Posts Tagged 'positive psychology'

Imagine a Future…

Imagine a future

We’re pretty good at playing out the future in our imaginations when things make sense, and there aren’t difficult, unanswered questions at stake.

A way of defining (non-clinical) anxiety is as, “experiencing failure in advance.” If you’re busy enacting a future that hasn’t happened yet, and amplifying the worst possible outcomes, it’s no wonder it’s difficult move forward.

Sadly our culture doesn’t have an easily found word for the opposite. For experiencing success in advance. For visualizing the best outcomes before they happen.

Writing yourself fan mail in advance and picturing the change you’ve announced you’re trying to make is an effective way to push yourself to build something that actually generates that action. One reason this is difficult is that we’ve got a false humility that pushes us to avoid it. The other is that when we’re confronted with this possible success, we have to confront the fact that we’re not there (yet).

Go ahead, write yourself some fan mail, in advance.

Imagining a future without your sacred cows is hard, but necessary if you want to be thorough, and  reasonably prepared. In business this means groping for what you’d do if the environmental conditions you rely on for success changed. Maybe energy prices fluctuate. Or people no longer read things on paper. Or phones have really good cameras in them. Or an app is developed for what you do? Or the means are invented for you to find your own audience, so you don’t have to be selected, etc. What if we cure diabetes?

On a personal level, imagining the future can be difficult because the future is messy and we’re not focused enough to make sense of it all. The past is neat. People who chronicle the past are connecting the dots, editing what we remember and presenting a neat, coherent arc. We can publish the history of Ottoman Empire in 150 pages, but we’d need ten times that to contain a narrative of the noise in your head over the last hour. Even viral videos are easy to describe after they happen. But if these experts are so smart, how come they can never predict the next one?

We’re not very rigorous in our understanding of what we want. Vague wishes and ideals are nice, but they don’t come with a roadmap. It’s not intuitive, and nobody really trains us to be specific about it. We have fantasies about happiness and contentment, families, social events, a loving and supportive companion, and a nice home. But we don’t do the hard work to sit down and map out exactly what all of that looks like and consists of.

Until we are older. By then we’ve been bounced around enough to have a much more grounded understanding of what we want. Here you are. Given that time travel has yet to be invented, your options are to give in to the inertia and play it out, or shake things up to get what you want.

Imagine a future that looks like you getting what you want out of life. Imagine it in detail. What are the principle parts? Can you devise a systematic way to you can start working to move forward on a couple of them? If one is a nice house, then take the time to learn what that costs, what payments are, what your credit worthiness needs to be, and how much of a downpayment you need. You can map it out. Not saying everything is a simple checklist like this, but you can at least figure out enough to increase your odds. Want that loving and supportive companion? Start by being awesome yourself. What does that look like? What steps can you take to be more awesome?

Or…wait around to be selected. But don’t hold your breath on that one.

 

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Fear of Fear

fear of fearMost of the things we avoid are avoided because we’re afraid of being afraid.

The negative outcomes that could actually occur due to speaking up in class, caring about our work product, interacting with the boss – there’s not a lot of measurable risk. But the fear… the fear can be debilitating, or at the very least, distasteful. So it’s easier to just avoid it altogether. We avoid the feeling of fear.

On the other hand, artists and leaders seek out that feeling. They push themselves to the edge, to the place where the fear lives. By feeling it, by exposing themselves to the resistance, they become more alive and do work that they’re most proud of.

It usually looks higher from up there. When we find ourselves on the edge of a precipice, looking down at the depths of the chasm below, it’s easy to think that our plan is far too risky, or our behavior too weird.

The funny thing about perspective is that most bystanders don’t see you standing on a precipice at all. They see someone doing something a little risky, or even questionable, but by no means off-the-grid nuts. You’re far more likely to go not-far-enough than you are to go too far, especially if you tend to find yourself worrying over what others think.

Internal monologue amplifies personal drama. To the outsider, neither exists. That’s why our ledge-walking rarely attracts a crowd. What’s in your head is real to you, no doubt about it, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us can see the resistance you are battling. And most don’t care about it.

How deep is the water? If it’s over your head, does it really matter?

At some point, when the stakes are high enough, you will swim. And when you swim, who cares how deep the water is?

How much does it cost you to avoid the feeling of risk? Not actual risk, but the feeling that you’re at risk? What are you missing out on? Feeling risk is very different than actually putting yourself at risk. Over time, we’ve created a cultural taboo about feeling certain kinds of risk, and all that insulation from what the real world requires is getting quite expensive. It’s easy to pretend that indulging in the avoidance of the feeling of risk is free and unavoidable. It’s neither.

The fear doesn’t care, either way. The choice is to spend our time avoiding that fear or embracing it.

 

Crystal Palace

crystalpalace

It’s beautiful. Looks fantastic. A great ideal to hold on to.

Thanks to technology, (relative) peace and historic levels of prosperity, we’ve turned our lives into a type of crystal palace, a gleaming edifice that needs to be perfected and polished more than it is appreciated.

We waste energy whining over slight imperfections, while we’re simultaneously losing our ability to engage with situations that might not have outcomes shiny enough or risk-free enough to belong in the palace. By insulating ourselves from perceived risk we spend our days in a prison we’ve built for ourself.

Shiny, but hardly nurturing. And still fragile.

Growth is messy and seems dangerous. Life is messy and inherently somewhat dangerous. When we insist on a guarantee, an ever-increasing standard in everything we measure, and a Hollywood ending, we get none of those.

 

Celebrate!

celebrate

Just a quick reminder to celebrate what’s great. It may not be ideal, but take the win and celebrate. That’s where the joy comes from and goes to in life. Two-way street. Give it. Receive it. Bask in it. It’s worth it.

Cloudy

cloudyballandchain

Our moods cloud thinking and judgement. It’s usually somewhat nuanced, but without a doubt we know that certain decisions and reactions are impacted by emotions, which are partially triggered by moods, which are impacted in a variety of ways.

Cloudy days…just don’t feel the same as the bright, sunny days. Our bodies, and ultimately our psyches react to these conditions in ways we don’t fully understand or have control over. Further, moods affect our perception of the relative cloudiness.

It’s possible the tipping point of perception driving an important decision would differ depending on whether it’s cloudy or sunny outside. It has implications into the element of chaos or seeming randomness in everything that happens.

Fascinating how we are cognitively (emotionally…spiritually?) connected to the earth and environment in these ways, and in how much dissonance we produce by ignoring or resisting it.

An Unselfish To Do List

dancerssilBy their nature, most to-do lists are self-focused. This is a different kind of list; here are four things you could do today for other people:

1. Make another person feel they belong. 

The superficial greetings that make the greeter feel good can diminish into the reality of a lack of connection for a person who is new or in an unfamiliar (uncomfortable) environment.

Maybe it’s the guy in accounting who always eats lunch alone. Maybe it’s the guy from shipping who always stands at the edge of a group. It’s easy to spot people who feel hesitant and out of place. Pick one. Say hi. Say something nice. Say, or do, something that makes them feel a slightly bigger connection – to your company, to a group, or just to you.

They may not show it, but they’ll definitely appreciate the gesture.

2. Make a person feel good about what they do.

Rarely does a restaurant delivery guy hope to make his career delivering food. Rarely does a sales clerk or entry-level manual laborer hope to stay in that job forever. High-level workers tend to attract high-level attention. Lower level workers often feel invisible; an unseen, unnoticed, unappreciated cog in the machine. Such a shame since everyone really is important and deserves to be treated with respect.

Pick someone in your company, or elsewhere. Doesn’t matter. Don’t just offer a throwaway, “Thanks.” Say thanks and mean it. Or give a sincere compliment. Or ask a question that shows respect for what that person does. For that moment, make sure the other person knows you see and appreciate them as a person, not just as an employee.

3. Offer a person hope. 

Have you ever met a person who didn’t dream of something better? We all have dreams and hopes, but sometimes it’s really hard to hold on to them. Sometimes all we need is for another person to fan our flickering flames of hope. To somehow show us that there is a way to get from here to there.

Buy a piece of art from an artist. Assign a small project to an employee you know hopes to be promoted; give her a chance, however small, to show her stuff. Ask a small supplier to provide a quote; give them a chance to earn your business. Really listen to someone with the intent to understand and get to know them. Engage them in a meaningful conversation, or include them (see above) in an important activity.

The best way to offer someone hope is to show you believe in them, even when – especially when – they don’t quite believe in themselves.

4. Give to a person in need. 

Years ago, the first time I went to Europe, a well-meaning person told me not to make eye contact with beggars. “Once you make eye contact, they’re all over you.”

A while later I was with a friend in NYC, and when riding the subway I noticed she gave a little money to a man who walked through the car with his hat in hand. She also gave money to people sitting against buildings holding torn, faded cardboard signs declaring their need. When I asked about it, she said, “If a man is desperate enough to say, ‘Can you help me?’ how could I ever say no? He’s asking me for help.” She paused. “Plus, hopefully for a few moments they’ll feel a little less alone. Hopefully they’ll feel like a few people really do care about them.” Humbling.

I’d normally be the first one to say we do these things to make ourselves feel better. It’s true, but on this day I was reminded by a person with a bigger heart than me that there is still a real person on the other end of that transaction who benefits.

Try it. Give directly. Give to a person who asks. Give a dollar here, or five dollars there.

To you and me it may be little, but to a person in need it could be a lot. To a person in need our small gestures could make all the difference.

The thing about all of these benevolent acts is they will each make you feel better. Even if you do them for your own selfish reasons the good you do is still positive energy in the world. We’re all in this together.

Happiness, Part xx5, the Distraction

climberFocus

(Links to part xx1, xx2, xx3, and xx4.)

A recent Harvard study determined that those with persistent stray thoughts and wandering minds were less likely to be happy than those able to focus on task.

It seems to confirm what Buddhists, sages and saints have long taught – That an unruly mind creates unhappiness and disfunction and that the keys to happiness lay in mastering the mind, not in changing external factors in our lives.

The most startling part of their discovery, however, is that unhappiness doesn’t just come from the mind wandering to unpleasant things. The study shows people with minds that wander to neutral or even pleasant thoughts are still less happy than if the mind did not wander at all (1).

During the study people were asked to focus on a given activity. It was found that even if the activity was some hum-drum chore, participants were happier if their minds were fully there, focused in the moment. The conclusion is that when the mind wanders repeatedly (and for many of us it wanders frequently every day) it reduces our overall happiness and wellbeing (2).

All consistent with declarations I’ve made for years that it’s much more about what’s happening on the inside than on circumstances. It comes from within. If only we had the Spock-like ability to control our mind’s thoughts.

While we may not be able to control our minds the way we want to, we can manage by living in the moment. It’s a refrain I hear often – “live in the moment.” Again, easier said than done.

One key is to be busy. When we’re busy we don’t tend to think as much. It’s a double-edged sword, but one that does temporarily help. That’s a little too simplistic though. It’s about being engaged as much as just being busy. When you are mindful with your activity, you’re not preoccupied with regrets or worries; you’re not planning or wanting for anything. You’re not lending power to thinking processes and so they do not dominate your awareness.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a leading researcher in positive psychology, refers to this state of mind as “flow.” Csikszentmihalyi describes flow as being totally absorbed, or immersed, in the activity in which you’re engaged. It doesn’t matter what the particular task is— what matters is that you are fully present when you’re doing it.

Csikszentmihalyi, often called the grandfather of positive psychology, found that our happiest moments are when we are in the state of flow. In this state, we are highly alert. We are totally focused with one pointed attention. This focus—this mindfulness of being in the moment—is when happiness spontaneously arises (3).

It certainly can’t hurt to find and nurture activities that enable one to get into this state of flow, or mindfulness. Engaging in activities that are perceived as risky and/or important enough to hold our attention work well. But the specter living underneath is that these effects are temporary, and for some probably feel more like a disguise or distraction from ‘reality’. I’m also a proponent of the notion that one’s perception is their reality, which characterizes it as being rather subjective. It is what we make it. It comes from within.

So maybe it is just a distraction, but it’s still nice while it lasts. However the bigger rub is it also distracts us from taking more proactive and profound measures to strategically improve our lives? There is the risk of waking up one day to realize that your inertia took you to a place you don’t really want to be.

It’s a balancing act. If the pendulum swings to the negative it’s a good idea to get (more) engaged in something. But it’s also wise to step back from time to time to assess. It’s a potentially painful or discouraging exercise, with risks of getting derailed. But it’s a necessary evil unless you can Spock yourself into a perpetual “don’t worry, be happy” mindset.



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