Happiness At Work #123 ~ Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Take the next step…

This post collects together some different ideas about why pausing and making time for quietness and simply to breathe is essential to our happiness at work, along with some practical approaches and techniques for doing this.

When did you last think about your breathing?

For as long as we are alive, we are guaranteed to keep breathing whether we think about it much or not: no matter what we do or do not do, think or do not think, we will keep right on breathing. But just as with any other aspect related to our normal body function, most of us are likely to only really think about what is happening to us when we notice a problem or difficulty: we are out of breath or having to breathe extra hard or feel our breath racing away on us or need to stop and catch our breath or to get our breath back.

Perhaps normal breathing is a bit like the way we tend to think about silence and not talking, a kind of nothing, or, at best, a neutral state that is primarily inactive and passive. But, just as silence and not saying anything can be one of the most potent, active and consciously vital actions we can bring to our encounters and the people we engage with, so, too, can breathing be one of the most enlivening, empowering, sustaining, and rebalancing actions we can take.

Rather than an absence of action, our ability to be silent effectively and productively demands that we learn how to be skilled, alert and attentive listeners.

We also need to learn how to become expert at breathing.

And If we become more conscious, deliberate, flexible and skilled at breathing we will get from this to . . .

  •  …feel more confident and more truly ourselves;
  • …grow and continually renew our sense of capability and influence over the world we inhabit;
  • …quiet, calm and control feelings of anxiety, stress or terror in times of panic or unsureness;
  • …fire our inspiration into life and trust our unconscious minds to bring us the ideas and solutions we need;
  • …radiate an animated, dynamic and receptive presence and come across to people as bright, charismatic and attractive;
  • …and take us across a creative leap from our personal breathing practices into something more profound and collective that can affect the vibrations and creative possibilities of our encounters in groups.

Simply by becoming better at breathing opens up for us a myriad of fresh possibilities around us. If we practice even very simple breathing exercises over time, we will build a stronger, more resilient sense of confidence, ease and energy that can lead us to feel more intensely open, enlivened by and connected into the world and its people.

And better breathing not only makes us feel more alive and vital, it significantly adds to our overall and long-term health and well-being.

As the mainstream scientific community begins to assimilate the growing body of research that points to our ability to re-wire our brains, breath practices are emerging as one important methodological family from which we can draw in order to actively co-create ourselves and influence the flavour of our life experience.  So breathe, breathe, breathe!  Whether it’s a slow change in a habitual thinking pattern or an ecstatic experience of divine union that you are seeking, the breath can take you there.  (Rev. James Reho)

As well as the articles that follow, you can also find practical ways to develop your breathing awareness and expertsie in our toolkit: Six Ways Of Breathing, which link breathing practice to:

  • Breathing to Feel More Alive, Whole & Connected ~ Everyday Breathing Exercises
  • Breathing for Renewal ~ Exercises for Taking Time Out to Breathe
  • Breathing for Recovery ~ Building Resilience and Regaining Balance
  • Breathing Ideas Into Life ~ Exercises to Ignite New Ideas and Trust Unconscious Thinking
  • Breathing for Presence ~ Exercises to help Build Confidence and Presence
  • Breathing for Creative Collaborations ~ Exercises to Help Unleash and Harness your Creativity in Groups

10 Places To Find Time To Think

by Time Management Ninja

Once your day gets going, it never seems to stop.

Busyness. Interruptions. Noise.

You feel like you can’t get a moment to think, time to plan, or even a moment to collect your thoughts.

If only you could find a place to stop and think about your day.

Finding Time to Think

It’s just run, run, run… all day long.

In the hurried pace of your day, you find it difficult to stop and think.

Wouldn’t things be easier if you could stop for a moment to plan what you are doing? Prioritise your work? And even decide what you shouldn’t be doing?

With noise and interruptions in the workplace, it can be hard to get time to think. Even harder to find a place to get some peace and quiet.

You need to ask, “Where can I find a place to think?”

Even in the busiest environments there are locations to get away and plan for a few minutes.

Here are 10 Places to Find Time to Think:

  1. In Your Car – The next time you are driving in your car, try the following experiment: Turn off your radio. Put your cellphone out of reach. (You shouldn’t be using it in the car anyway.) Then, listen to the silence. I bet you won’t be able to drive more than a quarter of a mile before you start to hear the thoughts in your head.
  2. Before Everyone Wakes Up – OK, this is a time, not a place, but the early morning before the world gets up is a great time to think for yourself. Whether it is just you, or you are getting up before the morning kid chaos, find time for yourself before the day begins.
  3. In Your Office – If you are fortunate enough to have an office for your job, shut the door and get some planning done. (Yes, you can shut the door.) Then when you are done, you can open the door and re-engage your team.
  4. Go Outdoors – Going for a walk outside is a great way to get some peace. You don’t have to go deep into nature. (Although that can be great, too). Many workplaces have walking paths or simply sidewalks where you can go for a quick walk and recoup your thoughts.
  5. At the Coffee Shop – Personally, I am not the Starbucks type. However, many people find isolation in the public noise of coffee shops. Find a table in a secluded corner and get some work done. (Or bring the coffee shop to you with an app like Coffitivity.)
  6. In Your HeadphonesUse your headphones to create your own privacy. Shut out the noise. Play your favourite music. Even silent headphones can bring privacy and the expectation that you are not to be disturbed.
  7. In the Library – There is a reason why libraries have a “quiet rule.” Go there to find a silent place to think and plan. And if someone is making noise, you are justified in saying, “Shhhhh!”
  8. The Unused Conference Room – If your workplace has unused meeting space, make a meeting with yourself. Take advantage of empty meeting space to get work done.
  9. At Lunch – It’s nice to go out to lunch with the gang, but sometimes it’s helpful to book lunch with yourself.  Feed your body and your mind with a lunch date alone to think and plan the rest of your day or week.
  10. The Secret Place – Every workplace has one. The secret room, hidden nook, or unknown alcove that only a few people know. Find your own secret corner to hide away and get some quiet time

A Place for Your Thoughts

You can find a place to take the time to think about and plan your day.

Depending on your circumstances or work place, you might need to get creative. However, getting some “think time” for even a few minutes can boost your productivity in a big way.

Today, go find your quiet place and take time to gather your thoughts and ideas.

read the original article here

12 Totally Unexpected Ways to De-stress

by Aja Frost for The Muse

Have you ever heard exercise helps you de-stress? What about meditation or deep breathing? We don’t know about you, but we’re a little tired of being told the same de-stressing techniques over and over. So here you go: 12 relaxation suggestions that (we hope) you haven’t seen before.

  1. Go on: Drop an F-bomb or 10. Just not where your boss can hear.(Scientific American)
  2. Make a beeline to the office kitchen and sniff an apple. Not only will the scent ward off headaches, it can make you less stressed. (Eating Well)
  3. Massage your ears. No, seriously: The action releases endorphins! (Zen Habits)
  4. Start pacing. That’s what one super successful entrepreneur does when he’s deep in thought. (Tech Co.)
  5. If you’re at your computer, try shutting it down and working on a task that doesn’t involve a screen. (Psych Central)
  6. There are actually foods that calm you down. We suggest eating them.(NPR)
  7. Green is the new black! Turns out having a plant on your desk relaxes you.(Forbes)
  8. You might want to close your office door for this one, but listening to head-banging music and rocking out will help you release all that nervous energy.(Inc.)
  9. If you’ve got 20 minutes to spare, looking at fractals (like a picture of snowflakes or ocean waves) will make your brain happy. (Everyday Health)
  10. What have you accomplished today? Whether it’s big or small, tell yourself—out loud—what an awesome job you did. (Reader’s Digest)
  11. Blowing up a balloon forces you to practice deep breathing, so make a run to the drug store. Or just take a deep breath. (U.S. News & World Report)
  12. conceptualise stress as a good thing. It’s your body’s way of preparing your for a challenge. (The Muse)

read the original article here

Letting Your Mind Wander Can Make You More Productive

It’s estimated that we spend nearly 50 percent of our waking lives in a state of daydreaming.

For something we do so often, mind-wandering sure has a bad reputation. It’s often described as a mindless activity – one that makes us more lazy, unproductive and dissatisfied with our lives. A Harvard study even concluded, “A wandering mind is an unhappy mind.”

But why would we so readily spend half of our lives engaged in a fundamentally purposeless activity? The answer is that we don’t – a wealth of new research in psychology and neuroscience suggests that daydreaming is anything but purposeless.

In fact, these self-generated thoughts might make us more creative and productive, and may even bring meaning to our lives.

“We (and others) have been arguing that daydreaming serves a function — evolution would have not let so much metabolic energy go to waste,” Dr. Moshe Bar, cognitive neuroscientist and author of a new, surprising study on the subject, told The Huffington Post. “It helps us prepare for the future, plan, think about self and others, and generally engage in mental simulations that facilitate our interaction with the environment.”

But in addition to staving off boredom and giving us the opportunity to reflect, Bar’s research suggests that daydreaming might make us more productive at the task at hand – even as it offers us an opportunity to allow our minds to run wild.

Bar and his colleagues were able, for the first time, to induce mind-wandering in study participants… Participants reported daydreaming most when stimulation was focused on the frontal lobe of the brain. While daydreaming and control might seem antithetical – mind-wandering seems to involve a lack of attention, while executive function plays a role in regulating attention — the researchers hypothesised that there might be a connection between the two. Both brain regions are involved in organising and planning for the future, for example.

But the researchers made another, more surprising finding: Rather than distracting the participants from the task at hand, when researchers induced mind-wandering in the participants, it actually improved performance on the number-tracking task. Mind-wandering seems to enhance the participants’ cognitive ability, helping them to succeed at the task while also allowing them to enjoy some pleasurable mental diversions.

Bar suggested that this improvement is due to the fact that mind-wandering combines the thought-controlling activity of the executive network, and the thought-freeing activity of spontaneous daydreaming, which occurs across the brain’s broad default mode network. The activation of multiple brain regions during mind-wandering, Bar says, “may… contribute to the ability to stay successfully on-task while the mind goes off on its merry mental way.”

“What I think is cool about this study is that it’s possible that the stimulation simultaneously increased activation of working memory (allowing for greater focused attention) and increased mind-wandering,” psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, who specialises in daydreaming and creativity but was not involved in this study, told The Huffington Post. “If true, this would suggest that attention and mind-wandering need not be at odds with each other and can even facilitate each other.”

As Kaufman suggested, the study points to a harmony between mind-wandering and mindful mental states, which we tend to think of as being at odds with each other. In fact, mind-wandering may not be defined by the inability to pay attention so much as the ability to draw attention inward – to our own thoughts, reflections and dreams.

read the original article

What Mindfulness and Daydreaming Have to Do with Getting Things Done

“You can only feel good about what you’re not doing when you know what you’re not doing.” (David Allen, author of Getting Things Done.)

This podcast on productivity tips for the 21st century conditions we are now working in includes:

  • Why it’s increasingly important to find ways to keep your head clear and stay productive
  • The addictions that constant updates via smartphones are causing
  • The myth of multi-tasking (it doesn’t work when trying to be productive)
  • The 2 Minute Rule – any email you can answer in 2 minutes or less, you should reply to right away
  • How to focus on only what you are doing instead of being distracted by all your other to-dos
  • The importance of day dreaming after doing something productive
  • How to have a “mind like water” and how that helps you react properly to situations
  • The difference between having direction and having discipline

read the original article here

Making happiness count at the workplace

An organisation that proactively creates and spreads happiness at work is better off

adapted from an article by Carole SpiersBBC Guest-Broadcaster and CEO of a business management consultancy based in London.
March 20 is the International Day of Happiness, now celebrated throughout the world and confirmed as such by the UN in 2012. The day recognises that ‘happiness is a fundamental human goal’ and calls upon countries ‘to approach public policies in ways that improve the well-being of all people’.

Being happy at work is one of the keys to being truly happy in life as most people spend 20 to 30 years working, which is about 30 per cent of the average human lifespan.

There are, of course, many factors that impact professional happiness, including business relationships, professional development, work-life balance, environment and organisational culture. Obviously, you have no control over whether your employees are happy at home, but you do have some control as to how happy they are at work.

And if you don’t know if your employees are happy, then why not ask them? If your team is working in a positive atmosphere, this will be reflected in their performance levels, and while the additional cost to you is zero, gains can be substantial.

So let’s look at small actions that can make big differences:

Value and Appreciate

This is top of my list. Make sure that the company’s culture values its human resource and that employees don’t feel as if they are just an insignificant part of an impersonal system. Bosses and team leaders should tell their team that they are appreciated. A simple ‘thank you’ Post-It note left on someone’s computer will probably be kept for many years.

Celebrate

Strengths-based leadership is proven to bring huge increases in productivity, creativity, engagement, commitment, confidence and risk-taking.  Focus on what is already working especially well – successes and achievements – at least three and even five times as much as any negatives and performance weaknesses.  Celebrate team triumphs, employee of the month, as well as birthdays, births, etc. There are always reasons for a celebration … so why not share in someone else’s joy? And doing with this something special to eat helps to make it even more of a shared experience.

Quiet room

Sometimes people need to speak in confidence with someone else. A small room with comfortable chairs and a coffee table could provide this staff amenity.  But even more than this, a lovely space where it is legitimate and valued for people to go and ‘just think’ for a bit can add miracles to what people then go on to do.

Smiling co-workers

A smile costs nothing but has immense value. Any day seems to go better when you are surrounded by colleagues who smile and are willing to help you.  All emotions are contagious and spread from person to person – so you may as well increase the spread of happiness across your team.

Welcome

Care about people’s experience in activities you lead as much you care about the results they need to achieve.  Be a friendly host. Welcome visitors or staff members to your department with a smile. It is sometimes difficult to summon up the courage to go and see someone in a large department, but if each office had a list of names of people and their pictures on the wall outside, then this could encourage people to come in.

Getting to know you

You may have worked with your colleague for many years but I wonder if you know what they do when they go home? Once a month, individuals could give a talk, at lunchtime, about their favourite hobby or interest.

Brainstorming sessions

Set time aside each week to get your team together to have brainstorming sessions. You will be amazed by the mountain of ideas of hidden creativity, just waiting to be unleashed. Have a suggestion board where employees’ ideas would be considered and constructive feedback given. Appoint an ‘ideas champion’ to follow through accepted ideas.

Meet the Management

Maybe once a month, managers could attend a lunch arranged by different members of their team. One month it could be Asian style, another month Indian or Iranian, etc. Whoever is responsible for the meal could give a few minutes of presentation on their individual culture and the food that has been prepared.

A unique benefits package

This could include staff discounts or free gym membership, or free parking.

Flexible schedule/hours

Being able to leave the office by arrangement when you have personal business to take care of, is something that makes any company position, extra special.

In the current economic climate, many companies struggle to gain market share. Fortunately, leaders are beginning to realise that the smartest way to gain competitive advantage is through employee engagement — that means ensuring an environment where it is pleasurable to work.

read the original article here

3 Reasons Why Today’s Leader Needs Mindfulness Meditation

Marketing and business development expert, Deborah Holstein, highlights just three of the benefits of mindfulness for business…

Many people hear the term mindfulness meditation and instantly their eyes narrow with alarm or roll back into their heads. I think I can see the thought bubble over their head flashing “Yes, I know, I know…but I’m trying to build a career here! I don’t have the time!” Because in the busy life of today’s leader (or rising leader) there never seems to be enough time for anything, much less 15 minutes a day for mindfulness meditation. That’s a mistake.

If you do not practice mindfulness, you may be short shrifting your career because you are neglecting to develop critical skills you need to grow and thrive in your career — and in the rest of your life.

Here are 3 reasons why cultivating mindfulness through meditation is necessary for your success.

Mindfulness changes your brain – for the better

You may already be aware of the many health benefits of meditation: lower blood pressure, less inflammation, pain management, to name a few. You may not yet have heard that research has also shown that mindfulness meditation also benefits your brain.

In fact, with a regular meditation practice, the source of your “lizard brain” (the amygdala) actually begins to shrink. And as this primal region of your brain shrinks, the area of your brain associated with higher order thinking (the prefrontal cortex) — awareness, concentration and decision making — becomes thicker. These brain benefits were visible within just 8 weeks and correlate with the amount of time devoted to meditation.

Leaders need take on bigger and ever more complex business challenges, so you need every edge. Starting your regular mindfulness meditation practice now — whether you’re already an executive or plan to be one someday — is like money in bank because the brain benefits will be there when you need it.

Your stress hurts your team

A leader’s stress is contagious. Your team members who see you under stress – tired, frazzled and unfocused – will experience empathic stress responses including increased cortisol. And if you allow your stress to progress into full fledged burnout your team is far more likely to mirror your negative attitudes. This is especially dangerous in today’s open workspace environments because there isn’t an office door to shut to prevent your team from “catching” your stress or burnout.

For all leaders, a big portion of your day-to-day is about motivating and inspiring your team. You don’t want to increase your team’s stress or hurt their health or productivity so you need to be in control of your emotions and proactively managing your stress – all things that stem from a practice of mindful meditation.

Leaders need more soft skills

As a leader, your role – and your value to the organisation – changes from being the one “doing” the work, to being the one ensuring the “right” work gets done. And all the work gets done by and with other people. This means that as you rise in an organisation more and more of your success depends upon your ability to effectively communicate, motivate and mediate.

A mindfulness meditation practice teaches you to be present and more aware of the meta messages inherent in any interpersonal exchange. Truly listening to your team and colleagues and staying aware of their emotional responses — both expressed and not — will help you to most effectively adapt your communications and responses for the best result.

read the original article here

Work hard, work harder: How we’re screwing up the pursuit of happiness.

by GLAIN for The Executive Roundtable

Once upon a time, in a work galaxy far, far away, there was a mantra that companies used to use. It went like this: work hard, play hard. Over the past decade (or possibly more), the mantra has changed to work hard, work harder as companies move their focus from why they do what they do, to a single minded drive to make money and increase shareholder value. Sure, there are a few bright sparks on the horizon. A handful of companies are bringing back the drive for purpose – Zappos, G Adventures, Whole Foods to name a few – but they are overwhelmingly few and far between. In my observation, this quest for the almighty dollar is wreaking a boatload of misery into our work lives… and our homelives…

If you’re feeling like you’re in a never ending numbers grind at work, try changing the focus. Here are a few very simple ways I do this at The Executive Roundtable:

  1. I open our weekly team meetings asking people to share something great that happened to them the week before – personal or work related. Whatever makes you feel good.
  2. We celebrate progress… even when we’re behind on budget. We look at what we’ve accomplished.
  3. We take time to appreciate each other’s contributions by sharing peer feedback.
  4. I make a list of 5 of our members that I haven’t spoken to in a while and reach out to see how they’re doing and share a laugh.
  5. I get inspired by reading an inspiring book, watching a TED Talk or writing a blog post like this one that I think might help others.

As many of you head into the March Break week with your families, think about how you can bring more happiness and balance into your life by taking the emphasis off money and material objects and putting it onto the things that ultimately matter most: love, relationships and community.

read the original article here

Nine Steps To Work-Place Happiness

To achieve greater happiness at work, you don’t need your boss to stop calling you at night. You don’t need to make more money. You don’t need to follow your dream of being a sommelier, or running a B&B in the Cotswolds. The biggest obstacle to happiness is simply your belief that you’re the prisoner of circumstance, powerless before the things that happen to you. We create our own experience. Here are nine steps to happiness at work:

1. Avoid “good” and “bad” labels: When something bad happens, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, when you make an error, be aware of it without passing judgment. Do what you have to do, but don’t surrender your calmness and sense of peace.

2. Practice “extreme resilience: Extreme resilience is the ability to recover fast from adversity. You spend too much time in needless, fruitless self-recrimination and blaming others. You go on pointless guilt trips and make excuses that you know are fatuous. If you’re resilient, you recover and go on to do great things.

3. Let go of grudges: A key to being happy at work is to let go of grudges. Consciously drop the past. It’s hard, but with practice you will get the hang of it.

4. Don’t waste time being jealous: When you’re jealous you’re saying that the universe is limited and there’s not enough success in it for me. Instead, be happy, because whatever happened to him will happen to you in your current job or at another company.

5. Find passion in you, not in your job: Sure, you can fantasise about a dream job that pays you well and allows you to do some kind of social good, work with brilliant and likable colleagues and still be home in time for dinner. But be warned against searching for that perfect position, or even believing that it exists. Instead, change how you think about your current situation. For example, instead of thinking of yourself as a human resources manager at , identify yourself as someone who helps other bank employees provide for their families, take advantage of their benefits and save for the future.

6. Picture yourself 10 years ago and 10 years from now: Most problems that kept you awake ten years ago have disappeared. Much of what troubles you today will also vanish. Realising this truth will help you gain perspective.

7. Banish the “if/then” model of happiness: Many of us rely on a flawed “if/then” model for happiness. If we become CEO, then we’ll be happy. If we make a six-figure salary, then we’ll be happy. There is nothing that you have to get, do or be in order to be happy.

8. Invest in the process, not the outcome: Outcomes are totally beyond your control. You’ll set yourself up for disappointment if you focus too much on what you hope to achieve rather than how you plan to get there.

9. Think about other people: Even in Britain, where so much of work is every man for him or herself, it’s better to inhabit an centred universe. If the nice guy gets passed over for a promotion, he may still succeed in less tangible ways. He may rise later, and stronger. Challenge the assumption that you need to be a dog-eat-dog person to survive in a corporate environment.

read the original article here

Riding the Breath: Breath As A Spiritual Praxis

by The Rev. James Reho

Breathing is never really simple.  Our breath bears our emotional history and is a playing field for our flirtations with both Eros and Thanatos.  While our relationship with our breath is often barely conscious, the quality and form of our breathing enhances and communicates much about our emotional state.  As children, we hold our breath to get what we want; breath steels and expresses our will.  When we are frightened, we gasp for breath sharply with the upper chest; breath influences and expresses our anxiety level.  When we sleep, exercise, concentrate, make love, or meditate, our breath takes on again other patterns to support our activities…

Tradition as well as experience and research indicates that conscious work with the breath can help heal emotional and even physical pain and disease, and can vitalize our body/mind complex in ways that are so extraordinary that I hesitate to describe them… you simply wouldn’t be likely to believe me…

The words for “breath” and “spirit” in several scriptural languages are related:  ruach in Hebrew, ruh in Arabic, pneuma in Greek, and spiritus in Latin.  From this last, we have in English words like “inspire/inspiration” and “expire/expiration” that carry dual meanings relating both to breath and to spirit in various forms (creativity, vitality)…

Why breathe?

In the fifth chapter of the Chandogya Upanishad (8th – 7th century BCE) the faculties of speech, hearing, seeing, thinking, and breathing have an argument concerning which of them is primary for the human person.  These bodily functions[xvii] ask Father Prajapati (the uber-person) which of them is the finest.  He answers that the one whose departure leaves the body in the worst case is the primary function.  Speech, hearing, seeing, and thinking each in their turn leave; upon their return, they all discover together that the body can still function, albeit with some deficit.  When breath determines to leave, however, all the other faculties find they are dragged along with it; indeed, breath is the most important of these.

Aside from its obvious necessity for physical life, the breath expresses and influences our emotional and mental states.   The various techniques of working with breath—from traditional pranayama and hesychastic breathing to more modern practices such as breathwalk[xviii] and holotropic breathwork—we can utilise this often-unconscious process to affect our lives physically, mentally, and energetically:

“Life is not under your control and the mind is not obedient, but there is something the mind does obey.  That is the rate of the breath…” [xix]

Yoga and the Transformational Power of Prānāyāma

Prānāyāma, the control of the breath (really, of the life essence which is carried upon the breath) is one of the eight traditional limbs of yoga.  There are hundreds of methods of prānāyāma, devised to enhance very particular aspects of one’s being and/or address very particular weaknesses in the physical, emotional, intellectual, or psychological being of the yogi.  Practitioners claim that directing the breath in particular ways can build and enhance cross-hemispheric functionality of the brain as well as optimise the function of glandular systems and mental and physical performance…

Mastery of various forms of prānāyāma is an endeavour requiring years of practice and study.  One learns to exercise precise control over inhalation (puraka), exhalation (rechaka), and breath retention (kumbhaka): through building stamina and extremely sensitive muscular control, one can “move” the breath with precision into various areas of the lung, retain the breath for extended periods with fine control over air pressure, and also finely tune the nature, rate, and form of the exhalation, creating a nearly infinite array of possible breath patterns.

The benefits and effects of prānāyāma are nearly unbelievable to those who have not experienced them. Directing the breath into various bodily energy centres can bring about experiences of expanded consciousness or incredible bliss; slow alternate nostril breathing can calm and balance the mind and emotional self; and strong, mouth-based prānāyāma such as is done in breathwork can open levels of experience and consciousness typically thought accessible only through hallucinogens or years in a snowy cave in the Himalayas or upon Mt. Athos.  Sound interesting?  Here are some starting points to begin gathering your own data on the power of breath…

Getting Started: Jumping into the Experience of Breath 

Here then are three entry-level prānāyāma exercises that can give you a first taste of what is eventually possible through the control of breath.  I am a certified yoga instructor, but am not a healthcare professional: please check in with your doctor or healthcare professional before beginning any of these practices, and if you become dizzy or ill… stop and rest.

Deergha Swasam (Three-part Yogic Breath):

Sit in a comfortable position with a straight spine, either cross-legged on a cushion (making sure knees are lower than the hips) or in a chair with feet on the floor.  Rest the hands in the lap.  Eyes are closed. Begin by inhaling slowly through the nose into the diaphragm/abdomen.  Once the abdomen is full, allow more breath to come into the chest, expanding it forward and outward (i.e., both the front and sides of the chest expand).  Finally, bring in even more breath so that the collarbones slightly rise.  Let this long inhalation be smooth and gentle-but-firm.  Now exhale the same way: let the air come out from the collarbones, from the thoracic cavity, and finally from the abdominal cavity.  Fully empty the lungs by bringing the navel in toward the spine.  Repeat for ten minutes.

This breath builds lung capacity in a pleasant way (there are really tough prānāyāmas that do so in a less-than-pleasant way!).  Our typical, unconscious breaths usually involve inhaling about 500 cubic centimeters of air; through a full deergha swasam breath, you will inhale (and expel) about 3000 cubic centerimeters of air.  Six times the air means offers six times the oxygen.  Aside from fuller oxygenation and removal of toxins, deergha swasam helps steady the emotional state and create a peaceful, alert focus of the mind.

Kapalabhati (Skull-shining Breath, or Breath of Fire):

Sit as above.  Here you focus on the exhale, which is sharp and brought about by quickly “snapping” the navel in toward the spine.  The inhalation will occur naturally as the abdomen relaxes.  Build this up so that you can accomplish two or three cycles per second.  Both exhalation and inhalation occur through the nose.  This breath can be practiced with arms raised to the side at 60 degrees, elbows straight, palms up.  Bring the focus of the closed eyes to the point between the eyebrows.  Practice for three minutes, then inhale and hold the breath.  Finally, exhale and rest for two minutes with hands sweeping down at the sides and coming to rest in the lap.  Let the breath return to normal.

According to practitioners of kundalini yoga, this breath builds the aura and cleanses the blood and the lungs.  It invigorates the whole body and is great to do as part of your wake-up routine.  Although in the early stages of learning this breath we focus our energy and concentration on the exhale, there should be a balance between the exhalation and inhalation so that you do not become breathless.

Nadi Sodhana (alternate nostril breathing):

Nadi sodhana is really a family of prānāyāma techniques that focus upon balance and opening of the nadis, energetic channels that are said to exist in the subtle (pranic) body.

To perform nadi sodhana, sit again as outlined above.  Allow the left hand to rest on the left thigh or lap.  The right hand forms a two-pronged pincer, with the index and middle fingers bent into the palm.  The extended thumb forms one end of the pincer and the ring finger and pinky, kept together as one finger, form the other.  Take a few preparatory deergha swasam breaths, and then after an inhalation, use the thumb to close off the right nostril.  Exhale.  Inhale.  Now use the ring finger-plus-pinky to close off the left nostril and remove the thumb to allow the exhalation to pass through the right nostril.  Inhale.  Now again block the right nostril and open the left.  Exhale and inhale.  Continue, gradually working to lengthen the inhalations and exhalations.  Once you are comfortable, you can work on having the exhalations last for twice as long as the inhalations.  To complete a cycle (let’s say, ten minutes to start), let the right hand return to the lap and the breath return to normal after an exhalation through the right nostril.

This nadi sodhana practice calms the mind and the heart and balances the hemispheres of the brain.  It builds strength in the lungs as well, especially when one pauses to retain the inhaled breath and then pauses again when the lungs are fully evacuated as part of the practice.  Yoga teaches that we alternate which nostril is dominant roughly every 90 minutes (experiment with this; you’ll see it’s about right), corresponding to our natural “switching” between hemispheric brain dominance.  Through the practice of nadi sodhana, we simultaneously active both hemispheres of the brain, bringing both balance and deeper connectivity between the hemispheres.

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Happiness At Work #123

All of these articles are gathered together in the new Happiness At Work collection along with many more more that give ideas, tools and techniques for increasing greater leadership, balance, productivity, creativity, learning, resilience and flourishing at work and in our lives….

see the full collection here

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Happiness At Work #49 ~ listening, giving, empathy and quietness

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This week’s Happiness At Work collection #49 highlights stories about the power and effectiveness of what many would call the especially softest of the soft skills: listening, giving, empathy and quietness.

We’ve always been unhappy about the term ‘soft skills.’  Used as a catch-all for the skills that privilege human interaction over the more so-called ‘hard skills’ that are concentrated on results, efficiency, facts and figures, tasks and outcomes that, we argue, are a doddle compared to the much much ‘harder’ expertise needed to enact the highly complex demands of making high quality relationships, communications, feelings and experiences.

So here is a special selection of ideas, provocations, invitations and practical techniques for honing our soft skills into the strength, suppleness and resilience that our 21st century professional lives so deeply demand from us.  There are some really potent ideas here that challenge our default assumptions about what constitues ‘good’ and ‘bad’ leadership and question just how valuable and necessary being the archetypal inspirational leader really is for getting high quality outcomes in a complex fast-changing and unpredictable environment…

Spider's Web

Julian Treasure: 5 Ways To Listen Better (TEDTalk)

We are losing our listening…

This is how Julian Treasure begins his deeply-felt talk, which includes, as his title promises, five practical techniques for practising better listening skills.  These are some of the ideas taken from this talk that ring out especially for us:

Listening means making meaning from sound.

We listen through a funnel of unconscious filters that all go towards creating the reality and meanings we form:

Culture

Language

Values

Beliefs

Attitudes

Expectations

Intentions

The premium of good listening is disappearing partly because of our recording capabilities, which makes the need for good listening seem less needed and so less looked after than ever.  In our headphone bubbles, we are living in a noisier, more impatient and desensitised world where it is becoming harder for us to pay attention to the quiet, the subtle, the understated…

We need to learn to listen as if for the very first time.  Here are five tools for improving our ability to do this:

  1. Silence.  Just make 5 minutes a day of consciously observed silence – or as near to it as you can make.
  2. The Mixer.  Listen to how many individual channels of sound you can hear and tune into in the air around you.
  3. Savouring.  Enjoy mundane everyday sounds.  Discover how interesting and layered and dynamic and different sounds actually are.
  4. Listening Positions.  Most important this one.  Shift and play with different positions to get conscious about different ways of listening.  These are some, but there are many more:

active ~ passive

reductive ~ expansive

critical ~ empathetic

  1. RASA.  Sanskrit word meaning ‘juice’ and the acronym for Receive Appreciate Summarise (“So…) Ask questions.

I live to ask questions.  But I believe every human being needs to listen consciously in order to live fully connecting to the physical world around you and top each other.  In terms of spiritually connecting, every ritual path has listening at its heart.

We need to teach listening in our schools.

(And – we add emphatically – to our professionals and leaders across every different sector, organisation and enterprise.)

A world where we are not listening to each other is a very scary dangerous place.

Listening can help make connection, understanding, peace…

soothing ripples

Below the Noise: Listening as a Lifeline: Virginia Prescott at TEDxPiscataquaRiver

In this talk broadcaster and sound artist Virginia Prescott invites us to think about how we can learn to appreciate and enjoy listening more as we go forward in an environment of social media and increasingly individualised technologies…

Broadcasting means to throw out seeds.  And we don’t always know where these seeds will land or what will grow from them…

A Story Sung: Why Fiction Writers Should Read Poetry

In this article the ideas that Lucas Hunt writes for writers has so much resonance that I have substituted a more universal pronoun to amplify his wisdom for us all…

Any [one] who desires to get at the truth of human experience should read poetry, because it contains a multitude of possibility. Poetry is the mud that grows the seed that becomes the forest. It is the clay that makes the brick that forms the building. It is the blood that moves the body that holds the spirit. Poetry has the essence of life in it.

Poets voice that which has no voice in this world. They speak in tongues, and hope their words reach the ears and touch the hearts of those who know what it means to live. Much like fiction writers, poets struggle to remember how to make sense of existence. They share a passion for language, and a common, driving need: to imagine the world not just as it is, but how it ought to be.

Poetry tends toward silence…  Poetry aspires to be a song, more than a story, to be lyrically rich. It is also full of primal messages that, somehow, can express the inexpressible. There is more than meets the eye…

And if you enjoy this piece, you might also like to check out:

How To Enjoy Poetry by Maria Popova

“True poetic practice implies a mind so miraculously attuned and illuminated that it can form words, by a chain of more-than coincidences, into a living entity,” Edward Hirsch advised in his directive on how to read a poem.

But how, exactly, does one cultivate such “true poetic practice”?…

The poet and novelist James Dickey, winner of the National Book Award for his poetry collection Buckdancer’s Choice, offers some timeless and breathtakingly articulated advice…Ultimately, James Dickey champions the enlivening potency of the learn-by-doing approach:

The more your encounter with poetry deepens, the more your experience of your own life will deepen, and you will begin to see things by means of words, and words by means of things.

You will come to understand the world as it interacts with words, as it can be re-created by words, by rhythms and by images.

You’ll understand that this condition is one charged with vital possibilities. You will pick up meaning more quickly — and you will create meaning, too, for yourself and others.

Connections between things will exist for you in ways that they never did before. They will shine with unexpectedness, wide-openness, and you will go toward them, on your own path. ‘Then,’ as Dante says, ‘will your feet be filled with good desire.’ You will know this is happening the first time you say, of something you never would have noticed before, ‘Well, would you look at that! Who’d ‘a thunk it?’ (Pause, full of new light.)

‘I thunk it!’

quiet - soft focus purple floral print

Not Any Old Pencil

Brazil born, US based artist Dalton Ghetti carves minute masterpieces on the tips of pencils.

Here is some wisdom we can all learn from him by attending to the five things a pencil should never forget:

1) Everything you do will always leave a mark.
2) You can always correct the mistakes you make.
3) What is important is what’s inside you.
4) In life, you will undergo painful sharpenings which will only make you better.
5) To be the best pencil, you must allow yourself to be held and guided by the hand that holds you.

Leading Quietly by Adam Grant

In this talk at Wharton, University of Pennsylvania, occupational psychologist Adam Grant begins with a story of his experience building motivation in a call centre.  To improve things, he brings in two very different students who had benefited from the scholarships that these people were trying to raise money for to talk about how their bursary had changed their lives.  The first, Will, a student who was achieving meteoric success, came in and gave a dynamic high-imact presentation.  The average caller who heard Will increased the revenue they raised by 170%.  The second student, Emily, was painfully shy, and could barely get through her words.  But Emily’s effect was 2.5 times stronger than Will’s – leading to a 400% increase in revenue by the people who heard her.  Partly this is because of empathy, her audience really felt for her, but even more it was because of Emily’s authenticity:  her listeners knew she was telling the truth about how important her bursary was because it was clear that she was not speaking to them for any pleasure.

What stood out for me was they never once had to hear from a leader.  And this led me to thinking why do leaders think they have to be the ones who deliver the inspiring messages?  Why is this common sense but not common practice?

He then provides a quick self-assessment for Introversion and Extraversion which is not visible in this video, but most of us will already be familiar with our preferences across this scale.

This site  – Myers Briggs Test – is a helpful place to start to explore your  own preferences if you don’t know whether you are more of an Extravert, Introvert or Ambivert (half-and-half)

Grant tells us that Extraversion is how your neocortex processes stimulation, and helps govern willpower and self control.  Optimal arousal is that point when we are fully engaged, ‘in the zone,’ neither overloaded with too much stuff coming at us, but not getting so little stimulation that we are bored.  This is also the place where we are likely to be happy and flourishing.  A high Extravert preference wants lots of social interaction because that’s what brings stimulation for the neocortex, whereas people will an Introvert preference will be trying to get time to themselves in order to get their version of this same high level of optimal stimulation.

Even though Extraversion-Introversion preferences are cut right in the middle for the whole population, meaning that there are just as many Introverts as Extraverts, a piece of  research in 2009 found that 96% of American leaders score on the attention seeking Extravert side of this continuum, and only 4% below the mid point, and there is no reason to think that results in the UK would be significantly different.

If most leaders are the Extraverts, they feel they need to be the ones in the centre of attention…to be the ones who are delivering the inspiring messages…

When these figures are broken down further they reveal that 50% of supervisors are actually in the top 25% of high Extraversion scores, so are very extraverted, and  this has increased to 80% of top level executives who score at the high end of Extraversion.  For Adam Grant this leads to the question: ‘What are the consequences of this?  Is it good to be an extraverted leader?’

Extraverts, Grant suggests, are great for people who like to have a strong steer, but not at all for more proactive people who have a high degree of initiative and self-sufficiency.  These are the very people that we need most when the environment is turbulent and uncertain.  We know that it is impossible for leaders to recognise all of the problems that might be going on in these conditions.  And these people need Introverts to lead them, but in a more proactive and dynamic way than we might think.  This is not to say that all Introverts lead proactive self-starting people well, but, if they do, they get much better results.

And the evidence suggests that most Extraverts will be leading these people ineffectively.  Extraverted leaders tend to feel threatened by suggestions coming from below, and tend to ignore or reject what their people bring.  This in turn discourages these people and decreases the likelihood of them bringing more suggestions.  Grant’s research found a 28% lower output when people brought their suggestions to an Extravert rather than an Introverted leader.

So maybe there are some benefits to leading in a more Introverted and quiet way…

Grant owns up to being an Introvert.  He was once told that he was so nervous when he spoke that he caused his students to shake in their seats.  As a manager he felt he had to be constantly engaging and became completely exhausted. Introverts that operate at high rates of engagement all the time are at high risk of burnout and ill health.  But he goes on to wonder if ‘sometimes we get trapped into roles more than we meed to…’  Rather than quitting another job he was failing in, Grant did the job of his people were doing and became a salesman for a week, and, even though he was pretty rubbish at it and began by doing very badly, he ended up achieving a reasonable amount of revenue by going out to find new people that were not currently aware of their product.  This stimulated his thinking about whether he needed to be very extraverted in order to be an effective leader.

We can all act outside of our preferred style so long as we get a restorative retreat, a chance to return to the way of being that re-energises and refocuses us – quiet reflection for Introverts, social interaction for Extraverts.

Leading by doing, behavioural integrity, is one way of leading quietly.  When Grant spent time doing the job of the people he managed, he found his words took on far more meaning for people.

Our ‘first nature’ or signature strengths are those ways of being that just feel right, easy, natural for us.  But all of us develop a second nature, an out-of-character role, which we master because it helps us achieve something that we care about.  For Introverts, this is public speaking.  For Extraverts, it might be to do more stepping back, shutting up and listening and accepting others’ ideas and suggestions.

Grant gives us three practical ways forward in his call-to-action for leading more quietly:

  1. Spend time actually doing the work of the people you lead.  One expert recommends 10% of your time actually doing the work your employees do.
  2. Outsource inspiration.  Just as with the call centre, maybe the ideas about what is really valuable, and thus the inspiration and big ways of motivating people, are better brought by beneficiaries, clients, patients, customers, stakeholders, partners rather than you as the leader.  For example: Facebook engineers regularly get to hear invited users to talk about the actual differences that Facebook has made to their lives.
  3. Think about the other 80:20 rule.  Do not talk more than 20% of the time and spend at least 80% of your time really listening to the people around you.  Grant says to remember that ‘do not learn anything when I am talking’…

As an Extravert, myself, I have to say that this is only partially true, because, as an Extravert, talking and thinking are synonymous and I often literally do not know know what I think until I hear myself saying it.  I have great respect for the Introvert’s mystical ability to make fully formed fully considered conclusions without saying anything to anyone, but this is not easily in my gift, but rather something that I have had to develop as a consciously applied ‘second nature’ skill.  But back to Grant:

I’m not going to say that all Extraverts are narcissists but the correlation is positive…

So just as I’ve made myself feel better about my over-talkative style Grant points up the joy of talking for Extraverts, who tend to find listening to themselves talking exactly the happy learning experience I was just defending.  And research has found that the more Extraverts talk, the more they like the group they are with, even saying that the more they talk the more they learn about the other people in the group.  Ouch.

I do recognise wholeheartedly and without any reservation that I do not hear anything when I am talking and this matters.  And I would add to this that we cannot do exceptionally well more than one thing at a time, even if we are woman, so that if I am mostly concentrated on listening, this will be what gets my fullest energy and attention, whereas if I am thinking about what I want to say, it will not, and I will miss important and potentially vital things.

One more idea at the end of this talk caught my interest:  apparently Extraverts are more likely to be optimists and Introverts more pessimist.  But – crucially since realistic optimism is such a critical element of resilience – both optimism and pessimism are largely learned orientations, as we know from, for example, the exercise of spending 21 days writing down what you most appreciate that day which literally rewires the automatic circuitry in our brain and leads to long-lasting levels of increased optimism and positivity.

silhoutte of two business people talking

Susan Cain: Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (The RSA)

Susan Cain is one of the people Adam Grant references in his talk about Leading Quietly.  In this talk Cain speaks passionately about the problems that come from the world that we have made that biases the preferences and needs of Extraverts over what Introverts need to be able to flourish:

We set up our workplaces and schools for maximum group interaction and we’re losing sight of the importance of solitude for creativity…  There is no correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas…

We are living in a world that has become so  overly extraverted, so lopsided in that direction, that even extraverts don’t feel they have permission to tap into that side o themselves.

In companies, it has been found that the most effective teams are those that combine Extraverts and Introverts.  The two types are really drawn to each other and need each other.

Quiet - Susan Cain

Susan Cain: The Power of Introverts (TEDTalks)

In her TEDTalk Cain outlines her thesis in more detail and here are some of the things she tells us:

The key to maximising our talents is to put ourselves in the zone of stimulation that is right for us.  And when it comes to creativity we need Introverts doing what they do best.

Introversion is not about being shy, which is fear of social judgement.  Introverts feel most alive and most switched on and most creative when they are in quieter environments.  Not all of the time.  None of these things are absolutes.  There is no such thing as pure Extravert or Introvert, and some of us, now called Ambiverts, actually fall right in the middle.

But now here’s where the bias comes in.  Our world’s most important places, our schools and our workplaces, are designed for extraverts, for stimulation.

And we’re told that creativity comes from an oddly gregarious place.  In schools students sit in pods, face-to-face, are encouraged to work in groups, and the ideal student is said to be outgoing, assertive, extravert, even though, according to research, Introverts get better grades and are more knowledgeable.  At work we are arranged in open plan offices, where we are subject to the constant gaze and noise of our co-workers.  And when it comes to leadership, Introverts are more likely to be passed over when it comes to promotion, even though Introverts are likely to be much more careful, much less likely to take outsized risks, and, as Adam Grant’s research has shown, much more likely to let proactive employees run with their ideas, whereas Extravert leaders are likely to get so excited about things that they end up always putting their own stamp on everything and other people’s ideas have less chance of being able to bubble up to the surface.

Culturally we need a much better yin and yang between these two types, especially when it comes to creativity ad productivity.  When psychologists look at the most creative people they find that these people are very good at exchanging ideas and working with others, but they also have serious strands of introversion in them.  And this is because solitude is a crucial ingredient to creativity.  Darwin took long walks in the wood and turned down dinner party invitations.  Steve Wozniak invented the first Apple computer sitting alone, and he said that he never would have had he not been too introverted to leave the house when he was growing up.  And he needed Steve Jobs to get it out into the world.

For centuries we have known about the transcendent powers of solitude.  Only recently have we forgotten it.  Profound epiphanies tend to happen in solitude in the wilderness.

Groups famously follow the best talkers or most charismatic personalities in the room.  They may not have the best ideas.  None of this is to say that we don’t need social skills and teamwork.  In fact the problems we face in the world today are going to need armies of people to come together to solve.  But the more freedom we give Introverts to be themselves the more likely they are to come up with unique solutions to bring to some of these problems.

And here are Susan Cain’s three calls to action:

  1. Stop the madness for constant calls to constant group work.  I deeply believe our offices should be encouraging chatty cafe-style spaces for the conversational interactions where people can come together and serendipitously get exchange of ideas that is great for Introverts and Extraverts.  But we need much more time for freedom, autonomy, solitude.
  2. Go the wilderness.  Be like Buddha.  Have your own revelations.  Unplug and get inside our own heads more often.
  3. Look at what is in your suitcase:  Extraverts – grace us with your joy; Introverts – guard what you have but know that the world needs what you carry with you and have the courage to speak softly.

beach sea sky painting

Altruism & Happiness

Here are some ideas about the value and importance of giving taken from The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubormirsky

Acts of kindness

Altruism—including kindness, generosity, and compassion—are keys to the social connections that are so important to our happiness. Research finds that acts of kindness—especially spontaneous, out-of-the ordinary ones—can boost happiness in the person doing the good deed.

Reasons why acts of kindness make people happier:

  • Being generous leads us to perceive others more compassionately; we typically find good qualities in people to whom we are kind
  • Being kind promotes a sense of connection and community with others, which is one of the strongest factors in increasing happiness
  • Being generous helps us appreciate and feel grateful for our own good fortune
  • Being generous boosts our self-image; it helps us feel useful and gives us a way to use our strengths and talents in a meaningful way
  • Being kind can start a chain reaction of positivity; being kind to others may lead them to be grateful and generous to others, who in turn are grateful and kind to others

Compassion fosters happiness, but being sacrificial reduces well-being

Being kind and compassionate is linked to greater happiness, greater levels of physical activity well into old age, and longevity. One important caveat: if people get overextended and overwhelmed by helping tasks, as can happen with people who are caregivers to family members, their health and quality of life can rapidly decline. It seems being generous from an abundance of time, money, and energy can promote well-being; but being sacrificial quickly lowers well-being. This seems to be a good argument for communities sharing the burden for everyone’s benefit.

Angela Maiers: People Know They Matter When…

Choose2Matter is a global movement that challenges people to solve problems that break their hearts.

In her article Angela Maiers lists the essential attributes that cause people to know that they matter, and they are all about being quiet, listening and empathetic.  She writes, people know they matter when:

You see them…

You listen earnestly…

You ask meaningful questions…

You believe they can…

You dwell in possibility…

You celebrate them…

You do small things with great love…

You show up…

quiet - cream satin

What a Leader Needs Now: 7 ‘Feminine’ Qualities by Leah Buchanan

These traits, typically associated with women, make for great leaders – whether women or men, writes Leah Buchanan.  How close are these to the capabilities you are trying to develop and master, or, perhaps, to those you are trying to nurture in others?

Empathy: Being sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others.

Vulnerability: Owning up to one’s limitations and asking for help.

Humility: Seeking to serve others and to share credit.

Inclusiveness: Soliciting and listening to many voices.

Generosity: Being liberal with time, contacts, advice, and support.

Balance: Giving life, as well as work, its due.

Patience: Taking a long-term view.

candle

Roman Krznaric – The Six Habits of Highly Empathic People (The RSA)

This theme is explored and continued in this talk about the new importance of nurturing excellence in empathy and how we might start to do this…

The 20th century was the age of introspection.  That was the age in which therapy and self-help told us that the best way to discover who we are and what we are was to look inside ourselves.  And combined with capitalist individualism, that pointed us towards pursuing the good life through self interest and luxury lifestyle.  And what we’ve discovered is that has not delivered the good life for most of us.

So the 21st century needs to be different.  Instead of the Age of  Introspection, we need to shift to the Age of  ‘Outraspection’ – discovering who you are and what you are here for by stepping outside yourself, discovering the lives of other people, other civilisations.  And the ultimate artform for the Age of Outraspection is empathy…

In this talk, cultural historian Roman Krznaric sets out his ideas about how the art of empathy can not only enrich our own lives, but also bring about social change, in six habits to try and master:

Habit 1:  Nurture curiosity about strangers.  For example, George Orwell used to dress and live as a homeless person in order to discover and learn.  We have assumptions about people, especially those who seem least like us.  Finding out about what they care about increases not only our compassion, but also our capacity for empathy.

This reminds of Louise Bougeoise’s Instruction: Smile At A Stranger which you can see in Maria Popova’s summary of  Do It: The Coppenedium  by Hans Ulrich Obrist in her

Do It: 20 Years of Famous Artists’ Irreverent Instructions for Art Anyone Can Make

Habit 2: Challenge prejudices and discover commonalities.  Look for what you share rather than what divides us.  For example, white extremist C.P.Ellis co-chaired a group looking at racial problems in schools and discovered a shared sense of oppression from poverty in common with his co-chair, a black civil rights activist.  This resulted in him tearing up his Klu Klux Klan membership card and the two becoming friends for life.

Habit 3: Extreme sport of experiential empathy.  For example, US industrial designer Patricia Moore decided to dress up as an 80 tear old and visited 100 cities to come up with inventions for new products based on her experience.

Habit 4: Practice the art of conversation.  Listening to and sharing ourselves and emotions.  For example, the brass roots peace organisation, Parents Circle which brings together Palestinian and Israeli parents who have lost a child for conversation, picnics, sharing stories.  Includes the “Hello Peace” freephone telephone line to be able to speak to someone from the opposite community.

Habit 5: Inspire mass action and social change.For example, the anti-slave movement was built on empathy with exhibitions, writing and presentations about what it was like to be a slave by formeslaves.

Habit 6: Develop an ambitious imagination.  Be more adventurous in who you think about and how.  For example, ‘those greedy bankers’ – think about their lives, values and have conversations that help to bridge divides.

Only through high levels of empathy can we start to create social change across time as well as space.  Failing to empathise through time with future generations will be extremely hazardous to all of our futures.

Socrates wrote: Know thyself.  This can also be achieved by stepping outside ourselves and discovering people least like us.

Homeless Young Boy Holding a Sign

Simon Baron Cohen: Zero Degrees of Empathy (The RSA)

In this talk, psychiatry professor Simon Baron Cohen presents a new way of understanding what it is that leads individuals down negative paths, and challenges all of us to consider replacing the idea of evil with the idea of empathy-erosion. 

He provides a two-dimensional definition for empathy that combines:

Cognitive component – the drive to identify another person’s thoughts and feelings, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes; and

Affective component – the drive to respond with the appropriate emotion to another’s thoughts and feelings, the emotional reaction we bring.

Most of us are in the middle of the normal bell-curve distribution for empathy.  Females score slightly but statistically significantly higher in empathy than males.

Philosopher Martin Buber identified the point you start treating a person as an object is when you switch off empathy:  the “I”  ~  “You” relationship is switched to “I” – “It.”

This is worth thinking about in our relationships – to what extent do we talk about you and what you feel, think want, need and to what extent do we only talk about the task, what needs to be achieved, the problem, the thing that needs doing…?

John Bowlby argued that early experience makes a major difference, and insecure attachment as child can lead to delinquency, because attachment is key to the formation of empathy.

Baron Cohen’s research is finding that the more testosterone in the womb the more different the empathy reading in the later 8 year old.  This links somewhat with the lower readings of empathy in males.

We know that there is not one part of the brain responsible for empathy, but rather Baron Cohen counts at least ten highly connected parts of the brain that are activated in a highly connected ’empathy circuit’ when we are being empathetic.

If psychopaths are one example of having no empathy, he asks whether zero degrees of empathy is always bad, and answers “No.”  The condition of Autism tends to cause people who have it to be extremely moral rather than cruel, making them likely to avoid or withdraw from social situations rather than want to harm.  Zero positive means their unusual attention to detail often leads to giftedness.

Evolution suggests that empathy has been positively selected.  In the 1960s Masserman trained rhesus monkeys to learn that when they pulled a chain they would get food.  He then changed this so that, as well as getting food, they also saw another monkey getting an electric shock, and found that they soon stopped pulling the chain that gave them food but hurt another monkey.

Like language and memory, empathy is likely to be influenced by many different components including our culture and our society.

Empathy is the most valuable human resource because it has the power to resolve conflict, either between two individuals – or extended to two nations – empathy allows us to understand the other’s point of view.  Empathy is cheaper and more successful than either military or legal solutions.

Young Couple Talking in Cafe

Disruptive Happiness: Mario Chamorro at TEDxWilliamsburg

For a wonderful creative illustration of these ideas in action see Mario talking about his enterprise, The Happy Post Project, an initiative that in less than 2 years has reached millions of people in over 30 countries, and today continues to spread happiness all over the world.

Most recently, Mario founded Make it Happy, an organisation devoted to the generation and support of positive social change, by creating projects that spread and inspire happiness, while cultivating a grassroots network of social innovators.

Sunnie Toelle: The Happiness Tipping Point

In this article Toelle looks back over the rapid recent advances in the various disciplines that put happiness at their centre and wonders…

Some fascinating and potentially powerful happiness-related frameworks and initiatives exist on multiple levels and across geographic regions. Happiness matters for many reasons, but most of all, because business as usual is leading to a staggering increase in mental disorders, mental health costs and a massive loss of human potential. Arguably, it should therefore become a key agenda item in boardroom meetings and at policy roundtables. Yet, it remains to be seen who and what will hit off the tipping point.

And for some advice about creativity, making art and living the life you want, see these ideas in

Austin Kleon on 10 Things Every Creator Should Remember But We Often Forget by Maria Popova

Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read, build the products you want to use — do the work you want to see done.

 

Here is a link to this week’s entire Happiness At Work which includes more ideas linked to these themes in my reflections about what made the Beyond Glorious Symposium so exceptional in my piece:

Beyond Glorious – what made this symposium so very special and extraordinary

Enjoy your week – especially its softer moments that we really hope you will be able to hold gently open…

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