What these ideas, and the stories that follow, all have in common is the growing understanding we are getting from contemporary research about how much the way we choose to think about things affects the experienced reality of the things themselves.
Never has the need for personal mastery been more vital or more richly informed, and I hope this collection will give you new approaches and techniques to try out and talk about with the people who matter to you. Enjoy.
by Debbie Hampton Writer, blogger, hot yoga enthusiast, brain injury survivor
Every thought you have causes neurochemical changes, some temporary and some lasting. For instance, when people consciously practice gratitude, they get a surge of rewarding neurotransmitters, like dopamine, and experience a general alerting and brightening of the mind, probably correlated with more of the neurochemical norepinephrine…
Every cell in your body is replaced about every two months. So, the good news is, you can reprogram your pessimistic cells to be more optimistic by adopting positive thinking practices, like mindfulness and gratitude, for permanent results…
Your biology doesn’t spell your destiny, and you aren’t controlled by your genetic makeup. Instead, your genetic activity is largely determined by your thoughts, attitudes, and perceptions. Epigenetics is showing that your perceptions and thoughts control your biology, which places you in the driver’s seat. By changing your thoughts, you can influence and shape your own genetic readout.
This is true for two reasons. First, people who want the best tend to be prone to regret. “If you’re out to find the best possible job, no matter how good it is, if you have a bad day, you think there’s got to be something better out there,” saysBarry Schwartz, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley and author of The Paradox of Choice…
This happiness gap raises the question: Can maximizers learn to become satisficers? Can you learn to settle for good enough?
Possibly, but it takes some work. “What I believe is that it’s changeable and that it’s not easy to change,” says Schwartz. Here are some ways to make the shift…
In Brain Basics, we looked at many of the structures in the brain and how they function. In this section we will look more specifically at how they impact leadership and the workplace. Since these are complex issues, especially for people who are just learning about neuroscience, we’ve put together 5 neuroscience lessons for leaders, that will shed some light on the practicality of these notions.
…The brain continues to reform and rewire itself based on how much or how little the pathways are used. That means that we can always learn new things.
The way neurons share information is through sending and receiving neurotransmitters across the small gap. The neurotransmitters trigger a chemical process, which creates an electrical charge that travels through the neuron. This process of electrical charge, neurotransmitters, electrical charge, and so on is what creates the pathway of neurons. There is a saying “Cells that fire together, wire together.” That means that when learning a new task or about a new person, the best way to learn it is to do it multiple times, so that the neurons “fire together” and eventually “wire together”.
It is never too late for a leader or an employee to learn a new skill or a new way of doing things. Change is hard sometimes, but research tells us it is possible.
2. Our Brains Like Rewards
Emotions are an important aspect of how the brain changes and how we learn. Positive feelings activated through the reward system of the brain enhance the pathways and improve learning. The reward system is very complex and has pathways in many areas of the brain, but often it is regulated by the neurotransmitter dopamine.
There are two main reward systems in the brain that are related to attention and motivation: primary and secondary. Primary rewards are related to primary needs like food, water, and shelter. We feel good when we have those needs met. Secondary rewards help our survival but are not vital to it. They include things like information, power, trust, touch, appreciation, and community.
For leaders, rewards are often an effective way to motivate employees. Based on neuroscience, there are some rewards that seem to release more dopamine than others. You will see that money, or material goods, are not on the list. Many of the rewards are related to social interaction in some way.
Following the science, leaders can review their system of motivation and rewards to consider ideas that are proven to be rewarding to the brain. While each employee is different, there are many categories or rewards that would be useful to implement in order to truly activate an employee’s reward pathway. More dopamine means employees who are happier, more focused, and more motivated.
3. The Power of Mirror Neurons
In the early 1990s scientists discovered mirror neurons. They found that when one person watches another do some kind of action, the neurons of the first person fire as if they were actually doing it. There is a common example that has to do with yawning. Research has shown that yawning can be contagious. Why? Mirror neurons. When one person yawns and another observes, the neuronal pathways for yawning in the observer’s brain are activated, causing them to yawn too.
While this may explain why a yawn can seem to travel around an office, mirror neurons are really important for learning, emotional awareness, and empathy. When we watch someone do something, our brain is actually learning how to do it. When we see someone experiencing an emotion, our brain processes that emotion as well, increasing empathy.
Mirror neurons can be important aspects of leadership as we can see how our emotional and physical states as leaders are actually teaching our employees how to act and how to respond emotionally to us. When mirroring is connected to a certain need and when it is understood from a familiar viewpoint, the effect is stronger. Mirror neurons, again, prove how much humans are social animals. People are highly connected to the people and the environments around them.
Because of this connection, leaders can create environments where people can mirror others who create collaborative and cooperative learning and working atmospheres. Individuals are important to the team and the team is important to the individuals through the power or mirror neurons.
4. Emotions are Everything
Many people want to believe that they can make decisions based exclusively on free will and their rational minds. That is not often backed by science, as research has shown that there are many unconscious processes that influence and dictate why we behave in the ways we do.
Those processes follow brain pathways that were put into place when we were very young. In most cases we have already made a decision before we have actually thought about it. This happens in the limbic system. Our cerebral cortex then has to rationalize the decision through language and planning, leading to, what some may call, the illusion of free will. That is not to say that the cerebral cortex cannot influence the limbic system. This can be seen in people who practice meditation and mindfulness.
As a leader, it is particularly useful to know that when we are faced with stress or a threat, the executive functions of the brain shut down, leaving the unconscious processes of the limbic system in charge of decision making. These parts of the brain react on emotion and survival instincts.
Leaders also need to be aware that in terms of learning and team building, change happens not from the cerebral context but from the limbic system. With effective company rewards and interventions, the slow process of changing the limbic system can start to take place.
5. Creating a Brain-Based Work Environment
The information presented is a starting point for creating a work environment that is based around what is healthy for the brain. Leaders who ignore how the brain functions are leaving a lot to chance. Sometimes things might be great, but then something can happen and they might worsen. Having a brain-based work environment can help leaders effectively navigate the rises and falls in the economic climate.
Be a brain-based leader by helping the people improve the work environment, and the environment improve the people. Both influence the other and, in a working system, there will be an upward spiral of motivation, growth, and productivity. Overtime, this environment will actually change the brains of the people in it, making the team and the organization better able to adapt to change.
…Inspired by the Framingham Heart Study research, our People Innovation Lab developed gDNA, Google’s first major long-term study aimed at understanding work. Under the leadership of PhD Googlers Brian Welle and Jennifer Kurkoski, we’re two years into what we hope will be a century-long study. We’re already getting glimpses of the smart decisions today that can have profound impact on our future selves, and the future of work overall…
…The fact that such a large percentage of Google’s employees wish they could separate from work but aren’t able to is troubling, but also speaks to the potential for this kind of research. The existence of this group suggests that it is not enough to wish yourself into being a Segmentor. But by identifying where employees fall on this spectrum, we hope that Google can design environments that make it easier for employees to disconnect. Our Dublin office, for example, ran a program called “Dublin Goes Dark” which asked people to drop off their devices at the front desk before going home for the night. Googlers reported blissful, stressless evenings. Similarly, nudging Segmentors to ignore off-hour emails and use all their vacation days might improve well-being over time. The long-term nature of these questions suggests that the real value of gDNA will take years to realize.
…We have great luxuries at Google in our supportive leadership, curious employees who trust our efforts, and the resources to have our People Innovation Lab. But for any organization, there are four steps you can take to start your own exploration and move from hunches to science:
1. Ask yourself what your most pressing people issues are. Retention? Innovation? Efficiency? Or better yet, ask your people what those issues are.
2. Survey your people about how they think they are doing on those most pressing issues, and what they would do to improve.
3. Tell your people what you learned. If it’s about the company, they’ll have ideas to improve it. If it’s about themselves – like our gDNA work – they’ll be grateful.
4. Run experiments based on what your people tell you. Take two groups with the same problem, and try to fix it for just one. Most companies roll out change after change, and never really know why something worked, or if it did at all. By comparing between the groups, you’ll be able to learn what works and what doesn’t.
by Alex Lickerman M.D. author of The Undefeated Mind: On the Science of Constructing an Indestructible Self
The set-point theory of happiness suggests that our level of subjective well-being is determined primarily by heredity and by personality traits ingrained in us early in life and as a result remains relatively constant throughout our lives. Our level of happiness may change transiently in response to life events, but then almost always returns to its baseline level as we habituate to those events and their consequences over time. Habituation, a growing body of evidence now tells us, occurs even to things like career advancement, money, and marriage.
On the other hand, other research (link is external) suggests a few events—chief among them the unexpected death of a child and repeated bouts of unemployment—seem to reduce our ability to be happy permanently. Yet some studies also suggest that we can also fix our happiness set point permanentlyhigher—by helping others.
According to one such study (link is external) that analyzed data from the German Socio-Economic Panel Survey, a collection of statistics representing the largest and longest-standing series of observations on happiness in the world, the trait most strongly associated with long-term increases in life satisfaction is, in fact, a persistent commitment to pursuing altruisticgoals. That is, the more we focus on compassionate action, on helping others, the happier we seem to become in the long run…
…just as exercise can actually provide us with energy by forcing us to summon it when we’re feeling tired (link is external), helping others can provide us with enthusiasm, encouragement, and even joy by forcing us to summon them when we’re feeling discouraged. “If one lights a fire for others,” wrote Nichiren Daishonin, “one will brighten one’s own way.” Thus, the moments in which we feel happiest aren’t just moments to be enjoyed. They’re also opportunities to increase the frequency and intensity with which we feel them in the future.
When we think of side effects, the first thing that springs to mind are the side effects of drugs. But who’d have thought that kindness could have side effects, too?
Well, it does! And positive ones at that.
…when we are kind, the following are some side effects that come with it:
1) Kindness makes us happier.
When we do something kind for someone else, we feel good. On a spiritual level, … we’re tapping into something deep and profound inside us that says, “This is who I am.”
On a biochemical level, it is believed that the good feeling we get is due to elevated levels of the brain’s natural versions of morphine and heroin, which we know as endogenous opioids. They cause elevated levels of dopamine in the brain, so we get a natural high, often referred to as “Helper’s High.”
2) Kindness gives us healthier hearts.
Acts of kindness are often accompanied by emotional warmth. Emotional warmth produces the hormone oxytocin in the brain and throughout the body. Of much recent interest is its significant role in the cardiovascular system.
Oxytocin causes the release of a chemical called nitric oxide in blood vessels, which dilates (expands) the blood vessels. This reduces blood pressure, and therefore oxytocin is known as a “cardio-protective” hormone because it protects the heart (by lowering blood pressure). The key is that acts kindness can produce oxytocin, and therefore kindness can be said to be cardio-protective.
3) Kindness slows aging.
Aging on a biochemical level is a combination of many things, but two culprits that speed the process are free radicals and inflammation, both of which result from making unhealthy lifestyle choices.
But remarkable research now shows that oxytocin (which we produce through emotional warmth) reduces levels of free radicals and inflammation in the cardiovascular system and thus slows aging at its source. Incidentally these two culprits also play a major role in heart disease, so this is also another reason why kindness is good for the heart.
There have also been suggestions in the scientific journals of the strong link between compassion and the activity of the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve, in addition to regulating heart rate, also controls inflammation levels in the body in what is known as the inflammatory reflex. One study that used the Tibetan Buddhist lovingkindness meditation found that kindness and compassion did, in fact, reduce inflammation in the body, mostly likely due to its effects on the vagus nerve.
4) Kindness makes for better relationships.
This is one of the most obvious points. We all know that we like people who show us kindness. This is because kindness reduces the emotional distance between two people, so we feel more “bonded.” It’s something that is so strong in us that it’s actually a genetic thing. We are wired for kindness.
Our evolutionary ancestors had to learn to cooperate with one another. The stronger the emotional bonds within groups, the greater the chances of survival, so “kindness genes” were etched into the human genome.
Today, when we are kind to each other, we feel a connection, and new relationships are forged, or existing ones strengthened.
5) Kindness is contagious.
When we’re kind, we inspire others to be kind, and it actually creates a ripple effect that spreads outwards to our friends’ friends’ friends — to three degrees of separation. Just as a pebble creates waves when it is dropped in a pond, so acts of kindness ripple outwards, touching others’ lives and inspiring kindness everywhere the wave goes.
A recent scientific study reported than an anonymous 28-year-old person walked into a clinic and donated a kidney. It set off a “pay it forward” type ripple effect where the spouses or other family members of recipients of a kidney donated one of theirs to someone else in need. The “domino effect,” as it was called in the New England Journal of Medicine report, spanned the length and breadth of the United States of America, where 10 people received a new kidney as a consequence of that anonymous donor.
While all vacationers enjoyed pre-trip happiness, the study’s authors found that people only experienced a boost in happiness post-vacation if their trip was relaxing. If their vacation was deemed “stressful” or “neutral,” their post-trip happiness levels were comparable to those who hadn’t taken a vacation at all.
Pre-trip happiness, however, is a different story entirely. The study found that all vacationers experienced a significant boost in happiness during the planning stages of the trip because, as the researchers suggest, the vacationers were looking forward to the good times ahead…
In a recent study, Todd Thrash and colleagues conducted the first ever test of “inspiration contagion,” using poetry as the vehicle. They looked at specific qualities of a text and the qualities of the reader. It’s a rich study, with 36,020 interactions between all of the variables! Here are the essential findings…
…The more writers privately reported that they felt inspired while writing, the more the average reader reported being inspired. This is despite the fact that there was no actual contact between the reader and the writer other than the text itself!
…Readers higher in openness to new experiences were more tolerant of the new and sublime. The more that the reader was open to new experiences, the more they experienced inspiration transmission, and the less the originality and sublimity of the text hindered transmission.
Reader inspiration was not the only outcome of writer inspiration. Writer inspiration also brought out feelings of awe and chills in the average reader. These feelings of enthrallment were transmitted particularly through the insightfulness and sublimity of the text.
…However, these findings suggest that good writing is more like talking, an expression of one’s inner state of being. Perhaps the most helpful way for aspiring writers to view writing is as a natural vehicle for capturing personal insights and expressing them.
Most theories of motivation have championed the pleasure principle, where our choices of daily activities aim to maximize our short-term happiness. However, it was not clear to researchers how to reconcile this idea with the fact that we all have to engage routinely in unpleasant, yet necessary activities.
To address this question a team of researchers, including an Imperial academic, developed a smartphone application to monitor in real-time the activities and moods of approximately 30,000 people.
The team found that, rather than following the pleasure or hedonic principle, people’s choices of activities instead consistently followed a hedonic flexibility principle, which shows how people regulate their mood. Specifically, the model shows that people were more likely to engage in mood-increasing activities such as playing sport when they felt bad. When they felt good they engaged in useful, but mood-decreasing activities such as doing housework…
The model revealed that firstly, people’s future decisions to engage in one activity rather than another are related to how they currently feel. Secondly, the interplay between mood and choices of activity followed a very specific pattern.
When participants were in a bad mood, they were more likely to later engage in activities that tended to subsequently boost their mood. For example, if people’s current mood decreased by 10 points, they were more likely to later engage in things like sport, going out into nature, and chatting. All of these activities were associated with a subsequent increase in mood.
…More or less, we can all be split into two groups; Those motivated by the pursuit of pleasure and those who prefer to secure their long-term welfare. A new study has attempted to understand the motivation between these two conflicting philosophies.
Our likeliness to live in the moment or prepare for the future is not a permanent feature of our personality and changes according to our mood at the moment. The study revealed that when a person is in a good mood, they are more likely to do housework and other unpleasant yet useful activities over the next few hours than when they are in a bad mood. When feeling bad, people tend to choose activities later that day that are more pleasurable, such as playing sports and spending time with friends, apparently in an effort to feel better…
Profundity by Col Skinner, a UK based Digital Marketing Consultant and Strategist
…if we all take some time to review what success actually means to us and what we want from our working lives then we might find it doesn’t (have to) match the archetypal clichés in society. The archetypal perception is that success is something status led that is achieved through sacrificing your personal life in order to commit hundreds of hours to earning tons of cash in a ‘kill or be killed’ business environment. All very 1980’s Wall Street if you ask me. I think shows like The Apprentice / Dragons Den, along with business dinosaurs like Donald Trump, also have a lot to answer for.
I thought it would be interesting to hear how people who have quit the rat race, define success. So I went and sourced a range of Freelancers who very kindly gave their personal definitions of SUCCESS. This may help give clarity to those who currently struggle to define their own goals…
You, and no one else, are the one that sets or defines what success looks like. Don’t fall for the cliché trappings of a successful life. Aim for goals that matter and make a difference to you or those around you. I will leave you with this great quote by Anne Sweeney:
“Define success by your own terms, achieve it by your own rules, and build a life you’re proud to live.”
These are some of the highlights I have especially enjoyed and drawn ideas from during the last six week’s trawl for stories, research and practical tips about how to make greater relationships, happiness and resilience for ourselves and the people we work with.
As this burgeoning new field of inquiry expands and gains more and more momentum, it is becoming harder to slim down our selection rather than to find relevant material, and we really hope you will find something amongst this mix, and in the rest of the collection, to use to nourish your own aspirations, learning, leadership and flourishing.
Happy workplaces are more profitable and innovative, attract the best employees and have lower absenteeism and employee turnover rates. Simply put, happy companies make more money.
But how do you create a happy workplace? We believe some of the answers are found in positive psychology…
Traditional psychology looks at everything that can go wrong with our minds – psychosis, neurosis, phobias, depression etc – and asks how it can be treated/cured. It’s an incredibly important field but positive psychology asks the opposite question: When are we happy? What does it take for people to live good lives and thrive psychologically? The field has been especially active for the last 30 years and we are learning some really interesting and surprising things about happiness.
Here are the five findings from positive psychology that we believe are the most relevant in the workplace.
1: Positive emotions have many beneficial effect on us and on our job performance…
2: Emotions are contagious…
3: Small actions can have a large effect on our happiness…
I am now working with (my wife) Michelle Gielan and Amy Blankson from the Institute for Applied Positive Research to find out how long a happiness boost lasts from a single pay increase versus more frequent organic boosts like digital praise. Our hypothesis is that if a company gives a pay increase, the engagement bump is short-lived, as the new income level becomes the mental norm — necessitating another raise later to maintain the same level of engagement. This is in line with current research on extrinsic/intrinsic motivation as described in the HBR article “Does Money Really Affect Motivation?” But because the peer recognition program is ongoing, there is no indication of a tolerance point at which the engagement scores return to a baseline.
As our companies continue to grow and expand and technology advances, we are finding ourselves increasingly fragmented from our social support networks both at work and at home. The digital revolution has increased our speed of work dramatically. And this research suggests that technology may also be one of the keys to connecting us back together — creating the type of effective, organic and peer-based praise people need and deserve as they endeavor to lead their teams to greater success…and hopefully greater happiness.
Psychologist and author Martin Seligman posited that “authentic happiness” is a combination of engagement, meaning, and positive emotions. He studied people from all over the world and discovered that when a person exercises certain traits or virtues—like duty, kindness, and leadership—it promotes authentic happiness.
The two realms of life that are most likely to elicit engagement, meaning, and positive emotions are our social relations and the workplace. And yet, if you ask around, you’ll sadly come to the realization that most workplaces hinder engagement and positive emotions.
Here are 27 resources from great thinkers, researchers, and leaders on helping you hone in on happiness so that you can cultivate it within your team and your day-to-day activities.
some articles about Making Great Relationships at work
This result suggests that the more practice you give your brain at feeling and expressing gratitude, the more it adapts to this mind-set — you could even think of your brain as having a sort of gratitude “muscle” that can be exercised and strengthened (not so different from various other qualities that can be cultivated through practice, of course). If this is right, the more of an effort you make to feel gratitude one day, the more the feeling will come to you spontaneously in the future. It also potentially helps explain another established finding, that gratitude can spiral: The more thankful we feel, the more likely we are to act pro-socially toward others, causing them to feel grateful and setting up a beautiful virtuous cascade.
According to a meta-analysis by Gallup, one determinant of positive employee attitudes — in addition to having learning opportunities and adequate office supplies — is answering yes to the question “I have a best friend at work.” Perhaps company policies could include 45-minute lunch breaks, since American researchers found that this length of time spent in substantive conversation — not small talk — fosters a sense of closeness between mere acquaintances. Exchanging weekend war stories at your neighbour’s desk has more value than you might think…
“Parenting is the stewardship of the precious lives that come to you through birth, adoption or second marriages. Leadership is the stewardship of the precious lives that come to you by people walking through your door and agreeing to share their gifts with you.” This insight ultimately transformed how Chapman runs his company. In a new book Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family, Chapman and coauthor Raj Sisodia explain how any company can integrate this perspective into their organization.
‘How do I tend to respond to difficult or challenging times at work?’
The workplace throws up a steady stream of obstacles and challenges e.g. colleague relationships, organisational ways of working, workloads etc., and it’s our resilience or the ability to cope with the obstacles that come our way, to bounce back, learn from mistakes, to make amends when necessary, and most important of all, begin again without rumination or regret, which determines our wellbeing at work.
Resilience was once seen as a rare human feat – but now, research shows that within a well-functioning emotion system, resilience can be standard and that people’s levels of resilience are not set in stone, but can be improved through experience and training.
Resilience is often defined as the capacity to adjust to change, disruption or difficulty and move on from negative or traumatic experiences in a positive way.
Studies find people with the most resilience tend to be more productive, less likely to have high health-care costs and less often absent from work. Now, some employers are offering programs to help employees become more resilient. They are providing webinars and group coaching to teach skills and habits that help people stay focused and functioning during stressful times at work or home…
A recent review of more than a decade of studies, led by researchers at the University of Nebraska and published in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, found resilience training in the workplace can help improve employees’ mental health and subjective well-being, and offer wider benefits in social functioning and performance.
In December the New York Times Magazinepublished an essay called “The Profound Emptiness of ‘Resilience.’ ” It pointed out that the word is now used everywhere, often in ways that drain it of meaning and link it to vague concepts like “character.” But resilience doesn’t have to be an empty or vague concept. In fact, decades of research have revealed a lot about how it works. This research shows that resilience is, ultimately, a set of skills that can be taught. In recent years, we’ve taken to using the term sloppily—but our sloppy usage doesn’t mean that it hasn’t been usefully and precisely defined. It’s time we invest the time and energy to understand what “resilience” really means.
We make millions of little decisions all the time, and the result of each one is either net positive, net negative, or neutral. The more net positive decisions we can make (and the fewer net negative ones), the better. Net positive decisions—brushing your teeth before bed, eating healthy meals, and regularly going to the gym—help you feel good and bring you one step closer to your goals despite the effort they entail….
While the healthier choice may seem harder, it pays off bigger. And you’ll be surprised by just how easy these choices can be once you make the effort. By learning how to master the seven things that are within our control, you will start to make more net positive decisions, fewer net negative ones, and find that empowering, positive behaviors become second nature. So let go of all the stuff you can’t control and start using your time to master what you can control. Before you know it, you’ll be living your best life ever!
Our brains are designed to focus on one thing at a time, and bombarding them with information only slows them down…
New research suggests the possibility that cognitive damage associated with multi-tasking could be permanent.
A study from the University of Sussex (UK) ran MRI scans on the brains of individuals who spent time on multiple devices at once (texting while watching TV, for example). The MRI scans showed that subjects who multitasked more often had less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex. That’s the area responsible for empathy and emotional control.
The one caveat is that research isn’t detailed enough to determine if multitasking is responsible for these effects, or if existing brain damage results in multitasking habits. Still, no matter how you spin it, multitasking is no good.
The lesson? Multitasking is not a skill to add to the resume, but rather a bad habit to put a stop to. Turn off notifications, create set email checking time slots throughout the day (rather than constant inbox refreshing), and put your mind to the task at hand.
Matthieu Ricard, also known as ‘the world’s happiest man’, spends much of time now trying to teach the world how to be happy, and how to show empathy, kindness and compassion to one another.
His latest book, Altruism, provides a complex look at a remarkably simple approach to solving the ills of the world. Ricard’s work has always revolved around positive transformation, and now he has published an 800-page guide to using one of the traits most inherent to human nature to overcome the challenges of the 21st century.
Ricard summarises his work: “I used everything I could learn through 70 years, and I researched for five years to point out that altruism is not a luxury or utopia, but the only answer to the challenges of our times.”
The book took him five years to write, and contains an impressive 1,600 scientific references, providing a convincing argument on how important the widespread adoption of genuine concern for the wellbeing of others could be for changing the world.
He takes a three-pronged look at the world’s main challenges: the economy in the short-term, life satisfaction in the mid-term, and the environment in the long-term.
“People are basically good. If you look at evolution, one of the difficult points was how evolution can explain altruism; now you see all the great evolutionists like Martin Nowak with ideas that actually say cooperation has been much more creative to evolution than competition. Those are not just eccentric guys; they are the core of the science.”
Ricard believes that we are perfectly placed to start tapping into what is already a part of us, to create something better: happier societies, a more compassionate business environment, and a less damaging approach to the environment.
Those who would find solitude must not be afraid to stand alone.
What does the contemporary self want? The camera has created a culture of celebrity; the computer is creating a culture of connectivity. As the two technologies converge — broadband tipping the Web from text to image, social-networking sites spreading the mesh of interconnection ever wider — the two cultures betray a common impulse. Celebrity and connectivity are both ways of becoming known. This is what the contemporary self wants. It wants to be recognized, wants to be connected: It wants to be visible. If not to the millions, on Survivor or Oprah, then to the hundreds, on Twitter or Facebook. This is the quality that validates us, this is how we become real to ourselves — by being seen by others. The great contemporary terror is anonymity. If Lionel Trilling was right, if the property that grounded the self, in Romanticism, was sincerity, and in modernism it was authenticity, then in postmodernism it is visibility.
So we live exclusively in relation to others, and what disappears from our lives is solitude. Technology is taking away our privacy and our concentration, but it is also taking away our ability to be alone…
Overall, the link between creativity and distractibility ties in nicely with one of the main assertions Kaufman and Gregoire make in their book: that a creative mind is an open mind. This may even help explain why experiments since at least the 1960s have discovered a link between creativity and mental illness. “Being open to and curious about the full spectrum of life — both the good and the bad, the dark and the light — may be what leads writers to score high on some characteristics that our society tends to associate with mental illness,” Kaufman and Gregoire write, “at the same time that it leads them to become more grounded and self-aware.” Having an open mind means a lot more stuff is going to wander on in there, for better or for worse. “Everything is interesting, and you want to pay attention to it all,” Carson said.
But in the annoying, everyday scenarios, this can be a problem, for the obvious reasons. Sometimes you do have to filter out distractions. Alas, it’s not yet clear from the research whether it’s possible for a person to temporarily improve their latent inhibition. Instead of trying to train yourself to ignore distractions like email or texts, it may be better to avoid them completely, at least while you’re trying to get creative work done. Marcel Proust is said to have worked while wearing ear plugs; the 19th-century novelist Franz Kafka once said, “I need solitude for my writing; not ‘like a hermit’ — that wouldn’t be enough — but like a dead man.” Both men have a point.
Most employees spend around 40 hours a week in the workplace. It’s the space in which they reason, react, collaborate, build relationships and think creatively…
With employee wellbeing moving up the organisational agenda it isn’t surprising to find businesses re-examining how their workspaces affect employees, for good or for bad.
But other forces too are pushing them to think differently. There has been much discussion about the impact of the multi-generational workforce and of the complications that arise as the requirements and preferences of different generations play out in the modern workplace.
Nor is it just generational differences; different kinds of job roles, work patterns, skill sets and perhaps even personality types also need to be taken into consideration. There is a growing appreciation of the need to move beyond a one-size-fits-all approach to workplace design, towards one that appreciates the diversity of employee needs.
As businesses seek to gain and maintain competitive edge and remain agile in a world of increasingly flexible work patterns, the need to rethink the working environment is almost inevitable.
With more organisations recognising this, it’s becoming clear that the office of the future is going to look very different from the workplace of the past.
The world of work—and the world in general—is changing. People are living longer, new technologies are emerging, and we’ve never been more globally connected. That means the skills we use now in the workplace are not necessarily the skills we’ll need in the future.
In this three-part series, Professor Robert Quinn looks at how HR can stop being in the ‘bandage business,’ and how they can harness the findings of his research on Positive Organizations to emerge as a strong strategic business partner. This is part one. Read part two and part three too.
…in a world where 70% of the global workforce is unengaged and 52% of the management workforce is unengaged, how do we create cultures where people flourish and exceed expectations?
Leadership development and cultural vitality are big HR challenges that face every organization.
…the story of a Chief People Officer who got out of the bandage business. She altered the culture of a major business school. In the process she reinvented herself and became invaluable to her organization.
These are just three quotes that illustrate the extraordinary power of our minds.
And this same idea of the importance of how we choose to think about things is central to our increasing intelligence about what helps to make and keep greater happiness, resilience, relationships and personal mastery in our work and lives.
This month’s collection of Happiness At Work articles reverberate this theme and I have brought together some of the top stories here.
This uplifting poem is opening hearts all over the world, from the Hasidic Jewish community of New York to the streets of London. Its cross-cultural message? That we can choose happiness each and every day by adjusting our point of view.
And its journey from a high school girl’s pen to viral fame by way of a London bar and a downbeat Facebook status is pretty cool too.
“Change your thoughts and you change your world.” ~Norman Vincent Peale
From this quote, Bob Dempsey provides this really helpful outline of how subjective our judgements and decision making really are…
Cognitive Bias is defined as a pattern of deviation in judgement, whereby influences about other people and situations may be drawn in an illogical fashion. Cognitive bias is a general term used to describe many observer effects in the human mind, some of which can lead to perceptual distortion, inaccurate judgment, or illogical interpretation.
In layman’s terms: A gap in between how we should reason and how we do reason. Thinking irrationally – judging or favoring a person, group, or thing in an unfair way.
As much as you may not notice them, biases are ingrained into our decision making from birth. Biases are one of the more interesting phenomena of evolved mental behavior. The brain has evolved to make us believe that we’re special, valuable, and capable. Biases help you to feel unique and overcome the strains, struggles, and challenges of your life. Biases help you to avoid second guessing yourself or feeling like a fool. We are biased in a variety of areas: from bias to live in certain climates and temperature ranges, to seeking out certain types of foods and tastes.
You can imagine the potential time pressures that our ancestors faced. The ability to make split second decisions is essential for survival. The speculation is that biases evolved in part to help us decide quickly and effectively; to quickly sample the information available to us and to focus on the bits relevant to our current task or situation. In short, biases help guide us and keep us safe.
Research into human judgment and decision making over the past 60 years in cognitive science, social psychology, and behavioral economics has established an ever increasing and evolving list of cognitive bias. There is a non exhaustive list of over 100 cognitive biases on Wikipedia. Although cognitive biases help us to feel amazing about our capabilities and self image, they also have their drawbacks. They lead to poor choices, bad judgments, and erroneous insights.
Cognitive Biases Effect:
Perceived causes of events
Group evaluation and selection
Having a positive attitude towards oneself
Biases emerge from a diversity of mental processes that can be challenging to pinpoint. These mental processes include heuristics (problem solving mental shortcuts ), framing (presentation), mental noise, moral and emotional motivators, and social influences.
The goal is not to completely remove your biases, but to become aware and adjust for them. By recognizing that you’re thinking is subject to influence, you can work towards a higher level of control. You can simultaneously correct and broaden your perspective. It’s actually quite amusing when you start noticing and challenging your own biases and untwisting your perceptions. The danger of not becoming aware of your biases is to think that you’re always right. It is vital to notice that the world looks different for other people. Dropping our biases enable us to listen and connect to each other much more effectively.
Three Predictable Cognitive Biases.
While this is slightly tongue-in-cheek, these are a few biases that are fairly consistent among people. It doesn’t take long to spot yourself using these and adjust for them.
1) Confirmation Bias
“The tendency to look for or interpret information that confirms your preconceptions.”
You want to be right about how you see the world. Your opinions are a product of constantly seeking out information that confirms your beliefs, while disregarding contradictory information that does not. You like to be told what you already know, so you apply a filter called confirmation bias. Your brain is helping you confirm that you’ve made the correct choice. (and you have by reading my blog) Focusing on certain things can help prevent us from being lost. Confirmation bias it is essential to piece together a coherent world.
Visiting political websites that hold the same opinions, watching a news channel that tells you what you want to hear, keeping company with people that hold the same beliefs as you – are all examples of confirmation bias. These preferential behaviors keep you comfortable and avoid cognitive dissonance. The internet has increased this behavior.
If you’ve ever purchased a car, you may have started to notice the brand you’ve chosen everywhere you looked. While researching and after purchasing an Infiniti G35, I was seeing them everywhere!
“An implicit memory affect in which exposure to one stimulus influences a response to another stimulus.”
Priming is an exposure to something that effects your later behavior in some way, without you being aware of the earlier influence. Unconscious priming effects can be very noticeable and last long after you’ve consciously forgotten.
Craving Italian food after watching “The Godfather”, walking slower after thinking about the elderly, being more argumentative after seeing “A Few Good Men”, having more patience after reading words that have to do with politeness – are all examples of priming.
Priming can be as simple as you reading the word table in your news feed, and if asked later to complete a word starting with tab, you’re more likely to answer table because you have been primed. This is also why when someone asks you for a word related to blackboard, you’re likely to choose classroom.
3) Framing Effect
“Reacting to a particular choice in different ways depending on whether it is presented as a loss or a gain.”
You routinely come to different conclusions about the same problem, depending on how it’s presented. Perception of loss or gain drives human decision making in every aspect of our existence. You avoid risk (risk aversion) when a negative frame is presented, but seek risk (risk seeking) when a positive frame is presented.
Language plays a key role in framing and can evoke completely different reactions to something. Responding differently after hearing “Obama Care” as opposed to “The Affordable Care Act” or “Global Warming” as opposed to “Climate Change” – are examples of the framing effect.
I’ll leave you with the following experiment on framing by Amos Tversky:
Participants were offered two alternative solutions for 600 people affected by a hypothetical deadly disease:
Option A saves 200 people’s lives
Option B has a 1/3 chance of saving all 600 people and a 2/3 possibility of saving no one
72% of participants chose option A
They offered the same scenario to another group of participants, but worded differently:
If option C is taken, then 400 people die
If option D is taken, then there is a 1/3 chance that no people will die and a 2/3 probability that 600 will die
In this group, 78% of participants chose option D (equivalent to option B)
The above experiment showcases the nature of framing. The two groups favored different options because of the way the options were presented. The first set of participants were given a positive frame (emphasis on lives saved), whereas the second set were given a negative frame (emphasis on lives lost).
Why This Matters.
It is beneficial to be aware of the processes influencing our judgments. Having background knowledge on how the mind actually works is essential for logic, reasoning, argumentation, and critical thinking. It also allows us to be aware of manipulation and influence by others on these biases. (marketing firms, political campaigns)
Cognitive biases are also related to the persistence of superstition, to large social issues such as prejudice, and they also work as a hindrance in the acceptance of non-intuitive scientific knowledge by the public.
Shawn Achor, one of our favourite happiness at work experts, on how we can harness the power of our minds to turn our travel to work time to greater advantage…
Are there ways to make your commute happier? Research says yes!
The question is how to choose happiness when life is stressful. The key is to redefine the drive toward happiness. After spending 12 years at Harvard University studying the connection between happiness and success, I realized I had been pursuing it wrong. While modern society tends to define “happiness” in terms of pleasure, the ancient Greeks defined it as “the joy we feel growing toward our potential.” This definition changes the pursuit of happiness. Joy is something you can experience even when life is difficult or unpleasant — including on your often-stressful morning commute.
Now nearly two decades of research show that, scientifically, happiness is a choice, and happiness is an incredible advantage. When we choose to focus on the positive and pursue joy even when life is challenging, our business, educational, and health outcomes improve.
Here are five positive habits you can develop to ensure you have a happier commute:
1. Slow down.
We think we’ll be happier once we get to work, but research shows it’s actually the opposite. If you speed, and feel unconsciously stressed and less safe, you arrive at work more fatigued and LESS happy. Avoid the urge to speed! And pick a car that makes you feel safe. If you feel safe, your negative stress drops, which means that your body has time to recover and recharge in the car rather than feeling exhausted by the time you get home.
2. Travel in company.
If possible, bring along a passenger! Social connection drives happiness. The greatest predictor of happiness is the breadth, depth, and meaning of our relationships. Social connection is as predictive of how long you will live as obesity, high blood pressure or smoking. And people who feel high social connection are 40% more likely to receive a promotion.
3. Shift your mindset.
Our brains crave novelty and save extra energy to use on new tasks. So when possible, try taking another route to get to your destination. Instead of trying to minimize your commute, try to maximize the energy and happiness you feel when you get there. If you arrive at work with a positive brain, your productive energy rises by 31 percent, so you can actually get home earlier!
4. Make sure you are comfortable.
There is a great connection between our minds and our bodies, so if our bodies feel comfortable in the car because of good design, then our brain can devote more resources to the positive — even taking time to perfectly adjust your seat matters. Otherwise you waste valuable resources unconsciously trying to decrease the uncomfortable feeling.
5. Invest wisely.
Research shows your brain’s happiness adjusts to a bigger house in six months, but it never fully adjusts to traffic because it is different each day. So, if you are going to be in traffic, it is crucial to be in a car that makes you happy. More expensive doesn’t necessarily mean better. In fact, if you feel like you got a good value for your car, you may feel happier for longer with that choice. And ultimately, if your car makes you feel calm, that will help short circuit the anxiety of traffic.
The bottom line: Quite simply, happiness lies in the journey — not the destination! By following these five simple ways to increase your happiness during your morning commute, you’ll be setting a great foundation to be prepared for happier, more successful, and more rewarding experiences once you arrive at work in the morning and at home at the end of the day.
Jeff Charles outlines how and why practising gratitude benefits us…
The Science Of Gratitude
The evidence for the impact of gratitude isn’t just anecdotal. There is scientific evidence for the benefits of gratitude. There have been numerous studies on the effects of gratitude. It’s been scientifically proven to improve the lives of those who practice it…
Gratitude leads to greater relationships
When you express heartfelt gratitude to someone else, you are showing them how important they really are. You’re drawing attention to an action they took that made your life better. When someone hears that something they did had a positive effect on someone else, it makes them feel important. It shows them that they matter. By showing the people around you that they matter, you could literally make their day! Additionally, since you know that you’re brightening someone else’s day by making them feel important, you’re also doing something important as well. This is why expressing heartfelt gratitude to someone who isn’t expected doesn’t just benefit them, it benefits you too…
Gratitude makes you mentally stronger
Living a grateful lifestyle can make you mentally tougher. It doesn’t mean you won’t still have to deal with stress. It just means that you’ll be able to deal with it much easier. Stress won’t have as debilitating an effect if you’re practicing gratitude regularly…
Gratitude makes you healthier
Gratitude is not only great for your mental health, it can help you physically too. It can boost your immune system and make it easier for you to adopt healthier habits. It’s been shown that those who practice gratitude also participate in other healthy activities such as exercising and eating healthier….
Gratitude makes you more productive
Robert A. Emmons, one of the leading authorities on the science of gratitude said this about one of his studies: “Participants who kept gratitude lists were more likely to have made progress toward important personal goals (academic, interpersonal and health-based) over a two-month period compared to subjects in the other experimental conditions.”…
Gratitude makes you happier
Finally, gratitude makes you much happier. Gratitude enables you to really see how much you have to appreciate and feel positive about. Not only that, expressing gratitude draws more attention to this because reactivate it…
It’s actually been shown that people who live a more grateful lifestyle become 25 percent happier than those who don’t. Want to be happy? Become more grateful…
If you’re not tired, you’re not working hard enough.
And if you are working hard enough, your brain is tired.
How you feel, how quickly you figure things out, how you interpret what happens to you — that is all computed, calculated, and configured by your brain.
Sometimes it’s a lie.
What you think is true is really just a complicated deception orchestrated by your mind to make you feel better about your current situation. It’s done to protect you.
But in the process you’ll feel pretty convinced of some outrageous nonsense. You’ll find yourself buying into lies that will cripple your ability to amazing.
Here are a few of those lies:
“My life is so much harder than everyone else…”
“It doesn’t matter what I do. Nothing works…”
“My life would be so much better if I only had more money…”
“I can’t get ahead because everyone is always picking on me…”
“I didn’t do anything wrong. I’m not doing anything wrong…”
“No one would understand anyway…”
“That won’t work. I already tried it once…”
All of them. And you’ve probably found yourself using a few of those lies to justify staying in a funk. To justify staying demotivated, uninspired, and angry at the world.
Instead of telling you that hard work and doing hard things is just what needs to be done, instead of telling you to “suck it up and get back to work” — your brain automatically gives you a sophisticated way out.
A one-way ticket to more frustration. A fast path to a life of staying stuck. All because you listen to the lies that your overworked brain creates in order to try to protect you from more pain, sweat, blood and tears.
Don’t let lies destroy you.
Fight the urge to give in, give up, or go away.
Just because you “think it” doesn’t mean it’s true. Just because you have a good reason or justifiable excuse doesn’t mean it’s true.
Just because you’re worn out, beaten down, and not sure you can make it doesn’t make the lies you tell yourself true. They’re still lies.
Maybe it’s time to tell yourself something else, like “what’s the one thing I could do right now that would make things a little better…?”.
Elisha Goldstein outlines a process she has developed to help us to shift our thinking away from negative spirals and mind traps…
Mind traps are styles like catastrophizing, blaming, exaggerating the negative and discounting the positive or just your most common negative thoughts.
When you first notice a mind trap or common negative thought, first stop, take an intentional deep breath and from this more mindful space, move through these next four steps (Name, Feel, Release, Redirect):
Name it – Actually name the style of thinking or behaving that isn’t serving you in your mind or say it out loud (e.g., overeating, catastrophic thinking, grumpiness, etc.). This not only creates more awareness for you, but also has been found to bring more activity to the part of your brain that has to do with emotional regulation.
Feel it – Recognize how this moment feels in the body. This grounds us to the reality of the moment and gives us access to a choice point.
Release it – Practice this phrase in concert with the breath, “Breathing in, I acknowledge the feeling that’s here; breathing out, I release it.”
Redirect it – Shift your attention to something that is healthier and/or more important to pay attention to.
Bring this awareness into the moments of your day, dropping into what really matters.
Remember, most importantly, this is a learning process. That means don’t measure success by whether “it works” every time or not, instead you’re training your brain to name, recognize, release and redirect.
Mastery is only created with a learning mindset. Like learning how to ride a bike, as you practice and repeat this over time, your brain will start making this more automatic.
Corinne Ruff provides tips from the experts for how to optimise our time off for our health, wellbeing and happiness…
Experts say overloading without taking time to recharge isn’t healthy. “It might seem counterintuitive when you have a lot of work to take time off,” says Karen Osterle, a psychotherapist and marriage counselor in the District of Columbia. “But the problem is we’re not working efficiently if we’re in a constant state of stress. We need to break away from that in order to feel replenished.”
How do you know when it’s time to get away? It’s all about understanding the needs of your body, Osterle says. The body is like an ecosystem that wears and tears if it’s not taken care of, she explains. “When one part of the system is knocked out of balance, the rest of our physicality suffers,” she says. “That includes eating, sleeping, exercise, relationships, sex and affection.”
In general, she recommends taking a three-day weekend at least once every two months and a real vacation, of a week or more, once a year. But simply booking a vacation isn’t enough. Whether you’re taking a day or a week off, here’s how experts say you should spend your vacation days to prioritize your health.
1. Tune in to relieve stress. Start the day by improving your relationship with yourself. A few minutes of “me time” on a morning walk can improve productivity throughout the day, Osterle says. “If you’re going to take a day off, take a few minutes to look around and say, ‘Whoa, [I’m] out of balance here, but not here. … What is that I keep saying ‘yes’ to, or I should say ‘no’ to?’” she says. Meditation can also help you concentrate on abdominal breathing, which reduces stress and anxiety, according to The American Institute of Stress.
2. Plan to alleviate anxiety. When you take a day off, don’t expect to completely catch up on paying bills, cleaning the house, working out and going out with friends. Instead, Osterle says to be realistic about what you can accomplish in a day, given the number of distractions you may face (like making the kids an after-school snack or taking the dog for a walk). “Much of the time when we take a step back, it increases productivity, and we feel agency over our schedule and our flexibility,” says Dr. Jennifer Wolkin, a psychologist at the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYU Langone Medical Center. Wolkin adds that it’s important to balance work and time off to decrease anxiety about the internal conflict between the two. For example, she says it’s OK if you need to spend a few hours working during your vacation, but wait until the kids go to bed to make sure you don’t miss out on family time.
3. Set boundaries to feel calmer. Before going on vacation, decide how much time you’re going to spend working and when you’re going to do it. That way you’ll feel calmer about going offline for a few hours, Wolkin says. Turning your phone off may not be realistic for everyone, but turning off your email and social media notifications is one way to limit screen time while trying to relax at the beach and spend quality time with friends and family.
4. Sleep more to re-energize. Little sleep mixed with high stress is a recipe for burning out. Besides making you irritable and tired, sleep deprivation can have negative consequences on your cognitive performance and efficiency, says Max Hirshkowitz, chairman of the board of the National Sleep Foundation. “Catching up on sleep is good for your health, spirit and happiness,” he says. “Evidence shows people perform better when they get adequate amounts of sleep.” To feel rested and productive, the NSF says adults should aim for at least seven hours of sleep per night. “Reserve that time,” Hirshkowitz says. “Make it an important thing you need.”
5. Be present to revitalize your relationships. A few days off can rekindle relationships that have suffered because of your working life. A survey by Project: Time Off published in July found that not taking time off can hurt close relationships. Of the 1,214 U.S. adults surveyed, the average worker misses about three events a year, the most common being a child’s activity. About 43 percent of people surveyed said they spend less than 20 hours a week with their family, yet 73 percent said spending time with family is important for a fulfilling life. “We’re cheating on our families with work,” says Katie Denis, senior director of Project: Time Off. She adds that it’s critical to make time for meaningful conversations while on vacation. Even a few hours of face-to-face time with your spouse or kids can make a difference, Osterle says. “Vacation is about connection above all else, the self-connection to nature and the earth and the connection to your loved ones,” she says. “It’s about getting present.”
6. Balance choices to relieve food guilt. Most people are going to drink on vacation — that’s a given, says Keri Gans, a registered dietitian and contributor to the U.S. News Eat + Run blog. But setting a goal to avoid drinks with mini umbrellas will prevent you from feeling guilty about your choices later. “Stay away from the sweetened cocktails, the frozen drinks, the strawberry daiquiris,” she says, adding that it’s better to stick to drinks that don’t have a lot of added sugar. Gans also recommends planning healthy meals so you don’t settle for greasy fast food. But you’re still on vacation, so it’s OK to indulge in moderation. “Whether it’s at breakfast, lunch or dinner, allow yourself one more decadent choice than usual per day,” Gans writes in “7 Tips for Healthy (Enough) Eating on Vacation.”
7. Stay active to feel rejuvenated. Vacation should be relaxing, but Gans recommends people do more than lie on the beach and drink piña coladas all day. “It doesn’t mean you need to run every day if you’re clearly not a runner, but try new, fun activities like kayaking or going for a hike or checking out a new yoga studio,” she says. Exercise can also improve your mood and make you more energized throughout the day, according to the American Psychological Association. That extra energy will come in handy so you can take the kids sightseeing around town.
8. Cultivate other interests to improve happiness. Branch out. “It’s essential to have outside hobbies from work,” says Phil Shils, physician assistant at Hospital Sisters Health System Medical Group. To feel refreshed and happier at the office, Shils recommends trying new activities on vacation that you can continue throughout the year, such as biking or playing tennis. “Any time you’re out of your routine, your brain remodels itself and refreshes,” he says. When the weekend rolls around, Clarke makes time for softball games in a local league. Even if it’s only for a few hours, she says getting away from her desk helps keep her mind off the stress of long days filled with back-to-back calls.
With all the calls, emails and high stress, it doesn’t take long before work starts to take a toll on your health. “If we get into a work vortex, it’s too easy to adopt a default stance of saying ‘no’ to people and activities that are replenishing for us,” Osterle says. “[Vacations] give us a chance to recalibrate.”
Three decades before Susan Sontag lamented the “aesthetic consumerism” of vacation photography, which commodifies the experience by prioritizing its record over its livingness, and more than half a century before we came to compulsively catalog every private moment on the social web, Nin writes:
I am lying on a hammock, on the terrace of my room at the Hotel Mirador, the diary open on my knees, the sun shining on the diary, and I have no desire to write. The sun, the leaves, the shade, the warmth, are so alive that they lull the senses, calm the imagination. This is perfection. There is no need to portray, to preserve. It is eternal, it overwhelms you, it is complete…
Faced with the radically different disposition of the Mexican locals, she considers what they know about living with presence that the society from which she escaped does not:
The natives have not yet learned from the white man his inventions for traveling away from the present, his scientific capacity for analyzing warmth into a chemical substance, for abstracting human beings into symbols. The white man has invented glasses which make objects too near or too far, cameras, telescopes, spyglasses, objects which put glass between living and vision. It is the image he seeks to possess, not the texture, the living warmth, the human closeness…
Here is further evidence of what most of us suspected that although ‘beauty might be in the eye of the beholder’ the beholder is subject to some pretty strong cognitive and cultural biases…
The same portrait of a woman was sent out to 18 freelance designers in 18 countries around the world with these simple instructions that were given by the market agency Fractl, which was commissioned for this project:
Photoshop her form. The idea is to Photoshop and retouch this woman to make her more attractive to the citizens of your country. We are looking to explore how perceptions of beauty change across the world. Multiple designers are involved. You can modify clothing, but her form must be visible. No nudity. All other changes, including those to her shape and form, are up to you.
“We focused on female designers, as we wanted a woman’s view of what her culture finds attractive and to understand more about the pressures they face,” the project says. Here are the Photoshopped images that were sent back…
“The goal of this project is to better understand potentially unrealistic standards of beauty and to see how such pressures vary around the world,” the project says.
The experiment found that…
Some of the designers kept the woman largely looking like herself, while others made her look like a new person altogether.
Some countries gave her an exaggerated hourglass figure, while others gave her an apparent BMI of 17.5, or near anorexic.
China and Italy returned the thinnest Photoshopped figures (China’s had an estimated BMI of 17), while Spain returned the heaviest.
“Beauty cannot be judged objectively, for what one person finds beautiful or admirable may not appeal to another,” the experiment concludes. “And the range of depictions found in our study appears to confirm this notion.”
You can find all of these and many more ideas in this collection …
I hope you find things here to use and enjoy.
“There are two kinds of people. One kind, you can just tell by looking at them at what point they congealed into their final selves. It might be a very nice self, but you know you can expect no more suprises from it. Whereas, the other kind keep moving, changing… They are fluid. They keep moving forward and making new trysts with life, and the motion of it keeps them young. In my opinion, they are the only people who are still alive. You must be constantly on your guard against congealing.”
― Gail Godwin
What is it about the middle that seems to suck away at our happiness?
This week’s headline research news reports a mid-life slump in our happiness levels in the West, which then progressively rise again from the age of about 55 on through to the rest of our lives. And in another research story looking at what really are the factors that contribute to high flying success for women leaders, Harvard Business School researchers point out a mid-career slump in optimism and ambition for women that is not experienced by their male counterparts.
Middle aged people suffer a huge decline in happiness, a new study has shown. The phenomenon discovered by the Lancet Global Health, however, only affects those living in the affluent West.
The study, which uses global survey data, found that western countries, including the UK and USA, experienced a dip in levels of life satisfaction between the ages of 45 and 55, with happiness levels rising again into old age.
The report used four years of Gallup World Poll data from more than 160 countries and covered more than 98 percent of the world’s population.
Professor Andrew Steptoe of University College London said that the reasons behind the dip were numerous and highly complex, but that there were potential explanations and many lessons to be learned.
Co-researcher Angus Deaton, of Princeton University, suggested that one reason for the dip in satisfaction could be the increased pressure to become financially successful during middle age.
“This is the period at which wage rates typically peak and is the best time to work and earn the most, even at the expense of present wellbeing, so as to have increased wealth and wellbeing later in life,”he said.
The results of the study further showed that levels of life satisfaction worldwide followed a predictable pattern depending on geographical location.
African countries experienced low levels of satisfaction, with sub-Saharan Africa facing prolonged and continually low results.
Other areas such as Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union saw a steady decline in satisfaction with age.
Despite being the most affluent geographical sector, the West was the only region which saw levels increase after a decline. The increase of satisfaction appears to coincide with the common retirement age, suggesting that the decrease in pressure to earn could contribute to rising levels of happiness in the elderly.
This new research report is interesting for lots of reasons:
Firstly it uses data from four years of Gallup research and includes 98% of the world’s population and the fact that we can now develop intelligence drawn from the experience of most of humankind is in itself is worth noting.
Secondly it’s author, Angus Deaton, wonders whether the midlife happiness slump for 45-55 year old Westerners his study has uncovered may be partly due to a peak of felt responsibility to earn at this stage of life, and thus show a connection between earnings and happiness at work that is far less apparent for other age groups.
Thirdly, this study points up Westerners as the only the group who show an increase in our happiness levels after a decline. The trend for African populations is to stay relatively low throughout their lives, and for Eastern Europeans to become less happier the older they get. The capacity that Westerners have to become happier again from the age of 55 and to keep getting progressively happier right through into our eighties is both wonderfully encouraging and compelling evidence that our happiness is not a fixed state and is influenced as much by our attitude to life as it is to our current circumstances.
And finally, this study highlights – superbly and once again – that our happiness is a complex dynamic quality of life that cannot be nailed down to any one or two factors. I am always pleased when this point is recognised because the more we try and boil down happiness into something simple, fixed and finite the more useless and even potentially harmful it becomes to us.
Of extra interest is the tangential finding this report references from a different study that suggests we British folk are genetically predisposed told the glums because of a short form of the gene responsible for producing serotonin, the neurochemical responsible controlling for the brain’s happiness levels. This contrasts with the Danes who seem to possess something closer to a happiness gene, and may perhaps help to explain why they routinely top the happiest country index.
This article reports the same story and presents its data in graph form, noting…
In a study published yesterday in The Lancet, Deaton and researchers from University College London, Stony Brook University, and the University of Southern California put the U-shaped curve in context by looking at the relationship between age and well-being across four different groupings: wealthy English-speaking countries, eastern Europe and former members of the Soviet Union, sub-Saharan Africa, and Latin America and the Caribbean.
Looking at data from the Gallup World Poll, which measured well-being in different countries, and the English Longitudinal Study, they found that not all patterns of well-being are created equal. While the U.S. and similar nations did indeed stick to the U-shaped curve, elsewhere around the globe, the relationship between age and overall life satisfaction looked markedly different…
A generation from now, however, the relationship between age and wellbeing—across the board—will likely look different still.
Continuing the mid-point slump theme – this research emphasises the extra need for women to work in an organisation that will encourage and support her development, especially because most women report lowered ambitions in their mid careers, unlike the men who start with high ambitions and tend to maintain high expectations throughout their careers. The research findings here challenge the advice being presented to potential women high flyers to hop-scotch their way up, company by company via high stake roles, and show instead that the majority of the (only!?!) 24 women who lead Fortune 500 companies have stayed a long time with the company they now head up, many starting in the lowliest of positions and working their way up.
Ambitious young women hoping to run a major business someday are often advised to take a particular career path: get an undergraduate degree from the most prestigious college you can, an MBA from a selective business school, then land a job at a top consulting firm or investment bank. From there, move between companies as you hopscotch your way into bigger roles and more responsibility.
That’s what we were told as undergraduates, and later on as students at the Harvard Business School and the Harvard Kennedy School. It’s what Meg Whitman did, more or less, and it’s what Sally Blount, dean of the Kellogg School of Management and the only woman running a top-ten business school, recently recommended: “If we want our best and brightest young women to become great leaders…we have to convince more of them that … they should be going for the big jobs,” which for her meant “the most competitive business tracks, like investment banking and management consulting.”
We decided to put our expensively honed analytic skills to work testing that advice by looking at the career paths of the 24 women who head Fortune 500 companies. What we found surprised us.
Most women running Fortune 500 companies did not immediately hop on a “competitive business track.” Only three had a job at a consulting firm or bank right out of college. A larger share of the female CEOs—over 20%—took jobs right out of school at the companies they now run. These weren’t glamorous jobs.
All told, over 70 percent of the 24 CEOs spent more than ten years at the company they now run, becoming long-term insiders before becoming CEO.
Even those who weren’t promoted as long-term insiders often worked their way up a particular corporate ladder, advancing over decades at a single company and later making a lateral move into the CEO role at another company.
The consistent theme in the data is that steady focus wins the day. The median long stint for these women CEOs is 23 years spent at a single company in one stretch before becoming the CEO. To understand whether this was the norm, we pulled a random sample of their male Fortune 500 CEO counterparts. For the men in the sample, the median long stint is 15 years. This means that for women, the long climb is over 50% longer than for their male peers. Moreover, 71% of the female CEOs were promoted as long-term insiders versus only 48% of the male CEOs. This doesn’t leave a lot of time for hopscotch early in women’s careers.
An immediate implication of the long climb is that for ambitious young women, company culture matters a lot. If a common pattern is to spend multiple decades advancing in a single environment, that environment had better fuel female ambition rather than stifle it. A recent Bain survey shows that while women in entry-level jobs have ambition and confidence to reach top management in large companies that matches or exceeds that of men, at mid-career, men’s ambitions and confidence stay the same, while those of women drop dramatically. A company capable of maintaining the drive of its women as they progress in their careers is a better bet for a long stint than one that allows the more common diminishing trend to occur.
It may be that the playbook for advising young women with their sights set on leading large companies needs to be revised. Just as important, there is something inspiring for young women in the stories of these female CEOs: the notion that regardless of background, you can commit to a company, work hard, prove yourself in multiple roles, and ultimately ascend to top leadership. These female CEOs didn’t have to go to the best schools or get the most prestigious jobs.
Huge congratulations to my friend and eLearning trainer colleague Pilar Ortion launching her new podcast series: 21st Century Work Life.
This very first episode includes some words I wrote about this subject, as well as Pilar’s own intelligent reflections on why happiness at work has come into importance and what this might mean for us. The second part of this podcast is a virtual coffee conversation between Pilar and Lisette Sutherland.
So, I think the fact that we’re starting to talk about Happiness at Work now makes complete sense. It also shows that our attitude to work is changing. Happiness and work just wouldn’t go together before we talked about things like finding your passion, being fulfilled at work and generally, just knowing that work can be something we enjoy if we have the right conditions.
But also, now, many of us feel like we can be a bit more in control at work. Like we can find information when we need it, like we can connect to others when we want to, not when luck throws us in the same room together. Technology is having a really important effect in our lives by facilitating connections (with others, with information) that we never dreamed we could find. So no wonder that now, we feel like we can control our levels of happiness, to a certain degree. There is still much luck involved, but maybe, just maybe, there are small things we can do here and there to make this world a better, or dare I say happier, place.”
Happiness relates to how we feel, but it is more than just a passing mood.
We are emotional beings and experience a wide range of feelings on a daily basis. Negative emotions – such as fear and anger – help us to get away from danger or defend ourselves. And positive emotions – such as enjoyment and hope – help us to connect with others and build our capacity to cope when things go wrong.
Trying to live a happy life is not about denying negative emotions or pretending to feel joyful all the time. We all encounter adversity and it’s completely natural for us to feel anger, sadness, frustration and other negative emotions as a result. To suggest otherwise would be to deny part of the human condition.
Happiness is about being able to make the most of the good times – but also to cope effectively with the inevitable bad times, in order to experience the best possible life overall. Or, in the words of the biochemist turned Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard: “Happiness is a deep sense of flourishing, not a mere pleasurable feeling or fleeting emotion but an optimal state of being.”
One popular misconception about happiness is that happy people are somehow more likely to be lazy or ineffective. In fact research shows the opposite is true: happiness doesn’t just feel good, it actually leads to a wide range of benefits for our performance, health, relationships and more.
For example, economists at Warwick University showed different groups of people either a positive film clip or a neutral film clip and then asked them to carry out standard workplace tasks under paid conditions. The people who were primed to feel happy were 11% more productive than their peers, even after controlling for age, IQ and other factors. Similarly, researchers at Wharton Business School found that companies with happy employees outperform the stock market year on year and a team at UCL has discovered that people who are happy as young adults go on to earn more than their peers later in life. In healthcare, doctors who are happy have been found to make faster and more accurate diagnoses, even when this happiness was induced simply by giving them the small gift of a sugary sweet. In education, schools that focus on children’s social and emotional wellbeing experience significant gains in academic attainment as well as improvements in pupil behaviour. Happiness has also been linked to better decision-making and improved creativity.
So, rather than success being the key to happiness, research shows that happiness could in fact be the key to success.
But it doesn’t just help us function better: happiness also brings substantial benefits for society as a whole. For example, a review of more than 160 studies found “clear and compelling evidence” that happier people have better overall health and live longer than their less happy peers. They are around half as likely to catch the cold virus and have a 50% lower risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event such as a heart attack or stroke. Happier people are also less likely to engage in risky behaviour – for example, they are more likely to wear seat belts and less likely to be involved in road accidents. Happier people are even more financially responsible, tending to save more and have more control over their expenditures.
But perhaps most importantly of all, people who are happier are more likely to make a positive contribution to society. In particular, they are more likely to vote, do voluntary work and participate in public activities. They also have a greater respect for law and order and offer more help to others. There is even evidence that happiness is contagious, so that happier people help others around them to become happier too. An extensive study in the British Medical Journal followed people over 20 years and found that their happiness affected others in their networks across “three degrees of separation”. In other words, how happy we are has a measurable impact on the mood of our friend’s friend’s friend.
When it comes to the happiness of society as a whole, however, the sad truth is that in recent decades we have become substantially richer but no happier. The positive benefits of higher incomes have been undermined by rising inequality and falling levels of trust and social cohesion. We’ve also reached the point where mental ill health is one of our greatest social challenges – causing more of the suffering in our society than either unemployment or poverty. This is why increasing numbers of policymakers and leaders are now calling for measures of progress to be based on human wellbeing and happiness, not just economic factors such as growth in GDP.
Here in the UK, the government has introduced a programme to measure national wellbeing, and influential figures – including former cabinet secretary Gus O’Donnell – are calling for wellbeing to become the overall measure of prosperity and the main guide to public policy.
This shift towards prioritising happiness is important because this also reflects what the majority of people want. In a YouGov poll commissioned by Action for Happiness, a majority (87%) of UK adults said they would prefer a society with the “greatest overall happiness and wellbeing”, rather than the “greatest overall wealth” (8%). The findings were consistent across all regions, age groups and social classes.
So happiness does matter – the scientific evidence is compelling.
The pursuit of happiness is not some fluffy nice-to-have or middle-class luxury; it’s about helping people to live better lives and creating a society that is more productive, healthy and cohesive. As Aristotle said: “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”
Of course, being happy is not some magical cure-all. Happy people still get sick and lose loved ones – and not all happy people are efficient, creative or generous. But, other things being equal, happiness brings substantial advantages.
Perhaps the most powerful insight of all comes, not from the research, but from the responses I’ve heard from many hundreds of parents when asking them what they want above all for their children. Nearly all say something like: “I really just want them to be happy.”
Things will always challenge a leader; after all, a leader creates the future.
No recipe exists explaining how to build the way forward. No secret formula has been written for the unknown, as a leader creates it as progress occurs.
A leader lives in a world of vulnerability, something painfully evident when a challenge comes out of seeming nowhere and stamps its presence in every thread of the organisational fabric: a government law with huge financial consequences; a competitor’s new strategy; a customer’s negative review — all have the propensity to put pressure to potential breaking point on the organisational bubble.
But with resilience, the pressure from those events will never burst it completely
Resilience is to a leader as resourcefulness is to Richard Branson. So what conditions must exist for leaders to apply the concept of resilience?
Inner confidence and positivity about themselves and the future, for one. This allows any pressure to be circumstantial, matched or even negated. A positive attitude towards pressure allows it to be welcomed as an invitation to find new ways for change — it becomes just another source of reflection and learning.
The American author Bruce Barton says it so well: “Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dared to believe that something inside them was superior to circumstances”.
That inner confidence and the ensuing resilience can influence others to follow, and with an army tagging along no amount of pressure will ever be able to take hold. Resilience is also about staring down the barrel of challenge, and so a balanced approach and a good state of mind will minimise risk of an explosive response. When the source of agitation has become a source of learning, balanced perspective and even hope become possible.
Many leaders find it easier to be resilient in times of change when they feel they have control over their life; they have a healthy work-life balance in place and plenty of personal time. Nothing can faze the leader who is both grounded and balanced. Resilience, when combined with optimism, ensures no pressure will destabilise completely.
Resilient leaders seem to live in the world accepting that we ourselves can’t possibly predict what’s right or wrong, so it is best to move ahead, knowing that the pressure could result in myriad solutions — meaning we become the creators of the future. Take, for example, an inefficiency in a business that is having a draining effect. Resilience allows this inefficiency to be viewed as a sign that something else is trying to happen in the business system and there would be no better time than now to explore that. An open-minded environment is one that will see things not for what they are but for what they can be.
On the other hand, a closed-minded environment will become stuck in what is, as it is argument-based, divided into camps of right and wrong.
Environments open to possibility can separate the issue from the emotion, gaining clarity first and foremost to what the issue is. This does not mean that no mechanism exists for the emotional side, it means it does not cloud future possibility. If a leader has been made redundant, resilience shines through when that leader is observed almost immediately going into another direction — creating something that was not possible in the past environment, perhaps choosing to channel her entrepreneurial spirit into her own business.
With resilience there’s just no way for a leader to be derailed; the inner push is simply too powerful to allow any source of external agitation to have a permanent detrimental effect.
We have noticed in our learning and development work with organisations over the last several years that the word ‘collaboration‘ seems to have completely replaced what we used to call team working, and is now the main word for all group activity at work. I am not convinced this is always – or even often – what we really intend, and the word could use some stronger interrogation before we hurl around the room to the people we are about to work with.
Executive coach, Mary Jo Asmus agrees – offering this clarification…
Three words that begin with “C” broadly describe the types of interactions and relationships you may have with others. On a continuum, they look like this:
Competition ◊ Cooperation ◊ Collaboration
Collaboration is a step above cooperation, and it’s rarer than hen’s teeth. When people collaborate, they give up their own vested interests for the greater good (often the greater good is fostered by a “compelling vision” of the future). They’re driven to work through their differences to achieve a goal while trying to understand other’s viewpoints, being open and genuinely willing to change their minds. The stakes may be high, but such people are able to collaboratively bust through barriers to reach the end goal.
If you look hard enough, you may see “moments” of true collaboration in your organisation, but it generally doesn’t happen as often as it should. It takes time, effort and ongoing attention by a leader to make collaboration work.
True collaboration is a powerful way of making great things happen. Listening for understanding, co-creating the way forward with all interested parties, and a willingness to sometimes let go of deeply held beliefs can make collaboration part of the culture.
Not to mention that collaborative work can be great fun and seem almost magical for those involved.
Strategic planning has been under assault for years. But good strategy is more important than ever. What does that mean for the strategist?
Achieving real impact today requires strategists to stretch beyond strategic planning to develop at least one of a few signature strengths. Several important facets of the strategist’s role emerged from our research, including reallocating corporate resources, building strategic capabilities at key places in the organization, identifying business-development opportunities, and generating proprietary insights on the basis of external forces at work and long-term market trends. A number of these roles are more appropriate for some strategists and organizations than for others. But the core notion of stretching and choosing is relevant for all.
Since 2010 we’ve sensed, in our work with a wide range of global organizations and strategists, a growing recognition that traditional strategic-planning processes are insufficient to absorb the shocks and disruptions characterizing their markets and to stimulate the ongoing deliberation that a top-management team requires. Increasingly, they recognize a need to rethink their approach to strategic planning and to embrace a more frequent strategic dialogue involving a focused group of senior executives.4Effective organizations seem to be transforming strategy development into an ongoing process of ad hoc, topic-specific leadership conversations and budget-reallocation meetings conducted periodically throughout the year. Some organizations have even instituted a more broadly democratic process that pulls in company-wide participation through social-technology and game-based strategy development.
These experiences are consistent with our own findings. We’ve found that companies that consider themselves “very effective developers of strategy,” and that enjoy higher profitability than their competitors, for example, are twice as likely to review strategy on an ongoing basis (as opposed to say annually or every three to five years). They are, for instance, twice as likely to have a corporate-strategy process that goes beyond the aggregation of business-unit strategies.
Our research also supports one of our major observations about what it takes to innovate in the development and delivery of strategy: over and over, we’ve seen that the chief strategists best at driving more dynamic approaches have a professional credibility that extends well beyond a traditional process-facilitation role. At the same time, we’ve seen tremendous diversity in the characteristics of effective strategists. In a quest for greater precision, we applied statistical cluster analysis to the 13 facets that chief strategists responding to our survey described as most important to their efforts. The analysis yielded five clusters in which the strategist’s role becomes more than the sum of its parts. Widespread across industries, these clusters embody choices that face every strategy leader:
Our Five Chief Strategist Archetypes
The Fund Manager
The complexity of today’s strategic landscape places a premium on good strategy. And just as crafting strategy requires tough choices, so does shaping the role of the strategist. The good news, according to our research, is that strategists have a range of powerful options for adding value to their organizations, and nearly 90 percent of the strategists responding to our survey thought they were effective at the elements of the role they prioritized. The bad news is that over time it’s easy for mismatches to develop between those areas of focus and a company’s strategic needs. By identifying those mismatches and reprioritizing accordingly, strategists, chief executives, and other members of the top team can boost the quality of their strategic insights and actions.
Despite being tagged as a “positive addiction,” workaholism has negative consequences for employees and employers alike.
Being a workaholic is bad for employers and employees alike, damaging one’s health, happiness, and interpersonal relations, according to a new study.
The meta-analysis, published in the Journal of Management, used existing data to relate the causes and effects of workaholism, a term coinedby American psychologist Wayne Oates in 1971.
In a culture that glorifies workaholism, some researchers go so far as to call it a “positive addiction,” according to Malissa Clark, lead author, assistant professor of industrial and organizational psychology at the University of Georgia.
Workaholism is not defined by hard work itself. It is when one’s need to work becomes so excessive that it inevitably interferes with personal health and happiness, interpersonal relations, and social functioning. The quality of work is not relevant, but it is the act of working, itself, that defines workaholism.
Clark refers to this as the difference between workaholism and work engagement. “One is feeling driven to work because of an internal compulsion, when there’s guilt if you’re not working—that’s workaholism,” she said. “The other feeling is wanting to work because you feel joy in work and that’s why you go to work everyday, because you enjoy it. And I say that is work engagement.”
The study revealed that other aspects of a workaholic’s life are negatively affected by this behavior—such as stress level, health, and relationships—which ultimately causes one’s productivity to suffer as well.
“My prior research has shown that workaholics experience negative emotions, both at work and at home. Similar to other types of addictions, workaholics may feel a fleeting high or a rush when they’re at work, but quickly become overwhelmed by feelings of guilt or anxiety,” she said. “Looking at the motivations behind working, workaholics seem pushed to work not because they love it but because they feel internal pressure to work. This internal compulsion is similar to having an addiction.”
The next generation of workers inspire hope that the workaholic culture will not last, said Clark, making way for a more family-friendly culture. She noted that millennials tend to “care more about work-family balance than previous generations,” which could mean that in the future, more companies will promote a healthy work-life balance over working too hard.
“Happier people are more successful, more creative, energetic, resilient,” says the founder of Happy Brain Science, Scott Crabtree. “They work better together. They absorb more information. They have more tools in their tool belt to help them handle whatever life throws them. They are healthier, they live longer—and they show up at work more often.”
There’s a common assumption, he says, that you will be happy when you are successful. But the reverse is actually true, and not just anecdotally. Hard neurological science supports the idea that happy people have more capacity to succeed. And beyond that, that happiness is not a genetic mandate, or a product of circumstance. It’s a choice.
Crabtree boils this choice down into three opportunities for change that can make people happier, and are also the building blocks of high performance:
1. Achieve greater flow and engagement by structuring your goals, making them meaningful and aligned to your strengths (and then avoid multitasking)
2. Prioritise people
3. Practise positivity (you can retrain your brain to maximise your happiness advantage)
Twelve simple everyday routines to change to live a happier life, including not slouching when we walk, not taking pictures of everything, less procrastination, less multitasking, more exercise, more sleep, more time alone and more conversation…
This week’s featured Happiness At Work articles highlight a clutch of articles that offer us some down-to-earth tools and techniques for being and staying happier.
These include how to manage our emotional intelligence, our time and work-life balance when we are feeling especially stretched, how to be better at stopping and smelling the roses, and how to enhance your state of being in flow – those best moments when we feel at the frontier of our abilities, playing to our strengths and doing our finest work. Plus some tips on how to jumpstart employee happiness in your organisation, and some reasons why we now need to be teaching the new science of happiness in our schools.
No matter how much you love what you do, striking a balance between work and your physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing is essential. Studies have repeatedly shown that happy workers are more productive workers, so keeping up stable relationships with friends and family, making time for fulfilling activities, and taking a break from work is key to maintaining a quality of life that serves you and your employer best.
To maintain your happiness and keep your wellbeing in check, Melody Wildings hares her strategies to stay balanced and stress-free, courtesy of The Muse.
1. Communicate with your boss
Even if you choose to embrace the extra work and additional responsibilities as a challenge and way to grow your skill set, it’s important to communicate with your boss about expectations such as deadlines and the duration of the project. Be sure you’re both aware of when the craziness will start to wind down, whether the project is on schedule, and any potential roadblocks that could arise.
Not only will having this information help you feel in control of your workload, it will actually help you control the process. With full knowledge of your boss’ expectations, you can step in when things aren’t moving along to suggest a change in direction, and you’ll be able to weather surprises (like the project getting extended for an extra week) with grace and ease.
2. Create a morning and a bedtime routine
Research shows that following a morning routine can help get your day off to a productive start—and that good feeling can boost your mood throughout the rest of the day.
Create a routine around a daily morning practice, such as meditating or waking up a half-hour early to get work done before ever checking your email. By sticking to this morning after morning, you’ll automatically begin your workday on a positive note, with a sense of accomplishment.
Then, at the end of the day, make a point to go to bed at the same time each evening (more or less), and designate some time beforehand to wind down by reading, jotting down tomorrow’s to-dos, or another calming routine that isn’t in front of a screen. Engaging in a nighttime ritual signals to your body it’s time for bed, and clearing your mind before bed also helps calm your nerves, which improves sleep.
3. Move your body (even a little)
Exercise is often one of the first things to go when work gets crazy, but its stress-reducing benefits make it even more important to incorporate during demanding times in your life.
If there’s no way you can squeeze in your normal gym routine, think of smaller ways you can get the blood flowing, like changing up your commute to walk or bike to work, YouTube-ing a short yoga or abs routine that you can do at home, or even just spending 10 minutes stretching when you wake up. Physical activity is proven to reduce stress and can help calm you down when you’re amped up—which will help keep you sane during marathon workdays.
4. Set Aside Quiet Time
When it feels like you’ve signed your life over to your company or clients, carving out some time for yourself is essential to stay grounded. Whether you squeeze in time to call a friend or just sit and decompress sans electronic devices, designating uninterrupted time (however short!) to clear your head can work wonders for your mood and will help you to think more clearly when things are moving fast.
Try getting in early to take advantage of the empty office, or, if most days you’re starved for a peaceful moment, pop on some headphones and jam out to your favourite Spotify station on the way to work. Or, taking lunch away from your desk—especially if you can find a quiet park or courtyard—is a great way to de-stress.
5. Make Room for Creativity
Making time for creative expression—whatever that looks like for you—will help stay centered when it feels like work is taking over your life. Creativity is cathartic: It allows you to channel stress, anger, resentment, or whatever other negative emotions you may be holding onto in a productive, healthy way.
So, be sure you’re still making time to sing your favorite jam in the shower, write posts for your blog, or send your mom a thoughtful card in the mail, no matter how busy things are in the office. Yes, there is always one more thing on your to-do list and you can always find more reasons to work, but if you don’t pause to take a timeout, you’ll stop being productive.
Finally, when it seems like all you do is work, do your best to maintain perspective. It can be helpful to remind yourself that the stress will not last forever, and in the meantime, you have plenty of resources to cope with the stress and take back control of your life.
Making time for yourself amid the dozens of other demands on you is what will help reset your balance—and what will make you a better employee and happier person in the long run.
Here are six keys to increasing your emotional intelligence:
1. The Ability to Reduce Negative Emotions
Perhaps no aspect of EQ is more important than our ability to effectively manage our own negative emotions, so they don’t overwhelm us and affect our judgment. In order to change the way we feel about a situation, we must first change the way we think about it. Here are just two examples:
A. Reducing Negative Personalisation. When you feel adversely about someone’s behaviour, avoid jumping to a negative conclusion right away. Instead, come up with multiple ways of viewing the situation before reacting. For example, I may be tempted to think my friend didn’t return my call because she’s ignoring me, or I can consider the possibility that she’s been very busy. When we avoid personalizing other people’s behaviors, we can perceive their expressions more objectively. People do what they do because of them more than because of us. Widening our perspective can reduce the possibility of misunderstanding.
B. Reducing the Fear of Rejection. One effective way to manage your fear of rejection is to provide yourself with multiple options in important situations, so that no matter what happens, you have strong alternatives going forward. Avoid putting all of your eggs in one basket (emotionally) by identifying a viable Plan B, and also a Plan C, should Plan A not work out. For example:
Increased fear of rejection: “I’m applying for my dream job. I’ll be devastated if they don’t hire me.”
Decreased fear of rejection: “I’m applying for three exciting positions. If one doesn’t pan out, there are two more I’m well qualified for.”
Most of us experience some level of stress in life. How we handle stressful situations can make the difference between being assertive versus reactive, and poised versus frazzled. When under pressure, the most important thing to keep in mind is to keep our cool. Here are two quick tips:
A. If you feel nervous and anxious, put cold water on your face and get some fresh air. Cool temperature can help reduce our anxiety level (1)(2). Avoid caffeinated beverages which can stimulate your nervousness (3)(4).
B. If you feel fearful, depressed, or discouraged, try intense aerobic exercises. Energize yourself. The way we use our body affects greatly the way we feel (5)(6). As the saying goes – motion dictates emotion. As you experience the vitality of your body, your confidence will also grow.
3. The Ability to Be Assertive and Express Difficult Emotions When Necessary
“Being who we are requires that we can talk openly about things that are important to us, that we take a clear position on where we stand on important emotional issues, and that we clarify the limits of what is acceptable and tolerable to us in a relationship.”
― Harriet Lerner
There are times in all of our lives when it’s important to set our boundaries appropriately, so people know where we stand. These can include exercising our right to disagree (without being disagreeable), saying “no” without feeling guilty, setting our own priorities, getting what we paid for, and protecting ourselves from duress and harm.
One method to consider when needing to express difficult emotions is the XYZ technique – I feel X when you do Y in situation Z. Here are some examples:
“I feel strongly that I should receive recognition from the company based on my contributions.”
“I feel uncomfortable that you expect me to help you over my own priorities.”
“I feel disappointed when you didn’t follow through when you told me you would.”
Avoid using sentences that begin with “you” and followed by accusation or judgment, such as “you are…,” “you should…,” or “you need to….” “You” language followed by such directives put the listener on the defensive, and make them less likely to be open to what you have to say.
4. The Ability to Stay Proactive, Not Reactive in the Face of a Difficult Person
Most of us encounter unreasonable people in our lives. We may be “stuck” with a difficult individual at work or at home. It’s easy to let a challenging person affect us and ruin our day. What are some of the keys to staying proactive in such situations? Here are three quick tips:
A. When you feel angry and upset with someone, before you say something you might later regret, take a deep breath and count slowly to ten. In most circumstances, by the time you reach ten, you would have figured out a better way of communicating the issue, so that you can reduce, instead of complicate the problem. If you’re still upset after counting to ten, take a time out if possible, and revisit the issue after you calm down.
B. Another way to reduce reactivity is to try to put yourself in the difficult individual’s shoes, even for just a moment. For example, consider the person you’re dealing with, and complete the sentence: “It must not be easy….”
“My child is being so resistant. It must not be easy to deal with his school and social pressures…”
“My boss is really demanding. It must not be easy to have such high expectations placed on her performance by management…”
To be sure, empathetic statements do not excuse unacceptable behavior. The point is to remind yourself that people do what they do because of their own issues. As long as we’re being reasonable and considerate, difficult behaviors from others say a lot more about them than they do about us. By de-personalizing, we can view the situation more objectively, and come up with better ways of solving the problem.
C. Set Consequence.The ability to identify and assert consequence(s) is one of the most important skills you can use to “stand down” a difficult person. Effectively articulated, consequence gives pause to the difficult individual, and compels her or him to shift from violation to respect. In my book (click on title) “How to Communicate Effectively and Handle People,” consequence is presented as seven different types of power you can utilize to affect positive change.
5. The Ability to Bounce Back from Adversity
“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
— Michael Jordan
Life is not always easy. We all know that. How we choose the way we think, feel, and act in relation to life’s challenges can often make the difference between hope versus despair, optimism versus frustration, and victory versus defeat. With every challenging situation we encounter, ask questions such as “What is the lesson here?” “How can I learn from this experience?” “What is most important now?” and “If I think outside the box, what are some better answers?” The higher the quality of questions we ask, the better the quality of answers we will receive. Ask constructive questions based on learning and priorities, and we can gain the proper perspective to help us tackle the situation at hand.
“Abraham Lincoln lost eight elections, failed twice in business and suffered a nervous breakdown before he became the president of the United States.”
— Wall Street Journal
6. The Ability to Express Intimate Emotions in Close, Personal Relationships
The ability to effectively express and validate tender, loving emotions is essential to maintaining close personal relationships. In this case, “effective” means sharing intimate feelings with someone in an appropriate relationship, in a manner that’s nourishing and constructive, and being able to respond affirmatively when the other person does the same.
A person’s “heart withers if it does not answer another heart.”
— Pearl Buck
Psychologist Dr. John Gottman calls the expression of intimate emotions “bidding.” Bidding can be any method of positive connection between two people desiring a close relationship. For example:
Verbal bidding: “How are you doing?” “How are you feeling?” “I love you.” “I appreciate you.” “I like it when we talk like this.” “I’m glad we’re spending this time together.” “you’re such a good friend.” “I’m sorry.”
Body language bidding: positive eye contact, hugging, smiling, patting the elbow, arm around the shoulder.
Behavioral bidding: offering food or beverage, a personalized card, a thoughtful gift, a needed favor. Empathetic listing. Engaging in shared activities that create a closer bond.
Dr. Gottman’s research reveals that close, healthy relationships bid with each other in ways large and small up to hundreds of times a day. The words and gestures can be a million variations, all of which say, in essence, “I care about you,” “I want to be connected with you,” and “you’re important in my life.” Constant and consistent bidding is crucial in the maintenance and development of close, personal relationships. It’s the vitamin of love.
Why is that we tend to be more successful at pursuits we are genuinely passionate about? Why does time seem to drag when you are completely bored and uninterested in a task? How come you can easily lose yourself in a task that really piques your interest?
According to positive psychology, doing things that you find genuinely interesting and stimulating can put you into a state Flow, which is defined as an ‘optimal state of consciousness where we feel our best and perform our best.’ During flow, self-awareness and the ego can dissolve, meaning you become completely focused and immersed in the activity for its own sake. Flow has been linked to enhanced performance and creativity across a wide range of activities, such as sports, artistic pursuits, and even in the workplace. Perhaps you can visualize a time when you became so focused and passionate about something that time just dissipated?
WHAT DOES FLOW FEEL LIKE?
Psychologically, riding a state of flow can feel incredibly pleasing and liberating. As we immerse ourselves in an activity that stimulates our passions, curiosity and interests, we lose track of the world around us and can enter unusual states of creativity and productivity.
According to psychologist Mikhal Csíkszentmihályi’s landmark book Finding Flow, the feeling of flow is associated with these ten factors, although not all of them need to be present to experience it. Have you ever experienced some or all of these?
You feel a complete focus of attention
The activity is intrinsically rewarding
You have clear, attainable (although still challenging) goals
You have a feeling of peace and losing yourself
There is an element of timelessness, or, losing track of time during the activity
You receive immediate feedback
You know that the task is doable, and you can strike a balance between skill level and the challenge presented.
You feel a sense of personal control over your efforts
You lose track of your physical needs.
You experience an unusually high level of concentration
WHAT DOES FLOW LOOK LIKE IN THE BRAIN?
A variety of processes occur simultaneously in the brain when we enter a state of flow. Essentially, these processes are threefold and together they help explain why during flow, the brain is capable of enhanced creativity and productivity: Transitions in brainwaves, deactivation of the prefrontal cortex, and changes in neuro-chemistry.
Brain Wave Transitions:
While in a state of flow, our brainwaves transition from the more rapid beta waves of waking consciousness to slower alpha waves, and even to the border of much slower theta waves. Alpha waves are associated with relaxed and effortless alertness, peak performance and creativity, while theta waves are associated with the deeper dream-state consciousness and experienced predominately during REM sleep.
Pre-Frontal Cortex Deactivation:
During flow states, the Pre-Frontal Cortex (PFC) becomes deactivated in a process called “transienthypo-frontality.” The PFC is the area of the brain that houses higher-level cognitions, including those that help us to cultivate our ego and sense of self. During a flow state this area becomes deactivated, helping us lose ourselves in the task at hand and silence our criticisms, fears and self-doubts.
Flow states also trigger a release of many of the pleasurable and performance- inducing chemicals in the brain, including dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine and endorphins. A recent study shows that when are intrinsically curious about an outcome and driven for answers, dopamine is released in the brain, helping to solidify our memories. These findings suggest why flow states are good for promoting learning and memory in addition to creativity.
EIGHT STEPS FOR ENHANCING YOUR STATE OF FLOW
In addition to being a pleasurable and productive experience, riding the flow also has a host of other benefits to well-being including increased self- esteem, self-confidence, life satisfaction and overall happiness. Here are eight steps for enhancing your state of flow:
Do something that interests you.
Flow comes most naturally when we are intrinsically motivated, excited and curios about the task. So if you are looking to get creative and productive, choose to focus on a task that you enjoy and already feel passionate about. If this is for work, or you don’t have a choice of the task, try to identify elements of the tasks that excite you. Maybe there are certain parts of project or elements of an assignment that interest you? Pay special attention to those.
Set Clear Goals.
Be specific when you are getting started on a task. What is the goal you are aiming for? Are you trying to finish a painting? Write a new song? Complete a presentation? Or perfect a new yoga pose? This will help to hone your focus and keep you on task. If you try to do too much it could overwhelm you, and if you do too little you might not spend enough time in deep concentration to reach a flow state.
Find A Quiet and Productive Time.
Most people find that an environment of peace and quiet works best for inducing a state of flow, possibly because of how brainwave patterns shift into slower frequencies during flow. When you begin your work, try to cultivate a calm, quiet environment. Also, make sure to identify when you are most productive: For some, this is first thing in the morning, and for others it is afternoon. For me, it is late at night. Identify the right time for you to be creative and block it off to engage in your flow time.
Avoid Interruptions and Distractions
Interruptions are the nemesis of flow. Every time get distracted, whether it is a roommate speaking to us, our phone beeping, emails coming in, a distracting song, or a messy desk, it can pull us out of flow and quicken our brainwaves to beta state. When you decide it is time to get into flow, turn off the phone, ask your friends, family or roommates not to disturb you, and tidy up your work space before you get started.
Focus as Long as you Can:
Once you are able to sit down during a quiet productive time without distractions, try to stay focused for as long as you can. At first, especially if you are new to the task, you may only be able to focus for five or ten minutes. This is OK: Just keep practicing! As you continue to direct your energies to focusing, you will train your brain to more easily and fluidly drop into the flow state and before long, hours will be passing by like minutes.
Match Your Skills to the Task
We can best enter flow when we are working on a task that is suited to our skill level. In other words, when we are well prepared for the task at hand, we are more likely to experience flow. Csíkszentmihályi gives the example of a runner experiencing flow during a marathon for which she has trained for several months.
But There is No Harm in Stretching Your Skills Slightly
Your skills should match the task at hand, but it is also possible to stretch your skills slightly past your comfortzone to maximize flow. A little bit of a challenge can be a great thing. So perhaps you are trying a new yoga move that is extra difficult. Or you are recording a song using new software. As long as the background skills are there, pushing yourself a little bit can be excellent for bringing you into a concentrated, productive state.
Emphasize Process, Not Outcome
Finally, please remember that the experience of flow is a PROCESS, not an outcome. In other words, working and creating from a place of flow is a life skill that you can strive to master with practice, and this usually does not happen overnight. Just keep trying and do not give up even if you don’t nail it right away. Remember, flow is all abut enjoyment and living in the present moment. If you become to wrapped up in the outcome, then it can take your enjoyment away. Who really cares what the painting looks like, so long as you enjoyed painting it right!? Just keep trying and continue to be open to the creativity flowing through your space
Brooks, director of the Austin Psychology and Assessment Center, says our thoughts are like a river. When we’re thinking about what we need from the store, the river is calm, but when we’re having negative thoughts–worrying about a presentation, for example–the current becomes more turbulent.
Mindful people–those who live in the present–can step back and stay on the riverbank, watching their current of thoughts and not getting swept away by their content.
Meditation fosters mindfulness, but the practice seems difficult in today’s world of constant stimulation: “People think the goal of meditation is to empty the mind,” says Brooks. “It’s not about clearing the mind; it’s about focusing on one thing. When the mind wanders, the meditation isn’t a failure. Our brain is like a wayward puppy, out of control. Catching it and putting it back to the object of focus is the mediation.”
Brooks says meditating is like exercise; a full workout is preferred, but there is value in short bursts.
“Research shows that a total of 15 minutes of meditating each day for several weeks produces detectable, positive changes in the brain as well as corresponding reductions in stress, anxiety, and an enhanced sense of well-being,” says Brooks. “You can get the benefits of a formal meditation practice by weaving mini-meditations into your daily life.”
He offers six ways you can effortlessly incorporate meditation into your daily life:
1. WALKING MEDITATION
While walking your dog, taking a hike, or simply getting the mail, focus your attention on one item, such as the sound of the cicadas, the feel of the ground beneath your feet, or the color of the tree. When the mind wanders, catch it and return to your original focus.
“Research has found that just being in nature reduces stress,” says Brooks. “We weren’t meant to sit in cubicles all day and when we disconnect from nature, we suffer a lot of stress.”
2. RED LIGHT MEDITATION
While stopped at a red light, turn off your radio and focus on deep breaths. When your mind wanders, go back to your breath.
“Breathing meditation is one of the easiest because it’s always with us and exists in the present moment,” says Brooks. “You can’t listen to yesterday’s breath.”
3. RUNNING/CYCLING MEDITATION
If you run or bike, leave your headphones at home and focus on the experience.
“Tune into a physical sensation, such as the ground beneath your feet, the wind in your hair, or the warmth of the sunlight,” says Brooks. “Choose one item and maintain your focus. Don’t jump mindlessly from one sensation to another.”
4. EATING/DRINKING MEDITATION
As you eat or drink, focus on the various flavours, textures, and sensations of the particular food or drink. Drinking a cup of tea or enjoying a piece of chocolate can be a form of meditation, says Brooks.
“Savor what you have in the moment,” he says.
5. WAITING MEDITATION
While in line, observe your breath or surroundings. Use the time to do some inner observations. For example, are your muscles tense? Are you cold or hot?
“It is important that when you do the observations, you do them without judgment,” says Brooks. “If you’re in the supermarket checkout line, for example, avoid judging people for what they have in their shopping carts. Observe and notice without opinion.”
6. TASK-RELATED MEDITATION
You can also incorporate mindfulness meditation into daily activities, says Brooks. For example, washing your hands, folding laundry, taking a shower, washing dishes, or brushing your teeth can serve as mini-meditations if you focus on the experience and stop your mind from wandering.
“Focusing on what’s happening now pulls us out of our river of thoughts,” says Brooks. “The benefit of meditation is that when something in the real world comes up, we’re much better at catching our thoughts instead of getting swept into their current.”
The workplace happiness trend is sweeping through corporate America, but overhauling a company culture is no easy task. Businesses big and small share their most effective strategies
Companies of every size and in every industry have whole-heartedly embraced the idea that happy employees are more productive, and that engaging employees in a company’s mission is one of the best ways to ensure success. But let’s face it: not everyone is Etsy, with an entire team devoted to such endeavors, or Bank of America, with a budget for extensive sociometric studies of its workplace, and even fewer could justify the sort of investment Google makes in attracting and retaining top talent.
Fortunately, it’s not an all-or-nothing endeavor. According to Alison Davis Blake, dean of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, there are myriad ways for companies to pick and choose the positive business strategies that best suit their size, industry and particular needs. Here are five strategies some of the world’s most successful businesses have deployed to help them not only hire employees that are a good fit, but also keep them engaged over the long term.
Step one: consider your culture
If the idea of re-engineering your company’s culture sounds overwhelming, consider the case of Mercedes-Benz, which had to figure out how to accomplish the task across a geographically distributed franchise dealer network with more than 25,000 employees.
“How do you build a strong culture, especially with an organization like ours, which has 3,000-plus employees and then a dealer network wherein each organization has its own initiatives and agendas?” said Gareth Joyce, the automaker’s vice president of customer experience. Tasked with improving customers’ experiences across the brand, Joyce knew he needed to start with the employees that interacted with those customers daily.
“You have to create a vision for people to follow, and once you succeed in doing that, you have to tell the story, again and again,” he said. “Eventually the story begins to feed itself. People start to feel good about what they’re doing. If you know what your purpose is and you start to see the connection between what you’re doing every day and the company’s vision, you see that you’re making a difference. Then tomorrow you want to get up and do more of that.”
The first step in that process for Mercedes was giving each employee access to the company’s product. “We got them into a Mercedes to take home, to show their families, their wives, their kids, their boyfriends and girlfriends, so that they could say: ‘This is the brand I represent. This is what I take pride in,’” Joyce said. “If they haven’t experienced it themselves, how are they going to sell it to anyone else with any passion?”
Next, the company created a culture survey that it regularly administers to both corporate and dealer employees. Mercedes provides one day of consulting to each of its dealers to go over the results of the survey and turn the information into action, which then gets evaluated in the next survey.
Instead of using software or IT tools, “we’ve opted for a people-centered approach because we think that goes straight to the root: if you get your people behind what you’re doing, it takes you further, faster than any other approach,” Joyce said.
Ari Weinzweig, co-founder of online food seller Zingerman’s, puts it simply: “If you want customer service to be better, give better service to the staff.”
Step two: rethink hiring
Once your company has set its culture and vision, the next step is thinking really carefully about who you hire, Blake said. She recommends evaluating candidates not just for skills, but also for temperament and fit.
“The problem is that hiring tends to be based on attraction bias – I like people who are like me – which has nothing to do with features that are relevant to the sort of firm you want to build,” she said.
This approach to hiring, sometimes called “attribute-based,” is growing more popular for companies of all sizes. In some cases, companies are ignoring resumes, references, and even the traits traditionally associated with success in a particular role, and opting instead to look at the attributes that make employees successful (and likely to stick around) in their particular culture.
It requires a bit more planning and potentially a lengthier interview process, but figuring out which attributes work well in a specific company and role – and documenting those traits – is helping businesses to get better talent and keep it. ATB Investor Services, a mid-size financial advisor firm in Alberta, Canada, for example, saw its turnover rate drop and sales increase when it adopted this approach.
“It doesn’t cost any money to be more disciplined in hiring – in fact it costs less in the long-term because you make fewer errors,” Blake said. “Companies should think carefully about not only a candidate’s skills, but also their attitude about work, attitude about the role of business in general, about the company’s products and so forth, and be intentional about writing that stuff down.”
This is especially important for small businesses, which often have loose hiring practices, she said. “Smaller firms will often say ‘we don’t need HR; we don’t need all that bureaucracy,’” she said. “But mission-aligned, culture-aligned hiring is important for companies of any size.”
Step three: increase performance reviews
The idea of conducting more performance reviews doesn’t sound like something that would catch on, but more and more companies are doing just that. The idea is simple: only giving employees and managers one chance a year to sit down and talk about what does and doesn’t work all but ensures that things will slip through the cracks. It doesn’t give managers time to improve an employee’s performance, nor does it give employees time to raise important issues. The result is typically higher-than-necessary turnover rates.
Instead, some companies are opting to conduct quick weekly surveys that not only help the companies deal with issues but also help employees pass good ideas up the management chain regularly. Luke Ryan, a spokesperson for 15Five, which provides performance review software used by eyewear brand Warby Parker, software company Citrix Systems and invention website Quirky, says the idea is to “create ‘trickle-up’ communication, to surface ideas and problems on a weekly basis”.
Other companies have created their own performance review processes, incorporating input from employees and external HR experts. Australian software company Atlassian conducted a year-long program aimed at replacing its performance-review process – a standard bi-annual, 360-degree review – with something that took less time and did a better job of engaging employees.
In a blog post about the project, Joris Luijke, the company’s vice president of talent and culture, wrote: “Twice a year, the model did exactly the opposite to what we wanted to accomplish. Instead of an inspiring discussion about how to enhance people’s performance, the reviews caused disruptions, anxiety and de-motivated team members and managers. Also, even though our model was extremely lean and simple, the time investment was significant.”
In the end, the company created its own new process, which has since been duplicated by hundreds of other companies. It got rid of the scale associated with performance reviews, and replaced bi-annual review meetings with monthly check-ins. Atlassian managers were already meeting weekly with their employees, so the company decided to devote one of these weekly meetings per month to a broader conversation about performance, with a different focus area each month.
Eventually the company discovered and began using software from Small Improvements to manage this process, joining several other companies, including social media company Pinterest, ride-sharing company Lyft and home décor business One King’s Lane.
Step four: be transparent
Transparency is often discussed in terms of how a company communicates with the public, but even companies that have transparency down pat in their external communication can falter with internal transparency.
There are, of course, companies that manage to be transparent in the extreme: Zingerman’s Deli, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for example, opens its books to every single employee. Digital payment infrastructure company Stripe, based in San Francisco, has a famously open email policy wherein all email is internally public and searchable. And social media app Buffer has made its internal salary formula public, along with all employee compensation packages, as part of its commitment to the “radical transparency” CEO Joel Gascoigne says is intended to “breed trust, the foundation of great teamwork”.
But even companies that are either unwilling or unable to be completely open could benefit from a bit more transparency with their employees.
“A lot of public companies in particular are worried about legal and financial issues with opening up their books, but they could still be transparent about their operations and some aspects of the finances and reap the benefits,” says Wayne Baker, who teaches open-book finance at the Ross business school.
Baker cites Whole Foods Markets and Southwest Airlines as large, public companies that use a modified form of open-book finance to help keep their employees engaged.
Step five: empower employees
In addition to educating employees about the company’s mission, it’s important for executives to find ways to empower their employees to contribute to that mission in every way they can.
Mercedes’ Joyce sees this as critical to the success of his company’s customer service goal of delighting customers. Mercedes’ internal brand program, MB Select, provides a framework that gives employees who have direct customer contact the flexibility to do what they deem necessary to keep those customers happy.
“In that moment, where the customer is right in front of someone, and they see that something is going in a direction it shouldn’t be, you have to empower people to act,” Joyce said, describing MB Select as a “no-rules program”. “It’s about saying to our employees, ‘we trust you to do the right thing’ and enabling them to truly wow a customer in the moment.”
For Zingerman’s Weinzweig, it’s not just about making employees feel empowered but also about doing what’s best for the business.
“Why wouldn’t you want to tap into all the intellectual and physical capabilities of your staff?” he said. “People are smart and they want to do good work. Our job is to create an ecosystem in which that’s ever more likely and to create processes that encourage them to use that intelligence, and a system in which they have agency so they’re not helpless victims of some big corporate entity.”
A Trinity College researcher says students need to develop resilience, by focusing on their strengths.
Jolanta Burke believes not enough attention is paid to what makes children happy in the Irish curriculum, and yet it has a huge bearing on how well they perform in school.
Ms Burke, a psychologist and PhD researcher at Trinity College’s School of Education, believes we should embed positive psychology in the Irish curriculum. She has been advising guidance counsellors on how to use it in schools and says teachers should also receive training.
Positive psychology is defined by Jolanta Burke as the “science of well-being”.
“Until now, psychologists in schools have tended to focus on students with problems. They focus on the students’ weaknesses and how they fall apart.
“Positive psychology looks at the school differently. We look at the top students and learn from them as much as possible, so that we can help the majority of students become better. Rather than focusing on the weaknesses of students, we focus on their strengths.”
The psychologist is keen to emphasise that this is not a “happy clappy” approach, where children are told how wonderful they are.
“It is not about building up self-esteem. That was a mistake among the 1970s generation of parents. They tried to blow up their child’s sef-esteem by telling them how fabulous they were and that they could do anything. That is actually not good for a child because it reduces their resilience.”
The positive psychology programmes in schools place a strong emphasis on developing character strengths and encouraging resilience.
Jolanta Burke believes resilience can be encouraged in three ways:
• children can be taught to bounce back after disappointments – for example, if they fail exams
• they can be taught to build up a shield that protects them from hurt in certain situations
• kids can learn how to keep going and the importance of perseverence when facing up to the challenges in life
The psychologist says perseverance and an attitude of not wanting to give up are hugely important when it comes to performance in schools.
“You might have a talent for music, but unless you are prepared to put the effort in, it can be wasted.”
While Jolanta Burke does not believe in inflating self-esteem, she wants to encourage more positive emotions and a more optimistic outlook.
“An optimistic way of thinking is very important. I am doing research on bullying at the moment, and it is associated with a pessimistic thinking style.
“Adolescents who think optimistically believe adversity is temporary, and that it affects only one aspect of their lives, and they do not tend to blame themselves for the situation.
“Those who are pessimistic believe adversity is permanent and affects all aspects of their lives and that they themselves are to blame. We try to get students to think more optimistically, and this can reduce depression and anxiety.”
This week’s headline theme considers self-mastery: what is it, how is it integral to our learning and our success, and how might we strengthen and develop greater self-mastery?
It is said that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at anything. That’s the the equivalent to the hours spent over five years in a full-time job. And although this number as an absolute is hotly debated, as you will read in the stories below, the fact remains that the more time we spend practising anything the better we get at it, and the better at something we want to become the more time we better be prepared to put into it.
This is good news for those of us who are are not-so-very-young anymore and have plenty of hours doing what we do already on the meter. But what does it mean for learning something new…?
Well, certainly practice, if not making us perfect, is needed to progress us closer towards our ideal state. And practice demands great amounts of self-discipline, determination, willpower, self-belief, perseverance, self-regulation, stamina, optimism, self-reliance and resilience – perhaps summed up best by Charles Handy in his book The New Alchemists as the three essential qualities of successful entrepreneurs: Drive, Doggedness and Difference.
Notice the repeated emphasis on the self in these essential capabilities. More and more self-mastery is becoming one of the essentials for our 21st century work and lives.
Nice word but what is it and how can we develop it?
He titled his ideas The Fifth Discipline to underscore the necessity of Systems Thinking, and if, for Senge, Personal Mastery was not the most important, he made it the his first and arguably the one upon which all the others then depend upon and build out from.
We have developed his ideas to extend into individual capabilities with resonance for everyone one of us, and here then is what we can learn about self-mastery from Senge’s model for deliberate continuous learning and adaptation:
Personal Mastery ~ learning to expand our personal capacity to create the results we most desire; continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision and focusing our energies; developing resilience and searching out a wider reality; knowing what ‘playing to our strengths’ means and being willing and able to act differently from our natural style and preferences to better match the demands of the situations we face.
Mental Models ~ learning to expose our internal assumptions and beliefs about the world, to bring them to the surface and hold them rigorously to scrutiny; being able to unveil and communicate the assumptions inside our thinking, making our thinking open and porous to influence from others. This discipline enables us to recognise our different mindsets and change them to more helpful when we need to.
Shared Vision ~ building a sense of shared purpose and commitment with the rest of our group by unearthing the collective pictures of the ideal future we hope to create, and the principles, values and practices by which we hope to get there. Knowing why what we want is necessary and compelling and has worth and meaning outside our own self-interests.
Team Learning ~ discovering and expanding what we know through the act of listening to each other, using dialogue to suspend assumptions and genuinely ‘think together’ and Emotional Intelligence (EQ) to transform our conversations into collective learning so that our group can reliably create intelligence and capability greater than the sum of its individual parts.
Systems Thinking ~ a way of thinking about the forces and interrelationships that shape the behaviour of our system, and a language for describing this to each other. This discipline enables us to look out for the consequences of our choices and actions, to see how to change systems more effectively, and to use all of the disciplines together as an ensemble in order to act in tune with the larger processes of our natural, social, and economic ecosystems.
Linked closely to these ideas and amplifying their importance for both ourselves and the people and organisations we work with is the idea of Achieving Potential, also the top-line outcome from having high level happiness at work. And our thinking about what this means is inherited from Maslow’s hierarchical model of different level needs, and places Self- Actualisation – achieving our fullest potential – at the pinnacle of his pyramid.
What follows is a number of articles that have been collected in this week’s new Happiness At Work #edition 110 that add different ideas, insights, and guidance for building this increasingly crucial capability of self-mastery.
“Courage, hard work, self-mastery, and intelligent effort are all essential to successful life.”
– Theodore Roosevelt, former US president.
What do you think when you hear the term “self-mastery”? You might picture someone like a martial arts master – calm, focused, and in control at all times. Or, maybe you imagine people who have their lives planned, and are in control of their own future.
Do you show these traits on a regular basis? Do you feel in control of your career and your goals? Or, like many people, do you feel that you should take more control of your actions and emotions?
In this article, we’ll examine what self-mastery is – and we’ll look at what you can do to develop it within yourself.
What is Self-Mastery?
When you have developed self-mastery, you have the ability to control yourself in all situations, and you move forward consciously and steadily towards your goals. You know your purpose, and you have the self-discipline needed to do things in a deliberate, focused, and honorable way.
Think about people you know who don’t have any self-mastery. They’re probably impulsive and rash. They might let their emotions control them, yelling at colleagues when they’re angry, and then being overly polite to make up for this later. They’re unpredictable and, as a result, people see them as untrustworthy.
When you demonstrate self-mastery at work, you prove to your colleagues that you have the inner strength and steadiness needed for effective leadership. So it’s well worth the effort to invest time developing self-mastery. You’ll likely become a happier, more balanced person – and you’ll find that opportunities arise because of this.
Self-mastery is a broad term that covers many aspects of your personal and professional life. Developing self-mastery can mean working on many of these areas. (If so, it may be best to focus on one or two areas at a time, so you don’t become overwhelmed.)
Look at the following areas of your life to develop self-mastery:
Self-mastery starts with a vision of how you want your life to be.
Think about people you know who have incredible self-discipline. Chances are that they know exactly where they want to go in life, and this vision gives them the strength to get there.
This is why it’s so important to start with a clear vision of your short-term and long-term objectives. Learn how to set personal goals, and get into the habit of moving towards these goals every day. The clearer you are about what you want to achieve in life, the easier it is to move forwards calmly and confidently.
2. Attitude and Emotion
Your attitude and emotions play a major role in self-mastery. Those who show strong self-mastery don’t let their emotions control them – they control their own emotions.
Focus on something positive every day. Be grateful for things, even if these are just things like that fact that you do a job you enjoy, or that the weather is beautiful on your drive to work. Having gratitude and a positive outlook will set the tone for the rest of your day.
Resist the temptation to blame yourself when things go wrong.Self-sabotage is a quick and cruel way of stopping yourself from reaching your true potential. If you find that you’re undermining yourself, consciously make yourself stop. Instead, think of something positive and encouraging.
You can also change negative thinking with cognitive restructuring. Write down the situation that is causing your negative thoughts. Next, write down the emotions you feel, and list the “automatic thoughts” you have while experiencing these emotions. Then, list the evidence that supports these negative thoughts, and the evidence that refutes them. Finally, list some fair, balanced, objective thoughts about the situation.
Being able to manage and control your emotions helps you buildemotional intelligence. This is your awareness of others people’s needs and emotions, and your knowledge of how your own emotions affect those around you. Those who have good self-mastery are always aware of others, and they work hard to make sure that their emotions don’t negatively impact other people.
Think about how many times you’ve set a goal and, for one reason or another, never followed it through because of lack of willpower or self-control. It’s happened to all of us, and we probably felt ashamed or disappointed that we didn’t achieve what we wanted.
Willpower is an essential part of self-mastery. It’s what pushes you forward to take action, even if you’re feeling scared or hesitant. Willpower is also what keeps you moving towards your goals in the weeks or months ahead.
To boost your willpower, make sure you have both rational and emotional motives for what you want to achieve. For example, if your goal is to stop surfing the web in work time, a rational motive could be that it’s against company rules, while an emotional motive could be that other people will lose respect for you when they see that you are not working hard.
For many of us, willpower comes in short bursts and is often strongest when we first decide to make a change. So, use your initial burst of willpower to change your environment, so that it supports your efforts to reach your goal.
For instance, imagine that your goal is to improve your self-confidence at work. At the beginning, when your willpower is strong, you could focus on changing the environment in your workplace by making a list of everything that hurts your self-confidence. You could also create a plan for overcoming those obstacles, and post items and affirmations in your office that provide reminders about your goal.
After a week or so, you might find that your willpower is not as strong. But, because you changed your environment, you’re better prepared to continue working towards your goal, because you have a foundation already in place.
Improving focus is also key to self-mastery. For instance, how much time do you waste during your work day? How much time do you spend on the Internet, talking casually with colleagues, or getting coffee? What could you accomplish if you fully used the hours available to you?
Start by working on your concentration. Focus on one task at a time, and slowly increase your level of focus.
At first you may find that you can’t concentrate on a task for more than one hour at a time, before you get tired anddistracted. Try to increase this to two hours by adding 15 minutes of focused work every day. This will allow you to strengthen your focus to two-hour stretches – and then even more, if that’s what you need to get things done.
Achieving self-mastery takes time and hard work, but it’s definitely worth the effort.
It’s best to work on one or two areas at a time. Start by identifying your life and career goals. Then, focus on maintaining a positive attitude during the day. Also, try not to let negative emotions impact anyone else.
Other strategies, like building your willpower and strengthening your focus, will help ensure that you keep moving forward toward your goals – while further building self-mastery.
Research shows that only 20% of people achieve anything close to their true potential. I recently sat down with Shirzad Chamine, who believes he has identified exactly why most of us do not reach out true potential, and what we can do about it. In his New York Times Bestseller Positive Intelligence, Shirzad distills his groundbreaking research on the ten well-disguised mental Saboteurs that hold people back, and how you can overcome them. He shares the key to improving your performance at work and feeling happier and less stressed in as little as 21 days. Does this sound too good to be true? Ironically, that may be one of your Saboteurs talking right now!
Shirzad believes it is critical that leaders become aware of the duel perspectives “raging inside their minds.” The constant battle is “between the ‘Sage’ voice that serves them versus the ‘Saboteur’ voices that undermine them.” According to Shirzad, while this conflict between Sage and Saboteur happens inside every mind, it intensifies with most entrepreneurs.
For many entrepreneurs, your identity becomes very wrapped up in your business, which is why it can feel so personal when things don’t go well . This leads to additional stress, which is what fuels the Saboteurs. Shirzad says that the reason only 20% of people achieve anything close to their true potential is due to the destructive power of their Saboteurs.
There are a total of ten Saboteurs, “internal enemies” as Shirzad calls them; however, most people are undermined by only a couple of them, depending on personality and background. The ten Saboteurs are: Judge, Controller, Victim, Restless, Stickler, Pleaser, Avoider, Hyper-Rational , Hyper-Achiever, and Hyper-Vigilant.
There is a specific subset of Saboteurs that tend to afflict entrepreneurs:
Judge: The Judge causes the greatest damage. It beats you down constantly over your flaws and mistakes. The lie the Judge tells is that by beating you up over your imperfections, you stay driven.
Controller: The Controller runs on an anxiety-based need to take charge, control situations, and bend people’s actions to your own will. By overdoing this, it causes resentment in others and prevents them from developing themselves, because they have to do things your way.
Hyper-Rational: The Hyper-Rational involves an intense and exclusive focus on the rational processing of everything, including relationships. It causes you to be impatient with people’s emotions, regarding them as unworthy of your time and attention.
The key to overcoming these Saboteurs and reaching your full potential involves three strategies:
1. Weaken Your Saboteurs
To weaken your Saboteurs, you need to observe and label the Saboteur thoughts and feelings when they arise. Start off by exposing which of the ten Saboteurs are your primary internal enemies. Then create a “mug shot” of each one, profiling key beliefs, assumptions, and feelings. This helps you intercept the Saboteur when it shows up in your head and switch to the Sage alternative. It takes a little practice, but the results are game changing for the company, and life changing for the leader.
For example, if you are feeling stressed out at work and notice yourself saying “I’m such an idiot for saying xx in that meeting”, you might say to yourself “Oh, the Judge is back again, saying I’m going to fail”. It is a powerful act of mindfulness to notice and label your Saboteurs, realize they are not serving you and choose to move into Sage mode instead.
2. Strengthen Sage
The Sage perspective is always available, and Shirzad outlines five specific Sage powers in his book that you can use to meet any challenge. One of the most powerful tools Shirzad gives to switch from Saboteur to Sage involves asking yourself, “What is the gift or opportunity in this situation?”
The next time you are faced with a challenge, try taking a few deep breaths and then ask yourself “Hmmm……What is the gift or opportunity in this situation?” Force yourself to come up with a list of at least threegifts or opportunities. By simply asking this question, you will start to shift into Sage mode and open yourself to a better outcome.
3. Strengthen Your PQ Brain
In addition to identifying and labeling your primary Saboteurs and strengthening your Sage, the final tool to achieve your potential involves improving your Positive Intelligence (PQ) brain muscles through repetitive exercises.
Positive Intelligence measures how well you are able to control your own mind and how well your mind acts in your best interest. One example Shirzad uses in his book to illustrate this is when your mind tells you that you should do your best to prepare for a big meeting, it is acting as your friend. When your mind wakes you up at 3:00am anxious about the meeting and racing in a loop over and over again about potential problems, it is acting as your enemy. The key to reaching your potential lies in your ability to use your own mind as your biggest alley rather than your biggest saboteur.
Practicing mindfulness is one of the best ways to strengthen your PQ Brain. Shirzad suggests doing at least one hundred PQ reps each day for twenty one days and he provides examples of how to do this in the book. Meditation is a great way to strengthen your PQ brain muscles.
To determine your current PQ Score and learn tools to strengthen your PQ brain, click here. According to Shirzad, a PQ score of 75 is the tipping point for a net-positive PQ Vortex, which results in an exponential boost in productivity.
Shirzad believes the reason many management trainings are ineffective is that there is too much focus on “insight,” and too little on building and maintaining new mental habits or muscles. He says “Transformation is 20% insight, 80% muscle”.
And he has found that if you commit to the three tools above for a period of twenty one days, you will build new PQ muscles to create lasting change.
People at the very peak of there fields have been shown to have put in 10,000 hours getting to that level. How does this translate for the rest of us…?
By Ben Carter
A much-touted theory suggests that practising any skill for 10,000 hours is sufficient to make you an expert. No innate talent? Not a problem. You just practice. But is it true?
The 10,000-hours concept can be traced back to a 1993 paper written by Anders Ericsson, a Professor at the University of Colorado, called The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance.
It highlighted the work of a group of psychologists in Berlin, who had studied the practice habits of violin students in childhood, adolescence and adulthood.
All had begun playing at roughly five years of age with similar practice times. However, at age eight, practice times began to diverge. By age 20, the elite performers had averaged more than 10,000 hours of practice each, while the less able performers had only done 4,000 hours of practice.
The psychologists didn’t see any naturally gifted performers emerge and this surprised them. If natural talent had played a role it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to expect gifted performers to emerge after, say, 5,000 hours.
Anders Ericsson concluded that “many characteristics once believed to reflect innate talent are actually the result of intense practice extended for a minimum of 10 years”.
It is Malcolm Gladwell’s hugely popular book, Outliers, that is largely responsible for introducing “the 10,000-hour rule” to a mass audience – it’s the name of one of the chapters.
But Ericsson was not pleased. He wrote a rebuttal paper in 2012, called The Danger of Delegating Education to Journalists.
“The 10,000-hour rule was invented by Malcolm Gladwell who stated that, ‘Researchers have settled on what they believe is the magic number for true expertise: 10,000 hours.’ Gladwell cited our research on expert musicians as a stimulus for his provocative generalisation to a magical number,” Ericsson writes.
Ericsson then pointed out that 10,000 was an average, and that many of the best musicians in his study had accumulated “substantially fewer” hours of practice. He underlined, also, that the quality of the practice was important.
“In contrast, Gladwell does not even mention the concept of deliberate practice,” Ericsson writes.
Gladwell counters that Ericsson doesn’t really think that talent exists.
“I think that being very, very good at something requires a big healthy dose of natural talent. And when I talk about the Beatles – they had masses of natural talent. They were born geniuses. Ericsson wouldn’t say that.
“Ericsson, if you read some of his writings, is… saying the right kind of practice is sufficient.”
Gladwell places himself roughly in the middle of a sliding scale with Ericsson at one end, placing little emphasis on the role of natural talent, and at the other end a writer such as David Epstein, author of the The Sports Gene. Epstein is “a bit more of a talent person than me” Gladwell suggests.
One of the difficulties with assessing whether expert-level performance can be obtained just through practice is that most studies are done after the subjects have reached that level.
It would be better to follow the progress of someone with no innate talent in a particular discipline who chooses to complete 10,000 hours of deliberate practice in it.
And we can, thanks to our wannabe professional golfer, Dan McLaughlin.
“I began the plan in April 2010 and I basically putted from one foot and slowly worked away from the hole,” he says.
“Eighteen months into it I hit my first driver and now it’s approaching four years and I’m about half way. So I’m 5,000 hours into the project. My current handicap is right at a 4.1 and the goal is to get down to a plus handicap [below zero] where I have the skill set to compete in a legitimate PGA tour event.”
David Epstein hopes that McLaughlin can reach his goal, but he has some doubts. In the sporting world innate ability is mandatory, he believes.
A recent study of baseball players, Epstein points out, found that the average player had 20/13 vision as opposed to normal 20/20 vision. What this means is that they can see at 20 feet what a normal person would need to be at 13 feet to see clearly. That gives a hitter an enormous advantage when it comes to striking a ball being thrown towards them at 95mph from 60 feet (or 153km/h from 18m).
Using an analogy from computing, Epstein says the hardware is someone’s visual acuity – or the physiology of their eye that they cannot change – while the software is the set of skills they learn by many, many hours of practice.
“No matter how good their vision is, it’s like a laptop with only the hardware – with no programmes on it, it’s useless. But once they’ve downloaded that software, once they have learned those sports-specific skills, the better the hardware is the better the total machine is going to be.”
But is there a simpler way to think about all this? Maybe talented people just practise more and try harder at the thing they’re already good at – because they enjoy it?
“Imagine being in calculus class on your first day and the teacher being at the board writing an equation, and you look at it and think ‘Wow, that’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen,’ which some people do,” says Gladwell.
“For those people to go home and do two hours of calculus homework is thrilling, whereas for the rest of us it’s beyond a chore and more like a nightmare.
“Those that have done the two hours’ practice come in the following day and everything is easier than it is for those who didn’t enjoy it in the first place and didn’t do the two hours’ homework.”
What Dan McLaughlin is hoping is that what he lacks in innate talent he more than makes up for with his 10,000 hours of deliberate practice.
If Dan’s plan goes well he could be mixing it with the likes of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy in 2018. If not, he will just be a very good golfer.
The centrepiece of Gladwell’s book was practice well, practice well and you’ll reach the top of your field.
What Dr Ericsson was actually saying [in his 1993 paper] was “It takes 10,000 hours to get the top of an ultra-competitive filed in a very narrow subject.”
But here’s what happened. Ever since Outliers came out, reached the top of the bestseller list and stayed there for three solid months, all of a sudden the 10,000 Rule was everywhere. And a society-wide game of Telephone started to be played. So this message ‘It takes 10,000 hours to get to the top of an ultra-competitive field’ became ‘It takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something’ which became ‘It takes 10,000 hours to become good at something’ which became ‘It takes 10,000 hours to learn something.’ But that last statement is not true…
And the story of the Learning Curve is when you start you are grossly incompetent and you know it. With a little bit of practice you get really good really quick. That early level of improvement is real fast. Then, at a certain point, you reach a plateau, and the subsequent gains become much harder to get.
How long does it take to get from being grossly incompetent to being reasonably good at something? My research says 20 hours.
You can go from know nothing about any subject – learn a language or learn how to draw or how to juggle flaming chainsaws – if you put 20 hours of deliberate focused practice into learning that thing, you will be astounded at how good you are. And 20 hours isn’t that hard to accumulate – it’s just 20minutes a day for two months.
But this demands more than just fiddling around for about 20hours. There’s a way to practice intelligently and efficiently that will make sure you invest those 20hours in the most effective way that you can. And here’s the method…
4 Simple Steps To Rapid Skill Acquisition
Deconstruct the skill. Decide exactly what you want to be able to do when you’re done, and then look into the skill and break it down into smaller and smaller pieces… The more you’re able to break apart the skill, the more you’re able to decide what are the parts of the skill that will actually help me to get to what I want. And then you can practice those most important parts first, and this get to what you want to be able to do in the least amount of time possible.
Learn enough to self-correct. Get 3-5 resources on what it is you’re trying to learn – books, dvdd, course, anything – but don’t use those as a way to procrastinate. What you want to do is learn just enough to self-correct as you’re doing. The learning needs to enable you to know when you’re making a mistake and then do something helpful to correct it.
Remove practice barriers. Remove dust rations – television, internet, social media – all of the things that limit you actually sitting down and doing the work. The more you are able to use just a little bit of willpower to remove the things that get in the way of your practice, the more likely you are to actually do the practice.
Practice at least 20 hours. Most learning has a deeply frustrating part. We don’t like to feel stupid, and feeling stupid is a barrier to us actually sitting down and doing the work. So by pre committing to practicing whatever it is that you want to do for at least 2o hours you will be able to overcome that frustration barrier and stick with it long enough to reap the rewards.
The major barrier to learning anything is emotional. What do you want to do? Go out and spend 20 hours on it.
Here is Josh Kaufman’s full TEDTalk, including his demonstration of how well he has learned to play dozens of songs on the ukelele, practicing his own 2o hour guidelines:
Josh Kaufman is the author of the #1 international bestseller, ‘The Personal MBA: Master the Art of Business’, as well as the upcoming book ‘The First 20 Hours: Mastering the Toughest Part of Learning Anything.’ Josh specializes in teaching people from all walks of life how to master practical knowledge and skills. In his talk, he shares how having his first child inspired him to approach learning in a whole new way.
As we learn new things, we often feel inspired to change.
We discover the possibility of achieving something greater and fall in love with that future idea.
You’ll agree with me in that doing things just once or twice won’t do the trick, right?
To achieve the end result, you need to repeat the same positive action, over and over again, until at one point it becomes automatic. And then, you’ll have a habit that you can’t live without. It becomes part of your routine.
New habits can give your brain pleasure
Installing a new positive habit has the power to bring you closer to your ideal self. But this is just a small part of the story.
Most people tend to perceive the notion of new habits as a ‘bore’ or as a painful thing to do, and feel discouraged to even try. This is because nobody told them about the additional benefits of a habit that has been successfully installed:
It feels effortless. You don’t have to think about it much. You just go on autopilot – like when you brush your teeth.
You don’t need willpower because your behaviour is automatically triggered by a contextual cue (rather than self-control).
There’s a promise of reward from completing the action. And your brain gets pleasure from a completed task.
The automation of common actions frees mental resources for other tasks or thought processes.
We perform thousands of actions a day, 95% of which are automatic: a new habit is part of this group.
This is how you can create freedom and space for other things in your life. Who doesn’t want to create health habits that are sticky and that make us feel great?
Now you may think: “But don’t we need to go through a phase of pure willpower in order to create a new health habit?”
Stay tuned, that’s what we’re here to explore – how to create a health habit that will stick, without having to employ pure willpower.
Can you rely solely on willpower to change?
If we’re talking about long-term change, then the answer isno.
Willpower is the ability to ‘mindfully’ control oneself. Controlling oneself in order to change a behaviour isn’t that easy. It’s an effort.
In contrast, a habit is an almost ‘mindless’ behaviour pattern acquired by frequent repetition that shows itself in regularity or increased facility of performance. Unlike willpower, a habit feels easy.
Willpower alone will not get you to long-term success. It’s the birthing of a new habit that will.
As Charles Duhigg explains in his book The Power of Habit, we create a habit through a cue which leads to a routine, that ends in a habit. It is the routine or habit that allows us to access a part of our brain that runs on relatively little gas.
How do you go from self-control to easy habit?
When you feel good internally after completing what you set out to do, you build into your own self accountability. You want to do more of it because you received positive feedback from the task and you felt good doing it.
You completed the new task and you added to your habit strength. It’s almost as if you perpetuate the new behaviour through letting it build its own muscle, if you will.
What’s more, installing a good action in your routine can trigger a positive ripple effect on many other health behaviours.
Australian researchers Oaten and Cheng conducted a study that concluded how one repeated action (in this case exercise) can trigger a variety of positive behaviours and faciliate the improvement of self-regulation.
Is habit automation all you really need to do?
Research led by USC Professor Wendy Wood shows that lack of control – or willpower – doesn’t automatically mean success or failure.
When you don’t have self-control, what really matters is the underlying routine, or the habit groove you’ve already installed – good or bad.
Dr. Wood, who is a leading researcher on habits, goes on to tell us this:
Habits persist even when we’re tired and don’t have the energy to exert self-control.
Is this also true for your eating habits?
The same principle applies to our eating behaviours.
Willpower – or self-control – is a limited resource and can become depleted as the day goes by.
If you’ve been juggling difficult clients or stressful situations at work to the point of mental exhaustion, there will be none or very little willpower left at the end of your day. That means a reduced ability to change what and how you eat.
So in the long run, developing a habit or an automatic reaction is more effective than self-control: you’ll perform it anyway, even when your mental energy runs out.
Can automation be used for athletic performance?
Absolutely. Here’s an example.
When an athlete is in ‘the zone’ and goes for the gold at the Olympics, it isn’t about self-control; it’s about automation. It’s about relying on that 95% of their (subconscious) machinery that they worked so hard to optimise.
For this reason, most aspiring gold-medalists are already training for 2016. Because, when it comes to star performance on the competition day, relying on automatic actions and intuitive skills is more powerful than having a ‘mental debate’ on how to control an outcome.
So how do you set up a habit?
Start simple and start small.
When you choose an action to push yourself towards your goal, plan specifically when and where you will do this action. Be consistent; choose a time and place that you encounter every day of the week. This will help with the adherence, or stickiness.
Surround yourself with new habit-forming contextual cues. These are the subconscious triggers for your new action, which can be, for instance, a time of the day, a certain place, a sound, a particular smell, foods that you keep in the kitchen, or a pre-installed behaviour – typically small things.
The less overwhelming the cues, the better your chances of grooving a habit.
Your goal here is to pay attention to the cues (or to plant new cues) around you, which act as reminders. As your brain reacts to the cue, completing the subsequent action feels like a reward.
It’s this feeling of accomplishment or reward that will cause your brain to want to do it again. When it comes to perpetuating the behaviour, repetition is king!
The bottom line
Remember, it’s about automation. This means that we remove any debates inside your head about whether to perform the action or not. Even when you don’t have the energy to exert self-control (willpower), a habit can keep you on track and in line.
Now it’s over to you! Join in the conversation and tell us in the comments below:
Which new habit can you install this week?
What triggers do you need to plant or remove to make this happen?
This is a supportive and safe place to share and learn from each other!
I think perhaps I would suggest looking at these and selecting the one or two that you believe could have the greatest positive impact of how you do things, rather than take them all – with particular caution around Tip 2…
The hardest part is getting started.
When there’s a long list that needs tackling every day, the hardest part is tackling what needs to be done first. You may feel intimidated to start your next big project or pull your colleague aside for an awkward, but much-needed confrontation.
And prioritizing isn’t getting any easier. In his book Present Shock, Douglas Rushkoff blames this modern-day condition on our “continuous, always-on ‘now’“ world which has made us lose our sense of direction.
Successful people know that planning, organizing, and protecting your time is no easy feat, but if you don’t have your priorities straight, who will? Below are four unconventional methods that keep the brightest minds focus on exactly what they need to:
1. Think About Death
Reflecting on death might not be what comes to mind when you want to tackle your to-do list, but studies find it helps you re-prioritize your goals and values. Buddhist teachings encourage reflections of death with the idea that a better understanding of mortality also helps us better understand our purpose in life.
2. Wear The Same Clothes Every Day
When you downsize your closet, you also cut down on the number of choices you have to make every day, which means you can now focus on what’s most important: your priorities.
Plenty of CEOs adopt this “uniform” strategy. Steve Jobs wore the same jeans and black turtleneck day in and day out. Oracle’s Larry Ellison also preferred black turtlenecks, but often wore them underneath fashionable slim jackets. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos sticks to khakis, blue shirts, and sometimes a dark jacket. Aspokesperson for the company once said: “[Bezos would] rather spend his time figuring out how to cut prices for customers than figuring out what to wear each day.”
Leo Widrich, cofounder of Buffer, despises these daily decisions so much, he wears the same clothes every day (he owns five white T-shirts and two pairs of pants) and also eats the same dinner six times a week. Widrich believes that the fewer decisions he has to make, the better his decisions will be.
In an interview with Michael Lewis for Vanity Fair, President Barack Obama agrees with Widrich’s way of life: “I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make. You need to focus yourdecision-making energy. You can’t be going through the day distracted by trivia.”
I notice though that every one of these examples is a man. What would we think of a woman who came to work constantly wearing the same outfit?
3. Know The Difference Between Urgent And Important
Like Rushkoff, Dwight D. Eisenhower knew how easy it is to lose track of goals if the importance of tasks are confusing. To differentiate between “urgent” and “important” tasks, the 34th President of the United States broke the two into very basic distinctions:
An urgent task requires immediate attention and is often performed in a hurried, reactive mode. An example of an urgent task is calming the baby or attending a meeting.
An important task contributes to long-term values and goals and is performed in a responsive mode that leads to new opportunities. An example of an important task is planning the company’s next relationship-building mixer. Important tasks can sometimes also be urgent, but often are not.
Warren Buffett knows that you can’t be amazing if you focus on everything you’re interested in at once. This is exactly why, to keep his focus laser sharp, Buffett advises making a list of the top 25 things you want to accomplish in the next few years. From this list, pick the top five that are most important to you.
Now you have two lists and Buffett suggests you “avoid at all cost” the longer one. According to the business magnate, adding your second most important items into your focus only prevents big things from happening.
Whether it’s reflecting on mortality or getting rid of your wardrobe, the smartest people know that there’s never more time in the day–only better ways to manage your time through prioritizing. And if you’ve tried it all and still get sidetracked from what’s really important, it’s time to learn the most simple, yet effective way you can prioritize: Start saying no.
Creating success in work and life, on our own terms
by Megan Dalla-Camina
Understanding the process of change — why we are the way we are, and how to change when we really want to—is incredibly important. The attribute of driving effective change can give you the keys to the kingdom of success and happiness. However, , if you don’t learn how to use it, you can stay mired in a dark hole of frustration that can lead to self-defeat and low self-esteem.
So let’s start with what we typically know: Changing behaviors is hard. (Change is hard, period.) You get wired to certain behavior patterns, and your brain gets stuck in a groove that takes concerted, conscious, and consistent effort to change. And even when you do manage to change for a few days, weeks or months, it is all too easy to slip back into old patterns.
The good news is that we know, through the latest neuroscience, that our brains are “plastic.” This means they can create new neural pathways, which allows you to create change and form new patterns of behavior that can stick over time. You find a new groove, so to speak. But it takes work—sometimes, a lot of work. And it takes time. The popular myth that you can quickly and easily change a deeply-ingrained habit in 21 days has been largely disproven by brain and behavioral scientists. They now think it actually takes anywhere from six to nine months to create the new neural pathways that support changing behavior.
There are three things you need to make any change, whether mental, emotional or physical: desire, intent, and persistence.Our culture is filled with magazine covers that say you can meet your dream partner by the weekend, land your dream job in five days, or lose 10 pounds in two weeks. This can leave mere mortals feeling completely inadequate when they fail to achieve such results, which are completely unrealistic, if not downright impossible, in the first place.
When you consider that only 8% of people actually follow through on intentions to change a habit, you can see why it’s so critical to understand enough about the change process, and yourself, to smooth a path to success.
So what are the steps and considerations? Here are some questions to think about, as you begin to create positive change in a lasting way:
Do you really want it?
There is no point in saying you are going to stop working so much, so you can get some semblance of balance in your life, if in reality you really don’t care that much about balance, and you really love to work. Who are you doing it for? Don’t kid yourself. You must be serious and care about the change you decide to make, so you’ll be willing to work for it and follow through.
What need is being served by what you are doing now?
Your current behavior is there for a reason, or you wouldn’t be doing it. Hard to swallow, but true. Whether you’re a workaholic, 20 pounds overweight, have angermanagement issues, or are unhappily single—your current situation is serving you somehow. So take some time to think about this. Whether the need is relaxation but the behavior is binge drinking, or the need is recognition but the behavior is overwork, you first need to identify what need is being served by your current behavior. Once you have the answer, you can work out how to meet this need in another way, smoothing the path to change.
How else can you meet your needs?
So, you have identified the current behavior and how it is serving you. Now think about how else you could get this same need met. You may relate to this example. For some people, eating foods they know are not only bad for them, and in fact likely to leave them feeling tired, grumpy, and full of self-loathing, is less about the foods, and more about the nurturing, comfort, or distraction they provide. How else could you get your need met? Perhaps retreating to your meditation cushion, your yoga mat, the bath tub, or even your bed, would give you an even greater sense of the nurturing you need, without the guilt, the self-esteem crash from not following through on your intention, and, of course, the pounds. So when you think about the needs you have, how elsecan they be met?
What’s the price of not changing?
You will experience ambivalence on the change path, no question about it. And that’s okay. But to progress down the road, you have to ask yourself: What is the price of not changing? If you really want a promotion, but are too fearful to ask for the management training you need, the price is staying in the same role. Is overcoming your fear worth the goal? Or if you really want to get healthy, lose weight and get fit, but you don’t want to have to cut the sugar and get out walking, what is the price of that behavior? Putting on yet another 10 kilos? Think about and write down any negative effects your current behaviors are creating in your life—self‑loathing, boredom, career stagnation, frustration. Once you have hit this wall of realization, you are in the perfect place to turn around and move forward.
What positive image can pull you forward?
It is known, from research in positive psychology and neuroscience, that you’ll have more success when you move towards something positive rather than away from something negative. It is also known that positive images pull you forward. (Think vision boards, athletes visualizing their performance success, or thinking through the positive outcome of a business presentation before it takes place.) It works, and science proves it. So what positive image of the outcome you want can you visualize to pull you toward success? Come up with one; have it firmly in your mind; place it on a wall, in your computer, in your journal, or anywhere you will reference it; and look at it frequently. It can be especially helpful when your resolve is slipping, to remind you what you are working so hard for.
Are you acknowledging success?
When you have made progress on your efforts, it is important to acknowledge that achievement. When you celebrate your efforts, you create upward spirals of momentum that help reinforce the positive change and make it stick. Recognizing your efforts also helps to reinforce the direction in which you are moving, and motivates you further toward your goals. Recognizing, acknowledging, and celebrating progress, however small, is a key to success on your change path.
Change can be challenging. Anyone who has tried to change a habit knows this is true. But it is possible. And you can smooth the path to success by being aware of the cycle of change, being prepared, and being consistent. The result is worth the effort, if you want it badly enough to work for it.
Here is a brand new MOOC from Berkeley starting next week which I thought you might like to know about…
Starts September 9, 2014 – Register Now!
An unprecedented free online course exploring the roots of a happy, meaningful life. Co-taught by the GGSC’s Dacher Keltner andEmiliana Simon-Thomas. Up to 16 CE credit hours available.
We all want to be happy, and there are countless ideas about what happiness is and how we can get some. But not many of those ideas are based on science. That’s where this course comes in.
“The Science of Happiness” is a free, eight-week online course that explores the roots of a happy and meaningful life. Students will engage with some of the most provocative and practical lessons from this science, discovering how cutting-edge research can be applied to their own lives.
Created by UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, the course zeroes in on a fundamental finding from positive psychology: that happiness is inextricably linked to having strong social ties and contributing to something bigger than yourself—the greater good. Students will learn about the cross-disciplinary research supporting this view, spanning the fields of psychology, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and beyond.
What’s more, “The Science of Happiness” will offer students practical strategies for nurturing their own happiness. Research suggests that up to 40 percent of happiness depends on our habits and activities. So each week, students will learn a new research-tested practice that fosters social and emotional well-being—and the course will help them track their progress along the way.
The course will include:
Short videos featuring the co-instructors and guest lectures from top experts on the science of happiness;
Articles and other readings that make the science accessible and understandable to non-academics;
Weekly “happiness practices”—real-world exercises that students can try on their own, all based on research linking these practices to greater happiness;
Tests, quizzes, polls, and a weekly “emotion check-in” that help students gauge their happiness and track their progress over time;
Discussion boards where students can share ideas with one another and submit questions to their instructors.
All of these articles and more are collected in the latest edition of Happiness At Work, the weekly free online paper from BridgeBuilders STG of the best stories, research news and articles about learning and leadership, happiness and employee engagement, creativity and resilience from across the web over the previous week.
I hope you find much here to enjoy and profit from.
And do feel welcome to bring your ideas, challenges, insights and experiences to our Facebook page
Using striking stencil art and profound imagery, Banksy has captured the interest of art lovers, activists, and graffiti artists around the globe. His mysterious identity (and refusal to use social media accounts) has only sparked more intrigue, with media outlets and fans prying to earn a peek into his life. But why use graffiti as a means to communicate?
By displaying art in crowded cities across the world, Banksy puts social and political issues in our face. These pieces force us to stop and think—something that we often avoid doing in our day-to-day lives.
Great leaders focus on how to make the vision they have for their organization something that we all care about because they connect it to what matters to us; that we can see the value and purpose it will create not just for those our organization serves, but for ourselves as well.
Seen from this light, we need to recognize that being a charismatic leader is not beyond our reach; that it’s not a special quality that only those who breathe this rarefied air are entitled to possess and exude.
Rather, this potential lies within all of us – waiting for us to push our focus beyond our smartphones and computer screens, to put down whatever we are busying ourselves with so that we can be fully present to hear and understand what those around us are trying to share…
Change, and change agent, have become terms that are thrown around in HR to the point of being ineffective catchphrases. This article presents ideas from a Roundtable event that aimed to take a different approach to “change.” To see if they could come up with ideas that put some substance to this topic which could be translated into action within companies, people considered these three questions:
+ What obstacles exist in organizations that deter/destroy change?
+ What keeps employees from embracing change?
+ How can change be sustainable in organizations?
Maybe you will find an idea or two in this to add to your own change activities…
Almost everyone wants to be happy, but surprisingly few people know how.
However, a growing body of research has identified one reliable path: doing something rewarding, especially philanthropy.
Acts of kindness not only benefit the recipient but also “create a pleasurable ‘helper’s high’ that benefits the giver,” says Stanford Graduate School of Business professor Jennifer Aaker, who’s studied the phenomenon. Indeed, studies show that people who regularly volunteer report greater happiness than those who don’t. Here’s how this works…
How do we answer the grand question of how to live—and more importantly—how to live well? This is the deeply philosophical (and yet eminently pragmatic) inquiry that lies at the core of Maria Popova’s remarkable blog, Brain Pickings. Since she launched Brain Pickings as a passion project back in 2006, it’s grown impressively, becoming an intellectual touchstone for inquiring minds that now draws several million readers a month.
Not surprisingly, Popova’s work ethic is as relentless as her curiosity. Yet, after eight years of providing a service that lights up creative minds around the world, she is feeling the strain. Over tea, we talked about her struggle to dial back the pace of her workflow, and the tension between “getting things done” and being present in your own emotional reality…
This week’s theme considers what it means these days to be real – and/or to be seen to be real.
I’ve collected here some stories about the blurred relationship we have between what we think of as authentic and what we think of as manufactured and whether one is better than the other.
And stories that question some of the assumptions we might be making about what is good – or bad – for us, at least attempting to interrogate a little more brightly one or two of the maxims we hold to be true in our early 21st century age.
There is a wonderful rambunctious rant by the always deliberately outrageous provocateur Tom Peters, who here is listing some the Blindingly Obvious Things we continue to ignore.
Perhaps some of things that some of us have long believed to be true and looking more sure: one of this week’s top research news stories reports the London School of Economics findings that participating in arts activity brings us more happiness than a £1,000+ pay rise. So too does sport, which I suspect more of us thought we knew already. The bigger news is that arts participation and spending time in libraries turn out to really be up there in the high happiness returns too.
The best happiness provider is swimming, so if you want to combine pool time with arts participation and get the extra bonus of being part of a international community event, you might want to check out the Brockwell Lido Fun Palace 2014.(And if you’re not a Londoner this may inspire you to make your own Fun Palace – there is still time. Just.)
The colour and the Tree come together to transform and affect each other; the colour changing the Tree into something surreal, something out of this world, speaking of the importance of trees in our urban environment.
“By colouring the trees blue, we want people to stop and notice these beautiful trees, which are so often taken for granted”, says Sharon Johnson, Chief Executive of Trees for Cities. “It is well reported in the UK that there has been a decline in urban trees over the last decade, and the threat from disease is on the increase. Over 80% of the population will live in cities by 2050. We urgently need to protect and plant more trees to help foster a sense of well being and happiness in our cities”.
With the Blue Trees, the colour and the Tree become a sculptural work referencing people’s lives, their daily existence and how individually and collectively we shape the world we inhabit.
Konstantin Dimpoulos, Australian artist and creator of the Blue Trees said: “I have always known that art is and always has been an extended part of nature and that art can effect social change. For that to happen one has to move out of the art institutions and galleries and move outside among nature and human beings in their living spaces”
Official figures reveal for the first time how culture and sport make people as happy as being given pay rises worth thousands of pounds
Visiting the library, dancing and going swimming makes people as happy as a £5,000 pay rise, official figures have shown for the first time.
Researchers from the London School of Economics found that sports, culture and the arts can have a significant impact on people’s happiness.
They then assessed how much money it would take to give people a similar boost in their level of well being.
They concluded that playing sport on a weekly basis is worth the equivalent of being given £1,127 a year, while regular involvement in the arts such as music, dance and plays is worth £1,084 a year.
The most beneficial activity is taking part in dancing, which is worth £1,671 a year, closely followed by swimming which is worth £1,630 a year. Visiting libraries on a regular basis is worth £1,359 a year…
The report suggested that swimming had a more significant impact on people’s well-being than almost any other sport, almost than twice as much as football and cycling.
The research suggests that taking part in cultural activities, as opposed to being in the audience, makes people significantly happier.
As well as the benefits of dancing, taking part in craft activities is equivalent to a £1,000 pay rise.
By contrast listening to music is worth £742 a year, although going to plays is a significantly more valuable experience worth £999 a year.
The analysis also found that people who regularly enjoyed the arts were 5.4 per cent more likely to report good health, while those involved in sport were 14.1 per cent more likely to be healthy.
People who take part in sports save the NHS almost £100 a year, while those who enjoy cultural activities such as films, exhibitions and plays save the NHS £37 a year.
People who attended arts events and played sports were also significantly more likely to give to charity, while the research also suggested that culture and sport could motivate unemployed people to find work.
by Dr Nina Burrowesis a psychologist and author of The Little Book on Authenticity
Authenticity is a concept often discussed in the workplace, especially when it comes to leadership. Today when people use the term “authenticity” they usually mean that they are being honest and open. To be an authentic leader is to be genuine.
Whilst being genuine in the workplace is both challenging and valuable, to use the term “authenticity” in this way is to misunderstand its original meaning, not to mention missing out on the true value that authenticity has to offer.
If you want to understand the true meaning of authenticity you need to go back to its root. The Latin root of the word “authenticity” is “author”, so being “authentic” doesn’t mean being honest about who you are, it’s about being your own “author”. Authenticity is an active and creative process. It’s not about revealing something, it’s about building something; and that something is “you”…
If you want to be authentic in the workplace, don’t focus on revealing who you are, instead focus on creating and truly becoming yourself. Read the article
Author Brigid Schulte says companies should stop rewarding overworked employees and focus on productivity instead.
In her new book Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time, Schulte argues a workplace culture that rewards those who are overworked is flawed and she challenges managers, business owners and leaders to adopt a new attitude of work, one where performance rather than time, and a life outside of work rather than a life consisting of work is the norm…
“In the breaks, that’s where the ‘aha moment’ comes,” says Schulte. It’s in the moments of leisure time that the brain is working to solve issues so you can begin your next burst of intense work with a renewed perspective.
“When you look at human performance science, there’s such great evidence that working all of those hours really doesn’t get you where you want to go,” says Schulte. While you may be able to work a few 60-hour weeks, eventually you will be so burnt out that you lose the ability to be creative and innovative…
Schulte sought out real-life examples of workplaces that implemented this theory in practice and found it in one of the most shocking places–the Pentagon. Long hours at the office were leaving Pentagon staff burnt out and struggling to balance the demands of family and personal time. Alternative work schedules and flexible work policies were implemented that reflected a fundamental shift in cultural values.
“People were no longer bragging about long hours. If they bragged at all, it was about how they got their work done more efficiently,” says Schulte. After this cultural shift that invalidated busyness rather than rewarding it, the Pentagon noticed the quality of work improve and thinking became sharper.
In her Guardian review of Schulte’s book Helen Lewis writes:
Fighting “the overwhelm” means identifying the problem, and there are three villains in this book: our jobs, our expectations and ourselves. Give a small cheer here if you live in Europe, because it turns out that America really, really hates its citizens and wants them to be unhappy. “The US is the only advanced economy that doesn’t guarantee workers paid time off,” Schulte writes. “Nearly one-quarter of all American workers get no paid vacation, most of them low-wage and part-time workers.” Oh, and don’t expect any paid maternity leave either; there is no legal requirement to offer it. All this is a legacy of the religious right’s dominance in the 1970s, when firebrands such as Pat Buchanan decided that nurseries were probably a plot to indoctrinate children and make them into tiny commies. Schulte gazes longingly towards Scandinavia, with its family-friendly policies, but the US situation sounds so bad I even felt a twang of pride for Blighty.
The next cause of the overwhelm is a construct Schulte calls the “ideal worker”. The ideal worker is the perfect capitalist machine-part, never seizing up or breaking down, always ready for overtime or foreign travel, never missing a day to look after a sick child or parent. Many businesses are in the grip of “presenteeism”, imagining that there is a perfect correlation between time spent with bum on office chair and productivity. There isn’t: research shows most people can only do eight hours of quality work a day. After that, they are just desk meat, surreptitiously playing Solitaire in a browser window or daydreaming about dinner. A macho long-hours culture hurts men just as much as women: when new dads ask for flexible working, they get burned both by the assumption they are not dedicated to the job and the assumption they are big old Girlie Men.
We can’t blame everything on heartless employers, though. The relatively affluent have to take some responsibility for worshipping at the Altar of Overwork, an attitude Schulte calls “busier than thou”. Just as having a tan became a status symbol once it denoted that you could afford foreign holidays, so being overwhelmed is a badge of honour for middle-class professionals. Oh, between Jonny’s clarinet lessons and my Mandarin classes and Steve getting promoted to partner, I don’t have a minute to myself, they trill. Having no free time makes the point you don’t just have a job. You have a career. You are Going Somewhere.
Schulte’s prescription is simple: decide whether you love the bragging rights of being busy enough to live in a debilitating whirlwind of activity. If you don’t, perhaps leave the clarinet unmolested and the boxercise class undone. As for housework, one researcher’s message to women is refreshingly simple: be a slattern. “Do you have to be able to do open-heart surgery on the kitchen floor?” he asks. Also, make sure Himself pulls his weight.
This book’s strength is mixing research and anecdote in a lively, accessible way, with a reporter’s eye for detail. The obvious criticism is that Schulte’s message speaks largely to uptight overachievers in creative fields, and being told to lobby for a four-day week or a 4pm hometime won’t cut much ice if you are on the minimum wage or a zero-hours contract. (The author does acknowledge that the figure for average working hours is misleading because it obscures the gulf between the crazy-busy top of the labour market and the underemployed bottom, yet is otherwise prone to breezy generalisations.) But, of course, a book like this can’t hope to tackle every aspect of such a complex subject, and even if it did, no one would have time to read the result. There just aren’t enough hours in the day.
Stanford research explores the concept of maximizing happiness, and finds that pursuing concrete “giving” goals rather than abstract ones leads to greater satisfaction.
by Clifton B. Parker
The paradox of happiness is that chasing it may actually make us less happy, a Stanford researcher says.
So how does one find happiness? Effective ways exist, according to new research.
One path to happiness is through concrete, specific goals of benevolence – like making someone smile or increasing recycling – instead of following similar but more abstract goals – like making someone happy or saving the environment.
The reason is that when you pursue concretely framed goals, your expectations of success are more likely to be met in reality. On the other hand, broad and abstract goals may bring about happiness’ dark side – unrealistic expectations… Read this article
Reporting this research in Forbes magazine, Amy Morin writes:
Sometimes people incorrectly assume that having children, getting a new job, or becoming self-employed will automatically equate to increased happiness. But often, these changes don’t result in the increased happiness that people expect. When attempts to increase happiness fail, it can leave people feeling unhappier than ever.
Here are some examples of concrete and attainable prosocial goals:
Instead of saying you want to make someone happy, set out to make someone smile.
Rather than deciding that you will help the less fortunate, decide to donate two bags of groceries to a food pantry every week.
Substitute changing the world for working at a soup kitchen one day a month.
Creating attainable goals helps establish reasonable expectations for how much happiness you’ll experience when the goal is accomplished. Following through with your action steps to help other people can increase your overall life satisfaction and sense of happiness. Set out to make the world a better place one small step at a time and your happiness meter is also likely to climb.
“Mr. Peters is an enthusiast, a storyteller and a lover of capitalism. He says that effective management is management that delivers more value to customers and more opportunity for service, creativity and growth to workers. He is saying that the decent thing to do is also the smart thing. It’s a wonderful message.” paul weaver, hoover institute, in the wall street journal
What started when Tom copied a few Twitter conversations and made them into a PDF has turned into a magnum opus, now 57 parts,
As he points out (p.21), “Most of our conscious life will be at work. Like it or not. Waste your work life and you have effectively wasted your life.”
a ‘BLINDING FLASH OF THE OBVIOUS.’ – something we KNOW but relentlessly time and again fail to practice.” (Peters’ own capitals throughout; my bold emphases)
Blinding Flash of the Obvious:
We know putting people REALLY first translates into mid- to long-term growth and maximized profitability. SO WHY DON’T WE DO IT?
We know … GREAT TRAINING … pays for itself 100 times over—in business just much as in sports and the arts. SO WHY DON’T WE DO IT?
We know a simple “THANK YOU” is the greatest of all motivators. SO WHY DON’T WE DO IT?
And on—and on—it goes.
Frankly, I am in a rotten mood. If I was preaching rocket science, and people didn’t “get it,” that’d be one thing. But each of the 27 points in this brief introductory section do amount to, beyond doubt, a … BFO/BLINDING FLASH OF THE OBVIOUS:
BFO #1: If you (RELIGIOUSLY) help people — EVERY SINGLE PERSON, JUNIOR OR SENIOR, LIFER OR TEMP — grow and reach/exceed their perceived potential, then they in turn will bust their individual and collective butts to create great experiences for Clients — and the “bottom line” will get fatter and fatter and fatter. (ANYBODY LISTENING?) (PEOPLE FIRST = MAXIMIZED PROFITABILITY. PERIOD.) (ANYBODY LISTENING?) (FYI: “People FIRST” message 10X more urgent than ever in the high-engagement “AGE OF SOCIAL BUSINESS.”)
BFO 2: ENABLING “ALL HANDS” GROWTH IS LEADER DUTY #1. (And ALL good things flow from there.)
BFO 3: The “CTO”/Chief Training Officer should (MUST!) be on a par with the CFO/CMO. (In a 45-minute “tour d’horizon” of the enterprise: I GUARANTEE 9 out of 10 CEOs* [*10 of 10?] wouldn’t once mention training. THAT = DISGRACE.)
BFO 4: OUT-READ ‘EM. AGE 17. AGE 77.
2014: READ & GROW … or wilt.
(One financial services superstar pegs CEO prob #1: “They don’t read enough.”) STUDENTHOOD (OBSESSION THEREWITH) (for ALL of us) FOR LIFE!
BFO 5: Organizations exist for ONE reason … TO BE OF SERVICE. PERIOD. (And effective leaders in turn are … SERVANT LEADERS. PERIOD.)
BFO 6: The … HEART OF THE MATTER (productivity, quality, service, you name it) … is the typically under-attended … FIRST-LINE BOSS. (Your FULL CADRE of first-line bosses is arguably … ASSET #1.)
BFO 7: WTTMSW. (Whoever Tries The Most Stuff Wins.)
WTTMSASTMSUTFW. (Whoever Tries The Most Stuff And Screws The Most Stuff Up The Fastest Wins.)
“A Bias For Action”: #1 Success Requisite in 1982.
“A Bias For Action”: #1 Success Requisite in 2014.
BFO 8: “Fail faster. Succeed sooner.”
“Fail. Forward. Fast.” “Fail. Fail again. Fail better.”
“REWARD excellent failures. PUNISH mediocre successes.”
Book/Farson: Whoever Makes The Most Mistakes Wins.
BFO 9: Enabling change: It’s NOT NOT NOT about “vanquishing (ignorant) foes.” It’s ALL ALL ALL about recruiting and nurturing … ALLIES.
BFO 10: Year = 220 lunches. WASTE NOT ONE. Cross-functional SNAFUs (Situation Normal, All F****d Up) #1 problem for most orgs. Software … WILL NOT … fix it. ONLY … “Social Stuff” works—e.g., makin’ pals in other functions; lunch = Strategy #1.
Goal: XFX/Cross-Functional Excellence … or die trying.
BFO 11: Excellence is NOT an “aspiration.” Excellence IS the next 5 minutes. (Or not.)
BFO 12: In Search of Excellence theme song: “Hard is soft. Soft is Hard.” (e.g., Numbers are the “soft stuff”—witness the crash. Solid relationships/ integrity/trust/teamwork = True “hard stuff.”)
Strategy is important.
Systems are important.
CULTURE is … MORE IMPORTANT. (Serious change = Tackling the culture. PERIOD.)
(Even “Mr. Analysis,” in his autobiography, Lou Gerstner, IBM turnaround CEO, reluctantly acknowledged culture’s unequivocal primacy in the big-change-game.)
BFO 13: Apple’s market cap surpasses ExxonMobil’s.
Are YOU obsessed by … DESIGN? (In EVERY nook and EVERY cranny of EVERY tiny or humongous enterprise—and in your own professional affairs.)
BFO 14: WOMEN BUY EVERYTHING. WOMEN ARE THE MOST EFFECTIVE LEADERS. WOMEN ARE THE MOST SUCCESSFUL INVESTORS. (Does your organization … UNMISTAKABLY … reflect that from stem to stern?)
BFO 15: Forget B-I-G. (100% of biggies UNDER-perform long-term.) Instead build national wealth around … “MITTELSTAND” companies—MIDSIZE SUPERSTAR NICHE DOMINATORS—in ANY category you can name. (C.f., Germany.) (Battle cry: “Be the best. It’s the only market that’s not crowded.” WHY ELSE BOTHER?)
BFO 16: The problem is RARELY the problem. The lackluster RESPONSE to the problem is invariably the real problem. Answer? Slavishly adhere to these two response commandments: OVERKILL. UNEQUIVOCAL APOLOGY.
BFO 17: What do people (most) desire—including thee and me? ACKNOWLEDGEMENT.
So: Show your appreciation … BIG TIME/ALL THE TIME. (Track it … RELIGIOUSLY!) (“Acknowledgement” is … THE MOST POWERFUL WORD IN THE LEADER’S VOCABULARY.)
BFO 18: The two most powerful words in the English language are? No contest: “THANK YOU.” (ACT ACCORDINGLY—e.g., OBSESSIVELY.)
BFO 19: Have you done your MBWA/Managing By Wandering Around … TODAY? If not, why not? (Hint: There are … ZERO ACCEPTABLE EXCUSES.)
BFO 20: Your CALENDAR knows your TRUE priorities.
You … ARE … your calendar.
Your calendar … NEVER LIES.
BFO 21: What is the individual’s/organization’s #1 enduring strategic asset? Easy: ASSET #1 = INDIVIDUAL AND COLLECTIVE EXCELLENCE AT … L-I-S-T-E-N-I-N-G. (Listening can be … TAUGHT. Listening PER SE is a … PROFESSION. Are YOU a “stellar professional listener”? THINK ABOUT IT. PLEASE.)
BFO 22: Aim to make EVERY internal and external experience (PRODUCT/ SERVICE/SYSTEM/EMPLOYEE INTERACTION/CUSTOMER INTERACTION/ COMMUNITY INTERACTION) a … WOW!
WOW = WOW. USE THE “W-WORD” PER SE!
E.g., Do 4 out of your Top 5 projects score 8 or above on a 10-point “WOW Scale”? If not, get on it:
(WITHIN THE HOUR.)
BFO 23: While on the topic of … WOW:
White collar work is by and large ticketed to fall prey to artificial intelligence/eye-popping algorithms as well as globalization. Stand there and take it on the chin?
My answer (1999 book, The Professional Service Firm 50):
CONVERT EVERY “DEPARTMENT”/”UNIT” (AND YOURSELF) INTO A FULL-FLEDGED … “PSF”/PROFESSIONAL SERVICE FIRM … WHOLLY DEDICATED TO EXCELLENCE & WOW & ADDING SKYSCRAPING VALUE TO THEIR CUSTOMERS’ (USUALLY INTERNAL CUSTOMERS) ACTIVITIES.
There is no good reason not to proceed in this direction within the fortnight!
BFO 24: EVERY DAY PROVIDES A DOZEN (LITERALLY) LEADERSHIP OPPORTUNITIES FOR EVERY ONE OF US. (Every = EVERY. From the most junior—and even the 3-day temp—to the Big Dudes.) GRAB AT LEAST ONE.
BFO 25: CIVILITY WORKS. CIVILITY PAYS.
E.g.: K = R = P.
Kindness = Repeat business = Profit. (ONE MORE TIME: “Kindness” is N-O-T “Soft.”)
BFO 26: Most of us/most organizations discount … INTROVERTS. THAT IS A … FIRST-ORDER STRATEGIC BLUNDER. (Please read Susan Cain’s book QUIET. It was a no-bull lifechanger for me.)
BFO 27: Listen (HARD) to my old D.C. boss, Fred Malek:
“EXECUTION IS STRATEGY.”
(Execution: That all-important … “LAST 99 PERCENT.”)
The University of Warwick in the UK recently published research highlighting that happiness can increase employee productivity by up to 12%. Separate research by the New Economics Foundation in 2013 suggested that in some creative industries, happiness can improve productivity by up to 50%. Furthermore, academic research in the US found that when employees were in a good mood they performed their least favorite tasks better than when they didn’t feel as happy.
With employee productivity so crucial to business growth, it should be encouraging to companies to learn that employee happiness is so closely connected to their performance, because employee happiness is not a myth; it can and does exist.
What was interesting about the original Warwick University research was how quickly and easily employees’ moods were boosted by eating chocolate and watching comedy for ten minutes. While this is an affordable and active way to boost somebody’s mood in the short-term, it is perhaps not the most cost- or time-efficient approach to ensuring employee happiness, and thus productivity, in the long-term.
For many years academics have been conducting surveys and research to establish proven ways that improve happiness in the workplace. The findings – many of which are summarised below – include a number of quick, easy and low-cost ways companies can start boosting employee happiness and productivity.
Get Some Plants…
…working in an environment with plants was very effective at improving staff health by reducing coughs, headaches and skin ailments.
…The same research in New Zealand showed that when exercise breaks were encouraged there was a 25% increase in staff productivity and separate research shows that taking four short walks a day can boost a person’s mood for as long as 11 hours.
Keep Your Promises…
…many employees consider a good manager to be someone who keeps their promises and puts employees first.
Make Managers Happy…
Professor Cary Cooper of Lancaster University explains that the main cause of unhappiness in employees is line managers. Investing in line manager happiness as a priority and encouraging this to “drip down” is a very logical and effective way to improve staff happiness. When studies have shown that over two thirds of employees feel their manager has an impact on their career it’s important to ensure that it’s a positive one.
…Research also shows that regular laughter reduces stress, helps us sleep better and can even boost the body’s immune system. If laughing in the workplace isn’t appropriate, then organise a work trip to a comedy club or share recommendations for funny movies that employees can watch at home.
Let Employees Go On Facebook…
…In a recent interview with Entrepreneur, Richard Branson stated that one of the key reasons Virgin introduced flexible working was to show employees they were trusted and this in turn improved their productivity. This article also argues that some of the world’s most successful CEOs are very active on social media, and they use it to promote their company.
Start a Book Club…
…Neurological research has shown that brain functions are significantly boosted after people finish reading a novel and the additional benefits of reading include greater social perception and empathy.
When we introduced the Noticeboard feature for our customers on Findmyshift we expected it to be used to share work-related memos. In reality it’s used by our customers to share a variety of information about social events, personal announcements and yes, even book club updates! In a recent survey we conducted it was listed as one of our most popular features by staff and managers alike.
Let People Get On With It…
Arguably the most welcome and cost-effective way proven to make your staff happy and more productive is to simply let them get on with their work. This is supported by Harvard Business Review research which showed that what motivated them most was not financial reward or public recognition, but progress.
There is some comfort in knowing that employees are motivated by the same thing managers are and in many ways it confirms the strong link between happiness and productivity; we all like to feel useful. Of course, you don’t need to be an expert to understand why happier employees are more productive employees, but perhaps we all need to take a bit of extra time to do what we can to make our employees happy when they come to work and not just when they leave.
In recent years, large-scale epidemiological studies have found that people whose diets include dark chocolate have a lower risk of heart disease than those whose diets do not. Other research has shown that chocolate includes flavonols, natural substances that can reduce the risk of disease. But it hasn’t been clear how these flavonols could be affecting the human body, especially the heart. New findings from Virginia Tech and Louisiana State University, however, suggest an odd explanation for chocolate’s goodness: It improves health largely by being indigestible…
The “stomach” and “small intestine” broke down and absorbed some of the cocoa. But while many of the flavonols previously identified in chocolate were digested in this way, there was still plenty of undigested cocoa matter. Gut bacteria in the simulated colon then broke that down further into metabolites, small enough to be absorbed into the bloodstream and known to reduce cardiac inflammation. Finally, the last undigested cocoa matter, now mostly fiber, began to ferment, releasing substances that improve cholesterol levels. And there was another health-giving twist to this entire process: The gut microbes that digested the cocoa were desirable probiotics like lactobacillus. Their numbers appeared to increase after the introduction of the cocoa, while less-salutary microbes like staphylococcus declined in number.
Sadly, Dr. Neilson also points out that cocoa is not a chocolate bar, something whose added ingredients and processing reduce the number and type of flavonols, increase calories (cocoa itself has very few) and possibly change the response of gut bacteria to the cocoa. “The evidence does not show that you can eat a chocolate bar every day and expect to improve your health,” he says. A few tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder sprinkled onto oatmeal or a handful of cocoa nibs — bits of the cacao bean, available at natural-food stores — would be better, he says less than sweetly.
Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3194 photo: Mark Trezona
Here are my newest thoughts about the discipline and magic that make Action Learning so potently transformational…
I had lunch last week with Alison Johns, a wonderful friend and colleague who I first met nearly twenty years ago when we were completing our MAs in Management Learning & Leadership. This was when I first discovered Action Learning, the framework that has changed my practice forever, as much, I confidently dare to believe, as it has transformed the lives and accomplishments of many of the people who have participated in its process.
In the Shaky Isles Theatre Company we have used Action Learning as the main framework for coming together to grow and sustain the company for a year now. And more and more we are also using Action Learning inside our performance making process, as well, to sustain and nourish our creative learning alongside our show creation.
I am also currently facilitating Action Learning with a group of Rajni Shah Project artists to support their co-creation activities, and here, too, the discipline and framework of Action Learning is weaving across and into Board meetings, producing some really exciting new conversations and ways of working together.
In another application, Nicki Maher is starting to use Action Learning as a way to develop and grow Opaz, the Turkish music ensemble she leads.
And I am about to work with Tesse Akpeki to deliver training in using Action Learning for people who support or lead Trustee Boards.
These newer applications of Action Learning are continuing to amplify the belief, trust and joy that I have always found facilitating this process with very many very different groups of professionals and leaders, teachers and artists, teams and freelancers – not to mention my own invaluable membership of an Action Learning group that have been meeting regularly together since 1998.
With this in mind I wanted to try to uncover some of my newest thinking and insights about the disciplined magic that is Action Learning, and, alongside this, to provide a jumping off point for you to try it for yourself with the people you either work with or feel drawn to spend some time with uncovering fresh ideas and new ways to progress the things that most matter to you.
Sky Through Soundpod (Chelsea College of Art & Design, 2013) photo: Mark Trezona
A Practitioner’s Guide to Action Learning
Reg Revans invented Action Learning to provide a ‘clean space’ in an overly noisy and overly directed world, to give people enough freedom and enough solid framework to be able to uncover and discover our own best thoughts and insights to become freshly inspired to act, fuelled by our own creative expectations and sustained by our continually expanding capabilities.
Revans was convinced that for an organisation to survive its rate of learning must be at least equal to – and ideally greater than – the rate of change in its external environment – this became known as Revans’ Law: Learning must be > or = Change.
The Action Learning process has developed over the last sixty years as a method for individual and organisational development. As a process Action Learning can be challenging and informative. Within organisations Reg Revans described it as “the outward communication of doubt” – an opportunity for people to engage with and work through what is unfamiliar, uncertain and not known and identify action which could make a positive difference to their own and the organisation’s effectiveness. For example, he was one of the first to introduce to the National Health Service the idea that nurses, doctors and administrators needed to listen to and understand each other – and action learning groups offer the opportunity.
In any attempt to describe Action Learning, it is essential to say that Revans rightly advises us that the only way to really know what it is, is to do it. With that in mind, here are the instructions we follow in our practice, which we hope will give you enough to be able to try it for yourself.
In the form of Action Learning we use, the available time is divided first into two parts: a first part for Action Learning itself, and the second part to work the ideas and progress the material that has emerged out from the individual contributions.
The Action Learning time itself is divided equally among the individuals present. Each person then has that amount of Clean Space time to bring to the table whatever is most live and prescient for each of them. And during this time the rest of the group cannot interrupt or comment in any way. Once each person has said as much as they want to, the rest of us offer them open creative thinking questions for whatever Clean Space time remains.
1. A continuous area or expanse which is free, available, or unoccupied
2. A stretch of time
3. The amount of material used or needed to write fully about a subject
4. The freedom to live, think, and develop in a way that suits you best
Before you start agree how much Clean Space time each person will have and who will keep time.
In your Clean Space time…
1 ~ Say whatever you want to say. Be as selfish as you can be about what you want to bring to the table. Talk from your own head and heart and don’t worry or care about what anyone else needs to hear.
No interruptions, comments or questions from anyone else during this phase.
2 ~ Once you have said all you want to say, you respond to open creative thinking Questions given to you by the rest of your group.
Again, be completely selfish about how you want to respond to any question you get: you decide what it means and how you want to answer it, if at all.
The rest of the group seek to bring you moments of spontaneity – questions that open you up to fresh new thinking and insights.
Resist saying anything except Open Questions during this phase. The best questions will be a gift for the person who receives it, and they will feel and often say “That’s a great question…”
Use “Why…?” questions sparingly.
3 ~ (optional and only if time –at least 2minutes of each person’s Clean Space time)
You ask whatever you want to from others in the group.
If there are no questions you want to ask people, use this time to draw together the thinking and ideas you are going away with.
Allow about 10% of Clean Space time for this, but shift into it sooner if the person who has the Clean Space is repeatedly saying “I don’t know…” to your questions.
Helpful Capabilities for Action Learning
o Being fully present
o Alert, neutral, open, heightened listening
o The Fine & Difficult Art of Asking Really Great Open Questions
o Being utterly selfless and tuned in to what the Clean Space holder is trying to get when it is not your Clean Space time
o Being supremely selfish about what you want to bring and get from your own Clean Space time
o Wondering your not-knowing out loud: bringing what you don’t know to the table
o Being open to surprise
Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3191 photo: Mark Trezona
This set of simple rules sets up the conditions for a very different way of thinking and communicating that lead almost inevitably to new insights and fresh possibilities for action. When repeated over a series of meetings it replaces our usual default ways of listening and thinking with better ways that are far more open, expansive, diverse, inclusive, and actively engaged. And over time, the disciplines and capabilities it demands from us start to become easier, more natural, and much more our new ‘normal’.
We shift our perspective; we shift our balance…
…from only paying attention to the information that immediately interests us to listening out and trying to pick up much more of what is being said and its many nuances;
…from narrowing the conversation down and heading off too quickly on a particular tangent, to exploring the situation in greater depth and from a wider range of perspectives;
…from talking more about things and re-presenting conclusions and ideas that we have already decided upon, to uncovering what we think and feel during the act of talking about it;
…from bringing our certainties and defending our established points of view, to bringing more of our uncertainties and opening out what we don’t know or yet have answers or solutions for: dialogue means discovering the meaning through communication;
…from only having the ‘need-to-have’ conversations, to unearthing extraordinary and surprising insights and solutions from conversations that arise out of what matters most to each of us;
…from tending to get most of the input from the more talkative amongst us, to getting and thus profiting from, an equal contribution from all of us, realising and optimising the inherent diversity that otherwise lies hidden and buried underneath our different communication styles and preferences;
…from prescribing the desired goal or outcome and restricting our thinking to what seems to be most relevant and strategic to its achievement, to keeping more open to discovering higher value aspirations that emerge and progress organically from the material of what people bring to the table;
…and from excited intentions that are too soon forgotten or lost to louder demands, to achieving ever widening results that spiral up from our collective learning ~ out to action ~ back into heightened learning ~ and out to new action ~ and so on in an increasingly reliable and self-powered momentum.
Perhaps the most surprising discovery to be made in Action Learning is that, very often, our greatest joy and discovery comes less from what we bring during our own Clean Space and much, much more from what we get from the ‘enforced’ listening we give during other people’s.
It is also helpful to know that Action Learning is not only for a team of people who want to use it to make work together, but equally powerful and potentially transformative for a group of individuals who choose to come together to hear and widen each other’s thinking entirely in terms of each person’s own personal agendas.
Action Learning and Collaboration
I have been thinking a lot recently about just what it is that makes Action Learning so enjoyed and successful and surprising and special, especially when it can be experienced by a group over a repeated series of get-togethers. These reflections have drawn out these five attributes:
This quality is not so much walking blindly through fog, as the more delightful experience of flying through clouds, up in the air and above it all, happy and trusting that we will get to where we want to get to without having to see ahead to our destination.
This is the ability to inhabit the grey areas between boundaries, to hold ambiguity and complexity with far less need to define it, fix it, bolt it down, categorise and name it. It involves being simultaneously inside and outside the flow of thinking, both alert to what others are saying and what matters to them while at the same time aware of the live fresh dancing of our own thoughts colliding with what we are hearing.
This quality is especially enhanced when we can keep our not-knowingness wide open and transmitting, sensing out rather than seeing straight ahead, wondering out loud, teasing out our unformed ideas, uncertainties and barely yet understood intuitions.
2 ~ Listening In-ness
This quality is about hearing in real time (rather than anticipating ahead of what is being said and so hearing only what we expect). It demands that we stay with the material as it unfolds in the here-and-now instead of projecting our own versions of reality on to things. This is the capability of tuning in with the deliberate intention to notice more and receive more fully. It is HD hearing that picks up the finer inflexion, nuance, repetition and other poetic aspects of our thinking.
It requires us to lean in, bringing a particular kind of presence and concentration to stay with what is being said as it is being said, resisting our usual inclination to decide quickly on what is meant from the smallest fragment of information.
This needs our fullest energy, commitment, presence and attention. But, when the conditions of Clean Space are activated, it seems to happen with remarkable ease and reliability.
The listening we do in Action Learning recognises that…
…you can’t flick through sound;
…you can’t take a meaningful still of sound;
…you can’t glance at sound;
…you can’t sensibly hear sound backwards, or broken up, un-sequenced;
…you just have to start at its beginning and stay with it through to its end.
Mindfulness, a deliberate, disciplined, meditative practice of slowing down and tuning in, is becoming a mass practice across the globe, perhaps filling in and replacing our older religious rituals with something more secular and better suited to our times. But, perhaps too, its popularity is building from a growing awareness that we need times of slowness, stillness and quietness that reconnects us into the rhythm of our breathing selves as a counterbalance to the incessantly turned on, turned up, turned out lives we are now living.
Stopping, and making a quieter stillness to listen and notice better are premium qualities in Action Learning. And much is yielded from the heightened waiting and trusting this gives us.
Action Learning gives us a new way of co-creating – making something from the collective material that emerges from us all – and a better way of collaborating – making joint decisions and sharing out the work.
The material we uncover to work with is always richer and more multidimensional than any ordinary discussion could give us. This happens without force in a process akin to the sculptor’s art – drawing out and revealing and shaping and clarifying and heightening and unifying what is most fine and delightful and compelling from inside what we already have amongst us, waiting to be discovered.
5 ~ Connectedness
In Action Learning meanings, ideas and solutions emerge from making patterns. As humans we make sense of things by forging connections: that thing to the thing we already know (or think we know); this thing with that thing with the other thing to make the new thing. Then the more we repeat, reinforce and practice anything the more strongly it becomes ingrained into our integral circuitry. The repetition and cyclic iterations of uncovering and revealing and testing and rethinking we get in Action Learning deepens and strengthens our commitment to the ideas we most connect with.
Action Learning demands a kind of patient urgency – a different kind of dynamic that still has to move us forward with a sense of necessity and compulsion, but alongside a more careful, intimate and delicate holding on and out for what is still unfolding
Action Learning creates and sustains our propulsion from…
…the avoidance of rush and fixing too fast and hard alongside the necessity to make progress;
…the avoidance of jumping too quickly into action alongside the necessity for application and getting things done;
…the avoidance of the usual imperative to define desired outcomes and set the focus on the Vision alongside the necessity of getting somewhere worth arriving at.
Action Learning and Making Great Audience Experience
All of this I have come to know and trust from my many years sitting inside and outside dozens of different Action Learning groups since I first found it.
What is new for me is to start to wonder what might come from the explicit aspiration, or even the gentlest intention, to try to make the qualities we experience in Action Learning with our audience – whether they be our beneficiaries or our customers or our partners or our stakeholders or our public…
Audience: the people who come to give us their hearing.
What if… we could come together as a community of listeners?
And return to listen together again and again, each time able to listen better?
What might our better listening lead us on to do better?
Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3193 photo: Mark Trezona
Do please feel welcome to contact us if you would like to know more about how to make Action Learning part of your work or learning.
If you enjoyed this, you may also find more stories and techniques for becoming more productive, happy and creative in this week’s new Happiness At Work collection, our weekly collection of the best stories about leadership and learning, mindfulness and happiness at work, resilience and self-mastery.
In celebration of International Day of Happiness 2014 this week’s post contains mostly good things, starting with Sue Ridge’s magical imagining of a day trip to Mars.
This year is only the second time this day has been celebrated, but already I notice that there is significantly more media, social and international attention than the same day seemed to get last year.
One of the major themes this year has been about reclaiming happiness back from the advertisers who would tell us our happiness depends upon buying their thing. Instead, today’s global celebration reminds us that it is our relationships that lie at the heart and soul of true happiness, and spending time enjoying being with our family, our fiends and our colleagues is about the surest way there is of getting a happiness boost.
In this spirit, I have collected together my favourites from this week’s array of offerings, with a bias on the treats that you can enjoy and/or use, and I really hope there will one or two things here that you can take to treat yourself with.
Of course there is nothing frivolous about this global call to action by the UN as their press release makes abundantly clear…
20 March 2014 – Marking the International Day of Happiness with calls to promote social inclusion and intercultural harmony, senior United Nations officials today urged the global community to make real the UN Charter’s pledge to end conflict and poverty and ensure the well-being of all.
“Happiness is neither a frivolity nor a luxury. It is a deep-seated yearning shared by all members of the human family. It should be denied to no one and available to all,” declared Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his message for the Day.
While acknowledging that happiness may have different meanings for different people, the UN chief said that all could agree that it means working to end conflict, poverty and other unfortunate conditions in which so many of human beings live.
“This aspiration is implicit in the pledge of the United Nations Charter to promote peace, justice, human rights, social progress and improved standards of life,” he said, adding: “Now is the time to convert this promise into concrete international and national action to eradicate poverty, promote social inclusion and intercultural harmony, ensure decent livelihoods, protect the environment and build institutions for good governance. These are the foundations for human happiness and well-being.”
In April 2012, the UN held a high-level meeting on “Happiness and Well-Being: Defining a New Economic Paradigm” at the initiative of Bhutan, a country which recognized the supremacy of national happiness over national income since the early 1970s and famously adopted the goal of Gross National Happiness over Gross National Product (GDP).
In July of that year, the UN General Assembly proclaimed 20 March the International Day of Happiness, recognizing the relevance of happiness and well-being as universal goals and aspirations in people’s lives and the importance of their recognition in public policy objectives.
In that spirit, current General Assembly President John Ashe said the Day celebrates unity and called on the international community to support the three pillars of sustainable development – social, economic and environmental.
As the UN family sets out to identify the goals for an inclusive, people-centred post-2015 development agenda with the eradication of poverty as its overarching objective, he invited Member States, international and regional organizations, as well as civil society, including non-governmental organizations and individuals, to raise public awareness of the aspirations of human beings around the world.
“Happiness is a fundamental human goal, and improving public policies in countries that can contribute thereto is essential to promoting equitable societies for all,” said Mr. Ashe.
In the UK, Action for Happiness provided an exuberance of provisions to help make the day fly, including these new research findings, and more social and participative, their #happinessday Let’s Reclaim Happiness Wall of photos inviting non-commercialise images of what happiness looks like for different people across the planet.
87% choose happiness and wellbeing over wealth as their priority for society
Reducing inequality seen as most important for national happiness
Relationships seen as most important for personal happiness
In a week that includes both the UK Budget (19 March) and the United Nations International Day of Happiness (20 March), a new survey has found that the vast majority of people think levels of happiness and wellbeing matter more than the size of the economy.
In a YouGov poll commissioned by Action for Happiness, a majority (87%) of UK adults were found to prefer the ‘greatest overall happiness and wellbeing’, rather than the ‘greatest overall wealth’ (8%), for the society they live in. This majority was found to be broadly consistent across all regions, age groups and social classes.
When asked to select the three changes they thought would most increase the overall happiness and wellbeing of people in the UK, ‘more equality between rich and poor’ came out as the most selected factor, with 45% of people choosing this; the next highest response was ‘improved health services’ (39%). Of the choices offered, the least important were found to be ‘improved school standards’ (16%) and ‘improved transport and infrastructure’ (16%).
When asked to select the three most important factors for their own happiness and wellbeing, ‘my relationships with my partner/family’ was the most selected factor, with 80% of people choosing this; the next highest was ‘my health’ (71%), with ‘my money and financial situation’ a distant third (42%). The least important factors were found to be ‘my possessions’ (4%) and ‘my appearance’ (4%).
Commenting on results, Action for Happiness Director, Dr Mark Williamson said:
“The economy dominates our political and social discussions, but this survey shows that happiness is more important to people. The vast majority of people would prefer society to be happier rather than richer. So we need to spend less time focusing on the size of the economy and more time focusing on how to help people live happy, healthy and fulfilling lives.”
LSE economist and co-founder of Action for Happiness, Lord Richard Layard said:
“Our national priorities are clearly out of touch with what really matters to people. Our top priority should be people’s overall happiness and wellbeing. Above all, we should be giving much more attention to mental health, supporting positive family and community relationships and creating a more trusting society.”
In recent years I’ve asked hundreds of parents what they want above all for their children. Although their answers vary, nearly all of them say something like “I really just want them to be happy”. Happiness is the thing we want the most for the people we love the most.
But the problem is that our happiness has been hijacked.
We’re bombarded with false and misleading images of happiness. Advertisers tell us it comes from buying their products. Celebrities and the media pretend it comes with beauty or fame. And politicians claim that nothing matters more than growing the economy.
Everywhere we look the story is the same: buy and achieve these things and then you’ll be happy. But remember, you’ll then need to keep getting more in order to stay happy and keep up with your peers. And if they start to get ahead then just keep consuming!
On and on we go in a mindless and seemingly endless cycle.
I could of course point to many studies confirming how wrong this all is – lasting happiness does not come from what we consume, how we look or how much we earn. But, let’s be honest, you probably knew that already!
So how can we put this right? Firstly we can each try to live more mindfully and avoid getting caught in the “I’ll be happy when…” trap.
But we can also reclaim happiness, by sharing a more authentic view of what really makes us happy. And this week is the perfect opportunity to start this together.
Thursday (20 March) is the United Nations International Day of Happiness. To celebrate this special day, Action for Happiness is running a global campaign, with support from over 40 organisations and many thousands of people around the world.
Their shared mission is to show the world what happiness really looks like – and in doing so, to reclaim happiness back from the advertisers, celebrities, media and others who try to manipulate us. Here’s how you can get involved…
Step 1: Find. Look through your photos right now for a picture of something that really made you happy.
Step 2: Capture. When something makes you happy today or in the coming days, remember to take a moment and capture it on camera.
Step 3: Share. Share your images of happiness with others using the #happinessday hashtag (e.g. via Twitter, Instagram, Facebook etc)
There are already lots of inspiring examples of people sharing #happinessday images: children playing in a garden, flowers outside an office, friends celebrating a birthday, a family walk on the hills, outdoor fun in the sun and many more.
Unlike the fake images in adverts and magazines, these authentic photos help to remind us of what really matters. We may not be able to change the world overnight, but together we can share a vision of happiness which is far more inspiring that the one we’re sold.
So why not take a moment to find (or take) a picture of something that makes you happy and share it right now. It might be profound, or perhaps profoundly silly. But however small and personal, the fact that you have noticed it makes it quite important enough.
Action for Happiness will be building a huge collection of these #happinessday images from around the world and, as well as taking social media by storm, the hope is to present a selection of these images at the United Nations later this year.
Let’s focus on the things that really matter. Let’s reclaim happiness together.
Thursday was the UN’s International Day of Happiness – a day set aside to raise global awareness that happiness is a fundamental human goal. Global issues such as human rights, peacekeeping and sustainable development are what we would expect the UN to have on its agenda. So why has it decided that the seemingly frivolous idea of happiness is worth championing?
If we could create a world that was more inclusive, equitable, and balanced, a world where all people were happier, most of us would agree that this would be progress. When understood like this, happiness suddenly seems a much more serious issue, one that belongs on the global agenda. The UN is so serious about it that in a 2012 resolution it called for a “more inclusive, equitable and balanced approach to economic growth that promotes … the happiness and well-being of all peoples”.
All too often, the concept of happiness is hijacked by advertisers and the popular media and then sold back to us in the form of materialism and glamour. In reality, the important things for our happiness are rarely even things at all. They are more about the quality of our relationships and whether what we do in our home and working lives feels purposeful.
The London-based campaign group Action for Happiness is co-ordinating many global events this year under the banner of “reclaiming happiness”. Falling on a Thursday, this year’s International Day of Happiness is a workday for most of us. Let’s ask ourselves the question: how would the world be if we were all happier at work?
It is quite a radical question. For many, work has come to signify the exact opposite of happiness. It’s where we go to earn the money to buy the things we hope will make us happy. We don’t expect to be happy at work; we expect to endure it until we clock out or log off and return to our real lives – a life outside of work.
But hang on a minute. The average Brit spends 100,000 hours at work during their lifetime – that’s more than 11 and a half years. Work is part of our real life and if we were happier at work we would be happier in our whole lives. We’d be better partners, better parents, better people. So happiness at work is good for us, as individuals.
But what about business? Let’s ask another question: what happens to a business if its employees are happier at work?
Far from spending the day lolling about and chatting with colleagues, as some sceptics might assume, happier employees are more creative, more innovative and more focused on their work. Every day they make more progress with their work than their unhappy colleagues. They also are much less likely to leave – who leaves a job they love?
When we do the maths, the costs of ignoring happiness at work are substantial. An average UK company will employ about 250 people. If it is average in all aspects, then about 40 of them will leave each year and over 1,000 days will be lost due to absenteeism. If the company had a really happy, engaged workforce, then staff turnover would typically halve, absenteeism would be cut by 25%, and productivity would increase by about 20%. The cost of ignoring happiness in an average UK company, paying average wages, works out to be in excess of £1m every year. Happiness at work is not a threat to business; it’s an opportunity.
Creating happy profitable businesses may work for the few but surely the world will continue on its current path towards an inequitable, unbalanced, and unsustainable future, regardless?
This is where the happiness perspective gets really interesting. Most of us feel happier when we work for an organisation that is seeking to make a positive impact in the world. In fact, many of us forgo higher salaries to work for organisations and on issues that are aligned with our personal values and sense of purpose. Organisations that create products and services that make the world a better place will surely be rewarded with employees who are happier, more engaged, and genuinely proud to work there. There is a win-win-win here for individuals, business and society.
So today, let’s reclaim our happiness – at work as well as at home. Let’s follow the example of the UN and put happiness at the core of everything we do and we can work together to a make a better world for all of us.
Another offering from Action for Happiness is this short quiz that will let you check out your own happiness level, and quite possibly give you some gentle insights in to those areas that are most and least strong for you at the moment.
Happiness. All of us want more of it, but how many of us know how to make it happen – not just for ourselves, but for those around us too.
Scientists have discovered the habits that tend to make people happy. Now, the nice folks at Do Something Different and Action for Happiness have got together to help you explore these and see how you’re doing.
Take our simple 10-question quiz to get your Happy Habits Score and discover ways you could boost the happiness in your everyday life. Just answer each question as honestly as you can…
Pharrell Williams song Happy was chosen by the UN to be the anthem for this year’s celebrations, and people from across the world used this as the soundtrack to make their own videos, revealing the wonderful universality and singularity of being human. I loved noticing the different inflexions and cultural qualities that are hinted at in these different performances of the same some by people in different countries.
You probably won’t want to watch all of these versions in line sitting, but I recommend you pop back to this playlist for another one any time you feel like you need a bit of a boost to your energy or spirits over the coming days and weeks. I’ve set this playlist to start with Santiago’s video. Chile has been topping the Happiest Planet Index over the last year or so and maybe you can detect why from this showreel of their streets…
I hope you will enjoy as much as I have the simple delight and fun in these dances…
After listing out those games that are cringe-worthy or just plain embarrassing to have to do (see if you most loathed is on the list), Jacob Shriar, Growth Manager at Officevibe, offers up his favourite activities for breaking the ice for new team members and loosening up relationships at work. Maybe there’s one or two here that you might want to try – even just for fun…? The Trust Walk, for instance, requires people to be willing and up for it, but if they are it is a very special experience to be guided blind through the world, giving up all control into the trust of your partner.
The next list of 10 ice breaker games are great for getting to know your new colleagues. Feel free to split your group up into smaller teams to make it easier (and faster) to play these games.
Two Truths And A Lie: This is one of the more popular icebreakers and is pretty easy to play. It doesn’t require any equipment or anything which is good. The way it works is each person is supposed to tell three quick stories, with one of them being a lie. The object of the game is for whoever is listening to the story to guess which is the lie. It’s a fun way to get to know one another.
Lost On A Deserted Island: This is a really fun icebreaker, and is also a cool way to see what really matters to people. The way this one works, is if they were stuck on a deserted island, name one thing that they would bring, and why. If you want to get really advanced with this game, ask people to pair up into teams, and to figure out how they can use their one object together to increase their chances of survival on the island.
The Trust Walk: This is a great activity for building trust among your team, and learning how to listen to your coworkers. The way this one works is people are paired into teams of two, and one of the team members is blindfolded. Then the person who isn’t blindfolded leads the other one around by following their voice and listening for cues. The only bad part about this activity is it required a decent amount of space, so maybe do this one outside.
The One Word Icebreaker: This one is great, because it requires everyone to be creative. Split the group into teams of four or five people, and get everyone to come up with one word to describe something. What topic you have them describe is up to you, but my advice would be make it something about their work. For example, if you could describe your company culture in one word, what would it be?
The Five Favorites: This icebreaker is simple, and is a really good way to learn more about coworkers. The way this works is you ask each person to list their five favorites of anything, whether it’s movies, songs, TV shows, it doesn’t really matter. The point is to get some discussion started, and see where people have things in common. For an advanced version of this game, make the question more professional, like the five best qualities of a leader, or the five ways managers motivate employees.
Speed Dating: It’s not “dating” in the sense that you’ll go for a fancy dinner, but it’s modeled after speed dating. The way speed dating works is each person has a few minutes to chat and get to know someone else before being moved to the next person, to get to know them. This works very well in a corporate setting, because it gives everyone a chance to have a quick one-on-one with someone new.
The Interview: Think of this one as a more structured version of the speed dating example above. The way this icebreaker works is people split into teams of two, and they interview each other, asking each other questions about anything. At the end of the interview, each person has to come up with 3 interesting facts about the person they just interviewed. It’s a nice way to get to know someone.
What’s My Name: I’m not that good at remembering people’s names, especially if it’s in a large group. This is a really simple, fun way to learn people’s names. The way it works is, each person says their name out loud with an adjective that begins with the same letter as the first letter of your name. Ideally, you call the person by that name for the rest of the day. Joyful Jacob? Jazzy Jacob?
Would You Rather: This is one of my favorite games to play, and I play this one even when I’m not icebreaking. You go back and forth asking creative questions (often nonsensical) about whether the person would rather do X or Y. For example, would you rather eat nothing but insects for 3 meals straight, or not be able to watch TV for a year. It’s funny and light, which is always nice for relaxing the mood.
World Geography: This ice breaker game really challenges people to think, which is always fun. I’m sure many of you reading this have played this game before, but the way it works is you say the name of a country, and then the next person has to say another country, starting with the last letter from the previous one. For example, Canada → America → Afghanistan → Nigeria…
Bonus Icebreaker – Twenty Questions: This game is so much fun, and I’ve played this one a lot on a long drives. The way it works is someone thinks of something, whether it be a person, place or thing, and everyone can ask Yes or No questions (for a total of 20) to figure out what it is.
We are getting more and more requests for training in time management and balancing multiple priorities across multiple roles in an increasingly always turned on world. And much of our potential to enjoy time with the people most important will be ruined or hijacked completely if we are unable to make the time and space to fully with them in the first place.
This list by Marc Andre creams some of the best techniques out there for making time work better, and if this is an issue for you, I hope you will find something here that you can add to your existing repertoire to help you feel more in control and on top of things…
1. Determine what is urgent and important
We’re all faced with a lot of different tasks that fight for our attention and time each day. How do you decide what is most worthy of your time? The best approach is to prioritize those tasks that are both urgent and important.
A task that is highly time sensitive is urgent. Important tasks may not be time sensitive, but they are valuable and influential in the long run.
Stephen Covey’s time management grid can be extremely helpful for seeing what tasks should be prioritized. A common mistake is to get bogged down with things that are urgent, but not necessarily important. By using the grid you can be sure that you’re focusing on things that will have a real impact.
2. Don’t over commit
If you’re someone that tends to say “yes” to every request for your time, you may find that all of these commitments prevent you from making effective use of your time. Make an effort to only commit to things that you can realistically accomplish with the time that you have available. You’ll also want to be sure that committing to something won’t prevent you from being able to do other things that are important to you.
3. Have a plan for your time
Each of us is different and not everyone works in the same way. I prefer to have a detailed to-do list that keeps me on task for each day and each week. Someone else may feel overwhelmed by a list of things to check off each day. Regardless of your approach or preferences, you need to have some method of planning your time. Not having a plan leads to a less efficient use of your time as you’ll wind up getting off task or working on things that really aren’t important. Find a system of planning that works for you and use it in your daily routine.
4. Allow time for the unexpected
It never fails that something unexpected will come up and demand your time and attention. No matter how well you plan your time, things are bound to come up — so make sure that you leave some time in your daily schedule. When I’m creating my to-do list for any given day, I tend to assign myself tasks that I anticipate will take about 75% of my time for the day. That leaves another 25% for tasks that take longer than anticipated or for unexpected things or emergencies that need to be addressed. Avoid the temptation to plan your time so full that you won’t be able to deal with important issues that arise.
5. Handle things once
Rather than dealing with something several different times before completing a task, make an effort to handle it only once. Email is a great example here. If you read through an email, make an effort to respond and take care of the issue at one time. I’ve found myself at times reading through emails and then deciding I’ll get back to it later. When I do get back to it, I have to read the email again and it winds up taking more time. Multiply that by several times throughout the day and it adds up. Whenever possible, handle it once and be done.
6. Create realistic deadlines
You may have deadlines for your work that are set by a boss or a client, but it’s also important to set deadlines of your own. If you do have deadlines from bosses or clients, it can be helpful to break up the project into smaller chunks and set deadlines to keep yourself on track. If you don’t have anyone giving you deadlines for your work, try setting your own deadlines.
In addition to simply having deadlines, it’s also important that these deadlines are realistic and will give you enough time to do your best work. If your boss or client is pushing for a deadline that isn’t realistic, explain why you need more time and the possible consequences of the project being rushed, and suggest a more realistic deadline.
7. Set goals for yourself and your time
Setting goals is an important part of achieving maximum efficiency. Your goals can include things that you want to accomplish in a particular day, week, month, or year. Goals can be used with major accomplishments or smaller tasks that are important to you. Whenever you’re setting goals, it’s best to set a date or deadline for achieving the goal.
8. Develop routines
Habits and routines can be quite powerful. When used effectively, routines can help you to get more done and to make better use of your time.
I use routines to take care of several small tasks that I need to do each day. First thing in the morning, I go through a routine that includes checking email and responding to messages received overnight, a few minutes of networking via social media, moderating comments on my blogs, publishing new content that has already been written and prepped, and a few other small tasks. The result of my routine is that I can get a lot of small tasks off my daily to-do list in a small amount of time right at the beginning of the day. After that, I can have the most productive part of my day for essential tasks that require more of my time and concentration.
9. Focus on one thing at a time
Multitasking is overrated. Sure, in theory it would be awesome to be able to do several different things at once, but the problem is that you won’t be able to do your best work when multitasking. If you focus on one thing at a time you can move through tasks quicker and the quality of your work will be better. Multitasking can lead to a lot of mistakes that you have to go back and correct later, which is wasted time.
10. Eliminate or minimize distractions
Distractions are all around us. If you’re working at home you may have distractions like kids, other family members, house guests, television, phone calls, and all kinds of personal responsibilities and tasks. If you work in an office you’ll probably have plenty of distractions from co-workers.
While it’s impossible to totally eliminate distractions, you can improve your situation by minimizing them or avoiding them whenever possible. For those who work at home, you can set up a dedicated office space with a door that you can close. In an office, you may want to go in to work early to get some distraction-free time before co-workers arrive, or maybe shift your lunch time so that you can get some peaceful time while most of your co-workers are away at lunch.
The key is to recognize the most significant distractions that are hurting your productivity, and then you can work towards solutions that will minimize their impact.
11. Outsource tasks or delegate when possible
Part of being efficient with your time involves deciding what tasks require your own attention. There may be things that could be done by someone else. Outsourcing work is a great option for freelancers and small business owners. Delegating responsibilities may be an option if you’re in management or if you’re part of a team.
Resources like Elance and oDesk are great for finding freelancers when you need to outsource some of your work. You can typically find qualified workers with very affordable rates, which allows you to dedicate your own time to tasks that may be more important to you.
12. Leave time for fun and play
While the purpose of time management is to use your time wisely and to improve efficiency, it’s also important that you don’t burn yourself out by working too much or too hard. Be sure to leave some time in your schedule to do things with friends and family, or even on your own. Getting time away from work is essential for dealing with stress, for refreshing your energy, and for living a balanced life.
Making efficient use of your time is important regardless of what type of job or career you have. If you can make even small improvements in your own time management, you’ll see noticeable results in terms of how much you can get done, the quality of your work, and your stress levels.
And here is a free ebook from Australia’s Think and Be Happy. If you’re not already familiar with Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi’s groundbreaking work this is great introduction. Csikszentmihalyi’s research investigates the conditions of optimum performance, from which he has given us the idea of FLOW ~ that state of complete absorption when we are totally immersed in what we are doing and time seems to both stand still and fly by, and we feel delightfully and rewardingly stretched to our finest capabilities…
You probably know what it’s like to not be in a state of flow. This can be when there’s a lot going on and you have to focus on many things at once. For example, if you’re cooking dinner and trying to help your teenager do their homework and catch up on some emailing all at once, chances are you’re not having a flow experience. How can you when your attention is so fragmented? Or maybe you’ve had a hectic day at work and are now zonked out semi comatose in front of the TV too tired even to switch channels even though you can’t stand reality TV shows. The point is none of these activities are engaging you fully. Not even close. Worse, in doing them you’re most likely feeling bored, distracted or irritated.
On the other hand, to be in flow is to be so engrossed in what you’re doing – and this can be in any activity although we often tend to associate this state with creative pursuits and elite sport – that literally nothing, not the passing of time, your full bladder or the fact that you haven’t eaten since breakfast, impinges on your awareness. And yep, as anyone who’s been in such a condition of single-minded immersion knows, you feel fabulous not least because it’s not about YOU for once, it’s about the thing that you’re doing.
Of course there’s a lot more to the psychological state of flow than that which is why we’ve dedicated an eBook to the topic.
Here’s everything you ever wanted to know about flow … based on the work of world leading psychologist Professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
It has never been easier to tune in to your own customized soundtrack—or more necessary to tune out your open-office coworkers, cubicle mates, and fellow coffee-shop denizens. But not all music is created equal, especially when there’s work to be done. How should you choose the best office soundtrack for a given task? Which songs will help you get energized, focused, or creative—or even just through a very long day?
Let’s start with the basics.
Listening to music affects your brain
Putting on those headphones provides a direct pipeline from iTunes or Spotify into your auditory cortex. As the music plays, many different brain centers can be activated, depending on whether the music is familiar or new, happy or sad, in a major or minor key, or—perhaps most importantly for work purposes—whether it has lyrics or not.
Some tasks are easier with music playing…
Research shows that music goes best with repetitive tasks that require focus but little higher-level cognition. A landmark 1972 study in Applied Ergonomics found that factory workers performed at a higher level when upbeat, happy tunes were played in the background.
…and some are harder
Don’t fool yourself: Listening to music means that you are multitasking. Any cognitive resources that your brain expends—on understanding lyrics, processing emotions that are triggered by a song, or remembering where you were when you first heard it—won’t be available to help you work.
Studies have shown that reading comprehension and memorization both suffer when music is playing, for example. And just try putting numbers into a spreadsheet while listening to this:
Find the right balance
The downside of listening to music at work is that it places demands on your attention. The upside is it can make you feel more energetic and improve your mood. It’s also useful to drown out distracting background noises. The trick is to choose your music carefully, and match your tunes to the task.
For a cognitive boost, pick music that doesn’t have lyrics…
This makes intuitive sense to anyone who has listened to music at work, especially if your task is word-related. Your brain’s language centers can’t help but decipher the words you’re hearing, which makes it much harder to concentrate on, say, composing an email.
If you simply can’t find music without lyrics, you can pick something in a language that you don’t understand—like the invented “hopelandic” language used by the band Sigur Rós:
…and has a steady rhythm and mood
Your brain is a prediction machine, making a endless series of guesses about what’s going to happen next. When it comes to music at work, you don’t want your brain to spend cognitive resources predicting what it’s about to hear.
Listening to constant, relatively unchanging music—songs that don’t have a lot of emotional peaks and valleys, or changes in mood—has been shown to enhance some simple cognitive skills. Other research has shown that “low-information-load” music—simple tunes without a lot of complexity—have the strongest positive effect.
For instance, check out the steady, phased repetitions of “Music for Airports 1/1″ by Brian Eno:
Some studies suggest that major-key music (a song that sounds more happy than sad) makes time seem to pass more slowly. Whether that’s a good thing or not depends on how much you have to get done before you go home.
Don’t play music all the time
The widely cited 1972 study found that the benefits of music disappeared when it was constantly played. And sometimes your brain just needs all the cognitive resources it can get. One 1989 paper wryly noted that “complex managerial tasks are probably best performed in silence.”
Music as a pick-me-up
There’s an one category of workplace listening that has a totally different set of rules: the kind of listening you do when you’re tapping into the power of music to trigger an emotional response. Try playing a rock anthem or an action-movie soundtrack to jump-start your mood, or listen to a favorite song as a reward for a job well done. This gives you many of music’s cognitive benefits but without any of its distracting downsides.
Here’s one to play before a big meeting:
Hit shuffle for a dopamine rush
As mentioned above, your brain thrives on predicting the future, so throwing some randomness into the mix can reward you with a surge of the pleasurable neurotransmitter dopamine. To harness this neurological pharmacy, use a streaming music service like Spotify, Pandora, or Rdio to automatically serve up songs you might like.
Some of the best genres to work to
If you’re ready to experiment with what music best suits your work style, here are some suggestions (links to songs via Spotify):
Metro ran this story to celebrate the day with a series of looped videos that highlight moments of happiness in perpetual foreverness that we know of course is just not an option with real happiness. But see if at least one of these doesn’t make you smile…
Today is the United Nation’s second International Day of Happiness. The UN wants us to remember that it’s friends, family and emotional well-being that actually make us happy, not cars and handbags. And then to share what makes us really happy with everyone else.
Which, if you’re not a fan of cute kitten pics, multiple exclamation marks and mega LOLs, might be making you consider shutting down your Instragram/Twitter/Facebook account and hiding in a dark place for the rest of the day.
Not a fan of organised happiness? Feeling a bit meh? Yep, these people are way happier than you today…
For years, chocolate lovers have remained blissfully unaware of the precise reason bittersweet dark chocolate seems to improve cardiovascular health. At least until, now that is.
On Tuesday, researchers at meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in Dallas said they had solved the confection conundrum: Specific chocolate-loving microbes in the gut convert an otherwise indigestible portion of the candy into anti-inflammatory compounds, they said…
“These little guys say, ‘Hey — there’s something in there that I can use,’ and they start to break it down,” Finley said.
The smaller molecules that result from this fermentation can travel through the gut wall and be used by the body, researchers said.
“These materials are anti-inflammatory and they serve to prevent or delay the onset of some forms of cardiovascular disease that are associated with inflammation,” Finley said.
A number of short-term studies conducted in recent years have suggested that dark chocolate can cause blood vessels to dilate, and thus lower blood pressure, although this is not the case with white chocolate and milk chocolate.
Finley said that the amount of cocoa powder that appeared to produce beneficial effects was about two tablespoons a day.
One of the issues involving dark chocolate, Finley said, was the amount of sugar and fat that chocolate candy contained. He said you could avoid those substances by putting cocoa powder on oatmeal, as he does…
And lastly, here is a rather wonderful animation of a debate about relative importance of our intuition and feelings or our reason for the successful flourishing of our species. It’s packed with ideas but in this heightened pictorial representation, the ideas sing.
Here’s a TED first: an animated Socratic dialogue!
In a time when irrationality seems to rule both politics and culture, has reasoned thinking finally lost its power? Watch as psychologist Steven Pinker is gradually, brilliantly persuaded by philosopher Rebecca Newberger Goldstein that reason is actually the key driver of human moral progress, even if its effect sometimes takes generations to unfold. The dialogue was recorded live at TED, and animated, in incredible, often hilarious, detail by Cognitive.
Enjoy. And see if you agree with their final confusions…?