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First impressions are accurate

Posted April 30th, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

People often ask me are first impressions accurate, because they are often made in the first few minutes or even seconds.

First impressions are important, and they usually contain a healthy dose both of accuracy and misperception. But do people know when their first impressions are correct? They do reasonably well, according to a study in the current Social Psychological and Personality Science (published by SAGE).

Researchers had two separate groups of more than100 people meet in a “getting-acquainted” session much like speed-dating, until the people had spoken with everyone else in the group for three minutes each. At the end of each 3-minute chat, they rated each other’s personalities, and rated how well they thought their impressions “would agree with someone who knows this person very well.” To establish what the person was “really” like, the researchers had people fill out their own personality reports, which were bolstered with personality ratings that came either from friends or parents.

There is a large body of research that shows impressions can be accurate with short interactions, and the participants did a reasonably good job of seeing each other’s personality. And the more accurate they felt, the closer their ratings to the friends’ and parents’ ratings (although this correlation was not perfect). The participants also found the highest accuracy from people who rated themselves moderately accurate — when people were highly confident of their judgment, accuracy was not greater than for moderate levels of confidence.

The research team, led by Jeremy Biesanz of the University of British Columbia, noted that there are two ways to be right about people’s personality. We can know how people are different from each other, but a good judge of persons knows that people are mostly alike — for example, almost everyone would prefer being friendly to being quarrelsome. The more people rated their partner’s personality in a way typical of most everyone, the more accurate they felt their perception was. And because most people are like most people, they were indeed being accurate.

“Many important decisions are made after very brief encounters — which job candidate to hire, which person to date, which student to accept,” write the authors. “Although our first impressions are generally accurate, it is it critical for us to recognize when they may be lacking.”


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American employees bullied up to 50% more often than in Scandanavia

Posted April 28th, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

New research to be published in the Journal of Management Studies reveals that employees in the US are bullied up to 50% more often than workers in Scandinavia. However, just 9% of employees were aware that the negative acts they experienced constituted bullying, suggesting that bullying behaviour is ingrained in the culture of the US workplace.

The study, led by Pamela Lutgen-Sandvik, is also one of the first to investigate the impact of bullying on non-bullied employees, and finds that the negative effects are widespread: employees who witness others being bullied suffer secondary harm, reporting high levels of stress, and low levels of work satisfaction.

Lutgen-Sandvik explains why this study is so significant: “Workers suffering on the job and thinking they’re ‘going crazy’ learn that the phenomenon has a name, what it looks like, that it happens to many workers, and potentially, what they might do about it.”

The study concludes that US organizational and cultural structures frequently enable, trigger, and reward bullying. U.S. companies stress market processes, individualism, and the importance of managers over workers, which discourages collaborative efforts and enables powerful organizational members to bully others without recrimination.

Steven Floyd, an editor at JMS says “This paper helps to surface a problem that plagues far too many employees and that too few people are willing to speak openly about…”

Comments Off on Why we need mindful leaders and mindful workplaces

Why we need mindful leaders and mindful workplaces

Posted April 25th, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Most leadership books and training programs focus on how leaders can achieve more—do more, better, faster, with spectacular results. We’ve become obsessed with continuous improvement at increasing speed, with resulting rising stress levels to leaders and their followers and deteriorating relationships.  Mindfulness as both a leadership practice and workplace culture holds the promise to bring back balance and better health.

Most contemporary management and leadership literature is a predictive recasting of 19th and 20th century institutional thinking-multitasking, bigger, better, faster; planning, analysis and problem solving. Work on steroids.

While it is true that the effectiveness of leaders is determined by the results they achieve, those results are an outcome of the impact the leaders have on others. Behavior is driven by thinking and emotions. Thinking and emotions can be a result of mindfulness or mindlessness.

Neuroscience research clearly established that we act, decide and choose as a result of inner forces, often unconscious, and the brain’s reactive and protective mechanisms often rule us. Research also points to the existence of emotions being contagious and viral in the workplaces, often initiated by the emotional states of leaders.

There’s a price to pay for our breakneck speed to continuously improve, and produce.

In an article in Forbes magazine, professors Cyril Bouquet and Ben Bryant, citing the disastrous collision of two Boeing 747’s in the Canary Islands in 1977, killing 583 people, was a case of poor attention management. They argue that two kinds of attention disorders exacerbate the difficulties companies face in economic downturns-fixation and relaxation. In the case of fixation, the leaders are too preoccupied with a few central signals or information; they ignore everything else. With respect to relaxation, Bouquet and Bryant contend that excessive relaxation follows sustained periods of high concentration. The authors argue that mindfulness can lessen the attention problems of fixation and relaxation.

The demands of leadership can produce what is known as “power stress,” a side effect of being in a position of power and influence that often leaves even the best leaders physically and emotionally drained. As a result, leaders can easily find themselves moving from an “approach” orientation to their work-emotionally open, engaged and innovative-to an “avoidance” orientation that is characterized by aversion, irritability, aggression, fear and close-mindedness.

If leaders believe they don’t have the time to work through all aspects of a problem they are inclined to be narrow in perspective and take cognitive shortcuts, and become more impulsive and reactive. Their actions, in effect become “mindless” and automatic.

Daniel Siegel, a neuroscientist and author of The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being, contends that a corporate culture of cognitive shortcuts results in oversimplication, curtailed curiosity, reliance on ingrained beliefs and the development of perceptional blind spots. He argues that mindfulness practices enable individuals to jettison judgment and develop more flexible feelings toward what before may have been mental events they tried to avoid, or towards which they had intense averse reactions.

David Rock, writing in Psychology Today argues that “busy people who run our companies and institutions …tend to spend little time thinking about themselves and other people, but a lot of time thinking about strategy, data and systems. As a result the circuits involved in thinking about oneself and other people, the medial prefrontal cortex, tend to be not too well developed.” Rock says “speaking to an executive about mindfulness can be a bit like speaking to a classical musician about jazz.”

In the East, mindfulness developed in Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist and other traditions as a component of yoga and meditation practice, and was designed to free the mind of unwholesome habits. In the West mindfulness is an element of many Jewish, Christian, Muslim and North American aboriginal practices designed for spiritual growth.

Over the past decade, researchers and mental health professionals have been discovering that both ancient and modern mindfulness practices hold great promise for ameliorating virtually every kind of psychological suffering–from everyday worry, dissatisfaction and neurotic habits to more serious problems with anxiety, depression, substance abuse and related conditions. The exploration and practice of mindfulness has grown on a global scale. Used now in settings ranging from preschools to prisons, mindfulness, once only studied by scientists and religious practitioners, is making its way into the mainstream.

So what exactly is mindfulness?

Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, describes mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally.” Other definitions are: “bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis,” and  “it includes a quality of compassion, acceptance and loving-kindness.”

The three foundational elements of mindfulness-objectivity, openness, and observation-create a tripod that stabilizes the mind’s attentional lens. This enables the mind to become conscious of the mind itself and thus become liberated from the common ways in which it is imprisoned by its own preoccupations. This is why, through mindfulness practice, we can transform self-created suffering into personal liberation. As we engage in mindful awareness practices, we have the potential to develop long-term personality traits from intentionally created mindful states. Research has suggested that these mindfulness traits include the capacity to suspend judgments, to act in awareness of our moment-to-moment experience, to achieve emotional equilibrium or equanimity, to describe our internal world with language.

Mindfulness meditation comes in 2 distinct forms: formal meditation: when you intentionally take time out of your day to embark on a meditative practice; and informal meditation, when you go into a focused and meditative state of mind as you go about your daily activities.

There are 7 key elements to mindfulness:

  • Paying attention: Focusing 100% of your attention on whatever you are doing
  • Non-judging: taking the role of an impartial observer to whatever your current experience is, and not judging whether things are good or bad.
  • Patience: cultivating the understanding that things must develop in their own time.
  • Being in the present moment. Being aware of how things are right now in the present moment, not as they were in the past, or how they might be in the future.
  • Non-reactivity. Our brains are built to have you react automatically, without thinking. Mindfulness encourages you to respond to your experience rather than react to your thoughts. Mindfulness is a deliberate and intentional choice.
  • Beginner’s mind: having the willingness to observe the world as if it was your first time doing so. This creates an openness that is essential to being mindful.
  • Trust: having trust in yourself, your intuition, and your abilities.
  • Non-striving: the state of not doing anything, just simply accepting that things are happening in the moment just as they are supposed to. For people from the Western countries like the United States, this seems to be one of the more difficult components.
  • Acceptance: completely accepting the thoughts, feelings, sensations, and beliefs that you have, and understanding that they are simply those things only.
  • Open-heartedness. Mindfulness is not just about the head or brain, it’s about the heart and spirit as well. To be open-hearted is to bring a quality of kindness, compassion, warmth and friendliness to our experience.
  • Non-attachment: avoidance of attaching meaning to thoughts and feelings, or connecting a given thought to a feeling. Instead, let a thought or feeling come in and pass without connecting it to anything, observing them exactly as they are.

What are the benefits and impacts of mindfulness on leaders and the workplace?

In tough economic times, there’s often a knee-jerk reactive argument for panic, pessimism and “getting tough” most of which generate a culture of fear. Mindfulness, practiced extensively in organizations, can be a powerful antidote to the fear and aggression tendencies.

Buddhist trained HR executive, Michael Carroll, author of the Mindful Leader: Awakening Your Natural Management Skills Through Mindfulness Meditation applies the key principles of mindfulness and how they could apply to leaders of organizations. He argues that mindfulness in leaders and their organizations can:

  • Heal toxic workplace cultures where anxiety and stress impede creativity and performance;
  • Cultivate courage and confidence in spite of workplace difficulties in economic downturns;
  • Pursue organizational goals without neglecting the here and now;
  • Lead with wisdom and gentleness, not only with ambition, relentless drive and power;
  • Develop innate leadership talents.

Since 2001, through the work of neuroscientist Richard Davidson and others, we’ve learned that left prefrontal cortex activity, associated with higher states of personal growth, meaning and purpose, measure at extraordinary high levels with people who practice mindful meditation regularly.

Research shows mindfulness leads to significant changes in the brain-more cognitive flexibility, creativity and innovativeness, higher levels of well-being, better emotional regulation and more empathy, as reflected in increased levels of alpha and beta brain wave activity.

The National Institute of Health is currently financing more than 50 studies testing the potential health benefits of mindfulness techniques. A University of Pennsylvania study in which mindfulness meditation training was provided to a high stress U.S. military group preparing for deployment to Iraq has demonstrated a positive link between mindfulness training and improvements in mood and working memory.

Researchers at the University of Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School and MIT reported from their study of mindfulness that mindfulness practitioners were far more able to “turn down the volume” on distracting information and focus their attention better than non-mindfulness practitioners.

Mindfulness improves attention, memory problems solving, enhances the experience empathy and other positive emotions, lowers stress and is effective in the treatment of varied medical and mental healthy conditions such as ADHD, PSD,  chronic pain, cancer, addiction and depression.

A study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry reported that mindfulness-based cognitive therapy delivered in a group format is as effective as antidepressant medication in treating depression.

According to a study published in the journal, Psychoneuroendocrinology, the positive effects of mindfulness begin at the cellular level, altering levels of telomerase immune cells.

A study from the University of California Berkeley, published in the journal Emotion, studied the mind-body connection of professional dancers in comparison with accomplished mindfulness meditators, and found that the latter were more in sync with their bodies.

A study by Kirk Brown at the University of Rochester found that people high on a mindfulness scale were more aware of their unconscious processes and had more cognitive control and greater ability to shape what they do and what they say, than people lower on the mindfulness scale.

We need leaders in our organizations who practice mindfulness as a lifestyle skill and leadership competency.

Daniel Goleman, an acknowledged expert on emotional intelligence in leadership and organizations, writes in his book, Primal Leadership, “the first tasks of management has nothing to do with leading others; step one poses the challenge of knowing and managing oneself.” If leaders are constantly in the doing phase, without taking time for self-reflection and mindfulness, this knowing of oneself presents a serious challenge.

Richard Boyatzis, professor of organizational behavior at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, and author of Resonant Leadership, argues that good leaders attain resonance with those around them through self awareness and relationship management, all clearly connected to mindfulness.

To become mindful leaders and tap into that power, they must:

  • Let go of their belief in themselves as technical and problem solving geniuses and embrace the notion of becoming mindful partners. This requires building an awareness of and becoming more open to nuance and subtlety.
  • Be open to the concept of an unknown future. What we plan for today may not work tomorrow. To succeed in an unknown future, leaders must acknowledge mistakes quickly when things are not turning out as they predicted; be flexible enough to make changes quickly without defending their territory or ego;
  • Become skilled at leading through intuitive reflection rather than logical analysis;
  • Become more open and accepting of the world and others, and their differing points of view, rather than trying to reshape the world in the leader’s own image.
  • Become more mindful of what is going on in terms of their own thoughts, emotions and body and what is going in context. External mindfulness is being able to sense situations, being aware of the signals and cues in different contexts, and paying attention to them. Internal mindfulness is being aware of one’s body, emotions and thoughts and requires the ability and attitude to monitor one’s inner reality.

And mindfulness can have tremendous impact on workplace culture.

Many workplaces such as Raytheon, Procter and Gamble, Unilever, NortelNetowrks, Comcast, Yahoo, Google, eBay and Apple now offer employees classes in mindful meditation and senior executives such as Bill Ford Jr., Michael Stephen, Robert Shapiro and Michael Rennie practice regular mindful mediation as part of their regimen.

Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR) offers a Mindfulness Center at their facilities where employees can take year round retreats and workshops. GMCR returned roughly 3,400% in the stock market in the last decade, making it one of the best performing stocks during that period.

Our modern world has become unbalanced, with an excessive focus on doing and speed and multitasking, with little time for just “being” and reflection.  Mindfulness can restore that balance to leaders and workplaces.

Comments Off on Self-compassion a key to weathering life’s challenges

Self-compassion a key to weathering life’s challenges

Posted April 18th, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Why do some people roll with life’s punches, facing failures and problems with grace, while others dwell on calamities, criticize themselves and exaggerate problems? In my work with clients who have struggled with trauma, obstacles, or setbacks in life, I’ve tried to discern how some are so resilient and others aren’t, and develop supportive strategies. One powerful strategy is the capacity for self-compassion.

According to researchers from Duke and Wake Forest universities, self-compassion -– the ability to treat oneself kindly when things go badly. The results of their research, one of the first major investigations of self-compassion, were published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

“Life’s tough enough with little things that happen. Self-compassion helps to eliminate a lot of the anger, depression and pain we experience when things go badly for us,” said Mark R. Leary, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke and lead author of the paper, which includes five peer-reviewed studies.

The other authors are Eleanor B. Tate and Ashley Batts Allen of Duke; Jessica Hancock of Wake Forest University; and Claire E. Adams, formerly of Wake Forest University and now of Louisiana State University.

“Rather than focusing on changing people’s self-evaluations, as many cognitive-behavioral approaches do, self-compassion changes people’s relationship to their self-evaluations,” Leary said. “Self-compassion helps people not to add a layer of self-recrimination on top of whatever bad things happen to them. If people learn only to feel better about themselves but continue to beat themselves up when they fail or make mistakes, they will be unable to cope nondefensively with their difficulties.”

Self-compassion involves three components. They are self-kindness (being kind and understanding toward oneself rather than self-critical); common humanity (viewing one’s negative experiences as a normal part of the human condition); and mindful acceptance (having mindful equanimity rather than over-identifying with painful thoughts and feelings).

Self-esteem was measured using Rosenberg’s Self-Esteem Inventory, the most widely used measure of self-esteem.

The researchers conducted five studies to investigate the cognitive and emotional processes by which self-compassionate people deal with unpleasant life events.

The experiments involved measuring participants’ reactions to recalling actual negative experiences, imagining negative scenarios, receiving unflattering feedback from another person, comparing their evaluations of themselves doing a task and someone else doing the same task, and measuring reactions of participants who were prompted to have a self-compassionate attitude.

In three of the experiments, researchers also compared reactions of people with differing levels of self-compassion to people with differing levels of self-esteem. The findings suggest that fostering a sense of self-compassion may have particularly beneficial effects for people with low self-esteem, the researchers said.

The researchers found that:

  • People with higher self-compassion had less negative emotional reactions to real, remembered and imagined bad events.
  • Self-compassion allowed people to accept responsibility for a negative experience, but to counteract bad feelings about it.
  • Self-compassion protects people from negative events differently –- and in some cases better — than self-esteem. In addition, the positive feelings that characterize self-compassionate people do not appear to involve the hubris, narcissism or self-enhancing illusions that characterize many people with high self-esteem.
  • Being self-compassionate is particularly important for people with low self-esteem. People with low self-esteem who treat themselves kindly in spite of unflattering self-evaluations fare as well as, if not better than, those with high self-esteem.
  • For self-compassionate people, their view of themselves depends less on the outcomes of events, presumably because they respond in a kind and accepting manner toward themselves whether things go well or badly.

The study also notes that many of the positive benefits typically attributed to high self-esteem may, in fact, be due to self-compassion.

“As you disentangle them, self-compassion seems to be more important than self-esteem, and is in fact responsible for some of the positive effects of self-esteem,” Leary said.

Researchers noted some questions raised by their research. It is unclear from the studies whether self-compassionate people are simply less likely to examine themselves deeply, or whether they maintain a more positive view of themselves in spite of their shortcomings, the paper said.

It also does not examine whether self-compassion might have drawbacks. Although these studies indicate that people with high self-compassion are willing to take responsibility for their actions, it is possible that self-compassion may make people complacent and discourage them from taking action to prevent future mistakes, researchers said.

In addition, four of the five studies looked at fairly mild negative events in an experimental setting, and future research should examine how self-compassionate people respond to more serious, real-life events, the study said.

“American society has spent a great deal of time and effort trying to promote people’s self-esteem,” Leary said, “when a far more important ingredient of well-being may be self-compassion.”

Comments Off on How workaholism may be the price we pay for productivity

How workaholism may be the price we pay for productivity

Posted April 18th, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

The health of countries and the people within them is often measured by economic activity—particularly productivity—often without an examination of the social costs of that activity. Productivity may have some undesirable side effects, of which the most serious is increasing “workaholism,” and the health problems that go with it.

While working their longer hours, Americans have a higher average productivity, a figure derived by dividing the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) by the number of people employed. According to CBS: Each U.S. worker produces $63,885 of wealth per year, more than their counterparts in all other countries, the International Labor Organization said in its report. Ireland comes in second at $55,986, ahead of Luxembourg, $55,641; Belgium, $55,235; and France, $54,609. The U.S., according to the report, also beats all 27 nations in the European Union, Japan and Switzerland in the amount of wealth created per hour of work—a second key measure of productivity.

But at what cost?

In Japan they call it “karoshi” and in China it is “guolaosi.” As yet there is no word in English for working yourself to death, but as more and more people put in longer hours and suffer more stress there may soon be. Ronald Reagan was wrong, it seems, when he said: “Hard work never killed anyone.” Death from overwork is not a new phenomenon in Western countries but it is largely unremarked upon. In 1987, the Japanese ministry of labor acknowledged that it had a problem with death from overwork and began to publish statistics on karoshi. In 2001, the numbers reached a record level with 143 workers dying. Now, death-by-overwork lawsuits are common, with the victims’ families demanding compensation payments. In 2002-03, 160 out of 819 claimants received compensation.

Overachieving professionals today are seen as road warriors — masters of the universe. They work harder, take on endless additional responsibilities and earn a lot more than their counterparts in earlier times, and their numbers are growing. And it is these individuals who bring into clear focus the question of work-life balance.

This concept was first coined in 1986 in reaction to unhealthy choices many Americans were making in favor of work. A hundred years ago, the pundits were forecasting that technology would not only do away with household chores, but provide us with unlimited leisure. That prediction has not come to pass. Instead, the work ethic has been elevated to unprecedented heights, which reinforces the low value and worth attached to family, parenting, and building community amid a radical redefinition of the nature of work.

In the Hidden Brain Drain Task Force study in the December, 2006, issue of Harvard Business Review, authors Sylvia Ann Hewlett and Carolyn Buck Luce outlined their conclusions about American’s obsession with work. They state that professionals are working harder than ever and that the 40-hour workweek is a thing of the past. In fact, the 60-hour workweek is commonplace. Hewlett and Luce say 62% of high-earning individuals they studied worked more than 50 hours a week and 35% worked more than 60 hours. Most respondents indicated they worked on average 16 hours a week more than they did five years ago. The study also noted that vacations are shrinking, with 42% reporting they take 10 or fewer vacation days a year, which is less than their entitlement.

In a report entitled, “No-Vacation Nation,” for the Center for Economic and Policy Research, authors Rebecca Ray and John Schmitt detail the stark contrast between the United States and the 21 other wealthy nations. They provided the following description of vacation time in America:

“The United States is the only advanced economy in the world that does not guarantee its workers paid vacation. European countries establish legal rights to at least 20 days of paid vacation per year, with legal requirement of 25 and even 30 or more days in some countries. Australia and New Zealand both require employers to grant at least 20 vacation days per year; Canada and Japan mandate at least 10 paid days off. The gap between paid time off in the United States and the rest of the world is even larger if we include legally mandated paid holidays, where the United States offers none, but most of the rest of the world’s rich countries offer between five and 13 paid holidays per year.

In the absence of government standards, almost one in four Americans have no paid vacation and no paid holidays. According to government survey data, the average worker in the private sector in the United States receives only about nine days of paid vacation and about six paid holidays per year: less than the minimum legal standard set in the rest of world’s rich economies excluding Japan (which guarantees only 10 paid vacation days and requires no paid holidays).

The paid vacation and paid holidays that employers do make available is distributed unequally. According to the same government survey data, lower-wage workers are less likely to have any paid vacation (69 percent) than higher-wage workers are (88 percent). The same is true for part-timers, who are far less likely to have paid vacations (36 percent) than are full-timers (90 percent). The problems of lower-wage and part-time workers are magnified if they are employed in small establishments, where only 70 percent have paid vacations, compared to 86 percent in medium and large establishments.

Even when lower-wage, part-time, and small-business employees do receive paid vacations, they typically receive far fewer paid days off than higher-wage, full-time, employees in larger establishments. For example, the average lower-wage worker (less than $15 per hour) with a vacation benefit received only 10 days of paid vacation per year in 2005, compared to 14 days of paid vacation for higher-wage workers with paid vacations. If we look at all workers ? those who receive paid vacations and those who don’t ? the vacation gap between lower-wage and higher-wage workers is even larger: only 7 days for lower-wage workers, compared to 13 days for higher-wage workers.”

A 2007 report by the World Tourism Organization reported that even Koreans who work hundreds of more hours per year than Americans average nearly twice the number of paid vacation days. On the other side of the scale, people in The Netherlands, which has weathered the recession quite well, work hundreds of hours less per year than Americans, and averaged 45 paid days off at one time.

Kathleen E. Christensen, the founder of the Workplace, Work Force and Working Families program at the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation and author of the book Workplace Flexibility: Realigning 20th-Century Jobs for a 21st-Century Workforce, states “Many of these countries have strong labor unions and the workers are more protected than in the U.S.” It’s ironic that the country with the largest economy and greatest wealth in the world does not require any vacation time for the workers who create the wealth with their labor. When paid annual and holiday leave is offered, it is less than half of what most other countries receive, and of that almost half of Americans do not use all of their days.

By no means is this workaholic behavior limited to the working and middle classes. In an article in the Wall Street Journal, Robert Frank recounts his experiences with wealthy workaholics: “Last week I had dinner with a billionaire in California. During the two hours I was at his house, he took six cellphone calls, sent 18 emails, and thought up two new business ideas…At the end of dinner he took his last sip of wine and said, “It’s so nice to be able to have a relaxing dinner at home.” I laughed. He didn’t get the joke. But another part of the discussion is how the wealthy view work and leisure. For many of today’s rich there is no such thing as “leisure” in the classic sense – work is their play. They don’t sit around the polo field or lounge around the country club all day like Old Money. The new rich are perpetual-motion machines – young, driven and always working on the next project.”

Frank goes on to say, “In short, Thorstein Veblen’s famous “leisure class” has given way to what I call the “workaholic rich.” Even when they’re sitting by the pool at their beach homes in Palm Beach and the Hamptons, they’re tapping away at their laptops and screaming into their cellphones….But this new generation of workaholic wealthy has dramatically changed the classic equation between money and leisure time. As my billionaire friend said after our dinner: “I’m the most relaxed when I’m working.”

What is the cost of all this excessive hard work, even if it does contribute to production increases?

An American study, published in Occupational and Environmental Medicine, points out that overtime and extended work schedules are associated with an increased risk of hypertension, cardiovascular disease, fatigue, stress, depression, musculoskeletal disorders, chronic infections, diabetes and other general health complaints. In Japan, most karoshi victims succumb to brain aneurisms, strokes and heart attack.

A new study published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, concluded that people who work 11 or more hours a day have a 67 percent higher risk of coronary heart disease than people who work seven or eight hours a day.

To begin the study, British, French and Finnish researchers screened 7,095 civil service workers, ages 39 to 62, who had no signs of coronary heart disease. They were screened initially between 1991 and 1993, and then screened every five years afterward until 2004.

Fifty-four percent of the people worked 7 to 8 hours a day, and 10.4 percent worked 11 or more hours as day.

By the end of the study, 192 people had developed coronary heart disease, the study said.

Researchers found that adding information about the study participants’ working hours improved predictions of who would develop coronary heart disease in that 10-year period.

The more hours people worked in a day, the higher their risk of developing coronary heart disease, the results of the study suggested. People who worked 10 hours a day had a 45 percent higher risk of heart disease and those who worked 11 hours a day had a 67 percent higher risk of heart disease than people who worked 7 to 8 hours a day, according to the study.

Next, researchers hope to see whether the association holds true across income levels. It also needs to be determined if working long hours is a causal risk factor for coronary heart disease, or if it’s just associated with increased heart disease risk.

Past research also suggests a link between working hours and heart disease risk. A 2010 study published in the journal Heart showed that men who did not regularly exercise had an increased risk of dying from ischemic heart disease if they also worked more than 45 hours a week, compared with men who worked less than 40 hours a week.

While commenting on the worrisome findings, lead researcher Mika Kivimaki from Britain’s University College of London, said in a press release that study findings can serve as a wake-up call for people who forget about time once they start working.

“Working long days are associated with a remarkable increase in risk of heart disease. Considering that including a measurement of working hours in a (doctor’s) interview is so simple and useful, our research presents a strong case that it should become standard practice,” added Kivimaki.

And the cost of workaholism may not be limited just to health; it also impacts the quality of family life.

Catherine Ornstein, a U.S. cultural critic, calls extreme jobs the “American Dream on steroids.” No longer is the American dream Ozzie Nelson or Father Knows Best, it’s Donald Trump and Survivor in the office tower. Ornstein says that is merely reflective of our culture’s embrace of an extreme ethos. Extreme sports, extreme reality shows, and extreme video games — the list goes on. At the same time, the nature of the work itself has changed.

For many professionals, work is the centre of their social life and friendships. Personal connections, once made exclusively through family, friends and civic organizations, are now made in the workplace. Arlie Hochschild, in The Time Bind writes that home life can become seriously depleted. She says, as homes and families become starved for time, overworked people avoid going home and choose “more attractive” social venues associated with work. For many, home and family become associated with stress and guilt, while work becomes a haven.

In his book, written with Jim Loehr, Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project, and author of The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal, argues that productivity means “managing energy in all facets of our lives. Emotional depth and resilience depend on active engagement with others and with our own feelings.”

Schwartz says that the issue is not just the number of hours worked, but what happens to employees’ energy, and their use of time off work. Schwartz recently conducted a poll on the Huffington Post about people’s experience in the workplace. Sixty per cent of 1200 respondents told us they took less than 20 minutes a day for lunch. Twenty per cent took less than 10 minutes. One quarter said they never left their desks at all. That’s consistent with a study by the American Dietetic Association, which found that 75 per cent of office workers eat lunch at their desk at least two to three days a week.

What to conclude? First, it’s obvious, the American workplace is out of step with every other advanced nation regarding the allocation of vacation time, legislated holiday time off, and regulation of working hours. Second, the achievements in productivity may have come at a developing culture of workaholism.

Comments Off on Superheroes not a good model for young boys

Superheroes not a good model for young boys

Posted April 16th, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Watching superheroes beat up villains may not be the best image for boys to see if society wants to promote kinder, less stereotypical male behaviors, according to psychologists who spoke Sunday at the 118th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association.

“There is a big difference in the movie superhero of today and the comic book superhero of yesterday,” said psychologist Sharon Lamb, PhD, distinguished professor of mental health at University of Massachusetts-Boston. “Today’s superhero is too much like an action hero who participates in non-stop violence; he’s aggressive, sarcastic and rarely speaks to the virtue of doing good for humanity. When not in superhero costume, these men, like Ironman, exploit women, flaunt bling and convey their manhood with high-powered guns.”

The comic book heroes of the past did fight criminals, she said, “but these were heroes boys could look up to and learn from because outside of their costumes, they were real people with real problems and many vulnerabilities,” she said.

To understand how the media and marketers package masculinity to boys, Lamb surveyed 674 boys age 4 to 18, walked through malls and talked to sales clerks and came to understand what boys were reading and watching on television and at the movies. She and her co-authors found that marketers take advantage of boys’ need to forge their identity in adolescence and sell them a narrow version of masculinity. They can either be a “player” or a “slacker” — the guy who never even tries — to save face.

“In today’s media, superheroes and slackers are the only two options boys have,” said Lamb. “Boys are told, if you can’t be a superhero, you can always be a slacker. Slackers are funny, but slackers are not what boys should strive to be; slackers don’t like school and they shirk responsibility. We wonder if the messages boys get about saving face through glorified slacking could be affecting their performance in school.”

Teaching boys early on to distance themselves from these images and encouraging them to find the lies in the messages can help, said Lamb. “When you crowd out other types of media messages, you promote stereotypes and limit their options.”

Boys seem better adjusted when they resist internalizing “macho” images, according to a researcher who also presented at APA’s convention.

Researcher Carlos Santos, PhD, of Arizona State University, examined 426 middle school boys’ ability to resist being emotionally stoic, autonomous and physically tough — stereotyped images of masculinity — in their relationships. He also looked at how this would affect their psychological adjustment.

Santos looked at whether boys could resist being tough, emotionally unavailable, and detached from their friends as they moved from sixth to eighth grade; whether ethnicity made a difference; whether their relationships with their families and peer group fostered this resistance; and whether resisting these images affected their psychological health.

Participants were from different racial/ethnic backgrounds: 20 percent were African-American, 9 percent were Puerto Rican, 17 percent were Dominican-American, 21 percent were Chinese-American, 27 percent were European-American and 6 percent were of another race or ethnicity.

Boys from diverse ethnic and racial groups were equally able to resist these masculine stereotypes, going against the common belief that certain ethnic minority boys are more emotionally stunted and hypermasculine, said Santos. Few differences were detected and most tended to dissipate over the course of middle school.

He found that boys were more likely to act tough and detached from their friends as they got older. But boys who remained close to their mothers, siblings and peers did not act as tough and were more emotionally available to their friends compared to those who were not as close. However, closeness to fathers encouraged boys to be more autonomous and detached from friendships.

“If the goal is to encourage boys to experience healthy family relationships as well as healthy friendships, clinicians and interventionists working with families may benefit from having fathers share with their sons on the importance of experiencing multiple and fulfilling relationships in their lives,” Santos said. He also found that boys who were depressed had a harder time not acting macho in their friendships.

Interestingly, levels of emotional stoicism tended to remain stable throughout the middle school years and boys who did not adopt these macho behaviors had better psychological health in middle school, he found.

The results show that being able to resist internalizing these macho images — especially aggression and autonomy — declines as boys transition into adolescence and this decline puts their mental health at risk, said Santos. “Helping boys resist these behaviors early on seems to be a critical step toward improving their health and the quality of their social relationships.”

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Are your values right or left?

Posted April 15th, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Up equals good, happy, optimistic; down the opposite. Right is honest and trustworthy. Left, not so much. That’s what language and culture tell us. “We use mental metaphors to structure our thinking about abstract things,” says psychologist Daniel Casasanto, “One of those metaphors is space.”

But we don’t all think right is right, Casasanto has found. Rather, “people associate goodness with the side they can act more fluently on.” Right-handed people prefer the product, job applicant, or extraterrestrial positioned to their right. Lefties march to a left-handed drummer. And those linguistic tropes? They probably “enshrine the preferences of the right-handed majority.”

Casasanto, of The New School for Social Research, and Evangelia G. Chrysikou, of the University of Pennsylvania, wanted to find the causes of these correlations. Does motor experience “give rise to these preferences, or are they hardwired in the brain?” If the former, “how flexible are these preferences? How much motor experience does it take” to instill them?

Their surprising findings are published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

To investigate the first question, the researchers recruited 13 right-handed patients who’d suffered cerebral injuries that weakened or paralyzed one side of their bodies. Five remained right-handed. The rest lost their right side and became effectively left-handed. The patients were shown a cartoon of a character’s head between two empty boxes and told that he loves zebras and thinks they are good, but hates pandas and thinks they’re bad (or vice versa). Then they were asked to say which animal they preferred and which box, left or right, they’d put it in.

All the patients who were still right-handed put the “good” animal in the right box. All but one of the new lefties put it in the left.

Could these results be explained by neural rewiring? To rule out that possibility, the researchers experimented with 53 healthy righties. They asked 26 to wear a ski glove on the left hand and 27 on the right. The experimenters attached the other glove to the same wrist, letting it dangle. In a putative dexterity test, participants were instructed to pull dominos from a box, two at a time using one hand for each, and place them symmetrically on dots spaced across a table. If a domino fell, they were to set it aright with the appropriate hand only.

They were then escorted to another room and administered three questionnaires (two fillers), supposedly irrelevant to the first task. In one, the participants performed the same animal-box task as the brain-injured patients.

Three-quarters of those with ungloved right hands put the good animal in the right box, two-thirds of the temporary lefties in the left. How much motor experience did it take to switch their loyalties? About 12 minutes’ worth.

What does it all mean? “People generally believe that their judgments are rational and their concepts are stable,” says Casasanto. “But if a few minutes of gentle training can flip our judgments about what’s good or bad, then perhaps the mind is more malleable than people think.”

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Why goal setting doesn’t work

Posted April 14th, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Despite the popularity of goal setting, there is compelling evidence that regardless of good intentions and effort, people and organizations fall short of achieving their goals. More often than not, the fault is attributed to the goal setter. But the real problem may be in the efficacy of goal setting itself.

The Center For Disease Control estimates that 34% of Americans are overweight and a further 34% are obese, which means almost 70% of the population are dangerously unhealthy. A curious result, despite the proliferation of weight loss programs that usually focus on weight-loss goals. The easy explanation would be to attribute fault to lack of will or effort. But the problem may be inherent in the validity of goal setting.

In the early 2000’s , General Motors had set a goal to capture 29% of the American auto market. They even produced corporate pins for people to wear with the number 29 on them. Needless to say they never achieved that goal, and without a government bailout, may not have even survived.

Our society, at both the individual level and in organizations, has an obsession with goal setting, particularly “stretch” goals or “audacious goals.” We tie goals to accomplishment. In our culture, an individual or organizations cannot be considered successful unless goals are achieved. And the usual motivation method used by leaders to achieve these goals is the continual focus on “improvement,” “bigger and better,” through harder and harder work, and increased productivity. And the way to measure that success is to measure goal attainment. Thus self-help gurus such as Stephen Covey, Tony Robbins, Brian Tracy and others emphasized the necessary link between goals and success.

In some ways both Santa Clause and The Secret have done us a disservice. Both focused on wishing something would happen and either through the process of writing it down and/or visualization, it is supposed to magically appear. Many management and self-help gurus cite research, reportedly done at Harvard or Yale universities, which describes why only 3% of Harvard MBAs make 10 times as much money as the other 97%–because they write down their goals. The problem with this claim is that no such research study exists.

While conventional wisdom has it that goal setting is critical to improved performance, there is compelling evidence to the contrary.

In my article in the Financial Post, I said, “The inherent problem with goal setting is related to how the brain works. Recent neuroscience research shows the brain works in a protective way, resistant to change. Therefore, any goals that require substantial behavioral change or thinking-pattern change will automatically be resisted. The brain is wired to seek rewards and avoid pain or discomfort, including fear. When fear of failure creeps into the mind of the goal setter it commences a de-motivator with a desire to return to known, comfortable behavior and thought patterns.”

Aubrey Daniels, in his book, Oops! 13 Management Practices That Waste Time and Money, argues that stretch goals are an ineffective practice. Daniels cites a study that shows when individuals repeatedly fail to reach stretch goals their performance declines. Another study showed 10% of employees actually achieved stretch goals. Daniels argues that goals are motivating people only when they have received positive rewards and feedback from reaching them in the past.

Adam Galinsky, a professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and one of the authors of a Harvard Business School report called Goals Gone Wild,” argues that “goal setting has been treated like an over-the-counter medication when it should really be treated with more care, as a prescription-strength mediation.” He argues that goal setting can focus attention too much or on the wrong things and can lead people to participate in extreme behaviors to achieve the goals.

The authors of Goals Gone Wild, have identified several specific negative side effects associated with goal setting: “An overly narrow focus that neglects non-goal areas; a rise in unethical behavior; distorted risk preferences; corrosion of organizational culture; and reduced intrinsic motivation.”

Maurice Schweitzer of the University of Pennsylvania and Lisa Ordonez of the University of Arizona, co-authors of Goals Gone Wild, have studied the psychology of goal attainment, and in several experiments have shown that when people self-report their achievement of goals, if they are not entirely successful, a significant % of them lie to make up the difference.

Sim Sitkin a Duke University business school professor, completed a study of stretch goals, and found they were most likely to be pursued by desperate, embattled companies that would have difficulty adapting if the goals failed.

L.A. King and C.M. Burton in an article entitled, The Hazards of Goal Pursuit, for the American Psychological Association, argue that goals should be used only in the narrowest of circumstances: “The optimally striving individual ought to endeavor to achieve and approach goals that only slightly implicate the self; that are only moderately important, fairly easy, and moderately abstract; that do not conflict with each other, and that concern the accomplishment of something other than financial gain.”

Max Bazerman, a Harvard Business School professor and co-author of Goals Gone Wild, argues that rather than relying on goals, we should create workplaces and schools that foster interest in and a passion for work.

Moreover, the blind, value-free pursuit of goals without an examination of the consequences of their attainment and the cost of achieving the goals has been questioned by a few management scholars. These scholars argue that the price we pay for overly focusing on goals is a loss of independent thinking and personal initiative. The Ford Pinto, Enron’s climb to success, the rash lending practices of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the excesses of Wall Street traders, the lack of environmental oversight of Gulf deep water drilling all reflect the downside of defining success as the mere attainment of goals.  Work, particularly knowledge work, requires a certain amount of creativity and judgment. Reducing complex activities to a set of goal numbers can end up rewarding the wrong behaviors.

There is an addiction in our culture to “getting more,” the “going for the goals” hype is disconnected from peoples’ authentic selves, and their values.

Finally, there are psychological manifestations of not achieving goals that may be more damaging that not having any goals at all. The process sets up desires that are removed from everyday reality. Whenever we desire things that we don’t have, we set our brain’s nervous system to produce negative emotions. Second, highly aspirational goals require us to develop new competencies, some of which may be beyond current capabilities. As we develop these competencies, we are likely to experience failures, which then become de-motivational. Thirdly, goal setting sets up an either-or polarity of success. The only true measure can either be 100% attainment or perfection, or 99% and less, which is failure. We can then excessively focus on the missing or incomplete part of our efforts, ignoring the successful parts. Fourthly, goal setting doesn’t take into account random forces of chance. You can’t control all the environmental variables to guarantee 100% success.

Mindulness has gathered the attention of brain researchers, coaches, psychologists and medical practitioners recently. A fundamental concept in mindfulness, is focusing on being in the moment, the present. This presents an interesting problem for the goal setter, where the focus is on the future. How can you be focusing on the present and also be thinking about the future?

When we set goals several psychological processes go on in our brains. Of these the activation of the inner critic or judge and the victim is common, which can act to sabotage our goal efforts.

The other problem is that goals are often cast in the image of the ideal or perfection, which activates the self-judging thinking of “I should be this way.” This counteracts the positive need for self-acceptance.

And if the goal is not attained, we can often engage in thinking we are failures, not good enough, not smart enough, not beautiful enough, etc. So the unattainment of goals can create emotions of unworthiness.

We must also make a distinction between our intentions vs. goals. An intention is a direction we want to pursue, preferable with passion. My experience is that people are often confused, and unclear about the intentions of how they want to live and achieve, and therefore a focus on goals doesn’t assist them with clarifying their intentions.

When I work with people as their coach and mentor, they often tell me they’ve set goals such as “I want to be wealthy,” or “I want to be more beautiful/popular,” “I want a better relationship/ideal partner.” They don’t realize they’ve just described the symptoms or outcomes of the problems in their life. The cause of the problem, that many resist facing, is themselves. They don’t realize that for a change to occur, if one is desirable, they must change themselves. Once they make the personal changes, everything around them can alter, which may make the goal irrelevant.

There’s an old saying: “you don’t get what you want in life, you get in life what you are .”

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Quality of parents’ relationships affects children’s happiness

Posted April 11th, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Young people’s satisfaction with their family situation is clearly related to the quality of relationships with parents and especially their mother’s happiness. The research findings come from the first findings from Understanding Society, the world’s largest household panel study managed by the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at the University of Essex.

As part of the study, which will follow 40,000 UK households over a number of years, young people aged between 10 to 15 years have been asked how satisfied they are with their lives. The findings indicate that a mother’s happiness in her partnership is more important to the child than the father’s. The findings are based on a sample of 6,441 women, 5,384 men and 1,268 young people.

Overall, 60 per cent of young people say they are ‘completely satisfied’ with their family situation but in families where the child’s mother is unhappy in her partnership, only 55 per cent of young people say they are ‘completely happy’ with their family situation — compared with 73 per cent of young people whose mothers are ‘perfectly happy’ in their relationships.

The Understanding Society research examined the relationships between married or cohabiting partners, and relationships between parents and their children. Professor John Ermisch, Dr Maria Iacovou, and Dr Alexandra Skew from the Institute for Social and Economic Research found that the happiest children are those living with two parents — either biological or step — with no younger siblings, who do not argue with their parents regularly, who eat at least three evening meals per week with their family and whose mother is happy in her own relationship.

Commenting on the findings, Dr Maria Iacovou said: “At a time when there is widespread political concern about ‘Broken Britain’, these findings show that family relationships and the happiness of parents are key to the happiness of young people. Contrary to the popular belief that children only want to spend time playing videogames or watching TV we found that they were most happy when interacting with their parents or siblings.”

The research also finds that having older siblings is not related to children’s happiness with their family, but having younger siblings in the household is associated with lower levels of satisfaction, and this effect is greater the more younger siblings there are in the household. But relationships with parents are even more important than relationships with siblings. Only 28 per cent of children who argue more than once a week with their parents, and don’t discuss important matters with their parents are completely happy with their families.

Dr Iacovou commented: “Together these findings reveal the complex influences of different family relationships on a child’s happiness. Over the years, as Understanding Society follows the lives of families in the UK, we’ll build up an even better picture of how children’s lives are affected by all kinds of factors. Understanding Society is really set to become a fantastic resource for anyone interested in the well-being of children.”

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Aging is satisfying,research shows

Posted April 8th, 2011 in Articles, Blogs by admin

University of Queensland research is turning conventional wisdom on its head when it comes to grumpy old men and women.

Professor Bill von Hippel, from UQ’s School of Psychology, has been examining the links between people’s age and their social satisfaction and he has turned up some surprising results.

In collaboration with Julie Henry and Diana Matovic from the University of New South Wales, Professor von Hippel measured social activities and social satisfaction in older adults between the ages of 66 and 91, and younger adults between the ages of 18 and 30.

He said they found younger adults engaged in a lot more social activities, but were no happier with their social lives than older adults.

“Despite older people engaging in fewer social activities with others and spending more time alone each day, they are just as socially satisfied as their younger counterparts,” Professor von Hippel said.

The reason for this social resilience seems to lie in how older and younger adults perceive their social activities.

“Our research suggests that if a young person and an old person have the same experience, the older adult is likely to find it more uplifting,” he said.

“Older adults appear to see the good things in life more easily and are less likely to be upset by the little things that go wrong.

“As a consequence, their daily experiences bring them just as much satisfaction as younger adults, even if they have lost friends or a spouse, or if they can no longer get out as much as they would like.

“This may be the wisdom of ageing, the ability to experience everyday life as uplifting.”

The research was published in the June issue of the American Psychological Association journal Psychology and Aging.