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…

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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
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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

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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

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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

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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

photo credit: SuperFantastic via photopin cc

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

photo credit: 'PixelPlacebo' via photopin cc

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

photo credit: xJason.Rogersx via photopin cc

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

photo credit: dogpong via photopin cc

photo credit: dogpong via photopin cc

Daydreaming in autumn leaves

photo credit: djniks via photopin cc

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.

Link to read the original article

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.

Link to read original article

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.

Link to read the original article

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.

Link to read the original article

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

photo credit: The Rocketeer via photopin cc

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.” …

Link to read the original article

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:

Happiness At Work Edition #68

Happiness At Work #67 ~ the art and practice of patient nurture

photo credit: Martin Gommel via photopin cc

photo credit: Martin Gommel via photopin cc

If you would know strength and patience,
welcome the company of trees.  
– Hal Borland

This week’s Happiness At Work theme is inspired by Steve McCurry’s beautiful photo portrait of trees in his blog collection

Sentinels and Sanctuaries (Steve McCurry’s Blog)

Steve McCurry’s new photo collection shows us in our relationships with trees and in these heart-lifting images, illuminates the timeless wisdom we associate with these majestic cohabitants of our planet.

It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a
claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something,
that quality of air that emanation from old trees,
that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.
–  Robert Louis Stevenson

Follow this link to see Steve McCurry’s Sentinels and Sanctuaries and to enjoy a certain lift to your day

photo credit: joiseyshowaa via photopin cc

photo credit: joiseyshowaa via photopin cc

Following on from these thoughts, here are some of the articles from this week’s Happiness At Work Edition #67 that draw on ideas of nurture, cultivation, slowness, patience, subtlety and longevity.

We’ve Gotten The Pursuit Of Happiness All Wrong, Until Now

Aside from basic survival, the pursuit of happiness is arguably one of the most fundamental concerns of every human being on the planet (not to mention a driving force behind the $10 billion-a-year self-help industry). But according to Cornell cognitive psychologist Shimon Edelman, author of The Happiness Of Pursuit: What Neuroscience Can Teach Us About The Good Life,, we’ve been going about it backwards…

According to Edelman, understanding the workings of our own minds can help us to comprehend not only the nature of happiness but, perhaps eventually, how to optimize the brain for well-being. Recent developments in cognitive science have shed light on how positive emotional states (including pleasure, happiness, and euphoria) occur in the brain — and why we’re hardwired for happiness.

“In the past 10 years, neuroscience has witnessed a revolution. We used to treat the brain as a black box into which very limited glimpses were available, but we are starting to comprehend the basic principles within which the whole thing operates,” says Edelman, explaining that these simple principles are accessible to anyone who’s interested in getting to know his or her own mind…

Part of the reason we’re always seeking happiness is that it’s so fleeting in nature. As Edelman explains, “[Happiness] seemed difficult to grasp and hold onto… One has this compelling need to go on.”

This “need to go on” — to continue the pursuit — is one of the brain’s evolutionary advantages. “A species that rests on its laurels wouldn’t be doing that for very long,” he says.

But not all happiness is gone at a moment’s notice: eudaimonic happiness, which has to do with the way we evaluate our own lives and the feeling that we have lived well, is inherently longer-lasting than any state of pleasure, joy or euphoria (“hedonic happiness”). The distinction of these two domains of happiness goes back to Aristotle, who said that eudaimonic happiness happiness (also translated as “human flourishing,” or “living well,”) could be had by living in a way that follows a larger purpose beyond oneself. Happiness, for Aristotle, wasn’t the result of a life-long pursuit — it was the activity of pursuing.

“Eudaimonic happiness happiness is something you build up over a lifetime,” Edelman says. “In a sense, it’s a great consolation for older people — it’s nice to know that on that component, people can get more and more happy as they age if they led good lives.”

This eudaimonic happiness pursuit of the good life can also keep us in good physical health, according to recent research. A University of California study found that the two different types of happiness were associated with different gene expression. People with high levels of eudaimonic happiness happiness had low inflammatory gene expression and high antiviral gene expression, while those with high levels of pleasure-seeking happiness exhibited higher inflammatory gene expression.

“What happiness does in the short term, it also does in the long term,” says Edelman. “This [eudaimonic happiness] is what can be built and cherished and enhanced and preserved.”

Link to read the original article in full

photo credit: martinak15 via photopin cc

photo credit: martinak15 via photopin cc

Do You Want A Meaningful Life or A Happy Life?

In this long, erudite and thoughtful article,  reports on his findings and conclusions from a a survey that asked nearly 400 US citizens, ranging in age from 18 to 78, about the extent to which they thought their lives were happy and the extent to which they thought they were meaningful.

Happiness is not the same as a sense of meaning.  How do we go about finding a meaningful life, not just a happy one?

Parents often say: ‘I just want my children to be happy.’ It is unusual to hear: ‘I just want my children’s lives to be meaningful,’ yet that’s what most of us seem to want for ourselves. We fear meaninglessness. We fret about the ‘nihilism’ of this or that aspect of our culture. When we lose a sense of meaning, we get depressed. What is this thing we call meaning, and why might we need it so badly?

…We found five sets of major differences between happiness and meaningfulness, five areas where different versions of the good life parted company.

The first had to do with getting what you want and need. Not surprisingly, satisfaction of desires was a reliable source of happiness. But it had nothing — maybe even less than nothing ­— to add to a sense of meaning. People are happier to the extent that they find their lives easy rather than difficult. Happy people say they have enough money to buy the things they want and the things they need. Good health is a factor that contributes to happiness but not to meaningfulness. Healthy people are happier than sick people, but the lives of sick people do not lack meaning. The more often people feel good — a feeling that can arise from getting what one wants or needs — the happier they are. The less often they feel bad, the happier they are. But the frequency of good and bad feelings turns out to be irrelevant to meaning, which can flourish even in very forbidding conditions.

Meaning and happiness are apparently experienced quite differently in time. Happiness is about the present; meaning is about the future, or, more precisely, about linking past, present and future. The more time people spent thinking about the future or the past, the more meaningful, and less happy, their lives were. Time spent imagining the future was linked especially strongly to higher meaningfulness and lower happiness (as was worry, which I’ll come to later). Conversely, the more time people spent thinking about the here and now, the happier they were. Misery is often focused on the present, too, but people are happy more often than they are miserable. If you want to maximise your happiness, it looks like good advice to focus on the present, especially if your needs are being satisfied. Meaning, on the other hand, seems to come from assembling past, present and future into some kind of coherent story.

This begins to suggest a theory for why it is we care so much about meaning. Perhaps the idea is to make happiness last. Happiness seems present-focused and fleeting, whereas meaning extends into the future and the past and looks fairly stable. For this reason, people might think that pursuing a meaningful life helps them to stay happy in the long run. They might even be right — though, in empirical fact, happiness is often fairly consistent over time. Those of us who are happy today are also likely to be happy months or even years from now, and those who are unhappy about something today commonly turn out to be unhappy about other things in the distant future. It feels as though happiness comes from outside, but the weight of evidence suggests that a big part of it comes from inside. Despite these realities, people experience happiness as something that is felt here and now, and that cannot be counted on to last. By contrast, meaning is seen as lasting, and so people might think they can establish a basis for a more lasting kind of happiness by cultivating meaning.

Social life was the locus of our third set of differences. As you might expect, connections to other people turned out to be important both for meaning and for happiness. Being alone in the world is linked to low levels of happiness and meaningfulness, as is feeling lonely. Nevertheless, it was the particular character of one’s social connections that determined which state they helped to bring about. Simply put, meaningfulness comes from contributing to other people, whereas happiness comes from what they contribute to you. This runs counter to some conventional wisdom: it is widely assumed that helping other people makes you happy. Well, to the extent that it does, the effect depends entirely on the overlap between meaning and happiness. Helping others had a big positive contribution to meaningfulness independent of happiness, but there was no sign that it boosted happiness independently of meaning. If anything, the effect was in the opposite direction: once we correct for the boost it gives to meaning, helping others can actually detract from one’s own happiness.

If happiness is about getting what you want, it appears that meaningfulness is about doing things that express yourself

A fourth category of differences had to do with struggles, problems, stresses and the like. In general, these went with lower happiness and higher meaningfulness. We asked how many positive and negative events people had recently experienced. Having lots of good things happen turned out to be helpful for both meaning and happiness. No surprise there. But bad things were a different story. Highly meaningful lives encounter plenty of negative events, which of course reduce happiness. Indeed, stress and negative life events were two powerful blows to happiness, despite their significant positive association with a meaningful life. We begin to get a sense of what the happy but not very meaningful life would be like. Stress, problems, worrying, arguing, reflecting on challenges and struggles — all these are notably low or absent from the lives of purely happy people, but they seem to be part and parcel of a highly meaningful life. The transition to retirement illustrates this difference: with the cessation of work demands and stresses, happiness goes up but meaningfulness drops.

Do people go out looking for stress in order to add meaning to their lives? It seems more likely that they seek meaning by pursuing projects that are difficult and uncertain. One tries to accomplish things in the world: this brings both ups and downs, so the net gain to happiness might be small, but the process contributes to meaningfulness either way…

The final category of differences had to do with the self and personal identity. Activities that express the self are an important source of meaning but are mostly irrelevant to happiness. Of the 37 items on our list that asked people to rate whether some activity (such as working, exercising or meditating) was an expression or reflection of the self, 25 yielded significant positive correlations with a meaningful life and none was negative. Only two of the 37 items (socialising, and partying without alcohol) were positively linked to happiness, and some even had a significant negative relationship. The worst was worry: if you think of yourself as a worrier, that seems to be quite a downer.

If happiness is about getting what you want, it appears that meaningfulness is about doing things that express yourself. Even just caring about issues of personal identity and self-definition was associated with more meaning, though it was irrelevant, if not outright detrimental, to happiness. This might seem almost paradoxical: happiness is selfish, in the sense that it is about getting what you want and having other people do things that benefit you, and yet the self is more tied to meaning than happiness. Expressing yourself, defining yourself, building a good reputation and other self-oriented activities are more about meaning than happiness...

Questions about life’s meaning are prompted by more than mere idle curiosity or fear of missing out. Meaning is a powerful tool in human life. To understand what that tool is used for, it helps to appreciate something else about life as a process of ongoing change. A living thing might always be in flux, but life cannot be at peace with endless change. Living things yearn for stability, seeking to establish harmonious relationships with their environment. They want to know how to get food, water, shelter and the like. They find or create places where they can rest and be safe. They might keep the same home for years. Life, in other words, is change accompanied by a constant striving to slow or stop the process of change, which leads ultimately to death. If only change could stop, especially at some perfect point: that was the theme of the profound story of Faust’s bet with the devil. Faust lost his soul because he could not resist the wish that a wonderful moment would last forever. Such dreams are futile. Life cannot stop changing until it ends. But living things work hard to establish some degree of stability, reducing the chaos of constant change to a somewhat stable status quo.

By contrast, meaning is largely fixed. Language is possible only insofar as words have the same meaning for everyone, and the same meaning tomorrow as today. (Languages do change, but slowly and somewhat reluctantly, relative stability being essential to their function.) Meaning therefore presents itself as an important tool by which the human animal might impose stability on its world. By recognising the steady rotation of the seasons, people can plan for future years. By establishing enduring property rights, we can develop farms to grow food.

Crucially, the human being works with others to impose its meanings. Language has to be shared, for private languages are not real languages. By communicating and working together, we create a predictable, reliable, trustworthy world, one in which you can take the bus or plane to get somewhere, trust that food can be purchased next Tuesday, know you won’t have to sleep out in the rain or snow but can count on a warm dry bed, and so forth…

photo credit: Indy Kethdy via photopin cc

photo credit: Indy Kethdy via photopin cc

My own efforts to understand how people find meaning in life eventually settled on a list of four ‘needs for meaning’, and in the subsequent years that list has held up reasonably well.

The point of this list is that you will find life meaningful to the extent that you have something that addresses each of these four needs. Conversely, people who fail to satisfy one or more of these needs are likely to find life less than adequately meaningful. Changes with regard to any of these needs should also affect how meaningful the person finds his or her life.

The first need is, indeed, for purpose. Frankl was right: without purpose, life lacks meaning. A purpose is a future event or state that lends structure to the present, thus linking different times into a single story. Purposes can be sorted into two broad categories. One might strive toward a particular goal (to win a championship, become vice president or raise healthy children) or toward a condition of fulfilment (happiness, spiritual salvation, financial security, wisdom).

Life goals come from three sources, so in a sense every human life has three basic sources of purpose. One is nature. It built you for a particular purpose, which is to sustain life by surviving and reproducing. Nature doesn’t care whether you’re happy, much as people wish to be happy. …It doesn’t care what you do on a Sunday afternoon as long as you manage to survive and, sooner or later, reproduce.

The second source of purpose is culture. Culture tells you what is valuable and important. Some cultures tell you exactly what you are supposed to do: they mark you out for a particular slot (farmer, soldier, mother etc). Others offer a much wider range of options and put less pressure on you to adopt a particular one, though they certainly reward some choices more than others.

That brings us to the third source of goals: your own choices. In modern Western countries in particular, society presents you with a broad range of paths and you decide which one to take. For whatever reason — inclination, talent, inertia, high pay, good benefits — you choose one set of goals for yourself (your occupation, for example). You create the meaning of your life, fleshing out the sketch that nature and culture provided. You can even choose to defy it: many people choose not to reproduce, and some even choose not to survive. Many others resist and rebel at what their culture has chosen for them.

The second need for meaning is value. This means having a basis for knowing what is right and wrong, good and bad. ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ are among the first words children learn. They are some of the earliest and most culturally universal concepts, and among the few words that house pets sometimes acquire. In terms of brain reactions, the feeling that something is good or bad comes very fast, almost immediately after you recognise what it is. Solitary creatures judge good and bad by how they feel upon encountering something (does it reward them or punish them?). Humans, as social beings, can understand good and bad in loftier ways, such as their moral quality.

In practice, when it comes to making life meaningful, people need to find values that cast their lives in positive ways, justifying who they are and what they do. Justification is ultimately subject to social, consensual judgment, so one needs to have explanations that will satisfy other people in the society (especially the people who enforce the laws). Again, nature makes some values, and culture adds a truckload of additional ones. It’s not clear whether people can invent their own values, but some do originate from inside the self and become elaborated. People have strong inner desires that shape their reactions.

The third need is for efficacy. It’s not very satisfying to have goals and values if you can’t do anything about them. People like to feel that they can make a difference. Their values have to find expression in their life and work. Or, to look at it the other way around, people have to be able steer events towards positive outcomes (by their lights) and away from negative ones.

The last need is for self-worth. People with meaningful lives typically have some basis for thinking that they are good people, maybe even a little better than certain other people. At a minimum, people want to believe that they are better than they might have been had they chosen or behaved or performed badly. They have earned some degree of respect.

The meaningful life, then, has four properties. It has purposes that guide actions from present and past into the future, lending it direction. It has values that enable us to judge what is good and bad; and, in particular, that allow us to justify our actions and strivings as good. It is marked by efficacy, in which our actions make a positive contribution towards realising our goals and values. And it provides a basis for regarding ourselves in a positive light, as good and worthy people.

People ask what is the meaning of life, as if there is a single answer. There is no one answer: there are thousands of different ones. A life will be meaningful if it finds responses to the four questions of purpose, value, efficacy, and self-worth. It is these questions, not the answers, that endure and unify.

Link to read this much longer original article in full

photo credit: Il conte di Luna via photopin cc

photo credit: Il conte di Luna via photopin cc

Why You Should Stop Trying To Be Happy

MARK MANSON writes…

Happiness is the process of becoming your ideal self

Completing a marathon makes us happier than eating a chocolate cake. Raising a child makes us happier than beating a video game. Starting a small business with friends and struggling to make money makes us happier than buying a new computer.

And the funny thing is that all three of the activities above are exceedingly unpleasant and require setting high expectations and potentially failing to always meet them. Yet, they are some of the most meaningful moments and activities of our lives. They involve pain, struggle, even anger and despair, yet once we’ve done them we look back and get misty-eyed about them.

Why?

Because it’s these sort of activities which allow us to become our ideal selves. It’s the perpetual pursuit of fulfilling our ideal selves which grants us happiness, regardless of superficial pleasures or pain, regardless of positive or negative emotions. This is why some people are happy in war and others are sad at weddings. It’s why some are excited to work and others hate parties. The traits they’re inhabiting don’t align with their ideal selves.

It’s not the end results which define our ideal selves. It’s not finishing the marathon that makes us happy, it’s achieving a difficult long-term goal that does. It’s not having an awesome kid to show off that makes us happy, but knowing that you gave yourself up to the growth of another human being that is special. It’s not the prestige and money from the new business that makes you happy, it’s process of overcoming all odds with people you care about.

And this is the reason that trying to be happy inevitably will make you unhappy. Because to try to be happy implies that you are not already inhabiting your ideal self, you are not aligned with the qualities of who you wish to be. After all, if you were acting out your ideal self, then you wouldn’t feel the need to try to be happy.

Cue statements about “finding happiness within,” and “knowing that you’re enough.” It’s not that happiness itself is in you, it’s that happiness occurs when you decide to pursue what’s in you.

And this is why happiness is so fleeting. Anyone who has set out major life goals for themselves, only to achieve them and realize that they feel the same relative amounts of happiness/unhappiness, knows that happiness always feels like it’s around the corner just waiting for you to show up. No matter where you are in life, there will always be that one more thing you need to do to be extra-especially happy.

And that’s because our ideal self is always around that corner, our ideal self is always three steps ahead of us. We dream of being a musician and when we’re a musician we dream of writing a film score and when write a film score, we dream of writing a screenplay. And what matters isn’t that we achieve each of these plateaus of success, but that we’re consistently moving towards them, day after day, month after month, year after year. The plateaus will come and go, and we’ll continue following our ideal self down the path of our lives.

And with that, with regards to being happy, it seems the best advice is also the simplest: Imagine who you want to be and then step towards it. Dream big and then do something. Anything. The simple act of moving at all will change how you feel about the entire process and serve to inspire you further.

Let go of the imagined result; it’s not necessary. The fantasy and the dream are merely tools to get you off your ass. It doesn’t matter if they come true or not.

Live. Just live. Stop trying to be happy and just be.

Link to read the original article in full

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

Is There Any Value In New Age Thinking?

MICHEL BAUWENS writes…

…One of the first tangible benefits of the New Age was to reintroduce the importance of consciousness to the western world and to recognize that spirituality was not just a matter of belief but of experience. New Age traditions contained a vast array of methods that could open up new vistas of perception. For many people, they created an opportunity to re-integrate these methods into their lives and experiment with different alternatives.

New Age thinking also provided a vehicle to overcome the separation of mind and body that was characteristic of western individualism prior to 1968. In many ways it represented what Freud called a “regression in service of the ego”, a return to repressed areas of bodily energy, instincts, emotions, mind and consciousness. Unfortunately, it frequently stayed in that regressive mode. New Age thinking was too anti-rational, too disdainful of the critical subjectivity that was one of the hard-won features of the West. But to paraphrase Lenin, it was probably a necessary “infantile” stage in the development of alternatives. It also offered avenues for people to work on themselves, a positive orientation in an otherwise dark period for social change.

In other ways, New Age thinking was an heir to utopian socialism. Given the difficulty of changing society in radical ways at the macro level, people began to change their own lives by abandoning blind trust in the mechanistic approaches to the human body that were espoused by Western medicine; and by leaving aside the knowledge-stuffing, rote-learning style of education they were fed in order to treat children as whole persons. These changes have made the world unrecognizable from thirty years ago.

Whatever the negative features of the neoliberal age, many institutions have become more humane, more egalitarian, more respectful, and more attuned to the whole individual. People have changed, institutions have evolved, and many small-scale communal experiments have yielded valuable learning experiences even if they have failed to change the bigger picture…

If both New Age thinking and anti-spirituality are exaggerated reactions to each other, the task now is to find a critical subjectivity that rejects the ‘dictatorship of the mind’ – the belief that societies already know the direction or end-point in which they are heading.

What would that consist of? For me, the key step is to reject the view that sees spirituality in terms of individual experience alone, and replace it with a spirituality that functions around relationships between different people.

In pre-modern times, people lived as members of communities with roles that were largely externally defined; in modern times they live as atomized but autonomous self-directing individuals who are bound together through social contracts and institutions. Post-modernity, seen as a critique of neoliberal capitalist structures, sees the individual as increasingly fragmented, and it has developed a strong critique of all the forces that have shown us that we are not nearly as autonomous as we think, including language and power. But this process has also left us stranded as fragmented individuals without much sense of a direction, forever deconstructing realities but rarely reconstructing them with much success. Therefore it is time for something new.

In an age of peer production, in which more and more individuals are socialized through the internet, a relational spirituality can be born among people who cooperate with each other in a wide variety of networks. As we become engaged in communities of our peers that produce collective value, the horizontal dimension of spirituality returns to center stage.

In this new context, the view of human beings as fragmented is no longer a reason for despair. On the contrary, our inner multitude of interests is what enables us to contribute to a range of different, peer-driven projects. The individual psyche can then be constructed through each person’s contributions to the life of the whole, and through the recognition they receive from the communities in which they take part.

Today, individuals are no longer defined only by their membership in traditional communities or rigid roles. In my world, for example, an increasing number of people see themselves as contributors to open-source software systems like Linux rather than employees of Microsoft or Google. In this context, the key to an integrated self is to construct a rich identity of contributions that stem from active participation in many different communities. No longer New Age or Old Age but building on elements of both, a relational spirituality could form a cornerstone of the contributive societies on which the twenty-first century will be built.

Link to read the original article in full

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photo credit: leo.prie.to via photopin cc

Staying Sane In Insane Times

 writes

If we look at what is happening around us today, it can feel that the world is spinning out of control.

Open any newspaper, turn on any TV, read the headlines online or even check your phone’s text alerts and you’re bombarded…and that’s without even taking into account personal and work issues.

For many of us it seems overwhelming, especially if we allow ourselves to care.

So, how do we remain sane in these insane times?

I believe the tools lie with our inner resources, as expressed in a series of relationships.

Relationship with self:

The relationship we have with ourselves starts with being wholly self-aware without being judgmental or self-effacing. Only then can we cultivate the capacity to sense our strong emotions without being defined by them. When we know ourselves we can be more open with ourselves – relating to ourselves not as we think we should be, but as who we truly are, and giving us a chance to be our best self. If we are aware of ourselves inwardly, we learn to stand strong outwardly.

Relationship with others:

Relationships with others also begin with self-awareness, the characteristic that allows us to relate to others in recognition of our common desire to feel safe, trusted, loved and nourished. We all desire for someone to listen to us, pay attention to us, even challenge us. We form much of ourselves within the framework of our relationships with others as we develop, grow and change within relationships. Our own self-awareness and our connection to others are the strongest forces in staying sane.

Relationship with stress:

Stress is a double-edge sword — it can be a wake-up call or it can cause our demise. Stress can make us sick, but it can also stimulate us to make changes and learn new things. When we differentiate between the bad stress that causes us to feel overwhelmed and the good stress that causes us to keep us fit and purposeful, we can forge ahead without feeling overwhelmed by circumstances.

Relationship with our stories

We live in relationship with our own stories — the ones we believe, the ones we edit as we grow and we change, the ones that come from our beliefs. Many of us have stories that begin I am never going to be… I can’t handle… I don’t… I can’t…. When we realize what we are saying, we can work on changing the narrative. Instead of defining ourselves, we can adjust ourselves. Learning how to revise our own stories gives us the power to navigate sanely through chaos and confusion.

It’s never going to be easy to remain sane when we’re surrounded by insanity, but it is worth trying.

These inner resources — our relationships with ourselves, with others, with stress and with our stories — are the cornerstone to our sanity. They give us choices in how we react to what is happening around us, and the capacity to live with what we deal with on a daily basis…

Link to read the original article in full

photo credit: zagor64. via photopin cc

photo credit: zagor64. via photopin cc

Is Resilience In Hibernation?

Phil Vernon writes…

Resilience is a wonderful metaphor. It somehow conveys in a single word the qualities of bending without breaking, of healing after an injury, of tensile rather than brittle strength.

Oak and palm trees are resilient to the power of strong winds, before which they bend and then straighten again. Resilient people pick themselves up after being knocked down, draw on their reserves of ideas and strength to deal with difficult challenges, or hunker down until the gale has blown itself away. Resilient economies bounce back, and resilient ecosystems restore themselves after the fire or the flood has passed.

Resilience is not necessarily a good thing, of course. Patrimonialism and corruption can be resilient to change, as can power dynamics which sanction the marginalisation and harm of women, children or vulnerable people.

American academic Andrew Nathan writes of the Chinese Communist Party’s “authoritarian resilience”, i.e. its ability to adapt and continue to thrive despite its authoritarian, undemocratic approach to power. But most often resilience is used to describe positive and useful features of society.

International Alert is a peacebuilding organisation. We say peace is when people anticipate, manage and resolve the inevitable conflicts which arise in and between societies, and do so without violence; and we describe communities and societies as resilient when they do so.

Their resilience in the face of stress is largely due to the nature of relationships and institutions, which provide them with tensile, rather than brittle strength. Freedom and equality of opportunity are key indicators of relationships and institutions conducive to peace…

Nassim Nicolas Taleb , in his book Anti-fragility – things that gain from disorder, published last year by Random House, explains that resilience is demonstrated best in decentralised and organic societies which can flex and respond locally to stress, and least in over-centralised and rigid societies where individual and local initiatives are discouraged. This is no doubt one reason why, as Andrew Nathan recently wrote, “the resilience of the authoritarian regime in China is nearing its limits”.

So, resilience is not merely a useful metaphor, but one which expresses a powerful idea which we would do well to try and understand. If societies resilient to stress are less vulnerable to disaster and violent conflict, and if critical factors in their resilience include freedom and equality, then building resilience to stress must presumably be an ambition worthy of us all…

But if “resilience” is indeed headed for another period of hibernation, I suspect there is a deeper reason why. It is a very powerful conceptual approach and analytical tool, allowing a broad, comprehensive analysis of the extent to which households, communities, regions, countries, societies or states are able or unable to deal with, survive and bounce back from natural or man-made stress.

For those with patience, the concept lends itself to participatory approaches to identify factors which increase or limit resilience (or, for those who prefer the glass half-empty approach, factors which increase or reduce fragility and brittleness). So far, so good.

SHORT-TERM PROJECT PROBLEM

The problem is, those seeking levers through which to make significant changes which can be measured in terms of the typical lifespan of development projects, are unlikely to find them easily in a resilience analysis. Resilience is – almost by definition – not something that can easily be “built”, and certainly not built to order.

The clue is in the word itself – resilience is something to be found in the nature of societies, hence a quality which grows organically. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb explains, it is the effect of finely woven networks.

Resilience comes from education, and especially the kind of education which helps young people develop their curiosity and ability to adapt and continue to learn. It is to be found in networks of diverse reciprocal relationships between individuals and groups, on which they can draw to get ideas, help, resources in time of need. It is to be found in the freedom of men and women to make their own informed choices, and to participate in politics.

It is to be found in competent and accountable governance, in a free, functioning press, in fair-systems of justice, and so on, and from the interwoven combination of all of the above.

Unfortunately, those in power in more fragile, less resilient societies often see these kinds of features as good in theory, but unwelcome in practice. Rather like St Augustine who prayed for chastity – “but not yet, O Lord” – they’d often prefer to enjoy the spoils of power for now.

Meanwhile those in international development organisations who support these kinds of features in principle, are unable to promote them because they simply do not lend themselves sufficiently to logframes, short-term projects, and the like.

Our development institutions and organisations may not be adequate to the task of promoting resilience in fragile societies. And so ‘resilience’ may be destined to pass back into hibernation. That would be a shame. Because ironically, it describes the problem of underdevelopment, human insecurity and inadequate governance too accurately to be useful.

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photo credit: ** Lucky Cavey ** via photopin cc

photo credit: ** Lucky Cavey ** via photopin cc

A New Level of Leadership Thinking

By 

“The problems that exist in the world today can’t be solved by the level of thinking that created them.”

Albert Einstein

Sometimes I’m tempted to think my win must cause someone else to lose. Put another way, I often am tempted to believe that if someone does what I’m doing, they’ll limit my freedom or my market or my opportunities to experience success. We view the world as a particular size and we must carve it up in a way that everyone gets a little. When things like money get scarce, we think we have to hang on to what we have, and if we give someone too much there won’t be enough left for ourselves.

Back in the 1970′s and 1980′s, that was the prevailing mindset. A market could only be “so big” and each company had to get their share. We had to climb our way to the top and often to get ahead, we had to get ahead of someone else.

“Exceptional insight, productivity and generosity make markets bigger and more efficient.

This situation leads to more opportunities and ultimately a payoff for everyone involved.” Seth Godin, Linchpin.

I wonder how much of our current leadership model needs a mental overhaul.

Why do we have leaders who seem committed to “if you win, I must lose” thinking? Do we see any problems, or situations where we use what Stephen Covey called two-alternative thinking? Two-alternative thinking is based on “if you win, I must lose” thinking. His great book, The 3rd Alternative was a great reminder that synergy is the answer to two-alternative thinking. Synergy is when everyone agrees to find a win-win solution. Compromise means everyone gets less than they hoped. Synergy means everyone gets more.

…to what degree do my own actions and old-world thinking create the problems we experience today?

What can I do to introduce a level of thinking that rises above the problems and works together for a synergistic solution?

What’s it going to take?

Link to read the original article

photo credit: USFS Region 5 via photopin cc

photo credit: USFS Region 5 via photopin cc

A Better Work-Life Balance Attracts Top Performing Parents & Millennials

Greg Moran writes…

…A recent Pew study found that 56% of working mothers and 50% of working fathers find balance their work with their family life is either somewhat or very challenging. Similarly, 40% of working mothers and 34% of working fathers always feel rushed. …More than half the workforce is feeling the squeeze when it comes to time and flexibility.

 But working parents may be more passive about their need for a positive work-life balance than those from Gen Y. Unlike their predecessors, Millennials are explicitly demanding flexibility. In fact, 69% believe that regular office attendance is unnecessary, according to a Cisco study. What’s more, according to findings from Bentley University’s Center for Women and Business, 75% of Millennials are unwilling to compromise on their family or personal values. As a result, young top performers are choosing work environments in which the benefits are less about pay and more about creativity, personal meaning and adaptability…

Firms that adapt to the changing wants and needs of the workforce are naturally going to improve their employer brand, or their reputation among prospective employees. In time, this will not only increase candidates’ attraction to the firm, but it will attract those individuals with the best culture fit. What’s more, the sourcing process will be less complex, reducing both time to hire and cost to hire. While all of this takes time to develop, it’s a win-win for candidates and employers alike.

Experiencing this upward spiral of hiring benefits isn’t difficult, but it does require change. In essence, the essential components to this entire process are (1) acknowledging a problem faced by the parents and millennials in the workforce that is causing a noticeable shift in work culture demands and (2) accepting short-term costs for significant long-term gains…

Link to read the original article

photo credit: kdee64 via photopin cc

photo credit: kdee64 via photopin cc

Developing next generation leaders for a sustainable future – the stewardship model

Kai Peters, Chief Executive, Ashridge Business School writes…

…The global financial crisis and the rapid pace of globalisation are radically changing the definition of what makes a good business leader. Traditional heroic models and charismatic styles of leadership are under attack, largely because corporate scandals have destroyed trust in the integrity of many of those in power…

A new post-heroic approach to leadership is needed, where executives empower, inspire and strengthen the leadership of others. This will enable the executives of the future to build strong sustainable organisations that are held in trust for future generations – in sharp contrast to a conventional command and control leadership style focused on reducing costs and creating profit.

The steward leader – a model for next generation executives
Leaders should rededicate themselves to care and the principles of stewardship – a form of leadership that focuses on others, the community and society at large.

Stewardship advocates service over self-interest and provides a road-map for developing the next generation leader. Steward leaders have both the desire and the skills to develop organisations which are sustainable in every sense of the word.

What does a steward leader look like?
Steward leaders are those who are motivated by justice and dignity and who can see the bigger picture. Their emphasis is on delivering results with others – and they are skilled in bringing networks and resources together in pursuit of a common aim…

Can stewardship be developed?
In our new book ‘Steward Leadership’, we identify the nine essential dimensions of stewardship and debate what they are and how they can be developed.

Development of a stewardship mindset cannot, however, be ‘taught’ by a teacher or facilitator – it requires the individual to have some kind of internal impetus to evolve in this way and a willingness to move away from conventional approaches.  Our research suggests that non-rational resources, such as dreams, insights, creative and spiritual experiences and emotions, are important in developing sustainable leaders. People who are prepared to step outside of the ‘norm’ and draw on these resources have less to fear from being authentic and wearing their heart on their sleeve.

What does this mean for organisations in terms of talent management and leadership development processes? 
…Managers least likely to succeed are those who place high value on ‘conforming’ to the expectations of others.  They may think the right thoughts and want to make the ethical decisions, but find the accepted social environment of the organisation difficult to break away from.

In practical terms, organisations who want to develop steward leaders need to shift their approach to development and place higher priority on providing immersive, experiential learning which impacts leaders on an emotional level and motivates and inspires them to embed sustainability in the business.  Witnessing the effects of climate change or deforestation first hand, for example, can be a transformative experience.

The following five points are key to helping organisations achieve real shifts in mindsets and develop new sustainable behaviours:

  • Experiential learning is crucial. Getting a first- hand experience of what today’s global and societal challenges are all about is what makes a rationally understood idea at the back of the mind come alive and makes someone want to act on it.
  • You can’t just give people a random experience; you have to help them work out its business relevance. The best mechanism is a project-based business challenge, where participants have to develop some kind of project with business value based on their experience.
  • Clear sponsorship and involvement from the CEO and other senior leadership is vital. This is one area is where walking the talk really counts. The stories those at the top tell must be true, consistent and authentic if people are to believe and follow.
  • Unconventional approaches to development may be met by scepticism within the business at first – but it’s important to allow potential leaders to explore their spirituality, work on psychological issues (i.e. Perfectionism, fear of failure) which may be impeding their progress and to support them in their attempts to embrace a wide spectrum of thoughts and feelings.
  • Provide active support when individuals return to the organisation after an experiential development experience.  This helps convert a shift in mind-set to a habitual new behaviour. Consider things like giving people enhanced job roles, encouraging line managers to be supportive, having a dedicated co-ordinator to provide on-going encouragement recognising and rewarding positive new behaviours.
  • Steward leadership is a more empowering form of transformational leadership. These developmental activities help leaders adopt the qualities of ‘stewards’ earlier in people’s careers, and earlier in their lifetimes, to help create a new, more sustainable, future.

Link to the original article in full

photo credit: MedEvac71 via photopin cc

photo credit: MedEvac71 via photopin cc

Showing That You Care

Mary Jo Asmus offers some practical advice about how to lead in ways that nourish people…

…Many managers get so caught up in the day to day work of keeping themselves and others on task and working toward achieving the bottom line that they forget about the people who are making it all happen.

A leader creates, sustains and repairs relationships. They care about the people who are getting the work done.

What have you done lately to show your leadership?

How are you demonstrating to your employees that you care about them?

Start today to:

Get to know them. It’s not that hard, it just takes some intention and time. Walk around. Greet people. Pick up the phone and call those who work remotely. Ask them how they are doing. Ask them about their life outside of work (family, hobbies, etc.). Ask them what you can do to make things easier.

Delight in their individuality. People don’t come to your organization as clones. Everyone is different and each deserves to be treated as a unique individual who is full of potential. Get to know what they do well, what they enjoy doing, and give them the freedom to do it their way. Enjoy and celebrate their uniqueness.

Support them. When things get tough, be there to support them. When things are going well make sure they know that you’ve noticed. Remove the barriers to their ability to achieve their full potential by guiding, giving feedback, and coaching them.

Stretch them. One of the highest compliments you can give an employee is to provide an opportunity for them to stretch; it shows that you care enough to see them achieve something more. Watch for those who are ready, and encourage them to stretch in assignments that will help them to grow and develop.

Demonstrate your gratitude. A quick thank you on the run to your next meeting is not always enough. Reach into your heart and express your gratitude for the things they do that have meaning to you and the organization. Look them in the eye and let them know what they did and explain how their actions touched you and others around you.

Show them that you care. Reach into your heart to repeat the above over and over again.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: katerha via photopin cc

photo credit: katerha via photopin cc

2013 World Mental Health Day: Taking Care 

By LISA KANTOR

Today (10th October 2013 ) is World Mental Health Day. Today, I take a moment to reflect on the many challenges faced by those living with mental illness, especially those who are unable to access treatment.

Today is the perfect day to urge others to support mental health prevention, mental health education, and improved access to mental health treatment. Today is our chance to restart the conversation about mental health, to speak openly about uncertainties and misconceptions surrounding mental illnesses, and to move toward eliminating the damaging and unnecessary stigma that lingers around mental illness…

Promoted by the World Health Organization, World Mental Health Day is dedicated to increasing awareness of the mental health issues that affect the lives of millions of Americans. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in four adults experience mental illness in a given year. These millions of people are our acquaintances, friends, loved ones, co-workers — ourselves.

How can we become more attentive and compassionate to those who suffer with mental illness? In addition to education, early intervention, and increased resources – I believe in the power of mindfulness, taking good care of yourself (self-care), and being able to reach out for help when you need it. Although often regarded as self-indulgent, self-care is such an important piece of mental health and wellness. Jennifer Louden expresses this concept so gracefully:

Self-care is essential for our survival; it is essential as the basis for healthy, authentic relationships; it is essential if we honestly want to nurture the people we care about. Self-care is not selfish or self-indulgent. We cannot nurture others from a dry well. We need to take care of our needs first, then we can give from our surplus, our abundance. When we nurture others from a place of fullness, we feel renewed instead of taken advantage of. And they feel renewed too, instead of guilty. We have something precious to give others when we have been comforting and caring for ourselves and building up self-love.

Link to read the full original article

photo credit: shoothead via photopin cc

photo credit: shoothead via photopin cc

Taking Care of Yourself When You’re Depressed

By 

These are several simple but meaningful ways you can practice self-care, even when that’s the last thing you want to – or can – do.

Your Holy Trinity

Borchard suggested starting with three basics: sleep, diet and exercise. She referred to these as her “holy trinity.” She goes to bed at the same time every night and sleeps for the same amount of hours. (She needs eight hours.) “Diets full of protein and omega-3 fatty acids promote mental health,” she said. So her diet includes salmon, dark green vegetables and whole grains. “Exercise has antidepressant capabilities, plus you are essentially telling yourself that you intend to get better. I think sometimes we have to lead with the body, and the mind will follow.”

Feed Your Senses

Whenever Serani feels her “depression looming within,” she focuses on nourishing her senses. “Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness” by J. Karat is packed with studies showing how feeding your sense of sight, smell, sounds, taste and touch produces dopamine, serotonin, melatonin and oxytocin – feel-good neurochemistry that helps heal depression.”

There are many ways you can supply your senses. Serani suggested opening up the windows to let sunshine soothe you; sipping a warm cup of tea or coffee; wrapping yourself in a blanket; listening to soft music; and lighting a candle.

Be Prepared

Self-care requires preparation, Serani said. That’s why it’s important to keep the things that soothe you by your side and in your home. It makes moving into self-care mode much easier, she said. “Stock up on comfort foods, teas and coffees, store scented candles or incense nearby, pre-program radio stations to soothing music you like, drape a velvety blanket on a couch or chair.”

Practice Self-Care Daily

Self-care also requires regular practice, Serani said. She encouraged readers to avoid waiting until you’re drained or depleted to attempt self-care. “Use [the above] sense-oriented techniques often so there’s an ease that comes from their use.”

Self-care is critical for healing depression. As Borchard said, “You get well faster and stay well longer.” But some days, self-care will feel especially far away. On those days, “Be easy with yourself.” Beating yourself up only makes you feel worse and stops you from getting better, she said. “Consider yourself a good friend, and speak to yourself as such.”

Link to read the original article

photo credit: United Nations Photo via photopin cc

photo credit: United Nations Photo via photopin cc

Simple Ways to Cultivate Happiness in Schools – and at work too

This article is written as a guide to increasing happiness in schools, but Elena Aguilar‘s suggestions offer great value too for increasing our happiness at work, so I couldn’t resist a little tweaking to adapt them into a more adult-friendly set of guidelines…

1. Slow Down

When we slow down, we notice more, we appreciate more, we take stock of relationships, learning, and goals. Everyone can benefit from slowing down… There’s a direct correlation between our levels of contentment and the pace at which we live our lives…

2. Get Outside

Being outside, even for just a few minutes a day, can heighten our state of well-being. We breathe fresh air, feel the elements on our skin – the warmth of the sun, the sting of wind, the moisture of rain – which connects us to the natural world. Even when it’s cold out, or when it’s warm and glorious, we can [get] outside for a quick (5 minute) walk, or we can do silent reading outside and our feelings of happiness might increase.

Furthermore, when the weather is comfortable, why can’t we have some of the many meetings we all have to sit in outside? Last year I took my instructional coaches to the forest for one of our professional development days. In addition to hiking, we read, talked, learned, and wrote — all of the activities we usually do in our office.

3. Move Your Body

We all know this already, but I’m going to remind you anyway: Moving our bodies increases our happiness. Even if you can’t [get] outside, you can incorporate stretching breaks into [your] days…  Moments of movement are great and our brains start producing the endorphins that make us happy right away.

4. Blast Good Music

Music in a fast tempo and in a major key can make us feel happy and it has a measurable positive impact on our bodies – it can even boost our immune system, decrease blood pressure, and lower anxiety. Playing music as [people enter a room] can be welcoming and can create a positive atmosphere. Those of us who facilitate learning for adults can also do this. Imagine coming into an early morning staff meeting to the sounds of salsa or to Johnny Nash singing, “I Can See Clearly Now.” You probably feel happier just thinking about this.

5. Sing

Now sing along with those tunes, or sing in your car or in the shower — and see how you feel. Singing requires us to breathe deeply, which makes us happier. Singing along to some of our favorite music makes our brain release endorphins…

6. Smile

Even if you’re not a smiley person, try smiling more often – aim for authentic, genuine smiles, but if you can’t produce one, go ahead and fake it. Yes, even fake smiles can move you along towards a more content state of being. And more than that, they can have an affect on those looking at you. … just see what happens if you smile more often at the people you interact with on a daily basis.

7. Incorporate Quiet Time

My new email pen pal in Bhutan, a teacher in a school for boys aged 6-18, describes how all students in Bhutan practice meditation. Of course, this makes sense given that this is a Buddhist nation. He describes this as a primary way in which his country works to build a happy populace. There’s an abundance of evidence about how meditation causes changes in our brain chemistry that produces feelings of calm and wellbeing. In our country, some schools are incorporating mindfulness meditation, but I also think we could work towards similar ends by simply incorporating more quiet time into our daily routines.

Link to read the original unadapted article of guidelines for use with students

photo credit: Indy Kethdy via photopin cc

photo credit: Indy Kethdy via photopin cc

10 Easy Things That Will Make You Happier, Backed By Science

The above suggestions are matched and extended in this list, offered in The Mind Unleashed

I would love to be happier, as I’m sure most people would, so I thought it would be interesting to find some ways to become a happier person that are actually backed up by science. Here are ten of the best ones I found.

1. Exercise more – 7 minutes might be enough

You might have seen some talk recently about the scientific 7 minute workout mentioned in The New York Times. So if you thought exercise was something you didn’t have time for, maybe you can fit it in after all.

Exercise has such a profound effect on our happiness and well-being that it’s actually been proven to be an effective strategy for overcoming depression…

You don’t have to be depressed to gain benefit from exercise, though. It can help you to relax, increase your brain power and even improve your body image, even if you don’t lose any weight…

2. Sleep more – you’ll be less sensitive to negative emotions

We know that sleep helps our bodies to recover from the day and repair themselves, and that it helps us focus and be more productive. It turns out, it’s also important for our happiness.  In NutureShock, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman explain how sleep affects our positivity:

Negative stimuli get processed by the amygdala; positive or neutral memories gets processed by the hippocampus. Sleep deprivation hits the hippocampus harder than the amygdala. The result is that sleep-deprived people fail to recall pleasant memories, yet recall gloomy memories just fine.

In one experiment by Walker, sleep-deprived college students tried to memorize a list of words. They could remember 81% of the words with a negative connotation, like “cancer.” But they could remember only 31% of the words with a positive or neutral connotation, like “sunshine” or “basket.”

The BPS Research Digest explores another study that proves sleep affects our sensitivity to negative emotions. Using a facial recognition task over the course of a day, the researchers studied how sensitive participants were to positive and negative emotions. Those who worked through the afternoon without taking a nap became more sensitive late in the day to negative emotions like fear and anger…

Another study tested how employees’ moods when they started work in the morning affected their work day.

Researchers found that employees’ moods when they clocked in tended to affect how they felt the rest of the day. Early mood was linked to their perceptions of customers and to how they reacted to customers’ moods.

And most importantly to managers, employee mood had a clear impact on performance, including both how much work employees did and how well they did it. …

3. Move closer to work – a short commute is worth more than a big house

Our commute to the office can have a surprisingly powerful impact on our happiness. The fact that we tend to do this twice a day, five days a week, makes it unsurprising that its effect would build up over time and make us less and less happy…

4. Spend time with friends and family – don’t regret it on your deathbed

Staying in touch with friends and family is one of the top five regrets of the dying. If you want more evidence that it’s beneficial for you, I’ve found some research that proves it can make you happier right now.

Social time is highly valuable when it comes to improving our happiness, even for introverts. Several studies have found that time spent with friends and family makes a big difference to how happy we feel, generally…

5. Go outside – happiness is maximized at 13.9°C

In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor recommends spending time in the fresh air to improve your happiness:

Making time to go outside on a nice day also delivers a huge advantage; one study found that spending 20 minutes outside in good weather not only boosted positive mood, but broadened thinking and improved working memory…

6. Help others – 100 hours a year is the magical number

One of the most counterintuitive pieces of advice I found is that to make yourself feel happier, you should help others. In fact, 100 hours per year (or two hours per week) is the optimal time we should dedicate to helping others in order to enrich our lives…

In his book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, University of Pennsylvania professor Martin Seligman explains that helping others can improve our own lives:

…we scientists have found that doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested…

7. Practice smiling – it can alleviate pain

Smiling itself can make us feel better, but it’s more effective when we back it up with positive thoughts, according to this study:

A new study led by a Michigan State University business scholar suggests customer-service workers who fake smile throughout the day worsen their mood and withdraw from work, affecting productivity. But workers who smile as a result of cultivating positive thoughts – such as a tropical vacation or a child’s recital – improve their mood and withdraw less.

According to PsyBlogsmiling can improve our attention and help us perform better on cognitive tasks:

Smiling makes us feel good which also increases our attentional flexibility and our ability to think holistically. When this idea was tested by Johnson et al. (2010), the results showed that participants who smiled performed better on attentional tasks which required seeing the whole forest rather than just the trees…

8. Plan a trip – but don’t take one

As opposed to actually taking a holiday, it seems that planning a vacation or just a break from work can improve our happiness. A study published in the journal, Applied Research in Quality of Lifeshowed that the highest spike in happiness came during the planning stage of a vacation as employees enjoyed the sense of anticipation:

In the study, the effect of vacation anticipation boosted happiness for eight weeks.

After the vacation, happiness quickly dropped back to baseline levels for most people.

Shawn Achor has some info for us on this point, as well:

One study found that people who just thought about watching their favorite movie actually raised their endorphin levels by 27 percent.

If you can’t take the time for a vacation right now, or even a night out with friends, put something on the calendar—even if it’s a month or a year down the road. Then whenever you need a boost of happiness, remind yourself about it.

9. Meditate – rewire your brain for happiness

Meditation is often touted as an important habit for improving focus, clarity and attention span, as well as helping to keep you calm. It turns out it’s also useful for improving your happiness:

In one study, a research team from Massachusetts General Hospital looked at the brain scans of 16 people before and after they participated in an eight-week course in mindfulness meditation. The study, published in the January issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, concluded that after completing the course, parts of the participants’ brains associated with compassion and self-awareness grew, and parts associated with stress shrank.

Meditation literally clears your mind and calms you down, it’s been often proven to be the single most effective way to live a happier live…

10. Practice gratitude – increase both happiness and life satisfaction

This is a seemingly simple strategy, but I’ve personally found it to make a huge difference to my outlook. There are lots of ways to practice gratitude, from keeping a journal of things you’re grateful for, sharing three good things that happen each day with a friend or your partner, and going out of your way to show gratitude when others help you…

Quick last fact: Getting older will make yourself happier

As a final point, it’s interesting to note that as we get older, particularly past middle age, we tend to grow happier naturally. There’s still some debate over why this happens, but scientists have got a few ideas:

Researchers, including the authors, have found that older people shown pictures of faces or situations tend to focus on and remember the happier ones more and the negative ones less.

Other studies have discovered that as people age, they seek out situations that will lift their moods — for instance, pruning social circles of friends or acquaintances who might bring them down. Still other work finds that older adults learn to let go of loss and disappointment over unachieved goals, and hew their goals toward greater wellbeing.

So if you thought being old would make you miserable, rest assured that it’s likely you’ll develop a more positive outlook than you probably have now.

Link to read the original article in full

photo credit: bies via photopin cc

photo credit: bies via photopin cc

Happiness 101 – Teaching our Children the Habits of Happiness

What happens when people learn the habits of happiness and practice them every day?

Do you know how to be happy?

Erin Michelle Threlfall is a theatre artist, activist and educator whose passion is making the world a better place via theater, the arts, her infectious exuberance and the classroom. Originally from the US, she’s taught at schools in Ghana, South Korea, Togo, and Bali. She focuses on nurturing global citizenship, happiness, and social activism within her students and leads dynamic workshops on inquiry-based learning and integrating the arts into the classroom.

photo credit: ViaMoi via photopin cc

photo credit: ViaMoi via photopin cc

Want To Be An Artist? Try A Little Narcissism

Jillian Steinhauer reports

A new study has found that narcissistic people are more likely to consider themselves creative and do creative things than their non-narcissistic counterparts. Um … we needed a study to tell us that?…

In the end, people with narcissistic tendencies were not only more likely to say they were creative; they also were more likely to do creative things. The personality traits of extraversion and openness also corresponded to increased creative activity, which is telling about what this study really shows: that self-confidence goes a long way.

If you believe you’re good enough at something, chances are you’ll do it, even if it’s unstable or difficult, as so many creative pursuits are. And chances are you’ll continue trying to do it even in the face of rejection, which is also required in creative fields like art and writing.

Link to read the original article in full

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

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

Are Your Strengths Holding You Back?

Sue Roberts, a very wise and wonderful trainer and occupational psychologist we sometimes get the joy of working with, says that our strengths can be problematic in two ways:

  1.  on the one hand, the stronger we are in any particular quality, the further away we are from its opposite (which is why the opposite of our strengths are weaknesses if we haven’t learned to practise them up into our skill set);
  2. less well-known, our strengths can become liabilities if we deploy them inappropriately in situations that call for quite different qualities and behaviours.

This idea is picked up and discussed by Michelle McQuaid – a positive psychology researcher, author and workplace trainer – who writes…

Do your strengths ever get you into trouble? You know those moments when the things you like doing and are good at, go just that little bit too far. For example, when your strength of humour has you making one joke too many. Or your strength of creativity has you take one idea a bit too far. Or your strength of kindness has you give and give to everyone else until there’s nothing left for yourself. We’ve all been there at some point, haven’t we?

For me it was my strength of zest. As a senior leader for many years in large organisations, my abundant energy and vitality made it possible to drive and deliver solutions that literally left people’s heads spinning. It was great from a task achievement perspective, but probably burnt through more relationships with my colleagues than I’d care to count. You see other people simply struggled to keep up.

Of course this was pointed out to me more than once during my performance reviews, but “going too fast” was always presented to me as a weakness that needed improvement. Can you imagine how that sounded? Here I was thinking what a great job I was doing, feeling really engaged, energised and enjoying my work and delivering results. Only to hear later that others felt my efforts were completely misfiring.

I walked away from those meetings feeling confused, disillusioned and completely burnt out…

Can a strength really derail your work? A growing body of evidence suggests using your strengths makes you more likely to achieve your goals, to feel less stressed and to have a greater level of well-being. Outcomes most of us are longing for.

However, researchers are also discovering that to use your strengths optimally you need the right strength, in the right amount, in the right way and at the right time. You need to find the ‘golden mean’ – where you’re neither underplaying, nor over overplaying what you do best.

How can you avoid overplaying a strength? Sometimes our strengths are overplayed because the context has changed. For me this would happen when I was busy storming through a project and our business needs would suddenly shift meaning we should slow down for a bit. Learning to read the signs about when my zest was needed – and when it wasn’t – was one way I started to turn around my negative feedback.

The biggest shift came though when I finally became aware that I had the choice to dial up – or dial down – my strength of zest. Turns out I didn’t have to run through life with my foot flat to the floor all the time just to do what I did best. Perhaps I’d just been going too fast, for too long, to see I had the choice!

By learning how to manage my strengths, I became more aware of how my zest could be intimidating for my team who feared they’d never be able to keep up. I learnt to value the need to give others time to get on board before I took off. And I began to appreciate the power off being willing and able to slow down – at least some of the time. As a result, my professional and personal life soared.

Link to read the original article in full

Here is a link to where you can get your free VIA Me Character Strengths profile built from the six virtues of Courage, Humanity, Justice, Temperance, Transcendence, and Wisdom

photo credit: sachman75 via photopin cc

photo credit: sachman75 via photopin cc

Tune Out Distractions – and Tune Into Happiness (Shawn Achor)

HARVEY SCHACHTER reports…

Too much noise can knock you off balance.

That’s the warning from Shawn Achor, San Antonio, Tex.-based author of the bestselling book The Happiness Advantage and the recently published Before Happiness. But Mr. Achor is not talking about the noise of a neighbour’s stereo blasting away or drilling at a construction site across from your office. For him, external noise is the flood of information, often negatively tinged, that washes over you each day. And the internal noise, usually negative, that invades our thoughts throughout the day.

Our ancestors looked to external noise for clues to threats. In a sense, we are doing that as we scan e-mails, newspapers and other information each day. At a basic level, noise distorts our reality – Las Vegas casinos overload our brains with sounds and lights to distract us from the reality that we’re losing money. He says that the noise from the information we receive, so much of it negative, pushes us into a “negative reality,” in which our equanimity is tipped, our stress heightened, and our potential limited.

“If you can decrease the noise, it can have a huge impact on happiness. If we can find some balance – turn away from constant messages – the brain can scan the present for things you are grateful for,” the positive-psychology lecturer said in an interview.

He points to a Fortune 100 company where he recently worked with the management team. They have a policy to use no technology on Sundays – to shut down. The result, they found, was greater productivity during the week owing to that day of rest. The policy, it’s worth noting, applied only to the top team, not others who work for them, which he found ironic.

He distinguishes between signals and noise. A signal is information that is true and reliable, alerting us to the opportunities, possibilities and resources that will help us attain our true potential. Noise is everything else – information that is false, or unnecessary, or prevents us from seeing a world where success is possible.

He lays out four criteria for identifying noise:

Unusable: Your behaviour won’t be altered by the information. “Once you start applying this mental algorithm, you’ll realize that, sadly, most of the information that floods your brain on a daily or even an hourly basis fits into this category,” he writes in his latest book. An earthquake or coup in a country across the globe may be tragic, but it’s essentially extraneous to your life, so don’t let it jolt you into a negative space.

Untimely: You are not going to use the information imminently, and it could change by the time you use it. If you intend to hold stocks for the long run, why check the stock market each day?

Hypothetical: It is based on what someone believes “could be” instead of “what is.” Economic and weather forecasts head the list. “What if you could have back all the minutes of your life you’ve spent listening to predictions – 90 per cent of which have been wrong?” he asks in the book.

Distracting: It distracts you from your goals. Much of the e-mail you received today, let alone your surfing of websites, took you no further toward your big goals.

He urges people to start distinguishing between the signals and noise that come at you, and reduce your brain overload by stopping the addiction to noise. Eliminate the things that are hypothetical, and the reports about car accidents in foreign countries. “Don’t turn a blind eye to the world, but focus on the things that are meaningful,” he said in the interview. “The more we focus on noise, the less we hear the important signals.”

At companies he works with, he asks people to experiment by decreasing their information intake by 5 per cent – specifically information that qualifies as noise. Set boundaries as well, looking at your e-mail only periodically. When you head to a website, scan only for information that matters to you. “Five per cent is a small number, so people feel it’s possible. It turns down the volume a bit,” he said. Perhaps that 5 per cent is spread through the week, or only a chunk of weekend time when you grab a respite. You’ll find reducing the noise, even slightly, increases your social connection with others, which he says is the greatest predictor of happiness.

He has noise-cancelling headphones for flights so he can isolate himself from the din around him. Similarly, you want to reduce the noise from internal doubt, fear of the future, and self-criticism. Studies show that if an employee or child is fearful, they will often fail on the next project or math test. Your noise-cancelling headphones allow you to think of positive moments that counteract those fears, such as three successes you had in similar situations.

He offers three principles to live by:

I will keep my worry in proportion to the likelihood of the event.

I will not ruin 10,000 days to be right on a handful. “Some people worry for 10,000 days about various things to get past one bad day. They give themselves 10,000 bad days to have one good day,” he says.

I will not equate worrying with being loving or responsible.

In short, be conscious of the noise coming at you – external and internal – and reduce the incidence of the noise to increase your balance and happiness.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: pfarrell95 via photopin cc

photo credit: pfarrell95 via photopin cc

Happiness At Work Edition #67

All of these stories, and more, are part of this week’s new Happiness At Work collection, which I hope you enjoy…

Link to see the full Happiness At Work Edition #67 collection

photo credit: pfarrell95 via photopin cc

photo credit: pfarrell95 via photopin cc

Happiness At Work #66 ~ Shawn Achor’s ‘Positive Genius’ and other 21st Century Techniques for Thinking Ourselves Happier

More and more research is coming through that underscores the potency and critical importance of how we think to our happiness, our health and wellbeing, our resilience, our relationships, and even our success and achievements.

how we choose to think about things affects what we go on to think,

and therefore feel,

and therefore do,

and therefore experience,

and therefore go on to feel and think next…

photo credit: Calsidyrose via photopin cc

photo credit: Calsidyrose via photopin cc

This idea is central to Shawn Achor’s new book, Before Happiness: Five Actionable Strategies to Create a Positive Path to Success, which I have started reading with huge enjoyment this week.

Achor is one of our favourite happiness at work experts, and we already use the research findings and guidelines  from his first book, The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles Of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work, in our training.  And, to our great delight because we use maps and map making a lot in our training, in his new book, Achor has made a model  using the metaphors from cartography and mountain climbing.

This new book is based on Achor’s last five years of research and inquiry, not just into flourishing organisations and with people who are already achieving high levels of success, but also with people around the world who are living in extremely hard and unhappy circumstances.

Here is an extract from the Introduction to this new book, starting with Achor taking up the question that repeatedly surfaces in considerations about the power of our thinking to help us to overcome the difficulties of our situations:

Happiness leads to success, true, but what gives someone – especially someone facing obstacles and hardships – the understanding that happiness was possible in the first place?

Why did achievement and happiness seem like a possibility to one person but impossible to someone else in the same position or situation? …

The reason some people were thriving while others – people in the exact same situation – were stuck in hopelessness was that they were literally living in different realities.  Some were living in a reality in which happiness and success seemed possible, despite the obstacles.  Others were living in a “reality” where it was not…

My research over the last five years, coupled with other amazing research emerging from positive psychology labs all over the globe, helped me understand what I had been missing: that before happiness and success comes your perception of your world. 

So before we can be happy and successful, we need to create a positive reality that allows us to see the possibility for both

Of course, there are certain objective facts we must accept about our lives… But how we choose to look at those objective facts is in our minds.  And only when we choose to believe that we live in a world where challenges can be overcome, our behaviour matters, and change is possible can we summon all our drive, energy and emotional and intellectual resources to make that change happen.

When I talk about a positive reality, I’m not talking about one in which good things magically happen by the sheer power of positive thinking; I’m talking about one in which you can summon all your cognitive, intellectual, and emotional resources to create positive change, because you believe that true change is possible.

How Positive Realities Help Us Scale Mountains

Research has revealed that when we’re in a negative mindset, all loads feel heavier, all obstacles loom bigger, all mountains seem less surmountable.  This is especially true in the workplace, and it’s why, when we look at stress, workload and competition from a negative mindset, our performance suffers…

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

We are now learning how to change energy patterns in our brains to create a more positive interpretation of the world around us.

This is key, because the better your brain is at using its energy to focus on the positives, the greater your chances at success

The consistent ability to create this kind of reality is called positive genius, and it turns out to be the greatest precursor of success, performance, and even happiness.  In this book, the five practical, research-based steps to help you raise your levels of positive genius, and, in turn, your rates of success, are …

1.  Reality Architecture: Choosing the Most Valuable Reality

  • Recognise the existence of multiple realities by simply changing the details your brain chooses to focus on.
  • See a greater range of realities by training your brain to see vantage points and see the world from a broader perspective.
  • Select the most valuable reality that is both positive and true, using a simple formula called the positive ratio.

2. Mental Cartography: Mapping Paths to Success

  • Identity and set better goals by highlighting markers of meaning in your life and learning to distinguish true areas of meaning from decoys and mental hijackers.
  • Chart more direct routes to your goals by reorienting your mental maps around those markers of meaning.
  • Keep yourself squarely on the path by mapping success routes before escape routes.

3. The X-Spot: Using Success Accelerants

  • Zoom in on the target (proximity).  Make your goal seem closer by building in a head start, setting incremental sub-goals, and highlighting progress to date instead of what is left to accomplish.
  • Magnify the target size (likelihood of success).  Increase the perceived likelihood of hitting your target by creating ‘champion moments’ that remind you of when you have been successful in similar situations, decreasing the perceived number of your competitors, and choosing goals that you have a perceived 70% chance of reaching.
  • Recalculate thrust (energy required).  Preserve and channel your cognitive resources better, think about tasks in terms of objective units rather than in terms of the effort involved, and decrease your focus on things you worry about or fear.

4. Noise Cancelling: Boosting the Signal by Eliminating the Noise

  • Learn to cancel out any negative or useless information (noise) that distracts you from the true and reliable information that helps you reach your fullest potential (signal).
  • Hone your ability to distinguish the noise from the signal by learning the four simple criteria of noise.
  • Improve your ability to hear the signal through simple strategies for reducing the overall volume of noise by just 5%.
  • Learn to actively cancel out internal noise of worry, fear, anxiety, and pessimism by emitting three simple waves of positive energy.

5. Positive Inception: Transferring Your Reality to Others

  • Once you’ve created a positive reality for yourself, learn how to transfer it to others and reap the exponential benefits of your collective intelligences.
  • Franchise success by creating simple, easy-to-replicate positive patterns and habits and helping them spread.
  • Wield more positive influence and increase the likelihood of your reality being adopted by taking the ‘power lead’ in a conversation and rewriting the social script.
  • Plant meaning in others’ realities by appealing to emotion and crafting shared, meaningful narratives.
  • Create a renewable, sustainable source of positive energy that motivates, energise and summons the collective multiple intelligences of those around you.

Once you master these five skills you will see the difference in virtually every professional and personal realm.  You’ll be more energised, more motivated, more driven and more productive.  Your ideas will be more creative and innovative and will yield better results.  You’ll suddenly start seeing new routes around obstacles and faster paths to achievement.  Instead of being crippled by stress and adversity, you’ll be able to turn them into opportunities for growth.  And once you master the final skill, positive inception, you’ll be able to refract the light of your positive genius on your co-workers, clients, family members and others around you…

 (from the Introduction to Before Happiness: Five Actionable Strategies to Create a Positive Path to Success, Shawn Achor, 2013)

Shawn Achor: What You Need To Do Before Experiencing Happiness

by Dan Schawbel

In this interview, Achor talks about some of his research findings on happiness, how optimism and hope come before happiness, how to cancel the noise in your life, and his best advice on how to be happy.

What made you interested in studying happiness in the first place and how does your new book further your research?

I started studying happiness, not initially in psychology, but at the divinity school. Harvard’s program allows you to study combinations of traditions, and I became fascinated by Christian and Buddhist ethics, specifically how the way you view the world changes your actions in it. My new book Before Happiness explores exactly this issue.

Before someone makes changes to their happiness, health or success, they first construct a picture of the world. I argue that your mental reality predicts your ability to create positive change.

Would you say that optimism and hope come before happiness? How do you go about believing that positive change is possible?

Yes, absolutely. But it’s more than just optimism. An optimist or a pessimist would argue whether one object, such as a glass, is half full or half empty. But by shifting one’s reality to include more true facts, you could include the pitcher of water sitting next to the glass. It doesn’t matter if the glass is empty if, in reality, you could fill it. Your brain can process only 40 bits of information per second despite a deluge of 11 million pieces of information coming from all your nerve endings. What your brain attends to becomes your reality. Based on this research, the best way to change your reality is to first realise that there are multiple realities from which you could choose. I could focus on the one failure in front of me, or spend my brain’s resources processing the two new doors of opportunity that have opened.

One reality leads to paralysis, the other to positive change.

The economy has put people out of work and made people depressed. How can we see past all the negative things going on around us and be ready to embrace happiness?

Happiness is easy in good times, but is a huge competitive advantage during difficult times. I spend an entire chapter in Before Happiness describing new research on how we can mentally cancel the noise in our life. Noise is any information, external or internal, which distracts us from making positive change. Sometimes it is too much external noise, like a glut of negative news or reading comments on blogs which are often imbalanced toward the negative. Sometimes it is internal noise, like replaying a doubt such as “I’ll never find a job” or “I’ll never get out of debt so why keep a budget.” To cancel internal noise, one must create an opposite wave, such as thinking about three times you have been successful in the past despite major setbacks.

Happiness is NOT the belief that everything is great, happiness is the belief that change is possible. In Before Happiness I define happiness as “the joy one feels striving for one’s potential.” Small mental victories, especially in a rough economy, led us to a cascade of success based on positive changes.

A positive mindset results in 23% greater energy in the midst of stress, 31% higher productivity, 37% higher levels of sales, 40% higher likelihood to be promoted, and improved our longevity. See the TED talk or my article on the cover of HBR.

The greatest competitive advantage in the modern economy is a positive and engaged brain.

Aren’t some people naturally happy or do they have to find happiness? What happens when certain unexpected situations happen and cause you to be miserable? How do you go back to a “happy state”?

This is where this gets really fascinating. Yes, some people are genetically disposed toward happiness. Yes, some people have childhoods which make it easier for them to choose positive change. But, that is not the end of the story. You will be just your genes and your environment, UNLESS you make conscious positive changes to your mindset and habits. Only 10% of your long term happiness according to researcher

But in the latter case, we have two decades of research showing that even two minutes of a positive habit, such as writing a positive email to someone in your social support group, or meditating, can literally rewire your brain and change your baseline. Your brain will eventually return you to your baseline after a victory or trauma, unless you choose to be more than your genes.

Each of the five steps in Before Happiness is showing how you can walk your baseline up and maintain the higher baseline.

photo credit: Hamed Saber via photopin cc

photo credit: Hamed Saber via photopin cc

What are your top three tips for getting yourself to a place where you can be happy?

1. Create happiness hygiene. We eat, sleep and brush our teeth everyday, yet we neglect something crucial: priming our brain to positive. Create a two minute daily habit of thinking of 3 new things you are grateful for each day, journaling about a positive experience for two minutes, meditating by watching your breath go in and out, or writing a positive 2 minute email.

2. Use success accelerants. Rats run faster at the end of the maze, and marathoners speed up at 26.1 miles at a place called the X-spot. Coffee cards where you have to get 12 stamps you get two free stamps before then buying 10 cups of coffee accelerates purchasing because your brain sees that you are already 1/6 the way through. Our brain accelerates the closer we perceive success. If you make a checklist of tasks for the day, include several things you have already accomplished. If you are starting a new positive habit, don’t start at zero, include the day or two you have successfully avoided dessert or exercise. Some companies offer 150% commission for the first week of a new sales period to show progress right from the beginning.

3. Don’t wait for happiness. If we raise your success rates, happiness remains the same. Raise happiness levels in the present, find meaning at work, connect to the people around you, perceive stress as enhancing, and your success rates rise dramatically. Happiness at work fuels success.

Link to the original article

photo credit: tom chandler via photopin cc

photo credit: tom chandler via photopin cc

Being Kind: The Music Video That Circled The World

The 21-Day Kindness Challenge launched on September 11th.

98 countries.

6000 people.

And a collective tidal wave of good that inspired many – including young rapper-activist “Nimo” Patel at the Gandhi Ashram in India. Nimo wasted no time channeling that inspiration into an infectious music video. “Being Kind” was created on super short notice by an intercontinental crew of volunteers working out of their living rooms. It features footage from all over the world and heart-melting appearances by the children Nimo works with in the slums.

Watch, listen, and prepare to smile big at this lyrical reminder that kindness really is “all we can leave behind.”

THE GIRL DECLARATION

Girls were left out of the original Millennium Development Goals. The Girl Declaration has been written to make sure that doesn’t happen again.

Bringing together the thinking of 508 girls living in poverty across the globe with the expertise of more than 25 of the world’s leading development organisations, the Girl Declaration is our tool to stop poverty before it starts.

Five hundred and eight adolescent girls living in poverty in 14 countries across four continents were asked what they need to have a chance to reach their potential.

More than 25 of the world’s leading organizations, using their vast years of experience working with girls and the best evidence available, developed this Declaration with girls, for girls and for the world.

Now is the moment. Real things need to change for girls and for the world. Adolescent girls are not part of just one issue, they are key to every sustainable solution.

photo credit: Chris JL via photopin cc

photo credit: Chris JL via photopin cc

Guiding Principles of The Girl Manifesto

1.   Plan with me, design for me

Use insights directly from girls to sharpen the design, implementation and evaluation of programs and services. Build relationships and social networks with girls so their voices are heard in key institutions.

2.   Make me visible, make me countCollect, disaggregate and analyze data in all sectors by age and sex and use it to improve programs, influence policy and track progress. Data helps drive smarter, more strategic and targeted investments. At a minimum, analyze data by sex and five-year age segments (10-14, 15-19) to ensure that no girl is left behind. No data revolution will be complete without this.

3.   Give me a fair share of the money you spend to fix things because we girls give more back

Allocate dedicated and targeted funding for adolescent girls across program and policy budgets. At a minimum, make budget 7. allocations commensurate with adolescent girls’ needs and potential to drive positive change.

4.   Think of me now, because now is when I need you most; and now is when it will make the most difference 

Intentionally focus on adolescence (ages 10-19) and invest early, before girls undergo the physical, emotional and social changes associated with puberty. Design policies and programs to ensure adolescence is a healthy and safe transition to adulthood, not a period in which girls are left out.

5.   Don’t forget me because I’m too poor, too distant, too silenced for you to know I am here

In the quest for scale, it’s easy to overlook the most marginalised – including adolescent girls in emergency, conflict and post- conflict settings even though reaching them can help end the cycle of conflict. Plan for the most marginalised from the beginning to ensure they aren’t left out at the end.

6.   Don’t hold me back

Tackle discriminatory social norms that govern adolescent girls’ daily lives and have significant and enduring consequences. Mobilize communities, families, men and boys to support adolescent girls.

7.   Laws should be fair; make and enforce ones that respect and protect me 

Pass laws and ensure accountability to legal policies and frameworks that protect the rights of girls and give them access to justice. At a minimum, governments must meet international obligations and hold those who violate rights of adolescent girls accountable.  Laws should be fair; make and enforce ones that respect and protect me Pass laws and ensure accountability to legal policies and frameworks that protect the rights of girls and give them access to justice. At a minimum, governments must meet international obligations and hold those who violate rights of adolescent girls accountable.

 

photo credit: Tjololo Photo via photopin cc

photo credit: Tjololo Photo via photopin cc

Shawn Achor cites a 2011 study he led in his new book,  Before Happiness, …

‘By simply showing employees videos about the more positive (and again, real) effects of stress on the body, we observed a 23% drop in fatigue and other stress-related symptoms. (headaches, backaches, etc.)…  By helping people to see a new but equally true reality in which stress could be motivating and energising, rather than debilitating, we could make that more positive outcome actually become real…’

(from the Introduction to Before Happiness: Five Actionable Strategies to Create a Positive Path to Success, Shawn Achor, 2013)

Make Stress Work For You

In this Harvard Business Review article, Shawn Achor writes about this study and what it suggests for training our thinking to become better able to choose and profit from the stress in our lives…

…In order to get companies and employees to take stress seriously, for the past 30 years, most trainers and coaches have highlighted research that shows that stress is the number one health threat in the US (World Health Organization); that 70-90% of doctor visits are due to stress-related issue (American Stress Institute); and that stress is linked to the six leading causes of death (American Psychological Association).

But what if focusing on the negative impact of stress only makes it worse — just like thinking about the side effects of a sleeping pill would keep me up at night? And what would happen if we reframed the way we thought about stress?

To test that question, Yale researcher Alia Crum and I teamed up with senior leaders at UBS to research 380 managers to see if we could turn stress from debilitating to enhancing merely by changing mindset at work.

Think about it: how did you feel after reading the statistics above on stress, health, and death? First, even if you weren’t stressed, stats like these cause you to respond to stress with a “fight or flight” mentality. Stress is portrayed as a threat, so we either need to fight it or flee from it, overactivating our sympathetic nervous system. And second, if you are already feeling stressed, now you have even more reason to feel distressed as you know your stress is literally killing you. (Good luck falling asleep now.)

There is an alternative approach which we found to be much more successful. 

Crum and I showed different three-minute videos to two groups of UBS managers. The first group watched a video detailing all the findings about how stress is debilitating. The second group watched a video that talked about scientific findings that stress enhances the human brain and body. The latter information is less well known, but equally true. Stress can cause the human brain to use more of its capabilities, improve memory and intelligence, increase productivity, and even speed recovery from things like knee surgery. Research indicates that stress, even at high levels, creates greater mental toughness, deeper relationships, heightened awareness, new perspectives, a sense of mastery, a greater appreciation for life, a heightened sense of meaning, and strengthened priorities.

The findings of our study were significant: when an individual thought about stress as enhancing, instead of debilitating, they embraced the reality of their current stress level and used it to their advantage. The negative parts of stress (distress) started to diminish, because the fight-or-flight response was not activated, and the individual felt more productive and energetic, as well as reporting significantly fewer physical symptoms associated with distress (such as headaches, backaches, fatigue). In addition, on a scale of 1 to 4, productivity assessment moved from 1.9 to 2.6 — a significant shift. Life satisfaction scores also increased, which in previous studies has been found to be one of the greatest predictors of productivity and happiness at work.

Encouraged by these results, Crum and I then trained 200 managers in a program called “Rethinking Stress,” focusing on how to use current stress to their advantage at work. The process involved three steps: awareness of the stress, determining the meaning behind why you feel stressed, then redirecting the stress response to improve productivity behind that meaning. The effects of this second experiment were even more dramatic. Not only did distress decrease, but the stress these managers experienced actually became more enhancing, raising work effectiveness and improving health.

Our intention is not to make the case that stress is fundamentally enhancing or try to debunk the literature that stress does indeed have deteriorating effects. Rather our intention is to balance out the stress research and to point out that one’s mindset regarding stress may determine which response will be produced.

Stress at work is a reality
And this study does not indicate that someone should actively seek to increase one’s stress load. But, as Patriots head coach Bill Belichick says, “It is what it is.” Some stress is inevitable.

When stress happens, thinking of it as enhancing rather than debilitating can lessen the risk to your health and materially improve your productivity and performance.

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: Tc Morgan via photopin cc

photo credit: Tc Morgan via photopin cc

How To Lessen Your Stress By Managing Your Emotions

Posted by Bea Karnes

BeWell at Stanford University talked with Kim Bullock, MD, clinical associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at Stanford School of Medicine, about what stress is really all about and how we can better manage it.

How do you define stress?

…in the modern world, if we are experiencing maladaptive stress or fear in a perfectly safe workplace, we may need to change the way we feel instead of looking for a new job. Unhelpful emotions and behaviours can cause poor decision-making and make stress worse.

What are the most common causes of stress?

The causes of stress are the same as the causes of negative emotions and are multifactorial. Thoughts, emotions, behaviors and physiology are all intimately intertwined and influenced by events and our surroundings.

 Negative emotions from thoughts and cognitions:

One of the largest contributors to stress can be our beliefs. Humans are “meaning-making machines.” When we think about the world, we may sometimes create negative interpretations or narratives, which in turn create negative emotions leading to physiological changes, mood changes, and behavioral changes — all of which may influence our environments.

Negative emotions from behaviours:
Overworking and avoiding pleasant activities can also cause negative emotions. Saying yes to every request can cause exhaustion. Avoiding things can cause anxiety. The more anxious we become, the more we avoid the task and the more stressful the task becomes. A good example that everyone can relate to is procrastination: when we procrastinate, a very benign task becomes overwhelming due to the positive feedback loop of anxiety and avoidance behaviors.

Negative emotions from physical status:
Illness or surgery can create increased physiological demands and stress. Or, our roles may require decreased sleep or overworking with not enough rest time or exercise. A new baby, while adorable to admirers, can cause stress to the exhausted new parents, through hormonal physiological changes or sleep deprivation. Poor nutrition or malnutrition can be another cause of stress.

Negative emotions from the environment:
Just as being on the beautiful Stanford campus can make us feel excited and happy, working in a dimly lit and unfriendly office can make us feel depressed and fatigued. Our work environment, the economy, our socio-economic status, level of exposure to sunlight, or our social influence and power are intimately connected to our stress levels. Those that are most disenfranchised or lack power experience much more stress.

Are there everyday skills to help deal with stress?

Yes! (That’s why I love my job.) Relieving the suffering associated with stress and negative emotions is not only possible, but actually fairly straightforward. Although we can’t directly change negative emotions — we feel what we feel — we can change our thoughts, behaviours, physiology, and environment.

Involve yourself in at least 3-4 pleasant activities per day that give you joy or a sense of mastery.

Even the simple things we do every day, such as stopping to talk to a friend for a few minutes, can prove powerful therapy for treating depression. The brain needs pleasure, mastery, novelty and stimulation in order to feel good. When we have increased demands placed on us, or are ill, we often miss out on these vital “feel-good” activities. It is easy to get into a vicious cycle of feeling worse and doing less and feeling worse, which is why it is important to schedule fun and pleasure into your day, every day — a technique called “behavioral activation.”

Spend time with people with whom you have a good relationship.

We release relaxing, pleasant hormones like oxytocin and vasopressin in response to time spent with people we care about. Romantic relationships have even more bang for their buck due to activation of dopamine reward circuits. Interestingly, women release cortisol, a stress-buffering hormone, when they are “madly in love.” So I recommend that when women are stressed they fall madly in love immediately! [just kidding]

Change your emotions by acting the opposite.

In recent clinical research, participants were asked to smile during a stressful task while submerging their hand in ice water for one minute. Those who smiled had lower physiological and subjective measures of distress than a group that did not smile. Smiling, therefore, is not just a result of happiness: smiling actually makes you happy. Similarly, if you are fearful and anxious, acting as if you are not scared can actually help relieve those emotions over time. In psychiatry, we call this exposure therapy. For example, if someone is afraid of public places, exposure therapy would involve sending that individual to public places, often, until the public places are no longer upsetting. When a feeling of fear has changed, we call it desensitization. Disclaimer: This does not work if an emotion is justified. If you continued to visit a lion’s den daily, it’s unlikely your fear would go down over time since it is justifiably a dangerous place. Thus, acting the opposite only works for unjustified or maladaptive emotions.

Develop mindfulness to combat negative thinking, reduce stress, and even alter physiology.

Mindfulness involves the practice of keeping one’s attention on the present moment and without judgment, simply observing. There is no ruminating on the past or tripping about the future. Everything is simply accepted in the present moment, and one is open to all experience without pushing anything away. Mindfulness skills can be developed through meditation, prayer, yoga, or mindfulness courses. Many religious and healing traditions have components of mindfulness. Research studies support the benefits of practicing mindfulness to overall mental health.

Redirect your thinking.

A hallmark of depressive emotion is the feeling that the future is hopeless or that one’s self has no relative value. Redirecting your thoughts toward concepts such as gratitude, compassion, and altruism have been shown to improve emotional states.

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: Hani Amir via photopin cc

photo credit: Hani Amir via photopin cc

Positive Intelligence

In this article that Shawn Achor wrote in the January 2012 Harvard Business Review., he outlines some small practical proven ways we can each make big changes to our thinking and start to increase our orientation towards becoming a positive genius

Training your brain to be positive is not so different from training your muscles at the gym. Recent research on neuroplasticity—the ability of the brain to change even in adulthood—reveals that as you develop new habits, you rewire the brain.

Engaging in one brief positive exercise every day for as little as three weeks can have a lasting impact, my research suggests. For instance, in December 2008, just before the worst tax season in decades, I worked with tax managers at KPMG in New York and New Jersey to see if I could help them become happier. (I am an optimistic person, clearly.) I asked them to choose one of five activities that correlate with positive change:

  • Jot down three things they were grateful for.
  • Write a positive message to someone in their social support network.
  • Meditate at their desk for two minutes.
  • Exercise for 10 minutes.
  • Take two minutes to describe in a journal the most meaningful experience of the past 24 hours.

The participants performed their activity every day for three weeks. Several days after the training concluded, we evaluated both the participants and a control group to determine their general sense of well-being. How engaged were they? Were they depressed? On every metric, the experimental group’s scores were significantly higher than the control group’s. When we tested both groups again, four months later, the experimental group still showed significantly higher scores in optimism and life satisfaction. In fact, participants’ mean score on the life satisfaction scale—a metric widely accepted to be one of the greatest predictors of productivity and happiness at work—moved from 22.96 on a 35-point scale before the training to 27.23 four months later, a significant increase.

Just one quick exercise a day kept these tax managers happier for months after the training program had ended.

Happiness had become habitual.

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

Mindfulness Does Not Lead To Happiness

 writes…

The part of our minds that most people identify with is the part that silently talks to us with a running commentary. We listen to it all day long. Let’s call it “The Talker.”

“The Talker” prefers pleasure over pain, happiness over sadness, winning over losing, health over sickness, and any of the other judgments that help us navigate our lives. Although it plays a critical role that we cannot live without, “The Talker” is stuck in the duality that makes us judge one thing better than another. It does not allow us to experience the world without judgment.

The central principle of mindfulness is to look at experiences without judgment. Adherents of mindfulness often speak of the part of our minds that practices mindfulness as “The Watcher.” It lives outside of the duality and sees everything as equally valuable. Mindfulness is a wonderful practice that increases awareness of what is really happening because “The Watcher” does not ignore or accentuate details based on preferences.

…Mindfulness practiced properly does not lead to happiness; it leads to a greater awareness of whatever you are experiencing whether you like it or not.

Mindfulness does not mean we have no preferences or that we make no effort to alleviate pain. “The Watcher” is perfectly capable of watching without judgment while “The Talker” tells us our feelings about things. But, most of us pay attention to “The Talker” and cannot access “The Watcher” as much as we should. Our perceptions are not “full” because we are not mindful of the whole picture that “The Watcher” helps fill out.

This lack of balance is the primary cause of suffering. We get so caught up in the judgments of “The Talker” that we are not content with life the way it is. We resist experiences that could be of great value because our preferences shut us out from perceiving the whole picture. We end up focusing on changing the experiences and missing the insights that are available in them. We also miss out on the bliss that is at the core of every moment.

Many people practice mindfulness or other forms of meditation with the goal of achieving a blissful state. Turning off “The Talker” for a while and focusing on only the present moment produces very pleasurable feelings. They love the state because it is free from the pain and suffering we feel when “The Talker” judges things in a negative light. With much practice, they achieve states that are so pleasurable they call them the ultimate “high.”

But being “high” is not bliss. It is still stuck in contrast consciousness and the world of duality. To feel “high” means you will also feel “low” sometimes. Real bliss is beyond duality, it is in pain just as much as in pleasure. There is no more bliss during “high” times than during low times: Bliss is equally available in every moment…

Mindfulness does not lead to happiness. It sometimes leads to greater experience of the very real pains we all have: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. What mindfulness does lead to, though, is bliss. But in order to feel it you have to know the difference between happiness and bliss.

Every moment of our lives is an opportunity to be in bliss, but we avoid those with the most potential because we think that the difficult experiences need to be removed first. We are closer to experiencing bliss during the difficult times because they challenge us to break from our attachment to happiness.

It is not really bliss if the experience we think is bliss goes away when we are in pain. As bliss is beyond the duality of happy-sad, gain-loss, pleasure-displeasure, and even health-illness; we cannot truly know bliss until we see it in our pain. Once we find bliss in pain, we find it everywhere…

When we are in equanimity (bliss), we make decisions based on wisdom and the equal input from both “The Talker” and “The Watcher.” We are no longer controlled by the likes and dislikes of “The Talker,” although we are informed by its perceptions. We do what is right, not necessarily what satisfies our ego. That is what practicing mindfulness is all about.

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: sant.o via photopin cc

photo credit: sant.o via photopin cc

Don’t Underestimate the Value of Life’s Little (and not-so-little) Crises

By 

Resilience has to do with the capacity to recover, learn, and grow from the experience of adversity.

Resilience isn’t acquired or inherited, but is developed in the process of surviving life’s inevitable and often unanticipated difficulties and coming through these experiences with greater wisdom, compassion, understanding, and maturity. There doesn’t seem to be any way of cultivating these qualities that doesn’t involve at least some degree of stress and difficulty. It’s actually the ordeal itself that calls forth the necessary but often hidden strengths and resources that are needed to meet the challenge of the crisis we are facing.

Relationships provide an abundance of opportunities to cultivate resilience in that they illuminate the places in which we hold invisible attachments, expectations, wounds, fears, unmet needs, and unfulfilled longings.

…But It’s one thing to believe a crisis to be an opportunity and it’s quite another to actually experience it that way.  Life challenges are not inherently growth-producing.

What determines whether or not they are is the attitude and inner resources with which we meet those challenges. All crises are potentially transformative in that they contain the seeds of new growth. Yet simply seeing new possibilities is not sufficient to mobilize movement toward their realization. Without motivation, there is no movement. Pain, or the desire to be free of pain, often serves as a great motivator, but not always. Unless there is an ability to be present with the pain, and be informed and opened by it, the healing potential of emotional trauma will be lost in a relentless desire to escape suffering. When we can meet pain with compassion, curiosity, openness, and an intention to learn in a context of genuine support, meaningless suffering can be transformed into a meaningful experience.

It must be stressed, however, that meaningful suffering is still suffering, and even in the best of cases, pain is an unavoidable aspect of any process that involves an unwanted experience of loss of any type. It is the ability to move into and through pain with awareness that can make this process redemptive…

Sometimes temporary pain is the price that we need to pay to open our lives to new possibilities and free ourselves from an unworkable impasse. Every situation is different and must be handled in accordance with its unique circumstances. Although it may sound like a cliché, there is truth to the saying that pain is sometimes the price that we must be willing to pay for growth.

Link to read this article, and its story about recovering from a broken relationship, in full

photo credit: Photo Extremist via photopin cc

photo credit: Photo Extremist via photopin cc

5 Ways To Bounce Back From Everyday Stress

 offers practical ways to Develop Your Resiliency

Stress.

It happens to most of us every day. And most everyday stressors are things that we can handle fairly easily if we just remember a few simple strategies:

1. Engage your vagus nerve.

The vagus nerve is a cranial nerve that wanders throughout the body. Stimulation of the vagus nerve tends to slow your heart rate and create a calming response.

The easiest way to engage the vagus?

Take a deep breath.

Both moving your diaphragm and the exhalation part of the breath will put your vagus nerve in gear and help reduce your body’s stress response.

2. Release your death grip on things you can’t control.

…When there’s nothing you can do about it, just relax. Being uptight isn’t going to get you to your appointment any faster and it’s likely only doing damage to your body rather than helping you in any way.

It’s hard to release control, but there is a large percentage of our stress that is directly related to trying to control things that we will never have any control over whether it’s traffic, weather, your company’s promotions policy, or someone else’s behavior.

It’s okay to take action when and where it is needed and you can actually have some influence, but learn to be okay with not controlling the things that are out of your control.

3. Remember that it usually works out okay.

…When you start to feel yourself knotting up about an everyday stressor, ask yourself how many times you have experienced this particular stress in the past. Then consider whether the usual outcome (everything works out fine; you forgot that you were even stressed, etc.) is worth all of the stress you’re creating in your mind and body.

4. Distract yourself from the stress.

One of the things that can exacerbate everyday stress is our tendency to focus unblinkingly on the source of our stress.

Blink.

Find something to break up your focus on the stressor. A great way to do this is through laughing. Find a funny video on YouTube. Think of the joke that always cracks you up no matter how many times you’ve heard it.

Do something different. Start a different project or go for a quick walk around the building. Look up into the sky and remember that the thing that is stressing you out is actually a small, small piece in the overall picture.

5. This, too, shall pass.

All things do.

Just like we can’t control the rising and setting of the sun, but we can certainly count on them, so can we also count on stress rising and falling in life.

But it passes.

And it will pass more quickly if you allow it to.

Stress happens. It’s how you react to it that makes all the difference.

 Link to original article which includes a link to Bobbi Eme’s free ebook

photo credit: Dru! via photopin cc

photo credit: Dru! via photopin cc

The Key To Happiness At Work? Change Your Perception

 writes…

The key to more happiness at work is changing the way you think and feel about your career. It doesn’t matter if you are the janitor or the president of the company; any job can produce inner happiness. Finding joy in each work day and producing quality work can become the goals of your career. By making the effort to see the positives, you’ll begin to stop dwelling on the negatives. The best part is that with happiness comes higher levels of success.

If you are struggling to find happiness at work, here are five simple ways to start on the right path now.

  1. Be inspired. Any job can become dull or dreary when you lack creative outlets. As part of your effort to find new inspiration, take the time to experience culture beyond the walls of your cubicle. Visit a local museum, attend a concert or play, spend time participating in new activities to stretch your awareness of the world. These things alone with invigorate you and give you something to share with your co-workers.
  2. Create the best. If you are less than thrilled about your job, perhaps it’s your performance that needs to change? Complacency at work leads to boredom and mistakes. This results in negative feedback from your boss and thus, a negative attitude forms. Instead, strive to always do your utmost best in every task you complete, reaching new levels of performance.
  3. Do for others. There are many others in the world who are less than fortunate. A big part of feeling appreciative of the job you hold is by experiencing the lives and circumstances of others. Take the time to volunteer at least once a month at a local soup kitchen, women’s shelter, or another worthy cause. Give something to others in the form of service and see how good it makes you feel. Your perspective and life can change simply through a new altruistic way of life.
  4. Develop your talent. Chances are you have a number of gifts and abilities that you have not been able to utilize fully at work. It’s no wonder you feel frustrated at times! Honor your talents and find ways to share them, either through personal networks or volunteer opportunities. Get some higher education to develop your talents, either through your own resources or a tuition reimbursement program offered by your employer. You’ll find that this gives you a new positive attitude about your career.
  5. Seek new challenges. Any job, no matter how simple or complex, can become more satisfying when you challenge yourself. If you find yourself filled with dread over a task, talk to your immediate supervisor and see if you can take on something new to replace it. Seek out new challenges at work that bring you happiness, such as joining the entertainment committee or taking on an assignment with more responsibility.

Nearly every working person has experienced times of frustration and unhappiness at work. However, by being proactive and seeking out happiness, you’ll have the power to choose career satisfaction and achievement – with a new perception.

Link to the original article

photo credit: slightly-less-random via photopin cc

photo credit: slightly-less-random via photopin cc

The Importance of Social Connection – Insights from the NeuroLeadership Summit 2013

Jan Hills reports

The summit features neuroscientists describing their latest research together with business people reflecting on the implications for leaders and organisations.

This year the theme was very much about the importance of social connection. Matt Lieberman described several years of research into how the brain reacts in social situations and the implications for business. Some of the highlights are:

“Evolutionarily we need to connect with each other. This is part of our survival mechanism. Think of a baby, unless they came with an ability to entice their parents to care for them they would not survive. Also in working together in groups we can do more than as individuals and connected we are stronger. Basically Maslow got his hierarchy wrong. Social connection is a primary need for humans.

The brain feels social pain and pleasure in the same circuitry as physical pain. We probably underestimate the impact of social pain: social rejection, public challenge, public criticism and the like in organisations all create pain. We would never expect someone to be at their best with a broken arm but do not extend the same consideration when social pain occurs.

We are also able, Matt thinks uniquely so, to read the minds of others. We can mentalize and understand how others may act, their goals and emotions. This has significant implications for business. To date most companies and the HR profession have worked from an economic model: money in exchange for time and skill. If we understand a social model of exchange in business it raises questions about leadership and what makes for success, reward, productivity, engagement and the purpose of our function.

Matt also hinted at new research that suggests we learn much better in social situations and even more if we are learning for the benefit of others. So watch this space for more details.” …

Leadership Stamina

We went on to hear about Jessica Payne’s research into leaders, and others, performance and the importance of sleep, stress and mood. She calls this the MPG (miles per gallon model, works in the UK!). I have written about this research before so will not cover it again here.

David Rock presented a new model he is working on looking at how to accelerate wisdom in leaders. Recognising traditional methods of developing leaders through rotations etc is too slow and often misses what we need from leaders in today’s business as opposed to yesterday’s. The aim was to see what neuroscience can tell us about developing leaders faster.

The model really represents the different processes leaders must employ and the areas of the brain responsible for each. The model covers areas such as:

  • Goal attainment; the importance of pragmatism,
  • Emotional balance; social and personal regulation
  • Tolerance; the importance of social connection
  • Self-understanding; through direct experience
  • Dealing with ambiguity; fostering insight

Rock said in order to accelerate the development of leaders the neuroscience can point to some interesting methods including mindfulness which has been shown to have a beneficial impact across most of the areas in the model. However, he also observed it is a challenge to get leaders to practice mindfulness so whilst you are building up to persuading your leaders to be more mindful David Rock believes learning about how the brain works can provide some similar benefits as people begin to be more aware of their own responses.

Finally came another fantastic session from Matt Lieberman on decision bias. Unfortunately I can’t say too much about it as we were asked to ‘keep the ideas’ confidential as David Rock is releasing an article soon. Slightly odd! But I don’t really want to be the first to spill the beans except to say that mindfulness seems to play a part again; this time in reducing the tendency to bias. More on that once the cover is off! Whilst you are waiting you can read my HRZone article on Decision Bias in HR

Matt Lieberman is just about to release his book Social and I managed to get an advance copy. If you are interested in this area it may be one to add to the wishlist as the clear take home message from the summit was, social is way more important to us as humans than we have previously acknowledged and organisational performance will benefit from understanding the implications of that. And of course individuals will perform better in an organisation which recognises its importance too. It also provides so much more than an economic model of business in terms of rewards and we as HR professionals are missing opportunities.

Link to read the original article in full

Of Brits and Danes and Happiness At Work

Alexander Kjerulf AKA The Chief Happiness Officer writes…

Cheerioelevenses and stiff upper lip are examples of highly British phrases that have no direct Danish equivalent.

But here’s a word that exists only in Danish and not in English: arbejdsglæde.

I know that to most English-speakers this looks like a random jumble of letters you’d get if you tossed a bunch of Scrabble tiles on the floor, but there is meaning behind it.

Arbejde means work and glæde means happiness, so arbejdsglæde is happiness at work. This word also exists in the other Nordic languages (Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish and Icelandic) but not in any other language on the planet. I’ve checked!

For instance, where we Scandinavians have arbejdsglæde, the Japanese instead have Karoshi. Which means “Death from overwork.”

And this is no coincidence; there is a word for it in Danish because Danish workplaces have a long-standing tradition of wanting to make their employees happy. To most Danes, a job isn’t just a way to get paid – we fully expect to enjoy ourselves at work.

Few people in Britain seem to expect to be happy at work. Their focus seems to be on putting in the hours and getting paid. To most Britons, a job is just a job – and work is not compatible with any notions of enjoyment or happiness.

Being miserable at work, or even just being sort of OK but not really at work is no longer enough, for three very specific reasons.

First reason: time. We spend more of our waking hours at work than on anything else. We spend more time at work than with our friends, families and children combined. If you’re unhappy at work, you’ll spend a large part of your life being miserable.

Second reason: health. Hating your job can make you sick. Worst case, it can kill you. Studies show that people who hate theirn jobs run a much higher risk of contracting serious diseases like cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

Third reason: money! Happy companies make more money, because their employees are more creative, productive, service-minded and innovative.

The results of these two different attitudes is clear: While the Danes have the highest levels of happiness at work, Brits are… not happy. Recent studies have shown that up to a third of all Brits actively dislike work, while still more neither like it nor loathe it.

Interestingly, you might think that since Danes like their jobs so much, they’d be working more hours. You’d be wrong. Britons are the workaholics of Europe putting in more hours per worker than even those industrious Germans.

And seeing as Brits work so hard, you’d think they’d get more work done than those annoyingly cheerful Danes. You’d be wrong again. Worker productivity is in fact higher in Denmark and Denmark has the world’s best business climate according to the Economist.

So here’s my challenge to British companies, managers and employees everywhere: Put happiness at work first. Realize once and for all that life’s too short to spend so many hours in jobs that are at best tolerable and at worst hell on earth.

In short – let’s see some more arbejdsglæde in Britain.

Link to read the original article

How To Find Happiness: A Short List from Alice Hoffman

As a breast cancer survivor, I am always in search of ways to combat bad fortune. Whether the situation is small or huge, petty or tragic, certain practices can cheer me each and every time. Whether it be a break up, a doctor’s appointment that carries bad news, a friendship floundering or a loved one in trouble, all of the below can help.

1. Walk a dog

Your dog is always there for you, waiting by the door. If you eat, he is there under the table. If you speak, he listens. If you don’t have a dog, borrow one. Go into the woods. Don’t worry, even if you’re not thrilled about mud, bugs, and random sticks you trip over, the dog will be ecstatic. The dog will notice chipmunks, birds in the trees, falling leaves. He will be one with nature. He will follow his nose. Joy will be running through his body. No matter how dejected you are, his joy will be contagious. Before you know it, you will be following his lead, so to speak. You’ll see what he sees: the beauty of the world.

2. Go to a library

Walk through the stacks and feel the quiet. Sit on the floor and turn the pages. Remember the first time you went to a library. Go to the children’s section and look for a book you used to love. If you don’t have a beloved children’s book, “Mary Poppins” is a good place to start. Everything she does is practical and miraculous. She can always save the day. Get a library card and take out a book you’ve always wanted to read but didn’t have time for. Steal an hour every day just to read.

3. Go visit someone much older

If you don’t have a grandmother or an aging uncle or aunt, look up a mentor, or your music teacher, even if you gave up piano or flute lessons years ago. Go to a residence for retirees or a nursing home. Ask questions. Listen to people’s life stories. Amazing what they’ve gone through and what they’ve managed to survive. Write their stories down so you don’t forget them. Each one will tell you a little more about yourself. By the end of your time with someone older, you’ll feel differently about yourself. You’re not just the person with a problem. You are the visitor who wanted to listen and who really heard what someone else had to say.

4. Bake a pie

If you can make a crust, it will take all of your concentration, which will help you stop thinking about your problem for a little while. If piecrust is beyond your culinary talents, you can cheat and buy ready-made. Pie is pie. Cut apples. Look for ripe peaches. Go to a farm stand or the nearest market. Maybe you have a twisted old fruit tree in your backyard. You may remember the pies your grandmother made, the kitchen in the house you grew up, or the scent of pies in a bakery you visited long ago in a small town you passed through Your kitchen will smell like that bakery, like your grandmother’s house. When you’re done you can eat the entire pie or give it to someone you love. It doesn’t matter. The real happiness comes from making something.

5. Look at stars

Sit outside at night without a telephone or a computer. Enjoy the quiet and look up. Maybe you’ll recognize the constellations. Maybe you’ll see Venus. The black night is so vast. There are too many stars to count. You’re still here, despite your troubles. No matter what has happened in the past, or what will transpire in the future, this night is beautiful.

Link to original article including an audi clip of Alice Hoffman talking through her happiness list

photo credit: seyed mostafa zamani via photopin cc

photo credit: seyed mostafa zamani via photopin cc

Three Ways To Focus the Wandering Mind

by Daniel Goleman

…Our minds wander, on average 50 percent of the time. The exact rate varies enormously. When Harvard researchers had 2,250 people report what they were doing and what they were thinking about at random points throughout their day, the doing-thinking gaps ranged widely.

But the biggest gap was during work: mind-wandering is epidemic on the job. But we can take steps that will help us stay on task more of the time when we need to…

Mindfulness: An Antidote for Workplace ADD

Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence and Focus, on using mindfulness techniques to increase focus.

Some consultants tell me that the number one problem in the workplace today is attention. People are distracted. They’re in a state of what’s called “continuous partial attention” where even at meetings, your body is there but your mind is somewhere else. You have countless gadgets constantly sending you information: texts, phone calls, emails, and reminders. All buzzing and dinging for your attention.

People not being fully present is a big problem because the most effective interactions occur when two people are mutually present to each other. That’s when rapport happens. That’s when chemistry happens. That’s when you’re going to have the most powerful communication and mutual understanding. If your attention is over there, it means you’re not over here with the person you’re with.

Lack of attention also impacts your performance. Your ability to do your job on your own is directly related to how well you can concentrate and focus. If you’re continually distracted, you just can’t get it done, or get it done well.

That’s why one of the most important things to learn in the workplace today is how to focus. Mindfulness meditation techniques can help you strengthen your attention.

I’ve found that if you do these exercises, for example, 10 minutes before you go to work, you are changing your brain. You’re heightening your ability to concentrate hours later. If you can find a way to practice strengthening your attention every day, it’s like going to the gym and building your muscles, but it’s a mental muscle.

Here’s an exercise from the concentration family of meditation. It’s a good introduction to mindfulness.

  • Sit upright, close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath.
  • Don’t try to control your breath, just let it be natural and easy but be aware of your breath.
  • Notice the full inhalation, the full exhalation.
  • See if you can feel it coming and going through your nostrils, or feel the rise and fall of your belly.
  • When you notice that you’ve been distracted, simply start with the next breath.
  • Tune in to any sensation any way you can. Be fully aware of the breath. Just keep your attention anchored there.
  • Keep breathing in, and breathing out.
  • Whenever your mind wanders, just bring it back to your breath.
  • Watch the full inhalation, the full exhalation. Stay with the breath. Use it as your anchor for attention.
  • Try it on your own for a few minutes.

It’s really so simple and in some ways so hard, because the mind wants to wander. In a way the basic movement of mindfulness is anchoring your attention, keeping it there, noticing when your mind wanders because it’s going to, bringing it back and starting over. What we find is that if you can keep doing this, and the longer you stay with your breath, the more relaxed your body becomes. It’s a side effect of that full attention and letting go all those worries that keep us on edge and distracted.

Link to read the original  article 

ACTION FOR HAPPINESS PRESENTS…

An evening with Daniel Goleman

Thursday 24th October, London

An inspiring evening of insight and discussion with Daniel Goleman, the internationally acclaimed psychologist and expert in Emotional Intelligence.

Daniel will explain the importance of Emotional Intelligence in modern life and also share some of the ideas from his exciting new book Focus, a groundbreaking look at today’s scarcest resource and the secret to fulfilment and performance: attention.

Link to booking details for this event

photo credit: spettacolopuro via photopin cc

photo credit: spettacolopuro via photopin cc

The Power of Mindfulness

 writes…

…For the past 100 years, the majority of education systems across the globe have failed to equip students with the life skills needed to flourish. This educational paradigm solely focused on academic achievement is a reflection of the global development paradigm whose progress is gauged by economic growth (GDP), regardless of negative externalities on the natural environment, on social fabrics and culture and on happiness and well-being.

If we are to strive for a new development paradigm beyond mere economic growth, a new generation empowered with the tools to flourish at an individual and communal level will be necessary.

Education for well-being is an educational paradigm which can plant seeds that might yield these fruits in the decades to come.

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: spettacolopuro via photopin cc

photo credit: spettacolopuro via photopin cc

Let Your Life Story Empower You

BY 

When you consider your life story, do you think of it as a positive or a negative experience? It’s difficult to find the empowering aspects of some of the situations we’ve experienced, it may seem as though there is no such aspect. Here, Alissa Finerman offers some tactics you can use to transform a seemingly disempowering story into something you can hopefully find some pride in:

“Don’t allow your situation to become your world.” – Bishop T.D. Jakes from Oprah’s Life Class

We all have a story. Sometimes it explains why we can’t do something and other times our story propels us forward. I’ve heard cases where people have the same story — such as lack of money, resources, or knowledge — and one person eventually starts a successful business while the other is out of work and depressed. One story can lead to completely opposite interpretations and outcomes. When you tell your story, you must…

1. Be honest about your story and stick to the facts.

Nothing more nor less!

2. Create the story that empowers you to move forward.

Never lower your standards!

3. Live your truth.

Establish non-negotiables!

“Does your story empower you or dis-empower you?” – Tony Robbins

We all have stories in different areas of our life. The facts are always available.

The only thing that changes is how we interpret them and how we decide to embellish them…

Often you have to challenge your conclusions and ask yourself if they are true. Does it really make sense that you can make anything in your career and healthy living a reality, yet relationships elude you? How much time do you spend on the areas you are successful in versus the ones you would like to have different results in? Your story must be the truth. This is the only way to create a top 1% path and share your best self.

Link to read this story in full

photo credit: spettacolopuro via photopin cc

photo credit: spettacolopuro via photopin cc

8 Common Thinking Mistakes Our Brains Make and How To Prevent Them

Written by 

Being aware of the mistakes we naturally have in our thinking can make a big difference in avoiding them. Unfortunately, most of these occur subconsciously, so it will also take time and effort to avoid them—if you even want to.

Regardless, I think it’s fascinating to learn more about how we think and make decisions every day, so let’s take a look at some of these thinking habits we didn’t know we had.

1. We surround ourselves with information that matches our beliefs

We tend to like people who think like us. If we agree with someone’s beliefs, we’re more likely to be friends with them. While this makes sense, it means that we subconsciously begin to ignore or dismiss anything that threatens our world views, since we surround ourselves with people and information that confirm what we already think.

This is called confirmation bias. If you’ve ever heard of the frequency illusion, this is very similar. The frequency illusion occurs when you buy a new car, and suddenly you see the same car everywhere. Or when a pregnant woman suddenly notices other pregnant women all over the place. It’s a passive experience, where our brains seek out information that’s related to us, but we believe there’s been an actual increase in the frequency of those occurrences.

Confirmation bias is a more active form of the same experience. It happens when we proactively seek out information that confirms our existing beliefs.

This trailer for David McRaney’s book, You are Now Less Dumb, explains this concept really well with a story about how people used to think geese grew on trees (seriously), and how challenging our beliefs on a regular basis is the only way to avoid getting caught up in the confirmation bias:

2. We believe in the “swimmer’s body” illusion

This has to be one of my favorite thinking mistakes I came across. In Rolf Dobelli’s book, The Art of Thinking Clearly, he explains how our ideas about talent and extensive training are well off-track:

Professional swimmers don’t have perfect bodies because they train extensively. Rather, they are good swimmers because of their physiques. How their bodies are designed is a factor for selection and not the result of their activities.

The “swimmer’s body illusion” occurs when we confuse selection factors with results. Another good example is top performing universities: are they actually the best schools, or do they choose the best students, who do well regardless of the school’s influence?

3. We worry about things we’ve already lost

No matter how much I pay attention to the sunk cost fallacy, I still naturally gravitate towards it.

The term sunk cost refers to any cost (not just monetary, but also time and effort) that has been paid already and cannot be recovered. So, a payment of time or money that’s gone forever, basically.

The reason we can’t ignore the cost, even though it’s already been paid, is that we wired to feel loss far more strongly than gain. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman explains this in his book, Thinking Fast and Slow:

Organisms that placed more urgency on avoiding threats than they did on maximizing opportunities were more likely to pass on their genes. So, over time, the prospect of losses has become a more powerful motivator on your behavior than the promise of gains.

The sunk cost fallacy plays on this tendency of ours to emphasize loss over gain.

So, just like the other mistakes I’ve explained in this post, the sunk cost fallacy leads us to miss or ignore the logical facts presented to us, and instead make irrational decisions based on our emotions—without even realizing we’re doing so:

The fallacy prevents you from realizing the best choice is to do whatever promises the better experience in the future, not which negates the feeling of loss in the past.

Being such a subconscious reaction, it’s hard to avoid this one. Our best bet is to try to separate the current facts we have from anything that happened in the past.

4. We incorrectly predict odds

The gambler’s fallacy is a glitch in our thinking—once again, we’re proven to be illogical creatures. The problem occurs when we place too much weight on past events, believing that they will have an effect on future outcomes (or, in the case of Heads or Tails, any weight, since past events make absolutely no difference to the odds).

Unfortunately, gambling addictions in particular are also affected by a similar mistake in thinking—the positive expectation bias. This is when we mistakenly think that eventually, our luck has to change for the better. Somehow, we find it impossible to accept bad results and give up—we often insist on keeping at it until we get positive results, regardless of what the odds of that happening actually are.

5. We rationalise purchases we don’t want

I’m as guilty of this as anyone. How many times have you gotten home after a shopping trip only to be less than satisfied with your purchase decisions and started rationalising them to yourself? Maybe you didn’t really want it after all, or in hindsight you thought it was too expensive. Or maybe it didn’t do what you hoped, and was actually useless to you.

Regardless, we’re pretty good at convincing ourselves that those flashy, useless, badly thought-out purchases are necessary after all. This is known as post-purchase rationalization or Buyer’s Stockholm Syndrome.

The reason we’re so good at this comes back to psychology:

Social psychologists say it stems from the principle of commitment, our psychological desire to stay consistent and avoid a state of cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance is the discomfort we get when we’re trying to hold onto two competing ideas or theories.

So in the case of our impulse shopping trip, we would need to rationalise the purchases until we truly believe we needed to buy those things, so that our thoughts about ourselves line up with our actions (making the purchases).

The tricky thing in avoiding this mistake is that we generally act before we think, leaving us to rationalise our actions afterwards.

Being aware of this mistake can help us avoid it by predicting it before taking action—for instance, as we’re considering a purchase, we often know that we will have to rationalise it to ourselves later. If we can recognise this, perhaps we can avoid it. It’s not an easy one to tackle, though!

6. We make decisions based on the anchoring effect

Dan Ariely is a behavioural economist who gave one of my favourite TED talks ever about the irrationality of the human brain when it comes to making decisions.

He illustrates this particular mistake in our thinking superbly, with multiple examples. The anchoring effect essentially works like this: rather than making a decision based on pure value for investment (time, money, etc.), we factor in comparative value—that is, how much value an option offers when compared to another option.

Let’s look at some examples from Dan, to illustrate this effect in practice:

One example is an experiment that Dan conducted using two kinds of chocolates for sale in a booth: Hershey’s Kisses and Lindt Truffles. The Kisses were one penny each, while the Truffles were fifteen cents each. Considering the quality differences between the two kinds of chocolates and the normal prices of both items, the Truffles were a great deal, and the majority of visitors to the booth chose the Truffles.

For the next stage of his experiment, Dan offered the same two choices, but lowered the prices by one cent each. So now the Kisses were free, and the Truffles cost fourteen cents each. Of course, the Truffles are even more of a bargain now, but since the Kisses were free, most people chose those instead.

Your loss aversion system is always vigilant, waiting on standby to keep you from giving up more than you can afford to spare, so you calculate the balance between cost and reward whenever possible. – You Are Not So Smart

This mistake is called the anchoring effect, because we tend to focus on a particular value and compare it to our other options, seeing the difference between values rather than the value of each option itself.

Eliminating the ‘useless’ options ourselves as we make decisions can help us choose more wisely. On the other hand, Dan says that a big part of the problem comes from simply not knowing our own preferences very well, so perhaps that’s the area we should focus on more, instead.

7. We believe our memories more than facts

Our memories are highly fallible and plastic. And yet, we tend to subconsciously favor them over objective facts. The availability heuristic is a good example of this. It works like this:

Suppose you read a page of text and then you’re asked whether the page includes more words that end in “ing” or more words with “n” as the second-last letter. Obviously, it would be impossible for there to be more “ing” words than words with “n” as their penultimate letter (it took me a while to get that—read over the sentence again, carefully, if you’re not sure why that is).However, words ending in “ing” are easier to recall than words like hand, end, or and, which have “n” as their second-last letter, so we would naturally answer that there are more “ing” words.

What’s happening here is that we are basing our answer of probability (i.e. whether it’s probable that there are more “ing” words on the page) on how available relevant examples are (i.e. how easily we can recall them). Our troubles in recalling words with “n” as the second last letter make us think those words don’t occur very often, and we subconsciously ignore the obvious facts in front of us.

Although the availability heuristic is a natural process in how we think, two Chicago scholars have explained how wrong it can be:

Yet reliable statistical evidence will outperform the availability heuristic every time.

The lesson here? Whenever possible, look at the facts. Examine the data. Don’t base a factual decision on your gut instinct without at least exploring the data objectively first.

8. We pay more attention to stereotypes than we think

The funny thing about lots of these thinking mistakes is that they’re so ingrained, I had to think long and hard about why they’re mistakes at all! This one is a good example—it took me a while to understand how illogical this pattern of thinking is.

It’s another one that explains how easily we ignore actual facts:

The human mind is so wedded to stereotypes and so distracted by vivid descriptions that it will seize upon them, even when they defy logic, rather than upon truly relevant facts.

Here’s an example to illustrate the mistake, from researchers Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky:

In 1983 Kahneman and Tversky tested how illogical human thinking is by describing the following imaginary person:

Linda is thirty-one years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in antinuclear demonstrations.

The researchers asked people to read this description, and then asked them to answer this question:

Which alternative is more probable?

  1. Linda is a bank teller.
  2. Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.

Here’s where it can get a bit tricky to understand (at least, it did for me!)—If answer #2 is true, #1 is also true. This means that #2 cannot be the answer to the question of probability.

Unfortunately, few of us realise this, because we’re so overcome by the more detailed description of #2. Plus, as the earlier quote pointed out, stereotypes are so deeply ingrained in our minds that subconsciously apply them to others.

Roughly 85% of people chose option #2 as the answer.

Again, we see here how irrational and illogical we can be, even when the facts are seemingly obvious.

I love this quote from researcher Daniel Kahneman on the differences between economics and psychology:

I was astonished. My economic colleagues worked in the building next door, but I had not appreciated the profound difference between our intellectual worlds. To a psychologist, it is self-evident that people are neither fully rational nor completely selfish, and that their tastes are anything but stable.

Clearly, it’s normal for us to be irrational and to think illogically, even though we rarely realise we’re doing it. Still, being aware of the pitfalls we often fall into when making decisions can help us to at least recognize them, if not avoid them.

Link to read this article in full including the wonderfully illustrative cartoons

 
photo credit: monettenriquez via photopin cc

photo credit: monettenriquez via photopin cc

Life Notes: Teach Your Child happiness Habits

Stacy Hawkins Adams writes

What numerous studies have discovered has been surprising — rather than success being the cause of happiness, it appears that being happy yields more success and achievement.

So I was intrigued when I attended parents’ night at my son’s middle school and learned that his history teacher (who is also his homeroom teacher) is not only educating him and his classmates about the complexities of past wars and other pivotal events in society, but also teaching them to contemplate happiness.

Musing about happiness? With sixth-graders?

The notion may seem odd. After all, kids are innately happy, aren’t they? Or at least they should be, when all is right in their worlds.

What the teacher, Michael Ferry, is striving for, however, seems much deeper, and thus more important.

He is convinced that if they understand the path to well-being and how to create habits that nurture it, they’ll be laying a foundation for lifelong resilience, contentment and, ultimately, success in whatever endeavors they pursue.

With that in mind, he takes a few minutes each morning to ask his students to consider something they’re grateful for, happy about or that makes them feel good.

If nothing else, this practice is training my son and his classmates to reflect on the positives in their young lives. It is also helping wire their brains to seek out silver linings and simple blessings they might otherwise overlook.

Scott Crabtree, an expert on the neuroscience and psychology of happiness and founder of a company called Happy Brain Science, said people who have a solid sense of well-being are more productive, sociable and creative — factors that foster success.

In psychologist Shawn Achor’s book “The Happiness Advantage,” he offers steps to take to improve happiness, such as spending more time in fresh air to boost mood and improve memory.

Other experts recommend saying thank you more often, doing a kind act for others, exercising regularly and nurturing friendships.

Many of us already practice these suggestions in our efforts to lead productive and balanced lives. However, it might be helpful to be more intentional about encouraging your tween or teen to do the same.

Consider incorporating moments of gratitude sharing into your dinner or bedtime routines, or helping your children find positives in otherwise challenging situations.

Model the behavior you want them to adopt.

Don’t force your actions or be insincere; kids can always tell. But from a place of authenticity, prioritize what matters most, and help them grasp the concept of seeing the glass half full more often than not.

Ferry and numerous researchers are convinced these happiness habits will pay dividends, equipping youths and parents to embrace gratitude, optimism and hopefulness wherever life leads them.

Link to the original article

photo credit: mishgun via photopin cc

photo credit: mishgun via photopin cc

Room To Breathe

A film about how mindfulness practise transformed the lives of a group of inner city school students

Room To Breathe is a surprising story of transformation as struggling kids in a San Francisco public middle school are introduced to the practice of mindfulness meditation.

Topping the district in disciplinary suspensions, and with overcrowded classrooms creating a nearly impossible learning environment, overwhelmed administrators are left with stark choices: repeating the cycle of trying to force tuned-out children to listen, or to experiment with timeless inner practices that may provide them with the social, emotional, and attentional skills that they need to succeed.

The first question is whether it’s already too late. Confronted by defiance, contempt for authority figures, poor discipline, and more interest in “social” than learning, can a young mindfulness teacher from Berkeley succeed in opening their minds and hearts?

Room To Breathe – Trailer

Inner city schools across the nation are in serious trouble.

In many cities, about half of high school students drop out, and a similar percentage of teachers leave after just five years in the profession.

ROOM TO BREATHE explores one promising solution that has been tested in several dozen public schools — a self-regulatory technique called mindfulness that increases kids’ focus and concentration, self-awareness and impulse control.

The film presents a hopeful story of transformation, following a young mindfulness teacher, Megan Cowan, as she spends several months attempting to teach the technique to troubled kids in a San Francisco public middle school that tops the district in disciplinary suspensions.

Confronted by defiance and contempt, Cowan at first runs into substantial difficulties in the classroom. But under her guidance, the students begin to learn the technique and eventually use it to take greater control over their lives, decrease stress, and better focus in class and at home.

Based on the experiences depicted in the film, as well as results at other schools and independent academic studies, the mindfulness technique appears to have broad potential to significantly improve kids’ social interactions with peers and adults, to reduce bullying and violence, and to improve academic performance and graduation rates.

photo credit: Paolo Margari via photopin cc

photo credit: Paolo Margari via photopin cc

How to Grow the Good in Your Brain

Rick Hanson explains how we can protect ourselves from the stress of negative experiences.

…There’s a traditional saying that the mind takes its shape from what it rests upon. Based on what we’ve learned about experience-dependent neuroplasticity, a modern version would be that the brain takes its shape from what the mind rests upon. If you keep resting your mind upon self-criticism, worries, grumbling about others, hurts, and stress, then your brain will be shaped into greater reactivity, vulnerability to anxiety and depressed mood, a narrow focus on threats and losses, and inclinations toward anger, sadness, and guilt.

On the other hand, if you keep resting your mind on good events and conditions (someone was nice to you, there’s a roof over your head), pleasant feelings, the things you do get done, physical pleasures, and your good intentions and qualities, then over time your brain will take a different shape, one with strength and resilience hard-wired into it, as well as a realistically optimistic outlook, positive mood, and a sense of worth. Looking back over the past week or so, where has your mind been mainly resting?

In effect, what you pay attention to—what you rest your mind upon—is the primary shaper of your brain. While some things naturally grab a person’s attention—such as a problem at work, a physical pain, or a serious worry—on the whole you have a lot of influence over where your mind rests. This means that you can deliberately prolong and even create the experiences that will shape your brain for the better. This is what I call “taking in the good.”

This practice, applied to positive experiences, boils down to just four words: have it, enjoy it.

And see for yourself what happens when you do…

…in quick, easy, and enjoyable ways right in the flow of your day, you can use the power of self-directed neuroplasticity to build up a lasting sense of ease, confidence, self-acceptance, compassion, feeling loved, contentment, and inner peace. In essence what you’ll do is simple: Turn everyday good experiences into good neural structure. Putting it more technically: You will activate mental states and then install them as neural traits. When you need them, you’ll be able to draw on these neural traits, which are your inner strengths, the good growing in your mind.

You’ll be using your mind to change your brain to change your mind for the better. Bit by bit, synapse by synapse, you really can build happiness into your brain.
And by doing this, you’ll be overcoming its negativity bias: the brain is good at learning from bad experiences, but bad at learning from good ones—if the mind is like a garden, the “soil” of your brain is more fertile for weeds than for flowers. So it’s really important to plant the seeds of inner strengths by repeatedly taking in the good.

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: Life Mental Health via photopin cc

photo credit: Life Mental Health via photopin cc

Google’s ‘Jolly Good Fellow’ on the Power of Emotional Intelligence

 reports…

“Imagine two human beings. Don’t say anything, don’t do anything, just wish for those two human beings to be happy. That’s all.”

During one recent talk, Google engineer-turned-mindfulness expert Chade-Meng Tan gave the group a homework assignment: Perform the exercise the next day at work, spending 10 seconds each hour randomly choosing two people and silently wishing for them to be happy. The following morning, Tan received an email from an employee who attended the workshop that read, “I hate my job. I hate coming to work every day. But yesterday I tried your suggestion and it was my happiest day in seven years.”

It’s not the first time that Tan — who Wired recently dubbed an “Enlightenment engineer” — has seen emotional intelligence exercises transform an employee’s work and life. As Google’s resident “Jolly Good Fellow,” Tan developed Search Inside Yourself (SIY) program, a mindfulness-based emotional intelligence training program. Tan’s philosophy is that cultivating emotional intelligence through mindfulness training and meditation can help an individual reach a state of inner peace, the essential foundation of happiness, success and compassion.

More than 1,000 Google employees have gone through the SIY curriculum, according to Wired, the principles of which are outlined in Tan’s New York Times bestseller,“Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path To Achieving Success, Happiness (And World Peace)”. The program focuses on building up the five emotional intelligence domains of self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills, primarily through meditation and mindfulness training, which aims to improve one’s focus and attention on the present moment.

The benefits of emotional intelligence in the workplace are well-documented, from career success to improved relationships to better leadership — and Tan says getting Silicon Valley interested in a meditation program to train employees in emotional intelligence wasn’t difficult.

“Everybody already knows, emotional intelligence is good for my career, it’s good for my team, it’s good for my profits,” Tan tells the Huffington Post. “It comes pre-marketed, so all I had to do is create a curriculum for emotional intelligence that helps people succeed, with goodness and world-peace as the unavoidable side-effects.”

Here are four ways that you can cultivate emotional intelligence – and revolutionize your work, relationships and happiness.

Meditate…

“There are some things in life where if you improve one thing, everything else in life is improved… If you improve physical fitness, it improves your home life, success, wellness, everything,” says Tan. “The same is true for meditation, because meditation is in fact mental and emotional fitness. If you are fit mentally and emotionally, every aspect of your life improves.”

Cultivate compassion…

Neuroscientists have even seen that meditating on compassion can create an empathetic state in the brain. When Tibetan Buddhist monks were asked to meditate on “unconditional loving-kindness and compassion” in a 2006 study, the researchers measured brain activity in the left prefrontal cortex, which is associated with positive emotions, that was 30 times stronger than the activity among a control group of college students who didn’t meditate, Wired reported. The researchers theorized that empathy may be something one can cultivated by “exercising” the brain through loving-kindness meditation.

Tan explains that mindfulness training helps to boost self-compassion first and foremost, which then expands to compassion for others. “[After the program], people say, ‘I see myself with kindness.'”

But the benefits of cultivating compassion go beyond greater kindness towards oneself and others: In addition to improving happiness, compassion can also boost a business’s creative output and bottom line, according to Tan — a sentiment that LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, a leading proponent of compassionate management, would agree with.

“The one thing [that all companies should be doing] is promoting the awareness that compassion can and will be good for success and profits,” says Tan.

Practise Mindful observancm of the mind and body…

Mindful awareness of what’s going on in the mind and body — thoughts, feelings, emotions, physical sensations and disease — is an important step in cultivating inner joy, says Tan.

“If you start from mindfulness, the first thing you get is inner peace,” Tan explains. “Then you add on other practices like observing wellness in the body, you also get inner joy. Take that inner joy and add on other practices, and you will get kindness and compassion.”

Make mindfulness a habit…

You may not think of inner peace as something that you can develop through creating good habits, but Tan explains that happiness is a habit that you can create through a daily mindfulness practice.

“To create sustainable compassion, you have to be strong in inner joy,” says Tan. “Inner joy comes from inner peace — otherwise it’s not sustainable. And inner peace is highly trainable.”

The way that inner peace is trained is through regular meditation — which isn’t strictly limited to sitting quietly in lotus position. A meditation habit can be a quiet daily walk around your block, a yoga practice, or any of these non-om forms of meditation. The important thing is that you create a habit by doing it regularly and turn mindfulness into a part of your daily life.

“Habits are highly trainable,” explains Tan. “And habits become character.”

Link the the original article

photo credit: IntelFreePress via photopin cc

photo credit: IntelFreePress via photopin cc

S. N. Goenka: The Man Who Taught the World to Meditate

 marks the death of Satya Narayan Goenka, aged 90 …

…Goenka was the core teacher for the first generation of “insight” meditation teachers to have an impact in the United States, and through them, to popularizers like Jon Kabat-Zinn, whose Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program (MBSR) is now taught across the country in hospitals, schools, even prisons.

…America is on the threshold of a mindfulness revolution. As the data regarding mindfulness’s economic impact becomes better developed and better known, we are going to see mindfulness offered everywhere – not for reasons of spirituality, but for sheer economics. These technologies decrease healthcare costs, improve productivity, and speed processes of healing. The Buddha may have taught them to lead to enlightenment – but they also save a ton of money.

How this experiment will turn out is anyone’s guess. Maybe mindfulness will just be a fad. Maybe it’ll last but, like yoga, be limited only to some. Or maybe it really will transform our society. Whatever comes next, all of us who have used it to relax, get well, or just get through the day owe a debt of gratitude to an Indian businessman who passed away last week. Let’s take a mindful breath to remember him.

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

What Mindfulness Isn’t … And What It Is

Vishvapani writes…

1.     It’s not about relaxing
A Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction course is about reducing stress, and that means trying to relax, right? Well, not exactly. Mindfulness just means noticing what’s happening, including the things we find difficult. It doesn’t involve listening to panpipes to escape your worries.

2.     It isn’t a meditation practice
On a mindfulness course you’ll learn meditation, but mindfulness is a practice for the whole of life. It means finding a different way to respond to experience throughout the day.

 3.     It isn’t a technique
Mindfulness isn’t something you do. It’s a way of being. You could say it’s a faculty, or a quality of mind that we all have to some extent and can develop further through practice.

4.     It isn’t a way to fix your problems
Mindfulness can help you address stress, anxiety, depression or chronic pain, but not by fixing them. Mindfulness really means living with appreciation and curiousity. Then we can relate in a new way to the things that trouble us, rather than trying to make them go away.

 5.     It isn’t about doing things slowly
Mindfulness courses include things like eating a raisin veryslowly. That helps you notice details that you otherwise miss, and shows up our tendency to rush or do one thing while thinking about something else. But that doesn’t mean that you should do everything slowly. Sometimes slower is worse – like when you’re driving. And some people, who have to do things really fast, like racing drivers and tennis players, are exceptionally mindful. With mindfulness, things can feel slower, even when you’re moving quickly.

6.     It isn’t about emptying your mind
Meditation doesn’t mean emptying your mind of thoughts, like a bucket. Minds produce thoughts – it’s what they’re built for – and keep producing them even when you’re meditating. But you can still become calm and settled by learning to let thoughts go. And exploring your thoughts lets you see what’s bugging you, and even how your mind really works.

7.     It Isn’t Buddhist
The mindfulness practices used in MBSR and MBCT are drawn from Buddhism, but no one owns mindfulness: it’s simply a capacity of the mind. That’s why mindfulness is being re-expressed in secular forms. However, Buddhism embeds mindfulness within its own, distinctive set of values and a wider path to liberation and if that’s what you’re looking for it’s worth finding out more.

8.     It isn’t scientific
Research into the effects of mindfulness and its impact on the brain is impressive. It’s a big part of what’s bringing mindfulness into the mainstream. But although you can measure what mindfulness does, you can’t measure what it is. That’s requires feeling, intuition and sensitivity. Measuring mindfulness is a science; practising it is an art.

9.     It isn’t difficult … or easy
Mindfulness is simple, but life is often complicated. So how does it work? The mindful approach is that you don’t have to work out everything all at once. You just have to be aware and manage what’s happening in this moment. So it isn’t difficult … but it also isn’t easy. What’s happening in this moment might be scary, so mindfulness requires patience and resolve as well as openness and gentleness.

10.  And it isn’t a fad
Mindfulness is certainly popular, but isn’t a fad?

Mindfulness is a quality of the mind that has always been there and we’re now learning to harness.

And mindfulness is more and more relevant because it counters the speed, distraction, superficiality and general mindlessness of so much modern culture and is causing an epidemic of mental strain and illness.

Mindfulness is here to stay.

Link to the original article

Michelle Gielan: The Power of Positive Communication

Michelle Gielan was curious about the effect of negative messages on the human brain and how they affect our ability to succeed.

She found that negative messaging “short circuits” the human brain.

  • External Messages (negative): Bad news about the weather has more of an effect on us that we often realize.
  • The Jack Effect (positive): If two people stare at each other for 10 seconds, and one smiles.80-85 percent of people will break down and smile back. Mirror neurons. When someone smiles at you, your brain releases dopamine and it feels good, but it also increases brain activity.

Thinking positively pays off: Optimistic salespeople outsell their pessimistic counterparts by 37 percent.

Emotions are contagious. People are happy or sad collectively in the office. A lot of this has to do with mirror neurons — we learn a lot by mimicking each other.

Our brains are supercomputers. When triggered by threats (intruders, danger, negative news), our brains respond with a “fight or flight” reaction. We need to train our brains to react in positive ways, not negative ones.

When people are shown a selection of positive images, their eyes scan around them more. When shown negative images, the scanning process gets stuck – people don’t process the images as thoroughly.

Strategies for Positive Thinking

  1. Create Your Own Newscast: Each day, for 21 days, write down three things you are grateful for in live and why you believe they make you happy. These are your three headlines for the day.Effects: This process retrains your brain to scan for the positive; boosts gratitude and positivity ratio; optimizes scanning pattern; 94% of people were less depressed after 2 weeks.
  2. Investigative Optimism: Seeing the reality of a situation, but processing it positively. When you encounter a challenge or stressful situation, imagine the good that can come of it.Effects: This process retrains your brain for greater optimism; boosts positivity ratio; enables you to better visualize positive outcomes.
  3. The Power Lead: What story is the lead story for your day? What’s the best message you can send to capture your state of mind?Effects: Starts the interaction on a positive note; activates the brain; refocuses attention on the postive; improves the mood of the group.

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: habeebee via photopin cc

photo credit: habeebee via photopin cc

Robert Frost reads The Road Not Taken

Happiness At Work Edition #66

All of these stories and many more are collected together in our latest edition of Happiness At Work #66 – out on Friday 4th October 2013.

This is a tightly packed post this week, so I congratulate you hugely if you have managed to make it to reading these last words.

As a reminder of the rich history we also always have to draw on amidst our 21st century excitements, I want to finish this post with some words that are even older than Robert Frost’s 1920 poem.  Very much in accord with this week’s central idea about the way we choose to think about things being of primary importance to what we end up thinking, feeling and so doing, here are some last words quoted and written by Samuel Johnson in 1750 in his sixth edition of The Rambler a twice-weekly collection of writings that Johnson published between 1750-1752.  An earlier version of the blog, we might say…

“The Fountain of Content Must Spring Up in the Mind.”

“Active in indolence, abroad we roam
In quest of happiness which dwells at home:
With vain pursuits fatigu’d, at length you’ll find,
No place excludes it from an equal mind.”

– James Elphinston, contemporary and good friend of Johnson’s

“The fountain of content must spring up in the mind…he who has so little knowledge of human nature, as to seek happiness by changing any thing but his own dispositions, will waste his life in fruitless efforts, and multiply the griefs which he purposes to remove.”

– Samuel Johnson, The Rambler, No. 6

photo credit: Indy Kethdy via photopin cc

photo credit: Indy Kethdy via photopin cc

Happiness At Work #64 – happiness & the working woman

In this week’s new Happiness At Work Edition #64 we have put the spotlight on some of the conditions, trends and issues that affect women’s happiness at work.  In doing this, in no way am I trying to suggest any kind of comprehensive study of the many conflicting and complex issues that might be specific to a woman’s happiness at work.  Rather, I have pulled together stories that relate to this theme and happen to be part of this week’s collection of stories.  It is a snapshot, and like any photo, it is incomplete, but not necessarily any less revealing because of this.

See what you think…

photo credit: TMAB2003 via photopin cc

photo credit: TMAB2003 via photopin cc

The Problem With A Masculine Corporate Culture

By Tina Vasquez

Robin Ely’s recent study, a collaboration with her colleague, Stanford University consulting professor Debra Meyerson, proves without a shadow of a doubt that an entire culture can dramatically shift when stripped of its traditional masculine identity.

Unmasking Manly Men: The Organizational Reconstruction of Men’s Identity” took Ely and Meyerson 130 miles off the coast of Southern Louisiana, landing them smack-dab in the middle of one of the toughest, most male-dominated work environments imaginable: an offshore oil platform. The manager of the oil rig had implemented innovative approaches to leadership development in order to reduce unsafe behaviors stereotypically associated with “macho” men, such as taking unnecessary risks, refusing to ask questions that make them appear vulnerable, and pressuring coworkers to prove themselves through acts of physical bravery. However, he wasn’t achieving an effective result.

He found that by stripping the oil rig away of its traditional masculine identity, there was a noticeable shift in the entire culture of the rig: communication improved, men listened to each other more, they learned from their mistakes, and placed more emphasis on teamwork.

So what does work on an oil rig have to do with corporate America? The concept of not just pushing against masculine leadership stereotypes, but dismantling them entirely can be transferred to the corporate landscape. This could be necessary if organizations continue conflating concepts of leadership competence with images of masculinity.

Ely says the research speaks to the question of how men construct identities in the workplace and the larger role organizations play in shaping this process. “In other research,” she says, “we have seen that conventional masculinity often becomes the performance standard, even when an alternative standard would be more beneficial to the organization, not to mention to women employees with an interest in career advancement.”

…As the only woman in a company, Rosalind has worked in environments where misogynistic behaviors permeate the workplace. Despite considering herself “one of the guys,” Rosalind has been in situations that were deeply upsetting and demeaning, like when a company president would call her into his office asking her to discuss a specific topic during a meeting, only to tear her apart during the meeting over the topic he privately asked her to discuss, embarrassing her in front of her peers.

“Unfortunately, putting up with this kind of behavior as a woman in the tech industry has become the cost of doing business,” Rosalind says. “Being one of the guys has been beneficial to my career, but just because it’s become normal for me, doesn’t mean other women will find this behavior normal. So many women leave because they can’t take it – and they shouldn’t have to. It’s not that women aren’t interested in science and technology as reports seem to suggest; it’s that they don’t like the constant feeling of being offended and denigrated. We’re training women to adapt or get out.”…

When the oil rigs in Ely and Meyerson’s study were stripped of masculine culture, productivity, efficiency, and reliability all increased dramatically, leaving us to wonder about the possibilities of masculine culture-free corporate workplaces. Upholding masculine culture, despite its potentially harmful effects, seems even more egregious when you consider that teams featuring an equal number of women are more productive, efficient, and cost-effective.

Ely says it’s the higher value we place on the attributes conventionally associated with men and masculinity and our association of such attributes with leadership that adversely affect women in the workplace…

“Organizations should ask themselves: To what extent do our norms and practices encourage men to prove their manhood, and how does such behavior, in fact, undermine what we are trying to accomplish?” Ely said. “Then and only then, companies need to change their cultures to reinforce behaviors that promote rather than undermine effectiveness and make what they are trying to accomplish so compelling and engaging for their employees that they want to make the shift.”

Link to read the story about this fascinating research in full

photo credit: Ken Lund via photopin cc

photo credit: Ken Lund via photopin cc

Retain Women – Retrain Brains!

by 

It’s no secret that guys and gals lead differently. Less evident though is how to garner more female leader IQ.  Research affirms that guy-gal brains differ even during rest. We also see how teams with more women offer higher IQ.

So why does upper management often include men only? A better question perhaps, how can we retain gifted women leaders?

Here are 10 tips to higher leadership IQ:

1. Invent New Runways rather than Criticize Old Ruts. No question, it takes female facilitation skills to help mesh together gender differences…

2.  Inspire Wisdom for Blended Views. From boardrooms, to halls of government, to higher education, women tend to use and lead language processing skills in ways that motivate more symmetric activation across brain hemispheres…

3. Mentor for Mutual Benefits. …imagine a better balance as women leaders guide multiple intelligences into the mentoring mix…

4. Integrate Hard and Soft Skills.  Successful leaders craft insights with theiremotional intelligence, and also add logical action plans for mind-bending results…

5. Collaborate for Cross-Gender Solutions. …Imagine universities that attract more men to fill gender gaps and remove test bias for female access…

6. Shift Training from Delivery to Interactive. …through consistent interaction, women tend to hook complex facts onto people’s familiar experiences, so that more learning occurs in less time…

7. Act on New Discoveries. Hebbian workers wire their brains to kill incentives, limit focus or even shrink mental capacity with sameness, such as males only in top leader positions. Plasticity enables people of all ages and backgrounds to rewire the human brain by acting on new insights…

8. Listen with Your Brain. See how women emulate logical nuances from men they respect.  In similar ways, watch men navigate conflicts after observing women’s intrapersonal or emotional intelligence in action. New research shows hunches that power both men and women’s brains…

9. Capitalize on Research. Men and women lead differently, partly because hormones play a large part in cognitive operations. And new high-tech scientific study shows we can learn from marked differences between men and women under stress…

10. Risk Differences. …Brain imaging techniques show that even when men and women perform the same tasks equally well, they draw on different parts of the brain to do so. Let’s risk leadership that includes as many women as men as our starting ground…

Link to read this story in full

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

The Rise of Compassionate Management (Finally)

by Bronwyn Frye

Don’t look now, but all of a sudden the topic of compassionate management is becoming trendy.

A growing number of business conferences are focusing in on the topic of compassion at work…

While the importance of compassion at work has long been touted by scholars like Peter Senge,Fred KofmanJane Dutton and others as a foundational precept of good management, managers of the traditional, critical, efficiency-at-all-costs stripe have scoffed. This isn’t surprising: given the number of nasty managers still sitting at the top of organizations, it’s easy to assume that the compassionate ones don’t often get hired, let alone encouraged and promoted. In fact, a Notre Dame study found that nice guys really do finish last, with more agreeable people earning less than those who are willing to be disagreeable. And all too often, compassionate people lack boundaries, thus allowing themselves to be used and abused; they become “toxic handlers” who absorb the organizational pain without much personal gain.

But something in the zeitgeist is changing…

To manage compassionately doesn’t come naturally to most managers. It requires spending the time to walk in someone else’s shoes — to understand what kind of baggage that person is bringing to work; what kinds of stresses she’s under; what her strengths and weaknesses are. In high-pressure environments, such a time investment is anathema to most of us. But such an investment is analogous to the work of a carpenter who carefully measures a piece of wood three times before cutting once: spending such “compassion time” with an employee pays off in that person’s much greater efficiency, productivity and effectiveness (and obviates later regrets).

It’s not just altruism: as it turns out, companies that practice conscious capitalism perform ten times better than companies that don’t…

Link to read this story in full

photo credit: Abi Booth via photopin cc

photo credit: Abi Booth via photopin cc

The Woman Problem and the Future of Business

 writes…

…With every passing year, each new piece of research adds detail to what most people in the corporate world know already: there are not enough women in senior leadership positions.  The larger the organization, the more true this fact is.  In recent years in America and England, amongst other developed economies, it seems to be getting worse, not better.

…Why do so many excellent women choose to take the career off-ramp, and why are so many of them paid less than their male counterparts for the same work?  There are some compelling answers available, including how women don’t negotiate as well as men for their salaries and how they still sacrifice more than men when they have children and families.

As a father of three daughters and husband of one brilliant wife, this issue is of more than mere passing interest to me.  But my interest is not so much in the causes and effects, but rather in what it tells us about the state of business and what it might portend for the future.  This is more than just an issue of justice or equality: it gets to the heart of future success and viability for many organizations.

…To help companies make sense of the world they’re in, our team looks for key trends that are defining the near future.  Some recent research by the Hawaii Research Center for Future Studies (http://www.futures.hawaii.edu/), led by world-renowned futurist, Jim Dator, identified four key megatrends for 2020:

  1. Accelerating non-linear change
  2. Increasing inter-dependence
  3. Increasing complexity
  4. Expanding emphasis on difference.

…One of the main reasons that women are not making it into senior leadership positions is because they don’t want to.  It’s not a capability issue; it’s a choice.  And the reason they’re choosing not to is because they don’t want to play a man’s game in a man’s world.

…many women who have made it to the top understand that this is a man’s world and that they have to think and act like men to get to the top.  There’s nothing wrong with this choice, and well done to them for doing this so well.  But the problem is for their companies.  If you accept, as I do, that having different worldviews represented on a team is a good and valuable thing, then the danger is to look around a team and think you have diversity when in fact you do not.  Having three women, two Asians, one homosexual, two French speakers, three youths, five Catholics, or whatever other categories you’re measuring is no good if all of those people are actually thinking and acting like middle-aged, middle-class, private school educated white men (or whatever your company’s prevailing culture happens to be).

This type of cultural hegemony is too common in organizations.  And I believe it is one of the main reasons that organizations are battling to adjust to this new world we’re living in now, where uncertainty and turbulence are the new normal.

When it comes to leadership in the world, women have always had a rough deal.  But the tide is turning.  As we head further into the uncharted waters of the 21st century, it is becoming increasingly apparent that a new set of skills and attitudes is required to be successful in leading an organization.  And many women seem to naturally possess these skills.  The workplace is changing fast.  A new generation of employees is looking for something different at work.  A new generation of customers is looking for something different in the marketplace.  And that difference will be disproportionately enhanced by the feminine touch.  And that’s why it’s a problem if women are compelled to act like men.

…It’s time to ensure that we implement strategies to make the board rooms and executive suites of our companies conducive to a feminine influence.  This is not easy work, but it is vital. Its time to let the ladies lead their way.  How we achieve this will look different in different contexts, and there is no simple 1-2-3 approach that will work everywhere.  But the first step is to accept that women not making it into senior leadership positions in significant numbers is a problem and a strategic issue your company needs to address, not just because you’re trying to fulfill some diversity checklist, but because the very future of your business is at stake.  Make this a strategic issue for the right reasons, and you will reap a fine – and feminine – reward in the future.

Link to read the full unedited version of this article

Following Your Passion: The Happy Truth About the Gender Pay Gap

by 

…If you want true professional fulfillment, choose a field or a job because it is your passion. And then, work to be paid equitably. Unless you are born into a wealthy family or marry rich, you will spend the majority of your life working. The average full-time employee spends 65-75% of a year working, and that is far too much time to be doing something you don’t love. And I am a firm believer that if you follow your passion, the money will come.

The ideal balance is a job that is fulfilling AND pays a competitive wage. Closing the gender pay gap is not about taking the most high-paying job, it is about ensuring that women are paid commensurately with their male counterparts in whatever they chose to do.

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: Victor1558 via photopin cc

photo credit: Victor1558 via photopin cc

Boards Remain Pale, Male and Stale – Old Boys’ Club Alive and Well

Mike Myatt, writes

…In 2012, women held just 16.6 percent of board seats at Fortune 500 companies. Given this number, is it possible CEOs and boards see no value in diversity? I don’t think so, but it is very possible they are all too comfortable with the status quo. Absent outside pressure, why would a CEO want to disrupt a compliant board they have likely gone to great pains to assemble? Well, therein lies the problem. Sound board governance isn’t about making life easy; it’s about challenging the status quo.

In my new book, Hacking Leadership I spend a great deal of time discussing how to improve culture, performance and sustainability by dismantling the status quo at every level of the organization – particularly at the top of the house.  Embracing status quo quickly leads to mediocrity, and my contention has always been leadership exists to disrupt mediocrity. Great leadership abhors tunnel vision and values diversity of thought and experience.

…My bottom line is this – corporations cannot appropriately represent the constituencies they serve until they are representatively led by members of those same constituencies. It is impossible to understand and engage in a meaningful fashion where those deserving a voice are denied a seat at the table. I’m not advocating for selecting directors who are anything other than the best person for the job, but we should all recognize the best person for the job is not universally a 56 year old, Ivy League educated, white male.

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: Pensiero via photopin cc

photo credit: Pensiero via photopin cc

Three Steps To A Shorter Working Week

ANNA COOTE writes in the new economics foundation blog

What’s a ‘normal’ working week? Forty hours is pretty standard for full-time workers in the UK, but suppose it were 30 hours instead?

Our new book, Time on Our Sideargues that a shorter, more flexible working week would be good for people, for the environment and for the economy. Why? Because it is often extremely stressful to work long hours and that is bad for health. For many of us, our working hours leave us too little time to be parents, carers and active citizens. There’s strong evidence that people who work longer hours have a larger ecological footprint.

As well as the personal benefits, cutting the length of the working week would help to safeguard natural resources and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. It would also help to manage a sustainable economy by creating more jobs and cutting unemployment…

Link to read this article in full

Step Away From The Roller-Coaster

by 

…I realize it’s easy in a way; this endless doing, doing, doing. It’s easy to sit in the constant process of connecting, responding, replying and reaching in, because in a way, it makes us feel that if we’re not here, things would crumble without us. And who doesn’t want to feel that their part in it all is absolutely critical and irreplaceable?

What’s not so easy is being still.

Of course as a working mother of four, there is always a lot that needs to be done. The list is ever-present, never-ending. But at the same time, there is no “done.” And whether we work for ourselves or for a company or work at home, that is true and is made more true by our incessant ability to connect. But I realize too, for both my work and my parenting, it’s necessary to also not do. It’s necessary to stop my buzzing body, mind, hands and fill my proverbial cup with quiet, calm, breath after breath after breath, new ideas, solutions that only come from stillness and answers that arrive only when they are granted space.

From this lesson I am calling myself a revelationist. I am trying more and more to create these moments of stillness so that I can have more revelations about the ways, whys and hows of everything I do — whether it’s parenting or writing or creating or any of it. It’s hard, sometimes, to convince myself of the merits of not “doing” all the time. But when I do? It fills me, which in turn fills my family and my work and my head and my total overall well-being.

I urge you, if just once in your busy day, where there is so much to do and there are so many people to see and endless tasks on your list, I urge you to look for that tiny window of time that can be filled with nothing at all.

And you can be a revelationist too.

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: halle via photopin cc

photo credit: halle via photopin cc

Multitasking: What’s the Productivity Cost?

Jan Hills writes…

The multitasking myth

Neuroscience has shown that the concept of multitasking is a myth. What we are actually doing is jumping between two or more tasks. When we shift back and forth there is a productivity cost for each shift. If you don’t believe me try this test. With a stop watch measure how long it takes you to count from one to 10. Now do the same thing except saying the alphabet from A to J. Now put the two together, alternately saying a letter and a number.A1, B2, etc. Measure your time. It will be more than twice as much as the single task because the brain slows down when it has to keep switching between numbers and letters. For most people the first two tasks probably took about two seconds each. For the mixed, switching task it typically takes fifteen to twenty seconds. On top of slowing down working memory gets fatigued and you may find you also forget where you were in the task depending on how stressed or how much you have been using your brain today. If you are not convinced here are examples of research…

Link to read this story in full

photo credit: drewleavy via photopin cc

photo credit: drewleavy via photopin cc

Do You Worry Too Much?  7 Ways Worrying Sabotages Your Career

Melanie Haiken writes…

If women  want to be seen as a strong leaders in the workplace, they need to stop worrying so much. That’s the conclusion of a recent report by CDR Assessment Group, which creates leadership assessment tools for executive management. The report and its related white paper, titled “Cracking the Code to the Glass Ceiling,” purport to measure risk factors that can affect success in the workplace.

The assessment found that a large percentage of women – close to 65 percent – fall into the risk category CDR calls the “Worrier,” a risk that the report suggests may contribute to women’s seeming inability to break through the so-called glass ceiling.

Men, meanwhile, commonly fall into other risk categories such as “egotists,” “rule breakers” and “upstagers.” The problem, according to CDR’s analysis, is that those risk factors don’t necessarily hamper career success the way being a worrier does…

…despite the non-scientific nature of this rather opinionated report, let’s accept for now that women do tend to be plagued by more worry and self-doubt than men. Why is that such a problem? Here are seven possible reasons that worry may be hindering your climb to the top….

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: MTSOfan via photopin cc

photo credit: MTSOfan via photopin cc

Have Things Gotten Worse For Working Women?

…A lot of women my age and in my position who want to have children — or even, like me, think maybe they’ll want to someday — have a similar schedule in the back of their minds. I have more than one friend whose mother has hinted that she should think about freezing her eggs. I know the many people who tell young women to plan the timing of their pregnancies carefully mean well. But I resent it.

Not only is it stressful to feel like I’m in a race for success against my own body, but it also reinforces the very gender dynamics that put professional women in such a tough spot. Telling women — and only women — that they need to start planning for their families 10 years in advance assumes the current structure of the workplace as a given and lets men off the hook. Things really will get worse if we keep telling ambitious women about how hard their future will be at the same time that we leave the underlying gender dynamics and cultural expectations that make things so hard unexamined.

I understand why women in the generation before me felt betrayed. They were told they could have everything and then found that they were expected to do everything. But I really hope the best solution to that problem isn’t just to warn young women to gird themselves against the upcoming battle. It’s discouraging, and it risks sidelining women long before they face any concrete challenges. Maybe it’s because I’m young, but I’m still optimistic that we can find an alternative solution in strengthening men’s stake in work-family issues and developing a realistic model of professional commitment. While men may not have the same biological constraints as me, many of them love women who do. It’s not fair to expect young women to deal with the weight of this issue on our own, and it’s frankly unrealistic to expect that we can do so and also compete on equal footing with men….

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: zabethanne via photopin cc

photo credit: zabethanne via photopin cc

In the Name of Honour: Artists Speak Out On Gender-Based Violence in New Exhibition

High profile artists from around the world including Tracey Emin, Chris Ofili and Paula Rego have donated artworks to an exhibition in aid of raising money for victims of domestic abuse.

The exhibition, titled In the Name of Honour, addresses gender issues including the representation of the female body, human trafficking and honour-based violence.

In the Name of Honour runs from 19-22 September at One Mayfair, 13A N Audley Street, London W1; admission free.

Click here for rest of story plus images from the exhibition

photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

The Science and Philosophy of Friendship: Lessons from Aristotle on the Art of Connecting

by 

…in today’s cultural landscape of muddled relationships scattered across various platforms for connecting, amidst constant debates about whether our Facebook “friendships” are making us more or less happy, it pays to consider what friendship actually is. That’s precisely what CUNY philosophy professor Massimo Pigliucci explores in Answers for Aristotle: How Science and Philosophy Can Lead Us to A More Meaningful Life…

…The way friendship enhances well-being, it turns out, has nothing to do with quantity and everything to do with quality — researchers confirm that it isn’t the number of friends (or, in the case of Facebook, “friends”) we have, but the nature of those relationships:

In particular, what makes for a good happiness-enhancing friendship is the degree of companionship (when you do things together with your friends) and of self-validation (when your friends reassure you that you are a good, worthy individual).

This is where Aristotle comes in: He recognized three types of love — agape,eros, and philia — which endure as an insightful model for illuminating the nature of our relationships. Pigliucci describes the taxonomy:

Agape is a broad kind of love, the kind that religious people feel that God has for us, or that a secular person may have for humanity at large. Eros, naturally, is more concerned with the type of love we have for sexual partners, though the Greeks meant it more broadly than we do. Philia is the type of love that concerns us here because it includes the sort of feelings we have for friends, family, and even business partners.

…what it really boils down to is that friendship affords us a more dimensional way of looking at ourselves and at the world, thus enhancing our understanding of the meaning of life. Once again, Pigliucci takes us back to Aristotle:

Aristotle’s opinion was that friends hold a mirror up to each other; through that mirror they can see each other in ways that would not otherwise be accessible to them, and it is this (reciprocal) mirroring that helps them improve themselves as persons. Friends, then, share a similar concept of eudaimonia[Greek for “having a good demon,” often translated as “happiness”] and help each other achieve it. So it is not just that friends are instrumentally good because they enrich our lives, but that they are an integral part of what it means to live the good life, according to Aristotle and other ancient Greek philosophers (like Epicurus). Of course, another reason to value the idea of friendship is its social dimension. In the words of philosopher Elizabeth Telfer, friendship provides “a degree and kind of consideration for others’ welfare which cannot exist outside…

Link to read this story in full

Sallie Krawcheck Is Back

Sallie Krawcheck talks to Forbes about success, failure and what it takes to start over. From the Forbes Women’s Summit in NYC.

Does being happy help you earn more?

An economist at the University of Western Sydney has analysed the effect of happiness on income inequality

 by 

Does being happy make you more likely to earn more? The answer is yes, according to Professor Satya Paul, an economist at the University of Western Sydney.

…Extrapolated to percentages, he suggests that for every 1% increase in happiness there’s a 0.056% increase in income.

Interestingly, there’s also a negative effect of happiness on income – the number of hours worked. A one point rise in happiness results in a loss of $27.41 because of fewer hours worked – that is, people who are more satisfied with life are willing to trade work for leisure.

Paul suggests the increase in income resulting from higher happiness is a result of happier people being more efficient in earning activities. Or, to put it more simply, happier people are better workers.

And here is some irresistible fun for all of us who have some knowledge of our Myers-Briggs Profile:

Harry Potter Characters’ Myers-Briggs Types: Which One Are You?!

…an awesome infographic that covers all of the “Harry Potter” characters’ Myers-Briggs personality types..

photo credit: Jesse Draper via photopin cc

photo credit: Jesse Draper via photopin cc

Link to where you can find all of these stories, and many more, this week’s new collection; Happiness At Work Edition #64

Happiness At Work #63 ~ the fine art of living happily in 2013

photo credit: @Doug88888 via photopin cc

photo credit: @Doug88888 via photopin cc

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

WORLD HAPPINESS REPORT 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo credit: greekadman via photopin cc

photo credit: greekadman via photopin cc

Improving Wellbeing Should Be Our Global Priority

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to the original article 

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photo credit: alles-schlumpf via photopin cc

Happiness: The Next Key Performance Indicator

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

by 

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

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

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

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

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

Bonnie Greer 2013 Opening Lecture (Audio)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(from 50’56”)

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

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

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

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

(from 58’55”)

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

(from 1:07:05)

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

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

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

photo credit: paul bica via photopin cc

photo credit: paul bica via photopin cc

Work Isn’t Life – Reprise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo credit: Thomas Tolkien via photopin cc

photo credit: Thomas Tolkien via photopin cc

The Need to Ask New and Different Questions

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

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

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

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

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

Link to read this article in its entirety

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

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

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

Work-life balance is a fallacy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to read  Randy Conley’s guidance in full

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

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

BY: 

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

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

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

Are your emails getting the results you want?

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

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

Here are nine common mistakes you might be making:

1. Sending emails only when you need something.

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

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

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

3. Using the first person too much.

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

4. Sending the email at the wrong time.

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

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

5. Sending to too many people.

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

6. Knowing nothing about the person receiving your email.

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

7. Forgetting to send updates or interim messages.

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

8. Making messages too long.

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

9. Using email exclusively.

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

Now: 4 ways to focus on writing better emails:

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

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

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

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

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

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: wakingphotolife: via photopin cc

photo credit: wakingphotolife: via photopin cc

How To Maintain Your Creativity When Working From Home

Andra writes in PIXEL77

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

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

Have a Change of Scenery…

Do Something Different…

Start a Pet Project…

Get Some Exercise…

Analyse Why Your Creativity is Waning…

Take A Nap…

Seek Help From Your Peers…

Take Time for Laughter….

Link to read Andra’s suggestions in full

photo credit: mrbill78636 via photopin cc

photo credit: mrbill78636 via photopin cc

You’re Doing What?? (Part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo credit: @Doug88888 via photopin cc

photo credit: @Doug88888 via photopin cc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1. Recognition

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

2. Individuality

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

3. Perks

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

4. Understanding

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

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

5. Ignorance of “Company Culture”

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: Photosightfaces via photopin cc

photo credit: Photosightfaces via photopin cc

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

Turns out your smiley Facebook friends really are happier than you

By 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: toodlepip via photopin cc

photo credit: toodlepip via photopin cc

Put On A Happy Face(book)

By 

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

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

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

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

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: toodlepip via photopin cc

photo credit: toodlepip via photopin cc

What happens To Your Brain When People Like Your Facebook Status

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: andyi via photopin cc

photo credit: andyi via photopin cc

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

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

BY 

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

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

Among the key findings from the analysis are that:

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

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

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

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

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photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo credit: Ano Lobb. @healthyrx via photopin cc

photo credit: Ano Lobb. @healthyrx via photopin cc

Empathy + Placebo = Healing?

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

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

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

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

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

Link to read this article in full

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photo credit: alles-schlumpf via photopin cc