self-awareness

If you want to be happier – ditch Facebook!

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stick_figure_liking_it_500_wht_9170Research from The Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen in Denmark (one of the happiest countries in the world) has found that giving up your Facebook account boosts happiness and reduces anger and loneliness.

Life satisfaction rose significantly in the space of a week when participants were unable to read the updates of their friends. The institute was surprised by the changes in such a short time and wants to raise awareness on the influence of social media on feelings of fulfilment.

Facebook and other social media sites are “a constant flow of edited lives which distort our view of reality” it said in its report The Facebook Experiment.

They recruited over a thousand people in Denmark and asked half of them to avoid Facebook for a week. Participants were asked to rate their life satisfaction on a scale of 1 to 10 before and after the experiment.

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Empathy deficit

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What doesn't kill you, makes you?Rihanna’s latest explicit, and some would say exploitative, music video has quite rightly caused some controversy.

The song title, if you can call a repetitive one-liner a song,  “Bitch better have my money” might give you a clue but you can find it on her YouTube channel with warnings about explicit content. The bitch by the way refers to the male accountant who has embezzled her money not his trophy wife who gets tortured.

Leaving aside the dubious question of whether or not it’s meant to illustrate payback by black women or their empowerment, this example of mean girl behaviour demonstrates what has been called the empathy deficit.

Research has shown that the present “it’s all about me” generation is more lacking in empathy than any previous one with a self-obsession which borders on narcissism. Research at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Studies found in 2010 that empathy in college students had declined by 40% over the previous thirty years, something I have posted about previously.

At the same time aggravated assault cases, especially among girls, have risen dramatically. It is a social problem that Barack Obama has called the empathy deficit which he believes is one of the most serious problems facing America.

Cognitive Linguist George Lakoff is quoted as saying “Empathy is the reason we have the principles of freedom and fairness“, important underpinnings for a just society. In fact some would argue the basis for humanity.

Rihanna has used social media to humiliate easy targets including sex slaves in Thailand. Given that she has been the victim of domestic abuse it also illustrates Rihanna’s lack of self-awareness as well as empathy and I suspect a general low level of emotional intelligence.

One of the directors of the video said “We wanted to keep it cool and funny. I wouldn’t say it was a feminist statement. There aren’t any political or moralistic ideas in there at all” . 

Resilient Leadership

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bottomlineOver the years there have been many approaches to leadership with trait theories, style theories, functional models, situational/contingency models, transactional/transformational theories, ideas about biological and personality characteristics, and more recently emotional intelligence competencies

So do leaders need to be more intelligent than their followers? Well probably a bit, because that inspires confidence, but not too much more intelligent.

Do they need to be empathetic? It’s probably better if they have tough empathy ie “grow or go” but they do need social skills.

Do they need to be liked? No, but they need to be respected. And since the last recession integrity has become important again.

Difficult times require people to perform better than normal and people need exceptional leaders to help them do that. By exceptional I don’t mean charismatic or heroic leaders – although some people respond to that style of leadership which “encourages the heart” – but leaders who do what they say they will do ie are conscientious, and also act as role models.

And to do that they need to be both self-confident and emotionally stable.

Research among elite performers found that they had a number of characteristics in common. As well as being intelligent, disciplined and bold, with strong practical and interpersonal skills, they bounced back from adversity.

Jim Collins describes in his book “How the mighty fall” people who are exasperatingly persistent and never give up. They are not necessarily the brightest, most talented, or best looking, but they are successful because they know that not giving up is the most important thing they do. He says; “success is falling down and getting up one more time, without end”.

This resilience (from the latin to leap back) is linked to personal attributes such as calmness in stressful situations, reflection on performance through feedback, and learning systematically from both success and failure.

Resilient people generally:

Recognise what they can control and influence and do something about it, rather than worry about what they can’t
Stay involved rather than becoming cynical or detached or simply walking away
Work with others to shape the environment and influence things that affect them most
Act as a source of inspiration to others to counter self-destructive behaviour

Aren’t these the sort of behaviours you would expect from good leaders? So it’s not just about “bouncing back” and carrying on where you left off before. It’s about reflecting and learning from what has happened and then getting back to business.

Resilience seems to be an innate ability for most people and is increasingly found in leadership competency frameworks where it is linked with confidence, authenticity and ethical leadership ideas.

Modern leaders need not just brains and emotional intelligence but also resilience.

Acting as a role model is an essential part of being an effective leader hence the need for them to be hardy and emotionally stable. Research shows that resilient leaders can have a positive effect on the well-being of organisations and their employees so it’s well worth organisations developing such capabilities.

See how you can develop resilience

First posted on SGANDA in 2011

Emotionally Intelligent Leadership

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Emotionally Intelligent LeadershipI first posted this in 2010 after coming across a great article on Emotional Intelligence by Dan Bobinski in Management Issues.

He maintained that 2/3 of the difference between average and top performers is due to EI and that in senior positions it accounts for 80% of the difference. Which seems a good reason for managers and leaders to work at developing or enhancing their EI levels.

And so he set out a 10 step plan to help them do just that, starting with the idea that we should stop thinking about good and bad personality and think of people as just being different. And that different isn’t the same as difficult, it’s just that people haven’t learnt how to deal with differences. 

Since Goleman popularised the term emotional intelligence 20 years ago it has become massive (When I googled the term in 2010 I  got almost 3 million hits. Today I got over 7 million). Interestingly when he first described EI it had 5 elements but once he became involved with HAY/McBer it evolved into the classic 4-box model much beloved by consultants. The 4 boxes can be generically described as Self Awareness; Self Control; Awareness of Others; and Managing Relationships.

Self-awareness is generally agreed to be the starting point in developing EI and also in developing leadership skills. In a report published by the Work Foundation in 2010, Penny Tankin said: “Outstanding leaders focus on people. Instead of seeing people as one of many priorities, they put the emphasis on people issues first“. And the Institute for Leadership & Management (ILM), which obviously has an interest in developing leaders, agrees with the report that developing leaders is possible but difficult.

The ILM’s then Chief Executive Penny de Valk said: ” A lot of it is about becoming more self-aware. You need to be much more conscious of the clues you use both verbally and in gestures. … a lot of coaching now teaches this kind of thing“. Tankin agrees and adds that psychometric profiling will give an insight into what people are like and any areas for improvement and that; “a lot of these things can be learned from feedback from others“.

As a coaching psychologist this is music to my ears as I regularly use psychometric tools such a the MBTI and Firo to help clients become more self-aware – followed up by 180 and/or 360 feedback.

At the time I was originally posted this, Gordon Brown was apparently demonstrating his lack of self-awareness, and empathy if it comes to that. You may remember that he called someone who disagreed with him a bigot (see Bobinski’s proposition that different can be seen as difficult to deal with), and then blamed everyone but himself for the outcome of his petulant outburst. PS GB later accepted the blame for what happened, presumably after discussing the matter with his PR advisors.

Surprising many people, Gordon Brown showed a more human side with his resignation speech even admitting that he had frailties. There is some aspect of his personality which stops that being part of his public persona – perhaps his need to be in control (which then allegedly unravels under stress). Good leaders know that occasionally it pays to selectively admit to weaknesses.

Originally posted in 2010 on SGANDA (this has been edited)

Make better use of your brain

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High achievement has little to do with your IQ but to a partnership between your brain and behaviour.

So say Drs Brown and Fenske, regular contributors to the Harvard Business Review, in their book “The Winner’s Brain”.

They also believe that the brain retains the capacity to change throughout adulthood (also see “Old doesn’t mean stupid“).

They say if you put in the work you can enhance brain function which in turn will help you become more self-aware, more resilient and with better control over attention and emotional responses (some of the key aspects of emotional intelligence).

Using neuro-imaging techniques researchers can now see which parts of the brain are active when people are engaged in specific tasks and also what impact certain activities have on those areas. They believe that those functions can be enhanced –  literally fine-tuning the brain.

They suggest a number of strategies to help us perform better.

  1. Meditation for stress relief can affect visible changes in areas of the brain which in turn have an impact on our ability to control attention and our emotional response
  2. The bigger the task the more likely you are to procrastinate. Therefore you nedd to reframe the problem and break it into small, concrete steps (bite size chunks as trainers might say). It is the ability to change the way you look at a task or problem that is important and the more you do it the more success you have.
  3. Brain functions that provide focus break down when you are multi-tasking or have distractions. To work optimally you can’t multi-task because the brain has limitations when doing multiple things (see “Multi-tasking makes you stupider than smoking pot“). So eliminate distractions but not all of them. To be at your best you may need to reduce activity in parts of the brain involved in self-monitoring and self-criticism. So us a gentle distraction like background music or ambient sounds just enough to keep your critical self-conscious occupied so you can focus and work more easily. But avoid abrupt distractions like phone calls or e-mail alerts.

Source: HBR September 2010

Updated 5 November 2010: Neuroscientists at the University of Oxford have discovered that passing electricity through the brain, from the right parietal lobe to the left, improves mathematical ability. If you pass the current in the opposite direction however it reduces your ability.

The research was looking for ways of treating dyscalculia, the numerical equivalent of dyslexia, which is thought to affect 6% of the population. Such a treatment might also be useful for people who have suffered a stroke or brain injury.

Of course there would be nothing to stop people with normal ability in maths using such a treatment to improve their ability eg when taking exams. This could replace the smart drugs such as Ritalin and Provigil used by some people as cognitive enhancers by improving attention and alertness. (See my earlier post; “Keeping up with speed“).

Empathy helped humanity rise to the top

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It may not be about selfish genes and economic man after all. According to primatology professor Frans de Waal, the success of Homo sapiens is due primarily to our capacity for empathy and our urge to understand and appreciate others.

Robin McKie interviewed him in The Observer about his book; “The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society“. De Waal says that, like most mammals but particularly primates, we possess an innate sensitivity to the emotional status of other members of our species. He believes that empathy developed with the evolution of the maternal instinct as mothers need to understand when their offspring are in danger.

That might also explain why women seem to be more empathetic than men and the hormone oxytocin, which increases bonding between people, may also be a key component. The ability to understand another’s emotions and share them – what he calls emotional contagion (and which may be due to possession of so-called mirror neurones) – is common in all higher mammals. (See “Emotional Intelligence and Empathy”).

He thinks this emotional perspective appears at the age of two and correlates to the development of self-awareness. The more self-aware the animal the more empathetic it appears to be.

And it is this ability to be empathetic that enables us to care for the sick and elderly and survive in overcrowded cities (compared for example to rats which in experiments on  overcrowding attacked each other).

Robin McKie interviewed him in The Observer about his book; “The Age of Empathy: Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society“.

Ever wondered how much empathy you have? Psychological tests developed by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, Sally Wheelwright, and their team at the University of Cambridge, England, can give you insight into the way your brain functions. Specifically, you can discover if you are more prone to empathize or systemize. Click empathy v systemising and instant feedback.

The Four Agreements – shamanic emotional intelligence?

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Looking through my library of books on personal and organisational development I came across my copy of The 4 agreements: Practical guide to Personal Freedom (Toltec wisdom), and remembered when I first read it 10 years ago.

I had completed my NLP training and was interested in shamanic belief systems including Hawaiian Huna (now being used to assist soldiers with PTSD as part of a UK version of the wounded warrior programme).

Then I came across this book and I was so impressed with it I wrote my first review, and the first review for the book, on Amazon; ” … my initial reading confirmed that here was a powerful tool for anyone wanting a framework for personal change. Even before I’d finished reading it I used the four agreements as a model to contract with a group of new headteachers on a personal development workshop. The model was really well received and provided a robust underpinning for everything we did so successfully that weekend.” 50 other reviewers have since added to this with over 80% giving it a 5 star rating.

In The Four Agreements shamanic teacher and healer Don Michael Ruiz exposes self-limiting beliefs and presents a simple, yet effective code of personal conduct learned from his Toltec ancestors. The four agreements are these:

  1. Be impeccable with your word – Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid speaking against yourself or gossiping about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
  2. Don’t take anything personally – Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be a victim.
  3. Don’t make assumptions – Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
  4. Always do your best – Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse and regret.

Although he is drawing on Toltec esoteric tradition his ideas are recognisable in modern therapy or coaching. He talks about domestication (=socialisation) and belief systems, about self-limiting beliefs and self-criticism (the inner judge), and about being a victim.

He likens the belief system, judge, and victim to having a parasite sucking away your energy. He also uses modern analogies. For example he likens gossip mongers to computer hackers who install a virus in your head which makes the gossip contagious.

And the role of the shamanic warrior – and this is true throughout the American continent from Canada to Argentina (and probably in parts of Asia too) – is to fight all this. The decision to adopt the 4 agreements is a declaration of war to regain your freedom from the parasite. To be free to be yourself and express yourself.

But breaking old agreements is like breaking from an addiction that we have been domesticated to accept, possibly since childhood, so it is hard work. You can start by first facing all your fears one by one. Secondly, by stopping feeding the parasite and fuelling the emotions that come from fear through gaining control of our emotions. (There is a story I remember about a native American shaman who was asked to help someone who said he had two dogs on his shoulders. One was telling him good things and the other one bad things. The shaman simply asked him which one he was feeding.)

To become a warrior you must have awareness and self-control: and you will recognise these skills as competencies in the emotional intelligence model. Yet the Toltecs pre-dated the Aztecs  and were around at the time of the Norman conquest here in Britain. And there are earlier ideas too. Lao Tzu, the chinese contemporary of Confucius and who wrote the Tao said:

  • Knowing others is intelligence
  • Knowing yourself is true wisdom
  • Mastering others is strength
  • Mastering yourself is true power

It seems there are some universal truths about how humans can learn to be the best they can be which have been around for a very long time..


Have you got charisma?

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Charisma literally means Christ-like, and although difficult to define there are some key factors to consider if you want to develop or increase it.

Having self confidence is one of them. If you are confident and comfortable with yourself then you will project this outwardly.

If you are not self-confident then think of someone who is and copy their voice patterns, body posture and non-verbal signals (NVC) which you think contribute to their self-confidence.

This may mean for example, walking more slowly/ more briskly, lowering the pitch of your voice, or speaking more slowly/ more quickly.

Socially confident people have good emotional intelligence; not only are they self-aware and know how to control their own emotions, but they can sense others’ moods and know how to deal with them. Your spoken word and body language NVC must be telling the same story. If they don’t there will be leakage and people will sense that you are not being genuine. You should mean what you say but you don’t always have to say what you mean.

Physical presence is the quality that makes people give way for you or listen to what you have to say. This is mainly communicated through body language. Having an assertive posture – standing with feet slightly apart, looking still but alert (a zen-like martial arts readiness posture), maintaining eye contact but not overpowering others, smilingappropriately (and eliciting smiles in return), and being confident with your gestures.

Tall people are considered to have more leadership/command presence, so hold yourself tall (that piece of string through the centre of your head to the ceiling) and no slouching. Wear high heels and flattering clothes that make you look taller.

If you are really keen sign up for a Karate, Aikido, Yoga or Tai Chi class to help improve your self-confidence and develop your inner calm.

For those of you who feel less than charismatic the good news is that researchers have now found ways of measuring charisma and also how to teach it.

So many “friends” yet still lonely?

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So many “friends” yet still lonely?Many people are re-examining their relationship with the social networking site Facebook – the site that keeps on sharing. Or over-sharing according to Time Magazine this month (“Facebook – friends without borders”). Some time this month Facebook will officially log its 500 millionth active citizen – a bigger population than the USA. Not bad for an idea, dreamt up just over 6 years ago by Harvard unde … Read More

via Mike the Psych’s Blog with permission

1 Minute Stress Management

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Feeling stressed? Stop what you are doing and stop thinking negative thoughts – or rather replace them with positive ones .

Your brain will focus on what you tell it so it can’t not see that purple elephant I just told you not to think about.

So use positive thoughts like I’m a great Mum, PA, Person, Cook, Manager, Student  .. whatever.

If you are in a private space or can find a cubicle, do an instant rag doll relaxation ie tense yourself up as tight as you can all over your body, hold it for about 10 secs, then let it all hang out. Repeat a couple more times if necessary then stretch slowly and take a deep breath.

If you can visualise easily go to that warm beach or other relaxing get-away NOW. Remember the sun on your face, the sand beneath your feet or the smell of grass.

Finally use all your senses and have anchors which remind you of when you are not stressed. An anchor can be a favourite picture on your wall or in your purse; a favourite smell – vanilla, coffee, hand cream (massaging your palm and fingers can also help relaxation) – some people use bach flower remedies.

So in one minute:

  • STOP negative thoughts,
  • Replace with Positive self-talk.
  • Tense and relax, stretch and breathe.
  • Visualise that special place.
  • Reinforce with anchors you have chosen to reinforce feelings of well-being.

And if you aren’t sure if you are stressed or not read this 10ways-Stressed-SG&A

What doesn’t kill you, makes you?

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Could a little adversity help you to become better adjusted as an adult?

Studies at the University of California have shown that when children respond to hostility or bullying, whether face-to-face or on-line, in kind they are liked more and earn more respect from their classmates and teachers according to a report in The Times.

Whilst not pleasant experiences the children remembered them more vividly than friendly events. Trying to placate your enemy doesn’t seem to pay whereas giving as good as you got earned higher ratings for maturity and social competence.

No-one is saying it is a good thing to have a lot of people hostile to you, and children no-one disliked were the best adjusted, but the research suggests that rather than ignoring bullies or people who dislike you, or trying to placate them, or even being completely unaware of them, it is better to confront them.

Similar results have been found by researchers at Strathclyde University. Children who are good at standing up to bullies, whether for themselves or others, are better at resolving problems without conflict, are more emotionally literate, and better at taking other people’s perspective. In other words they display the emotional intelligence skills of self-awareness, self-control, empathy, and managing relationships.