Happiness At Work #109 ~ our ordinary power

 

Several years ago while I was enjoying the fun and reward of making learning programmes with him, Mike Phipps posited this great question, which turned out to be compelling enough to found a new leadership development practice, Politics at Work

“As you go about your day-to-day activities, where do you get your power and influence from…?”

I have always loved this question, and this week’s Happiness At Work theme considers the potency and power to be found in the ordinary and the everyday.

How can we learn to be happier with what we already have, without having to make any radical changes or costly additions to our current circumstances and without having to depend upon the decisions, actions or behaviours of other people?

What is perhaps already there, right under our noses and within our reach, that we might draw from to advance our own and each other’s success and happiness?

What new potency and life can be discovered in the everyday material of our lives if we would just give ourselves a bit more time and attention to notice?

These are the questions that this collection of articles helps to highlight…

 

Power & Politics at Work – Mike Phipps

Imagine what you could do if you no longer had to ‘play politics’ at work to get things done? How much time would you save?

Eric Liu: Why ordinary people need to understand power

Far too many Americans are illiterate in power — what it is, how it operates and why some people have it. As a result, those few who do understand power wield disproportionate influence over everyone else. “We need to make civics sexy again,” says civics educator Eric Liu. “As sexy as it was during the American Revolution or the Civil Rights Movement.”

 

12 Things People in Denmark Do That Make Them the Happiest People in the World

by Remi Alli

On March 20th — the International Day of Happiness — the United Nations recognized “happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of human beings around the world.” And when it comes to the happiest people, the “World Happiness Report 2013” identified the bacon-loving country of Denmark as holding the highest levels of happiness … but why?

1. They understand the meaning of “It takes a village …”

The Danes place tremendous importance on social, economic and overall security, thus this common quip holds true. In general, volunteerism is given high priority. Ultimately, it appears that community support helps Denmark the most.

2. They are one of the most generous.

Denmark ranks third in the most recent figures for foreign aid expenditure per capita, very generously providing for developing countries and disaster relief.

3. They treat each other with respect.

The Danes are often extremely proud when another Dane launches a successful career, regardless of where they are in the world. For example, the actors Scarlett Johansson (Danish father) and Viggo Mortensen are very popular. Perhaps their cultural regard towards one another also leads to the low reported incidence of corruption in their leadership too.

4. They don’t believe in income inequality.

With an unofficial but recognized $20 minimum wage rate, workers have many reasons to be happy. In addition, their roughly 80% unionization provides them relatively decent leverage if they don’t receive worker benefits. Even still, there are quite a few wealthy people along with a high standard of living, and many wealthy job providers don’t consider their businesses successful until they are able to pay for their workers to have comparable lifestyles to themselves. Employers often cover employee health insurance, too. Denmark is also known for its large GDP per capita.

5. They view certain milestones in reverse (to the U.S.).

Perhaps the Danes are well versed in the psychological reasoning that banning something only increases its desirability. There is no minimum drinking age, for example; Denmark allows parents to decide for their children under age 16. At 16, certain types of alcohol can be bought, while at 18 any legally sold alcohol can be purchased. Eighteen is also the legal age to drive.

6. They don’t support violence.

Other than soldiers in the United Nations, Denmark is not currently involved in any wars, which many believe often create more problems than they resolve, including generations of despairing, disillusioned and forgotten veterans. They also do not have guns readily available and boast an estimated 90% voter turnout rate.

7. They believe that education is a right.

The Danes teach their youth not only Danish but English, giving them a wide perspective and ability to relate as global citizens. Also, university is mostly free to willing students and these students also receive grants towards tuition as an educational incentive. Specifically, the government provides around $1,000 monthly for 70 months towards a degree and students can often easily sign up for loans.

8. They are pretty advanced in social equality.

Denmark outlawed job discrimination against gay people in 1948 and hold values such as tolerance and community accountability quite high — no victim mentalities here.

9. They believe in a military relative in size to its population.

A proportional militia allows more government funding to flow directly to its citizens, rather than subsidizing real or perceived threats.

10. They hold socialist (and capitalist) values.

The Danes believe that people come before profit. Thus, the Danish government provides quite a lot in pensions, unemployment, subsidized child care, free education for professionals, quality infrastructure and sickness benefits, which the Danish understand and appreciate.

11. They understand and appreciate what their taxes subsidize.

Danes pay a pretty penny in taxes: anywhere in range of 36% to 51% in state taxes, along with a 25% sales tax, and around a 1% voluntary church tax. Their Government is also quite astute in managing these particular financial affairs, allowing Danes fairly decent retirement funds and sound infrastructures. While most European countries’ middle class pay more tax than in the United States, the Danish belief in taking care of its citizens means the wealthy pay more in taxes than the working class.

12. They prioritize health.

Many food additives are banned, such as the trans fats that are mostly found in cheap, fried food items. To top it off, with plenty of flat land and a small population, much of Denmark is ideal for the avid bicyclist. The Danes also boast a healthy life expectancy.

Link to read the original article

Happiness: you can work it out

Ditch the guilt, banish your inbox and stop blue-sky thinking. As we return to our desks after the summer fun, Richard Godwin finds the formula for feeling good in the office

Early on in his new book, Happiness by Design, Paul Dolan relates a conversation he once had with a friend who is (or rather, was) a high-powered media executive. She spent most of the evening complaining that her line of work made her miserable. Her boss, her colleagues, her commute — all of it brought her down. When she came to pay the bill, however, her final statement took him by surprise. “Of course, I love working in Medialand!” It is apparent contradictions such as this that illuminate Dolan’s central thesis.

A professor of behavioural sciences at LSE, Dolan came from what he describes as a “lower working-class” family in east London to become one of the world’s leading experts in the emerging study of happiness. Daniel Kahneman, the fabled Nobel Prize-winning psychologist, views him as something of a protégé. The Office for National Statistics has employed him to help establish the framework of David Cameron’s national wellbeing survey.

He is part of a wave of social scientists whose discoveries at once confound your expectations and provide an appreciable way of acting on that knowledge. It’s self-help for pseuds, in other words, in the best traditions of Kahneman’s own Thinking, Fast and Slow, or Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness by Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler, and full of facts that make you go: “Huh.”

Did you know, for example, that accidents among small children — which have been in decline for decades — have risen since the invention of the smartphone? (Distraction is one of the most significant barriers to happiness, as well as to responsible parenting.) Or that people who tweet about how they’re trying to lose weight actually lose more weight than people who don’t? The rate is 0.5 per cent of weight loss per 10 tweets. Dolan includes that as an example of how peer pressure may be turned into a positive — if losing weight is indeed what makes you happy. The evidence suggests that it does not in the long term.

Dolan’s central insight is that how we evaluate our happiness is very different from how we actually experience it. His media friend thought she was happy (“I love working in Medialand!”). But what was really important, Dolan argues, is her day-to-day experience of it. “[We] generally pay more attention to what we think should make us happy rather than focusing on what actually does,” as he puts it. If we want to be happy, we should get better at working out what makes us happy in the moment.

For this he cites what he calls the “Pleasure Purpose Principle”. We need to balance both pleasure and purpose to experience happiness. It explains why we “solve” a crappy day at work (purpose) with an evening in front of the TV (pleasure). However, when pleasure has no purpose, that doesn’t make us happy either — which is why we’ll often choose to watch some worthy documentary over a silly romcom. Likewise, if there is no pleasure in our purpose — for example, if we’re working on something that we know is a pointless waste of time — it makes us unhappy. Take the dreaded “unassigned” Hooli staff in the sitcom Silicon Valley. Making money from doing nothing does not make them happy. As Dolan counsels: “Happiness is ultimately about the pleasure-purpose principle over time.”

And while the insights are applicable in many areas of life, it’s at work they are most acute. It’s where we spend most of our conscious lives, after all. Here are 10 of the take-home lessons.

Your attention is a scarce resource. Use it wisely …

All work and no play leads to regret …

Future happiness does not compensate for present misery…

…But do consider the present benefits of future decisions …

Change your environment …

Making decisions is difficult. Seek help …

Don’t think about the weather …

Minimise distractions …

Surround yourself with people who increase your happiness…

…But do not compare yourself too much with people around you …

Link to read the full article

Ask Your Employees These 4 Simple Questions to Elicit Productive Feedback

by Susan Steinbreacher

[It is all too easy to become] caught up in the “bigger picture” and the intricacies of your role. But by doing so, it is possible to become disconnected from the day-to-day operations of your business, particularly your impact on employees, customers and suppliers.

When you are only thinking about this broad view, you may notice a downturn in sales, more customer complaints, or employee productivity taking a dive. You may begin to question the way in which you [are working], spending many long, exasperating hours trying to determine why [you are] not moving in the right direction. That is when the “human-side” of the operation — the satisfaction of employees, customers and others who interact with the company — is negatively impacted.

It’s at this point that you’d better start asking questions.

To improve employee engagement and make positive changes in the workplace, leaders should be asking employees for their honest opinion about what is working — or not working — in the organization. If handled properly, the results can yield feedback that may enable you to bolster morale, streamline systems and increase customer satisfaction.  It may even help you to become a better leader.

To get employees talking, you don’t need to have them fill out a huge questionnaire. Instead start with these four simple questions.

1. What are we doing when operating at our best? The goal here is to extract out best practices. The answers you receive will also speak to the culture of the organization and will allow you to leverage those best practices in your marketing collateral as well as when recruiting employees.

2. What are you hearing customers say about our business? The objective of this inquiry is to capture — directly from the front line — what customers or clients are saying. Look carefully for emerging patterns.

3. If you were in my shoes and could make all the decisions, what would you do and why? The purpose of this question is three-fold. First, it engages the employee and demonstrates that management cares about what they think. Second, it puts part of the responsibility on the employee to think more like a leader and put themselves in your shoes. Not only does this instigate creative thought, but it also generates empathy for the responsibilities of company leadership. Most importantly, since the employee is closest to the customer, they will be able to suggest clearly-defined opportunities for improvement.

4. What is the “one essential thing” I need to know in order to make this business a success? This question gets to the heart of how your organization’s time, resources and initiative should be directed in order to prosper. Once again, look for patterns and, if possible, further validate those findings through customer surveys or focus groups.

Be aware that some associates may be fearful of backlash and not be willing to tell it like it is. To avoid this response, meet in small groups, one-on-one (or even allow anonymity) during the process. Determine what works best for your company and don’t forget to show appreciation for the feedback you receive. Recognize that you may be inclined to disagree or provide an explanation for some of your employee’s reactions — so try to keep an open mind.

This exercise achieves multiple benefits. You acquire worthwhile data and, at the same time, the employee will feel that they are recognized, heard and respected.

Take your employee’s feedback and work with it. Build a supportive environment that promotes creativity. Get clear about the relationships between associates, suppliers and customers. Keep it positive and let your employees know that you are receptive to new ideas. Finally, do a little soul searching on your own contribution. Use your insight and focused attention to instil confidence and commitment in your employees that will support them in their efforts to do their very best for your organization.

Link read the original article

 

How To Rewire Your Brain For Greater Happiness

by Jane Porter

Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could hack into our own brains and rewire them to be happier?

Science has shown we actually can thanks to a phenomenon called experience-dependent neuroplasticity. “It’s a fancy term to say the brain learns from our experiences,” says Rick Hanson, neuropsychologist and author of the book Hardwiring Happiness. “As we understand better and better how this brain works, it gives us more power to change our mind for the better.”

Hanson assures he isn’t just talking new-age mumbo jumbo. “This is not just ‘smell the roses,'” he says. “I am talking about positive neuroplasticity. I am talking about learning. … The brain is changing based on what flows through it.”

Understanding how our brains function can help us better control them. Here are some key takeaways from Hanson on how our brains work when it comes to wiring for happiness:

~ Recognise your negativity bias…

~ Don’t just think positively.  Think realistically…

~ Know what’s going on in the brain…

~ Follow the 10-second rule…

~ Think of your brain like a cassette recorder…

…Our brains are working just fine, you might be thinking. Why mess with something that’s not broken? But the fact of the matter is happiness isn’t something that happens to you. It’s something you can teach your brain to experience more fully.

“We should not fool ourselves,” says Hanson. “We’ve got a brain that is pulled together to help lizards, mice, and monkeys get through the day and pass on their genes. We’ve got a brain that’s like Velcro for the bad and Teflon for the good. Be muscular from the inside out. Grow the good stuff inside yourself.”

Link to read the rest of this article

 

How To Accept A Compliment (Without Just Giving One Back)

By 

We’d be lying if we didn’t admit that getting a compliment is an instant mood booster. While we all know there’s a difference between meaningful compliments and ones that are more surface-level, how you act on the receiving end of praise is just as important as how you act when offering it.

A recent survey found that the majority of us know how to properly respond to a compliment, but do we really know how to accept them? For those who get squeamish, self-deprecating or just all-around awkward when someone applauds you, here is how to master the art of accepting a compliment:

Notice your body language.

How we carry ourselves is key to any conversation, but when it comes to really accepting compliments, body language could be your greatest ally. Our bodies can sometimes say way more than the words we speak — and they can also influence our thought patterns. As social psychologist Amy Cuddy explains in her TED Talk on the power of body language, standing confidently, even when you don’t feel that way on the inside, can influence cortisol levels in the brain and can potentially influence success.

Bonus: Research shows that when we flash those pearly whites,we’re instantly boosting our mood. The same goes for our posture — standing straight can boost our self-esteem. No room for bad thoughts when you’re too busy feeling comfortable in your own skin.

Two words: Be mindful.

At its core, mindfulness is about having total awareness of your thoughts as they happen — and with this awareness also comes alack of judgment or categorization of these thoughts. By practicing mindfulness, we’re recognizing the compliment and our initial thoughts on it — and then choosing not to react in a negative manner. Need help incorporating more mindfulness in your everyday life? Try these tricks.

Realize the difference between humility and self-deprecation.

There’s a quiet power in modesty — it helps you see the good in others, it makes you more conscientious and a better leader. However, there’s a fine line between being humble and putting yourself down.

Even women with high self-esteem reject compliments, but mainly because they want to appear more modest, social psychologist Laura Brannon told TODAY. But in reality, humble people accept themselves for who they are. “Many people think of humility as … thinking very little of yourself, and I don’t think that’s right,” Mike Austin, Ph.D., a professor of philosophy at Eastern Kentucky University, previously told HuffPost Healthy Living. “It’s more about a proper or accurate assessment. A big part of humility is knowing our own limits, our strengths and weaknesses, morally or otherwise.”

Don’t compliment them back right away.
How many times have you been paid a compliment only to feel compelled to return the favor? This behavior — while inherently kind — isn’t the most effective way to help you accept genuine praise better.

As psychologist Susan Quilliam tells the Daily Mail, many women do this because it gets the attention off of them — another habit that could reinforce the idea that you don’t deserve the compliment in the first place (and you do). Complimenting others just for the sake of it can also feel disingenuous — so it’s better to leave it at a simple “thank you.”

Store it in your memory.

When we have self-critical thoughts after hearing kind remarks, it usually stems from the delusional idea that people don’t really mean what they say — or worse, they’re wrong about your positive qualities. And simply put, that’s just not true. Next time someone pays you a genuine compliment, file it in your memory and think about it when you’re feeling inadequate. The sooner you start believing you’re worth the praise, the easier it will be to accept it graciously — and you’ll be much happier for it.

Link to read the original article

The Irritating Reason That Overconfident People Get All The Breaks

by Dr Jeremy Dean

People who are overconfident in their own abilities are considered more talented by others than they really are, a new study finds.

These overconfident individuals are probably more likely to get promoted, to become the leaders of organisations and even nations.

On the other hand, people who are not so confident in their abilities are judged as less competent than they actually are.

The findings, published in the journal PLOS ONE, provide evidence for a controversial theory of the evolution of self-deception (Lamba & Nityananda, 2014).

Being better at deceiving yourself makes you better at deceiving others, some have argued, and this study provides evidence for the theory.

Dr. Vivek Nityananda, who co-authored the study, explained:

“These findings suggest that people don’t always reward the most accomplished individual but rather the most self-deceived.

We think this supports an evolutionary theory of self-deception.

It can be beneficial to have others believe you are better than you are and the best way to do this is to deceive yourself — which might be what we have evolved to do.”

The study shows how belief in your own abilities doesn’t just affect you but also those around you, who also pick up on your levels of self-belief very quickly.

The authors conclude that…

“…[since] overconfident individuals are more likely to be risk-prone, then by promoting such individuals we may be creating institutions such as banks, trading floors and armies, that are also more vulnerable to risk.

From our smallest interactions to the institutions we build, self-deception may play a profound role in shaping the world we inhabit.” (Lamba & Nityananda, 2014).

Link to read the original article

The Psychology of Our Willful Blindness and Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril

by 

How to counter the gradual narrowing of our horizons.

In Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril, serial entrepreneur and author Margaret Heffernan examines the intricate, pervasive cognitive and emotional mechanisms by which we choose, sometimes consciously but mostly not, to remain unseeing in situations where “we could know, and should know, but don’t know because it makes us feel better not to know.” We do that, Heffernan argues and illustrates through a multitude of case studies ranging from dictatorships to disastrous love affairs to Bernie Madoff, because “the more tightly we focus, the more we leave out” — or, as cognitive scientist Alexandra Horowitz put it in her remarkable exploration of exactly what we leave out in our daily lives, because “attention is an intentional, unapologetic discriminator.”…

“Whether individual or collective, willful blindness doesn’t have a single driver, but many. It is a human phenomenon to which we all succumb in matters little and large. We can’t notice and know everything: the cognitive limits of our brain simply won’t let us. That means we have to filter or edit what we take in. So what we choose to let through and to leave out is crucial. We mostly admit the information that makes us feel great about ourselves, while conveniently filtering whatever unsettles our fragile egos and most vital beliefs. It’s a truism that love is blind; what’s less obvious is just how much evidence it can ignore. Ideology powerfully masks what, to the uncaptivated mind, is obvious, dangerous, or absurd and there’s much about how, and even where, we live that leaves us in the dark. Fear of conflict, fear of change keeps us that way. An unconscious (and much denied) impulse to obey and conform shields us from confrontation and crowds provide friendly alibis for our inertia. And money has the power to blind us, even to our better selves…

“Our blindness grows out of the small, daily decisions that we make, which embed us more snugly inside our affirming thoughts and values. And what’s most frightening about this process is that as we see less and less, we feel more comfort and greater certainty. We think we see more — even as the landscape shrinks…

And yet wilful blindness, Heffernan argues, isn’t a fatal diagnosis of the human condition — it may be our natural, evolutionarily cultivated tendency, but it is within our capability to diffuse it with the right combination of intention and attention. She reflects on the heartening evidence to which the various studies reviewed in the book point:

“The most crucial learning that has emerged from this science is the recognition that we continue to change right up to the moment we die. Every experience and encounter, each piece of new learning, each relationship or reassessment alters how our minds work. And no two experiences are the same. In his work on the human genome, the Nobel laureate Sydney Brenner reminds us that even identical twins will have different experiences in different environments and that that makes them fundamentally different beings. Identical twins develop different immune systems. Mental practice alone can change how our brains operate. The plasticity and responsiveness of our minds is what makes each of us most remarkable… We aren’t automata serving the master computer in our heads, and our capacity for change can never be underestimated…

“We make ourselves powerless when we choose not to know. But we give ourselves hope when we insist on looking. The very fact that willful blindness is willed, that it is a product of a rich mix of experience, knowledge, thinking, neurons, and neuroses, is what gives us the capacity to change it. Like Lear, we can learn to see better, not just because our brain changes but because we do. As all wisdom does, seeing starts with simple questions: What could I know, should I know, that I don’t know? Just what am I missing here?”

Link to read the rest of this  Brain Pickings article

Ziyah Gafić: Everyday objects, tragic histories

Ziyah Gafić photographs everyday objects—watches, shoes, glasses. But these images are deceptively simple; the items in them were exhumed from the mass graves of the Bosnian War. Gafić, a TED Fellow and Sarajevo native, has photographed every item from these graves in order to create a living archive of the identities of those lost.

Happiness At Work edition #109

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

We hope you enjoy the surprise of unearthing something delightful that was already there sometime over the coming week…

Happiness At Work #97 ~ why our learning matters more than ever

child learning

Happiness At Work edition #97

Here are some of our favourite stories collected in this edition, beginning with this story that eloquently makes the case for learning inside our organisations and provides this week’s headline theme…

Organisational Learning in the Network Era

by Harold Jarche

W. Edwards Deming, American management visionary, understood that systemic factors account for most organizational problems, and changing these has more potential for improvement than changing any individual’s performance. Therefore the role of executives should be to manage the system, not individuals. But the real barrier to systemic change is hierarchical management, as it constrains the sharing of power, a necessary enabler of organizational learning. People have to trust each other to share knowledge, and power relationships can block these exchanges. Just listen to any boardroom meeting and see how power can kill a conversation. If learning is what organizations need to do well in order to survive and thrive, then structural barriers to learning must be removed.

A key factor in sustaining any enterprise is organizational learning. Knowledge gives us the ability to take effective action (know how) and this is the type of knowledge that really matters in both business and life. Value from this knowledge is created by groups and spreads through social networks.

First of all, learning is not something to get. In too many cases we view learning as something that is done to people. It’s almost as if we are goin’ to get some learnin’! We think we can get an education or get people trained. This is absurd.

The only knowledge that can be managed is our own, so organizational knowledge management should first support personal knowledge mastery. PKM is an individual discipline of seeking, sense-making, and sharing that helps each of us understand our world and work more effectively. In addition to PKM, groups should promote working out loud to ensure common understanding and to address exceptions to the norm, as this is where group learning happens. The organization can then ensure that important decisions are recorded, codified, and easily available for retrieval.  Each of us is responsible for our own learning but our responsibility to our peers is to share this learning. If nobody shared what they have learned, there would be nothing like Wikipedia or other free learning resources on the web. The same pertains to sharing inside organizations.

In an open environment, learning will flourish, as it has on the Web. When we remove artificial boundaries to working and learning, we enable innovation. Andrew McAfee, at the MIT Center for Digital Business, wrote

“The central change with Enterprise 2.0 and ideas of managing knowledge [is] not managing knowledge anymore — get out of the way, let people do what they want to do, and harvest the stuff that emerges from it because good stuff will emerge. So, it’s been a fairly deep shift in thinking about how to capture and organize and manage knowledge in an organization.”

As Frederic Laloux notes in Reinventing Organizations, the key role of a CEO is in holding the space so that teams can self-manage (and learn for themselves).

If you are in a position of authority and you are not removing barriers to learning, then you are not serving your organization in the network era.

Link to read the full unedited article

Julia Middleton: Cultural Intelligence (CQ)

CULTURAL INTELLIGENCE:

The ability to cross divides and thrive in multiple cultures.

Organisations often appoint leaders for their IQ. Then, years later, sack them for their lack of EQ (Emotional Intelligence). Common Purpose argues that in the future they will promote for CQ – Cultural Intelligence.

Participants on Common Purpose programmes, as they learn to lead beyond their authority, need to be able to cross boundaries: between east and west, and north and south; between faiths and beliefs; between public, private and voluntary sectors; and between generations.

Founder and CEO of Common Purpose, Julia Middleton, speaks about Cultural Intelligence – the ability to cross divides and thrive in multiple cultures.

Check out her book Cultural Intelligence here

Strategy Is No Longer a Game of Chess

by Greg Satell

Legendary strategists have long been compared to master chess players, who know the positions and capabilities of each piece on the board and are capable of thinking several moves ahead.

It’s time to retire this metaphor. Strategy is no longer a game of chess because the board is no longer set out in orderly lines. Industries have become boundless.  Competitive threats and transformative opportunities can come from anywhere.  Strategy, therefore, is no longer a punctuated series of moves, but a process of deepening and widening connections.

So we find ourselves in an age of disruption, where agility trumps scale and strategy needs to take on a new meaning and a new role.  We can no longer plan; we can only prepare. This requires what Columbia’s Rita Gunther McGrath calls a shift from “learning to plan” to “planning to learn”.

Continue reading this article

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5 neglected behaviors that make dreams happen

  1. Identify and gain customers. “Build it and they will come,” only works in the movies. Dreams without customers are a waste of time.

  2. Think like a dreamer. Talk like a doer. Dreamy-talk doesn’t inspire confidence in others.

  3. Learn from detractors, rather than brushing them aside.

  4. Develop people and grow teams. Dreams that don’t require others are too small.

  5. Listen more. Everyone isn’t a complete idiot.

Dreamers set reasonable people on edge. But, every team needs at least one irritating dreamer.

Continue reading this article

The Price of Happiness? £478 per employee

Research shows that SME bosses could spend £476 per employee on social outings and training courses and see happiness increase by 35 per cent.

Spending less than £500 per employee each year on social outings and training courses could increase workforce happiness by over a third (35 per cent) in UK small business, new research has revealed.

The survey by Viking reveals that employees in small businesses believe training and development, benefits such as flexible working and social events and regular company updates from bosses are as important as a pay rise.

By investing £286 on training courses and £190 on staff outings per employee, levels of happiness at work would increase by 35 per cent, according to analysis of the key drivers of happiness.

Continue reading this article

These include one or two that are dear to our heart and central to our teaching…

1. Truly listen to people.  Pay attention to their body language, and mirror it with your own. Listen graciously rather than waiting to talk. —Adam Goldman

4. Learn basic mindfulness meditation. It doesn’t have to be a major commitment, just 10 minutes in a day. All you need to do is pay attention to your breath as it goes out and comes back in. Remember, it’s not about clearing your head of thoughts. “Real Happiness at Work” author Sharon Salzberg says mindfulness means having a “balanced awareness” of what’s happening around you, so that you can understand your experience rather than just react to it. —James H. Kelly

11. At the end of the work day, reflect on what you did well. Research out of Harvard Business School shows that keeping a journal of your daily successes improves your performance and wellbeing.

Read the full list

Happiness Researcher Shawn Achor On The REAL Reason Success Can’t Make You Happy (VIDEO)

Work hard, achieve your goals, become happy — that’s the happiness formula many believe to be universally true. But happiness researcher Shawn Achor says that this success-leads-to-happiness model is fundamentally flawed. In a sit-down with Oprah for “Super Soul Sunday,” Achor explains why.

“It’s scientifically broken for two reasons. The first reason is that because success is a moving target, even if you hit success, you immediately change what ‘success’ looks like for you,” Achor says…

“When we study it, we find that your happiness levels don’t really move very much as your success rates rise. But flip around the formula,” Achor says. “The research says that being successful doesn’t automatically make you happier, but being happier — being more positive — makes you more successful.”

Continue reading and watch the video clip

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Closing the Gender Divide: Why Confidence and Leaning In Alone Won’t Cut It

by Lydia Dishman

It’s a leadership catch 22. While we can all agree that confidence is an essential tool for career success, a raft of research indicates that women are less likely to speak up in meetings, negotiate for raises or promotions, and generally underestimate their ability to perform.

When women are selected less often to lead than their male peers, even though they outperform the guys, it’s no wonder the gender gap persists.

A recent survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers and Strategy& found that in eight out of the last 10 years, there have been more women heading into the corner office than stepping out. Despite that encouraging trend, female CEOs comprised only 3% of leaders of public companies in 2013, a 1.3 percentage point drop from 2012. And they’re more likely to be forced out.

But why?

Books such as The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman,Find Your Courage by Margie Warrell, and even The Next Generation of Women Leaders by Selena Rezvani all suggest that the chasm is caused by the gap between competence and confidence.

There’s plenty of science to lend credence to their theory.

Support, even in the face of failure is one way to foster the female leader. As Susan Glasser writes at Politico:

“The leaders who succeed are the ones who are allowed to make mistakes, who have the time and space and breathing room and support from their bosses to push and prod, experiment and improvise until they get it right. Because all of journalism is in the midst of upheaval right now, and that Silicon Valley cliché about failing in order to succeed really does apply. It turned out I did not really have the support of my boss, and I believe that to be the actual—and much more prosaic—story of many of these contretemps over controversial editors and executives who happen to be women.”

Continue reading the full article

Over communication: 7 reasons to learn “Mench”

by Dorothy Dalton

…is over communication strictly a gender issue?

I don’t think so. I know any number of men who could talk for their countries.  Women often make comments about the monosyllabic “report” style communication patterns of the men in their lives, thinking that the rapport we create via our own delivery is much better.

But Lynette Allen, Co-Founder Her Invitation suggests that over sharing (over communication) can indeed be a female characteristic which we use to our detriment seeing it as an  “unconsciously displayed behaviour which actively holds women back. They have to learn to be more succinct in the workplace and not tell the whole story and even more.”  

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review  suggested what happened to a senior woman in a meeting ” was like a snowball going down a hill and picking up stuff in its path”  and was a real barrier to being taken seriously.

What is your style? “mini- series” or  “book cover blurb.”

So why does over communication cause mis-communication, isn’t it important that everyone has all the details?

  1. Your thinking appears cloudy and muddled if you are unable to be succinct and your message becomes blurred in verbiage. If you forget the point of why you’re telling something, you have gone seriously adrift. People stop listening and you fail to get your message across.  You have become a snowball and snowballs melt. Ding!
  2. It seems that you don’t respect other people’s time if you over communicate in any situation, you run the risk of your listener shutting down and retreating, either physically or psychologically. At the far end of the spectrum they will avoid you totally. In all cases your message is not going through. Ding!
  3. It seems that you don’t respect your own time if every time a simple social question of “How are you?” produces a twenty-minute discourse on your health or what is going on for you,  you give the impression of being a poor time manager.  Ding!
  4. It suggests that you are not in touch with your audience as you don’t recognise social cues.  So just as if you were going to France you would try to speak a bit of French, If you are delivering to a male audience then try to speak in a language they will understand. Mench?Ding
  5. It indicates a lack of empathy especially when you fail to pick up disconnected body language signs (loss of eye contact, fidgeting) If you are talking, you are not listening. Ding! Ding!
  6.  If you need to talk to wear someone down with your voice, then they are agreeing under duress. That was not successful communication. It could even be considered a form of passive aggression if you don’t allow your listener the opportunity  to participate. Ding!
  7. It suggests that you think what you have to say is more important than what others have to say and conveys arroganceDing! Ding!
  8. It confirms that you like the sound of your own voice, email etc. See point 7. Ditto Ding!

So does this mean that women and chatterboxes in general have to learn  “Mench,”  the abridged speak of a certain type of male?  Lynette felt that while organisational culture is male dominated this is a necessary work- around to get our voices heard. Isn’t this another one of those fix women things? No apparently not, it can be completely gender neutral. Factor in a general reduction in people’s attention span, then anything prolonged is going to be ineffective for both men and women alike. We have already seen the one minute elevator pitch cut back into the 30 second commercial.

So perhaps the converse  can also apply  Maybe we should start saying  “OK that was the book cover blurb  – now give me the mini-series”

Link to read the full unedited article

Dads Who Do Dishes Raise Ambitious Daughters

Dads who equally divided the drudgery of household chores with their wives tended to have daughters whose “when I grow up” aspirations were less gender-stereotypical, suggests an upcoming paper in Psychological Science.

Moms’ work-equality beliefs did also color their daughters’ attitudes toward gender roles, but this study found that a stronger predictor of girls’ career goals was the way their dads handled domestic duties. The daughters of parents who shared housework were more likely to tell the researchers they wanted to be a police officer, a doctor, an accountant, or a “scientist (who studies germs to help doctors find what medicine each patient needs),” lead author Alyssa Croft wrote via email, quoting one little girl in the study.

Continue reading this story

How To Say “Thank You” At Work: a guide to showing gratitude to peers, managers and employees

…It tends to be really easy to see when you’ve done “saying thank you at work” wrong (because the other person is uncomfortable, offended, or just doesn’t know how to react), but hard to know when you’re doing it right.

In this post, I want to create a guide for how to say thank you at work based on the best widely accepted rules and smart strategies for forming trust and stronger relationships with your peers and coworkers.

Why saying thank you matters

At work, it’s often easier to say nothing than to risk saying “thanks” in the wrong way. And as such, a lot of us go about our days feeling under-appreciated or not realizing the impact our work has on other people.

People thrive at work when they know their contributions have meaning. Letting people know the ways in which their work matters — to you, to the company, to their team — helps you to keep the people around you engaged and excited about their work. Especially if you are a manager, this is an important part of your job.

Saying thank you helps to build trust and stronger relationships with the people you work with too. When people know you value them, they are more likely to value you in return and want to work with you (since you make them feel great about their contributions).

Plus, expressing gratitude isn’t just good for the people you’re thanking — it’s actually good for you too! People who say thank you are happier (it makes sense right? It feels good to help other people feel good) and are more well-liked. It’s like a self-perpetuating cycle; the more positivity you spread, the more is out there to come back to you.

Read the full article

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12 Unusual Ways To Spur Creativity During Meetings

Holding brainstorming sessions is easy. It’s the actual brainstorming that’s tough — and often ineffective. As the boss, how do you get your team to come up with great ideas on the spot, and then actually follow through? Members from Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) share some ideas.

Ask Your Team to Think Fast!

Encourage thinking on your feet, so every meeting typically includes a spur of the moment prompt, where each person quickly throws out an idea that comes to mind. Crazy is OK.

Show Gratitude

In order to get the most out of my team for a brainstorming session, we ask everyone to reach out via phone to someone they are grateful towards prior to the session. When we start the meeting, everyone comes in with a positive and open mind. The results are spectacular.

Ask for the Worst Idea in the Room

When creativity is at a standstill or a project is particularly difficult, I like to challenge our team members to come up with the WORST idea possible. Sometimes we even make it a competition, trying to one-up each other with even more ridiculous and off-the-wall ideas.

Know Your Team

One thing that helps to spur creativity is to have your team take a personality trait test and share their test results amongst their peers at a meeting. It’s a fun and different way of helping to foster a deeper understanding about each team member that will incite new and more effective/creative ways to think collectively.

Make It a Team Effort

To spur creativity, we play “Yes… and….” For a given problem each team member provides a solution that is not to be judged by anyone. Instead, another team says, “Yes I like this idea because…. and we can also….”

Incorporate Humour

Humor is brain juice. Dopamine and endorphins keeps tension low, morale high, and bring people toward a state of engagement. Everything in a brainstorm session should be fair game for making FUN of. Bring people into the room who can make people laugh.

Extra credit points for having Play-Doh and other fun tactile objects that stimulate various regions of the brain. Also make sure people are fed. Forming new ideas takes up a lot of chemical resources.

Know When to Stop

Sometimes there’s only one right answer to a creative conundrum, from how the trade show booth should look to the headline and font for the new campaign. The simple, elegant, smart choice wins, and often the best answer comes up early on because it didn’t require too much thinking.

Take a Walk

When I want to get the creative juices flowing on our team, we go for a walk. We call these “walkies,” where we go for 15 minutes and talk about life. Generally, the conversation always goes back to work.

There is something about nature that spurs a person to be more creative. It will help you see the world better. I find that being healthy and alert will always boost up the creative side in people as well.

Provide Special Incentives

We value the creativity of our employees in routine brainstorming sessions and always encourage them to think “outside the box.” To show our appreciation for their creativity and implementation of a successful project, we reward them with special incentives like a weekend getaway.

Showcase Your Ideas

Our office has a massive whiteboard that we use to brainstorm and stay focused. Being able to walk into the office everyday and see your ideas in front of you is a constant reminder of what needs to get done. It is definitely an accomplishment to be able to erase something when it has been completed.

Don’t Brainstorm

In place of a brainstorming session, we break each task down into very specific areas and have each team or individual attack each idea with a purpose. This gives them not only a starting location, but also a direction, and produces great results when combined with other teams/individuals who are given different tasks and directions.

Bring Wine—And Demand Results

Every Friday my team gets together for what we call the “Eatin’ Meetin’.” This is our time to relax, throw around ideas and talk about our deliverables for the week. Everyone eats cheese, drinks wine and brainstorms.

When someone throws out an idea and it’s well received, we simply talk about how we can make it happen and who can lend a hand. And that becomes their deliverable to report on for the next Eatin’ Meetin’.

Read the full unedited article

Happiness At Work edition #97

All of these rticl;es and many more are collected together in Happiness At Work edition #97, online from Friday 30th May 2014.

I hope you find things here to use and enjoy.

Happiness At Work #95 ~ curiosity, innovation and performance mastery

Little question

Happiness At Work – edition #95

Here are some of the highlights you can find in this week’s new Happiness At Work collection.

Curious by Ian Leslie book review

The headline story reviews a new book I heard about this week: Curious: the desire to know and why your future depends on it by Ian Leslie

Drawing on fascinating research from psychology, sociology and business, CURIOUS looks at what feeds curiosity and what starves it, and uncovers surprising answers. Curiosity isn’t a quality you can rely on to last a lifetime, but a mental muscle that atrophies without regular exercise. It’s not a gift, but a habit that parents, schools, workplaces and individuals need to consciously nurture if it is to thrive.

Curiosity has been identified as one of the seven essential character strengths that are fundamentally essential to our success academically, professionally, in life and in our relationships.

Leslie suggests that there are two kinds of curiosity:

~ diversive curiosity, which is about seeking the new and novel;

~ epistemic curiosity, which is about acquiring, building and deepening knowledge.

Curiosity, Leslie reminds us, starts with questions, and these days, thanks to the wonderful worldwide web, we can instantly get answers to any question we think of. This means that our diversive curiosity can be easily and constantly satisfied, but at the expensive of our epistemic curiosity for deeper more substantial knowledge – because when our questions are answered too quickly, this muscle doesn’t get worked and strengthened.

 

Here are 5 more of the headlines from this collection:

Women in European Business London Conference – 2013 (video)

The ideas you can hear in this short 8minutes are rich and diverse, and you might like to see what stands out for you…?

This compilation of highlights and responses to last year’s event at the Barbican by some of its speakers and participants is especially notable for its emphasis, not on money making, but on themes that we have been continually exploring and turning over in these Happiness At Work collections: the vital necessity for passion, creativity, playing to your strengths, self mastery and a style of leadership that biases inclusion, involvement, interest and recognition for people and the ideas and work they bring.

For example, this from Wendy Tan White, Co-founder and CEO, Moonfruit

“I’m an entrepreneur but I’ve also worked in corporates and I’ve recently been acquired myself, and what I can see is that if we don’t create the opportunities for people and staff within organisations, we’re going to lose them. There’s going to be a brain-drain. It’s too easy now to get funding, to be inspired and to set up your own company. And people are looking for a different work-life balance in their lives.”

Violin_2_-_Picture_of_Silence

The Science of Improving Your Performance at Almost Anything

by 

Amateur musicians … tend to spend their practice time playing music, whereas pros tend to work through tedious exercises or focus on difficult parts of pieces…

Practice might make perfect, but much depends upon how we practice. This article offers insights from great artists about how we can all achieve higher levels of mastery.

The need to use feedback loops, to work in chunks, the need to adopt the right mindset, and the importance of sleep are essential formastering technical skills.

For softer skills the recipe for excellence includes speeding things up so that we are required to improvise, following routines and rituals, fine-tuning our focus, exercising as well as time just being idle, making the most of the start of our day, and the delicate and difficult challenge of finding a balance.

Peter Drucker’s 9 Functions of a Mentor

I don’t care who you are or what you do. Be a mentor. Have a mentor.

Don’t worry if you don’t understand mentoring. Just go engage in one of the nine behaviours that follow…

These nine tenets for making great mentoring conversations have been distilled from “Drucker & Me,” by Bob Buford, the story of their 23 year relationship. And, just as Peter Drucker says, the ideas here are not just for formal mentoring. They have great application to strategic thinking and team working and career planning and many other situations too.

Interview with Shawn Achor

You probably already know that we are fans of Shawn Achor because this is not the first time I have featured him, and we use many of his ideas in our resilience and happiness at work workshops. The groundbreaking, practically helpful and erudite wisdom he brings from his long studies into what helps or hinders our happiness and success at work have enormous value to making our 21st century working lives work better..

In this email interview, Achor explains how presenters can utilise the wisdom in his most recent book, Before Happiness, to overcome the fear, stress and self-doubt that often accompany public speaking

As speakers you especially have the chance to work on what researcher Michelle Gielan calls the Power Lead, starting every conversation with a positive like “I’m having a great day how about you” instead of telling people how unprepared or nervous you are.  This changes your interactions and your brain follows your words.  The more you say you’re stressed or tired, the more stressed and tired you feel, right?  Same is true for happiness.

Positive Communication Leads to a Culture of Innovation

Innovation is not about doing an old thing in a new way. It’s about creating a new way to do something new, or a new way to do something better. Inherently, innovation must be disruptive – unaccepting of the status quo and committed to transforming a new approach into reality. Innovation isn’t just a new way of doing. It’s a new way of thinking…

This article asks us how comfortable we are with the new, and reminds us that communication and culture are inextricably linked, and transforming a culture takes time, bravery, risk taking and a willingness to feel uncomfortable for a while.

Question - holding it together

And as well as these articles, you will find the usual mix of stories, new research, practical techniques and insights from people’s own work and lives, including…

11 Simple Tips to Effective Email Management

10 Ways to be Happier with Your Work Life

10 Questions You Should Ask When Facing A Tough Career Decision

The Link Between Creativity and Happiness

20 Facts About Happiness That Will Surely Impress You

and

Forbes: Can Happiness Become the World’s Most Popular Course?

question - sitting on it (blue)

Happiness At Work – edition #95

All of these stories and more are collected in our Happiness At Work collection #95.  

We hope you find much here to enjoy and profit from…

Happiness At Work #80 ~ January is International Creativity Month

This week’s post celebrates International Creativity Month with an array of ideas and challenges and questions and techniques to stimulate us all into upping our creativity at work at least a little bit more.  Enjoy…

International Creativity Month

For one month each year the world celebrates International Creativity Month – a month to remind individuals and organizations around the globe to capitalize on the power of creativity.

Unleashing creativity is vital for the personal and business success in this age of accelerating change.

January, the first month of the year, provides an opportunity to take a fresh approach to problem-solving and renew confidence in our creative capabilities.

International Creativity Month was founded by Randall Munson and is celebrated around the world annually in the month of January.

Take advantage of International Creativity Month to refocus your attention to creatively improve your business and personal activities.

Link to International Creativity Month website

The Link: International Creativity Month

Creativity is reflected in human innovation and problem-solving endeavors throughout history. It is present in arts, education, technology, science, and in almost everything we do.  Creativity encourages children’s curiosity and helps them learn to think independently and critically. For adults, creativity inspires innovation, progress, and joy.  As we evolve as a species, creativity helps us evolve as a society.

January is International Creativity Month. Founded by motivational speaker and author Randall Munson, International Creativity Month is geared towards celebrating the power of creativity across the globe…

link to read the original article with its many creativity-related links

Ten Skills That Will Be Critical for Success in the Workforce

Anna Davies, Devin Fidler, Marina Gorbis

Global connectivity, smart machines, and new media are just some of the drivers reshaping how we think about work, what constitutes work, and the skills we will need to be productive contributors in the future. We have identified ten skills that we believe will be critical for success in the workforce.

Sense-making

Definition: ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed

As smart machines take over rote, routine manufacturing and services jobs, there will be an increasing demand for the kinds of skills machines are not good at. These are higher level thinking skills that cannot be codified. We call these sense-making skills, skills that help us create unique insights critical to decision making.

Social Intelligence

Definition: ability to connect to others in a deep and direct way, to sense and stimulate reactions and desired interactions

While we are seeing early prototypes of “social” and “emotional” robots in various research labs today, the range of social skills and emotions that they can display is very limited. Feeling is just as complicated as sense-making, if not more so, and just as the machines we are building are not sense-making machines, the emotional and social robots we are building are not feeling machines.

Novel and Adaptive Thinking

Definition: proficiency at thinking and coming up with solutions and responses beyond that which is rote or rule-based

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor David Autor has tracked the polarization of jobs in the United States over the last three decades. He finds that job opportunities are declining in middle skill white-collar and blue-collar jobs, largely due to a combination of the automation of routine work, and global offshoring. Conversely, job opportunities are increasingly concentrated in both high skill, high-wage professional, technical and management occupations and in low-skill, low-wage occupations such as food service and personal care. Jobs at the high-skill end involve abstract tasks, and at the low-skill end, manual tasks

Cross Cultural Competency

Definition: ability to operate in different cultural settings

In a truly globally connected world, a worker’s skill set could see them posted in any number of locations.  They need to be able to operate in whatever environment they find them- selves. This demands specific content, such as linguistic skills, but also adaptability to changing circumstances and an ability to sense and respond to new contexts.

Computational Thinking

Definition: ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based reasoning

As the amount of data that we have at our disposal increases exponentially, many more roles will require computational thinking skills in order to make sense of this information. Novice-friendly programming languages and technologies that teach the fundamentals of programming virtual and physical worlds will enable us to manipulate our environments and enhance our interactions. The use of simulations will become a core expertise as they begin to feature regularly in discourse and decision-making. HR departments that currently value applicants who are familiar with basic applications, such as the Microsoft Office suite, will shift their expectations, seeking out resumes that include statistical analysis and quantitative reasoning skills.

New Media Literacy

Definition:  ability to critically assess and develop content that uses new media forms, and to leverage these media for persuasive communication

The explosion in user-generated media including the videos, blogs, and podcasts that now dominate our social lives, will be fully felt in workplaces in the next decade. Communication tools that break away from the static slide approach of programs such as PowerPoint will become commonplace, and with them expectations of worker ability to produce content using these new forms will rise dramatically.

Transdisciplinarity

Definition: literacy in and ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines

Many of today’s global problems are just too complex to be solved by one specialized discipline (think global warming or overpopulation). These multifaceted problems require transdisciplinary solutions. While throughout the 20th century, ever-greater specialization was encouraged, the next century will see transdisciplinary approaches take center stage. We are already seeing this in the emergence of new areas of study, such as nanotechnology, which blends molecular biology, biochemistry, protein chemistry, and other specialties.

Design Mindset

Definition:  literacy in and ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines

The sensors, communication tools and processing power of the computational world will bring with them new opportunities to take a design approach to our work. We will be able to plan our environments so that they are conducive to the outcomes that we are most interested in. Discoveries from neuroscience are highlighting how profoundly our physical environments shape cognition. As Fred Gage, a neurobiologist who studies and designs environments for neurogenesis (the creation of new neurons), argues, “change the environment, change the brain, change the behavior.

Workers of the future will need to become adept at recognizing the kind of thinking that different tasks require, and making adjustments to their work environments that enhance their ability to accomplish these tasks.

Cognitive Load Management

Definition:  ability to discriminate and filter information for importance, and to understand how to maximize cognitive functioning using a variety of tools and techniques

A world rich in information streams in multiple formats and from multiple devices brings the issue of cognitive overload to the fore. Organizations and workers will only be able to turn the massive influx of data into an advantage if they can learn to effectively filter and focus on what is important. The next generation of workers will have to develop their own techniques for tackling the problem of cognitive overload. For example, the practice of social filtering—ranking, tagging, or adding other metadata to content helps higher-quality or more relevant information to rise above the “noise.”

Virtual Collaboration

Definition: ability to work productively, drive engagement, and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team.

Connective technologies make it easier than ever to work, share ideas and be productive despite physical separation. But the virtual work environment also demands a new set of competencies.   As a leader of a virtual team, individuals need to develop strategies for engaging and motivating a dispersed group. We are learning that techniques borrowed from gaming are extremely effective in engaging large virtual communities. Ensuring that collaborative platforms include typical gaming features such as immediate feedback, clear objectives and a staged series of challenges can significantly drive participation and motivation.

To be successful in the next decade, individuals will need to demonstrate foresight in navigating a rapidly shifting landscape of organizational forms and skill requirements. They will increasingly be called upon to continually reassess the skills they need, and quickly put together the right resources to develop and update these. Workers in the future will need to be adaptable lifelong learners.

Link to read the original article

Elizabeth Gilbert: Your Elusive Creative Genius

“Eat, Pray, Love” Author Elizabeth Gilbert muses on the impossible things we expect from artists and geniuses — and shares the radical idea that, instead of the rare person “being” a genius, all of us “have” a genius. It’s a funny, personal and surprisingly moving talk.

12 Ways to Be More Creative at Work

In today’s knowledge-based economy, coming up with new ideas under pressure is essential

By 

Many people think creativity occurs naturally. Marty Sklar, the former executive vice president of Walt Disney Imagineering, the group that designs Disney theme parks, knows better.

Sklar holds regular “gag sessions” in which all kinds of ideas are encouraged and none are dismissed as stupid. He provides employees with time and budget restrictions so they don’t waste energy on the impossible. And he seeks diverse perspectives from employees ranging in age from their early 20s to late 80s. “It’s about listening and bringing out the best in people,” he told participants at a conference. Those strategies helped create Epcot’s spacecraft simulator, the Magic Kingdom’s Haunted Mansion, and a Disney resort in Hong Kong.

Sklar is part of a growing number of businesses, organizations, and individuals trying to boost creativity, driven largely by the fact that today’s economy requires it. “As the knowledge part of the economy grows, evidence seems to be showing that businesses are demanding more and more conceptual thinking,” says Charles Hulten, professor of economics at the University of Maryland.

In other words, it’s not just Walt Disney designers who need to be creative at work—it’s all of us…

If you find yourself wondering how to constantly create at your own job, here are a dozen ways to rev your creativity engine:

Branch out. Read a magazine you would never normally look at, suggests Henry. “You need to be intentional about experiencing new things in your life,” he says. Collect ideas and interesting articles in a folder that you review regularly for inspiration.

Recharge. Henry says people tend to think about time management but neglect energy management. Take time out between meetings. Avoid socializing with people who leave you feeling drained. Set aside time each week for relaxation.

Protect your time. Don’t let anyone interrupt the creative time you set aside for yourself. For Henry, it’s at 5:30 a.m., before the rest of his family wakes up.

Get into a “relationship” with art. Whether it’s museums or music, Gregg Fraley, creativity consultant and author of Jack’s Notebook, a novel about creative problem solving, suggests incorporating art into your life because it can inspire you to approach your work in new ways. Fraley recently started playing guitar.

Write down your ideas. Fraley says people have lots of good ideas, but they ignore and then forget them. He suggests keeping a notebook handy.

When you’re stuck, take a break. Brad Fregger, author of Get Things Done: Ten Secrets of Creating and Leading Exceptional Teams, says whenever his employees were struggling with a creative problem, he asked them to work on something else for an hour. That mental break allowed them to see their problem with a new perspective and make a breakthrough, he says.

Seek support from your supervisors. Marty Sklar, executive vice president of Walt Disney Imagineering, says employees can waste valuable time and energy worrying about whether management will support their creative endeavors. Feeling supported by higher-ups is essential to productivity.

Work with people across a variety of experience levels. Some of the best ideas for Disney theme park adventures have come from people in their 60s, 70s, and 80s, Sklar says, so don’t count out the older generation. Younger workers can often learn from their experience.

Never dismiss someone’s idea as stupid. “If you tell someone they have a stupid idea, you’ll probably never get another one from them,” says Sklar. Plus, he adds, ideas that appear dumb at first often generate new, useful ideas. When listening to ideas from coworkers during brainstorming sessions, try to be encouraging so no one feels shut down.

Connect with your passion. If people are working on projects they enjoy, they will be more creative, says Fregger

Think like a boss. “We encourage our employees to think like owners … It frees up a lot of the boundaries,” says Wendy Miller, chief marketing officer for Bain & Co.

Embrace diversity. Miller says Bain recruits people from top business schools as well as concert violinists and top athletes. “That diversity is very helpful in not getting too narrow and bogged down,” she says.

Link to read the original article

We need to talk about power

Creativity is intrinsic to humanity. The ability to creatively adapt to and adapt our environment lies at the core of our genetic success (or at least the success of our genes.) We can’t help ourselves. We make, we compose and play, we organise in new ways, we invent new institutions and adapt old ones, we research and discover, invent and improve, we apply knowledge to material and systems in new ways developing new technologies in the process and so it goes on. It’s a mystery how an attribute so basic to human character has been sectioned off and made into an exclusive trait found in ‘creatives’, the ‘creative class’, the ‘creative economy’. We don’t have the ‘language elite’, the ‘language class’ (other than in language schools!) or the ‘language economy’. Yet creativity is just as strong a part of who and what we are as language.

If we accept that more creativity is not only a desirable thing but a necessary thing also, as my colleague Adam Lent argues in his invigorating new year blog, then it’s important that we understand its true nature. If it is intrinsic to our humanity, then it must be a democratic rather than elitist concept. This then raises the questions: why don’t we see more of it? Why are we all not exploiting our creative potential to the full? Could it be that we aren’t powerful enough?…

We all need that foundational power to take risks, experiment, explore and create. That comes from community and it comes from the collective institutions – democratic, legal, economic, social, and educational – that we create….

…The institutional structure matters if you want the power to create to be really dispersed rather than concentrated. That’s why we need to talk about power, its form, the ethos that seeks to deploy it, and its purpose: our purpose as individuals who wish, need, and should create.

Link to read the full original RSA article

See also

Can you have too much creativity?

Creativity? That’s Not For Me.

by 

…Firstly, and perhaps crucially, does it matter then that people claim not to be creative? And often vociferously so.  Is it because they default to the narrow association of creativity = art?  Who are these people?  And what implications does this have for our growing mission of the ‘power to create’ and the broadest definition of creativity.

Secondly, and perhaps fundamentally, I have to throw into the concept driven mix that creativity is FUN!  Don’t we all want to be more creative?  Personally and professionally?

Creativity enables us to solve problems, to meet people, to feel more human, to relax, to use our hands, to express ourselves, to experiment, to get dirty, to learn a new skill, to be brave, to get something wrong, to have a laugh, to feel fulfilled, to innovate, to feel a sense of achievement, to take a risk, to grow inside, to allow us to think a bit bigger.

But in case you were wondering , think you are not creative? Oh yes you are. It is in us all, it is innate. Embrace it. Follow it. See where you go…

Link to this article 

and ‘s original RSA post that has stimulated both of these responses

Why is creativity the most important political concept of the 21st Century?

Fun Palaces: Joan Littlewood’s dream for culture gets second chance

 writes in The Guardian…

As the Olympics did for sport, a nationwide project could show that art, culture and science are also core passions for Britain

“Choose what you want to do … dance, talk or be lifted up to where you can see how other people make things work. Sit out over space with a drink and tune in to what’s happening elsewhere in the city. Try starting a riot or beginning a painting – or just lie back and stare at the sky”

 In 1961, Joan Littlewood and Cedric Price conceived the fun palace, a revolutionary venue, housing culture and science, encouraging engagement, debate and enjoyment. The cybernetician Gordon Pask later added to their dream. Joan knew she had not yet discovered a way to welcome those who found buildings and institutions daunting – the fun palace was about public engagement at its most inclusive.

 It was never built.

Buildings cost and continue to cost, but we have plenty already: museums, theatres, libraries, shops, schools, universities, tents and caravans. The spaces to make fun palaces are already there, often standing empty for part of the day or night.

 Joan would have been 100 on 6 October 2014. The weekend before her centenary, 4 and 5 October, will see hundreds of pop-up fun palaces across the UK and beyond. The radical difference between Joan’s never-built fun palace and our new Fun Palaces project is that we don’t want to make a new building; we want to make a new attitude, based on what we already have, breaking out into what we need – true engagement.

More than 150 venues and companies are already enlisted, with independent artists, theatre-science makers and producers also signed up. These creators will work with local people and organisations, combining arts, culture, technology and science to create local fun palaces. Our aim is to connect them all in tone and spirit, and also digitally through an online fun palace that will be part-game, part-content, but all-engagement…

In this time of austerity we have been encouraged to think smaller, to dream less, but small visions are no good for culture and they are no good for science. If we want to make the breakthroughs many of us came into creative work to make, and if we want to be as engaged and inclusive as we say we do, then we have to do more, and soon.

This is a campaign of cultural participation that calls for a fundamental change in our thinking about creative work, not as something that is done for us, but as something we all do. As the Olympics did for sport, fun palaces could show that arts, culture and science are also core passions for Britain. We’ve all been looking for the next big thing in culture and creative work. This is it, only it was here all along. It’s all of us, working together. If you would like to join us, you can. It’s that simple.

Link to read the original article

And here is the link to find out more about becoming involved in Fun Palaces 2014

Every Child Is An Artist

 A FAST COMPANY CREATIVE CONVERSATION BY 

What do Disney Television honcho Anne Sweeney and internationally renowned education theorist Sir Ken Robinson have in common?  Ideas for unlocking creativity in both children and adults.

ANNE SWEENEY’S 3 RULES FOR BEING A GREAT LEADER

1. SHOW UP

“Walk around the halls. Eat in the cafeteria. When you show up, it means you are paying attention. It means you want to make sure people know how their world connects to the bigger whole..

2. HOLD EVERYONE ACCOUNTABLE FOR EACH OTHER

“We are stapled together. We live and die by each other’s successes and failures.

3. COMMUNICATE AS A PERSON, NOT SIMPLY AS A BOSS

“Have a conversation. Don’t have it be a reporting relationship.”

KR: The continuum, as I see it, starts with imagination. It’s the most extraordinary set of powers that we take for granted: the ability to bring into mind the things that aren’t present. It’s why we are so different from the rest of life on earth. That’s why we’re sitting in a beautiful building, drinking from these cups. Because human beings make things. We create things. We don’t live in the world directly; we live in a world of ideas and of concepts and theories and ideologies.

SIR KEN ROBINSON’S 3 RULES FOR BEING A GREAT LEADER

1. ADOPT A GROWTH MIND-SET

“If you’re always thinking about possibility, you’ll find it. You’ll keep creating the future.”

2. CREATE YOUR OWN LIFE

“The ‘element’ is where natural aptitude meets personal passion. It’s great if you’re in your element at work, because you get energy from that. But for people who aren’t, finding this elsewhere is important.”

3. UNLOCK OTHERS

“People get locked into their job descriptions. If you create a culture where they feel encouraged to unleash their various talents, they’re more engaged.”

AS: … a couple of weeks ago I just had time on my hands. I never have a couple of hours in the office that aren’t totally scheduled. And I just asked a couple of people to come in and sit. And they came in, they all had their notebooks or their iPads. After about half an hour, everybody relaxed and realized no, this really isn’t a meeting. This is really just sitting around, talking. When they left, I thought it was one of the most enjoyable meetings, maybe the most enjoyable meeting, I’d had in a long time. I loved how much we’re going to accomplish because we had this very unstructured, very meandering conversation about many different things.

Link to read the original article

Ken Robinson: Out Of Our Minds: Learning To Be Creative

…One of the core themes of the book is the rate and nature of change in the modern world. The last ten years have offered dramatic demonstrations of this theme. Just think of the breathtaking innovations in technology and digital culture. Ten years ago, Google was still a novelty; there were no smart phones, no IPods or IPads; no Twitter or Facebook or any of the social media that are transforming life and work today. Then think of the increasing pace of population growth, the growing strains on the environment and the effects of all of these on people’s lives and future prospects and the fact is that the world is becoming more complex and unpredictable than ever…

…In the last ten years, I’ve worked with business of all sorts all around the world. For all of them, cultivating creativity is a bottom line issue. Last fall, IBM published a report on the challenges facing business in 2011 and beyond. The report was based on survey of 3000 CEOs. It showed that the top priority for CEOs everywhere is to promote creativity systematically throughout their organizations. The reasons are clear enough. In a world of rapid change, companies and organizations have to be adaptable as circumstances change and be able to develop new products and services as new opportunities emerge. Most people occasionally have a new idea. For companies that isn’t enough. To remain competitive, they need to develop cultures where creativity is a habit and innovation is routine. The new edition of Out of Our Minds sets out the core principles for doing this and for leading a dynamic and reliable culture of innovation.

…What changes do you hope Out of Our Minds will bring about in the long term? 
I say in the Foreword to the new edition that “my aims in this book are to help individuals to understand the depth of their creative abilities and why they might have doubted them; to encourage organizations to believe in their powers of innovation and to create the conditions where they will flourish; and to promote a creative revolution in education.” I couldn’t have put it better myself!

Link to read the original article

Study: Reading a Novel Changes Your Brain

College students experienced heightened connectivity in their left temporal cortexes after reading fiction.

Scientists have proven in the past that reading stimulates many different parts of the brain. In a 2006 study, for example, research subjects read the words “perfume” and “coffee,” and the part of their brains devoted to the sense of smell lit up. While these studies have focused on brain activity while a person is reading, a new study suggests that reading doesn’t just make a fleeting impression. It may make long-term changes to to the brain.

The new study out of Emory University looks at how the brain changes function and structure over the course of reading a novel. Researchers asked 21 Emory undergraduates to come in for fMRIs over 19 days. For the first five days, researchers took baseline fMRIs of the students’ brains. Over the following nine days, participants read 30 pages of the Robert Harris’s novel Pompeii at night and then completed a quiz to ensure they had completed the reading. They underwent fMRIs the next morning. After finishing the novel, participants continued to come in for fMRIs for five more days…

The fMRIs after the reading assignments revealed heightened connectivity in the left temporal cortex, the area of the brain associated with receptivity for language. Heightened connectivity in other parts of the brain suggested that readers may experience “embodied semantics,” a process in which brain connectivity during a thought-about action mirrors the connectivity that occurs during the actual action. For example, thinking about swimming can trigger the some of the same neural connections as physical swimming.

“The neural changes that we found associated with physical sensation and movement systems suggest that reading a novel can transport you into the body of the protagonist,” said Gregory Berns, the lead author of the study. “We already knew that good stories can put you in someone else’s shoes in a figurative sense. Now we’re seeing that something may also be happening biologically.”

The changes persisted over the five days after finishing the novel, suggesting that reading could possibly make long-lasting changes to the brain. The researchers wrote that it remains an “open question” how long the effects would last, but that their results suggest reading could have long-term effects on the brain through the strengthening of the language-processing regions and the effects of embodied semantics.

Link to read the original article

You May Not Be Able To Force Creativity But You Can Certainly Invite It

by Tanner Christensen

When we look at children we can see that they don’t let biases or existing information get in their way of asking questions, poking and prodding, and generally just trying something.

Successful creatives are the same. So we, too, must find various ways to be more inquisitive.

We could try changing our perspective of the work to force a mentality of discovery. Looking at the microscopic or macro elements of our work – like painting with tiny dots rather than big brush strokes, or imaging what a novel would read like as a part of a quadrilogy – helps.

We can also try changing our environment or tools. If we’re used to working in a studio or office, getting out and attempting to work in a fancy restaurant or at a park, might be all we need to shake up how we view the work.

Link to read the full original article

Why Your Creativity Needs Boundaries To Thrive

BY 

…An interview with Seth Godin appears in the book, Manage Your Day-to-Day, put out by 99U. The book includes insights from artists, entrepreneurs, academics, and psychologists on how to carve out a daily creative practice. Here are five key takeaways from the experts featured in its pages:

1. PUT CREATIVE WORK FIRST.

Setting aside time every day to do creative work keeps your momentum going. One way to do this is creating “hard edges” for when your workday starts and ends, suggests Mark McGinness, a U.K.-based creative business coach. Within that framework, prioritize your creative work first. “The single most important change you can make in your working habits is to switch to creative work first, reactive work second,” McGinness says.

Cal Newport, a writer and professor at Georgetown University, calls these periods of uninterrupted creative work “daily focus blocks.” Put them on your calendar and treat them as you would a formal appointment. Newport recommends starting out with an hour of uninterrupted work time and gradually adding 15 minutes every two weeks, never allowing distractions like email or Facebook to interfere.

2. YOUR INBOX CAN WAIT. SERIOUSLY, IT CAN.

Most of us compulsively check email without stopping to think about it. Why? The same reason it’s hard to resist piling your plate high with bad-for-you foods at a buffet. It’s right in front of you, waiting to be nabbed up, says Dan Ariely, professor of psychology and behavioral economics at Duke University. Email and social media also offer what Ariely calls “random reinforcement.” Usually when you check your inbox or Facebook, there’s nothing exciting waiting for you, but occasionally, there is–that random excitement keeps us coming back compulsively.

Resisting the urge to check email and social media while concentrating on creative work can feel next to impossible, especially first-thing in the morning. But your inbox can almost always wait. “It’s better to disappoint a few people over small things, than to surrender your dreams for an empty inbox,” says McGinness.

3. RECOGNIZE YOUR BODY’S LIMITS.

Our bodies follow ultradian rhythms, cycles that last around 90 minutes–at which point most people max out their capacity to work at their optimal level, according to Tony Schwartz, president and CEO of The Energy Project. In other words, your body can only take so much concentrated work at a time before you start seeing diminishing returns.

That means getting enough sleep (more important than food, Schwartz says) and taking breaks is essential if you want to be at your creative best. Instead of slumping over your Facebook or Instagram feed, get away from your desk and phone. “Screen time feeds into a vicious cycle of chronic stress in a way that most of us don’t even realize,” according to writer, speaker and consultant, Linda Stone.

4. SET BOUNDARIES AND DIVE DEEP WITHIN THEM.

Try making rules for yourself and see what happens. George Harrison, lead guitarist of the Beatles, told himself one day that he would pick up a book at random, open it and write a song about whatever words he read first. Harrison saw the words “gently weeps,” set down the book and wrote “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” long considered one of his best songs.

“Whether or not they’re created by an outside client or you yourself, a set of limitations is often the catalyst that sets creativity free,” says Scott McDowell, founder of the consulting and executive search firm, CHM Partners.

5. START TODAY.

Striving for perfection in everything you do can be so daunting it keeps you from getting started in the first place. “To a perfectionist, settling seems worse than not completing the piece, which is why perfectionists often produce very little,” says Elizabeth Grace Saunders, time coach and author of The 3 Secrets to Effective Time Investment.

Stop worrying about getting the beginning right and just start. You’ll need to experience chaos before you reach the calm. Define the minimum requirements needed to finish whatever you’re working on and use those as a way to press on, suggests Saunders. Keep moving forward. Relinquish your fear of negative feedback and see it instead as an opportunity to learn and grow.

Link to read the original article

The art of reflection

A key question about reflection isn’t ‘what do I see?’ it is ‘what do I look for?’ writes psychologist, Dr Nina Burrowes

Reflection is an important piece of internal feedback – a way of learning and growing from my mistakes, noticing and celebrating my successes and spotting whether I’ve wandered off my chosen path. It’s an essential skill for anyone who wants to lead others: you need to be sure that you are on the right path if you want others to follow.

Yet reflection is more art than science. When I look in the mirror I can’t assume that what I see is an accurate representation of reality. My visual system is inaccurate and incomplete. My range of vision is limited to a narrow spectrum of visible light and I take the information that is in front of my eyes and I mould it.

I don’t see; I perceive. I make the information meet my expectations. I fill in the gaps. I can be blind to the things I don’t want to see. I create the image just as much as I see it.

The openness to bias and interpretation is even greater when I’m doing something as abstract as reflecting on myself. I won’t see my reflection – I’ll create it. What will I create? Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is ugliness and unworthiness. If I focus on all the things I haven’t done over the last year, that’s what I’ll see staring back at me. If I only focus on my successes and remain blind to areas of improvement then I’ll only see that. Neither image will be accurate.

Given that reflection is an important skill, how can I reflect in a way that is useful and helps me grow? One of the first things I can do is to notice how I approach the task. A key question isn’t “what do I see?” but “what do I look for?”

When I look back on my year, do I immediately focus on what I did or achieved rather than the choices I made? Do I immediately focus on “areas for improvement” and forget to celebrate or even notice the successes? Does the experience of reflecting feel like getting a report card from a particularly strict schoolteacher or a glowing song of praise from a close friend? Knowing the answer to this helps me be aware of my own bias.

Having noticed how I automatically reflect, the next useful thing I can ask myself is “how do I want to reflect?” Whatever my natural default reflection process is, it doesn’t have to be that way. I can choose what questions I ask when I look in the mirror.

If I want the ultimate lesson in reflection, I can turn to the ultimate moment of reflection. One day I may be looking back at myself and reflecting on my life in the knowledge that I am near the end of it. In that moment, how do I hope to approach the mirror? Will I have learned to reflect with awareness and self-compassion, or will I still focus on the many things I have failed to do?

My hope is that I’ll focus on the questions that are truly important to me. Did I live my life in accordance with my values? Did I live my life as if I was the person I aspire to be?

It’s the answers to these questions that help me grow.

Link to read the original article

Henry James on Aging, Memory, and What Happiness Really Means

by 

“I have led too serious a life; but that perhaps, after all, preserves one’s youth.”

What does it take to live a good life, to flourish, to be happy? The art-science of happiness has been contemplated since the dawn of recorded thought, and yet no agreement seems to have been reached: For Albert Camus, it was about escaping our self-imposed prisons; for Alan Watts, about living with presence; some have pointed to learned optimism as the key, while others have scoffed at optimism and advocated for embracing uncertainty instead. But if there is one immutable truth about happiness, it’s that it is never a static thing — not a permanent state, but a constantly evolving experience of being, one that George Eliot believed had to be learned, transformed in each new moment and sculpted by the passage of time.

One of history’s most beautiful and crystally aware meditations on happiness, specifically in terms of how it illustrates the schism between the experiencing self and the remembering self, comes from The Diary of a Man of Fifty  — one of the finest, most timelessly resonant notable diaries of all time — by literary legend Henry James.

“I have led too serious a life; but that perhaps, after all, preserves one’s youth. At all events, I have travelled too far, I have worked too hard, I have lived in brutal climates and associated with tiresome people. When a man has reached his fifty-second year without being, materially, the worse for wear — when he has fair health, a fair fortune, a tidy conscience and a complete exemption from embarrassing relatives — I suppose he is bound, in delicacy, to write himself happy.”

Link to read the original article

Here is one of our all-time favourite TEDTalks on creativity:

Julie Burstein: 4 Lessons in Creativity

Radio host Julie Burstein talks with creative people for a living – and shares four lessons about how to create in the face of challenge, self-doubt and loss. Hear insights from filmmaker Mira Nair, writer Richard Ford, sculptor Richard Serra and photographer Joel Meyerowitz.

Daring Greatly to Unlock Your Creativity with Brené Brown on #cjLIVE

Wed, Jan 15 6pm GMT

10am PT/1pm EDT]

by 

I can say with clarity that the most defining moments of creative/professional success for me have required overtly pouring my most honest, imperfect, afraid, guts-and-all parts of myself into my work. In short – those successes were built on vulnerability – on being real. They were built on daring greatly. What do the viewers / consumers of your art really want? YOU. The want to see YOU. And in seeing YOU, they see themselves.

And so its the perfect way to kick off the 2014 chasejarvisLIVE season with a very special guest, a woman who might just hold the keys to the thing that’s been holding back your unbounded creativity…her name is Brené Brown. You’ve probably seen her on the TEDstage (millions of views), or perhaps as a regular on Oprah (they’re pals), and at damn-near every bookstore (where Daring Greatly is a best-seller). But it’s not necessarily for all her accolades that you’ll want to tune into #cjLIVE this coming Wednesday January 15th. You’ll want to join our LIVE broadcast because you’ll have full access to Brené in a way that few other forums can grant — interactive Q&A with you from wherever on the planet you might be — and she just might have the keys to unlock the thing that’s been holding back your creativity. It was the missing link for me – and I’m guessing it’ll help you too.

SHOW DETAILS
WHAT: Interview, discussion + a worldwide Q&A with Brené Brown
WHEN: Wednesday, Jan 15, 10:00am Seattle time (1pm NYC time or 18:00 London)
WHERE: Tune into www.chasejarvis.com/live. It’s free — anyone can watch and we’ll be taking YOUR questions via Twitter + Facebook, hashtag #cjLIVE

This won’t be a marketing lesson or a therapy session, but it will be be THE shortest path between your most authentic self and the professional / personal hold-up-the-mirror, tear-down-the-barrier “success” you crave. Hello, New Year.

A FEW KEY CONCEPTS WE’LL COVER ON THE SHOW
~ Vulnerability does NOT equal weakness – it equals strength (the world’s best artists are living proof)
~ How to cultivate creativity, “gratitude” & “worthiness”
~ Personal + professional transformation happens when we ask the hard questions
~ Explosive creativity happens when we have the courage to share our struggles
~ How to harness the space between our aspirational values (what we want to do, think, feel + become) and our practiced values (what we’re actually doing)

Link to the original article

Happiness At Word Edition #80

You will find all of these articles and many more in this week’s new Happiness at Work collection,  – plus more stories about leadership and learning, and happiness and productivity and resilience at work.

We hope you find much here to enjoy and use.

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

photo credit: Ruben Nadador via photopin cc

photo credit: Ruben Nadador via photopin cc

Happy New Year and welcome to the start of 2014.

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

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

photo credit: swimparallel via photopin cc

photo credit: swimparallel via photopin cc

Higher Resolutions – Makeshift Thoughts

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

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

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

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

Be useful on the internet

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

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

Ignore the news

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

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

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

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

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

A creative rhythm for a year

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

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

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

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

A higher resolution

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

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

Draw something every day

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

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

Make up the bed-time story

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

Publish tiny thoughts

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

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

Do something you can

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

Link to read the original article

photo credit: slightly everything via photopin cc

photo credit: slightly everything via photopin cc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. Why does the brain ‘power down’?

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

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

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

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

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

Q. Can mindfulness help us to change bad habits?

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

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

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

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

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

Change the routine

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

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

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

Link to read the original article

photo credit: slightly everything via photopin cc

photo credit: slightly everything via photopin cc

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

By Melinda Johnson

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

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

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

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

photo credit: mindfulness via photopin cc

photo credit: mindfulness via photopin cc

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

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

Link to read the original article

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photo credit: jenny downing via photopin cc

What Makes YOU Happy?

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

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

Happiness List Exercise

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

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

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

Ready to start?

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

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

photo credit: eagle1effi via photopin cc

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

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

Then enjoy the treat you’ve scheduled for yourself!

Finding time to do what makes YOU happy

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

Step 1: Expand Your List

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

Step 2: Celebrate What You Already Do

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

Step 3: Schedule Your Happiness

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

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

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

Step 4:  Find more time in your schedule

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

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

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

Link to read the original article

Ruby Wax: How To Take Your Mind

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

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

By 

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

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

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

Find your braking system

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

Stave off the darkness

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

Find your happy place

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

Be less busy

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

Stop shopping

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

Pay attention

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

photo credit: fazen via photopin cc

photo credit: fazen via photopin cc

Exercise productively

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

Name your demons

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

Go easy on yourself

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

Be kind to others

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

Learn to say sorry

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

Change is good

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

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

Go on retreat

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

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

Don’t force it

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

Link to read to read the original article

photo credit: Asela via photopin cc

photo credit: Asela via photopin cc

‘Tis the Season To Be…Mindful

by , author of ‘Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness’

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

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

Link to read the original article

photo credit: mindfulness via photopin cc

photo credit: mindfulness via photopin cc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Lars Plougmann via photopin cc

photo credit: Lars Plougmann via photopin cc

Why Your Organisation Should Focus On Employee Engagement

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

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

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

Employee Engagement: Not Just For the Big Guns

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

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

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

photo credit: BetterWorks via photopin cc

photo credit: BetterWorks via photopin cc

No Band Aides Necessary

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

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

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

Where Enthusiasm Can Take Your Business

It’s this easy:

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

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

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

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Lars Plougmann via photopin cc

photo credit: Lars Plougmann via photopin cc

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

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

Language is the crystallization of thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to read the original article

The Body Map of Emotions: Happiness Activates the Whole Body

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

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

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

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

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

Body maps

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

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

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

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

The authors explain:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to read the original article

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to read the original article in full

photo credit: foto4lizzie via photopin cc

photo credit: foto4lizzie via photopin cc

Family Table (Steve McCurry’s Photos)

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

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

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

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

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

Link to see these photos

photo credit: mike.t photography via photopin cc

photo credit: mike.t photography via photopin cc

Jumpstart Your Journaling: A 31 Day Challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo credit: jelleprins via photopin cc

photo credit: jelleprins via photopin cc

Happiness At Work Edition #79

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

photo credit: SimonDoggett via photopin cc

photo credit: SimonDoggett via photopin cc

Adam Grant’s 12 Business Books to Read in 2014

Adam Grant, Wharton professor and the author of Give and TakeNew York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller on the hidden power of helping others, gives his Hot Tips for the coming year…

The 12 Business Books to Read in 2014

Here are 12 books with big implications for the world of work that are likely to make a splash in the coming year:

1. Leaders Eat Last by Simon Sinek (January 7)

After taking the world by storm with his captivating message about purpose in Start With Why, Simon Sinek has turned his attention to critical questions about the how. What does it take for leaders to transform paranoia and cynicism into safety and trust? Is a common enemy necessary for cooperation? I can’t wait to read about what he’s learned from military and corporate leaders.

2. Quick and Nimble by Adam Bryant (January 7)

In an increasingly competitive and dynamic economy, every organization is charged with building a culture that supports innovation. Whereas most books on innovation take a deep dive into one company’s success or failure, New York Times Corner Office columnist Adam Bryant casts a more comprehensive net, interviewing hundreds of executives to identify what’s effective across industries. Bryant offers an expert guided tour through the minds of the world’s most innovative CEOs, sharing insights that are both enlightening and immensely practical.

3. Small Move, Big Change by Caroline Arnold (January 16)

When I go to bookstores, I usually steer clear of the self-help section. In this case, I would have missed a gem. Small Move, Big Change is a rare self-improvement book that actually works. With the right mix of research evidence and practical examples from her experience as a technology leader on Wall Street, Caroline Arnold provides compelling advice for motivating ourselves to save more, eat less, get organized, boost our willpower, and even keep our New Year’s resolutions. It’s the most useful guide to getting things done since Getting Things Done.

4. Scaling Up Excellence by Robert Sutton and Hayagreeva Rao (February 4)

When I work with leaders, I often ask them about the biggest challenge that they face. The most common response, by far, focuses on spreading and multiplying success. If you have one team that’s thriving while others are sinking, how do you export their best practices to other teams across your organization? This pair of eminent Stanford professors is the first to shed systematic light on the pervasive problem of scaling with a landmark book full of rich case studies, powerful research evidence, and actionable ideas for anyone who cares about making groups or organizations more effective.

5. Everything Connects by Faisal Hoque and Drake Baer (February 21)

Philosophy, business, and history come together in this look at leadership, creativity, innovation, and sustainability from a successful serial entrepreneur and a cutting-edge journalist. With takeaways for large global companies and small startups, this book examines what leaders can learn from Eastern wisdom, Da Vinci, and contemporary psychology.

Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen - Thanks for the Feedback

Douglas Stone & Sheila Heen – Thanks for the Feedback

6. Thanks for the Feedback by Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen (March 4)

This is a potentially life-changing look at one of the toughest but most important parts of life: receiving feedback. Doug Stone and Sheila Heen, coauthors of Difficult Conversations, show how to take an honest look in the mirror, and gain invaluable insights about the person staring back at you. I’ve already taught the principles in the classroom and applied them in my own life, and the payoffs include less defensiveness, more self-awareness, deeper learning, and richer relationships.

7. Thrive by Arianna Huffington (March 25)

In the quest for success, many people end up taking paths that they come to regret. Climbing up the ladder in pursuit of money and power, leaders and managers sacrifice their health and well-being, and miss out on meaningful opportunities to give back. Building on her celebrated Third Metric conferenceHuffington Post cofounder and president Arianna Huffington is on a mission to redefine success beyond money and power to enhance well-being, giving, wisdom, and creativity. This book may be the Lean In of 2014—for women and for men.

8. The Humor Code by Peter McGraw and Joel Warner (April 1)

Humor is an invaluable resource at work: it helps leaders defuse the tension in moments of crisis, managers temper the sting of tough feedback, and employees generate creative ideas in brainstorming sessions. Thanks to the global adventures of a zany social scientist and a perceptive journalist, we can all figure out how to become funnier, and laugh out loud along the way. This book is so good that I wish I wrote it. In fact, I’ve already started telling people I did. Luckily, Peter McGraw and Joel Warner are givers, so they won’t mind. They’ve given us a remarkable look at what makes us laugh, with the perfect blend of science, stories, satire, and sweater vests.

9. Brilliant by Annie Murphy Paul (April 8)

You’re either born smart or you’re not. Most people hate this notion, but never question whether it’s true. Science journalist Annie Murphy Paul shows us that it’s false: intelligence is a renewable resource. In Origins, she revealed that the nature-nurture debate has overlooked the formative nine months that we spend in the womb. Now, she marshals two decades of evidence from psychology and neuroscience to explain how we can make ourselves and our kids smarter. This book is poised to shake up our parenting habits, our schools, and our workplaces.

10. Think Like a Freak by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner (May 13)

It’s one thing to admire the genius of the rogue economist and perceptive journalist who brought us Freakonomics and SuperFreakonomicsIt’s another thing entirely to understand how they come up with their brilliant ideas. Their latest book takes us behind the curtain with studies, stories, and illustrations that enrich our abilities to solve problems in our personal and professional lives.

11. Invisibles by David Zweig (May 15)

Why do some of the world’s most talented, accomplished people choose to fly under the radar, hiding in the shadows rather than clamoring for the spotlight? In his nonfiction debut, journalist David Zweig introduces us to some of the most successful people we’ve never heard of, from cinematographers to skyscraper engineers to United Nations interpreters. It’s a clarion call for work as a craft: for carefully honing expertise without hogging attention, for generously contributing knowledge without claiming credit, and for prizing meaningful work above public recognition.

12. Smartcuts by Shane Snow (September)

Although details are still under wraps, this book by journalist and tech entrepreneur Shane Snow promises to uncover unconventional patterns among rapidly successful businesses and people, from innovators and hackers to daredevils and revolutionaries. Snow is one of my favorite writers, a maven of creative productivity who holds the keys to becoming an expert in less than 10,000 hours..

Link to read the original article

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

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

C OK

photo credit: SheReadsAlot via photopin cc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to read the full original article

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

Dreaming Makes You Smarter

Annie Murphy Paul writes in her Brilliant Blog

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

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

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

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

This Week’s Brilliant Quote

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

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

Link to read the original article

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is art for?

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

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

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

Link to read the original article

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

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

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

In the Personal Development category…

Springboard: Do What You Were Meant To Do

Springboard: Do What You Were Meant To Do

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

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

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

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

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

Link to read the original article

2013 800-CEO-READ Business Book Awards: Leadership

In the Leadership category…

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

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

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

The other books in our Leadership shortlist are…

Link to read the original article

The Secret To Happiness

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

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

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

A Formula For Happiness

Arthur Brooks writes in the New York Times…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…the secret to happiness through work is earned success.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to read the full original article

C OK

photo credit: Jus Wilcox via photopin cc

Leaving and Coming, Steve McCurry’s photo collection

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

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

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

Link to see Steve McCurry’s photos

C OK

photo credit: The Integer Club via photopin cc

Are You Really Listening?

by 

Listen: ˈlɪs(ə)n/

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

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

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

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

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

Why Don’t We Listen?

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

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

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

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

Checked Out? Ideas For Stronger Communication

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

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

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

How To Make Mindful Conversation a Habit

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to read the original article

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

17 Tips To Help You Expand Your Influence

CJ Goulding offers these great guidelines…

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

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

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

1. Be proactive.

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

2. Be a good listener.

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

3. Stay consistent.

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

4. Practice empathy.

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

5. Seek for solution.

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

6. Accept responsibility.

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

7. Appreciate others.

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

8. Have a vision.

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

9. Ask the right questions.

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

Ask questions like:

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

How can I meet and get to know people better?

How can I help and inspire the people around me?

How can I be a solution in this situation?

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

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

11. Filter the information that you take in.

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

12. Increase your value through education.

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

13. Fine tune your skills.

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

14. Be upbeat and enthusiastic.

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

15. Be a person of integrity and values.

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

16. Go above and beyond.

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

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

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

Link to read the full original article

photo credit: seier+seier via photopin cc

photo credit: seier+seier via photopin cc

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

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

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

I can easily refute that belief with two questions:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to read the original article

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photo credit: bumblebeelovesyou via photopin cc

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

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

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

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

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

Stereotypes Exist Because Of “Hive Mind” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

Security Is Knowing Who You Are

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

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

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

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

Link to read the original article

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photo credit: Flyinace2000 via photopin cc

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

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

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

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

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

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

The city will help you live in it…

Doctors will use your DNA to keep you well…

Buying local will beat online…

You will have a digital guardian…

The classroom will learn you…

Link to read the rest of this article

photo credit: Dominic's pics via photopin cc

photo credit: Dominic’s pics via photopin cc

Beat Holiday Stress With These Two Easy Meditation Techniques

Regina Bright writes…

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

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

Deep breathing.

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

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

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

Focus on your senses.

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

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

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Hamed Saber via photopin cc

photo credit: Hamed Saber via photopin cc

Happiness At Work – edition #77

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

Enjoy and have a very happy rejuvenating and connected holiday…

Happiness At Work #75 ~ stress, happiness and productivity

This week our Happiness At Work theme considers some of the growing knowledge we are getting about the effects that work-related stress is causing us in our always-on-and-available 21st century lives.  And we give particular focus to ideas that can help us to learn better ways to think about and respond to pressure without harming, but rather increasing our productivity.  And our happiness too.

photo credit: canonsnapper via photopin cc

photo credit: canonsnapper via photopin cc

Nelson Mandela, 18th July 1918 – 5th December 2013

And, on the day the world remembers and mourns the death of an extraordinary human being, you will also find a photo tribute to Nelson Mandela, from The New Yorker, and an article from Fast Company highlighting

Nelson Mandela’s Most Innovative Moments:

+  When you have a just cause, go global…

+  Be open and forgiving, trust the truth to bring progress…

+  To maintain the health of what you’ve built, know when to step aside…

+  It’s never too late to make up for mistakes…

+  You can embody courage while still feeling fear…

Nelson Mandela: Barack Obama Pays Tribute

“…so long as I live I will do what I can to learn from him…

We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again, so it falls to us, as best we can, to follow the example that he set.  to make decisions guided not by hate but by love, to never discount the difference that one person can make, to strive for a future that is worthy of his sacrifice..”

How To B More Productive and Happier During Times of Stress

Laura Shin writes…

Few deadlines are quite like the end of the year…  It’s the perfect storm for stress.

But stress isn’t the dreaded beast we all make it out to be.

In a study conducted with two Yale researchers, Shawn Achor, positive psychology researcher and author of The Happiness Advantage and Before Happiness,  found, “if we could get someone to change their mindset around stress to see it as a challenge instead of as a threat, they had 23% fewer stress-related symptoms like headaches, backaches and fatigue. The stress was still there but the effect upon the body was completely changed. So stress is inevitable but its effects on us are not. The question is how can we take things like holiday stresses and see them as enhancing instead of as a threat or something that takes us away our energy.”

Here’s how to make it through this stressful time happier, more productive and better prepared to take on the new year.

1. Use the “add vantage” technique.

If you’re facing what seems like a mountain of tasks, try to think of as many descriptors as you can for each activity. Take, for example, washing dishes. You might start with “bore” or “soul-draining,” but as you go on, you might also remember it’s a chance to feel productive, that you enjoy the feel of warm water, or that it’s nice to engage in a mindless activity for a while.

“The more you do this, the more you realize that there’s not just one reality but multiple realities at any point, so the key is to pick the most adaptive reality,” says Achor. “You could view your work as hectic — and that’s true, it is hectic, but you could also view it as a source of opportunity, and that’s also true. The way we describe that event to our own self and to other people changes the way we think about it. If you are about to have a holiday meal and listing off all the stresses and all the negative parts of that holiday, your family will remember it as a stressful, panicked, unhappy time. But if you focus on meaning, connection, how beautiful things look, then you have a different brain and social script for that event.”

Two activities that help you add vantage points are to cross-train your brain by visiting art museums (seriously — 20-some medical schools require their students to take an art class because a study found it increased students’ ability to detect important medical details by 10%), and changing your patterns so you drive a different way to work, talk to a person you wouldn’t normally talk to, etc.

Achor writes in Before Happiness, “Research shows that by simply changing your perspective in the workplace you can achieve greater long-term growth, 37 percent higher sales, and 31 percent more productivity, and perhaps even increase your likelihood of living to age ninety-four by up to 40 percent. “

2. Think about the meaning behind the stress you are experiencing.

If you only think about the stress of an activity, and not its larger purpose, you’ll reap only its negative effects, says Achor. “So if you are stressed about a job interview, refocus on the chances to advance your career, and if you are stressed about a presentation you have to give to an organization, think about how your involvement with that group is making a difference,” he writes.

Similarly, social connection has been proven to help us overcome stress and fend off depression in a variety of settings ranging from work settings to addiction programs, says Achor. He recommends that, when considering your holiday tasks, focus on how they will deepen your relationships instead of viewing them merely as items to be checked off.

If certain triggers distract you from the meaning behind your work and take you down a counterproductive mental path of destruction — for instance, Achor found negative reviews of his books killed his productivity — banish these mental hijackers. For Achor, he kept good reviews of his book at hand and would read some each morning to remind himself of the meaning in his work and jumpstart his productivity.

3. Decrease noise.

Two researchers from the University of San Diego found that the amount of information consumed per capita by Americans has increased 60% from 1980 to 2008 — from 7.4 hours a day to 11.8. Shockingly, these figures exclude working hours.

Achor says that studies show that when your brain is overwhelmed with information, it’s harder for your brain to see positives. What he suggests: “Decrease the noise a little bit — for the first five minutes you get into the car, turn off the radio, or mute the commercials during the football game. Or, have two to three hours a week that you reserve as no cell phone and computer time — turn your brain into basically like noise-canceling headphones, so you can quiet some of that noise and allow your brain to work better at meaning in your life so you can find the positives to move forward in your life.”

4. Set yourself up for success.

See that drawing? The two circles in the center are actually the same size. But the one on the right looks bigger simply because it’s surrounded by smaller circles. People putting golf balls into the center holes were more likely to score with the hole on the right than the one on the left, because they perceived their likelihood of making the putt as higher.

How do you re-create this effect at work? When you face a difficult task, remind yourself of times when you’ve succeeded in similar situations. When you think of your competitors, think of as few as possible. (A study found the greatest predictor of performance on an academic test is the number of other test takers in the room, with students competing against fewer students doing better.)

Likewise, when many leaders come up with contingency plans in case of problems, they’re setting themselves up for failure. Instead, think of all the ways you can succeed at your challenge first. “Because what you map first is more likely to become the reality, you should spend your brain’s valuable resources looking for an escape route only once you have mapped multiple paths to success,” he writes.

5. Get a full night’s sleep, and don’t go hungry.

“If you memorize sets of positive, neutral and negative words and then sleep for seven to eight hours, you’ll remember about 80% of all the words a day later,” writes Achor. But  if you miss a night of sleep? You’ll still remember a majority of the negative and neutral words but will remember almost 60% fewer positive words. Your brain perceives your lack of sleep as a threat and starts scanning the world for more threats.

On a similar note, a study found that judges have been found to grant many more paroles after lunch than before. “As sugar levels were dropping, their willingness to see the positive and that change is possible dropped, and as soon as they ate again, they could start to see what was possible,” says Achor.

He says there are four barriers to creating a positive reality, which he’s nicknamed HALT — being hungry, angry, lonely or tired — so if you feel any of those things, you need to eat, calm down, talk to someone you love or sleep.

6. Give yourself a head start.

If a store gives someone a buy-ten-get-one-free coffee card, it speeds up that person’s purchasing of coffee, says Achor. But if a store requires 12 coffees to get the free one but gives you the first two stamps for free, you’ll actually buy coffees even faster. Why? Even though you still have to buy 10 coffees, you perceive that you’re already 1/6 of the way toward your goal.

“So as as you make to-do lists for the holidays or resolutions,” says Achor, “the biggest mistake we make is we start at 0%, and we don’t show our brain any of the progress we made. So now when I write down checklists, I write down what I’ve already done this day — I already had breakfast, had a couple phone calls. By perceiving that progress you’ve already made, it speeds your brain to achieving the rest of the goals.”

Ditto with New Year or resolutions. When you write yours, note down the accomplishments you’ve already achieved this past year so it’s not a list of things you haven’t done yet.

7. Train your brain to be more positive.

Achor details five steps to happiness and more productivity in his TED Talk,The Happy Secret to Better Work. Every day during the holiday season, write a gratitude list of — you guessed it — things for which you are grateful. Spend a few minutes every day journaling about a positive experience in the last 24 hours. Exercise. Meditate. And finally, send an email expressing your appreciation to someone you love, or perform other acts of kindness.

By doing these things, “your brain’s optimism will stay high for the next six months,” says Achor. That not only sounds like a great way to spend the holidays, but also a great way to start the new year.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Joel Bedford via photopin cc

photo credit: Joel Bedford via photopin cc

Are Happy Workers More Productive?

Alexander Kjerulf and Jan Kristensen debate the issues

Would you agree with the statement: ‘Happy people are more productive?’

Chief Happiness Officer at Woohoo inc., Alexander Kjerulf presents the evidence that convinces him why this is true, taken from his perspective reviewing and writing about the research on this subject, and Jan Kristensen, Director of Lean Leadership at Novo Nordisk, presents his refute from his critique of and perspective as an occupational psychologist, before they both going on to debate these issues in discussion…

Here is a summary of the evidence that Alexander Kjerulf presents for the affirmative:

‘”In the workplace we know that happiness causes more productive and creative workers…” – Ed Deiner, ‘the grandfather of happiness research

There is a significant amount of research that organisations with high personal wellbeing will get better results…an increase of 1 point on the Personal WellBeing (PWB) scale is associated with an increase in productivity of 8.8% – a significant amount.” – Cary Cooper, Manchester University and author of ‘Wellbeing, Productivity and Happiness At Work’

Happy people of more and better work: Daniel Sproy, University of Warwick found people who watched a short comedy clip before doing maths equations worked harder at it and performed 10% better than their neutral peers.

Happy people are more creative:  Teresa Amabile, Harvard University, found people who were in a good mood on Monday had more ideas on Monday and on Tuesday, even if they were in a bad mood on Tuesday.

Happy people are more productive, braver, more resilient, sell more, give better customer service, are more open and empathetic, and more generous…  On all of these areas happy people outperform their less happy peers.

A huge Gallup study involving 8,000 people found that happiness at work leads to lower absenteeism, lower employee turnover, higher productivity, higher customer satisfaction, higher sales and higher profits. (‘Well-Being In The Workplace and Its Relationship To Business Outcomes – a review of the Gallup Studies‘, James K. Harter, Frank L. Schmidt and Corey L. M. Keys)

Causation: Alexander Kjerulf says it looks at though it goes both ways but effects caused by happiness at work is stronger than the other way around.

Stock Price: companies who measure as the Best Places To Work  also show the highest share prices and the causation here has been well established.

Jan Kristensen’s presentation firstly winds its way through a personal history from wanting to live up to his grandfather’s achievements, to his work in management development.  He presents some of the same research as Alexander but interprets its findings differently.

His first objection is the problem of correlation which. he says. ignores the higher degree of variation and his second objection seems to be that many of the studies have actually led to false conclusions and brought about the conditions of self-fulfilling prophesy.

“if we continue to fake a correlation between happiness and productivity, eventually there will be no HR, there will be no organisations.  The only real alternative is to figure out different ways of thinking about management and then helping leaders to move into that…”

Here is what fell out from the discussion for me…

Kristensen: Our conclusion about the link between happiness and productivity is based on inaccurate reporting of 14 original studies that actually proved the opposite…

Kjerulf: Later studies (e.g. Diener & Seligman) have shown that these original studies were wrong and have found much higher correlations.  And a seemingly small percentage increase can actually lead to a very large actual benefit in terms of real productivity measures.

Kristensen: LEAN was invented in the 1950s and concentrates on work processes rather than people to increase productivity, and “the funny thing about that is the only way you can make that improvement is by making people unsatisfied about their work … because the only way you can get people involved in saying ‘how can we do this better?’ is if they believe that the way that they are working is not good enough…”

No no no no no no no no

Kjerulf:  “I would argue that a large part of happiness is involving people in meaningful work and give them a chance to say ‘how can we do this better?’  And i would argue that one way to be ridiculously happy at work would be to get someone to create an 800% improvement on something…  And the whole ‘you gotta be unhappy to improve’ – you can be unsatisfied and improve but as we see from teresa Amabile’s studies, if you need people to be creative, we are more creative when we are happy, when we are experiencing positive emotions.  So saying the unhappiness drives company innovation is actually wrong…”

“There is a fundamental flaw in your argument and that is happiness has been used before to trick people and therefore happiness is bad, but this not logically follow…”

And here is Alexander Kjerulf’s self-addmitted biased summary of the case for the negative…

…after having read Jan’s phd thesis and done the debate, it’s clear that there is ample evidence that happiness makes us more productive in the workplace and very little evidence against this.

As best I can tell, Jan offered 3 specific arguments for his assertion that happy workers are no more productive than unhappy ones.

1: 14 original studies
Jan claims there are 14 original studies, which everyone in this field cites as proof that happy workers are more productive but that those 14 studies in fact show the exact opposite.

He only mentions one of those 14 studies (hawthorne) so it’s hard to evaluate his claim. But let’s say we grant him this. It still doesn’t support his position. Even if every single one of those 14 studies could be invalidated, it would not serve at all to disprove all the studies that have come since them. I quote several of those studies in my presentation.

2: Low correlation
Jan states that the best correlation found in meta-studies shows a correlation between happiness and productivity of 0.25, which is too low for his liking.

But a low correlation is still a correlation, so at the very least we can say that happiness and productivity are connected. And as I showed in my presentation, there are also studies showing causation, i.e. showing that happiness causes productivity.

3: Difficult to implement
Jan’s final argument is that he and his HR colleagues have tried to implement happiness in Novo and that it has failed every time.

The logical flaw in this argument is clear: People’s ability or inability to implement it has no bearing on whether or not the theory is true.

As best I can tell, Jan offers no further arguments in support of his position.

Your take

What’s your take on this – are happy people more productive? Are happy workplaces more profitable? What evidence have you seen that supports your position?…

Link to read Alexander Kjerulf’s original article

photo credit: Today is a good day via photopin cc

photo credit: Today is a good day via photopin cc

U.S. Employers Rank Stress as Top Workforce Risk Issue

Press Release: Understanding employee views is key to addressing issue

Stress is the number one workforce risk issue, ranking above physical inactivity and obesity, according to the 2013/2014 Towers Watson Staying@Work Survey, conducted by global professional services company Towers Watson, and the National Business Group on Health. However, only 15% of employers identify improving the emotional/mental health (i.e., lessening the stress and anxiety) of employees as a top priority of their health and productivity programs.

While stress can energize workers to meet challenging goals, it can also overwhelm them and interrupt business performance. Despite the negative consequences, many employers do not fully understand employee views of its causes.

“Employees seem to be saying, ‘support me, pay me, and direct me,’ but employers are focused on other stress factors,” said Shelly Wolff, senior health care consultant at Towers Watson. “Stress has a strong link to physical health, emotional health, personal purpose and community — all contributing factors to workplace performance. Employers that fail to understand employees’ views on stress risk diverting time and resources to fixing the wrong problems and, at the same time, alienating employees.”

Causes of Stress: Employer and Employee Disconnect

Employers rank the top three causes of workplace stress as lack of work/life balance (86%), inadequate staffing (70%) and technologies that expand employee availability during nonworking hours (63%). Employees rank inadequate staffing as the number one source of stress, followed by low pay or low pay increases, and unclear or conflicting job expectations... Inadequate staffing includes lack of support or uneven workloads and performance in groups.

This is where the disconnect starts to take shape. Only inadequate staffing is ranked in the top three causes of stress from both employer and employee points of view. Based on 10 drivers of workforce stress, employees ranked lack of work/life balance fifth, while employers ranked it first. Furthermore, employees ranked low pay or low pay increases as their second-biggest source of stress, while employers ranked it ninth.

Solutions: Establishing a Workplace Culture That Proactively Manages Stress

While employers feel that the employee assistance program EAP is a primary way to address stress issues, only 5% of employees say they use this resource. Also, only about four in 10 employers (39%) offer overt stress management interventions to employees (e.g., stress management workshops, yoga or tai chi). Employees turn to leisure/entertainment activities (47%), social support (42%) and physical activities (39%) to help them cope.

There is a strong recognition that the workplace experience can both contribute to and reduce employee stress. By pursuing a holistic approach that covers both health and well-being programs and the employee value proposition (EVP), organizations can foster a healthy and productive work environment.

“Employers need to understand their employees’ stress drivers, assess their health and productivity programs in light of the findings and leverage what employees are already doing to cope with stress,” said Helen Darling, president of the National Business Group on Health.

In addition, organizations need to take a closer look at their EVP, including employee compensation, lack of adequate staffing levels, unclear or conflicting job expectations, and organizational culture. Improved manager training, clear direction on the job and a review of compensation practices could help alleviate the stressors.

Link to read the original Press Release in Wall Street Journal

Paula Davis-Laack follows up this story with some practical solutions we can all look at to better navigate and balance our stress levels with our needs and ambitions to produce and perform to our best…

Life Is Stressful: 10 Things To Stop Tolerating

…A Catalyst work report shows that most employees feel stress in four main areas: workload levels, interpersonal issues, job security, and juggling work and personal life.  Does this sound familiar?  If so, it’s time to examine what you might be tolerating in your life; those things that may be driving some of your unhappiness and lack of productivity.

photo credit: AGrinberg via photopin cc

photo credit: AGrinberg via photopin cc

Here are the top ten:

Being Burned Out.
Burnout is the chronic state of being out of sync with one or more aspects of your life, and the result is a loss of energy, enthusiasm, and confidence.  If the causes of your burnout are not immediately addressed, your physical health and mental well-being will likely deteriorate.

Inaction.
People often get stuck because of fear, guilt, or simply not knowing which way to go next. In order to achieve bigger goals, take smaller steps. If you are staring down a goal that seems overwhelming, keep breaking down the goal until you can say with confidence, “Of course, that’s so easy I can get that done!”

Negativity.
Given how hard the professional world is today and how often you are barraged with negative information, it’s easy to be tuned into pessimism and negativity. Fight back with humor. Early studies of humor and health showed that humor strengthened the immune system, reduced pain, and reduced stress levels. Since humor builds positive emotion, it can also help reduce feelings of anger, depression, and anxiety (McGhee, 2010). Additional research in this area shows that positive emotions predicted increases in both resilience and life satisfaction (Cohn et. al., 2009).

Disorganization.
Disorganization is a barrier to productivity. If you continually say, “I don’t have time to do x,” you can get more organized by creating schedules and systems that become habitual. The business book E-Myth, by Michael Gerber, does a wonderful job of describing the importance of systems in the business world, and the idea is transferable to non-work situations as well. Good systems are fluid, measurable, and can and should be changed as better methods are established or as missing pieces are learned.

Link to read the original Forbes article 

photo credit: Koshyk via photopin cc

photo credit: Koshyk via photopin cc

Penn Study: How Women’s Brains Differ From Men’s

Stacey Burling, reports…

Forget right-brain or left-brain thinking (or even up and down thinking)

What may be more important from a gender standpoint is back-to-front or side-to-side thinking.

A new study from the University of Pennsylvania used diffusion tensor imaging, a type of brain imaging that shows how brain cells are connected, to study young men and women. The team’s maps of major information highways were noticeably different for the two genders.

Men had more pathways that ran the length of each hemisphere, to parts within a hemisphere and across the cerebellum, which coordinates movement. Women had many more powerful communication links between the two hemispheres.

What this means is that, at any given moment, a woman is likely to be using her whole brain while a man is using half of his, said Ruben Gur, a neuropsychologist who was one of the study authors. He struggled when asked if this structure makes men superior at anything.

In fairness, he said, “each hemisphere is really a complete human being,” so it’s possible to function at a high level while using one hemisphere. It does mean, though, that men really are more likely to be right-brained (more intuitive) or left-brained (more logical) than women.

The strong link with the cerebellum might make men more action oriented, better at tasks that require quick response time or an “I-see-and-then-I-do” attitude.

The side-to-side thinking likely boosts women’s memory and social skills and seems designed, the authors said, to combine analytical and intuitive thinking. Communication within the hemisphere facilitates connection between perception and coordinated action…

The connections between right and left let women’s brains “more easily integrate the rational, logical, verbal mode of thinking and the more intuitive, spatial, holistic mode of thinking,” Gur said.

Men, on the other hand, are more likely to be in one mode or the other. Gur said scientists don’t know why men are more likely to use a particular side or even how to test whether you’re a right-brained or left-brained guy.

He said women’s thinking is likely to be more contextual. “Their brains are better connected between their decisions and their memories,” he said. “For men, memories are memories. Decisions are decisions.”

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Emilie Ogez via photopin cc

photo credit: Emilie Ogez via photopin cc

Why Procrastinators Procrastinate

Wait But Why‘s very funny and wise words and cartoons that get to the root of procrastination and what we might to do to overcome it…

Who would have thought that after decades of struggle with procrastination, the dictionary, of all places, would hold the solution.

Avoid procrastination. So elegant in its simplicity.

While we’re here, let’s make sure obese people avoid overeating, depressed people avoid apathy, and someone please tell beached whales that they should avoid being out of the ocean.

No, “avoid procrastination” is only good advice for fake procrastinators — those people that are like, “I totally go on Facebook a few times every day at work — I’m such a procrastinator!” The same people that will say to a real procrastinator something like, “Just don’t procrastinate and you’ll be fine.”

The thing that neither the dictionary nor fake procrastinators understand is that for a real procrastinator, procrastination isn’t optional — it’s something they don’t know how to not do…

…The fact is, the Instant Gratification Monkey is the last creature who should be in charge of decisions — he thinks only about the present, ignoring lessons from the past and disregarding the future altogether, and he concerns himself entirely with maximizing the ease and pleasure of the current moment. He doesn’t understand the Rational Decision-Maker any better than the Rational Decision-Maker understands him — why would we continue doing this jog, he thinks, when we could stop, which would feel better. Why would we practice that instrument when it’s not fun? Why would we ever use a computer for work when the internet is sitting right there waiting to be played with? He thinks humans are insane.

In the monkey world, he’s got it all figured out — if you eat when you’re hungry, sleep when you’re tired, and don’t do anything difficult, you’re a pretty successful monkey. The problem for the procrastinator is that he happens to live in the human world, making the Instant Gratification Monkey a highly unqualified navigator. Meanwhile, the Rational Decision-Maker, who was trained to make rational decisions, not to deal with competition over the controls, doesn’t know how to put up an effective fight — he just feels worse and worse about himself the more he fails and the more the suffering procrastinator whose head he’s in berates him.

It’s a mess. And with the monkey in charge, the procrastinator finds himself spending a lot of time in a place called the Dark Playground.*

The Dark Playground is a place every procrastinator knows well. It’s a place where leisure activities happen at times when leisure activities are not supposed to be happening. The fun you have in the Dark Playground isn’t actually fun because it’s completely unearned and the air is filled with guilt, anxiety, self-hatred, and dread. Sometimes the Rational Decision-Maker puts his foot down and refuses to let you waste time doing normal leisure things, and since the Instant Gratification Monkey sure as hell isn’t gonna let you work, you find yourself in a bizarre purgatory of weird activities where everyone loses.**

Link to the full article and pictures 

How To Beat Procrastination

And here is the link to Part 2 with practical ideas and more great drawings to help you break free and through procrastination…  HINT:  It’s all about Planning, Doing and the all-important – increasing Self-Mastery…

Practices for Resilience and Development

Curtis Ogden writes…

…My thinking and reading often takes me back to the work of Barbara Fredrickson, the emotions scientist based at the University of North Carolina, as well as to a host of others in the fields of positive and social psychology.  Having revisited some of these writings over the break, here are 10 recommended practices for personal and social resilience and development:

  1. Ritualize gratitude: Fredrickson defines gratitude as noticing the gifts and blessings in our lives. One way to notice is to keep a gratitude journal. The suggestion is to, at the start or end of each day, write at least one thing for which we are grateful.  Studies show that this helps to develop our ability to handle adversity and grow possibility.
  2. Write for 15 minutes a day, especially after or during a difficult or challenging situation:  Research has shown this can help with meaning making and resilience.
  3. Practice 3-5 acts of kindness every day: A practice that I like to invite groups to engage in is to note what assets we have that we can pass on to those in our networks.  As the world’s wisdom traditions have long known, this has tremendous personal and social benefit.
  4. Get the body moving: Go for a 20-30 minute walk.  Do yoga.  Maira Kalman among others has demonstrated the power of movement as a generative force of intellect, awareness, and creativity.
  5. Laugh:  Drs. Steven J. Wolin and Sybil Wolin have noted the connection between creativity and humor in people who are resilient.  Check out some of these laughter exercises.
  6. Visualize success: In appropriate doses, optimism has been shownto broaden our view on life and possibility. Consider doing the best possible future self exercise.
  7. Get into natureResearch shows that getting out into nature promotes positive emotions and that viewing and walking in nature have been associated with heightened physical and mental energy.
  8. Use the mantra, “Be open”Fredrickson’s research in particular suggests that if we try to force ourselves to be positive or happy, this can backfire.  Much better to try to keep an open mind.
  9. Reach out and connect to others who feed us: We are social beings, and who we associate with has implications for our outlook on life.
  10. Meditate:  Increasingly we hear about the health and outlook benefits of mindfulness practice, including loving kindness meditation.  Fredrickson’s web page has links to several different guided meditations.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Susanica via photopin cc

photo credit: Susanica via photopin cc

Talk Yourself Into Success

Learning expert and writer, Annie Murphy Paul, writes in her blog, The Brilliant Report about self-talk and how we know it works…

In the privacy of our minds, we all talk to ourselves—an inner monologue that might seem rather pointless. As one scientific paper on self-talk asks: “What can we tell ourselves that we don’t already know?” But as that study and others go on to show, the act of giving ourselves mental messages can help us learn and perform at our best. Researchers have identified the most effective forms of self-talk, collected here—so that the next time you talk to yourself, you know exactly what you should say.

Self-talk isn’t just motivational messages like “You can do it!” or “Almost there,” although this internal cheering section can give us confidence. A review of more than two dozen studies, published in 2011 in the journal Perspectives on Psychological Science, found that there’s another kind of mental message that is even more useful, called “instructional self-talk.” This is the kind of running commentary we engage in when we’re carrying out a difficult task, especially one that’s unfamiliar to us. Think about when you were first learning to drive. Your self-talk might have gone something like this: “Foot on the gas pedal, hands on the wheel, slow down for the curve here, now put your blinker on…”

Over time, of course, giving yourself instructions becomes unnecessary—but while you’re learning, it does three important things. First, it enhances our attention, focusing us on the important elements of the task and screening out distractions. Second, it helps us regulate our effort and make decisions about what to do, how to do it, and when. And third, self-talk allows us to control our cognitive and emotional reactions, steadying us so we stay on task.

Link to read the rest of Annie Murphy Paul’s article

photo credit: Lotus Carroll via photopin cc

photo credit: Lotus Carroll via photopin cc

The Science of Great Ideas – How To Train Your Creative Brain

 writes…

The production of ideas is just as definite a process as the production of Fords; —James Webb Young

In his book, A Technique for Producing Ideas, James Webb Young explains that whilethe process for producing new ideas is simple enough to explain, “it actually requires the hardest kind of intellectual work to follow, so that not all who accept it use it.”

He also explains that working out where to find ideas is not the solution to finding more of them, but rather we need to train our minds in the process of producing new ideas naturally.

The two general principles of ideas

James describes two principles of the production of ideas, which I really like:

  1. An idea is nothing more or less than a new combination of old elements.
  2. The capacity to bring old elements into new combinations depends largely on the ability to see relationships.

This second one is really important in producing new ideas, but it’s something our minds need to be trained in:

Set aside time

John Cleese says your thoughts need time to settle down before your creativity will feel safe enough to emerge and get to work. Setting aside time to think regularly can be a good way to train your mind to relax, eventually making this set time a safe haven for your tortoise mind to start putting together connections that could turn into ideas.

Find a creative space

Setting aside time regularly sends a signal to your brain that it’s safe to work on creative ideas. Finding a particular space to be creative in can help, too.

This is similar to the research on how the temperature and noise around us affects our creativity.

LET YOUR BRAIN DO THE WORK

This may be one of the hardest, yet most important parts of the process of producing ideas. I think James Webb Young says it best:

Drop the whole subject and put it out of your mind and let your subconscious do its thing.

Something  else John Cleese talks about is how beneficial it can be to “sleep on a problem.” He recalls observing a dramatic change in his approach to a creative problem after having left it alone. He not only awoke with a perfectly clear idea on how to continue his work, but the problem itself was no longer apparent.

The trick here is to trust enough to let go.

As we engage our conscious minds in other tasks, like sleeping or taking a shower, our subconscious can go to work on finding relationships in all the data we’ve collected so far.

The Aha moment
James Webb Young explains the process of producing ideas in stages. Once we’ve completed the first three, which include gathering material and letting our subconscious process the data and find connections, he says we’ll come to an “Aha!” moment, when a great idea hits us:

It will come to you when you are least expecting it–while shaving, or bathing, or most often when you are half awake in the morning. It may waken you in the middle of the night.

How To Have More Great Ideas

Understanding the process our brains go through to produce ideas can help us to replicate this, but there are a few things we can do to nudge ourselves towards having better ideas, too.

Criticise your ideas–don’t accept them immediately

The final stage of James’s explanation of idea production is to criticize your ideas:

Do not make the mistake of holding your idea close to your chest at this stage. Submit it to the criticism of the judicious.

James says this will help you to expand on the idea and uncover possibilities you might have otherwise overlooked.

Here it’s especially important to know whether you’re introverted or extroverted to criticize your ideas from the right perspective.

Overwhelm your brain–it can handle it

Surprisingly, you can actually hit your brain with more than it can handle and it will step up to the task.

Robert Epstein explained in a Psychology Today article how challenging situations can bring out our creativity. Even if you don’t succeed at whatever you’re doing, you’ll wake up the creative areas of your brain and they’ll perform better after the failed task, to compensate.

Have more bad ideas to have more good ones

It turns out that having a lot of bad ideas also means you’ll have a lot of good ideas. Studies have proved this at both MIT and the University of California Davis.

The sheer volume of ideas produced by some people means that they can’t help having lots of bad ones, but they’re likely to have more good ones, as well…

Link to read the full original article

photo credit: liquidnight via photopin cc

photo credit: liquidnight via photopin cc

What If Performance Management Focused On Strengths?

Marcus Buckingham writes

In previous posts I praised Microsoft’s rejection of individual performance ratings as the building block for an effective performance management system, and described why rating people on a list of competencies is a flawed method for improving their performance.

Obviously we need a new system. And what can we say about the new system that would serve us better? Well, the specifics of the system will depend on the company, but we do know that it must have the following six characteristics, each of which follows logically from the one preceding.

First, it must be a real-time system that helps managers give “in the moment” coaching and course-correcting. The world we live in is unnervingly dynamic, where we are on one team one week and another the next, where goals that were fresh and exciting at the beginning of Q1 are irrelevant by the third week of Q1, and where the necessary skills, relationships, and even strategies have to be constantly recalibrated. In this real-time world, batched performance reviews delivered once or twice a year are obsolete before we’ve even sat down to write them.

We need much more frequent check-ins—weekly or, at most, monthly. Luckily, we now live in a world where most of us are armed with a device that knows exactly who we are, and into which we can record pretty much anything we want. This device—your mobile phone—will enable you, the employee, to input what you are doing this week and what help you need; and, because it knows you, it will be able to serve up to your manager coaching tips, insights, and prompts customized to your particular set of strengths and skills.

Second, it must be a system with a super light touch. If we expect our employees to share their weekly or monthly focus, and if we expect our managers to react to and adjust this focus as needed, then there can be no complicated forms to complete, no narrative sections requiring writing wizards to supply the right words, no conversation guides, no input required from a requisite number of peers. None of that. For this performance system to be as agile as it needs to be, it must be wonderfully simple. Just two questions answered by the employee—”What are you going to get done this week? And what help do you need from me?”—and a chance for the manager to speak into these answers. Counter-intuitively, the simpler the form, the richer the coaching.

Third, it must feel to the individual employee that it is a system “about me, designed for me.” Even if it is light-touch, managers will reject any real-time system that they have to initiate. Instead, the employee has to be the one to drive it. And the only way to achieve this is to make its starting point and ongoing focus: me, my strengths, where I am at my best, and how I can get better. At present, we don’t do this very well at all. For example, most companies’ employee profile pages are clearly a company tool and not a “me” tool, and as such are updated infrequently and inauthentically, and wind up reading like a computer-generated resume.

With a little creativity, there is every reason to believe that we can design for each employee a place to positively present her strengths, her skills, her accomplishments and her aspirations. Although current “profiles” are clinical, superficial, and out of date, it is entirely in the company’s interest that they not stay this way.

And besides, given that we live in a world where we expect all content, from our news, to our entertainment, to our healthcare, to be aware of our individual needs and desires, this “start with me” positioning is the least we will expect.

Fourth, and crucially, it must be a strengths-based system. Current systems are explicitly remedial, built on the belief that to help people get better you must measure them against a series of competency bars, point out where they fall short, and then challenge them to jump higher. While this feels practical, and rigorous – even “tough” – it is also depressingly inefficient. Although we label weaknesses “areas of opportunity,” brain science reveals that we do not learn and grow the most in our areas of weakness. In fact the opposite is true: we grow the most new synapses in those areas of our brain where we have the most pre-existing synapses. Our strengths, therefore, are our true areas of opportunity for growth.

More to the point, if we want employees to take responsibility for their own performance and development, what better place to start than with their particular strengths? The new performance system must find myriad ways to challenge employees to contribute their strengths more intelligently over time. (To be clear, this does not mean ignoring my weaknesses. It simply means acknowledging that my weaknesses are actually my “areas of least opportunity for growth.”)

Fifth, it must be a system focused on the future. Our current systems are fixated on feedback about the past. You are asked to write a review on yourself, then your manager writes his review. Often he will be required to sit with his peers to calibrate your review with others at your level; sometimes even your peers will be called upon to share their insights about your personality and performance. Your manager will be trained on how to deliver this feedback to you so that you will see it as “developmental” rather than overly “critical.”

The new performance system will dispense with all of this – on one level, simply because these feedback systems are plagued by a terrible signal-to-noise ratio. Managers are, and will always be, highly subjective providers of feedback; peer feedback when anonymous is just gossip, and when public is sugarcoated; your own self-ratings are more than likely generously distorted; and calibration sessions merely turn up the volume on the noise.

On another level, though, better performance management dispenses with all this because future-focused coaching is demonstrably a better use of time than past-focused feedback. To accelerate my performance tomorrow, don’t try to grade my personality with feedback from all sides—it will always be hard to give, hard to receive, and net a disproportionately small performance return. Instead, coach me on the few specific work-related activities that I could usefully add to my strengths repertoire tomorrow. Or tell me what skills I should go acquire next week. Or advise me which specific contacts I should seek out next month. None of these will necessarily be easy for me to do, but at least they will be something that I can do. They are in the future. In the new performance system, this is where most of our time and creativity will be focused.

Finally, it must be a local system. Current performance management systems are centralized. Their express purpose is to cascade the defined company strategies and values down through all levels. First, this flies in the face of the previous characteristics. Worse:  a fixed, cascaded strategy prevents the company from being agile (even if, ironically, one of the company values is “agility”); I care a great deal more about my own success and strengths than I do about “alignment”; and allocating each of my goals to one of the company’s values or strategies is inevitably both heavy-handed and retroactive. Any company with the courage to mine its HCM data will discover that many of us end up shoehorning our goals into one of the company’s categories only after the goals have been completed.

But more significantly, most of the company’s best intelligence about the future of its products, people, and customers can be found in each local team. So in place of cascading down, the new performance system must be designed to capture this local intelligence, and then aggregate it up. Goals should be set at the team level and aggregated up; compensation should be allocated by local leaders and then aggregated up; employee opinion surveys should be triggered by the local team leader and aggregated up. Only then will the company be agile enough to stay relevant.

So, that’s a blueprint for a better system. Lighter, more creative, more flexible, strengths-based, and ultimately more human – with current technologies available to you so you can start designing your version of this within your company.

And, frankly, you can do this even before your HR department has retired your existing human capital management system. Current systems are thankfully so infrequent, and a strengths-based system so light-touch, that the two can coexist for a while before the two start to get in each other’s way. With luck, by that time, HR will have taken a hard look at the performance of the old HCM system, and it will be on its way out.

Link to read the original article

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photo credit: . SantiMB . via photopin cc

Happy Cities, The Chapman Brothers and Gandhi (Arts & Ideas, Radio 4)

The first 16 minutes of this broadcast involves a discussion of what makes a happy city including Charles Montgomery, author of Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design, who we featured a story on in a previous post…

Rana Mitter looks forward to an Age of the Happy City with innovative urban scholar, Richard Burdett, and journalist and urban experimentalist, Charles Montgomery. What can Rio de Janeiro teach Mumbai or Copenhagen teach Vancouver or Bogota have to say to Shanghai? Why should density replace sprawl? Can planning bridge the gap between efficiency and sociability? The world is witnessing unprecedented urban growth; fifty three per cent of us live in cities today – heading towards seventy per cent by the middle of the century. The form these new and growing cities take will have a huge effect on global resources and the living conditions of billions of people.

Link to read Susan Perry’s article about Charles Montgomery: Cities, Cars, Cycling – and Human Happiness

photo credit: striatic via photopin cc

photo credit: striatic via photopin cc

Debunking the Myth of Happiness

Kevin Roberts writes…

…People think that as we achieve our hopes and dreams, somehow our daily problems, annoyances, disappointments, and anxieties will magically disappear. Unfortunately the truth is not so utopian. Negative emotions and experiences can affect our daily lives, and despite having it all, even the “stars” among us are subject to depression and disappointment at times.

In his new book Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm and Confidence, neuropsychologist at Berkeley University, Dr. Rick Hanson, contends that this phenomenon can be explained.

Hanson’s evidence is drawn from the biology of human survival. He describes how our neural pathways are constructed to activate on negative emotions with greater intensity than positive ones. In other words, evolution has driven us to respond more strongly to predators and environmental threats than when we experience something pleasant. With this understanding, it makes it more difficult to create permanent neural pathways for our positive experiences, thus this dilemma with achieving lifelong happiness.

So how can we navigate life without melancholia, considering our own minds afflict the pursuit of happiness?

The answer is not simply positive thinking, but rather the pervasive adoption of radical optimism. I have used the phrase “radical optimism” for years, meaning we must go beyond simply a positive disposition and commit to a program of action and activities that continuously put oneself into a good space, and avoiding negative ones. The truth is that it is possible to harness our biology, since the desire for long term happiness is also part of who we are.

Simply stating that you are an optimistic person does not induce true psychological and physiological change. One must internalize that sense of self that meets our three core needs “safety, satisfaction, and connection”. True change takes persistent radicalism and constant optimism. It takes the will to lift your head up, look around and realize that happiness and success are ALWAYS within your control.

Although the molecular make-up of the brain and the chemical reactions that determine neural pathways are complicated, sometimes something as simple as a fast walk around the block will do you wonders!

Link to read the original article

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Podcast #075: My Top Productivity Hacks

by Michael Hyatt

…I love the topic of productivity. I collect productivity hacks like some people collect stamps. I am always looking for the edge that will make me more efficient and, even more importantly, more effective.

Based on my recent 2013 Reader Survey, 75 percent of my readers want more productivity content. So here are my top ten favorite productivity hacks of all time, in no particular order:

  1. Eliminate online distractions.
  2. Schedule time alone.
  3. Batch similar tasks together.
  4. Identify your must-dos.
  5. Eliminate, automate, delegate.
  6. Hire virtual assistants.
  7. Invest in coaching.
  8. Acquire better tools.
  9. Get better at saying “no.”
  10. Use templates for everything.

Link to hear the podcast and the links to resources linked to this list of tips

photo credit: Akshay Charegaonkar via photopin cc

photo credit: Akshay Charegaonkar via photopin cc

6 Ways To Banish End-of-Year Stress At The Office

Judy Martin writes…

The festivities have begun, but the merrier trimmings won’t likely override the underlying state of the workforce. A Gallup poll this year found that 70% of the workforce was either disengaged or miserable. An uncertain labor market, work overload, and nudging thoughts about career advancement are enough to have you thinking about jumping on the next sleigh away from the office.

Generally, we all get a bit sensitive with more work-life conflict during the holidays. But workplace stressors like year-end deadlines, office politics, and expectations from the corner office can burn you out and make your eggnog go sour.

While taking it in stride, here are six tools to bring you comfort and joy this time of year, making your workplace holiday experience a little more manageable.

1. Don’t Take Anything Personally

For many people, the holidays can be tough. Old memories or wounds tend to surface, some miss loved ones, and December acts as a reminder of yet another year gone by. Unless you’re a mind reader, you won’t know what’s going on with your colleagues in any given moment, and it’s unrealistic to try to figure it out. Instead, it’s extra important to give people the benefit of the doubt this time of year—accepting that they may be more stressed or pained than usual, and trying your best not to jump into defensive mode if someone lashes out at you.

That’s not to say you should be a doormat. But consider the source before taking things to heart.

2. Determine What Can Wait

With year-end reviews and deadlines on the horizon, we often spend the end of the year stressing over finishing last-minute reports, wrapping up back-burner projects, and squeezing in just one more meeting before the holidays—knowing full well in the back of our minds that it’s not all going to get done.

This year, try this: With any item on your to-do list, ask yourself, “Is it a high-level priority that will impact my good standing at work—or can it wait?” For those second-tier projects, approach your manager with a few solutions, as well as more reasonable timelines in which you can get them done. 

3. Practice a Growth Mindset

Whether you’re dealing with a difficult colleague or wondering how to approach a problem at work, positive psychology research smiles upon working through the lens of a “growth mindset,” which opens your mind toward reframing thoughts that make you feel stuck. For example, think of a colleague you’ve perceived as indifferent, difficult, or just set in his ways. Rather than concentrating on his faults or judging him, try focusing more on learning new ways to work with him.

By using a more curious approach, you’ll persist in the face of setbacks, learn from feedback, embrace challenges, and realize your effort can help you achieve more successful results—all of which creates positive emotions that can help reduce your year-end stress.

4. Use Breath as a Daily Stress-Busting Ritual

Incorporating regular deep breathing into your daily routine is the cheapest, easiest way possible to foster a sense of calm throughout your workday. Try setting your phone alarm twice a day for a breathing break (preferably, late morning and late afternoon). Take three deep breaths into the pit of your belly, evenly inhaling to a count of three, holding for a moment, and exhaling to a count of three. Do two rounds of that. Then on a third round, double the length of your exhalation, which triggers a physical relaxation response. Try it—and see how much better you feel about the task at hand afterward.

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5. Find Moments of Solitude

It’s almost counterintuitive to imagine that the office can be a respite from the holiday bustle, but finding small ways to take a break throughout the day can really help your sanity this time of year. Take a walk, listen to some music for a few minutes—or if you can—just close your door for some quiet time. You could even try working in a conference room or telecommuting for a day or two.

If it’s hard to take a break throughout the day, place a small trinket on your desk that reminds you to shift your mind to a calmer place, or display a family picture on your desk to help you remember the good people around you.

6. Savor Positive Experiences at Work

The end of the year is always a good time to reflect, so take time to look back on the better moments from the last year at work. Were there projects that you influenced in a profitable or creative way? Were there relationships that enhanced your working experience?

Even if you don’t particularly like your job, writing a list of the good points associated with your position can enhance your skills of gratitude and positive thinking. In fact, research shows such behavior helps to activate the feel-good neurotransmitters of oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine in your brain. This then triggers your parasympathetic nervous system, which helps to reduce stress.

Don’t let troubles at the office get in the way of enjoying the holiday season. By proactively managing your work stress, you’ll finish the year—and start the new one—in an all-around happier place…

Link to read the original article

Give and Take with Adam Grant

Professor Adam Grant talks about a revolutionary new approach to success in business and in life at an Action for Happiness event in London on 19 May 2013.

Acts of Kindness Advent Calendar

Here’s a lovely way to approach Christmas, each day helping to make your world a happier place – and yourself happier and probably more productive along the way too…

Link to the Acts of Kindness Advent Calendar

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Happiness At Work Collection #75

All of these stories and many more are in this week’s new Happiness At Work collection , out from Friday morning (GMT)

I hope you find much to here to enjoy…

Happiness At Work #68 ~ the power of the positive and learning from success

photo credit: blinkingidiot via photopin cc

photo credit: blinkingidiot via photopin cc

This week we New Zealand folk are in celebratory mood.

Eleanor Catton has won the Man Booker 2013 Prize with her second novel, The Luminaries.  

And we have still more reason to be proud as the New Zealand government officially  recognises the two largest islands of our country with both their European and their Maori names:

New Zealand forgot to name its main islands

Maori names get equal status as country corrects long-standing failure to make North and South Island names official

Eight hundred years after the Maori first arrived in Aotearoa (New Zealand), and 370 years after Europeans spied its shores, the South Pacific nation’s major land masses will finally get official names.

For generations, the two main islands have been called the North Island and the South Island. They have also appeared that way on maps and charts. But in recent years, officials discovered an oversight: the islands had never been formally assigned the monikers.

Last Thursday, the land information minister, Maurice Williamson, announced that the North Island and South Island names would become official, effective this week. Equal status will be given to the alternate Maori names: Te Ika-a-Maui (“the fish of Maui”) for the North and Te Waipounamu (“the waters of greenstone”) for the South.

I am continuing and extending this theme of celebration into the new Happiness At Work Edition #68 collection.

This week we are highlighting the power of the positive and the importance of being able to harness positivity for our resilience and happiness.  And, in the best spirit of Appreciative Inquiry, we are also headlining success stories from a variety of real life contexts to explore and uncover some the the things we can learn about how to live well, overcome challenge and difficulty, and build towards a more flourishing life.

In this post you will find stories about the science and latest research into why positivity matters and how best to tap into its minerals.  These include
photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

And you will find a whole number of success stories and the lessons that we might all draw from these experiences.  We feature Eleanor Catton and her ideas about the difference between value (gold, selling) and worth (greenstone, giving).
We celebrate, too, the announcement of 24 year old Londoner, Kenyan-born Somali poet Warsan Shire as the very first Young Poet Laureate for London appointment:
Other success stories include 
You will also find stories about its opposite – negativity – and why this, too, is an important part of the material we need to build our happiness and resilience from. Less happy stories worth paying attention to include
photo credit: Spencer Finnley via photopin cc

photo credit: Spencer Finnley via photopin cc

21st century ideas include
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photo credit: dpup via photopin cc

Practical tips and techniques this week include
photo credit: EmsiProduction via photopin cc

photo credit: EmsiProduction via photopin cc

Barbara Fredrickson: Positive Emotions Open Our Minds

Some of the research findings that Barbara Fredrickson talks about in this video are:

Positivity Opens Us – we can see more…

Feeling positive in increases our likelihood of stepping back and seeing the bigger picture…

Feeling positive widens the field for what we scan and look for…

Because we see more more, we see more possibilities…

People are more likely to be resilient and bounce back quicker from adversity when they feel positive emotions…

Positive emotions help students achieve better exam results… And doctors make better diagnoses…

At a very fundamental level we are able to see larger systems, see larger forms of interconnection when we are experiencing positive emotion.  And that can make a huge difference when we’re trying to address some of the really entangled societal problems that we face.

There is a way of breathing that is a shame and suffocation.  

And there’s another way of expiring, a love-breath that lets you open infinitely.” – Rumi

photo credit: DeaPeaJay via photopin cc

photo credit: DeaPeaJay via photopin cc

Barbara Fredrickson: The Positive Ratio

A ratio of positive emotions of above three to one seems to make the tipping point that will help to determine your odds or languishing or flourishing…

We need at least three heartfelt emotions for every heart-wrenching emotion that we need to endure.  A ratio of 3 to 1 allows for the whole myriad of human emotions.  This is not about 3 to 0, it is not about eliminating all negative emotions…

Here’s my advice.  If you make your model “Be positive” it actually backfires.  That leads to a toxic insincerity that’s shown to be corrosive to our own bodies, cardiovascularly.  It’s known to be toxic interpersonally  … we all know that person who tries to pump sunshine a little too much, and the biggest danger of positive psychology is that people come out of it with this hyper-zeal to be positive and it’s not genuine.  But there would be no counterfeit gold – those yellow smiley faces – if there no real gold somewhere.

A sail boat metaphor fits here really well.  Rising from the sail boat is that enormous mast that allows the boat to catch the wind and gives the boat momentum.  But below the waterline is the keel, which can weigh tons.  You can take the mast going up as positivity and the keel down below as negativity.  Even though it is the mast that holds the sail, you can’t sail without the keel.  The boat would just drift around or fall over or worse yet, turtle.  And the negativity, the keel, is what allows the oat to stay on course and manageable.  … And when the keel matters most is when you’re sailing upwind, when you’re facing difficulty.  Experiencing and expressing negative emotions really is part of the process of flourishing…

photo credit: Today is a good day via photopin cc

photo credit: Today is a good day via photopin cc

One of the things it is helpful is to know is the causality of how lightly creating the mindset of positive emotions makes positive emotions follow.  Create the mindset of positivity by being:

  • Open
  • Appreciative
  • Curious
  • Kind

and above all being:

  • Real and Sincere

Another thing that can really useful is to step on the scale regularly and track your positive ratio, just as a mindfulness tool.  You can do this via a 2minute test on Barbara Fredrickson’s Positivity website to figure out what your positivity ratio is for this day.  Knowing one day’s ratio may not give you much information, but if you take this short test every day for two weeks you can probably get a sense of what your life is like right now…

This is a way of keeping track of your daily emotional diet so you can progress your wellbeing goals.  Begin by asking:

  • When have you felt this emotion, clearly, deeply?
  • What triggered that emotion?
  • When was the last time you felt it?
  • Where were you?
  • What were you doing?
  • What was happening?

And our Appreciative Inquiry practice would suggest another question: How could you take any of these conditions into something that is not so happy for you?

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.  He said, ‘My son, the battle is between two wolves.  On is Negativity.  It’s anger, sadness, stress, contempt, disgust, fear, embarrassment, guilt, shame,  and hate.  The other is Positivity.  It’s joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe and, above all, love.’

“Which wolf wins?”

“The one you feed.”

photo credit: ucumari via photopin cc

photo credit: ucumari via photopin cc

Updated Thinking on Positive Ratios

In this extract from a July 2013 paper in American Psychologist,, Barabra Fredrickson backs up and furthers her ideas against more recent research:

Even when scrubbed of Losada’s now-questioned mathematical modeling, ample evidence continues to support the conclusion that, within bounds, higher positivity ratios are predictive of flourishing mental health and other beneficial outcomes. …

The Role of Positivity in Human Flourishing

…To flourish has become an increasingly popular goal among those interesting in applying the fruits of positive psychology. Loosely speaking, I have described human flourishing as being beyond hap- piness in that it encompasses both feeling good and doing good (Fredrickson, 2009). …

Following ancient philosophies articulated by Aristotle and others, hedonic well-being captures individuals’ global satisfaction with life alongside their pleasant affect, whereas eudaimonic well-being encompasses their sense of purpose and meaning as well as their resilience and social integration. In the article with Losada, we further specified this “feel good plus do good” definition by opening with “To flourish means to live within an optimal range of human functioning, one that connotes goodness, generativity, growth, and resilience” (Fredrickson & Losada, 2005, p. 678). …

Feeling good, however, does more than simply reflect the presence of human flourishing. From the perspective of the broaden-and-build theory, positivity takes on a far more vital role with respect to human flourishing. Beyond being one dimension of flourishing, positive emotions have also been found to promote the development and maintenance of flourishing.

…Daily experiences of positive emotions forecast and produce growth in personal resources such as competence (e.g., environmental mastery), meaning (e.g., purpose in life), optimism (e.g., pathways thinking), resilience, self-acceptance, positive relationships, as well as physical health. In other words, feeling good does not simply sit side by side with optimal functioning as an indicator of flourishing;

feeling good drives optimal function by building the enduring personal resources upon which people draw to navigate life’s journey with greater success. 

Further evidence that positive emotions are a key active ingredient in flourishing mental health comes from a detailed unpacking of a Tuesday in the life of flourishing individuals, in comparison to a Tuesday in the life of those not flourishing and to a Tuesday for those identified as depressed (Catalino & Fredrickson, 2011). Using the Day Reconstruction Method … our results showed that relative to those who do not flourish or who are depressed, people who flourish experience bigger “boosts” in positivity in response to routine daily events such as helping another person, interacting with others, playing, learning, and engaging in spiritual activity. Moreover, flourishers’ greater positive emotional reactivity, over time, predicted their growth in resources. In turn, flourishers’ greater growth in resources predicted their higher levels of flourishing symptoms at the end of the study (controlling for initial levels of flourishing). We uncovered virtually no differences between flourishers and others in the degree of negative emotions experienced on the targeted Tuesdays. We also uncovered surprisingly few differences between depressed people and non flourishers…

This pattern of results suggests that human flourishing is nourished by small, yet consequential, individual differences in positive emotional experiences in response to pleasant everyday events. Flourishers don’t simply “feel good and do good.” Rather they do good by feeling good. So, just as greater negative emotional sensitivity has been found to seed and maintain depression, a phenomenon called negative potentiation, a parallel positive potentiation process appears to seed and maintain the beneficial—yet all too rare—state of human flourishing (Catalino & Fredrick- son, 2011).

The Effects of Too Much Positivity 

Within the spectrum of normative emotional experience, the notion that excessive positivity might be harmful is consistent with the long-standing evidence that life satisfaction is better predicted by the frequency rather than the intensity of a person’s positive emotions (Diener, Sandvik, & Pavot, 1991) and that by far the most frequently experienced positive emotions are the mild and moderate ones. Whereas increasing levels of positive emotions bring benefits up to a point, extremely high levels of positive emo- tion carry costs that begin to outweigh these benefits.  …It bears noting, however, that some researchers do not find signs of dysfunction at very high levels of happiness (e.g., E. T. Friedman, Schwartz, & Haaga, 2002). …

The Value of Positivity Ratios

… Considerable evidence indeed undergirds the claim that when it comes to positivity ratios, within bounds, higher is better. … and … we suggested that a second tipping point, at positivity ratios of about 11:1, might be associated with a downturn in flourishing. Although we did not have data suitable for testing this second tipping point, we noted that such a phenomenon was consistent with the then emerging ideas that (a) problems can occur with too much positivity and (b) appropriate negativity plays an important role in human flourishing.

…One available cross-sectional study examined the effects of positivity ratios on creativity in a sample of 595 retail employees in Portugal (Rego, Sousa, Marques, & Cunha, 2012). The researchers found the classic inverted-U relation between positivity ratios (based on employee self-reports) and employee creativity (based on supervisor ratings). Higher positivity ratios predicted greater creativity up to a point, beyond which creativity took a downturn. The optimal positivity ratio for creativity in this sample was found to be 3.6:1 (Rego et al., 2012). Drawing on theorizing by Oishi and colleagues (2007), which suggested that “ultrahappy” employees may become complacent toward problems and opportunities, Rego and colleagues (2012, p. 265) concluded that a “modest level of negative affect, if combined with high levels of positive affect, may help to generate creativity,”  …

In sum, then, the claim that flourishing mental health is associated with higher positivity ratios than is non flourishing remains unchallenged. Indeed, positive potentiation—the ability of certain people to extract more positive emotions out of common, everyday events—a process evidently unique to flourishers (Catalino & Fredrickson, 2011), could well account for the differential positivity ratios between flourishers and nonflourishers. Descriptively, this means that striving to raise one’s positivity ratio from a low level to a moderately high level in hopes of attaining flourishing mental health remains a reasonable and healthy goal.  …

Concluding Thoughts

As Brown and colleagues (2013) highlighted, my book Positivity (Fredrickson, 2009), written for a wide readership, made considerable use of the ideas presented in my 2005 AP article with Losada (Fredrickson & Losada, 2005). Even for this audience, however, I took precautions not to present the ratio as an unquestionable fact. “Science is never complete,” I wrote. “The stakes in terms of human welfare are too high for me to rest easy in the belief that clever theory or fancy math alone can provide the answers” (Fredrickson, 2009, p. 138).  …

[But] the data say that when considering positive emotions, more is better, up to a point, although this latter caution may be limited to self-focused positive emotions. The data also say that when considering negative emotions, less is better, down to a point.

Negativity can either promote healthy functioning or kill it, depending on its contextual appropriateness and dosage relative to positive emotions.  …

photo credit: Bennyboy218 via photopin cc

photo credit: Bennyboy218 via photopin cc

Business Success: Don’t Worry, Be Happy

by 

When I was growing up, any time I was anxious about something, my dad would say, “Don’t let worry in. Worry is the thief of joy.” My mom always used to tell me, “Honey, will this matter in five years? If not, then it doesn’t really matter now.” It was good advice,  and I find myself saying the same things to my own kids. You probably say them to your kids. But like many things, not giving in to worry is much easier said than done.

In today’s Business Success column, Jude Bijou, author of the award-winning book is Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life, offers some great advice on not succumbing to worry — along with it common companions, stress and frustration — at work, with seven simple steps.

7 Ways to Improve Your Mood at Work

 Our job is where we spend the majority of our waking hours, and where stress, worry, and frustration can easily impede our performance, productivity, and workplace relationships. Here are 7 easy ways to stay upbeat and positive, and to flip bad moods into good ones quickly and effectively.

1. Stop “what-iffing” and “deadlining.”

“What-iffing” is when your thoughts are fixated on the past–what you did wrong in the meeting, or why you got passed up for the promotion. “Deadlining” is when your thoughts are focused on the future–worrying about the project that has to get done or wondering how the client will react to your presentation. Unhappiness is caused by thinking about the past or the future. When you’re completely “in the now,” you can’t be unhappy. Stop what you’re doing, take some breaths, and just “be.” …

2. Drown out negative chatter.

Counteract an unhappy thought with a positive statement that’s irrefutable and 100% true. The negative chatter that goes on inside our head is untrue and based on false assumptions derived from anger, sadness, and fear. You can interrupt thoughts by finding a statement that’s true and repeating it over and over until you feel better. For example, instead of “I’ll never get all of this done in time,” you can say “I’ll do what I can.” If you can find a contradictory statement to repeat that’s 100% true, it will change your mood.

 3. Be grateful, not grumpy.

Think of something you’re grateful for. This simple technique really works wonders. The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, depleted, or unhappy at work, simply close your eyes and think hard about one thing that makes you happy. … You can’t think about something you’re grateful for and something you’re unhappy about at the same time.

 4. Say NO! to “trash thinking.”

Trash thinking is like trash talking. It’s putting yourself or someone else down. Most of us are aware of when we’re thinking mean thoughts about a coworker, client, or employee, or when we’re being hypercritical about ourselves. The first step is to be aware. The second step is to say “no.” You can even say it out loud at a good volume: “NO!” Find a private space and stomp around the room and yell it. Pretty soon you’ll be smiling again. Probably even laughing!

 5. Be the “happy one” at work.

Moods are contagious, and when you become known at work for being ridiculously, unstoppably upbeat, people will begin to smile before you even open your mouth. You can avoid the common squabbles and doldrums employees and bosses suffer simply by smiling a lot at the beginning of your day and saying out loud, “What a gorgeous day for data entry,” or “Isn’t it nice to be employed?” People will love to work with you because you’re happy. What they don’t know is that you’re making yourself happy too!

 6. Just get over it.

Practice accepting what is. When we stop expecting people and situations to be different than they are, we’re instantaneously less frustrated and more able to look within to decide what we want or need to do currently. Remind yourself, “People and things are the way they are, not the way I want them to be.” If you can get over your frustration that things aren’t the way you want them to be, you will enjoy yourself more and maybe even learn a new way of approaching a problem.

 7. Wear someone else’s shoes.

Instead of being self-absorbed, it’s a great practice to suspend your own position and just listen in order to understand where someone else is coming from. You don’t have to agree, but listening well is the ultimate in giving and will bring you feelings of connection and love. Happiness at work comes when we have a sense of fellow feeling with our coworkers–that we’re all in this together, and we have each others’ backs.

 Want to find out more about the attitudes and emotions that dominate your character and may be sabotaging your business success or happiness at work? Take a quick self-quiz here, and then try the coping strategies designed to address them.

Link to read the original article

Man Booker Prize: Eleanor Catton becomes youngest winner with The Luminaries

By Tim Masters

One of the themes in her book that she  draws up in her acceptance speech and talks about in her Today Programme interview is of the difference between value and worth.  The West Coast of New Zealand’s south island – as of this week now also officially recognised by its Maori name Te Waipounamu (“the waters of greenstone”) – lured the Europeans for the high value of its gold, which is made in the price it commands as a currency that is bought and sold, and attracted the Maoris for the worth of its pounamu (“greenstone”), which can only be given.

In this interview Catton says:

.A worth-based economy and a value-based economy are two very different things in that value is conferred in the act of spending, whereas worth is conferred in the act of giving…

There’s a line in the first part of the book that says ‘Every man has his currency…”

..the central myth of a gold-rush is that you could turn up and quite literally pluck your fortune off the ground and, in so doing, completely remake yourself is such an intoxicating idea…

The New Zealand Herald coverage of this story reported:

In accepting the award, Catton said her book was “a publisher’s nightmare.”

She said she was very aware of the pressures on contemporary publishing to make money.

“It is no small thing that my primary publishers … never once made those pressures known to me while I was writing this book,” she said.

“I was free throughout to concern myself not of questions of value, but of worth.”

Robert Macfarlane, chair of the judges, says of this book:

This is a luminous novel.  It is a dazzling novel.  It is vast without being spiralling, it is intricate without being fussy, it is experimental while also giving us the extraordinary pleasures of storytelling and immersion in its world.  It’s about greed and gold and what we value.  And what we value, it turns out, is love.”

Link to read the original article, see the BBC news report about her win, and hear Eleanor Catton talk about her themes in the BBC Radio 4 audio clip of her interview or The Today programme the morning after winning the prize

photo credit: geoftheref via photopin cc

photo credit: geoftheref via photopin cc

As a footnote, it is worth hearing both MacFarlane’s and Catton’s Man Booker 2013 night speeches:  MacFarland for a masterclass in how to speak extemporaneously and give meaningful believable praise, and Catton for a softly brilliant display of speaking with a soft voice that nevertheless conveys great impact and authority.

Eleanor Catton: ‘Male writers get asked what they think, women what they feel’

In a Guardian coverage of this story, Charlotte Higgins describes meeting Catton the morning after her win as ‘a person who radiates immense self-possession and quiet authority‘, reporting:

When the [announcement] came , the TV cameras showed a face as still as a marble sculpture, pinned into immobility by shock. Then she dove into her handbag and rootled through it until she found her acceptance speech, which she delivered in a clear but tremulous voice. “The superstitious part of me didn’t want to make the speech too easy to find,” she explains. “At the same time I knew I’d never be able to relax if I hadn’t prepared something. At times of emotional intensity I need a script.”

…With the prize also comes that mixed blessing, fame, and she’s already bothered by the uneven treatment accorded to men and women in the public eye.”I have observed that male writers tend to get asked what they think and women what they feel,” she says. “In my experience, and that of a lot of other women writers, all of the questions coming at them from interviewers tend to be about how lucky they are to be where they are – about luck and identity and how the idea struck them. The interviews much more seldom engage with the woman as a serious thinker, a philosopher, as a person with preoccupations that are going to sustain them for their lifetime.”

[Catton says about] the ideas of the book. “The paradox is,” she says, “the relationship between, on the one hand, the characters being the masters of their fates, and on the other hand that being predetermined.” She talks of the astrological structure as being akin to a structure a composer might work within, and mentions her interest in the book Gödel Escher Bach, which explores patterns and systems in the work of the mathematician, artist and composer.

“One of the most baffling things is when people assume that when something is structurally ornate it is less human than something that is not structurally ornate,” she says. “That puzzles me – I feel as a person the most alive and human and full of wonder when I am contemplating complexities. The ability of humans to read meaning into patterns is the most defining characteristic we have.”

It’s the seriousness of Catton’s work that strikes you when talking to her – her belief in the novel both as a “builder of empathy” and as a carrier of ideas. When I spoke to one of the Man Booker judges, critic Stuart Kelly, he said that it was her ability to “make the novel think in a way that the novel doesn’t do normally” that set her apart; the way that, for example, she sets astrology and capitalism into play as competing systems of dealing with the world, but at the same time has produced “a rip-roaring read”.

For Catton – the daughter of a philosopher and a librarian – the novel is a tool for thinking with, as well as feeling with…

“What I like about fiction most is that it resists closure and exists, if the reader is willing to engage, as a possible encounter – an encounter that is like meeting a human being.”

Link to read this original article

photo credit: Mad Hatter's Photography via photopin cc

photo credit: Mad Hatter’s Photography via photopin cc

Happiness At Work – What We Can Learn from the Swiss

 writes…

Switzerland’s citizens regularly rank among the world’s happiest, so what makes them so cheerful during their working hours?

…As well as earning more and working less, the OECD also ranks Switzerland highly for the connectivity of its citizens, with 94% of them stating that they know someone they could rely on in a time of crisis. Feeling connected to each other doesn’t just bring happiness in our social lives, but in our working lives too.

In his book, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, author Alain de Botton explains that a job feels meaningful “whenever it allows us to generate delight or alleviate suffering in others.” Unless you’re working in healthcare or as Lindt chocolatier, this might not seem like a daily occurrence, but by bringing a little joy to your colleagues you could also push your own happiness level up to Swiss proportions.

Consulting firm DHW (Delivering Happiness at Work) claims you can bring a smile to your team’s faces by making sure that everyone knows your company’s core values, having an open and accessible CEO and by making sure you tell people when they’re doing a good job.

While shorter hours and a politics-free world might be the dream, if you’re looking to find a little more fulfilment in your workplace you could do worse than just handing out a compliment or two, noticing when a colleague is having a bad day, or simply putting the Swiss into chocolate and sharing it round the office. Who knew being happy was so easy?

Link to the original article

photo credit: tom*quah via photopin cc

photo credit: tom*quah via photopin cc

Turning the Tables on Success

by Adam Grant

In today’s workplace, what goes around comes around faster, sinking takers and propelling givers to the top.

In the old world of work, good guys finished last. “Takers” (those in organizations who put their own interests first) were able to climb to the top of hierarchies and achieve success on the shoulders of “givers” (those who prefer to contribute more than they receive). Throughout much of the 20th century, many organizations were made up of independent silos, where takers could exploit givers without suffering substantial consequences.

But the nature of work has shifted dramatically. Today, more than half of U.S. and European companies organize employees into teams. The rise of matrix structures has required employees to coordinate with a wider range of managers and direct reports. The advent of project-based work means that employees collaborate with an expanded network of colleagues. And high-speed communication and transportation technologies connect people across the globe who would have been strangers in the past. In these collaborative situations, takers stick out. They avoid doing unpleasant tasks and responding to requests for help. Givers, in contrast, are the teammates who volunteer for unpopular projects, share their knowledge and skills, and help out by arriving early or staying late.

After studying workplace dynamics for the past decade, I’ve found that these changes have set the stage for takers to flounder and givers to flourish. In a wide range of fields that span manufacturing, service, and knowledge work, recent research has shown that employees with the highest rates of promotion to supervisory and leadership roles exhibit the characteristics of givers—helping colleagues solve problems and manage heavy workloads. Takers, who put their own agenda first, are far less likely to climb the corporate ladder.

The fall of takers and the rise of givers hinges on a third group, whom I call “matchers.” Matchers hover in the middle of the give-and-take spectrum, motivated by a deep-seated desire for fairness and reciprocity. They keep track of exchanges and trade favors back and forth to keep their balance sheet at zero, believing that what goes around ought to come around. Because of their fervent belief in an eye for an eye, matchers become the engine that sinks takers to the bottom and propels givers to the top.

Takers violate matchers’ belief in a just world. When matchers witness takers exploiting others, they aim to even the score by imposing a tax. For example, matchers spread negative reputational information to colleagues who might otherwise be vulnerable, preventing takers from getting away with self-serving actions in the future. On the flip side, most matchers can’t stand to see generous acts go unrewarded. When they see a giver putting others first, matchers go out of their way to dole out a bonus, in the form of compensation, recognition, or recommendations for promotions. Of course, these responses aren’t limited to matchers. Givers, too, are motivated to punish takers and reward fellow givers. But I’ve found that in the workplace, the majority of people are matchers, which means that they are the ones who end up dispensing the most taker taxes and giver bonuses. In an interdependent, interconnected business environment, what goes around comes around faster than it used to.

At Google, for example, an engineer named Brian received eight bonuses in the span of a single year, including three in just one month. He volunteered his time to train new hires and help members of multiple cross-functional teams learn new technologies, and his peers and managers responded like matchers, granting him additional pay and recognition. Consistent with Brian’s experience at Google, a wealth of research shows that in teams, givers earn more respect and rewards than do takers and matchers. As Stanford University sociologist Robb Willer notes, “Groups reward individual sacrifice.”

Interdependent work also means that employees will be evaluated and promoted not only on the basis of their individual results, but also in terms of their contributions to others. This reduces the incentives for takers to exploit givers, encouraging them to focus instead on advancing the group’s goals. As a result, takers engage in fewer manipulative acts—which reduces the risks to givers—yet they still contribute less than givers. This allows givers to gain a reputation for being more generous and group-oriented. And a rich body of evidence has shown that these qualities are the basis for sound leadership.

In fact, when givers become leaders, their groups are better off. Research led by Rotterdam School of Management professor Daan van Knippenberg has shown that employees work harder and more effectively for leaders who put others’ interests first. This, again, is a matching response: As van Knippenberg and Claremont Graduate University professor Michael Hogg found, “going the extra mile for the group, making personal sacrifices or taking personal risks on behalf of the group” motivates group members to give back to the leader and contribute to the group’s interests. And a thorough analysis led by Nathan Podsakoff, a professor at the University of Arizona, of more than 3,600 business units across numerous industries showed that the more frequently employees give help and share knowledge, the higher their units’ profits, productivity, customer satisfaction, and employee retention rates.

By contributing to groups, givers are also able to signal their skills. In a study led by researcher Shimul Melwani of UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, members of five dozen teams working on strategic analysis projects rated one another on a range of characteristics and behaviors. At the end of the project, team members reported which of their colleagues had emerged as leaders. The single strongest predictor of leadership was the amount of compassion that members expressed toward others in need. Interestingly, compassionate people were not only viewed as caring; they were also judged as more knowledgeable and intelligent. By expressing concern for others, they sent a message that they had the resources and capabilities to help others.

Today, these signals are ever more visible: Givers are aided by the fact that the anonymity of professional life is vanishing. In the past, when we encountered a job applicant, a potential business partner, or a prospective service provider, we had to rely on references selected by that candidate. When takers burned bridges with one contact, they could eliminate that person from their reference list. But now, online social networks offer a much richer database of references. Odds are that through a quick search of our LinkedIn or Facebook networks, we can find a common connection with knowledge of that person’s reputation. By reaching out to the mutual contact to obtain an independent reference on the candidate’s past behavior, decision makers can screen out takers and favor givers. Of the billion Facebook users around the world, 92 percent are within four degrees of separation—and in most countries, the majority of people are just three degrees apart.

Such tools have made it tough for a taker to hide in the shadows. At Groupon, for example, Howard Lee was heading the South China office, and received a slew of applications for sales jobs. He searched his LinkedIn network for common connections, and located quite a number of them. When he discovered that certain candidates had a history of self-serving behavior, he quickly moved on, focusing his time and energy on candidates with track records as givers.

Taken together, these trends are changing the characteristics that we value in people. Two of the defining qualities of great leaders are the ability to make others better and the willingness to put the group’s interests first. Because givers today add increasing value in leadership roles and interdependent work, hiring processes can be modified to assess which candidates are inclined to contribute more than they receive. For development, promotion, and retention, leaders and managers should focus less on individual skills and talents, and more on the extent to which employees use their skills and talents to lift others up—rather than cutting them down. The employees with the greatest potential to excel and rise will be those whose success reverberates to benefit those around them.

Along with investing in people who are already disposed toward operating like givers, it will be of paramount importance to create practices that nudge employees in the giver direction. In many organizations, owing to their tendencies to claim credit and promote themselves, successful takers are more visible than successful givers. To make sure that employees are aware that it’s possible to be a giver and achieve success, it may be necessary to locate and recognize respected role models who embody an orientation toward others. That way, when what goes around comes around faster than it used to, it will be for the benefit of employees and their organizations.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: MedEvac71 via photopin cc

photo credit: MedEvac71 via photopin cc

Happiness Works – The Happy Planet Index

by Nic Marks

I am often asked about how I came up with the idea of the Happy Planet Index. For those of you who are not familiar with the index it was first released in 2006 by the new economics foundation and is the first global measure of sustainable well-being. The index seeks to capture the tension at the heart of the sustainability agenda – that our pursuit of good lives now is threatening our capacity to lead them in the future.I wanted to create an index which held this tension. One that respected the fact that much of modern life in developed western economies is really rather good. I felt that the environmental movement as whole tended to focus too much on what was wrong and didn’t give enough credit to what was going right. For example life expectancy across the globe has dramatically increased over the last 100 years and continues to do so. In our past, surviving to adulthood was a challenging business – lives were short and brutish.Whilst there have been many huge successes there are also alarm bells ringing….

…But If people are going to start making changes in their lives, happiness has to be introduced into the sustainability debate. The debate must be reframed – instead of focusing on the negative (‘the planet can’t continue like this…’) we need to be thinking in terms of securing and ensuring happy healthy lives for everyone.

This way of thinking enables people to imagine new ways of being that are happier and more sustainable. For example, there has been a growing trend of people who are choosing to occasionally work from home, saving wasted time and energy, and freeing up more time for other activities. Trends like these must be encouraged and extended by the political systems in which we live. How much happier and more sustainable might our lives become if cars were phased out of or limited in city centres, while cycling facilities and clean reliable transit systems were improved. Hundreds of small changes, representing win-wins for people and the planet, can make a real difference.

The business world has a massive role to play in this transition too and a happiness perspective offers an exciting potential alignment of interests. All of us want to do meaningful work and what could be more purposeful than working towards to a better future for us all. So organizations that rise to the sustainability challenge will most likely be rewarded with employees who are highly motivated and engaged.

It is this potential alignment of the purpose of nations with the needs of citizens and businesses that makes me hopeful about the future. The Happy Planet Index seeks to capture this optimism without denying the scale of the challenges.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Adn! via photopin cc

photo credit: Adn! via photopin cc

The top 5 regrets people have on their deathbed

By ,

Ms. Bronnie Ware, a woman who worked for years with the dying, wrote a list of the top 5 regrets people say aloud on their deathbed …

…we’ve supplemented each regret with some rockstar advice on how to not have these regrets in the digital age.

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people have had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.

TNW Advice: …

“Yesterday, I had an epiphany that for the first time in my life, who I am and who I want to be are virtually one in the same. It’s so much more effective to be yourself than to pretend to be something your not because doing the latter is so emotionally taxing, you’ll never be someone that is fully committed. Being yourself pays dividends.”  -Brett Martin, the CEO and Founder of Sonar, a hot new social, location-based mobile application.

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.

This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

TNW Advice: …

…being a Dutch-based company, our roots are in relaxation. We know how to unwind after hard days.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

TNW Advice: 

…We’d like to take this time to remind you that as much as we love living in the virtual world, sometimes a hug, a long chat over a glass of wine or a phone call to a loved one far away is more valuable than any social media valuation, no matter how ludicrous.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.

It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

TNW Advice: …

…defer to real life for those that matter. Pokes, Likes and Comments are not the same as ladies’ lunches, beach trips and dinner parties. Make the time.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have sillyness in their life again.

When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.

TNW Advice: If you’re reading this, chances are you have a long way to go before you die. So, please, allow yourself to be happy. Smile in the sunshine, kick the ball around with your son, have a glass of wine with your partner in the afternoon, move to Argentina, buy yourself a Kindle for the love of reading; whatever it is, be good to yourself.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: campra via photopin cc

photo credit: campra via photopin cc

The One Word To Never Ever Say Again At Work

By 

If someone asked how your day was going, what would be your knee-jerk reaction? If you’re a member of the American workforce, there’s a good chance your immediate response would be a single word: “Busy!” But in many cases, these lamentations about our jam-packed schedules amount to little more than a humblebrag about how important we are (so many things to do and people to see!)…

Busyness has become something of a badge of honor — a way to hint at our own relevance and superior productivity without saying it in so many words — but in reality, constant busyness may be a sign of just the opposite. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that if you’re busy all the time (and not giving yourself a chance to rest and recharge), you’re very likely doing something wrong.

Here five reasons to try to let go of excessive busyness — or at least stop telling people how busy you are.

It could be harming your productivity.

Too much busyness can easily prevent you from actually getting things done. When we fill our days up with one task after another and frequently multitask — rarely giving our full focus to the task at hand — it can keep us from doing any one thing to our best ability. In other words, quantity takes precedence over quality.

Working unceasingly and without substantial breaks has been shown to be an ineffective way to master a task. Studies in Berlin in the 1990s on young violin players — looking at the daily practice habits of elite players (those who were likely to become professionals one day) as compared to average players — yielded some surprising data. The elite players weren’t more successful because they practiced more. Both groups on average spent the same amount of time practicing each week. And whereas the average players spread their practice out through the day, the elite players worked in two intense periods of deliberate activity each day, followed by down time. The elite players were not only more relaxed, but they slept an extra hour each night, writer Cal Newport notes.

It could hinder your communication and connection with others.

According to Nell Minow, co-founder of The Corporate Library, the word “busy” can be “profoundly toxic” to both our careers and our personal lives. When someone asks how we’re doing and we answer “Busy,” Minow argues, it’s a statement of our own self-importance and the relative lack of importance of the person we’re talking to, which automatically precludes the possibility of authentic interaction.

“I promise that if you eliminate this word from your life, you will instantly, permanently and powerfully be more conscious about your choices and more effective in your communication with others,” Minow wrote in a recent Huffington Post blog,“How ‘Busy’ Became A Toxic Word.”

You might be suffering from a bad case of Time Deficit Disorder.

Do you feel busy and frantic all day? Get anxious just looking at all the blocked-out slots on your Gmail calendar? You might have a case of the unofficial but all-too-real Time Deficit Disorder (also known as “time famine”). If you’re feeling constantly pressed for time, the best remedy may be the most unlikely one: Giving more of your time away to others. A 2012 study from Yale and Harvard researchers  found that those who are more eager to devote some of their time to helping others are less likely to feel that time was their “scarcest resource.”

Another solution? Schedule time into your schedule to do nothing — a strategy LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner calls the “single most important productivity tool” he uses. Weiner says creating meeting-free “buffers” in his day affords him the time he needs to think strategically about the company’s big picture.

It could be a veil for underlying laziness.

We tend to think of being busy as the opposite of being lazy, but the two qualities may be more connected than we’d like to think. If you’re constantly busy, there’s a good chance that you’re expending a great deal of energy on tasks that may feel urgent — but aren’t actually all that important. Viewing busyness as a virtue actually keeps us from doing meaningful work, according to iDoneThis COO Janet Choi, and in this sense, busyness is a form of laziness.

“It’s easy, even enticing, to neglect the importance of filling our time with meaning, thinking instead that we’ll be content with merely filling our time,” Choi told Fast Company. “We self-impose these measures of self-worth by looking at quantity instead of quality of activity.”

You may not be managing your energy well.

Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project and author of “The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working,” knows better than anyone that excessive busyness can be a destructive force in our work and lives. We’ve been taught that “more, bigger, faster” is always better. But this “volume is God” mentality, Schwartz explains, presumes that we have unlimited resources — which, of course, we don’t.

Renewal is actually a way to increase our capacity to be more effective, Schwartz explains, allowing us to get more out of the time we put into a task. The time spent on a task is not the same as the energy spent on a task, and taking time to rest and recharge can help you to get more done by allowing you to be more intentional with your energy — so when you’re relaxing, you’re really relaxing, and when you’re working, you’re fully engaged with work.

“Renewal is not for slackers,” Schwartz said in June at The Huffington Post’s conference, “Redefining Success: The Third Metric.” “Renewal is a way in which to increase your capacity to be more effective.”

To read the original article and watch the US TV news report on this story

photo credit: SamuelJohn.de via photopin cc

photo credit: SamuelJohn.de via photopin cc

Unhappy Employees Outnumber Happy Ones By 2 to 1 Worldwide (Gallup Research)

Susan Adams reports…

Since the late 1990s, Gallup has been measuring international employee satisfaction through a survey it has been honing over the years. In total it has polled 25 million employees in 189 different countries. The latest version, released this week, gathered information from 230,000 full-time and part-time workers in 142 countries.

Overall, Gallup found that only 13% of workers feel engaged by their jobs. That means they feel a sense of passion for their work, a deep connection to their employe and they spend their days driving innovation and moving their company forward.

The vast majority, some 63%, are “not engaged,” meaning they are unhappy but not drastically so. In short, they’re checked out. They sleepwalk through their days, putting little energy into their work.

A full 24% are what Gallup calls “actively disengaged,” meaning they pretty much hate their jobs. They act out and undermine what their coworkers accomplish.

Add the last two categories and you get 87% of workers worldwide who, as Gallup puts it, “are emotionally disconnected from their workplaces and less likely to be productive.” In other words, work is more often a source of frustration than one of fulfillment for nearly 90% of the world’s workers. That means that most workplaces are less productive and less safe than they could be and employers are less likely to create new jobs.

To do its engagement tally, Gallup put together a list of 12 statements. I’ll list them here and you can see how you measure up:

1. I know what is expected of me at work
2. I have the material and equipment I need to do my work right.
3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.
6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.
7. At work, my opinions seem to count.
8. The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.
9. My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.
10. I have a best friend at work.
11. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.
12. This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

The most obvious fix for unhappy workers goes back to the 12 questions. Communicate with your workers, telling them what you expect of them, praise them when they do well, encourage them to move forward. Give them the tools they need and the opportunity to feel challenged. For workers the trick is to find an employer that is paying attention to those questions.

Link to read the original Forbes article

How Vulnerability Can Be A Strength

by Viral Mehta

We’re never so vulnerable than when we trust someone — but paradoxically, if we cannot trust, neither can we find love or joy. –Walter Anderson

…Stepping outside is far from comfortable, and can even be painful. And when we experience something painful, the tendency is to dissociate ourselves from the feeling, to become numb to it. We fragment our reality and stop being in relationship with this part of our experience, meaning that we don’t learn from it, let alone transform it. Instead, if we embrace our vulnerability, we can fully accept the discomfort and learn to observe our entire reality deeply and intimately — just the way it is.

It may seem like such opportunities are rare, but they’re surprisingly accessible. Here are a few statements that crack open a beautiful vulnerability within everyday situations:

  1. “I was wrong.” It’s hard to say this at any time, but especially hard at work — we often fall prey to the myth that we are paid to be right. I remember reading a story about someone who made a multi-million dollar mistake at work, and subsequently went in to his boss’s office to resign. The boss was wise, though. “Why would I let you go now, after having spent millions of dollars training you?!” By owning up to our mistakes, we open ourselves to learning from them.
  2. “I don’t know.” Not knowing is itself uncomfortable. Confessing it to others is doubly so. But it is also one of the most liberating things we can embrace. When I admit that I don’t know, I use up less energy in pretending to know, and give myself more space to explore the mysteries of an inherently emergent reality.
  3. “I am sorry.” Whether intentionally or unintentionally, our actions can be hurtful to others. When this happens, the tendency of both parties is to disconnect and create a separation. By apologizing, I might think that I’m losing ground in a relationship. In reality, I am building a proactive bridge of empathy — and a possibility for a greater and truer connection.
  4. “Thank you.” In giving thanks, we might fear that we are betraying a need for support. In reality, we display more confidence and less insecurity when we graciously acknowledge what we have received. It also serves as a tuning fork, making us aware of the abundance of gifts we continually receive from our surroundings. At a deeper level, in expressing gratitude, we wake up to our fundamental inter-dependence.
  5. “I love …” In a recent commencement address, author Jonathan Franzen spoke of the dangers of remaining on the surface of life, of just “liking” instead of loving. In his words, love is what forces you to “expose your whole self, not just the likable surface, and to have it rejected can be catastrophically painful.” But there’s a pay-off. In his own experience, love “became a portal to an important, less self-centered part of myself that I’d never even known existed.” Love helps us go beyond our limited notions of self.

Latin vulnerare which means ‘to wound’, and so at the root of vulnerability is my own sense of wounded-ness. To be authentic in a moment in which I feel wounded, I have to honestly acknowledge the places where I feel hurt and then muster up the strength to just be with the pain. This takes tremendous courage.

Literally speaking, courage comes from the Latin cor, meaning heart. So when I open up to any experience fully, with courage — our whole heart — it naturally opens me up to a deep love. The blind musician Facundo Cabral said it beautifully: “If you are filled with love, you can’t have fear,” he said, “because love is courage.” True vulnerability, in its most profound form, is an act of love.

Link to read the original article

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photo credit: SuperFantastic via photopin cc

The Genetic Predisposition To Focus on the Negative

by Jeremy Dean, psychologist and the author of PsyBlog.

Around 50% of Caucasians have the ADRA2b gene variant.

Some people are genetically predisposed to spot negative events automatically, according to a new study published in Psychological Science (Todd et al., 2013).

A gene called ADRA2b seems to cause people to take particular note of negative emotional events.

The study’s lead author, Professor Rebecca Todd explained:

“This is the first study to find that this genetic variation can significantly affect how people see and experience the world. The findings suggest people experience emotional aspects of the world partly through gene-coloured glasses — and that biological variations at the genetic level can play a significant role in individual differences in perception.”

This could help explain why it is that some people seem particularly predisposed towards seeing the negative aspects of the world around them, while it passes others by.

Not only is the gene linked to differences between people in their attention, but also to memory. People with the gene likely also find negative events are enhanced in their memories.

It may mean that people with the gene are more likely to suffer from uncomfortable flashbacks to negative memories or even posttraumatic stress disorder.

Statistically, around 50% of Caucasians have the ADRA2b gene variant, but the rates are much lower in other ethnicities.

As with many genes, though, they interact with the environment: their effect on our individual psychology is partly determined by our upbringing, those around us and how we choose to think and act.

Just because there is a gene that influences our starting point, that doesn’t stop us having some control over where we end up.

Link to read the original article

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photo credit: StephenMitchell via photopin cc

Time To Rethink Youth Behaviour, NZ Survey Reveals

Young New Zealander’s are obsessed with social media, want to be rich and famous and cave to peer pressure – if this is what you think, then think again.

Several stereotypes about young people, held by adults have been busted in the second annual Youthtown Voice of New Zealand Survey.

Over 1,100 teenagers, completed the survey commissioned by Youthtown and conducted by Point Research, which aims to give young people aged 13-18 a voice on the things that matter most to them.

Surprisingly just one-third of young people believe social networking is important to them, debunking the adult view that social media rules young lives.

“They may spend a lot of time on sites like Facebook and Snapchat, but ultimately young people want to hang out with their friends in person,” Head Researcher of the Youthtown Voice of New Zealand Survey, Alex Woodley, said.

The adult misconception that young people are most influenced by peer pressure has also been set straight, with 73 per cent of young people indicating that their parents have the most influence over their lives, and only forty three per cent noting their friends.

 Survey respondents also revealed that they don’t look up to celebrities or personalities because of their ‘fame’. Of the people they look up to, intelligence with ability (27 per cent), determination (11 per cent) and self-belief and confidence (10 per cent) were the strongest qualities young people admire.

“These are extremely positive messages spoken, straight from the mouths of young New Zealanders. The future really is in great hands,” Youthtown CEO, Paula Kearns said.

photo credit: Arjan Almekinders via photopin cc

photo credit: Arjan Almekinders via photopin cc

2013 Youthtown Voice of New Zealand Survey KEY SURVEY FINDINGS 
1. Young people believe that their parents have the most influence over their life
2. The most protective factors for youth are related to positive relationships; feeling cared about by their family, having caring adults to turn to; having supportive friends with positive social values
3. 3/4 of young people agree there is a purpose to their life and they have a lot to offer the world
4. Approximately 1 in 6 of respondents do not really have anyone they can talk to when they are having a hard time
5. Young people admire celebrities with intelligence, talent, determination, confidence and self-belief. They don’t look up to celebrities or personalities because of their ‘fame’
6. Most young people feel good about things that make them different from other people
7. Young people are HAPPY! Over 3/4 of respondents rate their happiness as ‘6’ or more on a ten point scale
8. Young people identify with, and respect people, who are unaffected by the opinions of others (example, Ellen Degeneres and Demi Lovato)
9. Young people strongly believe in equality and acceptance of one another
10. 1/4 of young New Zealander’s currently volunteer or do community work of some sort
11. Most young people who volunteer, do so in youth centres or camps
12. Young people would like more opportunities to contribute to their community
13. Time and information are the greatest barriers preventing young people from volunteering
14. Only 1/3 of young people believe social networking is important to them, and one third say it’s not important at all. Most prefer to socialise at home or at a friend’s house

15. Nearly 9 out of 10 young people have a Facebook account and just under 1/4 have a Twitter account
16. Adventure, travel, better work opportunities and higher salaries are attracting our young people off-shore (10% don’t see their future in New Zealand)
17. More job opportunities and higher wages would make New Zealand an even better place to live
18. Job opportunities, events or activities and affordable accommodation or housing are the main reasons young people would want to live in and spend their future in New Zealand cities
19. 68% of young people said they are ‘worried’ or ‘moderately concerned’ about getting a job or career they want
20. 13% of young people ‘definitely’ see a future in New Zealand. Adventure, travel, better work opportunities and higher salaries is what attract our young people off shore

 Link to read the original article in full

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photo credit: illuminaut via photopin cc

Deepak Chopra: Who Is Right About Happiness (Part 2)

Our doubts about happiness can’t be answered abstractly. The best theory can’t make you happy; you have to test it. This testing requires choices, and choices are limited. If you stand back, most people live their lives according to a set of beliefs, and over the years they manifest what they expect out of life. (That’s why so many highly successful people were raised by loving, supportive mothers who told them how wonderful they were. If you go through life with such positive expectations, your choices are likely to be self-affirming rather than self-defeating.) The importance of choice tells us something important right off the bat. There is no such thing as a passive road to happiness. Even if humans are designed to be happy, they must activate the possibility rather than wait for the design to unfold on its own.

Despite the fad for viewing happiness as accidental, it’s more productive to test for yourself the kind of decisions that promote happiness. What should you do to make yourself happy right this minute? The array of possibilities is quite wide.

  • Avoid stressors that are avoidable.
  • Fix problems immediately – don’t procrastinate.
  • Bond with people you care about.
  • Do things that are meaningful to you.
  • Give your brain positive input. Avoid needless negativity.
  • Address the signs of depression and anxiety.
  • Assert control over your life. Don’t be dependent on others or dominated by them.
  • Be of service.
  • Walk away from situations you can’t improve.
  • Find a source of genuine fulfillment.
  • Don’t do things you know to be wrong.
  • Speak your own truth.
  • Express appreciation and affection toward others.
  • Find something that inspires you. Don’t waste time on distractions.
  • Allow time for play.
  • Leave room for down time.
  • Set aside a fixed time for reflection and meditation.
  • Focus on long-term pleasures, like planning a vacation, rather than short-term gratification.

Notice that nothing on this list is a matter of faith, religion, or spiritual aspiration. No one is appealing to perfect love, understanding, or compassion. Happiness doesn’t await a tremendous kind of personal transformation. Instead, these are practical choices that are well documented to improve a person’s happiness. One finding from positive psychology that’s actually positive is this: To make a happy life, make your day happy. Immediate decisions matter the most.

You might cast a skeptical eye at the things I’ve listed, believing that this is nothing but a laundry list that is too long to be useful. But let me suggest otherwise. Most people are unhappy because they ignored the items on the list. They allowed too much stress to enter their lives, or they refused to walk away from impossible situations, or they allowed themselves to become dependent on somebody else, just to give a few leading examples. The other lesson from this list is that living unconsciously doesn’t bring happiness – each item asks for focus and awareness. What you aren’t conscious of, you can’t change.

So before you lament that life is unfair or that only a select few are born to be happy, consider every item on the list as it applies to you today, right this minute. Set aside your beliefs about ultimate happiness and focus instead of today’s happiness. It’s also useful to itemise the things that are almost guaranteed to create unhappiness.

  • Putting up with unnecessary stress.
  • Denying that a problem exists and putting off its solution.
  • Isolating yourself, not interacting with people you care about.
  • Engaging in routine or meaningless work.
  • Exposing yourself to needless negativity and negative people in general.
  • Feeling depressed or anxious and simply putting up with it.
  • Allowing someone else to dominate you, make decisions for you, or exerting too much control.
  • Acting selfish, offering little or nothing to others.
  • Stubbornly enduring an impossible situation.
  • Putting your own fulfillment on hold.
  • Doing things you know to be wrong.
  • Going along to get along, not upholding your own values.
  • Forgetting to express how much you appreciate and value others.
  • Wasting time on distractions.
  • Treating everything as work, duty, or obligation.
  • Leaving no room for down time.
  • Allowing yourself no time to reflect and meditate.
  • Focusing on short-term gratification.

Many will be tempted to protest that two laundry lists are worse than one. Both are unrealistic. In fact, you have enough time in the day to do everything on the positive list and avoid everything on the negative list. What you need isn’t enough hours in the day. You need to value self-awareness. Once you want to be more aware, the intention to create happiness becomes realistic – you are motivated to be the author of our own fulfillment. It’s amazing how many people don’t value their happiness enough to pay attention to it. Once you do, you will discover for yourself if lifelong happiness is feasible or not. It won’t be a matter of theory or delayed gratification.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Miles Cave via photopin cc

photo credit: Miles Cave via photopin cc

How To Become A “Best Places To Work” Company

 writes…

The leaders of these companies all agreed that creating a workplace where employees enjoyed working started with the company culture. As leaders, they were in the position to significantly influence the culture.  These leaders learned that they have to:

  1. Live and breathe the values of the company
  2. Be transparent even when it is difficult
  3. Communicate, communicate, communicate

This list probably isn’t new to many of you, but it isn’t easy to accomplish.

The Best Places to Work survey and other employee engagement surveys are a snap shot in time. It measures how employees perceive the company they work for at the time they answer the questions.

But for a great workplace to be sustainable, leaders need to take the role of a movie director making sure that their actors and actresses have a great environment to be inspired to create Oscar winning performances day in and day out.

So what do you as a leader need to do to improve the perceptions of employees?

Firstyou need to understand that as a leader you need to personify the values of your company. Values are only values if you and the people around you practice them day in and day out.

As a leader, you need to be demonstrating company values in a way that is visible to others around you.  People can interpret your values by:

  1. The decisions you make
  2. Behaviors you show externally
  3. Organizational goals
  4. Interpersonal interactions
  5. Performance feedback

You need to insure that all of these are aligned with your company values.

Second, ask these questions at the end of each day to determine if you are living company values on a daily basis:

  1. What decisions did I make today and how do they reinforce specific company values?
  2. Which people did I interact with that demonstrated one of the company values?  And, how did I provide feedback to them to reinforce company values?
  3. Who made a decision or acted in a way that was not aligned with company values? And, how did I coach the person into alignment?
  4. On a scale of 1-10, how well was I aligned with company values today?

And thirdplan for the next day.  Who will you be interacting with and what potential decisions will you be making.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Dia™ via photopin cc

photo credit: Dia™ via photopin cc

Happiness At Work Is Spreading (NixonMcInnes)

Belinda Gannaway of Social Business Consultancy NixonMcInnes posts this success story about how their own company’s creative and immensely do-able solution to increasing happiness at work is starting to spread across the globe

When we launched the NixonMcInnes happiness index nearly three years ago, @steveWINton’s blog post Measuring Happiness in the Workplace generated a huge amount of interest…

But our low-tech approach to measuring happiness is now no longer restricted to our own office here in Brighton. Last week, Chris Evans at Radio 2 talked about us and our practice on air and while in Denver for the WorldBlu conference on democracy at work, Will received a call from Inc. Magazine in the US. They had been talking to a Californian company about their approach to measuring happiness at work – using tennis balls and buckets. Asked where they had got the idea from, they said they’d read about it on our blog post!

Following a day with us in Brighton, the digital team at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) have now set up their own happy buckets. Tim Lloyd, Head of Digital Communications at BIS, explains: “We liked the look of it when we visited. And sometimes my feeling of success or disappointment is out of kilter with others in the team.”

So the happiness index gives Tim another way to gauge how his team is feeling – and whether that matches his perception. And then do something about it.

And they’re not the only ones – another of our clients, Orbit Group, one of the UK’s most forward thinking housing organisations have also set up their own Happiness Index in their Customer Services Centre. Alongside the buckets, they have an inspirational quote of the day, chosen by one of the advisors.

Happiness at work has been on our agenda for a long time and it is climbing up the global business agenda in big strides. People are starting to understand that as well as improving quality of life, a happier workforce delivers better customer experiences, are more flexible, adaptable and innovative. Put simply, happiness affects the bottom line.

Link to the original article

photo credit: @Doug88888 via photopin cc

photo credit: @Doug88888 via photopin cc

Here is how NixonMcInnes brilliantly use their deliberately low-tech~high-tech approach to measuring – and constantly working to improve people’s happiness at work:

Is Everybody Happy? Measuring Happiness in the Workplace

At the end of the day, as we leave the office, we each drop a tennis ball into either the Happy or Unhappy bucket, to capture how we felt, on balance, throughout the day. The following morning, the balls are counted (by either Max, or a band of merry pixies, I’m not sure which) and the totals scrawled on a piece of paper stuck to the door. At the end of each week, Pete, our industrious chairman, tots up the numbers and logs them in a Google spreadsheet. It’s poetry in motion.

To complete the feedback loop, we periodically fetch and process the data from the spreadsheet using Google App Engine, and display it on our internal, Geckoboard-powered dashboard, keeping the data nice and visible, and allowing us to answer the all-important question:over time, as a group, are we becoming more or less happy?

Last week was a bad week, but we’re working on it!

Link to the original article

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photo credit: massdistraction via photopin cc

5 Ways To Make It Easier For Men (and Boys) To Channel Empathy and Compassion

This  Greater Good article by Kozo Hattor provides a whole selection of practical ideas for making the benefits of mindfulness more attractive and inviting to men and boys, and illustrating them with a number of success stories from the cartoon Kung Fu Panda channelling his inner peace to quell enemy fire, to the  Dhamma Brothers success with mindfulness practice to make lasting positive change in a men’s prison.

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

We’ve spent nine weeks on the Cultivating Compassion Training (CCT) course at Stanford University strengthening our attention, building awareness of our bodies, and learning to confront pain in ourselves and in others—and throughout the course, male students were dropping out like 12th-seeded teams in the NCAA basketball tournament.

This gender imbalance was not unique to Stanford’s CCT. Two-thirds of students at the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City, California, are female, according to teacher Gil Fronsdal, an ordained Soto Zen priest who was also a Theravada monk in Burma. Elad Levinson, the director of programs at Spirit Rock Mediation Center, says, “The sociodemographic of Spirit Rock consists of primarily women.”

All of these programs integrate mindfulness meditation—the practice of focusing attention on our thoughts and feelings without judging them. That might not sound like much, but study after study finds that practicing mindfulness can bring a host of physical, psychological, and social benefits. More recently, evaluations of programs like CCT are finding that mindfulness is a very effective way to cultivate compassionate intentions and behaviours.

Is that something that boys and men need? “Men tell you what is on their minds, but not what is in their heart,” says Levinson, who has 40 years of psychotherapy and 20 years of leading men’s groups under his belt. Perhaps not coincidentally, boys and men commit the vast majority of violent acts, from domestic violence to murder. Many struggle with expressing empathy and compassion

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

Notice, however, that in all of these mindfulness practices, compassion is removed from the equation. These boys and men are being trained for win-or-lose competition..

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

You can use your mind to change your brain to change your mind for the better”

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

1. Use pop culture to teach mindfulness to boys

When my wife and I tried to teach our sons how to meditate, they immediately sat down “crisscrossed apple-sauce” and closed their eyes. “What are you thinking about?” I asked my five year old. “Inner peace,” he replied.

It turns out that he learned this technique from Po in the movie Kung Fu Panda…

“If every eight year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation,” says the Dalai Lama. Some might argue with that point, but given research showing how mindfulness meditation leads to greater compassion, perhaps portrayals of meditation in action belong in the Netflix queues of young children.

Shows like Kung Fu Panda and Avatar: The Last Airbender feature characters that gain power—as well as peace of mind—through meditation. The Jedi Knights of Star Wars consistently preach mindfulness to each other, specifically as a way to foster compassion and restraint.

 

2. Give boys role models of mindfulness and compassion

I meditate every day. Sometimes I meditate in my sons’ bedroom, which gives them a sense of security. “Daddy, will you ‘medtate’ in our room, please?” is a common bedtime request of my three year old.

Our sons also practice Kristen Neff’s self-compassion techniques daily. Whenever they say, “thank you,” they put their hands on their hearts and bow deeply. My wife and I want them to connect with what Bruce Lee calls the “emotional content” of their actions. Some parents at our son’s kindergarten have noticed this pose of gratitude and taught their children the gesture.

3. Start with boys in school 

A program in Oakland, the Mind Body Awareness Project (MBA), “work in juvenile halls, detention camps, and at-risk schools in California, serving young people with histories of violence, substance abuse, and deep trauma,” as Congressman Tim Ryan writes in “Toward a More Mindful Nation.”

Scientific evaluations of many of [the mindfulness programs like this one] are finding that they boost academic achievement and reduce behavioral problems. As Congresman Ryan writes:

These people and many others all over America and the world are changing the way we approach chronic poverty and disconnection. These programs reveal to our children that a negative and dangerous life is not their only option. With mindfulness skills they see that they have choices and the wherewithal to overcome the adversity in their lives. As these programs grow and lead to deep, systemic change, our country will be a safer and healthier place because of it.

4. Meet men where they are 

Rather than try to get a few good men to attend compassion training, why don’t we find areas where men are a captive audience, and teach compassion there?

Mindfulness meditation has already been incorporated into the US military’s Marine Corps. At the Quantico, Virginia base, soldiers are offered an eight-week mindfulness course in order to better deal with anxiety, stress, depression, and insomnia. “I can’t think of any aspect of my life that it hasn’t helped me with,” reports Major Jeff Davis.

“Prisoners are such great role models for the rest of us,” says Jenny Phillips, director of the  Dhamma Brothers, a documentary about the beneficial effects of Vipassana meditation practices administered in an overcrowded, understaffed, maximum-security prison for men outside of Birmingham, Alabama. “The Dhamma Brothers suggests the possibility of freedom from that which imprisons us all,” writes Phillips in her director’s statement.

Phillips plans to release free teaching curriculum for schools to teach The Dhamma Brothers. The curriculum includes not only guides to teach and discuss the film and its companion book, but also experiential exercises on mindfulness, meditation, and cultivating loving-kindness.

Catching boys in the home, children at school, kids in front of the flat screen, and adults in institutions might just start a revolution that will end the gender imbalance of compassion.

5. Make compassion training manlier 

Finally, we might try to make mindfulness and compassion training more attractive to men.

Part of the struggle is to simply encourage men to lead other men into mindfulness. “Men tend to go deeper when they are not with women,” claims Elad Levinson. Gil Fronsdal notes that when he taught a meditation retreat without a female co-teacher, his gender ratio sometimes reached 50-50. So maybe having male teachers leading a class for men-only would help.

We can use examples of mindfulness in military, sports training, and popular culture in order to illustrate the concepts and build credibility among men. Levinson argues that compassion trainings need to be “culturally relevant, delivered by credible people who can relate to men, and learning accessible.”

Link to the original article

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photo credit: ‘PixelPlacebo’ via photopin cc

photo credit: Gunnsi via photopin cc

photo credit: Gunnsi via photopin cc

The Advantage of Dealing With Giants In Our Life

Malcom Gladwell wants us to rethink how we think about the giants in our lives whether they be outsized opponents, disabilities, misfortunes, or oppression. We all face or have faced odds that seemed to be stacked against us. Odds that we are forced to deal with.

In David and Goliath, Gladwell shares two ideas. First, “much of what we consider valuable in our world arises out of these kinds of lopsided conflicts, because the act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty.” The battle makes us better. It develops us and reveals strengths that we didn’t know we had.

Second, giants are not always what we think they are. The powerful and strong are not always what they seem. Often their strength can expose their greatest vulnerability. Their size can be their undoing. What we see as their overwhelming advantages can also be the thing that limits their options.

We know but easily forget, that there is a point where more doesn’t make a difference and more still becomes a disadvantage. “We all assume,” writes Gladwell, “that being bigger and stronger and richer is always in our best interest.” A wealthy man told Gladwell about the relationship between wealth and parenting:

My own instinct is that it’s much harder than anybody believes to bring kinds up in a wealthy environment. People are ruined by challenged economic lives. But they’re ruined by wealth as well because they lose their ambition and they lose their pride and they lose their sense of self-worth. It’s difficult at both ends of the spectrum. There’s some place in the middle which probably works best of all.

Gladwell makes the point that certainly some people triumph over their disabilities in spite of them. They simply won’t let them stand in their way. But there are those that succeed because of their disability. “They learned something in their struggle that proved to be of enormous advantage.” Challenges can cause us to develop skills we might not otherwise have developed if we choose to respond that way.

Although Gladwell makes the point that there are “desirable disadvantages,” in that it is the difficulty that eventually led to a person’s success and made them a better person, it is not to suggest that we should wish for more disadvantages or wish them on other people. We all have disadvantages, some are huge and some are not, but the lesson is in how we see them. How we react.

Some of what we perceive as advantages—opportunities or resources that we wish we had—have actually ruined people or diminished their full potential in some way.

The thread that runs through all of Gladwell’s examples is how individuals or organizations turned their disadvantages to their advantage—how they defeated giants by reframing their perceived advantage. There is no formula here as to what will work and what won’t. The question is as it has always been, how will you respond to what you have been given?

The key lesson is that for the most part, difficulties are what you make of them.

Link to read the original article

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photo credit: xJason.Rogersx via photopin cc

Everyday Jet Lag

By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS

If you consider yourself to be a born morning person or an inveterate night owl, there is new research that supports your desire to wake up early or stay up late.

Each of us has a personal “chronotype,” or unique circadian rhythm, says Till Roenneberg, a professor of chronobiology at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich and one of the world’s experts on sleep. In broad strokes, these chronotypes are usually characterized as early, intermediate or late, corresponding to people who voluntarily go to bed and wake early, at a moderate hour or vampirishly late. If you are forced to wake up earlier than your body naturally would, you suffer from what Roenneberg calls “social jet lag.”People with an early chronotype may do well with a 7 a.m. workday rising time, but others do not. Sleeping out of sync with your innate preferences can be detrimental to your health, especially for late chronotypes, who tend to be the most at odds with typical work schedules.

…Research has shown that a single hour of social jet lag, the mismatch between your chronotype and your schedule, increases your risk for obesity by about 33 percent. In a study published in June in Chronobiology International, late-night chronotypes gained more weight during their freshman years at college than other new students did, even though college is one of the best fits for night owls.

The brain can also be affected. Another study in Chronobiology found that “individuals having a preference for evening hours to carry out their daily activities are prone to depression,” more than earlier chronotypes are…

Almost every cell in our bodies is likely to reflect our chronotype. In a study in May in Chronobiology, scientists … found that late chronotypes tended to have activity in genes that contribute to later sleep onset, offering further evidence that the urge to stay up late or to rise early is not a lifestyle choice but resides in our DNA.

Few people have the luxury of organizing their lives by their chronotypes. If you can’t convince your boss that your body clock requires a later start, consider “getting outside more,” Roenneberg says. Infusions of sunlight nudge most chronotypes toward an earlier sleep time. …The summertime clock typically disrupts sleep for all chronotypes, he says. “Everybody sleeps better when it ends.”

Want to know your personal chronotype? Complete the Munich Chronotype Questionnaire developed by Dr. Roenneberg and his colleagues.

Link to the original article 

photo credit: Marooned via photopin cc

photo credit: Marooned via photopin cc

The Key To Great Feedback: Praise the Process, Not the Person

by Heidi Grant Halvorson

…scientific studies of motivation have identified clear, principled reasons why some types of feedback work, and others don’t. It is neither mysterious nor random. If you’ve gotten it wrong in the past (and who hasn’t?), then you can do a better job giving feedback from now on by sticking to a few simple rules:

Rule #1:  When things go wrong, keep it real.   

It’s not easy to tell someone that he screwed up, knowing it will cause him anxiety, disappointment, or embarrassment. But don’t make the mistake of protecting a team member’s feelings at the expense of the truth, because without honest feedback he can’t possibly improve. Remember that negative emotions exist for a reason – they motivate us to take action to fix the problem.

Never try to make a team member feel that he wasn’t responsible for what went wrong (assuming he is, in fact, to blame), just because you don’t want to be “hard” on him. Letting him off the hook for his own mistake will rob him of a sense of personal control over his own work. Nothing is more de-motivating than feeling powerless. The short-term discomfort is nothing compared to the long-term damage that powerlessness can do.

Rule #2:  When things go wrong, fight self-doubt.

We all need to believe that success is within reach, regardless of the mistakes we have made in the past. This requires us to be tactful, to share feedback without surrendering the possibility for improvement. To do this,

  • Make your advice specific. What exactly can your team member do improve? When you are a leader, helping others figure out how to do it right is just as important as letting them know what they are doing wrong.
  • Emphasize actions that she has the power to changeTalk about aspects of her performance that are under her control, like the time and effort she put into a project, or the strategic approach she used.
  • Avoid praising effortStudies show that being complimented for “effort” after a failure not only makes people feel stupid, but also leaves them feeling incapable of reaching their goal. In these instances, it’s really best to stick topurely informational feedback – if effort isn’t the problem, figure out what is, and let the employee know.

Rule #3: When things go right, avoid praising ability. 

I know we all like to hear how smart and talented we are, and so naturally we assume that it’s what our team members want to hear, too. Of course they do. But it’s not what they need to hear to stay motivated.

Studies show that when we are praised for having high ability, it leaves us vulnerable to self-doubt when we encounter difficulty. If being successful means you are “a natural,” then it’s easy to conclude when you’re having a hard time that you just don’t have what it takes.

Instead, praise aspects of your employee’s performance that wereunder his control. Talk about his creative approach, his careful planning, his persistence and effort, his collaborative attitude. Praise the process, not the person. That way, when he runs into trouble later on, he’ll remember the process that helped him to succeed in the past, and put that knowledge to good use.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: sea turtle via photopin cc

photo credit: sea turtle via photopin cc

7 Habits of Highly Positive People

HENRIK EDBERG writes…

In this article, I will share the seven habits on how to be a highly positive person — or if you are already positive, to become even more positive. If you are in a funk right now, following these habits will also get you right back on track.

1. Don’t let bad things pull you down

Highly positive people take bad things and see the good things in them.

Bad things can happen to anyone. The difference between a positive person and a negative one isn’t the events that happen to them but how they respond to those events. While negative people let bad things pull them down, positive people don’t. They take bad things and make the best out of them.

As Randy Pausch once said, “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”

A great example is Oprah Winfrey, one of the most influential women in the world. She was, for a time, the world’s only black billionaire. Oprah may be rich and successful today, but she faced extreme hardship as a child.

When she was born up till the age of six, Oprah lived in rural poverty with her grandmother. She was so poor that she often wore dresses made of potato sacks, for which the local children made fun of her for.

When she was nine, Oprah was sexually abused–by the people closest to her, her cousin, uncle, and a family friend. At 13, after years of abuse, Oprah ran away from home. She was pregnant at 14 but her son died shortly after birth.

She attended an affluent suburban high school, Lincoln High School, but had her poverty constantly rubbed in her face as she would ride to school with fellow African-Americans who were servants of her classmates’ families.

Despite this extreme hardship, Oprah did not let it get her down. She overcame her adversity to become a benefactor to others, first becoming a radio anchor at 19, then having her own daytime talk show The Oprah Winfrey Show at 22. Through the show, she has helped millions of people around the world, empowering people to take charge of their life and drawing from both her life lessons and her interviewees’ life lessons to inspire others.

If Oprah had caved in the face of hardship, she would never be where she is in life. She is such a positive light because she chose to make the best out of difficulties she was dealt with and subsequently use these lessons to help others.

Likewise for you, don’t ever let yourself get pulled down by your difficulties. Rather, ask yourself what you can learn from them and how you can turn them around to create the life you seek. Such a proactive approach is the start to living an empowered, happy life.

2. Appreciate every good thing that comes your way

Highly positive people are grateful for every good thing that comes their way.

A month ago I conducted a 14-day gratitude challenge on my personal development blog, Personal Excellence, to over 200 participants. Aside from the assigned gratitude tasks to be done one task a day, I asked my participants to identify at least three things to be grateful for every day.

While it was awkward to deliberately find things to be grateful for at the beginning, many participants quickly eased into the task after a couple of days. From friendships, to daily coffee, to burnt toast, to family vacations, to life itself, many gained a new-found appreciation for these very things which they tended to take for granted.

The participants emerged from the challenge more appreciative and positive of life, even though their lives have technically not changed much compared to before the challenge.

Many of us tend to focus on the negative things in life and that naturally makes us feel negative. Why not pay attention to the many great positive things in our lives instead? For example, instead of being upset at the traffic jam you are in right now, why not be grateful for the vehicle you get to drive?

Instead of lamenting about your lousy boss, why not be grateful that you have a boss to lament about as opposed to being retrenched or unemployed? You’ll be surprised to see how many great things you already have going on with this little mindset shift.

3. Lead a well-rounded life

Highly positive people lead a well-rounded life. This means they don’t let work take over their life; neither do they let their relationships override their personal agenda.

I used to devote all my attention to work, to the point where I deprioritized my social life and my personal leisure. While it was great fun working since my work (helping others to grow) is my passion, I became very uninspired after a while because I was neglecting my other life areas. This was when I realize the importance of a well-rounded life to my emotional well-being.

So today, I ensure that I devote time to the core areas of my life: career, love, family, friends, self (through recreation), and contribution. My life wheel video shares the 11 core areas that make up our lives (collectively termed as the “life wheel”) and how to start achieving a 10/10 in all the areas.

4. Deal with your problems right away; don’t let them linger

Highly positive people deal with their problems right away rather than ignore them.

One thing I consistently teach on my blog and in my coaching is not to ignore your problems. Because ignoring your problems doesn’t mean that they will go away. Often times they will linger around and weigh you down subconsciously, even though you don’t realize that.

For example, I used to be an emotional eater where I would eat in response to my emotions like stress and sadness. For a long time I never dealt with this problem, choosing instead to drown myself in food whenever I felt bad.

Later I realized that I was utterly miserable because my stress eating (a) was causing me to gain extra weight, and (b) had turned me into a slave of food. It was only two years ago when I began tackling this issue and a year ago when I achieved complete resolution.

A simple tip to deal with your problems is to (a) keep a record of all outstanding issues you’d like to deal with, then (b) work on them one at a time. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming tackling multiple problems, but doing it one at a time will help you to manage things easily.

5. Let go

Highly positive people let go of the things that do not support them in living a conscious and positive life. This includes toxic and negative relationships.

I once had to let go of a deep friendship of 10 years because we were severely holding each other back. While I was always working on bettering myself, he tended to procrastinate on his own development and would at times live vicariously through my progress.

His lack of proactiveness in living the life of his dreams would negatively impact me as we had always agreed to work on our life goals together and take action together as best buds. I also felt that I was responsible for his inactions if he was truly living vicariously through my own goal progress.

While we tried to work things out in the beginning, it never happened. All our attempts to resolve this issue drained us as we kept going round in circles. After years as buddies, we were simply not compatible as each other’s good friend anymore.

We finally parted ways after 10 years and we immediately felt relieved of a dead weight.

Looking back I wish we had moved on earlier because the later years of our friendship actually drained us more than they helped us to grow.

Think about the negative things in your life right now — from toxic people, to energy vampires, to negative beliefs, to unhappy thoughts, to things that trigger unhappy memories — and start letting go of them, one by one. The sooner you let them go, the happier you will be.

6. Take responsibility for your life

Highly positive people take responsibility for their lives because they realize that happiness is a choice.

For all the problems, heartaches, toxic people, and baggage you are facing, take responsibility for them. While you may not have created those problems and they may be the result of others’ misactions, you can still take responsibility for experiencing them. Doing so puts you in the position to put a stop to them.

For example, I once experienced a heartbreak with someone I liked. While initially I faulted him for bringing me such pain and anguish, it was only in the later years when I took responsibility for my emotions and the situation that I was finally able to move on.

I later realized that I can literally control my happiness by taking responsibility of my negative emotions (and subsequently my life). Because it’s when I do that I can then take action to address my unhappiness and the situations causing it, rather than putting blame on others. Subsequently, I was able to easily move on from two other relationships that didn’t work out.

7. Spread love and kindness (by helping others)

Last but not least, highly positive people spread love and kindness to others without expecting to get anything back in return.

One of the most rewarding things one can do in life is to help others. This is something I have experienced every day for my past five years of running my personal development blog.

The changes I see in my readers’ lives, the happy looks on their faces, and the deep emotional shifts they experience from reading my articles or attending my courses — these bring so much joy into my life and are reason enough for me to continue what I’m doing forever.

While some of us may think that we need to achieve X status or Y age before we can help others, that’s not true at all. The simplest things can help others: one little phone call to a distanced friend, one pat on the back to congratulate a co-worker for a job well done, or a shoulder to lean on for a friend in need.

I started my blog at a relatively young age of 24 which most people wouldn’t think of as an old-enough age to offer help or advice to others. That was a limiting belief on their part though, because we can always help others no matter how old we are or where we are in life.

In the past five years I was able to help many break through limiting careers, let go of toxic relationships, gain strength from hard moments, excel in their goals, and achieve greater heights by simply focusing on helping those I can help, one step at a time.

If I had thought that one person couldn’t make a difference, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this blog post today, and neither would I be running a personal development blog or doing life coaching for others.

You have more power than you think you have, so use that to help others. You will find that when you give, you will naturally receive in return as well.

Apply these 7 habits of highly positive people

Which habits resonate with you? Which can you start applying right away?

Link to read the original article

photo credit: mondi via photopin cc

photo credit: mondi via photopin cc

Warsan Shire announced as first ever Young Poet Laureate for London

Carol Ann Duffy today announces the first ever Young Poet Laureate for London at a reception event on National Poetry Day at the Houses of Parliament.

24 year old Londoner, Kenyan-born Somali poet Warsan Shire, has been selected from a shortlist of six talented young poets, and will go on to enjoy a life-changing, whirlwind year of commissions, public appearances and residencies – creating work that reflects on our ever changing capital, culture and society. This will begin with a residency at the Houses of Parliament itself. She will be supported in her role by London’s writer development agency, Spread the Word

Steve Moffitt, Chief Executive, A New Direction, said:

‘It is a privilege for A New Direction to support and be part of the realisation of the first Young Poet Laureate for London. It is our vision that London leads the world as a city where young people can participate in and experience the best of arts and culture.

The Young Poet Laureate is symbolic of what is best about our city and creates a unique opportunity for a new voice to be heard. The opportunity not only offers a platform for the best in spoken word and poetry young talent to be celebrated and shared but also harnesses London’s greatest asset – our young people.’

Warsan Shire is a 24 year old Kenyan-born Somali poet, writer, editor and educator who is based in London.

Born in 1988, Warsan has read her work extensively all over Britain and internationally – including recent readings in South Africa, Italy, Germany, Canada, America and Kenya – and her début book, ’TEACHING MY MOTHER HOW TO GIVE BIRTH’ (flipped eye), was published in 2011.

Link to read the original article 

Warsan Shire – For Women Who Are Difficult to Love

‘…you are terrifying
and strange and beautiful
something not everyone knows how to love.’

To Be Vulnerable and Fearless: An Interview With Warsan Shire

by Kameelah Janan Rasheed

…In “Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth”, she fills the vacant pages with haunting images of women’s bodies occupied by war and displacement. In Ugly, a girl “carries whole cities in her belly” and a mother cautions that “if she is covered in continents,/if her teeth are small colonies,/if her stomach is an island/if her thighs are borders?/What man wants to lie down/and watch the world burn/in his bedroom?/Your daughter’s face is a small riot,/her hands are a civil war,/refugee camp behind each ear”. Her poetry carries the energy of multiple women, the depth of many generations, and the weight of many lives lived…

When Warsan Shire writes, she does precisely that; she opens a wound and as an emotional cartographer, maps the terrain of her trauma and sutures the wound through her poetry. Fearless and vulnerable, she pulls back layers to expose not only the pain, but the healing as well.

On “No Shame Day”, Warsan shared about struggling with Bulimia, stating, “That whole part of my life is almost a myth, I was twenty years old, killing myself and not one person noticed.”  Healed by the site of an “oiled and steamed” woman with hips as wide as hers at a hammam in Marrakech, Warsan reminds her reader, “if our secrets are secrets because we are told to be ashamed, then we must share them.”…

Back on February 25, 2011, you wrote “the birth name”.  In this piece you wrote, “give your daughters difficult names. give your daughters names that command the full use of tongue” and ”my name doesn’t allow me to trust anyone that cannot pronounce it right.” Can you discuss these two lines?

Warsan means “good news” and Shire means “to gather in one place”. My parents named me after my father’s mother, my grandmother. Growing up, I absolutely wanted a name that was easier to pronounce, more common, prettier. But then I grew up and understood the power of a name, the beauty that comes in understanding how your name has affected who you are. My name is indigenous to my country, it is not easy to pronounce, it takes effort to say correctly and I am absolutely in love with the sound of it and its meaning. …

Clearly, you are not “just a poet”.  In your biography, you comment that you curate and teach workshops around the art of healing through narrative. Can you describe the structure of these workshops? Why did you begin these workshops? What is you favorite moment from these workshops?

My workshops are around the idea of using poetry to heal trauma, and I begun these workshops because I wanted to share with people how I had found healing, through creating…the cathartic ritual of letting go and using memory and confession as a form of creation. My favorite moment is when we share the work. And the recognition of safety. The trust that we have built in such a small space of time. The permission to be vulnerable.

Link to read the original article in full

Warsan Shire – Trying To Swim With God

photo credit: Elena Kalis via photopin cc

photo credit: Elena Kalis via photopin cc

The Quiet Secret To Success

When we look at people who are at the top of their field, they all have grit: persistence and passion for their long-term goals. But this doesn’t mean that they burn the midnight oil day in and day out in pursuit of achievement.

Just as elite performers are strategic about what they practice, they are also strategic about how long they practice for. If you think success requires practicing until your fingers bleed or mind spins or muscles give out, for hour upon hour upon hour of endless, relentless, intrinsically boring practice, I have some good news for you: Research suggests that’s not the way to get there.

In our modern, fast-paced, and technology-driven culture, we sometimes forget that we are humans, not computers. Like other animals, we humans are governed by our ultradian and circadian rhythms. Most people are familiar with the concept of our circadian rhythms: In the 24-hour period between when the sun rises and sets, we sleep and wake in predictable cycles. When we travel into different time zones, our circadian rhythms get out of whack, and as a consequence, our lives also can feel similarly discombobulated. …

Our brain-wave patterns cycle in ultradian rhythms as well, and about every hour and a half to two hours, we experience a significant “ultradian dip,” when our energy drops and sleep becomes possible. When we work through these dips—relying on caffeine, adrenaline, and stress hormones to keep us alert—instead of letting our bodies and brains rest, we become stressed and jittery, and our performance falters.

In his studies of truly great performers, K. Anders Ericsson, the psychologist and author of several landmark studies on elite performance about whom I wrote last week, found that they practiced and rested a lot more than their good but not elite peers. For example, violinists destined to become professional soloists practiced an average of 3.5 hours per day, typically in three separate sessions of 60-90 minutes each. Good but not great performers, in contrast, typically practiced an average of 1.4 hours per day, with no deliberate rest breaking up their practice session.

So it isn’t just that elite performers work more than others; they rest more, as well. The top violinists mentioned above slept an hour a night more than their less-accomplished classmates. They were also far more likely to take a nap between practice sessions—nearly three hours of napping a week.

Super-high-achievers sleep significantly more than the average American. On average, Americans get only 6.5 hours of sleep per night. (Even though studies show that 95 percent of the population needs between seven and eight hours of sleep a night.) Elite performers tend to get 8.6 hours of sleep a night; elite athletes need even more sleep. One study showed that when Stanford swimmers increased their sleep time to 10 hours a night, they felt happier, more energetic—and their performance in the pool improved dramatically.

High performance requires more sleep because it involves higher rates of learning and sometimes physical growth. When we are awake, adequate sleep allows us to focus our attention on our practice; when we are sleep deprived, our overworked neurons become uncoordinated, and we start having trouble accessing previously learned information.

When we sleep, our brain consolidates what we’ve learned while we were awake, making it a part of our working memory that we can access later. Sleep allows us to remember tomorrow how to do what we’ve practiced today, and it enables us to recall the information and knowledge we’ve just learned.

The amount of sleep that we get—and how disciplined we are about following our body’s natural circadian and ultradian rhythms—affects not just our health but our productivity and performance. But what does sleep have to do with grit?

Grit is the ability to maintain perseverance and passion towards our long-term goals; we cannot persevere in the face of difficulty if we are fatigued physically, mentally, or emotionally. We can’t persist over the decade or so it takes to achieve true mastery if we become sick or exhausted or burned out along the way. And we can’t improve our skills—intellectually, physically, or artistically—if our learning, memory, and reaction times are impaired due to lack of sleep and rest.

So being gritty isn’t just about pushing yourself 24/7 toward your goals, in both good and bad weather. It’s about making progress toward your goals consistently and deliberately, in a way that works with our human biology, allowing for proper refueling and consolidation of knowledge.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Kevin_Morris via photopin cc

photo credit: Kevin_Morris via photopin cc

Rumination: The Danger of Dwelling

By Denise Winterman

The UK’s biggest ever online test into stress, undertaken by the BBC’s Lab UK and the University of Liverpool, has revealed that rumination is the biggest predictor of the most common mental health problems in the country.

A bit of self-reflection can be a good thing, say psychologists. But just how serious can it get when introspection goes awry and thoughts get stuck on repeat, playing over and over in the mind?

Rumination and self-blame have long been accepted by health professionals as part of the problems that can lead to depression and anxiety – the two most common mental health problems in the UK, according to the Mental Health Foundation.

But new research has demonstrated just how significant and serious their impact on mental health can be.

The findings of a ground-breaking study, published in the journal PLOS ONE today, suggest that brooding too much on negative events is the biggest predictor of depression and anxiety and determines the level of stress people experience. The research even suggests a person’s psychological response is a more important factor than what has actually happened to them…

“We found that people who didn’t ruminate or blame themselves for their difficulties had much lower levels of depression and anxiety, even if they’d experienced many negative events in their lives,” says Peter Kinderman, who led the study and is a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Liverpool…

The human mind is an extremely complex machine and it’s generally accepted there is no single cause for depression and anxiety by professionals in the field. But some factors have more impact than others.

The study found traumatic life events, such as abuse or childhood bullying, were the biggest cause of anxiety and depression when dwelled upon. This is followed by family history, income and education. Next comes relationship status and social inclusion.

“But these didn’t merely ’cause’ depression and anxiety,” he says.

“The most important way in which these things led to depression and anxiety was by leading a person to ruminate and blame themselves for the problem…

It’s important to get across what the findings mean for the average person, says Dr Ellie Pontin, a clinical psychologist and research associate at the University of Liverpool, who was also involved in the study.

“It’s actually a really positive message and should give people hope,” she says.

“It can be very hard to be told your problems are because of what you have experienced in the past or your genetics, things you can’t change. The way you think and deal with things can be changed.”

Other professionals agree…

“And helping someone tackle negative thought processes is not something that has to be done exclusively by clinical psychologists.

Link to the original article

photo credit: David Kracht via photopin cc

photo credit: David Kracht via photopin cc

May I Have Your Attention, Please?

BY 

People can tell whether or not they have your full attention. You may think that you can fake it, but you can’t. You may believe that because you are on the telephone, invisible to the person with whom you’re speaking, that they won’t know that your mind is really somewhere else. But they know….

I know we live in a world of distraction, but this makes your full undivided attention a gift. Giving that gift is proof positive that you care about the other person and what they’re saying.

I know that it’s difficult to focus when there is so much going on around you. But really listening to someone is also a gift. The person you are speaking with wants to be heard–just like you want to be heard. The ability to listen can define and differentiate you in a world full of people who can’t–or won’t.

I know you’re busy. If you want to reclaim your time, then focus on being effective in the moment, not distracted. Effectiveness with other human beings is accomplished not through efficiency, but through caring. And giving someone your full attention and focus is an exceptional gift of caring in the world that is too busy and too distracted to care.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Nicholas Erwin via photopin cc

photo credit: Nicholas Erwin via photopin cc

7 Life Changing Benefits of a Surprisingly Simple Meditation Technique

By 

“Our way to practice is one step at a time, one breath at a time.” ~Shunryu Suzuki

if you can, I’d encourage you to get out of the city and go for a walk.

Here’s why:

1. You will learn to cope with the ups and downs.

There are times when the going is easy, where you run for the sheer exhilaration of it.

But you’ll discover inner reserves of strength to cope with the pouring rain and the difficult climbs, and appreciate the blue skies even more.

2. You will learn that small steps quickly add up to a big achievement.

When I was pregnant, I had muscle pain in my hip, which made walking extremely painful. I ended up on crutches, taking the tiniest step after small step in agony.

It took me forty-five minutes to walk a route that usually took ten.

But I knew I would get there in the end if I just kept moving, because, as my dad always says, “Just remember, all you have to do is get one foot in front of the other.”

And then do it again.

And again.

It feels like glacial progress when you’re in the middle of it.

But when you look back, you will marvel at how far you’ve come.

3. You will learn that sometimes, the path ahead is unclear.

This is when you have to really be courageous, trusting your intuition and experience to find the right path, and finally coming to a decision, and moving on.

4. You will learn flexibility.

Often when walking, you have to change your route because the weather or other unexpected obstacles can dash the best-laid plans.

You will learn to shrug your shoulders, go with the flow, and adjust.

5. You will learn to keep going, no matter what.

It’s called perseverance.

When the climb uphill seems endless and painful, you remind yourself that the pain is temporary.

You know from doing this countless times before that it will be so worth it in the end.

6. You will learn to appreciate every sparkling, unique second.

When you’re walking, your senses are alert. You are truly alive.

You notice curious birds hovering overhead, a blade of grass fluttering in the breeze, the sounds of a trickling stream, the shape of the cloud, and the way the wind ripples the water on the lake.

You will marvel at how the combination of all these things on this particular day at this particular moment will never again be repeated in the entire history of the universe in quite the same way, and feel so grateful.

Others may be making the same journey as you, but the paths they chose to the top may be different. They’ll see different things, and experience the day uniquely.

No one will ever experience this moment in the same way as you.

7. You will learn the importance of the journey.

They say when you’re having fun, time flies.

But I think that’s wrong, because when I walk, time seems to slow down.

I absorb so much, notice so much, simply be so present in the walk that I feel like I’ve been walking for hours when in reality, only a short time has passed.

Actually, it is when I’m in my normal routine in London that the days whiz by in a flash, and I wonder what I’ve achieved.

The familiar surroundings, the concrete of the city, the crowds of rushing, stressed out commuters—meditation is certainly possible in these circumstances, but for a stronger will than mine.

In the city, we are so focused on achieving our goals that our mind is often totally focused on our plans for the future. When we reach one goal, we think “Right, done, what’s next on my to do list?” We rarely sit back and take time to enjoy the journey.

As my meditation teacher says, “We are human beings. Simply be.”

Walking is the best way I know to experience this.

Why not try it?

Link to read the original article

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photo credit: dogpong via photopin cc

Daydreaming in autumn leaves

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The Importance of Taking Time Out (The School of Life)

Damon Young writes in The School of Life Blog

For many, “me time” has a hint of triviality. If hours devoted to paid and unpaid work—from the desk to the freeway to the nappy-change table—are useful, then minutes to oneself are useless: the moments left behind by valuable labour. There is also a mood of luxury to it, as if “me time” were a day spa commodity: expensive pampering with coconut, lime and sandalwood, while body parts are trimmed, painted or rubbed.

Yet “me time” is simply another word for leisure. And leisure need not be useless or costly. The Romans had a word for it: otium. For a civilised retiree, otium … was time to cultivate oneself; to reshape and rejuvenate one’s character.

The scholar and statesman Seneca, for example, took up philosophy in his spare hours. “It is not carried on with the object of passing the day in an entertaining sort of way and taking the boredom out of leisure,” he wrote in a letter to his friend Lucilius. “It moulds and builds the personality, orders one’s life, regulates one’s conduct.”

As Seneca saw it, his hours of otium were essential for a good life: time to take stock, reflect upon himself and the world, and to improve his mind with conversation and study. “What really ruins our characters,” he wrote, “is the fact that none of us looks back over his life.” Seneca’s point was straightforward: his character required a mindful captain, not just a cruising autopilot. His “me time” was very serious, precisely because of what the “me” suggests: the cultivation of the self.

…Exercise is also part of “me time”: not only because it relaxes us, but also because it improves us. Regular jogging, for example, can promote the virtue of constancy: less caprice, more consistency. Martial arts like Judo and boxing can develop courage. A brisk walk is good for the lungs and legs, and also the intellect: the state of “transient hypofrontality” helps innovative ideas to develop. Rock climbing prompts humility.

“Me time” can also be for art and craft. Working at Lloyd’s Bank and caring for his wife Vivien, T.S. Eliot had “me time” in the very early mornings: for poetry. The discipline he developed as a banking clerk was translated into his art. His art, in turn, made his strained emotions and harried thoughts more vivid, clear and beautiful. He was exhausted, but oddly contented with himself (if not his marriage). Jane Austen had “me time” too, with a few intricate manuscripts: one of them, Pride and Prejudice, has its bicentennial birthday this year.

Not everyone has Eliot and Austen’s gifts, but creative hobbies need not be world-class. The point is to translate the vague tangle of life into something ‘out there’ in the world. We ‘objectify’ ourselves, to use Marx’s helpful language, in phrases, clay figures, pastel sketches, knitted jumpsuits, and the garden. (Jane Austen was also a very keen gardener.) In doing so, we can better reflect on ourselves. Alongside their decorative pleasures, and the joy of skillful striving (often called ‘flow’), art and craft are a chance for a more honest consciousness.

In each case, “me time” is neither trivial nor necessarily costly. What makes it valuable is not its price tag or popularity. Its worth is existential: “me time” is for care of the self. This is selfish, not because it thieves from others, but because it sees the self as an adventure: something to keep revising and refining.

At its best, this adventure is no egotistical conceit: by developing ourselves, we have more to give others. With regular “me time” we can be stronger, more lucid, courageous or aware of our own flaws. At the very least, we are simply more sane.

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Teach Kids to Daydream

 writes…

Mental downtime makes people more creative and less anxious.

Today’s children are exhausted, and not just because one in three kids is not getting sufficient sleep. Sleep deprivation in kids (who require at least nine hours a night, depending on age) has been found to significantly decrease academic achievement, lower standardized achievement and intelligence test scores, stunt physical growth, encourage drug and alcohol use, heighten moodiness and irritability, exacerbate symptoms of ADD, and dramatically increase the likelihood of car accidents among teens. While the argument for protecting our children’s sleep time is compelling, there is another kind of rest that is equally underestimated and equally beneficial to our children’s academic, emotional, and creative lives: daydreaming.

Daydreaming has been found to be anything but counter-productive. It may just be the hidden wellspring of creativity and learning in the guise of idleness.

…I’m talking about the kind of mind-wandering that happens when the brain is free of interruption and allowed to unhook from the runaway train of the worries of the day. When the mind wanders freely between random thoughts and memories that float through our consciousness, unbidden. Television, videogames, and other electronic distractions prevent this kind of mental wandering because they interrupt the flow of thoughts and memories that cement the foundation of positive, productive daydreaming.

Legendary cognitive psychologist Jerome L. Singer goes so far as to call daydreaming our default mental state. Singer proposed in his 1966 book, Daydreaming: an Introduction to the Experimental Study of Inner Experience, that we have two mental networks, working memory and daydreaming. The two cannot operate at the same time, so when we engage our working memory network, we shut off our daydreaming network.

The two forms of thinking may be different, and mutually exclusive, but they are both necessary to our emotional and intellectual health.

Scott Barry Kaufman, cognitive psychologist and author of Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined, argues that while this dreamy, reflective state might look like idleness to an outside observer, daydreaming kids are at work. “Ode to Positive Constructive Daydreaming”—an article Kaufman cowrote with Rebecca McMillan—reads:

There is, however, another way of looking at mind wandering, a personal perspective, if you will. For the individual, mind wandering offers the possibility of very real, personal reward, some immediate, some more distant.

These rewards include self- awareness, creative incubation, improvisation and evaluation, memory consolidation, autobiographical planning, goal driven thought, future planning, retrieval of deeply personal memories, reflective consideration of the meaning of events and experiences, simulating the perspective of another person, evaluating the implications of self and others’ emotional reactions, moral reasoning, and reflective compassion.

In other words, daydreaming only appears lazy from the outside, but viewed from the inside — or from the perspective of a psychologist, such as Kaufman, or a neuroscientist, such as Mary Helen Immordino-Yang — a complicated and extremely productive neurological process is taking place. Viewed from the inside, our children are exploring the only space where they truly have autonomy: their own minds.

Immordino-Yang’s work on the virtue of mental downtime includes the paper “Rest is not Idleness: Implications of the Brain’s Default Mode for Human Development and Education.” The title quotes a 19th-century British banker named John Lubbock, who wrote, “Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.” Lubbock, according to Immordino-Yang, was way ahead of his time in understanding the value of idleness to our essential neurological functioning. What Lubbock called rest, Immordino-Yang calls “constructive internal reflection,” and she considers it is vital to learning and emotional well-being:

[I]nadequate opportunity for children to play and for adolescents to quietly reflect and to daydream may have negative consequences — both for social-emotional well-being and for their ability to attend well to tasks.

…When researchers sought to find ways to alleviate the anxiety caused by high-stakes testing, they found that simply giving students a few minutes to think about and write down their thoughts on the test significantly increased test scores, particularly for students for whom test anxiety had become a habit. In the researchers’ words,

Expressive writing eliminates the relation commonly seen between test anxiety and poor test performance. Moreover, it is not any writing that benefits performance, but expressing worries about an upcoming high-pressure situation that accounts for enhanced exam scores under pressure.

…we should stop snapping our children out of their daydreams. Instead, we should protect this time much as we protect bedtime. Kick your children outside and close the door behind them. Encourage them go for a walk around the neighborhood without an electronic device. Tell your child what I have told you, that that silence and daydreaming are as important to their health and learning as sleeping and studying. Take a serious and objective look at how much time your child spends playing video games, responding to texts, messaging, watching television, or messing around on the Internet and carve out some of that time for daydreaming.

Model this behavior for them and re-discover your own love of daydreaming; don’t snap out of it, fall into it, and encourage your children to do the same. I have incorporated opportunities to daydream into my daily life, because they feed both my teaching and my writing. First thing in the morning when I am awake, but have not yet opened my eyes. On walks in the woods, free of earbuds or an agenda. The otherwise onerous and repetitive task of weed-pulling and raking has also proven fertile ground for this kind of mental meandering. The activity does not matter: Any place or occasion or task that allows the brain to wander will do.

Teach your kids how to just be. How to value silence and be at peace with nothing but their thoughts to occupy them. Make the romantic notion of laying back on the soft grass with nothing to do other than to watch the clouds pass overhead a reality. … To paraphrase two of my favorite dreamers, William Shakespeare and W.H. Auden, round out our children’s days with sleep and allow them to build their air castles undisturbed.

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Why We Need Fairytales – Jeannette Winterson on Oscar Wilde

…since JK Rowling‘s Harry Potter and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, children’s literature has been repositioned as central, not peripheral, shifting what children read, what we write about what children read, and what we read as adults. At last we seem to understand that imagination is ageless. Wilde’s children’s stories are splendid. In addition, it seems to me that they should be revisited as a defining part of his creative process…

Fairytales always involve reversals of fortune. This works in both directions: beggars become kings, palaces collapse into hovels, the spoilt son eats thistles. Wilde’s own reversal of fortune from fame and money to destitution and exile shares the same rapid drama. Fairytales are also and always about transformation of various kinds – frogs into princes, coal into gold – and if they are not excessively moralistic, there is usually a happy ending. Wilde’s fairytale transformations turn on loss. Even “The Star-Child”, in which meanness and vanity are overcome by compassion, ends with a kingdom that lasts only three years…

Reason and logic are tools for understanding the world. We need a means of understanding ourselves, too. That is what imagination allows. When a child reads of a Nightingale who bleeds her song into a rose for love’s sake, or of a Selfish Giant who puts a wall round life, or of a Fisherman who wants to be rid of his Soul, or of a statue who feels the suffering of the world more keenly than the Mathematics Master who scoffs at his pupils for dreaming about Angels, the child knows at once both the mystery and truth of such stories. We have all at some point in our lives been the overlooked idiot who finds a way to kill the dragon, win the treasure, marry the princess.

As explanations of the world, fairy stories tell us what science and philosophy cannot and need not. There are different ways of knowing. “Bring me the two most precious things in the city,” said God to one of His Angels; and the Angel brought Him the leaden heart and the dead bird.

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photo credit: rogiro via photopin cc

photo credit: rogiro via photopin cc

The Science of Storytelling: How Narrative Cuts Through Distraction Like Nothing Else

BY: JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL, author The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, writes

In the first of a three-part series, author Jonathan Gottschall discusses the science of storytelling–not just escapism, stories have real power to hold human attention and shape our thinking.

Humans live in a storm of stories. We live in stories all day long, and dream in stories all night long. We communicate through stories and learn from them. We collapse gratefully into stories after a long day at work. Without personal life stories to organize our experience, our own lives would lack coherence and meaning. Homo sapiens (wise man) is a pretty good definition for our species. But Homo fictus (fiction man) would be about as accurate. Man is the storytelling animal…

As Scott Donaton argued in a recent Co.Create post, … “The challenge is clear by now,” Donaton writes, “Intrusive, interruptive, self-centered marketing no longer works the way it once did, and its effectiveness will only continue to diminish in the social age. The question is what will replace the legacy model. There’s a one-word answer: stories.” Story is the answer for two reasons, both of them backed by compelling science. First, because people are naturally greedy for stories, they have a unique ability to seize and rivet our attention. Second, stories aren’t just fun escapism–they have an almost spooky ability to mold our thinking and behavior. In this post, I’ll describe the science behind the attention-seizing power of stories, leaving their molding power for a follow-up post…

The human mind is a wanderer by nature. The daydream is the mind’s default state. Whenever the mind doesn’t have something really important to do, it gets bored and wanders off into la-la land. Studies show that we spend about half of our waking hours–1/3 of our lives on earth–spinning fantasies. We have about two-thousand of these a day (!), with an average duration of fourteen seconds. In other words, our minds are simply flitting all over the place all the time.

So this is the most fundamental challenge we face in the attention economy: how do we pin down the wandering mind? How do we override the natural tendency for a mind to skip away from whatever we are showing it? By telling stories. In normal life, we spin about one-hundred daydreams per waking hour. But when absorbed in a good story–when we watch a show like Breaking Bad or read a novel like The Hunger Games–we experience approximately zero daydreams per hour. Our hyper minds go still and they pay close attention, often for hours on end. This is really very impressive. What it means is that story acts like a drug that reliably lulls us into an altered state of consciousness…

Stories powerfully hook and hold human attention because, at a brain level, whatever is happening in a story is happening to us and not just them.

But this all leads to a bigger question. Most of us think of stories as a way to pleasantly while away our leisure time. Is there any evidence that story is actually effective in influencing us–in modifying our thinking and behavior? Yes. Lots. That’s the subject of my next post.

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photo credit: Pörrö via photopin cc

photo credit: Pörrö via photopin cc

Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime

By Ferris Jabr

Research on naps, meditation, nature walks and the habits of exceptional artists and athletes reveals how mental breaks increase productivity, replenish attention, solidify memories and encourage creativity

…Americans and their brains are preoccupied with work much of the time. Throughout history people have intuited that such puritanical devotion to perpetual busyness does not in fact translate to greater productivity and is not particularly healthy. What if the brain requires substantial downtime to remain industrious and generate its most innovative ideas? “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets,” essayist Tim Kreider wrote in The New York Times. “The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration—it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

In making an argument for the necessity of mental downtime, we can now add an overwhelming amount of empirical evidence to intuition and anecdote. Why giving our brains a break now and then is so important has become increasingly clear in a diverse collection of new studies investigating: the habits of office workers and the daily routines of extraordinary musicians and athletes; the benefits of vacation, meditation and time spent in parks, gardens and other peaceful outdoor spaces; and how napping, unwinding while awake and perhaps the mere act of blinking can sharpen the mind. What research to date also clarifies, however, is that even when we are relaxing or daydreaming, the brain does not really slow down or stop working. Rather—just as a dazzling array of molecular, genetic and physiological processes occur primarily or even exclusively when we sleep at night—many important mental processes seem to require what we call downtime and other forms of rest during the day. Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life. A wandering mind unsticks us in time so that we can learn from the past and plan for the future. Moments of respite may even be necessary to keep one’s moral compass in working order and maintain a sense of self…

In a recent thought-provoking review of research on the default mode network, Mary Helen Immordino-Yang of the University of Southern California and her co-authors argue that when we are resting the brain is anything but idle and that, far from being purposeless or unproductive, downtime is in fact essential to mental processes that affirm our identities, develop our understanding of human behavior and instill an internal code of ethics—processes that depend on the DMN. Downtime is an opportunity for the brain to make sense of what it has recently learned, to surface fundamental unresolved tensions in our lives and to swivel its powers of reflection away from the external world toward itself. While mind-wandering we replay conversations we had earlier that day, rewriting our verbal blunders as a way of learning to avoid them in the future. We craft fictional dialogue to practice standing up to someone who intimidates us or to reap the satisfaction of an imaginary harangue against someone who wronged us. We shuffle through all those neglected mental post-it notes listing half-finished projects and we mull over the aspects of our lives with which we are most dissatisfied, searching for solutions. We sink into scenes from childhood and catapult ourselves into different hypothetical futures. And we subject ourselves to a kind of moral performance review, questioning how we have treated others lately. These moments of introspection are also one way we form a sense of self, which is essentially a story we continually tell ourselves. When it has a moment to itself, the mind dips its quill into our memories, sensory experiences, disappointments and desires so that it may continue writing this ongoing first-person narrative of life.

Related research suggests that the default mode network is more active than is typical in especially creative people, and some studies have demonstrated that the mind obliquely solves tough problems while daydreaming—an experience many people have had while taking a shower. Epiphanies may seem to come out of nowhere, but they are often the product of unconscious mental activity during downtime. In a 2006 studyAp Dijksterhuis and his colleagues asked 80 University of Amsterdam students to pick the best car from a set of four that—unbeknownst to the students—the researchers had previously ranked based on size, mileage, maneuverability and other features. Half the participants got four minutes to deliberate after reviewing the specs; the researchers prevented the other 40 from pondering their choices by distracting them with anagrams. Yet the latter group made far better decisions. Solutions emerge from the subconscious in this way only when the distracting task is relatively simple, such as solving an anagram or engaging in a routine activity that does not necessitate much deliberate concentration, like brushing one’s teeth or washing dishes. With the right kind of distraction the default mode network may be able to integrate more information from a wide range of brain regions in more complex ways than when the brain is consciously working through a problem.

During downtime, the brain also concerns itself with more mundane but equally important duties. For decades scientists have suspected that when an animal or person is not actively learning something new, the brain consolidates recently accumulated data, memorizing the most salient information, and essentially rehearses recently learned skills, etching them into its tissue. Most of us have observed how, after a good night’s sleep, the vocab words we struggled to remember the previous day suddenly leap into our minds or that technically challenging piano song is much easier to play. Dozensof studies have confirmed that memory depends on sleep…

All in a day’s work
That learning and memory depend on both sleep and waking rest may partially explain why some of the most exceptional artists and athletes among us fall into a daily routine of intense practice punctuated by breaks and followed by a lengthy period of recuperation. Psychologist K. Anders Ericsson of The Florida State University has spent more than 30 years studying how people achieve the highest levels of expertise. Based on his own work and a thorough review of the relevant research, Ericsson has concluded that most people can engage in deliberate practice—which means pushing oneself beyond current limits—for only an hour without rest; that extremely talented people in many different disciplines—music, sports, writing—rarely practice more than four hours each day on average; and that many experts prefer to begin training early in the morning when mental and physical energy is readily available. “Unless the daily levels of practice are restricted, such that subsequent rest and nighttime sleep allow the individuals to restore their equilibrium,” Ericsson wrote, “individuals often encounter overtraining injuries and, eventually, incapacitating ‘burnout.’”

These principles are derived from the rituals of the exceptional, but they are useful for just about anyone in any profession, including typical nine-to-fivers. Corporate America may never sanction working only four hours a day, but research suggests that to maximize productivity we should reform the current model of consecutive 40-hour workweeks separated only by two-day weekends and sometimes interrupted by short vacations.

Psychologists have established that vacations have real benefits. Vacations likely revitalize the body and mind by distancing people from job-related stress; by immersing people in new places, cuisines and social circles, which in turn may lead to original ideas and insights; and by giving people the opportunity to get a good night’s sleep and to let their minds drift from one experience to the next, rather than forcing their brains to concentrate on a single task for hours at a time…

Put your mind at rest
Many recent studies have corroborated the idea that our mental resources are continuously depleted throughout the day and that various kinds of rest and downtime can both replenish those reserves and increase their volume. Consider, for instance, how even an incredibly brief midday nap enlivens the mind…

An equally restorative and likely far more manageable solution to mental fatigue is spending more time outdoors—in the evenings, on the weekends and even during lunch breaks by walking to a nearby park, riverfront or anywhere not dominated by skyscrapers and city streets. Marc Berman, a psychologist at the University of South Carolina and a pioneer of a relatively new field called ecopsychology, argues that whereas the hustle and bustle of a typical city taxes our attention, natural environments restore it. Contrast the experience of walking through Times Square in New York City—where the brain is ping-ponged between neon lights, honking taxies and throngs of tourists—with a day hike in a nature reserve, where the mind is free to leisurely shift its focus from the calls of songbirds to the gurgling and gushing of rivers to sunlight falling through every gap in the tree branches and puddling on the forest floor…

photo credit: (matt) via photopin cc

photo credit: (matt) via photopin cc

Beyond renewing one’s powers of concentration, downtime can in fact bulk up the muscle of attention—something that scientists have observed repeatedly in studies on meditation. There are almost as many varieties and definitions of meditation as there are people who practice it. Although meditation is not equivalent to zoning out or daydreaming, many styles challenge people to sit in a quiet space, close their eyes and turn their attention away from the outside world toward their own minds. Mindfulness meditation, for example, generally refers to a sustained focus on one’s thoughts, emotions and sensations in the present moment. For many people, mindfulness is about paying close attention to whatever the mind does on its own, as opposed to directing one’s mind to accomplish this or that.

Mindfulness training has become more popular than ever in the last decade as a strategy to relieve stress, anxiety and depression. Many researchers acknowledge that studies on the benefits of mindfulness often lack scientific rigor, use too few participants and rely too heavily on people’s subjective reports, but at this point they have gathered enough evidence to conclude that meditation can indeed improve mental health, hone one’s ability to concentrate and strengthen memory. Studies comparing long-time expert meditators with novices or people who do not meditate often find that the former outperform the latter on tests of mental acuity.Meditation appears to increase the volume and density of the hippocampus, a seahorse-shaped area of the brain that is absolutely crucial for memory; it thickens regions of the frontal cortex that we rely on to rein in our emotions; and it stymies the typical wilting of brain areas responsible for sustaining attention as we get older.

Just how quickly meditation can noticeably change the brain and mind is not yet clear. But a handful of experiments suggest that a couple weeks of meditation or a mere 10 to 20 minutes of mindfulness a day can whet the mind—if people stick with it. Likewise, a few studies indicate that meditating daily is ultimately more important than the total hours of meditation over one’s lifetime…

“When people in the military have a gym they will work out in the gym. When they are on the side of a mountain they will make do with what they have and do push-ups to stay in shape,” Jha says. “Mindfulness training may offer something similar for the mind. It’s low-tech and easy to implement.” In her own life, Jha looks for any and all existing opportunities to practice mindfulness, such as her 15-minute trip to and from work each day.

Likewise, Michael Taft advocates deliberate mental breaks during “all the in-between moments” in an average day—a subway ride, lunch, a walk to the bodega. He stresses, though, that there’s a big difference between admiring the idea of more downtime and committing to it in practice. “Getting out into nature on the weekends, meditating, putting away our computers now and then—a lot of it is stuff we already know we should probably do,” he says. “But we have to be a lot more diligent about it. Because it really does matter.”

Link to read this rich and densely referenced in it full original version

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photo credit: The Rocketeer via photopin cc

Ruth Owen: “There’s no point being a woman and trying to be a man”

by 

The CEO of Whizz Kidz talks about discrimination, never crying in the office and why women need to stop whinging and learn to play the game

…”Sometimes I think women aren’t always as tough as men, they tend to agonise about things and they can be too nice,” she says. “At the same time you’ve got to be sensible, there’s no point being a woman and trying to be a man.”

Owen has experienced more discrimination in her career than most, although it’s clear she doesn’t resent it, if anything it spurred her on to achieve more. When she landed a job in direct sales her boss pointedly asked her how she thought her wheelchair would make her clients feel. Her response was typically direct.

“I said let that be my problem, not yours,” she explains with a steely glint in her eye. “I’d been through all the interviews, all the tests, and I said ‘I happen to have four wheels to my bum but if I do a good job and I deliver then we’ll all be happy, and if you’re not happy then sack me, the risk is all with me, not with you’.”

So does she feel that perceptions of disabled people have changed? “I think people’s perceptions from the Paralympics have changed, I get a lot more offers of help than I’ve ever had. People are more aware. But do I really think things have changed in terms of employment for young disabled people? Absolutely not. I think people are blinkered.”

Employers still struggle with binary ideas about what makes a good employee and this affects young disabled people, who can’t get work experience, she explains. “We can’t all be leaders, but every company needs good workers and it’s important to have different people in the workplace because we need balance.”

Owen talks openly about having to use the men’s toilets in a previous role, as the women’s were down a flight of stairs. “I used to ask my client to go in first to check there weren’t any men in there,” she adds.

Perhaps because of this, she has little sympathy for those who are quick to claim they are being treated unfairly at work. “Sometimes women can be a bit whingy about their lot in life and I actually don’t think we need to behave like that. You need to work on your talent and push yourself a bit. Men can make it difficult for you though, it’s not easy. And it can be very subtle too.

“As a woman you’ve got to walk that very fine line of being pushy but nice to other people along the way.” When she started out, the office environment was mostly white, male and suited, she explains. “I worked out very quickly the politics of it all and what I needed to do to climb.” …

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photo credit: Andy Murray. via photopin cc

photo credit: Andy Murray. via photopin cc

How Some Of The World’s Most Successful People Discovered Their Spiritual Side

The Huffington Post  |  By 

…with nearly one in five Americans identifying as “spiritual but not religious,” and countless successful people in a range of professions saying that meditation is their greatest secret to success, some of America’s most beloved public figures and successful business leaders are following suit, opening up about their first “big jelly” moments of spiritual awakening — and telling the world why they believe.

Here are 10 amazing spiritual “coming out” stories from successful thinkers, performers and business leaders…

Link to the original article to read these stories

photo credit: nicola.albertini via photopin cc

photo credit: nicola.albertini via photopin cc

You will find these and many more stories in this weeks new collection: