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Posts tagged: health & productivity

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?

 

The Waiting Is the Hardest Part

I admit it – I’m an impatient person. I can’t stand sitting in traffic or waiting in long lines; it just drives me nuts. Equally aggravating for me is waiting in a short line behind interminably slow people as I watch longer lines of people or cars move quicker than mine. Just the other day, I pulled up to the bank and picked the lane with the fewest cars in it, only to take nearly twice as long as it would have been had I just picked the nearest lane to where I drove up, as opposed to the shortest line of cars. Happens every time.

My impatience is a shortcoming and I’m working on it. As part of my seemingly unending quest to ease up a little, reduce my own stress and make life easier on my family (my daughter, Lauren, recently implored me to read my own book as I got impatient and frustrated in 90 minutes of traffic…classic) I’ve done some reading on this whole waiting game.

I discovered some research by David Maister in an piece entitled The Psychology of Waiting Lines. The paper is aimed at people who operate stores, restaurants, doctors’ offices, and other places where people (just like me) hate to be kept waiting. Of course, most of us are the ones standing in line, not the ones controlling the line, but I’m always interested in learning more about myself and the psychology of my behavior.

Maister’s main point is that the actual time we’re waiting may have little to do with how long that wait feels. Two minutes can pass in an instant, or those two minutes (like mine in the bank line) can feel like an eternity. Here are eight factors that make waits seem longer:

  1. Unoccupied time feels longer than occupied time. When you have something to distract yourself, time passes more quickly. Some hotels put mirrors by the elevators, because people like to look at themselves.
  2. People want to get started. This is why restaurants give you a menu while you wait, and why doctors put you in the examination room twenty-five minutes before your examination actually begins. Tricky.
  3. Anxiety makes waits seem longer. If you think you’ve chosen the slowest line, or you’re worried about getting a seat on the plane, the wait will seem longer. Hello?!
  4. Uncertain waits are longer than known, finite waits. People wait more calmly when they’re told Cialis, “The doctor will see you in thirty minutes” than when they’re told, “The doctor will see you soon.” Maister gives an amusing illustration of a phenomenon that I’d noticed while sitting in my doctor’s office recently for a check-up: if I arrive someplace thirty minutes early, I can patiently wait without a problem, but ninety seconds after my appointment time passes, I start to feel annoyed. “How long are they going to have me sitting here?” I start to wonder; as I glance at the receptionist nine times a minute.
  5. Unexplained waits are longer than explained waits. We wait more patiently for the pizza guy when there’s a thunderstorm than when the sky is clear. We wait more patiently on the plane when we know that there’s another plane at the gate.
  6. Unfair waits are longer than equitable waits. People want their waits to be fair. I got anxious, for example, when my family and I waited to get into the Florida Marlins baseball game this past Saturday night; where there’s no clear, fair way to determine who gets through the turnstile first.
  7. The more valuable the service, the longer the customer will wait. You’ll wait longer to talk to a doctor than to talk to a sales clerk. You’ll stand in line longer to buy an iPad than to buy nail clippers.
  8. Solo waits feel longer than group waits. The more people engage with each other, the less they notice the wait time. In fact, in some situations, waiting in line is part of the experience. A few years ago, Lauren and three of her friends waited happily together for five hours in a block-long line to see Taylor Lautner for six seconds at the premier of the movie Twilight. I asked her the next day how long she thought she’d waited – she knew it was “a while” but never looked at her watch and could only hazard a guess at about “three hours”.

Since I read this paper a few days ago, I’ve been a little more patient about waiting in line. I’m occupied (see #1) with analyzing my own experience of waiting in line. Have you found any good ways to make waiting more bearable? Or, on a different subject, have you found that understanding an experience better has made it more interesting or helped you to cope better?

Send me your thoughts to david@livethe8.com.

On Happiness and The Vanishing Rattle

Jean Piaget was a Swiss developmental psychologist and a philosopher in the early 1900′s. Unknown to many people outside the fields of psychology and social work, his theory of cognitive development has had a profound impact on what we know today about a child’s thoughts and actions growing up.

I first read about Piaget as an undergrad in an Early Childhood Development class; where I was introduced to a concept he called object permanence. Object permanence is the understanding that things continue to exist even when they cannot be seen, heard or touched. It’s a level of development achieved by all of us as infants (typically between 8 and 12 months old) when we learned that just because mommy left the room, that didn’t mean she’d left the planet. And when the rattle went hidden under our blankie, it wasn’t gone forever. It’s when we discovered that out-of-sight didn’t necessarily mean out-of-mind; that just because we’re not experiencing something at the moment, that doesn’t mean we’ll never experience it again.

This is a concept we grasp as little ones, and apparently forget when we’re older; especially when it comes to happiness. We feel joy one moment – connected to the things in our lives that bring us gratitude and fulfillment – and those good feelings disappear into the proverbial kitchen the next. Then we struggle to get our happiness back, fighting a tendency many of us have to view positive emotions as nothing more than fleeting conditions, as opposed to embracing the idea that positive emotions can become permanent objects in our lives. Good feelings – like joy, serenity, hope Cialis, interest, pride, amusement, inspiration and love – don’t have to remain out-of-mind for us for too long. Sure, they’ll leave us sometimes when life creeps in and replaces the good stuff with the bad. And we’ll allow people and situations to take our rattle away from us every once in a while. Just remind yourself that the joy will soon return, the hope will come back, your inspiration will reveal itself again and love will fill your heart in due time.

Here are three tips to help you reconnect with those good feelings you might be searching for:

  1. Make a gratitude list. This will shift your mood and remind you of all that is good in your life right now. It’s an especially great technique for feeling better when you’re fearful, angry or impatient.
  2. Do good things. Recapture some positive energy and emotion by getting out of yourself and doing something for someone else. Go volunteer at your child’s school or call up a local homeless shelter and see what you can do to help. I guarantee (yes, I said guarantee) that you will be better afterwards.
  3. Let it go. Don’t let anyone steal your joy. If you find yourself voluntarily stuck in a negative emotion (as opposed to experiencing a normal and natural state of discomfort such as grief or temporary anger) then ask yourself what you have to gain by letting him/her/them/it continue to rent space in your head. It might be time to let it go and move on.

Now…go find your rattle. It’s gotta’ be around there somewhere.

Organizational Rehab: A 12-Step Program for Dysfunctional Companies

Many people have emailed me about a blog entry I posted back in December, 2010. It seems that the insight I shared, describing many organizations I’ve worked with (and for) as being “addicted” – hooked on self-centered policies and practices that mirror an active drug addict’s destructive behaviors; really resonated with a lot of people.

One on hand, I feel a sense of humility and deep gratitude for the positive feedback I’ve received on this topic. Equally profound (and surprising, even to me) is the enormous number of emails, phone calls, Facebook posts and Twitter DM’s I’ve received over the last three months from employees around the world. Messages from many, many people whose personal and professional lives have become unmanageable as they struggle to cope with life inside an addictive organization.

To those readers, and to you as first-time visitors to the Live the 8 Blog, I offer you hope in the steps that follow. Because there is hope for you and the organization you work for, just as the possibility exists everyday for the thousands of addicts that will find a new way to live a happy, healthy and productive life free from their drugs/behaviors of choice.

Here are my 12 Steps to Organizational Recovery.

  1. We admitted we were powerless over our dysfunctional behaviors, and that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. We came to believe that only WE could restore our organization and our people to sanity.
  3. We made a decision to stop doing things just because we’ve always done them that way.
  4. We made a searching and fearless assessment of all of the policies and practices we did well, and the things we needed to improve.
  5. We admitted to ourselves, and to each other, the destructive behaviors that we had to surrender.
  6. We prepared our organization for how tough it was going to be to stop destroying our company, and the employees and customers we said we loved.
  7. We asked every one of our employees for forgiveness.
  8. We made a list of all of our team members, and made amends to them by getting to know them individually, and learning about their strengths.
  9. We redefined people’s roles and responsibilities around their unique talents.
  10. We continued to take an organizational inventory every quarter, and where we had relapsed into dysfunctional behavior, we promptly admitted it.
  11. We established new processes to continually measure success, and recognized those team members that were exceeding the company’s expectations.
  12. Having had an awakening as a result of this cultural transformation, we tried to live our new healthy, happy, productive behaviors daily, and to practice our guiding principles in all that we did.

To continue to do my part, I’ll revisit this topic often throughout 2011. In the meantime, share your story with me at david@livethe8.com. Whether it’s passing along your own experience (in organizational addiction or recovery) or posing questions related to this topic, I’m obligated to be of service to you and always happy to help.

Oh…and FYI:

This version of the twelve steps is an adaptation of the original twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous which can be found here.

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.

Happy Matters

I was talking with a long-time friend this weekend who just read my book and then promptly called to ask me a question. She commented: “Dave, nice work here; I like the do what matters angle…but why does being happy matter?” Boy – what a great question. Rather than offering my own experiences or referring her back to a few things I mention in the book, I pulled up some relevant research to pass along. So…here’s some of what we know about why happy matters from some other experts on the topic.

Adrian Furnham is a Professor of Psychology in the UK. He has written over 650 scientific papers and 55 books. Furnham wrote the following paragraph about the importance of happiness in his book 50 Psychology Ideas You Really Need to Know.

“Does happiness matter? Indeed it does! The research evidence suggests happy people have strong immune systems so they are healthier and live longer than unhappy people. They tend to be more successful at work and have better personal relationships. They are more attractive to others. They seem to like themselves more than unhappy people and to cope better with Viagra Online all sorts of setbacks. Happy people make better decisions and tend to be more creative. Unhappy people seem to waste time and effort being vigilant for signs of danger or failure. This saps their energy.”

A great website I discovered this weekend – www.wellsphere.com – featured another researcher’s findings on why it’s so important to get (and stay) happy. According to Sonja Lyubomirsky – Stanford Ph.D, current professor at the University of California Riverside and the acclaimed author of many books on what she refers to as “sustainable happiness”:

“…Happy people have overall higher incomes, greater productivity, higher quality of work, more satisfying and longer-lasting marriages, more friends, stronger social support and better social interactions. They also experience more energy, more flow, stronger immune systems, lower stress levels, less pain and even longer lives than unhappy people. Study after study indicates that happy people are more creative, helpful, charitable, and self-confident; have better self-control, and show greater self-regulatory and coping abilities.”

Thank you, Shannon. And for the rest of you out there living your happy lives: why does being happy matter to you?

Drop me a line; I’d love to hear from you.

david@livethe8.com

 

Surrender To Win

Back in “the day” – when I was a full-time addiction therapist – we used to talk with the patients all the time about turning it over. All of the clients on my caseload were actively working the 12 Steps of some recovery program (e.g: Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Gambler’s Anonymous, etc.) and this topic of discussion in my group therapies and individual sessions was a direct reference to Step 3 in that recovery process: “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him”. It is as difficult a Step as any for people in recovery to get their heads and hearts around. It means giving up. It means giving over control. It means recognizing that you can’t make most changes in your life on your own (not most of the healthy ones, anyway). It means that your best plotting and planning likely got you here (wherever that “place” is for you – physically, mentally or even emotionally) and you may want to consider connecting with a “higher power”. It means…you must surrender to win.

Here’s the thing. This concept – the idea that one can find hope, strength, comfort, relief, even joy in surrender – doesn’t only apply to people in recovery from addiction. The idea can (for those of us that choose to accept it) be a freeing experience for the rest of us, too. And it doesn’t have to be a “religious” or “spiritual” act. For me, to “turn it over” means to ask for help with something. I’m not saying that’s how you might define it, or that it directly mirrors any Step in the recovery process. It’s just my way. It means reaching out to a power greater than me for hope, for guidance, for clarity and for peace. Sometimes tapping into that “power” is a spiritual experience for me, and other times – most times, in fact – it’s less abstract and easier to measure. It’s a conversation with my wife. It’s asking for help from a colleague. It’s reaching out to my children and Generic Viagra asking for a hug. There’s no greater release from my bondage of self than an embrace from my two children.

Now, I like things that are predictable and easy to measure. I look for things that fit those two criteria everyday. That’s also why I have to surrender, and turn things over, about twenty times a day though; because I’ve learned that life is full of people, places and things that constantly force me to confront my unrealistic expectations of concrete predictability. Very few things in life – at work, at home, with family, with friends – are “predictable” or “easy to measure”. Not sure if that’s true for you? Get out a piece of paper right now and write down all of the things that are true about your life today and are EXACTLY as you predicted they’d be five years ago. Even a year ago. Heck, even a month ago. And try to “measure” that relationship with a challenging colleague or a micromanaging boss. Not so easy, right? It might be time to turn some things over and ask for guidance. It might be time to let go. It just might be time to surrender. If you’re like me, surrendering to what you can’t control yourself and what you should no longer allow to rent space in your head and your heart, can be a big life-changer.

If you choose to “give up” (contrary to what my baseball and soccer coaches told me, and opposite of what cultural ideas have been drilled into me as a man in this world) you may just find some peace. Turn your problems over to a friend who can help you and whom you trust completely. Pray if that’s what works for you – and give it up to the higher power of your understanding. Write your problems on a piece of paper, stuff it inside a balloon, put some helium in it and let it fly away.

Whatever it takes, just remember that you don’t have to go it alone and that surrender doesn’t always mean defeat.