Tough week?

2 03 2013

Perhaps it was the full moon. Maybe it was Mercury in retrograde (I don’t actually know what that means but several people told me it was this week). Or perhaps it is all just selective attention and confirmation bias.

Whatever you believe, it seems to have been a tough week for a number of my friends and colleagues.

So when the going gets tough….how do you survive, revive and keep yourself, your team and your colleagues motivated?

1. Review what happened. Is there anything to learn from it? Learn it, discuss it and move on. Blame and guilt are pointless emotions. Learn what you can then let it go.

2. Take a long term view. This is only one incident, one week. One bad week, bad decision or one unfortunate circumstance does not define who you are or what you are worth.

3. Be kind to yourself and others. Allow them to be kind to themselves. Beating yourself up doesn’t help. Sometimes you need a little quiet time to yourself, a chat with a friend, a pleasant distraction, a little treat. The important thing is to get yourself into a psychologically better place so you can move on and not let the negativity determine what happens next. Let it go.,

4. Work out what next. Also known as “getting back in the saddle”. Focus on the future, on your next step. This is not defeat, it is a temporary (transient) set-back. Resilience and persistence are your key words.

5. Conversely, know when to walk away. If the arena in which the bad thing occurred is not important….then why let it bother you? Focus on the meaningful actions, you don’t need to be 100% in all arenas.

Final thought: if the negative incidents are becoming a pattern….maybe there is a decision you need to make. You only get one life.

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Thinking yourself into a corner

9 09 2012

Yesterday, the Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard’s father died. Although he had battled ill health, it was an unexpected death. The majority of her political opponents, the media, and social media pundits offered her their condolences, and newspaper articles eulogised on his role in bringing up and educating Australia’s first female Prime Minister. Whether you agree with his daughter’s politics or not, he did a good job bringing up his daughter to contribute to public life and achieve on her own terms.

But some social media pundits couldn’t help themselves. They made snarky comments about her, her father and various other personal issues. Speculation ranged from how he felt about her politics to whether the tax payer would pay for his funeral. It was almost like they thought she had arranged this personal tragedy for her own political gain.

Now I can’t help wondering – are these people like this in real life? Or, in real life, are they normal compassionate people who, despite differences of opinion, recognise that a personal tragedy is common to us all, a precondition of being human. People you and I would be happy to know.

There has been a lot of conversation in Australian media and social media about trolls – people who (usually anonymously) frequent social media sites for the purpose of vicious personal attacks. An anti-bullying ambassador, Charlotte Dawson, was hospitalised after vicious attacks on twitter (#diecharlotte) became too much for her.

Who are these people? Why do think they have a right to attack others?

At the same time, US news reported on a 16 year old who called for the assassination of her president, Barack Obama, via twitter. Where does this hatred come from? Why do people think this semi-anonymous (although in the case of the above 16 year old, her twitter handle was in her own name) forum is OK for vitriolic hatred, calls for violence and personal attacks, the sort of behaviour that most of us would not engage in, in real life?

There is a psychological concept called cognitive dissonance. Most of us like not to feel hypocritical. We like to feel we are logical, our thoughts, taken individually or en masse, make sense. We don’t want to seem to contradict ourselves.

So maybe these people have thought themselves into a corner, whereby their unrelenting hatred and attacks in a political context cannot be stopped, even for personal tragedy or common decency. They have objectified the focus of their obsession and no longer see them as sharing the common human experience that unites us. They cannot back down or rethink their position, no matter what.

This is not logic. This is irrational. This is hatred.

There is a level of intellectual sophistication involved in being able to deal with, to hold, two cognitively dissonant thoughts at the same time. Say, hatred for someone’s politics and compassion for them as a person not feeling compatible in one psyche. This sort of sophistication and maturity might not be expected from a 16year old (although her parents should cut off her social media accounts until she understands the concepts of treason and inciting violence as criminal offences) but it would seem the majority of trolls are not under-age.

But just like the metaphorical “paint yourself into a corner”, some people think themselves into small confined positions, from whence they are unable to be flexible and respond to changing conditions. But wouldn’t you rather react and change according to changing conditions (evolution having shown us the options are adaptor die) than make ourself into a public fool and be publicly castigated for your rigidly inflexible position? Let alone possibly do actual harm to another, as occurred with Charlotte Dawson.





Thirteen quick things to change your life today

19 08 2012

If our lives are the sum of things we do, then changing what we do can change our lives, one moment at a time. Here are thirteen things that can be easily achieved.

1. Exercise. If you are currently doing nothing, then ten minutes exercise will make a difference. If you are already exercising, make it an extra ten minutes.

2. Wear sunblock. Australians have the highest rate of skin cancer in the world, so as a red-head growing up in Australia, I know what I am talking about! Sun block is not only the one thing most guaranteed to keep you looking young, it may also save your life.

3. Eat some vegetables. Preferably green and leafy ones. A variety of fresh vegetables will keep you healthier and help with weight control.

4. Do the hard thing first. There is probably something you have been putting off, some emotionally challenging thing. Do it. Delaying doesn’t make it any better (in fact it usually makes it worse), and having it dragging around your neck doesn’t help your enjoyment of life now.

5. Act As If. A psychological principle whereby you can trick your brain into believing you are what you want to be. Smile, and your brain will think you are happy, and studies say you will start to feel happier. Michelangelo decided he was the world’s best artist years before he achieved it, but having this image meant he accepted the big projects (Sistine Chapel) that made his dream a reality.

6. Get organised. But don’t be overwhelmed. If your house is a mess, try scheduling fifteen minutes a day to do one room each day. Fifteen minutes is achievable and not overwhelming.

7. Stand up! Studies show that the more you sit down during the day, the earlier you die. It is now possible to get a desk to work at standing up.

8. Make time for a friend. Our lives can become very isolated a we get busier. Make time to enjoy others.

9. Have some downtime. Meditation is ideal, but even if you don’t know how to, have some quiet thinking time in a peaceful place. It doesn’t matter if you all asleep.

10. Get enough sleep. While we don’t really know he purpose of sleep, we o know it is necessary. Regular, sufficient sleep rejuvenated the body and mind, helps us think straight, manage our emotions, and have enough physical energy to exercise, dal with cravings and look after ourselves.

11. Give up one bad habit now. One less cigarette, one less biscuit, one less alcoholic drink – one less s a good thing. Then build on it.

12. Drink water. Water helps flush toxins from the body, helps control hunger, helps develop healthy skin and organs, and can help resolve headaches (some headaches are related to dehydration).

13. Live your life one moment at a time. (thanks to Maggie for this one). If losing weight, getting fit, finishing your study, tidying your house etc is too much, don’t think of he big goal. Just make he best decision for now. Faced with a range of lunch options, pick the healthy one now. How will you spend the next ten minutes?





Vale Stephen Covey

21 07 2012

Management guru Stephen Covey, best known for his worldwide best-selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, died on June 16 2012 from injuries sustained in a bike crash. He was 79 years old.

I read this book quite a few years ago. At the time I was in a bit of a self-help jag and while the idea of seven principles was very appealing, the content was not so very much different from a number of other self-help / management books at the time. Perhaps better organised.

But when I heard of his death it took me to a place when, as a teenager, I discovered Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking and Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, possibly the first of the great self-help books. I suspect that those a few years younger than me probably felt that Covey’s tome was the light for them, the way Positive Thinking was for me.

The self-help books were the start of a journey. They told me that anything was possible, that if I tried, I could make my life what I wanted. They gave real-life-stories of people who changed their lives (and I am still a sucker for a good “I-turned-my-life-around” story. And as I move into mid-life crisis territory, the idea of infinite possibilities appeals even more.)

I had the advantage of good health, reasonable intelligence, good education, a supportive family and being born into a western society in a period of peace and prosperity. If anything, my “problem” was too much comfort. There was no burning platform to make me strive to save myself from a life of misery and starvation. Unlike Stephen Covey, who grew up on an egg farm and as a teenager suffered a severe illness that turned him from athletics to academia, my life was comparatively easy and straight forward. If I studied, I got good marks. If I didn’t then the results were variable. I didn’t have to do physical labour and I didn’t have to worry where the next meal came from.

Since my teenage years I read a lot of self-help books until I got to the stage when they all seemed to say the same thing. When I started buying books for their titles and not reading them, I knew I’d done enough. I have listened to tapes, done courses, abseiled and walked on fire (yes really and no it doesn’t hurt). I like to think I have integrated most of what the books had to teach me and discarded the rest (it has to be said some of them are/were a little too new-agey airy-fairy for me. Take what works, discard the rest. It’s not a religion, you can pick and choose.)

There is a body of work now that says that the positive thinking, “I can overcome in any circumstances” attitude has not been a wholly positive thing for society. The would-be lover who will not take no for an answer becomes a stalker. The terminal cancer patient who refuses to accept that they are dying spends their last days struggling and suffering, losing the opportunity to say goodbye and to enjoy the last part of their life.

The underlying assumption is the Great American Dream – that if you work hard enough, or clever enough, you can be wealthy beyond you wildest dreams, a captain of industry, 100% delirously happy all the time, or whatever your dream is. This assumes that we all start with an even playing field – equality of opportunity. And this is plainly not the case. Those born without health, without access to food, safety, education, are not starting on the same playing field. This does not mean that they cannot also succeed or change their lives but their journey will be much harder. And it ignores the intervention of random events – the car-crashes of life, the luck, the lack of luck. Yes your attitude determines your life – but to use the technical language, sometimes shit happens.

The assumption that the life you lead is a direct result of your own efforts leads to a blame-the-victim mentality. If you can’t support yourself and your family, if you haven’t got the health and wealth you need to survive, then it must be your fault. Therefore you do not deserve compassion, or financial support. No unemployment benefits, no single parent benefits (blame the mother, bad luck to the children), no public health care, no decent public education.

And then we become an uncaring society. Society suffers – all of us. Desperate people do desperate things. Don’t make them desperate.

****

This blog took an unexpected turn in the middle. I don’t intend it to be a commentary on Dr Covey’s works per se, more an exposition and exploration of the assumptions and results of the self-help industry which was so very prevalent in the 1980s and 1990s when I was in my teenage years and early twenties.

I personally feel I got a lot out of various authors but I recognise that there is a debate to be had on the effects of self-help philosophies at a societal level.

For those wanting a quick refresher on the Covey 7 Habits, here they are:

Habit No. 1: Be proactive. Know yourself, be responsible for yourself and your own actions and effects. If you want to achieve something, do something about it.

Habit No. 2 Begin with the end in mind. Often used as the basis of visualisation, but more literally, just know your goal when you start out.

Habit No. 3: Put first things first. This habit is about time management.

Habit No. 4: Think win/win. “seek mutual benefit in all human interactions”.

Habit No. 5: Seek first to understand, then to be understood. This one is about being focussed outwards.

Habit No. 6: Synergise. where the whole is more than the sum of the parts (for example, some teams achieve more because they “bounce” off each other than the sum of all their individual efforts).

Habit No. 7: Sharpen the saw. Keep yourself fit, educated, seek new information.

Not rocket science, but it was pretty good at the time.

If you would like to see Dr Covey in action, have a look on YouTube.





Outside the Herd

3 06 2012

Herd of walrus – photo courtesy John Sarvis, US Fish and Wildlife Service


So you think you are an individual? A free-thinker, unfettered by peer-pressure, doing what you want, going where you want, thinking original and uninfluenced thoughts? Dream on.

Humans, like many other animals, travel in herds – physically, intellectually, emotionally and, dare I say it, spiritually. We might like to think we are individuals, but in practice we don’t like to be too far from the norm. So what is the evolutionary benefit of herding?

The theory used to be that animals hung around in herds because they liked the company. WRONG!

Herding turns out to be a rather unfriendly thing to do…. Animals hang around in herds in the hope that their friends will be eaten instead of them. So long as you can be towards the middle of the herd and not on the outside, your chances of survival increase dramatically. Predators might pick off the old, the weak and the young…..but they also pick them off from the outskirts of the herd. If you are going to dash through crocodile-infested waters, best to be one of hundreds splashing about rather than the only one attempting the crossing.

Herd behaviour, as a theory, looks at how groups of individuals act together in a cohesive and seeming planned way, although each individual thinks they are behaving in their own personal interest and without influence. While each individual thinks they are making their own decisions, in an inter-related world (or market-place) where the decisions of one affects the outcomes for others, we take heed of the decisions of others when making our own decisions. And hence the herd seems to make a collective decision and act in concert.

Most obvious examples:
stockmarket fluctuations, bubbles, panics and crashes. No-one wants to be the last person holding the stock in a panic-selling situation.

fashion. We each think we are buying what we like and what suits us but somehow we seem to end up looking somewhat similar. Of course the additional outside influence here is what is offered for sale.

panicked mobs. Crowds trying to exit from a dangerous situation through a narrow exit behave increasingly irrationally, blocking exits rather than allowing each to exit safely.

rioting mobs. Herding behaviour is one of several theories about how a generally orderly society can occasionally break out into mob violence, with individuals doing violent and criminal acts that they would never normally contemplate. The current environment is factored into decision-making and in a riot, people behave like rioters.

Or as my grandmother would have it, Monkey see, Monkey do.


Want more? Try What is the psychology behind rioting





Is stress the 21st century’s black death?

18 03 2012

The Japanese have a specific word for death from overwork: karoshi. Although useful for describing early death, this is not comforting to know that this syndrome is recognised enough to have its own word.

So here is a pretty interesting infographic. No surprises at some of the top most stressful jobs – but PR officer? On the other hand, my future career is as a philosopher, which features in the least stressful jobs. Of course I might be stressed about income in that job – does anyone pay for philosophers these days?

However two shockers for me:
1. Apparently relationship with boss, although a top reason for leaving a job, was not a major factor in stress levels (really? I beg to differ. See earlier postings about Psychopaths in the workplace
)

2. women who felt they had some level of control in the workplace were MORE likely to die early. (The complete opposite of the Whitehall study findings from the 1960s – when the public service was 90% male. This study found that those who felt they had some level of control over their work / environment etc had better health outcomes than those who were lower down the food chain and largely powerless. We women cant seem to catch a break.)

I do however wonder how they measured stress other than early death. What doesn’t kill us makes us stronger and other platitudes.

The original link is here.


Interested in dysfunctional workplaces and stress? Have a look at
When organisations turn cannibal

Psychopaths in the workplace





Top Five New Year’s Resolutions

30 12 2011


According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the top five New Year’s resolutions are:

1. Lose weight / get fit

2. Give up smoking and/or drinking

3. Achieve financial security

4. Spend more time with family

5. Get organised

Yes, sadly, we are not unique, everyone comes up with the same resolutions. And somehow we aren’t all thin, fit, smoke-free, financially secure and living well-organised lives with our lovely and loving families.

The stats also show that 35% of New Year’s resolutions are abandoned within the first week – or not actually started at all.

But some people do make resolutions (New Year’s or otherwise) and succeed. How do they do it?

Richard Wiseman, a psychologist from the University of Hertfordshire is quoted in The Guardian as mentioning two factors…

1. Don’t make the resolutions spur-of-the-moment

2. Break the goal down into smaller steps.

So following on from the recent posting on planning …here are a few suggested steps for consideration.

1. lose weight / get fit: aim initially for ten minutes exercise per day. Drink a glass of water before each meal. Cut portion size. Replace one junk food meal a week with something healthier.

2. quit smoking / drinking: this is one area where cold turkey seems to be the best option. However, you are not alone. There are prescription medications available to assist (ask your doctor if they are suitable for you) and over-the-counter substitutes.

3. achieve financial security: set up an automatic pay deduction for savings. Work out a plan for paying off debts. Set up an investment account / share-market account. Read a book to educate yourself about finances. Write a financial plan.

4. Spend time with family: set a particular time to spend “hanging” with the family. Write a list of activities you can do with the family (that they will enjoy as well). Sit down with the family and ask them what they want to do.

5. Get organised: Write a plan on what areas of your life you want to get organised in, and put in a weekly / monthly schedule of what you will do to achieve this. Perhaps it is one room in the house per week / month.

The steps need to be small, doable but meaningful. They need to build – so you might start with ten minutes exercise per day but build in five-minute increments to half an hour a day. But the most important thing about putting the plan into action is that if you skip it on day or week, that doesn’t mean the entire plan goes out the window. New Year’s Resolutions fail when you see them as all or nothing (one lapse means you have failed) or you allow lapses to snowball (I didn’t exercise yesterday or the day before, so there’s no point in doing it today). Pick up where you left off and keep going. Your plan tells you what you need to do next.

That’s how you achieve your New Year’s Resolutions.

This post is part of a series on goal-setting. Others are below:
Goal Setting – Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes!
Goodbye to old (bad) habits
It’s about the JOURNEY (as well as the goal)
Harvard Business School study….or urban internet myths
Being Accountable
Analysis Paralysis