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

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3194 photo: Mark Trezona

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3194
photo: Mark Trezona

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Practitioner’s Guide to Action Learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Clean Space Process

Space:

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

2. A stretch of time

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

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

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

In your Clean Space time…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Use “Why…?” questions sparingly.

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

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

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

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

Helpful Capabilities for Action Learning

o   Being fully present

o   Alert, neutral, open, heightened listening

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

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

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

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

o   Being open to surprise

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3191 photo: Mark Trezona

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3191
photo: Mark Trezona

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

We shift our perspective; we shift our balance…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Action Learning and Collaboration

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

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

1 ~ In-Betweenness

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

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

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

2 ~ Listening In-ness

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

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

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

3 ~ Slowness

The listening we do in Action Learning recognises that…

…you can’t flick through sound;

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

…you can’t glance at sound;

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

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

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

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

4 ~ Togetherness

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

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

5 ~ Connectedness

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

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

Action Learning creates and sustains our propulsion from…

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

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

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

Action Learning and Making Great Audience Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

What if…?

What next…?

What now…?

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3193 photo: Mark Trezona

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3193
photo: Mark Trezona

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

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

Happiness At Work edition #90

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

Enjoy…

 

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

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

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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

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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 #63 ~ the fine art of living happily in 2013

photo credit: @Doug88888 via photopin cc

photo credit: @Doug88888 via photopin cc

In the week that the new World Happiness Report 2013 is published, we are highlighting stories from our latest Happiness At Work Edition #63 that clue us in to some of the art and artfulness that can help us to live and work more happily in our 2013 settings.

WORLD HAPPINESS REPORT 2013

REPORT CALLS ON POLICY MAKERS TO MAKE HAPPINESS A KEY MEASURE AND TARGET OF DEVELOPMENT

Report ranks the happiest countries, with Northern Europe in the lead

…“There is now a rising worldwide demand that policy be more closely aligned with what really matters to people as they themselves characterize their well-being,” said Professor Jeffery Sachs. “More and more world leaders are talking about the importance of well-being as a guide for their nations and the world. The World Happiness Report 2013 offers rich evidence that the systematic measurement and analysis of happiness can teach us a lot about ways to improve the world’s well-being and sustainable development.”

The Report shows significant changes in happiness in countries over time, with some countries rising and others falling over the past five years. There is some evidence of global convergence of happiness levels, with happiness gains more common in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, and losses more common among the industrial countries. For the 130 countries with data available, happiness (as measured by people’s own evaluations of their lives) significantly improved in 60 countries and worsened in 41 (Figure 2.5).

For policy makers, the key issue is what affects happiness. Some studies show mental health to be the single most important determinant of whether a person is happy or not. Yet, even in rich countries, less than a third of mentally ill people are in treatment. Good, cost-effective treatments exist for depression, anxiety disorders and psychosis, and the happiness of the world would be greatly increased if they were more widely available.

The Report also shows the major beneficial side-effects of happiness. Happy people live longer, are more productive, earn more, and are also better citizens. Well-being should be developed both for its own sake and for its side-effects.

Governments are increasingly measuring well-being with the goal of making well-being an objective of policy. One chapter of the Report, written by Lord Gus O’Donnell, former UK Cabinet Secretary and Head of the Civil Service, shows just how this can be done. It shows how different are the policy conclusions when health, transport and education are viewed in this light…

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photo credit: greekadman via photopin cc

Improving Wellbeing Should Be Our Global Priority

Action For Happiness directorDr Mark Williamson makes a compelling case for concentrating more of our energies, resources and resourcefulness on increasing wellbeing across our planet:

People’s daily experiences and concerns differ enormously around the world. While a farmer in Angola prays for a good harvest, a manager in Greece worries about losing her job. And while a mother in Egypt comes to terms with life in a conflict zone, a doctor in Denmark struggles with work-related stress.

But there is one thing that unites people’s experiences in every country: they all involve human beings who want their experience of life to be good rather than bad. We share a universal desire for wellbeing. This is more than just a survival instinct; we want to be happy and have the best possible lives for ourselves and those we love.

Whether we’re aiming to alleviate poverty in Africa, end conflict in Syria or reduce stress in US workplaces, the fundamental reason we care about these things is that they are bad for human wellbeing. They cause suffering and pain. Similarly, if we’re aiming to boost economic activity, reform our education system or cut public sector spending, we should only do so if we believe this will ultimately be good for people’s wellbeing. Wellbeing provides a common lens through which we can look at the many challenges and opportunities in our world and decide on our collective priorities.

This is the central idea behind a groundbreaking report published today – the World Happiness Report. Launched in the midst of a major debate about what the world’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) should be for 2015-2030, the report argues that people’s ‘subjective wellbeing’ – their self-reported sense of happiness with life – should be a central measure of progress for every nation. It is a substantial piece of work edited by, among others, the influential development economist Jeff Sachs.

Recent years have seen a huge growth in wellbeing research and we now have valuable data from all around the world about people’s levels of life satisfaction. Not only can wellbeing be measured in a reliable and meaningful way, the findings have great relevance for public policy and global priorities. What was once seen as a sideshow is now a mainstream movement, with support from influential figures such as UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon and former head of the UK civil service, Lord Gus O’Donnell.

To illustrate how relevant the wellbeing data is for global issues, let’s return to those four examples in my introduction, as they all relate to countries with interesting findings. Firstly, the farmer in Angola. Although Sub-Saharan Africa is the region with the lowest wellbeing (it is home to 9 of the bottom 10 countries, the other being Syria), there are a few green shoots. Over the last five years, Angola has actually seen the largest improvement in wellbeing globally, as it continues to regain stability after its terrible 27 year civil war.

However, for the manager in Greece and mother in Egypt, the trends are less encouraging. Unsurprisingly, these are the two countries that have seen the largest falls in wellbeing over the last five years. Of all the countries affected by the Eurozone crisis, Greece has been the hardest hit. Its drop in wellbeing is greater than would be predicted simply from falls in income, reflecting wider problems from loss of trust and social cohesion. And in Egypt, the significantly lower wellbeing surely reflects the Egyptian people’s suffering under the Mubarak regime and the ongoing struggles since the 2011 uprising.

Finally, what about the Danish doctor? Well, she’s at least fortunate to live in Denmark, the country which once again tops the world wellbeing league, closely followed by Norway. With Sweden also in the top 5, we might well ask how these Northern European nations always seem to deliver world-beating levels of wellbeing. Yes they have fairly high GDP per capita, but they’re far from the top of that league. More tellingly, they have some of the highest levels of interpersonal trust and lowest levels of inequality.

The World Happiness Report also provides another extremely compelling reason to prioritise wellbeing, and the research here is really quite startling. It shows that happier people tend to be healthier, recover from illness more quickly and live longer. At work, they perform better, exhibit more creativity, are absent less often and are better at cooperation and collaboration. And in wider society, they have better relationships, exhibit more pro-social behaviour, have greater self-control, engage in less risk-taking behaviour and are more likely to have a positive impact on others. So happier people are not lazy, naïve, inward-looking or selfish, as some sceptics suggest; they are actually more economically productive, healthy, socially-minded and generous.

So what practical changes might we make if we adopted wellbeing as a global priority? Of all the suggestions in the report, the most notable is the call for a fundamental shift in our approach to mental health. Worldwide, depression and anxiety disorders account for up to a fifth of the entire burden of illness…Making treatment for mental illness more widely available may well be the single most reliable and cost effective way to improve national wellbeing.

What then should be the world’s development goals for the coming years? Making wellbeing our global priority would surely underpin, rather than undermine, existing sustainable development aims. It would also provide a consistent means to track how successful countries are in delivering improvements in people’s quality of life. The reason that existing goals like universal education, gender equality, maternal health and sustainability matter so much is because they are all fundamental to human wellbeing.

Wellbeing isn’t some luxury for the privileged few, it’s the thing all of us want most for ourselves and the people we care about – whether in a field in Angola or an office in London. It should be at the heart of every discussion of local, national or global priorities.

Link to the original article 

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photo credit: alles-schlumpf via photopin cc

Happiness: The Next Key Performance Indicator

Happy people live longer, are more productive, earn more and are better citizens, according to the second “World Happiness Report.”

by 

Most industrialized nations track their gross domestic product, exports and unemployment rates, among other key economic and social metrics that help quantify their standing in the world.

A new report calls on policymakers to include happiness in the mix.

Authored by leading experts in economics, psychology, survey analysis and national statistics, the second “World Happiness Report” describes how measurements of wellbeing can be used to assess the progress of nations.

Published by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network, the report “further strengthens the case that wellbeing is a critical component of economic and social development,” according to the report’s editors…

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photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

Bonnie Greer 2013 Opening Lecture (Audio)

https://soundcloud.com/lahf/to-save-our-lives

Theatre maker and cultural commentator Bonnie Greer deliverers the second annual lecture to open the 2013 Creativity and Wellbeing Week on the evening of 17 June 2013 in a collaboration with Community Learning at Tate Modern.

In this talk, Bonnie uses a story about how art saved her own life to make  the case for the necessity of artists, arts and culture for  wellbeing in our contemporary lives.

Here are the definitions for wellbeing that Bonnie offers (from 9’10”):

…a positive outcome that is meaningful for people, and for many sectors of society as well.  People have to see and feel that their lives are going well.

Wellbeing is also what people think, and what they feel, bout their lives, such as the quality of their relationships, their positive emotions, their resilience, and the possibility of the realisation of their human potential, along with their overall satisfaction with life.

Another definition of wellbeing is a valid population measure that is beyond morbidity, mortality and economic status that tells us how people perceive their life is going from their own perspective.

And wellbeing is also associated with other realities like self-perceived health, longevity, healthy behaviours, mental and physical illness, social connectedness, productivity, factors in the social and physical environment…

Positive emotion, I’ve learned, is not just the opposite of negative emotion.  Positive emotion is a measurable dimension – we can actually see its effects.  It’s a dimension in which your job, your family, your health and your economic environment are as you want them to be.  Also as you imagine them to be.  Also as you think you deserve them to be based on your qualifications, your hard work, your mental and emotional capacity.  Positive emotion is a dimension in which you feel that you are understood and you are appreciated and you can function, you can make a contribution.

So wellbeing has to encompass positive emotions.  And these have been measured and shown in various health studies to decrease the risk of illness, of injury, and recovery is faster.  Studies have also been shown that the human immune system functions better with positive emotions.

So positive emotions keep us healthy and they keep us happy.

These ideas are developed and enriched during a vital, dynamic and defiantly optimistic Q&A session with the audience, which includes Damian Hebron from London Arts Health Forum (LAHF) (from 42’58”):

Bonnie Greer: I know a one-year-old who is showing me how to do an iPad.  And of course that means we’re in a revolution.  We haven’t got the tools yet to gauge how that human being is perceiving the world.  There will also be a place for live performance, live engagement, because we need the one-on-one, the body needs the one-on-one.  And we’re going to have to be more fierce about that.  I think what’s going to happen, in the next 10 years or so, as generations do, they’re going to be in technology but they’re going to turn around and look for the lie…  We’re losing empathy as human beings.  We’re losing the ability to look one another in the eye, to talk to one another, to listen to one another, to engage with one another.  And it’s affecting our health.  It’s affecting our mental health and it’s affecting our physical health.  So one of the things that culture can do is stand in the juncture of this revolution and create forms and new engagements and new links by which these two – the live and the technological can come together … We need to see technology as a way to enable empathy to be created.  That’s our first thing.

(from 50’56”)

We may be forced to define human capability, to measure human capability.  That may be one of the things those of us in culture.  And in a very tangible way I don’t how you begin to do that.  We’re going to need to make that case.  But in a strange way I am optimistic.  Because there is so much independence now … there’s a lot of independence-mindeness where people are breaking out and doing what they need to do, doing what they want to do in order to create these forms.  What we have to do is to make language to speak to those people who we have to justify what we do…

(from 53’15” in response to a question about what leadership skills we now need to engage people with power and resources: what is it that we need to do in terms of individual leadership, leadership as a group, leadership as a nation, to reach the people we need?

Damian Hebron:  One thing is what Bonnie was talking about: to speak the language that people are used to hearing. The other thing is what is unique about the arts and that is stories.  The things that really reach people is the storytelling.  One thing that artists can do well is to tell stories.  And that is something that will always be powerful and that people will always crave.  It can be easy to forget what we do so well which is to tell spell-binding stories in interesting and magical ways that actually speak to the whole human experience… to tell the stories of all human beings…  all of the side range of voices in contemporary society that you don’t always get to hear from other quarters.

Bonnie Greer:  One of the things that I love about the UK and that is really exciting about the UK is that you guys are rebels… It may not look like it or feel like it sometimes, but people want to make their own work in their own words, do their own work in their own way…  People make culture very easily here, and are open to it, and know how to do it, and naturally feel the links between culture and wellbeing…  We need to learn to shape stories to make a picture of how a community is functioning as a political entity, and also as a health entity… We mustn’t be put off by people who want to put us in the back of a bus, or call us all kinds of names, or say we don’t rate.  Culture, and we know this, is what saves people’s lives and it holds a community together.  And we must keep finding the language for saying this over and over and over and over and over.

(from 58’55”)

We have to make a case for cultural GDP.  We have to make a case for culture in our work and in our lives .  We have to say to policy makers: “If we weren’t here what would it look like?  What would community look like?  …

(from 1:07:05)

Maybe we need to go back to what the Ancient Greeks thought about culture and art.  It wasn’t just about decoration.  It wasn’t just a way to pass time.  It was a way in which human beings were able to understand the environment in which they were in, and to understand each other.  But not only that, it kept them well.  And one the things that we can do as cultural practitioners, is maybe we’re the people who have to use the word ‘wellbeing’.  Maybe we’re the people who have to define wellbeing and not be afraid to do it, not be ashamed to do it, not be embarrassed to do it.

Because, in the end, wellbeing is what we’re all striving for.  Wellbeing is what is going to cut those bills down.  Wellbeing is what is going to allow us all to go forward.  And culture becomes a way in which people can make and keep themselves well…  

Being well is about being able to see the possibilities for yourself as a human being…

photo credit: paul bica via photopin cc

photo credit: paul bica via photopin cc

Work Isn’t Life – Reprise

This is a superb article in which Louise Altman, Partner, Intentional Communication Consultants asks some really great questions about happiness at work in our contemporary lives:

The historian and author, Studs Terkel, famously wrote, “Most of us have jobs that are too small for  our spirits.” 

 A few of you might be reacting to the title of this article thinking, Hey, my work is my life,” or My job is the most fulfilling thing in my life.

But that’s not what this article is about. Because life isn’t work. Yes, it can be a Big part of life, but it isn’t life.  In fact, in the recent popular news of a palliative nurses’ summary of the regrets of those who are dying, the only mention of work was, “I wish I had not worked so hard,” especially from men.

While it is thought that Freud said  Work and love are the cornerstones of our humanness, it is true that work is the primary activity in most people’s lives.   Work and love (however we define it) still are the primary forces that drive most of our actions.

For many, the role of work has changed dramatically in modern life.  The way we work is being redefined. The meaning of work is in the process of global redefinition. Yet, in many ways work’s deeper meanings still form the underlying basis for how work motivates us.

David Whyte, the inspiring author of “The Three Marriages: Reimagining Work, Self and Relationship, writes, All of us living at this time are descended from a long line of survivors who lived through the difficulties of history and prehistory: most of whom had to do a great deal of work to keep the wolf, the cold and the neighboring tribe from the door. Work was necessity: work meant food, shelter, survival and a sense of power over circumstances. Work was, and still is, endless.”

While the need for “food, shelter and survival” remains, the meaning of how we define work – and the context of work as part of life is changing.  And an important part of that equation is our constantly evolving sense of our “power over circumstances.” How that power is defined and who determines it is a critical aspect of the meaning of work – and life.

70 hour standard work weeks have, sadly, become the norm for many [us].  Even though there have been some gains in corporate policies (over half of companies surveyed say they offer some form of flex-time) research shows that employee experience doesn’t match corporate reports.  In many cases, employers send their workers double-messages about expectations about the hours and ways they work.

We don’t discuss “work addiction” much anymore because it has become endemic in the [our] work culture.

We tend to think that the  “movement” for work-life balance is simply about the real need to manage stress in this culture.  Even though recent studies all point to the workplace as the single greatest source of stress in the culture, the desire for more life outside of work and more life at work, goes beyond “stress management.”

A growing body of research has revealed that as many women are approaching “mid-life” (technically these women are  the upper percentages of the  Gen X  30- 44-year-old age cohort ) they are “becoming on average, sicker and sadder.” Results from six recent major happiness studies show that this drop in happiness occurs regardless of marital or child status, economic conditions or work-life factors.

Marcus Buckingham, author of Find Your Most Successful Life: What the Most Successful and Resilient Women Do Differently writes, Over the last 50 years, women have secured greater opportunity, greater achievement, greater influence and more money. But over the same period, have become less happy, more anxious, more stressed and, in ever-increasing numbers, self-medicating.” 

For those juggling the real demands of family and work, they do so in many workplaces that are still sorely lacking in support of life outside of work…

photo credit: Thomas Tolkien via photopin cc

photo credit: Thomas Tolkien via photopin cc

The Need to Ask New and Different Questions

If how we define work – and how we do that work is going through a major transition –  then we need to start asking a whole new set of questions about meaning.

  • Is work still expected to be drudgery? 
  • Do the demands of a job supersede our “personal” needs and desires?
  • How does the crumbling model of authoritarian command and control organizations impact the new mindset of work? 
  • How much emotional and creative freedom should we expect from our work?

Again, author David Whyte offers some illuminating thoughts, “The great questions that touch on personal happiness in work have to do with an ability to hold our own conversation amid the constant background of shouted needs, hectoring advice and received wisdom. In work, we have to find high ground safe from the arriving tsunami of expectations concerning what I am going to DO. Work is a place you can lose yourself more easily perhaps than finding yourself. It is a place of powerful undercurrents, a place to find ourselves, but also, a place to drown, losing all sense of our own voice, our own contribution and conversation.”

After hundreds of years of working in the shadow of a “Protestant” ethic, we are redefining work. But in the process, we are also redefining what makes a fully human life.  To do that, we must challenge every assumption that underpins the public and corporate policies that govern work.  But we also have to face our own thinking about what we believe about work, success and of course – money.  Money is a big elephant in our mental room.

Our own personal beliefs often justify work without adequate life as much as weak public policy or self-serving corporate practices do.  We may not (now) have the economic freedom to fully realize the balance of work and life – but we can reclaim what that means for us. It must begin there.

Link to read this article in its entirety

Seek Work-Life Harmony, Not Balance – 5 Key Strategies

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

Randy Conley advises a re-think about the now perhaps outdated notion of work-life balance:

Work-life balance is a fallacy.

The very term is an oxymoron. Is “work” something you do apart from your “life?” Does your “life” not consist of your “work?” And think about the definition of the word balance – “a state of equilibrium or equal distribution of weight or amount.” We have bought into the idea that having fulfillment in our personal and professional lives means we have to give them equal weight and priority. It sets up a false dichotomy between the two choices and leads to perpetual feelings of guilt and remorse because we never feel like we’re giving 100% in either area.

Instead, we need to seek work-life harmony. Consider the definition of harmony – “a consistent, orderly, or pleasing arrangement of parts; congruity.” Work-life harmony is rooted in an integrated and holistic approach to life where work and play blend together in combinations unique to each individual. I can’t define what harmony looks like for you, but I can share five ways to help you discover it for yourself.

1. Be clear about your purpose in life ~ clarifying your purpose provides focus, direction, and energy to every area of your life

2. Seek contentment, not happiness ~ happiness is fine, but true work-life harmony comes when you find contentment….

3. Understand the seasons of life ~ our focus areas will ebb and flow. When driven by our sense of purpose, they all fit harmoniously together at the right time in the right way…

4. Establish reasonable boundaries ~ the banks of a river provide the boundaries that support the direction and flow of the water. Without those boundaries, the river becomes nothing more than a large puddle…

5. Be present ~ operating from a mindset of work-life balance instead of harmony … creates stress, tension, and guilt, because we always feel we’re out of balance, spending too much energy on one aspect of our lives at the expense of another. The result is we’re never fully present and invested in all areas of our life….

Achieving work-life harmony isn’t easy. It involves trial and error, learning what works and what doesn’t. There is constant assessment and re-calibration of how you’re investing your time and energy, but the payoff is less stress, peace of mind, and increased devotion and passion toward all you do in life.

Link to read  Randy Conley’s guidance in full

Don’t Send Yet! 9 Email Mistakes You’re Probably Making – and how to fix them

Are your emails too long?  Too short?  Sent to too many people?  Or at the wrong time?  Learn how to say exactly what you want – without annoying those on the receiving end

BY: 

Email. The bane of your existence, a tool that seems to define many of your waking hours, a mode of communication invented only two decades ago.

We all use it, some of us love it, and many of us dread it.

There are plenty of tips and tricks about making email more efficient–using specifictools like boomerang, limiting yourself to certain hours per day and chasing the dream of inbox zero…

Are your emails getting the results you want?

When you improve the way you write and learn how to design better messages, you will resonate with the reader, improve sharability, and increase the bottom line.

Last week, I caught up with writer, designer, and strategist Sarah Peck, who teaches workshops on developing effective communication skills. We talked about using email to get more of what you want and what mistakes everyone is making in this commonplace communication form.

Here are nine common mistakes you might be making:

1. Sending emails only when you need something.

The best time to build any relationship is before you need something, not waiting until the moment you need something…

2. Forgetting that there’s a person on the other side of your email.

Just as you wouldn’t walk into a friend’s house for dinner and bark out a command, often those little niceties in the intro and end of a message can go a long way. Social cues aren’t dated constructs; they’re valuable warm-up phrases in communication. Start by saying hi, comment on someone’s latest achievements, and wish the other person well…

3. Using the first person too much.

Many emails–and essays–are written exclusively in first person. Shift the focus to the recipient and consider what they want, need, or would like to hear. After writing an email, scan it quickly for how many times you use the word “I.” See if you can edit some of them out…

4. Sending the email at the wrong time.

Just because you’ve written it now doesn’t mean it needs to be sent at this exact moment. Delaying the send is one of the most powerful and underutilized tools of emailing.

Evaluate whether or not the message is urgent and needs to be replied to immediately. If you’re cleaning up your inbox during your scheduled time, fire off the messages that are urgent and consider sending messages in the morning…

5. Sending to too many people.

More recipients in the “To” field does not mean that you’ll necessarily get more answers. In the age of digital marketing, people who blast messages in broadcast form without understanding who is in the “to” line can erode their chances of a message being opened. A perfect email is one that’s sent to exactly who it needs to go to, with a specified desired outcome…

6. Knowing nothing about the person receiving your email.

Do your homework on the recipient. One great tool to glean fast information about who you’re talking to is Rapportive, a sidebar that lets you see the latest public posts (and a picture) of the person you’re communicating to.

7. Forgetting to send updates or interim messages.

If you’re waiting for an important message from someone, the time spent waiting for a delivery can seem interminable. If there’s a long delay in sending an item that’s highly anticipated or expected, or you’ve experienced a few hiccups–send a one-liner email to update your receiver on the status of the project. You’ll know that you need to send a quick note when you start to get anxious about not delivering or they seem to be a bit flippant.

8. Making messages too long.

Depending on the nature of the message, emails can vary from a few words to thousands of words. The longer the email, the less likely that someone will read the entire thing. Long emails generally mean that a larger strategy, framework, or document might be in order…

9. Using email exclusively.

Efficiency does not necessarily mean one single system. Often, redundancy in communication can be extremely helpful, as each tool (video, chat, email, Skype) adds a layer of human nuance back into the correspondence that’s happening…

Now: 4 ways to focus on writing better emails:

Tell sticky stories. Everything makes more sense with an illustration. Highlight and example, illustrate an ideal customer avatar, or tell a specific instance of a problem you had. Setting the context and the stage (that seems obvious to you, the writer), makes it easier for people to understand the pain point, the context, and the reason why you’re writing. When people can see your story–who you are, where you come from, why you’re doing what you’re doing–it’s easier for them to become a part of it.

Use the four-sentence, one-link rule: Keep your email to under four sentences (or five!). Focus on the pain point or problem you’re solving. Limit yourself to only one link. If you have to, make that link a document.

Be responsive and reflective: Observe how others communicate and adapt your style to meet them midway. Customize your communication by mirroring the style of a received message. Does someone send short messages with formal addresses? Respond in style.

Bookmark emails that you love with Evernote. Use the vast number of emails in front of you (and in your inbox) as clues to great messaging. Watch what emails you open first and are most excited about. Create a few folders in your mailbox system for great introductions, sample short messages, and thank-you notes that you like. Keep these for future use if you’re ever in a bind. In any art, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel–and paying attention to great writers (and what we personally enjoy) is a great way to get started.

Email is our number one form of communication, which means that everyone is a writer. The most powerful thing you can do in both your personal and business life is learn how to write well and tell great stories. Messages that persuade, content that converts, and language that inspires action are critical for getting what you want.

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: wakingphotolife: via photopin cc

photo credit: wakingphotolife: via photopin cc

How To Maintain Your Creativity When Working From Home

Andra writes in PIXEL77

There are a great many benefits to working from home, including flexibility of working hours, taking unscheduled days off, waving goodbye to working in formal business wear and spending more quality time with the family. However, working from home can also produce challenges, including reduced creativity…

Fortunately, you need not despair as there are a number of strategies to help you maintain your creativity.

Have a Change of Scenery…

Do Something Different…

Start a Pet Project…

Get Some Exercise…

Analyse Why Your Creativity is Waning…

Take A Nap…

Seek Help From Your Peers…

Take Time for Laughter….

Link to read Andra’s suggestions in full

photo credit: mrbill78636 via photopin cc

photo credit: mrbill78636 via photopin cc

You’re Doing What?? (Part 2)

Rosella Hart remembers the good and the bad aspects of directing a show with Shaky Isles Theatre and her 7 month old son in the room:

Baby is not really welcome in most places in fact. Not truly…perhaps if they are impossibly well behaved the whole time.. perhaps in certain social settings… but I am not aware of any model in our society that allows for the mum/baby unit to exist together in a working or professional context (if they WANT to; a crucial point and another topic)

So having an opportunity to work creatively in a company that would welcome us as a unit was something I really had to do, knowing I might not get another chance for a long time…

OK, so the bad stuff first…for me, it was stressful to split my focus, I had moments of feeling like a bad parent and honestly it was a relief when he was taken out for a few hours. I wasn’t able to be at opening night, and promptly broke out in stress hives the next day (which I have never had before) and by the time the show opened I was pretty much at the end of my physical endurance regarding sleep. In retrospect, probably the biggest down-side was that rehearsals began just as he was starting to get better at sleeping, and the combination of disrupted daytimes and a knackered mother once the show was up and running, did put us on a bad sleep cycle which we have only just now started to kick (now being a year later)

BUT, I got to do something else with my brain, and socialise, which I wasn’t doing before; partly because I was too tired, disorganised and unmotivated to get out the house, but also not having family or close friends in London. My theatre family filled that gap (as it always has done). Although my physical health suffered, I think my mental health was better for it, and if I had the choice to make again, I would do it again.

For Jasper it was definitely a positive experience. Socialising every day all day with other adults, in that specific environment, listening to and watching actors work (he was particularly fascinated by the ‘yes-no’ game in improvisation) and also to be taken away from me for a bit and have some time with other (wonderful, creative) people was great for his development. The negative impact on his sleep after being fed, held and prammed to sleep all day every day for a few months, was a big price to pay, but really it was me that paid it…

It’s funny how often the word ‘inclusion’ is bandied around, usually in terms of disability or minority, seldom in regard to babies and children, who must be among the most excluded groups out there. Or perhaps ghettoised; there is plenty for kids, but it is a world apart. So many gigs and interesting things start after bed time, which means that if, like me, your wee one isn’t really sleeping reliably at night without you, as an adult you are suddenly cut off from a huge part of adult life, especially if you have no aunties, uncles, grandparents etc around to help out. Not something you can really appreciate or factor in before having kids. One of the best things for me about being in the production was the opportunity to do something normal and not about ‘baby’, and to be enabled to do that by the support of people who believed that I should be able to…

So… thinking of doing it yourself? A few ideas…

Link to get Rosella’s suggestions and read her story in full 

photo credit: @Doug88888 via photopin cc

photo credit: @Doug88888 via photopin cc

Making Awesome People Happy At Work (and stopping them from quitting)

Taro Fukuyama, co-founder and CEO of AnyPerk writes about happiness at work and his take on why it matters so much:

It’s fairly common knowledge that happy employees are simply better at their jobs. No matter the industry, hours, or education required, individuals perform better when their spirits are high. They are more engaged, more motivated, more likely to be pleasant to one another and any customers they encounter, and are thinking more creatively to solve problems and improve company operations.

This makes perfect sense, and the opposite is equally true. Employees who are miserable, angry, depressed, or just generally unhappy do not perform to the best of their abilities. They are disengaged and easily distracted, they cut corners and deflect responsibility, and simply don’t care about the quality of work they produce.

And yet a great deal of businesses just don’t do it. They think that extra investment in perks, or making their employees happier won’t get them anything other than in the red.

They’re wrong. According to clinical psychologist Dr. Noelle Nelson, you can literally Make More Money by Making Your Employees Happy. I’d have to agree – when CEOs and managers can put their egos aside and focus on making the actual workers happier, they’ll be richer too.

The challenge? Well, because every company, and every individual, is different, there’s no steadfast rulebook for making employees happy and engaged. It’s interpretive at best, and most companies will have to reflect on their own internal processes and workflow to determine how to make the company a more enjoyable place to work.

While this is vague at best, there are a few principles to follow. And they’re obvious to some – but you’d be surprised how many companies (startups and Fortune 500′s alike) fail to provide them:

1. Recognition

People want to know when they are doing something right. They want to receive credit for their accomplishments, and they want to know that their contributions to goals of the company are seen and appreciated…

2. Individuality

This goes hand in hand with recognition, but on an even more individualized level. People don’t like to feel like cogs in a machine, with no identity beyond their job description. The best way to avoid this is to get to know employees individually, and, more importantly, to understand the complex and unique lives that each and every one of them lead…

3. Perks

People want to be proud of the place they work, not just of the company’s end product or service, but also proud of what it means to be an employee of that particular company. One of the best ways to add prestige to particular job is to include bonuses that go beyond a standard paycheck…

4. Understanding

…As a CEO, a manager, or anyone ordering around other people, you have to understand, use and work on your own product. I don’t care if you’ve got a million meetings. I don’t care if you like your comfy chair and the lack of stress. As a manager you should be as or more stressed as the employees. If they’re not, they’re probably a crappy manager.

This also means that if someone makes a mistake you cannot and should not skewer them. Disciplining an employee is a necessary and painful evil. Making an example of them and breaking them on a personal level is worthless. I’d also wager it makes you worthless too.

5. Ignorance of “Company Culture”

Your company culture should not be complex. It should be about doing good work, making your customers happy and executing on an idea. This may come with a few elements of stress. This may involve the eventual firing of people. This should not at any point involve not taking someone on because they’re not a good cultural fit.

“Culture” in companies has become an abused term to ostracize and oust those who might disagree with the incumbent staff. It’s very easy to be upset when someone says that something that everyone does is wrong, or that someone who has been around for a while is doing wrong. You have to be wiling to review every process and element of your company with a critical eye…

Conclusion

Much of this boils down to respect, and just taking steps to foster a work environment that radiates positivity. When individuals are surrounded by smiling, happy people, they tend to feel that way themselves. Happiness has a way of breeding more happiness, and when each employee feels like an asset to the company, those feelings of value multiply upon themselves.

Value really is the key principle here – what can companies do make employees feel valued?

By treating each worker with respect, recognizing their individuality, and trying to make sure that whatever the job may be, it fits in with the other aspects of their lives as best it can, businesses can build a mutual commitment between workplace and employee…

When a company legitimately cares about its employees (and shows it), it’s much easier for the employee to care about the wellbeing of the company, and put in the effort to help it flourish.

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: Photosightfaces via photopin cc

photo credit: Photosightfaces via photopin cc

Smiling In Facebook Photos Can Predict Wellbeing For Years Down-The-Line

Turns out your smiley Facebook friends really are happier than you

By 

Take a quick look at your current Facebook profile picture. Are you posing alone? Is is a boisterous group picture? A professional-looking headshot? Is there duckface involved?Whether you’re teetering with a Coors Light in your hand or sitting serenely in a tasteful pose, a new study says there’s only one thing that really matters: Are you smiling?

According to researchers at the University of Virginia, the intensity of smiles in Facebook profile pictures can accurately predict the well-being of undergraduates over the course of their college careers.

“One implication of my paper is that you can get a fairly accurate indication by looking at people’s Facebook photos based on how intensely they’re smiling in the photos how good those people are socially,” says one of the researchers, post-doctoral instructor Patrick Seder. The paper, titled “Intensity of Smiling in Facebook Photos Predicts Future Life Satisfaction” explains that it took authentic looking photos with smiles (no “jokey” pictures allowed) to make these predictions…

The researchers looked at two groups of Facebook users, taking their first assessments in 2005 and 2006. They selected users were freshman in their first semester at the University of Virginia, and had profile picture photographs that could be analyzed for smile intensity. They measured the intensity of the sample groups’ smiles after taking them through a series of tests to gauge their general well-being and levels of extroversion. The researchers checked back in with their subjects at the end of their college careers and looked at their contentment levels again.

They found that the students who had the most intense smiles in their profile pictures during the first semester of school reported more happiness both in that first semester as well as 3.5 years later. They also found that they could predict whether these students would increase their reported well-being based on the smile intensity.

To boil it down, the students with bigger grins in Facebook photos posted at the beginning of college reported more life satisfaction both during the time period they posted the photos, and at the end of their college careers…

the researchers noted that people who express positive emotions tend to elicit positive emotions in other people (in simpler terms, smiling is contagious). Since people value those who make them smile, a Facebook photo that reinforces the image of someone as a smiley, happy person could strengthen relationships.

It’s a sort of “the chicken or the egg?” conundrum. Do you smile because you’re happy or do you smile and become happy? Either way, there’s a correlation. And since these researchers ran the test twice and got the same results, you’re probably better off playing it safe and deleting that sourpuss face profile picture.

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: toodlepip via photopin cc

photo credit: toodlepip via photopin cc

Put On A Happy Face(book)

By 

…Although many people believe we self-aggrandize on Facebook, research finds that for the most part, what we see is who we are; our Facebook profiles tend to be pretty accurate expressions of our personalities.

But we all know that even people whose lives appear to be thrill a minute on Facebook sometimes get cranky; sprout zits; have boring evenings; fight with their significant others; have bad hair days; and other not super-duper fun things. They just choose not to share those moments.

Let us consider instead the positive power of Facebook for making us feel good about ourselves: We can do the same thing. We can make ourselves look fun and fascinating on Facebook by selective posting. What’s more, if we do it without making stuff up, then we are actually the person we appear to be on Facebook.

Maybe you’re not as dull as you think. There’s a really good chance you look as cool to other people as other people do to you. While you’re busy envying other people’s lives, maybe other people are envying yours…

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: toodlepip via photopin cc

photo credit: toodlepip via photopin cc

What happens To Your Brain When People Like Your Facebook Status

THORIN KLOSOWSKI reports on more new research using Facebook to understand more about what might help to make us happy:

In research published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, researchers found that they could predict people’s Facebook use by looking at how their brain reacted to positive social feedback in a scanner:P

Specifically, a region called the nucleus accumbens, which processes rewarding feelings about food, sex, money and social acceptance became more active in response to praise for oneself compared to praise of others.  And that activation was associated with more time on the social media site.

As it turns out, the social affirmation that comes when people like your status updates is addictive, which might help explain why people tend to spend so much time on Facebook:

On the social media site, the pleasure deriving from attention, kind words, likes, and LOLs from others occurs only sporadically.  Such a pattern for rewards is far more addictive than receiving a prize every time, in part because the brain likes to predict rewards, and if it can’t find a pattern, it will fuel a behavior until it finds one. So if the rewards are random, the quest may continue compulsively.

The research is still fresh, but it makes sense that social media addiction is tied to the reward center of the brain…

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: andyi via photopin cc

photo credit: andyi via photopin cc

And this research throws upside down some of the conclusions many us of us might have been making about the effects on young people of video gaming…

New video game research concludes gaming improves emotional, social, psychological well-being

BY 

A research group comprised of members from various Australian universities has concluded a review showing strong positive effects on the well-being of young people across key areas.

The review analysed over 200 papers from various research teams across the world and revealed strong patterns that show many of the negative myths surrounding video games are, well, exactly that.

Among the key findings from the analysis are that:

  • There are many creative, social and emotional benefits from playing videogames, including violent games (Kutner & Olson 2008).
  • Although ‘excessive’ gamers showed mild increases in problematic behaviors (such as somatic symptoms; anxiety and insomnia; social dysfunction, and general mental health status), it was nongamers who were associated with the poorest mental health correlates (Allahverdipour et al 2010).
  • Frequency of play does not significantly relate to body mass index or academic grade point average (Wack & Tentelett-Dunn 2009)
  • Videogames have been found to be an effective play therapy tool. Children can be helped to change their views of themselves and the world around through metaphors in games, e.g., ‘the force’ in Lego Star Wars, gaining ‘attributes’ in SSX-3 (snowboarding), and conquering ‘quests’ in RuneScape (Hull 2009).

“We found that playing video games positively influences young people’s emotional state, vitality, engagement, competence and self-acceptance,” explain the authors of the review on The Conversation, saying that it is “associated with higher self-esteem, optimism, resilience, healthy relationships and social connections and functioning”.

“Emerging research suggests that how young people play, as well as with whom they play, may be more important in terms of well-being than what they play. Feelings of relatedness or flow while playing, and playing with people you know are better predictors of well-being than the genre of game played.”

You can read the full story and analyse the findings for yourself over at The Conversation.

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth In Ancient Wisdom by Joanthan Haidt

abduzeedo recommends this book is about positive psychology, the title is The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt, which I am currently reading and thoroughly enjoying:

In his widely praised book, award-winning psychologist Jonathan Haidt examines the world’s philosophical wisdom through the lens of psychological science, showing how a deeper understanding of enduring maxims – like Do unto others as you would have others do unto you, or What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger – can enrich and even transform our lives.

The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak, lamented St. Paul, and this engrossing scientific interpretation of traditional lore backs him up with hard data. Citing Plato, Buddha and modern brain science, psychologist Haidt notes the mind is like an “elephant” of automatic desires and impulses atop which conscious intention is an ineffectual “rider.”

Haidt sifts Eastern and Western religious and philosophical traditions for other nuggets of wisdom to substantiate—and sometimes critique—with the findings of neurology and cognitive psychology. The Buddhist-Stoic injunction to cast off worldly attachments in pursuit of happiness, for example, is backed up by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s studies into pleasure. And Nietzsche’s contention that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger is considered against research into post-traumatic growth.

An exponent of the “positive psychology” movement, Haidt also offers practical advice on finding happiness and meaning. Riches don’t matter much, he observes, but close relationships, quiet surroundings and short commutes help a lot, while meditation, cognitive psychotherapy and Prozac are equally valid remedies for constitutional unhappiness.

Haidt sometimes seems reductionist, but his is an erudite, fluently written, stimulating reassessment of age-old issues

photo credit: Ano Lobb. @healthyrx via photopin cc

photo credit: Ano Lobb. @healthyrx via photopin cc

Empathy + Placebo = Healing?

Psychotherapy, voodoo, and complementary/alternative medicine (CAM) are all cut from the same cloth; they are ‘healing methods’ that relieve symptoms because they provide two key things: empathy and the placebo effect (E&P).

…Belgian physicians Mommaerts and Devroey in a new paper: From “Does it work?” to “What is it?” … say that, given that Empathy + Placebo effect are a powerful psychological force, it makes little sense to ask of any particular complementary/alternative medicine, “Does it work?”.  So long as it provides non-specific Empathy + Placebo effect, just about any intervention will work…

Empathy + Placebo effect is often the only thing people need.  But it can be hard to find it in mainstream medicine. The authors write:

Complementary/alternative medicine represents a failing of scientific medicine, in that complementary/alternative medicine seeks to address patients’ needs that are lost in the technologically focused interactions of modern medicine. Complementary/alternative medicine represents many patients’ search for empathy.

Perhaps there’s a solution: more empathy in mainstream medicine, or in general, some kind of ‘pure’ Empathy + Placebo effect that doesn’t rely on unscientific foundations? This is what the authors suggest….

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: alles-schlumpf via photopin cc

photo credit: alles-schlumpf via photopin cc

There Is No App For Happiness

 writes in The Huffington Post Blog

“No poet is ever going to write about gazing into his lover’s emoticons.”

I bought a perfectly good flip phone three years ago, but lately people tease me about it as if I’m using something from the Victorian Era. Before that, I had a different flip phone, which followed an analog cell phone. Remember those? And before that, I had a telephone with a wire that stuck in a wall. You want to know which one had the best sound quality? The one that stuck in the wall. But I digress… What I want to talk about is what hasn’t been upgraded: the quality of human communication. The quality of our conversations with friends and loved ones hasn’t improved one bit. In fact, many people now send text messages instead of conversing at all. We have far greater access, but far less intimacy.

Information technology is expanding at such a rate that nearly every aspect of our world has been impacted, yet there has been no corresponding expansion of personal happiness. Instead, we find that we have become anxious, sleep-deprived, depressed, and over-medicated. For example, one in four women in the United States takes antidepressants and/or anti anxiety medication, with men not far behind. And for sleep? The Center for Disease Control has declared that insufficient sleep is an epidemic.

My premise is not that technology is supposed to increase our happiness but that our society now believes it does. We have become confused as to the difference between happiness and entertainment. The constant glancing into our smart phone to see if anyone has pinged us, while a friend is sitting across the table speaking to us, are indicators that we are addicted to something that is making us less considerate and more alienated.

Here is one of the most important statistics you may ever read that explains the clash of human happiness with text-based technology. According to research from 1981, approximately 90 percent of human communication is nonverbal. So although we are more connected than ever, when we communicate with text, it is only 10 percent of us that is connected. It is no wonder we feel more alienated. The overuse of social media, texting, and gaming is causing our society, especially young people, to develop symptoms that remind me of Asperger syndrome — verbal difficulties, avoiding eye contact, inability to understand social rules and read body language, and difficulty in forming true friendships.

Emotional intimacy requires personal knowledge of the deeper dimensions of another being and is developed through trust. Trust can begin, or end, with a first glance, because, like other animals, we inherently know a great deal about each other through body language and tone of voice. In fact, we often ascertain the trustworthiness of a person in mere seconds, without a word spoken. Based on nonverbal communication we regularly make life-altering decisions; whether or not to begin a business relationship, accept a date with someone, or allow someone to look after your child. We rely on nonverbal communication at the deepest level of our being.

Innovators are making great strides in programing humanoid-type robots that have faces and can produce human expressions. These robots are programmed to make eye contact and to read and respond to human emotional expressions, tone of voice, and body language. The strange and perhaps history-bending irony is that we are teaching robots to make eye contact and watch for nonverbal cues, but meanwhile, we humans are now avoiding these things, opting instead to send texts and then adding smiley faces to crudely humanize the message. We are humanizing robots as we voluntarily dehumanize ourselves.

In my new book, There is No App for Happiness, (Skyhorse August 2013) I introduce readers to three imperatives that accelerate change from the inside out, humanizing change that I believe can make us happier. The one I will mention here is Life-Span Management. We have an incongruous schism between the concepts of our time and our life as if they were two completely separate things. In one hand we have a precious short life, and in the other hand we have time to kill. Time is not only money, it is much more than that; it is the minutes and seconds of our mortal life. Your time is the finite resource from which you experience this world — everyone, everything, and especially that which you are devoted to and live for. Because it is a finite resource, whether we are aware of it or not, we all purchase each time-event at the cost of another. When we come to this realization, a giant bell rings as we comprehend how much of our life-span we have been wasting on meaningless activities that serve no one and nothing. Happiness costs something. What are you willing to sacrifice to have more life/time? And what is stealing your time?

Remember Steve Job’s famous quote? “My favorite things in life don’t cost any money. It’s really clear that the most precious resource we all have is time.”

I am sharing this quote not because it is unique, because it isn’t. I share this particular quote because these words were spoken by the icon of tech success. Jobs achieved great wealth, power, and fame, only to discover that his favorite things in life were free — and not made from silicon.

To be clear, I am not anti-technology. Quite the contrary, I am even an advocate of self-driving cars. But I think that we have to select our technology wisely. If we bring technology into our life, it should simplify our life and give us more free time, not take it away. If it doesn’t make your current life run more seamlessly, get rid of it. Everything new is not better.

Maybe it’s time we start applying Silicon Valley style innovation to ourselves so that we find a path to a more meaningful experience of living, and a more sane world.

Link to read this  article in its original

photo credit: Don J Schulte via photopin cc

photo credit: Don J Schulte via photopin cc

20 Poets on the Meaning of Poetry

Alison Nastasi gives a few brief definitions of poetry by famous poets:

We’ve been thinking about poet Meena Alexander’s incredible address to the Yale Political Union, in which she refers to Shelley’s 1821 essay, A Defence of Poetry. The English poet’s work famously stated, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.” Alexander concludes:

“The poem is an invention that exists in spite of history…In a time of violence, the task of poetry is in some way to reconcile us to our world and to allow us a measure of tenderness and grace with which to exist… Poetry’s task is to reconcile us to the world — not to accept it at face value or to assent to things that are wrong, but to reconcile one in a larger sense, to return us in love, the province of the imagination, to the scope of our mortal lives.”

photo credit: Denis Collette...!!! via photopin cc

photo credit: Denis Collette…!!! via photopin cc

Other poets have attempted to interpret “what is deeply felt and is essentially unsayable.” …

Percy Bysshe Shelley

There are a few more choice snippets from Shelley’s 1821 essay, A Defence of Poetry, that articulated the essence of poetry:

“Poetry is the record of the best and happiest moments of the happiest and best minds.”

“Poetry, in a general sense, may be defined to be ‘the expression of the imagination’: and poetry is connate with the origin of man.”

Emily Dickinson

“If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire ever can warm me I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know it. Is there any other way?”

photo credit: Robert S. Donovan via photopin cc

photo credit: Robert S. Donovan via photopin cc

Robert Frost

“Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.”

“Poetry is what gets lost in translation.”

Salvatore Quasimodo

“Poetry is the revelation of a feeling that the poet believes to be interior and personal which the reader recognizes as his own.”

Mary Oliver

“Poetry isn’t a profession, it’s a way of life. It’s an empty basket; you put your life into it and make something out of that.”

William Wordsworth

“I have said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity: the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of reaction, the tranquillity gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was before the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind.”

John Cage

“There is poetry as soon as we realize that we possess nothing.”

Kahlil Gibran

“Poetry is a deal of joy and pain and wonder, with a dash of the dictionary.”

William Hazlitt

“Poetry is all that is worth remembering in life.”

Edith Sitwell

“Poetry is the deification of reality.”

photo credit: youngdoo via photopin cc

photo credit: youngdoo via photopin cc

Marianne Moore

“Poetry is the art of creating imaginary gardens with real toads.”

Theodore Roethke

“You must believe: a poem is a holy thing — a good poem, that is.”

James K. Baxter

“The poem is a plank laid over the lion’s den.”

Link to read the full set of quotations

photo credit: Cali4beach via photopin cc

photo credit: Cali4beach via photopin cc

STEM Subjects versus the arts: why languages are just as important

Lucy Jeynes writes in Guardian Professional:

…I confess that I myself wondered whether reading 19th century French novels could honestly be considered study and not pure indulgence. When I first entered the world of work, I felt that perhaps I should have studied something more “useful”. It has taken the perspective of a 20-year-career in a fairly technical, male-dominated field to appreciate the enormous benefits of my degree.

Living and studying in other countries has helped me to understand cultural cues, essential in today’s global economy. The study of other languages has given me a deep understanding of the richness of English, which enables me to say precisely what I mean.

Studying languages has helped me to write compelling proposals, unambiguous tender specifications, complex arbitrations, engaging conference speeches and insightful trade press articles – all of which have helped me to reach the top of my career in facilities management.

In a profession filled with engineers and surveyors, the ability to communicate technical content effectively and quickly has turned out to be a valuable skill…

…Belinda Parmar is right to highlight the gender bias: only 33% of university languages students are male. We need more men to study languages, just as we need more women to study STEM subjects. In our technological age, we still need thinkers, writers and artists. Otherwise, who will develop the content for all the wonderful devices that geeks are inventing?

Study what you love and you will do well. You will find a way to build it into your career: learning anything is never a waste.

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: rAmmoRRison via photopin cc

photo credit: rAmmoRRison via photopin cc

To Change The World (Steve McCurry’s Blog)

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.
– Nelson Mandela

Steve McCurry’s new collection celebrates moments of people learning, and, as always,, his photos are powerful testimony to the very best of what it can mean to be human and alive in today’s world across our blue planet.

The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled. 
– Plutarch

photo credit: Wonderlane via photopin cc

photo credit: Wonderlane via photopin cc

Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.
– John Steinbeck

Follow this link to feast your eyes and your soul on Steve McCurry’s images

photo credit: .craig via photopin cc

photo credit: .craig via photopin cc

Transitions

Mary O’Connor reflects in the Shaky Isles Theatre blog about change and moving on:

Etymology:- 1550s, from Latin transitionem (nominative transitio) “a going across or over,” noun of action from past participle stem of transire “go or cross over”

“I’m not very good at transitions” I say to myself, to others…

“it’s just this bit, I’ll be ok when Autumn comes with leaves , conkers, apples , Halloween, golden light and a promise of Christmas” is not an end.

I’m on a bridge. From one experience to the next. So, I’m not good at bridges? This bridge feels a little bit rickety right now?

Ok ,  so I’m going to have to let go, and hold onto the bridge. Look where I’m going. Look ahead.

Link to read Mary’s piece in full

Happiness At Work Edition #63

You will find all of these stories, and many more, in this week’s  Happiness At Work Edition #63 of 13the September 2013

We hope you enjoy…

photo credit: mysza831 via photopin cc

photo credit: mysza831 via photopin cc

Happiness At Work #54 ~ this week’s highlights

Moon over South London Photo: Mark Trezona

Moon over South London
Photo: Mark Trezona

Happiness At Work Edition #54

Several of the stand-out stories we’ve collected highlight mindfulness in this week’s new collection.  This is partly because I am drawing together a selection of ideas for a post about mindfulness I hope to have written in time for a collection in the next week or so, but also it seems because this subject is featuring across the air waves just at the moment.  Michael Mosley has had a new Horizon programme that featured this practice, more and more organisations are starting to notice the prevalence of mindfulness practice in some of the most successful companies on our planet, and a new study has found that mindfulness has a great deal of benefit to offer students, especially during this time of year of stressful exam taking.

But we start with some good news for women in particular who face an end of their relationship…

Women Happier Than Men After Divorce, Study Finds

By: 

Ongoing survey of 100,000 people found that women are significantly more content than usual for up to five years following the end of their marriages.

Despite the hellishness of divorce — emotional turmoil, disrupted living arrangements, and a shrinking income — there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, especially for women, a new study has found.

Research published in the journal Economica has found that women are much happier and satisfied with their lives following divorce…

photo credit: RelaxingMusic via photopin cc

photo credit: RelaxingMusic via photopin cc

Personality Traits Of A Successful Woman Leader

Pam Johnson is an HR professional in the furniture industry, as well as an adjunct professor for her local community college .  She is constantly seeking out people with leadership qualities to fulfill management positions.

In a the male dominated world in which we live, it becomes increasingly important that strong women leaders take charge and make themselves known. They should use their strong personality traits to be a role model to other women and young girls. What, you ask, are the personality traits that tend to make a woman a good leader? Take a look at these personality traits and see if you, or someone you know possesses these traits. If you or someone else does possess these traits, encourage that person or challenge yourself to become an outward role model for other females.

  • Confidence…
  • Intelligence…
  • Interpersonal skills…
photo credit: f.stroganov via photopin cc

photo credit: f.stroganov via photopin cc

Your glass really can become half full: The documentary that shows how you can train your brain to become an OPTIMIST in seven weeks

By RACHEL REILLY

  • Michael Mosley has investigated the science of personality and discovered that our outlook on life is not fixed and unchangeable
  • By regularly practicing two mental exercises – mindfulness and cognitive-bias modification – and with no drugs or therapy he felt happier
  • Cutting edge tests showed that within just seven weeks his brain activity became less characteristic of a pessimistic and anxious person
  • Study has shown that on average, being optimistic can add more than seven years to a life – four years more than if a cure for cancer was found

If you’re a pessimist who thinks a leopard can’t change its spots, just read on.  For researchers claim you can teach yourself to be an optimist in as little as seven weeks.

And there are even more reasons to be positive: the training consists of two simple excercises. One involves looking at smiley and angry faces and the other is a 20 minute meditation exercise…

Moon Over South London Photo: Mark Trezona

Moon Over South London
Photo: Mark Trezona

Enlightenment Engineers

BY NOAH SHACHTMAN

Meditation and mindfulness are the new rage in Silicon Valley. And it’s not just about inner peace—it’s about getting ahead.

More than a thousand Googlers have been through Search Inside Yourself training. Another 400 or so are on the waiting list and take classes like Neural Self-Hacking and Managing Your Energy in the meantime. Then there is the company’s bimonthly series of “mindful lunches,” conducted in complete silence except for the ringing of prayer bells, which began after the Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh visited in 2011. The search giant even recently built a labyrinth for walking meditations.

It’s not just Google that’s embracing Eastern traditions. Across the Valley, quiet contemplation is seen as the new caffeine, the fuel that allegedly unlocks productivity and creative bursts. Classes in meditation and mindfulness—paying close, nonjudgmental attention—have become staples at many of the region’s most prominent companies…

These companies are doing more than simply seizing on Buddhist practices. Entrepreneurs and engineers are taking millennia-old traditions and reshaping them to fit the Valley’s goal-oriented, data-driven, largely atheistic culture. Forget past lives; never mind nirvana. The technology community of Northern California wants return on its investment in meditation. “All the woo-woo mystical stuff, that’s really retrograde,” says Kenneth Folk, an influential meditation teacher in San Francisco. “This is about training the brain and stirring up the chemical soup inside.”

It can be tempting to dismiss the interest in these ancient practices as just another neo-spiritual fad from a part of the country that’s cycled through one New Age after another. But it’s worth noting that the prophets of this new gospel are in the tech companies that already underpin so much of our lives. And these firms are awfully good at turning niche ideas into things that hundreds of millions crave…

Moon Over South London Photo: Mark Trezona

Moon Over South London
Photo: Mark Trezona

Mind over matter is the key to happiness in workplace

DONAL LYNCH

‘Contemplation is the new caffeine’ – thus ran the headline in a recent piece in Wired magazine in which the tech journal observed a growing trend amongst large US corporations for incorporating mindfulness, meditation and creative thought into their battle plan for tackling rising workplace stress.

Google has lead the charge recently with a series of ‘mindful lunches’ and other companies have followed suit. The co-founders of Twitter and Facebook have made contemplative practices key components of their office cultures, holding regular in-office meditation sessions and arranging for work routines that maximise mindfulness…

So in some ways the timing could not be better for award-winning poet and psychotherapist Christina Reihill to launch her new initiative into the corporate market here in Ireland. ‘Soul Burgers’ won the prestigious Allianz/Tile Style Business To Arts Bursary Award and is the latest incarnation of a project that has already been adapted for musical performances, stage productions and urban art productions.

Reihill – the daughter of Tedcastles tycoon John Reihill who died earlier this year – describes it as “a one-hour mindfulness and well-being seminar to address issues of awareness, personal responsibility, anxiety and problems of addiction, in a unique, gentle and thought-provoking way”…

“Too many HR departments deal with people as products and then wonder why productivity, motivation, change and false expectations remain unresolved”, Reihill tells the Sunday Independent. These issues need a more subtle and soulful approach.

The latest research from America backs up the idea that mindfulness increases workplace happiness, productivity and emotional intelligence. And if Reihill and her team have anything to do with it, Dublin-based corporations will be right on trend.

photo credit: Kuzeytac via photopin cc

photo credit: Kuzeytac via photopin cc

Mindfulness in the workplace on the rise

By Jane Kennedy, Geoff Cannon, Glenn Barndon

Workplace stress and general anxiety has become far more prevalent with the increase in technology, digital communication and a change in attitudes towards our work life.

…Large corporations such as Google, Apple, Nike and Target are encouraging its staff to practice mindfulness at work.

“Mindfulness is all about the reality of what’s happening here and now, so if we just pause to come back to our senses, back to reality, that’s all we really need to do,” Dr McKenzie explains.

Studies show that practicing mindfulness helps reduce stress, improve productivity and increase general happiness in the corporate world…

Mindfulness at Work by Dr Stephen McKenzie is out next week. And you can hear him speak more about mindfulness and stress with the ABC’s Glenn Barndon in a podcast inside this article…

How to Manage People Mindfully

The new comedy The Internship pokes fun at the quirky, innovative, utopia-like work environment of Google headquarters. We have all heard stories about Google’s carefully designed “adult playground,” where brilliant minds are nurtured with a creative mix of work and play. The stimulating and seemingly self-sustaining “community” created by Google captivates imaginations with visions of the ideal workplace. And with the ideas that are born on site, it’s easy to see why.

Where we work has a heavy impact, not only on our personal well-being, but on our value to the company we work for. One of my favorite things about attending the fourth annual Wisdom 2.0, a conference that brought together CEOs and experts on mindfulness, was the overwhelming sense that people care. Too often in the world today, people use their power in destructive ways. At Wisdom 2.0, however, business and spiritual leaders from around the world collaborated to discuss the intersection between explosive technologies and personal well-being. Their mission for attendees was “to not only live connected to one another through technology, but to do so in ways that are beneficial to our own well-being, effective in our work, and useful to the world.”

What struck me about the gathering was that a group of driven and powerful figures from our society were there in hopes of learning how they can have an impact, how they can use their power for good. This spirit of community is one that would greatly benefit any business hoping to survive today’s economy. Mindfulness is a practice that can help individuals feel more integrated, both personally and interpersonally. By mindfully forging a sense of connectedness and camaraderie, employers not only enhance the well-being of their employees but of the business itself…

As managers, we can learn to be mindful in our decisions, policies and practices. The best way to start is by thinking about what our values are and choosing to live by them. If all of us were to do this in each of our interactions, we would find that our attitude is contagious. We will communicate more clearly, relate more personally and create a more integrated environment that benefits the businesses we work for and the lives of the people who surround us…

photo credit: VinothChandar via photopin cc

photo credit: VinothChandar via photopin cc

Mindfulness Means Nothing: Lose the Word, Find a Habit

This is a really helpful introduction to mindfulness by Mark Bertin, M.D.

Mindfulness: A Dictionary Definition
Mindfulness According to Oxford:
The quality or state of being conscious or aware of something

Dr. Kabat-Zinn created his “mindfulness-based stress reduction” (MBSR) program to introduce centuries-old Buddhist concepts into the secular West. Mindfulness is not a spiritual practice unless you want it to be. Whether you’re an intense business leader, an inner-city kid from Baltimore or living on a mountaintop in Tibet, mindfulness builds skills and perspectives that cultivate a larger sense of equilibrium around basic facts of life such as everything is always changing, nothing stands still, and uncertainty rules.

The concept behind the entire MBSR program can be unintentionally misleading. Give us eight weeks and we can fix your stress problem. It can sound very… advertising driven. As any MBSR teacher would say, in reality stress is going to continue whatever we do. And even when your stress level does improve (as research suggests it may), MBSR does not immediately alter anything for some people or eliminate stress forever for anyone; it is not cure-all or a quick fix.

The eight-week program is an introduction to a lifelong training. Stick to it, even when practice is difficult and not much seems to happen, and your experience changes. Mindfulness is more analogous to long term physical fitness than anything more immediate such as knee surgery or a dose of antibiotics.

The Language of Mindfulness
Mindfulness According to Grandma:
Learning how to “be in the moment” and familiar with what you are experiencing so that you become more focused and less reactive in your behavior.

There’s often confusion about the relationship between various related concepts such as “mindfulness” and “mindfulness meditation” and “mindfulness-based stress reduction.” Are they all the same or different? Do they all depend on each other? If I take a mindfulness class do I have to sit quietly for hours on end and pretend to be happy about it?

First, what is meditation? Mindfulness meditation is a particular type of meditation that breaks a habit. We all live much of life distracted and not quite paying attention to what’s actually going on. We exist on autopilot, generally relying on habitual and often reactive behaviors. Through meditation we aim to build a capacity to attend fully to real life, as it is, for better or worse, without any escapism or striving for a totally still mind. Not only can you meditate if you have a busy mind, it’s expected that you’ll have one…

Mindfulness refers to the whole package, a particular set of cognitive skills we develop that help manage our lives. Mindfulness doesn’t require meditation, but it’s built through meditation. It does not require a particular program. You can practice mindfulness at any time through the day, bringing your full attention to whatever you’re doing, with a particular attitude of openness and acceptance (whatever that means)…

Mindfulness is more than attention training.

Mindfulness According to Siri:
The trait of staying aware
(of paying close attention) to your responsibilities.

Stress results when real life does not fit our idea of what should be. Which might mean something as huge as “I imagined I’d be in a happy marriage forever but now I’m getting divorced” or as simple as “I had my heart set on a cheeseburger but they are out of cheese.” Recently back from vacation we may feel particularly magnanimous, accept our disappointment, and move forward. After an awful night sleep and a fight with our boss the no-cheese experience causes a meltdown. A lot of the time, if not all the time, our perspective matters.

When we discuss paying full attention to our immediate experience, it means not only to external forces (no cheese today) but all our internal chatter…

Mindfulness may be a proactive version of the traditional serenity prayer, without the God reference. Being open and curious means acknowledging the reality of the moment, however we feel, without excessive wrestling. Equanimity, a sense of peace and ease, often follows. May I develop for myself the ability to change the things I can, to accept the things I cannot, and the wisdom always to see the difference.

Mindfulness is a skill set. 
Mindfulness According to Dr. G, Pediatrician/MBSR participant:
Mindfulness is a state where one accepts the past as unchangeable and the future as theoretical, where thoughts are just thoughts
and the present moment is all there is.

So what is mindfulness already? Mindfulness is the ability to live life more fully aware of what’s going on both around us and in our minds. Through that awareness, we become more familiar with our ongoing mental habits. That awareness increases our ability to pick and choose (without expecting total success) which ones to continue and from which we might step back at any moment…

Mindfulness for a healthy brain.

Mindfulness According to basketball coach Phil Jackson:
The trick is to experience each moment with a clear mind and open heart. When you do that, the game — and life — will take care of itself.

I don’t work out because I want stronger lungs or legs or arms in particular. I want my body as a whole to stay in shape. And I don’t practice mindfulness because I expect better focus or less stress or more responsiveness in isolation. I support a general state of mental well-being through ongoing effort. That hopefully improves life not just for me, but for my family and anyone else who deals with me day to day…

Mindfulness is a word, and a less than perfect one at defining anything in particular. The concepts behind mindfulness matter far more. Try it and find out.

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

How Meditation Works

From the many complexities of mindfulness to its inherent simplicity, here Liz Kulze, within a summary of research evidence and case studies,  puts its practice within a less complicated and so easier reach…

…In a practical sense, “sitting” is really all there is to the meditation aspect of mindfulness meditation. For anywhere from fifteen minutes to an hour (or more) each day, whether alone or with a group, you sit in a quiet place with your eyes closed, focusing on your breath as it moves in and out. Your mind will inevitably wander, which is where the mindfulness aspect comes in. Instead of growing frustrated with your lack of focus or getting caught up in the web of your thoughts, you train yourself to observe the thought or emotion with acceptance and curiosity, and to calmly bring your focus back to the breath…

Emotional Intelligence ~ 20 Years On ~ Part 2

In Intentional Workplace ~ transforming work one conversation at a time Louise Altman, Partner writes helpfully and with passion about the connections between mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence (EI)…

…What are the barriers to open expression of emotional learning in most institutional systems?  In Part 1 I shared my assumption that any organization committed to EI learning and widespread application must be willing to act as an “open system.” Too often people are asked to open up and share their thoughts and feelings in systems they believe are inauthentic and closed.

Some EI practitioners have asked whether deep EI practices can flourish in systems that are rigidly hierarchical.  It’s an important question that often gets to the heart of assumptions and behavior in authoritarian-based relationships and structures.  The engine that runs these systems is often based on fear – and most EI advocates would agree that fear is antithetical to EI learning and practice. Because so many managers still mistake compliance for engagement, EI can sometimes be seen as a solution for lack of cooperation or enthusiasm among employees…

…One of the most important lessons I have learned since I began studying EI has been to get out of head and into my body.  Body awareness is typically low in most corporate audiences – and it’s essential to any real EI learning….

…Unfortunately most workplace cultures still require us to ignore the needs of our bodies. Long hours, not enough breaks, lack of access to the outdoors, endless sitting and increasing work loads and demands conspire to reinforce the mind-body split. Most EI learning does not sufficiently deal with these conflicts. I’ve facilitated many EI programs and team meetings in dreary, windowless rooms with heavily distracted workers who wonder why they are so chronically stressed…

…Mindfulness is a tool to build emotional intelligence not a corollary of the learning.  In a use and discard culture, mindfulness training is just another tool that can be downloaded and applied to get whatever is needed to make the deal. It’s a cold and cynical view of an ancient practice that must enter sacred territory to succeed – the body and the mind.

In my work, the essence of EI  is  emotional freedom. I know that many managers are attracted to competencies like Emotional “Regulation” (ah, at last we can train them to control themselves) but the heart of EI must be internal truth-telling.  Too often, leaders expect that EI learning will get employees to “comply” and engage even in cultures that do not support emotional honesty.

Still Asking the Wrong Questions

Twenty years on, some of the questions people ask about emotional intelligence still surprise me.  Is it really useful for business?   Should all levels of the organization have it? …

…As we move forward into the future of EI in the workplace, we need to begin asking different questions. These questions should be premised on something deeper than the bottom line. What do people need to come alive through their work? What kind of culture is needed to create an atmosphere of emotional safety and courage? What are the beliefs that hold us back from changing – personally and collectively?

Emotions are deep and complex. The cold, hard calculus of business demands short-term solutions and quick-fixes. Practitioners can’t install  EI nor can they provide the “deliverables” without  a change in the mindset of business culture.   Yes, you can improve your emotional intelligence. No, you cannot do it in a day or even a week. Yes, it’s really useful, even essential for every business, in every industry. When we stop asking the wrong questions, we’ll know we’re making progress…

photo credit: Night Owl City via photopin cc

photo credit: Night Owl City via photopin cc

School Mindfulness Programs May Reduce Stress — And Make Teens Happier, Study Finds

By 

It’s at the most stressful times of the school year — like during exam periods — that strategies to relieve academic pressure mean the most. And recent research is shedding light on an effective way for schools to help manage students’ stress: mindfulness, a mental practice that aims to develop greater awareness of thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations.

A study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry this month found that mindfulness programs could reduce stress and lessen symptoms of depression among secondary school students, as well as increase well-being…

How to teach … mindfulness

The Guardian Teacher Network has resources to help introduce the concept of mindfulness to pupils, to help them be calm, focused and creative.  A wonderful set of resources we can all tap into from Guardian writer 

photo credit: visualpanic via photopin cc

photo credit: visualpanic via photopin cc

6 Ways to Be Happier at Work This Summer

For most of us, more of our waking hours are spent at work than anywhere else. In fact, the average American spends approximately 100,000 hours at work over the course of his or her lifetime. That stat alone is a pretty sobering reminder about just how important it is to be happy at work.

The novelty and excitement of starting a business tends to wear off after the first year, as we become focused on the less-than-optimal aspects of running a business. However, there are some simple things you can do to change this mindset and have a more positive outlook at work this summer:

  1. Make time to exercise…
  2. Take control of your time…
  3. Appreciate others…
  4. Challenge yourself…
  5. Start something outside of work…
  6. When all else fails, smile…

Meditate Away the Sizzling Stress of Summer

Meditation is about being mindful of your spirit enough to focus inward for the serenity and guidance you need. It’s having a moment to hear yourself think. We have the answers within us, and with a steady routine, we can harness a personal power that will remove much of the emotion that stress can cause. The only steadfast rule is slow breathing. Proper breathing is an advantage to handling life and health matters, and is especially helpful for dealing with overall stress. I have outlined a simple method of breathing to get you started so that anyone, at any age, can enjoy meditating…

photo credit: tarotastic via photopin cc

photo credit: tarotastic via photopin cc

8 Ways to Cure Over-Thinking and Regain Your Happiness

Some straightforward simple yet effective tips from 

Let’s face it — over-thinking leaves you drained. It robs you of your peace and poise of mind. It’s mental exhaustion on the level of running a marathon every day. It’s a mind-numbing habit that keeps you stuck from leading a happy, healthy life. And who doesn’t want to be happier? Here are eight proven strategies to help you kick the over-thinking habit.

  1. Stop!  Enough!  The next time your monkey mind begins to produce a drama worthy of an Oscar, silently shout: “Stop! Enough!” Change the channel to something peaceful.
  2. Visualisation.  Visualise a happy memory or simply allow your mind to sink into its happy place…
  3. Just Breathe.  Turn your attention and focus on our breath. Focus on your inhales and exhales. Slow your breathing down. Take deeper breaths. Relax your jaw. Unclench your fists. Just Breathe….
  4. Go For A Walk.  Get out of your head, move your body. Swing your arms. Do a few lunges. Walk it out. Focus on each step. Pay attention to the way your foot makes contact with the pavement. Tune in to the movement of your body and not the replay of last week’s argument.
  5. Journal.  If the complaint or drama even has the inkling of being persistent, I write it down. As a response, monkey mind goes quiet. Once written, the need to be heard has been met. No need to revisit….
  6. Engage In Your Favourite Hobby.  Over-thinking produces no results and offers no solutions. Switch gears and do something you enjoy!
  7. Be Mindful.  Whatever you decide to do, engage your full attention on that activity….Keep your focus on whatever it is you’re doing. It will help prevent your monkey mind from wandering….
  8. Be Present.  Over-thinking is all about dredging up the past and/or borrowing trouble from the future. The best cure for over-thinking is to simply be present. Be here right now….

Why I’ll Never Write Another Top 10 List About Happiness

Britt Reints writes in her blog In Pursuit of Happiness

…you aren’t taking your happiness seriously if you need a top ten list. And that’s OK. There’s nothing wrong with being in a place where you take other stuff more seriously. Truly.  Maybe you’re researching how to cure cancer, or raising six kids, or focusing all of your energy on putting food on the table this month. Those lists that make happiness seem like something you can slip in between appointments probably just piss you off anyway, and that’s OK.

But maybe you are at a point where happiness is important.

Maybe you’re restless, searching, and always feeling not quite right.  I don’t know what that “OK, it’s time now” moment feels like for you; for me it felt like “screw it, let’s just blow up my entire life and start over.”  Whatever it is, you know.  And you know those shorthand missives about how to be happier are crap.

You know there’s more to it.

So do I.

And I’m promising you right now to stop pretending otherwise.

Let’s do this…

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

Beyond McMindfulness

Not all commentators are unequivocally positive about this mindfulness movement.   suggest some reasons for caution…

Suddenly mindfulness meditation has become mainstream, making its way into schools, corporations, prisons, and government agencies including the U.S. military. Millions of people are receiving tangible benefits from their mindfulness practice: less stress, better concentration, perhaps a little more empathy. Needless to say, this is an important development to be welcomed — but it has a shadow.

The mindfulness revolution appears to offer a universal panacea for resolving almost every area of daily concern…

While a stripped-down, secularized technique — what some critics are now calling “McMindfulness” — may make it more palatable to the corporate world, decontextualizing mindfulness from its original liberative and transformative purpose, as well as its foundation in social ethics, amounts to a Faustian bargain. Rather than applying mindfulness as a means to awaken individuals and organizations from the unwholesome roots of greed, ill will and delusion, it is usually being refashioned into a banal, therapeutic, self-help technique that can actually reinforce those roots.

Most scientific and popular accounts circulating in the media have portrayed mindfulness in terms of stress reduction and attention-enhancement. These human performance benefits are heralded as the sine qua non of mindfulness and its major attraction for modern corporations. But mindfulness, as understood and practiced within the Buddhist tradition, is not merely an ethically-neutral technique for reducing stress and improving concentration. Rather, mindfulness is a distinct quality of attention that is dependent upon and influenced by many other factors: the nature of our thoughts, speech and actions; our way of making a living; and our efforts to avoid unwholesome and unskillful behaviors, while developing those that are conducive to wise action, social harmony, and compassion.

This is why Buddhists differentiate between Right Mindfulness (samma sati) and Wrong Mindfulness (miccha sati). The distinction is not moralistic: the issue is whether the quality of awareness is characterized by wholesome intentions and positive mental qualities that lead to human flourishing and optimal well-being for others as well as oneself…

Up to now, the mindfulness movement has avoided any serious consideration of why stress is so pervasive in modern business institutions. Instead, corporations have jumped on the mindfulness bandwagon because it conveniently shifts the burden onto the individual employee: stress is framed as a personal problem, and mindfulness is offered as just the right medicine to help employees work more efficiently and calmly within toxic environments. Cloaked in an aura of care and humanity, mindfulness is refashioned into a safety valve, as a way to let off steam — a technique for coping with and adapting to the stresses and strains of corporate life…

One hopes that the mindfulness movement will not follow the usual trajectory of most corporate fads — unbridled enthusiasm, uncritical acceptance of the status quo, and eventual disillusionment. To become a genuine force for positive personal and social transformation, it must reclaim an ethical framework and aspire to more lofty purposes that take into account the well-being of all living beings…

These thoughts are picked up and challenged back by  in her post in Psychology Today, which summarises and champions the heart and hope our western interest in mindfulness is centred and moving from:

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

Beyond McMindfulness: Throwing the Baby Out with the Bathwater

Ever since mindfulness began spreading its wings in Western culture, there has been the fear that it would be stripped down, diluted and packaged for sale by greedy money-hoarding capitalists just wanting to make their bank accounts fatter. If this happened, inevitably it would just become a passing trend that the public would eventually grow weary of. The most cautionary piece about this was an article published on Huffington Post called Beyond McMindfulnessWhile the sentiment of commodifying mindfulness into a marketable technique is alive, and worth cautioning against, it’s important not to throw the baby out with the bathwater…

Ultimately, a program has to be marketed to meet people where they are. The 15th century Indian poet Kabir said, “Wherever you are that’s the entry point.” For people to enter into the experience of mindfulness, it helps to package it for stress reduction, reducing depressive relapse, increasing productivity, increasing attentional focus, or lowering blood pressure. These allow people to be attracted to it and then have a genuinely beneficial experience that can guide them toward what matters.

Can you imagine if you walked into a corporation and said, “We have a program that integrates ancient practices from a Buddhist context that embeds moral and ethical guidelines for the benefit of all beings.” I don’t think you’d find many takers. But, rest assured, most of the leading programs out there are taught by people who hold these moral values in mind and integrate them in a way that can be understood and accepted…

Ultimately, the reason mindfulness will not just become another trend is because too many people at this point are experiencing how it not only reduces stress, but gets you in touch with what matters. It’s intentionally not tied to the Buddhist context, so maybe we call it “Western mindfulness.” More and more people are being trained under a more secular perspective and with the intention of it being a benefit beyond the egoic self.

In fact, there’s now an entire magazine called Mindful that’s dedicated to these more secular perspectives and how it is changing the face of business, education, mental health, medicine, and all these various sectors of life. Take heart, the magazine was started by people who have a deep appreciation for mindfulness as a movement that is globally transformative.

A very popular conference called Wisdom 2.0 that is all probably the leading conference for mindfulness and business has a subtitle that says, “How do we live with greater awareness, wisdom and compassion in the digital age?” My sense is that the trend is not heading toward McMindfulness, but is deeper than that. The folks that are just packaging it for a buck are more likely going to be the ones whose voices get drowned out by the leading programs.

I appreciate the cautionary notes in Beyond McMindfulness since we need to be aware when someone is just using the term as a buzz word without ties to a deeper moral purpose. But I want to make sure it’s balanced out with the reality of how a secularization of mindfulness, while not explicitly tied to Buddhist principles, is a vital movement for individuals, businesses, medicine, mental health and education…

Boys and men commit the vast majority of violent acts, from domestic violence to murder. We’ve got to get at the root causes.

…Men practice high levels of mindfulness in a variety of arenas in our society. At  military boot camps and police academies, men learn to control their breathing and focus on a target before firing a weapon. Sports are a great training ground for mindfulness: Basketball players are taught to clear their mind by going through a routine when shooting a free throw. Being in “the zone” is active meditation in its highest form.

Notice, however, that in all of these mindfulness practices, compassion is removed from the equation. These boys and men are being trained for win-or-lose competition. “It has been historically dangerous for a man to be vulnerable,” says Elad Levinson, who suggests that men’s resistance to explore interior emotions like compassion is the result of hundreds of years of conditioning…

While some argue that this is the result of a biological predisposition, contemporary research in neuroplasticity, by scientists like Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin, Madison’s  Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, finds that even short-term compassion meditation training (30 minutes a day for eight weeks)  alters the brain activity in regions associated with positive emotional skills like empathy. That is true for both men and women. As Davidson  says, “Compassion is indeed an emotional skill that can be trained.”

We understand the benefits. The need is there. But how do we get men to participate in mindfulness and compassion training? Here are five ways to plant the seeds of compassion in boys—and cultivate its growth in men…

Moon Over South London Photo: Mark Trezona

Moon Over South London
Photo: Mark Trezona

The power of shutting down your senses: How to boost your creativity and have a clear mind

Written by 

John C. Lilly’s original floatation experiments involved people wearing uncomfortably tight suits and breathing masks while being completely submerged. The tanks also made lots of noise, so complete sensory deprivation wasn’t possible.

The modern scenario sounds much more comfortable, and goes something like this:

You strip off, shower and step into a pod-like tank full of water and 850 pounds of Epsom salts. The salts make sure you float and prevent the risk of drowning by making it extremely difficult to roll over…

The long period of nothingness leaves you with only your mind, essentially. Once your body starts to get used to the lack of sensory input, the stress-centers of your brain relax and release less cortisol—the main brain chemical related to stress. Graham Talley, who owns a sensory-deprivation tank center in Portland, explained it like this:

Getting rid of all sensory input allows the ‘constantly-make-sure-you’re-not-dying’ part of your brain to chill out for a second, allowing the creative, relaxed part of your brain to come out and play.

Without the constant pressure of analyzing the world around you, your body lowers its levels of cortisol, the main chemical component of stress. “Your brain also releases elevated levels of dopamine and endorphins, the neurotransmitters of happiness,” Graham continues. “Not having to fight gravity lets your muscles, joints, and bones take a well-deserved break. Without the gravity pushing you down, your spine lengthens an inch, chronic pain is relieved, and your muscles get to fully rest.”

…One of the coolest advantages of floating is how much it boosts creativity and nurtures inspiration. After floating in complete isolation, your senses are heightened… colors are more vibrant, scents more aromatic, and food taste better.

When part of your brain stops getting input—e.g. if one of your senses is deprived—other parts of your brain will pick up the slack. Many floaters experience hallucinations as their brains respond to not getting sensory input. This is part of the vivid mental imagery I mentioned earlier—your brain is relaxed enough to visualize strong images you wouldn’t see normally.

Are you curious enough to try it now? I certainly am. But, if you’re not quite ready to give it a go, or you’re not lucky enough to have a tank nearby, you can actually try some mild forms of sensory deprivation at home…

photo credit: cosmonautirussi via photopin cc

photo credit: cosmonautirussi via photopin cc

Mindful Photography: A Simple and Fun Exercise That Boosts Well-Being

Here’s another to add to the list.

It’s based on the idea that happiness is boosted by being grateful for what you have.

Unfortunately we often ignore what we have in the rush through everyday life.

One way of combating this is to take photographs of whatever is important to you as a reminder. Here are the instructions for ‘mindful photography‘, by positive psychology experts Jamie Kurtz and Sonia Lyubomirsky:

“Throughout the course of the day today, you will take photographs of your everyday life. […] think about the things in your life that are central to who you are. If you wanted someone to understand you and what you most care about, how would you capture this? While this is highly personal, some examples might include sports equipment [or] a memento from a favorite time spent with your romantic partner [..]. Have your camera or camera phone handy and take at least 5 photographs of these things today.” …

photo credit: HORIZON via photopin cc

photo credit: HORIZON via photopin cc

Harrison Ford Is A Carpenter

BY MICHELLE WITTON

Wise and practical ideas from actor, lawyer, Russian language student Michelle Witton about how to make a path through to your dreams that can be built from doing things you like and feel good at while you’re waiting to do the thing you love and feel passionate about…

…Both law and acting are working with language. Law is about creative problem-solving, generating options to deal with issues. It’s given me the knowledge to deal with contracts, raise money for shows, do free legal work for The Actor’s Centre. I don’t advocate it for all. I’m sharing about a path – just one of many – that I’ve found creatively sustaining and rewarding…

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

SHAWN ACHOR Author of the international bestseller, The Happiness Advantage and Positive Psychology Expert!

A summary of some of Shawn Achor’s writing and speech topics, including:

The Happiness Advantage: Linking Positive Brains to Performance

Most companies and schools follow this formula: if you work harder, you will be more successful, and then you will be happy. This formula is scientifically backward. A decade of research shows that training your brain to be positive at work first actually fuels greater success second. In fact, 75% of our job success is predicted not by intelligence, but by your optimism, social support network and the ability to manage energy and stress in a positive way.

By researching top performers at Harvard, the world’s largest banks, and Fortune 500 companies, Shawn discovered patterns, which create a happiness advantage for positive outliers—the highest performers at the company. Based on his book, The Happiness Advantage (2010 Random House), Shawn explains what positive psychology is, how much we can change, and practical applications for reaping the Happiness Advantage in the midst of change and challenge.

Positive Leadership: Restoring a Culture of Confidence

Confidence, trust and job satisfaction are at historic lows. When the economic collapse began, the world’s largest banks called in Shawn Achor to research how to restore confidence and forward progress. While many managers succumb to helplessness, with their teams and clients quickly following suit, Shawn researched those who maintained high levels of success and leadership during the challenge. He found that our brains create confidence based on the belief that our behavior matters to the outcome we desire. To develop this trust, we must create “wins” for our brain necessary to overcome learned helplessness and must train our brains for rational optimism.

Based on the science of positive psychology and case studies of working with companies in the midst of an economic collapse, Shawn provides practical applications for raising the belief that individual behavior matters and helping leaders to keep teams motivated and engaged.

The Ripple Effect: How to Make Positive Change Easier

Common sense is not common action. This is because information does not necessarily cause transformation because we require a certain level of “activation energy” to start a change. Shawn Achor’s research in the field of positive psychology has revealed how changes in our own brain due to mindset and behavior can have a ripple effect to a team and an entire organization. This positive ripple effect can create a more productive, positive work culture making positive change easier. Audiences will learn about the latest scientific research on mirror neurons and mental priming to explain how positivity and negativity spread, case studies on how to become a lightning rod for change, and findings on how a positive ripple effect profoundly affects an organization’s ability to transition and change.

Rethinking the Formula for Success: The Power of Positive Education

At schools and companies alike, we are sometimes taught to think: “if I work harder, then I will be successful, and then I will be happy.” This formula–which undergirds much of our educational and professional world–is scientifically backwards. Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, explains how positive brains reap a unique advantage raising nearly every educational and business outcome–but only if we get the formula right. By demonstrating how happiness is a choice, we can help students not only cultivate positive habits and mindsets, but achieve higher levels of success as a result.

Shawn’s study on 1600 Harvard students and his seven years as a Freshmen Proctor gave him a unique window into the thinking of success-driven and sometimes overwhelmed students. His subsequent work at schools and companies in 51 different countries now reveals how very simple changes to our mindset and habits can result in positive changes that cascade to others around us. Using his new research which made the cover of Harvard Business Review, interactive experiments, and humorous stories, Shawn shows how we can bring this research to life for our schools and for ourselves.

Shawn Achor photo credit: luci.mckean via photopin cc

Shawn Achor
photo credit: luci.mckean via photopin cc

Inside Bhutan: Is Happiness More Important than Economic Growth?

Max Johnson

As Bhutan heads to its second round of elections this weekend, Max Johnson reports on the mountainous nation and its commitment to Gross National Happiness

‘WE ALL WANT happiness: the question is, how much happiness does economic development bring you? Gross National Happiness is more important to us than GDP. We want to develop, but not at the expense of losing our culture, our identity.’ …

‘Look, all human beings want their lives to improve of course. But when we are on our death beds and we look back, we want to know that we lived a fulfilled life, a life without laziness, greed, arrogance, wrath and desire. The pursuit of wealth does not lead to the satisfaction of the soul. In the end, ashes to ashes, as you Christians say.’  …

But what exactly is Gross National Happiness? President Jigmi Y Thinley said in his party’s manifesto that the central tenet of GNH is about balancing the needs of the body (material gains) with those of the mind (spiritual growth).

GNH is thus based on four pillars: equitable and sustainable socio-economic development, environmental conservation (72 per cent of the country is covered by forests and 60 per cent is protected), preservation and promotion of culture and good governance…

photo credit: Risto Kuulasmaa via photopin cc

photo credit: Risto Kuulasmaa via photopin cc

And here’s an interesting exercise…

The 7-Word Autobiographies of Famous Writers, Artists, Musicians, and Philosophers

by 

John Irving, Joan Didion, David Byrne, Rem Koolhaas, Madeleine Albright, Malcolm Gladwell, Daniel Dennett, Andrew Sullivan, Ed Ruscha, Brian Eno, and more…

What seven words would you choose to describe you?

Happiness At Work #54

These and many more stories can all be found in this week’s collection.

Enjoy…

Moon Over South London Photo: Mark Trezona

Moon Over South London
Photo: Mark Trezona

Happiness At Work #51 ~ a guide to this week’s collection

balance

Our lead story this week is Judy Martin’s compelling Work, Stress, Bliss Manifesto and The Third Metric, a rousing urgent call to action to remedy our ailing organisations and the world we are making for ourselves before it is too late.  We really recommend you read her superb article in full, but here are some extracts we have taken from it…

Work, Stress, Bliss Manifesto and The Third Metric

Written on June 12, 2013 by 

The Work, Stress, Bliss Manifesto

“Deprived of meaningful work, men and women lose their reason for existence; they go stark raving mad.”

–  Russian Novelist, Fyodor Dostoevsky

Well-being at work is threatened with extinction. The new world of work is governed by expanding technology, exponentially increasing demands, and a changing workforce that strives to be successful in an always-on competitive marketplace which values money, power and fame above the human condition.

Tethered to technology in the work-life merge which has been thrust upon us, we are precariously teetering between the polarities of stress: the burnout kind and the euphoric kind that can trigger innovation, especially in a knowledge economy.

As never before, it seems we are faced with a cruel choice between overworking ourselves miserably to pay the bills at the expense of our well-being, and taking risks to satisfy our own deep desire to move toward a more joyful and blissful state of vocation that fuels our humanity and connection to a larger purpose…

Getting Into the Flow

We’re starving for a workplace culture and the individual internal conditions that allow for an emergent state of flow – where work is done with the kind of focus, intention and purpose that results in a feeling of satisfying accomplishment. Chronic work stress impedes this process threatening creativity and innovation which is crucial to compete.

But how can exhausted stressed-out employees enter the kind of rapture, immersion and positive energized focus in ones work that Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about? The kind of flow which triggers challenge, sparks creativity and elicits a sense of a larger contribution. That point where your challenges meet your skills, in “the zone.”

“Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”    

~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Such work when in the flow is a mindful extension of ones personal values and skills, amplification of individual core energy and unique creative prowess. In a perfect world, it’s being in a vortex with the ability to tap a unique set of skills against the backdrop of an inexhaustible inner passionate drive…

Human Beings at Work

We must take efforts to remember that we are human beings – living a work experience. And within that experience we must embrace the ethos of our Veritas: the truth of who we are at our core, as creative human beings.  Turning toward the very thing we have been programmed to forget and leave behind, gives the much-needed oxygen to the unique voice, pulse and rhythm that has been quieted.

The drive to expand our creativity at work and advance our careers has been crushed and/or left behind in the struggle to keep up in the new complex world of work and managing the integration of our working and living experience, which can cause enormous stress.

We have to refine our mindset around the interconnectedness of Work, Stress and Bliss in this new workplace era which I call The Human Capital Zeitgeist: a socio-economic and cultural shift defined by an emerging recognition that talent well-being is the kingpin to competing in a volatile marketplace. So much so, that big business might actually have to throw a bit more respect at the “human” in the human capital equation…

The New World of Work

Work and Life are no longer separate: By default we’re now living a work-life merge. Exhausted, over extended, uncertain about the future, and trepidacious to draw a line and define boundaries for fear of being replaced, scrutinized, or penalized in some way, a revolution in thought and behavior is coming down the pike that will upset the apple cart and force new ways of doing things…

It’s time to sound the alarm, for big business and entrepreneurs alike, to realize they are on a treadmill toward a demise in productivity and innovation. The way we work- the 40 plus hour-week, increasing workload, no work-life balance, opting out of lunchtime and vacation inevitably leads to chronic stress, the consequences of which are serious health issues, poor engagement and weak productivity.  The mindset of overwork in the context of our 24/7 hi-tech marketplace will never sustain growth…

The Stress Conundrum

  • 65% of workers cite work as a significant source of stress (APA, 2013)
  • Burned out employees develop heart problems at a 79% higher rate than less stressed out workers. (Tel Aviv University)
  • 98% of employers that measure employee well-being say stress is a workforce issue. ( Towers Watson, UK 2013)

When not managed, stress fueled by resentment at work, anxiety about competition, lack of control, job uncertainty, financial insecurity and work overload –  as opposed to the good kind gleaned from inspiration, motivation or a good old-fashioned deadline – will sabotage success, happiness, innovation and creativity…

If employees were a little happier, less stressed and more valued at work, chances are their well-being and productivity might improve.  Think of it as a simple equation. Neuroscience continues to reveal that managing stress and triggering the Relaxation Response influences stress hormones in our body in a positive way. It’s time to retrain the brain to respond better to stress, and to start thinking differently about our working experience as vocation.

The Bliss Crisis & Renewal

“Our real job is to be the people we are capable of being. Often people think, ‘I have to get a job,’ as though it’s something outside yourself. A real career when it’s seen as a calling, is something that emerges organically from who you are. A career is not separate from who you are, a career is an extension of who you are.” 

                ~Marianne Williamson, Spiritual Teacher and Author

The idea of blissful vocation has devolved, and we have grown to deem such thoughts of joyful work as an idealistic dream and the stuff of fairy tales. How can one find happiness in a job or career where the bottom-line trumps the quest for meaningful work, wisdom, wonder and well-being? …

The Cultural Evolution of the Workplace

Research shows that meaningful work can no longer take a backseat to the almighty dollar if companies want to secure and retain top skilled talent.

In The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement and Creativity at Work, Harvard Business School’s Teresa Amabile cites research that found that employees who have satisfying inner work lives – perform better, are more engaged and creative.

If employees were a little happier, less stressed and more valued at work, chances are their well-being and productivity might improve.  Think of it as a simple equation. Neuroscience shows us that the brain responds well to positive emotions. A happy brain works more effectively, is more focused, engaged, innovative, and creative. A happy brain improves cognition and increases productivity (A. J. Oswald, E. Proto, and D. Sgori, 2009)

The New Integrated World of Work, Stress and Bliss

Doing business in a 24/7 uncertain world, and all the bells and whistles of exponentially expanding technology, makes it difficult to tap our potential or “truest nature” at work when there is so much stress and noise. Uncertainty throws everyone. It’s easier to go with the status quo, than be the person who thinks out of the box.

Our charge is to better understand the new world of work, manage workplace and chronic stress with more consciousness, and finally do the work needed to reveal more meaning and purpose in our jobs. Ultimately, by cultivating resilience, we can trigger our own unique restorative skills, manage work stress, spark the creative impulse and consciously evolve in the workplace –  engaging in meaningful vocation. That means that well-being, wisdom and wonder might just inch their way into a more influential place in business.

I’ll be writing more about the components of The Veritas Principle and how we can cultivate resilience while tapping our truest nature in vocation.  I’m happy to hear your thoughts on the Work, Stress Bliss Manifesto. We’re on the precipice of change in the new world of work and I for one am thrilled to be witness to the journey of this evolution toward valuing human capital in the workplace and in the bottom-line.

Please join me in the conversation on Twitter @JudyMartin8.

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Here are some snippets from some other stories that we have especially liked this week…

…Margaret Mead once said, “If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place.”

We are currently living in a less-than-perfect world. We need new ideas, new organizations, new solutions and new leaders to be a part of creating change. We need people who are mindful, inclusive and interested in creating environments that respect the diversity that surrounds us. This will mean continuing the “Third Metric” dialogue, challenging current definitions of success and allowing diversity as a path to innovation through flexible and global leadership mindsets…

The Key To Happiness At Work (infographic)

JUNE 11 BY 

We spend so much of our lives at work that it’s important we find happiness while their. Unfortunately, boring, stressful and tedious jobs can take their toll and many people find their time at work more miserable than happy. So how can you find happiness at work?

Well, there are a few things you can change..

Not happy at your job? Your company is paying for it in innovation potential.

A Nov. 2011 paper from European Union-backed academic institution evoREG makes the case that happiness is both integral to the innovation process and oddly enough simultaneously misunderstood. The authors find happiness to be both an input factor as well as an output factor of the innovation process.

In other words, happiness leads to more innovation, and when directed properly, innovation creates more happiness for societies…

There is also evidence that happy employees are more productive.

In a 2004 paper titled “The Role of Psychological Well Being in Job Performance: A New Look at and Age Old Quest”, Thomas Wright and Russell Crapanzano documented that employees at research and development facilities and in inherently creative positions are more likely to be innovative when their self-reported psychological well-being, or happiness in other words, is high.

The authors go on to present three possible approaches to building a “happier” workforce:

  • Select employees who are already “happy” (though the authors point out that this could make the other candidates even more depressed and unemployable!).
  • Train employees to be happier through a number of cognitive restructuring stress-management techniques.
  • Through situational engineering, change the environment so that it is more conducive to happiness.

So, let’s have more cheesecake and happy employees. Innovation and economic growth depends on it…

Employee Happiness as a Business Tool [infographic]

…employee happiness affects the productivity of the workplace, and the overall feelings that employees have about their work. Fixing issues that make employees unhappy can turn the productivity of a workplace around, and can ultimately save a doomed business. When looking for jobs, I will definitely look at the environment of my future employers to see if it is a place that I will feel happy in…

This is your brain on happy: Machine can read your emotions

Maggie Fox, NBC News

Carnegie Mellon University Brain scans show a person who is happy, left, and sad. Researchers used fMRI to image emotional states of the brains of 10 volunteers.

Researchers have figured out how to read your mind and tell whether you are feeling sad, angry or disgusted – all by looking at a brain scan.

The experiment, using 10 acting students, showed people have remarkably similar brain activity when experiencing the same emotions. And a computer could predict how someone was feeling just by looking at the scan…

You are what you think

By Bob Bailly

To put it simply, neurons that fire together wire together and survive. Our brains are being wired moment by moment and then pruned according to use. We become what we do and think.

This ability to wire our brains has been called neuroplasticity. Think of it as use it or lose it. Alexander Luria, a famous Russian psychologist who studied fundamental systems of the brain, discovered in the early part of the 20th century that damaged brains can be retrained through repetition. In a sense you grow your brain through exercise, both mental and physical, with results similar to exercising. By stressing your muscles, they strengthen and grow; by stressing your brain it too will grow in response to the stress…

I would argue that the incredible number of hours spent by many kids today with new technology is also having an effect on their brain development. I’m just not sure whether it is positive or negative. Assuming the mind can control the brain, we need to be careful what we think and do…

How is your emotional intelligence doing? Interview from Época Negócios

For over 15 years, American-born expert Joshua Freedman has been dedicated to putting the concept of emotional intelligence into practice. He is one of the professionals responsible for the Six Seconds EQ Certification Training, which bridges the gap between the concept of emotional intelligence and the real life of people and businesses.  The concept of emotional intelligence was first popularized by the American psychologist Daniel Goleman, in the 90s…

In the following decade, the 2000s, was the time to try and figure out how it works. Now, in the third decade, we are applying the concept. There are many projects and people finding different ways to take advantage of emotional intelligence. Our ambition is that by the year 2039, one billion people will be practicing the techniques of emotional intelligence.

There are several approaches to emotional intelligence. In the Six Seconds method, the primary practice consists of three steps:

1. Become more aware of what you feel and your reactions in the present moment.

2. Enjoy the opportunity to decide, consciously, how you will respond to situations rather than react impulsively.

3. Take into account your major goals and ensure that your answers are in alignment with those goals.

In summary, the three steps are: feelings, options, goals. If people practice this process they will be using their emotional intelligence to create better results. At each meeting, in negotiations, decision making, on a daily basis…

Lunch Meeting

Creative freelancers: who’s sitting round your table?

Just because you don’t work in an office doesn’t mean you don’t have colleagues. Gather your network, says Juliet Simmons

“Are you leaning in?” Thanks to Sheryl Sandberg, today’s working women are mulling over a question that often seems to focus on the need to work harder and faster. But if you just step back or dig a little deeper, you’ll find that it’s not all about the hours that you put in – it’s also about taking advantages of the people and opportunities that come your way…

As Jonathan Saffran Foer recently wrote in the New York Times: “Everyone is always in need of something that another person can give, be it undivided attention, a kind word or deep empathy. There is no better use of a life than to be attentive to such needs.”

At the heart of The Table and its success and growth is a realisation that in this technology-filled world, it’s human face-to-face contact and connections that help you in life. The Table is about connecting with smart creative people, realising that there’s a bit of smart and creative in all of us, and that we need others to fulfil that potential…

Happy People

Community Bonding Protects Your Happiness in Times of Stress

Emerging research suggests that social cohesion across communities can help others cope better with crises, and improve happiness among individuals.

Economist Dr. John Helliwell and colleagues from the University of British Columbia in Canada believe this shows that part of the reason for this greater resilience is the fact that humans are more than simply social beings, they are so-called “pro-social” beings.

In other words, they get happiness not just from doing things with others, but from doing things both with and for others…

In the study, researchers reviewed the relative roles of social capital and income as determinants of happiness.

They discovered that countries in economic transition show the power of social trust, i.e., the belief that generally speaking, most people can be trusted. Social trust is an indicator of the quality of a country’s social capital, which increases happiness directly but also permits a softer landing in the face of external economic shocks.

The authors wrap up the paper with a look at the power of human nature and the suggestion that the core goal of public policy should be to facilitate the development of institutions that bring out the best in humans…

Businessman Thinking on Steps

Are we caught in a happy trap?

by Jill Stark

Happy ever after: We want it for ourselves, we want it for our kids, and we want it now. But what if everything we know about happiness is a lie? What if the relentless pursuit of pleasure is in fact making us miserable?

A growing number of psychologists and social researchers now believe that the ”feel-good, think positive” mindset of the modern self-help industry has backfired, creating a culture where uncomfortable emotions are seen as abnormal. And they warn that the concurrent rise of the self-esteem movement – encouraging parents to shower their children with praise – may be creating a generation of emotionally fragile narcissists.

Some therapists believe this positivity obsession is partly to blame for rising rates of binge drinking, drug use and obesity. The more that genuine contentment eludes us, the more we seek to fill the gap with manufactured highs. But as we try to anaesthetise feelings of sadness, failure and disappointment, our rates of depression and anxiety continue to climb.

“So many people now think, ‘If I’m not happy, there’s something wrong with me.’ We seem to have forgotten that feelings are like the weather – changing all the time; it’s as normal to feel unhappy as it is to have rainy days,” said Russ Harris, a British-born Australian doctor and author of The Happiness Trap, in which he argues popular wisdom on happiness is misleading and destined to make you miserable. “Increasingly people are developing anxiety about their anxiety and dissatisfaction about their dissatisfaction. Painful emotions are increasingly seen as unnatural and abnormal and we refuse to accept that we can’t always get what we want. This sets you up for a struggle with reality, because the things that make life rich and full – developing a meaningful career, or building an intimate relationship, or raising children – do not just give you good feelings, they also give you plenty of pain.”

Carol Dweck urges parents to talk to their children not just about their victories but their struggles. Like Harris, she maintains that accepting setbacks and unpleasant emotions, rather than trying to block them out, is the key to building resilience. “Research has shown the great successes are people who are able to endure long periods of tedious work to accomplish what they want. If we’re taught things should be effortless – we should be happy all the time, everything should be exciting and interesting – we’re at a great disadvantage. Struggle should be something that’s valued, not something that we view as being just for incompetent people” …

“We have to nurture our relationships, our engagements with other people, our responsibility for other people’s wellbeing – that’s what nurtures community, and we are sustained by those communities. If we’re just going for the easy emotional stuff or the materialist stuff this is actually bad for the life of our community because it nurtures self indulgence, self-centredness and competitiveness,” says Australian social researcher Hugh Mackay. “If we focus only on happiness we’re neglecting the richness of the full emotional spectrum and we’re overlooking the fact that you couldn’t make sense of happiness if you didn’t know sadness.”

New Zealand psychologist Chris Skellett knows this only too well. His book, When Happiness Is Not Enough, explores how a fulfilling life can only be achieved by balancing being happy in the moment, with a drive towards longer term goals.

He speaks from a position of tragic, lived experience. Last month, his 21-year-old son Henry died suddenly and unexpectedly. Whilst coping with overwhelming grief, his understanding of the importance of the full range of human emotions has never been greater…

Clinical Psychologist Chris Skellett talks about his book When Happiness Is Not Enough –
Balancing pleasure and achievement in your life.

Sleep - man asleeo at desk (soft focus)

Four top tips for better sleep and improved workplace performance

In his book, Internal Time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired, Professor Till Roenneberg discusses the research he’s done into sleep patterns and the impact they have on personal performance.

Social jet lag, as Roenneberg refers to it, occurs when the body clock is out of synch with the rhythms we’re being asked to comply with, whether they be family routines, school or office life. This doesn’t only make peak performance challenging, it can also have a negative impact on how we eat, how we exercise and even how we are able to make changes in our lives – the ability to give up smoking is one surprising example he cites – so it’s something we should all make an effort to take account of, both for ourselves and to help those we live and work with.

So what can you do if you’re at risk from social jet-lag? Here are some tips that we’ve found can make a positive difference…

Man Reading Book and Sitting on Bookshelf in Library

Study: Reading novels makes us better thinkers

New research says reading literary fiction helps people embrace ambiguous ideas and avoid snap judgments

BY 

A trio of University of Toronto scholars, led by psychologist Maja Djikic, report that people who have just read a short story have less need for what psychologists call “cognitive closure.” Compared with peers who have just read an essay, they expressed more comfort with disorder and uncertainty—attitudes that allow for both sophisticated thinking and greater creativity.

“Exposure to literature,” the researchers write in the Creativity Research Journal, “may offer a (way for people) to become more likely to open their minds.”…

“The thinking a person engages in while reading fiction does not necessarily lead him or her to a decision,” they note. This, they observe, decreases the reader’s need to come to a definitive conclusion.

“Furthermore,” they add, “while reading, the reader can stimulate the thinking styles even of people he or she might personally dislike. One can think along and even feel along with Humbert Humbert in Lolita, no matter how offensive one finds this character. This double release—of thinking through events without concerns for urgency and permanence, and thinking in ways that are different than one’s own—may produce effects of opening the mind.”

The researchers have no idea how long this effect might last. But their discovery that it is stronger in frequent readers suggests such people may gradually become programmed to respond in this way. “It is likely that only when experiences of this kind accumulate to reach some critical mass would they lead to long-term changes of meta-cognitive habits,” they write.

Their results should give people “pause to think about the effect of current cutbacks of education in the arts and humanities,” Djikic and her colleagues add. After all, they note, while success in most fields demands the sort of knowledge gained by reading non-fiction, it also “requires people to become insightful about others and their perspectives.”

If their conclusions are correct, that all-important knowledge can be gained by immersing yourself in a work of literature. There’s no antidote to black-or-white thinking like reading “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Blank canvas and easel

How Do Artists Differ From Bank Officers?

By Scott Barry Kaufman

…the more research I conduct on this topic, the more I become convinced there really are a particular set of personal characteristics that distinguish people in creative professions, as well as people who are making innovative and valuable contributions in their respective fields (whatever the field)…

Consider a hot off the press study just published in Creativity Research Journal. Edward Necka and Teresa Hlawacz recruited 60 visual artists and 60 bank officers in Poland, and administered a variety of tests of temperament and divergent thinking (one component of creativity requiring the ability to generate many different possibilities). How did the artists differ from the bank officers? …

Socrates Teaching The Humanities

Why Study Humanities? What I Tell Engineering Freshmen

By John Horgan

The humanities are subversive. They undermine the claims of all authorities, whether political, religious or scientific. This skepticism is especially important when it comes to claims about humanity, about what we are, where we came from, and even what we can be and should be. Science has replaced religion as our main source of answers to these questions. Science has told us a lot about ourselves, and we’re learning more every day.

But the humanities remind us that we have an enormous capacity for deluding ourselves. They also tell us that every single human is unique, different than every other human, and each of us keeps changing in unpredictable ways. The societies we live in also keep changing–in part because of science and technology! So in certain important ways, humans resist the kind of explanations that science gives us.

The humanities are more about questions than answers, and we’re going to wrestle with some ridiculously big questions in this class. Like, What is truth anyway? How do we know something is true? Or rather, why do we believe certain things are true and other things aren’t? Also, how do we decide whether something is wrong or right to do, for us personally or for society as a whole?

Also, what is the meaning of life? What is the point of life? Should happiness be our goal? Well, what the hell is happiness? And should happiness be an end in itself or just a side effect of some other more important goal? Like gaining knowledge, or reducing suffering?

Each of you has to find your own answer to these questions. Socrates, one of the philosophers we’re going to read, said wisdom means knowing how little you know. Socrates was a pompous ass, but there is wisdom in what he says about wisdom…

Crayons

12 Ways to Spark Your Creativity

The Creative You

Everyone is born creative.

The boxes of crayons in kindergarten were not limited to those who possessed potential; because the truth is, everybody has potential.

People appear to have the delusion that only a few are capable of creative genius. This is one of life’s biggest myths.

The truth is, creativity is very much like a muscle; everyone has the ability, but some people don’t practice it because they don’t believe they are capable.

You know this isn’t true.

If you’ve tried to create something in the past and it didn’t work out, maybe it’s because you were trying too hard.

Creativity is a matter of doing, not a process of thinking. Learn to be spontaneous to be able to bring ideas to fruition, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

Here are some ways you can unleash the creativity within yourself…

We often think of artists and writers as fueling their creative process with endless cups of coffee (as well as other substances). But, writes Maria Konnikova on the New Yorker‘s “Elements” blog, all that caffeine may actually inhibit creativity…

“While caffeine has numerous benefits, it appears that the drug may undermine creativity more than it stimulates it…

According to a recent review of some hundred studies, caffeine has a number of distinct benefits. Chief among them are that it boosts energy and decreases fatigue; enhances physical, cognitive, and motor performance; and aids short-term memory, problem solving, decision making, and concentration.

But all of that comes at a cost. Science is only beginning to unravel the full complexity behind different forms of creative accomplishment; creativity is notoriously difficult to study in a laboratory setting, and the choice of one approach over another limits the way that creativity can be measured. Still, we do know that much of what we associate with creativity—whether writing a sonnet or a mathematical proof—has to do with the ability to link ideas, entities, and concepts in novel ways. This ability depends in part on the very thing that caffeine seeks to prevent: a wandering, unfocussed mind…

Dimming the lights can increase your creativity by making you feel ‘free from constraints’

  • People in dim light are better at solving creative insight problems

  • Those in normal light are no more creative than those in bright light

  • And we can become more creative just by thinking about being in dim light

German researchers found that people sitting in dim light are significantly better able to solve creative insight problems than those working under normal or bright lights.

However, people working under normal lights are no more creative than those in very bright light.

They also discovered that people who work under dim lights feel ‘free from constraints’.

The researchers, at the University of Stuttgart and the University of Hohenheim, believe that this perceived increase in freedom improves people’s creative performance.

Medical Daily reports that a person can actually increase their creativity just by describing sitting in the dark because of a psychological effect known as priming – this occurs when a person moves an idea to the forefront of their brain by recalling it…

This near darkness, near silence

Author: Tim Etchells

I am still sitting in the auditorium. Looking forwards. I can’t see so much at all. The backs of people’s heads maybe. And the volume of the stage space hardly looms in the quiet and the darkness. All the lights are off. Did I mention that already? I don’t think so.

It’s the first space of imagining, isn’t it? This near darkness, near silence. Something foundational about it – at least from the Christian creation story of course. First darkness, then light. But without the exit signs. And in our own lives, the experience of darkness must be pretty much foundational…

Darkness as a space of social isolation. Lying there you’re aware of your own isolation. Hearing the rest of the house or the apartment continue as you lie there. Remember there is no silence – sleep as the state that wills silence into being, demands or imposes silence…

In the Forced Entertainment performance Bloody Mess John Rowley bids the audience “Close your eyes”. He is trying to explain to the darkness at the beginning of the world. Close your eyes.

The other space of imagining – close your eyes.

“Close your eyes”.

Because for some reason story state, story place, is close to the state or place of sleep. The habit of reading to children at bed time. Speaking them out of this world and into another one. Mimicking the transaction that will soon come from the waking state to the state of sleep.

Maybe. Yes. But.

CLOSE YOUR EYES

Connected deeply to the act of imagining. Because, in its pure form imaging is best done without present distraction. We need to put our attention elsewhere. To bring a picture in the mind it’s best to have none in front of us. Z, I say as I am reading to him. Please do not whisper to yourself, or please do not play with that as we’re reading.

We’re busy working in here. In the head. We don’t need anything getting in the way of that. Like now, for example.

And here is BridgeBuilders Martyn Duffy’s piece about listening and the sounds around us that he wrote this week for Shaky Isles Theatre company

Your noise, my music

Listening in and out of context –  daydreaming on the sound-making process

BY MARTYN DUFFY

Music is continuous, but listening is intermittent.

John Cage

…I have come to think of sound as something that is all around me that I am exploring and finding my way through.  Swimming through the sound waves.

This has led to a new awareness of the ordinary sounds and noises that are present in every aspect of my day.  Some call this noise.  To me it is a kind of music. It does not matter whether it is indoors or out, in the city or in the countryside.  The world is a very noisy place.  And our process of how we listen is what helps us make sense of it all – order out of chaos if you like.  I don’t believe there is ever such a thing as true silence.  Silence is not the absence of sound but a field of possibilities…

A sound is all the possible ways there are to hear it.

Listen for a moment.

What do you hear?

 

Turn It Up: How the Right Amount of Ambient Noise Increases Creativity

by David Burkus

For most creatives there is a “Goldilocks” zone of just the right amount of noise, but not too much.

Perhaps this is why so many creatives often retreat to public spaces like coffee shops. They’ve become a virtual second office to so many. Specifically, settings like coffee shops contain the right level of ambient noise that just happens to trigger our minds to think more creatively. A paper published late last year in the Journal of Consumer Research, argues that the ideal work environment for creative projects should contain a little bit of background noise.

But what if you aren’t free to roam to coffee shops and hotel lobbies in search of distracted focus? What if you need to re-create the coffee shop environment inside your cubicle or office? Luckily there are several virtual options available…

Night Noise: What a Sleeping Brain Hears

By Dorian Rolston

Earlier this year, a Kickstarter campaign for a documentary film called “In Pursuit of Silence” raised $35,371, exceeding its goal in just a few weeks… By “exploring the value of silence, our relationship with sound, and the implications of living in a noisy world,” promised Patrick Shen, the documentary’s director, viewers could indulge in 80 minutes of quiescence. And, for over 35 million Americans suffering from hearing loss, toiling in urban cacophonies roughly 1 decibel louder every year, perhaps that was worth the price of admission.In a 2011 publication, “Burden of disease from environmental noise,” a WHO-led research team analyzed data from numerous large-scale epidemiological studies of environmental noise in Western European countries within the past 10 years. The studies looked closely at planes grumbling, trains whooshing and whistling, and automobiles bleeping, and then traced links to cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment in children, sleep disturbance, tinnitus, and relentless annoyance. Poring over these data, the WHO team calculated the disability-adjusted life-years or DALYs—in essence, healthy years of life—lost to “unwanted,” human-induced dissonance. The toll: not counting industrial workplaces, at least one million DALYs each year. “There is overwhelming evidence,” they conclude, “that exposure to environmental noise has adverse effects on the health of the population.” …

European countries, included in the WHO publication, attributed to noise nearly 1 in 50 heart attacks across Western Europe. The panel ultimately ranked traffic noise second among environmental threats to public health, just behind air pollution, and affirmed the threat to be, unlike that from exposure to second-hand smoke, dioxins, or benzene, rising inexorably. Noise pollution “is considered not only an environmental nuisance,” WHO has warned correctively, “but also a threat to public health.” All of which raises the question: If the world is so much noisier, then why is no one listening?

The insidiousness of noise is not only that it kills, but that it does so quietly. According to the WHO publication, the majority of lost DALYs can be traced to noise we aren’t even aware of hearing. The real danger, it appears, is from whatever drifts into our ears undetected—during sleep….

As we nod off, our perceptual faculties become attuned to the environment in such a way that, unlike during the day, can’t be consciously managed. The mind is rendered vulnerable to whatever stimuli happens to filter through, and, since the eyes can be shut, that happens to be through the ears. This receptivity was undoubtedly adaptive for our ancestors, alerting them to predators lurking in the darkness.

But for us today, the WHO reports, it “constitutes a health issue.”…

Shen, for his part, remains ever in pursuit of them. “There’s a quality of sound we’re looking for when we say we’re seeking silence,” he says. “The sound of birds chirping, research shows, is very calming and soothing to us. If you think about our evolutionary past, that sound would be a signal of safety, indicating that the danger is gone and we are now safe to leave our caves.” If the night noise that invades our sleep is any indication, abiding in our caves—or, as Shen intends, donning the cavernous protection of noisecancelling headphones—sounds more or less right…

Windows light at night in office block

Radio Silence Is Not a Leadership Strategy

by Alli Polin

Globally, we’re living at a time that the call to action is more, better, faster, NOW!  Leaders are overwhelmed with emails, meetings, conference calls and technology that keeps them connected 24/7 all demanding immediate response and resolution.  Despite the fact that we realize that we want thoughtful solutions, we also want immediate attention and action from leaders.  When there is a pause between our super important message and the leader’s response, we frequently make up stories to fill the void.

Some stories we tell ourselves are:
– My idea was terrible.
– They just don’t care.
– I guess I’m on my own.
– The leader stinks.

In contrast with the stories, here’s a glimpse into the reality of many leaders:
– Sincerely want to support their team and be responsive to customer requests.
– Buried daily under an avalanche of meetings and messages that takes away critical time from working with the team.
– Truly want to take the time to process and think before replying on gut alone.
– Next steps are unclear and they need time to connect with others to figure it out.

How can the gap between the leader’s reality and the desire for constant contact be bridged? …

You Write Like a Girl! 5 Ways Women Sell Themselves Short When Writing

Linguist Deborah Tannen has been studying gender differences in communication for nearly 40 years. In her bestselling book, Talking From 9 to 5: women and Men in the Workplace, Tannen outlines how women are socialized to use language in ways that hurt them in the workplace.

She explains that even young boys are conscious of their public image, rarely discussing their weaknesses. Girls, on the other hand, “…are expected to be ‘humble’—not try to take the spotlight, emphasize the ways they are just like everyone else, and de-emphasize ways they are special.”

Here are five questions to help you determine whether you’re giving yourself the credit you deserve:

1. Do You Emphasize Process or Results?

2. How Specific Are Your Verbs?

3. Are Your Individual Contributions Clear?

4. Are You Speaking Directly, or Through a Filter?

5. Do Your Adjectives Describe Emotion, or Action?

deadline

Living in a Brainwashed Culture of Urgency

By 

Everything is urgent and important. 

Or so it seems.

How do we better understand that this is all an illusion that is occurring in this very era we’re living in?

The way I see it, gaining freedom from false urgency is the most important practice of our time, or so we’ll come to understand in the years to come.

Now, this may seem simple, but it’s not easy, because our brains have been conditioned for years now to believe that all these forms of media are urgent and important. That means it’s now become a default, meaning it’s what happens when there’s no awareness.

In this moment right now, you have the ability to break free from the illusion of urgency and step back into your life. All it takes is recognizing the reality of the illusion and being on the lookout for it.

As an initial practice to play with, take today to be on the lookout for the illusion of urgency and see what you notice. Is there a space to step into greater freedom? …

Country Road On Cloudy Day

Defining Leadership

What is your definition of leadership? Only few people have a solid answer to this question. Few have a clear definition of what leadership means for them personally.
Therefore it’s useful to explore the different definitions, perspective and viewpoints on leadership….

 

Reckless person

Our favourite thinkers about resilience are Steven M. Southwick and Dennis S. Charney.  It is their model of 10 Essential Elements for Resilience that we use in our training.  And it is their model that Ingrid Wickelgren refers to in her article about the importance of facing our fears and stepping up to challenges:

How to Become More Resilient

Steven M. Southwick and Dennis S. Charney confirm that one of the best ways to build resilience is to make an effort to take on increasingly difficult, but manageable challenges (see “Enhance Your Resilience”). Doing so will help you handle higher levels of stress. (For more on why, see “When Is Stress Good for You? [Video].”) Other strategies for building resilience include getting physical exercise, learning to regulate your emotions, solidifying your personal relationships and looking for resilient role models. Resilience is apparently not just something that comes about by accident. You can train yourself to bounce back from adversity…

Life Breath of Half the World

Steve McCurry’s pictures this week are all of people in Monsoon water.  But this does not mean that these are pictures of disaster…

India’s  monsoon rains have covered the entire country a month ahead of schedule, brightening the prospects for a bumper output of summer-sown crops such as rice, oilseeds and cotton in one of the world’s leading producers.

ENTER GREATIST’S FIRST-EVER WRITING CONTEST! “HOW I FIND HAPPINESS”

There are as many ways to find happiness as there are people walking around on this planet. But even though happiness can mean so many things, it’s important to understand the role it plays in our individual lives. Owning our happiness can motivate us to pursue our goals, inspire us to make changes in our lives, and make it that much easier for us to spread kindness and smiles around the world.

At Greatist, we’re big on happiness. So we want to know: What makes you happy?How do you cultivate happiness in your own life? How do you find happiness?

We’re announcing the launch of Greatist’s first-ever Writing Contest: “How I Find Happiness.” The top three stories (as determined by Greatist’s editorial team) will be featured right here on Greatist.com.

The Details
  • Submissions will be accepted from now until 11:59 pm EST onJuly 1, 2013.
  • Stories can be up to 1,500 words but cannot have been published elsewhere (including personal blogs).
  • Multimedia is encouraged, but not required.
  • Unfortunately, Greatist ambassadors are unable to apply. But we still love you!
  • All submissions should be emailed to myhappyis@greatist.com. Be sure to include your name and contact information. It would also be great if you told us how you learned about Greatist (but this won’t affect the judging one iota).
  • Any questions can be sent to the same email address (above).

You can find all of these stories – and many more – in this week’s new collection:

 Happiness At Work Edition #51 

And here is a poem by CultFit that we like very much and hope you will enjoy too…

And For No Reason

And

For no reason

I start skipping like a child.

And

For no reason

I turn into a leaf

That is carried so high

I kiss the Sun’s mouth

And dissolve.

And

For no reason

A thousand birds

Choose my head for a conference table,

Start passing their

Cups of wine

And their wild songbooks all around.

And

For every reason in existence

I begin to eternally,

To eternally laugh and love!

When I turn into a leaf

And start dancing,

I run to kiss our beautiful Friend

And I dissolve in the Truth

That I Am.

Being Home & Not Being Home ~ a reflection on the sounds and silences of living in London

by Mark Trezona

(This was a guest post originally written for Shaking Out ~ the Shaky Isles Theatre Company Blog. which publishes a new piece by a guest every artist every Tuesday)

Colin McCahon's 'This Is The Promised Land' + South London

Colin McCahon’s ‘This Is The Promised Land’ + South London

Have you ever done that thing in London where you go outside – especially in the smallest hours of the morning – and just listen in to as many sounds of the city as you can hear?

‘…that indefinable boom of distant but ever-present sound which tells that London is up and doing, and which will swell into a deafening roar as the day grows older [and] now rises faintly but continuously upon the ear’.  (Charles Manby Smith, 1857) 

The ‘roar’ here suggests the presence of some great beast, but more significant is this sense of continuous, distant sound as if it were a form of meditation or self-communing…

London has always been characterised by the noise that is an aspect of its noisomeness.  It is part of its unnaturalness, too, like the roaring of some monstrous creature.  But it is also a token of its energy and power.  

Its noise is ancient but always renewed,  a perpetual sound that’s variously compared to Niagara, in its persistence and remorselessness, and to the beating of a human heart.  It is intimate and yet impersonal, like the noise of life itself…

A celebrated American of the nineteenth century, James Russell Lowell,  has written: ‘One other thing about London impresses me beyond any other sound I have ever heard and that is the low, unceasing roar one hears always in the air; it is not a mere accident, like a tempest or cataract, but it is impressive, because it always indicates human will, and impulse, and conscious movement; and I confess that when I hear it I almost feel as if I were listening to the roaring loom of time.’  (Peter Ackroyd, London The Biography, pp.71, 75, 76)

Tuning in acutely to these sounds and feeling a connection to this vibrating chorus of so many different lives and possibilities and relationships and stories happening –  and heading towards happening – gives me a rush so strong that I always want to hug myself and shout out how fucking lucky I feel to be living here and calling this great over-sized mess of a city my home.

This same rush of euphoria pulses through every cell of me if I stop myself walking midway across any of London’s bridges and take time to stand and stare‘. In these moments the sights of the city overwhelm its sounds, and I hear, instead, myself, sounding out again: This is my city.  This is where I live.  This is my home.  This is the feeling that I felt the first day I arrived here and I feel it still just as strongly 27 years later.

And, even if it’s the middle of the day and London is glistening and prickling in its busyness, the feeling I get is of a moment locked into its own steel blue circular intensity that unstoppably re-conjures whatever echoes I can remember that moment from William Wordsworth’s enduring poem:

Upon Westminster Bridge

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth like a garment wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

All this powerful presence.

All this history and all this yet to be.

All this that I live in and amongst and call my own.

This is London, my home.

Yeeeeeehaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!

It is the feeling I recognised instantly when I read  the start of Katherine Mansfield’s 1918 short story, Bliss:

Although Bertha Young was thirty she still had moments like this when she wanted to run instead of walk, to take dancing steps on and off the pavement, to bowl a hoop, to throw something up in the air and catch it again, or to stand still and laugh at – nothing – at nothing, simply…

What can you do if you are thirty and, turning the corner of your own street you are overcome, suddenly, by a feeling of bliss – absolute bliss! – as though you’d suddenly swallowed a bright piece of that late afternoon sun and it burned in your bosom, sending out a little shower of sparks into every particle, into every finger and toe?

Oh is there no way you can express it without being “drunk and disorderly”?  How idiotic civilisation is!  Why be given a body if you have to keep it shut up in a case like a rare, rare fiddle?

These lines are used by Matthieu Ricard to start the first chapter of his book, The Art of Happiness: A Guide to Nurturing Life’s Most Important Skill.  I am reading Matthieu Ricard, Buddhist monk, photographer and author, and a man whose happiness has been widely studied and is considered to be the happiest man on the planet as part of my ongoing exploration through the subject of happiness and human flourishing.  (Check out Happiness Is A Skill, and his TEDTalk The Habits of Happiness for an introduction to his gentle wisdom.)

It pleases me very much to find the words of one of our New Zealand writers helping to elucidate wisdom from the happiest man in the known universe.  Just as it pleased me to discover that Katherine Mansfield is the only writer Virginia Woolf ever felt jealous of.  It makes me feel plumped up about being a New Zealander.

But back to the blissed out Bertha Young, home now in her London house of 100 years ago:

…in her bosom there was still that bright glowing place – that shower of little sparks coming from it. It was almost unbearable.  She hardly dared to breathe for fear of fanning it higher, and yet she breathed deeply, deeply.  She hardly dared look into the cold mirror – but she did look, and it gave her back a woman, radiant, with smiling, trembling lips, with big dark eyes and an air of listening, waiting for something…divine to happen…that she knew must happen…infallibly.

And here is the second dimension of what living in London feels like to me – that sense of possibility, that at any moment at any time in any part of the city you could meet someone extraordinary and make a connection and something intense and special could happen, maybe just for the shortest moment, maybe for much longer, maybe even for the rest of your life.  And that, if it didn’t happen today, this week, it will happen, and happen again many times more.  This city is too rich and magnificent and full of people with all of their experiences and expectations and dreams and demands and eccentricities and impossible certainties and jangling anxieties for you not to bang into someone, something, that feels… what?  meant?  important?  uniquely personal?  only possible here?

It happens for Bertha with a woman she has newly met and invited to a dinner party in her London home:

…the two women stood side by side looking at the slender, flowering pear tree.  Although it was so still it seemed, like the flame of a candle, to stretch up, to a point, to quiver in the bright air, to grow taller and taller as they gazed – almost to touch the rim of the round silver moon.

How long did they stand there?  Both, as it were, caught in the circle of unearthly light, understanding each other perfectly, creatures of another world, and wondering what they were to do in this one with all this blissful treasure that burned in their bosoms and dropped, in silver flowers, from their hair and hands?

For ever – for a moment?  And did Miss Fulton murmur: “Yes. Just that.”  Or did Bertha dream it?

This is what living in London is for me.  An ever-present effervescence of possibility, where any time could bring surprise and discovery, where there is still more potential and life to be uncovered than any living yet done could use up.  And where you can be whoever you decide to be today – so far as you yourself will allow – and walk out into the city and the city will absorb and make a perfect fit of the you you’ve made – or are imagining – yourself to be.

You can be.

Just that.

All that.

And yet, and yet…

Alongside the heady hearty noisy rush of my claim to this city, there is always a parallel track of feelings of alienation, foreignness, displacement, nostalgia and longing for people, places, smells, tastes and sounds from another country.

I am not from here, of here.  I am like the other 3 million of London’s 8.5 million residents, the 37% of Londoners who were not born in the UK, and, for as long as I live here I will always be living ‘away from home’.  For us, as much as this place is about the thrill and possibility of its noise, the full quality of our presence here is as ambiguous and hard to discern as London’s silence, sensed only sometimes and partially as

…an absence of being…a negative force…

There is almost a theatrical aspect to this silence, as if it had been tainted by the artificiality of London.  It is not a natural silence but a ‘play’, one of a series of violent contrasts which the inhabitants of London must endure.  It is in that sense wholly ambiguous; it may provoke peaceful contemplation, or it may arouse anxiety. (London, p.81, 82)

No New Zealand Londoner I know makes their home here for a quiet life.  That is what New Zealand is for, what pulls many New Zealanders back, and what those of us who stay here never quite stop romanticising up and longing after: that little piece of our own wide and spacious  utterly natural and wildly beautiful New Zealand serenity.  The Sounds.  The Huka Falls.  A Northland Beach.  South Island’s West Coast. An art deco boutique hotel in Napier.  Walking any one of our National Parks.  The Coromandel.  Substitute your own place of choice: even if you’re not a New Zealander, if you’ve been to New Zealand, you’ll have one.

We New Zealanders know why those of you who go there tell us it is such a special place.  When we are ‘back home’ we expat New Zealanders are always re-amazed at the number and brightness of stars in our southern sky.  We hold our homeland dear and remain constant and true to its natural wonderfulness, something we never expect London to begin to compete with.  This is the universal call of our homeland: its promise of perfect uncontaminated astoundingly beautiful wide open silence.

(In fact, when I was last in Auckland I was shocked at how shouty and loud and noisy our city dwelling native birds are – until I got to Sydney, where the birds are even louder still.)

But in London the birds sing all night.  London is never silent.  London’s silence has to be heard and felt in the contrasting relative quiet of our bedrooms (we hope), and in the moments when we are stopped in our lives just long enough to feel its echo, and in the delay we still hear across our telephone and skype calls to friends and family ‘back home,’ and in the felt absence of a newsy email update sometimes, (or, much more likely in my case, in the guilt of still not yet having written one), and in the marking of big moments happening across the world in another time zone without us being able to be there, in ‘being there in spirit’, in missing the lives we are forced to live apart from.

This longing back to New Zealand is part of being a New Zealander.  Katherine Mansfield very deliberately chose to live most of her life in Europe, but in March 1922, ill with the TB that she would die from less than a year later, she wrote ‘home’ to her father:

“ …the longer I live, the more I return to New Zealand.  A young country is a real heritage, though it takes one time to remember it.  But New Zealand is in my very bones.”

Our silence is felt in a kind of constant sense of loss, that, like the bereaved’s grief, after a certain period of time, becomes too shameful, illegitimate, not really allowable to be voiced in public or even to ourselves, because, of course we know this, there are noisier more important life-must-go-on and we-really-do-feel-lucky-for-what-we-have moments of living to be had and cheered and enjoyed and – well lived.

 The noise of living will always drown out the sounds of silence.

The silence of the living-away-from-home blissfully-at-home-here-in-London is mostly just that: silent.

And silence, just as is the case with listening, is mostly unappreciated, a passive not real thing, an un-action, a not-happening, an absence of dynamic, merely a pause in things before play is resumed.

Silence is the sound of not working, not making money. 

This is not the silence of the countryside, where repose seems natural and unforced.  The silence of London is an active element; it is filled with an obvious absence (of people, of business) and is therefore filled with presence.  It is a teeming silence.  (London, p.83)

For us Shaky Isles folk the noisy silence we hear lying in the depths of this city, never quiet if mostly out of sight, is the creature we call our Taniwha:

It is the pull of this dirty and excessive city when you yearn for another home.  It is that feeling … of knowing that someone – something – is just … over … there.   (Taniwha Thames)

I have grown to love this unquiet silence just as fervently as I love the noises of this city.  I know I will always have New Zealand, my motherland, in my veins and I love the pride this difference gives me as truly as I love the special pride I have for the courage and risk and expectation my nineteenth century ancestors must have had when they left England on their long uncertain voyage to make a better life for themselves and their families in New Zealand.

Being not from here, in fact, helps me to feel more of a true Londoner, for London is, and always has been, a city of outsiders.  London is one of those cities where you can wear your outsideness loud and proud as a badge of authenticity.  And this perhaps is the other dimension of what I love so much about London: its theatricality.

For Londoners, whether by birth or adoption, the theatricality of London is its single most important characteristic.  (London, p.152)

London does not offer uncontested peace and tranquility, because its silences are as full of ambiguous nuanced potent possibility as are its noises.  Strain your ears in to listen and hear the overrunning of its stories.  London is a permanently live performance.  London is a place and space of constantly amplified profound ambivalence, not just for its immigrants but for all of its inhabitants.

Ambivalence is, of course, the sense of having at least two – usually contrasting – feelings about the same thing… Being a theatre or performance audience or maker … can be an affirmative act of conversation and cosmopolitanism, an opportunity ambivalently to respect our differences and recognise what we share, to recognise the challenges we live with in our cities and to take up our cities’ opportunities.  (Jen Harvie, Theatre & the City, 2009 p.77)

The theatre we are engaged in making in Shaky Isles, and the ways in which are making it, are in many ways a microcosm of the complex messy fluctuations of noise and silence in which London works itself out as a city.

There are rules, but these will be broken when they do not fit the purpose of our lives.

There is intention and desired outcomes, but these are deliberately kept absorbent, porous, malleable, a living system of multiple intentions and  desires constantly infecting and being affected by each other as they rub into and through themselves.

There is apparent chaos, but it is really the forward fluidity of the flock that prevents stasis and keeps enough flow to be always in progressive movement, re-circling, re-firing, re-living, each iteration a bit different and a bit better than before.

These are the energies and rhythms we are learning to ride in Shaky Isles.  We are interested in what unfolds from bringing different voices together to tell a stories that are simultaneously intimate, personal and particular and, at the same time, recognisable, eternal and universal.  We use Open Space and Action Learning to uncover and discover our work together through and from and in our not-knowing.  We are practicing and slowly mastering the skills and qualities of trusting and sharing and questioning and experimenting and listening and saying and reworking and refining.  We are trying to get better at getting more of us in the room more often to do more of the work together.

And we know that the only way to make all of this work is to make it work together, as we go, as messy and as noisy and as ambivalent as this needs to be.

 

…the city is a model of dynamic relativism, a space where everything means more than one thing – a nondescript doorway, invisible for some, is for others the gateway to a magical garden… 

Because the tensions they have out there, the secrets they have out there, the journeys they go on, things they wish for or fear out there are the things you might well seek to amplify, uncover or remix on the stage.  Because what we might call the temporary community of the auditorium (negotiated each night, triangulated off the stage) reflects and refracts the temporary communities outside.

Because the city is a nexus of motorways, TV signals, Internets, dreams, global currents and trickle-downs, a place where our desires wash up, are fed, disrupted, chained, dodged or neutered by what people call late capitalism.

Because the city contains small beauties, zones of possibility…

Because it reflects the life you must reflect and must reflect on and the life already reflected in you.

Because the city can trap you, nurture you, teach you, unravel you, unspeak you.  Because you are just one among many here, and the dynamic of one in relation to many (conversation, dialogue, difference, the negotiation of public space) is what theatre emerges from and thrives on, what art must address and what cities must somehow contend with if they are to survive. (Tim Etchells, Foreword to Theatre & the City, p.xii, xiii-ix)

Katherine Mansfield did not survive her illness and died away from home aged 34.  The epitaph on her grave is one of her favourite quotations from Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part I which she had chosen for the title page of  Bliss and Other Stories:

“…but I tell you, my lord fool, out of this nettle danger, we pluck the flower, safety”

In her short story , Bliss, despite the intense emotional re-firing her heroine experiences, Bertha’s night does not end happily.  And yet…

…the pear tree was as lovely as ever and as full of flowers and as still.

Living in London is built on the most fragile of frameworks:  and being at home / not being home / making a home / missing home in London is perhaps the umbilical chord that holds many of us in together.  And helps to make us work.  Just as these same strands entwine to make London work around us.

Just Listen…

 

Mark Trezona has a passion for sound and listening and, with his partner Martyn Duffy, makes sound with and for Shaky Isles shows.  Through their company BridgeBuilders STG they make bespoke learning programmes in happiness at work, creativity, leadership, learning, team working & communications.  He has his own blog, performance~marks, dedicated to an exploration of happiness, creativity & resilience and what makes great audience experience.

 

The next Shaky Isles  Shake It Up evening is a theatre scratch night

7.30pm Wednesday 5th June, 2013