Action Learning – a better way to collaborate and communicate together…

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3194 photo: Mark Trezona

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

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.

The Clean Space Process

Space:

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

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:

  1. In-Betweenness 
  2. Listening In-ness
  3. Slowness
  4. Togetherness
  5. Connectedness

1 ~ In-Betweenness

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.

3 ~ Slowness

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.

4 ~ Togetherness

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?

What if…?

What next…?

What now…?

Serpentine Summer Space 2013 IMG_3193 photo: Mark Trezona

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.

This post was developed from the one I originally wrote for Shaking Out, the Shaky Isles Theatre Company blog

Happiness At Work edition #90

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.

Enjoy…

 

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Happiness At Work #77~ ending & beginning and the space in between

This week’s post takes its inspiration from Steve McCurry’s latest collection of photos of people Leaving and Coming (see below), drawing on this time when we celebrate out one year and in the next to mark some of the in-between spaces and places and thinking and ways of being….

C OK

photo credit: SheReadsAlot via photopin cc

Deadly Conformity Is Killing Our Creativity. Let’s mess about more

People’s lives  would be more fulfilling if they we were given greater freedom in the workplace writes 

I began to notice the creativity of the manager of the Pret a Manger coffee shop, close to where I live, after he showed extraordinary kindness to a woman with Down’s syndrome in her 20s. Well, maybe it wasn’t that remarkable, but it was certainly natural and spontaneous and beautifully done…  [When she wanted] some attention from the manager, he stepped from behind the counter and gave her a big, affectionate hug.

It was moving and she was evidently delighted, so I took a comment card from the holder on the wall and wrote a note to the CEO of Pret telling him he had a gem on his staff.

The company told me that they would give the manager some kind of reward and since then I have taken a secret pleasure at being the unseen agency of a little good fortune. However, this is not the whole point…

Ten days ago, I found him on the floor with two-dozen paper coffee cups figuring out how to make a Christmas star from the cups and red lids. I have to say it didn’t look too promising, but the next time I went in, there was a Christmas tree made entirely of cups and lids, which wasn’t bad at all.

The Pret man came to mind when last week I heard the latest report from the Office of National Statistics which suggests we are currently using just 15% of our intelligence during work and that the nation’s human capital – a slightly artificial construct of skills, knowledge and continuous learning – is way down on five years ago. There appears to be a slump in the nation’s creativity.

And what has the Pret man got to do with this trend? Well, the way he does his job embodies several of the necessary requirements for creativity: the confidence to experiment, openness and time to play. Clearly the company allows his character to express itself but you can well imagine the grimmer coffee shop chains seeing his restless experimentation and goodwill as being a challenge, maybe even a threat to the orderly running of the business.

Two weeks ago, I wrote here about the British commitment to single issue causes and how all the originality with which these are prosecuted fails to be expressed in the political life of the nation. It seems that the same is true of our working lives. It is just short of a tragedy that, on average, people are only required to use 15% of their intelligence at work – depressing for each one of us, for the economic health of the nation and the general sense of well being.

We could be so much more and have lives that were greatly more fulfilled if we only started to find ways of allowing people to be a little more creative in whatever they do. I am not talking about web companies and media agencies, where a creative environment is a priority, but all those humdrum offices we find ourselves in, where the power structures, politics, sexism, fear, orthodoxy, imaginary pressure and bloody stupid rules prevent us from making the most of what we are, or becoming what we could be.

A few months ago, I was at a large meeting of about 25 people, which after a couple of hours produced very little. We were all there for the same purpose and believed in the same thing, but some stood on ceremony, others were too afraid to speak openly or kept their powder dry so they could better fix things by email later. Then a group went to the pub. They were at play, inhibitions fell away and ideas started flowing, and this was because there were no hierarchies; no one was defending their position; and, crucially, people listened with respect and encouragement. The golden moment is usually short-lived, especially in a pub, but that kind of open exchange, in which no one dominates and the default cynicism of British life is absent, can be terrifically creative, as well as fun…

Sooner, rather than later, the subconscious, [if it gets] left to get on with the problem in its own way, produces the thing that you want, or you didn’t even know was there. And that applies to unpressured groups of people, who are at play but maybe also a little focused, and ingenuity wells up from the subconscious and people find themselves speaking the idea before they knew they’d had it – the idea that is born on the lips, as Pepys once said.

There are countless inspiring videos about creativity on the web, likeElizabeth Gilbert’s Ted talk of 2009 Sir Ken Robinson’s of 2006 and the excellent lecture by John Cleese from 20 years ago. All of them come to the same conclusions about the importance of play, the absence of a fear of failure; openness and lack of pressure.

I would add to these the quality that my friend and the founder of Charter 88 and openDemocracy Anthony Barnett emphasises: generosity of spirit. And that takes us back to the manager of Pret a Manger, who, I believe, would not be nearly as creative if he were not so generous and kind-hearted.

Where does that leave us? Well, apart from encouraging the well-appreciated conditions for creativity in the workplace, we perhaps need to understand that the structures for taking decisions and driving things forward are not the same ones we should use to find innovation and make the most of the unexploited 85% of our intelligence. Power and hierarchies are the enemy of creativity.

Link to read the full original article

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

Dreaming Makes You Smarter

Annie Murphy Paul writes in her Brilliant Blog

…It might sound like science fiction, but researchers are increasingly focusing on the relationship between the knowledge and skills our brains absorb during the day and the fragmented, often bizarre imaginings they generate at night. Scientists have found that dreaming about a task we’ve learned is associated with improved performance in that activity (suggesting that there’s some truth to the popular notion that we’re “getting” a foreign language once we begin dreaming in it). What’s more, researchers are coming to recognize that dreaming is an essential part of understanding, organizing and retaining what we learn—and that dreams may even hold out the possibility of directing our learning as we doze.

While we sleep, research indicates, the brain replays the patterns of activity it experienced during waking hours, allowing us to enter what one psychologist calls a neural virtual reality. A vivid example of such reenactment can be seen in this video, made as part of a 2011 study by researchers in the Sleep Disorders Unit at Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris. They taught a series of dance moves to a group of patients with conditions like sleepwalking, in which the sleeper engages in the kind of physical movement that is normally inhibited during slumber. They then videotaped the subjects as they slept. Lying in bed, eyes closed, the woman on the tape does a faithful rendition of the dance moves she learned earlier—“the first direct and unambiguous demonstration of overt behavioral replay of a recently learned skill during human sleep,” writes lead author Delphine Oudiette.

Of course, most of us are not quite so energetic during sleep—but our brains are busy nonetheless. While our bodies are at rest, scientists theorize, our brains are extracting what’s important from the information and events we’ve recently encountered, then integrating that data into the vast store of what we already know—perhaps explaining why dreams are such an odd mixture of fresh experiences and old memories. A dream about something we’ve just learned seems to be a sign that the new knowledge has been processed effectively…

Robert Stickgold, one of the Harvard researchers, suggests that studying right before bedtime or taking a nap following a study session in the afternoon might increase the odds of dreaming about the material. But some scientists are pushing the notion of enhancing learning through dreaming even further, asking sleepers to mentally practice skills while they slumber. In a pilot study published in The Sport Psychologistjournal in 2010, University of Bern psychologist Daniel Erlacher instructed participants to dream about tossing coins into a cup. Those who successfully dreamed about the task showed significant improvement in their real-life coin-tossing abilities. Experiments like Erlacher’s raise the possibility that we could train ourselves to cultivate skills while we slumber. Think about that as your head hits the pillow tonight….

This Week’s Brilliant Quote

“Penalties, and rewards, change the meaning of the task to which they are applied. When you’re deciding whether to motivate someone, you should first think about whether your incentive might crowd out their willingness to perform well without an incentive. Crowding out could occur because of a change in the perception of the task, or because you have insulted the person you are trying to encourage or discourage. Cash, in the end, really isn’t king; some things can’t be bought. Rewarding people on the basis of what they really value—their time, their self-image as good citizens—is often much more motivating than just slapping down, or taking away, a couple of bills.”

—Uri Gneezy and John A. List, The Why Axis: Hidden Motives and the Undiscovered Economics of Everyday Life

Link to read the original article

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

Art Elevates the Mind by Increasing Empathy, Critical Thinking and Tolerance

A new large-scale experiment on over 10,000 students finds that a one-hour tour of an art museum can increase empathy, tolerance and critical thinking skills…

The results showed that, compared with those who had not been to the museum, students who had visited:

  • Thought about art more critically.
  • Displayed greater empathy about how people lived in the past.
  • Expressed greater levels of tolerance towards people with different views.

The museum had clearly been a mind-expanding experience for the young people.

Interestingly, the improvements were larger when the students were from more deprived backgrounds.

Visiting the museum also made students more likely to want to visit art museums again in the future. This could create a cascading effect over their lifetime, continuing to boost critical thought, empathy and tolerance.

What is art for?

Field trips are often seen by teachers and students as purely for pleasure, rather than for educational purposes.

But the authors point out that museums are about more than that:

“We don’t just want our children to acquire work skills from their education; we also want them to develop into civilized people who appreciate the breadth of human accomplishments. The school field trip is an important tool for meeting this goal.” (Greene et al., 2014)

Link to read the original article

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

2013 800-CEO-READ Business Book Awards: Personal Development

The entries were submitted, the books were read, the shortlists determined, and we are now ready to announce the category winners of the 2013 800-CEO-READ Business Book Awards!

In the Personal Development category…

Springboard: Do What You Were Meant To Do

Springboard: Do What You Were Meant To Do

G. Richard Shell’s Springboard: Launching Your Personal Search for Success from Portfolio takes the top spot.

“There is no ‘secret’ you need to discover. And you do not have ‘one true purpose’ for your life that is your duty to find or die trying. The raw materials for success are tucked away inside you and your next big goal is probably within arm’s reach—if only you have the clarity of mind to see it”
Springboard, page 10-11

Success is an oft-tackled subject in business literature, so it’s easy to be cynical about there being any new angle to take on the matter. But G. Richard Shell, author of the classic Bargaining for Advantage and The Art of Woo achieves it in Springboard: Launching Your Personal Search for Success by presenting us with a book that doesn’t define success as much as it provides readers with tools to define it accurately and authentically for themselves.

Shell, who literally teaches the course on success at Wharton, opens his book with a retelling of his own circuitous path to success, written with great humility and insight, and the entire book is told in a voice that is both instructive and generous. “What is Success?” and “How Will I Achieve It?” are questions you will be able to answer for yourself once you close the covers of this book.

The other books in our Personal Development shortlist are all books whose writers I have featured over this year in this blog…

Link to read the original article

2013 800-CEO-READ Business Book Awards: Leadership

In the Leadership category…

Playing to Win: How Strategy Really Works by A.G. Lafley & Roger L. Martin from Harvard Business Review Press is our top book.

“The essence of great strategy is making choices—clear, tough choices, like what business to be in and which not to be in, where to play in the business you choose, how you will win where you play, what capabilities and competencies you will turn into core strengths, and how your internal systems will turn those choices and capabilities into consistently excellent performance in the marketplace. And it all starts with an aspiration to win and a definition of what winning looks like.” Playing to Win, page 46

This book relays the strategic approach P&G used over the 10-year period Lafley (with Martin as advisor) led the company to increase its market value to $100 billion. But this isn’t an industry book as much as it is a “story about choices, including the choice to create a discipline of strategic thinking and strategic practice within an organization.” And that’s truly what makes this book so good. It is, indeed, a story, and its two authors are invested in communicating the impressive work done at P&G and teaching this approach to others.

The other books in our Leadership shortlist are…

Link to read the original article

The Secret To Happiness

Happiness starts here:  How much control do you really have over your happiness, and how effectively are you pursuing it?

American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks distills 40 years of social science research into a surprising set of answers, suggesting the four essentials are:

  • Faith
  • Family
  • Community
  • and Work through earned success ~ the belief that you are accomplishing something worthwhile and valuable

A Formula For Happiness

Arthur Brooks writes in the New York Times…

HAPPINESS has traditionally been considered an elusive and evanescent thing. To some, even trying to achieve it is an exercise in futility. It has been said that “happiness is as a butterfly which, when pursued, is always beyond our grasp, but which if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”

Social scientists have caught the butterfly. After 40 years of research, they attribute happiness to three major sources: genes, events and values. Armed with this knowledge and a few simple rules, we can improve our lives and the lives of those around us. We can even construct a system that fulfills our founders’ promises and empowers all Americans to pursue happiness…

About half of happiness is genetically determined. Up to an additional 40 percent comes from the things that have occurred in our recent past — but that won’t last very long.

That leaves just about 12 percent. That might not sound like much, but the good news is that we can bring that 12 percent under our control. It turns out that choosing to pursue four basic values of faith, family, community and work is the surest path to happiness, given that a certain percentage is genetic and not under our control in any way.

The first three are fairly uncontroversial. Empirical evidence that faith, family and friendships increase happiness and meaning is hardly shocking. Few dying patients regret overinvesting in rich family lives, community ties and spiritual journeys.

Work, though, seems less intuitive. Popular culture insists our jobs are drudgery, and one survey recently made headlines by reporting that fewer than a third of American workers felt engaged; that is praised, encouraged, cared for and several other gauges seemingly aimed at measuring how transcendently fulfilled one is at work…

…rewarding work is unbelievably important, and this is emphatically not about money. That’s what research suggests as well. Economists find that money makes truly poor people happier insofar as it relieves pressure from everyday life — getting enough to eat, having a place to live, taking your kid to the doctor. But scholars like the Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman have found that once people reach a little beyond the average middle-class income level, even big financial gains don’t yield much, if any, increases in happiness.

So relieving poverty brings big happiness, but income, per se, does not…

…the secret to happiness through work is earned success.

This is not conjecture; it is driven by the data. Americans who feel they are successful at work are twice as likely to say they are very happy overall as people who don’t feel that way. And these differences persist after controlling for income and other demographics.

You can measure your earned success in any currency you choose. You can count it in dollars, sure — or in kids taught to read, habitats protected or souls saved…

If you can discern your own project and discover the true currency you value, you’ll be earning your success. You will have found the secret to happiness through your work.

There’s nothing new about earned success. It’s simply another way of explaining what America’s founders meant when they proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence that humans’ inalienable rights include life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

This moral covenant links the founders to each of us today. The right to define our happiness, work to attain it and support ourselves in the process — to earn our success — is our birthright. And it is our duty to pass this opportunity on to our children and grandchildren.

But today that opportunity is in peril. Evidence is mounting that people at the bottom are increasingly stuck without skills or pathways to rise…

This is a major problem, and advocates of free enterprise have been too slow to recognize it. It is not enough to assume that our system blesses each of us with equal opportunities. We need to fight for the policies and culture that will reverse troubling mobility trends. We need schools that serve children’s civil rights instead of adults’ job security. We need to encourage job creation for the most marginalized and declare war on barriers to entrepreneurship at all levels, from hedge funds to hedge trimming. And we need to revive our moral appreciation for the cultural elements of success.

We must also clear up misconceptions. Free enterprise does not mean shredding the social safety net, but championing policies that truly help vulnerable people and build an economy that can sustain these commitments. It doesn’t mean reflexively cheering big business, but leveling the playing field so competition trumps cronyism. It doesn’t entail “anything goes” libertinism, but self-government and self-control. And it certainly doesn’t imply that unfettered greed is laudable or even acceptable.

Free enterprise gives the most people the best shot at earning their success and finding enduring happiness in their work. It creates more paths than any other system to use one’s abilities in creative and meaningful ways, from entrepreneurship to teaching to ministry to playing the French horn. This is hardly mere materialism, and it is much more than an economic alternative. Free enterprise is a moral imperative.

To pursue the happiness within our reach, we do best to pour ourselves into faith, family, community and meaningful work. To share happiness, we need to fight for free enterprise and strive to make its blessings accessible to all.

Arthur C. Brooks is the president of the American Enterprise Institute, a public policy think tank in Washington, D.C.

Link to read the full original article

C OK

photo credit: Jus Wilcox via photopin cc

Leaving and Coming, Steve McCurry’s photo collection

 Doors
Are both frame and monument
To our spent time,
And too little has been said
Of our coming through and leaving by them. 
– Charles Tomlinson

Steve McCurry celebrates the season with another sublime evocative collection of his photos, themed around coming and going, the spaces of transition, the not-places between places, and in these moments of passing thorough he catches and hold our attention in these images, inviting us to stop mid-stream, mid-thought, mid-moment and – well, perhaps just to notice what we notice before we move on with our day…

Since the beginning of time,
doors have symbolized both great opportunities and thwarted dreams.
The open door is a metaphor for new life, a passage
from one stage of life to another, and metamorphosis.
Closed doors often represent rejection and exclusion…

Link to see Steve McCurry’s photos

C OK

photo credit: The Integer Club via photopin cc

Are You Really Listening?

by 

Listen: ˈlɪs(ə)n/

Verb: To give one’s attention to a sound.
Synonym: hear, pay attention, be attentive, concentrate on hearing, lend an ear to, and to be all ears.

We all understand the mechanics of listening. But too often today, when we have the opportunity to listen, we’re content with just passively letting sound waves travel through our ears. That’s called hearing. Listening is something entirely different. It’s essential for leaders to pay attention when others around us have something to say. Why? Because developing better listening skills is the key to developing a better company…

However, when input actually arrives, how authentic are you about listening? Do you pretend to care, just for the sake of getting at what you think you need? Or are you receiving, absorbing and processing the entire message?

We’ve all had moments when we politely smile and nod throughout a dialogue. The speaker may feel heard and validated, but we miss out on potentially valuable information. Or how about those moments when we greet someone in passing with a quick, “Hi. How are you?” and continue moving forward without waiting for a response.

Occasionally, that may happen. But what if it’s a habit? What if others in your organization learn to expect that behavior from you? When people assume their ideas and opinions don’t matter, communication quickly breaks down. This kind of moment isn’t just a missed opportunity for meaningful interaction — it’s a legitimate business issue that puts your organization at risk.

Why Don’t We Listen?

When we’re part of a conversation, but we’re not paying attention, we send the message that we just don’t care. However, our intentions may be quite different. These are the most common reasons why we fail at listening:

  We’re developing a response. Instead of maintaining a clear, open mind when others speak, we quickly start composing our reply or rebuttal. Many smart people tend to jump into that response mode — usually less than 40 words into a dialogue.

  We’re preoccupied by external factors. In today’s multitasking environments, distractions abound. We’re bombarded with noise from things like open floor plans, and a constant barrage of texts, tabs, emails, calls, and calendar notifications.

•  It’s not a good time for the conversation. Have you ever been rushing to prepare for a meeting when someone stopped you in the hallway with a simple “Got a moment?” While it may be tempting to comply, it’s wise to simply schedule the discussion for another time. You’ll stay on track for the meeting, and can focus on the request as time permits.

Checked Out? Ideas For Stronger Communication

I ask my team questions and invest time in discussions because I’m interested in their answers. Actually, I need those answers. After all, employee feedback is critical for a more engaged, productive, fulfilled workforce.

To foster better understanding, try asking follow-up questions to verify what people intend to convey, and discover how they feel about what they’re saying. This simple gesture will cultivate a culture of openness and camaraderie. Also, we can use tools to streamline the communication process and help us ask smart questions that reveal more about employees.

However, there’s no point asking questions if we only respond with a nod and then move on. If your mind is too cluttered and your day too busy to engage fully, be honest with your team. Assure them that you’ll get back to them when you’re able. And of course, don’t forget to follow up.

How To Make Mindful Conversation a Habit

Still, many leaders struggle with the art of active listening. That’s why it’s important to learn useful techniques and make practice a part of your life.

Deepak Chopra, MD, observes that leaders and followers ideally form a symbiotic relationship. “The greatest leaders are visionaries, but no vision is created in a vacuum. It emerges from the situation at hand.” Effective leadership begins with observation — knowing your audience and understanding the landscape. Even the most eloquent, powerful speech will fall on deaf ears if the speaker doesn’t listen to the pulse of the audience.

It’s never too soon to start practicing this art. Here are 4 easy tips to improve your ability to listen and lead:

1) Repetition. Repeat anything you find interesting. This helps you recall key points after a conversation ends. It’s also a smart technique when you meet someone new. Repeat their name throughout the discussion. This not only solidifies the name in your memory, but also helps build rapport and trust.

2) Read Between the Lines. Pay special attention when a speaker changes tone and volume, pauses, or breaks eye contact. These subtle signals are clues that can reflect emotional highlights or pain points (anger, sadness, happiness). And body language often reveals what words don’t say.

3) Mouth/Eye Coordination. Looking a speaker in the eye establishes a connection and lets them know you’re listening. But don’t hold their gaze too long. Recent research suggests that eye contact is effective only if you already agree with a speaker’s message. Instead, try looking at the speaker’s mouth. That may feel awkward, but this keeps you focused on what they’re saying — and they’ll know it.

4) Reflection. Seal the deal by thinking back to extract meaning. You may be exhilarated by a great conversation — but without a mental debrief, much of it can be forgotten. Reflection is critical in developing the takeaways (and subsequent actions) that make the discussion valuable. Try mentally organizing important points by associating them with a relevant word or two. Then, in the future, you’ll more easily recall the details.

The art of listening is about much more than exchanging facts. Active listening helps those in your company feel validated and connected with you and your organization. Genuine conversations weave their own path. Give them your time and attention. Along the way, you’ll solve problems and generate new ideas that will have a lasting impact on you, your team and your business.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

17 Tips To Help You Expand Your Influence

CJ Goulding offers these great guidelines…

In his bestselling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen R. Covey explains that truly effective people who expand their influence live a life focused on things that they can change—their circle of influence—and not things they have no power over, which can be categorized in a circle of concern. He says:

Proactive people focus their efforts in the Circle of Influence. They work on the things they can do something about. The nature of their energy is positive, enlarging and magnifying, causing their Circle of Influence to increase.

Great tip! And here are some others that will help you to both live within that circle and expand your influence simultaneously!

1. Be proactive.

Expanding influence is not something that happens to people who sit still….Being deliberate and proactive about trying new things, forming new connections, and meeting new people are all ways to become more influential.

2. Be a good listener.

…influential people must first be good listeners. Improving your listening skill allows you to collect new information, build trust and rapport, and makes it easier for others to align with your causes.

3. Stay consistent.

…Consistent people are reliable and are the first ones trusted with new tasks, ideas, projects, and responsibilities.

4. Practice empathy.

Being able to recognize, understand, and share in the emotions and experiences of another person gives you the ability to relate to people on their level. You become a more caring individual who is in tune with the feelings and attitudes of the people surrounding you. And when you can relate to someone, you can influence them, though careful not to manipulate the feelings and emotions you were trusted with.

5. Seek for solution.

…when you are associated with solutions, you will be the first person called, the first person asked to consult, and the first option to resolve issues.

6. Accept responsibility.

…as the old adage states, “take blame when things go wrong, and give credit when things go as planned.” Taking responsibility for your actions and even for the actions of those people you manage allows you to expand your influence by building the trust others have in you and your word.

7. Appreciate others.

A simple THANK YOU goes a long way in person and even further when done publicly. Choose to recognize the efforts of others and lift them up as shining examples for others to see. By doing so you are influencing others by reinforcing what works and what was done right. We all want to be valued and appreciated.

8. Have a vision.

…Without a goal, people may follow your lead for a short time, but the facade will eventually fall apart.

9. Ask the right questions.

Don’t ask why something is happening, ask how you can make it better.

Ask questions like:

How can I leave this situation better than I found it?

How can I meet and get to know people better?

How can I help and inspire the people around me?

How can I be a solution in this situation?

10. Have passion, a fire for what you do.

…alert people to the fire inside. Your enthusiasm for what you do will also draw others alongside you in your quest.

11. Filter the information that you take in.

There is an information overload, an “infobesity” that exists in today’s society. As you expand your influence, realize that there will be information coming in from all sides and at all angles, but that not all of it is useful or well intended. Screening the TV shows and movies you watch, the books you read, and the people whose advice you take allows you to stay focused.

12. Increase your value through education.

Read and educate yourself on areas where you want to grow. … Take classes, read books, do training and anything else possible to round out and expand your life experience, and thus expand your influence.

13. Fine tune your skills.

Constantly work on mastering your skill set. Influential people are not mediocre. Like a bank account, skills need constant deposits to continually grow, so even after you feel you have attained some level of mastery, continuous work is still required to continue to grow and develop.

14. Be upbeat and enthusiastic.

…Upbeat and enthusiastic people attract other upbeat and enthusiastic people… A positive attitude is also extremely contagious, and will carry your influence with it as it spreads.

15. Be a person of integrity and values.

Your description of who you are and your actions should broadcast the same message…

16. Go above and beyond.

Raise the bar… successful and influential people are never mediocre. They never settle for “ok” when great is an option. As Steve Jobs said, “In your life you only get to do so many things and right now we’ve chosen to do this, so let’s make it great.” Make what you do great!

17. Use your influence to bring out the best in others.

…Once you gain influence in a certain area, use your sway to do good things for others and bring the best out in them. Pay your experience forward, whether it is in sharing what you have learned or providing opportunities for them to follow in your footsteps.

Link to read the full original article

photo credit: seier+seier via photopin cc

photo credit: seier+seier via photopin cc

Guess What! You Can Measure Motivation, and Here’s How!

The Motivation Guy  (also known as Dr. David Facer) writes…

One of the most persistent beliefs leaders tell themselves and employees is that if you can’t measure something, it does not matter.

I can easily refute that belief with two questions:

1. Do you love your partner/spouse, mother, father, or children?

2. If yes (no one has answered no yet), then tell me precisely how much.  And when you answer, please pick an amount and a unit of measure.  So your answer would be something like, “I love my children 12 gallons,” or “I love my husband six kilometers.”

Naturally, that’s absurd.  The love you feel matters a great deal and yet seems impossible to measure.

Employee motivation is a bit like that.  It matters a great deal to the well-being of your employees and the financial success of the company.  And yet it seems impossible to measure.

But that’s the thing—it is remarkably easy to measure.  Here’s how.

  1. Using yourself as a test case, the first thing you will want to do is upgrade how you think about measurement.  Most often you’re thinking in terms of numbers.  Instead, think first in terms of categories.  Then you can think of numbers.
  2. Specifically, think in terms of these six categories—or types—of motivation.
    • Inherent – You do something because it is fun for you personally
    • Integrated – You do something because the purpose and deep meaning of it serves others and is in harmony with your own deep sense of purpose
    • Aligned – You do something because it is compatible with your goals and values
    • Imposed – You do something because you want to avoid a hassle, drama, or feeling guilty
    • External – You do something to gain something outside the task and yourself such as money, status, or reputation
    • Disinterested – You do not do something because it just does not matter to you.
  1. Create a table featuring the six categories above and tally your thoughts, feelings, and what the running dialogue in your head is saying about what type of motivation you experience on each specific situation, task, or goal.
  2. What pattern do you notice?  Most coaching clients with whom I have used this simple technique notice a pattern pretty quickly.  In fact, for everything on their to-do list, they usually realize they are experiencing one or two types of motivation.  In time, one of them will become the most clear.
  3. BAM!  You just measured your motivation by discerning what type you are experiencing.  And, the tally you came up with reveals how intensely you feel one type over the others.

Now you may ask does measuring your motivation using that simple technique even matter?

It absolutely does, because the type of motivation you experience has a big influence on how you go about your daily work—and your probability of success.

More specifically, research reveals that your motivation type has a lot to do with how much creative, out of the box thinking you bring to your work. It greatly influences how persistent you are in the face of tough challenges.  It not only explains, itdetermines how enthusiastic, frustrated, or bored you feel about the minutia of your work.  And over time, the type of motivation you experience has a lot to do with the decisions you make to stay with the company or leave for somewhere better…

Link to read the original article

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photo credit: bumblebeelovesyou via photopin cc

Why It’s Hard To Be Yourself (And How To Do It)

We’ve all been told to “just be yourself” at some point in life.

It’s good advice, but deceptively hard to follow.

“Hive Mind” Compels Us To Think Or Act Like Someone Else

…The term ‘Hive Mind’ comes from the way that honeybees, though individuals, act as a cohesive whole, as if they have a single consciousness. In humans, it happens when a group of people want to get along to the point that they actively suppress their true thoughts and feelings. The unanimous agreement may start from one person saying, “That’s a great idea!” Then the people merge their unique perspectives into a single group perspective. In business, this might mean fewer quality ideas. In life, it could mean losing your identity.

Stereotypes Exist Because Of “Hive Mind” 

It’s human to want to belong and find your place in the world. That makes it tempting to “tweak” yourself to be like a stereotype to assure you can fit in with others. If you don’t know yourself, it can be tempting to take on a personality template. But it’s a pretty incredible fact of life that every person is unique, and we need to embrace that! If you don’t embrace it and explore your identity, you might end up living someone else’s life, and feel empty inside as a result.

The way you present yourself to the world is a declaration of your identity. If you dress and act like a stereotype, your unique traits will be hidden behind this more obvious label that everyone is familiar with. I’m not saying it’s wrong to dress in any certain way – that would be contradictory to this article – I’m saying it’s best to avoid “hive mind” in life.

When you purposefully dress and act as a well-known stereotype, there is a greater chance and temptation for you to embrace that cookie-cutter persona instead of being yourself. 

When people do this, it’s like they’re actors, playing a role that someone else created. They learn the dialect. They mimic the clothes and body language. And their real traits are held hostage behind this image.

Being Unique Can Be Uncomfortable At First, But It’s Better Long Term

…Diversity is why it’s so important to be yourself. It is one of the most interesting parts of life, and it expands our knowledge and ideas. And the more stereotypical, conforming clones we have in the world, the fewer unique and interesting people we’ll have to learn from. People label themselves because it’s easier at first, but later they feel trapped to live up to this image that isn’t really them.  

Security Is Knowing Who You Are

If you live according to a persona or stereotype, some amount of confidence comes with it, because you know how you’re supposed to act in most circumstances. Gangstas are tough and foul-mouthed, hippies are easy-going and peaceful, etc. So when you have any self-doubt, you can simply act your part. But this is a cheap substitute for reacting dynamically from your true identity.

The safety in being yourself comes from knowing yourself better than anyone else. And the more you act like yourself, the more you’ll get to know yourself. And for personal development, knowing your true self equips you to change yourself. The reason most adults are more confident than children is because they’ve had more time to get to know themselves, so they’re less sensitive to the world’s opinion. But as a kid, you’re new and impressionable, and it’s for this reason that so many kids will resort to being an image of someone else rather than themselves. It feels safer.

If you had a precious gem that nobody else in the world had, some people would claim to know about it. Some people might talk bad about it. But only you know the truth about that gem, because that gem is you!

The best tip for being yourself is simple. Don’t try to be anyone else…

Link to read the original article

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photo credit: Flyinace2000 via photopin cc

Do You Know What Life Will Be Like In 5 Years? IBM’s Top Scientist Does

In the 5 in 5 report IBM’s top scientists report on what the world, supported by smart sensing and computing, will look like in five years. Last week, Fast Companypreviewed the report with the physicist who heads up the research team: Dr. Bernard Meyerson, IBM Fellow, and Vice President of Innovation.

In five years, cities will be sentient. More buses will automatically run when there are more people to fill them. And doctors will use your DNA to tailor medical advice and smart computing to diagnose and plan treatment for big diseases like cancer not in months, but in minutes.

In five years, physical retail stores will understand your preferences and use augmented reality to bring the web to where shoppers can physically touch it. Sophisticated analytics will allow the classroom (not just the teacher) to track your progress in real time and tailor course work. Digital guardians will protect your accounts and identity, proactively flagging fraudulent use, while maintaining the privacy of your personal information.

In five years, we will have analytical models that allow us to actually change the future and prevent the traffic jam that would have happened if 20 minutes from now if we hadn’t already rerouted lights to stop it.

Here are details about the ways these five predictions will define the future and impact us at a personal level:

The city will help you live in it…

Doctors will use your DNA to keep you well…

Buying local will beat online…

You will have a digital guardian…

The classroom will learn you…

Link to read the rest of this article

photo credit: Dominic's pics via photopin cc

photo credit: Dominic’s pics via photopin cc

Beat Holiday Stress With These Two Easy Meditation Techniques

Regina Bright writes…

Holidays can be stressful. The hustle and bustle of work, parenting, in-laws, guests, shopping, traveling, and cooking can seem pretty hectic this time of year.

When I am feeling overwhelmed, I take a timeout to relax and do short meditation exercises. Here are a couple of my favorites:

Deep breathing.

Begin in a quiet, comfortable area with no distractions. Remember, your goal is to quiet your mind and to remain in the moment. Don’t get discouraged if you are not able to do this the first time.

 Sit up straight and tall, feet on the floor, and hands on your stomach. Take a deep breath in through the nose and out through the mouth and release. Notice your ribs expand while the rest of your body is motionless. Breathe deeply, slowly, and smoothly. Your exhale should be twice as long as your inhale.

Focus solely on your breath. If a thought comes up, bring your attention back to your breath. You are in control – resist distractions. Try this exercise daily. Remember meditation is a practice.

Focus on your senses.

Next time you are at the coffee shop, make your focus a cup of hot coffee. Notice the sounds around you – people talking, the steam from the cappuccino machine, the sound of whipped cream topping off a cup of coffee. Notice the colorful ceramic cup, the steam, and the creamer swirling around the rim. Notice the fragrant aroma of the dark coffee beans. Notice the warm liquid going down your throat and warming you. Notice how the warmth of the cup is warming your cold hands. Notice the taste of your favorite winter drink.

Notice what it feels like to slow down and live in the moment – it isn’t a race to get through life!

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Hamed Saber via photopin cc

photo credit: Hamed Saber via photopin cc

Happiness At Work – edition #77

All of these stories and more are collected together in this week’s Happiness At Work #77 collection, online from Friday 20th December.

Enjoy and have a very happy rejuvenating and connected holiday…

Happiness At Work #69 ~ focus, attention and making a happier world

This week’s post brings our focus and attention into the spotlight, and includes stories about the importance of how we use our minds and what we put our main thinking energies into, as well as what we should perhaps be giving greater attention and energy to in order to make a happier and more flourishing nation, world and planet.

photo credit: leezie5 via photopin cc

photo credit: leezie5 via photopin cc

Happiness: the next big business metric?

Kristine A. Wong writes:

Happiness is gaining popularity as a measurement of success for governments – and for some businesses, including Zappos, Southwest and BT

Whether it’s words of wisdom from the Dalai Lama, guidance from an empathetic career counselor or advice from a friend, we’re often told that it’s more important to be happy than anything else.

But for the more than 1 billion people around the world fighting hunger and poverty, happiness seems fairly irrelevant – a luxury for the middle and upper classes. Does happiness matter if daily needs are not met? Certainly the primary focus should be on taking care of the basics. Happiness is a bonus.

Most, it seems, would agree. But increasingly, the answer depends upon whom you ask. In certain academic and human development circles, the stock in happiness has been rising. So much, in fact, that in the last two years, the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network(run by UN Millennium Development goals guru and Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs) has published the “World Happiness Report,” researchers’ attempts to measure happiness in 150 countries around the world.

That raises the question: As more thought leaders pay attention to happiness, should companies also consider happiness as one measure of their social impact?

“All businesses should care about happiness,” said Mark Williamson, founder and director of the London-based Action for Happiness Project, who joined Sachs in New York last week to release the latest report. “The happiness of a company’s people is vital to their business success.”

Companies with happier staff outperform their competitors, Williamson said, and a happier staff is sick less often, more engaged, more creative, more productive and better at working collaboratively.

Government will likely play a role in driving the happiness agenda, if it progresses. “There is now a rising worldwide demand that policy be more closely aligned with what really matters to people as they themselves characterize their wellbeing,” said Sachs, one of the report’s co-editors…

But is a goal to improve the life satisfaction of people around the world really a means to an end? How would this accelerate or enhance ongoing work to secure access to clean drinking water and sanitation facilities, a sustainable food supply and a stable source of education?

“Wellbeing is really the driver that underpins all the development goals,” Williamson said. “Whether we’re aiming to alleviate poverty, ensure maternal health, support gender equality, or promote sustainability, the reason that all these things matter ultimately comes down to their impact on human wellbeing.

“If we get them right, wellbeing goes up,” he said. “If we fail to deliver on them, wellbeing goes down.”…

Sub-Saharan Africa – along with Latin America – is counted in this year’s report as one of two areas where happiness levels are increasing the most. The reasons? Higher levels of social support, generosity and the freedom to make key life decisions, the report said.

“Social relationships matter much more for happiness than possessions,” Williamson said. “Every organization should recognize that human wellbeing is at the heart of success and progress – and that they can play a role in contributing to this by the way they treat their people, the products and services they offer and the impact they have in the community.”

Some organizations, like John Lewis, have always put employee wellbeing at the heart of their business models, Williamson said. Buthappiness is gaining ground: companies such as Southwest AirlinesBT,SemcoMarks & SpencerZapposInnocent Drinks and NixonMcInnesare increasingly taking it seriously, he added.

Happiness hasn’t yet become a top priority for sustainability-minded companies, but Williamson expects the trend to persist. And if its popularity continues to rise among nonprofits, policymakers and thought leaders, we could soon see it become a common corporate social responsibility metric as well.

Link to the original article

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

Neil Gaiman: Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming

A lecture by  explaining why using our imaginations, and providing for others to use theirs, is an obligation for all citizens

…Fiction has two uses. Firstly, it’s a gateway drug to reading. The drive to know what happens next, to want to turn the page, the need to keep going, even if it’s hard, because someone’s in trouble and you have to know how it’s all going to end … that’s a very real drive. And it forces you to learn new words, to think new thoughts, to keep going. To discover that reading per se is pleasurable. Once you learn that, you’re on the road to reading everything. And reading is key. There were noises made briefly, a few years ago, about the idea that we were living in a post-literate world, in which the ability to make sense out of written words was somehow redundant, but those days are gone: words are more important than they ever were: we navigate the world with words, and as the world slips onto the web, we need to follow, to communicate and to comprehend what we are reading. People who cannot understand each other cannot exchange ideas, cannot communicate, and translation programs only go so far.

The simplest way to make sure that we raise literate children is to teach them to read, and to show them that reading is a pleasurable activity. And that means, at its simplest, finding books that they enjoy, giving them access to those books, and letting them read them…

…the second thing fiction does is to build empathy. When you watch TV or see a film, you are looking at things happening to other people. Prose fiction is something you build up from 26 letters and a handful of punctuation marks, and you, and you alone, using your imagination, create a world and people it and look out through other eyes. You get to feel things, visit places and worlds you would never otherwise know. You learn that everyone else out there is a me, as well. You’re being someone else, and when you return to your own world, you’re going to be slightly changed.

Empathy is a tool for building people into groups, for allowing us to function as more than self-obsessed individuals.

You’re also finding out something as you read vitally important for making your way in the world. And it’s this:

The world doesn’t have to be like this. Things can be different…

Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been. Once you’ve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different…

In the last few years, we’ve moved from an information-scarce economy to one driven by an information glut. According to Eric Schmidt of Google, every two days now the human race creates as much information as we did from the dawn of civilisation until 2003. That’s about five exobytes of data a day, for those of you keeping score. The challenge becomes, not finding that scarce plant growing in the desert, but finding a specific plant growing in a jungle. We are going to need help navigating that information to find the thing we actually need…

According to a recent study by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, England is the “only country’ where … our children and our grandchildren are less literate and less numerate than we are. They are less able to navigate the world, to understand it to solve problems. They can be more easily lied to and misled, will be less able to change the world in which they find themselves, be less employable. All of these things. And as a country, England will fall behind other developed nations because it will lack a skilled workforce…

We all – adults and children, writers and readers – have an obligation to daydream. We have an obligation to imagine. It is easy to pretend that nobody can change anything, that we are in a world in which society is huge and the individual is less than nothing: an atom in a wall, a grain of rice in a rice field. But the truth is, individuals change their world over and over, individuals make the future, and they do it by imagining that things can be different.

Look around you: I mean it. Pause, for a moment and look around the room that you are in. I’m going to point out something so obvious that it tends to be forgotten. It’s this: that everything you can see, including the walls, was, at some point, imagined. Someone decided it was easier to sit on a chair than on the ground and imagined the chair. Someone had to imagine a way that I could talk to you in London right now without us all getting rained on.This room and the things in it, and all the other things in this building, this city, exist because, over and over and over, people imagined things…

Albert Einstein was asked once how we could make our children intelligent. His reply was both simple and wise. “If you want your children to be intelligent,” he said, “read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

Link to read the original Guardian article

These ideas by Neil Gaimon make a strong chime with what Daniel Goleman talked about in his Action for Happiness hosted talk in London this week.  Here are my notes of what he said…

An Evening With Daniel Goleman

Daniel Goleman, the internationally acclaimed psychologist and expert in Emotional Intelligence, explains the importance of Emotional Intelligence in modern life and also share some of the ideas from his exciting new book Focus, a groundbreaking look at today’s scarcest resource and the secret to fulfilment and performance: attention.

Most of the news we get is for the amygdala – firing up our sense of threat.  If you feel pressured you just don’t notice a lot – and we are living now as if in a constant stage of being under siege
A Harvard experiment found that our minds our most unfocused commuting, at a computer, at work
Social emotional learning has now been going on in schools for over a decade.  Studies have found that this learning brings anti-social behaviour down by 10% and pro-social behaviour up by 10%.  And academic success up by more than 10%.
Another study found that Leaders in the top ten per cent of effectiveness compared to least effective ten% had 80-90% of competences that are Emotional Intelligence (EQ)-centred.
EQ is a model for Wellbeing including four essentials
a) Self-Awareness
Good work combines from doing what we’re excellent at, passionate about and matches our ethics
When we are in ‘flow’ our attention gets super-focused. This is optimal performance and it feels good
b) Self-Management – being in command of our emotions – cognitive control
Studies like the ‘marshmallow test’ find that kids who can’t manage their impulses are constantly distracted.
A NZ study with that looked at kids, and then revisited them again in heir thirties found that cognitive control better predictor of success than IQ or wealth. And kids who learned who didn’t have it ‘naturally’ at the start but learned it ended up doing just as well.  Self-management can be taught and learned
c) Empathy
Our more recent fore brain is designed to be linked to our other older brains
Our brain is peppered with mirror neurons – a brain-to-brain link – that operates in our entire biology, and that keeps us on the same page as another person. When someone is in pain we have an instant sense of this ourselves
There are three ingredients to rapport:
     – full mutual Attention
     – non-verbal Synchronicity
     – Flow – it feels good
This is operating in every human interaction
d) Social Skill – good strong relationships and interactions
Our happiness increases in relation to the amount we care about others’ happiness
A new and troubling Berkley study is finding hat people pay less attention to people of lower status.  And Freud talked about ‘the narcissism of minor differences’ that can start a spiral of inter-group hostility.
But The Flynn Effect showed its not the family you’re born into that has to predict who you become. We are always adapting and learning and evolving in response to the opportunities and circumstances we find ourselves in.
And every time they come up with new IQ test they have to make the questions harder, because each successive generation gets smarter.
We should teach children these skills. Doing this systematically would increase our GNP.
photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

Mindfulness is one of the best ways to increase focus, attention and emotional intelligence.  Mindfulness increases cognitive control by working on the muscle of attention. Every time you notice your mind wandering off and bring it back you are working this muscle.
A Mindfulness exercise for children (that can easily be adapted for us older people):
‘Breathing Buddies’ involves putting a toy animal in a child’s tummy.  They breathe in 1-2-3 and out 1-2-3.  When their minds wander away from concentrating on the breath in 1-2-3 and the breath out 1-2-3, just bring it back to focus on the breathing and the rise and fall of the toy again.
Mindfulness pioneer Jon Kabat-Zin found that if people did their mindfulness exercises for 28 days they achieved lasting and substantial improvements in their physical, mental and emotional fitness and wellbeing.
Neuroscience has revealed that when we are upset, anxious or angry our Right prefrontal cortex is active.  When we are calm and happy, this region is quiet, and the Left area is active.  High activity in far to Left is indicative of resilience;  far to the Right is indicative of depression.
Mindfulness also mobilises the flu shot antibodies – as well as switching up our immune system.
The Dalai Lama’s recently offered 3 questions for decision making.  Will it benefit…
…just me or others?
…just my group or everyone?
…just for the present or for the future?
The man that scientists call ‘the happiest man alive’, Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard was involved in a study on his impact on  the (2nd) most abrasive professor in a university.
They came together to debate. The professor begins in a highly agitated state.  Ricard stays calm. The professor becomes calm, and eventually doesn’t even want the encounter to end.
People a transformed by positive encounters.  And we can all cause ripples of happier encounters.
But there is a bias toward unhappiness.  If we understand more about how people can get along we might be able to promote that better
Our attention looks both in and out.  Internal (self) awareness is focus on self.  Empathy is focus on the other person.  We need to able to be equally and simultaneously good at both.
Passing on emotions is affected by three things:
     ~ Expressiveness
     ~ Power – for example if the leader is in a negative or positive mood the rest of the team catch it and their performance goes down or up
     ~ Stableness – like Ricard showed the professor.
Can you be happy for no reason?
Can you cultivate a feeling of happiness independent of external circumstances
There is a danger of mistaking espoused happiness for enacted happiness.
We need to be authentically happy
Technology and Focus
The new social norm is to ignore the person you’re with and look at a screen.  We have to get better at focusing. Why we have to learn cognitive control.  Technology is insidiously stealing more and more of our attention. Mind wandering tends to concentrate on problems.  The extent to which we can turn it off and focus on better things, the better off we will be.
But the research on technology is showing good and bad things:  for example, games increase vigilance but also a negative intention bias.  New games are now being designed to improve attention.
Social comparison is quite automatic in the brain.  When you’re feeling compassion – loving kindness – your positivity fires up.  To overcome negative comparison:
– Compare down
– Concentrate on the Positive
– And be Compassionate
How do you study unhappiness without becoming miserable?
Mindfulness should go and in hand with compassion and noticing and caring about what is happening in the world and if we can do something about it.
Our biggest source of unhappiness is most usually our own mind
photo credit: Cut To Pieces via photopin cc

photo credit: Cut To Pieces via photopin cc

Can A Girl Change The World?

by 

‘Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has’. – Margaret Mead, Social Anthropologist

The version of history we are taught in school would have us believe that all important changemakers were men and that women had very little to do with the advancement of civilisation. However, we know this is completely false…

Can a girl change the world? Yes! But not alone, she must have the support of others as only through collective action is change truly possible.

photo credit: UrvishJ via photopin cc

photo credit: UrvishJ via photopin cc

Link to read the original article

The New Economics of Enough

BY: DAN O’NEILL & ROB DIETZ

It has been over five years since the global financial crisis shook the economic world. Since then we’ve seen spiralling debt, savage austerity, a crisis in the Eurozone, quantitative easing, and a variety of attempts to get the economy growing again. But despite all of this, little has changed. GDP in the UK remains 2 percent lower than when the financial crisis began, and austerity continues on unabated.

Everyone seems to agree that getting the economy growing again is the number one priority. But if growth is really the cure to all of our ills, then why are we in such a malaise after sixty years of it? Although the UK economy has more than tripled in size since 1950, surveys indicate that people have not become any happier. Inequality has risen sharply in recent years, and jobs are far from secure. At the same time, increased economic activity has led to greater resource use, dangerous levels of CO2 in the atmosphere, and declining biodiversity. There is now strong evidence that economic growth has become uneconomic, in the sense that it is costing us more than it’s worth.

In our new book, Enough Is Enough: Building a Sustainable Economy in a World of Finite Resources, Rob Dietz and I argue that it is time to abandon the pursuit of growth and consider a new strategy—an economy of enough. Suppose that instead of chasing after more stuff, more jobs, more consumption, and more income, we aimed for enough stuff, enough jobs, enough consumption and enough income.

The economic blueprint that we describe in our book is based on the contributions of over 250 economists, scientists, NGO members, business leaders, politicians, and members of the general public. Some call this blueprint the “new economics”, some call it “degrowth”, and some call it a “steady-state economy”. While there are differences among all of these approaches, the key ideas have much in common. They include policies to reduce resource use, limit inequality, fix the financial system, create meaningful jobs, reorganise business, and change the way we measure progress…

Instead of GDP, we need indicators that measure the things that really matter to people, such as health, happiness, equality, and meaningful employment. We also need indicators that measure what matters to the planet, such as material use and CO2 emissions. In fact, we already have these indicators—the problem is that we largely ignore them, because we are so fixated on GDP. If the goal of society were to change from increasing GDP to improving human well-being and preventing long-term environmental damage, then many proposals currently seen as “impossible” would suddenly become possible.

The real impossibility is achieving never-ending economic growth. No amount of austerity or stimulus spending is going to change the reality that we live on a single blue-green planet with limited resources that we all must share. If we’re serious about achieving a better life for the vast majority of people in Britain then we need a new approach—an economic model that prioritises people and planet over short-term profits. It’s time to embrace the new economics and say “Enough Is Enough!”

Link to read the original article in full

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photo credit: delitefulimage via photopin cc

Less Technology, More Happiness?

Mark Williamson, Director of Action for Happiness, a movement of people committed to building a happier society by making positive changes in their personal lives, homes, workplaces and communities, writes:

It’s no exaggeration to suggest that our mobile devices are in danger of taking over our entire lives. Time magazine found that 68% of users take their devices to bed with them, 20% check their phones every ten minutes and one third report feeling anxious when briefly separated from their beloved gadget. According to Osterman research, 79% of respondents take their work-related device on vacation and 33% admit to hiding from family and friends in order to check Facebook and Twitter. It’s hard to deny that these are worrying trends.

So it’s no surprise we’re starting to see a backlash against the all-pervasive nature of digital devices. Companies like Digital Detox are now offering technology-free breaks where people have no choice but to disconnect. Their Camp Grounded summer camp is a place where “grown-ups go to unplug, getaway and be kids again”. One of the signs at the camp reads “The use of WMDs is not permitted” – an acronym that refers to Wireless Mobile Devices, although many clearly see these devices as Weapons of Mass Destruction too!

There’s no doubt that we need to restore some balance to our technology-dominated lives. But in my view the salvation from our digital gluttony lies more in our daily habits than in special events like Camp Grounded, wonderful as they may be. Before looking at some possible solutions, let’s not forget that the main reason we become so addicted to these gadgets is that they provide incredible benefits. We can communicate with distant friends and loved ones at the touch of a button. We can stay connected with what’s going on in the world. We can share what matters to us with the people we care about. And we can put travel time or waiting time to more productive use – potentially freeing up extra family and leisure time later. When used well, these devices can greatly enhance our overall wellbeing.

The problem of course is that many of us – myself included – spend so much time using these devices that we end up doing things that are detrimental to wellbeing – not just for ourselves but for others around us too. We strive to use our time efficiently, but end up leaving ourselves unable to unwind and get to sleep. We want to stay up to speed, but end up so overwhelmed with digital noise that we miss the information that really matters. We want to be connected to others, but end up ignoring the people we’re actually with – perhaps best exemplified in this powerful and poignant video. So here are my three suggested ground rules – or habits – for living well in an age of digital overconsumption.

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

1. Pay full attention to what you’re doing

… evidence shows that when our minds are constantly distracted, we’re not only less effective at what we’re doing, this also makes us much less happy. So instead of just reacting to these digital attention-grabbers the moment they appear, make a conscious decision to ignore them if you’re doing certain things – such as writing, having a conversation or eating a meal. … Equally, it can help to set aside specific times when you’ll focus entirely on responding to all the digital stuff too.

2. Ask yourself “what matters most?”

We’re so programmed to respond to our gadgets that we unconsciously give them priority over things that, on reflection, we would surely agree matter much more. So when technology grabs your attention, make a habit of consciously asking yourself “what matters most?”. Is it more important to read and respond to this immediately – or to get a good night’s sleep and be ready for tomorrow? Is it more important to check the latest headlines or get outside for 10 minutes of fresh air and head space? Is it more important to share my hilarious status update or make sure I’m home in time to see the kids? These questions have easy answers – and big implications for our use of technology – if we bother to ask them.

3. Give face-to-face priority over virtual

Our relationships are the most important contributors to our overall wellbeing, especially those with our nearest and dearest. Yet although technology helps us stay in touch with a wider range of people and connects us with loved ones in far off places, nothing beats our face-to-face relationships with the people that matter – our partners, parents, children and closest friends. So make it a habit to give the people you’re with priority over the gadget you’re holding. …One fun way of making sure this happens is for a group of friends or family members to agree to put their mobile devices in a pile and not use them while together. Some groups apparently even spice this idea up by agreeing that whoever can’t resist and picks up their phone first has to pick up the bill too!

Rebalancing our use of technology doesn’t require an appeal to our guilt or an assault on our productivity. It requires us to be more mindful and honest with ourselves about when these devices bring real benefits and when they start to ruin our quality of life. The many benefits are only worth it if they contribute to our overall happiness rather than undermining it.

At Action for Happiness we encourage actions to help people live happier and more fulfilling lives like these Ten Keys to Happier Living. And while there are many digital innovations that can help to boost our happiness – for example apps like Headspace or Happify – many of the most important sources of happiness in life are blissfully technology-free. So finally, here are three simple, non-digital actions that are proven to make us happier:

  • Get active outdoors – walk through the park, get off the bus a stop early or go for a “walking meeting” with a colleague
  • Take a breathing space – regularly stop and take 5 minutes to just breathe and be in the moment – notice how you’re feeling and what’s going on around you
  • Make someone else happy – do random acts of kindness, offer to help, give away your change, pay a compliment or tell someone how much they mean to you

When we focus on the things that really bring happiness, our priorities shift and our relationships with our digital devices naturally start to be become more conscious, balanced and fulfilling.

Link to read the original article

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photo credit: Will Lion via photopin cc

The Key To Happiness At Work? Change Your Perception

 writes…

The key to more happiness at work is changing the way you think and feel about your career. It doesn’t matter if you are the janitor or the president of the company; any job can produce inner happiness. Finding joy in each work day and producing quality work can become the goals of your career. By making the effort to see the positives, you’ll begin to stop dwelling on the negatives. The best part is that with happiness comes higher levels of success.

If you are struggling to find happiness at work, here are five simple ways to start on the right path now.

  1. Be inspired. Any job can become dull or dreary when you lack creative outlets. As part of your effort to find new inspiration, take the time to experience culture beyond the walls of your cubicle. Visit a local museum, attend a concert or play, spend time participating in new activities to stretch your awareness of the world. These things alone with invigorate you and give you something to share with your co-workers.
  2. Create the best. If you are less than thrilled about your job, perhaps it’s your performance that needs to change? Complacency at work leads to boredom and mistakes. This results in negative feedback from your boss and thus, a negative attitude forms. Instead, strive to always do your utmost best in every task you complete, reaching new levels of performance.
  3. Do for others. There are many others in the world who are less than fortunate. A big part of feeling appreciative of the job you hold is by experiencing the lives and circumstances of others. Take the time to volunteer at least once a month at a local soup kitchen, women’s shelter, or another worthy cause. Give something to others in the form of service and see how good it makes you feel. Your perspective and life can change simply through a new altruistic way of life.
  4. Develop your talent. Chances are you have a number of gifts and abilities that you have not been able to utilize fully at work. It’s no wonder you feel frustrated at times! Honor your talents and find ways to share them, either through personal networks or volunteer opportunities. Get some higher education to develop your talents, either through your own resources or a tuition reimbursement program offered by your employer. You’ll find that this gives you a new positive attitude about your career.
  5. Seek new challenges. Any job, no matter how simple or complex, can become more satisfying when you challenge yourself. If you find yourself filled with dread over a task, talk to your immediate supervisor and see if you can take on something new to replace it. Seek out new challenges at work that bring you happiness, such as joining the entertainment committee or taking on an assignment with more responsibility.

Nearly every working person has experienced times of frustration and unhappiness at work. However, by being proactive and seeking out happiness, you’ll have the power to choose career satisfaction and achievement – with a new perception.

Link to read the original article

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photo credit: vramak via photopin cc

The economic case for investment in ecotherapy

GAVIN ATKINS writes in the nef blog:

This week Mind launches our campaign to promote ecotherapy, with the publication of our report Feel better outside, feel better inside: Ecotherapy for mental wellbeing, resilience and recovery’ . The report draws upon learning from the Big Lottery supported Ecominds programme, which funded 130 projects across England with activities including gardening, food growing, green exercise and environmental conservation work.

The programme was evaluated by the University of Essex and their report shows a demonstrably positive affect on people’s mental health and well-being, with seven in ten people (69%) experiencing a significant increase in well-being by the time they left an Ecominds project and three in five people (62%) with mental health problems reported an increase in self-esteem.

However, Mind also knew that these projects are saving money. In the public health realm they are providing a preventative service that reduces demand on more acute services, as well as offering pathways to employment, volunteering and training. They are mental health treatments that are often peer led and in groups, using spaces that are free or cheap. And projects are adding value to local green spaces, enhancing and protecting them…

Link to read the original article

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photo credit: Keoni Cabral via photopin cc

Where’s Your Inner HERO? Positivity at Work

by 

Researchers have been studying the application of Positive Psychology in the workplace, and a growing body of evidence demonstrates that a positive mindset affects our attitudes toward work, as well as the subsequent outcomes. As Dr. Fred Luthans explains in the video at the end of this post, our “psychological capital” can, indeed, have a significant impact upon work and career.

Previously, I’ve discussed how the tenets of positive psychology hold great potential as a guide to help individuals and organizations elevate workplace happiness. Overall, the movement focuses on identifying and building on what is “right” with our work lives — emphasizing our strengths, celebrating smaller successes, expressing gratitude. Central to this theory is the mechanism that helps us build our “psychological resources,” and use this collected energy to digest and cope with our work lives.

Finding Your Workplace “HERO”

To provide a practical framework for this concept, researchers have developed what they aptly call the Psychological Capital (PsyCap) construct. It features various psychological resources (a.k.a. “HERO” resources) that are central to our work life experiences. We combine these resources in various ways to meet the challenges of our daily work lives.

What are HERO resources?

Hope: Belief in the ability to persevere toward goals and find methods to reach them
Efficacy: Confidence that one can put forth the effort to affect outcomes
Resilience: Ability to bounce back in the face of adversity or failure
Optimism: A generally positive view of work and the potential of success

Link to read the original article 

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photo credit: Denis Collette…!!! via photopin cc

How to Focus a Wandering Mind

By Wendy Hasenkamp

New research reveals what happens in a wandering mind—and sheds light on the cognitive and emotional benefits of increased focus.

We’ve all been there. You’re slouched in a meeting or a classroom, supposedly paying attention, but your mind has long since wandered off, churning out lists of all the things you need to do—or that you could be doing if only you weren’t stuck here…

Suddenly you realize everyone is looking your way expectantly, waiting for an answer. But you’re staring blankly, grasping at straws to make a semi-coherent response. The curse of the wandering mind!

But don’t worry—you’re not alone. In fact, a recent study by Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert sampled over 2,000 adults during their day-to-day activities and found that 47 percent of the time, their minds were not focused on what they were currently doing. Even more striking, when people’s minds were wandering, they reported being less happy.

This suggests it might be good to find ways to reduce these mental distractions and improve our ability to focus. Ironically, mind-wandering itself can help strengthen our ability to focus, if leveraged properly. This can be achieved using an age-old skill: meditation. Indeed, a new wave of research reveals what happens in our brains when our minds wander—and sheds light on the host of cognitive and emotional benefits that come with increased focus…

For thousands of years, contemplative practices such as meditation have provided a means to look inward and investigate our mental processes. It may seem surprising, but mind-wandering is actually a central element of focused attention (FA) meditation. In this foundational style of meditation, the practitioner is instructed to keep her attention on a single object, often the physical sensations of breathing.

Sounds simple enough, but it’s much easier said than done. Try it for a few minutes and see what happens.

If you’re like most people, before long your attention will wander away into rumination, fantasy, analyzing, planning. At some point, you might realize that your mind is no longer focused on the breath. With this awareness, you proceed to disengage from the thought that had drawn your mind away, and steer your attention back to your breath. A few moments later, the cycle will likely repeat.

At first it might seem like the tendency toward mind-wandering would be a problem for the practice of FA meditation, continually derailing your attention from the “goal” of keeping your mind on the breath.

However, the practice is really meant to highlight this natural trajectory of the mind, and in doing so, it trains your attention systems to become more aware of the mental landscape at any given moment, and more adept at navigating it. With repeated practice, it doesn’t take so long to notice that you’ve slipped into some kind of rumination or daydream. It also becomes easier to drop your current train of thought and return your focus to the breath. Those who practice say that thoughts start to seem less “sticky”—they don’t have such a hold on you…

Recent behavioral research shows that practicing meditation trains various aspects of attention. Studies show that meditation training not only improves working memory and fluid intelligence, but even standardized test scores.

It’s not surprising—this kind of repeated mental exercise is like going to the gym, only you’re building your brain instead of your muscles. And mind-wandering is like the weight you add to the barbell—you need some “resistance” to the capacity you’re trying to build. Without mind-wandering to derail your attempts to remain focused, how could you train the skills of watching your mind and controlling your attention? …

The key, I believe, is learning to become aware of these mental tendencies and to use them purposefully, rather than letting them take over. Meditation can help with that.

So don’t beat yourself up the next time you find yourself far away from where your mind was supposed to be. It’s the nature of the mind to wander. Use it as an opportunity to become more aware of your own mental experience. But you may still want to return to the present moment—so you can come up with an answer to that question everyone is waiting for.

Link to read the original article

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photo credit: pshutterbug via photopin cc

Why a richer society isn’t making us happy

People in today’s society are not any happier than their poorer grandparents, because the psychological benefits of rising incomes are overshadowed by any loss, says new study

The reason people in today’s society are not happier than their much-less-affluent grandparents, is that the psychological benefits of rising incomes are wiped out by any small loss, according to a study.

Researchers found that people “experienced the pain of losing money more intensely” than the joys of earning more. They argued that the discovery had “significant implications” for policymakers under pressure to maintain a higher sense of well-being.

The findings by Stirling University’s Management School suggested that policy focused on economic stability, rather than high growth at the risk of instability, was more likely to enhance national happiness and well-being.

A strategy that ran the risk of small, temporary cuts to spending, on the other hand, would probably lead to more widespread dissatisfaction than previously believed.

The study may help explain why bonus structures and remuneration schemes that are based on commissions can easily backfire, with staff morale taking a larger dip than expected in leaner times when there are lower – or no – bonuses.

Link to read the original article

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photo credit: Defence Images via photopin cc

Latest UK well-being stats: what do they tell us?

SAAMAH ABDALLAH, writing in the new economics foundation blog, reports:

Today, the ONS has provided more detailed breakdowns, allowing us to look at well-being right down to the Local Authority level across the UK. Data is available for both 2011/12 and 2012/13, creating an evidence goldmine for local authorities and health and well-being boards.

Which areas have the highest well-being? Which areas have the lowest well-being? And which areas have seen the biggest drops or rises in well-being over the last year? We’ve only just started exploring the data, but our initial findings show that:

  • The highest well-being in the UK in 2012/13 was in Fermanagh in the south west corner of Northern Ireland. The average life satisfaction score there was 8.2 on a scale of 0 to 10 (compared to the UK average of 7.45), and anxiety levels there were the lowest across the UK.
  • The lowest levels of well-being in 2012/13 were found to be in Harlow in Essex – with an average life satisfaction score of 6.8. The data shows a significant drop in well-being from their 2011/12 score.
  • Which places are doing much better than might be expected based on traditional economic analysis? Well, Copeland on the Cumbrian coastline is ranked amongst the 25% most deprived local authorities in England, and yet average life satisfaction there has been above the UK average for both years of the survey. Ipswich, Weymouth and North Devon also have higher well-being than might be expected according to traditional economic analysis.
  • At the other end of the spectrum, we wonder what is happening in Brentwood, Colchester and North Warwickshire – all areas with relatively low deprivation, but much lower well-being than one would expect. Colchester, for example, is amongst the least deprived areas in the UK – and yet life satisfaction was only 7.1 out of 10 in 2012/13, significantly lower than the national average.
  • In some cases similar local authorities show very different results. What explains the differences in well-being between Merton and Bromley, two south Outer London boroughs?  Average levels of deprivation are similarly low in these two boroughs, and yet average life satisfaction in Merton is 7.2 whilst in Bromley it’s 7.6.
  • The ONS has reported overall rises in well-being in the year to 2012/13, but are there places which have seen well-being falling during this period?  We found significant drops in life satisfaction in various places including Dundee and Chichester. We also found rising anxiety in many more areas including Somerset, Reading, the London Boroughs of Brent and Harrow, Sevenoaks, and Belfast.
  • Lastly, we wonder what is happening in Hart in northern Hampshire. True, it is one of the wealthiest corners of the country, and it has the lowest levels of deprivation in England. But what can explain the huge increase in well-being there between 2011/12 and 2012/13, with life satisfaction jumping from 7.3 out of 10 in 2011/12 (which was slightly below average), to 8.1 out of 10 in 2012/13?

These are all preliminary analyses, and proper analysis will require the micro-data which the ONS will release in six weeks’ time. These initial findings raise some questions though (and hopefully some answers as well) for local authorities looking to navigate the challenging times ahead, and striving to improve the well-being of their residents despite severe budget cuts.

photo credit: Iguana Jo via photopin cc

photo credit: Iguana Jo via photopin cc

What is a ‘mentally healthy workplace’?

Every organisation, regardless of size or sector, needs to prioritise mental health and wellbeing among staff. Right now, one in six workers is dealing with a mental health problem such as anxiety, depression or stress – so this is something affecting a big chunk of your workforce.

Implementing changes that boost wellbeing don’t just benefit the staff who are experiencing these problems, as everyone’s wellbeing is on a spectrum, whether they have a diagnosed mental health problem or not. Sometimes just knowing that support is available is enough to make employers feel valued. Three in five people surveyed by Mind said that if their employer took action to support the mental wellbeing of all staff, they would feel more loyal, motivated, committed and be likely to recommend their workplace as a good place to work*.

During these tough economic times, employees are reporting more sources of stress, such as unrealistic targets, job insecurity, and financial pressures. Furthermore, staff concerned about redundancies are less likely to open up about issues such as stress; or to disclose a mental health problem to their line manager, because they fear being dismissed. But bottling up these problems will only make things worse; and likely lead to decreased productivity, increased sickness absence and presenteeism.

In our latest poll, Mind found that of all respondents who had taken time off from work because of stress, 90% gave their boss another reason for their absence – usually a health problem such as a headache or stomach upset. Only 10% were able to be honest and tell their organisation they were off because of stress. This highlights the sheer number of staff who don’t feel comfortable discussing their wellbeing at work. But now, in this time of austerity, it’s more important than ever that employers to make the first move by prioritising mental health and building resilience – it’s far better to weather the storm together.

Smart employers appreciate that their organisation is dependent on its staff; and that a healthy and productive workforce is a recipe for performing at their peak. Good mental health underpins this – with employees who work for organisations which prioritise mental wellbeing reporting greater confidence, motivation and focus. There are simple, inexpensive measures that can help your organisation become a mentally health workplace.

…Approaches such as flexible working, building resilience and staff development contribute to good engagement, while involving staff in decision-making and giving employees autonomy are key to engaging staff. The way in which we work together is changing – with team work, collaboration and joint problem solving becoming increasingly expected of staff, but these types of working processes are dependent on mutual trust and employees feeling valued. Both engagement and creating a mentally healthy workplace are dependent on the foundations of good mental health.

We recommend a three-pronged approach to managing mental health at work. Such a strategy should promote wellbeing for all staff; tackle the causes of work-related mental health problems; and support employees who are experiencing an existing mental health problem…

Link to read the original article

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photo credit: UrvishJ via photopin cc

Child’s Play (Steve McCurry’s Blog)

The latest photos from Steve McCurry remind us what and who we are when are young and at play.  Notice the focus on these stunning photos…

Child’s play is the exultation of the possible.  Martin Buber

Play is the highest form of research.  – Albert Einstein

The true object of all human life is play. – G. K. Chesterton

We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing. – George Bernard Shaw

Link to view this photo collection

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photo credit: kooklanekookla via photopin cc

21 Reasons To Quit Your Job And Become A Teacher

 writes

In a recent article about happiness at work, Harvard professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter suggests that the happiest among us are those who are solving the toughest problems and “making a difference” in people’s lives. If contributing to the betterment of the world is indeed among the keys to happiness, then it’s no wonder that the extraordinary teachers featured in “American Teacher: Heroes of the Classroom” [Welcome Books/Random House] express a deep sense of fulfillment and pleasure in the work that they do day in and day out. Against all odds, each of the fifty educators profiled is making a lasting positive impact on his or her students; the kind of impact that recasts futures, changes lives, and might just inspire the rest of us to consider a second career in education…

Here are some of these reasons:

  1. To encourage children to DREAM BIG…
  2. To positively IMPACT THE FUTURE of our world…
  3. To live with a deep SENSE OF PURPOSE…
  4. To discover your TRUE CALLING…
  5. To experience personal GROWTH…
  6. To GIVE AND RECEIVE unconditional love…
  7. To be a STUDENT for life…
  8. To INSPIRE generations of CHANGE…
  9. To ignite the SPARK of LEARNING…
  10. To explore your CREATIVITY…
  11. To prove that ONE PERSON CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE…

Link to read the original article

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photo credit: Bistrosavage via photopin cc

Shyam Sankar: The rise of human-computer cooperation

Brute computing force alone can’t solve the world’s problems. Data mining innovator Shyam Sankar explains why solving big problems (like catching terrorists or identifying huge hidden trends) is not a question of finding the right algorithm, but rather the right symbiotic relationship between computation and human creativity.

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photo credit: vernhart via photopin cc

Matt Locke:  Empires of Attention

This is the text version of a talk which you can hear at BBC Radio 4′s Four Thought programme, first broadcast on October 23rd, 2013. It was recorded at Somerset House in front of a live audience with David Baddiel hosting.

Thank you for inviting me to come and talk today, and in particular, I want to thank you all for your attention. Your attention is a very valuable thing, and to decide to spend it listening to this talk here today, or at home on the radio, or later online, is not an insignificant act…

Because how we understand audience attention – how we ask for it, measure it, and build business empires by selling access to it – is fundamental to our culture. For the last few hundred years, the business of culture has essentially been the business of measuring audiences’ attention. We can trace a line of entrepreneurs of attention from today’s culture backwards through the last two centuries – from Jonah Peretti, who has used his intimate knowledge of the patterns of digital attention to build The Huffington Post and Buzzfeed, two of the biggest news and culture sites on the web; through Arthur Nielsen, who invented the ratings technology that the US TV giants ABC, NBC and CBS were built on; to Charles Morton, who took the raucous entertainment of supper-clubs and taverns and developed the more mainstream and wildly popular Music Halls of Victorian England, from which came the talent that would dominate the early years of cinema and radio.

These entrepreneurs were not leaders, but listeners – their particularly skill was in realising that audiences were consuming culture in new ways, finding new ways to measure these new patterns, and new ways to make money out of them. The story of these ‘empires of attention’ is the story of how we – the audience – have engaged with culture,  and how the interaction between artists and audiences has moved from visceral participation to abstract measurement and back again. This story starts amidst the raucous popular culture of Victorian England….’

Then traces the story from ‘Song and Supper Rooms’ in pubs to Music Hall and a more captive audience expected to abide by theatre house rules of no eating, drinking or vbvvbvbvb, to radio and television and film and an increasingly distanced audience’s attention being measured in the ratings numbers, to contemporary changes that social media is making.

‘The new entrepreneurs of attention in the 21st century understand this new connection- they understand that culture spreads not by distribution – as with cinema and broadcast – but by circulation – sharing between friends over digital networks…

…the empires of attention are shifting as we move from an era of distribution to an era of circulation…

…the sheer visceral impact of thousands or millions of people sharing and discussing your stories is a new experience for anyone used to traditional broadcast media, and we’re having to learn how to tell stories in an age of digital attention. We’re already hearing TV commissioners complaining that knee-jerk responses from audiences on Twitter are killing new TV shows before they have a chance to build an following. We are no longer a passive audience, but the judge and jury of what will survive and be recommissioned, deciding the fate of culture by how we spend our attention.

This new feedback loop can be incredibly empowering, but it is also destructive – the anonymity of social media can encourage trolling and other kinds of abuse. Crowds amplify the good and the bad in human behaviour, and the internet amplifies this even further. But I don’t think it’s possible to have one without the other – the noise is also the signal, and we will have to develop new ways to tell stories that take this into account.

The culture of the 21st century will be defined by how we synthesise these contradictions – scale and intimacy, spectacle and conversation, signal and noise. We have seen the relationship between audiences and artists move from intimacy to distance, and now back to a strange kind of intimate distance. What will culture look like in an age of digital attention, and what new empires will emerge around it? How we will we measure attention, and how will this change the relationship between artist and audience?

Link to read the full transcript o this presentation

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photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

Acts of Kindness Spread Surprisingly Easily: Just a Few People Can Make a Difference

In a study published in the March 8 early online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers from the University of California, San Diego and Harvard provide the first laboratory evidence that cooperative behavior is contagious and that it spreads from person to person to person. When people benefit from kindness they “pay it forward” by helping others who were not originally involved, and this creates a cascade of cooperation that influences dozens more in a social network…

The contagious effect in the study was symmetric; uncooperative behavior also spread, but there was nothing to suggest that it spread any more or any less robustly than cooperative behavior, Fowler said.

From a scientific perspective, Fowler added, these findings suggest the fascinating possibility that the process of contagion may have contributed to the evolution of cooperation: Groups with altruists in them will be more altruistic as a whole and more likely to survive than selfish groups.

“Our work over the past few years, examining the function of human social networks and their genetic origins, has led us to conclude that there is a deep and fundamental connection between social networks and goodness,” said Christakis. “The flow of good and desirable properties like ideas, love and kindness is required for human social networks to endure, and, in turn, networks are required for such properties to spread. Humans form social networks because the benefits of a connected life outweigh the costs.”

Link to read the original article 

photo credit: Alex E. Proimos via photopin cc

photo credit: Alex E. Proimos via photopin cc

Can kindness movements make a difference?

By Sam Judah

Picking up litter. Buying someone in need a coffee. Or just doling out free hugs. There’s a growing movement of people doing nice things for strangers, but do they make for a kinder society?

“It’s not just about single acts, though,”  says Kelsey Gryniewicz, a director at Random Acts of Kindness Foundation. “It’s about changing your mentality from day to day.”

The World Kindness Movement represents the work of organisations from 23 different countries. “It has gone way past the level of community endeavour,” says its secretary general Michael Lloyd-White…

Globally, however, the position is very different. “The trend that has been revealed is a disturbing one,” says Dr John Law, the chief executive of the Charities Aid Foundation. The number of acts of kindness and charity dropped by hundreds of millions last year due to the global recession, he says…

Richard J Davidson from the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the University of Wisconsin-Madison thinks that the level of kindness in society can be improved if children are taught to be more empathetic from an early age.

“Compassion should be regarded as a skill that can be cultivated through training,” he says.

The kindness curriculum is currently being taught in 10 schools across Wisconsin. The project is still at the research stage, but “the early signs are promising”, he says…

Not everybody is convinced that focussing on compassion in this way is helpful, however.

In a new book called Pathological Altruism, Barbara Oakley argues against what she sees as a cultural obsession with the notion of kindness.

“There’s a misguided view that empathy is a universal solvent. Helping others is often about your own narcissism. What you think people need is often not actually what they need.”

Kelsey Gryniewicz doesn’t think that the American kindness movement is guilty of that charge, arguing that there are tangible, practical benefits to the activities they recommend.

“It doesn’t have to be about cradling people in a bubble of kindness,” she says.

In Singapore, William Wan takes a more reflective view. “We must be realistic. We mustn’t be naive. Kindness movements can’t solve all our problems, but if they can solve some of our problems, why not use them?”

Link to read the original article

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photo credit: vramak via photopin cc

What Are Charities For?

BBC Radio 4 Analysis, Monday 14th October 2013

Charities have been drawn into the world of outsourced service provision, with the state as their biggest customer and payment made on a results basis. It is a trend which is set to accelerate with government plans to hand over to charities much of the work currently done by the public sector.

But has the target driven world of providing such services as welfare to work support and rehabilitating offenders destroyed something of the traditional philanthropic nature of charities? Fran Abrams investigates.

In this BBC Radio 4 Analysis programme the way the UK government is now outsourcing more and more of its services to charities is likened to a Faustian pact…

“The devil promised Faust everlasting life in return for a contract that said Faust had to satisfy certain requirements of the devil and that’s exactly the situation that voluntary organisations and charities now find themselves in.”  Should they adapt to government contracting or remain pure? …

“…the voluntary sector may have the experience to help define the problem and how to meet it rather  than simply responding to what the state thinks it knows is the problem the state and knows hoe to respond … is a fundamental change that has occurred over the last ten years.” Bernard Davis, trustee of Manchester-based 42nd Street

“…one of the substantial changes that I’ve seen over the last twenty years is being a professional is more important than pushing for social change and social justice.” Penny Waterhouse, Coalition for Independent Action group.

“…We are in danger of losing the richness and the unique character of the charitable effort that goes on in this country.” Brendan Tarring, Chief Executive of now wound down charity, Red Kite Learning.

“… When you’re down on the ground and the receiver of a contract, or perceived as having a vested interest, it is very hard for you to put your hand up and say ‘You’re getting this wrong, government,  there’s a different way of doing things.’  You may not have the courage to do it.  You may fear the loss of funding.  But also there is a very high likelihood that the government may not even want to listen.” Caroline Slocock, Director of the panel on the Independence of the Voluntary Sector

Link to hear this and other Radio 4 Analysis programmes

photo credit: Sol S. via photopin cc

photo credit: Sol S. via photopin cc

Short on Time? Try Mindfulness

By Emily Nauman

A new study suggests that just 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation changes our experience of time

Bogged down with responsibilities at work and at home? Many of us wish we had more time to get it all done—and still steal time to relax.

While adding more hours to our day may not be possible, a recent study suggests a little mindfulness meditation can help us at leastfeel like we have more time in our lives…

The researchers conclude that mindfulness meditation made participants experience time as passing more slowly. Remarkably, they saw this effect after just a single 10-minute meditation, among participants who had no prior meditation experience.

Though more study is needed to explain this finding, the researchers suspect that the mindfulness meditation altered time perception because it induced people to shift their attention inward. In the paper, the authors write that when people are distracted by a task in the world around them, they have less capacity to pay attention to time passing, and so experience time as moving more quickly. Because the mindfulness meditation exercise cued participants to focus on internal processes such as their breath, that attentional shift may have sharpened their capacity to notice time passing.

Kramer thinks that this finding could be used in everyday situations, to help people gain control over their experience when they feel short on time. “If things feel like they’re running away,” he says, “slowing things down might help you deal with them more easily.”

Kramer also speculates that while a mindfulness exercise that shifts attention to internal events extends one’s experience of time, a mindfulness exercise that shifts attention to an external event could potentially make time feel like it’s passing more quickly. If this were true, mindfulness could have clinical applications for people who feel like time is moving too slowly, such as those experiencing depression, who tend to overestimate the duration of negative events.

Though Greater Good has previously reported on many positive effects of mindfulness, as well as on how experiencing awe can alter how we perceive time, this study is one of the first to investigate the relationship between mindfulness and time perception.

Link to read the original article

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photo credit: Jorge Franganillo via photopin cc

Happiness At Work Edition #69

All of these articles – and many more – are in this week’s latest Happiness At Work Edition #69, out from lunchtime on Friday 25th October.

photo credit: Mooganic via photopin cc

photo credit: Mooganic via photopin cc

Happiness At Work #68 ~ the power of the positive and learning from success

photo credit: blinkingidiot via photopin cc

photo credit: blinkingidiot via photopin cc

This week we New Zealand folk are in celebratory mood.

Eleanor Catton has won the Man Booker 2013 Prize with her second novel, The Luminaries.  

And we have still more reason to be proud as the New Zealand government officially  recognises the two largest islands of our country with both their European and their Maori names:

New Zealand forgot to name its main islands

Maori names get equal status as country corrects long-standing failure to make North and South Island names official

Eight hundred years after the Maori first arrived in Aotearoa (New Zealand), and 370 years after Europeans spied its shores, the South Pacific nation’s major land masses will finally get official names.

For generations, the two main islands have been called the North Island and the South Island. They have also appeared that way on maps and charts. But in recent years, officials discovered an oversight: the islands had never been formally assigned the monikers.

Last Thursday, the land information minister, Maurice Williamson, announced that the North Island and South Island names would become official, effective this week. Equal status will be given to the alternate Maori names: Te Ika-a-Maui (“the fish of Maui”) for the North and Te Waipounamu (“the waters of greenstone”) for the South.

I am continuing and extending this theme of celebration into the new Happiness At Work Edition #68 collection.

This week we are highlighting the power of the positive and the importance of being able to harness positivity for our resilience and happiness.  And, in the best spirit of Appreciative Inquiry, we are also headlining success stories from a variety of real life contexts to explore and uncover some the the things we can learn about how to live well, overcome challenge and difficulty, and build towards a more flourishing life.

In this post you will find stories about the science and latest research into why positivity matters and how best to tap into its minerals.  These include
photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

photo credit: Stuck in Customs via photopin cc

And you will find a whole number of success stories and the lessons that we might all draw from these experiences.  We feature Eleanor Catton and her ideas about the difference between value (gold, selling) and worth (greenstone, giving).
We celebrate, too, the announcement of 24 year old Londoner, Kenyan-born Somali poet Warsan Shire as the very first Young Poet Laureate for London appointment:
Other success stories include 
You will also find stories about its opposite – negativity – and why this, too, is an important part of the material we need to build our happiness and resilience from. Less happy stories worth paying attention to include
photo credit: Spencer Finnley via photopin cc

photo credit: Spencer Finnley via photopin cc

21st century ideas include
photo credit: dpup via photopin cc

photo credit: dpup via photopin cc

Practical tips and techniques this week include
photo credit: EmsiProduction via photopin cc

photo credit: EmsiProduction via photopin cc

Barbara Fredrickson: Positive Emotions Open Our Minds

Some of the research findings that Barbara Fredrickson talks about in this video are:

Positivity Opens Us – we can see more…

Feeling positive in increases our likelihood of stepping back and seeing the bigger picture…

Feeling positive widens the field for what we scan and look for…

Because we see more more, we see more possibilities…

People are more likely to be resilient and bounce back quicker from adversity when they feel positive emotions…

Positive emotions help students achieve better exam results… And doctors make better diagnoses…

At a very fundamental level we are able to see larger systems, see larger forms of interconnection when we are experiencing positive emotion.  And that can make a huge difference when we’re trying to address some of the really entangled societal problems that we face.

There is a way of breathing that is a shame and suffocation.  

And there’s another way of expiring, a love-breath that lets you open infinitely.” – Rumi

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photo credit: DeaPeaJay via photopin cc

Barbara Fredrickson: The Positive Ratio

A ratio of positive emotions of above three to one seems to make the tipping point that will help to determine your odds or languishing or flourishing…

We need at least three heartfelt emotions for every heart-wrenching emotion that we need to endure.  A ratio of 3 to 1 allows for the whole myriad of human emotions.  This is not about 3 to 0, it is not about eliminating all negative emotions…

Here’s my advice.  If you make your model “Be positive” it actually backfires.  That leads to a toxic insincerity that’s shown to be corrosive to our own bodies, cardiovascularly.  It’s known to be toxic interpersonally  … we all know that person who tries to pump sunshine a little too much, and the biggest danger of positive psychology is that people come out of it with this hyper-zeal to be positive and it’s not genuine.  But there would be no counterfeit gold – those yellow smiley faces – if there no real gold somewhere.

A sail boat metaphor fits here really well.  Rising from the sail boat is that enormous mast that allows the boat to catch the wind and gives the boat momentum.  But below the waterline is the keel, which can weigh tons.  You can take the mast going up as positivity and the keel down below as negativity.  Even though it is the mast that holds the sail, you can’t sail without the keel.  The boat would just drift around or fall over or worse yet, turtle.  And the negativity, the keel, is what allows the oat to stay on course and manageable.  … And when the keel matters most is when you’re sailing upwind, when you’re facing difficulty.  Experiencing and expressing negative emotions really is part of the process of flourishing…

photo credit: Today is a good day via photopin cc

photo credit: Today is a good day via photopin cc

One of the things it is helpful is to know is the causality of how lightly creating the mindset of positive emotions makes positive emotions follow.  Create the mindset of positivity by being:

  • Open
  • Appreciative
  • Curious
  • Kind

and above all being:

  • Real and Sincere

Another thing that can really useful is to step on the scale regularly and track your positive ratio, just as a mindfulness tool.  You can do this via a 2minute test on Barbara Fredrickson’s Positivity website to figure out what your positivity ratio is for this day.  Knowing one day’s ratio may not give you much information, but if you take this short test every day for two weeks you can probably get a sense of what your life is like right now…

This is a way of keeping track of your daily emotional diet so you can progress your wellbeing goals.  Begin by asking:

  • When have you felt this emotion, clearly, deeply?
  • What triggered that emotion?
  • When was the last time you felt it?
  • Where were you?
  • What were you doing?
  • What was happening?

And our Appreciative Inquiry practice would suggest another question: How could you take any of these conditions into something that is not so happy for you?

One evening an old Cherokee told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people.  He said, ‘My son, the battle is between two wolves.  On is Negativity.  It’s anger, sadness, stress, contempt, disgust, fear, embarrassment, guilt, shame,  and hate.  The other is Positivity.  It’s joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe and, above all, love.’

“Which wolf wins?”

“The one you feed.”

photo credit: ucumari via photopin cc

photo credit: ucumari via photopin cc

Updated Thinking on Positive Ratios

In this extract from a July 2013 paper in American Psychologist,, Barabra Fredrickson backs up and furthers her ideas against more recent research:

Even when scrubbed of Losada’s now-questioned mathematical modeling, ample evidence continues to support the conclusion that, within bounds, higher positivity ratios are predictive of flourishing mental health and other beneficial outcomes. …

The Role of Positivity in Human Flourishing

…To flourish has become an increasingly popular goal among those interesting in applying the fruits of positive psychology. Loosely speaking, I have described human flourishing as being beyond hap- piness in that it encompasses both feeling good and doing good (Fredrickson, 2009). …

Following ancient philosophies articulated by Aristotle and others, hedonic well-being captures individuals’ global satisfaction with life alongside their pleasant affect, whereas eudaimonic well-being encompasses their sense of purpose and meaning as well as their resilience and social integration. In the article with Losada, we further specified this “feel good plus do good” definition by opening with “To flourish means to live within an optimal range of human functioning, one that connotes goodness, generativity, growth, and resilience” (Fredrickson & Losada, 2005, p. 678). …

Feeling good, however, does more than simply reflect the presence of human flourishing. From the perspective of the broaden-and-build theory, positivity takes on a far more vital role with respect to human flourishing. Beyond being one dimension of flourishing, positive emotions have also been found to promote the development and maintenance of flourishing.

…Daily experiences of positive emotions forecast and produce growth in personal resources such as competence (e.g., environmental mastery), meaning (e.g., purpose in life), optimism (e.g., pathways thinking), resilience, self-acceptance, positive relationships, as well as physical health. In other words, feeling good does not simply sit side by side with optimal functioning as an indicator of flourishing;

feeling good drives optimal function by building the enduring personal resources upon which people draw to navigate life’s journey with greater success. 

Further evidence that positive emotions are a key active ingredient in flourishing mental health comes from a detailed unpacking of a Tuesday in the life of flourishing individuals, in comparison to a Tuesday in the life of those not flourishing and to a Tuesday for those identified as depressed (Catalino & Fredrickson, 2011). Using the Day Reconstruction Method … our results showed that relative to those who do not flourish or who are depressed, people who flourish experience bigger “boosts” in positivity in response to routine daily events such as helping another person, interacting with others, playing, learning, and engaging in spiritual activity. Moreover, flourishers’ greater positive emotional reactivity, over time, predicted their growth in resources. In turn, flourishers’ greater growth in resources predicted their higher levels of flourishing symptoms at the end of the study (controlling for initial levels of flourishing). We uncovered virtually no differences between flourishers and others in the degree of negative emotions experienced on the targeted Tuesdays. We also uncovered surprisingly few differences between depressed people and non flourishers…

This pattern of results suggests that human flourishing is nourished by small, yet consequential, individual differences in positive emotional experiences in response to pleasant everyday events. Flourishers don’t simply “feel good and do good.” Rather they do good by feeling good. So, just as greater negative emotional sensitivity has been found to seed and maintain depression, a phenomenon called negative potentiation, a parallel positive potentiation process appears to seed and maintain the beneficial—yet all too rare—state of human flourishing (Catalino & Fredrick- son, 2011).

The Effects of Too Much Positivity 

Within the spectrum of normative emotional experience, the notion that excessive positivity might be harmful is consistent with the long-standing evidence that life satisfaction is better predicted by the frequency rather than the intensity of a person’s positive emotions (Diener, Sandvik, & Pavot, 1991) and that by far the most frequently experienced positive emotions are the mild and moderate ones. Whereas increasing levels of positive emotions bring benefits up to a point, extremely high levels of positive emo- tion carry costs that begin to outweigh these benefits.  …It bears noting, however, that some researchers do not find signs of dysfunction at very high levels of happiness (e.g., E. T. Friedman, Schwartz, & Haaga, 2002). …

The Value of Positivity Ratios

… Considerable evidence indeed undergirds the claim that when it comes to positivity ratios, within bounds, higher is better. … and … we suggested that a second tipping point, at positivity ratios of about 11:1, might be associated with a downturn in flourishing. Although we did not have data suitable for testing this second tipping point, we noted that such a phenomenon was consistent with the then emerging ideas that (a) problems can occur with too much positivity and (b) appropriate negativity plays an important role in human flourishing.

…One available cross-sectional study examined the effects of positivity ratios on creativity in a sample of 595 retail employees in Portugal (Rego, Sousa, Marques, & Cunha, 2012). The researchers found the classic inverted-U relation between positivity ratios (based on employee self-reports) and employee creativity (based on supervisor ratings). Higher positivity ratios predicted greater creativity up to a point, beyond which creativity took a downturn. The optimal positivity ratio for creativity in this sample was found to be 3.6:1 (Rego et al., 2012). Drawing on theorizing by Oishi and colleagues (2007), which suggested that “ultrahappy” employees may become complacent toward problems and opportunities, Rego and colleagues (2012, p. 265) concluded that a “modest level of negative affect, if combined with high levels of positive affect, may help to generate creativity,”  …

In sum, then, the claim that flourishing mental health is associated with higher positivity ratios than is non flourishing remains unchallenged. Indeed, positive potentiation—the ability of certain people to extract more positive emotions out of common, everyday events—a process evidently unique to flourishers (Catalino & Fredrickson, 2011), could well account for the differential positivity ratios between flourishers and nonflourishers. Descriptively, this means that striving to raise one’s positivity ratio from a low level to a moderately high level in hopes of attaining flourishing mental health remains a reasonable and healthy goal.  …

Concluding Thoughts

As Brown and colleagues (2013) highlighted, my book Positivity (Fredrickson, 2009), written for a wide readership, made considerable use of the ideas presented in my 2005 AP article with Losada (Fredrickson & Losada, 2005). Even for this audience, however, I took precautions not to present the ratio as an unquestionable fact. “Science is never complete,” I wrote. “The stakes in terms of human welfare are too high for me to rest easy in the belief that clever theory or fancy math alone can provide the answers” (Fredrickson, 2009, p. 138).  …

[But] the data say that when considering positive emotions, more is better, up to a point, although this latter caution may be limited to self-focused positive emotions. The data also say that when considering negative emotions, less is better, down to a point.

Negativity can either promote healthy functioning or kill it, depending on its contextual appropriateness and dosage relative to positive emotions.  …

photo credit: Bennyboy218 via photopin cc

photo credit: Bennyboy218 via photopin cc

Business Success: Don’t Worry, Be Happy

by 

When I was growing up, any time I was anxious about something, my dad would say, “Don’t let worry in. Worry is the thief of joy.” My mom always used to tell me, “Honey, will this matter in five years? If not, then it doesn’t really matter now.” It was good advice,  and I find myself saying the same things to my own kids. You probably say them to your kids. But like many things, not giving in to worry is much easier said than done.

In today’s Business Success column, Jude Bijou, author of the award-winning book is Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life, offers some great advice on not succumbing to worry — along with it common companions, stress and frustration — at work, with seven simple steps.

7 Ways to Improve Your Mood at Work

 Our job is where we spend the majority of our waking hours, and where stress, worry, and frustration can easily impede our performance, productivity, and workplace relationships. Here are 7 easy ways to stay upbeat and positive, and to flip bad moods into good ones quickly and effectively.

1. Stop “what-iffing” and “deadlining.”

“What-iffing” is when your thoughts are fixated on the past–what you did wrong in the meeting, or why you got passed up for the promotion. “Deadlining” is when your thoughts are focused on the future–worrying about the project that has to get done or wondering how the client will react to your presentation. Unhappiness is caused by thinking about the past or the future. When you’re completely “in the now,” you can’t be unhappy. Stop what you’re doing, take some breaths, and just “be.” …

2. Drown out negative chatter.

Counteract an unhappy thought with a positive statement that’s irrefutable and 100% true. The negative chatter that goes on inside our head is untrue and based on false assumptions derived from anger, sadness, and fear. You can interrupt thoughts by finding a statement that’s true and repeating it over and over until you feel better. For example, instead of “I’ll never get all of this done in time,” you can say “I’ll do what I can.” If you can find a contradictory statement to repeat that’s 100% true, it will change your mood.

 3. Be grateful, not grumpy.

Think of something you’re grateful for. This simple technique really works wonders. The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, depleted, or unhappy at work, simply close your eyes and think hard about one thing that makes you happy. … You can’t think about something you’re grateful for and something you’re unhappy about at the same time.

 4. Say NO! to “trash thinking.”

Trash thinking is like trash talking. It’s putting yourself or someone else down. Most of us are aware of when we’re thinking mean thoughts about a coworker, client, or employee, or when we’re being hypercritical about ourselves. The first step is to be aware. The second step is to say “no.” You can even say it out loud at a good volume: “NO!” Find a private space and stomp around the room and yell it. Pretty soon you’ll be smiling again. Probably even laughing!

 5. Be the “happy one” at work.

Moods are contagious, and when you become known at work for being ridiculously, unstoppably upbeat, people will begin to smile before you even open your mouth. You can avoid the common squabbles and doldrums employees and bosses suffer simply by smiling a lot at the beginning of your day and saying out loud, “What a gorgeous day for data entry,” or “Isn’t it nice to be employed?” People will love to work with you because you’re happy. What they don’t know is that you’re making yourself happy too!

 6. Just get over it.

Practice accepting what is. When we stop expecting people and situations to be different than they are, we’re instantaneously less frustrated and more able to look within to decide what we want or need to do currently. Remind yourself, “People and things are the way they are, not the way I want them to be.” If you can get over your frustration that things aren’t the way you want them to be, you will enjoy yourself more and maybe even learn a new way of approaching a problem.

 7. Wear someone else’s shoes.

Instead of being self-absorbed, it’s a great practice to suspend your own position and just listen in order to understand where someone else is coming from. You don’t have to agree, but listening well is the ultimate in giving and will bring you feelings of connection and love. Happiness at work comes when we have a sense of fellow feeling with our coworkers–that we’re all in this together, and we have each others’ backs.

 Want to find out more about the attitudes and emotions that dominate your character and may be sabotaging your business success or happiness at work? Take a quick self-quiz here, and then try the coping strategies designed to address them.

Link to read the original article

Man Booker Prize: Eleanor Catton becomes youngest winner with The Luminaries

By Tim Masters

One of the themes in her book that she  draws up in her acceptance speech and talks about in her Today Programme interview is of the difference between value and worth.  The West Coast of New Zealand’s south island – as of this week now also officially recognised by its Maori name Te Waipounamu (“the waters of greenstone”) – lured the Europeans for the high value of its gold, which is made in the price it commands as a currency that is bought and sold, and attracted the Maoris for the worth of its pounamu (“greenstone”), which can only be given.

In this interview Catton says:

.A worth-based economy and a value-based economy are two very different things in that value is conferred in the act of spending, whereas worth is conferred in the act of giving…

There’s a line in the first part of the book that says ‘Every man has his currency…”

..the central myth of a gold-rush is that you could turn up and quite literally pluck your fortune off the ground and, in so doing, completely remake yourself is such an intoxicating idea…

The New Zealand Herald coverage of this story reported:

In accepting the award, Catton said her book was “a publisher’s nightmare.”

She said she was very aware of the pressures on contemporary publishing to make money.

“It is no small thing that my primary publishers … never once made those pressures known to me while I was writing this book,” she said.

“I was free throughout to concern myself not of questions of value, but of worth.”

Robert Macfarlane, chair of the judges, says of this book:

This is a luminous novel.  It is a dazzling novel.  It is vast without being spiralling, it is intricate without being fussy, it is experimental while also giving us the extraordinary pleasures of storytelling and immersion in its world.  It’s about greed and gold and what we value.  And what we value, it turns out, is love.”

Link to read the original article, see the BBC news report about her win, and hear Eleanor Catton talk about her themes in the BBC Radio 4 audio clip of her interview or The Today programme the morning after winning the prize

photo credit: geoftheref via photopin cc

photo credit: geoftheref via photopin cc

As a footnote, it is worth hearing both MacFarlane’s and Catton’s Man Booker 2013 night speeches:  MacFarland for a masterclass in how to speak extemporaneously and give meaningful believable praise, and Catton for a softly brilliant display of speaking with a soft voice that nevertheless conveys great impact and authority.

Eleanor Catton: ‘Male writers get asked what they think, women what they feel’

In a Guardian coverage of this story, Charlotte Higgins describes meeting Catton the morning after her win as ‘a person who radiates immense self-possession and quiet authority‘, reporting:

When the [announcement] came , the TV cameras showed a face as still as a marble sculpture, pinned into immobility by shock. Then she dove into her handbag and rootled through it until she found her acceptance speech, which she delivered in a clear but tremulous voice. “The superstitious part of me didn’t want to make the speech too easy to find,” she explains. “At the same time I knew I’d never be able to relax if I hadn’t prepared something. At times of emotional intensity I need a script.”

…With the prize also comes that mixed blessing, fame, and she’s already bothered by the uneven treatment accorded to men and women in the public eye.”I have observed that male writers tend to get asked what they think and women what they feel,” she says. “In my experience, and that of a lot of other women writers, all of the questions coming at them from interviewers tend to be about how lucky they are to be where they are – about luck and identity and how the idea struck them. The interviews much more seldom engage with the woman as a serious thinker, a philosopher, as a person with preoccupations that are going to sustain them for their lifetime.”

[Catton says about] the ideas of the book. “The paradox is,” she says, “the relationship between, on the one hand, the characters being the masters of their fates, and on the other hand that being predetermined.” She talks of the astrological structure as being akin to a structure a composer might work within, and mentions her interest in the book Gödel Escher Bach, which explores patterns and systems in the work of the mathematician, artist and composer.

“One of the most baffling things is when people assume that when something is structurally ornate it is less human than something that is not structurally ornate,” she says. “That puzzles me – I feel as a person the most alive and human and full of wonder when I am contemplating complexities. The ability of humans to read meaning into patterns is the most defining characteristic we have.”

It’s the seriousness of Catton’s work that strikes you when talking to her – her belief in the novel both as a “builder of empathy” and as a carrier of ideas. When I spoke to one of the Man Booker judges, critic Stuart Kelly, he said that it was her ability to “make the novel think in a way that the novel doesn’t do normally” that set her apart; the way that, for example, she sets astrology and capitalism into play as competing systems of dealing with the world, but at the same time has produced “a rip-roaring read”.

For Catton – the daughter of a philosopher and a librarian – the novel is a tool for thinking with, as well as feeling with…

“What I like about fiction most is that it resists closure and exists, if the reader is willing to engage, as a possible encounter – an encounter that is like meeting a human being.”

Link to read this original article

photo credit: Mad Hatter's Photography via photopin cc

photo credit: Mad Hatter’s Photography via photopin cc

Happiness At Work – What We Can Learn from the Swiss

 writes…

Switzerland’s citizens regularly rank among the world’s happiest, so what makes them so cheerful during their working hours?

…As well as earning more and working less, the OECD also ranks Switzerland highly for the connectivity of its citizens, with 94% of them stating that they know someone they could rely on in a time of crisis. Feeling connected to each other doesn’t just bring happiness in our social lives, but in our working lives too.

In his book, The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, author Alain de Botton explains that a job feels meaningful “whenever it allows us to generate delight or alleviate suffering in others.” Unless you’re working in healthcare or as Lindt chocolatier, this might not seem like a daily occurrence, but by bringing a little joy to your colleagues you could also push your own happiness level up to Swiss proportions.

Consulting firm DHW (Delivering Happiness at Work) claims you can bring a smile to your team’s faces by making sure that everyone knows your company’s core values, having an open and accessible CEO and by making sure you tell people when they’re doing a good job.

While shorter hours and a politics-free world might be the dream, if you’re looking to find a little more fulfilment in your workplace you could do worse than just handing out a compliment or two, noticing when a colleague is having a bad day, or simply putting the Swiss into chocolate and sharing it round the office. Who knew being happy was so easy?

Link to the original article

photo credit: tom*quah via photopin cc

photo credit: tom*quah via photopin cc

Turning the Tables on Success

by Adam Grant

In today’s workplace, what goes around comes around faster, sinking takers and propelling givers to the top.

In the old world of work, good guys finished last. “Takers” (those in organizations who put their own interests first) were able to climb to the top of hierarchies and achieve success on the shoulders of “givers” (those who prefer to contribute more than they receive). Throughout much of the 20th century, many organizations were made up of independent silos, where takers could exploit givers without suffering substantial consequences.

But the nature of work has shifted dramatically. Today, more than half of U.S. and European companies organize employees into teams. The rise of matrix structures has required employees to coordinate with a wider range of managers and direct reports. The advent of project-based work means that employees collaborate with an expanded network of colleagues. And high-speed communication and transportation technologies connect people across the globe who would have been strangers in the past. In these collaborative situations, takers stick out. They avoid doing unpleasant tasks and responding to requests for help. Givers, in contrast, are the teammates who volunteer for unpopular projects, share their knowledge and skills, and help out by arriving early or staying late.

After studying workplace dynamics for the past decade, I’ve found that these changes have set the stage for takers to flounder and givers to flourish. In a wide range of fields that span manufacturing, service, and knowledge work, recent research has shown that employees with the highest rates of promotion to supervisory and leadership roles exhibit the characteristics of givers—helping colleagues solve problems and manage heavy workloads. Takers, who put their own agenda first, are far less likely to climb the corporate ladder.

The fall of takers and the rise of givers hinges on a third group, whom I call “matchers.” Matchers hover in the middle of the give-and-take spectrum, motivated by a deep-seated desire for fairness and reciprocity. They keep track of exchanges and trade favors back and forth to keep their balance sheet at zero, believing that what goes around ought to come around. Because of their fervent belief in an eye for an eye, matchers become the engine that sinks takers to the bottom and propels givers to the top.

Takers violate matchers’ belief in a just world. When matchers witness takers exploiting others, they aim to even the score by imposing a tax. For example, matchers spread negative reputational information to colleagues who might otherwise be vulnerable, preventing takers from getting away with self-serving actions in the future. On the flip side, most matchers can’t stand to see generous acts go unrewarded. When they see a giver putting others first, matchers go out of their way to dole out a bonus, in the form of compensation, recognition, or recommendations for promotions. Of course, these responses aren’t limited to matchers. Givers, too, are motivated to punish takers and reward fellow givers. But I’ve found that in the workplace, the majority of people are matchers, which means that they are the ones who end up dispensing the most taker taxes and giver bonuses. In an interdependent, interconnected business environment, what goes around comes around faster than it used to.

At Google, for example, an engineer named Brian received eight bonuses in the span of a single year, including three in just one month. He volunteered his time to train new hires and help members of multiple cross-functional teams learn new technologies, and his peers and managers responded like matchers, granting him additional pay and recognition. Consistent with Brian’s experience at Google, a wealth of research shows that in teams, givers earn more respect and rewards than do takers and matchers. As Stanford University sociologist Robb Willer notes, “Groups reward individual sacrifice.”

Interdependent work also means that employees will be evaluated and promoted not only on the basis of their individual results, but also in terms of their contributions to others. This reduces the incentives for takers to exploit givers, encouraging them to focus instead on advancing the group’s goals. As a result, takers engage in fewer manipulative acts—which reduces the risks to givers—yet they still contribute less than givers. This allows givers to gain a reputation for being more generous and group-oriented. And a rich body of evidence has shown that these qualities are the basis for sound leadership.

In fact, when givers become leaders, their groups are better off. Research led by Rotterdam School of Management professor Daan van Knippenberg has shown that employees work harder and more effectively for leaders who put others’ interests first. This, again, is a matching response: As van Knippenberg and Claremont Graduate University professor Michael Hogg found, “going the extra mile for the group, making personal sacrifices or taking personal risks on behalf of the group” motivates group members to give back to the leader and contribute to the group’s interests. And a thorough analysis led by Nathan Podsakoff, a professor at the University of Arizona, of more than 3,600 business units across numerous industries showed that the more frequently employees give help and share knowledge, the higher their units’ profits, productivity, customer satisfaction, and employee retention rates.

By contributing to groups, givers are also able to signal their skills. In a study led by researcher Shimul Melwani of UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, members of five dozen teams working on strategic analysis projects rated one another on a range of characteristics and behaviors. At the end of the project, team members reported which of their colleagues had emerged as leaders. The single strongest predictor of leadership was the amount of compassion that members expressed toward others in need. Interestingly, compassionate people were not only viewed as caring; they were also judged as more knowledgeable and intelligent. By expressing concern for others, they sent a message that they had the resources and capabilities to help others.

Today, these signals are ever more visible: Givers are aided by the fact that the anonymity of professional life is vanishing. In the past, when we encountered a job applicant, a potential business partner, or a prospective service provider, we had to rely on references selected by that candidate. When takers burned bridges with one contact, they could eliminate that person from their reference list. But now, online social networks offer a much richer database of references. Odds are that through a quick search of our LinkedIn or Facebook networks, we can find a common connection with knowledge of that person’s reputation. By reaching out to the mutual contact to obtain an independent reference on the candidate’s past behavior, decision makers can screen out takers and favor givers. Of the billion Facebook users around the world, 92 percent are within four degrees of separation—and in most countries, the majority of people are just three degrees apart.

Such tools have made it tough for a taker to hide in the shadows. At Groupon, for example, Howard Lee was heading the South China office, and received a slew of applications for sales jobs. He searched his LinkedIn network for common connections, and located quite a number of them. When he discovered that certain candidates had a history of self-serving behavior, he quickly moved on, focusing his time and energy on candidates with track records as givers.

Taken together, these trends are changing the characteristics that we value in people. Two of the defining qualities of great leaders are the ability to make others better and the willingness to put the group’s interests first. Because givers today add increasing value in leadership roles and interdependent work, hiring processes can be modified to assess which candidates are inclined to contribute more than they receive. For development, promotion, and retention, leaders and managers should focus less on individual skills and talents, and more on the extent to which employees use their skills and talents to lift others up—rather than cutting them down. The employees with the greatest potential to excel and rise will be those whose success reverberates to benefit those around them.

Along with investing in people who are already disposed toward operating like givers, it will be of paramount importance to create practices that nudge employees in the giver direction. In many organizations, owing to their tendencies to claim credit and promote themselves, successful takers are more visible than successful givers. To make sure that employees are aware that it’s possible to be a giver and achieve success, it may be necessary to locate and recognize respected role models who embody an orientation toward others. That way, when what goes around comes around faster than it used to, it will be for the benefit of employees and their organizations.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: MedEvac71 via photopin cc

photo credit: MedEvac71 via photopin cc

Happiness Works – The Happy Planet Index

by Nic Marks

I am often asked about how I came up with the idea of the Happy Planet Index. For those of you who are not familiar with the index it was first released in 2006 by the new economics foundation and is the first global measure of sustainable well-being. The index seeks to capture the tension at the heart of the sustainability agenda – that our pursuit of good lives now is threatening our capacity to lead them in the future.I wanted to create an index which held this tension. One that respected the fact that much of modern life in developed western economies is really rather good. I felt that the environmental movement as whole tended to focus too much on what was wrong and didn’t give enough credit to what was going right. For example life expectancy across the globe has dramatically increased over the last 100 years and continues to do so. In our past, surviving to adulthood was a challenging business – lives were short and brutish.Whilst there have been many huge successes there are also alarm bells ringing….

…But If people are going to start making changes in their lives, happiness has to be introduced into the sustainability debate. The debate must be reframed – instead of focusing on the negative (‘the planet can’t continue like this…’) we need to be thinking in terms of securing and ensuring happy healthy lives for everyone.

This way of thinking enables people to imagine new ways of being that are happier and more sustainable. For example, there has been a growing trend of people who are choosing to occasionally work from home, saving wasted time and energy, and freeing up more time for other activities. Trends like these must be encouraged and extended by the political systems in which we live. How much happier and more sustainable might our lives become if cars were phased out of or limited in city centres, while cycling facilities and clean reliable transit systems were improved. Hundreds of small changes, representing win-wins for people and the planet, can make a real difference.

The business world has a massive role to play in this transition too and a happiness perspective offers an exciting potential alignment of interests. All of us want to do meaningful work and what could be more purposeful than working towards to a better future for us all. So organizations that rise to the sustainability challenge will most likely be rewarded with employees who are highly motivated and engaged.

It is this potential alignment of the purpose of nations with the needs of citizens and businesses that makes me hopeful about the future. The Happy Planet Index seeks to capture this optimism without denying the scale of the challenges.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Adn! via photopin cc

photo credit: Adn! via photopin cc

The top 5 regrets people have on their deathbed

By ,

Ms. Bronnie Ware, a woman who worked for years with the dying, wrote a list of the top 5 regrets people say aloud on their deathbed …

…we’ve supplemented each regret with some rockstar advice on how to not have these regrets in the digital age.

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people have had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.

TNW Advice: …

“Yesterday, I had an epiphany that for the first time in my life, who I am and who I want to be are virtually one in the same. It’s so much more effective to be yourself than to pretend to be something your not because doing the latter is so emotionally taxing, you’ll never be someone that is fully committed. Being yourself pays dividends.”  -Brett Martin, the CEO and Founder of Sonar, a hot new social, location-based mobile application.

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.

This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

TNW Advice: …

…being a Dutch-based company, our roots are in relaxation. We know how to unwind after hard days.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

TNW Advice: 

…We’d like to take this time to remind you that as much as we love living in the virtual world, sometimes a hug, a long chat over a glass of wine or a phone call to a loved one far away is more valuable than any social media valuation, no matter how ludicrous.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.

It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

TNW Advice: …

…defer to real life for those that matter. Pokes, Likes and Comments are not the same as ladies’ lunches, beach trips and dinner parties. Make the time.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have sillyness in their life again.

When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.

TNW Advice: If you’re reading this, chances are you have a long way to go before you die. So, please, allow yourself to be happy. Smile in the sunshine, kick the ball around with your son, have a glass of wine with your partner in the afternoon, move to Argentina, buy yourself a Kindle for the love of reading; whatever it is, be good to yourself.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: campra via photopin cc

photo credit: campra via photopin cc

The One Word To Never Ever Say Again At Work

By 

If someone asked how your day was going, what would be your knee-jerk reaction? If you’re a member of the American workforce, there’s a good chance your immediate response would be a single word: “Busy!” But in many cases, these lamentations about our jam-packed schedules amount to little more than a humblebrag about how important we are (so many things to do and people to see!)…

Busyness has become something of a badge of honor — a way to hint at our own relevance and superior productivity without saying it in so many words — but in reality, constant busyness may be a sign of just the opposite. There’s plenty of evidence to suggest that if you’re busy all the time (and not giving yourself a chance to rest and recharge), you’re very likely doing something wrong.

Here five reasons to try to let go of excessive busyness — or at least stop telling people how busy you are.

It could be harming your productivity.

Too much busyness can easily prevent you from actually getting things done. When we fill our days up with one task after another and frequently multitask — rarely giving our full focus to the task at hand — it can keep us from doing any one thing to our best ability. In other words, quantity takes precedence over quality.

Working unceasingly and without substantial breaks has been shown to be an ineffective way to master a task. Studies in Berlin in the 1990s on young violin players — looking at the daily practice habits of elite players (those who were likely to become professionals one day) as compared to average players — yielded some surprising data. The elite players weren’t more successful because they practiced more. Both groups on average spent the same amount of time practicing each week. And whereas the average players spread their practice out through the day, the elite players worked in two intense periods of deliberate activity each day, followed by down time. The elite players were not only more relaxed, but they slept an extra hour each night, writer Cal Newport notes.

It could hinder your communication and connection with others.

According to Nell Minow, co-founder of The Corporate Library, the word “busy” can be “profoundly toxic” to both our careers and our personal lives. When someone asks how we’re doing and we answer “Busy,” Minow argues, it’s a statement of our own self-importance and the relative lack of importance of the person we’re talking to, which automatically precludes the possibility of authentic interaction.

“I promise that if you eliminate this word from your life, you will instantly, permanently and powerfully be more conscious about your choices and more effective in your communication with others,” Minow wrote in a recent Huffington Post blog,“How ‘Busy’ Became A Toxic Word.”

You might be suffering from a bad case of Time Deficit Disorder.

Do you feel busy and frantic all day? Get anxious just looking at all the blocked-out slots on your Gmail calendar? You might have a case of the unofficial but all-too-real Time Deficit Disorder (also known as “time famine”). If you’re feeling constantly pressed for time, the best remedy may be the most unlikely one: Giving more of your time away to others. A 2012 study from Yale and Harvard researchers  found that those who are more eager to devote some of their time to helping others are less likely to feel that time was their “scarcest resource.”

Another solution? Schedule time into your schedule to do nothing — a strategy LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner calls the “single most important productivity tool” he uses. Weiner says creating meeting-free “buffers” in his day affords him the time he needs to think strategically about the company’s big picture.

It could be a veil for underlying laziness.

We tend to think of being busy as the opposite of being lazy, but the two qualities may be more connected than we’d like to think. If you’re constantly busy, there’s a good chance that you’re expending a great deal of energy on tasks that may feel urgent — but aren’t actually all that important. Viewing busyness as a virtue actually keeps us from doing meaningful work, according to iDoneThis COO Janet Choi, and in this sense, busyness is a form of laziness.

“It’s easy, even enticing, to neglect the importance of filling our time with meaning, thinking instead that we’ll be content with merely filling our time,” Choi told Fast Company. “We self-impose these measures of self-worth by looking at quantity instead of quality of activity.”

You may not be managing your energy well.

Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project and author of “The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working,” knows better than anyone that excessive busyness can be a destructive force in our work and lives. We’ve been taught that “more, bigger, faster” is always better. But this “volume is God” mentality, Schwartz explains, presumes that we have unlimited resources — which, of course, we don’t.

Renewal is actually a way to increase our capacity to be more effective, Schwartz explains, allowing us to get more out of the time we put into a task. The time spent on a task is not the same as the energy spent on a task, and taking time to rest and recharge can help you to get more done by allowing you to be more intentional with your energy — so when you’re relaxing, you’re really relaxing, and when you’re working, you’re fully engaged with work.

“Renewal is not for slackers,” Schwartz said in June at The Huffington Post’s conference, “Redefining Success: The Third Metric.” “Renewal is a way in which to increase your capacity to be more effective.”

To read the original article and watch the US TV news report on this story

photo credit: SamuelJohn.de via photopin cc

photo credit: SamuelJohn.de via photopin cc

Unhappy Employees Outnumber Happy Ones By 2 to 1 Worldwide (Gallup Research)

Susan Adams reports…

Since the late 1990s, Gallup has been measuring international employee satisfaction through a survey it has been honing over the years. In total it has polled 25 million employees in 189 different countries. The latest version, released this week, gathered information from 230,000 full-time and part-time workers in 142 countries.

Overall, Gallup found that only 13% of workers feel engaged by their jobs. That means they feel a sense of passion for their work, a deep connection to their employe and they spend their days driving innovation and moving their company forward.

The vast majority, some 63%, are “not engaged,” meaning they are unhappy but not drastically so. In short, they’re checked out. They sleepwalk through their days, putting little energy into their work.

A full 24% are what Gallup calls “actively disengaged,” meaning they pretty much hate their jobs. They act out and undermine what their coworkers accomplish.

Add the last two categories and you get 87% of workers worldwide who, as Gallup puts it, “are emotionally disconnected from their workplaces and less likely to be productive.” In other words, work is more often a source of frustration than one of fulfillment for nearly 90% of the world’s workers. That means that most workplaces are less productive and less safe than they could be and employers are less likely to create new jobs.

To do its engagement tally, Gallup put together a list of 12 statements. I’ll list them here and you can see how you measure up:

1. I know what is expected of me at work
2. I have the material and equipment I need to do my work right.
3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
5. My supervisor, or someone at work, seems to care about me as a person.
6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.
7. At work, my opinions seem to count.
8. The mission or purpose of my company makes me feel my job is important.
9. My associates or fellow employees are committed to doing quality work.
10. I have a best friend at work.
11. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my progress.
12. This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

The most obvious fix for unhappy workers goes back to the 12 questions. Communicate with your workers, telling them what you expect of them, praise them when they do well, encourage them to move forward. Give them the tools they need and the opportunity to feel challenged. For workers the trick is to find an employer that is paying attention to those questions.

Link to read the original Forbes article

How Vulnerability Can Be A Strength

by Viral Mehta

We’re never so vulnerable than when we trust someone — but paradoxically, if we cannot trust, neither can we find love or joy. –Walter Anderson

…Stepping outside is far from comfortable, and can even be painful. And when we experience something painful, the tendency is to dissociate ourselves from the feeling, to become numb to it. We fragment our reality and stop being in relationship with this part of our experience, meaning that we don’t learn from it, let alone transform it. Instead, if we embrace our vulnerability, we can fully accept the discomfort and learn to observe our entire reality deeply and intimately — just the way it is.

It may seem like such opportunities are rare, but they’re surprisingly accessible. Here are a few statements that crack open a beautiful vulnerability within everyday situations:

  1. “I was wrong.” It’s hard to say this at any time, but especially hard at work — we often fall prey to the myth that we are paid to be right. I remember reading a story about someone who made a multi-million dollar mistake at work, and subsequently went in to his boss’s office to resign. The boss was wise, though. “Why would I let you go now, after having spent millions of dollars training you?!” By owning up to our mistakes, we open ourselves to learning from them.
  2. “I don’t know.” Not knowing is itself uncomfortable. Confessing it to others is doubly so. But it is also one of the most liberating things we can embrace. When I admit that I don’t know, I use up less energy in pretending to know, and give myself more space to explore the mysteries of an inherently emergent reality.
  3. “I am sorry.” Whether intentionally or unintentionally, our actions can be hurtful to others. When this happens, the tendency of both parties is to disconnect and create a separation. By apologizing, I might think that I’m losing ground in a relationship. In reality, I am building a proactive bridge of empathy — and a possibility for a greater and truer connection.
  4. “Thank you.” In giving thanks, we might fear that we are betraying a need for support. In reality, we display more confidence and less insecurity when we graciously acknowledge what we have received. It also serves as a tuning fork, making us aware of the abundance of gifts we continually receive from our surroundings. At a deeper level, in expressing gratitude, we wake up to our fundamental inter-dependence.
  5. “I love …” In a recent commencement address, author Jonathan Franzen spoke of the dangers of remaining on the surface of life, of just “liking” instead of loving. In his words, love is what forces you to “expose your whole self, not just the likable surface, and to have it rejected can be catastrophically painful.” But there’s a pay-off. In his own experience, love “became a portal to an important, less self-centered part of myself that I’d never even known existed.” Love helps us go beyond our limited notions of self.

Latin vulnerare which means ‘to wound’, and so at the root of vulnerability is my own sense of wounded-ness. To be authentic in a moment in which I feel wounded, I have to honestly acknowledge the places where I feel hurt and then muster up the strength to just be with the pain. This takes tremendous courage.

Literally speaking, courage comes from the Latin cor, meaning heart. So when I open up to any experience fully, with courage — our whole heart — it naturally opens me up to a deep love. The blind musician Facundo Cabral said it beautifully: “If you are filled with love, you can’t have fear,” he said, “because love is courage.” True vulnerability, in its most profound form, is an act of love.

Link to read the original article

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photo credit: SuperFantastic via photopin cc

The Genetic Predisposition To Focus on the Negative

by Jeremy Dean, psychologist and the author of PsyBlog.

Around 50% of Caucasians have the ADRA2b gene variant.

Some people are genetically predisposed to spot negative events automatically, according to a new study published in Psychological Science (Todd et al., 2013).

A gene called ADRA2b seems to cause people to take particular note of negative emotional events.

The study’s lead author, Professor Rebecca Todd explained:

“This is the first study to find that this genetic variation can significantly affect how people see and experience the world. The findings suggest people experience emotional aspects of the world partly through gene-coloured glasses — and that biological variations at the genetic level can play a significant role in individual differences in perception.”

This could help explain why it is that some people seem particularly predisposed towards seeing the negative aspects of the world around them, while it passes others by.

Not only is the gene linked to differences between people in their attention, but also to memory. People with the gene likely also find negative events are enhanced in their memories.

It may mean that people with the gene are more likely to suffer from uncomfortable flashbacks to negative memories or even posttraumatic stress disorder.

Statistically, around 50% of Caucasians have the ADRA2b gene variant, but the rates are much lower in other ethnicities.

As with many genes, though, they interact with the environment: their effect on our individual psychology is partly determined by our upbringing, those around us and how we choose to think and act.

Just because there is a gene that influences our starting point, that doesn’t stop us having some control over where we end up.

Link to read the original article

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photo credit: StephenMitchell via photopin cc

Time To Rethink Youth Behaviour, NZ Survey Reveals

Young New Zealander’s are obsessed with social media, want to be rich and famous and cave to peer pressure – if this is what you think, then think again.

Several stereotypes about young people, held by adults have been busted in the second annual Youthtown Voice of New Zealand Survey.

Over 1,100 teenagers, completed the survey commissioned by Youthtown and conducted by Point Research, which aims to give young people aged 13-18 a voice on the things that matter most to them.

Surprisingly just one-third of young people believe social networking is important to them, debunking the adult view that social media rules young lives.

“They may spend a lot of time on sites like Facebook and Snapchat, but ultimately young people want to hang out with their friends in person,” Head Researcher of the Youthtown Voice of New Zealand Survey, Alex Woodley, said.

The adult misconception that young people are most influenced by peer pressure has also been set straight, with 73 per cent of young people indicating that their parents have the most influence over their lives, and only forty three per cent noting their friends.

 Survey respondents also revealed that they don’t look up to celebrities or personalities because of their ‘fame’. Of the people they look up to, intelligence with ability (27 per cent), determination (11 per cent) and self-belief and confidence (10 per cent) were the strongest qualities young people admire.

“These are extremely positive messages spoken, straight from the mouths of young New Zealanders. The future really is in great hands,” Youthtown CEO, Paula Kearns said.

photo credit: Arjan Almekinders via photopin cc

photo credit: Arjan Almekinders via photopin cc

2013 Youthtown Voice of New Zealand Survey KEY SURVEY FINDINGS 
1. Young people believe that their parents have the most influence over their life
2. The most protective factors for youth are related to positive relationships; feeling cared about by their family, having caring adults to turn to; having supportive friends with positive social values
3. 3/4 of young people agree there is a purpose to their life and they have a lot to offer the world
4. Approximately 1 in 6 of respondents do not really have anyone they can talk to when they are having a hard time
5. Young people admire celebrities with intelligence, talent, determination, confidence and self-belief. They don’t look up to celebrities or personalities because of their ‘fame’
6. Most young people feel good about things that make them different from other people
7. Young people are HAPPY! Over 3/4 of respondents rate their happiness as ‘6’ or more on a ten point scale
8. Young people identify with, and respect people, who are unaffected by the opinions of others (example, Ellen Degeneres and Demi Lovato)
9. Young people strongly believe in equality and acceptance of one another
10. 1/4 of young New Zealander’s currently volunteer or do community work of some sort
11. Most young people who volunteer, do so in youth centres or camps
12. Young people would like more opportunities to contribute to their community
13. Time and information are the greatest barriers preventing young people from volunteering
14. Only 1/3 of young people believe social networking is important to them, and one third say it’s not important at all. Most prefer to socialise at home or at a friend’s house

15. Nearly 9 out of 10 young people have a Facebook account and just under 1/4 have a Twitter account
16. Adventure, travel, better work opportunities and higher salaries are attracting our young people off-shore (10% don’t see their future in New Zealand)
17. More job opportunities and higher wages would make New Zealand an even better place to live
18. Job opportunities, events or activities and affordable accommodation or housing are the main reasons young people would want to live in and spend their future in New Zealand cities
19. 68% of young people said they are ‘worried’ or ‘moderately concerned’ about getting a job or career they want
20. 13% of young people ‘definitely’ see a future in New Zealand. Adventure, travel, better work opportunities and higher salaries is what attract our young people off shore

 Link to read the original article in full

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photo credit: illuminaut via photopin cc

Deepak Chopra: Who Is Right About Happiness (Part 2)

Our doubts about happiness can’t be answered abstractly. The best theory can’t make you happy; you have to test it. This testing requires choices, and choices are limited. If you stand back, most people live their lives according to a set of beliefs, and over the years they manifest what they expect out of life. (That’s why so many highly successful people were raised by loving, supportive mothers who told them how wonderful they were. If you go through life with such positive expectations, your choices are likely to be self-affirming rather than self-defeating.) The importance of choice tells us something important right off the bat. There is no such thing as a passive road to happiness. Even if humans are designed to be happy, they must activate the possibility rather than wait for the design to unfold on its own.

Despite the fad for viewing happiness as accidental, it’s more productive to test for yourself the kind of decisions that promote happiness. What should you do to make yourself happy right this minute? The array of possibilities is quite wide.

  • Avoid stressors that are avoidable.
  • Fix problems immediately – don’t procrastinate.
  • Bond with people you care about.
  • Do things that are meaningful to you.
  • Give your brain positive input. Avoid needless negativity.
  • Address the signs of depression and anxiety.
  • Assert control over your life. Don’t be dependent on others or dominated by them.
  • Be of service.
  • Walk away from situations you can’t improve.
  • Find a source of genuine fulfillment.
  • Don’t do things you know to be wrong.
  • Speak your own truth.
  • Express appreciation and affection toward others.
  • Find something that inspires you. Don’t waste time on distractions.
  • Allow time for play.
  • Leave room for down time.
  • Set aside a fixed time for reflection and meditation.
  • Focus on long-term pleasures, like planning a vacation, rather than short-term gratification.

Notice that nothing on this list is a matter of faith, religion, or spiritual aspiration. No one is appealing to perfect love, understanding, or compassion. Happiness doesn’t await a tremendous kind of personal transformation. Instead, these are practical choices that are well documented to improve a person’s happiness. One finding from positive psychology that’s actually positive is this: To make a happy life, make your day happy. Immediate decisions matter the most.

You might cast a skeptical eye at the things I’ve listed, believing that this is nothing but a laundry list that is too long to be useful. But let me suggest otherwise. Most people are unhappy because they ignored the items on the list. They allowed too much stress to enter their lives, or they refused to walk away from impossible situations, or they allowed themselves to become dependent on somebody else, just to give a few leading examples. The other lesson from this list is that living unconsciously doesn’t bring happiness – each item asks for focus and awareness. What you aren’t conscious of, you can’t change.

So before you lament that life is unfair or that only a select few are born to be happy, consider every item on the list as it applies to you today, right this minute. Set aside your beliefs about ultimate happiness and focus instead of today’s happiness. It’s also useful to itemise the things that are almost guaranteed to create unhappiness.

  • Putting up with unnecessary stress.
  • Denying that a problem exists and putting off its solution.
  • Isolating yourself, not interacting with people you care about.
  • Engaging in routine or meaningless work.
  • Exposing yourself to needless negativity and negative people in general.
  • Feeling depressed or anxious and simply putting up with it.
  • Allowing someone else to dominate you, make decisions for you, or exerting too much control.
  • Acting selfish, offering little or nothing to others.
  • Stubbornly enduring an impossible situation.
  • Putting your own fulfillment on hold.
  • Doing things you know to be wrong.
  • Going along to get along, not upholding your own values.
  • Forgetting to express how much you appreciate and value others.
  • Wasting time on distractions.
  • Treating everything as work, duty, or obligation.
  • Leaving no room for down time.
  • Allowing yourself no time to reflect and meditate.
  • Focusing on short-term gratification.

Many will be tempted to protest that two laundry lists are worse than one. Both are unrealistic. In fact, you have enough time in the day to do everything on the positive list and avoid everything on the negative list. What you need isn’t enough hours in the day. You need to value self-awareness. Once you want to be more aware, the intention to create happiness becomes realistic – you are motivated to be the author of our own fulfillment. It’s amazing how many people don’t value their happiness enough to pay attention to it. Once you do, you will discover for yourself if lifelong happiness is feasible or not. It won’t be a matter of theory or delayed gratification.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Miles Cave via photopin cc

photo credit: Miles Cave via photopin cc

How To Become A “Best Places To Work” Company

 writes…

The leaders of these companies all agreed that creating a workplace where employees enjoyed working started with the company culture. As leaders, they were in the position to significantly influence the culture.  These leaders learned that they have to:

  1. Live and breathe the values of the company
  2. Be transparent even when it is difficult
  3. Communicate, communicate, communicate

This list probably isn’t new to many of you, but it isn’t easy to accomplish.

The Best Places to Work survey and other employee engagement surveys are a snap shot in time. It measures how employees perceive the company they work for at the time they answer the questions.

But for a great workplace to be sustainable, leaders need to take the role of a movie director making sure that their actors and actresses have a great environment to be inspired to create Oscar winning performances day in and day out.

So what do you as a leader need to do to improve the perceptions of employees?

Firstyou need to understand that as a leader you need to personify the values of your company. Values are only values if you and the people around you practice them day in and day out.

As a leader, you need to be demonstrating company values in a way that is visible to others around you.  People can interpret your values by:

  1. The decisions you make
  2. Behaviors you show externally
  3. Organizational goals
  4. Interpersonal interactions
  5. Performance feedback

You need to insure that all of these are aligned with your company values.

Second, ask these questions at the end of each day to determine if you are living company values on a daily basis:

  1. What decisions did I make today and how do they reinforce specific company values?
  2. Which people did I interact with that demonstrated one of the company values?  And, how did I provide feedback to them to reinforce company values?
  3. Who made a decision or acted in a way that was not aligned with company values? And, how did I coach the person into alignment?
  4. On a scale of 1-10, how well was I aligned with company values today?

And thirdplan for the next day.  Who will you be interacting with and what potential decisions will you be making.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Dia™ via photopin cc

photo credit: Dia™ via photopin cc

Happiness At Work Is Spreading (NixonMcInnes)

Belinda Gannaway of Social Business Consultancy NixonMcInnes posts this success story about how their own company’s creative and immensely do-able solution to increasing happiness at work is starting to spread across the globe

When we launched the NixonMcInnes happiness index nearly three years ago, @steveWINton’s blog post Measuring Happiness in the Workplace generated a huge amount of interest…

But our low-tech approach to measuring happiness is now no longer restricted to our own office here in Brighton. Last week, Chris Evans at Radio 2 talked about us and our practice on air and while in Denver for the WorldBlu conference on democracy at work, Will received a call from Inc. Magazine in the US. They had been talking to a Californian company about their approach to measuring happiness at work – using tennis balls and buckets. Asked where they had got the idea from, they said they’d read about it on our blog post!

Following a day with us in Brighton, the digital team at the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) have now set up their own happy buckets. Tim Lloyd, Head of Digital Communications at BIS, explains: “We liked the look of it when we visited. And sometimes my feeling of success or disappointment is out of kilter with others in the team.”

So the happiness index gives Tim another way to gauge how his team is feeling – and whether that matches his perception. And then do something about it.

And they’re not the only ones – another of our clients, Orbit Group, one of the UK’s most forward thinking housing organisations have also set up their own Happiness Index in their Customer Services Centre. Alongside the buckets, they have an inspirational quote of the day, chosen by one of the advisors.

Happiness at work has been on our agenda for a long time and it is climbing up the global business agenda in big strides. People are starting to understand that as well as improving quality of life, a happier workforce delivers better customer experiences, are more flexible, adaptable and innovative. Put simply, happiness affects the bottom line.

Link to the original article

photo credit: @Doug88888 via photopin cc

photo credit: @Doug88888 via photopin cc

Here is how NixonMcInnes brilliantly use their deliberately low-tech~high-tech approach to measuring – and constantly working to improve people’s happiness at work:

Is Everybody Happy? Measuring Happiness in the Workplace

At the end of the day, as we leave the office, we each drop a tennis ball into either the Happy or Unhappy bucket, to capture how we felt, on balance, throughout the day. The following morning, the balls are counted (by either Max, or a band of merry pixies, I’m not sure which) and the totals scrawled on a piece of paper stuck to the door. At the end of each week, Pete, our industrious chairman, tots up the numbers and logs them in a Google spreadsheet. It’s poetry in motion.

To complete the feedback loop, we periodically fetch and process the data from the spreadsheet using Google App Engine, and display it on our internal, Geckoboard-powered dashboard, keeping the data nice and visible, and allowing us to answer the all-important question:over time, as a group, are we becoming more or less happy?

Last week was a bad week, but we’re working on it!

Link to the original article

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photo credit: massdistraction via photopin cc

5 Ways To Make It Easier For Men (and Boys) To Channel Empathy and Compassion

This  Greater Good article by Kozo Hattor provides a whole selection of practical ideas for making the benefits of mindfulness more attractive and inviting to men and boys, and illustrating them with a number of success stories from the cartoon Kung Fu Panda channelling his inner peace to quell enemy fire, to the  Dhamma Brothers success with mindfulness practice to make lasting positive change in a men’s prison.

Boys and men commit the vast majority of violent acts, from domestic violence to murder. We’ve got to get at the root causes…

We’ve spent nine weeks on the Cultivating Compassion Training (CCT) course at Stanford University strengthening our attention, building awareness of our bodies, and learning to confront pain in ourselves and in others—and throughout the course, male students were dropping out like 12th-seeded teams in the NCAA basketball tournament.

This gender imbalance was not unique to Stanford’s CCT. Two-thirds of students at the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City, California, are female, according to teacher Gil Fronsdal, an ordained Soto Zen priest who was also a Theravada monk in Burma. Elad Levinson, the director of programs at Spirit Rock Mediation Center, says, “The sociodemographic of Spirit Rock consists of primarily women.”

All of these programs integrate mindfulness meditation—the practice of focusing attention on our thoughts and feelings without judging them. That might not sound like much, but study after study finds that practicing mindfulness can bring a host of physical, psychological, and social benefits. More recently, evaluations of programs like CCT are finding that mindfulness is a very effective way to cultivate compassionate intentions and behaviours.

Is that something that boys and men need? “Men tell you what is on their minds, but not what is in their heart,” says Levinson, who has 40 years of psychotherapy and 20 years of leading men’s groups under his belt. Perhaps not coincidentally, boys and men commit the vast majority of violent acts, from domestic violence to murder. Many struggle with expressing empathy and compassion

At military boot camps and police academies, men learn to control their breathing and focus on a target before firing a weapon. Sports are a great training ground for mindfulness: Basketball players are taught to clear their mind by going through a routine when shooting a free throw. Being in “the zone” is active meditation in its highest form.

Notice, however, that in all of these mindfulness practices, compassion is removed from the equation. These boys and men are being trained for win-or-lose competition..

While some argue that this is the result of a biological predisposition, contemporary research inneuroplasticity, by scientists like Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin, Madison’s Center for Investigating Healthy Minds, finds that even short-term compassion meditation training (30 minutes a day for eight weeks) alters the brain activity in regions associated with positive emotional skills like empathy. That is true for both men and women. As Davidson says, “Compassion is indeed an emotional skill that can be trained.”

You can use your mind to change your brain to change your mind for the better”

We understand the benefits. The need is there. But how do we get men to participate in mindfulness and compassion training? Here are five ways to plant the seeds of compassion in boys—and cultivate its growth in men.

1. Use pop culture to teach mindfulness to boys

When my wife and I tried to teach our sons how to meditate, they immediately sat down “crisscrossed apple-sauce” and closed their eyes. “What are you thinking about?” I asked my five year old. “Inner peace,” he replied.

It turns out that he learned this technique from Po in the movie Kung Fu Panda…

“If every eight year old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation,” says the Dalai Lama. Some might argue with that point, but given research showing how mindfulness meditation leads to greater compassion, perhaps portrayals of meditation in action belong in the Netflix queues of young children.

Shows like Kung Fu Panda and Avatar: The Last Airbender feature characters that gain power—as well as peace of mind—through meditation. The Jedi Knights of Star Wars consistently preach mindfulness to each other, specifically as a way to foster compassion and restraint.

 

2. Give boys role models of mindfulness and compassion

I meditate every day. Sometimes I meditate in my sons’ bedroom, which gives them a sense of security. “Daddy, will you ‘medtate’ in our room, please?” is a common bedtime request of my three year old.

Our sons also practice Kristen Neff’s self-compassion techniques daily. Whenever they say, “thank you,” they put their hands on their hearts and bow deeply. My wife and I want them to connect with what Bruce Lee calls the “emotional content” of their actions. Some parents at our son’s kindergarten have noticed this pose of gratitude and taught their children the gesture.

3. Start with boys in school 

A program in Oakland, the Mind Body Awareness Project (MBA), “work in juvenile halls, detention camps, and at-risk schools in California, serving young people with histories of violence, substance abuse, and deep trauma,” as Congressman Tim Ryan writes in “Toward a More Mindful Nation.”

Scientific evaluations of many of [the mindfulness programs like this one] are finding that they boost academic achievement and reduce behavioral problems. As Congresman Ryan writes:

These people and many others all over America and the world are changing the way we approach chronic poverty and disconnection. These programs reveal to our children that a negative and dangerous life is not their only option. With mindfulness skills they see that they have choices and the wherewithal to overcome the adversity in their lives. As these programs grow and lead to deep, systemic change, our country will be a safer and healthier place because of it.

4. Meet men where they are 

Rather than try to get a few good men to attend compassion training, why don’t we find areas where men are a captive audience, and teach compassion there?

Mindfulness meditation has already been incorporated into the US military’s Marine Corps. At the Quantico, Virginia base, soldiers are offered an eight-week mindfulness course in order to better deal with anxiety, stress, depression, and insomnia. “I can’t think of any aspect of my life that it hasn’t helped me with,” reports Major Jeff Davis.

“Prisoners are such great role models for the rest of us,” says Jenny Phillips, director of the  Dhamma Brothers, a documentary about the beneficial effects of Vipassana meditation practices administered in an overcrowded, understaffed, maximum-security prison for men outside of Birmingham, Alabama. “The Dhamma Brothers suggests the possibility of freedom from that which imprisons us all,” writes Phillips in her director’s statement.

Phillips plans to release free teaching curriculum for schools to teach The Dhamma Brothers. The curriculum includes not only guides to teach and discuss the film and its companion book, but also experiential exercises on mindfulness, meditation, and cultivating loving-kindness.

Catching boys in the home, children at school, kids in front of the flat screen, and adults in institutions might just start a revolution that will end the gender imbalance of compassion.

5. Make compassion training manlier 

Finally, we might try to make mindfulness and compassion training more attractive to men.

Part of the struggle is to simply encourage men to lead other men into mindfulness. “Men tend to go deeper when they are not with women,” claims Elad Levinson. Gil Fronsdal notes that when he taught a meditation retreat without a female co-teacher, his gender ratio sometimes reached 50-50. So maybe having male teachers leading a class for men-only would help.

We can use examples of mindfulness in military, sports training, and popular culture in order to illustrate the concepts and build credibility among men. Levinson argues that compassion trainings need to be “culturally relevant, delivered by credible people who can relate to men, and learning accessible.”

Link to the original article

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photo credit: ‘PixelPlacebo’ via photopin cc

photo credit: Gunnsi via photopin cc

photo credit: Gunnsi via photopin cc

The Advantage of Dealing With Giants In Our Life

Malcom Gladwell wants us to rethink how we think about the giants in our lives whether they be outsized opponents, disabilities, misfortunes, or oppression. We all face or have faced odds that seemed to be stacked against us. Odds that we are forced to deal with.

In David and Goliath, Gladwell shares two ideas. First, “much of what we consider valuable in our world arises out of these kinds of lopsided conflicts, because the act of facing overwhelming odds produces greatness and beauty.” The battle makes us better. It develops us and reveals strengths that we didn’t know we had.

Second, giants are not always what we think they are. The powerful and strong are not always what they seem. Often their strength can expose their greatest vulnerability. Their size can be their undoing. What we see as their overwhelming advantages can also be the thing that limits their options.

We know but easily forget, that there is a point where more doesn’t make a difference and more still becomes a disadvantage. “We all assume,” writes Gladwell, “that being bigger and stronger and richer is always in our best interest.” A wealthy man told Gladwell about the relationship between wealth and parenting:

My own instinct is that it’s much harder than anybody believes to bring kinds up in a wealthy environment. People are ruined by challenged economic lives. But they’re ruined by wealth as well because they lose their ambition and they lose their pride and they lose their sense of self-worth. It’s difficult at both ends of the spectrum. There’s some place in the middle which probably works best of all.

Gladwell makes the point that certainly some people triumph over their disabilities in spite of them. They simply won’t let them stand in their way. But there are those that succeed because of their disability. “They learned something in their struggle that proved to be of enormous advantage.” Challenges can cause us to develop skills we might not otherwise have developed if we choose to respond that way.

Although Gladwell makes the point that there are “desirable disadvantages,” in that it is the difficulty that eventually led to a person’s success and made them a better person, it is not to suggest that we should wish for more disadvantages or wish them on other people. We all have disadvantages, some are huge and some are not, but the lesson is in how we see them. How we react.

Some of what we perceive as advantages—opportunities or resources that we wish we had—have actually ruined people or diminished their full potential in some way.

The thread that runs through all of Gladwell’s examples is how individuals or organizations turned their disadvantages to their advantage—how they defeated giants by reframing their perceived advantage. There is no formula here as to what will work and what won’t. The question is as it has always been, how will you respond to what you have been given?

The key lesson is that for the most part, difficulties are what you make of them.

Link to read the original article

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photo credit: xJason.Rogersx via photopin cc

Everyday Jet Lag

By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS

If you consider yourself to be a born morning person or an inveterate night owl, there is new research that supports your desire to wake up early or stay up late.

Each of us has a personal “chronotype,” or unique circadian rhythm, says Till Roenneberg, a professor of chronobiology at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich and one of the world’s experts on sleep. In broad strokes, these chronotypes are usually characterized as early, intermediate or late, corresponding to people who voluntarily go to bed and wake early, at a moderate hour or vampirishly late. If you are forced to wake up earlier than your body naturally would, you suffer from what Roenneberg calls “social jet lag.”People with an early chronotype may do well with a 7 a.m. workday rising time, but others do not. Sleeping out of sync with your innate preferences can be detrimental to your health, especially for late chronotypes, who tend to be the most at odds with typical work schedules.

…Research has shown that a single hour of social jet lag, the mismatch between your chronotype and your schedule, increases your risk for obesity by about 33 percent. In a study published in June in Chronobiology International, late-night chronotypes gained more weight during their freshman years at college than other new students did, even though college is one of the best fits for night owls.

The brain can also be affected. Another study in Chronobiology found that “individuals having a preference for evening hours to carry out their daily activities are prone to depression,” more than earlier chronotypes are…

Almost every cell in our bodies is likely to reflect our chronotype. In a study in May in Chronobiology, scientists … found that late chronotypes tended to have activity in genes that contribute to later sleep onset, offering further evidence that the urge to stay up late or to rise early is not a lifestyle choice but resides in our DNA.

Few people have the luxury of organizing their lives by their chronotypes. If you can’t convince your boss that your body clock requires a later start, consider “getting outside more,” Roenneberg says. Infusions of sunlight nudge most chronotypes toward an earlier sleep time. …The summertime clock typically disrupts sleep for all chronotypes, he says. “Everybody sleeps better when it ends.”

Want to know your personal chronotype? Complete the Munich Chronotype Questionnaire developed by Dr. Roenneberg and his colleagues.

Link to the original article 

photo credit: Marooned via photopin cc

photo credit: Marooned via photopin cc

The Key To Great Feedback: Praise the Process, Not the Person

by Heidi Grant Halvorson

…scientific studies of motivation have identified clear, principled reasons why some types of feedback work, and others don’t. It is neither mysterious nor random. If you’ve gotten it wrong in the past (and who hasn’t?), then you can do a better job giving feedback from now on by sticking to a few simple rules:

Rule #1:  When things go wrong, keep it real.   

It’s not easy to tell someone that he screwed up, knowing it will cause him anxiety, disappointment, or embarrassment. But don’t make the mistake of protecting a team member’s feelings at the expense of the truth, because without honest feedback he can’t possibly improve. Remember that negative emotions exist for a reason – they motivate us to take action to fix the problem.

Never try to make a team member feel that he wasn’t responsible for what went wrong (assuming he is, in fact, to blame), just because you don’t want to be “hard” on him. Letting him off the hook for his own mistake will rob him of a sense of personal control over his own work. Nothing is more de-motivating than feeling powerless. The short-term discomfort is nothing compared to the long-term damage that powerlessness can do.

Rule #2:  When things go wrong, fight self-doubt.

We all need to believe that success is within reach, regardless of the mistakes we have made in the past. This requires us to be tactful, to share feedback without surrendering the possibility for improvement. To do this,

  • Make your advice specific. What exactly can your team member do improve? When you are a leader, helping others figure out how to do it right is just as important as letting them know what they are doing wrong.
  • Emphasize actions that she has the power to changeTalk about aspects of her performance that are under her control, like the time and effort she put into a project, or the strategic approach she used.
  • Avoid praising effortStudies show that being complimented for “effort” after a failure not only makes people feel stupid, but also leaves them feeling incapable of reaching their goal. In these instances, it’s really best to stick topurely informational feedback – if effort isn’t the problem, figure out what is, and let the employee know.

Rule #3: When things go right, avoid praising ability. 

I know we all like to hear how smart and talented we are, and so naturally we assume that it’s what our team members want to hear, too. Of course they do. But it’s not what they need to hear to stay motivated.

Studies show that when we are praised for having high ability, it leaves us vulnerable to self-doubt when we encounter difficulty. If being successful means you are “a natural,” then it’s easy to conclude when you’re having a hard time that you just don’t have what it takes.

Instead, praise aspects of your employee’s performance that wereunder his control. Talk about his creative approach, his careful planning, his persistence and effort, his collaborative attitude. Praise the process, not the person. That way, when he runs into trouble later on, he’ll remember the process that helped him to succeed in the past, and put that knowledge to good use.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: sea turtle via photopin cc

photo credit: sea turtle via photopin cc

7 Habits of Highly Positive People

HENRIK EDBERG writes…

In this article, I will share the seven habits on how to be a highly positive person — or if you are already positive, to become even more positive. If you are in a funk right now, following these habits will also get you right back on track.

1. Don’t let bad things pull you down

Highly positive people take bad things and see the good things in them.

Bad things can happen to anyone. The difference between a positive person and a negative one isn’t the events that happen to them but how they respond to those events. While negative people let bad things pull them down, positive people don’t. They take bad things and make the best out of them.

As Randy Pausch once said, “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”

A great example is Oprah Winfrey, one of the most influential women in the world. She was, for a time, the world’s only black billionaire. Oprah may be rich and successful today, but she faced extreme hardship as a child.

When she was born up till the age of six, Oprah lived in rural poverty with her grandmother. She was so poor that she often wore dresses made of potato sacks, for which the local children made fun of her for.

When she was nine, Oprah was sexually abused–by the people closest to her, her cousin, uncle, and a family friend. At 13, after years of abuse, Oprah ran away from home. She was pregnant at 14 but her son died shortly after birth.

She attended an affluent suburban high school, Lincoln High School, but had her poverty constantly rubbed in her face as she would ride to school with fellow African-Americans who were servants of her classmates’ families.

Despite this extreme hardship, Oprah did not let it get her down. She overcame her adversity to become a benefactor to others, first becoming a radio anchor at 19, then having her own daytime talk show The Oprah Winfrey Show at 22. Through the show, she has helped millions of people around the world, empowering people to take charge of their life and drawing from both her life lessons and her interviewees’ life lessons to inspire others.

If Oprah had caved in the face of hardship, she would never be where she is in life. She is such a positive light because she chose to make the best out of difficulties she was dealt with and subsequently use these lessons to help others.

Likewise for you, don’t ever let yourself get pulled down by your difficulties. Rather, ask yourself what you can learn from them and how you can turn them around to create the life you seek. Such a proactive approach is the start to living an empowered, happy life.

2. Appreciate every good thing that comes your way

Highly positive people are grateful for every good thing that comes their way.

A month ago I conducted a 14-day gratitude challenge on my personal development blog, Personal Excellence, to over 200 participants. Aside from the assigned gratitude tasks to be done one task a day, I asked my participants to identify at least three things to be grateful for every day.

While it was awkward to deliberately find things to be grateful for at the beginning, many participants quickly eased into the task after a couple of days. From friendships, to daily coffee, to burnt toast, to family vacations, to life itself, many gained a new-found appreciation for these very things which they tended to take for granted.

The participants emerged from the challenge more appreciative and positive of life, even though their lives have technically not changed much compared to before the challenge.

Many of us tend to focus on the negative things in life and that naturally makes us feel negative. Why not pay attention to the many great positive things in our lives instead? For example, instead of being upset at the traffic jam you are in right now, why not be grateful for the vehicle you get to drive?

Instead of lamenting about your lousy boss, why not be grateful that you have a boss to lament about as opposed to being retrenched or unemployed? You’ll be surprised to see how many great things you already have going on with this little mindset shift.

3. Lead a well-rounded life

Highly positive people lead a well-rounded life. This means they don’t let work take over their life; neither do they let their relationships override their personal agenda.

I used to devote all my attention to work, to the point where I deprioritized my social life and my personal leisure. While it was great fun working since my work (helping others to grow) is my passion, I became very uninspired after a while because I was neglecting my other life areas. This was when I realize the importance of a well-rounded life to my emotional well-being.

So today, I ensure that I devote time to the core areas of my life: career, love, family, friends, self (through recreation), and contribution. My life wheel video shares the 11 core areas that make up our lives (collectively termed as the “life wheel”) and how to start achieving a 10/10 in all the areas.

4. Deal with your problems right away; don’t let them linger

Highly positive people deal with their problems right away rather than ignore them.

One thing I consistently teach on my blog and in my coaching is not to ignore your problems. Because ignoring your problems doesn’t mean that they will go away. Often times they will linger around and weigh you down subconsciously, even though you don’t realize that.

For example, I used to be an emotional eater where I would eat in response to my emotions like stress and sadness. For a long time I never dealt with this problem, choosing instead to drown myself in food whenever I felt bad.

Later I realized that I was utterly miserable because my stress eating (a) was causing me to gain extra weight, and (b) had turned me into a slave of food. It was only two years ago when I began tackling this issue and a year ago when I achieved complete resolution.

A simple tip to deal with your problems is to (a) keep a record of all outstanding issues you’d like to deal with, then (b) work on them one at a time. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming tackling multiple problems, but doing it one at a time will help you to manage things easily.

5. Let go

Highly positive people let go of the things that do not support them in living a conscious and positive life. This includes toxic and negative relationships.

I once had to let go of a deep friendship of 10 years because we were severely holding each other back. While I was always working on bettering myself, he tended to procrastinate on his own development and would at times live vicariously through my progress.

His lack of proactiveness in living the life of his dreams would negatively impact me as we had always agreed to work on our life goals together and take action together as best buds. I also felt that I was responsible for his inactions if he was truly living vicariously through my own goal progress.

While we tried to work things out in the beginning, it never happened. All our attempts to resolve this issue drained us as we kept going round in circles. After years as buddies, we were simply not compatible as each other’s good friend anymore.

We finally parted ways after 10 years and we immediately felt relieved of a dead weight.

Looking back I wish we had moved on earlier because the later years of our friendship actually drained us more than they helped us to grow.

Think about the negative things in your life right now — from toxic people, to energy vampires, to negative beliefs, to unhappy thoughts, to things that trigger unhappy memories — and start letting go of them, one by one. The sooner you let them go, the happier you will be.

6. Take responsibility for your life

Highly positive people take responsibility for their lives because they realize that happiness is a choice.

For all the problems, heartaches, toxic people, and baggage you are facing, take responsibility for them. While you may not have created those problems and they may be the result of others’ misactions, you can still take responsibility for experiencing them. Doing so puts you in the position to put a stop to them.

For example, I once experienced a heartbreak with someone I liked. While initially I faulted him for bringing me such pain and anguish, it was only in the later years when I took responsibility for my emotions and the situation that I was finally able to move on.

I later realized that I can literally control my happiness by taking responsibility of my negative emotions (and subsequently my life). Because it’s when I do that I can then take action to address my unhappiness and the situations causing it, rather than putting blame on others. Subsequently, I was able to easily move on from two other relationships that didn’t work out.

7. Spread love and kindness (by helping others)

Last but not least, highly positive people spread love and kindness to others without expecting to get anything back in return.

One of the most rewarding things one can do in life is to help others. This is something I have experienced every day for my past five years of running my personal development blog.

The changes I see in my readers’ lives, the happy looks on their faces, and the deep emotional shifts they experience from reading my articles or attending my courses — these bring so much joy into my life and are reason enough for me to continue what I’m doing forever.

While some of us may think that we need to achieve X status or Y age before we can help others, that’s not true at all. The simplest things can help others: one little phone call to a distanced friend, one pat on the back to congratulate a co-worker for a job well done, or a shoulder to lean on for a friend in need.

I started my blog at a relatively young age of 24 which most people wouldn’t think of as an old-enough age to offer help or advice to others. That was a limiting belief on their part though, because we can always help others no matter how old we are or where we are in life.

In the past five years I was able to help many break through limiting careers, let go of toxic relationships, gain strength from hard moments, excel in their goals, and achieve greater heights by simply focusing on helping those I can help, one step at a time.

If I had thought that one person couldn’t make a difference, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing this blog post today, and neither would I be running a personal development blog or doing life coaching for others.

You have more power than you think you have, so use that to help others. You will find that when you give, you will naturally receive in return as well.

Apply these 7 habits of highly positive people

Which habits resonate with you? Which can you start applying right away?

Link to read the original article

photo credit: mondi via photopin cc

photo credit: mondi via photopin cc

Warsan Shire announced as first ever Young Poet Laureate for London

Carol Ann Duffy today announces the first ever Young Poet Laureate for London at a reception event on National Poetry Day at the Houses of Parliament.

24 year old Londoner, Kenyan-born Somali poet Warsan Shire, has been selected from a shortlist of six talented young poets, and will go on to enjoy a life-changing, whirlwind year of commissions, public appearances and residencies – creating work that reflects on our ever changing capital, culture and society. This will begin with a residency at the Houses of Parliament itself. She will be supported in her role by London’s writer development agency, Spread the Word

Steve Moffitt, Chief Executive, A New Direction, said:

‘It is a privilege for A New Direction to support and be part of the realisation of the first Young Poet Laureate for London. It is our vision that London leads the world as a city where young people can participate in and experience the best of arts and culture.

The Young Poet Laureate is symbolic of what is best about our city and creates a unique opportunity for a new voice to be heard. The opportunity not only offers a platform for the best in spoken word and poetry young talent to be celebrated and shared but also harnesses London’s greatest asset – our young people.’

Warsan Shire is a 24 year old Kenyan-born Somali poet, writer, editor and educator who is based in London.

Born in 1988, Warsan has read her work extensively all over Britain and internationally – including recent readings in South Africa, Italy, Germany, Canada, America and Kenya – and her début book, ’TEACHING MY MOTHER HOW TO GIVE BIRTH’ (flipped eye), was published in 2011.

Link to read the original article 

Warsan Shire – For Women Who Are Difficult to Love

‘…you are terrifying
and strange and beautiful
something not everyone knows how to love.’

To Be Vulnerable and Fearless: An Interview With Warsan Shire

by Kameelah Janan Rasheed

…In “Teaching My Mother How to Give Birth”, she fills the vacant pages with haunting images of women’s bodies occupied by war and displacement. In Ugly, a girl “carries whole cities in her belly” and a mother cautions that “if she is covered in continents,/if her teeth are small colonies,/if her stomach is an island/if her thighs are borders?/What man wants to lie down/and watch the world burn/in his bedroom?/Your daughter’s face is a small riot,/her hands are a civil war,/refugee camp behind each ear”. Her poetry carries the energy of multiple women, the depth of many generations, and the weight of many lives lived…

When Warsan Shire writes, she does precisely that; she opens a wound and as an emotional cartographer, maps the terrain of her trauma and sutures the wound through her poetry. Fearless and vulnerable, she pulls back layers to expose not only the pain, but the healing as well.

On “No Shame Day”, Warsan shared about struggling with Bulimia, stating, “That whole part of my life is almost a myth, I was twenty years old, killing myself and not one person noticed.”  Healed by the site of an “oiled and steamed” woman with hips as wide as hers at a hammam in Marrakech, Warsan reminds her reader, “if our secrets are secrets because we are told to be ashamed, then we must share them.”…

Back on February 25, 2011, you wrote “the birth name”.  In this piece you wrote, “give your daughters difficult names. give your daughters names that command the full use of tongue” and ”my name doesn’t allow me to trust anyone that cannot pronounce it right.” Can you discuss these two lines?

Warsan means “good news” and Shire means “to gather in one place”. My parents named me after my father’s mother, my grandmother. Growing up, I absolutely wanted a name that was easier to pronounce, more common, prettier. But then I grew up and understood the power of a name, the beauty that comes in understanding how your name has affected who you are. My name is indigenous to my country, it is not easy to pronounce, it takes effort to say correctly and I am absolutely in love with the sound of it and its meaning. …

Clearly, you are not “just a poet”.  In your biography, you comment that you curate and teach workshops around the art of healing through narrative. Can you describe the structure of these workshops? Why did you begin these workshops? What is you favorite moment from these workshops?

My workshops are around the idea of using poetry to heal trauma, and I begun these workshops because I wanted to share with people how I had found healing, through creating…the cathartic ritual of letting go and using memory and confession as a form of creation. My favorite moment is when we share the work. And the recognition of safety. The trust that we have built in such a small space of time. The permission to be vulnerable.

Link to read the original article in full

Warsan Shire – Trying To Swim With God

photo credit: Elena Kalis via photopin cc

photo credit: Elena Kalis via photopin cc

The Quiet Secret To Success

When we look at people who are at the top of their field, they all have grit: persistence and passion for their long-term goals. But this doesn’t mean that they burn the midnight oil day in and day out in pursuit of achievement.

Just as elite performers are strategic about what they practice, they are also strategic about how long they practice for. If you think success requires practicing until your fingers bleed or mind spins or muscles give out, for hour upon hour upon hour of endless, relentless, intrinsically boring practice, I have some good news for you: Research suggests that’s not the way to get there.

In our modern, fast-paced, and technology-driven culture, we sometimes forget that we are humans, not computers. Like other animals, we humans are governed by our ultradian and circadian rhythms. Most people are familiar with the concept of our circadian rhythms: In the 24-hour period between when the sun rises and sets, we sleep and wake in predictable cycles. When we travel into different time zones, our circadian rhythms get out of whack, and as a consequence, our lives also can feel similarly discombobulated. …

Our brain-wave patterns cycle in ultradian rhythms as well, and about every hour and a half to two hours, we experience a significant “ultradian dip,” when our energy drops and sleep becomes possible. When we work through these dips—relying on caffeine, adrenaline, and stress hormones to keep us alert—instead of letting our bodies and brains rest, we become stressed and jittery, and our performance falters.

In his studies of truly great performers, K. Anders Ericsson, the psychologist and author of several landmark studies on elite performance about whom I wrote last week, found that they practiced and rested a lot more than their good but not elite peers. For example, violinists destined to become professional soloists practiced an average of 3.5 hours per day, typically in three separate sessions of 60-90 minutes each. Good but not great performers, in contrast, typically practiced an average of 1.4 hours per day, with no deliberate rest breaking up their practice session.

So it isn’t just that elite performers work more than others; they rest more, as well. The top violinists mentioned above slept an hour a night more than their less-accomplished classmates. They were also far more likely to take a nap between practice sessions—nearly three hours of napping a week.

Super-high-achievers sleep significantly more than the average American. On average, Americans get only 6.5 hours of sleep per night. (Even though studies show that 95 percent of the population needs between seven and eight hours of sleep a night.) Elite performers tend to get 8.6 hours of sleep a night; elite athletes need even more sleep. One study showed that when Stanford swimmers increased their sleep time to 10 hours a night, they felt happier, more energetic—and their performance in the pool improved dramatically.

High performance requires more sleep because it involves higher rates of learning and sometimes physical growth. When we are awake, adequate sleep allows us to focus our attention on our practice; when we are sleep deprived, our overworked neurons become uncoordinated, and we start having trouble accessing previously learned information.

When we sleep, our brain consolidates what we’ve learned while we were awake, making it a part of our working memory that we can access later. Sleep allows us to remember tomorrow how to do what we’ve practiced today, and it enables us to recall the information and knowledge we’ve just learned.

The amount of sleep that we get—and how disciplined we are about following our body’s natural circadian and ultradian rhythms—affects not just our health but our productivity and performance. But what does sleep have to do with grit?

Grit is the ability to maintain perseverance and passion towards our long-term goals; we cannot persevere in the face of difficulty if we are fatigued physically, mentally, or emotionally. We can’t persist over the decade or so it takes to achieve true mastery if we become sick or exhausted or burned out along the way. And we can’t improve our skills—intellectually, physically, or artistically—if our learning, memory, and reaction times are impaired due to lack of sleep and rest.

So being gritty isn’t just about pushing yourself 24/7 toward your goals, in both good and bad weather. It’s about making progress toward your goals consistently and deliberately, in a way that works with our human biology, allowing for proper refueling and consolidation of knowledge.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Kevin_Morris via photopin cc

photo credit: Kevin_Morris via photopin cc

Rumination: The Danger of Dwelling

By Denise Winterman

The UK’s biggest ever online test into stress, undertaken by the BBC’s Lab UK and the University of Liverpool, has revealed that rumination is the biggest predictor of the most common mental health problems in the country.

A bit of self-reflection can be a good thing, say psychologists. But just how serious can it get when introspection goes awry and thoughts get stuck on repeat, playing over and over in the mind?

Rumination and self-blame have long been accepted by health professionals as part of the problems that can lead to depression and anxiety – the two most common mental health problems in the UK, according to the Mental Health Foundation.

But new research has demonstrated just how significant and serious their impact on mental health can be.

The findings of a ground-breaking study, published in the journal PLOS ONE today, suggest that brooding too much on negative events is the biggest predictor of depression and anxiety and determines the level of stress people experience. The research even suggests a person’s psychological response is a more important factor than what has actually happened to them…

“We found that people who didn’t ruminate or blame themselves for their difficulties had much lower levels of depression and anxiety, even if they’d experienced many negative events in their lives,” says Peter Kinderman, who led the study and is a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Liverpool…

The human mind is an extremely complex machine and it’s generally accepted there is no single cause for depression and anxiety by professionals in the field. But some factors have more impact than others.

The study found traumatic life events, such as abuse or childhood bullying, were the biggest cause of anxiety and depression when dwelled upon. This is followed by family history, income and education. Next comes relationship status and social inclusion.

“But these didn’t merely ’cause’ depression and anxiety,” he says.

“The most important way in which these things led to depression and anxiety was by leading a person to ruminate and blame themselves for the problem…

It’s important to get across what the findings mean for the average person, says Dr Ellie Pontin, a clinical psychologist and research associate at the University of Liverpool, who was also involved in the study.

“It’s actually a really positive message and should give people hope,” she says.

“It can be very hard to be told your problems are because of what you have experienced in the past or your genetics, things you can’t change. The way you think and deal with things can be changed.”

Other professionals agree…

“And helping someone tackle negative thought processes is not something that has to be done exclusively by clinical psychologists.

Link to the original article

photo credit: David Kracht via photopin cc

photo credit: David Kracht via photopin cc

May I Have Your Attention, Please?

BY 

People can tell whether or not they have your full attention. You may think that you can fake it, but you can’t. You may believe that because you are on the telephone, invisible to the person with whom you’re speaking, that they won’t know that your mind is really somewhere else. But they know….

I know we live in a world of distraction, but this makes your full undivided attention a gift. Giving that gift is proof positive that you care about the other person and what they’re saying.

I know that it’s difficult to focus when there is so much going on around you. But really listening to someone is also a gift. The person you are speaking with wants to be heard–just like you want to be heard. The ability to listen can define and differentiate you in a world full of people who can’t–or won’t.

I know you’re busy. If you want to reclaim your time, then focus on being effective in the moment, not distracted. Effectiveness with other human beings is accomplished not through efficiency, but through caring. And giving someone your full attention and focus is an exceptional gift of caring in the world that is too busy and too distracted to care.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Nicholas Erwin via photopin cc

photo credit: Nicholas Erwin via photopin cc

7 Life Changing Benefits of a Surprisingly Simple Meditation Technique

By 

“Our way to practice is one step at a time, one breath at a time.” ~Shunryu Suzuki

if you can, I’d encourage you to get out of the city and go for a walk.

Here’s why:

1. You will learn to cope with the ups and downs.

There are times when the going is easy, where you run for the sheer exhilaration of it.

But you’ll discover inner reserves of strength to cope with the pouring rain and the difficult climbs, and appreciate the blue skies even more.

2. You will learn that small steps quickly add up to a big achievement.

When I was pregnant, I had muscle pain in my hip, which made walking extremely painful. I ended up on crutches, taking the tiniest step after small step in agony.

It took me forty-five minutes to walk a route that usually took ten.

But I knew I would get there in the end if I just kept moving, because, as my dad always says, “Just remember, all you have to do is get one foot in front of the other.”

And then do it again.

And again.

It feels like glacial progress when you’re in the middle of it.

But when you look back, you will marvel at how far you’ve come.

3. You will learn that sometimes, the path ahead is unclear.

This is when you have to really be courageous, trusting your intuition and experience to find the right path, and finally coming to a decision, and moving on.

4. You will learn flexibility.

Often when walking, you have to change your route because the weather or other unexpected obstacles can dash the best-laid plans.

You will learn to shrug your shoulders, go with the flow, and adjust.

5. You will learn to keep going, no matter what.

It’s called perseverance.

When the climb uphill seems endless and painful, you remind yourself that the pain is temporary.

You know from doing this countless times before that it will be so worth it in the end.

6. You will learn to appreciate every sparkling, unique second.

When you’re walking, your senses are alert. You are truly alive.

You notice curious birds hovering overhead, a blade of grass fluttering in the breeze, the sounds of a trickling stream, the shape of the cloud, and the way the wind ripples the water on the lake.

You will marvel at how the combination of all these things on this particular day at this particular moment will never again be repeated in the entire history of the universe in quite the same way, and feel so grateful.

Others may be making the same journey as you, but the paths they chose to the top may be different. They’ll see different things, and experience the day uniquely.

No one will ever experience this moment in the same way as you.

7. You will learn the importance of the journey.

They say when you’re having fun, time flies.

But I think that’s wrong, because when I walk, time seems to slow down.

I absorb so much, notice so much, simply be so present in the walk that I feel like I’ve been walking for hours when in reality, only a short time has passed.

Actually, it is when I’m in my normal routine in London that the days whiz by in a flash, and I wonder what I’ve achieved.

The familiar surroundings, the concrete of the city, the crowds of rushing, stressed out commuters—meditation is certainly possible in these circumstances, but for a stronger will than mine.

In the city, we are so focused on achieving our goals that our mind is often totally focused on our plans for the future. When we reach one goal, we think “Right, done, what’s next on my to do list?” We rarely sit back and take time to enjoy the journey.

As my meditation teacher says, “We are human beings. Simply be.”

Walking is the best way I know to experience this.

Why not try it?

Link to read the original article

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photo credit: dogpong via photopin cc

Daydreaming in autumn leaves

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The Importance of Taking Time Out (The School of Life)

Damon Young writes in The School of Life Blog

For many, “me time” has a hint of triviality. If hours devoted to paid and unpaid work—from the desk to the freeway to the nappy-change table—are useful, then minutes to oneself are useless: the moments left behind by valuable labour. There is also a mood of luxury to it, as if “me time” were a day spa commodity: expensive pampering with coconut, lime and sandalwood, while body parts are trimmed, painted or rubbed.

Yet “me time” is simply another word for leisure. And leisure need not be useless or costly. The Romans had a word for it: otium. For a civilised retiree, otium … was time to cultivate oneself; to reshape and rejuvenate one’s character.

The scholar and statesman Seneca, for example, took up philosophy in his spare hours. “It is not carried on with the object of passing the day in an entertaining sort of way and taking the boredom out of leisure,” he wrote in a letter to his friend Lucilius. “It moulds and builds the personality, orders one’s life, regulates one’s conduct.”

As Seneca saw it, his hours of otium were essential for a good life: time to take stock, reflect upon himself and the world, and to improve his mind with conversation and study. “What really ruins our characters,” he wrote, “is the fact that none of us looks back over his life.” Seneca’s point was straightforward: his character required a mindful captain, not just a cruising autopilot. His “me time” was very serious, precisely because of what the “me” suggests: the cultivation of the self.

…Exercise is also part of “me time”: not only because it relaxes us, but also because it improves us. Regular jogging, for example, can promote the virtue of constancy: less caprice, more consistency. Martial arts like Judo and boxing can develop courage. A brisk walk is good for the lungs and legs, and also the intellect: the state of “transient hypofrontality” helps innovative ideas to develop. Rock climbing prompts humility.

“Me time” can also be for art and craft. Working at Lloyd’s Bank and caring for his wife Vivien, T.S. Eliot had “me time” in the very early mornings: for poetry. The discipline he developed as a banking clerk was translated into his art. His art, in turn, made his strained emotions and harried thoughts more vivid, clear and beautiful. He was exhausted, but oddly contented with himself (if not his marriage). Jane Austen had “me time” too, with a few intricate manuscripts: one of them, Pride and Prejudice, has its bicentennial birthday this year.

Not everyone has Eliot and Austen’s gifts, but creative hobbies need not be world-class. The point is to translate the vague tangle of life into something ‘out there’ in the world. We ‘objectify’ ourselves, to use Marx’s helpful language, in phrases, clay figures, pastel sketches, knitted jumpsuits, and the garden. (Jane Austen was also a very keen gardener.) In doing so, we can better reflect on ourselves. Alongside their decorative pleasures, and the joy of skillful striving (often called ‘flow’), art and craft are a chance for a more honest consciousness.

In each case, “me time” is neither trivial nor necessarily costly. What makes it valuable is not its price tag or popularity. Its worth is existential: “me time” is for care of the self. This is selfish, not because it thieves from others, but because it sees the self as an adventure: something to keep revising and refining.

At its best, this adventure is no egotistical conceit: by developing ourselves, we have more to give others. With regular “me time” we can be stronger, more lucid, courageous or aware of our own flaws. At the very least, we are simply more sane.

Link to read the original article

Teach Kids to Daydream

 writes…

Mental downtime makes people more creative and less anxious.

Today’s children are exhausted, and not just because one in three kids is not getting sufficient sleep. Sleep deprivation in kids (who require at least nine hours a night, depending on age) has been found to significantly decrease academic achievement, lower standardized achievement and intelligence test scores, stunt physical growth, encourage drug and alcohol use, heighten moodiness and irritability, exacerbate symptoms of ADD, and dramatically increase the likelihood of car accidents among teens. While the argument for protecting our children’s sleep time is compelling, there is another kind of rest that is equally underestimated and equally beneficial to our children’s academic, emotional, and creative lives: daydreaming.

Daydreaming has been found to be anything but counter-productive. It may just be the hidden wellspring of creativity and learning in the guise of idleness.

…I’m talking about the kind of mind-wandering that happens when the brain is free of interruption and allowed to unhook from the runaway train of the worries of the day. When the mind wanders freely between random thoughts and memories that float through our consciousness, unbidden. Television, videogames, and other electronic distractions prevent this kind of mental wandering because they interrupt the flow of thoughts and memories that cement the foundation of positive, productive daydreaming.

Legendary cognitive psychologist Jerome L. Singer goes so far as to call daydreaming our default mental state. Singer proposed in his 1966 book, Daydreaming: an Introduction to the Experimental Study of Inner Experience, that we have two mental networks, working memory and daydreaming. The two cannot operate at the same time, so when we engage our working memory network, we shut off our daydreaming network.

The two forms of thinking may be different, and mutually exclusive, but they are both necessary to our emotional and intellectual health.

Scott Barry Kaufman, cognitive psychologist and author of Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined, argues that while this dreamy, reflective state might look like idleness to an outside observer, daydreaming kids are at work. “Ode to Positive Constructive Daydreaming”—an article Kaufman cowrote with Rebecca McMillan—reads:

There is, however, another way of looking at mind wandering, a personal perspective, if you will. For the individual, mind wandering offers the possibility of very real, personal reward, some immediate, some more distant.

These rewards include self- awareness, creative incubation, improvisation and evaluation, memory consolidation, autobiographical planning, goal driven thought, future planning, retrieval of deeply personal memories, reflective consideration of the meaning of events and experiences, simulating the perspective of another person, evaluating the implications of self and others’ emotional reactions, moral reasoning, and reflective compassion.

In other words, daydreaming only appears lazy from the outside, but viewed from the inside — or from the perspective of a psychologist, such as Kaufman, or a neuroscientist, such as Mary Helen Immordino-Yang — a complicated and extremely productive neurological process is taking place. Viewed from the inside, our children are exploring the only space where they truly have autonomy: their own minds.

Immordino-Yang’s work on the virtue of mental downtime includes the paper “Rest is not Idleness: Implications of the Brain’s Default Mode for Human Development and Education.” The title quotes a 19th-century British banker named John Lubbock, who wrote, “Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.” Lubbock, according to Immordino-Yang, was way ahead of his time in understanding the value of idleness to our essential neurological functioning. What Lubbock called rest, Immordino-Yang calls “constructive internal reflection,” and she considers it is vital to learning and emotional well-being:

[I]nadequate opportunity for children to play and for adolescents to quietly reflect and to daydream may have negative consequences — both for social-emotional well-being and for their ability to attend well to tasks.

…When researchers sought to find ways to alleviate the anxiety caused by high-stakes testing, they found that simply giving students a few minutes to think about and write down their thoughts on the test significantly increased test scores, particularly for students for whom test anxiety had become a habit. In the researchers’ words,

Expressive writing eliminates the relation commonly seen between test anxiety and poor test performance. Moreover, it is not any writing that benefits performance, but expressing worries about an upcoming high-pressure situation that accounts for enhanced exam scores under pressure.

…we should stop snapping our children out of their daydreams. Instead, we should protect this time much as we protect bedtime. Kick your children outside and close the door behind them. Encourage them go for a walk around the neighborhood without an electronic device. Tell your child what I have told you, that that silence and daydreaming are as important to their health and learning as sleeping and studying. Take a serious and objective look at how much time your child spends playing video games, responding to texts, messaging, watching television, or messing around on the Internet and carve out some of that time for daydreaming.

Model this behavior for them and re-discover your own love of daydreaming; don’t snap out of it, fall into it, and encourage your children to do the same. I have incorporated opportunities to daydream into my daily life, because they feed both my teaching and my writing. First thing in the morning when I am awake, but have not yet opened my eyes. On walks in the woods, free of earbuds or an agenda. The otherwise onerous and repetitive task of weed-pulling and raking has also proven fertile ground for this kind of mental meandering. The activity does not matter: Any place or occasion or task that allows the brain to wander will do.

Teach your kids how to just be. How to value silence and be at peace with nothing but their thoughts to occupy them. Make the romantic notion of laying back on the soft grass with nothing to do other than to watch the clouds pass overhead a reality. … To paraphrase two of my favorite dreamers, William Shakespeare and W.H. Auden, round out our children’s days with sleep and allow them to build their air castles undisturbed.

Link to read original article

Why We Need Fairytales – Jeannette Winterson on Oscar Wilde

…since JK Rowling‘s Harry Potter and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, children’s literature has been repositioned as central, not peripheral, shifting what children read, what we write about what children read, and what we read as adults. At last we seem to understand that imagination is ageless. Wilde’s children’s stories are splendid. In addition, it seems to me that they should be revisited as a defining part of his creative process…

Fairytales always involve reversals of fortune. This works in both directions: beggars become kings, palaces collapse into hovels, the spoilt son eats thistles. Wilde’s own reversal of fortune from fame and money to destitution and exile shares the same rapid drama. Fairytales are also and always about transformation of various kinds – frogs into princes, coal into gold – and if they are not excessively moralistic, there is usually a happy ending. Wilde’s fairytale transformations turn on loss. Even “The Star-Child”, in which meanness and vanity are overcome by compassion, ends with a kingdom that lasts only three years…

Reason and logic are tools for understanding the world. We need a means of understanding ourselves, too. That is what imagination allows. When a child reads of a Nightingale who bleeds her song into a rose for love’s sake, or of a Selfish Giant who puts a wall round life, or of a Fisherman who wants to be rid of his Soul, or of a statue who feels the suffering of the world more keenly than the Mathematics Master who scoffs at his pupils for dreaming about Angels, the child knows at once both the mystery and truth of such stories. We have all at some point in our lives been the overlooked idiot who finds a way to kill the dragon, win the treasure, marry the princess.

As explanations of the world, fairy stories tell us what science and philosophy cannot and need not. There are different ways of knowing. “Bring me the two most precious things in the city,” said God to one of His Angels; and the Angel brought Him the leaden heart and the dead bird.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: rogiro via photopin cc

photo credit: rogiro via photopin cc

The Science of Storytelling: How Narrative Cuts Through Distraction Like Nothing Else

BY: JONATHAN GOTTSCHALL, author The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human, writes

In the first of a three-part series, author Jonathan Gottschall discusses the science of storytelling–not just escapism, stories have real power to hold human attention and shape our thinking.

Humans live in a storm of stories. We live in stories all day long, and dream in stories all night long. We communicate through stories and learn from them. We collapse gratefully into stories after a long day at work. Without personal life stories to organize our experience, our own lives would lack coherence and meaning. Homo sapiens (wise man) is a pretty good definition for our species. But Homo fictus (fiction man) would be about as accurate. Man is the storytelling animal…

As Scott Donaton argued in a recent Co.Create post, … “The challenge is clear by now,” Donaton writes, “Intrusive, interruptive, self-centered marketing no longer works the way it once did, and its effectiveness will only continue to diminish in the social age. The question is what will replace the legacy model. There’s a one-word answer: stories.” Story is the answer for two reasons, both of them backed by compelling science. First, because people are naturally greedy for stories, they have a unique ability to seize and rivet our attention. Second, stories aren’t just fun escapism–they have an almost spooky ability to mold our thinking and behavior. In this post, I’ll describe the science behind the attention-seizing power of stories, leaving their molding power for a follow-up post…

The human mind is a wanderer by nature. The daydream is the mind’s default state. Whenever the mind doesn’t have something really important to do, it gets bored and wanders off into la-la land. Studies show that we spend about half of our waking hours–1/3 of our lives on earth–spinning fantasies. We have about two-thousand of these a day (!), with an average duration of fourteen seconds. In other words, our minds are simply flitting all over the place all the time.

So this is the most fundamental challenge we face in the attention economy: how do we pin down the wandering mind? How do we override the natural tendency for a mind to skip away from whatever we are showing it? By telling stories. In normal life, we spin about one-hundred daydreams per waking hour. But when absorbed in a good story–when we watch a show like Breaking Bad or read a novel like The Hunger Games–we experience approximately zero daydreams per hour. Our hyper minds go still and they pay close attention, often for hours on end. This is really very impressive. What it means is that story acts like a drug that reliably lulls us into an altered state of consciousness…

Stories powerfully hook and hold human attention because, at a brain level, whatever is happening in a story is happening to us and not just them.

But this all leads to a bigger question. Most of us think of stories as a way to pleasantly while away our leisure time. Is there any evidence that story is actually effective in influencing us–in modifying our thinking and behavior? Yes. Lots. That’s the subject of my next post.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Pörrö via photopin cc

photo credit: Pörrö via photopin cc

Why Your Brain Needs More Downtime

By Ferris Jabr

Research on naps, meditation, nature walks and the habits of exceptional artists and athletes reveals how mental breaks increase productivity, replenish attention, solidify memories and encourage creativity

…Americans and their brains are preoccupied with work much of the time. Throughout history people have intuited that such puritanical devotion to perpetual busyness does not in fact translate to greater productivity and is not particularly healthy. What if the brain requires substantial downtime to remain industrious and generate its most innovative ideas? “Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets,” essayist Tim Kreider wrote in The New York Times. “The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration—it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done.”

In making an argument for the necessity of mental downtime, we can now add an overwhelming amount of empirical evidence to intuition and anecdote. Why giving our brains a break now and then is so important has become increasingly clear in a diverse collection of new studies investigating: the habits of office workers and the daily routines of extraordinary musicians and athletes; the benefits of vacation, meditation and time spent in parks, gardens and other peaceful outdoor spaces; and how napping, unwinding while awake and perhaps the mere act of blinking can sharpen the mind. What research to date also clarifies, however, is that even when we are relaxing or daydreaming, the brain does not really slow down or stop working. Rather—just as a dazzling array of molecular, genetic and physiological processes occur primarily or even exclusively when we sleep at night—many important mental processes seem to require what we call downtime and other forms of rest during the day. Downtime replenishes the brain’s stores of attention and motivation, encourages productivity and creativity, and is essential to both achieve our highest levels of performance and simply form stable memories in everyday life. A wandering mind unsticks us in time so that we can learn from the past and plan for the future. Moments of respite may even be necessary to keep one’s moral compass in working order and maintain a sense of self…

In a recent thought-provoking review of research on the default mode network, Mary Helen Immordino-Yang of the University of Southern California and her co-authors argue that when we are resting the brain is anything but idle and that, far from being purposeless or unproductive, downtime is in fact essential to mental processes that affirm our identities, develop our understanding of human behavior and instill an internal code of ethics—processes that depend on the DMN. Downtime is an opportunity for the brain to make sense of what it has recently learned, to surface fundamental unresolved tensions in our lives and to swivel its powers of reflection away from the external world toward itself. While mind-wandering we replay conversations we had earlier that day, rewriting our verbal blunders as a way of learning to avoid them in the future. We craft fictional dialogue to practice standing up to someone who intimidates us or to reap the satisfaction of an imaginary harangue against someone who wronged us. We shuffle through all those neglected mental post-it notes listing half-finished projects and we mull over the aspects of our lives with which we are most dissatisfied, searching for solutions. We sink into scenes from childhood and catapult ourselves into different hypothetical futures. And we subject ourselves to a kind of moral performance review, questioning how we have treated others lately. These moments of introspection are also one way we form a sense of self, which is essentially a story we continually tell ourselves. When it has a moment to itself, the mind dips its quill into our memories, sensory experiences, disappointments and desires so that it may continue writing this ongoing first-person narrative of life.

Related research suggests that the default mode network is more active than is typical in especially creative people, and some studies have demonstrated that the mind obliquely solves tough problems while daydreaming—an experience many people have had while taking a shower. Epiphanies may seem to come out of nowhere, but they are often the product of unconscious mental activity during downtime. In a 2006 studyAp Dijksterhuis and his colleagues asked 80 University of Amsterdam students to pick the best car from a set of four that—unbeknownst to the students—the researchers had previously ranked based on size, mileage, maneuverability and other features. Half the participants got four minutes to deliberate after reviewing the specs; the researchers prevented the other 40 from pondering their choices by distracting them with anagrams. Yet the latter group made far better decisions. Solutions emerge from the subconscious in this way only when the distracting task is relatively simple, such as solving an anagram or engaging in a routine activity that does not necessitate much deliberate concentration, like brushing one’s teeth or washing dishes. With the right kind of distraction the default mode network may be able to integrate more information from a wide range of brain regions in more complex ways than when the brain is consciously working through a problem.

During downtime, the brain also concerns itself with more mundane but equally important duties. For decades scientists have suspected that when an animal or person is not actively learning something new, the brain consolidates recently accumulated data, memorizing the most salient information, and essentially rehearses recently learned skills, etching them into its tissue. Most of us have observed how, after a good night’s sleep, the vocab words we struggled to remember the previous day suddenly leap into our minds or that technically challenging piano song is much easier to play. Dozensof studies have confirmed that memory depends on sleep…

All in a day’s work
That learning and memory depend on both sleep and waking rest may partially explain why some of the most exceptional artists and athletes among us fall into a daily routine of intense practice punctuated by breaks and followed by a lengthy period of recuperation. Psychologist K. Anders Ericsson of The Florida State University has spent more than 30 years studying how people achieve the highest levels of expertise. Based on his own work and a thorough review of the relevant research, Ericsson has concluded that most people can engage in deliberate practice—which means pushing oneself beyond current limits—for only an hour without rest; that extremely talented people in many different disciplines—music, sports, writing—rarely practice more than four hours each day on average; and that many experts prefer to begin training early in the morning when mental and physical energy is readily available. “Unless the daily levels of practice are restricted, such that subsequent rest and nighttime sleep allow the individuals to restore their equilibrium,” Ericsson wrote, “individuals often encounter overtraining injuries and, eventually, incapacitating ‘burnout.’”

These principles are derived from the rituals of the exceptional, but they are useful for just about anyone in any profession, including typical nine-to-fivers. Corporate America may never sanction working only four hours a day, but research suggests that to maximize productivity we should reform the current model of consecutive 40-hour workweeks separated only by two-day weekends and sometimes interrupted by short vacations.

Psychologists have established that vacations have real benefits. Vacations likely revitalize the body and mind by distancing people from job-related stress; by immersing people in new places, cuisines and social circles, which in turn may lead to original ideas and insights; and by giving people the opportunity to get a good night’s sleep and to let their minds drift from one experience to the next, rather than forcing their brains to concentrate on a single task for hours at a time…

Put your mind at rest
Many recent studies have corroborated the idea that our mental resources are continuously depleted throughout the day and that various kinds of rest and downtime can both replenish those reserves and increase their volume. Consider, for instance, how even an incredibly brief midday nap enlivens the mind…

An equally restorative and likely far more manageable solution to mental fatigue is spending more time outdoors—in the evenings, on the weekends and even during lunch breaks by walking to a nearby park, riverfront or anywhere not dominated by skyscrapers and city streets. Marc Berman, a psychologist at the University of South Carolina and a pioneer of a relatively new field called ecopsychology, argues that whereas the hustle and bustle of a typical city taxes our attention, natural environments restore it. Contrast the experience of walking through Times Square in New York City—where the brain is ping-ponged between neon lights, honking taxies and throngs of tourists—with a day hike in a nature reserve, where the mind is free to leisurely shift its focus from the calls of songbirds to the gurgling and gushing of rivers to sunlight falling through every gap in the tree branches and puddling on the forest floor…

photo credit: (matt) via photopin cc

photo credit: (matt) via photopin cc

Beyond renewing one’s powers of concentration, downtime can in fact bulk up the muscle of attention—something that scientists have observed repeatedly in studies on meditation. There are almost as many varieties and definitions of meditation as there are people who practice it. Although meditation is not equivalent to zoning out or daydreaming, many styles challenge people to sit in a quiet space, close their eyes and turn their attention away from the outside world toward their own minds. Mindfulness meditation, for example, generally refers to a sustained focus on one’s thoughts, emotions and sensations in the present moment. For many people, mindfulness is about paying close attention to whatever the mind does on its own, as opposed to directing one’s mind to accomplish this or that.

Mindfulness training has become more popular than ever in the last decade as a strategy to relieve stress, anxiety and depression. Many researchers acknowledge that studies on the benefits of mindfulness often lack scientific rigor, use too few participants and rely too heavily on people’s subjective reports, but at this point they have gathered enough evidence to conclude that meditation can indeed improve mental health, hone one’s ability to concentrate and strengthen memory. Studies comparing long-time expert meditators with novices or people who do not meditate often find that the former outperform the latter on tests of mental acuity.Meditation appears to increase the volume and density of the hippocampus, a seahorse-shaped area of the brain that is absolutely crucial for memory; it thickens regions of the frontal cortex that we rely on to rein in our emotions; and it stymies the typical wilting of brain areas responsible for sustaining attention as we get older.

Just how quickly meditation can noticeably change the brain and mind is not yet clear. But a handful of experiments suggest that a couple weeks of meditation or a mere 10 to 20 minutes of mindfulness a day can whet the mind—if people stick with it. Likewise, a few studies indicate that meditating daily is ultimately more important than the total hours of meditation over one’s lifetime…

“When people in the military have a gym they will work out in the gym. When they are on the side of a mountain they will make do with what they have and do push-ups to stay in shape,” Jha says. “Mindfulness training may offer something similar for the mind. It’s low-tech and easy to implement.” In her own life, Jha looks for any and all existing opportunities to practice mindfulness, such as her 15-minute trip to and from work each day.

Likewise, Michael Taft advocates deliberate mental breaks during “all the in-between moments” in an average day—a subway ride, lunch, a walk to the bodega. He stresses, though, that there’s a big difference between admiring the idea of more downtime and committing to it in practice. “Getting out into nature on the weekends, meditating, putting away our computers now and then—a lot of it is stuff we already know we should probably do,” he says. “But we have to be a lot more diligent about it. Because it really does matter.”

Link to read this rich and densely referenced in it full original version

photo credit: The Rocketeer via photopin cc

photo credit: The Rocketeer via photopin cc

Ruth Owen: “There’s no point being a woman and trying to be a man”

by 

The CEO of Whizz Kidz talks about discrimination, never crying in the office and why women need to stop whinging and learn to play the game

…”Sometimes I think women aren’t always as tough as men, they tend to agonise about things and they can be too nice,” she says. “At the same time you’ve got to be sensible, there’s no point being a woman and trying to be a man.”

Owen has experienced more discrimination in her career than most, although it’s clear she doesn’t resent it, if anything it spurred her on to achieve more. When she landed a job in direct sales her boss pointedly asked her how she thought her wheelchair would make her clients feel. Her response was typically direct.

“I said let that be my problem, not yours,” she explains with a steely glint in her eye. “I’d been through all the interviews, all the tests, and I said ‘I happen to have four wheels to my bum but if I do a good job and I deliver then we’ll all be happy, and if you’re not happy then sack me, the risk is all with me, not with you’.”

So does she feel that perceptions of disabled people have changed? “I think people’s perceptions from the Paralympics have changed, I get a lot more offers of help than I’ve ever had. People are more aware. But do I really think things have changed in terms of employment for young disabled people? Absolutely not. I think people are blinkered.”

Employers still struggle with binary ideas about what makes a good employee and this affects young disabled people, who can’t get work experience, she explains. “We can’t all be leaders, but every company needs good workers and it’s important to have different people in the workplace because we need balance.”

Owen talks openly about having to use the men’s toilets in a previous role, as the women’s were down a flight of stairs. “I used to ask my client to go in first to check there weren’t any men in there,” she adds.

Perhaps because of this, she has little sympathy for those who are quick to claim they are being treated unfairly at work. “Sometimes women can be a bit whingy about their lot in life and I actually don’t think we need to behave like that. You need to work on your talent and push yourself a bit. Men can make it difficult for you though, it’s not easy. And it can be very subtle too.

“As a woman you’ve got to walk that very fine line of being pushy but nice to other people along the way.” When she started out, the office environment was mostly white, male and suited, she explains. “I worked out very quickly the politics of it all and what I needed to do to climb.” …

Link to read the original article

photo credit: Andy Murray. via photopin cc

photo credit: Andy Murray. via photopin cc

How Some Of The World’s Most Successful People Discovered Their Spiritual Side

The Huffington Post  |  By 

…with nearly one in five Americans identifying as “spiritual but not religious,” and countless successful people in a range of professions saying that meditation is their greatest secret to success, some of America’s most beloved public figures and successful business leaders are following suit, opening up about their first “big jelly” moments of spiritual awakening — and telling the world why they believe.

Here are 10 amazing spiritual “coming out” stories from successful thinkers, performers and business leaders…

Link to the original article to read these stories

photo credit: nicola.albertini via photopin cc

photo credit: nicola.albertini via photopin cc

You will find these and many more stories in this weeks new collection:

Happiness At Work Edition #68

Happiness At Work #67 ~ the art and practice of patient nurture

photo credit: Martin Gommel via photopin cc

photo credit: Martin Gommel via photopin cc

If you would know strength and patience,
welcome the company of trees.  
– Hal Borland

This week’s Happiness At Work theme is inspired by Steve McCurry’s beautiful photo portrait of trees in his blog collection

Sentinels and Sanctuaries (Steve McCurry’s Blog)

Steve McCurry’s new photo collection shows us in our relationships with trees and in these heart-lifting images, illuminates the timeless wisdom we associate with these majestic cohabitants of our planet.

It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a
claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something,
that quality of air that emanation from old trees,
that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.
–  Robert Louis Stevenson

Follow this link to see Steve McCurry’s Sentinels and Sanctuaries and to enjoy a certain lift to your day

photo credit: joiseyshowaa via photopin cc

photo credit: joiseyshowaa via photopin cc

Following on from these thoughts, here are some of the articles from this week’s Happiness At Work Edition #67 that draw on ideas of nurture, cultivation, slowness, patience, subtlety and longevity.

We’ve Gotten The Pursuit Of Happiness All Wrong, Until Now

Aside from basic survival, the pursuit of happiness is arguably one of the most fundamental concerns of every human being on the planet (not to mention a driving force behind the $10 billion-a-year self-help industry). But according to Cornell cognitive psychologist Shimon Edelman, author of The Happiness Of Pursuit: What Neuroscience Can Teach Us About The Good Life,, we’ve been going about it backwards…

According to Edelman, understanding the workings of our own minds can help us to comprehend not only the nature of happiness but, perhaps eventually, how to optimize the brain for well-being. Recent developments in cognitive science have shed light on how positive emotional states (including pleasure, happiness, and euphoria) occur in the brain — and why we’re hardwired for happiness.

“In the past 10 years, neuroscience has witnessed a revolution. We used to treat the brain as a black box into which very limited glimpses were available, but we are starting to comprehend the basic principles within which the whole thing operates,” says Edelman, explaining that these simple principles are accessible to anyone who’s interested in getting to know his or her own mind…

Part of the reason we’re always seeking happiness is that it’s so fleeting in nature. As Edelman explains, “[Happiness] seemed difficult to grasp and hold onto… One has this compelling need to go on.”

This “need to go on” — to continue the pursuit — is one of the brain’s evolutionary advantages. “A species that rests on its laurels wouldn’t be doing that for very long,” he says.

But not all happiness is gone at a moment’s notice: eudaimonic happiness, which has to do with the way we evaluate our own lives and the feeling that we have lived well, is inherently longer-lasting than any state of pleasure, joy or euphoria (“hedonic happiness”). The distinction of these two domains of happiness goes back to Aristotle, who said that eudaimonic happiness happiness (also translated as “human flourishing,” or “living well,”) could be had by living in a way that follows a larger purpose beyond oneself. Happiness, for Aristotle, wasn’t the result of a life-long pursuit — it was the activity of pursuing.

“Eudaimonic happiness happiness is something you build up over a lifetime,” Edelman says. “In a sense, it’s a great consolation for older people — it’s nice to know that on that component, people can get more and more happy as they age if they led good lives.”

This eudaimonic happiness pursuit of the good life can also keep us in good physical health, according to recent research. A University of California study found that the two different types of happiness were associated with different gene expression. People with high levels of eudaimonic happiness happiness had low inflammatory gene expression and high antiviral gene expression, while those with high levels of pleasure-seeking happiness exhibited higher inflammatory gene expression.

“What happiness does in the short term, it also does in the long term,” says Edelman. “This [eudaimonic happiness] is what can be built and cherished and enhanced and preserved.”

Link to read the original article in full

photo credit: martinak15 via photopin cc

photo credit: martinak15 via photopin cc

Do You Want A Meaningful Life or A Happy Life?

In this long, erudite and thoughtful article,  reports on his findings and conclusions from a a survey that asked nearly 400 US citizens, ranging in age from 18 to 78, about the extent to which they thought their lives were happy and the extent to which they thought they were meaningful.

Happiness is not the same as a sense of meaning.  How do we go about finding a meaningful life, not just a happy one?

Parents often say: ‘I just want my children to be happy.’ It is unusual to hear: ‘I just want my children’s lives to be meaningful,’ yet that’s what most of us seem to want for ourselves. We fear meaninglessness. We fret about the ‘nihilism’ of this or that aspect of our culture. When we lose a sense of meaning, we get depressed. What is this thing we call meaning, and why might we need it so badly?

…We found five sets of major differences between happiness and meaningfulness, five areas where different versions of the good life parted company.

The first had to do with getting what you want and need. Not surprisingly, satisfaction of desires was a reliable source of happiness. But it had nothing — maybe even less than nothing ­— to add to a sense of meaning. People are happier to the extent that they find their lives easy rather than difficult. Happy people say they have enough money to buy the things they want and the things they need. Good health is a factor that contributes to happiness but not to meaningfulness. Healthy people are happier than sick people, but the lives of sick people do not lack meaning. The more often people feel good — a feeling that can arise from getting what one wants or needs — the happier they are. The less often they feel bad, the happier they are. But the frequency of good and bad feelings turns out to be irrelevant to meaning, which can flourish even in very forbidding conditions.

Meaning and happiness are apparently experienced quite differently in time. Happiness is about the present; meaning is about the future, or, more precisely, about linking past, present and future. The more time people spent thinking about the future or the past, the more meaningful, and less happy, their lives were. Time spent imagining the future was linked especially strongly to higher meaningfulness and lower happiness (as was worry, which I’ll come to later). Conversely, the more time people spent thinking about the here and now, the happier they were. Misery is often focused on the present, too, but people are happy more often than they are miserable. If you want to maximise your happiness, it looks like good advice to focus on the present, especially if your needs are being satisfied. Meaning, on the other hand, seems to come from assembling past, present and future into some kind of coherent story.

This begins to suggest a theory for why it is we care so much about meaning. Perhaps the idea is to make happiness last. Happiness seems present-focused and fleeting, whereas meaning extends into the future and the past and looks fairly stable. For this reason, people might think that pursuing a meaningful life helps them to stay happy in the long run. They might even be right — though, in empirical fact, happiness is often fairly consistent over time. Those of us who are happy today are also likely to be happy months or even years from now, and those who are unhappy about something today commonly turn out to be unhappy about other things in the distant future. It feels as though happiness comes from outside, but the weight of evidence suggests that a big part of it comes from inside. Despite these realities, people experience happiness as something that is felt here and now, and that cannot be counted on to last. By contrast, meaning is seen as lasting, and so people might think they can establish a basis for a more lasting kind of happiness by cultivating meaning.

Social life was the locus of our third set of differences. As you might expect, connections to other people turned out to be important both for meaning and for happiness. Being alone in the world is linked to low levels of happiness and meaningfulness, as is feeling lonely. Nevertheless, it was the particular character of one’s social connections that determined which state they helped to bring about. Simply put, meaningfulness comes from contributing to other people, whereas happiness comes from what they contribute to you. This runs counter to some conventional wisdom: it is widely assumed that helping other people makes you happy. Well, to the extent that it does, the effect depends entirely on the overlap between meaning and happiness. Helping others had a big positive contribution to meaningfulness independent of happiness, but there was no sign that it boosted happiness independently of meaning. If anything, the effect was in the opposite direction: once we correct for the boost it gives to meaning, helping others can actually detract from one’s own happiness.

If happiness is about getting what you want, it appears that meaningfulness is about doing things that express yourself

A fourth category of differences had to do with struggles, problems, stresses and the like. In general, these went with lower happiness and higher meaningfulness. We asked how many positive and negative events people had recently experienced. Having lots of good things happen turned out to be helpful for both meaning and happiness. No surprise there. But bad things were a different story. Highly meaningful lives encounter plenty of negative events, which of course reduce happiness. Indeed, stress and negative life events were two powerful blows to happiness, despite their significant positive association with a meaningful life. We begin to get a sense of what the happy but not very meaningful life would be like. Stress, problems, worrying, arguing, reflecting on challenges and struggles — all these are notably low or absent from the lives of purely happy people, but they seem to be part and parcel of a highly meaningful life. The transition to retirement illustrates this difference: with the cessation of work demands and stresses, happiness goes up but meaningfulness drops.

Do people go out looking for stress in order to add meaning to their lives? It seems more likely that they seek meaning by pursuing projects that are difficult and uncertain. One tries to accomplish things in the world: this brings both ups and downs, so the net gain to happiness might be small, but the process contributes to meaningfulness either way…

The final category of differences had to do with the self and personal identity. Activities that express the self are an important source of meaning but are mostly irrelevant to happiness. Of the 37 items on our list that asked people to rate whether some activity (such as working, exercising or meditating) was an expression or reflection of the self, 25 yielded significant positive correlations with a meaningful life and none was negative. Only two of the 37 items (socialising, and partying without alcohol) were positively linked to happiness, and some even had a significant negative relationship. The worst was worry: if you think of yourself as a worrier, that seems to be quite a downer.

If happiness is about getting what you want, it appears that meaningfulness is about doing things that express yourself. Even just caring about issues of personal identity and self-definition was associated with more meaning, though it was irrelevant, if not outright detrimental, to happiness. This might seem almost paradoxical: happiness is selfish, in the sense that it is about getting what you want and having other people do things that benefit you, and yet the self is more tied to meaning than happiness. Expressing yourself, defining yourself, building a good reputation and other self-oriented activities are more about meaning than happiness...

Questions about life’s meaning are prompted by more than mere idle curiosity or fear of missing out. Meaning is a powerful tool in human life. To understand what that tool is used for, it helps to appreciate something else about life as a process of ongoing change. A living thing might always be in flux, but life cannot be at peace with endless change. Living things yearn for stability, seeking to establish harmonious relationships with their environment. They want to know how to get food, water, shelter and the like. They find or create places where they can rest and be safe. They might keep the same home for years. Life, in other words, is change accompanied by a constant striving to slow or stop the process of change, which leads ultimately to death. If only change could stop, especially at some perfect point: that was the theme of the profound story of Faust’s bet with the devil. Faust lost his soul because he could not resist the wish that a wonderful moment would last forever. Such dreams are futile. Life cannot stop changing until it ends. But living things work hard to establish some degree of stability, reducing the chaos of constant change to a somewhat stable status quo.

By contrast, meaning is largely fixed. Language is possible only insofar as words have the same meaning for everyone, and the same meaning tomorrow as today. (Languages do change, but slowly and somewhat reluctantly, relative stability being essential to their function.) Meaning therefore presents itself as an important tool by which the human animal might impose stability on its world. By recognising the steady rotation of the seasons, people can plan for future years. By establishing enduring property rights, we can develop farms to grow food.

Crucially, the human being works with others to impose its meanings. Language has to be shared, for private languages are not real languages. By communicating and working together, we create a predictable, reliable, trustworthy world, one in which you can take the bus or plane to get somewhere, trust that food can be purchased next Tuesday, know you won’t have to sleep out in the rain or snow but can count on a warm dry bed, and so forth…

photo credit: Indy Kethdy via photopin cc

photo credit: Indy Kethdy via photopin cc

My own efforts to understand how people find meaning in life eventually settled on a list of four ‘needs for meaning’, and in the subsequent years that list has held up reasonably well.

The point of this list is that you will find life meaningful to the extent that you have something that addresses each of these four needs. Conversely, people who fail to satisfy one or more of these needs are likely to find life less than adequately meaningful. Changes with regard to any of these needs should also affect how meaningful the person finds his or her life.

The first need is, indeed, for purpose. Frankl was right: without purpose, life lacks meaning. A purpose is a future event or state that lends structure to the present, thus linking different times into a single story. Purposes can be sorted into two broad categories. One might strive toward a particular goal (to win a championship, become vice president or raise healthy children) or toward a condition of fulfilment (happiness, spiritual salvation, financial security, wisdom).

Life goals come from three sources, so in a sense every human life has three basic sources of purpose. One is nature. It built you for a particular purpose, which is to sustain life by surviving and reproducing. Nature doesn’t care whether you’re happy, much as people wish to be happy. …It doesn’t care what you do on a Sunday afternoon as long as you manage to survive and, sooner or later, reproduce.

The second source of purpose is culture. Culture tells you what is valuable and important. Some cultures tell you exactly what you are supposed to do: they mark you out for a particular slot (farmer, soldier, mother etc). Others offer a much wider range of options and put less pressure on you to adopt a particular one, though they certainly reward some choices more than others.

That brings us to the third source of goals: your own choices. In modern Western countries in particular, society presents you with a broad range of paths and you decide which one to take. For whatever reason — inclination, talent, inertia, high pay, good benefits — you choose one set of goals for yourself (your occupation, for example). You create the meaning of your life, fleshing out the sketch that nature and culture provided. You can even choose to defy it: many people choose not to reproduce, and some even choose not to survive. Many others resist and rebel at what their culture has chosen for them.

The second need for meaning is value. This means having a basis for knowing what is right and wrong, good and bad. ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ are among the first words children learn. They are some of the earliest and most culturally universal concepts, and among the few words that house pets sometimes acquire. In terms of brain reactions, the feeling that something is good or bad comes very fast, almost immediately after you recognise what it is. Solitary creatures judge good and bad by how they feel upon encountering something (does it reward them or punish them?). Humans, as social beings, can understand good and bad in loftier ways, such as their moral quality.

In practice, when it comes to making life meaningful, people need to find values that cast their lives in positive ways, justifying who they are and what they do. Justification is ultimately subject to social, consensual judgment, so one needs to have explanations that will satisfy other people in the society (especially the people who enforce the laws). Again, nature makes some values, and culture adds a truckload of additional ones. It’s not clear whether people can invent their own values, but some do originate from inside the self and become elaborated. People have strong inner desires that shape their reactions.

The third need is for efficacy. It’s not very satisfying to have goals and values if you can’t do anything about them. People like to feel that they can make a difference. Their values have to find expression in their life and work. Or, to look at it the other way around, people have to be able steer events towards positive outcomes (by their lights) and away from negative ones.

The last need is for self-worth. People with meaningful lives typically have some basis for thinking that they are good people, maybe even a little better than certain other people. At a minimum, people want to believe that they are better than they might have been had they chosen or behaved or performed badly. They have earned some degree of respect.

The meaningful life, then, has four properties. It has purposes that guide actions from present and past into the future, lending it direction. It has values that enable us to judge what is good and bad; and, in particular, that allow us to justify our actions and strivings as good. It is marked by efficacy, in which our actions make a positive contribution towards realising our goals and values. And it provides a basis for regarding ourselves in a positive light, as good and worthy people.

People ask what is the meaning of life, as if there is a single answer. There is no one answer: there are thousands of different ones. A life will be meaningful if it finds responses to the four questions of purpose, value, efficacy, and self-worth. It is these questions, not the answers, that endure and unify.

Link to read this much longer original article in full

photo credit: Il conte di Luna via photopin cc

photo credit: Il conte di Luna via photopin cc

Why You Should Stop Trying To Be Happy

MARK MANSON writes…

Happiness is the process of becoming your ideal self

Completing a marathon makes us happier than eating a chocolate cake. Raising a child makes us happier than beating a video game. Starting a small business with friends and struggling to make money makes us happier than buying a new computer.

And the funny thing is that all three of the activities above are exceedingly unpleasant and require setting high expectations and potentially failing to always meet them. Yet, they are some of the most meaningful moments and activities of our lives. They involve pain, struggle, even anger and despair, yet once we’ve done them we look back and get misty-eyed about them.

Why?

Because it’s these sort of activities which allow us to become our ideal selves. It’s the perpetual pursuit of fulfilling our ideal selves which grants us happiness, regardless of superficial pleasures or pain, regardless of positive or negative emotions. This is why some people are happy in war and others are sad at weddings. It’s why some are excited to work and others hate parties. The traits they’re inhabiting don’t align with their ideal selves.

It’s not the end results which define our ideal selves. It’s not finishing the marathon that makes us happy, it’s achieving a difficult long-term goal that does. It’s not having an awesome kid to show off that makes us happy, but knowing that you gave yourself up to the growth of another human being that is special. It’s not the prestige and money from the new business that makes you happy, it’s process of overcoming all odds with people you care about.

And this is the reason that trying to be happy inevitably will make you unhappy. Because to try to be happy implies that you are not already inhabiting your ideal self, you are not aligned with the qualities of who you wish to be. After all, if you were acting out your ideal self, then you wouldn’t feel the need to try to be happy.

Cue statements about “finding happiness within,” and “knowing that you’re enough.” It’s not that happiness itself is in you, it’s that happiness occurs when you decide to pursue what’s in you.

And this is why happiness is so fleeting. Anyone who has set out major life goals for themselves, only to achieve them and realize that they feel the same relative amounts of happiness/unhappiness, knows that happiness always feels like it’s around the corner just waiting for you to show up. No matter where you are in life, there will always be that one more thing you need to do to be extra-especially happy.

And that’s because our ideal self is always around that corner, our ideal self is always three steps ahead of us. We dream of being a musician and when we’re a musician we dream of writing a film score and when write a film score, we dream of writing a screenplay. And what matters isn’t that we achieve each of these plateaus of success, but that we’re consistently moving towards them, day after day, month after month, year after year. The plateaus will come and go, and we’ll continue following our ideal self down the path of our lives.

And with that, with regards to being happy, it seems the best advice is also the simplest: Imagine who you want to be and then step towards it. Dream big and then do something. Anything. The simple act of moving at all will change how you feel about the entire process and serve to inspire you further.

Let go of the imagined result; it’s not necessary. The fantasy and the dream are merely tools to get you off your ass. It doesn’t matter if they come true or not.

Live. Just live. Stop trying to be happy and just be.

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photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

photo credit: AlicePopkorn via photopin cc

Is There Any Value In New Age Thinking?

MICHEL BAUWENS writes…

…One of the first tangible benefits of the New Age was to reintroduce the importance of consciousness to the western world and to recognize that spirituality was not just a matter of belief but of experience. New Age traditions contained a vast array of methods that could open up new vistas of perception. For many people, they created an opportunity to re-integrate these methods into their lives and experiment with different alternatives.

New Age thinking also provided a vehicle to overcome the separation of mind and body that was characteristic of western individualism prior to 1968. In many ways it represented what Freud called a “regression in service of the ego”, a return to repressed areas of bodily energy, instincts, emotions, mind and consciousness. Unfortunately, it frequently stayed in that regressive mode. New Age thinking was too anti-rational, too disdainful of the critical subjectivity that was one of the hard-won features of the West. But to paraphrase Lenin, it was probably a necessary “infantile” stage in the development of alternatives. It also offered avenues for people to work on themselves, a positive orientation in an otherwise dark period for social change.

In other ways, New Age thinking was an heir to utopian socialism. Given the difficulty of changing society in radical ways at the macro level, people began to change their own lives by abandoning blind trust in the mechanistic approaches to the human body that were espoused by Western medicine; and by leaving aside the knowledge-stuffing, rote-learning style of education they were fed in order to treat children as whole persons. These changes have made the world unrecognizable from thirty years ago.

Whatever the negative features of the neoliberal age, many institutions have become more humane, more egalitarian, more respectful, and more attuned to the whole individual. People have changed, institutions have evolved, and many small-scale communal experiments have yielded valuable learning experiences even if they have failed to change the bigger picture…

If both New Age thinking and anti-spirituality are exaggerated reactions to each other, the task now is to find a critical subjectivity that rejects the ‘dictatorship of the mind’ – the belief that societies already know the direction or end-point in which they are heading.

What would that consist of? For me, the key step is to reject the view that sees spirituality in terms of individual experience alone, and replace it with a spirituality that functions around relationships between different people.

In pre-modern times, people lived as members of communities with roles that were largely externally defined; in modern times they live as atomized but autonomous self-directing individuals who are bound together through social contracts and institutions. Post-modernity, seen as a critique of neoliberal capitalist structures, sees the individual as increasingly fragmented, and it has developed a strong critique of all the forces that have shown us that we are not nearly as autonomous as we think, including language and power. But this process has also left us stranded as fragmented individuals without much sense of a direction, forever deconstructing realities but rarely reconstructing them with much success. Therefore it is time for something new.

In an age of peer production, in which more and more individuals are socialized through the internet, a relational spirituality can be born among people who cooperate with each other in a wide variety of networks. As we become engaged in communities of our peers that produce collective value, the horizontal dimension of spirituality returns to center stage.

In this new context, the view of human beings as fragmented is no longer a reason for despair. On the contrary, our inner multitude of interests is what enables us to contribute to a range of different, peer-driven projects. The individual psyche can then be constructed through each person’s contributions to the life of the whole, and through the recognition they receive from the communities in which they take part.

Today, individuals are no longer defined only by their membership in traditional communities or rigid roles. In my world, for example, an increasing number of people see themselves as contributors to open-source software systems like Linux rather than employees of Microsoft or Google. In this context, the key to an integrated self is to construct a rich identity of contributions that stem from active participation in many different communities. No longer New Age or Old Age but building on elements of both, a relational spirituality could form a cornerstone of the contributive societies on which the twenty-first century will be built.

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photo credit: leo.prie.to via photopin cc

photo credit: leo.prie.to via photopin cc

Staying Sane In Insane Times

 writes

If we look at what is happening around us today, it can feel that the world is spinning out of control.

Open any newspaper, turn on any TV, read the headlines online or even check your phone’s text alerts and you’re bombarded…and that’s without even taking into account personal and work issues.

For many of us it seems overwhelming, especially if we allow ourselves to care.

So, how do we remain sane in these insane times?

I believe the tools lie with our inner resources, as expressed in a series of relationships.

Relationship with self:

The relationship we have with ourselves starts with being wholly self-aware without being judgmental or self-effacing. Only then can we cultivate the capacity to sense our strong emotions without being defined by them. When we know ourselves we can be more open with ourselves – relating to ourselves not as we think we should be, but as who we truly are, and giving us a chance to be our best self. If we are aware of ourselves inwardly, we learn to stand strong outwardly.

Relationship with others:

Relationships with others also begin with self-awareness, the characteristic that allows us to relate to others in recognition of our common desire to feel safe, trusted, loved and nourished. We all desire for someone to listen to us, pay attention to us, even challenge us. We form much of ourselves within the framework of our relationships with others as we develop, grow and change within relationships. Our own self-awareness and our connection to others are the strongest forces in staying sane.

Relationship with stress:

Stress is a double-edge sword — it can be a wake-up call or it can cause our demise. Stress can make us sick, but it can also stimulate us to make changes and learn new things. When we differentiate between the bad stress that causes us to feel overwhelmed and the good stress that causes us to keep us fit and purposeful, we can forge ahead without feeling overwhelmed by circumstances.

Relationship with our stories

We live in relationship with our own stories — the ones we believe, the ones we edit as we grow and we change, the ones that come from our beliefs. Many of us have stories that begin I am never going to be… I can’t handle… I don’t… I can’t…. When we realize what we are saying, we can work on changing the narrative. Instead of defining ourselves, we can adjust ourselves. Learning how to revise our own stories gives us the power to navigate sanely through chaos and confusion.

It’s never going to be easy to remain sane when we’re surrounded by insanity, but it is worth trying.

These inner resources — our relationships with ourselves, with others, with stress and with our stories — are the cornerstone to our sanity. They give us choices in how we react to what is happening around us, and the capacity to live with what we deal with on a daily basis…

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photo credit: zagor64. via photopin cc

photo credit: zagor64. via photopin cc

Is Resilience In Hibernation?

Phil Vernon writes…

Resilience is a wonderful metaphor. It somehow conveys in a single word the qualities of bending without breaking, of healing after an injury, of tensile rather than brittle strength.

Oak and palm trees are resilient to the power of strong winds, before which they bend and then straighten again. Resilient people pick themselves up after being knocked down, draw on their reserves of ideas and strength to deal with difficult challenges, or hunker down until the gale has blown itself away. Resilient economies bounce back, and resilient ecosystems restore themselves after the fire or the flood has passed.

Resilience is not necessarily a good thing, of course. Patrimonialism and corruption can be resilient to change, as can power dynamics which sanction the marginalisation and harm of women, children or vulnerable people.

American academic Andrew Nathan writes of the Chinese Communist Party’s “authoritarian resilience”, i.e. its ability to adapt and continue to thrive despite its authoritarian, undemocratic approach to power. But most often resilience is used to describe positive and useful features of society.

International Alert is a peacebuilding organisation. We say peace is when people anticipate, manage and resolve the inevitable conflicts which arise in and between societies, and do so without violence; and we describe communities and societies as resilient when they do so.

Their resilience in the face of stress is largely due to the nature of relationships and institutions, which provide them with tensile, rather than brittle strength. Freedom and equality of opportunity are key indicators of relationships and institutions conducive to peace…

Nassim Nicolas Taleb , in his book Anti-fragility – things that gain from disorder, published last year by Random House, explains that resilience is demonstrated best in decentralised and organic societies which can flex and respond locally to stress, and least in over-centralised and rigid societies where individual and local initiatives are discouraged. This is no doubt one reason why, as Andrew Nathan recently wrote, “the resilience of the authoritarian regime in China is nearing its limits”.

So, resilience is not merely a useful metaphor, but one which expresses a powerful idea which we would do well to try and understand. If societies resilient to stress are less vulnerable to disaster and violent conflict, and if critical factors in their resilience include freedom and equality, then building resilience to stress must presumably be an ambition worthy of us all…

But if “resilience” is indeed headed for another period of hibernation, I suspect there is a deeper reason why. It is a very powerful conceptual approach and analytical tool, allowing a broad, comprehensive analysis of the extent to which households, communities, regions, countries, societies or states are able or unable to deal with, survive and bounce back from natural or man-made stress.

For those with patience, the concept lends itself to participatory approaches to identify factors which increase or limit resilience (or, for those who prefer the glass half-empty approach, factors which increase or reduce fragility and brittleness). So far, so good.

SHORT-TERM PROJECT PROBLEM

The problem is, those seeking levers through which to make significant changes which can be measured in terms of the typical lifespan of development projects, are unlikely to find them easily in a resilience analysis. Resilience is – almost by definition – not something that can easily be “built”, and certainly not built to order.

The clue is in the word itself – resilience is something to be found in the nature of societies, hence a quality which grows organically. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb explains, it is the effect of finely woven networks.

Resilience comes from education, and especially the kind of education which helps young people develop their curiosity and ability to adapt and continue to learn. It is to be found in networks of diverse reciprocal relationships between individuals and groups, on which they can draw to get ideas, help, resources in time of need. It is to be found in the freedom of men and women to make their own informed choices, and to participate in politics.

It is to be found in competent and accountable governance, in a free, functioning press, in fair-systems of justice, and so on, and from the interwoven combination of all of the above.

Unfortunately, those in power in more fragile, less resilient societies often see these kinds of features as good in theory, but unwelcome in practice. Rather like St Augustine who prayed for chastity – “but not yet, O Lord” – they’d often prefer to enjoy the spoils of power for now.

Meanwhile those in international development organisations who support these kinds of features in principle, are unable to promote them because they simply do not lend themselves sufficiently to logframes, short-term projects, and the like.

Our development institutions and organisations may not be adequate to the task of promoting resilience in fragile societies. And so ‘resilience’ may be destined to pass back into hibernation. That would be a shame. Because ironically, it describes the problem of underdevelopment, human insecurity and inadequate governance too accurately to be useful.

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photo credit: ** Lucky Cavey ** via photopin cc

photo credit: ** Lucky Cavey ** via photopin cc

A New Level of Leadership Thinking

By 

“The problems that exist in the world today can’t be solved by the level of thinking that created them.”

Albert Einstein

Sometimes I’m tempted to think my win must cause someone else to lose. Put another way, I often am tempted to believe that if someone does what I’m doing, they’ll limit my freedom or my market or my opportunities to experience success. We view the world as a particular size and we must carve it up in a way that everyone gets a little. When things like money get scarce, we think we have to hang on to what we have, and if we give someone too much there won’t be enough left for ourselves.

Back in the 1970′s and 1980′s, that was the prevailing mindset. A market could only be “so big” and each company had to get their share. We had to climb our way to the top and often to get ahead, we had to get ahead of someone else.

“Exceptional insight, productivity and generosity make markets bigger and more efficient.

This situation leads to more opportunities and ultimately a payoff for everyone involved.” Seth Godin, Linchpin.

I wonder how much of our current leadership model needs a mental overhaul.

Why do we have leaders who seem committed to “if you win, I must lose” thinking? Do we see any problems, or situations where we use what Stephen Covey called two-alternative thinking? Two-alternative thinking is based on “if you win, I must lose” thinking. His great book, The 3rd Alternative was a great reminder that synergy is the answer to two-alternative thinking. Synergy is when everyone agrees to find a win-win solution. Compromise means everyone gets less than they hoped. Synergy means everyone gets more.

…to what degree do my own actions and old-world thinking create the problems we experience today?

What can I do to introduce a level of thinking that rises above the problems and works together for a synergistic solution?

What’s it going to take?

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photo credit: USFS Region 5 via photopin cc

photo credit: USFS Region 5 via photopin cc

A Better Work-Life Balance Attracts Top Performing Parents & Millennials

Greg Moran writes…

…A recent Pew study found that 56% of working mothers and 50% of working fathers find balance their work with their family life is either somewhat or very challenging. Similarly, 40% of working mothers and 34% of working fathers always feel rushed. …More than half the workforce is feeling the squeeze when it comes to time and flexibility.

 But working parents may be more passive about their need for a positive work-life balance than those from Gen Y. Unlike their predecessors, Millennials are explicitly demanding flexibility. In fact, 69% believe that regular office attendance is unnecessary, according to a Cisco study. What’s more, according to findings from Bentley University’s Center for Women and Business, 75% of Millennials are unwilling to compromise on their family or personal values. As a result, young top performers are choosing work environments in which the benefits are less about pay and more about creativity, personal meaning and adaptability…

Firms that adapt to the changing wants and needs of the workforce are naturally going to improve their employer brand, or their reputation among prospective employees. In time, this will not only increase candidates’ attraction to the firm, but it will attract those individuals with the best culture fit. What’s more, the sourcing process will be less complex, reducing both time to hire and cost to hire. While all of this takes time to develop, it’s a win-win for candidates and employers alike.

Experiencing this upward spiral of hiring benefits isn’t difficult, but it does require change. In essence, the essential components to this entire process are (1) acknowledging a problem faced by the parents and millennials in the workforce that is causing a noticeable shift in work culture demands and (2) accepting short-term costs for significant long-term gains…

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photo credit: kdee64 via photopin cc

photo credit: kdee64 via photopin cc

Developing next generation leaders for a sustainable future – the stewardship model

Kai Peters, Chief Executive, Ashridge Business School writes…

…The global financial crisis and the rapid pace of globalisation are radically changing the definition of what makes a good business leader. Traditional heroic models and charismatic styles of leadership are under attack, largely because corporate scandals have destroyed trust in the integrity of many of those in power…

A new post-heroic approach to leadership is needed, where executives empower, inspire and strengthen the leadership of others. This will enable the executives of the future to build strong sustainable organisations that are held in trust for future generations – in sharp contrast to a conventional command and control leadership style focused on reducing costs and creating profit.

The steward leader – a model for next generation executives
Leaders should rededicate themselves to care and the principles of stewardship – a form of leadership that focuses on others, the community and society at large.

Stewardship advocates service over self-interest and provides a road-map for developing the next generation leader. Steward leaders have both the desire and the skills to develop organisations which are sustainable in every sense of the word.

What does a steward leader look like?
Steward leaders are those who are motivated by justice and dignity and who can see the bigger picture. Their emphasis is on delivering results with others – and they are skilled in bringing networks and resources together in pursuit of a common aim…

Can stewardship be developed?
In our new book ‘Steward Leadership’, we identify the nine essential dimensions of stewardship and debate what they are and how they can be developed.

Development of a stewardship mindset cannot, however, be ‘taught’ by a teacher or facilitator – it requires the individual to have some kind of internal impetus to evolve in this way and a willingness to move away from conventional approaches.  Our research suggests that non-rational resources, such as dreams, insights, creative and spiritual experiences and emotions, are important in developing sustainable leaders. People who are prepared to step outside of the ‘norm’ and draw on these resources have less to fear from being authentic and wearing their heart on their sleeve.

What does this mean for organisations in terms of talent management and leadership development processes? 
…Managers least likely to succeed are those who place high value on ‘conforming’ to the expectations of others.  They may think the right thoughts and want to make the ethical decisions, but find the accepted social environment of the organisation difficult to break away from.

In practical terms, organisations who want to develop steward leaders need to shift their approach to development and place higher priority on providing immersive, experiential learning which impacts leaders on an emotional level and motivates and inspires them to embed sustainability in the business.  Witnessing the effects of climate change or deforestation first hand, for example, can be a transformative experience.

The following five points are key to helping organisations achieve real shifts in mindsets and develop new sustainable behaviours:

  • Experiential learning is crucial. Getting a first- hand experience of what today’s global and societal challenges are all about is what makes a rationally understood idea at the back of the mind come alive and makes someone want to act on it.
  • You can’t just give people a random experience; you have to help them work out its business relevance. The best mechanism is a project-based business challenge, where participants have to develop some kind of project with business value based on their experience.
  • Clear sponsorship and involvement from the CEO and other senior leadership is vital. This is one area is where walking the talk really counts. The stories those at the top tell must be true, consistent and authentic if people are to believe and follow.
  • Unconventional approaches to development may be met by scepticism within the business at first – but it’s important to allow potential leaders to explore their spirituality, work on psychological issues (i.e. Perfectionism, fear of failure) which may be impeding their progress and to support them in their attempts to embrace a wide spectrum of thoughts and feelings.
  • Provide active support when individuals return to the organisation after an experiential development experience.  This helps convert a shift in mind-set to a habitual new behaviour. Consider things like giving people enhanced job roles, encouraging line managers to be supportive, having a dedicated co-ordinator to provide on-going encouragement recognising and rewarding positive new behaviours.
  • Steward leadership is a more empowering form of transformational leadership. These developmental activities help leaders adopt the qualities of ‘stewards’ earlier in people’s careers, and earlier in their lifetimes, to help create a new, more sustainable, future.

Link to the original article in full

photo credit: MedEvac71 via photopin cc

photo credit: MedEvac71 via photopin cc

Showing That You Care

Mary Jo Asmus offers some practical advice about how to lead in ways that nourish people…

…Many managers get so caught up in the day to day work of keeping themselves and others on task and working toward achieving the bottom line that they forget about the people who are making it all happen.

A leader creates, sustains and repairs relationships. They care about the people who are getting the work done.

What have you done lately to show your leadership?

How are you demonstrating to your employees that you care about them?

Start today to:

Get to know them. It’s not that hard, it just takes some intention and time. Walk around. Greet people. Pick up the phone and call those who work remotely. Ask them how they are doing. Ask them about their life outside of work (family, hobbies, etc.). Ask them what you can do to make things easier.

Delight in their individuality. People don’t come to your organization as clones. Everyone is different and each deserves to be treated as a unique individual who is full of potential. Get to know what they do well, what they enjoy doing, and give them the freedom to do it their way. Enjoy and celebrate their uniqueness.

Support them. When things get tough, be there to support them. When things are going well make sure they know that you’ve noticed. Remove the barriers to their ability to achieve their full potential by guiding, giving feedback, and coaching them.

Stretch them. One of the highest compliments you can give an employee is to provide an opportunity for them to stretch; it shows that you care enough to see them achieve something more. Watch for those who are ready, and encourage them to stretch in assignments that will help them to grow and develop.

Demonstrate your gratitude. A quick thank you on the run to your next meeting is not always enough. Reach into your heart and express your gratitude for the things they do that have meaning to you and the organization. Look them in the eye and let them know what they did and explain how their actions touched you and others around you.

Show them that you care. Reach into your heart to repeat the above over and over again.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: katerha via photopin cc

photo credit: katerha via photopin cc

2013 World Mental Health Day: Taking Care 

By LISA KANTOR

Today (10th October 2013 ) is World Mental Health Day. Today, I take a moment to reflect on the many challenges faced by those living with mental illness, especially those who are unable to access treatment.

Today is the perfect day to urge others to support mental health prevention, mental health education, and improved access to mental health treatment. Today is our chance to restart the conversation about mental health, to speak openly about uncertainties and misconceptions surrounding mental illnesses, and to move toward eliminating the damaging and unnecessary stigma that lingers around mental illness…

Promoted by the World Health Organization, World Mental Health Day is dedicated to increasing awareness of the mental health issues that affect the lives of millions of Americans. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in four adults experience mental illness in a given year. These millions of people are our acquaintances, friends, loved ones, co-workers — ourselves.

How can we become more attentive and compassionate to those who suffer with mental illness? In addition to education, early intervention, and increased resources – I believe in the power of mindfulness, taking good care of yourself (self-care), and being able to reach out for help when you need it. Although often regarded as self-indulgent, self-care is such an important piece of mental health and wellness. Jennifer Louden expresses this concept so gracefully:

Self-care is essential for our survival; it is essential as the basis for healthy, authentic relationships; it is essential if we honestly want to nurture the people we care about. Self-care is not selfish or self-indulgent. We cannot nurture others from a dry well. We need to take care of our needs first, then we can give from our surplus, our abundance. When we nurture others from a place of fullness, we feel renewed instead of taken advantage of. And they feel renewed too, instead of guilty. We have something precious to give others when we have been comforting and caring for ourselves and building up self-love.

Link to read the full original article

photo credit: shoothead via photopin cc

photo credit: shoothead via photopin cc

Taking Care of Yourself When You’re Depressed

By 

These are several simple but meaningful ways you can practice self-care, even when that’s the last thing you want to – or can – do.

Your Holy Trinity

Borchard suggested starting with three basics: sleep, diet and exercise. She referred to these as her “holy trinity.” She goes to bed at the same time every night and sleeps for the same amount of hours. (She needs eight hours.) “Diets full of protein and omega-3 fatty acids promote mental health,” she said. So her diet includes salmon, dark green vegetables and whole grains. “Exercise has antidepressant capabilities, plus you are essentially telling yourself that you intend to get better. I think sometimes we have to lead with the body, and the mind will follow.”

Feed Your Senses

Whenever Serani feels her “depression looming within,” she focuses on nourishing her senses. “Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness” by J. Karat is packed with studies showing how feeding your sense of sight, smell, sounds, taste and touch produces dopamine, serotonin, melatonin and oxytocin – feel-good neurochemistry that helps heal depression.”

There are many ways you can supply your senses. Serani suggested opening up the windows to let sunshine soothe you; sipping a warm cup of tea or coffee; wrapping yourself in a blanket; listening to soft music; and lighting a candle.

Be Prepared

Self-care requires preparation, Serani said. That’s why it’s important to keep the things that soothe you by your side and in your home. It makes moving into self-care mode much easier, she said. “Stock up on comfort foods, teas and coffees, store scented candles or incense nearby, pre-program radio stations to soothing music you like, drape a velvety blanket on a couch or chair.”

Practice Self-Care Daily

Self-care also requires regular practice, Serani said. She encouraged readers to avoid waiting until you’re drained or depleted to attempt self-care. “Use [the above] sense-oriented techniques often so there’s an ease that comes from their use.”

Self-care is critical for healing depression. As Borchard said, “You get well faster and stay well longer.” But some days, self-care will feel especially far away. On those days, “Be easy with yourself.” Beating yourself up only makes you feel worse and stops you from getting better, she said. “Consider yourself a good friend, and speak to yourself as such.”

Link to read the original article

photo credit: United Nations Photo via photopin cc

photo credit: United Nations Photo via photopin cc

Simple Ways to Cultivate Happiness in Schools – and at work too

This article is written as a guide to increasing happiness in schools, but Elena Aguilar‘s suggestions offer great value too for increasing our happiness at work, so I couldn’t resist a little tweaking to adapt them into a more adult-friendly set of guidelines…

1. Slow Down

When we slow down, we notice more, we appreciate more, we take stock of relationships, learning, and goals. Everyone can benefit from slowing down… There’s a direct correlation between our levels of contentment and the pace at which we live our lives…

2. Get Outside

Being outside, even for just a few minutes a day, can heighten our state of well-being. We breathe fresh air, feel the elements on our skin – the warmth of the sun, the sting of wind, the moisture of rain – which connects us to the natural world. Even when it’s cold out, or when it’s warm and glorious, we can [get] outside for a quick (5 minute) walk, or we can do silent reading outside and our feelings of happiness might increase.

Furthermore, when the weather is comfortable, why can’t we have some of the many meetings we all have to sit in outside? Last year I took my instructional coaches to the forest for one of our professional development days. In addition to hiking, we read, talked, learned, and wrote — all of the activities we usually do in our office.

3. Move Your Body

We all know this already, but I’m going to remind you anyway: Moving our bodies increases our happiness. Even if you can’t [get] outside, you can incorporate stretching breaks into [your] days…  Moments of movement are great and our brains start producing the endorphins that make us happy right away.

4. Blast Good Music

Music in a fast tempo and in a major key can make us feel happy and it has a measurable positive impact on our bodies – it can even boost our immune system, decrease blood pressure, and lower anxiety. Playing music as [people enter a room] can be welcoming and can create a positive atmosphere. Those of us who facilitate learning for adults can also do this. Imagine coming into an early morning staff meeting to the sounds of salsa or to Johnny Nash singing, “I Can See Clearly Now.” You probably feel happier just thinking about this.

5. Sing

Now sing along with those tunes, or sing in your car or in the shower — and see how you feel. Singing requires us to breathe deeply, which makes us happier. Singing along to some of our favorite music makes our brain release endorphins…

6. Smile

Even if you’re not a smiley person, try smiling more often – aim for authentic, genuine smiles, but if you can’t produce one, go ahead and fake it. Yes, even fake smiles can move you along towards a more content state of being. And more than that, they can have an affect on those looking at you. … just see what happens if you smile more often at the people you interact with on a daily basis.

7. Incorporate Quiet Time

My new email pen pal in Bhutan, a teacher in a school for boys aged 6-18, describes how all students in Bhutan practice meditation. Of course, this makes sense given that this is a Buddhist nation. He describes this as a primary way in which his country works to build a happy populace. There’s an abundance of evidence about how meditation causes changes in our brain chemistry that produces feelings of calm and wellbeing. In our country, some schools are incorporating mindfulness meditation, but I also think we could work towards similar ends by simply incorporating more quiet time into our daily routines.

Link to read the original unadapted article of guidelines for use with students

photo credit: Indy Kethdy via photopin cc

photo credit: Indy Kethdy via photopin cc

10 Easy Things That Will Make You Happier, Backed By Science

The above suggestions are matched and extended in this list, offered in The Mind Unleashed

I would love to be happier, as I’m sure most people would, so I thought it would be interesting to find some ways to become a happier person that are actually backed up by science. Here are ten of the best ones I found.

1. Exercise more – 7 minutes might be enough

You might have seen some talk recently about the scientific 7 minute workout mentioned in The New York Times. So if you thought exercise was something you didn’t have time for, maybe you can fit it in after all.

Exercise has such a profound effect on our happiness and well-being that it’s actually been proven to be an effective strategy for overcoming depression…

You don’t have to be depressed to gain benefit from exercise, though. It can help you to relax, increase your brain power and even improve your body image, even if you don’t lose any weight…

2. Sleep more – you’ll be less sensitive to negative emotions

We know that sleep helps our bodies to recover from the day and repair themselves, and that it helps us focus and be more productive. It turns out, it’s also important for our happiness.  In NutureShock, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman explain how sleep affects our positivity:

Negative stimuli get processed by the amygdala; positive or neutral memories gets processed by the hippocampus. Sleep deprivation hits the hippocampus harder than the amygdala. The result is that sleep-deprived people fail to recall pleasant memories, yet recall gloomy memories just fine.

In one experiment by Walker, sleep-deprived college students tried to memorize a list of words. They could remember 81% of the words with a negative connotation, like “cancer.” But they could remember only 31% of the words with a positive or neutral connotation, like “sunshine” or “basket.”

The BPS Research Digest explores another study that proves sleep affects our sensitivity to negative emotions. Using a facial recognition task over the course of a day, the researchers studied how sensitive participants were to positive and negative emotions. Those who worked through the afternoon without taking a nap became more sensitive late in the day to negative emotions like fear and anger…

Another study tested how employees’ moods when they started work in the morning affected their work day.

Researchers found that employees’ moods when they clocked in tended to affect how they felt the rest of the day. Early mood was linked to their perceptions of customers and to how they reacted to customers’ moods.

And most importantly to managers, employee mood had a clear impact on performance, including both how much work employees did and how well they did it. …

3. Move closer to work – a short commute is worth more than a big house

Our commute to the office can have a surprisingly powerful impact on our happiness. The fact that we tend to do this twice a day, five days a week, makes it unsurprising that its effect would build up over time and make us less and less happy…

4. Spend time with friends and family – don’t regret it on your deathbed

Staying in touch with friends and family is one of the top five regrets of the dying. If you want more evidence that it’s beneficial for you, I’ve found some research that proves it can make you happier right now.

Social time is highly valuable when it comes to improving our happiness, even for introverts. Several studies have found that time spent with friends and family makes a big difference to how happy we feel, generally…

5. Go outside – happiness is maximized at 13.9°C

In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor recommends spending time in the fresh air to improve your happiness:

Making time to go outside on a nice day also delivers a huge advantage; one study found that spending 20 minutes outside in good weather not only boosted positive mood, but broadened thinking and improved working memory…

6. Help others – 100 hours a year is the magical number

One of the most counterintuitive pieces of advice I found is that to make yourself feel happier, you should help others. In fact, 100 hours per year (or two hours per week) is the optimal time we should dedicate to helping others in order to enrich our lives…

In his book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, University of Pennsylvania professor Martin Seligman explains that helping others can improve our own lives:

…we scientists have found that doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested…

7. Practice smiling – it can alleviate pain

Smiling itself can make us feel better, but it’s more effective when we back it up with positive thoughts, according to this study:

A new study led by a Michigan State University business scholar suggests customer-service workers who fake smile throughout the day worsen their mood and withdraw from work, affecting productivity. But workers who smile as a result of cultivating positive thoughts – such as a tropical vacation or a child’s recital – improve their mood and withdraw less.

According to PsyBlogsmiling can improve our attention and help us perform better on cognitive tasks:

Smiling makes us feel good which also increases our attentional flexibility and our ability to think holistically. When this idea was tested by Johnson et al. (2010), the results showed that participants who smiled performed better on attentional tasks which required seeing the whole forest rather than just the trees…

8. Plan a trip – but don’t take one

As opposed to actually taking a holiday, it seems that planning a vacation or just a break from work can improve our happiness. A study published in the journal, Applied Research in Quality of Lifeshowed that the highest spike in happiness came during the planning stage of a vacation as employees enjoyed the sense of anticipation:

In the study, the effect of vacation anticipation boosted happiness for eight weeks.

After the vacation, happiness quickly dropped back to baseline levels for most people.

Shawn Achor has some info for us on this point, as well:

One study found that people who just thought about watching their favorite movie actually raised their endorphin levels by 27 percent.

If you can’t take the time for a vacation right now, or even a night out with friends, put something on the calendar—even if it’s a month or a year down the road. Then whenever you need a boost of happiness, remind yourself about it.

9. Meditate – rewire your brain for happiness

Meditation is often touted as an important habit for improving focus, clarity and attention span, as well as helping to keep you calm. It turns out it’s also useful for improving your happiness:

In one study, a research team from Massachusetts General Hospital looked at the brain scans of 16 people before and after they participated in an eight-week course in mindfulness meditation. The study, published in the January issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, concluded that after completing the course, parts of the participants’ brains associated with compassion and self-awareness grew, and parts associated with stress shrank.

Meditation literally clears your mind and calms you down, it’s been often proven to be the single most effective way to live a happier live…

10. Practice gratitude – increase both happiness and life satisfaction

This is a seemingly simple strategy, but I’ve personally found it to make a huge difference to my outlook. There are lots of ways to practice gratitude, from keeping a journal of things you’re grateful for, sharing three good things that happen each day with a friend or your partner, and going out of your way to show gratitude when others help you…

Quick last fact: Getting older will make yourself happier

As a final point, it’s interesting to note that as we get older, particularly past middle age, we tend to grow happier naturally. There’s still some debate over why this happens, but scientists have got a few ideas:

Researchers, including the authors, have found that older people shown pictures of faces or situations tend to focus on and remember the happier ones more and the negative ones less.

Other studies have discovered that as people age, they seek out situations that will lift their moods — for instance, pruning social circles of friends or acquaintances who might bring them down. Still other work finds that older adults learn to let go of loss and disappointment over unachieved goals, and hew their goals toward greater wellbeing.

So if you thought being old would make you miserable, rest assured that it’s likely you’ll develop a more positive outlook than you probably have now.

Link to read the original article in full

photo credit: bies via photopin cc

photo credit: bies via photopin cc

Happiness 101 – Teaching our Children the Habits of Happiness

What happens when people learn the habits of happiness and practice them every day?

Do you know how to be happy?

Erin Michelle Threlfall is a theatre artist, activist and educator whose passion is making the world a better place via theater, the arts, her infectious exuberance and the classroom. Originally from the US, she’s taught at schools in Ghana, South Korea, Togo, and Bali. She focuses on nurturing global citizenship, happiness, and social activism within her students and leads dynamic workshops on inquiry-based learning and integrating the arts into the classroom.

photo credit: ViaMoi via photopin cc

photo credit: ViaMoi via photopin cc

Want To Be An Artist? Try A Little Narcissism

Jillian Steinhauer reports

A new study has found that narcissistic people are more likely to consider themselves creative and do creative things than their non-narcissistic counterparts. Um … we needed a study to tell us that?…

In the end, people with narcissistic tendencies were not only more likely to say they were creative; they also were more likely to do creative things. The personality traits of extraversion and openness also corresponded to increased creative activity, which is telling about what this study really shows: that self-confidence goes a long way.

If you believe you’re good enough at something, chances are you’ll do it, even if it’s unstable or difficult, as so many creative pursuits are. And chances are you’ll continue trying to do it even in the face of rejection, which is also required in creative fields like art and writing.

Link to read the original article in full

photo credit: Denis Collette...!!! via photopin cc

photo credit: Denis Collette…!!! via photopin cc

Are Your Strengths Holding You Back?

Sue Roberts, a very wise and wonderful trainer and occupational psychologist we sometimes get the joy of working with, says that our strengths can be problematic in two ways:

  1.  on the one hand, the stronger we are in any particular quality, the further away we are from its opposite (which is why the opposite of our strengths are weaknesses if we haven’t learned to practise them up into our skill set);
  2. less well-known, our strengths can become liabilities if we deploy them inappropriately in situations that call for quite different qualities and behaviours.

This idea is picked up and discussed by Michelle McQuaid – a positive psychology researcher, author and workplace trainer – who writes…

Do your strengths ever get you into trouble? You know those moments when the things you like doing and are good at, go just that little bit too far. For example, when your strength of humour has you making one joke too many. Or your strength of creativity has you take one idea a bit too far. Or your strength of kindness has you give and give to everyone else until there’s nothing left for yourself. We’ve all been there at some point, haven’t we?

For me it was my strength of zest. As a senior leader for many years in large organisations, my abundant energy and vitality made it possible to drive and deliver solutions that literally left people’s heads spinning. It was great from a task achievement perspective, but probably burnt through more relationships with my colleagues than I’d care to count. You see other people simply struggled to keep up.

Of course this was pointed out to me more than once during my performance reviews, but “going too fast” was always presented to me as a weakness that needed improvement. Can you imagine how that sounded? Here I was thinking what a great job I was doing, feeling really engaged, energised and enjoying my work and delivering results. Only to hear later that others felt my efforts were completely misfiring.

I walked away from those meetings feeling confused, disillusioned and completely burnt out…

Can a strength really derail your work? A growing body of evidence suggests using your strengths makes you more likely to achieve your goals, to feel less stressed and to have a greater level of well-being. Outcomes most of us are longing for.

However, researchers are also discovering that to use your strengths optimally you need the right strength, in the right amount, in the right way and at the right time. You need to find the ‘golden mean’ – where you’re neither underplaying, nor over overplaying what you do best.

How can you avoid overplaying a strength? Sometimes our strengths are overplayed because the context has changed. For me this would happen when I was busy storming through a project and our business needs would suddenly shift meaning we should slow down for a bit. Learning to read the signs about when my zest was needed – and when it wasn’t – was one way I started to turn around my negative feedback.

The biggest shift came though when I finally became aware that I had the choice to dial up – or dial down – my strength of zest. Turns out I didn’t have to run through life with my foot flat to the floor all the time just to do what I did best. Perhaps I’d just been going too fast, for too long, to see I had the choice!

By learning how to manage my strengths, I became more aware of how my zest could be intimidating for my team who feared they’d never be able to keep up. I learnt to value the need to give others time to get on board before I took off. And I began to appreciate the power off being willing and able to slow down – at least some of the time. As a result, my professional and personal life soared.

Link to read the original article in full

Here is a link to where you can get your free VIA Me Character Strengths profile built from the six virtues of Courage, Humanity, Justice, Temperance, Transcendence, and Wisdom

photo credit: sachman75 via photopin cc

photo credit: sachman75 via photopin cc

Tune Out Distractions – and Tune Into Happiness (Shawn Achor)

HARVEY SCHACHTER reports…

Too much noise can knock you off balance.

That’s the warning from Shawn Achor, San Antonio, Tex.-based author of the bestselling book The Happiness Advantage and the recently published Before Happiness. But Mr. Achor is not talking about the noise of a neighbour’s stereo blasting away or drilling at a construction site across from your office. For him, external noise is the flood of information, often negatively tinged, that washes over you each day. And the internal noise, usually negative, that invades our thoughts throughout the day.

Our ancestors looked to external noise for clues to threats. In a sense, we are doing that as we scan e-mails, newspapers and other information each day. At a basic level, noise distorts our reality – Las Vegas casinos overload our brains with sounds and lights to distract us from the reality that we’re losing money. He says that the noise from the information we receive, so much of it negative, pushes us into a “negative reality,” in which our equanimity is tipped, our stress heightened, and our potential limited.

“If you can decrease the noise, it can have a huge impact on happiness. If we can find some balance – turn away from constant messages – the brain can scan the present for things you are grateful for,” the positive-psychology lecturer said in an interview.

He points to a Fortune 100 company where he recently worked with the management team. They have a policy to use no technology on Sundays – to shut down. The result, they found, was greater productivity during the week owing to that day of rest. The policy, it’s worth noting, applied only to the top team, not others who work for them, which he found ironic.

He distinguishes between signals and noise. A signal is information that is true and reliable, alerting us to the opportunities, possibilities and resources that will help us attain our true potential. Noise is everything else – information that is false, or unnecessary, or prevents us from seeing a world where success is possible.

He lays out four criteria for identifying noise:

Unusable: Your behaviour won’t be altered by the information. “Once you start applying this mental algorithm, you’ll realize that, sadly, most of the information that floods your brain on a daily or even an hourly basis fits into this category,” he writes in his latest book. An earthquake or coup in a country across the globe may be tragic, but it’s essentially extraneous to your life, so don’t let it jolt you into a negative space.

Untimely: You are not going to use the information imminently, and it could change by the time you use it. If you intend to hold stocks for the long run, why check the stock market each day?

Hypothetical: It is based on what someone believes “could be” instead of “what is.” Economic and weather forecasts head the list. “What if you could have back all the minutes of your life you’ve spent listening to predictions – 90 per cent of which have been wrong?” he asks in the book.

Distracting: It distracts you from your goals. Much of the e-mail you received today, let alone your surfing of websites, took you no further toward your big goals.

He urges people to start distinguishing between the signals and noise that come at you, and reduce your brain overload by stopping the addiction to noise. Eliminate the things that are hypothetical, and the reports about car accidents in foreign countries. “Don’t turn a blind eye to the world, but focus on the things that are meaningful,” he said in the interview. “The more we focus on noise, the less we hear the important signals.”

At companies he works with, he asks people to experiment by decreasing their information intake by 5 per cent – specifically information that qualifies as noise. Set boundaries as well, looking at your e-mail only periodically. When you head to a website, scan only for information that matters to you. “Five per cent is a small number, so people feel it’s possible. It turns down the volume a bit,” he said. Perhaps that 5 per cent is spread through the week, or only a chunk of weekend time when you grab a respite. You’ll find reducing the noise, even slightly, increases your social connection with others, which he says is the greatest predictor of happiness.

He has noise-cancelling headphones for flights so he can isolate himself from the din around him. Similarly, you want to reduce the noise from internal doubt, fear of the future, and self-criticism. Studies show that if an employee or child is fearful, they will often fail on the next project or math test. Your noise-cancelling headphones allow you to think of positive moments that counteract those fears, such as three successes you had in similar situations.

He offers three principles to live by:

I will keep my worry in proportion to the likelihood of the event.

I will not ruin 10,000 days to be right on a handful. “Some people worry for 10,000 days about various things to get past one bad day. They give themselves 10,000 bad days to have one good day,” he says.

I will not equate worrying with being loving or responsible.

In short, be conscious of the noise coming at you – external and internal – and reduce the incidence of the noise to increase your balance and happiness.

Link to read the original article

photo credit: pfarrell95 via photopin cc

photo credit: pfarrell95 via photopin cc

Happiness At Work Edition #67

All of these stories, and more, are part of this week’s new Happiness At Work collection, which I hope you enjoy…

Link to see the full Happiness At Work Edition #67 collection

photo credit: pfarrell95 via photopin cc

photo credit: pfarrell95 via photopin cc

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

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

photo credit: Rojer via photopin cc

photo credit: Rojer via photopin cc

Six Habits of Highly Empathic People

–by Roman Krznaric

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

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

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

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

Habit 1: Cultivate curiosity about strangers

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

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

Habit 2: Challenge prejudices and discover commonalities

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

Habit 3: Try another person’s life

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

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

Habit 4: Listen hard—and open up

There are two traits required for being an empathic conversationalist.

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

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

Habit 5: Inspire mass action and social change

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

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

Habit 6: Develop an ambitious imagination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

photo credit: abhiomkar via photopin cc

photo credit: abhiomkar via photopin cc

Ken Wert writes…

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

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

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

Why a post filled to the brim with happy faces?

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

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

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

Link to this article and its 50 smiling faces

photo credit: Marwa Morgan via photopin cc

photo credit: Marwa Morgan via photopin cc

Steve McCurry’s Blog: When Words Fail

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

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

Ravishing and joyful and overflowing with relationships…

Link to Steve McCurry’s When Words Fail photographs

Looking To Genes For The Secret To Happiness

By GRETCHEN REYNOLDS

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

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

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

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

Link to read the unedited version of this story

photo credit: Bindaas Madhavi via photopin cc

photo credit: Bindaas Madhavi via photopin cc

Business Renaissance Must Be Human-Centric

by 

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

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

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

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

Link to read the unedited version of this post

photo credit: jesuscm via photopin cc

photo credit: jesuscm via photopin cc

5 Steps To Building A Culture of Communication

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

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

1. Don’t Punish the Bad Ideas…

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

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

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

5. Enable Transparency in Every Aspect…

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: josemanuelerre via photopin cc

photo credit: josemanuelerre via photopin cc

Babies Learn To Recognise Words In The Womb

BETH SKWARECK

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

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

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

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

Link to read this article in full

origin_4657619168

Handling Conflict

By 

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

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

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

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

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

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: It'sGreg via photopin cc

photo credit: It’sGreg via photopin cc

School Is A Prison – and damaging our kids

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

As  writes in his article:

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

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

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

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

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

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

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

How do you spot an Authority in a crowd?

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

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

You will also see:

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

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

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

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

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

Link to read this article in full

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

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

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

Keys To Persuading Expressing Personalities

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

The following describes this personality type:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to read the unedited version of this article

photo credit: jurvetson via photopin cc

photo credit: jurvetson via photopin cc

Presenting? Take A Pause For The Cause

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

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

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

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

Why?

Because good comedians are masters of change.

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

The Importance of The Pause

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

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

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

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

Researchers discover how inhibitory neurons behave during critical periods of learning

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to read the unedited version of this report

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

42 Tips for Masterful Presentations

Posted by: Arnold Sanow

8 Must-Read Books on Influence and Persuasion

by JENNIFER MILLER

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

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

By 

 

photo credit: Steve Corey via photopin cc

photo credit: Steve Corey via photopin cc

 

The Poetry of Childhood

BY RICHARD LEWIS

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

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

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

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

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

To Be Alive

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

by David, aged 10

Link to read this story in full

photo credit: jenni from the block via photopin cc

photo credit: jenni from the block via photopin cc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: paul bica via photopin cc

photo credit: paul bica via photopin cc

Stress Does Not Fuel Creativity

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more ideas about being more creative see also:

Six Ways to Expand Your Perspective

by KEVIN EIKENBERRY

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

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

BY: 

photo credit: premasagar via photopin cc

photo credit: premasagar via photopin cc

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

BELLE BETH COOPER

How Meditation Affects You

Better Focus…

Less Anxiety…

More Creativity…

More Compassion…

Better Memory…

Less Stress…

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

Link to read this article in full

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photo credit: wili_hybrid via photopin cc

Stifling Ourselves With The Need To Be Right

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

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

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

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

Link to read more of this article

Schein on Dialogue

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

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

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

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

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

Link to read this article in full

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photo credit: country_boy_shane via photopin cc

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Link to read the rest of this article

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photo credit: Mister Kha via photopin cc

How To Be More Creative

 offers these really helpful techniques:

Think left

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

Cut out distractions

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

Break patterns

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

Take it easy

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

Link to read this article in full

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photo credit: Tambriell via photopin cc

Learning how to live

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

BY JENNY DISKI

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

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

Link to read this story in full

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photo credit: Brett Jordan via photopin cc

Happiness At Work Edition #61

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

We hope you find things to enjoy and use.

Learning Mindfulness

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photo credit: db_in_uk via photopin cc

I am at the early stages of teaching myself mindfulness, and am, so far, thoroughly enjoying its practice, the ideas and research findings associated with it, and the small incremental but appreciable benefits that I am already noticing and experiencing.

What Are The Benefits of Meditation? (Action For Happiness)

There is a plethora of materials available on this subject and its application, and mindfulness shows all the signs of having its moment of zeitgeist across an array of contexts and situations, from banks and city firms, to schools, Silicon Valley technology and new media companies, to new thinking powering into a contemporary women’s leadership movement, to health and community group contexts, to creativity, to psychology and therapy settings.  In fact it might be harder at the moment to find a context in which mindfulness is not featuring or making a central contribution.

In my earlier post, Happiness At Work #58 ~ happiness and balance, I featured a number of articles that considered the merits and popularity of mindfulness for the benefits its practice can bring to our greater sense of – and actual physical, emotional, psychological, even neurological – balance.

In this post, I am concentrating more on the practical application of mindfulness.

But first here is what I hope is a helpful introduction to what mindfulness is and works as a practice, from Corey Jackson, an accredited CEB trainer, majoring in psychology and sanskrit at the University of Sydney and is the Tibetan interpreter at the Vajrayana Institute:

In Their Words: Corey Jackson & How Long Is The Peace of a Meditator?

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photo credit: Joffley via photopin cc

It seems meditation is the new black. So many articles about the benefits of meditation reach my inbox that I have trouble finding the time to read them all – even if I delete the ones about celebrities.

Public awareness and curiosity are increasing as the scientific and anecdotal evidence mounts. People are overcoming addictions such as cigarettes and alcohol, losing weight, reducing stress as well as increasing wealth, kindness and compassion. There are many accounts of improved athletic performance, people are overcoming severe anxiety and depression, heart disease and the list goes on…

Broadly speaking, there are three main types of meditation, designed to enhance different qualities and skills. When used together, their practice is like a balanced diet tailored to each of our personal needs.

The first of these forms of meditation is the one most researched and talked, known as mindfulness, which essentially involves strengthening our powers of concentration to overcome distractions and pay better attention. In mindfulness meditation, we try to keep an object (our breath for example) in the foreground of our attention and leave all the usual opinions, chatter and activity in the background. Over time, this ‘background noise’ subsides and we become better able to focus on any object we may choose for ever- longer periods of time.

It doesn’t take long before the benefits of these skills spill over into our daily lives, making us more attentive to the emotional lives of ourselves and others. This leaves us with a much better chance of maintaining our emotional balance and not being overwhelmed by them…

An emotionless life wouldn’t just be difficult or boring, it would be pretty much impossible. Fear, enjoyment, sadness and so on are all necessary to make sense of the world around us. They are the primary way we experience life and without them we would not wish the best for ourselves and others, nor would we strive to overcome difficulties and achieve goals. But they can also cause us to say and do things we later wished we had not and for most of us, control over this kind of emotional behaviour could be life changing.

This brings us to the second type of meditation which is designed to help us understand how our emotions work and identify particular traits and habits we would like to cultivate. It involves all sorts of fun emotional experiments performed on ourselves and helps us to see the world around us with a fresh curiosity we usually lack.

Finally, we use our improved ability to pay attention and the results of our emotional experiments to set about cultivating the qualities and skills we identified as desirable. Cultivating these qualities such as kindness and compassion in meditation means they will inevitably show up in our daily lives. These qualities traits have been shown to increase the overall happiness of ourselves as well as those around us, with even physical benefits such as improving the immune system.

When we consider the full picture: Sitting on a chair or cushion during a session of mindfulness meditation is like anchoring in a protected lagoon, relatively safe and unaffected by what might be happening in the open ocean. It’s peaceful, restorative but only a temporary stop before we move on through our day. Once we are back in the open water of our daily life, the mindfulness we have developed functions like a keel, keeping us upright as we are swamped and buffeted about in the turmoil of our own emotional oceans.

Link to read Corey Jackson’s article in full

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photo credit: goingslo via photopin cc

For me the very best, truest, most helpful teachings have so far come from Jon Kabat-Zinn, founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and author of the book Full Catastrophe Living: how to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation,  which I am finding an immensely helpful and enjoyable read.

An Evening With Jon Kabat-Zinn (Action For Happiness)

If you can possibly give yourself 90minutes I really recommend this video of the talk that he gave in London for Action For Happiness in March.  I have no better introduction to mindfulness than this.  His presentation includes some moments of mindfulness practice, enormous warmth, intelligence and wisdom communicated with lightness and humour, and poetry.

Practical Guided Mindfulness with Jon Kabat-Zinn

The following two videos are in fact both audio guided mindfulness sessions, the first concentrating on the fundamental practice of mindful breathing, the second involving a ‘Body Scan’ you complete with your mind and which is also a core component of building this form mindfulness practice.  Each take about 20minutes and each provide a practical introduction to mindful meditation.  If this is new for you, know that you need to feel you can give yourself and your attention for the full time of the guided session to really try them and find out what they offer.

Jon Kabat-Zinn: Breathscape Guided Meditation

Jon Kabat-Zinn: Bodyscape Meditation

If you don’t have even 20minutes for either of these exercises, here is a much shorter way of tuning in and starting to practice mindfulness:

One Moment Mindfulness (Action For Happiness)

This’ll Make Your Commute A Whole Lot Less Dreadful

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photo credit: davitydave via photopin cc

“In many ways, because it is something so ordinary — so familiar — it provides all the right conditions for us to practice [mindfulness],” says Andy Puddicombe, mindfulness expert and co-founder of Headspace. “The added bonus, of course, is that it doesn’t require us to take any additional time our of our day. Instead, it makes good use of potential ‘dead-time.’ Think of it as time better spent.”

Whether you’re driving, walking or commuting by train, a commuter’s mindfulness practice will deliver you to work and back home again with a nice dose of clarity and calm. Puddicombe’s meditation below will add an extra purpose to your commute and could actually make you look forward to your ride. Check out the simple steps below, then try it on your next journey to the office.

1. Take a minute to set up the right approach to the exercise. Take a couple of deep breaths and remind yourself what your intention is: To be present, open and curious about the experience, and deciding not to carry all the usual dread you attach to it.

2. Next take a minute to acknowledge the physical sensations in the body. It might be the feeling of your backside on the seat (if you were lucky enough to snag one), your feet on the ground, your hand on the rail, the weight of your bag, or anything else. Not judging, just feeling.

3. Every time you realize your mind has wandered off, simply come back to those physical senses. By bringing the focus back to the the physical sensations, you’ll be able to be less involved in your thoughts. Maybe you’d prefer to focus on the smell of something, the sound or even the taste.

4. The mind will most likely wander off often and will want to repeat the pattern of many years, getting caught up in thoughts. That’s fine, but when you realize you’re thinking, simply say to yourself (silently) “Oh, thinking” and then come back to the most apparent sense. No matter what the distraction (emergencies excluded), whether internal or external, treat it in just the same way, gently returning to the physical senses.

5. It really is that simple. In fact, it’s deceptively simple. The trick is to not get frustrated when the mind gets distracted, to not put in too much effort in simply being present with everything and everyone around you, to not getting caught up in the interesting stories or commentary in the mind. It is a fluid and effortless technique, all about cultivating awareness.

Link to read this article

I am combining my mindfulness practice with my Qigong exercises, the exercises that help to build and support Tai Chi.  Qigong and Tai Chi both involve a fluidity and constancy of movement that are very much like the flow of breathing, and therefore mindfulness, each moment passing into the next.  I am finding this helpful in developing my skill and discipline to keep my mind light and contained more on the momentary moments and sensations of my breathing and not so much on the rapid flutter of monkey thoughts that my mind naturally wants to pull itself away into.

So I am very pleased to have discovered this article, outlining the 3 different energy centres of Qigong, and how to nurture the all important lowest energy centre of the Dan Tien, located about an inch under the navel.  This form of breathing is familiar from my performance and voice training, and it is helpful to learn of its importance too to both Qigong and mindfulness practices…

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photo credit: GMF-Productions via photopin cc

Qigong for Health and Longevity

Simon Boylan

A great initial Qigong practice you can try to stimulate Qi (energy) in the lower Dan Tien involves abdominal breathing.  Abdominal breathing or diaphragmatic breathing, is a much deeper, natural way to breathe, and stimulates Qi production in the lower Dan Tien when practiced consistently.

As we age, the location of our breath gradually moves from deep in our abdomen to our chest.  Try this simple exercise.  Sit up straight and place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly.  Now, breathe naturally, as you normally would.  Which hand moves more?  If you are like most adults, your chest will move, and your belly may not move at all.  This shallow chest breathing does not fully oxygenate your lungs when you inhale, and does not prime the Qi ‘pump’ in your belly, thus not allowing the body to produce the Qi that it could.

Thankfully, the habit of abdominal breathing is easy to cultivate again with some conscious practice.  Place your hands back on your chest and abdomen again and this time, try and direct your breath down into your belly when you breathe in.  Try not to force this, allow your chest and belly to remain as relaxed as possible.  Feel what the sensation is like to breathe deeply like this.  Now allow your hands to come to rest in a comfortable position in your lap and continue to breathe into your belly for 5 – 10 minutes. Try and repeat this practice at least once a day, breathing in a deep, relaxed manner, expanding your belly as you inhale.  You may be surprised how quickly your body will ‘remember’ this way of breathing and you will naturally do it throughout your day without consciously thinking about it.

When this process is again ‘natural’ for you, you can move onto the next stage of this practice.  When you breathe in and out of your belly, place your mind down there, just below your navel and inside your abdomen.  Observe there quietly as you gently breathe in and out.  Placing your mind here will help Qi collect and grow.  In time, you will begin to sense a ‘ball’ of energy located here.

Link to read  Simon Boylan’s article in full

How To Be With The Breath

This article provides guidelines from a range a different practitioners, including…

U Pandita says to watch the abdomen rise and fall:

Now place your attention at the belly, at the abdomen. Breathe normally, not forcing your breathing, neither slowing it down nor hastening it, just a natural breath. You will become aware of certain sensations as you breathe in and the abdomen rises, as you breathe out and the abdomen falls. ~ In This Very Life ~

Ayya Khema instructs us to pay attention to the nostrils:

This [breath] is ideally experienced at the nostrils. Breath is wind, and as it hits the nostrils, there is feeling. That feeling helps us to focus at this small point. ~ Being Nobody, Going Nowhere ~

Ajahn Chah is more inclusive:

Simply take note of this path of the breath at the nosetip, the chest and the abdomen, then at the abdomen, the chest and the tip of the nose. We take note of these three points in order to make the mind firm, to limit mental activity so that mindfulness and self-awareness can easily arise. When our attention settles on these three points, we can let them go and note the in and out breathing, concentrating solely at the nose-tip or the upper lip, where the air passes on its in and out passage. ~ On Meditation ~

Link to read this article in full

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photo credit: weegeebored via photopin cc

See also

How To Practise Mindfulness Of The Breathing

I  Adapt your daily life so as to be conducive to practising mindfulness of the breathing

Lead an uncomplicated life — reduce or eliminate unnecessary activities such as eating, working, traveling, and social functions. Don’t worry about losing friends; some old friends may move away, but you will gain new good friends (kalyanamitta).

Concentrate on fulfiling your duties. Allocate more time for the important aspect of life; that is, find time for the study and practice of the dhamma. Compose your actions and speech by observing the five precepts and maintain a healthy mind.

2  Prepare a suitable place If you can find a quiet place, that is best.

Find a room or comer in your home where you will not be disturbed by others.

3  Prepare your body

Finish all matters that have to do with others. Wash yourself. You should not be too hungry or too full. Some light exercise is good in order to prepare your body for lengthy sitting.

4  Prepare your mind

Ask yourself if you have matters needing immediate attention. If yes, take care of them or note them down to remind yourself of all future commitments, e.g. tomorrow you have to meet someone or get someone to do something, so that you have nothing more to worry about. Once you have done this and are free from all worries, both internal and external, allow your mind to be neutral and serene.

5  Observe mindfulness of the breathing

The first step is to try to preserve the good feelings or wholesome states of mind (kusalacitta) with every in- and out-breath. In whatever posture, be it standing, walking, sitting or lying down, focus on the breath, cling to it as you would to your best friend. With mindfulness and clear comprehension, be conscious of the mind, whether pleasure or displeasure arises, so as not to cling to or follow cognitive objects or craving (tanha). Take deep breaths, release extended and relaxed exhalations while maintaining a continuous and unbroken awareness at each and every in- and out – breath. Sustain a tranquil and joyful mind.

Maximise Your Inner Happiness, With One Simple Mindfulness Practice

 offers this exercise, which is very like Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Bodyscape Meditation:

How we feel falls into three categories: pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. Most of us don’t stop long enough to notice, and yet this is precisely what we need to do if we are to maximize our inner happiness.

The practice goes like this:

1. Sitting down, eyes closed, get in touch with your breath and start paying attention to the quality of your experience, moment to moment, asking yourself the question, is it pleasant or unpleasant? Do this for a few minutes.

2. Then pay attention to how you react. Most likely, you will find you want to hang on to the pleasant moments, and you wil want to escape the unpleasant ones. This is how the human brain is wired. We are pleasure-seeking organisms.

3. Next notice the accompanying physical sensations in your body, particularly places of tightness. Whenever we react to our experience, our body naturally responds by tensing the muscles. We each have a place that our body favors. For me, it is a knot in the stomach, but it could just as well be tightness in the throat, or tension in the shoulders…

4. Without judgment, acknowledge the pain. The pain is two-fold, mental and physical. We stress our mind with our resisting thoughts, and we stress our body with our physical tensions. We can relax around this added discomfort, and discover the relief when we are just present for our experience, whether pleasant or unpleasant.

We can take this practice into our daily life.

Link this article in full

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photo credit: Swamibu via photopin cc

Handling Intrusive Thoughts While Meditating

Advice from 

…During mindfulness meditation you keep your attention on your breath, but you want to be fully aware in this moment. So you still take note of sounds and smells, aches and pains, all that makes up the present moment. When thoughts arise the instructions are to notice them, let them go, and return to the breath.

But to just blot out thoughts without paying attention to them would not be very mindful at all. Don’t ignore your thoughts… Instead, work with them.

As a thought pops up, acknowledge it, let it go, and return to the breath. Don’t carry it out to a conclusion. Don’t dwell on it. Don’t try to add reason at this time. Notice that you’re thinking, that your mind has pulled you away from your awareness of this moment, and place your attention back on the breath.

Labeling the thoughts may help you release them. If you’re sitting stewing about something you should have done differently this morning, label it judging and let it go. If you’re thinking about what to make for lunch or what to do this weekend, label that planning and return to the breath. If you’re taken by thoughts of beaches and the sun, label them fantasy and bring your attention back to the present moment.

The point is never to not think. The point is to remain aware of what is going on in and around you right now. Too many scattered thoughts can drag you away from the moment and cheat you of your present experience. Acknowledging thoughts, labeling them, and coming back to the present, to the breath, can help you stay centered and focused…

Link to read this article in full

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photo credit: loungerie via photopin cc

Email Is Killing Us: Reclaim Your Mind From Technology

An extract from Alex Soojung-Kim Pang’s “The Distraction Addiction”

…The monkey mind’s constant activity reflects a deep restlessness: monkeys can’t sit still because their minds never stop. Likewise, most of the time, the human mind delivers up a constant stream of con­sciousness. Even in quiet moments, minds are prone to wandering. Add a constant buzz of electronics, the flash of a new message landing in your in-box, the ping of voicemail, and your mind is as manic as a monkey after a triple espresso. The monkey mind is attracted to today’s infinite and ever-changing buffet of information choices and devices. It thrives on overload, is drawn to shiny and blinky things, and doesn’t distinguish between good and bad technologies or choices.

The concept of the monkey mind appears throughout Buddhist teachings — one small indicator of the fact that the mind and its rela­tionship to the world have been studied deeply for thousands of years. Every religion has contemplative practices, calls to use silence and solitude to quiet the mind. In John Drury’s introductory note to the Anglican Matins and Evensong, he exhorts worshippers “to be patient and relaxed enough to allow a long tradition to have its say” and “allow our own thoughts and feelings to become closer to us than life outside admits.” Only then can one fully enter “the cool and ancient order of the services which gives a space and a frame, as well as cues, for reflec­tions on our regrets and hopes and gratitudes.” Catholic monastics treat meditation as preparing the mind to receive God’s wisdom; the busy mind cannot hear the divine. in Buddhism, though, mental discipline is more an end in itself, rather than just a means to an end. The everyday mind is like churning water; learn to make it still, like the mirror-flat surface of a calm lake, Buddhists say, and its reflection will show you everything…

For too long, we’ve left the chattering monkey in charge of our technologies, and then we wonder why things go bad. We want to be like the cyborg monkey (albeit not as hairy and without the electrodes). We want that same capability to use complicated technologies without thinking about them, without experiencing them as burdens and dis­tractions. We want our technologies to extend our minds and augment our abilities, not break up our minds.

Such control is within our reach. Rather than being forced into a state of perpetual distraction, with all the unhappiness and discontent such a state creates, we can approach information technologies in a way that is mindful and nearly effortless and that contributes to our ability to focus, be creative, and be happy.

It’s an approach I call contemplative computing…

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photo credit: svenwerk via photopin cc

Contemplative computing isn’t just a philosophical argument. It’s theory and practice. It’s a thousand little methods, mindful habits informed by the four principles. Guidelines for checking e-mail in non-distracting ways. Rules for using Twitter and Facebook that encourage thoughtfulness and kindness. Ways of holding —literally holding —a smartphone so it commands less of your attention. Techniques for observing and experimenting with your technology practices. Methods for restoring your capacity to focus.

Information technologies are so pervasive, so much a part of work and home, so thoroughly embedded in modern life, it can be hard to know where to push back first. A good choice is to begin where many contemplative practices start. With breathing.

Link to read the rest this article , including details about the Cyborg monkey experiment referred to above, and Alex Soojung-Kim Pang’s principles and guidelines for contemplative computing

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photo credit: Philerooski via photopin cc

10 Habits To Make You A Great Meditator

Julianna Raye

Any time you actually sit down to practice meditation, you’re doing it successfully! But because meditation is an inner process, there’s lots of room for misunderstanding, which can go on for years if left unchecked. Many people practice meditation on their own, informed only by what they’ve read or heard. Even if you’re lucky enough to find a teacher you trust, that teacher will still rely on your input to support you in finding greater insight.
The hope is to make your time on the cushion as efficient as possible, so I created this general list of tips to help you optimize and accelerate your practice. It’s based on what’s been shared with me by my teachers, as well as what I’ve gained from my own experience.
Here are some suggestions to help your practice help you:
1. Develop clarity about what you’re doing and why.
 …Whichever you’re drawn to, do your best to understand the nature of that practice and each time you sit down, relate to practicing the way you would time at the gym. Don’t meander. Use proper form. Do the work.
2. Find a practice that resonates.
 …Listen to your instincts, find a practice you’ll want to stick with and be motivated to do and find an effective support system. If you’re not making progress, assess the situation and adjust. Avoid being dogmatic about it and do your best to trust yourself.
3. Make time for intensive practice.
A healthy practice involves a combination of daily sitting and periods of more intensive formal practice, like weekend or week-long retreats. Intensive practice shows you your true potential and can be life changing, but it needs to be supported in the long term with a daily or weekly routine.
4. Practice in action.
Bridge the gap between your practice and your life. While formal practice will naturally seep into the rest of your life over time, for faster results, you can also use strategies to intentionally integrate practice into the activities of your life.
5. Try strong determination sitting.
My teacher, Shinzen Young, recommends this as a fast track to his students seeking quicker results. The idea is to sit without moving for extended periods of time. You can start small and slowly build up your stamina. Not easy, but powerful!
6. Teach others.
 …Teaching nourishes our own practice in untold ways.
7. Get feedback.
The best way to know whether you’re making progress is through those closest to you. … If your practice is off track, the people who love you will make that clear. Likewise, if your relationships are off track, meditation can make that clear.
8. Sit, sit, sit.
 …Bottom line, at this point in history, lots of sitting practice is still the best solution discovered to ease our suffering. Just make sure the sitting is informed. See tip #1.
9. Practice with a group.
Group practice can accelerate the process of learning and spiritual growth. You can ride on the group energy and collective act of consciousness raising.
10. Become self-sufficient.
As long as you imagine your liberation is dependent on any relationship, you’re a slave to that relationship. Free yourself.

Link to read Julianna Raye’s guidelines in full

And if you are interested in the range and breadth of places and people that mindfulness is happening with, here is a selection of recent stories on this subject from across a sweep of different publications…

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photo credit: michiexile via photopin cc

The new technique investment banks are using to keep employees happy and productive

by Paul Clarke

Stress is a growing problem in the financial sector. Psychology surgeries serving bankers are busier than ever, investment banks are employing resilience specialists to add some mental steel to their employees. And, increasingly, they’re turning to a psychological technique with roots in Buddhism.

The likes of Barclays, Citigroup, J.P. Morgan and the large professional services firms like PwC are offering their employees the chance to partake in mindfulness – a technique that emphasises active attention on the moment to block out the clutter of day-to-day life. The aim is to improve mental capacity, reduce stress and even counter depression. William George, a board member at Goldman Sachs, is also a big advocate of the technique, and is a member of the Institute for Mindful Leadership.

…Google offers mindfulness to its employees, although Grazier suggests this is further away from the clinical version of the treatment, and it’s being described as the ‘new caffeine’ in Silicon Valley. Its popularity is also helped by the fact that the U.S. Marine Corps is incorporating mindfulness into its curriculum.

However, it’s also gaining more traction in the financial sector. Louise Chester, director and co-founder of Mindfulness at Work, which works with City firms, credits it with saving her sanity during a “crazy period” working for UBS’s telecoms research team in the 1990s.

“HR departments like mindfulness because it makes their employees more effective,” she said. “It increases memory capacity, focus, emotional intelligence and makes you smarter. It trains you to use your prefrontal cortex, which allows you to make more measured responses in a way that adds value and reduces stress.”…

Link to read full article

Esquire Tackles Mindfulness, Meditation In September 2013 Issue

There’s something different in the latest issue of Esquire: a how-to guide for meditation.

Meditation, of course, is central to The Huffington Post’s Third Metric initiative, and it’s something that Esquire has embraced as well. The men’s lifestyle magazine is more known for covering fashion, culture and entertainment and running features like “Sexiest Woman Alive” than for tips for de-stressing. But that’s exactly what’s in the September issue.

photo credit: marimoon via photopin cc

photo credit: marimoon via photopin cc

Wilderness Festival: Best Quotes On Mindfulness, Wellbeing And Work-Life Balance

As part of our partnership with Wilderness Festival, HuffPost UK have been hosting daily panel discussions covering a range of topics. On Saturday, we explored Less Stress, More Living.

Hosted by editor-in-chief Carla Buzasi, the panel included Claire Hamilton (head of Secret Sanctuary and acupuncture therapist), Jayne Morris (burnout expert and HuffPost UK blogger), Cherry Healey (TV presenter and HuffPost UK blogger), Ruby Wax (comedian, TV personality and mental health activist) and Susie Pearl (happiness and wellbeing activist – who also has the best job title in the world).

We’re pulled the top quotes from our experts on mindfulnesswellbeing and striking work-life balance.

Questions from the audience included whether mindfulness is accessible to all, de-stigmatising mental health, and how gender affects our willingness to seek help for stress.

We need to start thinking about how to manage our minds” – Susie Pearl

Thoughts aren’t fact, so don’t take them seriously” – Ruby Wax

I want to instil a positive mindset on my daughter. I realised that to do this, I had to change my own mindset first. I needed to think about the way I think and speak about things – for example body consciousness – because Coco learns directly from me.” – Cherry Healey

The body and mind are intrinsically linked. Stress and anxiety are the root of many illnesses, we need to listen to our minds to prevent them.” – Jayne Morris

“You shouldn’t run away from your problems, you need to aim straight for the heart of the beast.” – Ruby Wax

I suffer from ‘Room B’ syndrome, I always think other people are having a better time than me. Social media has made this worse – when comparing yourself to others, you rarely come out favourably.” – Cherry Healey

There is not a one-size-fits-all solution, everyone needs something different to get some balance in their lives. It might be yoga or meditation, or even singing and dancing” – Claire Hamilton

We need to shift habits so that people catch themselves before reaching burnout” – Jayne Morris

For me mindfulness is like building a house, so the next time the tsunami that is depression comes I’ll have a structure in place to resist it.” – Ruby Wax

Meditation isn’t about feeling perky and happy, it’s about feeling shit and sticking with it.” – Ruby Wax

Link to the rest of this article including its slideshow of pictures

photo credit: drp via photopin cc

photo credit: drp via photopin cc

From Both Sides: Secular Buddhism and the “McMindfulness” Question

by 

The debate over the relationship between Buddhism and the mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) has heated up recently to a red hot glow. On July 1, Ron Purser and David Loy published an attack on the mindfulness movement in the Huffington Post under the title, “Beyond McMindfulness.” As I write this, a Google search on “McMindfulness” generates over 7,700 hits, many of them praising the original article and joining in to bewail the “decontextualization” and watering-down of the sacred Buddhist traditions.

Unfortunately, as I have noted elsewhere, this “McMindfulness” meme often appears to be driven largely by fears instead of facts, as defenders of traditional Buddhist lineages fret over “what is being lost” as mindfulness enters the Western mainstream. From my perspective, as one who came to Buddhism through the MBIs, this is a terrible shame. We may have an irretrievable opportunity at this moment to enrich the cultural conversation between Buddhist ideas and values and those of the West, and the mindfulness movement clearly is at the crux of that conversation. It is my heartfelt wish that we do not waste this opportunity in a reactive backlash against this latest moment in the evolution of the dharma…

…the MBIs are in themselves outgrowths of Buddhism. Pioneers such as Jon Kabat-Zinn, Daniel Segal, Jack Kornfield and others took what they learned practicing traditional Buddhism and adapted it for use in medicine and psychology. In order to make these practices susceptible to research and acceptable to secular health care institutions – and perhaps most of all to make them easier for the average patient to absorb and accept – the traditional doctrine was simplified and demystified, replaced with plain-English explanations of the practice and how it worked.

In turn, acceptance by research and health care institutions had an inevitable impact on how mindfulness is taught, learned and practiced. The emphasis on such positive health care outcomes as stress reduction, alleviation of depression, and the treatment of chronic pain encouraged the application of the MBIs in a standard clinical regimen. Students were “patients” who had received specific diagnoses and were prescribed an 8-week mindfulness course to address the specific symptoms of their diseases. It is not surprising, then, that first the health care community, and increasingly, the wider public, has come to see the MBIs as merely another item in the doctor’s bag of medical interventions. To this extent, the critics of mindfulness are correct in their assertion that the MBIs have been “decontextualized.”

As I have tried to demonstrate elsewhere, however, the prevailing institutional (and now cultural) absorption with specific outcomes misrepresents what the MBIs are and how they are practiced.

…the defining tasks of mindfulness – the embracing of lived experience, the recognition that one need not be compelled by one’s habitual reactivity, the development of equanimity and the ability to make wise choices as a result – are the same actions that are prescribed by the Four Noble Truths. The insight into the ephemeral and impermanent nature of the ego that is a hallmark of the MBIs is an expression of the Buddhist concepts of Impermanence and Not-Self. While shorn of much of traditional Buddhism’s Pali/Sanskrit terminology, doctrinal concepts and cultural trappings, the MBI’s owe their effectiveness, I believe, to the wisdom of the dharma that Gotama taught more than two millennia ago, a wisdom grounded, then as now, in universal characteristics of embodied human awareness…

…My experience with the mindfulness practice community I am part of has shown me that community is about more than just support. Within the container of the practice community, one has the opportunity to experience the intersubjective resonance of a group of people dedicated to being mindful of themselves and each other. This experience is a powerful and visceral manifestation of not-self, and one that promotes the recognition of shared humanity from which compassion can grow. The group practice environment is ideal for exploring such concepts as kindness, compassion and non-harming, and learning what it’s like to put them into mindful action. And the awareness that the community has a tangible, ongoing existence, even if one may not immediately be able to participate in it, permits one to feel connected to it and supported by it, regardless of one’s distance from it…

…As Secular Buddhists, we get it from both sides. Skeptics demand to know why we are concerned about teaching and preserving an esoteric, mythology-drenched religion; traditionalists make many of the same charges of “throwing the baby out with the bath water” against Secular Buddhism that they make against “McMindfulness.” If there is an advantage to this position, perhaps it may be our ability to understand and share the perspectives of both sides in this conversation, and to present and model a middle way between them…

Link to read Mark Knickelbine’s article in full

Shamash Alidna: The Mindful Way Through Stress at Mind & Its Potential

  • De-stressing: why bother?
  • Where does your stress come from?
  • How can you calm down “mind chatter” in a busy life?
  • Tips for being more energised and focussed at work.
  • How does mindfulness lead to joyfulness?
photo credit: cleverchimp via photopin cc

photo credit: cleverchimp via photopin cc

Back-to-school is back-to-stress for some kids; coping techniques can help

By Helen Branswell

…others praise so-called mindfulness techniques as a way to help kids young and old to gain control of the anxiety that may be cluttering up their minds.

There are a variety of approaches, but the basic idea is to bring children into the present – as opposed to worrying about the future – as a way of grounding them and helping them calm themselves. Some ways of doing this are to focus on breathing – taking “brain breaks” in the language of the Hawn Foundation (started by actress Goldie Hawn), which has been a leader in bringing mindfulness techniques into schools…

Schonert-Reichl says one way to use mindfulness techniques to help with the stress of resuming school might be to focus, while walking to school, on all the sounds one hears. Instead of having a head full of anxious or negative thoughts about what the coming day or year might bring, the child can be helped to focus on what he or she is experiencing at that moment…

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: Nanagyei via photopin cc

photo credit: Nanagyei via photopin cc

6 Simple Tips To Be More Mindful In Everyday Life

 

Thankfully, you don’t need to spend hours a day sitting in a Buddhist monastery to achieve the benefits of meditation. Rather, you can use everyday experiences as opportunities to practice being mindful and connected to the present moment.

1. Practice mindful driving

…How does your body feel in the seat? Is it hard or soft? How do you hold your hands on the wheel? What sounds do you hear coming from your car and out the window? Can you feel the vibrations of the road? Was it recently paved or are there a lot of potholes?

When I drive like this I find it to be a much more peaceful experience, even if I’m caught in traffic.

2. Practice mindful eating

Instead of scarfing down your food as you read the paper, watch TV, respond to emails, or whatever else, practice just eating. Really slow it down.

What does that first bite of food taste like? Is it different from the second? How soon do you reach your fork for more? What does it feel like as you swallow? What does it sound like as your chew?…

3. Practice leaving no trace

I’ll admit that when I get caught up in the responsibilities of daily life, I can really let clutter build up in my home. So I decided to pick one room in the house and practice “leaving no trace.”

I picked the kitchen, and what this means is that when I leave this room, I try to leave it exactly the same as I entered it, as if I had never been there.

…This practice can help you become more aware of the impact you have on your environment, and it will probably make anyone you live with really happy, too!

4. Practice mindful listening

Often when we listen to another person talking, only part of our mind is listening. The other part is thinking about what we’re going to say in response, or making judgments about if we agree or disagree, or even daydreaming about something completely different.

Instead, practice really listening to what the person is saying, as if you were absorbing their words like a sponge. Pay attention to the sensations in your body as you listen. Do you feel excited? Tense? Calm?

Pay attention to the speaker’s voice, their body language, their tone. What emotion or feelings do you imagine them experiencing?

The best part about this exercise is that you are giving a gift to the other person. Is is so rare that people really get the full attention of another person.

5. Practice mindful waiting

This is perhaps my favorite exercise, because we typically view “waiting” time as a waste of time, but it’s actually an opportunity for your to pause, observe, and be mindful.

The next time you are standing in line at the bank, or sitting in the waiting room of your doctor’s office, or sitting at a restaurant waiting for your friend to show up, use that time to be mindful.

Without judging, observe how you are feeling in your body. Do you feel tense and impatient? Excited? Bored? Where in your body do you feel it? Is it like a tightness in your chest or a buzzing in your head?

You can even practice directing your attention to a neutral object, like your breath or the ambient sounds. When your mind wanders, bring it back.

6. Answer the phone mindfully

Often we hear the phone ring and immediately jump up to answer. Instead, practice pausing and taking two deep breaths before you answer the phone. Pause, deep inhale, deep exhale. Pause again, deep inhale, deep exhale.

Notice what you are experiencing for these few seconds. Do you feel excited about who it could be? Anxious about what task or obligation this could mean? Just pause, notice, and then proceed to answer the phone.

As you can see, mindfulness does not need to be some elusive or abstract concept, and it does not need to take extra time out of your day to practice.

And as you start to practice these small habits, you will notice big benefits. Mindfulness is a skill that you can develop, and as you do, you will start to notice and appreciate small joys in your day that had previously gone unnoticed.

Link to read the full unedited version of this article 

photo credit: Chris JL via photopin cc

photo credit: Chris JL via photopin cc

Happiness At Work Edition #60

See this week’s new collection for these – and many more – stories about mindfulness and self-mastery, happiness and wellbeing, creativity & artistry, resilience and learning, leadership, changing ourselves and changing the world…

Link to Happiness At Work Edition #60

We hope you find things here to enjoy and incorporate in your own work, life and continuous learning.