Thursday, July 28, 2016

Tip Thursday - Learning for Success

Our jobs typically require us to learn vast amounts of information, often having to read and try to retain as much as possible.  Most of us fall back on 'learning' skills we picked up in school, such as highlighting and re-reading important points. Research, however, indicates that this is all wrong! (figures!)

One study showed that students who read an article and were quizzed on what they read retained over 50% more of the information even a week later than those who simply read it.  You don't have to rely on a teacher or boss to quiz you over your learning... use self quizzes to help you gauge and improve your retention of the information.

A small trick that can help you learn better and faster - now THAT's a Success Tip!

Monday, July 25, 2016

Optimize Your Learning

If you are anything like me then you are likely finding that you are being asked to take in and assimilate more new information than ever before.  Constantly changing markets, shifting business priorities and an increasing accessibility to information has put more pressure on employees to have to 'keep up' with all new industry advances.  As a result, our ability to learn and retain new information has become a critical skill for our continued success.

In the face of growing pressure to read more, learn more and know more, the following tips may prove to be invaluable as you attempt to strengthen your ability to assimilate and retain more information.  Use one or use a few.  Each is designed to help you to optimize your learning, enhance your value and increase your success.

Speed Reading.  If you find that the pile of reading you need to wade through seems to always outstrip the time available to devote to it, you may benefit from increasing your reading speed. Don't think that you need to learn to read 1700 words per minute, just that you could benefit from learning to read faster.  There are numerous apps available that you can use to increase your reading speed, without decreasing your comprehension.  The average person reads at a rate of 250 words per minute. Consider what the impact would be if you doubled that?  The techniques aren't particularly difficult to learn and even a small increase in your speed could have a significant impact on the amount of information you are able to get through or the amount of time you need to devote to the reading you do.

Note Taking.  Taking notes helps our brain to attune to what we are hearing. It helps us to increase both our understanding and retention of the information. Research has shown though that it is far better to hand-write your notes than it is is type them. Often, when typing your notes, you are bypassing the brain and simply typing in what you hear without really thinking about it.  When taking notes by hand though, you are processing the information as you are taking it in, determining what the valuable components are to retain, thus increasing your engagement and understanding of what is being shared.

Understand your Learning Modality.  We have all likely heard that there are four key Learning Modalities (VARK) - Visual, Auditory, Reading/writing, Kinesthetic.  You can speed up your learning by utilizing a modality that aligns with how you learn best.

Self Test. Regularly. The more often you test your understanding and comprehension the more information you are likely to retain. Research shows that those who are tested soon after reading a passage retain the information far longer than those who simply read it. Testing yourself proves to be a great way to help you stay on top of the information you want and need to have at your fingertips. There are lots of great online Flashcard tools that you can use to help you build a series of informational databases to keep yourself  'in the know'.

Always Be Compressing.  Tim Ferriss (of The 4-Hour Workweek fame) has shown the strong advantage to learning new subjects by compressing the necessary information down to 1 or 2 sheets of critical information. Use mnemonic devices (like acronyms or rhymes), images, charts, mind maps and even mind palaces to help you to compress information down to smaller triggers.

Exercise Your Brain.  Like any muscle, your brain needs regular exercise to remain fit, alert and ready to learn.  Play mental games regularly to strengthen your brain. There are great online resources like BrainHQ and Lumosity that can help, or paper and pen books of games and mental puzzles you can use.

Teach Someone Else.  Sharing the information you have learned with others helps you to retain upwards of almost 90% of what you have just learned, especially if you teach it shortly after learning it yourself.

We are all on informational overload today.  Technology has helped make information more accessible, but has also increased the volume of information we need to process.  Using the tips above can help you become a better learner, optimizing your ability to process and retain new information.

You don't need to know it all but you do need to stay on top of what is important. Keeping current with your knowledge is necessary for keeping yourself employed.  Staying one step ahead of those around you keeps you in charge.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Tip Thursday - Body Language

Our shoulders are often overlooked, but are far more expressive than we realize. 

When confident our shoulders are back and squared off, when depressed or even anxious we tend to drop our shoulder downward and even hunch them forward. We may raise them to indicate we don't know, roll them to flirt, shimmy them when dancing, raise one when hesitant, straighten them when showing respect. 

Although the face tends to get most of the focus when it comes to reading body language, don't overlook all of the messages that the shoulders are sending you. When people might be trying to mask what their face is revealing, the shoulders just might be leaking a message you want to hear.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Creating The Good Life

When you think of living 'the Good Life', what are the images that come to mind?  For many of us (roughly 75% according to studies) we picture a life of leisure that is driven by our wealth. A good life is one without financial worries or concerns. Perhaps it is because so many of us unconsciously connect the need for money with having a Good Life that we feel we are falling short. I mean... how much money is enough?

However, according to a 75 year study by Harvard, the key to truly living a Good Life, a life that keeps us happier, healthier and feeling most fulfilled and satisfied is - good relationships. The study, which has followed a group of 724 men from 1938 to present day, has determined that it is the sense of social connectedness, to family, friends and community, that is the biggest determinant in how happy and healthy we will be in our later years.

Note that being socially connected is not about how many friends or relatives you have but, rather, the quality of the relationships you have with those around you. How close you are, how connected you feel, has an influence on your happiness and your health.  Those participants who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were those experiencing the best health at age 80.  This means that your current level of overall satisfaction with your relationships is the biggest predictor of your health as an octogenarian.

Certainly, the opposite was found to be true amongst participants also.  Those who experienced loneliness, who felt more isolated from others than they wanted to be, experienced a faster decline in their health in mid life; their brains declined sooner and they lived far shorter lives.  In short, loneliness was found to be toxic.

Think now of what our constant pursuit of the dollar does to our relationships, what the cost of 60 hour weeks does to the depth and quality of the relationships we have. Though it is the quality of the relationship not the quantity of time spent in or on it that counts, you do need to be physically and emotionally present for the time you are there.  How present are you?

If you are finding that your relationships are suffering, it may just be time for you to start making a couple of changes.  Consider replacing some 'screen' time with some people time, reaching out to someone you haven't spoken to in years, opening yourself to new relationships or even to deepening the ones you've got.
'Cause you got to have friends, the feeling's oh so strong.  You've got to have friends, to make that day last long'     (song lyric ... You've Got to Have Friends)
As the research is now showing us, our lack of presence in our relationships (if not our lack of relationships period) may not just prove harmful to the relationship itself but may just be killing us as well. If you are working full out to ensure a financially secure retirement, you may want to take a moment to consider the quality of the retirement years you are creating for yourself.  Your ultimate health and happiness depend on it.

And for an extra boost... let's leave you with the Divine Miss M telling you in her own special way...

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Tip Thursday - Happiness

Research shows us that Happiness is not a 'condition', it's a response. Therefore, it is not the situation you are in that is making you more or less happy but, rather, your response to it. 

Focusing on the shortcomings, the downfalls, the don't haves and am nots leaves you responding in a negative way. 

Your situation doesn't define you, your attitude in that situation does. Not everything in your life is miserable, but focusing solely on the one thing that may be can leave you feeling that way. Focusing on the positive and good things leaves you more energized for shifting out and away from those that aren't

Monday, July 11, 2016

Finding Your Flow

We all have an optimal state of focus at which we are our most productive.  These are the moments inThe Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance...which we are fully immersed in what we are doing, allowing us to get further and faster.  This is what is referred to as being 'In Flow'. According to Steven Kotler, author of
"Flow is an optimal state of consciousness, when you feel and perform your best.  It's the moment of total absorption. Time speeds up or slows down like a freeze-frame effect. Mental and physical ability go through the roof, and the brain takes in more information per second, processing it more deeply."
There is over 150 years of research in the study of flow, which professional athletes have long taken advantage of. They are typically extremely skilled at deliberately creating a state of flow, to enhance their performance in real-time moments of need.  Given that a gallop poll suggests that the average business person spends less than 5% of their day in flow we all have room for improvement.  Imagine if you were able to increase your moments of flow to 15% .  Just that shift would serve to double workplace productivity.

Use the following insights to help you learn to Find Your Flow more consciously and strategically...

Challenge Yourself.  For flow there is a clear balance that must be struck between Challenge and Skill. Too little of a challenge and boredom will set in.  A challenge without the needed skillsets to accomplish it will lead to anxiety.  The ideal is a high level of challenge where your existing skills are also high.

Take Risks.  All risks require focus.  Even emotional risks require concentrated effort.  Keep the above point in mind, looking for risks that present a challenge for you, a step outside of your comfort zone, but that fall within your skillsets.

Clear Distractions.  It will prove difficult, if not impossible, to work in flow if you are constantly being interrupted. Block off time, shut off electronic devices and close your door!

Use your Senses.  The deeper your level of engagement, the more of your senses you are likely using. Open your senses to immerse yourself more fully in the task.

Change the Environment.  Your workplace environment can drive comfort and complacency, which may work against your finding flow. A more complex environment, with a certain element of novelty can demand your focus, making it far more difficult to simply 'walk' through your day, since your habits and routines won't fit these new and challenging situations.

You'll know that you're in flow when you find yourself so absorbed and involved in what you are doing that you lose your sense of self and time to the task.  You will experience greater clarity, motivation and satisfaction from the work.

Given that your best and most productive work comes out of your moments of Flow, it makes sense to learn to cultivate these moments. Use the tips above to help you take your productivity (and success) to the next level!


Thursday, July 7, 2016

Tip Thursday - Body Language

When looking to defuse overly emotional and confrontational situations, you can use your non-verbal communications to help subdue the other party. 

Rather than standing face to face, shift your positioning so that you stand shoulder to shoulder. 

Turning your feet away from them slightly will help you appear less intimidating and confrontational. Tilting your head will make you appear like you are listening, which will help them begin to do the same. Slowing down your vocal speed and dropping your volume will also help to de-escalate the situation. 

Monday, July 4, 2016

Building Your Perceived Trustworthiness

The one thing that we are told to expect about today's work landscape is for it to constantly be changing. Though this comes with its own unique benefits and challenges, few comment on the negative impact continuous change can have on the perceived trustworthiness of leaders. Studies all confirm that although trust is an intangible, it is a critical factor in how others work, interact and even listen to one another.

A lack of trust in leadership is a determining factor in employee turnover and engagement. As a leader then increasing your perceived level of trustworthiness will be an important component of your overall success.

Most leaders, if asked, will say that they are a trustworthy person.  However, it doesn't matter how trustworthy you think you are, what matters is how trustworthy others believe you are.  Your trustworthiness is part of your Reputation and therefore depends on what others think of you, not what you think of yourself.

The true secret to developing and maintaining your trustworthiness is your predictability.  Although being seen as predictable may sound boring, it is the main ingredient (the magic sauce, if you will) of building trustworthiness.  It is the congruence between what you say and what you do that builds the consistency of behaviour that others can trust and rely in, that they can count on.

Though we may think of people who are spontaneous as being fun, we likely won't view them as being particularly trustworthy, simply because we can't predict what they'll do next.  A new thought enters their head and off they go, regardless of what they may have previously indicated.  Although we may say that we value spontaneity, we are far more comfortable with those whose behaviour we can predict.

The truth is, we are all far more consistent in our behaviour than we may like to think.  Just look at your daily habits and routines for an indication of some of yours.  The good news though is that it's these consistent behaviours that help form the foundation of trust that increase our effectiveness as leaders.

The following are my top 6 list of behaviours that you can engage in to help you build your trustworthiness profile.

  • Do what you say.  You can help build your profile of consistency by letting others know what you intend to do. The important part, of course, is to actually go out and do it. The bigger the gap between what you say and what you do the less believable and credible you will be. Narrow the gap to build trust.
  • Keep your promises.  Be resolute with your word. Don't make promises you don't intend (or can't) keep and, if something prevents you from keeping your promise, make a point of explaining to others what happened and why.  This will help others to see your failure to keep your word as an anomaly and not the rule.
  • Trust others.  Extend trust to gain it.  Demonstrate the behaviour you would like to see in and from others.
  • Be Selfless.  It will prove difficult for others to trust in you if your focus is narrowed to... you. Self interest, particularly in a leader, will undermine trust. Your focus needs to be more broadly directed; to the team, department and company.
  • Be open and honest. This should be patently obvious but we aren't likely to trust someone who is constantly withholding or manipulating information. 
  • Keep confidences. If you are forever gossiping around the water cooler it will be difficult for others to view you as someone they can trust to maintain their confidences.
We all want a leader we can believe in and trust. To be that leader yourself, start by using the tips above to build your trustworthiness. Focus on demonstrating consistency in your behaviours and your word to build yours.