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Mindfulness & changing habits

2014-07-30 16.04.28

Quite often in my own life I’ve used mindfulness techniques as stress management tools. I would often use them to run away from the things in life that scared me or I felt that I couldn’t face up to. These practical techniques, such as breathing exercises, certainly helped me manage short-term stress and also allowed me to put myself into a more mentally resilient state. But they didn’t always enable me to explore my habitual patterns or unpick old behaviours. It seemed that despite practicing mindfulness the same challenges kept on arising time and again. It was only through exploring mindfulness, further, that I was able to understand more fully how it was my relationship “with” the things or situations that I found uncomfortable rather than the situation itself .

Creating the groundwork for developing mindfulness

In the first stages of my exploration of mindfulness I explored lots of different tools to help observe and develop smooth breathing, to develop focus, to be more aware of my physical body and also how changing my posture regulated my thoughts and emotions. I also practiced techniques to develop self love and love and compassion for others. These building blocks of mindfulness were and are essential components of human thriving.

These practices enabled me to be in a position to begin to explore my habitual habits and tendencies.

Exploring our inner world

In Yoga the fifth limb of the Eight limbs of Yoga, contained in the Yoga Sutras, is Pratyahara or the exploration of our inner world.

The exploration of our inner world means being still and observing whatever arises in a non-judgmental way. This happens at the level of sensation. We observe without the necessity of a cognitive oversight. We sit still, we observe the sensation and we breathe into the sensation. In this manner we observe that feelings and thoughts manifested as sensations arise and pass away. In this way we are able to separate our sense of self with the thoughts, feelings and sensations that arise. All things arise and pass away. Hardness softens. Things come and go. The mere act of observation changes the observed. As we continue to practice this observation of self we are better placed to separate the emotion and thought from our sense of self. For example I might be angry about a situation that another person may have “caused” but I do not define myself as an angry person nor hold anger towards the other person.

Observing emotions, allowing them to flow and acting

This is an example of, perhaps, a best-case scenario for managing a difficult situation:

Anger arose in me for an event caused by another person. I observed that anger arising and felt it first as a sensation. I breathed into that area and felt the anger subside. But the anger was a cause to act and in a balanced and calm manner I was able to express to the other person why I felt anger. I retained positive regard for the other person and kept an open mind and open ears. I was ready to challenge my own view on the situation as he explained his truth to me.

Bringing cognitive oversight to our observation

As we observe sensations in a calm and balanced way we may notice the same patterns arising again and again. We may notice the thoughts and feelings that emerge with the sensations and we may start to notice causal events linking event with thought, feeling and sensation.

On other occasions we may not be able to make such causal leaps. We often want to assign reasons for feelings and this may be useful. It might help us draw a line under things and move on. In many cases however life is so complex that we simply can’t understand where the feeling comes from. Maybe we just feel anxious sometimes and that’s ok. Simply observe the sensation, breathe it into and let it pass. Once again we are separating the sense of self with the feeling. “ I feel anxious now but that does not mean that anxiousness defines me”

All emotions are valid. Emotional intelligence is developed as we observe and don’t suppress the sensation and emotion. It is also developed as we develop and practice tools to handle the information that the sensations we observe are telling us.

Tools for observing our inner world

By sitting still we may observe patterns of thoughts, feelings and sensations arising over and over. There are a number of tools, which may be helpful in enabling you to fully appreciate that all things arise and pass away and by exploring these tools we may learn to unpick habitual tendencies. One of these tools is to keep asking why a particular situation causes you discomfort.

Asking WHY – WHY – WHY – WHY

If a feeling and sensation arises in the same situation again and again keep asking yourself why you feel that way. This exploration may help you unravel deeper feelings, such as, feeling unloved or of lacking in abundance. As we do this we may begin to appreciate that we are reacting to old hurts long past. The you and I, as we were when we were little kids, may no longer seem physically present but the five year old, fifteen year old and twenty-five year old us are still deep inside us. Not only are all our past selves contained within us but also the experiences of our ancestors and our society. We are creatures of conditioning and by calmly observing experience in the present we may learn to become less reactive and begin to create new positive patterns. This can only truly come by sitting and observing who we are. For example as I practice a yoga posture I try not to do the posture but be the posture. I observe myself within my environment and part of my environment. I am within my skin and know I am within my skin. But I am also part of my environment and am my environment. I AM. I am a human being and not a human doing.

We can let go of old ways of being and be present now reflecting upon and engaging with a new reality as it arises at this moment. We can learn to fully love the five year old, fifteen year old and twenty five year old us. They enabled us to be the beautiful person we are now, always were and always will be.

I hope you found this useful

Andy Roberts

Andy Roberts teaches mindfulness, emotional intelligence and resilience in Australia and the UK

 

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Building emotional intelligence

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I wrote this workshop for a lovely charity in Brisbane. It’s an organisation that works with children whose parents or siblings have cancer. I gave it to the charity for free and I hope the messages contained here help the kids and their families. I decided to put this workshop online so hopefully more people will start to do these exercises. It takes about 5 minutes to read so let me know how you go.

Part 1 – Listening to your body- what is it trying to tell you? – So many of us are wrapped up in our own thoughts. We are often listening to the voice inside our head rather than listening to others.

The average human brain can absorb about 120 bits of information per second and the average human voice contains about 70 bits of information per second.

Therefore if you are talking to yourself, in your head, you can barely understand what the other person is saying to you.

Developing emotional intelligence starts with two things – Before anything else we need to listen to how our body is feeling. For example if you are short of breath or tense or shaky it means that you may have experienced emotions which have translated into physical sensations.

Emotions are information. They tell you something. They might be telling you an important truth. Or they might be telling you something that is incorrect. For example you might be feeling sick to the stomach because you perceive that someone has gone out of his or her way to do you harm. When in fact any harm was unintentional.

Our perception may be out of line with reality when we feel pressurised or stressed. We can interpret what our body is saying and get the wrong end of the stick.

Quite often, however, people don’t even reflect on how their body is feeling nor do they appreciate that the way their body is affects the way they communicate with other people. We become absorbed in our goals and thoughts and pay little attention to what our body is telling us.

EXERCISE 1

  • DO A BODY SCANNING EXERCISE , TALKING TO YOUR BODY , TELLING IT TO RELAX SEQUENTIALLY
  • THEN AT THE END OF THE EXERCISE GO BACK TO AN AREA OF TENSION. BREATHE INTO IT AND RECOGNISE THAT IT OFTEN STARTS TO DISIPATE WHEN YOU FOCUS ON AN AREA OF TENSION
  • MAYBE START ASKING YOURSELF WHY YOU MIGHT BE FEELING A PARTICULAR SENSATION – MAYBE YOU FEEL TENSE BECAUSE OF HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT A LOVED ONE
  • AND THEN CUT YOURSELF SOME SLACK. ITS RIGHT TO FEEL HURT AND TENSE WHEN SOMEONE YOU LOVE IS SUFFERING
  • BUT THEN OBSERVE HOW IF YOU BREATHE INTO THAT PLACE THE TIGHTNESS GOES. AND THEN ALSO NOTICE HOW MUCH BETTER YOU FEEL
  • ITS RIGHT TO FEEL SAD AND ITS RIGHT TO FEEL PHYSICALLY UPSET BUT THEN WE CAN OBSERVE THAT SUCH THOUGHTS, FEELINGS AND SENSATIONS MOVE AWAY IF WE OBSERVE THEM WITH COMPASSION, KINDNESS AND CURIOSITY

When we do an exercise like that we start to observe that our mental and physical states are inter linked. We can also observe how, after doing such an exercise, we are in a better position to help the people we love and we are better able to get on with our lives.

We know that our loved ones would want us to be happy and optimistic and the best way to help them and help ourselves is to observe our pain a little. Acknowledge that it’s there for a very valid reason, then cut ourselves some slack, breathe into it and then watch as we feel more confident and ready to help ourselves and the people we love.

Part 2 – Listening to others

Now the next stage, having observed our own body, is to find a way to be present to what the other person is saying.

EXERCISES 2 AND 3 – Two ways to do this:

2) Take three big breaths in through the mouth and out through the nose – it shuts the monkey mind up!

3) Listen to your feet – as you walk around the room visualise the weight of your body dropping down into the ground – as you do so you feel lighter and ready to absorb information from other people

Part 3 – Putting yourself into someone else’s shoes

Having got your body relaxed and your mind quiet, take a look at the other person and in a non-judgmental way simply observe their face and body.  Don’t second-guess what they may be feeling – we often get that very wrong. Life is complex and we often have no idea what’s going on in someone else’s life.

Simply get into the habit of observing them with loving kindness. People just want to tell their story. Let them do that. Try not to jump in and second-guess what they are about to say. Simply smile and be assuring. Let them tell their story. And as they speak, you will learn about yourself. Learn the joy of letting others speak about their truth.

It’s their truth as they see it. You may see the world in a very different way but they have their reasons for their beliefs.

Quite often we come across people we find annoying or obstructive. But these people are our greatest teachers. The people who push our buttons are the ones who have most to teach us about our own insecurities, uncertainties and frailties.

Let them have their time. Try and see the world a little from their point of view and do the following exercise.

 EXERCISE 4 – developing positive regard for people – loving kindness meditation

Before you start – when someone annoys you repeat silently “just like me they are looking for love”

Then close your eyes and focus on sending good vibes out to the edge of your body as you breathe out.   Then expand the good vibes out into the room and to the edges of the room and then imagine sending them out into the street.

Picture someone you love very dearly. Visualise sending them good vibes and after some time move onto acquaintances and then perhaps try someone you are having a difficult relationship with.

Remember that difficult person is “just like me is looking for love too”.

 Part 4 – telling your story

Quite often we might feel that we have nobody to share our fears and darkest thoughts with.

You will find that by doing parts one, two and three every day, people will warm to your love and sincerity. People want to spend time with people who are loving, kind and good listeners.

As you develop your attention and positive regard for others, you will find that positive energy and love and friendship will flow back to you. You will build deep, warm and loving relationships with people and they will be your greatest source of energy as you face difficult times.

The most important thing for you to remember is that the only thing that is in your control is how you react to the life events that flow around you. We all need to develop self-love and we do that through the practice of developing love for others.

Your body and mind are your greatest tools. As you develop a warm, loving, abundant, mindset it will attract so many positive people into your life. And they will be your warriors in the challenges ahead. They will be there to cuddle, hold your hand and listen to your story.

Mindfulness and leadership

animal-leader2As I started to write this article I wanted to call it the Mindful Leader but this brought to mind images of North Korean leaders. So its an article about leadership and what leaders should focus upon.

Ask yourself two questions. Who is the leader in my organisation and who is the most influential person? It’s quite common that the answers to these two questions may be very different. The person that stimulates, encourages, connects, motivates, listens too, energises may not be the leader. The leader may have become aloof and removed

Since the financial crisis of 2007/8 and in the decade before that there has been a growth in command and control style of leadership. The call went out for leaders who could cut costs and extract value. And this has come at a heavy price.

Daniel Goleman, the Emotional Intelligence guru has said, “the common cold of leadership is poor listening”. With ever shortening deadlines, increased customer expectations, a heightened competitive environment and increased a huge increase in data, a leader can be left not knowing where to turn. In such an environment the safest place for a command and control leader is back to the security of goal focus and ridged top down management.

Successful leaders need to be able to focus on four critical areas:

  • Exploitation – extracting the maximum value from current products and services
  • Exploration – awareness of the competitive environment, so that they can prepare for challenges and take advantage of opportunities
  • Focusing on the culture and vibe of the organisation to ensure that they are listening to their team – picking up concerns and being able to harness great ideas
  • Self awareness – understanding their impact upon others

Each of these skills is essential to good leadership but require very different neural pathways. A great leader can move seamlessly between one style of working and another. The leader who spends too much time on any one area, at the expense of the others, will have difficulty engaging and harnessing the collective energy and focus of the organisation. This balancing act requires great mindfulness.

A leader needs to be able to see what others cannot see. When a leader focuses upon a something she gives it meaning. But is it the right thing to attend to? Will it bring value to the organisation and pull the team together. And once the collective attention of the organisation has been placed in the subject, the challenge of a leader is to retain that attention through powerful, uplifting and engaging stories.

The great balancing act requires a leader to have a wide range of emotional intelligence skills including being empathetic, sensing their affect on others, good team work, heightened listening skills and cooperation.

A recent Accenture study of CEOs came up with one over arching factor that was an essential part of the successful leaders tool kit – self awareness.

Just think back to the performance of ex CEO of BP, Tony Hayward . After a long delay in responding in person to the Gulf of Mexico tragedy he turned up on a local beach and said to the gathered press group, “Nobody wants this over more than I do. I want my life back” . No mention of the deaths of BP staff and the suffering of their families, no mention of the environmental catastrophe, no mention of the economic hardship for local fishermen…”I want my life back”….

A leader must be authentic. A leader must listen. A leader must be humble and know that he serves his employees, shareholders and the wider community.

To learn more about Mindfulness, Leadership and Emotional Intelligence contact me at www.breathe-london.com or www.breathe-australia.com

Andy

 

 

Can you love your job?

Can you fall in love with work?
love
“I come to work and work hard, not just for the money but because I like the people. I can see where the company is going, we all pull our weight.  I can see myself developing here.  I feel supported and valued”

Do you feel like this?

If not then this article is for you.  At the end I suggest ways to help you re-evaluate your relationship with work

Before answering this question I need to take a look at how we measure the relationship between employees and employers.

Lots of you reading this will have filled out employee engagement questionnaires at work.  Organisations use them to identify issues within the workplace and to help attract new recruits.  For example in the UK organisations strive to get Investors in People status or break into the Sunday Times 100 Best Companies to work for.  In order to do this an organisation needs to show an evidence base to demonstrate that employment is not just a financial arrangement between the organisation and the employee, but is also about meaning and fun.

Consultancies such as Towers Perrin and Gallup have devised surveys to measure how engaged employees are. These surveys tap into the following:

  • Basic Needs – Are my basic needs met in the workplace? Do I have the right tools?
  • Teamwork – Do we work well as a team?
  • Growth – Do I have the opportunity for career and personal development in my organisation?
  • Valued – Do I feel valued as a human being?  Am I supported and receive a fair salary?
  • Vision and values – Am I clear on the vision and values of the organisation and how I fit in?
  • Likeability – Do I like my colleagues? Do I like the organisation?
Gallup has run its survey over 5 million times and their internal data (unverified by third parties) suggests a strong link between positive responses to questions similar to those listed above and the financial performance of the organisation.

What are the pitfalls of these surveys?

  • Often completed at work and are one-dimensional snap shots of what people think at a specific moment in time
  • Don’t ask participants to describe how their actions or feelings change over time
  • Boring and time consuming to complete
  • Generic and lacking in contextual or situational awareness
  • Fail to examine the blockages to engagement, which employees are really interested in
  • Do not have an evidence base or baseline measurement of engagement to compare findings against
The surveys are often filled in at work with your boss breathing down your neck. They use a snapshot approach to ask employees how they “think” about their organisation, rather than how they feel.  Tony Graham is the former HRD of Scottish & Newcastle. According to Graham, not only are most engagement models passive (asking, for example, what managers did for the employee six months ago), but they seek to capture what people ‘think’, which is meaningless if it does not correlate with what they ‘do’.

There is little evidence that engagement (as measured by these types of surveys) has a relationship with financial performance.  Peter Hutton (former Deputy MD at Mori) author of “What Are Your Staff Trying To Tell You” claims the correlation between the Gallup survey questions and business performance is “extremely small” – ranging from a low of 0.057 to a high of 0.191 (a 100% correlation would be 1). He adds:

“No statistician would put any credence on this. Although Gallup does not claim there is a direct engagement: performance correlation, I believe it implies it. But correlation does not mean causation.”

It’s often difficult to ask the right question. Carol Mote of HR management consultancy Verdant Futures previously had HR experience at Birds Eye Foods.  She says the reality of asking what you want is always more difficult than it sounds:

“At Birds Eye we never really got what we wanted, because we couldn’t ask the questions we wanted. Questions like ‘What would be the top three things you would like changed in the next quarter?’ would be diluted to something like ‘How could we improve productivity”

So what is employee engagement?
When you look up the definition of engagement you get marriage.

download (1)So it’s a bit like a marriage or at least you’re dating.  When you look at the survey questions noted above they seem quite consistent with the kind of questions you might ask about a relationship with a person ……or maybe you should be asking.
  • Are my basic needs met?
  • Do we work well as a team?
  • Do I have the opportunity to grow as a person?
  • Do I feel valued?  Am I supported?
  • Am I clear on your vision and values? How do I fit in?
  • Do you like me? Do I like you?
Everyone reading this article is now asking these questions about their loved ones.

But the big, obvious, difference between marriage and the relationship you have with your employer relates to motivation by love or money.  In reality there may be little difference between the two.

Love – Some lucky people love their place of work and career.  Most kind of like it but there are shades of grey from loving to liking to loathing.  Hopefully you love the person you are married to.

Money – some people get paid to do the job they love, some people get paid to do the job they loathe.  In some relationships there is an understanding that one person will provide financially.

So in the truth the relationship you have with your partner is similar in many respects to the relationship you have with a company.

In both a marriage and an arrangement with a company there are accommodations and understandings that you come to over time.  It’s complicated.  Initially you might be at a company for the money and career opportunities but over time you grow to love your colleagues, enjoy your routines and get pleasure from mentoring new people in the organisation.

Marriages can go through stages from passion to gentle understanding (or simmering hatred and divorce).  It’s often the same with the relationship you have with a company; from high energy excitement, a voyage into the unknown, through to gentle acceptance of your place… or alternatively; bitterness, rivalry, jealousy and separation. eggs

So answers to the employee engagement questions are strongly influenced by the length of your relationship.   Like a marriage the complexity of a relationship between an employee and a company is very hard to narrow down to just a few generic questions.

Keeping the fires burning
How long does that person or organisation keep your attention and energy levels high?  Perhaps as long as you get some meaning or fun, stimulation or opportunities for growth from it.

Being in love or engaged with your partner/organisation is often not a matter of the head but rather of the heart and the guts.

The questions business psychologists and HR departments are using to measure engagement may describe how we think, but not how we feel.  They miss the mind /body connection.  Although I am not aware of any research to date, I expect organisations that score very highly on each of the Gallup questions would have fitter and healthier people working for them.  Thinking positively about your work, colleagues and routines is likely to have a positive effect on the body.  The problem with current surveys is that they tend to encourage people to answer how they expect they ‘should’ think about something.  Questions and answers can be contrived and stilted. The questions might not be relevant to the needs of the organisation or the employee.

By asking questions about feelings, pain, energy levels and so on, we tap into a whole new area in the workplace.  One that acknowledges the whole human experience of wellbeing in the workplace.  We may be measuring engagement from the other side of the coin to existing studies, but interpretation of more contextually relevant information can throw up solutions which may be of great benefit to the individual and organisation.

So how can we measure feelings?  
One possible way is to use an online tool for measuring  emotional intelligence.  If you want to do this just click on the link below.   We are able to give feedback on your ability to recognise, use, understand and manage your emotions.  We also ask you to fill out an online strengths assessment.  This ranks (from high to low) your top 24 character strengths.  Finally we ask you to provide a description of one major blockage to your engagement at work.

Using this information we provide two 60 minute feedback session on Emotional Intelligence at work and develop actions to use your strengths to overcome the challenges you face.  Follow this link to view our workplace coaching package.

Developing Emotional Intelligence in the workplace pack

You will receive:

  • A summary report on your emotional intelligence scores
  • Your ranked list of top 24 strengths
  • Two 60 minute coaching sessions
  • Advice on developing your emotional intelligence using your top strengths in order to address your major workplace challenge 

For more information go to Breathe Australia

How our instinct can deceive us

In this blog I explore why it’s so important to slow down and examine our emotions, and those of people around us.

Making decisions based on gut instinct

Research over the last 20 years increasingly suggests we perceive our decision making processes to be dominated by logic, when in fact the way we tend to problem solve and reach conclusions is firstly out of instinct, and then through engaging our analytical side to justify our decisions. Malcolm Gladwell turned this topic into a whole book called ‘Blink’

The problem with this decision making process, is that our gut instinct is primed by our ancestral reptilian brain, our upbringing, current stress levels and how we are primed at every moment by environmental factors. Once we have made a decision based on gut instinct and backed it up with thought it’s very difficult for us to change our attitudes – they become entrenched. In order to win friends and influence people it’s vital to appeal to their emotional side to have half a chance of getting them to see your point of view. It’s even better if you can train yourself to be dispassionate about your view point and strive to see things from theirs – in this way, through dialogue, we often find there is a view of the world that lies between us which is a more perfect representation of truth.

How reasoning can be tricked

As small children, we explore the world through our likes and dislikes. In Yoga and Buddhism these early likes and dislikes are described as seeds, or samskaras. According to these traditions, samskaras are embedded experiences that we are born with from past lives. Western psychology agrees that we are born with tendencies or personality types – for example a tendency to be open or closed, agreeable or not etc. We are not born blank slates. As we develop these seeds ripen according to the environment that we grow up in. They are watered with love or hatred, kindness or cruelty.

In the eastern traditions, there are infinite seeds of possibility but we have tendencies to develop in one way or another. In addition to these seeds children adopt the traditions and morals of their parents and peers. We have a tendency to quickly assimilate information from our surroundings about the way society accepts is the “right” way to proceed in life. These samskaras and later learned social behaviours are often buried deeply within our subconscious. At a basic primal level they direct many (if not all) of our behaviours. We bury this stuff deep because in order to function in a fast moving, information packed world, we simply don’t have time to reflect on every decision that we are faced with. Automatic processing is a vital part of being human. We have to rely on gut instincts, but sometimes these gut instincts lead us in a direction that if we stopped and thought for a while, make little sense.

The psychologist Jonathan Haidt uses the analogy of the rider and the elephant to explore this idea. Simplistically (although it is obviously way more complex than this), the elephant is the intuitive/emotional response part of our reasoning processes and the rider the analytical part.

The following fascinating bits of research demonstrate how easily how instinct can be influenced :

What the elephant eats and drinks changes the way we think and act – In 2011 participants in a study were asked a series of moral dilemma type questions – for example, should cousins be allowed to marry? What are good time limits for abortions? etc. Prior to being asked the questions, half the group were given a bitter tasting drink and half, a sweet tasting drink – you guessed it! The bitter drink tasters responded to the questions in a more moralistic manner. The elephant was primed to react in a certain way through drink – bitter, don’t like, shouldn’t, don’t do that (Eskine, Kacinic, Prinz 2011) and the others, responded in a more thoughtful and analytic way.

What the elephant touches, changes the way we think and act – In one study participants who were asked to wash their hands prior to the study gave answers which were more moralistic. – I’m clean, you should be too, behave in a morally upstanding way. (Chenbo Zhong at uni of Toronto 2010) .

What the elephant smells changes the way we think and act – In another study participants who were exposed to fart smells also gave answers which indicated “higher” or more conservative moral standards – that’s disgusting, I’m experiencing disgust, I’m expecting to be disgusted, that moral dilemma scenario disgusts me, this is my reaction……….

What the elephant sees changes the way we think and act – In trials, juries are more likely to acquit attractive people and judges give leaner sentences – you look cute, I like you, I’m expecting good things from you, there must be a reason you did what you did. In US elections to the Senate and House of Representatives, those judged most competent according to their pictures won their elections in two thirds of cases – You look dependable, I trust you to do the right thing, You have my vote…. In his research Todorov, found that these gut decisions about looks and competency are made in about 1/10th of a second

What the elephant hears changes the way we think and act – Priming words set expectations that can confuse us! For example, if you link of a series of words in pairs such as sunshine, prolife, happiness, cancer, love, slug etc certain pairings lead us to confusion. For example we read sunshine and then read slug and feel disgust. It takes us a while to compute this conflicting information. It also depends on our deeply held political views. For example, conservatives view ‘prolife’ as a positive term, liberals, a negative infringement of the right of the mother. Link these words for a conservative and they quickly decide whether they like or dislike the pairing. For a liberal the pairing leads to a different type of thinking ie. ‘I like sunshine but I don’t like the word prolife’ – the rider of the elephant becomes engaged because of confusion ! (Morries et al 2003)

In a complex world, where we often have to make difficult decisions, we should try to get the elephant and the rider considering issues together. In the early part of my career at KPMG, we were often instructed to be logical and analytical. An “emotional” response to a situation was frowned upon. There is nothing more irritating than been told to stop being emotional! But in reality, most of us, most of the time, are making little (and big) decisions based purely on gut feel – simple like/dislike triggers – These are the samskaras which have been watered with love or hate throughout our lives.

Dale Carnegie, in his book “How to win friends and influence people” was totally aware that people tend to make decisions based on these primal like/dislike urges. The elephant makes up his mind and then the rider comes up with the logic to back up that gut feel. Once we have made up a story to back up our gut feel it’s really hard to change our point of view. His advice when trying to influence someone was to “begin in a friendly way, smile, be a good listener, never directly contradict” . He was aware that you need to talk to the elephant, to understand where they are coming from. In this way, with an open heart you may also be in a position to appreciate that the truth lies through dialogue and that is probably somewhere between your points of view.

Friendly dialogue primes the elephant – he’s nice and friendly, I’m expecting to hear nice things, I’m relaxed and open to share ideas.

For those of you thinking that it would be a good idea to somehow train the mind to just be analytical – for the rider to take control and analyse each situation, Antonio Damasio’s research gives the strongest business case for emotional intelligence coaching there is. He studied people with damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex . People damaged in this area are unable to feel emotions such as joy from beautiful images or horror when shown pictures of gruesome murders. Without feeling, these people were paralysed by indecision. Each of the thousands of choices they had to make every day had to be analytically reviewed. These people made terrible life choices.

Research in this area suggests that although we make very quick gut decisions. These decisions can be reversed if we alternate view points from other people. However we need to absorb and reflect on these alternatives. Participants in a study who were provided with arguments against their decision were more likely to change their minds about a topic if they were given a couple of minutes to consider alternatives – so occasionally we need to sit down and reappraise what our default view of the world is.

 Emotional intelligence and yoga

This is what emotional intelligence coaching and yoga does. The practices help you slow the world down and observe your habitual patterns. Yoga also helps you maintain a calm balanced view of the world – Its hard to listen to what your gut is telling you if you are so stressed that your flight or fight mechanism is making every part of your body ache and grumble.

In the next blog I’m going to explore how yoga helps you re-appraise your habitual responses to situations. In the meantime, at work consider your interactions with colleagues and how in order to persuade and influence, you need to have a chat with the elephant in the room.

Emotional intelligence development – engaging the rider and the elephant

To take the MSCEIT emotional intelligence test and take part in our 30 day programme to develop your emotional intelligence email me back and I will send you login and payment details. The programme includes two online psychometric tests (a month a part) , two private and confidential feedback sessions, two group sessions and a 30 day programme to develop skills. 250 (UK pounds) or approximately 370 (Australian dollars) per person

 

Can you measure emotional intelligence?

About five years ago I trained to administer a psychometric test called MSCEIT. This aims to measure a person’s emotional intelligence level. It does this by using an online questionnaire which takes about 30 minutes. The psychologists behind the test spent many years investigating what makes up and defines emotional intelligence. They suggest that it’s the degree to which a person remains open to information provided by emotions (both yours and the people around you) and your ability to incorporate this successfully into your decision making process. Making good decisions which are well communicated, and in tune with those around you, is at the heart of emotional intelligence.

The designers of the test divided an assessment of a persons emotional intelligence into four areas:

Recognising emotions – the ability to observe the physical manifestation of emotions in yourself, others and in your general environment – for example you are shown faces and asked to say which emotion the person is probably experiencing

Using emotions – the ability to match an appropriate emotion to a thought task – for example when the task at hand is creative, perhaps the emotion should be fun and upbeat . Where analysis and concentration is required, perhaps more focused, vigilant emotions are required

Understanding – the ability to see cause and effect relationships as emotions come to the surface – you are able to understand why someone is feeling in a particular way and how the situation may develop based on past and current information

Managing emotions – the ability to use the information that has been observed and incorporate it into successful decision making – this is the ability to blend analytical information with what your emotions and those around you are telling you. In the short term this may be the ability to handle stress – perhaps by counting to 4 or going for a run. In the longer term it means understanding what the emotions in yourself and others mean, changing behaviours in yourself, and facilitating change in those around you.

The test results are back in a few days and give your overall assessment score compared to the average population. It also divides the test results into layers so that you also receive test results on each of the four areas. It is this pattern of results which is of most interest. For example one can imagine a situation where someone is great at recognising emotions in other peoples faces but have no idea how to use, understand or manage this information. Or another situation where a person is great at recognising, using, understanding and managing emotions, but very poor at managing their own emotions to create positive work and lifestyle changes. The permutations are endless!

The good news about emotional intelligence is that unlike a personality type (for example how agreeable you are, or how open) which is difficult to budge, emotional intelligence levels can be increased with training. For example, teachers get better at being able to recognise emotions as they spend their careers observing children (often through the backs of their heads!). We all have these abilities, but to develop them it takes effort and focus. I have given feedback for this test many times and have found it very useful in my own life. You obtain feedback from a coach and are then given a program for developing these skills.

“If there is one secret of success it lies in the ability to get the other persons point of view and see things from their angle as well as your own”

Henry Ford

Developing your emotional intelligence – I need volunteers!

All you need to do is:

– take the test once initially, and then again in a months time

– after the first test I will give you private and confidential feedback on your results

– I will then get all the participants together to discuss a program for improving your ability to recognise, use, understand and manage emotions

– Over the next 30 days I will ask you to put the training into practice once a day, and to record your experience. This means deliberately using a model of recognising emotions, using appropriate ones, understanding where they came from and managing emotions. There will be just one task or challenge per day

– If you wish I’ll also get you into a buddy system so that each week you can have a telephone chat with your partner or meet up to discuss how each situation developed and what you have learnt

– during the 30 days you’ll be given online tools to help you recognise emotions – for example there are lots of emotional recognition tools out there

– After 30 days you will take the test again, receive confidential feedback and we’ll get together as a group to share experiences

I will also take the test and do the 30 day challenge with a friend. And hopefully we will all be more emotionally intelligent!

The cost for two psychometric tests plus two group workshops and two one to one feedback sessions is £250. If you can persuade work to pay for it that would be wonderful! If you have friends or colleagues who may be interested in improving their emotional intelligence levels in 30 days please forward this email.

To register interest just email me back and I’ll send back payment methods and organise start times.

Next week I’ll set out the business case for why developing emotional intelligence is a good idea. You might think this is a strange order for things – surely its a good idea to set out the argument for something before trying to sell a test measurement and program for change. Not in this case. Its a no brainer for two reasons. Firstly most people have a gut instinct that getting along with people and understanding what they are about is a key component of success at work, in life and for health reasons. Secondly, most of us like to know how we compare to others. The thing about emotional intelligence or any “skill” is that we are notoriously bad at judging our abilities. For example on average most people who drive a car rate themselves as being above average at driving – obviously this can’t be true. And so it is with emotional intelligence skills. If we have poor skills in at recognising, using, understanding and managing emotions we don’t tend to recognise the fact.

 

Hope you found this useful

 

Andy

 

Developing emotional intelligence

Recently I did a series of Wellbeing workshops for staff at the House of Commons.  In most of the workshops I introduced myself as a former Corporate Finance manager
who retrained by taking a Masters degree in Positive Psychology and then spent years investigating the parallels between Western Psychology, Buddhism and Yoga.
In one of the workshops I introduced myself as a Yoga teacher who used to work in finance.  In general the feedback from the staff was excellent. From the group where I described myself as a Yoga teacher the feedback was decidedly mixed! For example , “why are we taking  wellbeing advice in the workplace from a yoga teacher?”
It was an important lesson for me.  If you have knowledge and experience, let people know about your expertise. I know it sounds obvious but it really brought home to me
the importance of how you project yourself and the power of first impressions. People’s impressions of who they think you are dominate your future relationship.
We need to train our mind to overcome this initial priming and learn to listen with depth – not just to new people but to the colleagues and loved ones that we have had
relationships with for many years.  Our past experiences can drown out the fresh information that people may be trying to give us.
The most emotionally intelligent amongst us stay open to new ideas and fresh signals and use conversations with both old and new acquaintances to better understand
their place in the world.
I started this newsletter by setting out my expertise but my knowledge does not equate to mastery.  As we become more expert in a subject we need to strive to develop the strength
of humility.  Experts need to be confident in their ability to absorb information but not be consumed by their subject and aloof from the rest of us.  Masters in a subject acknowledge
that the more they learn, the more there is to learn and the less certain they can be in their views.  They have confidence in not knowing and seek out the views of others.
The same applies to all of us.  We need to keep listening with fresh ears and eyes.
If you’re interested in learning a model for developing emotional intelligence I’m running an intro course on Saturday s 19 th January
http://breathe-london.com/wellbeingworkshops

New Saturday clinic

Sports,Deep Tissue and Holisic Massage all day with Zoe and Claudia
One to one Yoga OR Deep Tissue Massage and Reiki with Andy 1 to 5pm
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine with Simon 1 to 5pm
Call 0207 261 1658 to book
Hope you found this useful Andy 🙂

Abundance

Abundance

Last week one of my clients told me about a lovely short story which explores how compassion and kindness can transgress social and economic divides. The story ends abruptly with the word ABUNDANCE!  On the tube on the way home the details of the story had already faded but the word abundance still resonated strongly.

What makes people feel abundant?
Research from the fields of behavioural economics and positive psychology informs us that feeling good has little or no relationship to our earnings or how many material possessions we have.  Providing we live in a stable political environment, have access to education and basic healthcare, earning more does not lead to an equivalent incremental increase in how happy we say we are.

Positive Psychology research appears to support some Buddhist teachings – that happiness is a state of mind which can be developed through training rather than through the acquisition of additional material resources.  The pursuit and attainment of wealth may lead to the development of an internal state of happiness but the research suggests it is not the wealth itself that creates happiness, but the journey that is made to attain wealth (ie the friends you meet in your career, the places you visit and enjoy, the sense of self worth developed through the achievement of goals.

Abundance
Life coaching gurus often recommend one of the most important priorities in life is to develop an internal mindset of abundance and wellbeing.  This feeling of abundance somehow attracts more abundance in the form of material wealth, friendships and opportunities.   This kind of moves us into the sphere of quantum physics and the law of attraction – somehow we manifest our physical reality through our intention.  No matter how many quantum physics books I read I’m not sure whether I will truly understand what Schrodinger and his cat were all about, but
I do know that in the social sciences the observer affects the observed and the outcome of the experiment.  I also know that when I observe a part of my body it changes.  For example if I imagine doing bicep curls my biceps grow more than if I was, for example, playing chess  (Shackell, Standing study, Bishop’s University)    A few months back my blogs were about how our perception of “reality” is influenced by mood, eg. happier people see a greater variety and ranges of colour.  But can it be that my thoughts create and influence all I see?

How does feeling abundant attract abundance?  Ignoring the quantum physics possibilities for a moment I thought of three evidence-based ways in which abundance (or the opposite) might spread.

The spread of emotions – maybe we smell them
Researchers at the University of Utrecht have uncovered a mechanism by which emotions may spread and this may impact our feelings of abundance.  It appears that different emotions have different chemical compositions which we can perceive in each other at a very subtle level and are transferable.  The smell of perspiration released by men while feeling afraid or repulsed was enough to trigger the same emotional reaction in women, an experiment showed.  When exposed to bottled sweat given off by men as they watched clips from the film “The Shining”, women began showing physical signs of being afraid such as a fearful facial expression, darting eye movements and heavier sniffing.  In contrast, the smell of perspiration from men who had been watching MTV’s Jackass – which features stomach-churning stunts – caused a disgusted facial expression and other signs of the emotion including a reduction in eye movement and sniffing.

These findings suggest certain emotions can be contagious and can be detected via chemical signals, even though the women were not aware of it at the time, researchers said.  This system might have evolved as an unconscious form of communication, where fear could be spread between people to warn them of imminent danger, and disgust could be shared to highlight the risks of toxic foods or chemicals.  Dr Gün Semin of Utrecht University, who led the study, says “these findings are important because they contradict the common assumption that human communication occurs exclusively through language and visual cues. Importantly, the women were not aware of these effects and there was no relationship between the effects observed and how pleasant or intense the women judged the stimuli to be.”

Further studies could help establish whether other emotions like happiness or anger, which are less directly related to survival, are equally contagious.

If we pick up the message “this person is giving off abundance vibes”, we may be more willing to trust that person.  We may expect they are more likely to give us something rather than try and attain something from us, and are more likely to welcome these people because they are unlikely to detract from our own abundance.

Spread of emotions through facial signals
In their 2003 study Ebling & Levenson suggest people have a simplistic subconscious system of attract versus repulse and these prime directives are expressed in signals on our faces.

As far back as 1986, Mullen’s study of the influential effects of news broadcasters’ expressions on presidential elections, concluded that micro-facial expressions have a significant impact on peoples attract/repulse mechanism. A newscaster’s clear positive favouritism towards one candidate was shown to influence voting patterns. The study noted this was in spite of the tendency of the news channel in question to run negative stories about the candidate. The positive micro expressions seemed to be more influential than the negative words expressed. In 1980 Wells & Petty illustrated how facial impression and movement of the head (nodding agreement) can be influenced by “senders” of energy and this in turn influences decision making and mood. Positive and negative emotions are as much an outside-in as an inside-out mechanism.

When one group of individuals are asked to remember a stressful event they produce identifiable, common facial patterns. When a second group is asked to mimic some of these expressions, without being asked to consider a stressful event, both groups suffer similar physiological effects. This implies that the face not only mimics inner thoughts and feelings but also drives these processes. The face may be both a display cabinet for emotions and also act as a creator of authentic emotions.

Our abundance or lack of it can be on display for all to see.

Choosing the right goals 
When you feel abundant you are more likely to feel calm, centred and relaxed.  In this state you may be less likely to follow the crowd.  You have the confidence to choose the goals and activities which are meaningful to you.  Being motivated by fear and a sense of internal poverty may make us work hard but seeking abundance through external gratification often fails to satisfy the inner hollowness.

Recommendations
If you can smell an inner mental state on other people, and see it written on their faces and these states are able to transfer between people, its sort of understandable why on meditation retreats people are asked to avoid contact with each other.  We’re trained to develop a positive, abundant internal mental state which we can then, hopefully transmit to the world around us.

A great book aimed at creating an abundant mindset is Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom.  Its a wonderful fusion of neuroscience and Buddhist practices.  It explores how you go about training your mind to feel kind, compassionate and abundant.

Hope you found this useful
Cheers Andy

Emotional contagion; how emotions spread at work

Contagious emotions
I am fascinated by the research about how emotions are transferred between us. For example in their 2003 study Ebling & Levenson  suggest that people have a simplistic subconscious  system of attract versus repulse and these prime directives are expressed in signals on our faces.

As far back as 1986 Mullen’s  study of the influential effects of Newscaster expressions on presidential elections, concluded that, micro facial expressions have a significant impact on peoples attract/repulse mechanism. A newscaster’s clear positive favouritism towards one candidate was shown to influence voting patterns. The study noted that this was in spite of the tendency of the news channel in question to run negative stories about the candidate. The positive micro expressions seemed to be more influential than the negative words expressed. In 1980 Wells & Petty illustrated how facial impression and movement of the head (nodding agreement) can be influenced by “senders” of energy and this in turn influences decision making and mood. Positive and negative emotions are as much an outside in as an inside out mechanism.

When one group of individuals are asked to remember a stressful event they produce identifiable, common facial patterns. When a second group is asked to mimic some of these expressions, without being asked to consider a stressful event, both groups suffer similar physiological effects. This implies that the face not only mimics inner thoughts and feelings but also drives these processes. The face may be both a display cabinet for emotions and also act as a creator of authentic emotions.

Emotions in the workplace

In 2005 Losada studied a number of management teams formulating business plans. He observed the relationship between the volume of positive expressions to negative expressions between team members (both verbal and non verbal). He then looked at the performance of the teams in the following period and found that the transmission of positive and negative emotions, through words and non verbal expression, was shown to lead to a state of flourishing, if the ratio was greater than 2.9.

In that study flourishing was defined as the profitability of the team as well as customer and staff satisfaction. In a 2004 study Shelly found that when there is a supportive network of people, to share positive events with, it is the sharing and rejoicing of an event that leads to greater wellbeing than the event itself. The degree to which positive, affirming words and body language are used in relation to sharing an event predicts the level to which wellbeing is raised.

Barbara Fredrickson has spent many years investigating the effects of positive emotions such as joy, interest, contentment and love and has concluded the following:
– They allow us to think in a broad expansive manner
– They undo the effects of negative emotions on physiology, the way you think and the way you act
– They build intellectual, physical, social and psychological resources; and
– They create a virtuous spiral of emotions leading to increasing levels of wellbeing.

The Losada research also looked at teams where there was a ratio of positive to negative expressions in excess of 8 to 1 and found that these teams were also languishing rather than flourishing. This points to the obvious conclusion that we need some bite in the workplace as well as nurturing.  I think that the key points that HR departments need to draw from this research are as follows:

– Ensure that staff have a clear understanding of how to use emotions at work, in particular how to match the appropriate emotion to the task in hand
– Be aware that because emotions are easily transferable and escalate its easy for the mood of an organization to tilt into a downward spiral (below the magic number of 2.9)
– Get into the habit of celebrating the strengths and achievements of individuals and teams
– Find authentic, fun ways to raise the overall mood of the organization

We need to learn skills to help us switch between emotions in a calm manner and have the ability to return to the default position within an organization which is happy and upbeat.  In our next newsletter we will explore a simple system for recognising, using, understanding and managing emotions in the workplace.

 

 

Positive Psychology – barriers to happiness

“When you arise in the morning think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think to enjoy, to love”  Marcus Aurelius

 

As a race humans are, in general, optimistic about the future.  When asked how satisfied we are with our life now the average response is approximately 7 out of 10  and when asked how satisfied they think we will be in the future most people say they will be more satisfied then than now. At the same time research suggests that we have a tendency to focus on our deficits rather than our strengths, our failings rather than our successes and what we crave rather than what we have. So on the one hand we are satisfied whilst at the same time restless and feel incomplete.

The power of restlessness can be a motivating energy that drives us forward and helps us to achieve great success in life.  It moves us on, thrusting and conquering.  It can be a force for great good, for example when scientists and philanthropists diligently apply their energy, passion and knowledge to overcoming the challenges we face.  It can also be the most destructive force on the planet destroying individual wellbeing, global wellbeing and the environment.

So lets consider the barriers to happiness and why we may feel this underlying restlessness:

The hedonic treadmill – When we enjoy a new material possession, for example a car or a house, our minds quickly adjust to the heightened experience.  Research suggest that at first when we enjoy a new thing we feel “happier” but within no time at all we are back to where we started, restless and seeking the next thing to consume

We are more alert to danger and our defects rather than our opportunities and strengths – From an evolutionary perspective this makes perfect sense.  In the 19th century life expectancy in the UK was 35.  Prior to the 20th century it was often a violent and dangerous world and we needed to be on our toes. As Steven Pinker noted in “A history of violence” despite all its carnage the 20th century was statistically the least violent century there has been and the trend is continuing to improve in the 21st century.  There are many challenges facing us now but in general we’ve never had it so good.  However brains change slowly and training the mind to be receptive to the positive as much as to the negative influences around requires tenacity and heightened awareness.  There are many wonderful exercises arising from Positive Psychology research which remind us to cherish what we have and remind us to count our blessings.  When we are aware of our evolutionary bias, which tends to focus our minds on problems, we can re train our minds to focus on our strengths and those of colleagues and friends. A positive mental outlook goes hand in hand with positive emotions and a healthy body.  With positive emotions and a healthy body we are better equipped to overcome the inevitable loss and suffering which inevitably will come into all our lives

Our ancestors – Studies indicate that when we respond to a survey about how happy we are, the answer that we give is likely to be highly pre determined by heritable factors.  Whether you are a 5 or a 9 out of 10 is determined by three main key factors: your ancestors, the circumstances in your life (for example how much money you make) and lastly the choices that you have made that day to influence your mood state. 50% of the variance between your answer and the average for the population is determined by heritable factors.  In psychology that’s a huge percentage and suggests that the view that we have of our own happiness and how happy we think we will be in the future is fairly well determined at birth.  And as a reminder of why this self evaluation of happiness is important – the more satisfied people say they are with their lives the longer they are likely to live and the healthier they are likely to be.

On the flip side studies indicate that just 10% of our self reported happiness levels are down to the circumstances in our life (eg how much money we earn) and a further 40% is down to the choices we make on a daily basis.  That’s a great positive message.  With this knowledge we can remind ourselves each day that although we have a tendency to have a certain level of happiness which is influenced by our ancestry, it is not fixed.  We have the power to re-write a new future for ourselves and our children.  The key to this may be to raise awareness about the tools that we have been born with – the tendencies that we are born with that propel us towards success or destruction.  When we are able to observe these tendencies in ourselves, our parents and our grandparents it makes it easier to create new positive habits and rituals. This is similar to the karmic tendencies that Hindus believe we inherit from past lives.  They also note importantly each day we are given the opportunity to start again, begin afresh and rewrite the present and the future.  They call this Aagami karma – the karma that you are creating at this moment with your thoughts, emotions and actions.

So today Positive Psychology seems to confirm some aspects of 4,000 years of Vedic teaching – that through the power of positive thought it is possible to manifest a beautiful mind and life.  Buddhist and Vedic scholars remind us that life is over in a flash and that true happiness comes from being authentic, compassionate and kind. Ignorance is when we forget to reflect on the marvel of being alive.  Here’s that quote again:

“When you arise in the morning think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think to enjoy, to love”

Marcus Aurelius

Over the last five years I’ve been lucky to have been asked to run positive psychology and emotional intelligence workshops for some great organizations including Amerada Hess, The House of Commons, Global Capital, KPMG and the training arm of the NHS.  If you think your organization could benefit from a bit of Positive Psychology forward this mail onto your colleagues or contact Andy Roberts to find out more details about our workshops.