Archive for Intellectual Curiosity

Dangerous Diction: 6 Types of Words That Sap Your Power—and How to Take It Back

Whether or not you realize it, you convey hidden messages about yourself through your diction.

Your word choices reveal your level of confidence in yourself and your statements—and subsequently influence how others perceive and treat you.

Words to Power

A recent Forbes article by Avery Blank outlines six types of words that undermine your power when you use them:

  1. Fluff. If you want people to question your intelligence and authority, talk like a Valley girl. Otherwise, eschew like, whatever, so on, kind of, sort of, um and other pause words that put the brakes on meaning.
  2. Defensive phrases. Terms like just, I think, arguably and in my opinion make your listeners question your conviction and message.
  3. Aptitude terms. When you say, “I’ll try,” you betray an insecurity that spreads to your audience. Overconfidence is equally disquieting. Telling a coworker, “Don’t worry about it” is not only dismissive but shuts down opportunities for collaboration.
  4. Condescending words. Terms such as actually, obviously and clearly suggest you think your audience is ignorant, and that’s a good way to make them tune out.
  5. Mea culpa. We’re not saying you should never apologize—accepting responsibility for the consequences of your actions is the mature response. Just don’t say “sorry” when something goes awry due to circumstances outside your control.
  6. Hyperbole. Very, absolutely, totally, tremendously, incredibly and similar emphasis words achieve the opposite of their intended effect. Your message is stronger without them.

The 6 Rungs of Speaking Power

In my Working with Emotional Intelligence class, I share a handout titled “Escaping Victim Mud—The Power of Your Words” from Falling Awake: Creating the Life of Your Dreams.

We discuss how to climb Dave Ellissix rungs of powerful speaking from least to most powerful:

  1. Obligation. If you use terms like should, must, have to and ought, you’re speaking at the bottom rung of Ellis’ ladder. This tells others you are acting not out of desire but duty.
  2. Possibility. People at this level choose words like consider, maybe, might, could and hope. The attitude is more positive, but these words tell listeners you don’t feel in control of the outcome.
  3. Preference. Bartleby fans know the power of prefer, as in, “I would prefer not to.” Moving from should to might to want shows a progression of control. Those who prefer and want are expressing their goals in a way that impacts the audience more deeply.
  4. Passion. When you speak with enthusiasm (excited, can’t wait and love), you capture listeners through your energetic expressiveness. There is a difference between gushing and acting, however, and your words will feel hollow if you don’t have the evidence to back them up.
  5. Plan. When you present a plan to achieve specific goals, you demonstrate your control over the situation and your strategy for achieving the desired results. This is when the abstract becomes concrete for your listeners.
  6. Promise. At the apex of Ellis’ ladder is promise (will, do, promise), and that’s where dream transforms into reality. At the most powerful rung, you will captivate your audience and engage them in your commitment to action.

Different situations call for different rungs in the communication ladder. Perpetually balancing on the top rung is unrealistic and even inappropriate in certain contexts.

What Are You Telling People?

As a co-active coach, I can help you assess how your language influences others’ perceptions of you and how you can achieve a more positive reception, whether speaking, leading or collaborating. Call me at 541.601.0114 or email me to start climbing the ladder toward a more powerful you.

Feeling Rootbound? Maybe It’s Time to Repot

Tending the Garden

It’s springtime, and for the gardeners among us, that means digging our hands into earth, pruning overgrowth and planting seedlings for the harvest to come. It also means weeding, tending to ailing plants and finding new homes for the rootbound ones beginning to wilt.

Perhaps you’re feeling a bit wilted yourself. Have you been rooted in the same career for years? Has the zing for accomplishment morphed into a dull boredom and resignation to monotony? Do you find yourself daydreaming about new career trajectories that could offer deeper satisfaction?

Time to Repot

It might be time to repot. Former Stanford Graduate School of Business (GSB) Dean Ernie Arbuckle taught a generation of Stanford students the secret to lifelong flourishing: “Repotting, that’s how you get new bloom.” He advises, “You should have a plan of accomplishment and when that is achieved you should be willing to start off again.”

Arbuckle’s advice to repot every decade stuck with many Stanford alumni, including Donald E. Petersen, who told The New York Times, “It’s time to repot myself” when stepping down as head of Ford Motor after 10 years. Arjay Miller, who succeeded Arbuckle as Stanford GSB dean, repeated the line at his resignation.

From Mad Man to Philanthropist

Peter Hero, another Arbuckle mentee, left a lucrative Madison Avenue agency when the pointlessness of his career suddenly smacked him in the face during a debate about Sugar Crisp cereal. “I have to get out of here,” Hero said, initiating a series of repottings that included managing Spice Islands, pursuing a graduate degree in art history, heading the Oregon Arts Commission and serving as president of the Maine College of Art.

Eventually, Hero accepted his current position as CEO of Silicon Valley Community Foundation, growing its assets from $9 million to over $1.2 billion. Today, the foundation has an enormous philanthropic impact, distributing a million dollars a week to charitable organizations.

Hero has found the purpose lacking in his past careers. “I realized later on that the whole time I was exploring new paths, I was moving toward a job that for me was far more than a way to earn money,” he says.

To learn five lessons Hero offers on repotting, see Loren Mooney’s Insights article Is It Time to “Repot” Your Career?.

My Own Repotting

When I launched Capiche five years ago, I was in the midst of a major repotting myself. Not only was I starting my own consulting business, but I was also completing a master in management degree after decades of serving in marketing leadership positions.

My studies focused on the inspiration that would drive my business model: using science of happiness and positive psychology research to boost employee productivity, strengthen organizations and boost company profits. Ahead of the curve, I was excited to see happiness explode onto the business scene as publications such as Harvard Business Review and The Wall Street Journal published a wave of articles validating my emphasis on employee happiness as a lynchpin of productivity and profit.

I continued to reinvent myself, earning a co-active coaching certification from The Coaches Institute (CTI). Adding coaching to my branding, culture and marketing services enabled me to work one on one with individuals, impacting companies through their leadership while helping people achieve life-changing personal and professional goals.

But I wasn’t done repotting. I wanted to apply my expertise to a subject I have always been passionate about: wine. Given the growing international recognition for Southern Oregon wineries, I decided to add a specialization in wine marketing.

Currently enrolled in the viticulture and enology program at the Southern Oregon Wine Institute (SOWI), I have spent the past year getting to know the regional wine industry. I serve on the Marketing Committee for the Southern Oregon Wineries Association and regularly attend events such as the Oregon Wine Symposium.

With every fresh repotting, I find a deeper sense of purpose and gratification, and Capiche clients benefit from my evolving range of expertise and expanding services.

What’s Next for You?

If you were to repot, where would you spread your new roots? What would you find most nourishing?

I would love to help you or your organization discover and fulfill your deeper purpose. Call 541.601.0114 or email me to begin repotting today.

That’s Not How Thanksgiving Is Supposed to Be! Or How You Can Make the Most of Team Differences.

Thanksgiving is right around the corner. And that means spicy Bloody Marys, roasted turkey with orange cranberry sauce, cornbread dressing, roasted potatoes, gravy, green beans, scalloped oysters and too many desserts. Two hours later, out come the rye bread, mayo, lettuce and dill pickles to make turkey sandwiches. Perfect.

What?! That doesn’t sound like Thanksgiving at your house? Why not? What’s wrong with you?

Funny how we think the way we do things is the right way. Maybe even the only way. “Of course everyone does it like this. That’s how it’s done.”

Imagine my surprise years ago while celebrating Thanksgiving at my college boyfriend’s house. I remember it well. His mother brought out the cranberry sauce—still in the shape of the can she’d extracted it from. It wasn’t even mashed up to appear homemade! (Big judgment on my part.)

Consider this. If someone can be thrown off-kilter by something as simple as a different style of cranberry sauce, just imagine the chaos that different work and management styles can create.

We figure we are doing things the right way. The way it’s done. But no, all of a sudden, one of our colleagues does something contrary. What’s wrong with him? It’s like we’re from different planets.

How can we recognize that our differences are an asset? That they create stronger teams? How can we become open to new ideas without judgment?

When teams are struggling with their differences, it can be helpful to use the metaphor of traveling to other lands. We invite them to consider that each person lives in their own “land,” which is informed by their traditions, upbringing, education and other influences. We emphasize that we are asking them to share what it’s like in their lands and then to travel to others’ lands. Travel allows us to experience the world from another’s perspective.

What does it take to be a good traveler? Lack of judgment, open-mindedness, willingness to try new things and curiosity. Good travelers leave judgment at the border.

As you visit your colleagues’ lands, ask questions like:

  1. What is unique, interesting or edgy about your land?
  2. What are some of the personal biases and prejudices that show up in your land?
  3. Who/what is not welcome in your land?
  4. What is your favorite thing about your land?

Take time to visit each person’s land and learn more about it. Doing this, your team should have developed some empathy, curiosity and appreciation for each others’ lands. They will be able to chart a new geography, bringing the best from each land to most benefit the organization.

To create your new land together, ask questions like:

  1. What do you appreciate about your colleagues’ lands?
  2. What would be helpful to you?
  3. What would you like to import to the land you create together?
  4. How will your new land serve the organization’s goals?

We tend to think of our own values and beliefs as the “correct ones.” Yet every person on your team has a different narrative and perspective, all equally valid. There is no one truth. Organizations flourish when differences exist because it allows for even greater learning and innovating possibilities.

Perhaps it is time for your team to do some traveling. Let Chris Cook be your travel guide and take your organization to its peak. Call 541.601.0114 or email Chris to start making travel plans today!

Note: Lands work is based on a tool from CRR Global.

Looking for an Edge? Use Disruptive Innovation.

What do strengths-based leadership, emotional intelligence, appreciative inquiry and courageous conversations have in common? Together, they form a model of coaching that creates more innovative and higher-performing organizations—organizations that use disruptive innovation to become big, juicy and successful rather than withering on the vine.

This holistic coaching model enables people to generate creative solutions to challenges within their workplaces—through disruptive innovation. Capiche uses this model with great success when working with individuals, teams and organizations.

Three scholars from Chicago’s Concordia University are studying this model and its effect on emerging leaders: Kathryn Hollywood, Donna Blaess and Claudia Santin. I saw them present the concept while I was at the University of New Mexico Mentoring Institute’s Eighth Annual Conference last week. I left the presentation with a huge smile on my face. They were speaking my language!

I share their belief that for today’s and tomorrow’s organizations to thrive, they must rely on the innovations of their people. For people to freely innovate, they need a positive mindset. This mindset can be fostered through a holistic coaching model that blends strengths-based leadership, emotional intelligence, appreciative inquiry and courageous conversations.

Let’s Look at Each Component

Strengths-Based Leadership

Strengths-based leadership asserts that people are at their best when maximizing their strengths vs. struggling to be mediocre at everything. As Gallup has discovered over nearly 20 years of researching individuals, teams and organizations, leaders who encourage people to develop their strengths can create a powerful organization comprising teams with complementary strengths. A holistic coach can stimulate the development of strengths, inspire the use of strengths in new ways and illuminate accomplishments while nurturing continued growth and development.

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EI), first introduced in 1998 by Daniel Goleman, is a combination of awareness of self and others—and the ability to manage one’s self and interactions with others for positive outcomes. Some of the benefits of higher EI include greater self-awareness and self-confidence, deeper empathy and a richer capacity to lead and manage change. Other benefits include better health, relationships and overall quality of life. The beauty of EI is that—unlike IQ—it can be increased. Doing so starts with self-awareness, and a coach can be instrumental in a person’s endeavors to increase his EI.

Workplace HipsterAppreciative Inquiry

Appreciative inquiry (AI) focuses on what an individual or organization does well. It shifts the focus from solving problems to multiplying successes. Originally introduced by David Cooperrider in 1986 as a strategy for organizational change, it also is a powerful tool for individual change. As Drs. Hollywood, Blaess and Santin write, “Using AI, the holistic coach will invite the coachee to reflect on specific events or experiences to: a) identify her most outstanding personal accomplishments, b) discuss the learning from these accomplishments, c) identify her values, d) describe five adjectives that describe her ‘at my best’ engagement and e) dream about her contribution to the organization and the world.”

Courageous Conversations

Courageous conversations can only occur in a fearless environment—a place where people are free to try new things as well as to fail. This becomes possible when emotionally intelligent people—working from their strengths—come together to achieve good things and build upon that which is already working. In a trusting and respectful environment, people can share, listen, explore and engage. This is a space where new ideas are born, fresh ways of thinking are embraced and innovation is possible.

The Role of Coaching

We know coaching works. The ICF 2012 Global Coaching Client Study shows most clients reported improved work performance, better business management, more efficient time management, increased team effectiveness and more growth and opportunities. The same study found coaching clients noted greater self-confidence, enhanced relationships, more effective communications skills, better work-and-life balance and an improvement in wellness. The median suggests a client who achieved financial benefit from coaching can typically expect a ROI of more than three times the amount spent.

It’s clear coaching supports and sustains the individual growth needed for high-performing organizations. Holistic coaching focuses on appreciating strengths, developing greater emotional intelligence, opening communication and getting more of what’s already good. This contributes to the organization’s success by maximizing performance, productivity and ability to innovate and change—while developing individuals’ potential and connection to their life’s work.

The ICF study reports that 86 percent of companies say they made their investment back. In fact, 19 percent saw a ROI of 50 times their investment, while another 28 percent saw a ROI of 10 to 49 times the investment.

Get Started Now

Are you ready to go to the next level? Is your organization ready? Let the disruptive innovation begin! Capiche specializes in holistic coaching for individuals, teams and organizations. Call 541.601.0114 or email Chris Cook to see what coaching can do for your organization.

Want to Accelerate Your Career? The Magic Formula = EI + Coaching

Happy, Successful Leader with Emotional Intelligence
What will get you $29,000 more per year, make you 58% more effective at your job and rank you with 90% of top performers? If you’ve been following this blog, you can probably guess.

Yep, that’s right. Emotional intelligence.

Unless you want to be among the 80% of low-EQ employees classed as “bottom performers,” it’s time to discover how you can accelerate your career and become a better leader by developing your emotional intelligence.

Studies show those with average IQs outshine their highest-IQ counterparts 70% of the time because of their EQ.

Whereas IQ and personality are static elements of your makeup, you can always increase your emotional intelligence (thanks to the wonders of neuroplasticity)—and doing so will make a surprising difference in both your life and work.

What Is Emotional Intelligence?

In a recent Forbes article, bestselling coauthor of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and cofounder of Talent Smart Travis Bradberry describes the two primary competencies and four core skills that make up emotional intelligence.

Personal Competence

This first competency comprises self-awareness (observation) and self-management (actions). Your observation skills, sensitivity and ability to control your emotions come into play here. How conscious are you of your emotions, and how accurate are your self-perceptions? Do you practice mindfulness to remain aware of your emotions, and are you able to take a step back and regulate them when needed? How malleable are you, and can you transform a negative emotion into a positive action?

Social Competence

This competency focuses on social awareness (observation) and relationship management (actions), mapping the reflection and regulation required for personal competence to social situations and relationships. How well do you understand the motives, actions and moods of those around you? Do you intuitively sense people’s emotions and accurately perceive their intentions? Can you use these perceptions to navigate relationships and communicate successfully?

What’s Your EQ?

In an Inc. article, Bradberry outlines 18 key indicators of highly developed emotional intelligence.

Here are a few questions to help you explore your EQ and see how you well you meet Bradberry’s criteria:

  • Do you use a rich range of vocabulary when describing your and others’ emotions? The better you can articulate emotions, the better you can understand and thus manage those emotions.
  • Are you curious about people? Curiosity is a marker of empathy, and it also suggests a natural willingness to listen.
  • Do you welcome change? When your reaction to change is governed by openness and adaptability rather than fear, you will float rather than flounder in the face of transformation.
  • Are you aware of your strengths and weaknesses? If you have a clear sense of your gifts and blind spots, you can leverage your strengths to your advantage while minimizing the impact of your weaknesses.
  • How well can you judge people’s character? This quality is critical to building and leading a successful team.

Ready to Develop Your EI?

Becoming aware of the significance of emotional intelligence is the first step. The second is actively seeking to improve it.

It’s sometimes difficult to objectively evaluate your EI, particularly if you’re one of the many high potentials and middle managers who need to develop this area before they can rise to greatness. Even those who have already achieved success may have difficulty connecting with their employees in meaningful and effective ways.

No matter where you’re at on the EQ scale, you can always benefit from honing your EI. According to Bradberry, “every point increase in emotional intelligence adds $1,300 to an annual salary.”

But monetary rewards are only the beginning. Possessing self-understanding and the ability to control your emotions will give you a greater sense of purpose, peace and well-being. Developing a deeper rapport with your colleagues and employees will increase your effectiveness, their productivity and everyone’s happiness.

The Time Is Now

A co-active leadership coach like Chris Cook can accurately assess your EQ, identify ways to improve your emotional intelligence and give you the tools to do so. Chris will nudge you gently but firmly toward outcomes, holding you accountable while inspiring personal and professional growth.

To schedule a complimentary phone, Skype or in-person consultation with Chris, call 541.601.0114, email chris@capiche.us or complete our Contact form today.

The Rock or the Rebel? How Learning Agility Can Make or Break Your Company

Businessman Climbing a Staircase of Books

Your company is expanding into India, and you’ve got to hire a CEO to head up the new branch. What qualities do you look for?

Do you select the candidate with the solid academic credentials, proven track record and cautious yet consistently successful approach? Or do you go with the wildcard—the rogue leader who questions authority, circumvents convention and takes risks, even though they may fail?

A recent Harvard Business Review article by J.P. Flaum and Becky Winkler says you should go with the rebel.

Why? Because the sure thing may not turn out to be so sure when thrown into an unfamiliar context. Leaders who easily achieve success with known variables may find their formulas don’t work so well when those variables change. Unaccustomed to failure, they may react defensively, sending the company into a tailspin while struggling to cope with the unexpected.

The wildcard, on the other hand, embraces challenge. She’s not afraid to take strategic risks because she doesn’t fear failure—instead of crumbling, she bounces back stronger, learning from her mistakes and adapting accordingly. She may be harder to govern, but she listens to her team, reflects, and recalibrates when circumstances demand—and this learning agility is the bellwether of success.

Traditionally, corporations have opted for the kowtower over the renegade—a pattern that frequently produces catastrophic results.

Case in Point: Apple

Take Apple, for example. Go back to 1985, when the Board is faced with a choice between Steve Jobs and CEO John Sculley, who had been specifically directed to “contain” Jobs and his cavalier tendency to lavish resources on new product ideas. The Board chose Sculley, and 13 years later, Sculley left the company $200 million in debt. Sure, Apple still had $2 billion in cash, but their reputation was on the decline along with profits, and it wasn’t until they brought Jobs back in 1997 that Apple’s brand, stock prices and profitability began to soar again.

What the Board had feared in Jobs is precisely what made him such a triumphant leader: he was daring, original, flexible and resilient—in other words, he was learning-agile.

What Is Learning Agility?

Researchers at the Center for Creative Leadership and Teachers College, Columbia University say learning-agile leaders are “continually able to jettison skills, perspectives and ideas that are no longer relevant and learn new ones that are.”

Flaum and Winkler summarize the findings on learning agility as “a mind-set and corresponding collection of practices that allow leaders to continually develop, grow and utilize new strategies that will equip them for the increasingly complex problems they face in their organizations.”

The researchers found that the single defining characteristic of non–learning-agile individuals is defensiveness. People who fear change, resist new experiences and respond negatively to critiques or challenges lack the resilience necessary to grow and, subsequently, learn.

Learning-agile leaders, on the other hand, solicit feedback and evolve to integrate what they’ve learned. This kind of emotional intelligence requires listening skills, empathy, imagination and humility.

See the white paper Learning About Learning Agility for more details.

Key Behaviors

Four key behaviors are associated with learning agility:

  • Innovation: People who think different are the revolutionaries who will change the course of your company’s history. You want the wave-makers and the earth-shakers—they’re the ones who are going to launch your organization to success.
  • Performance: The learning-agile cope marvelously with stress, adversity and uncharted territory. They don’t shatter when failure occurs but instead respond with elasticity and grace, deftly changing tack and perfecting a strategy based on what they’ve learned.
  • Reflection: This, again, is where emotional intelligence comes in, specifically self-awareness, according to studies by Green Peak Partners identifying this as the top predictor of success in executive leaders. This quality enables the learning-agile to self-assess, seek feedback and modify their behavior.
  • Risk: Learning-agile individuals don’t take foolhardy risks, but they also don’t let fear or caution prevent them from seizing opportunity. They welcome new experiences and constantly seek out ways to stretch themselves and their team. They court failure, knowing they will always learn from it and do better in future. Like the phoenix rising from its ashes, the learning-agile person grows more confident, resilient and astute with each stumble.

The Connection Between Emotional Intelligence and Learning Agility

In their 1990 article “Emotional Intelligence,” Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer define EI as “the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”

Flaum and Winkler suggest self-monitoring and managing your emotions both require learning agility, making it crucial to emotional intelligence. They also connect it to superior listening skills.

Do You Want to Become More Learning-Agile?

A coach can help you learn how to innovate, perform, reflect and take risks that will stretch you as well as showing you how to shed obstructive qualities like defensiveness.

Contact Chris Cook at 541.601.0114 or chris@capiche.us to explore how her leadership coaching services can hone your learning agility, emotional intelligence and effectiveness as both a leader and a human being.

The Path to Happiness May Be . . . Backward?

Contemplative Girl at Forest Bridge with Stone Path over Creek Diptych

You know those days when everything seems to go wrong? When you tell yourself you are not going to trip on that extension cord, you are not going to mention that painful topic to your friend, you are not going to burn your hand on that pan you just pulled out of the oven—and then you do all three simultaneously?

There’s a scientific explanation for this phenomenon. Harvard Professor of Psychology Daniel Wegner calls it ironic process theory, and it has to do with the backfire effect of thought suppression. Ironically, trying to quash a specific behavior or thought tends to trigger that very action or thought.

The preposterous blunders that riddle the plots of sitcoms and screwball comedies may have a basis in reality, after all.

The White Bear Challenge

“Try to pose for yourself this task: not to think of a polar bear, and you will see that the cursed thing will come to mind every minute,” Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote in Winter Notes on Summer Impressions over a century and a half ago. Wegner confirmed this hypothesis in white bear challenges conducted at Harvard’s Mental Control Laboratory.

Wegner uses the term “the precisely counterintuitive error” to describe the experience of being irresistibly drawn to the result we’re seeking to avert.

Edgar Allen Poe calls it the “imp of the perverse,” and it also accounts for those strange, self-destructive impulses we experience when in proximity of danger, such as being tempted to leap off a cliff or unlatch the car door while hurtling down the freeway.

Metacognition Malfunction

Wegner traces the cause of this phenomenon to a malfunction in our metacognition process. Thinking about thinking is a handy talent, but it can short-circuit when we apply it to thought suppression.

Like a self-reflexive programming script that gets stuck in an infinite loop, the self-monitoring process dominates our consciousness. This means we constantly think about the thought we are trying not to think about as our brain reminds us not to think about it.

The Power of Suppression

Practicers of reverse psychology, advertisers and romance novelists all understand the power of suppression. Tell someone not to do something, and they’ll be tempted to do it—even if the thought never occurred to them before.

Experiments reveal that grieving individuals who try to suppress their grief take longer to recover from loss. Subjects told to repress sexual thoughts show higher levels of arousal than those told not to suppress such thoughts. The hearts of anxiety disorder patients beat faster when they are listening to a relaxation tape. When two groups of people are told about the same unhappy event, the group told not to feel sad ends up feeling worse.

The Antidote

What does ironic process theory have to do with happiness? Journalist Oliver Burkeman argues that it could hold the key to a counterintuitive approach to happiness. Drawing on several millennia’s worth of philosophy, religion and science as well as his own international adventures, Burkeman explores this theory in The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking.

Quoting John Stuart Mill (“Ask yourself whether you’re happy, and you cease to be so”), Burkeman suggests we can only glimpse happiness in our peripheral vision—never directly. Just as looking at the sun can blind the viewer, seeking happiness through get-happy-quick schemes not only fails to produce it but may even result in greater misery.

Where Positive Thinking Goes Wrong

The cult of positive thinking (different from the scientifically based positive psychology movement) that has dominated the self-help shelves for decades may be causing more harm than good.

Research shows that daily affirmations can escalate self-critical thoughts among those with low self-esteem. This is because we tend to reject messages that contradict our sense of self, according to self-comparison theory.

In The Optimism Bias: A Tour of the Irrationally Positive Brain, neuroscientisit Tali Sharot writes that optimists—while healthier and happier—may not be as grounded in reality as pessimists, overestimating the degree of their control over circumstances.

Barbara Ehrenreich even goes so far as to suggest that the corporate pressure to be yaysayers instead of naysayers helped trigger the recent Global Financial Crisis in her book Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.

The Benefits of Negative Thinking

Burkeman posits that continual attempts to suppress negative feelings such as insecurity, fear of death, uncertainty, failure and sadness may be a primary cause of unhappiness.

Surprisingly, the path to happiness may lie in not only acknowledging but actively embracing these negative feelings, thus sapping them of their destructive power.

In our next post, we will explore actions you can take to practice the negative approach to happiness.

Make the Connection for a Happier Life

Wizard of Oz: Scarecrow Dorothy and Tin Man

One of the key predictors of happiness is connectivity—feeling a sense of community. Some of us find our community with work colleagues. Others find it among a circle of friends outside work. In this new economy, many of us find ourselves relocating or perhaps working in an unfamiliar industry where we are establishing a new sense of community.

Last week I attended the Southern Oregon Regional Economic Development Inc. (SOREDI) Business Conference, and a colleague commented that I seemed to know everybody there. Well, I didn’t, but it occurred to me that I did know quite a few people. And it made me feel happy. I like people and like to create connections. Some of these connections have developed into full-fledged friendships. Others have created solid ties in business arenas where I can be helpful to others—like being an advisor to entrepreneurs through SOREDI’s TAG Team (Technical Advisory Group) and the Sustainable Valley Technology Group (SVTG) Board of Mentors. I feel a connection with Southern Oregon, its people and its businesses, and this has a noticeable effect on my happiness and well-being.

Try it for yourself! See what you notice. Here are a few places you might find connections:

  • Service organizations like Rotary, Lions and Soroptimist
  • Fundraising events such as Taste of Ashland, JPR Wine Tasting and Best of Britt
  • Chambers of Commerce and other pro-business organizations like SOREDI and SVTG
  • Your health club
  • Places of worship
  • Classes—academic and enrichment
  • Clubs focused on something you’re passionate about, like running, beer-tasting, cooking, skiing, wine appreciation, hiking, gardening, books …

Another way I have found to make connections is through social media such as LinkedIn and Facebook (Capiche). I’ve made some remarkable contacts through both social media channels and maintain them online and in person.

Blogging is another way to connect with people. You don’t get the one-to-one contact, but you are keeping your name and brand front and center. I am always delighted by the readers who acknowledge me as a colleague or subject matter expert. Reading my blog gives them a sense of knowing me, and sometimes that’s all it takes to spark a connection.

Making connections is critical to a person’s happiness and sense of well-being. Please share your ideas on creating connections by commenting on my blog. The stronger our connectedness, the stronger our community—and the greater our collective happiness.


The 5 Ways to Well-Being

(thanks to social economist Nic Marks for this research)

The five ways to well-being are a set of positive actions that have been developed to help people get started on their way to a happier life. While we all have different circumstances and different likes and dislikes, these five ways are broad enough for you to find your own style of happiness. Try them out at work and in your daily life. See how well they work for you and tell us how effective they are!

Connect …

With the people around you. With family, friends, colleagues and neighbors. At home, work, school or in your local community. Think of these as the cornerstones of your life and invest time in developing them. Building these connections will support and enrich you every day.

Be active …

Go for a walk or run. Step outside. Cycle. Play a game. Garden. Dance. Exercising makes you feel good. Most importantly, discover a physical activity you enjoy and that suits your level of mobility and fitness.

Take notice …

Be curious. Catch sight of the beautiful. Remark on the unusual. Notice the changing seasons. Savor the moment, whether you are walking to work, eating lunch or talking to friends. Be aware of the world around you and what you are feeling. Reflecting on your experiences will help you appreciate what matters to you.

Keep learning …

Try something new. Rediscover an old interest. Sign up for that course. Take on a different responsibility at work. Fix a bike. Learn to play an instrument or how to cook your favorite food. Set a challenge you will enjoy achieving. Learning new things will make you more confident as well as being fun.

Give …

Do something nice for a friend or a stranger. Thank someone. Smile. Volunteer your time. Join a community group. Look out, as well as in. Seeing yourself, and your happiness, linked to the wider community can be incredibly rewarding and creates connections with the people around you.

10 Ways to Make Your Life Quite Interesting

The QI Manifesto

This summer, I spent a month traveling through England, Scotland and France (and what a month it was!). One of my favorite days was at the Cornbury Music Festival, where I had the privilege of seeing the fabulous Elvis Costello perform as the headliner. Wow. What a powerhouse!

Before Costello started, my mates and I did a photo essay on people wearing Wellies (we were in the middle of a rainy stretch), and then we went to a beer tent, where I saw a large poster sporting the QI Manifesto. I’d never heard of QI but was drawn in by the content. I want to share it here and am eager for your thoughts on it, too!

Here’s what I found out: QI (short for “Quite Interesting”) is arguably the hardest panel game in the world. It is built on the philosophy that everything in the world is quite interesting, provided you look at in the right way. It is a 26-year-long project, created by the BBC in England.

The QI Manifesto

Ten steps to making your life more interesting:

1. Everything is interesting. You just have to look at it the right way. At the beginning of QI, we set ourselves the Quite Boring challenge to see if we could turn up anything that was intrinsically dull. We failed. Allow yourselves the luxury of looking closely and patiently at anything—a turnip, the history of Chelmsford, a letter from an insurance company—and new layers of detail come into focus.

2. Ask more questions. QI is one long string of questions. Six-year-olds are full of questions, before school and busy parents teach them that you get on quicker by pretending to know things. Socrates asked lots of difficult questions. He might have ended up dead (who doesn’t) but he was never bored and he never bored anyone else.

3. We all know less than we think we know. That’s what “general ignorance” means. Cultivate humility and a sense of mystery. “The wise man knows that he knows nothing” (Socrates, again). Despite what some scientific fundamentalists tell us, we still don’t know how or why the universe began, what consciousness or light are, or even the best way to bring up our children.

4. Look for new connections. We always tell our researchers to only write down things they don’t already know. They find this hard, because formal education is all about recycling and repeating other people’s knowledge (some wag once defined education as the process by which the notes of the professor appear in the notebooks of the student, without passing through the mind of either). Interestingness is a lot like humour—it can’t be defined or taught, it’s a spark which arcs between two previously unconnected things.

5. If it’s worth writing down, it’s worth writing down clearly. Technical terms, jargon and mumbo jumbo might give you the fleeting warmth of belonging to an exclusive club, but they are the enemies of truth. As the anthropologist Margaret Mead once wrote, if you can’t explain yourself to a 12-year-old child, stay inside the university or lab until you have a better grasp of your subject matter.

6. What you leave out is as important as what you leave in. Too many of our knowledge institutions base their authority on spurious claims of “comprehensiveness.” We prefer storytellers to panels of faceless academics. QI isn’t about lists of trivial facts, as we’ve said, it’s about making connections.

7. Digressions are the point. We’re burrowers not grazers. What might start out as a question from the back seat of the car: why do pigeons not fly away sooner might lead to an investigation into how the brain processes visual information; the truth about carrots and night vision; the history of pigeons as a communication device; the Dickin Medal for Animal Bravery; how migratory animals navigate; the chemical constitution of bird dung; the design and ornamentation of medieval dovecotes …

8. Take your time. The interesting stuff doesn’t just roll over and ask to have its tummy tickled. We reckon it takes three hours of reading, thinking and researching to get into the QI zone, when you might notice the unseen link, the mind-altering fact, the life-changing insight, lurking in the fireplace.

9. Walk towards the sound of gunfire. Fear is what stops us, everywhere in our lives, particularly the pointless fear of what other people will think. We know when something isn’t right. We should trust our instincts and risk saying so. It’s surprising how often things turn out for the best when you do.

10. You already have everything you need. The most interesting thing you have is you: your instincts, your curiosity, and your own ignorance. But the great paradox is that, in order to be most yourself, you have to shut up about how much you know. The great American philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, wrote that the greatest poets carry “us to such a lofty strain of intelligent activity, as to suggest a wealth which beggars his own.” We all have this lofty strain; we just have to find our frequency.

How does the QI Manifesto resonate with you? Please comment. I am super interested! Let’s get a dialogue going around this fabulous material. Happy thoughts to you all!