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Archive for the ‘positive psychology, wellbeing & poetry’ Category

Will you die from an overdose of satisfaction?

The delightful Paolo Coelho quotes Salvador Dali in his blog today.  I deduce that Dali is an artist.  But you and I are probably more interested in his attitude to life.

“The difference between false memories and true ones is the same as for jewels: it is always the false ones that look the most real, the most brilliant. At the age of six years I wanted to be a chef. At the age of seven I wanted to be Napoleon. My ambitions have continued to grow at the same rate ever since. Every morning when I awake, the greatest of joys is mine: that of being Salvador Dali. There are some days when I think I’m going to die from an overdose of satisfaction.”

Do your ambitions continue to grow?  Do you like being you?

I am pretty sure you do.  I’ve never met anyone whose eyes don’t light up when we acknowledge their existence.

But so many of us are trying to be someone whom we are not.  We are exhausted by our constant pretending.

It’s so much easier to look at each day and marvel at the moments when we were just doing what brings us alive.  We can put aside the long commutes and grubby trains.  We can put aside the dentist’s chair.   As we pick our way through the rubbish tip of western life much as a small child does on the rubbish dumps of third world cities, we can still find time to celebrate not only what fascinates us but that we are fascinated at all.

Can we celebrate being us and not airbrush ourselves out of the picture leaving only the rubbish dump for the world to see?  Hey this is us. Why should we bring our lives down to the tip around us?  I nearly said, “sorry not me”.  But I am not even going to give that possibility that much airtime.  I’m too busy.

Put rubbish in the rubbish bin where it belongs

I say to university students, “when something is rubbish, pick it up and put it in the rubbish bin where it belongs.  And move along.”  They are always so relieved. They think they are obliged to honor rubbish.  They aren’t.  They just have to bin it.  With gusto and applomb.

They are too busy and too interesting to waste time on refuse.  That belongs on the dump.

Have your ambitions being growing at the same rate – chef at 6, Napolean at 7?  If not, then it is time to bring your life alive!

Thoughts on stray cards on my desk

I confess just to tidying up my desk and wanting somewhere to put a sentence I wrote on the back of one my business cards.  Looking at the card, I must have written this 18 months to 2 years ago.

“The give-and-take between us as we follow our dreams strengthens us as individuals and as a group.”

A touchy-feely sentiment perhaps but also a profound statement of the essence of business.

Give-and-take is the heart of business

The heart of any business is the give-and-take between us.  Give-and-take is not something we add as a layer of style or a way of resolving tension. Give-and-take is the heart.  Our business exists only to give-and-take.

We have give-and-take with our customers. We have give-and-take with our suppliers.  We have give-and-take among ourselves.

Too many businesses, though, set the process of give-and-take in stone.  The give-and-take evolves and it is the ability to build a business the grows the give-and-take that is genius.

Losing the give-and-take

Let me give you examples of misunderstandings of give-and-take.

Some Terms & Conditions on the internet put all the responsibility on the user.  Totally back to front.  The Terms & Conditions should phrase the responsibility and limits on the person who offers them.   In plain English, the T&C should state what I bring to the table and how I will honour you.

A standard role play in assessment centers sets up a “customer” as a bit of buffoon.  Managers, particularly those with accounting and legal training, often try to put the customer in the wrong and wring out of them monetary concessions based on the letter of their contract.  The smart manager judges the situation and looks at it as a way to deepen the relationship with the customer and the customer’s reference group.   A bad situation is simply an opportunity to grow the relationship and do more and better business.

How many times do employees tell managers that something is going wrong only to have their “heads bitten off”?   It is usually productive to ask for more details of the “symptoms” and to find out what the employee proposes.  Both are likely to be interesting.

Open-ended interaction is not always right nor is it predictable

It’s tough to interact with people and just to “see what comes of it”.  I don’t want to do that all the time, of course.  I am not really interested in “generative moments” with an immigration officer at the airport.  Beyond being as cheerful as possible, I just want to have my passport stamped quickly.  On a short haul flight, I also have no interest in manufacturing social moments, though I might do it to lessen the pain of standing in those ridiculous queues.

Long haul flights are quite different.  Being cooped up for 12 hours is a recipe for climbing the walls.  But the nature and quality of the interaction depends on my neighbor as much as me.

I’ve moved out my seat to allow someone two seats and the possibility of a nap.  I’ve asked the airline to find me a bank of seats so I can sleep. I’ve baby sat.  I’ve had people help me.

The story unfolds in a an unpredictable way and the flight is always better for flexibility rather than rigidity.  Of course, I hope there has been no vagueness about the fuel or the engineering.  But most of the human side is generative.  And we are more likely to chose an airline again when the interaction went well.

Give-and-take and management theory

Give-and-take is a difficult concept though.  Too often, in the management sciences we treat organizations as if they are the sum of individuals.  It is true that the interactions between individuals depends on the individuals.  I doubt Professor Stephen Hawking would find my thoughts on physics very stimulating, for example.

But after, all if the interaction of physicists wasn’t stimulating, then it wouldn’t really matter who was around him.

As it is much harder to stimulate and manage generative interactions than it is to find and hire people (buy their time), firms who understand interaction are likely to be the winners.  Brilliant people are probably better off in the company of less brilliant people who interact well than with other brilliant people who interact badly.

The practice of give-and-take

This is all theory though.  I didn’t want to lose my pithy little statement and this blog is my filing cabinet.  What I want to keep goes here.

Hope you find it food for thought.

If nothing else treasure the interactions you have with others.  Guided by their dreams, we grow stronger together.

Live neither in the past nor in the future, but let each day’s work absorb your entire energies, and satisfy your widest ambition

Sir William Osler (1849-1919) Canadian physician and instigator of medical residencies

Sometimes it is really hard to live mindfully. We want to reminisce, or we left the past untidy and it bothers us. Or we are are excited by future possibilities or anxious about negative side-effects.

How would we feel if we were stranded, in the great grounding of planes by volvcanoes, in a place we didn’t want to be? Most of us will fret until we have a plan.

Organize agilely and leanly

That is the secret, isn’t it? To become ‘agile’ and ‘lean’, so that each day matters for what it is.

What if we rephrased the day’s purpose “from get back home because that was my plan yesterday” to “let’s see what is possible and let’s have fun working out what my choices”.

Leadership vs management

On another channel, some of us have been lamenting the lack of leadership in British politics and the distinction between management and leadership came up, as ever.

I don’t think that leadership and management are ever far apart. We cannot manage without leadership. What looks like management is just clerical work when it is separated from judgment, moral responsibility and poetic imagination.

Leadership, when exists apart from management. probably exists because good management, happening quietly in the background, allowed us to think about what we are doing today without stressing unduly about yesterday or tomorrow.

When the world gets in a muddle, we need leadership AND management to get our heads straight again and the world orderly again so that we can give unto today our full attention.

But that is our goal – to let today be enough to absorb all our energies.

When life is out of order, to put some effort into straightening out the way we think.  Sometimes it is a trial.  But we do have to ask ourselves how much energy we waste fretting.

If

    If freckles were lovely, and day was night,
    And measles were nice and a lie warn’t a lie,
    Life would be delight,–
    But things couldn’t go right
    For in such a sad plight
    I wouldn’t be I.
    If earth was heaven and now was hence,
    And past was present, and false was true,
    There might be some sense
    But I’d be in suspense
    For on such a pretense
    You wouldn’t be you.
    If fear was plucky, and globes were square,
    And dirt was cleanly and tears were glee
    Things would seem fair,–
    Yet they’d all despair,
    For if here was there
    We wouldn’t be we.
    e.e. cummings

Teaching the challenge of morality

I’ve spent a lot of my life teaching young adults.  Once we have gone beyond the “declarative knowledge”, the labels for things, we move on to “procedural knowledge”, getting our hands dirty.

At school, a friend of mine didn’t  like putting sulphuric acid on zinc chips  She was convinced that she could hear them squeal with pain.

In social sciences, we are required to considered to fill in forms in lieu of considering ethics.  We even go to great lengths to remove the effects of what we do from experiments.

Of course, all this is a nonsense. Everything we do affects people we do it with.  And we are affected in turn.   This is the lesson that students should learn.  They need to learn to listen and to understand how other people are affected by their even seemingly innocuous actions.

And then they must decide.  Are they going to act anyway, and why?

Somewhere buried in there is a hard lesson of life – that are our actions and circumstances don’t always reflect well on us ~ and that we are never comfortable with that.  The day that we are uncomfortable with the uncomfortable,  then we have lost it.  We should feel bad about bad stuff.

But we also have to make choices despite the fact we are not going to feel good.

I like that Cummings ends with We wouldn’t be we.  Because the journey that brought us together into this uncomfortable place is our shared journey.  Our discomfort is a product of our shared journey.  I may not like that I am in this bad place with you, but I am.   That cannot be denied.  And I have to act anyway. I just try to act thoughfully, knowledgeably, fairly.  Often I don’t even achieve that, but I try.

And that I act does not deny that all this is bad.  It’s bad.  I act.  That is.

And that it is bad does not change that tomorrow may not be bad.  With you or without you.  That is too.  It just is. And to pretend that we don’t have agonizing choices to make denies that We are We. That is bad.  Very bad.

The defining moment is how we react, not the tragedy

I heard these key words a moment ago on a program about Poland on BBC Radio 4.

The words are true.  We know it.  We are just not well practiced in dealing with tragedy.

  • It feels sick to rehearse dealing with tragedy.  It follows that we are not ready when we are called to be.
  • When we cope well, we suffer ‘cognitive dissonance’.  If we aren’t falling apart, then surely events are not so bad after all?
  • Alternatively, if we cope well, maybe that means we don’t understand.  Maybe we simply insensitive.

Tragedy messes with our heads because we don’t know how to behave or how to tell our story.

The world doesn’t respond to blackmail

But sulking is a poor story too.   It’s silly because the world doesn’t care.  And it doesn’t respond to blackmail.  The world doesn’t care if we don’t like it.

It’s also self-destructive. We give away initiative to events.

Let me try explaining again.

From loser to hero

Sometimes a tragic story, or potentially tragic story, can be turned into a hero’s story.

A journalist on BBC4 this morning got back from Norway by getting a ride on a container boat and then a train.  Another took a taxi.  Angela Merkle flew back to Portugal.  The Noregian Prime Minister was last seen using his iPad sitting calmly in an American airport.   Our story is “what we did when . . .”

People who are enjoying the quiet of English birds singing in the early spring, feel apologetic.  I know I shouldn’t be enjoying this but . . .  They are feeling guilty because their story defines the cancellation of all flights as an advantage.

We hate it just as much when we miss events.   When the great volcano erupted, I was, well, I wasn’t doing anything sufficiently important to be interrupted.  I wasn’t important enough to be inconvenienced or be involved.   Oh, we don’t like that at all.

We cannot have a hero’s story without a push-off event.  We need a conflict or obstacle to have story and our reaction to the event is the story that we choose.  And we hate it when life doesn’t give us push-off events.  Do you get our screwy psychology?

What do we do our lives are turned upside down?

Let’s play this along a bit more.  In the early hours of flights being cancelled, we heard clips of people at airports who were disappointed.

I am sure their heads were reeling.  Could they make alternative arrangements?  They would have been blaming themselves for not travelling a day earlier.  They would be hastily making other arrangements (including getting home again) and calculating the costs.  They would be annoyed with their insurers who are very likely trying to get out of paying up.

There is a real story in their confusion, their choices and their actions.

Hassles show we are alive

Sadly, we heard them being angry.  With whom exactly?  They talked and spoke as if someone had done something to them.  One man even cursed the Icelanders?  Huh?  Badly expressed irony?  Professor Brian Cox mildly explained that we need volcanoes. If there were no volcanoes, the planet would be dead and so would we.

OK, volcanos are “natural”.  They clearly aren’t people.

But airlines are people.  Traffic controllers are people.  Aeronautical engineers are people.  That we travel by air is a people-thing. It isn’t natural.

We got into our situation by being human. By doing people things. It is part of being alive in 2010.  Should we refuse to travel by air?  Should we refuse to take part in life?

Of course not.

We don’t measure up when .  .  .

But shit happens.  How we cope with shit is the story.  We don’t measure up when

  • We refuse to acknowledge the shit.  It happens. Call shit, shit.
  • We refuse to learn.
  • We refuse to work with others.
  • We have no interest in what is happening to anyone else.
  • We don’t help anyone else.

We don’t measure up when we refuse to respond to life.

That doesn’t mean the story will be the one we prefer

Yup. We might not be able to change a particular story into a hero’s story because no one wins.

To change my metaphor, sometimes life is like a game of rugby when someone breaks his neck.  We don’t carry on playing.  We might play again tomorrow, but not today.

If the game is so rough that the chance of someone breaking their neck becomes to high, we stop playing.  We switch to another sport.

The story of life is not always gratifying.  Sometimes we even wonder why we bother.

What do we do when there are no heroes because we are all losers?

We aren’t always heroes because sometimes no one wins.  There are only losers.

The only story is damage control, be calm, work with others.  That is the only story.

It’s when we still try to be a hero that we lose.   Sometimes we have to accept that life is out of our control.

No one promised  . . .

No one promised we would be in control.  No one promised that we would be heroes.

We were only promised a chance to be alive on a planet with angry volcanoes, people jostling for advantage, hare-brained human ideas like air travel. I like hearing the birds and walking in the fields but I wouldn’t have any of that if the volcanoes died, no one made enough money to ship food across the world, and there weren’t daft engineers making metal birds to fly through the sky.

No one promised that I would always have it good. No one promised that I would always come out ‘looking good’.  No one promised I would always feel good about my efforts and reactions.

There is only an open invitation to take part

There is only an open invitation to take part every day in whatever part of the world that I find myself.

An open invitation to take part. That’s all.

I don’t have to feel gratified.  But I can be grateful.

Lifestyle design

Baby boomers thumbed their noses at authority.  Gen X tidied up after them.  Gen Y experiments not with authority but with reality.

Gen Y is into lifestyle design.  Look at Tim Ferris.  He chose the title for his book ‘The Four Hour Work Week” by buying the domain for each possible title, paying for a Google Ad campaign, and counting how many people were sufficiently curious to click through to the domain.

Simple, straightforward, realistic, evidence-based.

Lifestyle, design, experiments

Don’t turn hamburgers into sausages

I like this approach. I like the article in The Burger Lab a few days ago on cooking hamburgers.  Don’t put salt on meat before your mince it or when you’ve minced it.  Put salt on just before you cook the burger.  Otherwise you get sausage.  All demonstrated with a documented experiment; not asserted by an expert

But can I turn sausages into hamburgers?

Now I like to the do the opposite. I take sausage recipes and make hamburger.

For example, I take the famous South African boerwors that is seasoned with heaps of coriander, and sprinklings of nutmeg, cloves and vinega,r and I make a patty.

The question is this.  If I marinade my mince in spices and vinegar, will I get a congealed patty?  Or is that what I want?

Hmm, I can see a summer of experimentation coming up.

Take a journey in your life

journeys bring power and love back into you.

if you can’t go somewhere

move in the passageways of the self

they are like shafts of light,

always changing,

and you change when you explore them

Rumi

Be not the traveller who takes their world with them

I caught something interesting on BBC4 yesterday.

Two travellors were walking all day, around the Cape Town area as it happened.  They were tired and very hungry.  One said to the other:  I must eat lest I faint.

The other said:  I am hungry too.  But I don’t find it uncomfortable.  I find it interesting.

The first travellor thought:  If he does not feel his own hunger, then how can he feel the hunger of another.

For some of us, entering into the moment is hard.  We watch.  We observe.  Even when we are abroad, we are distant from our our own emotions and feelings.   We travel, yet never experience anything new because we cannot leave our world’s behind.

Be the privileged who travels at home

It’s an interesting idea then to simply explore the passageways of the self.

Be like the first travellor who engages directly with the world and listens for its response?

Be the poet who describes his life and changes his poem as he reads it to his audience?

Riff rather pontificate?

Accept the demands of the moment and our response?  Perceive the limitations of others as part of the situation.  And act?

As Joseph Campbell said:  The greatest privilege of a life time is to be ourselves.


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