Action Learning – a better way to collaborate and communicate together…

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3194 photo: Mark Trezona

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3194
photo: Mark Trezona

Here are my newest thoughts about the discipline and magic that make Action Learning so potently transformational…

I had lunch last week with Alison Johns, a wonderful friend and colleague who I first met nearly twenty years ago when we were completing our MAs in Management Learning & Leadership. This was when I first discovered Action Learning, the framework that has changed my practice forever, as much, I confidently dare to believe, as it has transformed the lives and accomplishments of many of the people who have participated in its process.

In the Shaky Isles Theatre Company we have used Action Learning as the main framework for coming together to grow and sustain the company for a year now.  And more and more we are also using Action Learning inside our performance making process, as well, to sustain and nourish our creative learning alongside our show creation.

I am also currently facilitating Action Learning with a group of Rajni Shah Project artists to support their co-creation activities, and here, too, the discipline and framework of Action Learning is weaving across and into Board meetings, producing some really exciting new conversations and ways of working together.

In another application, Nicki Maher is starting to use Action Learning as a way to develop and grow Opaz, the Turkish music ensemble she leads.

And I am about to work with Tesse Akpeki to deliver training in using Action Learning for people who support or lead Trustee Boards.

These newer applications of Action Learning are continuing to amplify the belief, trust and joy that I have always found facilitating this process with very many very different groups of professionals and leaders, teachers and artists, teams and freelancers – not to mention my own invaluable membership of an Action Learning group that have been meeting regularly together since 1998.

With this in mind I wanted to try to uncover some of my newest thinking and insights about the disciplined magic that is Action Learning, and, alongside this, to provide a jumping off point for you to try it for yourself with the people you either work with or feel drawn to spend some time with uncovering fresh ideas and new ways to progress the things that most matter to you.

Sky Through Soundpod (Chelsea College of Art & Design, 2013)  photo: Mark Trezona

Sky Through Soundpod (Chelsea College of Art & Design, 2013)
photo: Mark Trezona

A Practitioner’s Guide to Action Learning

Reg Revans invented Action Learning to provide a ‘clean space’ in an overly noisy and overly directed world, to give people enough freedom and enough solid framework to be able to uncover and discover our own best thoughts and insights to become freshly inspired to act, fuelled by our own creative expectations and sustained by our continually expanding capabilities.

Revans was convinced that for an organisation to survive its rate of learning must be at least equal to – and ideally greater than – the rate of change in its external environment – this became known as Revans’ Law: Learning must be > or = Change.

The Action Learning process has developed over the last sixty years as a method for individual and organisational development. As a process Action Learning can be challenging and informative. Within organisations Reg Revans described it as “the outward communication of doubt” – an opportunity for people to engage with and work through what is unfamiliar, uncertain and not known and identify action which could make a positive difference to their own and the organisation’s effectiveness. For example, he was one of the first to introduce to the National Health Service the idea that nurses, doctors and administrators needed to listen to and understand each other – and action learning groups offer the opportunity.

In any attempt to describe Action Learning, it is essential to say that Revans rightly advises us that the only way to really know what it is, is to do it. With that in mind, here are the instructions we follow in our practice, which we hope will give you enough to be able to try it for yourself.

In the form of Action Learning we use, the available time is divided first into two parts: a first part for Action Learning itself, and the second part to work the ideas and progress the material that has emerged out from the individual contributions.

The Action Learning time itself is divided equally among the individuals present. Each person then has that amount of Clean Space time to bring to the table whatever is most live and prescient for each of them.  And during this time the rest of the group cannot interrupt or comment in any way. Once each person has said as much as they want to, the rest of us offer them open creative thinking questions for whatever Clean Space time remains.

The Clean Space Process

Space:

1. A continuous area or expanse which is free, available, or unoccupied

2. A stretch of time

3. The amount of material used or needed to write fully about a subject

4. The freedom to live, think, and develop in a way that suits you best

Before you start agree how much Clean Space time each person will have and who will keep time.

In your Clean Space time…

1 ~ Say whatever you want to say. Be as selfish as you can be about what you want to bring to the table.  Talk from your own head and heart and don’t worry or care about what anyone else needs to hear. 

No interruptions, comments or questions from anyone else during this phase.

2 ~ Once you have said all you want to say, you respond to open creative thinking Questions given to you by the rest of your group.

Again, be completely selfish about how you want to respond to any question you get: you decide what it means and how you want to answer it, if at all.

The rest of the group seek to bring you moments of spontaneity – questions that open you up to fresh new thinking and insights.

Resist saying anything except Open Questions during this phase. The best questions will be a gift for the person who receives it, and they will feel and often say “That’s a great question…”

Use “Why…?” questions sparingly.

3 ~  (optional and only if time –at least 2minutes of each person’s Clean Space time) 

You ask whatever you want to from others in the group.

If there are no questions you want to ask people, use this time to draw together the thinking and ideas you are going away with.

Allow about 10% of Clean Space time for this, but shift into it sooner if the person who has the Clean Space is repeatedly saying “I don’t know…” to your questions.

Helpful Capabilities for Action Learning

o   Being fully present

o   Alert, neutral, open, heightened listening

o   The Fine & Difficult Art of Asking Really Great Open Questions

o   Being utterly selfless and tuned in to what the Clean Space holder is trying to get when it is not your Clean Space time

o   Being supremely selfish about what you want to bring and get from your own Clean Space time

o   Wondering your not-knowing out loud: bringing what you don’t know to the table

o   Being open to surprise

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3191 photo: Mark Trezona

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3191
photo: Mark Trezona

This set of simple rules sets up the conditions for a very different way of thinking and communicating that lead almost inevitably to new insights and fresh possibilities for action.  When repeated over a series of meetings it replaces our usual default ways of listening and thinking with better ways that are far more open, expansive, diverse, inclusive, and actively engaged.  And over time, the disciplines and capabilities it demands from us start to become easier, more natural, and much more our new ‘normal’.

We shift our perspective; we shift our balance…

…from only paying attention to the information that immediately interests us to listening out and trying to pick up much more of what is being said and its many nuances;

…from narrowing the conversation down and heading off too quickly on a particular tangent, to exploring the situation in greater depth and from a wider range of perspectives;

…from talking more about things and re-presenting conclusions and ideas that we have already decided upon, to uncovering what we think and feel during the act of talking about it;

…from bringing our certainties and defending our established points of view, to bringing more of our uncertainties and opening out what we don’t know or yet have answers or solutions for: dialogue means discovering the meaning through communication;

…from only having the ‘need-to-have’ conversations, to unearthing extraordinary and surprising insights and solutions from conversations that arise out of what matters most to each of us;

…from tending to get most of the input from the more talkative amongst us, to getting and thus profiting from, an equal contribution from all of us, realising and optimising the inherent diversity that otherwise lies hidden and buried underneath our different communication styles and preferences;

…from prescribing the desired goal or outcome and restricting our thinking to what seems to be most relevant and strategic to its achievement, to keeping more open to discovering higher value aspirations that emerge and progress organically from the material of what people bring to the table;

…and from excited intentions that are too soon forgotten or lost to louder demands, to achieving ever widening results that spiral up from our collective learning ~ out to action ~ back into heightened learning ~ and out to new action ~ and so on in an increasingly reliable and self-powered momentum.

Perhaps the most surprising discovery to be made in Action Learning is that, very often, our greatest joy and discovery comes less from what we bring during our own Clean Space and much, much more from what we get from the ‘enforced’ listening we give during other people’s.

It is also helpful to know that Action Learning is not only for a team of people who want to use it to make work together, but equally powerful and potentially transformative for a group of individuals who choose to come together to hear and widen each other’s thinking entirely in terms of each person’s own personal agendas.

Action Learning and Collaboration

I have been thinking a lot recently about just what it is that makes Action Learning so enjoyed and successful and surprising and special, especially when it can be experienced by a group over a repeated series of get-togethers. These reflections have drawn out these five attributes:

  1. In-Betweenness 
  2. Listening In-ness
  3. Slowness
  4. Togetherness
  5. Connectedness

1 ~ In-Betweenness

This quality is not so much walking blindly through fog, as the more delightful experience of flying through clouds, up in the air and above it all, happy and trusting that we will get to where we want to get to without having to see ahead to our destination.

This is the ability to inhabit the grey areas between boundaries, to hold ambiguity and complexity with far less need to define it, fix it, bolt it down, categorise and name it.  It involves being simultaneously inside and outside the flow of thinking, both alert to what others are saying and what matters to them while at the same time aware of the live fresh dancing of our own thoughts colliding with what we are hearing.

This quality is especially enhanced when we can keep our not-knowingness wide open and transmitting, sensing out rather than seeing straight ahead, wondering out loud, teasing out our unformed ideas, uncertainties and barely yet understood intuitions.

2 ~ Listening In-ness

This quality is about hearing in real time (rather than anticipating ahead of what is being said and so hearing only what we expect).  It demands that we stay with the material as it unfolds in the here-and-now instead of projecting our own versions of reality on to things. This is the capability of tuning in with the deliberate intention to notice more and receive more fully.  It is HD hearing that picks up the finer inflexion, nuance, repetition and other poetic aspects of our thinking.

It requires us to lean in, bringing a particular kind of presence and concentration to stay with what is being said as it is being said, resisting our usual inclination to decide quickly on what is meant from the smallest fragment of information.

This needs our fullest energy, commitment, presence and attention. But, when the conditions of Clean Space are activated, it seems to happen with remarkable ease and reliability.

3 ~ Slowness

The listening we do in Action Learning recognises that…

…you can’t flick through sound;

…you can’t take a meaningful still of sound;

…you can’t glance at sound;

…you can’t sensibly hear sound backwards, or broken up, un-sequenced;

…you just have to start at its beginning and stay with it through to its end.

Mindfulness, a deliberate, disciplined, meditative practice of slowing down and tuning in, is becoming a mass practice across the globe, perhaps filling in and replacing our older religious rituals with something more secular and better suited to our times.  But, perhaps too, its popularity is building from a growing awareness that we need times of slowness, stillness and quietness that reconnects us into the rhythm of our breathing selves as a counterbalance to the incessantly turned on, turned up, turned out lives we are now living.

Stopping, and making a quieter stillness to listen and notice better are premium qualities in Action Learning. And much is yielded from the heightened waiting and trusting this gives us.

4 ~ Togetherness

Action Learning gives us a new way of co-creating – making something from the collective material that emerges from us all – and a better way of collaborating – making joint decisions and sharing out the work.

The material we uncover to work with is always richer and more multidimensional than any ordinary discussion could give us. This happens without force in a process akin to the sculptor’s art – drawing out and revealing and shaping and clarifying and heightening and unifying what is most fine and delightful and compelling from inside what we already have amongst us, waiting to be discovered.

5 ~ Connectedness

In Action Learning meanings, ideas and solutions emerge from making patterns. As humans we make sense of things by forging connections: that thing to the thing we already know (or think we know); this thing with that thing with the other thing to make the new thing.  Then the more we repeat, reinforce and practice anything the more strongly it becomes ingrained into our integral circuitry.  The repetition and cyclic iterations of uncovering and revealing and testing and rethinking we get in Action Learning deepens and strengthens our commitment to the ideas we most connect with.

Action Learning demands a kind of patient urgency – a different kind of dynamic that still has to move us forward with a sense of necessity and compulsion, but alongside a more careful, intimate and delicate holding on and out for what is still unfolding

Action Learning creates and sustains our propulsion from…

…the avoidance of rush and fixing too fast and hard alongside the necessity to make progress;

…the avoidance of jumping too quickly into action alongside the necessity for application and getting things done;

…the avoidance of the usual imperative to define desired outcomes and set the focus on the Vision alongside the necessity of getting somewhere worth arriving at.

Action Learning and Making Great Audience Experience

All of this I have come to know and trust from my many years sitting inside and outside dozens of different Action Learning groups since I first found it.

What is new for me is to start to wonder what might come from the explicit aspiration, or even the gentlest intention, to try to make the qualities we experience in Action Learning with our audience – whether they be our beneficiaries or our customers or our partners or our stakeholders or our public…

Audience: the people who come to give us their hearing.

What if… we could come together as a community of listeners?

And return to listen together again and again, each time able to listen better?

What might our better listening lead us on to do better?

What if…?

What next…?

What now…?

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3193 photo: Mark Trezona

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3193
photo: Mark Trezona

Do please feel welcome to contact us if you would like to know more about how to make Action Learning part of your work or learning.

This post was developed from the one I originally wrote for Shaking Out, the Shaky Isles Theatre Company blog

Happiness At Work edition #90

If you enjoyed this, you may also find more stories and techniques for becoming more productive, happy and creative in this week’s new Happiness At Work collection, our weekly collection of the best stories about leadership and learning, mindfulness and happiness at work, resilience and self-mastery.

Enjoy…

 

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A Collection of Treats to Celebrate International Day of Happiness 2014

Fun things to do near you  -A day trip to Mars - Sue Ridge ©

Fun things to do near you -A day trip to MarsSue Ridge ©

In celebration of International Day of Happiness 2014 this week’s post contains mostly good things, starting with Sue Ridge’s magical imagining of a day trip to Mars.

This year is only the second time this day has been celebrated, but already I notice that there is significantly more media, social and international attention than the same day seemed to get last year.

One of the major themes this year has been about reclaiming happiness back from the advertisers who would tell us our happiness depends upon buying their thing.  Instead, today’s global celebration reminds us that it is our relationships that lie at the heart and soul of true happiness, and spending time enjoying being with our family, our fiends and our colleagues is about the surest way there is of getting a happiness boost.

In this spirit, I have collected together my favourites from this week’s array of offerings, with a bias on the treats that you can enjoy and/or use, and I really hope there will one or two things here that you can take to treat yourself with.

Happy Happiness Day.

On International Day of Happiness, UN urges action to end poverty, build harmony

Of course there is nothing frivolous about this global call to action by the UN as their press release makes abundantly clear…

20 March 2014 – Marking the International Day of Happiness with calls to promote social inclusion and intercultural harmony, senior United Nations officials today urged the global community to make real the UN Charter’s pledge to end conflict and poverty and ensure the well-being of all.

“Happiness is neither a frivolity nor a luxury. It is a deep-seated yearning shared by all members of the human family. It should be denied to no one and available to all,” declared Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his message for the Day.

While acknowledging that happiness may have different meanings for different people, the UN chief said that all could agree that it means working to end conflict, poverty and other unfortunate conditions in which so many of human beings live.

“This aspiration is implicit in the pledge of the United Nations Charter to promote peace, justice, human rights, social progress and improved standards of life,” he said, adding: “Now is the time to convert this promise into concrete international and national action to eradicate poverty, promote social inclusion and intercultural harmony, ensure decent livelihoods, protect the environment and build institutions for good governance. These are the foundations for human happiness and well-being.”

In April 2012, the UN held a high-level meeting on “Happiness and Well-Being: Defining a New Economic Paradigm” at the initiative of Bhutan, a country which recognized the supremacy of national happiness over national income since the early 1970s and famously adopted the goal of Gross National Happiness over Gross National Product (GDP).

In July of that year, the UN General Assembly proclaimed 20 March the International Day of Happiness, recognizing the relevance of happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations in people’s lives and the importance of their recognition in public policy objectives.

In that spirit, current General Assembly President John Ashe said the Day celebrates unity and called on the international community to support the three pillars of sustainable development – social, economic and environmental.

As the UN family sets out to identify the goals for an inclusive, people-centred post-2015 development agenda with the eradication of poverty as its overarching objective, he invited Member States, international and regional organizations, as well as civil society, including non-governmental organizations and individuals, to raise public awareness of the aspirations of human beings around the world.

“Happiness is a fundamental human goal, and improving public policies in countries that can contribute thereto is essential to promoting equitable societies for all,” said Mr. Ashe.

Link to read the original article

In the UK, Action for Happiness provided an exuberance of provisions to help make the day fly, including these new research findings, and more social and participative, their #happinessday Let’s Reclaim Happiness Wall of photos inviting non-commercialise images of what happiness looks like for different people across the planet.

National Happiness Matters More Than National Wealth

87% choose happiness and wellbeing over wealth as their priority for society

Reducing inequality seen as most important for national happiness
Relationships seen as most important for personal happiness

 In a week that includes both the UK Budget (19 March) and the United Nations International Day of Happiness (20 March), a new survey has found that the vast majority of people think levels of happiness and wellbeing matter more than the size of the economy.

In a YouGov poll commissioned by Action for Happiness, a majority (87%) of UK adults were found to prefer the ‘greatest overall happiness and wellbeing’, rather than the ‘greatest overall wealth’ (8%), for the society they live in. This majority was found to be broadly consistent across all regions, age groups and social classes.

When asked to select the three changes they thought would most increase the overall happiness and wellbeing of people in the UK, ‘more equality between rich and poor’ came out as the most selected factor, with 45% of people choosing this; the next highest response was ‘improved health services’ (39%). Of the choices offered, the least important were found to be ‘improved school standards’ (16%) and ‘improved transport and infrastructure’ (16%).

When asked to select the three most important factors for their own happiness and wellbeing, ‘my relationships with my partner/family’ was the most selected factor, with 80% of people choosing this; the next highest was ‘my health’ (71%), with ‘my money and financial situation’ a distant third (42%). The least important factors were found to be ‘my possessions’ (4%) and ‘my appearance’ (4%).

Commenting on results, Action for Happiness Director, Dr Mark Williamson said:

“The economy dominates our political and social discussions, but this survey shows that happiness is more important to people. The vast majority of people would prefer society to be happier rather than richer. So we need to spend less time focusing on the size of the economy and more time focusing on how to help people live happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.”

LSE economist and co-founder of Action for Happiness, Lord Richard Layard said:

“Our national priorities are clearly out of touch with what really matters to people. Our top priority should be people’s overall happiness and wellbeing. Above all, we should be giving much more attention to mental health, supporting positive family and community relationships and creating a more trusting society.”

Link to read the original Action for Happiness press release

It’s Time to Reclaim Happiness

Director of Action for Happiness, Dr Mark Williamson writes in the Huffington Post…

In recent years I’ve asked hundreds of parents what they want above all for their children. Although their answers vary, nearly all of them say something like “I really just want them to be happy”. Happiness is the thing we want the most for the people we love the most.

But the problem is that our happiness has been hijacked.

We’re bombarded with false and misleading images of happiness. Advertisers tell us it comes from buying their products. Celebrities and the media pretend it comes with beauty or fame. And politicians claim that nothing matters more than growing the economy.

Everywhere we look the story is the same: buy and achieve these things and then you’ll be happy. But remember, you’ll then need to keep getting more in order to stay happy and keep up with your peers. And if they start to get ahead then just keep consuming!

On and on we go in a mindless and seemingly endless cycle.

I could of course point to many studies confirming how wrong this all is – lasting happiness does not come from what we consume, how we look or how much we earn. But, let’s be honest, you probably knew that already!

So how can we put this right? Firstly we can each try to live more mindfully and avoid getting caught in the “I’ll be happy when…” trap.

But we can also reclaim happiness, by sharing a more authentic view of what really makes us happy. And this week is the perfect opportunity to start this together.

Thursday (20 March) is the United Nations International Day of Happiness. To celebrate this special day, Action for Happiness is running a global campaign, with support from over 40 organisations and many thousands of people around the world.

Their shared mission is to show the world what happiness really looks like – and in doing so, to reclaim happiness back from the advertisers, celebrities, media and others who try to manipulate us. Here’s how you can get involved…

  • Step 1: Find. Look through your photos right now for a picture of something that really made you happy.
  • Step 2: Capture. When something makes you happy today or in the coming days, remember to take a moment and capture it on camera.
  • Step 3: Share. Share your images of happiness with others using the #happinessday hashtag (e.g. via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook etc)

There are already lots of inspiring examples of people sharing #happinessday images: children playing in a garden, flowers outside an office, friends celebrating a birthday, a family walk on the hills, outdoor fun in the sun and many more.

Unlike the fake images in adverts and magazines, these authentic photos help to remind us of what really matters. We may not be able to change the world overnight, but together we can share a vision of happiness which is far more inspiring that the one we’re sold.

So why not take a moment to find (or take) a picture of something that makes you happy and share it right now. It might be profound, or perhaps profoundly silly. But however small and personal, the fact that you have noticed it makes it quite important enough.

Action for Happiness will be building a huge collection of these #happinessday images from around the world and, as well as taking social media by storm, the hope is to present a selection of these images at the United Nations later this year.

Let’s focus on the things that really matter. Let’s reclaim happiness together.

Link to  the #happinessday What makes You Happy photo wall

Reclaim your happiness at work on the International Day of Happiness

by Nic Marks, director of Happiness Works and on the board of Action for Happiness

The average Brit spends 100,000 hours at work and if we were happier at work, we’d be happier in our whole lives• Find out how happy you are at work compared to the national average

Thursday was the UN’s International Day of Happiness – a day set aside to raise global awareness that happiness is a fundamental human goal. Global issues such as human rights, peacekeeping and sustainable development are what we would expect the UN to have on its agenda. So why has it decided that the seemingly frivolous idea of happiness is worth championing?

If we could create a world that was more inclusive, equitable, and balanced, a world where all people were happier, most of us would agree that this would be progress. When understood like this, happiness suddenly seems a much more serious issue, one that belongs on the global agenda. The UN is so serious about it that in a 2012 resolution it called for a “more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes … the happiness and well-being of all peoples”.

All too often, the concept of happiness is hijacked by advertisers and the popular media and then sold back to us in the form of materialism and glamour. In reality, the important things for our happiness are rarely even things at all. They are more about the quality of our relationships and whether what we do in our home and working lives feels purposeful.

The London-based campaign group Action for Happiness is co-ordinating many global events this year under the banner of “reclaiming happiness”. Falling on a Thursday, this year’s International Day of Happiness is a workday for most of us. Let’s ask ourselves the question: how would the world be if we were all happier at work?

It is quite a radical question. For many, work has come to signify the exact opposite of happiness. It’s where we go to earn the money to buy the things we hope will make us happy. We don’t expect to be happy at work; we expect to endure it until we clock out or log off and return to our real lives – a life outside of work.

But hang on a minute. The average Brit spends 100,000 hours at work during their lifetime – that’s more than 11 and a half years. Work is part of our real life and if we were happier at work we would be happier in our whole lives. We’d be better partners, better parents, better people. So happiness at work is good for us, as individuals.

But what about business? Let’s ask another question: what happens to a business if its employees are happier at work?

Far from spending the day lolling about and chatting with colleagues, as some sceptics might assume, happier employees are more creative, more innovative and more focused on their work. Every day they make more progress with their work than their unhappy colleagues. They also are much less likely to leave – who leaves a job they love?

When we do the maths, the costs of ignoring happiness at work are substantial. An average UK company will employ about 250 people. If it is average in all aspects, then about 40 of them will leave each year and over 1,000 days will be lost due to absenteeism. If the company had a really happy, engaged workforce, then staff turnover would typically halve, absenteeism would be cut by 25%, and productivity would increase by about 20%. The cost of ignoring happiness in an average UK company, paying average wages, works out to be in excess of £1m every year. Happiness at work is not a threat to business; it’s an opportunity.

Creating happy profitable businesses may work for the few but surely the world will continue on its current path towards an inequitable, unbalanced, and unsustainable future, regardless?

This is where the happiness perspective gets really interesting. Most of us feel happier when we work for an organisation that is seeking to make a positive impact in the world. In fact, many of us forgo higher salaries to work for organisations and on issues that are aligned with our personal values and sense of purpose. Organisations that create products and services that make the world a better place will surely be rewarded with employees who are happier, more engaged, and genuinely proud to work there. There is a win-win-win here for individuals, business and society.

So today, let’s reclaim our happiness – at work as well as at home. Let’s follow the example of the UN and put happiness at the core of everything we do and we can work together to a make a better world for all of us.

Link to the original article

Happy Habits: how do you score?

Another offering from Action for Happiness is this short quiz that will let you check out your own happiness level, and quite possibly give you some gentle insights in to those areas that are most and least strong for you at the moment.

Happiness. All of us want more of it, but how many of us know how to make it happen – not just for ourselves, but for those around us too.

Scientists have discovered the habits that tend to make people happy. Now, the nice folks at Do Something Different and Action for Happiness have got together to help you explore these and see how you’re doing.

Take our simple 10-question quiz to get your Happy Habits Score and discover ways you could boost the happiness in your everyday life. Just answer each question as honestly as you can…

Link to take the Happiness Quiz

Pharrell Williams song Happy was chosen by the UN to be the anthem for this year’s celebrations, and people from across the world used this as the soundtrack to make their own videos, revealing the wonderful universality and singularity of being human.  I loved noticing the different inflexions and cultural qualities that are hinted at in these different performances of the same some by people in different countries.

You probably won’t want to watch all of these versions in line sitting, but I recommend you pop back to this playlist for another one any time you feel like you need a bit of a boost to your energy or spirits over the coming days and weeks.  I’ve set this playlist to start with Santiago’s video.  Chile has been topping the Happiest Planet Index over the last year or so and maybe you can detect why from this showreel of their streets…

I hope you will enjoy as much as I have the simple delight and fun in these dances…

Ice Breaker Games: How To Get To Know Your Office

After listing out those games that are cringe-worthy or just plain embarrassing to have to do (see if you most loathed is on the list), Jacob Shriar, Growth Manager at Officevibe, offers up his favourite activities for breaking the ice for new team members and loosening up relationships at work.  Maybe there’s one or two here that you might want to try – even just for fun…?  The Trust Walk, for instance, requires people to be willing and up for it, but if they are it is a very special experience to be guided blind through the world, giving up all control into the trust of your partner.

The Good Icebreakers

The next list of 10 ice breaker games are great for getting to know your new colleagues. Feel free to split your group up into smaller teams to make it easier (and faster) to play these games.

  1. Two Truths And A Lie: This is one of the more popular icebreakers and is pretty easy to play. It doesn’t require any equipment or anything which is good. The way it works is each person is supposed to tell three quick stories, with one of them being a lie. The object of the game is for whoever is listening to the story to guess which is the lie. It’s a fun way to get to know one another.
  2. Lost On A Deserted Island: This is a really fun icebreaker, and is also a cool way to see what really matters to people. The way this one works, is if they were stuck on a deserted island, name one thing that they would bring, and why. If you want to get really advanced with this game, ask people to pair up into teams, and to figure out how they can use their one object together to increase their chances of survival on the island.
  3. The Trust Walk: This is a great activity for building trust among your team, and learning how to listen to your coworkers. The way this one works is people are paired into teams of two, and one of the team members is blindfolded. Then the person who isn’t blindfolded leads the other one around by following their voice and listening for cues. The only bad part about this activity is it required a decent amount of space, so maybe do this one outside.
  4. The One Word Icebreaker: This one is great, because it requires everyone to be creative. Split the group into teams of four or five people, and get everyone to come up with one word to describe something. What topic you have them describe is up to you, but my advice would be make it something about their work. For example, if you could describe your company culture in one word, what would it be?
  5. The Five Favorites: This icebreaker is simple, and is a really good way to learn more about coworkers. The way this works is you ask each person to list their five favorites of anything, whether it’s movies, songs, TV shows, it doesn’t really matter. The point is to get some discussion started, and see where people have things in common. For an advanced version of this game, make the question more professional, like the five best qualities of a leader, or the five ways managers motivate employees.
  6. Speed Dating: It’s not “dating” in the sense that you’ll go for a fancy dinner, but it’s modeled after speed dating. The way speed dating works is each person has a few minutes to chat and get to know someone else before being moved to the next person, to get to know them. This works very well in a corporate setting, because it gives everyone a chance to have a quick one-on-one with someone new.
  7. The Interview: Think of this one as a more structured version of the speed dating example above. The way this icebreaker works is people split into teams of two, and they interview each other, asking each other questions about anything. At the end of the interview, each person has to come up with 3 interesting facts about the person they just interviewed. It’s a nice way to get to know someone.
  8. What’s My Name: I’m not that good at remembering people’s names, especially if it’s in a large group. This is a really simple, fun way to learn people’s names. The way it works is, each person says their name out loud with an adjective that begins with the same letter as the first letter of your name. Ideally, you call the person by that name for the rest of the day. Joyful Jacob? Jazzy Jacob?
  9. Would You Rather: This is one of my favorite games to play, and I play this one even when I’m not icebreaking. You go back and forth asking creative questions (often nonsensical) about whether the person would rather do X or Y. For example, would you rather eat nothing but insects for 3 meals straight, or not be able to watch TV for a year. It’s funny and light, which is always nice for relaxing the mood.
  10. World Geography: This ice breaker game really challenges people to think, which is always fun. I’m sure many of you reading this have played this game before, but the way it works is you say the name of a country, and then the next person has to say another country, starting with the last letter from the previous one. For example, Canada → America → Afghanistan → Nigeria…

Bonus Icebreaker – Twenty Questions: This game is so much fun, and I’ve played this one a lot on a long drives. The way it works is someone thinks of something, whether it be a person, place or thing, and everyone can ask Yes or No questions (for a total of 20) to figure out what it is.

Link to the original article

12 Most Effective Time Management Principles

We are getting more and more requests for training in time management and balancing multiple priorities across multiple roles in an increasingly always turned on world.  And much of our potential to enjoy time with the people most important will be ruined or hijacked completely if we are unable to make the time and space to fully with them in the first place.

This list by  creams some of the best techniques out there for making time work better, and if this is an issue for you, I hope you will find something here that you can add to your existing repertoire to help you feel more in control and on top of things…

1. Determine what is urgent and important

We’re all faced with a lot of different tasks that fight for our attention and time each day. How do you decide what is most worthy of your time? The best approach is to prioritize those tasks that are both urgent and important.

A task that is highly time sensitive is urgent. Important tasks may not be time sensitive, but they are valuable and influential in the long run.

Stephen Covey’s time management grid can be extremely helpful for seeing what tasks should be prioritized. A common mistake is to get bogged down with things that are urgent, but not necessarily important. By using the grid you can be sure that you’re focusing on things that will have a real impact.

2. Don’t over commit

If you’re someone that tends to say “yes” to every request for your time, you may find that all of these commitments prevent you from making effective use of your time. Make an effort to only commit to things that you can realistically accomplish with the time that you have available. You’ll also want to be sure that committing to something won’t prevent you from being able to do other things that are important to you.

3. Have a plan for your time

Each of us is different and not everyone works in the same way. I prefer to have a detailed to-do list that keeps me on task for each day and each week. Someone else may feel overwhelmed by a list of things to check off each day. Regardless of your approach or preferences, you need to have some method of planning your time. Not having a plan leads to a less efficient use of your time as you’ll wind up getting off task or working on things that really aren’t important. Find a system of planning that works for you and use it in your daily routine.

4. Allow time for the unexpected

It never fails that something unexpected will come up and demand your time and attention. No matter how well you plan your time, things are bound to come up — so make sure that you leave some time in your daily schedule. When I’m creating my to-do list for any given day, I tend to assign myself tasks that I anticipate will take about 75% of my time for the day. That leaves another 25% for tasks that take longer than anticipated or for unexpected things or emergencies that need to be addressed. Avoid the temptation to plan your time so full that you won’t be able to deal with important issues that arise.

5. Handle things once

Rather than dealing with something several different times before completing a task, make an effort to handle it only once. Email is a great example here. If you read through an email, make an effort to respond and take care of the issue at one time. I’ve found myself at times reading through emails and then deciding I’ll get back to it later. When I do get back to it, I have to read the email again and it winds up taking more time. Multiply that by several times throughout the day and it adds up. Whenever possible, handle it once and be done.

6. Create realistic deadlines

You may have deadlines for your work that are set by a boss or a client, but it’s also important to set deadlines of your own. If you do have deadlines from bosses or clients, it can be helpful to break up the project into smaller chunks and set deadlines to keep yourself on track. If you don’t have anyone giving you deadlines for your work, try setting your own deadlines.

In addition to simply having deadlines, it’s also important that these deadlines are realistic and will give you enough time to do your best work. If your boss or client is pushing for a deadline that isn’t realistic, explain why you need more time and the possible consequences of the project being rushed, and suggest a more realistic deadline.

7. Set goals for yourself and your time

Setting goals is an important part of achieving maximum efficiency. Your goals can include things that you want to accomplish in a particular day, week, month, or year. Goals can be used with major accomplishments or smaller tasks that are important to you. Whenever you’re setting goals, it’s best to set a date or deadline for achieving the goal.

8. Develop routines

Habits and routines can be quite powerful. When used effectively, routines can help you to get more done and to make better use of your time.

I use routines to take care of several small tasks that I need to do each day. First thing in the morning, I go through a routine that includes checking email and responding to messages received overnight, a few minutes of networking via social media, moderating comments on my blogs, publishing new content that has already been written and prepped, and a few other small tasks. The result of my routine is that I can get a lot of small tasks off my daily to-do list in a small amount of time right at the beginning of the day. After that, I can have the most productive part of my day for essential tasks that require more of my time and concentration.

9. Focus on one thing at a time

Multitasking is overrated. Sure, in theory it would be awesome to be able to do several different things at once, but the problem is that you won’t be able to do your best work when multitasking. If you focus on one thing at a time you can move through tasks quicker and the quality of your work will be better. Multitasking can lead to a lot of mistakes that you have to go back and correct later, which is wasted time.

10. Eliminate or minimize distractions

Distractions are all around us. If you’re working at home you may have distractions like kids, other family members, house guests, television, phone calls, and all kinds of personal responsibilities and tasks. If you work in an office you’ll probably have plenty of distractions from co-workers.

While it’s impossible to totally eliminate distractions, you can improve your situation by minimizing them or avoiding them whenever possible. For those who work at home, you can set up a dedicated office space with a door that you can close. In an office, you may want to go in to work early to get some distraction-free time before co-workers arrive, or maybe shift your lunch time so that you can get some peaceful time while most of your co-workers are away at lunch.

The key is to recognize the most significant distractions that are hurting your productivity, and then you can work towards solutions that will minimize their impact.

11. Outsource tasks or delegate when possible

Part of being efficient with your time involves deciding what tasks require your own attention. There may be things that could be done by someone else. Outsourcing work is a great option for freelancers and small business owners. Delegating responsibilities may be an option if you’re in management or if you’re part of a team.

Resources like Elance and oDesk are great for finding freelancers when you need to outsource some of your work. You can typically find qualified workers with very affordable rates, which allows you to dedicate your own time to tasks that may be more important to you.

12. Leave time for fun and play

While the purpose of time management is to use your time wisely and to improve efficiency, it’s also important that you don’t burn yourself out by working too much or too hard. Be sure to leave some time in your schedule to do things with friends and family, or even on your own. Getting time away from work is essential for dealing with stress, for refreshing your energy, and for living a balanced life.

Making efficient use of your time is important regardless of what type of job or career you have. If you can make even small improvements in your own time management, you’ll see noticeable results in terms of how much you can get done, the quality of your work, and your stress levels.

Link to the full original article

Living in “flow” – the secret of happiness

And here is a free ebook from Australia’s Think and Be Happy.  If you’re not already familiar with Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi’s groundbreaking work this is great introduction.  Csikszentmihalyi’s research investigates the conditions of optimum performance, from which he has given us the idea of FLOW ~ that state of complete absorption when we are totally immersed in what we are doing and time seems to both stand still and fly by, and we feel delightfully and rewardingly stretched to our finest capabilities…

You probably know what it’s like to not be in a state of flow. This can be when there’s a lot going on and you have to focus on many things at once. For example, if you’re cooking dinner and trying to help your teenager do their homework and catch up on some emailing all at once, chances are you’re not having a flow experience. How can you when your attention is so fragmented? Or maybe you’ve had a hectic day at work and are now zonked out semi comatose in front of the TV too tired even to switch channels even though you can’t stand reality TV shows. The point is none of these activities are engaging you fully. Not even close. Worse, in doing them you’re most likely feeling bored, distracted or irritated.

On the other hand, to be in flow is to be so engrossed in what you’re doing – and this can be in any activity although we often tend to associate this state with creative pursuits and elite sport – that literally nothing, not the passing of time, your full bladder or the fact that you haven’t eaten since breakfast, impinges on your awareness. And yep, as anyone who’s been in such a condition of single-minded immersion knows, you feel fabulous not least because it’s not about YOU for once, it’s about the thing that you’re doing.

Of course there’s a lot more to the psychological state of flow than that which is why we’ve dedicated an eBook to the topic.

Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about flow … based on the work of world leading psychologist Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

Enjoy and share!

Link to download the free ebook

The complete guide to listening to music at work

By Adam Pasick

It has never been easier to tune in to your own customized soundtrack—or more necessary to tune out your open-office coworkers, cubicle mates, and fellow coffee-shop denizens. But not all music is created equal, especially when there’s work to be done. How should you choose the best office soundtrack for a given task? Which songs will help you get energized, focused, or creative—or even just through a very long day?

Let’s start with the basics.

Listening to music affects your brain

Putting on those headphones provides a direct pipeline from iTunes or Spotify into your auditory cortex. As the music plays, many different brain centers can be activated, depending on whether the music is familiar or new, happy or sad, in a major or minor key, or—perhaps most importantly for work purposes—whether it has lyrics or not.

Some tasks are easier with music playing…

Research shows that music goes best with repetitive tasks that require focus but little higher-level cognition. A landmark 1972 study in Applied Ergonomics found that factory workers performed at a higher level when upbeat, happy tunes were played in the background.

…and some are harder

Don’t fool yourself: Listening to music means that you are multitasking. Any cognitive resources that your brain expends—on understanding lyrics, processing emotions that are triggered by a song, or remembering where you were when you first heard it—won’t be available to help you work.

Studies have shown that reading comprehension and memorization both suffer when music is playing, for example. And just try putting numbers into a spreadsheet while listening to this:

Find the right balance

The downside of listening to music at work is that it places demands on your attention. The upside is it can make you feel more energetic and improve your mood. It’s also useful to drown out distracting background noises. The trick is to choose your music carefully, and match your tunes to the task.

For a cognitive boost, pick music that doesn’t have lyrics…

This makes intuitive sense to anyone who has listened to music at work, especially if your task is word-related. Your brain’s language centers can’t help but decipher the words you’re hearing, which makes it much harder to concentrate on, say, composing an email.

If you simply can’t find music without lyrics, you can pick something in a language that you don’t understand—like the invented “hopelandic” language used by the band Sigur Rós:

…and has a steady rhythm and mood

Your brain is a prediction machine, making a endless series of guesses about what’s going to happen next. When it comes to music at work, you don’t want your brain to spend cognitive resources predicting what it’s about to hear.

Listening to constant, relatively unchanging music—songs that don’t have a lot of emotional peaks and valleys, or changes in mood—has been shown to enhance some simple cognitive skills. Other research has shown that “low-information-load” music—simple tunes without a lot of complexity—have the strongest positive effect.

For instance, check out the steady, phased repetitions of “Music for Airports 1/1″ by Brian Eno:

Some studies suggest that major-key music (a song that sounds more happy than sad) makes time seem to pass more slowly. Whether that’s a good thing or not depends on how much you have to get done before you go home.

Don’t play music all the time

The widely cited 1972 study found that the benefits of music disappeared when it was constantly played. And sometimes your brain just needs all the cognitive resources it can get. One 1989 paper wryly noted that “complex managerial tasks are probably best performed in silence.”

Music as a pick-me-up

There’s an one category of workplace listening that has a totally different set of rules: the kind of listening you do when you’re tapping into the power of music to trigger an emotional response. Try playing a rock anthem or an action-movie soundtrack to jump-start your mood, or listen to a favorite song as a reward for a job well done. This gives you many of music’s cognitive benefits but without any of its distracting downsides.

Here’s one to play before a big meeting:

Hit shuffle for a dopamine rush

As mentioned above, your brain thrives on predicting the future, so throwing some randomness into the mix can reward you with a surge of the pleasurable neurotransmitter dopamine. To harness this neurological pharmacy, use a streaming music service like Spotify, Pandora, or Rdio to automatically serve up songs you might like.

Some of the best genres to work to

If you’re ready to experiment with what music best suits your work style, here are some suggestions (links to songs via Spotify):

  • Jazz: A massive variety of moods and tempos are available, most of them without lyrics. Try Miles DavisAlice Coltrane, and Thelonious Monk.
  • Classical: An even larger variety here. Many people swear by the music of Johann Sebastian Bach for its elegantly mathematical processions and variations.
  • Minimalist composers: Repetitive by design, at their best they can induce just the sort of trance-like flow that you’re looking for. Try Steve Reich and Philip Glass.
  • Chill-out: The name is self-explanatory. Try Bonobo and Cinematic Orchestra. 
  • Ambient: You will barely know it’s there. Listen to Brian Eno or Aphex Twin.
  • Movie soundtracks: Use these to get your heart thumping, like the Top Gun theme song above; or find a particular mood with Daft Punk’s score for Tron or Trent Reznor’s for The Social Network.
  • Video game soundtracks: As one redditor observed, these are designed to keep you engaged without being too distracting. The London Symphony Orchestra recently recorded nearly two dozen, or there’s this spare, beautiful music from the game Minecraft.

Try the Quartz work playlist

And here is a playlist of songs, again via Spotify, that the Quartz staff picked as some of their favorites to listen to as they work (A version of the playlist in Rdio can be found here

Link to the original article 

UN International Day of Happiness: These people are way happier than you

Metro ran this story to celebrate the day with a series of looped videos that highlight moments of happiness in perpetual foreverness that we know of course is just not an option with real happiness.  But see if at least one of these doesn’t make you smile…

Today is the United Nation’s second International Day of Happiness. The UN wants us to remember that it’s friends, family and emotional well-being that actually make us happy, not cars and handbags. And then to share what makes us really happy with everyone else.

Which, if you’re not a fan of cute kitten pics, multiple exclamation marks and mega LOLs, might be making you consider shutting down your Instragram/Twitter/Facebook account and hiding in a dark place for the rest of the day.

Not a fan of organised happiness? Feeling a bit meh? Yep, these people are way happier than you today…

Link to see the gallery of stupidly happy people

Chemists discover secret to dark chocolate’s health benefits

by Monte Morin

Could this be the best news story yet…?

For years, chocolate lovers have remained blissfully unaware of the precise reason bittersweet dark chocolate seems to improve cardiovascular health. At least until, now that is.

On Tuesday, researchers at meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in Dallas said they had solved the confection conundrum: Specific chocolate-loving microbes in the gut convert an otherwise indigestible portion of the candy into anti-inflammatory compounds, they said…

“These little guys say, ‘Hey —   there’s something in there that I can use,’ and they start to break it down,” Finley said.

The smaller molecules that result from this fermentation can travel through the gut wall and be used by the body, researchers said.

“These materials are anti-inflammatory and they serve to prevent or delay the onset of some forms of cardiovascular disease that are associated with inflammation,” Finley said.

A number of short-term studies conducted in recent years have suggested that dark chocolate can cause blood vessels to dilate, and thus lower blood pressure, although this is not the case with white chocolate and milk chocolate.

Finley said that the amount of cocoa powder that appeared to produce beneficial effects was about two tablespoons a day.

One of the issues involving dark chocolate, Finley said,  was the amount of sugar and fat that chocolate candy contained. He said you could avoid those substances by putting cocoa powder on oatmeal, as he does…

Link to the original article

Steven Pinker and Rebecca Newberger Goldstein: The long reach of reason

And lastly, here is a rather wonderful animation of a debate about relative importance of our intuition and feelings or our reason for the successful flourishing of our species.  It’s packed with ideas but in this heightened pictorial representation, the ideas sing.

Here’s a TED first: an animated Socratic dialogue!

In a time when irrationality seems to rule both politics and culture, has reasoned thinking finally lost its power? Watch as psychologist Steven Pinker is gradually, brilliantly persuaded by philosopher Rebecca Newberger Goldstein that reason is actually the key driver of human moral progress, even if its effect sometimes takes generations to unfold. The dialogue was recorded live at TED, and animated, in incredible, often hilarious, detail by Cognitive.

Enjoy.  And see if you agree with their final confusions…?

Happiness At Work edition #89

All of these stories – and many more – are collected together in this week’s new Happiness At Work edition #89

Link to the Happiness At Work collection

Becoming More Happy, Creative & Productive ~ a back to earth toolkit of tips and techniques

After last week’s post putting our heads in the clouds to think and expand our thinking about thinking, I thought it might be helpful this week to come back to earth with a post that is grounded in practical How To tools and techniques.  I hope you find something in this selection to enjoy and use with what you are trying to make and make happen in your life and work.

The loudest story to catch my attention this week, turning up across a range of different sites, is Sharon Salzburg’s ideas brought together in her new book:

Practices For Having A Happier Day At Work

Margarita Tartakovsky writes in Psych Central’s blog World of Psychology:

…In Real Happiness at Work Salzberg discusses eight pillars of happiness in the workplace:

  • balance;
  • concentration;
  • compassion;
  • resilience;
  • communication and connection;
  • integrity;
  • meaning; and
  • open awareness.

At the end of each chapter she features formal meditations that take about 10 to 20 minutes, along with mini meditations and practices throughout the book.

Below are some of my favorite tips from Salzberg’s book for helping us have a more peaceful and happier day at work. The great thing about these exercises is that they’re simple, small and totally doable ways we can enjoy greater calm and satisfaction.

  • Before starting a project, meeting or even a conversation, ask yourself: “What do I most want to see happen from this?”
  • Before starting your day, set an intention. Salzberg gave this example: “May I treat everyone today with respect, remembering each person wants to be happy as much as I do.”
  • As you sit down at your desk, spend several moments listening to the sounds around you. Take note of your reactions to the sounds.
  • Notice how you’re holding something in your hand, such as a pen or cup. Are you holding on tightly? “Sometimes, we exert so much force holding things, it exacerbates tension without our realizing it.”
  • Try to perform a simple act of kindness every day. Salzberg included these examples: “holding an elevator door, saying thank you in a sincere manner, or listening to someone with a clear and focused mind.”
  • Pay attention to your feelings. For instance, if you’re feeling irritated toward a co-worker, pay attention to your irritation, “not so much the story of why you’re irritated, but the actual feeling of it.” What does it feel like in your body? Where do you feel it? Identifying irritation as it starts helps you prevent an action you might later regret. “With a more immediate recognition of what we’re feeling, we have a choice as to how we want to respond in that moment.”
  • As you heat up your lunch, stop, and simply pay attention to your breath until your hear the ding of the microwave.
  • If you’re feeling upset, consider helping someone out. (“The more you help, the happier you can be.”)
  • Think about the people who make your job possible, such as a housekeeper, elevator operator or fundraiser – and thank them.

As Salzberg writes, “Being happy at work is possible for all of us, anytime and anywhere, with open eyes and a caring heart. We need only to take the first step.”

Link to the original article

‘Real Happiness at Work’ is an Inside Job

Love Your Job’s reviewer ‘Olivia Greene’ writes

In Real Happiness at Work, Sharon Salzberg’s first question to her readers is, “When we took this job did we expect it to make us happy?”

…Stuck in a rut at work, mostly of my own making, I stumbled across this book and I decided to read it every morning on my way to work for ninety days. My subway commute is about forty minutes, so I had time to get into the philosophy of the book and choose an exercise for the day before I walked through my office’s doors.

Using some of her exercises began to change my work day:

Unitask!
So many of us pride ourselves on our capacity to multitask, but that mindset can lead to a lot of stress. Salzberg’s exercises call for us to do one thing at a time, give that one activity our attention and thereby give ourselves a break. Once I tried this, I realized I was happier if I was unitasking, not multitasking. It is exhausting to stretch our attention in two or three different places — and it’s unnecessary.

Notice our Stress
Salzberg writes that every job has stress, but each of us gets stressed about different things. I tried an exercise that calls for writing down every thing during the work day that stressed me. Looking over my list, I found out it was different stressors than I realized — and a lot of the stress came from my own thoughts, which I could slowly change.

Mindful Emailing
Before reading Salzberg’s book, I answered an email as quickly as possible. Responsible for an inflow of hundreds of emails a day, the key for my professional survival seemed to me to be speed. But that was making me harried, unable to appreciate what I was writing or reading. Instead, I tried her mindful emailing exercises: I read emails twice entirely before replying and found out I was missing important points, I considered more carefully how my emails would be read and I added more kind words, and I decided I didn’t need to check my email while walking or riding the elevator. This mindful emailing made me, quite simply, happier at work.

Plant seeds
I made lists of accomplishments I hoped for at work, and noted which parts of success I could control — and which I couldn’t. It helped to ground me when I considered that I could set intentions, I could work towards something, but every outcome was dependent on forces beyond my control.

Notice sounds
Most work environments are noisy, with sounds we have no control over. Stationed between an employee social area and a crucial work area, I’m surrounded by sounds I can not control and do not need to pay attention to. I learned that when they begin to overwhelm me, I can stop, truly notice the sounds without feeling the need to stop them, and then gradually return to work with more ability to focus.

Take a deep breath!
While it’s core and basic advice I’ve heard countless times, Sharon Salzberg writes convincingly of the power of breath to restore and center us. In moments when I feel afraid and lose my calm, I learned that taking a deep breath can restore a sense of peace and vitality. It only takes three seconds and it works wonders.

I found that using these exercises allowed me, after a year of wishing I had the courage, to point out the amazing accomplishments I’d had over the past years and ask my boss to help those be recognized. I’ve also found the strength to apply for other jobs. I know that something wonderful is on its way, and I embrace what is happening right now instead of wishing it were different. Most importantly, I remember that finding happiness at work is an inside job. Only I can find it. My boss, my colleagues, and my company can not give it to me. I need to reach for it every day by making the time to breathe, to mini-meditate and to remember a greater sense of purpose. That’s my real responsibility — and it’s a big job.

Link to the original article

Sharon Salzberg, “Real Happiness at Work” | Talks at Google

Here you can watch Sharon Salzburg talking about her research and ideas and leading some guided mindfulness exercises in this video talk.  When you can give this the time to listen to, there’s lots of gentle wisdom here and a very easy mindfulness experience to enjoy at 23’55”:

“Life is full of surprises when we pay attention…”
And here is Sharon Salzburg writing the illustrative story she tells in this video, extracted from her book:

Self-Forgiveness at Work

…before too long, we got stuck in unthinkably bad traffic. I don’t recall ever seeing such traffic. As we crawled along, trying to go cross-town, then trying to go uptown, then cross-town again, trying anything, we barely made any progress. I wondered if I would make it to the talk at all. More than anything, I felt bad for the cab driver, wondering if he would get a fine for returning the cab late. I began to apologize, “I am so sorry. You were nice enough to pick me up and now you’ll be late. I can’t believe this monstrous traffic. I’ve never seen anything like this. I’m so, so sorry.” He interrupted me, “Madam, traffic is not your fault.” Then he paused a moment, and added, “Nor is it mine.”

I just loved that he added “Nor is it mine.” I thought of how many times customers probably blamed him for their own tardiness, for bridge closings and tired toll collectors and wild drivers of other cars. I thought, “That was a wonderful teaching. Actually it would be okay if I don’t make it to the lecture at all” (I did, by barely a second).

When we challenge the habit of unfair self-blame, we learn to focus our energy on areas of the job that we can manage and let go of the rest. When we take time to focus on the part of the environment we can control – most particularly ourselves — working life becomes less emotionally fraught.

Patience is a much-underrated tool for dealing with frustrating work situations. Cultivating a flexible perspective, and the ability to let go, is essential to whatever kind of work we do. As we learn to delay the story lines and mental habits that we typically bring to our work, and simply become available to our circumstances in the moment, we’re able to adapt to things as they actually are. Patience at work begins with the full acknowledgment of conditions exactly as they are.

This includes the restless, critical or stubborn states of our own mind. A student of mine was amazed, on the morning of a job interview, when mindfulness practice enabled her to catch herself in the middle of a long-held assumption regarding her confidence and self-worth (“I’m not good enough! I can’t compete. I’ll never get it!”). Barraged by fear as well as impatience over the interviewer’s response, her mind in the past would have spun out of control, kept her on tenterhooks, and beaten herself up in the interim. Had she not been patient enough to stop, sit quietly and observe her self-defeating thoughts, she would never have been able to notice this pattern — and compose herself enough to land the job.

The more time we spend on meditation practice, the more rewarding it becomes as rather than rejecting difficulties as bothersome interruptions, we can acknowledge our work with all its complications and challenges as an invitation to wake up and live our lives more honestly and fully.

Link to the original article

Self-acceptance: a key to a happy life, but difficult to achieve

A new survey has found that self-acceptance is the “healthy habit” people struggle with most.

The UK charity Action for Happiness in conjunction with online behavioral change program Do Something Different asked 5,000 participants to rate themselves on a scale of 1 to 10 on ten “happy” habits. These habits, identified as “keys to happiness” via scientific research, plus the questions used to identify them, were as follows:

Giving: How often do you make an effort to help or be kind to others?
Relating: How often do you put effort into the relationships that matter most to you?
Exercising: How often do you spend at least half an hour a day being active?
Appreciating: How often do you take time to notice the good things in your life?
Trying out: How often do you learn or try new things?
Direction: How often do you do things that contribute to your most important life goals?
Resilience: How often do you find ways to bounce back quickly from problems?
Emotion: How often do you do things that make you feel good?
Acceptance: How often are you kind to yourself and think you’re fine as you are?
Meaning: How often do you do things that give you a sense of meaning or purpose?

While questions about Giving and Relating each scored an average of more than 7/10, the Acceptance question scored the lowest of the bunch: an average of 5.56 out of 10, just below Exercising (5.88/10).

“This survey shows that practising self-acceptance is one thing that could make the biggest difference to many people’s happiness,” says Professor Karen Pine, a psychologist from the University of Hertfordshire and co-founder of Do Something Different. “Exercise is also known to lift mood so if people want a simple, daily way to feel happier they should get into the habit of being more physically active too.”

Do Something Different and Action for Happiness have created a Do Happiness programme, which sends people messages to help them practice scientifically backed healthy habits. Some of the recommended actions include being as kind to yourself as you are to other people, spending quality quiet time by yourself, and asking a trusted friend what he or she thinks your greatest strengths are.

Link to the original article 

Russ Harris: ‘How To Build Genuine Confidence’ at Happiness & Its Causes 2011

In this talk Russ Harris uncovers the real causes of lack of self-confidence, and gives us three rules for building our confidence in those times when we do not feel it naturally:

Rule 1 – Genuine confidence is not the absence of fear and anxiety, it is a transformed relationship with fear and anxiety.

Rule 2 – The actions of confidence come first, the feelings of confidence come later.

Rule 3 – Focus full attention on the task in hand.

And at this point in the talk is where I have set the video to play from, when Russ Harris’s shows a quite different mindfulness technique for doing this…

The Secret to Managing Stress: Adding the Opposite

How many of you are stressed about something right now? Did I hear an overwhelming “yes?” Well, I’m not surprised—a whopping 83% of Americans say they’re stressed at work.

And sure, you can find plenty of advice online about how to manage stress—from working out to using relaxation techniques like yoga or mediation to socializing with family and friends.

But I want to add another, rather unique tool to your stress-management kit. You may not have heard about it before—or you may have, years ago: It’s based on a strategy for teaching math to kids, known as “adding the opposite.”

In the classroom, this technique is used to help explain the idea of subtracting a negative—by adding a positive instead. Instead of 4 – (-6), for example, the student is taught to think of the equation as 4 + (+6).

Turns out, this is a great way to deal with stress, as well: Instead of trying to mitigate the negative effects of stress, think about what you can do to create a positive outcome, instead. Also referred to as “proactive coping,” this technique has worked wonders for my clients and has been proven in studies to reduce levels of worry and anxiety.

To help illustrate exactly how to use this method, read on for three ways you can “add the opposite” in common stress-inducing situations at the office.

1. Focus on the Positive

We’ve all had that kind of day: Your boss was a crank, your co-workers were annoying, you had a killer all-day headache, and you’re about to take this workday stink home and share it with your family. (Won’t they be thrilled?)

Not so fast! According to the University of Minnesota, you can greatly reduce evening stress levels simply by jotting down a few positive things that happened during the day. And they don’t even have to be work-related! Maybe you received a great compliment, nailed a presentation, or made a new friend in the office. Whatever you write, make sure to note why these things made you feel good. This will help you remember all the positive attributes, skills, and people you have in your life, and focusing on the “why” helps you appreciate those things even more.

You see, instead of dealing with stress by rehashing your terrible day to anyone who will listen, you can add the opposite by reminding yourself of what went well.

2. Envision Success

I don’t live downtown, but I have to go there frequently for meetings. And up until recently, I dreaded everything about it. Between the unfamiliar territory, one-way streets, ever-present construction, and full parking garages, I knew that it was always going to take much longer than I expected to arrive, find parking, and get to the meeting on time. It was harried and stressful, and I dreaded it.

Eventually, I realized that I couldn’t keep operating that way, and I started trying to proactively cope. So, whenever I had a city meeting, I’d envision myself leaving the office with plenty of time to spare, effortlessly finding a parking spot, and arriving well ahead of time, relaxed, unstressed, calm, and ready to conduct business.

And you wouldn’t believe the difference it made. I realized that by working myself up mentally and always picturing the worst possible experience, I was creating my own stress. But when I shifted my outlook, I had a completely different experience. I actually did arrive early, find parking, and had time to gather myself before the meeting.

Whether you dread city parking, presentations, meetings, performance reviews, or any number of other stressors, try adding the opposite by shifting your outlook from dread to anticipation and imagining a positive outcome. You’ll be able to ditch the stress—which will put you in the right mindset to succeed in any situation.

3. Start a Conversation

I often work with clients who complain that their managers are a constant source of stress, but they avoid tackling the issue head on. Why? They feel uncomfortable confronting an authority figure, or aren’t sure what to say or how to say it. And so, they take no action at all—and the stress continues.

To add the opposite in this situation, try focusing on the goal you want to achieve in that conversation and taking the steps to make it happen.

For example, let’s say your stress stems from your boss’ tendency to assign projects right as you’re about to leave the office. Instead of panicking about those last-minute tasks, directly confront the issue with a conversation—perhaps asking if you can meet each morning to outline the day’s assignments.

You’re instantly replacing that fear, dread, and avoidance with a proactive with a focus on the desired outcome—and that’s a much better way to replace that end-of-day stress.

The next time you anticipate a stressful event, focus on creating positive outcomes and aligning the resources you need to be successful. Doing this before stress has a chance to get to you has a much better effect on your personal well-being—rather than simply recovering from stress after the fact. That means a healthier body, a healthier mind, and a happier life. I challenge you to take steps to proactively cope with those tough situations by adding something positive. Your well-being depends on it!

Link to the original article

How to Help a New Co-worker (When You Have Your Own Work to Do)

The latest water cooler gossip has leaked the news that someone new is finally getting hired, which means your overloaded plate may actually see some lightening in the near future.

But, before you can let out a sigh of relief, you remember what a chore it was the last time someone new joined the team—and your excitement is quickly replaced with a feeling of dread.

Adding a new person to your team in the office can be a bittersweet experience. On the one hand, when he or she finally gets up to speed, your workload should get a lot more manageable, and ideally, your team will become more efficient. On the other hand, new hires—no matter how experienced they already are— require a lot of training.

Fortunately, you’re not necessarily doomed to suffer through a months-long ramping up period for a new hire. Here’s how to handle the inevitable barrage of questions with style and grace—and stay sane.

1. Flash Back

…I reminded myself what it was like when I first started several years before. From accidentally setting off the office alarm after forgetting the code to completely botching one of our daily reconciliation procedures, I was probably a nightmare to my peers. I also remembered how cohesive the team was and how hard it was being the “outsider” trying to break in to the group. With that in mind, I was able to keep my frustration in check and be much more compassionate about what she was going through as she adjusted to life with our tiny team.

2. Set Boundaries

I know, boundaries sound like limitations, but try to think of them less like restrictions, and more like a roadmap for a happy relationship. No matter who you are, there are rules to the road that you just won’t know when you first start out. At least, not until someone tells you. And, that’s where the boundaries come in.

…Sometimes, you can see a disaster from a mile away, so don’t be afraid to head it off as soon as possible. If you’re a tyrant before your morning coffee infusion, make sure the newbie knows not to come knocking unless the office is on fire. Not a fan of the 4 PM Friday afternoon team meeting? Make sure your new hire knows that on day one, and you’ll avoid resenting him for rest of his tenure. Whatever your pet peeves and professional thorns in your side may be, the more upfront and honest you are about your own boundaries, the happier and more productive everyone will be.

3. Get in the Game

Sometimes, you just can’t avoid all the questions. The job is complicated, and the culture is unique, and whoever is joining the team will need the secret handbook if he or she stands a chance at being successful—not to mention, help you out. That’s when it’s helpful to view the newbie onboarding process as a game, rather than an added burden.

This tactic was especially helpful to me when I had a recent graduate join my team. I had well over a decade of experience over her, so looking at her joining as a coaching opportunity just made sense. I knew things she couldn’t possibly know, and it was my responsibility to teach her. And, if I did it well, we’d both come out winners. While I’d have to give up about half the hours in my day until that point, I liked those odds. I ended up sharing everything I knew with her and answered all her questions with the same enthusiasm as my junior high basketball coach had when I asked him to explain a certain offensive play. And it worked.

At the end of the day, a job is just like any other game. There are rules and certain ways to get things done that work better than others. And, in many cases, taking the time to step back and be a coach—even if it’s not necessarily your job—is the only way to make sure your team will work effectively together.

Whether it’s the ins and outs of how to complete the TPS reports or the idiosyncrasies of the coffee machine, your new colleague is going to have a lot of questions, and chances are, you’ll be answering some of them. Keep these tips in mind, and you’ll soon enjoy the benefits of having a new, awesome, addition to your team in no time.

Link to read the full original article

Be Happier at Work—This Week With Huffington Post’s The Third Metric

The previous two posts both come from The Muse, a new website I discovered by signing up for the free five-day programme they are offering in partnership with The Third Metric.  Its a great site and so far, two days in, this has been a great programme.

Is your job leaving you over-worked, over-stressed, tired, and unhappy? It doesn’t have to be this way. This class, in partnership with The Huffington Post Third Metric, will give you smart, research-backed strategies for how to re-think about your daily grind and be happier at work. Starting now.

Here’s the link to check out the offer and sign yourself up

A bit more about this programme:

Introducing The 5 Day Program To Find Happiness At Work

by  Jordan Freeman

Small things can help you be happier at work. It comes down to choices, and you really can choose happiness. The Huffington Post has partnered with the career experts at The Daily Muse to lead the way, putting together a five-day lesson plan on how to be “Happier At Work.”

At HuffPost, we focus on something called “The Third Metric,” which seeks to redefine success beyond money and power. We want to introduce a third metric to success that includes well-being, wisdom and wonder. We explore happiness as part of this initiative — especially happiness at work. For many, career success means working harder, longer, and faster — which tends to lead to burnout, sleep deprivation, and driving ourselves into the ground. Not quite the picture of success and happiness we imagined.

Our lessons will teach you smart, research-backed strategies for how to re-think your daily grind, stop making yourself crazy, and be happier at work every day.

Here is an overview of some of the tips and tricks we’ve put together for you.

Day 1: Is “Busy” Helping or Harming You? 
Sometimes, being busy feels good — it makes us feel productive and important. But it can also hold us back from big-picture thinking and even happiness. Learn why it’s so important to take a break and how to do it the right way.

Day 2: The Happiness Booster Sitting Next to You 
It’s easy to separate your work and personal lives, but the truth is, having friends at the office can go a long way toward making you a happier (even better!) employee. Learn how to get to know people outside the office and why it’s important to do it now.

Day 3: The Pursuit of (Im)perfection 
Do you know perfection is impossible, yet continue to strive for it anyway? It could be bringing you down, big time. In this class, we’ll show you just how valuable a little imperfection can be.

Day 4: The Meaning of Your Work 
Even if you don’t love your job, there are still ways to find meaning in it — and get excited for it. We’ll show you practical ways to find purpose at work.

Day 5: Happy Today, Happy Forever 
Here’s a secret about happiness: You have more control over it than you think you do. In this last class, we’ll show you small activities you can do every day that can make a big impact on your happiness.

Sign up here.

Link to the original article

7 Ways to Make it Easy for People to Work with You

by  

“It all depends on who you’re working with.”

That was the feedback from team members to a recent survey about the state of collaboration within our department. The feedback was consistent. Collaboration is…well…inconsistent.It all depends on who you’re working with.

In all organizations you’ll hear people complain about the difficulty of working with certain colleagues. The common refrain is, “If only they would _____…”— communicate better, be more responsive, give me all the information I need…fill in the blank with whatever reason suits the occasion.

Instead of being frustrated with other people not being easy to work with, shift the focus to yourself. Are YOU are easy to work with? If you are easy to do business with, odds are you’ll find others much more willing to cooperate and collaborate with you.

Here are seven ways to make it easy for people to work with you:

1. Build rapport – People want to work with people they like. Are you likable? Do you build rapport with your colleagues? Get to know them personally, engage in small talk (even if it’s not your “thing”), learn about their lives outside of work, and take a genuine interest in them as people, not just a co-worker who’s there to do a job.

2. Be a good communicator – Poor communication is at the root of many workplace conflicts. People who are easy to work with share information openly and timely, keep others informed as projects evolve, talk through out of the box situations rather than make assumptions, and they ask questions if they aren’t sure of the answer. As a general rule, it’s better to over-communicate than under-communicate.

3. Make their job easier – If you want to gain people’s cooperation, make their job easier and they’ll love you for it. But how do you know what makes their job easier? Ask them! If handing off information in a form rather than a chain of emails makes their job easier, then do it. If it helps your colleague to talk over questions on the phone rather than through email, then give them a call. Identify the WIIFM (what’s in it for me) from your colleague’s perspective and it will help you tailor your interactions so both your and their needs are met.

4. Provide the “why” behind your requests – Very few people like being told what to do. They want to understand why something needs to be done so they can make intelligent decisions about the best way to proceed. Simply passing off information and asking someone to “just do it like I said” is rude and condescending. Make sure your colleagues understand the context of your request, why it’s important, and how critical they are to the success of the task/project. Doing so will have them working with you, not against you.

5. Be trustworthy – Above all, be trustworthy. Follow through on your commitments, keep your word, act with integrity, demonstrate competence in your own work, be honest, admit mistakes, and apologize when necessary. Trust is the foundation of any healthy relationship, and if you want to work well with others, it’s imperative you focus on building trust in the relationship. Trust starts with being trustworthy yourself.

6. Don’t hide behind electronic communication – Email and Instant Message have their place in organizations, but they don’t replace more personal means of communication like speaking on the phone or face to face. I’ve seen it time and time again – minor problems escalate into major blowouts because people refuse to get out from behind their desks, walk to their colleague’s office, and discuss a situation face to face. It’s much easier to hide behind the computer and fire off nasty-grams than it is to talk to someone about a problem. Just step away from the computer, please!

7. Consistently follow the process – Process…for some people that’s a dirty word and anathema for how they work. However, processes exist for a reason. Usually they are in place to ensure consistency, quality, efficiency, and productivity. When you follow the process, you show your colleagues you respect the norms and boundaries for how you’ve agreed to work together. If you visited a friend’s home and were asked to remove your shoes at the door, you would do so out of respect, right? You wouldn’t make excuses about it being inconvenient or it not being the way you do things in your house. Why should it be different at work? If you need to fill out a form, then fill it out. If you need to use a certain software system to get your information, then use it. Quit making excuses and do work the way it was designed to be done. Besides, if you consistently follow the process, you’ll experience much more grace from your colleagues for those times you legitimately need to deviate from it.

No one likes to think of him/herself as being difficult to work with, yet from time to time we all make life difficult for our colleagues. Focus on what you can do to be easy to do business with and you’ll find that over time others become easier to work with as well.

Link to read the original article

3 Ways To Handle Criticism Like A Pro – And Actually Grow From It

Be smart about the way you ask for feedback and you’ll realise you can’t live or learn without it.
Here’s how to ask the right questions and get the answers you need.

Ignoring this feedback can have detrimental effects on your company’s success, yet many of us are still averse to criticism. Sheila Heen, author of the new book Thanks for the Feedback: The Science and Art of Receiving Feedback Well says there’s a powerful reason this.

“Feedback sits at the juncture of two core human needs,” argues Heen. While on the one hand, we have a desire to improve and grow, we also have an innate need to be accepted and loved the way we are. “Feedback suggests that how you are now isn’t quite A-okay,” says Heen. High-achievers, in particular, struggle with this. “We think we should be doing it all and handling it all, if not perfectly, at least perfectly enough that other people don’t notice.”

So, how can we embrace criticism and learn to grow from it?

1. LET GO OF YOUR FIXED MINDSET.

Whether we view feedback as threatening or helpful depends on how we see ourselves, says Heen. Some people view themselves through a fixed identity. They have a mindset that says: “I am how I am. I’m either smart or stupid, capable or not, I’m going to be a success or a failure.” Such individuals take feedback as a verdict about their core being.

On the other hand, people who maintain a growth mindset assume that how they are today isn’t necessarily how they will be in the future. Thinking this way will allow you to accept feedback as a way to learn and grow.

2. IGNORE WHAT YOU DON’T AGREE WITH.

Not all criticism is helpful. “Getting good at receiving feedback doesn’t mean that you actually have to take it. It simply means that you resist the temptation to instantly either reject it or let it overwhelm you and instead work to understand it better,” says Heen. Knowing which opinions to accept and which to ignore means taking the time to fully hear people out.

Since the majority of feedback tends to be vague (“You need to be more of a team player” or “You need to be more responsive to the market”) you might need to push for more specifics. You could ask: “What specifically prompts you to say this?” or “What do you think I should be doing differently?” Getting answers to these questions will help you decide whether the message is useful or not.

3. DON’T FISH FOR A CANNED RESPONSE.

How you ask others for their opinions of you and your work will determine whether or not their responses are useful. “Asking ‘Do you have any feedback for me?’ is overwhelming for the giver and it’s not clear how honest you want them to be,” says Heen.

Instead, be more specific in your questioning. For example, asking “What’s one thing we could change that would make a difference to you?” makes clear the type of response you’re soliciting. You’ll be rewarded with more detailed thoughts that can help you and your business grow.

Link to the original article

Introverts: Know Your Strengths, And You Can Flourish At Work, Too

By Laura Pepper Wu, editor, The Write Life Magazine.

In business culture, we often favour extroversion. Yet the latest research suggests introverts make up one-third to one-half of the population. Author Susan Cain’s recent book, QUIET: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won’t Stop Talking, shines a positive light on us more modest individuals.

In fact, Cain suggests that their traits can actually be strengths — personally and professionally.

Are You an Introvert, Extrovert or Ambivert?

The term introvert is often used inaccurately. Introversion does not necessarily equate to shy, though some introverts are shy — as are some extroverts. Instead, Cain defines introverts as “people of contemplation,” who may enjoy the company of others, but are also comfortable with solitude. They are sensitive, contemplative, modest and calm, and spend a lot of time thinking and reflecting. They can enjoy social occasions, but crave restorative time afterwards. They do their best work alone in quiet places since they are easily overstimulated by noise, lights and action.

In contrast, extroverts are “people of action.” They gain energy from other people, are sociable, excitable and light-hearted. Unlike introverts, extroverts can tolerate a higher level of noise and work well collaboratively. And if neither of these temperaments resonate with you strongly, you may be an ambivert, someone who sits somewhere in the middle of this wide spectrum.Whether you’re an extrovert or an introvert, Quiet emphasizes that there are strengths that come with your temperament. You can also minimize the impact of the so-called weaknesses with self-knowledge.

Here are a few tips for introverts (and their bosses) to flourish in the workplace:

  1. Reduce noise. Shut the door to your office for stretches at a time, or wear noise-cancelling headphones. You’ll produce better work in a more satisfying environment.
  2. Set some rules for your interactions with colleagues and collaborators. If you have the luxury of doing so, let people know that you prefer email rather than phone conversations. Work in a conference room or coffee shop where you can’t be interrupted. Schedule regular meetings into your calendar to limit the need for spontaneous ones.
  3. Recognize your need for rest. After a big presentation, give yourself permission to restore your energy levels. This is essential for introverted workers to stay on top of their game. While it is important to bond with your work peers outside of the office, focus on quality over quantity.
  4. Let your temperament shape your career path. Since introverts flourish in quiet spaces with minimal interaction, careers such as graphic design, writing, programming and accountancy are all good choices.

The best tip of all is to commit to understanding more about the strengths associated with introversion. You’ll focus more on what you do best, and stress less about the differences between you and the louder voices who get more airplay at meetings. Introverts are observant, so they’ll often ask poignant and important questions, and see a different angle on something. Managers can respect these quiet strengths by asking questions and allowing everyone to speak during meetings. By understanding individual differences in a team, everyone wins.

Link to the original article

Eight Habits that Improve Cognitive Function

What daily habits improve brain structure and cognitive function?

by Christopher Bergland in The Athlete’s Way

On March 11, the New York Times published an article about the “brain fitness business titled, Do Brain Workouts Work? Science Isn’t Sure. I believe the answer is no. Without a variety of other daily habits, these “brain-training games” cannot stave off mental decline or dramatically improve cognitive function.

Most of these brain-training games will have some benefits—but it’s impossible to optimize brain connectivity and maximize neurogenesis (growth of new neurons) sitting in a chair while playing a video game on a two-dimensional screen.

In order to give your brain a full workout, you need to engage both hemispheres of the cerebrum, and both hemispheres of the cerebellum. You can only do this by practicing, exploring, and learning new things in the three-dimensions of the real world—not while being sedentary in front of a flat screen in a cyber reality.

Digital games are incapable of giving the entire brain a full workout. These digital programs can’t really exercise the cerebellum (Latin: “Little Brain”) and, therefore, are literally only training half your brain. These “brain-training workouts” are the equivalent of only ever doing upper body workouts, without ever working out your lower body…

For this post, I did a meta-analysis of the most recent neuroscience studies and compiled a list of habits that can improve cognitive function for people from every generation. These eight habits can improve cognitive function and protect against cognitive decline for a lifespan.

Eight Habits that Improve Cognitive Function

  1. Physical Activity
  2. Openness to Experience
  3. Curiosity and Creativity
  4. Social Connections
  5. Mindfulness Meditation
  6. Brain-Training Games
  7. Get Enough Sleep
  8. Reduce Chronic Stress

The secret to optimising cognitive function can be found in daily habits and exercises that flex both hemispheres of the cerebrum, and both hemispheres of the cerebellum. The eight habits I recommend here exercise all four brain hemispheres. If performed consistently, these habits can improve cognitive function and protect against cognitive decline.

Link to read the full set of of findings in the original article

Why Young Leaders Drive Old Leaders Crazy

by Leadership Freak

NOTE: Definition of a leader: ‘someone who influences the activities of an individual or a group in efforts toward goal achievement in a given situation’.  (Hershey & Blanchard, Situational Leadership, 1977)
This is probably you – whatever your job tile reads.
Only you know of course whether you are an ‘old’ or a ‘young’ leader…

Old leaders feel superior to young leaders because young leaders haven’t paid their dues. Young leaders devalue the value of experience when they think, “Paying your dues is over-rated.”

Young leaders don’t appreciate what old leaders put on the line to support them. When young leaders screw up, they don’t realise they diminish the prestige of those who selected them.

Young leaders who walk away when things get hard weaken old leaders who are gutting it out.

10 Tips for young leaders:

  1. Make everyone around you look good. Nothing good comes from pointing out the bad in others when you’re a young leader.
  2. Celebrate and thank more. One strength of young leaders is dissatisfaction. But, when dissatisfaction turns negative, influence declines.
  3. Slow down when you feel barriers lifting. Enthusiasm and good ideas don’t lower resistance – connection does. People won’t see how smart you are when they’re protecting themselves from you.
  4. Use personal rather than accusatory language. “Our slow progress makes mefeel trapped,” is better than, “You aren’t moving fast enough.”
  5. Respect and answer the fears of old leaders. You scare old leaders when you don’t appreciate their fears.
  6. Channel passion, enthusiasm, and excitement into focus and resolve. Calm determination has more power than vein popping enthusiasm.
  7. Tease out the suggestions of experienced leaders. Say something like, “So, if we go the way you suggest, the next steps are…” Old leaders love to be taken seriously.
  8. Don’t pressure people to get on your team. Get on theirs.
  9. Say what you want. “How can I gain respect?” “Will you help me gain a voice?”
  10. Honour experience.

Link to read the original article

BUT BUT BUT – there is always another side to the coin…

Looking Down on Young Leaders

by Leadership Freak

The hope for dying organizations isn’t found in old leaders who don’t have the guts to say they created the problem.

Organisations reflect the age and attitude of their leaders. The older some grow, the more they lean toward no, and “no” isn’t going anywhere.

Transform organisation by integrating young leaders.

Dedicated young leaders:

  1. Feel impatient.
  2. Address issues elders sweep under the carpet.
  3. Complain when stuck in bureaucracy.
  4. Consistently ask, “Why?”
  5. Care deeply.
  6. Yearn to make a mark.
  7. Embrace diversity.

4 Tips for maximising young leaders:

  1. Push them past the “all talk” stage. Let them struggle and support them at the same time.
  2. Take their perspective. Learn from them.
  3. They don’t know what they don’t know. Teach rather than scoff.
  4. Realise many of the qualities you look down on are the ones you need.

Youth alone isn’t the answer. I’m advocating for respectful age integration.

Link to the original article

see also:

Why Millennials are the New Greatest Generation (infographic)

by 

Generation Y is constantly being given a reputation of being entitled and uncompetitive in the workforce that is very undeserved.

But what if I told you, in spite of this public perception and bad luck, or perhaps even because of it, the Millennials are actually the most generous, educated and civic-minded generation since the Greatest Generation? Don’t believe me? The following infographic debunks many of those Gen Y myths.

See for yourself what this generation has accomplished and how hard they work despite the less than favorable job market they face…

The Top 6 Questions Leaders Have About Communications

by David Grossman

I talk to a lot of leaders who say they want to communicate effectively, but they’re not sure how to. They have questions about how to overcome communication challenges, how to share tough news with employees, and how to measure the effectiveness of their communication. I thought I’d answer the top six questions I get from leaders about communication.

1. If communication is so critical to leadership and business, why isn’t there enough communication in business today?

Communication is often seen as an “add-on” to “hard” or “technical” business skills. Communication is often perceived as someone else’s job. Sometimes leaders spend their time and resources focusing on goals that directly contribute to the bottom line, not knowing that communication does too.

And there are a myriad of myths about communication that get in the way, myths such as “talking is communication” or “people won’t interpret situations or give them meaning if leaders don’t talk about them,” both of which are far from the truth.

2. Why do leaders need to be effective communicators?

Today’s leaders need to be effective leadercommunicators and use strategic communication as a way to achieve the business goals they seek. Leading is communicating; you can’t separate communication from leadership. Without communication, employees lack direction and can’t measure their performance. They lack an ability to see themselves and their work as part of the bigger picture. They can’t add value by contributing as a thinking member of the team.

And what’s most important is that you can’t lead if you can’t express yourself.

Your technical skills and abilities can take you only so far. Leadership is much more. It’s about getting things done and moving a business forward through other people.

3. What traits are most important for a skilled leader communicator?  

Asking questions and listening are critical. Leaders create engagement by focusing on productivity, creating morale and building relationships. Before you can understand a business problem or achieve a goal, you have to understand what the situation is. Asking questions is the best way to come at a problem from varied perspectives. If a leader problem solves from assumptions or only the information at hand, he or she won’t be effective.

4. What’s the greatest communication challenge for leaders?

The greatest challenge leaders face is failing to remember that everything they do communicates.  Whether they intend to or not, everything leaders do (and don’t do) communicates something, so why not communicate well? It’s no secret that people will read into your behavior. They interpret situations and give them meaning, whether or not you communicate about it. Communication provides the right information and prevents misinformation. Leaders need to remember that they make the weather every day for their people.

5. How can leaders measure the effectiveness of their communication?

You can ask others. You can listen (and then listen some more). You can also use a 360 to assess how you’re actually communicating, as compared to how you may think you’re doing.

We all have blind spots, and most of us tend to overestimate our skills. Leaders who are extroverted typically say and do a lot, but the quality of their communication suffers. On the other hand, introverts tend to think they’re communicating more than they actually are.

Effective leadercommunicators practice just like great athletes. Look at Serena Williams. She’s one of the best tennis players in the world, but she still practices every day. Leaders don’t have to be perfect, but we all need to work on flexing our leadership muscle so it gets stronger over time.  A great place to start is to listen to see how you’re doing in meeting you team’s needs: listen to the questions people ask, and look in the mirror and check your reflection.

6. How can leaders inspire their employees when they don’t have good news to share?

The test of great leadership is to ensure understanding in the tough times as well as in the good times. The best leadercommunicators communicate even more in challenging times. They place greater emphasis on two-way dialogue and face-to-face (or at least voice-to-voice) communication, and they’re visible. They listen more than they talk. They ask questions.

They’re genuine, honest, and empathetic.

Be assured, too, that as a leader, it’s OK to not have all the answers.  The three best credibility-building words a leader can say are, “I don’t know” (and then go out and find the answer).

Link to the original article

And here’s a quirky new piece of science that I loved discovering, not least because it lends weight to the realisation that listening is much more complex and skilled and demanding than merely the absence of talking…

Different Brain Regions Handle Different Music Types

Functional MRI of the listening brain found that different regions become active when listening to different types of music and instrumental versus vocals. Allie Wilkinson reports in Scientific American

Vivaldi versus the Beatles. Both great. But your brain may be processing the musical information differently for each. That’s according to research in the journalNeuroImage. [Vinoo Alluri et al, From Vivaldi to Beatles and back: Predicting lateralized brain responses to music]

For the study, volunteers had their brains scanned by functional MRI as they listened to two musical medleys containing songs from different genres. The scans identified brain regions that became active during listening.

One medley included four instrumental pieces and the other consisted of songs from the B side of Abbey Road.

Computer algorithms were used to identify specific aspects of the music, which the researchers were able to match with specific, activated brain areas. The researchers found that vocal and instrumental music get treated differently. While both hemispheres of the brain deal with musical features, the presence of lyrics shifts the processing of musical features to the left auditory cortex.

These results suggest that the brain’s hemispheres are specialized for different kinds of sound processing. A finding revealed but what you might call instrumental analysis.

Link to hear the podcast of this story with short snatches of the music it references

Pharrell Williams – Happy (Official Music Video)

And on the subject of music, here is Pharrell Williams’ Happy, which has been chosen to be this year’s song for UN International Day of Happiness on 20th March.

Clap along and enjoy…

Happiness At Work Edition #88

All of these stories and plenty more are collected together in this week’s Happiness At Work collection of stories.

I hope you find something to take away from this to use and grow and profit from.

Happiness At Work #87 ~ sometimes it’s good to be up in the clouds

This post invites you to put your head in the clouds for a while and think about creative thinking…

'Sometimes its good to be up in the clouds' photo by Sue Ridge

‘Sometimes its good to be up in the clouds’
photo by Sue Ridge

This week’s title comes from a new photo by artist Sue Ridge, which heads up this selection of stories that invite us to think about what our thinking, and especially our creative thinking, might ideally be made of…

Insight test – how much do you know about insightful working?

To get started with this, here’s a quick and surprising challenge to test your existing thinking by Gary Klein, author of Seeing what others don’t: the remarkable ways we gain insights:

Our ability to create insights is critical for innovation and adaptation.

Otherwise we would remain stuck in mental ruts formed over our lifetime. Insights let us see things in new ways. Many people, however, have the wrong ideas about insights. Here is a short test, only 12 items, to assess your knowledge of insights. For each item, note down the number at the left if you agree with the statement and think it has been sufficiently established.

  1. Brainstorming is an effective method for groups to generate insights.
  2. Insights depend on having fresh eyes, which is why greybeards – the so-called experts – tend to be trapped by their previous experience.
  3. Organizations desire insights and encourage their workers to come up with out-of-the box ideas.
  4. The way insights emerge is that we run into an impasse, struggle for awhile, then let our minds wander until suddenly there is a flash of illumination.
  5. Correlation doesn’t imply causality, so we shouldn’t get sidetracked by coincidences.
  6. A major barrier to insights is when we have flawed beliefs and assumptions.
  7. To correct flawed assumptions we should use critical thinking methods such as listing all the important assumptions we are making, to see which might be wrong.
  8. Scientists generate insights by running controlled experiments to test their hypotheses.
  9. Good scientists work carefully so that they won’t make erroneous claims.
  10. To handle a challenging project we should start by pinning down the goals so that we can systematically achieve success.
  11. Good ideas often come about by accident so we should expose ourselves to lots of different fields and different types of specialists.
  12. A well-designed computer workstation, tailored to the way we work so that it filters out irrelevant data and highlights the important cues, can boost our chances for having insights.

Let’s see how you did. Review your responses, changing any that don’t seem quite right. And here is the answer key: Zero. None of these items has been clearly established. Some are just wrong, contradicted by the data. Others seem unlikely and have not been supported by evidence. Here are some brief explanations:

  1. Brainstorming is a popular technique but the overwhelming weight of evidence shows that groups using it get fewer ideas, and less creative ones.
  2. Experience doesn’t get us into a rut unless the task is so repetitive and mindless that we tune out. A study of insights that I conducted found that experience was essential in 2/3 of the incidents.
  3. Organizations resist insights because they are dis-organizing and disruptive, and get in the way of smooth management. Most people view novel ideas as impractical and unreliable.
  4. This impasse strategy sometimes holds, but it is only one of several different ways that insights emerge. In a sample of 120 insights, only 25% involved impasses.
  5. Correlation doesn’t prove causality but many important insights started out when someone noticed a coincidence.
  6. People who gain insights often held flawed beliefs. What set them apart is that they were able to abandon these beliefs whereas others fixated on their flawed beliefs and were trapped by them.
  7. The strategy of listing assumptions has never been shown to improve performance, and it doesn’t even make sense because the beliefs that trap us are often based on hidden assumptions that we aren’t aware we are making. So we would never list them.
  8. When scientists run experiments and get results that support their hypotheses they haven’t gained any insights at all. Only when the results don’t work out as expected do scientists have to seek insights. Other parts of the scientific method, such as just observing the phenomenon of interest, are richer sources of insight.
  9. Claims that can’t ever be wrong are usually pretty bland. Scientists would do better to make the most extreme claims they can defend. Unfortunately, too many scientists are so risk averse that they censor themselves.
  10. Many challenging projects involve “wicked problems” that don’t have a clear goal. The only path to success is to gain insights about the goal along the way. Locking in on the initial goal is likely to lead to failure.
  11. There is no clear evidence that deliberate exposure to lots of diverse ideas will result in more insights.
  12. A well-designed workstation may feel comfortable but it will trap us in our traditional routines and make it harder to have insights about better ways to do the job. If the workstation filters out “irrelevant” cues, it may filter the cues that might spark insights.

The field of insight is marked by myths and superstitions. Only by exposing these outdated ideas can we expect to make progress in using our uniquely human talent to make discoveries and achieve insights.

Link to  the original article

Mindfulness Bell: a 5 minute meditation

This 5 minute mindfulness bell meditation is wonderful for whenever you want to clear your mind, relax and then get on with your day.

The recording contains nothing but the pure sound of a Tibetan singing bowl being repeatedly struck with a soft mallet. It was taken from Mindfulness Bells Volume 1. Christopher Lloyd Clarke recorded this bowl in his personal studio in 2011 using some of the most high-end microphones and audio processing equipment in his collection. Christopher is known for being a bit obsessed with sound quality, so we hope that you can appreciate the lovely tonal balance and detail that is present in this recording, even if it’s just in YouTube video format.

This calming sound is a wonderful focal point for meditation. Simply absorb your attention in the sound of the mindfulness bell. No mantra is required, no special breathing techniques are needed, just let your awareness be consumed by the sound of the bell.

Your mind will become clearer and more calm with each and every bell strike, and as the bells fade into silence, your mind is given the opportunity to experience a very natural state of stillness.

A high bell sound rings out at the conclusion of the meditation.

Please come back often and enjoy this 5 minute meditation anytime you want to clear your mind and relax!

For more information or to download the full 60 minute version, please visit http://www.the-guided-meditation-site…

career maze4

The Golden Ratio for Productive Creativity in the Workplace

by 

Perhaps the most defining barrier in the modern workplace is the ability to seamlessly integrate creative and productive processes. The challenge is faced by both leaders and employees. Though they welcome constructive creativity, the former find it difficult to integrate workflow beyond simple productivity. Creative solutions are often seen as an experimental indulgence, though no less desired from team members. Employees on the other hand find the productivity warp-drive seems to rule their every move, particularly in environments where managers are less project-focused and more task-focused. In fact, an Adobe study called “State of Create” showed that an estimated 75% of participating employees felt like ‘their employers put more pressure on them to be productive than to be creative. Simply put, this group finds little time for (or reward in) creative pursuits.

An organization’s survival is based not only on its productivity, but also on quality and ability to innovate – two traits that are pivotally dependent on creativity. An organization’s ability to integrate productivity with creativity is entirely dependent on taking an “outside” point of view, a broad scope of the entire structure from top to bottom. Here is where you’ll find a golden ratio of creativity-based productivity measures that will help you finally fill this elusive gap.

Hard-wired to be Creative: How Creativity Precede Productivity
It all begins with reimagining creativity as a concept. Some would protest they’re not gifted with creativity. However, while some people have more raw talent than others, creativity is a tool of the mind that (like any other mind-based approach) can be sharpened though disciplined practice.Jonah Lehrer, the author of Imagine: How Creativity Works, comments that while “Creativity shouldn’t be seen as something otherworldly. It shouldn’t be thought of as a process reserved for artists and inventors and other ‘creative types.’ The human mind, after all, has the creative impulse built into its operating system, hard-wired into its most essential programming code.” Creativity, as Lehrer discusses in an article withMashable writer, Josh Catone, can be taught. Lehrer adds definition to the kindled realization that imagination can be cultivated and improved upon.Programmed to be creative, we’re doing ourselves a disservice by eliminating it from our corporate culture – and moreover, from the fundamental way in which we do business. If we’re hard-wired to be creative, then aren’t we performing at diminished levels if we proceed without this deeply incubated and inherent capacity to create and perform?
On the Shoulders of Giants: How Leaders Are Responsible for Fueling Creative Productivity
As leaders, we set the benchmarks. Our role in spearheading creative productivity is by recognizing that “true leadership requires original thought and imagination that can motivate others, solve problems, and cultivate innovation and initiative along the way.” Pulled from a Forbes article entitled “The Content You Read Shapes How You Lead”, by Glenn Llopis, succinctly highlights why it’s critical for leaders to place the first proverbial stepping stone laying the foundation for a creatively productive corporate culture.Leaders are encouraged to treat creativity as a tool necessary for innovation. For those with an aversion to a word that has been associated with crafting and a flood of Pinterest-inspired ideas, know that a creative mind is a strategic mind. As I mentioned in an earlier post entitled, “The Creativity-Productivity Paradox: Play and Time”, creativity is the ability to connect the dots. To add weight to the argument, I quote Liane Davey’s Harvard Business Review post entitled “Strengthen Your Strategic Thinking Muscles”, in which she writes, “Strategic people see the world as a web of interconnected ideas and people and they find opportunities to advance their interests at those connection points.” The individual (and the organization) that is able to flex this type of creative thought has a higher chance on coursing through a path that is more result-driven rather than task-driven. In a nutshell, the creative mind has produced the productive mind.

Link to the original article

WHY Music: The New Power Shake – Blending Creativity, Well-Being and Learning

by Frank Fitzpatrick, multi-Platinum record producer, Grammy-nominated songwriter, social entrepreneur and award-winning filmmaker

As the world continues to spin in more unpredictable and exponential ways, the worlds of ideas-once-separated are being tossed into the same blender.

What is great about the omnipotent ingredient of music is that music is the juice that can make it all work together: cognitive and social development, motivation and emotional engagement, and mindfulness and well-being. Maybe it is because, as Beethoven taught us, music understands humankind in a way that humankind is yet to understand music. Sadly, because music has been so devalued and misunderstood by those leading in these other fields, it is underutilized at best.

One of the emerging trends …that I find encouraging is the desire to move toward creating greater well-being for the individual learner – being more conscious about what we put into the mix and shifting the values around priority outcomes. It is reassuring to have health, well-being and mindfulness be part of a dialogue that too often gets dominated by test scores and brain capacity.

We still have a long way to go, however, to get music fully embraced as a critical and omnipotent ingredient for education, successful learning, and the well-being of [today’s young people]. Music here has been removed from school curriculums, and public funding for the music-based arts programs has all, but disappeared. In one of my weekend meetings with the education gurus, I learned about an upcoming two-day global think tank that will help set the framework for open learning analytics to be used to measure learner outcome in education for the next fifteen years. Of the 50 experts at the table, music and the arts don’t have even one representative. Shocking! With all the evidence about the impact of music on learning and creativity, the development of the human brain, and the vitality of the human spirit, it should be a no-brainer to insist on music as an integral part of every child’s education.

So, as I head off to Austin for another education forum, armed with the latest in new technology, leading scientific research, a box of power tools for emotional engagement, and enough creative ideas to fill a 747, I will take my WHY Musicsoapbox with me. Maybe if I throw some magical ingredients into the blender and sing my mantras at the top of my voice — like “There is no M in STEM without Music!” — I might get a few more music warriors to join the movement.

Link to the original article

12 Questions to Exponential Knowledge

One of the very best ways to think about anything is through questions, and the fine art of asking really great questions is perhaps one of the most important capabilities for us to keep practising, practising, practising.

I have adapted some of these really great questions from the Leadership Freak to increase their openness and relevance for us all…

Knowledge and questions:

‘The opportunity of knowing is “not knowing,” effectively.’

Few things surpass the beauty of questions from someone with knowledge. You learn the most about others by the questions they ask, not the statements they make.

Use what you know to know more. Even ignorance can ask great questions.

7 ways to gain knowledge:

  1. Argue to apply. Theories are wonderful. Application brings them to life.
  2. Challenge to prove right.
  3. Go with not against.
  4. Explore for clarification not to devalue. It’s easy to shut others down and learn nothing.
  5. Understand purpose before discounting ideas. Knowledge seeks the reason behind reasons and ideas.
  6. Bring context to discussions. How might supervisors view this, for example.
  7. Pursue clarity until action emerges.

‘Action creates it’s own clarity.’

12 questions toward exponential knowledge:

  1. What impact has this had on your life and/or work?
  2. How did you come to these ideas?
  3. How could others put these ideas into practice?
  4. What difference does it make?
  5. Why does this matter?
  6. What are you trying to accomplish?
  7. Who else is affected by this, and how?
  8. Who benefits? Why? How?
  9. What happens if you try?
  10. What happens if you don’t try?
  11. What if you fail?
  12. What if you succeed?

How can we grow our knowledge, especially when we think we know enough already?

Link to the original article

Mary Lou Jepsen: Could future devices read images from our brains?

As an expert on cutting-edge digital displays, Mary Lou Jepsen studies how to show our most creative ideas on screens. And as a brain surgery patient herself, she is driven to know more about the neural activity that underlies invention, creativity, thought. She meshes these two passions in a rather mind-blowing talk on two cutting-edge brain studies that might point to a new frontier in understanding how (and what) we think.

Can Cognitive Training Make You Smarter?: Interview with Author Dan Hurley

An interview by Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D with author Dan Hurley exploring the promise of cognitive brain training.

Dan Hurley‘s popular feature in The New York Times Magazine, “Can You Make Yourself Smarter?” brilliantly presented multiple perspectives in the cognitive training debate. In his latest book, “Smarter: The New Science of Building Brain Power“, Dan expanded his investigation of the cognitive training literature and also reviewed other interventions that attempt to increase intelligence. 

How do you define “intelligence”?

Psychologists define it with tests. But those tests are ultimately designed to measure the real-world ability to figure things out, solve problems, and see meaningful patterns in the world around us. And it’s not just “book smarts.”  It includes our ability to understand ourselves and those around us, to handle whatever life throws at us, to make sense of things. Intelligence is what allows us to learn from our experience, to gain insight into life, to juggle multiple demands. With the internet these days, information is everywhere. But intelligence is how we make sense of all that information.

You spend some time in the first chapter defending the importance of intelligence. Why did you feel the need to do that. Do you think intelligence is underrated in society?

If you’ve ever been called “stupid,” as I was a kid, you know how intensely personal and important it is. If you’ve ever had a learning-disabled child, or if your parent is becoming impaired by Alzheimer’s disease, you know how important intelligence is. …These days, it’s become politically incorrect to talk about intelligence. The intelligentsia (pun intended) prefer to talk about grit and determination, or “emotional” intelligence. But wishing away the importance of intelligence doesn’t make it go away.

What areas of the cognitive training field are most contentious?

Even some of the psychologists who have found strong benefits for training feel nervous about the commercial advocacy of companies like Lumosity. We all know that physical exercise builds muscles…but we don’t yet know exactly which kinds of cognitive exercises work best. That said, I have counted about 75 randomized, placebo-controlled trials (and they’re all cited in my book) demonstrating significant benefits from various kinds of cognitive training—from “working memory” training to physical exercise, learning a musical instrument, mindfulness meditation, transcranial direct-current stimulation and more. I found only four randomized, placebo-controlled trials that found no benefit whatsoever. That’s pretty overwhelming.

You spoke to K. Anders Ericsson, who studies the development of expertise. Does he think that cognitive training increases in intelligence are irrelevant to the development of world-class expertise?

Ericsson believes that the benefits you get from practice apply only to the specific skill you’re practicing. He published studies showing that even if you practiced memory tricks to learn how to remember a hundred random numbers in a row, you still were no better at remembering a hundred letters in a row, or anything else. In the lingo of psychologists, he believes that training doesn’t “transfer.” Malcolm Gladwell made Ericsson famous in “Outliers” by describing his so-called “law” of 10,000 hours of practice. Ericsson has published studies suggesting that talent doesn’t matter, and that the only thing that does matter is practicing for 10,000 hours in order to become an expert. Whether you want to be a concert pianist or a world-class chess player or anything else, supposedly all you need to do is practice for 10,000 hours and then you’ll be a master.

What do you think of Ericsson’s perspective?

Ericsson’s claims have not been supported by other researchers who have found that talent does matter, and that training in certain tasks does result in “transfer” to improvements in other abilities. Some chess grandmasters practiced for much less than 10,000 hours before they reached the top, whereas other people can practice for much more than 10,000 hours and still not make it. The same is true of intelligence as a trait. Just because you study and study and study doesn’t mean you’re going to get into Harvard. We all know that. Some people are smarter than others. The real question is whether you can increase your intelligence so that the hard work you put in will pay off better.

What kind of effect does cognitive training have on the brain?

There is no question that training causes structural and functional improvement in the brain, as seen on MRI. Most of the changes are seen in the frontal areas of the brain, where high-level thinking occurs. Mindfulness meditation, for instance, has been shown to produce increased white-matter connections between the anterior cingulate cortex, an important region for complex decision-making, and the rest of the brain.

What cognitive functions did you find are most trainable?

Working memory is the ability to juggle multiple items of attention, to manipulate and analyze information. If you try to multiple 26 by 37 in your head, the reason it’s so hard is because of the demands it puts on your working memory. Tons of studies, including the latest one by Randy Engle, show that by training on certain kinds of working-memory tasks, you can improve your working memory overall. This is profoundly important for your ability to multi-task and think through complicated problems.

What interventions are the most effective in improving cognitive ability?

Working-memory training has proved really useful, although exactly which kinds of working-memory tasks are most useful remains unclear. Susanne Jaeggi has focused on the N-back task, which anyone can check out online at www.soakyourbrain.com.  Others prefer various other kinds of working-memory tasks. But plenty of research also shows that physical exercise, learning a musical instrument, and mindfulness meditation can all bring significant benefits. One of the coolest parts of my training was learning to play the Renaissance lute.

Teenagers everywhere want to know: are there any cognitive benefits of first-person shooter games?

Absolutely. These games are so good at improving reaction times that they are used by the U.S. military to train pilots and operators of drones. These games can also improve the “useful field of view,” your ability to see and respond to stimuli at the periphery of your vision, which is incredibly important when driving a vehicle. Other computerized games have been shown to improve older people’s ability to distinguish very fine differences in shades of gray. Strangely, this ability has been shown to be one of the single most important markers of longevity. So if you get better at it, will you actually live longer? That’s not yet clear. But improving your ability to see and respond to your environment can be potentially lifesaving.

How important is exercise?

Research has proved beyond doubt that the brain is actually connected to the heart and lungs via something called the “neck.” Physical exercise is perhaps the best-proved method for improving cognitive function in older people. It’s also critical for children and middle-aged sloths. Some researchers believe that cardiovascular exercise is best, while others insist that strength training is more important.

What about vitamins? Which one should take the most of if I want to think more quickly? Or should I just continue to drink lots and lots of caffeine?

I know that many people believe in the benefits of vitamins and dietary supplements. But there are no good studies showing that any of them really help cognitive function. Large studies of fish oil given to pregnant women have even suggested that there might be some risks to the intellectual abilities of their children. Caffeine, on the other hand, has been repeatedly shown to enhance not just attention, but motivation and even, most recently, memory. And if you can believe it, nicotine also helps. Cigarettes and other forms of tobacco are of course extremely dangerous and greatly increase the risk of cancer, heart disease, and much more. But studies in both humans and animals confirm that nicotine, given through a patch or gum, can be a great cognitive enhancer. I actually started using a 7 mg nicotine patch and found it useful, without any noticeable addictiveness.

Can mindfulness meditation make you smarter? What cognitive functions are most affected by mindfulness meditation?

A series of studies by Michael Posner and Yi-Yuan Tang have shown that mindfulness meditation can enhance all kinds of cognitive abilities. Mind-wandering is not helpful when you’re trying to write an article or take a test. On the other hand, some recent studies have suggested that allowing your mind to wander can also be helpful when you need a breakthrough. Some of the greatest scientific insights have occurred when scientists were spacing out.

How transferable are improvements in specific cognitive functions to intelligence more generally?

It’s easy for psychologists to give you a series of tests, have you practice some exercises, and then run follow-up tests to see if you improve better than people who didn’t do those exercises. But figuring out what the real-world benefits are to those improvements is much, much harder. A recent study of older adults given just ten hours of training found that even ten years later, they still enjoyed significant benefits in daily functioning. A hundred years of studies have proved that IQ tests and other tests of cognitive function are very, very predictive of real-world abilities. They’re not perfect—no test is—but on average, just like blood-pressure tests, they’re pretty good at predicting how you’ll do in the future. Many large corporations, as well as the U.S. military, give these tests not because they love tests, but because they really help pick out people who can be successful from those who just lack the ability to learn and function.

After you assess the results of your own cognitive training, you put it all in perspective by saying:

“And so what? Those are just numbers on a test. In the end, for all of us, the best test of cognitive abilities is one for which there is no answer key. It’s called life.”

Link to the full original article

What’s so positive about positive psychology?

asks Robert Biswas-Diener in Psychology Today

Chances are, if you are reading this then you are at least passingly familiar with the emerging field of positive psychology.

Although every religious and philosophical tradition through antiquity has offered insight into the “good life” it is only in the last couple decades that we have truly been able to turn scientific attention to this important topic in a sophisticated way. Modern scientists have used careful research designs, validated assessments and rich theory to produce new and sometimes counter-intuitive ideas about age-old topics such as happinessresilience, and hope.

Among the set-pieces of this modern movement are so-called “positive psychology interventions.” These are, more or less, simple behaviours in which a person can engage to improve her own well-being. The most famous of these is the “gratitude exercise.” In this exercise people are instructed to jot down “three things” for which they are grateful. The list might include a reliable automobile, a sunny afternoon, or a healthy child. The list will change from person to person and from time to time. The results are in, however: the gratitude exercise appears to boost individual happiness and buffer people from the deleterious effects of depression. This finding has been replicated and most famously so with a randomised controlled study conducted by positive psychology founder Martin Seligman and his colleagues.  

Since that initial study appeared in 2005 there have been other positive psychology interventions that have been tested and have shown—at least in a preliminary way—evidence for small boosts in happiness. One of these is the “counting kindnesses” intervention conducted by Keiko Otake and her colleagues. As the name implies people who kept a tally of their daily kindnesses felt a little spring in their step as a result.

The publication of the counting kindnesses intervention set me to wondering what the causal mechanisms were that might form the foundation of positive psychology interventions. Could it be, for instance, that the gratitude exercise actually boosts appreciation and this improved mindfulness translates to a better mood? Or might it be that gratitude works primarily by reminding people to appreciate things they overlook, and in this ways functions primarily by acting as an antidote to the natural human tendency to adapt.

Privately, I have been worried by what I see as the uncritical acceptance of these intervention techniques by some coaches and other human service professionals. It’s nice to know that these techniques work — for the most part — but isn’t it even nicer to understand how they work?

For months I harbored a sneaking suspicion that positive psychology interventions such as counting kindnesses and the gratitude exercise were simply “listing interventions.” That is, I was curious to know if we might find the same rise in happiness if we had people simply list anything positive. Imagine having people keep a daily “courage diary” in which they listed three ways they didn’t let discomfort hold them back. Or picture a scenario in which people tally hopes, such as “three things that are likely to happen in the next two weeks that you are eagerly looking forward to.” Could it be that any instance of pen, paper and positivity constitutes an effective positive psychology intervention?

Interestingly, this exact premise was tested in a study that appeared in the Journal of Clinical Psychology. The researchers replicated the classic Seligman study using a sample of nearly 1,500 adults ranging in age from 18 to 72. They included the gratitude exercise, a “positive placebo” in which they had participants write for 10 minutes each evening about a positive memory, and a control placebo in which they had participants wrote for 10 minutes each evening about an early life memory (not necessarily a positive one). Using the same happiness assessment employed by Seligman in the original study, the researchers discovered that the positive memory exercise performed roughly in the same way that the gratitude exercise did: both boosted happiness and did so over three and six month follow-ups.

Now, on the one hand, it would seem that the researchers have created yet another positive psychology intervention. Hooray! We can now add the “positive memory exercise” to the stable of happiness boosting activities.

In the end, however, the researchers draw much the same conclusion I do: there is some common factor that acts as the therapeutic mechanism for many of these “listing interventions.”  According to the researchers, engaging in any activity that makes positive self-information more accessible is likely to have a tonic effect on people. This does not mean that we should dismiss positive psychology exercises as somehow “fake.” It does mean that we should not rush to mental closure on their effectiveness or the ways in which we use them. This is an important study because it opens the door to exciting new research questions:

  • Are there different types of positive psychology interventions?
  • Will some types work better with certain people than with others?
  • Are there people for whom these activities are contra-indicated?
  • Is salient positive self-information as powerful as positive information about loved ones?
  • How might these interventions be modified to be more effective across cultural boundaries?

We are just scratching the surface of these tools.

Link to the original article

A Calling To Be Creative

by Douglas Eby

What leads, urges, even compels so many of us to be creatively expressive?

Given that everyone is creative to some degree, why do many people choose careers in the arts, or work that actively engages their creativity?

Most of us will never be actors or other filmmakers – especially ones that are seen and acknowledged publicly – but many of those creators talk about what calls them to engage in creative work, despite the challenges.

One example: Lupita Nyong’o, who won an Academy Award for best supporting actress on March 2, 2014 for her role in “12 Years a Slave.

In her moving acceptance speech, she noted one source of inspiration for her portrayal of a slave: “It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else’s. And so I want to salute the spirit of Patsey for her guidance.”

She also thanked director Steve McQueen: “You charge everything you fashion with a breath of your own spirit. Thank you so much for putting me in this position, it’s been the joy of my life.”

Creating can be more or less dispassionate, guided by engineering, product development or social needs, for example – but much of what we value in the arts comes from a place in the soul as well as mind.

“Acting is hardly a common career in Kenya for the child of a powerful politician, but Nyong’o’s father, one-time health minister Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, said the family had always supported her dreams.

“She started acting very young, right from kindergarten, and even at home with just the family, she would come up with make-believe stories and perform them for us. She was always imaginative and creative.”

She “was inspired to follow an acting career after working as a production assistant on the 2005 drama ‘The Constant Gardener.’ Actor Ralph Fiennes then told her only to get into acting if she couldn’t live without it. “It’s not what I wanted to hear, but it’s what I needed to hear,” she said.

That idea of pursuing acting – or another art, of course – only if you “can’t live without it” or be happy unless you do it, is something many of the actors and other artists I have quoted over the years say fits for them and their own “calling.”

In her article “The Special Challenges of Highly Intelligent and Talented Women Who Are Moms,” Belinda Seiger writes that in her private psychotherapy practice and her personal life, she has “known many gifted women who seem to possess what I refer to as the ‘rage to achieve.’

“They are constantly driven to learn, to create and to be intellectually productive even while raising young children. Many of these women face periods of frustration when the demands of family and their need for intellectual immersion collides.”

But, Seiger adds, being a mother and actively engaged in other work is not easy: “As one friend who was getting her second master’s degree put it: ‘mass chaos’ ensues when one attempts to become immersed intellectually while simultaneously remaining attentive and available for family responsibilities…”

She notes that “Like gifted children and young adults; gifted adults are distinguishable not only by their IQ’s but by their intensity, multiple talents, high energy, curiosity and obsessive need to increase in-depth knowledge in subjects that interest them. Trying to ignore these qualities can result in a depressed mood, anxiety and feelings of being unfulfilled emotionally and intellectually.”

Link to the original article

Mindfulness Can make You More Creative

by Jeremy Dean, a psychologist and the author of PsyBlog. His latest book is “Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick“.

An ‘open monitoring’ style of meditation can promote divergent thinking, a crucial aspect of creativity, finds research published in the journalFrontiers in Cognition (Colzato et al., 2012).

Divergent thinking is the kind which is often used at the start of the creative process, in which new ideas are generated.

The typical psychological test of divergent thinking asks participants to name as many uses as they can for a mundane object like a brick or a pen.

In the study by Dr. Lorenza Colzato and colleagues, participants who’d been meditating in an ‘open monitoring’ style came up with the most uses for the mundane object.

An ‘open monitoring’ style of meditation is where you don’t focus on a particular object or sensation, such as your own breath; rather you pay attention to whatever thoughts or sensations you are experiencing at the time.

Problem-solving

The results are fascinating because the study of how meditation affects creativity has had mixed results over the years.

Part of the problem is that there are many different types of creativity and many different types of meditation, which are not often delineated by the studies.

However, this is not the only study to make finer distinctions and show the benefits of meditation for creativity.

A study by Ren et al. (2011) has looked at another crucial area of creativity: problem-solving.

This requires different skills because it’s about gaining a vital insight into a problem that’s already defined.

In this study, people were given insight problems to try and solve.

The results showed that, compared with a control group, those who learned a simple meditation technique, involving focusing on the breath, solved more of the insight problems.

Benefits of meditation

Together these two studies suggest that different types of meditation may be useful for different aspects of creativity.

For generating new ideas, an open monitoring style performs best, then for solving an existing problem, a more focused attention style provides the best results.

It also may begin to show why the previous studies on the connection between meditation and creativity have provided such mixed results.

→ Read on: the benefits of meditation.

Link to the original article

The Heart of Mindfulness

by Marina Illich, Co-founder and Principal at Broad Ventures Leadership

A Sioux saying has it that the longest journey we’ll ever make is the journey from our head to our heart. As an Ivy League-trained academic, some part of me still winces when I hear this kind of adage, thinking it sounds a bit trite or misguided.

But if there’s one thing that more than 20 years of mindfulness training has taught me, it’s this: Few challenges are more important than making that short and inestimably long trip from head to heart.

What brings me to this topic? America is in the throes of a “mindfulness revolution” (see Time magazine’s cover article and Wisdom 2.0). In every sector from business to politics, education, parenting and the military, people are using mindfulness techniques to become more self-aware.

This is good news. Across the nation, women and men are learning simple practices to handle the overwrought stresses of post-modernity with more grace and aplomb. Corporations are teaching executives how to increase focus and attention. Schools are teaching children to be more self-aware and self-regulating. And books offer sage counsel to help parents navigate modern child-raising without losing their marbles. In myriad ways, mindfulness is offering us critical and fabulous skills to slow down and reconnect.

But I also see a worrisome trend afoot. Increasingly, mindfulness is being equated with stress reduction or learning how to center under pressure to enhance performance. This is cause for alarm.

The intention of mindfulness is not to make us more “chill” with the insanities and inanities of our post-modern lives.

It is not designed to help us better tolerate the steam-rolling experience of 12-hour work days and three-hour commutes, short shrift meals and dwindling hours of sleep. It is not there to make us endlessly up our performance inside a crushing cascade of information overload. And it is certainly not designed to have us watch calmly as the earth’s weather patterns erupt into a contagion of calamity.

Mindfulness is not meant to make us better at living lives that drain our ingenuity, silence our compassion, or demoralize us into a state of collective catatonia.

The purpose of mindfulness is to wake us up. It’s designed to reconnect us with our intrinsic ingenuity and our indestructible, innate excellence. The Buddhist world that modern mindfulness practices emerged from is explicit about this: human beings are wired for excellence.

It maintains six ways — known in Buddhist Sanskrit as paramitas — that we are designed to be extraordinary.

1) We are wired to do the right thing, no matter how much the world tests us.

2) We are wired to tolerate what feels intolerable to become fearless in making the world a better place.

3) We are wired for stamina, the kind that has us stand by our vision, unflagging, even when no one believes in us.

4) We are wired to be decisive, acute and undeterred in pursuing what really matters.

5) We are wired to see ourselves and others with the wisdom of kindness and tolerance.

6) And, finally, we are wired to kindle greatness in others through our generosity of spirit.

I’ve taken some liberty in translating from the Sanskrit to make a point: Mindfulness is not about retreating into some bastion of heady, personal calm. Mindfulness is about courageously turning our hearts inside out so that we can actualize our deeply human ability to find solutions and stand in our universal goodness, no matter what the circumstances.

Practice mindfulness to be calmer. Hone your breathing meditation so you can be more resilient at work and more present with your kids. Do your noting practice so that you know yourself better. But more than anything, practice mindfulness to break your heart open to your extraordinary excellence and the excellence of everyone around you.

Maybe, just maybe, if we do this kind of work – thankless, heartbreaking, and upending though it may be – we can usher in the kind of collective ingenuity that our world calls for.

Link to the original article

Happiness At Work Edition #87

All of these articles, along with many others, are included in this week’s new collection of ideas about creativity and learning and leadership and resilience and happiness, when the new collection publishes online on Friday 7th March.

Link to the full Happiness At Work Edition #87 collection

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