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.
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
Several years ago while I was enjoying the fun and reward of making learning programmes with him, Mike Phipps posited this great question, which turned out to be compelling enough to found a new leadership development practice, Politics at Work…
“As you go about your day-to-day activities, where do you get your power and influence from…?”
I have always loved this question, and this week’s Happiness At Work theme considers the potency and power to be found in the ordinary and the everyday.
How can we learn to be happier with what we already have, without having to make any radical changes or costly additions to our current circumstances and without having to depend upon the decisions, actions or behaviours of other people?
What is perhaps already there, right under our noses and within our reach, that we might draw from to advance our own and each other’s success and happiness?
What new potency and life can be discovered in the everyday material of our lives if we would just give ourselves a bit more time and attention to notice?
These are the questions that this collection of articles helps to highlight…
Far too many Americans are illiterate in power — what it is, how it operates and why some people have it. As a result, those few who do understand power wield disproportionate influence over everyone else. “We need to make civics sexy again,” says civics educator Eric Liu. “As sexy as it was during the American Revolution or the Civil Rights Movement.”
On March 20th — the International Day of Happiness — the United Nations recognized “happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations in the lives of human beings around the world.” And when it comes to the happiest people, the “World Happiness Report 2013” identified the bacon-loving country of Denmark as holding the highest levels of happiness … but why?
1. They understand the meaning of “It takes a village …”
The Danes place tremendous importance on social, economic and overall security, thus this common quip holds true. In general, volunteerism is given high priority. Ultimately, it appears that community support helps Denmark the most.
2. They are one of the most generous.
Denmark ranks third in the most recent figures for foreign aid expenditure per capita, very generously providing for developing countries and disaster relief.
3. They treat each other with respect.
The Danes are often extremely proud when another Dane launches a successful career, regardless of where they are in the world. For example, the actors Scarlett Johansson (Danish father) and Viggo Mortensen are very popular. Perhaps their cultural regard towards one another also leads to the low reported incidence of corruption in their leadership too.
4. They don’t believe in income inequality.
With an unofficial but recognized $20 minimum wage rate, workers have many reasons to be happy. In addition, their roughly 80% unionization provides them relatively decent leverage if they don’t receive worker benefits. Even still, there are quite a few wealthy people along with a high standard of living, and many wealthy job providers don’t consider their businesses successful until they are able to pay for their workers to have comparable lifestyles to themselves. Employers often cover employee health insurance, too. Denmark is also known for its large GDP per capita.
5. They view certain milestones in reverse (to the U.S.).
Perhaps the Danes are well versed in the psychological reasoning that banning something only increases its desirability. There is no minimum drinking age, for example; Denmark allows parents to decide for their children under age 16. At 16, certain types of alcohol can be bought, while at 18 any legally sold alcohol can be purchased. Eighteen is also the legal age to drive.
6. They don’t support violence.
Other than soldiers in the United Nations, Denmark is not currently involved in any wars, which many believe often create more problems than they resolve, including generations of despairing, disillusioned and forgotten veterans. They also do not have guns readily available and boast an estimated 90% voter turnout rate.
7. They believe that education is a right.
The Danes teach their youth not only Danish but English, giving them a wide perspective and ability to relate as global citizens. Also, university is mostly free to willing students and these students also receive grants towards tuition as an educational incentive. Specifically, the government provides around $1,000 monthly for 70 months towards a degree and students can often easily sign up for loans.
8. They are pretty advanced in social equality.
Denmark outlawed job discrimination against gay people in 1948 and hold values such as tolerance and community accountability quite high — no victim mentalities here.
9. They believe in a military relative in size to its population.
A proportional militia allows more government funding to flow directly to its citizens, rather than subsidizing real or perceived threats.
10. They hold socialist (and capitalist) values.
The Danes believe that people come before profit. Thus, the Danish government provides quite a lot in pensions, unemployment, subsidized child care, free education for professionals, quality infrastructure and sickness benefits, which the Danish understand and appreciate.
11. They understand and appreciate what their taxes subsidize.
Danes pay a pretty penny in taxes: anywhere in range of 36% to 51% in state taxes, along with a 25% sales tax, and around a 1% voluntary church tax. Their Government is also quite astute in managing these particular financial affairs, allowing Danes fairly decent retirement funds and sound infrastructures. While most European countries’ middle class pay more tax than in the United States, the Danish belief in taking care of its citizens means the wealthy pay more in taxes than the working class.
12. They prioritize health.
Many food additives are banned, such as the trans fats that are mostly found in cheap, fried food items. To top it off, with plenty of flat land and a small population, much of Denmark is ideal for the avid bicyclist. The Danes also boast a healthy life expectancy.
Ditch the guilt, banish your inbox and stop blue-sky thinking. As we return to our desks after the summer fun, Richard Godwin finds the formula for feeling good in the office
Early on in his new book, Happiness by Design, Paul Dolan relates a conversation he once had with a friend who is (or rather, was) a high-powered media executive. She spent most of the evening complaining that her line of work made her miserable. Her boss, her colleagues, her commute — all of it brought her down. When she came to pay the bill, however, her final statement took him by surprise. “Of course, I love working in Medialand!” It is apparent contradictions such as this that illuminate Dolan’s central thesis.
A professor of behavioural sciences at LSE, Dolan came from what he describes as a “lower working-class” family in east London to become one of the world’s leading experts in the emerging study of happiness. Daniel Kahneman, the fabled Nobel Prize-winning psychologist, views him as something of a protégé. The Office for National Statistics has employed him to help establish the framework of David Cameron’s national wellbeing survey.
He is part of a wave of social scientists whose discoveries at once confound your expectations and provide an appreciable way of acting on that knowledge. It’s self-help for pseuds, in other words, in the best traditions of Kahneman’s own Thinking, Fast and Slow, or Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness by Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler, and full of facts that make you go: “Huh.”
Did you know, for example, that accidents among small children — which have been in decline for decades — have risen since the invention of the smartphone? (Distraction is one of the most significant barriers to happiness, as well as to responsible parenting.) Or that people who tweet about how they’re trying to lose weight actually lose more weight than people who don’t? The rate is 0.5 per cent of weight loss per 10 tweets. Dolan includes that as an example of how peer pressure may be turned into a positive — if losing weight is indeed what makes you happy. The evidence suggests that it does not in the long term.
Dolan’s central insight is that how we evaluate our happiness is very different from how we actually experience it. His media friend thought she was happy (“I love working in Medialand!”). But what was really important, Dolan argues, is her day-to-day experience of it. “[We] generally pay more attention to what we think should make us happy rather than focusing on what actually does,” as he puts it. If we want to be happy, we should get better at working out what makes us happy in the moment.
For this he cites what he calls the “Pleasure Purpose Principle”. We need to balance both pleasure and purpose to experience happiness. It explains why we “solve” a crappy day at work (purpose) with an evening in front of the TV (pleasure). However, when pleasure has no purpose, that doesn’t make us happy either — which is why we’ll often choose to watch some worthy documentary over a silly romcom. Likewise, if there is no pleasure in our purpose — for example, if we’re working on something that we know is a pointless waste of time — it makes us unhappy. Take the dreaded “unassigned” Hooli staff in the sitcom Silicon Valley. Making money from doing nothing does not make them happy. As Dolan counsels: “Happiness is ultimately about the pleasure-purpose principle over time.”
And while the insights are applicable in many areas of life, it’s at work they are most acute. It’s where we spend most of our conscious lives, after all. Here are 10 of the take-home lessons.
Your attention is a scarce resource. Use it wisely …
All work and no play leads to regret …
Future happiness does not compensate for present misery…
…But do consider the present benefits of future decisions …
Change your environment …
Making decisions is difficult. Seek help …
Don’t think about the weather …
Minimise distractions …
Surround yourself with people who increase your happiness…
…But do not compare yourself too much with people around you …
[It is all too easy to become] caught up in the “bigger picture” and the intricacies of your role. But by doing so, it is possible to become disconnected from the day-to-day operations of your business, particularly your impact on employees, customers and suppliers.
When you are only thinking about this broad view, you may notice a downturn in sales, more customer complaints, or employee productivity taking a dive. You may begin to question the way in which you [are working], spending many long, exasperating hours trying to determine why [you are] not moving in the right direction. That is when the “human-side” of the operation — the satisfaction of employees, customers and others who interact with the company — is negatively impacted.
It’s at this point that you’d better start asking questions.
To improve employee engagement and make positive changes in the workplace, leaders should be asking employees for their honest opinion about what is working — or not working — in the organization. If handled properly, the results can yield feedback that may enable you to bolster morale, streamline systems and increase customer satisfaction. It may even help you to become a better leader.
To get employees talking, you don’t need to have them fill out a huge questionnaire. Instead start with these four simple questions.
1. What are we doing when operating at our best? The goal here is to extract out best practices. The answers you receive will also speak to the culture of the organization and will allow you to leverage those best practices in your marketing collateral as well as when recruiting employees.
2. What are you hearing customers say about our business? The objective of this inquiry is to capture — directly from the front line — what customers or clients are saying. Look carefully for emerging patterns.
3. If you were in my shoes and could make all the decisions, what would you do and why? The purpose of this question is three-fold. First, it engages the employee and demonstrates that management cares about what they think. Second, it puts part of the responsibility on the employee to think more like a leader and put themselves in your shoes. Not only does this instigate creative thought, but it also generates empathy for the responsibilities of company leadership. Most importantly, since the employee is closest to the customer, they will be able to suggest clearly-defined opportunities for improvement.
4. What is the “one essential thing” I need to know in order to make this business a success? This question gets to the heart of how your organization’s time, resources and initiative should be directed in order to prosper. Once again, look for patterns and, if possible, further validate those findings through customer surveys or focus groups.
Be aware that some associates may be fearful of backlash and not be willing to tell it like it is. To avoid this response, meet in small groups, one-on-one (or even allow anonymity) during the process. Determine what works best for your company and don’t forget to show appreciation for the feedback you receive. Recognize that you may be inclined to disagree or provide an explanation for some of your employee’s reactions — so try to keep an open mind.
This exercise achieves multiple benefits. You acquire worthwhile data and, at the same time, the employee will feel that they are recognized, heard and respected.
Take your employee’s feedback and work with it. Build a supportive environment that promotes creativity. Get clear about the relationships between associates, suppliers and customers. Keep it positive and let your employees know that you are receptive to new ideas. Finally, do a little soul searching on your own contribution. Use your insight and focused attention to instil confidence and commitment in your employees that will support them in their efforts to do their very best for your organization.
Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could hack into our own brains and rewire them to be happier?
Science has shown we actually can thanks to a phenomenon called experience-dependent neuroplasticity. “It’s a fancy term to say the brain learns from our experiences,” says Rick Hanson, neuropsychologist and author of the book Hardwiring Happiness. “As we understand better and better how this brain works, it gives us more power to change our mind for the better.”
Hanson assures he isn’t just talking new-age mumbo jumbo. “This is not just ‘smell the roses,'” he says. “I am talking about positive neuroplasticity. I am talking about learning. … The brain is changing based on what flows through it.”
Understanding how our brains function can help us better control them. Here are some key takeaways from Hanson on how our brains work when it comes to wiring for happiness:
~ Recognise your negativity bias…
~ Don’t just think positively. Think realistically…
~ Know what’s going on in the brain…
~ Follow the 10-second rule…
~ Think of your brain like a cassette recorder…
…Our brains are working just fine, you might be thinking. Why mess with something that’s not broken? But the fact of the matter is happiness isn’t something that happens to you. It’s something you can teach your brain to experience more fully.
“We should not fool ourselves,” says Hanson. “We’ve got a brain that is pulled together to help lizards, mice, and monkeys get through the day and pass on their genes. We’ve got a brain that’s like Velcro for the bad and Teflon for the good. Be muscular from the inside out. Grow the good stuff inside yourself.”
We’d be lying if we didn’t admit that getting a compliment is an instant mood booster. While we all know there’s a difference between meaningful compliments and ones that are more surface-level, how you act on the receiving end of praise is just as important as how you act when offering it.
How we carry ourselves is key to any conversation, but when it comes to really accepting compliments, body language could be your greatest ally. Our bodies can sometimes say way more than the words we speak — and they can also influence our thought patterns. As social psychologist Amy Cuddy explains in her TED Talk on the power of body language, standing confidently, even when you don’t feel that way on the inside, can influence cortisol levels in the brain and can potentially influence success.
At its core, mindfulness is about having total awareness of your thoughts as they happen — and with this awareness also comes alack of judgment or categorization of these thoughts. By practicing mindfulness, we’re recognizing the compliment and our initial thoughts on it — and then choosing not to react in a negative manner. Need help incorporating more mindfulness in your everyday life? Try these tricks.
Realize the difference between humility and self-deprecation.
Even women with high self-esteem reject compliments, but mainly because they want to appear more modest, social psychologist Laura Brannon told TODAY. But in reality, humble people accept themselves for who they are. “Many people think of humility as … thinking very little of yourself, and I don’t think that’s right,” Mike Austin, Ph.D., a professor of philosophy at Eastern Kentucky University, previously told HuffPost Healthy Living. “It’s more about a proper or accurate assessment. A big part of humility is knowing our own limits, our strengths and weaknesses, morally or otherwise.”
Don’t compliment them back right away.
How many times have you been paid a compliment only to feel compelled to return the favor? This behavior — while inherently kind — isn’t the most effective way to help you accept genuine praise better.
As psychologist Susan Quilliam tells the Daily Mail, many women do this because it gets the attention off of them — another habit that could reinforce the idea that you don’t deserve the compliment in the first place (and you do). Complimenting others just for the sake of it can also feel disingenuous — so it’s better to leave it at a simple “thank you.”
Store it in your memory.
When we have self-critical thoughts after hearing kind remarks, it usually stems from the delusional idea that people don’t really mean what they say — or worse, they’re wrong about your positive qualities. And simply put, that’s just not true. Next time someone pays you a genuine compliment, file it in your memory and think about it when you’re feeling inadequate. The sooner you start believing you’re worth the praise, the easier it will be to accept it graciously — and you’ll be much happier for it.
People who are overconfident in their own abilities are considered more talented by others than they really are, a new study finds.
These overconfident individuals are probably more likely to get promoted, to become the leaders of organisations and even nations.
On the other hand, people who are not so confident in their abilities are judged as less competent than they actually are.
The findings, published in the journal PLOS ONE, provide evidence for a controversial theory of the evolution of self-deception (Lamba & Nityananda, 2014).
Being better at deceiving yourself makes you better at deceiving others, some have argued, and this study provides evidence for the theory.
Dr. Vivek Nityananda, who co-authored the study, explained:
“These findings suggest that people don’t always reward the most accomplished individual but rather the most self-deceived.
We think this supports an evolutionary theory of self-deception.
It can be beneficial to have others believe you are better than you are and the best way to do this is to deceive yourself — which might be what we have evolved to do.”
The study shows how belief in your own abilities doesn’t just affect you but also those around you, who also pick up on your levels of self-belief very quickly.
The authors conclude that…
“…[since] overconfident individuals are more likely to be risk-prone, then by promoting such individuals we may be creating institutions such as banks, trading floors and armies, that are also more vulnerable to risk.
From our smallest interactions to the institutions we build, self-deception may play a profound role in shaping the world we inhabit.” (Lamba & Nityananda, 2014).
How to counter the gradual narrowing of our horizons.
In Willful Blindness: Why We Ignore the Obvious at Our Peril, serial entrepreneur and author Margaret Heffernan examines the intricate, pervasive cognitive and emotional mechanisms by which we choose, sometimes consciously but mostly not, to remain unseeing in situations where “we could know, and should know, but don’t know because it makes us feel better not to know.” We do that, Heffernan argues and illustrates through a multitude of case studies ranging from dictatorships to disastrous love affairs to Bernie Madoff, because “the more tightly we focus, the more we leave out” — or, as cognitive scientist Alexandra Horowitz put it in her remarkable exploration of exactly what we leave out in our daily lives, because “attention is an intentional, unapologetic discriminator.”…
“Whether individual or collective, willful blindness doesn’t have a single driver, but many. It is a human phenomenon to which we all succumb in matters little and large. We can’t notice and know everything: the cognitive limits of our brain simply won’t let us. That means we have to filter or edit what we take in. So what we choose to let through and to leave out is crucial. We mostly admit the information that makes us feel great about ourselves, while conveniently filtering whatever unsettles our fragile egos and most vital beliefs. It’s a truism that love is blind; what’s less obvious is just how much evidence it can ignore. Ideology powerfully masks what, to the uncaptivated mind, is obvious, dangerous, or absurd and there’s much about how, and even where, we live that leaves us in the dark. Fear of conflict, fear of change keeps us that way. An unconscious (and much denied) impulse to obey and conform shields us from confrontation and crowds provide friendly alibis for our inertia. And money has the power to blind us, even to our better selves…
“Our blindness grows out of the small, daily decisions that we make, which embed us more snugly inside our affirming thoughts and values. And what’s most frightening about this process is that as we see less and less, we feel more comfort and greater certainty. We think we see more — even as the landscape shrinks…
And yet wilful blindness, Heffernan argues, isn’t a fatal diagnosis of the human condition — it may be our natural, evolutionarily cultivated tendency, but it is within our capability to diffuse it with the right combination of intention and attention. She reflects on the heartening evidence to which the various studies reviewed in the book point:
“The most crucial learning that has emerged from this science is the recognition that we continue to change right up to the moment we die. Every experience and encounter, each piece of new learning, each relationship or reassessment alters how our minds work. And no two experiences are the same. In his work on the human genome, the Nobel laureate Sydney Brenner reminds us that even identical twins will have different experiences in different environments and that that makes them fundamentally different beings. Identical twins develop different immune systems. Mental practice alone can change how our brains operate. The plasticity and responsiveness of our minds is what makes each of us most remarkable… We aren’t automata serving the master computer in our heads, and our capacity for change can never be underestimated…
“We make ourselves powerless when we choose not to know. But we give ourselves hope when we insist on looking. The very fact that willful blindness is willed, that it is a product of a rich mix of experience, knowledge, thinking, neurons, and neuroses, is what gives us the capacity to change it. Like Lear, we can learn to see better, not just because our brain changes but because we do. As all wisdom does, seeing starts with simple questions: What could I know, should I know, that I don’t know? Just what am I missing here?”
Ziyah Gafić photographs everyday objects—watches, shoes, glasses. But these images are deceptively simple; the items in them were exhumed from the mass graves of the Bosnian War. Gafić, a TED Fellow and Sarajevo native, has photographed every item from these graves in order to create a living archive of the identities of those lost.
Happiness At Work edition #109
All of these stories and many more are collected together in this week’s new Happiness At Work collection
We hope you enjoy the surprise of unearthing something delightful that was already there sometime over the coming week…
We know that strong and successful relationships are essential and central to our flourishing, in our work, for our careers and in every aspect of our lives. But making and sustaining great relationships at work is complex and often problematic. This week we put the spotlight on a clutch of stories from this week’s Happiness At Work edition #105that give us new thinking and practical ideas for making great relationships at work.
In this post you will find stories about Emotional and Social Intelligence – what this means and how to become more expert in these core capabilities for making successful relationships. There are ideas about how to make the power balance work better, for example in negotiations and between men and women. There is an infographic that shows just what people need to feel truly engaged at work. There are practical techniques for building relationships, for listening better, for making coaching conversations work. And the post concludes with a talk by Daniel Goleman, the original thinker on Emotional Intelligence, who gives us some of his latest wisdom about making thriving relationships in the atmospheric conditions of our 21st century lives.
And before all of this, here is Steve McCurry’s latest photo collection, celebrating relationships in his usual magical intimate way…
Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work.
If one falls down, his friend can help him up. (Ecclesiastes 4)
The glory of friendship is not the outstretched hand,
not the kindly smile, nor the joy of companionship.
It is the spiritual inspiration that comes to one when you discover that someone else believes in you and is willing to trust you with a friendship.
– Ralph Waldo Emerson
New research discovers the brain regions that help to optimize social functioning are also important for general intelligence and emotional intelligence.
This finding suggests general intelligence emerges from the emotional and social context of one’s life…
“The brain networks found to be important to social adeptness were not identical to those that contribute to general intelligence or emotional intelligence, but there was significant overlap,” Barbey said.
“The evidence suggests that there’s an integrated information-processing architecture in the brain, that social problem solving depends upon mechanisms that are engaged for general intelligence and emotional intelligence,” he said.
“This is consistent with the idea that intelligence depends to a large extent on social and emotional abilities, and we should think about intelligence in an integrated fashion rather than making a clear distinction between cognition and emotion and social processing.
“This makes sense because our lives are fundamentally social — we direct most of our efforts to understanding others and resolving social conflict. And our study suggests that the architecture of intelligence in the brain may be fundamentally social, too.”
How much do relationships matter to you? We are talking all types of relationships, personal and business relationships.
Do you see your relationships directly affecting your life’s success or happiness or do you see them as a separate entity on their own, as a perk (or pest!) of life without serving a larger purpose?
Don’t worry. There is no right or wrong answer, and certainly no grading here. But there is a better way to live your life if you want to emulate successful people and what they always do in relationships…
A single patternkept emerging after studying dozens and dozens of successful people: the importance of their relationships – both personal and business – in their success.
The higher the success level of the person, the higher the importance of each relationship in his or her life, and the more time and energy went into their relationships.
Why are relationships so important to success?
Successful people are not big into wasting their time or squandering their wealth. They are smart, intelligent, and vigilant people who want to create even more success and happiness in their lives.
It turns out that among things successful people do, building relationships ranks high as a top use of their time and energy.
Now these are not just any relationships, but relationships that promote their state of wealth and health, success and happiness, self-development and personal growth, to name a few incentives.
Successful people want to create more success and thus, they hang out with people who push them to higher levels.
7 things successful people do to build lasting relationships
1. Clarify the objective of the relationship early on
This may sound business-like and serious, but in fact, it is such a relief to be able to build a relationship where you know the overall incentive behind it. Maybe you want to learn from each other. Maybe you hope to do business together someday. Maybe you want to be challenged or motivated. Maybe you want to learn each other’s success lessons.
Successful people are not shy to state the objective of the relationships and that they plan to make it lasting and neither should we!
2. Communicate openly and clearly and listen intently
Listening and communicating well are the top traits of all successful people in general, but these elements come to play when you watch them in their relationships. They listen intently. They are present when they are with the other person. They are not too busy to listen and too quick to move on to the next thing.
Successful people also communicate openly, even if it means they need to ask for something or say no about something.
Open communication and alert intentional listening are the foundations of lasting relationships.
3. Never wait until they need something to build a relationship
Successful people don’t “save” their relationship building energy — because they know that the energy does not run out. Just like creativity, it grows and extends from use, and they use it well in building lots of relationships. They build these relationships in advance of ever needing them. So their motive is never coloured by their own selfish desires to get “something out of the relationship” but rather, they go into each relationship with mutual benefits to both parties, and build lots of relationships…
4. Give generously at the start of a relationship. Give more throughout
Successful people don’t keep tabs on what’s in it for them and what favors they can collect on later, and this is especially true at the beginning of a relationship. Giving and giving a lot is the theme they use if they are building a lasting relationship.
Giving means offering, as little or as much as you can, of your time, knowledge, expertise, energy, power or position in life, and watching it come back to you ten fold. Giving can be rewarding in itself…
5. Speak up if something is not going well
When something is not going well in their relationships, successful people just speak up. They do it with integrity, with compassion and with kindness, but they still speak up and they do this early on so that the problems don’t fester. They do this not to make a fuss or complain, but to make the relationship better, stronger, and more mutually beneficial.
This is one of the more challenging things to do in a relationship so start on a smaller scale. This also tests your communication and listening skills, which is the second tip above. If you can learn to do this well, you will have more rewarding lasting relationships throughout your life and career.
6. Fiercely support and protect their relationships
Successful people always speak highly of the people in their relationships, they watch out for them, they guard their reputation, and they represent them to others as they’d want to be represented themselves. They are simply protective and supportive as a big brother or sister would be to a younger sibling, and in turn, they get the same treatment from the people in those relationships. Everyone wins!
7. Work hard to mend, repair and strengthen a damaged relationship
Sometimes things happen, even to successful relationships. A miscommunication gets out. A ball gets dropped. A promise gets broken. And the relationship suffers a little. Successful people are quick to bring focus and attention and care to a damaged relationship. They are not too proud to apologize and to offer to mend their ways. They are not too proud to work hard at regaining trust and rebuilding strength. They know that relationships are a long-term investment and an enabler for their aspirations and desires. They work hard at making things work again in their relationships, and hence make it even stronger than before.
So next time something goes awry in your relationship, think of it as an opportunity to get even closer and build even a stronger more authentic relationship.
How to put the lessons from successful people into practice now
The instant joys of connecting with another human being aside, relationships empower you to achieve the unthinkable and the unimaginable. They push you higher and closer into the person you were meant to be, and when you are in the right relationship, others may have an even higher vision of life for you than you have for yourself. That level of faith and belief in your abilities can be huge help in achieving your dreams.
Focus on any of these 7 things successful people do to build lasting relationships, and implement only one at a time. Focus on your current relationships and apply these concepts in a measured way, and see if you notice a difference in the quality of your own relationships.
When most of us really don’t like the traditional performance review, why do we stick with the old system? It is time to reimagine the performance review.
Not only does the traditional performance review seem to be a limited method for conveying a whole year’s worth of feedback, it is not always accurate. Managers are sometimes afraid to give honest feedback and avoid scoring people low because they fear having a difficult conversation with an employee about their poor performance. Some managers may be harsher than others. If your company bases raises on performance review scores, this could disadvantage employees who work for such a manager. It is nearly impossible to make sure all managers are using the same standards for scoring employees.
When a poor performer gets a good review, it makes discipline and termination a challenge. The employee may say, “I don’t understand. All my reviews have been good.”
Managers may also feel rushed to get a stack of reviews done in a short period of time; therefore, they do not always put the energy into writing an accurate review. A single review may take an hour or two to write, and most managers have a lot of demands on their time that make a list of reviews a huge burden.
Taking a Different Approach to Performance Reviews
A good manager should be providing feedback on a regular basis. Let employees know when they are doing a good job immediately. If an employee successfully completes a project in January, do not wait until a performance review in October to document that success. Keep a feedback log and make a quick note whenever an employee does well or if you have to coach the employee on performance issues. Make performance documentation an ongoing process rather than a once-per-year thing.
When an employee continues to have performance issues, address them through corrective action, which includes coaching, warnings and possible termination. Issuing warnings for continued problems and serious violations will give you the documentation you need if you have to make the decision about whether or not to terminate someone. It can still be hard to discuss performance problems, but addressing one problem at a time through corrective action can be easier than trying to deliver a review that details every performance issue in the span of a year.
Giving ongoing feedback takes away the stress managers feel about writing a stack of reviews, and it also alleviates the anxiety employees feel about receiving reviews. Ongoing feedback also acknowledges that our work performance is constantly evolving.
Listening is a life skill that impacts our ability to communicate, build relationships and get things done. It helps us learn, and doing it well can save us immense amounts of time, effort and frustration.
While in some ways we think about listening as an act of not talking, actually, to be a highly effective listener we do need to talk and engage – and one of the best ways to engage as a listener is by asking questions.
Here is a “starter pack” of questions you can use to be a better listener. Seven of these questions you can ask others, and three are questions for you to keep in mind, but not ask out loud.
The Out Loud Questions
Not all of these will apply in every situation, so modify and use the appropriate ones for a given conversation.
“How do you feel about that?” This question encourages the other person to go deeper and share more about their point of view.
“Can you tell me more about that?” While this question could be answered with a yes or no, in practice it is one of the most useful listening questions as it encourages the other person to continue and will work in nearly any situation.
“I hear you saying . . . X . . . do I have that correct?” This is a version of paraphrasing the other person to check for understanding, and then ask for confirmation. There are many ways to ask this – find one that works for you because it is critical to your ability to both understand and help the other person know that you understand.
“What would make it better?” This allows the other person to share their viewpoint and take the next step in the conversation.
“How can I help?” Maybe you can, and maybe you can’t help. But asking and probing to see their perspective shows that you are willing to help! Hint – don’t ask if you aren’t willing to actually help in some way!
“What’s next?” This question moves us forward. It might signal to the other person that you are bored with the current topic, so be careful of the tone and placement of this question,. It can also signal that you are ready to help with solution.
What is the most important thing to remember?” If you really want to understand the other person, help them summarize for you. This question offers that chance and signals that you DO want to remember.
The Internal Questions
These are not meant as questions to ask of the other person, but of yourself. Thinking about these questions will help you stay engaged in the conversation and avoid a wandering mind. They also keep you focused on what is ultimately most important – your relationship with the other person.
Do I really understand what they are saying? If the answer is yes, great. If not, it is time to ask some of the questions above.
What are their non-verbal behaviors telling me? People communicate with more than their words – are you hearing with your eyes as well as your ears? Are you getting the full message?
How can I best show my support for them right now? This is a powerful question to ask, and even more valuable when you take action on your answer.
Try these to start using questions more effectively when you listen. As you do, you will develop and find others to use, including alternative and personalized versions, that will expand your starter pack.
Listening is about more than just hearing and understanding the messages being communicated by others. You send back a much bigger and ultimately more important message to others when you truly listen – you communicate that you support and care about the other person. These questions will help you remain mindful of this bigger purpose and help you listen more effectively whenever you use them.
The question: How should effective leaders who coach be?
Coaching is a process. Leaders should use coaching to serve as a growth guide and trusted advisor to each other. Looking at the list we developed, you can see how coaching requires a lot of mutual accountability and trust. These things are developed through patience and continual practice. Leaders must understand that you will not execute coaching someone perfectly the first, or any time, for that matter. It isn’t that you execute the coaching perfectly every time, but you do demonstrate the qualities to the best of your ability as a leader who coaches.
Learn to be open. I think this may be one of the hardest attributes leaders who coach have to remember. So often, we hedge our thoughts and feelings, especially if we have a deep need to be liked or accepted. Leaders who coach must learn it is not often about you, but about the person you are trying to help. At the same time, if you are a leader who is coaching an employee within your supervision or organization, keeping mutual benefits in mind and in goals is powerful. The more you can learn to be straightforward and candid with a high degree of empathy and a large dose of care, the more effective you will be as a leader who coaches.
Leadership behaviors to practice while coaching:
Observe: watch and be highly aware of what your colleague is doing
Exchange: be mindful, discuss and exchange thoughts about the topics
Question: be interested and curious about the other person
Generous: offer your best ideas on improvement and process
Belief: have a high degree of belief in the other person and challenge them to develop some solutions and approaches
“We found that in the role-play, people were significantly more likely to blatantly lie to women,” says Laura Kray, the lead author of the study. “To women, for instance, the buyer’s agents would say, ‘They will be luxury condos,’ but to men, they would say, ‘I can’t tell you.’ ” After the negotiation, students were asked to disclose whether they lied. Both men and women reported lying to women more often. Twenty-four percent of men said they lied to a female partner, while only 3 percent of men said they lied to a male partner. Women also lied to other women (17 percent), but they lied to men as well (11 percent). Perhaps even more telling: People were more likely to let men in on secrets. “Men were more likely to be given preferential treatment,” says Kray. In several instances, buyer’s agents revealed their client’s true intentions to men saying, “I’m not supposed to tell you this, but … ” This sort of privileged information was never offered to women.
Kray and her colleagues also asked students to rate the hypothetical buyers’ characteristics and found that participants perceived women as less competent than men (or a hypothetical person whose gender was not revealed). “When people perceive someone as low in competence and easily misled, they assume the person will not scrutinize lies, and that you can get away with [lying],” says Kray. Participants were asked to report how likely they thought other people would be to take advantage of a male or female buyer, and the participants correctly reported that people would lower their ethical standards when dealing with women. “People are aware of stereotypes, and use them to their advantage when they’re motivated to do so,” Kray says.
Kray suggests that it may help women in negotiations to signal their competence and confidence. She recommends showing up prepared, asking questions, and scrutinizing terms throughout the process. Her advice fits in with feminist campaigns that aim to empower women to take control of their careers: Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg recommendsleaning in to opportunities for success; media veterans Katty Kay and Claire Shipman instruct women to get ahead by being more confident.
But for all our leaning in and confidence-building, women’s attempts to reach the top can be stalled by factors we can’t control, like the gendered evaluations Kray and her colleagues uncovered in their study. Another study published last week echoes this finding: While white men are lauded for promoting diversity, women who do the same receive lower performance ratings and are perceived as less warm. Ultimately, encouraging women to act like men is a losing battle; the assertive moves that make men appear competent in the workplace backfire for women, who are perceived as cold and bossy instead.
The problem doesn’t lie in women’s actual skills—it lies in stereotypes about what we’re capable of. And until we chip away at those, telling women to try harder won’t get us fair treatment.
A variation in the cognitive abilities of the two sexes may be more about social development than gender stereotypes
The latest research suggests that living standards and access to education probably bear more responsibility for cognitive disparity between men and women than genes, nursery colours or the ability to catch a ball.
Previous studies have shown that male and female brains are wired differently. Last year Ragini Verma of the University of Pennsylvania used sophisticated imaging techniques to show variations between men and women in dominant connections in the cerebrum, the part of the brain that does the thinking. Dr Verma speculated this could help explain why women tend to have better memories, social adeptness and an improved ability to multitask.
Now Daniela Weber of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Vienna, and her colleagues, suggest why such changes come about and, importantly, how the differences can change. The group’s analysis, reported this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, finds that the cognitive performance of women—much more so than men—benefits from factors such as greater employment opportunities, increased economic prosperity and better health.
This study indicates that cognitive differences between men and women are not solely inherited. It suggests that, to a degree hitherto unacknowledged, they are learned from the roles a society expects males and females to perform, and that those differences can change as society changes. Modern times require modern thinking.
Whether women actually are more empathetic than men is debatable. It may be that society has expected such capacity from the principal child-carers for so long that it has become ingrained. The same goes for numeracy. Is science dominated by men because they are better at it, or because it was a career choice not widely open to women before the late 20th century?
This video is the talk Daniel Goleman, one of the first experts in Emotional Intelligence (EQ), gave in London, hosted by Action For Happiness last October 2013. It is full of interesting research findings and insights about how we can make our relationships stronger and better.
Here are the notes I took from this talk on the night as a summary of some of the key ideas contained in this talk…
Most of the news we get is for the brain’s amygdala – firing up our sense of threat
If you feel pressured you just don’t notice a lot – and we are living now as if in a constant stage of being under siege
A Harvard experiment found that our minds are most unfocused when we are commuting, at a computer, at work
Social emotional learning has now been going on in schools for over a decade. Studies have found that this learning brings anti-social behaviour down by 10% and pro-social behaviour up by 10%. And academic success up by more than 10%.
Another study found that Leaders in the top ten per cent of effectiveness compared to least effective ten% had 80-90% of competences that are Emotional Intelligence (EQ)-centred.
EQ is a model for Wellbeing including four essentials
Good work combines from doing what we’re excellent at, passionate about and matches our ethics
When we are in ‘flow’ our attention gets super-focused. This is optimal performance and it feels good
b) Self-Management – being in command of our emotions – cognitive control
Studies like the ‘marshmallow test’ find that kids who can’t manage their impulses are constantly distracted
A NZ study that looked at kids, and then revisited them again in their thirties found that cognitive control is a better predictor of success than IQ or wealth. And kids who didn’t have it ‘naturally’ at the start but learned it ended up doing just as well. Self-management can be taught and learned
Our more recent fore-brain is designed to be linked to our other older brains
Our brain is peppered with mirror neurons – a brain-to-brain link – that operates in our entire biology, and that keeps us on the same page as another person. When someone is in pain we have an instant sense of this ourselves
There are three ingredients to rapport:
full mutual Attention
Flow – it feels good to connect fully
This is operating in every human interaction
d) Social Skill – good strong relationships and interactions
Our happiness increases in relation to the amount we care about others’ happiness
A new and troubling Berkley study is finding hat people pay less attention to people of lower status. And Freud talked about ‘the narcissism of minor differences’ that can start a spiral of inter-group hostility
But The Flynn Effect showed that it’s not the family you’re born into that has to predict who you become. We are always adapting and learning and evolving in response to the opportunities and circumstances we find ourselves in.
And every time they come up with a new IQ test they have to make the questions harder, because each successive generation gets smarter.
We should teach children these skills. Doing this systematically would increase our GNP.
Mindfulness is one of the best ways to increase focus, attention and emotional intelligence.
Mindfulness increases cognitive control by working on the muscle of attention. Every time you notice your mind wandering off and bring it back you are working this muscle.
A Mindfulness exercise for children (that can easily be adapted for us older people)
‘Breathing Buddies’ involves putting a toy animal on a child’s tummy. They breathe in 1-2-3 and out 1-2-3.
Mindfulness pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn found that if people did their mindfulness exercises for 28 days they achieved lasting and substantial improvements in their physical, mental and emotional fitness and wellbeing.
Neuroscience has revealed that when we are upset, anxious or angry our Right prefrontal cortex is active. When we are calm and happy, this region is quiet, and the Left area is active. High activity in our far Left Brain is indicative of resilience; far to the Right Brain is indicative of depression.
Mindfulness also mobilises the flu shot antibodies – as well as switching up our immune system.
Guided Mindfulness audios by Goleman available at morethansound.net
The Dalai Lama recently offered 3 questions for decision making. Will it benefit…
.just me or others?
just my group or everyone?
just for the present or for the future?
Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, the man that scientists call “the happiest man alive”, was involved in a study on his impact on the (2nd) most abrasive professor in a university.
They came together to debate. The professor begins in a highly agitated state. Ricard stays calm. The professor becomes calm, and eventually doesn’t even want the encounter to end.
People are transformed by positive encounters.
And we can all cause ripples of happier encounters.
But there is a bias toward unhappiness. If we understand more about how people can get along we might be able to promote that better
Our attention looks both in and out.
Internal (self) awareness is focus on self.
Empathy is focus on the other person.
We need to able to be equally and simultaneously good at both.
Passing on emotions is affected by three things:
Power – for example if the leader is in a negative or positive mood the rest of the team catch it and their performance goes down or up
Stableness – like Ricard showed the professor.
Can you be happy for no reason?
Can you cultivate a feeling of happiness independent of external circumstances?
There is a danger of mistaking espoused happiness for enacted happiness
We need to be authentically happy
Daniel Goleman’s wife’s books: Tara Bennett Goleman (mindfulness and cognitive therapy expert) Emotional Alchemy Mind Whispering
Technology and Focus
The new social norm is to ignore the person you’re with and look at a screen.
We have to get better at focusing. We have to learn cognitive control. Technology is insidiously stealing more and more of our attention. Mind wandering tends to concentrate on problems. The extent to which we can turn it off and focus on better things, the better off we will be.
But the research on technology is showing good and bad things: for example, games increase vigilance but also a negative intention bias. New games are now being designed to improve attention.
Social comparison is quite automatic in the brain. When you’re feeling compassion – loving kindness – your positivity fires up.
To overcome negative comparison:
Concentrate on the Positive
And be Compassionate
How do you study unhappiness without becoming miserable?
Mindfulness should go hand in hand with compassion and noticing and caring about what is happening in the world and if we can do something about it.
Our biggest source of unhappiness is most usually our own mind
Pyramid of Success – John R. Wooden, Basketball Coach
This week we highlight the power of our minds to create what happens to us.
What we choose to tell ourselves dramatically affects the story we make for our own life. And the stories we choose to tell and make in our communications give us the power to affect and influence the lives of the people we work.
Ultimately stories give us the ability to create and enact not just our own hero’s success story of greatness, but the power to change the world and people’s lives.
Here is a great set of brain exercises by way of a warmup.
The right answers, when you find them, just see so obviously right you’ll know when you’ve found them.
Here is a brain teaser whose aim is to stimulate the connections or associations between words in your temporal lobe. You will see pairs of words, and your goal is to find a third word that is connected or associated with both of these two words.
For example, the first pair is PIANO and LOCK. The answer is KEY. The word key is connected with both the word piano and the word lock: there are KEYS on a piano and you use a KEY to lock doors. Key is what is called a homograph: a word that has more than one meaning but is always spelled the same.
Ready to stimulate connections in your temporal lobe(s)? Enjoy! (Solutions are below. Please don’t check them until you have tried to solve all the pairs!)
The journey of a hero at its earliest, most humble beginnings is nothing more than a desire for greatness…
And legends aren’t born from mediocrity. They are born from excellence. They are born from being the best. From being the hardest working. Legends are born from failure. They are born from falling down time and time again and having the grit to get back up again. Legends are born from adversity. They are forged in the crucible of struggle. Heroes come and go. But legends, legends live forever…
How to use the hero’s story to present better, the tension of creative work and commerce, learning to let go, and the power of turning failure into your life’s work…
Most believe great presenters are born and not made. Nancy Duarte would argue against this. After all, she received a C- in Speech Communication class in college. Since then she’s gone on to become a world-renowned author and expert on the art and science of delivering compelling presentations.
Today her firm works with the world’s top brands like Cisco, General Electric, The Food Network, and Twitter to help their employees evolve their presentation skills into messages that shift beliefs and behaviors. In addition, her books Slide:ology, Resonate, and HBR’s Guide to Persuasive Presentations do much to fill in the knowledge gaps of how to make presenting easier and more engaging for your audience.
Presenters tend to quickly go to tools like PowerPoint, which is used second only to email, to communicate. But strong communicators are able to visualize their ideas…
Your vision needs to be clear and if people can see what you’re saying, they will understand you. Practice sketching what you see. There is tremendous power in being able to sketch out an idea so others can see it…
“You have the power to change the world…”
If you put slides between you and another person, you cheat yourself out of an opportunity to create a personal connection. In one-on-one situations, you have the chance to make a really rich human connection yet so many times that opportunity is lost due to putting technology between you and them.
Instead of looking at each other, people end up looking at technology. When you’re on-on-one, try using a piece of paper between you instead. You can have some concepts on the paper, or it could be a printout of your slides that you both build on, or even start with a blank sheet of paper.
What this type of setup says is, “Let’s both create something.”
by Jan Hills, adapted from the content in her new book, Brain-Savvy HR
You and a colleague have been working on a new project proposal which gets rejected by the board. You’re gutted, and finding it hard to get past the sense of disappointment, the feeling that your career has stalled. But your colleague seems to be much more philosophical about the decision. She’s shrugged it off and seems to be getting on with things. Didn’t she have as much invested in getting the project off the ground – didn’t it matter as much to her? Or is she just coping better?
The difference is resilience.
It’s the art of adapting well in the face of adversity: when a proposal is rejected, when a valued colleague moves to another company, or if you lose your job in a downsizing. Some people describe it as the ability to bend without breaking.
Biologically, resilience is the ability to manage the physical and neurological impact of the stress response. Stress can have a significant impact on the immune system, and make us physically ill, but the effects are entirely dependent on how we, individually, react to it. (Read more about that in the chapter in this section “I can’t avoid stress in my job.”
What makes us resilient?
Studies of twins suggest that at least some of our response to stress, and our ability to cope with it, is inherited. Having a sociable personality that embraces novel tasks and interests, and being accepting of yourself and your faults makes someone more resilient.
But our environment also comes into play: the patterns of behaviour we’ve learned, our education, support from our family, our income and security. But research also shows that we can build resilience with some discipline and consistent practice.
Resilience in the brain develops through repeated experience. Any experience, whether positive or negative, causes neurons in the brain to activate. The strengthened connections between them create neural circuits and pathways that make it likely we will respond to the same or a similar situation in the same way that we reacted before.
This is the brain’s natural way of encoding patterns that become the automatic, unconscious habits that drive our behaviours. It relies upon the neuroplasticity of the brain: its capacity to grow new neurons and, more importantly, new connections among the neurons. When we choose to act in particular ways, repeatedly, to the extent we form new habits and ways of behaving, we are engaging in self-directed neuroplasticity.
How can we become more resilient?
Some of the effective strategies that are well-supported by scientific evidence for developing resilience include:
Learn “emotional regulation”
Two approaches to self-regulation that have been extensively studied are reappraisal and mindfulness meditation…
Reappraisal is a technique for reinterpreting the cause of a negative emotion or stress. So instead of seeing your rejection for promotion as a failure, you reappraise it as an opportunity to build mastery and deepen expertise in your current role
Columbia University’s Kevin Ochsner has found that reappraisal results in changes in the brain, particularly in the prefrontal cortex: the centre for planning, directing and inhibiting. It also decreases the activity of the amygdala, responsible for emotion. The result is that an experience is less emotionally charged and it’s possible for the person to interpret it more positively. People who practise this technique report greater psychological wellbeing than those who suppress their emotions.
So when you’re faced with a negative experience you may find it useful to ask yourself: “Is there a different way to look at this?” Be like the optimistic friend who would put a different spin on it for you.
Our experience of using this strategy with clients, especially in very tough circumstances, is that it can be challenging and it takes practice. Ochsner has found that training in reappraisal, especially using the technique of distancing from the problem, is successful.
Another method for increasing resilience and managing emotions is mindfulness meditation, which has been found to improve focus and wellbeing, and encourage more flexible thinking. Brain scans have shown increases in activity in the left prefrontal cortex (which is associated with emotional control), a boost in positive emotions, and faster recovery from feelings of disgust, anger and fear.
Adopt a positive outlook on life
Optimism is associated with good mental and physical health, which probably stems from a better ability to regulate the stress response. Psychologist Barbara Frederickson has found that negative emotions tend to increase physiological arousal, narrow focus and restrict behaviours to those which are essential for survival, like just getting your report done in the usual way, and avoiding social interaction and helping anyone else.
Positive emotions, by contrast, reduce stress and broaden focus, leading to more creative and flexible responses. In this frame of mind you’d be more likely to come up with a new report format which works better, get input from colleagues, or help your junior by coaching them to do the data analysis.
Do you believe you’re in control?
Psychologist Julian Rotter has developed the concept of “locus of control.” Some people, he says, view themselves as essentially in control of the good and bad things they experience: they have an internal locus of control. Others believe that things are done to them by outside forces, or happen by chance (an external locus).
These viewpoints are not absolutes, says Laurence Gonzales, author ofSurviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience. “Most people combine the two,” he says, “But research shows that those with a strong internal locus are better off. In general, they’re less likely to find everyday activities distressing. They don’t often complain, whine, or blame. And they take compliments and criticism in their stride.”
Developing an internal locus takes discipline and self-awareness, but it enables you to envisage options and scenarios based on intuition and foresight, which means you can create plans in anticipation, or in the midst of a challenge.
And what about optimism?
Resilience is associated with a type of realistic optimism. If you’re too optimistic you may miss negative information or ignore it rather than deal with it. Over-optimism results in taking or ignoring risks, which may actually increase stress. The most resilient people seem to be able to tune out negative words and events and develop the habit of interpreting situations in a more positive manner. Oxford psychologist Elaine Fox says we can train ourselves to do this.
What this means for us in business is that we should take a positive outlook whilst carefully assessing and acknowledging risks using techniques like pre-mortems and appreciative enquiry.
Aerobic exercise has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety and improve attention, planning, decision-making and memory. And exercise appears to aid resilience by boosting levels of endorphins as well as the neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin which may elevate mood. It also suppresses the release of the stress hormone cortisol.
Develop your resilience muscle
Researchers recommend “workouts,” or tasks that get gradually more challenging. This idea of “stress inoculation” is based on the theory that increasing the degree of difficulty teaches us to handle higher levels of challenge and stress.
If you dread giving presentations then offering to give the after-dinner toast at an annual dinner, and signing-up for a speaking club, can be part of a process gradually training yourself out of the fear.
The same approach as training for a marathon also works for mental challenges, according to the authors of Resilience: the science of mastering life’s greatest challenges. However, just as with an athlete’s training and competition programme, it’s important to build-in recovery time: extended periods of stress without a recovery period can be damaging. One of the skills of resilient people, according to performance psychologist Jim Loehr, is knowing when they need a break.
Maintain your support networks
Developing your network of supportive friends, family and colleagues is another important way to enhance your resilience. Don’t be too busy to do lunch, help someone or stop and talk to a colleague: it reduces your stress response and bolsters your courage and self-confidence, and creates a safety net.
Social ties make us feel good about ourselves: they activate the reward response in our brain. Objectively evaluate your network and analyse its strengths. You may have support in your home life, but do you also have it at work? Who do you know who could help you with different types of challenges? Who understands you, and has the skills you could call on in a crisis?
Follow good role models
We’re familiar with the idea of role models in business and leadership development. But thinking about who your models are for resilience may be a new idea for you. Consider who you know who has been through tough times in the business and has come through. What are the characteristics of their strength and how did they manage the challenge?
Psychologist Albert Bandura believes modelling is most effective when the observer analyses what they want to imitate by dissecting different aspects and creating rules that can guide their own action.
It’s all about belief
Psychologist Edith Grotberg believes that everyone needs to remind themselves regularly of their strengths. She suggests we cultivate resilience by thinking about three areas:
Strong relationships, structure, rules at home, role models: these are external supports.
Self-belief, caring about other people, being proud of ourselves: these are inner strengths that can be developed.
Communicating, solving problems, gauging the temperament of others, seeking out good relationships: these are the interpersonal and problem-solving skills that can be acquired.
At the heart of resilience is a belief in ourselves. Resilient people don’t let adversity define them: they move towards a goal beyond themselves and see tough times as just a temporary state of affairs.
It is not, however, the only lens through which to view decision-making. PsychologistGerd Gigerenzerhas spent his career focusing on the ways in which we get things right, or could at least learn to. In Gigerenzer’s view, using heuristics, rules of thumb, and other shortcuts often leads to better decisions than the models of “rational” decision-making developed by mathematicians and statisticians.
I always wonder why people want to hear how bad their own decisions are, or at least, how dumb everyone else is. That’s not my direction. I’m interested to help people to make better decisions, not to state that they have these cognitive illusions and are basically hopeless when it comes to risk…
Assume you are a turkey and it’s the first day of your life. A man comes in and you believe, “He kills me.” But he feeds you. Next day, he comes again and you fear, “He kills me,” but he feeds you. Third day, the same thing. By any standard model, the probability that he will feed you and not kill you increases day by day, and on day 100, it is higher than any before. And it’s the day before Thanksgiving, and you are dead meat. So the turkey confused the world of uncertainty with one of calculated risk. And the turkey illusion is probably not so often in turkeys, but mostly in people…
Gut feelings are tools for an uncertain world. They’re not caprice. They are not a sixth sense or God’s voice. They are based on lots of experience, an unconscious form of intelligence.
I’ve worked with large companies and asked decision makers how often they base an important professional decision on that gut feeling. In the companies I’ve worked with, which are large international companies, about 50% of all decisions are at the end a gut decision.
But the same managers would never admit this in public. There’s fear of being made responsible if something goes wrong, so they have developed a few strategies to deal with this fear. One is to find reasons after the fact….
Using data more intelligently is a good strategy if you have a business in a very stable world. Big data has a long tradition in astronomy. For thousands of years, people have collected amazing data, and the heavenly bodies up there are fairly stable, relative to our short time of lives. But if you deal with an uncertain world, big data will provide an illusion of certainty. For instance, in Risk Savvy I’ve analyzed the predictions of the top investment banks worldwide on exchange rates. If you look at that, then you know that big data fails.
In an uncertain world you need something else. Good intuitions, smart heuristics.
Among the most intensely interesting pieces in the Nothing: Surprising Insights Everywhere from Zero to Oblivion collection is one by science journalist Jo Marchant, who penned the fascinating story of the world’s oldest analog computer. Titled “Heal Thyself,” the piece explores how the way we think about medical treatments shapes their very real, very physical effects on our bodies — an almost Gandhi-like proposition, except rooted in science rather than philosophy. Specifically, Marchant brings to light a striking new dimension of the placebo effect that runs counter to how the phenomenon has been conventionally explained. She writes:
It has always been assumed that the placebo effect only works if people are conned into believing that they are getting an actual active drug. But now it seems this may not be true. Belief in the placebo effect itself — rather than a particular drug — might be enough to encourage our bodies to heal.
Realism can be bad for your health. Optimists recover better from medical procedures such as coronary bypass surgery, have healthier immune systems and live longer, both in general and when suffering from conditions such as cancer, heart disease and kidney failure.
It is well accepted that negative thoughts and anxiety can make us ill. Stress — the belief that we are at risk — triggers physiological pathways such as the “fight-or-flight” response, mediated by the sympathetic nervous system. These have evolved to protect us from danger, but if switched on long-term they increase the risk of conditions such as diabetes and dementia.
What researchers are now realizing is that positive beliefs don’t just work by quelling stress. They have a positive effect too — feeling safe and secure, or believing things will turn out fine, seems to help the body maintain and repair itself…
Optimism seems to reduce stress-induced inflammation and levels of stress hormones such as cortisol. It may also reduce susceptibility to disease by dampening sympathetic nervous system activity and stimulating the parasympathetic nervous system. The latter governs what’s called the “rest-and-digest” response — the opposite of fight-or-flight.
Just as helpful as taking a rosy view of the future is having a rosy view of yourself. High “self-enhancers” — people who see themselves in a more positive light than others see them — have lower cardiovascular responses to stress and recover faster, as well as lower baseline cortisol levels.
Marchant notes that it’s as beneficial to amplify the world’s perceived positivity as it is to amplify our own — something known as our “self-enhancement bias,” a type of self-delusion that helps keep us sane. But the same applies to our attitudes toward others as well — they too can impact our physical health.