We all know how irritating and intrusive smart phones can be and how often we lecture our kids about engaging positively in conversations. Many of us recall how we used to sit around the dinner table and talk about the day with friends and family. As our relationship with technology develops, our level and quality of attention seems to be diminishing. Many of us find it hard to focus on a report at work, read a book or be mindful of the feelings of our nearest and dearest.
There is a growing body of evidence that suggest having a constant low level of partial attention has an adverse affect on our wellbeing levels. It’s apparent to most people that constantly checking Facebook statuses takes us away from having real life experiences and forces us to compare our lives with those of our friends. The vast majority of posts on Facebook report the positive experiences people enjoy, often containing an element of bragging. When people constantly compare statuses it forces them to compare own lives with those of their friends. Surrounded by this self-reported positivity some people conclude their own lives are less adequate than their peers.
Apart from social media, another great stressor is the constant flow of work emails. These constant notifications take our attention from living a healthy balanced home life and make us focus around the clock on work problems.
Switch it off and connect
In order to encourage people to spend a little more time living in the present we thought it would be a good idea to encourage people to disconnect from TV, smartphones, tablets and laptops for 30 minutes a day for 28 days.
These are the simple ground rules for the switch off:
- not during work time except during a lunch break
- not whilst driving to and from work
You can do anything else you like – play with your children, read a novel, meditate, eat with friends, practice yoga, take a walk, eat dinner… anything really, so long as it’s done with your full attention.
Breathe Australia and Breathe London are looking for organisations in Australia and the UK to encourage their employees to sign up. Initially we are inviting those in Queensland and Central London to take part but hope to expand the scheme throughout Australia and the UK
We propose to go into each company and give a quick talk on what happens to your brain when you have continuous partial attention. We briefly explore how having our attention switched on to so many different sources rewires the brain and makes it difficult to focus on the things that bring us meaning and happiness. We then teach simple techniques to help focus attention.
We also give those who sign up a reflective journal to note down what they do with their thirty minutes and record how it makes them feel.
At the start of the 28 days we ask participants to rate how satisfied they are with their lives and make a note in their journal. At the end of 28 days we get them to rate their satisfaction again and record how they felt about the process. We also ask them to obtain feedback from their partners or a close friend on what they observed during the process.
Why spend more time in the present?
Research suggests that people who spend more time living in the present and less time worrying about the future, or ruminating about the past, are happier than those who let their attention drift from the here and now.
In fact the happiest people seem to be able to shift their attention seamlessly between living in the present, reminiscing positively about the past and having constructive and optimistic thoughts about the future. This can be described as a Balanced Time Perspective (Boniwell and Zimbardo 2004) Read more about the research on time
Our 28 day course encourages people to stay present and connect in a meaningful way to the people and things they love. Spending too much time online makes us focus on other peoples’ experiences (Facebook) or other people’s problems (work emails).
The research suggests that training our minds to be more present more often increases the level of positive emotions we experience and has a long term positive impact on how satisfied we are with our lives (Fredrickson 2008) Read more about Fredrickson’s study
Why ask people about life satisfaction?
Asking people how satisfied they are with their lives is one of the most commonly used tools to assess wellbeing and has been used in many worldwide studies on wellbeing, creativity and productivity at work
We are beginning to make a clear connection between productivity in the workplace and happiness. Happier employees are more productive than their colleagues, and are more mindful of interpersonal relationships (Oswald, Proto, Sgroi 2014) Read more about happiness and flourishing workplaces and Happiness at work.
By asking participants to reflect on their wellbeing levels and record their experience in a journal it increases the likelihood that the 28 day attention training will have long lasting benefits. They will practice something new, reflect on the change and document the results. This embeds learning.
What the organisation gets from this training
- A training attention workshop for their staff
- Employees with an improved ability to focus their attention
- Happier and more engaged staff
Reaching out to the community
In Australia we are charging an introductory rate of $50 for each person signing up. Fifty percent of this will be donated to charity. We are seeking four Australian charities to buddy up with.
In the UK this is £30 per person and once again we are looking for four charities to connect with.
The next step
We’re looking for organisations, initially in Queensland and Central London, who want to advertise the scheme to their staff.
For more details contact me at Breathe Australia (for both UK and Australian enquiries).
About Breathe Australia and Breathe London
I set up Breathe in 2003 with Tom Te Whaiti. After a Corporate Finance career, in Sydney with KPMG, I left for India and studied to be a Yoga teacher. In 2007 my study of wellbeing led me to enrol in the first Masters Degree course in Positive Psychology in Europe. Since I left Australia I created a thriving wellbeing business in the UK with a team of twenty mind and body therapists. Back in the UK my personal wellbeing work has expanded to include corporate wellbeing and over the last ten years I have presented on Positive Psychology, Emotional Intelligence and Meditation to staff at the House of Commons, Amerada Hess and back at KPMG. The UK business is Breathe London www.breathe-london.com
My Masters degree dissertation was “Introducing Attention Techniques at Work”
We have now set up a Positive Psychology business in Townsville and Sydney and are hoping to make a positive impact in business, education and the wider community here, and throughout Australia. For more information check out www.breathe-australia.com
Boniwell & Zimbardo, 2004; Boyd & Zimbardo, 2005
Fredrickson, B., Cohn, M., Coffey, K. A, Pek, J., & Finkel, S. M. (2008). Open Hearts Build Lives: Positive Emotions, Induced Through Loving-Kindness Meditation, Build Consequential Personal Resources.Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95 (5), 1045–1062.
Fredrickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive. New York: Crown.
Oswald, Proto, Sgroi 2014
More about continuous partial attention https://breathenews.wordpress.com/positive-psychology-articles/neural-plasticity/
This is the seventh in our series of blogs and newsletters about the courses and teachers that have inspired me. This week I’m looking at how our perception of time and the thoughts we have influences our wellbeing
Where we focus our thoughts in time and whether we have a positive or negative attitude to events, affects the way we feel and our levels of wellbeing. Some thought patterns nurture us and help us to achieve our dreams whilst others hold us back. We have the ability to think about the past, present or future and we can events in these thought dimensions in either a “positive” or “negative” way.
Research tells us that each of us has a certain amount of mental energy which we are able to use for work, rest and play. It also suggests that we have differing propensities to spend more of this energy thinking about the past or the future than being present and experiencing life in real time. In addition to this, we interpret the past in either a positive or negative way and interpret the present either by enjoying the moment or by seeing life as a fatalistic stream of events outside of our control.
We can divide our propensity to think in certain ways as follows:
· Thinking about the past in a positive way
· Thinking about the past in a negative way
· Being here and now and experiencing events in real time
· Experiencing current events in a fatalistic way
· Being future minded
Obviously there are other ways to think, such as thinking about the future in a positive or a negative way or being in a meditative, non thinking state and so on. However the five dimensions above cover most types of thinking. We all spend time moving between these five main states, switching from thoughts about the past to help us interpret the present and then dreaming and planning the future.
Each of these styles of thinking serves an important purpose. Happy memories help us reflect on past achievements, cherish the things and people we love. They also help create positive emotions, which have a wonderful impact on our physiology. Negative memories from the past serve as a warning to us to modify behaviours and avoid dangers.
Being present and enjoying the here and now helps us to enjoy life as it happens in real time. If your thoughts constantly take you away from now, your ability to fully experience events as they happen is lessened. Occasionally being fatalistic can be of benefit because there is an appreciation that although we strive in life to be healthy, loving and kind, sometimes we all have to let go and accept the inevitability of change. Thinking about the future sets the stage for our growth, can fuel our optimism and helps us plot a course through life. This constant movement and progression enables us to enjoy a stream of new experiences in the present.
The ideal situation is for us to have balanced ways of thinking. This means that our thoughts effortlessly flow between time dimensions and attitudes without getting stuck. The problem is that our thoughts and emotions tend to be “sticky”. To give you an example, if we have a strong negative experience, we may experience a strong negative emotional reaction which may have a profound physiological effect on our body and neurological effect on our brain. Sometimes when we experience, or think we are about to experience a similar event, the old thoughts, emotions and physical reactions come rushing back.
Such patterns can develop quickly or build over time and before long, without us even realising it, we are caught in a pattern of ruminating over past negative experiences, replaying them again and again, blaming others, blaming ourselves and reducing our energy and ability to think about other things. Such patterns can debilitate us and lock us into the past. In such a scenario, if we have a propensity to negatively ruminate we increase the likelihood that we interpret new events in a negative manner. The way our thoughts determine our enjoyment of experience is profound.
The happiest people tend to be able to switch effortlessly between different thought dimensions. The unhappiest people tend to spend most of their time negatively dwelling about the past or being fatalistic about their lot in life. Being happy is associated with a good balance of being future minded, enjoying the present and reflecting positively on the past.
Consider the following questions :
Are you grounded and feel warmth and love from past memories?
Is the past a place of fear that stops you enjoying the present and planning for a positive future?
Are you resigned to your lot in life?
Do you live life now and feel life as it flows past?
Do you spend your time dreaming about the future?
Increasing awareness of where your thoughts tend to lie is an important stage in personal development. Once you know you have tendencies to think in particular ways then you can reflect on how these affect your life and what, if anything, you would like to change.
I’d like to be more future minded:
How can I set goals which will energise me and are achievable ?
What can I do to learn how to use positive visualisation to imagine a bright, vibrant future?
How can I identify what I’m best at and how can I use my top strengths best?
I’d like to enjoy and savour living in the present
How can I introduce mindfulness and meditation in my life?
How do I ensure that I spend a few moments appreciating the natural environment every day?
How can I focus my attention every day on the little things that bring me joy?
I’d like to spend more time savouring the good things from my past and my achievements:
How can I spend a few moments every day thinking about the heroes in my life? What strengths do they have and how do they provide a guiding light in my life?
What can I do to challenge my beliefs about people or situations that have hurt me in the past?
How can I spend more time reflecting on my achievements and those of loved ones? What did I learn from those experiences?
Maybe we have a tendency to spend less of our energy living in the present and listening to other people because as we grow older there is more information about the past contained in our memories and we are constantly drawn to reliving past experiences and interpreting the present by relating it to the past.
Following on from last weeks newsletter, we delude ourselves that we are getting wiser as we get older and that we have a safe bank of reliable data to rely on. This is very far from the truth. Research about wisdom indicates that there is no relationship between age and wisdom. We need to be more like children and not take the present for granted.
The present is magical and real. Life is to be enjoyed here and now.
Today’s Breathe London blog is contributed by Charlotte Style, author of “Brilliant Positive Psychology” and member of the Breathe London wellbeing team http://breathe-london.com/life-coaching
“Today I choose life. Every morning when I wake up I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain… To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices – today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but embrace it.” Kevyn Aucoin
What are you choosing? More importantly how and why are choosing how you choose to think and act?
This sounds either mindless or confusing but whenever I get my clients to start to think about the reasons and motivation behind their actions it is always challenging.
We choose differently in different areas of our lives and as we go through life the choices that suited us in our youth are different to those as we get older and at every life change.
In my last blog I touched on the accumulated affect of all the little things. We change and our circumstances change in some ways so gradually and surreptitiously that perhaps we don’t notice and if we don’t notice we can get ‘out of date’ with our own life. Sometimes we can even forget to choose fun!
One of the ways we choose is our time perspective.
The psychologist Philip Zimbardo writes and talks about the importance of choosing our time perspective and how our happiness and well being is affected by how much (and in what way) we choose to focus on the past, present and future. You can see him talking about this at http://ted.com/talk/lang/eng/philip_zimbardo_prescribes_a_healthy_take_on_time.html
Zimbardo’s conclusion is that he used to be too future orientated (choosing how he lived only in respect to future outcomes) and that he is now much more present focused and consequently much happier. He is making an important point that to betoo future orientated is not good for your health and wellbeing. His professional achievements, that he now enjoys, came directly as a result of his choice to be single mindedly future focused but he woke up to the cost of his choice (which I believe has much more to do with his age than his research) and wishes he had done so sooner now he has discovered the joy of choosing to live in the present. -Zimbardo’s message is that just choosing one focus and perspective, however successful, can come at a price.
Our choices are often in competition and can be affected by hidden – or at least unacknowledged, motivations. When this happens we can feel out of control.
In my book Brilliant Positive Psychology I have started with the power of choice because we are actually choosing everything- not just our time perspective. We are making many many choices -much more that we realise- in fact happiness itself is a choice. By taking a moment to examine what we are choosing (and why) we can begin to evaluate and change our perspective in all areas of life. How we choose to see other people and events, how we choose to see ourselves, and how and what we choose to do what we do. Choosing to choose can be very empowering.
The choices I am talking about are not what to buy, eat or get, but how we choose to think and what we choose to value. In fact one of the best choices you can make for your happiness and wellbeing is to do and have less! Research has told us that having too much choice and always trying to get the most from everything doesn’t make us feel good.
In order to change how you think you first have to choose to think!
This is an extract from Brilliant Positive Psychology p.11
Below are some of the ways you are choosing your experience
and well-being; these are some of the factors that govern how
and why you make choices, and, in effect, how you choose to
think and feel. All these influences are part of your complexity
and only you can change or increase what influences your
1 What you need and value. You choose what you need.
Your basic needs are as individual as you are and what
you need are the things that matter most to you, what you
2 As a response. You choose your response to how others
behave and act, and to outside circumstances. Someone
else’s actions affect your choices. This is often an emotional response
3 To conform as part of a group. You choose because it
is socially appropriate. You choose to do things you feel
you should do because it is considered by others to be the
choice you should make. You choose cultural and social
4 With autonomy. You choose completely freely and
unrestrained. You choose novelty, excitement and
uncertainty, for your immediate pleasure.
5 With your mind. You choose to do something logically
because it makes sense to you.
6 As a habit. You choose out of habit. You choose
mindlessly, doing what you have always done without
thinking about it.
7 With understanding. You choose what you understand
and is meaningful to you. When you understand why you
want to do something, you have a reason to choose it.
What are you choosing right now?
Are you awake and open to change?
Are you content and grateful for how much you have or do you
Are you living ‘your’ life or for someone else and have you chosen this?
Are you choosing to see problems or solutions?
Are you learning from your mistakes or do you feel a failure?
Are you looking forward to the future or does the past hold you in
Are you choosing safety or adventure?
Are you choosing to be generous with your gifts or do you hold the
best of you only for those who deserve it?
Are you choosing to judge yourself and others or are you choosing
to see the best in yourself and others?
Why not choose to become more aware of the choices you are making today, especially in respect to time.
Look at different areas of your life in the list below and put each area in the middle of the mind map and play with some of the perspectives. Note down which perspective you are choosing and then note down what you might choose from a different perspective.
- How or what are you choosing in your career, at work, professionally.
- How or what are you choosing to spend your time recreationally, for fun, in your social life.
- How or what are you choosing in respect to your romantic life, significant other.
- What are you choosing in respect to where you live, your environment.
- What or how are you choosing financially, to keep yourself and others.
- How or what are you choosing for yourself, your soul.
- How or what are you choosing for others, the wider world.