Thursday, May 28, 2015

Tip Thursday - The Influence of Heels

Research shows that although women are not unduly influenced by the height of a woman's shoes, men are.  In fact, men were found to help and comply to requests from women significantly more often if they were wearing heels than flats. (roughly 85% to 40% of the time) Think your clothing choices don't have an impact?  Think again.  It seems that Coco Chanel had it right when she said... "If a woman is poorly dressed you notice the dress.  If a woman is impeccably dressed you notice the woman".

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Contagious Nature of Emotions

You have probably noticed that you have friends and associates you enjoy being around.  They are
energetic and upbeat and you can't help but feel good around them.  Similarly, there are those that tend to cause the opposite reaction, leaving you feeling exhausted and drained.  This is because emotions are, in essence, contagious!

When we have someone in our lives that is angry we likely find ourselves feeling angry too. Happy people lead us to feel greater happiness.  This Emotional Contagion is far more pervasive and powerful an influencer over our emotional state than we would like to believe.  However, given that it is happening at an unconscious level, it is difficult for us to recognise and acknowledge its impact.

From infancy we imitate the facial expressions, postures and voices of those around us. That is how we learn to communicate effectively.  However, our body language is directly linked through the brain to how we feel.  When we are angry we adopt an angry pose, an angry facial expression and even an angry voice.  We assume that the emotion precedes, if not causes, the behaviour and, in general, this is true.  However, we can create the 'emotion' by manifesting the behaviours.

If we speak in an angry voice we will eventually begin to 'feel' angry.  Hold our bodies in anger, or put an angry expression on our face and we will soon find that we begin feeling angry.  We can therefore 'create' the emotion simply by adjusting what our 'body' is saying.

The contagious aspect of emotions arises because our mimicry of others when we were infants actually continues throughout our lives.  The 'mirror neurons' in our brains lead us to unconsciously and automatically mimic the emotional expressions of others.  Many researchers feel that our brains were hardwired this way as a survival tactic. When we had to be more attuned to the negative emotions of others to assure our survival and defense it proved to be a good thing. Our survival may not be at stake in our daily interactions today, but our brains still are wired to react and respond to the emotional triggers that others represent.

Therefore, we may find that we become infected by someone else's good mood, their happiness, enthusiasm and passion.  The reverse can also be true though, where we may be infected by someone else's negative emotions, their anger, depression or anxiety.  Research shows us that depression in a spouse will typically lead to depression in the partner.  We have likely all experienced the impact of a toxic person in our lives, whether personally or professionally.

We do know that some people tend to excel at catching emotions while others are far better at emitting them.  This means that some people are more vulnerable to the Emotional Contagion of others. Generally, those who are more attentive and sensitive, who are more empathetic, who care more about the opinions of others or who value collaboration more than independence may find themselves being more heavily influence by the emotions of others.

There are also those people who seem to be more 'contagious' than are others; people that exert a greater influence over others.  These people tend to experience and display stronger emotions making it 'easier' for others to pick up on their moods.  Interestingly, these emoters tend not to be as susceptible to the emotions of others, perhaps because they are so caught up in their emotional experiences that they are not as attentive to the emotions of others.

Although it's great to think of the positive impact of contracting someone's good mood, we humans tend to react more strongly to the emotions of pain, fear, sadness and disgust than we do to joy and serenity.  Figures!  Researchers therefore agree that the negative emotions prove to be more contagious, creating toxic environments.

Given that all of the above is typically happening at an unconscious level, is there anything that you can do to minimize the influence of the toxic people on your emotions?  Certainly, but it starts with your openly and honestly assessing how you feel when you are with different people.  Although the other person may not be deliberately trying to make you feel bad, the result is the same and needs to be questioned and addressed.  Once you have identified someone who may be negatively contagious...

  • Distance yourself from their negative influence.  If their influence is predominantly negative, what purpose are they serving in your life?  If you can't eliminate them entirely then actively work at reducing the amount of time that you spend in their company
  • Stop listening to them.  Even if you have to spend time with them (perhaps they are a member of your work team), you don't need to pay as much attention to their non-work specific content. The less you take in the less its potential to impact you.
  • Try to reverse the process.  Knowing that their influence is predominantly negative means you can attempt to counter it by deliberately adopting and displaying positive postures and facial expressions.  Your brain can't remain in a negative mindset if or when you're smiling.  Force your brain to 'feel' something else, rather than remaining at the mercy of your toxic influencer.
  • Manage your health.  It is far easier to feel positive when you are in good health than when you feel sick.  Just as the negative emotions can lead your health to suffer, positive health practices can also lead to more positive emotions
Just as prevention can help you from contracting a cold or perhaps flu, so too can a little preventative action help you to manage an emotional contagion.  There may not be a formal innoculation for it, but a little prevention can go a long way to minimizing the toxicity of that Negative-Nellie or Angry-Andy in your life!


Thursday, May 21, 2015

Tip Thursday - Building your Creativity

As much as many of us tend to think of Creative moments simply striking as lightening bolts in a
random pattern, most people that rely on their creativity for a living - meaning they must be creative 'on demand' - have found it necessary to have a space that is completely devoted to their creativity. Entering that space serves as a trigger to their brains that it is now time to be creative.  Maya Angelou typically chose to work in small, no frills hotel rooms, rather than her home, as a separation of her living and working spaces, allowing her mind to recognise when it was time for her to work and be creative. This tip also serves as a great signal for increased productivity as well!

Monday, May 18, 2015

Why Being Awe-Struck is Awe-Some!

"The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.  It is the source of all true art and all science.  He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed."    Albert Einstein

When was the last time that you experienced 'Awe'?  The last moment that you were awe-struck at the overwhelming beauty of something, the majesty of something, the vastness of something?  Still trying to come up with an example?

Think back to when you were a child.  How often did you experience a feeling of awe?  Stepping outside of the house on a Saturday hearing the wind blow and rattle the tree leaves, watching ants scurry to protect their eggs when you turned over that log, laying back in the grass and watching the clouds take shape and reform into others as they drifted past. As a child we found the magical in the every day, we took time to question and experience, such that we experienced awe regularly.

In our time-starved adult lives though we focus so much on getting things done that we fail to recognise or experience the moments of wonder around us, to feel a sense of awe in the every day. Awe is what we feel when we are faced with something sublime, something exceptional, something vast, something that's beyond comprehension.  And it is all around us.  However, as we become fixated on the 'doing' aspect of our lives, Awe-someness begins slipping into the mundane.  Technology and perhaps even Google begin to inure us to its effects.

New research into the effects of feelings of Awe though highlight that this lessening of our ability to experience Awe in the everyday is taking its toll on us.  Awe helps people to be more patient, less materialistic, more open to helping others.  Experiencing awe slows down our subjective experience of time, elongating our time perception.  When we feel that we have more time, we are more willing to help other people out and to partake of experiential opportunities rather than material ones.

Could the epidemic of 'rudeness' be due to our lack or loss of Awe?

Perhaps.  But more so, experiencing Awe stimulates the need for accommodation.  Awe creates a sense of perceptual vastness that can have a transformational effect upon us, opening us to new thoughts or ways of viewing the world around us.  We require new mental maps of understanding to heighten our creativity and openness to new ideas.

Maybe that ennui or boredom or listlessness you are feeling is simply a lack of Awe.  Maybe it's not your job, your boss, or your spouse that is the problem.  Maybe you simply need to learn to cultivate a greater sense of wonder in the world around you, in your life in particular.  If so, here are some tips to get you started in finding more ways to experience Awe...

Travel more.  Travelling can open you to seeing different parts of the world, seeing how others live, experiencing new cultures, new food.  Travel with an open mind though, with the thought of immersing yourself into that new environment. Explore the vastness of the Grand Canyon, the majesty of mountains, the bustle of Shanghai or Bangkok.  Travel for the experiences.  Those feelings of awe will remain with you long after the sights themselves have faded.

Gaze at the Cosmos.  Try getting your head around the vastness and infinite-ness of space. Or the sea. Or of atoms.  Or...

Watch Jason Silva.  He is the host of a YouTube series - Shots of Awe.  He considers these short vignettes "philosophical espresso shots".  If you haven`t yet experienced Jason in action - you`ll be awestruck listening to him, let alone trying to take in his content!

Experience Vastness.  We often experience moments of Awe when we attempt to take in the vastness of something...  acres of tulips in bloom, colourful schools of fish, the prairies before harvest, a bustling market in India, the view from a mountaintop...

Watch a Master at Work.  We can be awestruck at the sight of someone with exceptional talent engaging in their craft whether it is a singer, musician, athlete, artisan.  I remember watching a man operating a Backhoe while very deliberately and delicately tearing down a house.  His manipulation of that machine was masterful and I was awestruck by his skill.

Watch a Sensational Film.  A film that moves you in the heart and/or mind.  A sensational film is one that resonates within you, that shifts something inside and that stays with you long after the final credits have rolled past.

Read the Book of Awesome.  Read one page a day - to discover small moments in everyday life that can give you a lift in your perspective and ability to let awesome enter your life.

Hold a Newborn.  A newborn anything.  I defy you not to feel awe-struck at the wonder of new life. Watch the birthing process.  A chick slowly pecking its way out of an egg, a butterfly slowly emerging from its Chrysalis, baby turtles digging their way out of the sand and making their way to the sea.  The miracle of life is full of wonder.

Awesome events, sights, experiences and people surround us.  Lift yourself from the mundane bustle that your life may likely have become and begin to open yourself to those feelings of Awe.  The more Awe-filled we become the more joy and happiness that we open ourselves to and the less time-driven we feel, which, in turn, makes us more sensitive to experiencing awe and wonder again.

If you think of feelings you have when you are awed by something - for example, knowing that elements in your body trace to exploded stars - I call that a spiritual reaction, speaking of awe and majesty, where words fail you.    Neil deGrasse Tyson

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Tip Thursday - Revamping the To-Do List

I know that we typically create our daily To-Do lists, listing only those items that we want (and hope) to accomplish that day. However, we often have more than just those items that are still occupying our brain-space and that continue to occupy our attention.  Consider maintaining a daily journal into which you 'dump' each morning everything that is on your mind.  All those things that you are holding onto because you are afraid you will miss or overlook them.  Put onto your To-Do list those items that you formally want to address that day.  If you have extra time (does this ever happen?) then go back to your journal to pull something else out.  You can start each fresh day by reviewing the list from the previous to refresh your mind about outstanding items, then repeat the process.  Having a physical record of the items is proven to reduce worry and stress caused by thinking we'll forget, and heightening focus on the items you do need to move forward.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Doing versus Changing

Take a look at your day to day actions and ask yourself... how much of the time I spend working each day is focused on getting things done and how much is involved in actions that are changing how things get done?  The answer may surprise you.

Many of us spend the majority of our days getting things done.  And many of us get a lot done.  There is a significant volume of work that finds its way onto our desk that we actively work at answering, resolving, processing, reporting, delegating, fulfilling and getting 'done'.  Enough so that we are stymied when we don't get the promotion.  You know... 'the' promotion.  The one that we thought all of the work we had been devoting extra hours to had set us up for.

Although we may question the 'why' of being passed by, the answer probably rests in the question I posed in the beginning of this article...  Are you doing things, or are you changing them?

Getting things done is a great way to prove your value to the organization.  If you are surrounded by those that are not as committed to contributing their efforts to achieving results, then it is a great way of trying to ensure your employability, as much as is possible in these times of rightsizing at will. However much getting caught up in the 'doing' of a role may contribute to guaranteeing your continued employment, it is in no way a guarantee of advancement.

At some level there is a definitive shift in the perceived value of an employee from simply being able to push through a volume of work to a focus on the transformative nature of that work.  Leaders are required to think beyond the box.  They are not simply maintaining the status quo, but are finding ways to improve it, to increase efficiencies, to decrease waste, to increase productivity, to create a competitive advantage, to identify new opportunities, to build growth.  In short, a leader needs to introduce change.
This requires leaders to feel comfortable with change.  They must be able to identify what changes are needed and assess the value of various options.  They must be able to communicate the change and rally support behind the vision. They establish systems and processes that allow that change to become integrated into the operations of the organization.  And, most importantly, they need to do it again, and again.

The mistake that many make, in building their careers and attempting to increase their promotional 'attractiveness' to the senior decision-makers, is to focus on volume and not on change.  However, asking a potential leader what they changed in their current role is a key question toward uncovering what type of leadership you could expect from them.  If you promote based on volume completed, don't be surprised if you create a leadership team that focuses their efforts on maintaining the status quo,

If you aspire to assume greater Leadership roles then you need to start focusing on ensuring that all of the 'doing' in your day is creating and driving some positive change for the organization.  This is where the true value in effort lies and are the stories that support your bid for advancement.  Engage in the activities now that allow you to have great examples and stories to share when you are asked in your next interview... "What were you responsible for changing?"

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Tip Thursday - Breaking Bad Habits

Breaking bad habits can prove difficult and frustrating.  One great tip to use in helping you gain control over some of yours is to use the Strategy of Inconvenience.  We are, in general, influenced by the ease with which we can accomplish something. The more convenient, the easier it is to do, the more likely we are to do it. Therefore, by making our bad habits more 'inconvenient' we will be far less likely to engage in them. This may be the first time ever that you can benefit from taking advantage of any inherent laziness!  To stop checking your phone all the time put it in a locked drawer. To avoid constantly hitting the snooze alarm in the morning, put your alarm across the room. What's convenient likely gets done.

Monday, May 4, 2015

How to Get More Stuff Done

We all have our own systems in place for helping keep us on track, our personal methods for structuring and organizing our days.  This is as it should be.  Different people, different personalities and even different roles require varying degrees and types of structure.  The issue is not 'how' you organize your day but that you do.

Regardless of 'what' we do for a living we are all required to get stuff done over the course of the day. If we also add in all of the chores waiting for us on our personal to-do lists the 'stuff' waiting for our time and attention becomes overwhelmingly huge.  It is likely safe to say that with everything that is pressing upon us for our time and attention we could all benefit from becoming just a little bit better in managing our day.  No one, but the heart surgeon, is likely telling you to slow down and to do less!

The question most of us struggle with though is How?  How do I get more done when I already feel as though I am stretched to the limit?  How do I possibly get more done when I have 'inherited' work from downsized colleagues and am now carrying the workload of one and half (if not more) people?  How do I manage to get 'more' done and feel that I am not just surviving, but thriving?

The challenge in dealing with the issue of Personal Productivity is that there is not a one-size-fits-all solution.  There is no one method that you can pick up and apply that will work equally well for you and your 12 closest colleagues.  Pieces of it will work, but they need to be blended with other aspects of other systems to create a collage of elements that work for you.  However, building the perfect system, one that helps you to work optimally, is not a haphazard affair.  It takes great insight into how you truly like to work, what you are good at (and what you`re not), and when and how you are most effective.

The bottom line is that becoming more efficient in your use of time takes... time.  An investment of your time to assess your current systems, determine what`s working and what isn`t and to source out elements to trial and add to the mix.  The following are top tips to try and perhaps adopt. Each will, in different ways, help you to get more done.  Since the implementation of any new idea will take some time and focus to make familiar and comfortable enough to become habit, I suggest highlighting your favourites and pick one to start.  Once it has become integrated into the way you manage your day, pick another.

Plan to your Focus.  We all have a specific rhythm to our focus.  Some of us are more energized and focused in the morning, some in the afternoon and some don't kick into high gear until later in the evening.  Understanding when we are at our best is important to how we schedule our day.  Plan your most difficult tasks for these moments.  We want to work on our more more mindful (not mindless) tasks during our personal peak times.  If you are at your best first thing in the morning then you start your day by working on some of your most challenging tasks, not in checking your inbox.

Understand your Time Wasters.  We all have the same amount of time available to us each day, however some people just seem to be able to get more out of their day than others.  Generally, if you examine their day, you will find less time being spent on meaningless activities; those activities that create a sense of 'busyness' but that do not move critical projects and goals forward.  However, understanding how much time we are losing each day, and week, to merely being busy is difficult unless we do a time study.  Over the course of one business week, record the activities you are engaged in.  This is easily done by creating a checklist of activities and simply checking off what you were doing every 15 minutes.  Taking a look at this, over the course of a week, will give you key insights into how you are spending your time and, more importantly, where you are losing it.

Powering through Procrastination.  Typically, the biggest hurdle to breaking through the procrastination we experience on many tasks is getting started.  We feel stuck, for some reason, and engage instead in avoidance behaviours, rather than taking action.  To break through this barrier try the following.  Gather up the tasks that you are currently procrastinating on and block off a period of time in which you devote 10 minutes to each task.  If you have 3 tasks you are procrastinating on, set aside 35 minutes.  Set  a time for 10 minutes and work, full out, on the first task for 10 minutes.  You are not looking to finish the task, merely to get a satisfying amount of work accomplished.  When the timer goes off... stop!  Take a break for 2 minutes, then work on the second task for 10 minutes, full out, then break again.  Don`t skip the breaks.  You will find that working for 10 minutes on the task is not as intimidating or overwhelming as when confronted with the thought of having to work on it for hours. Often, this quick 10 minutes is enough to break through the barrier to your ability to focus on the project for longer.

Pace Yourself.  We cannot maintain full-out concentration indefinitely.  At the very least we require a break roughly every 90 to 120 minutes, which coincides with our natural Ultradian rhythms.  The more physically and mentally taxing the activity the sooner we require a break, whereas less taxing activities will allow us to go longer before needing one.  Regardless of the timing do need recovery breaks at some point, breaks that help to renew our energy, not deplete it further.  Therefore, simply shifting to a different task is not going to work.  This break period needs to be customized to you and is based on activities that help you to restore and build your energy.  For some it could be a physical break, for others a quick musical interlude.  Building in breaks to your day may sound like you are going to be devoting less time to your tasks and may appear to be in conflict with your goals.  However, the goal is to get more stuff done, not to spend more time doing it.  Taking breaks that renew energy allows you to bring more energy and focus to the tasks you engage in, allowing you to complete them in less time. Strategic breaks therefore increase productivity, moreso than trying to power through task after task with little focus or mind power.

Create a Habit List.  Putting a habit you are trying to build onto your to-do list is not particularly effective because it doesn`t give you feedback on how you are doing at developing that skill.  It`s the consistency of the action that builds the habit.  Consider the habit you are looking to build (walk 10,000 steps a day, no caffeine, quit smoking, break for lunch).  Rather than merely creating a reminder onto our daily to-do list, we need to highlight the habit differently.  For this tip we are `borrowing`an idea from the comedian Jerry Seinfeld who felt that the best way to becoming a better comic was to write better jokes.  To do that it meant having to write jokes - EVERY day.  This is his biggest tip for new comedians and one he utilized throughout his career.  He starts with a large, wall-mounted full year calendar. Every day that he writes he marks off with a big red X. The idea is to keep the chain of X`s going. Your only job then becomes - Don`t break the chain. Do the same for the new habit you are looking to develop.  You need to be able to `see` at a glance how you are doing... not breaking the chain is a great way to get that quick and visible feedback!

Manage your Zeigarnik Effect.  You may not know what it is, or that it had a name, but you definitely fall prey to the effect.  The Zeigarnik Effect is the mental reminder system that is built-into your brains that nags you about all of your unfinished tasks.  It is the little voice that keeps interrupting your focus on one task to remind you about 3 other things not to forget.  Often we then start jotting all of these attention-seeking thoughts onto our to-do lists - despite the fact that we have no intention of actually getting to them that day.  At the end of the day they remain on the list and are interpreted by our brains as `not done`.  We have difficulty feeling good about what we have accomplished that day if we have too many 'undone' activities.  Instead, keep your to-list only for those tasks that you need and intend to do that day.  Maintain a reminder list for all of the other 'stuff' that is occupying head-space. Creating a physical dumping ground for it relaxes the brain and frees it up to devote more focus and attention to the task at hand.

If you have read to the end of this blog (thank you!) then you have invested some of your time in learning something new.  To get the most value for that time you need to take action.  Which of the ideas above would have the greatest positive impact on your life and work - right now?  How might you implement it?  What's the first step?  Taking action on one of these ideas is an investment in time that is likely to not only increase your productivity, but free up some of your time, allowing you the opportunity to re-invest it elsewhere.