Our lives are not our own. We are bound to others, past and present, and by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.” ― David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas
Is kindness “compassion in action?”
While there are distinctions made between kindness, empathy, compassion and altruism, most people experience kindness as action.
With kindness we take our cognitive experience of kindly thoughts and act on them. Regardless of our intentions, acts of kindness put those thoughts and feelings into the world.
You’ve likely heard stories of organized and “random acts of kindness,” – the Robin Hooders that replenish parking meters, the pay-it forward movements that pop up in coffee shops and restaurants, the upscale hair stylist who spends his Sundays giving free haircuts to the homeless, anonymous big tips to supplement the meager wages of most restaurant servers and the college graduate traveling across the U.S. handing out $100 bills to generous strangers who help him.
Tommy Lukrich, a hitchhiking grad, is on a mission to help others, ““Helping others is one of my primary passions in this world.” Tommy, who crowd funded much of the money he’s giving away is giving and receiving the best that humanity has to offer – its unconditional kindness.
Amid the seemingly relentless bad news of the day, gracious and generous acts of kindness keep patching up the global social fabric in touching and often surprising ways. We’re surprised because many of us have lowered our expectations of our fellow humankind. Too many of us have grown cynical and despairing. Perhaps some of us are a bit judgmental, even suspicious of these altruistic motivations.
Writing on kindness, author and Buddhist teacher, Sharon Salzberg reflects the concern, “On the face of it, kindness can seem wimpy, a cop-out, an excuse to do just a little bit to try to make a difference when so very much needs to be done.” Indeed, feeding parking meters and paying for the next guy’s coffee in the face of headlines that scream 35 million people now enslaved across the world, can feel a bit pathetic.
Given the scope and scale of pain and injustice in the world, it’s important to remind ourselves of the millions of selfless, mostly “small” acts that take place every day. Read more…
“Realize that you are in there. You must first come to realize that you are in there. From deep inside, you are experiencing the world. You are experiencing your physical body, your thoughts and your emotions. You are conscious and you are experiencing what it is like to be human.” Michael Singer
A recent article in the New Yorker grabbed my attention and lingered with me for days.
In his article, Actually People Still Like to Think, Ferris Jabr describes a study released this July that concluded that given the option, most people would rather voluntarily shock themselves than be left alone with their thoughts.
Jabr goes on to dissect the questionable conclusions the researchers drew and speculates that it’s likely that the subjects (and most of us, I’d say) simply do not like their ‘mental weather.” We are, Jabr suggests, averse to the unpleasant wanderings of our minds and hesitant to spend much time there.
While one of the study’s co-authors, Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert, declared that “People prefer electric shock to thinking,” his sweeping generalization deserves some serious unpacking.
As a long-time practitioner of mindfulness meditation, Gilbert’s hyperbolic conclusion doesn’t completely surprise me. It takes a great effort for most people to sit with their own thoughts without distraction. Sure plenty of people seek quiet times – reading, listening to music, cooking, taking walks – but these activities engage the mind and keep it occupied. Read more…
Ever wonder what’s in that bag?
By now the term emotional baggage is familiar – but what do we think is in the bag?
Surely it’s packed with old hurts, resentments and fears, but unless we go in there and pay some attention to those unwanted feelings – the bag stays full.
If we’re not the type that likes or looks at feelings, the bag can become heavier and harder to carry.
Some of us still believe that there’s no place for feelings in the workplace.
Some of us believe that feelings are soft and prize the intellect over our emotions.
Some believe that if they unpack the bag, even slightly, they’ll unleash Pandora’s Box.
The bag is not only filled with stuck feelings but also the beliefs that keep emotions in place. Unless we get a clear picture of the forces in our lives that generate and feed feelings, the bag stays packed. Dr. Miriam Greenspan, author of Healing through the Dark Emotions, tells us, “As much as emotions are in –the- body experiences, they are mediated by socially conditioned beliefs. We just don’t feel, we make sense of what we feel. And our thoughts both trigger and subdue our emotions.”
These mediating thoughts are reinforced by beliefs. For most of us, even a slightly contrary challenge will set up a defense for our beliefs. If you pay close attention, you can hear the justification for the defense in your self-talk. “I know some of my co-workers get frustrated with my impatience, but it’s just not in my nature to change.” The internal dialogue that all of us have – but don’t pay attention to – is filled with acquittals for our beliefs.
Much of the process Greenspan so aptly describes happens unconsciously and only a conscious commitment to self-awareness of mind and body can bring them to the surface to be healed. Read more…
We long for connection. Very few of us are content with superficial human contact.
In many ways, technology and the transactional world of business communication has reshaped how we communicate – and how we expect to connect with others.
When we experience the feeling of someone’s authentic (full) presence, we’re often amazed at the nature of the interaction. It can seem too intimate, uncomfortable – unreal. We’ve forgotten what it’s like to be in the presence – to be fully “real” in communication with others.
What do I mean by presence? It’s hard to describe this unmistakable feeling state. You know it when you experience it. For me, it is the sense of connecting (even briefly) with someone’s real being – their essence.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) the study of bioenergy is receiving increasing scientific attention. This research studies the effect of electromagnetic (EM) heart fields that result in levels of heart-rate synchronization. It’s already been established that mothers synchronize with their baby’s heart rate, even in utero.
The Institute of HeartMath’s (IHM) research demonstrates that the heart, like the brain, generates a powerful electromagnetic field. Director of Research Rollin McCraty reports that “The heart generates the largest electromagnetic field in the body. The electrical field as measured in an electrocardiogram (ECG) is about 60 times greater in amplitude than the brainwaves recorded in an electroencephalogram (EEG).”
The heart’s electromagnetic field contains certain information or coding, which researchers are trying to understand, that’s transmitted throughout and outside of the body. One of the most significant findings of IHM’s research is that intentionally generated positive emotions can change this information/coding. Read more…
Recently my lack of empathy for someone really surprised me.
No matter how I cognitively reframed the subject, I was stuck. It wasn’t until I became more consciously present to the other feelings I had about this person – that I was able to soften the picture.
I felt uncomfortable with my lack of kindness in this situation and wanted to explore what was blocking it. When we feel this way, it’s safe to assume that judgments about others are driving our feelings. In this case my lens was fixed on specific behaviors that I strongly disliked.
It’s all I saw at that moment.
One of the most important things I ve learned to regain clarity and climb out of emotional ruts is to activate liberal doses of self-empathy. The judging mind often doesn’t differentiate – it wants a target to seek relief from emotional discomfort. If someone else isn’t the target – then I can be. When I’m in the self-judging mode I can’t possibility understand why I am reacting to someone else – it’s a vicious loop – I judge myself for judging them.
Physicist Leonard Mlodinow, author of Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior observes, “All of our social perceptions that seem real are made up of data from our past experiences, beliefs, expectations and even desires. They are not a direct result of what we experience but rather are constructed by our minds.”
In a culture, attached to the rational and still suspicious of the emotional, a statement like Mlodinow’s can seem incredulous. If my social perception isn’t “real,” what is? How much does my rational thought correctly perceive others? Are my past experiences distorting my perceptions?
“Yes, says Mlodinow, our pasts definitely affect us on a subliminal level. I like to use the analogy of vision to describe how our unconscious might create reality. When you look out into the world, you see what seems to be a clear and 3D image of it. It seems real to you, but it’s not really real. It’s not literally what’s out there. Our unconscious mind is doing all of this processing. It does it instantaneously and without any effort, so we just think that what we see out there is real.”
While it’s unsettling to realize that our unconscious minds drive so much of our feelings and behavior the more conscious we are about those influences the more we free ourselves from repetitive patterns. Our habit, for example, to prove our thinking right (confirmation bias) is a major factor in reinforcing our “blind spots,” and unless we learn to mindfully unravel our tangled mindset about a situation, we’re likely to keep repeating them.
The great Scottish psychiatrist, R.D. Laing, author of Knots, expresses our dilemma perfectly, “The range of what we think and do is limited by what we fail to notice. And because we fail to notice that we fail to notice, there is little we can do to change; until we notice how failing to notice shapes our thoughts and deeds.” Read more…
Looking around the news of the world, I see three basic “camps.” I’m thinking of these “camps” as ways of reacting/responding to the fast-changing world we all face today.
- The first I’ll call the “Stand Your Ground” camp. This camp is generally uninterested in change. It’s mainly reactive to the world as it unfolds, always strategizing how to maintain the status-quo and hold power, however uncertain it feels. There’s little if any curiosity in this camp. Sometimes this camp gets so fearful that it will lose power that it resorts to unhealthy and sometimes desperate actions.
- I think of the second camp as the “Curious Risk Takers.” This camp is filled with all kinds of diversity of thinkers and doers. Confident and anxious but always moving forward into the unknown, this camp counts the rebels, truth-tellers, iconoclasts, artists, innovators and community builders. They not only see that change (at epic levels) is necessary and inevitable – they relish it. This camp often needs to take better care of itself physically, emotionally and spiritually because they carry a heavy load. Their passion can replenish and drain them.
- The third camp I call the “Bystanders.” This is the largest camp. It consists of people who sense that big change is afoot, but aren’t sure how to move forward. Many of them intuit that standing still is no longer possible (as it never was) and they’re nervous about the outcomes. Often people in this camp don’t have the time or interest in understanding the deeper forces at work in reshaping the world as we/they have known it. Some of the people in this camp are too exhausted, just trying to make ends meet, to engage in the larger world story.
Regardless of what “camp” (or thousands of sub “tribes” we identify with) all of us are subject to the state of our mindsets of the moment. Everything we do stems from the world of our thoughts and feelings. The only way out is in. Self-inquiry and honest self-assessment is the only way we can expand our world views. The truth is that in the world we are heading into now, we can no longer afford to operate solely from our tribes or camps. Out inter-relatedness is becoming a matter of survival. No matter how we feel about the other camps or tribes, we’re in this thing together if we wish to live in some form of a habitable, cohesive world.
No magic will transform the inevitable massive changes that are underway. We will have to rethink and retool our mindsets. We’ll need to expand the range of our feelings and become far more flexible in how we respond, especially to “others.” Maybe you’ve heard the saying, “We’re the ones we have been waiting for?”
As I contemplated these powerful realities recently – this post came to mind.
Mindsets aren’t a new concept to me. I’ve been working with my own for a long time. I’m now conscious that I’ve constructed walls and obstacles that are buried deep within my thinking patterns. I’ve also had the good fortune to understand that many of these blocks in my thinking aren’t even my own. I inherited them or was taught them by the powers that be around me as a child, adolescent and less so – as an adult. As I wrote in Blind Spots, thinking about my past I’m still amazed at what I could not see. When these blind spots are revealed, I feel myself a little freer – a little more like me.
We don’t teach our children about their mindsets. By mindsets, I mean that constellation of thoughts, beliefs (assumptions, expectations) that give rise to feelings and result in behaviors. The closest most mainstream pedagogy gets to that language is critical thinking. As a culture we don’t value helping children become students of their own minds. We still rely on group conformity while praising individual talents.
Lately I’ve been reflecting on this question. It’s an important one.
Maybe less important when you’re 25 (though I wish I had kept it in the forefront of my mind at that age) but I can’t think how asking it doesn’t reveal what we are hiding, avoiding or displacing at any age.
Nearly everywhere I look online I see references to fear. Of course, the news is fixated on it – because the clichéd expression – fear sells – has a lot of truth to it. If theories of emotional contagion are correct, fear spreads in both obvious and insidious ways. If fear is a thing – it is cunning in its camouflage.
A quick glance at some social media maxims speak to the warnings and promises associated with the role fear can play in our lives:
- Everything you want is on the other side of fear I think there’s a measure of truth here. There is so much that we want that we dismiss as impossible because of conditioning. What I don’t like about glib statements like this is that people can feel less empowered if they can’t take up the Olympic challenge to quickly transform life-long habits of mind.
- Fears are stories we tell ourselves This is often true. The amount of fear my thoughts have generated in relation to what was “true” keeps me vigilant to my thought patterns. But, I am also aware that the voice of fear (like any other emotion) can hold valuable truths about any part of experience. There are many things we are adept at denying that are a possible risk to our well-being (health and climate change warnings come to mind) In other words, fears are not always simply tales we spin in our heads. The skill is in discerning the difference and acting carefully in response.
- Stop letting fear rule your life. Ok, this one is true and not true for me. While I don’t feel hobbled by my fears, I also can see that they are still wasting too much of my life energy. The problem with facile statements like this is that working to transcend our fears isn’t easy. It isn’t simply a matter of deciding we are done with our fears – and moving on – but doing the work to understand why persistent fears continue to stand in our way.
- Fear is a liar. Like stories we tell ourselves, our inner voice can invent some pretty remarkable tales – yes and even, lies. When that voice says things like, “You’re a failure, a loser, not as good as, not enough, etc.” you can reliably call it a lie
- There is nothing to fear but fear itself. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1933 inaugural speech included these famous words when he attempted to both rouse and assure a desperate public that great things could be done during the depths of the Great Depression. I think we can all take away from this memorable line that our fear of fear is often far worse than the event itself – if, in fact, it comes to pass at all.
- What would you do if you weren’t afraid? This one gets me hooked every time. Put it on a plaque on the wall because it asks us a vitally important question that goes to the heart of the choices we make – and don’t make – what would you do if you weren’t afraid?
Well, what would you do? Read more…
“People travel to wonder at the height of mountains, at the huge waves of the sea, at the long courses of rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars; and they pass by themselves without wondering.” St. Augustine
Becoming more self-aware is on its way to gaining the social stamp of approval in Western cultures. Turns out the classic theme of ancient philosophers and fundamental principle of modern psychology to know thyself – is taking on new meaning.
This is particularly true as postmodern organizational and leadership theories continue to redefine the qualities and conditions necessary for effectiveness within the status quo. Self-awareness has found new support in these spheres because its perceived utility makes it an attractive commodity.
In his Forbes article, Return on Self-Awareness: Research Validiates the Bottom Line of Leadership Development, author Kevin Cashman writes, “Self-awareness is the most crucial developmental breakthrough for accelerating personal leadership growth and authenticity.” Harvard Business Review writer, Anthony K. Tjan describes self-awareness as the “one quality that trumps all, evident in virtually every great entrepreneur, manager and leader.”
Findings in neuroscience are also proving the efficacy of the work performance levels of more self-aware individuals. Cashman’s article cites the work of Korn Ferry analysts David Zes and Dana Landis whose research makes a direct connection between leader self-awareness and organizational financial performance.
In their paper, A Better Return on Self-Awareness, Landis points out that the higher ROR (rate of return) of self-aware leaders demonstrates that, “self-awareness is not a soft skill, a nice-to-have. It’s playing out in your bottom line.”
It’s said that “necessity is the mother of invention” – and self-awareness may become a required “skill” to navigate the turbulent waters of today’s complex workplace and more transparent cultural environment.
Let me set the record straight – as an organizational consultant, I’m not in disagreement with Cashman’s points or the Korn Ferry study – I welcome the findings. I consider self-awareness to be the foundation of all self-learning and change. Without it, we’re doomed to more unconscious choices that create much of the pain and suffering, personally and collectively, that are driving us towards seeking greater enlightenment.
But pursuing self-awareness as just another business tool – however we magnify it’s “value,” leaves us bereft of its deeper purpose and extraordinary life-changing potential. Self-awareness isn’t simply another tool to change habits – but a means for genuine transformation. Read more…
It’s that time again…..
Time for some Travel
Time to Unplug & Read
Time for Some Fun
A Little Time to Just Be
See you sometime in August
Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, subscribe, share, like and tweet this blog. It’s appreciated.
Louise Altman, Partner, Intentional Communication Consultants
In my last post, Self-Compassion is Just the Beginning, I asked what I consider to be a core question, Have I loved my life enough? Another way of asking this is – Have I loved myself enough?
Either question takes you down the same path.
All of life is driven by needs. Needs energize our life, generate motivation and shape the meaning of our experiences.
Too often we’re on paths without understanding why. How did I get here? When and why did I make the choice to be here? Did I make the choice or did I just drift in this direction – perhaps through my not knowing what I really wanted?
In my coaching and consulting work, it’s common for people to struggle with understanding what it is they really want. Often the process begins with identifying what they don’t want.
Understandably, identifying the first layer of what we want often has a common theme, I want to be financially secure, I want to have a family, I want to be healthy, I want to do satisfying work. All of these universal desires represent the ways (think of these as “strategies” to get what we want) we try to satisfy our core needs.
In her blog, the Fearless Heart, Miki Kashtan, co-founder of the Bay Area Nonviolent Communication Center, writes, “The tragedy of life is that while our needs are so all-important, most of us go through life without cultivating the awareness of our needs nor the capacity to distinguish between our needs and our strategies.”
This is, as Kashtan points out, often the case in recurring conflicts. In years of supporting people to work through conflict issues, I repeatedly found that the inability to distinguish between what we want and why we want it is often at the heart of the emotional knot. I want this behavior to stop, I want this piece of land, I want this policy changed – all represent wants in search of meeting needs.
As we see in our personal and global conflicts, most conflicts stay mired in place because personal and collective needs are insufficiently recognized or even explored. Read more…
“The moment you see how important it is to love yourself, you will stop making others suffer.”
Buddha, Samyutta Kikaya
Every so often something I read goes right to the heart of what I need.
So it was when I discovered this post by author Katrina Kenison titled, Bucket List (not a term I use or gravitate towards normally) that contained some wonderful gems and a very important question that resonated with me deeply,
“Have I loved my life enough?”
Suddenly it struck me that this might be the most central organizing question of my life now. Have I loved my life enough – have I loved myself enough?
This is the time to reflect on every precious moment of my life without evaluation, judgment and more demands. This was the time to “greet myself arriving at my own door,” words beautifully crafted by the poet Derek Walcott in his beloved work, Love After Love.
This is the time to hone my skills to be gentler on myself than ever before. This is the time to love myself completely.
In the Era of Selfies, some of you are wincing at the thought of promoting more narcissism in the culture. But loving one’s self – flaws, imperfections, failures, weaknesses, poor choices, mistakes and all – is I believe, indicative of deep personal growth. Read more…
“Emotions like grief, fear and despair are as much a part of the human condition as love, awe and joy. Each of these emotions is purposeful and useful-if we know how to listen to them.” Miriam Greenspan
Intellectually, I know that emotions live in the body. The research demonstrating the mind-body relationship becomes more definitive each year. But, primarily I know this because when I stay still long enough to deeply feel my body, I am humbled by the feeling of feelings. Practicing body mindfulness gives me countless opportunities to listen to my feelings without judgment, analysis or resistance. Mindfulness is not simply an activity of the mind, impacting the brain.
Being mindful of the body gives us a glimpse of the profound truth of the experience of our bodies. Is the anger I felt yesterday still present somewhere in my body? Is the chronic impatience I experience the headache I wake up with or the low-back pain I feel intermittently? Is the pain in the neck I feel the irritation and frustration I often feel with a co-worker or recalcitrant teenager?
In Descartes’ Error, neuroscientist Antonio Damasio writes about the embodied mind. In the book he presents the “somatic markers hypothesis,” which posits that it isn’t only the mind that thinks. Damasio stresses the crucial role of feeling in every personal decision, “the intuitive signals that guide us in these moments literally come in the form of limbic-derived surges from the viscera.” Damasio refers to these as “somatic markers.” Without awareness of this “whole brain/body” data we operate, in essence, cut off from stored and spontaneous information that is vital not only to our decision-making, but to our overall well-being.
Recent studies from Massachusetts General Hospital, the University of Arizona, Boston University, the Santa Barbara Institute for Consciousness Studies and Emory University found that meditation may influence the way the brain processes emotions – even when you are not practicing it. According to researcher Gaelle Desbordes, “This is the first time that meditation training has been shown to affect emotional processing in the brain outside of a meditative state.” Read more…
Lately peace has become a priority for me.
When it moved to the top of my list, I can’t say. In the spirit of questioning priorities, (something we’d all benefit from) I’ve been asking myself some basic questions about the often elusive state I call peace.
Since, like many of you, I am not practiced in peace as a way of being in the world, I plan to jot down what comes to mind when I think of peace. I want to understand when and how these moments of feeling calm, centered and grounded come over me.
I want to learn how to invite more of this sense of total comfort in to my life. This deeply personal state of being is different for each of us, so it’s important for you to think about how these harmonious feelings happen in your life. Read more…
Now that we’re in the era of praise, hyperbole and misconception about what mindfulness (meditation) is all about – let’s step back and take a look at what we know.
While I’ve often written about mindfulness and personally and professionally endorse its benefits, I’m concerned that the essence of the practice is being co-opted.
Business media coverage of a practice as potentially disruptive to the status quo of stress-filled workplaces is welcome. But too often the discussion is focused on using the tool of mindfulness to do more, make more and get more.
In a curiously convoluted Fast Company article, What Our Recent Obsession with Mindfulness Really Means, author Samantha Cole voices her concern that the corporate world’s recent interest in mindfulness is so pervasive that “there are whole companies that encourage their employees to be more mindful. They drop into yoga poses during mindfulness-drills, and attend expensive seminars on the subject.” According to Ms. Cole, “no activity is safe from mindfulness.”
As a consultant who works with diverse businesses, I must admit, I have yet to find any company where mindfulness “drills” are being held or see department managers dropping into yoga stances.
As for “expensive” seminars, as an advocate and teacher of mindfulness, while I’m pleased to find more people in the corporate world aware of and interested in mindfulness, many are not. It continues to be an uphill sell despite the frustration, frenzy and pressures most employees report as their primary experience. And many of those who are interested still see mindfulness as an adjunct to their work – not a way of doing it. Read more…
“The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity. Dorothy Parker
I was a really curious kid. How about you?
They say all kids (and apparently cats) are curious.
Of course that’s true (I mean about the kids, I don’t know enough about cats to make that claim) but I was a very curious kid. I always wanted to know WHY. Why is it raining here but not there? Why can’t I eat dessert before dinner? Why is the man down the street so grumpy? Is he sick? Will I get sick? As we all know the questions get more and more complicated.
The kind of answers we got as children probably had a lot to do with the habits we formed about asking questions. At some point, most children lose interest in asking why. Even the most dedicated parents tire of responding to a barrage of questions and artfully (and not so) find ways to deflect their little ones’ inquiries.
Many people believe the nature of the average formal education can have the effect of shutting down imagination in favor of standardized learning. Albert Einstein famously said, “It’s a miracle that curiosity survives formal education.”
I’m a product of the generation that often had a handy proverb ready for inquisitive kids like me, “Louise, curiosity killed the cat.” I really never knew what that meant.
This proverb has influenced thinking about curiosity for a long time. Although the origin of the modern version only appears in print in a Handbook of English, Irish, Scottish and American Proverbs around 1873, the older version dates back to the 1500’s even showing up in Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing , “What, courage man! What though care killed a cat, thou hast mettle enough in thee to kill care.”
The modern version seems to warn us of the dangers of too much unnecessary investigation or experimentation. We’re warned of the perils of being too pushy and nosy for our own good. Fast forward to the 21st century and it turns out that this nosy kid’s insatiable curiosity is now considered a highly valued core strength. Science is discovering that curiosity turns on the brain and leads to creativity and innovation. The brain likes curiosity. It likes stimulation, variety and the new.
What the elders of my childhood didn’t know was just how much brains love to learn. Brains are constantly seeking new information and making predictions based on that knowledge. In the process, neuroplasticity is strengthening neural networks and using the information to make even better predictions.
Turns out curiosity feeds the cat! Read more…
“I feel the capacity to care is the thing which gives life its deepest significance.”
The more I see others from my heart and not my judgment, the more compassion I have for my fellow human beings. Admittedly, this is a work in progress.
There’s something poignant about pilots reporting their final passenger count as having a number of souls on board. Maybe we should do that in the workplace – report how many souls work here or how many souls are in this meeting? Regardless of your beliefs, using the term feels inclusive – like we’re all in this together. We’re not talent, direct reports, admins, vendors, temps, C-Suiters, or new hires – but souls on a journey – separate and together.
Too many people talk about their colleagues with a mixture of frustration and cynicism. Too many well-meaning books and articles label people as difficult, unreasonable, dysfunctional – even toxic.
It’s true that difficult, unreasonable, dysfunctional and even toxic conditions within many organizations and institutions produce all sorts of unhealthy actions. These behaviors are often triggered by unresolved emotions and exacerbated by systems insensitive to human needs. I’ve been exposed to my share of it – at both ends – as an employee and as a consultant. I understand the growing pressures that most workers are up against these days. I get why so many people feel discouraged and cynical.
How can we expect workers to act with respect, kindness and compassion in workplaces that are cauldrons of anxiety? How can we expect people to thrive in organizations with life-sucking systems and practices that reinforce fear and discourage honesty?
Researchers have found that one relative causal factor that enables compassion is the degree of safety someone feels. The biological “switch” that turns empathy and compassion on, works when the “survival” threat systems (fear, anxiety, distress) are turned off. Read more…
We’re living in an age of liminality. Some of us are aware of it, already feeling its weight and disorientation. The signs are everywhere – if you look. Liminality is that period of being in-between – the old stories we told ourselves about the future – especially about success – are being challenged, some fading into irrelevancy.
The fugue-like state we’re living is often messy and discomforting. The old habits and beliefs we learned are in question – our sense of personal identity feels threatened.
If you’ve grown up in Western influenced cultures, your head’s been filled with dictums about the meaning (and methods) of success. The prolific Benjamin Franklin warns, “Lose no time. Be always employ’d in something useful, cut off unnecessary actions.” Industrialist and early time-management proponent Henry Ford evoked the American all-or-nothing ethos when he claimed, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.”
Some of the most well-known motivational speakers have channeled the early American pioneer can-do spirit. Dale Carnegie, an embodiment of the rags-to-riches story was a poor farmer’s son who single-handedly invented the self-improvement business.
Carnegie, who created the famous Dale Carnegie Training Course, claimed, “Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.”
And American sports icon, Vince Lombardi’s prototypical 1950’s maxim, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing,” shaped two generations of thinking about competition and success.
While these men have inspired millions to set their sights higher and stay the course, they’ve also contributed to a legacy of confusion about the nature of work/life and access to equal opportunity. Read more…
It’s Earth Day – a perfect time to reconsider and renew your relationship with the natural world. Think about your connection to nature – how often do you spend time outdoors? Not commuting or running errands, but with the deliberate intent to be with nature.
Even though studies show that even 30 minutes outdoors can boost vitality levels and curb depression, most adults are spending less time outside. And only 6% of our children, aged 9-13, are playing outdoors in a typical week.
We all need to be part of the natural world because we are part of the natural world. Our growing estrangement from nature is unhealthy for body and mind; the gulf between us fraying our bond.
Regular, direct contact with the natural world can soothe, heal and uplift us. This Earth Day, let these great words and visuals inspire you to allow nature to do its work on you.
Acceptance has a bad rap.
In cultures where progress and improvement are a constant quest, accepting what is seems passive. Those of us who grew up in fix-it, more-is-better cultures still bristle at the idea of “letting go.”
For a long time I justified “arguing with reality” because I told myself I was a passionate, strong-willed person who was driven to make changes for the better. I still am a strong-willed person with many passions, but one who is practicing loosening my grip. The more I work on the art of acceptance, the more pockets of peace I find opening within.
When we think about acceptance, we’re often thinking about the circumstances in our lives. What we “accept” and what we don’t is usually based on the stories we tell ourselves,especially about who we are and why we are the way we are. These stories can sometimes be excuses for behaviors that may not serve our needs or ultimate outcomes.
Our non-acceptance can be as simple as whining about bad weather on a vacation, griping about a co-worker’s habits or to the inevitable personal challenges everyone must face at some point in life. We can usually tell when we’re resisting what is by the way we feel. Irritation, annoyance, anger, resentment, regret and, of course, anxiety. Because so much of our behavior is reactive and not intentional, it is easy to resist what is. Read more…
Recently I discovered a quote that grabbed my attention.
According to Alex Steffens, co-founder of WorldChanging.com, who was described in the New York Times as a “designing optimist,” “Optimism is a political act.”
If you’re spending time online these days, you may be caught between headlines like the upbeat promise to Break Free of Your Struggles in 2 Steps and the dire IPCC report, Climate Change a Threat to Food, Security & Mankind.
The inner conflict between world views brings me back to exploring some basic questions about the nature of optimism, pessimism and the actions they propel. I’ve written before about cynicism and positive thinking but unrelentingly grim news compels me to revisit this territory.
Steffens’ bold statement raises interesting questions. Don’t get sidetracked by the term political – this is not about partisan politics. Steffens, I believe, is talking about the status quo – whatever it is. Our institutions and systems are badly broken and the paralysis of pessimism isn’t going to fix or transform them.
Steffens is arguing that the very nature of the conversation about optimism is driven by status quo thinking. We either believe that we can solve the world’s most pressing problems (and everything in-between) or we can’t.
Steffens believes that “entrenched interests use despair, confusion and apathy to prevent change. They encourage modes of thinking which lead us to believe that problems are insolvable, that nothing we can do matters, that issues are too complex to present even the opportunity for change. It is a long-standing political art to sow the seeds of mistrust between those you would rule over; as Machiavelli said, tyrants do not care if they are hated, so long as those under them do not love one another. Cynicism is often seen as a rebellious attitude in Western popular culture, but, in reality, cynicism in average people is the attitude exactly most likely to conform to the desires of the powerful – cynicism is obedience.”
In Steffen’s model, the status quo benefits from confusion. “I’m more and more convinced that the instrumentalism in the absence of committed vision always serves the politics of impossibility.” Given the power of institutional culture, how is our thinking about what’s possible being shaped? What are business, government and big data telling us about change and what is possible? Read more…
Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver’s haunting question should become a mantra for life in the 21st century.
Seemingly inured to stress, too many of us speed through each day without taking the time to stop and ask – what have I traded a day of my life for today? Jumping on the mindfulness bandwagon dozens of articles still ask, “Can you afford ten minutes to devote to the practice?”
Collectively we know that stress is a slow killer but it’s not changing our behavior. How much information do we need before we start shifting destructive behaviors that pose real threats to our personal and social well-being?
Lack of sleep (which new data shows leads to brain cell loss) is endemic. There is no single behavior that is more basic to human performance than sleep. Yet, in cultures like the U.S. where many people believe that sleeping less adds to productivity, the average sleep duration is now around 6 hours. It’s a vicious cycle – less sleep exacerbates stress which leads to less sleep.
Suicide rates are escalating at an alarming rate surpassing deaths from auto accidents in the U.S. Recently, an inexplicable series of suicides among men, especially younger workers, has shaken the financial sector. Last August, the finance chief at Zürich Insurance Group committed suicide and left a note blaming the company’s chairman for creating unbearable work environment.
It’s getting difficult not to bump into the word mindfulness these days. While mindfulness is mostly associated with meditation, I like to think of it as a way of being in the world.
Mindfulness meditation “practice” is valuable – and it will likely have multiple ripple effects in every corner of your life. A new study at The University of Utah has confirmed its benefits and shown that mindfulness affects stress responses throughout the day. According to researcher Holly Rau, “People who reported higher levels of mindfulness described better control over their emotions and behaviors during the day.”
Magic? No. Methodical practice of retraining the brain to respond to stimulus differently builds cognitive flexibility in ways we are just beginning to understand.
In an age of looking outside of ourselves for solutions, mindfulness practice turn out to be the ultimate insider “strategy.” The magic of mindfulness is that it rearranges neural networks in powerful ways. And the great news is that we are the “tool” that makes it possible. Apps can remind us when to breathe, sit and slow down, but only we can make it happen. Read more…
“Anger can be a wonderful wake up call to help you to understand what you need and what you value.” Thich Nhat Hahn
For seven years I regularly facilitated seminars on conflict resolution. Most of the group participants wanted answers to problems they saw as the source of their conflict. Usually this had to do with fixing the behavior of another person.
Imagine the surprise when I asked them to reflect on a set of questions that focused almost exclusively on their own anger.
What do you believe about anger?
What is its purpose?
How do you express your anger?
How do you want others to express their anger to you?
How do you repress your anger?
Do you do anything to shut down the anger of others?
If your anger could talk, what would it say? Read more…
It’s International Woman’s Day again. How shall we mark it?
Are we making progress? Yes, of course we are. Do we have a long way to go? You bet we do. But before we start taking stock of the state of women in 2014, let’s get our context clear.
We’re not going to talk much about Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer or Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg (author of the controversial book, Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead) two icons for a segment of working “professional” women.
Sandberg’s “social movement” Lean In has generated a (healthy) but often contentious debate among women who have greater access to economic and social resources than the average working woman whose median salary in the U.S. was $37,791 in 2012. (Compared to men’s $49,398)
Dissecting the Lean In ethos in her excellent article in Dissent, author Kate Losse writes, “Life is a race, Sandberg is telling us, and the way to win is through the perpetual acceleration of one’s own labor: moving forward, faster. The real antagonist identified by Lean In then is not institutionalized discrimination against women, but women’s reluctance to accept career demands.”
In her entertaining “rebuttal” article, Recline!, Georgetown law professor and foreign policy analyst Rosa Brooks writes, “Ladies, if we want to rule the world, or even just gain an equitable share of leadership positions – we need to stop leaning in. It’s killing us. We need to fight for our right to lean back and put our feet up.”
As Brooks rightly points out, most women, especially those with children are still expected to work the “second shift” at home, since women still do far more childcare and housework than men.
The problem with much of the analysis on women’s empowerment or “equalization” is that most is focused on a narrow demographic of wealthier, well-educated women whose daily livelihood, rights and safety are often taken for granted. Mainstream discussions about work are mostly defined by opinion-making elites with emphasis on “glass ceilings” and male dominated boardrooms. There is little recognition that the majority of female jobs: domestic, home care, retail services and other “contingent” work are “undervalued, virtually unregulated and precarious.”
As Laurie Penny of the New Statesman writes, “While we all worry about the glass ceiling there are millions of women standing in the basement – and the basement is flooding”
Here’s what I have noticed lately ~ more and more people are talking about living in “uncertain” times. It’s now called, “the new normal.”
The anxiety over our predicament of uncertainty appears to be a new discovery.
The economic earthquake of 2008/09 rearranged our thinking – and long-held assumptions about the future. We haven’t been the same since; our collective consciousness has shifted and the majority now believe we are living in an era of uncertainty.
Along with the popular acknowledgement that uncertainty is now permanent, comes the recognition that “chaos” is part the new world order. Writing about his work to help the U.S. military “embrace” a future of uncertainty, Ori Brafman, author of The Chao Imperative: How Chance and Disruption Increase Innovation, Effectiveness and Success, explains , “The military, one of the most structured organizations that has ever existed on earth, has realized that in order to be adaptive it needs to embrace elements of chaos.”
While we don’t know what this means for military priorities and practices, it’s a high-profile signal of a mindset shake-up in the establishment status-quo.
In his excellent blog, Unfolding Leadership, Dan Oestriech offers another example of the changing nature of our reality. In Leading Change in a VUCA World,” Dan points out that to lead change in a VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) leaders must be able to adapt and stimulate continuous organizational change. He points out that earlier models of change management are outmoded top-down strategies designed to maintain control and overcome resistance
Awareness is progress, right? We’re seeing mindsets shift as a society – business, medicine, education – every sphere of organizational life feels the difference and the pressure for change. We’re not going back to the old world – and more of us know it but aren’t sure what’s next. While organizations and institutional systems will either spend the next years attempting to shore up power and control (fail) or flex and flow experimenting with new models, what will our personal response to a VUCA world be?
Cultures change when people do. So how do we handle our new collective awareness that living is a state of permanent uncertainty? Organizational instability is one pill to swallow, personal volatility – quite another. Read more…
“The problem with business is that it is afraid of dealing with the business of people.”
W. Edwards Deming
Honestly, I don’t get it.
Why is so much of business still in the dark about the basics of human dynamics?
Appyling awareness of human psychology to work is moving at a glacial pace while technology flies by it at the speed of light.
What’s taking so long?
Well, part of the story starts back in 1911 when Frederick Taylor – the “father” of professional management as we know it, propelled his ideas for advancing worker “efficiency.” The Taylor method prescribed a clockwork world of tasks timed to the hundredth of a minute, of standardized factories, machines and people. Naturally, ordinary workers resented having to work faster than they thought was healthy or fair.
Little was known or considered at the time about the “human dynamics” of workers and modern psychology was still in its infancy. In fact, it seems that the “human side” of worker’s needs was viewed as rather inconvenient by some of the industrial leaders of the time. Surely, the inner workings of the human being were a nuisance at best to people like Henry Ford who complained, “Why is it when I need a pair of hands I have to get the whole man?”
Sorry Henry – that’s just how we work – we fussy messy human beings. We need things like meaning, security, purpose, pleasure, novelty and rest to “perform” at our best.
Sadly, the machine metaphors of Messrs Taylor and Ford still guide many of the underlying processes of the modern workplace. The command and control thinking and practices implemented during that time still drive many management behaviors today.
It’s still not uncommon for business leaders to ask questions like: Read more…
Continuing the conversation started in Part 1 – several key questions keep surfacing.
One is the often unspoken tension between EI (Emotional Intelligence) and what is typically thought of as “therapy.” For anyone who has been involved in a therapeutic process, it’s immediately clear that learning and applying EI principles is very different from being “in therapy.”
Resistance to EI in work settings often comes from those who believe that any discussion of “feelings” is akin to the therapeutic relationship. Organizational aversion to emotions reflects the larger cultural aversion to feelings. Addressing collective cultural fears, Miriam Greenspan, author of Healing through the Dark Emotions, says, “We’ve mastered the internal regulation processes of emotion-phobia. Ours is a dissociative culture-a culture that separates body from mind, body from spirit, and feeling from thinking. This kind of dissociation is a special requirement of masculinity in patriarchy.”
Ms. Greenspan’s comments surface another interesting layer of the resistance to bringing EI learning into many organizations – men are often the decision-makers at more senior levels. Many EI practitioners would agree that receptivity is greater among women. Greenspan points out, “Both men and women are impaired in different ways, by our culture’s disability in relation to emotion and emotional communication. Emotional vitality and authenticity, a mature sense of emotional wholeness and freedom-these human capacities are hard to come by in a culture that doesn’t honor the body and the heart.” Read more…
In 1995, Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than IQ by Daniel Goleman was published. The introduction of Emotional Intelligence (EI) generated excitement and hope. Nearly twenty years later, it’s time to look at the progress and future of this work.
As a student of psychology and social systems, EI (Emotional Intelligence) had immediate resonance with my experience and offered some of what I believed was essential for personal and whole systems change. At the time, there were no statistics to “prove” the efficacy of EI, no “ROI” (return on investment) data to sell skeptics on the value of people understanding their own emotional make-up and acting from that knowledge.
As I quickly began to integrate the concepts into my work, I could see the powerful impact this material had on the people I was working with. Turns out – a surprising amount of people in the workplace wanted to talk about feelings. They needed a framework and a sense of safety to give voice to what they were carrying around in their bodies.
The early days of working with EI were not easy, but gratifying. There were no “tools” or standardized tests to fall back on – just concepts and a willingness to deeply listen to emotionally hungry voices in the workplace. Aside from reassuring some people that EI wasn’t “therapy,” I found mostly receptive audiences who wanted more. There was little in the way of “how to” in the early days of EI – and quite frankly, there still isn’t.
Clients from tech, the law and the sciences often pushed back. I improved my skills in the art of non-resistance. I found myself gently making the case that there was a place for emotions in the workplace. In fact, the workplace was filled with emotions, though often not the ones that inspired, motivated and supported people. The “rational mind is everything” meme embedded in so many people challenged the idea that body/mind, thoughts/feelings were a unified system.
In 1998, Daniel Goleman released his landmark article in the Harvard Business Review, What Makes a Leader? The article established the “model” that most EI practitioners would use and offered research results from application of the principles in business settings.
This article and the release of his next book, Working with Emotional Intelligence, lent legitimacy to earlier assertions that EI trumped IQ as predictive of professional success. In his work Goleman was challenging the enduring belief that intellect and rationality alone were the keys to professional advancement. “They do matter,” Goleman stated in the article, “but mainly as “threshold capabilities, that is, they are the entry-level requirements for executives.” Read more…
Since I published Part 1 in April 2011 the article has consistently been in the blog’s top 10. I’m grateful for the response and I’ve been inspired to write more about the fascinating, emergent world of neuroscience.
While I am a very informal student of the science, what I’ve learned has reshaped the way I approach my work. As I wrote in Part 1, given this impressive new knowledge, I expect that slowly, but surely, organizational leaders will come to realize that too many of the beliefs, philosophies, methods, practices and strategies that govern their thinking about human dynamics and work are still stuck in post-Industrial Era mindsets.
While there are critics of neuroscience and its interpretations who worry about the “culture’s obsession with the brain and how we have elevated the vital organ into cultish status, mythologizing its functions and romanticizing the promise of its scientific study,” we’ve already realized great benefits from the science that is clearly here to stay.
What we now know about human development and optimal whole body-brain functioning should not only change the way we manage people at work – but how we raise and teach our children, provide health care, conduct our legal system and structure government policies and institutions.
In Part 1, I focused on the concepts governing management practices that can benefit from developing an understanding of neuroscience. In Part 2, I want to broaden the applicability of neuroscience to more of organizational life. – specifically, culture. Read more…
The naysayers are already declaring that resolutions for the New Year have failed or inevitably will. But from what we now know about habits and the brain we understand that unless we motivate ourselves – regularly – our intentions for change are likely to go unfulfilled.
It’s easy to become cynical in these times – even about our own aspirations and possibilities. It’s more important than ever to understand what we believe and how our actions are aligned with our behavior.
Here are ten quotes that can open the fields of possibility in 2014 – and beyond.
- “Let us not look back in anger or forward in fear, but around in awareness.”–James Thurber
I recently rediscovered this quote and found such solid wisdom in its practical advice. Regret and lack of forgiveness often mire us in the past and sap the energies we need to carry us forward. I’ve often written about fear – the most corrosive and debilitating emotion. Don’t let it dominate you this year. Thurber rightly reminds us that instead of becoming caught in ruminations of yesterday and the anxieties of tomorrow – to look around in awareness – right now – in the moment at what is. The present is a potent place to be – let’s dwell in it more in 2014. Read more…
Writing about his choices for the top films of 2013, New York Times movie critic Stephen Holden began his piece with an unusual explanatory note, “Generalized anxiety.” That is by far the most common complaint voiced by the clients of a prominent New York psychiatrist whom I recently asked to identify the malaise of the moment.”
In nooks and crannies and in big noisy headlines, tension and uncertainty are becoming commonplace memes in these times. There are no easy or fast solutions. There is no Rx. This is life as we have constructed as a society so far; conscious choices or not.
We’re in need of many things and technology can’t solve all of our problems. In fact, it’s created many new ones – estrangement from genuine social contact, endless distractions, even addictions from device overload and perhaps worst of all – a growing detachment from the wonders of human existence.
Sometimes someone else captures the essence of what is on your mind – this time it’s from Dr. Ken Druck’s New Year’s post
“ With all due respect to the procrastination-ending promises, spirited goals, deeply-held commitments and news-making fresh starts, I’ve decided the opt out of this annual ritual and treat Jan. 1st as just another (precious, irretrievable) day. On January 1st, the sun will rise and fall for me in the absence of anything resembling a resolution. So what are my un-resolutions? What exactly am I going to step aside and allow to go unresolved? And why have I decided to do this?
Let’s start with the “why.” Well, for one thing, I’m tired of making agreements I might not keep, pressuring myself to be better, smarter, thinner, healthier, richer, happier or more at peace with life. No more trying, stressing and/or straining to willfully plan or control the future, putting myself on deadline to write the next book — and no more deflating false starts in 2014. I am giving myself time off from having to change anything. And devoting myself to a year of accepting things just the way they are. Accepting myself just as I am.”
Now that may sound unambitious to some – but it makes perfect sense to me as I ponder the transition from one year to another. If I have any “resolution” this year, it is to be gentler on myself in all things. This doesn’t mean I don’t have things I want to accomplish or improvements I’d like to make. It does not diminish my passion or enthusiasm for the new or for change. In fact, I’m more appreciative than ever of the small, steady changes I am making that are replacing old behaviors with new ones. I expect that great, new things (ideas, people, experiences) will not only unfold, but are constantly unfolding. Often I feel I get in the way of those possibilities by the pressure I place on myself and trying to shape outcomes that are largely out of my control.
The one thing I do know is that most of what I am in control of is my thinking. Everything flows from it. So I’m reprising this article from 2012 – I hope it’s a helpful way to think about the New Year. How you approach the mental cleanse is important. In the spirit of lightening up and being easier on yourself, think of the mental cleanse as a vehicle to release persistent unhelpful thoughts especially those that tend towards self-judgment and comparison with others. A little goes a long way…. Read more…
“Silence is a great peacemaker” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
For the ancients winter and the passing of the old year signaled a time to slow down, a time for quiet reflection. Those days are clearly over. In fact, the reality of modern life is that this time of the year represents for many, the busiest of the year. The list of year-end to-dos seems to get larger every year.
Another “casualty” of modern life is quiet.
Amidst the cacophony of traffic, city noise, giant screen TVs, digital devices and the increasing noise pollution in our workplaces, quiet is becoming a precious commodity in the 21st century.
So rare is real silence that many people cannot even tolerate it. The void of silence must be filled with sound to keep ourselves from ourselves. Read more…
Welcome to the annual (just made that official) Joy of Giving Back post. It’s a labor of love that gets a great reception. As I wrote last year, there isn’t enough space to highlight the many wonderful organizations that do extraordinary work in service of others around the world. Every time you feel the cynicism creeping in – remember – somewhere right at this moment, thousands of people are doing selfless work that benefits those in need. So I hope you’ll help these efforts by opening your heart and your wallet to give what you can to these worthy causes. Read more…
Four years ago this week I started this blog. Nearly everything about it has been a positive experience. I began with a simple message that is even more relevant for me today – and I hope for my readers – everything comes down to how we communicate. All the things that we want and need start with a thought process that is communicated to others. Most of us do it on auto-pilot. Often that limits or derails the results we want to get. It can also leave hard feelings and unclear signals about who we are, what we want and how we really feel.
There’s a great quote by Stephen Covey that captures the feeling content of most communication, “We judge others by their actions and ourselves by our intentions.” That’s often true but it usually happens at the back-end of communication. What’s more common is that we find ourselves in the midst of a communication and have no awareness of what our intentions are.
Distractions, lack of focus, acting from a lack of emotional awareness (of self and others) and emotional self-protection, the quest for clean, clear, honest communication eludes even those most dedicated to it. While I have tried to keep the focus of this blog on the workplace, I also champion life beyond work in an era where working has become synonymous with identity and life. In my work, I find a short line between how we communicate in our professional and personal lives. Developing more intentionality in how we communicate with others is a 24/7 committment.
As I begin year 5, I want to again thank everyone who takes the time to read these (mostly too-long articles) and shares them with others. I’ve been so honored to have received so many wonderful compliments and have been deeply touched when something I write has resonance in another person’s life.
Here’s the first post ~ Read more…
I didn’t plan on writing about empathy this week. I got “hooked” while reading Nicholas Kristof’s compelling New York Times article, Where is the Love, over “Thanksgiving” weekend and knew I needed to revisit the topic.
In the article Kristof writes about the pushback he’s received from many readers in his recent pieces on food stamp recipients, prison inmates and the uninsured. Writing about hungry children, Kristof shares a comment from a reader who protested, “If kids are going hungry, it is because of the parents not upholding their responsibilities.”
While non-American readers of this blog may not relate to the public “debate” over government policies that produce such human misery and conflict here in the States – most of us can recognize the stunning lack of empathy some of Kristof’s readers display. Where is the love? Where is the empathy, indeed? Since empathy is often a precursor to love – we begin there.
If you look behind every strong anti-empathy feeling – fear, anger, rage, frustration, resentment, disappointment, hurt, and hostility – you’ll find beliefs. Beliefs are the activators of feelings – and they drive all of our behaviors and decision-making.
Some beliefs are empathy-killers Read more…
As we approach the holiday season, lots of heart-felt stories about kindness and giving start to appear. Tis’ the season, so to speak. It’s a time when even the busiest and most cynical among us pause (even if only for a short time) and reflect. But too often, the feelings of gratitude that the holiday spirit may generate are focused only on family and friends. Gratitude, after all, is not an emotion most of us associate with the workplace.
But what if gratitude were commonplace in the workplace?
What do you think the impact of a culture of gratitude would be on well-being, relationships, cooperation, stress, creativity, performance and productivity?
Gratitude is a powerful emotion. A growing body of research within the past decade has demonstrated the significant physiological benefits to those experiencing gratitude. Studies at the University of California (Davis) and the University of Miami showed that experiencing gratitude balanced hormonal levels and led to the release of DHEA, “the anti-aging hormone.” Gratitude also boosts the immune system by increasing the LgA antibody. These studies found that engaging in daily “gratitude exercises” can raise the level of positive feelings.
When we activate and experience emotions like gratitude and appreciation, they can become more like our “default” emotions because neural networks are reinforced through repeated experience.
The mounting evidence shows that “gratitude represents the quintessential positive personality trait, being an indicator of a worldview oriented towards noticing and appreciating the positive in life.” (Journal of Personality and Individual Difference)
According to research at the Institute for Heart Math, “true feelings of gratitude, appreciation and other positive emotions can synchronize brain and heart rhythms, creating a body wide shift to a scientifically measurable state called coherence. In this optimal state, the body’s systems function more efficiently, generating a greater balance of emotions and increased mental clarity and brain function.”
There’s no question that cultivating more gratitude and appreciation has a positive effect on the person experiencing it – but what about its effect on others? And does infusing a workplace culture with gratitude result in more positive outcomes? Read more…
Every person grows up carrying a narrative about who they are. Most of that story is formed early in childhood with new chapters added to include adolescence and experiences as adults.
The childhood stories are mostly formed by our parents and significant care-givers’ narratives about who they think we are.
Mom says, “Tom’s a dreamer and very creative.”
Dad says, “Tom’s smart but lacks academic discipline and focus.”
These are often the stories parents needed to tell themselves to explain you to them. They had dreams and expectations – even if unarticulated – and you stepped into them. Unless they were consciously aware, you were part of their unexamined narrative.
Our stories are also shaped by perceptions of who our parents were: “My father was unable to understand me and I never got the recognition I needed. The only support I got was from my mother.”
Then teachers, family members, neighbors and peers add-on to the story “With your grades, Tom, I’d aim for a less competitive school if you want to get accepted.”
While some of those perceptions may contain truths, other peoples’ stories about us are often a product of their projections.
Eventually themes emerge from these stories. We patch them together, mix them with our own experiences and create the stories we tell about ourselves. Read more…
“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child — our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”
Every week another article announces the decline of the liberal arts education.
In last weeks’ New York Times article, As Interests Fades in the Humanities, Colleges Worry, author Tamar Lewin reports that the future of Stanford University’s liberal arts programs appear to be in jeopardy. Lewin reports that although 45% of the undergraduate division is clustered in the humanities, it has only 15% of the students. Computer science is now the university’s most popular major.
This seems to be the increasing fate of more and more universities. STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) programs eclipse the humanities and draw ever-growing numbers of students hungry for job credentials. The recession, states Lewin, has helped turn college into largely a tool for job preparation – and administrators are concerned.
I am too. My undergraduate liberal arts education was one of the important experiences of my life. Chekov. Dickens. Darwin. Marx. Architecture. Urban Studies. Modern Art. Worlds within worlds. Wonderful revelations. Rich conversations. New directions. Deep connections.
I’m envisioning a society devoid of writers, painters, poets and historians and it scares me. But mostly I’m worried about truth and beauty. Where will we find it – and most important, will we care?
According to Nathaniel Whittemore, a principal at Learn Capital, the notion of liberal arts began in ancient Greek and Roman societies and emerged from the idea that there were certain fields of knowledge that every free person should have command of.
For thousands of years, enlightened societies have agreed with this premise and organized their educational pursuits around this principle. The idea was not simply about knowing things, but about cultivating certain attributes of the mind necessary to engage the world. Read more…
“Forgiveness is a lovely idea until you have someone to forgive.” C.S. Lewis
I’ve thought a lot about forgiveness lately. Often when we face life’s major passages, a flood of old thoughts and feelings suddenly reappear. But I must admit that I am not at the place where I started when I began to think about the concept of forgiveness for this post. My longer than usual research took me to deeper places than I had imagined. I realized how complex, fragile and essential the role of forgiveness is to every human being and every culture.
While most of us engage in small acts of simple forgiveness every day – for many there are chasms of wounds that lay untouched, waiting for the resolution and reconciliation that may never be. For thousands of years, the concept of forgiveness has mainly been the province of religious and philosophical teachings. The legacies of those theological and moral influences formed imperatives to forgive and repent. Not until the post-WWII era of collective psychology did the idea flourish that forgiveness had value and purpose in everyday life.
The motivation to forgive was no longer simply atonement in preparation for eternal life, but greater freedom to living a fuller life in the present. The why and how of forgiveness has since occupied therapeutic relationships, 12 step programs, popular fiction and self-help books and most recently – entire countries and cultures as they seek to resolve their pasts and begin anew. In the past two decades, neuroscience has contributed to our understanding of the impact of forgiveness in interpersonal relations and personal well-being. Scientists are now able to find areas of neural activity and link those to experiences of forgiveness. This advance is providing major insights into the nature of forgiveness and a range of other related emotions. Read more…
Most bloggers track the statistics on their reader’s preferences. While the motivation for writing a particular article can vary. most writers will admit to an “attachment” to certain pieces and a tinge of disappointment when those articles just don’t generate the buzz you’d hoped for. This week I’ve gone back into the archives and revisited some of the articles I like that didn’t ignite with my readers. I hope they will find a new audience. Read more…
When I consider my past, I’m amazed at what I just did not see. I wonder – what was I thinking at the time?
Experience is not only a great teacher in the moment, but it gives us a context that changes our perception going forward. Once you know what you know – about your own behavior, a job, a friend, a leader; you simply do not see things in the same way. While we may attempt to suppress what we know – once we know, denial becomes a much harder emotional challenge.
But what about now?
What can’t we see – and why can’t we see it?
How can we expand our perspective – and consequently our behavioral choices if we don’t know what we don’t know?
And what do we know about – not knowing? Read more…
I often write about emotions. In fact, at the heart of my work and this blog, is the effort to illuminate emotional life and provide a space for conversation about feelings. While many articles focus on specific emotions like, anger, envy, jealously and resentment – and fear, especially fear – it’s as important to round out the range of human emotions by looking at feelings like wonder, awe and joy. In this post, we explore the often ignored, but powerful, feelings of humility.
In a competitive “Look at ME,” “What’s in it for ME” world where self-branding skills are sought and prized, the word humility isn’t commonly googled.
The term “humility” comes from the Latin word humilitas, a noun related to the adjective humilis, which can be translated as “humble,” but also as “grounded,” “from the earth,” or “low.” Because of the root derivation of the word, humility has often been considered submissive and meek.
In every religious tradition, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Taoism and Hindu humility is among the highest virtues. In the Book of Proverbs, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (Proverbs 3:34)
In Buddhism, humility is a path for release from the sufferings of the mind. According to the Mahayana teachings of Buddhism, the teaching of shunyata (Emptiness) human beings and things have no intrinsic existence in themselves. Their existence and “value” comes in being only in relative relation to other phenomena.
The ancient Greeks often wrote about the importance of humility. In Homer’s Iliad, the willful and arrogant Achilles took little notice of his comrades slaughtered at the hands of the Trojans. Obsessed with himself till the end, Achilles is killed by Prince Paris, the son of the Trojan king, whose arrows are divinely guided. Achilles is felled as much by his own hubris, as the arrow that strikes his famous heel. Read more…