Sunday, May 28, 2017

How many bumps have you had today?

“We can’t have a crisis tomorrow.  My schedule is already full.” – Henry Kissinger

Looking for a bump-free day?  So am I. But I shouldn’t be.

A more realistic life-view would accede to the “Theory of Six Bumps,” which states simply: each day will surprise us with six bumps, that is, moments that we fail to anticipate, but must deal with nonetheless. The dog gets sick and does her business on the carpet (bump #1) . . . a friend desperately needs a ride to drop off his car (bump #2) . . . on our way to the office, we realize that we forgot one critical piece for the afternoon meeting (bump #3).

Bumps, of course, come in all shapes and sizes (misplaced keys, traffic at a standstill), and if we’re lucky, most bumps will be mild in nature. Certain ones may consume our lives for a stretch (e.g., sickness and weather-related tragedies), but the true casualty is our dream for a bump-free day. It may be time to revise that dream. Instead of anticipating a day free of mishaps (hope springs eternal), embrace the notion that, every day, you’ll encounter six bumps (some more demanding than others).  Rest assured, they’re coming.

Some time ago I shared the Theory of Six Bumps with my sister, and less than 48 hours later she called and reported, “Well, I’ve already had my six bumps today.” It was 10:30 in the morning (ouch!) and, as best I can recall, the bumps involved a parking ticket, a broken coffee pot and a computer glitch – not an ideal morning! I immediately thought to myself, then shared with my sister: “Well, it looks like you’re clear for the rest of the day.” She laughed, then recounted the frustrating details of her morning.

I often give voice to my bumps. Rushing to a morning meeting, I spot a traffic jam up ahead. Inside I’m thinking: “Bump #1”. Hours later, on the checkout line, I discover that I don’t have my credit card (bump #2) because I gave it to my daughter (an altogether different kind of bump). Once home, I realize that I’ve neglected to shut off the outside water valve and discover that the water line has burst (bump #3, and a sizable one at that).

Of late, one particular bump stands out: it’s Saturday morning, around 9:30am, when my wife hears a strange noise emanating from the air vent.  Within minutes we realize what’s happened: an animal is trapped in the duct system. As my frustration begins to mount, that this Saturday is about to disappear, I smiled to myself and said aloud: “Ah, bump #1.”  Six hours later the problem was resolved (I call this a “multi-hour bump”). And while frustration was still a part of my profile, the recognition helped immensely.

Might a bump-free day lie in your future?  Don’t count on it. Instead, just sit back and relax – and count ‘em if you wish.  But know this – the bumps will arrive again tomorrow . . . and the day after that.

Embrace ’em.  It’ll make life a heckuva lot easier.


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Sunday, April 30, 2017

Introspection: are you doing it right?

When it comes to making ourselves feel better, by talking to ourselves or thinking through a problem, it’s easy to believe that we know what we’re doing. 

Perhaps not.

Let’s take self-talk. Research out of Ann Arbor maintains that we’re probably not doing it right. A study conducted at the University of Michigan’s Self-Control and Emotion Laboratory reveals that using your name – that is, your actual name – when you talk to yourself has a world of benefits (e.g., “I need to let that go” vs. “Steve, you need to let that go”).  Said the research abstract: 

“. . . These findings demonstrate that small shifts in the language people use to refer to the self during introspection . . .  influence their ability to regulate their thoughts, feelings, and behavior under social stress, even for vulnerable individuals.”

The research was led by Director Dr. Ethan Kross, and through seven exhaustive studies he and his colleagues concluded that talking to yourself in the third person “promotes self-distancing” and “may be useful in helping people cope not only with depression and anger related to ruminating over the past but also social anxiety surrounding the future.”

Why such a difference? Said a Bitofnews.com report, analyzing the Kross findings: “Self-advice delivered the through the first person ‘I’ . . . puts you in dangerously close proximity to your inherently egocentric self of sense . . . and thus hinders your ability to maximize your competency potential.” Kross and colleagues frame it this way: self-talk that uses your own name “allows people to transcend egocentric viewpoints.”*

The Limits of Introspection

Self-talk aside, what about our internal thought processes? Said author David Sze, in a stirring piece for the Huffington Post: “We give great weight to our introspections, but psychological research tells us that introspection is often a highly inaccurate source of self-knowledge.” Sze added: “An over-reliance on introspection trips one up – decreasing performance, reducing decision quality and even undermining self-insight.”

Sze identified three areas which inhibit introspection:

1.      Biases corrupt introspection. “We go through life with rose-tinted glasses glued to our faces, and we often forget that they are there,” said Sze. “Significant biases include the inclination to see oneself in a positive and socially desirable way (positivity bias), the tendency for people to interpret events in accordance to their previous beliefs and expectations (perceptual confirmation), and the need for self-consistency.”

2.      We cannot perceive or correct biases. Noted Sze: “These subconscious biases cannot be identified through the lens of introspection [and] even if we become aware of our skewed judgments, we find it hard to determine the specific level by which the bias had affected us.”

3.      We cannot penetrate our unconscious. Why can’t we access certain thoughts? It’s not because we repress them, it’s because of how our brain is constructed, and operates, maintains Sze. He explained: “Many researchers adopt the idea of the adaptive unconscious. These processes are not unconscious due to Freudian repression; they are unconscious due to the architecture of the mind.”

What to do?

Sze urges us to focus on two elements: 1. Education; and 2. Process Time. On the former, Sze encourages us to educate ourselves about various cognitive biases (and the situations where they may occur), and learn about possible corrections for these biases.  He notes: “We need to avoid underestimating our susceptibility to biases and overestimating the amount of control we has over our mental processes.”

Second, Sze recommends that we give ourselves the gift of time: “Researchers found that people who had limited time for reflection, or were under cognitive load (e.g., running out of mental RAM) were more likely to display positivity bias. . . . We are much better introspecters when we have sufficient time, energy, and focus (e.g., no multitasking).”

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* Reportedly, according to the bitofnews.com report, when we use our actual name it activates the brain’s cerebral cortex (the brain area linked to thought, awareness and perception). By comparison, when we use “I” in a sentence it activates the brain’s amygdalae, the brain’s emotional center.  

Monday, April 24, 2017

Will a messy desk make you more creative?

It may be time to mess things up.

If you’re looking to boost your creativity, it may be time to forgo neat and clean, to dispense with the notion that a tidy desk always equates to higher productivity. 

In a series of experiments, University of Minnesota marketing professor Kathleen Vohs and colleagues found that individuals experience a creative boost when working in a messy environment (what Vohs calls “visual disorder”). The takeaway, of course, is that when it comes to productivity – at work, at home, in school – messy has its place, alongside neat and clean. In Vohs’ research paper: “The Psychology of Messiness: How Disorder Can Make You More Creative,” her abstract emphasizes that: “. . . different environments suit different outcomes.”

So aside from “visual disorder,” what other elements promote creativity?

Drink Wine, Create a Mind Map, Keep Moving

These are three of a series of ideas shared by The Young Entrepreneurs Council, which reached out to its members to suggest ways to boost creativity.

1.      Drink Wine – Urged Erika London, founder of iAdventure.com: “Allow your employees to unleash their ideas outside the confining walls of an office over a glass or two of wine. You’ll be surprised how quickly the combination of a relaxed environment, and some vino will transform a casual hang out into an innovative meeting . . . .”

2.      Create a Mind Map – Explained Nathalie Lussier, foundation of Nathalie Lussier Media: “Start with a topic or question, and mindmap your way around it. Don’t censor yourself as you come up with all the surrounding topics and bubbles that go with your initial topics. This type of ‘hyperlinked’ thinking is what allows us to come up with new ideas. You can also go really deep on a thread, which can help spur creativity in other threads of your mindmap.  Mindmap as a group, and this takes on a whole new life!”

3.      Keep Moving – Shared Erica Dhawan, co-founder of Galahads: “To think creatively, keep moving. . . . Simply taking a walk while talking about important things makes the conversation more meaningful, so why do we sit in conference rooms instead of walking and talking? To think creatively. . . . What do I do? Bollywood dance breaks! Seriously — I have Bollywood-inspired Innovative Moves workshops.”

Thetinylife.com offered 10 tips of its own, we share three here:

1.      “Extend your social circle. . . . We often find ourselves in the company of very similar people with overlapping viewpoints on things . . . But I have found some of the most growth occurs when two groups of people come together. . . . The other viewpoint can also tease out weaknesses that need to be addressed.”

2.      “Take a shower. I thought I was the odd one when I said my best thinking happens in the shower.  I don’t know what it is about taking a shower, but it brings a clarity and peace that can be hard to find in the modern world.  Well it turns out that I am not as weird as I thought, because a study has been done about the power of showers to spur creative thinking.”

3.      Get tactile – try a white board, in place of a computer screen. “I am standing, writing fast [in a] stream of consciousness. When I am mulling something over, I am pacing, tossing a ball, doing something other than sitting still.  I think the big space of the white board and hand writing are key.  Often after a session like this, I will copy the board into a mind map on my computer.”


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Thursday, April 13, 2017

Do you have a winning mentality?

“It’s time that each and every one of us make our decisions out of what we stand to gain, not what we might lose.” – Ian Robertson, “The Winning Effect”

If you’re a professional athlete, winning is clearly a priority. Take the current NBA or NHL playoffs, it's win and advance. Lose and go home. It’s a simple formula – for pro athletes, their livelihood depends on it.

But in many ways, so does ours.

Psychologists affirm what we know intuitively, that each of us is genetically programming to strive, to seek, to excel.  In the world of sports, the lines are clearly drawn, yet these same competitive forces guide our relationships, our careers, our decisions and our thoughts.

Competing - in sports and in business – has always been a central part of my life. I can still remember the day, many years ago, when a close friend told me, point-blank: “You’re the most competitive person that I’ve ever met.” I didn’t take kindly to the remark, and soon came to regard my burning desire to win as a negative force (I rated winning as a +1, and losing a -9, so I was highly motivated to win, to avoid losing!). Over time, however, I’ve come to realize that the competitive drive inside all of us – if harnessed in the right fashion – can help us grow, contribute and succeed.    

Two types of life success

In his book “The Winning Effect,” author and psychology professor Ian Robertson explains two types of life success (in an interview with bgtrustonline.com):

 “Success has two main elements to it . . . The first is objective success, that is you win a gold medal or a Nobel Prize or you get an Oscar nomination – by external standards you are successful. The second aspect is success in achieving goals which are authentic in terms of your own values and aspirations in life. By definition, only a few people can be successful vis-à-vis the first type of success but, potentially, everyone can feel successful in the second type.”

The desire to win, according to Robertson, is brain-altering: “Success increases testosterone in both men and women [which] in turn increases the brain’s chemical messenger dopamine, and that alters brain function.” So striving to win – on or off the court – is part of our physiological makeup. 

How can we fully harness, and appreciate, our desire to excel?

1.      Realize that planning and technical skills come first. Jeffrey Spencer, in a piece for psychologytoday.com, notes that: “All prolific winners know that life structure and soundness of action always precede talent and will in creating success. Just look around, there’s no shortage of people with incredible talent and will that have dismal, unfulfilled lives because they never developed the planning and technical skills to manifest their ambitions.” 

2.      Avoid trying to emulate a high achiever (if you’re a parent, don’t “hide the ladder”). Robertson maintains that trying to “follow in the footsteps” of a mentor or parent is a dangerous path. Explained Robertson, in the interview with bgtrustonline.com: “If your parent is very successful, but doesn’t accurately portray the bumps along the way to that successful stage [referred to as ‘hiding the ladder’] then, particularly if you admire your parents, you have an enormously high goal for yourself.”

3.      Embrace your desire to win (however you define it). Offered J. Patrick Dobel, in his blog “Point of the Game”: “The desire to win leads to testing oneself against others as a way to increase one's own development as a human and athlete. The outcome of these encounters can be . . .  personal growth . . . . These tests also generate innovation . . . .”

4.      Improve your success skills. Robertson emphasized, in that same interview, that: “Becoming a consistent winner is a learned skill anyone can learn at any time. We should never shy away from practicing or improving on our success skills as every time we succeed we pay homage to the gift of our talents, the opportunity to succeed, to our mentors, and the chance to inspire others to become their own champions . . . It’s time that each and every one of us make our decisions out of what we stand to gain, not what we might lose.”


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Saturday, December 10, 2016

Men vs. Women: how different are we?

In your travels, you may have noticed that men and women are just a little bit different – in appearance, in ability, in preferences.  And one of the more visible, and persistent, distinctions is in color preference – pink for women, blue for men.

But is it true? Do women and young girls truly prefer pink, do men and young boys truly prefer blue?  And, if so, is it something that we learn (pink, as it happens, continues to be the most popular iPhone color for females) or simply innate?

Writes American neuroscientist Lisa Eliot, author of “Pink Brain, Blue Brain”:

 “In the past decade, we've heard a lot about the innate differences between males and females. So we've come to accept that boys can't focus in a classroom and girls are obsessed with relationships: ‘That's just the way they're built’." 

But Eliot insists that we make way too much of innate gender differences – most prominent of which is the pink-blue myth. Eliot’s website explains: “. . . infant brains are so malleable that small differences at birth become amplified over time, as parents, teachers, peers — and the culture at large — unwittingly reinforce gender stereotypes. Children themselves exacerbate the differences by playing to their modest strengths. They constantly exercise those ‘ball-throwing’ or ‘doll-cuddling’ circuits, rarely straying from their comfort zones.”

By all appearances, society (ever so slowly) is heading toward gender equality – more men raising families, more women performing surgery.  There remain, of course, noticeable and disturbing gaps (e.g., salaries in the workplace), but by and large the worldwide movement is afoot (though at times we pause to realize that women’s suffrage is less than 100 years old!).

Which leads us back to the pink-blue myth. Study after study continues to dispel the notion, yet it persists. 

It wasn’t always this way. Looking back a century, Polly Curtis, writing for theguardian.com reports: "In 1914, the Sunday Sentinel told American mothers: 'If you like the colour note on the little one's garments, use pink for the boy and blue for the girl, if you are a follower of convention'." Fast forward a decade when a chart in Time magazine stated that “boys should be dressed in pink and girls in blue,” according to an article at kidssocialnorm.com.  The article continued: “Pink was for boys because it was a powerful color. Blue was designated to girls because it was considered delicate and dainty. Pink was also associated with the ‘fiery’ male temperament, while blue was associated with the Virgin Mary and the purity and goodness of a little girl.”

Gender differences, historians report, began to fade in the 1960s when the women’s liberation movement took hold (an article by Jeanne Maglaty for smithsonianmag.com noted that, for two years in the 1970s, the Sears Roebuck catalog pictured no pink toddler clothing). And the move toward gender neutrality continued until the mid-1980s, when pink vs. blue began to re-emerge (the re-emergence is believed tied to the start of parental testing).

So what are we to make of pink vs. blue?  Does it serve our children well? 

Says author and historian Jo Paoletti: “The loss of neutral clothing is something that people should think about more. And there is a growing demand for neutral clothing for babies and toddlers now, too.” And this isn’t just a U.S. phenomenon, as noted by Curtis in her piece for theguardian.com: “. . . I'm always struck when I visit my daughter's cousins in Sweden that children's clothing in particular is much less gendered than in England. Babies tend to wear more uni-sex bright patterns than pale pink and blues.”

Other points to consider:

·        Under the age of two, children exhibit no color preference, according to Curtis, citing work by Professor Melissa Hines at Cambridge University;
·        Children become conscious of their gender around 3-4 years old, and do not realize it’s permanent until age 6 or 7, according to Maglaty, citing research by child development experts; and
·        A famous 1978 study demonstrated how differently adults treated the same baby depending on whether they were dressed in pink vs. blue.

So if you see me walking by you today in a pink fedora, don’t be alarmed. It’s a power color.

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Friday, November 25, 2016

Looking for inspiration? Or something to make you laugh?

These memorable quotes may do both. Enjoy.

On the Past
“Don’t let yesterday take up too much of today.”

On Intuition
 “Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.”

On Friendship
“Be with those who bring out the best in you, not the stress in you.”

On Relationships/Marriage
“A relationship is more than finding the right person, it's also about being the right person.”

“The first to apologize is the bravest. The first to forgive is the strongest. The first to forget is the happiest.”

“Consider how hard it is to change yourself and you'll understand what little chance you have in trying to change others.” – Jacob M. Braude

On Change 
“Life has got a habit of not standing hitched. You got to ride it like you find it. You got to change with it. If a day goes by that don't change some of your old notions for new ones, that is just about like trying to milk a dead cow.” – Woody Guthrie

On Mistakes
“Your past mistakes are meant to guide you, not define you.”

Life’s 2 Great Rules
“There are two great rules of life; the one general and the other particular. The first is that everyone can, in the end, get what he wants, if he only tries. That is the general rule. The particular rule is that every individual is, more or less, an exception to the rule.” – Samuel Butler

Life’s 2 Basic Rules
“Two basic rules of life: 1. Change is Inevitable 2. Everyone Resists Change. Remember this: When you are through changing . . . you're through.”

On Success
“Great works are performed not by strength, but by perseverance.” – Samuel Johnson

“The difference between the impossible and the possible lies in a person’s unstoppable determination.” – Tommy Lasorda

“Once we accept our limits, we go beyond them.” – Brendan Francis

On Failure
“You don't drown by falling in the water; you drown by staying there.” – Edwin Louis Cole

On Contribution
“Look for a way to lift someone up. If that’s all you do, that’s enough.” – Elizabeth Lesser

“You never know who needs you. Good energy is contagious.”

On Kindness
“Kindness has converted more sinners than zeal, eloquence, or learning.” – Frederick W. Faber

On Hope
“Once you choose hope, anything is possible.” – Christopher Reeve

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Saturday, November 19, 2016

How much of your happiness is tied to money?

“Blessed with riches and possibilities far beyond anything imagined by ancestors who tilled the unpredictable soil of medieval Europe, modern populations have nonetheless shown a remarkable capacity to feel that neither who they are nor what they have is quite enough.” – Alain de Botton, philosopher and author of Status Anxiety

Apparently, everything is relative.

Whether we’re talking money or sex appeal, the research is crystalline – we measure our success in life against our “reference group,” that is, our neighbors, our work colleagues, our relatives and closest friends. And while these comparisons serve us well at times (e.g., motivating us to do our best), they by and large create a healthy dose of unhappiness.

Said psychologist Carlin Flora, in a piece written for Psychology Today: “At the end of the day, we're concerned with our immediate reference group—one made up of about 150 people.” In her piece, Flora quotes economist Robert H. Frank, of Cornell:

 “When you see Bill Gates' mansion, you don't actually aspire to have one like it. It's who is local, who is near you physically and who is most like you – your family members, coworkers and old high school classmates – with whom you compare yourself. . . . If someone in your reference group has more, you get a little anxious."

Our sense of envy (a product of “social comparison theory”) often leads to Status Anxiety, and its pervasive reach dominates much of our life experience.  Its historical roots seem clear enough (we were, after all, focused exclusively on survival not too long ago). Yet now, in the modern era, these roots persist and studies continue to affirm what we know instinctively: it’s more important for us to outperform our “reference group” than to have more (money, material goods, sex appeal) in absolute terms.

Said author and philosopher Alain de Botton: “Wealth is not an absolute. It is relative to desire.”

Two studies, cited by Flora, support this notion of relativity. Wrote Flora:

“In the 1980s, Frank dismantled a premise central to economic theory: People will always choose the greatest absolute amount of wealth. Landmark research shows that our preferences are actually quite relative. We'd rather make $50,000 while living in a neighborhood where everyone else makes $40,000 than earn $100,000 among those who are raking in $150,000.”

In a similar vein, Flora added: “Women are more envious of other women's good looks, say evolutionary psychologists, because appearance is an important marker of youth and fertility. In a beauty-contest version of the economist Frank's salary preferences breakdown, women in Buss and Hill's survey reported they would rather be a ‘5’ among ‘4s’ than an ‘8’ among ‘10s’.”

Here’s a glimpse at the pros and cons of Status Anxiety:

THE PROS

Said Psychologist Camille Johnson, in a piece for Psychology Today: “Envy has its benefits . . . if channeled in the right way: Research in educational contexts by Hart Blanton of the University of Connecticut and in business contexts by John Schaubroek at Michigan State University has demonstrated that people who look upward, despite the potential pain, are more successful. As another adage goes, ‘the pain is temporary, the pride is forever’."

Quoting Yale professor Peter Salovey, Flora wrote: 

“Just as with anxiety, says Peter Salovey, professor of psychology at Yale, a mild dose of envy can energize us and concentrate our efforts: ‘If I really wish I had a car like my neighbor's, then that will motivate me to put my nose to the grindstone and earn more money in order to be able to buy that car’. ‘Envy helps us know what's really important to us,’ he says. If we consistently feel envy toward classmates who earn perfect grades or climbers who summit mighty peaks, these must be the domains on which we stake our reputations.” 

THE CONS

Psychologist Daniel Crosby highlighted the darker side, explaining:

“Studies show that the most noticeable way in which money impacts happiness is negatively! We see that the very rich enjoy a slight bump in happiness given their comparative superiority, but the ‘have nots’ are made absolutely miserable as they look up at their better resourced counterparts. Given that the increase in happiness is slight and that the rich make up a small fraction of the total population, in general, the tendency to view money in comparative terms is the source of a great deal of woe.”

Crosby argues that the American tendency to “flaunt it,” may not be a simple matter of human nature.  His argument?  “Switzerland is just one example of a very wealthy country with a philosophy diametrically opposed to showy wealth. As opposed to the American mantra of, ‘if you’ve got it, flaunt it,’ the Swiss take an ‘if you’ve got it, hide it’ approach so as not to provoke envy in others.”

Here’s where Flora agrees, saying: “Envy is ultimately isolating.” Warns veteran journalist and author Chris Hedges: “Envy pushes us away from what's most precious, and that is love. Those who are lonely, who lack close personal relationships, are most susceptible to status anxiety.”

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Author's Note: If you’d like to explore how your spending decisions affect your happiness, check out the website “Beyond The Purchase” (http://www.beyondth epurchase.org/), which analyzes how your values and personality “interact with spending decisions” to impact your happiness.