This week we New Zealand folk are in celebratory mood.
Eleanor Catton has won the Man Booker 2013 Prize with her second novel, The Luminaries.
And we have still more reason to be proud as the New Zealand government officially recognises the two largest islands of our country with both their European and their Maori names:
Maori names get equal status as country corrects long-standing failure to make North and South Island names official
Eight hundred years after the Maori first arrived in Aotearoa (New Zealand), and 370 years after Europeans spied its shores, the South Pacific nation’s major land masses will finally get official names.
For generations, the two main islands have been called the North Island and the South Island. They have also appeared that way on maps and charts. But in recent years, officials discovered an oversight: the islands had never been formally assigned the monikers.
Last Thursday, the land information minister, Maurice Williamson, announced that the North Island and South Island names would become official, effective this week. Equal status will be given to the alternate Maori names: Te Ika-a-Maui (“the fish of Maui”) for the North and Te Waipounamu (“the waters of greenstone”) for the South.
I am continuing and extending this theme of celebration into the new Happiness At Work Edition #68 collection.
This week we are highlighting the power of the positive and the importance of being able to harness positivity for our resilience and happiness. And, in the best spirit of Appreciative Inquiry, we are also headlining success stories from a variety of real life contexts to explore and uncover some the the things we can learn about how to live well, overcome challenge and difficulty, and build towards a more flourishing life.
In this post you will find stories about the science and latest research into why positivity matters and how best to tap into its minerals. These include
- Barbara Fredrickson: Positive Emotions Open Our Minds – Positivity Opens Us – we can see more
- Barbara Fredrickson: The Positive Ratio – A ratio of positive emotions of above three to one seems to make the tipping point that will help to determine your odds or languishing or flourishing
- Barbara Fredrickson: Updated Thinking on Positive Ratios – feeling good does not simply sit side by side with optimal functioning as an indicator of flourishing; feeling good drives optimal function by building the enduring personal resources upon which people draw to navigate life’s journey with greater success.
- Don’t Worry, Be Happy – Ways to Improve Your Mood At Work
- The Key To Great Feedback: Praise the Process, Not the Person – scientific studies of motivation have identified clear, principled reasons why some types of feedback work, and others don’t. It is neither mysterious nor random.
- 7 Habits of Highly Positive People – If you are in a funk right now, following these habits will also get you right back on track.
- Teach Kids to Daydream – Mental downtime makes people more creative and less anxious.
And you will find a whole number of success stories and the lessons that we might all draw from these experiences. We feature Eleanor Catton and her ideas about the difference between value (gold, selling) and worth (greenstone, giving).
- Man Booker Prize: Eleanor Catton becomes youngest winner with The Luminaries – It’s about greed and gold and what we value. And what we value, it turns out, is love.
- Eleanor Catton: ‘Male writers get asked what they think, women what they feel’ – It’s the seriousness of Catton’s work that strikes you when talking to her – her belief in the novel both as a “builder of empathy” and as a carrier of ideas.
We celebrate, too, the announcement of 24 year old Londoner, Kenyan-born Somali poet Warsan Shire as the very first Young Poet Laureate for London appointment:
- To Be Vulnerable and Fearless: An Interview With Warsan Shire
Other success stories include
- What We Can Learn From The Swiss – what conditions that help to keep Switzerland at the top of the happiness league we might transplant in the UK
- The Top 5 Regrets People Have On They Deathbed – and ideas about how we might avoid them
- Time To Rethink Youth Behaviour, New Zealand Survey reveals – a bunch of adult misconceptions are busted in a very positive set of new survey results
- How To Become A “Best Places to Work” Company – lessons from companies that are successfully getting it right
- Happiness At Work Is Spreading – how Brighton company NixonMcInnes’ low-tech buckets of balls method of measuring and increasing happiness is gaining followers from BIS to California
- 5 Ways For Men (and Boys) To Channel Empathy and Compassion – taking lessons from where it’s working well already (and why it matters so much
- The Quiet Secret To Success – When we look at people who are at the top of their field, they all have grit: persistence and passion for their long-term goals. But this doesn’t mean that they burn the midnight oil day in and day out in pursuit of achievement.
- Ruth Owen: “There’s no point being a woman and trying to be a man” – Owen has experienced more discrimination in her career than most, although it’s clear she doesn’t resent it, if anything it spurred her on to achieve more.
You will also find stories about its opposite – negativity – and why this, too, is an important part of the material we need to build our happiness and resilience from. Less happy stories worth paying attention to include
- New Gallup research finds Unhappy Employees Outnumber Happy Ones 3-to-1 Worldwide
- The Genetic Predisposition To Focus On The Negative – a new gene could help explain why it is that some people seem particularly predisposed towards seeing the negative aspects of the world around them, while it passes others by
- Rumination: The Danger of Dwelling – A bit of self-reflection can be a good thing, say psychologists. But just how serious can it get when introspection goes awry and thoughts get stuck on repeat, playing over and over in the mind?
- Why We Need Fairytales – Jeannette Winterson on Oscar Wilde – Reason and logic are tools for understanding the world. We need a means of understanding ourselves, too. That is what imagination allows.
- The Science of Storytelling: How Narrative Cuts Through Distraction Like Nothing Else – not just escapism, stories have real power to hold human attention and shape our thinking.
21st century ideas include
- Turning the Tables On Success – how changes in society and at work are causing ‘takers’ to flounder and ‘givers’ to flourish;
- Why Nic Marks hopes The Happy Planet Index will capture an optimism about the future without denying the scale of the challenges we face
- The One Word Never Ever To Say At Work Again – five reasons to try to let go of excessive busyness — or at least stop telling people how busy you are
- Everyday Jet Lag – new science is showing that, whether we are a ‘morning person’ or a ‘night person’, we are better to sync with our biorhythm preferences
- Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime – Research on naps, meditation, nature walks and the habits of exceptional artists and athletes reveals how mental breaks increase productivity, replenish attention, solidify memories and encourage creativity
- May I Have Your Attention, Please? – it’s difficult to focus when there is so much going on around you. But really listening to someone is also a gift.
- The Importance of Taking Time Out (The School of Life) – different ways, ancient and modern, to make ‘me time’ neither costly nor useless, but rather time to cultivate oneself; to reshape and rejuvenate one’s character
- How Some Of The World’s Most Successful People Discovered Their Spiritual Side – 10 amazing spiritual but not religious “coming out” stories from successful thinkers, performers and business leaders
Practical tips and techniques this week include
- How Vulnerability Can Be A Strength – a few statements that crack open a beautiful vulnerability within everyday situations
- Deepak Chopra: Who Is Right About Happiness (Part 2) – What should you do to make yourself happy right this minute? The array of possibilities is quite wide
- The Advantage of Dealing With Giants In Our Life – The key lesson is that for the most part, difficulties are what you make of them.
- 7 Life Changing Benefits of a Surprisingly Simple Meditation Technique – if you can, I’d encourage you to get out of the city and go for a walk. Here’s why
Some of the research findings that Barbara Fredrickson talks about in this video are:
Positivity Opens Us – we can see more…
Feeling positive in increases our likelihood of stepping back and seeing the bigger picture…
Feeling positive widens the field for what we scan and look for…
Because we see more more, we see more possibilities…
People are more likely to be resilient and bounce back quicker from adversity when they feel positive emotions…
Positive emotions help students achieve better exam results… And doctors make better diagnoses…
At a very fundamental level we are able to see larger systems, see larger forms of interconnection when we are experiencing positive emotion. And that can make a huge difference when we’re trying to address some of the really entangled societal problems that we face.
“There is a way of breathing that is a shame and suffocation.
And there’s another way of expiring, a love-breath that lets you open infinitely.” – Rumi
A ratio of positive emotions of above three to one seems to make the tipping point that will help to determine your odds or languishing or flourishing…
We need at least three heartfelt emotions for every heart-wrenching emotion that we need to endure. A ratio of 3 to 1 allows for the whole myriad of human emotions. This is not about 3 to 0, it is not about eliminating all negative emotions…
Here’s my advice. If you make your model “Be positive” it actually backfires. That leads to a toxic insincerity that’s shown to be corrosive to our own bodies, cardiovascularly. It’s known to be toxic interpersonally … we all know that person who tries to pump sunshine a little too much, and the biggest danger of positive psychology is that people come out of it with this hyper-zeal to be positive and it’s not genuine. But there would be no counterfeit gold – those yellow smiley faces – if there no real gold somewhere.
A sail boat metaphor fits here really well. Rising from the sail boat is that enormous mast that allows the boat to catch the wind and gives the boat momentum. But below the waterline is the keel, which can weigh tons. You can take the mast going up as positivity and the keel down below as negativity. Even though it is the mast that holds the sail, you can’t sail without the keel. The boat would just drift around or fall over or worse yet, turtle. And the negativity, the keel, is what allows the oat to stay on course and manageable. … And when the keel matters most is when you’re sailing upwind, when you’re facing difficulty. Experiencing and expressing negative emotions really is part of the process of flourishing…
One of the things it is helpful is to know is the causality of how lightly creating the mindset of positive emotions makes positive emotions follow. Create the mindset of positivity by being:
and above all being:
- Real and Sincere
Another thing that can really useful is to step on the scale regularly and track your positive ratio, just as a mindfulness tool. You can do this via a 2minute test on Barbara Fredrickson’s Positivity website to figure out what your positivity ratio is for this day. Knowing one day’s ratio may not give you much information, but if you take this short test every day for two weeks you can probably get a sense of what your life is like right now…
This is a way of keeping track of your daily emotional diet so you can progress your wellbeing goals. Begin by asking:
- When have you felt this emotion, clearly, deeply?
- What triggered that emotion?
- When was the last time you felt it?
- Where were you?
- What were you doing?
- What was happening?
And our Appreciative Inquiry practice would suggest another question: How could you take any of these conditions into something that is not so happy for you?
“One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, ‘My son, the battle is between two wolves. On is Negativity. It’s anger, sadness, stress, contempt, disgust, fear, embarrassment, guilt, shame, and hate. The other is Positivity. It’s joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe and, above all, love.’
“Which wolf wins?”
“The one you feed.”
In this extract from a July 2013 paper in American Psychologist,, Barabra Fredrickson backs up and furthers her ideas against more recent research:
Even when scrubbed of Losada’s now-questioned mathematical modeling, ample evidence continues to support the conclusion that, within bounds, higher positivity ratios are predictive of flourishing mental health and other beneficial outcomes. …
The Role of Positivity in Human Flourishing
…To flourish has become an increasingly popular goal among those interesting in applying the fruits of positive psychology. Loosely speaking, I have described human flourishing as being beyond hap- piness in that it encompasses both feeling good and doing good (Fredrickson, 2009). …
Following ancient philosophies articulated by Aristotle and others, hedonic well-being captures individuals’ global satisfaction with life alongside their pleasant affect, whereas eudaimonic well-being encompasses their sense of purpose and meaning as well as their resilience and social integration. In the article with Losada, we further specified this “feel good plus do good” definition by opening with “To flourish means to live within an optimal range of human functioning, one that connotes goodness, generativity, growth, and resilience” (Fredrickson & Losada, 2005, p. 678). …
Feeling good, however, does more than simply reflect the presence of human flourishing. From the perspective of the broaden-and-build theory, positivity takes on a far more vital role with respect to human flourishing. Beyond being one dimension of flourishing, positive emotions have also been found to promote the development and maintenance of flourishing. …
…Daily experiences of positive emotions forecast and produce growth in personal resources such as competence (e.g., environmental mastery), meaning (e.g., purpose in life), optimism (e.g., pathways thinking), resilience, self-acceptance, positive relationships, as well as physical health. In other words, feeling good does not simply sit side by side with optimal functioning as an indicator of flourishing;
feeling good drives optimal function by building the enduring personal resources upon which people draw to navigate life’s journey with greater success.
Further evidence that positive emotions are a key active ingredient in flourishing mental health comes from a detailed unpacking of a Tuesday in the life of flourishing individuals, in comparison to a Tuesday in the life of those not flourishing and to a Tuesday for those identified as depressed (Catalino & Fredrickson, 2011). Using the Day Reconstruction Method … our results showed that relative to those who do not flourish or who are depressed, people who flourish experience bigger “boosts” in positivity in response to routine daily events such as helping another person, interacting with others, playing, learning, and engaging in spiritual activity. Moreover, flourishers’ greater positive emotional reactivity, over time, predicted their growth in resources. In turn, flourishers’ greater growth in resources predicted their higher levels of flourishing symptoms at the end of the study (controlling for initial levels of flourishing). We uncovered virtually no differences between flourishers and others in the degree of negative emotions experienced on the targeted Tuesdays. We also uncovered surprisingly few differences between depressed people and non flourishers…
This pattern of results suggests that human flourishing is nourished by small, yet consequential, individual differences in positive emotional experiences in response to pleasant everyday events. Flourishers don’t simply “feel good and do good.” Rather they do good by feeling good. So, just as greater negative emotional sensitivity has been found to seed and maintain depression, a phenomenon called negative potentiation, a parallel positive potentiation process appears to seed and maintain the beneficial—yet all too rare—state of human flourishing (Catalino & Fredrick- son, 2011).
The Effects of Too Much Positivity
Within the spectrum of normative emotional experience, the notion that excessive positivity might be harmful is consistent with the long-standing evidence that life satisfaction is better predicted by the frequency rather than the intensity of a person’s positive emotions (Diener, Sandvik, & Pavot, 1991) and that by far the most frequently experienced positive emotions are the mild and moderate ones. Whereas increasing levels of positive emotions bring benefits up to a point, extremely high levels of positive emo- tion carry costs that begin to outweigh these benefits. …It bears noting, however, that some researchers do not find signs of dysfunction at very high levels of happiness (e.g., E. T. Friedman, Schwartz, & Haaga, 2002). …
The Value of Positivity Ratios
… Considerable evidence indeed undergirds the claim that when it comes to positivity ratios, within bounds, higher is better. … and … we suggested that a second tipping point, at positivity ratios of about 11:1, might be associated with a downturn in flourishing. Although we did not have data suitable for testing this second tipping point, we noted that such a phenomenon was consistent with the then emerging ideas that (a) problems can occur with too much positivity and (b) appropriate negativity plays an important role in human flourishing.
…One available cross-sectional study examined the effects of positivity ratios on creativity in a sample of 595 retail employees in Portugal (Rego, Sousa, Marques, & Cunha, 2012). The researchers found the classic inverted-U relation between positivity ratios (based on employee self-reports) and employee creativity (based on supervisor ratings). Higher positivity ratios predicted greater creativity up to a point, beyond which creativity took a downturn. The optimal positivity ratio for creativity in this sample was found to be 3.6:1 (Rego et al., 2012). Drawing on theorizing by Oishi and colleagues (2007), which suggested that “ultrahappy” employees may become complacent toward problems and opportunities, Rego and colleagues (2012, p. 265) concluded that a “modest level of negative affect, if combined with high levels of positive affect, may help to generate creativity,” …
In sum, then, the claim that flourishing mental health is associated with higher positivity ratios than is non flourishing remains unchallenged. Indeed, positive potentiation—the ability of certain people to extract more positive emotions out of common, everyday events—a process evidently unique to flourishers (Catalino & Fredrickson, 2011), could well account for the differential positivity ratios between flourishers and nonflourishers. Descriptively, this means that striving to raise one’s positivity ratio from a low level to a moderately high level in hopes of attaining flourishing mental health remains a reasonable and healthy goal. …
As Brown and colleagues (2013) highlighted, my book Positivity (Fredrickson, 2009), written for a wide readership, made considerable use of the ideas presented in my 2005 AP article with Losada (Fredrickson & Losada, 2005). Even for this audience, however, I took precautions not to present the ratio as an unquestionable fact. “Science is never complete,” I wrote. “The stakes in terms of human welfare are too high for me to rest easy in the belief that clever theory or fancy math alone can provide the answers” (Fredrickson, 2009, p. 138). …
[But] the data say that when considering positive emotions, more is better, up to a point, although this latter caution may be limited to self-focused positive emotions. The data also say that when considering negative emotions, less is better, down to a point.
Negativity can either promote healthy functioning or kill it, depending on its contextual appropriateness and dosage relative to positive emotions. …
When I was growing up, any time I was anxious about something, my dad would say, “Don’t let worry in. Worry is the thief of joy.” My mom always used to tell me, “Honey, will this matter in five years? If not, then it doesn’t really matter now.” It was good advice, and I find myself saying the same things to my own kids. You probably say them to your kids. But like many things, not giving in to worry is much easier said than done.
In today’s Business Success column, Jude Bijou, author of the award-winning book is Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life, offers some great advice on not succumbing to worry — along with it common companions, stress and frustration — at work, with seven simple steps.
7 Ways to Improve Your Mood at Work
Our job is where we spend the majority of our waking hours, and where stress, worry, and frustration can easily impede our performance, productivity, and workplace relationships. Here are 7 easy ways to stay upbeat and positive, and to flip bad moods into good ones quickly and effectively.
1. Stop “what-iffing” and “deadlining.”
“What-iffing” is when your thoughts are fixated on the past–what you did wrong in the meeting, or why you got passed up for the promotion. “Deadlining” is when your thoughts are focused on the future–worrying about the project that has to get done or wondering how the client will react to your presentation. Unhappiness is caused by thinking about the past or the future. When you’re completely “in the now,” you can’t be unhappy. Stop what you’re doing, take some breaths, and just “be.” …
2. Drown out negative chatter.
Counteract an unhappy thought with a positive statement that’s irrefutable and 100% true. The negative chatter that goes on inside our head is untrue and based on false assumptions derived from anger, sadness, and fear. You can interrupt thoughts by finding a statement that’s true and repeating it over and over until you feel better. For example, instead of “I’ll never get all of this done in time,” you can say “I’ll do what I can.” If you can find a contradictory statement to repeat that’s 100% true, it will change your mood.
3. Be grateful, not grumpy.
Think of something you’re grateful for. This simple technique really works wonders. The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, depleted, or unhappy at work, simply close your eyes and think hard about one thing that makes you happy. … You can’t think about something you’re grateful for and something you’re unhappy about at the same time.
4. Say NO! to “trash thinking.”
Trash thinking is like trash talking. It’s putting yourself or someone else down. Most of us are aware of when we’re thinking mean thoughts about a coworker, client, or employee, or when we’re being hypercritical about ourselves. The first step is to be aware. The second step is to say “no.” You can even say it out loud at a good volume: “NO!” Find a private space and stomp around the room and yell it. Pretty soon you’ll be smiling again. Probably even laughing!
5. Be the “happy one” at work.
Moods are contagious, and when you become known at work for being ridiculously, unstoppably upbeat, people will begin to smile before you even open your mouth. You can avoid the common squabbles and doldrums employees and bosses suffer simply by smiling a lot at the beginning of your day and saying out loud, “What a gorgeous day for data entry,” or “Isn’t it nice to be employed?” People will love to work with you because you’re happy. What they don’t know is that you’re making yourself happy too!
6. Just get over it.
Practice accepting what is. When we stop expecting people and situations to be different than they are, we’re instantaneously less frustrated and more able to look within to decide what we want or need to do currently. Remind yourself, “People and things are the way they are, not the way I want them to be.” If you can get over your frustration that things aren’t the way you want them to be, you will enjoy yourself more and maybe even learn a new way of approaching a problem.
7. Wear someone else’s shoes.
Instead of being self-absorbed, it’s a great practice to suspend your own position and just listen in order to understand where someone else is coming from. You don’t have to agree, but listening well is the ultimate in giving and will bring you feelings of connection and love. Happiness at work comes when we have a sense of fellow feeling with our coworkers–that we’re all in this together, and we have each others’ backs.
Want to find out more about the attitudes and emotions that dominate your character and may be sabotaging your business success or happiness at work? Take a quick self-quiz here, and then try the coping strategies designed to address them.
By Tim Masters
One of the themes in her book that she draws up in her acceptance speech and talks about in her Today Programme interview is of the difference between value and worth. The West Coast of New Zealand’s south island – as of this week now also officially recognised by its Maori name Te Waipounamu (“the waters of greenstone”) – lured the Europeans for the high value of its gold, which is made in the price it commands as a currency that is bought and sold, and attracted the Maoris for the worth of its pounamu (“greenstone”), which can only be given.
In this interview Catton says:
.A worth-based economy and a value-based economy are two very different things in that value is conferred in the act of spending, whereas worth is conferred in the act of giving…
There’s a line in the first part of the book that says ‘Every man has his currency…”
..the central myth of a gold-rush is that you could turn up and quite literally pluck your fortune off the ground and, in so doing, completely remake yourself is such an intoxicating idea…
In accepting the award, Catton said her book was “a publisher’s nightmare.”
She said she was very aware of the pressures on contemporary publishing to make money.
“It is no small thing that my primary publishers … never once made those pressures known to me while I was writing this book,” she said.
“I was free throughout to concern myself not of questions of value, but of worth.”
Robert Macfarlane, chair of the judges, says of this book:
This is a luminous novel. It is a dazzling novel. It is vast without being spiralling, it is intricate without being fussy, it is experimental while also giving us the extraordinary pleasures of storytelling and immersion in its world. It’s about greed and gold and what we value. And what we value, it turns out, is love.”
Link to read the original article, see the BBC news report about her win, and hear Eleanor Catton talk about her themes in the BBC Radio 4 audio clip of her interview or The Today programme the morning after winning the prize
As a footnote, it is worth hearing both MacFarlane’s and Catton’s Man Booker 2013 night speeches: MacFarland for a masterclass in how to speak extemporaneously and give meaningful believable praise, and Catton for a softly brilliant display of speaking with a soft voice that nevertheless conveys great impact and authority.
When the [announcement] came , the TV cameras showed a face as still as a marble sculpture, pinned into immobility by shock. Then she dove into her handbag and rootled through it until she found her acceptance speech, which she delivered in a clear but tremulous voice. “The superstitious part of me didn’t want to make the speech too easy to find,” she explains. “At the same time I knew I’d never be able to relax if I hadn’t prepared something. At times of emotional intensity I need a script.”
…With the prize also comes that mixed blessing, fame, and she’s already bothered by the uneven treatment accorded to men and women in the public eye.”I have observed that male writers tend to get asked what they think and women what they feel,” she says. “In my experience, and that of a lot of other women writers, all of the questions coming at them from interviewers tend to be about how lucky they are to be where they are – about luck and identity and how the idea struck them. The interviews much more seldom engage with the woman as a serious thinker, a philosopher, as a person with preoccupations that are going to sustain them for their lifetime.”
[Catton says about] the ideas of the book. “The paradox is,” she says, “the relationship between, on the one hand, the characters being the masters of their fates, and on the other hand that being predetermined.” She talks of the astrological structure as being akin to a structure a composer might work within, and mentions her interest in the book Gödel Escher Bach, which explores patterns and systems in the work of the mathematician, artist and composer.
“One of the most baffling things is when people assume that when something is structurally ornate it is less human than something that is not structurally ornate,” she says. “That puzzles me – I feel as a person the most alive and human and full of wonder when I am contemplating complexities. The ability of humans to read meaning into patterns is the most defining characteristic we have.”
It’s the seriousness of Catton’s work that strikes you when talking to her – her belief in the novel both as a “builder of empathy” and as a carrier of ideas. When I spoke to one of the Man Booker judges, critic Stuart Kelly, he said that it was her ability to “make the novel think in a way that the novel doesn’t do normally” that set her apart; the way that, for example, she sets astrology and capitalism into play as competing systems of dealing with the world, but at the same time has produced “a rip-roaring read”.
For Catton – the daughter of a philosopher and a librarian – the novel is a tool for thinking with, as well as feeling with…
“What I like about fiction most is that it resists closure and exists, if the reader is willing to engage, as a possible encounter – an encounter that is like meeting a human being.”
Harriet Minter writes…
Switzerland’s citizens regularly rank among the world’s happiest, so what makes them so cheerful during their working hours?
…As well as earning more and working less, the OECD also ranks Switzerland highly for the connectivity of its citizens, with 94% of them stating that they know someone they could rely on in a time of crisis. Feeling connected to each other doesn’t just bring happiness in our social lives, but in our working lives too.
In his book, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, author Alain de Botton explains that a job feels meaningful “whenever it allows us to generate delight or alleviate suffering in others.” Unless you’re working in healthcare or as Lindt chocolatier, this might not seem like a daily occurrence, but by bringing a little joy to your colleagues you could also push your own happiness level up to Swiss proportions.
Consulting firm DHW (Delivering Happiness at Work) claims you can bring a smile to your team’s faces by making sure that everyone knows your company’s core values, having an open and accessible CEO and by making sure you tell people when they’re doing a good job.
While shorter hours and a politics-free world might be the dream, if you’re looking to find a little more fulfilment in your workplace you could do worse than just handing out a compliment or two, noticing when a colleague is having a bad day, or simply putting the Swiss into chocolate and sharing it round the office. Who knew being happy was so easy?
by Adam Grant
In today’s workplace, what goes around comes around faster, sinking takers and propelling givers to the top.
In the old world of work, good guys finished last. “Takers” (those in organizations who put their own interests first) were able to climb to the top of hierarchies and achieve success on the shoulders of “givers” (those who prefer to contribute more than they receive). Throughout much of the 20th century, many organizations were made up of independent silos, where takers could exploit givers without suffering substantial consequences.
But the nature of work has shifted dramatically. Today, more than half of U.S. and European companies organize employees into teams. The rise of matrix structures has required employees to coordinate with a wider range of managers and direct reports. The advent of project-based work means that employees collaborate with an expanded network of colleagues. And high-speed communication and transportation technologies connect people across the globe who would have been strangers in the past. In these collaborative situations, takers stick out. They avoid doing unpleasant tasks and responding to requests for help. Givers, in contrast, are the teammates who volunteer for unpopular projects, share their knowledge and skills, and help out by arriving early or staying late.
After studying workplace dynamics for the past decade, I’ve found that these changes have set the stage for takers to flounder and givers to flourish. In a wide range of fields that span manufacturing, service, and knowledge work, recent research has shown that employees with the highest rates of promotion to supervisory and leadership roles exhibit the characteristics of givers—helping colleagues solve problems and manage heavy workloads. Takers, who put their own agenda first, are far less likely to climb the corporate ladder.
The fall of takers and the rise of givers hinges on a third group, whom I call “matchers.” Matchers hover in the middle of the give-and-take spectrum, motivated by a deep-seated desire for fairness and reciprocity. They keep track of exchanges and trade favors back and forth to keep their balance sheet at zero, believing that what goes around ought to come around. Because of their fervent belief in an eye for an eye, matchers become the engine that sinks takers to the bottom and propels givers to the top.
Takers violate matchers’ belief in a just world. When matchers witness takers exploiting others, they aim to even the score by imposing a tax. For example, matchers spread negative reputational information to colleagues who might otherwise be vulnerable, preventing takers from getting away with self-serving actions in the future. On the flip side, most matchers can’t stand to see generous acts go unrewarded. When they see a giver putting others first, matchers go out of their way to dole out a bonus, in the form of compensation, recognition, or recommendations for promotions. Of course, these responses aren’t limited to matchers. Givers, too, are motivated to punish takers and reward fellow givers. But I’ve found that in the workplace, the majority of people are matchers, which means that they are the ones who end up dispensing the most taker taxes and giver bonuses. In an interdependent, interconnected business environment, what goes around comes around faster than it used to.
At Google, for example, an engineer named Brian received eight bonuses in the span of a single year, including three in just one month. He volunteered his time to train new hires and help members of multiple cross-functional teams learn new technologies, and his peers and managers responded like matchers, granting him additional pay and recognition. Consistent with Brian’s experience at Google, a wealth of research shows that in teams, givers earn more respect and rewards than do takers and matchers. As Stanford University sociologist Robb Willer notes, “Groups reward individual sacrifice.”
Interdependent work also means that employees will be evaluated and promoted not only on the basis of their individual results, but also in terms of their contributions to others. This reduces the incentives for takers to exploit givers, encouraging them to focus instead on advancing the group’s goals. As a result, takers engage in fewer manipulative acts—which reduces the risks to givers—yet they still contribute less than givers. This allows givers to gain a reputation for being more generous and group-oriented. And a rich body of evidence has shown that these qualities are the basis for sound leadership.
In fact, when givers become leaders, their groups are better off. Research led by Rotterdam School of Management professor Daan van Knippenberg has shown that employees work harder and more effectively for leaders who put others’ interests first. This, again, is a matching response: As van Knippenberg and Claremont Graduate University professor Michael Hogg found, “going the extra mile for the group, making personal sacrifices or taking personal risks on behalf of the group” motivates group members to give back to the leader and contribute to the group’s interests. And a thorough analysis led by Nathan Podsakoff, a professor at the University of Arizona, of more than 3,600 business units across numerous industries showed that the more frequently employees give help and share knowledge, the higher their units’ profits, productivity, customer satisfaction, and employee retention rates.
By contributing to groups, givers are also able to signal their skills. In a study led by researcher Shimul Melwani of UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, members of five dozen teams working on strategic analysis projects rated one another on a range of characteristics and behaviors. At the end of the project, team members reported which of their colleagues had emerged as leaders. The single strongest predictor of leadership was the amount of compassion that members expressed toward others in need. Interestingly, compassionate people were not only viewed as caring; they were also judged as more knowledgeable and intelligent. By expressing concern for others, they sent a message that they had the resources and capabilities to help others.
Today, these signals are ever more visible: Givers are aided by the fact that the anonymity of professional life is vanishing. In the past, when we encountered a job applicant, a potential business partner, or a prospective service provider, we had to rely on references selected by that candidate. When takers burned bridges with one contact, they could eliminate that person from their reference list. But now, online social networks offer a much richer database of references. Odds are that through a quick search of our LinkedIn or Facebook networks, we can find a common connection with knowledge of that person’s reputation. By reaching out to the mutual contact to obtain an independent reference on the candidate’s past behavior, decision makers can screen out takers and favor givers. Of the billion Facebook users around the world, 92 percent are within four degrees of separation—and in most countries, the majority of people are just three degrees apart.
Such tools have made it tough for a taker to hide in the shadows. At Groupon, for example, Howard Lee was heading the South China office, and received a slew of applications for sales jobs. He searched his LinkedIn network for common connections, and located quite a number of them. When he discovered that certain candidates had a history of self-serving behavior, he quickly moved on, focusing his time and energy on candidates with track records as givers.
Taken together, these trends are changing the characteristics that we value in people. Two of the defining qualities of great leaders are the ability to make others better and the willingness to put the group’s interests first. Because givers today add increasing value in leadership roles and interdependent work, hiring processes can be modified to assess which candidates are inclined to contribute more than they receive. For development, promotion, and retention, leaders and managers should focus less on individual skills and talents, and more on the extent to which employees use their skills and talents to lift others up—rather than cutting them down. The employees with the greatest potential to excel and rise will be those whose success reverberates to benefit those around them.
Along with investing in people who are already disposed toward operating like givers, it will be of paramount importance to create practices that nudge employees in the giver direction. In many organizations, owing to their tendencies to claim credit and promote themselves, successful takers are more visible than successful givers. To make sure that employees are aware that it’s possible to be a giver and achieve success, it may be necessary to locate and recognize respected role models who embody an orientation toward others. That way, when what goes around comes around faster than it used to, it will be for the benefit of employees and their organizations.
by Nic Marks
I am often asked about how I came up with the idea of the Happy Planet Index. For those of you who are not familiar with the index it was first released in 2006 by the new economics foundation and is the first global measure of sustainable well-being. The index seeks to capture the tension at the heart of the sustainability agenda – that our pursuit of good lives now is threatening our capacity to lead them in the future.I wanted to create an index which held this tension. One that respected the fact that much of modern life in developed western economies is really rather good. I felt that the environmental movement as whole tended to focus too much on what was wrong and didn’t give enough credit to what was going right. For example life expectancy across the globe has dramatically increased over the last 100 years and continues to do so. In our past, surviving to adulthood was a challenging business – lives were short and brutish.Whilst there have been many huge successes there are also alarm bells ringing….
…But If people are going to start making changes in their lives, happiness has to be introduced into the sustainability debate. The debate must be reframed – instead of focusing on the negative (‘the planet can’t continue like this…’) we need to be thinking in terms of securing and ensuring happy healthy lives for everyone.
This way of thinking enables people to imagine new ways of being that are happier and more sustainable. For example, there has been a growing trend of people who are choosing to occasionally work from home, saving wasted time and energy, and freeing up more time for other activities. Trends like these must be encouraged and extended by the political systems in which we live. How much happier and more sustainable might our lives become if cars were phased out of or limited in city centres, while cycling facilities and clean reliable transit systems were improved. Hundreds of small changes, representing win-wins for people and the planet, can make a real difference.
The business world has a massive role to play in this transition too and a happiness perspective offers an exciting potential alignment of interests. All of us want to do meaningful work and what could be more purposeful than working towards to a better future for us all. So organizations that rise to the sustainability challenge will most likely be rewarded with employees who are highly motivated and engaged.
It is this potential alignment of the purpose of nations with the needs of citizens and businesses that makes me hopeful about the future. The Happy Planet Index seeks to capture this optimism without denying the scale of the challenges.
Ms. Bronnie Ware, a woman who worked for years with the dying, wrote a list of the top 5 regrets people say aloud on their deathbed …
…we’ve supplemented each regret with some rockstar advice on how to not have these regrets in the digital age.
1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people have had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.
It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.
TNW Advice: …
“Yesterday, I had an epiphany that for the first time in my life, who I am and who I want to be are virtually one in the same. It’s so much more effective to be yourself than to pretend to be something your not because doing the latter is so emotionally taxing, you’ll never be someone that is fully committed. Being yourself pays dividends.” -Brett Martin, the CEO and Founder of Sonar, a hot new social, location-based mobile application.
2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.
This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.
By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.
TNW Advice: …
…being a Dutch-based company, our roots are in relaxation. We know how to unwind after hard days.
3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.
Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.
We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.
TNW Advice: …
…We’d like to take this time to remind you that as much as we love living in the virtual world, sometimes a hug, a long chat over a glass of wine or a phone call to a loved one far away is more valuable than any social media valuation, no matter how ludicrous.
4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.
It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.
TNW Advice: …
…defer to real life for those that matter. Pokes, Likes and Comments are not the same as ladies’ lunches, beach trips and dinner parties. Make the time.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have sillyness in their life again.
When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.
TNW Advice: If you’re reading this, chances are you have a long way to go before you die. So, please, allow yourself to be happy. Smile in the sunshine, kick the ball around with your son, have a glass of wine with your partner in the afternoon, move to Argentina, buy yourself a Kindle for the love of reading; whatever it is, be good to yourself.
If someone asked how your day was going, what would be your knee-jerk reaction? If you’re a member of the American workforce, there’s a good chance your immediate response would be a single word: “Busy!” But in many cases, these lamentations about our jam-packed schedules amount to little more than a humblebrag about how important we are (so many things to do and people to see!)…
Busyness has become something of a badge of honor — a way to hint at our own relevance and superior productivity without saying it in so many words — but in reality, constant busyness may be a sign of just the opposite. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that if you’re busy all the time (and not giving yourself a chance to rest and recharge), you’re very likely doing something wrong.
Here five reasons to try to let go of excessive busyness — or at least stop telling people how busy you are.
It could be harming your productivity.
Too much busyness can easily prevent you from actually getting things done. When we fill our days up with one task after another and frequently multitask — rarely giving our full focus to the task at hand — it can keep us from doing any one thing to our best ability. In other words, quantity takes precedence over quality.
Working unceasingly and without substantial breaks has been shown to be an ineffective way to master a task. Studies in Berlin in the 1990s on young violin players — looking at the daily practice habits of elite players (those who were likely to become professionals one day) as compared to average players — yielded some surprising data. The elite players weren’t more successful because they practiced more. Both groups on average spent the same amount of time practicing each week. And whereas the average players spread their practice out through the day, the elite players worked in two intense periods of deliberate activity each day, followed by down time. The elite players were not only more relaxed, but they slept an extra hour each night, writer Cal Newport notes.
It could hinder your communication and connection with others.
According to Nell Minow, co-founder of The Corporate Library, the word “busy” can be “profoundly toxic” to both our careers and our personal lives. When someone asks how we’re doing and we answer “Busy,” Minow argues, it’s a statement of our own self-importance and the relative lack of importance of the person we’re talking to, which automatically precludes the possibility of authentic interaction.
“I promise that if you eliminate this word from your life, you will instantly, permanently and powerfully be more conscious about your choices and more effective in your communication with others,” Minow wrote in a recent Huffington Post blog,“How ‘Busy’ Became A Toxic Word.”
You might be suffering from a bad case of Time Deficit Disorder.
Do you feel busy and frantic all day? Get anxious just looking at all the blocked-out slots on your Gmail calendar? You might have a case of the unofficial but all-too-real Time Deficit Disorder (also known as “time famine”). If you’re feeling constantly pressed for time, the best remedy may be the most unlikely one: Giving more of your time away to others. A 2012 study from Yale and Harvard researchers found that those who are more eager to devote some of their time to helping others are less likely to feel that time was their “scarcest resource.”
Another solution? Schedule time into your schedule to do nothing — a strategy LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner calls the “single most important productivity tool” he uses. Weiner says creating meeting-free “buffers” in his day affords him the time he needs to think strategically about the company’s big picture.
It could be a veil for underlying laziness.
We tend to think of being busy as the opposite of being lazy, but the two qualities may be more connected than we’d like to think. If you’re constantly busy, there’s a good chance that you’re expending a great deal of energy on tasks that may feel urgent — but aren’t actually all that important. Viewing busyness as a virtue actually keeps us from doing meaningful work, according to iDoneThis COO Janet Choi, and in this sense, busyness is a form of laziness.
“It’s easy, even enticing, to neglect the importance of filling our time with meaning, thinking instead that we’ll be content with merely filling our time,” Choi told Fast Company. “We self-impose these measures of self-worth by looking at quantity instead of quality of activity.”
You may not be managing your energy well.
Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project and author of “The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working,” knows better than anyone that excessive busyness can be a destructive force in our work and lives. We’ve been taught that “more, bigger, faster” is always better. But this “volume is God” mentality, Schwartz explains, presumes that we have unlimited resources — which, of course, we don’t.
Renewal is actually a way to increase our capacity to be more effective, Schwartz explains, allowing us to get more out of the time we put into a task. The time spent on a task is not the same as the energy spent on a task, and taking time to rest and recharge can help you to get more done by allowing you to be more intentional with your energy — so when you’re relaxing, you’re really relaxing, and when you’re working, you’re fully engaged with work.
“Renewal is not for slackers,” Schwartz said in June at The Huffington Post’s conference, “Redefining Success: The Third Metric.” “Renewal is a way in which to increase your capacity to be more effective.”
Susan Adams reports…
Since the late 1990s, Gallup has been measuring international employee satisfaction through a survey it has been honing over the years. In total it has polled 25 million employees in 189 different countries. The latest version, released this week, gathered information from 230,000 full-time and part-time workers in 142 countries.
Overall, Gallup found that only 13% of workers feel engaged by their jobs. That means they feel a sense of passion for their work, a deep connection to their employe and they spend their days driving innovation and moving their company forward.
The vast majority, some 63%, are “not engaged,” meaning they are unhappy but not drastically so. In short, they’re checked out. They sleepwalk through their days, putting little energy into their work.
A full 24% are what Gallup calls “actively disengaged,” meaning they pretty much hate their jobs. They act out and undermine what their coworkers accomplish.
Add the last two categories and you get 87% of workers worldwide who, as Gallup puts it, “are emotionally disconnected from their workplaces and less likely to be productive.” In other words, work is more often a source of frustration than one of fulfillment for nearly 90% of the world’s workers. That means that most workplaces are less productive and less safe than they could be and employers are less likely to create new jobs.
To do its engagement tally, Gallup put together a list of 12 statements. I’ll list them here and you can see how you measure up:
1. I know what is expected of me at work
2. I have the material and equipment I need to do my work right.
3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.
6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.
7. At work, my opinions seem to count.
8. The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.
9. My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.
10. I have a best friend at work.
11. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.
12. This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.
The most obvious fix for unhappy workers goes back to the 12 questions. Communicate with your workers, telling them what you expect of them, praise them when they do well, encourage them to move forward. Give them the tools they need and the opportunity to feel challenged. For workers the trick is to find an employer that is paying attention to those questions.
by Viral Mehta
We’re never so vulnerable than when we trust someone — but paradoxically, if we cannot trust, neither can we find love or joy. –Walter Anderson
…Stepping outside is far from comfortable, and can even be painful. And when we experience something painful, the tendency is to dissociate ourselves from the feeling, to become numb to it. We fragment our reality and stop being in relationship with this part of our experience, meaning that we don’t learn from it, let alone transform it. Instead, if we embrace our vulnerability, we can fully accept the discomfort and learn to observe our entire reality deeply and intimately — just the way it is.
It may seem like such opportunities are rare, but they’re surprisingly accessible. Here are a few statements that crack open a beautiful vulnerability within everyday situations:
- “I was wrong.” It’s hard to say this at any time, but especially hard at work — we often fall prey to the myth that we are paid to be right. I remember reading a story about someone who made a multi-million dollar mistake at work, and subsequently went in to his boss’s office to resign. The boss was wise, though. “Why would I let you go now, after having spent millions of dollars training you?!” By owning up to our mistakes, we open ourselves to learning from them.
- “I don’t know.” Not knowing is itself uncomfortable. Confessing it to others is doubly so. But it is also one of the most liberating things we can embrace. When I admit that I don’t know, I use up less energy in pretending to know, and give myself more space to explore the mysteries of an inherently emergent reality.
- “I am sorry.” Whether intentionally or unintentionally, our actions can be hurtful to others. When this happens, the tendency of both parties is to disconnect and create a separation. By apologizing, I might think that I’m losing ground in a relationship. In reality, I am building a proactive bridge of empathy — and a possibility for a greater and truer connection.
- “Thank you.” In giving thanks, we might fear that we are betraying a need for support. In reality, we display more confidence and less insecurity when we graciously acknowledge what we have received. It also serves as a tuning fork, making us aware of the abundance of gifts we continually receive from our surroundings. At a deeper level, in expressing gratitude, we wake up to our fundamental inter-dependence.
- “I love …” In a recent commencement address, author Jonathan Franzen spoke of the dangers of remaining on the surface of life, of just “liking” instead of loving. In his words, love is what forces you to “expose your whole self, not just the likable surface, and to have it rejected can be catastrophically painful.” But there’s a pay-off. In his own experience, love “became a portal to an important, less self-centered part of myself that I’d never even known existed.” Love helps us go beyond our limited notions of self.
Latin vulnerare which means ‘to wound’, and so at the root of vulnerability is my own sense of wounded-ness. To be authentic in a moment in which I feel wounded, I have to honestly acknowledge the places where I feel hurt and then muster up the strength to just be with the pain. This takes tremendous courage.
Literally speaking, courage comes from the Latin cor, meaning heart. So when I open up to any experience fully, with courage — our whole heart — it naturally opens me up to a deep love. The blind musician Facundo Cabral said it beautifully: “If you are filled with love, you can’t have fear,” he said, “because love is courage.” True vulnerability, in its most profound form, is an act of love.
by Jeremy Dean, psychologist and the author of PsyBlog.
Around 50% of Caucasians have the ADRA2b gene variant.
Some people are genetically predisposed to spot negative events automatically, according to a new study published in Psychological Science (Todd et al., 2013).
A gene called ADRA2b seems to cause people to take particular note of negative emotional events.
The study’s lead author, Professor Rebecca Todd explained:
“This is the first study to find that this genetic variation can significantly affect how people see and experience the world. The findings suggest people experience emotional aspects of the world partly through gene-coloured glasses — and that biological variations at the genetic level can play a significant role in individual differences in perception.”
This could help explain why it is that some people seem particularly predisposed towards seeing the negative aspects of the world around them, while it passes others by.
Not only is the gene linked to differences between people in their attention, but also to memory. People with the gene likely also find negative events are enhanced in their memories.
It may mean that people with the gene are more likely to suffer from uncomfortable flashbacks to negative memories or even posttraumatic stress disorder.
Statistically, around 50% of Caucasians have the ADRA2b gene variant, but the rates are much lower in other ethnicities.
As with many genes, though, they interact with the environment: their effect on our individual psychology is partly determined by our upbringing, those around us and how we choose to think and act.
Just because there is a gene that influences our starting point, that doesn’t stop us having some control over where we end up.
Young New Zealander’s are obsessed with social media, want to be rich and famous and cave to peer pressure – if this is what you think, then think again.
Several stereotypes about young people, held by adults have been busted in the second annual Youthtown Voice of New Zealand Survey.
Over 1,100 teenagers, completed the survey commissioned by Youthtown and conducted by Point Research, which aims to give young people aged 13-18 a voice on the things that matter most to them.
Surprisingly just one-third of young people believe social networking is important to them, debunking the adult view that social media rules young lives.
“They may spend a lot of time on sites like Facebook and Snapchat, but ultimately young people want to hang out with their friends in person,” Head Researcher of the Youthtown Voice of New Zealand Survey, Alex Woodley, said.
The adult misconception that young people are most influenced by peer pressure has also been set straight, with 73 per cent of young people indicating that their parents have the most influence over their lives, and only forty three per cent noting their friends.Survey respondents also revealed that they don’t look up to celebrities or personalities because of their ‘fame’. Of the people they look up to, intelligence with ability (27 per cent), determination (11 per cent) and self-belief and confidence (10 per cent) were the strongest qualities young people admire.
“These are extremely positive messages spoken, straight from the mouths of young New Zealanders. The future really is in great hands,” Youthtown CEO, Paula Kearns said.
2013 Youthtown Voice of New Zealand Survey KEY SURVEY FINDINGS
1. Young people believe that their parents have the most influence over their life
2. The most protective factors for youth are related to positive relationships; feeling cared about by their family, having caring adults to turn to; having supportive friends with positive social values
3. 3/4 of young people agree there is a purpose to their life and they have a lot to offer the world
4. Approximately 1 in 6 of respondents do not really have anyone they can talk to when they are having a hard time
5. Young people admire celebrities with intelligence, talent, determination, confidence and self-belief. They don’t look up to celebrities or personalities because of their ‘fame’
6. Most young people feel good about things that make them different from other people
7. Young people are HAPPY! Over 3/4 of respondents rate their happiness as ‘6’ or more on a ten point scale
8. Young people identify with, and respect people, who are unaffected by the opinions of others (example, Ellen Degeneres and Demi Lovato)
9. Young people strongly believe in equality and acceptance of one another
10. 1/4 of young New Zealander’s currently volunteer or do community work of some sort
11. Most young people who volunteer, do so in youth centres or camps
12. Young people would like more opportunities to contribute to their community
13. Time and information are the greatest barriers preventing young people from volunteering
14. Only 1/3 of young people believe social networking is important to them, and one third say it’s not important at all. Most prefer to socialise at home or at a friend’s house
15. Nearly 9 out of 10 young people have a Facebook account and just under 1/4 have a Twitter account
16. Adventure, travel, better work opportunities and higher salaries are attracting our young people off-shore (10% don’t see their future in New Zealand)
17. More job opportunities and higher wages would make New Zealand an even better place to live
18. Job opportunities, events or activities and affordable accommodation or housing are the main reasons young people would want to live in and spend their future in New Zealand cities
19. 68% of young people said they are ‘worried’ or ‘moderately concerned’ about getting a job or career they want
20. 13% of young people ‘definitely’ see a future in New Zealand. Adventure, travel, better work opportunities and higher salaries is what attract our young people off shore
Our doubts about happiness can’t be answered abstractly. The best theory can’t make you happy; you have to test it. This testing requires choices, and choices are limited. If you stand back, most people live their lives according to a set of beliefs, and over the years they manifest what they expect out of life. (That’s why so many highly successful people were raised by loving, supportive mothers who told them how wonderful they were. If you go through life with such positive expectations, your choices are likely to be self-affirming rather than self-defeating.) The importance of choice tells us something important right off the bat. There is no such thing as a passive road to happiness. Even if humans are designed to be happy, they must activate the possibility rather than wait for the design to unfold on its own.
Despite the fad for viewing happiness as accidental, it’s more productive to test for yourself the kind of decisions that promote happiness. What should you do to make yourself happy right this minute? The array of possibilities is quite wide.
- Avoid stressors that are avoidable.
- Fix problems immediately – don’t procrastinate.
- Bond with people you care about.
- Do things that are meaningful to you.
- Give your brain positive input. Avoid needless negativity.
- Address the signs of depression and anxiety.
- Assert control over your life. Don’t be dependent on others or dominated by them.
- Be of service.
- Walk away from situations you can’t improve.
- Find a source of genuine fulfillment.
- Don’t do things you know to be wrong.
- Speak your own truth.
- Express appreciation and affection toward others.
- Find something that inspires you. Don’t waste time on distractions.
- Allow time for play.
- Leave room for down time.
- Set aside a fixed time for reflection and meditation.
- Focus on long-term pleasures, like planning a vacation, rather than short-term gratification.
Notice that nothing on this list is a matter of faith, religion, or spiritual aspiration. No one is appealing to perfect love, understanding, or compassion. Happiness doesn’t await a tremendous kind of personal transformation. Instead, these are practical choices that are well documented to improve a person’s happiness. One finding from positive psychology that’s actually positive is this: To make a happy life, make your day happy. Immediate decisions matter the most.
You might cast a skeptical eye at the things I’ve listed, believing that this is nothing but a laundry list that is too long to be useful. But let me suggest otherwise. Most people are unhappy because they ignored the items on the list. They allowed too much stress to enter their lives, or they refused to walk away from impossible situations, or they allowed themselves to become dependent on somebody else, just to give a few leading examples. The other lesson from this list is that living unconsciously doesn’t bring happiness – each item asks for focus and awareness. What you aren’t conscious of, you can’t change.
So before you lament that life is unfair or that only a select few are born to be happy, consider every item on the list as it applies to you today, right this minute. Set aside your beliefs about ultimate happiness and focus instead of today’s happiness. It’s also useful to itemise the things that are almost guaranteed to create unhappiness.
- Putting up with unnecessary stress.
- Denying that a problem exists and putting off its solution.
- Isolating yourself, not interacting with people you care about.
- Engaging in routine or meaningless work.
- Exposing yourself to needless negativity and negative people in general.
- Feeling depressed or anxious and simply putting up with it.
- Allowing someone else to dominate you, make decisions for you, or exerting too much control.
- Acting selfish, offering little or nothing to others.
- Stubbornly enduring an impossible situation.
- Putting your own fulfillment on hold.
- Doing things you know to be wrong.
- Going along to get along, not upholding your own values.
- Forgetting to express how much you appreciate and value others.
- Wasting time on distractions.
- Treating everything as work, duty, or obligation.
- Leaving no room for down time.
- Allowing yourself no time to reflect and meditate.
- Focusing on short-term gratification.
Many will be tempted to protest that two laundry lists are worse than one. Both are unrealistic. In fact, you have enough time in the day to do everything on the positive list and avoid everything on the negative list. What you need isn’t enough hours in the day. You need to value self-awareness. Once you want to be more aware, the intention to create happiness becomes realistic – you are motivated to be the author of our own fulfillment. It’s amazing how many people don’t value their happiness enough to pay attention to it. Once you do, you will discover for yourself if lifelong happiness is feasible or not. It won’t be a matter of theory or delayed gratification.
Beth Miller writes…
The leaders of these companies all agreed that creating a workplace where employees enjoyed working started with the company culture. As leaders, they were in the position to significantly influence the culture. These leaders learned that they have to:
- Live and breathe the values of the company
- Be transparent even when it is difficult
- Communicate, communicate, communicate
This list probably isn’t new to many of you, but it isn’t easy to accomplish.
The Best Places to Work survey and other employee engagement surveys are a snap shot in time. It measures how employees perceive the company they work for at the time they answer the questions.
But for a great workplace to be sustainable, leaders need to take the role of a movie director making sure that their actors and actresses have a great environment to be inspired to create Oscar winning performances day in and day out.
So what do you as a leader need to do to improve the perceptions of employees?
First, you need to understand that as a leader you need to personify the values of your company. Values are only values if you and the people around you practice them day in and day out.
As a leader, you need to be demonstrating company values in a way that is visible to others around you. People can interpret your values by:
- The decisions you make
- Behaviors you show externally
- Organizational goals
- Interpersonal interactions
- Performance feedback
You need to insure that all of these are aligned with your company values.
Second, ask these questions at the end of each day to determine if you are living company values on a daily basis:
- What decisions did I make today and how do they reinforce specific company values?
- Which people did I interact with that demonstrated one of the company values? And, how did I provide feedback to them to reinforce company values?
- Who made a decision or acted in a way that was not aligned with company values? And, how did I coach the person into alignment?
- On a scale of 1-10, how well was I aligned with company values today?
And third, plan for the next day. Who will you be interacting with and what potential decisions will you be making.
Belinda Gannaway of Social Business Consultancy NixonMcInnes posts this success story about how their own company’s creative and immensely do-able solution to increasing happiness at work is starting to spread across the globe
But our low-tech approach to measuring happiness is now no longer restricted to our own office here in Brighton. Last week, Chris Evans at Radio 2 talked about us and our practice on air and while in Denver for the WorldBlu conference on democracy at work, Will received a call from Inc. Magazine in the US. They had been talking to a Californian company about their approach to measuring happiness at work – using tennis balls and buckets. Asked where they had got the idea from, they said they’d read about it on our blog post!
Following a day with us in Brighton, the digital team at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) have now set up their own happy buckets. Tim Lloyd, Head of Digital Communications at BIS, explains: “We liked the look of it when we visited. And sometimes my feeling of success or disappointment is out of kilter with others in the team.”
So the happiness index gives Tim another way to gauge how his team is feeling – and whether that matches his perception. And then do something about it.
And they’re not the only ones – another of our clients, Orbit Group, one of the UK’s most forward thinking housing organisations have also set up their own Happiness Index in their Customer Services Centre. Alongside the buckets, they have an inspirational quote of the day, chosen by one of the advisors.
Happiness at work has been on our agenda for a long time and it is climbing up the global business agenda in big strides. People are starting to understand that as well as improving quality of life, a happier workforce delivers better customer experiences, are more flexible, adaptable and innovative. Put simply, happiness affects the bottom line.
Here is how NixonMcInnes brilliantly use their deliberately low-tech~high-tech approach to measuring – and constantly working to improve people’s happiness at work:
At the end of the day, as we leave the office, we each drop a tennis ball into either the Happy or Unhappy bucket, to capture how we felt, on balance, throughout the day. The following morning, the balls are counted (by either Max, or a band of merry pixies, I’m not sure which) and the totals scrawled on a piece of paper stuck to the door. At the end of each week, Pete, our industrious chairman, tots up the numbers and logs them in a Google spreadsheet. It’s poetry in motion.
To complete the feedback loop, we periodically fetch and process the data from the spreadsheet using Google App Engine, and display it on our internal, Geckoboard-powered dashboard, keeping the data nice and visible, and allowing us to answer the all-important question:over time, as a group, are we becoming more or less happy?
Last week was a bad week, but we’re working on it!
This Greater Good article by Kozo Hattor provides a whole selection of practical ideas for making the benefits of mindfulness more attractive and inviting to men and boys, and illustrating them with a number of success stories from the cartoon Kung Fu Panda channelling his inner peace to quell enemy fire, to the Dhamma Brothers success with mindfulness practice to make lasting positive change in a men’s prison.
Boys and men commit the vast majority of violent acts, from domestic violence to murder. We’ve got to get at the root causes…
We’ve spent nine weeks on the Cultivating Compassion Training (CCT) course at Stanford University strengthening our attention, building awareness of our bodies, and learning to confront pain in ourselves and in others—and throughout the course, male students were dropping out like 12th-seeded teams in the NCAA basketball tournament.
This gender imbalance was not unique to Stanford’s CCT. Two-thirds of students at the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City, California, are female, according to teacher Gil Fronsdal, an ordained Soto Zen priest who was also a Theravada monk in Burma. Elad Levinson, the director of programs at Spirit Rock Mediation Center, says, “The sociodemographic of Spirit Rock consists of primarily women.”
All of these programs integrate mindfulness meditation—the practice of focusing attention on our thoughts and feelings without judging them. That might not sound like much, but study after study finds that practicing mindfulness can bring a host of physical, psychological, and social benefits. More recently, evaluations of programs like CCT are finding that mindfulness is a very effective way to cultivate compassionate intentions and behaviours.
Is that something that boys and men need? “Men tell you what is on their minds, but not what is in their heart,” says Levinson, who has 40 years of psychotherapy and 20 years of leading men’s groups under his belt. Perhaps not coincidentally, boys and men commit the vast majority of violent acts, from domestic violence to murder. Many struggle with expressing empathy and compassion…
At military boot camps and police academies, men learn to control their breathing and focus on a target before firing a weapon. Sports are a great training ground for mindfulness: Basketball players are taught to clear their mind by going through a routine when shooting a free throw. Being in “the zone” is active meditation in its highest form.
Notice, however, that in all of these mindfulness practices, compassion is removed from the equation. These boys and men are being trained for win-or-lose competition..
While some argue that this is the result of a biological predisposition, contemporary research inneuroplasticity, by scientists like Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin, Madison’s Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, finds that even short-term compassion meditation training (30 minutes a day for eight weeks) alters the brain activity in regions associated with positive emotional skills like empathy. That is true for both men and women. As Davidson says, “Compassion is indeed an emotional skill that can be trained.”
We understand the benefits. The need is there. But how do we get men to participate in mindfulness and compassion training? Here are five ways to plant the seeds of compassion in boys—and cultivate its growth in men.
1. Use pop culture to teach mindfulness to boys
When my wife and I tried to teach our sons how to meditate, they immediately sat down “crisscrossed apple-sauce” and closed their eyes. “What are you thinking about?” I asked my five year old. “Inner peace,” he replied.
It turns out that he learned this technique from Po in the movie Kung Fu Panda…
“If every eight year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation,” says the Dalai Lama. Some might argue with that point, but given research showing how mindfulness meditation leads to greater compassion, perhaps portrayals of meditation in action belong in the Netflix queues of young children.
Shows like Kung Fu Panda and Avatar: The Last Airbender feature characters that gain power—as well as peace of mind—through meditation. The Jedi Knights of Star Wars consistently preach mindfulness to each other, specifically as a way to foster compassion and restraint.
2. Give boys role models of mindfulness and compassion
I meditate every day. Sometimes I meditate in my sons’ bedroom, which gives them a sense of security. “Daddy, will you ‘medtate’ in our room, please?” is a common bedtime request of my three year old.
Our sons also practice Kristen Neff’s self-compassion techniques daily. Whenever they say, “thank you,” they put their hands on their hearts and bow deeply. My wife and I want them to connect with what Bruce Lee calls the “emotional content” of their actions. Some parents at our son’s kindergarten have noticed this pose of gratitude and taught their children the gesture.
3. Start with boys in school
A program in Oakland, the Mind Body Awareness Project (MBA), “work in juvenile halls, detention camps, and at-risk schools in California, serving young people with histories of violence, substance abuse, and deep trauma,” as Congressman Tim Ryan writes in “Toward a More Mindful Nation.”
Scientific evaluations of many of [the mindfulness programs like this one] are finding that they boost academic achievement and reduce behavioral problems. As Congresman Ryan writes:
These people and many others all over America and the world are changing the way we approach chronic poverty and disconnection. These programs reveal to our children that a negative and dangerous life is not their only option. With mindfulness skills they see that they have choices and the wherewithal to overcome the adversity in their lives. As these programs grow and lead to deep, systemic change, our country will be a safer and healthier place because of it.
4. Meet men where they are
Rather than try to get a few good men to attend compassion training, why don’t we find areas where men are a captive audience, and teach compassion there?
Mindfulness meditation has already been incorporated into the US military’s Marine Corps. At the Quantico, Virginia base, soldiers are offered an eight-week mindfulness course in order to better deal with anxiety, stress, depression, and insomnia. “I can’t think of any aspect of my life that it hasn’t helped me with,” reports Major Jeff Davis.
“Prisoners are such great role models for the rest of us,” says Jenny Phillips, director of the Dhamma Brothers, a documentary about the beneficial effects of Vipassana meditation practices administered in an overcrowded, understaffed, maximum-security prison for men outside of Birmingham, Alabama. “The Dhamma Brothers suggests the possibility of freedom from that which imprisons us all,” writes Phillips in her director’s statement.
Phillips plans to release free teaching curriculum for schools to teach The Dhamma Brothers. The curriculum includes not only guides to teach and discuss the film and its companion book, but also experiential exercises on mindfulness, meditation, and cultivating loving-kindness.
Catching boys in the home, children at school, kids in front of the flat screen, and adults in institutions might just start a revolution that will end the gender imbalance of compassion.
5. Make compassion training manlier
Finally, we might try to make mindfulness and compassion training more attractive to men.
Part of the struggle is to simply encourage men to lead other men into mindfulness. “Men tend to go deeper when they are not with women,” claims Elad Levinson. Gil Fronsdal notes that when he taught a meditation retreat without a female co-teacher, his gender ratio sometimes reached 50-50. So maybe having male teachers leading a class for men-only would help.
We can use examples of mindfulness in military, sports training, and popular culture in order to illustrate the concepts and build credibility among men. Levinson argues that compassion trainings need to be “culturally relevant, delivered by credible people who can relate to men, and learning accessible.”
Malcom Gladwell wants us to rethink how we think about the giants in our lives whether they be outsized opponents, disabilities, misfortunes, or oppression. We all face or have faced odds that seemed to be stacked against us. Odds that we are forced to deal with.
In David and Goliath, Gladwell shares two ideas. First, “much of what we consider valuable in our world arises out of these kinds of lopsided conflicts, because the act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty.” The battle makes us better. It develops us and reveals strengths that we didn’t know we had.
Second, giants are not always what we think they are. The powerful and strong are not always what they seem. Often their strength can expose their greatest vulnerability. Their size can be their undoing. What we see as their overwhelming advantages can also be the thing that limits their options.
We know but easily forget, that there is a point where more doesn’t make a difference and more still becomes a disadvantage. “We all assume,” writes Gladwell, “that being bigger and stronger and richer is always in our best interest.” A wealthy man told Gladwell about the relationship between wealth and parenting:
My own instinct is that it’s much harder than anybody believes to bring kinds up in a wealthy environment. People are ruined by challenged economic lives. But they’re ruined by wealth as well because they lose their ambition and they lose their pride and they lose their sense of self-worth. It’s difficult at both ends of the spectrum. There’s some place in the middle which probably works best of all.
Gladwell makes the point that certainly some people triumph over their disabilities in spite of them. They simply won’t let them stand in their way. But there are those that succeed because of their disability. “They learned something in their struggle that proved to be of enormous advantage.” Challenges can cause us to develop skills we might not otherwise have developed if we choose to respond that way.
Although Gladwell makes the point that there are “desirable disadvantages,” in that it is the difficulty that eventually led to a person’s success and made them a better person, it is not to suggest that we should wish for more disadvantages or wish them on other people. We all have disadvantages, some are huge and some are not, but the lesson is in how we see them. How we react.
Some of what we perceive as advantages—opportunities or resources that we wish we had—have actually ruined people or diminished their full potential in some way.
The thread that runs through all of Gladwell’s examples is how individuals or organizations turned their disadvantages to their advantage—how they defeated giants by reframing their perceived advantage. There is no formula here as to what will work and what won’t. The question is as it has always been, how will you respond to what you have been given?
The key lesson is that for the most part, difficulties are what you make of them.
If you consider yourself to be a born morning person or an inveterate night owl, there is new research that supports your desire to wake up early or stay up late.
Each of us has a personal “chronotype,” or unique circadian rhythm, says Till Roenneberg, a professor of chronobiology at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich and one of the world’s experts on sleep. In broad strokes, these chronotypes are usually characterized as early, intermediate or late, corresponding to people who voluntarily go to bed and wake early, at a moderate hour or vampirishly late. If you are forced to wake up earlier than your body naturally would, you suffer from what Roenneberg calls “social jet lag.”People with an early chronotype may do well with a 7 a.m. workday rising time, but others do not. Sleeping out of sync with your innate preferences can be detrimental to your health, especially for late chronotypes, who tend to be the most at odds with typical work schedules.
…Research has shown that a single hour of social jet lag, the mismatch between your chronotype and your schedule, increases your risk for obesity by about 33 percent. In a study published in June in Chronobiology International, late-night chronotypes gained more weight during their freshman years at college than other new students did, even though college is one of the best fits for night owls.
The brain can also be affected. Another study in Chronobiology found that “individuals having a preference for evening hours to carry out their daily activities are prone to depression,” more than earlier chronotypes are…
Almost every cell in our bodies is likely to reflect our chronotype. In a study in May in Chronobiology, scientists … found that late chronotypes tended to have activity in genes that contribute to later sleep onset, offering further evidence that the urge to stay up late or to rise early is not a lifestyle choice but resides in our DNA.
Few people have the luxury of organizing their lives by their chronotypes. If you can’t convince your boss that your body clock requires a later start, consider “getting outside more,” Roenneberg says. Infusions of sunlight nudge most chronotypes toward an earlier sleep time. …The summertime clock typically disrupts sleep for all chronotypes, he says. “Everybody sleeps better when it ends.”
Want to know your personal chronotype? Complete the Munich Chronotype Questionnaire developed by Dr. Roenneberg and his colleagues.
…scientific studies of motivation have identified clear, principled reasons why some types of feedback work, and others don’t. It is neither mysterious nor random. If you’ve gotten it wrong in the past (and who hasn’t?), then you can do a better job giving feedback from now on by sticking to a few simple rules:
Rule #1: When things go wrong, keep it real.
It’s not easy to tell someone that he screwed up, knowing it will cause him anxiety, disappointment, or embarrassment. But don’t make the mistake of protecting a team member’s feelings at the expense of the truth, because without honest feedback he can’t possibly improve. Remember that negative emotions exist for a reason – they motivate us to take action to fix the problem.
Never try to make a team member feel that he wasn’t responsible for what went wrong (assuming he is, in fact, to blame), just because you don’t want to be “hard” on him. Letting him off the hook for his own mistake will rob him of a sense of personal control over his own work. Nothing is more de-motivating than feeling powerless. The short-term discomfort is nothing compared to the long-term damage that powerlessness can do.
Rule #2: When things go wrong, fight self-doubt.
We all need to believe that success is within reach, regardless of the mistakes we have made in the past. This requires us to be tactful, to share feedback without surrendering the possibility for improvement. To do this,
- Make your advice specific. What exactly can your team member do improve? When you are a leader, helping others figure out how to do it right is just as important as letting them know what they are doing wrong.
- Emphasize actions that she has the power to change. Talk about aspects of her performance that are under her control, like the time and effort she put into a project, or the strategic approach she used.
- Avoid praising effort. Studies show that being complimented for “effort” after a failure not only makes people feel stupid, but also leaves them feeling incapable of reaching their goal. In these instances, it’s really best to stick topurely informational feedback – if effort isn’t the problem, figure out what is, and let the employee know.
Rule #3: When things go right, avoid praising ability.
I know we all like to hear how smart and talented we are, and so naturally we assume that it’s what our team members want to hear, too. Of course they do. But it’s not what they need to hear to stay motivated.
Studies show that when we are praised for having high ability, it leaves us vulnerable to self-doubt when we encounter difficulty. If being successful means you are “a natural,” then it’s easy to conclude when you’re having a hard time that you just don’t have what it takes.
Instead, praise aspects of your employee’s performance that wereunder his control. Talk about his creative approach, his careful planning, his persistence and effort, his collaborative attitude. Praise the process, not the person. That way, when he runs into trouble later on, he’ll remember the process that helped him to succeed in the past, and put that knowledge to good use.
HENRIK EDBERG writes…
In this article, I will share the seven habits on how to be a highly positive person — or if you are already positive, to become even more positive. If you are in a funk right now, following these habits will also get you right back on track.
1. Don’t let bad things pull you down
Highly positive people take bad things and see the good things in them.
Bad things can happen to anyone. The difference between a positive person and a negative one isn’t the events that happen to them but how they respond to those events. While negative people let bad things pull them down, positive people don’t. They take bad things and make the best out of them.
As Randy Pausch once said, “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”
A great example is Oprah Winfrey, one of the most influential women in the world. She was, for a time, the world’s only black billionaire. Oprah may be rich and successful today, but she faced extreme hardship as a child.
When she was born up till the age of six, Oprah lived in rural poverty with her grandmother. She was so poor that she often wore dresses made of potato sacks, for which the local children made fun of her for.
When she was nine, Oprah was sexually abused–by the people closest to her, her cousin, uncle, and a family friend. At 13, after years of abuse, Oprah ran away from home. She was pregnant at 14 but her son died shortly after birth.
She attended an affluent suburban high school, Lincoln High School, but had her poverty constantly rubbed in her face as she would ride to school with fellow African-Americans who were servants of her classmates’ families.
Despite this extreme hardship, Oprah did not let it get her down. She overcame her adversity to become a benefactor to others, first becoming a radio anchor at 19, then having her own daytime talk show The Oprah Winfrey Show at 22. Through the show, she has helped millions of people around the world, empowering people to take charge of their life and drawing from both her life lessons and her interviewees’ life lessons to inspire others.
If Oprah had caved in the face of hardship, she would never be where she is in life. She is such a positive light because she chose to make the best out of difficulties she was dealt with and subsequently use these lessons to help others.
Likewise for you, don’t ever let yourself get pulled down by your difficulties. Rather, ask yourself what you can learn from them and how you can turn them around to create the life you seek. Such a proactive approach is the start to living an empowered, happy life.
2. Appreciate every good thing that comes your way
Highly positive people are grateful for every good thing that comes their way.
A month ago I conducted a 14-day gratitude challenge on my personal development blog, Personal Excellence, to over 200 participants. Aside from the assigned gratitude tasks to be done one task a day, I asked my participants to identify at least three things to be grateful for every day.
While it was awkward to deliberately find things to be grateful for at the beginning, many participants quickly eased into the task after a couple of days. From friendships, to daily coffee, to burnt toast, to family vacations, to life itself, many gained a new-found appreciation for these very things which they tended to take for granted.
The participants emerged from the challenge more appreciative and positive of life, even though their lives have technically not changed much compared to before the challenge.
Many of us tend to focus on the negative things in life and that naturally makes us feel negative. Why not pay attention to the many great positive things in our lives instead? For example, instead of being upset at the traffic jam you are in right now, why not be grateful for the vehicle you get to drive?
Instead of lamenting about your lousy boss, why not be grateful that you have a boss to lament about as opposed to being retrenched or unemployed? You’ll be surprised to see how many great things you already have going on with this little mindset shift.
3. Lead a well-rounded life
Highly positive people lead a well-rounded life. This means they don’t let work take over their life; neither do they let their relationships override their personal agenda.
I used to devote all my attention to work, to the point where I deprioritized my social life and my personal leisure. While it was great fun working since my work (helping others to grow) is my passion, I became very uninspired after a while because I was neglecting my other life areas. This was when I realize the importance of a well-rounded life to my emotional well-being.
So today, I ensure that I devote time to the core areas of my life: career, love, family, friends, self (through recreation), and contribution. My life wheel video shares the 11 core areas that make up our lives (collectively termed as the “life wheel”) and how to start achieving a 10/10 in all the areas.
4. Deal with your problems right away; don’t let them linger
Highly positive people deal with their problems right away rather than ignore them.
One thing I consistently teach on my blog and in my coaching is not to ignore your problems. Because ignoring your problems doesn’t mean that they will go away. Often times they will linger around and weigh you down subconsciously, even though you don’t realize that.
For example, I used to be an emotional eater where I would eat in response to my emotions like stress and sadness. For a long time I never dealt with this problem, choosing instead to drown myself in food whenever I felt bad.
Later I realized that I was utterly miserable because my stress eating (a) was causing me to gain extra weight, and (b) had turned me into a slave of food. It was only two years ago when I began tackling this issue and a year ago when I achieved complete resolution.
A simple tip to deal with your problems is to (a) keep a record of all outstanding issues you’d like to deal with, then (b) work on them one at a time. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming tackling multiple problems, but doing it one at a time will help you to manage things easily.
5. Let go
Highly positive people let go of the things that do not support them in living a conscious and positive life. This includes toxic and negative relationships.
I once had to let go of a deep friendship of 10 years because we were severely holding each other back. While I was always working on bettering myself, he tended to procrastinate on his own development and would at times live vicariously through my progress.
His lack of proactiveness in living the life of his dreams would negatively impact me as we had always agreed to work on our life goals together and take action together as best buds. I also felt that I was responsible for his inactions if he was truly living vicariously through my own goal progress.
While we tried to work things out in the beginning, it never happened. All our attempts to resolve this issue drained us as we kept going round in circles. After years as buddies, we were simply not compatible as each other’s good friend anymore.
We finally parted ways after 10 years and we immediately felt relieved of a dead weight.
Looking back I wish we had moved on earlier because the later years of our friendship actually drained us more than they helped us to grow.
Think about the negative things in your life right now — from toxic people, to energy vampires, to negative beliefs, to unhappy thoughts, to things that trigger unhappy memories — and start letting go of them, one by one. The sooner you let them go, the happier you will be.
6. Take responsibility for your life
Highly positive people take responsibility for their lives because they realize that happiness is a choice.
For all the problems, heartaches, toxic people, and baggage you are facing, take responsibility for them. While you may not have created those problems and they may be the result of others’ misactions, you can still take responsibility for experiencing them. Doing so puts you in the position to put a stop to them.
For example, I once experienced a heartbreak with someone I liked. While initially I faulted him for bringing me such pain and anguish, it was only in the later years when I took responsibility for my emotions and the situation that I was finally able to move on.
I later realized that I can literally control my happiness by taking responsibility of my negative emotions (and subsequently my life). Because it’s when I do that I can then take action to address my unhappiness and the situations causing it, rather than putting blame on others. Subsequently, I was able to easily move on from two other relationships that didn’t work out.
7. Spread love and kindness (by helping others)
Last but not least, highly positive people spread love and kindness to others without expecting to get anything back in return.
One of the most rewarding things one can do in life is to help others. This is something I have experienced every day for my past five years of running my personal development blog.
The changes I see in my readers’ lives, the happy looks on their faces, and the deep emotional shifts they experience from reading my articles or attending my courses — these bring so much joy into my life and are reason enough for me to continue what I’m doing forever.
While some of us may think that we need to achieve X status or Y age before we can help others, that’s not true at all. The simplest things can help others: one little phone call to a distanced friend, one pat on the back to congratulate a co-worker for a job well done, or a shoulder to lean on for a friend in need.
I started my blog at a relatively young age of 24 which most people wouldn’t think of as an old-enough age to offer help or advice to others. That was a limiting belief on their part though, because we can always help others no matter how old we are or where we are in life.
In the past five years I was able to help many break through limiting careers, let go of toxic relationships, gain strength from hard moments, excel in their goals, and achieve greater heights by simply focusing on helping those I can help, one step at a time.
If I had thought that one person couldn’t make a difference, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this blog post today, and neither would I be running a personal development blog or doing life coaching for others.
You have more power than you think you have, so use that to help others. You will find that when you give, you will naturally receive in return as well.
Apply these 7 habits of highly positive people
Which habits resonate with you? Which can you start applying right away?
Carol Ann Duffy today announces the first ever Young Poet Laureate for London at a reception event on National Poetry Day at the Houses of Parliament.
24 year old Londoner, Kenyan-born Somali poet Warsan Shire, has been selected from a shortlist of six talented young poets, and will go on to enjoy a life-changing, whirlwind year of commissions, public appearances and residencies – creating work that reflects on our ever changing capital, culture and society. This will begin with a residency at the Houses of Parliament itself. She will be supported in her role by London’s writer development agency, Spread the Word
Steve Moffitt, Chief Executive, A New Direction, said:
‘It is a privilege for A New Direction to support and be part of the realisation of the first Young Poet Laureate for London. It is our vision that London leads the world as a city where young people can participate in and experience the best of arts and culture.
The Young Poet Laureate is symbolic of what is best about our city and creates a unique opportunity for a new voice to be heard. The opportunity not only offers a platform for the best in spoken word and poetry young talent to be celebrated and shared but also harnesses London’s greatest asset – our young people.’
Warsan Shire is a 24 year old Kenyan-born Somali poet, writer, editor and educator who is based in London.
Born in 1988, Warsan has read her work extensively all over Britain and internationally – including recent readings in South Africa, Italy, Germany, Canada, America and Kenya – and her début book, ’TEACHING MY MOTHER HOW TO GIVE BIRTH’ (flipped eye), was published in 2011.
‘…you are terrifying
and strange and beautiful
something not everyone knows how to love.’
by Kameelah Janan Rasheed
…In “Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth”, she fills the vacant pages with haunting images of women’s bodies occupied by war and displacement. In Ugly, a girl “carries whole cities in her belly” and a mother cautions that “if she is covered in continents,/if her teeth are small colonies,/if her stomach is an island/if her thighs are borders?/What man wants to lie down/and watch the world burn/in his bedroom?/Your daughter’s face is a small riot,/her hands are a civil war,/refugee camp behind each ear”. Her poetry carries the energy of multiple women, the depth of many generations, and the weight of many lives lived…
When Warsan Shire writes, she does precisely that; she opens a wound and as an emotional cartographer, maps the terrain of her trauma and sutures the wound through her poetry. Fearless and vulnerable, she pulls back layers to expose not only the pain, but the healing as well.
On “No Shame Day”, Warsan shared about struggling with Bulimia, stating, “That whole part of my life is almost a myth, I was twenty years old, killing myself and not one person noticed.” Healed by the site of an “oiled and steamed” woman with hips as wide as hers at a hammam in Marrakech, Warsan reminds her reader, “if our secrets are secrets because we are told to be ashamed, then we must share them.”…
Back on February 25, 2011, you wrote “the birth name”. In this piece you wrote, “give your daughters difficult names. give your daughters names that command the full use of tongue” and ”my name doesn’t allow me to trust anyone that cannot pronounce it right.” Can you discuss these two lines?
Warsan means “good news” and Shire means “to gather in one place”. My parents named me after my father’s mother, my grandmother. Growing up, I absolutely wanted a name that was easier to pronounce, more common, prettier. But then I grew up and understood the power of a name, the beauty that comes in understanding how your name has affected who you are. My name is indigenous to my country, it is not easy to pronounce, it takes effort to say correctly and I am absolutely in love with the sound of it and its meaning. …
Clearly, you are not “just a poet”. In your biography, you comment that you curate and teach workshops around the art of healing through narrative. Can you describe the structure of these workshops? Why did you begin these workshops? What is you favorite moment from these workshops?
My workshops are around the idea of using poetry to heal trauma, and I begun these workshops because I wanted to share with people how I had found healing, through creating…the cathartic ritual of letting go and using memory and confession as a form of creation. My favorite moment is when we share the work. And the recognition of safety. The trust that we have built in such a small space of time. The permission to be vulnerable.
When we look at people who are at the top of their field, they all have grit: persistence and passion for their long-term goals. But this doesn’t mean that they burn the midnight oil day in and day out in pursuit of achievement.
Just as elite performers are strategic about what they practice, they are also strategic about how long they practice for. If you think success requires practicing until your fingers bleed or mind spins or muscles give out, for hour upon hour upon hour of endless, relentless, intrinsically boring practice, I have some good news for you: Research suggests that’s not the way to get there.
In our modern, fast-paced, and technology-driven culture, we sometimes forget that we are humans, not computers. Like other animals, we humans are governed by our ultradian and circadian rhythms. Most people are familiar with the concept of our circadian rhythms: In the 24-hour period between when the sun rises and sets, we sleep and wake in predictable cycles. When we travel into different time zones, our circadian rhythms get out of whack, and as a consequence, our lives also can feel similarly discombobulated. …
Our brain-wave patterns cycle in ultradian rhythms as well, and about every hour and a half to two hours, we experience a significant “ultradian dip,” when our energy drops and sleep becomes possible. When we work through these dips—relying on caffeine, adrenaline, and stress hormones to keep us alert—instead of letting our bodies and brains rest, we become stressed and jittery, and our performance falters.
In his studies of truly great performers, K. Anders Ericsson, the psychologist and author of several landmark studies on elite performance about whom I wrote last week, found that they practiced and rested a lot more than their good but not elite peers. For example, violinists destined to become professional soloists practiced an average of 3.5 hours per day, typically in three separate sessions of 60-90 minutes each. Good but not great performers, in contrast, typically practiced an average of 1.4 hours per day, with no deliberate rest breaking up their practice session.
So it isn’t just that elite performers work more than others; they rest more, as well. The top violinists mentioned above slept an hour a night more than their less-accomplished classmates. They were also far more likely to take a nap between practice sessions—nearly three hours of napping a week.
Super-high-achievers sleep significantly more than the average American. On average, Americans get only 6.5 hours of sleep per night. (Even though studies show that 95 percent of the population needs between seven and eight hours of sleep a night.) Elite performers tend to get 8.6 hours of sleep a night; elite athletes need even more sleep. One study showed that when Stanford swimmers increased their sleep time to 10 hours a night, they felt happier, more energetic—and their performance in the pool improved dramatically.
High performance requires more sleep because it involves higher rates of learning and sometimes physical growth. When we are awake, adequate sleep allows us to focus our attention on our practice; when we are sleep deprived, our overworked neurons become uncoordinated, and we start having trouble accessing previously learned information.
When we sleep, our brain consolidates what we’ve learned while we were awake, making it a part of our working memory that we can access later. Sleep allows us to remember tomorrow how to do what we’ve practiced today, and it enables us to recall the information and knowledge we’ve just learned.
The amount of sleep that we get—and how disciplined we are about following our body’s natural circadian and ultradian rhythms—affects not just our health but our productivity and performance. But what does sleep have to do with grit?
Grit is the ability to maintain perseverance and passion towards our long-term goals; we cannot persevere in the face of difficulty if we are fatigued physically, mentally, or emotionally. We can’t persist over the decade or so it takes to achieve true mastery if we become sick or exhausted or burned out along the way. And we can’t improve our skills—intellectually, physically, or artistically—if our learning, memory, and reaction times are impaired due to lack of sleep and rest.
So being gritty isn’t just about pushing yourself 24/7 toward your goals, in both good and bad weather. It’s about making progress toward your goals consistently and deliberately, in a way that works with our human biology, allowing for proper refueling and consolidation of knowledge.
By Denise Winterman
The UK’s biggest ever online test into stress, undertaken by the BBC’s Lab UK and the University of Liverpool, has revealed that rumination is the biggest predictor of the most common mental health problems in the country.
A bit of self-reflection can be a good thing, say psychologists. But just how serious can it get when introspection goes awry and thoughts get stuck on repeat, playing over and over in the mind?
Rumination and self-blame have long been accepted by health professionals as part of the problems that can lead to depression and anxiety – the two most common mental health problems in the UK, according to the Mental Health Foundation.
But new research has demonstrated just how significant and serious their impact on mental health can be.
The findings of a ground-breaking study, published in the journal PLOS ONE today, suggest that brooding too much on negative events is the biggest predictor of depression and anxiety and determines the level of stress people experience. The research even suggests a person’s psychological response is a more important factor than what has actually happened to them…
“We found that people who didn’t ruminate or blame themselves for their difficulties had much lower levels of depression and anxiety, even if they’d experienced many negative events in their lives,” says Peter Kinderman, who led the study and is a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Liverpool…
The human mind is an extremely complex machine and it’s generally accepted there is no single cause for depression and anxiety by professionals in the field. But some factors have more impact than others.
The study found traumatic life events, such as abuse or childhood bullying, were the biggest cause of anxiety and depression when dwelled upon. This is followed by family history, income and education. Next comes relationship status and social inclusion.
“But these didn’t merely ’cause’ depression and anxiety,” he says.
“The most important way in which these things led to depression and anxiety was by leading a person to ruminate and blame themselves for the problem…
It’s important to get across what the findings mean for the average person, says Dr Ellie Pontin, a clinical psychologist and research associate at the University of Liverpool, who was also involved in the study.
“It’s actually a really positive message and should give people hope,” she says.
“It can be very hard to be told your problems are because of what you have experienced in the past or your genetics, things you can’t change. The way you think and deal with things can be changed.”
Other professionals agree…
“And helping someone tackle negative thought processes is not something that has to be done exclusively by clinical psychologists.
People can tell whether or not they have your full attention. You may think that you can fake it, but you can’t. You may believe that because you are on the telephone, invisible to the person with whom you’re speaking, that they won’t know that your mind is really somewhere else. But they know….
I know we live in a world of distraction, but this makes your full undivided attention a gift. Giving that gift is proof positive that you care about the other person and what they’re saying.
I know that it’s difficult to focus when there is so much going on around you. But really listening to someone is also a gift. The person you are speaking with wants to be heard–just like you want to be heard. The ability to listen can define and differentiate you in a world full of people who can’t–or won’t.
I know you’re busy. If you want to reclaim your time, then focus on being effective in the moment, not distracted. Effectiveness with other human beings is accomplished not through efficiency, but through caring. And giving someone your full attention and focus is an exceptional gift of caring in the world that is too busy and too distracted to care.
“Our way to practice is one step at a time, one breath at a time.” ~Shunryu Suzuki
if you can, I’d encourage you to get out of the city and go for a walk.
1. You will learn to cope with the ups and downs.
There are times when the going is easy, where you run for the sheer exhilaration of it.
But you’ll discover inner reserves of strength to cope with the pouring rain and the difficult climbs, and appreciate the blue skies even more.
2. You will learn that small steps quickly add up to a big achievement.
When I was pregnant, I had muscle pain in my hip, which made walking extremely painful. I ended up on crutches, taking the tiniest step after small step in agony.
It took me forty-five minutes to walk a route that usually took ten.
But I knew I would get there in the end if I just kept moving, because, as my dad always says, “Just remember, all you have to do is get one foot in front of the other.”
And then do it again.
It feels like glacial progress when you’re in the middle of it.
But when you look back, you will marvel at how far you’ve come.
3. You will learn that sometimes, the path ahead is unclear.
This is when you have to really be courageous, trusting your intuition and experience to find the right path, and finally coming to a decision, and moving on.
4. You will learn flexibility.
Often when walking, you have to change your route because the weather or other unexpected obstacles can dash the best-laid plans.
You will learn to shrug your shoulders, go with the flow, and adjust.
5. You will learn to keep going, no matter what.
It’s called perseverance.
When the climb uphill seems endless and painful, you remind yourself that the pain is temporary.
You know from doing this countless times before that it will be so worth it in the end.
6. You will learn to appreciate every sparkling, unique second.
When you’re walking, your senses are alert. You are truly alive.
You notice curious birds hovering overhead, a blade of grass fluttering in the breeze, the sounds of a trickling stream, the shape of the cloud, and the way the wind ripples the water on the lake.
You will marvel at how the combination of all these things on this particular day at this particular moment will never again be repeated in the entire history of the universe in quite the same way, and feel so grateful.
Others may be making the same journey as you, but the paths they chose to the top may be different. They’ll see different things, and experience the day uniquely.
No one will ever experience this moment in the same way as you.
7. You will learn the importance of the journey.
They say when you’re having fun, time flies.
But I think that’s wrong, because when I walk, time seems to slow down.
I absorb so much, notice so much, simply be so present in the walk that I feel like I’ve been walking for hours when in reality, only a short time has passed.
Actually, it is when I’m in my normal routine in London that the days whiz by in a flash, and I wonder what I’ve achieved.
The familiar surroundings, the concrete of the city, the crowds of rushing, stressed out commuters—meditation is certainly possible in these circumstances, but for a stronger will than mine.
In the city, we are so focused on achieving our goals that our mind is often totally focused on our plans for the future. When we reach one goal, we think “Right, done, what’s next on my to do list?” We rarely sit back and take time to enjoy the journey.
As my meditation teacher says, “We are human beings. Simply be.”
Walking is the best way I know to experience this.
Why not try it?
Damon Young writes in The School of Life Blog…
For many, “me time” has a hint of triviality. If hours devoted to paid and unpaid work—from the desk to the freeway to the nappy-change table—are useful, then minutes to oneself are useless: the moments left behind by valuable labour. There is also a mood of luxury to it, as if “me time” were a day spa commodity: expensive pampering with coconut, lime and sandalwood, while body parts are trimmed, painted or rubbed.
Yet “me time” is simply another word for leisure. And leisure need not be useless or costly. The Romans had a word for it: otium. For a civilised retiree, otium … was time to cultivate oneself; to reshape and rejuvenate one’s character.
The scholar and statesman Seneca, for example, took up philosophy in his spare hours. “It is not carried on with the object of passing the day in an entertaining sort of way and taking the boredom out of leisure,” he wrote in a letter to his friend Lucilius. “It moulds and builds the personality, orders one’s life, regulates one’s conduct.”
As Seneca saw it, his hours of otium were essential for a good life: time to take stock, reflect upon himself and the world, and to improve his mind with conversation and study. “What really ruins our characters,” he wrote, “is the fact that none of us looks back over his life.” Seneca’s point was straightforward: his character required a mindful captain, not just a cruising autopilot. His “me time” was very serious, precisely because of what the “me” suggests: the cultivation of the self.
…Exercise is also part of “me time”: not only because it relaxes us, but also because it improves us. Regular jogging, for example, can promote the virtue of constancy: less caprice, more consistency. Martial arts like Judo and boxing can develop courage. A brisk walk is good for the lungs and legs, and also the intellect: the state of “transient hypofrontality” helps innovative ideas to develop. Rock climbing prompts humility.
“Me time” can also be for art and craft. Working at Lloyd’s Bank and caring for his wife Vivien, T.S. Eliot had “me time” in the very early mornings: for poetry. The discipline he developed as a banking clerk was translated into his art. His art, in turn, made his strained emotions and harried thoughts more vivid, clear and beautiful. He was exhausted, but oddly contented with himself (if not his marriage). Jane Austen had “me time” too, with a few intricate manuscripts: one of them, Pride and Prejudice, has its bicentennial birthday this year.
Not everyone has Eliot and Austen’s gifts, but creative hobbies need not be world-class. The point is to translate the vague tangle of life into something ‘out there’ in the world. We ‘objectify’ ourselves, to use Marx’s helpful language, in phrases, clay figures, pastel sketches, knitted jumpsuits, and the garden. (Jane Austen was also a very keen gardener.) In doing so, we can better reflect on ourselves. Alongside their decorative pleasures, and the joy of skillful striving (often called ‘flow’), art and craft are a chance for a more honest consciousness.
In each case, “me time” is neither trivial nor necessarily costly. What makes it valuable is not its price tag or popularity. Its worth is existential: “me time” is for care of the self. This is selfish, not because it thieves from others, but because it sees the self as an adventure: something to keep revising and refining.
At its best, this adventure is no egotistical conceit: by developing ourselves, we have more to give others. With regular “me time” we can be stronger, more lucid, courageous or aware of our own flaws. At the very least, we are simply more sane.
JESSICA LAHEY writes…
Mental downtime makes people more creative and less anxious.
Today’s children are exhausted, and not just because one in three kids is not getting sufficient sleep. Sleep deprivation in kids (who require at least nine hours a night, depending on age) has been found to significantly decrease academic achievement, lower standardized achievement and intelligence test scores, stunt physical growth, encourage drug and alcohol use, heighten moodiness and irritability, exacerbate symptoms of ADD, and dramatically increase the likelihood of car accidents among teens. While the argument for protecting our children’s sleep time is compelling, there is another kind of rest that is equally underestimated and equally beneficial to our children’s academic, emotional, and creative lives: daydreaming.
…Daydreaming has been found to be anything but counter-productive. It may just be the hidden wellspring of creativity and learning in the guise of idleness.
…I’m talking about the kind of mind-wandering that happens when the brain is free of interruption and allowed to unhook from the runaway train of the worries of the day. When the mind wanders freely between random thoughts and memories that float through our consciousness, unbidden. Television, videogames, and other electronic distractions prevent this kind of mental wandering because they interrupt the flow of thoughts and memories that cement the foundation of positive, productive daydreaming.
Legendary cognitive psychologist Jerome L. Singer goes so far as to call daydreaming our default mental state. Singer proposed in his 1966 book, Daydreaming: an Introduction to the Experimental Study of Inner Experience, that we have two mental networks, working memory and daydreaming. The two cannot operate at the same time, so when we engage our working memory network, we shut off our daydreaming network.
The two forms of thinking may be different, and mutually exclusive, but they are both necessary to our emotional and intellectual health.
Scott Barry Kaufman, cognitive psychologist and author of Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined, argues that while this dreamy, reflective state might look like idleness to an outside observer, daydreaming kids are at work. “Ode to Positive Constructive Daydreaming”—an article Kaufman cowrote with Rebecca McMillan—reads:
There is, however, another way of looking at mind wandering, a personal perspective, if you will. For the individual, mind wandering offers the possibility of very real, personal reward, some immediate, some more distant.
These rewards include self- awareness, creative incubation, improvisation and evaluation, memory consolidation, autobiographical planning, goal driven thought, future planning, retrieval of deeply personal memories, reflective consideration of the meaning of events and experiences, simulating the perspective of another person, evaluating the implications of self and others’ emotional reactions, moral reasoning, and reflective compassion.
In other words, daydreaming only appears lazy from the outside, but viewed from the inside — or from the perspective of a psychologist, such as Kaufman, or a neuroscientist, such as Mary Helen Immordino-Yang — a complicated and extremely productive neurological process is taking place. Viewed from the inside, our children are exploring the only space where they truly have autonomy: their own minds.
Immordino-Yang’s work on the virtue of mental downtime includes the paper “Rest is not Idleness: Implications of the Brain’s Default Mode for Human Development and Education.” The title quotes a 19th-century British banker named John Lubbock, who wrote, “Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.” Lubbock, according to Immordino-Yang, was way ahead of his time in understanding the value of idleness to our essential neurological functioning. What Lubbock called rest, Immordino-Yang calls “constructive internal reflection,” and she considers it is vital to learning and emotional well-being:
[I]nadequate opportunity for children to play and for adolescents to quietly reflect and to daydream may have negative consequences — both for social-emotional well-being and for their ability to attend well to tasks.
…When researchers sought to find ways to alleviate the anxiety caused by high-stakes testing, they found that simply giving students a few minutes to think about and write down their thoughts on the test significantly increased test scores, particularly for students for whom test anxiety had become a habit. In the researchers’ words,
Expressive writing eliminates the relation commonly seen between test anxiety and poor test performance. Moreover, it is not any writing that benefits performance, but expressing worries about an upcoming high-pressure situation that accounts for enhanced exam scores under pressure.
…we should stop snapping our children out of their daydreams. Instead, we should protect this time much as we protect bedtime. Kick your children outside and close the door behind them. Encourage them go for a walk around the neighborhood without an electronic device. Tell your child what I have told you, that that silence and daydreaming are as important to their health and learning as sleeping and studying. Take a serious and objective look at how much time your child spends playing video games, responding to texts, messaging, watching television, or messing around on the Internet and carve out some of that time for daydreaming.
Model this behavior for them and re-discover your own love of daydreaming; don’t snap out of it, fall into it, and encourage your children to do the same. I have incorporated opportunities to daydream into my daily life, because they feed both my teaching and my writing. First thing in the morning when I am awake, but have not yet opened my eyes. On walks in the woods, free of earbuds or an agenda. The otherwise onerous and repetitive task of weed-pulling and raking has also proven fertile ground for this kind of mental meandering. The activity does not matter: Any place or occasion or task that allows the brain to wander will do.
Teach your kids how to just be. How to value silence and be at peace with nothing but their thoughts to occupy them. Make the romantic notion of laying back on the soft grass with nothing to do other than to watch the clouds pass overhead a reality. … To paraphrase two of my favorite dreamers, William Shakespeare and W.H. Auden, round out our children’s days with sleep and allow them to build their air castles undisturbed.
…since JK Rowling‘s Harry Potter and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, children’s literature has been repositioned as central, not peripheral, shifting what children read, what we write about what children read, and what we read as adults. At last we seem to understand that imagination is ageless. Wilde’s children’s stories are splendid. In addition, it seems to me that they should be revisited as a defining part of his creative process…
Fairytales always involve reversals of fortune. This works in both directions: beggars become kings, palaces collapse into hovels, the spoilt son eats thistles. Wilde’s own reversal of fortune from fame and money to destitution and exile shares the same rapid drama. Fairytales are also and always about transformation of various kinds – frogs into princes, coal into gold – and if they are not excessively moralistic, there is usually a happy ending. Wilde’s fairytale transformations turn on loss. Even “The Star-Child”, in which meanness and vanity are overcome by compassion, ends with a kingdom that lasts only three years…
Reason and logic are tools for understanding the world. We need a means of understanding ourselves, too. That is what imagination allows. When a child reads of a Nightingale who bleeds her song into a rose for love’s sake, or of a Selfish Giant who puts a wall round life, or of a Fisherman who wants to be rid of his Soul, or of a statue who feels the suffering of the world more keenly than the Mathematics Master who scoffs at his pupils for dreaming about Angels, the child knows at once both the mystery and truth of such stories. We have all at some point in our lives been the overlooked idiot who finds a way to kill the dragon, win the treasure, marry the princess.
As explanations of the world, fairy stories tell us what science and philosophy cannot and need not. There are different ways of knowing. “Bring me the two most precious things in the city,” said God to one of His Angels; and the Angel brought Him the leaden heart and the dead bird.
BY: JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL, author The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, writes…
In the first of a three-part series, author Jonathan Gottschall discusses the science of storytelling–not just escapism, stories have real power to hold human attention and shape our thinking.
Humans live in a storm of stories. We live in stories all day long, and dream in stories all night long. We communicate through stories and learn from them. We collapse gratefully into stories after a long day at work. Without personal life stories to organize our experience, our own lives would lack coherence and meaning. Homo sapiens (wise man) is a pretty good definition for our species. But Homo fictus (fiction man) would be about as accurate. Man is the storytelling animal…
As Scott Donaton argued in a recent Co.Create post, … “The challenge is clear by now,” Donaton writes, “Intrusive, interruptive, self-centered marketing no longer works the way it once did, and its effectiveness will only continue to diminish in the social age. The question is what will replace the legacy model. There’s a one-word answer: stories.” Story is the answer for two reasons, both of them backed by compelling science. First, because people are naturally greedy for stories, they have a unique ability to seize and rivet our attention. Second, stories aren’t just fun escapism–they have an almost spooky ability to mold our thinking and behavior. In this post, I’ll describe the science behind the attention-seizing power of stories, leaving their molding power for a follow-up post…
The human mind is a wanderer by nature. The daydream is the mind’s default state. Whenever the mind doesn’t have something really important to do, it gets bored and wanders off into la-la land. Studies show that we spend about half of our waking hours–1/3 of our lives on earth–spinning fantasies. We have about two-thousand of these a day (!), with an average duration of fourteen seconds. In other words, our minds are simply flitting all over the place all the time.
So this is the most fundamental challenge we face in the attention economy: how do we pin down the wandering mind? How do we override the natural tendency for a mind to skip away from whatever we are showing it? By telling stories. In normal life, we spin about one-hundred daydreams per waking hour. But when absorbed in a good story–when we watch a show like Breaking Bad or read a novel like The Hunger Games–we experience approximately zero daydreams per hour. Our hyper minds go still and they pay close attention, often for hours on end. This is really very impressive. What it means is that story acts like a drug that reliably lulls us into an altered state of consciousness…
Stories powerfully hook and hold human attention because, at a brain level, whatever is happening in a story is happening to us and not just them.
But this all leads to a bigger question. Most of us think of stories as a way to pleasantly while away our leisure time. Is there any evidence that story is actually effective in influencing us–in modifying our thinking and behavior? Yes. Lots. That’s the subject of my next post.
By Ferris Jabr
Research on naps, meditation, nature walks and the habits of exceptional artists and athletes reveals how mental breaks increase productivity, replenish attention, solidify memories and encourage creativity
…Americans and their brains are preoccupied with work much of the time. Throughout history people have intuited that such puritanical devotion to perpetual busyness does not in fact translate to greater productivity and is not particularly healthy. What if the brain requires substantial downtime to remain industrious and generate its most innovative ideas? “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets,” essayist Tim Kreider wrote in The New York Times. “The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration—it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”
In making an argument for the necessity of mental downtime, we can now add an overwhelming amount of empirical evidence to intuition and anecdote. Why giving our brains a break now and then is so important has become increasingly clear in a diverse collection of new studies investigating: the habits of office workers and the daily routines of extraordinary musicians and athletes; the benefits of vacation, meditation and time spent in parks, gardens and other peaceful outdoor spaces; and how napping, unwinding while awake and perhaps the mere act of blinking can sharpen the mind. What research to date also clarifies, however, is that even when we are relaxing or daydreaming, the brain does not really slow down or stop working. Rather—just as a dazzling array of molecular, genetic and physiological processes occur primarily or even exclusively when we sleep at night—many important mental processes seem to require what we call downtime and other forms of rest during the day. Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life. A wandering mind unsticks us in time so that we can learn from the past and plan for the future. Moments of respite may even be necessary to keep one’s moral compass in working order and maintain a sense of self…
In a recent thought-provoking review of research on the default mode network, Mary Helen Immordino-Yang of the University of Southern California and her co-authors argue that when we are resting the brain is anything but idle and that, far from being purposeless or unproductive, downtime is in fact essential to mental processes that affirm our identities, develop our understanding of human behavior and instill an internal code of ethics—processes that depend on the DMN. Downtime is an opportunity for the brain to make sense of what it has recently learned, to surface fundamental unresolved tensions in our lives and to swivel its powers of reflection away from the external world toward itself. While mind-wandering we replay conversations we had earlier that day, rewriting our verbal blunders as a way of learning to avoid them in the future. We craft fictional dialogue to practice standing up to someone who intimidates us or to reap the satisfaction of an imaginary harangue against someone who wronged us. We shuffle through all those neglected mental post-it notes listing half-finished projects and we mull over the aspects of our lives with which we are most dissatisfied, searching for solutions. We sink into scenes from childhood and catapult ourselves into different hypothetical futures. And we subject ourselves to a kind of moral performance review, questioning how we have treated others lately. These moments of introspection are also one way we form a sense of self, which is essentially a story we continually tell ourselves. When it has a moment to itself, the mind dips its quill into our memories, sensory experiences, disappointments and desires so that it may continue writing this ongoing first-person narrative of life.
Related research suggests that the default mode network is more active than is typical in especially creative people, and some studies have demonstrated that the mind obliquely solves tough problems while daydreaming—an experience many people have had while taking a shower. Epiphanies may seem to come out of nowhere, but they are often the product of unconscious mental activity during downtime. In a 2006 study, Ap Dijksterhuis and his colleagues asked 80 University of Amsterdam students to pick the best car from a set of four that—unbeknownst to the students—the researchers had previously ranked based on size, mileage, maneuverability and other features. Half the participants got four minutes to deliberate after reviewing the specs; the researchers prevented the other 40 from pondering their choices by distracting them with anagrams. Yet the latter group made far better decisions. Solutions emerge from the subconscious in this way only when the distracting task is relatively simple, such as solving an anagram or engaging in a routine activity that does not necessitate much deliberate concentration, like brushing one’s teeth or washing dishes. With the right kind of distraction the default mode network may be able to integrate more information from a wide range of brain regions in more complex ways than when the brain is consciously working through a problem.
During downtime, the brain also concerns itself with more mundane but equally important duties. For decades scientists have suspected that when an animal or person is not actively learning something new, the brain consolidates recently accumulated data, memorizing the most salient information, and essentially rehearses recently learned skills, etching them into its tissue. Most of us have observed how, after a good night’s sleep, the vocab words we struggled to remember the previous day suddenly leap into our minds or that technically challenging piano song is much easier to play. Dozensof studies have confirmed that memory depends on sleep…
All in a day’s work
That learning and memory depend on both sleep and waking rest may partially explain why some of the most exceptional artists and athletes among us fall into a daily routine of intense practice punctuated by breaks and followed by a lengthy period of recuperation. Psychologist K. Anders Ericsson of The Florida State University has spent more than 30 years studying how people achieve the highest levels of expertise. Based on his own work and a thorough review of the relevant research, Ericsson has concluded that most people can engage in deliberate practice—which means pushing oneself beyond current limits—for only an hour without rest; that extremely talented people in many different disciplines—music, sports, writing—rarely practice more than four hours each day on average; and that many experts prefer to begin training early in the morning when mental and physical energy is readily available. “Unless the daily levels of practice are restricted, such that subsequent rest and nighttime sleep allow the individuals to restore their equilibrium,” Ericsson wrote, “individuals often encounter overtraining injuries and, eventually, incapacitating ‘burnout.’”
These principles are derived from the rituals of the exceptional, but they are useful for just about anyone in any profession, including typical nine-to-fivers. Corporate America may never sanction working only four hours a day, but research suggests that to maximize productivity we should reform the current model of consecutive 40-hour workweeks separated only by two-day weekends and sometimes interrupted by short vacations.
Psychologists have established that vacations have real benefits. Vacations likely revitalize the body and mind by distancing people from job-related stress; by immersing people in new places, cuisines and social circles, which in turn may lead to original ideas and insights; and by giving people the opportunity to get a good night’s sleep and to let their minds drift from one experience to the next, rather than forcing their brains to concentrate on a single task for hours at a time…
Put your mind at rest
Many recent studies have corroborated the idea that our mental resources are continuously depleted throughout the day and that various kinds of rest and downtime can both replenish those reserves and increase their volume. Consider, for instance, how even an incredibly brief midday nap enlivens the mind…
An equally restorative and likely far more manageable solution to mental fatigue is spending more time outdoors—in the evenings, on the weekends and even during lunch breaks by walking to a nearby park, riverfront or anywhere not dominated by skyscrapers and city streets. Marc Berman, a psychologist at the University of South Carolina and a pioneer of a relatively new field called ecopsychology, argues that whereas the hustle and bustle of a typical city taxes our attention, natural environments restore it. Contrast the experience of walking through Times Square in New York City—where the brain is ping-ponged between neon lights, honking taxies and throngs of tourists—with a day hike in a nature reserve, where the mind is free to leisurely shift its focus from the calls of songbirds to the gurgling and gushing of rivers to sunlight falling through every gap in the tree branches and puddling on the forest floor…
Beyond renewing one’s powers of concentration, downtime can in fact bulk up the muscle of attention—something that scientists have observed repeatedly in studies on meditation. There are almost as many varieties and definitions of meditation as there are people who practice it. Although meditation is not equivalent to zoning out or daydreaming, many styles challenge people to sit in a quiet space, close their eyes and turn their attention away from the outside world toward their own minds. Mindfulness meditation, for example, generally refers to a sustained focus on one’s thoughts, emotions and sensations in the present moment. For many people, mindfulness is about paying close attention to whatever the mind does on its own, as opposed to directing one’s mind to accomplish this or that.
Mindfulness training has become more popular than ever in the last decade as a strategy to relieve stress, anxiety and depression. Many researchers acknowledge that studies on the benefits of mindfulness often lack scientific rigor, use too few participants and rely too heavily on people’s subjective reports, but at this point they have gathered enough evidence to conclude that meditation can indeed improve mental health, hone one’s ability to concentrate and strengthen memory. Studies comparing long-time expert meditators with novices or people who do not meditate often find that the former outperform the latter on tests of mental acuity.Meditation appears to increase the volume and density of the hippocampus, a seahorse-shaped area of the brain that is absolutely crucial for memory; it thickens regions of the frontal cortex that we rely on to rein in our emotions; and it stymies the typical wilting of brain areas responsible for sustaining attention as we get older.
Just how quickly meditation can noticeably change the brain and mind is not yet clear. But a handful of experiments suggest that a couple weeks of meditation or a mere 10 to 20 minutes of mindfulness a day can whet the mind—if people stick with it. Likewise, a few studies indicate that meditating daily is ultimately more important than the total hours of meditation over one’s lifetime…
“When people in the military have a gym they will work out in the gym. When they are on the side of a mountain they will make do with what they have and do push-ups to stay in shape,” Jha says. “Mindfulness training may offer something similar for the mind. It’s low-tech and easy to implement.” In her own life, Jha looks for any and all existing opportunities to practice mindfulness, such as her 15-minute trip to and from work each day.
Likewise, Michael Taft advocates deliberate mental breaks during “all the in-between moments” in an average day—a subway ride, lunch, a walk to the bodega. He stresses, though, that there’s a big difference between admiring the idea of more downtime and committing to it in practice. “Getting out into nature on the weekends, meditating, putting away our computers now and then—a lot of it is stuff we already know we should probably do,” he says. “But we have to be a lot more diligent about it. Because it really does matter.”
by Kate McCann
The CEO of Whizz Kidz talks about discrimination, never crying in the office and why women need to stop whinging and learn to play the game
…”Sometimes I think women aren’t always as tough as men, they tend to agonise about things and they can be too nice,” she says. “At the same time you’ve got to be sensible, there’s no point being a woman and trying to be a man.”
Owen has experienced more discrimination in her career than most, although it’s clear she doesn’t resent it, if anything it spurred her on to achieve more. When she landed a job in direct sales her boss pointedly asked her how she thought her wheelchair would make her clients feel. Her response was typically direct.
“I said let that be my problem, not yours,” she explains with a steely glint in her eye. “I’d been through all the interviews, all the tests, and I said ‘I happen to have four wheels to my bum but if I do a good job and I deliver then we’ll all be happy, and if you’re not happy then sack me, the risk is all with me, not with you’.”
So does she feel that perceptions of disabled people have changed? “I think people’s perceptions from the Paralympics have changed, I get a lot more offers of help than I’ve ever had. People are more aware. But do I really think things have changed in terms of employment for young disabled people? Absolutely not. I think people are blinkered.”
Employers still struggle with binary ideas about what makes a good employee and this affects young disabled people, who can’t get work experience, she explains. “We can’t all be leaders, but every company needs good workers and it’s important to have different people in the workplace because we need balance.”
Owen talks openly about having to use the men’s toilets in a previous role, as the women’s were down a flight of stairs. “I used to ask my client to go in first to check there weren’t any men in there,” she adds.
Perhaps because of this, she has little sympathy for those who are quick to claim they are being treated unfairly at work. “Sometimes women can be a bit whingy about their lot in life and I actually don’t think we need to behave like that. You need to work on your talent and push yourself a bit. Men can make it difficult for you though, it’s not easy. And it can be very subtle too.
“As a woman you’ve got to walk that very fine line of being pushy but nice to other people along the way.” When she started out, the office environment was mostly white, male and suited, she explains. “I worked out very quickly the politics of it all and what I needed to do to climb.” …
The Huffington Post | By Carolyn Gregoire
…with nearly one in five Americans identifying as “spiritual but not religious,” and countless successful people in a range of professions saying that meditation is their greatest secret to success, some of America’s most beloved public figures and successful business leaders are following suit, opening up about their first “big jelly” moments of spiritual awakening — and telling the world why they believe.
Here are 10 amazing spiritual “coming out” stories from successful thinkers, performers and business leaders…
You will find these and many more stories in this weeks new collection: