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Happiness At Work

As an executive and organizational coach, I see many studies of the causes and symptoms of work stress. So it was refreshing to see a study about the converse: what makes workers happy.

Focusing on social workers, a profession known for its high attrition, stress and burnout, John Graham, Ph.D., a professor of social work at the University of Calgary and his then doctoral student Micheal Shier, now at the University of Pennsylvania, sent a survey out to 2,500 registered social workers in Alberta, Canada. Seven hundred people responded.

From that group they took 13 people who scored the highest in nine areas of happiness and then followed them closely through in-depth interviews about their lives at home, at work and through shadowing them at work. Here’s what he found made them happy:

  1. Flexible work schedules. The workers had the ability to provide self-care by having the flexibility to manage their personal lives. A flexible schedule helped them to achieve a healthy work-life balance.
  2. A strong sense of engagement in their work. The researcher found that was because of behind-the-scenes support the employees received from their bosses and employers. This support included flex schedules as well as the availability of superiors to consult with and bounce issues off of.
  3. A feeling of being appreciated and valued, which often stemmed from their being included in organizational decision-making.
  4. Having a high degree of freedom built into their jobs, meaning that they wanted the ability to try new things and expand out of their immediate area.
  5. A pleasant physical workspace and good relationships with clients and colleagues.
  6. Having a diversity of responsibilities, which might include training or teaching others, research, and policy development work.
  7. Having a mentor to talk about their life, career decisions and their day-to-day job.

Graham and Shier are currently researching whether these factors make other types of workers happy as well, but the hunch is that these attributes would be important to all workers.

What improves your sense of well being at work?

 

Living Your Values

“To thine own self be true.”

Core Values are at the heart of who we are and how we want to be known. This Hamlet quote takes an interesting twist when viewed through the lens of core values. When our values are being met, life is great. When they they are not…not so much.

What if you could orchestrate situations where your wants, expectations AND core values are fulfilled? The key is to pursue your personal core values in all your activities and relationships, and then support other people to do the same. But first, you must know your core values.

Know Your Core Values

The life changing events and major milestones from your life point directly to your core values. You can easily find your core values by noticing which values are touched upon or triggered when remembering the high and low experiences from your past.

  1. Consider times at work or in your personal life, where you were deeply satisfied and happy. Look for “peak experiences” and memories Levitra 10mg you cherish. What deep values were being met at the time? Write down each event along with the values fulfilled by the experience.
  2. Consider other times when you were deeply saddened, hurt or disappointed. These are the kinds of events that you may have promised, “I’ll never do that again!” What values were not being met, or possibly violated, that made it such a miserable experience for you? Write down each event along with the values missing from the experience.
  3. In both the high and low moments, look past the emotions, feelings, and thoughts you had at the time, to find the values. True “core” values are intrinsic and of vital importance to you.
  4. Go back through your lists of experience and pull the top 3-5 essential values that really light you up: the things you just must have to be happy and fulfilled. Which qualities would you consider central to your life and career?

Now, you can live your life, “to thine own core values be true.”

Giving Effective Praise

Plaudit junkie that I am, I was once grumbling to my wife about the fact that some extraordinarily praiseworthy effort on my part had gone unnoticed by a friend. Isabel wisely responded, “Most people probably don’t get the appreciation they deserve, Dave.” That’s right, I thought to myself — for instance, my own wife! Whom I certainly don’t give enough praise for everything she does for me and for our family.

This got me thinking about the importance of praise, and how to compliment and congratulate others effectively. The right words of support and acknowledgement can be so encouraging, but bland, empty praise is meaningless.

  1. Be specific. Vague praise doesn’t make much of an impression.
  2. Find a way to praise sincerely and realistically. It’s a rare situation where you can’t identify something that you honestly find praiseworthy.
  3. Never offer praise and ask for a favor in the same conversation. It makes the praise seem like a set-up.
  4. Look for something less obvious to praise – a more obscure accomplishment or quality that a person hasn’t heard praised many times before.
  5. Don’t hesitate to praise people who get a lot of praise already. I’ve noticed that even people who get constant praise – or perhaps especially people who get constant praise – crave praise. Is this because praiseworthy people are often insecure? Or does getting praise lead to a need for more praise? I’m not sure, but it seems often to be the case.
  6. Praise people behind their backs. The praised person usually hears about the praise, and behind-the-back praise seems more sincere than face-to-face praise.
  7. Beware when a person asks for your honest opinion. This is often a clue that they’re seeking reassurance, not candor.

Praise is gratifying to the person getting praised, of course, but it also boosts the happiness of the praiser — at least I’ve found that true of myself. Because the way we feel is very much influenced by the way we act, by acting in a way that shows appreciation, discernment, and thoughtfulness, we make ourselves feel more appreciative, discerning, and thoughtful. And that boosts happiness.

Have you thought of any other good ways for giving people deserved praise?

Shift Can Happen

Several times since my book came out, people have come up to me with copies of The 8 for signing. “My [boss, wife, sister, colleague] doesn’t understand what matters to me,” some have said, “So I’m going to give them your book.”

“Thanks,” I have replied a few times … although I feel a little squirrely about signing books for people who don’t necessarily want them. I’ve invented a specific dedication for these copies, though:

“To John: I’m not sure you’ll like my book, but your coworker isn’t crazy.”

“John” could have been “Mom and Dad” or someone’s business partner or brother or manager at work, who sincerely cares about the people around them, but sometimes (he said with a real positive spin on it…) cares a little too much to let them have their own happy, healthy, productive life. Sometimes the generational gap is reversed, and it is the kids who worry about their parents. Sometimes coworkers are so wrapped up in their own journeys to see you on yours, and how your pursuits impact them and theirs. And sometimes bosses fail to see that an employee’s purpose-driven life is directly connected to their company’s profit-driven motives.

Guess what? I don’t think that simply reading any book (let alone mine) can change perspectives like that. That’s the bad news that I’ve discovered in my short time on this planet: it’s rarely that simple to change someone’s mind. To those on the outside, examples of successful people (or companies) who are living their values and getting more done aren’t very persuasive sometimes, because people (and organizations) always find reasons why someone else’s success can’t be replicated.

But thankfully, there’s also some good news. If you want to influence the people around you, you don’t have to buy my book (oh boy, the publisher’s gonna’ love this post) but instead, you can lead the way through your own peacefully productive actions. They are not going to change their worldview or their perceptions of you based on something you post on Facebook or Twitter, or by what I write in the front of my book. But when people see you following through on your dreams – and living your life on purpose – they can’t help but notice. Then the shift happens.

The challenge you face, therefore, is to be courageous in the face of opposition from those around you – “John the Colleague”, “Barbara the Mom”, “Frank the Dad”, “Betsy the Boss”… all of them. This is no small challenge, since you would much rather fight dragons or vampires or something that is clearly evil. Your family isn’t evil (despite what may be evidence to the contrary), your boss probably isn’t wicked (regardless of how that last performance evaluation went) and you probably can’t ignore these people and their perceptions. But I’ve learned something else in my short time on this planet, and it became especially clear while writing The 8: you can’t ignore your power and your purpose for very long without eventually losing your connection to both.

Some battles are better won by example than by persuasion. So you can talk forever about the shift you want to make at work or in your life; why you want to study a subject you’re interested in instead of one people think would lead to better career options, or why you want to communicate more openly and honestly to coworkers and customers, or whatever. And by following this well-trod path of just talking about it, you may make marginally incremental progress in the form of compromise. But while you’re judging yourself by your great intentions, the people around you are judging you by your actions.

More than just talking about making a shift in the direction your life’s headed,  you can put it in perspective for the people around you: I’m doing these things in my life today because they are important to me. I’m willing to give up other things to make it work. I am willing to do what matters today. I am willing to walk the talk.

More often than not, people will get used to it over time. You may always be thought of as the black sheep at the office, the strange one on your sales team, the outlier in the family. But you’ll eventually earn your right to freedom and maybe even some grudging respect from some of the “evil-doers” around you.

Then they’ll say, oh, there goes _____ again. That’s just what she does. Or they’ll think,  _____ has another crazy idea to fulfill his purpose in life… but the last one worked out pretty well for him.

And once in a while, a funny thing happens: they’ll learn from the decisions you made and the actions you took, and how you stepped out, faced down your fears, tapped into your talents and focused on what’s most important to you in your life. (They may or may not realize that some of your fears had to do with them, but by then, it won’t matter.)

So for those of you on a dysfunctional team at work, in an “interesting” family or embedded in a workplace culture where doing what matters is implicitly misunderstood; or for anyone else who feels pressured to be like those around them and dare not blaze their own trail, it’s all up to you now to lead by example. Who knows — maybe John, Mom, Dad and Betsy will end up shifting with you. Because (in one last insight I’ve gained in my short time on this planet) …

Shift can happen.

Now…go make it happen.