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

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3194 photo: Mark Trezona

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3194
photo: Mark Trezona

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Practitioner’s Guide to Action Learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Clean Space Process

Space:

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

2. A stretch of time

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

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

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

In your Clean Space time…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Use “Why…?” questions sparingly.

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

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

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

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

Helpful Capabilities for Action Learning

o   Being fully present

o   Alert, neutral, open, heightened listening

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

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

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

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

o   Being open to surprise

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3191 photo: Mark Trezona

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3191
photo: Mark Trezona

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

We shift our perspective; we shift our balance…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Action Learning and Collaboration

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

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

1 ~ In-Betweenness

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

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

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

2 ~ Listening In-ness

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

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

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

3 ~ Slowness

The listening we do in Action Learning recognises that…

…you can’t flick through sound;

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

…you can’t glance at sound;

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

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

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

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

4 ~ Togetherness

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

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

5 ~ Connectedness

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

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

Action Learning creates and sustains our propulsion from…

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

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

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

Action Learning and Making Great Audience Experience

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

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

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

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

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

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

What if…?

What next…?

What now…?

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3193 photo: Mark Trezona

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3193
photo: Mark Trezona

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

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

Happiness At Work edition #90

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

Enjoy…

 

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Happiness At Work #86 ~ resilience: the amour-plated twin of happiness

Resilience is becoming one of the loudest clarion calls across our lives: no longer just an application restricted to times of extreme trauma or crisis or the specialist domain of the armed forces, resilience now is being heralded as the must-have capability for us all.  It has suddenly become the leading capability for our professional survival as much as it is for the ongoing survival of the organisations we work for.  It is being handed back to us as the new first and increasingly only response to any problems we might be facing in our relationships, our mental health and now, too, our physical health, spanning out across our lives into our how we are expected to make and upkeep our families, our careers, our communities, our cities and our societies.

I have real concerns about this.  I am a long and passionate advocate for self-centred learning and have long championed the principle that the more choices and possibilities for doing things differently that we can find for ourselves, the greater will be the reach, range and positive effects we will achieve.  And this principle lies at the heart of all that 21st century intelligence is giving us about how to build our happiness – and its armour-plated twin, resilience.

But I worry that resilience is quickly and too unquestioningly becoming the new panacea for our times, a polished pretender to a final solution and a caveat to deflect any serious challenge to policies and programmes, leadership and governance, that leave people unequally equipped to grow and progress beyond the limitations of their circumstances, and silenced by the new rhetoric that tells us that our own happiness – and our resilient ability to bounce back from any misfortunes we may encounter – is entirely within our own gift.

I know about the immense and literally life-changing power of resilience and its ignition switch, optimism, from the research and testimonials of dozens of people who have done just this, and even come through their torture, trauma, loss, imprisonment, disability, illness and pain somehow stronger and feeling finer than they thought themselves to have been before their ordeal.  And I know about this from watching people I love face up to and get beyond life-threatening illness, drawing real strength,  courage, presence, stamina and renewed life-force through their skilful and disciplined resilience and optimism.

And yet, and yet, and yet…

Perhaps we need to remember extra well that resilience, as an armour plating to help us to withstand the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’  does not stand in for, even less replace, the human being it protects.  Resilience, like armour, is what we suit up in to face hard, threatening and unusual circumstances.  It has to be made, fitted and worn in.  It has to be contoured to our special and particular selves and fit us well and comfortably enough to assist us to be our finest selves when we most need to be.  It must not, should not and cannot be our default, our everyday wear, our always on and in mode.  That would cripple us.

Happiness is an aspiration – a never-to-be-finally-arrived-at complex mix of ways of being and thinking and acting that we can constantly be leaning and lifting towards, and that replenishes as it polishes as it extends as it enriches and refuels us.  And happiness helps to forge and fit and finesse our resilience capabilities for when we might need them.

Resilience is for the tough times.  We will all face them, but for most of us these will be exceptional times.

Unless we start to allow ourselves to believe that resilience – especially in a narrowly defined ‘toughening up’ sense – is a universal everyday normal requirement, as much as is the requirement for most of us to have to work, to pay our taxes, to obey our laws and to bring no harm upon our neighbours.

So yes, let us all learn – and keep learning – new and better ways to become more resilient.  And let us all, too, look first to ourselves for what we might each do to expand our options and amplify our sense of control and influence over the circumstances and challenges we find ourselves facing.  But let us make sure we don’t stop there and assume that this is all that should be needed to make a good life, a good world.  Especially now for the times that are coming to us in consequence of the world we have made for ourselves.

On Happiness Inequality

Chris Dillow raises similar questions in this post in his blog, Stumbling and Mumbling

Do we need policies to reduce inequality, or should we simply allow economic growth to do so? This is the question posed by a recent paper by Andrew Clark and colleagues. They find that, in the UK and elsewhere, economic growth reduces inequality of happiness.

This isn’t simply because it reduces the amount of abject misery. Growth also reduces the number of people who say they are very happy. This might be because wealth increases our options and hence the opportunity cost of our preferred choice. For example, work isn’t too bad if it gets you out of a joyless slum, but it can be a misery if it keeps you off the golf course or guitar.

This finding is awkward for the left. If we believe that what matters most is people’s well-being, it suggests that the most important inequality should be addressed not by redistribution by simply by promoting growth.

So, what answers might the left have to this? I can think of three:

1. Policies to promote growth require redistribution, to the extent that wealth inequalities are an obstacle to growth. This is the thinking behind wageled growth and the asset redistribution ideas of Sam Bowles.

2. If people adapt their desires to their circumstances, or if other cognitives biases reconcile them to inequality, they might be content with injustice, but this would not necessarily legitimate the system: we would consider slavery wrong even if all slaves were content. As Amartya Sen said:

Consider a very deprived person who is poor, exploited, overworked, and ill, but who has been made satisfied with his lot by social conditioning (through, say, religion, or political propaganda, or cultural pressure).  Can we possibly believe that he is doing well just because he is happy and satisfied? (The Standard of Living lecture, 1785 (pdf), p12)

3. Inequality can matter for non-welfarist reasons – for example to the extent that it undermines equality of respect or the democratic system.

Personally, I think these are good answers. But Clark’s paper should force leftists to think more about why inequality matters.

Link to the original article

We know that inequality is one of the greatest destroyers of happiness.  We are also starting to realise better that it cuts away at trust between people, something which is becoming increasingly vital as more and more of us across the planet come together to live in cities.  And in a work context, too, perceived inequality is one of the fastest and most virulent ways that unhappiness and disengagement takes root, calcifies and becomes embedded.

We all need to know that my resilience is self-contained, where I can be resilient without any need for you to be resilient too.  Whereas my happiness is only possible if and when you are happy too, and anything I do to make you happier automatically makes me happier too.  Resilience draws from others but is mostly self-sufficient, whereas happiness depends upon a virtual reciprocity and co-creative interdependence.

So yes, let us all learn, and learn to help others to learn, to build the capabilities of resilience.  But let this be our back-up only, our ready-when-we-have-to get-out-of-trouble special clothes.  Much much more than this, let us keep learning and aspiring and stretching and wondering and imagining our own and each other’s greater happiness

For the rest of this post I have gathered an array of what seem to me to be genuinely helpful ideas and approaches for shaping and shining up our own and others around us resilience.

I hope you find something here you can use too.

Emotional resilience: it’s the armour you need for modern life

By 

The latest self-improvement technique is finding favour with everyone from anxious adolescents to stressed executives

First, there was mindfulness – a brain-training technique aimed at achieving mental clarity – which came to the fore in 2011. Fast-forward three years and it’s being taught at organisations as diverse as Google, AOL, Transport for London, Astra Zeneca and the Home Office, with high-profile users such as Bill Clinton extolling its benefits. Next, the great and good took up “transformational breathing”, a US craze that arrived on our shores last year to teach us how best to use our lungs.

But already there’s a new technique in town – and it’s fast-becoming the buzz word of 2014.

“Emotional resilience” is more hard-hitting than many of the other methods promising to keep us cool, calm and collected. Originally developed to help victims of natural disasters and massacres cope with catastrophe, it’s reached our shores and is slowly infiltrating offices, schools and communities.

Ten ways to build your emotional resilience

– See crises as challenges to overcome; not insurmountable problems

– Surround yourself with a supportive network of friends and family

– Accept that change is part of life, not a disaster

– Take control and be decisive in difficult situations

– Nurture a positive view of yourself – don’t talk yourself down or focus on flaws

– Look for opportunities to improve yourself: a new challenge, social situation or interest outside work. Set goals and plan ways to reach them

– Keep things in perspective: learn from your mistakes and think long-term

– Practise optimism and actively seek the good side of a bad situation

– Practise emotional awareness: can you identify what you are feeling and why?

– Look after yourself, through healthy eating, exercise, sleep and relaxation.

Link to read the full article

Is Happiness Up To Me? – Happiness & Its Causes 2013 Panel Discussion

– Where does happiness come from?
– How much impact do external factors such as work and relationships have on our wellbeing and happiness?
– How does the pace of life affect happiness?
– Are altruism and compassion the secret ingredients to a good life?
– How can we increase our overall wellbeing and happiness?

Panellists: Professor Ed Diener, Dr Helen Fisher, Carl Honoré and Jerril Rechter.
Moderator: Lynne Malcolm, Presenter All in the Mind, ABC Radio National

Ed Deiner

“Think about your hair colour – you inherited it but you can control it too.  Happiness is like this.” …

“Be more actively positive to others.  Express the gratitude you feel to them more often.  Express compliments to other people.  That makers them happier and it also makes you happier…”

Dr Helen Fisher

“Happiness evolved millions of years ago to help us to survive” …

“There is data now that giving compliments to others lowers your cholesterol, lowers your blood pressure, boosts your immune system, so it’s giving to others but it’s also giving to yourself.  But if I had to sum it up in four words: marry the right person…”

Carl Honore’

“Turn around that old John Lennon quote that ‘Life is what happens to us when we’re making other plans’ and into Happiness is what happens to us when we’re making the right plans” …

 “I just suggest that people stop and breathe.  Just a few deep breathes and you get an automatic quick fix…Another suggestion is the ‘speed audit’ – as you’re going through your day, every once in a while, just stop and ask yourself ‘am I going at the right speed?’… And I think we need to look at our schedules and do less.  We’re all chronically trying to do too much…having it all is just a recipe for hurrying it all…”

Jerril Rechter

“In oder for an individual to be happy we need to live in a happy society” …

“Get involved in the arts.  We know from research that there’s really strong connectors via the arts.  You can build really strong relationships and you can express yourself as well…”

Daily Self-Improvement Exercises that will take you 5-10 minutes

This is a great set of possibilities for growing greater resilience and happiness from Ann Smarty the serial guest blogger running My Blog Guest, and her own personal blog ManifestCon

Many experts recommend taking ten to fifteen minutes daily to improve yourself or your life. This could take on literally any form. But here are ten suggestions that you might find helpful, or may at least assist you in thinking up your own.

1. Meditation

One of the best things you can do for yourself is to just slow down and breath, which is essentially what meditation is: the chance to calm your mind, focus on your breathing, and find the quiet within yourself.

Any time you are feeling stressed, just take a few minutes and meditate. This can be a spiritual action, or not. The important thing is that you are moving past the tensions of the day.

Featured tool: If you want something guided, try Calm.com.

2. Mini Workouts

Did you know you can burn a couple hundred calories in just ten minutes? There are mini workouts all over the web that help you do it. But there are many more benefits to taking these active breaks.

They will help keep you healthy, boost your energy, assist in your sleeping cycle, relieve stress and tension, and improve your mood, all in just ten to fifteen minutes a day. Amazing, isn’t it?

Featured tools: Sparkpeople has plenty of these short exercise videos, both strength and cardio. So does Tiffany RothePopSugar and many others.

3. Learn Something New

Knowledge is power, but it is also fun. Learning something new every day is a great goal to have, and incredibly easy to keep up with. Newsletters, websites and groups are all over the web, just waiting to let you know something you didn’t before.Featured tools: Some great places to start are Reddit’s Today I LearnedHow Stuff Works many articles and podcasts, and the Now I Know newsletter. You can even use a site like DuoLingo to learn a new language.

4. Go For a Walk

Sometimes a bit of fresh air is all you really need to improve your day. Going for one every day, even a small one, can help habitually clear your mind and eliminate stress.It gives you a chance to organize your thoughts, or think through a problem. Plus, it is just an enjoyable pastime that doesn’t cause any strain on the body (for most). Try using one of your breaks at work for a short walk, and see the difference it makes.

5. Write Down What You Think

I don’t mean a professional article; that doesn’t improve yourself at all. But write something for yourself, whether it is shared or private. Speak about something you are passionate about, something you enjoy.

Write a letter you never intend to send, to go back and see later. Write a poem or some prose. Write about something that is bothering you, or that made you laugh. Just write.

Featured tool: OhLife is one of the journaling tools that will help you organize your writing by sending friendly email reminders and inviting to write on what happened that day.

I also like 750words

6. Read Something

Prefer to be on the reading end of words? Then take a few minutes in blocks to read something. Maybe it is half of a chapter of a book. Maybe it is an article or editorial. Maybe it is a couple of poems from your favorite poet. Just read something that enriches you.

Featured tools: There’s a quick review of Goodreads and how to find friends there. There are a lot of reading FireFox addons to choose from. Here are more quick reading hacks for short time.

7. Speak to a Friend/Relative

I don’t mean online. Too much of our communication has become reliant on such technology that hides us behind a computer screen. Take ten minutes instead to speak face to face, or on the phone.

Connect with your loved ones and make it a priority. Not only will you feel great by the end of it, but it will strengthen your relationship with that person.

8. Watch TED Talks

TED Talks are amazing, and you probably already know that. They encompass every industry, with leaders in those industries speaking about any topic at all.

They come in all different lengths, in multiple formats such as podcasts and videos. You will be sure to find truly inspiring and even life-changing lectures here.

9. Clean and Declutter

So many things can be improved by having a clean work or living space. Just ten minutes a day can make a lot of difference in a room, no matter what that room might be. Even if the area is a disaster, doing little bits will make an impact over the coming days. Plus, it will improve your mood to be somewhere tidy, as clutter can really mess with your thinking and emotions.

10. Do Something You Love

Ultimately, it comes down to this: do something you love. No matter what it might be, engaging in things you enjoy is perhaps the best path to self-improvement. Even if it is only ten to fifteen minutes a day.

Link to the original Lifehack article

Working With Mindfulness: Overcoming the Drive to Multitask

Jacqueline Carter writes…

There is a good chance that at some point while you are reading this post, you will be tempted to do something else at the same time. Don’t worry, I won’t take it personally. I won’t think badly of you and I won’t even be particularly surprised. Every work place I visit, there is a prevailing modus operandi – multitasking.

Yet there is a growing body of scientific evidence that multitasking makes us less efficient, less effective, more stressed and more likely to make mistakes…

An experiment conducted by Levy, Wobbrock, Kaszniak and Ostergren looked specifically at the effects of mindfulness training on multitasking behavior of knowledge workers in high stress environments. They found that when asked to do multiple tasks in a short amount of time, those who had been trained in mindfulness, compared to control groups, were able to maintain more focus on each task and had better memory for work details. They were also less negative about the experience and reported greater awareness and attention. In short, they were able to perform multiple tasks more mindfully.

If you are familiar with mindfulness practices, this makes sense. One of things developed in mindfulness training is to become more aware of your attention and increase your ability to choose your focus. If we can train ourselves to have more awareness and control over our attention, it makes sense that we would be better equipped to deal with a demanding work environment.

So when you have a lot to get done and you are tempted to try to do more than one thing at a time you have the mental discipline to choose. Do you continue trying to type the email and answer your colleague’s questions? Or do you let go of either the email or your colleague so you can do one or the other more efficiently and effectively? It’s your choice. But it only becomes a choice if you are mindful of your attention…

According to Gallop’s 2011-2012 study of employees, 70 percent of Americans are not engaged or are actively disengaged in their work. As noted in the report, there is significant evidence that disengaged workers are less productive, make more mistakes, and can be more costly to employers in terms of absenteeism and sick leave.

A study published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior demonstrates mindfulness training can help improve employee attitudes towards work and specifically increase engagement. Again, this makes sense. One of the basic methods of mindfulness training involves paying attention to your breath with alertness, relaxation, and a sense of curiosity. If you can train your mind to be comfortable and curious attending to your breath, it stands to reason that you could choose to apply that same orientation towards any task at hand.

Let’s say you are faced with a large pile of invoices to process. If your mind starts to look for more interesting things to do, it is going to take you longer and you will likely make mistakes. If you could look at this task with a calm, clear, present and engaged mind, you will be more efficient and effective and you might even find some enjoyment in the process.

So if you managed to read to the end of this post without doing other things — good for you! If on the other hand, you had to come back to it a couple of times, don’t feel bad. Maintaining focus and interest on one task at a time is not easy. Whether we work in highly-demanding environments or are doing tasks that aren’t particularly stimulating, we can all benefit from training ourselves to be more mindful about where and how we place our precious attention.

Link the original Huffington Post Blog

Why You Really Need To Quiet Your Mind (and how to do it)

Meditation is an under appreciated practice, especially in a high-stress workplace – but that’s where it’s needed the most. Stephanie Vozza offers these guidelines for how to quiet your racing thoughts from Victor Davich, author 8-Minute Meditation: Quiet Your Mind, Change Your Life.

“With technology, economic pressures, work, and family, it’s impossible to be on top of everything and it’s upsetting our natural balance.” says Victor Davich, and this overload and overwhelm often lead to anxiety, fear, and depression, and while you can’t check out of life and avoid responsibility, you can approach things in a gentler way.

“Meditation is one of the quickest tools for finding inner peace and quiet,” Davich says. “It’s an Eastern tool for Western results.”

Davich describes meditation as a state of mindfulness. “Being mindful doesn’t mean quieting your mind in the way most people expect,” he says. “The mind isn’t going to stop thinking. A zen master once told me the goal of mindfulness isn’t to suppress thinking, but to surpass it.”

The key is how you react to your thoughts. If you focus on your thinking, your mind is like an electric fan with thoughts blowing everywhere, says Davich. When you focus on your breathing or your body, however, thoughts can come and go like clouds across a sky. “You can look at them, realize they are just thoughts, and let them go,” he says. “You don’t have to have an emotional attachment to them.”

Being mindful means being present, explains Davich. “Once you are present and centered and here, your mind will naturally quiet down.”

Mindfulness isn’t another thing to put on the to-do list; it’s a daily commitment. Davich says an eight-minute meditation can have a profound affect on your wellbeing. An attorney, he says the practice helped him survive the stress of law school and boosted his GPA. He shares three simple steps you can take to quiet your mind:

1. Get into a good position

Take a deep breath and sigh it out. Sit comfortably and relax your body as much as you can. “We have these visions of needing to have a full lotus position,” Davich says. “It’s not necessary.”

2. Get in touch with your breathing

Close your eyes and find the place in your body where you feel your breath most prominently. Davich says it could be your abdomen, diaphragm, or under your nostrils. Start to focus your attention in a gentle way to your breathing–this will be your anchor point.

3. Detach from your thoughts

Within a few seconds, distractions like thoughts, body sensations, or images will start to bubble up. Realize that this is normal and gently return to the anchor point. Continue this for eight minutes. To keep track of the time and set the tone, you can use an app, such as Davich’s Simply8 or Buddhify or Headspace, a favourite of ours,

Davich says most people find morning to be a quiet and convenient time of day to meditate. Others do it before bed, to help them sleep. You could meditate during your lunch break or any other time that works for you.

There is just one rule: “Keep a daily consistent appointment with your mediation practice, just like brushing your teeth,” he says. “It’s a wonderful tool to help put space between you and the world’s distractions.”

How to Cope, Bounce Back and Thrive in Times of Change and Uncertainty

Some people seem to cope with change better than others, even though change is inevitable. Change is happening all the time. The ancient Chinese book of philosophy and guidance, The I Ching is known as ‘The Book of Change(s)’, recognizing that we are living in a state of potentiality. How we cope with change and how we bounce back is largely down to perception. Change can be a threat, an opportunity or a time for reflection.

Black and white categories and cognitive-economy

We make sense of the world, mainly through selective attention and simplification. We wouldn’t be able to cope if we had to process every bit of information that comes our way, so we run a sort of cognitive economy filter. One of the way we simplify is to carve the world up into black and white categories, just like those TV barristers who demand yes or no answers to their questions. These black and white categories are really a model of the world than an accurate representation of the world. …Seeing confidence as an ‘either-or’, ‘have-or-have-not’ state is not very useful. Often there is a lot to be gained by considering the grey area, the excluded middle. This is often where real-life is live and where we can find solutions.

In/tolerance of Uncertainty

…As with all aspects of psychology, the human experience inhabits a spectrum of difference. We all need structure to varying degrees, that same with our tolerance for ambiguity or uncertainty. Those who are more tolerant fare better in times of change. It’s tempting to use the ‘that’s just the way I am’ card, but it is possible to work our tolerances. We can adapt to change by changing our attitudes and perceptions.

Competing Needs: Novelty versus familiarity

If you’ve ever attended a training course, chances are you’ve encountered Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid. After our biological needs have been satisfied, one of the fundamental needs is our need for security. A key aspect of security is that things are familiar and predictable. However, just to mix things up, if you’ve ever observed a baby or a toddler you’ll know that they are drawn to new things. This doesn’t change as we age. Throughout our lives we balance novelty and familiarity. Often they are at odds with one another. We do a kind of mental accounting to assess whether we should play it safe and stick with what we know or take a chance.

The buffering effect of Psychological Hardiness

When I was writing and researching Unlock Your Confidence, I happened upon the concept of psychological hardiness (like resilience) and how it provides a buffering effect for health and well-being when dealing with stressful life changes and times of uncertainty. Much of the research was carried out with people in stressful jobs, such front-line services fire-fighters and people in the military. Three key attitudes were found that help some people cope with uncertainty and change better than others. These are the three Cs of:commitment, control and challenge.

  •  Commitment is the attitude of taking a genuine interest in other people and having curiosity about the world and getting involved with people and activities. The opposite of commitment is alienation, which involves cutting yourself off and distancing yourself from other people.
  • Control is the tendency to hold the attitude that control is something that comes from the inside and act as if you can influence the events taking place around you by your own efforts. It is The opposite of control is powerlessness which includes the perception that your life is controlled by external forces (fate, government) and that you do not have the means or capabilities to meet your goals. Our sense of control is often based on perception and not objective facts.
  • Challenge is the attitude that change is the norm, as opposed to stability and that change offers opportunities for personal development and not threats. The opposite of challenge is security, and the need for everything to stay the familiar and predictable, allowing you to stay in your comfort zone

Keeping a journal to cope with challenges and change

Journaling is a simple and effect technique of coping with challenges and change. When stressed our focus and thoughts narrow to survival options. This means that we overlook past experiences that could be the key with coping with a current situation. Journaling helps in two ways: (i) It helps you to organize your thoughts as you are going through the situation, (ii) It provides a permanent record of your personal coping strategies. Keeping a journal is also one of my top three tips for getting the most out of a self-help book.

Cognitive tricks for coping in times of uncertainty

It’s tempting to write off techniques as mental tricks. I’ve heard people claim that such methods are just fooling ourselves and are not authentic. I’d argue that the exact opposite is true. We use mental tricks all the time to make sense of the world. We actively filter things out. Taking control of our lives is in part about being aware of how we structure our experience. It’s also about being more aware of the range of our experience. One trick that I used when I moved home and found it difficult to settle into a new routine was to pretend I was on holiday. So I set myself a time limit of two to three weeks and I’d be as flexible as I have to be on holiday. …This change in attitude was all it took to help me to settle in. I’ve shared this idea with countless people (friends, family and clients) and it has worked for them too.

Another technique I use with clients is the personal experiment. When we agree a possible way forward or solution, I don’t ask clients to commit to it with every fibre of their being. It makes much more sense to treat it as an experiment and try it on for size. So we agree a time span and then after that we have a review and discuss how the experiment went. This removes an implicit sense of failure. At the end we are discussing the results as feedback, such as what didn’t work, what did work and what adjustments we can make.

Distraction is also a useful technique. When my parents moved house, my mother found it difficult to adjust. I’d tried for a few years trying to persuade her to do an evening course at college. They moved house in the middle of the summer and that year she decided to ‘take the plunge’ and sign up for a course in flowering arranging. It’s become her passion in life. Moving house became a blessing in disguise as it was her way to discover a passion and a new talent. Taking up a hobby is about choosing to do a newt hing. This sense of choice fits in with the psychological hardiness attitude of control.

Seeking Professional Help: Coach or Counsellor?

If you feel you can’t make a break through on your own then it maybe time to consider engaging the help of a professional. Obviously with something like a bereavement then a few cognitive tricks may not cut it. When the issue or problem sparks strong overwhelming emotions it may help to [get some coaching or counselling]. Keeping a journal is also useful as when things get better you will have a record of how you got through it.

…The beauty of coaching is that it’s a totally tailor-made personal development course. It’s not an off-the-peg experience. You bring the agenda and the coach provides the tools and techniques in a way that’s meaningful to you.

Coaching is a way to help you discover more ways in which you cope, adapt, bounce back and thrive.

[But you can help yourself too by reviewing] your life and writing down some ways in which you have coped with change and uncertainty in the past that rely on your abilities, skills and strengths. These become your own personal toolbox in challenging and uncertain times.

Link to the full article

The Neuroscience of Good Coaching

By Marshall Moore

“If everything worked out ideally in your life, what would you be doing in 10 years?”

new research suggests that nurturing a mentee’s strengths, aspirations for the future, and goals for personal growth is more effective at helping people learn and change; for instance, it helps train business school students to be better managers, and it is more effective at getting patients to comply with doctors’ orders.

recent study indicates why this more positive approach gets better results, using brain scans to explore the effects of different coaching styles. Based on what’s happening in the brain, it seems, a more positive approach might help people visualize a better future for themselves—and provide the social-emotional tools to help them realize their vision.

…As the researchers predicted, the students indicated that the positive interviewer inspired them and fostered feelings of hope far more effectively than the negative interviewer. Perhaps the more intriguing results, though, concern the areas of the brain that were activated by the two different approaches.

During the encouraging interactions with the positive interviewer, students showed patterns of brain activity that prior research has associated with the following qualities:

  • Visual processing and perceptual imagery—these are the regions that kick into gear when we imagine some future event
  • Global processing—the ability to see the big picture before small details, a skill that has been linked to positive emotions and pleasurable engagement with the world
  • Feelings of empathy and emotional safety—like those experienced when someone feels secure enough to open up socially and emotionally
  • The motivation to pro-actively pursue lofty goals—rather than act defensively to avoid harm or loss.

These differences in brain activity led the researchers to conclude that positive coaching effectively activates important neural circuits and stress-reduction systems in the body by encouraging mentees to envision a desired future for themselves.

Although the authors acknowledge that much more research needs to be conducted on the topic, their results offer a first glimpse at the neurological basis of why people coached by positive, visioning-based approaches tend to be more open emotionally, more compassionate, more open to ideas for improvement, and more motivated to pro-actively make lasting behavior changes than are those coached in ways that highlight their weaknesses.

Link to the full article

9 Stress-Reducing Truths About Money

If we’re struggling with money problems, these ideas may not alleviate our worries as completely as Joshua Becker seems to believe they will, but they are sure to do us no harm and very likely to help…

According to a recent survey, 71% of Americans identify money as a significant cause of stress in their lives. Of course, America is not alone in this regard.

Looking inside the numbers, we get a glimpse as to why the percentage is so high: 76% of households live paycheck-to-paycheck and credit card debt continues to grow. No doubt, these statistics contribute to the problem…

If you struggle with financial-related stress, begin thinking different about money by adopting a few of these stress-reducing thoughts. They have each worked for me.

1. You need less than you think. Most of the things we think we can’t live without are considered luxuries to most of the world—or even our grandparents. Think: cell phones, microwaves, cars, matching shoes, larger closets, just to name a few. The commercialization of our society has worked hard to stir discontent in our hearts. They have won. They have caused us to redefine their factory-produced items as legitimate needs. And have caused great stress in our lives because of it. Meanwhile, there are wonderful benefits for those who choose to own less.

2. Money won’t make you happy. It is simply an illusion that money will bring you happiness— study after study confirms it, so does experience. Some of the most joyful people I know are far from wealthy and some of the wealthiest people I know are far from joy. Now, certainly, there is a measure of stability and security that arises from having our most basic financial needs met. But we need so much less than we think we need. And the sooner we stop assuming more money will make us happy tomorrow, the sooner we can start finding happiness today.

3. Money is not the greatest goal of your work. Financial compensation does not succeed as a long-term motivator and the association between salary and job satisfaction is routinely shown to be very weak. In other words, a larger paycheck will not improve your satisfaction at work. There is a significant amount of work-related stress that can be removed by simply deciding to be content with your pay (assuming it is fair). Don’t work for the paycheck alone. Work for the sake of contribution and benefit to others. This approach is idealistic, but it is also fulfilling and stress-reducing.

4. Wealth has its own troubles. There are troubles associated with poverty, few of us would debate that fact. But there are also troubles associated with wealth. Unfortunately, we give little thought to them. As a result, we think the presence of money is always good, always a blessing. And we desire it. But money brings troubles of its own: it clouds moral judgement, it distorts empathy, it promotes pride and arrogance, it can become an addictionFears of the wealthy include isolation, anxiety, and raising well-adjusted children. In other words, if you are thinking money will solve your troubles, you are mistaken. And once we change our thinking on this, we can stop searching for answers in the wrong places.

5. The desire for riches robs us of life. We have heard the love of money is the root of all evil. But often times, the mere desire for more of it robs us of life as well. The desire for money consumes our time, wastes our energy, compromises our values, and limits our potential. It is wise to remove its desire from our affections. This would reduce our stress. But even better, it would allow true life-giving pursuits to emerge.

6. Boundaries are life-giving. Orson Welles once said, “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” I agree. And the enemy of life is the absence of boundaries. Whether they be social, financial, or moral, boundaries provide structure and a framework for life. They promote discovery, invention, and ingenuity. Boundaries motivate us to discover happiness in our present circumstance. This is one reason a personal spending plan (budget) is such a helpful tool — the financial boundary forms a helpful framework for life. It allows us to recognize we don’t have to spend more money than we earn to be happy. There is no joy in living beyond your means — only stress. Live within the boundaries of your income. And find more life because of it.

7. There is joy in giving money away. Generosity has wonderful benefits. Generous people are happier, healthier, more admired, more satisfied with life, and have deeper relationships with others. Their lives are filled with less stress. It is important to change our thinking on this topic. One of the most stress-reducing things you can ever do with your money is give some of it away. And generosity is completely achievable today regardless of our current situation.

8. The security found in money/possessions is fleeting at best. Too many of us believe security can be adequately found in possessions. As a result, many of us pursue and collect large stockpiles of possessions in the name of security or happiness. We work long hours to purchase them. We build bigger houses to store them. We spend large amounts of energy maintaining them. The burden of accumulating and maintaining slowly becomes the main focus of our lives. Meanwhile, we lose community, freedom, happiness, and passion. We exchange some of the most basic elements of life for mere possessions. Our search for security and life and joy is essential to being human—we just need to start looking for it in the right places.

9. Money, at its core, is only a tool. At its heart, money is nothing more than a tool to expedite trade. It saves us from making our own clothes, tools, and furniture. Because of money, I spend my days doing what I love and am good at. In exchange, I receive money to trade with someone else who uses their giftedness to create something different than me. That’s it. That is its purpose. And if we have enough to meet our needs, we shouldn’t live in stress trying desperately to acquire more.

Stress has some terrible affects on our bodies. It results in irratability, fatigue, and nervousness. Unfortunately, money consistently ranks as one of the greatest causes of it. But that doesn’t need to be true of us.

Let’s change the way we think about it. And start to enjoy our lives a little more instead.

Link to the original article

How can I support my partner when they’re stressed with work?

by Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone

Work stress can affect our personal lives and our relationships, particularly if both partners are under significant stress. But learning to support each other in productive ways can strengthen the relationship, reduce stress and improve mood.

Research suggests that couples who actively manage stress together improve their relationship durability over time.

  • Listen and support: Questioning, challenge and offering solutions are important, but listening and offering support are most valuable. Research from eHarmony suggested that people who are supportive when their partners share bad events maintain relationship satisfaction and contribute towards an environment with fewer arguments.
  • Recognise and respect different coping mechanisms: People cope very differently with stress. Some people like to talk everything out as soon as possible, while others need silent downtime. It’s important to recognise you and your partner might not cope in the same way, and there isn’t necessarily a “right” way. Try to accept differences and find ways to accommodate and facilitate your partner to cope in their own way.
  • Kill comparisons: There are two types of comparisons couples make that enhance stress. The first is to compare yourself or your partner to others, professionally, which is a poor form of attempted motivation. The second is to compare your own stress levels with those of your partner. You should learn to listen and offer help to your partner, even when dealing with your own. The key is to solicit help and empathy from your partner without minimising and invalidating their own feelings.

Link to the original HRZone Article

If resilience is the question, is music the answer

by Joanne Ruksenas, a PhD Candidate in Music and Public Health at Griffith University,

A growing body of research from a number of diverse fields point to the benefits gained by actively making music. The most obvious field is music therapy. A relatively new therapy with its formal origins in the years following the second world war, music therapy is a complex and diverse field.

Not surprisingly, music therapists use music to form their therapeutic relationship and provide group and individual interventions in diverse settings including schools, prisons and hospitals.

Research by US researchers published last month points to improved positive health outcomes using music therapy.

The research, conducted with adolescents and young adults undergoing high-risk stem-cell treatment for cancer, used music therapy to target their resilience.

Stem-cell therapy is risky, painful, and causes high levels of distress in patients. This distress can have a heavy impact on the treatment outcomes – which are affected by the patient’s ability to cope with the illness and treatment, and their relationships with other people.

As with many resilience interventions, this intervention was “strengths based”, aiming to build on known protective factors for resilience and minimise risk. They found the individuals in the active music therapy group were able to cope better with the treatment, and had better relationships with their family and others. The effects of the music therapy intervention were still obvious 100 days after the intervention.

Resilience is an important characteristic often referred to as an umbrella trait. It does not remove problems – but it provides shelter and protection while people make choices about how they will deal with what they are facing.

It does this by pitting protective factors of resilience against the risk factors. A person exhibiting more protective factors than risk factors is resilient. A person who exhibits more risk factors is “at risk”.

The protective and risk factors are flip sides of the same coin. The three most prominent factors – self-regulation, initiative and relationships with other people – are the factors targeted in the US study. That’s why the music therapy intervention, which strengthened all of these, was particularly effective.

…Would education be more effective if resilience was fostered and developed from the earliest years, and what role does music play?

Active engagement with music has a number of intrinsic properties that mirror and enhance the protective factors of self-regulation, initiative and relationships with others. Resilience supports learning in other areas in the same way that it supported better health outcomes in the music therapy study.

Whether these skills translate for normal children on a normal day is yet to be seen.

What is understood is that 60% of people are naturally resilient. Even children who suffer horrendous abuse generally sort their lives out by the time they are 40. How different would the life trajectories of “at risk” children be if they were given the tools of resilience from the earliest ages?

How different would our schools be if we built on children’s strengths and gave all children tools for self-regulation, initiative and building better relationships with other people from the start of their education rather than applying remediation and punishment once problems occur?

What if the solution is engaging with music?

Link to the full article

Schools urged to promote ‘character and resilience’

By Patrick Howse, BBC News, Education reporter

Britain’s schools must be “more than just exam factories”, a cross-party parliamentary group says.

Its report argues that more importance should be given to the development of “character and resilience”.

It says schools should make it part of their “core business” to nurture pupils’ self-belief, perseverance and ability to bounce back from set-backs.

It is supported by the CBI, senior politicians, and the government’s social mobility adviser.

The Character and Resilience Manifesto is the work of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Mobility, and has been produced in collaboration with the CentreForum think-tank.

The main focus of the report is a need to avoid concentrating solely on academic measures of success as children move through the education system and into the workplace…

It also wants the standards watchdog Ofsted to build “character and resilience” measures into its inspection framework, and for teacher training and career development programmes to “explicitly focus” on the area…

‘Soft skills’

The report argues that a belief in one’s ability to succeed, the perseverance to stick to a task and the ability to bounce back from life’s set-backs are qualities that have a major impact on life chances, both during education and, later, in the labour market.

Speaking on behalf of the parliamentary group, Baroness Claire Tyler said they had seen “clear evidence that what are often misleadingly called ‘soft skills’ actually lead to hard results”.

“However many GCSEs you have, where you are on the character scale will have a big impact on what you achieve in life,” she said.

Damian Hinds, the chairman of the APPG on Social Mobility said self-belief, drive and perseverance were “key to achievement at school and at work”.

“But they are not just inherent traits,” he added, “they can be developed in young people.

Wide support

The Confederation of British Industry has been promoting a similar agenda for some time.

The CBI’s director-general, John Cridland warned that schools were in danger of becoming “exam factories, churning out people who are not sufficiently prepared for life outside the school gates”.

Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said the report “tackles one of the most pressing questions currently facing our education system: how do we educate resilient young people that have a sense of moral purpose and character, as well as being passionate, reflective learners?”

Link to the full article

Teaching – and Learning – Resilience through Reflection

By Kevin D. Washburn, executive director of Clerestory Learning, and author of “The Architecture of Learning: Designing Instruction for the Learning Brain”

Written as a guide for teachers, this article contains wisdom that we all can take and grow our resilience from…

In addition to imagination, fostering [our] reflection abilities helps develop resilience. We can become more equipped to think our way out of defeat and into healthy mind states where learning — deep learning, in fact — can happen.

Reflection

Reflection comprises the ability to monitor one’s own thinking — metacognition — and to engage strategies — self-direct — that make positive adjustments. It involves three phases.

Phase 1: What am I thinking now?

This seems basic, and yet this first step may be the most elusive. To redirect thinking, which precedes renewed effort, an individual must first recognise her or his current state of mind. …Self-awareness is not the mind’s default state.

A study conducted a few years back illustrates this. Researchers theorized that young people diagnosed with ADHD might be able to redirect their attention if they are made aware of their distraction. To test this, researchers set up mirrors near the work areas of several students. When a student became distracted and looked up from his work, the first thing he saw was his distracted self in the mirror. Once they recognized this, most students were able to redirect their attention and complete the assigned task.

This unawareness of one’s current mental state is not limited to individuals with ADHD. Research suggests most of us have blind spots where a mirror — literal or figurative — could help. Daniel Goleman explains, “…those who focus best are relatively immune to emotional turbulence, more able to stay unflappable in a crisis and to keep on an even keel despite life’s emotional waves.” Keeping on an even keel requires recognizing when the boat is being rocked. Awareness precedes course correction…

Phase 2: What can I tell myself to redirect my energy?

Self-talk is one of the most powerful cognitive tools available. As Jim Afremow explains, “thoughts determine feelings,” and “feelings influence performance.” Using self-talk effectively is an act of control. When [we] take control of our mental messages, we are on our way to redirecting our efforts and increasing our learning.

In the famous “marshmallow test,” researchers asked the children who resisted eating the marshmallow right away what they did to withstand the temptation. Several indicated that they talked to themselves. They told themselves messages like, “You can do this. Try to wait for one more minute.” and, “Make this fun. Imagine what else that thing could be besides a marshmallow.” What an example of using self-talk to distract oneself! “The mind guides action,” explains Antonis Hatzigeorgiadis. “If we can succeed in regulating our thoughts, then this will help our behavior.”

Instructive self-talk, the act of “talking” through the details of how to do something successfully, is more effective than self-esteem boosting messages (e.g., “I’m the best!), in part because the brain has difficulty accepting a compliment that doesn’t have an associated accomplishment. But also because instructive self-talk increases the mindfulness with which a student approaches a challenge…

Phase 3: What went wrong?

[Working] through the process of self-awareness and redirecting [our] mental energies creates a powerful learning opportunity. When our brains do not achieve an expected outcome from our efforts, be they cognitive or physical or a combination, we experience a feeling of disappointment. That feeling indicates that at that moment we are primed for learning, but — and this is critical — only if we are willing to attend to and examine our errors.

That means that when [we] make errors, when we struggle, we have a great opportunity to spark deep learning, but only if we respond to [our] mistakes effectively and [reflect on what went wrong and analyse what we can learn from this].

Link to the full article with  Kevin Strategies for working with students

Professor Toni Noble ‘Build self-respect, not self-esteem’ at YoungMinds 2013

Highly recommended to update your thinking about what matters more in growing our resilience and success and helping the people around us to do the same.

Despite the unfortunate audio noise from Toni Noble’s earring against the mic, and even though it is directed at teachers and students, this is a richly-packed talk that challenges many of the assumptions a lot of us still carry about the primary importance of self-esteem that will reward the time and attention you give to its hearing.

 – What is the difference between self respect and self esteem?
– Has an emphasis on self-esteem at home and school been detrimental to our children’s wellbeing?
– What strategies can we use to build young people’s self respect?

Professor Toni Noble, leading educator and educational psychologist with expertise in student wellbeing and positive school communities; Adjunct Professor, School of Educational Leadership, Australian Catholic University

Resilience: An HR Manager’s Guide

Building resilience in your workforce takes just five ‘Rs’, according to Cranfield School of Management and Airmic, the association for risk management. They are: risk radar; resources; relationships; rapid response; and review and adapt — and it is not enough to have just one, employers need to adopt them all to truly achieve resilience…

“Resilience isn’t just about avoiding risk or being risk averse; it’s about actively taking it on, learning from it and understanding the business gain,” he says. “It’s a task for all our leaders, from the chief executive to our frontline supervisors, to provide a transparent and open culture in which people feel confident and able to flag when things don’t go well.”  John Scott chief risk officer at Zurich Global Corporate.

Link to read the full article

Sound of success: finding perfect acoustics for a productive office

Sound in a space affects us profoundly, claims acoustics expert Julian Treasure. He offers his tips on creating positive soundscapes

Overlooking sound can cause a lot of difficulties. An otherwise well-designed collaborative space can get scuppered by poor sound management. Julian Treasure, author of Sound Business and chairman of The Sound Agency comes across the problem often.

“We experience every space in five senses so it’s strange that architects design just for the eyes,” he says. “Sound in a space affects us profoundly. It changes our heart rate, breathing, hormone secretion, brain waves, it affects our emotions and our cognition.” His research suggests that trying to perform knowledge-based tasks in a space in which other people’s conversations are clearly audible is difficult. “Productivity can be degraded by up to two thirds,” he says.

This isn’t just a case of unfocused workers. If someone is talking right next to someone else, it’s instinctive for the passive listener to process their words. The issue is that, according to Treasure, people have the bandwidth to process 1.6 conversations at any one time. So if they’re already processing one happening just next to them, they have limited capacity for their actual task.

“There is also a lot of research to demonstrate that noise in offices changes people’s behaviour – it makes them less helpful, more frustrated, absenteeism goes up and so does the rate of sickness.”

So we need to work in silent offices, right? Actually that’s a no-no, too. “People often mistake our mission at The Sound Agency for a crusade for silence, but actually silence is in many ways just as bad as too much noise,” says Treasure.

He was visiting a client recently and the environment was completely silent and it was positively oppressive. “In a room full of 60 to 70 people which is open plan and absolutely quiet, it’s very intimidating to make a phone call. And if you do so, you’re upsetting about 15 to 20 people because they’re put off by your phone call.”

The answer is to have the right level of ambient noise – referred to as a masking sound. “It needs to be there in order to mask those conversations so that you can get on with some work without your concentration being degraded by other conversations,” he explains. Too much of this noise and the stress levels increase. Most offices work best at around 50 to 60 decibels, he explains. “So if you were to introduce some masking sound that doesn’t require cognition – nature sounds, bird song, rainfall or some very slow-paced soundscapes played by a computer – you release the productivity.” This masking sound can be played through earphones just as easily if it’s difficult to negotiate among a group.

However, raw noise is only one thing to analyse when you’re evaluating your workspace. Acoustics are also very important – few employers and managers will be aware of the reverb rate of their meeting room, but if the sound comes back to you in, say, one second it’s going to be annoying to work there. If two people are in there talking, they can become frustrated and end up with what’s known as the Lombard Effect, where it all escalates. Think about shopping centres, where there’s an echo and people have to shout to be heard while having a coffee, even when they’re sitting opposite each other.

The issue can be cumulative, as in the Lombard Effect, or just a combination of things. The first step to take is just to listen to the office and what’s going on in it. Walk around. Treasure sometimes advises people to get someone to walk them around with a blindfold or at least to close their eyes, and just ask whether the sounds are the most conducive to getting tasks done.

The results can be surprising. People don’t always go and listen to the fridge, the printer, the air conditioning unit or any number of other things – they can all be masked with acoustic absorbers. There may be a need for a sound system to create masking sounds. Treasure advises considering the communal areas and their objectives – people go to the café space to converse but find they can’t because the music is too loud and there’s too much chatter.

Treasure says: “I was at a workplace the other day where they had commercial radio in the canteen so you had the DJ’s chatter, you had advertising and you had loud music.”

Above all, ask people what they think. Noisy environments are among the biggest complaints people have in workspaces – and many bosses are in sound-insulated offices and unaware there’s a problem. Don’t forget to revisit the issue as well. Hearing changes over time and if you’ve employed someone for a long period their hearing and ability to process sound won’t be the same at 45 as it was when they were in their late 20s.

It’s not just hearing that changes, explains Treasure: “The difficulty of extracting signal from noise does get worse as you get older,” he says. “If you’re trying to listen to one person in an office and the background noise is very loud, it becomes harder and harder. It’s a listening thing, the brain is having a struggle.”

In an era in which we have an ageing demographic, this isn’t an issue that’s going to go away. And yet in office design, sound comes into consideration a poor second – if it comes in at all.

“We need architects to start designing offices that are fit for the ears as well as the eyes,” says Treasure. “We really need to start designing for all the senses and end up with offices that are truly fit for purpose.”

Link to the original article

Radical Wellbeing: Where We Need To Get To (Part 2)

by Deepak Chopra & Rudolph E. Hanzi

Radical well being jettisons the model of body as machine for something closer to reality: a model that is living, dynamic, fluid, and adaptive. This new model leads to a state of higher health controlled and monitored by each person. The reason that directing your own health is so powerful can be summarized in a few insights that have taken decades to develop. As we emphasized in our book “Super Brain”:

• Every thought, feeling, and sensation in the mind sends a message to every cell in the body.
• Cells operate through feedback loops that mesh with the feedback loops of tissues, organs, and the body itself.
• Disease begins with subtle imbalances in these feedback loops.
• The brain’s ability to consciously direct a person’s life depends on intelligence embedded in every cell.
• Behaviour today has consequences for our genes, altering their expression in profound ways.

Which leads to the conclusion that each person must decide to take advantage of the new model. The things that health-conscious people already do aren’t negated. It remains of primary importance not to smoke, avoid excess weight, and minimize use alcohol (with perhaps an exemption for drinking a glass of wine a day, at most). If you already have taken these steps, the new model also supports other familiar advice: exercise moderately, eat a good, balanced diet, and avoid environmental toxins. But these steps bring us only to the very edge of radical well being.

The really fascinating area to explore is known as “self-directed biological transformation,” which has enormous implications for your present health and everyone’s future evolution. Change is inevitable, and transformation is taking place in your body many thousands of times a second. For the most part, each of us has played a passive role in our own transformation, allowing biological processes, governed by our genes, to run automatically. The problem is that, as miraculous as the body’s feedback loops are, they deteriorate over time and are susceptible to imbalances that aren’t self-correcting. The result is unhealthy aging and disease. Short of that, the level of well being you experience is vulnerable to degradation biologically, much of which can be avoided.

Intervening in the body’s feedback loops comes down to a simple principle: The more positive the input your body receives, the more positive its output. Your body, down to the genetic level, is altered by the events of everyday life. (It’s already known that positive lifestyle changes directed at preventing and healing heart disease alter as many as 500 genes.) The time is right for proving just how much overall control we have over this enormous potential in the mind-body connection. One can foresee the future as self-directed biological transformation.

The platform for self-directed transformation is available to everyone. It includes yoga and meditation, exercise for strength, agility, endurance and play, a balanced farm-to-table and Mediterranean diet, good sleep, and stress reduction. These are well-established ways to improve bodily function. But there’s more to explore, given another basic principle: Every experience in consciousness has a physical correlate. A mystic experiencing deep inner silence, a Buddhist monk meditating on compassion, or a saint having a vision of angels isn’t exempted from this principle, because the label of “spiritual” doesn’t diminish the mind-body connection – that connection is actually amplified.

Whatever activity you undertake is a step in self-directed biological transformation. Knowing this, how should you choose to live? Certainly a higher priority should be given to those things that make you more conscious, with the aim of being more centered, free of psychological deficits, capable of experiencing love, bonding with others, and pursuing happiness with the dedication we show in pursuing success.

Link to the full article

15 Quotes To Help You Smash Your Negative Thinking

by Aidan Tan, Pick the Brain 

Here are 9 of these quotes to help you smash negative thinking

1) “Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses.”   ― Alphonse Karr, A Tour Round My Garden

2) “You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.”   ― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

3) “Stop letting people who do so little for you control so much of your mind, feelings and emotions” – Will Smith

4) “Always think extra hard before crossing over to a bad side, if you were weak enough to cross over, you may not be strong enough to cross back!”   ― Victoria Addino

5) “If you are positive, you’ll see opportunities instead of obstacles.”   ― Widad Akrawi

6) “If we are not currently experiencing the danger of war, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, the pangs of starvation, we are ahead of some 500 million people in the world.” -Unknown

7) “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t either way you are right!”   ― Henry Ford

12) “Take a walk outside – it will serve you far more than pacing around in your mind.”  ― Rasheed Ogunlaru

13) “Start thinking positively. You will notice a difference. Instead of “I think I’m a loser,” try “I definitely am a loser.” Stop being wishy-washy about things! How much more of a loser can you be if you don’t even know you are one? Either you are a loser or you are not. Which is it, stupid?”  ― Ellen DeGeneres, The Funny Thing Is…

Link to read the full set of 15 in the original article

Happiness At Work Edition #86

All of these stories are included in this new collection of articles about happiness and resilience at work and in our lives.

Link to the Happiness At Work Edition #86

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.

Happiness At Work ~ edition one

Happiness At Work – edition one

Welcome to our very first online paper.


Here is our guide to this edition.  Every week we will curate a selection of the best stories, videos, sounds, pictures, reviews, tools and techniques from across the web that we hope will bring you ideas and fresh thinking to top up, invigorate and replenish your own  potential to flourish and thrive – at work and in your larger lives.

The paper.li app we are using to make this is an exciting way to curate a collection of web-based stories around a theme, in our case, our passionate quest to help build a world of happier people, who thrive on change and inspire the people around them.   It does not however give us any editorial control over how these stories are arranged and exhibited – its machine technology has chosen the section headings and what to group in them.   So here is our index for this week’s edition, using the section headings we would like to be able to provide.

We hope this gives you a better map to find your way to the ideas you are most interested in.

Here are some highlights in this week’s collection . . .

Understanding and Thinking About Happiness and Wellbeing

~ I have attempted to pull together a deliberately contradictory and competing weave of ideas about happiness in The I of (Un)Happiness – is our increasing knowledge making us happier?  See what you think…

~ Thinking about his work with startup founders, Joel Gasgoine points to the affect altruism has to our happiness in his blog Want To Be Happy and Successful?  Bring Happiness To Others

For today’s working women this is not such a winning formula.

~ Sheryl Sandberg eloquently raises more difficult issues about belonging and having a place at the table in her TedTalk Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders.  This presentation is part of the conversation about the barriers to flourishing that women continue to face that has recently been very alive in the states from Marie Slaughter’s article Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,  and in the UK around the debate asking Why is theatre so male, white and middle class?

Tools & Techniques

~ An introduction to the highly recommended Happiness At Work Survey, newly-launched last month by Tony Hsieh of Zappos & Nic Marks of the new economic foundation.  You can also see an earlier video of Nic Marks’ The Happy Planet Index TedTalk in videos.

~ Do Something You Love Every Day is the first of Susan Heathfield’s Top Ten Ways To Be Happy At Work;

~ You can hear and/or read Ben Waber recommendations for moving coffee stations and increase diversity as two of the Concrete Steps for Creating A Happier Office;

~ Team Building with Future Boards offers a creative approach to support collaborative strategy and work planning

~ For anyone feeling stuck in the wrong job, Amy Gallo offers six possibilities for becoming happier at work in her Harvard Business review article: Don’t Like Your Job – Change It (without quitting)

Ideas for Leaders

This week’s edition concentrates on motivation…

~ In How To Keep Your Employees Motivated Guy Farmer recommends:

1 – Praise your employees

2 – Create a workplace where people celebrate each other

3 – Give people meaningful work

4 – Value people equally, and

5 – Have a plan to keep people motivated.

Not earth shattering in its new thinking but we wonder how many leaders have these five things on their habitual range of management approaches?

~ RSA Animate – Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us is exactly what it says it is says. Enjoy.

~ Sheena Iyengar has some powerful new ideas about our new 21st century problem of having far too many choices in How To Make Choosing Easier

~ And Petra Kuenkal argues we need both balance and mindfulness to create and keep sustainability in our lives as much as in our leadership in her article Sustainability Leadership: how can we combine flatland and wonderland?

Learning and Self-Mastery  

We’ve pulled together a series of stories connected to the need for us to try and find balance, usually meaning making moments to slow down, even stop, and get some new air in our lungs and brains …

~ a simple introduction in Ed Halliwell’s School of Life blog On a Mindful Manifesto;

~ more detailed and very practical techniques in Melanie Greenberg’s Nine Essential Qualities of Mindfulness;

~ The Logic of Insomnia talks about how a racing brain prevents a good night’s sleep, emphasising the need for us to learn how to control our thinking that is key to a great deal of happiness and well-being approaches, including mindfulness;

~ and I have pulled together a clutch of further ideas linked to this theme in my performancemarks blog How To Be A Happy Freelancer – Tips for Getting A Good Work-Life Balance that has helpful tips for people working in organisations too, including how to get free of The Busy Trap

~ the importance of continually learning is highlighted in Moodscope’s blog, You, The Sponge;

~ James Levine advice for us To Stay On Schedule, Take A Break – ideally every fifteen minutes in fact.  We’d love to hear from anyone who works from a computer who actually comes close to achieving this!

This Week’s Books

Our number one book pick this week

Our favourite reference for understanding Happiness At Work we know: Jessica Pryce-Jones practical, intelligent and helpful book of research and practical ideas: Happiness At Work – Maximising Psychological Capital for Success.  Hear her talking about its main ideas in this Happiness At Work clip. You can take the online Science of Happiness iOpener People & Performance Survey that accompanies these ideas to get your own free report about your happiness at work.

~ Richard Wiseman brings some of the ideas from his book Rip It Up in his guardian article Self-Help – Forget Positive Thinking, Try Positive Action;

Brain Pickings ~ Maria Popova

Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings is so good that we’ve made it the first automatic feed into our Happiness At Work.  Here are highlights we’ve posted in this week’s edition…

~ Popova reviews the headline stealing latest addition in the UK to the happiness literature, Oliver Burkeman’s The Antidote in Against Positive Thinking – Uncertainty as the Secret of Happiness.

~ Hear some of Burkeman’s ideas from his book in his RSA – The Antidote talk;

~ Prompted by Burkeman’s book, Popova provides a great précis of Learned Optimism: Martin Seligman on Happiness, Depression and the Meaningful Life.  Seligman is one of the most important thinkers in Positive Psychology, and we still think his model for what he emphatically calls Flourishing is one of the best frameworks on offer – a combination of Positive Emotion + Engagement + Great Relationships + Meaning from what we do + a sense of Accomplishment.  If we want to increase our happiness one of the best places to start is by considering which of these five might me undernourished, and try to do something to improve it.

~ We have also included Maria Popova’s 7 Must-Read Books in the Art & Science of Happiness – five of these are on our favourites list, two we haven’t read yet.

~ “Good music can act as a guide to living.” This quote from John Cage begins Popova’s review of his new biography Where the Heart Beat: John Cage, Zen Buddhism and the Inner Life of Artsists.

This Week’s Video and Music

One of the most inspiring things we’ve seen for some time was the Nicola Benedetti Southbank Show talking about her music and her involvement with Sistema Scotland, the most extraordinary and wonderful experiment in using music to help people to flourish.  There is so much here for us to pay attention to and learn from… Enjoy her music playing Bruch’s Violin Concerto – Nicola Benedetti and the Scottish Symphony Orchestra

~ Bobby McFerrin’s Demonstrating the Power of the Petonic Scale is 3minutes of pure delight.

~ Charles Hazelwood’s much longer TedTalk Trusting the Ensemble is really worth watching all the way through to enjoy his inspiring and quirky illustrations to his central message, that “where there is trust, there is music and, by extension, life. Where there is no trust music withers away.”

~ In Shilo Shiv Suleman’s Using technology to enable dreaming TedTalk of animated iPad wizardry, she makes us think about how to use our technology to step further inside our experiences, rather than pulling ourselves away and outside them.

~ Michael Norton tells us how we should be spending in his TedTalk How To Buy Happiness

~ More sheer enjoyment and delight in Abigail Washburn’s Building US-China relations… by banjo

~ And quite possibly the happiest band on the planet Pink Martini’s Hang On Little Tomato – no pictures in this video, just the music to enjoy.

We really hope there is something in this collection that you will find both helpful and enjoyable.  

Do please visit us at BridgeBuilders STG on Facebook and let us know what you think, add your own stories and ideas about Happiness At Work, and tell us anything you would really like to get in future editions Happiness At Work paper.li  


‘The Suit’ – an exploration of leadership in our 21st century world

Image

~ The Suit ~

a re-imagining of Yoko Ono’s 1965 ‘Cut Piece’

in a 21st century soundscape

…exploring  the destruction and creation of male leadership styles…

created & performed with the audience

by mark trezona & martyn duffy, BridgeBuilders

at MAMLL 30th Celebration Conference, Lancaster University Management School

31st May 2012

This live art show is co-created with the audience and is made of:

+ a soundscape of alpha-male voices, chosen for their contemporary immediacy   and contradictory messages of hope vs. catastrophe, new possibilities vs. impending crisis, opening out to collaboration vs. staying in control;

+ a man in a suit;

+ a pair of scissors;

+ an audience invited to come and cut…

This performance is inspired by Yoko Ono’s 1965 action, Cut Piece, made originally against the US war in Vietnam and against men’s treatment of women, in which she sat motionless on the stage before an audience who were invited to come up and cut  her clothing.

In our re-imagination of this performance  we wonder how much has changed since then, asking:

what happens when we offer a man in a suit to an audience to cut?

What happens in each performance is over to that audience.

Our re-creation of Ono’s performance gives the audience a man in a suit and surrounds them inside a soundscape of voices of contemporary alpha-male leaders– organisation leaders and management theorists, politicians and bankers  – selected specifically for each performance.  These domineering voices of power are heard alongside more complex uncertain voices from David Harsent’s poem, Night, about the thoughts that wake in us when we escape our daytime selves, and from Mark Doty’s poem of city rage, Citizens, and from Janis Ian asking in her song, Matthew:  

What Makes a Man a Man?

What begins with questions about domination and the abuse of power becomes mixed up and blurred with ideas about responsibility and burden:

~ the onerous burden of all the responsibility of all of our expectations carried on the shoulders of our organisation and political leaders, cut through with the loaded requirement we make of our leaders to stand up and speak with authority;

~ the weight of ‘America,’ always seeping into our lives, cut through with the burdens of having to participate fully, to be a good team player and a good citizen, to be socially and environmentally responsible, that we are all expected to bear, and to bear more and better yet in this increasingly challenging and unpredictable world;

~ the oppressiveness / oppression of the western iconic male leader, still the mainstay of our lives and still deadly in his smart 21st century suit of shined up liberalism, still owning and wielding and maintaining and defending his power, cut through with the recognition that surface appearances will always be deceptive, and what we see in a man depends upon how we look at him.

All of this – and all of the many more things a man in a suit can mean – we offer to the audience to cut. 

And it is what they do that determines how much this is then a show of destruction and/or of recreation.

After the performance we all talk together to hear how different people have experienced this performance, and to explore and uncover the different meanings people make and the different ways these might be helpfully applied in our everyday working lives, as followers and/or as leaders.

The answers each time are made together by the people in the room that day…

We have been able to develop and try out this new version of our show at this year’s 30th Celebration Conference for the MA in Management Learning & Leadership at Lancaster University.  This performance was substantially adapted and re-tuned from the original version to work for people in a work context.  In our new show we draw out the voices of men in suits from organisational life, voices telling us how we should behave and what we should do at work, woven into the rhetoric of our political leaders telling us what we should believe and care about.

We want to bring this very different immersive and thought provoking workshop to organisations, to explore its potential to reveal and shape and extend people’s different responses to questions such as …

~ what do we want from our leaders? and how does this match with what we are getting at the moment?

~ what can we each do to influence and shape the leadership around us?

~ as leaders, what impact are we trying to make, what effect on people do we want to have, and what do we expect to get back from people in return?

~ to what extent does our leadership continue to rely predominantly on male modes of thought and behaviour?

~ what does hearing different leadership voices offer to our understanding?

~ what does what we do with a pair of scissors, a standing nameless man in a suit, and complete licence to cut teach us?

~ how much do we want to destroy this ‘man’ and how much do we choose to recreate him in a form more of our making?

~ do we become a unified group and work together?  or do we prefer to claim our rights to respond as an individual?

~ and what might we do out from this experience to reshape and sculpt our work as a leader and/or with the leaders around us?

What happened last week was that people not only responded very differently, but then people made very different meanings about what had happened and what we should learn from this.  This is exciting.  Too often highly sophisticated and complex human interactions, such as leadership, can be reduced to overly simplified models.  We know that leadership is anything but simple; it’s real difficulty is manifest in the very high majority of people who report that their relationship with their boss is one of the most unhappy aspects of their work, as well as the number of leaders who report high levels of frustration about their people’s performance inadequacies.

what makes great leadership?

This performance offers a uniquely involving way to recognise and work with the many contradictory, difficult, rational and emotional complexities that entangle this question, without trying to detach from all the anxieties and necessities and expectations our contemporary world gives to it.  From the immediacy of the shared experience people get during this performance we can, together, start to talk more honestly about what actually happens in our leadership relationships and draw some fresh new ways to make them better and fitter for the demands of the organisation and its people.

We now want to find organisations who might be interested in working with us to develop their own version of this show.

We suggest a  half-day workshop  that would look at leadership and it’s people-related aims ~ and connecting specifically with whatever is live and for the organisation –  change and aftermath, innovation, team working,  engagement, empowerment and/or communications…

Our enormous thanks go to everyone who came and made the show with us lat Lancaster Management School and helped to take us to this next phase.  Thank you, too, to MAMLL for giving us this rare and luxurious opportunity to be able try and test our ideas on the floor and to check that this is a relevant and vital way for people who want to make their work lives better.

This is still work in progress and all your ideas are very welcome…

Gardenia ~ les ballets C de la B (Alain Platel / Frank Van Laecke)

http://www.sadlerswells.com/show/les-ballets-C-de-la-B-Gardenia

Following a successful European tour, the critically acclaimed Gardenia by leading contemporary dance collective, les ballets C de la B comes to Sadler’s Wells for a limited run.

Inspired by the penetrating film Yo soy así, in which the closing of a transvestite cabaret in Barcelona reveals the private lives of an extraordinary group of aging artists,Gardenia is a collaboration between transvestite actressVanessa Van Durme, directors Alain Platel and Frank Van Laecke, and composer Steven Prengels.

“One of the most influential dance theatre companies in the world”
THE GUARDIAN 
“An endlessly extravagant work that inspires, shocks and delights”
THE STAGE

In the most intimate of tales, this unique show goes deep into the turbulent lives of nine people; seven older individuals navigating the zone between masculine and feminine, and a younger man and ‘real’ woman. Each carries their own intriguing story, sometimes poignant, sometimes hilarious. Based on the real experiences of the cast, Gardenia indulges the human instinct for voyeurism in a visual show that harmonises dance, song and the arresting contemporary music of Steven Prengels.

Directors  Alain Platel & Frank Van Laecke

Based on a concept by Vanessa Van Durme  Griet Debacker  Hendrik Lebon  Andrea De Laet  Richard “Tootsie” Dierick  Danilo Povolo  Gerrit Becker  Dirk Van Vaerenbergh  Rudy Suwyns
Music  Steven Prengels
Sound Design  Sam Serruys
this was a show about presence.

at the start, a sloped stage, chairs framing its sides and back, microphones hunched down to two of these, a third microphone tall and straight and ready in the diva’s position downstage centre.  the nine performers are before us already, standing suited, still and straight before us, and from the first moments they are compelling and electric and alive and completely present.  just as is Steven Prengels’ corporeal sound  – absolutely being ‘the tenth character … a composition with sounds … that lifts it to a higher plane’.

Vanessa Van Durne quoted in the programme notes:

‘The cast of Gardenia does not have to play [roles]; they just have to be one the stage.  Their presence is overwhelming … They do nothing; they just have to be there.  They do things in the show, of course, but not in role.’

in fact the only sense of obvious play acting is when they deliberately overact their aged frailties in a heightened polarity to the gorgeous vibrant nightclub performers they will transform into before us.

there is so much space for us to experience this show.  not only is nothing rushed, the many repetitions used choreographically and musically add a meditative depth that works as a mesmeric cross-current with the magnetic quality brought by the performers pulling us in to find them rather than either trying to dazzle us with their spectacularity or to reaching out across to us any cliche’d need for our affirmation.  they are there.  they are complete and alive and entirely in their own skins.  rather than any sniff of pathos or tragedy, they seem to bring us a charged poise, each performer with their own rhythms and different lifeforce: they inhabit and own this space just as they inhabit and own the bodies they variously pose and strut and drape with tailored suits, floral summer frocks and riotously overdrawn costumes.  they place themselves.  and they are completely contained.  and this effect is compounded by the sound which keeps bringing us the voices of ghost ‘stars’ famous for their need for audience adoration: we hear both Judy and Liza, and Norma Desmond too, looped over the incessancy of Bolero and cut through with a slow lethargic dutch drone of “Ja. Ja. Ja. Nein. Nein. Nein,” a potently ineluctable form of ‘whatever’ repeated until it has imprinted so well into our hearing that we are so much more aware of and interested in the people in front of us than we are in any evocation of these supposedly brighter shinier starrier alter egos, whether in their ghost or their parody forms.  standing, sitting or walking the performers are compelling: existing in a form of both heightened realisation and absolute ease.  even when i lose interest in the histrionics of the beautiful boy i am pulled to watch and try to really see Vanessa Van Durne’s Madam character, stiff-backed and glacial in her Gloria Swanson turban and sunglasses and wrung out of her attempts to give comfort to the inconsolable boy – “Life is a journey. There are some unforgettable moments. And a lot more forgettable ones” – into a silent stillness that vibrates with hidden unknowable private memories.

another wonderful interplay between the sound and the performances is the display of collage: the multifarious and diverse fragments of sound/movement/embodiment masterly stitched together to create a new something that seems to simultaneously
expose and hide another different substance at its heart.  this is perhaps one of things transvestite cabaret is famous for: hiding the pain through the gaudiest glorification of it.  but whereas i would expect a transvestite show to deliver me with an easily digestible form of heartache, the exhibition of their pain always trumping easily my sufferings, this show gave me instead a most convincing and enthralling sense of real strength.

a great audience experience because it pulled me through into a widened world and shot me with a jolt of renewed possibility.  it showed me an array of ways of being comfortable in your own skin that were nevertheless completely absent of any arrogance or complacency or caustic.  some words i’ve been recently reading by Steven Feld about ‘the primacy of sound as a modality of knowing and being in the world’ could be extended to describe this show:

‘…these distinct and shared ways of being human, … [the] possibilities for and realisations of authority, understanding, reflexivity, compassion and identity.’

30th June 2011

‘Perpetual Light’ by Jessica Curry at Old Vic Tunnels

Perpetual Light: Requiem for an Unscorched Earth. By Jessica Curry. A new choral work about the triumph of humanity over destruction

http://www.perpetual-light.com/

Perpetual Light: Requiem for an Unscorched Earth is a new choral work by Jessica Curry that fuses music, film and installation to create an emotionally charged, unique experience. It is a profoundly moving piece that remembers those who lost their lives in nuclear conflicts. Once again, we live in the shadow of the bomb. Fear of rogue states and terrorism have replaced the Cold War stand-off and a new apocalyptic atomic vision is now upon us. Despite this, we have not destroyed ourselves: we are still here. Perpetual Light celebrates our extraordinary will to survive, delivering a powerful message of hope.

Composer and Artistic Director: Jessica Curry
Performed by Londinium
Film and installation by Jo Fairfax
Produced by Sarah Ellis
In association with The Albany

Saturday 4 June 2011   3.30pm and 7.30pm

The Old Vic Tunnels
Leake Street
SE1 7NN


we queue to get, in deciphering the graffiti and reading the programme notes while trying to keep our noses tight against the insistent stink of pigeon poo.

when let in, we come into a an underground hollow space of sound – an atomic kind of of difficult buzz – more than a drone sound and suggestive of an audio equivalent of glowing radioactivity perhaps. and definitely and surely composed – its cadences moving us toward fiercer intensity and insistence.

it is unclear where we are supposed to be in the space and with everyone there is a feeling of needing to rush to be in the right place after the queuing. there is a largeish area with candles burning and white glowing rings set into the new cement that becomes a second holding area. beside this is a cavern hung with white-lighted model planes suspended in a grid of rows above us and above a shrine-ish area with a funereal-looking box and two more glassed-in burning candles.

we queue again and wait to get through to the live performance area.

we are let through to a third area of rowed seats facing the two rows of the twenty singers that are Londinium, an a cappella choir.  behind them a large screen is showing faint shadowing waves which remind me of the ghostly echo of static waves out of an old fashioned tv screen.

the music has grown and expanded in complexity and heat – some of the sounds are barely endurable. we are pleased to be seated waiting and, watching a looped video of two woman’s eyes above and apparently watching a landscape from which two bright missiles are fired across a trajectory that neatly traces this witness’s eyes before flying inexorably away to explode somewhere, someone, out of sight, only to rise again, and again. in front of this image is a spiral design that reminds of the calibration of target finder or the unfurling of a fern or the carved eyes of a less modern totem to territory and domination.  watching, we are able to meditate on the ugly potency of our warfare and weaponry.

the music the choir make is exquisite. complex and interwoven and still sounding simple and urgent and sad.  it is a sublime experience to sit in this dark tunnel with the constant sonic rumbling of the trains over our heads like some omnipresent thundering of storms gathering, and fall inside this music. sometimes i found myself admiring. sometimes i felt a complicated array of thoughts and feelings and sensations. mostly i was just able to be in it.

(which means that the traces i might have to make this memory with are too ghostly and ephemeral to pin down here in a more specifically recounted record.)

after the concert we wandered back into the candle-lit adjoining tunnels and i was overcome with a surge of deep sadness.  standing in this newly activated shrine i felt physically and emotionally charged.

an exceptional experience for sure. *****

show seen: 4th June 2011