The Lent Experience

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However you perceive Lent, be it a religious holiday, a spiritual renewal or as a period of reflection and preparation, it is an opportunity for habitual change. We have 40 days to refine, polish, improve or develop ourselves using this time for a much needed self-audit that may actually prove beneficial and teach us something about ourselves.

Fasting and abstinence are common ways people celebrate Lent, some will reduce or eliminate guilty pleasures which we deem unhealthy, indulgent or hedonistic. Refraining from submission to a weekday takeaway or gorging on chocolate may be something that could be considered a viable option for health change.

From a religious perspective, the Bible discusses ‘Works of Mercy’, effort to help the needy. Not only will doing good for others make you feel good (known as the ‘helpers high’ with the release of the happy hormone Oxytocin), we also create an environment of behavioural mimicry. Altruistic acts are contagious, when we witness an act of kindness we are more likely to replicate that behaviour and so that act of kindness is not only felt by the giver, it also has a positive effect on the recipient as well as resonating with witnesses of the act.

Whilst recognising the benefits of these worthy causes, Lent can also afford us the opportunity to turn our focus inward with the prospect of improving both self and relationship awareness. Like many people, I allow other’s opinions; judgments and criticisms of me dictate my mood. I catastrophise, I ruminate and I allow this to permeate into other areas of my life. This is what I would like to change for Lent and hopefully make it a habitual change. Such self-perpetuating attitudes can become toxic and unfulfilling, however the reality is that such attitudes are a choice,people can only take from you what you allow them. If you allow others to define who you are, you are giving them the power to dictate where your path will lead.

Although the message of choice seems simple, cultivating awareness of thoughts, emotions, and urges as they start to arise requires attention. Some practice mindfulness as a step towards avoiding the conditioned reactions we have all historically been victim to. We have the ability to create space between the situation, our thoughts and our emotions about the situation, which affords us the opportunity to respond appropriately. As Viktor Frankl (an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor) once said,

“Between the stimulus and the response there is a space, and in this space lies our power and freedom.”

There are many ways to look after your emotional health, mindfulness being one of those ways. When I find myself in such situations, remembering this simple mantra keeps me on my own path…

I know that I am not my worst mistakes.

I know I have nothing to prove.

I know that dark moments are transitory and valuable.

I know that I matter.

I know that positive feelings and actions multiply.

How will you perceive Lent?

Time – it’s all relative.

  
25 October marks the end of BST and with it images are conjured up of cold, dark mornings, scrapping ice off the car windscreen and an hour less in our warm, comfy beds. But what is your perception of time? Can we gain a deeper appreciation for time if we consider it from a different perspective?

How to stop time: kiss someone you love.

How to travel time: lose yourself in a book.

How to escape time: listen to music.

How to loose time: focus on your passion and strengths.

How to feel time: have a looming deadline.

How to make time: practise mindfulness.

How to cherish time: be present in the moment (in the now).

How to reverse time: reminisce and cherish the past with old friends.

How to waste time: tweet or update Facebook status (I see the paradox).

Harvey Mackay, a businessman, author and syndicated columnist with Universal Uclick writes a weekly column. He described the paradox of time in a recent until piece. Time is free but it is priceless, you can’t own it but you can use it, you can’t keep it but you can spend it, once you have lost it you can never get it back.

We can all manipulate time through perception and perspective, because ultimately perception and perspective are all that really matters anyway.

The flaws in our system

  

Are we in an age of enlightenment? If so, what are the consequences? Our mind is not only capable of feats of innovation and creativity but also catastrophic decision making, we lose focus or focus too much, we get scared or overconfident and are susceptible to bias. Within such a complex technological world it would seem that it is human factors and errors that determine failure… let’s explore why humans are flawed by both our hardware (the brain) and our software (the mind). 

We only believe what we already think – Confirmation Bias.

BP’s Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in 2010, prior to the accident testing confirmed that the concrete seal on a freshly excavated well was insecure and could cause a catastrophic blowout however the failing of the test was explained as a phenomena called the ‘bladder effect’, thus with the riggers reluctance to take their test at face value the resulting explosion was seen from 50 km away. Many of us have trouble believing evidence that contradicts our preconceptions, from a chemical position, dopamine acts on the prefrontal cortex inclining us to ignore evidence that challenges long-held views keeping us from having to constantly revise the mental shorthand we use to make sense of the world. 

We miss the woods through the trees – Fixation Error

Martin Bromiley brought awareness of fixation error to the medical profession. Bromiley’s wife passed away after a room full of doctors and medical professionals failed to respond correctly to a blocked airway, fixating on intubating the patient rather than recognising that this method was failing and resorting to other means to provide the patient with oxygen. Humans have a remarkable ability to focus attention on the things we care about or that are relevant to our task or the present situation, this can mean that we sometimes don’t look for alternative solutions and miss critical factors that can lead to catastrophe. 

Our survival instinct is out of date – Primal freeze

In experiments involving underwater helicopter evacuation drills, researchers found that trapped passengers tried to release their harness from the side as they would do with a car seat, even though they knew that the clasp was positioned centrally. Fear has evolved as a survival mechanism, when we encounter danger our heart rate raises and the stress hormone cortisol floods the system giving muscles glucose for the extra energy required. The issue faced is that cortisol knocks out cognitive functioning such as memory which intern denies us the ability to process information, make decisions, recall facts and events effectively.

We are seduced by success – Outcome Bias

If we get consistent good outcomes over time we start to ignore near misses more and more often, it is only when a catastrophe occurs that we suddenly wake up. We tend to evaluate a decision on the basis of its outcome rather than on what factors led to the decision. For example, a doctor decides to give a critically ill child a new, experimental medication that has a 50% chance of curing the child’s condition. If the child survives, the doctor will be praised for his actions. However, if the child dies the doctor will be criticised harshly for his ‘mistake.’

 We are wired to conform – Group think

People tend to bend their opinions towards those of the majority. Conformity is useful in day to day living, also valuable when letting others lead in unfamiliar situations but this could lead to danger… after all a camel is a horse designed by a committee. Decisions shaped by group think have a low probability of achieving successful outcomes, one of the most famous examples of group think is the presidential advisory group who almost led the U.S. President Kennedy into invading Cuba and potential a nuclear war in the Bay of Pigs Affair.

Our minds are built to wander – The default mode
As soon as our environment becomes predictable, safe or boring our mind will start to wonder, consider a stretch of familiar motorway and how you switch to ‘auto-pilot’. Mind-wandering tends to occur during driving, reading and other activities where vigilance may be low. In these situations, people do not remember what happened in the surrounding environment because they are pre-occupied with their thoughts. 

 We don’t speak machine – Technology Clash

One of the worst friendly fire incidents involving U.S. Troops in Afghanistan was set off by a low battery. In 2001, a member of US special forces entered coordinates of a Taliban position into a GPS unit and before he could relay them to a B-52 bomber the device’s battery died. After replacing the batteries and sending the location,the device had reset it’s coordinates to it owns position, a 900 kg bomb honed in on the U.S. Command post killing him and 7 others. In an increasingly automated world misunderstandings between human and machines are an urgent issue. 

Highlighting these areas and creating awareness of these human conditions will facilitate understanding and allow us to develop individual strategies ensuring that we as a civilisation and race continue to thrive and survive with the increase of technological advances. Now we raise our consciousness the next step is to ask yourself how you will make use of this information?

Information cited from New Scientist Magazine and ScientificAmerica.com

Serenity, Courage and Wisdom

  
Many people are familiar with the Serenity Prayer by the German Philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr: 

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.

However, do we know the difference between want we can change and can’t? I spend many a day anxious about things I cannot change from the weather, to politics, to people who generally frustrate me. As a result, I find myself lack lustre with insufficient energy to make the most of the opportunities I do have.

So what are the vital distinctions? You can change what you want, but you cannot change what you need. You cannot change another person, but you can change how you treat them, how you react to them, your opinions and judgments of them, and your relationship with them. You cannot change the past, but you can reappraise, apologise, forgive, let go, take responsibility for yourself, learn, change the present and the future, and move forward.

From a Buddhist perspective understanding what you can and cannot change is the simple but often difficult path to inner peace. It is fruitless to pray for peace because it is already within you, you already have it, it cannot be given to you.

The rational evidence for determining what we can change and what we cannot is overwhelming, but our behavior often tries to defy this reason and logic. Consider what you can change… You can change what you do, what you communicate to others, what you know, how you think, what you dream, hope and aspire to be. But we worry more about what we have no control over such as our pasts, our history, the laws of physics, the weather, human nature (yours or others), personality traits (yours or others), another person’s beliefs or thoughts (unless they choose to change), someone who doesn’t want to change, who you are related to, human needs, sexual preference, your talent, and things you do not acknowledge.

 
Let’s take a look at what the research states about worrying in general:

• About 85% of the things we worry about never happen.

• If what we worry about does happen, 80% of us said we handled the outcome better than we thought we would.

• People who let go of worries instead of stressing over them are much healthier than those who don’t.

So how do we let go and accept the things what we cannot change? Consider these insights to increase your awareness, perspective and recognition of the difference:

1. Accept uncertainty & learn to thrive in it.

The beauty of life is in how unpredictable it is. It has the potential to bring some exciting opportunities your way. Do things that make you happy, things you care about, and work hard on achieving your dreams. That’s all you can do… The rest is up to the universe.

 2. Open up.

What would it mean to have someone to confide in, to listen to you and allow you the opportunity to unload? Confiding and exploring creates opportunity which can lead to perspective and acceptance of those things we cannot change and also develop an understanding of how to change the things that are in our power.

3. Practice mindfulness.

Even simple meditations, such as 10 minutes of focusing on breathing has been shown to reduce everyday stress by as much as 39%. Learning to be present in a moment will help you keep your mind focused on what you’re doing now rather than worrying about things you can’t change in the future or the past.

4. Intentional activities

By focusing on things we enjoy doing we can choose activities that fit our needs and our personalities e.g. If you don’t crave excitement, parachuting it is unlikely to fit with your needs. The content and timing should vary. Varying the routine is likely to minimise the effects of hedonic adaptation (see the 40% solution to happiness).

5. Physical Activity.

Reducing the levels of your stress hormones, stimulating the production of feel-good brain chemicals, and improving your self-image are all excellent ways of changing what you can and accepting what you can’t. 

Recognising the difference between what we can and cannot change can help us all live a more peaceful and productive life… After all worrying is like being on a rocking horse, it gives you something to do but doesn’t get you anywhere. 

Read this common story to appreciate when it is in our best interest to change course and yield to an immovable object or accept some permanent condition.

The following is often presented as a conversation between the American ship USS Lincoln and a Canadian officer. 

Canadian: “Please divert your course 15 degrees to the south to avoid a collision.”

Americans: “Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees to the north to avoid a collision.”

Canadians: “Negative. You will have to divert your course 15 degrees to the south to avoid a collision.”

Americans: “This is the captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert your course.”

Canadians: “No. I say again, you divert your course.”

Americans: “This is the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln, the second largest ship in the United States Atlantic fleet. We are accompanied by three destroyers, three cruisers and numerous support vessels. I demand that you change your course 15 degrees north, I say again, that’s one five degrees north, or counter-measures will be undertaken to ensure the safety of this ship.”

Canadians: “This is a lighthouse. Your call.”

Instead of asking God for serenity, consider changing it to a positive affirmation.

I have the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can,

And I have the wisdom to know the difference.

Information cited from discussions with my colleagues and friends in my workplace, joy2meu.com and patheos.com.

Evidence-based happiness 

  
Sonja Lyubomirsky, professor of psychology at the University of California and author of the book ‘The How of Happiness’ concludes that there are several “evidence-based happiness-increasing strategies whose practice is supported by scientific research.” This blog is about sharing that wisdom. 

However before we discuss these techniques it is important ask ourselves if happiness is a good thing or does it just simply feel good? A review of all the available literature has revealed that happiness does indeed have numerous positive byproducts, which appear to benefit not only individuals, but families, communities, and the society at large (Lyubomirsky, King, & Diener, 2005). The benefits of happiness include higher income and superior work outcomes such as greater productivity and higher quality of work, larger social rewards such as more satisfying and longer marriages, more friends, stronger social support, and richer social interactions, more activity, energy, and flow, and finally improved physical health such as a bolstered immune system, lowered stress levels and even a longer life.
So let’s take a look at those evidence-based happiness-increasing strategies:

1. Expressing Gratitude. Count your blessings by expressing gratitude for what you have (either privately through contemplation, writing a journal or confiding to a close friend) or convey your appreciation to individuals whom you’ve never properly thanked. 

2. Cultivating Optimism. Keep a diary in which you imagine and write about the best possible future for yourself or practice by looking at the bright side of things. 

3. Avoiding over thinking and social comparison. Cut down on how often you dwell on your problems and compare yourself to others. 

4. Practicing Acts of Kindness. Do good things for others, whether friends or strangers, either directly or anonymously, either spontaneously or planned.

5. Nurturing Relationships. Pick a relationship in need of strengthening and invest time and energy in cultivating it.

6. Developing Strategies for Coping. Practice ways to endure or surmount a recent stress, hardship, or trauma.

7. Learning to Forgive. Work on letting go of resentment towards others who have hurt or wronged you. 

8. Increasing Flow Experiences (being absorbed in the present). Look for activities at home and work that truly engage and challenge you.

9. Savouring Life’s Joys. Pay close attention, take delight, and go over life’s pleasures and wonders –through thinking, writing, drawing, or sharing with another. 

10. Committing to Your Goals. Pick one, two, or three significant goals that are meaningful to you and devoting time and effort to pursuing them. 

11. Practicing Religion and Spirituality. Becoming more involved in your church, temple, or mosque, or reading and pondering spiritually-themed books. 

12. Taking Care of Your Body. Engage in physical activity, meditation, smiling and laughing.

It would be futile to try to achieve all of these strategies as a part of your daily life, however you can take Sonja Lyubomirsky’s Subjective Happiness Scale (SHS) at http://sonjalyubomirsky.com/subjective-happiness-scale-shs/ where you will be able to evaluate your own level of happiness in just a few moments.

Information cited from Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness.

The FISH! Philosophy

  
As promised on my last blog I wanted to share with you all the FISH! Philosophy.

When we work in the now, stop complaining and start noticing the good in our lives, recognise the importance of giving gratitude and have fun at work, then we create a working environment that makes us happy… and we all know happy employees deliver the best results. This is the foundation of FISH, with its 4 central principles of; choosing one’s attitude, playing at work, making someone’s day, and being present.

The FISH! Philosophy is inspired by a group of fishmongers from Seattle’s Pike Place Fish Market (https://www.pikeplacefish.com/). This team is a shining example of how you can create a culture and workplace that encourages people to flourish and increase productivity. Being a fishmonger is obviously hard work, however, despite the cold and harsh conditions, they have found a way to harness a positive attitude and have fun at work.

Let’s take a closer look at each individual principle and I would like to invite you to consider 2 questions

1. When was the last time you consciously applied 1 or more of the 4 principles?

2. Could these simple principles be utilised in your place of work?

Play ~ Work made fun gets done! Play is not about games or toys; it is about your state of mind. Be creative in your problem solving. Encourage people to dare to dream. How can everyday tasks be made fun and challenging? Play energises you and the people around you. What does this mean in terms of productivity for your team? Any job can be boring if you make it boring. 

Make Their Day ~ Often when discussing the ‘make their day principle’, people complain about being too busy to stop and think about someone else. When thinking about this principle, remember to keep it simple. You might just start with smiling at someone you don’t know very well. Turn an everyday encounter into a pleasant experience for someone. Your kindness, patience and thoughtfulness will be returned. You might even enjoy making someone’s day! Think about a leader who has inspired you. For sure, they made someone’s day everyday! Look at grumpy people as a challenge. What will bring a smile to their face?

Be Present ~ Many of us need to practice this. With so many demands on our time, we often put ‘being present’ way down on the list of priorities. When was the last time you were completely in someone else’s moment? This principle means you are focused, listening and even empathising with someone. Not typing or making coffee at the same time. Do you have the ability to understand the private world of another person as if it were your own? Are you just going through the motions or are you present at work?

Choose Your Attitude ~ If you look for negativity you will be sure to find it. Empower yourself to respond to challenges and problems in a constructive and positive way. Celebrate success and sit back; you will see the energy this can bring to a workplace. There are dozens of small things you can celebrate everyday. Where do you invest your energy? Attitudes are contagious. Is yours worth catching?

Yes, it sounds good in theory, but the real question is whether or not FISH! can actually work in a bustling company filled with a wide variety of personality types and working styles. The short answer to this, I would argue, is “yes”. That said, a more elaborate answer would also include “but not all the time”.

In any workplace, the attitude of the employees is dictated by their manager or director, so their behaviors are often – for better or worse – a direct reflection of how they’re being treated within the company. If you see staff wearing smiles that look like they were painted on you’ll still be able to see the frustration and upset in their eyes. Sadly, trying to implement FISH! in these companies where the people managers only pay lip service to its motivational principles will be an exercise doomed to failure. Where FISH! does work remarkably well is within companies that are open to new ideas and new ways of managing people. 

The harsh reality for managers everywhere is that you can either motivate people through consideration, compassion and mutual respect or you can drive them forward with fear, hatred and anger. It’s a choice that you make every single day and that’s what FISH! is all about – making a choice to be a better ‘people’ manager, to be a better customer service agent, choosing to smile instead of frown, and choosing to genuinely empathise with your customer’s / people’s problems.

Gandhi was once quoted as saying “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. … We need not wait to see what others do”. Or, in short, be the change you want to see in the world – don’t just wait for that change to happen of its own accord… Maybe FISH! can help you achieve that goal.

The ‘You decide’ blog rebuttal: Your 40% solution to happiness.

  
Following on from my last blog, ‘You decide’, a few comments enquired into how to ‘put on’ your mood as well as a fair amount of scepticism from others on the simplification of the message. So, in response I thought I would share some information by Sonja Lyubomirsky, a prominent researcher who has spent the last 18 years studying human happiness, making significant personal contributions to this science. Her research has most notably focused on the architecture of sustainable happiness.

According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, we are all born with a baseline of happiness, a happiness ‘set point’ to which we return to after significant positive or negative events. It is estimated that this set point accounts for about 50 per cent of differences between people’s levels of happiness. 

A further 10 per cent of happiness is accounted for by circumstance. This sounds initially counterintuitive as most people believe that circumstances account for a much higher percentage. However, if we understand the process of ‘hedonic adaptation’ (an observed tendency of humans to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes), also know as the hedonic treadmill, we can better understand the fact that life circumstances, like wealth and health, only have a short-term and limited influence on happiness… See the picture example below.

  
This leaves us with 40%. We have the power to control 40% of our happiness through behaviour and actions such as ‘intentional activities’. Our ability to become happier is therefore dependent on the management of our inner world i.e. our emotions mind, and the actions that consequently follow on from these. Lyubomirsky similarly stresses the importance of sustained and committed effort. If we consider the creation of happiness a worthwhile goal, we need to invest the same amount of effort required when undertaking any other perceived worthwhile endeavour in life.

The challenge for all of us lies in transforming the happiness ‘activity’ into a habit so that it becomes second nature, possibly even a ritual. Effort and commitment are required in the beginning but this effort gradually disparate as it becomes a natural and integral part of our life. 

Thus the key to happiness lies not in changing our genetic makeup (which is impossible) and not in changing our circumstances i.e. seeking wealth or attractiveness or better colleagues, (which is usually impractical), but in our daily intentional activities.

Although it’s not possible for me to tell you what intentional activities will give you happiness, in my next blog I will share the FISH! Philosophy, a language to help guide you to discover how you can create a culture and workplace that encourages people to flourish and increase productivity… But in the meantime the journey is yours to discover. 

Information cited from Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book ‘The How Of Happiness’.