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“Gratitude is the antidote to fear” – Our Interview With Mario Marchese, Magician …*

"Gratitude is the antidote to fear." - Our Interview With Mario Marchese, Magician ...* | rethinked.org - Photo Credit: David Schloss

Mario the Magician – photo credit: David Schloss

I first discovered Mario and his delightful take on magic by serendipitously watching a short video (now turned into a full length documentary) on his approach to magic. What really struck me about Mario, a self-described, “wandering traveler turned maker/magician,” is the level of artistry and invention that goes into each of his magic tricks. Mario is a true craftsman of magic, deriving pride and joy in creating his own clever and delightful contraptions. If you’re in or around NYC, you can book Mario to come enchant and awe your children with his uplifting, inventive, and highly interactive program for ages 4 to 10. And now, for everyone, here is Mario’s interview –the perfect way to infuse a hefty dose of wonder, gratitude and whimsy into your Friday and kick off the weekend on a magical note. Connect with Mario @MarioMagician.

WHAT WAS THE LAST EXPERIMENT YOU RAN?

I was trying to build an Easter egg finder. I found out that an Arduino micro controller can transmit an AM radio signal around 800Kz. Arduino has become a worldwide go-to tool for experimenting with electronics, and it’s super cheap. I had an idea to make an antenna contraption for kids, with analog gauges that swing like crazy when in proximity of a hidden Easter egg. I managed to squeeze the little transmitter into a plastic egg, but the receiver part was tricky. AM radio waves can get interference pretty easily. I tried to build a super simple receiver that would only pick up the specific station the Arduino transmitted. It was tough! Long story short, I ended up buying a children’s AM radio kit and replaced the tuning capacitor with a fixed one. I added little analog gauges from a 1980’s stereo and they swung around like crazy! It did work, though not as strong as I intended, and I didn’t make it in time for Easter Sunday. Ah well – next year!

WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS THAT YOU FEAR AND HOW DO YOU MANAGE YOUR FEAR?

Keeping my fear in control has been a major focus of mine over the past few years. Starting a family really brings life into full circle. I had to rewire my brain after my first child was born. You know, I spent my twenties breaking every rule I possibly could, and now in my thirties, I spend all my time trying to remember how to follow them again. Reviving the faith of my childhood has been the best life decision I’ve made. Faith in God, Christ, Universe. Because everything we see with our eyes is temporary. People will let you down, always. But people are imperfect for a reason. Innovation succeeds because of imperfection. We are at our best in the midst of crisis and fear. Running away from fear, I fail. Dwelling in my fear, I fail. In hard times, dwelling on things that I’m grateful for changes the direction of my fears. Gratitude is the antidote to fear.

WHAT BREAKS AND DELIGHTS YOUR HEART? IN OTHER WORDS, WHAT DO YOU BELIEVE IN AND SURRENDER TO? 

Being out in the middle of America somewhere, lost in an antique indoor flea market, with 500 dollars cash in my pocket, holding my wife’s hand. In a parking lot at some small town classic car show. Chatting it up with some old man who rebuilt a VW beetle into a custom street machine, all from scratch. Holding my daughter up into the sunlight, swinging her as a street performer is playing his guitar on a Sunday afternoon. When I am about to perform a magic show, squished in a living room in Tribeca. These things delight my heart.

I surrender to the moment. I am most at peace when I have all my tools around my 1967 Bradley GT, and it’s NOT running. When I have pieces on the floor, not knowing why it’s not working. Why do I feel peace when I “should” be stressed? There is something that excites me in this situation. My scattered tools become cold water on a hot day. My unsolved problem, a meal that I take my time eating. It’s a form of meditation that gives me purpose. I surrender to unsolved problems, ones that will lead me to create something that might not yet exist in the world.

CAN YOU TELL ME ABOUT A TRANSFORMATIONAL MOMENT IN YOUR LIFE?

Being on Sesame Street. But before that… I overheard someone once after a magic show say that I was all hype and no show. It destroyed me. I went home broken. It really stung. I took that and spent two years building my own magic tricks. Using custom electronics, 3d printing, cigar boxes, cardboard, tape, hot glue, bottle caps, etc… Now I am still learning, but at least I didn’t give up. I took something that gave me a lot of fear, and turned it around. And that became me. It became my niche. My handmade props, my original routines and my integration of electronics into my art have started to bring me places I never imagined.

 WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO YOU TO LIVE A GOOD LIFE?

Living in truth. Truth with all your senses. Love. When you receive love it makes you feel supernatural. To love when you receive hate. Love when you receive hurt. Love when you feel cheated. Love when others have more than you. Letting go. Distinguishing what to let go. I know which are my greatest projects… the ones I was able to let go of at the end of the day. I could work through the night, but I wouldn’t be giving it my best. Not spreading yourself too thin. Focusing. Find what makes you lose sleep because you love it so much. Live in that. And grace. Always thinking the best of people. Doing unto others what you would want done to yourself. We forget this rule so much. I know I do – every time I’m driving on the West Side Highway in Manhattan! Haha!

 COULD YOU SHARE ONE PIECE OF ADVICE ABOUT THE ART OF BEING HUMAN?

I have a seven month old son named Bear Gideon. He is the happiest child I have ever seen. We put him on a swing at the park recently. He is really chubby and big for his age. He sat back on the chair like a chubby Buddha giggling as our daughter Gigi pushed him. I watched Gigi push him gently as he giggled more and more. Gigi and Bear live the art of being human. I’m looked at my wife, Katie, and thought, “Damn. We created these little creatures, and now they are entertaining themselves.” I think the art of being human is sacrifice. I honor great leaders who chose to really give rather than receive. I believe without any doubt that Jesus, this homeless man from a small town, died for humanity, then rose from the dead and disrupted everything. I believe Buddha has reincarnated many times. What am I trying to say? Katie and I have chosen a path to have and raise children. This is the most sacrificing decision we have ever made. I chose this path because I believe I have come across something great. A wife that completes me. A career that makes children laugh and believe in new things. I surrendered the idea of being the next Lance Burton or David Copperfield years ago. I loved magic so much that I started taking kids’ shows from other magicians who didn’t want them. Children’s magic is so often looked upon as secondary entertainment. Two years after that decision, we started paying our rent just doing magic. It wasn’t until then that I started realizing that the very thing I was running away from was the thing I was made to do. I LOVE performing for kids. I LOVE it.

WHAT IS YOUR DRIVING QUESTION?

What will I make next week? How will I make it?

 ANY BOOKS OR MOVIES YOU RECOMMEND? 

Benny and Joon. Chaplin’s The Circus. YouTube videos of The Great Ballentine, George Carl, Steve Martin on Johnny Carson, Tommy Cooper.

. . . *

THANK YOU, MARIO!

{ Travel Lightly } Being Aware & Selective with What We Let In to Our Lives, Both Physically & Mentally …*

{ Travel Lightly } Being Aware & Selective with What We Let In to Our Lives, Both Physically & Mentally | rethinked.org

“All our worries are left here” – Rock found on the side of the road …*

A few weeks ago, I shared a list of the top five things that walking 500 miles helped me understand in a deeper or different way. Here is a bit more context around the first lesson- travel lightly.

It was not until the night before I was to set out for Santiago that I realized my sleeping bag would not fit in my pack. After spending a good hour trying various alternate packing arrangements and a panicked last minute phone call to my father, I decided to tie the sleeping bag on the exterior of my pack, which was already covered in extra stuff, “just in case.” I struggled a bit to get my pack on, stepped on the scale and discovered it was 14 kilos, well over the recommended five percent of one’s body weight. But caught up in a glowing feeling of victory after having managed to tie my sleeping bag (however precariously) to the outside of my pack, I felt quite sure the five percent recommendation did not apply to me.

Over the next two weeks, I hauled my absurdly heavy pack up and down mountains (some significantly larger and steeper than others). My collarbone bruised, my feet became swollen, and my back ached. I persevered until the fateful morning when I woke up to find that my feet had become so swollen that no amount of pushing and pulling would get them in my boots. Listening to the advice of new friends, I decided it was time to part with some of my stuff. I shipped ahead to my destination my sleeping bag (!) and some other things I hadn’t used. The moment I left the post office after having surrendered my gear, I immediately began to imagine worst case scenarios of myself shivering with cold while being devoured by the bed bugs which were rumored to be found all along the Camino. What happened for the rest of my trip truly surprised me—I was not cold and I did not get bitten by a single bed bug. Everywhere I stayed, the people running the Albergues (pilgrim hostels) lent me blankets. One night, the person sleeping on the bunk below mine caught bed bugs, but somehow, even without my permethrin treated sleeping bag, I emerged bug free.

{ CAN I AFFORD TO CARRY THIS EXTRA WEIGHT AROUND WITH ME? }

A few weeks after shipping my sleeping bag, I had dinner with a lovely man who was also walking to Santiago, an Australian sculptor in his seventies. We talked about various aspects of the experience we were sharing and he asked me how I dealt with the never ending snoring in the Albergues. He admitted that he sometimes would get aggravated by the snoring and shared with me a mental trick he used to deal with negative feelings as they crept up. He imagined each negative feeling as a weight, some weighed 400g, some 200g, some a kilo. Each time he felt annoyed about something, he asked himself if he could afford to carry this additional weight around with him. More often than not the answer was no.

I loved this little mental trick to let go of negative emotions, and I have practiced it often since learning about it. It has had two main effects; the first is that I simply let go of petty annoyances. The second benefit of this new method, is that if I find myself carrying the extra weight of anger or resentment and I cannot seem to just shed it on my own, I now feel much more inclined to speak up and resolve the issue rather than steam quietly. Either I drop it or I address it, but I’ve understood that I can’t afford (neither do I want to) carry superfluous weight on this journey.

{ TRAVELING LIGHTLY = LIVING DELIBERATELY } 

There’s a quote from Jonathan Harris that I love and which I’ve previously shared here on rethinked:

“We have these brief lives, and our only real choice is how we will fill them. Your attention is precious. Don’t squander it. Don’t throw it away. Don’t let companies and products steal it from you. Don’t let advertisers trick you into lusting after things you don’t need. Don’t let the media convince you to covet the lives of celebrities. Own your attention — it’s all you really have.” 

Walking 500 miles helped me understand these words in a new–or perhaps simply more immediate–sort of way. Our attention and our physical capacities are limited. It may sound a bit trite, cliché to the point of banality even, but it’s an unavoidable characteristic of our human condition. We can only carry so much, both on our backs and in our heads. The wonderful thing about being human however, is that once our basic needs are met, we have the freedom to choose what we will carry. Some of us may not realize that we have the agency to choose what we carry, and too often, even if we are aware of our power in owning our attention, we forget about it and get swept up in squandering it on things and emotions that do not help us thrive and flourish.

Travelling lightly then, to me at least, means living deliberately; it means being aware of and selective with what we let in to our lives, both physically and mentally.

{ Mindfulness Meditation }

I first was introduced to mindfulness meditation while interning in an in-patient psychiatric facility with schizophrenic and bipolar patients. One of my jobs there was to help my boss do a literature review on mindfulness for a pilot intervention study she was conducting to see how mindfulness meditation could improve the well-being of her patients.

While I did not stay at the internship long enough to see through her study, I’d expect that she’d find positive results. Mindfulness – or the “nonjudgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment” has been demonstrated to increase feelings of well being and help with psychiatric issues. Research has suggested it does this through attention regulation, body awareness, emotion regulation, and changes in perspective of self (Holzel et. al, 2011). Further studies have shown that this type of meditation can decrease stress, improve working memory and test scores, and help veterans deal with symptoms of PTSD, among many other positive health outcomes.

How does it work? Coming from the Buddhist tradition, mindfulness meditation involves cultivating a relaxed focused mind. It can be extremely difficult at first, but those who practice mindfulness meditation tell me that it gets easier over time. Personally, whenever I try to sit and meditate, my experience tends to be a lot like this:

My mind is either wandering or I am falling asleep.

…*

However, in an inspirational TED talk, Andy Puddicombe urges us all to take 10 minutes out of each day to practice mindfulness meditation. When is the last time you took 10 minutes to do absolutely nothing? Andy explains that in the “go-go-go” world we live in, we do not take the time to care for our minds. A Harvard study suggests that we spend on average 47% of each day mind wandering, which is actually linked to unhappiness. We are not living in the present moment. Mindfulness meditation helps us to get back into the here and now.

He says that at first meditation can feel a lot like having a wobbly tooth – you know it’s wobbly and it hurts but you can’t resist poking it with your tongue. Eventually, you learn to have focused relaxation, where you allow thoughts to come and go without getting agitated or stuck on them. You begin to see patterns in your own cognitions and are able to untangle them.

Ultimately, meditation offers the opportunity and potential to step back and get a different perspective on your thought processes. As Andy reminds us, “we can’t change everything that happens but we can change our experience of it.”

After listening to his talk, I am inspired to try mindfulness meditation again. I also imagine that teaching students mindfulness in the classroom could have major beneficial effects on their stress levels and attentional skills. Could you take 10 minutes out of your day to meditate? Could you take 10 minutes out of your school day to meditate with your students?

I’ll let you know how my little mindfulness meditation experiment goes this week. Let me know if any of you try it yourself.

Namaste.

Frame Your Day Using This Little Rethink to Increase Gratitude & Mindfulness …*

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 1.32.53 PM

A new Indian restaurant recently opened near where I live and while I am thrilled with all the added delicious vegetarian options available in my neighborhood, I find my favorite part of ordering from them to be my encounters with their deliveryman. Each time he comes, he beams with a giant smile and shares tidbits of wisdom handed down from his mother. This weekend he told me about his mother’s 25-hour day and I thought it was a brilliant way to shape one’s frame of mind to increase gratitude and mindfulness in one’s life.

His mother would tell him, “I have twenty-five hours in my day.” When he asked how that was possible when everyone else only had twenty-four, she replied that she saved an extra hour, because no one ever knows about tomorrow.

I absolutely love this. Nothing is promised; tomorrow is not given to us. That’s something that we all know but most of us fail to fully appreciate. Most mornings I wake up to the jarring sound of my alarm, or the insistent meows and head-butts of my hungry needy cat and I get out of bed annoyed and groggy. I’m not a “morning person”, I generally wake up on the wrong side of the bed and anyone who has shared a roof with me has quickly learned not to speak to me until I’m done with my first cup of coffee (earning me the nickname of “bear” from my mother). But in the past few days, since hearing the 25-hour day anecdote, I’ve made a conscious effort to wake up and be grateful. When I open my eyes, I really take a moment to appreciate how lucky I am to be waking up to a new day. It may sound a bit cliché but really, it’s anything but. Life is unpredictable, circumstances change overnight and without notice. In claiming and savoring that moment, I feel I have added an hour to my day, it makes me less grumpy, more energized, happy, even.

The other aspect of this story that I really enjoyed was that the motivation behind adding another hour to each day had nothing to do with trying to be more productive or cram more things into a single day. It was about being present; about enjoying as much as possible what one is given. In the age of chronic busyness, stress and not-enough time, I found this focus on presence and gratitude greatly refreshing and inspiring.

Try it out and let me know how the 25-hour day works out for you …* 

Kicking Off National Simplify Your Life Week by Embracing Essentialism …*

“In the end, in the final analysis, anything less than the disciplined pursuit of the essential, will lead to the undisciplined pursuit of the non-essential. And that’s a price I don’t think many of us would deliberately choose.” – Greg McKeown

Today, August 1, marks the beginning of National Simplify Your Life Week. Obviously, ‘simplify’ can mean a lot of different things to different people. Are we talking about time, relationships, objects, all of the above? Ultimately, that’s for each one of us to decide. One avenue into simplifying–which is primarily focused on time, but applies equally well to relationships and objects–that I found particularly interesting is the idea of Essentialism, or the disciplined pursuit of less, coined by Greg McKeown.

To learn more about Essentialism and get some tips on how to become “absurdly selective” in how you use your time, head over to the Harvard Business Review and check out the 15 minute podcast where McKeown discusses more strategies to do things better by doing less.

In the meantime, here are two exercises, mentioned in the podcast, that McKeown suggests doing as you embark on your Essentialist journey:

  1. The Rule of 3 – Every three months, we should take three hours to identify what the three most important objectives are for us for the next three months. There’s lots of threes in there. But to me, it’s a very helpful rule of thumb. Because if we don’t do this, we are just buried now in the day-to-day.
  2.  OK. If I had just a week left to live, what would I do? If I had a month left to live, what would I do? If I had a year left to live, what would I do? And then finally, if I have a full rest of my life left to live, what will I do? And that exercise, which can easily be done with one hour, might be the most important hour of our life. Because it’s helping to address this error of judgment we make about short term versus long term. It’s helping us to see really what is essential to us. And when you go through the exercise, what happens, I think, is that the fog of our day-to-day life starts to lift. Because in a normal life, every day we tend to think everything’s important, and it’s almost as if it’s all equivalently important. But actually, it’s not. We’re just tricked by the urgency. We’re tricked by the latest email, the latest tweet, the latest text, to make us think that this thing should garner our primary attention. But when you go through this exercise, it’s very obvious that that isn’t the case. And so it helps us to make sure our day-to-day tactics are aligned with what we want our intended lifelong strategy to be.

simplify & rethink …*

{ Creativity & Happiness } An Overview of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience …*

{ Creativity & Happiness } An Overview of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience ...* | rethinked.org

Screen Shot from Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi’s 2004 TED talk – Flow: The Secret to Happiness

 

As I’m nearing the end of the Positive Psychology cycle of the rethinked*annex project, I have decided to include two additional ideas–flow and growth mindset–before moving on to the next and final cycle. Because the meaningful happy life is so deeply dependent on the successful and recurring deployment of one’s signature strengths in as many of life’s arenas as possible, I have decided to turn to Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi‘s concept of flow for some additional guidance on how to nurture and cultivate my pursuit of what Seligman terms, “the gratifications.” And because the nurturing and deployment of strengths and skills can be so radically improved by the cultivation of a growth mindset, I have decided to reread Carol Dweck‘s Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. I’ll share a couple more interventions to experiment with based on these two ideas in the coming weeks.

For now, I invite you to watch Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi’s TED Talk – Flow, the secret to happiness, in which he gives some context to his research around the core question of “what makes life worth living?” and gives an overview of the flow experience.

6 Easily Implementable Positive Psychology Interventions to Enhance Mental & Physical Well-Being …*

6 Easily Implementable Positive Psychology Interventions to Enhance Mental & Physical Well-Being ...* | rethinked.org

Over the last several weeks I have been exploring and writing about the field of Positive Psychology. In many of my posts, I shared small and easily implementable interventions suggested by Martin Seligman in Authentic Happiness to translate the findings of Positive Psychology into tangible benefits in your daily life. I have been experimenting with most of these in my own life over the past few weeks and starting next week, I will share my discoveries, insights and opinions about the benefits of each of these interventions. In the meantime, I’ve assembled all of the exercises in one place in case you want to try them for yourself.

rethink & design your well-being …*

1. GRATITUDE NIGHT 

Select one important person from your past who has made a major positive difference in your life and to whom you have never fully expressed your thanks. (Do not confound this selection with newfound romantic love, or with the possibility of future gain.) Write a testimonial just long enough to cover one laminated page. Take your time composing this; my students and I found ourselves taking several weeks, composing on buses and as we fell asleep at night. Invite that person to your home, or travel to that person’s home. It is important that you do this face to face, not just in writing or on the phone. Do not tell the person the purpose of the visit in advance; a simple “I just want to see you” will suffice. Wine and cheese do not matter, but bring a laminated version of your testimonial with you as a gift. When all settles down, read your testimonial aloud slowly, with expression and with eye contact. Then let the other person react unhurriedly. Reminisce together about the concrete events that make this person so important to you. (If you are so moved, please do send me a copy at Seligman@psych.upenn.edu) (74)

2. GRATITUDE JOURNAL

Set aside five free minutes each night for the next two weeks, preferably right before brushing your teeth for bed. Prepare a pad with one page for each of the next fourteen days. The first night take the Satisfaction with Life Scale and the General Happiness Scale and score them. Then think back over the previous twenty-four hours and write down, on separate lines, up to five things in your life you are grateful or thankful for. Common examples include “waking up this morning,” “the generosity of friends,” “God for giving me determination,” “wonderful parents,” “robust good health, and the “Rolling Stones” (or some other artistic inspiration). Repeat the Life Satisfaction and General Happiness Scales on the final night, two weeks after you start, and compare your scores to the first night’s scores. If this worked for you, incorporate it into your nightly routine. (75)

3. REACH – PRACTICE FORGIVENESS 

R stands for recall the hurt, in as objective a way as you can. Do not think of the other person as evil. Do not wallow in self-pity. Take deep, slow and calming breaths as you visualize the event. (79)

E stands for empathize. Try to understand from the perpetrator’s point of view why this person hurt you. This is not easy, but make up a plausible story that the transgressor might tell if challenged to explain. To help you do this, remember the following:

  • When others feel their survival is threatened, they will hurt innocents.
  • People who attack others are themselves usually in a state of fear, worry, and hurt.
  • The situation a person finds himself in, and not his underlying personality, can lead to hurting.
  • People often don’t think when they hurt others; they just lash out. (80)

A stands for giving the altruistic gift of forgiveness, another difficult step. First recall a time you transgressed, felt guilty, and were forgiven. This was a gift you were given by another person because you needed it, and you were grateful for this gift. Giving this gift usually makes us feel better. But we do not give this gift out of self-interest. Rather, we give it because it is for the trespasser’s own good. Tell yourself you can rise above hurt and vengeance. If you give the gift grudgingly, however, it will not set you free. (80)

C stands for commit yourself to forgive publicly. In Worthington’s groups, his clients write a “certificate of forgiveness,” write a letter of forgiveness to the offender, write it in their diary, write a poem or song, or tell a trusted friend what they have done. These are all contracts of forgiveness that lead to the final step. (81)

H stands for hold onto forgiveness. This is another difficult step, because memories of the event will surely recur. Forgiveness is not erasure; rather, it is a change in the tag lines that a memory carries. It is important to realize that the memories do not mean unforgiveness. Don’t dwell vengefully on the memories, and don’t wallow in them. Remind yourself that you have forgiven and read the documents you composed. (81)

Learn to Cultivate Gratitude & Forgiveness to Enhance Satisfaction About the Past …*

4. DISPUTING PESSIMISTIC BELIEFS ABOUT SETBACKS USING THE ABCDE MODEL

During the next five adverse events you face in your daily life, listen closely for your beliefs, observe the consequences, and dispute your beliefs vigorously. Then observe the energy that occurs as you succeed in dealing with the negative beliefs. Record all of this. These five adverse events can be minor: the mail is late, your call isn’t returned, or the kid pumping your gas doesn’t wash the windshield. In each of these use the four techniques of self-disputation. (98)

Do it in your daily life over the next week. Don’t search out adversity, but as it comes along, tune in carefully to your internal dialogue. When you hear the negative beliefs, dispute them. Beat them into the ground, then record the ABCDE.

  • Adversity:
  • Belief:
  • Consequences:
  • Disputation:
  • Energization:

(100)

Cultivating Optimism & Hope to Enhance Well-Being, Performance & Positive Emotions About the Future …*

5. HAVE A BEAUTIFUL DAY – AN INTERVENTION FOR ENHANCING THE PLEASURES

I assign you (as I do my students) to have a beautiful day. Set aside a free day this month to indulge in your favorite pleasures. Pamper yourself. Design, in writing, what you will do from hour to hour. Use as many of the techniques above as you can. Do not let the bustle of life interfere, and carry out the plan. (111)

Pleasures vs. Gratifications – Understanding & Enhancing the Various Types of Happiness In the Present …*

6. IDENTIFY YOUR HIGHEST, WEAKEST & SIGNATURE STRENGTHS

Head over to the Authentic Happiness website, and under, the tab labeled “Questionnaires” you will find the VIA Strengths Survey. You will need to create an account on the website and there is a fee to take the test, I did it and thought it was worth it. You will receive a 30 page detailed report of your character strengths in rank order. You will also learn about the benefits of each of your signature strengths, ways to cultivate them and avoid the pitfalls of mismanaging your aptitudes. 

Once you have taken the survey, Seligman’s next exercise is to evaluate your results–do the strengths the survey identified feel authentic to you?

Typically you will have five or fewer scores of 9 or 10, and these are your highest strengths, at least as your reported them. […] You will also have several low scores in the 4 (or lower) to 6 range, and these are your weaknesses.

Look at the list of your top five strengths. Most of these will feel authentic to you, but one or two of them may not be the real you. My strengths on this test were love of learning, perseverance, leadership, originality, and spirituality. Four of these feel like the real me, but leadership is not one. I can lead quite adequately if I am forced to, but it isn’t a strength that I own. When I use it, I feel drained, I count the hours until it is done, and I am delighted when the task is over and I’m back with my family.

I believe that each person possesses several signature strengths. These are strengths of character that a person self-consciously owns, celebrates, and (if he or she can arrange life successfully) exercises every day in work, love, play and parenting. Take your list of top strengths, and for each one ask if any of these criteria apply:

  • A sense of ownership and authenticity (“This is the real me”)
  • A feeling of excitement while displaying it, particularly at first
  • A rapid learning curve as the strength is first practiced
  • Continuous learning of new ways to enact the strength
  • A sense of yearning to find ways to use it
  • A feeling of inevitability in using the strength (“Try and stop me”)
  • Invigorating rather than exhaustion while using the strength
  • The creation and pursuit of personal projects that revolve around it.
  • Joy, zest, enthusiasm, even ecstasy while using it.

If one or more of these apply to your top strengths, they are signature strengths. Use them as frequently as you can and in as many settings. If none of the signature criteria apply to one or two of your strengths, they may not be the aptitudes you want to deploy in work, love, play, and parenting. (160)

Learn to Identify, Cultivate & Deploy Your Unique Character Strengths to Live A Full & Authentic Life …*

*

Source: Seligman, Martin. Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology To Realize Your Potential For Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press, 2002. Print.

Learn to Cultivate Gratitude & Forgiveness to Enhance Satisfaction About the Past …*

Learn to Cultivate Gratitude & Forgiveness to Enhance Satisfaction About the Past ...*  | rethinked.org -Photograph: Elsa Fridman

Today, let’s review what Positive Psychology has to say about happiness in the past. In a nutshell: the single most effective way to change your satisfaction about the past is to change your thinking:

There are three ways you can lastingly feel more happiness about your past. The first is intellectual—letting go of an ideology that your past determines your future. The hard determinism that underpins this dogma is empirically barren and philosophically far from self-evident, and the passivity it engenders is imprisoning. The second and third variables are emotional, and both involve voluntarily changing your memories. Increasing your gratitude about the good things in your past intensifies positive memories, and learning how to forgive past wrongs defuses the bitterness that makes satisfaction impossible. (82)

RETHINKING TWO PERNICIOUS BELIEFS THAT HINDER SATISFACTION ABOUT THE PAST:

DETERMINISM

To the extent that you believe that the past determines the future, you will tend to allow yourself to be a passive vessel that does not actively change its course. Such beliefs are responsible for magnifying many people’s inertia. (66)

THE HYDRAULICS OF EMOTION | PSYCHODYNAMICS

We live in a society that promotes the venting of emotions. The cultural assumption about feelings is that they must come out and be expressed for if they are not, they grow and fester within us leading to resentment, pent up frustration and ultimately, poor health. Interestingly, the research shows a completely different story:

  • Depression & The Invention of Cognitive Therapy – Aaron (Tim) Beck found that there was no problem getting depressed people to re-air past wrongs and to dwell on them at length. The problem was that they often unraveled as they ventilated, and Tim could not find ways to ravel them up again. Occasionally this led to suicide attempts, some fatal. Cognitive Therapy for depression developed as a technique to free people from their unfortunate past by getting them to change their thinking about the present and the future. Cognitive therapy techniques work equally well at producing relief from depression as the antidepressant drugs, and they work better at preventing recurrences and relapse. (69)
  • Dwelling on trespass and the expression of anger produces more cardiac diseases and more anger. Anger is another domain in which the concept of emotional hydraulics was critically examined. America, in contrast to the venerable Eastern cultures, is a ventilationist society. We deem it honest, just, and even healthy to express our anger. So we shout, we protest, and we litigate. “Go ahead, make my day,” warns Dirty Harry. Part of the reason we allow ourselves this luxury is that we believe the psychodynamic theory of anger. If we don’t express our rage, it will come out elsewhere—even more destructively, as in cardiac disease. But this theory turns out to be false; in fact, the reverse is true. (69)
  • The overt expression of hostility turns out to be the real culprit in the Type A-heart attack link. Time urgency, competitiveness, and the suppression of anger do not seem to play a role in Type A people getting more heart disease. In one study, 255 medical students took a personality test that measured overt hostility. As physicians twenty-five years later, the angriest had roughly five times as much heart disease as the least angry ones. In another study, men who had the highest risk of later heart attacks were just the ones with more explosive voices, more irritation when forced to wait, and more outwardly directed anger. In experimental studies, when male students bottle up their anger, blood pressure goes down, and it goes up if they decide to express their feelings. Anger expression raises lower blood pressure for women as well. In contrasts, friendliness in reaction to trespass lowers it. (70)

So if venting our anger and frustration only makes us feel worse and endangers our health, what can we do to increase our satisfaction about the past? Seligman suggests cultivating gratitude and forgiveness:

Insufficient appreciation and savoring of the good events in your past and overemphasis of the bad ones are the two culprits that undermine serenity, contentment, and satisfaction. There are two ways of bringing these feelings about the past well into the region of contentment and satisfaction.

  1. Gratitude amplifies the savoring and appreciation of the good events gone by.
  2. Rewriting history by forgiveness loosens the power of the bad events to embitter (and actually can transform bad memories into good ones). (70)

GRATITUDE – 

Numerous studies have shown the benefits of cultivating gratitude which increases joy, happiness, and life satisfaction. Just head over to the Greater Good Science Center for a plethora of reviews on the benefits of gratitude.

2 EXERCISES TO CULTIVATE GRATITUDE

In Authentic Happiness, Seligman proposes two gratitude interventions to try out in order to cultivate your capacity for gratitude:

GRATITUDE NIGHT 

Select one important person from your past who has made a major positive difference in your life and to whom you have never fully expressed your thanks. (Do not confound this selection with newfound romantic love, or with the possibility of future gain.) Write a testimonial just long enough to cover one laminated page. Take your time composing this; my students and I found ourselves taking several weeks, composing on buses and as we fell asleep at night. Invite that person to your home, or travel to that person’s home. It is important that you do this face to face, not just in writing or on the phone. Do not tell the person the purpose of the visit in advance; a simple “I just want to see you” will suffice. Wine and cheese do not matter, but bring a laminated version of your testimonial with you as a gift. When all settles down, read your testimonial aloud slowly, with expression and with eye contact. Then let the other person react unhurriedly. Reminisce together about the concrete events that make this person so important to you. (If you are so moved, please do send me a copy at Seligman@psych.upenn.edu) (74)

GRATITUDE JOURNAL

Set aside five free minutes each night for the next two weeks, preferably right before brushing your teeth for bed. Prepare a pad with one page for each of the next fourteen days. The first night take the Satisfaction with Life Scale and the General Happiness Scale and score them. Then think back over the previous twenty-four hours and write down, on separate lines, up to five things in your life you are grateful or thankful for. Common examples include “waking up this morning,” “the generosity of friends,” “God for giving me determination,” “wonderful parents,” “robust good health, and the “Rolling Stones” (or some other artistic inspiration). Repeat the Life Satisfaction and General Happiness Scales on the final night, two weeks after you start, and compare your scores to the first night’s scores. If this worked for you, incorporate it into your nightly routine. (75)

FORGIVENESS

We cannot control the memories we carry inside us. What we can control however is our focus and interpretation of these memories. We can cultivate gratitude to shift our focus towards experiencing more positive memories and we can cultivate forgiveness to alleviate the hurt of negative memories.

Forgiveness must be given freely and voluntarily if it is to be effective. Whether you decide to forgive someone for a past wrong is entirely your choice. Moral implications of that choice aside, I would like to point you to the research on the benefits of forgiveness:

In the largest and best-done study to date a consortium of Stanford researchers led by Carl Thoresen randomly assigned 259 adults to either a nine-hour (six 90-minute sessions) forgiveness workshop or to an assessment-only control group. The components of the intervention were carefully scripted and paralleled those above, with emphasis on taking less offence and revisiting the story of the grievance toward an objective perspective. Less anger, less stress, more optimism, better reported health, and more forgiveness ensued, and the effects were sizable. (81)

Forgiving is much easier said than done, but perhaps you will find a helpful entry point into forgiving through psychologist Everett Worthington’s acclaimed 5 step process to forgive REACH:

{ R } RECALL THE HURT

Recall the hurt, in as objective a way as you can. Do not think of the other person as evil. Do not wallow in self-pity. Take deep, slow and calming breaths as you visualize the event. (79)

{ E } EMPATHIZE

Try to understand from the perpetrator’s point of view why this person hurt you. This is not easy, but make up a plausible story that the transgressor might tell if challenged to explain. To help you do this, remember the following:

  • When others feel their survival is threatened, they will hurt innocents.
  • People who attack others are themselves usually in a state of fear, worry, and hurt.
  • The situation a person finds himself in, and not his underlying personality, can lead to hurting.
  • People often don’t think when they hurt others; they just lash out. (80)

{ A } GIVE THE ALTRUISTIC GIFT OF FORGIVENESS

A stands for giving the altruistic gift of forgiveness, another difficult step. First recall a time you transgressed, felt guilty, and were forgiven. This was a gift you were given by another person because you needed it, and you were grateful for this gift. Giving this gift usually makes us feel better. But we do not give this gift out of self-interest. Rather, we give it because it is for the trespasser’s own good. Tell yourself you can rise above hurt and vengeance. If you give the gift grudgingly, however, it will not set you free. (80)

{ C } COMMIT YOURSELF TO FORGIVE PUBLICLY

C stands for commit yourself to forgive publicly. In Worthington’s groups, his clients write a “certificate of forgiveness,” write a letter of forgiveness to the offender, write it in their diary, write a poem or song, or tell a trusted friend what they have done. These are all contracts of forgiveness that lead to the final step. (81)

{ H } HOLD ONTO FORGIVENESS

H stands for hold onto forgiveness. This is another difficult step, because memories of the event will surely recur. Forgiveness is not erasure; rather, it is a change in the tag lines that a memory carries. It is important to realize that the memories do not mean unforgiveness. Don’t dwell vengefully on the memories, and don’t wallow in them. Remind yourself that you have forgiven and read the documents you composed. (81)

Source: Seligman, Martin. Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology To Realize Your Potential For Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press, 2002. Print.

Rethinking Work/Flow

Screenshot 2014-06-04 13.57.13

It’s not news that engagement at work — or the lack of it — is a problem for many. But with all the bad news about work that’s been coming across my screen, I’m having an even harder time doing the work that’s on my screen.

First I read Sunday’s New York Times op-ed by the Energy Project‘s Tony Schwartz and Christine Porath:

Just 30 percent of employees in America feel engaged at work, according to a 2013 report by Gallup. Around the world, across 142 countries, the proportion of employees who feel engaged at work is just 13 percent. For most of us, in short, work is a depleting, dispiriting experience, and in some obvious ways, it’s getting worse.

Then yesterday it was David Brooks on his loss of focus at work:

Like everyone else, I am losing the attention war. I toggle over to my emails when I should be working. I text when I should be paying attention to the people in front of me. I spend hours looking at mildly diverting stuff on YouTube.

And then I watched some highly diverting “stuff on Youtube”: “Humpback Whale Shows AMAZING Appreciation After Being Freed From Nets!

(You know you want to click.)

Then yesterday, TED’s “Work Smarter” playlist beckoned from my Facebook feed. Of 12 videos in the playlist, I chose — naturally — Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work,” a talk by basecamp co-founder Jason Fried.

The front door of the office is like a Cuisinart, and you walk in and your day is shredded to bits, because you have 15 minutes here and 30 minutes there, and then something else happens and you’re pulled off your work, and you’ve got to do something else. Then you have 20 minutes, then it’s lunch. Then you have something else to do. Then you’ve got 15 minutes, and someone pulls you aside and asks you this question, and before you know it, it’s 5 p.m., and you look back on the day, and you realize that you didn’t get anything done. 

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When I was in grad school, I spent many, many hours at my desk, usually in front of a computer. The work was always challenging. When I didn’t like or understand the expectations of the assignment, the work became stressful. But when I felt equal to the challenges of the work and I could express myself in my work (not unusual in design school), the work became fun.

This feeling of flow was deliciously addictive — and I experienced first-hand its power in an educational context. I became so interested in the role of flow in creativity and learning that that intersection — the psychology of creativity and learning — became a major component of my master’s thesis.

To me, the holy grail of all work is flow.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a major figure in the creativity-research wing of cognitive psychology, first coined the term flow as “an effortless yet highly focused state of consciousness.” 

The key to flow lies in the many essential conditions that make flow possible:

  • intrinsic motivation (the task is appealing in and of itself) 
  • clear goals and immediate feedback
  • a sense of challenge balanced with a sense of skill
  • action merged with awareness
  • freedom from distractions, self-consciousness, and worry of failure

Screenshot 2014-06-04 13.58.25

Interestingly Csikszentmihalyi was not studying creativity when he first identified these factors. He was researching human enjoyment.

Given what he believed to be the “vague, unfocused, constantly distracted condition of the normal mind,” he wanted to understand the circumstances that allow people to achieve intense, sustained focus over a prolonged time. In those who achieved it, this focus seemed to inoculate them against fatigue, doubt, and other factors that would typically undermine motivation and decrease effort. 

Years later, when he studied creative people, Csikszentmihalyi realized that the characteristics of flow were nearly identical to the characteristics of deep enjoyment.

Csikszentmihalyi’s research echoes the work of Richard Ryan and Edward Deci, whose research reveals the role that motivation plays in human achievement of all kinds. (I’ve previously suggested one particular Ryan-Deci study as excellent reading for teachers.) 

Humans naturally thrive when working toward meaningful goals. That is, intrinsically motivating activities (which are meaningful by definition) give us a desire — and stomach — for work, including the hard work of learning and creativity. Humans are wired to be learn and be creative, but we only reach our full learning potential and creative potential when we experience strong motivation. And experiencing that motivation requires freedom from self-consciousness and worry of failure, as Csikszentmihalyi found:

In flow, we feel that our abilities are well matched to the opportunities for action. In everyday life we sometimes feel that the challenges are too high in relation to our skills, and then we feel frustrated and anxious. Or we feel that our potential is greater than the opportunities to express it, and then we feel bored. Playing tennis or chess against a much better opponent leads to frustration; against a much weaker opponent, to boredom. In a really enjoyable game, the players are balanced on the fine line between boredom and anxiety. When the challenges become too great for the person to cope with, a sense of frustration rather than joy creeps in — at least for a while.

Between anxiety and bordeom lies flow: Csikszentmihalyi

Between anxiety (too-high stakes) and boredom (no stakes) lies flow. And learning.

 

This notion that flow lies between anxiety and boredom is, I would argue, easier to grasp when expressed in terms of high- and low-stakes endeavors. High-stakes endeavors tend to sharpen one’s mind and energies, but the scale and import of such endeavors can overwhelming, even paralyzing. A low-stakes endeavor tends to be approachable and nonthreatening, but its relative unimportance makes motivation hard to come by.

However, there are two “sweet spots,” i.e., tasks that are neither anxiety-producing nor boring: lower-stakes tasks that are fun, and high-stakes tasks that one consistently feels competent enough to achieve.

Whether it’s proving the Pythagorean theorem, creating a video for a class, or writing a master’s thesis, any endeavor flourishes when in flow. Flow exists only in the absence of anxieties that often surround significant challenges, be they learning challenges or creative challenges.

Therefore, as educators, our efforts to banish boredom, anxiety and fear from our classrooms must be continuous and vigilant.

One strategy to do that? Make more room in the curriculum for learning through creative self-expression, for making — and be sure to integrate creativity into both learning objectives and assessments.

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Source: Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention. New York: Harper Perennial, 1997.

How Is It Possible That As A Society We’re Not Asking Schools To Develop A Growth Mindset In Children?

How Is It Possible That As A Society We're Not Asking Schools To Develop A Growth Mindset In Children? | rethinked.org

Screen Shot from Eduardo Briceño’s Talk at TEDxManahattanBeach, 2012.

 

“The moment we believe that success is determined by an ingrained level of ability, we will be brittle in the face of adversity.” – Josh Waitzkin

In his TEDx talk, Eduardo Briceño, co-founder and CEO of Mindset Works, highlights the power of beliefs and mindset to shape performance. After reviewing several of Carol Dweck‘s findings on the power of a growth mindset— the belief that various capacities can be improved through effort over time–to facilitate success and mastery, Briceño asks:

How is it possible that as a society we’re not asking schools to develop a growth mindset in children? Our myopic efforts to teach them facts, concepts and even critical thinking skills is likely to fail if we don’t also deliberately teach them the essential beliefs that will allow them to succeed–no only in school, but also beyond.

Briceño ends his talk by sharing three things that we can all do to instill a growth mindset in ourselves and those around us:

1. Recognize that the growth mindset is not only beneficial but it’s also supported by science. Neuroscience shows that the brain changes and becomes more capable when we work hard to improve ourselves.

2. Learn and teach others about how to develop our abilities. Learn about deliberate practice and what makes for effective effort. When we understand how to develop our abilities, we strengthen our conviction that we’re in charge of them.

3. Listen for your fixed mindset voice and when you hear it, talk back with a growth mindset voice. If you hear, “I can’t do it,” add, “…yet.”

The Power of Belief – Mindset and Success: Eduardo Briceno at TEDxManhattanBeach, published November 18, 2012

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