Happiness At Work #87 ~ sometimes it’s good to be up in the clouds

This post invites you to put your head in the clouds for a while and think about creative thinking…

'Sometimes its good to be up in the clouds' photo by Sue Ridge

‘Sometimes its good to be up in the clouds’
photo by Sue Ridge

This week’s title comes from a new photo by artist Sue Ridge, which heads up this selection of stories that invite us to think about what our thinking, and especially our creative thinking, might ideally be made of…

Insight test – how much do you know about insightful working?

To get started with this, here’s a quick and surprising challenge to test your existing thinking by Gary Klein, author of Seeing what others don’t: the remarkable ways we gain insights:

Our ability to create insights is critical for innovation and adaptation.

Otherwise we would remain stuck in mental ruts formed over our lifetime. Insights let us see things in new ways. Many people, however, have the wrong ideas about insights. Here is a short test, only 12 items, to assess your knowledge of insights. For each item, note down the number at the left if you agree with the statement and think it has been sufficiently established.

  1. Brainstorming is an effective method for groups to generate insights.
  2. Insights depend on having fresh eyes, which is why greybeards – the so-called experts – tend to be trapped by their previous experience.
  3. Organizations desire insights and encourage their workers to come up with out-of-the box ideas.
  4. The way insights emerge is that we run into an impasse, struggle for awhile, then let our minds wander until suddenly there is a flash of illumination.
  5. Correlation doesn’t imply causality, so we shouldn’t get sidetracked by coincidences.
  6. A major barrier to insights is when we have flawed beliefs and assumptions.
  7. To correct flawed assumptions we should use critical thinking methods such as listing all the important assumptions we are making, to see which might be wrong.
  8. Scientists generate insights by running controlled experiments to test their hypotheses.
  9. Good scientists work carefully so that they won’t make erroneous claims.
  10. To handle a challenging project we should start by pinning down the goals so that we can systematically achieve success.
  11. Good ideas often come about by accident so we should expose ourselves to lots of different fields and different types of specialists.
  12. A well-designed computer workstation, tailored to the way we work so that it filters out irrelevant data and highlights the important cues, can boost our chances for having insights.

Let’s see how you did. Review your responses, changing any that don’t seem quite right. And here is the answer key: Zero. None of these items has been clearly established. Some are just wrong, contradicted by the data. Others seem unlikely and have not been supported by evidence. Here are some brief explanations:

  1. Brainstorming is a popular technique but the overwhelming weight of evidence shows that groups using it get fewer ideas, and less creative ones.
  2. Experience doesn’t get us into a rut unless the task is so repetitive and mindless that we tune out. A study of insights that I conducted found that experience was essential in 2/3 of the incidents.
  3. Organizations resist insights because they are dis-organizing and disruptive, and get in the way of smooth management. Most people view novel ideas as impractical and unreliable.
  4. This impasse strategy sometimes holds, but it is only one of several different ways that insights emerge. In a sample of 120 insights, only 25% involved impasses.
  5. Correlation doesn’t prove causality but many important insights started out when someone noticed a coincidence.
  6. People who gain insights often held flawed beliefs. What set them apart is that they were able to abandon these beliefs whereas others fixated on their flawed beliefs and were trapped by them.
  7. The strategy of listing assumptions has never been shown to improve performance, and it doesn’t even make sense because the beliefs that trap us are often based on hidden assumptions that we aren’t aware we are making. So we would never list them.
  8. When scientists run experiments and get results that support their hypotheses they haven’t gained any insights at all. Only when the results don’t work out as expected do scientists have to seek insights. Other parts of the scientific method, such as just observing the phenomenon of interest, are richer sources of insight.
  9. Claims that can’t ever be wrong are usually pretty bland. Scientists would do better to make the most extreme claims they can defend. Unfortunately, too many scientists are so risk averse that they censor themselves.
  10. Many challenging projects involve “wicked problems” that don’t have a clear goal. The only path to success is to gain insights about the goal along the way. Locking in on the initial goal is likely to lead to failure.
  11. There is no clear evidence that deliberate exposure to lots of diverse ideas will result in more insights.
  12. A well-designed workstation may feel comfortable but it will trap us in our traditional routines and make it harder to have insights about better ways to do the job. If the workstation filters out “irrelevant” cues, it may filter the cues that might spark insights.

The field of insight is marked by myths and superstitions. Only by exposing these outdated ideas can we expect to make progress in using our uniquely human talent to make discoveries and achieve insights.

Link to  the original article

Mindfulness Bell: a 5 minute meditation

This 5 minute mindfulness bell meditation is wonderful for whenever you want to clear your mind, relax and then get on with your day.

The recording contains nothing but the pure sound of a Tibetan singing bowl being repeatedly struck with a soft mallet. It was taken from Mindfulness Bells Volume 1. Christopher Lloyd Clarke recorded this bowl in his personal studio in 2011 using some of the most high-end microphones and audio processing equipment in his collection. Christopher is known for being a bit obsessed with sound quality, so we hope that you can appreciate the lovely tonal balance and detail that is present in this recording, even if it’s just in YouTube video format.

This calming sound is a wonderful focal point for meditation. Simply absorb your attention in the sound of the mindfulness bell. No mantra is required, no special breathing techniques are needed, just let your awareness be consumed by the sound of the bell.

Your mind will become clearer and more calm with each and every bell strike, and as the bells fade into silence, your mind is given the opportunity to experience a very natural state of stillness.

A high bell sound rings out at the conclusion of the meditation.

Please come back often and enjoy this 5 minute meditation anytime you want to clear your mind and relax!

For more information or to download the full 60 minute version, please visit http://www.the-guided-meditation-site…

career maze4

The Golden Ratio for Productive Creativity in the Workplace

by 

Perhaps the most defining barrier in the modern workplace is the ability to seamlessly integrate creative and productive processes. The challenge is faced by both leaders and employees. Though they welcome constructive creativity, the former find it difficult to integrate workflow beyond simple productivity. Creative solutions are often seen as an experimental indulgence, though no less desired from team members. Employees on the other hand find the productivity warp-drive seems to rule their every move, particularly in environments where managers are less project-focused and more task-focused. In fact, an Adobe study called “State of Create” showed that an estimated 75% of participating employees felt like ‘their employers put more pressure on them to be productive than to be creative. Simply put, this group finds little time for (or reward in) creative pursuits.

An organization’s survival is based not only on its productivity, but also on quality and ability to innovate – two traits that are pivotally dependent on creativity. An organization’s ability to integrate productivity with creativity is entirely dependent on taking an “outside” point of view, a broad scope of the entire structure from top to bottom. Here is where you’ll find a golden ratio of creativity-based productivity measures that will help you finally fill this elusive gap.

Hard-wired to be Creative: How Creativity Precede Productivity
It all begins with reimagining creativity as a concept. Some would protest they’re not gifted with creativity. However, while some people have more raw talent than others, creativity is a tool of the mind that (like any other mind-based approach) can be sharpened though disciplined practice.Jonah Lehrer, the author of Imagine: How Creativity Works, comments that while “Creativity shouldn’t be seen as something otherworldly. It shouldn’t be thought of as a process reserved for artists and inventors and other ‘creative types.’ The human mind, after all, has the creative impulse built into its operating system, hard-wired into its most essential programming code.” Creativity, as Lehrer discusses in an article withMashable writer, Josh Catone, can be taught. Lehrer adds definition to the kindled realization that imagination can be cultivated and improved upon.Programmed to be creative, we’re doing ourselves a disservice by eliminating it from our corporate culture – and moreover, from the fundamental way in which we do business. If we’re hard-wired to be creative, then aren’t we performing at diminished levels if we proceed without this deeply incubated and inherent capacity to create and perform?
On the Shoulders of Giants: How Leaders Are Responsible for Fueling Creative Productivity
As leaders, we set the benchmarks. Our role in spearheading creative productivity is by recognizing that “true leadership requires original thought and imagination that can motivate others, solve problems, and cultivate innovation and initiative along the way.” Pulled from a Forbes article entitled “The Content You Read Shapes How You Lead”, by Glenn Llopis, succinctly highlights why it’s critical for leaders to place the first proverbial stepping stone laying the foundation for a creatively productive corporate culture.Leaders are encouraged to treat creativity as a tool necessary for innovation. For those with an aversion to a word that has been associated with crafting and a flood of Pinterest-inspired ideas, know that a creative mind is a strategic mind. As I mentioned in an earlier post entitled, “The Creativity-Productivity Paradox: Play and Time”, creativity is the ability to connect the dots. To add weight to the argument, I quote Liane Davey’s Harvard Business Review post entitled “Strengthen Your Strategic Thinking Muscles”, in which she writes, “Strategic people see the world as a web of interconnected ideas and people and they find opportunities to advance their interests at those connection points.” The individual (and the organization) that is able to flex this type of creative thought has a higher chance on coursing through a path that is more result-driven rather than task-driven. In a nutshell, the creative mind has produced the productive mind.

Link to the original article

WHY Music: The New Power Shake – Blending Creativity, Well-Being and Learning

by Frank Fitzpatrick, multi-Platinum record producer, Grammy-nominated songwriter, social entrepreneur and award-winning filmmaker

As the world continues to spin in more unpredictable and exponential ways, the worlds of ideas-once-separated are being tossed into the same blender.

What is great about the omnipotent ingredient of music is that music is the juice that can make it all work together: cognitive and social development, motivation and emotional engagement, and mindfulness and well-being. Maybe it is because, as Beethoven taught us, music understands humankind in a way that humankind is yet to understand music. Sadly, because music has been so devalued and misunderstood by those leading in these other fields, it is underutilized at best.

One of the emerging trends …that I find encouraging is the desire to move toward creating greater well-being for the individual learner – being more conscious about what we put into the mix and shifting the values around priority outcomes. It is reassuring to have health, well-being and mindfulness be part of a dialogue that too often gets dominated by test scores and brain capacity.

We still have a long way to go, however, to get music fully embraced as a critical and omnipotent ingredient for education, successful learning, and the well-being of [today’s young people]. Music here has been removed from school curriculums, and public funding for the music-based arts programs has all, but disappeared. In one of my weekend meetings with the education gurus, I learned about an upcoming two-day global think tank that will help set the framework for open learning analytics to be used to measure learner outcome in education for the next fifteen years. Of the 50 experts at the table, music and the arts don’t have even one representative. Shocking! With all the evidence about the impact of music on learning and creativity, the development of the human brain, and the vitality of the human spirit, it should be a no-brainer to insist on music as an integral part of every child’s education.

So, as I head off to Austin for another education forum, armed with the latest in new technology, leading scientific research, a box of power tools for emotional engagement, and enough creative ideas to fill a 747, I will take my WHY Musicsoapbox with me. Maybe if I throw some magical ingredients into the blender and sing my mantras at the top of my voice — like “There is no M in STEM without Music!” — I might get a few more music warriors to join the movement.

Link to the original article

12 Questions to Exponential Knowledge

One of the very best ways to think about anything is through questions, and the fine art of asking really great questions is perhaps one of the most important capabilities for us to keep practising, practising, practising.

I have adapted some of these really great questions from the Leadership Freak to increase their openness and relevance for us all…

Knowledge and questions:

‘The opportunity of knowing is “not knowing,” effectively.’

Few things surpass the beauty of questions from someone with knowledge. You learn the most about others by the questions they ask, not the statements they make.

Use what you know to know more. Even ignorance can ask great questions.

7 ways to gain knowledge:

  1. Argue to apply. Theories are wonderful. Application brings them to life.
  2. Challenge to prove right.
  3. Go with not against.
  4. Explore for clarification not to devalue. It’s easy to shut others down and learn nothing.
  5. Understand purpose before discounting ideas. Knowledge seeks the reason behind reasons and ideas.
  6. Bring context to discussions. How might supervisors view this, for example.
  7. Pursue clarity until action emerges.

‘Action creates it’s own clarity.’

12 questions toward exponential knowledge:

  1. What impact has this had on your life and/or work?
  2. How did you come to these ideas?
  3. How could others put these ideas into practice?
  4. What difference does it make?
  5. Why does this matter?
  6. What are you trying to accomplish?
  7. Who else is affected by this, and how?
  8. Who benefits? Why? How?
  9. What happens if you try?
  10. What happens if you don’t try?
  11. What if you fail?
  12. What if you succeed?

How can we grow our knowledge, especially when we think we know enough already?

Link to the original article

Mary Lou Jepsen: Could future devices read images from our brains?

As an expert on cutting-edge digital displays, Mary Lou Jepsen studies how to show our most creative ideas on screens. And as a brain surgery patient herself, she is driven to know more about the neural activity that underlies invention, creativity, thought. She meshes these two passions in a rather mind-blowing talk on two cutting-edge brain studies that might point to a new frontier in understanding how (and what) we think.

Can Cognitive Training Make You Smarter?: Interview with Author Dan Hurley

An interview by Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D with author Dan Hurley exploring the promise of cognitive brain training.

Dan Hurley‘s popular feature in The New York Times Magazine, “Can You Make Yourself Smarter?” brilliantly presented multiple perspectives in the cognitive training debate. In his latest book, “Smarter: The New Science of Building Brain Power“, Dan expanded his investigation of the cognitive training literature and also reviewed other interventions that attempt to increase intelligence. 

How do you define “intelligence”?

Psychologists define it with tests. But those tests are ultimately designed to measure the real-world ability to figure things out, solve problems, and see meaningful patterns in the world around us. And it’s not just “book smarts.”  It includes our ability to understand ourselves and those around us, to handle whatever life throws at us, to make sense of things. Intelligence is what allows us to learn from our experience, to gain insight into life, to juggle multiple demands. With the internet these days, information is everywhere. But intelligence is how we make sense of all that information.

You spend some time in the first chapter defending the importance of intelligence. Why did you feel the need to do that. Do you think intelligence is underrated in society?

If you’ve ever been called “stupid,” as I was a kid, you know how intensely personal and important it is. If you’ve ever had a learning-disabled child, or if your parent is becoming impaired by Alzheimer’s disease, you know how important intelligence is. …These days, it’s become politically incorrect to talk about intelligence. The intelligentsia (pun intended) prefer to talk about grit and determination, or “emotional” intelligence. But wishing away the importance of intelligence doesn’t make it go away.

What areas of the cognitive training field are most contentious?

Even some of the psychologists who have found strong benefits for training feel nervous about the commercial advocacy of companies like Lumosity. We all know that physical exercise builds muscles…but we don’t yet know exactly which kinds of cognitive exercises work best. That said, I have counted about 75 randomized, placebo-controlled trials (and they’re all cited in my book) demonstrating significant benefits from various kinds of cognitive training—from “working memory” training to physical exercise, learning a musical instrument, mindfulness meditation, transcranial direct-current stimulation and more. I found only four randomized, placebo-controlled trials that found no benefit whatsoever. That’s pretty overwhelming.

You spoke to K. Anders Ericsson, who studies the development of expertise. Does he think that cognitive training increases in intelligence are irrelevant to the development of world-class expertise?

Ericsson believes that the benefits you get from practice apply only to the specific skill you’re practicing. He published studies showing that even if you practiced memory tricks to learn how to remember a hundred random numbers in a row, you still were no better at remembering a hundred letters in a row, or anything else. In the lingo of psychologists, he believes that training doesn’t “transfer.” Malcolm Gladwell made Ericsson famous in “Outliers” by describing his so-called “law” of 10,000 hours of practice. Ericsson has published studies suggesting that talent doesn’t matter, and that the only thing that does matter is practicing for 10,000 hours in order to become an expert. Whether you want to be a concert pianist or a world-class chess player or anything else, supposedly all you need to do is practice for 10,000 hours and then you’ll be a master.

What do you think of Ericsson’s perspective?

Ericsson’s claims have not been supported by other researchers who have found that talent does matter, and that training in certain tasks does result in “transfer” to improvements in other abilities. Some chess grandmasters practiced for much less than 10,000 hours before they reached the top, whereas other people can practice for much more than 10,000 hours and still not make it. The same is true of intelligence as a trait. Just because you study and study and study doesn’t mean you’re going to get into Harvard. We all know that. Some people are smarter than others. The real question is whether you can increase your intelligence so that the hard work you put in will pay off better.

What kind of effect does cognitive training have on the brain?

There is no question that training causes structural and functional improvement in the brain, as seen on MRI. Most of the changes are seen in the frontal areas of the brain, where high-level thinking occurs. Mindfulness meditation, for instance, has been shown to produce increased white-matter connections between the anterior cingulate cortex, an important region for complex decision-making, and the rest of the brain.

What cognitive functions did you find are most trainable?

Working memory is the ability to juggle multiple items of attention, to manipulate and analyze information. If you try to multiple 26 by 37 in your head, the reason it’s so hard is because of the demands it puts on your working memory. Tons of studies, including the latest one by Randy Engle, show that by training on certain kinds of working-memory tasks, you can improve your working memory overall. This is profoundly important for your ability to multi-task and think through complicated problems.

What interventions are the most effective in improving cognitive ability?

Working-memory training has proved really useful, although exactly which kinds of working-memory tasks are most useful remains unclear. Susanne Jaeggi has focused on the N-back task, which anyone can check out online at www.soakyourbrain.com.  Others prefer various other kinds of working-memory tasks. But plenty of research also shows that physical exercise, learning a musical instrument, and mindfulness meditation can all bring significant benefits. One of the coolest parts of my training was learning to play the Renaissance lute.

Teenagers everywhere want to know: are there any cognitive benefits of first-person shooter games?

Absolutely. These games are so good at improving reaction times that they are used by the U.S. military to train pilots and operators of drones. These games can also improve the “useful field of view,” your ability to see and respond to stimuli at the periphery of your vision, which is incredibly important when driving a vehicle. Other computerized games have been shown to improve older people’s ability to distinguish very fine differences in shades of gray. Strangely, this ability has been shown to be one of the single most important markers of longevity. So if you get better at it, will you actually live longer? That’s not yet clear. But improving your ability to see and respond to your environment can be potentially lifesaving.

How important is exercise?

Research has proved beyond doubt that the brain is actually connected to the heart and lungs via something called the “neck.” Physical exercise is perhaps the best-proved method for improving cognitive function in older people. It’s also critical for children and middle-aged sloths. Some researchers believe that cardiovascular exercise is best, while others insist that strength training is more important.

What about vitamins? Which one should take the most of if I want to think more quickly? Or should I just continue to drink lots and lots of caffeine?

I know that many people believe in the benefits of vitamins and dietary supplements. But there are no good studies showing that any of them really help cognitive function. Large studies of fish oil given to pregnant women have even suggested that there might be some risks to the intellectual abilities of their children. Caffeine, on the other hand, has been repeatedly shown to enhance not just attention, but motivation and even, most recently, memory. And if you can believe it, nicotine also helps. Cigarettes and other forms of tobacco are of course extremely dangerous and greatly increase the risk of cancer, heart disease, and much more. But studies in both humans and animals confirm that nicotine, given through a patch or gum, can be a great cognitive enhancer. I actually started using a 7 mg nicotine patch and found it useful, without any noticeable addictiveness.

Can mindfulness meditation make you smarter? What cognitive functions are most affected by mindfulness meditation?

A series of studies by Michael Posner and Yi-Yuan Tang have shown that mindfulness meditation can enhance all kinds of cognitive abilities. Mind-wandering is not helpful when you’re trying to write an article or take a test. On the other hand, some recent studies have suggested that allowing your mind to wander can also be helpful when you need a breakthrough. Some of the greatest scientific insights have occurred when scientists were spacing out.

How transferable are improvements in specific cognitive functions to intelligence more generally?

It’s easy for psychologists to give you a series of tests, have you practice some exercises, and then run follow-up tests to see if you improve better than people who didn’t do those exercises. But figuring out what the real-world benefits are to those improvements is much, much harder. A recent study of older adults given just ten hours of training found that even ten years later, they still enjoyed significant benefits in daily functioning. A hundred years of studies have proved that IQ tests and other tests of cognitive function are very, very predictive of real-world abilities. They’re not perfect—no test is—but on average, just like blood-pressure tests, they’re pretty good at predicting how you’ll do in the future. Many large corporations, as well as the U.S. military, give these tests not because they love tests, but because they really help pick out people who can be successful from those who just lack the ability to learn and function.

After you assess the results of your own cognitive training, you put it all in perspective by saying:

“And so what? Those are just numbers on a test. In the end, for all of us, the best test of cognitive abilities is one for which there is no answer key. It’s called life.”

Link to the full original article

What’s so positive about positive psychology?

asks Robert Biswas-Diener in Psychology Today

Chances are, if you are reading this then you are at least passingly familiar with the emerging field of positive psychology.

Although every religious and philosophical tradition through antiquity has offered insight into the “good life” it is only in the last couple decades that we have truly been able to turn scientific attention to this important topic in a sophisticated way. Modern scientists have used careful research designs, validated assessments and rich theory to produce new and sometimes counter-intuitive ideas about age-old topics such as happinessresilience, and hope.

Among the set-pieces of this modern movement are so-called “positive psychology interventions.” These are, more or less, simple behaviours in which a person can engage to improve her own well-being. The most famous of these is the “gratitude exercise.” In this exercise people are instructed to jot down “three things” for which they are grateful. The list might include a reliable automobile, a sunny afternoon, or a healthy child. The list will change from person to person and from time to time. The results are in, however: the gratitude exercise appears to boost individual happiness and buffer people from the deleterious effects of depression. This finding has been replicated and most famously so with a randomised controlled study conducted by positive psychology founder Martin Seligman and his colleagues.  

Since that initial study appeared in 2005 there have been other positive psychology interventions that have been tested and have shown—at least in a preliminary way—evidence for small boosts in happiness. One of these is the “counting kindnesses” intervention conducted by Keiko Otake and her colleagues. As the name implies people who kept a tally of their daily kindnesses felt a little spring in their step as a result.

The publication of the counting kindnesses intervention set me to wondering what the causal mechanisms were that might form the foundation of positive psychology interventions. Could it be, for instance, that the gratitude exercise actually boosts appreciation and this improved mindfulness translates to a better mood? Or might it be that gratitude works primarily by reminding people to appreciate things they overlook, and in this ways functions primarily by acting as an antidote to the natural human tendency to adapt.

Privately, I have been worried by what I see as the uncritical acceptance of these intervention techniques by some coaches and other human service professionals. It’s nice to know that these techniques work — for the most part — but isn’t it even nicer to understand how they work?

For months I harbored a sneaking suspicion that positive psychology interventions such as counting kindnesses and the gratitude exercise were simply “listing interventions.” That is, I was curious to know if we might find the same rise in happiness if we had people simply list anything positive. Imagine having people keep a daily “courage diary” in which they listed three ways they didn’t let discomfort hold them back. Or picture a scenario in which people tally hopes, such as “three things that are likely to happen in the next two weeks that you are eagerly looking forward to.” Could it be that any instance of pen, paper and positivity constitutes an effective positive psychology intervention?

Interestingly, this exact premise was tested in a study that appeared in the Journal of Clinical Psychology. The researchers replicated the classic Seligman study using a sample of nearly 1,500 adults ranging in age from 18 to 72. They included the gratitude exercise, a “positive placebo” in which they had participants write for 10 minutes each evening about a positive memory, and a control placebo in which they had participants wrote for 10 minutes each evening about an early life memory (not necessarily a positive one). Using the same happiness assessment employed by Seligman in the original study, the researchers discovered that the positive memory exercise performed roughly in the same way that the gratitude exercise did: both boosted happiness and did so over three and six month follow-ups.

Now, on the one hand, it would seem that the researchers have created yet another positive psychology intervention. Hooray! We can now add the “positive memory exercise” to the stable of happiness boosting activities.

In the end, however, the researchers draw much the same conclusion I do: there is some common factor that acts as the therapeutic mechanism for many of these “listing interventions.”  According to the researchers, engaging in any activity that makes positive self-information more accessible is likely to have a tonic effect on people. This does not mean that we should dismiss positive psychology exercises as somehow “fake.” It does mean that we should not rush to mental closure on their effectiveness or the ways in which we use them. This is an important study because it opens the door to exciting new research questions:

  • Are there different types of positive psychology interventions?
  • Will some types work better with certain people than with others?
  • Are there people for whom these activities are contra-indicated?
  • Is salient positive self-information as powerful as positive information about loved ones?
  • How might these interventions be modified to be more effective across cultural boundaries?

We are just scratching the surface of these tools.

Link to the original article

A Calling To Be Creative

by Douglas Eby

What leads, urges, even compels so many of us to be creatively expressive?

Given that everyone is creative to some degree, why do many people choose careers in the arts, or work that actively engages their creativity?

Most of us will never be actors or other filmmakers – especially ones that are seen and acknowledged publicly – but many of those creators talk about what calls them to engage in creative work, despite the challenges.

One example: Lupita Nyong’o, who won an Academy Award for best supporting actress on March 2, 2014 for her role in “12 Years a Slave.

In her moving acceptance speech, she noted one source of inspiration for her portrayal of a slave: “It doesn’t escape me for one moment that so much joy in my life is thanks to so much pain in someone else’s. And so I want to salute the spirit of Patsey for her guidance.”

She also thanked director Steve McQueen: “You charge everything you fashion with a breath of your own spirit. Thank you so much for putting me in this position, it’s been the joy of my life.”

Creating can be more or less dispassionate, guided by engineering, product development or social needs, for example – but much of what we value in the arts comes from a place in the soul as well as mind.

“Acting is hardly a common career in Kenya for the child of a powerful politician, but Nyong’o’s father, one-time health minister Peter Anyang’ Nyong’o, said the family had always supported her dreams.

“She started acting very young, right from kindergarten, and even at home with just the family, she would come up with make-believe stories and perform them for us. She was always imaginative and creative.”

She “was inspired to follow an acting career after working as a production assistant on the 2005 drama ‘The Constant Gardener.’ Actor Ralph Fiennes then told her only to get into acting if she couldn’t live without it. “It’s not what I wanted to hear, but it’s what I needed to hear,” she said.

That idea of pursuing acting – or another art, of course – only if you “can’t live without it” or be happy unless you do it, is something many of the actors and other artists I have quoted over the years say fits for them and their own “calling.”

In her article “The Special Challenges of Highly Intelligent and Talented Women Who Are Moms,” Belinda Seiger writes that in her private psychotherapy practice and her personal life, she has “known many gifted women who seem to possess what I refer to as the ‘rage to achieve.’

“They are constantly driven to learn, to create and to be intellectually productive even while raising young children. Many of these women face periods of frustration when the demands of family and their need for intellectual immersion collides.”

But, Seiger adds, being a mother and actively engaged in other work is not easy: “As one friend who was getting her second master’s degree put it: ‘mass chaos’ ensues when one attempts to become immersed intellectually while simultaneously remaining attentive and available for family responsibilities…”

She notes that “Like gifted children and young adults; gifted adults are distinguishable not only by their IQ’s but by their intensity, multiple talents, high energy, curiosity and obsessive need to increase in-depth knowledge in subjects that interest them. Trying to ignore these qualities can result in a depressed mood, anxiety and feelings of being unfulfilled emotionally and intellectually.”

Link to the original article

Mindfulness Can make You More Creative

by Jeremy Dean, a psychologist and the author of PsyBlog. His latest book is “Making Habits, Breaking Habits: How to Make Changes That Stick“.

An ‘open monitoring’ style of meditation can promote divergent thinking, a crucial aspect of creativity, finds research published in the journalFrontiers in Cognition (Colzato et al., 2012).

Divergent thinking is the kind which is often used at the start of the creative process, in which new ideas are generated.

The typical psychological test of divergent thinking asks participants to name as many uses as they can for a mundane object like a brick or a pen.

In the study by Dr. Lorenza Colzato and colleagues, participants who’d been meditating in an ‘open monitoring’ style came up with the most uses for the mundane object.

An ‘open monitoring’ style of meditation is where you don’t focus on a particular object or sensation, such as your own breath; rather you pay attention to whatever thoughts or sensations you are experiencing at the time.

Problem-solving

The results are fascinating because the study of how meditation affects creativity has had mixed results over the years.

Part of the problem is that there are many different types of creativity and many different types of meditation, which are not often delineated by the studies.

However, this is not the only study to make finer distinctions and show the benefits of meditation for creativity.

A study by Ren et al. (2011) has looked at another crucial area of creativity: problem-solving.

This requires different skills because it’s about gaining a vital insight into a problem that’s already defined.

In this study, people were given insight problems to try and solve.

The results showed that, compared with a control group, those who learned a simple meditation technique, involving focusing on the breath, solved more of the insight problems.

Benefits of meditation

Together these two studies suggest that different types of meditation may be useful for different aspects of creativity.

For generating new ideas, an open monitoring style performs best, then for solving an existing problem, a more focused attention style provides the best results.

It also may begin to show why the previous studies on the connection between meditation and creativity have provided such mixed results.

→ Read on: the benefits of meditation.

Link to the original article

The Heart of Mindfulness

by Marina Illich, Co-founder and Principal at Broad Ventures Leadership

A Sioux saying has it that the longest journey we’ll ever make is the journey from our head to our heart. As an Ivy League-trained academic, some part of me still winces when I hear this kind of adage, thinking it sounds a bit trite or misguided.

But if there’s one thing that more than 20 years of mindfulness training has taught me, it’s this: Few challenges are more important than making that short and inestimably long trip from head to heart.

What brings me to this topic? America is in the throes of a “mindfulness revolution” (see Time magazine’s cover article and Wisdom 2.0). In every sector from business to politics, education, parenting and the military, people are using mindfulness techniques to become more self-aware.

This is good news. Across the nation, women and men are learning simple practices to handle the overwrought stresses of post-modernity with more grace and aplomb. Corporations are teaching executives how to increase focus and attention. Schools are teaching children to be more self-aware and self-regulating. And books offer sage counsel to help parents navigate modern child-raising without losing their marbles. In myriad ways, mindfulness is offering us critical and fabulous skills to slow down and reconnect.

But I also see a worrisome trend afoot. Increasingly, mindfulness is being equated with stress reduction or learning how to center under pressure to enhance performance. This is cause for alarm.

The intention of mindfulness is not to make us more “chill” with the insanities and inanities of our post-modern lives.

It is not designed to help us better tolerate the steam-rolling experience of 12-hour work days and three-hour commutes, short shrift meals and dwindling hours of sleep. It is not there to make us endlessly up our performance inside a crushing cascade of information overload. And it is certainly not designed to have us watch calmly as the earth’s weather patterns erupt into a contagion of calamity.

Mindfulness is not meant to make us better at living lives that drain our ingenuity, silence our compassion, or demoralize us into a state of collective catatonia.

The purpose of mindfulness is to wake us up. It’s designed to reconnect us with our intrinsic ingenuity and our indestructible, innate excellence. The Buddhist world that modern mindfulness practices emerged from is explicit about this: human beings are wired for excellence.

It maintains six ways — known in Buddhist Sanskrit as paramitas — that we are designed to be extraordinary.

1) We are wired to do the right thing, no matter how much the world tests us.

2) We are wired to tolerate what feels intolerable to become fearless in making the world a better place.

3) We are wired for stamina, the kind that has us stand by our vision, unflagging, even when no one believes in us.

4) We are wired to be decisive, acute and undeterred in pursuing what really matters.

5) We are wired to see ourselves and others with the wisdom of kindness and tolerance.

6) And, finally, we are wired to kindle greatness in others through our generosity of spirit.

I’ve taken some liberty in translating from the Sanskrit to make a point: Mindfulness is not about retreating into some bastion of heady, personal calm. Mindfulness is about courageously turning our hearts inside out so that we can actualize our deeply human ability to find solutions and stand in our universal goodness, no matter what the circumstances.

Practice mindfulness to be calmer. Hone your breathing meditation so you can be more resilient at work and more present with your kids. Do your noting practice so that you know yourself better. But more than anything, practice mindfulness to break your heart open to your extraordinary excellence and the excellence of everyone around you.

Maybe, just maybe, if we do this kind of work – thankless, heartbreaking, and upending though it may be – we can usher in the kind of collective ingenuity that our world calls for.

Link to the original article

Happiness At Work Edition #87

All of these articles, along with many others, are included in this week’s new collection of ideas about creativity and learning and leadership and resilience and happiness, when the new collection publishes online on Friday 7th March.

Link to the full Happiness At Work Edition #87 collection

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Engagement At Work – a reflection of being in and out of flow

photo by Sue Ridge: 'sunbathing grape'

photo by Sue Ridge  ‘sunbathing grape’

I am just coming out of three months of making my first eLearning training programme. It has been huge, intense, wonderful, knackering, all-consuming, richly rewarding and quite definitely the hardest work I have done in one concentrated quarter of a year for a very long time.

At the end of each video I invite participants – still my preferred identity for the people who come to learn with me – to reflect back over what they most remember and want to take and use from their experience. And I decided it might be useful and of some interest, too, I hope, to step myself through these questions.

And I cannot even begin to want to do this to and for myself alone, and so I am using this post as a platform to come sit for a moment to reflect back out loud over what has been a huge three months of learning, making, experimenting, producing, crafting, failing, repeating, reworking, labouring and finessing this nearly-finished-now programme of learning videos.

Just like making a show in a multitude of ways, and completely different and unfamiliar for me in one ineluctable aspect: making a show is entirely collaborative and this experience has been entirely solo.

Question 1: What happened? What do I most remember from this experience? What stands out as significant or especially memorable?

I remember having to keep learning something new, every day, then every week. And every time I thought I’d learned everything I needed to produce this work, discovering something else I hadn’t realised I didn’t know that I needed to learn or figure out or muddle my way through or solve or fix or experiment with until I found a way to make it work. I love learning and this played right into one of my top strengths, but there were days when I felt like you can have too much of a good thing.

The programme itself consists of 6 x 70minute videos of me talking to powerpoint slides. My learning curve has been stretched to the maximum for weeks. First I had to learn all the technical skills of powerpoint (as complex as you want to make it), Quicktime screen recording (very simple) and iMovie video editing (a series of failed experiments and a great deal of scrolling through online Help conversations not really knowing what question to ask to get the solution I needed.) And there is still far more I do not know and will probably never know about video making than the tiny bit I now do know. I know that people who really know about these things would be able to do things with them in a trace of a moment and make them better. But I learned enough to make what I wanted to make good. And I learned that that was good enough.

But then I realised with a kind of Mr Stupid clunk, that in all my years of making and delivering learning programmes, I’ve never really been the expert at the podium with all the answers. I excel at participative facilitative learning. People don’t pay us to come and tell them all the things I know, they pay me to help them unlock and extend what they know and can do. So, although I joyfully help dozens of people become more persuasive and compelling speakers, I have never concentrated on delivering seminar or presentation-based teaching. This demands thinking through and ordering and finding the right articulation of all the theory and the ideas and learning you want to bring in advance and in the absence of the people it is designed to provide for. This involves making and sticking with a zillion decisions about the development and contours and cadences of the story to be told, enriching and vitalising it with the right images and preparing carefully constructed sentences. I thrive and am energised by keeping lots of different options in the air, multiplicity and then interactively weaving out meanings with the people in the room from the ideas we are creating in the space between us. Proactive independent decision making and narrowing and fixing things down are not my strong suit nor my preferred operating style, and this, more than anything else, exhausted me. I am good-on-my feet and being in-the-moment and I did initially try to make these speaking extemporaneously. The takes were hours long and then even the heavily and lengthily edited final results just sounded uncertain, graceless and irritatingly arhythmic and idiosyncratic. While I would never teach scripting a presentation, this turned out to be the winning solution, but this meant that I had to bring everything I had from my actor’s training to make it fly off the page.

‘Being in flow’ has always had a performance sensibility about it for me: the flow of a good conversation, the flow of ideas being conjured in the act of talking and listening together, the improvisational “yes – and…” (accept and build) flow of being in a group and riding the wave of what is actually happening as it is actually happening in the live here-and-now, the flow of movement, flux, emergence, dialogue, co-creation. Collaboration. This was altogether different, and it took me a surprisingly (now I think of it) long time to recognise that just because I was making this thing at 2am on a cold dark January night didn’t mean it still didn’t have to feel for the listener that it was being thought and spoken and presented as a compelling idea or an invitational springboard in that moment of them hearing it. I tried to remember (and steal from) what playwrights do. And designers do. And directors do. I could have done a lot more stealing from what stage managers do to galvanise and co-ordinate and plan and keep on track my scheduling and logistics, but I suppose I can accept being a one-person team means some things are going to fall short.

But it was a great advantage to have performance making to pull from.

And I have (nearly) got there. I have done it and I’m proud of what I’ve made. Time and the programme participants will tell with more authority on this but I dare to believe trying to practice what I teach has served me well.

As well as this I remember images: hundreds of pictures I have searched through looking for the best (creative commons licensed for commercial use) images to convey the multiplicity of ideas this programme incorporates: happiness, engagement, great relationships, meaning & accomplishment, positivity & creativity, and resilience at work are my six titles to give you a flavour of the ground I have tried to cover. And searching for the right image for each slide that is hopefully not too obvious nor too obscure, evocative without being just weird, and meaningful without being cliched has been one of the most exhausting and satisfying parts of this experience. My primary creativity is not visual, and yet it has been an immense and constant pleasure to have continually had to immerse myself in pictures and be repeatedly stimulated by all their colour and wonderful metaphor.

photo by Sue Ridge successful marmalade 1

photo by Sue Ridge
successful marmalade 1

So, above all else it seems, I remember learning, constantly and consciously in a way that I haven’t done for years.

Question 2: What new meanings, insights or conclusions can I take from any of this experience?

I have learned that, despite being a devoted follower of the less-is-more principle, I continue to be rubbish at practicing it.

I have learned that despite my love of going-with-the-flow and being spontaneous and gregarious, when I am working alone I become a zealot of perfectionism (my not-very-detailed version of it) and capable of working myself beyond and then some anything I would accept from another human being, or expect of another human being.

I have learned again that I am not at my best in extended periods of working in solitude and that I really do need to keep getting out into the world and interacting with people to keep my energy levels restocked, and my focus open and alert to incoming wide-range signals, and my sense of perspective balanced and broader than the minute ramifications of whether to align a photo credit along the left or the right hand margin. Oh yes – and that I continue to be utterly dependent upon feedback (read ‘praise’) to really know if what I am doing is good or not and to feel that what I am doing has any worth or purpose. (how do you introverts do it? how do you writers do it???) Happily I have been luxuriously favoured by my client and devoted family with enough cheering to keep me going, but I do realise that, in the absence of regular, emphatic and high quality appreciation, I could easily run myself into the doldrums and get lost in drift. (I heard in a documentary about Blondie that when rock performers get a level of repeated popularity and excitement from their audiences it helps them to hone and polish what they do. I get this. I learn best from praise and affirmation. Don’t we all? Give me the new 5-to-1 positivity ratio please. I will be so much better at responding productively to one criticism when it comes with 5 specific convincingly conveyed compliments. This is also perhaps what makes making fringe theatre great so impossibly hard – there is never enough performances to really polish a show in collaboration with its audiences: you work for months making it and you get it as good as you possibly can in the 7, 14 or 21 performances it gets to play. This isn’t enough to really find its proper orchestration. But I digress too far off road here…)

I have learned, too, and despite asserting the contrary case in one of the videos, that I can run out of creativity. By Module 6 I had squeezed out every last possible idea for what materials to include or leave out, in what order, with what images, framed alongside which model and with which ideas clustered together. But that this was only temporary and already my mind is percolating next and new ideas and making new possibilities and dreams for me to play with and/or chase down. So scratch that – it’s true – we don’t use up our creativity, or if we do run it dry, it restocks itself automatically.

photo by Sue Ridge successful marmalade 2

photo by Sue Ridge
successful marmalade 2

I have reconfirmed that engagement really is what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi defines in his idea of ‘being in flow’, and is best experienced for me when I am deeply and completely immersed in a creative project that I care about stretched to the outer limits of my capabilities and able to spend uninterrupted periods of time being fully absorbed in what I am doing without competition from other demands. And that I am very lucky to have a husband who insists on pulling me out of this state at least once every day to eat and appreciate his delicious cooking. (And as an extra bonus I have learned to approximate the right pronunciation of Csikszentmihalyi, altho I have had to teach and rely on my spellchecker to spell it for me.)

And I have reconfirmed the irreplaceable reliability of my unconscious brain to bring me some of my best insights and ideas, but only if and when I take my foot off the pedal for a bit a make a space to hear the messages it is sending through. This means for me not drowning it in exhausted sleep – my project dreams tend to be fierce re-firings of existing ideas and anxieties. And it is not drowning it out with the noise of other media. TV and radio help me to fall asleep when my brain is on overdrive but they do not yield me any new insights. What works for me is my Qigong exercise and my fledgling novice mindfulness attempts to drop my thinking into my breathing and just stay with that. Then the thoughts fly out and at me, but I am learning that the best ones will hang around in my consciousness, ready and waiting to be worked with after my exercise. I did not manage to make this time nearly as much as I wanted to or aimed to but I made it more than I might have. And this too was good enough.

photo by Sue Ridge successful marmalade 3

photo by Sue Ridge
successful marmalade 3

Question 3: What could I do as result of any of this learning? How can I use or apply any of these ideas? Who could I share any of my learning with?

I have been able to use in practice many of the principles and techniques that I have been championing in my teaching and this has been doubly good: good for me to confirm experientially that they seem to hold up and bring real benefit in their application, and good for me to get the benefits they have provided. Techniques taken from Positive Psychology such as knowing and playing to my Signature Strengths to optimise my performance and productivity, and the capabilities of resilience that I have been able to draw from when the going’s got tough, such as staying resolutely and, hopefully, realistically optimistic and facing my fears. And, too trusting my creativity and using my slow emergent collage-based way of making to incrementally sculpt out the matter from the materials I was working with. To not need to be original in everything but, again I hope, to be original enough.

All of these capabilities become better with practice. So I will aim to keep practicing. And to keep making my practice better. And to remember to keep alive and as true as I can the artist’s holy discipline of being a practitioner.

And this above all others… Whatever aspect of happiness you look at you will find the predominant necessity of having strong relationships, to give and receive love and support.. It is key to our happiness and success at work as much as it is central to our health and being able to live a flourishing life, as it is, too, to building and sustaining resilience. This has been an especially tough time for some of the people I love most in the world – way beyond any of the challenges I have been facing in this piece of work – and it has been essential and nourishing for me to be a part of their lives and actively involved and exercised in getting their love and giving them mine.

So then this above all others – to remember in less heightened times that the people in my life are my life. They make me possible and they make matter. Not for who I am or anything I may do, but for what happens between us, in our connections and in how this affects and changes us. This surely is the finest flow to be in, and, if I am to have another time working in solitude I hope to remember that this must be without withdrawing too far from the people I love. Memo to self: the less collaborative your work activity the more engaged you better make the rest of your time.

As to the last part of this question, in this instant that turns out to be you dear reader. And thank you for your interest.

The question: “who could you share this with?” is exactly the kind of question we learning facilitators love to hand out to the people we work with, but are perhaps less likely to take up ourselves. Or at least I am. Which is what got me writing this piece, as a way to try and unravel and uncover a little more intelligence about what has just happened and what it means and what it could lead to than I might have scooped down to notice without stepping through these questions. This is why we give out these questions, And extraverted me needs an audience to have any reason to start to talk before I hurtle off into whatever will be next.

Actually, what will be next for me is learning to facilitate live online webinars as part of the weekly provision of learning elements that accompany the programme I have just made and packed into modular video instalments.

And in this, very much like making a show, the programme is only just being begun. Just as a show needs its audience to truly discover itself and find its real worth in the interplay and rhythms that happen between performance and audience, now my learning programme will have to find its actual relevance and interest and usefulness and enjoyment in the weave that happens in the space where learners – participants – bring their questions and existing knowledge and challenges and expectations to the programme I have made for them. It is, I am pleased to remind myself, only there and then that this programme exists and has a life. Let the new experience begin…

Thank you for listening. This has been a good thing for me to do. And I wouldn’t have done it without you.

If you want to find out more about your own top Signature Strengths, I like this VIA Me online self-assessment questionnaire a lot. It will give you a free report of your ranked order of the 24 character strengths based on the five virtues of Courage, Humanity, Justice, Temperance, Transcendence and Wisdom. Our top 5 are our Signature Strengths, and the guide is that exercising our Signature Strengths is a really great way to increase our sense of being in flow, as well as giving us increased energy, happiness and fulfilment, confidence, energy and resilience. (This site also offer an option to purchase a more detailed report.)

Link to VIA Me Character Strengths Profile

The programme I made and will continue to lead is called the Mini MBA in Peak Performance and Productivity, and will launch in mid-February from the IME: inspire motivate and engage online learning platform. If you’re interested in this do let me know and I will make sure you get any updates about it.

Link to the IME; inspire motivate and engage website

This post was originally written for Shaking Out – the Shaky Isles Theatre blog

Happiness At Work Edition #84

And you will find more stories about learning, creativity, productivity, self-mastery and happiness at work in this week’s new Happiness At Work Edition #84

Link to read Happiness At Work #84

photo by Sue Ridge: the view from Guy's Hospital cancer centre

photo by Sue Ridge:
the view from Guy’s Hospital cancer centre

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

photo credit: Ruben Nadador via photopin cc

photo credit: Ruben Nadador via photopin cc

Happy New Year and welcome to the start of 2014.

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

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

photo credit: swimparallel via photopin cc

photo credit: swimparallel via photopin cc

Higher Resolutions – Makeshift Thoughts

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

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

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

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

Be useful on the internet

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

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

Ignore the news

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

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

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

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

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

A creative rhythm for a year

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

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

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

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

A higher resolution

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

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

Draw something every day

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

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

Make up the bed-time story

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

Publish tiny thoughts

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

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

Do something you can

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

Link to read the original article

photo credit: slightly everything via photopin cc

photo credit: slightly everything via photopin cc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. Why does the brain ‘power down’?

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

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

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

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

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

Q. Can mindfulness help us to change bad habits?

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

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

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

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

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

Change the routine

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

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

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

Link to read the original article

photo credit: slightly everything via photopin cc

photo credit: slightly everything via photopin cc

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

By Melinda Johnson

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

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

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

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

photo credit: mindfulness via photopin cc

photo credit: mindfulness via photopin cc

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

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

Link to read the original article

photo credit: jenny downing via photopin cc

photo credit: jenny downing via photopin cc

What Makes YOU Happy?

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

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

Happiness List Exercise

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

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

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

Ready to start?

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

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

photo credit: eagle1effi via photopin cc

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

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

Then enjoy the treat you’ve scheduled for yourself!

Finding time to do what makes YOU happy

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

Step 1: Expand Your List

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

Step 2: Celebrate What You Already Do

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

Step 3: Schedule Your Happiness

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

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

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

Step 4:  Find more time in your schedule

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

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

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

Link to read the original article

Ruby Wax: How To Take Your Mind

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

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

By 

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

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

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

Find your braking system

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

Stave off the darkness

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

Find your happy place

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

Be less busy

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

Stop shopping

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

Pay attention

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

photo credit: fazen via photopin cc

photo credit: fazen via photopin cc

Exercise productively

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

Name your demons

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

Go easy on yourself

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

Be kind to others

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

Learn to say sorry

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

Change is good

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

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

Go on retreat

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

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

Don’t force it

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

Link to read to read the original article

photo credit: Asela via photopin cc

photo credit: Asela via photopin cc

‘Tis the Season To Be…Mindful

by , author of ‘Mindful Teaching and Teaching Mindfulness’

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

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

Link to read the original article

photo credit: mindfulness via photopin cc

photo credit: mindfulness via photopin cc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Lars Plougmann via photopin cc

photo credit: Lars Plougmann via photopin cc

Why Your Organisation Should Focus On Employee Engagement

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

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

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

Employee Engagement: Not Just For the Big Guns

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

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

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

photo credit: BetterWorks via photopin cc

photo credit: BetterWorks via photopin cc

No Band Aides Necessary

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

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

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

Where Enthusiasm Can Take Your Business

It’s this easy:

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

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

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

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Lars Plougmann via photopin cc

photo credit: Lars Plougmann via photopin cc

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

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

Language is the crystallization of thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to read the original article

The Body Map of Emotions: Happiness Activates the Whole Body

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

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

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

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

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

Body maps

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

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

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

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

The authors explain:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to read the original article

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to read the original article in full

photo credit: foto4lizzie via photopin cc

photo credit: foto4lizzie via photopin cc

Family Table (Steve McCurry’s Photos)

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

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

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

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

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

Link to see these photos

photo credit: mike.t photography via photopin cc

photo credit: mike.t photography via photopin cc

Jumpstart Your Journaling: A 31 Day Challenge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo credit: jelleprins via photopin cc

photo credit: jelleprins via photopin cc

Happiness At Work Edition #79

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

photo credit: SimonDoggett via photopin cc

photo credit: SimonDoggett via photopin cc

Happiness At Work #74 ~ good news, bad news, and more food for thought

Happiness At Work Edition #74

Here are some of the highlights in this week’s stories about happiness – and unhappiness – an our current state of flourishing in this time of (at least in America) collective Thanksgiving…

photo credit: yanik_crepeau via photopin cc

photo credit: yanik_crepeau via photopin cc

Happiness: the silver lining of economic stagnation?

A study suggests that national wellbeing peaks at £22k average income. But that doesn’t mean there’s no point in pushing for wealth

 writes in The Guardian

It’s time to rewrite the story of the financial crisis. Far from being a disaster movie, it was in fact a tale of salvation. As for the green shoots of recovery we are now seeing, they are virulent weeds to be stamped out.

That would seem to be the conclusion to draw from a new studythat suggests ever-rising national wealth is the source of decreased life satisfaction. Looking at data from around the world, Warwick University’s Eugenio Proto and Aldo Rustichini of University of Minnesota conclude that average wellbeing rises with average income only up to around £22k per head per annum. After that, it slips back again. Britain is more or less at that sweet spot, which suggests economic stagnation may be an excellent way of avoiding the problems of poverty without acquiring the problems of wealth.

You may well be sceptical. Even the authors acknowledge that many people “still prefer to live in richer countries, even if this would result in a decreased level of life satisfaction”. In other words, people are overall more satisfied by less life satisfaction, which suggests we should take the whole concept of “life satisfaction” with a pinch of salt…

What the data does appear to show, and which almost all studies support, is that having a low income is more of a problem than having a high one is a benefit. From a public policy point of view, that suggests the priority should continue to be raising the life chances of the worst off, not those of the better off, or even the “squeezed middle”…

In short, the problem is explained by the familiar idea that money is not valuable in itself, but only for what it can do. The failure of western societies to convert greater wealth into greater wellbeing is in essence a failure to use our wealth wisely. This should not surprise us. The majority of people alive today and throughout history have not been accustomed to plenty. Humanity is on a steep learning curve and many of the lessons we need to learn go against our natural tendency to acquire first and ask questions later.

That’s why the debate about the relative merits of increased GDP and “gross domestic happiness” are misguided. They are not mutually exclusive options. The optimal strategy would be one in which we grew wealth but harnessed it better to enable people to really flourish, rather than just have more stuff. What we should be afraid of is the pointless march of a narrow materialism, not the resumption of economic growth in itself. A richer world in which the money was well spent is something with which we should all be well satisfied.

Link to read the original article in full

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

Study Reveals Higher Levels of Control and Support at Work Increase Wellbeing

Research from Queen Mary University of London reveals positive aspects of working life – such as high levels of control at work, good support from supervisors and colleagues, and feeling cared for – support higher levels of wellbeing among Britain’s workers….

Stephen Stansfeld, Professor of Psychiatry, Queen Mary University of London (Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry), comments:

“The so-called ‘happiness debate’ has gained a lot of attention in recent years, with economists, politicians and psychologists all hypothesizing on how to create a happy society. If the Government proceeds with the idea of measuring wellbeing as an indicator of Britain’s progress, it is crucial they know what impacts a person’s wellbeing.

“This study shows the quality of our working conditions and personal relationships are key to the nation’s happiness. We believe any policies designed to improve the workplace should not just minimise negative aspects of work, but more crucially, increase the positive aspects, such as a creating a greater sense of control and support among employees.

“The quality of the working environment has a very important effect on how a person feels and greater  may also be related to greater productivity and performance at work, increased commitment and staff retention as well as effects on physical health and lifespan.”

Link to read the original article

Wealth Inequality in America

Infographics on the distribution of wealth in America, highlighting both the inequality and the difference between our perception of inequality and the actual numbers. The reality is often not what we think it is.

photo credit: Gene Hunt via photopin cc

photo credit: Gene Hunt via photopin cc

Americans at Work: The Best and Worst Jobs 2013

Most Americans spend more time working than doing anything else.  The average employee spends more than 2/3 of his or her day at work or on work-related activities. That’s more time than we spend sleeping or raising our children.  Americans work an average of nearly one month more per year now than in 1970.  In 1960, only 20 percent of mothers worked. Today, in 70 percent of American households all adults work.

America vs. the world:

  • Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers
  • 260 more hours per year than British workers
  • 499 more hours per year than French workers
  • Average productivity for American workers has increased 400% since 1950
  • In every country included except Canada and Japan (and the U.S., which averages 13 days/per year), workers get at least 20 paid vacation days. In France and Finland, they get 30 – an entire month off, paid, every year.

So it matters what you do… doesn’t it? Because Americans work so much….

Here are the 10 Best AND 10 Worst Jobs in America, 2013 (with median salaries)

Link to see the info graphic and which jobs feature high and low

photo credit: Mike Willis via photopin cc

photo credit: Mike Willis via photopin cc

On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs

Anarchist, Activist and London School of Economics anthropology professor David Graeber traces the 20th century promise of a 4 hour day and how we got unproductive labour instead.

In the year 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that, by century’s end, technology would have advanced sufficiently that countries like Great Britain or the United States would have achieved a 15-hour work week. There’s every reason to believe he was right. In technological terms, we are quite capable of this. And yet it didn’t happen. Instead, technology has been marshaled, if anything, to figure out ways to make us all work more. In order to achieve this, jobs have had to be created that are, effectively, pointless. Huge swathes of people, in Europe and North America in particular, spend their entire working lives performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed. The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound. It is a scar across our collective soul. Yet virtually no one talks about it.

Why did Keynes’ promised utopia – still being eagerly awaited in the ‘60s – never materialise? The standard line today is that he didn’t figure in the massive increase in consumerism. Given the choice between less hours and more toys and pleasures, we’ve collectively chosen the latter. This presents a nice morality tale, but even a moment’s reflection shows it can’t really be true. Yes, we have witnessed the creation of an endless variety of new jobs and industries since the ‘20s, but very few have anything to do with the production and distribution of sushi, iPhones, or fancy sneakers….

…productive jobs have, just as predicted, been largely automated away (even if you count industrial workers globally, including the toiling masses in India and China, such workers are still not nearly so large a percentage of the world population as they used to be).

But rather than allowing a massive reduction of working hours to free the world’s population to pursue their own projects, pleasures, visions, and ideas, we have seen the ballooning not even so much of the “service” sector as of the administrative sector, up to and including the creation of whole new industries like financial services or telemarketing, or the unprecedented expansion of sectors like corporate law, academic and health administration, human resources, and public relations. And these numbers do not even reflect on all those people whose job is to provide administrative, technical, or security support for these industries, or for that matter the whole host of ancillary industries (dog-washers, all-night pizza deliverymen) that only exist because everyone else is spending so much of their time working in all the other ones.

These are what I propose to call “bullshit jobs.”

…While corporations may engage in ruthless downsizing, the layoffs and speed-ups invariably fall on that class of people who are actually making, moving, fixing and maintaining things; through some strange alchemy no one can quite explain, the number of salaried paper-pushers ultimately seems to expand, and more and more employees find themselves, not unlike Soviet workers actually, working 40 or even 50 hour weeks on paper, but effectively working 15 hours just as Keynes predicted, since the rest of their time is spent organizing or attending motivational seminars, updating their facebook profiles or downloading TV box-sets.

…Once, when contemplating the apparently endless growth of administrative responsibilities in British academic departments, I came up with one possible vision of hell. Hell is a collection of individuals who are spending the bulk of their time working on a task they don’t like and are not especially good at. Say they were hired because they were excellent cabinet-makers, and then discover they are expected to spend a great deal of their time frying fish. Neither does the task really need to be done – at least, there’s only a very limited number of fish that need to be fried. Yet somehow, they all become so obsessed with resentment at the thought that some of their co-workers might be spending more time making cabinets, and not doing their fair share of the fish-frying responsibilities, that before long there’s endless piles of useless badly cooked fish piling up all over the workshop and it’s all that anyone really does.

I think this is actually a pretty accurate description of the moral dynamics of our own economy.

Now, I realise any such argument is going to run into immediate objections: “who are you to say what jobs are really ‘necessary’? What’s necessary anyway? You’re an anthropology professor, what’s the ‘need’ for that?” (And indeed a lot of tabloid readers would take the existence of my job as the very definition of wasteful social expenditure.) And on one level, this is obviously true. There can be no objective measure of social value.

I would not presume to tell someone who is convinced they are making a meaningful contribution to the world that, really, they are not. But what about those people who are themselves convinced their jobs are meaningless?

…There’s a lot of questions one could ask here, starting with, what does it say about our society that it seems to generate an extremely limited demand for talented poet-musicians, but an apparently infinite demand for specialists in corporate law? (Answer: if 1% of the population controls most of the disposable wealth, what we call “the market” reflects what they think is useful or important, not anybody else.) But even more, it shows that most people in these jobs are ultimately aware of it. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever met a corporate lawyer who didn’t think their job was bullshit. The same goes for … a whole class of salaried professionals that, should you meet them at parties … they will launch into tirades about how pointless and stupid their job really is.

This is a profound psychological violence here. How can one even begin to speak of dignity in labour when one secretly feels one’s job should not exist? How can it not create a sense of deep rage and resentment. Yet it is the peculiar genius of our society that its rulers have figured out a way, as in the case of the fish-fryers, to ensure that rage is directed precisely against those who actually do get to do meaningful work. For instance: in our society, there seems a general rule that, the more obviously one’s work benefits other people, the less one is likely to be paid for it. Again, an objective measure is hard to find, but one easy way to get a sense is to ask: what would happen were this entire class of people to simply disappear? Say what you like about nurses, garbage collectors, or mechanics, it’s obvious that were they to vanish in a puff of smoke, the results would be immediate and catastrophic. A world without teachers or dock-workers would soon be in trouble, and even one without science fiction writers or ska musicians would clearly be a lesser place. It’s not entirely clear how humanity would suffer were all private equity CEOs, lobbyists, PR researchers, actuaries, telemarketers, bailiffs or legal consultants to similarly vanish. (Many suspect it might markedly improve.) Yet apart from a handful of well-touted exceptions (doctors), the rule holds surprisingly well….

If someone had designed a work regime perfectly suited to maintaining the power of finance capital, it’s hard to see how they could have done a better job. Real, productive workers are relentlessly squeezed and exploited. The remainder are divided between a terrorised stratum of the, universally reviled, unemployed and a larger stratum who are basically paid to do nothing, in positions designed to make them identify with the perspectives and sensibilities of the ruling class (managers, administrators, etc) – and particularly its financial avatars – but, at the same time, foster a simmering resentment against anyone whose work has clear and undeniable social value. Clearly, the system was never consciously designed. It emerged from almost a century of trial and error. But it is the only explanation for why, despite our technological capacities, we are not all working 3-4 hour days.

Link to read the full original article

photo credit: nateOne via photopin cc

photo credit: nateOne via photopin cc

10 Simple and Easy Ways To Give Thanks To Your Employees

Randy Conley writes…

In the spirit of today’s Thanksgiving holiday in the United States, I thought I’d share ten simple and easy ways to tell your employees “thank you.” Telling an employee “thank you” is one of the simplest and most powerful ways to build trust, yet it doesn’t happen near enough in the workplace.

Whenever I conduct trust workshops with clients and discuss the role that rewards and recognition play in building trust, I will ask participants to raise their hands if they feel like they receive too much praise or recognition on the job. No one has ever raised a hand.

So on this day of giving thanks, take a few minutes to review this list and commit to using one of these methods to tell your employees “thank you.” I’ve used many of these strategies myself and can attest to their effectiveness.

1. Let them leave work early – This may not be feasible in all work environments, but if you’re able to do it, a surprise treat of allowing people to leave early does wonders for team morale and well-being…

2. Leave a “thank you” voice mail message – …The spoken word can have a tremendous impact on individuals, and receiving a heartfelt message from you could positively impact your employees in ways you can’t imagine.

3. Host a potluck lunch –  …Sharing a meal together allows people to bond and relax in a casual setting and it provides an excellent opportunity for you to say a few words of thanks to the team and let them know you appreciate them.

4. Give a small token of appreciation – Giving an employee a small memento provides a lasting symbol of your appreciation, and although it may cost you a few bucks, it’s well worth the investment…

5. Have your boss recognize an employee – Get your boss to send an email, make a phone call, or best-case scenario, drop by in-person to tell one of your employees “thank you” for his/her work. Getting an attaboy from your boss’ boss is always a big treat. It shows your employee that you recognize his/her efforts and you’re making sure your boss knows about it too.

6. Hold an impromptu 10 minute stand up meeting – This could be no or low-cost depending on what you do, but I’ve called random 10 minute meetings in the afternoon and handed out popsicles or some other treat and taken the opportunity to tell team members “thank you” for their hard work. The surprise meeting, combined with a special treat, throws people out of their same ol’, same ol’ routine and keeps the boss/employee relationship fresh and energetic.

7. Reach out and touch someone – …Human touch holds incredible powers to communicate thankfulness and appreciation. …Unfortunately, most leaders shy away from appropriate physical contact in the workplace, fearful of harassment complaints or lawsuits. Whether it’s a handshake, high-five, or fist bump, find appropriate ways to communicate your thanks via personal touch.

8. Say “thank you” – This seems like a no-brainer given the topic, but you would be amazed at how many people tell me their boss doesn’t take the time to express thanks. Saying thank you is not only the polite and respectful thing to do, it signals to your people that they matter, they’re important, valuable, and most of all, you care.

9. Send a thank you note to an employee’s family – A friend of mine told me that he occasionally sends a thank you note to the spouse/significant other/family of an employee. He’ll say something to the effect of “Thank you for sharing your husband/wife/dad/mother with us and supporting the work he/she does. He/she a valuable contributor to our team and we appreciate him/her.” Wow…what a powerful way to communicate thankfulness!

10. Give a handwritten note of thanks – Some things never go out of style and handwritten thank you notes are one of them. Emails are fine, voice mails better (even made this list!), but taking the time to send a thoughtful, handwritten note says “thank you” like no other way…

What other ways to say “thank you” would you add to this list?

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Sigfrid Lundberg via photopin cc

photo credit: Sigfrid Lundberg via photopin cc

How To Think Like A Wise Person

by Adam Grant

If I asked you to judge how smart someone is, you’d know where to start. But if you were going to assess how wise that person is, what qualities would you consider?

Wisdom is the ability to make sound judgments and choices based on experience. It’s a virtue according to every great philosophical and religious tradition, from Aristotle to Confucius and Christianity to Judaism, Islam to Buddhism, and Taoism to Hinduism. According to the book From Smart to Wisewisdom distinguishes great leaders from the rest of the pack. So what does it take to cultivate wisdom?

In an enlightening study led by psychologists Paul Baltes and Ursula Staudinger, a group of leading journalists nominated public figures who stood out as wise. The researchers narrowed the original list down to a core set of people who were widely viewed as possessing wisdom—an accomplished group of civic leaders, theologians, scientists, and cultural icons. They compared these wise people with a control group of professionals who were successful but not nominated as wise (including lawyers, doctors, teachers, scientists, and managers).

Both groups answered questions that gave them a chance to demonstrate their wisdom. For example, what advice would they give to a widowed mother facing a choice between shutting down her business and supporting her son and grandchildren? How would they respond to a call from a severely depressed friend? A panel of experts evaluated their answers, and the results—along with several follow-up studies—reveal six insights about what differentiates wise people from the rest of us.

1. Don’t wait until you’re older and smarter. The people with the highest wisdom scores are just as likely to be 30 as 60. …. Cultivating wisdom is a deliberate choice that people can make regardless of age and intelligence…

2. See the world in shades of grey, not black and white. …

Wise people specialize in what strategy expert Roger Martin calls integrative thinking—”the capacity to hold two diametrically opposing ideas in their heads”—and reconcile them for the situation at hand. In the words of the philosopher Bertrand Russell, “fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, but wiser people so full of doubts.”

3. Balance self-interest and the common good… It’s neither healthy nor productive to be extremely altruistic or extremely selfish. People who fail to secure their oxygen masks before assisting others end up running out of air, and those who pursue personal gains as the expense of others end up destroying their relationships and reputations. Wise people reject the assumption that the world is a win-lose, zero-sum place. They find ways to benefit others that also advance their own objectives.

4. Challenge the status quo. Wise people are willing to question rules. Instead of accepting things as they have always been, wisdom involves asking whether there’s a better path…

5. Aim to understand, rather than judge. By default, many of us operate like jurors, passing judgment on the actions of others so that we can sort them into categories of good and bad. Wise people resist this impulse, operating more like detectives whose goal is to explain other people’s behaviors. …Over time, this emphasis on understanding rather than evaluating yields an advantage in predicting others’ actions, enabling wise people to offer better advice to others and make better choices themselves.

6. Focus on purpose over pleasure. In one surprising study, Baltes’ team discovered that wise people weren’t any happier than their peers. They didn’t experience more positive emotions, perhaps because wisdom requires critical self-reflection and a long-term view. They recognized that just as today’s cloud can have a silver lining tomorrow, tomorrow’s silver lining can become next month’s suffering. However, there was a clear psychological benefit of wisdom: a stronger sense of purpose in life. From time to time, wisdom may involve putting what makes us happy on the back burner in our quest for meaning and significance.

Link to read the original article in full

photo credit: Ed Yourdon via photopin cc

photo credit: Ed Yourdon via photopin cc

What does it Mean to be a Citizen at Work?

In his 2013 Chief Executive’s Lecture, Matthew Taylor puts the focus on good employment, and how to move this from an idea with general support but very mixed take-up into something which is available to all employees and supported by wider society.

Béatrice Coron’s Daily Battles in 3D

French artist Béatrice Coron creates stories from cut paper. And while this one—told in stunning 3D, with a soundscape—contains castles and fire-breathing dragons, it tells a tale we all can relate to: of the constant, everyday battles we face. Says Coron, “It seems there is always a dragon to slay, a kingdom to be won, a Holy Grail to find … I win some battles but the war is never over.”

photo credit: Erik Daniel Drost via photopin cc

photo credit: Erik Daniel Drost via photopin cc

What To Do If You Don’t Feel Grateful

 shares a story along with her suggestions for building a sense of gratitude when times are tough…

Sometimes circumstances we consider to be horrendous turn out to work in our favor. We usually don’t see the big picture until much later, if ever. The following parable illustrates this concept:

There is an ancient story of a farmer whose only horse ran away.  Later that evening the neighbors gathered to commiserate with him since this was thought to be such bad luck. “Your farm will suffer, and you will not be able to plough your fields,” they said. “Surely this is a terrible thing to have happened to you.”

 The farmer said, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”

 The next day the horse returned but brought with it six wild horses, and the neighbors came to congratulate him and exclaim his good fortune. “You are much richer than you were before!” they said. “Surely this has turned out to be a great thing for you.”

 The farmer replied, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”

 Then, the following day, the farmer’s son tried to saddle and ride one of the wild horses. He was immediately thrown from the horse and broke his leg.  With this injury he couldn’t work on the farm. Again the neighbors came to offer their sympathy to the farmer for the incident. “There is more work than only you can handle, and you may be driven poor,” they said. “Surely this is a terrible misfortune.”

 The old farmer simply said, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”

 The day after that, conscription officers came to the village to seize young men for the army, but because of his broken leg the farmer’s son was rejected.  When the neighbors heard this they came to visit the farmer and said, “How fortunate you are!  Things have worked out after all.  Most young men never return alive from the war. Surely this is the best of fortunes for you and your son!”

 Again, the old man said, “Maybe yes, maybe no.”

 …Who knows but that you were let go from your last job so that you could put some time and energy into contemplating and pursuing your real passion? Perhaps a relationship didn’t work out, and thus you developed greater inner strength and autonomy. Maybe that addiction you’ve battled for so many years will lead you to effective treatment, a support group, and the ability to help many other people, based on your own experience and recovery. You can make your mess your message.

So, be kind to yourself if you’re having a tough time feeling gratitude at this moment. This is a great opportunity to practice self-acceptance of your full spectrum of emotions and to also practice “acting as if” you’re grateful. Although you may be gritting your teeth, you can still ask yourself, “What’s the good in this?” As has been said, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, but only if we’re able to learn from the experience. Your lesson may come to light down the road, so no worries if you don’t see it now – but keep your eyes open.

Link to read the full original article

photo credit: MACLA Flickr via photopin cc

photo credit: MACLA Flickr via photopin cc

Link to the full Happiness At Work Edition #74 collection of stories

All of these stories and more can be found in this week’s new Happiness At Work Edition #74.

Happiness At Work #73 ~ the (brave?) new world we are making for ourselves

If happiness were the national currency, what kind of work would make you rich?

A really terrific question – and we’d love to hear your answers…?

And it’s a great headline too for this week’s Happiness At Work collection #73 question: based on the strongest trends, patterns and the new norms we are carving into our cultural assumptions and expectations, are we making ourselves any better?

This week we highlight a blend of stories that illuminate and probe and wrestle around and celebrate the new-in-the-now – in our organisations as much as across our societies and within the fabric of our everyday lives.  Together these stories bring a growing sense of what we are becoming and making of ourselves.

See whether you think this is to our greater good or our increased ill…?.

Well-Being Jettisons To Critical Performance Metric In Workplace

by Judy Martin writing in Forbes magazine

We have often noticed that what gets valued gets measured and what gets measured gets attention, energy and investment.  In our first story Judy Martin marks the growing validity of happiness and wellbeing at work as a serious metric in the engine rooms and accounting houses of our organisations, and asks…

Can you hear it? There’s a nascent ethos of binaural business wisdom coming from progressive CEOs truly concerned with the health and well-being of their talent, and the deepening of our own mindful awareness as individuals in desperate need of a more peaceful, productive and healthy working experience.

The well-being of the workforce, if only disconsolately by default, might be the metric of salvation in an era of digital exuberance, overworked employees and disengaged talent looking to jump ship.

A salvo of scientific research in stress and creativity, along with statistics reflecting big business’ desperation to retain and engage talent, pack a wallop of a wakeup punch to the tummy of the traditional business model. And some of  big business is hearing the wakeup call.

CIPD, a UK Human Resources trade organization, reports that over the last year alone, the number of employers making workplace cultural changes to try to reduce long-term absence levels has increased 20% in the last year. It its Simplyhealth Absence Survey, 85% revealed they’re making changes to working patterns, environments and flexibility. This passage from the report speaks volumes to acknowledging employee well-being:

“The benefit of changes to working patterns has been recognized by many employers, with over 70% of organizations reporting a positive impact on employee motivation and employee engagement. A further 46% also stated they were using flexible working options to support employees with mental health problems.”

But the positive news is littered with some hard core disturbing facts:

  • Absence levels, according to CIPD have crept up to post-recession numbers seen in 2010 and 2011.
  • ComPsych reports that “elevated stress levels are the new norm for employees.” The employee assistant provider says its 2013 StressPulse Report found that 62% of employees indicated high levels of stress, and that one-third lose an hour a day in productivity as a result of stress.
  • Gallup’s recently revealed that 70% of American employees are either disengaged or miserable at work.

(I discuss the intersection of work stress and well-being here in my recent post Work, Stress, Bliss Manifesto.)

“The message is clear,” says HR trend tracker Meghan M. Biro, Founder of TalentCulture.com and host of one of the most popular Human Resources twitter chats on the web, #TChat.  “Leaders have to do better building employee engagement and job satisfaction through programs like wellness and work flexibility. When you see people who can’t wait to get to work in the morning, you’ll know you’ve created intrapreneurs who will radiate a highly contagious fulfilment and happiness. It’s a beautiful thing.”

Mindfulness and Well-Being Garners Growing Attention

That beautiful thing seems elusive and hard to define in terms of success. But if you ask media mogul Arianna Huffington, well-being at work should be trending high enough for the c-suite to take more notice…

“The truth is that we no longer have the luxury to ignore our well-being, our wisdom, our ability to make good decisions, because the world is moving so fast that we can no longer be in maintenance mode. We have to constantly be innovating, constantly creating, and we can’t do that from the surface. We can’t do that from burnout,” said Huffington adding, “Right now the American workforce is running on burnout, sleep deprivation and exhaustion.”

The Wisdom 2.0 Business Conference at Google’s New York City headquarters, founded by author Soren Gordhamer who wrote  Wisdom 2.0: Ancient Secrets for the Creative and Constantly Connected, explored mindfulness in business and its impact on the well-being and performance of talent in our real-time world. The topic resonated deeply with another speaker at the conference, Rich Fernandez; a former Google employee and Founder of WisdomLabs. He effused with audience agreement that due to technology – demands, information and complexity are increasing without the capacity to manage all the stimulation.

“Our in-boxes and the way we work make the world very complex, and the world is already turbulent as it is. It’s really hard for our organizations, and those of us who work in those organizations to become resilient at the same rate,” said Fernandez.

Fernandez says we have more wicked problems than we’ve ever dealt with before, adding, “Our leaders need to be more complex and adaptive in their thinking. They need to be more agile and self aware…”

A Personal Take on Well-Being at Work 

Judging by the arguments made, it behooves leaders to take the reins on the well-being wagon at work, but that dirt road is paved with potholes of resistance unless the spreadsheets prove other wise. Perhaps individual effort to improve ones well-being might be the faster track. If employees learn to better manage their energy and work flow, they just might see an improvement in their performance and ability to manage stress.

“Everyone needs to learn to recognize and respect their own personal rhythms of peak performance and need for healing rest and recovery,” Rossi recently told me in an interview at WorkLifeNation.com.

I’ve been fascinated by the concept of well-being at work and how it has the potential to fuel more energy and better employee performance.  The implications are more crucial than ever before as the global marketplace becomes more competitive, and talent driven creativity and innovation might catapult a company above the rest. The question is, whose responsibility is it to nurture the well-being of employees? Please share your thoughts.

Judy Martin is an Emmy Award-winning journalist and stress management consultant who tracks workplace trends. Connect with Judy on Twitter: @JudyMartin8 and visit her at WorkLifeNation.com where she writes in depth about workplace concerns,  work stress management initiatives, workplace well-being trends and  transforming stress in an “always-on” world.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: kern.justin via photopin cc

photo credit: kern.justin via photopin cc

Diana Diamond asks: Are We Being Happy Yet?

More than 1,000 books on happiness were released last month on Amazon

At a recent Stanford alumni conference – “Are you happy now,” moderated by former CBS News anchor Katie Couric – the focus was on just that. The panel featured Stanford professors and David Kelley, founder of IDEO, a design and innovation firm based in Palo Alto.

Panelists first defined happiness as a feeling good experience, a combination of pleasure and meaningfulness, knowing how to have fun, and doing something with a purpose.

Some people are hard-wired for happiness. Surprisingly, there are happy and unhappy minds, mostly dependent on our genes but also our upbringing. Couric said her husband always tells her she was born on the sunny side of the street. I have cloudy-side origins. Fascinating, since we seldom analyze ourselves this way.

When asked if stress is an impediment to happiness, Kelley said that doing something for someone else or society helps alleviate stress. He added that creative people are happier and usually more excited about things.

Firdaus Dhabhar, a Stanford psychiatry professor, said stress can be helpful and make us more effective, but we need down times between stressful periods. And while some of us view stress as a bad thing, it need not be so unless it overwhelms us.

Panelists agreed more children are depressed now, compared to a decade or two ago; no explanation why. While money won’t buy happiness, as long as one’s basic needs are met, individuals tend to be happier. Those who choose to spend their money on experiences and activities are happier than those who spend their money on “things” such as another pair of shoes or a second house.

Technology is changing our lives, Kelley said, for better or worse. He knows of teenagers who come home early from a dance date so they then can text each other about the dance. “Technology can help you keep unconnected and impersonal.”

Yet, he added, an amazing 60 percent of teens surveyed say they feel worse after spending time on Facebook because all their friends “seem to be doing all these fab things.”

Panelists discussed children a lot, beginning with Couric’s question: Does having children make you happier?

Studies show children create more meaning in our lives. But parents today have a difficult time allowing their kids to fail — they want to protect them, and turn into helicopter parents, constantly hovering over them.

Couric asked why parents today feel they have to go to every one of their kids’ sports activities, every practice, every concert and every on-stage event. Parents work on their kids’ projects, and supervise their homework. It’s “what parents have to do,” she complained.

Jennifer Aaker, a Stanford marketing professor, said studies show that the happiness curve starts at 18 when kids are doing all sorts of exciting things, then leads to satisfaction, then onto doing something meaningful. And finally some contentment. People are least happy when they are 35 to 45 years old with three kids, but from 50 to 70 happiness increases, and then goes downhill. Happiness shifts over the course of life.

The United States is 18th in the world in happiness ratings, but compared to other countries, we pay less attention to the meaningfulness of life.

And what is the most important component for happiness? The panelists listed a sense of autonomy in one’s life, personal growth, authenticity, genuineness – and sleep.

Dare I now wish you a Happy Thanksgiving? Perhaps that will stress you out.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Defence Images via photopin cc

photo credit: Defence Images via photopin cc

7 Things You Didn’t Know Were Internet-Connected

By 2015 there will be 25 billion devices connected to the internet, and by 2020 this is predicted to haves doubled to 50 billion interconnected devices.

This IT Brief outlines seven items sampling what they call the vast Internet of Things…

Within this “Internet of Things,” there is an already massive range of connected devices that continues to grow every minute.  Here are seven things you may not have realised are internet-connected:

Already here and a part of the Brave New World we have made for ourselves are…

Assassination by WiFi – as seen in Homeland, heart devices already have WiFi capability and are increasingly transmitting data to smartphones, registering potentially life-threatening irregularities. But this bring risks, and Vice President Cheney’s cardiologist has had this WiFi disabled – just in case…

Cows on Facebook – Ranchers are already using wireless sensors to monitor their stock from afar, bringing them news feeds such as when a cow is pregnant, and other farmers are using robotic milking that sends data about much milk their cows are producing…

Pot plants that water and light themselves – WiFi enabled sensors that provide information about nutrients and temperature can also automatically tun off and on watering and lighting accessories…

TV computing – WiFi capabilities are increasing the range of internet activities we can do through our televisions…

Pills that keep us monitored – WiFi enabled to transmit information to remind us to take our meds, and report us if we don’t to our doctors and relatives…

Rubbish that keeps us honest and clean – new tech systems using radio frequency identification that transmit data so there is no hiding what rubbish we’ve put where…

Machine control – in manufacturing a increasing amount of data is being provide across a broader and broader network to provide the intelligence to drive business excellence and controls…

Link to get this free download

photo credit: alles-schlumpf via photopin cc

photo credit: alles-schlumpf via photopin cc

Meaning 2013: A Business Rebellion

Meaning 2013 was the annual NixonMcInnes business conference that happened this year on 8th November in Brighton, with the aspiration to

‘help connect and inspire people who believe in better business…Be part of the change…’

Luke Dodd reviews this one-day conference in his Melcrum Internal Communications blog

Finding meaning in what your organization does is at the heart of smart Internal Communication.

Using that understanding and infusing it within your communication strategy encourages employee engagement, makes messages sticky and ensures alignment to business values.

And for those communicators wishing to make that connection, the search for meaning can go far beyond the office walls. It can lead us to reach out into the world and ask whether our individual efforts are helping society.

Meaning is powerful. And meaning can transform your organization.

Taking a high-level view of business was at the heart of the agenda for Meaning 2013 (#meaningconf), organized by Nixon McInnes and held at the Corn Exchange, Brighton, UK this past week. Over 200 delegates attended, ready to take a look at the world in a different way. Here are my highlights and thoughts from the day’s proceedings…

Link to read Luke Dodd’s memories and reflections of this event

10 Things We Learned From Meaning 2013 at Brighton

Some of the themes and the issues this gathering set out to explore were…

  • Organisational Design & Structure ~ is topdown command and control fit for the 21st century?
  • Workplace Democratisation ~ are businesses with collaborative decision-making practices getting the edge on old-school competitors?
  • 21st Century Leadership ~ what kind of leaders do the challenges of our time demand, and what is leadership today?
  • Steady State Economics ~ can we keep growing in conventional terms and if not, what are the alternatives?
  • Sustainability In Business ~ what are the opportunities for businesses to embrace sustainability?
  • Technology Disruption ~ what technology themes are imminent and likely to disrupt business as usual?
  • The Future Of Work ~ what do people want from work and what can they expect from progressive businesses?

In this post, Fiona Duffy of The Happy Startup School draws out her top themes from the Meaning 2013 NixonMcInnes event.

And, generously, NixonMcInnes have posted all of the the talks from the day in their YouTube channel, so you can pick and mix the ideas that interest you from this blended guide…

NixonMcInnes believe as we do, that business needs to re-design in the 21st century.  They created Meaning  to connect and inspire future business leaders who believe in the same thing, curating talks that inspire action.

Key take-aways and all of the talks from the day…

  • People want to be part of change (founder of the Swedish Pirate Party and Swarmwise author Rick Falkvinge)…   “We work for autonomy, mastery and purpose…Leaders need to provide a mission for people to rally around, where everybody can see there’s a place for them.  If someone can help towards reaching a goal or driving a single idea without having to be asked, magic happens, people start swarming towards that idea.  Ideas should be credible, executable and epic, so shoot for the moon.  On second thoughts, no – we’ve already been there.  Shoot for Mars…”

  • If you’re human, you’re a storyteller.  Get good at it (story activist, Mary Alice Arthur)…   “How do you make change?  By unleashing the Trojan mice…”  Stories make for driving positive change.  If you apply this to entrepreneurs, having a story in business gives clear purpose for people to rally around your cause.  Stories show a mrs human approach to business, essential for gathering a swarm of proactive people for driving change.  What question is your life calling for?  And what story are you living in and living into?“…

  • The best leaders lead through inquiry (co-founder of JustGiving Anne Marie Huby)…   “The stronger the culture, the less rules you need.”  At JustGiving leaders lead through questioning.  No single person can win points through status.  It takes collective intelligence to answer problems no one person can answer.  JustGiving’s core values and democratic approach to business empowers culture and team integrity…
  • Invent things that add value (Anne Marie Huby)…   Focus on inventing products that have real meaning – profits should be a by-product of doing better things.  Placing more focus on how we’re doing business not what we’re doing leads to better outcomes.  Test and learn constantly…

  • It’s possible not to fire a single soul in 57 years of business (Mikel Lezamiz, director of cooperative dissemination at MONDRAGON)…   “Workforce has the power, capital has the tool.”  Employee have their core values, cooperation, social responsibility, innovation and participation which owes a lot to a 0.01% staff turnover rate and 0 firing record.

  • Fun should be featured in the business model (James Watt, co-founder of BrewDog)…   BrewDog have adopted a disruptive business model where they set up an ‘equity for punks’ scheme allowing their fans shares in the company along with huge discounts across their beers – proving that having a little fun, disregarding corporate growth models and doing something you’re truly passionate about is the future of business…

  • Positive understanding of tech = positive change (Dr. Sue Black, one of the Guardian’s top ten women in tech)…   Since launching the #techmums campaign Sue Black has helped numerous mothers enrich their lives with the power of the internet  If you’re going to lead a business you’ve got to be moving towards Maslow’s ‘self-actualisation’…”

  • A dark age is looming (rogue economist, author and Harvard Business Review blogger Umair Haque)…   We need to build businesses with stronger values and less focus on financial growth.  When we look at meaning in our everyday lives, we shouldn’t be focusing on material wealth, we should be focusing on fulfilment.  The same is true for business.  We need meaning more than ever but “we’re entering a Dark Age for humanity when we’re reluctant to speak out against unfair systems.”

  • Don’t become the companies you set out to disrupt (social technologies expert Lee Bryant)…    Too many startups are mimicking the very organisations they’re battling against.  We need to recognise that top-down organisational norm isn’t working anymore.  It’s time to innovate and squash traditional structures, finding a way that incorporates your mission and values.

  • Identity is the new money (internationally recognised thought leader in digital identity and digital money, Dave Birch)…   “We have a new superpower because we can connect with anyone else on the planet in an instant… 

 

  • Finding meaning in what your organisation does is at the heart of smart communication...   Using the understanding [of meaning] and infusing it within your communication strategy encourages employee engagement, makes messages sticky and ensures alignment to business values.  Meaning is powerful.  And meaning can transform your organisation.” (Luke Dodd)

Link to read the original Happy Startup School article

photo credit: mugley via photopin cc

photo credit: mugley via photopin cc

How to Create a Workplace that Works for Women

Inge Woudstra, director of W2O Consulting & Training, writes in the Guardian

Management programmes often suggest ways to change the way women think, but perhaps we should be changing our workplaces instead.

Women are different, yet coaching, mentoring and leadership programmes often focus on fixing women; helping them to do well in an organisation designed for men. Is that really the solution?

Don’t adapt, instead create a workplace that works for women. Here’s how:

Create a female support network

Growing in your career requires self-confidence. A great way to do this is to join a women’s network: a place where you can find inspiration and recognition from sharing with like-minded people.

You may have to try a few networks before you have found one that feels right for you. If you can’t find one, why not create your own? Invite a few colleagues for a monthly dinner. Make sure that the people you invite are at a similar level to you and aren’t connected to your day-to-day workplace.

Author and bio-psychologist Martine Delfos explains that female support networks satisfy the basic human need of feeling safe and secure. Men have the same need to feel safe and secure, but they tend to find this kind of support and encouragement with their partner at home.

Remember to also build networks that do include men, as you will need those for the same purpose men use networks: for sales, self-promotion or increased power and influence.

Ask for the management support you need

Not everyone is motivated in the same way. Do you know what makes you stretch yourself? Reflect on questions such as: What inspires you to work harder? What gives you that little push to go for a challenging project, or promotion?

 …Most men tend to be motivated by challenges and competitions. Language that may work for men could include, “I bet you can’t beat our competitor” or, “This is a very challenging project.”

Women tend to be motivated by co-operation and a more encouraging style, with language that could include, “We really need your help to build our client base” or, “I saw you perform really well on the last project, I just know you can do this one.”

Find out what works for you and subtly let your manager know; they may well become your fiercest supporter.

Speak up: your view is important

It’s easy to sit back and let others take the lead. After all, putting yourself in the spotlight isn’t easy.

However, as Sheryl Sandberg argues in her book Lean In, your organisation needs you there. Teams with a better gender balance perform better simply because women’s brains tend to make different connections. You may, for instance, see the wider impact of a decision, or remember past experiences better and draw lessons from them.

 Voice what you need to feel valued

 You should feel happy and satisfied at work. Barbara Annis, author of Work with Me, did exit interviews with women, and her research shows that 40% cite “not feeling valued” as a key reason for leaving their organisation. Work-family reasons are mentioned by only 30%.

Men and women have a different way of feeling recognised and valued. Women tend to need to hear they are valued more often. In addition, women tend to look for appreciation for themselves as a person, whereas men tend to feel valued when their (public) achievements are valued.

It’s good to realise that you have a different approach, but may well get the same results. Knowing this may help you to feel more confident at work, which can make all the difference.

Link to read the original Guardian article

Better People Equals Better Business – Lessons from the All Blacks

James Kerr, author of Legacy: What the All Blacks can teach us about the business of life, writes for HRZone….

…Having feasted for 100 years on an extraordinary 75% winning record, results were slipping. The Men in Black had just come a miserable last in the Tri Nations, a championship they’d come to regard as their own.  Worse, morale had plummeted…

Something had to change.

The senior leadership gathered for a three-day summit under head coach, Graham Henry, in what he now calls the most important meeting of his career.

Out of it came a new resolve – to redesign the world’s most successful sporting culture – and a new phrase; Better People Make Better All Blacks. The strategy? Develop the character of the players off the pitch, so that they perform better on it.

Their plan revolved around the following pillars:

  • Devolved leadership, involving techniques not dissimilar from the military’s ‘mission command’ doctrine; to arm the players ‘with intention’ and to trust them to deliver.
  • Individual personal development; involving the creation of a ‘living document’ that charted individual progress day by day, week by week, season by season.
  • The creation of a learning environment modeled on Henry’s experience as a headmaster; a philosophy of continual improvement encapsulated in the phrase ‘Champions Do Extra’.
  • Train to win; training at intensity so Thursday’s training was even more brutal than the cauldron of a test match, leading to recalibration of expectations.
  • A focus on brain biology in which they identified the effect of stress on cognitive function and developed triggers and anchors to help the players cope.
  • The ritualisation of behaviour around their core narrative; epitomised by the team’s development of a new haka, Kapa o Pango.

This final element bound the rest together. “The success was being really good at that,’ says Wayne Smith, the All Blacks assistant coach. ‘Really good at making our team talks, our reviews, our game plans, all apply to the central story.”

Between 2004 and 2011, the All Blacks took their winning record from an extraordinary 75% (over 100 years, making them the most statistically successful sporting team in any code, ever), to an almost unbelievable 86%.

Clearly, the soft stuff – the story, the mind game – delivers the hard stuff, measurable competitive advantage. It also delivered a little gold cup.

In my bookLegacy: What the All Blacks can teach us about the business of life, I isolate the 15 key lessons in leadership I learned from my immersion into this inspiring environment. They are the proven principles that the All Blacks use to fuse themselves into a singularly effective high-performance organisation.

Here are a few of the All Blacks’ secrets of success:

Sweep the Sheds

…Surprisingly perhaps, a core All Blacks value is humility. They believe that stratospheric success can only be achieved by keeping their feet firmly on the ground.

Follow the Spearhead

…the All Blacks seek to replace the ‘me’ with the ‘we’. No one is bigger than the team, so much so that there is an unofficial policy, ‘No Dickheads’. They select on character over talent, believing that it delivers better long-term dividends. Something that many corporate environments might do well to consider.

Create a Haka

A key factor in the All Blacks rebirth was the development of the new haka, Kapa o Pango. By bringing the players and management together in an inclusive process that invoked the past while creating the future, the All Blacks reattached personal meaning to public purpose. Rituals reflect, remind and reinforce the belief system of the collective; it’s no surprise that the organisations and cultures that have survived and thrived over the centuries – from countries to churches, Wal-Mart to Leo Burnett, have significent rituals at their core to communicate their story and purpose.

Pass the Ball

To paraphrase Tom Peters, leaders create leaders, not followers. Central to the All Blacks method was the development of leadership groups and the nurturing of character off the field, to deliver results on it. This involved a literal and metaphorical handing over of responsibility from management to players, so that by game day the team consisted of ‘one captain and 15 leaders‘…

Leave a Legacy

There is a Maori concept, whakapapa, which captures the idea of our genealogy, our lineage from the beginning of time to the end of eternity. The sun shines on this, our time, just for a moment and it is our responsibility to ‘leave the jersey in a better place’. The All Blacks seek to ‘add to the legacy’ in everything they do, knowing that higher purpose leads to higher performance.

To regain their momentum, and to win back the World Cup, the All Blacks developed a values-led, purpose-driven high-performance culture and they used the power of storytelling to give it personal resonance. The result of this extraordinary environment was extraordinary results.

Those organisations that know what they stand for – and most importantly, why – consistently outperform those who are just going through the motions. They create better commercial results, generate more sales, deliver higher shareholder value, attract better talent, and retain it.

Clearly, many of the challenges HR leaders face are different to those of the All Blacks. Scale creates complexity, individual ambition can trump a collective spirit, organisational structure often undermines strategy. Nevertheless, if we seek to align all our people, resources and effort around a singular and compelling central narrative, and reinforce that story through communications, rewards, resourcing and training, the results will come.

Link to read the original unedited article

photo credit: Catching Magic via photopin cc

photo credit: Catching Magic via photopin cc

Gratitude Can Fuel School – and Work – Transformation

In this article Elena Aguilar outlines the benefits and application of practising gratitude in schools, but these ideas are so universally applicable I have adapted it only very slightly to show its relevance for all of us, whatever work we doing…

The Neuroscience Behind Appreciation

Here’s the thing: Our brains need to feel gratitude in order for us to want to be at work. Our brains are like Teflon for positive experiences and like Velcro with negative experiences. This means the negative comments, interactions, professional development (PD) workshops, and so on, cling to our brains. But if we spend a few minutes in appreciation, recalling those fulfilling moments in a day or encounters with supportive [people], or the segments in workshops when we felt we were learning, our brains create new links between neurons.

As we strengthen these links and build them day-after-day, our mind finds it easier to travel down those neuron paths and to experience the associated positive emotions. We can help our brain evolve in a positive way and in a way that might help us transform schools.

If we feel more positive, we will want to be at work. We will most likely be more patient with our [customers] and with colleagues. We may speak to each other with more kindness. We might listen to each other more deeply. We might take risks in our [work] or leadership. But we can’t do any of these when we’re perpetually distressed. Expressing gratitude can allow us to engage in our [work] and learning in a more positive, open way.

“Gratitude is like a flashlight. It lights up what is already there. You don’t necessarily have anything more or different, but suddenly you can actually see what it is. And because you can see, you no longer take it for granted.” – M.J. Ryan in Attitudes of Gratitude.

Ways of Practising Gratitude

Adapting and responding to what is most meaningful to each individual person increases the potency and impact of the appreciation we show.  Each one of us knows how we want to be appreciated. You might prefer quiet affirmation, or you might really like a public acknowledgment.  Perhaps you would really appreciate getting a written message, or maybe you would rather hear it in person. Or maybe a small gift of chocolate is what it would take to make you feel truly appreciated.

Closing meetings with public expressions of gratitude is a powerful and invaluable to create community, as are other practices. For example, a staff lounge can have an “Appreciation Tree” where all are invited to write an appreciation on a leaf and post it on the tree. In addition, there are many ways that we can individually practice this brain-enhancing behavior. Here are a few ideas:

  • Keep a gratitude journal. This exercise is a way of closing every day by recalling a few things we are grateful for from that day. By simply cataloguing them our minds start to search them out during the day
  • What do I appreciate about today and what was my role in making it happen? This is a more focused journal prompt to respond to each day that helps us recognize our agency in our blessings. Through this process, we discover how we can create more positive experiences for ourselves
  • Email a friend. You can also find a friend who wants to commit to emailing each other every day — or a few times a week — and sharing what you’re grateful for. Some of us feel more motivated by (and accountable) if we have an audience
  • Write a gratitude letter. Select one person you feel gratitude for (living or dead) and write a letter appreciating the ways that that he/she has enriched your life. If you can, read it face to face. This is a powerful exercise to engage in occasionally and could be tailored to an education context at times – write a letter to someone from your past, someone you have been touch with for too long, someone you see a lot but somehow never tell them what you appreciate about them…
  • Project 365. This is a fun photography project for those visually inclined. I did this for a year, taking one photo a day, and focused on capturing images that reflected something I was grateful for. After a while, I noticed that each day I’d consciously look for positive moments to capture. I felt like my mind was training itself, honing in on all that was good so that I could accomplish my daily task
  • Use guided imagery and meditation. By taking a few minutes at the start or end of each day to call to mind what we’re grateful for, we strengthen those neurons that make us feel happier. When I wake up, I often silently appreciate my body for all it does each day to keep my healthy. You can do this for whatever you’re grateful for.

Our ability to feel gratitude is a muscle of sorts – it’s a habit our minds can develop – we just need practice. Imagine if we were all practicing individually, for a few minutes in the morning and a few in the evening, and then if there were ways built into our work day to express gratitude to those around us; imagine how different we’d feel about being at work each day.

Link to read the original article about practising gratitude in schools

10 Ways To Create a Compassionate Workplace

 writes, on 13th November, World Kindness Day, about some new thinking that shows us how to make a better and more fictive workplace through practising more compassionate and kinder ways of working with each other…

1. Start small

According to business professor Adam Grant, the most successful ‘givers’ don’t try to be Gandhi or Mother Teresa. They do a lot of five-minute favours. “That might be sharing a little bit of knowledge, making an introduction when somebody is down on their luck or their opportunities, just listening, and offering advice or sympathy for a challenge that somebody is facing.”

2. Learn to focus

One Harvard University study found that we spend almost half our waking hours doing one thing but thinking about something else – and our distraction levels are highest at work. Amongst other things, this stops us from connecting with people around us.

Simple meditation and mindfulness exercises bring all kinds of benefits, including boosting our compassion levels (as this doctor’s waiting room study shows). More and more companies are offering meditation classes, and even CEOs and politicians are getting involved.

3. Try compassion training

In the last 10 years or so, research has confirmed that we can deliberately cultivate empathy and compassion. For example, studies using ‘economics games’ found that people acted more altruistically after compassion training and were more likely to redistribute money that was unfairly allocated. Teachers and healthcare professionals were less stressed, anxious or depressed, and compassion training seems to protect caregivers from burnout and compassion fatigue. A number of different organisations now run courses for professionals.

4. Be kind to yourself

Our biggest enemy at work – or anywhere else – is often ourself. Self-compassion (which is not the same as self-esteem) is important because the more we have, the more likely we are to be happy, optimistic and satisfied with life.

Self-compassion is linked with qualities that are very useful at work. It makes us more conscientious, resilient and motivated, and more willing to take responsibility for mistakes.Kristin Neff, a leading self-compassion researcher and teacher, believes it is hard to show compassion for others if we don’t have any for ourselves. “Your batteries are going to run dry,” she says.

5. Promote compassionate leaders

Organisations don’t set their values, structures and procedures, the people at the top do – so we should select, train and support leaders who are prepared to make changes and listen to employees. Leadership consultant Richard Barrett gives the example of a large South African bank that started conducting regular staff surveys. The result was a striking growth in staff engagement, profits and share price. “Caring about your employees is really good for business,” says Barrett.

6. Beware of ‘takers’

“The negative impact of takers on a culture is greater than the positive impact of givers,” says Adam Grant. Weeding out “the most selfish, horrible people” creates a balance of givers and ‘matchers’. As matchers tend to reciprocate the treatment they receive, they will emulate the givers around them, and this will shift the whole culture of the organisation.

7. It’s not always about money

We’re missing a trick if we think the only way to motivate employees is through financial incentives, with an injection of fear for good measure. Many organisations overlook the value of appreciation, support and affiliation, both as a performance motivator and as a calming factor in stressful work environments. One practical way to address this is to find ways to recognize and reward employees who go out of their way to help others.

8. Make compassionate decisions

We can never know exactly what the consequences of a decision will be. But before we act, we can run a few simple checks. What is our motivation? What are the implications for others? How would we feel if we were on the receiving end?

9. Ignore the compassion myths

We might worry that acting in a compassionate way will see us branded as a soft touch who can’t get the job done (even though research suggests the opposite is true). Adam Grant says: “The easiest way to remove that barrier is to identify other givers in your organisation and build a community of people who share your values and are willing to see concern for others and compassion as a sign of strength as opposed to a source of weakness.”

10. Lead by example

As the psychologist and author Daniel Goleman points out, our emotions and behaviour are contagious. “A leader is anyone who has a sphere of influence, and we all do in our lives somewhere… We are all in a situation, in any interaction, to be compassionate.”

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Amsterdamized via photopin cc

photo credit: Amsterdamized via photopin cc

Women are more engaged at work, so are they happier?

Jonathan Richards, chief executive of breatheHR writes…

Structured development improves morale and ultimately productivity, yet new research shows that many companies overlook the importance of supporting employees

…Continual staff mentoring and development is at the heart of every successful team and business. Yet despite demonstrable benefits, the Personal Development in the Workplace study we recently commissioned revealed that personal development was being seriously neglected by business owners across the UK.

The study surveyed employees in small-and medium-sized businesses in the UK. It revealed that almost half (47.6%) of staff feel that their boss doesn’t take their personal development seriously, while a quarter (27.9%) said they have never discussed personal development or training with their boss.

Perhaps most alarming is that more than 66% claimed to have no kind of personal development plan in place, effectively working day to day without any goals or training focus. While the figures showed only marginal differences of up to 7%, it emerged that women actually feel more engaged in the workplace, discuss their personal development more frequently with their employer and are more likely to have a personal development plan in place than their male counterparts.

These differences between men and women in the workplace may have roots in the classroom. It has been statistically proven that girls perform better than boys while at school, right through to GCSEs. This suggests that on a simple level, girls may well be more conscientious than boys, a trait which would mean they would also take a greater interest in their development at work.

There has also been a noticeable shift away from traditional gender roles in the past 15 years. Women, who are anecdotally and scientifically proven to be better at multitasking, are using this to their advantage and enjoying the benefits of a career and parenthood. Research by Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman called Study in Leadership: Women Do it Better Than Men asked 7,280 professionals which skills they believed leaders of both genders possessed. While you might expect traits such as relationship building and teamwork to come high on the list (which they did), the top three were: takes initiative; practises self-development; displays high integrity and honesty.

The study concluded that women excel at 15 of 16 individual leadership characteristics, as judged by their peers, subordinates and managers, with the variation between women and men increasing as individuals gain seniority. Traits such as taking the initiative and practising self-development go some way to explaining why women are more engaged in the workplace and are therefore more likely to have a stronger focus on their personal development.

So why are so many small to medium-sized businesses neglecting their staff development obligations? This could be down to the impact of the recession, with business owners more concerned with paying wages and keeping the business on an even keel, rather than diverting already limited funds to training and developing staff.

Happy employees tend to be high-performing ones, so an important starting point for business owners should be to think about how they can improve the individual lives of each of their staff. This doesn’t mean taking them on a company break or sending them away on training courses; it can be as simple as just providing support and encouragement and taking the time to understand what it is they want to get out of their job.

There is no silver bullet to improve company morale or productivity, but by making a small improvement to each employee’s work life you will dramatically improve business performance.

Link to read the original Guardian article

photo credit: ^riza^ via photopin cc

photo credit: ^riza^ via photopin cc

Pret a Manger Wants Happy Employees – And That’s OK

 reports on the growing trend for organisations to train their staff to ‘treat customers as if they are guests in your home’…

The front page of the New York Times recently carried an in-depth report on a “broad and transformative trend” in Russia. It had nothing to do with more democracy or less corruption. It had to do with better customer service — specifically, an intense focus inside Aeroflot, the infamous Russian airline, to teach flight attendants how to smile.

“Anna, you just showed her the champagne bottle but didn’t say anything,” one instructor coaxed a young employee. “This is the silent service of Soviet times. You need to talk to her. And you need to smile and smile and smile.”

I found two things about the report especially noteworthy. First, these basic reminders are having a revolutionary impact at Aeroflot. According to the Times, customer surveys indicate that the airline now has the best service of any carrier in Eastern Europe, including the best the West has to offer.

Second, Aeroflot’s program comes at a time when the business culture in the United States seems to be questioning the importance, the value, even the authenticity of human-to-human connections. In an era of cutthroat competition, deep-seated cynicism, and the digital disruption of everything, does it make sense to make big bets on the power of small acts of kindness?

… the success of Pret a Manger, the fast-growing (323 stores around the world), fast-casual sandwich shop, [depends upon] its unapologetic commitment to developing a workforce that is bright, cheerful, and happy to keep smiling.

One distinctive part of the Pret offering is its wide variety of fresh (yet pre-made) sandwiches. This model allows the company to get customers in and out of the store in as little as 60 seconds — a true value for harried office workers, its target customers. But Pret wants that brief time to be filled with smiles, positive energy, and a genuine human connection, especially for repeat customers. CEO Clive Schlee calls it the Pret Buzz, and the company has identified a set of Pret Behaviors to create the Buzz and an in-depth training program to instill those behaviors.

“The staff manual tells staff to ‘use personal phrases that you are comfortable with and treat customers as if they are guests in your own home,’” a report in London’s Telegraph newspaper explains. “This is nothing so glib as a ‘Have a nice day’ culture; this is a philosophy that runs much deeper.”

It’s also a philosophy that has attracted loud critics on both sides of the Atlantic. The first attack came from the London Review of Books, which objected to the idea that Pret employees should be expected to do more than just provide competent service at a reasonable price. “Work increasingly isn’t, or isn’t only, a matter of producing things, but of supplying your energies, physical and emotional, in the service of others,” the essay complained. “It isn’t what you make, but how your display of feelings makes other feel.”

Then came an assault by Timothy Noah of The New Republic, who offered a withering critique of the “emotional labor” and “enforced happiness” that is at the heart of the Pret model. The essay began with a lament (tongue-in-cheek, I hope) about how Noah had come to believe that a young woman behind the counter at his local Pret was in love with him. “How else to explain her visible glow whenever I strolled into the shop for a sandwich or a latte?” he asked. “Then I realized she lit up for the next person in line, and the next. Radiance was her job.”

Noah then generalizes from his personal disappointment. “Why must the person who sells me a cheddar and tomato sandwich have ‘presence’ and ‘create a sense of fun’?” he wonders. “Why can’t he or she be doing it ‘just for the money’? I don’t expect the swiping of my credit card to be anybody’s vocation. This is, after all, the economy’s bottom-most rung.”

That’s a serious question, to which I’d offer three serious answers.

First, I find it odd, and more than a bit condescending, to think that entry-level customer-service jobs should be performed with a grim sense of duty and barebones competence. It’s better for customers — and, I’d argue, for employees as well — to be part of an experience that is built around good cheer and personal expression rather than gritted teeth and furrowed brows. That’s why flying on Southwest Airlines still seems like such a one-of-a-kind experience (for flight attendants and passenger alike), and why Aeroflot is flying high these days.

To be sure, and this is my second answer, the Pret experience is not for everybody. That’s why Pret evaluates job applicants based on how well their personal attributes map to the company’s core behaviors, and assigns them trial runs at a shop, after which current employees vote on whether to extend newcomers a full-time offer. Every truly distinctive workplace I’ve encountered makes it clear to all concerned: If you don’t fit, it’s going to be hard for you to commit.

Finally, the lessons being learned by Aeroflot, and the model being perfected by Pret a Manger, speak to a deeper shift going on in the economy and society. At a time of vast and troubling uncertainty, in a world that is being reshaped by technology, small acts of connection take on outsized importance. It’s strange to think that a winning smile from a cashier or a flight attendant, or a nod of recognition from an employee who has seen you three times that week, might matter to the person receiving it — or to the person doing it. But I believe it does matter, both in terms of creating better human experiences and building more valuable organizations.

I’m convinced that “emotional labor” will become a more important part of the job at companies that win big in the future — and that’s a development that makes me smile.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: marsmet511 via photopin cc

photo credit: marsmet511 via photopin cc

Cities, Cars, Cycling – and Human Happiness

By Susan Perry

photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

The British newspaper The Guardian ran an edited excerpt last week from Charles Montgomery’s most recent book, “Happy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design.”

In the excerpt, Montgomery, who has written extensively about the link between urban planning and human wellbeing, asks the question “Is urban design really powerful enough to make or break happiness?”

His answer is (not surprisingly) a resounding “yes.”

“If one was to judge by sheer wealth,” he writes, “the last half-century should have been an ecstatically happy time for people in the US and other rich nations such as Canada, Japan and Great Britain. And yet the boom decades of the late 20th century were not accompanied by a boom in wellbeing. The British got richer by more than 40% between 1993 and 2012, but the rate of psychiatric disorders and neuroses grew.”

Social deficit and the shape of cities

Writes Montgomery:

There is a clear connection between social deficit and the shape of cities. A Swedish study found that people who endure more than a 45-minute commute were 40% more likely to divorce. People who live in monofunctional, car‑dependent neighbourhoods outside urban centres are much less trusting of other people than people who live in walkable neighbourhoods where housing is mixed with shops, services and places to work.

A couple of University of Zurich economists, Bruno Frey and Alois Stutzer, compared German commuters’ estimation of the time it took them to get to work with their answers to the standard wellbeing question, “How satisfied are you with your life, all things considered?”

Their finding was seemingly straightforward: the longer the drive, the less happy people were. Before you dismiss this as numbingly obvious, keep in mind that they were testing not for drive satisfaction, but for life satisfaction. People were choosing commutes that made their entire lives worse. Stutzer and Frey found that a person with a one-hour commute has to earn 40% more money to be as satisfied with life as someone who walks to the office. On the other hand, for a single person, exchanging a long commute for a short walk to work has the same effect on happiness as finding a new love.

Daniel Gilbert, Harvard psychologist and author of Stumbling On Happiness, explained the commuting paradox this way: “Most good and bad things become less good and bad over time as we adapt to them. However, it is much easier to adapt to things that stay constant than to things that change. So we adapt quickly to the joy of a larger house, because the house is exactly the same size every time. But we find it difficult to adapt to commuting by car, because every day is a slightly new form of misery.”

The sad part is that the more we flock to high-status cities for the good life — money, opportunity, novelty — the more crowded, expensive, polluted and congested those places become. The result? Surveys show that Londoners are among the least happy people in the UK, despite the city being the richest region in the UK.

photo credit: gynti_46 via photopin cc

photo credit: gynti_46 via photopin cc

Stress worse than that of a fighter pilot

But when cities enable us to get out of our cars and commute by slower means, such as biking or walking, our sense of wellbeing improves. Writes Montgomery:

Driving in traffic is harrowing for both brain and body. The blood of people who drive in cities is a stew of stress hormones. The worse the traffic, the more your system is flooded with adrenaline and cortisol, the fight-or-flight juices that, in the short-term, get your heart pumping faster, dilate your air passages and help sharpen your alertness, but in the long-term can make you ill. Researchers for Hewlett-Packard convinced volunteers in England to wear electrode caps during their commutes and found that whether they were driving or taking the train, peak-hour travellers suffered worse stress than fighter pilots or riot police facing mobs of angry protesters.

But one group of commuters report enjoying themselves. These are people who travel under their own steam. … They walk. They run. They ride bicycles.

Why would travelling more slowly and using more effort offer more satisfaction than driving? Part of the answer exists in basic human physiology. We were born to move. Immobility is to the human body what rust is to the classic car. Stop moving long enough, and your muscles will atrophy. Bones will weaken. Blood will clot. You will find it harder to concentrate and solve problems. Immobility is not merely a state closer to death: it hastens it.

photo credit: Amsterdamized via photopin cc

photo credit: Amsterdamized via photopin cc

A sense of connection

As Montgomery reports, one study, in which student volunteers were provided with pedometers for 20 days, found that the more people walked each day, the greater their energy, sense of self-esteem and level of happiness.

“The same is true of cycling,” says Montgomery, “ although a bicycle has the added benefit of giving even a lazy rider the ability to travel three or four times faster than someone walking, while using less than a quarter of the energy.  … [C]yclists report feeling connected to the world around them in a way that is simply not possible in the sealed environment of a car, bus or train. Their journeys are both sensual and kinesthetic.”

Time to switch to a ‘new mobility’

A growing number of people — urban planners, environmentalists, health experts and others — are, in Montgomery’s words, calling on “cities and corporations to abandon old mobility, a system rigidly organised entirely around one way of moving, and embrace new mobility, a future in which we would all be free to move in the greatest variety of ways.”

“We all know old mobility,” one expert tells the Canadian reporter. “It’s you sitting in your car, stuck in traffic. It’s you driving around for hours, searching for a parking spot. Old mobility is also the 55-year-old woman with a bad leg, waiting in the rain for a bus that she can’t be certain will come. New mobility, on the other hand, is freedom distilled.”

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Amsterdamized via photopin cc

photo credit: Amsterdamized via photopin cc

Henry Evans and Chad Jenkins: Meet the Robots of Humanity

Where out technology meets our humanity there is no doubting the bravery and betterment of the world we are making.

Paralyzed by a stroke, Henry Evans uses a telepresence robot to take the stage — and show how new robotics, tweaked and personalized by a group called Robots for Humanity, help him live his life. He shows off a nimble little quadrotor drone, created by a team led by Chad Jenkins, that gives him the ability to navigate space — to once again look around a garden, stroll a campus …

photo credit: Masahiko Futami via photopin cc

photo credit: Masahiko Futami via photopin cc

Threshold of the New (Steve McCurry’s Blog)

Steve McCurry’s new photo collection profiles people in their oldest years from around the globe – all emanating a strong presence that glows out of these images, as if to say to us: “we have made good enough – what will you do?”

Enjoy and draw breath from these exquisitely crafted and curated images…

Youth is the gift of nature, but age is a work of art.
– Garson Kanin

photo credit: ~FreeBirD®~ via photopin cc

photo credit: ~FreeBirD®~ via photopin cc

None are so old as those who have outlived enthusiasm.
– Henry David Thoreau

Link to see Steve McCurry’s Threshold of the New photo collection

photo credit: Pensiero via photopin cc

photo credit: Pensiero via photopin cc

75 Years In The Making: Harvard Just Released Its Epic Study On What Men Need To Live A Happy Life

BY 

In 1938 Harvard University began following 268 male undergraduate students and kicked off the longest-running longitudinal studies of human development in history.  The study’s goal was to determine as best as possible what factors contribute most strongly to human flourishing.  The astonishing range of psychological, anthropological, and physical traits — ranging from personality type to IQ to drinking habits to family relationships to “hanging length of his scrotum” — indicates just how exhaustive and quantifiable the research data has become.  Recently, George Vaillant, who directed the study for more than three decades, published the study’s findings in the 2012 book Triumphs of Experience (Amazon) and the following is the book’s synopsis:

“At a time when many people around the world are living into their tenth decade, the longest longitudinal study of human development ever undertaken offers some welcome news for the new old age: our lives continue to evolve in our later years, and often become more fulfilling than before.  Begun in 1938, the Grant Study of Adult Development charted the physical and emotional health of over 200 men, starting with their undergraduate days.  The now-classic ‘Adaptation to Life’ reported on the men’s lives up to age 55 and helped us understand adult maturation.  Now George Vaillant follows the men into their nineties, documenting for the first time what it is like to flourish far beyond conventional retirement.  Reporting on all aspects of male life, including relationships, politics and religion, coping strategies, and alcohol use (its abuse being by far the greatest disruptor of health and happiness for the study’s subjects),

‘Triumphs of Experience’ shares a number of surprising findings.  For example, the people who do well in old age did not necessarily do so well in midlife, and vice versa.  While the study confirms that recovery from a lousy childhood is possible, memories of a happy childhood are a lifelong source of strength.  Marriages bring much more contentment after age 70, and physical aging after 80 is determined less by heredity than by habits formed prior to age 50.  The credit for growing old with grace and vitality, it seems, goes more to ourselves than to our stellar genetic makeup.”

In Triumphs of Experience, Vaillant raises a number of factors more often than others, but the one he refers to most often is the powerful correlation between the warmth of your relationships and your health and happiness in your later years.  In 2009, Vaillant’s insistance on the importance of this part of the data was challenged, so Vaillant returned to the data to be sure the finding merited such important focus.  Not only did Vaillant discover that his focus on warm relationships was warranted, he placed even more importance on this factor than he had previously.  Vallant notes that the 58 men who scored highest on the measurements of “warm relationships” (WR) earned an average of $141,000 a year more during their peak salaries (between ages 55-60) than the 31 men who scored the lowest in WR.  The high WR scorers were also 3-times more likely to have professional success worthy of inclusion in Who’s Who.

One of the most intriguing discoveries of the Grant Study was how significant men’s relationships with their mothers are in determining their well-being in life.  For instance, Business Insider writes“Men who had ‘warm’ childhood relationships with their mothers took home $87,000 more per year than men whose mothers were uncaring.  Men who had poor childhood relationships with their mothers were much more likely to develop dementia when old.  Late in their professional lives, the men’s boyhood relationships with their mothers — but not their fathers — were associated with effectiveness at work.  On the other hand, warm childhood relations with fathers correlated with lower rates of adult anxiety, greater enjoyment on vacations, and increased ‘life satisfaction’ at age 75 — whereas the warmth of childhood relationships with mothers had no significant bearing on life satisfaction at 75.”  

In Vallant’s own words, the #1 most important finding from the Grant Study is this:

“The seventy-five years and twenty million dollars expended on the Grant Study points to a straightforward five-word conclusion: Happiness is love.  Full stop.” 

Link to read the original article

On Considering The (English) Hedge

This is a very special delicately potent video poem by artist Shelia Ghelani

“O long line of green… O Hedge O Hedge…’

In August Sheila spent two weeks in Cambridge with straybird working on Ramble 1 of Rambles with Nature hosted by Cambridge Junction. Together they made a series of four short ‘cinepoems’ for small screens, such as smartphones, which will also be presented as an installation. On Considering The (English) Hedge is the first of the series to be released for viewing.

Click here to find out more about Rambles with Nature and visit Sheila’s blog to keep up to date with the project as it unfolds.

Happiness At Work Edition #73

All of these stories – and many more – are collected in this week’s Happiness At Work Edition #73.  As always, we really do hope you find things here to enjoy, use and grow from.

photo credit: The Rocketeer via photopin cc

photo credit: The Rocketeer via photopin cc

Happiness At Work #61 – how relationships matter to our learning, our communication and our happiness

The stories we are specially highlighting from this week’s new collection, Happiness At Work #61, draw out ideas and new understandings about the connection and importance of relationships, to our happiness, yes, but for our learning and our creativity too.  And as well, as of course, to our effective communications, for the very definition of communicate, from its Latin root communicare means to share, to exchange.  And thus communication without relationship is more than an oxymoron, it is an impossibility.

photo credit: Rojer via photopin cc

photo credit: Rojer via photopin cc

Six Habits of Highly Empathic People

–by Roman Krznaric

If you think you’re hearing the word “empathy” everywhere, you’re right. It’s now on the lips of scientists and business leaders, education experts and political activists. But there is a vital question that few people ask: How can I expand my own empathic potential? Empathy is not just a way to extend the boundaries of your moral universe. According to new research, it’s a habit we can cultivate to improve the quality of our own lives.

But what is empathy? It’s the ability to step into the shoes of another person, aiming to understand their feelings and perspectives, and to use that understanding to guide our actions. That makes it different from kindness or pity. And don’t confuse it with the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” As George Bernard Shaw pointed out, “Do not do unto others as you would have them do unto you—they might have different tastes.” Empathy is about discovering those tastes.

The big buzz about empathy stems from a revolutionary shift in the science of how we understand human nature. The old view that we are essentially self-interested creatures is being nudged firmly to one side by evidence that we are also homo empathicus, wired for empathy, social cooperation, and mutual aid…

…empathy doesn’t stop developing in childhood. We can nurture its growth throughout our lives—and we can use it as a radical force for social transformation. Research in sociology, psychology, history—and my own studies of empathic personalities over the past 10 years—reveals how we can make empathy an attitude and a part of our daily lives, and thus improve the lives of everyone around us. Here are the Six Habits of Highly Empathic People!

Habit 1: Cultivate curiosity about strangers

…Respect the advice of the oral historian Studs Terkel: “Don’t be an examiner, be the interested inquirer.”

Curiosity expands our empathy when we talk to people outside our usual social circle, encountering lives and worldviews very different from our own. Curiosity is good for us too: Happiness guru Martin Seligman identifies it as a key character strength that can enhance life satisfaction. And it is a useful cure for the chronic loneliness afflicting around one in three Americans

Habit 2: Challenge prejudices and discover commonalities

We all have assumptions about others and use collective labels—e.g., “Muslim fundamentalist,” “welfare mom”—that prevent us from appeciating their individuality. Highly Empathetic People challenge their own preconceptions and prejudices by searching for what they share with people rather than what divides them…

Habit 3: Try another person’s life

So you think ice climbing and hang-gliding are extreme sports? Then you need to try experiential empathy, the most challenging—and potentially rewarding—of them all. Highly Empathetic People expand their empathy by gaining direct experience of other people’s lives, putting into practice the Native American proverb, “Walk a mile in another man’s moccasins before you criticize him.”…

We can each conduct our own experiments. If you are religiously observant, try a “God Swap,”  attending the services of faiths different from your own, including a meeting of Humanists. Or if you’re an atheist, try attending different churches! Spend your next vacation living and volunteering in a village in a developing country. Take the path favored by philosopher John Dewey, who said, “All genuine education comes about through experience.”

Habit 4: Listen hard—and open up

There are two traits required for being an empathic conversationalist.

One is to master the art of radical listening. “What is essential,” says Marshall Rosenberg, psychologist and founder of Non-Violent Communication (NVC), “is our ability to be present to what’s really going on within—to the unique feelings and needs a person is experiencing in that very moment.” Highly Empathetic People listen hard to others and do all they can to grasp their emotional state and needs, whether it is a friend who has just been diagnosed with cancer or a spouse who is upset at them for working late yet again.

But listening is never enough. The second trait is to make ourselves vulnerable. Removing our masks and revealing our feelings to someone is vital for creating a strong empathic bond. Empathy is a two-way street that, at its best, is built upon mutual understanding—an exchange of our most important beliefs and experiences…

Habit 5: Inspire mass action and social change

We typically assume empathy happens at the level of individuals, but HEPs understand that empathy can also be a mass phenomenon that brings about fundamental social change…

Empathy will most likely flower on a collective scale if its seeds are planted in our children.  That’s why Highly Empathetic People support efforts such as Canada’s pioneering Roots of Empathy, the world’s most effective empathy teaching program, which has benefited over half a million school kids. Its unique curriculum centers on an infant, whose development children observe over time in order to learn emotional intelligence—and its results include significant declines in playground bullying and higher levels of academic achievement…

Habit 6: Develop an ambitious imagination

A final trait of Highly Empathetic People is that they do far more than empathise with the usual suspects. We tend to believe empathy should be reserved for those living on the social margins or who are suffering. This is necessary, but it is hardly enough…

Empathising with adversaries is also a route to social tolerance. That was Gandhi’s thinking during the conflicts between Muslims and Hindus leading up to Indian independence in 1947, when he declared, “I am a Muslim! And a Hindu, and a Christian and a Jew.”

Organisations, too, should be ambitious with their empathic thinking. Bill Drayton, the renowned “father of social entrepreneurship,” believes that in an era of rapid technological change, mastering empathy is the key business survival skill because it underpins successful teamwork and leadership. His influential Ashoka Foundation has launched the Start Empathy initiative, which is taking its ideas to business leaders, politicians and educators worldwide.

The 20th century was the Age of Introspection, when self-help and therapy culture encouraged us to believe that the best way to understand who we are and how to live was to look inside ourselves. But it left us gazing at our own navels. The 21st century should become the Age of Empathy, when we discover ourselves not simply through self-reflection, but by becoming interested in the lives of others. We need empathy to create a new kind of revolution. Not an old-fashioned revolution built on new laws, institutions, or policies, but a radical revolution in human relationships.

Link to read this story in full, including  another video talk

50 Smiles Guaranteed To Make You Smile (get happy in less than 5 minutes)

“Every time you smile at someone, it is an action of love, a gift to that person, a beautiful thing.” ~Mother Teresa

photo credit: abhiomkar via photopin cc

photo credit: abhiomkar via photopin cc

Ken Wert writes…

It seems that with smiling, you can actually have your cake and eat it too!

Not only are smiles expressions of positive feelings (like happiness, excitement and enjoyment), the act of smiling, even if forced, enhances the very positive feelings that make us want to smile. So the smile is both cause and effect. The more we smile, even if we don’t particularly feel like it, the more we feel like it.

Moreover, one person’s smile is another person’s reason to smile. The smile, it turns out, is one of the most contagious of human conditions.

Why a post filled to the brim with happy faces?

This post is meant to instigate a ripple effect of smiles across the globe as you grin from your heart to your face (or your face to your heart, since smiling works in both directions) as you share your smile with others and they share theirs in turn (and please feel free to share this post with them too, while you’re in a sharing mood!).

Read the quotes and words under each photo and look at the smiley faces and see what happens to your own mood! Put yourself in the shoes of the happy faces and see if you can feel what they seem to be feeling.

And then just try not to smile. I bet you a 100 smiles you can’t make it to the end of this post without one creeping onto your kisser! :)

Link to this article and its 50 smiling faces

photo credit: Marwa Morgan via photopin cc

photo credit: Marwa Morgan via photopin cc

Steve McCurry’s Blog: When Words Fail

“When words fail, music speaks.”  (Hans Christian Andersen)

The brilliant photographer’s latest collection features his photos of people making music.

Ravishing and joyful and overflowing with relationships…

Link to Steve McCurry’s When Words Fail photographs

Looking To Genes For The Secret To Happiness

By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS

Our genes may have a more elevated moral sense than our minds do, according to a new study of the genetic effects of happiness. They can, it seems, reward us with healthy gene activity when we’re unselfish — and chastise us, at a microscopic level, when we put our own needs and desires first…

…those volunteers whose happiness, according to their questionnaires, was primarily hedonic, to use the scientific term, or based on consuming things, had surprisingly unhealthy profiles, with relatively high levels of biological markers known to promote increased inflammation throughout the body. Such inflammation has been linked to the development of cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. They also had relatively low levels of other markers that increase antibody production, to better fight off infections.

The volunteers whose happiness was more eudaemonic, or based on a sense of higher purpose and service to others — a small minority of the overall group — had profiles that displayed augmented levels of antibody-producing gene expression and lower levels of the pro-inflammatory expression…

…purpose is an elastic concept, not necessarily requiring renunciation but only that “you think first of someone else” or “have a goal greater” than your immediate gratification. Being a parent, participating in the creative arts or even taking up exercise so that you can live to see your grandchildren may ease you toward eudaemonia, he says. It may even be that this will enable your genes to respond more favorably to how you’re conducting your life.

Link to read the unedited version of this story

photo credit: Bindaas Madhavi via photopin cc

photo credit: Bindaas Madhavi via photopin cc

Business Renaissance Must Be Human-Centric

by 

…The typical approach is to define all the potential variables, then prioritize them based on impact, frequency, risk exposure…you see where I’m going with this, right? This is 20th century thinking to deal with a 21st century issue. Not the brightest approach, yet we keep banging our collective heads against the idiot wall and think something positive will happen if we just repeat it enough times.

The renaissance is, and must be, human-centric.

It is a return to seeing the value in a person as a person, not an asset to sweat. Life is complex. Technology is complex. Intertwining two complex systems results in chaos. We have learned to respond to chaos in our personal lives as a means of necessity. We seem to feel the organization should somehow be exempt from it. So, we create demanding and manipulative policies that only serve to frustrate, disengage and manipulate people…

It will be a changing of the guard that will be necessary, but difficult for many people. It will affect how we do business, how we define success and how we structure education regarding business. This is good. This is necessary. This is overdue…

Link to read the unedited version of this post

photo credit: jesuscm via photopin cc

photo credit: jesuscm via photopin cc

5 Steps To Building A Culture of Communication

It’s important to understand the gravity of effective communication in business, then build a culture around it. Putting great communication at the center of your business is the greatest way to ensure success. Bill Gates said it best, “I’m a great believer that any tool that enhances communication has profound effects in terms of how people can learn from each other, and how they can achieve the kind of freedoms that they’re interested in.”

Here are a few steps that will help you build a culture of communication in your business.

1. Don’t Punish the Bad Ideas…

2. Every Personality is Different, Think of Key Ways to Communicate with Everyone…

3. Async Communication… a simple and passive way of communicating with your team on your own schedule when messages aren’t urgent or time based. This can be through email, or third party tools designed with this type of discussion method in mind… 

4. Talk, Even When It’s Not Comfortable…

5. Enable Transparency in Every Aspect…

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: josemanuelerre via photopin cc

photo credit: josemanuelerre via photopin cc

Babies Learn To Recognise Words In The Womb

BETH SKWARECK

…The research team gave expectant women a recording to play several times a week during their last few months of pregnancy, which included a made-up word, “tatata,” repeated many times and interspersed with music. Sometimes the middle syllable was varied, with a different pitch or vowel sound. By the time the babies were born, they had heard the made-up word, on average, more than 25,000 times. And when they were tested after birth, these infants’ brains recognized the word and its variations, while infants in a control group did not, Partanen and colleagues report online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Babies who had heard the recordings showed the neural signal for recognizing vowel and pitch changes in the pseudoword, and the signal was strongest for the infants whose mothers played the recording most often. They were also better than the control babies at detecting other differences in the syllables, such as vowel length. “This leads us to believe that the fetus can learn much more detailed information than we previously thought,” Partanen says, and that the memory traces are detectable after birth…

…Just because babies can learn while in utero doesn’t mean that playing music or language recordings will help the child. Partanen says there is no solid evidence that stimulation beyond normal sounds of everyday life offers any long-term benefits to healthy babies. Moon adds that playing sounds to a fetus with speakers close to the belly could even be risky because this could overstimulate the fetal ear and the rapidly developing brain. Too much noise can interfere with the auditory system and may disrupt the baby’s sleep cycles.

Rather than playing recordings for healthy babies, Partanen sees potential treatments for children at risk for dyslexia or auditory processing disorders, if hearing certain sounds in pregnancy turns out to speed up language learning—”but that’s a big if.” His team’s study looked only at babies less than a month old, and it’s not clear whether the babies will retain the memories as they get older, or whether in utero learning has an effect on language learning or ability later in life.

Link to read this article in full

origin_4657619168

Handling Conflict

By 

Stevenson Carlebach, who used to teach acting and directing, says there are many similarities between his former profession and what he does now. For starters, “when an actor takes on a character they’re actually sort of negotiating with their mind to think like the character. When you’re trying to negotiate, you’re doing the same thing, you’re negotiating with your mind to be less antagonistic or to be more cooperative, to be more creative,” he says.

In other words, a good negotiator is really just a good actor in that they’re able to put themselves in another person’s shoes which promotes both empathy and understanding. As Carlebach says, both actors and negotiators are essentially asking what’s driving or motivating the other person, what’s causing them to behave in a certain way, and whether they too would behave in the same way under similar circumstances. But unlike actors, negotiators have their own interests to consider in this process as well.

He employs various exercises to do this including one he calls the “hot buns exercise” where three participants each assume a particular role: that of enquirer whose job it is to stay curious and ask open questions about a topic of their choice, that of speaker who takes a different perspective to that of the enquirer, and that of enquirer’s coach whose job is to observe whether the enquirer is, in fact, asking open questions.

Carlebach notes, “Going into this exercise everyone thinks, you know, ‘how hard can it be, I’m an open-minded person, sure I can do this.’ But within a minute the enquirer is only asking leading questions. They can’t stay curious. You know, ‘how could you be so stupid’, kind of questions. For most of us, we’ve never observed ourselves being close-minded.”

Indeed for many folk, this realisation proves to be a light bulb moment…

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: It'sGreg via photopin cc

photo credit: It’sGreg via photopin cc

School Is A Prison – and damaging our kids

This research showing how young people are are at their most unhappy when they are in school mirrors research findings by London School of Economics Mappiness study, which found that people are most miserable when they are at work, second only to when they are ill.  What sort of world have we made for ourselves, and what will it take for us to start to undo and remake the conditions we live in and terms of engagement for the greatest time we spend of our lives: our education and our work?

As  writes in his article:

Longer school years aren’t the answer. The problem is school itself. Compulsory teach-and-test simply doesn’t work

…Most students — whether A students, C students, or failing ones — have lost their zest for learning by the time they reach middle school or high school. In a recent research study, Mihaly Czikszentmihalyl and Jeremy Hunter fitted more than 800 sixth- through 12th-graders, from 33 different schools across the country, with special wristwatches that provided a signal at random times of day. Whenever the signal appeared, they were to fill out a questionnaire indicating where they were, what they were doing, and how happy or unhappy they were at the moment. The lowest levels of happiness, by far, occurred when they were in school and the highest levels occurred when they were out of school playing or talking with friends. In school, they were often bored, anxious or both. Other researchers have shown that, with each successive grade, students develop increasingly negative attitudes toward the subjects taught, especially math and science.

As a society, we tend to shrug off such findings. We’re not surprised that learning is unpleasant. We think of it as bad-tasting medicine, tough to swallow but good for children in the long run. Some people even think that the very unpleasantness of school is good for children, so they will learn to tolerate unpleasantness, because life after school is unpleasant. Perhaps this sad view of life derives from schooling. Of course, life has its ups and downs, in adulthood and in childhood. But there are plenty of opportunities to learn to tolerate unpleasantness without adding unpleasant schooling to the mix. Research has shown that people of all ages learn best when they are self-motivated, pursuing questions that are their own real questions, and goals that are their own real-life goals. In such conditions, learning is usually joyful…

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

The Rise of Authority Or Why Being An Expert Is Not Enough

The importance of relationship is emphasised, too, in this post, by , which draws the distinction between getting power and influence from being able to speak with authority – dependent entirely upon the perceptions made by the receivers of your communication – as opposed to expertise, a more fixed position of claiming to be right.  Authority comes from a blend of Aristotle’s’ three modes of credibility: Logos (appeal to the objective rational argument), Pathos (successfully connecting into a shared understanding of our values, beliefs, feelings and the things we hold to be most important), and Ethos (the credibility, believability, perceived authenticity and trustworthiness – gravitas – of the speaker):

…You have authority when the audience says you do. You earn that praise by “bringing the thunder” every day…

How do you spot an Authority in a crowd?

First, they aren’t trying to be an expert. ** They are trying to matter.**

They want their skills, perspective, and tools to be useful. They are in it for the long-term. This is why they seem to stay relevant, even when the latest fad cools and disappears.

You will also see:

Confidence  They are willing to take a stand, point out error, and go it alone. Their confidence doesn’t come from a slick website or a clever book title. It comes from years refining their craft.

Openness  An Authority welcomes inspection. They hate black boxes. They believe they grow when everyone can collaborate on a point of view. For this reason, Authorities often frustrate their followers because they are willing to change their mind. They don’t confuse decisiveness with stubbornness.

Curiosity An Authority is obsessed with “what if”. They quickly tire of the same line of conversation. They are looking for new connections and they are intensely focused on the unconventional strategies that the expert’s dismiss.

Productivity An Authority embraces “the grind”. They know that Authority is perishable. Authority stays fresh when it publishes. They are more afraid of being inconsequential than being perfect. [They bring ways] to force the world to push back and make them better.

The good news is that you’re an Authority. You have to decide how you’ll grow and cultivate your skills and experience…

Link to read this article in full

Our own top tip for optimising the authority you can bring to your communications is to become obsessively interested in your audience: who they are, what they care about, what they know already, what position they are likely to be hearing you from, what problems, threats and difficulties they are wrestling with, and anything and everything else you can think of to wonder about them.  And then go into the communication ready to learn and notice as much as you possibly can during every stage of your encounter.

Another technique that helps to raise the level of authority you will be perceived to have is to surprise your listeners.  If people think they know what you are going to say, and you seem to start on track with these expectations, they are not likely to really listen openly to what you actually do say.

Here are some more ideas from  about increasing your powers of persuasion with more extravert, people-oriented people:

Keys To Persuading Expressing Personalities

…how best to persuade someone who is an expressive or influencer personality? When I think of an expressive, Oprah Winfrey immediately comes to mind because she’s someone who is more relationship-focused than task-oriented. Like the Trump, Oprah also likes to control situations and others.

The following describes this personality type:

Expressives like being part of social groups; enjoy attending events with lots of people; are more in tune with relating to people than working on tasks; are imaginative and creative; can usually win others over to their way of thinking; like things that are new and different; have no problem expressing themselves…

Some persuasion advice when dealing with an expressive-type person:

Definitely spend time engaging the liking principle with them, because they want to like the people they interact with. Oprah certainly cares about closing the deal but she also cares about you and your story so look for ways to connect with her. If she likes you it’s a good bet she’ll go out of her way to help you.

Expressive personalities responded more to reciprocity than any other personality type so look for ways to genuinely help them and they’ll respond in kind much more than pragmatics or thinkers will.

As was the case with pragmatics, in a business setting overcoming uncertainty is key for expressives.

Sharing trends and what others are doing – the principle of consensus – can be quite effective with expressives. Oprah types want to move the masses and they know it’s easier to swim with a wave rather than against it so share what many others are already doing.

Sharing hard data or using the advice of perceived experts is the most effective route with this group.  However, while authority was the #1 principle chosen by expressives, it wasn’t as effective as it was with the other personalities. Show Oprah the numbers or share insight from experts and it will give her pause to consider your request.

When it came to using consistency – what someone has said or done in the past – this was the #3 choice for expressives. For this group it’s not as much about being right as it is being true to themselves and what they believe. Look for ways to tie your request to his or her beliefs or values and the chance you’ll year “Yes” will increase significantly.

Scarcity was no more effective for this group than the others. Definitely don’t force the issue unless something is truly rare or diminishing. Oprah Winfrey and her expressive friends don’t like to miss out on opportunities but just know you won’t be as effective with the scarcity strategy as you might be with Donald Trump and his pragmatic buddies.

Link to read the unedited version of this article

photo credit: jurvetson via photopin cc

photo credit: jurvetson via photopin cc

Presenting? Take A Pause For The Cause

Here is some excellent advice from Steve Roesler about the power and potency of using silence in our communications:

Logical pauses serve our brains, psychological pauses serve our feelings.”Stanislavski

Watch a really good stand-up comedian. You see pauses between jokes. Sometimes even a pause between syllables.

Sometimes they do it to allow the audience a chance to catch a breath or to create interest about what’s coming next.

Why?

Because good comedians are masters of change.

Night after night they move a new group of people from one intellectual and psychological state of being to another.They knew the flow of human dynamics.

The Importance of The Pause

Psychological: When you pause to create a “curious” state of mind, the tension makes people want to listen. That gives you the opening to help them learn.

Logical: Change initiatives mean new information and new experiences. Periodic, intentional pauses allow everyone time to make sense of what’s happening and create new context.

Where can you insert intentional pauses in order to become a really good “Stand-Up” leader and speaker?

Perhaps this is connected to intelligence coming from a new study into our inhibitory brain neurones and the role they play in selecting, shutting down and filtering out the information coming at us:

Researchers discover how inhibitory neurons behave during critical periods of learning

We’ve all heard the saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Now neuroscientists are beginning to explain the science behind the adage.

For years, neuroscientists have struggled to understand how the microcircuitry of the brain makes learning easier for the young, and more difficult for the old. New findings published in the journal Nature by Carnegie Mellon University, the University of California, Los Angeles and the University of California, Irvine show how one component of the brain’s circuitry — inhibitory neurons — behave during critical periods of learning…

The brain is made up of two types of cells — inhibitory and excitatory neurons. Networks of these two kinds of neurons are responsible for processing sensory information like images, sounds and smells, and for cognitive functioning. About 80 percent of neurons are excitatory. Traditional scientific tools only allowed scientists to study the excitatory neurons…

…The prevailing theory on inhibitory neurons was that, as they mature, they reach an increased level of activity that fosters optimal periods of learning. But as the brain ages into adulthood and the inhibitory neurons continue to mature, they become even stronger to the point where they impede learning.

[But this new study] found that, during heightened periods of learning, the inhibitory neurons didn’t fire more as had been expected. They fired much less frequently — up to half as often.

“When you’re young you haven’t experienced much, so your brain needs to be a sponge that soaks up all types of information. It seems that the brain turns off the inhibitory cells in order to allow this to happen,” Kuhlman said. “As adults we’ve already learned a great number of things, so our brains don’t necessarily need to soak up every piece of information. This doesn’t mean that adults can’t learn, it just means when they learn, their neurons need to behave differently.”

Link to read the unedited version of this report

And for more ideas and knowledge about the fine art of persuading people, see:

42 Tips for Masterful Presentations

Posted by: Arnold Sanow

8 Must-Read Books on Influence and Persuasion

by JENNIFER MILLER

and in the week that we commemorate 50 years since one of the greatest speeches ever made, see:

15 Things You Might Not Know About the ‘I Have a Dream’ Speech

By 

 

photo credit: Steve Corey via photopin cc

photo credit: Steve Corey via photopin cc

 

The Poetry of Childhood

BY RICHARD LEWIS

…The ability of children to easily enter into the life of something other than themselves—to exchange their own mind for the mind of another—grows not only out of their innate playfulness, but out of a fluidity and plasticity of thought that is, in many ways, an inborn poetic gift. It is, perhaps, a way of seeing in which the seer does not distinguish between herself and the nature outside of her, an imaginative grasping of the whole of life before it becomes separated into subject matters and academic disciplines. One might think of it as a wilderness of thought that encompasses a multitude of growing worlds, each connected and dependent on the other—a truly ecological means of thinking and perceiving…

…the mind of the child and an event or object from outside of the child are subtly and gently brought together. This means of expressing and interpreting the world is not something that was taught, but a spontaneous way of explaining that what is of me is also what is happening around me.

Certainly this is true of Marilyn from New Zealand, who wrote lyrically and suggestively, when she was seven years old, of this shared mind between an insect and herself:

Nothing is better than the song the cricket sings. The sound of the cricket brightens my feelings and makes me sing too. My mind is the cricket’s mind and I wish I was a cricket. Hop, hop the black cricket. The cricket pokes out his feelers and I can hold them and the song of the cricket is my mind.

…So much of this childhood ease with both the visible and invisible, what we know and don’t know—the pure sense of expectation and delight in the mystery of what is happening and about to happen—is not only a function of our mind’s ability to balance opposites through the equipoise that is our imagination, but also a way of experiencing the world poetically. I don’t mean a poetry of verse and poems, but a poetic understanding that allows us to stand, for instance, in the middle of a stream and say nothing, and yet to feel, if only fleetingly, a sense of how we and the flowing water are of one being. Or to walk down a city street and accidentally walk through the shadow of a tree that seems to move with us, to want to follow us—an expectation, an incandescent moment of which we are suddenly made aware. Each is only an instant, but an instant that carries with it a form of knowledge accessible to children and adults alike, one we rarely include in our current estimates of intelligence or achievement. This awareness should not be seen as a lack of development or a passing innocence, but as a container of thought that we carry with us over a lifetime. Within it, we, the stream, the tree, and the tree’s shadow share the same language.

To Be Alive

It was there
Something—happened
What was it
A bird
A fish
A lizard
Was it the girl
Listen.
I hear it again
It is the wind
Wind.
It created me
I am its friend
The wind lives
in a secret garden
far away from me
It comes and I sleep
Sleep and the wind and I
drift to air.

by David, aged 10

Link to read this story in full

photo credit: jenni from the block via photopin cc

photo credit: jenni from the block via photopin cc

Design Thinking: Creating A Better Understanding Of Today To Get To A Better Tomorrow

Kevin Bennett, co-author of “Solving Problems with Design Thinking: 10 Stories of What Works,” co-authored by U.Va. Darden ProfessorJeanne Liedtka, writes about the importance of getting inside the thinking and perspective of other people to better solve our own problems and realise our own ambitions in these fundamentals of creativity:

…The value of design thinking is in allowing us to see “A” more clearly.  For it is in focusing on “A” that we truly understand ourselves, each other and our world.

Design thinking guides us through an archeological dig to better understand “A” with a sense of openness to exploration and discovery. In this archeological dig, design thinking takes up ethnographic research tools to help us truly understand customers and other stakeholders. “Journey mapping” enables us to map other people’s personal experiences by walking in their shoes. “Mind mapping” allows us to understand the values, assumptions, beliefs and expectations of individuals, to see the world through their eyes as they walk through their journeys.

Design thinking also helps us to see the world differently by looking to areas and organizations with seemingly nothing in common with our own. Throwing ourselves into another culture, industry or company can often shake up our own thinking. For example, in France, a group of banks and insurance companies said that design thinking “equipped us bankers and insurers with a new pair of glasses through which to see the world, our society, our clients and our jobs differently.”

In exploring “A” we open ourselves up to thinking differently, to innovations and solutions not previously contemplated. Many of the resulting insights and ideas will appear rough and not fully formed, but our research shows that there will be diamonds among them. And in finding these gems, we can not only better achieve our goals, we can test the very goals we set out to achieve.

Thus in focusing on “A” we can not only better achieve our goals in our businesses, organizations and lives, we can also better ensure we are picking the right ones in the first place.

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: paul bica via photopin cc

photo credit: paul bica via photopin cc

Stress Does Not Fuel Creativity

Never Eat Alone co-author Tahl Raz interviewed author, speaker and entrepreneur Jonathan Fields for the Social Capitalist about his recent book Uncertainty: Turning Fear and Doubt Into Fuel for Brilliance. During the interview, Jonathan discussed how stress actually reduces your creativity.

Research shows the higher your anxiety levels ratchet up, the lower your creativity goes. Also, one of the key things for creativity in business is a type of problem solving called “insight-based problem solving.” So to solve problems, you can come up with innovative ideas in two ways, either insight-based or analytically based.

Now analytical would be, “Ok, I have a big idea,” and if somebody said, “How did you get to that idea?” you could explain the steps, you could reverse them and back out and tell them how you got to it.

The insight-based solution is the one where you have this tremendous idea, but if someone said, “How did you get there?” you would have no idea. It’s the thing that just comes to you. What we know and what the research actually shows is that creativity plummets as anxiety goes up.

But even more specifically, insight-based problem solving, which is the highest level of problem solving because it introduces new paradigms, also plummets as anxiety goes up.

To read the full transcript of Jonathan’s interview, click here.

For more ideas about being more creative see also:

Six Ways to Expand Your Perspective

by KEVIN EIKENBERRY

Wait, What’s That? The Science Behind Why Your Mind Keeps Wandering

IF YOU’RE EXPERIENCING AN ATTENTION DEFICIT, YOU’RE FAR FROM ALONE.

BY: 

photo credit: premasagar via photopin cc

photo credit: premasagar via photopin cc

What Happens to the Brain When You Meditate (And How it Benefits You)

BELLE BETH COOPER

How Meditation Affects You

Better Focus…

Less Anxiety…

More Creativity…

More Compassion…

Better Memory…

Less Stress…

More Grey Matter…More grey matter can lead to more positive emotions, longer-lasting emotional stability, and heightened focus during daily life…

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: wili_hybrid via photopin cc

photo credit: wili_hybrid via photopin cc

Stifling Ourselves With The Need To Be Right

John Hodgman, author of The Areas of My Expertise, … provides some thoughtful – not to mention wry – perspectives on the importance of keep alive our sense of not knowing, giving compelling reasons for why it is that an acute sense of what we don’t know may be much more critical to our vitality and future possibility, than our certainties:

“What most people and societies become when they believe they know everything: incurious, self-satisfied, flabby, and prone to wearing tunics and lounging on grassy lawns…

“While there may be legitimate, eternal mysteries out there that are beyond our comprehension, history, in fact, shows us that if we do ask questions, we are likely to find answers eventually – which is perhaps more frightening than ignorance…. Being curious is the bravest human act, aside from skydiving.”

We shut ourselves off and limit our potential when we are certain we know what we really don’t, or maybe even can’t, know with certainty. We even make things up to make sense of life, and we confabulate, and [maybe unconsciously] “fill in gaps in memory with fabrications that one believes to be facts.”

Link to read more of this article

Schein on Dialogue

From the blog Theatrical Smoke, some reflections from Edgar Schein’s “On Dialogue, Culture, and Organizational Learning”:

…dialogue, for Schein…starts from a change in mental approach–the use of a somewhat unnatural “suspension”–instead of reacting when we hear discomfiting information that triggers us, we pause for a moment, and evaluate what we’re thinking. “Is this feeling I have true? Or is it based on a mistaken perception?” we ask ourselves, and wait a bit for additional information before we decide how to act. Dialogue means bringing a kind of mindfulness, or cognitive self-awareness as we talk–”knowing one’s thought as one is having it,” says Schein.  Thinking about a thought rather than being the thought. Leaving the animal-like, mechanical push-and-pull of a conversation, and watching, as it were, partially from above…

…if we’re using dialogue, we’re watching ourselves thinking as we simultaneously listen to what people are saying, we’re seeing and assessing our built-in assumptions as they pop up, we’re thinking about what language means, we’re holding multiple possibilities in mind simultaneously. … we create a psychologically safe space where we can efficiently develop new languages and new models…

…without dialogue, says Schein – and this is the kicker – you can’t do much at all. Dialogue is “at the root of all effective group action,” it allows groups to “achieve levels of creative thought that no one would have initially imagined,” and, finally, without it, you can’t learn, you can’t change, and you can’t adapt:

“Learning across cultural boundaries cannot be created or sustained without initial and periodic dialogue. Dialogue in some form is therefore necessary to any organizational learning that involves going beyond the cultural status quo.”

Link to read this article in full

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photo credit: country_boy_shane via photopin cc

Prompts That Get Us To Analyse, Reflect, Relate and Question

This technique is offered by  in Teaching Professor Blog as a teaching aid to help students learn, but we think it has excellent potential as a tool for us all to keep our own experiential learning continuous with our day-to-day activities:

This particular technique involves a four-question set that gets students actively responding to the material they are studying. They analyze, reflect, relate, and question via these four prompts:

  • “Identify one important concept, research finding, theory, or idea … that you learned while completing this activity.”

  • “Why do you believe that this concept, research finding, theory, or idea … is important?”

  • “Apply what you have learned from this activity to some aspect of your life.”

  • “What question(s) has the activity raised for you?  What are you still wondering about?”  [You might need to prohibit the answer “nothing”.]

Link to read the rest of this article

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photo credit: Mister Kha via photopin cc

How To Be More Creative

 offers these really helpful techniques:

Think left

…researchers have found that information in your left visual field is more likely to help you solve a problem creatively than information perceived by your right visual field – which means placing inspirational information or items on your left is one way to help promote more creative thinking…

Cut out distractions

When an idea starts rolling around inside your brain, part of your visual cortex shuts down … to allow the ‘germ’ of an idea to bubble up to the surface and into awareness.  New research shows that cutting off the distractions of the outside world, even for a short time, seems to help the brain have more insights.

Break patterns

…Activities that ‘open your mind’ by breaking established cognitive patterns enable new and original associations to occur. Scientists suggest trying something different, changing routines, reading or watching things that demonstrate creative thinking, or doing puzzles that require creative thinking.

Take it easy

…The trick is to immerse yourself in a mindless, easy task like arranging Lego blocks into colours, mowing the lawn, walking, doing the housework or meditating. Activities like these enable the frontal lobes to relax, allowing thoughts to flow more freely and subconscious ideas to percolate into conscious ideas more readily…

Link to read this article in full

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photo credit: Tambriell via photopin cc

Learning how to live

Why do we find free time so terrifying? Why is a dedication to work, no matter how physically destructive and ultimately pointless, considered a virtue? Jenny Diski urges you to down tools while you can.

BY JENNY DISKI

…What if you answered the question “What do you do all day?” with “Nothing”? It isn’t as if that could possibly be true. If you spent all day in bed watching television, or staring at the clouds, you wouldn’t be doing nothing. Children are always being told to stop doing “nothing” when they’re reading or daydreaming. It is lifelong training for the idea that activity is considered essential to mental health, whether it is meaningful or not. Behind the “nothing” is in part a terror of boredom, as if most of the work most people do for most of their lives isn’t boring. The longing people express to be doing “creative” work suggests that they think it less boring than other kinds of work. Many people say that writing isn’t “proper work”. Often they tell me they are saving up writing a book for their “retirement”. Creative work sits uneasily in the fantasy life between dread leisure and the slog of the virtuous, hardworking life. It’s seen as a method of doing something while doing nothing, one that stops you flying away in terror…

…Leisure, not doing, is so terrifying in our culture that we cut it up into small, manageable chunks throughout our working year in case an excess of it will drive us mad, and leave the greatest amount of it to the very end, in the half-conscious hope that we might be saved from its horrors by an early death…

Link to read this story in full

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photo credit: Brett Jordan via photopin cc

Happiness At Work Edition #61

You will find all of these articles – and more – with ideas and practical tips related to these themes of learning, making strong relationships and learning to be happier and more creative in this week’s new collection, Happiness At Work #61, as well as stories about happiness at work, leadership and resilience and wellbeing.

We hope you find things to enjoy and use.

Happiness At Work #59 ~ highlights in this collection

photo credit: art crimes via photopin cc

photo credit: art crimes via photopin cc

This week’s new collection Happiness At Work Edition #59 features a number of stories about the unhappiness and imbalance of our 21st century working lives, with research findings, forecasts and best practice recommendations for how we can remedy this and build a more flourishing life around our work.

Solutions range from making time for more conversation, to being more generous, to harnessing the insights from a new range of apps designed to measure our different ways of feeling at work, to getting outdoors, to practising mindfulness to playing to our preferred ways of working, especially if we are an introvert.

And, too, as this first story and a couple of our later articles suggest, we need to redesign our outdated 20th century ways of working – where we do it, how we do, when we do and who we do it with – if we really want to build a more resilient, sustainable, workable and successful future…

CIPD warns business – use top female talent or lose it

As the green shoots of economic recovery emerge, new CIPD research shows how urgent action needs to be taken by the corporate world to stem the leaking talent pipeline that could hinder the progress of growth.

Building on the messages in a report from the Women’s Business Council published in June, it is clear that if business does not adopt flexible or innovative working practices, it will continue to lose impressive women who decide to set up their own businesses to achieve a better work-life balance.

‘Inspiring Female Entrepreneurs,’ the second report in a three part series by the CIPD on entrepreneurial practices, highlights that there are more than 2.4 million unemployed women who want to work and that if there were as many female entrepreneurs as there are male entrepreneurs, GDP could be boosted by 10% by 2030.

To gain insight into what motivates female entrepreneurs and makes them successful, the CIPD interviewed a number of women to find out what made them go solo, what has made them thrive and what they think would encourage more to set up on their own. What became clear is that employers could have much to gain by creating the conditions in which these talented and committed women could thrive in the corporate world…

Link to read this article

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photo credit: ttnk via photopin cc

Why You Should Care About Having Friends At Work

By 

Chatting over lunch and joking with coworkers may not seem like more than pleasant distractions at the office, but they could have an enormous impact on your work life. With employee engagement declining and more than eight in 10 American workersexperiencing job-related stress — female employees being even more more vulnerableto workplace tension than men — friendship could make the difference between happiness at work and burnout. Research has found that strong social connections at the office can boost productivity, and could make employees more passionate about their work and less likely to quit their jobs.

According to Christine M. Riordan, provost and professor of management at the University of Kentucky, camaraderie is a key ingredient to happiness at work for male and female employees. A study led by Riordan, published in the Journal of Business Psychology in the ’90s, found that the mere opportunity for friendship increases employee job satisfaction and organizational effectiveness…

Link to read this article in full

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photo credit: Victor1558 via photopin cc

The Surefire Way To Be Happier At Work: Chat With Your Coworkers

A NEW STUDY FINDS THAT PEOPLE REALLY ARE PRETTY MISERABLE AT WORK, AND NOT MUCH YOU CAN DO WILL HELP. BUT THERE IS ONE PRETTY EASY FIX: YOUR COWORKERS.

…According to a new study (PDF) by Alex Bryson and George MacKerron, published through the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics and Political Science, of all the things we choose to do at work (other than work!), it’s casually interacting with our colleagues that makes us happiest. From the article:

The largest positive net effect of combining work and another activity on happiness relates to ‘Talking, chatting, socialising’. . . .There are clearly positive psychological benefits of being able to socialise whilst working. It is the only activity that, in combination with working, results in happiness levels that are similar to those experienced when not working…

photo credit: marinakvillatoro via photopin cc

photo credit: marinakvillatoro via photopin cc

‘Talking at mealtimes boosts children’s confidence’

By Judith Burns

Mealtime chatter helps boost children’s communication skills, suggests a study by the National Literacy Trust.

Children whose families sit and talk during meals are more confident, the poll of 35,000 UK children indicates.

But more than one in every four misses out on daily mealtime chats with their families, suggests the poll.

Former EastEnders actress, mother and literacy campaigner Natalie Cassidy said: “Food is fuel for our bodies.  So is conversation for our brains.”

Ms Cassidy urged parents: “Even if you’re strapped for time, make 10-15 minutes to all sit down together.”…

The data suggests that sitting in silence at mealtimes is worse for children’s confidence than not sitting down for family meals at all.

The results suggest that some two-thirds (62%) of those who talk daily with their families at mealtimes feel confident to speak in front of a group, compared with less than half (47%) of those who eat in silence and just over half (52%) of children who don’t sit down for meals…

The trust’s director Jonathan Douglas said: “Our research shows just how vital conversation at home is to the future success of our children and young people.

“Talking and communicating at home, for example at mealtimes, will help children gain the skills they need for a successful and happy life.”

Link to read this article

An Introvert’s Guide To Happiness

By Beth Gilbert

Are you an introvert or an extrovert?

Introverts — people with quieter and more reflective personalities — typically thrive within the inner workings of their own minds. Extroverts, however, are more outgoing and tend to feel comfortable surrounded by people.

But social savvy isn’t the only difference between the two personality types: Research shows that the factors that contribute to an extrovert’s happiness and those that add to an introvert’s happiness don’t always mesh.

“An introvert’s rocket fuel is an extrovert’s Kryptonite and vice versa,” says Nancy Ancowitz, business communication coach and author of Self-Promotion for Introverts. “Long stretches of quiet activities like reading, writing, and researching may energize an introvert, but can serve as solitary confinement for an extrovert. Frequent social interactions and multitasking can energize an extrovert and really zap an introvert.”

Story continues as a slideshow

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photo credit: marfis75 via photopin cc

Research Finds Happiness Is Found Outdoors

by 

The David Suzuki Foundation has discovered happiness. A report from the foundation has confirmed that a daily dose of nature boosts happiness and wellbeing…

The foundation asked more than 10,000 Canadians and 250 workplaces to participate in what it called the 30×30 Nature Challenge. Those participating were challenged to get outside for half an hour a day for 30 consecutive days.

Trent University Researcher Dr. Elizabeth Nisbet conducted the research initiative.

“We found that participation in the 30×30 Nature Challenge almost doubled their time spent outside during the month and reduced their screen time by about 4.5 hours per week,” said Nisbet of the spring report. “They reported significant increases in their sense of well-being, feeling more vitality and energy, while feelings of stress, negativity and sleep disturbances were all reduced.”

Nisbet reported the research indicated workplace participants said they felt more productive on the job. She reported participants indicated a slightly stronger sense of identification with the natural world and a desire to spend more time outdoors. Many of the people who took part in the challenge said they felt happier by eating lunch outside or walking through a park.

According to the foundation, the results of the challenge are consistent with growing evidence that even brief nature contact enhances positive mood and reduces stress…

Link to read the rest of this article

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photo credit: fiddle oak via photopin cc

Pay It Forward: Why Generosity Is The Key To Success

by Sean Blanda

When it comes to when and how we help others, most of us fit into one of three categories:

  • Givers, who help others unconditionally, demanding nothing in return.
  • Matchers, who usually only help those who have helped them.
  • Takers, those who demand help but never offer.

Penn professor Adam Grant is a Giver. He’s also the youngest tenured professor at Wharton and is the author of the best-selling Give and Take. Grant believes that the success of our careers is due to our generosity with our time and knowledge. Givers, he says, are usually either at the top or bottom of their field, with Matchers and Takers sprinkled in between.

After publicly proclaiming to the world that he answers any and all favor requestsin the New York Times, Grant is the best test case for his own theory. However, Grant manages it all well thanks to being ruthless with his time. I asked him how he handles the deluge and if he has any advice for those of us who feel too squeezed to be good “Givers.” …

Here is the link to read this interview with Adam Grant

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photo credit: jspad via photopin cc

3 Insights from the Frontiers of Positive Psychology

By Elise Proulx

…“The science of positive psychology has now achieved a point where it is comparable to the other sub-disciplines of psychology,” wrote IPPA president Robert Vallerand in the Congress’ welcome message. “And the scientifically informed applications of positive psychology are more popular and diversified than ever.”

As Vallerand suggests, the leaders of positive psychology have always prided themselves on delivering scientific findings with clear practical applications. Here are three of the most striking and practical insights I took away from the Congress.

1. Look to the future for a meaningful life.

Now-familiar research shows that we are happiest when we live in the present and that practicing mindfulness — which involves tuning in to our thoughts, emotions and sensations in the present moment — is good for our bodiesbrains and relationships.

But in their IPPA keynote, Martin Seligman and Roy Baumeister, both giants in the field of positive psychology, argued for the importance of focusing on the future. Looking ahead, they believe, can bring meaning to our lives — a school of thought they call “prospective psychology.”

The core of this concept is that it becomes a lot easier to understand some of the complexities of the human mind once you consider that we evolved to predict the future — and that doing this well is key to survival.  “So intelligence isn’t about what you know,” said Seligman, “but about how well you can predict an act in the future.”…

So while happiness may be all about the present, meaningfulness may be found in the future. Only by connecting the two can one find the greatest meaning, purpose and happiness in life.

2. Detaching from work is a good thing … for most of us.

…Sonnentag defines detachment as a sense of “being away from work.”  While this feeling has different sources for different people, it could include staying off work email and not thinking about work in the evenings and on days off.

Detaching from work allows individuals to feel recovered and refreshed, Sonnentag said, which then allows them to have more energy and be more efficient in their work lives.

Sonnentag says detachment from work seems especially important — not surprisingly — when job stressors are high. Indeed, the more time pressure employees feel, the less able they are to detach, which leads to a negative spiral of stress and rumination.

Supervisors should take note: Being realistic about deadlines may make for a more efficient operation.

But not everyone feels the benefits from detachment: Employees who have strong positive emotions toward work — such as firefighters who feel their jobs provide a positive social impact — may benefit more from not detaching.  For this group, the positive feelings they have during the day spill over into evening rest time, and detaching can actually negate those positive feelings.

That said, while each individual needs to assess his or her own need for detachment, for most of us, periodically disconnecting from the stress of work and the burdens of technology — for example, by taking a Friday night family break from all electronics – is probably an important way to guard against burnout — and make us better workers.

3. “We shape our dwellings, and afterwards our dwellings shape us.”

These words from British Prime Minister Winston Churchill infused psychologist Marino Bonaiuto’s talk on environmental psychology.

Bonaiuto, of the University of Rome, studies how the physical components of our environment are linked to and affect our mental states and social interactions.  When an individual’s biological or psychological needs are met by the resources available in the environment — green spaces, physical layout of infrastructure, well-tended buildings — there is good “person-environment fit” that leads to greater well-being…

In this way, Bonaiuto was affirming a theme I heard often at the Congress: the power we have to shape our happiness and the happiness of those around us.  Whether as individuals or working together as groups, the presenters emphasized, we can affect our external environment and internal landscapes for the better…

Here is the link to this article in full

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photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

Mindfulness can improve leadership in times of instability

by Cheryl Rezek

A mindful leader can respond to change with focus and clarity, and avoid repeating the same mistakes

What does the ancient eastern practice of mindfulness, often associated with orange-clothed chanting monks, have to do with the fast-paced, performance-driven style of western leadership? In tough times, it could act as an influential asset in the public service’s fight for survival.

Mindfulness is about paying attention to what is happening in the present moment, a moment in time. It is about focusing attention on the present in a way that allows that moment to be experienced and observed closely. It involves developing the skills to allow yourself to engage actively with whatever is happening at the time, as well as concurrently viewing that moment from a more strategic standpoint.

…When there is less clutter and fewer distractions within one’s own head it is easier to gain clarity and perspective; mindfulness allows one to both notice more detail and see the bigger picture.

A mindful leader can reduce disorder by bringing focus and intent to the situation. By acknowledging and accepting change, the leader can step back, observe and respond with composure and purpose.

Dealing with change

If leaders realise that change is inevitable, they can encourage sufficient resilience in individuals, teams and organisations.  …This helps to safeguard an organisation from disillusionment and destruction by enforcing outdated rules and processes.

Research on mindfulness suggests that it can also help to:

•  reduce the cost of staff absenteeism caused by illness, injury and stress

•  improve cognitive functioning, memory, learning ability and creativity

•  improve productivity and improve overall staff and business wellbeing

•  reduce staff turnover and associated costs.

Mindful leadership is not a patronising fad implying that, if we are calm, everything will be fine.  The reality of our working world is that all may not be fine.  What mindfulness can do is develop a thinking, emotional and instinctual mind so that the leader can do the best for self, team and organisation.

This is the link to this original Guardian article, which includes a link to the full version of Cheryl Rezek’s article 

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photo credit: miriam.v via photopin cc

9 Leadership Essentials To Cause Meaningful Work

by 

Meaningful work stirs up internal satisfaction through doing the work and releasing it for others to benefit and experience.

While meaningful work is experienced at an individual level, its power is fully unleashed when it’s a characteristic of workplace or team culture.

So, then, what do leaders need to do to cause meaningful work?  Here are nine essentials.

Clarity in Your Values

Know what you stand for to anchor your leadership…

Culture of Optimism

The work environment needs to lead employees to believe that great results are possible through their contributions – individually and collectively. Additionally, employees are inspired by the good works of others and by their own output.

Concentration on People

A leader must believe that employees are the cornerstone to a business’s success.  Leadership actions and decisions essential for meaning are made from this central belief.

Connection Among Employees

Meaning expands when people have a sense of belonging.  Brené Brownadvocates that people need to believe they can be themselves and not worry about fitting in.  When connections exist among employees, belonging can emerge.

Constancy in Purpose

Leadership 101 always asks us to paint a picture of where we need to take the team.  Purpose helps paint such a picture.

Creative Conflict

Deeper meaning emerges when there is conflict between what we believe and do, and with different beliefs and approaches presented by others.

Charisma for Learning

Meaning thrives on insight and awareness.  These two criteria are only possible when we stay in a continuous learning loop…

Courage to Care

Address half-ass work and missed deadlines.  Celebrate milestones.  Give just-because recognition.  Have the courage to show you care about people and quality results – consistently.

Continuous Progress

Work that results in little or no progress frustrates, infuriates, alienates, and decimates meaning and hope.  People must see progress and alignment with the purpose you communicate.  Without progress, meaning wanes.

This list presents a major leadership challenge.  The weak leader will choose to procrastinate in creating a culture where meaningful work abounds. However, given the abysmal state of the workplace, it’s a choice that cannot be overlooked if a thriving culture is important to producing results and keeping talented people from leaving your team.

Link to read this article in full

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photo credit: chlip via photopin cc

Why HR should tip its hat to the measuremement of wellbeing

by Andy Philpott

…there is much more to it than the headlines which revel in us being happier than the French or proclaim that marriage makes you happier than co-habitation.

The research also provides useful insight for anyone whose job it is to ensure their organisation can attract and retain the right employees.

For instance, the findings that those who work flexibly or study part-time have the greatest sense of wellbeing should spur any organisations to think about how training, education and a creative approach to working hours can be used as employee benefits.

The negative impact that illness and disability has on wellbeing is a call to action for all employers to take these issues seriously in the support they offer their employees.  Not just through reactive measures like employee helplines and health insurance but by proactive wellbeing programmes – whether these relate to financial or physical wellbeing.

More broadly, the focus on wellbeing is a reminder that happiness makes a great difference to the way people approach their lives. This applies to the workplace as much as anywhere else…

Here is the link to the rest of this article

From heart rates to surveys: How to keep workers happy

By Nastaran Tavakoli-Far

Unhappy workers leave.  

Recent studies show that up to 70% of workers in the US are “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” at work.

Happy workers tend to be more productive – which makes it sensible to focus on making sure your staff are content…

Tiny Pulse is an app which sends out short weekly surveys to workers to see how happy they are, and makes graphs of the results so bosses can see how workers feel each week.  Employers can tailor the surveys, and can also give positive feedback straight to workers.

The app also allows employees to communicate with their bosses – anonymously.

Better tech at home

Microsoft chief envisioning officer and author Dave Coplin believes workers often have better technology at home than in the workplace; it used to be the other way around.  As a result he thinks people are often frustrated at work.

“Today people feel trapped by technology,” he says, explaining many workplaces have limited its use.

Work.com’s Nick Stein agrees.  Work.com is a platform that aims to increase performance, by focusing on aligning goals between employer and employee, providing feedback, and mutual motivation.  On Work.com employees have profiles which display their expertise and goals, and employers and employees can praise each other on performance day to day, rather than in one end-of-year review.

Mr Stein says the internet has given people more voice than ever before, but work environments have not kept up – it can still be hard to speak up.

Workers may feel they need to be at a certain level before they can express their views…

Healthy brain, healthy work

Companies don’t have to use bespoke tools to create happier workers.  Devices used to measure various health indicators can also gauge worker happiness.

Neuroscientist Rob Goldberg believes that pushing people is simply bad for the brain.  The result is that they don’t do their best work.

“We really need to push the perspective that brain health and performance are one and the same thing,” he says.

Mr Goldberg is part of Neumitra, a start-up out of MIT.  Their app Bandu measures stress levels via a special wrist watch.

Feeling stressed is a survival mechanism – however it stops the brain focusing and functioning effectively, according to Mr Goldberg.  He says employers should monitor workers’ stress levels and adjust accordingly.

There may even be the need for fundamental changes.  Mr Goldberg points to the high stress levels caused by getting into the office at rush hour.

Apps like Cardiio, which measures heart rate, can be used to check employee health.

Yet working 9-5 is a historical throwback to the manufacturing production line, and is no longer relevant for many companies, he says.  So one easy way to reduce stress might be to change working hours to reduce the amount staff have to travel at peak times…

Journalist and founder of the non-profit The H(app)athon Project John Havens believes that other health related apps and tools can and should be used by workplaces.

He points to apps like Cardiio, which measures heart rate using an iPhone’s camera, and Affectiva, created so that advertising agencies can read people’s emotions through their facial expressions.  These tools may not have been designed with offices in mind, but he says they can be used by bosses to see how well, and in turn how happy, their workers are.

However, he believes there are other factors at work.

“Most of it boils down to having a sense of purpose and meaning,” he says about workplace happiness.  “These should be more of a focus.”

Basic questions, not tools

Consultancy Delivering Happiness believes in the importance of deriving meaning from work.  It began as a book by Zappos chief executive Tony Hsieh, looking at how companies could make workers happy while also pursuing profits.

Now they consult, helping businesses focus equally on worker happiness and profits.

Chief executive Jenn Lim says happy workers require a company that knows what its values are, and that this is more important than tools and technologies.

“[Not asking these questions] is the answer to why we as a society can’t sustain our happiness,” she says.  “It all comes back to very basic things. If we don’t have the values in place all the rest could be a lost cause.”

Link to this article  about these 21st century ways of achieving greater happiness at work

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

Britain’s working culture ‘damaging family life’

A new study has highlighted the impact that Britain’s ‘all work and no play’ culture could be having on employees’ personal lives.

Health cash plan provider Medicash conducted a survey of more than 1,000 working parents and found that more than four out of five (83 per cent) felt guilty about the amount of time they dedicated to their jobs.

Half (50 per cent) of respondents said their work commitments had limited the amount of time they could spend with their children and 46 per cent had experienced problems in their relationship with their partner.

A quarter (25 per cent) of workers have neglected friends because of their career responsibilities, according to the research.

Focusing on how demanding jobs can impact family life, the study found that 50 per cent of working mums and dads had missed a child’s sports day, school play or parents’ evening and 43 per cent had worked through holidays.

The majority (59 per cent) of people polled admitted that their children had complained about the amount of time they devoted to work.

Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University and director of employee wellbeing firm Robertson Cooper, said: “The fact that many people feel guilty about how they spend their time is hugely significant – it shows how important it is to maintain work-life balance.

“The evidence shows that flexible working delivers to the business’ bottom line, with employees feeling less guilty about how they spend their time and achieving a better balance between work and home commitments.”

photo credit: americanartmuseum via photopin cc

photo credit: americanartmuseum via photopin cc

The Five Beats of Successful Storytelling & How They Can Help You Land Your Next Job

by Jenn Godbout

Author Philip Pullman wrote, “After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”  Whether we’re talking about life, business, or art, storytelling is an essential skill. Maybe even THE most essential skill.  But that doesn’t mean it comes naturally.

Whether it’s your own personal bio, a summary for your company’s “about” page, or a pitch to a major client, fitting everything important into a concise yet engaging narrative is a challenging task.  So we turned to performer, comedian, and storytelling guru David Crabb to share his storytelling framework.  It’s called the Five Beats of Storytelling, and you can use it to make any story more interesting, engaging, and memorable.

For example, let’s say you’re a business major-turned-illustrator who’s jumped from finance to freelance and is now seeking an in-house position. When the interviewer asks about your work history, you’ll want to convey how your background is relevant, your excellent work ethic, and your passion for the position.  The five beats can help you hit your mark AND keep your audience engaged. Here’s how it breaks down:

Beat 1: The introduction

Where you set the scene and tell your readers everything they need to know to understand why what you’re about to say is important…

Beat 2: The inciting incident

The question that your story is asking OR when the protagonist (you or your company) is faced with a challenge.  This is a great place to show vulnerability…

Beat 3: Raising the stakes

A series of moments that give weight and context to the inciting incident.  This is a great place to get specific and provide details that will make your story more memorable…

Beat 4: The main event

This is where we see the inciting incident come to a head (aka the climax).  This is either the answer to the question we asked in the second beat or where the protagonist solves his or her dilemma — a pivot or a change (even if it’s just a shift in attitude) should occur…

Beat 5: The resolution

In the fifth beat, you have an opportunity to highlight what makes the story unique.  If you’ve just described a failure or challenge, this would be the time to reflect on what you learned…

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: mharrsch via photopin cc

photo credit: mharrsch via photopin cc

Happiness At Work Edition #59

For all of these stories and more see our Happiness At Work collection…

Enjoy.