flowing motion

Posts Tagged ‘positive psychology

What I promise

27 September 2009

I think I have kept my promise

flowing motion is approaching its 2nd birthday – well near enough for me to think about its party.

It deserves a party.  Blogging has been fun – more fun than I thought it would be.

From the outset, flowing motion was my miscellaneous blog.  I had purposeful projects elsewhere.

This is where I posted notes on books I was reading, and things I was thinking about, as they came up and without much of a plan.

flowing motion rapidly became my best blog.  It blossomed as I followed what I love.  And as I followed what I love, it blossomed too.

Two years’ ago, my preoccupations were

1.  What is positive psychology and how will working positively change my core trade – work & organizational psychology? (I can’t say occupational psychology because that is a protected label now in the UK).

2.  What is the mytho-poetic of management and can a strait-laced work & organizational psychologists wander around the corporate world talking about poetry?

3.  What is social media?  What are the hacks for using it efficiently?  How will social media change the way we work and in turn, the work of work & organizational psychologists?

4.  Why hasn’t the thinking of complexity theorists made great inroads into management practice?  Or, have I been missing something?

These themes may feel disparate but I knew enough about psychology and management to know that they have a common core.  What was missing was some plain-language renditions.

So, I read. And I wrote

And I wrote often.  It is so much fun writing knowing that occasionally somebody reads what we write – voluntarily – not because I told them to.

And I watched my stats and I set goals.  I was reminded of the variability of performance metrics.  It is good to apply our psychology to our own ventures.  And I noticed myself become more fluent.  Gradually, I began to explain the complicated notions of my field in simpler language.

After two years

I have well over 1000 pages.  Some are badly written.  Some repeat what I said in earlier posts.  I have enough material for a book or two – if I cared to write one.


Because blogs are basically a chronicle record – organized by dates (despite pages, categories and tags), it is time to organize the work of the last two years and see what might emerge from the effort.

I’ve created a server on my desktop, downloaded a copy of WordPress, and ‘slurped’ my old posts.  I have an index in an excel file and I need to start printing, discarding, organizing and rewriting.

I think I will experiment with a magazine format or wiki, in lieu of a an ebook.  We’ll see.  Content first.

Will the effort produce worthwhile insight and clarity for a noobe to the field?

Carrying on

And in the meantime, I write on.  I chase my metrics, and set new goals for my content.

My blog leads me.  It shows me the path.   It allows me to truly achieve that terrifying feat suggested by positive organizational scholars:

build  a bridge while I walk on it!


Next for me is carving out the work & organizational psychology of  social mediated business and business in social media companies.  Next for me is thinking of work & organizational psychology as design.  Next for me is integrating the new world of psychology with sound principles but at the same time jettisoning the ridiculous adherence to positivism – not to be confused with positive scholarship.

Time for a new world.   Time for another exciting two years.

Original Manifesto

I love working. I love doing my work. I like the idea of work. I like what we do with work. I love our audaciousness in flying aeroplanes and operating on hearts. I love our gritty planting of crops each season. I love the optimism of a youngster looking for her first job. I love the depth of knowledge of a person who has tended his craft for decade after decade.

I’ve made working my living. Not only do I put in the hours, as a work psychologist, that’s all I do. I think, live and breathe work.

This blog is not going to be organized. There is nothing in particular that I want to achieve. I am just going to blog useful tidbits that I find out about work from day-to-day. Or that I remember in response to something that I read, hear or do. I hope you find it useful. Use what you like. Give me a shout if anything is wrong. Offer a guest post if you have something to say.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

26 June 2008

I’ve been running this blog now for just over 7 months.  I am thinking now to focus it a little around a simple project

“what it means to train yourself as a positive psychologist to work in the 21st century with managers and organizations who developed in the 20th century”

  • What are the challenges of the positive psychology?
  • How do we do positive psychology at work?
  • Is there a positive HR?
  • Is there a positive management?
  • What are the challenges of the 21st century?
  • How is positive psychology influenced by these changes?
  • How does positive psychology contribute to a positive 21st century?

I may re-jig this as I go and I would be happy for comments – on the blog and on the journey to become a positive work psychologists in the 21st century.

5 January 2009

I am looking at what I said 6 months ago and I think I have answered many of these questions.  I’ve been feeling for a long time that I need to organize my posts and my good friend and web solutions provider, Paul Imre, agrees.

In the last few weeks, I’ve got into the numbers game wanting to drive my hit rate up.  Oddly, at the same time I achieved a little more interest in my positive posts which have gradually overtaken ‘law of attraction’, ‘batman’, “am I good looking” [a lesson in SEO for me’ and the recession.  I’m pleased about that.  And I am pleased to be gettting a lot more comments.  Oddly my page rank has dropped though that might be because I cleaned up some old blogs.

So where to next? Ned, loyal writing coach, thinks I should concentrate on what ordinary people want from work.  He makes the point that ordinary people don’t associate positive with work.  Yes, that is why the positive movement in management and psychology is growing.  We like our work and we don’t see why you shouldn’t too.  In fact I am outraged that isn’t the case.  I believe it should be possible for everyone to carve out a career they love and any unhappines should both strictly temporary.   So maybe that is what I should write about.  The question will be whether I can shuck the habits of academic and bureaucratic writing.

There is also the question of the recession.  It seems that more and more people think it will be “deep”.  The jury is out on its length.  Probably only a minority believe that it really challenges the economic system as we know it.  They are outweighed right now by people who have faith in Obama’s ability to lead us to a fairer world order.  Navigating our way as individuals will  be very hard without a good grasp of what is going on and how it is reshaped the opportunities we had and offering new opportunities we had never imagined.

So maybe I am going with Ned.  Then, I will need a much better layout and even a forum.  Hmm, don’t want to abandon the page rank that I’ve got.

And should I remain anonymous?  I know that is frowned on but there were reasons at the beginning and really people should read for content!  But if I am am offering advice rather than hust sorting out my thoughts, then people should know who I am.

Nothing like writing to clarify ideas.  So decision made.  I am going with Ned. I probably need an elementary game plan.  It won’t be much, but it will be more than I had when I started 14 months ago.  And people who stop by, thanks. Today, first working day of 2009 was a record day for hits here.  Really, thanks.


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.


    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.

Offer your problems to God, and they may open opportunities that you never imagined.

I am not religious, and if they haven’t clicked away already, my friends who are ‘evangelical atheists’ will think I’ve taken leave of my senses

Management theory is reconsidering its philosophical rots

[Yes, I did mean roots but the typo is apt.]

I heard the idea of presenting one’s problems to God from a Rabbi on Radio 4 today and it is an idea that has been forgotten by management theorists for a long, long time.  It is being actively and vigorously revived though, and if you want to be involved in modern management education, “opening yourself to the imagination of the universe” is an idea that you have to get you head around.

Old school management sucked the life juices out of us

“Old school” management is goal-oriented, and fundamentally arrogant and negative.  It goes like this. “I define the goal and until you have completed it, you are not up to scratch.”

We might even say that old school management is evil. It is even evil even when we are setting our goals for ourselves and not others.  It’s  arrogant to believe that we know what is right, not only for today, but for tomorrow whose shape we barely know.  It is very arrogant to believe that we know and the other does not.  It is evil to undermine the worth of other people and to daily put ourselves and others in situations where we are not up to scratch.

But how do we open ourselves to the imagination of the universe?

For all my exploration of modern management theory, I am still a psychologist and I want to know “what am I going to DO?

“offering a problem to God”, as I understand it, does not mean letting go.  It means beginning where we are, with our sense that the present does not meet our sense of what is right and wrong.   We begin by accepting our negative evaluation, our arrogant assertion that on this matter we believe we are right,  and our overbearing willingness to judge others.  We accept that this is ground we stand on at this moment.  This is our reality at the minut.

Then, we put this evaluation on the table, probably privately, it is offensive after all.  And at last,  we listen to what the universe has to say.    What does the universe have to say about this problem?

We’ve raised the flag.  We’ve said we will hear.   Now we listen!

But are we predisposed to listen?

The difficulty is though, that in this mood, when we feel the world is wrong, and we are right and that we are allowed to tell others they are wrong, in this mood, listening to anyone is far from our minds.

Positive psychology, an overlapping school of positive organizational scholarship, kicks in now and has a lot to say on how to reach a point that we can listen and hear.

We begin by reminding ourselves that it is quite natural, housed in a human body, to feel alarmed when we notice something is wrong.   Our biology is programmed that way.  It is natural .  .  .  well .  .  . to exaggerate.  When times are rough, and we reel from trauma to trauma, or just from hassle to hassle, it is not long before we begin to shut down and focus solely on what threatens us, or simply annoys us.

Positive psychologists help us stay out of this zone of despair, cynicism and negativity.  We look to them to keep us in that positive space where we can notice that something is wrong (or a least not to our taste) and listen to the universe.  It is a tough balancing act.

Positive psychologists are not our only resource, though. Most world religions have rituals to manage this emotional housekeeping.   Balancing our ‘alarm systems’ and listening to others is such an important skill that all cultures have ways of explaining the challenge.    What is saying a brief prayer before a meal but a momentary regaining of balance where we take stock in an appreciative not panicky way?

In our secular world, we explain every thing more wordily but we are not necessarily wrong.  Just ploddy.   Two other very important factors in maintaining ’emotional tone’ are exercise and friends.

The contribution of positive psychologists

Positive psychologists advocate a simple ritual of a gratitude diary.  A few brief notes at the end of each day makes the difference between believing that we have to solve every problem ourselves and “hearing” what the universe has to offer.

Offer your problems to the universe and allow yourself to be delighted by opportunities you never imagined.

And to my evangelical atheist friends, if you are such an objective scientist, try it before you knock it.

Happiness, big media and blocked comment

Today, Hamish McRae wrote an article in the Independent on happiness and what national survey of happiness tell us about the role of government in our live.

I wrote a comment only to find comments partly blocked off.  So here it is.

Economist should find the maths of happiness easy

Basically, I suggested that Mr McRae might like to to look up the more sophisticated models of happiness.  Economist should find them easier to follow than most and might take the lead in an informed debate on happiness.

Then I followed through trying to explain the implications of using Lorenz equations to understand happiness by likening happiness to clean hands.

Lorenz equations and Losada’s model of happiness

You might like to Google Losada’s work on happiness and review the mathematical model underlying his thinking.  Happiness surveys presume that happiness is a linear phenomenon where happiness is more-or-less and can be measured as a fixed point with an error score.

More sophisticated views of happiness see it as a phase state (fractal type) defined by a handful of variables linked recursively to each other.  In this model, a fixed point (the measure of happiness above) would indicate severe mental illness.  In other words, someone who is resolutely cheerful despite the circumstances is ill.

Managing happinesss (and unhappiness)

As one commentator said, you are possibly writing about unhappiness.   We know how to create that.  Simply have people reeling from petty difficulties all day long with little respite and they will sink into misery.

Hence the buffering techniques such as gratitude diaries and appropriate ways to deal with distress (funerals, grieving etc.)

Just as hands get dirty and must be washed, our lives have misfortune which must be dealt with.   But misfortune isn’t dealt with by ignoring it just as dirty hands aren’t dealt with ignoring it.

A gratitude diary works like the washing of hands putting dirt where it belongs and reminding us of the pleasure of clean hands.  We know our hands will get dirty again but that is the cyclical process of much of life.

Getting involved in the national debate on happiness

Anyway, economists should grasp the Lorenz equations  easily and might add to a more informed public discussion of happiness.

The rest of us can experience the management of happiness in simple ways: mourning and grieving for what has past, keeping a gratitude diary, focusing on what goes well and not what goes badly.   These alone stop us sinking into misery and spreading it around.

Speaking properly

I once worked with people who hated other people ~ or so they said.  I hated broccoli (I like it now) and I hated doing my tax return.

Sometimes I loathed someone.  Or I disliked someone.

Speaking accurately

The nuances of emotional words are interesting.  We have poor emotional vocabularies as a general rule.

Understanding nuances

The other day, I dipped into  Kate Fox’ Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour.

The nuances of Englishness

Kate Fox suggests the English accept serious but not solemn and sincere but not earnest. I looked up the differences in my COBUILD dictionary that was built from a corpus of actual English usage (Collins Birmingham University International Language Database).  It wasn’t very enlightening.

Serious not solemn; sincere not earnest

So I am on the trail to distinguish solemn from serious and earnest from sincere.

Any suggestions?

My blog as my whiteboard

Welcome.  This is my personal whiteboard where I jot down thoughts and notes as I read things around the net and make sense of what is happening in the world of work and social media as we race through the 21st century.

Positive psychology

A psychologist by training, I follow the rise of the positive movement.  Many people think positive psychology is just a surge ‘touchy-feeling’ gush that matters little in the world of hard-knocks.  Certainly, I have some reservations about the political stance, and even ethics, of some positive psychologists who appear to willing to serve the ‘haves’ and to leave the ‘have-nots’ to the protocols of self-help.

I also have some reservations about the self-proclaimed scientific or evidence-based approach which depends up on linear models and ‘positivism’ and a methodology that outsources reality and morality to forces outside our control.   Proclaiming this position while stating the ‘have-nots’ are responsible for their well-being appears to me a double-bind.  I am still to meet a positive psychologist who will engage in this debate.

Positive psychology and social media

The positive movement is far more than these reservations though and we ‘should not throw the baby out with the bath water.’  The positive movement is also the bedrock of the new networked age ushered in by the internet and more urgently by the readwrite, two-way, 2.0, or social media, the media where we communicate laterally.

In this field too, a big question is whether we are going to throw the baby out with the bath water.  Here the ‘baby’ is the command-and-control structures in the world of work.

The future of work

The world of work is not a world of positivist science, much as many of my colleagues in science try to claim. It is a world that we have made. To use Dan Pink’s words, the world of work is akin to a TV set. Our workplace procedures are a bundle of ideas that allow us to create particular solutions for a specific age.  As our circumstances change, so do our solutions.

Nonetheless, habits die hard and for that reason many methods of work will not change until there are no ‘takers’ in the community.  Working methods will survive for many reasons and in different forms, just as The Worshipful Company of Pewterers, for example, survives as a charitable organization run by descendants of pewterers and supports medical research and inner city schools and those few people still earning their living through pewter.

Changes in work that we can count on

So bearing mind that work is a matter of culture that has quite different dyanamics from high school experiments in physics, we can look at changes that are taking place in the world of work for heuristics, that is, ideas about how to run our own affairs.

For anyone well versed in management history, they know that a management system must create value.  In simple terms, the value produced by management must exceed the cost – and by a large margin.  When we are destroying value, we must go, because when we cost more than marginal value that we add to a firm, the direct producers are better off without us.

BPR, business process re-engineering, and Toyota methods of management, despite its current troubles, have already shown us how to use computers to simplify processes within an organization and between organizations and to significantly enhance our ability to deliver better products and services more reliably and less expensively.  At best, management work changes. In many instances, management work disappears.  The structure of organizations changes.  No longer does communication go up-and-down the organization.  It goes across and out.  This is not a trivial change.  It is not a matter of putting in computers.  It is a matter of taking out the cost of management.

Social media has stepped up our potential to deliver quickly to an entirely new level.  Transaction costs in many industries have plummeted and entire industries, like journalism, are about to be made redundant. Social media has changed our relationships with each other within industries and organizations.

It is no mean change that news is transmitted around the world via cell phone cameras and Twitter.  Nor is it any mean change that students can pull up HSBC on Facebook for unilaterally changing their contracts.

Yes, we will resist some changes – because we like the way we do things.  But we will probably pay dearly for that resistance.

Guessing at the other changes in  work

What is more interesting to me and the bloggers I follow is how do these new organizations work?  What opportunities do they offer?  How can we see ahead so that our actions today are relevant to our choices of tomorrow?

  • So I follow social media closely and I encourage people to acquire social media skills and experience.
  • I write up examples of social media in the world of work and business.
  • And I drill down to the principles and rules-of-thumb that we use to bundle up the solutions, the TVsets, that are working organizations and fun and viable businesses.

The positive movement and the future of work

The positive movement is part of this great wave of change. We have five basic principles that are phrased one way or another but go generally like this.

#1 This is our story

We are trying to jettison the pseudo-scientific language and management-speak and  we trying to learn to speak in terms of the hopes and dreams of the people around us. Narratives, hero’s journeys, poetry and snappy engaging talks are the mode of our time.  We encourage people to talk in their own voice.  In the social media world, we counsel against using false persona’s on Twitter, Facebook, etc.  He or she swho speaks must have the authority and experience to hold the conversation.

#2  Each of us is important

We recognize that each of us is our own hero and we have our own journeys.  Yet our own journey is also a journey of relationships. Much of leadership is hearing and understanding the journeys of people around us and finding the common cause where we journey together or part of the way.

#3  Life is an open-ended adventure

We understand that life is an open-ended journey.  We don’t know where we are going or what the new day will bring.  What we do know is who we have with us and what we do well. We know our hopes and dreams.  Rather than commit to a destination into which we shoehorn ourselves and our companions, we proceed more cautiously, reviewing as we go and shaping our destination as learn. It’s like the old advice to travellers. Taking half-the-clothes and double-the-money.  We keep ourselves flexible so that we can respond to opportunities that arise along the way.

#4  We move in the direction of the questions we ask

We manage ourselves through the questions we ask.  We know we cannot do everything and decision-making takes time, attention and resources.  So we are careful about our questions and we focus on what is worth doing and we ruthlessly rule out questions that are based on fixed ideas.  We don’t waste time worrying about what has not happened.  We attend to what we want to do and the resources we have at hand, including what we do well. Point #1 converges with this idea.  Failure and disappointment makes us moody and despondent.  We watch our language and the words we use so we don’t mood-hoover our motivation and abandon our journey downhearted and dejected, we have to do some work to watch our language.  As David Whyte says, sometimes life depends upon a walk around the lake.

#5  At any minute, we like to be in control

We celebrate the active nature of human beings. We love to do.  Give us half-a-chance, we learn new skills, try things out and help others. We like situations like computer games where can jump in and try, where we can learn and go to new levels and where we can play with others. The game designer, Jane McGonigal, described our needs as urgent optimism, tight social fabric, blissful productivity, & epic meaning.

Fortunately we know a lot about the psychology of situations that allow us such an engaged and vital existence. All the information for doing and being must be stored in our heads and and organized there in coordination with the hand that writes, the eyes that see, the feet that walk.  The thinking and control must lie with us. Then we feel like a superhero. Sometimes we are. We certainly feel alive and in flow.

The general change to working style

We don’t know where the world of work is going, in detail.  But we do know the focal point of control has moved to the consumer and therefore to the front line.  We do now that patterns of communications have changed.  If you send me a message, I expect you to answer my reply and answer my questions – quickly.  We are going to judge each other on our ability to respond quickly.

Like many people I worried about quality.  There are some jobs that require more than a 30 second response.  I no longer wonder whether the changes will happen, though.  It is only a question of how.

To find me on the internet





jo at working2 dot 0 at gmail dot com


Psychology of engagement in chewable sentences

I am looking forward to the video of Jane McGonigal at TED Global 2010. Followers and psychologists of work, experience and other such related things will recognize her model and the underlying ideas of Ryan & Deci, Hackman & Oldham, German action theorists, positive psychologists, positive organizational scholars and mytho-poetic chroniclers.

This is is nicely stated, summarized brilliantly by Julie Lasky, who also writes on the need to used short pithy, memorable language.  I must learn.  My resolution for 2010: write chewable sentences.

Why are games so attractive?

Jane McGonigal explains why games are so attractive (and in contrast) why so much of modern day life is not (” reality is broken”).

Urgent optimism

An energetic willingness to attack a problem the gamer is confident of solving

Social fabric

Cooperating with other players builds trust and affection

Blissful productivity

WoW games spend an average of 21 hours a week in th

eir virtual world

Epic meaning

Gamers are super-empowered, hopeful individuals” who “believe they’re individually capable of changing the world,” McGonigal says.

Psychology of engagement in boring psychological language

Urgent optimism

We have urgent optimism when we have “crossed the Rubicon” from “wish to intent”. We become driven, goal-oriented, and focused and probably develop “tunnel vision”.  This behavior is highly valued at work and in clinical settings when we want people to do our bidding (e.g., lose weight). It is greatly helped by settings SMART goals and is facilitated by self-efficacy which is itself raised by experience, vicarious modelling, social support and coaching.

We also like being in this state.  Hence the high interest in personal productivity, GTD, procrastination, etc.  We like being active.

The corollary is that we are active when we feel able to begin, able to do, able to finish.  When those conditions are met, and only when those conditions are met “we go like a train”.  [Come to think of it, fellow psychologists, we know there is an association between our perceptions of the fit of a task, but has there been any research on the necessary and sufficient conditions of action?  Not also that work on necessary and sufficient conditions require a process model not a variance model.]

Social fabric

I love the wording “cooperating with other players builds trust and affection”.  What a loaded sentence!

Yes, we work so much better on common projects provided they don’t interfere with the autonomy needed to sustain “urgent optimism”.  When young people work in groups, they actually develop “language of initiative”.  They use more active language and conditional language (if-then).  Willful declarations of positive thinking (and vacuous laws of attraction), give way to thoughtful, engaged, responsive statements of exploration that has moral purpose.  We come alive.

I like the active verb and the cause-and-effect.  We “cooperate”.  Tasks exist on a social terrain that we navigate, explore and construct.  That helps us understand our own task, and raises our motivation to do our part and to work with the group.

Belonging, team dynamics all fit in here.  What psychologists often miss is the systemic links between individual action and group action that sustains the whole.  This is what games capture. How can we do more work like the “language of initiative”?

Blissful productivity

Flow with a good dollop of learning.  Being competent and developing competence.

Feedback is one of the most neglected concepts in work psychology.  Funny that, as it was key to behaviorism.  We are not the worst offenders, thought. Management textbooks even lose the feedback loop from system diagrams.

Blissful productivity is recognized in the outcome – frequent long stretches of absorption in a task.  The key mechanism that allows this absorption is feedback.

Old work psychology used to research “knowledge of results”.  Feedback certainly raises performance by the order of several hundred % and even in the order of 30% for high performers.  Feedforward and concurrent feedback allow us to “enter” a task.

Well-constructed tasks, and popular games are well constructed, allow us to learn as well.  Well-constructed games have first order feedback (what shall I do next) and allow second order feedback.  They allow us to learn the rules and get better at what we do.

Jane McGonigal’s alternate reality games allow, I suspect, third order feedback.  What is really important in life?  What is it important to get good at?

Why or why, have psychologists put aside this important aspect of their work?  I suspect our neglect is political. We don’t want to challenge our political & economic masters who are “feedback thieves”.  My view is strong. Do no evil.  Depriving people of feedback is immoral.  It should be illegal. Because depriving people of feedback stops them learning, stops them taking control of their lives, usually subordinates them and induces learned helplessness.  Learning how to manage feedback loops should be mandatory in our training as psychologists.

Epic meaning

Psychologists haven’t been good on epic meaning.  I have my suspicions that this is also a political bias.  We don’t want people getting above themselves.  We do do narratives, but for people who are trying to hold lowly lives together, not for people who might take on the world.

Meaning is not on the Ryan & Deci list. It is on the positive psychology list which has “pleasurable, engaged, meaningful”.  But in positive psychology meaningful means “social”.

Epic meaning – I like it. A series of events. On each, we could fail.  Often we are terrified that we are failing. We do fail. But we learn.

Of course, games are “fair”.  We have a chance at succeeding.  The world should be fair too.  But we know it is not.  We have to learn to deal with unfairness too and that is hard for an individual.  Dealing with unfairness is triple loop learning. It involves the emotion “this can’t be happening to me”.  Disentangling that emotion from what we could do is very difficult. That’s where parents, coaches, mentors and therapists come in.

But too often, we advise people to dismiss unfairness.  Yes, we can over interpret threat as ‘personal, persistent and pervasive’ and panic unnecessarily.  But often unfairness must be dealt with on its own terms and by its very nature, unfairness will not cooperate.

What we learn from supporting oppressed groups is that the most important response when we feel threatened is to ‘organize’.  Reach out in solidarity to other victims to unite. Not to rehash the victim story.  But to write the winner’s story.  Not vacuously but to engage with the oppressor who we should not turn into a victim but at the same time, who will respond to our generous spirit by refusing to give up their powerful status and capacity to vicitimize us.

Conscious engagement is important.

Of course, not everyone is involved in the same issues that we are.  So they may not respond to our overtures. It is important not to think that our issue has global importance.

Hmm, I like epic meaning.   I don’t think we have the whole answer to unfairness.  But we can begin.  Look for ways that people build epic meaning into their activities. Facilitate their story telling and organization.

Psychologists so rarely do any work in this domain.  We need to think about this.

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A sigh of relief

Do you sigh and feel relaxed & in tune with the world when you read this modern version of Kipling’s IF?  Words do matter.


Yes, I can keep my head when all about me

Are losing theirs and blaming it on me;

Yes, I can trust myself when all men doubt me,

But make allowance for their doubting too:

Yes, I can wait and not be tired by waiting,

Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,

Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,

And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise;

Yes, I can dream—and not make dreams my master;

Yes, I can think—and not make thoughts my aim,

Yes, I can meet with Triumph and Disaster

And treat those two imposters just the same:

Yes, I can bear to hear the truth I’ve spoken

Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,

Or watch the things I gave my life to, broken,

And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools;

Yes, I can make one heap of all my winnings

And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,

And lose, and start again at my beginnings

And never breathe a word about my loss:

Yes, I can force my heart and nerve and sinew

To serve my turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing in me

Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

Yes, I can talk with crowds and keep my virtue,

Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,

Neither foes nor loving friends can hurt me,

And all men count with me, but none too much:

And I will fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,

For I am a Man

And I wish it so.

Such is the Mandate of my Will.-

I found this poem via Stumble here. I am not sure of the copyright.  Do tell me if I should add an acknowledgment, etc., etc.

Pondering gratitude diaries

Possibly, reading the words of Sufi poet, Rumi., will help us understand a “gratitude diary.”   We could interpret “the wonders that exist in me” as something to brag about, or proclaim, in self-congratulation.  We could also interpret “wonders that exist in me” as the good things in the universe that are “in me and my life.”

To be or not to be

Is not my dilemma.

To break away from both worlds is not bravery.

To be unaware of the wonders

That exist in me,


Is real madness!


When we are adolescents, we are obsessed with recognition.  Our unsatisfied need to be taken seriously is often translated as a search for ‘self’.  For people obsessed with ‘self, ‘ME’ would scream off the page.  But adolescents want RECOGNITION.  They want to understand their relationship with the universe.

Possibly, that’s how gratitude diaries work.  We catalog our relationship with the universe.

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