What these ideas, and the stories that follow, all have in common is the growing understanding we are getting from contemporary research about how much the way we choose to think about things affects the experienced reality of the things themselves.
Never has the need for personal mastery been more vital or more richly informed, and I hope this collection will give you new approaches and techniques to try out and talk about with the people who matter to you. Enjoy.
by Debbie Hampton Writer, blogger, hot yoga enthusiast, brain injury survivor
Every thought you have causes neurochemical changes, some temporary and some lasting. For instance, when people consciously practice gratitude, they get a surge of rewarding neurotransmitters, like dopamine, and experience a general alerting and brightening of the mind, probably correlated with more of the neurochemical norepinephrine…
Every cell in your body is replaced about every two months. So, the good news is, you can reprogram your pessimistic cells to be more optimistic by adopting positive thinking practices, like mindfulness and gratitude, for permanent results…
Your biology doesn’t spell your destiny, and you aren’t controlled by your genetic makeup. Instead, your genetic activity is largely determined by your thoughts, attitudes, and perceptions. Epigenetics is showing that your perceptions and thoughts control your biology, which places you in the driver’s seat. By changing your thoughts, you can influence and shape your own genetic readout.
This is true for two reasons. First, people who want the best tend to be prone to regret. “If you’re out to find the best possible job, no matter how good it is, if you have a bad day, you think there’s got to be something better out there,” saysBarry Schwartz, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley and author of The Paradox of Choice…
This happiness gap raises the question: Can maximizers learn to become satisficers? Can you learn to settle for good enough?
Possibly, but it takes some work. “What I believe is that it’s changeable and that it’s not easy to change,” says Schwartz. Here are some ways to make the shift…
In Brain Basics, we looked at many of the structures in the brain and how they function. In this section we will look more specifically at how they impact leadership and the workplace. Since these are complex issues, especially for people who are just learning about neuroscience, we’ve put together 5 neuroscience lessons for leaders, that will shed some light on the practicality of these notions.
…The brain continues to reform and rewire itself based on how much or how little the pathways are used. That means that we can always learn new things.
The way neurons share information is through sending and receiving neurotransmitters across the small gap. The neurotransmitters trigger a chemical process, which creates an electrical charge that travels through the neuron. This process of electrical charge, neurotransmitters, electrical charge, and so on is what creates the pathway of neurons. There is a saying “Cells that fire together, wire together.” That means that when learning a new task or about a new person, the best way to learn it is to do it multiple times, so that the neurons “fire together” and eventually “wire together”.
It is never too late for a leader or an employee to learn a new skill or a new way of doing things. Change is hard sometimes, but research tells us it is possible.
2. Our Brains Like Rewards
Emotions are an important aspect of how the brain changes and how we learn. Positive feelings activated through the reward system of the brain enhance the pathways and improve learning. The reward system is very complex and has pathways in many areas of the brain, but often it is regulated by the neurotransmitter dopamine.
There are two main reward systems in the brain that are related to attention and motivation: primary and secondary. Primary rewards are related to primary needs like food, water, and shelter. We feel good when we have those needs met. Secondary rewards help our survival but are not vital to it. They include things like information, power, trust, touch, appreciation, and community.
For leaders, rewards are often an effective way to motivate employees. Based on neuroscience, there are some rewards that seem to release more dopamine than others. You will see that money, or material goods, are not on the list. Many of the rewards are related to social interaction in some way.
Following the science, leaders can review their system of motivation and rewards to consider ideas that are proven to be rewarding to the brain. While each employee is different, there are many categories or rewards that would be useful to implement in order to truly activate an employee’s reward pathway. More dopamine means employees who are happier, more focused, and more motivated.
3. The Power of Mirror Neurons
In the early 1990s scientists discovered mirror neurons. They found that when one person watches another do some kind of action, the neurons of the first person fire as if they were actually doing it. There is a common example that has to do with yawning. Research has shown that yawning can be contagious. Why? Mirror neurons. When one person yawns and another observes, the neuronal pathways for yawning in the observer’s brain are activated, causing them to yawn too.
While this may explain why a yawn can seem to travel around an office, mirror neurons are really important for learning, emotional awareness, and empathy. When we watch someone do something, our brain is actually learning how to do it. When we see someone experiencing an emotion, our brain processes that emotion as well, increasing empathy.
Mirror neurons can be important aspects of leadership as we can see how our emotional and physical states as leaders are actually teaching our employees how to act and how to respond emotionally to us. When mirroring is connected to a certain need and when it is understood from a familiar viewpoint, the effect is stronger. Mirror neurons, again, prove how much humans are social animals. People are highly connected to the people and the environments around them.
Because of this connection, leaders can create environments where people can mirror others who create collaborative and cooperative learning and working atmospheres. Individuals are important to the team and the team is important to the individuals through the power or mirror neurons.
4. Emotions are Everything
Many people want to believe that they can make decisions based exclusively on free will and their rational minds. That is not often backed by science, as research has shown that there are many unconscious processes that influence and dictate why we behave in the ways we do.
Those processes follow brain pathways that were put into place when we were very young. In most cases we have already made a decision before we have actually thought about it. This happens in the limbic system. Our cerebral cortex then has to rationalize the decision through language and planning, leading to, what some may call, the illusion of free will. That is not to say that the cerebral cortex cannot influence the limbic system. This can be seen in people who practice meditation and mindfulness.
As a leader, it is particularly useful to know that when we are faced with stress or a threat, the executive functions of the brain shut down, leaving the unconscious processes of the limbic system in charge of decision making. These parts of the brain react on emotion and survival instincts.
Leaders also need to be aware that in terms of learning and team building, change happens not from the cerebral context but from the limbic system. With effective company rewards and interventions, the slow process of changing the limbic system can start to take place.
5. Creating a Brain-Based Work Environment
The information presented is a starting point for creating a work environment that is based around what is healthy for the brain. Leaders who ignore how the brain functions are leaving a lot to chance. Sometimes things might be great, but then something can happen and they might worsen. Having a brain-based work environment can help leaders effectively navigate the rises and falls in the economic climate.
Be a brain-based leader by helping the people improve the work environment, and the environment improve the people. Both influence the other and, in a working system, there will be an upward spiral of motivation, growth, and productivity. Overtime, this environment will actually change the brains of the people in it, making the team and the organization better able to adapt to change.
…Inspired by the Framingham Heart Study research, our People Innovation Lab developed gDNA, Google’s first major long-term study aimed at understanding work. Under the leadership of PhD Googlers Brian Welle and Jennifer Kurkoski, we’re two years into what we hope will be a century-long study. We’re already getting glimpses of the smart decisions today that can have profound impact on our future selves, and the future of work overall…
…The fact that such a large percentage of Google’s employees wish they could separate from work but aren’t able to is troubling, but also speaks to the potential for this kind of research. The existence of this group suggests that it is not enough to wish yourself into being a Segmentor. But by identifying where employees fall on this spectrum, we hope that Google can design environments that make it easier for employees to disconnect. Our Dublin office, for example, ran a program called “Dublin Goes Dark” which asked people to drop off their devices at the front desk before going home for the night. Googlers reported blissful, stressless evenings. Similarly, nudging Segmentors to ignore off-hour emails and use all their vacation days might improve well-being over time. The long-term nature of these questions suggests that the real value of gDNA will take years to realize.
…We have great luxuries at Google in our supportive leadership, curious employees who trust our efforts, and the resources to have our People Innovation Lab. But for any organization, there are four steps you can take to start your own exploration and move from hunches to science:
1. Ask yourself what your most pressing people issues are. Retention? Innovation? Efficiency? Or better yet, ask your people what those issues are.
2. Survey your people about how they think they are doing on those most pressing issues, and what they would do to improve.
3. Tell your people what you learned. If it’s about the company, they’ll have ideas to improve it. If it’s about themselves – like our gDNA work – they’ll be grateful.
4. Run experiments based on what your people tell you. Take two groups with the same problem, and try to fix it for just one. Most companies roll out change after change, and never really know why something worked, or if it did at all. By comparing between the groups, you’ll be able to learn what works and what doesn’t.
by Alex Lickerman M.D. author of The Undefeated Mind: On the Science of Constructing an Indestructible Self
The set-point theory of happiness suggests that our level of subjective well-being is determined primarily by heredity and by personality traits ingrained in us early in life and as a result remains relatively constant throughout our lives. Our level of happiness may change transiently in response to life events, but then almost always returns to its baseline level as we habituate to those events and their consequences over time. Habituation, a growing body of evidence now tells us, occurs even to things like career advancement, money, and marriage.
On the other hand, other research (link is external) suggests a few events—chief among them the unexpected death of a child and repeated bouts of unemployment—seem to reduce our ability to be happy permanently. Yet some studies also suggest that we can also fix our happiness set point permanentlyhigher—by helping others.
According to one such study (link is external) that analyzed data from the German Socio-Economic Panel Survey, a collection of statistics representing the largest and longest-standing series of observations on happiness in the world, the trait most strongly associated with long-term increases in life satisfaction is, in fact, a persistent commitment to pursuing altruisticgoals. That is, the more we focus on compassionate action, on helping others, the happier we seem to become in the long run…
…just as exercise can actually provide us with energy by forcing us to summon it when we’re feeling tired (link is external), helping others can provide us with enthusiasm, encouragement, and even joy by forcing us to summon them when we’re feeling discouraged. “If one lights a fire for others,” wrote Nichiren Daishonin, “one will brighten one’s own way.” Thus, the moments in which we feel happiest aren’t just moments to be enjoyed. They’re also opportunities to increase the frequency and intensity with which we feel them in the future.
When we think of side effects, the first thing that springs to mind are the side effects of drugs. But who’d have thought that kindness could have side effects, too?
Well, it does! And positive ones at that.
…when we are kind, the following are some side effects that come with it:
1) Kindness makes us happier.
When we do something kind for someone else, we feel good. On a spiritual level, … we’re tapping into something deep and profound inside us that says, “This is who I am.”
On a biochemical level, it is believed that the good feeling we get is due to elevated levels of the brain’s natural versions of morphine and heroin, which we know as endogenous opioids. They cause elevated levels of dopamine in the brain, so we get a natural high, often referred to as “Helper’s High.”
2) Kindness gives us healthier hearts.
Acts of kindness are often accompanied by emotional warmth. Emotional warmth produces the hormone oxytocin in the brain and throughout the body. Of much recent interest is its significant role in the cardiovascular system.
Oxytocin causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide in blood vessels, which dilates (expands) the blood vessels. This reduces blood pressure, and therefore oxytocin is known as a “cardio-protective” hormone because it protects the heart (by lowering blood pressure). The key is that acts kindness can produce oxytocin, and therefore kindness can be said to be cardio-protective.
3) Kindness slows aging.
Aging on a biochemical level is a combination of many things, but two culprits that speed the process are free radicals and inflammation, both of which result from making unhealthy lifestyle choices.
But remarkable research now shows that oxytocin (which we produce through emotional warmth) reduces levels of free radicals and inflammation in the cardiovascular system and thus slows aging at its source. Incidentally these two culprits also play a major role in heart disease, so this is also another reason why kindness is good for the heart.
There have also been suggestions in the scientific journals of the strong link between compassion and the activity of the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve, in addition to regulating heart rate, also controls inflammation levels in the body in what is known as the inflammatory reflex. One study that used the Tibetan Buddhist lovingkindness meditation found that kindness and compassion did, in fact, reduce inflammation in the body, mostly likely due to its effects on the vagus nerve.
4) Kindness makes for better relationships.
This is one of the most obvious points. We all know that we like people who show us kindness. This is because kindness reduces the emotional distance between two people, so we feel more “bonded.” It’s something that is so strong in us that it’s actually a genetic thing. We are wired for kindness.
Our evolutionary ancestors had to learn to cooperate with one another. The stronger the emotional bonds within groups, the greater the chances of survival, so “kindness genes” were etched into the human genome.
Today, when we are kind to each other, we feel a connection, and new relationships are forged, or existing ones strengthened.
5) Kindness is contagious.
When we’re kind, we inspire others to be kind, and it actually creates a ripple effect that spreads outwards to our friends’ friends’ friends — to three degrees of separation. Just as a pebble creates waves when it is dropped in a pond, so acts of kindness ripple outwards, touching others’ lives and inspiring kindness everywhere the wave goes.
A recent scientific study reported than an anonymous 28-year-old person walked into a clinic and donated a kidney. It set off a “pay it forward” type ripple effect where the spouses or other family members of recipients of a kidney donated one of theirs to someone else in need. The “domino effect,” as it was called in the New England Journal of Medicine report, spanned the length and breadth of the United States of America, where 10 people received a new kidney as a consequence of that anonymous donor.
While all vacationers enjoyed pre-trip happiness, the study’s authors found that people only experienced a boost in happiness post-vacation if their trip was relaxing. If their vacation was deemed “stressful” or “neutral,” their post-trip happiness levels were comparable to those who hadn’t taken a vacation at all.
Pre-trip happiness, however, is a different story entirely. The study found that all vacationers experienced a significant boost in happiness during the planning stages of the trip because, as the researchers suggest, the vacationers were looking forward to the good times ahead…
In a recent study, Todd Thrash and colleagues conducted the first ever test of “inspiration contagion,” using poetry as the vehicle. They looked at specific qualities of a text and the qualities of the reader. It’s a rich study, with 36,020 interactions between all of the variables! Here are the essential findings…
…The more writers privately reported that they felt inspired while writing, the more the average reader reported being inspired. This is despite the fact that there was no actual contact between the reader and the writer other than the text itself!
…Readers higher in openness to new experiences were more tolerant of the new and sublime. The more that the reader was open to new experiences, the more they experienced inspiration transmission, and the less the originality and sublimity of the text hindered transmission.
Reader inspiration was not the only outcome of writer inspiration. Writer inspiration also brought out feelings of awe and chills in the average reader. These feelings of enthrallment were transmitted particularly through the insightfulness and sublimity of the text.
…However, these findings suggest that good writing is more like talking, an expression of one’s inner state of being. Perhaps the most helpful way for aspiring writers to view writing is as a natural vehicle for capturing personal insights and expressing them.
Most theories of motivation have championed the pleasure principle, where our choices of daily activities aim to maximize our short-term happiness. However, it was not clear to researchers how to reconcile this idea with the fact that we all have to engage routinely in unpleasant, yet necessary activities.
To address this question a team of researchers, including an Imperial academic, developed a smartphone application to monitor in real-time the activities and moods of approximately 30,000 people.
The team found that, rather than following the pleasure or hedonic principle, people’s choices of activities instead consistently followed a hedonic flexibility principle, which shows how people regulate their mood. Specifically, the model shows that people were more likely to engage in mood-increasing activities such as playing sport when they felt bad. When they felt good they engaged in useful, but mood-decreasing activities such as doing housework…
The model revealed that firstly, people’s future decisions to engage in one activity rather than another are related to how they currently feel. Secondly, the interplay between mood and choices of activity followed a very specific pattern.
When participants were in a bad mood, they were more likely to later engage in activities that tended to subsequently boost their mood. For example, if people’s current mood decreased by 10 points, they were more likely to later engage in things like sport, going out into nature, and chatting. All of these activities were associated with a subsequent increase in mood.
…More or less, we can all be split into two groups; Those motivated by the pursuit of pleasure and those who prefer to secure their long-term welfare. A new study has attempted to understand the motivation between these two conflicting philosophies.
Our likeliness to live in the moment or prepare for the future is not a permanent feature of our personality and changes according to our mood at the moment. The study revealed that when a person is in a good mood, they are more likely to do housework and other unpleasant yet useful activities over the next few hours than when they are in a bad mood. When feeling bad, people tend to choose activities later that day that are more pleasurable, such as playing sports and spending time with friends, apparently in an effort to feel better…
Profundity by Col Skinner, a UK based Digital Marketing Consultant and Strategist
…if we all take some time to review what success actually means to us and what we want from our working lives then we might find it doesn’t (have to) match the archetypal clichés in society. The archetypal perception is that success is something status led that is achieved through sacrificing your personal life in order to commit hundreds of hours to earning tons of cash in a ‘kill or be killed’ business environment. All very 1980’s Wall Street if you ask me. I think shows like The Apprentice / Dragons Den, along with business dinosaurs like Donald Trump, also have a lot to answer for.
I thought it would be interesting to hear how people who have quit the rat race, define success. So I went and sourced a range of Freelancers who very kindly gave their personal definitions of SUCCESS. This may help give clarity to those who currently struggle to define their own goals…
You, and no one else, are the one that sets or defines what success looks like. Don’t fall for the cliché trappings of a successful life. Aim for goals that matter and make a difference to you or those around you. I will leave you with this great quote by Anne Sweeney:
“Define success by your own terms, achieve it by your own rules, and build a life you’re proud to live.”
Every single person could become more effective and more able to relate to others by developing greater understanding about – and practical capabilities in – their own and each other’s happiness and wellbeing.
We have a tendency to overestimate our “mindreading” abilities, ascribing to people intentions they don’t have, based on our projections of how we would act in a certain situation and on our assumption that others think like us when they don’t. We also err in the other direction: exaggerating perceived differences between members of other social groups and ourselves, which can lead to stereotyping.
The sad conclusion is that we may underestimate the richness and variety of other people’s minds (while not depreciating our own), creating misunderstandings and even dehumanisation To counteract this, we need to better understand the way our minds work and consciously deeply listen to those who are different than us.
Vertical development comes about when we understand the role physiology and emotion play in decision-making and that unless we can consciously control our physiology and emotion, we will continue to fall prey to sub-optimal decision-making across society.
Those who aren’t aware of the place of physiology and emotion won’t even know they’ve made a sub-optimal decision.
The quality of the thinking – and by extension the decision-making – of the 500 people who run the 147 companies who control the multinationals affects the lives of us all. And the quality of this thinking is inextricably linked to the physiology and emotional states in which these people operate.
True equality isn’t just a numbers game. Of course we need more women in senior positions and in the boardroom, but a seat at the table isn’t enough. What is more important is creating a business environment where female leaders have visibility, a strong voice and a central role in driving the future of the company.
If you really want to take advantage of this new science – rather than falling back on the old Maslow pyramid of hierarchical needs – you should focus on: autonomy, relatedness, and competence.
Autonomy is people’s need to perceive that they have choices, that what they are doing is of their own volition, and that they are the source of their own actions. Relatedness is people’s need to care about and be cared about by others, to feel connected to others without concerns about ulterior motives, and to feel that they are contributing to something greater than themselves. Competence is people’s need to feel effective at meeting every-day challenges and opportunities, demonstrating skill over time, and feeling a sense of growth and flourishing.
A survey carried out by The Institute of Leadership Management (ILM) in 2013 found that 31% of respondents stated that the one thing that would motivate them to do more at work was better treatment by their employer. A more motivated workforce ultimately makes for a more profitable and successful organisation.
Even small companies, maybe more so than big, must attract people not just on the job but with the purpose and mission of the organisation. We’re coming out of a recession and are now in a global values system of giving back, taking care of the environment, being part of a global community. In some way these are memes that we’ve become attuned to.
Young people today – and we know this from the data – don’t only want work they like but they want something that’s bigger than them. They want to make a difference. Maybe it’s always been true but it’s particularly true now.
Positive education rests on the premise that teaching skills that promote positive emotions, relationships, and character strengths and virtues also promotes learning and academic success. And a rising epidemic of young mental health problems and a narrowing of the school experience makes the need for a new approach to education urgent…
Nearly all of the above words are a mashup from our highlighted stories in the new Happiness At Work #119 and give us this week’s headline.
Here then are these top stories that I have spliced these lines from…
A new global organisation, the International Positive Education Network (IPEN), has launched, with support from Dallas-based Live Happy LLC. IPEN’s campaign calls for a radical shift in how young people are educated.
IPEN’s campaign is built around evidence showing that developing pupils’ character strengths and wellbeing are as important as academic achievement to their future success and happiness.
With a rising epidemic of young mental health problems and a narrowing of the school experience, the need for a new approach to education is urgent.
IPEN is calling on like-minded individuals and organizations to sign our Manifesto for Positive Education and demonstrate the strong desire for change we believe exists around the world.
Commenting on the launch, James O’Shaughnessy, chair of IPEN and former director of policy to UK Prime Minister David Cameron, said:
“Young people are crying out for a new approach to education, one that prepares them to live a good, meaningful life that is full of purpose.
“That is where positive education comes in. It supports intellectual development and the cultivation of the mind, but it places equal value on the development of character strengths to help young people flourish.
“We are calling on everyone who supports this broader approach to education to sign our Manifesto and make their voices heard.”
Martin Seligman, Senior Adviser to IPEN and the Zellerbach Professor of Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, said:
“The high prevalence worldwide of depression among young people, the small rise in life satisfaction, and the synergy between learning and positive emotion all argue that the skills for flourishing should be taught in school.
“There is substantial evidence that students can be taught good character, resilience, positive emotion, engagement and meaning, in such a way that also supports and amplifies their academic studies.
“By taking this broader approach – which I call positive education – we can give our young people the skills and knowledge they need to thrive.”
Positive education challenges the current paradigm of education, which values academic attainment above all other goals. Drawing on classical ideals, we believe that the DNA of education is a double helix with intertwined strands of equal importance:
Academics ~ The fulfillment of intellectual potential through the learning of the best that has been thought and known
Character & Wellbeing ~ The development of character strengths and well-being, which are intrinsically valuable and contribute to a variety of positive life outcomes.
The IPEN Vision
We want to create a flourishing society where everyone is able to fulfil their potential and achieve both success and wellbeing. Every institution in society has a moral obligation to promote human flourishing, and none more so than those responsible for educating young people – families, schools and colleges.
The IPEN Mission
People flourish when they experience a balance of positive emotions, engagement with the world, good relationships with others, a sense of meaning and moral purpose, and the accomplishment of valued goals.
The aim of positive education is to equip young people with the knowledge and life skills to flourish and contribute to the flourishing of others.
Unless we can show that the arguments for positive education are true in practice, as well as in theory, then we will not deserve to change education in the way the International Positive Education Network (IPEN) is proposing. This post, therefore, tries to answer some of the most burning questions with the strongest evidence currently available to support our proposition. Its structure is based on the kind of questions we tend to experience when discussing positive education with an interested but sceptical audience.
Positive education represents a paradigm shift: away from viewing education merely as a route to academic attainment, towards viewing it as a place where students can cultivate their intellectual minds while developing a broad set of character strengths and virtues and wellbeing. This in a nutshell is the ‘character + academics’ approach to education.
Positive education rests on the premise that teaching skills that promote positive emotions, relationships, and character strengths and virtues also promotes learning and academic success. So it is important to argue that, aside from its own intrinsic value and the wider benefits it brings, educating for character and wellbeing can help the quest for academic excellence. School interventions that focus on social emotional learning, character development or wellbeing have been shown to increase academic performance as an outcome. A report by Public Health England has shown that an 11% boost in results in standardised achievement tests has been linked to school programmes that directly improve pupils’ social and emotional learning.
Further evidence suggests that positive educational interventions have been found to increase facets of the student experience that contribute to academic success such as:
Engagement in school
Perceptions of ability
In separating mental health and wellbeing from academic achievement we are ignoring the fact that depression has been on the rise since World War II despite increasing national wealth, and even worse, almost one in five will experience a major depressive episode before graduating from high school.
This is deeply worrying in itself, but it directly impacts academic achievement too. Adolescents who experience poor mental health at ages 16 to 17 have been found to be less likely to obtain higher education degrees than adolescents without such challenges, suggesting that mental health problems during secondary school have lasting implications for achievement later on in life.
The raw intelligence of an individual is an important determinant of future success and wellbeing but it isn’t the only thing that matters. Research by Angela Duckworth has shown that the character trait called ‘grit’, or passion and perseverance for a long-term goal, is a better predictor of some success outcomes than IQ. And James Heckman has show that character traits are malleable or ‘skill-like’ and can be improved with good teaching and practice. In a meta-analysis of positive education interventions, researcher Lea Waters found that interventions targeting students’ character can indeed lead to development of character strengths.
So even if our characters and IQs are partially determined by genes and upbringing, then there is still plenty of room for improvement.
We strongly favour rigorous, stretching academic development as an essential route out of poverty. But on its own it is not enough. Carol Dweck has popularised a construct called the ‘Growth Mindset’, which is the belief that intelligence is malleable and can be changed through hard work and perseverance. It stands opposed to the ‘Fixed Mindset’, which is the belief that intelligence is inherited and cannot be changed. Blackwell, Trzesniewski, and Dweck supported this research in their study, which found during difficult transition periods at school, students who have a growth mindset displayed superior academic performance even though the students entered with equal skills and knowledge. Additional research has found this effect was especially prominent in students who have a stereotype against them, such as being female or from a minority.
A note of caution must be sounded, however. Impressive as these results are, Dweck and her fellow authors note that, “believing intelligence to be malleable does not imply that everyone has exactly the same potential in every domain, or will learn everything with equal ease. Rather, it means that for any given individual, intellectual ability can always be further developed.” What this means is that, like academic education, character education can make us better version of ourselves, but it cannot change everything about us.
Dr Alan Watkins is an ex-physician dedicated to transforming business and society by vertically developing business leaders. Vertical development is, according to the Global Leadership Foundation, “building our ability to distinguish and let go of our own limited thinking and perceptions.” Alan’s book, Coherence, is a how-to guide.
“People think things but they don’t really understand the phenomenon of thinking and what determines it,” explains Alan. “We don’t just ‘have a thought’ – every single thought we have occurs in a context of our biology and our emotional state. Both are crucial to not only what we think but how well we think it.
“Despite this, we over-privilege cognition and under-privilege emotional regulation.”
Poor thinking comes as a result of incoherence in our biological and emotional signals. You see this problem in children. Those who are bullied, agitated, nervous or upset simply cannot learn. They lose the cognitive capacity to take in and assimilate new information.
As adults, we less commonly face bullying peers or overbearing teachers. Yet the problem presents in a different way and has far-reaching consequences.
“Part of my mission is to reduce suffering on the planet and we believe big business, while it could be an incredible force for good, is often the source of the greatest suffering. Some of the companies we work with have 650,000 employees, so when leadership is wrong it affects the lives of 650,000 people.
“Furthermore, business determines outcomes on the planet. A study in New Scientist in October 2013 analysed 40,000 multinationals and found 147 companies basically controlled those multinationals. Assume you have two or three power brokers in each of those 147 companies and you find you have around 500 people that run the planet.”
Basically, the quality of the thinking – and by extension the decision-making – of 500 people affects the lives of us all. And the quality of this thinking is inextricably linked to the physiology and emotional states in which these people operate. That’s why Alan focuses on leaders.
The problem is more acute because of globalisation and the ever-increasing complexity and uncertainty of the world around us. To make optimal decisions, we must consider ever more variables and consequences.
“The amount of pressure and the intensity of business structures these days is so overwhelming. Robert Kegan, professor of education at Harvard, says most leaders these days are ‘in over their heads,’ dealing with a level of complexity that they literally can’t cope with.”
Alan’s model of decision-making looks like a pyramid and is built on layers. At the bottom is physiology, topped with emotion, then feeling, and then cognition. Finally comes the decision we make. We think we’re clever for ‘coming to’ a decision, when in reality it’s heavily influenced by the bulk of the pyramid that has come before.
What is emotion really? According to Alan it’s the ‘tune’ played by all the various physiological parts of the body interacting in a multitude of ways, like an orchestra. The feeling is our conscious awareness of this tune.
In order to adapt and become better at thinking and better at decision-making, we need an orchestra that is aligned, tuneful and rhythmic rather than one that is erratic. This is effectively ‘coherence’ throughout the system. With that comes a solid, stable breeding ground for clear thought production.
The pyramid is a two-way street. Our thoughts and feelings can influence our physiology and our emotions. When we remember a stressful occasion we feel our body lose coherence. Our heart rate intensifies. Our pupils dilate. We can’t think straight.
It feels like we have no control of our physiology and our emotion.
Alan teaches people the skills they need to take back conscious control of their physiology and emotion and therefore prepare themselves for different situations depending on what type of thinking or emotion is needed. About to go on stage to make a presentation? You need to put yourself in a ‘passionate’ state. About to make a big pitch to a client? You need to put yourself in a ‘competent’ state.
One of the biggest influencers of our system coherence is heart rate variability. A smooth, consistent, rhythmic heart rate can actually entrain the rest of our physiology to ‘beat in time.’ And the best way to influence our heart rate variability is through breathing to a set pattern.
What else can we do? Better emotional literacy and management is key. Alan says that if he could only teach his children one skill it would be emotional management. This is the ability to identify, classify, deconstruct and invoke emotions at will.
This is important because unless we know how we’re feeling at any one time then how can we know how our thinking is affected? And from that, how can we know which emotional state we need to be in?
In his book Coherence, Alan distinguishes between two emotions, frustration and disappointment. They feel very similar. But while frustration should encourage you to push forward and tackle obstacles, disappointment is designed to make you take a step back and reassess before deciding on a new course of action.
How can you come to an optimal decision if you can’t differentiate between the two? The decision you make, however rational you think it is, will be created in the context of the emotional interpretation you make, yet you’ll feel like you’ve come to the decision through rational cognitive process.
Once we understand and can label a wide range of emotions, we can better identify how we feel and ensure we are aware of how this affects the decisions we make.
“If you transform your own capability, your whole orientation and the whole way you perceive yourself and your own identify and the world around you, the situation, transforms. You see it completely differently, it’s like moving from black and white to colour.”
This vertical development comes about when we understand the role physiology and emotion play in decision-making and that unless we can consciously control our physiology and emotion, we will continue to fall prey to sub-optimal decision-making across society.
Those who aren’t aware of the place of physiology and emotion won’t even know they’ve made a sub-optimal decision.
Every single person could become more effective and more able to relate to others by vertically developing along the lines of emotional regulation and system coherence.
Learn more ways to improve your workplace wellbeing with The Ultimate Wellbeing Toolkit – a practical learning hub brought to you by financial protection specialists Unum, designed to equip HR professionals with the skills and knowledge they need to show employees that they are valued. You can also find out more information about the Institute of Leadership and Management.
Showing your staff that you care about them simply makes good business sense. Staff who feel that their employer cares about them are likely to be more engaged and productive.
A survey carried out by The Institute of Leadership Management (ILM) in 2013 found that 31% of respondents stated that the one thing that would motivate them to do more at work was better treatment by their employer.
In short, a more motivated workforce ultimately makes for a more profitable and successful company.
So what does a caring employer look like? Below are some practical tips to help managers increase caring while boosting productivity and profitability:
1. Thank the people who put you there
First, consider who your organisation has to thank for its success and how you can demonstrate your appreciation to these key stakeholders, whether it’s the employees, suppliers or communities you operate in. This means taking the time to understand their needs and aspirations and meeting them. This could include:
Structured praise and recognition/development opportunities/team-building days
Charitable donations to the local community/allowing your staff to volunteer with community projects
2. Nurturing relationships is not just a “nice to have”
ILM research reveals managers find working relationships (within teams and with customers and suppliers) increasingly important. Developing and maintaining good working relationships are the key means of, not distraction from, doing real work.
Organisations are using the strength of working relationships as a market differentiator. Managers should take time to properly engage with colleagues and understand their aspirations and concerns. Twenty-nine per cent of managers have had training in relationship management.
3. Keep lines of communication open
In a world of digital working, with more people working flexible hours, you might not be the same location as your staff as often. Therefore communication has become a top priority. It’s not surprising that communication has been noted as the top skill managers would like to develop.
However, recent ILM research has noted that this is also the skill which managers state their peers tend to do most badly.
The key to communicating well is fostering good two-way communications. It’s essential that people feel consulted and listened to.
4. Help your managers manage
Communication, planning, and leadership and management are all cited as being increasingly important but they can be hard to achieve, especially in large organisations.
Training and qualifications will help, especially for people who are newly promoted into management: frequently they are promoted on the basis of technical/subject ability and left without support when it comes to putting management and leadership into practice.
ILM has found that only 57% of organisations have a leadership and management talent pipeline, even though 93% recognise that a lack of management skills is affecting their business.
5. Find out what your employees value
We know from ILM research that the top-ranked (by both managers and employees) performance motivator is job enjoyment.
Only 13% of employees rated bonuses as a top motivator
59% of employees rated job enjoyment as a top motivator
31% of employees identified better treatment from their employer; more praise and a greater sense of being valued would make them more motivated.
This could be non-financial recognition and reward, improved office environments, team and company away days or schemes to encourage innovation and creative thinking.
Think how jobs are structured and what opportunities there are to provide development – whether formal training and qualifications or informal opportunities such as secondments or varying the projects or roles of each staff member.
6. Ensure everyone works towards the goals of the business
Have clearly stated values and work out with everyone what those look like in practice (abstract words on posters or screen savers are not enough).
This will help everyone to pull in the same direction and will also help people applying to work for your company to gauge their suitability.
Having a clear vision which managers can pass on to staff will help everyone to work towards the same thing. ILM research also indicates that it will improve staff positivity and performance.
Specific training and development will help aspiring and current organisational leaders to turn dry objectives into something tangible that their people can reach.
…It would be nice if employees took a holistic view of their job and their company but most don’t. Most go to work, try to do the best they can, and hope they get paid well, then they go home.
We must build a work environment that works and select for people who suit our culture. Job fit is not just skills and capability but cultural fit e.g. we’re a fun-loving company, we’re a serious company, we work late, we don’t work late etc.
All these are cultural things. These statements will attract different people. If you don’t characterise your culture, you’ll get some percentage of people leaving because the company just isn’t for them.
We have to build organisations that attract the right people.
I think cultural fit does not mean uniformity of thinking and uniformity of race, gender etc. So most of the time when you look at culture you’re looking at behaviour that crosses different work styles and thinking styles.
Deloitte is at its roots a financial services accounting firm, so there’s a certain amount of rigour, quality etc. That doesn’t mean you need to be this race or this gender but you do have to be comfortable with that culture.
A lot of innovative companies have cultures that are very open. One of Zappos’ culture attributes is ‘we like wacky people,’ and they are saying, we want you to be yourself, it’s ok to be different, to look different. Culture doesn’t mean we’re all the same.
Even small companies, maybe more so than big, must attract people not just on the job but due to the purpose and mission of the organisation. Some people will go to work and do their job anywhere – some engineers, for example, even though might be making a nuclear bomb.
Young people today – and I know this from the data – don’t only want work they like but they want something that’s bigger than them. They want to make a difference. Maybe it’s always been true but it’s particularly true now.
We’re coming out of a recession and are now in a global values system of giving back, taking care of the environment, being part of a global community. In some way these are memes that we’ve become attuned to.
The word talent has been overused so it’s now a buzz word. But more and more economic studies are showing a higher and higher percentage of the economy is driven by services, intellectual property, creativity and innovation – things that require human beings.
At the same time there are the machines that are as smart as people – like Watson from IBM – starting to replace white collar jobs. So you go to a fast food joint and there’s no one there to take your order, you just press a button. And that’s happening in law and accounting and almost every other discipline.
Companies are realising they have to look for people who are creative and self-learners. There’s an accelerating obsolescence of skills. If you’re a software engineer and you don’t know machine learning, you’re falling out of the mainstream. The rate of change in all these technical disciplines is going up.
Companies want to hire self-learners who are passionate about their domain, hard-working, collaborative, creative and want to stay ahead.
More and more learning is pull-driven – by the person. The training department still has to do a lot of formal training but they have to create a learning environment where they can learn on their own. Otherwise, staff will go outside and learn it somewhere else. That’s why MOOCs are so big and all these online learning systems – people are scrambling around trying to keep their skills and careers modern.
Deloitte just published this study from the Center for the Edge based on profiles of personalities at work. One is called the Passionate Explorer – these are people who are domain experts who love their domain and who continually educate themselves in their domain. Around 15-20% of the workforce falls into this category.
They aren’t always the most execution-focused people, but companies realise you need some of these people in your organisation.
From accepting that you can’t always have a plan to making sure your voice is heard above the noise, Lottie O’Conor shares these words of wisdom are relevant to us all from five inspirational businesswomen at this year’s annual Institute of Directors Women in Leadership conference…
“You don’t need to have a plan to succeed” ~ Dr Suzy Walton
The “what are you going to do with your life?” question pops up at a worryingly young age, and while it’s wonderful if you have a clear passion and vision for your career path, it can be hugely intimidating for those of us who have never really had a clue.
Setting goals for yourself can be a positive step forward, but it can also leave you blinkered and unable to see the unexpected opportunities that might come your way. Trying to stick too rigidly to a plan can also mean that if life throws you a curveball, it can knock you sideways. Being open to change and accepting that things don’t always work out the way you thought they would could be the key to a happier life and a more exciting, varied career path.
“Sometimes you need to pretend to have authority” ~ Anne-Marie Huby, founder of Justgiving
When asked how she dealt with the difficulties of asserting yourself as a young person in a new role, Huby’s advice was clear: “pretend to be the person you want to be.”
Self-doubt is one of the biggest career stallers out there. You could be brilliant at what you do, but if you don’t act with conviction then others will doubt you and your leadership. If you have trouble being authoritative and believing in yourself at work, perhaps its time to see how far a little acting takes you, and how quickly the way you project yourself becomes the reality.
“You have to speak up if you want to get noticed” ~ Dr Leah Totton, winner of the Apprentice and founder of Dr Leah Clinics
If you work in a company where good work is always rewarded and credit is always given to the right person, then you’re one of the lucky ones. For most of us, sitting back and hoping that someone notices that we’ve been in the office since sunrise isn’t the route to career success. If you want to stand out from the crowd and prove that you deserve that promotion/pay rise/investment then you have to stand up for yourself so that you can be heard over the noise.
“Starting a new business always takes longer than you think” ~ Pippa Begg, director of Board Intelligence
For many women, entrepreneurship offers a rewarding alternative to the corporate rat race. Running your own business is often painted as the perfect situation, offering motivation, job satisfaction and the opportunity to set your own rules. The reality however, can be more challenging than you could possibly imagine.
“People will tell you that it takes twice as long as you think it will to get your first client,” said Begg. “Forget that – it takes at least five times longer.” It took Board Intelligence over a year to get its first client; a time frame that would have left many entrepreneurs ready to give up. For Begg and her business partner, a firm belief in their proposition kept them going, and a few years down the line they boast an impressive lineup of clients.
“Diversity is a seat at the table; inclusion is having a voice” ~ Cindy Miller, president of European operations at UPS
Miller joined the famously male-dominated company she now runs 25 years ago as a package car driver and worked her way up to her current position. She described her first promotion to manager, and how she later discovered that she had been fourth choice for the role, behind three men.
She spoke about current company developments, including mentoring, support and community building for female employees, emphasising the importance of cultural changes as well as practical ones.
True equality isn’t just a numbers game. Of course we need more women in senior positions and in the boardroom, but a seat at the table isn’t enough. What is more important is creating a business environment where female leaders have visibility, a strong voice and a central role in driving the future of the company.
Despite the popularity of Maslow’s Hierarchy, there is not much recent data to support it. Contemporary science — specifically Dr. Edward Deci, hundreds of Self-Determination Theory researchers, and thousands of studies — instead points to three universal psychological needs. If you really want to take advantage of this new science – rather than focusing on a pyramid of needs – you should focus on: autonomy, relatedness, and competence.
Autonomy is people’s need to perceive that they have choices, that what they are doing is of their own volition, and that they are the source of their own actions. The way leaders frame information and situations either promotes the likelihood that a person will perceive autonomy or undermines it. To promote autonomy:
Frame goals and timelines as essential information to assure a person’s success, rather than as dictates or ways to hold people accountable.
Refrain from incentivizing people through competitions and games. Few people have learned the skill of shifting the reason why they’re competing from an external one (winning a prize or gaining status) to a higher-quality one (an opportunity to fulfill a meaningful goal).
Don’t apply pressure to perform. Sustained peak performance is a result of people acting because they choose to — not because they feel they have to.
Relatedness is people’s need to care about and be cared about by others, to feel connected to others without concerns about ulterior motives, and to feel that they are contributing to something greater than themselves. Leaders have a great opportunity to help people derive meaning from their work. To deepen relatedness:
Validate the exploration of feelings in the workplace. Be willing to ask people how they feel about an assigned project or goal and listen to their response. All behavior may not be acceptable, but all feelings are worth exploring.
Take time to facilitate the development of people’s values at work — then help them align those values with their goals. It is impossible to link work to values if individuals don’t know what their values are.
Connect people’s work to a noble purpose.
Competence is people’s need to feel effective at meeting every-day challenges and opportunities, demonstrating skill over time, and feeling a sense of growth and flourishing. Leaders can rekindle people’s desire to grow and learn. To develop people’s competence:
Make resources available for learning. What message does it send about values for learning and developing competence when training budgets are the first casualty of economic cutbacks?
Set learning goals — not just the traditional results-oriented and outcome goals.
At the end of each day, instead of asking, “What did you achieve today?” ask “What did you learn today? How did you grow today in ways that will help you and others tomorrow?”
The exciting message to leaders is that when the three basic psychological needs are satisfied in the workplace, people experience the day-to-day high-quality motivation that fuels employee work passion — and all the inherent benefits that come from actively engaged individuals at work. To take advantage of the science requires shifting your leadership focus from, “What can I give people to motivate them?” to “How can I facilitate people’s satisfaction of autonomy, relatedness, and competence?”
Don’t underestimate your people’s capacity — indeed, their longing — to experience high-quality motivation at work anytime and anywhere.
24 SMS ‘ till Christmas is the initiative from Happy Newcomer that presents a movie and a song that reflect the spirit of each the 24 Character Strengths from Seligman & Peterson’s model that we are using more and more.
In this week’s collection you will find the next six Character Strengths:
Employee engagement is an individual experience, and here are three types of conversations that will give you critical engagement-boosting information from your employees…
1. The “Start, Stop, Continue, Increase” Conversation
Here’s how this conversation might sound:
Lisa, one of the things I like to do with each new hire is get specific feedback on how I manage … specific feedback on what works for them and what doesn’t. So, with that in mind, I’d like to get your responses to the following questions:
First, what’s one thing that I do that is really helpful in terms of bringing out the best in you that I should keep doing?
The second question I’d like to get your response to is ‘What’s one thing I do that irritates or frustrates you, so that would be the one thing I should STOP doing, if I want to bring out the best in you?
The third question I’ll be asking is, ‘What’s one thing you recommend I START doing, because by doing this, I will make the biggest positive impact in your work experience and in my ability to bring out the best in you?’
Finally, what’s something I do that is really positive, but, I could be doing it a lot more?
Those are the four questions I’d like to get your take on. So, here they are on a sheet of paper. To give you some time to think rather than catch you off guard, how about if you think about your answers and then we can go through them next week when we meet?”
Because most employees have never been asked such questions, and because many people need time to think through their questions and responses, you will get better quality answers by letting them reflect on their answers.
2. The “What Would Be Most Helpful?” Conversation
This is a more focused, situation-specific request for feedback on your management style.
So, here’s how it might sound:
When I asked you to go search out that difficult answer, was that helpful or would it have been better for me to have teamed you up with Joe?”
Asking “What would be most helpful?” in the conversation gives you valuable information you can use to tailor your approach to each specific employee. As we discussed in our previous article, each employee has their own unique combination of motivators, de-motivators, preferences, and aspirations.
One size does not fit all, and your ability to bring out the best in each employee depends on your ability to tailor your approach to meet each employee’s unique combination.
Asking this also strengthens your relationship with the employee. Even if they don’t have a ready answer, your asking the question demonstrates that you want to manage that employee in the way that works best for them. It communicates that you care enough to want their feedback.
Also, the courage and humility demonstrated in such a request engenders tremendous respect and appreciation in the employee.
3. The “What would You Like to Know About Me?” Conversation
This conversation is especially useful for new employees. It saves them from the unnecessary anxiety caused by an uncommunicative boss who won’t express explicitly what they want from their employees and what makes them happy.
Here’s an example of how this conversation might sound:
Just as we’ve been having conversations about what works best for you and how I can bring out your best, I’d like to have what I call a “What Would You Like to Know About Me?” conversation with you. I have found this to be really helpful with new employees.
This is where they ask anything they want about what I look for most in my team members, my core values, specific business goals, things that drive ME crazy as a supervisor … that sort of thing. So with that in mind, what would you like to know about me that you would find helpful?”
Besides helping them get to know you, this question also allows you to model that it’s beneficial to be direct and open about who you are and what you want. This is a subtle invitation to the employee to do the same with you.
Berkley’s Greater Good editors, Jill Suttie, and Jeremy Adam Smith list their top picks from the previous year – perhaps one or two of these might make a good gift for someone you care about about. This might well be yourself of course…
Trust is the social glue that allows us to do more together than we could ever do alone. But trustworthiness is a moving target, argues psychologist David DeSteno, dependent on our moods, circumstances, and competing needs; therefore, it’s best to learn how trusts works if we want to connect with others without being taken for a ride.
As social animals, we’ve developed shortcuts for knowing whom to trust—“gut reactions,” based on subtle cues, like folding arms across one’s chest or leaning back—that signal someone is untrustworthy. While some of these can be quite accurate, others are subject to manipulation and prejudice, which DeSteno demonstrates with ingenious science experiments. Some of his findings fly in the face of conventional wisdom—most notably, the view that trustworthiness is a fixed trait. Instead, he argues, being trustworthy depends on an internal calculus, where we weigh the benefits versus the costs of acting with integrity in any given situation.
Our ability to predict our own trustworthiness—like trusting ourselves to refrain from adultery—is hampered by our inability to predict future cost/benefits and by our tendency to rationalize our own behavior. He argues that we should work toward nurturing our trusting nature and our trustworthiness if we want to succeed in life and contribute to a more harmonious society.
Though we humans are equipped with a brain specially attuned to predict what others are thinking, feeling, and planning, there are many cases in which our “mindreading” powers lead us astray. Social psychologist Nicholas Epley presents fascinating research on how our social brains work and why we sometimes can’t look beyond our own preconceptions.
Epley suggests we have a tendency to overestimate our “mindreading” abilities, ascribing to people intentions they don’t have, based on our projections of how we would act in a certain situation and on our assumption that others think like us when they don’t. We also err in the other direction: exaggerating perceived differences between members of other social groups and ourselves, which can lead to stereotyping.
The sad conclusion is that we may underestimate the richness and variety of other people’s minds (while not depreciating our own), creating misunderstandings and even dehumanization. To counteract this, we need to better understand the way our minds work and consciously deeply listen to those who are different than us.
Many parents worry that our modern culture, with its focus on materialism, will make their kids spoiled and entitled. But, while culture can have a negative impact, researchers Jeffrey Froh and Giacomo Bono suggest ways parents can avoid this outcome: by helping kids develop gratitude.
Research has shown that grateful kids have all kinds of advantages later in life—better relationships, higher levels of happiness and optimism, and more commitment to community, to name a few. Froh and Bono’s book outlines that research and provides thirty-two research-based tips for parents to encourage gratitude in their children. Much of what they suggest falls into the category of overall good parenting—i.e. being present for your kids, encouraging their talents, and providing needed support. In other cases, their tips involve specific gratitude practices, as well as role-modeling the gratitude behavior you want to see in your kids.
But, their goals go beyond wanting parents to enjoy their kids more: “The ultimate function that gratitude may serve in human development…is to help individuals find their own life story for elevating others and to make a difference in the world,” they write.
“Every emotion is useful,” write the authors of The Upside of Your Dark Side. “Even the ones we think of as negative, including the painful ones.”
Kashdan and Biswas-Diener delve deep into the research to understand why “negative” states like anger or sadness have evolved; they also look at what happens when positive emotions aren’t restrained by negative ones that may cause us to reflect, take a stand against unfairness, or speak our minds. Of course, not all anger is useful; not all sadness is healthy. This is where the book shines: The authors tease out the differences between, for example, anger and rage, and then provide very concrete tips for managing negative states so that they don’t run out of control.
But The Upside of Your Dark Side also contains a larger cultural critique of movements for greater happiness and well-being. Positive emotions are good, argues this book, but focusing excessively on them can cut us off from our whole selves.
Roman Krznaric, a philosopher and founding faculty member of London’s School of Life, explains how we humans are wired for empathy and why empathy is so important to cultivate.
Science shows that we literally have brain circuits devoted to trying to understand how another person is feeling and to “feel with” them. Yet there are social, political, and psychological barriers to feeling empathy that can get in the way. Krznaric’s book argues that we need to understand these barriers and find ways to overcome them if we are to create the compassionate society we want.
Empathy is not about pity or sympathy, he writes, but about truly putting yourself in another’s worldview and treating them accordingly—“Do unto others as they would want you to do unto them.” He outlines six habits of highly empathic people—i.e. immersing yourself in another culture, engaging in conversation with people who don’t share your views, or joining a choir with people from many walks of life—as a way of decreasing prejudice and developing empathy.
The cultural view that impulsive teen behavior is due to “raging hormones” is outdated and just plain wrong. These two books explain what’s actually going on in teens’ lives and what we can do to support and nurture them on their path to adulthood.
Their advice rests on what scientists now understand about the human brain and teen development. During adolescence, the brain starts to become more efficient by “pruning” out neural connections that are less needed, making adolescence a period of both great neural reorganization and creativity.
You may assume that the appreciation of humor is too idiosyncratic to study scientifically; but you’d be wrong. Psychologist Scott Weems has delved into the science of laughter and come up with an entertaining read about what humor is and what it does for our brains, our health, and our relationships.
It’s true that not everyone finds the same jokes funny. But the common thread in different types of humor is that they all involve dealing with surprise and resolving the ensuing cognitive dissonance in the brain—neural processing that has benefits in other realms of our lives, such as creativity and insight.
Laughing at jokes also releases the feel-good hormone dopamine in the brain, and can increase blood flow and strengthen the heart, much like aerobic exercise does. Perhaps that’s why a sense of humor often tops the list of desirable qualities in a mate.
People say that “laughter is the best medicine,” and laughter has indeed been shown to decrease pain and to reduce stress. Weems suggests laughing at jokes even if they aren’t funny is a good strategy. It will make your life happier and healthier and, because laughter is contagious, spread good feelings to those around you.
“We would accomplish many more things if we did not think of them as impossible.”
I happened to notice this Forbes Thought For The Day on Tuesday 18th November by French statesman and defender of Louis XVI, C. Malesherbes, and it chimed with many of the articles I have been reading this week.
Most especially it connected me with the video I watched of an interview with Oprah Winfrey by a Stanford student. I heard much in this to be inspired and motivated and emboldened by, and so I am making this this week’s lead story and keynote to this week’s self-mastery theme around building our self-confidence and self-belief and self-determination as the heart and engine room for our happiness and highest aspirations.
During a student-led interview at Stanford Graduate School of Business, Oprah Winfrey shares seminal moments of her career journey and the importance of listening to your instincts. Winfrey also offers advice to students on how to find their calling:
“Align your personality with your purpose, and no one can touch you.”
Here are some of the words from Oprah Winfrey that stood out especially for me, and might perhaps resonate for you too…
During this interview Oprah tells stories from her career that end with her thinking: ‘I will never do this again.”
“I started listening to what felt like the truth for me…From the very first instant I have listened to my instinct and stayed attuned to what felt like the right truth for me… If I fail I will find out what the next thing is for me.”
On how you navigate on paths when you feel alone…
“I am often the only woman in a room of white men and I love it…
When I have to do something especially demanding, I call on those that come before me, especially those women who have forged a path that has helped to get me here, and so when I walk in, I never walk in as just myself and I have all that energy with me. And I love it.
If you wrote a book on women and leadership what would you call it?
“Step Up and Into Yourself
You can only change the world if you know yourself. You have to take the time to know who you are and what you want your contribution to he planet to be…Mine is to raise consciousness…. You cannot fulfil your purpose unless you know how to listen to your own inner voice. Every time I got into trouble it was when I overrode my instincts with my head.
‘For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction‘ is my religion. And the intention propels the action and decides what the reaction, result or consequence will be.
What are the qualities of your leadership that works in so many areas?
“My leadership is fuelled by my being and it works the same in all areas. It comes from my passion, because that’s just my nature – it comes from my need to understand and to be understood, and it comes from my desire to connect…I keep grounded in myself…I work at staying awake.
What is your spiritual practice? What do you do to take care of yourself? What do you do to keep yourself centred?
Everybody wants to fulfil the highest truest realisation of yourself as a human being…
I have interviewed more than 30,000 people. At the end of every interview, from the murderer to Beyonce’, everybody asks ‘Was that ok?’. Everybody wants to know ‘did you hear me?, did you see me? and did what I said mean anything to you?’. Every human being is looking to confirm ‘are you fully here with me, or are you distracted?’
The success I have is because I pay attention. When you’re at home with yourself…you have unlimited power.
I am here to connect people to ideas and stories so that they can see themselves and live better lives.
How do you strike a balance between emotion and logic – especially when you’re giving?
“You need both. At the beginning I was purely emotional and I made a lot of mistakes…
You first have to change the way a person thinks and sees themselves. So you’ve got to first create a sense of aspiration, a sense of hopefulness so a person can begin to even have a vision for a better life. And if you can’t connect to that then you lose and they lose.
You have to decide how you are going to use your money, your talent, your time so that it’s going to serve you first, because if it doesn’t help you to be filled up, you get depleted and you can’t keep doing it. So my decisions now are emotional and logical…
You don’t have anything to give that you don’t have, so you have to keep yourself full…
I say to my daughters, the number one thing you have to do is to figure out where your power base is, and to work on the alignment between your personality, the gift you have to give, and your real reason for why you’re here. And to fill yourself up, and to keep yourself full.
I used to be afraid of that, particularly when people would say ‘oh she’s so full of herself.’ Now I embrace it, I consider it a compliment to be considered full of myself because only when you’re full to overflowing and not afraid of honouring yourself, and have the ability to honour yourself do you he ability to offer yourself, your full expression of who you are to the rest of the world.
After 26 years making her show Oprah said
“Gratitude is the single greatest treasure I will take with me from this experience.”
Is there anything left that you’re scared to try?
No, but I know what my lane is. I know what my calling is, I know what I’m here to do. But I still haven’t done what I’m here to do, I haven’t yet hit my supreme moment of destiny.
Resilience and post traumatic growth
Watching people step out of tragedies and define triumph for themselves, those are the people who have shaped me and made me a better person.
Call to action for us all
Align your personality with your purpose and no one can touch you.
You real job is to find out what you are here to do…
Every body has a stage.
What’s your stage? Use it.
How can you start and keep living the highest fullest truest version of yourself?
What would you say to your younger self?
What everyone would say, in one form or another: ‘relax – its going to be okay’
Know that your life is not defined by any one moment. The way to get through a challenge is to be still and ask ‘what is the next right move?’ And then from that space make the next right move, and then the next right move.
Sharing the values of entrepreneurship with your children can be a great way to teach them some very important character tools they’ll need and use for a lifetime ahead. Here are three character traits that entrepreneurship will help instill in your children and how to teach them.
These are, suggests Matthew Toren, Self-Confidence, Durability and Creativity and here is what he has to tell us about the first of these…
A belief in yourself and your ability to get through life’s challenges is the building block of adult success and a huge component to children’s healthy growth into adolescence and young adulthood.
According to Jennifer Crocker, a psychologist at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, kids with a strong sense of self through internal motivation develop into adolescents who are less likely to engage in dangerous social activities such as drugs and alcohol and perform better in school.
Entrepreneurship embodies self-confidence based on your own internal motivating factors better than perhaps any other activity. It taught me the importance of believing in my ideas and believing in my ability to find solutions. It taught me how crucial good and honest relationships are. Those are values I want my children to have and that you can teach your kids, too.
How? When you foster entrepreneurship in your kids, you have to let them make decisions and support them through those choices. Even when you know they may not be the right decisions from your adult perspective, allow your kids to think up their own ideas and start to take the steps to see them through.
If you child wants to start a lemonade stand or paper route, work with them as a parental partner, but not necessarily as an authority figure.
When you give your kids the space to learn and make decisions, it increases their confidence in themselves and in their own decision-making. They already know you know the answers, encourage them to find their own that don’t involve you making the choices for them when and where it’s appropriate.
When my kids ask me questions I like to challenge them by asking right back, “I’m not sure, what do you think?” This encourages them to think through problems, builds their own sense of self and develops their voice.
“Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.”– William Shakespeare
Taming the monkey mind
You cannot remove doubt any more than trying to eliminate negative thoughts. Doubts are woven into our psyche during childhood as we learned to integrate into our surroundings. Similarly what begins as the voice of reason echoed through loved ones, soon becomes the doubtful inner critic given the passage of time.
Did you know that by the time you reach adulthood, you would have heard the word ‘NO’ repeated 50,000 times throughout your life? In contrast the word ‘YES’ is only heard 7,000 times. It is no wonder doubt manages to weave its way into our minds with such intensity.
We are notorious for falsifying tales about ourselves. Doubt is one such story often repeated through adulthood. Whilst it is healthy to entertain doubt from time to time, being at the mercy of the debilitating thought is not conducive toward living a fulfilling life.
In a similar vein, doubt can become self-deprecating while wreaking havoc with your personal confidence if left unchecked.
“Willpower is the key to success. Successful people strive no matter what they feel by applying their will to overcome apathy, doubt or fear.”– Dan Millman
Feeding the doubt
Self-doubt requires examination if it prevents you from living an enriching life.
Some people are quite content to shy away from honouring their highest potential. They conceal their emotions deep within, hoping they will miraculously vanish.
Unfortunately as time passes by, the buried emotions may resurface in the form of illness, destructive relationships, addiction to substances or unhelpful behaviour, etc.
In his book Spontaneous Evolution, author Bruce Lipton states that 95% of our behaviour is controlled by our subconscious mind. In many ways our behaviour is reflected in the blind decisions we make every day without a moment’s consideration. Reflect on how much of your daily life’s decisions are automated – that is devoid of conscious intent?
In another example, author Michael S. Gazzaniga further illuminates this point in his book, Who’s In Charge: Free Will and The Science of The Brain. As a neuroscientist investigating split brain personality, he offers the following observation about the choices we make, “Your interpreter module accounts for as much of your behaviour as it can incorporate and it denies or rationalises the rest.”
Overcoming the inner critic
Overcoming self-doubt requires taking affirmative action while being attentive to the inner critic – that is, you choose to take action in spite of the doubt.
In a recent documentary highlighting the sport of accelerated free falling, the jumper was asked by a reporter if he entertained fear prior to his jumps. He reassured the reporter that fear was present during every jump and served to remind him of the inherent dangers associated with the sport. He managed fear by choosing to turn down the volume on it so as not to overwhelm him.
Take a moment to consider the spectrum of doubt inherent in your life. What tools or resources do you frequently call upon to navigate self-doubt when it emerges? It should be stated that doubt is merely a self-imposed speed bump in your life’s journey. As you know speed bumps are intended to slow you down, not halt your progress.
If self-doubt is wreaking havoc in your life, you may wish to reconnect with your vision or purpose. Your vision cannot be blocked by obstacles.
Attributing self-blame in relation to past failures leads to more of the same destructive thoughts. Instead, choose affirmative action with respect to your goals and attend to your doubts with self-compassion. It is your responsibility to reconcile them in a peaceful manner free of guilt.
You’ve heard it said that it isn’t the goal that fuels our desire. It is the journey towards whom we become that ignites our passion and sustains us in attaining inner victory.
Remember, your journey towards inner peace and fulfillment is lined with many detours. Embrace your challenges with attentiveness and enthusiasm.
Science-based strategies for using positivity to feel better by Jonathan Fader
1. Look through your camera roll and select pictures, such as that of a pet, children or friends that trigger a joy response. Once you have settled on a picture, name a few reasons why looking at the picture brings you joy. Does it remind you of a funny experience or remind you of a source of happiness and nurture? Studies indicate that thinking about previous events and the actual sensory experience which made you happy in the past will bring those same emotions to the present, immediately increasing your mood. What I also love about this tip is that it’s also customized: those photos of your kids or your dog resonate most with you because it’s something real drawn from your life and nobody else’s
2. Start your day off with a positive self-statement based on fact. This is a tip drawn from my experience as a sport psychologist—instructional and motivational self-talk have been linked to enhanced athletics performance—but the concept can be applied equally well to all situations. The underlying truth, that what we think influences our actions and emotions, is universal.
Note that I say “based on fact” for a reason. If you start your day by saying, “I’m the perfect parent, no exceptions!” – well, it may be true, but if you’re in a bad mood, odds are that you won’t believe yourself. A better example of effective self-talk is “I am an excellent parent because I brought my daughter to the park after school and saw how happy she was.” The more specific the statement, the better the chance that you will actually believe it—and the better the chance that it can actually help you.
3. Compliment three people every day. By complimenting others you may also gain new friends and newfound confidence. A study had college freshmen give three compliments a day for twenty days to see how it affected them. After this was completed, the subjects reported higher levels of self-confidence that resulted in an increased sense of belonging. The study believed that this was due to the fact that compliments are often reciprocated. So by complimenting others, you can induce a cycle of happiness.
In this inspiring TEDTalk, athletics coach Ivan Joseph reminds us of the power and necessity of praise and positive feedback to build our courage, risk taking and self-confidence – further endorsement of the potency and worth of Appreciative Inquiry, or deliberately recognising and learning from what is already working best.
As the Athletic Director and head coach of the Varsity Soccer team at Ryerson University, Dr. Joseph is often asked what skills he is searching for as a recruiter: is it Speed? Strength? Agility? In this TEDx Talk, he explores self confidence and how it is not just the most important skill in athletics, but in our lives.
The easiest ways to build self-confidence: repetition, repetition, repetition…
Or maybe the word should be persistence: do what you want to do and do not accept failure as a reason to stop you.
The other way is through self-talk…We all have this negative self-talk that goes on in our head. With so many people ready to tell us what we cannot do, why do we want to add to it?… We know that our thoughts influence our actions… We need to get our own self-affirmations…There need to be quiet moments with ourself when we reaffirm “I am the captain of my ship and the master of my fate.”… If I don’t believe it, who else can?
How do you build self-confidence? Get away from the people who will tear you down…
Our self-perceptions are often instilled in us before we have a say in them. Learning to change how we see ourselves helps us find our hidden strengths, or improve weaknesses we didn’t know we had, to get along better in life.
Accurate self-perception is a necessary component of self-improvement. If you don’t know where your strengths or weaknesses lie, you don’t know what areas you need to work on. Or how to leverage your assets! Self-perception is simply being aware of who you are, what you’re like, and what you’re capable of. Your self-perception goes beyond positive self-esteem, though. It may involve acknowledging your shortcomings (“I suck at playing the violin, and that’s okay”), adjusting how you view your skills, (“This skill I thought was boring is actually useful and neat!”), or recognizing your problem areas (“I’m not as hard working as I like to think”).
Adjusting your self-perception comes down to being honest with yourself. Recognizing your weak points helps you identify when you need to ask for help. Acknowledging your strengths can give you the courage to assert yourself even when you don’t feel like you deserve to. What you do with the knowledge is a whole different can of worms, but here’s how to adjust when your perception doesn’t line up with your reality.
Prep Work: Identify Your Own Self-Image Fallacies
Often, we have self-perception problems because our emotions or misconceptions lead us to false conclusions. Anyone who’s ever argued on the internet for more than a minute knows how easily logical fallacies can sneak in. When those leaps in logic face inward, though, they can alter how we perceive ourselves. For example:
“I screwed up, so I am a screw up.” This all-or-nothing mentality lends itself to low self-esteem, but it’s a false correlation. We’re good at dwelling on our mistakes, but bad at remembering when we got it right. The negative doesn’t eliminate the positive.
“I’m not good at this yet, so I never will be.” Everyone sucks at everything until they don’t anymore. Failing a hundred times at something is discouraging, but it’s incorrect to assume that those failures mean you’re not good enough. In fact, those failures are how you get better.
“Someone doesn’t like me, so no one likes me.” People who like or approve of us may not say it as often as someone with a grudge, so it’s easier to focus on the negative.
“I’ve never had any complaints, so I must be good.”Unfortunately, those closest to us may not always be the most objective reviewers of our talents. Until your skills have been put to the test in an arena free of bias (like the workplace or public performances), a lack of complaints doesn’t prove talent.
You’ll probably never be completely free of internal logical fallacies. However, identifying when you’re making a logical leap can kickstart the process to learning the truth. From there, you can start making the necessary changes.
Step One: Perform a Self-Assessment
The first step in fixing your perception of yourself is to identify how you see yourself. One way to get started is a technique from cognitive behavioral therapy (or CBT) programs. Psych Central recommendswriting ten of your strengths on one side of a paper, and ten weaknesses on the other. This exercise forces you to take an honest look at yourself:
This is your Self-Esteem Inventory. It lets you know all the things you already tell yourself about how much you suck, as well as showing you that there are just as many things you don’t suck at. Some of the weaknesses you may also be able to change, if only you worked at them, one at a time, over the course of a month or even a year. Remember, nobody changes things overnight, so don’t set an unrealistic expectation that you can change anything in just a week’s time.
You may need to seek outside input from others if you can’t come up with ten for both sides. Once you’re done, keep the list because it will come in handy for the next thing you can do.
Step Two: Seek Outside Input (and Listen to It)
Outside input has the ability to either validate or negate how we perceive ourselves. If you think you’re not that great of a singer, but the crowd at karaoke disagrees, you might start to change your opinion. For that reason, if you really want to adjust your self perception, seeking outside input is absolutely necessary.
Author Scott H. Young offers some tips on how to get honest feedback. As it turns out, not everyone is completely forthright when you ask for an opinion (often for good reasons). Depending on the topic, you may need to coax out the full answer, or explain that it’s okay to be honest:
Read Between Lines. Look for what they didn’t say, not what they did. I’ll admit this can take practice, but when you receive feedback where you question the sincerity, notice what wasn’t said. If you wrote a how-to book, did they actually use the advice? If you gave a persuasive speech did they enjoy it or did it change their opinion?
Pull Out Gradual Honesty. Some people need encouragement to give you their honest opinion. Make it clear that you are okay with the harshest of their remarks and give them an opportunity to reveal more.
You can check out Scott’s post here for more specific tips. Most importantly, though: once you get feedback, listen to it. One of the most common mistakes we make when getting input from others is filtering out the stuff we don’t like. I can totally play the guitar, they’re just jealous, right? Nope. You asked for feedback, now accept it. If it’s true, you’ll probably hear it from more than one person. Be prepared to accept that the feedback you get is at least somewhat true, even if it’s uncomfortable.
Step 3: Challenge Yourself and Step Outside Your Comfort Zone
Of course, feedback from others is only one way to find out what you’re capable of. There is a faster, more effective way, too: doing it. You may not think that you’re good enough to get a job as an actor. However, nothing will prove you wrong faster than getting hired.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that someone with asthma and high blood pressure should join the Army on nothing but a wish (unless your name is Steve Rogers). But having a realistic approach to what you can do, coupled with some optimism that things could work out alright, can be a key to making it happen. One psychological researcher named Sophia Chou at the National Taiwan University examined this concept of the realistic optimist. To put it simply, people who understood the risks but chose to be hopeful about the outcome not only performed better, but were happier:
Interestingly, the realistic optimists also got better grades, on average, than their less grounded peers — probably because they didn’t delude themselves into thinking they would do well without studying or working hard, Chou said.
Traditionally, a more realistic outlook is paired with poorer well-being and greater depression, yet the realistic optimists managed to be happy.
As Chou explains, people who evaluate their situation, but still challenge themselves anyway find that they’re better equipped to handle those challenges. The result is a more successful outcome due to their preparation, but also an increase in satisfaction due to their moderate expectations.
Step 4: Emulate the Habits of Others
How you perceive yourself may affect how you behave, but the relationship also works in reverse. We’ve discussed before how something simple like faking powerful body language can help you feel more confident. This concept works fairly broadly. If you think you’re too cynical, try being intentionally optimistic on social media. If you start deliberately hunting for the good in something, you may find it.
As The Guardian explains, our perceptions of our self and our relationships can be manipulated by things as simple as having a cell phone out at dinner. Putting the device away may make us feel as though we’re more “in the moment” and strengthen the bonds we have with others. That means (somewhat ironically, in fact) that if your perception of yourself doesn’t line up with reality, changing your external habits can influence how you perceive yourself:
It’s weird enough that a phone on the next table at a restaurant might reduce the chances of two people hitting it off on a date. But the Swedish study points towards something weirder: not just that we’re subconsciously influenced by our environments, but that we infer our very sense of who we are from our behaviour. Normally, we assume things work the other way: that a person who thinks of herself as compassionate will therefore act compassionately. But “self-perception theory” proposes that the opposite’s also true: we observe our behaviour, then reach conclusions about who we are. “After purchasing the latte, we assume that we are coffee connoisseurs,” as the psychologist Timothy Wilson writes on edge.org. After returning the lost wallet, we conclude that we’re honest. In reality, many pressures shape our behaviour – maybe, Wilson writes, we “returned the wallet in order to impress the people around us”. But we conclude “that our behaviour emanated from some inner disposition”. Or we’re tricked into believing we answered a survey favouring one side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – and assume that must be our view.
In practice, this can be something as simple as getting a new wardrobe, or starting a new habit. Say, for example that you don’t feel very confident. Try working out. Get a piece of clothing that you think makes you look cool and start wearing it. Learn how to enter a room with confidence. The more you walk in the habits of confidence people, the more you’ll start to feel confident yourself.
Our perceptions of ourselves will probably never be perfect (and a little self-delusion can sometimes help). However, many of us go years without fulfilling our potential or trying new things because we simply don’t perceive ourselves as able. Or worse, we live with flaws because it never occurs to us that they’re problematic. If you don’t think you can go after your dream job, you’re worried you can’t attract that person you’re really into, or you simply lack confidence, the problem might not be your situation, but just your perception. Your ideas about yourself determine the course of your life, so don’t leave them to chance.
“There are pieces of ourself that we don’t dare bring into the world for fear that something bad is going to happen to us. So we try to get by, we try to pass, we try to play a role that’s acceptable. But then there comes a point in life where that divided life, that gap between who we really are and the face we put on to the larger world
Do you want to show up in the world with more of your true values and gifts, connecting with others in authentic ways?
In this short introduction to the vision of the Courage & Renewal approach, Parker J. Palmer, talks about how as human beings we are born whole, integral, with no distinction between what’s going on inside of us and what’s going on outside. As adults we may ask, “Whatever happened to me? How did I lose that capacity to be here as I really am?”
We have to find a way to build a bridge between our identity and integrity as adults and the work that we do in the world.
Whether you’re going through a low self-esteem phase in your life, or you just occasionally feel bad about yourself, it’s important to have some mental tools to help you recalibrate your thoughts so you can live with confidence and joy.
Here are 25 things to remember when you have low self-esteem…
This week’s top practical tips and techniques
Here is this week’s toolbox of the practical techniques that have especially caught our attention this week…
1. How is the work you’re doing, or the company you’re working for, aligned with who you are? Think about how your values and beliefs are aligned with the work you’re doing or the company you’re working for. Explore what attracted you to take the job in the first place. Really make sure you come up with some concrete answers on this one as this is the critical foundation for you learning to love your work. And I’m not taking “Nothing at my work is aligned with who I am”, as an answer. I want a list of at least five things. I guarantee you that you can find them if you look for them.
2. What is the positive impact you’re creating with the work you do, or by being a part of this company? Connect with the why behind your job (or your company). What kind of positive impact are you creating when you’re with your colleagues, or working with suppliers, or providing something to the end customer? Acknowledge that you’re a small but powerful piece in the bigger wheel which drives the world forward. Whatever you are doing right now is having an effect on someone in a good way (otherwise why would you be doing it?). Connect with that why and you’ll create a meaningful bond with your job that will be hard to break.
3. How is your work helping you to learn and grow as a person daily? You don’t need to be in a training workshop to learn and grow (though they do help, especially the Happyologist workshops ;). With every challenge, with every human interaction and with every email send you can learn something new – if you choose to do so. Life is the best teacher of all but only if you actually make time to reflect and digest the learning. Do this at work regularly and you’ll realise how much you’re learning whilst coming up with new ideas on how you could keep learning even more.
4. Who are the people in your work that you connect with in a way that they form a part of your tribe? Having friends at work is one of the key drivers of engagement in the workplace so make sure you make some friends if you haven’t got any. This doesn’t mean you have to force it. This is about getting to know your colleagues on a personal level. Who are they outside work? What do they like to do? What kind of holidays do they like to go on? You might find similarities that you didn’t even know existed and these similarities will help you create connections with your coworkers. Are you a self-employed entrepreneur without a team? Go out there and find other entrepreneurs who are looking for fun, ambitious people to brainstorm with – or simple have a drink with them. Our relationships are a key driver of our passion, happiness and fulfilment so making sure that these relationships exist through our work makes it easier for us to love what we do.
5. How do you use your natural strengths in a variety of ways in your work daily? Become more aware of how you are using your best, natural abilities at work in different ways. Own up to what you’re good at and play with these strengths in new ways to challenge yourself and to keep your days exciting. Make time to do what you do best daily and you’ll not only perform better but also enjoy your work more – and even learn to love it!
Unhappy employees spend only 40% of their time on task, according to research from iOpener. This means that unhappy employees are only working two days a week. Besides slowing down production and innovation, unhappy employees are sharing their negative perceptions with the rest of your workforce and consequently spreading discontent. No one enjoys working with a “Debbie Downer.” More importantly, no one enjoys being a “Debbie Downer.”
Building good will, showing genuine care and valuing employees should be a priority at every organization. Employees are responsible for their own happiness, but this does not preclude organizations from providing the tools, resources and culture that will inspire more joy at work. With that in mind, we have compiled a list of 10 books that offer advice, strategies and tips to help managers and employees improve workplace happiness.
If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two tongues and one ear. Mark Twain.
To succeed in today’s business world, we must be proactive, skilled listeners. Leaders who make themselves accessible for conversation and listen regularly are well informed of the goings on in their workplaces. They better understand others’ opinions and attitudes and are able to take this information into consideration when making decisions.
There are other benefits to listening well. One is demonstrating care. Effective listening conveys a sense that the we are interested in the person we are with, their thoughts, opinions and concerns. A leader also builds stronger commitment within others when people feel that she cares about them personally as well as in how they fit within the organisation.
Here’s what we can do to become better listeners and gain the feedback, confidence, support and buy-in that we seek…
Here is a great practical framework for making a coaching conversation that both keeps the other person actively in their own driver’s seat, and at the same time moves the thinking from creative thinking through reality checking and into next steps action…
V – Visualisation: The client should build a clear mental picture of the subject of the conversation, whether that be the solution to a problem, a goal to be reached, a decision to be made; whatever is relevant.
I – Insight: The client is invited to explore the causes or the purpose of what has drawn them to seek coaching.
S – Self-Awareness: At this point the client should be asked to recognise what their contribution to the issue might be. For instance, in the case of a problem, were they in fact contributory to the problem having arisen?
T – Thinking: This is the point of the conversation during which the self-exploration turns towards finding a solution. An exploration of how much they already know about how to find and implement a resolution.
A – Action: Once the client has recognised that they may have one or more possible avenues to explore in order to take themselves in the direction of the visualised result, the coach invites them to define steps and timetables to achieve the stated goal, thus putting the matter firmly in the hands of the client, and giving the coach a means by which they can hold the client accountable should that become necessary.
As models go, I rather like this one. It’s elegant, and it encourages the client to focus on themselves and their own ability to recognise and deal with issues. It doesn’t shrink from having the client accept responsibility not merely for the fix, but also for whatever lies at the root of the matter.
A set of terrific tips for making your presentations great from Gary Genard that remedy some of the worst guidelines that have taken a toxic hold of public speaking guidelines…
7. PowerPoint Prescriptions
You’ve probably heard this advice before: Use no more than 10 slides in a PowerPoint presentation. Don’t go longer than 20 minutes. No slide should have more than six bullet points. Use only six words per bullet point.
Instead of these ironclad rules, here’s what you should remember: Every time you speak, you need to tell a story. PowerPoint is a tool that can help you tell that story—but only if you use it as a visual tool and not a literary one…
6. Memorise Your Presentation So That Nothing Can Wrong
Everything will go wrong if you follow this advice! Your audience is hoping for a speaker who can share something you all have an interest in. For any talk to be interesting, the speaker needs to be fully present in the moment—not trying to retrieve information that was memorised in the past.
Write down key words and phrases to remind yourself what comes next in the talk you’ve outlined. Memorisation—which of course can fail—is a high wire act without a net.
5. Look At One Person for Each Sentence
Here’s another artificial prescription for public speaking effectiveness. The one-person-for-one-sentence rule is simply too rigid and metronomic for a speech or presentation.
That’s because we write in sentences, but we speak in ideas. An idea may take three sentences to express; or a single sentence may encompass three ideas. Just remember to include your entire audience at one time or another in your eye contact. That’s the simple and natural solution to connecting with everyone.
4. Start Out with A Joke
I once conducted group training in presentation skills for 11 vice presidents of a leading manufacturer. As part of the workshop, each executive gave a 10-minute videotaped presentation, and then received instructor and peer feedback. One of the participants told a 3 ½-minute joke at the start of his talk which, believe me, had nothing to do with his topic.
What was wrong with this? First, taking up a third of your presentation time with a joke is not a good idea. Worse is the fact that the joke was unrelated to his subject. When I asked why he’d made this choice, he said he once took a public speaking class and was told to always start out with a joke.
But jokes are dangerous. If you want to get an audience on your side, use some gentle humor and always be sure it’s related to what you’re there to talk about. A joke with a failed punch line will make you look foolish, which of course is a terrible way to launch your presentation.
3. Don’t Greet Your Audience
Some public speaking trainers suggest that you dispense with any sort of greeting. “Good morning,” “It’s nice to be here with you today,” and similar pleasantries should be banned in favor of a power opening that hits the audience immediately.
Banishing a greeting from your talk, however, is a mistake. Your greeting is the segment of your speech where you first connect with listeners. It’s the moment when you talk to people with nothing else—i.e., your topic—between you and them. It’s also when you express your personal pleasure at being there. Most important, it’s when you let the audience know you’re a trustworthy speaker because you have their interests at heart.
So say hello and indicate you’re pleased to be speaking . . . then give them that grabber that you know will seal the deal and open up their ears and their hearts.
2. Tell Them If You’re Nervous So They’ll Be On Your Side
Speakers sometimes think they can disarm an audience by announcing their nervousness before anyone notices it. But the even better news is they may not see it at all.
Most nervousness isn’t visible because it’s an internal state. When you tell people you’re nervous appearing in front of them, chances are they’ll look for signs of it from that point on. Why undermine your own credibility?
1. Imagine The Audience Naked Or In Their Underwear
Maybe you think differently from the way I do, but mentally undressing audience members isn’t going to do much to improve my focus and mindfulness. Instead, remind yourself that the people in this audience are the same ones you talk to effortlessly and without any self-consciousness in personal conversations. Speaking to them as a group is simply a wonderfully efficient way to get your message across to as many of them as possible.
So the next time you’re chatting with a friend on the street and someone taps you on the shoulder to offer public speaking advice, refer to the list above. You’ll be doing the world of your listeners a genuine service.
What is it about the middle that seems to suck away at our happiness?
This week’s headline research news reports a mid-life slump in our happiness levels in the West, which then progressively rise again from the age of about 55 on through to the rest of our lives. And in another research story looking at what really are the factors that contribute to high flying success for women leaders, Harvard Business School researchers point out a mid-career slump in optimism and ambition for women that is not experienced by their male counterparts.
Middle aged people suffer a huge decline in happiness, a new study has shown. The phenomenon discovered by the Lancet Global Health, however, only affects those living in the affluent West.
The study, which uses global survey data, found that western countries, including the UK and USA, experienced a dip in levels of life satisfaction between the ages of 45 and 55, with happiness levels rising again into old age.
The report used four years of Gallup World Poll data from more than 160 countries and covered more than 98 percent of the world’s population.
Professor Andrew Steptoe of University College London said that the reasons behind the dip were numerous and highly complex, but that there were potential explanations and many lessons to be learned.
Co-researcher Angus Deaton, of Princeton University, suggested that one reason for the dip in satisfaction could be the increased pressure to become financially successful during middle age.
“This is the period at which wage rates typically peak and is the best time to work and earn the most, even at the expense of present wellbeing, so as to have increased wealth and wellbeing later in life,”he said.
The results of the study further showed that levels of life satisfaction worldwide followed a predictable pattern depending on geographical location.
African countries experienced low levels of satisfaction, with sub-Saharan Africa facing prolonged and continually low results.
Other areas such as Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union saw a steady decline in satisfaction with age.
Despite being the most affluent geographical sector, the West was the only region which saw levels increase after a decline. The increase of satisfaction appears to coincide with the common retirement age, suggesting that the decrease in pressure to earn could contribute to rising levels of happiness in the elderly.
This new research report is interesting for lots of reasons:
Firstly it uses data from four years of Gallup research and includes 98% of the world’s population and the fact that we can now develop intelligence drawn from the experience of most of humankind is in itself is worth noting.
Secondly it’s author, Angus Deaton, wonders whether the midlife happiness slump for 45-55 year old Westerners his study has uncovered may be partly due to a peak of felt responsibility to earn at this stage of life, and thus show a connection between earnings and happiness at work that is far less apparent for other age groups.
Thirdly, this study points up Westerners as the only the group who show an increase in our happiness levels after a decline. The trend for African populations is to stay relatively low throughout their lives, and for Eastern Europeans to become less happier the older they get. The capacity that Westerners have to become happier again from the age of 55 and to keep getting progressively happier right through into our eighties is both wonderfully encouraging and compelling evidence that our happiness is not a fixed state and is influenced as much by our attitude to life as it is to our current circumstances.
And finally, this study highlights – superbly and once again – that our happiness is a complex dynamic quality of life that cannot be nailed down to any one or two factors. I am always pleased when this point is recognised because the more we try and boil down happiness into something simple, fixed and finite the more useless and even potentially harmful it becomes to us.
Of extra interest is the tangential finding this report references from a different study that suggests we British folk are genetically predisposed told the glums because of a short form of the gene responsible for producing serotonin, the neurochemical responsible controlling for the brain’s happiness levels. This contrasts with the Danes who seem to possess something closer to a happiness gene, and may perhaps help to explain why they routinely top the happiest country index.
This article reports the same story and presents its data in graph form, noting…
In a study published yesterday in The Lancet, Deaton and researchers from University College London, Stony Brook University, and the University of Southern California put the U-shaped curve in context by looking at the relationship between age and well-being across four different groupings: wealthy English-speaking countries, eastern Europe and former members of the Soviet Union, sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean.
Looking at data from the Gallup World Poll, which measured well-being in different countries, and the English Longitudinal Study, they found that not all patterns of well-being are created equal. While the U.S. and similar nations did indeed stick to the U-shaped curve, elsewhere around the globe, the relationship between age and overall life satisfaction looked markedly different…
A generation from now, however, the relationship between age and wellbeing—across the board—will likely look different still.
Continuing the mid-point slump theme – this research emphasises the extra need for women to work in an organisation that will encourage and support her development, especially because most women report lowered ambitions in their mid careers, unlike the men who start with high ambitions and tend to maintain high expectations throughout their careers. The research findings here challenge the advice being presented to potential women high flyers to hop-scotch their way up, company by company via high stake roles, and show instead that the majority of the (only!?!) 24 women who lead Fortune 500 companies have stayed a long time with the company they now head up, many starting in the lowliest of positions and working their way up.
Ambitious young women hoping to run a major business someday are often advised to take a particular career path: get an undergraduate degree from the most prestigious college you can, an MBA from a selective business school, then land a job at a top consulting firm or investment bank. From there, move between companies as you hopscotch your way into bigger roles and more responsibility.
That’s what we were told as undergraduates, and later on as students at the Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School. It’s what Meg Whitman did, more or less, and it’s what Sally Blount, dean of the Kellogg School of Management and the only woman running a top-ten business school, recently recommended: “If we want our best and brightest young women to become great leaders…we have to convince more of them that … they should be going for the big jobs,” which for her meant “the most competitive business tracks, like investment banking and management consulting.”
We decided to put our expensively honed analytic skills to work testing that advice by looking at the career paths of the 24 women who head Fortune 500 companies. What we found surprised us.
Most women running Fortune 500 companies did not immediately hop on a “competitive business track.” Only three had a job at a consulting firm or bank right out of college. A larger share of the female CEOs—over 20%—took jobs right out of school at the companies they now run. These weren’t glamorous jobs.
All told, over 70 percent of the 24 CEOs spent more than ten years at the company they now run, becoming long-term insiders before becoming CEO.
Even those who weren’t promoted as long-term insiders often worked their way up a particular corporate ladder, advancing over decades at a single company and later making a lateral move into the CEO role at another company.
The consistent theme in the data is that steady focus wins the day. The median long stint for these women CEOs is 23 years spent at a single company in one stretch before becoming the CEO. To understand whether this was the norm, we pulled a random sample of their male Fortune 500 CEO counterparts. For the men in the sample, the median long stint is 15 years. This means that for women, the long climb is over 50% longer than for their male peers. Moreover, 71% of the female CEOs were promoted as long-term insiders versus only 48% of the male CEOs. This doesn’t leave a lot of time for hopscotch early in women’s careers.
An immediate implication of the long climb is that for ambitious young women, company culture matters a lot. If a common pattern is to spend multiple decades advancing in a single environment, that environment had better fuel female ambition rather than stifle it. A recent Bain survey shows that while women in entry-level jobs have ambition and confidence to reach top management in large companies that matches or exceeds that of men, at mid-career, men’s ambitions and confidence stay the same, while those of women drop dramatically. A company capable of maintaining the drive of its women as they progress in their careers is a better bet for a long stint than one that allows the more common diminishing trend to occur.
It may be that the playbook for advising young women with their sights set on leading large companies needs to be revised. Just as important, there is something inspiring for young women in the stories of these female CEOs: the notion that regardless of background, you can commit to a company, work hard, prove yourself in multiple roles, and ultimately ascend to top leadership. These female CEOs didn’t have to go to the best schools or get the most prestigious jobs.
Huge congratulations to my friend and eLearning trainer colleague Pilar Ortion launching her new podcast series: 21st Century Work Life.
This very first episode includes some words I wrote about this subject, as well as Pilar’s own intelligent reflections on why happiness at work has come into importance and what this might mean for us. The second part of this podcast is a virtual coffee conversation between Pilar and Lisette Sutherland.
So, I think the fact that we’re starting to talk about Happiness at Work now makes complete sense. It also shows that our attitude to work is changing. Happiness and work just wouldn’t go together before we talked about things like finding your passion, being fulfilled at work and generally, just knowing that work can be something we enjoy if we have the right conditions.
But also, now, many of us feel like we can be a bit more in control at work. Like we can find information when we need it, like we can connect to others when we want to, not when luck throws us in the same room together. Technology is having a really important effect in our lives by facilitating connections (with others, with information) that we never dreamed we could find. So no wonder that now, we feel like we can control our levels of happiness, to a certain degree. There is still much luck involved, but maybe, just maybe, there are small things we can do here and there to make this world a better, or dare I say happier, place.”
Happiness relates to how we feel, but it is more than just a passing mood.
We are emotional beings and experience a wide range of feelings on a daily basis. Negative emotions – such as fear and anger – help us to get away from danger or defend ourselves. And positive emotions – such as enjoyment and hope – help us to connect with others and build our capacity to cope when things go wrong.
Trying to live a happy life is not about denying negative emotions or pretending to feel joyful all the time. We all encounter adversity and it’s completely natural for us to feel anger, sadness, frustration and other negative emotions as a result. To suggest otherwise would be to deny part of the human condition.
Happiness is about being able to make the most of the good times – but also to cope effectively with the inevitable bad times, in order to experience the best possible life overall. Or, in the words of the biochemist turned Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard: “Happiness is a deep sense of flourishing, not a mere pleasurable feeling or fleeting emotion but an optimal state of being.”
One popular misconception about happiness is that happy people are somehow more likely to be lazy or ineffective. In fact research shows the opposite is true: happiness doesn’t just feel good, it actually leads to a wide range of benefits for our performance, health, relationships and more.
For example, economists at Warwick University showed different groups of people either a positive film clip or a neutral film clip and then asked them to carry out standard workplace tasks under paid conditions. The people who were primed to feel happy were 11% more productive than their peers, even after controlling for age, IQ and other factors. Similarly, researchers at Wharton Business School found that companies with happy employees outperform the stock market year on year and a team at UCL has discovered that people who are happy as young adults go on to earn more than their peers later in life. In healthcare, doctors who are happy have been found to make faster and more accurate diagnoses, even when this happiness was induced simply by giving them the small gift of a sugary sweet. In education, schools that focus on children’s social and emotional wellbeing experience significant gains in academic attainment as well as improvements in pupil behaviour. Happiness has also been linked to better decision-making and improved creativity.
So, rather than success being the key to happiness, research shows that happiness could in fact be the key to success.
But it doesn’t just help us function better: happiness also brings substantial benefits for society as a whole. For example, a review of more than 160 studies found “clear and compelling evidence” that happier people have better overall health and live longer than their less happy peers. They are around half as likely to catch the cold virus and have a 50% lower risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or stroke. Happier people are also less likely to engage in risky behaviour – for example, they are more likely to wear seat belts and less likely to be involved in road accidents. Happier people are even more financially responsible, tending to save more and have more control over their expenditures.
But perhaps most importantly of all, people who are happier are more likely to make a positive contribution to society. In particular, they are more likely to vote, do voluntary work and participate in public activities. They also have a greater respect for law and order and offer more help to others. There is even evidence that happiness is contagious, so that happier people help others around them to become happier too. An extensive study in the British Medical Journal followed people over 20 years and found that their happiness affected others in their networks across “three degrees of separation”. In other words, how happy we are has a measurable impact on the mood of our friend’s friend’s friend.
When it comes to the happiness of society as a whole, however, the sad truth is that in recent decades we have become substantially richer but no happier. The positive benefits of higher incomes have been undermined by rising inequality and falling levels of trust and social cohesion. We’ve also reached the point where mental ill health is one of our greatest social challenges – causing more of the suffering in our society than either unemployment or poverty. This is why increasing numbers of policymakers and leaders are now calling for measures of progress to be based on human wellbeing and happiness, not just economic factors such as growth in GDP.
Here in the UK, the government has introduced a programme to measure national wellbeing, and influential figures – including former cabinet secretary Gus O’Donnell – are calling for wellbeing to become the overall measure of prosperity and the main guide to public policy.
This shift towards prioritising happiness is important because this also reflects what the majority of people want. In a YouGov poll commissioned by Action for Happiness, a majority (87%) of UK adults said they would prefer a society with the “greatest overall happiness and wellbeing”, rather than the “greatest overall wealth” (8%). The findings were consistent across all regions, age groups and social classes.
So happiness does matter – the scientific evidence is compelling.
The pursuit of happiness is not some fluffy nice-to-have or middle-class luxury; it’s about helping people to live better lives and creating a society that is more productive, healthy and cohesive. As Aristotle said: “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”
Of course, being happy is not some magical cure-all. Happy people still get sick and lose loved ones – and not all happy people are efficient, creative or generous. But, other things being equal, happiness brings substantial advantages.
Perhaps the most powerful insight of all comes, not from the research, but from the responses I’ve heard from many hundreds of parents when asking them what they want above all for their children. Nearly all say something like: “I really just want them to be happy.”
Things will always challenge a leader; after all, a leader creates the future.
No recipe exists explaining how to build the way forward. No secret formula has been written for the unknown, as a leader creates it as progress occurs.
A leader lives in a world of vulnerability, something painfully evident when a challenge comes out of seeming nowhere and stamps its presence in every thread of the organisational fabric: a government law with huge financial consequences; a competitor’s new strategy; a customer’s negative review — all have the propensity to put pressure to potential breaking point on the organisational bubble.
But with resilience, the pressure from those events will never burst it completely
Resilience is to a leader as resourcefulness is to Richard Branson. So what conditions must exist for leaders to apply the concept of resilience?
Inner confidence and positivity about themselves and the future, for one. This allows any pressure to be circumstantial, matched or even negated. A positive attitude towards pressure allows it to be welcomed as an invitation to find new ways for change — it becomes just another source of reflection and learning.
The American author Bruce Barton says it so well: “Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dared to believe that something inside them was superior to circumstances”.
That inner confidence and the ensuing resilience can influence others to follow, and with an army tagging along no amount of pressure will ever be able to take hold. Resilience is also about staring down the barrel of challenge, and so a balanced approach and a good state of mind will minimise risk of an explosive response. When the source of agitation has become a source of learning, balanced perspective and even hope become possible.
Many leaders find it easier to be resilient in times of change when they feel they have control over their life; they have a healthy work-life balance in place and plenty of personal time. Nothing can faze the leader who is both grounded and balanced. Resilience, when combined with optimism, ensures no pressure will destabilise completely.
Resilient leaders seem to live in the world accepting that we ourselves can’t possibly predict what’s right or wrong, so it is best to move ahead, knowing that the pressure could result in myriad solutions — meaning we become the creators of the future. Take, for example, an inefficiency in a business that is having a draining effect. Resilience allows this inefficiency to be viewed as a sign that something else is trying to happen in the business system and there would be no better time than now to explore that. An open-minded environment is one that will see things not for what they are but for what they can be.
On the other hand, a closed-minded environment will become stuck in what is, as it is argument-based, divided into camps of right and wrong.
Environments open to possibility can separate the issue from the emotion, gaining clarity first and foremost to what the issue is. This does not mean that no mechanism exists for the emotional side, it means it does not cloud future possibility. If a leader has been made redundant, resilience shines through when that leader is observed almost immediately going into another direction — creating something that was not possible in the past environment, perhaps choosing to channel her entrepreneurial spirit into her own business.
With resilience there’s just no way for a leader to be derailed; the inner push is simply too powerful to allow any source of external agitation to have a permanent detrimental effect.
We have noticed in our learning and development work with organisations over the last several years that the word ‘collaboration‘ seems to have completely replaced what we used to call team working, and is now the main word for all group activity at work. I am not convinced this is always – or even often – what we really intend, and the word could use some stronger interrogation before we hurl around the room to the people we are about to work with.
Executive coach, Mary Jo Asmus agrees – offering this clarification…
Three words that begin with “C” broadly describe the types of interactions and relationships you may have with others. On a continuum, they look like this:
Competition ◊ Cooperation ◊ Collaboration
Collaboration is a step above cooperation, and it’s rarer than hen’s teeth. When people collaborate, they give up their own vested interests for the greater good (often the greater good is fostered by a “compelling vision” of the future). They’re driven to work through their differences to achieve a goal while trying to understand other’s viewpoints, being open and genuinely willing to change their minds. The stakes may be high, but such people are able to collaboratively bust through barriers to reach the end goal.
If you look hard enough, you may see “moments” of true collaboration in your organisation, but it generally doesn’t happen as often as it should. It takes time, effort and ongoing attention by a leader to make collaboration work.
True collaboration is a powerful way of making great things happen. Listening for understanding, co-creating the way forward with all interested parties, and a willingness to sometimes let go of deeply held beliefs can make collaboration part of the culture.
Not to mention that collaborative work can be great fun and seem almost magical for those involved.
Strategic planning has been under assault for years. But good strategy is more important than ever. What does that mean for the strategist?
Achieving real impact today requires strategists to stretch beyond strategic planning to develop at least one of a few signature strengths. Several important facets of the strategist’s role emerged from our research, including reallocating corporate resources, building strategic capabilities at key places in the organization, identifying business-development opportunities, and generating proprietary insights on the basis of external forces at work and long-term market trends. A number of these roles are more appropriate for some strategists and organizations than for others. But the core notion of stretching and choosing is relevant for all.
Since 2010 we’ve sensed, in our work with a wide range of global organizations and strategists, a growing recognition that traditional strategic-planning processes are insufficient to absorb the shocks and disruptions characterizing their markets and to stimulate the ongoing deliberation that a top-management team requires. Increasingly, they recognize a need to rethink their approach to strategic planning and to embrace a more frequent strategic dialogue involving a focused group of senior executives.4Effective organizations seem to be transforming strategy development into an ongoing process of ad hoc, topic-specific leadership conversations and budget-reallocation meetings conducted periodically throughout the year. Some organizations have even instituted a more broadly democratic process that pulls in company-wide participation through social-technology and game-based strategy development.
These experiences are consistent with our own findings. We’ve found that companies that consider themselves “very effective developers of strategy,” and that enjoy higher profitability than their competitors, for example, are twice as likely to review strategy on an ongoing basis (as opposed to say annually or every three to five years). They are, for instance, twice as likely to have a corporate-strategy process that goes beyond the aggregation of business-unit strategies.
Our research also supports one of our major observations about what it takes to innovate in the development and delivery of strategy: over and over, we’ve seen that the chief strategists best at driving more dynamic approaches have a professional credibility that extends well beyond a traditional process-facilitation role. At the same time, we’ve seen tremendous diversity in the characteristics of effective strategists. In a quest for greater precision, we applied statistical cluster analysis to the 13 facets that chief strategists responding to our survey described as most important to their efforts. The analysis yielded five clusters in which the strategist’s role becomes more than the sum of its parts. Widespread across industries, these clusters embody choices that face every strategy leader:
Our Five Chief Strategist Archetypes
The Fund Manager
The complexity of today’s strategic landscape places a premium on good strategy. And just as crafting strategy requires tough choices, so does shaping the role of the strategist. The good news, according to our research, is that strategists have a range of powerful options for adding value to their organizations, and nearly 90 percent of the strategists responding to our survey thought they were effective at the elements of the role they prioritized. The bad news is that over time it’s easy for mismatches to develop between those areas of focus and a company’s strategic needs. By identifying those mismatches and reprioritizing accordingly, strategists, chief executives, and other members of the top team can boost the quality of their strategic insights and actions.
Despite being tagged as a “positive addiction,” workaholism has negative consequences for employees and employers alike.
Being a workaholic is bad for employers and employees alike, damaging one’s health, happiness, and interpersonal relations, according to a new study.
The meta-analysis, published in the Journal of Management, used existing data to relate the causes and effects of workaholism, a term coinedby American psychologist Wayne Oates in 1971.
In a culture that glorifies workaholism, some researchers go so far as to call it a “positive addiction,” according to Malissa Clark, lead author, assistant professor of industrial and organizational psychology at the University of Georgia.
Workaholism is not defined by hard work itself. It is when one’s need to work becomes so excessive that it inevitably interferes with personal health and happiness, interpersonal relations, and social functioning. The quality of work is not relevant, but it is the act of working, itself, that defines workaholism.
Clark refers to this as the difference between workaholism and work engagement. “One is feeling driven to work because of an internal compulsion, when there’s guilt if you’re not working—that’s workaholism,” she said. “The other feeling is wanting to work because you feel joy in work and that’s why you go to work everyday, because you enjoy it. And I say that is work engagement.”
The study revealed that other aspects of a workaholic’s life are negatively affected by this behavior—such as stress level, health, and relationships—which ultimately causes one’s productivity to suffer as well.
“My prior research has shown that workaholics experience negative emotions, both at work and at home. Similar to other types of addictions, workaholics may feel a fleeting high or a rush when they’re at work, but quickly become overwhelmed by feelings of guilt or anxiety,” she said. “Looking at the motivations behind working, workaholics seem pushed to work not because they love it but because they feel internal pressure to work. This internal compulsion is similar to having an addiction.”
The next generation of workers inspire hope that the workaholic culture will not last, said Clark, making way for a more family-friendly culture. She noted that millennials tend to “care more about work-family balance than previous generations,” which could mean that in the future, more companies will promote a healthy work-life balance over working too hard.
“Happier people are more successful, more creative, energetic, resilient,” says the founder of Happy Brain Science, Scott Crabtree. “They work better together. They absorb more information. They have more tools in their tool belt to help them handle whatever life throws them. They are healthier, they live longer—and they show up at work more often.”
There’s a common assumption, he says, that you will be happy when you are successful. But the reverse is actually true, and not just anecdotally. Hard neurological science supports the idea that happy people have more capacity to succeed. And beyond that, that happiness is not a genetic mandate, or a product of circumstance. It’s a choice.
Crabtree boils this choice down into three opportunities for change that can make people happier, and are also the building blocks of high performance:
1. Achieve greater flow and engagement by structuring your goals, making them meaningful and aligned to your strengths (and then avoid multitasking)
2. Prioritise people
3. Practise positivity (you can retrain your brain to maximise your happiness advantage)
Twelve simple everyday routines to change to live a happier life, including not slouching when we walk, not taking pictures of everything, less procrastination, less multitasking, more exercise, more sleep, more time alone and more conversation…
This week’s headline articles include words of wisdom about happiness from a billionaire, from happiness at work scientists and from people like you and me figuring out what happiness means and how to make it through the challenges and encounters of their everyday lives.
The Anne-Marie Rodriguez Radio Show – featuring Mark Trezona
And the really exciting news for me is that Anne-Marie Rodriguezhas invited me to be one of the expert guests, with wellbeing expert and trailblazer Nic Marks and Adrian Pancucci from ORSCC, in the launch programme of her very first brand new weekly radio show exploring ways for people to create working lives worth living.
We are slowly developing our own Golden Triangle to pinpoint the three sources of wisdom about happiness:
The New Science of Happiness
Loudest of all at the moment is the clarion call of the burgeoning new science of happiness that is sprouting exponentially from diverse fields including positive psychology, neuroscience, biology, economics, and contemporary organisational and leadership practices.
Old Wisdom from our Past
But these are built from a strong and long historical framework of older wisdom that extends as far back as our human story. For as long as we have been human we have wondering and thinking and writing about what happiness means and how we can be happier. And, whether or not we continue to believe in their tracts and tenets, our old philosophies and religious teachings are written into our DNA and continue to inform how we define and understand and reach for happiness today.
Lived-Through Personal Wisdom
And then there is another much less visible but equally reliable and important source of knowledge that we all draw from to understand and learn about happiness, and this is the practical lived-though personal experience of happiness that every single one of us knows something important about from our daily enactment of being alive and human. Happiness is individually experienced and understood and for each one of us it will mean something unique and particular. The surer we trust our own understanding about happiness the greater we can draw from the other two sources in ways that will be be meaningful and relevant for ourselves. And whatever we derive from the new science of happiness or the older heritage from our past thinkers, its real potency and value comes when we apply it into the practice of living our lives.
These three sources of wisdom about happiness are inextricably, interdependently and synergistically connected:
without the intelligence from the new science of happiness we deny ourselves its vitality of the fresh oxygen of the new knowledge about what it means to be human it gives us;
without the older wisdom from our history we lose its foundations and the solidity, universality and deep insights our past gives us about what how to live a truly good life and to live well and happily with each other;
and without the same care, attention and legitimacy for our everyday wisdom we lose our way to put what we learn to work, to develop our mastery and weave ourselves the incremental, iterative aspirational tapestry that continually learning to be happy makes of our daily lives.
In the film, Four Chambers, Imanuel Goncalves has gathered together four everyday stories that movingly illustrate the wisdom of everyday people making extraordinary choices, offering us intelligence that we cal all draw from in our own encounters and aspirations along the path of becoming happier.
And here is a summary of the other articles you will find in the rest of this post, all taken from this week’s new Happiness At Work edition #115 collection…
If you are still doubting whether happiness is really a force to be reckoned with, this week’s news about the new What Works Centre for Wellbeing that the UK government is launching next Spring is clear evidence of their continued undertaking to take our happiness seriously and make it more influentially and centrally closer to the heart of policy and economic decision making. The new centre will initial be led by Lord O’Donnell, who last year published an international study that cited meaningful work as one of the key drivers for happiness, along with mental health, social support and the physical environment, so we dare to hope that this will have positive benefits for our working lives as well as our wider environmental and society conditions.
We know from research across a variety of contexts that inequality one of the greatest destroyers of happiness. The greater our sense of unfairness, the greater our unhappiness. This is as much a mounting challenge for our societies as it is for our organisations, and in The Consequence of Unfair Workplace, Art Markman advocates the need for shifting the terms of engagement between us and our organisations away from a ‘contract’ and towards more a ‘covenant’ – which my Collins Dictionary defines as ‘a binding agreement’ from the Latin convenire meaning ‘to come together and make an agreement.’
…companies do not engage in agreements with a group of strangers. Instead, they create a neighbourhood in which everyone understands the role they play to help the company to succeed in its vision…A covenant is what allows employees to feel like they are part of something bigger then themselves. They are engaged in working toward a significant future. People with that level of engagement put in the level of effort that is required to allow that vision to become reality, regardless of what the letter of an employment contract might say.
When the organisation does things that seem unfair…people ask whether they are truly part of a community. They begin to wonder whether the organisation really deserves a covenant. And at these times, people may begin to revert back to the letter of the contract they signed rather than the spirit of the vision of the organisation.
Jessica Pryce-Jones found compelling evidence about the importance of perceived fairness in her research with more than 9,000 people from around the word. Writing about organisational culture, one of The Five Drivers for Happiness At Work, she highlights:
Performance and happiness at work are really high when employees feel they fit within their organisational culture. Not fitting in a job is like wearing the wrong clothes to a party—all the time.
It’s hugely draining and de-energising.
If you’re in the wrong job, you’ll find that the values mean little to you, the ethos feels unfair or political and you don’t have much in common with your colleagues. What’s interesting about our data is that employees like their organisational cultures a lot less than they did in pre-recession times: in particular “generation Y-ers” or “millennial” workers really don’t seem to like what they’re experiencing at work.
So any business which wants to attract and retain top young talent and find the leaders of tomorrow, needs to start addressing this issue today.
To best develop Gen Y leaders, organisations need to understand their deep desire for personal and professional development. In The Hartford’s 2014 Millennial Leadership Survey, Millennials said employers can most demonstrate their investment in them as a future leader by offering training and development (50%), a clear career path (35%), and ongoing coaching and feedback (34%).
by Whitehall Editor, The Independent, Wednesday 29 October 2014
Increasing national well-being is to be put at the heart of Government policy-making, ministers will announce today, with the establishment of a new centre to measure the impact of policies on people’s happiness.
Two years ago the Office for National Statistics began publishing the first data on national wellbeing as part of its Integrated Household Survey. Now the Government is to set up a centre to assist Whitehall policy-makers assessing whether Government initiatives are likely to improve or diminish the happiness of those they affect and the wider society.
The plan is that eventually all decisions from building a third runway at Heathrow to best approaches to cut crime should be subjected to a well-being assessment in much the same way as they are assessed for economic impact.
The new What Works Centre for Wellbeing will launched by next spring and will initially be led by the former Cabinet Secretary Lord O’Donnell.
Last year he published an international study that identified mental health, meaningful work, loneliness and the physical environment as some of the key drivers of happiness or unhappiness often overlooked by policy-makers. The centre will initially develop a methodology for assessing wellbeing in policy terms before commissioning work designed to assess the impact of specific interventions to help improve quality of life.
Lord O’Donnell said that for too long Government had tended to use the blunt measurement of increasing GDP to assess the success of the country when actually it was unconnected with people’s general happiness.
“The ONS recently re-assessed the level of the UK’s GDP upwards by including things like illegal drugs and prostitution,” he said. “But they don’t measure things like volunteering which we know have a tremendously positive impact on wellbeing.
“So you could have a society where everyone gave up volunteering and took up crack dealing and prostitution and that society would have a much higher GDP growth rate. That’s crazy.”
Lord O’Donnell added that whatever methodology that was used would have to take account of the fact that some decisions could have a beneficial effect on the happiness of some people but a detrimental effect on others. For example an extra runway at Heathrow could increase the number of direct flights to different destinations – reducing hassle for travellers. But at the same time it would increase noise levels for those in the vicinity.
The new centre will be supported by an initial £3.5m grant with from other organisations.
The Cabinet Secretary Sir Jeremy Heywood said it was “vital” that the Civil Service had the capacity to ensure that decision-making was supported by “high-quality evidence”.
“We are using evidence and behavioural insights to drive real change across government. The What Works Centre for Wellbeing is the latest step in embedding evidence-based policy-making across government.”
…When the morale of an organisation suffers, it is important for leaders to think about things they may have done that would push employees from thinking themselves as neighbours to thinking of themselves as strangers. At those times, it is important for leaders to hold out an olive branch and to do what they can to welcome disgruntled employees back into the neighbourhood.
Bad things happen to good people. Projects begun with the best of intentions and developed with people’s full effort can still fail. And, in some organisations, people are not always rewarded equally for the same level of work.
Why does this matter?
A Contract vs. A Covenant
We generally think of business as something done by contract. I sign a contract with my employer that states my responsibilities, and the company makes an agreement about how I will be compensated for that effort.
The thing is, contracts are agreements that are designed for strangers. If I don’t know you very well and you don’t know me, then a contract is great. It stipulates exactly what you will do for me and what I will do for you, and the legal system enforces the letter of the contract.
But, companies do not function if they run only contractually. A good company has a mission to build a great product or to provide a first-rate service. That company has to succeed today and to look forward toward an innovative future. It is not possible to enumerate all of the tasks that go into making this company succeed.
And so, good companies do not really have contracts with their employees. They have covenants.
A covenant lays out the vision of the company’s future. Employees agree to give their effort collectively to create that future, and the company agrees to support their employees through compensation, benefits, training, and the creation of a fair work environment.
In this way, companies do not engage in agreements with a group of strangers. Instead, they create a neighbourhood in which everyone understands the role they play to help the company to succeed in its vision.
And that is where fairness comes in.
A covenant is what allows employees to feel like they are part of something bigger then themselves. They are engaged in working toward a significant future. People with that level of engagement put in the level of effort that is required to allow that vision to become reality, regardless of what the letter of an employment contract might say.
But, when the organisation does things that feel unfair, it causes people to question why they are part of this community. If upper management is compensated far more than rank-and-file employees, even in economic downturns, it creates a sense of unfairness. When one person is promoted despite the presence of other people who seem more deserving, it creates a sense of unfairness. When projects that people have worked on for a long time are cut without explanation, it creates a sense of unfairness.
That feeling that the situation is unfair leads people to ask whether they are truly part of a community. They begin to wonder whether the organisation really deserves a covenant. And at these times, people may begin to revert back to the letter of the contract they signed rather than the spirit of the vision of the organisation.
For example, teachers and nurses will often engage in a “job action” when they are involved in contract disputes. In those situations, the employees believe they are being treated unfairly. So, they only perform the duties they are contractually obligated to perform. Teachers arrive exactly when they are required to and leave as soon as they are able. They do not engage in extracurricular activities or stay late to help struggling students. The community suffers, because the teachers have gone from treating the workplace as a neighbourhood to treating it as a collection of strangers.
That is why it is so important to think about fairness.
When the morale of an organisation suffers, it is important for leaders to think about things they may have done that would push employees from thinking themselves as neighbours to thinking of themselves as strangers. At those times, it is important for leaders to hold out an olive branch and to do what they can to welcome disgruntled employees back into the neighbourhood.
“We’re here to talk about happiness. Happiness at work.”
The words sound so flaky; “happy clappy” and “happy hippy” ping into my mind even though the numbers tell their own story.
We’ve all had to face and deal with a very different working world, especially since the financial crisis and ensuing recession.
Data which we’ve gathered since 2006, shows that people everywhere feel less confidence, motivation, loyalty, resilience, commitment and engagement.
And whether your local economy is in a state of boom or bust, employees are experiencing similar pressures and bosses can only squeeze until the pips squeak for so long.
But imagine a mindset which enables action to maximise performance and achieve potential in these tough times. At the iOpener Institute for People and Performance, we understand that this is another way of describing happiness at work.
Our empirical research, involving 9,000 people from around the world, reveals some astonishing findings. Employees who report being happiest at work:
Stay twice as long in their jobs as their least happy colleagues
Spend double their time at work focused on what they are paid to do
Take ten times less sick leave
Believe they are achieving their potential twice as much
And the “science of happiness at work” has big benefits for individuals too. If you’re really happy at work, you’ll solve problems faster, be more creative, adapt fastest to change, receive better feedback, get promoted quicker and earn more over the long-term.
So how can you get to grips with what it’s all about?
Our research shows that there are five important drivers that underpin the science of happiness at work.
This is about what you do, so it’s made up of some of the core activities which happen at work. Like having clear goals, moving positively towards them, talking about issues that might prevent you meeting your objectives and feeling heard when you do so.
You’ll do all this best when you feel appreciated and valued by your boss and your colleagues. So it’s not just about delivering: it’s about doing that within collaborative working relationships too.
Here’s what Daniel Walsh, executive vice president at one of the world’s leading transport and logistics organisations Chep, said about his insight into the value of his colleagues’ contributions:
“I was very task-focused and goal-oriented early in my career and I delivered significant deals. But afterwards it would take a few weeks to mop up the wreckage because I was more gung-ho than I needed to be. I had a meeting with my mentor who said, “look this has got to stop. You’re delivering fantastic results but you’ve got to take people with you.
“Now I try to create an environment where people feel their opinions or views matter and I appreciate what they bring to the table. I can’t do my job on my own.”
This is the short-term motivation both in good times and bad. That’s the key point: keeping going even when things get tough, so that you maintain your energy, motivation and resources which pull you through.
Key to doing this is feeling that you’re resilient, efficient and effective. In fact, our data clearly shows that we’re much more resilient than we are aware but we’re much less aware of how variable our motivation is and how to manage it.
Actively deciding to do this can make a huge difference.
As Adam Parr, CEO of Williams F1 said, “a driver who gets out of a car when it’s spun off or he’s been hit and it’s all gone horribly wrong and reminds himself that he’s privileged to do the work and there’s a job to be done—that takes him to another level.”
Performance and happiness at work are really high when employees feel they fit within their organizational culture. Not fitting in a job is like wearing the wrong clothes to a party—all the time.
It’s hugely draining and de-energizing.
If you’re in the wrong job, you’ll find that the values mean little to you, the ethos feels unfair or political and you don’t have much in common with your colleagues. What’s interesting about our data is that employees like their organizational cultures a lot less than they did in pre-recession times: in particular “generation Y-ers” or “millennial” workers really don’t seem to like what they’re experiencing at work.
So any business which wants to attract and retain top young talent and find the leaders of tomorrow, needs to start addressing this issue today.
Commitment matters because it taps into the macro reasons of why you do the work you do. Some of the underlying elements of commitment are perceiving you’re doing something worthwhile, having strong intrinsic interest in your job and feeling that the vision of your organization resonates with your purpose.
We’ve seen commitment decline for the majority of employees post-recession as leaders and organizations think that tuning into this soft stuff is a waste of time.
It’s how you enable your employees to understand why they should make a greater discretionary effort for you. What is important is to recognize that the five factors work as an ecosystem.
That means if one of the five drivers isn’t functioning well, the others will be affected. For example if you don’t feel high levels of commitment, it’s likely that your contribution will be affected. When contribution goes down, conviction, especially the motivation part of it, tends to go down with it. And that obviously has an effect on your confidence too.
Confidence is the gateway to the other four drivers. Too little confidence and nothing happens: too much leads to arrogance and particularly poor decisions. Without greater levels of self-belief, the backbone of confidence, there will be few people who’ll take a risk or try anything new. And you can’t have confident organizations without confident individuals inside them.
Here’s what Dr Rafi Yoeli, founder of Urban Aeronautics, the leading Israeli fancraft aviation entrepreneur said:
“We’ve built a flying machine that’s half way between a Harrier jump jet and a helicopter. We work very differently here, it’s organic engineering. You need a high level of curiosity and of expertise if you’re going to make something extraordinary. And you need an even higher level of confidence to put it together.”
And finally, understanding what makes you happy at work and how that affects your performance offers a whole new way of managing yourself, your career and your opportunities.
Caroline Ceniza-Levine: What prompted you to write a book specifically on leadership for Gen Y?
Lindsey Pollak: …I [partly] wrote this book because I am frustrated by the common portrayal of Millennials as “entitled,” narcissistic and overall a “lost” generation. I believe very strongly that today’s young people have tremendous potential, but they do need some guidance on “soft skills,” such as face-to-face communication, work ethic and professional patience. This book is my attempt to provide that guidance and support this huge generation of out world’s future leaders.
Ceniza-Levine: On the subtitle of ‘New Rules’: Are there rules that apply to Gen Y specifically as opposed to X and Boomer leaders? How is Gen Y leadership different?
Pollak: I do believe we need new leadership rules today, but they are not replacing the classic rules; they are additive. We are living in a time of massive generational change, with the enormous (76 million strong) baby boomer generation finally giving way to the enormous Millennial generation (80 million strong). (I’m a member of Gen X, the tiny 46-million member generation sandwiched between these two.). While there are tons of great leadership books written by and for the older generations — and I have an entire chapter of the book dedicated to reviewing the classic books and concepts any new leader should know — I believe Millennials are leading in different times and also see the world in a different way.
Ceniza-Levine: What can X and Boomer leaders learn from these New Rules? What should X and Boomer leaders know to best develop Gen Y high potential leaders?
Pollak: There are many tips in the book that are relevant to any leader of any generation today. For example, leading people virtually (through Skype, instant message and other technologies) is a new leadership competency.
To best develop Gen Y leaders, organizations need to understand their deep desire for personal and professional development. In The Hartford’s 2014 Millennial Leadership Survey, on which I collaborated, Millennials said employers can most demonstrate their investment in them as a future leader by offering training and development (50%), a clear career path (35%), and ongoing coaching and feedback (34%). Leadership is a learnable skill and if we want the next generation to be great leaders, we have to teach them how to do it.
Ceniza-Levine: In your research for the book, what’s a surprising fact you learned that may not have been in your initial hypothesis?
Pollak: Great question! I was most surprised by the percentage of Millennials who already view themselves as leaders today, whether or not they hold a traditional leadership or management role. According to the same survey mentioned above, 83% of Millennials consider themselves to be a leader in some aspect of their lives — work, community, family, sports, etc. I knew Millennials were a confident group, which is terrific, but this number is much higher than I anticipated.
If, as Pollak highlighted, leaders today need to navigate multiple generations, know how to lead via new technologies and prioritize professional and personal development for themselves and their teams, what are you doing towards these ends?
Are you regularly networking with people outside your generation, including adopting a reverse (younger) mentor if needed?
Are you staying updated with the latest technology (holding your next meeting on GoogleGOOGL +1.02% Hangout, perhaps)?
Are you blocking time out on your schedule (and your team’s schedules) for professional and personal development?
What are you doing to ensure your leadership capacity is in sync with today’s marketplace?
He also runs his own blog where he often shares his thoughts on business and life in general.
On Tuesday, Ma wrote on his blog how work happiness could be achieved with a simple change in mindset.
While resting at an airport in Alaska in a small, simple room, I watched the night shift employee Jennifer. In just ten minutes, she and my colleague discussed the influence of genetics on disease and her own unique take on the influence the earth’s rotation has on atmospheric warming.
Off to the side, I was shocked by her level of knowledge, so I curiously asked about her background. She was a geneticist from the American south, she knew how to fly a helicopter, was over 50 years old, and had three kids. She came to work in this small, polar town after her husband’s work transferred him here. She said she had already worked at that customer service desk for nine months, and she laughed: “I like this job because I don’t have to think too much, it’s simple and pleasant.”
Happiness at work comes from your own attitude. There are always people who can find happiness even in their tedious, repetitive jobs, and yet others are always dissatisfied regardless of how important and interesting their jobs are.
A good job isn’t something you go out and find, it’s something you discover while you’re working.
Four Chambers is an extraordinary film about life and living it to the full.
Imanuel Goncalves explores four life affirming and uplifting stories about compassion, courage, vision and wonder. Featuring the viral sensation, “The Cab Ride I’ll Never Forget”, wisdom and insight from the world’s top neurosurgeon Ben Carson, and the unforgettable stories of 5 year old Austin, and the horses of Greatwood, Four Chambers could change the way you see the world forever.
…if you know Myers-Briggs Personality Types this is an excellent resource to adapt your influencing approach to best match the people you want to connect with from, from ‘staying strictly logical with ESTJs’ to ‘always acknowledging good work from INFPs…
…three measures that can help both employees and leaders who have to deal with a controlling boss who is clearly stuck in the ‘this is the way things are done around here’ mindset to ensure that they are able to promote growth and collective success in their organisation.
Psychologist and leadership consultant Kathy Kramer on what makes great leadership these days…
“Leaders do not realise how important they are in driving the change. They have a ripple effect that they often underestimate. People follow people, not just great ideas. Leaders have to put themselves into the equation – you are as important if not more so than any other strategy. People need to look at you, hear from you, and they need to know how much they matter.”
…an really useful searchable, downloadable resource of free online resources in a database containing 500 of the most popular webpages, writings, articles and pieces written on positive psychology. Worth filing away in your library of resources…
I hope you find plenty here to enjoy and use to your own happiness advantage.
This week’s featured Happiness At Work articles highlight a clutch of articles that offer us some down-to-earth tools and techniques for being and staying happier.
These include how to manage our emotional intelligence, our time and work-life balance when we are feeling especially stretched, how to be better at stopping and smelling the roses, and how to enhance your state of being in flow – those best moments when we feel at the frontier of our abilities, playing to our strengths and doing our finest work. Plus some tips on how to jumpstart employee happiness in your organisation, and some reasons why we now need to be teaching the new science of happiness in our schools.
No matter how much you love what you do, striking a balance between work and your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing is essential. Studies have repeatedly shown that happy workers are more productive workers, so keeping up stable relationships with friends and family, making time for fulfilling activities, and taking a break from work is key to maintaining a quality of life that serves you and your employer best.
To maintain your happiness and keep your wellbeing in check, Melody Wildings hares her strategies to stay balanced and stress-free, courtesy of The Muse.
1. Communicate with your boss
Even if you choose to embrace the extra work and additional responsibilities as a challenge and way to grow your skill set, it’s important to communicate with your boss about expectations such as deadlines and the duration of the project. Be sure you’re both aware of when the craziness will start to wind down, whether the project is on schedule, and any potential roadblocks that could arise.
Not only will having this information help you feel in control of your workload, it will actually help you control the process. With full knowledge of your boss’ expectations, you can step in when things aren’t moving along to suggest a change in direction, and you’ll be able to weather surprises (like the project getting extended for an extra week) with grace and ease.
2. Create a morning and a bedtime routine
Research shows that following a morning routine can help get your day off to a productive start—and that good feeling can boost your mood throughout the rest of the day.
Create a routine around a daily morning practice, such as meditating or waking up a half-hour early to get work done before ever checking your email. By sticking to this morning after morning, you’ll automatically begin your workday on a positive note, with a sense of accomplishment.
Then, at the end of the day, make a point to go to bed at the same time each evening (more or less), and designate some time beforehand to wind down by reading, jotting down tomorrow’s to-dos, or another calming routine that isn’t in front of a screen. Engaging in a nighttime ritual signals to your body it’s time for bed, and clearing your mind before bed also helps calm your nerves, which improves sleep.
3. Move your body (even a little)
Exercise is often one of the first things to go when work gets crazy, but its stress-reducing benefits make it even more important to incorporate during demanding times in your life.
If there’s no way you can squeeze in your normal gym routine, think of smaller ways you can get the blood flowing, like changing up your commute to walk or bike to work, YouTube-ing a short yoga or abs routine that you can do at home, or even just spending 10 minutes stretching when you wake up. Physical activity is proven to reduce stress and can help calm you down when you’re amped up—which will help keep you sane during marathon workdays.
4. Set Aside Quiet Time
When it feels like you’ve signed your life over to your company or clients, carving out some time for yourself is essential to stay grounded. Whether you squeeze in time to call a friend or just sit and decompress sans electronic devices, designating uninterrupted time (however short!) to clear your head can work wonders for your mood and will help you to think more clearly when things are moving fast.
Try getting in early to take advantage of the empty office, or, if most days you’re starved for a peaceful moment, pop on some headphones and jam out to your favourite Spotify station on the way to work. Or, taking lunch away from your desk—especially if you can find a quiet park or courtyard—is a great way to de-stress.
5. Make Room for Creativity
Making time for creative expression—whatever that looks like for you—will help stay centered when it feels like work is taking over your life. Creativity is cathartic: It allows you to channel stress, anger, resentment, or whatever other negative emotions you may be holding onto in a productive, healthy way.
So, be sure you’re still making time to sing your favorite jam in the shower, write posts for your blog, or send your mom a thoughtful card in the mail, no matter how busy things are in the office. Yes, there is always one more thing on your to-do list and you can always find more reasons to work, but if you don’t pause to take a timeout, you’ll stop being productive.
Finally, when it seems like all you do is work, do your best to maintain perspective. It can be helpful to remind yourself that the stress will not last forever, and in the meantime, you have plenty of resources to cope with the stress and take back control of your life.
Making time for yourself amid the dozens of other demands on you is what will help reset your balance—and what will make you a better employee and happier person in the long run.
Here are six keys to increasing your emotional intelligence:
1. The Ability to Reduce Negative Emotions
Perhaps no aspect of EQ is more important than our ability to effectively manage our own negative emotions, so they don’t overwhelm us and affect our judgment. In order to change the way we feel about a situation, we must first change the way we think about it. Here are just two examples:
A. Reducing Negative Personalisation. When you feel adversely about someone’s behaviour, avoid jumping to a negative conclusion right away. Instead, come up with multiple ways of viewing the situation before reacting. For example, I may be tempted to think my friend didn’t return my call because she’s ignoring me, or I can consider the possibility that she’s been very busy. When we avoid personalizing other people’s behaviors, we can perceive their expressions more objectively. People do what they do because of them more than because of us. Widening our perspective can reduce the possibility of misunderstanding.
B. Reducing the Fear of Rejection. One effective way to manage your fear of rejection is to provide yourself with multiple options in important situations, so that no matter what happens, you have strong alternatives going forward. Avoid putting all of your eggs in one basket (emotionally) by identifying a viable Plan B, and also a Plan C, should Plan A not work out. For example:
Increased fear of rejection: “I’m applying for my dream job. I’ll be devastated if they don’t hire me.”
Decreased fear of rejection: “I’m applying for three exciting positions. If one doesn’t pan out, there are two more I’m well qualified for.”
Most of us experience some level of stress in life. How we handle stressful situations can make the difference between being assertive versus reactive, and poised versus frazzled. When under pressure, the most important thing to keep in mind is to keep our cool. Here are two quick tips:
A. If you feel nervous and anxious, put cold water on your face and get some fresh air. Cool temperature can help reduce our anxiety level (1)(2). Avoid caffeinated beverages which can stimulate your nervousness (3)(4).
B. If you feel fearful, depressed, or discouraged, try intense aerobic exercises. Energize yourself. The way we use our body affects greatly the way we feel (5)(6). As the saying goes – motion dictates emotion. As you experience the vitality of your body, your confidence will also grow.
3. The Ability to Be Assertive and Express Difficult Emotions When Necessary
“Being who we are requires that we can talk openly about things that are important to us, that we take a clear position on where we stand on important emotional issues, and that we clarify the limits of what is acceptable and tolerable to us in a relationship.”
― Harriet Lerner
There are times in all of our lives when it’s important to set our boundaries appropriately, so people know where we stand. These can include exercising our right to disagree (without being disagreeable), saying “no” without feeling guilty, setting our own priorities, getting what we paid for, and protecting ourselves from duress and harm.
One method to consider when needing to express difficult emotions is the XYZ technique – I feel X when you do Y in situation Z. Here are some examples:
“I feel strongly that I should receive recognition from the company based on my contributions.”
“I feel uncomfortable that you expect me to help you over my own priorities.”
“I feel disappointed when you didn’t follow through when you told me you would.”
Avoid using sentences that begin with “you” and followed by accusation or judgment, such as “you are…,” “you should…,” or “you need to….” “You” language followed by such directives put the listener on the defensive, and make them less likely to be open to what you have to say.
4. The Ability to Stay Proactive, Not Reactive in the Face of a Difficult Person
Most of us encounter unreasonable people in our lives. We may be “stuck” with a difficult individual at work or at home. It’s easy to let a challenging person affect us and ruin our day. What are some of the keys to staying proactive in such situations? Here are three quick tips:
A. When you feel angry and upset with someone, before you say something you might later regret, take a deep breath and count slowly to ten. In most circumstances, by the time you reach ten, you would have figured out a better way of communicating the issue, so that you can reduce, instead of complicate the problem. If you’re still upset after counting to ten, take a time out if possible, and revisit the issue after you calm down.
B. Another way to reduce reactivity is to try to put yourself in the difficult individual’s shoes, even for just a moment. For example, consider the person you’re dealing with, and complete the sentence: “It must not be easy….”
“My child is being so resistant. It must not be easy to deal with his school and social pressures…”
“My boss is really demanding. It must not be easy to have such high expectations placed on her performance by management…”
To be sure, empathetic statements do not excuse unacceptable behavior. The point is to remind yourself that people do what they do because of their own issues. As long as we’re being reasonable and considerate, difficult behaviors from others say a lot more about them than they do about us. By de-personalizing, we can view the situation more objectively, and come up with better ways of solving the problem.
C. Set Consequence.The ability to identify and assert consequence(s) is one of the most important skills you can use to “stand down” a difficult person. Effectively articulated, consequence gives pause to the difficult individual, and compels her or him to shift from violation to respect. In my book (click on title) “How to Communicate Effectively and Handle People,” consequence is presented as seven different types of power you can utilize to affect positive change.
5. The Ability to Bounce Back from Adversity
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
— Michael Jordan
Life is not always easy. We all know that. How we choose the way we think, feel, and act in relation to life’s challenges can often make the difference between hope versus despair, optimism versus frustration, and victory versus defeat. With every challenging situation we encounter, ask questions such as “What is the lesson here?” “How can I learn from this experience?” “What is most important now?” and “If I think outside the box, what are some better answers?” The higher the quality of questions we ask, the better the quality of answers we will receive. Ask constructive questions based on learning and priorities, and we can gain the proper perspective to help us tackle the situation at hand.
“Abraham Lincoln lost eight elections, failed twice in business and suffered a nervous breakdown before he became the president of the United States.”
— Wall Street Journal
6. The Ability to Express Intimate Emotions in Close, Personal Relationships
The ability to effectively express and validate tender, loving emotions is essential to maintaining close personal relationships. In this case, “effective” means sharing intimate feelings with someone in an appropriate relationship, in a manner that’s nourishing and constructive, and being able to respond affirmatively when the other person does the same.
A person’s “heart withers if it does not answer another heart.”
— Pearl Buck
Psychologist Dr. John Gottman calls the expression of intimate emotions “bidding.” Bidding can be any method of positive connection between two people desiring a close relationship. For example:
Verbal bidding: “How are you doing?” “How are you feeling?” “I love you.” “I appreciate you.” “I like it when we talk like this.” “I’m glad we’re spending this time together.” “you’re such a good friend.” “I’m sorry.”
Body language bidding: positive eye contact, hugging, smiling, patting the elbow, arm around the shoulder.
Behavioral bidding: offering food or beverage, a personalized card, a thoughtful gift, a needed favor. Empathetic listing. Engaging in shared activities that create a closer bond.
Dr. Gottman’s research reveals that close, healthy relationships bid with each other in ways large and small up to hundreds of times a day. The words and gestures can be a million variations, all of which say, in essence, “I care about you,” “I want to be connected with you,” and “you’re important in my life.” Constant and consistent bidding is crucial in the maintenance and development of close, personal relationships. It’s the vitamin of love.
Why is that we tend to be more successful at pursuits we are genuinely passionate about? Why does time seem to drag when you are completely bored and uninterested in a task? How come you can easily lose yourself in a task that really piques your interest?
According to positive psychology, doing things that you find genuinely interesting and stimulating can put you into a state Flow, which is defined as an ‘optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.’ During flow, self-awareness and the ego can dissolve, meaning you become completely focused and immersed in the activity for its own sake. Flow has been linked to enhanced performance and creativity across a wide range of activities, such as sports, artistic pursuits, and even in the workplace. Perhaps you can visualize a time when you became so focused and passionate about something that time just dissipated?
WHAT DOES FLOW FEEL LIKE?
Psychologically, riding a state of flow can feel incredibly pleasing and liberating. As we immerse ourselves in an activity that stimulates our passions, curiosity and interests, we lose track of the world around us and can enter unusual states of creativity and productivity.
According to psychologist Mikhal Csíkszentmihályi’s landmark book Finding Flow, the feeling of flow is associated with these ten factors, although not all of them need to be present to experience it. Have you ever experienced some or all of these?
You feel a complete focus of attention
The activity is intrinsically rewarding
You have clear, attainable (although still challenging) goals
You have a feeling of peace and losing yourself
There is an element of timelessness, or, losing track of time during the activity
You receive immediate feedback
You know that the task is doable, and you can strike a balance between skill level and the challenge presented.
You feel a sense of personal control over your efforts
You lose track of your physical needs.
You experience an unusually high level of concentration
WHAT DOES FLOW LOOK LIKE IN THE BRAIN?
A variety of processes occur simultaneously in the brain when we enter a state of flow. Essentially, these processes are threefold and together they help explain why during flow, the brain is capable of enhanced creativity and productivity: Transitions in brainwaves, deactivation of the prefrontal cortex, and changes in neuro-chemistry.
Brain Wave Transitions:
While in a state of flow, our brainwaves transition from the more rapid beta waves of waking consciousness to slower alpha waves, and even to the border of much slower theta waves. Alpha waves are associated with relaxed and effortless alertness, peak performance and creativity, while theta waves are associated with the deeper dream-state consciousness and experienced predominately during REM sleep.
Pre-Frontal Cortex Deactivation:
During flow states, the Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC) becomes deactivated in a process called “transienthypo-frontality.” The PFC is the area of the brain that houses higher-level cognitions, including those that help us to cultivate our ego and sense of self. During a flow state this area becomes deactivated, helping us lose ourselves in the task at hand and silence our criticisms, fears and self-doubts.
Flow states also trigger a release of many of the pleasurable and performance- inducing chemicals in the brain, including dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine and endorphins. A recent study shows that when are intrinsically curious about an outcome and driven for answers, dopamine is released in the brain, helping to solidify our memories. These findings suggest why flow states are good for promoting learning and memory in addition to creativity.
EIGHT STEPS FOR ENHANCING YOUR STATE OF FLOW
In addition to being a pleasurable and productive experience, riding the flow also has a host of other benefits to well-being including increased self- esteem, self-confidence, life satisfaction and overall happiness. Here are eight steps for enhancing your state of flow:
Do something that interests you.
Flow comes most naturally when we are intrinsically motivated, excited and curios about the task. So if you are looking to get creative and productive, choose to focus on a task that you enjoy and already feel passionate about. If this is for work, or you don’t have a choice of the task, try to identify elements of the tasks that excite you. Maybe there are certain parts of project or elements of an assignment that interest you? Pay special attention to those.
Set Clear Goals.
Be specific when you are getting started on a task. What is the goal you are aiming for? Are you trying to finish a painting? Write a new song? Complete a presentation? Or perfect a new yoga pose? This will help to hone your focus and keep you on task. If you try to do too much it could overwhelm you, and if you do too little you might not spend enough time in deep concentration to reach a flow state.
Find A Quiet and Productive Time.
Most people find that an environment of peace and quiet works best for inducing a state of flow, possibly because of how brainwave patterns shift into slower frequencies during flow. When you begin your work, try to cultivate a calm, quiet environment. Also, make sure to identify when you are most productive: For some, this is first thing in the morning, and for others it is afternoon. For me, it is late at night. Identify the right time for you to be creative and block it off to engage in your flow time.
Avoid Interruptions and Distractions
Interruptions are the nemesis of flow. Every time get distracted, whether it is a roommate speaking to us, our phone beeping, emails coming in, a distracting song, or a messy desk, it can pull us out of flow and quicken our brainwaves to beta state. When you decide it is time to get into flow, turn off the phone, ask your friends, family or roommates not to disturb you, and tidy up your work space before you get started.
Focus as Long as you Can:
Once you are able to sit down during a quiet productive time without distractions, try to stay focused for as long as you can. At first, especially if you are new to the task, you may only be able to focus for five or ten minutes. This is OK: Just keep practicing! As you continue to direct your energies to focusing, you will train your brain to more easily and fluidly drop into the flow state and before long, hours will be passing by like minutes.
Match Your Skills to the Task
We can best enter flow when we are working on a task that is suited to our skill level. In other words, when we are well prepared for the task at hand, we are more likely to experience flow. Csíkszentmihályi gives the example of a runner experiencing flow during a marathon for which she has trained for several months.
But There is No Harm in Stretching Your Skills Slightly
Your skills should match the task at hand, but it is also possible to stretch your skills slightly past your comfortzone to maximize flow. A little bit of a challenge can be a great thing. So perhaps you are trying a new yoga move that is extra difficult. Or you are recording a song using new software. As long as the background skills are there, pushing yourself a little bit can be excellent for bringing you into a concentrated, productive state.
Emphasize Process, Not Outcome
Finally, please remember that the experience of flow is a PROCESS, not an outcome. In other words, working and creating from a place of flow is a life skill that you can strive to master with practice, and this usually does not happen overnight. Just keep trying and do not give up even if you don’t nail it right away. Remember, flow is all abut enjoyment and living in the present moment. If you become to wrapped up in the outcome, then it can take your enjoyment away. Who really cares what the painting looks like, so long as you enjoyed painting it right!? Just keep trying and continue to be open to the creativity flowing through your space
Brooks, director of the Austin Psychology and Assessment Center, says our thoughts are like a river. When we’re thinking about what we need from the store, the river is calm, but when we’re having negative thoughts–worrying about a presentation, for example–the current becomes more turbulent.
Mindful people–those who live in the present–can step back and stay on the riverbank, watching their current of thoughts and not getting swept away by their content.
Meditation fosters mindfulness, but the practice seems difficult in today’s world of constant stimulation: “People think the goal of meditation is to empty the mind,” says Brooks. “It’s not about clearing the mind; it’s about focusing on one thing. When the mind wanders, the meditation isn’t a failure. Our brain is like a wayward puppy, out of control. Catching it and putting it back to the object of focus is the mediation.”
Brooks says meditating is like exercise; a full workout is preferred, but there is value in short bursts.
“Research shows that a total of 15 minutes of meditating each day for several weeks produces detectable, positive changes in the brain as well as corresponding reductions in stress, anxiety, and an enhanced sense of well-being,” says Brooks. “You can get the benefits of a formal meditation practice by weaving mini-meditations into your daily life.”
He offers six ways you can effortlessly incorporate meditation into your daily life:
1. WALKING MEDITATION
While walking your dog, taking a hike, or simply getting the mail, focus your attention on one item, such as the sound of the cicadas, the feel of the ground beneath your feet, or the color of the tree. When the mind wanders, catch it and return to your original focus.
“Research has found that just being in nature reduces stress,” says Brooks. “We weren’t meant to sit in cubicles all day and when we disconnect from nature, we suffer a lot of stress.”
2. RED LIGHT MEDITATION
While stopped at a red light, turn off your radio and focus on deep breaths. When your mind wanders, go back to your breath.
“Breathing meditation is one of the easiest because it’s always with us and exists in the present moment,” says Brooks. “You can’t listen to yesterday’s breath.”
3. RUNNING/CYCLING MEDITATION
If you run or bike, leave your headphones at home and focus on the experience.
“Tune into a physical sensation, such as the ground beneath your feet, the wind in your hair, or the warmth of the sunlight,” says Brooks. “Choose one item and maintain your focus. Don’t jump mindlessly from one sensation to another.”
4. EATING/DRINKING MEDITATION
As you eat or drink, focus on the various flavours, textures, and sensations of the particular food or drink. Drinking a cup of tea or enjoying a piece of chocolate can be a form of meditation, says Brooks.
“Savor what you have in the moment,” he says.
5. WAITING MEDITATION
While in line, observe your breath or surroundings. Use the time to do some inner observations. For example, are your muscles tense? Are you cold or hot?
“It is important that when you do the observations, you do them without judgment,” says Brooks. “If you’re in the supermarket checkout line, for example, avoid judging people for what they have in their shopping carts. Observe and notice without opinion.”
6. TASK-RELATED MEDITATION
You can also incorporate mindfulness meditation into daily activities, says Brooks. For example, washing your hands, folding laundry, taking a shower, washing dishes, or brushing your teeth can serve as mini-meditations if you focus on the experience and stop your mind from wandering.
“Focusing on what’s happening now pulls us out of our river of thoughts,” says Brooks. “The benefit of meditation is that when something in the real world comes up, we’re much better at catching our thoughts instead of getting swept into their current.”
The workplace happiness trend is sweeping through corporate America, but overhauling a company culture is no easy task. Businesses big and small share their most effective strategies
Companies of every size and in every industry have whole-heartedly embraced the idea that happy employees are more productive, and that engaging employees in a company’s mission is one of the best ways to ensure success. But let’s face it: not everyone is Etsy, with an entire team devoted to such endeavors, or Bank of America, with a budget for extensive sociometric studies of its workplace, and even fewer could justify the sort of investment Google makes in attracting and retaining top talent.
Fortunately, it’s not an all-or-nothing endeavor. According to Alison Davis Blake, dean of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, there are myriad ways for companies to pick and choose the positive business strategies that best suit their size, industry and particular needs. Here are five strategies some of the world’s most successful businesses have deployed to help them not only hire employees that are a good fit, but also keep them engaged over the long term.
Step one: consider your culture
If the idea of re-engineering your company’s culture sounds overwhelming, consider the case of Mercedes-Benz, which had to figure out how to accomplish the task across a geographically distributed franchise dealer network with more than 25,000 employees.
“How do you build a strong culture, especially with an organization like ours, which has 3,000-plus employees and then a dealer network wherein each organization has its own initiatives and agendas?” said Gareth Joyce, the automaker’s vice president of customer experience. Tasked with improving customers’ experiences across the brand, Joyce knew he needed to start with the employees that interacted with those customers daily.
“You have to create a vision for people to follow, and once you succeed in doing that, you have to tell the story, again and again,” he said. “Eventually the story begins to feed itself. People start to feel good about what they’re doing. If you know what your purpose is and you start to see the connection between what you’re doing every day and the company’s vision, you see that you’re making a difference. Then tomorrow you want to get up and do more of that.”
The first step in that process for Mercedes was giving each employee access to the company’s product. “We got them into a Mercedes to take home, to show their families, their wives, their kids, their boyfriends and girlfriends, so that they could say: ‘This is the brand I represent. This is what I take pride in,’” Joyce said. “If they haven’t experienced it themselves, how are they going to sell it to anyone else with any passion?”
Next, the company created a culture survey that it regularly administers to both corporate and dealer employees. Mercedes provides one day of consulting to each of its dealers to go over the results of the survey and turn the information into action, which then gets evaluated in the next survey.
Instead of using software or IT tools, “we’ve opted for a people-centered approach because we think that goes straight to the root: if you get your people behind what you’re doing, it takes you further, faster than any other approach,” Joyce said.
Ari Weinzweig, co-founder of online food seller Zingerman’s, puts it simply: “If you want customer service to be better, give better service to the staff.”
Step two: rethink hiring
Once your company has set its culture and vision, the next step is thinking really carefully about who you hire, Blake said. She recommends evaluating candidates not just for skills, but also for temperament and fit.
“The problem is that hiring tends to be based on attraction bias – I like people who are like me – which has nothing to do with features that are relevant to the sort of firm you want to build,” she said.
This approach to hiring, sometimes called “attribute-based,” is growing more popular for companies of all sizes. In some cases, companies are ignoring resumes, references, and even the traits traditionally associated with success in a particular role, and opting instead to look at the attributes that make employees successful (and likely to stick around) in their particular culture.
It requires a bit more planning and potentially a lengthier interview process, but figuring out which attributes work well in a specific company and role – and documenting those traits – is helping businesses to get better talent and keep it. ATB Investor Services, a mid-size financial advisor firm in Alberta, Canada, for example, saw its turnover rate drop and sales increase when it adopted this approach.
“It doesn’t cost any money to be more disciplined in hiring – in fact it costs less in the long-term because you make fewer errors,” Blake said. “Companies should think carefully about not only a candidate’s skills, but also their attitude about work, attitude about the role of business in general, about the company’s products and so forth, and be intentional about writing that stuff down.”
This is especially important for small businesses, which often have loose hiring practices, she said. “Smaller firms will often say ‘we don’t need HR; we don’t need all that bureaucracy,’” she said. “But mission-aligned, culture-aligned hiring is important for companies of any size.”
Step three: increase performance reviews
The idea of conducting more performance reviews doesn’t sound like something that would catch on, but more and more companies are doing just that. The idea is simple: only giving employees and managers one chance a year to sit down and talk about what does and doesn’t work all but ensures that things will slip through the cracks. It doesn’t give managers time to improve an employee’s performance, nor does it give employees time to raise important issues. The result is typically higher-than-necessary turnover rates.
Instead, some companies are opting to conduct quick weekly surveys that not only help the companies deal with issues but also help employees pass good ideas up the management chain regularly. Luke Ryan, a spokesperson for 15Five, which provides performance review software used by eyewear brand Warby Parker, software company Citrix Systems and invention website Quirky, says the idea is to “create ‘trickle-up’ communication, to surface ideas and problems on a weekly basis”.
Other companies have created their own performance review processes, incorporating input from employees and external HR experts. Australian software company Atlassian conducted a year-long program aimed at replacing its performance-review process – a standard bi-annual, 360-degree review – with something that took less time and did a better job of engaging employees.
In a blog post about the project, Joris Luijke, the company’s vice president of talent and culture, wrote: “Twice a year, the model did exactly the opposite to what we wanted to accomplish. Instead of an inspiring discussion about how to enhance people’s performance, the reviews caused disruptions, anxiety and de-motivated team members and managers. Also, even though our model was extremely lean and simple, the time investment was significant.”
In the end, the company created its own new process, which has since been duplicated by hundreds of other companies. It got rid of the scale associated with performance reviews, and replaced bi-annual review meetings with monthly check-ins. Atlassian managers were already meeting weekly with their employees, so the company decided to devote one of these weekly meetings per month to a broader conversation about performance, with a different focus area each month.
Eventually the company discovered and began using software from Small Improvements to manage this process, joining several other companies, including social media company Pinterest, ride-sharing company Lyft and home décor business One King’s Lane.
Step four: be transparent
Transparency is often discussed in terms of how a company communicates with the public, but even companies that have transparency down pat in their external communication can falter with internal transparency.
There are, of course, companies that manage to be transparent in the extreme: Zingerman’s Deli, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for example, opens its books to every single employee. Digital payment infrastructure company Stripe, based in San Francisco, has a famously open email policy wherein all email is internally public and searchable. And social media app Buffer has made its internal salary formula public, along with all employee compensation packages, as part of its commitment to the “radical transparency” CEO Joel Gascoigne says is intended to “breed trust, the foundation of great teamwork”.
But even companies that are either unwilling or unable to be completely open could benefit from a bit more transparency with their employees.
“A lot of public companies in particular are worried about legal and financial issues with opening up their books, but they could still be transparent about their operations and some aspects of the finances and reap the benefits,” says Wayne Baker, who teaches open-book finance at the Ross business school.
Baker cites Whole Foods Markets and Southwest Airlines as large, public companies that use a modified form of open-book finance to help keep their employees engaged.
Step five: empower employees
In addition to educating employees about the company’s mission, it’s important for executives to find ways to empower their employees to contribute to that mission in every way they can.
Mercedes’ Joyce sees this as critical to the success of his company’s customer service goal of delighting customers. Mercedes’ internal brand program, MB Select, provides a framework that gives employees who have direct customer contact the flexibility to do what they deem necessary to keep those customers happy.
“In that moment, where the customer is right in front of someone, and they see that something is going in a direction it shouldn’t be, you have to empower people to act,” Joyce said, describing MB Select as a “no-rules program”. “It’s about saying to our employees, ‘we trust you to do the right thing’ and enabling them to truly wow a customer in the moment.”
For Zingerman’s Weinzweig, it’s not just about making employees feel empowered but also about doing what’s best for the business.
“Why wouldn’t you want to tap into all the intellectual and physical capabilities of your staff?” he said. “People are smart and they want to do good work. Our job is to create an ecosystem in which that’s ever more likely and to create processes that encourage them to use that intelligence, and a system in which they have agency so they’re not helpless victims of some big corporate entity.”
A Trinity College researcher says students need to develop resilience, by focusing on their strengths.
Jolanta Burke believes not enough attention is paid to what makes children happy in the Irish curriculum, and yet it has a huge bearing on how well they perform in school.
Ms Burke, a psychologist and PhD researcher at Trinity College’s School of Education, believes we should embed positive psychology in the Irish curriculum. She has been advising guidance counsellors on how to use it in schools and says teachers should also receive training.
Positive psychology is defined by Jolanta Burke as the “science of well-being”.
“Until now, psychologists in schools have tended to focus on students with problems. They focus on the students’ weaknesses and how they fall apart.
“Positive psychology looks at the school differently. We look at the top students and learn from them as much as possible, so that we can help the majority of students become better. Rather than focusing on the weaknesses of students, we focus on their strengths.”
The psychologist is keen to emphasise that this is not a “happy clappy” approach, where children are told how wonderful they are.
“It is not about building up self-esteem. That was a mistake among the 1970s generation of parents. They tried to blow up their child’s sef-esteem by telling them how fabulous they were and that they could do anything. That is actually not good for a child because it reduces their resilience.”
The positive psychology programmes in schools place a strong emphasis on developing character strengths and encouraging resilience.
Jolanta Burke believes resilience can be encouraged in three ways:
• children can be taught to bounce back after disappointments – for example, if they fail exams
• they can be taught to build up a shield that protects them from hurt in certain situations
• kids can learn how to keep going and the importance of perseverence when facing up to the challenges in life
The psychologist says perseverance and an attitude of not wanting to give up are hugely important when it comes to performance in schools.
“You might have a talent for music, but unless you are prepared to put the effort in, it can be wasted.”
While Jolanta Burke does not believe in inflating self-esteem, she wants to encourage more positive emotions and a more optimistic outlook.
“An optimistic way of thinking is very important. I am doing research on bullying at the moment, and it is associated with a pessimistic thinking style.
“Adolescents who think optimistically believe adversity is temporary, and that it affects only one aspect of their lives, and they do not tend to blame themselves for the situation.
“Those who are pessimistic believe adversity is permanent and affects all aspects of their lives and that they themselves are to blame. We try to get students to think more optimistically, and this can reduce depression and anxiety.”
This week’s headline theme considers self-mastery: what is it, how is it integral to our learning and our success, and how might we strengthen and develop greater self-mastery?
It is said that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at anything. That’s the the equivalent to the hours spent over five years in a full-time job. And although this number as an absolute is hotly debated, as you will read in the stories below, the fact remains that the more time we spend practising anything the better we get at it, and the better at something we want to become the more time we better be prepared to put into it.
This is good news for those of us who are are not-so-very-young anymore and have plenty of hours doing what we do already on the meter. But what does it mean for learning something new…?
Well, certainly practice, if not making us perfect, is needed to progress us closer towards our ideal state. And practice demands great amounts of self-discipline, determination, willpower, self-belief, perseverance, self-regulation, stamina, optimism, self-reliance and resilience – perhaps summed up best by Charles Handy in his book The New Alchemists as the three essential qualities of successful entrepreneurs: Drive, Doggedness and Difference.
Notice the repeated emphasis on the self in these essential capabilities. More and more self-mastery is becoming one of the essentials for our 21st century work and lives.
Nice word but what is it and how can we develop it?
He titled his ideas The Fifth Discipline to underscore the necessity of Systems Thinking, and if, for Senge, Personal Mastery was not the most important, he made it the his first and arguably the one upon which all the others then depend upon and build out from.
We have developed his ideas to extend into individual capabilities with resonance for everyone one of us, and here then is what we can learn about self-mastery from Senge’s model for deliberate continuous learning and adaptation:
Personal Mastery ~ learning to expand our personal capacity to create the results we most desire; continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision and focusing our energies; developing resilience and searching out a wider reality; knowing what ‘playing to our strengths’ means and being willing and able to act differently from our natural style and preferences to better match the demands of the situations we face.
Mental Models ~ learning to expose our internal assumptions and beliefs about the world, to bring them to the surface and hold them rigorously to scrutiny; being able to unveil and communicate the assumptions inside our thinking, making our thinking open and porous to influence from others. This discipline enables us to recognise our different mindsets and change them to more helpful when we need to.
Shared Vision ~ building a sense of shared purpose and commitment with the rest of our group by unearthing the collective pictures of the ideal future we hope to create, and the principles, values and practices by which we hope to get there. Knowing why what we want is necessary and compelling and has worth and meaning outside our own self-interests.
Team Learning ~ discovering and expanding what we know through the act of listening to each other, using dialogue to suspend assumptions and genuinely ‘think together’ and Emotional Intelligence (EQ) to transform our conversations into collective learning so that our group can reliably create intelligence and capability greater than the sum of its individual parts.
Systems Thinking ~ a way of thinking about the forces and interrelationships that shape the behaviour of our system, and a language for describing this to each other. This discipline enables us to look out for the consequences of our choices and actions, to see how to change systems more effectively, and to use all of the disciplines together as an ensemble in order to act in tune with the larger processes of our natural, social, and economic ecosystems.
Linked closely to these ideas and amplifying their importance for both ourselves and the people and organisations we work with is the idea of Achieving Potential, also the top-line outcome from having high level happiness at work. And our thinking about what this means is inherited from Maslow’s hierarchical model of different level needs, and places Self- Actualisation – achieving our fullest potential – at the pinnacle of his pyramid.
What follows is a number of articles that have been collected in this week’s new Happiness At Work #edition 110 that add different ideas, insights, and guidance for building this increasingly crucial capability of self-mastery.
“Courage, hard work, self-mastery, and intelligent effort are all essential to successful life.”
– Theodore Roosevelt, former US president.
What do you think when you hear the term “self-mastery”? You might picture someone like a martial arts master – calm, focused, and in control at all times. Or, maybe you imagine people who have their lives planned, and are in control of their own future.
Do you show these traits on a regular basis? Do you feel in control of your career and your goals? Or, like many people, do you feel that you should take more control of your actions and emotions?
In this article, we’ll examine what self-mastery is – and we’ll look at what you can do to develop it within yourself.
What is Self-Mastery?
When you have developed self-mastery, you have the ability to control yourself in all situations, and you move forward consciously and steadily towards your goals. You know your purpose, and you have the self-discipline needed to do things in a deliberate, focused, and honorable way.
Think about people you know who don’t have any self-mastery. They’re probably impulsive and rash. They might let their emotions control them, yelling at colleagues when they’re angry, and then being overly polite to make up for this later. They’re unpredictable and, as a result, people see them as untrustworthy.
When you demonstrate self-mastery at work, you prove to your colleagues that you have the inner strength and steadiness needed for effective leadership. So it’s well worth the effort to invest time developing self-mastery. You’ll likely become a happier, more balanced person – and you’ll find that opportunities arise because of this.
Self-mastery is a broad term that covers many aspects of your personal and professional life. Developing self-mastery can mean working on many of these areas. (If so, it may be best to focus on one or two areas at a time, so you don’t become overwhelmed.)
Look at the following areas of your life to develop self-mastery:
Self-mastery starts with a vision of how you want your life to be.
Think about people you know who have incredible self-discipline. Chances are that they know exactly where they want to go in life, and this vision gives them the strength to get there.
This is why it’s so important to start with a clear vision of your short-term and long-term objectives. Learn how to set personal goals, and get into the habit of moving towards these goals every day. The clearer you are about what you want to achieve in life, the easier it is to move forwards calmly and confidently.
2. Attitude and Emotion
Your attitude and emotions play a major role in self-mastery. Those who show strong self-mastery don’t let their emotions control them – they control their own emotions.
Focus on something positive every day. Be grateful for things, even if these are just things like that fact that you do a job you enjoy, or that the weather is beautiful on your drive to work. Having gratitude and a positive outlook will set the tone for the rest of your day.
Resist the temptation to blame yourself when things go wrong.Self-sabotage is a quick and cruel way of stopping yourself from reaching your true potential. If you find that you’re undermining yourself, consciously make yourself stop. Instead, think of something positive and encouraging.
You can also change negative thinking with cognitive restructuring. Write down the situation that is causing your negative thoughts. Next, write down the emotions you feel, and list the “automatic thoughts” you have while experiencing these emotions. Then, list the evidence that supports these negative thoughts, and the evidence that refutes them. Finally, list some fair, balanced, objective thoughts about the situation.
Being able to manage and control your emotions helps you buildemotional intelligence. This is your awareness of others people’s needs and emotions, and your knowledge of how your own emotions affect those around you. Those who have good self-mastery are always aware of others, and they work hard to make sure that their emotions don’t negatively impact other people.
Think about how many times you’ve set a goal and, for one reason or another, never followed it through because of lack of willpower or self-control. It’s happened to all of us, and we probably felt ashamed or disappointed that we didn’t achieve what we wanted.
Willpower is an essential part of self-mastery. It’s what pushes you forward to take action, even if you’re feeling scared or hesitant. Willpower is also what keeps you moving towards your goals in the weeks or months ahead.
To boost your willpower, make sure you have both rational and emotional motives for what you want to achieve. For example, if your goal is to stop surfing the web in work time, a rational motive could be that it’s against company rules, while an emotional motive could be that other people will lose respect for you when they see that you are not working hard.
For many of us, willpower comes in short bursts and is often strongest when we first decide to make a change. So, use your initial burst of willpower to change your environment, so that it supports your efforts to reach your goal.
For instance, imagine that your goal is to improve your self-confidence at work. At the beginning, when your willpower is strong, you could focus on changing the environment in your workplace by making a list of everything that hurts your self-confidence. You could also create a plan for overcoming those obstacles, and post items and affirmations in your office that provide reminders about your goal.
After a week or so, you might find that your willpower is not as strong. But, because you changed your environment, you’re better prepared to continue working towards your goal, because you have a foundation already in place.
Improving focus is also key to self-mastery. For instance, how much time do you waste during your work day? How much time do you spend on the Internet, talking casually with colleagues, or getting coffee? What could you accomplish if you fully used the hours available to you?
Start by working on your concentration. Focus on one task at a time, and slowly increase your level of focus.
At first you may find that you can’t concentrate on a task for more than one hour at a time, before you get tired anddistracted. Try to increase this to two hours by adding 15 minutes of focused work every day. This will allow you to strengthen your focus to two-hour stretches – and then even more, if that’s what you need to get things done.
Achieving self-mastery takes time and hard work, but it’s definitely worth the effort.
It’s best to work on one or two areas at a time. Start by identifying your life and career goals. Then, focus on maintaining a positive attitude during the day. Also, try not to let negative emotions impact anyone else.
Other strategies, like building your willpower and strengthening your focus, will help ensure that you keep moving forward toward your goals – while further building self-mastery.
Research shows that only 20% of people achieve anything close to their true potential. I recently sat down with Shirzad Chamine, who believes he has identified exactly why most of us do not reach out true potential, and what we can do about it. In his New York Times Bestseller Positive Intelligence, Shirzad distills his groundbreaking research on the ten well-disguised mental Saboteurs that hold people back, and how you can overcome them. He shares the key to improving your performance at work and feeling happier and less stressed in as little as 21 days. Does this sound too good to be true? Ironically, that may be one of your Saboteurs talking right now!
Shirzad believes it is critical that leaders become aware of the duel perspectives “raging inside their minds.” The constant battle is “between the ‘Sage’ voice that serves them versus the ‘Saboteur’ voices that undermine them.” According to Shirzad, while this conflict between Sage and Saboteur happens inside every mind, it intensifies with most entrepreneurs.
For many entrepreneurs, your identity becomes very wrapped up in your business, which is why it can feel so personal when things don’t go well . This leads to additional stress, which is what fuels the Saboteurs. Shirzad says that the reason only 20% of people achieve anything close to their true potential is due to the destructive power of their Saboteurs.
There are a total of ten Saboteurs, “internal enemies” as Shirzad calls them; however, most people are undermined by only a couple of them, depending on personality and background. The ten Saboteurs are: Judge, Controller, Victim, Restless, Stickler, Pleaser, Avoider, Hyper-Rational , Hyper-Achiever, and Hyper-Vigilant.
There is a specific subset of Saboteurs that tend to afflict entrepreneurs:
Judge: The Judge causes the greatest damage. It beats you down constantly over your flaws and mistakes. The lie the Judge tells is that by beating you up over your imperfections, you stay driven.
Controller: The Controller runs on an anxiety-based need to take charge, control situations, and bend people’s actions to your own will. By overdoing this, it causes resentment in others and prevents them from developing themselves, because they have to do things your way.
Hyper-Rational: The Hyper-Rational involves an intense and exclusive focus on the rational processing of everything, including relationships. It causes you to be impatient with people’s emotions, regarding them as unworthy of your time and attention.
The key to overcoming these Saboteurs and reaching your full potential involves three strategies:
1. Weaken Your Saboteurs
To weaken your Saboteurs, you need to observe and label the Saboteur thoughts and feelings when they arise. Start off by exposing which of the ten Saboteurs are your primary internal enemies. Then create a “mug shot” of each one, profiling key beliefs, assumptions, and feelings. This helps you intercept the Saboteur when it shows up in your head and switch to the Sage alternative. It takes a little practice, but the results are game changing for the company, and life changing for the leader.
For example, if you are feeling stressed out at work and notice yourself saying “I’m such an idiot for saying xx in that meeting”, you might say to yourself “Oh, the Judge is back again, saying I’m going to fail”. It is a powerful act of mindfulness to notice and label your Saboteurs, realize they are not serving you and choose to move into Sage mode instead.
2. Strengthen Sage
The Sage perspective is always available, and Shirzad outlines five specific Sage powers in his book that you can use to meet any challenge. One of the most powerful tools Shirzad gives to switch from Saboteur to Sage involves asking yourself, “What is the gift or opportunity in this situation?”
The next time you are faced with a challenge, try taking a few deep breaths and then ask yourself “Hmmm……What is the gift or opportunity in this situation?” Force yourself to come up with a list of at least threegifts or opportunities. By simply asking this question, you will start to shift into Sage mode and open yourself to a better outcome.
3. Strengthen Your PQ Brain
In addition to identifying and labeling your primary Saboteurs and strengthening your Sage, the final tool to achieve your potential involves improving your Positive Intelligence (PQ) brain muscles through repetitive exercises.
Positive Intelligence measures how well you are able to control your own mind and how well your mind acts in your best interest. One example Shirzad uses in his book to illustrate this is when your mind tells you that you should do your best to prepare for a big meeting, it is acting as your friend. When your mind wakes you up at 3:00am anxious about the meeting and racing in a loop over and over again about potential problems, it is acting as your enemy. The key to reaching your potential lies in your ability to use your own mind as your biggest alley rather than your biggest saboteur.
Practicing mindfulness is one of the best ways to strengthen your PQ Brain. Shirzad suggests doing at least one hundred PQ reps each day for twenty one days and he provides examples of how to do this in the book. Meditation is a great way to strengthen your PQ brain muscles.
To determine your current PQ Score and learn tools to strengthen your PQ brain, click here. According to Shirzad, a PQ score of 75 is the tipping point for a net-positive PQ Vortex, which results in an exponential boost in productivity.
Shirzad believes the reason many management trainings are ineffective is that there is too much focus on “insight,” and too little on building and maintaining new mental habits or muscles. He says “Transformation is 20% insight, 80% muscle”.
And he has found that if you commit to the three tools above for a period of twenty one days, you will build new PQ muscles to create lasting change.
People at the very peak of there fields have been shown to have put in 10,000 hours getting to that level. How does this translate for the rest of us…?
By Ben Carter
A much-touted theory suggests that practising any skill for 10,000 hours is sufficient to make you an expert. No innate talent? Not a problem. You just practice. But is it true?
The 10,000-hours concept can be traced back to a 1993 paper written by Anders Ericsson, a Professor at the University of Colorado, called The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance.
It highlighted the work of a group of psychologists in Berlin, who had studied the practice habits of violin students in childhood, adolescence and adulthood.
All had begun playing at roughly five years of age with similar practice times. However, at age eight, practice times began to diverge. By age 20, the elite performers had averaged more than 10,000 hours of practice each, while the less able performers had only done 4,000 hours of practice.
The psychologists didn’t see any naturally gifted performers emerge and this surprised them. If natural talent had played a role it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to expect gifted performers to emerge after, say, 5,000 hours.
Anders Ericsson concluded that “many characteristics once believed to reflect innate talent are actually the result of intense practice extended for a minimum of 10 years”.
It is Malcolm Gladwell’s hugely popular book, Outliers, that is largely responsible for introducing “the 10,000-hour rule” to a mass audience – it’s the name of one of the chapters.
But Ericsson was not pleased. He wrote a rebuttal paper in 2012, called The Danger of Delegating Education to Journalists.
“The 10,000-hour rule was invented by Malcolm Gladwell who stated that, ‘Researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: 10,000 hours.’ Gladwell cited our research on expert musicians as a stimulus for his provocative generalisation to a magical number,” Ericsson writes.
Ericsson then pointed out that 10,000 was an average, and that many of the best musicians in his study had accumulated “substantially fewer” hours of practice. He underlined, also, that the quality of the practice was important.
“In contrast, Gladwell does not even mention the concept of deliberate practice,” Ericsson writes.
Gladwell counters that Ericsson doesn’t really think that talent exists.
“I think that being very, very good at something requires a big healthy dose of natural talent. And when I talk about the Beatles – they had masses of natural talent. They were born geniuses. Ericsson wouldn’t say that.
“Ericsson, if you read some of his writings, is… saying the right kind of practice is sufficient.”
Gladwell places himself roughly in the middle of a sliding scale with Ericsson at one end, placing little emphasis on the role of natural talent, and at the other end a writer such as David Epstein, author of the The Sports Gene. Epstein is “a bit more of a talent person than me” Gladwell suggests.
One of the difficulties with assessing whether expert-level performance can be obtained just through practice is that most studies are done after the subjects have reached that level.
It would be better to follow the progress of someone with no innate talent in a particular discipline who chooses to complete 10,000 hours of deliberate practice in it.
And we can, thanks to our wannabe professional golfer, Dan McLaughlin.
“I began the plan in April 2010 and I basically putted from one foot and slowly worked away from the hole,” he says.
“Eighteen months into it I hit my first driver and now it’s approaching four years and I’m about half way. So I’m 5,000 hours into the project. My current handicap is right at a 4.1 and the goal is to get down to a plus handicap [below zero] where I have the skill set to compete in a legitimate PGA tour event.”
David Epstein hopes that McLaughlin can reach his goal, but he has some doubts. In the sporting world innate ability is mandatory, he believes.
A recent study of baseball players, Epstein points out, found that the average player had 20/13 vision as opposed to normal 20/20 vision. What this means is that they can see at 20 feet what a normal person would need to be at 13 feet to see clearly. That gives a hitter an enormous advantage when it comes to striking a ball being thrown towards them at 95mph from 60 feet (or 153km/h from 18m).
Using an analogy from computing, Epstein says the hardware is someone’s visual acuity – or the physiology of their eye that they cannot change – while the software is the set of skills they learn by many, many hours of practice.
“No matter how good their vision is, it’s like a laptop with only the hardware – with no programmes on it, it’s useless. But once they’ve downloaded that software, once they have learned those sports-specific skills, the better the hardware is the better the total machine is going to be.”
But is there a simpler way to think about all this? Maybe talented people just practise more and try harder at the thing they’re already good at – because they enjoy it?
“Imagine being in calculus class on your first day and the teacher being at the board writing an equation, and you look at it and think ‘Wow, that’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,’ which some people do,” says Gladwell.
“For those people to go home and do two hours of calculus homework is thrilling, whereas for the rest of us it’s beyond a chore and more like a nightmare.
“Those that have done the two hours’ practice come in the following day and everything is easier than it is for those who didn’t enjoy it in the first place and didn’t do the two hours’ homework.”
What Dan McLaughlin is hoping is that what he lacks in innate talent he more than makes up for with his 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.
If Dan’s plan goes well he could be mixing it with the likes of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy in 2018. If not, he will just be a very good golfer.
The centrepiece of Gladwell’s book was practice well, practice well and you’ll reach the top of your field.
What Dr Ericsson was actually saying [in his 1993 paper] was “It takes 10,000 hours to get the top of an ultra-competitive filed in a very narrow subject.”
But here’s what happened. Ever since Outliers came out, reached the top of the bestseller list and stayed there for three solid months, all of a sudden the 10,000 Rule was everywhere. And a society-wide game of Telephone started to be played. So this message ‘It takes 10,000 hours to get to the top of an ultra-competitive field’ became ‘It takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something’ which became ‘It takes 10,000 hours to become good at something’ which became ‘It takes 10,000 hours to learn something.’ But that last statement is not true…
And the story of the Learning Curve is when you start you are grossly incompetent and you know it. With a little bit of practice you get really good really quick. That early level of improvement is real fast. Then, at a certain point, you reach a plateau, and the subsequent gains become much harder to get.
How long does it take to get from being grossly incompetent to being reasonably good at something? My research says 20 hours.
You can go from know nothing about any subject – learn a language or learn how to draw or how to juggle flaming chainsaws – if you put 20 hours of deliberate focused practice into learning that thing, you will be astounded at how good you are. And 20 hours isn’t that hard to accumulate – it’s just 20minutes a day for two months.
But this demands more than just fiddling around for about 20hours. There’s a way to practice intelligently and efficiently that will make sure you invest those 20hours in the most effective way that you can. And here’s the method…
4 Simple Steps To Rapid Skill Acquisition
Deconstruct the skill. Decide exactly what you want to be able to do when you’re done, and then look into the skill and break it down into smaller and smaller pieces… The more you’re able to break apart the skill, the more you’re able to decide what are the parts of the skill that will actually help me to get to what I want. And then you can practice those most important parts first, and this get to what you want to be able to do in the least amount of time possible.
Learn enough to self-correct. Get 3-5 resources on what it is you’re trying to learn – books, dvdd, course, anything – but don’t use those as a way to procrastinate. What you want to do is learn just enough to self-correct as you’re doing. The learning needs to enable you to know when you’re making a mistake and then do something helpful to correct it.
Remove practice barriers. Remove dust rations – television, internet, social media – all of the things that limit you actually sitting down and doing the work. The more you are able to use just a little bit of willpower to remove the things that get in the way of your practice, the more likely you are to actually do the practice.
Practice at least 20 hours. Most learning has a deeply frustrating part. We don’t like to feel stupid, and feeling stupid is a barrier to us actually sitting down and doing the work. So by pre committing to practicing whatever it is that you want to do for at least 2o hours you will be able to overcome that frustration barrier and stick with it long enough to reap the rewards.
The major barrier to learning anything is emotional. What do you want to do? Go out and spend 20 hours on it.
Here is Josh Kaufman’s full TEDTalk, including his demonstration of how well he has learned to play dozens of songs on the ukelele, practicing his own 2o hour guidelines:
Josh Kaufman is the author of the #1 international bestseller, ‘The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business’, as well as the upcoming book ‘The First 20 Hours: Mastering the Toughest Part of Learning Anything.’ Josh specializes in teaching people from all walks of life how to master practical knowledge and skills. In his talk, he shares how having his first child inspired him to approach learning in a whole new way.
As we learn new things, we often feel inspired to change.
We discover the possibility of achieving something greater and fall in love with that future idea.
You’ll agree with me in that doing things just once or twice won’t do the trick, right?
To achieve the end result, you need to repeat the same positive action, over and over again, until at one point it becomes automatic. And then, you’ll have a habit that you can’t live without. It becomes part of your routine.
New habits can give your brain pleasure
Installing a new positive habit has the power to bring you closer to your ideal self. But this is just a small part of the story.
Most people tend to perceive the notion of new habits as a ‘bore’ or as a painful thing to do, and feel discouraged to even try. This is because nobody told them about the additional benefits of a habit that has been successfully installed:
It feels effortless. You don’t have to think about it much. You just go on autopilot – like when you brush your teeth.
You don’t need willpower because your behaviour is automatically triggered by a contextual cue (rather than self-control).
There’s a promise of reward from completing the action. And your brain gets pleasure from a completed task.
The automation of common actions frees mental resources for other tasks or thought processes.
We perform thousands of actions a day, 95% of which are automatic: a new habit is part of this group.
This is how you can create freedom and space for other things in your life. Who doesn’t want to create health habits that are sticky and that make us feel great?
Now you may think: “But don’t we need to go through a phase of pure willpower in order to create a new health habit?”
Stay tuned, that’s what we’re here to explore – how to create a health habit that will stick, without having to employ pure willpower.
Can you rely solely on willpower to change?
If we’re talking about long-term change, then the answer isno.
Willpower is the ability to ‘mindfully’ control oneself. Controlling oneself in order to change a behaviour isn’t that easy. It’s an effort.
In contrast, a habit is an almost ‘mindless’ behaviour pattern acquired by frequent repetition that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance. Unlike willpower, a habit feels easy.
Willpower alone will not get you to long-term success. It’s the birthing of a new habit that will.
As Charles Duhigg explains in his book The Power of Habit, we create a habit through a cue which leads to a routine, that ends in a habit. It is the routine or habit that allows us to access a part of our brain that runs on relatively little gas.
How do you go from self-control to easy habit?
When you feel good internally after completing what you set out to do, you build into your own self accountability. You want to do more of it because you received positive feedback from the task and you felt good doing it.
You completed the new task and you added to your habit strength. It’s almost as if you perpetuate the new behaviour through letting it build its own muscle, if you will.
What’s more, installing a good action in your routine can trigger a positive ripple effect on many other health behaviours.
Australian researchers Oaten and Cheng conducted a study that concluded how one repeated action (in this case exercise) can trigger a variety of positive behaviours and faciliate the improvement of self-regulation.
Is habit automation all you really need to do?
Research led by USC Professor Wendy Wood shows that lack of control – or willpower – doesn’t automatically mean success or failure.
When you don’t have self-control, what really matters is the underlying routine, or the habit groove you’ve already installed – good or bad.
Dr. Wood, who is a leading researcher on habits, goes on to tell us this:
Habits persist even when we’re tired and don’t have the energy to exert self-control.
Is this also true for your eating habits?
The same principle applies to our eating behaviours.
Willpower – or self-control – is a limited resource and can become depleted as the day goes by.
If you’ve been juggling difficult clients or stressful situations at work to the point of mental exhaustion, there will be none or very little willpower left at the end of your day. That means a reduced ability to change what and how you eat.
So in the long run, developing a habit or an automatic reaction is more effective than self-control: you’ll perform it anyway, even when your mental energy runs out.
Can automation be used for athletic performance?
Absolutely. Here’s an example.
When an athlete is in ‘the zone’ and goes for the gold at the Olympics, it isn’t about self-control; it’s about automation. It’s about relying on that 95% of their (subconscious) machinery that they worked so hard to optimise.
For this reason, most aspiring gold-medalists are already training for 2016. Because, when it comes to star performance on the competition day, relying on automatic actions and intuitive skills is more powerful than having a ‘mental debate’ on how to control an outcome.
So how do you set up a habit?
Start simple and start small.
When you choose an action to push yourself towards your goal, plan specifically when and where you will do this action. Be consistent; choose a time and place that you encounter every day of the week. This will help with the adherence, or stickiness.
Surround yourself with new habit-forming contextual cues. These are the subconscious triggers for your new action, which can be, for instance, a time of the day, a certain place, a sound, a particular smell, foods that you keep in the kitchen, or a pre-installed behaviour – typically small things.
The less overwhelming the cues, the better your chances of grooving a habit.
Your goal here is to pay attention to the cues (or to plant new cues) around you, which act as reminders. As your brain reacts to the cue, completing the subsequent action feels like a reward.
It’s this feeling of accomplishment or reward that will cause your brain to want to do it again. When it comes to perpetuating the behaviour, repetition is king!
The bottom line
Remember, it’s about automation. This means that we remove any debates inside your head about whether to perform the action or not. Even when you don’t have the energy to exert self-control (willpower), a habit can keep you on track and in line.
Now it’s over to you! Join in the conversation and tell us in the comments below:
Which new habit can you install this week?
What triggers do you need to plant or remove to make this happen?
This is a supportive and safe place to share and learn from each other!
I think perhaps I would suggest looking at these and selecting the one or two that you believe could have the greatest positive impact of how you do things, rather than take them all – with particular caution around Tip 2…
The hardest part is getting started.
When there’s a long list that needs tackling every day, the hardest part is tackling what needs to be done first. You may feel intimidated to start your next big project or pull your colleague aside for an awkward, but much-needed confrontation.
And prioritizing isn’t getting any easier. In his book Present Shock, Douglas Rushkoff blames this modern-day condition on our “continuous, always-on ‘now’“ world which has made us lose our sense of direction.
Successful people know that planning, organizing, and protecting your time is no easy feat, but if you don’t have your priorities straight, who will? Below are four unconventional methods that keep the brightest minds focus on exactly what they need to:
1. Think About Death
Reflecting on death might not be what comes to mind when you want to tackle your to-do list, but studies find it helps you re-prioritize your goals and values. Buddhist teachings encourage reflections of death with the idea that a better understanding of mortality also helps us better understand our purpose in life.
2. Wear The Same Clothes Every Day
When you downsize your closet, you also cut down on the number of choices you have to make every day, which means you can now focus on what’s most important: your priorities.
Plenty of CEOs adopt this “uniform” strategy. Steve Jobs wore the same jeans and black turtleneck day in and day out. Oracle’s Larry Ellison also preferred black turtlenecks, but often wore them underneath fashionable slim jackets. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos sticks to khakis, blue shirts, and sometimes a dark jacket. Aspokesperson for the company once said: “[Bezos would] rather spend his time figuring out how to cut prices for customers than figuring out what to wear each day.”
Leo Widrich, cofounder of Buffer, despises these daily decisions so much, he wears the same clothes every day (he owns five white T-shirts and two pairs of pants) and also eats the same dinner six times a week. Widrich believes that the fewer decisions he has to make, the better his decisions will be.
In an interview with Michael Lewis for Vanity Fair, President Barack Obama agrees with Widrich’s way of life: “I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make. You need to focus yourdecision-making energy. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”
I notice though that every one of these examples is a man. What would we think of a woman who came to work constantly wearing the same outfit?
3. Know The Difference Between Urgent And Important
Like Rushkoff, Dwight D. Eisenhower knew how easy it is to lose track of goals if the importance of tasks are confusing. To differentiate between “urgent” and “important” tasks, the 34th President of the United States broke the two into very basic distinctions:
An urgent task requires immediate attention and is often performed in a hurried, reactive mode. An example of an urgent task is calming the baby or attending a meeting.
An important task contributes to long-term values and goals and is performed in a responsive mode that leads to new opportunities. An example of an important task is planning the company’s next relationship-building mixer. Important tasks can sometimes also be urgent, but often are not.
Warren Buffett knows that you can’t be amazing if you focus on everything you’re interested in at once. This is exactly why, to keep his focus laser sharp, Buffett advises making a list of the top 25 things you want to accomplish in the next few years. From this list, pick the top five that are most important to you.
Now you have two lists and Buffett suggests you “avoid at all cost” the longer one. According to the business magnate, adding your second most important items into your focus only prevents big things from happening.
Whether it’s reflecting on mortality or getting rid of your wardrobe, the smartest people know that there’s never more time in the day–only better ways to manage your time through prioritizing. And if you’ve tried it all and still get sidetracked from what’s really important, it’s time to learn the most simple, yet effective way you can prioritize: Start saying no.
Creating success in work and life, on our own terms
by Megan Dalla-Camina
Understanding the process of change — why we are the way we are, and how to change when we really want to—is incredibly important. The attribute of driving effective change can give you the keys to the kingdom of success and happiness. However, , if you don’t learn how to use it, you can stay mired in a dark hole of frustration that can lead to self-defeat and low self-esteem.
So let’s start with what we typically know: Changing behaviors is hard. (Change is hard, period.) You get wired to certain behavior patterns, and your brain gets stuck in a groove that takes concerted, conscious, and consistent effort to change. And even when you do manage to change for a few days, weeks or months, it is all too easy to slip back into old patterns.
The good news is that we know, through the latest neuroscience, that our brains are “plastic.” This means they can create new neural pathways, which allows you to create change and form new patterns of behavior that can stick over time. You find a new groove, so to speak. But it takes work—sometimes, a lot of work. And it takes time. The popular myth that you can quickly and easily change a deeply-ingrained habit in 21 days has been largely disproven by brain and behavioral scientists. They now think it actually takes anywhere from six to nine months to create the new neural pathways that support changing behavior.
There are three things you need to make any change, whether mental, emotional or physical: desire, intent, and persistence.Our culture is filled with magazine covers that say you can meet your dream partner by the weekend, land your dream job in five days, or lose 10 pounds in two weeks. This can leave mere mortals feeling completely inadequate when they fail to achieve such results, which are completely unrealistic, if not downright impossible, in the first place.
When you consider that only 8% of people actually follow through on intentions to change a habit, you can see why it’s so critical to understand enough about the change process, and yourself, to smooth a path to success.
So what are the steps and considerations? Here are some questions to think about, as you begin to create positive change in a lasting way:
Do you really want it?
There is no point in saying you are going to stop working so much, so you can get some semblance of balance in your life, if in reality you really don’t care that much about balance, and you really love to work. Who are you doing it for? Don’t kid yourself. You must be serious and care about the change you decide to make, so you’ll be willing to work for it and follow through.
What need is being served by what you are doing now?
Your current behavior is there for a reason, or you wouldn’t be doing it. Hard to swallow, but true. Whether you’re a workaholic, 20 pounds overweight, have angermanagement issues, or are unhappily single—your current situation is serving you somehow. So take some time to think about this. Whether the need is relaxation but the behavior is binge drinking, or the need is recognition but the behavior is overwork, you first need to identify what need is being served by your current behavior. Once you have the answer, you can work out how to meet this need in another way, smoothing the path to change.
How else can you meet your needs?
So, you have identified the current behavior and how it is serving you. Now think about how else you could get this same need met. You may relate to this example. For some people, eating foods they know are not only bad for them, and in fact likely to leave them feeling tired, grumpy, and full of self-loathing, is less about the foods, and more about the nurturing, comfort, or distraction they provide. How else could you get your need met? Perhaps retreating to your meditation cushion, your yoga mat, the bath tub, or even your bed, would give you an even greater sense of the nurturing you need, without the guilt, the self-esteem crash from not following through on your intention, and, of course, the pounds. So when you think about the needs you have, how elsecan they be met?
What’s the price of not changing?
You will experience ambivalence on the change path, no question about it. And that’s okay. But to progress down the road, you have to ask yourself: What is the price of not changing? If you really want a promotion, but are too fearful to ask for the management training you need, the price is staying in the same role. Is overcoming your fear worth the goal? Or if you really want to get healthy, lose weight and get fit, but you don’t want to have to cut the sugar and get out walking, what is the price of that behavior? Putting on yet another 10 kilos? Think about and write down any negative effects your current behaviors are creating in your life—self‑loathing, boredom, career stagnation, frustration. Once you have hit this wall of realization, you are in the perfect place to turn around and move forward.
What positive image can pull you forward?
It is known, from research in positive psychology and neuroscience, that you’ll have more success when you move towards something positive rather than away from something negative. It is also known that positive images pull you forward. (Think vision boards, athletes visualizing their performance success, or thinking through the positive outcome of a business presentation before it takes place.) It works, and science proves it. So what positive image of the outcome you want can you visualize to pull you toward success? Come up with one; have it firmly in your mind; place it on a wall, in your computer, in your journal, or anywhere you will reference it; and look at it frequently. It can be especially helpful when your resolve is slipping, to remind you what you are working so hard for.
Are you acknowledging success?
When you have made progress on your efforts, it is important to acknowledge that achievement. When you celebrate your efforts, you create upward spirals of momentum that help reinforce the positive change and make it stick. Recognizing your efforts also helps to reinforce the direction in which you are moving, and motivates you further toward your goals. Recognizing, acknowledging, and celebrating progress, however small, is a key to success on your change path.
Change can be challenging. Anyone who has tried to change a habit knows this is true. But it is possible. And you can smooth the path to success by being aware of the cycle of change, being prepared, and being consistent. The result is worth the effort, if you want it badly enough to work for it.
Here is a brand new MOOC from Berkeley starting next week which I thought you might like to know about…
Starts September 9, 2014 – Register Now!
An unprecedented free online course exploring the roots of a happy, meaningful life. Co-taught by the GGSC’s Dacher Keltner andEmiliana Simon-Thomas. Up to 16 CE credit hours available.
We all want to be happy, and there are countless ideas about what happiness is and how we can get some. But not many of those ideas are based on science. That’s where this course comes in.
“The Science of Happiness” is a free, eight-week online course that explores the roots of a happy and meaningful life. Students will engage with some of the most provocative and practical lessons from this science, discovering how cutting-edge research can be applied to their own lives.
Created by UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, the course zeroes in on a fundamental finding from positive psychology: that happiness is inextricably linked to having strong social ties and contributing to something bigger than yourself—the greater good. Students will learn about the cross-disciplinary research supporting this view, spanning the fields of psychology, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and beyond.
What’s more, “The Science of Happiness” will offer students practical strategies for nurturing their own happiness. Research suggests that up to 40 percent of happiness depends on our habits and activities. So each week, students will learn a new research-tested practice that fosters social and emotional well-being—and the course will help them track their progress along the way.
The course will include:
Short videos featuring the co-instructors and guest lectures from top experts on the science of happiness;
Articles and other readings that make the science accessible and understandable to non-academics;
Weekly “happiness practices”—real-world exercises that students can try on their own, all based on research linking these practices to greater happiness;
Tests, quizzes, polls, and a weekly “emotion check-in” that help students gauge their happiness and track their progress over time;
Discussion boards where students can share ideas with one another and submit questions to their instructors.
All of these articles and more are collected in the latest edition of Happiness At Work, the weekly free online paper from BridgeBuilders STG of the best stories, research news and articles about learning and leadership, happiness and employee engagement, creativity and resilience from across the web over the previous week.
I hope you find much here to enjoy and profit from.
And do feel welcome to bring your ideas, challenges, insights and experiences to our Facebook page