t run away from your problems, you need to aim straight for the heart of the beast.” – Ruby Wax

I suffer from ‘Room B’ syndrome, I always think other people are having a better time than me. Social media has made this worse – when comparing yourself to others, you rarely come out favourably.” – Cherry Healey

There is not a one-size-fits-all solution, everyone needs something different to get some balance in their lives. It might be yoga or meditation, or even singing and dancing” – Claire Hamilton

We need to shift habits so that people catch themselves before reaching burnout” – Jayne Morris

For me mindfulness is like building a house, so the next time the tsunami that is depression comes I’ll have a structure in place to resist it.” – Ruby Wax

Meditation isn’t about feeling perky and happy, it’s about feeling shit and sticking with it.” – Ruby Wax

Link to the rest of this article including its slideshow of pictures

photo credit: drp via photopin cc

photo credit: drp via photopin cc

From Both Sides: Secular Buddhism and the “McMindfulness” Question

by 

The debate over the relationship between Buddhism and the mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) has heated up recently to a red hot glow. On July 1, Ron Purser and David Loy published an attack on the mindfulness movement in the Huffington Post under the title, “Beyond McMindfulness.” As I write this, a Google search on “McMindfulness” generates over 7,700 hits, many of them praising the original article and joining in to bewail the “decontextualization” and watering-down of the sacred Buddhist traditions.

Unfortunately, as I have noted elsewhere, this “McMindfulness” meme often appears to be driven largely by fears instead of facts, as defenders of traditional Buddhist lineages fret over “what is being lost” as mindfulness enters the Western mainstream. From my perspective, as one who came to Buddhism through the MBIs, this is a terrible shame. We may have an irretrievable opportunity at this moment to enrich the cultural conversation between Buddhist ideas and values and those of the West, and the mindfulness movement clearly is at the crux of that conversation. It is my heartfelt wish that we do not waste this opportunity in a reactive backlash against this latest moment in the evolution of the dharma…

…the MBIs are in themselves outgrowths of Buddhism. Pioneers such as Jon Kabat-Zinn, Daniel Segal, Jack Kornfield and others took what they learned practicing traditional Buddhism and adapted it for use in medicine and psychology. In order to make these practices susceptible to research and acceptable to secular health care institutions – and perhaps most of all to make them easier for the average patient to absorb and accept – the traditional doctrine was simplified and demystified, replaced with plain-English explanations of the practice and how it worked.

In turn, acceptance by research and health care institutions had an inevitable impact on how mindfulness is taught, learned and practiced. The emphasis on such positive health care outcomes as stress reduction, alleviation of depression, and the treatment of chronic pain encouraged the application of the MBIs in a standard clinical regimen. Students were “patients” who had received specific diagnoses and were prescribed an 8-week mindfulness course to address the specific symptoms of their diseases. It is not surprising, then, that first the health care community, and increasingly, the wider public, has come to see the MBIs as merely another item in the doctor’s bag of medical interventions. To this extent, the critics of mindfulness are correct in their assertion that the MBIs have been “decontextualized.”

As I have tried to demonstrate elsewhere, however, the prevailing institutional (and now cultural) absorption with specific outcomes misrepresents what the MBIs are and how they are practiced.

…the defining tasks of mindfulness – the embracing of lived experience, the recognition that one need not be compelled by one’s habitual reactivity, the development of equanimity and the ability to make wise choices as a result – are the same actions that are prescribed by the Four Noble Truths. The insight into the ephemeral and impermanent nature of the ego that is a hallmark of the MBIs is an expression of the Buddhist concepts of Impermanence and Not-Self. While shorn of much of traditional Buddhism’s Pali/Sanskrit terminology, doctrinal concepts and cultural trappings, the MBI’s owe their effectiveness, I believe, to the wisdom of the dharma that Gotama taught more than two millennia ago, a wisdom grounded, then as now, in universal characteristics of embodied human awareness…

…My experience with the mindfulness practice community I am part of has shown me that community is about more than just support. Within the container of the practice community, one has the opportunity to experience the intersubjective resonance of a group of people dedicated to being mindful of themselves and each other. This experience is a powerful and visceral manifestation of not-self, and one that promotes the recognition of shared humanity from which compassion can grow. The group practice environment is ideal for exploring such concepts as kindness, compassion and non-harming, and learning what it’s like to put them into mindful action. And the awareness that the community has a tangible, ongoing existence, even if one may not immediately be able to participate in it, permits one to feel connected to it and supported by it, regardless of one’s distance from it…

…As Secular Buddhists, we get it from both sides. Skeptics demand to know why we are concerned about teaching and preserving an esoteric, mythology-drenched religion; traditionalists make many of the same charges of “throwing the baby out with the bath water” against Secular Buddhism that they make against “McMindfulness.” If there is an advantage to this position, perhaps it may be our ability to understand and share the perspectives of both sides in this conversation, and to present and model a middle way between them…

Link to read Mark Knickelbine’s article in full

Shamash Alidna: The Mindful Way Through Stress at Mind & Its Potential

  • De-stressing: why bother?
  • Where does your stress come from?
  • How can you calm down “mind chatter” in a busy life?
  • Tips for being more energised and focussed at work.
  • How does mindfulness lead to joyfulness?
photo credit: cleverchimp via photopin cc

photo credit: cleverchimp via photopin cc

Back-to-school is back-to-stress for some kids; coping techniques can help

By Helen Branswell

…others praise so-called mindfulness techniques as a way to help kids young and old to gain control of the anxiety that may be cluttering up their minds.

There are a variety of approaches, but the basic idea is to bring children into the present – as opposed to worrying about the future – as a way of grounding them and helping them calm themselves. Some ways of doing this are to focus on breathing – taking “brain breaks” in the language of the Hawn Foundation (started by actress Goldie Hawn), which has been a leader in bringing mindfulness techniques into schools…

Schonert-Reichl says one way to use mindfulness techniques to help with the stress of resuming school might be to focus, while walking to school, on all the sounds one hears. Instead of having a head full of anxious or negative thoughts about what the coming day or year might bring, the child can be helped to focus on what he or she is experiencing at that moment…

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: Nanagyei via photopin cc

photo credit: Nanagyei via photopin cc

6 Simple Tips To Be More Mindful In Everyday Life

 

Thankfully, you don’t need to spend hours a day sitting in a Buddhist monastery to achieve the benefits of meditation. Rather, you can use everyday experiences as opportunities to practice being mindful and connected to the present moment.

1. Practice mindful driving

…How does your body feel in the seat? Is it hard or soft? How do you hold your hands on the wheel? What sounds do you hear coming from your car and out the window? Can you feel the vibrations of the road? Was it recently paved or are there a lot of potholes?

When I drive like this I find it to be a much more peaceful experience, even if I’m caught in traffic.

2. Practice mindful eating

Instead of scarfing down your food as you read the paper, watch TV, respond to emails, or whatever else, practice just eating. Really slow it down.

What does that first bite of food taste like? Is it different from the second? How soon do you reach your fork for more? What does it feel like as you swallow? What does it sound like as your chew?…

3. Practice leaving no trace

I’ll admit that when I get caught up in the responsibilities of daily life, I can really let clutter build up in my home. So I decided to pick one room in the house and practice “leaving no trace.”

I picked the kitchen, and what this means is that when I leave this room, I try to leave it exactly the same as I entered it, as if I had never been there.

…This practice can help you become more aware of the impact you have on your environment, and it will probably make anyone you live with really happy, too!

4. Practice mindful listening

Often when we listen to another person talking, only part of our mind is listening. The other part is thinking about what we’re going to say in response, or making judgments about if we agree or disagree, or even daydreaming about something completely different.

Instead, practice really listening to what the person is saying, as if you were absorbing their words like a sponge. Pay attention to the sensations in your body as you listen. Do you feel excited? Tense? Calm?

Pay attention to the speaker’s voice, their body language, their tone. What emotion or feelings do you imagine them experiencing?

The best part about this exercise is that you are giving a gift to the other person. Is is so rare that people really get the full attention of another person.

5. Practice mindful waiting

This is perhaps my favorite exercise, because we typically view “waiting” time as a waste of time, but it’s actually an opportunity for your to pause, observe, and be mindful.

The next time you are standing in line at the bank, or sitting in the waiting room of your doctor’s office, or sitting at a restaurant waiting for your friend to show up, use that time to be mindful.

Without judging, observe how you are feeling in your body. Do you feel tense and impatient? Excited? Bored? Where in your body do you feel it? Is it like a tightness in your chest or a buzzing in your head?

You can even practice directing your attention to a neutral object, like your breath or the ambient sounds. When your mind wanders, bring it back.

6. Answer the phone mindfully

Often we hear the phone ring and immediately jump up to answer. Instead, practice pausing and taking two deep breaths before you answer the phone. Pause, deep inhale, deep exhale. Pause again, deep inhale, deep exhale.

Notice what you are experiencing for these few seconds. Do you feel excited about who it could be? Anxious about what task or obligation this could mean? Just pause, notice, and then proceed to answer the phone.

As you can see, mindfulness does not need to be some elusive or abstract concept, and it does not need to take extra time out of your day to practice.

And as you start to practice these small habits, you will notice big benefits. Mindfulness is a skill that you can develop, and as you do, you will start to notice and appreciate small joys in your day that had previously gone unnoticed.

Link to read the full unedited version of this article 

photo credit: Chris JL via photopin cc

photo credit: Chris JL via photopin cc

Happiness At Work Edition #60

See this week’s new collection for these – and many more – stories about mindfulness and self-mastery, happiness and wellbeing, creativity & artistry, resilience and learning, leadership, changing ourselves and changing the world…

Link to Happiness At Work Edition #60

We hope you find things here to enjoy and incorporate in your own work, life and continuous learning.

Happiness At Work #59 ~ highlights in this collection

photo credit: art crimes via photopin cc

photo credit: art crimes via photopin cc

This week’s new collection Happiness At Work Edition #59 features a number of stories about the unhappiness and imbalance of our 21st century working lives, with research findings, forecasts and best practice recommendations for how we can remedy this and build a more flourishing life around our work.

Solutions range from making time for more conversation, to being more generous, to harnessing the insights from a new range of apps designed to measure our different ways of feeling at work, to getting outdoors, to practising mindfulness to playing to our preferred ways of working, especially if we are an introvert.

And, too, as this first story and a couple of our later articles suggest, we need to redesign our outdated 20th century ways of working – where we do it, how we do, when we do and who we do it with – if we really want to build a more resilient, sustainable, workable and successful future…

CIPD warns business – use top female talent or lose it

As the green shoots of economic recovery emerge, new CIPD research shows how urgent action needs to be taken by the corporate world to stem the leaking talent pipeline that could hinder the progress of growth.

Building on the messages in a report from the Women’s Business Council published in June, it is clear that if business does not adopt flexible or innovative working practices, it will continue to lose impressive women who decide to set up their own businesses to achieve a better work-life balance.

‘Inspiring Female Entrepreneurs,’ the second report in a three part series by the CIPD on entrepreneurial practices, highlights that there are more than 2.4 million unemployed women who want to work and that if there were as many female entrepreneurs as there are male entrepreneurs, GDP could be boosted by 10% by 2030.

To gain insight into what motivates female entrepreneurs and makes them successful, the CIPD interviewed a number of women to find out what made them go solo, what has made them thrive and what they think would encourage more to set up on their own. What became clear is that employers could have much to gain by creating the conditions in which these talented and committed women could thrive in the corporate world…

Link to read this article

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photo credit: ttnk via photopin cc

Why You Should Care About Having Friends At Work

By 

Chatting over lunch and joking with coworkers may not seem like more than pleasant distractions at the office, but they could have an enormous impact on your work life. With employee engagement declining and more than eight in 10 American workersexperiencing job-related stress — female employees being even more more vulnerableto workplace tension than men — friendship could make the difference between happiness at work and burnout. Research has found that strong social connections at the office can boost productivity, and could make employees more passionate about their work and less likely to quit their jobs.

According to Christine M. Riordan, provost and professor of management at the University of Kentucky, camaraderie is a key ingredient to happiness at work for male and female employees. A study led by Riordan, published in the Journal of Business Psychology in the ’90s, found that the mere opportunity for friendship increases employee job satisfaction and organizational effectiveness…

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: Victor1558 via photopin cc

photo credit: Victor1558 via photopin cc

The Surefire Way To Be Happier At Work: Chat With Your Coworkers

A NEW STUDY FINDS THAT PEOPLE REALLY ARE PRETTY MISERABLE AT WORK, AND NOT MUCH YOU CAN DO WILL HELP. BUT THERE IS ONE PRETTY EASY FIX: YOUR COWORKERS.

…According to a new study (PDF) by Alex Bryson and George MacKerron, published through the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics and Political Science, of all the things we choose to do at work (other than work!), it’s casually interacting with our colleagues that makes us happiest. From the article:

The largest positive net effect of combining work and another activity on happiness relates to ‘Talking, chatting, socialising’. . . .There are clearly positive psychological benefits of being able to socialise whilst working. It is the only activity that, in combination with working, results in happiness levels that are similar to those experienced when not working…

photo credit: marinakvillatoro via photopin cc

photo credit: marinakvillatoro via photopin cc

‘Talking at mealtimes boosts children’s confidence’

By Judith Burns

Mealtime chatter helps boost children’s communication skills, suggests a study by the National Literacy Trust.

Children whose families sit and talk during meals are more confident, the poll of 35,000 UK children indicates.

But more than one in every four misses out on daily mealtime chats with their families, suggests the poll.

Former EastEnders actress, mother and literacy campaigner Natalie Cassidy said: “Food is fuel for our bodies.  So is conversation for our brains.”

Ms Cassidy urged parents: “Even if you’re strapped for time, make 10-15 minutes to all sit down together.”…

The data suggests that sitting in silence at mealtimes is worse for children’s confidence than not sitting down for family meals at all.

The results suggest that some two-thirds (62%) of those who talk daily with their families at mealtimes feel confident to speak in front of a group, compared with less than half (47%) of those who eat in silence and just over half (52%) of children who don’t sit down for meals…

The trust’s director Jonathan Douglas said: “Our research shows just how vital conversation at home is to the future success of our children and young people.

“Talking and communicating at home, for example at mealtimes, will help children gain the skills they need for a successful and happy life.”

Link to read this article

An Introvert’s Guide To Happiness

By Beth Gilbert

Are you an introvert or an extrovert?

Introverts — people with quieter and more reflective personalities — typically thrive within the inner workings of their own minds. Extroverts, however, are more outgoing and tend to feel comfortable surrounded by people.

But social savvy isn’t the only difference between the two personality types: Research shows that the factors that contribute to an extrovert’s happiness and those that add to an introvert’s happiness don’t always mesh.

“An introvert’s rocket fuel is an extrovert’s Kryptonite and vice versa,” says Nancy Ancowitz, business communication coach and author of Self-Promotion for Introverts. “Long stretches of quiet activities like reading, writing, and researching may energize an introvert, but can serve as solitary confinement for an extrovert. Frequent social interactions and multitasking can energize an extrovert and really zap an introvert.”

Story continues as a slideshow

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photo credit: marfis75 via photopin cc

Research Finds Happiness Is Found Outdoors

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The David Suzuki Foundation has discovered happiness. A report from the foundation has confirmed that a daily dose of nature boosts happiness and wellbeing…

The foundation asked more than 10,000 Canadians and 250 workplaces to participate in what it called the 30×30 Nature Challenge. Those participating were challenged to get outside for half an hour a day for 30 consecutive days.

Trent University Researcher Dr. Elizabeth Nisbet conducted the research initiative.

“We found that participation in the 30×30 Nature Challenge almost doubled their time spent outside during the month and reduced their screen time by about 4.5 hours per week,” said Nisbet of the spring report. “They reported significant increases in their sense of well-being, feeling more vitality and energy, while feelings of stress, negativity and sleep disturbances were all reduced.”

Nisbet reported the research indicated workplace participants said they felt more productive on the job. She reported participants indicated a slightly stronger sense of identification with the natural world and a desire to spend more time outdoors. Many of the people who took part in the challenge said they felt happier by eating lunch outside or walking through a park.

According to the foundation, the results of the challenge are consistent with growing evidence that even brief nature contact enhances positive mood and reduces stress…

Link to read the rest of this article

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photo credit: fiddle oak via photopin cc

Pay It Forward: Why Generosity Is The Key To Success

by Sean Blanda

When it comes to when and how we help others, most of us fit into one of three categories:

  • Givers, who help others unconditionally, demanding nothing in return.
  • Matchers, who usually only help those who have helped them.
  • Takers, those who demand help but never offer.

Penn professor Adam Grant is a Giver. He’s also the youngest tenured professor at Wharton and is the author of the best-selling Give and Take. Grant believes that the success of our careers is due to our generosity with our time and knowledge. Givers, he says, are usually either at the top or bottom of their field, with Matchers and Takers sprinkled in between.

After publicly proclaiming to the world that he answers any and all favor requestsin the New York Times, Grant is the best test case for his own theory. However, Grant manages it all well thanks to being ruthless with his time. I asked him how he handles the deluge and if he has any advice for those of us who feel too squeezed to be good “Givers.” …

Here is the link to read this interview with Adam Grant

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photo credit: jspad via photopin cc

3 Insights from the Frontiers of Positive Psychology

By Elise Proulx

…“The science of positive psychology has now achieved a point where it is comparable to the other sub-disciplines of psychology,” wrote IPPA president Robert Vallerand in the Congress’ welcome message. “And the scientifically informed applications of positive psychology are more popular and diversified than ever.”

As Vallerand suggests, the leaders of positive psychology have always prided themselves on delivering scientific findings with clear practical applications. Here are three of the most striking and practical insights I took away from the Congress.

1. Look to the future for a meaningful life.

Now-familiar research shows that we are happiest when we live in the present and that practicing mindfulness — which involves tuning in to our thoughts, emotions and sensations in the present moment — is good for our bodiesbrains and relationships.

But in their IPPA keynote, Martin Seligman and Roy Baumeister, both giants in the field of positive psychology, argued for the importance of focusing on the future. Looking ahead, they believe, can bring meaning to our lives — a school of thought they call “prospective psychology.”

The core of this concept is that it becomes a lot easier to understand some of the complexities of the human mind once you consider that we evolved to predict the future — and that doing this well is key to survival.  “So intelligence isn’t about what you know,” said Seligman, “but about how well you can predict an act in the future.”…

So while happiness may be all about the present, meaningfulness may be found in the future. Only by connecting the two can one find the greatest meaning, purpose and happiness in life.

2. Detaching from work is a good thing … for most of us.

…Sonnentag defines detachment as a sense of “being away from work.”  While this feeling has different sources for different people, it could include staying off work email and not thinking about work in the evenings and on days off.

Detaching from work allows individuals to feel recovered and refreshed, Sonnentag said, which then allows them to have more energy and be more efficient in their work lives.

Sonnentag says detachment from work seems especially important — not surprisingly — when job stressors are high. Indeed, the more time pressure employees feel, the less able they are to detach, which leads to a negative spiral of stress and rumination.

Supervisors should take note: Being realistic about deadlines may make for a more efficient operation.

But not everyone feels the benefits from detachment: Employees who have strong positive emotions toward work — such as firefighters who feel their jobs provide a positive social impact — may benefit more from not detaching.  For this group, the positive feelings they have during the day spill over into evening rest time, and detaching can actually negate those positive feelings.

That said, while each individual needs to assess his or her own need for detachment, for most of us, periodically disconnecting from the stress of work and the burdens of technology — for example, by taking a Friday night family break from all electronics – is probably an important way to guard against burnout — and make us better workers.

3. “We shape our dwellings, and afterwards our dwellings shape us.”

These words from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill infused psychologist Marino Bonaiuto’s talk on environmental psychology.

Bonaiuto, of the University of Rome, studies how the physical components of our environment are linked to and affect our mental states and social interactions.  When an individual’s biological or psychological needs are met by the resources available in the environment — green spaces, physical layout of infrastructure, well-tended buildings — there is good “person-environment fit” that leads to greater well-being…

In this way, Bonaiuto was affirming a theme I heard often at the Congress: the power we have to shape our happiness and the happiness of those around us.  Whether as individuals or working together as groups, the presenters emphasized, we can affect our external environment and internal landscapes for the better…

Here is the link to this article in full

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photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

Mindfulness can improve leadership in times of instability

by Cheryl Rezek

A mindful leader can respond to change with focus and clarity, and avoid repeating the same mistakes

What does the ancient eastern practice of mindfulness, often associated with orange-clothed chanting monks, have to do with the fast-paced, performance-driven style of western leadership? In tough times, it could act as an influential asset in the public service’s fight for survival.

Mindfulness is about paying attention to what is happening in the present moment, a moment in time. It is about focusing attention on the present in a way that allows that moment to be experienced and observed closely. It involves developing the skills to allow yourself to engage actively with whatever is happening at the time, as well as concurrently viewing that moment from a more strategic standpoint.

…When there is less clutter and fewer distractions within one’s own head it is easier to gain clarity and perspective; mindfulness allows one to both notice more detail and see the bigger picture.

A mindful leader can reduce disorder by bringing focus and intent to the situation. By acknowledging and accepting change, the leader can step back, observe and respond with composure and purpose.

Dealing with change

If leaders realise that change is inevitable, they can encourage sufficient resilience in individuals, teams and organisations.  …This helps to safeguard an organisation from disillusionment and destruction by enforcing outdated rules and processes.

Research on mindfulness suggests that it can also help to:

•  reduce the cost of staff absenteeism caused by illness, injury and stress

•  improve cognitive functioning, memory, learning ability and creativity

•  improve productivity and improve overall staff and business wellbeing

•  reduce staff turnover and associated costs.

Mindful leadership is not a patronising fad implying that, if we are calm, everything will be fine.  The reality of our working world is that all may not be fine.  What mindfulness can do is develop a thinking, emotional and instinctual mind so that the leader can do the best for self, team and organisation.

This is the link to this original Guardian article, which includes a link to the full version of Cheryl Rezek’s article 

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photo credit: miriam.v via photopin cc

9 Leadership Essentials To Cause Meaningful Work

by 

Meaningful work stirs up internal satisfaction through doing the work and releasing it for others to benefit and experience.

While meaningful work is experienced at an individual level, its power is fully unleashed when it’s a characteristic of workplace or team culture.

So, then, what do leaders need to do to cause meaningful work?  Here are nine essentials.

Clarity in Your Values

Know what you stand for to anchor your leadership…

Culture of Optimism

The work environment needs to lead employees to believe that great results are possible through their contributions – individually and collectively. Additionally, employees are inspired by the good works of others and by their own output.

Concentration on People

A leader must believe that employees are the cornerstone to a business’s success.  Leadership actions and decisions essential for meaning are made from this central belief.

Connection Among Employees

Meaning expands when people have a sense of belonging.  Brené Brownadvocates that people need to believe they can be themselves and not worry about fitting in.  When connections exist among employees, belonging can emerge.

Constancy in Purpose

Leadership 101 always asks us to paint a picture of where we need to take the team.  Purpose helps paint such a picture.

Creative Conflict

Deeper meaning emerges when there is conflict between what we believe and do, and with different beliefs and approaches presented by others.

Charisma for Learning

Meaning thrives on insight and awareness.  These two criteria are only possible when we stay in a continuous learning loop…

Courage to Care

Address half-ass work and missed deadlines.  Celebrate milestones.  Give just-because recognition.  Have the courage to show you care about people and quality results – consistently.

Continuous Progress

Work that results in little or no progress frustrates, infuriates, alienates, and decimates meaning and hope.  People must see progress and alignment with the purpose you communicate.  Without progress, meaning wanes.

This list presents a major leadership challenge.  The weak leader will choose to procrastinate in creating a culture where meaningful work abounds. However, given the abysmal state of the workplace, it’s a choice that cannot be overlooked if a thriving culture is important to producing results and keeping talented people from leaving your team.

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: chlip via photopin cc

photo credit: chlip via photopin cc

Why HR should tip its hat to the measuremement of wellbeing

by Andy Philpott

…there is much more to it than the headlines which revel in us being happier than the French or proclaim that marriage makes you happier than co-habitation.

The research also provides useful insight for anyone whose job it is to ensure their organisation can attract and retain the right employees.

For instance, the findings that those who work flexibly or study part-time have the greatest sense of wellbeing should spur any organisations to think about how training, education and a creative approach to working hours can be used as employee benefits.

The negative impact that illness and disability has on wellbeing is a call to action for all employers to take these issues seriously in the support they offer their employees.  Not just through reactive measures like employee helplines and health insurance but by proactive wellbeing programmes – whether these relate to financial or physical wellbeing.

More broadly, the focus on wellbeing is a reminder that happiness makes a great difference to the way people approach their lives. This applies to the workplace as much as anywhere else…

Here is the link to the rest of this article

From heart rates to surveys: How to keep workers happy

By Nastaran Tavakoli-Far

Unhappy workers leave.  

Recent studies show that up to 70% of workers in the US are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” at work.

Happy workers tend to be more productive – which makes it sensible to focus on making sure your staff are content…

Tiny Pulse is an app which sends out short weekly surveys to workers to see how happy they are, and makes graphs of the results so bosses can see how workers feel each week.  Employers can tailor the surveys, and can also give positive feedback straight to workers.

The app also allows employees to communicate with their bosses – anonymously.

Better tech at home

Microsoft chief envisioning officer and author Dave Coplin believes workers often have better technology at home than in the workplace; it used to be the other way around.  As a result he thinks people are often frustrated at work.

“Today people feel trapped by technology,” he says, explaining many workplaces have limited its use.

Work.com’s Nick Stein agrees.  Work.com is a platform that aims to increase performance, by focusing on aligning goals between employer and employee, providing feedback, and mutual motivation.  On Work.com employees have profiles which display their expertise and goals, and employers and employees can praise each other on performance day to day, rather than in one end-of-year review.

Mr Stein says the internet has given people more voice than ever before, but work environments have not kept up – it can still be hard to speak up.

Workers may feel they need to be at a certain level before they can express their views…

Healthy brain, healthy work

Companies don’t have to use bespoke tools to create happier workers.  Devices used to measure various health indicators can also gauge worker happiness.

Neuroscientist Rob Goldberg believes that pushing people is simply bad for the brain.  The result is that they don’t do their best work.

“We really need to push the perspective that brain health and performance are one and the same thing,” he says.

Mr Goldberg is part of Neumitra, a start-up out of MIT.  Their app Bandu measures stress levels via a special wrist watch.

Feeling stressed is a survival mechanism – however it stops the brain focusing and functioning effectively, according to Mr Goldberg.  He says employers should monitor workers’ stress levels and adjust accordingly.

There may even be the need for fundamental changes.  Mr Goldberg points to the high stress levels caused by getting into the office at rush hour.

Apps like Cardiio, which measures heart rate, can be used to check employee health.

Yet working 9-5 is a historical throwback to the manufacturing production line, and is no longer relevant for many companies, he says.  So one easy way to reduce stress might be to change working hours to reduce the amount staff have to travel at peak times…

Journalist and founder of the non-profit The H(app)athon Project John Havens believes that other health related apps and tools can and should be used by workplaces.

He points to apps like Cardiio, which measures heart rate using an iPhone’s camera, and Affectiva, created so that advertising agencies can read people’s emotions through their facial expressions.  These tools may not have been designed with offices in mind, but he says they can be used by bosses to see how well, and in turn how happy, their workers are.

However, he believes there are other factors at work.

“Most of it boils down to having a sense of purpose and meaning,” he says about workplace happiness.  “These should be more of a focus.”

Basic questions, not tools

Consultancy Delivering Happiness believes in the importance of deriving meaning from work.  It began as a book by Zappos chief executive Tony Hsieh, looking at how companies could make workers happy while also pursuing profits.

Now they consult, helping businesses focus equally on worker happiness and profits.

Chief executive Jenn Lim says happy workers require a company that knows what its values are, and that this is more important than tools and technologies.

“[Not asking these questions] is the answer to why we as a society can’t sustain our happiness,” she says.  “It all comes back to very basic things. If we don’t have the values in place all the rest could be a lost cause.”

Link to this article  about these 21st century ways of achieving greater happiness at work

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

Britain’s working culture ‘damaging family life’

A new study has highlighted the impact that Britain’s ‘all work and no play’ culture could be having on employees’ personal lives.

Health cash plan provider Medicash conducted a survey of more than 1,000 working parents and found that more than four out of five (83 per cent) felt guilty about the amount of time they dedicated to their jobs.

Half (50 per cent) of respondents said their work commitments had limited the amount of time they could spend with their children and 46 per cent had experienced problems in their relationship with their partner.

A quarter (25 per cent) of workers have neglected friends because of their career responsibilities, according to the research.

Focusing on how demanding jobs can impact family life, the study found that 50 per cent of working mums and dads had missed a child’s sports day, school play or parents’ evening and 43 per cent had worked through holidays.

The majority (59 per cent) of people polled admitted that their children had complained about the amount of time they devoted to work.

Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University and director of employee wellbeing firm Robertson Cooper, said: “The fact that many people feel guilty about how they spend their time is hugely significant – it shows how important it is to maintain work-life balance.

“The evidence shows that flexible working delivers to the business’ bottom line, with employees feeling less guilty about how they spend their time and achieving a better balance between work and home commitments.”

photo credit: americanartmuseum via photopin cc

photo credit: americanartmuseum via photopin cc

The Five Beats of Successful Storytelling & How They Can Help You Land Your Next Job

by Jenn Godbout

Author Philip Pullman wrote, “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”  Whether we’re talking about life, business, or art, storytelling is an essential skill. Maybe even THE most essential skill.  But that doesn’t mean it comes naturally.

Whether it’s your own personal bio, a summary for your company’s “about” page, or a pitch to a major client, fitting everything important into a concise yet engaging narrative is a challenging task.  So we turned to performer, comedian, and storytelling guru David Crabb to share his storytelling framework.  It’s called the Five Beats of Storytelling, and you can use it to make any story more interesting, engaging, and memorable.

For example, let’s say you’re a business major-turned-illustrator who’s jumped from finance to freelance and is now seeking an in-house position. When the interviewer asks about your work history, you’ll want to convey how your background is relevant, your excellent work ethic, and your passion for the position.  The five beats can help you hit your mark AND keep your audience engaged. Here’s how it breaks down:

Beat 1: The introduction

Where you set the scene and tell your readers everything they need to know to understand why what you’re about to say is important…

Beat 2: The inciting incident

The question that your story is asking OR when the protagonist (you or your company) is faced with a challenge.  This is a great place to show vulnerability…

Beat 3: Raising the stakes

A series of moments that give weight and context to the inciting incident.  This is a great place to get specific and provide details that will make your story more memorable…

Beat 4: The main event

This is where we see the inciting incident come to a head (aka the climax).  This is either the answer to the question we asked in the second beat or where the protagonist solves his or her dilemma — a pivot or a change (even if it’s just a shift in attitude) should occur…

Beat 5: The resolution

In the fifth beat, you have an opportunity to highlight what makes the story unique.  If you’ve just described a failure or challenge, this would be the time to reflect on what you learned…

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: mharrsch via photopin cc

photo credit: mharrsch via photopin cc

Happiness At Work Edition #59

For all of these stories and more see our Happiness At Work collection…

Enjoy.

Thinking about Thinking . . .

photo credit: jinterwas via photopin cc

photo credit: jinterwas via photopin cc

On 25th-27th October, with Maria Ana Neves we will be a part of a team of co-creators who help to make and open The Thinking Hotel in a beautiful gallery space in Stoke Newington, and this has stimulated me to think about the nature and breadth and range of what thinking is, could be, should try to be…

I will publish details and how to make a reservation at The Thinking Hotel once we know them.

For now, I hope these articles provide some nourishment to your own thinking this week…

Here’s How Maria Popova of Brain Pickings Writes

by

You may know that we often include articles from Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings, and so we were very happy to find this recent interview with this “reader who writes”…

If you aren’t familiar with the writing of Maria Popova, prolific author of the “discovery engine for interestingness” known as Brain Pickings, you’ve been missing out on some of the most fascinating and heady publishing on the web.

Here are some of the things she said about thinking, learning and creativity in this interview:

I’m not an expert and I aspire never to be one. As Frank Lloyd Wright rightly put it, “An expert is a man who has stopped thinking because ‘he knows.’” Brain Pickings began as my record of what I was learning, and it remains a record of what I continue to learn – the writing is just the vehicle for recording, for making sense.

That said, one thing I’ve honed over the years – in part by countless hours of reading and in part because I suspect it’s how my brain is wired – is drawing connections between things, often things not immediately or obviously related, spanning different disciplines and time periods. I wouldn’t call that “expertise” so much as obsession – it’s something that gives me enormous joy and stimulation, so I do it a great deal, but I don’t know if that constitutes expertise.

…Because Brain Pickings is simply a record of my own curiosity, of my personal journey into what matters in the world and why, it’s hard to quantify how much of my life is “research” – in fact, I feel like all of it is.

…we tend to conflate “research” with search, which is always driven by looking for something you already know you’re interested in; but I think the richest “research” is driven by discovery, that intersection of curiosity and serendipity that lets you expand your intellectual and creative comfort zone beyond what you already knew you were looking for.

…It’s hard to retreat into a quiet corner of your own mind when you feel demanded of. So I tend to write later in the day now, often well into the night, when email is quiet. The dark, too, is somehow grounding – I’ve always found lucubrating strangely meditative, like a bubble of light that envelops you and silences the rest of the world.

[Creativity is] the ability to connect the seemingly unconnected and meld existing knowledge into new insight about some element of how the world works. That’s practical creativity. Then there’s moral creativity: To apply that skill towards some kind of wisdom on how the world ought to work.

What makes a writer great?

The same thing that makes a human great: Curiosity without ego, and generosity of spirit. No amount of talent is worth anything without kindness.

…There’s nothing like being tossed into necessity to help you figure out who you are and what matters most in life – necessity may be the mother of invention, but it’s even more so the fairy godmother of self-invention.

What do you see as your greatest success in life?

Not having relinquished the hope that happiness is possible. Waking up excited to do what I do. Going to bed satisfied with what I have done.

What’s your biggest aggravation at the moment…?

We’ve created a culture that fetishises the new(s), and we forget the wealth of human knowledge, wisdom, and transcendence that lives in the annals of what we call “history” – art, literature, philosophy, and so many things that are both timeless and incredibly timely.

Our presentism bias – anchored in the belief that if it isn’t at the top of Google, it doesn’t matter, and if it isn’t Googleable at all, it doesn’t exist – perpetuates our arrogance that no one has ever grappled with the issues we’re grappling with. Which of course is tragically untrue.

photo credit: Johan Rd via photopin cc

photo credit: Johan Rd via photopin cc

Robert Kegan: The Further Reaches of Adult Development: Thoughts on the ‘Self-Transforming Mind

old lady young optical illusion

Can you see both the older woman looking down and the younger woman looking to left in this picture?

Robert Kegan’s theory of adult meaning-making has influenced theory and practice internationally across multiple disciplines. In a special RSA event, he considers: is it really possible to grow beyond the psychological independence of the “self-authoring mind,” so often seen as the zenith of adult development?

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Intelligence, Beyond Raw Brainpower

by Annie Murphy Paul

What does it take to think and act in an intelligent way?  Many of us would say it’s simply a matter of raw brainpower…

But there’s much more to the story.  Other factors—like motivation, effective learning and problem-solving strategies, and a well-designed physical and psychological environment in which to do our thinking—also matter, a lot.   As does interpersonal awareness and sensitivity…

Situational factors exert their influence in so many ways, but today, inspired by a recent research finding, I want to focus on one in particular: how a mastery of situation can actually make us smarter as we get older.  In the current issue of the journal Psychological Science, researchers report that older people (over 65) showed less variability in their cognitive performance across 100 days of testing than did younger people aged 20 to 31.

Why?  The older adults’ greater consistency “is due to learned strategies to solve the task, a constantly high motivation level, as well as a balanced daily routine and stable mood,” notes one of the scientists, Florian Schmiedek of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Germany.  A colleague of Schmiedek’s, Axel Börsch-Supan, adds that his research shows that older workers are more productive and reliable, and less likely to make serious errors, than are their younger colleagues.

photo credit: Monster. via photopin cc

photo credit: Monster. via photopin cc

There are other ways that our mental powers grow as we get older.  It’s true that as we age, the brain’s processing speed begins to slow, and memory may sometimes slip, says Margaret Gatz, PhD, professor of psychology, gerontology, and preventive medicine at the University of Southern California.  But researchers have recently made some surprising discoveries about what’s really happening in our heads as we age:  “We are identifying ways in which older minds hold their own against younger ones and even surpass them,” Gatz says. Here, ten such ways:

1. Your hemispheres sync up.

…Brain scans show that while young people often use only one side for a specific task, middle-aged and older adults are more likely to activate both hemispheres at once—a pattern known as bilateralization.  By involving both sides, older people bring the full spectrum of the brain’s power to bear, allowing them to make more fruitful connections among the disparate parts of a problem or situation.

2. Your brain never stops growing.

…it’s now clear that we not only hang on to our neurons—we grow new ones, too. Throughout a person’s lifetime, the brain is continually reshaping itself in response to what it learns. Even something as silly as a clown trick, like learning to juggle, or learning to play a musical instrument can alter its structure…

3. Your reasoning and problem-solving skills get sharper.

This is evident not only in laboratory studies but also in examinations of choices made in real life. For example, according to a study, …the middle-aged make smarter money decisions than their younger counterparts…

4. You can focus on the upside.

Our outlook grows rosier as we get older, as demonstrated by a study published last year in the journal Psychology and Aging. …With the passage of time, the study subjects reported more positive well-being and greater emotional stability…

5. Your people skills are constantly improving.

Mature adults understand themselves well—and they also understand other people, research shows. In a study published in the Journal of Gerontology in 2007, older and younger adults were presented with a series of hypothetical everyday problems …The older adults were especially good at solving such interpersonal dilemmas—often by choosing a path that skirted direct conflict. “As we get older, our social intelligence keeps expanding,” explains Gatz. “We get better at sizing up people, at understanding how relationships work—and at not getting into an argument unless we mean to.”

6. Your priorities become clearer.

“Studies of the way adults perceive time suggest that we become increasingly aware that our years on this Earth are limited,” notes Michael Marsiske, PhD, …an expert on aging.  “This awareness helps explain the choices that older adults tend to make: to spend time with a smaller, tighter circle of friends and family, to pay more attention to good news than to bad news, and to seek out positive encounters and avoid negative ones.”

 7. You’re always adding to your knowledge and abilities.

There are some kinds of information we learn and never forget.  Take vocabulary:  Studies show that we keep adding new words to our repertoire as we age, giving us ever richer and more subtle ways to express ourselves.  Job-related knowledge also continues to accumulate, meaning we keep getting better and better at what we do.

8. You can see the big picture.

As we age, we’re better able to take the measure of a situation.  An experiment published in the journal Neuron in 2005 provided a very literal demonstration of this ability: Psychologist Allison Sekuler, …found that young brains seem to be better at focusing on details to the exclusion of their surroundings, and more mature brains are able to take in the whole scene.

 9. You gain control of your emotions.

While young people ride a roller coaster of happiness and sadness, excitement and disappointment, older adults are able to maintain a more even keel.  In a study published in 2009, psychologist Vasiliki Orgeta …concluded that older adults (between ages 61 and 81) had more clarity about their feelings, made better use of strategies to regulate their emotions, and had a higher degree of control over their emotional impulses.

 10. You become an instant expert, even in new situations.

As the brain encounters new experiences, it develops schemas—mental frameworks that allow us to recognize and respond to similar circumstances when we come upon them again.  By midlife we’ve accumulated a stockpile of schemas that help give us our bearings even in novel situations.  We just know what to do—and this sense of effortless mastery flows from the reservoir of experience we’ve built up over time.  In fact, we have a name for this ability to draw on deep knowledge of the past while accommodating what comes up in the present: It’s called wisdom.

Link to read the article in full

Daniel Kahneman on Thinking Fast vs. Thinking Slow

Here is the link to watch a set of video interviews with Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman on Making Smarter Decisions in this Inc. posting:

The bestselling author of Thinking, Fast and Slow talks about overcoming the cognitive biases and errors that can affect decision-making…

photo credit: khalid almasoud via photopin cc

photo credit: khalid almasoud via photopin cc

Seven Steps to Being Zen at Work

VICTORIA CRAW BUSINESS EDITOR

SLOW down. Do less. You’ll actually be more productive.

That’s the advice of cognitive psychologist Dr Stephen McKenzie, who said the way most of us spend our workdays amid a barrage of emails, tweets and meetings, while wolfing down lunch in front of a screen is leading to an “epidemic of mindlessness” that is ruining our ability to think.

“We rush around often from one mistake to another. Mindfulness is about connecting with one thing at a time, rather than doing six things at once,” he said.

Dr Mckenzie advocates being mindful at work – a concept that involves giving your full attention to the task at hand before moving on to the next thing.

“It’s very simple. It’s being able to give our full attention to what we want to give it to rather than being distracted by our thoughts …. It’s being connected with reality,” he said.

Below are Dr McKenzie’s seven tips (the optimum number for your brain to remember) which if practised daily, should have you shredding that to-do list in no time.

1. Know your limits

One of the main reasons people can get stressed at work is trying to be all things to all people…

2. Treat each day as new

Dr McKenzie said the first few seconds after you wake up each morning, before you smash your alarm clock and bury your head under the pillow, is the optimum state you should try and hold on to throughout the day.

A good tip is to try and treat colleagues as if you’re meeting them for the first time – without any preconceived ideas about who is difficult to work with or what might cause a problem…

3. Think about what you’re doing

…”We mistake busyness for productivity,” Dr McKenzie said. “We think if we have all these things happening we’ll be more productive but we’re actually doing less. The multi-tasking that’s become fashionable is about doing lots of things badly rather than one thing well.”

He said it’s crucial to focus on the task in front of you, whether it’s eating your breakfast or typing an email…

4. Take your time

Although it might seem like you’re working slower, taking your time to pause between activities is the perfect chance to mentally switch gears and make things more productive in the long run.

Dr McKenzie said when people are stressed they tend to have “a shallow way of perceiving things”, which doesn’t help when it comes to tasks that require creative thinking or deep thought.

He said the best thing to do is break between jobs, whether it’s to get a drink, take a walk or a few deep breaths to shake out the cobwebs…

5. Do something for someone else

“Service is almost as unfashionable these days as lard, but if we do things for others it means that we’re expanding our personal lives,” Dr McKenzie said. Listening to other people’s ideas, rather than telling them what they want to hear can also be a great way to build better relationships with colleagues…

6. Question your reasons for doing things

…it’s a good idea every now and then to challenge your own beliefs in order to understand other perspectives.

“Try starting the day practising being reasonable rather than reactive, and a great way to start this is by really tuning into the people or whomever who we start the day with – this will help us realise that life is more reasonable when we’re mindful enough to realise that people have reasons for what they do.”

7. Have a sense of wonder

While years working in a corporate environment is enough to kill the sense of childlike wonder in most workers, Dr McKenzie said remembering to smell the roses will help improve productivity.

…Three-year-olds are naturally mindful because they aren’t jaded by life, and we can all remember and therefore return to this state of full aliveness, simply by fully connecting with what is,” he said.

Here is the link to read this article in full

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

In Their Words: Michael Corballis & Mind Wandering

By 

…The hippocampus is also a cognitive map, coding one’s location in space. Spatial mapping is especially critical to London taxi drivers, who must decide the quickest route to a passenger’s destination immediately, without looking at a map, consulting a GPS system, or asking a controller by radio or cellphone. Brain imaging shows their hippocampi to be enlarged relative to those of London bus drivers, who follow fixed routes.

Even rats pass the great hippopotamus test. Recordings from so-called place cells in their hippocampi code where the rat is located in an environment such as a maze. But even when the rat is out of the maze, and either asleep or otherwise motionless, place cells are often active in fast “ripples,” sweeping out trajectories in the maze. These trajectories need not correspond to trajectories the animal actually took while it was in the maze. Sometimes they are the reverse of an actual trajectory, and sometimes they correspond to trajectories the rat never actually took. The rat, it seems, is mind wandering.

Mind wandering in humans, though, no doubt includes elements other than places. We construct episodes that include things, actions, emotions, people—even Jeanie with the light brown hair. We even wander into the minds of others. Mind wandering is the source of stories, imaginary tales of heroism, love, and death. Language itself may have evolved precisely so we could share the wandering of our minds.

This is an extract from the talk, Mind Wandering Corballis gave at Brain Day 2013.

photo credit: Tom Rydquist via photopin cc

photo credit: Tom Rydquist via photopin cc

It’s Not About “Productivity.” It’s About Living Purposefully.

by Sam Spurlin

In the time you’ve read this sentence, your brain has processed about 200 “bits” of information.  Your brain can handle roughly 100 bits of information per second which then become part of your awareness.  Following a conversation between two people takes about that much bandwidth (have you ever noticed how hard it is to follow three or more people talking at the same time?)…

That sounds like a huge number, right? However, we’re talking about the entirety of your experiences as a human being being encapsulated in one simple number. Every emotion, thought, sensation, and conversation you’ll ever have is included in that number and the way you’ve allocated those 150 billion bits of attention over the course of your life will make up the entirety of who you were and what you accomplished.

Suddenly, 150 billion doesn’t seem so big…

For some, productivity is about fiddling with new tools or shaving seconds off an ultimately meaningless task. It can be fun to read about others’ productivity hacks and try them in our own workflows. But really, thinking about productivity means coming back to those 150 billion bits that make up who you are and who you will be.

It becomes less about tips and tricks and more about making sure you’re allocating the most scarce resource in the universe, your attention, in ways that most closely align with who you are and what impact you want to have on the world. It’s about eliminating the unnecessary tasks and demands that are eating away at your 150 billion bits so you can focus on something that helps another person or creates a little more beauty in the world or solves an important problem or makes you feel like you’re on this planet to do something worthwhile.

“Being productive” isn’t about getting more work done. It’s about making sure those 150 billion bits are spent as wisely as possible…

photo credit: Aurimas Adomavicius via photopin cc

photo credit: Aurimas Adomavicius via photopin cc

How Parallel Thinking Helps To Improve Creativity

Deborah Watson-Novacek

When you are asked to present your best thinking hat, do you proceed to inquire: “Which one”?

Then you are by no means an absolute stranger to what is commonly known as the Six Thinking Hats.

This unique technique, popularly used as parallel thinking to improve creativity, was first introduced by Edward de Bono, for initiating and sustaining creative thinking both in individuals as well as groups meetings.

So, are you interested in figuring out how this fancy named Six Thinking Hats technique can be implemented at work? …

When a participant puts on a specific colored hat, they start thinking in a manner that reflects the color represented by that specific hat and acts accordingly.  So, what is it that each one of these colored hats stands for?

White Hat:  This hat stands for information.  It implies that when a participant wears this hat, they start thinking in facts and data terms, which also implies stops thinking at all.  They ‘reflect’ on information only.

Red Hat:  This hat stands for feelings and intuition.  Participants who adorn this hat have to simply keep their mind open and let their feelings freely flow. ..

Black Hat:  This hat stands for caution.  Participants who adorn this hat have to look underneath everything that is discussed.

Yellow Hat:  This hat stands for positivism.  Participants who adorn this hat have to look at the positive side of everything discussed.

Green Hat:  This hat stands for creativity.  Participants who adorn this hat must think creatively as well as innovatively. They have to produce never-before kind of ideas about everything discussed.

Blue Hat:  This hat is used by the facilitator or moderator.  Participants who adorn this hat have to look at the picture as a whole.

Hence, you select the hats which are required for a particular part of your thinking process…

Link to this article in full

photo credit: Paul Mayne via photopin cc

photo credit: Paul Mayne via photopin cc

The Perfect Workspace (According to Science)

by Christian Jarrett

The spaces we occupy shape who we are and how we behave.  This has serious consequences for our psychological well-being and creative performance.  Given that many of us spend years working in the same room, or even at the same desk, it makes sense to organize and optimize that space in the most beneficial ways possible.

…Based on recent psychology and neuroscience findings, here are some simple and effective steps you can take once to improve your productivity for years:

Take ownership of your workspace 

The simple act of making your own decisions about how to organize your workspace has an empowering effect and has been linked with improved productivity.

Craig Knight, Director of the Identity Realization workplace consultancy, showed this in a 2010 study with Alex Haslam involving 47 office workers in London. Those workers given the opportunity to arrange a small office with as many or few plants and pictures as they wanted were up to 32 percent more productive than others not given this control. They also identified more with their employer, a sign of increased commitment to the team effort and increased efficiency…

Choose rounded furniture and arrange it wisely

If you have the luxury of designing your own workspace, consider choosing a layout and furniture that is curved and rounded rather than sharp and straight-edged. Creating this environment has been linked with positive emotions, which is known to be beneficial for creativity and productivity…

This contrast between straight edges and curves also extends to the way we arrange our furniture. Apparently, King Arthur was on to something: sitting in circles provokes a collective mindset, whereas sitting in straight lines triggers feelings of individuality – something worth thinking about at your next meeting if you want to encourage team cohesion…

Take advantage of colour, light and space

…For instance, exposure to both blue and green has been shown to enhance performance on tasks that require generating new ideas. However, the colour red has been linked with superior performance on tasks involving attention to detail. Another study out this year showed that a dimmer environment fostered superior creativity in terms of idea generation, probably because it encourages a feeling of freedom. On the other hand, brighter light levels were more conducive to analytical and evaluative thinking…

Make use of plants and windows

If you only do one thing to optimize your workspace, invest in a green plant or two.  Research has repeatedly shown that the presence of office plants has a range of benefits including helping workers recover from demanding activities and lowering stress levels.  As a bonus, there’s also evidence that plants can reduce office pollution levels.

Another feature of an optimized office is a window with a view, preferably of a natural landscape.  This is because a glance at the hills or a lake recharges your mind.  Obviously a view of nature isn’t possible for many people who work in cities, but even in an urban situation, a view of trees or intricate architecture have both been linked with restorative benefits.  If you can’t negotiate a desk with a view, [a visit to a park] will revitalise your mind and compensate for your lack of a view.

The benefits of a messy desk

There’s a lot of pressure these days to be organized. How are you supposed to get your work done if you can’t even find a clear space on your desk to roll a mouse or place a plant? But new research suggests Einstein may have been onto something when he opined: “If a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign?”

Here’s the link to this article in full

photo credit: Travis Isaacs via photopin cc

photo credit: Travis Isaacs via photopin cc

Dave Coplin: Re-imagining Work: Shifts in the Digital Revolution

Dave Coplin, Chief Envisioning Officer at Microsoft, imagines what might be possible if organisations really began to think differently about the power of technological and social change to transform the way we do business.

photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

Here is an extract from what Coplin says in this talk with the things I would especially highlight:

A study released last year in the U.S. said 71% people are not happy in their work … and technology is a large part of the problem…

The first proposition is that the world around us has completely changed BUT … we’ve reached this place the plateau of mediocrity … You still use a keyboard, you still use a mouse The way you use these devices has not changed in fifty years. You’re still doing email, you still writing work process documents, you’re doing spreadsheets presentations…

If we cannot evolve, if we change the way we think about the jobs we are doing, the tasks that we have, we’re always going to be constrained…

My proposition about consumerisation is that we’re about to enter a second generation that’s not about devices anymore, but about services … this is about changing business processes. We’re already seeing examples … What’s underneath all of this is a genuinely new process of collaboration … When you are using something like Facebook or Twitter you are using a fundamentally different culture of collaboration. You are saying, pretty much everything I do by default is open except for the bits I choose to keep private. Contrast that to the standard of culture inside most organisations. It’s completely inverted: everything I do is closed unless I specifically say I’m going to share this. The change in that is absolutely profound…

We’re in a world where productivity, that thing that we’ve been chasing for hundreds of years, is fast becoming the problem … We spend our days answering email … batting things back and forward. We’ve forgotten that that’s not everything about work … When was the time you actually stopped and to think creatively: ‘how could we do things differently?’ We don’t do that because we’re too busy being busy…

But it doesn’t stop there. In fact really the biggest challenge that we face is more about our office space than it is about the tools that we use within them.. For the average knowledge worker you don’t have to be in a specific place at a specific time… There’a different way where you think of work as an activity rather than a destination… choosing the location of where you want to be. It’s also about you taking control of how you work and how you use the tools that are in front of you… Where we used to talk about the work-life balance and we used to think really binary – I’m at work; I am at home – the reality of today’s society, the reality of what technology affords you the choice of is that you can feather those things. And it’s really up to us as a culture, as a society, to see if we’re up to making that choice… And so based on the tasks I have to do today, where is the best place for me to work…?

And trust is crucial. Trust works on many levels. We found that … the biggest issue of people working outside the office is not between the employer and the employee, it amongst the employees themselves: “I can’t see Dave. I wonder if he’s really working? I wonder how his patio’s coming on.” But we also showed that people who weren’t working in the office, they carried around this sense of guilt: “I’m not in the office. They’re going to be thinking I’m working on my patio.” So they end up over-compensating. They end up sending more emails, making more phone calls in an attempt to be more visible, destroying the advantages of working away from the office. So for most organisations it about this really hard thing. It’s about having the confidence to let go. It’s about empowering the people that you work with the confidence to choose the best place to work, the best tools to use… That’s a really scary place for most organisations to be…

Some ideas to give you some ways to change your thinking about what you do inside your organisation…

I challenge you, like the DVLA. to think what you’ve got in your organisations that you don’t need to do any more…?

The other part of this is trying to get yourself to think really differently about potential outcomes. We’re constrained by our past experience. Everything that happens to us colours what we think about the future, how we think the future’s going to play out. But kids think differently… don’t just get constrained by your past experiences, think about a different world…

Envisioning is crucial because it’s about that human focus, it’s about “there’s a different way that we could do this.” And if you think about that different way, then the technology will follow that goal, rather than it being just this iterative thing of we do the same thing but just slightly better…

The other thing is the arrogance of the present… “why would I ever need more bandwidth than I have now!” … And if you can’t envision any other future world, then you can’t measure the value of any future innovation… You can’t avoid the arrogance of the present, but you can recognise that it will come up and try and think differently about what might happen… We need to think how can we use our technology to get us further…

If we’re going to do this we’ve got to educate people to really think differently about technology, and not just kids, everybody. We need to live in a world that thinks about skills not tools… What we should be doing is teaching people how to communicate properly, and critical thinking…

And we have to remember that the organisation’s role in this…is seeing the big picture… The focus becomes on process itself, we’ve lost touch with the outcomes of the organisation. We forget to take stock, to take a step back and think about what is it that we’re actually trying to do here?…

And that’s the final key…it’s all about us. It’s all about people, it’s about the individual, it’s about being empowered…to think about what is it that I could contribute to my organisation to help them achieve that outcome…

If you do those things then I think you’re in a great place to re-imagine the way your organisation works…

Don’t Do It! App Aims to Help You Make Better Decisions

Even the best leaders make mistakes. Now, there’s a way to prevent bad decisions from happening — via mobile app.

The Management Thinking Mistakes app wants to help decision makers avoid making mistakes in thinking by providing a misconception-debunking tool that can guide them in the right direction.

To help users steer clear of thinking traps, the Management Thinking Mistakes app aims to prevent mistakes before they occur. Using a crowdsourced collection of the most common thinking mistakes, users can learn to recognize common fallacies, biases and effects that can result in poor decision-making. By providing context-specific thinking mistakes, uses are able to find relevant information to help them properly evaluate situations.

“Thinking mistakes are defects in our thinking process that weaken our aim to find the best solutions,” said developers WiB Solutions in a press release. “By learning to recognize common fallacies, biases and effects, we can avoid these mistakes in the context of meetings or decision making. At the same time, we can also learn to recognize the thinking mistakes when used by others.”

The Management Thinking Mistakes app is available to download for free at the Apple App Store. The app will also be used at Harvard University in the fall semester…

The Beauty And Calm Of ‘Thinking In Numbers’

There are numbers all around us. They are in every word we speak or write, and in the passage of time. Everything in our world has a numeric foundation, but most of us don’t see those numbers. It’s different for Daniel Tammet. He’s a savant with synesthesia, a condition that allows him to see beyond simple numerals — he experiences them.

“Every number has its own colour so the number 1 is like a shining light from a lantern. The number two is more like a flowing, darker purple, violet color. Three is green, and after 10 what happens is I see the colours but the individual digits contribute their own colors, so I am seeing a blend of those primary colors. And when I recited the number pi, I would see the colors as a landscape, full of textures and emotions, and it would blend together like a kind of story, or poem, that I could recite to those who were listening to me.”

5,040 “is a highly divisible number. You can take any number of the first digits 2, and 3 and 4 … and so on and 5,040 divides evenly into them. It also divides into 12, and so in Plato’s imagination, the perfect society would divide into 12 … According to this figure, everything would be divided evenly. There would be no war, there would be no discord, and of course this idea is extremely attractively to our ears today. Ears that hear too often news of wars and famine and misery. And, at the same time, I think we’re, all of us, wise enough to realise Plato was perhaps a little bit naive as well … There are things that we cannot calculate … There is always an element of humanity that escapes mathematics, that escapes numbers as well.”

Here is the link to read more of this story and hear the interview with Daniel Tammet talking about how he thinks

Dr Iain McGilchrist on ‘The Divided Brain

Q&A with Iain McGilchrist
by Margaret Emory

How many times have you been told, “Oh you’re such a left-brain person,” meaning you think logically, are good with numbers, very analytical and so on? And upon hearing that summation, you long for the right brain’s creative, intuitive, artistic complements. Why can’t they be part of the equation, you wonder.

We used to believe the two parts of the brain work in harmony, but according to London psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist, there’s a definite shift in our modern culture which favors left-brain dominance—and it’s something we ought to watch out for and correct. In The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World (Yale University Press, 2009), McGilchrist discusses the hemispheres and their different “personalities,” and then shows a sweeping dissertation on the history of Western civilization as seen from the context of the divided brain…

photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar via photopin cc

photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar via photopin cc

I think an aspect of being a conscious being is that you are aware that you can become powerful by manipulation.  Other creatures, of course, are competing and manipulating, but they’re probably not aware of the fact that this is a way of becoming powerful—that it seems to work well for a lot of the things that one does as one grows a civilisation  …One creates these things that seem to make life simpler, easier and better and make you more powerful.  It’s enticing, and you can soon begin to think that everything works like this.  Everything in your world seems to break down into a lot of machines that we’ve created.  

While this is a very interesting way of looking at things, it’s basically a practical tool for getting ahead. It’s not really a very good instrument for … finding out actually what the world is and how we know about it.  It can lead us to narrow down the way we think about things to a merely rationalistic set of propositions, a series of algorithms…

One of the interesting elements that comes out in research into the “personalities” or the “takes” of the two hemispheres is that the left hemisphere thinks it knows it all, and as a result is extremely optimistic.  It overvalues its own ability.  It takes us away from the presence of things in all their rich complexity to a useful representation—that representation is always much simpler.  And an awful lot is lost in it.  

That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes you need to simplify.  For example, if you’re designing a building or if you’re fighting a campaign, you need a map, a scheme.  You don’t really need all the richness of what would be there in the real world.  But I’m afraid that that representation moves into a world where we have the ability constantly to interact with the world only as a representation, over a screen.  Even Facebook and social networking may look like you have suddenly have loads of friends, but what it may actually do is take you away from your real-life friends so that your life is more crowded and there’s less time, actually, to be aware peacefully of the world around you and to interact socially—a word that used to mean “with your fellow creatures.” …

People often ask me, “what can we do about this?”  I think they’re rather hoping I’ll give them a list of bullet points—“The 12 Things You Need”—like a best-selling paperback.  That is really a perfect example of the left hemisphere.  “Okay.  Fix it by having a little plan.  We do this, we do that, and bingo!”  

But in fact, what I have tried to convey throughout the entire book is that the world, as it is, has its own shape, value, meaning and so on, and that we crowd it out with our own plans, thoughts and beliefs, which are going to be narrow.  A wise thing to do would be not to do certain things.  Another theme of my book is that negation is creative.  That by having less of something, more comes into being.  So actually what we need to do is not create a world.  We need to stop doing lots of things and allow the wonderful thing that is already there to evolve, to give it room to grow.  That’s also true of a single human mind…

We are now understanding the benefits of mindfulness, which is officially recommended by the British body NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence).  

The essence of mindfulness is clearing your mind of all the stuff that’s going on in there and stopping you from experiencing life.  You’re so busy feeling bad about the past you can’t change and chasing after a future you can’t predict, instead of actually being alive in the moment.  That is really the essence of mindfulness.  Recent research shows that mindfulness engages wide networks in the right hemisphere, and the EEG studies show that there is a more balancing of the two hemispheres in those who are meditating.  

So I think meditation and not doing things, making space in your life and switching off your machines, being present in the moment and practicing mindfulness would be a way to start…

The cognitive processing model is mechanistic and sees us like a complicated heating system with valves and pumps and thermostats that switch things on and off.  But one of the interesting things about the hemispheres is that the right hemisphere seems to be better able to take into its vision the information that is coming to it from what was always called the lower parts of the brain, the more ancient parts of the brain, and indeed, from the body.

The difficulty with the cognitive model is that we think of the brain as a computer, and we think of memory as something like a data bank.  Memory, of course, is not at all like that.  It’s part of the human’s whole world and is distributed in the body.  In a way, you can say that the very muscles have memory. Memory is not something that is unchanging. It is contextual—and that’s a weakness of it in some ways, but it’s also very much the strength of it.

We now know that even something like the heart actually communicates with the brain and gives as much information back to the brain—in fact, possibly more—than the brain gives to the heart. Anyone who suffers from depression will know that you have this terribly heavy oppressive feeling in the center of your chest.  The things that you feel in your body are of course experienced through the brain, but they then are seen and experienced phenomenologically in the body.  Our bodies and our brains can’t be separated in that way.

So although cognitive science is a very useful thing, I think it ought to learn less from the Cartesian tradition of philosophy and more from the phenomenological tradition of philosophy, particularly from the philosophy of Merleau-Ponty, who is probably the single most important philosopher of the last century for those who are interested in the relationship between mind and the body…

Link to read full article

Happiness At Work Edition #59

For all of these stories and more see our Happiness At Work collection…

Enjoy.

Happiness At Work #58 ~ happiness and balance

Happiness At Work Edition #58

This week’s collection features several stories that consider what being balanced means in our 21st century lives, and how this is changing as we increasingly make choices that favour our happiness over our wealth or power, and how we can learn to think about things in ways that give us a greater sense of balance and resilience and help us to manage difficulty and stress.

Here is the link to this week’s full collection of  stories

Taking the Third Metric Abroad: Redefining Success Goes Global

 writes

…it has become increasingly clear that the current model, in which success is equated with overwork, burnout, sleep deprivation, never seeing your family, being connected through email 24 hours a day and exhaustion, isn’t working. It’s not working for women. It’s not working for men. It’s not working for companies, for any societies in which it’s dominant or for the planet.

At the same time this system is breaking down, there’s a growing awareness – increasingly and overwhelmingly confirmed by scientific evidence – of the profound benefits of using tools like mindfulness and meditation to reduce stress and improve our health and our well-being.

So this is the perfect time to begin to redefine success to be more in line with what actually makes us happy…

photo credit: Sebastian Anthony via photopin cc

photo credit: Sebastian Anthony via photopin cc

Contrary to the stereotype that the British respond to pressure with withering cynicism, a stiff upper lip or an invitation to have some tea and forget about it, stress is having the same effect here as it does back home. Here are just a few examples:

  • Some eight million men, women and children in the UK suffer from anxiety disorders, at a cost of nearly £10 billion per year.
  •  As of May 2012, hospital admissions for stress had risen by 7% in just the last year, to 6,370.
  •   Stress and depression resulted in over 10 million lost workdays last year.
  •   In the same time period, stress was responsible for 40% of all work-related illnesses.
  •   Nearly one in five adults in the UK suffers from anxiety or depression.
  •   The British receive the fewest paid and public holidays in Europe.
  •   From 2009 to 2012, the annual costs to the National Health Service of sleeping pills increased to nearly £50 million.
  •   In 2011, over 45 million prescriptions for antidepressants were given out, up 9%from the year before.
  •   The NHS spent over £270 million for antidepressants in 2011, a 23% increase in one year.

In fact, this epidemic of depression is a global phenomenon…

In the book Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World Mark Williams, Professor of Psychology at Oxford and ordained minister in the Church of England writes:

“This is a book about how you can find peace and contentment in such troubled and frantic times as these. Or rather, this is a book about how you can rediscover them; for there are deep wellsprings of peace and contentment living inside us all, no matter how trapped and distraught we might feel. They’re just waiting to be liberated from the cage.”

Meditation, Williams writes, can have profound effects on virtually every aspect of our health and well-being. It boosts the immune system, increases memory and physical stamina and decreases depression and anxiety.

“You may be astonished,” he writes, “by how much more happiness and joy are attainable with even tiny changes to the way you live your life.” And, yes, meditation takes time, but, as he points out, “mindfulness meditation frees up more time than it takes to carry out the practices.

But mindfulness frees up more than just time.  It frees us from a very limited view of success that defines it in terms of just two metrics: money and power.  It frees us from being in a perpetual and destructive fight-or-flight mode.  What we can find when we step off the hamster wheel is, Williams writes, “the kind of happiness and peace that gets into your bones and promotes a deep-seated authentic love of life, seeping into everything you do and helping you to cope more skillfully with the worst that life throws at you.” …

Europe, like the US, is facing major challenges that our political systems seem unable to deal with at the moment. The Third Metric and redefining success is not a substitute for the accountability and large-scale change that the citizens of both Europe and America deserve. But leaders who are more connected to their own wisdom will be more likely to make better decisions, which, of course, can make a world of difference in individual lives.

Our unsustainable definition of success is a global problem, and it’s going to require a global response. I hope you’ll join the conversation and tell us how you’re redefining success in your own life and in your part of the world.

Here is the link the the full article

In their words: Rasmus Hougaard & Corporate mindfulness – an answer to the realities of today’s fast paced business environment

By 

While you are reading this, you are likely to get distracted by an incoming email, a colleague who needs a word with you, or a phone that is ringing. And according to research, chances are big that your attention will follow the distraction, and you will find yourself caught up in something else other than finishing this article.

If this scenario rings a bell for you, you are part of a modern work-life that is characterized by distractibility, complexity, pressure and information overload.  And the results of this have shown to be decreased performance, well-being and productivity.  This article describes an alternative, an alternative that has been taken in-house by companies like Google, Carlsberg, Sony, Nike and many others.  The approach is often referred to as corporate mindfulness training.

The question is this: how can an ancient method like mindfulness have any benefit in today’s fast paced business environment?  And the answer is found in the change of work-life that has taken place over the past few decades…

Technically, mindfulness is about taking control of our thoughts and being more present with what we are doing.  It entails managing our mind rather than letting our mind manage us. The mind is like a muscle; it can be strengthened and toned and make us more present. And it can be trained to more effectively engage in everyday work activities to be more productive, efficient, collaborative and creative.

Essentially corporate mindfulness training is about developing the mental calm and clarity that enables us to do the right things rather than just doing things.  It is about having the mental space to see clearly what is most important in this moment.  Even in the middle of busy daily work life. These are the words of former Carlsberg CIO: “A mindful organization is an organization where people do the right things. Not just things. It is an organization where people have the mental competence to think clearly, make the right decisions and act accordingly.”

Here is the link to take you to the full article

photo credit: Yug_and_her via photopin cc

photo credit: Yug_and_her via photopin cc

Balancing Act: Do Your Work/Life Choices Add Up To Happiness?

BY CINDY KRISCHER GOODMAN

…If you were to track your time, carefully, for a week, how would you say you spend most of your days and nights?  Are you spending your time in a way that makes you happy?

In our ongoing quest for work/life balance, I often say the elusive “balance” comes from spending more time on what fulfills you rather than trying to maintain equilibrium.  For some, it’s work that makes them happy, for others it’s time with family, friends, or a hobby.

For most people, there’s a gap between where they say they want to spend their time and how they actually spend it…

A few changes in time usage could move you closer to improving happiness.

Get more fulfilment from work.  Understanding how we should be spending our time at work is much more important than people think…and the happiest people at work tend to be those facing the toughest – but most worthwhile – challenges.  “When workers feel like they can make a difference, it leaves them more fulfilled”, says Rosabeth Moss Kanter.

Passion for your job increases happiness, too.  Entrepreneurs spend more time on work-related activities than others.  Those who combine what they do best with what they enjoy most and with what the world needs report a high level of happiness.

Many people view learning a new skill at work as a frustrating task.  But accomplishing personal growth makes people happy. “When someone is moving a project forward, or going to a conference to learn something new, there’s a big time/happiness payoff,” said Gretchen Rubin…

~ Spend more time on leisure, less time on mundane.  Of course, the bills have to be paid, the bathroom cleaned, but are you being strategic with your time?…

Rubin says people often move from activity to activity without really thinking about what they prefer to be doing and with whom.  “Time gets filled up but not with things important to you.”

For most people, physical activity and volunteer work are linked with happiness.  Social connections are big predictors as well.  “The more time that individuals spend on relationships – going to lunch with a co-worker or out to dinner with close friends – the happier they are,” Rubin said.

South Florida executive coach Margarita Plasencia says a first step is figuring out what drives you.  She calls it “centering.”  “If gardening makes you happy, then you know that on Sunday, there’s no question what you are going to do. You make gardening a priority.”

~ Re-assess your spending. With all the advancements we have made, [we] still equate being rich with being happy…

Money can make you happy but it’s the way you spend it that affects happiness.  Rather than buying bigger homes or luxury cars, psychologists found people are most happy when they spend their money on experiences, such as attending a baseball game with friends or taking a much-anticipated trip.

Psychologists also found the value of experiences tends to grow over time, making us happier as we look back on them in our memory, possibly because they tend to bring us closer to other people, whereas material things are more often enjoyed alone.

~ Consider easing up on multi-tasking.  As we try to squeeze more activities into our busy lives, one of our poorest ways to spend time has proved to be multitasking. In the moment, multitasking might make us feel good.  But researchers say we are most happy when we are engaged directly with an activity with a single focus, such as working quietly and alone on a project or having a conversation with someone you know well and not being interrupted by cellphone calls. “That takes discipline, and sometimes people don’t want to engage in it,” Plasencia said.  “They don’t realize they are less happy when they are trying to do everything and not focused on anything.”

~ Ask for flexibility.  An increasing number of workers feel they would be happier with a flexible work schedule or a sense of control over their work day.  Managers are most likely to grant flextime to men in high-status jobs who request it to pursue career-development opportunities, according to a new study by Victoria Brescoll, professor at the Yale School of Management.  Women, regardless of their status within a firm or their reason, are less likely than high-status men to be granted a schedule change.  But that shouldn’t stop you from asking.

Even if you already consider yourself happy, it’s important to revisit your time use now and then and make sure you are making a habit of spending it in ways that lead to maximum fulfilment…

photo credit: Tom Rydquist via photopin cc

photo credit: Tom Rydquist via photopin cc

Empathy: the last big business taboo?

 writes in The Guardian:

Empathy must no longer be perceived as a soft, overtly feminine skill but as a commercial tool that businesses ignore at their peril

…We can see the empathy deficit in the culture of business.  Most corporations have become places where ‘systemisers’ flourish. According to professor Simon Baron-Cohen, these are individuals who excel at logic and analysis but tend to perform worse at empathy skills.  Systemisers are more likely to be male.

Corporations place very little value on the other extreme: the empathisers:  These are people who are good at reading emotions and understanding the dynamics of a situation and they tend to be female.

This imbalance means that most companies are led by people who are bad at tuning into people’s emotions (such as my former manager).  These leaders fail to consider their customers and staff as human beings.

Instead, boards of directors retreat into a parallel universe of numbers and spreadsheets.  It’s far easier for non-empathisers to understand a Powerpoint presentation full of abstract boxes and circles than the human beings who have fears, desires and hopes that need to be understood. In such an organisation, women and empathisers struggle to get their voices heard…

Companies should care about this.  It’s not about fairness – it’s is about profit. Businesses that put empathy and emotional intelligence at their heart outperform their more robotic rivals by 20% according to the Harvard Business Review.  A wide range of businesses, from the insurance sector, cosmetics and even debt collectors have found that increased empathy leads to better results.

Empathy must no longer be perceived as a soft, overtly feminine skill but as a commercial tool that can be learned and deployed in all aspects of a business if women are to thrive.  Leaders should not forget that behind the numbers, spreadsheets and surnames are people, just like you and me.

Here is the link to this article 

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

What Silicon Valley Developers Can Teach Us About Happiness At Work

By 

“Maintaining a culture of work-life balance requires constant reinforcement. We’re regularly tempted to compromise these values due to business challenges and crises and sometimes new employees eager to demonstrate their passion and commitment by working crazy hours on a key project. But the team invariably self-manages back to our values in simple, but effective ways: people pulling late nights don’t get held up as heroes and they may even get a message from their boss saying that working crazy hours is not a company value.”

So says Donna Wells, CEO of Mindflash, an online employee training firm, who use the increasingly popular Agile

a management strategy devised by Silicon Valley software developers in the late 1990s, deemed the “best-kept management secret on the planet” by Forbes last year — is helping tech companies build more reasonable workloads for their employees while also improving their products…

Here are four Agile principles that anyone can use to boost productivity — and happiness — at work.

Take breaks.

A major focus of the Agile program is creating reasonable workloads that allow employees to take the breaks they need to fuel productivity, health and well-being

“It really forces a discipline that we all work within our capacity,” she says. “Ultimately, in the long-term, you’re much less productive … if you try to run sprint and run ‘death marches’ than if you have a predictable pace that’s actually sustainable.”

Focus on what you enjoy and what you’re good at.

The Agile method can boost happiness and productivity by allowing individuals to do the work they care about. Teams are self-managed, and they divide the workload so that employees can focus on what they do best and derive the most enjoyment out of. According to a 2011 Society for Human Resource Management survey, 62 percent of employees said that the opportunity to use their skills and abilities was an important contributor to job satisfaction…

Eliminate unnecessary work.

Simplicity (i.e. eliminating work that doesn’t need to be done) is one of the foundational principles of Agile, which strives to allow employees to spend the majority of their day on work that actually benefits the customer, rather than work that satisfies administrative or bureaucratic needs.

Giff Constable, Managing Director of Neo, a global software development consulting company based in New York, has seen the program have a humanising effect, eliminating needless work and documentation so that team members can focus on more productive tasks.

“Agile broaches the question of, ‘Are we working on the right things?'” Constable tells The Huffington Post. “You’re not a drone on a factory line. You can actually use your brain, you can ask questions, you can be creative … It’s really empowering, and it can make the job a lot more fun.”

photo credit: ViaMoi via photopin cc

photo credit: ViaMoi via photopin cc

Take time to reflect.

…Research has shown reflection to be crucial to effective learning, particularly in the workplace. “It’s very important for clearing the air and setting us up for success during the next sprint of work,” Wells says.

Communicate face-to-face.

Agile can also boost satisfaction at work by fostering social connections. The Agile principles stress the importance of cutting back on email and increasing the amount of in-person brainstorming and problem-solving among teams, according to Constable.

Extensive research backs up the idea that employees with strong relationships at work are happier, feel more passionate about their work and more connected to their employers, and are less likely to quit their jobs. A 1995 University of Georgia study even found that the mere opportunity for friendship could increase job satisfaction and organisational effectiveness.

“To work lean and agile, you stop focusing so much on documentation and you rely much more on constant communication. Not meetings, but lots of little touch points,” Constable says. “That in itself is humanising — you are freed from the drudgery of documentation and can instead talk to real humans and solve problems together.”

Here is the link to read this article in full

photo credit: jenny downing via photopin cc

photo credit: jenny downing via photopin cc

How Brain-Science Can Help You Reduce Stress

by Bruna Martinuzzi

…Unmanaged anxiety can become an insidious energy drain.  As author Arthur Somers Roche put it, “Anxiety is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.”  While no one is immune to the ills of prolonged anxiety, entrepreneurs in particular can be vulnerable because of lifestyle changes that are inherent when striking out on one’s own.  The well-known Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale measures stressful life changes.  A few of these relate directly to the experiences of entrepreneurs.  They are: a major business readjustment; a change in financial state (a lot worse off or a lot better off); a change to a different type of work; taking on a large mortgage or loan; a change in work responsibilities; outstanding personal achievement, and a change in work hours or conditions…

Here are 8 simple things you can start doing today to lead a less stressful life, based on science-backed remedies proven to help diminish anxiety:

  1. Digital Abstinence … Being addicted to the Internet may well be the same as being addicted to cocaine.  There’s no doubt that information overload, the wide array of technology gadgets in our life and involvement with social media fuels some anxiety as we try to keep up with the digital barrage… Self-awareness precedes self-management.  Know when to unplug.
  2. A Solution In Your Fridge … Researchers at UCLA found that eating probiotic yogurt twice a day can reduce anxiety and stress by changing the way our brain responds to the environment.  the gut–brain connection is a two-way street.”  Adding probiotic yogurt as one simple change in your diet may be of help in managing anxiety.
  3. Take Your Vitamins … vitamin and mineral supplements can enhance mental energy and well-being for those prone to anxiety.  If your diet is not optimal, supplementation can play a role in lowering your anxiety.
  4. A Volitional Act … An extraordinary tool at our disposal all day long is where we choose to focus our attention.  We can focus on things that impact our brains in a positive way, or on self-criticism and senseless worry… Mindfulness, as Hanson reports, has been shown to thicken cortical layers in regions of the brain that control attention so we get better at attention itself; it also increases activation of a region of the prefrontal cortex, which helps control and reduce negative emotions that can cause anxiety.
  5. A Stable Bridge … There is a wide body of research that shows the most important influence in our long-term health and well-being is the quality of our personal relationships and social support… Work on fortifying the bridge between you and others so you can strengthen your ability to manage anxiety.
  6. A Readily Available Shot of Dopamine … Several studies show that listening to music is an effective antidote to anxiety… Listening to music you enjoy gives you a shot of dopamine, the feel-good chemical. When dealing with anxiety, calm, slow and gentle music has been shown to have the most positive result.
  7. What 7 Minutes Can Do For You … Exercise rewires the brain so anxiety is less likely to interfere with normal function — donning your sneakers and hitting the pavement can go a long way toward calming anxiety.  No time to exercise?  Consider the Scientific 7-Minute Workout, which is a set of just 12 exercises involving only a chair, a wall and your body weight.  It fulfills the latest requirements of high-intensity effort…
  8. What Tibetan Monks Have Known All Along … Scientists and Zen aficionados have long known that meditation reduces anxiety, but it’s only recently that brain research proves how this happens…”Just a few minutes of mindfulness meditation,” says Fadel Zeidan, lead author of the study, “can help reduce normal everyday anxiety.”Researchers found that meditation reduced anxiety by as much as 39 percent. Two quick online meditation videos to help you get started are One Minute meditation by Point of Focus, and this three-minute meditation by Dr. Susan Taylor.

Ultimately, the best way to deal with anxiety is to understand that it’s a normal part of being human…

Here is the link to this article in full

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

How To Stay Calm In A Crisis

BY 

When a crisis hits your business, you have to put aside fear, anger, and anxiety to tackle it with level-headed leadership.  That’s a tall order when the stakes are high.  But learning to stay calm in a crisis will inspire confidence among your employees and empower you to find effective solutions quickly.

In stressful times, most people either let negative feelings spiral out of control or push them under the rug, but neither method works. “The worst thing you can do is suppress your feelings,” says Allison Troy, a psychologist at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, Pa. who studies emotion regulation.

Still, that doesn’t mean you should let them get the best of you.  Strong leaders acknowledge their feelings and manage them without losing sight of what’s most important — fixing the problem, fast.

To stay calm in a crisis and lead your team through the fire, try these three strategies:

1. Look at the problem like an outsider…

2. Remember past obstacles you overcame…

3. Take action…

Here is the link to this article

photo credit: Dru! via photopin cc

photo credit: Dru! via photopin cc

Love Your Work, Or Sing The Dinosaur Blues

Back from this year’s World Domination Summit, Jonathan Feldman ponders why finding work happiness – a prerequisite for innovation – is so dang hard.

…I’ve said in the past that if you aren’t happy at work, or if you disrespect the stupid stuff that’s going on at work, you need to jump before you get pushed.

Yet, it is incredibly difficult to do. One of the most touching presentations at WDS was by Tess Vigeland, the host of “Marketplace Money,” who quit her “dream job” at the height of her success, with 9 million listeners every week.  While she was circumspect about the reasons, it clearly had to do with happiness at work.  After a pivotal unhappy event that she didn’t share, she says she simply couldn’t do it anymore. In her words, she “jumped without a net,” and “what’s amazing about a leap of faith is how everyone around you is so sure that it’s going to work out … and deep down, you’re pretty sure it won’t.”  Far from telling everyone “hey, you need to do this,” she related the true difficulty of jumping out of a bad situation.  And most would think that she’s got the visibility and career assets as a well-known NPR host to transition without much of a struggle.  She’s struggling.

What I’m also supposed to tell you is what a great learning journey it has been.  The truth is it has been terrifying, awful and heartbreaking.  This has made me doubt my decision-making ability, made me wonder whether I’m in a loop of self-destruction.  This has made me wonder if everyone who has admired my accomplishments, or who has told me that I’m remarkable was just being nice.

The tragedy here is why someone who clearly is so good at her job couldn’t be happy in her work.  I’m guessing it was the usual large-organisation stuff that makes seven out of 10 of us disengage at work…

…Gretchen Rubin says that negative emotions are a claxon call to wake up and do something.  The blues that I felt on coming back from WDS to “real life” are such a call. It may be true that traditional organizations need to change for us to be able to realize truly great business technology innovations in the same way that smaller startups do. But just as ERP change management techniques recognize that you don’t change organisations, you change individuals, maybe we need to start focusing on individual change — starting with ourselves. None of us is too fossilised to learn something new, but it takes time and attention to form the right habits. What you, me and everybody needs to do is to get off of our duffs and invest in our own happiness at work. Today’s dysfunctional world of work will only change one person at a time.

Here is the link the this article in full

Jason Fried: Why Work Doesn’t Happen At Work

In this TEDTalk Jason Fried talks out all the reasons why we don’t – and can’t – do our best work at work:

Jason Fried has a radical theory of working: that the office isn’t a good place to do it. At TEDxMidwest he lays out the main problems (call them the M&Ms) and offers three suggestions to make work work.

Serenity Now: Apps to Help Manage Your Stress and Mood

Bonnie Cha tried out two free smartphone apps, Senti and Stress Tracker, which are designed to help keep tabs on your mood, and reports here on how she found them, concluding…

It’s easy to get caught up in the chaos of a day, but it’s also okay to take some time for yourself. Whether you need to express how you’re feeling at the moment or need a stress break, Senti and Stress Tracker are easy and free ways to do this.

Dr. Mike Evans: 90:10 The Single Most Important Thing You Can Do For Your Stress

An animated video talk outlining how we can better manage stress by increasing our ability to change how we think about things.

Richard Burnett: Mindfulness in Schools: Richard Burnett at TEDxWhitechapel

Stop. Breathe. Pay attention. “Our mental health and well-being are profoundly affected by where and how we place our attention“. In this enlightening talk, Richard guides through a short mindfulness meditation, and shares his experience of teaching mindfulness in schools. He reveals some of the amazing benefits being mindful can bring to the classroom and inspires the audience with simple ways to bring more awareness to how we respond to our everyday experiences.

Richard Burnett is co-founder of the Mindfulness in Schools Project. With Chris Cullen and Chris O’Neill, Richard wrote the highly-acclaimed 9 week mindfulness course, .b (pronounced dot-b), designed to engage adolescents in the classroom. He is a teacher and Housemaster at Tonbridge School, the first school in the UK to put mindfulness on the curriculum, an event covered by press, TV and radio in early 2010. Since then, thousands of young people have been taught .b in a wide range of educational contexts, from independent girls’ schools like St Pauls to Young People’s Support Services for those excluded from school. .b is now being taught in the UK, USA, Germany, France, Finland, Denmark, Holland and Thailand.

photo credit: HckySo via photopin cc

photo credit: HckySo via photopin cc

6 Non-Creative Thoughts on Creativity

This is an excellent resume’ of ideas and practical lessons on how to be  – and how to enjoy being – more creative…

One of the cool things about creativity is that every leader, every employee, and indeed every organization has the potential to be creative and likely already is to at least some degree.

But if all this is true, why haven’t “we” — and by “we” I mean the biz world at large and our respective workplaces specifically — got this thing down yet? Here are at least a few reasons that come to mind off the top of my head, as well as considerations for helping us think through what creativity is and isn’t.

Follow this link to explore these ideas

How (And Why) To Stay Positive

by Travis Bradberry

When faced with setbacks and challenges, we’ve all received the well-meaning advice to “stay positive.”  The greater the challenge, the more this glass-half-full wisdom can come across as Pollyannaish and unrealistic.  It’s hard to find the motivation to focus on the positive when positivity seems like nothing more than wishful thinking…

Pessimism is trouble because it’s bad for your health.  Numerous studies have shown that optimists are physically and psychologically healthier than pessimists.  Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania has conducted extensive research on the topic, and often explores an important distinction — whether people consider their failures the product of personal deficits beyond their control or mistakes they can fix with effort.  Seligman finds much higher rates of depression in people who pessimistically attribute their failures to personal deficits.  Optimists, however, treat failure as a learning experience and believe they can do better in the future.

Keeping a positive attitude isn’t just good for your health.  Martin Seligman has also studied the connection between positivity and performance.  In one study in particular, he measured the degree to which insurance salespeople were optimistic or pessimistic in their work, including whether they attributed failed sales to personal deficits beyond their control or circumstances they could improve with effort.  Optimistic salespeople sold 37% more policies than pessimists, who were twice as likely to leave the company during their first year of employment.

Seligman has studied positivity more than anyone, and he believes in the ability to turn pessimistic thoughts and tendencies around with simple effort and know-how.  But Seligman doesn’t just believe this.  His research shows that people can transform a tendency toward pessimistic thinking into positive thinking through simple techniques that create lasting changes in behaviour long after they are discovered.

Your brain just needs a little help to defeat its negative inner voice.  To that end, I’ve provided two simple steps for you to follow that will begin training your brain to focus on the positive.

Step 1. Separate Fact from Fiction…

Step 2. Identify a Positive…

photo credit: Moe M via photopin cc

photo credit: Moe M via photopin cc

How Courageous Leaders Address Fear In The Workplace

Tanveer Naseer writes…

In the face of continual change and uncertainty in the global economy – not to mention the increasingly myopic focus on short-term gains at the expense of understanding the long-term context – fear in the workplace has become a long-term affliction as evidenced in study after study showing increasing levels of stress paired with falling engagement levels in today’s work environments.

Not surprisingly, such conditions naturally lead to calls for courageous leaders to step forward to help guide us through the storm and back into calmer waters. Unfortunately, when it comes to courage in leadership, we often have a wrong impression of what that means.

When it comes to courageous leadership, the image that often comes to mind is of a leader who is not just assertive in the face of uncertainty, but who also exudes a sense of fearlessness regarding the situation before them. And yet, the reality is that courage in leadership is not about the absence of fear. Rather, it’s about learning to manage one’s fear in order to do the work and make the decisions that need to be made…

1. Identify and label negative thoughts that weigh you down
When it comes to managing fear, the first thing we need to recognize is that a key driver behind our fears is derived from our own perceptions and with it, the expectations we consciously or unconsciously create in our minds…

2. Reframe the situation by finding out what’s really going on
Research has shown that our brain operates like a predicting machine – it likes to decipher various bits of information to create patterns in order to anticipate what’s next, something that’s becoming more difficult to do in this increasingly complex and faster-paced global market. Add to this how our own biases and beliefs serve to create the framework within which we interpret a situation and we can see how easy it is to feel disconnected or wrongly assess the realities of a given situation…

3. Seek out opportunities to gain new skills and understandings
One of the core psychological needs we all share is competence – not just in the traditional sense of being able to do our jobs well, but also in the context of being challenged to stretch our existing competencies and grow new ones…

4. Focus on what’s in your control to manage
The last step we need to take is to let go of those variables for which we have no control over. As easy as this may sound, this is often the biggest hurdle for leaders to overcome, especially if they confuse their authority with being in control…

Here is the link to this article in full

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

Here is the link to this week’s Happiness At Work Edition #58 where you can find all of these stories and many more.

We hope you enjoy what you find…