More and more research is coming through that underscores the potency and critical importance of how we think to our happiness, our health and wellbeing, our resilience, our relationships, and even our success and achievements.
how we choose to think about things affects what we go on to think,
and therefore feel,
and therefore do,
and therefore experience,
and therefore go on to feel and think next…
This idea is central to Shawn Achor’s new book, Before Happiness: Five Actionable Strategies to Create a Positive Path to Success, which I have started reading with huge enjoyment this week.
Achor is one of our favourite happiness at work experts, and we already use the research findings and guidelines from his first book, The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles Of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work, in our training. And, to our great delight because we use maps and map making a lot in our training, in his new book, Achor has made a model using the metaphors from cartography and mountain climbing.
This new book is based on Achor’s last five years of research and inquiry, not just into flourishing organisations and with people who are already achieving high levels of success, but also with people around the world who are living in extremely hard and unhappy circumstances.
Here is an extract from the Introduction to this new book, starting with Achor taking up the question that repeatedly surfaces in considerations about the power of our thinking to help us to overcome the difficulties of our situations:
Happiness leads to success, true, but what gives someone – especially someone facing obstacles and hardships – the understanding that happiness was possible in the first place?
Why did achievement and happiness seem like a possibility to one person but impossible to someone else in the same position or situation? …
The reason some people were thriving while others – people in the exact same situation – were stuck in hopelessness was that they were literally living in different realities. Some were living in a reality in which happiness and success seemed possible, despite the obstacles. Others were living in a “reality” where it was not…
My research over the last five years, coupled with other amazing research emerging from positive psychology labs all over the globe, helped me understand what I had been missing: that before happiness and success comes your perception of your world.
So before we can be happy and successful, we need to create a positive reality that allows us to see the possibility for both…
Of course, there are certain objective facts we must accept about our lives… But how we choose to look at those objective facts is in our minds. And only when we choose to believe that we live in a world where challenges can be overcome, our behaviour matters, and change is possible can we summon all our drive, energy and emotional and intellectual resources to make that change happen.
When I talk about a positive reality, I’m not talking about one in which good things magically happen by the sheer power of positive thinking; I’m talking about one in which you can summon all your cognitive, intellectual, and emotional resources to create positive change, because you believe that true change is possible.
How Positive Realities Help Us Scale Mountains
Research has revealed that when we’re in a negative mindset, all loads feel heavier, all obstacles loom bigger, all mountains seem less surmountable. This is especially true in the workplace, and it’s why, when we look at stress, workload and competition from a negative mindset, our performance suffers…
We are now learning how to change energy patterns in our brains to create a more positive interpretation of the world around us.
This is key, because the better your brain is at using its energy to focus on the positives, the greater your chances at success…
The consistent ability to create this kind of reality is called positive genius, and it turns out to be the greatest precursor of success, performance, and even happiness. In this book, the five practical, research-based steps to help you raise your levels of positive genius, and, in turn, your rates of success, are …
1. Reality Architecture: Choosing the Most Valuable Reality
- Recognise the existence of multiple realities by simply changing the details your brain chooses to focus on.
- See a greater range of realities by training your brain to see vantage points and see the world from a broader perspective.
- Select the most valuable reality that is both positive and true, using a simple formula called the positive ratio.
2. Mental Cartography: Mapping Paths to Success
- Identity and set better goals by highlighting markers of meaning in your life and learning to distinguish true areas of meaning from decoys and mental hijackers.
- Chart more direct routes to your goals by reorienting your mental maps around those markers of meaning.
- Keep yourself squarely on the path by mapping success routes before escape routes.
3. The X-Spot: Using Success Accelerants
- Zoom in on the target (proximity). Make your goal seem closer by building in a head start, setting incremental sub-goals, and highlighting progress to date instead of what is left to accomplish.
- Magnify the target size (likelihood of success). Increase the perceived likelihood of hitting your target by creating ‘champion moments’ that remind you of when you have been successful in similar situations, decreasing the perceived number of your competitors, and choosing goals that you have a perceived 70% chance of reaching.
- Recalculate thrust (energy required). Preserve and channel your cognitive resources better, think about tasks in terms of objective units rather than in terms of the effort involved, and decrease your focus on things you worry about or fear.
4. Noise Cancelling: Boosting the Signal by Eliminating the Noise
- Learn to cancel out any negative or useless information (noise) that distracts you from the true and reliable information that helps you reach your fullest potential (signal).
- Hone your ability to distinguish the noise from the signal by learning the four simple criteria of noise.
- Improve your ability to hear the signal through simple strategies for reducing the overall volume of noise by just 5%.
- Learn to actively cancel out internal noise of worry, fear, anxiety, and pessimism by emitting three simple waves of positive energy.
5. Positive Inception: Transferring Your Reality to Others
- Once you’ve created a positive reality for yourself, learn how to transfer it to others and reap the exponential benefits of your collective intelligences.
- Franchise success by creating simple, easy-to-replicate positive patterns and habits and helping them spread.
- Wield more positive influence and increase the likelihood of your reality being adopted by taking the ‘power lead’ in a conversation and rewriting the social script.
- Plant meaning in others’ realities by appealing to emotion and crafting shared, meaningful narratives.
- Create a renewable, sustainable source of positive energy that motivates, energise and summons the collective multiple intelligences of those around you.
Once you master these five skills you will see the difference in virtually every professional and personal realm. You’ll be more energised, more motivated, more driven and more productive. Your ideas will be more creative and innovative and will yield better results. You’ll suddenly start seeing new routes around obstacles and faster paths to achievement. Instead of being crippled by stress and adversity, you’ll be able to turn them into opportunities for growth. And once you master the final skill, positive inception, you’ll be able to refract the light of your positive genius on your co-workers, clients, family members and others around you…
(from the Introduction to Before Happiness: Five Actionable Strategies to Create a Positive Path to Success, Shawn Achor, 2013)
by Dan Schawbel
In this interview, Achor talks about some of his research findings on happiness, how optimism and hope come before happiness, how to cancel the noise in your life, and his best advice on how to be happy.
What made you interested in studying happiness in the first place and how does your new book further your research?
I started studying happiness, not initially in psychology, but at the divinity school. Harvard’s program allows you to study combinations of traditions, and I became fascinated by Christian and Buddhist ethics, specifically how the way you view the world changes your actions in it. My new book Before Happiness explores exactly this issue.
Before someone makes changes to their happiness, health or success, they first construct a picture of the world. I argue that your mental reality predicts your ability to create positive change.
Would you say that optimism and hope come before happiness? How do you go about believing that positive change is possible?
Yes, absolutely. But it’s more than just optimism. An optimist or a pessimist would argue whether one object, such as a glass, is half full or half empty. But by shifting one’s reality to include more true facts, you could include the pitcher of water sitting next to the glass. It doesn’t matter if the glass is empty if, in reality, you could fill it. Your brain can process only 40 bits of information per second despite a deluge of 11 million pieces of information coming from all your nerve endings. What your brain attends to becomes your reality. Based on this research, the best way to change your reality is to first realise that there are multiple realities from which you could choose. I could focus on the one failure in front of me, or spend my brain’s resources processing the two new doors of opportunity that have opened.
One reality leads to paralysis, the other to positive change.
The economy has put people out of work and made people depressed. How can we see past all the negative things going on around us and be ready to embrace happiness?
Happiness is easy in good times, but is a huge competitive advantage during difficult times. I spend an entire chapter in Before Happiness describing new research on how we can mentally cancel the noise in our life. Noise is any information, external or internal, which distracts us from making positive change. Sometimes it is too much external noise, like a glut of negative news or reading comments on blogs which are often imbalanced toward the negative. Sometimes it is internal noise, like replaying a doubt such as “I’ll never find a job” or “I’ll never get out of debt so why keep a budget.” To cancel internal noise, one must create an opposite wave, such as thinking about three times you have been successful in the past despite major setbacks.
Happiness is NOT the belief that everything is great, happiness is the belief that change is possible. In Before Happiness I define happiness as “the joy one feels striving for one’s potential.” Small mental victories, especially in a rough economy, led us to a cascade of success based on positive changes.
A positive mindset results in 23% greater energy in the midst of stress, 31% higher productivity, 37% higher levels of sales, 40% higher likelihood to be promoted, and improved our longevity. See the TED talk or my article on the cover of HBR.
The greatest competitive advantage in the modern economy is a positive and engaged brain.
Aren’t some people naturally happy or do they have to find happiness? What happens when certain unexpected situations happen and cause you to be miserable? How do you go back to a “happy state”?
This is where this gets really fascinating. Yes, some people are genetically disposed toward happiness. Yes, some people have childhoods which make it easier for them to choose positive change. But, that is not the end of the story. You will be just your genes and your environment, UNLESS you make conscious positive changes to your mindset and habits. Only 10% of your long term happiness according to researcher
But in the latter case, we have two decades of research showing that even two minutes of a positive habit, such as writing a positive email to someone in your social support group, or meditating, can literally rewire your brain and change your baseline. Your brain will eventually return you to your baseline after a victory or trauma, unless you choose to be more than your genes.
Each of the five steps in Before Happiness is showing how you can walk your baseline up and maintain the higher baseline.
What are your top three tips for getting yourself to a place where you can be happy?
1. Create happiness hygiene. We eat, sleep and brush our teeth everyday, yet we neglect something crucial: priming our brain to positive. Create a two minute daily habit of thinking of 3 new things you are grateful for each day, journaling about a positive experience for two minutes, meditating by watching your breath go in and out, or writing a positive 2 minute email.
2. Use success accelerants. Rats run faster at the end of the maze, and marathoners speed up at 26.1 miles at a place called the X-spot. Coffee cards where you have to get 12 stamps you get two free stamps before then buying 10 cups of coffee accelerates purchasing because your brain sees that you are already 1/6 the way through. Our brain accelerates the closer we perceive success. If you make a checklist of tasks for the day, include several things you have already accomplished. If you are starting a new positive habit, don’t start at zero, include the day or two you have successfully avoided dessert or exercise. Some companies offer 150% commission for the first week of a new sales period to show progress right from the beginning.
3. Don’t wait for happiness. If we raise your success rates, happiness remains the same. Raise happiness levels in the present, find meaning at work, connect to the people around you, perceive stress as enhancing, and your success rates rise dramatically. Happiness at work fuels success.
The 21-Day Kindness Challenge launched on September 11th.
And a collective tidal wave of good that inspired many – including young rapper-activist “Nimo” Patel at the Gandhi Ashram in India. Nimo wasted no time channeling that inspiration into an infectious music video. “Being Kind” was created on super short notice by an intercontinental crew of volunteers working out of their living rooms. It features footage from all over the world and heart-melting appearances by the children Nimo works with in the slums.
Watch, listen, and prepare to smile big at this lyrical reminder that kindness really is “all we can leave behind.”
Girls were left out of the original Millennium Development Goals. The Girl Declaration has been written to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
Bringing together the thinking of 508 girls living in poverty across the globe with the expertise of more than 25 of the world’s leading development organisations, the Girl Declaration is our tool to stop poverty before it starts.
Five hundred and eight adolescent girls living in poverty in 14 countries across four continents were asked what they need to have a chance to reach their potential.
More than 25 of the world’s leading organizations, using their vast years of experience working with girls and the best evidence available, developed this Declaration with girls, for girls and for the world.
Now is the moment. Real things need to change for girls and for the world. Adolescent girls are not part of just one issue, they are key to every sustainable solution.
1. Plan with me, design for me
Use insights directly from girls to sharpen the design, implementation and evaluation of programs and services. Build relationships and social networks with girls so their voices are heard in key institutions.2. Make me visible, make me countCollect, disaggregate and analyze data in all sectors by age and sex and use it to improve programs, influence policy and track progress. Data helps drive smarter, more strategic and targeted investments. At a minimum, analyze data by sex and five-year age segments (10-14, 15-19) to ensure that no girl is left behind. No data revolution will be complete without this.
3. Give me a fair share of the money you spend to fix things because we girls give more back
Allocate dedicated and targeted funding for adolescent girls across program and policy budgets. At a minimum, make budget 7. allocations commensurate with adolescent girls’ needs and potential to drive positive change.
4. Think of me now, because now is when I need you most; and now is when it will make the most difference
Intentionally focus on adolescence (ages 10-19) and invest early, before girls undergo the physical, emotional and social changes associated with puberty. Design policies and programs to ensure adolescence is a healthy and safe transition to adulthood, not a period in which girls are left out.
5. Don’t forget me because I’m too poor, too distant, too silenced for you to know I am here
In the quest for scale, it’s easy to overlook the most marginalised – including adolescent girls in emergency, conflict and post- conflict settings even though reaching them can help end the cycle of conflict. Plan for the most marginalised from the beginning to ensure they aren’t left out at the end.
6. Don’t hold me back
Tackle discriminatory social norms that govern adolescent girls’ daily lives and have significant and enduring consequences. Mobilize communities, families, men and boys to support adolescent girls.
7. Laws should be fair; make and enforce ones that respect and protect mePass laws and ensure accountability to legal policies and frameworks that protect the rights of girls and give them access to justice. At a minimum, governments must meet international obligations and hold those who violate rights of adolescent girls accountable. Laws should be fair; make and enforce ones that respect and protect me Pass laws and ensure accountability to legal policies and frameworks that protect the rights of girls and give them access to justice. At a minimum, governments must meet international obligations and hold those who violate rights of adolescent girls accountable.
‘By simply showing employees videos about the more positive (and again, real) effects of stress on the body, we observed a 23% drop in fatigue and other stress-related symptoms. (headaches, backaches, etc.)… By helping people to see a new but equally true reality in which stress could be motivating and energising, rather than debilitating, we could make that more positive outcome actually become real…’
(from the Introduction to Before Happiness: Five Actionable Strategies to Create a Positive Path to Success, Shawn Achor, 2013)
In this Harvard Business Review article, Shawn Achor writes about this study and what it suggests for training our thinking to become better able to choose and profit from the stress in our lives…
…In order to get companies and employees to take stress seriously, for the past 30 years, most trainers and coaches have highlighted research that shows that stress is the number one health threat in the US (World Health Organization); that 70-90% of doctor visits are due to stress-related issue (American Stress Institute); and that stress is linked to the six leading causes of death (American Psychological Association).
But what if focusing on the negative impact of stress only makes it worse — just like thinking about the side effects of a sleeping pill would keep me up at night? And what would happen if we reframed the way we thought about stress?
To test that question, Yale researcher Alia Crum and I teamed up with senior leaders at UBS to research 380 managers to see if we could turn stress from debilitating to enhancing merely by changing mindset at work.
Think about it: how did you feel after reading the statistics above on stress, health, and death? First, even if you weren’t stressed, stats like these cause you to respond to stress with a “fight or flight” mentality. Stress is portrayed as a threat, so we either need to fight it or flee from it, overactivating our sympathetic nervous system. And second, if you are already feeling stressed, now you have even more reason to feel distressed as you know your stress is literally killing you. (Good luck falling asleep now.)
There is an alternative approach which we found to be much more successful.
Crum and I showed different three-minute videos to two groups of UBS managers. The first group watched a video detailing all the findings about how stress is debilitating. The second group watched a video that talked about scientific findings that stress enhances the human brain and body. The latter information is less well known, but equally true. Stress can cause the human brain to use more of its capabilities, improve memory and intelligence, increase productivity, and even speed recovery from things like knee surgery. Research indicates that stress, even at high levels, creates greater mental toughness, deeper relationships, heightened awareness, new perspectives, a sense of mastery, a greater appreciation for life, a heightened sense of meaning, and strengthened priorities.
The findings of our study were significant: when an individual thought about stress as enhancing, instead of debilitating, they embraced the reality of their current stress level and used it to their advantage. The negative parts of stress (distress) started to diminish, because the fight-or-flight response was not activated, and the individual felt more productive and energetic, as well as reporting significantly fewer physical symptoms associated with distress (such as headaches, backaches, fatigue). In addition, on a scale of 1 to 4, productivity assessment moved from 1.9 to 2.6 — a significant shift. Life satisfaction scores also increased, which in previous studies has been found to be one of the greatest predictors of productivity and happiness at work.
Encouraged by these results, Crum and I then trained 200 managers in a program called “Rethinking Stress,” focusing on how to use current stress to their advantage at work. The process involved three steps: awareness of the stress, determining the meaning behind why you feel stressed, then redirecting the stress response to improve productivity behind that meaning. The effects of this second experiment were even more dramatic. Not only did distress decrease, but the stress these managers experienced actually became more enhancing, raising work effectiveness and improving health.
Our intention is not to make the case that stress is fundamentally enhancing or try to debunk the literature that stress does indeed have deteriorating effects. Rather our intention is to balance out the stress research and to point out that one’s mindset regarding stress may determine which response will be produced.
Stress at work is a reality. And this study does not indicate that someone should actively seek to increase one’s stress load. But, as Patriots head coach Bill Belichick says, “It is what it is.” Some stress is inevitable.
When stress happens, thinking of it as enhancing rather than debilitating can lessen the risk to your health and materially improve your productivity and performance.
Posted by Bea Karnes
BeWell at Stanford University talked with Kim Bullock, MD, clinical associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Stanford School of Medicine, about what stress is really all about and how we can better manage it.
How do you define stress?
…in the modern world, if we are experiencing maladaptive stress or fear in a perfectly safe workplace, we may need to change the way we feel instead of looking for a new job. Unhelpful emotions and behaviours can cause poor decision-making and make stress worse.
What are the most common causes of stress?
The causes of stress are the same as the causes of negative emotions and are multifactorial. Thoughts, emotions, behaviors and physiology are all intimately intertwined and influenced by events and our surroundings.
Negative emotions from thoughts and cognitions:
One of the largest contributors to stress can be our beliefs. Humans are “meaning-making machines.” When we think about the world, we may sometimes create negative interpretations or narratives, which in turn create negative emotions leading to physiological changes, mood changes, and behavioral changes — all of which may influence our environments.
Negative emotions from behaviours:
Overworking and avoiding pleasant activities can also cause negative emotions. Saying yes to every request can cause exhaustion. Avoiding things can cause anxiety. The more anxious we become, the more we avoid the task and the more stressful the task becomes. A good example that everyone can relate to is procrastination: when we procrastinate, a very benign task becomes overwhelming due to the positive feedback loop of anxiety and avoidance behaviors.
Negative emotions from physical status:
Illness or surgery can create increased physiological demands and stress. Or, our roles may require decreased sleep or overworking with not enough rest time or exercise. A new baby, while adorable to admirers, can cause stress to the exhausted new parents, through hormonal physiological changes or sleep deprivation. Poor nutrition or malnutrition can be another cause of stress.
Negative emotions from the environment:
Just as being on the beautiful Stanford campus can make us feel excited and happy, working in a dimly lit and unfriendly office can make us feel depressed and fatigued. Our work environment, the economy, our socio-economic status, level of exposure to sunlight, or our social influence and power are intimately connected to our stress levels. Those that are most disenfranchised or lack power experience much more stress.
Are there everyday skills to help deal with stress?
Yes! (That’s why I love my job.) Relieving the suffering associated with stress and negative emotions is not only possible, but actually fairly straightforward. Although we can’t directly change negative emotions — we feel what we feel — we can change our thoughts, behaviours, physiology, and environment.
Involve yourself in at least 3-4 pleasant activities per day that give you joy or a sense of mastery.
Even the simple things we do every day, such as stopping to talk to a friend for a few minutes, can prove powerful therapy for treating depression. The brain needs pleasure, mastery, novelty and stimulation in order to feel good. When we have increased demands placed on us, or are ill, we often miss out on these vital “feel-good” activities. It is easy to get into a vicious cycle of feeling worse and doing less and feeling worse, which is why it is important to schedule fun and pleasure into your day, every day — a technique called “behavioral activation.”
Spend time with people with whom you have a good relationship.
We release relaxing, pleasant hormones like oxytocin and vasopressin in response to time spent with people we care about. Romantic relationships have even more bang for their buck due to activation of dopamine reward circuits. Interestingly, women release cortisol, a stress-buffering hormone, when they are “madly in love.” So I recommend that when women are stressed they fall madly in love immediately! [just kidding]
Change your emotions by acting the opposite.
In recent clinical research, participants were asked to smile during a stressful task while submerging their hand in ice water for one minute. Those who smiled had lower physiological and subjective measures of distress than a group that did not smile. Smiling, therefore, is not just a result of happiness: smiling actually makes you happy. Similarly, if you are fearful and anxious, acting as if you are not scared can actually help relieve those emotions over time. In psychiatry, we call this exposure therapy. For example, if someone is afraid of public places, exposure therapy would involve sending that individual to public places, often, until the public places are no longer upsetting. When a feeling of fear has changed, we call it desensitization. Disclaimer: This does not work if an emotion is justified. If you continued to visit a lion’s den daily, it’s unlikely your fear would go down over time since it is justifiably a dangerous place. Thus, acting the opposite only works for unjustified or maladaptive emotions.
Develop mindfulness to combat negative thinking, reduce stress, and even alter physiology.
Mindfulness involves the practice of keeping one’s attention on the present moment and without judgment, simply observing. There is no ruminating on the past or tripping about the future. Everything is simply accepted in the present moment, and one is open to all experience without pushing anything away. Mindfulness skills can be developed through meditation, prayer, yoga, or mindfulness courses. Many religious and healing traditions have components of mindfulness. Research studies support the benefits of practicing mindfulness to overall mental health.
Redirect your thinking.
A hallmark of depressive emotion is the feeling that the future is hopeless or that one’s self has no relative value. Redirecting your thoughts toward concepts such as gratitude, compassion, and altruism have been shown to improve emotional states.
In this article that Shawn Achor wrote in the January 2012 Harvard Business Review., he outlines some small practical proven ways we can each make big changes to our thinking and start to increase our orientation towards becoming a positive genius…
Training your brain to be positive is not so different from training your muscles at the gym. Recent research on neuroplasticity—the ability of the brain to change even in adulthood—reveals that as you develop new habits, you rewire the brain.
Engaging in one brief positive exercise every day for as little as three weeks can have a lasting impact, my research suggests. For instance, in December 2008, just before the worst tax season in decades, I worked with tax managers at KPMG in New York and New Jersey to see if I could help them become happier. (I am an optimistic person, clearly.) I asked them to choose one of five activities that correlate with positive change:
- Jot down three things they were grateful for.
- Write a positive message to someone in their social support network.
- Meditate at their desk for two minutes.
- Exercise for 10 minutes.
- Take two minutes to describe in a journal the most meaningful experience of the past 24 hours.
The participants performed their activity every day for three weeks. Several days after the training concluded, we evaluated both the participants and a control group to determine their general sense of well-being. How engaged were they? Were they depressed? On every metric, the experimental group’s scores were significantly higher than the control group’s. When we tested both groups again, four months later, the experimental group still showed significantly higher scores in optimism and life satisfaction. In fact, participants’ mean score on the life satisfaction scale—a metric widely accepted to be one of the greatest predictors of productivity and happiness at work—moved from 22.96 on a 35-point scale before the training to 27.23 four months later, a significant increase.
Just one quick exercise a day kept these tax managers happier for months after the training program had ended.
Happiness had become habitual.
Tom Wootton writes…
The part of our minds that most people identify with is the part that silently talks to us with a running commentary. We listen to it all day long. Let’s call it “The Talker.”
“The Talker” prefers pleasure over pain, happiness over sadness, winning over losing, health over sickness, and any of the other judgments that help us navigate our lives. Although it plays a critical role that we cannot live without, “The Talker” is stuck in the duality that makes us judge one thing better than another. It does not allow us to experience the world without judgment.
The central principle of mindfulness is to look at experiences without judgment. Adherents of mindfulness often speak of the part of our minds that practices mindfulness as “The Watcher.” It lives outside of the duality and sees everything as equally valuable. Mindfulness is a wonderful practice that increases awareness of what is really happening because “The Watcher” does not ignore or accentuate details based on preferences.
…Mindfulness practiced properly does not lead to happiness; it leads to a greater awareness of whatever you are experiencing whether you like it or not.
Mindfulness does not mean we have no preferences or that we make no effort to alleviate pain. “The Watcher” is perfectly capable of watching without judgment while “The Talker” tells us our feelings about things. But, most of us pay attention to “The Talker” and cannot access “The Watcher” as much as we should. Our perceptions are not “full” because we are not mindful of the whole picture that “The Watcher” helps fill out.
This lack of balance is the primary cause of suffering. We get so caught up in the judgments of “The Talker” that we are not content with life the way it is. We resist experiences that could be of great value because our preferences shut us out from perceiving the whole picture. We end up focusing on changing the experiences and missing the insights that are available in them. We also miss out on the bliss that is at the core of every moment.
Many people practice mindfulness or other forms of meditation with the goal of achieving a blissful state. Turning off “The Talker” for a while and focusing on only the present moment produces very pleasurable feelings. They love the state because it is free from the pain and suffering we feel when “The Talker” judges things in a negative light. With much practice, they achieve states that are so pleasurable they call them the ultimate “high.”
But being “high” is not bliss. It is still stuck in contrast consciousness and the world of duality. To feel “high” means you will also feel “low” sometimes. Real bliss is beyond duality, it is in pain just as much as in pleasure. There is no more bliss during “high” times than during low times: Bliss is equally available in every moment…
Mindfulness does not lead to happiness. It sometimes leads to greater experience of the very real pains we all have: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. What mindfulness does lead to, though, is bliss. But in order to feel it you have to know the difference between happiness and bliss.
Every moment of our lives is an opportunity to be in bliss, but we avoid those with the most potential because we think that the difficult experiences need to be removed first. We are closer to experiencing bliss during the difficult times because they challenge us to break from our attachment to happiness.
It is not really bliss if the experience we think is bliss goes away when we are in pain. As bliss is beyond the duality of happy-sad, gain-loss, pleasure-displeasure, and even health-illness; we cannot truly know bliss until we see it in our pain. Once we find bliss in pain, we find it everywhere…
When we are in equanimity (bliss), we make decisions based on wisdom and the equal input from both “The Talker” and “The Watcher.” We are no longer controlled by the likes and dislikes of “The Talker,” although we are informed by its perceptions. We do what is right, not necessarily what satisfies our ego. That is what practicing mindfulness is all about.
Resilience has to do with the capacity to recover, learn, and grow from the experience of adversity.
Resilience isn’t acquired or inherited, but is developed in the process of surviving life’s inevitable and often unanticipated difficulties and coming through these experiences with greater wisdom, compassion, understanding, and maturity. There doesn’t seem to be any way of cultivating these qualities that doesn’t involve at least some degree of stress and difficulty. It’s actually the ordeal itself that calls forth the necessary but often hidden strengths and resources that are needed to meet the challenge of the crisis we are facing.
Relationships provide an abundance of opportunities to cultivate resilience in that they illuminate the places in which we hold invisible attachments, expectations, wounds, fears, unmet needs, and unfulfilled longings.
…But It’s one thing to believe a crisis to be an opportunity and it’s quite another to actually experience it that way. Life challenges are not inherently growth-producing.
What determines whether or not they are is the attitude and inner resources with which we meet those challenges. All crises are potentially transformative in that they contain the seeds of new growth. Yet simply seeing new possibilities is not sufficient to mobilize movement toward their realization. Without motivation, there is no movement. Pain, or the desire to be free of pain, often serves as a great motivator, but not always. Unless there is an ability to be present with the pain, and be informed and opened by it, the healing potential of emotional trauma will be lost in a relentless desire to escape suffering. When we can meet pain with compassion, curiosity, openness, and an intention to learn in a context of genuine support, meaningless suffering can be transformed into a meaningful experience.
It must be stressed, however, that meaningful suffering is still suffering, and even in the best of cases, pain is an unavoidable aspect of any process that involves an unwanted experience of loss of any type. It is the ability to move into and through pain with awareness that can make this process redemptive…
Sometimes temporary pain is the price that we need to pay to open our lives to new possibilities and free ourselves from an unworkable impasse. Every situation is different and must be handled in accordance with its unique circumstances. Although it may sound like a cliché, there is truth to the saying that pain is sometimes the price that we must be willing to pay for growth.
BOBBI EME offers practical ways to Develop Your Resiliency
It happens to most of us every day. And most everyday stressors are things that we can handle fairly easily if we just remember a few simple strategies:
1. Engage your vagus nerve.
The vagus nerve is a cranial nerve that wanders throughout the body. Stimulation of the vagus nerve tends to slow your heart rate and create a calming response.
The easiest way to engage the vagus?
Take a deep breath.
Both moving your diaphragm and the exhalation part of the breath will put your vagus nerve in gear and help reduce your body’s stress response.
2. Release your death grip on things you can’t control.
…When there’s nothing you can do about it, just relax. Being uptight isn’t going to get you to your appointment any faster and it’s likely only doing damage to your body rather than helping you in any way.
It’s hard to release control, but there is a large percentage of our stress that is directly related to trying to control things that we will never have any control over whether it’s traffic, weather, your company’s promotions policy, or someone else’s behavior.
It’s okay to take action when and where it is needed and you can actually have some influence, but learn to be okay with not controlling the things that are out of your control.
3. Remember that it usually works out okay.
…When you start to feel yourself knotting up about an everyday stressor, ask yourself how many times you have experienced this particular stress in the past. Then consider whether the usual outcome (everything works out fine; you forgot that you were even stressed, etc.) is worth all of the stress you’re creating in your mind and body.
4. Distract yourself from the stress.
One of the things that can exacerbate everyday stress is our tendency to focus unblinkingly on the source of our stress.
Find something to break up your focus on the stressor. A great way to do this is through laughing. Find a funny video on YouTube. Think of the joke that always cracks you up no matter how many times you’ve heard it.
Do something different. Start a different project or go for a quick walk around the building. Look up into the sky and remember that the thing that is stressing you out is actually a small, small piece in the overall picture.
5. This, too, shall pass.
All things do.
Just like we can’t control the rising and setting of the sun, but we can certainly count on them, so can we also count on stress rising and falling in life.
But it passes.
And it will pass more quickly if you allow it to.
Stress happens. It’s how you react to it that makes all the difference.
Tess C. Taylor writes…
The key to more happiness at work is changing the way you think and feel about your career. It doesn’t matter if you are the janitor or the president of the company; any job can produce inner happiness. Finding joy in each work day and producing quality work can become the goals of your career. By making the effort to see the positives, you’ll begin to stop dwelling on the negatives. The best part is that with happiness comes higher levels of success.
If you are struggling to find happiness at work, here are five simple ways to start on the right path now.
- Be inspired. Any job can become dull or dreary when you lack creative outlets. As part of your effort to find new inspiration, take the time to experience culture beyond the walls of your cubicle. Visit a local museum, attend a concert or play, spend time participating in new activities to stretch your awareness of the world. These things alone with invigorate you and give you something to share with your co-workers.
- Create the best. If you are less than thrilled about your job, perhaps it’s your performance that needs to change? Complacency at work leads to boredom and mistakes. This results in negative feedback from your boss and thus, a negative attitude forms. Instead, strive to always do your utmost best in every task you complete, reaching new levels of performance.
- Do for others. There are many others in the world who are less than fortunate. A big part of feeling appreciative of the job you hold is by experiencing the lives and circumstances of others. Take the time to volunteer at least once a month at a local soup kitchen, women’s shelter, or another worthy cause. Give something to others in the form of service and see how good it makes you feel. Your perspective and life can change simply through a new altruistic way of life.
- Develop your talent. Chances are you have a number of gifts and abilities that you have not been able to utilize fully at work. It’s no wonder you feel frustrated at times! Honor your talents and find ways to share them, either through personal networks or volunteer opportunities. Get some higher education to develop your talents, either through your own resources or a tuition reimbursement program offered by your employer. You’ll find that this gives you a new positive attitude about your career.
- Seek new challenges. Any job, no matter how simple or complex, can become more satisfying when you challenge yourself. If you find yourself filled with dread over a task, talk to your immediate supervisor and see if you can take on something new to replace it. Seek out new challenges at work that bring you happiness, such as joining the entertainment committee or taking on an assignment with more responsibility.
Nearly every working person has experienced times of frustration and unhappiness at work. However, by being proactive and seeking out happiness, you’ll have the power to choose career satisfaction and achievement – with a new perception.
Jan Hills reports
The summit features neuroscientists describing their latest research together with business people reflecting on the implications for leaders and organisations.
This year the theme was very much about the importance of social connection. Matt Lieberman described several years of research into how the brain reacts in social situations and the implications for business. Some of the highlights are:
“Evolutionarily we need to connect with each other. This is part of our survival mechanism. Think of a baby, unless they came with an ability to entice their parents to care for them they would not survive. Also in working together in groups we can do more than as individuals and connected we are stronger. Basically Maslow got his hierarchy wrong. Social connection is a primary need for humans.
The brain feels social pain and pleasure in the same circuitry as physical pain. We probably underestimate the impact of social pain: social rejection, public challenge, public criticism and the like in organisations all create pain. We would never expect someone to be at their best with a broken arm but do not extend the same consideration when social pain occurs.
We are also able, Matt thinks uniquely so, to read the minds of others. We can mentalize and understand how others may act, their goals and emotions. This has significant implications for business. To date most companies and the HR profession have worked from an economic model: money in exchange for time and skill. If we understand a social model of exchange in business it raises questions about leadership and what makes for success, reward, productivity, engagement and the purpose of our function.
Matt also hinted at new research that suggests we learn much better in social situations and even more if we are learning for the benefit of others. So watch this space for more details.” …
We went on to hear about Jessica Payne’s research into leaders, and others, performance and the importance of sleep, stress and mood. She calls this the MPG (miles per gallon model, works in the UK!). I have written about this research before so will not cover it again here.
David Rock presented a new model he is working on looking at how to accelerate wisdom in leaders. Recognising traditional methods of developing leaders through rotations etc is too slow and often misses what we need from leaders in today’s business as opposed to yesterday’s. The aim was to see what neuroscience can tell us about developing leaders faster.
The model really represents the different processes leaders must employ and the areas of the brain responsible for each. The model covers areas such as:
- Goal attainment; the importance of pragmatism,
- Emotional balance; social and personal regulation
- Tolerance; the importance of social connection
- Self-understanding; through direct experience
- Dealing with ambiguity; fostering insight
Rock said in order to accelerate the development of leaders the neuroscience can point to some interesting methods including mindfulness which has been shown to have a beneficial impact across most of the areas in the model. However, he also observed it is a challenge to get leaders to practice mindfulness so whilst you are building up to persuading your leaders to be more mindful David Rock believes learning about how the brain works can provide some similar benefits as people begin to be more aware of their own responses.
Finally came another fantastic session from Matt Lieberman on decision bias. Unfortunately I can’t say too much about it as we were asked to ‘keep the ideas’ confidential as David Rock is releasing an article soon. Slightly odd! But I don’t really want to be the first to spill the beans except to say that mindfulness seems to play a part again; this time in reducing the tendency to bias. More on that once the cover is off! Whilst you are waiting you can read my HRZone article on Decision Bias in HR
Matt Lieberman is just about to release his book Social and I managed to get an advance copy. If you are interested in this area it may be one to add to the wishlist as the clear take home message from the summit was, social is way more important to us as humans than we have previously acknowledged and organisational performance will benefit from understanding the implications of that. And of course individuals will perform better in an organisation which recognises its importance too. It also provides so much more than an economic model of business in terms of rewards and we as HR professionals are missing opportunities.
Cheerio, elevenses and stiff upper lip are examples of highly British phrases that have no direct Danish equivalent.
But here’s a word that exists only in Danish and not in English: arbejdsglæde.
I know that to most English-speakers this looks like a random jumble of letters you’d get if you tossed a bunch of Scrabble tiles on the floor, but there is meaning behind it.
Arbejde means work and glæde means happiness, so arbejdsglæde is happiness at work. This word also exists in the other Nordic languages (Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish and Icelandic) but not in any other language on the planet. I’ve checked!
For instance, where we Scandinavians have arbejdsglæde, the Japanese instead have Karoshi. Which means “Death from overwork.”
And this is no coincidence; there is a word for it in Danish because Danish workplaces have a long-standing tradition of wanting to make their employees happy. To most Danes, a job isn’t just a way to get paid – we fully expect to enjoy ourselves at work.
Few people in Britain seem to expect to be happy at work. Their focus seems to be on putting in the hours and getting paid. To most Britons, a job is just a job – and work is not compatible with any notions of enjoyment or happiness.
Being miserable at work, or even just being sort of OK but not really at work is no longer enough, for three very specific reasons.
First reason: time. We spend more of our waking hours at work than on anything else. We spend more time at work than with our friends, families and children combined. If you’re unhappy at work, you’ll spend a large part of your life being miserable.
Second reason: health. Hating your job can make you sick. Worst case, it can kill you. Studies show that people who hate theirn jobs run a much higher risk of contracting serious diseases like cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
Third reason: money! Happy companies make more money, because their employees are more creative, productive, service-minded and innovative.
The results of these two different attitudes is clear: While the Danes have the highest levels of happiness at work, Brits are… not happy. Recent studies have shown that up to a third of all Brits actively dislike work, while still more neither like it nor loathe it.
Interestingly, you might think that since Danes like their jobs so much, they’d be working more hours. You’d be wrong. Britons are the workaholics of Europe putting in more hours per worker than even those industrious Germans.
And seeing as Brits work so hard, you’d think they’d get more work done than those annoyingly cheerful Danes. You’d be wrong again. Worker productivity is in fact higher in Denmark and Denmark has the world’s best business climate according to the Economist.
So here’s my challenge to British companies, managers and employees everywhere: Put happiness at work first. Realize once and for all that life’s too short to spend so many hours in jobs that are at best tolerable and at worst hell on earth.
In short – let’s see some more arbejdsglæde in Britain.
As a breast cancer survivor, I am always in search of ways to combat bad fortune. Whether the situation is small or huge, petty or tragic, certain practices can cheer me each and every time. Whether it be a break up, a doctor’s appointment that carries bad news, a friendship floundering or a loved one in trouble, all of the below can help.
1. Walk a dog
Your dog is always there for you, waiting by the door. If you eat, he is there under the table. If you speak, he listens. If you don’t have a dog, borrow one. Go into the woods. Don’t worry, even if you’re not thrilled about mud, bugs, and random sticks you trip over, the dog will be ecstatic. The dog will notice chipmunks, birds in the trees, falling leaves. He will be one with nature. He will follow his nose. Joy will be running through his body. No matter how dejected you are, his joy will be contagious. Before you know it, you will be following his lead, so to speak. You’ll see what he sees: the beauty of the world.
2. Go to a library
Walk through the stacks and feel the quiet. Sit on the floor and turn the pages. Remember the first time you went to a library. Go to the children’s section and look for a book you used to love. If you don’t have a beloved children’s book, “Mary Poppins” is a good place to start. Everything she does is practical and miraculous. She can always save the day. Get a library card and take out a book you’ve always wanted to read but didn’t have time for. Steal an hour every day just to read.
3. Go visit someone much older
If you don’t have a grandmother or an aging uncle or aunt, look up a mentor, or your music teacher, even if you gave up piano or flute lessons years ago. Go to a residence for retirees or a nursing home. Ask questions. Listen to people’s life stories. Amazing what they’ve gone through and what they’ve managed to survive. Write their stories down so you don’t forget them. Each one will tell you a little more about yourself. By the end of your time with someone older, you’ll feel differently about yourself. You’re not just the person with a problem. You are the visitor who wanted to listen and who really heard what someone else had to say.
4. Bake a pie
If you can make a crust, it will take all of your concentration, which will help you stop thinking about your problem for a little while. If piecrust is beyond your culinary talents, you can cheat and buy ready-made. Pie is pie. Cut apples. Look for ripe peaches. Go to a farm stand or the nearest market. Maybe you have a twisted old fruit tree in your backyard. You may remember the pies your grandmother made, the kitchen in the house you grew up, or the scent of pies in a bakery you visited long ago in a small town you passed through Your kitchen will smell like that bakery, like your grandmother’s house. When you’re done you can eat the entire pie or give it to someone you love. It doesn’t matter. The real happiness comes from making something.
5. Look at stars
Sit outside at night without a telephone or a computer. Enjoy the quiet and look up. Maybe you’ll recognize the constellations. Maybe you’ll see Venus. The black night is so vast. There are too many stars to count. You’re still here, despite your troubles. No matter what has happened in the past, or what will transpire in the future, this night is beautiful.
…Our minds wander, on average 50 percent of the time. The exact rate varies enormously. When Harvard researchers had 2,250 people report what they were doing and what they were thinking about at random points throughout their day, the doing-thinking gaps ranged widely.
But the biggest gap was during work: mind-wandering is epidemic on the job. But we can take steps that will help us stay on task more of the time when we need to…
Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence and Focus, on using mindfulness techniques to increase focus.
Some consultants tell me that the number one problem in the workplace today is attention. People are distracted. They’re in a state of what’s called “continuous partial attention” where even at meetings, your body is there but your mind is somewhere else. You have countless gadgets constantly sending you information: texts, phone calls, emails, and reminders. All buzzing and dinging for your attention.
People not being fully present is a big problem because the most effective interactions occur when two people are mutually present to each other. That’s when rapport happens. That’s when chemistry happens. That’s when you’re going to have the most powerful communication and mutual understanding. If your attention is over there, it means you’re not over here with the person you’re with.
Lack of attention also impacts your performance. Your ability to do your job on your own is directly related to how well you can concentrate and focus. If you’re continually distracted, you just can’t get it done, or get it done well.
That’s why one of the most important things to learn in the workplace today is how to focus. Mindfulness meditation techniques can help you strengthen your attention.
I’ve found that if you do these exercises, for example, 10 minutes before you go to work, you are changing your brain. You’re heightening your ability to concentrate hours later. If you can find a way to practice strengthening your attention every day, it’s like going to the gym and building your muscles, but it’s a mental muscle.
Here’s an exercise from the concentration family of meditation. It’s a good introduction to mindfulness.
- Sit upright, close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath.
- Don’t try to control your breath, just let it be natural and easy but be aware of your breath.
- Notice the full inhalation, the full exhalation.
- See if you can feel it coming and going through your nostrils, or feel the rise and fall of your belly.
- When you notice that you’ve been distracted, simply start with the next breath.
- Tune in to any sensation any way you can. Be fully aware of the breath. Just keep your attention anchored there.
- Keep breathing in, and breathing out.
- Whenever your mind wanders, just bring it back to your breath.
- Watch the full inhalation, the full exhalation. Stay with the breath. Use it as your anchor for attention.
- Try it on your own for a few minutes.
It’s really so simple and in some ways so hard, because the mind wants to wander. In a way the basic movement of mindfulness is anchoring your attention, keeping it there, noticing when your mind wanders because it’s going to, bringing it back and starting over. What we find is that if you can keep doing this, and the longer you stay with your breath, the more relaxed your body becomes. It’s a side effect of that full attention and letting go all those worries that keep us on edge and distracted.
ACTION FOR HAPPINESS PRESENTS…
Thursday 24th October, London
An inspiring evening of insight and discussion with Daniel Goleman, the internationally acclaimed psychologist and expert in Emotional Intelligence.
Daniel will explain the importance of Emotional Intelligence in modern life and also share some of the ideas from his exciting new book Focus, a groundbreaking look at today’s scarcest resource and the secret to fulfilment and performance: attention.
Zubin Sharma writes…
…For the past 100 years, the majority of education systems across the globe have failed to equip students with the life skills needed to flourish. This educational paradigm solely focused on academic achievement is a reflection of the global development paradigm whose progress is gauged by economic growth (GDP), regardless of negative externalities on the natural environment, on social fabrics and culture and on happiness and well-being.
If we are to strive for a new development paradigm beyond mere economic growth, a new generation empowered with the tools to flourish at an individual and communal level will be necessary.
Education for well-being is an educational paradigm which can plant seeds that might yield these fruits in the decades to come.
When you consider your life story, do you think of it as a positive or a negative experience? It’s difficult to find the empowering aspects of some of the situations we’ve experienced, it may seem as though there is no such aspect. Here, Alissa Finerman offers some tactics you can use to transform a seemingly disempowering story into something you can hopefully find some pride in:
“Don’t allow your situation to become your world.” – Bishop T.D. Jakes from Oprah’s Life Class
We all have a story. Sometimes it explains why we can’t do something and other times our story propels us forward. I’ve heard cases where people have the same story — such as lack of money, resources, or knowledge — and one person eventually starts a successful business while the other is out of work and depressed. One story can lead to completely opposite interpretations and outcomes. When you tell your story, you must…
1. Be honest about your story and stick to the facts.
Nothing more nor less!
2. Create the story that empowers you to move forward.
Never lower your standards!
3. Live your truth.
“Does your story empower you or dis-empower you?” – Tony Robbins
We all have stories in different areas of our life. The facts are always available.
The only thing that changes is how we interpret them and how we decide to embellish them…
Often you have to challenge your conclusions and ask yourself if they are true. Does it really make sense that you can make anything in your career and healthy living a reality, yet relationships elude you? How much time do you spend on the areas you are successful in versus the ones you would like to have different results in? Your story must be the truth. This is the only way to create a top 1% path and share your best self.
Written by Belle Beth Cooper
Being aware of the mistakes we naturally have in our thinking can make a big difference in avoiding them. Unfortunately, most of these occur subconsciously, so it will also take time and effort to avoid them—if you even want to.
Regardless, I think it’s fascinating to learn more about how we think and make decisions every day, so let’s take a look at some of these thinking habits we didn’t know we had.
1. We surround ourselves with information that matches our beliefs
We tend to like people who think like us. If we agree with someone’s beliefs, we’re more likely to be friends with them. While this makes sense, it means that we subconsciously begin to ignore or dismiss anything that threatens our world views, since we surround ourselves with people and information that confirm what we already think.
This is called confirmation bias. If you’ve ever heard of the frequency illusion, this is very similar. The frequency illusion occurs when you buy a new car, and suddenly you see the same car everywhere. Or when a pregnant woman suddenly notices other pregnant women all over the place. It’s a passive experience, where our brains seek out information that’s related to us, but we believe there’s been an actual increase in the frequency of those occurrences.
Confirmation bias is a more active form of the same experience. It happens when we proactively seek out information that confirms our existing beliefs.
This trailer for David McRaney’s book, You are Now Less Dumb, explains this concept really well with a story about how people used to think geese grew on trees (seriously), and how challenging our beliefs on a regular basis is the only way to avoid getting caught up in the confirmation bias:
2. We believe in the “swimmer’s body” illusion
This has to be one of my favorite thinking mistakes I came across. In Rolf Dobelli’s book, The Art of Thinking Clearly, he explains how our ideas about talent and extensive training are well off-track:
Professional swimmers don’t have perfect bodies because they train extensively. Rather, they are good swimmers because of their physiques. How their bodies are designed is a factor for selection and not the result of their activities.
The “swimmer’s body illusion” occurs when we confuse selection factors with results. Another good example is top performing universities: are they actually the best schools, or do they choose the best students, who do well regardless of the school’s influence?
3. We worry about things we’ve already lost
No matter how much I pay attention to the sunk cost fallacy, I still naturally gravitate towards it.
The term sunk cost refers to any cost (not just monetary, but also time and effort) that has been paid already and cannot be recovered. So, a payment of time or money that’s gone forever, basically.
The reason we can’t ignore the cost, even though it’s already been paid, is that we wired to feel loss far more strongly than gain. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman explains this in his book, Thinking Fast and Slow:
Organisms that placed more urgency on avoiding threats than they did on maximizing opportunities were more likely to pass on their genes. So, over time, the prospect of losses has become a more powerful motivator on your behavior than the promise of gains.
The sunk cost fallacy plays on this tendency of ours to emphasize loss over gain.
So, just like the other mistakes I’ve explained in this post, the sunk cost fallacy leads us to miss or ignore the logical facts presented to us, and instead make irrational decisions based on our emotions—without even realizing we’re doing so:
The fallacy prevents you from realizing the best choice is to do whatever promises the better experience in the future, not which negates the feeling of loss in the past.
Being such a subconscious reaction, it’s hard to avoid this one. Our best bet is to try to separate the current facts we have from anything that happened in the past.
4. We incorrectly predict odds
The gambler’s fallacy is a glitch in our thinking—once again, we’re proven to be illogical creatures. The problem occurs when we place too much weight on past events, believing that they will have an effect on future outcomes (or, in the case of Heads or Tails, any weight, since past events make absolutely no difference to the odds).
Unfortunately, gambling addictions in particular are also affected by a similar mistake in thinking—the positive expectation bias. This is when we mistakenly think that eventually, our luck has to change for the better. Somehow, we find it impossible to accept bad results and give up—we often insist on keeping at it until we get positive results, regardless of what the odds of that happening actually are.
5. We rationalise purchases we don’t want
I’m as guilty of this as anyone. How many times have you gotten home after a shopping trip only to be less than satisfied with your purchase decisions and started rationalising them to yourself? Maybe you didn’t really want it after all, or in hindsight you thought it was too expensive. Or maybe it didn’t do what you hoped, and was actually useless to you.
Regardless, we’re pretty good at convincing ourselves that those flashy, useless, badly thought-out purchases are necessary after all. This is known as post-purchase rationalization or Buyer’s Stockholm Syndrome.
The reason we’re so good at this comes back to psychology:
Social psychologists say it stems from the principle of commitment, our psychological desire to stay consistent and avoid a state of cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance is the discomfort we get when we’re trying to hold onto two competing ideas or theories.
So in the case of our impulse shopping trip, we would need to rationalise the purchases until we truly believe we needed to buy those things, so that our thoughts about ourselves line up with our actions (making the purchases).
The tricky thing in avoiding this mistake is that we generally act before we think, leaving us to rationalise our actions afterwards.
Being aware of this mistake can help us avoid it by predicting it before taking action—for instance, as we’re considering a purchase, we often know that we will have to rationalise it to ourselves later. If we can recognise this, perhaps we can avoid it. It’s not an easy one to tackle, though!
6. We make decisions based on the anchoring effect
Dan Ariely is a behavioural economist who gave one of my favourite TED talks ever about the irrationality of the human brain when it comes to making decisions.
He illustrates this particular mistake in our thinking superbly, with multiple examples. The anchoring effect essentially works like this: rather than making a decision based on pure value for investment (time, money, etc.), we factor in comparative value—that is, how much value an option offers when compared to another option.
Let’s look at some examples from Dan, to illustrate this effect in practice:
One example is an experiment that Dan conducted using two kinds of chocolates for sale in a booth: Hershey’s Kisses and Lindt Truffles. The Kisses were one penny each, while the Truffles were fifteen cents each. Considering the quality differences between the two kinds of chocolates and the normal prices of both items, the Truffles were a great deal, and the majority of visitors to the booth chose the Truffles.
For the next stage of his experiment, Dan offered the same two choices, but lowered the prices by one cent each. So now the Kisses were free, and the Truffles cost fourteen cents each. Of course, the Truffles are even more of a bargain now, but since the Kisses were free, most people chose those instead.
Your loss aversion system is always vigilant, waiting on standby to keep you from giving up more than you can afford to spare, so you calculate the balance between cost and reward whenever possible. – You Are Not So Smart
This mistake is called the anchoring effect, because we tend to focus on a particular value and compare it to our other options, seeing the difference between values rather than the value of each option itself.
Eliminating the ‘useless’ options ourselves as we make decisions can help us choose more wisely. On the other hand, Dan says that a big part of the problem comes from simply not knowing our own preferences very well, so perhaps that’s the area we should focus on more, instead.
7. We believe our memories more than facts
Our memories are highly fallible and plastic. And yet, we tend to subconsciously favor them over objective facts. The availability heuristic is a good example of this. It works like this:
Suppose you read a page of text and then you’re asked whether the page includes more words that end in “ing” or more words with “n” as the second-last letter. Obviously, it would be impossible for there to be more “ing” words than words with “n” as their penultimate letter (it took me a while to get that—read over the sentence again, carefully, if you’re not sure why that is).However, words ending in “ing” are easier to recall than words like hand, end, or and, which have “n” as their second-last letter, so we would naturally answer that there are more “ing” words.
What’s happening here is that we are basing our answer of probability (i.e. whether it’s probable that there are more “ing” words on the page) on how available relevant examples are (i.e. how easily we can recall them). Our troubles in recalling words with “n” as the second last letter make us think those words don’t occur very often, and we subconsciously ignore the obvious facts in front of us.
Although the availability heuristic is a natural process in how we think, two Chicago scholars have explained how wrong it can be:
Yet reliable statistical evidence will outperform the availability heuristic every time.
The lesson here? Whenever possible, look at the facts. Examine the data. Don’t base a factual decision on your gut instinct without at least exploring the data objectively first.
8. We pay more attention to stereotypes than we think
The funny thing about lots of these thinking mistakes is that they’re so ingrained, I had to think long and hard about why they’re mistakes at all! This one is a good example—it took me a while to understand how illogical this pattern of thinking is.
It’s another one that explains how easily we ignore actual facts:
The human mind is so wedded to stereotypes and so distracted by vivid descriptions that it will seize upon them, even when they defy logic, rather than upon truly relevant facts.
Here’s an example to illustrate the mistake, from researchers Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky:
In 1983 Kahneman and Tversky tested how illogical human thinking is by describing the following imaginary person:
Linda is thirty-one years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in antinuclear demonstrations.
The researchers asked people to read this description, and then asked them to answer this question:
Which alternative is more probable?
- Linda is a bank teller.
- Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.
Here’s where it can get a bit tricky to understand (at least, it did for me!)—If answer #2 is true, #1 is also true. This means that #2 cannot be the answer to the question of probability.
Unfortunately, few of us realise this, because we’re so overcome by the more detailed description of #2. Plus, as the earlier quote pointed out, stereotypes are so deeply ingrained in our minds that subconsciously apply them to others.
Roughly 85% of people chose option #2 as the answer.
Again, we see here how irrational and illogical we can be, even when the facts are seemingly obvious.
I love this quote from researcher Daniel Kahneman on the differences between economics and psychology:
I was astonished. My economic colleagues worked in the building next door, but I had not appreciated the profound difference between our intellectual worlds. To a psychologist, it is self-evident that people are neither fully rational nor completely selfish, and that their tastes are anything but stable.
Clearly, it’s normal for us to be irrational and to think illogically, even though we rarely realise we’re doing it. Still, being aware of the pitfalls we often fall into when making decisions can help us to at least recognize them, if not avoid them.
Stacy Hawkins Adams writes
What numerous studies have discovered has been surprising — rather than success being the cause of happiness, it appears that being happy yields more success and achievement.
So I was intrigued when I attended parents’ night at my son’s middle school and learned that his history teacher (who is also his homeroom teacher) is not only educating him and his classmates about the complexities of past wars and other pivotal events in society, but also teaching them to contemplate happiness.
Musing about happiness? With sixth-graders?
The notion may seem odd. After all, kids are innately happy, aren’t they? Or at least they should be, when all is right in their worlds.
What the teacher, Michael Ferry, is striving for, however, seems much deeper, and thus more important.
He is convinced that if they understand the path to well-being and how to create habits that nurture it, they’ll be laying a foundation for lifelong resilience, contentment and, ultimately, success in whatever endeavors they pursue.
With that in mind, he takes a few minutes each morning to ask his students to consider something they’re grateful for, happy about or that makes them feel good.
If nothing else, this practice is training my son and his classmates to reflect on the positives in their young lives. It is also helping wire their brains to seek out silver linings and simple blessings they might otherwise overlook.
Scott Crabtree, an expert on the neuroscience and psychology of happiness and founder of a company called Happy Brain Science, said people who have a solid sense of well-being are more productive, sociable and creative — factors that foster success.
Other experts recommend saying thank you more often, doing a kind act for others, exercising regularly and nurturing friendships.
Many of us already practice these suggestions in our efforts to lead productive and balanced lives. However, it might be helpful to be more intentional about encouraging your tween or teen to do the same.
Consider incorporating moments of gratitude sharing into your dinner or bedtime routines, or helping your children find positives in otherwise challenging situations.
Model the behavior you want them to adopt.
Don’t force your actions or be insincere; kids can always tell. But from a place of authenticity, prioritize what matters most, and help them grasp the concept of seeing the glass half full more often than not.
Ferry and numerous researchers are convinced these happiness habits will pay dividends, equipping youths and parents to embrace gratitude, optimism and hopefulness wherever life leads them.
A film about how mindfulness practise transformed the lives of a group of inner city school students
Room To Breathe is a surprising story of transformation as struggling kids in a San Francisco public middle school are introduced to the practice of mindfulness meditation.
Topping the district in disciplinary suspensions, and with overcrowded classrooms creating a nearly impossible learning environment, overwhelmed administrators are left with stark choices: repeating the cycle of trying to force tuned-out children to listen, or to experiment with timeless inner practices that may provide them with the social, emotional, and attentional skills that they need to succeed.
The first question is whether it’s already too late. Confronted by defiance, contempt for authority figures, poor discipline, and more interest in “social” than learning, can a young mindfulness teacher from Berkeley succeed in opening their minds and hearts?
Inner city schools across the nation are in serious trouble.
In many cities, about half of high school students drop out, and a similar percentage of teachers leave after just five years in the profession.
ROOM TO BREATHE explores one promising solution that has been tested in several dozen public schools — a self-regulatory technique called mindfulness that increases kids’ focus and concentration, self-awareness and impulse control.
The film presents a hopeful story of transformation, following a young mindfulness teacher, Megan Cowan, as she spends several months attempting to teach the technique to troubled kids in a San Francisco public middle school that tops the district in disciplinary suspensions.
Confronted by defiance and contempt, Cowan at first runs into substantial difficulties in the classroom. But under her guidance, the students begin to learn the technique and eventually use it to take greater control over their lives, decrease stress, and better focus in class and at home.
Based on the experiences depicted in the film, as well as results at other schools and independent academic studies, the mindfulness technique appears to have broad potential to significantly improve kids’ social interactions with peers and adults, to reduce bullying and violence, and to improve academic performance and graduation rates.
Rick Hanson explains how we can protect ourselves from the stress of negative experiences.
…There’s a traditional saying that the mind takes its shape from what it rests upon. Based on what we’ve learned about experience-dependent neuroplasticity, a modern version would be that the brain takes its shape from what the mind rests upon. If you keep resting your mind upon self-criticism, worries, grumbling about others, hurts, and stress, then your brain will be shaped into greater reactivity, vulnerability to anxiety and depressed mood, a narrow focus on threats and losses, and inclinations toward anger, sadness, and guilt.
On the other hand, if you keep resting your mind on good events and conditions (someone was nice to you, there’s a roof over your head), pleasant feelings, the things you do get done, physical pleasures, and your good intentions and qualities, then over time your brain will take a different shape, one with strength and resilience hard-wired into it, as well as a realistically optimistic outlook, positive mood, and a sense of worth. Looking back over the past week or so, where has your mind been mainly resting?
In effect, what you pay attention to—what you rest your mind upon—is the primary shaper of your brain. While some things naturally grab a person’s attention—such as a problem at work, a physical pain, or a serious worry—on the whole you have a lot of influence over where your mind rests. This means that you can deliberately prolong and even create the experiences that will shape your brain for the better. This is what I call “taking in the good.”
This practice, applied to positive experiences, boils down to just four words: have it, enjoy it.
And see for yourself what happens when you do…
…in quick, easy, and enjoyable ways right in the flow of your day, you can use the power of self-directed neuroplasticity to build up a lasting sense of ease, confidence, self-acceptance, compassion, feeling loved, contentment, and inner peace. In essence what you’ll do is simple: Turn everyday good experiences into good neural structure. Putting it more technically: You will activate mental states and then install them as neural traits. When you need them, you’ll be able to draw on these neural traits, which are your inner strengths, the good growing in your mind.
You’ll be using your mind to change your brain to change your mind for the better. Bit by bit, synapse by synapse, you really can build happiness into your brain.
And by doing this, you’ll be overcoming its negativity bias: the brain is good at learning from bad experiences, but bad at learning from good ones—if the mind is like a garden, the “soil” of your brain is more fertile for weeds than for flowers. So it’s really important to plant the seeds of inner strengths by repeatedly taking in the good.
Carolyn Gregoire reports…
“Imagine two human beings. Don’t say anything, don’t do anything, just wish for those two human beings to be happy. That’s all.”
During one recent talk, Google engineer-turned-mindfulness expert Chade-Meng Tan gave the group a homework assignment: Perform the exercise the next day at work, spending 10 seconds each hour randomly choosing two people and silently wishing for them to be happy. The following morning, Tan received an email from an employee who attended the workshop that read, “I hate my job. I hate coming to work every day. But yesterday I tried your suggestion and it was my happiest day in seven years.”
It’s not the first time that Tan — who Wired recently dubbed an “Enlightenment engineer” — has seen emotional intelligence exercises transform an employee’s work and life. As Google’s resident “Jolly Good Fellow,” Tan developed Search Inside Yourself (SIY) program, a mindfulness-based emotional intelligence training program. Tan’s philosophy is that cultivating emotional intelligence through mindfulness training and meditation can help an individual reach a state of inner peace, the essential foundation of happiness, success and compassion.
More than 1,000 Google employees have gone through the SIY curriculum, according to Wired, the principles of which are outlined in Tan’s New York Times bestseller,“Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path To Achieving Success, Happiness (And World Peace)”. The program focuses on building up the five emotional intelligence domains of self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills, primarily through meditation and mindfulness training, which aims to improve one’s focus and attention on the present moment.
The benefits of emotional intelligence in the workplace are well-documented, from career success to improved relationships to better leadership — and Tan says getting Silicon Valley interested in a meditation program to train employees in emotional intelligence wasn’t difficult.
“Everybody already knows, emotional intelligence is good for my career, it’s good for my team, it’s good for my profits,” Tan tells the Huffington Post. “It comes pre-marketed, so all I had to do is create a curriculum for emotional intelligence that helps people succeed, with goodness and world-peace as the unavoidable side-effects.”
Here are four ways that you can cultivate emotional intelligence – and revolutionize your work, relationships and happiness.
“There are some things in life where if you improve one thing, everything else in life is improved… If you improve physical fitness, it improves your home life, success, wellness, everything,” says Tan. “The same is true for meditation, because meditation is in fact mental and emotional fitness. If you are fit mentally and emotionally, every aspect of your life improves.”
Neuroscientists have even seen that meditating on compassion can create an empathetic state in the brain. When Tibetan Buddhist monks were asked to meditate on “unconditional loving-kindness and compassion” in a 2006 study, the researchers measured brain activity in the left prefrontal cortex, which is associated with positive emotions, that was 30 times stronger than the activity among a control group of college students who didn’t meditate, Wired reported. The researchers theorized that empathy may be something one can cultivated by “exercising” the brain through loving-kindness meditation.
Tan explains that mindfulness training helps to boost self-compassion first and foremost, which then expands to compassion for others. “[After the program], people say, ‘I see myself with kindness.'”
But the benefits of cultivating compassion go beyond greater kindness towards oneself and others: In addition to improving happiness, compassion can also boost a business’s creative output and bottom line, according to Tan — a sentiment that LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, a leading proponent of compassionate management, would agree with.
“The one thing [that all companies should be doing] is promoting the awareness that compassion can and will be good for success and profits,” says Tan.
Practise Mindful observancm of the mind and body…
Mindful awareness of what’s going on in the mind and body — thoughts, feelings, emotions, physical sensations and disease — is an important step in cultivating inner joy, says Tan.
“If you start from mindfulness, the first thing you get is inner peace,” Tan explains. “Then you add on other practices like observing wellness in the body, you also get inner joy. Take that inner joy and add on other practices, and you will get kindness and compassion.”
Make mindfulness a habit…
You may not think of inner peace as something that you can develop through creating good habits, but Tan explains that happiness is a habit that you can create through a daily mindfulness practice.
“To create sustainable compassion, you have to be strong in inner joy,” says Tan. “Inner joy comes from inner peace — otherwise it’s not sustainable. And inner peace is highly trainable.”
The way that inner peace is trained is through regular meditation — which isn’t strictly limited to sitting quietly in lotus position. A meditation habit can be a quiet daily walk around your block, a yoga practice, or any of these non-om forms of meditation. The important thing is that you create a habit by doing it regularly and turn mindfulness into a part of your daily life.
“Habits are highly trainable,” explains Tan. “And habits become character.”
Jay Michaelson marks the death of Satya Narayan Goenka, aged 90 …
…Goenka was the core teacher for the first generation of “insight” meditation teachers to have an impact in the United States, and through them, to popularizers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, whose Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program (MBSR) is now taught across the country in hospitals, schools, even prisons.
…America is on the threshold of a mindfulness revolution. As the data regarding mindfulness’s economic impact becomes better developed and better known, we are going to see mindfulness offered everywhere – not for reasons of spirituality, but for sheer economics. These technologies decrease healthcare costs, improve productivity, and speed processes of healing. The Buddha may have taught them to lead to enlightenment – but they also save a ton of money.
How this experiment will turn out is anyone’s guess. Maybe mindfulness will just be a fad. Maybe it’ll last but, like yoga, be limited only to some. Or maybe it really will transform our society. Whatever comes next, all of us who have used it to relax, get well, or just get through the day owe a debt of gratitude to an Indian businessman who passed away last week. Let’s take a mindful breath to remember him.
1. It’s not about relaxing
A Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course is about reducing stress, and that means trying to relax, right? Well, not exactly. Mindfulness just means noticing what’s happening, including the things we find difficult. It doesn’t involve listening to panpipes to escape your worries.
2. It isn’t a meditation practice
On a mindfulness course you’ll learn meditation, but mindfulness is a practice for the whole of life. It means finding a different way to respond to experience throughout the day.
3. It isn’t a technique
Mindfulness isn’t something you do. It’s a way of being. You could say it’s a faculty, or a quality of mind that we all have to some extent and can develop further through practice.
4. It isn’t a way to fix your problems
Mindfulness can help you address stress, anxiety, depression or chronic pain, but not by fixing them. Mindfulness really means living with appreciation and curiousity. Then we can relate in a new way to the things that trouble us, rather than trying to make them go away.
5. It isn’t about doing things slowly
Mindfulness courses include things like eating a raisin veryslowly. That helps you notice details that you otherwise miss, and shows up our tendency to rush or do one thing while thinking about something else. But that doesn’t mean that you should do everything slowly. Sometimes slower is worse – like when you’re driving. And some people, who have to do things really fast, like racing drivers and tennis players, are exceptionally mindful. With mindfulness, things can feel slower, even when you’re moving quickly.
6. It isn’t about emptying your mind
Meditation doesn’t mean emptying your mind of thoughts, like a bucket. Minds produce thoughts – it’s what they’re built for – and keep producing them even when you’re meditating. But you can still become calm and settled by learning to let thoughts go. And exploring your thoughts lets you see what’s bugging you, and even how your mind really works.
7. It Isn’t Buddhist
The mindfulness practices used in MBSR and MBCT are drawn from Buddhism, but no one owns mindfulness: it’s simply a capacity of the mind. That’s why mindfulness is being re-expressed in secular forms. However, Buddhism embeds mindfulness within its own, distinctive set of values and a wider path to liberation and if that’s what you’re looking for it’s worth finding out more.
8. It isn’t scientific
Research into the effects of mindfulness and its impact on the brain is impressive. It’s a big part of what’s bringing mindfulness into the mainstream. But although you can measure what mindfulness does, you can’t measure what it is. That’s requires feeling, intuition and sensitivity. Measuring mindfulness is a science; practising it is an art.
9. It isn’t difficult … or easy
Mindfulness is simple, but life is often complicated. So how does it work? The mindful approach is that you don’t have to work out everything all at once. You just have to be aware and manage what’s happening in this moment. So it isn’t difficult … but it also isn’t easy. What’s happening in this moment might be scary, so mindfulness requires patience and resolve as well as openness and gentleness.
10. And it isn’t a fad
Mindfulness is certainly popular, but isn’t a fad?
Mindfulness is a quality of the mind that has always been there and we’re now learning to harness.
And mindfulness is more and more relevant because it counters the speed, distraction, superficiality and general mindlessness of so much modern culture and is causing an epidemic of mental strain and illness.
Mindfulness is here to stay.
Michelle Gielan was curious about the effect of negative messages on the human brain and how they affect our ability to succeed.
She found that negative messaging “short circuits” the human brain.
- External Messages (negative): Bad news about the weather has more of an effect on us that we often realize.
- The Jack Effect (positive): If two people stare at each other for 10 seconds, and one smiles.80-85 percent of people will break down and smile back. Mirror neurons. When someone smiles at you, your brain releases dopamine and it feels good, but it also increases brain activity.
Thinking positively pays off: Optimistic salespeople outsell their pessimistic counterparts by 37 percent.
Emotions are contagious. People are happy or sad collectively in the office. A lot of this has to do with mirror neurons — we learn a lot by mimicking each other.
Our brains are supercomputers. When triggered by threats (intruders, danger, negative news), our brains respond with a “fight or flight” reaction. We need to train our brains to react in positive ways, not negative ones.
When people are shown a selection of positive images, their eyes scan around them more. When shown negative images, the scanning process gets stuck – people don’t process the images as thoroughly.
Strategies for Positive Thinking
- Create Your Own Newscast: Each day, for 21 days, write down three things you are grateful for in live and why you believe they make you happy. These are your three headlines for the day.Effects: This process retrains your brain to scan for the positive; boosts gratitude and positivity ratio; optimizes scanning pattern; 94% of people were less depressed after 2 weeks.
- Investigative Optimism: Seeing the reality of a situation, but processing it positively. When you encounter a challenge or stressful situation, imagine the good that can come of it.Effects: This process retrains your brain for greater optimism; boosts positivity ratio; enables you to better visualize positive outcomes.
- The Power Lead: What story is the lead story for your day? What’s the best message you can send to capture your state of mind?Effects: Starts the interaction on a positive note; activates the brain; refocuses attention on the postive; improves the mood of the group.
All of these stories and many more are collected together in our latest edition of Happiness At Work #66 – out on Friday 4th October 2013.
This is a tightly packed post this week, so I congratulate you hugely if you have managed to make it to reading these last words.
As a reminder of the rich history we also always have to draw on amidst our 21st century excitements, I want to finish this post with some words that are even older than Robert Frost’s 1920 poem. Very much in accord with this week’s central idea about the way we choose to think about things being of primary importance to what we end up thinking, feeling and so doing, here are some last words quoted and written by Samuel Johnson in 1750 in his sixth edition of The Rambler, a twice-weekly collection of writings that Johnson published between 1750-1752. An earlier version of the blog, we might say…
“Active in indolence, abroad we roam
In quest of happiness which dwells at home:
With vain pursuits fatigu’d, at length you’ll find,
No place excludes it from an equal mind.”
– James Elphinston, contemporary and good friend of Johnson’s
“The fountain of content must spring up in the mind…he who has so little knowledge of human nature, as to seek happiness by changing any thing but his own dispositions, will waste his life in fruitless efforts, and multiply the griefs which he purposes to remove.”
– Samuel Johnson, The Rambler, No. 6