Tag discomfort

{ Stand by Your Choices } When the Going Gets Tough, Remember You Chose This …*

A few months 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 fourth lesson- stand by your choices– When the going gets tough, lean into the discomfort, after all, you’re the one that chose to put yourself in this situation

. . . *

I first discovered the notion of “leaning into discomfort” last year, from my father. In a spur of the moment decision that still baffles me I had committed to run a half-marathon. I printed a training schedule I found online, got a good pair of running shoes and motivated myself with the promise of New York’s best donuts (I stand by that claim) at Peter Pan after every run. I was soon forced by an interminable string of snowstorms to train indoors on a treadmill. Let’s be honest, running in place inside in bad lighting is far from a stimulating experience. I dealt with the drudgery of burning lungs, aching muscles and being forced to awkwardly stare at my wheezing tomato-red reflection in the floor-to-ceiling mirrors strategically (perversely) placed in front of the treadmills by zoning out. I would pick a point on my shirt, somewhere near the collar, directly under my chin, stare at it in the mirror and blast music (or podcasts, thank you Debbie Millman) in my headphones to slowly force my mind out of the gym. My runs were a chore and while with time I came to appreciate and look forward to the way I felt after a long run, the act itself was something I just had to get through.

That changed when one weekend I visited my parents and went on a run with my father who is an avid runner. He told me to leave my music at home and said to focus instead on the way the air felt in my lungs, the crunch of the ground under my sneakers, the noise of the birds overhead–to lean into the experience, discomfort and all; to be fully present in the moment. This all sounded like a terrible idea but I trust and look up to him enough that I was willing to give it a try. It was on that run that my feelings about running started to change. I acquired a new appreciation for the act itself, I began to enjoy the feeling of running, not just the feeling that came when I stopped. There was still discomfort and pain but I discovered a strong sense of joy in those aches. This was my body, moving, strengthening and even though the process sometimes hurt, I felt incredibly excited by experiencing the fullness of the process.

I injured myself two weeks before the race and was told by my doctor that I had to stop running for a few months until I recovered. I’ve since given up on the idea of running a half-marathon but I’ve kept running. I don’t want to force myself to run in place on a treadmill for up to an hour and a half to reach a certain number of miles by race day, but I come alive when the weather is pleasant and I’m out for a run.

{ Stand by Your Choices } When the Going Gets Tough, Remember You Chose This ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

Entering Galicia

 

The last stage of the Camino Frances goes through the luxuriant hills of Galicia. The second I crossed over into Galicia three things happened: I was awed by the breathtaking greens hidden and revealed by opaque layers of thick fog; it rained all day every day, and I came down with a massive cold. I’m not talking little seasonal sniffle, no, this was the real thing–mouth breathing, body aches, sore throat and fever. I tried to rally and thought about my father’s advice to embrace the fulness of each experience by leaning into all its components, including the uncomfortable ones. That got me through most of the first day but by the third day, walking from morning to mid-afternoon in torrential rain, slipping in mud, and lugging my heavy pack, I fell prey to whining and self-pity.

After spending the better part of the morning telling myself that this was awful, that I hated it, that it was the stupidest thing I had ever done, I was reluctantly forced to come to the unavoidable conclusion that I had no one to “blame” for this but myself. No one had made me walk, it had been my choice and it had been something I had really wanted, something I thought would be important. The mud, the rain, the cold, the constant running out of tissues and burning sore throat, all that was a consequence of a choice I had made. It was part of the package.

I have always been obsessed by notions of identity–who are we? how do we know? why does it matter?– There are so many layers to get lost in when trying to formulate a sense of the self. In the bustle of daily life it is so easy to avoid owning up to who we are by hiding behind habits, labels, complacency. We make excuses–we’re too tired, too busy, too stressed, we’d be/act differently if only… It’s astonishing what carrying all your belongings on your back will do to help you clarify things. In the end, when all the noise is removed and each day comes down to lacing up your boots and walking down the path you have chosen, the questions crystalize. Do you walk through the breathtaking landscapes but also the cow shit and the mud pits? Do you own your choice or not?

My walk helped crystalize some thoughts around selfhood, voice and experience that have been brewing in my mind for the past few years. I feel a bit vulnerable sharing this insight because it seems so definitive and if there is one thing I find ridiculous it’s certainties. But for me, at this stage in my life, at least, I reached the end of my walk and the conclusion that the measure of who we are comes down to wether or not we are willing to stand behind our choices.

In some way, choices are cheap– A or B, stripes or polka dots, adventure or safety. We may agonize for extended periods of time over which choice to make, but the actual decision takes only a moment. The real work comes after, will we reaffirm our decision each day and embrace the consequences or will we whine and blame and become alienated from ourselves and our experience in the process. It’s been said before, but there is an expiration date for blaming your parents and circumstances for wasting the numbered amount of moments you are given.

This is about taking ownership for the lives we live; it’s about living with intent, courage and perseverance. Do you want to go through life running in place in bad neon lighting, blasting music through your headphones until your mind is numb or do you want to live the fullness of who you are by accepting accountability for the decisions your make? It’s not our choices that define us, but our capacity and willingness to stand behind them.

{ Stand by Your Choices } When the Going Gets Tough, Remember You Chose This ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

What the last 10 days of my Camino looked like, more or less.

 

Music As An Evolutionary Adaptation to Help us Overcome Cognitive Dissonance & Retain Contradictory Knowledge. …*

Music As An Evolutionary Adaptation to Help us Overcome Cognitive Dissonance & Retain Contradictory Knowledge. ...* |rethinked.org - photo: Elsa Fridman

Integrative Thinking, as Roger Martin defines it in his splendid book on the subject, The Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking, is:

The ability to face constructively the tension of opposing ideas and instead of choosing one at the expense of the other, generate a creative resolution of the tension in the form of a new idea that contains elements of the opposing ideas but is superior to each.

The cognitive dissonance we experience as we work our way through this tension often comes with a high level of emotional and cognitive discomfort. It’s painful–frightening even–to question the ‘truth’ and reality of our knowledge and beliefs. All too often, in an effort to rid ourselves of this highly unpleasant sense of unease, we disengage with one of the two elements procuding the dissonance; disregarding one idea or point of view to focus exclusively on the one that feels familiar and safe to us. In disengaging, we lose out on the vast possibilities of the tension. Not only is this a lost opportunity for us to grow as teams and individuals, it often holds a heavy social and human cost as we hold on to harmful and negative stereotypes and assumptions about who other people are and what their beliefs may be.

Just a few days ago, I read an intriguing theory from physicist and investigator of human cognitive functioning, Leonid Perlovsky, that suggests adding music to our Integrative Thinking toolbox as a coping strategy to stay in the uncomfortable, if highly productive, space of cognitive dissonance long enough to work through the tensions and derive the benefits. Music, according to Perlovsky, is an “evolutionary adaptation, one that helps us navigate a world rife with contradictions.”

The idea is that music – which can convey an array of nuanced emotions – helps us reconcile our own conflicted emotions when making choices. And the more diverse, differentiated emotions we possess, the more well-founded our decisions become. Whether it’s choosing to play with a toy or deciding to propose to a boyfriend or girlfriend, our research shows that music can enhance our cognitive abilities.

Thus, because we constantly grapple with cognitive dissonances, we created music, in part, to help us tolerate – and overcome – them.

This is the universal purpose of music.

Perlovsky backs up his theory by sharing some of the experiments he and his team have conducted on the subject. One of the experiments that he shares will be of particular interest to educators and integrative thinkers:

we gave a group of fifteen-year-old students a typical multiple choice exam, and asked them to record the difficulty of each question, along with how much time it took them to answer each one.

It turned out that more difficult questions were answered faster (and grades suffered), because students didn’t want to prolong unpleasant dissonance of choosing between difficult options. However when Mozart’s music played in the background, they spent more time on the difficult questions. Their scores improved.

Source: How music helps resolve our deepest inner conflicts

A Simple Trick For Nurturing Better Relationships, Becoming a Better Listener & Growing Your Empathy Muscle …*

In this lovely animated short, Brené Brown, gives us a simple hack based on her research to enhance relationships, become a better listener and grow your empathy muscle: stop blaming. Sounds easy enough, and to some extent, it is.

How many of you go to that place—when something bad happens, the first thing you want to know is whose fault is it? I’d rather it be my fault than no one’s fault. Because why? Why? Because it gives us some semblance of control. […] But here’s what we know from the research: blame is simply the discharging of discomfort and pain. It has an inverse relationship with accountability. Accountability, by definition, is a vulnerable process. It means me calling you and saying, “hey, my feeling were really hurt about this,” and talking; not blaming. Blaming is simply a way that we discharge anger. People who blame a lot, seldom have the tenacity and grit to actually hold people accountable because we expend all of our energy raging for 15 seconds and figuring out whose fault something is. And blaming’s very corrosive in relationships. And it’s one of the reasons we miss our opportunities for empathy. Because when something happens and we’re hearing the story, we’re not really listening, we’re in the place where I was, making the connections as quickly as we can about whose fault something was. – Brené Brown

One of the findings from Positive Psychology that struck me the most was the notion that venting negative feelings is actually completely counterproductive. In Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman highlights various studies disproving our culture’s view that airing grievances is cathartic:

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)

Source: Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment 

Since learning about this, I have made it a point to be more aware of the emotions I express and focus on. It’s not that I suppress or ignore negative emotions–I still get angry, frustrated, sad or whiny–but I try to be aware of what I’m feeling and when I notice one of these emotions, I ask myself what I can do about it; what I can learn from the experience that triggered the emotion? Then I fix what I can, make a mental note to avoid repeating any identified mistakes and I move on. If I’m having a really bad day or difficult time with something, I make myself move– either at the gym or I go for a long walk, which I’ve found really helpful in getting rid of the way negative emotions feel in one’s body. I also try not to complain to others. Whereas before I might have sought out a close friend to vent to after encountering some setback or upsetting situation–“can you believe this?!”–I now avoid such conversations; and, it turns out, I don’t miss them (and neither do my friends, it would seem).

I have noticed feeling markedly more serene overall and I’ve been surprised by how much easier it was to choose not to dwell or express my negative emotions than I had anticipated. Now, I’ll add blame to my list of negative emotions to let go of.

Try it for yourself and let me know how it works out for you …*

{ Ambiguity & Passion } How Integrative Thinking Can Help Us Build A Strategy For Winning in Life & Work …*

{ Ambiguity & Passion } How Integrative Thinking Can Help Us Build A Strategy For Winning in Life & Work ...* | rethinked.org

For this week’s Friday Link Fest, I want to explore something that has kept cropping up in my reading over the past few days and which is a core tension in most aspects of people’s lives and creative work: convergence versus divergence. The need for balance between converging and diverging–dreaming and focusing, thinking and doing–has certainly been a central and uncomfortable tension in my own life. In fact, I have made finding a better way to live out that tension a core priority of my 2015 resolutions by giving this year the theme of “Execution”.

I hate easy binaries but on the thinking-doing spectrum, I must admit to being firmly in the thinking camp. I love thinking, in all its forms and can spend hours, days even, questioning, planning, reflecting, imagining and daydreaming. Execution, however, is a different matter– I freeze up, I delay, I procrastinate, I tell myself I haven’t had time to properly think everything through. Learning about a growth mindset has helped me make some progress in being less afraid of taking action, as has practicing design thinking with its strong emphasis on rapid prototyping. Yet, taking action remains a tentative, sporadic and laborious endeavor for me.

Earlier this week I read an excellent essay, Ambiguity & the Art of Meaning, by Umair Haque, which examined this tension between our love of ambiguity and open-ended possibility and our need to feel we are living meaningful, enriching lives.

“Ambiguity. It’s the defining characteristic of this age.”

[ … ]

“And so we’re all what you might call faithful ambiguists these days. We’re fascinated by the in between; drawn to the double-sided; obsessed by the contradictory.

Ambiguity’s exciting. Thrilling, even. The unresolved is the undecided; and the undecided, like a roulette wheel, rouses our blood while it spins.”

[ … ]

“Here’s the truth. That’s not good enough. What are we really protecting ourselves from when we declare our tiny wars on ambiguity? Ourselves. The people we were meant to be.

“Ambiguity asks us: what do our lives mean? And unless we can resolve ambiguity, we will always be left with the lingering suspicion: they could, and should, have meant more. That what we took with one hand, we simply gave away with the other. “

– Ambiguity & The Art of Meaning, Umair Haque

I am aware that part of my mental block with execution has much to do with my fear of making the wrong choice, of going the wrong route. While I explore ideas and options in my head, I tell myself that I am keeping my possibilities in “real life” open. But after a while, the days become weeks, then months, then years and still I put things off; I don’t commit and I stay stagnant. A growing anxiety within me whispers that I am wasting my time and my opportunities.

“There is a great tension at the heart of every ambiguity. This or that? Up or down? Left or right? The answer is not either or. The choice might leave you satisfied — but the tension will surely leave you discontented with your very satisfaction. The answer, if there is one, is through. Resolving ambiguity is not just making choices between two opposites; nor is it merely learning to see two opposites, and throwing one’s hands up in the air at them. It is synthesis. Discovering how to forge two opposites, which should repel, into one whole — that is greater than the sum of its parts.” 

Ambiguity & The Art of Meaning, Umair Haque

Does this sound familiar to you? Yes, Integrative Thinking! Speaking of Integrative Thinking, I have just finished reading Roger Martin’s latest book, co-authored with A.G. Lafley, Playing To Win: How Strategy Really Works (2013), which made me think of Haque’s essay by focusing on the need to make choices. According to the father of Integrative Thinking, strategy is, at its core, just a synonym for making choices and performing the actions that support that choice.

“It is natural to want to keep options open as long as possible, rather than closing off possibilities by making explicit choices. But it is only through making and acting on choices that you can win. Yes, clear, tough choices force your hand and confine you to a path. But they also free you to focus on what matters. What matters is winning. Great organizations–whether companies, not-for-profits, political organizations, agencies, what have you–choose to win rather than simply play.”

– Playing To Win, Roger & Lafley, pg.5

“Winning” may sound a bit strange in a personal context. We are told often enough that comparing ourselves to others is a losing game. But if one frames winning in terms of being all that one can be, winning by making the choices that will allow us to reach a full, purposeful life lived with passion, commitment and conviction, we very quickly can see how applicable strategy is to our personal lives.

In Playing to Win, Martin and Lafley create a framework, which revolves around five core choices, to approach strategic thinking:

“Winning should be at the heart of any strategy. In our terms, a strategy is a coordinated and integrated set of fives choices: a winning aspiration, where to play, how to win, core capabilities, and management systems.”

– Playing To Win, Roger & Lafley, pg.5

Playing to Win is an excellent book if you’re looking to rethink your strategy and update your business model. Yet, while I was reading it, and learning more about each of the five choices, I could not stop thinking about how relevant this framework was for one’s personal life.

So while the ambiguous and the open-ended are immensely attractive, meaning, purpose and growth come from making choices.

“It is not just finding a lover you hate; or a friend you desperately love…but a lover you can build a great friendship with. It is not just finding a career that enriches you, or a fortune that impoverishes you…but riches that enlarge you…and leave you feeling fortunate enough to thank creation for every moment you are alive. It is not just a life that makes you happy…where “happiness” is merely suffering you are relieved to avoid…but a happiness that makes you ache with purpose, burn with passion, laugh at fate, rebel against destiny.”

– Ambiguity & The Art of Meaning, Umair Haque

These choices are not compromises, the issue at hand is not choosing for the sake of choosing. We must move past the false binaries we create, we must put in the hard work necessary to reframe either-or choices as integrated options that take the best of option A and the best of option B to create an optimal choice in C (to that end, I highly recommend Martin’s books on Integrative Thinking, The Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking). This an uncomfortable process, as the authors of The Capabilities Your Organization Needs to Sustain Innovation published this week on Harvard Business Review, point out:

“The problem – and the leadership challenge – arises because options A and B are often incompatible, even completely opposable, ideas. To arrive at option C means people must keep both A and B on the table, and that is difficult to do. When faced with two seemingly mutually exclusive alternatives, the human impulse is to choose one and discard the other as soon as possible, or to forge a simple compromise. We crave the clarity provided by that kind of clean, assured decision-making. We crave it so much, in fact, that when a leader refuses to make a choice quickly, even when it can only be arbitrary or capricious, we grumble about the “lack of leadership around here.” It takes courage to hold open a multitude of possibilities long enough that new ways of combining them can emerge. There is often great pressure to make a choice, any choice, and move on.”

Once we decide what it is we will commit to, what path is right for us to grow into ever richer and fuller versions of who we might become, we must continue to push and provide the effort necessary to support and activate these choices (to which end, I highly recommend Martin and Lafley’s book on strategy, Playing To Win: How Strategy Really Works.) For as Haque points out at the end of his essay,

“The question is this. Whose lives are we creating? Ours — or someone else’s? Do we become the people we are told to be — or the people we were meant to be?”

Ambiguity & The Art of Meaning, Umair Haque

On Deep Learning, Transformative Change & Rethinking Bad Habits …*

On Deep Learning, Transformative Change & Rethinking Bad Habits ...*  | rethinked.org - Photograph: Elsa Fridman

Long time readers may remember Friday Link Fests of past, in which I curated links to some of the most intriguing things I had read, watched or seen that week. I’m thinking of bringing it back for 2015 but this time I’d like to experiment with some intriguing ways to pair and contrast the content instead of just sharing it in a list. What do you think? Any suggestions on how to do that well? Let me know * 

 

“We must always change, renew, rejuvenate ourselves, otherwise we harden.”

–Johann Wolfgang von Goethe ( 23 Powerful Quotes To Inspire A Successful Year)

{ OUTSOURCING COGNITIVE CONTROL TO THE ENVIRONMENT — WHAT IT MEANS FOR OUR ABILITY TO MULTITASK AND CHANGE OUR HABITS }

This week I read two articles–one about multitasking and the other about changing habits–which both dealt with the outsourcing of cognitive control to our environments when faced with repetitive tasks and behaviors. I enjoyed the contrast between the two lenses through which this tendency to offload cognitive demand can be a positive thing (it helps to make multitasking slightly less inefficient) and how it can be a highly detrimental thing (it can keep us stuck in bad habits).

– – – 

What Heroin Addiction Tells Us About Changing Bad Habits is that roughly 45 percent of what we do each day, we do “in the same environment and is repeated.” This is a problem because:

“People, when they perform a behavior a lot — especially in the same environment, same sort of physical setting — outsource the control of the behavior to the environment.”

So we stop making choices and react to environmental cues, like sitting on the couch at the end of the day, getting on Netflix, and reaching for the pint of ice cream without really thinking about whether or not we even want ice cream.

“To battle bad behaviors then, one answer is to disrupt the environment in some way. Even small changes can help — like eating the ice cream with your nondominant hand. What this does is disrupt the learned body sequence that’s driving the behavior, which allows your conscious mind to come back online and reassert control.”

– – – 

Consistently performing actions and behaviors in similar environments does have an upside however, especially when it comes to multitasking. While multitasking is counterproductive and should be avoided, it can be rendered more useful if you “practice multitasking when you learn it in the first place.” In The Curious Science of When Multitasking Works, Walter Frick reports on a new study published in Psychological Science, which shows that consistent context matters in our ability to multitask well:

“These results suggest the possibility that our ability to juggle tasks and recall information depends on the context in which we learned those things in the first place.”

*

{ THE NEED TO CULTIVATE A GROWTH MINDSET & EMBRACE VULNERABILITY TO ACHIEVE DEEP LEARNING & AUTHENTIC GROWTH  }

“Learning is fundamentally an act of vulnerability. It is an acknowledgement that what one knows is not sufficient, and that new information and new thinking about that information is needed.”

So starts Jal Mehta’s article on Education WeekUnlearning Is Critical for Deep Learning. Across industries, from the boardroom to the classroom, we are becoming increasingly aware of the discomfort dimension of learning and the need to cultivate a growth mindset to transcend this discomfort and push through to achieve deep learning and transformative change.

“At the end of the day, the factors that facilitate unlearning are the same qualities that mark good organizations and good teaching environments: psychological safety, the normalization of failure, the recognition that rethinking core assumptions is critical for significant improvement, and the development of challenging, rigorous, but supportive communities that help people do this kind of learning. If school leaders organize their schools with the explicit intent of creating these kinds of environments for students, it will be much easier to do the same kind of learning with the adults (and vice versa). And if districts and states can fight their usual instincts to apply pressure and seek immediate results, and instead create the space for schools to do the kind of experimentation, unlearning, and re-learning that significant change entails, they will be more likely to see the kinds of qualitative change in teaching and learning that they seek.”

– – – 

Meanwhile on Harvard Business Review, Herminia Ibarra reminds us that You’re Never Too Experienced to Fake It Till You Learn It. While the idea of “faking it” may seem inauthentic to some, depending on one’s appraisal of identity,  it is a key learning strategy with tangible benefits.

“By definition, transformative learning starts with unnatural and often superficial behaviors. When we are working at improving our game, a clear and firm sense of self is a compass. It helps us navigate choices and work toward our goals. But when we are looking to change our game, a rigid understanding of authenticity is an anchor that keeps us from sailing forth. By viewing ourselves as works in progress, we multiply our capacity to learn, avoid being pigeonholed, and ultimately become better leaders. We’re never too experienced to fake it till we learn it.”

– – – 

Finally, in From the Editor: In Praise of Humility, Martha E. Mangelsdorf concludes her introduction of the MIT Sloan Management Review Winter 2015 edition of the magazine–which focuses on articles urging us to stay open and aware of what we don’t know–by reminding us:

“Awareness of our human frailties and fallibility shouldn’t discourage us. Instead, being aware of our own limitations creates opportunities to learn, to experiment, to change — and to improve.”

And to conclude this week’s Friday Link Fest, this wise, adorable and important PSA on domestic violence from Italian media company Fanpage.it.

Source: These Boys Are Told To Slap Some “Pretty Girls.” Here’s What They Do Instead. via GOOD, published January 7, 2015

Rethinking …* Process – Understanding & Embracing the Emotional & Subjective Aspects of Venturing Into the Unknown

“We’d all studied science as if it’s a series of logical steps between question and answer. But doing research is nothing like that. At the same time, I was also studying to be an improvisation theater actor. So physics by day and by night–laughing, jumping, singing, playing my guitar. Improvisation theater, just like science goes into the unknown because you have to make a scene on stage without a director, without a script, without having any idea what you’ll portray or what the other characters will do. But unlike science, improvisation theater, they tell you from day one what’s going to happen to you when you get on stage: you’re going to fail miserably. You’re going to get stuck, and we would practice staying creative inside that stuck place.” – Uri Alon

 

In this TED talk, systems biologist, Uri Alon, urges us to rethink our schema of science–not as a linear path from point A to point B–but as a courageous, often highly uncomfortable, uncharted flight into the unknown. Our cultural emphasis on answers over process often leads to discouragement and feelings of alienation for those willing to take a risk and venture into the fertile lands of the unknown. Uri drew from his work in improv theater to reframe and work through the discomfort of process in his scientific research and is now attempting to help other researchers name, accept, and understand the various emotional and subjective aspects of venturing into the unknown.

While Uri’s talk is centered primarily around the sciences, he provides some valuable insights on reframing, understanding and thriving within the discomfort of the unknown that can be translated to any field or experience that requires pushing past the known.

*

{ Managing the Fear of Change } 7 Interventions to Make Big Changes Feel Small & Achievable …*

In this TEDxTalk, conflict mediator and strategist, Priya Parker shares seven interventions to overcome the fear of change that so often paralyzes and keeps us from living the deeply meaningful and impactful lives we long for. The seven experiments that Priya suggests are based on research in neuroscience, business management, conflict resolution and the arts and share the common aim of making big changes feel small and achievable:

  1. The Obituary Test
  2. The Passion Comic Strip
  3. The Backward Elevator Test
  4. The Life Sentence
  5. The Dwindling Cash Experiment
  6. The Habit of Helping Others
  7. The Farewell Party Evite

watch, experiment & rethink …

Brené Brown On Why Embracing Vulnerability Is Critical To Human Flourishing…*

“Our capacity for wholeheartedness can never be greater than our willingness to be brokenhearted.” 

In this splendid talk given at the RSA, research professor, Dr. Brené Brown, who has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness and shame, highlights the tension between the behaviors spurred by our culture of scarcity– a culture of never enough–and the critical function of vulnerability in human flourishing. We live in a culture shaped by fear and blame, argues Brown; everywhere around us, the dominant questions framing the discourse in virtually all areas of society are: “What should I be afraid of today?” and, “Who’s to blame?” Our instinctual response to this culture of scarcity is to armor up in an attempt to protect ourselves from being rejected and hurt.

We wake up in the morning and we armor up and we put it on and say, “I’m going to go out into the world, I’m basically going to kick some ass, I’m not going to let anyone see who I am and in doing so, I can protect myself against the things that hurt the most–judgment, criticism, fear, blame, ridicule. I’m going to armor up and I’m going to be safe.” 

This armor takes on many facets–perfectionism, intellectualizing, etc.–but at its core, the armor serves the same function for everyone: to protect our sense of being lovable, and being acceptable and being worth connection; to avoid feeling like we’re not enough. The issue, as Brown points out, is that, as the research shows, “vulnerability is the path to love, belonging, joy, intimacy, trust, innovation, creativity and empathy.” Essentially, the strategy that we are using to protect and nurture our sense of love, acceptance, and connection–putting an armor on–is keeping us from reaching those very goals in an authentic and fulfilling manner.

What can we do to move in a more positive direction? Brown suggests three focal points for rethinking…* our behaviors:

  1. Learn to differentiate between empathy and sympathy. Act on empathy.
  2. Learn to move past blame and focus on accountability .
  3. Learn to differentiate between behavior (guilt) and self (shame). Guilt mobilizes individuals for positive action, while “shame corrodes the part of us that believes we can change.”

EMPATHY vs. SYMPATHY

Empathy fuels connection. Sympathy drives disconnection. Empathy is feeling with people. So to respond empathically, I would need to try to understand [that person’s] perspective, stay out of judgment, recognize what [they’re] feeling and kind of communicate it back: “Oh, shit. I hate that.” or “Oh God, There’s nothing worse than___.” That’s empathy. Empathy is, “I’m feeling with you.”

Sympathy is, “I’m feeling for you.” […] In Texas, in the South in general in the U.S., we have the worst saying ever, that just smacks and reeks of sympathy, which is, “Bless your heart.” Basically, what I’m saying is, “that sucks, but too bad and God is on my side.” So sympathy is one of the things that really gets in the way of empathy and sympathy is also often how we respond when we don’t want to be vulnerable to someone else’s struggle. 

[…]

We all need different things from empathy. There are no hard and fast rules about what empathy looks like or what it sounds like, but there is one that I will share with you from the research, it is: “Rarely, if ever, does an empathic response begin with ‘At least’.” And we do it all the time because someone just shared something with us that’s incredibly painful and we’re trying to put the silver lining around it. So, “I had a miscarriage”, “At least, you can get pregnant.” How does that feel? Awful. But one of the things we do sometimes in the face of very difficult conversations, is we try to make things better instead of leaning into. If I share something with you that’s very difficult, I rather you say, “Wow, I don’t even know what to say right now, I’m just glad you told me.” Because the truth is, rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection. 

Sometimes, the most profound and eloquent examples of empathy happen without any words. And sometimes, not even with eye contact. To me, if I’m sitting next to you and I say, “Wow, I feel like the wheels are falling off right now and things are out of control.” And someone just puts their hand on top of my hand and squeezes–that says, with touch, I think, the two most important words in my work, which are: “Me too.”

BLAME vs. ACCOUNTABILITY

Blame is simply the discharging of discomfort and pain. It has an inverse relationship with accountability. Meaning that people who blame a lot, seldom have the tenacity and grit to actually hold people accountable because we expand all of our energy raging for fifteen seconds and figuring out whose fault something is. 

Accountability, by definition, is a vulnerable process: it means me calling you and saying, “Hey, my feelings were really hurt about this,” and talking. It’s not blaming. Blaming is simply a way that we discharge anger, which is really hard, and blaming is really corrosive in relationships and it’s one of the reasons we miss our opportunities for empathy, because when something happens and we’re hearing a story, we’re not really listening, we’re making connections as quickly as we can about whose fault something was. 

GUILT vs. SHAME

Shame is, “I’m bad.” And guilt is, “I did something bad.” So shame is a focus on self, guilt is a focus on behavior. The outcomes are hugely different. What we know from the research is that shame is highly, highly correlated with addiction, depression, aggression, violence, suicide, bullying. And, almost more importantly, we know that guilt is inversely correlated with those outcomes. Meaning the more someone is able to separate themselves from their behaviors, the less likely it is that they’ll end up suffering from these struggles. And the implications are huge, especially around parenting. As it turns out, there is a tremendous difference between, “You’re a bad girl” and, “You’re a great kid, but that was a bad choice.” 

When we see people change behaviors, make amends, when we see positive behavioral change, you can almost always trace it back to guilt. Guilt is uncomfortable but I’m a big fan of it because it’s cognitive dissonance–it’s, “I’ve done something, and I’m holding it up against my values and it doesn’t feel right.” That’s guilt.

Brown’s work and insights on the power of vulnerability link back directly to Carol Dweck’s research on mindsets. Armoring up to protect the self is a fixed mindset strategy–it stems from a belief that traits are fixed: I have certain inherent character traits that make me lovable, acceptable and worthy of connection to a certain fixed point. And since these traits are fixed and static over time, my best course of action is to keep others from finding out what I’m really like. Shame and blame both come right out of the fixed mindset with its framework of judgment. Meanwhile, the ability to embrace vulnerability, to lean into it, stems directly from a growth mindset. It is a recognition that we as individuals have the agency and capacity to grow, to develop our ability for empathy, change and accountability. It is a willingness to learn new strategies for connection and accepting the risks of failure and pain that inherently comes with trying something new.

The Power of Vulnerability, via RSA, published July 4, 2013.

Friday Link Fest…*

Friday Link Fest...* | rethinked.org | Photo by Elsa Fridman

Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts” – Winston Churchill

READ

Rhizomatic Learning Is A Metaphor For How We Learn ~ Rhizomatic learning takes another approach. It freely admits the beautiful complexity of the human experience, and thus, by proximity, the sheer craziness of the learning process. This idea, not so much a learning theory as it is a clever and accurate metaphor, describes learning as having no beginning nor an end. It posits that learners have needs so diverse that the “teacher” is essentially off the hook in meeting every need for every student, no matter how noble that sounds. Within the rhizomatic perspective, “knowledge can only be negotiated, [and is] a personal knowledge-creation process with mutable goals and constantly negotiated premises.” So, iteration. Design. Try. Monitor. Fail. Reflect. Rethink. Redesign. Reiterate. via Teach Thought, published August 5, 2013.

In Defense of Life Hacking ~ Recently, Slate published an article entitled Down with Lifehacking, arguing that life hacking is just a time-wasting buzzword that doesn’t make anyone’s lives better. Lifehacker’s Whitson Gordon disagrees, here’s why. via Lifehacker, published August 6, 2013.

Daydreaming Can Improve Your Focus ~ Focus and concentration are essential, of course. But so are introspection and reflection, and Immordino-Yang and her colleagues recommend that adults and children find a balance between the two modes: by regularly unplugging our blinking, buzzing devices, and by providing time and space for a quieter, more inward kind of entertainment. via Business Insider, published July 30, 2013.

The 12 cognitive biases that prevent you from being rational ~ We’re subject to cognitive biases, those annoying glitches in our thinking that cause us to make questionable decisions and reach erroneous conclusions. Here are a dozen of the most common and pernicious cognitive biases that you need to know about. via io9, published January 9, 2013.

Build a Career Worth Having ~ Insights into what’s lacking in the traditional approach to career planning, and how professionals can create careers with an ongoing sense of purpose. via Harvard Business Review, published August 5, 2013.

Why Fear Of Discomfort Might Be Ruining Your Life ~ The problem is that when you run from discomfort all the time, you are restricted to a small zone of comfort, and so you miss out on most of life. On most of the best things in life, in fact. And you become unhealthy, because if eating healthy food and exercising is uncomfortable, then you go to comfort foods and not moving much. Being unhealthy, unfortunately, is also uncomfortable, so then you seek distractions from this (and the fact that you have debt and too much clutter, etc.) in food and entertainment and shopping (as if spending will solve our problems!) and this in turn makes things worse. Here are some tips for embracing discomfort. via Design Taxi, published August 5, 2013.

Come Out and Play: The Joy of Novice Game Design ~ Come Out and Play is an annual showcase of games open to the public to play. Think Field Day for adults, but with a wild mix of technology-driven experiences, athletic challenges, and whimsical competitions. Games are submitted a few months prior—the application demands proof of play-testing and clearly explained rules—and forty or so are accepted to be featured as either Night Games or Field Day events. The festival started in 2006 as a city-wide game of zombie tag in New York City, and now brings hundreds out to play in San Francisco and New York every summer. via GOOD, published August 8, 2013.

Book-Exchange Benches Supply New Reading Material Everyday ~ Through the end of September, public benches in nine spots around Amsterdam will be supplied with different reading materials every day as part of the Ruilbank project by Pivot Creative. The benches are fitted with red metal clips that can hold a newspaper or a book. People who happen to find themselves on that bench are welcome to read the material, take it home, bring it back or exchange it with another material. via PSFK, published August 7, 2013.

LOOK

The “Celebrity Lecture Series” From Michigan State Features Talks by Great Writers of Our Time The Celebrity Lecture Series was established at Michigan State University in 1988, and it has “featured some of the most illustrious scholars, critics, novelists, poets, and creative artists of our time.” Now, thanks to a special online archive, you can revisit these lectures presented by the likes of Amy TanArthur MillerJoyce Carol OatesKurt Vonnegut, Jr.Margaret AtwoodMaya Angelou, Norman MailerPaul TherouxPhilip RothRichard FordSusan SontagTom WolfeCarlos FuentesAugust WilsonE.L. DoctorowEdward AlbeeIsabel AllendeGarry WillsJane SmileyJohn IrvingJohn Updike and Joseph Heller. via Open Culture, August 6, 2013.

Unique Experimental House “Roll It” ~ Students from University of Karlsruhe, Germany, Christian Zwick and Konstantin Jerabek have designed this unique experimental revolving house called Roll It, based on the concept of “mobile and space-efficient construction”. via The Design Home, published August 18, 2011.

Mushroom Furniture My Merjan Tara Sisman + Brian Mcclellan~ ‘The Living Room Project’ is an exploration into manufacturing objects from living materials. Philadelphia university students Merjan Tara Sisman and Brian Mcclellan investigated the potential of particular organisms and came across mycelium, the rooting system for mushrooms, which they found to be particularly suitable for their intended application of the production of furniture. Through their research, the young designers realized that they could control the growth of the organisms in a variety of different ways within fabricated moulds–a process which they like to think of as a zero energy form of 3D printing. via Designboom, published August 8, 2013.

Assembling a Map of Manhattan Using Only Handwritten Directions From by Strangers ~ New York conceptual artist Nobutaka Aozaki is exploring the act of asking for directions in his ongoing art piece, Here to There, by gathering a collection of impromptu hand-drawn maps he obtains from complete strangers. Dressed as a tourist in a souvenir baseball cap and carrying a Century 21 shopping bag, the artist hits the streets around Manhattan and approaches random pedestrians to inquire about directions through the current part of the map he’s working on. via Colossal, published August 9, 2013.

464 Digital Learning Tools To Sift Through On A Rainy Day ~ via Teach Thought, published August 6, 2013.

The 25 Best Websites for Literature Lovers ~ via Flavorwire, published August 5, 2013.

WATCH

This Ship Uses Underwater Robots To Livestream Mysteries Of The Deep To Your iPhone ~ The Okeanos, the exploration ship of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is about to set out on another voyage, with a brand new robot sub. via FastCo.Exist, published August 2, 2013.

JR appears on Charlie Rose, talks about his artistic process ~ via TED, published August 5, 2013.

Robert Steven Kaplan: The Value of the Failure Story ~ Harvard Business School’s Robert Steven Kaplan argues in his new book, What You’re Really Meant to Do: A Roadmap for Reaching Your Unique Potential, that success is not about meeting someone else’s definition, but reaching your potential by defining it on your own terms. Here Kaplan advises people to write down the story of their failures in order to make themselves aware of them. via BigThink, published June 4, 2013.

Mindsets: Growth vs. Fixed ~ Your kids’ ticket to engagement vs. anxiety ~ via Greater Good Science Center, published August 5, 2013.

Paul Ekman: Outsmart Evolution and Master Your Emotions ~ Renowned psychologist and emotion-guru Paul Ekman describes how introducing conscious awareness to facial expressions can help one override and control their emotions. via Big Think, published August 1, 2013.

High School Internships Offer Meaningful Real-World Learning ~ 16-year-old Noah finds purpose and learns valuable career skills at a nonprofit two full days a week, while protecting and restoring his local watershed. Internships with deep impact are a key element at his high school, San Diego Met, part of the Big Picture network. via Edutopia, published July 23, 2013.

Trip to the Moon (And Five Other Free Films) by Georges Méliès, the Father of Special Effects ~ via Open Culture, published August 7, 2013.

Michael Shermer: The pattern behind self-deception ~ Michael Shermer says the human tendency to believe strange things — from alien abductions to dowsing rods — boils down to two of the brain’s most basic, hard-wired survival skills. He explains what they are, and how they get us into trouble. via TED, published June 14, 2010.

How Do We Live A Remarkable Life In A Conventional World? Start by Pushing Past What You Know…*

{This is the first article in a series of posts synthesizing my experiences and insights from the 2013 World Domination Summit }

rethinked.org

This past Thursday I took off for Portland, Oregon to attend the third-annual World Domination Summit. Even on the plane ride over, I still was not entirely sure what WDS was other than that it centered on the key question “How do we live a remarkable life in a conventional world?” and the themes of community, adventure and service. Founder Chris Guillebeau and his team made clear in their communications that this was not a business mixer nor a convention but rather, a “coming together of unconventional, remarkable people for a weekend of adventure.” I was excited and a little bit apprehensive to find out just what that meant.

Weeks before the summit, we were asked to think about and articulate some personal goals for the event. My main goals were to get outside my comfort zone, and disrupt my routine.

On Friday afternoon I made my way to Director’s Park to register, hoping I would get a better sense of what this was all about. As I stood in the D-G line, waiting to get my pass, I noticed a man one line over in a full gorilla bodysuit, overheard another attendee explaining to an inquisitive Portlander that WDS is about establishing a new world order, “corporations are over and it’s time for everyone to wake up to that reality.” When I finally made it to the top of the line, I was handed my name tag, a collection of notebooks, maps and a schedule, and a sheet of ten stickers to “customize” my badge. I began to have serious doubts about the summit, worrying that this was not my brand of ‘remarkable’.

That evening, at the Oregon Zoo for the opening ceremony, I made the acquaintance of a delightful man named John. John was kind, friendly, passionately curious and easy to talk to. I finally started to relax. In the course of our conversation, he made an intriguing observation that resonated deeply with me. A local Portlander, he was sharing his love of the city and the thrill of being able to go skiing year round. I told him that I was a dreadful skier and he corrected me saying, “you’re not a good skier…yet.” Several times during our conversation he reframed what I had said with this little ‘…yet’ framework. He asked me what my goals for the summit were and I shared with him how I had hoped to get outside of my comfort zone.

As I sat in my hotel room that evening wondering why I had been feeling so negative all day, I realized that the discomfort was stemming from my uncertainty–I was in a completely new city (in fact, it was my first time on the West Coast), attending an event that persisted in evading definition, with some die-hard WDS fans who considered themselves part of a tribe and many of whom seemed to already know each other. I am quite shy and felt overwhelmed with meeting so many new people in one go.

If you have spent any time on rethinked…* or checked out our Twitter stream, you know that embracing risk and uncertainty is a very big theme for us. I am constantly reading, writing, talking and thinking about the importance of being fluid, adaptive and open to the potential of uncertainty. But here is my dirty little secret, while I am knowledgeable and well-informed about the immense potential and opportunities that embracing uncertainty creates, I have an incredibly difficult time translating that knowledge into action in my own life. Dominic defines wisdom as the ability to translate one’s knowledge into impactful, salient action, and the truth is that I am not very wise when it comes to embracing risk and uncertainty in my every day. I have a very low threshold for uncertainty and when I find myself in situations that push past that threshold, my primary goal becomes getting back to my comfort zone. One of my strategies for doing that, I’m dreadfully embarrassed to admit, is to dismiss what I do not know, to refuse the possibility that I may learn something and grow from embracing and exploring that unknown.

As I looked down at my name tag, still hanging around my neck, prominently displaying my name and “traveled 2475 miles”, it became very clear that I had a choice to make. I could keep playing it safe, dismissing these different views and frameworks, or I could embrace this opportunity, realize that there was no actual risk or threat to my being and go with the flow. I chose the latter, because I had traveled across the country for this opportunity, but more importantly, because I knew I would not be able to deal with the uncertainty of wondering, once I had returned to New York, what may have been if I had opened myself up to this experience.

The rest of the weekend was a blast, I met fantastic and inspiring people and was exposed to a whirlwind of intriguing ideas, many of which centered on the very theme of embracing and redefining risk, failure and uncertainty, such as Jia Jiang’s brilliant talk on reframing and embracing rejection (more on those ideas in the following post).

On my last day in Portland I decided to visit the Japanese Gardens (which, alone, are well worth a visit to Portland). I went to the Visitor’s Center in the hopes that they would be able to help me make sense of the MAX, Portland’s transit system. The lady at the counter was very helpful and provided me with maps and a detailed explanation of how to reach the gardens. We chatted about the Washington Park station, which is the deepest subway station in the whole of the United States and she promised that I would get to experience the fastest elevator ride of my life (at which point, I turned a bit green). As I was thanking her and getting ready to leave she asked me where I was visiting from. When I answered, Brooklyn, she burst out giggling and looked at me with a sense of genuine surprise, exclaiming, “Oh my gosh, a friendly New Yorker! Imagine that!” I laughed along with her, feeling awash with gratitude and excitement. Pushing past what I knew and rethinking…* assumptions–my own and helping others, in however small a way, rethink…* their own–was what a weekend of “community, service and adventure” had meant for me.

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