Tag fulfillment

“Play is a way of being that resists the instrumental, expedient mode of existence” …*


"Play is a way of being that resists the instrumental, expedient mode of existence" ...* | rethinked.org -Photo: Elsa Fridman

Right in time for the weekend here is a lovely meditation on the intrinsic power of active play from an opinion piece published last month on the New York Times by professor of philosophy and fellow of the Research Group in Mind, Science and Culture at Columbia College Chicago, Stephen T. Asthma. Asthma divides play into two categories: amusements and active play, which are very much aligned with Martin Seligman’s categories of the pleasures–fast, cheap and ephermeral joys–and the gratifications, which are activities that fulfill us and build a sort of positive emotional capital. A welcome reminder that play is its own reward and a critical component of a full, engaging and meaningful human life.

p l a y   f o r   p l a y ‘ s   s a k e   &   r e t h i n k   . . .

Usually, if we see an appreciation of play, it’s an attempt to show its secret utility value — “See, it’s pragmatic after all!” See how playing music makes you smarter at other, more valued forms of thinking, like math, logic or even business strategy? See how play is adaptive for social evolution? All this is true of course, but one also wonders about the uniquely human meaning of play and leisure. Can we consider play and leisure as something with inherent value, independent of their accidental usefulness?

[ … ]

I want to suggest that we divide play into two major categories; active and passive. The passive forms — let’s call them amusements — are indeed suspicious, as they seem to anesthetize the agent and reduce creative engagement. From our “bread and circuses” television culture to Aldous Huxley’s soma culture in “Brave New World,” the passive forms of leisure are cheap pleasures that come at no effort, skill or struggle. On the other hand, active play — everything from sport to music to chess, and even some video games — energizes the agent and costs practice, skill, effort and calories. Even the exploration of conscious inner-space, through artificial or natural means, can be very active. The true cultures of meditation, for example, evidence the rigors of inner-space play.

[ … ]

The stakes for play are higher than we think. Play is a way of being that resists the instrumental, expedient mode of existence. In play, we do not measure ourselves in terms of tangible productivity (extrinsic value), but instead, our physical and mental lives have intrinsic value of their own. It provides the source from which other extrinsic goods flow and eventually return.

When we see an activity like music as merely a “key to success,” we shortchange it and ourselves. Playing a musical instrument is both the pursuit of fulfillment and the very thing itself (the actualizing of potential). Playing, or even listening, in this case, is a kind of unique, embodied contemplation that can feed both the mind and the body.

When we truly engage in such “impractical” leisure activities — with our physical and mental selves — we do so for the pleasure they bring us and others, for the inherent good that arises from that engagement, and nothing else.

Source: Reclaiming the Power of Play

Self-Authoring & The Three Types of Happiness: Past, Present & Future …*

Self-Authoring & The Three Types of Happiness: Past, Present & Future ...*  | rethinked.org -Photograph: Elsa Fridman

As you can likely tell from our review of positive psychology thus far, happiness is a much more nuanced and layered term than we generally acknowledge. Seligman differentiates between three kinds of happiness: happiness in the past, present and future:

It is crucial to understand that these three senses of emotion are different and are not necessarily tightly linked. While it is desirable to be happy in all three senses, this does not always happen. It is possible to be proud and satisfied about the past, for example, but to be sour in the present and pessimistic about the future. (62)

Here is a quick breakdown of each:

Positive emotions about the future include:

  • Optimism
  • Hope
  • Faith
  • Trust

Positive emotions about the present include:

  • Joy
  • Ecstasy
  • Calm
  • Zest
  • Ebullience
  • Pleasure
  • Flow

Positive emotions about the past include:

  • Satisfaction
  • Contentment
  • Fulfillment
  • Pride
  • Serenity

I will write a post about each of the three dimensions of happiness as there is so much interesting research and Seligman proposes numerous exercises to translate all that research into tangible impact in your life, but today I’d like to write about a fascinating intervention which I did last summer: Self-Authoring.

Self authoring which was designed by clinical and research psychologists from the University of Toronto, McGill and Erasmus University is based on research which shows that writing exercises can help people confront their past, understand and improve their personalities in the present, and increase the chances that their futures will be meaningful, productive and healthy.

The Self-Authoring Suite is a set of four online programs, designed to help you write thoughtfully about your present, future and past. Each program presents you with a series of web pages that simplify the process of writing. Step by step, you will be presented with specific, relevant questions, each addressing some key element of your life, each accompanied by the information necessary to answer such questions.

The Present Authoring program comes in two forms. The Virtues program helps you identify your strengths and to use them more effectively. The Faults program helps you identify your weaknesses, and to limit their destructive potential.

The Future Authoring program helps you formulate a comprehensive vision of the future, three to five years down the road, and to transform that vision into a detailed plan. You will be questioned about key aspects of your life (including relationships, career, health, habits, interests), and guided through the process of considering each, deeply and practically.

The Past Authoring program helps you write an autobiography, so that you can produce a complete, well-organize account of your past experiences. It asks you to divide your past into seven epochs or stages, to identify the important experiences of each, and to thoroughly consider the positive and negative effects of those experiences.

Each program requires careful thought, and takes several hours to complete. It is better to complete the writing over several days, partly so you have time to think, but also because sleep appears to aid the process.

There is solid scientific evidence that such writing will improve your mental and physical health and help ensure that your life will follow an interesting, satisfying and proper course. 

The full Self-Authoring tool costs $30 and I highly recommend it. I found the experience to be healing and empowering. It was a wonderful tool for reflection and helped me reframe some of the narratives I had been carrying around with me from childhood in a much more productive and positive manner. It also provided a helpful framework through which to design my becoming–my growing into the person I strive to be.

Side Note: I’d like to make it clear that I am not affiliated with any of the authors and programs that I recommend on the blog, everything I write about are things I am interested in or have tried and found helpful.

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

The Science of Happiness: Exploring the Roots of A Happy & Meaningful Life …*

The Science of Happiness: Exploring the Roots of A Happy & Meaningful Life ...* | rethinked.org


Rethinkers * delight, UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center is offering a free MOOC on the Science of Happiness, co-taught by Dacher Keltner and Emiliana Simon-Thomas this coming September.

“The Science of Happiness” is the first MOOC to teach the ground-breaking science of positive psychology, which explores the roots of a happy and meaningful life. Students will engage with some of the most provocative and practical lessons from this science, discovering how cutting-edge research can be applied to their own lives. Created by UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, the course will zero in on a fundamental finding from positive psychology: that happiness is inextricably linked to having strong social connections and contributing to something bigger than yourself—the greater good. Students will learn about the cross-disciplinary research supporting this view, spanning the fields of psychology, neuroscience, evolutionary biology, and beyond.

What’s more, “The Science of Happiness” will offer students practical strategies for nurturing their own happiness. Research suggests that up to 40 percent of happiness depends on our habits and activities. So each week, students will learn a new research-tested practice that fosters social and emotional well-being—and the course will help them track their progress along the way.

September is still far off, but Forbes is predicting that this course may be poised to make history in online education, becoming the world’s most popular MOOC ever! Sign up now.


If you can’t wait till September to start learning about Positive Psychology and experimenting with various interventions to create a happier and more meaningful life, you’re in luck! As you may remember, today is the kickoff of the Positive Psychology part of the rethinked*annex project in which I experiment on a personal and individual level with some of the tools and methodologies that we think, play and write about here on rethinked …* In my two previous cycles of rethinked*annex, I experimented with Design Thinking and Integrative Thinking. 


I’ve updated my original reading list a tiny bit, mainly because I’ve had Tal Ben-Shahar‘s books on my bookshelves for at least the past five years and have yet to implement a single tip in a lasting way.

{ JOIN ME ? } 

If you’re interested in dabbling in Positive Psychology and testing it out for yourself, I would be delighted to collaborate and form a support/accountability group. We could set up Google Hangouts and discuss the books, ideas and interventions. Leave me a comment or shoot me an email at elsa@rethinked.org.

learn, experiment & rethink …* 

Friday Link Fest…*

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


Accelerating serendipity: Can you make happy accidents happen more often? ~ via Medium, published August 13, 2013.

How We Learn ~ Insights from psychology can make us better readers, writers and thinkers ~ via Scientific American, published August 15, 2013.

Empathy: The Most Important Back-to-School Supply ~ A road map for navigating a course to empathy — suitable for any age. From Ashoka‘s Start Empathy initiative which shares research, case studies and inspirational stories, and is building a network of Changemaker Schools committed to building empathic, encouraging environments at the elementary level. via Edutopia, published August 12, 2013.

How Self-Expiring Medicine Packaging Could Change The World ~ Husband-and-wife doctor/designer team Gautam Goel and Kanupriya Goel want to encapsulate our medicines in strips that change color as they expire, transforming the packaging of dangerously out-of-date medication into a chromatic warning. But will big pharma bring it to market?  via FastCo.Design, published August 12, 2013.

The Decisive Moment and the Brain ~ A look at the science behind conscious and unconscious awareness, and how the brain allows photographers to know things with intuition. via PetaPixel, published August 12, 2013.

The Missing Half of the Education Debate ~ Conversations about college must address more than just cost and access. They must also question assumptions of quality, performance, and relevance. This is uncomfortable and unwelcome ground. But for many students in many places, college is no longer doing well what it was designed to do — and what it was designed to do may no longer be what students most need or what societies most need of them. We need to talk about that too. via Harvard Business Review, published August 13, 2013.

How to Make Online Courses Massively Personal ~ Online learning is a tool, just as the textbook is a tool. The way the teacher and the student use the tool is what really counts. via Scientific American, published August 14, 2013.

Top 5 Tips for Becoming a Successful Entrepreneur ~ “Life is too short to spend your time avoiding failure,” and other tips from Michael Bloomberg based on his experience of building a company from the ground up, leading New York City as mayor, and founding a philanthropic organization. via LinkedIn, published August 14, 2013.

4 Tips To Master Thinking With Both Sides of Your Brain, And Boost Creativity ~ While some people seem to be less adept than others at firing up both burners, making them appear more left-brained than right-brained, most brain scientists agree–and this is what’s exciting–that the ability to shift rapidly between divergent and convergent thinking, which is the key to innovation, can be sharpened and improved. via Fast Company, published August 15, 2013.

Bring Design Thinking to Your Classroom with OpenIDEO ~ In mid-September OpenIDEO will launch a new challenge on nurturing creative confidence in young people – and educators and faculty from around the world are invited to join in.  via OpenIDEO

Games Can Make “Real Life” More Rewarding ~In her 2011 book, Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, game development expert and author Jane McGonigal describes a number of ways that games can improve our lives by using experience and research to link games with feelings of connectedness, self-worth, fulfillment and happiness. via Edutopia, published August 14, 2013


Slick Data Visualization Reveals Scientific Collaborations Taking Place Around the Globe ~ via Open Culture, published August 15, 2013.

In Praise of a Whimsical, Solar-Powered ‘Do-Nothing Machine’ ~ Seven short decades ago, Charles and Ray Eames lent their formidable imaginations to the creation of a machine so non-utilitarian that its pointlessness gave the gadget its name: the Do-Nothing Machine. The Do-Nothing Machine embodies and evokes the spirit of pure, unadulterated originality. Its lack of any specific, hierarchical function or purpose frees it from the burden of meeting expectations, while its intrinsic playfulness subtly challenges other inventors, engineers and designers to step up. via TIME, published August 12, 2013.

40 maps that explain the world ~ Maps can be a remarkably powerful tool for understanding the world and how it works, but they show only what you ask them to. via Washington Post, published August 12, 2013.

Outdoor Funnel Wall Makes Music When Rain Falls ~ Somewhere in the Kunsthof-passage of Dresden, Germany, there’s actually an outdoor building wall that makes music whenever it rains. via Lost At E Minor, published August 12, 2013.

Samsung eco-conscious origami cardboard mono laser printer ~ This printer will make you rethink…* your assumptions of what a printer is. via Designboom, published August 13, 2013.


Buildings made from cardboard tubes: A gallery of Shigeru Ban architecture ~ via TED, published August 13, 2013.

Reframing Fear: The Upside of Risk, Failure and Judgment ~ via The Good Life Project, published February 13, 2013.

The First Billboard in the World to Make Drinking Water out of Thin Air ~ What would a great ad for a university of technology be? An ad, that itself, solves a problem through technology. This is exactly what the University of Engineering and Technology of Peru and their ad agency Mayo DraftFCB have done – the first billboard in the world to make drinking water out of thin air and alleviate the lives of Peru’s people. via Big Think, published August 12, 2013.

On the Power of Full Engagement

In their book The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz draw on years of experience helping some of the world’s greatest athletes perform at their best to help the rest of us achieve full engagement and high performance in whichever task we are engaged in.

The central claim of The Power of Full Engagement is that energy, rather than time, management is the key to high performance and full engagement. This claim is based on their understanding of the human as an oscillatory, rhythmic being who, by her physiological nature, must oscillate between periods of energy expenditure and energy renewal. Loehr and Schwartz identify four core interrelated areas in which human beings expand their energy: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. The opposite of a balanced rhythmic life is a highly linear life where “we assume that we can spend energy indefinitely in some dimensions—often the mental and emotional—and that we can perform effectively without investing much energy at all in others—most commonly the physical and the spiritual. We become flat liners.” 30

Loehr and Schwartz establish four core energy management principles underpinning their theory:

I. Full engagement requires drawing on four separate but related sources of energy: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. 9

II. Because energy diminishes both with overuse and with underuse, we must balance energy expenditure with intermittent energy renewal. 11

III. To build capacity we must push beyond our normal limits, training in the same systematic way that elite athletes do. 13

IV. Positive energy rituals—highly specific routines for managing energy—are the key to full engagement and sustained high performance. 14

They also set out a three-step program to achieve lasting positive changes, which they refer to as Purpose-Truth-Action. The book is packed with resources, including the complete Full Engagement Training System that Loehr and Schwartz administer to the various CEOs coming to them in the hopes of improving their performance, engagement and life satisfaction. The training system takes the reader through the three stages of the change process, providing prompts to deeply examine strengths and weakness in the four core energy areas (physical, emotional, mental and spiritual), as well as defining precise steps to enact positive and lasting change.

Loehr’s and Schwartz’s thesis is immensely helpful to the rethinked*annex project as I believe it is of crucial importance that the various ideas I experiment with not be isolated into imagined silos. Everything is interrelated and energy management, rather than time management, provides a way to integrate the various aspects of one’s life into a coherent, balanced and fulfilling whole. I am excited to complete the engagement training system and hope it will help me engage fully with the different but inherently interrelated ideas of the project. Check back in the next few weeks for a follow-up post on my progress with the engagement training system.


Source: Loehr, Jim, and Tony Schwartz. The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal. The Free Press: New York, 2003. Print.


Managing energy, not time, is the fundamental currency of high performance. Performance is grounded in the skillful management of energy. 17

Great leaders are stewards or organizational energy. They begin by effectively managing their own energy. As leaders, they must mobilize, focus, invest, channel, renew and expand the energy of others. 17

Full engagement is the energy state that best serves performance. 18

Principle I: Full engagement requires drawing on four separate but related sources of energy: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. 18

Principle II: Because energy diminishes both with overuse and with underuse, we must balance energy expenditure with intermittent energy renewal. 18

Principle III: To build capacity we must push beyond our normal limits, training in the same systematic way that elite athletes do. 18

Principle IV: Positive energy rituals—highly specific routines for managing energy—are the key to full engagement and sustained high performance. 18

Making change that lasts requires a three-step process: Define Purpose, Face the Truth, and Take Action. 18


Our most fundamental need as human beings is to spend and recover energy. We call this oscillation. 46

The opposite of oscillation is linearity: too much energy expenditure without recovery or too much recovery without sufficient energy expenditure. 46

Balancing stress and recovery is critical to high performance both individually and organizationally. 46

We must sustain healthy oscillatory rhythms at all four levels of what we term the “performance pyramid”: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. 47

We build emotional, mental and spiritual capacity in precisely the same way that we build physical capacity. We must systematically expose ourselves to stress beyond our normal limits, followed by adequate recovery. 47

Expanding capacity requires a willingness to endure short-term discomfort in the service of long-term reward. 47


Physical energy is the fundamental source of fuel in life. 71

Physical energy is derived from the interaction between oxygen and glucose. 71

The two most important regulators of physical energy are breathing and eating. 71

Drinking 64 ounces of water daily is a key factor in the effective management of physical energy. 71

Most human beings require seven to eight hours of sleep per night to function optimally. 71

Going to bed early and waking up early help to optimize performance. 71

Interval training is more effective than steady-state exercise in building physical capacity and in teaching people how to recover more efficiently. 71

To sustain full engagement, we must take a recovery break every 90 to 120 minutes. 71


In order to perform at our best, we must access pleasant and positive emotions: the experience of enjoyment, challenge, adventure and opportunity. 92

The key muscles fueling positive emotional energy are self-confidence, self-control, interpersonal effectiveness and empathy. 92

Negative emotions serve survival but they are very costly and energy inefficient in the context of performance. 92

The ability to summon positive emotions during periods of intense stress lies at the heart of effective leadership. 92

Access to the emotional muscles that serve performance depends on creating a balance between exercising them regularly and intermittently seeking recovery. 92

Any activity that is enjoyable, fulfilling and affirming serves as a source of emotional renewal and recovery. 93

Emotional muscles such as patience, empathy and confidence can be strengthened in the same way that we strengthen a bicep or a triceps: pushing past our current limits followed by recovery. 93


Mental capacity is what we use to organize our lives and focus our attention. 108

The mental energy that best serves full engagement is realistic optimism—seeing the world as it is, but always working positively towards a desired outcome or solution. 108

The key supportive mental muscles include mental preparation, visualization, positive self-talk, effective time management and creativity. 109

Changing channels mentally permits different parts of the brain to be activated and facilitates creativity. 109

Physical exercise stimulates cognitive capacity. 109

Maximum mental capacity is derived from a balance between expending and recovering mental energy. 109

When we lack the mental muscles we need to perform at our best, we must systematically build capacity by pushing past our comfort zone and then recovering. 109

Continuing to challenge the brain serves as a protection against age-related mental decline. 109


Spiritual energy provides the force for action in all dimensions of our lives. It fuels passion, perseverance and commitment. 127

Spiritual energy is derived from a connection to deeply held values and a purpose beyond our self-interest. 127

Character—the courage and conviction to live by our deepest values—is the key muscle that serves spiritual energy. 127

The key supportive spiritual muscles are passion, commitment, integrity and honesty. 127

Spiritual energy is sustained by balancing a commitment to a purpose beyond ourselves with adequate self-care. 127

Spiritual work can be demanding and renewing at the same time. 127

Expanding spiritual capacity involves pushing past our comfort zone in precisely the same way that expanding physical capacity does. 127

The energy of the human spirit can override even severe limitations of physical energy. 127


The search for meaning is among the most powerful and enduring themes in every culture since the origin of recorded history. 146

The ‘hero’s journey’ is grounded in mobilizing, nurturing and regularly renewing our most precious resource—energy—in the service of what matters most. 146

When we lack a strong sense of purpose we are easily buffeted by life’s inevitable storms. 146

Purpose becomes a more powerful and enduring source of energy when its source moves from negative to positive, external to internal and self to others. 146

A negative source of purpose is defensive and deficit-based. 147

Intrinsic motivation grows out of the desire to engage in an activity because we value it for the inherent satisfaction it provides. 147

Values fuel the energy on which purpose is built. They hold us to a different standard for managing our energy. 147

A virtue is a value in action. 147

A vision statement, grounded in values that are meaningful and compelling, creates a blueprint for how to invest our energy. 147


Facing the truth frees up energy and is the second stage, after defining purpose, in becoming more fully engaged. 164

Avoiding the truth consumes great efforts and energy. 164

At the most basic level, we deceive ourselves in order to protect out self-esteem. 164

Some truths are too unbearable to be absorbed all at once. Emotions such as grief are best metabolized in waves. 164

Truth without compassion is cruelty—to others and to ourselves. 164

What we fail to acknowledge about ourselves we often continue to act out unconsciously. 164

A common form of self-deception is assuming that our view represents the truth, when it is really just a lens through which we choose to view the world. 164

Facing the truth requires that we retain an ongoing openness to the possibility that we may not be seeing ourselves—or others—accurately. 164

It is both a danger and a delusion when we become too identified with any singular view of ourselves. We are all a blend of light and shadow, virtues and vices. 164

Accepting our limitations reduces our defensiveness and increases the amount of positive energy available to us. 164


Rituals serve as tools through which we effectively manage energy in the service of whatever mission we are on. 181

Rituals create a means by which to translate our values and priorities into action in all dimensions of our life. 181

All great performers rely on positive rituals to manage their energy and regulate their behavior. 181

The limitations of conscious will and discipline are rooted in the fact that every demand on our self-control draws on the same limited resource. 181

We can offset our limited will and discipline by building rituals that become automatic as quickly as possible, fueled by our deepest values. 182

The most important role of rituals is to insure effective balance between energy expenditure and energy renewal in the service of full engagement. 182

The more exacting the challenge and the greater the pressure, the more rigorous our rituals need to be. 182

Precision and specificity are critical dimensions of building rituals during the thirty- to sixty-day acquisition period. 182

Trying not to do something rapidly depletes our limited stores of will and discipline. 182

To make lasting change, we must build serial rituals, focusing on one significant change at a time. 182

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