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.
Arianna Huffington 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…
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.
In their words: Rasmus Hougaard & Corporate mindfulness – an answer to the realities of today’s fast paced business environment
By Kathy Graham
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.”
…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…
Belinda Parmar 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.
“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.
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.”
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.
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.”
…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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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…
- 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…
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…
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.
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.
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.
An animated video talk outlining how we can better manage stress by increasing our ability to change how we think about things.
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.
This is an excellent resume’ of ideas and practical lessons on how to be – and how to enjoy being – more creative…
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.
How (And Why) To Stay Positive
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…
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 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…