Why We Don’t Keep Our New Year’s Resolutions

Posted December 26th, 2013 in Articles, Blogs by admin

The start of the New Year is often the perfect time to turn a new page in your life, which is why so many people make New Year’s resolutions. But why do so many people have a hard time keeping their resolutions?

Researchers have looked at success rates of peoples’ resolutions: The first two weeks usually go along beautifully, but by February people are backsliding. And by the following December most people are back where they started—often even further behind. Why do so many people not keep their resolutions? Are people just weak-willed or lazy?

According to researcher John Norcross and his colleagues, who published their findings in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, approximately 50 percent of the population makes resolutions each New Year. Among the top resolutions are weight loss, exercise, stopping smoking, better moneymanagement and debt reduction.

Timothy Pychyl, a professor of psychology at Carleton University in Canada and a fellow PT blogger, says that resolutions are a form of “cultural procrastination,” an effort to reinvent oneself. People make resolutions as a way of motivating themselves, he says. Pychyl argues that people aren’t ready to change their habits, particularly bad habits, and that accounts for the high failure rate. Another reason, says Dr. Avya Sharma of the Canadian Obsesity Network, is that people set unrealistic goals and expectations in their resolutions.

Psychology professor Peter Herman and his colleagues have identified what they call the “false hope syndrome,” which means their resolution is significantly unrealistic and out of alignment with their internal view of themselves. This principle reflects that of making positive affirmations. When you make positive affirmations about yourself that you don’t really believe, the positive affirmations not only don’t work, they can be damaging to your self-worth.

The other aspect of failed resolutions lies in the cause and effect relationship. You may think that if you lose weight, or reduce your debts, or exercise more, your entire life will change, and when it doesn’t, you may get discouraged and then you revert back to old behaviors.

Making resolutions work involves changing behaviors—and in order to change a behavior, you have to change your thinking (or “rewire” yourbrain).  Brain scientists such as Antonio Damasio, Joseph LeDoux, and psychotherapist Stephen Hayes have discovered, through the use of MRIs, that habitual behavior is created by thinking patterns that create neural pathways and memories, which become the default basis for your behavior when you’re faced with a choice or decision. Trying to change that default thinking by “not trying to do it,” in effect just strengthens it. Change requires creating new neural pathways from new thinking.

Peter Bregman, writing in the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, argues “When we set goals, we’re taught to make them specific and measurable and time-bound. But it turns out that those characteristics are precisely the reasons goals can backfire. A specific, measurable, time-bound goal drives behavior that’s narrowly focused and often leads to either cheating or myopia. Yes, we often reach the goal, but at what cost?” Bregman advocates creating an area of focus rather than goals, and goes on to say that “An area of focus taps into your intrinsic motivation, offers no stimulus or incentive to cheat or take unnecessary risks, leaves every positive possibility and opportunity open, and encouragescollaboration while reducing corrosive competition. All this while moving forward on the things you and your organization value most.”

Having said that, if you feel compelled to make New Year’s resolutions, here’s some tips to help you make them work:

  1. Focus on one resolution, rather several and set realistic, specific goals. Losing weight is not a specific goal. Losing 10 pounds in 90 days would be;
  2. Don’t wait till New Year’s eve to make resolutions. Make it a year long process, every day;
  3. Take small steps. Many people quit because the goal is too big requiring too much effort and action all at once;
  4. Have an accountability buddy, someone close to you to whom you have to report;
  5. Celebrate your success between milestones. Don’t wait the goal to be finally completed;
  6. Focus your thinking on new behaviors and thought patterns. You have to create new neural pathways in your brain to change habits;
  7. Focus on the present. What’s the one thing you can do today, right now, towards your goal?
  8. Be mindful. Become physically, emotionally and mentally aware of your inner state as each external event happens, moment-by-moment, rather than living in the past or future.

And finally, don’t take yourself so seriously. Have fun and laugh at yourself when you slip, but don’t let the slip hold you back from working at your goal.


Why Nelson Mandela Was A Great Leader

Posted December 26th, 2013 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Nelson Mandela, or “Madiba” as he was affectionately known, has died. Not only have we lost a great man and a great leader for his country, but also a shining example of the kind of leadership we so desperately need today. He has left a huge inspirational vacuum.

Mandela lived for 27 years in prison, mostly on Robben Island, where every day with a small hammer he broke rocks apart in the blazing sun only to retreat into his only home, an 8’ by 8’ cell.

Mandela helped to unite South Africa as it dismantled apartheid, the cruel system of white minority rule. He symbolized for all of Africa a commitment to democracy and freedom.

He was a man of quiet dignity to match his towering achievements; a man with an ever radiant smile and immense and humble sense of humor. Mandela was a rare visionary who would see beyond the current struggles and pain. He was convinced that one day the best parts of humanity would prevail over the worst parts. He even inspired his enemies to be better than they had been through forgiveness and reconciliation. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission he established is a great model for achieving justice in all nations where human rights abuses occurred and pain needs to be healed.

 One of the clear things that propelled Mandela to greatness amidst his suffering and depersonalization in prison, was forgiving his jailors, feeling compassion for those who had caused him pain and his desire for reconciliation. Mandela had the capacity to transcend himself for the sake of those around him and higher causes. His personal pain at causing his family to suffer, seeing the nation he led sink into corruption, and admitting his own mistakes, after all he fought for after his release from prison, never overwhelmed him nor stopped his resolve to make things better. Mandela was not a perfect man, and in acknowledging his flaws, he becomes even greater. In his latter years, Mandela acknowledged his weaknesses, his turbulent youth and his tempestuous relationship with women. Mandela once said, “one of the most difficult things is not to change society—but to change yourself.”

Zelda la Grange, Mandel’s personal assistant for almost two decades who said Mandela’s “exceptionalism” was because he inspired people to forgive, to reconcile, to be selfless and tolerant and to maintain dignity no matter what the circumstances.

What kind of leader was Mandela?

Perhaps Rabbi Meahem Mendale Schneerson, said it best in his bookToward a Meaningful Life: The Wisdom of the Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson, “Is he [the leader] truly devoted to his mission, or just seeking glory? Is he truly interested in the welfare of others, or simply building a flock for his own aggrandizement? [A leader] inspires by love, not coercion…Genuine leadership must give people a long-term vision that imbues their lives with meaning; it must point them in a new direction and show how their every action is an indispensable part of a purposeful whole.”

Mandala once said, “It is better to lead from behind and to put others in front especially when you celebrate victory when nice things occur. You take the front line when there is danger. Then people will appreciate your leadership.” In many ways, Mandela was a mindful leader, having invested hugely in developing his self-awareness and managing his emotions The truly mindful leader gets their own life in order first before engaging in advising others to do the same.

What a stark contrast Mandel’s life was compared to the behavior of many political and business leaders today who take credit and want the limelight when things are going well, and blame others and avoid responsibility when things go badly. The predominant leadership style today in many organizations continues to be egocentric, aggressive, self-serving and lacking in empathy and compassion for others.

Nelson Mandala was a beacon of hope, and like Ghandhi before him, a shining example of what a leader can and should be. A man of great compassion and forgiveness and humilty. He will be sorely missed, but as has been said, ““When you live on the hearts of those you love, you will never die.”

How The U.S. Is Becoming A Nation of Prisoners

Posted December 26th, 2013 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Incarceration in the U.S. has become an epidemic that is threatening the very economic and social structure of the country.

Here are some figures and facts that may shock you:

  • The U.S. leads the world with more prisoners than any other country (2.2 million);
  • The U.S. has 5% of the world’s population and 25% of its prisoners;
  • The incarceration rate for the U.S. is 716 per 100,000. In comparison, Russia has 571, China 218, Canada, 123, Australia 133, Spain,159, Germany 82, Sweden 78, The Netherlands 82, and Japan 59;
  • Between 1930 and 1970 the average incarceration rate in the U.S. was 110 per 100,000;
  • As of 2006, 7.2 million people in the U.S. were in prison, on probation or on parole, roughly 1 in every 32 Americans;
  • 1 in 90 children in the U.S. has a mother or father in prison;
  • In major cities in the U.S., 80% of young African Americans now have criminal records;
  • The U.S. prison system has tripled since 1980;
  • In California, the amount of money budgeted for corrections is greater than that budgeted for higher education;
  • In 1995 alone, 150 new large prisons were built and filled;
  • 67% of  ex-prisoners re-offend and 52% are re-incarcerated;
  • In the U.S. more than 70,000 prisoners are raped in prison every year;
  • 60% of African American male high-school dropouts will go to prison before age 35.

Eric Holder, the current U.S. Attorney General, has declared, “Too many Americans go to too many prisons for too long and for no truly good law-enforcement reason.” This statement has signaled the intent of the administration to address the issue, including direction to federal prosecutors to no longer charge low-level non-violent drug offenders with crimes that require prison sentences. However, this change only applies to federal prisons, and approximately 90% of incarcerated Americans are in state prisons and local jails.

In an article in Harvard Magazine, Elizabeth Gudrais cites the work of Bruce Western, faculty chair of the Harvard Kennedy School Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management. He says those released from prisons usually become very loosely attached to families and jobs, and these men frequently become homeless. Many prisoners who have served long terms cannot adjust to the outside, once released. Adaptive behavior in prison is maladaptive behavior outside prison. So going back to prison for many seems comforting and familiar, Western says. It’s clear, Western explains, the prison boom is about race and class. Two factors increase the odds of going to prison at sometime during one’s life: being African American or Hispanic and being poor. Gudrais argues that American prisons are used as surrogate mental health and substance abusefacilities. The non-profit Human Rights Watch found that 56% of the U.S. inmates are mentally ill.

There’s another argument against incarcerating so many people, Western says. Putting people in prison is not a deterrent for crime. Crime rates have actually been declining in the last decade. But crime rates have also declined in Europe, Canada and Latin America, without increases in incarceration rates in those countries. Western contends that reductions in social welfare programs since the l970’s are correlated with increases in crime: “we may have skimped on welfare and education, but we paid anyway, splurging on police and prisons.”

Western, an expert in labor markets and statistical models for sociology, says the U.S. owes its comparatively low unemployment rate in part to its high incarceration rate. People who would otherwise be unemployed are excluded from calculations. So it’s clear that increases in incarceration contributes to increases in poverty, and the U.S. poverty rates have been climbing dramatically in the last decade. Western contends that the cost of providing job placement, transitional housing and drug treatment for all released prisoners would be 1/10 of current state and federal spending on corrections.

In the U.S., stricter sentences for drug offenses and longer sentences for violent and repeat offenders has contributed to the higher incarceration rate. For example, the U.S. has 50,000 inmates serving life sentences without parole, whereas the U.K has 41. In a number of countries, life imprisonment has been effectively abolished. Many of the countries whose governments have abolished both life imprisonment and indefinite imprisonment have been culturally influenced or colonized by Spain or Portugal and have written such prohibitions into their current constitutional laws.

A number of European countries have abolished all forms of indefinite imprisonment, including Serbia, Croatia, and Spain, which set the maximum sentence at 40 years, Bosnia and Herzegovina which sets the maximum sentence at 45 years, and Portugal, which sets the maximum sentence at 25 years, while Norway has abolished life imprisonment but retains other forms of indefinite imprisonment.

Conventional American thinking about the need for criminal justice revolves partly around the belief that people have to take responsibility for bad decisions and be punished for them (retributive justice), but rarely do leaders and policy makers examine the issue of why minority and low-income groups are more likely to make bad decisions.

High incarceration rates are a major contributor to poverty and unemployment. For example, a woman who has been released from prison is not eligible for welfare, food stamps, public housing, and student educational loans in many states. She is also not eligible for subsidized housing and will not likely be able to find a job because of her criminal record.

News media and TV reality shows have fuelled the problem by superficial feeding frenzies on crime and notorious prisoners, while at the same time reducing budgets for good investigative journalism.

Yet, looking at crime statistics, despite the media focus, violence occurs in less than 14% of all reported crime. The top 3 charges after those going to prisons are: possession of a controlled substance, possession of the same for purposes of sale, and robbery. Violent crimes like murder, rape and kidnapping don’t make the top 10.

Adam Gopnik, writing in The New Yorker, makes the point that there are more people under correctional supervision in America today than there were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin in the Soviet Union.

Gopnik asks “How did we get here? How is it our civilization, which rejects hanging and flogging and disemboweling, come to believe that caging vast numbers of people for decades is an acceptable human sanction.” Some would argue, he suggests, that current prison system is essentially a slave plantation continued by other means.

Investment firms such as Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch and Smith Barney have invested in or are part owners of prisons in Florida, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Prisons are the leading rural growth industry, with the decline of agriculture for those other than agri-corporations.

In the 1980’s the rising number of people incarcerated as a result of the War on Drugs stimulated the emergence of the private for-profit prison industry. Prior to the l980s’s private prisons did not exist in the U.S.

In a 2011 report by the ACLU, it claims the rise of the for-profit prison industry is a major contributor to mass incarcerations along with bloated state budgets. Louisiana, for example, has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with the majority of prisoners in privatized prisons. A 2013 Bloomberg report states in the past decade the number of for-profit prisons in the U.S. rose 44%.

Corporations which operate prisons such as the Correction Corporation of America and GEO Group, spend large sums of money lobbying the federal and state governments, particular pressing for the “three strikes and you’re out” laws. These companies have also negotiated agreements with the state governments which guarantee at lest 90% of the prison beds will be filled, or be compensated for empty ones.

And for private business, prison labor is a pot of gold. No unions. No strikes. No unemployment insurance or worker’s compensation. Prisoners can be forced to work and they have no workers’ rights. And some prisons are now charging prisoners for room and board, medical care and toilet paper. Gudrais cites the arguments of some experts who say the prison-industrial complex—those corporations who have employees who work in prisons, sell goods to prisons and benefit form cheap prisoner labor have become a powerful lobby that prevents change.

Citing the work of William Stuntz, a deceased professor at Harvard Law School and author of The Collapse of American Criminal Justice, Gopnik contends “the American justice system has an obsession with both due process and the cult of brutal prisons—both impersonal. The more professionalized and procedural a system is, the more insulated we become from its real effects on people…We lock men up and forget about their existence.”

Other European countries with lower incarceration rates do things differently. A report from the Vera Institute of Justice states the differences are both philosophical and practical. Resocializeation and rehabilitation are central for the Dutch and German models, whereas the American model of justice focuses on retribution and isolation from society. In Germany and the Netherlands, prison conditions are more humane, fines are preferred over incarceration, solitary confinement is rarely used and sentences are far shorter than in the U.S.

It’s clear that the American approach to justice, with its focus on retribution and isolation, is out of step with other advanced nations, and the large numbers of people in prison and corrections, particularly young African Americans, is doing significant damage to the economy and social structure. It’s time that policy makers see the link between poverty, unemployment and incarceration.

What To Do If You Are Unhappy Or Depressed At Christmas

Posted December 26th, 2013 in Articles, Blogs by admin

We are told that Christmas, for Christians, should be the happiest time of year, an opportunity to be joyful and grateful with family, friends and colleagues. Yet, many people are unhappy at Christmas and according to the National Institute of Health, they can experience depression.

Hospitals and police forces report  incidences of suicide and attempted suicide. Psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals report a significant increase in patients complaining about depression. One North American survey reported that 45% of respondents dreaded the festive season.

It is often a time that some of my clients who are facing emotional or relationship challenges in life, find very difficult.

Why? Is the Grinch in full force during the season? Is it because of the dark winter weather that increases the incidence of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)? Certainly those may be some reasons, but it appears to have more to do with unrealistic expectations and excessive self-reflection for many people. And as happiness expert Sonja Lyubomirsky argues, the holiday season is a time rife with “Pollyannaish” expectations.

For some people, they get depressed at Christmas and even angry because of the excessive commercialization of Christmas, with the focus on gifts and the emphasis on “perfect” social activities. Other get depressed because Christmas appears to be a trigger to engage in excessive self-reflection and rumination about the inadequacies of life (and a “victim” mentality) in comparison with other people who seem to have more and do more.

Still others become anxious at Christmas because of the pressure (both commercial and self-induced) to spend a lot of money on gifts and incur increasing debt. Other people report that they dread Christmas because of the expectations for social gatherings with family, friends and acquaintances that they’d rather not spend time with. And finally, many people feel very lonely at Christmas, because they have suffered the loss of loved ones or their jobs.

So what should you do, if you’re among those who become unhappy or get depressed at Christmas? Mental health professionals who treat people with this problem suggest the following:

  • First, if the depression is serious, seek out the help of a qualified mental health professional;
  • Set personal boundaries regarding the money spent on gifts and the number of social events;
  • Don’t accept any “perfect” representation of Christmas that the media, institutions or other people try to make you believe;
  • Lower your expectations and any attachment to what it should look like; be present and enjoy each moment as best you can;
  • Become involved in giving in a non-monetary way through charities and worthwhile causes that help less fortunate people;
  • Be grateful for what you have in your life, rather than focusing on what you don’t have;
  • Avoid excessive rumination about your life, particularly the things you think are missing;
  • If you are religious, take part in church activities that focus on the bigger meaning of Christmas;
  • Focus your thoughts on all the good things about the holiday season–the opportunity to engage in loving kindness, generosity of spirit, and gratitude for others in your life;
  • Focus on the things you can change in your life and take action on those, rather than ruminating over the things over which you have no control;
  • Be kind to yourself and self-compassionate. Do something for yourself as kind and considerate and generous as you would do for others.

The Christmas season has become a difficult time for many people in our society. For those of us who don’t have difficulties at this time of year, it’s an opportunity to reach out to those who become depressed. For those who are depressed, it’s an opportunity to take action to think, feel and act in ways that breaks free from the past the best that you can, regardless of circumstances.

Why Are There More Psychopaths in Boardrooms?

Posted December 4th, 2013 in Articles, Blogs by admin

When we think about psychopaths, most of us might imagine a Hannibal Lecter or Jeffrey Dahmer.  Would we consider that psychopaths might be lurking around boardrooms and CEO corner offices? The reality is quite different. Increasing numbers of corporate psychopaths have brought havoc to the lives of millions of people, economies and entire countries.

Kevin Dutton, author of The Wisdom of Psychopaths, argues “Traits that are common among psychopathic serial killers—a grandiose sense of self-worth, persuasiveness, superficial charm, ruthlessness, lack of remorse and the manipulation of others—are also shared by politicians and world leaders. Individuals, in other words, running not from the police. But for office. Such a profile allows those who present with these traits to do what they like when they like, completely unfazed by the social, moral or legal consequences of their actions.”

In their book, Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work, Paul Babiak and Robert Hare, argue while psychopaths may not be ideally suited for traditional work environments by virtue of a lack of desire to develop good interpersonal relationships, they have other abilities such as reading people and masterful influence and persuasion skills  that can make them difficult to be seen as the psychopaths they are. According to their and others’ studies somewhere between 3-25% of executives could be assessed as psychopaths, a much higher figure than the general population figure of 1%.

Robert Hare’s Psychopathology Checklist suggests psychopathy as found in organizations has the following characteristics:

  • Social deviance and anti-social behavior (such as irresponsibility, impulsivity, unstable relationships, poor behavioral control, need for stimulation/rewards, promiscuous sexual behavior, criminal versatility and parasitic lifestyle);
  • Aggressive narcissism (superficial charm, grandiose sense of self worth, pathological lying, cunning/manipulative, lack of remorse or guilt, emotionally shallow, lack of empathy, failure to accept personal responsibility for own actions).

Key Sun, writing in Psychology Today argues “From the perspective of evolutionary biology, psychopaths flourish in society because most of them actually have the skill to avoid prison. Both criminal and managerial psychopaths are detrimental to others’ well being. However, unlike the violent criminals who rely on physical aggression to maintain their control over individuals, managerial psychopaths are inclined to employ verbal brutality, deception, and emotional abuse and ploys to ruin people’s lives.” Psychopaths in leadership positions, Sun contends, often avoid either detection or paying for the consequences of their behavior by ingratiating themselves with people of higher status; continue to prey on “nice” victims who will not jeopardize their positions; take credit for others’ work; and brilliantly use fear and sympathy to confuse others.

Manifred Kets de Vries, a distinguished Clinical Professor of Leadership Development and Organizational Change at INSEAD has completed some research and published a paper on the subject.  He calls the corporate psychopath the “SOB—Seductive Operational Bully”—or psychopath “lite.” SOBs don’t usually end up in jail or psychiatric hospital but they do thrive in an organizational setting. SOBs can be found wherever power, status, or money is at stake, de Vries says: “They talk about themselves endlessly; they like to be in the limelight. In some ways they are like children, believing that they are the center of the universe, unable to recognize the needs and rights of others. They appear to be charming yet can be covertly hostile and domineering, seeing their “victims” merely as targets and opportunities; like master and slave, they try to dominate and humiliate them. For them, the end always justifies the means. SOB executives have no qualms about buying up companies, tearing them apart, firing all the employees and selling off parts of it to earn a nice profit. “Downsizing” comes easily to them. They are not concerned about the welfare of their employees, or about their mental health.”

In an article published in The Journal of Business Ethics, “The Corporate Psychopaths Theory of the Global Financial Crisis,” Clive R. Boddy contends that one could argue these organizations’ senior executives escaped with impunity and indeed huge payoffs, from the chaos they caused, often with no regrets, or empathy for the millions of people whose financial lives were destroyed, while blaming others for the causes and results. Boddy argues that many of these executives were psychopaths: “Corporate Psychopaths are ideally situated to prey upon such anenvironment and corporate fraud, financial misrepresentation, greed and misbehavior went through the roof, bringing down huge companies and culminating in the Global Financial Crisis.”

Psychopaths are attracted to and probably overrepresented in occupations such as politics, entertainment and business, the legal profession and law enforcement, the military and medicine. Inside the business world, traits such as ruthlessness, a lack of conscience and success at any cost would be seen as pathological outside of business. Many of the qualities that indicate mental problems in other contexts may appear appropriate in senior executive positions. That is particularly the case in organizations that appreciate impression management, corporate gamesmanship, risk-taking, coolness under pressure, domination, assertiveness and extreme competitiveness.

Part of the reason why an increasing number of psychopaths have been drawn into leadership positions in the corporate world is its shift to “short termism.” Organizations and indeed entire countries have increasingly focused on shorter-term results for shareholders/stakeholders, and a utilitarian view of doing whatever it takes to get succeed, no matter the cost to people and the environment.

So what needs to be done about this problem?

Amanda Gudmundsson and Gregory Southey, writing in the Journal of Social and Behavioral Research in Business contend that business schools may be compounding the problem of corporate psychopaths by the focus in business school curricula. A study of business school students show that they, as future leaders, value empathy least, are more self-interested, demonstrate more cheating behavior, are less co-operative, more likely to conceal mistakes and are less willing to yield and more likely to defect in negotiation.

Certainly one approach to solving the problem can be changing the desired stereotype of a leader which currently focuses excessively on the charismatic, extraverted, celebrity kind of leader. Those responsible for leader recruitment and selection can also more carefully assess the moral and ethical character of leaders candidates. Truly great organizations are led by individuals who deeply care about the people working for them. They have integrity, character, empathy and lead by principles such as honesty and transparency.

While the immediate solution may be “don’t hire psychopaths” to leadership positions in the first place, the more difficult and complete solution is a change in organizational culture to embrace a long-term view, install positive leadership, build trust, and infuse the culture with the bonding behaviors of empathy, compassion and personal responsibility, things that are anathema to psychopaths. And finally, to seriously reexamine our image and stereotype of what constitutes a leader, and move away from our obsession with charismatic, aggressive, male dominated leadership.

Will Good Things Happen When You “Pay It Forward?”

Posted December 4th, 2013 in Articles, Blogs by admin

Much has been written about the need for and the power of generosity in our society, including the notion of “pay it forward.”  The expression has been popularized by the best selling novel Pay It Forward by Catherine Hyde Ryan which was adapted into a movie starring Kevin Spacey and Helen Hunt. New research shows a clear link between the act of “paying it forward” and generosity.

Paying it forward now happens on a regular basis in fast-food or drive through outlets. A record was reported reached in Winnipeg, Canada when 228 consecutive cars paid it forward at a Tim Hortons.

Adam Grant, author of the best-selling book, Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success,argues success is due often to our generosity with our time and knowledge. He identifies the population as being either givers, matchers (people who help only those who reciprocate) and takers (people who demand help but never offer). Grant suggests several easy strategies to become a giver, such as the “five-minute favor” by referring a request to someone who can be more helpful; or by asking a person who you have helped to not reciprocate to you but pay it forward to someone else.

The Greater Good Science Center at the University of California Berkeley has published a number of studies which show the positive benefits to the individual associated with generosity and giving.

Rob Willer of Stanford University and his colleagues in multiple universities, conducted a study to determine the nature  of generosity and reciprocity through pay it forward. They concluded, “giving resources both leads to and can be motivated by feelings of gratitude. One implication of this is that gratitude may serve as a prosocial, affective motivation leading individuals to ‘pay forward’ benefits received from one party by giving benefits to third parties.”

Their study has been replicated with participants in China, Germany, Brazil and Israel, and showed that individuals who received more generous monetary gifts subsequently gave more generous gifts. The authors concluded a generalized benefit from generosity: “When we behave generously, our kindness may benefit others we do not even know, may never meet but will nevertheless benefit.”

Kurt Gray at the University of North Carolina with his colleagues Adrian Ward and Michael Norton at Harvard University conducted an interesting study on  the subject. They presented a very different perspective by posing the question “what happens when people cannot reciprocate, but instead have the change be cruel or kind to someone entirely different by paying it forward?”

The study showed that while equal treatment was paid forward in kind, greed was paid forward more than generosity. The authors concluded that people pay greed forward as a means of dealing with negative emotions that being treated badly engender. Their research was published in The Journal of Experimental Psychology .  

In research more consistent with the positive effects of generosity and giving, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley led by Minah Jung, also a fellow at the Greater Good Science Center, looked at what happens to commerce when there’s no set price tag. Jung and her colleagues’ findings have been presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Personality and Social Psychology, and the Association for Consumer Research, They found that shoppers spend more money when engaged in a pay it forward chain of good will when they can name their own price. The study shed some new light on psychological and social forces such as fairness, obligation and reciprocity.

The study found people typically overestimate the financial generosity of others, until they learn what others have actually paid. The traditional pay-it-forward in this context is a pricing scheme in which customers are told that a previous customer has paid for them. The new customer then gets the opportunity to pay for someone else. The alternative “Pay What You Want” scheme is economically similar approach, in which the customers have the option to pay any price. In the other separate experiments conducted by Jung and fellow researchers with 2,400 individuals, consumers consistently paid more for another customer than for themselves.

So it would be fair to conclude that good things will happen to the receiver and giver of generosity and kindness, whether the recipient is known or not, and that the effect could become contagious.


“Carrot and stick” Motivation Revisited By New Research

Posted December 4th, 2013 in Articles, Blogs by admin

We continue to revisit the issue of motivation and specifically, the “carrot and stick” aspect.  New research seems to indicate that brain chemicals may control behavior and for people to learn and adapt in the world; therefore, both punishment and reward may be necessary. This conclusion would certainly run counter to the trend towards positive motivation without extrinsic reward or punishment.

Can you influence or even change a person’s behavior through conditioning? The real question is, which route would you choose—positive or negative? Most people are taught to refrain from engaging in a certain behavior by being given punishments that create negative feelings. This helps maintain discipline at home, school and even organizations. However, it has long been debated as to which one works better on behavior.

Are there genetic and brain chemistry factors that could influence our perspective on this issue?

Hanneke den Ouden and Roshan Cools and their colleagues from the Donders Institute in Nijmegen and New York University have published their research in the journal Neuron. They concluded brain chemicals serotonin and dopamine-related genes influence how we base our choices on past punishments or rewards. This influence depends on which gene variant you inherited from your parents. Den Ouden explains: “We used a simple computer game to test the genetic influence of the genes DAT1 andSERT, as these genes influence dopamine and serotonin. We discovered that the dopamine gene affects how we learn from the long-term consequences of our choices, while the serotonin gene affects our choices in the short term.”

Den Ouden goes on to say “Different players use different strategies. It all depends on their genetic material. People’s tendency to change their choice immediately after receiving a punishment depends on which serotonin gene variant they inherited from their parents. The dopamine gene variant, on the other hand, exerts influence on whether people can stop themselves making the choice that was previously rewarded, but no longer is.”

What implications does this have on the issue of employee motivation in the workplace?

Motivating people to do their best work, consistently, has been an enduring challenge for executives and managers. Even understanding what constitutes human motivation  has been a centuries old puzzle, addressed as far back as Aristotle.

When Frederick Herzberg researched the sources of employee motivation during the l950s and l960s, he discovered a dichotomy that still intrigues and baffles managers: The things that make people satisfied and motivated on the job are different in kind from the things that make them dissatisfied. Ask workers what makes them unhappy at work, and you’ll hear them talk about insufficient pay or an uncomfortable work environment  or “stupid” regulations and policies that are restraining or the lack of job flexibility and freedom. So environmental factors can be demotivating, but even if managed brilliantly, fixing these factors won’t motivate people to work harder or smarter.

It turns out that people are motivated by interesting work, challenge, and increasing responsibility—intrinsic factors. People have a deep-seated need for growth and achievement. Herzberg’s work influenced a generation of scholars and researchers—but never seemed to make an impact on managers in the workplace, where the focus on motivation remained the “carrot-and-stick” approach, or external motivators.

What do we mean by motivation? It’s been defined as a predisposition to behave in a purposeful manner to achieve specific, unmet needs and the will to achieve, and the inner force that drives individuals to accomplish personal and organizational goals. And why do we need motivated employees? The answer is survival. Motivated employees are needed in our rapidly changing workplaces, and to be effective, managers need to understand that and do something about it.

A review of the research literature by James R. Lindner at Ohio State University concluded that employee motivation was driven more by factors such as interesting work than financial compensation. John Baldoni, author of Great Motivation Secrets of Great Leaders, concluded that motivation comes from wanting to do something of one’s own free will, and that motivation is simply leadership behavior—wanting to do what is right for people and the organization.

In his book, Drive, Daniel Pink, describes what he says is “the surprising truth” about what motivates us. Pink concludes that extrinsic motivators work only in a surprisingly narrow band of circumstances; rewards often destroy creativity and employee performance; and the secret to high performance isn’t reward and punishment but that unseen intrinsic drive—the drive to do something  because it is meaningful. Pink says that true motivation boils down to three elements: Autonomy, the desire to direct our own lives; mastery, the desire to continually improve at something that matters to us, and purpose, the desire to do things in service of something larger than ourselves. Pink, joining a chorus of many others, warns that the traditional “command-and-control” management methods in which organizations use money as a contingent reward for a task, are not only ineffective as motivators, but are actually harmful.

Nitin Nohria, Boris Groysberg and Linda-Eling Lee writing in the Harvard Business Review, describe a new model of employee motivation. They outline the four fundamental emotional drives that underlie motivation as: The drive to acquire (the acquisition of scarce material things, including financial compensation, to feel better); the drive to bond (developing strong bonds of love, caring and belonging); the drive to comprehend (to make sense of our world so we can take the right actions); and the drive to defend (defending our property, ourselves and our accomplishments).

Norhria and associates argue that managers who try to increase motivation must satisfy all of these four drives. Best practice companies have initiated reward systems based on performance. They have addressed the bond drive by developing a corporate culture based on friendship,  mutual reliance, collaboration and sharing; addressed the drive of comprehend by instituting job design system where jobs are designed for specific roles, and they have attempted to create jobs are meaningful and foster a sense of contribution to the organization. And finally to address the defend drive, best practice companies restructure their leadership approaches to increase transparency of all processes, ensure fairness throughout the organization and build trust and openness with everyone.

The carrot-and-stick approach worked well for typical tasks of the early 20th century —routine, unchallenging and highly controlled. For these tasks, where the process is straightforward and lateral thinking is not required, rewards can provide a small motivational boost without any harmful side effects. But jobs in the 21st century have changed dramatically. They have become more complex, more interesting and more self-directed, and this is where the carrot-and-stick approach has become unstuck. In summary, the implications for managers in organizations are significant. Leaders today must be not just cognizant of the latest research on motivation, but take action to make those organizational and relationship changes to take advantage of this research. And care must be taken to simply conclude that our motivation is blindly driven by brain chemicals.

Why social networks may be making us smarter

Posted December 4th, 2013 in Articles, Blogs by admin

On a daily basis the average young person in North America spends more than 7 hours a day online and uses the cellphone 60 times. While that has alarmed some, there may be real benefits in learning and increased intelligence  from this social networking  activity.

The secret to why some cultures thrive and others disappear may lie in our social networks and our ability to imitate rather than our individual smarts, according to a new University of British Columbia study published by the Proceedings of the Royal Academy: Biological Sciences. The findings show that social connectedness is crucial for the development of more sophisticated technologies and cultural knowledge, argues lead author Michael Muthukrishna. “This is the first study to demonstrate in a laboratory setting what archeologists and evolutionary theorists have long suggested: that there is an important link between a society’s sociality and the sophistication of its technology,” says Muthaukrishna.

This recent study reflects others that advance the notion that social networks, particularly through social media, may be contributing to young people, in particular, becoming more intelligent.

Andrea Lunsford, at Stanford University studied more than 800 freshman composition papers from 2006 and compared them to similar papers in 1986, 1930 and 1917. Critics of the current digital-social media era would have hypothesized a decline in grammar, spelling and word use. Lunsford found no such decline. In fact, she found a significant positive change. Freshman writing in the modern era had expanded in length and intellectual complexity.

Similarly, Andrea Kuszewski writing in Scientific American cites a study which shows the positive relationship between neocortical gray matter in regions of the brain associated with social cognition and social networks. Apparently, social networks contributes to changes in brain structure and function.

So despite the frequent alarm bells by critics of increasing social networking/media use, there may be some real benefits for our society.