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.


Sunday, November 6, 2016

Do real men get flu shots?

It’s not too late.

No, it’s not too late to go and get a flu shot.  If you know someone – a relative or friend, perhaps – who has not yet been vaccinated, please encourage them to make the call today.  And here’s why:   

It’s not about them.  It’s not just about protecting themselves. It’s about protecting their family, their friends, their work colleagues, babies, infants, children and the elderly (not to mention the checkout crew at your local supermarket).  It’s called “herd immunity*” and it means that if everyone works together, we end up protecting one another.

Said the good folks at massmed.org: “If you get the flu, you put people around you at high risk for serious illness. [By minimizing your risk], you can help ensure that they stay healthy this winter.”

Will certain people be harder to convince? 

No doubt.  In a highly unscientific sampling (drawn from early morning queries at the local gym), it appears that certain members of the male species may be more reluctant than others to take action.  And national data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) support this notion – indeed, nationally, females are more likely than males to get the shot (45% vs. 38%).    

So, what’s the holdup?  Without question, it’s the widespread myths that continue to persist (e.g., that the vaccine itself can actually cause the flu). And while logic may not carry the day, we’ll take a shot nonetheless. So here then are a few key facts about the vaccine that you and your reluctant friend should know.

1.      Don’t like the needle?  Not a problem, flu shots are available in several different forms. There’s the intradermal flu shot (much smaller needle, injected into the skin instead of the muscle), and there’s the nasal spray vaccine, approved for most people ages 2 to 49.

2.      Can the flu vaccine actually give you the flu?  No way. The CDC explains: “The flu vaccine cannot cause flu illness; however, it can cause mild side effects that may be mistaken for flu. For example, people vaccinated with the flu shot may feel achy and may have a sore arm where the shot was given. People vaccinated with the nasal spray flu vaccine may have a stuffy nose and sore throat. These side effects are NOT the flu. If experienced at all, these effects are usually mild and last only 1-2 days.”

3.      Full proof?  No, it’s not, but vaccines, increasingly, are providing more coverage. Explained Rachael Rettner in an article for livescience.com: “Flu shots protect against three or four strains of flu virus. Trivalent flu vaccines protect against two influenza A strains, H1N1 and H3N2, and one influenza B strain. Quadrivalent flu vaccines — offered for the first time in the 2013-2014 flu season — protect against the same strains as the trivalent vaccine, as well as an extra influenza B virus.”

4.   Should I wait until I turn 65?  Probably not.  It’s true that the elderly are more susceptible, but the CDC reports that 10-20% of flu-related deaths occur in adults ages 18-64.

So, please, ask around. Find out who in your friend circle has yet to be vaccinated, and urge them to take action.

And let them know they can add it to their resume under “Community Service.”


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What is Herd Immunity? (also known as “Community Immunity")

“When a critical portion of a community is immunized against a contagious disease, most members of the community are protected against that disease because there is little opportunity for an outbreak. Even those who are not eligible for certain vaccines—such as infants . . . or immunocompromised individuals—get some protection because the spread of contagious disease is contained. This is known as ‘community immunity’.” – vaccines.gov

Saturday, October 1, 2016

How compassionate are your kids?

How challenging is it to raise children who are compassionate, kind, and empathetic? Apparently, it’s getting harder. 

Sara Konrath, a University of Michigan psychologist, compared data from 1979-2009 to analyze if, indeed, teenagers have become more, or less, compassionate over the last 30 years. Her findings were dramatic, and discouraging. 

Explained Konrath, whose meta-analysis covered 72 studies and 14,000 college students: “College kids today are about 40 percent lower in empathy than their counterparts 20 or 30 years ago. . . .” Compared to college students of the late 1970s, said Konrath, college students today are less likely to agree with statements such as: “I sometimes try to understand my friends better by imagining how things look from their perspective" and "I often have tender, concerned feelings for people less fortunate than me." Along these lines, today’s college students are more likely to agree with the statement: “I will never be satisfied until I get all that I deserve."

It’s a disturbing trend, but psychologists and international groups insist there is much we can do to bring about change. Below are a few unique (and some traditional) steps. But first, a word about compassion, and its importance. 

·        What is compassion?  According to Seeds of Compassion, a non-profit: “Compassion is an understanding of the emotional state of another. Not to be confused with empathy, compassion is often combined with a desire to alleviate or reduce the suffering of another or to show special kindness to those who suffer. (To read more on the subject, consider picking up “Born for Love: Why Empathy Is Essential -- and Endangered,” by Bruce D. Perry and Maia Szalavitz.)

·        Benefits? Adds Seeds of Compassion: “Scientific studies that suggest there are physical benefits to practicing compassion — people who practice it produce 100 percent more DHEA, which is a hormone that counteracts the aging process, and 23 percent less cortisol — the ‘stress hormone’.” 

·        How early can children learn to be empathetic?  Said Elizabeth Foy Larsen, in an article at parents.com: “One study found that kids as young as 18 months could master a key component of empathy: the ability to tune in to people's emotions. By age 4, they move beyond making physical caring gestures and start to think about others' feelings in relation to their own. Many of these responses happen naturally, but you can make a more conscious effort to promote empathy-boosting experiences for your children.”

·        Muscle memory? Explained Marilyn Price-Mitchell, in an article published by the non-profit Roots of Action: “Developing compassion in elementary and middle school-aged children is akin to developing muscle strength. The more you use your muscles, the stronger they get. Children learn compassion through many experiences, including caring for the family pet.”

·        How important is a child’s social-emotional development (SED)? According to Seeds of Compassion: “Social-emotional development [which is linked directly to compassion] is the foundation for success in school and in life. . . . It is a better predictor of adult success than intelligence quotient scores (IQ).”


What Can You Do?

Above all, psychologists insist, we must provide opportunities for our young ones to practice compassion. Aside from that, here’s a mix of some unique, and traditional, steps worth taking: 

·        Point out heroes. Said Jane Meredith Adams, writing for parenting.com: “The siren of a fire truck, not to mention a newspaper photograph of a bomb attack, can make a 4-year-old worry. Shield him from disturbing images as much as possible, but when he hears or sees something frightening, focus the conversation on the firefighters, rescue workers, doctors, or volunteers who are there to help us.”

·        Help children understand and cope with anger. In her article for Roots of Action, Price Mitchell explained: "Anger is one of the greatest hindrances to compassion because it can overwhelm children’s minds and spirit. Yet there are times when anger yields energy and determination. The Dalai Lama, in his article Compassion and the Individual, suggests we investigate the value of our anger. We can help children by asking how their anger will help solve a problem or make their lives happier. We can help them see both the positive and negative sides of anger, and how holding onto anger leads to unreliable and destructive outcomes."

·        Teach children to self-regulate.  Added Price-Mitchell: “Children should understand that regulating their anger is not a sign of weakness. Instead, a compassionate attitude is an internal strength. Praise children when they regulate themselves, making sure they understand the power of their calmness and patience.”

·        Don’t trash talk. In her piece for parenting.com, Adams suggested: “Don't trash talk. Kids, as we know, are always listening. How we talk on a daily basis about our own siblings, parents, and relatives tells them a lot. If children hear us saying something really negative about Grandma, they learn that it's okay to talk that way, says Suzanne Coyle, Ph.D., a mom and director of the Marriage and Family Therapy Program at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis. So keep meanness in check: ‘Show them you have a spirit of kindness and generosity’.”

·        Volunteer. Perla Ni, founder and CEO of GreatNonprofits, said that “researchers have found volunteering is associated with increases in adolescents’ self-esteem and self-acceptance, moral development, and belief in one’s personal responsibility to help. Volunteering often brings a new dimension to the world through children’s eyes; it helps them grasp that not everyone has the same privileges they do and makes them more empathetic.”



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Interested in building compassion? 
If you’re interested in taking action, or simply learning more, consider contacting any of these top-flight organizations, each of which promotes compassion and empathy:

  •           Seeds of Compassion
  •       Kids for Peace
  •       Roots of Empathy and
  •           GenerationOn (the youth division of Points of Light Institute).


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