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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Engagement At Work – a reflection of being in and out of flow

photo by Sue Ridge: 'sunbathing grape'

photo by Sue Ridge  ‘sunbathing grape’

I am just coming out of three months of making my first eLearning training programme. It has been huge, intense, wonderful, knackering, all-consuming, richly rewarding and quite definitely the hardest work I have done in one concentrated quarter of a year for a very long time.

At the end of each video I invite participants – still my preferred identity for the people who come to learn with me – to reflect back over what they most remember and want to take and use from their experience. And I decided it might be useful and of some interest, too, I hope, to step myself through these questions.

And I cannot even begin to want to do this to and for myself alone, and so I am using this post as a platform to come sit for a moment to reflect back out loud over what has been a huge three months of learning, making, experimenting, producing, crafting, failing, repeating, reworking, labouring and finessing this nearly-finished-now programme of learning videos.

Just like making a show in a multitude of ways, and completely different and unfamiliar for me in one ineluctable aspect: making a show is entirely collaborative and this experience has been entirely solo.

Question 1: What happened? What do I most remember from this experience? What stands out as significant or especially memorable?

I remember having to keep learning something new, every day, then every week. And every time I thought I’d learned everything I needed to produce this work, discovering something else I hadn’t realised I didn’t know that I needed to learn or figure out or muddle my way through or solve or fix or experiment with until I found a way to make it work. I love learning and this played right into one of my top strengths, but there were days when I felt like you can have too much of a good thing.

The programme itself consists of 6 x 70minute videos of me talking to powerpoint slides. My learning curve has been stretched to the maximum for weeks. First I had to learn all the technical skills of powerpoint (as complex as you want to make it), Quicktime screen recording (very simple) and iMovie video editing (a series of failed experiments and a great deal of scrolling through online Help conversations not really knowing what question to ask to get the solution I needed.) And there is still far more I do not know and will probably never know about video making than the tiny bit I now do know. I know that people who really know about these things would be able to do things with them in a trace of a moment and make them better. But I learned enough to make what I wanted to make good. And I learned that that was good enough.

But then I realised with a kind of Mr Stupid clunk, that in all my years of making and delivering learning programmes, I’ve never really been the expert at the podium with all the answers. I excel at participative facilitative learning. People don’t pay us to come and tell them all the things I know, they pay me to help them unlock and extend what they know and can do. So, although I joyfully help dozens of people become more persuasive and compelling speakers, I have never concentrated on delivering seminar or presentation-based teaching. This demands thinking through and ordering and finding the right articulation of all the theory and the ideas and learning you want to bring in advance and in the absence of the people it is designed to provide for. This involves making and sticking with a zillion decisions about the development and contours and cadences of the story to be told, enriching and vitalising it with the right images and preparing carefully constructed sentences. I thrive and am energised by keeping lots of different options in the air, multiplicity and then interactively weaving out meanings with the people in the room from the ideas we are creating in the space between us. Proactive independent decision making and narrowing and fixing things down are not my strong suit nor my preferred operating style, and this, more than anything else, exhausted me. I am good-on-my feet and being in-the-moment and I did initially try to make these speaking extemporaneously. The takes were hours long and then even the heavily and lengthily edited final results just sounded uncertain, graceless and irritatingly arhythmic and idiosyncratic. While I would never teach scripting a presentation, this turned out to be the winning solution, but this meant that I had to bring everything I had from my actor’s training to make it fly off the page.

‘Being in flow’ has always had a performance sensibility about it for me: the flow of a good conversation, the flow of ideas being conjured in the act of talking and listening together, the improvisational “yes – and…” (accept and build) flow of being in a group and riding the wave of what is actually happening as it is actually happening in the live here-and-now, the flow of movement, flux, emergence, dialogue, co-creation. Collaboration. This was altogether different, and it took me a surprisingly (now I think of it) long time to recognise that just because I was making this thing at 2am on a cold dark January night didn’t mean it still didn’t have to feel for the listener that it was being thought and spoken and presented as a compelling idea or an invitational springboard in that moment of them hearing it. I tried to remember (and steal from) what playwrights do. And designers do. And directors do. I could have done a lot more stealing from what stage managers do to galvanise and co-ordinate and plan and keep on track my scheduling and logistics, but I suppose I can accept being a one-person team means some things are going to fall short.

But it was a great advantage to have performance making to pull from.

And I have (nearly) got there. I have done it and I’m proud of what I’ve made. Time and the programme participants will tell with more authority on this but I dare to believe trying to practice what I teach has served me well.

As well as this I remember images: hundreds of pictures I have searched through looking for the best (creative commons licensed for commercial use) images to convey the multiplicity of ideas this programme incorporates: happiness, engagement, great relationships, meaning & accomplishment, positivity & creativity, and resilience at work are my six titles to give you a flavour of the ground I have tried to cover. And searching for the right image for each slide that is hopefully not too obvious nor too obscure, evocative without being just weird, and meaningful without being cliched has been one of the most exhausting and satisfying parts of this experience. My primary creativity is not visual, and yet it has been an immense and constant pleasure to have continually had to immerse myself in pictures and be repeatedly stimulated by all their colour and wonderful metaphor.

photo by Sue Ridge successful marmalade 1

photo by Sue Ridge
successful marmalade 1

So, above all else it seems, I remember learning, constantly and consciously in a way that I haven’t done for years.

Question 2: What new meanings, insights or conclusions can I take from any of this experience?

I have learned that, despite being a devoted follower of the less-is-more principle, I continue to be rubbish at practicing it.

I have learned that despite my love of going-with-the-flow and being spontaneous and gregarious, when I am working alone I become a zealot of perfectionism (my not-very-detailed version of it) and capable of working myself beyond and then some anything I would accept from another human being, or expect of another human being.

I have learned again that I am not at my best in extended periods of working in solitude and that I really do need to keep getting out into the world and interacting with people to keep my energy levels restocked, and my focus open and alert to incoming wide-range signals, and my sense of perspective balanced and broader than the minute ramifications of whether to align a photo credit along the left or the right hand margin. Oh yes – and that I continue to be utterly dependent upon feedback (read ‘praise’) to really know if what I am doing is good or not and to feel that what I am doing has any worth or purpose. (how do you introverts do it? how do you writers do it???) Happily I have been luxuriously favoured by my client and devoted family with enough cheering to keep me going, but I do realise that, in the absence of regular, emphatic and high quality appreciation, I could easily run myself into the doldrums and get lost in drift. (I heard in a documentary about Blondie that when rock performers get a level of repeated popularity and excitement from their audiences it helps them to hone and polish what they do. I get this. I learn best from praise and affirmation. Don’t we all? Give me the new 5-to-1 positivity ratio please. I will be so much better at responding productively to one criticism when it comes with 5 specific convincingly conveyed compliments. This is also perhaps what makes making fringe theatre great so impossibly hard – there is never enough performances to really polish a show in collaboration with its audiences: you work for months making it and you get it as good as you possibly can in the 7, 14 or 21 performances it gets to play. This isn’t enough to really find its proper orchestration. But I digress too far off road here…)

I have learned, too, and despite asserting the contrary case in one of the videos, that I can run out of creativity. By Module 6 I had squeezed out every last possible idea for what materials to include or leave out, in what order, with what images, framed alongside which model and with which ideas clustered together. But that this was only temporary and already my mind is percolating next and new ideas and making new possibilities and dreams for me to play with and/or chase down. So scratch that – it’s true – we don’t use up our creativity, or if we do run it dry, it restocks itself automatically.

photo by Sue Ridge successful marmalade 2

photo by Sue Ridge
successful marmalade 2

I have reconfirmed that engagement really is what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines in his idea of ‘being in flow’, and is best experienced for me when I am deeply and completely immersed in a creative project that I care about stretched to the outer limits of my capabilities and able to spend uninterrupted periods of time being fully absorbed in what I am doing without competition from other demands. And that I am very lucky to have a husband who insists on pulling me out of this state at least once every day to eat and appreciate his delicious cooking. (And as an extra bonus I have learned to approximate the right pronunciation of Csikszentmihalyi, altho I have had to teach and rely on my spellchecker to spell it for me.)

And I have reconfirmed the irreplaceable reliability of my unconscious brain to bring me some of my best insights and ideas, but only if and when I take my foot off the pedal for a bit a make a space to hear the messages it is sending through. This means for me not drowning it in exhausted sleep – my project dreams tend to be fierce re-firings of existing ideas and anxieties. And it is not drowning it out with the noise of other media. TV and radio help me to fall asleep when my brain is on overdrive but they do not yield me any new insights. What works for me is my Qigong exercise and my fledgling novice mindfulness attempts to drop my thinking into my breathing and just stay with that. Then the thoughts fly out and at me, but I am learning that the best ones will hang around in my consciousness, ready and waiting to be worked with after my exercise. I did not manage to make this time nearly as much as I wanted to or aimed to but I made it more than I might have. And this too was good enough.

photo by Sue Ridge successful marmalade 3

photo by Sue Ridge
successful marmalade 3

Question 3: What could I do as result of any of this learning? How can I use or apply any of these ideas? Who could I share any of my learning with?

I have been able to use in practice many of the principles and techniques that I have been championing in my teaching and this has been doubly good: good for me to confirm experientially that they seem to hold up and bring real benefit in their application, and good for me to get the benefits they have provided. Techniques taken from Positive Psychology such as knowing and playing to my Signature Strengths to optimise my performance and productivity, and the capabilities of resilience that I have been able to draw from when the going’s got tough, such as staying resolutely and, hopefully, realistically optimistic and facing my fears. And, too trusting my creativity and using my slow emergent collage-based way of making to incrementally sculpt out the matter from the materials I was working with. To not need to be original in everything but, again I hope, to be original enough.

All of these capabilities become better with practice. So I will aim to keep practicing. And to keep making my practice better. And to remember to keep alive and as true as I can the artist’s holy discipline of being a practitioner.

And this above all others… Whatever aspect of happiness you look at you will find the predominant necessity of having strong relationships, to give and receive love and support.. It is key to our happiness and success at work as much as it is central to our health and being able to live a flourishing life, as it is, too, to building and sustaining resilience. This has been an especially tough time for some of the people I love most in the world – way beyond any of the challenges I have been facing in this piece of work – and it has been essential and nourishing for me to be a part of their lives and actively involved and exercised in getting their love and giving them mine.

So then this above all others – to remember in less heightened times that the people in my life are my life. They make me possible and they make matter. Not for who I am or anything I may do, but for what happens between us, in our connections and in how this affects and changes us. This surely is the finest flow to be in, and, if I am to have another time working in solitude I hope to remember that this must be without withdrawing too far from the people I love. Memo to self: the less collaborative your work activity the more engaged you better make the rest of your time.

As to the last part of this question, in this instant that turns out to be you dear reader. And thank you for your interest.

The question: “who could you share this with?” is exactly the kind of question we learning facilitators love to hand out to the people we work with, but are perhaps less likely to take up ourselves. Or at least I am. Which is what got me writing this piece, as a way to try and unravel and uncover a little more intelligence about what has just happened and what it means and what it could lead to than I might have scooped down to notice without stepping through these questions. This is why we give out these questions, And extraverted me needs an audience to have any reason to start to talk before I hurtle off into whatever will be next.

Actually, what will be next for me is learning to facilitate live online webinars as part of the weekly provision of learning elements that accompany the programme I have just made and packed into modular video instalments.

And in this, very much like making a show, the programme is only just being begun. Just as a show needs its audience to truly discover itself and find its real worth in the interplay and rhythms that happen between performance and audience, now my learning programme will have to find its actual relevance and interest and usefulness and enjoyment in the weave that happens in the space where learners – participants – bring their questions and existing knowledge and challenges and expectations to the programme I have made for them. It is, I am pleased to remind myself, only there and then that this programme exists and has a life. Let the new experience begin…

Thank you for listening. This has been a good thing for me to do. And I wouldn’t have done it without you.

If you want to find out more about your own top Signature Strengths, I like this VIA Me online self-assessment questionnaire a lot. It will give you a free report of your ranked order of the 24 character strengths based on the five virtues of Courage, Humanity, Justice, Temperance, Transcendence and Wisdom. Our top 5 are our Signature Strengths, and the guide is that exercising our Signature Strengths is a really great way to increase our sense of being in flow, as well as giving us increased energy, happiness and fulfilment, confidence, energy and resilience. (This site also offer an option to purchase a more detailed report.)

Link to VIA Me Character Strengths Profile

The programme I made and will continue to lead is called the Mini MBA in Peak Performance and Productivity, and will launch in mid-February from the IME: inspire motivate and engage online learning platform. If you’re interested in this do let me know and I will make sure you get any updates about it.

Link to the IME; inspire motivate and engage website

This post was originally written for Shaking Out – the Shaky Isles Theatre blog

Happiness At Work Edition #84

And you will find more stories about learning, creativity, productivity, self-mastery and happiness at work in this week’s new Happiness At Work Edition #84

Link to read Happiness At Work #84

photo by Sue Ridge: the view from Guy's Hospital cancer centre

photo by Sue Ridge:
the view from Guy’s Hospital cancer centre

Where the World Meets

Steve McCurry’s new photo collection celebrates the coloured richness and diverse temptations of the marketplace (real place markets not the mirage of money trading rooms) – including London’s beloved Borough Market. You can smell the smells and hear the sounds in these scenes. And, as always, McCurry’s pictures remind us of the universality of our human life and experience. Enjoy…

Happiness At Work #82 ~ breaking the binaries

photo credit: psd via photopin cc

photo credit: psd via photopin cc

Breaking the binaries is one of the ideas that has emerged during some wonderful facilitation work I am doing with Rajni Shah Projects.  You know – like right or wrong, good or bad, true or false, task or relationship, reason or feelings, happy or sad, your way or my way, here or not here…?  And I am carrying the invitation to break the insistence of these enforced choices into this week’s Happiness At Work  headline theme:

How much of our thinking is governed by either/or expectations?
And what does this leave out, or push us into or away from, or force us into making unnecessarily limited or just plain bad decisions and choices?

The following stories from this week’s collection all play with this theme somehow, across of spectrum of different contexts, from debunking the myths that separate creative people from analytical people, and several stories that rattle the supposed high income OR do-what-you-really-love career choice we are supposed to have to make, and a couple of different stories that trouble some of our assumptions about what employees should do to impress and delight their managers and what managers should be thinking and doing in today’s organisations, and a fresh look at how to think intelligently and helpfully about getting and keeping a good work-life balance.

I am headlining with this post written by our lovely friend Stella Duffy, questioning a great deal of what we assume are fixed either/or alternatives in our work…

photo credit: sara~ via photopin cc

photo credit: sara~ via photopin cc

Stella Duffy publicly outed her new breast cancer this week, and, in doing so, breaks a whole rulebook of unwritten (and quite probably rotten) conventions about keeping illness hidden and private and ‘away from work’ (now there’s a phrase that needs interrogating).  In the same week as Radio 4’s Women’s Hour also highlighted professional women who speak out about having cancer, Stella courageously challenges our stereotypes about how ill people are, or or are supposed to be.  Perhaps this is especially so for women, historically expected to suffer invisibly in silence and carry their loads without any palaver to bother our expectations for keeping business-as-usual.  Her honest unapologetic straightforwardly “this is just how it is announcement” challenges, too, our probably outmoded ideas about the relationship between illness and work, and recovery and work, as well as resilience and work.

And it makes me wonder just how many working women are out there in the world at this moment, doing extraordinary work and making small and wonderful miracles happen, beneath an enforced mask of inordinate difficulty and hardness in another part of their lives?  Men too.  But today I am wondering about the unheard unseen experiences the women of the world are quietly carrying, to the benefit of the rest of us?

photo credit: slightly everything via photopin cc

photo credit: slightly everything via photopin cc

my news (and onwards)

So. I have breast cancer again.
This is rubbish, depressing, worrying and also kind of amazing – 14 years since the last one! My body (and the medics) did good…

Please don’t tell me to rest. Why? IF this is a bad one (and we won’t know until post-surgery) why on earth would I live my life any less than I’m already doing? Work (writing, speaking, Fun Palaces) is not WORK, as in a horrible thing, to me. It is WORK, as in what I care about, what I believe in, what I am driven to do and passionate for, what I am living for. I AM passionate and driven. I do not see these as bad things. (And yes, of course I’ll rest post-surgery, but after that, no, I won’t be cutting back on LIVING.)

What does it do to Fun Palaces? Nothing at all, except make me even more passionate about inclusion, engagement. Can we get more hospitals engaged? Can we enthuse more venues to engage with medical scientists? Can we make sure our Fun Palaces are accessible for sick and/or disabled people too? Can we do it all, and more? (Also had a wonderful conversation about Fun Palaces and arts and medicine with doc WHILE he was taking biopsy the other day. Really inspiring and hopeful for our professions, our missions, working together.)

There’s also a brilliant team of already-engaged, already-enthused volunteer Fun Palaces maker-mates, who are ready and willing to take over the email-answering while I have a couple of weeks to get my strength back post-op. (But hey, post-op from-bed emailing is what laptops are all about, right?!)

And of course there is Sarah-Jane. My work partner, my friend, my co-believer in the brilliance, strength and NECESSITY of the project. If I happen to be too tired to come to those speaking engagements we’ve already talked about, she’ll do it. Fun Palaces is hers too….

What does it do to my writing work? Nothing at all. It all stays on track, new book to deliver (third draft!) to agent in spring. And I’m totally up for all the same events/workshops etc as soon as I’m recovered from surgery. The mentoring continues – that one can be done prone!

What does it do to my directing work? See above. Working on the new idea with Lisa Hammond and Rachael Spence will continue. Work with Shaky Isles will continue. Times and people are flexible and willing.

So, finally, what does it do to my life? Everything and nothing.

I had cancer 14 years ago. It was terrifying and awful. In many ways the worst part about it was that chemo led to my early infertility and me not being able to be a mother.

Having had cancer means I’m fore-armed. I know loads now. I know my surgeon and breast care nurse. I know they know me. I do not have to persuade them that I’m freelance and need to work. They know that, just like last time, I have no sick pay. And unlike last time, I’m not about to go to the US to do a show (and taking chemo with me!)

I have never felt like I was “all clear”. I had a grade 3 breast cancer, surgery, chemo and radiotherapy at 36. OF COURSE I have always known it might come back. I think my body has done so well to get me this far. I trust it will get me through this and on to the next part of my life.

It is horrible for Shelley, it is horrible for my family and friends, it is horrible for me. None of us wants to go through pain and illness.

BUT, even when I’m down and sad about this (and I have been, and will no doubt be again), I know I have waves of love and determination coming at me from those who love and care for me.

I know I have a HUGE dream – the Fun Palaces project – to achieve. I believe that my being ill now can feed that dream, can help us make even better Fun Palaces, more inclusive Fun Palaces, I don’t think this will detract from the project at all, not my ability to create it, nor OUR ability to make it the best we ALL can.

Link to read the original  article

photo credit: Eric Fischer via photopin cc

photo credit: Eric Fischer via photopin cc

Earning vs. Happiness: The Mutually Exclusive Myth

by , Author of ‘Being Human‘, International Speaker, and Life Coach

At what age did you go from being loved unconditionally to feeling that you have to earn someone’s love? Conversely, how old do you have to become to automatically earn respect? I believe the whole earning concept is at the bottom of many of our self-worth issues. Think about it.

I understand the notion of earning an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work, but where did that translate into earning a living? The thought that we are not good enough to enjoy the good life until we have accomplished a goal (a number on the scale; the honor roll; acceptance into a particular college; a sales target or a salary; a square footage in our home) sets us up to feel inadequate from the start. Even if we persevere long enough to reach our chosen goal, more often than not, we are still unhappy. Perhaps our goal wasn’t high enough, and we then feel inadequate for setting such a feeble goal. If your inner critic is half as mean as mine, you don’t need to feel any more inadequate.

I am not, by any means, saying that we should not leap out of our comfort zones, aspire for great things, hold ourselves to a higher standard and strive for excellence. After all, I’m a coach and I help people do this on a daily basis. But what happened to enjoying your life while pursuing your goals? Why have we self-imposed this weighty condition that we will never be good enough until we have earned our happiness, our partner’s love or our coworker’s respect?

Some things are a birthright.
Like human rights. … The right to rest and leisure is a birth right — look it up. You are allowed to have fun while pursuing your goals.

Some things are a gift.
A gift is defined as a thing given willingly to someone without payment. And here I want to elaborate that a gift does not require payment of money, a favour, or reciprocation of any kind. I like the definition of grace even more: a free and unmerited favour – unmerited being the important part. … A sunset is a gift. A child’s giggle is a gift. Happiness is a gift that you are allowed to indulge in as much as you like without having to prove anything to anyone.

Some things don’t matter.
The opinion of others – your in-laws, your neighbors, or anyone who doesn’t share your values or the vision for your life’s purpose, these opinions do not matter. Yes, we are social animals, and most of us would prefer to belong to some sort of tribe or social circle, so I am not advocating that you tell everybody to take a hike. But, within your own inner conversations and your thoughts, don’t give weight to the unreasonable expectations of the heights you must climb to earn the approval from the toxic people in your life.

Happiness is not earned, it’s a choice every step of the way towards whatever life goals you have set. Delight in your journey.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: 50 Watts via photopin cc

photo credit: 50 Watts via photopin cc

How To Get A Promotion: 11 Bosses Spill

In this report from interviews with bosses about what made the positive difference in someone’s performance, one or two of these tips might be expected, but many will rattle and recalibrate our preconceived ideas about what the terms of engagement between employees and their managers are supposed to be…

…nearly a dozen bosses, in fields ranging from marketing and tech to new media, executive recruiting, and financial planning spoke to LearnVest on the condition of anonymity, to share exactly why they’d promoted a direct report in the past. From telling the boss when she’s wrong to schmoozing at happy hour, their answers just might surprise you.

Tell Me I’m Wrong
“I love when someone smart challenges my thinking,” says one boss.

That’s not to say you should be arguing with your supervisors on a regular basis, but if you have a well-thought-out point that disagrees with your boss’s plan, consider bringing it up directly. As this boss says, “I love it even more when a person has the data/facts or examples to actually make their point.”

Bring the Bad News First
“Don’t tell me how fantastic you are. Tell me what is going wrong and, even more importantly, what it is you are going to do to fix it.”

Ultimately, a mistake or issue is your boss’s responsibility, so make sure your supervisor is aware of any large-scale or constant problems. This doesn’t mean you should email every time the printer is a little wonky, but you should make sure your boss is apprised of any serious issues.

This serves two purposes: First, it lets your boss know you’re on top of the problem and working to fix it. Second, it gives your boss the time to work on her own solution, or at least prepare for a different course of action, and to present it to her boss.

Be Drama-Free
“I don’t care if you don’t like the person you sit next to or think the the Post-It notes should be yellow, not blue. Bring me drama and I am certain that you are not worthy of the next step.”

Especially in an office environment, we have to work closely with different personalities and in less-than-ideal situations. Unless there’s a real problem (read: you feel unsafe or can’t complete your work), keep complaints to yourself. As one boss says, “Your job is to make your boss’s life easier, not plop your drama on his or her lap. Save that for your friends and family or your diary.”

Another boss agrees: “If you gossip a lot, it’s a problem.”

Smile
“Your boss would like to harbor the fantasy that you actually like your job, since she is paying you, spending more time with you than her family, and helping you more than you realize,” one boss told us. “You can at least smile and seem like you are enjoying things in return.”

You don’t need to blind every passerby with your pearly whites, but remember that no matter how close your deadline or how heavy your workload, other people will take their cues from you. If you’re snapping at co-workers and frowning, they’ll snap and frown right back. Instead, take a breath, put on a smile, and show your boss you appreciate the opportunity.

Take Notes
“We hate having to tell you things over and over. No boss should ever have to go over directions more than once. If you don’t understand the direction when it is being given, clarify right then and there and take good notes instead of depending on your memory.” 

We’ve all been there — nodding and smiling and filing away the tasks we’re given in a meeting, only to get back to our desks having lost those mental files. Impress your supervisor by keeping a paper and pen (or laptop, if that’s acceptable at your office) at hand, ready to record the things you need to remember.

Taking the time to write things down is especially helpful, as it gives you a minute to process your instructions and think of any questions you need to ask then and there.

Never Skip the Office Party
You know how they say that as many business deals are made on the golf course as in the office? That same principle applies to the office party. One boss points out that skipping the chance to socialize with your co-workers means you’re missing basic office news (think: who is preparing to leave) and alienating yourself from the people who sit next to you eight-plus hours of your day.

When it comes time to pick a team member for an advantageous project or conference in Hawaii, who will be chosen? Not what’s-her-name, that girl who never comes to the party.

Don’t Expect to Be Rewarded
“In order to get a promotion, you need to actually be worth it!” says one boss. “Don’t walk around with the air that you deserve it, because that sense of entitlement is going to get you nowhere.”

Confidence is one thing; arrogance is another. Yes, you were the top of your class in college and yes, you dominated your last project, but it’s a fine line between letting your work speak for you and duct-taping it to your boss’s computer. Worried your boss doesn’t notice your achievements? Set up a meeting to talk about what you’ve been working on, and ask for feedback.

But don’t get too worried your accomplishments are going unnoticed. As one boss says: “Let’s be honest — I promote people with good personalities. Your ability to be professional and also eager, motivated, and thoughtful about decisions and interactions with others is significant.”

Hold Up Your End
“It’s awful when you claim to be a team player, but complain when you are given responsibilities to help on a project.”

“Team player” is cliched for a reason — because every boss wants to see that quality in a potential employee. In recent years, “team” has come to replace every office unit from department to entire company, and every employee is expected to be a team player.

Complaining about your role on the team is both futile and aggravating to your boss. Where is she supposed to find you a sub? If you aren’t a team player, the real fix is to learn the rules of the game, and fast.

Ask How You Can Help
“You should be asking me if there is anything else you can be working on to help grow the company or the project, instead of waiting around for me to tell you what to do.”

There’s another word for that, one that appears next on the cliched-for-a-reason list: initiative. Clearly, you shouldn’t be asking your boss to hold your hand during every step of a project, but a well-timed “What can I do to help?” or “I noticed that [task] needs doing — I’ll tackle that,” is much appreciated.

Have a Solution
Wrong: “You tell me you have a problem — well, actually, you whine about something which I understand means you have a problem — and you come in with zero solutions on how to fix it.”

Right: “You come up with new and successful ideas on your own and take initiative to do something we already do and do it better without being asked.”

One boss told us she’s happy to give advice to people who ask for it, but she’s “looking to promote people who can think their way out of something on their own.” To please a boss like this, you can follow one rule of thumb: Never bring up a problem without a possible solution to recommend. Brainstorm feasible, reasonable solutions to the problem you have (tips on being a better brainstormer here). When you present it to your boss, launch right into what you recommend as a solution.

Know Your Job — and Do It
“If I have asked you twice and you don’t pay any attention to what you need to do as a part of your job, I will not see you as valuable or smart,” says one boss.

Since you’re already taking notes (see: tip 5), make sure you scribble somewhere exactly what your responsibilities are, and make sure you prioritize them. Along the same lines, it’s important to know which tasks are crucial, and which can take a backseat.

One boss had the following recommendation: “I think the best candidates for promotion are those who best can gently ‘manage up’ within their ranks and can find the balance needed to do gold star work while still knowing when to draw the line and say, “I can do this for you, or I can do that for Mr. Smith, but I cannot get both done today. I feel like [this task] is the priority — would you agree?”

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Victor1558 via photopin cc

photo credit: Victor1558 via photopin cc

And in the interests of balance – here are…

Ten Radical Shifts in Thinking All Leaders Face

Leaders fail when they don’t think like leaders.

Leaders who think like individual contributors demoralize their team and devalue their leadership.

Lousy leaders think like individual contributors.

10 radical shifts in thinking:

  1. From “I” to “we.”  Leadership begins with we.
  2. From controlling people to aligning passions. Raise your hand if you enjoy being controlled. I didn’t think so. Successful leaders align the passions of their teammates with organizational mission.
  3. From complexity to simplicity. The courage to cut away at complexity until simplicity emerges is a rare gift. Most just muddle through. Some leaders enjoy the feeling of importance that complexity creates. But, any fool can make something complex.  Leaders simplify.
  4. From who is right to what is right. In one sense leadership isn’t personal at all. The issue is the issue. It doesn’t matter who comes up with solutions. The person who screwed up last week, may be this week’s genius.
  5. From talking “at” to talking “with.” Engagement requires “with.” The more you talk “at” the more you lose “with.”
  6. From right and wrong to better and best. Complex issues have more than one answer. Usually, there is no “right” solution.
  7. From symptoms to causes. The reason you’re always putting out fires is you haven’t addressed the root issue.
  8. From feeling confused to pursuing clarity. Most people don’t have the discipline or endurance to bear the frustration of pursuing clarity. They just want to get something done.
  9. From how can I step in to how can I step out. Fixers struggle to make room for others. Stepping in means you’re in the way.
  10. From receiving praise to giving it.

Link to read the original article

The 3 myths about creativity in business

Creativity is vital in business; far too important to be left to a special cadre of ‘creative people’. Charles Andrew, joint managing director at Idea Couture outlines three myths about creativity in business that impede success and three key steps to overcome it

A business whose only ambition is to continue doing tomorrow what they did yesterday, will wither as both its competitors and customers change around it. The central role of creativity in business survival was recognised in an IBM survey of more than 1,500 chief executive officers from 60 countries. They reported that – more than rigour, management discipline, or even vision – successfully navigating an increasing complex world will require creativity. But despite the focus on creativity and the proliferation of good advice, the solution still seems to be illusive. Maybe this is because there are three underlying cultural beliefs about what creativity really is, who has it, and how it can be managed (or not) that are acting as unseen barriers.

Myth 1. Analytical thought and creative thought are fundamentally different

Neuroscience is giving us ever deeper insight into the mysterious processes of the human brain. It is revealing that new ideas often emerge from the juxtaposing of existing information in the parts of the brain that we associate with more ‘rational’ processing and analytical thought. Understanding this, we can elevate the pursuit of creativity to a discipline that mirrors this neural process; systematically assembling, analysing, and challenging data about today in order to develop new possibilities for tomorrow…

Myth 2. Analytical people are generally not creative people

This often follows from the first myth. If the modes of thought are so different, then maybe the people having those thoughts must be different too. So if businesses need more creativity, it is a problem to be solved either through recruitment or external consultants. Either way, this perpetuates the division between ‘creativity’ and the core disciplines of business. And as we learn from organisational psychology, this cultural separation means that creativity, where it occurs, will remain largely peripheral and low impact.

By contrast, smart companies such as Procter & Gamble and GSK are especially strong at integrating scientists (often seen only as strong rational thinkers) into the early stages of innovation where capabilities in consumer empathy and imaginative thinking are equally vital.

Myth 3. Creativity is about making great leaps of imagination

The myth of the creative genius suddenly arriving at great ideas in a puff of brilliant inspiration continues to do much harm because it prevents us from recognising what is really necessary in the creative process; the on-going, painstaking, development of fresh perspectives and the nurturing of initially small ideas in order to gradually create something significantly innovative.

The problem with our observation of change is that we tend to see only the end result and we don’t see the process that led to it. Beethoven, for instance, would gradually develop a whole symphony based on taking a short melody which he would then adapt and restate. This process of continually building on, and nurturing, an initial (small) idea is more realistic and systematically effective.

Top tips:

  • The first step to an idea is not to try to have one, but to marshal the perspectives and inspiration from which ideas originate. Focus on collecting, not judging; the relevance may only occur to you later
  • Think ‘outside in’: use empathy to view your business from the customer’s point of view. Stop seeing them as merely a chooser and user of your services, but as a real person. Put yourself in their shoes.
  • Systematically challenge everything that’s important to the way you do business now. Nurture ideas that initially seem flawed to explore whether they lead you somewhere significant.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: sjdunphy via photopin cc

photo credit: sjdunphy via photopin cc

Engaging And Sustaining Creativity And Innovation: Part I

“The first step toward being creative is often simply to go beyond being a passive observer and to translate thoughts into deeds.  With a little creative confidence, we can spark positive action in the world.”  -Tom and David Kelley Creative Confidence

Jack and Jill went up the hill

To fetch a pail of water.

Jack and Jill were very sure why they were going up the mountain and what they were after.  As to whether that well and pail of water existed at the top of the hill, we will never be sure.  For, according to Wikipedia…”the rhyme has traditionally been seen as a nonsense verse, particularly as the couple go up a hill to find water, which is often thought to be found at the bottom of hills.

Which provides us with an interesting perspective as we determine how to better infuse and engage creativity and innovation…in our schools and our organizations.

Unlike Jack and Jill

Do we always know why we are going up the hill?  Do we even really and truly know what we are after? Is the hill even where we need to go?

Or, are we making our way up the hill in search of answers to questions that we haven’t even truly clarified for ourselves, let alone for others…and our organization as a whole.

And even if we make up it to the well (network), have we equipped ourselves with the necessary questions (the pail), to pull up and gather the water (ideas) that can drive us towards the vision and direction that we seek.

As we consider our next steps…

We understand and see the necessity and need for infusing and weaving creativity and innovation into all that we do. but we struggle to visualize what that truly looks like…or even means.

So, in regards to creativity and innovation, we’ve sounded the trumpets, we’ve rolled out the red carpet, we’ve even opened the gates of the kingdom wide to welcome both of them in.  The only problem…

Neither creativity or innovation may be standing at the gate waiting to come in…and if they are, we may struggle to recognize who they are…

Which is why it will be so important for us to push forward in our efforts to infuse and engage creativity and innovation at all levels of our organizations…

So even though we know it, we say it, and we expound their benefits…it often comes to a screeching halt at this point.  Knowing about the importance and benefits of something is much different than taking action and determining ways to experiment with, incorporate, and weave it into the processes of what we do…on an ongoing and daily basis.

And while we know they are both necessary, needed, and important…we are still often not sure how to truly infuse and engage creativity and innovation…especially as sustainable and scalable processes across our schools and organizations.

Which is why we not only have to determine and define for ourselves what creativity and innovation is, but where it comes from, and even what it looks like…

We have to look at those methods, strategies and processes that allow them to cascade and flow across and at all levels of the organization.

And that begins first…with our mindset.

And unfortunately, most of us fail to consider ourselves to be either creative or innovative.  We lack what Tom and David Kelley refer in their new book as Creative Confidence.  Which is where the discussion must begin…our starting point.  Especially, if we are going to move towards increased creativity and innovation across the organization.  If we are going to move it beyond small pockets and just a few individuals…

Which will require us to figure out what that looks like, sounds like, feels like, is like…when engaged and active.  To determine how we, as educational organizations, districts, classrooms, teams, and individuals…create that necessary “Creative Confidence” that the Kelley Brothers refer to.

So, instead of trying to take it all on, maybe we need to just start here…

We need to make sure we know why we are going up the hill.

To overcome inertia, good ideas are not enough. Careful planning is not enough.  The organizations, communities, and nations that thrive are the ones that initiate action, that launch rapid innovation cycles, that learn by doing as soon as they can.  They are sprinting forward, while others are still waiting at the starting line.” 

Tom and David Kelley Creative Confidence

Link to read the original article

Why Google, Facebook and Twitter Execs Are Meeting With a Monk

In an age when we’re constantly being distracted, being able to focus is the golden goose.

We may thank technology platforms like Twitter and Facebook for shrinking our attention spans down to nanoseconds, but the executives of those selfsame companies know that to grow their businesses, they need to put a priority on focus.

At the Wisdom 2.0 conference being hosted in San Francisco next month, a group of tech heavyweights will come together with yoga practitioners, mindfulness specialists and even a Benedictine monk to learn how to work and live within the demands of technology more effectively….

The growing interest in the conference mirrors a growing trend in our relationship with technology: As we become increasingly dependent on mobile devices and social networks, we struggle to not feel controlled by them. These questions and struggles pervade both our personal and professional lives, but business leaders and executives at the Wisdom 2.0 conference will specifically address how to perform more efficiently in the workplace.

For example, last year, Gopi Kallayil, the chief evangelist for Google+, talked about how to integrate the fundamentals of a yoga-practice to be a more productive professional. Kallayil, who was born in India and grew up practicing yoga, has five fundamental rituals that he implements in every single day:

focus on the essential,

do one thing at a time,

take time to listen to your own body’s needs,

make at least one minute for mindfulness each day

and set appointments for the activities that will help you stay mindful.

Link to read the original article

Work-Life Balance Is A Lie – So Here’s A Better Way To Think About It

…As the workforce becomes increasingly mobile, the line between our work and our personal lives is often blurred. Nearly half of American workers have jobs suitable for part-time or full-time telecommuting (aka working from somewhere outside the office). That means more people are checking work email at the dinner table and typing up project reports in their pajamas. In fact, the physical separation between our work and our personal lives (aka an office building) may be somewhat outdated. One survey found that as many as 70 percent of college students believe it’s unnecessary to be in an office regularly.

For younger workers, these relaxed boundaries may actually be desirable. When they look for a job, many millennials say flexibility (in terms of where and when they work) is especially important. That’s possibly because employees in this age bracket want the freedom to develop relationships and pursue personal hobbies: Research suggests millennial workers place a higher value on being able to spend time with friends and family than Boomers (people born between approximately 1946 and 1964) did when they were younger. Likewise, millennials are less likely to define themselves by their careers.

But flexibility in the form of having constant access to work email and never technically “clocking out” for the day can have some negative repercussions. Research suggests it’s important to take breaks from professional demands and to recover from a busy workweek in order to reduce stress.

Unfortunately, there’s no one “right” approach to balancing work-related and personal commitments. For those worried about whether, where, or how to draw the line between work and play, follow the practical steps below to create a life that’s all-around fulfilling.

1. Pick and choose.
One of the hardest parts of achieving work-life balance is recognizing that we’ll never have it all. That is, we’ll never make it to every social event while also working extra hours and making home-cooked meals every night. Once you’ve decided which responsibilities and relationships you find most important (see number two), it’s all about prioritizing. So cut yourself some slack when it comes to other achievements in your personal and professional life, and remind yourself that you’re making progress where you believe it really counts.

 Credit: Nanette Hoogslag, Wellcome Images

Credit: Nanette Hoogslag, Wellcome Images

2. You do you.
The definition of work-life balance varies pretty widely between individuals. Instead of trying to conform to someone else’s lifestyle, figure out what’s personally meaningful to you, whether that’s developing a relationship with a new partner or working toward a promotion at a new job (or both). As long as you find your life fulfilling, it doesn’t matter if your schedule looks different from someone else’s.

3. Be open to change.
Even once you’ve searched your soul to figure out what truly matters to you, accept that those priorities might change over time. Maybe you’ll start a family, take a new job, or pick up a new hobby — whatever the situation, be prepared for your values and schedule to shift, and make adjustments accordingly.

4. Accept imperfection.
Let’s say you’ve established that friendships are the most important aspect of your life right now. That still doesn’t mean you need to freak out if you miss your BFF’s boyfriend’s birthday bash because you’re working late on a big project. Know that you’ll make mistakes, and that obstacles and challenges will pop up unexpectedly. Instead of feeling like a terrible person, try to enjoy yourself and be productive and present with whatever you’re doing. Then refocus on your main priorities as soon as possible.

5. Take it day by day.
One clever tip is to combine your work and personal calendars so you don’t necessarily prioritize one set of responsibilities over the other in advance. Each day, you can decide whether the staff meeting is more important than getting lunch with an old high school buddy, or vice versa.

6. Pursue your passions.
Just because you’re working a lot doesn’t necessarily mean your life isn’t awesome. Some of us (ideally, all of us!) love our jobs, so much so that we’re willing to spend hours brainstorming, emailing, and sitting in meetings. If it makes you happy to bring your laptop home and continue working after dinner because you feel like you’re making a difference in the world or you simply love the work, go for it!

7. Keep track.
One of the first steps to figuring out how we can spend more time on the things that are really meaningful to us is learning how much time we currently spend on all our activities. For one week, try keeping a log of everything you do, from washing laundry to browsing Pinterest. Then go over the lists, pinpoint potential “time sucks,” share your concerns with your family and coworkers, and create an action plan for refocusing on the activities that really matter to you.

8. Open your options.
A growing number of workplaces allow employees to work remotely or have flexible schedules. If that possibility interests you, and if you think a new work style could make you less stressed, talk to your employer and see what you two can work out. (The worst that could happen is your boss will say no.)

9. Rock to your own rhythm.
Researchers are increasingly paying attention to the topic of chronotypes (biological schedules that determine when we feel tired and awake), and they’ve found that people vary widely in terms of when they’re most creative, energetic, and productive. Think about how your own abilities evolve throughout the day — if you’re most alert in the mornings, try getting to the office early; if you really come alive after 9pm, consider creating a less traditional work schedule (see number eight). That way, you won’t feel like you’re wasting valuable time at work when you’re half-zoned out anyway.

10. Reconsider your commute.
The physical trip to and from the office can be more draining than work itself. If standing like a sardine on a crowded subway is making you sick, consider moving closer to your workplace: You’ll have a better attitude toward work and feel less like you’re wasting a big chunk of your day. On the other hand, don’t be afraid of a long commute if it means going home to a neighborhood you love and feeling happier in general.

photo credit: familymwr via photopin cc

photo credit: familymwr via photopin cc

11. Seek support.
Ultimately, work-life balance is about finding a way to juggle all the different kinds of relationships in our lives. So don’t be shy about asking other people to help you manage your responsibilities. Talk to coworkers about filling in for each other when one of you has an outside commitment, or to family members about sharing dog-walking or babysitting responsibilities on days when someone needs to stay late at the office.

12. Don’t tear down this wall.
Working from home can be liberating, but it comes with challenges, like potentially getting distracted by the pile of dirty laundry on the floor. To avoid these issues, set up a physical boundary between work life and home life by designating a whole room (or even just a corner) as your office space. Try to keep all work-related paraphernalia and tasks contained to just this area.

13. Squeeze it in.
In an ideal world, we’d be able to spend two hours lunching with pals every day and attend salsa lessons every night. But sometimes it’s more realistic to grab coffee with a friend and go dancing every other weekend. This schedule might not be exactly what we’d like, but it’s certainly preferable to not socializing or letting loose at all. Let yourself enjoy the time you do have, instead of lamenting the time you don’t.

14. Find fun anywhere.
These days, lots of workplaces are embracing the idea of organized fun, like bonding activities for staff members. And nearly three quarters of millennial workers say they want their coworkers to be a second family. If you enjoy the workday and the company of your coworkers, this experience in itself can count as socializing. Don’t feel like you have to create “balance” by spending your weekends and weeknights doing non-work-related activities unless you really want to do them.

15. Tackle technology.
Smartphones, laptops, tablets, spaceships: All these tools are designed to improve our productivity and our lives overall. But when these gadgets make us feel like we’re supposed to be responding to work emails or finishing up projects at home, we can start to get overwhelmed. On the other side of the spectrum, constantly checking our Facebook feed while at work can lead to some serious FOMO. Manage all this technology-induced stress by unplugging for a little while or by setting limits on when and where to use it.

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

THE TAKEAWAY

The most important thing to remember in the quest for work-life balance is that we’ll never achieve perfection. There will be nights when we miss dinner with our partner because we stayed late at the office, and days when we skip a staff meeting to bring a pal to an emergency dental appointment. What matters is that we create a personally meaningful life that helps us feel happy and healthy overall.

Link to read the original article in full

photo credit: dullhunk via photopin cc

photo credit: dullhunk via photopin cc

Art in good health: how science and culture mix the best medicine

Why are so many health organisations funding art projects and what can artists and scientists gain from close collaboration?

Anna Dumitriu turns bacteria into art. She has stitched strains of MRSA into a quilt; she has crocheted with the bacteria Staphylococcus epidermidis, found on her own bed. For her latest exhibition, The Romantic Disease – just opened at the Watermans arts centre in Brentford, west London – she has made a series of tiny lungs out of felt, dust and tuberculosis samples.

Dumitriu is at the vanguard of a new wave of collaboration between artists and scientists. There has, in recent years, been a surge in the number of projects, across all artforms, with a health or scientific issue at their heart, and a scientific or medical organisation as a key funding source.

Take, for example, Mess, the 2012 show by theatre-maker Caroline Horton, drawing on her own experience of anorexia; or Our Glass House, a compelling, immersive piece of theatre about domestic abuse, staged in various cities around the country with the financial backing of local NHS services.

To see artists and scientists working together in this way is nothing new. Historically, both artists and clinicians were often polymaths, with their feet firmly in both camps, and the distinction between science and the arts can be viewed as a modern one, imposed by an education system that requires children to specialise at an early age.

But to see scientific organisations choosing to fund art – stating, in effect, that it is through art that a particular scientific message can best be communicated to the public – is a relatively recent, and intriguing development. So why are these organisations choosing to fund arts projects? And what do both artists and scientists get from the close working relationship that should, in theory, result…

Can art play a wider role in enhancing health and wellbeing? In a speech last September, Arts Council chief Peter Bazalgette quoted Alan Yates, former chief executive of Mersey Care NHS Trust, as saying that “if the arts had not been invented, we would now do so, as a front line NHS service”.

That was certainly the feeling I got from Lesley Johnston at NHS Lothian, one of the funding bodies behind Our Glass House, an immersive theatre piece exploring the impact of domestic abuse. “Theatre is a really powerful tool,” she said. “We’re working in this field day in, day out. [But] seeing something visual like this gets you at a much deeper level.”

This is also part of what drives Anna Dumitriu as an artist: the desire to take her own fascination with microbiology and other areas of science, harness scientific expertise, and communicate that knowledge to the wider public – together with the history and emotions that underpin it.

Ultimately, Dumitriu believes it’s something only art can do. “Art, for me, is a way of investigating the world,” she says. “In that way, I see no real distinction between art and science at all.”

Link to read the original article

Yes, teach workers resilience – but they’ll still have a breaking point

As the global economic race sets in, it is leaders’ responsibility to organise work in a way that does not harm people’s health

 writing in The Guardian

This “global race” business is no laughing matter. It’s as if the organisers of the London 2012 Olympics want us all to stay in training. The language of fitness and athleticism is everywhere: we have to be flexible, we have to be agile, we have to be nimble.

And now, it seems, we have to be resilient too. The civil service is the latest organisation to support “resilience training” as a way of helping staff deal with the pressures of work. Ursula Brennan, permanent secretary at the ministry of justice, told the FT that colleagues could benefit from developing coping skills in today’s tougher climate.

Who could be against resilience, or greater fitness come to think of it? The healthy worker may be more resistant to colds and flu, and will have the energy to keep going when others start to tire. Economists continue to worry about the chronic poor productivity in the UK. A lack of resilience may have something to do with it. Whether you are on a late or early shift, there is work to be done and targets to be hit. That means being ready and able to perform.

But what are we really talking about when we use the word “resilience”? Calmly rising above the daily irritations of the workplace is one thing. Suppressing anxiety in an attempt to appear in control is another. If the demands being made on people are unreasonable then trying to stay resilient may be unwise. Everyone has a breaking point, no matter how stiff their upper lip.

Paul Farmer, chief executive of the mental health charity Mind, says that resilience can be a useful term when it refers to ways of boosting your mental wellbeing. “Talking about mental health is still a taboo in many workplaces,” he says. He supports “any training which can equip staff with the skills they need to help look after their own mental wellbeing”.

There is a caveat, however. Resilience should not be seen as a way of putting up with anything. “Nobody should be expected to cope with ever-increasing demands, excessive workloads and longer working hours,” he says.

What really adds to stress and a sense of powerlessness at work is a loss of autonomy, either as a result of poor work organisation or the impossibility of being able to speak up. And while it might seem refreshing to hear a senior civil servant discussing the need for a more open culture and better two-way communication between bosses and employees, if in practice this doesn’t happen then stress levels are likely to rise.

If only there were a large piece of research into workplace health conducted over many years to provide the evidence we need to know how to organise our work better. But of course this research does exist: it is the decades-long study led by Sir Michael Marmot into the health of… civil servants.

What Marmot has shown is that it is status and control that matter more than resilience, cognitive skills or attitude. It may be tough at the top, but it is considerably tougher lower down. “The high-status person has a lot of demand,” says Marmot, “but he or she has a lot of control, and the combination of high demand and low control is what’s stressful.”

So while we should be encouraging employees to develop skills to help them cope with workload pressures, which will include “framing” techniques and building a more resilient outlook, it is the responsibility of leaders to organise work in a way that does not harm people’s health.

Health at work turns out to be another revealing indicator in the biggest story of our times: inequality. As Marmot says: “Health inequalities that are judged to be avoidable by reasonable means and are not avoided are wrong, they’re unjust, they’re unfair.” Tell the boss, if you dare.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: geekcalendar via photopin cc

photo credit: geekcalendar via photopin cc

It gets easier, it gets harder and it stays the same…

Martyn Duffy reflects in the Shaky Isles Theatre blog on professionalism and what it means in 2014 Britain.  He is talking about theatre and performance, but a lot of what he says carries through into many other work contexts in the new economy we are tolerating at the moment.  See what you think…

There has been a lot of talk recently about professionalism and just what the word “professional” actually means. 

The dictionary says:

noun

§  a person engaged or qualified in a profession:professionals such as lawyers and surveyors

§  a person engaged in a specified activity, esp. a sport or branch of the performing arts, as a main paid occupation rather than as a pastime.

§  a person competent or skilled in a particular activity:she was a real professional on stage.

Seems straightforward, then.  But it’s not as black and white as the dictionary seems to suggest.  There are several shades of grey to navigate through before this semantic snapshot comes anywhere near the clear focus that a simple definition suggests.

In years gone by we as theatre practitioners insisted that getting paid was the marker for professionalism.  We assumed that the idea of the starving artist in her garret working by candlelight (and consequently so much more creative for that) was a concept long dead and buried. Now we have “interns” and people doing “job experience” which seems to translate as: “You will work for nothing and be grateful for the opportunity.”   All well and good if this leads on to better career opportunities and networking and profile raising and being taken on permanently, but sometimes  – and this is my biggest worry – it leads to organizations getting cheap labour and replacing one intake with the next for purely commercial reasons.

So, yes you can argue that the idea of the professional has evolved and now means something more like:

noun

§  a person engaged in a specified activity, esp. a sport or branch of the performing arts, as either a main paid occupation (rather than as a pastime) or engaged  in this activity with an understanding that there might be a paid opportunity at some future date.

But if this truly is now the case then we really do have to fight for the principle that a job well done deserves commensurate reward.  What that reward will be has become less tangible.

So many of us do produce work for nothing or practically nothing and that is our choice.  The reality is that there is not enough paid work out there for members of our profession and yet we still need to do what we do because we are driven to do it and that drive and that passion isn’t so much “our choice”.   We make daily compromises and generally do the best we can to offset all the demands and strains that our “real lives” throw at us.  Somehow we make it work.  Sometimes less so…

…Theatre is a strange world where we are often trying to bring life to imaginary worlds in different places, different times and different dimensions.   We do this in order to give our audiences an unforgettable experience.   I often think of this as a reflection of our own lives where we juggle different priorities and the various aspects of ourselves in the hope that we are truly making work that has meaning and that makes a difference.

For artists throughout the ages I think it has always been thus.  Some things do get easier, and yes, some things do get harder, but mostly they remain the same.

And mostly that is a good thing.

Link to read the original article

Rosie Hardy also has something to say on the theme of following what you love to do and making it your work, even when you feel like you will fail, in her inspiring, exuberant and energising TEDx talk from Youth@Manchester 2014

Rosie Hardy TEDx talk: “Creativity and Happiness”

“We live in a society where qualifications are valued more highly than happiness…”

photo credit: familymwr via photopin cc

photo credit: familymwr via photopin cc

Happiness At Work Edition #82

These and many other stories are collected together in this week’s new Happiness At Work Edition #82 out from Friday 24th January 2014.

Happiness At Work #79 ~ creating the year you want and need

photo credit: Ruben Nadador via photopin cc

photo credit: Ruben Nadador via photopin cc

Happy New Year and welcome to the start of 2014.

In this post, I have pulled together some ideas about how we can be more the creators of the year we want to make for ourselves, considering different ways to make new year resolutions that work for us and last through the year ahead, as well as ideas on what can help us to change and make better habits.

I hope you will find something here to fuel and support the aspirations, hopes and wishes you are making for own year ahead…

photo credit: swimparallel via photopin cc

photo credit: swimparallel via photopin cc

Higher Resolutions – Makeshift Thoughts

Stef Lewandowski in Makeshift Thoughts reflects on the why’s and how’s of making new year resolutions that matter and last through the year…

It’s nearly New Year’s Resolution time again. Time for the dieting and fitness industry to start pumping out messages about changing your life for the better. And time for us normal people to try, and in the main, fail, to alter multiple things about our lives based on these aspirational reminders.

I used to be something of a cynic about this annual cycle. There’s an implied life-dissatisfaction built in to the idea that we should make a firm resolution to change something about ourselves each year. So, because many of us are unhappy about multiple things about our lives, the approach that we take is to attempt to change multiple things at once in January. It rarely works!

Yet over the past few years I’ve begun to enjoy the annual challenge of doing something new, and attempting to stick to it. Here are two of the resolutions I’ve made over recent years, and they’re things I’ve actually managed to stick to for a whole year:

Be useful on the internet

One year I decided that Stack Overflow was one of the most useful and helpful resources for people working in tech. At its most basic it is a question-and-answer service. People are stuck on something, and other people attempt to unstick them…

So I thought for one year my new year’s resolution would be “Don’t be a leech”, and I spent a fair amount of time answering questions there. I didn’t manage to stick to it every day, but a general feeling of “be useful on the internet” now sticks with me, which was the reason I did it. To alter my own behaviour and attempt to be generally more helpful to others. Now, when I see someone asking a question on Twitter and I know a good pointer, I’ll often reply.

Ignore the news

This year I became frustrated with how much of my attention I was giving to things that were useless and stressful. Information that demanded attention but no action. Horrific stories that leave you thinking about awful things and not concentrating on the things that matter. Namely, news stories.

I wrote about this in my first Medium post earlier this year, so have a read to understand why I’m not talking about ignorance.

It’s about stronger connections with actionable information, filtering out negative influences and directing your energy towards things that you can really change in the world. The results of my little experiment, using myself as a single point of anecdata, are positive.

I’ve not read a single article in the free commuter paper that my fellow passengers stick their noses into each day. I’ve turned off the radio at half past the hour, and on again four minutes later, multiple times every day for a whole year. I’ve not watched any of the mainstream news channels, and I’ve only very rarely read something in a newspaper unless it has some industry relevance for me.

Yet I still feel informed. I’m actually more aware of industry trends and global shifts, I’m still aware of roughly what’s going on. Those extra hours each day where I would have been worrying about something I can’t affect, are now filled with reflection, thinking about the process of building my company andtinkering. And if you’ve read any of my other writing, tinkering is pretty important to me.

A creative rhythm for a year

My wife, Emily, this year gave herself a challenge—to take a photograph every single day of the year.

I’ll leave her to write a piece about what she’s learnt doing that, but the observation I’d make is that she’s found the process of having a creative rhythm to the year to be beneficial, not just in the act of taking the photograph and improving her practice, but in that it’s a long, rhythmic project that is in many ways akin to daily meditation or exercise.

One of the hackers I work with at MakeshiftTanja, was talking to me about the project that she is doing, and there are many similarities. Each day she “free writes” seven hundred and fifty words. They’re crucially not published, but over time the service she uses, 750words.com, provides some insights into her style, her mood, topics she is thinking about, and it enables her to self-reflect over a long period of time. It’s a daily ritual that takes around fifteen minutes, and I’m tempted to make this my next annual resolution.

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

A higher resolution

I quipped to friends recently that there are “New Year’s resolutions” and then there are “higher resolutions”—decisions to undertake a whole year of activity as an attempt to adjust ourselves and our behaviour by undertaking something that sounds hard. Something that will require a degree of mental energy and effort to achieve. Sometimes by making a quick joke about an idea, a bigger truth can emerge, and I think that perhaps it holds true here.

For the next couple of weeks I’m going to be thinking about things that might be up there as projects that I can be doing every day (and I think it has to be every day), that build on some aspect of my behaviour that I want to develop, and that might release or change something about myself over subsequent years. Here’s a few ideas. I thought I’d share in case others were thinking similarly:

Draw something every day

I’ve noticed recently that I’m always drawing in meetings. I use it to think and to concentrate, sometimes to remember a key theme.

They say that the best CEOs have an ability to draw—perhaps working on my sketching skills will enable me to communicate ideas more rapidly? Perhaps I’ll come up with a theme or observations [worth sharing]? Who knows…

Make up the bed-time story

It’s improv, it’s fun, it’s like not being able to prepare for a talk where you’ve been given the slot because a co-worker has fallen ill, and the kids really appreciate it…

Publish tiny thoughts

The main question here would be: is it possible to write something of interest to others, that’s insightful and interesting, every day of the year? …

I wrote two experimental posts: “The ideas won’t run out” and “A tiny act of feminism”, just to see how it felt. I’ve had a good reaction from writing these shorter pieces, yet I’ve found it hard to repeatedly put out small thoughts on the web. It feels so risky!

Do something you can

If you’re considering a daily creativity project like this, a big consideration is starting with something you’re already tinkering with, but challenging yourself to repeatedly make it part of your every-day…

Link to read the original article

photo credit: slightly everything via photopin cc

photo credit: slightly everything via photopin cc

MIND 2014: How to break old habits and make the new ones stick

New Year’s resolutions — losing weight, eating better or getting in financial shape – are all about habits. Every January we’re trying to break a bad habit or start a new one.

Our success often has less to do with willpower and more to do with understanding what triggers the habit in the first place.

“Habits build up by repeating the same action in the same situation,” says Jeremy Dean, the author of last year’s Making Habits, Breaking Habits”

“Each time you repeat it, the habit gets stronger. The stronger it gets, the more likely you are to perform it without having to consciously will it.”

“There’s bound to be some competition between old and new habits at first,” he says, explaining that this is normal. “Try to notice or anticipate what the mental danger points will be and plan for them.”

For example, you may want to get up earlier, so it’s important to acknowledge that you might feel lazy when you wake up.

“Plan to think about something that will make you jump out of bed, like an activity you are looking forward to doing that day.”

You can read more about Jeremy Dean’s Making Habits, Breaking Habits book, along with a report by him on a fascinating study of how our emotions map across our whole bodies further down this post.

Journalist Charles Duhigg covers some of the same territory in his book, “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business.”

In this interview he goes further to explain how to create habits that can bring lasting change for the better, in 2014.

Q. What causes habits to form and why are they so hard to break?

Duhigg: What we learned particularly in the last decade – primarily from neurological studies but also from laboratory and real world experiments — is that at the core of every habit there are three things:

  • A cue, which is like a trigger for an automatic behaviour to start;
  • Then the routine, which is the behaviour itself;
  • And then finally the reward.

The reward is really why your brain latches onto this pattern and makes it automatic.

We’ve known about the importance of cues and routines for decades ever since Pavlov was doing his experiments with his dogs. But the real insight from the last decade is how important those cues and rewards really are — the neurological circuitry that allows our brain or causes our brain, to latch onto this particular pattern and make it feel more and more automatic.

We’ve also learned that when your brain is in the grip of a habit (about 40 to 45 per cent of what we do every day is a habit) our brain essentially ‘powers down.’

Q. Why does the brain ‘power down’?

Duhigg: Habits allow us to conserve mental resources, cognitive resources and act automatically. And our brain likes that because anything that saves energy is good; it frees up your mind to work on other problems while you’re backing a car out of the driveway or you’re walking to work.

But the risk is that because your brain shuts down, it is much harder to consciously intervene in that behaviour and that’s why breaking a habit is so hard. In part, it’s because our brain essentially shuts off when we’re in the middle of a habit and as a result, we`re paying much less attention to what’s going on around us.

The second reason why it’s so hard to break a habit is because people are often unaware of what the cue and the reward is that is driving their behaviours. … And as a result, we become blind somewhat to what in the environment is pushing us in a certain way, particularly when it comes to rewards.

Q. Why doesn’t our willpower seem to work when we try to make or break a habit?

Duhigg: Willpower is like a muscle and much like any other muscle, like the muscle in your arm, it gets tired with more and more use.

Q. Can mindfulness help us to change bad habits?

Duhigg: Absolutely. I think the parts of mindfulness that are important for habits are this awareness, that you are forcing yourself to be aware of the cues and rewards that are driving your behaviour. In some respects, mindfulness is different from habit formation.

Mindfulness really says that you try and be in the moment and notice what’s going on. Habits neurologically are exactly the opposite; you tend not to notice what’s going on….

But the place where mindfulness and habits intersect is this awareness of what’s going on around you, forcing yourself to pay attention to the cues and rewards that are shaping your behaviours and then eventually allowing yourself to let go and ignore what`s going on because you’ve figured it out.

Q. How can we replace bad habits with good ones?

Duhigg: There’s a principle that’s known as the golden rule of habit change: It’s very hard to extinguish a habit and again there’s neurological reasons for this. But essentially, once you’ve created neural pathways associated with a particular cue, routine and reward, trying to extinguish those, to make them no longer be in existence, that’s really challenging.

Change the routine

A much better strategy is to change the habit … You identify the cue and you identify the reward and then you find a new routine that seems to correspond, a new behaviour that seems to correspond with that old cue and that old reward but that is different and better.

Q. What one small strategy could we implement to make incremental yet lasting change in 2014?

Duhigg: You need to start small and you need to identify one thing. One of the things that we know is that there’s a lot of power in what is called the science of small wins, that if you can choose one behaviour to change, that sometimes it sets up this chain reaction that makes other changes easier to accomplish.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: slightly everything via photopin cc

photo credit: slightly everything via photopin cc

Why A New Year’s Theme Works Better Than A Resolution

By Melinda Johnson

A few years ago, I learned a new approach to making New Year’s resolutions. Instead of the typical resolution that identifies a concrete behavior, you assign a theme to your New Year. The theme should be a word that resonates with you and embodies something that has been missing from your daily life. Instead of defining specific behaviors that you want to do, you simply keep your theme in mind and allow your days to unfold from there. This can be a very refreshing way to approach a New Year, especially for those of us who are tired of making the same resolution every year.

Here are some examples of possible themes to apply to your New Year, along with how they might serve to enhance your overall health:

Theme: Mindfulness. Many of us live in a constant state of distraction, due to our busy lives. But this relentless multitasking can take a toll on our health, as well as our overall quality of life. Research has linked mindfulness with many beneficial outcomes, such as being able to curb overeating, experiencing less stress and anxiety, and even helping with chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. Mindfulness simply means paying attention to the present moment. We can practice this in many ways — taking time to notice the taste of our food when we eat, pausing to focus entirely on a child during conversation, or purposefully enjoying the feeling while taking a brisk walk are all acts of mindfulness.

Theme: Enjoyment. Sometimes, the quest for better health seems like total drudgery. The truth is, we are much more likely to do things willingly if we actually enjoy those things. Perhaps the best place to start, then, is to find enjoyment in healthy behaviors. Find a physical activity that is fun to you, or make a mundane one more fun by adding in music or a companion. Enjoy healthy food by exploring recipes, choosing quality ingredients and making your kitchen a pleasant and inviting place.

photo credit: mindfulness via photopin cc

photo credit: mindfulness via photopin cc

Theme: Movement. Our bodies are designed to move, and yet our world is designed for sitting. The absence of movement in our day is a big culprit in the obesity epidemic, and it’s also a likely factor in decreased mood, disruption of sleep and increased rates of chronic diseases. Researchers in the exercise field point out that reducing the time we’re sitting every day can play a big role in improving our overall health. This means we need to find ways to add in movement every hour, not just when we hit the gym on the way home from work. Building in movement throughout the day may mean building new habits (such as taking the stairs instead of the elevator) or even creating new procedures (such as having a walking meeting with your staff every morning).

Theme: Nourish. Our fast-food society has created a unique situation where many of us are over-fed, yet under-nourished. When our diets lack fresh, whole foods and rely too much on convenience and fast foods, we are not getting enough of many different nutrients, such as fiber and antioxidants. This can take a toll on our weight, our immune system, our overall health and even how fast we age! Approaching meals and snacks with the nourish theme in mind helps inspire better food selection decisions. Foods that nourish us include water-rich fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, low-fat dairy and even water. You may also want to expand the theme to include daily tasks that nourish your soul, such as adding in time for a new hobby or saving up to travel.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: jenny downing via photopin cc

photo credit: jenny downing via photopin cc

What Makes YOU Happy?

Here is a great two-part exercise to begin the year with from Eric Karpinsky, The Happiness Coach…

You are the best one to answer the question, “what makes YOU happy?”   But in our busy lives, we often don’t take the time to ask ourselves this question or go deep enough.  Now is the time!

Happiness List Exercise

(This is adapted from a great book called ‘How We Choose To Be Happy’ by Foster & Hicks.)

You need to have 10 minutes of focused time.  If you have that time right now, go ahead and keep on reading.  But if you are at work and likely to be interrupted or dinner is about to be put on the table, block 10 minutes this evening or in the next day or two to where you can work uninterrupted.

Ok, now stop reading until you have your 10 minutes.  (Seriously, this will be a much more productive exercise if you don’t read this until you have that uninterrupted time.)

Ready to start?

Get out a blank sheet of paper, a good writing instrument and a timer.  Set the timer for 4 minutes.

  1. Then begin making a list of everything that makes you happy.  List anything that comes to mind by speedwriting.  This means you write as fast as you can without stopping.  Include things both large and small.  Don’t judge your answers.  Just let things flow in a stream-of-consciousness way.  The idea here is to allow internal stuff to surface.  (i.e. don’t be distracted by the seeming randomness of some of your ideas.  Just write and move on.)
  2. When the timer goes off, drop your pen and notice how you feel.  For many people, just the act of writing the list makes them feel happier.  Know you can do this anytime for a quick happiness hit.
  3. Now look through your list and find one thing that would be easy to do this evening or over the weekend.  This is your HOMEWORK (Ok really it’s more of home-play) for this week.  Take out your calendar and schedule it.  Right now.  (Really.  I’ll wait…)
  4. And if you need to coordinate with someone else (for that tennis match, date to make dinner together or go to that museum exhibit) send those emails right now (your 10 minutes isn’t up yet, right?)
photo credit: eagle1effi via photopin cc

photo credit: eagle1effi via photopin cc

Next, email yourself this list, so you’ve always got it.  Put something really obvious in the subject line like happiness list, so you can find it when you want it.  Feel free to add on to this list as other things come to you.

Finally, share what you are going to do.  Commit to it by making a public declaration to someone who will help you to act upon your plan.

Then enjoy the treat you’ve scheduled for yourself!

Finding time to do what makes YOU happy

Here is how to make your Happiness List come to life.

Step 1: Expand Your List

First, take a few minutes to expand your list.  Is there anything you missed?  Think about things you loved when you were younger. Can you make the list more specific?  For example, if you listed your child, dog or partner, think about what you enjoy when you are together – conversation, snuggle time?  If you listed nature, how do you like to experience it – a hike, camping, sitting quietly?

Step 2: Celebrate What You Already Do

Now, go through your list and check off those things that you do regularly.  These are already central to your life.  Nice work!  Celebrate that you’ve made time for these activities which recharge you. (Don’t blow this part off; honouring your successes gives you the energy and motivation boost you need to set new goals.)

Step 3: Schedule Your Happiness

Go through and pick a few of these activities that you would like to do more in your life.   Get your calendar.  Yep, right now; go and grab it.  I’ll wait…

Now find the time to make these things happen.  Decide how regularly you want them and put it into a repeating calendar event.  Date night every other Thursday?  Tennis every Saturday morning? Fresh cut flowers each week?  Schedule a vacation to a place you love or you’ve always wanted to visit?

Commit to these activities, put them in your calendar and protect them.  Make the lists now of what you need to make these activities happen; schedule time to get the preparation done too.

Step 4:  Find more time in your schedule

Some of you are probably rolling your eyes now, thinking, “There’s no way I can add more to my life!”  If so, then it’s time to look critically at your calendar.  If you’re feeling over-scheduled here are some time-sucking traps to watch out for:

  • You spend time on things that your friends love that don’t make your Happiness List.  I have friends who love to see concerts.  For years, I’d go along.  One day I realized I’d rather just listen to the CD and talk – so I stopped going (and saved a bundle of money at the same time!).
  • You do everything with your partner.  Time together with a cherished loved one is important, but can be overdone and limit your time to pursue your passions.  See where your lists overlap and do those things together.  But venture out on your own sometimes, too.  I LOVE a night out dancing and connecting with new people where Becca loves a quiet night at home reading.  We’ll go our separate ways a couple times per month and the energy we both get from doing what we love comes back to our life together.
  • You do things you “should” like.  After I moved to San Diego, I thought I HAD to be a surfer, that’s what you DID here.  But after a year of learning (and occasional bouts of seasickness in big waves) I realized I didn’t love it.  So I let go of that vision of who I was supposed to be.  What do you do just because you “should” like it?
  • You do things that suck time automatically, almost without thinking.  Does the TV go on when you get home from work?  Do you log onto Facebook or play video games on your lunch break?  If these aren’t things on your Happiness List, stop doing them. Use tips from my Making Habits post.  Put the remote in a high shelf in the closet and replace it with something that reminds you of a Happiness List item.  Or schedule something from your Happiness List at your vulnerable time, so you don’t get pulled into the vortex of habits you want to break.
  • Combine things from your Happiness List with things you have to do.  Sometimes when I’m watching the kids, we will head off to Chuck E. Cheese for video games or have a dance party in the living room.  Both are things on my Happiness List (and fortunately on my kids’ lists) so while mom’s away we get to play!  If jazz makes you happy, make a ritual of playing it while you do dishes.  If exercise is your mood-booster, walk or ride your bike to run errands.

If these tips have not helped you find time or if this post, instead of bringing happiness has sent you into a tailspin of hopelessness – “My life is already so overscheduled! I just can’t fit anything else in!” – recognise and honour those emotions.  Then see tips for putting First Things First.

Link to read the original article

Ruby Wax: How To Take Your Mind

Ruby Wax – comedian, writer and mental health campaigner, visits the RSA to explain how and why our busy, self-critical thoughts drive us to anxiety and depression, and to provide ways of taming our out-of-control minds.

Ruby Wax: why mindfulness is the secret to a happy new year

By 

Happiness is not a shiny 2014 diary already clogged with meetings, phone catch-ups and must-do errands. The modern take on Descartes, “I’m busy therefore I am” is, according to Ruby Wax, the comedienne and now therapist (she holds an MA from Oxford in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy), crushing our ability to be happy and overloading us with stress and anxiety. “Excessive ‘busy-ness’ is usually a sign that all is not well,” she says. “When I’m reaching burn-out I start fixing too many dates and writing one too many emails. I become so uber-busy that things don’t make sense any more. It’s that tripping point between creativity and a downward spiral.”…

Mindfulness has helped Wax to find a plateau of peace away from the therapy rooms; her book, Sane New World, shows others how to do the same, although it’s not, she pleads, a self-help book. “It’s a comedy about how the brain is – otherwise it would have been whiney.”…

…here are Wax’s 14 tips for a happy, calmer, more self-assured and focused you in 2014. “Working out your mind is the new working out in the gym,” she says, oblivious to the fact her mobile is going insane in her handbag. “If you haven’t discussed how you’re feeling before, this year you will be.”

Find your braking system

This is what mindfulness is all about. When you’re in high anxiety mode, feeling stressed out, your mind racing and your heart pounding, focus on something in the present: a sound, taste or smell. By becoming aware of what’s around you, you will calm down and can focus more. You’ll have to experiment to find what works for you: I send my attention to my feet and their contact with the floor. As soon as my focus goes from thoughts to a sensation, the red mist drains from my brain and I can think again. You might need to do this 100 times; it’s how to tame your mind.

Stave off the darkness

Only eat what tastes good and fill your life with things you like. Surround yourself with true friends but if you find entertaining stressful, don’t invite them for dinner all the time. How can you talk to your friends properly when you’re busy panicking that you’re not a good enough cook? Go to a restaurant instead. And don’t force yourself to go to other people’s houses, it takes energy to adjust yourself to their way of living.

Find your happy place

People used to find peace in gardening or going to church but no one has time for them any more. You need to find a place or activity that makes you feel relaxed, be it a café or a park, dancing or cycling. But don’t mistake happiness for that tingly buzz you get when you’ve hooked or booked something. This kind of hit only lasts as long as a cigarette.

Be less busy

We worship busy-ness but brain research shows that rather than it being a great accomplishment to be able to juggle, it may actually scramble your brain. Rather than being in “doing” mode all the time, have a go at “being” mode. I experience it when I’m scuba diving but everyone feels this at some point: looking at a sunset, stroking a cat, a moment where time stops and you’re experiencing something directly without the running commentary. In this mode the mind isn’t flipping between the past and the future, it has nowhere to go, so it can start to settle.

Stop shopping

I get obsessed with possessions. I need that pair of shoes. It’s something about staying busy that makes me want them. But the chase is always better than the kill. I get them and then they don’t mean anything to me. We never stop wanting but it’s good discipline to understand your lifestyle and what you really need and know when to stop and say “enough”.

Pay attention

When you’re listening to someone, really listen. If you want to pick up your phone or are distracted, acknowledge this, and then refocus on the conversation. You can’t stop your mind from churning but you can train it to focus. Focused attention breaks up the circuit of banal thoughts in your mind and builds up grey matter in the brain, which increases the ability to remember, attend, and execute actions, no matter what age you are.

photo credit: fazen via photopin cc

photo credit: fazen via photopin cc

Exercise productively

A hit of your own endorphins is almost better than any drug you can buy over or under the counter. You’re happier when you’re moving your body, and your mind feels less sluggish. But if you hate jogging, give up. Mindless exercise isn’t good for you. Some of the most rewarding exercises are those you do when you’re sensing what you’re moving, flexing, pushing and pumping: pilates, yoga, Tai Chi and martial arts are examples of mindful practices.

Name your demons

Nobody will ever tell you that your mind is interesting and needs cultivating or that you’ve done well to get this far in something, so it’s OK. There’s always somebody better than you out there and this can get you down. Rather than sliding into depression when things don’t go right, name your feelings. I’ve called rejection “Mitzi” and have a very distinct picture of her in my mind: ratty hair, scrawny face and wearing rags. When I bring her up I feel compassion for her and then for myself. I also have “Stella” for envy, a blonde with blood on her teeth, and “Fred”, a werewolf, for anger.

Go easy on yourself

This is really important. We naturally have a negative predisposition. Try to recognise your thoughts without judging them. When you notice that your mind is wandering where you don’t want it to be, stop and acknowledge your thoughts and try, as I mentioned before, to focus on a sound, taste or smell. You’re being kind to yourself by intentionally moving your attention to the body. Remember, your body can withstand emotions; your mind cannot as it will always try, fruitlessly, to solve them.

Be kind to others

It follows that the way you abuse yourself in your thoughts is the way you abuse other people. It’s much easier to pass on our neuroses and anger than it is our feelings of warmth and kindness; but when you do, you get a sudden rush of oxytocin, which makes you feel safe and soothed and can switch such feelings on in others around you. If you’re calm and at ease you have the free space in your head to listen to someone else and be curious about their life. When you get into the habit of passing warmth, humour and compassion, you might just experience what happiness feels like.

Learn to say sorry

My relationships are happier these days but I still screw up. I clean up my mess by writing apology letters. You don’t have to be sorry for seeing the world in a different way from someone else but you can be sorry that things haven’t worked out. Lower your expectations: don’t expect others to be perfect, or even to like you.

Change is good

If you let go of your armour, it really is possible to evolve. But when you change, those around you might not like it. People don’t like letting go of their image of you even though you have redecorated your inner self. They think you’re a loser or a victim when in fact you are neither of those things any more. There’s not much you can do about this, except hope that they wake up to the new you.

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

Go on retreat

I’m spending a few days on my own in a “nano house” next month. A one-room building, with a big picture window, a kitchen and a comfy bed but no clutter, it’s the antidote to the nuclear family house and I’m happier in there than I ever would be in a house that goes on and on. It’s like being in the womb.

Taking yourself on a retreat allows you to reinvent yourself. It doesn’t have to be expensive. Go to a cheap hotel or bed and breakfast and spend some time in silence, with no television and no one to talk to. You’ll be amazed how much happier you feel afterwards.

Don’t force it

You can read this article as many times as you like but none of these tips is going to help you unless you get out there and try it. But don’t put to much pressure on yourself to change overnight. Never say “I should be doing more.” Notice that you’re not doing it and that’s a step in the right direction. There are no rules.

Link to read to read the original article

photo credit: Asela via photopin cc

photo credit: Asela via photopin cc

‘Tis the Season To Be…Mindful

by , author of ‘Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness’

…Here are a few tips that can help you have a happier, easier and less emotionally loaded holiday season:

Take a breath, and then another, so you create little pauses during the busiest time of the year. Simply taking a breath (and consciously shifting your attention to that breath) helps your body relax. And, when the body relaxes, the mind can rest. The key is remembering to take that breath so you punctuate your day with pauses. This means practicing the three steps of mindfulness: Focus, Observe, and Refocus.
o Focus on taking a purposeful breath and pay attention to how that breath feels. You can do this anytime: it’s fast, invisible and effective. For example, take a mindful breath before you leave your house for a party or as you toast the coming year. Pause in the midst of shopping and when your kids clamor (again!) for more presents.
o Observe your attention as your take that breath. Simply breathe and feel yourself breathing, without thinking about what just happened or what’s coming next. Give you mind a brief rest while observing the sensations associated with breathing (and without multitasking).
o Refocus on that breath if/when you notice that you lost focus. Begin taking that one, conscious breath fully focusing your attention on the sensations of breathing and watch what happens. As soon as you notice that you’ve lost focus, shift your attention back to observing the focus of your attention. Distraction happens, but you can train your mind so that your mental detours are shorter and less frequent.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: mindfulness via photopin cc

photo credit: mindfulness via photopin cc

Mindfulness in Everyday Life: 5 Sure Steps to Achieve New Year’s Resolutions

Mindfulness practice has come to us and developed in its secular form from Buddhist disciplines, and in this article Dr Donna Rockwell  walks us through the fundamentals of Buddhist wisdom.  This can provide a  guide to help us to build increased potency and resilience to our the aspirations we are resolving to keep and make happen this year…

We do the same thing every year. New Year’s Eve comes and goes, and our New Year’s resolutions, promised so fiercely at the stroke of midnight, are dismissed shortly thereafter, fading away over time, like friends who’ve moved to another city. It is the dirty not-so-little secret of New Year’s resolutions: They are very rarely kept. In fact, resolutions usually made in desperation (I’ve got to lose weight this year!) become another excuse for guilt and self-denigration, another opportunity to feel like a failure. How can resolutions be a point of positive self-growth, instead, where we make them, and keep them, and benefit from their healing and restorative powers?

There may be hints to the answer in the texts of Buddhist psychology, which examine the nature of life itself and suggest ways to live more successfully and with greater discipline. In these teachings, one might find a blueprint for how to generate the commitment necessary to keep those well-intended resolutions. Much as a monk learns to adhere to the rigours of a daily meditation practice, what might seem at first daunting in anticipation is experienced in reality as a breath of fresh air. The way to get there can be found in what is called the Eightfold Path, the heart of the Buddha’s famous “Four Noble Truths” and well-known way toward enlightenment. Becoming a student of this teaching, particularly in the areas that focus on wisdom and mental development, could show us how to follow through with resolutions, keeping the promises we make to ourselves.

Before considering the best path toward change, however, it is important to consider how much control we actually have over our minds in the first place. The answer is relatively little. That is why we find it so difficult to stick with our commitments: Our minds have an innate and persnickety tendency to wander here and there. Until we are aware of this undisciplined pattern of mind, we are at a loss to re-direct it. Once we understand that the mind, by nature, jumps around, and we need not let its untamed nature distract us from the task at hand, we discover that a wide range of thoughts come and go, which we do not have to follow. We come to see that we can always return our discursive minds to the present moment, making the choice to stay on task and follow through on commitments to goals we have set. Thoughts and whims may ebb and flow, but a steady focus takes us where we want to go.

The following highlights from the Eightfold Path, otherwise known as the Middle Way, describe what is necessary in order to realize our most cherished aspirations and New Year’s resolutions. They include: right view, right intention (wisdom), right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration (mental discipline). The word “right” can be interpreted as “ideal” or “full-hearted.”

Wisdom: A major component of wisdom is coming to grasp the truth of the human condition more fully. Such awareness helps us chart life’s course in more effective ways, making tonight’s New Year’s resolutions tomorrow’s improved behaviors and new, positive, rather than negative, habits:

(1) Right view: The mind is like a wild horse. If we do not know this, we are victims of the unsettled quality of the mind and our confused thinking process. Right view simply means remembering the fact that we will never be able to get our mind to behave in the ways we want it to one hundred percent of the time. By getting rid of this unattainable expectation, we are more open to doing what is called for in the moment. In this way we don’t necessarily have to feel like doing something – with our thinking in total agreement – in order to do what we know we must in order to stay committed to our goals.

(2) Right intention: In order to accomplish the lofty aims that New Year’s resolutions often are, we should have our heart in the right place. That is the meaning of right intention. The only way to keep working to make resolutions come true is to want them to, with earnestness and committed engagement.

Mental Development: Most important to keeping promises to ourselves in the new year is the development of our mental attitude and the maturing of our moral toughness. Losing weight or quitting smoking aren’t tasks for the faint of heart. It takes sweat and struggle to get there:

(3) Right effort: In order to win an Olympic medal, one must train religiously and with unparalleled dedication. That is the quality of right effort. Whatever we set our minds to, right effort is what we need to get us there. Diligence is the quality of right effort and is required to get the job done.

(4) Right mindfulness: In order to realise any achievement, a person must conjure up the right state of mind. Confused and wandering attention will never do. The challenge is to quiet down, and still the churning, thinking machine that is the mind. When the mind is more settled, like sand in a glass of water, thinking is clearer and decision-making wiser.

(5) Right concentration: None of this is possible without a focused mind. This is called right concentration. In order to play a tune on the piano, the student must concentrate on learning the music and using his or her hands in such a way as to make the music come alive. This cannot be done without right concentration. The most intense of the tasks we are called upon to do demand our concentration and heartfelt attention. We are at a loss without it.

Our resolutions can be made and kept. The skillful means to do so are achievable by focusing on these five particular aspects of the Eightfold Path: having the right view and intention, and exerting right effort, mindfulness and concentration. That extra weight can be lost, cigarettes cast to the wind, and relationships mended. Anything is possible when we seek wisdom and develop mental clarity. Then, in the midst of a clear mind, nothing can stand in our way.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Lars Plougmann via photopin cc

photo credit: Lars Plougmann via photopin cc

Why Your Organisation Should Focus On Employee Engagement

In this article Officevibe co-founder Jeff Fermin writes about the importance of employee engagement for a new small startup, but everything he writes here is equally true for every organisation, and worth thinking about anew as we start into the new year of activity.

Which of these ideas could help to fire new life and energy into the enterprise you are part of?

…A reflection and focus on employee engagement is not only worth your time- it is absolutely essential if you want your [organisation] to be more than marginally successful as it struggles to find footing in an ever changing and extremely competitive business world.

Employee Engagement: Not Just For the Big Guns

There is a reason that “employee engagement” is a hot buzzword these days. Lethargic top-shelf companies are looking for ways to catapult their businesses into new and creative outlets.

Stale company culture has permeated many big companies that were once filled with employees who were eager to engage with a new and innovative business model.

Simply stated: many companies have been reduced to being a building filled with paycheck driven drones. It’s no surprise that engaged employees work hard and diligently but research has found that companies that focus on creating a challenging and healthy work environment stir up not only employee loyalty but an entrepreneurial work environment that causes transformation and growth from the inside out.

photo credit: BetterWorks via photopin cc

photo credit: BetterWorks via photopin cc

No Band Aides Necessary

Ditch the cubicle drama of the average workplace. Employee engagement and motivation starts with a healthy company culture…

Hire wisely. Listen to your newly found talent. Let them in on your company dream map and fund team building experiences that create loyal employment.

Loyal employees, who are challenged and extended throughout the day, work efficiently when your startup company needs it the most. More importantly- they stick with you because they want to watch your company become [sucessful] as well.

Where Enthusiasm Can Take Your Business

It’s this easy:

• Companies run on enthusiastic and loyal employees
• Healthy company culture ensures that individual members feel welcomed and challenged
• Employee engagement starts on your very first day
• Employees that generally feel excited about their place of employment  will go above and beyond general expectations
• Hard work [continually working to make people happier at work] = a successful [organisation]

Will every day of your business’s life be a perfect combination of happy employees and excellent work? Probably not. You are sure to hit some bumps in the road to success no matter how elated each of your individual employees is to come to work every day. But a company’s focus on employee engagement can, at its very core, make those obstacles surmountable.

A happy company culture will create a work environment that makes the success of your business feel like a team effort…

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Lars Plougmann via photopin cc

photo credit: Lars Plougmann via photopin cc

How Might We…? Use Language to Shape a Creative Culture

adapted by Tom Kelley and David Kelley from their book Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential within Us 

Language is the crystallization of thought.

But the words we choose do more than just reflect our thought patterns—they shape them. What we say—and how we say it—can deeply affect a company’s culture.

To change attitudes and behaviors, it helps to first change the vernacular.

To spark innovation, it helps to influence the dialogue around new ideas.

Several years ago, IDEO hosted a visit from Jim Wiltens, an outdoorsman, author, adventure traveler, and speaker, who also teaches a program of  his  own design for gifted and talented children in Northern California schools. In his programs, Jim emphasizes the power of a positive vocabulary. And he leads by example. You will literally never hear him say, “I can’t.” He uses more constructive versions of that sentiment that emphasize the possible, such as “I could if I…” He actually promises to pay his young students a $100 if they ever catch him saying, “I can’t.”

Think Jim’s approach sounds a bit simplistic for adults? Don’t be too sure. When Cathie Black took over as president of Hearst Magazines, she noticed that negative speech patterns had cre­ated an environment hostile to new ideas. One person close to the company reported that the naysaying had become a cynical mantra for the executives. So Black told her senior team that every time they said things like, “We’ve tried that already” or “That will never work,” she would fine them $10. (Note the difference be­tween business executives and teachers: they levy the fine on others, not themselves.) Of course, $10 was a trivial amount for the Hearst managers, but no one wants to be embarrassed in front of his or her colleagues.

After enforcing her rule just a few times, Black effectively wiped those expressions from the office vocabulary. Did the shift to more positive words have a broader effect beyond changing the tone of meetings? During Black’s ten­ure, Hearst kept its flagship brands like Cosmopolitan healthy through an extremely tough period for the publishing industry and launched new mega-successes like Oprah’s magazine. Meanwhile, Black rose to become one of the most powerful women in American business.

IDEO’s favorite antidote to negative speech patterns is the phrase “How might we…?”  It was introduced to us by Charles Warren, now salesforce.com’s senior vice president of product design, as an op­timistic way of seeking out new possibilities in the world. In a matter of weeks, it went viral at our firm and it’s stuck ever since. In three disarmingly simple words, it captures much of our perspective on creative groups. The “how” suggests that improvement is always possible. The only question remain­ing is how we will find success. The word “might” temporarily lowers the bar a little. It allows us to consider wild or improbable ideas instead of self-editing from the very beginning, giving us more chance of a breakthrough. And the “we” establishes own­ership of the challenge, making it clear that not only will it be a group effort, but it will be our group. Anyone who has worked with IDEO in the past decade or participated in OpenIDEO’s social innovation challenges has undoubtedly heard the phrase.

We’re also careful about how we critique ideas. As we explained in this HBR article, our feedback typically starts with “I like…” and moves on to “I wish…”. We refrain from passing judgment with a simple thumbs up or thumbs down. When you open with the positives, then use the first person for suggestions, it signals to everyone that you’re offering your opinion in an effort to help, which makes them more receptive to your ideas.

As adults, we sometimes forget the simple power of words. Try fine-tuning your group’s vocabulary, and see the positive effect it has on your culture.

Link to read the original article

The Body Map of Emotions: Happiness Activates the Whole Body

Jeremy Dean, author of Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How To Make Changes That Stick, reports on this fascinating study that illuminates why we have so many ways of drawing on different parts of ourselves to communicate how we are feeling…

New study reveals where people feel different emotions in the body.

Unlike thoughts, the emotions don’t live entirely in the mind, they are also associated with bodily sensations.

For example, when we feel nervous, we get ‘butterflies in our stomach’.

Thanks to a new study, for the first time we now have a map of the links between emotions and bodily sensations.

Body maps

Finnish researchers induced different emotions in 701 participants and then got them to colour in a body map of where they felt increasing or decreasing activity (Nummenmaa et al., 2013).

Participants in the study were from both Western European countries like Finland and Sweden and also from East Asia (Taiwan).

Despite the cultural differences, they found remarkable similarities in how people responded.

Here are the body maps for six basic emotions. Yellow indicates the highest level of activity, followed by red. Black is neutral, while blue and light blue indicate lowered and very low activity respectively.

The authors explain:

“Most basic emotions were associated with sensations of elevated activity in the upper chest area, likely corresponding to changes in breathing and heart rate. Similarly, sensations in the head area were shared across all emotions, reflecting probably both physiological changes in the facial area […] as well as the felt changes in the contents of mind triggered by the emotional events.”

It’s fascinating that happiness is the one emotion that fills the whole body activity, including the legs, perhaps indicating that happy people feel ready to spring into action, or maybe do a jig.

Along with the basic emotions, here are the body maps of six more complex emotions:

The stand-out emotion here is love, which only just fails to reach down into the legs, but lights up the rest of the body with activity very successfully. The three centres of activity are head, heart and err…

The study’s lead author, Lauri Nummenmaa, explained:

“Emotions adjust not only our mental, but also our bodily states. This way they prepare us to react swiftly to the dangers, but also to the opportunities […] Awareness of the corresponding bodily changes may subsequently trigger the conscious emotional sensations, such as the feeling of happiness.”

Link to read the original article

How Long It Takes To Form A New Habit – Jeremy Dean’s Making Habits, Breaking Habits

And you here is Maria Popova’s introduction to Jeremy Dean’s book about making good habits…

“We are what we repeatedly do,” Aristotle proclaimed“Could the young but realize how soon they will become mere walking bundles of habits, they would give more heed to their conduct while in the plastic state,”William James wrote. But how, exactly, do we rewire our habits once they have congealed into daily routines? We already know that it takes more than “willpower.”

When he became interested in how long it takes for us to form or change a habit, psychologist Jeremy Dean found himself bombarded with the same magic answer from popular psychology websites and advice columns: 21 days. And yet, strangely — or perhaps predictably, for the internet — this one-size-fits-all number was being applied to everything from starting a running regimen to keeping a diary, but wasn’t backed by any concrete data. In Making Habits, Breaking Habits: Why We Do Things, Why We Don’t, and How to Make Any Change Stick — which also gave us this fascinating read on the psychology of self-control — Dean, whose training is in research, explores the actual science of habits through the existing empirical evidence on habit-formation…

This notion of acting without thinking — known in science as “automaticity” — turns out, perhaps unsurprisingly, to be a central driver of habits. And it helps illuminate the real question at the heart of this inquiry: How long did it actually take for people to form a habit? Dean writes:

The simple answer is that, on average, across the participants who provided enough data, it took 66 days until a habit was formed. As you might imagine, there was considerable variation in how long habits took to form depending on what people tried to do. People who resolved to drink a glass of water after breakfast were up to maximum automaticity after about 20 days, while those trying to eat a piece of fruit with lunch took at least twice as long to turn it into a habit. The exercise habit proved most tricky with “50 sit-ups after morning coffee,” still not a habit after 84 days for one participant. “Walking for 10 minutes after breakfast,” though, was turned into a habit after 50 days for another participant.

What this research suggests is that 21 days to form a habit is probably right, as long as all you want to do is drink a glass of water after breakfast. Anything harder is likely to take longer to become a really strong habit, and, in the case of some activities, much longer.

While the finding may at first appear disheartening, it’s actually oddly assuring in reminding us that habit, like genius, is merely a matter of doggedness and “deliberate practice” — in fact, this brings us to the lesser-cited yet pivotal second half of Aristotle’s famous dictum“Excellence … is not an act but a habit.”

Link to read the original article in full

photo credit: foto4lizzie via photopin cc

photo credit: foto4lizzie via photopin cc

Family Table (Steve McCurry’s Photos)

The family is the nucleus of civilisation.  (Will Durant)

Steve McCurry’s new photo collection celebrates the family around the table in a series of heartwarming and poignant images from around the world, reminding us, again, how much more we have in common with each other than are our differences…

Researchers have confirmed what parents have known for a long time;
sharing a family meal is good for the spirit, the brain and the health of all family members.  (Anne Fishel, Ph.D.)

In family life, love is the oil that eases friction, the cement that binds closer together, and the music that brings harmony.  (Eva Burrows)

Other things may change us, but we start and end with the family.  (Anthony Brandt)

Link to see these photos

photo credit: mike.t photography via photopin cc

photo credit: mike.t photography via photopin cc

Jumpstart Your Journaling: A 31 Day Challenge

Here is really helpful framework by Jeremy Anderberg for helping to get your journal off the ground and up and running.  (Anderberg’s blog is concerned primarily with development for men, but these headings and questions can be easily taken and used by all of us).  And, too, you might like to try to combine this with the journalling website 750 words mentioned in the first article in this post…

…When presented with a totally blank slate — that open journal, with pen in hand, and nothing but white pages — we freeze up. It’s been said that constraint actually gives way to greater creativity. When we have clear boundaries, or direction, we no longer have to think about the act itself. We don’t have to think about what to journal, we simply have to journal based on a prompt.

With that in mind, I’d like to present a 31-day roadmap and challenge for your journaling. Doing something for around 30 days is a great way to not only build a habit, but to also explore if it’s right for you. Maybe journaling isn’t for you, and you just have never taken the time to really prove that to yourself. Or maybe you love the practice, and simply haven’t gotten into the habit yet. Either way, I hope this calendar presents you with ample opportunity to take the journaling bull by the horns and experience all its benefits.

All of these can be accomplished in just 20-30 minutes per day, and often less. If you can’t make time for that, perhaps journaling isn’t as important to you as you really thought, and you’ve discovered right there that it’s not for you.

In this roadmap are many questions. In your journal — whether digital or by hand — you can simply write out the question at the top of the page, and answer as if having a conversation. Don’t worry about formality, how it may sound out loud, grammar, etc. Just write your thoughts. It may seem mundane, but there is a magical quality in writing something down that cannot be fully explained. You just have to trust me and try it out.

Note: I am of the opinion that this exercise should be 31 continuous days. However, you can also decide to do it over the course of a couple months, or just on weekdays; remember, this is for you, so if don’t enjoy what you’re doing and are just stressed out by the thought of it, it won’t work.

Day 1: Start with answering the question of why you want to journal, and beyond that, why you decided to embark on this 31-day experience. Write out what you’d like to get from journaling.

Day 2: Continuing to work within that idea of constraints, try to write a 6-word memoir of your life so far. This idea is rumored to have originated from Papa Hemingway. The benefit is that with only six words, you really have to filter your life to what you deem most important. It may take you many iterations, but you’ll end up with something that speaks largely to who you are, if not in toto, then at least in this moment in time.

Day 3: Decide on one positive habit you’d like to implement in your life. …Then, think about the steps you’ll take to get there, and how you’ll keep yourself accountable.

Day 4: pick a habit that you’d like to eliminate from your life. … And again, also think about how you’ll keep yourself accountable to that goal.

Day 5: Write a letter to a loved one. …The beauty of this letter is that you aren’t sending it in the mail, you’re simply “voicing” something that needs to be said. Should you choose to share it later, that’s okay, but you don’t have to…

Day 6: Pick a quote from [anywhere on the internet] and reflect on why it stands out to you. …If you can’t seem to reflect on a single quote, just take the time to write out a few of them that you like. Doing so will keep them top-of-mind and perhaps lead to some thoughts later down the road.

Day 7: You’ve made it one week! Reflect on what this newfound practice has been like. Getting through the first seven consecutive days is truly the hardest part. What have you enjoyed about it? What has been difficult? How has it been what you expected and what surprises have you had from it?

Day 8: Take some time today to reflect on your career. Jot down a timeline of it, including all the ups and downs. What was your best experience? And the worst? What would you like your future to look like, in terms of your career? If you’re a young person and haven’t started in yet, focus on that future part. What do you want your work to look like?

Day 9: On this day, simply write about your day. …The beauty of this exercise is that you may discover something that you hadn’t realised…

Day 10Take a look at the hero’s journey, and identify where you are in that journey. Doing so can help you better understand where you are in life, and help you figure out where to go next. You can take it in the context of your entire life, or you can take it in the context of a certain phase of your life…

Day 11Memento mori. “Remember that you will die.” Admittedly, this isn’t the most pleasant topic. There is, however, great benefit in meditating on the reality that at some point, you will in fact die. It motivates you to live the life right now that you want to be living. Meditate on this, and write out your thoughts…

Day 12: Give stream-of-consciousness writing a try. … for 10-15 minutes. You may uncover something — no matter how small — you hadn’t previously realized.

Day 13: Perform a mind dump of everything you’re worried about. From the leaky dishwasher to your family member’s poor health — get it all out… Getting all your stressors on paper may alleviate some of that pressure…

Day 14: Write a review of some form of entertainment you recently took in. Whether book or movie or TV show or Broadway play, write out what you liked and didn’t like about it…

Day 15: Come up with your own Cabinet of Invisible Counselors. There are innumerable great people from history who we can learn from today… Write out who you would have on your list and what you admire about them…

Day 16: Imagine that someone has decided to write a book about your life, just up to this point. What would the cover blurb say? Be honest here. Is it kind of boring? Are you happy with it? Now imagine what you’d like that blurb to say at the end of your life. What changes need to made for that to happen?

Link to read the original article in full and the themes for the next 15 days

photo credit: jelleprins via photopin cc

photo credit: jelleprins via photopin cc

Happiness At Work Edition #79

You will find all of these stories – and more – collected together in this week’s new Happiness At Work Edition #79.  Enjoy and best wishes making the start you most want to your new year.

photo credit: SimonDoggett via photopin cc

photo credit: SimonDoggett via photopin cc

Happiness At Work #77~ ending & beginning and the space in between

This week’s post takes its inspiration from Steve McCurry’s latest collection of photos of people Leaving and Coming (see below), drawing on this time when we celebrate out one year and in the next to mark some of the in-between spaces and places and thinking and ways of being….

C OK

photo credit: SheReadsAlot via photopin cc

Deadly Conformity Is Killing Our Creativity. Let’s mess about more

People’s lives  would be more fulfilling if they we were given greater freedom in the workplace writes 

I began to notice the creativity of the manager of the Pret a Manger coffee shop, close to where I live, after he showed extraordinary kindness to a woman with Down’s syndrome in her 20s. Well, maybe it wasn’t that remarkable, but it was certainly natural and spontaneous and beautifully done…  [When she wanted] some attention from the manager, he stepped from behind the counter and gave her a big, affectionate hug.

It was moving and she was evidently delighted, so I took a comment card from the holder on the wall and wrote a note to the CEO of Pret telling him he had a gem on his staff.

The company told me that they would give the manager some kind of reward and since then I have taken a secret pleasure at being the unseen agency of a little good fortune. However, this is not the whole point…

Ten days ago, I found him on the floor with two-dozen paper coffee cups figuring out how to make a Christmas star from the cups and red lids. I have to say it didn’t look too promising, but the next time I went in, there was a Christmas tree made entirely of cups and lids, which wasn’t bad at all.

The Pret man came to mind when last week I heard the latest report from the Office of National Statistics which suggests we are currently using just 15% of our intelligence during work and that the nation’s human capital – a slightly artificial construct of skills, knowledge and continuous learning – is way down on five years ago. There appears to be a slump in the nation’s creativity.

And what has the Pret man got to do with this trend? Well, the way he does his job embodies several of the necessary requirements for creativity: the confidence to experiment, openness and time to play. Clearly the company allows his character to express itself but you can well imagine the grimmer coffee shop chains seeing his restless experimentation and goodwill as being a challenge, maybe even a threat to the orderly running of the business.

Two weeks ago, I wrote here about the British commitment to single issue causes and how all the originality with which these are prosecuted fails to be expressed in the political life of the nation. It seems that the same is true of our working lives. It is just short of a tragedy that, on average, people are only required to use 15% of their intelligence at work – depressing for each one of us, for the economic health of the nation and the general sense of well being.

We could be so much more and have lives that were greatly more fulfilled if we only started to find ways of allowing people to be a little more creative in whatever they do. I am not talking about web companies and media agencies, where a creative environment is a priority, but all those humdrum offices we find ourselves in, where the power structures, politics, sexism, fear, orthodoxy, imaginary pressure and bloody stupid rules prevent us from making the most of what we are, or becoming what we could be.

A few months ago, I was at a large meeting of about 25 people, which after a couple of hours produced very little. We were all there for the same purpose and believed in the same thing, but some stood on ceremony, others were too afraid to speak openly or kept their powder dry so they could better fix things by email later. Then a group went to the pub. They were at play, inhibitions fell away and ideas started flowing, and this was because there were no hierarchies; no one was defending their position; and, crucially, people listened with respect and encouragement. The golden moment is usually short-lived, especially in a pub, but that kind of open exchange, in which no one dominates and the default cynicism of British life is absent, can be terrifically creative, as well as fun…

Sooner, rather than later, the subconscious, [if it gets] left to get on with the problem in its own way, produces the thing that you want, or you didn’t even know was there. And that applies to unpressured groups of people, who are at play but maybe also a little focused, and ingenuity wells up from the subconscious and people find themselves speaking the idea before they knew they’d had it – the idea that is born on the lips, as Pepys once said.

There are countless inspiring videos about creativity on the web, likeElizabeth Gilbert’s Ted talk of 2009 Sir Ken Robinson’s of 2006 and the excellent lecture by John Cleese from 20 years ago. All of them come to the same conclusions about the importance of play, the absence of a fear of failure; openness and lack of pressure.

I would add to these the quality that my friend and the founder of Charter 88 and openDemocracy Anthony Barnett emphasises: generosity of spirit. And that takes us back to the manager of Pret a Manger, who, I believe, would not be nearly as creative if he were not so generous and kind-hearted.

Where does that leave us? Well, apart from encouraging the well-appreciated conditions for creativity in the workplace, we perhaps need to understand that the structures for taking decisions and driving things forward are not the same ones we should use to find innovation and make the most of the unexploited 85% of our intelligence. Power and hierarchies are the enemy of creativity.

Link to read the full original article

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

Dreaming Makes You Smarter

Annie Murphy Paul writes in her Brilliant Blog

…It might sound like science fiction, but researchers are increasingly focusing on the relationship between the knowledge and skills our brains absorb during the day and the fragmented, often bizarre imaginings they generate at night. Scientists have found that dreaming about a task we’ve learned is associated with improved performance in that activity (suggesting that there’s some truth to the popular notion that we’re “getting” a foreign language once we begin dreaming in it). What’s more, researchers are coming to recognize that dreaming is an essential part of understanding, organizing and retaining what we learn—and that dreams may even hold out the possibility of directing our learning as we doze.

While we sleep, research indicates, the brain replays the patterns of activity it experienced during waking hours, allowing us to enter what one psychologist calls a neural virtual reality. A vivid example of such reenactment can be seen in this video, made as part of a 2011 study by researchers in the Sleep Disorders Unit at Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris. They taught a series of dance moves to a group of patients with conditions like sleepwalking, in which the sleeper engages in the kind of physical movement that is normally inhibited during slumber. They then videotaped the subjects as they slept. Lying in bed, eyes closed, the woman on the tape does a faithful rendition of the dance moves she learned earlier—“the first direct and unambiguous demonstration of overt behavioral replay of a recently learned skill during human sleep,” writes lead author Delphine Oudiette.

Of course, most of us are not quite so energetic during sleep—but our brains are busy nonetheless. While our bodies are at rest, scientists theorize, our brains are extracting what’s important from the information and events we’ve recently encountered, then integrating that data into the vast store of what we already know—perhaps explaining why dreams are such an odd mixture of fresh experiences and old memories. A dream about something we’ve just learned seems to be a sign that the new knowledge has been processed effectively…

Robert Stickgold, one of the Harvard researchers, suggests that studying right before bedtime or taking a nap following a study session in the afternoon might increase the odds of dreaming about the material. But some scientists are pushing the notion of enhancing learning through dreaming even further, asking sleepers to mentally practice skills while they slumber. In a pilot study published in The Sport Psychologistjournal in 2010, University of Bern psychologist Daniel Erlacher instructed participants to dream about tossing coins into a cup. Those who successfully dreamed about the task showed significant improvement in their real-life coin-tossing abilities. Experiments like Erlacher’s raise the possibility that we could train ourselves to cultivate skills while we slumber. Think about that as your head hits the pillow tonight….

This Week’s Brilliant Quote

“Penalties, and rewards, change the meaning of the task to which they are applied. When you’re deciding whether to motivate someone, you should first think about whether your incentive might crowd out their willingness to perform well without an incentive. Crowding out could occur because of a change in the perception of the task, or because you have insulted the person you are trying to encourage or discourage. Cash, in the end, really isn’t king; some things can’t be bought. Rewarding people on the basis of what they really value—their time, their self-image as good citizens—is often much more motivating than just slapping down, or taking away, a couple of bills.”

—Uri Gneezy and John A. List, The Why Axis: Hidden Motives and the Undiscovered Economics of Everyday Life

Link to read the original article

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

Art Elevates the Mind by Increasing Empathy, Critical Thinking and Tolerance

A new large-scale experiment on over 10,000 students finds that a one-hour tour of an art museum can increase empathy, tolerance and critical thinking skills…

The results showed that, compared with those who had not been to the museum, students who had visited:

  • Thought about art more critically.
  • Displayed greater empathy about how people lived in the past.
  • Expressed greater levels of tolerance towards people with different views.

The museum had clearly been a mind-expanding experience for the young people.

Interestingly, the improvements were larger when the students were from more deprived backgrounds.

Visiting the museum also made students more likely to want to visit art museums again in the future. This could create a cascading effect over their lifetime, continuing to boost critical thought, empathy and tolerance.

What is art for?

Field trips are often seen by teachers and students as purely for pleasure, rather than for educational purposes.

But the authors point out that museums are about more than that:

“We don’t just want our children to acquire work skills from their education; we also want them to develop into civilized people who appreciate the breadth of human accomplishments. The school field trip is an important tool for meeting this goal.” (Greene et al., 2014)

Link to read the original article

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

2013 800-CEO-READ Business Book Awards: Personal Development

The entries were submitted, the books were read, the shortlists determined, and we are now ready to announce the category winners of the 2013 800-CEO-READ Business Book Awards!

In the Personal Development category…

Springboard: Do What You Were Meant To Do

Springboard: Do What You Were Meant To Do

G. Richard Shell’s Springboard: Launching Your Personal Search for Success from Portfolio takes the top spot.

“There is no ‘secret’ you need to discover. And you do not have ‘one true purpose’ for your life that is your duty to find or die trying. The raw materials for success are tucked away inside you and your next big goal is probably within arm’s reach—if only you have the clarity of mind to see it”
Springboard, page 10-11

Success is an oft-tackled subject in business literature, so it’s easy to be cynical about there being any new angle to take on the matter. But G. Richard Shell, author of the classic Bargaining for Advantage and The Art of Woo achieves it in Springboard: Launching Your Personal Search for Success by presenting us with a book that doesn’t define success as much as it provides readers with tools to define it accurately and authentically for themselves.

Shell, who literally teaches the course on success at Wharton, opens his book with a retelling of his own circuitous path to success, written with great humility and insight, and the entire book is told in a voice that is both instructive and generous. “What is Success?” and “How Will I Achieve It?” are questions you will be able to answer for yourself once you close the covers of this book.

The other books in our Personal Development shortlist are all books whose writers I have featured over this year in this blog…

Link to read the original article

2013 800-CEO-READ Business Book Awards: Leadership

In the Leadership category…

Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works by A.G. Lafley & Roger L. Martin from Harvard Business Review Press is our top book.

“The essence of great strategy is making choices—clear, tough choices, like what business to be in and which not to be in, where to play in the business you choose, how you will win where you play, what capabilities and competencies you will turn into core strengths, and how your internal systems will turn those choices and capabilities into consistently excellent performance in the marketplace. And it all starts with an aspiration to win and a definition of what winning looks like.” Playing to Win, page 46

This book relays the strategic approach P&G used over the 10-year period Lafley (with Martin as advisor) led the company to increase its market value to $100 billion. But this isn’t an industry book as much as it is a “story about choices, including the choice to create a discipline of strategic thinking and strategic practice within an organization.” And that’s truly what makes this book so good. It is, indeed, a story, and its two authors are invested in communicating the impressive work done at P&G and teaching this approach to others.

The other books in our Leadership shortlist are…

Link to read the original article

The Secret To Happiness

Happiness starts here:  How much control do you really have over your happiness, and how effectively are you pursuing it?

American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks distills 40 years of social science research into a surprising set of answers, suggesting the four essentials are:

  • Faith
  • Family
  • Community
  • and Work through earned success ~ the belief that you are accomplishing something worthwhile and valuable

A Formula For Happiness

Arthur Brooks writes in the New York Times…

HAPPINESS has traditionally been considered an elusive and evanescent thing. To some, even trying to achieve it is an exercise in futility. It has been said that “happiness is as a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”

Social scientists have caught the butterfly. After 40 years of research, they attribute happiness to three major sources: genes, events and values. Armed with this knowledge and a few simple rules, we can improve our lives and the lives of those around us. We can even construct a system that fulfills our founders’ promises and empowers all Americans to pursue happiness…

About half of happiness is genetically determined. Up to an additional 40 percent comes from the things that have occurred in our recent past — but that won’t last very long.

That leaves just about 12 percent. That might not sound like much, but the good news is that we can bring that 12 percent under our control. It turns out that choosing to pursue four basic values of faith, family, community and work is the surest path to happiness, given that a certain percentage is genetic and not under our control in any way.

The first three are fairly uncontroversial. Empirical evidence that faith, family and friendships increase happiness and meaning is hardly shocking. Few dying patients regret overinvesting in rich family lives, community ties and spiritual journeys.

Work, though, seems less intuitive. Popular culture insists our jobs are drudgery, and one survey recently made headlines by reporting that fewer than a third of American workers felt engaged; that is praised, encouraged, cared for and several other gauges seemingly aimed at measuring how transcendently fulfilled one is at work…

…rewarding work is unbelievably important, and this is emphatically not about money. That’s what research suggests as well. Economists find that money makes truly poor people happier insofar as it relieves pressure from everyday life — getting enough to eat, having a place to live, taking your kid to the doctor. But scholars like the Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman have found that once people reach a little beyond the average middle-class income level, even big financial gains don’t yield much, if any, increases in happiness.

So relieving poverty brings big happiness, but income, per se, does not…

…the secret to happiness through work is earned success.

This is not conjecture; it is driven by the data. Americans who feel they are successful at work are twice as likely to say they are very happy overall as people who don’t feel that way. And these differences persist after controlling for income and other demographics.

You can measure your earned success in any currency you choose. You can count it in dollars, sure — or in kids taught to read, habitats protected or souls saved…

If you can discern your own project and discover the true currency you value, you’ll be earning your success. You will have found the secret to happiness through your work.

There’s nothing new about earned success. It’s simply another way of explaining what America’s founders meant when they proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence that humans’ inalienable rights include life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

This moral covenant links the founders to each of us today. The right to define our happiness, work to attain it and support ourselves in the process — to earn our success — is our birthright. And it is our duty to pass this opportunity on to our children and grandchildren.

But today that opportunity is in peril. Evidence is mounting that people at the bottom are increasingly stuck without skills or pathways to rise…

This is a major problem, and advocates of free enterprise have been too slow to recognize it. It is not enough to assume that our system blesses each of us with equal opportunities. We need to fight for the policies and culture that will reverse troubling mobility trends. We need schools that serve children’s civil rights instead of adults’ job security. We need to encourage job creation for the most marginalized and declare war on barriers to entrepreneurship at all levels, from hedge funds to hedge trimming. And we need to revive our moral appreciation for the cultural elements of success.

We must also clear up misconceptions. Free enterprise does not mean shredding the social safety net, but championing policies that truly help vulnerable people and build an economy that can sustain these commitments. It doesn’t mean reflexively cheering big business, but leveling the playing field so competition trumps cronyism. It doesn’t entail “anything goes” libertinism, but self-government and self-control. And it certainly doesn’t imply that unfettered greed is laudable or even acceptable.

Free enterprise gives the most people the best shot at earning their success and finding enduring happiness in their work. It creates more paths than any other system to use one’s abilities in creative and meaningful ways, from entrepreneurship to teaching to ministry to playing the French horn. This is hardly mere materialism, and it is much more than an economic alternative. Free enterprise is a moral imperative.

To pursue the happiness within our reach, we do best to pour ourselves into faith, family, community and meaningful work. To share happiness, we need to fight for free enterprise and strive to make its blessings accessible to all.

Arthur C. Brooks is the president of the American Enterprise Institute, a public policy think tank in Washington, D.C.

Link to read the full original article

C OK

photo credit: Jus Wilcox via photopin cc

Leaving and Coming, Steve McCurry’s photo collection

 Doors
Are both frame and monument
To our spent time,
And too little has been said
Of our coming through and leaving by them. 
– Charles Tomlinson

Steve McCurry celebrates the season with another sublime evocative collection of his photos, themed around coming and going, the spaces of transition, the not-places between places, and in these moments of passing thorough he catches and hold our attention in these images, inviting us to stop mid-stream, mid-thought, mid-moment and – well, perhaps just to notice what we notice before we move on with our day…

Since the beginning of time,
doors have symbolized both great opportunities and thwarted dreams.
The open door is a metaphor for new life, a passage
from one stage of life to another, and metamorphosis.
Closed doors often represent rejection and exclusion…

Link to see Steve McCurry’s photos

C OK

photo credit: The Integer Club via photopin cc

Are You Really Listening?

by 

Listen: ˈlɪs(ə)n/

Verb: To give one’s attention to a sound.
Synonym: hear, pay attention, be attentive, concentrate on hearing, lend an ear to, and to be all ears.

We all understand the mechanics of listening. But too often today, when we have the opportunity to listen, we’re content with just passively letting sound waves travel through our ears. That’s called hearing. Listening is something entirely different. It’s essential for leaders to pay attention when others around us have something to say. Why? Because developing better listening skills is the key to developing a better company…

However, when input actually arrives, how authentic are you about listening? Do you pretend to care, just for the sake of getting at what you think you need? Or are you receiving, absorbing and processing the entire message?

We’ve all had moments when we politely smile and nod throughout a dialogue. The speaker may feel heard and validated, but we miss out on potentially valuable information. Or how about those moments when we greet someone in passing with a quick, “Hi. How are you?” and continue moving forward without waiting for a response.

Occasionally, that may happen. But what if it’s a habit? What if others in your organization learn to expect that behavior from you? When people assume their ideas and opinions don’t matter, communication quickly breaks down. This kind of moment isn’t just a missed opportunity for meaningful interaction — it’s a legitimate business issue that puts your organization at risk.

Why Don’t We Listen?

When we’re part of a conversation, but we’re not paying attention, we send the message that we just don’t care. However, our intentions may be quite different. These are the most common reasons why we fail at listening:

  We’re developing a response. Instead of maintaining a clear, open mind when others speak, we quickly start composing our reply or rebuttal. Many smart people tend to jump into that response mode — usually less than 40 words into a dialogue.

  We’re preoccupied by external factors. In today’s multitasking environments, distractions abound. We’re bombarded with noise from things like open floor plans, and a constant barrage of texts, tabs, emails, calls, and calendar notifications.

•  It’s not a good time for the conversation. Have you ever been rushing to prepare for a meeting when someone stopped you in the hallway with a simple “Got a moment?” While it may be tempting to comply, it’s wise to simply schedule the discussion for another time. You’ll stay on track for the meeting, and can focus on the request as time permits.

Checked Out? Ideas For Stronger Communication

I ask my team questions and invest time in discussions because I’m interested in their answers. Actually, I need those answers. After all, employee feedback is critical for a more engaged, productive, fulfilled workforce.

To foster better understanding, try asking follow-up questions to verify what people intend to convey, and discover how they feel about what they’re saying. This simple gesture will cultivate a culture of openness and camaraderie. Also, we can use tools to streamline the communication process and help us ask smart questions that reveal more about employees.

However, there’s no point asking questions if we only respond with a nod and then move on. If your mind is too cluttered and your day too busy to engage fully, be honest with your team. Assure them that you’ll get back to them when you’re able. And of course, don’t forget to follow up.

How To Make Mindful Conversation a Habit

Still, many leaders struggle with the art of active listening. That’s why it’s important to learn useful techniques and make practice a part of your life.

Deepak Chopra, MD, observes that leaders and followers ideally form a symbiotic relationship. “The greatest leaders are visionaries, but no vision is created in a vacuum. It emerges from the situation at hand.” Effective leadership begins with observation — knowing your audience and understanding the landscape. Even the most eloquent, powerful speech will fall on deaf ears if the speaker doesn’t listen to the pulse of the audience.

It’s never too soon to start practicing this art. Here are 4 easy tips to improve your ability to listen and lead:

1) Repetition. Repeat anything you find interesting. This helps you recall key points after a conversation ends. It’s also a smart technique when you meet someone new. Repeat their name throughout the discussion. This not only solidifies the name in your memory, but also helps build rapport and trust.

2) Read Between the Lines. Pay special attention when a speaker changes tone and volume, pauses, or breaks eye contact. These subtle signals are clues that can reflect emotional highlights or pain points (anger, sadness, happiness). And body language often reveals what words don’t say.

3) Mouth/Eye Coordination. Looking a speaker in the eye establishes a connection and lets them know you’re listening. But don’t hold their gaze too long. Recent research suggests that eye contact is effective only if you already agree with a speaker’s message. Instead, try looking at the speaker’s mouth. That may feel awkward, but this keeps you focused on what they’re saying — and they’ll know it.

4) Reflection. Seal the deal by thinking back to extract meaning. You may be exhilarated by a great conversation — but without a mental debrief, much of it can be forgotten. Reflection is critical in developing the takeaways (and subsequent actions) that make the discussion valuable. Try mentally organizing important points by associating them with a relevant word or two. Then, in the future, you’ll more easily recall the details.

The art of listening is about much more than exchanging facts. Active listening helps those in your company feel validated and connected with you and your organization. Genuine conversations weave their own path. Give them your time and attention. Along the way, you’ll solve problems and generate new ideas that will have a lasting impact on you, your team and your business.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

17 Tips To Help You Expand Your Influence

CJ Goulding offers these great guidelines…

In his bestselling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen R. Covey explains that truly effective people who expand their influence live a life focused on things that they can change—their circle of influence—and not things they have no power over, which can be categorized in a circle of concern. He says:

Proactive people focus their efforts in the Circle of Influence. They work on the things they can do something about. The nature of their energy is positive, enlarging and magnifying, causing their Circle of Influence to increase.

Great tip! And here are some others that will help you to both live within that circle and expand your influence simultaneously!

1. Be proactive.

Expanding influence is not something that happens to people who sit still….Being deliberate and proactive about trying new things, forming new connections, and meeting new people are all ways to become more influential.

2. Be a good listener.

…influential people must first be good listeners. Improving your listening skill allows you to collect new information, build trust and rapport, and makes it easier for others to align with your causes.

3. Stay consistent.

…Consistent people are reliable and are the first ones trusted with new tasks, ideas, projects, and responsibilities.

4. Practice empathy.

Being able to recognize, understand, and share in the emotions and experiences of another person gives you the ability to relate to people on their level. You become a more caring individual who is in tune with the feelings and attitudes of the people surrounding you. And when you can relate to someone, you can influence them, though careful not to manipulate the feelings and emotions you were trusted with.

5. Seek for solution.

…when you are associated with solutions, you will be the first person called, the first person asked to consult, and the first option to resolve issues.

6. Accept responsibility.

…as the old adage states, “take blame when things go wrong, and give credit when things go as planned.” Taking responsibility for your actions and even for the actions of those people you manage allows you to expand your influence by building the trust others have in you and your word.

7. Appreciate others.

A simple THANK YOU goes a long way in person and even further when done publicly. Choose to recognize the efforts of others and lift them up as shining examples for others to see. By doing so you are influencing others by reinforcing what works and what was done right. We all want to be valued and appreciated.

8. Have a vision.

…Without a goal, people may follow your lead for a short time, but the facade will eventually fall apart.

9. Ask the right questions.

Don’t ask why something is happening, ask how you can make it better.

Ask questions like:

How can I leave this situation better than I found it?

How can I meet and get to know people better?

How can I help and inspire the people around me?

How can I be a solution in this situation?

10. Have passion, a fire for what you do.

…alert people to the fire inside. Your enthusiasm for what you do will also draw others alongside you in your quest.

11. Filter the information that you take in.

There is an information overload, an “infobesity” that exists in today’s society. As you expand your influence, realize that there will be information coming in from all sides and at all angles, but that not all of it is useful or well intended. Screening the TV shows and movies you watch, the books you read, and the people whose advice you take allows you to stay focused.

12. Increase your value through education.

Read and educate yourself on areas where you want to grow. … Take classes, read books, do training and anything else possible to round out and expand your life experience, and thus expand your influence.

13. Fine tune your skills.

Constantly work on mastering your skill set. Influential people are not mediocre. Like a bank account, skills need constant deposits to continually grow, so even after you feel you have attained some level of mastery, continuous work is still required to continue to grow and develop.

14. Be upbeat and enthusiastic.

…Upbeat and enthusiastic people attract other upbeat and enthusiastic people… A positive attitude is also extremely contagious, and will carry your influence with it as it spreads.

15. Be a person of integrity and values.

Your description of who you are and your actions should broadcast the same message…

16. Go above and beyond.

Raise the bar… successful and influential people are never mediocre. They never settle for “ok” when great is an option. As Steve Jobs said, “In your life you only get to do so many things and right now we’ve chosen to do this, so let’s make it great.” Make what you do great!

17. Use your influence to bring out the best in others.

…Once you gain influence in a certain area, use your sway to do good things for others and bring the best out in them. Pay your experience forward, whether it is in sharing what you have learned or providing opportunities for them to follow in your footsteps.

Link to read the full original article

photo credit: seier+seier via photopin cc

photo credit: seier+seier via photopin cc

Guess What! You Can Measure Motivation, and Here’s How!

The Motivation Guy  (also known as Dr. David Facer) writes…

One of the most persistent beliefs leaders tell themselves and employees is that if you can’t measure something, it does not matter.

I can easily refute that belief with two questions:

1. Do you love your partner/spouse, mother, father, or children?

2. If yes (no one has answered no yet), then tell me precisely how much.  And when you answer, please pick an amount and a unit of measure.  So your answer would be something like, “I love my children 12 gallons,” or “I love my husband six kilometers.”

Naturally, that’s absurd.  The love you feel matters a great deal and yet seems impossible to measure.

Employee motivation is a bit like that.  It matters a great deal to the well-being of your employees and the financial success of the company.  And yet it seems impossible to measure.

But that’s the thing—it is remarkably easy to measure.  Here’s how.

  1. Using yourself as a test case, the first thing you will want to do is upgrade how you think about measurement.  Most often you’re thinking in terms of numbers.  Instead, think first in terms of categories.  Then you can think of numbers.
  2. Specifically, think in terms of these six categories—or types—of motivation.
    • Inherent – You do something because it is fun for you personally
    • Integrated – You do something because the purpose and deep meaning of it serves others and is in harmony with your own deep sense of purpose
    • Aligned – You do something because it is compatible with your goals and values
    • Imposed – You do something because you want to avoid a hassle, drama, or feeling guilty
    • External – You do something to gain something outside the task and yourself such as money, status, or reputation
    • Disinterested – You do not do something because it just does not matter to you.
  1. Create a table featuring the six categories above and tally your thoughts, feelings, and what the running dialogue in your head is saying about what type of motivation you experience on each specific situation, task, or goal.
  2. What pattern do you notice?  Most coaching clients with whom I have used this simple technique notice a pattern pretty quickly.  In fact, for everything on their to-do list, they usually realize they are experiencing one or two types of motivation.  In time, one of them will become the most clear.
  3. BAM!  You just measured your motivation by discerning what type you are experiencing.  And, the tally you came up with reveals how intensely you feel one type over the others.

Now you may ask does measuring your motivation using that simple technique even matter?

It absolutely does, because the type of motivation you experience has a big influence on how you go about your daily work—and your probability of success.

More specifically, research reveals that your motivation type has a lot to do with how much creative, out of the box thinking you bring to your work. It greatly influences how persistent you are in the face of tough challenges.  It not only explains, itdetermines how enthusiastic, frustrated, or bored you feel about the minutia of your work.  And over time, the type of motivation you experience has a lot to do with the decisions you make to stay with the company or leave for somewhere better…

Link to read the original article

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photo credit: bumblebeelovesyou via photopin cc

Why It’s Hard To Be Yourself (And How To Do It)

We’ve all been told to “just be yourself” at some point in life.

It’s good advice, but deceptively hard to follow.

“Hive Mind” Compels Us To Think Or Act Like Someone Else

…The term ‘Hive Mind’ comes from the way that honeybees, though individuals, act as a cohesive whole, as if they have a single consciousness. In humans, it happens when a group of people want to get along to the point that they actively suppress their true thoughts and feelings. The unanimous agreement may start from one person saying, “That’s a great idea!” Then the people merge their unique perspectives into a single group perspective. In business, this might mean fewer quality ideas. In life, it could mean losing your identity.

Stereotypes Exist Because Of “Hive Mind” 

It’s human to want to belong and find your place in the world. That makes it tempting to “tweak” yourself to be like a stereotype to assure you can fit in with others. If you don’t know yourself, it can be tempting to take on a personality template. But it’s a pretty incredible fact of life that every person is unique, and we need to embrace that! If you don’t embrace it and explore your identity, you might end up living someone else’s life, and feel empty inside as a result.

The way you present yourself to the world is a declaration of your identity. If you dress and act like a stereotype, your unique traits will be hidden behind this more obvious label that everyone is familiar with. I’m not saying it’s wrong to dress in any certain way – that would be contradictory to this article – I’m saying it’s best to avoid “hive mind” in life.

When you purposefully dress and act as a well-known stereotype, there is a greater chance and temptation for you to embrace that cookie-cutter persona instead of being yourself. 

When people do this, it’s like they’re actors, playing a role that someone else created. They learn the dialect. They mimic the clothes and body language. And their real traits are held hostage behind this image.

Being Unique Can Be Uncomfortable At First, But It’s Better Long Term

…Diversity is why it’s so important to be yourself. It is one of the most interesting parts of life, and it expands our knowledge and ideas. And the more stereotypical, conforming clones we have in the world, the fewer unique and interesting people we’ll have to learn from. People label themselves because it’s easier at first, but later they feel trapped to live up to this image that isn’t really them.  

Security Is Knowing Who You Are

If you live according to a persona or stereotype, some amount of confidence comes with it, because you know how you’re supposed to act in most circumstances. Gangstas are tough and foul-mouthed, hippies are easy-going and peaceful, etc. So when you have any self-doubt, you can simply act your part. But this is a cheap substitute for reacting dynamically from your true identity.

The safety in being yourself comes from knowing yourself better than anyone else. And the more you act like yourself, the more you’ll get to know yourself. And for personal development, knowing your true self equips you to change yourself. The reason most adults are more confident than children is because they’ve had more time to get to know themselves, so they’re less sensitive to the world’s opinion. But as a kid, you’re new and impressionable, and it’s for this reason that so many kids will resort to being an image of someone else rather than themselves. It feels safer.

If you had a precious gem that nobody else in the world had, some people would claim to know about it. Some people might talk bad about it. But only you know the truth about that gem, because that gem is you!

The best tip for being yourself is simple. Don’t try to be anyone else…

Link to read the original article

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photo credit: Flyinace2000 via photopin cc

Do You Know What Life Will Be Like In 5 Years? IBM’s Top Scientist Does

In the 5 in 5 report IBM’s top scientists report on what the world, supported by smart sensing and computing, will look like in five years. Last week, Fast Companypreviewed the report with the physicist who heads up the research team: Dr. Bernard Meyerson, IBM Fellow, and Vice President of Innovation.

In five years, cities will be sentient. More buses will automatically run when there are more people to fill them. And doctors will use your DNA to tailor medical advice and smart computing to diagnose and plan treatment for big diseases like cancer not in months, but in minutes.

In five years, physical retail stores will understand your preferences and use augmented reality to bring the web to where shoppers can physically touch it. Sophisticated analytics will allow the classroom (not just the teacher) to track your progress in real time and tailor course work. Digital guardians will protect your accounts and identity, proactively flagging fraudulent use, while maintaining the privacy of your personal information.

In five years, we will have analytical models that allow us to actually change the future and prevent the traffic jam that would have happened if 20 minutes from now if we hadn’t already rerouted lights to stop it.

Here are details about the ways these five predictions will define the future and impact us at a personal level:

The city will help you live in it…

Doctors will use your DNA to keep you well…

Buying local will beat online…

You will have a digital guardian…

The classroom will learn you…

Link to read the rest of this article

photo credit: Dominic's pics via photopin cc

photo credit: Dominic’s pics via photopin cc

Beat Holiday Stress With These Two Easy Meditation Techniques

Regina Bright writes…

Holidays can be stressful. The hustle and bustle of work, parenting, in-laws, guests, shopping, traveling, and cooking can seem pretty hectic this time of year.

When I am feeling overwhelmed, I take a timeout to relax and do short meditation exercises. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Deep breathing.

Begin in a quiet, comfortable area with no distractions. Remember, your goal is to quiet your mind and to remain in the moment. Don’t get discouraged if you are not able to do this the first time.

 Sit up straight and tall, feet on the floor, and hands on your stomach. Take a deep breath in through the nose and out through the mouth and release. Notice your ribs expand while the rest of your body is motionless. Breathe deeply, slowly, and smoothly. Your exhale should be twice as long as your inhale.

Focus solely on your breath. If a thought comes up, bring your attention back to your breath. You are in control – resist distractions. Try this exercise daily. Remember meditation is a practice.

Focus on your senses.

Next time you are at the coffee shop, make your focus a cup of hot coffee. Notice the sounds around you – people talking, the steam from the cappuccino machine, the sound of whipped cream topping off a cup of coffee. Notice the colorful ceramic cup, the steam, and the creamer swirling around the rim. Notice the fragrant aroma of the dark coffee beans. Notice the warm liquid going down your throat and warming you. Notice how the warmth of the cup is warming your cold hands. Notice the taste of your favorite winter drink.

Notice what it feels like to slow down and live in the moment – it isn’t a race to get through life!

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Hamed Saber via photopin cc

photo credit: Hamed Saber via photopin cc

Happiness At Work – edition #77

All of these stories and more are collected together in this week’s Happiness At Work #77 collection, online from Friday 20th December.

Enjoy and have a very happy rejuvenating and connected holiday…

Happiness At Work #73 ~ the (brave?) new world we are making for ourselves

If happiness were the national currency, what kind of work would make you rich?

A really terrific question – and we’d love to hear your answers…?

And it’s a great headline too for this week’s Happiness At Work collection #73 question: based on the strongest trends, patterns and the new norms we are carving into our cultural assumptions and expectations, are we making ourselves any better?

This week we highlight a blend of stories that illuminate and probe and wrestle around and celebrate the new-in-the-now – in our organisations as much as across our societies and within the fabric of our everyday lives.  Together these stories bring a growing sense of what we are becoming and making of ourselves.

See whether you think this is to our greater good or our increased ill…?.

Well-Being Jettisons To Critical Performance Metric In Workplace

by Judy Martin writing in Forbes magazine

We have often noticed that what gets valued gets measured and what gets measured gets attention, energy and investment.  In our first story Judy Martin marks the growing validity of happiness and wellbeing at work as a serious metric in the engine rooms and accounting houses of our organisations, and asks…

Can you hear it? There’s a nascent ethos of binaural business wisdom coming from progressive CEOs truly concerned with the health and well-being of their talent, and the deepening of our own mindful awareness as individuals in desperate need of a more peaceful, productive and healthy working experience.

The well-being of the workforce, if only disconsolately by default, might be the metric of salvation in an era of digital exuberance, overworked employees and disengaged talent looking to jump ship.

A salvo of scientific research in stress and creativity, along with statistics reflecting big business’ desperation to retain and engage talent, pack a wallop of a wakeup punch to the tummy of the traditional business model. And some of  big business is hearing the wakeup call.

CIPD, a UK Human Resources trade organization, reports that over the last year alone, the number of employers making workplace cultural changes to try to reduce long-term absence levels has increased 20% in the last year. It its Simplyhealth Absence Survey, 85% revealed they’re making changes to working patterns, environments and flexibility. This passage from the report speaks volumes to acknowledging employee well-being:

“The benefit of changes to working patterns has been recognized by many employers, with over 70% of organizations reporting a positive impact on employee motivation and employee engagement. A further 46% also stated they were using flexible working options to support employees with mental health problems.”

But the positive news is littered with some hard core disturbing facts:

  • Absence levels, according to CIPD have crept up to post-recession numbers seen in 2010 and 2011.
  • ComPsych reports that “elevated stress levels are the new norm for employees.” The employee assistant provider says its 2013 StressPulse Report found that 62% of employees indicated high levels of stress, and that one-third lose an hour a day in productivity as a result of stress.
  • Gallup’s recently revealed that 70% of American employees are either disengaged or miserable at work.

(I discuss the intersection of work stress and well-being here in my recent post Work, Stress, Bliss Manifesto.)

“The message is clear,” says HR trend tracker Meghan M. Biro, Founder of TalentCulture.com and host of one of the most popular Human Resources twitter chats on the web, #TChat.  “Leaders have to do better building employee engagement and job satisfaction through programs like wellness and work flexibility. When you see people who can’t wait to get to work in the morning, you’ll know you’ve created intrapreneurs who will radiate a highly contagious fulfilment and happiness. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Mindfulness and Well-Being Garners Growing Attention

That beautiful thing seems elusive and hard to define in terms of success. But if you ask media mogul Arianna Huffington, well-being at work should be trending high enough for the c-suite to take more notice…

“The truth is that we no longer have the luxury to ignore our well-being, our wisdom, our ability to make good decisions, because the world is moving so fast that we can no longer be in maintenance mode. We have to constantly be innovating, constantly creating, and we can’t do that from the surface. We can’t do that from burnout,” said Huffington adding, “Right now the American workforce is running on burnout, sleep deprivation and exhaustion.”

The Wisdom 2.0 Business Conference at Google’s New York City headquarters, founded by author Soren Gordhamer who wrote  Wisdom 2.0: Ancient Secrets for the Creative and Constantly Connected, explored mindfulness in business and its impact on the well-being and performance of talent in our real-time world. The topic resonated deeply with another speaker at the conference, Rich Fernandez; a former Google employee and Founder of WisdomLabs. He effused with audience agreement that due to technology – demands, information and complexity are increasing without the capacity to manage all the stimulation.

“Our in-boxes and the way we work make the world very complex, and the world is already turbulent as it is. It’s really hard for our organizations, and those of us who work in those organizations to become resilient at the same rate,” said Fernandez.

Fernandez says we have more wicked problems than we’ve ever dealt with before, adding, “Our leaders need to be more complex and adaptive in their thinking. They need to be more agile and self aware…”

A Personal Take on Well-Being at Work 

Judging by the arguments made, it behooves leaders to take the reins on the well-being wagon at work, but that dirt road is paved with potholes of resistance unless the spreadsheets prove other wise. Perhaps individual effort to improve ones well-being might be the faster track. If employees learn to better manage their energy and work flow, they just might see an improvement in their performance and ability to manage stress.

“Everyone needs to learn to recognize and respect their own personal rhythms of peak performance and need for healing rest and recovery,” Rossi recently told me in an interview at WorkLifeNation.com.

I’ve been fascinated by the concept of well-being at work and how it has the potential to fuel more energy and better employee performance.  The implications are more crucial than ever before as the global marketplace becomes more competitive, and talent driven creativity and innovation might catapult a company above the rest. The question is, whose responsibility is it to nurture the well-being of employees? Please share your thoughts.

Judy Martin is an Emmy Award-winning journalist and stress management consultant who tracks workplace trends. Connect with Judy on Twitter: @JudyMartin8 and visit her at WorkLifeNation.com where she writes in depth about workplace concerns,  work stress management initiatives, workplace well-being trends and  transforming stress in an “always-on” world.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: kern.justin via photopin cc

photo credit: kern.justin via photopin cc

Diana Diamond asks: Are We Being Happy Yet?

More than 1,000 books on happiness were released last month on Amazon

At a recent Stanford alumni conference – “Are you happy now,” moderated by former CBS News anchor Katie Couric – the focus was on just that. The panel featured Stanford professors and David Kelley, founder of IDEO, a design and innovation firm based in Palo Alto.

Panelists first defined happiness as a feeling good experience, a combination of pleasure and meaningfulness, knowing how to have fun, and doing something with a purpose.

Some people are hard-wired for happiness. Surprisingly, there are happy and unhappy minds, mostly dependent on our genes but also our upbringing. Couric said her husband always tells her she was born on the sunny side of the street. I have cloudy-side origins. Fascinating, since we seldom analyze ourselves this way.

When asked if stress is an impediment to happiness, Kelley said that doing something for someone else or society helps alleviate stress. He added that creative people are happier and usually more excited about things.

Firdaus Dhabhar, a Stanford psychiatry professor, said stress can be helpful and make us more effective, but we need down times between stressful periods. And while some of us view stress as a bad thing, it need not be so unless it overwhelms us.

Panelists agreed more children are depressed now, compared to a decade or two ago; no explanation why. While money won’t buy happiness, as long as one’s basic needs are met, individuals tend to be happier. Those who choose to spend their money on experiences and activities are happier than those who spend their money on “things” such as another pair of shoes or a second house.

Technology is changing our lives, Kelley said, for better or worse. He knows of teenagers who come home early from a dance date so they then can text each other about the dance. “Technology can help you keep unconnected and impersonal.”

Yet, he added, an amazing 60 percent of teens surveyed say they feel worse after spending time on Facebook because all their friends “seem to be doing all these fab things.”

Panelists discussed children a lot, beginning with Couric’s question: Does having children make you happier?

Studies show children create more meaning in our lives. But parents today have a difficult time allowing their kids to fail — they want to protect them, and turn into helicopter parents, constantly hovering over them.

Couric asked why parents today feel they have to go to every one of their kids’ sports activities, every practice, every concert and every on-stage event. Parents work on their kids’ projects, and supervise their homework. It’s “what parents have to do,” she complained.

Jennifer Aaker, a Stanford marketing professor, said studies show that the happiness curve starts at 18 when kids are doing all sorts of exciting things, then leads to satisfaction, then onto doing something meaningful. And finally some contentment. People are least happy when they are 35 to 45 years old with three kids, but from 50 to 70 happiness increases, and then goes downhill. Happiness shifts over the course of life.

The United States is 18th in the world in happiness ratings, but compared to other countries, we pay less attention to the meaningfulness of life.

And what is the most important component for happiness? The panelists listed a sense of autonomy in one’s life, personal growth, authenticity, genuineness – and sleep.

Dare I now wish you a Happy Thanksgiving? Perhaps that will stress you out.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Defence Images via photopin cc

photo credit: Defence Images via photopin cc

7 Things You Didn’t Know Were Internet-Connected

By 2015 there will be 25 billion devices connected to the internet, and by 2020 this is predicted to haves doubled to 50 billion interconnected devices.

This IT Brief outlines seven items sampling what they call the vast Internet of Things…

Within this “Internet of Things,” there is an already massive range of connected devices that continues to grow every minute.  Here are seven things you may not have realised are internet-connected:

Already here and a part of the Brave New World we have made for ourselves are…

Assassination by WiFi – as seen in Homeland, heart devices already have WiFi capability and are increasingly transmitting data to smartphones, registering potentially life-threatening irregularities. But this bring risks, and Vice President Cheney’s cardiologist has had this WiFi disabled – just in case…

Cows on Facebook – Ranchers are already using wireless sensors to monitor their stock from afar, bringing them news feeds such as when a cow is pregnant, and other farmers are using robotic milking that sends data about much milk their cows are producing…

Pot plants that water and light themselves – WiFi enabled sensors that provide information about nutrients and temperature can also automatically tun off and on watering and lighting accessories…

TV computing – WiFi capabilities are increasing the range of internet activities we can do through our televisions…

Pills that keep us monitored – WiFi enabled to transmit information to remind us to take our meds, and report us if we don’t to our doctors and relatives…

Rubbish that keeps us honest and clean – new tech systems using radio frequency identification that transmit data so there is no hiding what rubbish we’ve put where…

Machine control – in manufacturing a increasing amount of data is being provide across a broader and broader network to provide the intelligence to drive business excellence and controls…

Link to get this free download

photo credit: alles-schlumpf via photopin cc

photo credit: alles-schlumpf via photopin cc

Meaning 2013: A Business Rebellion

Meaning 2013 was the annual NixonMcInnes business conference that happened this year on 8th November in Brighton, with the aspiration to

‘help connect and inspire people who believe in better business…Be part of the change…’

Luke Dodd reviews this one-day conference in his Melcrum Internal Communications blog

Finding meaning in what your organization does is at the heart of smart Internal Communication.

Using that understanding and infusing it within your communication strategy encourages employee engagement, makes messages sticky and ensures alignment to business values.

And for those communicators wishing to make that connection, the search for meaning can go far beyond the office walls. It can lead us to reach out into the world and ask whether our individual efforts are helping society.

Meaning is powerful. And meaning can transform your organization.

Taking a high-level view of business was at the heart of the agenda for Meaning 2013 (#meaningconf), organized by Nixon McInnes and held at the Corn Exchange, Brighton, UK this past week. Over 200 delegates attended, ready to take a look at the world in a different way. Here are my highlights and thoughts from the day’s proceedings…

Link to read Luke Dodd’s memories and reflections of this event

10 Things We Learned From Meaning 2013 at Brighton

Some of the themes and the issues this gathering set out to explore were…

  • Organisational Design & Structure ~ is topdown command and control fit for the 21st century?
  • Workplace Democratisation ~ are businesses with collaborative decision-making practices getting the edge on old-school competitors?
  • 21st Century Leadership ~ what kind of leaders do the challenges of our time demand, and what is leadership today?
  • Steady State Economics ~ can we keep growing in conventional terms and if not, what are the alternatives?
  • Sustainability In Business ~ what are the opportunities for businesses to embrace sustainability?
  • Technology Disruption ~ what technology themes are imminent and likely to disrupt business as usual?
  • The Future Of Work ~ what do people want from work and what can they expect from progressive businesses?

In this post, Fiona Duffy of The Happy Startup School draws out her top themes from the Meaning 2013 NixonMcInnes event.

And, generously, NixonMcInnes have posted all of the the talks from the day in their YouTube channel, so you can pick and mix the ideas that interest you from this blended guide…

NixonMcInnes believe as we do, that business needs to re-design in the 21st century.  They created Meaning  to connect and inspire future business leaders who believe in the same thing, curating talks that inspire action.

Key take-aways and all of the talks from the day…

  • People want to be part of change (founder of the Swedish Pirate Party and Swarmwise author Rick Falkvinge)…   “We work for autonomy, mastery and purpose…Leaders need to provide a mission for people to rally around, where everybody can see there’s a place for them.  If someone can help towards reaching a goal or driving a single idea without having to be asked, magic happens, people start swarming towards that idea.  Ideas should be credible, executable and epic, so shoot for the moon.  On second thoughts, no – we’ve already been there.  Shoot for Mars…”

  • If you’re human, you’re a storyteller.  Get good at it (story activist, Mary Alice Arthur)…   “How do you make change?  By unleashing the Trojan mice…”  Stories make for driving positive change.  If you apply this to entrepreneurs, having a story in business gives clear purpose for people to rally around your cause.  Stories show a mrs human approach to business, essential for gathering a swarm of proactive people for driving change.  What question is your life calling for?  And what story are you living in and living into?“…

  • The best leaders lead through inquiry (co-founder of JustGiving Anne Marie Huby)…   “The stronger the culture, the less rules you need.”  At JustGiving leaders lead through questioning.  No single person can win points through status.  It takes collective intelligence to answer problems no one person can answer.  JustGiving’s core values and democratic approach to business empowers culture and team integrity…
  • Invent things that add value (Anne Marie Huby)…   Focus on inventing products that have real meaning – profits should be a by-product of doing better things.  Placing more focus on how we’re doing business not what we’re doing leads to better outcomes.  Test and learn constantly…

  • It’s possible not to fire a single soul in 57 years of business (Mikel Lezamiz, director of cooperative dissemination at MONDRAGON)…   “Workforce has the power, capital has the tool.”  Employee have their core values, cooperation, social responsibility, innovation and participation which owes a lot to a 0.01% staff turnover rate and 0 firing record.

  • Fun should be featured in the business model (James Watt, co-founder of BrewDog)…   BrewDog have adopted a disruptive business model where they set up an ‘equity for punks’ scheme allowing their fans shares in the company along with huge discounts across their beers – proving that having a little fun, disregarding corporate growth models and doing something you’re truly passionate about is the future of business…

  • Positive understanding of tech = positive change (Dr. Sue Black, one of the Guardian’s top ten women in tech)…   Since launching the #techmums campaign Sue Black has helped numerous mothers enrich their lives with the power of the internet  If you’re going to lead a business you’ve got to be moving towards Maslow’s ‘self-actualisation’…”

  • A dark age is looming (rogue economist, author and Harvard Business Review blogger Umair Haque)…   We need to build businesses with stronger values and less focus on financial growth.  When we look at meaning in our everyday lives, we shouldn’t be focusing on material wealth, we should be focusing on fulfilment.  The same is true for business.  We need meaning more than ever but “we’re entering a Dark Age for humanity when we’re reluctant to speak out against unfair systems.”

  • Don’t become the companies you set out to disrupt (social technologies expert Lee Bryant)…    Too many startups are mimicking the very organisations they’re battling against.  We need to recognise that top-down organisational norm isn’t working anymore.  It’s time to innovate and squash traditional structures, finding a way that incorporates your mission and values.

  • Identity is the new money (internationally recognised thought leader in digital identity and digital money, Dave Birch)…   “We have a new superpower because we can connect with anyone else on the planet in an instant… 

 

  • Finding meaning in what your organisation does is at the heart of smart communication...   Using the understanding [of meaning] and infusing it within your communication strategy encourages employee engagement, makes messages sticky and ensures alignment to business values.  Meaning is powerful.  And meaning can transform your organisation.” (Luke Dodd)

Link to read the original Happy Startup School article

photo credit: mugley via photopin cc

photo credit: mugley via photopin cc

How to Create a Workplace that Works for Women

Inge Woudstra, director of W2O Consulting & Training, writes in the Guardian

Management programmes often suggest ways to change the way women think, but perhaps we should be changing our workplaces instead.

Women are different, yet coaching, mentoring and leadership programmes often focus on fixing women; helping them to do well in an organisation designed for men. Is that really the solution?

Don’t adapt, instead create a workplace that works for women. Here’s how:

Create a female support network

Growing in your career requires self-confidence. A great way to do this is to join a women’s network: a place where you can find inspiration and recognition from sharing with like-minded people.

You may have to try a few networks before you have found one that feels right for you. If you can’t find one, why not create your own? Invite a few colleagues for a monthly dinner. Make sure that the people you invite are at a similar level to you and aren’t connected to your day-to-day workplace.

Author and bio-psychologist Martine Delfos explains that female support networks satisfy the basic human need of feeling safe and secure. Men have the same need to feel safe and secure, but they tend to find this kind of support and encouragement with their partner at home.

Remember to also build networks that do include men, as you will need those for the same purpose men use networks: for sales, self-promotion or increased power and influence.

Ask for the management support you need

Not everyone is motivated in the same way. Do you know what makes you stretch yourself? Reflect on questions such as: What inspires you to work harder? What gives you that little push to go for a challenging project, or promotion?

 …Most men tend to be motivated by challenges and competitions. Language that may work for men could include, “I bet you can’t beat our competitor” or, “This is a very challenging project.”

Women tend to be motivated by co-operation and a more encouraging style, with language that could include, “We really need your help to build our client base” or, “I saw you perform really well on the last project, I just know you can do this one.”

Find out what works for you and subtly let your manager know; they may well become your fiercest supporter.

Speak up: your view is important

It’s easy to sit back and let others take the lead. After all, putting yourself in the spotlight isn’t easy.

However, as Sheryl Sandberg argues in her book Lean In, your organisation needs you there. Teams with a better gender balance perform better simply because women’s brains tend to make different connections. You may, for instance, see the wider impact of a decision, or remember past experiences better and draw lessons from them.

 Voice what you need to feel valued

 You should feel happy and satisfied at work. Barbara Annis, author of Work with Me, did exit interviews with women, and her research shows that 40% cite “not feeling valued” as a key reason for leaving their organisation. Work-family reasons are mentioned by only 30%.

Men and women have a different way of feeling recognised and valued. Women tend to need to hear they are valued more often. In addition, women tend to look for appreciation for themselves as a person, whereas men tend to feel valued when their (public) achievements are valued.

It’s good to realise that you have a different approach, but may well get the same results. Knowing this may help you to feel more confident at work, which can make all the difference.

Link to read the original Guardian article

Better People Equals Better Business – Lessons from the All Blacks

James Kerr, author of Legacy: What the All Blacks can teach us about the business of life, writes for HRZone….

…Having feasted for 100 years on an extraordinary 75% winning record, results were slipping. The Men in Black had just come a miserable last in the Tri Nations, a championship they’d come to regard as their own.  Worse, morale had plummeted…

Something had to change.

The senior leadership gathered for a three-day summit under head coach, Graham Henry, in what he now calls the most important meeting of his career.

Out of it came a new resolve – to redesign the world’s most successful sporting culture – and a new phrase; Better People Make Better All Blacks. The strategy? Develop the character of the players off the pitch, so that they perform better on it.

Their plan revolved around the following pillars:

  • Devolved leadership, involving techniques not dissimilar from the military’s ‘mission command’ doctrine; to arm the players ‘with intention’ and to trust them to deliver.
  • Individual personal development; involving the creation of a ‘living document’ that charted individual progress day by day, week by week, season by season.
  • The creation of a learning environment modeled on Henry’s experience as a headmaster; a philosophy of continual improvement encapsulated in the phrase ‘Champions Do Extra’.
  • Train to win; training at intensity so Thursday’s training was even more brutal than the cauldron of a test match, leading to recalibration of expectations.
  • A focus on brain biology in which they identified the effect of stress on cognitive function and developed triggers and anchors to help the players cope.
  • The ritualisation of behaviour around their core narrative; epitomised by the team’s development of a new haka, Kapa o Pango.

This final element bound the rest together. “The success was being really good at that,’ says Wayne Smith, the All Blacks assistant coach. ‘Really good at making our team talks, our reviews, our game plans, all apply to the central story.”

Between 2004 and 2011, the All Blacks took their winning record from an extraordinary 75% (over 100 years, making them the most statistically successful sporting team in any code, ever), to an almost unbelievable 86%.

Clearly, the soft stuff – the story, the mind game – delivers the hard stuff, measurable competitive advantage. It also delivered a little gold cup.

In my bookLegacy: What the All Blacks can teach us about the business of life, I isolate the 15 key lessons in leadership I learned from my immersion into this inspiring environment. They are the proven principles that the All Blacks use to fuse themselves into a singularly effective high-performance organisation.

Here are a few of the All Blacks’ secrets of success:

Sweep the Sheds

…Surprisingly perhaps, a core All Blacks value is humility. They believe that stratospheric success can only be achieved by keeping their feet firmly on the ground.

Follow the Spearhead

…the All Blacks seek to replace the ‘me’ with the ‘we’. No one is bigger than the team, so much so that there is an unofficial policy, ‘No Dickheads’. They select on character over talent, believing that it delivers better long-term dividends. Something that many corporate environments might do well to consider.

Create a Haka

A key factor in the All Blacks rebirth was the development of the new haka, Kapa o Pango. By bringing the players and management together in an inclusive process that invoked the past while creating the future, the All Blacks reattached personal meaning to public purpose. Rituals reflect, remind and reinforce the belief system of the collective; it’s no surprise that the organisations and cultures that have survived and thrived over the centuries – from countries to churches, Wal-Mart to Leo Burnett, have significent rituals at their core to communicate their story and purpose.

Pass the Ball

To paraphrase Tom Peters, leaders create leaders, not followers. Central to the All Blacks method was the development of leadership groups and the nurturing of character off the field, to deliver results on it. This involved a literal and metaphorical handing over of responsibility from management to players, so that by game day the team consisted of ‘one captain and 15 leaders‘…

Leave a Legacy

There is a Maori concept, whakapapa, which captures the idea of our genealogy, our lineage from the beginning of time to the end of eternity. The sun shines on this, our time, just for a moment and it is our responsibility to ‘leave the jersey in a better place’. The All Blacks seek to ‘add to the legacy’ in everything they do, knowing that higher purpose leads to higher performance.

To regain their momentum, and to win back the World Cup, the All Blacks developed a values-led, purpose-driven high-performance culture and they used the power of storytelling to give it personal resonance. The result of this extraordinary environment was extraordinary results.

Those organisations that know what they stand for – and most importantly, why – consistently outperform those who are just going through the motions. They create better commercial results, generate more sales, deliver higher shareholder value, attract better talent, and retain it.

Clearly, many of the challenges HR leaders face are different to those of the All Blacks. Scale creates complexity, individual ambition can trump a collective spirit, organisational structure often undermines strategy. Nevertheless, if we seek to align all our people, resources and effort around a singular and compelling central narrative, and reinforce that story through communications, rewards, resourcing and training, the results will come.

Link to read the original unedited article

photo credit: Catching Magic via photopin cc

photo credit: Catching Magic via photopin cc

Gratitude Can Fuel School – and Work – Transformation

In this article Elena Aguilar outlines the benefits and application of practising gratitude in schools, but these ideas are so universally applicable I have adapted it only very slightly to show its relevance for all of us, whatever work we doing…

The Neuroscience Behind Appreciation

Here’s the thing: Our brains need to feel gratitude in order for us to want to be at work. Our brains are like Teflon for positive experiences and like Velcro with negative experiences. This means the negative comments, interactions, professional development (PD) workshops, and so on, cling to our brains. But if we spend a few minutes in appreciation, recalling those fulfilling moments in a day or encounters with supportive [people], or the segments in workshops when we felt we were learning, our brains create new links between neurons.

As we strengthen these links and build them day-after-day, our mind finds it easier to travel down those neuron paths and to experience the associated positive emotions. We can help our brain evolve in a positive way and in a way that might help us transform schools.

If we feel more positive, we will want to be at work. We will most likely be more patient with our [customers] and with colleagues. We may speak to each other with more kindness. We might listen to each other more deeply. We might take risks in our [work] or leadership. But we can’t do any of these when we’re perpetually distressed. Expressing gratitude can allow us to engage in our [work] and learning in a more positive, open way.

“Gratitude is like a flashlight. It lights up what is already there. You don’t necessarily have anything more or different, but suddenly you can actually see what it is. And because you can see, you no longer take it for granted.” – M.J. Ryan in Attitudes of Gratitude.

Ways of Practising Gratitude

Adapting and responding to what is most meaningful to each individual person increases the potency and impact of the appreciation we show.  Each one of us knows how we want to be appreciated. You might prefer quiet affirmation, or you might really like a public acknowledgment.  Perhaps you would really appreciate getting a written message, or maybe you would rather hear it in person. Or maybe a small gift of chocolate is what it would take to make you feel truly appreciated.

Closing meetings with public expressions of gratitude is a powerful and invaluable to create community, as are other practices. For example, a staff lounge can have an “Appreciation Tree” where all are invited to write an appreciation on a leaf and post it on the tree. In addition, there are many ways that we can individually practice this brain-enhancing behavior. Here are a few ideas:

  • Keep a gratitude journal. This exercise is a way of closing every day by recalling a few things we are grateful for from that day. By simply cataloguing them our minds start to search them out during the day
  • What do I appreciate about today and what was my role in making it happen? This is a more focused journal prompt to respond to each day that helps us recognize our agency in our blessings. Through this process, we discover how we can create more positive experiences for ourselves
  • Email a friend. You can also find a friend who wants to commit to emailing each other every day — or a few times a week — and sharing what you’re grateful for. Some of us feel more motivated by (and accountable) if we have an audience
  • Write a gratitude letter. Select one person you feel gratitude for (living or dead) and write a letter appreciating the ways that that he/she has enriched your life. If you can, read it face to face. This is a powerful exercise to engage in occasionally and could be tailored to an education context at times – write a letter to someone from your past, someone you have been touch with for too long, someone you see a lot but somehow never tell them what you appreciate about them…
  • Project 365. This is a fun photography project for those visually inclined. I did this for a year, taking one photo a day, and focused on capturing images that reflected something I was grateful for. After a while, I noticed that each day I’d consciously look for positive moments to capture. I felt like my mind was training itself, honing in on all that was good so that I could accomplish my daily task
  • Use guided imagery and meditation. By taking a few minutes at the start or end of each day to call to mind what we’re grateful for, we strengthen those neurons that make us feel happier. When I wake up, I often silently appreciate my body for all it does each day to keep my healthy. You can do this for whatever you’re grateful for.

Our ability to feel gratitude is a muscle of sorts – it’s a habit our minds can develop – we just need practice. Imagine if we were all practicing individually, for a few minutes in the morning and a few in the evening, and then if there were ways built into our work day to express gratitude to those around us; imagine how different we’d feel about being at work each day.

Link to read the original article about practising gratitude in schools

10 Ways To Create a Compassionate Workplace

 writes, on 13th November, World Kindness Day, about some new thinking that shows us how to make a better and more fictive workplace through practising more compassionate and kinder ways of working with each other…

1. Start small

According to business professor Adam Grant, the most successful ‘givers’ don’t try to be Gandhi or Mother Teresa. They do a lot of five-minute favours. “That might be sharing a little bit of knowledge, making an introduction when somebody is down on their luck or their opportunities, just listening, and offering advice or sympathy for a challenge that somebody is facing.”

2. Learn to focus

One Harvard University study found that we spend almost half our waking hours doing one thing but thinking about something else – and our distraction levels are highest at work. Amongst other things, this stops us from connecting with people around us.

Simple meditation and mindfulness exercises bring all kinds of benefits, including boosting our compassion levels (as this doctor’s waiting room study shows). More and more companies are offering meditation classes, and even CEOs and politicians are getting involved.

3. Try compassion training

In the last 10 years or so, research has confirmed that we can deliberately cultivate empathy and compassion. For example, studies using ‘economics games’ found that people acted more altruistically after compassion training and were more likely to redistribute money that was unfairly allocated. Teachers and healthcare professionals were less stressed, anxious or depressed, and compassion training seems to protect caregivers from burnout and compassion fatigue. A number of different organisations now run courses for professionals.

4. Be kind to yourself

Our biggest enemy at work – or anywhere else – is often ourself. Self-compassion (which is not the same as self-esteem) is important because the more we have, the more likely we are to be happy, optimistic and satisfied with life.

Self-compassion is linked with qualities that are very useful at work. It makes us more conscientious, resilient and motivated, and more willing to take responsibility for mistakes.Kristin Neff, a leading self-compassion researcher and teacher, believes it is hard to show compassion for others if we don’t have any for ourselves. “Your batteries are going to run dry,” she says.

5. Promote compassionate leaders

Organisations don’t set their values, structures and procedures, the people at the top do – so we should select, train and support leaders who are prepared to make changes and listen to employees. Leadership consultant Richard Barrett gives the example of a large South African bank that started conducting regular staff surveys. The result was a striking growth in staff engagement, profits and share price. “Caring about your employees is really good for business,” says Barrett.

6. Beware of ‘takers’

“The negative impact of takers on a culture is greater than the positive impact of givers,” says Adam Grant. Weeding out “the most selfish, horrible people” creates a balance of givers and ‘matchers’. As matchers tend to reciprocate the treatment they receive, they will emulate the givers around them, and this will shift the whole culture of the organisation.

7. It’s not always about money

We’re missing a trick if we think the only way to motivate employees is through financial incentives, with an injection of fear for good measure. Many organisations overlook the value of appreciation, support and affiliation, both as a performance motivator and as a calming factor in stressful work environments. One practical way to address this is to find ways to recognize and reward employees who go out of their way to help others.

8. Make compassionate decisions

We can never know exactly what the consequences of a decision will be. But before we act, we can run a few simple checks. What is our motivation? What are the implications for others? How would we feel if we were on the receiving end?

9. Ignore the compassion myths

We might worry that acting in a compassionate way will see us branded as a soft touch who can’t get the job done (even though research suggests the opposite is true). Adam Grant says: “The easiest way to remove that barrier is to identify other givers in your organisation and build a community of people who share your values and are willing to see concern for others and compassion as a sign of strength as opposed to a source of weakness.”

10. Lead by example

As the psychologist and author Daniel Goleman points out, our emotions and behaviour are contagious. “A leader is anyone who has a sphere of influence, and we all do in our lives somewhere… We are all in a situation, in any interaction, to be compassionate.”

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Amsterdamized via photopin cc

photo credit: Amsterdamized via photopin cc

Women are more engaged at work, so are they happier?

Jonathan Richards, chief executive of breatheHR writes…

Structured development improves morale and ultimately productivity, yet new research shows that many companies overlook the importance of supporting employees

…Continual staff mentoring and development is at the heart of every successful team and business. Yet despite demonstrable benefits, the Personal Development in the Workplace study we recently commissioned revealed that personal development was being seriously neglected by business owners across the UK.

The study surveyed employees in small-and medium-sized businesses in the UK. It revealed that almost half (47.6%) of staff feel that their boss doesn’t take their personal development seriously, while a quarter (27.9%) said they have never discussed personal development or training with their boss.

Perhaps most alarming is that more than 66% claimed to have no kind of personal development plan in place, effectively working day to day without any goals or training focus. While the figures showed only marginal differences of up to 7%, it emerged that women actually feel more engaged in the workplace, discuss their personal development more frequently with their employer and are more likely to have a personal development plan in place than their male counterparts.

These differences between men and women in the workplace may have roots in the classroom. It has been statistically proven that girls perform better than boys while at school, right through to GCSEs. This suggests that on a simple level, girls may well be more conscientious than boys, a trait which would mean they would also take a greater interest in their development at work.

There has also been a noticeable shift away from traditional gender roles in the past 15 years. Women, who are anecdotally and scientifically proven to be better at multitasking, are using this to their advantage and enjoying the benefits of a career and parenthood. Research by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman called Study in Leadership: Women Do it Better Than Men asked 7,280 professionals which skills they believed leaders of both genders possessed. While you might expect traits such as relationship building and teamwork to come high on the list (which they did), the top three were: takes initiative; practises self-development; displays high integrity and honesty.

The study concluded that women excel at 15 of 16 individual leadership characteristics, as judged by their peers, subordinates and managers, with the variation between women and men increasing as individuals gain seniority. Traits such as taking the initiative and practising self-development go some way to explaining why women are more engaged in the workplace and are therefore more likely to have a stronger focus on their personal development.

So why are so many small to medium-sized businesses neglecting their staff development obligations? This could be down to the impact of the recession, with business owners more concerned with paying wages and keeping the business on an even keel, rather than diverting already limited funds to training and developing staff.

Happy employees tend to be high-performing ones, so an important starting point for business owners should be to think about how they can improve the individual lives of each of their staff. This doesn’t mean taking them on a company break or sending them away on training courses; it can be as simple as just providing support and encouragement and taking the time to understand what it is they want to get out of their job.

There is no silver bullet to improve company morale or productivity, but by making a small improvement to each employee’s work life you will dramatically improve business performance.

Link to read the original Guardian article

photo credit: ^riza^ via photopin cc

photo credit: ^riza^ via photopin cc

Pret a Manger Wants Happy Employees – And That’s OK

 reports on the growing trend for organisations to train their staff to ‘treat customers as if they are guests in your home’…

The front page of the New York Times recently carried an in-depth report on a “broad and transformative trend” in Russia. It had nothing to do with more democracy or less corruption. It had to do with better customer service — specifically, an intense focus inside Aeroflot, the infamous Russian airline, to teach flight attendants how to smile.

“Anna, you just showed her the champagne bottle but didn’t say anything,” one instructor coaxed a young employee. “This is the silent service of Soviet times. You need to talk to her. And you need to smile and smile and smile.”

I found two things about the report especially noteworthy. First, these basic reminders are having a revolutionary impact at Aeroflot. According to the Times, customer surveys indicate that the airline now has the best service of any carrier in Eastern Europe, including the best the West has to offer.

Second, Aeroflot’s program comes at a time when the business culture in the United States seems to be questioning the importance, the value, even the authenticity of human-to-human connections. In an era of cutthroat competition, deep-seated cynicism, and the digital disruption of everything, does it make sense to make big bets on the power of small acts of kindness?

… the success of Pret a Manger, the fast-growing (323 stores around the world), fast-casual sandwich shop, [depends upon] its unapologetic commitment to developing a workforce that is bright, cheerful, and happy to keep smiling.

One distinctive part of the Pret offering is its wide variety of fresh (yet pre-made) sandwiches. This model allows the company to get customers in and out of the store in as little as 60 seconds — a true value for harried office workers, its target customers. But Pret wants that brief time to be filled with smiles, positive energy, and a genuine human connection, especially for repeat customers. CEO Clive Schlee calls it the Pret Buzz, and the company has identified a set of Pret Behaviors to create the Buzz and an in-depth training program to instill those behaviors.

“The staff manual tells staff to ‘use personal phrases that you are comfortable with and treat customers as if they are guests in your own home,’” a report in London’s Telegraph newspaper explains. “This is nothing so glib as a ‘Have a nice day’ culture; this is a philosophy that runs much deeper.”

It’s also a philosophy that has attracted loud critics on both sides of the Atlantic. The first attack came from the London Review of Books, which objected to the idea that Pret employees should be expected to do more than just provide competent service at a reasonable price. “Work increasingly isn’t, or isn’t only, a matter of producing things, but of supplying your energies, physical and emotional, in the service of others,” the essay complained. “It isn’t what you make, but how your display of feelings makes other feel.”

Then came an assault by Timothy Noah of The New Republic, who offered a withering critique of the “emotional labor” and “enforced happiness” that is at the heart of the Pret model. The essay began with a lament (tongue-in-cheek, I hope) about how Noah had come to believe that a young woman behind the counter at his local Pret was in love with him. “How else to explain her visible glow whenever I strolled into the shop for a sandwich or a latte?” he asked. “Then I realized she lit up for the next person in line, and the next. Radiance was her job.”

Noah then generalizes from his personal disappointment. “Why must the person who sells me a cheddar and tomato sandwich have ‘presence’ and ‘create a sense of fun’?” he wonders. “Why can’t he or she be doing it ‘just for the money’? I don’t expect the swiping of my credit card to be anybody’s vocation. This is, after all, the economy’s bottom-most rung.”

That’s a serious question, to which I’d offer three serious answers.

First, I find it odd, and more than a bit condescending, to think that entry-level customer-service jobs should be performed with a grim sense of duty and barebones competence. It’s better for customers — and, I’d argue, for employees as well — to be part of an experience that is built around good cheer and personal expression rather than gritted teeth and furrowed brows. That’s why flying on Southwest Airlines still seems like such a one-of-a-kind experience (for flight attendants and passenger alike), and why Aeroflot is flying high these days.

To be sure, and this is my second answer, the Pret experience is not for everybody. That’s why Pret evaluates job applicants based on how well their personal attributes map to the company’s core behaviors, and assigns them trial runs at a shop, after which current employees vote on whether to extend newcomers a full-time offer. Every truly distinctive workplace I’ve encountered makes it clear to all concerned: If you don’t fit, it’s going to be hard for you to commit.

Finally, the lessons being learned by Aeroflot, and the model being perfected by Pret a Manger, speak to a deeper shift going on in the economy and society. At a time of vast and troubling uncertainty, in a world that is being reshaped by technology, small acts of connection take on outsized importance. It’s strange to think that a winning smile from a cashier or a flight attendant, or a nod of recognition from an employee who has seen you three times that week, might matter to the person receiving it — or to the person doing it. But I believe it does matter, both in terms of creating better human experiences and building more valuable organizations.

I’m convinced that “emotional labor” will become a more important part of the job at companies that win big in the future — and that’s a development that makes me smile.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: marsmet511 via photopin cc

photo credit: marsmet511 via photopin cc

Cities, Cars, Cycling – and Human Happiness

By Susan Perry

photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

The British newspaper The Guardian ran an edited excerpt last week from Charles Montgomery’s most recent book, “Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design.”

In the excerpt, Montgomery, who has written extensively about the link between urban planning and human wellbeing, asks the question “Is urban design really powerful enough to make or break happiness?”

His answer is (not surprisingly) a resounding “yes.”

“If one was to judge by sheer wealth,” he writes, “the last half-century should have been an ecstatically happy time for people in the US and other rich nations such as Canada, Japan and Great Britain. And yet the boom decades of the late 20th century were not accompanied by a boom in wellbeing. The British got richer by more than 40% between 1993 and 2012, but the rate of psychiatric disorders and neuroses grew.”

Social deficit and the shape of cities

Writes Montgomery:

There is a clear connection between social deficit and the shape of cities. A Swedish study found that people who endure more than a 45-minute commute were 40% more likely to divorce. People who live in monofunctional, car‑dependent neighbourhoods outside urban centres are much less trusting of other people than people who live in walkable neighbourhoods where housing is mixed with shops, services and places to work.

A couple of University of Zurich economists, Bruno Frey and Alois Stutzer, compared German commuters’ estimation of the time it took them to get to work with their answers to the standard wellbeing question, “How satisfied are you with your life, all things considered?”

Their finding was seemingly straightforward: the longer the drive, the less happy people were. Before you dismiss this as numbingly obvious, keep in mind that they were testing not for drive satisfaction, but for life satisfaction. People were choosing commutes that made their entire lives worse. Stutzer and Frey found that a person with a one-hour commute has to earn 40% more money to be as satisfied with life as someone who walks to the office. On the other hand, for a single person, exchanging a long commute for a short walk to work has the same effect on happiness as finding a new love.

Daniel Gilbert, Harvard psychologist and author of Stumbling On Happiness, explained the commuting paradox this way: “Most good and bad things become less good and bad over time as we adapt to them. However, it is much easier to adapt to things that stay constant than to things that change. So we adapt quickly to the joy of a larger house, because the house is exactly the same size every time. But we find it difficult to adapt to commuting by car, because every day is a slightly new form of misery.”

The sad part is that the more we flock to high-status cities for the good life — money, opportunity, novelty — the more crowded, expensive, polluted and congested those places become. The result? Surveys show that Londoners are among the least happy people in the UK, despite the city being the richest region in the UK.

photo credit: gynti_46 via photopin cc

photo credit: gynti_46 via photopin cc

Stress worse than that of a fighter pilot

But when cities enable us to get out of our cars and commute by slower means, such as biking or walking, our sense of wellbeing improves. Writes Montgomery:

Driving in traffic is harrowing for both brain and body. The blood of people who drive in cities is a stew of stress hormones. The worse the traffic, the more your system is flooded with adrenaline and cortisol, the fight-or-flight juices that, in the short-term, get your heart pumping faster, dilate your air passages and help sharpen your alertness, but in the long-term can make you ill. Researchers for Hewlett-Packard convinced volunteers in England to wear electrode caps during their commutes and found that whether they were driving or taking the train, peak-hour travellers suffered worse stress than fighter pilots or riot police facing mobs of angry protesters.

But one group of commuters report enjoying themselves. These are people who travel under their own steam. … They walk. They run. They ride bicycles.

Why would travelling more slowly and using more effort offer more satisfaction than driving? Part of the answer exists in basic human physiology. We were born to move. Immobility is to the human body what rust is to the classic car. Stop moving long enough, and your muscles will atrophy. Bones will weaken. Blood will clot. You will find it harder to concentrate and solve problems. Immobility is not merely a state closer to death: it hastens it.

photo credit: Amsterdamized via photopin cc

photo credit: Amsterdamized via photopin cc

A sense of connection

As Montgomery reports, one study, in which student volunteers were provided with pedometers for 20 days, found that the more people walked each day, the greater their energy, sense of self-esteem and level of happiness.

“The same is true of cycling,” says Montgomery, “ although a bicycle has the added benefit of giving even a lazy rider the ability to travel three or four times faster than someone walking, while using less than a quarter of the energy.  … [C]yclists report feeling connected to the world around them in a way that is simply not possible in the sealed environment of a car, bus or train. Their journeys are both sensual and kinesthetic.”

Time to switch to a ‘new mobility’

A growing number of people — urban planners, environmentalists, health experts and others — are, in Montgomery’s words, calling on “cities and corporations to abandon old mobility, a system rigidly organised entirely around one way of moving, and embrace new mobility, a future in which we would all be free to move in the greatest variety of ways.”

“We all know old mobility,” one expert tells the Canadian reporter. “It’s you sitting in your car, stuck in traffic. It’s you driving around for hours, searching for a parking spot. Old mobility is also the 55-year-old woman with a bad leg, waiting in the rain for a bus that she can’t be certain will come. New mobility, on the other hand, is freedom distilled.”

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Amsterdamized via photopin cc

photo credit: Amsterdamized via photopin cc

Henry Evans and Chad Jenkins: Meet the Robots of Humanity

Where out technology meets our humanity there is no doubting the bravery and betterment of the world we are making.

Paralyzed by a stroke, Henry Evans uses a telepresence robot to take the stage — and show how new robotics, tweaked and personalized by a group called Robots for Humanity, help him live his life. He shows off a nimble little quadrotor drone, created by a team led by Chad Jenkins, that gives him the ability to navigate space — to once again look around a garden, stroll a campus …

photo credit: Masahiko Futami via photopin cc

photo credit: Masahiko Futami via photopin cc

Threshold of the New (Steve McCurry’s Blog)

Steve McCurry’s new photo collection profiles people in their oldest years from around the globe – all emanating a strong presence that glows out of these images, as if to say to us: “we have made good enough – what will you do?”

Enjoy and draw breath from these exquisitely crafted and curated images…

Youth is the gift of nature, but age is a work of art.
– Garson Kanin

photo credit: ~FreeBirD®~ via photopin cc

photo credit: ~FreeBirD®~ via photopin cc

None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.
– Henry David Thoreau

Link to see Steve McCurry’s Threshold of the New photo collection

photo credit: Pensiero via photopin cc

photo credit: Pensiero via photopin cc

75 Years In The Making: Harvard Just Released Its Epic Study On What Men Need To Live A Happy Life

BY 

In 1938 Harvard University began following 268 male undergraduate students and kicked off the longest-running longitudinal studies of human development in history.  The study’s goal was to determine as best as possible what factors contribute most strongly to human flourishing.  The astonishing range of psychological, anthropological, and physical traits — ranging from personality type to IQ to drinking habits to family relationships to “hanging length of his scrotum” — indicates just how exhaustive and quantifiable the research data has become.  Recently, George Vaillant, who directed the study for more than three decades, published the study’s findings in the 2012 book Triumphs of Experience (Amazon) and the following is the book’s synopsis:

“At a time when many people around the world are living into their tenth decade, the longest longitudinal study of human development ever undertaken offers some welcome news for the new old age: our lives continue to evolve in our later years, and often become more fulfilling than before.  Begun in 1938, the Grant Study of Adult Development charted the physical and emotional health of over 200 men, starting with their undergraduate days.  The now-classic ‘Adaptation to Life’ reported on the men’s lives up to age 55 and helped us understand adult maturation.  Now George Vaillant follows the men into their nineties, documenting for the first time what it is like to flourish far beyond conventional retirement.  Reporting on all aspects of male life, including relationships, politics and religion, coping strategies, and alcohol use (its abuse being by far the greatest disruptor of health and happiness for the study’s subjects),

‘Triumphs of Experience’ shares a number of surprising findings.  For example, the people who do well in old age did not necessarily do so well in midlife, and vice versa.  While the study confirms that recovery from a lousy childhood is possible, memories of a happy childhood are a lifelong source of strength.  Marriages bring much more contentment after age 70, and physical aging after 80 is determined less by heredity than by habits formed prior to age 50.  The credit for growing old with grace and vitality, it seems, goes more to ourselves than to our stellar genetic makeup.”

In Triumphs of Experience, Vaillant raises a number of factors more often than others, but the one he refers to most often is the powerful correlation between the warmth of your relationships and your health and happiness in your later years.  In 2009, Vaillant’s insistance on the importance of this part of the data was challenged, so Vaillant returned to the data to be sure the finding merited such important focus.  Not only did Vaillant discover that his focus on warm relationships was warranted, he placed even more importance on this factor than he had previously.  Vallant notes that the 58 men who scored highest on the measurements of “warm relationships” (WR) earned an average of $141,000 a year more during their peak salaries (between ages 55-60) than the 31 men who scored the lowest in WR.  The high WR scorers were also 3-times more likely to have professional success worthy of inclusion in Who’s Who.

One of the most intriguing discoveries of the Grant Study was how significant men’s relationships with their mothers are in determining their well-being in life.  For instance, Business Insider writes“Men who had ‘warm’ childhood relationships with their mothers took home $87,000 more per year than men whose mothers were uncaring.  Men who had poor childhood relationships with their mothers were much more likely to develop dementia when old.  Late in their professional lives, the men’s boyhood relationships with their mothers — but not their fathers — were associated with effectiveness at work.  On the other hand, warm childhood relations with fathers correlated with lower rates of adult anxiety, greater enjoyment on vacations, and increased ‘life satisfaction’ at age 75 — whereas the warmth of childhood relationships with mothers had no significant bearing on life satisfaction at 75.”  

In Vallant’s own words, the #1 most important finding from the Grant Study is this:

“The seventy-five years and twenty million dollars expended on the Grant Study points to a straightforward five-word conclusion: Happiness is love.  Full stop.” 

Link to read the original article

On Considering The (English) Hedge

This is a very special delicately potent video poem by artist Shelia Ghelani

“O long line of green… O Hedge O Hedge…’

In August Sheila spent two weeks in Cambridge with straybird working on Ramble 1 of Rambles with Nature hosted by Cambridge Junction. Together they made a series of four short ‘cinepoems’ for small screens, such as smartphones, which will also be presented as an installation. On Considering The (English) Hedge is the first of the series to be released for viewing.

Click here to find out more about Rambles with Nature and visit Sheila’s blog to keep up to date with the project as it unfolds.

Happiness At Work Edition #73

All of these stories – and many more – are collected in this week’s Happiness At Work Edition #73.  As always, we really do hope you find things here to enjoy, use and grow from.

photo credit: The Rocketeer via photopin cc

photo credit: The Rocketeer via photopin cc