Sunday, January 30, 2011

Social Investment

When the Beatles penned the lyrics “I get by with a little help from my friends” I wonder if they were aware of one of the longest-running psychological studies of all time; the Harvard Men’s Study. What this study reveals after following 268 men from 1930 to the present day is that their happiness was not determined by their GPA scores, family income, SAT Scores, age, gender or race, but their social connection to the world.

When life gets hard, we often retreat into ourselves. We detach from others, brood, feel sorry for ourselves, and generally cut ourselves off from our network of family friends and colleagues. We think we need time to “sort things out.” Yet this is the last thing we should be doing. Staying connected with people actually helps us survive and thrive. Ultimately we spiral up and out of our funk.

In keeping with my new year of resolutions, I took to the social investment front (principle #7) beginning on Friday evening with the Numega alumni crowd. As I made the rounds greeting old friends and former colleagues I heard again and again “Pat, what is different with you? New hairdo? Lose weight? What?” These comments had me curious. I have not changed my hair or lost weight, yet as I mulled these comments over in my mind, it occurred to me that the only thing different is my practice of the Happiness Advantage and following Shawn Achor’s 7 principles. The changes that people are seeing are not on the outside of me, but coming from the inside of me.

As I left work Friday after a particularly stressful day, my head was not in the party mood. My thoughts roiled in the old Pat way feeding on the very blackness those thoughts produced. Then someone cut me off, and I missed my exit. I tried to call a friend that I’d be delayed and my cell phone repeatedly explained to me that “all circuits were busy.” That was it. I pulled off at the next exit, parked myself at Panera ‘s ordered a salad and pulled out my notebook. I’ve been keeping this notebook as a way to argue with myself, review the principles and record other tidbits that help me stay on the path of the Happiness Advantage. By the time the salad was done, I was back on track, felt much better, and had reviewed memories that produced inward and outward smiles (principle #1). The invisible hand that guides me knew I was in no frame of mind to take full advantage of the reunion until I had washed the days stress out of my head.

Before I could sit back long enough to enjoy the benefits of the Numega reunion, I was off to the New England Rider’s holiday party. (Always in January as the real holiday season is just too hectic.) As I greeted old friends, Andy selected a place to park our coats. When it came time for the meal, we found ourselves alone at the end of a long table, with others at the circular tables in the room lending to a more intimate gathering. I remarked to Andy that he could have selected more convenient seating so that we could have a conversed with the others by proximity. I looked up from my plate and a hand shot up and waved in my direction. The smile it produced on my face reached inside to my soul.

As the evening progressed and with the meal over, one by one the ladies and gents wandered over to sit with us and chat. The New England riders have always been a welcoming and friendly crowd. You are always treated like family, they have concern for one another, and every member from the newest to the oldest feels the welcoming warmth that radiates from this group. Could it be the New England Riders have always know intuitively how much social investment pays back in good health and longevity? It would seem so because every effort is made to ensure that deposit are made that will ensure dividends.

This morning as Andy and I review the evening, he is telling me how good it felt to see all the ladies come over and speak with me. “They looked over and said ‘Pat is one of us, I’m going over to say hello’ “. Andy is of course practicing a principle without the realization. One could say “the ladies felt sorry for you sitting all the way over here alone” yet he gave himself a counter fact in them recognizing me as one of their own. I like his thinking and it’s just as valid as any other thought.

My current audio book is “Healthy at 100” by John Robbins, and in all the good advice this audio book has for health and longevity, the one theme that occurs over and over, is the social connection the elders in our society have with the world. The Beatles it seems knew what they were talking about after all. We can feel vindicated in our parents shaking their heads over those long haired weirdo’s. We do indeed get by with a little help from our friends.

Oh, I get by with a little help from my friends,
Mmm, gonna try with a little help from my friends
Ooh, I get high with a little help from my friends
Yes I get by with a little help from my friends,
with a little help from my friends

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Third Path

This week I’m getting a firsthand lesson in principle #4; falling up. Falling up is the principle whereby we capitalize on the downs to build upward momentum. There are many dramatic examples of “falling up” from overcoming serious forms of adversity such as life threatening illnesses to surviving some of the worse that life can throw at us. Sometime’s though, it’s the small things that undo us. However, it’s not really our circumstance that undoes us, but how we see it, what we believe about it, and if we believe it is permanent or temporary.

What are my current adversities? While there are several, all small in comparison to world issues, they are never-the-less closest to me and therefore directly affecting me. As I watch the events unfold before me, I am beginning to see my reactions and how they are long standing and habitual. Until recently I had never “watched” me react, believing only that the reactions are normal and pervasive among everyone experiencing the same thing.

I have two areas that I’m currently watching. I will talk more freely about one, and leave the second to you to apply to your own personal issue to see if you find for yourself improvement, relief, and satisfaction from the current circumstance. When faced with adversity we have to understand and recognize a few things first. Feeling helpless is a learned behavior, what we believe about our circumstance is our “explanatory style” and not necessarily the facts.

In December, there was a shakeup in my department at work. Like many, I get nervous and jumpy whenever there are changes in the workplace, considering what the unemployment landscape has been like these past few years. I felt that the new marching orders were demeaning, insulting and that others were being heard and pampered in ways that failed to have my contributions looked at as having supported and benefited the company’s growth.

When I saw myself reacting in this way, I recognized it as my old habits and began to look to see if these were helping me or hurting me. Of course I want them to help me, and this line of thinking wasn’t going to help. Did I feel I had no control over the situation? (Learned helplessness as in you can’t fight city hall?) What was my explanatory style for why the changes were being made? Here I realized I didn’t really have all the facts and was making many assumptions. Assumptions we know can be right or wrong and I had no idea which they were. What I needed in this instance was to apply my ABCD’s to walk me out of this current thinking to a successful outcome.

What are ABCD’s? In the “Happiness Advantage” ABCD stands for adversity, belief, consequence, and disputation.
• What is the adversity?
• What do I believe about it, how it affects me and why I think it happened?
• What are the consequences of what I tell myself about the beliefs?
• If a friend told me the things I was telling myself would I let him get away with it? How would I dispute what he was telling me?
I found this very helpful and decided to change my explanatory style for what I believed was happening in the department. Did what I think about why it was happening really the truth? Or was I making up scenarios in my head with no basis in fact? If I acted upon my beliefs as if they were fact, what would be the consequences of my actions? It was the disputation that I found most effective. It moved me away from my initial belief realizing I really had no information about the reasons why and that any action would be futile or even detrimental to my current status.

In the end, I changed my explanatory style about the situation, argued with myself as if with a friend, and offered up some counter facts about why the changes were taking place, and slowly and surely the third path emerged. I’m taking a new look at my current position, realizing that there are opportunities for me here, and that my ability to interact closely with every member of the organization is at my fingertips. If I pay attention along this third path, what other opportunities await me?

What situations are affecting you? Try applying your ABCD’s and really argue with yourself over the beliefs you hold about it? Then look for that third path out. It’s not easy to remember so you have to practice at it. It is especially hard to apply when you are so close to a situation you can’t see how the habits have built up over a lifetime. I am reminded of my motorcycle training of years ago. When you are in danger of striking an object, the worst thing you can do is look at it, for you will surely hit it. What you MUST do to find the way out is to look away from the object and for the escape route, because where you put your eyes is where the bike will go. You have a choice, hit the object, go into the ditch or find the escape route. Put your eyes where it is you wish to be and find the third path.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Zorro and The Tetris Effect

“We see what we look for and miss the rest.” As the new year of resolutions continues, I focused on learning more about Shawn Achor’s “Tetris Effect.” In short, he uses the game Tetris to show us how we can train our brains to look for the possibilities in our lives. Our beliefs about what is possible are so powerful that they dictate our efforts and actions. The tetris effect helps us train our brains to look for and capitalize on the possibilities in our lives. As in the game of tetris, if played for extended periods of time, we begin to see patterns and shapes and how they might fit together.

I realized when reading this that I have practiced this on occasion in my life with magnificent results. Here are a few examples. Back when I wanted to learn how to ride a motorcycle, I would talk with others about my desire, yet I made no movement toward that end. This is where Zorro came in. The Zorro Circle is derived from the story of Zorro, and how he came to master his skills by training in a small circle and then expanding as he mastered each skill. So with motorcycling, I took the first tiny step; I signed up for the motorcycle safety course.

Now signing up for something doesn’t necessarily mean you will get to your goal, but once you stop thinking about a thing, and begin, the journey takes care of itself. You begin to see the possibilities and the next opportunity presents itself. I took the course, passed, got my license, looked for and found my first perfect bike, and as the years went by the world opened up in ways I had never imagined. I met great people, visited places I never imagined I go, and experienced connectivity with others I hadn’t had since I enjoyed my stint in high school band.

However, as we know life does present challenges to us and it can be hard to know what the first step might be. We get depressed, see only the negative side of things and become stalled and uncertain about what to do next. That is when the Tetris Effect comes in so handy; if we only think to practice it. Yet, I used this very technique without knowing when after three years of sitting in an office I knew would shutter soon, a friend of mine asked “what are you doing to strategize your position in the company?” At the time I was very annoyed, yet those words had me unconsciously watching the landscape more closely. It paid off handsomely and while my commute is long and tiresome, I’m enjoying a renewed sense of purpose in a new location with the same company. I had indeed strategized my position well.

The Tetris Effect requires three drivers to be successful; happiness, gratitude and optimism. As with the soon to be shuttered office, we must capitalize on the downs to build upward momentum, the “third path” as Shawn describes it. It can be hard to see, and people learn helplessness and stop looking for their path out of adversity believing that nothing will change or help. Remember; our beliefs dictate our efforts.

What am I interested in this year? I want to take another great motorcycle trip, yet I know not where. I want to be published again more prominently about riding adventures. I want to drop those 10 pounds that found me. To begin, I’m using the Zorro circle. I’m starting with the drinking of eight-8 ounce glasses of water a day. It’s a baby step toward weight loss. I know I can do this one thing and the next step will be easier. I’m asking other’s about what they are planning for riding adventures in the upcoming season, and I’m paying attention to writing opportunities large and small. Indeed, there were a few uncovered at yesterday’s Monadnock Writer’s Group meeting.

Where do you want to take your life this year? Are you writing your gratitude list, are you thinking that happy thought or remembering a happy moment in your life each morning? You must if you want to build on any of your goals. Work in your tiny circle of influence, expand that each day, and don’t forget to watch the landscape change as you do and the possibilities will come into view on the horizon.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A New Year of Resolutions

As tradition goes, a new year is often viewed as a new beginning, an opportunity to correct or improve upon something; typically within ourselves to “make us better” than we were the year before. It’s a time of looking forward and wondering what the future holds for us and sometimes, making plans to move us toward what we want and away from that which we don’t.

While many of us have good intentions in our resolutions the routine of our days often overshadow our good intentions. As the New Year all too soon becomes the old, we can’t see our progress in relation to our intention unless we look behind us. It’s a dilemma we all face. We can do nothing about the past, can only plan for futures we imagine for ourselves, yet can only affect the present moment we live in. In the moment, it can be difficult to recognize opportunities. We may question the small steps we make as having any effect toward our progress. Or we lose sight of possibilities when stress and adversities, large and small, thwart our advancements.

I too am looking behind. I can see the steps forward I have made, and all the places where I fell down. Over the past year, in an effort to improve the quality of my time during long commutes, so as not to have them wasted minutes of my life, I began listening to audio books. Not just any audio books but those of well respected authors, like Stephen Covey, Jack Canfield, John C. Maxwell, and the newest kid on the block, Shawn Achor. Of all these, the two that have had the most impact are Covey and Achor. These two, in fact, have given me invaluable tools that I have begun implementing in my daily life with amazing effect. So much influence in fact, that I’m adopting a few principles from them as my resolutions for the New Year.

While Covey has inspired me with win/win, and opened my eyes to the damaging ways of, win/lose and lose/win, which had been my way of viewing the word, one of the most interesting chapters has to be habit 5, with ways to really understand someone, and what they are saying and feeling, before wanting or insisting they understand me first. What a revelation and inspiring habit this is, for as I discovered using this principle, that others will easily and without conflict or resentment listen openly to your thinking once you have listened, and given back to them in words better than they have given you, what it is they are trying to say to you. Sounds easy? Try it. If you are successful, you too will walk away in wonderment at the success it delivers.

However, it is Shawn Achor seven principles that I am adopting for the new year, and mixing in Stephen Coveys habits adds more power to them. Like adding a turbo kit to the motorcycle. Shawn tells us that we have been thinking backwards all of our lives and studies have proven it to be so. The flawed thinking is that happiness comes to us when we for example get our dream house, the perfect job, or a super raise. When in fact, happiness comes from within, and success follows. He equates it to the once held belief that the sun and stars revolved around the earth, when in fact, as we now know, the sun is at our center, and the earth revolves around it.

The very first principle ‘the happiness advantage” is something I’ve been practicing each morning. The results have been so successful, that I am looking to implement the other six with serious consideration. That is the point of this whole blog. Over the course of the next year, I intend to use my writing skill to document for myself and occasionally post the results as I go along. For I only have the present moment, and each step is so valuable, it needs chronicling. I want to look back, see how far I have come, know that I have reached the future I envisioned, all while living each moment with intention.

Want to start with me? Then each morning before you begin your day, place in your mind as vivid as you can one moment in your life that made you happy. It doesn’t have to be big. Something simple as how good it felt as a kid to lie in the clover and look up at the clouds. Feel the earth beneath you, take in the scent of clover, remember the warmth of the sun on your face, and the pictures you created with the clouds. Then go on with your day. The influence a pleasant memory has on you will only be evident when you look behind. Yet that one moment you have control of in the morning will pay great dividends in your future. The happiness advantage is a more powerful tool than it appears. Practice it before your next big talk with the boss, the next conference call with an angry customer, or if in school, before the next exam. The outcome of these will surprise you. You won’t ever want to go back to your old habit, which of course, is the whole point of resolutions.