Happiness At Work edition #133 – we are what we think

 

dreamstime_l_22898332Here is a guide to some the ideas and articles we’ve collected in the latest Happiness At Work edition #133.

Our theme this time is inspired by the excellent Get Happy Neuroscience for Business series of articles, including The 5 Neuroscience Lessons for Leaders and The 7 C’s of Change Management – making change easier with neuroscience.

What these ideas, and the stories that follow, all have in common is the growing understanding we are getting from contemporary research about how much the way we choose to think about things affects the experienced reality of the things themselves.

Never has the need for personal mastery been more vital or more richly informed, and I hope this collection will give you new approaches and techniques to try out and talk about with the people who matter to you.  Enjoy.

How Your Thoughts Change Your Brain, Cells and Genes

by Debbie Hampton Writer, blogger, hot yoga enthusiast, brain injury survivor

Every thought you have causes neurochemical changes, some temporary and some lasting. For instance, when people consciously practice gratitude, they get a surge of rewarding neurotransmitters, like dopamine, and experience a general alerting and brightening of the mind, probably correlated with more of the neurochemical norepinephrine…

Every cell in your body is replaced about every two months. So, the good news is, you can reprogram your pessimistic cells to be more optimistic by adopting positive thinking practices, like mindfulness and gratitude, for permanent results…

Your biology doesn’t spell your destiny, and you aren’t controlled by your genetic makeup. Instead, your genetic activity is largely determined by your thoughts, attitudes, and perceptions. Epigenetics is showing that your perceptions and thoughts control your biology, which places you in the driver’s seat. By changing your thoughts, you can influence and shape your own genetic readout.

The Surprising Scientific Link Between Happiness And Decision Making

by LAURA VANDERKAM

How do you make decisions? Some people want to find the absolute best option (“maximizers”). Others, known as “satisficers,” have a set of criteria, and go for the first option that clears the bar.

While wanting the best seems like a good thing, research from Swarthmore College finds that satisficers tend to be happier than maximizers.

This is true for two reasons. First, people who want the best tend to be prone to regret. “If you’re out to find the best possible job, no matter how good it is, if you have a bad day, you think there’s got to be something better out there,” saysBarry Schwartz, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley and author of The Paradox of Choice

This happiness gap raises the question: Can maximizers learn to become satisficers? Can you learn to settle for good enough?

Possibly, but it takes some work. “What I believe is that it’s changeable and that it’s not easy to change,” says Schwartz. Here are some ways to make the shift…

Beyond Brain Basics: 5 Neuroscience Lessons for Leaders

In Brain Basics, we looked at many of the structures in the brain and how they function. In this section we will look more specifically at how they impact leadership and the workplace. Since these are complex issues, especially for people who are just learning about neuroscience, we’ve put together 5 neuroscience lessons for leaders, that will shed some light on the practicality of these notions.

1. The Brain is Plastic

…The brain continues to reform and rewire itself based on how much or how little the pathways are used. That means that we can always learn new things.

The way neurons share information is through sending and receiving neurotransmitters across the small gap. The neurotransmitters trigger a chemical process, which creates an electrical charge that travels through the neuron. This process of electrical charge, neurotransmitters, electrical charge, and so on is what creates the pathway of neurons. There is a saying “Cells that fire together, wire together.” That means that when learning a new task or about a new person, the best way to learn it is to do it multiple times, so that the neurons “fire together” and eventually “wire together”.

It is never too late for a leader or an employee to learn a new skill or a new way of doing things. Change is hard sometimes, but research tells us it is possible.

2. Our Brains Like Rewards

Emotions are an important aspect of how the brain changes and how we learn. Positive feelings activated through the reward system of the brain enhance the pathways and improve learning. The reward system is very complex and has pathways in many areas of the brain, but often it is regulated by the neurotransmitter dopamine.

There are two main reward systems in the brain that are related to attention and motivation: primary and secondary. Primary rewards are related to primary needs like food, water, and shelter. We feel good when we have those needs met. Secondary rewards help our survival but are not vital to it. They include things like information, power, trust, touch, appreciation, and community.

For leaders, rewards are often an effective way to motivate employees. Based on neuroscience, there are some rewards that seem to release more dopamine than others. You will see that money, or material goods, are not on the list. Many of the rewards are related to social interaction in some way.

Following the science, leaders can review their system of motivation and rewards to consider ideas that are proven to be rewarding to the brain. While each employee is different, there are many categories or rewards that would be useful to implement in order to truly activate an employee’s reward pathway. More dopamine means employees who are happier, more focused, and more motivated.

3. The Power of Mirror Neurons

In the early 1990s scientists discovered mirror neurons. They found that when one person watches another do some kind of action, the neurons of the first person fire as if they were actually doing it. There is a common example that has to do with yawning. Research has shown that yawning can be contagious. Why? Mirror neurons. When one person yawns and another observes, the neuronal pathways for yawning in the observer’s brain are activated, causing them to yawn too.

While this may explain why a yawn can seem to travel around an office, mirror neurons are really important for learning, emotional awareness, and empathy. When we watch someone do something, our brain is actually learning how to do it. When we see someone experiencing an emotion, our brain processes that emotion as well, increasing empathy.

Mirror neurons can be important aspects of leadership as we can see how our emotional and physical states as leaders are actually teaching our employees how to act and how to respond emotionally to us. When mirroring is connected to a certain need and when it is understood from a familiar viewpoint, the effect is stronger. Mirror neurons, again, prove how much humans are social animals. People are highly connected to the people and the environments around them.

Because of this connection, leaders can create environments where people can mirror others who create collaborative and cooperative learning and working atmospheres. Individuals are important to the team and the team is important to the individuals through the power or mirror neurons.

4. Emotions are Everything

Many people want to believe that they can make decisions based exclusively on free will and their rational minds. That is not often backed by science, as research has shown that there are many unconscious processes that influence and dictate why we behave in the ways we do.

Those processes follow brain pathways that were put into place when we were very young. In most cases we have already made a decision before we have actually thought about it. This happens in the limbic system. Our cerebral cortex then has to rationalize the decision through language and planning, leading to, what some may call, the illusion of free will. That is not to say that the cerebral cortex cannot influence the limbic system. This can be seen in people who practice meditation and mindfulness.

As a leader, it is particularly useful to know that when we are faced with stress or a threat, the executive functions of the brain shut down, leaving the unconscious processes of the limbic system in charge of decision making. These parts of the brain react on emotion and survival instincts.

Leaders also need to be aware that in terms of learning and team building, change happens not from the cerebral context but from the limbic system. With effective company rewards and interventions, the slow process of changing the limbic system can start to take place.

5. Creating a Brain-Based Work Environment

The information presented is a starting point for creating a work environment that is based around what is healthy for the brain. Leaders who ignore how the brain functions are leaving a lot to chance. Sometimes things might be great, but then something can happen and they might worsen. Having a brain-based work environment can help leaders effectively navigate the rises and falls in the economic climate.

Be a brain-based leader by helping the people improve the work environment, and the environment improve the people. Both influence the other and, in a working system, there will be an upward spiral of motivation, growth, and productivity. Overtime, this environment will actually change the brains of the people in it, making the team and the organization better able to adapt to change.

see also these articles in the series:

The Basis of Leadership Is Born in the Brain: Why Leaders Should Care about Neuroscience

The 7 C’s of Change Management: Making Change Easier With Neuroscience

11 Ways to Run Your Business with Neuroscience

Your Brain on Hormones: How Neuroscience Can Make You a Better Leader

Improve Employee Engagement Using Neuroscience

Brain Basics: Neuroscience in Business

Google’s Scientific Approach to Work-Life Balance (and Much More)

…Inspired by the Framingham Heart Study research, our People Innovation Lab developed gDNA, Google’s first major long-term study aimed at understanding work. Under the leadership of PhD Googlers Brian Welle and Jennifer Kurkoski, we’re two years into what we hope will be a century-long study. We’re already getting glimpses of the smart decisions today that can have profound impact on our future selves, and the future of work overall…

…The fact that such a large percentage of Google’s employees wish they could separate from work but aren’t able to is troubling, but also speaks to the potential for this kind of research. The existence of this group suggests that it is not enough to wish yourself into being a Segmentor. But by identifying where employees fall on this spectrum, we hope that Google can design environments that make it easier for employees to disconnect. Our Dublin office, for example, ran a program called “Dublin Goes Dark” which asked people to drop off their devices at the front desk before going home for the night. Googlers reported blissful, stressless evenings. Similarly, nudging Segmentors to ignore off-hour emails and use all their vacation days might improve well-being over time. The long-term nature of these questions suggests that the real value of gDNA will take years to realize.

…We have great luxuries at Google in our supportive leadership, curious employees who trust our efforts, and the resources to have our People Innovation Lab. But for any organization, there are four steps you can take to start your own exploration and move from hunches to science:

1. Ask yourself what your most pressing people issues are.  Retention?  Innovation? Efficiency?  Or better yet, ask your people what those issues are.

2. Survey your people about how they think they are doing on those most pressing issues, and what they would do to improve.

3. Tell your people what you learned. If it’s about the company, they’ll have ideas to improve it. If it’s about themselves – like our gDNA work – they’ll be grateful.

4. Run experiments based on what your people tell you. Take two groups with the same problem, and try to fix it for just one. Most companies roll out change after change, and never really know why something worked, or if it did at all. By comparing between the groups, you’ll be able to learn what works and what doesn’t.

And in 100 years we can all compare notes.

How to Reset Your Happiness Set Point

by Alex Lickerman M.D. author of The Undefeated Mind: On the Science of Constructing an Indestructible Self

The set-point theory of happiness suggests that our level of subjective well-being is determined primarily by heredity and by personality traits ingrained in us early in life and as a result remains relatively constant throughout our lives. Our level of happiness may change transiently in response to life events, but then almost always returns to its baseline level as we habituate to those events and their consequences over time. Habituation, a growing body of evidence now tells us, occurs even to things like career advancement, money, and marriage.

On the other hand, other research (link is external) suggests a few events—chief among them the unexpected death of a child and repeated bouts of unemployment—seem to reduce our ability to be happy permanently. Yet some studies also suggest that we can also fix our happiness set point permanentlyhigher—by helping others.

According to one such study (link is external) that analyzed data from the German Socio-Economic Panel Survey, a collection of statistics representing the largest and longest-standing series of observations on happiness in the world, the trait most strongly associated with long-term increases in life satisfaction is, in fact, a persistent commitment to pursuing altruistic goals. That is, the more we focus on compassionate action, on helping others, the happier we seem to become in the long run…

…just as exercise can actually provide us with energy by forcing us to summon it when we’re feeling tired (link is external), helping others can provide us with enthusiasm, encouragement, and even joy by forcing us to summon them when we’re feeling discouraged. “If one lights a fire for others,” wrote Nichiren Daishonin, “one will brighten one’s own way.” Thus, the moments in which we feel happiest aren’t just moments to be enjoyed. They’re also opportunities to increase the frequency and intensity with which we feel them in the future.

5 Beneficial Side Effects of Kindness

by David R. Hamilton, Ph.D. Author, ‘I HEART ME: The Science of Self-Love’ and ‘How Your Mind Can Heal Your Body’

When we think of side effects, the first thing that springs to mind are the side effects of drugs. But who’d have thought that kindness could have side effects, too?

Well, it does! And positive ones at that.

…when we are kind, the following are some side effects that come with it:

1) Kindness makes us happier.

When we do something kind for someone else, we feel good. On a spiritual level, … we’re tapping into something deep and profound inside us that says, “This is who I am.”

On a biochemical level, it is believed that the good feeling we get is due to elevated levels of the brain’s natural versions of morphine and heroin, which we know as endogenous opioids. They cause elevated levels of dopamine in the brain, so we get a natural high, often referred to as “Helper’s High.”

2) Kindness gives us healthier hearts.

Acts of kindness are often accompanied by emotional warmth. Emotional warmth produces the hormone oxytocin in the brain and throughout the body. Of much recent interest is its significant role in the cardiovascular system.

Oxytocin causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide in blood vessels, which dilates (expands) the blood vessels. This reduces blood pressure, and therefore oxytocin is known as a “cardio-protective” hormone because it protects the heart (by lowering blood pressure). The key is that acts kindness can produce oxytocin, and therefore kindness can be said to be cardio-protective.

3) Kindness slows aging.

Aging on a biochemical level is a combination of many things, but two culprits that speed the process are free radicals and inflammation, both of which result from making unhealthy lifestyle choices.

But remarkable research now shows that oxytocin (which we produce through emotional warmth) reduces levels of free radicals and inflammation in the cardiovascular system and thus slows aging at its source. Incidentally these two culprits also play a major role in heart disease, so this is also another reason why kindness is good for the heart.

There have also been suggestions in the scientific journals of the strong link between compassion and the activity of the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve, in addition to regulating heart rate, also controls inflammation levels in the body in what is known as the inflammatory reflex. One study that used the Tibetan Buddhist lovingkindness meditation found that kindness and compassion did, in fact, reduce inflammation in the body, mostly likely due to its effects on the vagus nerve.

4) Kindness makes for better relationships.

This is one of the most obvious points. We all know that we like people who show us kindness. This is because kindness reduces the emotional distance between two people, so we feel more “bonded.” It’s something that is so strong in us that it’s actually a genetic thing. We are wired for kindness.

Our evolutionary ancestors had to learn to cooperate with one another. The stronger the emotional bonds within groups, the greater the chances of survival, so “kindness genes” were etched into the human genome.

Today, when we are kind to each other, we feel a connection, and new relationships are forged, or existing ones strengthened.

5) Kindness is contagious.

When we’re kind, we inspire others to be kind, and it actually creates a ripple effect that spreads outwards to our friends’ friends’ friends — to three degrees of separation. Just as a pebble creates waves when it is dropped in a pond, so acts of kindness ripple outwards, touching others’ lives and inspiring kindness everywhere the wave goes.

A recent scientific study reported than an anonymous 28-year-old person walked into a clinic and donated a kidney. It set off a “pay it forward” type ripple effect where the spouses or other family members of recipients of a kidney donated one of theirs to someone else in need. The “domino effect,” as it was called in the New England Journal of Medicine report, spanned the length and breadth of the United States of America, where 10 people received a new kidney as a consequence of that anonymous donor.

The Happiest Part Of Your Vacation Isn’t What You Think

by Carla Herreria

According to a 2010 study published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, just planning or anticipating your trip can make you happier than actually taking it.

While all vacationers enjoyed pre-trip happiness, the study’s authors found that people only experienced a boost in happiness post-vacation if their trip was relaxing. If their vacation was deemed “stressful” or “neutral,” their post-trip happiness levels were comparable to those who hadn’t taken a vacation at all.

Pre-trip happiness, however, is a different story entirely. The study found that all vacationers experienced a significant boost in happiness during the planning stages of the trip because, as the researchers suggest, the vacationers were looking forward to the good times ahead…

Is Artistic Inspiration Contagious?

by Scott Barry Kaufman

In a recent study, Todd Thrash and colleagues conducted the first ever test of “inspiration contagion,” using poetry as the vehicle. They looked at specific qualities of a text and the qualities of the reader. It’s a rich study, with 36,020 interactions between all of the variables! Here are the essential findings…

…The more writers privately reported that they felt inspired while writing, the more the average reader reported being inspired. This is despite the fact that there was no actual contact between the reader and the writer other than the text itself!

…Readers higher in openness to new experiences were more tolerant of the new and sublime. The more that the reader was open to new experiences, the more they experienced inspiration transmission, and the less the originality and sublimity of the text hindered transmission.

Reader inspiration was not the only outcome of writer inspiration. Writer inspiration also brought out feelings of awe and chills in the average reader. These feelings of enthrallment were transmitted particularly through the insightfulness and sublimity of the text.

…However, these findings suggest that good writing is more like talking, an expression of one’s inner state of being. Perhaps the most helpful way for aspiring writers to view writing is as a natural vehicle for capturing personal insights and expressing them.

New data science research shows how we manage our long-term happiness

by Colin Smith

Most theories of motivation have championed the pleasure principle, where our choices of daily activities aim to maximize our short-term happiness. However, it was not clear to researchers how to reconcile this idea with the fact that we all have to engage routinely in unpleasant, yet necessary activities.

To address this question a team of researchers, including an Imperial academic, developed a smartphone application to monitor in real-time the activities and moods of approximately 30,000 people.

The team found that, rather than following the pleasure or hedonic principle, people’s choices of activities instead consistently followed a hedonic flexibility principle, which shows how people regulate their mood. Specifically, the model shows that people were more likely to engage in mood-increasing activities such as playing sport when they felt bad. When they felt good they engaged in useful, but mood-decreasing activities such as doing housework…

The model revealed that firstly, people’s future decisions to engage in one activity rather than another are related to how they currently feel. Secondly, the interplay between mood and choices of activity followed a very specific pattern.

When participants were in a bad mood, they were more likely to later engage in activities that tended to subsequently boost their mood. For example, if people’s current mood decreased by 10 points, they were more likely to later engage in things like sport, going out into nature, and chatting. All of these activities were associated with a subsequent increase in mood.

see also:

Finding Happiness: Your Mood Decides Whether You Live In The Moment Or Focus On Future

By

…More or less, we can all be split into two groups; Those motivated by the pursuit of pleasure and those who prefer to secure their long-term welfare. A new study has attempted to understand the motivation between these two conflicting philosophies.

Our likeliness to live in the moment or prepare for the future is not a permanent feature of our personality and changes according to our mood at the moment. The study revealed that when a person is in a good mood, they are more likely to do housework and other unpleasant yet useful activities over the next few hours than when they are in a bad mood. When feeling bad, people tend to choose activities later that day that are more pleasurable, such as playing sports and spending time with friends, apparently in an effort to feel better…

25 Freelancers (Re)Define Success

Profundity by Col Skinner, a UK based Digital Marketing Consultant and Strategist

…if we all take some time to review what success actually means to us and what we want from our working lives then we might find it doesn’t (have to) match the archetypal clichés in society. The archetypal perception is that success is something status led that is achieved through sacrificing your personal life in order to commit hundreds of hours to earning tons of cash in a ‘kill or be killed’ business environment. All very 1980’s Wall Street if you ask me. I think shows like The Apprentice / Dragons Den, along with business dinosaurs like Donald Trump, also have a lot to answer for.

I thought it would be interesting to hear how people who have quit the rat race, define success.  So I went and sourced a range of Freelancers who very kindly gave their personal definitions of SUCCESS. This may help give clarity to those who currently struggle to define their own goals…

You, and no one else, are the one that sets or defines what success looks like. Don’t fall for the cliché trappings of a successful life. Aim for goals that matter and make a difference to you or those around you. I will leave you with this great quote by Anne Sweeney:

“Define success by your own terms, achieve it by your own rules, and build a life you’re proud to live.”

Happiness At Work edition #133

All of these articles and more can found together in this collection.

Seligman’s PERMA+1 Essentials for Flourishing

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Positive psychology is not yet twenty years old.  In the short time since Martin Seligman’s 1998 call to turn on a scientific inquiry into what helps human beings to flourish, rather than merely survive, we have discovered an enormous amount about what we can all learn to do and practice and ultimately master to grow and sustain our own and each other’s happiness.

And doing this is much more than a luxury.  Research is showing that our happiness is integral to our individual success, in terms of our performance and productivity, our creativity and learning, and our resilience and positive responsiveness to change and uncertainty.  And it is an equally vital aspect of making strong trusting relationships in our families and friendships, our teams and wider networks, as much as in our societies and increasingly interconnected, interdependent global systems.

Martin Seligman

Human beings want much more in life than not to be miserable” Prof. Martin Seligman pictured with Prof Ian Robertson.   Photo source: Can you teach wellbeing? Martin Seligman thinks so Irish Times

Seligman is speaking across the UK at the moment and I am looking forward enormously to hearing him on 9th May at the Action for Happiness event in London.

In his Irish Times article, Can you teach wellbeing? Martin Seligman thinks soRonan McGreevy writes:

Introducing Seligman in Dublin, TCD professor of psychology Ian Robertson described him as a “polymath” engaged in nothing less than “a movement which is creating a paradigm change in how humanity thinks about itself”.

Seligman described himself as a self-confessed pessimist and depressive who tries out his own techniques first on himself before expanding them to his own family and then his students.

He was a relatively late convert to the concept of wellbeing and happiness. As a psychologist, he recalls, happiness was regarded as the “froth on the cappuccino”, immeasurable and irrelevant to his profession.

“Thirty years ago there was no theory of wellbeing which distinguished it from suffering and no interventions that built wellbeing. That has changed over the past thirty years.”

It might seem obvious given the recent emphasis on wellbeing and happiness, but the focus of psychology and psychiatry was, for so long, on alleviating suffering and examining mental illness rather than the pursuit of happiness.

He defines wellbeing as what “non-suffering, non-oppressed people choose to do”. It pertains not only to individuals but also to corporations and even nation states.

Seligman’s  understanding of wellbeing includes the notion of “flourishing”, where human beings create the conditions for making the best of themselves and their circumstances.

Seligman’s model for wellbeing is made up of five building blocks summed up in the acronym PERMA: Positive emotion, Engagement, strong Relationships, Meaning and Accomplishment. These five concepts together represent a definition of wellbeing.

We add one more – Resilience – and use this framework in our training and coaching programmes as a springboard to help people explore what they feel most and least satisfied about in their work and lives, and what they can do to keep strong their highest elements and build up their lowest scoring elements.

Here then are the five+1 essential elements for flourishing:

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Positive emotion is feeling happy or comfortable in a situation, what we think of when we think of happiness.

Slide03

ways to find greater positive emotion

  • Use your Signature Strengths every day
  • Experience ~ do what you know makes you happiest
  • Gratitude ~ keep a Gratitude Journal for at least 21 days
  • Exercise ~ even 20minutes a day is better than none
  • Music ~ listen to music to lift or change your mood
  • Mindfulness exercises: focus in on your breathing – even 2minutes a day makes a very big difference
  • B A L A N C E ~ explore what this means to you and how you can get better balance in different aspects of your life

Engagement is when we are completely absorbed by something, whether it is our work, pastimes, making the dinner, or any activity that we find just the right level of challenge and interest to take our fullest and finest attention. This totally engaged state is known as “flow”, occurring when we are totally absorbed in what we are doing. Greater “flow” brings greater happiness.

Slide04

Slide05

Having strong Relationships relates to those that bring us benefit. Human beings are “hive creatures”, Seligman says, not just selfish individuals.

Slide06

Strong Relationships come from feeling respected and valued, loved and loving, and involves: love, compassion, kindness, gratitude, giving, teamwork and easy self-sacrifice.

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ways to build stronger relationships

The more you feel that you have made someone else happier the more ~ and the longer ~ you will feel happier yourself.

 

  • Really listen. Try to listen even more fully and openly.
  • Give ~ your time, your attention, your interest, yourself…
  • Appreciate ~ others, yourself, beauty and excellence
  • Share successes
  • Make moments to enjoy being with people who matter to you

Meaning is the extent to which you feel that what you doing adds up to something beyond and unrelated to your own self-interest and ego.  It is the idea making a positive difference to something you care about, of belonging to and serving something that you believe to be bigger than yourself, such as a cause or activity linked to your deepest values. “The more meaning people have at work, the more productive they are,” Seligman says.

Slide08Slide10

ways to increase your sense of meaning

Ask…  By doing this work what do I help to achieve?  What else?  What else? And what do these things help to achieve? …

4 Ways to Find Meaning in Any Job

  • Know what fuels you. Our personal values are hard-wired to our sense of purpose. When you know what you value right down in your bones, you’re able to anchor any activity or behaviour to a sense of something that genuinely matters, bringing your work alive with meaning and purpose. Discover what your values are and then look for how they can connect to what you do.
  • Turn up the texture of experience. Your sense of meaning can be found in the simple moments of life. Find ways to increase the intensity of what you bring by looking out for ways to be help, or show your warmth, or give your attention, or even by taking a deep breath of fresh air not because you’re stressed out, but because you love how it feels in your chest.
  • Leave a room better than when you found it. Decide never to leave a room until you’ve done something to contribute, make a difference, or leave it better than when you entered. Offer your insight or expertise, appreciate someone for something they’ve said or done, or simply give someone your fullest hearing.
  • Leave a little legacy as often as you can.  Look at your legacy as something you possess that you can gift to others by your own free will. Your time, consideration, skill, empathy, hospitality, experience — all of these things and more are things you can gift to others.

Accomplishment would appear to be self-evident, he states, but it is startling how self-discipline trumps talent. It is twice as important as IQ for predicting academic success, Seligman says.

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Accomplishment comes from a combination of our own internal source of pride in what we have done and achieved along with sufficient recognition and appreciation from others.  One of the top reasons people give for feeling unhappy at work is insufficient recognition and appreciation from their manager.  And Gallup’s research into strengths based leadership concluded that if every manager were to spend 3-5 times as much of their conversations with their people talking about their strengths and achievements as they do about their weaknesses and failings, this one change alone would triple people’s productivity, engagement and commitment to their work and the organisation.

Slide12

Slide13

Resilience means making the best of – even becoming stronger as a result of – setbacks, failure, hardship or trauma.  It involves elasticity, bouncing back, flexibility and is grown from the capabilities of optimism, courage, buoyancy, self-determination, and perseverance.

Resilience is “the capacity to mobilise personal features that enable individuals, groups and communities (including controlled communities such as a workforce) to prevent, tolerate, overcome and be enhanced by adverse events and experiences” (Mowbray, 2010).

Slide14

Seligman advocates simple techniques that will enhance one’s sense of wellbeing – one of which is to write down “three good things” that occur during the day.

“It turns out that when people do this, six months later they are less depressed and have higher positive emotion compared with a placebo.”

What works for the individual also works for larger organisations. Seligman pointed to research in the United States that showed a startling correlation between the type of language used on Twitter and incidences of fatal heart attacks.

One would seem ostensibly to have nothing to do with the other, but there was an unerring correlation between negative language used on the social media platform and increased risk of heart attacks.

“I think this is causal,” he says. “If you change the way people think and talk about the world, you can change things like the heart attack and death rates.”

The critical question, Seligman says, is whether PERMA can be taught. Can happiness be improved? Do these techniques work? Can the success or otherwise of such techniques be measured? He maintains the answer to all these questions is yes.

Studies in Bhutan have shown marked differences in schoolchildren to whom wellbeing was taught against a placebo group that was not taught wellbeing.

Bhutan has made national wellbeing – gross national happiness – a goal as distinct simply from gross national product. Children who were taught the techniques of positive psychology experience half the rate of depression and anxiety as adolescences, Seligman says.

Similarly, Seligman was employed by US army chief of staff George Casey to teach positive psychology to drill sergeants. Casey wanted an army that was mentally as well as physically fit and strong, and has spent €150 million teaching resilience psychology to soldiers.

The result has been a notable decrease in incidences of suicide, addiction and post-traumatic stress disorder. Governments should follow suit, Seligman says.

Happiness At Work - BMA

Post Script:

Here is one more quote from Martin Seligman, from when I heard him speak the Action for Happiness event in 2016:

I believe it is within our capacity that by the year 2051 that 51% of the human population will be flourishing. That is my charge.”  Martin Seligman

See also

Second Wave Positive Psychology: An Introduction

Learning to find light in the darkness…

Plus many more stories and articles in our eclectic collection:

Happiness At Work

Happiness At Work #124 ~ Happy UN International Day of Happiness 2015

For the International Day of Happiness 2015 we’re inviting everyone to focus on their connections with others.

This campaign is a global celebration to mark the United Nations International Day of Happiness. It is coordinated by Action for Happiness, a non-profit movement of people from 160 countries, supported by a partnership of like-minded organisations.

A profound shift in attitudes is underway all over the world. People are now recognising that ‘progress’ should be about increasing human happiness and wellbeing, not just growing the economy.

March 20 has been established as the annual International Day of Happiness and all 193 United Nations member states have adopted a resolution calling for happiness to be given greater priority.

In 2011, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution which recognised happiness as a “fundamental human goal” and called for “a more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes the happiness and well-being of all peoples”.

In 2012 the first ever UN conference on Happiness took place and the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution which decreed that the International Day of Happiness would be observed every year on 20 March. It was celebrated for the first time in 2013.

For the very first International Day of Happiness in 2013, events took place all over the world and we celebrated hundreds of “Happy Heroes” – those people in our communities who do so much to bring happiness to others.

The 2014 Day of Happiness campaign asked people to share authentic images of what makes them happy to “Reclaim Happiness” back from the fake commercial images of happiness that we are so often bombarded with. Many tens of thousands of people shared images and the social reach was estimated to be over 13 million people globally.

International Day of Happiness, 20 March 2015 – 7 Billion Others

“Once you start listening to music, you’ll feel happiness deep down your heart.”

Video portraits from Italy, India, South Africa, Algeria, Cambodia, Chad, and the USA to mark the International Day of Happiness.

On selected international days the United Nations Regional Information Centre for Western Europe (UNRIC), in partnership with the Good Planet Foundation, shares clips from the ‘7 billion Others’ project to communicate the dreams, hopes, and fears of citizens from all over world.

International Day of Happiness: Just how happy are you?

BBC News

Have you ever thought about what truly makes you happy?

It is a question the United Nations is asking us to think about, because it has branded Friday 20 March the International Day of Happiness.

The pursuit of happiness is in fact a very serious business, with experts claiming that loneliness can be twice as deadly as obesity.

See the video of Tim Muffett’s report for the BBC here

How to use staff happiness to boost your business

by Margaret Harris for The Sunday Times Business Times

Research by executive search company Korn Ferry has found that happy employees are good for business: happy staff generate more sales and are better at taking on challenges than those who are miserable in their jobs.

Michelle Moss, director of assessments at Korn Ferry’s alliance partner Talent Africa, said of the research: “Traditionally, staff members worked seriously hard on the job and had fun after hours, at the weekend or in retirement. Today, you are encouraged to be happy in your work and have fun making your workaday contribution.”

Moss has the following advice:

To increase their staff members’ happiness, some big companies provide on-site gyms, hair salons and other services. “The aim is higher staff retention, but the essential building block is employee happiness at the workplace,” she said;

Give staff “happiness injections” to motivate them when the job threatens to overwhelm them. These may take the form of support services, perks or efforts to make work more satisfying;

This process can sound manipulative, but it benefits the workers and the company: people feel good about themselves because they feel valued by their employer;

Celebrating wins, no matter how small, can help raise team spirit and lift morale;

and

Companies with happy employees are likely to be rewarded with increased productivity, lower absentee rates, contained recruitment costs and an easy flow of ideas.

read the original article here

Happy – 2015 UN International Day of Happiness – Pharrell Williams

UN to Create a Playlist of Happiness

What is happiness? The United Nations is teaming up with pop stars to create a playlist that asks, in musical form, that eternal question.

A campaign launched Monday is asking listeners around the world to post through social media the songs that make them happy, with the playlist to be revealed Friday on the UN-declared International Day of Happiness.

The curators who will assess the responses and determine the playlist include the British singer-songwriters Ed Sheeran and James Blunt, US singer-songwriter John Legend, French DJ David Guetta and the Portuguese pop star David Carreira.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who is not generally known for his rock star persona, announced the initiative in an MTV-style video in which he offered his vote for Stevie Wonder’s 1970 hit “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.”

Ban said that the song – also known to be a favorite of US President Barack Obama – represented his hopes for a successful agreement on climate change at a UN-led conference in Paris later this year.

The United Nations in 2012 declared an International Day of Happiness – which coincides with the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere – after an initiative by Bhutan, the Himalayan land that measures a “Gross National Happiness” instead of a standard economic indicator.

“On this day we are using the universal language of music to show solidarity with the millions of people around the world suffering from poverty, human rights abuses, humanitarian crises and the effects of environmental degradation and climate change,” Ban said.

Last year, the International Day of Happiness invited music fans around the world to dance to Pharrell Williams’ hit “Happy,” creating a viral sensation.

The campaign, which did not specify restrictions on genre, asked music fans to post songs on social media with the hashtag #HappySoundsLike. The playlist will be released by streaming service MixRadio.

read the original article here

Five Ways Music Can Make You Healthier

You might use music to distract yourself from painful or stressful situations, too. Or perhaps you’ve listened to music while studying or working out, hoping to up your performance. Though you may sense that music helps you feel better somehow, only recently has science begun to figure out why that is.

Neuroscientists have discovered that listening to music heightens positive emotion through the reward centres of our brain, stimulating hits of dopamine that can make us feel good, or even elated. Listening to music also lights up other areas of the brain — in fact, almost no brain centre is left untouched — suggesting more widespread effects and potential uses for music.

Music’s neurological reach, and its historic role in healing and cultural rituals, has led researchers to consider ways music may improve our health and wellbeing. In particular, researchers have looked for applications in health-care — for example, helping patients during post-surgery recovery or improving outcomes for people with Alzheimer’s. In some cases, music’s positive impacts on health have been more powerful than medication.

Here are five ways that music seems to impact our health and wellbeing.

Music reduces stress and anxiety

Research has shown that listening to music — at least music with a slow tempo and low pitch, without lyrics or loud instrumentation — can calm people down, even during highly stressful or painful events.

Music can prevent anxiety-induced increases in heart rate and systolic blood pressure, and decrease cortisol levels—all biological markers of stress. In one study, researchers found that patients receiving surgery for hernia repair who listened to music after surgery experienced decreased plasma cortisol levels and required significantly less morphine to manage their pain. In another study involving surgery patients, the stress reducing effects of music were more powerful than the effect of an orally-administered anxiolytic drug.

Performing music, versus listening to music, may also have a calming effect. In studies with adult choir singers, singing the same piece of music tended to synch up their breathing and heart rates, producing a group-wide calming effect. In a recent study, 272 premature babies were exposed to different kinds of music—either lullabies sung by parents or instruments played by a music therapist—three times a week while recovering in a neonatal ICU. Though all the musical forms improved the babies’ functioning, the parental singing had the greatest impact and also reduced the stress of the parents who sang.

Though it’s sometimes hard in studies like this to separate out the effects of music versus other factors, like the positive impacts of simple social contact, at least one recent study found that music had a unique contribution to make in reducing anxiety and stress in a children’s hospital, above and beyond social contributions.

Music decreases pain

Music has a unique ability to help with pain management. In a 2013 study, sixty people diagnosed with fibromyalgia — a disease characterised by severe musculoskeletal pain — were randomly assigned to listen to music once a day over a four-week period. In comparison to a control group, the group that listened to music experienced significant pain reduction and fewer depressive symptoms.

In another recent study, patients undergoing spine surgery were instructed to listen to self-selected music on the evening before their surgery and until the second day after their surgery. When measured on pain levels post surgery, the group had significantly less pain than a control group who didn’t listen to music.

It’s not clear why music may reduce pain, though music’s impact on dopamine release may play a role. Of course, stress and pain are also closely linked; so music’s impact on stress reduction may also partly explain the effects.

However, it’s unlikely that music’s impact is due to a simple placebo effect. In a 2014 randomised control trial involving healthy subjects exposed to painful stimuli, researchers failed to find a link between expectation and music’s effects on pain. The researchers concluded that music is a robust analgesic whose properties are not due simply to expectation factors.

Music may improve immune functioning

Can listening to music actually help prevent disease? Some researchers think so.

Wilkes University researchers looked at how music affects levels of IgA — an important antibody for our immune system’s first line of defence against disease. Undergraduate students had their salivary IgA levels measured before and after 30 minutes of exposure to one of four conditions — listening to a tone click, a radio broadcast, a tape of soothing music, or silence. Those students exposed to the soothing music had significantly greater increases in IgA than any of the other conditions, suggesting that exposure to music (and not other sounds) might improve innate immunity.

Another study from Massachusetts General Hospital found that listening to Mozart’s piano sonatas helped relax critically ill patients by lowering stress hormone levels, but the music also decreased blood levels of interleukin-6 — a protein that has been implicated in higher mortality rates, diabetes, and heart problems.

According to a 2013 meta-analysis, authors Mona Lisa Chanda and Daniel Levitin concluded that music has the potential to augment immune response systems, but that the findings to date are preliminary. Still, as Levitin notes in one article on the study, “I think the promise of music as medicine is that it’s natural and it’s cheap and it doesn’t have the unwanted side effects that many pharmaceutical products do.”

Music may aid memory

My now-teenage son always listens to music while he studies. Far from being a distraction to him, he claims it helps him remember better when it comes to test time. Now research may prove him right—and provide an insight that could help people suffering from dementia.

Music enjoyment elicits dopamine release, and dopamine release has been tied to motivation, which in turn is implicated in learning and memory. In a study published last year, adult students studying Hungarian were asked to speak, or speak in a rhythmic fashion, or sing phrases in the unfamiliar language. Afterwards, when asked to recall the foreign phrases, the singing group fared significantly better than the other two groups in recall accuracy.

Evidence that music helps with memory has led researchers to study the impact of music on special populations, such as those who suffer memory loss due to illness. In a 2008 experiment, stroke patients who were going through rehab were randomly assigned to listen daily either to self-selected music, to an audio book, or to nothing (in addition to receiving their usual care). The patients were then tested on mood, quality of life, and several cognitive measures at one week, three months, and 6 months post-stroke. Results showed that those in the music group improved significantly more on verbal memory and focused attention than those in the other groups, and they were less depressed and confused than controls at each measuring point.

In a more recent study, caregivers and patients with dementia were randomly given 10 weeks of singing coaching, 10 weeks of music listening coaching, or neither. Afterwards, testing showed that singing and music listening improved mood, orientation, and memory and, to a lesser extent, attention and executive functioning, as well as providing other benefits. Studies like these have encouraged a movement to incorporate music into patient care for dementia patients, in part promoted by organisations like Music and Memory.

Music helps us exercise

How many of us listen to rock and roll or other upbeat music while working out? It turns out that research supports what we instinctively feel: music helps us get a more bang for our exercise buck.

Researchers in the United Kingdom recruited thirty participants to listen to motivational synchronised music, non-motivational synchronised music, or no music while they walked on a treadmill until they reached exhaustion levels. Measurements showed that both music conditions increased the length of time participants worked out (though motivational music increased it significantly more) when compared to controls. The participants who listened to motivational music also said they felt better during their work out than those in the other two conditions.

In another study, oxygen consumption levels were measured while people listened to different tempos of music during their exercise on a stationary bike. Results showed that when exercisers listened to music with a beat that was faster and synchronous with their movement, their bodies used up oxygen more efficiently than when the music played at a slower, unsynchronised tempo.

According to sports researchers Peter Terry and Costas Karageorghis, “Music has the capacity to capture attention, lift spirits, generate emotion, change or regulate mood, evoke memories, increase work output, reduce inhibitions, and encourage rhythmic movement – all of which have potential applications in sport and exercise.”

read the original article here

Pharrell reminds kids to be happy on U.N. International Day of Happiness

Singer Pharrell Williams urges kids to seek happiness during the United Nation’s program for the International Day of Happiness.

Your Happiness Is Part of Something Bigger

by , Director of Action for Happiness

This Friday is not just the first day of spring, it is also the International Day of Happiness – a day to celebrate the things that contribute to human wellbeing and a flourishing society.

One of the strongest findings from all the research about wellbeing is the vital importance of our relationships. We are a deeply social species and we thrive when we’re closely connected to others. But modern society is undermining rather than enhancing these connections.

Our cities and public spaces are increasingly crowded, but more of us are living alone and fewer of us know our neighbours. The digital age promises endless connectivity, but we have fewer face-to-face interactions and often find ourselves paying more attention to the smartphone in our hand than the people we’re with.

The effects of this are devastating. Loneliness has been shown to be twice as deadly as obesity and is now becoming an epidemic among young adults as well as older people. Social isolation is as likely to cause early death as smoking.

Fortunately, there are lots of ways we can start to put this right. In particular, we need to give much greater priority to helping people at risk of loneliness and isolation and supporting the many excellent initiatives that address these issues, includingcampaigns, befriending services, social prescribing, helplines and more.

But this is also about how we treat the people around us in our daily lives. We can each play our own small but meaningful part in helping to create a happier, more connected world.

The theme for this year’s International Day of Happiness is “Your happiness is part of something bigger” – highlighting the importance of these small, everyday connections with others. The aim is to encourage people, wherever they are in the world, to reach out and make more positive connections with the people around them.

This can include simple everyday actions – like chatting to a neighbour, reconnecting with an old friend or sharing a few friendly words with a stranger in the supermarket.

Or it could be something more unusual. For example, Action for Happiness activists (or ‘Happtivists’ as they like to call themselves) are planning Positive Flash Mobs in various major cities, including Amsterdam, Barcelona, Bucharest, Kiev, London, Milan, Perth and Washington DC. The aim is to transform places where we normally ignore each other – like busy streets or train stations – into places of friendliness and connection.

And in the online world, many thousands more people will be supporting the day by sharing inspiring personal messages and images using the#InternationalDayOfHappiness hashtag. Our online relationships will never be quite as valuable as those we have in person, but the internet can still be a great tool for creating more positive connections.

Of course, just one day focused on spreading happiness is not enough by itself; it needs to be the trigger for wider and more sustained changes. That’s why Action for Happiness, the non-profit movement behind this campaign, is also working to encourage on-going action across society, through initiatives like Happy Cafés and theAction for Happiness course.

So if you’d like to help transform our disconnected society into a friendlier, happier and more connected place, visit www.dayofhappiness.net and download your free Happiness Pack which has lots of suggestions for how to get involved.

The International Day of Happiness will be more than just a fun celebration, it will also help to remind us all that the world is a better place when we connect with and care about the people around us.

As Mark Twain once said: “The best way to cheer yourself up is to cheer someone else up”.

read the original article here

The Key To Our Happiness Is Connection, Not Competition

There are two different sides to human nature. Both are important, but the balance between them has huge implications for our wellbeing, culture and future.

One side of our nature is self-interested. This is our in-built instinct to do whatever we can to survive and thrive, often at the expense of others. The other side is co-operative and leads us to help others even when there is no direct benefit for ourselves.

Although Charles Darwin is normally associated with the “survival of the fittest” theory, he also believed that our natural instinct was to care for others. In The Descent of Man he wrote that the communities most likely to flourish were “those with the most sympathetic members”, an observation backed up by research that we are wired to care about each other.

But we have such a strong cultural narrative about the selfish side of humanity that we adopt systems and behaviours that undermine our natural co-operative tendencies. This starts in schools, where the relentless focus on exams and attainment instills in young people the idea that success is about doing better than others. It continues in our marketing culture, which encourages conspicuous displays of consumption and rivalry.

It’s found at the heart of our workplaces, where employees compete with each other for performance-related rewards. It’s behind the self-interested behaviour that makes it so hard to overcome major societal challenges such as climate change.

This “get ahead or lose out” ethos not only fails to promote the better side of our nature, it’s also deeply flawed. In schools, helping young people to develop social and emotional skills doesn’t just enhance their wellbeing, it’s also been shown to boost their performance.

In workplaces, research from Adam Grant, professor of management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School shows that “givers” – people who help others without seeking anything in return – are more successful in the long term than “takers” – who try to maximise benefits for themselves, rather than others.

For society as a whole, the World Happiness Report 2013, a major global study, found that two of the strongest explanatory factors for national wellbeing are levels of social support and generosity. Our success as a society directly depends on the extent to which we see each other as a source of support rather than a source of threat.

Today is the International Day of Happiness and this year’s theme is “your happiness is part of something bigger”, focusing on the importance of connecting with and caring about the people around us. This matters for sustainability for three significant reasons.

Firstly, it is a timely reminder of the importance of collaboration and the need for systems thinking, both within and across organisations. This is the only way we can solve the major challenges in our increasingly complex and interconnected world.

Secondly, it links to the growing body of evidence including a recent paper from the University of Warwick that shows when people feel happier and more connected they are more productive at work. Dr Teresa Belton, researcher and visiting fellow at the University of East Anglia, has also shown it leads people tobehave in more environmentally sustainable ways.

Thirdly, the deeper message behind the International Day of Happiness is the need for a radical shift in the way we measure progress. This moves us away from chasing GDP growth at all costs and towards a more holistic view of wellbeing as the ultimate goal, taking future generations into account too.

This doesn’t just matter for business leaders and policy makers, it relates to the way that we each behave as individuals and how we treat others in our communities and working lives.

Today people all around the world are taking small actions to create more positive connections with others around them, whether at the office, in the shops, on the train or in their neighbourhood. These tiny moments of friendliness and co-operation aren’t trivial and meaningless; they are the vital lifeblood of a good society.

read the original article here

RSA Animate – The Empathic Civilisation

Bestselling author, political adviser and social and ethical prophet Jeremy Rifkin investigates the evolution of empathy and the profound ways that it has shaped our development and our society. Taken from a lecture given by Jeremy Rifkin as part of the RSA’s free public events programme.

Happiness At Work edition #124

You can find all of these articles and many more in our latest collection here

Resilience ~ the increasingly must-have skillset for us all

Southwick & Charney's 10 Essential Resilience Capabilities (BridgeBuilders STG Ltd. 2014)

Southwick & Charney’s 10 Essential Resilience Capabilities (BridgeBuilders STG Ltd. 2014)

The following post is adapted from materials we use in our resilience workshop and eLearning programmes.  We hope you find these useful.

Resilience is becoming one those things we are all expected to be good at – and it may even be starting to be seen as some kind of new panacea.

Last year Forbes predicted that it would be one of the key new trends in business.

The UK Government has called for resilience to be taught in schools and resilience is being looked to for our economic recovery and future success.

In their book, ‘Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back,’ co-authors by Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy feature a type of workplace resilience which has involved innovative CEOs all over America and abroad to hire Marketplace Chaplains to provide pastoral care and go some new ways to meet the increasing sense of value in employee wellbeing.

[vimeo http://vimeo.com/43835504 w=700&h=400]

 Zolli described the thinking in a recent New York Times piece, Learning to Bounce Back

“[A] new dialogue is emerging around a new idea, resilience: how to help vulnerable people, organisations and systems persist, perhaps even thrive, amid unforeseeable disruptions. Where sustainability aims to put the world back into balance, resilience looks for ways to manage in an imbalanced world.”

Similar trends are being noticed in the UK.  Here are some thoughts by Stefan Stern from his January 2014 Guardian article:

Yes, teach workers resilience – but they’ll still have a breaking point

"Everyone has a breaking point, no matter how stiff their upper lip"

“Everyone has a breaking point, no matter how stiff their upper lip”

As the global economic race sets in, it is leaders’ responsibility to organise work in a way that does not harm people’s health

This “global race” business is no laughing matter. It’s as if the organisers of the London 2012 Olympics want us all to stay in training. The language of fitness and athleticism is everywhere: we have to be flexible, we have to be agile, we have to be nimble.

And now, it seems, we have to be resilient too. The civil service is the latest organisation to support “resilience training” as a way of helping staff deal with the pressures of work. Ursula Brennan, permanent secretary at the ministry of justice, told the FT that colleagues could benefit from developing coping skills in today’s tougher climate.

Who could be against resilience, or greater fitness come to think of it? The healthy worker may be more resistant to colds and flu, and will have the energy to keep going when others start to tire. Economists continue to worry about the chronic poor productivity in the UK. A lack of resilience may have something to do with it. Whether you are on a late or early shift, there is work to be done and targets to be hit. That means being ready and able to perform.

But what are we really talking about when we use the word “resilience”?

Calmly rising above the daily irritations of the workplace is one thing. Suppressing anxiety in an attempt to appear in control is another. If the demands being made on people are unreasonable then trying to stay resilient may be unwise. Everyone has a breaking point, no matter how stiff their upper lip.

Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of the mental health charity Mind, says this. “Talking about mental health is still a taboo in many workplaces,” He supports “any training which can equip staff with the skills they need to help look after their own mental wellbeing”.

There is a caveat, however. Resilience should not be seen as a way of putting up with anything. “Nobody should be expected to cope with ever-increasing demands, excessive workloads and longer working hours,” he says.

What really adds to stress and a sense of powerlessness at work is a loss of autonomy, either as a result of poor work organisation or the impossibility of being able to speak up. And while it might seem refreshing to hear a senior civil servant discussing the need for a more open culture and better two-way communication between bosses and employees, if this doesn’t happen in practice then stress levels are likely to rise.

But a positive mindset can go a long way to help individuals to overcome the most difficult of situations.

Resilience is definitely something that can be learned and is worth cultivating – it increases our power and range of choices over our circumstances – whatever they may be – and therefore, ultimately, the outcomes we produce.

And it is important to note that healthy adaptation to stress depends not only on the individual, but also on available resources through family, friends and variety of organisations, and on the characteristics of specific cultures and religions, communities, societies and governments – all of which in themselves may be more or less resilient.

Mark Trezona 2014

“The forces of fate that bear down on man and threaten to break him also have the capacity to ennoble him.” – Elisabeth S. Lukas, a protégé’ of the neurologist, psychologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl,

What is resilience?

It is estimated that up to 90% of us will experience at least one serious traumatic event in our lives.

Traumatic events throw our lives into turmoil in unpredictable ways; no two people will respond to them in exactly the same manner.

For some, the stress of the event will become chronic, lasting for years.

But most of us find ways to meet the challenge and continue with purposeful lives. For a period after their ordeal we may become distressed, but in time we will bounce back and carry on. For some, it will be almost as if the trauma had never occurred. For others, the distress will persist, but they will find healthy ways to cope.

And some survivors will even grow stronger and wiser because of their trauma. These survivors may report that their tragedy has helped them to appreciate life more, to become closer to family and friends, to find greater meaning, and sometimes to embark on a new mission in life. In the words of Elisabeth S. Lukas, a protégé’ of the neurologist, psychologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, “The forces of fate that bear down on us and threaten to break us also have the capacity to ennoble us.”

Shawn Achor – who talks about resilience specifically in Principle 4 – “Falling Up” of his Happiness Advantage model:

“The people who can most successfully get themselves up off the mat after failure or setbacks are those that define themselves not by what has happened to them, but by what they can make out of what happened.”

Defining resilience

Resilience is complex, multidimensional and dynamic in nature.

Resilience - an increasingly must-have skillset

Resilience – an increasingly must-have skillset

Zolli and Healy define resilience as “the capacity … of a person to maintain their core purpose and integrity in the face of dramatically changed circumstances…”

In people, resilience refers to the ability to continue to survive and even to thrive after encountering difficulty. The American Psychological Association defines it as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats and even significant sources of stress – such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace or financial stresses.’

In his book Aging Well, Harvard University psychologist George Vaillant (2002) describes resilient individuals as resembling “a twig with a fresh, green living core. When twisted out of shape, such a twig bends, but it does not break; instead it springs back and continues growing”

Resilience has been defined as an attitude that enables the individual to examine, enhance and utilise the strengths, characteristics and other resources available to him or her. Further expansions of this definition of resilience include:

An individual’s response and methods used to allow them to successfully navigate through or past an event perceived to be stressful.

“The flexibility in response to changing situational demands, and the ability to bounce back from negative emotional experiences” (Tugade et al, 2004) or “a set of flexible cognitive, behavioural and emotional responses to acute or chronic adversities which can be unusual or common place.” (Neenan, 2010).

“The capacity to mobilise personal features that enable individuals, groups and communities (including controlled communities such as a workforce) to prevent, tolerate, overcome and be enhanced by adverse events and experiences” (Mowbray, 2010).

The term “bouncing back” is used to describe resilience, but this belies the struggles and adaptations that an individual has to make in order to emerge stronger from a stressful situation and the growth that is part of resilience.

Dimensions of Personal Resilience

Resilience is far more than a simple psychological trait or biological phenomenon. In order to truly understand it, researchers must approach it from multiple perspectives and examine it through a number of different scientific lenses,

Here are the five human dimensions of resilience, mapped on to our favourite tool for developing greater resilience: Southwick & Charney’s 10 Essential Resilience Capabilities model (more about this below):

 

5 Dimensions of Resilience mapped onto Southwick & Charney's 10 Essential Capabilities (Mark Trezona 2014)

5 Dimensions of Resilience mapped onto Southwick & Charney’s 10 Essential Capabilities (Mark Trezona 2014)

Emotional   Organisation, problem solving, self-determination.

“Approaching life’s challenges in a positive, optimistic way by demonstrating self-control, stamina and good character with your choices and actions.”

When faced with a difficulty we will appraise the situation and make an assessment of whether or not our own skills are sufficient to navigate the event successfully. If we feel there is a deficiency, this can lead to reduced optimism and positivity. Having prior experience of successful problem solving increases our confidence and can assist in the development of a positive attitude.

People with high levels of determination are strong self-believers: they believe that they will be able to tackle most things, which gives them positive feelings of being able to make choices and keep at least some control over what is happening.

Psychological   Vision, self-confidence, self-determination.

“Strengthening a set of beliefs, principles or values that sustain you beyond family, institution and societal sources of strength.”

Having a vision gives us a sense of purpose and direction to one’s life. Without a life vision, activities and actions have a reduced value and therefore affect the effort and determination that will be applied to overcoming the obstacles that get in the way of achieving the goals associated with the vision.

It also means that when competing demands arrive it is easier to allocate time and energy according to your goals/vision, giving precedence to the things that have the greatest worth for you.

Having goals is essential to our survival, and having a strong personal vision contribute to our self-confidence, hope and excitement about the future.

Physical   Self-determination, vision, self-confidence.

“Performing and excelling in physical activities that require aerobic fitness, endurance, strength, healthy body composition and flexibility derived through exercise, nutrition and training.”

This dimension recognises that feeling as physically fit and healthy as we can be is an essential aspect of resilience. What physical exercise contributes to our resilience comes from the degree of effort we make, and the commitment to an exercise programme over a sustained period of time, usually a minimum of 20 to 30 minutes of significant effort three times per week over three to four months (Leith, 2010).

A commitment to a lasting and stretching exercise programme requires self-determination, and achievement of this contributes to mood control, creates positive emotions and raises self-confidence and, consequently, self-belief.

Social   Interaction, relationships, self-confidence.

“Developing and maintaining trusted, valued relationships and friendships that are personally fulfilling and foster good communication including a comfortable exchange of ideas, views and experiences.”

We need others in order to survive, and more we are able to reach out and strengthen our interactions the better. Mowbray advocates strengthening our ability to create reciprocity, the ability to respond, understand and assist in the needs of others – ‘first seek to understand…’ – and, in return, others will respond what we need.

Our own personal resilience can be hugely affected by relationships at work, including the effect of line managers. If our manager is limiting our progression, subtly or overtly, it will be a challenge not to allow this to affect how we feel about ourselves,. Our resilience demands that we can avoid feeling “hard done by” attitude, and remain connected and engaged in our work. (Of course, a manager who invests time in encouraging and nurturing us helps us to build up our psychological capital and to be more resilient when we need to be.)

Family   Relationships, interaction, vision, self-confidence.

“Being part of a unit that is safe, supportive, loving and provides all the resources needed for all members to live in a healthy and secure environment.”

Everyone needs a relationship where they feel safe enough to “just be themselves” without any fear of belittlement, ostracising or other forms of behaviour that make the individual feel that they need to adapt and modify their behaviour. Usually this comes from within the family structure and it is these relationships that can either be supportive and nourishing, or the most punitive and damaging, in which case we will need to develop considerable resilience.

 

What makes some people resilient?

Can the average person learn to become more resilient?

We now know that most of us bounce back naturally from the setbacks and hard times we face.

 

Resilience Curve - most of us with come through whatever setbacks and traumas we face; some us will make ourselves better as a result of dealing with our difficulties (Mark Trezona 2014)

Resilience Curve – most of us with come through whatever setbacks and traumas we face; some us will make ourselves better as a result of dealing with our difficulties (Mark Trezona 2014)

A small minority of us will get trapped and unable to move beyond the trauma we have faced without significant help – this is what we recognise as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The same percentage of us are so experts at resilience, that they not only bounce back, they grow stronger and believe things to be somehow finer as a result of their experience dealing with the tough times they have had to face.

And these are the people – dozens of them – that psychiatrists Stephen Southwick and Dennis Charney studied to create their 10 Essential Resilience Capabilities that we have based our starfish model on

Southwick & Charney interviewed three different groups of people:

  1. Former Vietnam Prisoners Of War who, like Viktor Frankl, had to survive and come through severe deprivation and sometimes long periods of what might appear to have been insurmountable and never-ending hopelessness
  2. American Special Forces Instructors – who have to train their people to be resilient in advance of almost certain trauma and who are now systematically using techniques for this not just from this model but from Martin Seligman’s Signature Strengths and Positive Psychology teachings too, and are seeing significantly reduced numbers of returning servicemen and women suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
  3. And the third group of people Southwick and Charney interviewed were civilian men and women who had not only survived enormous stress and trauma, but had somehow endured or thrived, including many of the survivors and protagonists from the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Bouncing back is a choice – but the choice is easier for some

Here is what they write in summary of their extensive research:

When we began this project we assumed that highly resilient people were somehow special, perhaps genetically gifted. We assumed that resilience was relatively rare, reserved for a select group of individuals. But we were wrong.

Resilience is common (Masten, 2001). It can be witnessed all around us, and for most people it can be enhanced through learning and training.

Millions of people all over the world exhibit resilience in their responses to challenging events and circumstances of all kinds.

Most us have been taught to believe that stress is bad.  We have learned to see stress as our enemy, something that we must avoid or reduce.  But the truth is, when stress can be managed, it tends to be very good and even necessary for health and growth.  Without it, the mind and body weaken.  If we can learn to harness stress it can serve as a catalyst for developing greater strength and even wisdom.

And yet we need to acknowledge that building resilience and bouncing back is easier for some that it is for others.

And it is important to say that if you ever feel what you are facing is too much to cope with, and do seek expert help and guidance.

It is vital not to feel that simply by learning these techniques we are then on our own and should be able to make things work for ourselves

Sometimes we need to ask for help and sometimes that help needs to come from a professional in this field.

 

"Falling Up" - Principle #4 of Shawn Achor's Happiness Adavantage

“Falling Up” – Principle #4 of Shawn Achor’s Happiness Adavantage

How Resilient Are You?

Jan Bruce, CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium.com, the online stress management system that teaches people “how to find balance, once and for all,” concludes that there are four key components that contribute to resilience. 

 If there’s a word people in the top ranks of human capital are buzzing about these days, it’s resilience…

The fact is, resilience in a person is far more than a tough-as-Teflon surface or rubbery resolve that helps you rebound from stress or disappointment. Because while we humans are arguably all made from the same stuff, some of us clearly have a way of thriving even when times are tough and stress is unabating.

The four essentials that make the critical difference between hanging tough to get what you want in life and never quite getting there. The most resilient among us can summon these components at will—or, better yet, make them habitual so they don’t have to think twice.

1.   You believe in yourself. Seems simple and obvious, but in fact, you won’t get very far without this. A resilient person is not cocky or overly confident; quite the opposite: they have a clear sense of their own potential, capability, and ability to cope and achieve — a top trait of resilient people.

It’s this belief that contributes to self-efficacy, which means not only your ability to do a thing but to access the resources to get the help you need.

2.   You have the ability to see what is possible, while also seeing what is.  Optimism has been touted as above-all important, but resilient people temper this with a less-is-more approach. Blind optimism is a liability, but tempered with clear vision, an optimistic outlook is an asset, and I’m far more likely to trust someone with a sense of realistic optimism than someone who refuses to take into account the downsides in the “spirit of positivity.” The most resilient people assess their surroundings as well as their own strengths and weaknesses in context, and know where they will excel — and where they will fall short.

At the same time, they have a positive bias—they expect good things from the world and from other people. It’s this kind of outlook that allows them to do what’s also critical: to see the world for what it is. And you need both. The clear vision is what gives you the power to assess what is and what you need to do about it (realism), and at the same time keep expecting good things. Because if you truly believe that there’s nothing and no one good left, you won’t be able to function, let alone thrive.

3.   You have control over your impulses and feelings. With the ability to self-evaluate and assess a situation must come the willingness to manage the impulses and emotions that result. This is where a resilient person’s rubber meets the road.

The most resilient people aren’t hotheads; they don’t combust over little (or big) things. They’re able to take everything into account before they respond so that they don’t make mistakes, rash decisions, or other actions they may regret. Unchecked emotions and impulses not only contribute to those actions, but can cost them some self-preservation, as they’re big contributors to stress. This takes a lot of practice, no question! We’ll spend our lives learning to be better. But it is a skill that can be learned and honed, and the most resilient among us know that.

4.   You aim high and reach out.  A resilient person doesn’t curl up and die over the slightest rejection or failure. In fact, a resilient person does the opposite of curl up; they expand. They reach out—even in the wake of crisis.

This is one of the most distinguishing characteristics of resilience: Your ability to continue to aim high and reach for it, as opposed to lowering your standards, expectations, or efforts. So when things don’t go your way (as they sometimes don’t), and you feel hindered or pushed back, your inner resilience can keep you coming back, and reaching out, not just to “try again,” but to outdo yourself, once again.

Link to read the original Forbes article

We can all learn to be more resilient

We have chosen the starfish to be the poster image of Southwick & Charney’s model, because starfish are one of those extraordinary beings that are capable of growing themselves back if they lose a part of themselves – in fact they can re-grow themselves from a single cell. So if they lose an arm , little by little over time they can grow it back.

Neuroplasticity is our human form of this perpetual capacity for growth.  This is “the ability of the nervous system to respond to intrinsic or extrinsic stimuli by reorganising its structure, function and connections.”

You may recognise this idea from other teachings from the science of happiness, for example Shawn Achor’s Tetris Effect principle, and we know from other studies that if we keep a Gratitude Journal or make a 3 Good Things list every day, after 21 days we have physically rewired the circuitry in our brains so that we are autonomically scanning for these things without any longer having to deliberately choose to.

When cells in the brain are actively used, they transmit their messages more efficiently, and form more connections with other cells. On the other hand, when brain cells are not stimulated, they die and are pruned away. As with other regions of the body, the well-known adage of “use it or lose it” also applies to the brain.

By repeatedly activating specific areas of the brain, we can strengthen those areas. In other words, by systematically following the advice of the POWs, Special Forces instructors and other resilient women and men from Southwick & Charney’s study, we. too, can become more stress-resilient.

So here are the 10 capabilities that Southwick & Charney discovered that all of the highly expert resilient individuals they interviewed used in their response to stress, difficulty and trauma…

 

Southwick & Charney's 10 Essential Resilience Capabilities, (Mark Trezona, 2014)

Southwick & Charney’s 10 Essential Resilience Capabilities, (Mark Trezona, 2014)

Expert resilience involves…

  1. Realistic Optimism ~ keeping an optimistic but realistic outlook;
  2. Facing Fear ~ confronting fears;
  3. trusting and relying upon our own inner Moral Compass;
  4. Religion & Spirituality ~ having a religious or spiritual practice and finding a way to accept what we cannot change;
  5. seeking out and accepting Social Support; and
  6. imitating strong Resilient Role Models;
  7. Physical Fitness ~ attending to our health and wellbeing, and exercising sufficiently intensively to stay physically fit;
  8. Brain Fitness ~ keeping mentally sharp and emotionally strong;
  9. Cognitive & Emotional Flexibility ~ active problem solving, looking to uncover meaning and opportunity in the midst of adversity and even found humour in the bleakest moments;
  10. Meaning & Purpose ~ Finally, resilience means accepting to a very high degree responsibility for our own emotional wellbeing, and even deliberately using our most difficult experiences as a platform for personal growth.

Taken together these are the capabilities that can make us strong and highly resilient and, thus, far more able to – as Shawn Achor words it – Fall Up when we encounter problems and setbacks in our work – as well as in our lives.

 

1. Realistic Optimism: belief in a brighter future

Ignition: Realistic Optimism, Resilience Capability #1

Ignition: Realistic Optimism, Resilience Capability #1

Optimism serves as fuel that ignites resilience and provides energy to power all of the other resilience factors. It facilitates an active and creative approach to coping with stressful situations.

Optimism is a future-oriented attitude, involving hope and confidence that things will turn out well. Optimists believe that the future will be bright, that good things will happen to them, and that, with enough hard work, they will succeed. Pessimists, in contrast, see the future as dim. They believe that bad things will happen to them and doubt that they have the skills and stamina to achieve their goals.

BUT Blind optimism doesn’t work

Realistic optimists pay close attention to negative information that is relevant to the problems they face. However, unlike pessimists, they do not remain focused on the negative. They tend to disengage rapidly from problems that appear to be unsolvable. That is, they know when to cut their losses and turn their attention to problems that they believe that they can solve.

How does optimism increase resilience?

Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson observes that positive emotions have been shown to reduce physiological arousal and to broaden our visual focus, our thoughts and our behaviour. When people experience positive emotions and an accompanying broadening of attention and behaviour, their thinking tends to become more creative, inclusive, flexible and integrative. Experiments have shown that inducing a positive mood (e.g. by showing participants a funny movie or reading them a funny story) increases people scope of attention, their abilities to solve problems accurately, and their interest in socialising and in strenuous as well as leisurely activities. Thus, by broadening attention and action, positive emotions can contribute to our creativity, physical health, relationships with family and friends, and our ability to acquire new knowledge, and our psychological resilience.

Three coping mechanisms related to broadening attention include:

Positive reappraisal of trying circumstances

When optimists broaden their attention, they increase their capacity to positive reappraise situations that initially appear to be negative. The process of reframing allows them to approach hardship as a challenge and to find opportunity embedded in adversity. Optimists who are realists don’t deny the difficulties they face, but they do tend to look for a silver lining.

 Goal-directed, problem-focused coping

Optimists tend to cope with stress by actively employing strategies to solve problems. They gather information, acquire necessary skills, plan, set goals, make decisions, resolve conflicts, and seek social support. Research has shown that optimism and positive expectations tend to promote active striving, while pessimism and negative expectations are associated with feelings of weakness and helplessness that may lead to unhelpful behaviours like self-pity, resentment, denial and avoidance of problems.

Infusion of meaning into ordinary events

Optimists are more likely than pessimists to report that their lives are meaningful. While it is widely believed that a sense of meaning and purpose enhances positive emotions and happiness, researchers have recently begun to ask whether it also works the other way around – whether positive emotions and feelings of happiness can enhance one’s belief that life has meaning. The optimist may be more likely than the pessimist to see the ‘big picture’ and to view daily experiences within a larger framework of meaning.

The neuroscience of optimism

The prefrontal cortex is essential for guiding behaviour, regulating emotions, and understanding the difference between potential rewards and punishments. It is also essential for imagining the future and setting goals – functions that relate directly to optimism. The prefrontal cortex enables us to engage in optimistic processes like hoping for the best and imagining a bright future, anticipating and preparing to meet a challenge, and making plans to achieve and enjoy success.

The prefrontal cortex is also involved in learning. Even though optimism has a substantial hereditary component, it can be augmented through learning. Even if you are a born pessimist, or a very limited situational optimist, you can teach yourself to increase optimistic thought.

Ways to become more optimistic

One way to increase optimism involves learning a set of cognitive skills that are part of what Martin Seligman has termed ‘learned optimism.

Social scientists and cognitive behaviourists describe two basic approaches for learning and enhancing optimism: increasing positive thinking; and refuting negative thinking. With practice we can teach ourselves to think or insert positive thoughts. We can also teach ourselves not to dwell on negative thoughts. To do this we must learn to distinguish negative thoughts and then to challenge their accuracy.

  •  Use the power of Positive Thinking

Here are some of The Power of Positive Thinking author Vincent Peale recommendations:

Make a true estimate of your ability and then raise it by 10%.

Formulate and stamp indelibly on your mind a mental picture of yourself as succeeding. Always picture success no matter how badly things seem to be going at the moment.

Practice positive and peaceful thinking by making a list of positive and peaceful thoughts and pass them through your mind several times each day.

Practice the technique of suggestive articulation, that is, repeat out loud some positive, success-oriented and peaceful words.

Do not build up obstacles in your imagination.

Adopt an “I don’t believe in defeat” attitude.

Start each day by affirming positive, successful, peaceful and happy attitudes and your days will tend to be pleasant and successful.

  • Spend time with positive people

Two of Peale’s other recommendations, to cultivate friendships with hopeful people and to avoid “worry conversations,” bear special emphasis. Optimism and pessimism can both be contagious, so it is often beneficial to intentionally surround ourselves with people who are positive, confident and encouraging. Under adverse circumstances, people are best able to call upon their own resilience and keep their hopes up if people around them are doing the same.

Ways to Develop Realistic Optimism

Ways to Develop Realistic Optimism

How optimists and pessimists think

Psychologists like Martin Seligman have found that pessimists and optimists have very different explanatory styles (ways of explaining bad a good events to themselves and others.) Optimists tend to respond to adverse events by viewing the consequences as temporary and limited in scope. They are likely to use words such as “sometimes” or “lately.” In addition, optimistic people tend to have an internal locus of control – the belief that they can influence events in their lives.

  • Learn to modify your explanatory style

One practical approach to enhancing optimism involves learning to recognise and modify your typical explanatory style. Developing these cognitive skills may also prove useful when dealing with adversity.

When something bad happens:

Remember that these difficulties won’t last forever. Take one day at a time. Where now there may be only pain, over time good things will return.

Keep the adverse event or situation within its limits: don’t let it pervade other areas of your life.

Think of strengths and resources you can use to help deal with the problem.

Notice what is good, for example, acts of kindness by those who recognise your struggle.

And when something good happens:

Give yourself credit for whatever part you played in making it happen.

Allow yourself to feel grateful for whatever part you didn’t play in it – the efforts or generosity of others, or just simple good luck.

Get the most out of it: think of ways to expand the scope and duration of the positive event or situation.

  • Question your negative beliefs

There is also evidence that we can build optimism by confronting negative thoughts and emotions.

One practical approach to enhancing optimism involves learning to recognise and modify your typical explanatory style. Developing these cognitive skills may also prove useful when dealing with adversity. Here are a few tips.

When something bad happens:

Remember that these difficulties won’t last forever. Take one day at a time. Where now there may be only pain, over time good things will return.

Keep the adverse event or situation within its limits: don’t let it pervade other areas of your life.

Think of strengths and resources you can use to help deal with the problem.

Notice what is good, for example, acts of kindness by those who recognise your struggle.

And when something good happens:

Give yourself credit for whatever part you played in making it happen.

Allow yourself to feel grateful for whatever part you didn’t play in it – the efforts or generosity of others, or just simple good luck.

Get the most out of it: think of ways to expand the scope and duration of the positive event or situation.

In his book Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman recommends responding to negative thoughts “as if they were uttered by an external person whose mission is to make your life miserable.” Sometimes it is helpful to ask yourself specific questions in order to refute negative beliefs. These may include:

  • What is the evidence for this negative belief?
  • Is there a less destructive way to look at this belief?
  • What are the implications of this belief?
  • Am I catastrophising or exaggerating the potential negative impact of the situation?
  • Am I over-generalising, falsely assuming that this particular situation has broad implications?
  • How useful is my pessimistic approach to the problem at hand?

2. Facing fear: an adaptive response

To become more resilient, sooner or later we will need ton face our fears.

Moving Forward: Facing Fears, Resilience Capability #2

Moving Forward: Facing Fears, Resilience Capability #2

Can we prevent or undo fear conditioning?

What happens if you don’t get back on the horse right away? Does there come a time when it’s too late? The answer appears to be no. Until recently it was believed that once a memory had been consolidated into long-term storage it remains essentially permanent. However, newer research suggests that every tie a memory is retrieved it once again becomes unstable for a brief period of time until it is reconsolidated. This unstable period provides another window of time during which the memory can be updated and transformed.

Focus on the goal or mission

“What are my goals? What is my mission? What is the mission of my group? In order to meet my goals and accomplish my mission, I know that I must make a choice, either back down and fail, or face this fear and forge ahead. It’s that simple.

Acquire information about what is feared

“A big part of true fear is the fear of the unknown, when you don’t know what’s going to happen to you. You can’t anticipate, but you think it’s going to be horrible. But most scenarios that we face, we have already learned about from people, from our own experience, or whatever.

Learn and practice the skills necessary to master the fear

“Of all the autonomic responses to the adrenaline rush – including heart rate, respiration, skin conductivity, and muscle tension – the one that we can best control consciously is respiration. Deep, controlled breathing is largely incompatible with the other elements of the fear response. Physical relaxation can get you to the point where mental relaxation, and therefore outward focus, can be re-established and maintained.” (West Point instructor Col. Thomas Kolditz)

Face fear with friends or colleagues

Most people find it easier to face fear with other people, especially those that they know and trust.

Get someone or an organisation to push you

“After you do one thing and conquer it, the next thing will be a little bit easier.”

Fear is ubiquitous. No one escapees its grip. But what is the best way to deal with it? The bottom line: the best way around fear is through it. To conquer fear one must face fear. That’s what resilient people do.

 3. Moral Compass

Moral Compass, Resilience Capability #3

Moral Compass, Resilience Capability #3

In their interviews Southwick & Charney found that the most resilient individuals possessed a keen sense of right and wrong that strengthened them during periods of extreme stress and afterward, as they adjusted to life following trauma. And they also showed high levels of altruism – selflessness, concern for the welfare of others, and giving to others with no expectation of benefit to the self – often stood as a pillar of their value system, or their “moral compass.”

Actively identifying your core values, assessing the degree to which you are living by these values, and challenging yourself to adopt a higher standard can strengthen character and build resilience.

Training for moral compass

Courage is a learned quality, an acquirable set of skills, a practiced competence. If I want to develop my moral courage, where do I begin? In his book Moral Courage Rushworth Kidder outlines a three-step process.

  1.  First, I must perform a candid self-assessment by examining myself, openly and honestly. We all have core values and beliefs. What are mine? Which are the most important to me? Am I living by these principles and values? Am I falling short, and if so, where? Am I motivated to change? Do I have the courage to do so?This self-assessment is only the first step.
  2. Next Kidder recommends that I discuss these questions with highly principled people whose ethics I admire. These discussion can then help me recognise and analyse the numerous situations in life where my actions have moral implications, and to honestly evaluate the risks and dangers involved in defending my core values.
  3. In the third step I practice my moral values and try to uphold them in challenging situations. I need to remain vigilant because it is all too easy to relax our values, make compromises. By repeatedly doing what I know to be right and by taking a stand I solidify my moral compass and grow stronger.

 

Adherence to our own moral compass and resilience are often inextricably linked to one another. We can become more faithful to our moral compass by taking an inventory of our most closely held beliefs and values, by learning from the writings and examples of ethical men and women, by discussing our beliefs with people whose values we respect, and by practising our values, particularly in times of adversity. Step by step we can build our moral courage. When we most need to do the right thing, we will be ready.

4. Spiritual Practice

Spiritual Practice, Resilience Capability #4

Spiritual Practice, Resilience Capability #4

Perhaps more than any of the other resilience factors, religion and spirituality are deeply personal matters about which people have strong feelings. As a potential source of strength and resilience, religion and spirituality, mindfulness and meditation are practiced by billions of people across the planet.

 

There is no one best way to explore the spiritual dimensions of your life or to build spiritual practice. Here are some approaches that may be useful if this is something you do want to try:

  • Set aside a time for contemplation, meditation or prayer as a part of your daily routine. This is often first thing in the morning, last thing at night, or both.
  • Make a regular habit of reading writings pertaining to your beliefs or practice.
  • Designate a physical location for you daily spiritual practice.
  • Practice a physically active form of spirituality such as walking prayer, yoga, martial arts or liturgical dance.
  • Practice a creative form of spirituality such as chanting, singing or playing music, painting or drawing or writing poetry.
  • Become part of a group – physical or online – that worships or practices together.

5. Social Support

Whenever we look at learning to be happier and more resilient we repeatedly find the importance of having strong relationships. They are essential for our happiness at work, they are essential for our success and productivity and they are an equally essential element in our repertoire of resilience capabilities.

In order to thrive in this world, people need other people.

Giving & Getting Social Support, Resilience Capability #5

Giving & Getting Social Support, Resilience Capability #5

Far from signifying weakness, interdependence with others can provide a foundation for resilience.

Social neuroscience provides clues to the biology of relationships

Researchers have found that oxytocin is released during social situations where it appears to facilitate interpretation of social signals, enhance recognition, increase feelings of affiliation, and promote social approach. Oxytocin’s actions to reducing amygdala activation and arousal may help to explain why positive support from others can reduce stress.

Supportive social networks have the power to protect us and strengthen us.

Those who know how to build strong social support networks reap many benefits. Strong positive relationships are associated with better physical health, protection against depression and stress disorders, enhanced emotional wellbeing, and longer life. In our experience most resilient individuals take advantage of the profound strengthening effects of positive social networks.

But for most of us, our support network, even if it is extensive and strong, will not automatically reach out to embrace us when we are most in need. Rather, we would be wise to follow the example of the resilient people in this study by taking action, reaching out, and ‘leaning into’ those who care about us most.

Very few resilient individuals go it alone, and neither should you.

6. Imitating Resilient Role Models

All of the resilient individuals interviewed have role models whose beliefs, attitudes and behaviours inspire them.

Imitating Resilient Role Models, Resilience Capability #6

Imitating Resilient Role Models, Resilience Capability #6

Role models need not be perfect. Everyone has their own unique strengths and weaknesses and we believe that searching for the perfect role model is futile.

How can I use role models to become more resilient?

When trying to model behaviour begin by carefully studying the behaviour. Then:

  1. Break it into simple segments: if you want to use modelling to learn a complex skill, it helps to subdivide it into simple segments and then focus on one segment at a time. If, on the other hand, you try to model the entire complex behaviour (e.g. becoming more resilient) you will likely be bombarded with too much information, will make many errors, and will have great difficulty mastering the skill.
  2. Observe the skill in a variety of settings: breaking a complex skill into simpler segments will require time and concentration. You will need to observe the skill numerous times and in a variety of settings.
  3. Practice: you will find it helpful to practice between observations. You may do this by imagining that you possess a particular attitude, personality style or behaviour that resembles that of your role model, or by actually enacting the desired attitude, style or behaviour. Both forms of practice appear to be effective, although real life enactment is eventually required for successful imitation.
  4. Obtain constructive feedback whenever possible. An expert, or someone with a trained eye, can point out similarities and differences between what you are doing and what you are attempting top model. This expert can then recommend steps to correct deviations from the model.

7. Physical Fitness

Training, physical fitness and strengthening

Training, Physical Fitness & Strengthening, Resilience Capability #7

Training, Physical Fitness & Strengthening, Resilience Capability #7

It’s no secret that physical training is good for your health.

Physical training and mastering physical challenges can also improve mood, cognition and emotional resilience.

Exercise makes us tougher, boosts recovery after trauma and improves our physical and mental health.

How can you use exercise to increase your resilience?

In his book The Power of Full Engagement Jim Loehr writes:

“Growth and change won’t occur unless you push past your comfort zone, but pushing too hard increases the likelihood that you will give up. Far better to experience success at each step of a progressive process. Building confidence fuels the persistence to pursue more challenging changes.”

Building physical fitness habits

  • Learn as much as you can about how physical fitness can improve your health and wellbeing.
  • Consult a physician before beginning a physical fitness programme.
  • Try different forms of physical exercise. Find what works best for who you are and the lifestyle you live.
  • Develop a set of well-defined goals for your physical exercise regimen and try to stick to those goals. Record the details of your workouts to ensure you are achieving your goals.
  • Reward yourself as your goals are met.
  • Gradually increase the intensity of your cardiovascular and strength training. While continually repeating the same comfortable routine with the same level of intensity each time you work out may help you ward off some medical illnesses, but it will not do as much to enhance your physical resilience. To increase your physical as well as your mental and emotional strength, you need to stress yourself and your body beyond your normal comfort zone, but not to the point of damage.
  • After each workout allow your body to recover adequately before beginning your next workout.
  • Practice healthy eating and sleep habits.
  • Find friends or family who will support your physical training. Even better, train with a friend or family member who also has the goal to become more resilient.
  • Notice and focus on the positive feelings and greater sense of self-esteem and mental toughness that typically accompany increases in physical resilience.
  • Try to reach the point where being physically fit becomes part of your sense of self, a part of who you are.

There is no easy way to becoming physically fit and resilient. It takes planning, desire, drive, consistency, perseverance and the willingness to live with discomfort. But the benefits are many.

8. Mental Fitness

Challenge your mind and heart

Brain Fitness, Resilience Capability #8

Brain Fitness, Resilience Capability #8

In challenging situations it helps to be mentally sharp. It helps to focus on the problem, process information quickly, remember what we already know about coping with related challenges, find strategies to solve the problem, make wise decisions, and learn new information. It also helps to regulate our emotions; to control them rather than being controlled by them. These mental and emotional abilities equip us to face challenges, find solutions and recover from setbacks – in essence, to be more resilient.

Just as we train our body to become fit and resilient, so we can train our brain. Southwick & Charney found the most resilient people tended to be lifelong learners, continually seeking opportunities to become more mentally fit.

Brain plasticity: a possible key to brain fitness

One of the most exciting findings of brain research over the past decade has been the observation that we can enhance brain fitness. This means that through a series of brain exercises we may be able to improve our cognitive abilities. The vast majority of us do not reach our full brain potential.

Training the emotional brain

One effective technique that can help regulate emotions is the practice of mindfulness. “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present and non-judgementally.” (J. Kabat-Zinn in Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness, 1990) The practitioner of mindfulness learns to develop calm and accepting awareness of thoughts, feelings, perceptions and bodily functions. Through this practice we learn to tolerate negative emotions better without impulsively acting upon them.

Emotions and brain activity

In most but not all studies mindfulness meditation has been shown to help individuals cope with the symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression. Mindfulness meditation has also been associated with improved ability to focus attention, increased flexibility of thinking, more rapid speed in processing visual information, and improving verbal memory as well as greater feeling of psychological wellbeing.

Researcher Richard Davidson raises a fascinating question:

“Might meditation strengthen the cortical circuitry that modulates the activity of the limbic system, like a thermostat regulating the furnace of emotions? Might mental training rewire the brain’s emotion circuits and alter forever the sense of wellbeing and contentment? … Just as people now see the value of exercising the body consistently and for the rest of their life, it’s similar with emotional skills. … Training is seen as important for strength, for physical agility, for athletic ability, for musical ability – for everything except emotions. The Buddhists say these are skills, too, and trainable like any others.”

If mindfulness is something you haven’t tried yet but want to learn about, you will find lots of different exercises on the internet

As with all of these skills, keep experimenting and exploring to find out what works best for you.

Taking responsibility for your own brain fitness: practical applications

Change requires mental and/or physical activity.

We cannot become physically stronger simply by wishing for larger muscles. Similarly, we cannot develop or enhance mental skills by allowing the mind to wander randomly from one thought to the next. Instead, change requires focus as well as systematic and disciplines activity. The principles are simple, but the execution demanding. To change in a desired direction you have to identify what needs to be changed, develop a rigorous but realistic training schedule and then follow that schedule. Becoming more resilient may require training in multiple areas, such as mindfulness and meditation, physical strengthening and endurance. It may require adopting new styles of thinking in order to view hardship and failure as opportunities. The process of systematic self-initiated change, while challenging and often difficult, is highly rewarding and can foster a powerful sense of mastery.

In a brief book titled; Keep Your Brain Alive: 83 Neurobic Exercises, Duke University neurobiologist Lawrence C. Katz describes simple, everyday ways to build and maintain brain fitness, such as writing or brushing your teeth with your non-dominant hand, or getting dressed with your eyes closed. When you make these small changes in your daily routine…

“Suddenly your brain is confronted with a new task that’s engaging, challenging and potentially frustrating.

“Neurobics require you to do two simple things you may have neglected in your lifestyle: experience the unexpected and enlist the aid of all your senses in the course of the day. By doing so, rarely activated pathways on your brain’s associative network are stimulated, increasing your range of mental flexibility.”

By placing ourselves in environments that are conducive to learning, by surrounding ourselves with people who stimulate our personal growth, and by systematically practicing specific desired skills, we have the capacity to influence the structure and function of our brain and acquire new skills.

9. Mental & Emotional Flexibility

People who are resilient have to be flexible.

Mental & Emotional Flexibility, Resilience Capability #9

Mental & Emotional Flexibility, Resilience Capability #9

They are flexible in the way they think about challenges and flexible in the way they react emotionally to stress. They are not wedded to a specific style of coping. Instead, they shift from one coping strategy to another depending on the circumstances. Many are able to accept what they cannot change; to learn from failure; to use emotions like grief and anger to fuel compassion and courage; and to search for opportunity and meaning in adversity.

As entrepreneur and motivational speaker Pete Koerner observes: “Life = change. If you’re changing anyway, why not change for the better? Better or worse are your only choices; you can’t stay where you are forever.

Applying cognitive flexibility in your own life

Recent research on coping has shown that successful adaptation depends less on which specific strategies are used, than on whether coping strategies are applied flexibly in response to the liveness of the situation. Sometimes it is wise to accept and tolerate a situation, while at other times it is better to change it. Similarly, emotion theorists argue that expression of emotion is not necessarily better than suppression. What helps people to cope is having the flexibility to express or suppress emotions in accordance with the demands of a given situation.

We can summarise the strategies for cognitive and emotional flexibility as:

  • acceptance;
  • reappraisal;
  • dealing with failure; and
  • generating humour.

Here are some suggestions that may be useful if you wish to further develop your cognitive flexibility.

Using Acceptance to Increase mental & emotional flexibility

Using Acceptance to Increase mental & emotional flexibility

 

Acceptance

Accepting the reality of our situation, even if that situation is frightening or painful, is an important component of flexibility. To remain effectively engaged in problem-oriented and goal-directed coping, we must keep our minds ‘wide open’ and acknowledge, rather than ignore, potential roadblocks. Avoidance and denial are generally counterproductive mechanisms which may help people cope for a while, but ultimately they stand in the way of growth, interfering with the ability to actively solve problems.

Sometimes acceptance not only involves acknowledging the reality of our situation, but also assessing what can and cannot be changed, abandoning goals that no longer seem feasible, and intentionally redirecting efforts toward that which can be changed. Thus, acceptance is not the same as resignation and does not involve giving up or quitting. Instead, acceptance is based on a realistic appraisal and active decision-making.

The well-known Serenity Prayer captures the essence of the kind of acceptance that contributes to resilience:

“Give me the courage to change those things I can change,

the strength to accept those things I cannot change,

and the wisdom to know the difference.”

 

Using Cognitive Reappraisal to Increase mental & emotional flexibility

Using Cognitive Reappraisal to Increase mental & emotional flexibility

 

The science of cognitive reappraisal

Studies have shown that individuals who frequently use positive cognitive reappraisal as a mechanism to change their emotional reactions to stress report greater psychological wellbeing and more positive outcomes compared to individuals who do not use positive cognitive reappraisal as a coping mechanism.

Reappraisal

The technique of reappraisal is at the heart of Cognitive Behaviour Therapies. But even without working with a therapist, great questions we can ask to help us in to reappraise a testing situation include:

 

  • How else can I think about this?
  • How would someone else think about this?
  • What was it like for the other people involved?

Questions like this help to get us out of our own narrow view of a situation and open up new possibilities for coping and problem solving.

In their book Resilience At Work: How To Succeed No Matter What Life Throws At You, Salvatore Maddi and Deborah Khoshaba outline seven steps for a type of reappraisal they call transformational coping:

  1. Fully describe the stressful situation
  2. How could the situation be worse?
  3. How could the situation be better?
  4. Create a story about a worse version of events.
  5. Create a story about a better version of events.
  6. What can you do to create the better?
  7. Place the situation in perspective.

The US Forces Resilience training has a shortened three step version for reappraisal:

  • What is the worst case scenario?
  • What is the best case scenario?
  • What is the most likely scenario?
Learning from Failure to Increase mental & emotional flexibility

Learning from Failure to Increase mental & emotional flexibility

 

Cognitive reappraisal of failure

 

Resilience demands the emotional stability to handle failure, what Admiral James Stockdale referred to as “ability to meet personal defeat with neither the defect of emotional paralysis and withdrawal nor the excess lashing out at scapegoats or inventing escapist solutions.”

People who are who are most resilient generally meet failure head-on and use it as an opportunity to learn and to self-correct.

 

 

Remember Thomas Edison’s advice that “Creativity is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration”? He also famously said in this classic example of reframing:

“If I find 10,000 ways something won’t work, I haven’t failed. I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward.”

Learn from failure

In their book Mental Toughness: A Champion’s State of Mind Kark Kuehl and his co-authors point out:

“The ability to make adjustments begins with attitude, and the first attitude is accepting that failure is an education, then learning from the experience rather than becoming engulfed in frustration.”

Using Humour to Increase mental & emotional flexibility

Using Humour to Increase mental & emotional flexibility

 

Humour: another form of cognitive reappraisal

In his classic book, Man’s Search For Meaning, holocaust survivor and neuroscientist, Viktor Frankl referred to humour as “another of the soul’s weapons in the fight for self-preservation. It is well known that humour, more than anything else in the human makeup can afford an aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if for a few seconds.”

For Frankl, humour provided a healthy means to gain perspective. And with perspective comes the capacity to reappraise and generate alternative approaches and solutions to problems.

Like other positive emotions, humour tends to broaden one’s focus of attention and thereby foster exploration, creativity and flexibility in thinking. In so doing, humour may incorporate a number of other resilience coping mechanisms such as cognitive reappraisal, active problem focused coping, and infusion of positive meaning into everyday events.

Humour manages to present positive and negative wrapped into one package, combining “optimism with a realistic look at the tragic.” Consider director and screenwriter Woody Allen musing on mortality:

“I’m not afraid of dying, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”

In Toughness: Training For Life Jim Loehr recommends:

“Think nutty, goofy, funny, silly, off-the-wall thoughts. In almost every situation, being able to laugh puts you in emotional control.”

In sum, people who are resilient tend to be flexible: knowing when to accept that which cannot be changed; knowing how to positively reframe life’s challenges and failures; using humour to reframe the tragic and that which is frightening; regulating emotions by sometimes suppressing feelings and at other times expressing them. In many respects, resilience requires creativity and flexibility: creativity to explore multiple viewpoints and flexibility to embrace a positive but realistic assessment, or reassessment, of a challenging situation.

10. Meaning, Purpose and Continual Learning

Meaning, Purpose & Continual Learning, Resilience Capability #10

Meaning, Purpose & Continual Learning, Resilience Capability #10

And the 10th and final essential of high resilience is having a strong sense of Meaning, Purpose and continuing growth and development

And this connects up back to our very first Module when we looked atThis connects with Jessica Pryce-Jones central importance of Achieving Our Fullest Potential in her definition of happiness at work work, and, too, to two of Martin Seligman’s five essentials for flourishing: Meaning and Accomplishment.

In psychological research, studies have found that having a clear and valued purpose, and committing to a mission, can dramatically strengthen one’s resilience.

When philosopher Frederick Nietchze wrote: “He who as a why can endure almost any how,” he was referring to the power of meaning. Other renowned scholars have also recognised the power of meaning, of having a worthy goal or mission in life. As Carl Jung wrote in his classic book, Man and his Symbols,

“We can stand the most incredible hardships when we are convinced they make sense.”

South African dissident Nelson Mandela will shine forever as an inspiring example: tolerating 30 years of imprisonment with grace and dignity because of his dream of equality that he never lost his conviction for, and of course was ultimately able to help bring to his country.

Meaning can give us strength and meaning can give us courage.

Hopefully throughout our lives we will have the freedom to choose a direction that allows us to see our own talents, strengths and interests, and hopefully we will have the option to periodically re-evaluate our talents and strengths, particularly when we encounter a setback or event that shakes our world view. It is through this process that we can, in the words of Ann Graber, “become more than we were before.”

 

Using these 10 Essential Capabilities to develop and grow your own resilience

Here is how you can use this model as a tool to develop and strengthen your own resilience capabilities.

Southwick & Charney's 10 Essential Resilience Capabilities (BridgeBuilders STG Ltd. 2014)

Southwick & Charney’s 10 Essential Resilience Capabilities (BridgeBuilders STG Ltd. 2014)

Work through each of the 10 elements and …

A – score yourself out of 10 according to how strong you believe you are in each

Once you have scored all 10 elements you will be able to join up your numbers to draw your own resilience starfish to see see very clearly which of its arms are fully extended, and which ones you might want to invest some new time and action into developing and growing strong.

B – identify up to five actions you can take to grow those capabilities that will best strengthen your resilience.

C – And then the challenge is to take action – to actually put your ideas for building your resilience stronger and stronger into what you are doing – first to get you started and then to keep building them over time.

Top Tips for Increasing Resilience, BridgeBuilders STG Ltd 2014

Top Tips for Increasing Resilience, BridgeBuilders STG Ltd 2014

Remember – Creativity – choosing to think and act differently – takes courage

This painting by Spanish painter Goya called The Dog is still one of my favourite images for resilience – whatever happens next you just know from looking that this dog is not beaten yet.

And my absolute favourite picture is this self-portrait drawing Goya made when he was in his 90s and exiled from his Spanish homeland and living in France, nearly blind and unable to walk without sticks, but here he is going out into the world

And the title he has given this is “Aun Aprendo” which means “I am still learning”

Goya: "Aun Aprendo" (I am still learning)

Goya: “Aun Aprendo” (I am still learning)

 Happiness At Work edition #118

You can find several other articles about resilience, as well as this week’s new ideas about happiness at work, creativity and learning, leadership and collaboration in our new Happiness At Work collection here

Happiness At Work #117 ~ Positivity & Overcoming Self-Doubt

“We would accomplish many more things if we did not think of them as impossible.”

I happened to notice this Forbes Thought For The Day on Tuesday 18th November by French statesman and defender of Louis XVI, C. Malesherbes, and it chimed with many of the articles I have been reading this week.

Most especially it connected me with the video I watched of an interview with Oprah Winfrey by a Stanford student.  I heard much in this to be inspired and motivated and emboldened by, and so I am making this this week’s lead story and keynote to this week’s self-mastery theme around building our self-confidence and self-belief and self-determination as the heart and engine room for our happiness and highest aspirations.

Oprah Winfrey on Career, Life and Leadership

During a student-led interview at Stanford Graduate School of Business, Oprah Winfrey shares seminal moments of her career journey and the importance of listening to your instincts. Winfrey also offers advice to students on how to find their calling:

“Align your personality with your purpose, and no one can touch you.”

Here are some of the words from Oprah Winfrey that stood out especially for me, and might perhaps resonate for you too…

During this interview Oprah tells stories from her career that end with her thinking: ‘I will never do this again.”

“I started listening to what felt like the truth for me…From the very first instant I have listened to my instinct and stayed attuned to what felt like the right truth for me… If I fail I will find out what the next thing is for me.”
On how you navigate on paths when you feel alone…
“I am often the only woman in a room of white men and I love it…
When I have to do something especially demanding, I call on those that come before me, especially those women who have forged a path that has helped to get me here, and so when I walk in, I never walk in as just myself and I have all that energy with me.  And I love it.
If you wrote a book on women and leadership what would you call it?
“Step Up and Into Yourself
You can only change the world if you know yourself.  You have to take the time to know who you are and what you want your contribution to he planet to be…Mine is to raise consciousness….  You cannot fulfil your purpose unless you know how to listen to your own inner voice.  Every time I got into trouble it was when I overrode my instincts with my head.
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction‘ is my religion.  And the intention propels the action and decides what the reaction, result or consequence will be.
What are the qualities of your leadership that works in so many areas?

“My leadership is fuelled by my being and it works the same in all areas.  It comes from my passion, because that’s just my nature – it comes from my need to understand and to be understood, and it comes from my desire to connect…I keep grounded in myself…I work at staying awake.

What is your spiritual practice?  What do you do to take care of yourself? What do you do to keep yourself centred?

Everybody wants to fulfil the highest truest realisation of yourself as a human being…

I have interviewed more than 30,000 people.  At the end of every interview, from the murderer to Beyonce’, everybody asks ‘Was that ok?’.  Everybody wants to know ‘did you hear me?, did you see me? and did what I said mean anything to you?’.  Every human being is looking to confirm ‘are you fully here with me, or are you distracted?’

The success I have is because I pay attention.  When you’re at home with yourself…you have unlimited power.

I am here to connect people to ideas and stories so that they can see themselves and live better lives.

How do you strike a balance between emotion and logic – especially when you’re giving?

“You need both.  At the beginning I was purely emotional and I made a lot of mistakes…

You first have to change the way a person thinks and sees themselves.  So you’ve got to first create a sense of aspiration, a sense of hopefulness so a person can begin to even have a vision for a better life.  And if you can’t connect to that then you lose and they lose.

You have to decide how you are going to use your money, your talent, your time so that it’s going to serve you first, because if it doesn’t help you to be filled up, you get depleted and you can’t keep doing it.  So my decisions now are emotional and logical…

You don’t have anything to give that you don’t have, so you have to keep yourself full…

I say to my daughters, the number one thing you have to do is to figure out where your power base is, and to work on the alignment between your personality, the gift you have to give, and your real reason for why you’re here.  And to fill yourself up, and to keep yourself full.

I used to be afraid of that, particularly when people would say ‘oh she’s so full of herself.’  Now I embrace it, I consider it a compliment to be considered full of myself because only when you’re full to overflowing and not afraid of honouring yourself, and have the ability to honour yourself do you he ability to offer yourself, your full expression of who you are to the rest of the world.

After 26 years making her show Oprah said

“Gratitude is the single greatest treasure I will take with me from this experience.”

Is there anything left that you’re scared to try?

No, but I know what my lane is.  I know what my calling is, I know what I’m here to do.  But I still haven’t done what I’m here to do, I haven’t yet hit my supreme moment of destiny.

Resilience and post traumatic growth

Watching people step out of tragedies and define triumph for themselves, those are the people who have shaped me and made me a better person.

Call to action for us all

Align your personality with your purpose and no one can touch you.

You real job is to find out what you are here to do…

Every body has a stage.

What’s your stage?  Use it.

How can you start and keep living the highest fullest truest version of yourself?

What would you say to your younger self?

What everyone would say, in one form or another: ‘relax – its going to be okay’

Know that your life is not defined by any one moment.  The way to get through a challenge is to be still and ask ‘what is the next right move?’  And then from that space make the next right move, and then the next right move.

(One stitch at a time)

Link to read an article with more insights from this interview

See also Oprah Winfrey’s current interview show Super Soul Sunday which can be a streamed – interviews with thought leaders around he world and asking the questions that really matter…

The 3 Entrepreneurial Traits Kids Should Learn for a Successful Life

Sharing the values of entrepreneurship with your children can be a great way to teach them some very important character tools they’ll need and use for a lifetime ahead. Here are three character traits that entrepreneurship will help instill in your children and how to teach them.

These are, suggests Matthew TorenSelf-Confidence, Durability and Creativity and here is what he has to tell us about the first of these…

1. Self-confidence

A belief in yourself and your ability to get through life’s challenges is the building block of adult success and a huge component to children’s healthy growth into adolescence and young adulthood.

According to Jennifer Crocker, a psychologist at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, kids with a strong sense of self through internal motivation develop into adolescents who are less likely to engage in dangerous social activities such as drugs and alcohol and perform better in school.

Entrepreneurship embodies self-confidence based on your own internal motivating factors better than perhaps any other activity. It taught me the importance of believing in my ideas and believing in my ability to find solutions. It taught me how crucial good and honest relationships are. Those are values I want my children to have and that you can teach your kids, too.

How? When you foster entrepreneurship in your kids, you have to let them make decisions and support them through those choices. Even when you know they may not be the right decisions from your adult perspective, allow your kids to think up their own ideas and start to take the steps to see them through.

If you child wants to start a lemonade stand or paper route, work with them as a parental partner, but not necessarily as an authority figure.

When you give your kids the space to learn and make decisions, it increases their confidence in themselves and in their own decision-making. They already know you know the answers, encourage them to find their own that don’t involve you making the choices for them when and where it’s appropriate.

When my kids ask me questions I like to challenge them by asking right back, “I’m not sure, what do you think?” This encourages them to think through problems, builds their own sense of self and develops their voice.

Link to read the rest of this article and how to teach durability and creativity

How To Overcome Self-Doubt

by Tony Farhkry

“Our doubts are traitors and make us lose the good we oft might win by fearing to attempt.” – William Shakespeare

Taming the monkey mind

You cannot remove doubt any more than trying to eliminate negative thoughts. Doubts are woven into our psyche during childhood as we learned to integrate into our surroundings. Similarly what begins as the voice of reason echoed through loved ones, soon becomes the doubtful inner critic given the passage of time.

Did you know that by the time you reach adulthood, you would have heard the word ‘NO’ repeated 50,000 times throughout your life? In contrast the word ‘YES’ is only heard 7,000 times. It is no wonder doubt manages to weave its way into our minds with such intensity.

We are notorious for falsifying tales about ourselves. Doubt is one such story often repeated through adulthood. Whilst it is healthy to entertain doubt from time to time, being at the mercy of the debilitating thought is not conducive toward living a fulfilling life.

In a similar vein, doubt can become self-deprecating while wreaking havoc with your personal confidence if left unchecked.

“Willpower is the key to success. Successful people strive no matter what they feel by applying their will to overcome apathy, doubt or fear.” – Dan Millman

Feeding the doubt

Self-doubt requires examination if it prevents you from living an enriching life.

Some people are quite content to shy away from honouring their highest potential. They conceal their emotions deep within, hoping they will miraculously vanish.

Unfortunately as time passes by, the buried emotions may resurface in the form of illness, destructive relationships, addiction to substances or unhelpful behaviour, etc.

In his book Spontaneous Evolution, author Bruce Lipton states that 95% of our behaviour is controlled by our subconscious mind. In many ways our behaviour is reflected in the blind decisions we make every day without a moment’s consideration. Reflect on how much of your daily life’s decisions are automated – that is devoid of conscious intent?

In another example, author Michael S. Gazzaniga further illuminates this point in his book, Who’s In Charge: Free Will and The Science of The Brain. As a neuroscientist investigating split brain personality, he offers the following observation about the choices we make, “Your interpreter module accounts for as much of your behaviour as it can incorporate and it denies or rationalises the rest.”

Overcoming the inner critic

Overcoming self-doubt requires taking affirmative action while being attentive to the inner critic – that is, you choose to take action in spite of the doubt.

In a recent documentary highlighting the sport of accelerated free falling, the jumper was asked by a reporter if he entertained fear prior to his jumps. He reassured the reporter that fear was present during every jump and served to remind him of the inherent dangers associated with the sport. He managed fear by choosing to turn down the volume on it so as not to overwhelm him.

Take a moment to consider the spectrum of doubt inherent in your life. What tools or resources do you frequently call upon to navigate self-doubt when it emerges? It should be stated that doubt is merely a self-imposed speed bump in your life’s journey. As you know speed bumps are intended to slow you down, not halt your progress.

If self-doubt is wreaking havoc in your life, you may wish to reconnect with your vision or purpose. Your vision cannot be blocked by obstacles.

Attributing self-blame in relation to past failures leads to more of the same destructive thoughts. Instead, choose affirmative action with respect to your goals and attend to your doubts with self-compassion. It is your responsibility to reconcile them in a peaceful manner free of guilt.

You’ve heard it said that it isn’t the goal that fuels our desire. It is the journey towards whom we become that ignites our passion and sustains us in attaining inner victory.

Remember, your journey towards inner peace and fulfillment is lined with many detours. Embrace your challenges with attentiveness and enthusiasm.

Link to read the original article

Science-based strategies for using positivity to feel better by Jonathan Fader

1. Look through your camera roll and select pictures, such as that of a pet, children or friends that trigger a joy response. Once you have settled on a picture, name a few reasons why looking at the picture brings you joy. Does it remind you of a funny experience or remind you of a source of happiness and nurture? Studies indicate that thinking about previous events and the actual sensory experience which made you happy in the past will bring those same emotions to the present, immediately increasing your mood. What I also love about this tip is that it’s also customized: those photos of your kids or your dog resonate most with you because it’s something real drawn from your life and nobody else’s

2. Start your day off with a positive self-statement based on fact. This is a tip drawn from my experience as a sport psychologist—instructional and motivational self-talk have been linked  to enhanced athletics performance—but the concept can be applied equally well to all situations. The underlying truth, that what we think influences our actions and emotions, is universal.

Note that I say “based on fact” for a reason. If you start your day by saying, “I’m the perfect parent, no exceptions!” – well, it may be true, but if you’re in a bad mood, odds are that you won’t believe yourself. A better example of effective self-talk is “I am an excellent parent because I brought my daughter to the park after school and saw how happy she was.” The more specific the statement, the better the chance that you will actually believe it—and the better the chance that it can actually help you.

3. Compliment three people every day. By complimenting others you may also gain new friends and newfound confidence. A study  had college freshmen give three compliments a day for twenty days to see how it affected them. After this was completed, the subjects reported higher levels of self-confidence that resulted in an increased sense of belonging. The study believed that this was due to the fact that compliments are often reciprocated. So by complimenting others, you can induce a cycle of happiness.

Link to read the original Psychology Today article

The Skill of Self-Confidence (Dr. Ivan Joseph)

In this inspiring TEDTalk, athletics coach Ivan Joseph reminds us of the power and necessity of praise and  positive feedback to build our courage, risk taking and self-confidence – further endorsement of the potency and worth of Appreciative Inquiry, or deliberately recognising and learning from what is already working best.

As the Athletic Director and head coach of the Varsity Soccer team at Ryerson University, Dr. Joseph is often asked what skills he is searching for as a recruiter: is it Speed? Strength? Agility?  In this TEDx Talk, he explores self confidence and how it is not just the most important skill in athletics, but in our lives.

The easiest ways to build self-confidence: repetition, repetition, repetition…

Or maybe the word should be persistence: do what you want to do and do not accept failure as a reason to stop you.

The other way is through self-talk…We all have this negative self-talk that goes on in our head.  With so many people ready to tell us what we cannot do, why do we want to add to it?…  We know that our thoughts influence our actions… We need to get our own self-affirmations…There need to be quiet moments with ourself when we reaffirm “I am the captain of my ship and the master of my fate.”… If I don’t believe it, who else can?

How do you build self-confidence?  Get away from the people who will tear you down…

How to Change Your Self-Perception to Leverage Your Hidden Strengths

by Eric Ravenscraft

Our self-perceptions are often instilled in us before we have a say in them. Learning to change how we see ourselves helps us find our hidden strengths, or improve weaknesses we didn’t know we had, to get along better in life.

Accurate self-perception is a necessary component of self-improvement. If you don’t know where your strengths or weaknesses lie, you don’t know what areas you need to work on. Or how to leverage your assets! Self-perception is simply being aware of who you are, what you’re like, and what you’re capable of. Your self-perception goes beyond positive self-esteem, though. It may involve acknowledging your shortcomings (“I suck at playing the violin, and that’s okay”), adjusting how you view your skills, (“This skill I thought was boring is actually useful and neat!”), or recognizing your problem areas (“I’m not as hard working as I like to think”).

Adjusting your self-perception comes down to being honest with yourself. Recognizing your weak points helps you identify when you need to ask for help. Acknowledging your strengths can give you the courage to assert yourself even when you don’t feel like you deserve to. What you do with the knowledge is a whole different can of worms, but here’s how to adjust when your perception doesn’t line up with your reality.

Prep Work: Identify Your Own Self-Image Fallacies

Often, we have self-perception problems because our emotions or misconceptions lead us to false conclusions. Anyone who’s ever argued on the internet for more than a minute knows how easily logical fallacies can sneak in. When those leaps in logic face inward, though, they can alter how we perceive ourselves. For example:

  • “I screwed up, so I am a screw up.” This all-or-nothing mentality lends itself to low self-esteem, but it’s a false correlation. We’re good at dwelling on our mistakes, but bad at remembering when we got it right. The negative doesn’t eliminate the positive.
  • “I’m not good at this yet, so I never will be.” Everyone sucks at everything until they don’t anymore. Failing a hundred times at something is discouraging, but it’s incorrect to assume that those failures mean you’re not good enough. In fact, those failures are how you get better.
  • “Someone doesn’t like me, so no one likes me.” People who like or approve of us may not say it as often as someone with a grudge, so it’s easier to focus on the negative.
  • “I’ve never had any complaints, so I must be good.”Unfortunately, those closest to us may not always be the most objective reviewers of our talents. Until your skills have been put to the test in an arena free of bias (like the workplace or public performances), a lack of complaints doesn’t prove talent.

You’ll probably never be completely free of internal logical fallacies. However, identifying when you’re making a logical leap can kickstart the process to learning the truth. From there, you can start making the necessary changes.

Step One: Perform a Self-Assessment

The first step in fixing your perception of yourself is to identify how you see yourself. One way to get started is a technique from cognitive behavioral therapy (or CBT) programs. Psych Central recommendswriting ten of your strengths on one side of a paper, and ten weaknesses on the other. This exercise forces you to take an honest look at yourself:

This is your Self-Esteem Inventory. It lets you know all the things you already tell yourself about how much you suck, as well as showing you that there are just as many things you don’t suck at. Some of the weaknesses you may also be able to change, if only you worked at them, one at a time, over the course of a month or even a year. Remember, nobody changes things overnight, so don’t set an unrealistic expectation that you can change anything in just a week’s time.

You may need to seek outside input from others if you can’t come up with ten for both sides. Once you’re done, keep the list because it will come in handy for the next thing you can do.

Step Two: Seek Outside Input (and Listen to It)

Outside input has the ability to either validate or negate how we perceive ourselves. If you think you’re not that great of a singer, but the crowd at karaoke disagrees, you might start to change your opinion. For that reason, if you really want to adjust your self perception, seeking outside input is absolutely necessary.

Author Scott H. Young offers some tips on how to get honest feedback. As it turns out, not everyone is completely forthright when you ask for an opinion (often for good reasons). Depending on the topic, you may need to coax out the full answer, or explain that it’s okay to be honest:

  • Read Between Lines. Look for what they didn’t say, not what they did. I’ll admit this can take practice, but when you receive feedback where you question the sincerity, notice what wasn’t said. If you wrote a how-to book, did they actually use the advice? If you gave a persuasive speech did they enjoy it or did it change their opinion?
  • Pull Out Gradual Honesty. Some people need encouragement to give you their honest opinion. Make it clear that you are okay with the harshest of their remarks and give them an opportunity to reveal more.

You can check out Scott’s post here for more specific tips. Most importantly, though: once you get feedback, listen to it. One of the most common mistakes we make when getting input from others is filtering out the stuff we don’t like. I can totally play the guitar, they’re just jealous, right? Nope. You asked for feedback, now accept it. If it’s true, you’ll probably hear it from more than one person. Be prepared to accept that the feedback you get is at least somewhat true, even if it’s uncomfortable.

Step 3: Challenge Yourself and Step Outside Your Comfort Zone

Of course, feedback from others is only one way to find out what you’re capable of. There is a faster, more effective way, too: doing it. You may not think that you’re good enough to get a job as an actor. However, nothing will prove you wrong faster than getting hired.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that someone with asthma and high blood pressure should join the Army on nothing but a wish (unless your name is Steve Rogers). But having a realistic approach to what you can do, coupled with some optimism that things could work out alright, can be a key to making it happen. One psychological researcher named Sophia Chou at the National Taiwan University examined this concept of the realistic optimist. To put it simply, people who understood the risks but chose to be hopeful about the outcome not only performed better, but were happier:

Interestingly, the realistic optimists also got better grades, on average, than their less grounded peers — probably because they didn’t delude themselves into thinking they would do well without studying or working hard, Chou said.

Traditionally, a more realistic outlook is paired with poorer well-being and greater depression, yet the realistic optimists managed to be happy.

As Chou explains, people who evaluate their situation, but still challenge themselves anyway find that they’re better equipped to handle those challenges. The result is a more successful outcome due to their preparation, but also an increase in satisfaction due to their moderate expectations.

Step 4: Emulate the Habits of Others

How you perceive yourself may affect how you behave, but the relationship also works in reverse. We’ve discussed before how something simple like faking powerful body language can help you feel more confident. This concept works fairly broadly. If you think you’re too cynical, try being intentionally optimistic on social media. If you start deliberately hunting for the good in something, you may find it.

As The Guardian explains, our perceptions of our self and our relationships can be manipulated by things as simple as having a cell phone out at dinner. Putting the device away may make us feel as though we’re more “in the moment” and strengthen the bonds we have with others. That means (somewhat ironically, in fact) that if your perception of yourself doesn’t line up with reality, changing your external habits can influence how you perceive yourself:

It’s weird enough that a phone on the next table at a restaurant might reduce the chances of two people hitting it off on a date. But the Swedish study points towards something weirder: not just that we’re subconsciously influenced by our environments, but that we infer our very sense of who we are from our behaviour. Normally, we assume things work the other way: that a person who thinks of herself as compassionate will therefore act compassionately. But “self-perception theory” proposes that the opposite’s also true: we observe our behaviour, then reach conclusions about who we are. “After purchasing the latte, we assume that we are coffee connoisseurs,” as the psychologist Timothy Wilson writes on edge.org. After returning the lost wallet, we conclude that we’re honest. In reality, many pressures shape our behaviour – maybe, Wilson writes, we “returned the wallet in order to impress the people around us”. But we conclude “that our behaviour emanated from some inner disposition”. Or we’re tricked into believing we answered a survey favouring one side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – and assume that must be our view.

In practice, this can be something as simple as getting a new wardrobe, or starting a new habit. Say, for example that you don’t feel very confident. Try working out. Get a piece of clothing that you think makes you look cool and start wearing it. Learn how to enter a room with confidence. The more you walk in the habits of confidence people, the more you’ll start to feel confident yourself.

Our perceptions of ourselves will probably never be perfect (and a little self-delusion can sometimes help). However, many of us go years without fulfilling our potential or trying new things because we simply don’t perceive ourselves as able. Or worse, we live with flaws because it never occurs to us that they’re problematic. If you don’t think you can go after your dream job, you’re worried you can’t attract that person you’re really into, or you simply lack confidence, the problem might not be your situation, but just your perception. Your ideas about yourself determine the course of your life, so don’t leave them to chance.

Link to read the original Lifehacker article

see also: Parker J. Palmer – What is a Divided Life?

“There are pieces of ourself that we don’t dare bring into the world for fear that something bad is going to happen to us.  So we try to get by, we try to pass, we try to play a role that’s acceptable.  But then there comes a point in life where that divided life, that gap between who we really are and the face we put on to the larger world

Do you want to show up in the world with more of your true values and gifts, connecting with others in authentic ways?

In this short introduction to the vision of the Courage & Renewal approach, Parker J. Palmer, talks about how as human beings we are born whole, integral, with no distinction between what’s going on inside of us and what’s going on outside. As adults we may ask, “Whatever happened to me? How did I lose that capacity to be here as I really am?”

We have to find a way to build a bridge between our identity and integrity as adults and the work that we do in the world.

see also: Parker Palmer on Power and Powerlessness

Parker Palmer is interviewed about the power of the human heart.

How Guessing Helps You To Learn, Even If You Guess Wrong

Things To Remember To Overcome Low Self-Esteem

Whether you’re going through a low self-esteem phase in your life, or you just occasionally feel bad about yourself, it’s important to have some mental tools to help you recalibrate your thoughts so you can live with confidence and joy.

Here are 25 things to remember when you have low self-esteem…

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This week’s top practical tips and techniques

Here is this week’s toolbox of the practical techniques that have especially caught our attention this week…

9 Moments the Happiest People Have Every Day

by Dave Kerpen

Here is great new Daily To Do List to maximise your happiness at work and, as a result, your productivity and performance success too…

  1. Make a moment of laughter…
  2. Make a moment of celebration…
  3. Make a moment of reflection…
  4. Make a moment of stillness…
  5. Make a moment of pride…
  6. Make a moment of humility…
  7. Make a moment of connection…
  8. Make a moment of joy…
  9. Make a moment of gratitude…

The Secret To Loving Your Work

Five simple questions, all taken from my just released book Screw Finding Your Passion: It’s Within You, Let’s Unlock It by Susanna Halonen

5 Questions to Lead You to Loving Your Work

1. How is the work you’re doing, or the company you’re working for, aligned with who you are?
Think about how your values and beliefs are aligned with the work you’re doing or the company you’re working for. Explore what attracted you to take the job in the first place. Really make sure you come up with some concrete answers on this one as this is the critical foundation for you learning to love your work. And I’m not taking “Nothing at my work is aligned with who I am”, as an answer. I want a list of at least five things. I guarantee you that you can find them if you look for them.

2. What is the positive impact you’re creating with the work you do, or by being a part of this company?
Connect with the why behind your job (or your company). What kind of positive impact are you creating when you’re with your colleagues, or working with suppliers, or providing something to the end customer? Acknowledge that you’re a small but powerful piece in the bigger wheel which drives the world forward. Whatever you are doing right now is having an effect on someone in a good way (otherwise why would you be doing it?). Connect with that why and you’ll create a meaningful bond with your job that will be hard to break.

3. How is your work helping you to learn and grow as a person daily?
You don’t need to be in a training workshop to learn and grow (though they do help, especially the Happyologist workshops ;). With every challenge, with every human interaction and with every email send you can learn something new – if you choose to do so. Life is the best teacher of all but only if you actually make time to reflect and digest the learning. Do this at work regularly and you’ll realise how much you’re learning whilst coming up with new ideas on how you could keep learning even more.

4. Who are the people in your work that you connect with in a way that they form a part of your tribe?
Having friends at work is one of the key drivers of engagement in the workplace so make sure you make some friends if you haven’t got any. This doesn’t mean you have to force it. This is about getting to know your colleagues on a personal level. Who are they outside work? What do they like to do? What kind of holidays do they like to go on? You might find similarities that you didn’t even know existed and these similarities will help you create connections with your coworkers. Are you a self-employed entrepreneur without a team? Go out there and find other entrepreneurs who are looking for fun, ambitious people to brainstorm with – or simple have a drink with them. Our relationships are a key driver of our passion, happiness and fulfilment so making sure that these relationships exist through our work makes it easier for us to love what we do.

5. How do you use your natural strengths in a variety of ways in your work daily?
Become more aware of how you are using your best, natural abilities at work in different ways. Own up to what you’re good at and play with these strengths in new ways to challenge yourself and to keep your days exciting. Make time to do what you do best daily and you’ll not only perform better but also enjoy your work more – and even learn to love it!

10 Books on Happiness at Work

Unhappy employees spend only 40% of their time on task, according to research from iOpener. This means that unhappy employees are only working two days a week. Besides slowing down production and innovation, unhappy employees are sharing their negative perceptions with the rest of your workforce and consequently spreading discontent. No one enjoys working with a “Debbie Downer.” More importantly, no one enjoys being a “Debbie Downer.”

Building good will, showing genuine care and valuing employees should be a priority at every organization. Employees are responsible for their own happiness, but this does not preclude organizations from providing the tools, resources and culture that will inspire more joy at work. With that in mind, we have compiled a list of 10 books that offer advice, strategies and tips to help managers and employees improve workplace happiness.

7 Simple and Actionable Ways to Be Happier At Work

  1. Work On Improving Yourself…
  2. Think More Than You Work…
  3. Take Advantage of Benefits…
  4. Celebrate Together…
  5. Take Frequent Breaks To Avoid Burnout…
  6. Give Your Time To Help Others, Even When You’re Busy…
  7. Become Happier By Finding A New Best Friend…
  8. Bonus Tip:  WellnessIs Important – Get Some Exercise…

Are You a Great Listener?

by 

If we were supposed to talk more than we listen, we would have two tongues and one ear. Mark Twain.

To succeed in today’s business world, we must be proactive, skilled listeners. Leaders who make themselves accessible for conversation and listen regularly are well informed of the goings on in their workplaces. They better understand others’ opinions and attitudes and are able to take this information into consideration when making decisions.

There are other benefits to listening well. One is demonstrating care. Effective listening conveys a sense that the we are interested in the person we are with, their thoughts, opinions and concerns. A leader also builds stronger commitment within others when people feel that she cares about them personally as well as in how they fit within the organisation.

Here’s what we can do to become better listeners and gain the feedback, confidence, support and buy-in that we seek…

  • See eye to eye…
  • Use receptive body language…
  • Stop talking and start listening…
  • Humbly take on their point of view…
  • Summarise and clarify…
  • Leave the door open…
  • Thank them for approaching you…
  • Create a listening culture…

Coaching models explored: VISTA

by Tim Hawkes

Here is a great practical framework for making a coaching conversation that both keeps the other person actively in their own driver’s seat, and at the same time moves the thinking from creative thinking through reality checking and into next steps action…

V – Visualisation: The client should build a clear mental picture of the subject of the conversation, whether that be the solution to a problem, a goal to be reached, a decision to be made; whatever is relevant.

I – Insight: The client is invited to explore the causes or the purpose of what has drawn them to seek coaching.

S – Self-Awareness: At this point the client should be asked to recognise what their contribution to the issue might be. For instance, in the case of a problem, were they in fact contributory to the problem having arisen?

T – Thinking: This is the point of the conversation during which the self-exploration turns towards finding a solution. An exploration of how much they already know about how to find and implement a resolution.

A – Action: Once the client has recognised that they may have one or more possible avenues to explore in order to take themselves in the direction of the visualised result, the coach invites them to define steps and timetables to achieve the stated goal, thus putting the matter firmly in the hands of the client, and giving the coach a means by which they can hold the client accountable should that become necessary.

As models go, I rather like this one. It’s elegant, and it encourages the client to focus on themselves and their own ability to recognise and deal with issues. It doesn’t shrink from having the client accept responsibility not merely for the fix, but also for whatever lies at the root of the matter.

Debunking 7 Common Public Speaking Tips That Do More Harm Than Good

A set of terrific tips for making your presentations great from Gary Genard that remedy some of the worst guidelines that have taken a toxic hold of public speaking guidelines…

7. PowerPoint Prescriptions

You’ve probably heard this advice before: Use no more than 10 slides in a PowerPoint presentation. Don’t go longer than 20 minutes. No slide should have more than six bullet points. Use only six words per bullet point.

Dizzy yet?

Instead of these ironclad rules, here’s what you should remember: Every time you speak, you need to tell a story. PowerPoint is a tool that can help you tell that story—but only if you use it as a visual tool and not a literary one…

6. Memorise Your Presentation So That Nothing Can Wrong

Everything will go wrong if you follow this advice! Your audience is hoping for a speaker who can share something you all have an interest in. For any talk to be interesting, the speaker needs to be fully present in the moment—not trying to retrieve information that was memorised in the past.

Write down key words and phrases to remind yourself what comes next in the talk you’ve outlined. Memorisation—which of course can fail—is a high wire act without a net.

5. Look At One Person for Each Sentence

Here’s another artificial prescription for public speaking effectiveness. The one-person-for-one-sentence rule is simply too rigid and metronomic for a speech or presentation.

That’s because we write in sentences, but we speak in ideas. An idea may take three sentences to express; or a single sentence may encompass three ideas. Just remember to include your entire audience at one time or another in your eye contact. That’s the simple and natural solution to connecting with everyone.

4. Start Out with A Joke

I once conducted group training in presentation skills for 11 vice presidents of a leading manufacturer. As part of the workshop, each executive gave a 10-minute videotaped presentation, and then received instructor and peer feedback. One of the participants told a 3 ½-minute joke at the start of his talk which, believe me, had nothing to do with his topic.

What was wrong with this? First, taking up a third of your presentation time with a joke is not a good idea. Worse is the fact that the joke was unrelated to his subject. When I asked why he’d made this choice, he said he once took a public speaking class and was told to always start out with a joke.

But jokes are dangerous. If you want to get an audience on your side, use some gentle humor and always be sure it’s related to what you’re there to talk about. A joke with a failed punch line will make you look foolish, which of course is a terrible way to launch your presentation.

3. Don’t Greet Your Audience

Some public speaking trainers suggest that you dispense with any sort of greeting. “Good morning,” “It’s nice to be here with you today,” and similar pleasantries should be banned in favor of a power opening that hits the audience immediately.

Banishing a greeting from your talk, however, is a mistake. Your greeting is the segment of your speech where you first connect with listeners. It’s the moment when you talk to people with nothing else—i.e., your topic—between you and them. It’s also when you express your personal pleasure at being there. Most important, it’s when you let the audience know you’re a trustworthy speaker because you have their interests at heart.

So say hello and indicate you’re pleased to be speaking . . . then give them that grabber that you know will seal the deal and open up their ears and their hearts.

2. Tell Them If You’re Nervous So They’ll Be On Your Side

Speakers sometimes think they can disarm an audience by announcing their nervousness before anyone notices it. But the even better news is they may not see it at all.

Most nervousness isn’t visible because it’s an internal state. When you tell people you’re nervous appearing in front of them, chances are they’ll look for signs of it from that point on. Why undermine your own credibility?

1. Imagine The Audience Naked Or In Their Underwear 

This, of course, has been touted as a “cure” for speech anxiety since time immemorial. But was there ever such a ridiculous and counter-productive solution to public speaking fear?

Maybe you think differently from the way I do, but mentally undressing audience members isn’t going to do much to improve my focus and mindfulness. Instead, remind yourself that the people in this audience are the same ones you talk to effortlessly and without any self-consciousness in personal conversations. Speaking to them as a group is simply a wonderfully efficient way to get your message across to as many of them as possible.

So the next time you’re chatting with a friend on the street and someone taps you on the shoulder to offer public speaking advice, refer to the list above. You’ll be doing the world of your listeners a genuine service.

Happiness At Work edition #117

As usual, all of these articles are collected together in this week’s Happiness At Work collection of articles and research news

Worker Wellbeing and Wellbeing Performance ~ Dept. for Business Innovation & Skills Report, 2014

This communicative and richly informative report is well worth reading in its entirety, but here is a summary of its main findings in relation to the question:

Does Worker Wellbeing Affect Workplace Performance?

a report by Alex Bryson, John Forth and Lucy Stokes, NIESR (Department for Business Innovation and Skills)

published October 2014

an extract built from the Executive Summary

Employee wellbeing is increasingly a focus of government attention in the UK and elsewhere. It is viewed as a legitimate target of government policy in its own right, but there are also reasons to think that improvements in employees’ wellbeing may be conducive to economic growth.

This paper focuses on the the subjective wellbeing of employees and its potential impact on workplace and organisational performance.

As yet there is relatively little empirical evidence on the relationship between employees’ subjective wellbeing and workplace performance. This paper begins to fill that gap for Britain by carrying out a literature review and new empirical analyses.

Background

The term subjective wellbeing (SWB) is used to cover a number of different aspects of a person’s subjective mental state and has been defined by the OECD to include “all of the various evaluations, positive and negative, that people make of their lives, and the affective reactions of people to their experiences”.

For many years, policy makers focused on GDP growth as the best means of securing a better quality of life for citizens.  But governments and their advisers have recently turned their attention to other measures, including of individuals’ subjective wellbeing. One of the motivations has been research indicating that citizens in developed economies have not necessarily become ‘happier’ as a result of increased prosperity.

Aims and objectives

This study focuses on the links between employees’ subjective wellbeing at work and workplace performance. It sets out to address four questions:

• How do we measure and define wellbeing in the workplace?

• What employee and job characteristics influence wellbeing in the workplace?

• What employer practices have the greatest positive impact on wellbeing in the workplace?

• Is there any evidence to link employee wellbeing and business performance?

Our approach

The study consisted of three main substantive stages.

In the first stage of the study, we sought to develop a conceptual framework around SWB and its possible links to workplace performance.  Within this conceptual framework, we sought to describe the different approaches to the definition and measurement of SWB, drawing heavily on the existing psychological literature which points to its multi-dimensional nature.  The framework also considered the factors that affect employees’ levels of SWB at the workplace.  It then went on to consider the potential ways in which employees’ SWB might affect their job performance, and the likelihood that such effects will aggregate in such a way as to form a causal link between employees’ SWB and the overall performance of their workplace or firm.

The second stage of the study comprised a review of the existing research literature on the two broad questions of:

~ which employee characteristics, job characteristics and employer practices affect employees’ levels of SWB at work;

~ and whether employees’ SWB has a causal impact on individual or workplace performance.

The third and final stage of the study involved new empirical analysis of the links between employees’ SWB and workplace performance, based on the 2011 Workplace Employment Relations Survey (WERS).  These linked employer-employee data contain multiple measures of employees’ SWB and provide the basis for a robust investigation of the SWB-performance link in British workplaces.  Using various multivariate regression techniques we sought to isolate the independent relationship between SWB at the workplace and workplace performance.

Key findings and policy implications

How do we conceptualise and measure wellbeing in the workplace?

There are two broad – but complementary – approaches to the conceptualisation and measurement of SWB.

Hedonic approaches focus on the type of affective feelings that a person experiences (e.g. anxiety or contentment) and also on the adequacy of those feelings (e.g. whether the person is satisfied with a certain aspect of their life).

Hedonic approaches to SWB Hedonic approaches to SWB are focused on whether a person’s affective reactions or  feelings towards their job are either positive or negative. The term 'hedonic' (alt.  hedonistic) is used here to indicate that these approaches focus on the extent to which  work gives rise to positive or negative affect (pleasure or pain).

Hedonic approaches to SWB are focused on whether a person’s affective reactions or feelings towards their job are either positive or negative. The term ‘hedonic’ (alt. hedonistic) is used here to indicate that these approaches focus on the extent to which work gives rise to positive or negative affect (pleasure or pain). from Worker Wellbeing and Workplace Performance report

A second hedonic approach to SWB focuses on the adequacy of one’s affective feelings towards aspects of the job, asking (for example) how satisfied a person is with the work they do or the pay they have received (see column 2 of Table 1 below).

Feelings of satisfaction tend to be correlated with the pleasant-unpleasant dimension of job-related affect shown in Figure 1 above (see Weiss et al, 1999) and so there is some relation between the two hedonic approaches.  However, the important distinction in the ‘satisfaction-based’ approach to SWB is that it involves an implicit comparison with some alternative state (for example, the features of that job in a prior period, or the features of jobs held by other employees).

Whilst a focus on the type of job-related affect may therefore arguably give a more direct indication of an employee’s core feelings at work, a focus on job satisfaction can be particularly informative as it indicates how the employee evaluates those feelings.  Such evaluations may factor into the  employee’s decision making – for example whether to begin the search for an alternative job (see Green, 2010).

This is potentially significant, since attitudes are usually described as having three components: affective, cognitive and behavioural, which are reflected in feelings, beliefs and actions. For Warr, there is then an “action-tendency” embodied within the concept of job satisfaction that is not present in core affect.  In other words, one can expect job satisfaction to have a greater influence on an individual’s actions or behaviour.

In contrast to these hedonic approaches, the eudemonic approach to SWB focuses on the extent to which a person experiences feelings that are considered to demonstrate good mental
health (e.g. the extent to which they feel a sense of purpose).

The eudemonic approach therefore starts from the position – derived from psychological and philosophical literature – that some actions or personal states are more appropriate or worthwhile than others, and views SWB primarily in terms of self-actualisation and virtuous behaviour (psychological ‘flourishing’) rather than in terms of self-gratification.

The essential distinction from the hedonic approach can be illustrated by reference to an employee who, like a parent, may find their role stressful and be dissatisfied with its financial rewards, but who may nevertheless gain a strong sense of purpose from that role.

The three differing approaches to the concept of SWB illustrated side-by-side. from Worker Wellbeing and Workplace Performance report

The three differing approaches to the concept of SWB illustrated side-by-side.
from Worker Wellbeing and Workplace Performance report

Most research into employees’ SWB has adopted the hedonic approach, with job satisfaction being the most frequently studied aspect of job-related SWB. The study of job-related affect has a more recent history, but a growing body of empirical research investigates this dimension of SWB.  The eudemonic approach to SWB has been less frequently operationalised in organisational research. The term SWB is used hereafter as a catch-all for research in any of these three areas, although the focus of particular research studies is highlighted within the main body of the report.

What employee and job characteristics influence SWB in the workplace and what employer practices have the greatest effect?

An individual’s SWB at work is influenced both by their own characteristics, and those of the job and workplace in which they are employed (see Figure).

From a policy perspective, it is the features of the job and workplace (i.e. those on the right-hand side of the Figure) which are of most interest, as these are typically more amenable to policy influence.  Nevertheless, an understanding of the relationship between individual characteristics and SWB is also important, not least because these shape employees’
experiences of work.

An extensive literature discusses the characteristics of jobs which influence SWB at work, SWB tends to be higher when employees have:

autonomy over how they do their job and a measure of control in relation to the broader organisation, e.g. participation in decision-making;

variety in their work;

clarity over what is expected of them, including feedback on performance, e.g. via appraisals;

opportunities to use and develop their skills, e.g. via the provision of training;

supportive supervision;

positive interpersonal contact:, with both managers and co-workers, but also with
customers or the general public (where the job requires it);

• a perception of fairness in the workplace, both in terms of how the employee is treated themselves but also how their co-workers are treated, with disciplinary and grievance procedures being one way for employers to address this;

higher pay, although this relationship depends not only on the absolute level of pay but how this compares with pay of other workers;

physical security, including the safety of work practices, the adequacy of equipment and the pleasantness of the work environment;

• a sense of job security and clear career prospects;

• a perception of significance, both in terms of the significance that the job has for the worker, and the perceived value of the job to society.

SWB tends to be lower when the demands of the job are particularly high.  Job demands result not only from the amount or type of work, but also from any incompatibility with pressures from outside of work.

These relationships are fairly well-established in the existing literature.  Employers therefore have the potential to influence the SWB of their employees through changes in job design.

The picture has its complexities, however.  An employee’s SWB will reflect not only the actual characteristics of their job, but also the value which they place upon them.  In a similar way, individuals differ in their expectations; if an individual has lower expectations of their job, they may rate their job satisfaction more highly than someone who expects more from their work.  This has the implication that, in thinking about job and workplace changes that may raise SWB, employers and policy makers need to bear in mind that there may be differing effects for different employees.

Any analysis of the factors driving SWB at work therefore needs to take account of individual traits as well as job and workplace characteristics.

In addition, the relationships between the human resource practices adopted by a workplace and its employees’ SWB are not always clear-cut.  Practices may influence more than one aspect of an employee’s job, some of which act to improve SWB, and others which serve to reduce it.  There may also be different effects for different employees within a workplace, and different effects of policies from one employer to another.  For example:

• Practices which aim to give employees more involvement may raise autonomy, but may also increase the level of demands placed on them.

• Practices aimed at raising the SWB of one group of employees within a workplace may do so to the detriment of others (e.g. if they give rise to perceptions of unfair treatment amongst those who are not covered by the practice).

• Practices may have differing effects on SWB dependent on workplace characteristics (e.g. formal arrangements may be better received in larger workplaces than in smaller ones).

Much of the literature in this area relates to the impact of systems of human resource management (HRM) practices on SWB; here the evidence is inconclusive.  Evidence for the UK to date points to a positive correlation between HRM and the job-related anxiety measure of SWB, but also a positive, or at least neutral, impact on the job satisfaction measure of SWB.  However, it is clear that there is a case for more robust studies of the impact of employer practices on a range of aspects of SWB.

How can SWB affect workplace performance?

There is a considerable amount of evidence to indicate that there is a positive association (a correlation) between SWB and an employee’s job performance.  Moreover there is some evidence which indicates that higher levels of SWB may lead to (cause) higher levels of job performance in some circumstances.

The empirical literature indicates three causal mechanisms through which higher levels of SWB can bring about higher job performance.

The first is by affecting employees’ cognitive abilities and processes – enabling them to think more creatively and to be more effective at problem-solving.

The second is by affecting employees’ attitudes to work – raising their propensity to be co-operative and collaborative.

The third is by improving employees’ physiology and general health – improving their cardiovascular health and immunity, enabling speedier recovery from illness, and securing greater levels of energy and potentially effort.

There is not necessarily a straightforward link between an employee’s SWB and their job performance, however.  For example, raised levels of creativity and improved social interaction is only likely to generate better employee performance in jobs with a substantial degree of autonomy and those that involve team work or customer interaction.

In addition, it is possible that employee behaviours or work attitudes may be most heavily affected when levels of SWB are particularly high or particularly low.

There is a need for further examination of the links between SWB and employee performance in real world settings to address these issues.

There are also reasons to think that the relationship between SWB and job performance at the level of the employee may not necessarily be replicated at the level of the workplace. One reason is that low levels of SWB among a small number of workers may spill over to negatively affect levels of SWB (and thus levels of job performance) among the wider workforce.

Another relates to the differing contributions workers make to workplace output, because of variations in their ability and their span of control; the contribution of all workers may not matter equally for the performance of the workplace, and so it may matter who has high or low SWB.  Whilst there are some studies which do show a robust causal impact of employees’ SWB on the performance of the workplace or firm, the evidence is more limited at this level.

The review concludes that more research is needed at the level of the workplace or firm
in order to generalise beyond the small number of existing studies.

Findings from analysis of the 2011 Workplace Employment Relations Survey

Statistical analyses were conducted using the 2011 Workplace Employment Relations Study to explore the relationship between SWB and performance at workplace level, thereby contributing new evidence to the literature.

The level of employee SWB in the workplace was measured in terms of the two most studied aspects of SWB: job satisfaction and job-related affective feelings (WERS did not collect eudemonic measures of SWB).

WERS measures nine dimensions of job satisfaction (pay, sense of achievement, training receipt, job autonomy, skill development opportunities, job security, scope for initiative, involvement in decision-making and their satisfaction with the work itself).  It contained six indicators of job-related affect, covering the frequency with which the employee feels tense, depressed, worried, gloomy, uneasy and miserable.

Workplace performance was measured using the manager’s subjective assessment of the workplace’s performance relative to the industry average on three dimensions: financial performance, labour productivity and the quality of the output/service.  An additive scale formed from these three individual measures was used as a fourth measure of performance.

The analysis was carried out using data from workplaces that took part in the 2011 WERS (the cross-sectional analyses) and workplaces that took part in the 2004 WERS and were followed up in 2011 (the panel survey).  The cross-sectional analyses examined the extent to which a workplace’s performance in 2011 could be accounted for by the level of employee SWB at the workplace in 2011.  The panel analyses explored whether changes in workplace performance between 2004 and 2011 were linked to changes in the level of employee SWB at the workplace between those two years.  The panel survey also assessed whether the level of employee SWB in 2004 was predictive of workplace closure by 2011.

The analyses showed a clear, positive, statistically significant relationship between the average level of job satisfaction among employees at the workplace and workplace performance.

This finding was present in both the cross-sectional and panel analyses and was robust to various estimation methods and model specifications.

Employee job satisfaction was found to be positively associated with workplace financial performance, labour productivity and the quality of output and service.

Workplaces experiencing an improvement in job satisfaction – whether measured in terms of the average level of satisfaction in the workforce, or measured in terms of an increase in the proportion “very satisfied” or a reduction in the proportion “very dissatisfied” – also experience an improvement in performance.

By contrast, there was no association between job-related affect and workplace performance.

These findings are significant because this is the first such study for Britain.

Considering the findings in more detail, the results from the cross-sectional analyses can be summarised as follows:

The average level of job satisfaction among employees at the workplace was positively related to all four workplace performance measures.

Workplaces with “very satisfied” employees had higher labour productivity, higher quality of output, and higher overall performance.  Workplaces with “very dissatisfied” employees had lower financial performance and lower overall performance on the additive scale.

Non-pecuniary aspects of job satisfaction were positively correlated with overall workplace performance, the quality of output (and, less robustly, with labour productivity) whereas pay satisfaction was positively associated with workplace financial performance but not with other performance measures.

• Job-related affect was not correlated with workplace performance, regardless of the measure used.

The results from the panel analyses can be summarised as follows:

• Increasing overall average employee job satisfaction was associated with increases in all four workplace performance measures.

• Increasing average non-pecuniary job satisfaction was positively associated with changes in all four workplace performance measures.  Increasing pay satisfaction, on the other hand, shows varied associations with the performance measures, depending on the model specification, but it is never positively associated with performance measures.

Workplaces with rising job dissatisfaction experienced deterioration in all four performance measures, whereas workplaces with an increase in “very satisfied” employees experienced rising quality of output or service and an increase in the additive performance measure, but not financial performance or labour productivity.

• Changes in job-related affect were not associated with workplace performance, regardless of the measure used, although there was some evidence that an increase in employees reporting “ill-being” most or all of the time was associated with deteriorating quality of output or service and a decline in the additive performance scale, at least in some models.

These findings are consistent with the proposition that employers who are able to raise employees’ job satisfaction may see improvements in the performance of their workplace.  These improvements are apparent in profitability (financial performance), labour productivity and the quality of output or service.

Although we cannot state definitively that the link is causal, the findings are robust to tests for reverse causation and persist within workplaces over time, so that we can discount the possibility that the results are driven by fixed unobservable differences between workplaces. Thus the results are consistent with the causal relationship suggested by conceptual work in this area.

What are the implications of the study’s findings for policy makers and employers?

First, there is a prima facie case for employers to consider investing in the wellbeing of their employees on the basis of the likely performance benefits.

The study sets out a conceptual framework indicating the ways in which raising employees’ SWB may improve performance, and also presents evidence which is consistent with there being a causal relationship between the two. Specifically, if the average employer is able to raise their employees’ SWB, the theory and available evidence suggest that they are likely to see improvements in the performance of their workplace.

It should be noted, however, that the evidence of a causal link between the job-related affect measure of SWB and workplace performance is limited, and indeed the WERS analysis conducted here finds no such association. Thus there appears to be no clear case yet for employers to invest in that dimension of employee wellbeing – although equally we find no clear disadvantage to doing so.

Equally, there are likely to be routes to commercial success that employers can pursue without regard to employees’ SWB. We find no link between employees’ SWB and workplace closure probabilities, suggesting workplaces can continue to trade and, perhaps even prosper, whether employees’ SWB is high or low. Thus the “low road” may be a viable option for some employers, although we do find clear evidence that an increase in job dissatisfaction within a workplace is linked to deteriorating workplace performance.

There is, of course, also a rationale for promoting employee SWB based on benefits that go beyond the private returns to employers, since the wider society can benefit from citizens who are “happier”.  There are spillovers to employees’ family life, their participation in social activities and their consumption of government services (most obviously welfare services and health care).

A higher level of job-related SWB might then be considered a goal in itself – a point reflected in broader arguments about moving beyond purely economic measures such as GDP when considering levels of national progress.

Nevertheless, judging by the descriptive information presented in Appendix C of this report, most employees in Britain appear reasonably satisfied with most aspects of their jobs and they are not suffering in large numbers from particularly adverse SWB.  The percentages saying they are depressed or anxious most of the time are low.

As regards policy responses, it is apparent from the literature review that we do not yet fully understand what it is about jobs and the working environment that change employees’ SWB.  Some things we know quite a lot about.  For example, higher pay leads to higher job satisfaction, but even here the relationship is not linear, tailing off at higher pay levels.  The complexity of the job satisfaction concept is illustrated by the pay satisfaction literature which emphasises the importance not only of pay levels but also pay relativities.

Moreover, even if employers and policy makers were to promote certain policies or practices that, on average, engender greater employee SWB, this does not mean that this will lead to improved SWB everywhere or that, even if it did, this would translate into improved workplace performance for all. There is likely to be substantial heterogeneity across workplaces and employees such that different policies might work better for some employers than others.

Policy initiatives should therefore be carefully evaluated so that this heterogeneity can be better understood.

Summary and conclusions

It is generally accepted that success makes people happy, but we have argued that there are good reasons to expect that causality can run in the other direction, such that employees with higher SWB will perform at a higher level in their jobs and, moreover, that inducing higher SWB among employees has the potential to raise their performance. The possible mechanisms through which this effect might arise include positive effects of SWB on employees’ health, cognitive processes and attitudes to work tasks.

Link to the full report

Happiness At Work #116 ~ surviving the mid-point slump

What is it about the middle that seems to suck away at our happiness?

This week’s headline research news reports a mid-life slump in our happiness levels in the West, which then progressively rise again from the age of about 55 on through to the rest of our lives.  And in another research story looking at what really are the factors that contribute to high flying success for women leaders, Harvard Business School researchers point out a mid-career slump in optimism and ambition for women that is not experienced by their male counterparts.

Midlife crisis: Happiness Nose Dives As Westerners Hit Middle Age

Middle aged people suffer a huge decline in happiness, a new study has shown. The phenomenon discovered by the Lancet Global Health, however, only affects those living in the affluent West.

The study, which uses global survey data, found that western countries, including the UK and USA, experienced a dip in levels of life satisfaction between the ages of 45 and 55, with happiness levels rising again into old age.

The report used four years of Gallup World Poll data from more than 160 countries and covered more than 98 percent of the world’s population.

Professor Andrew Steptoe of University College London said that the reasons behind the dip were numerous and highly complex, but that there were potential explanations and many lessons to be learned.

Co-researcher Angus Deaton, of Princeton University, suggested that one reason for the dip in satisfaction could be the increased pressure to become financially successful during middle age.

“This is the period at which wage rates typically peak and is the best time to work and earn the most, even at the expense of present wellbeing, so as to have increased wealth and wellbeing later in life,”he said.

The results of the study further showed that levels of life satisfaction worldwide followed a predictable pattern depending on geographical location.

African countries experienced low levels of satisfaction, with sub-Saharan Africa facing prolonged and continually low results.

Other areas such as Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union saw a steady decline in satisfaction with age.

Despite being the most affluent geographical sector, the West was the only region which saw levels increase after a decline. The increase of satisfaction appears to coincide with the common retirement age, suggesting that the decrease in pressure to earn could contribute to rising levels of happiness in the elderly.

This new research report is interesting for lots of reasons:

  • Firstly it uses data from four years of Gallup research and includes 98% of the world’s population and the fact that we can now develop intelligence drawn from the experience of most of humankind is in itself is worth noting.
  • Secondly it’s author, Angus Deaton, wonders whether the midlife happiness slump for 45-55 year old Westerners his study has uncovered may be partly due to a peak of felt responsibility to earn at this stage of life, and thus show a connection between earnings and happiness at work that is far less apparent for other age groups.
  • Thirdly, this study points up Westerners as the only the group who show an increase in our happiness levels after a decline.  The trend for African populations is to stay relatively low throughout their lives, and for Eastern Europeans to become less happier the older they get.  The capacity that Westerners have to become happier again from the age of 55 and to keep getting progressively happier right through into our eighties is both wonderfully encouraging and compelling evidence that our happiness is not a fixed state and is influenced as much by our attitude to life as it is to our current circumstances.
  • And finally, this study highlights – superbly and once again – that our happiness is a complex dynamic quality of life that cannot be nailed down to any one or two factors. I am always pleased when this point is recognised because the more we try and boil down happiness into something simple, fixed and finite the more useless and even potentially harmful it becomes to us.

Of extra interest is the tangential finding this report references from a different study that suggests we British folk are genetically predisposed told the glums because of a short form of the gene responsible for producing serotonin, the neurochemical responsible controlling for the brain’s happiness levels.  This contrasts with the Danes who seem to possess something closer to a happiness gene, and may perhaps help to explain why they routinely top the happiest country index.

Link to the original article

Where Age Equals Happiness

This article reports the same story and presents its data in graph form, noting…

In a study published yesterday in The Lancet, Deaton and researchers from University College London, Stony Brook University, and the University of Southern California put the U-shaped curve in context by looking at the relationship between age and well-being across four different groupings: wealthy English-speaking countries, eastern Europe and former members of the Soviet Union, sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean.

Looking at data from the Gallup World Poll, which measured well-being in different countries, and the English Longitudinal Study, they found that not all patterns of well-being are created equal. While the U.S. and similar nations did indeed stick to the U-shaped curve, elsewhere around the globe, the relationship between age and overall life satisfaction looked markedly different…

A generation from now, however, the relationship between age and wellbeing—across the board—will likely look different still.

Link to read the original article

Research: How Female CEOs Actually Get to the Top

by Sarah Dillard and Vanessa Lipschitz

Continuing the mid-point slump theme – this research emphasises the extra need for women to work in an organisation that will encourage and support her development, especially because most women report lowered ambitions in their mid careers, unlike the men who start with high ambitions and tend to maintain high expectations throughout their careers.  The research findings here challenge the advice being presented to potential women high flyers to hop-scotch their way up, company by company via high stake roles, and show instead that the majority of the (only!?!) 24 women who lead Fortune 500 companies have stayed a long time with the company they now head up, many starting in the lowliest of positions and working their way up.

Ambitious young women hoping to run a major business someday are often advised to take a particular career path: get an undergraduate degree from the most prestigious college you can, an MBA from a selective business school, then land a job at a top consulting firm or investment bank. From there, move between companies as you hopscotch your way into bigger roles and more responsibility.

That’s what we were told as undergraduates, and later on as students at the Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School. It’s what Meg Whitman did, more or less, and it’s what Sally Blount, dean of the Kellogg School of Management and the only woman running a top-ten business school, recently recommended: “If we want our best and brightest young women to become great leaders…we have to convince more of them that … they should be going for the big jobs,” which for her meant “the most competitive business tracks, like investment banking and management consulting.”

We decided to put our expensively honed analytic skills to work testing that advice by looking at the career paths of the 24 women who head Fortune 500 companies. What we found surprised us.

Most women running Fortune 500 companies did not immediately hop on a “competitive business track.” Only three had a job at a consulting firm or bank right out of college. A larger share of the female CEOs—over 20%—took jobs right out of school at the companies they now run.  These weren’t glamorous jobs.

All told, over 70 percent of the 24 CEOs spent more than ten years at the company they now run, becoming long-term insiders before becoming CEO.

Even those who weren’t promoted as long-term insiders often worked their way up a particular corporate ladder, advancing over decades at a single company and later making a lateral move into the CEO role at another company.

The consistent theme in the data is that steady focus wins the day. The median long stint for these women CEOs is 23 years spent at a single company in one stretch before becoming the CEO. To understand whether this was the norm, we pulled a random sample of their male Fortune 500 CEO counterparts. For the men in the sample, the median long stint is 15 years. This means that for women, the long climb is over 50% longer than for their male peers. Moreover, 71% of the female CEOs were promoted as long-term insiders versus only 48% of the male CEOs. This doesn’t leave a lot of time for hopscotch early in women’s careers.

An immediate implication of the long climb is that for ambitious young women, company culture matters a lot. If a common pattern is to spend multiple decades advancing in a single environment, that environment had better fuel female ambition rather than stifle it. A recent Bain survey shows that while women in entry-level jobs have ambition and confidence to reach top management in large companies that matches or exceeds that of men, at mid-career, men’s ambitions and confidence stay the same, while those of women drop dramatically. A company capable of maintaining the drive of its women as they progress in their careers is a better bet for a long stint than one that allows the more common diminishing trend to occur.

It may be that the playbook for advising young women with their sights set on leading large companies needs to be revised. Just as important, there is something inspiring for young women in the stories of these female CEOs: the notion that regardless of background, you can commit to a company, work hard, prove yourself in multiple roles, and ultimately ascend to top leadership. These female CEOs didn’t have to go to the best schools or get the most prestigious jobs.

But they did have to find a good place to climb.

Link to the original article

Podcast 01: Happiness At Work and Work Holidays

Huge congratulations to my friend and eLearning trainer colleague Pilar Orti on launching her new podcast series: 21st Century Work Life.

This very first episode includes some words I wrote about this subject, as well as Pilar’s own intelligent reflections on why happiness at work has come into importance and what this might mean for us.  The second part of this podcast is a virtual coffee conversation between Pilar and Lisette Sutherland.

So, I think the fact that we’re starting to talk about Happiness at Work now makes complete sense. It also shows that our attitude to work is changing. Happiness and work just wouldn’t go together before we talked about things like finding your passion, being fulfilled at work and generally, just knowing that work can be something we enjoy if we have the right conditions.

But also, now, many of us feel like we can be a bit more in control at work. Like we can find information when we need it, like we can connect to others when we want to, not when luck throws us in the same room together. Technology is having a really important effect in our lives by facilitating connections (with others, with information) that we never dreamed we could find. So no wonder that now, we feel like we can control our levels of happiness, to a certain degree. There is still much luck involved, but maybe, just maybe, there are small things we can do here and there to make this world a better, or dare I say happier, place.”

This was also the week that Anne-Marie Rodriguez launched her new radio talk show for urban jazz radio with me as one of her guests.  I loved doing this and will hope to bring you the podcast of the show in next week’s post.

Bit by bit, we are all becoming happiness at work experts together…

And here are some more of our favourite articles from this week’s new Happiness At Work edition #116 collection…

Why Does Happiness Matter?

by Mark Williamson, Action For Happiness

Happiness relates to how we feel, but it is more than just a passing mood.

We are emotional beings and experience a wide range of feelings on a daily basis. Negative emotions – such as fear and anger – help us to get away from danger or defend ourselves. And positive emotions – such as enjoyment and hope – help us to connect with others and build our capacity to cope when things go wrong.

Trying to live a happy life is not about denying negative emotions or pretending to feel joyful all the time. We all encounter adversity and it’s completely natural for us to feel anger, sadness, frustration and other negative emotions as a result. To suggest otherwise would be to deny part of the human condition.

Happiness is about being able to make the most of the good times – but also to cope effectively with the inevitable bad times, in order to experience the best possible life overall. Or, in the words of the biochemist turned Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard: “Happiness is a deep sense of flourishing, not a mere pleasurable feeling or fleeting emotion but an optimal state of being.”

One popular misconception about happiness is that happy people are somehow more likely to be lazy or ineffective. In fact research shows the opposite is true: happiness doesn’t just feel good, it actually leads to a wide range of benefits for our performance, health, relationships and more.

For example, economists at Warwick University showed different groups of people either a positive film clip or a neutral film clip and then asked them to carry out standard workplace tasks under paid conditions. The people who were primed to feel happy were 11% more productive than their peers, even after controlling for age, IQ and other factors. Similarly, researchers at Wharton Business School found that companies with happy employees outperform the stock market year on year and a team at UCL has discovered that people who are happy as young adults go on to earn more than their peers later in life. In healthcare, doctors who are happy have been found to make faster and more accurate diagnoses, even when this happiness was induced simply by giving them the small gift of a sugary sweet. In education, schools that focus on children’s social and emotional wellbeing experience significant gains in academic attainment as well as improvements in pupil behaviour.  Happiness has also been linked to better decision-making and improved creativity.

So, rather than success being the key to happiness, research shows that happiness could in fact be the key to success.

But it doesn’t just help us function better: happiness also brings substantial benefits for society as a whole. For example, a review of more than 160 studies found “clear and compelling evidence” that happier people have better overall health and live longer than their less happy peers. They are around half as likely to catch the cold virus and have a 50% lower risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or stroke. Happier people are also less likely to engage in risky behaviour – for example, they are more likely to wear seat belts and less likely to be involved in road accidents. Happier people are even more financially responsible, tending to save more and have more control over their expenditures.

But perhaps most importantly of all, people who are happier are more likely to make a positive contribution to society. In particular, they are more likely to vote, do voluntary work and participate in public activities. They also have a greater respect for law and order and offer more help to others. There is even evidence that happiness is contagious, so that happier people help others around them to become happier too. An extensive study in the British Medical Journal followed people over 20 years and found that their happiness affected others in their networks across “three degrees of separation”. In other words, how happy we are has a measurable impact on the mood of our friend’s friend’s friend.

When it comes to the happiness of society as a whole, however, the sad truth is that in recent decades we have become substantially richer but no happier. The positive benefits of higher incomes have been undermined by rising inequality and falling levels of trust and social cohesion. We’ve also reached the point where mental ill health is one of our greatest social challenges – causing more of the suffering in our society than either unemployment or poverty. This is why increasing numbers of policymakers and leaders are now calling for measures of progress to be based on human wellbeing and happiness, not just economic factors such as growth in GDP.

Here in the UK, the government has introduced a programme to measure national wellbeing, and influential figures – including former cabinet secretary Gus O’Donnell – are calling for wellbeing to become the overall measure of prosperity and the main guide to public policy.

This shift towards prioritising happiness is important because this also reflects what the majority of people want. In a YouGov poll commissioned by Action for Happiness, a majority (87%) of UK adults said they would prefer a society with the “greatest overall happiness and wellbeing”, rather than the “greatest overall wealth” (8%). The findings were consistent across all regions, age groups and social classes.

So happiness does matter – the scientific evidence is compelling.

The pursuit of happiness is not some fluffy nice-to-have or middle-class luxury; it’s about helping people to live better lives and creating a society that is more productive, healthy and cohesive. As Aristotle said: “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”

Of course, being happy is not some magical cure-all. Happy people still get sick and lose loved ones – and not all happy people are efficient, creative or generous. But, other things being equal, happiness brings substantial advantages.

Perhaps the most powerful insight of all comes, not from the research, but from the responses I’ve heard from many hundreds of parents when asking them what they want above all for their children. Nearly all say something like: “I really just want them to be happy.”

Link to the original Guardian article

The Effect of Resilience on Workplace Environments

adapted from an artcle by Debbie Nicol

Things will always challenge a leader; after all, a leader creates the future.

No recipe exists explaining how to build the way forward. No secret formula has been written for the unknown, as a leader creates it as progress occurs.

A leader lives in a world of vulnerability, something painfully evident when a challenge comes out of seeming nowhere and stamps its presence in every thread of the organisational fabric:  a government law with huge financial consequences; a competitor’s new strategy; a customer’s negative review — all have the propensity to put pressure to potential breaking point on the organisational bubble.

But with resilience, the pressure from those events will never burst it completely

Resilience is to a leader as resourcefulness is to Richard Branson. So what conditions must exist for leaders to apply the concept of resilience?

Inner confidence and positivity about themselves and the future, for one. This allows any pressure to be circumstantial, matched or even negated. A positive attitude towards pressure allows it to be welcomed as an invitation to find new ways for change — it becomes just another source of reflection and learning.

The American author Bruce Barton says it so well: “Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dared to believe that something inside them was superior to circumstances”.

That inner confidence and the ensuing resilience can influence others to follow, and with an army tagging along no amount of pressure will ever be able to take hold. Resilience is also about staring down the barrel of challenge, and so a balanced approach and a good state of mind will minimise risk of an explosive response. When the source of agitation has become a source of learning, balanced perspective and even hope become possible.

Many leaders find it easier to be resilient in times of change when they feel they have control over their life; they have a healthy work-life balance in place and plenty of personal time. Nothing can faze the leader who is both grounded and balanced. Resilience, when combined with optimism, ensures no pressure will destabilise completely.

Resilient leaders seem to live in the world accepting that we ourselves can’t possibly predict what’s right or wrong, so it is best to move ahead, knowing that the pressure could result in myriad solutions — meaning we become the creators of the future. Take, for example, an inefficiency in a business that is having a draining effect. Resilience allows this inefficiency to be viewed as a sign that something else is trying to happen in the business system and there would be no better time than now to explore that. An open-minded environment is one that will see things not for what they are but for what they can be.

On the other hand, a closed-minded environment will become stuck in what is, as it is argument-based, divided into camps of right and wrong.

Environments open to possibility can separate the issue from the emotion, gaining clarity first and foremost to what the issue is. This does not mean that no mechanism exists for the emotional side, it means it does not cloud future possibility. If a leader has been made redundant, resilience shines through when that leader is observed almost immediately going into another direction — creating something that was not possible in the past environment, perhaps choosing to channel her entrepreneurial spirit into her own business.

With resilience there’s just no way for a leader to be derailed; the inner push is simply too powerful to allow any source of external agitation to have a permanent detrimental effect.

Link to the original article

Collaboration: It’s Not What You Think

We have noticed in our learning and development work with organisations over the last several years that the word ‘collaboration‘ seems to have completely replaced what we used to call team working, and is now the main word for all group activity at work.  I am not convinced this is always – or even often – what we really intend, and the word could use some stronger interrogation before we hurl around the room to the people we are about to work with.

Executive coach, Mary Jo Asmus agrees – offering this clarification…

Three words that begin with “C” broadly describe the types of interactions and relationships you may have with others. On a continuum, they look like this:

Competition ◊ Cooperation ◊ Collaboration

Collaboration is a step above cooperation, and it’s rarer than hen’s teeth. When people collaborate, they give up their own vested interests for the greater good (often the greater good is fostered by a “compelling vision” of the future). They’re driven to work through their differences to achieve a goal while trying to understand other’s viewpoints, being open and genuinely willing to change their minds. The stakes may be high, but such people are able to collaboratively bust through barriers to reach the end goal.

If you look hard enough, you may see “moments” of true collaboration in your organisation, but it generally doesn’t happen as often as it should. It takes time, effort and ongoing attention by a leader to make collaboration work.

True collaboration is a powerful way of making great things happen. Listening for understanding, co-creating the way forward with all interested parties, and a willingness to sometimes let go of deeply held beliefs can make collaboration part of the culture.

Not to mention that collaborative work can be great fun and seem almost magical for those involved.

Link to the original article

Rethinking the role of the strategist

Strategic planning has been under assault for years. But good strategy is more important than ever. What does that mean for the strategist?

Achieving real impact today requires strategists to stretch beyond strategic planning to develop at least one of a few signature strengths. Several important facets of the strategist’s role emerged from our research, including reallocating corporate resources, building strategic capabilities at key places in the organization, identifying business-development opportunities, and generating proprietary insights on the basis of external forces at work and long-term market trends. A number of these roles are more appropriate for some strategists and organizations than for others. But the core notion of stretching and choosing is relevant for all.

Since 2010 we’ve sensed, in our work with a wide range of global organizations and strategists, a growing recognition that traditional strategic-planning processes are insufficient to absorb the shocks and disruptions characterizing their markets and to stimulate the ongoing deliberation that a top-management team requires. Increasingly, they recognize a need to rethink their approach to strategic planning and to embrace a more frequent strategic dialogue involving a focused group of senior executives.4Effective organizations seem to be transforming strategy development into an ongoing process of ad hoc, topic-specific leadership conversations and budget-reallocation meetings conducted periodically throughout the year. Some organizations have even instituted a more broadly democratic process that pulls in company-wide participation through social-technology and game-based strategy development.

These experiences are consistent with our own findings. We’ve found that companies that consider themselves “very effective developers of strategy,” and that enjoy higher profitability than their competitors, for example, are twice as likely to review strategy on an ongoing basis (as opposed to say annually or every three to five years). They are, for instance, twice as likely to have a corporate-strategy process that goes beyond the aggregation of business-unit strategies.

Our research also supports one of our major observations about what it takes to innovate in the development and delivery of strategy: over and over, we’ve seen that the chief strategists best at driving more dynamic approaches have a professional credibility that extends well beyond a traditional process-facilitation role. At the same time, we’ve seen tremendous diversity in the characteristics of effective strategists. In a quest for greater precision, we applied statistical cluster analysis to the 13 facets that chief strategists responding to our survey described as most important to their efforts. The analysis yielded five clusters in which the strategist’s role becomes more than the sum of its parts. Widespread across industries, these clusters embody choices that face every strategy leader:

Our Five Chief Strategist Archetypes

The Architect

The Mobiliser

The Visionary

The Surveyor

The Fund Manager

The complexity of today’s strategic landscape places a premium on good strategy. And just as crafting strategy requires tough choices, so does shaping the role of the strategist. The good news, according to our research, is that strategists have a range of powerful options for adding value to their organizations, and nearly 90 percent of the strategists responding to our survey thought they were effective at the elements of the role they prioritized. The bad news is that over time it’s easy for mismatches to develop between those areas of focus and a company’s strategic needs. By identifying those mismatches and reprioritizing accordingly, strategists, chief executives, and other members of the top team can boost the quality of their strategic insights and actions.

Link to the read the full original McKinsey Company article

Workaholism Is Harmful to Health and Happiness, Study Finds

Despite being tagged as a “positive addiction,” workaholism has negative consequences for employees and employers alike.

Being a workaholic is bad for employers and employees alike, damaging one’s health, happiness, and interpersonal relations, according to a new study.

The meta-analysis, published in the Journal of Management, used existing data to relate the causes and effects of workaholism, a term coinedby American psychologist Wayne Oates in 1971.

In a culture that glorifies workaholism, some researchers go so far as to call it a “positive addiction,” according to Malissa Clark, lead author, assistant professor of industrial and organizational psychology at the University of Georgia.

Workaholism is not defined by hard work itself. It is when one’s need to work becomes so excessive that it inevitably interferes with personal health and happiness, interpersonal relations, and social functioning. The quality of work is not relevant, but it is the act of working, itself, that defines workaholism.

Clark refers to this as the difference between workaholism and work engagement. “One is feeling driven to work because of an internal compulsion, when there’s guilt if you’re not working—that’s workaholism,” she said. “The other feeling is wanting to work because you feel joy in work and that’s why you go to work everyday, because you enjoy it. And I say that is work engagement.”

The study revealed that other aspects of a workaholic’s life are negatively affected by this behavior—such as stress level, health, and relationships—which ultimately causes one’s productivity to suffer as well.

“My prior research has shown that workaholics experience negative emotions, both at work and at home. Similar to other types of addictions, workaholics may feel a fleeting high or a rush when they’re at work, but quickly become overwhelmed by feelings of guilt or anxiety,” she said. “Looking at the motivations behind working, workaholics seem pushed to work not because they love it but because they feel internal pressure to work. This internal compulsion is similar to having an addiction.”

The next generation of workers inspire hope that the workaholic culture will not last, said Clark, making way for a more family-friendly culture. She noted that millennials tend to “care more about work-family balance than previous generations,” which could mean that in the future, more companies will promote a healthy work-life balance over working too hard.

Link to the original article

How playing an instrument benefits your brain – Anita Collins

When you listen to music, multiple areas of your brain become engaged and active. But when you actually play an instrument, that activity becomes more like a full-body brain workout. What’s going on?

Anita Collins explains the fireworks that go off in musicians’ brains when they play, and examines some of the long-term positive effects of this mental workout.

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Here are this week’s best practical tools and techniques

Three Ways To Be Happier At Work

“Happier people are more successful, more creative, energetic, resilient,” says the founder of Happy Brain Science, Scott Crabtree. “They work better together. They absorb more information. They have more tools in their tool belt to help them handle whatever life throws them. They are healthier, they live longer—and they show up at work more often.”

There’s a common assumption, he says, that you will be happy when you are successful. But the reverse is actually true, and not just anecdotally. Hard neurological science supports the idea that happy people have more capacity to succeed.  And beyond that, that happiness is not a genetic mandate, or a product of circumstance. It’s a choice.

Crabtree boils this choice down into three opportunities for change that can make people happier, and are also the building blocks of high performance:

1. Achieve greater flow and engagement by structuring your goals, making them meaningful and aligned to your strengths (and then avoid multitasking)

2. Prioritise people

3. Practise positivity (you can retrain your brain to maximise your happiness advantage)

12 Worst Habits For Your Mental Health

Twelve simple everyday routines to change to live a happier life, including not slouching when we walk, not taking pictures of everything, less procrastination, less multitasking, more exercise, more sleep, more time alone and more conversation…

Ten Tips for Better Work-Life Balance

  1. Step away from the email
  2. Just say “no”
  3. Work smarter, not harder
  4. Leave work at work
  5. Forget about perfection
  6. Don’t be a martyr
  7. Ease off the adrenaline
  8. Think about retirement
  9. Make ’em wait
  10. Set your own rules

5 Questions That Will Help You Be a Better Leader

  1. What are you willing to take a stand for?
  2. What do you believe will happen if you let go of control?
  3. What do you really believe about making mistakes?
  4. What standards do you set for yourself?
  5. What do you expect from your team?

10 Tips and Quotes from the Best Leadership Books of the Year

1. Resilience is critical to success in leadership

Denise Brosseau in her book Ready to Be a Thought Leader: How to Increase Your Influence, Impact, and Success

2. You must bridge the communication gap created by leadership

Mike Myatt in his book Hacking Leadership: The 11 Gaps Every Business Needs to Close and the Secrets to Closing Them Quickly

3. Leadership is, at its core, about the mobilization of ideas

John P. Kotter in his book Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World

4. Good leaders are highly aware of their own vulnerabilities

Robert Bruce Shaw in his book Leadership Blindspots: How Successful Leaders Identify and Overcome the Weaknesses That Matter

5. Leaders equip people for success beyond their own purview

Derek Lidow in his book Startup Leadership: How Savvy Entrepreneurs Turn Their Ideas Into Successful Enterprises

6. The role of a leader is primarily to care for others

Simon Sinek in his book Leaders Eat Last: Why Some Teams Pull Together and Others Don’t

7. Take time to reflect and lead in the moment without stopping only to focus on problems

Kathryn D. Cramer in her book Lead Positive: What Highly Effective Leaders See, Say, and Do

8. Trust in leadership can be distilled down to four basic elements

Joanna Barsh and Johanne Lavoie in their book Centered Leadership: Leading with Purpose, Clarity, and Impact

9. Body language trumps spoken instruction

Nick Morgan in his book Power Cues: The Subtle Science of Leading Groups, Persuading Others, and Maximizing Your Personal Impact

10. Hope in leadership comes from analyzing success and feedback

Stewart D. Friedman in his book Leading the Life You Want: Skills for Integrating Work and Life

How To Be A Great Public Speaker

Harnessing the power  sources of the three golden principles of

  • Authority
  • Authenticity and
  • Audience

6 Ways To Take Care of Your Customer

  1. Appreciation
  2. Service
  3. Human Touch
  4. Periodic Checking In
  5. Shared Expertise
  6. Simplified Experience

Happiness At Work edition #116

All of these articles and more are collected together in this week’s new clutch of ideas, tips and news stories