Harnessing Your Green Eyed Monster

Harnessing your green eyed monster

It’s generally accepted that envy does us no good. It fails to bring us happiness or joy, just endless social comparisons with others. Yes, envy is indeed a big, bad, green eyed gremlin. Research in positive psychology warns us that both upward and downward social comparisons are not the components of a happy life. The phenomenon that is Jeremy Kyle with it’s daily dose of car crash TV will only serve to bring us down after the initial relief that at least things aren’t THAT bad.

New research from Van De Van et al (2011) suggests that envy takes on different functions for different folk. For some, as we know, envy is painful. Van De Ven suggests that to avoid that pain we translate envy into admiration and that admiration then becomes an admittance of defeat. Once that happens, we’re no longer motivated by our admiration of others, just paralysed by the fear that we’ll never be as good as they are so why bother trying?

This leaves us with something of a dilemma. If admiration for someone who has been a success demotivates us then when we’re looking for a trail blazer to inspire us, what should we do?

Van De Ven suggests there are two types of envy, benign and malicious. When we feel malicious envy it’s usually the result of believing that success is not deserved or earned (feel free to fill in your own blanks here). Benign envy occurs when we believe the success to be deserved (again, fill in the blanks as appropriate). Van De Ven’s research indicates that it is benign envy that becomes a motivating force, whilst malicious envy will usually destroy our motivation to achieve completely.

Van de Ven et al. (2011) tested the two types and found benign envy to be a powerful motivating force. Benign envy encouraged people to perform better on measures of intelligence and creativity, when compared with both admiration and malicious envy.

So if you’re going to be just a little bit green eyed about something or somebody make sure that you choose someone deserving to aim it at.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Ultimate Life Workout

The Ultimate Life Workout Series

Welcome to the first in our Ultimate Life Workout series where we look at science backed tools & strategies to get you where you want to go in life. Maybe you’ve been stuck in the same place for a while, or you’re looking for a new career, or you just want to get cracking on your goals and need a healthy dollop of motivation to get started. Look no further. Each week as well as giving you something new to think about we’ll bring you the best strategies to kick start your ultimate life workout.

Self Beliefs

Years ago I worked with a man who would regularly berate his car when it refused to start. The car, an ageing, rusty land rover, would frequently be on the receiving end of physical blows and shouts of admonishment rained down upon it by my colleague in the belief that the car would somehow be shown the error of it’s ways. The ritual would last for five to ten minutes until the perpetrator stood back, kicked off his steel toe capped Wellington boots (I kid you not), placed his hands on his hips and stated “That told it”. As we say up north, “There’s nowt so queer as folk”. He truly believed that this strange and irrational behaviour impacted upon the car’s performance.

Laugh as you may at this story, sometimes we can all be guilty of harbouring weird and wonderful beliefs about the world we inhabit. Ok, so I’m not suggesting that you are someone who kicks and shouts at their car believing that you’re persuading it to perform like a Ferrari, but there may be an equally erroneous belief about yourself that you’re holding on to. Like it or not, what you believe about yourself determines how you perform, what you think you’re capable of and ultimately what you get out of life whether it’s the career, relationship, income or lifestyle .

Years of research into human behaviour tells us that we all have blind spots or ‘schotomas’ things we can’t see or keep missing no matter how hard we look at ourselves. Perhaps you were told something about yourself as a child, by parents, teachers or some other authority figure. Were you told that you were clumsy? Not ‘academic’? That you were ‘plain’ or lacked talent in something you loved? My experience of working with hundreds of people (yes, even clever people like you) tells me that not only is this list endless, it also bears no relation to reality. These words or labels, often carelessly uttered, with little or no thought, can lead to years of inaccurate self assessment, ultimately leading to a belief that one single opinion from long ago is actually the ‘truth’ about who you are and what you’re capable of. We (along with the latest research in psychology and neuroscience) say a very big ‘Pah.’ to that.

The strange thing is, once that we’ve been told something about ourselves (especially as children) we’re prone to hold on to it. We become selective perceivers, looking for evidence to prove that we’re right to believe the inaccurate things we do. Psychologist Carl Festinger calls this the cognitive dissonance principle. Our subconscious is unable to hold two opposing beliefs at the same time so any evidence that suggests we might be wrong to cling onto these inaccurate labels is conveniently pushed to one side. We literally become blind to it. If I tell you that you are beautiful when somewhere down the line it was implied you were ‘the clever one’ but somewhat lacking in the looks department who do you think you’ll be more likely to believe? You’ll find a reason to discount my comment, just as you’ve been doing for years when anyone tells you the same thing, so that you can continue to believe you’re not. That’s selective perception. Once you get something into your head, it stays there and when you’re sifting through all of the stuff that the world presents you with, you’ll only pay attention to the information that proves you’re right, however misleading it might be.

Something to think about;

So my question for this week is where are your blind spots? What talents, skills, abilities or characteristics might you have overlooked? Take some time to really think about this one and examine some of the beliefs that you have about who you are and what you’re capable of. Where do they really come from?. Are they serving you or holding you back? To move forwards and create the changes you want in life you’ll need to reexamine them and decide whether they’re a true reflection of who you are now or just someone else’s outdated, dusty opinion.

If your beliefs are getting in the way of the kind of life you want, the next step is to ask yourself, ‘is that REALLY true?’. Look for evidence that proves the old belief is wrong or outdated. Remember you’ve been ignoring this kind of evidence for years so it might take a while to spot it at first. Be sure that you are being 100% honest with yourself when it comes to any evidence you might be overlooking. Letting go of these beliefs and leaving your usual way of thinking might feel uncomfortable at first but ultimately, it’s liberating.The next time you catch yourself reaffirming those tired old scripts about who you are and what you’re capable of, stop and ask yourself “Are you absolutely sure that’s true?”. Start to create a new bank of evidence, from events and situations that prove the opposite of the old belief, painting a brand new you picture of yourself, a canvas that truly reflects exactly who you are now as well as where you’re headed in the future.

And on that note I’ll leave you with the following thought from Patanjali (c. 2nd century) India.

‘If you desire a glorious future, transform the present’

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sharp Focus?

Sharp Focus?

If you find it hard to focus sometimes, you’re not alone. The speed and constancy at which we receive information from multiple sources can be a major distraction, leading to loss of concentration and seemingly, an inability to focus on even the simplest of tasks. The good news coming out of MIT and Harvard research this month is that there is something you can do about it, better still, it’s quick, it’s easy and it’s free. So what is it?

The study, published by the Brain Research Bulletin followed a group of research subjects as they were trained to meditate over an eight week period. Effects of the meditation practice on alpha rhythms were examined with encouraging results. The alpha brain waves, responsible for regulating the transmission of information between cells to the cortex, the area that processes sensory information, were more easily controlled by the meditating subjects, increasing their ability to focus on a series of tasks.

Chris Moore, the MIT Neuroscientist who led the research explained the positive effects of daily meditation on the subjects focus ‘Data indicated meditation makes you better at focusing, in part by enabling you to better regulate how things that arise will impact you’.

As little as ten minutes per day spent meditating will help you to keep your edge and improve your focus, in addition to this, it will also increase your ability to manage stress, be less reactive to external events and diminish the effects of any physical pain. That’s a pretty impressive return on investment for ten minutes a day.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rumination and Neuroplasticity

It seems that the mere act of thinking really does change your brain. The latest research in neuroscience suggests that it’s not just the act of thinking that has an impact on the neurology of your brain, what you are thinking about is just as important. How and what we think about affects the neuroplasticity of our brain, its ability to rearrange its own structure in response to negative or positive stimulus.

Morgan and Banerjee’s Stanford University study into the effects of rumination (that’s negative thinking to you and me) examined the effects on research subjects asked to reflect upon the negative aspects of their lives. Not surprisingly, in addition to making the subjects feel like reaching for the biggest tub of Hagen Daz they could find, something else was happening within their neurology. Extended periods of such negative thinking resulted in an increase in the activity of the amygdala (the area of the brain responsible for the fight or flight response to fear). This increased activity precipitated a rush of damaging neurochemicals into the brain. So, if negative thinking makes us feel worse and changes our neurology, what kind of results will positive thinking produce?

Since 2008 Zoran Josipovic, adjunct professor at New York University has been studying Tibetan Buddhist monks in an attempt to identify the effects of meditation on brain neurology. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). His ongoing research has found that meditation alters the neural networks in research subjects, strengthening the anterior cingulate, regulating anger, reducing anxiety and increasing levels of happiness (and not a tub of Hagen Daz in sight).

So the next time you start to ruminate on negative events or things that you’re not happy with, stop, take a moment or two and shift focus, try the opposite to rumination and meditate.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

That Gut Feeling..

Sometimes you just get that feeling…and you know that you’re right, you can feel it in your gut. Old wives tales and superstition aside, new evidence from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and the Genome Institute of Singapore suggests that there may in fact be solid science behind those good old fashioned ‘gut’ feelings and the way we think. This new research suggests a strong link between bacteria in the gut, brain development, neurology and the behavioural changes that result from this microflora’s presence.

Studies have previously shown that intestinal bacteria, or microflora, has a significant impact upon neurology, our stress response and behavioural disorders such as autism. The more bacteria in the gut, the less able we are to manage anxiety provoking situations. Recent research led by the Karolinska Institute’s Sven Pettersson examined the stress response of two sets of mice. The first set, did not have microflora in their intestines whereas the second group did. Pettersson’s team compared the two groups’ behaviour and brain chemistry during specific experiments measuring their ability to manage stressful situations. The group lacking the microflora were less anxious and more active in their environment than the group who had the bacteria in their intestines. The mice whose guts had been colonized by bacteria were less active, did not manage stressful situations effectively and did not explore light boxes placed within the research environment. There appeared to be a huge difference in the behaviour of the two groups and their ability to manage every day life events.

The next question for Pettersson was, do these bacteria affect brain development and if they do, could this be reversed? The researchers found that if adult mice who were raised free from microflora were then colonized by the bacteria, there was no effect on brain development, neurology, behaviour or stress response. When the mice were raised without bacteria and then colonized by microflora earlier in life, there was no effect on chemistry, brain development, behaviour or the ability to manage anxiety inducing situations. Pettersson concluded that there is a crucial developmental stage where bacterial colonization impacts upon neurology and behaviour.

The neurology of the gut remains in it’s infancy but there is evidence to suggest that colonization of the gut by bacteria in humans yields a similar response and may impact more severely on those diagnosed with autism and autoimmune diseases. It seems that there may really be something in your gut feeling after all…..

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Happiness Habit – Seven Steps to Increase Your Happiness

Happiness? A habit? Strange as it may sound, research suggests that happiness can indeed be learned. Easy to say when the sun is shining and the birds are singing, but what about those days when everything seems grey? What will make you happy and how can you give yourself the lift you need?

Surprisingly what we think will make us happy rarely does. Research tells us that the thrill of acquiring material possessions or becoming a size 0, things that we erroneously believe will make us happy, usually don’t long term, leaving us with a feeling of ‘Is this all there is?’. A major US study found that the richest Americans earning over $10 million annually reported levels of personal happiness only slightly higher than their employees. So the answer isn’t money, the hand bag or the car you’ve had your eye on.

Martin Seligman, the ‘father’ of positive psychology suggests keeping a ‘Gratitude Journal’. His influential research working with 70 severely depressed adults found that the keeping of a journal (and of course writing daily in it) produced impressive results. Weeks and months later, the gratitude journal had a significant impact upon the increased happiness of the research subjects whose depression had significantly decreased.

You may find yourself wondering if a journal is really going to cut the mustard for you on an off day. You may be onto something as longitudinal research with fraternal twins suggests that we may all have a ‘set point’ in terms of our happiness, which originates from our parents. For some, being happy just seems to come naturally whilst for others it takes work. The ‘set point’ is believed by some psychologists to be our baseline, a median point of happiness that we will always return to after highs and lows. Luckily, happiness isn’t something that you either have or you don’t, it’s something that you can develop.

Wherever your set point might be, there are a whole host of habits that you can adopt in an attempt to improve it. We know from extensive studies that the following actions will stand you in good stead in terms of increasing your level of happiness. When followed, each of these behaviours and approaches to life will nudge your level of happiness just a little further up the happy-o-meter.

• Make time to nurture relationships with your family & friends. Get the work/life balance right
• Express gratitude for what you have (a journal is the perfect way to do this, or running over your day in your head before you go to sleep, picking out what you are grateful for as you go along)
• Offer to help others, this will build your self esteem and help someone else at the same time (as well as strengthening your social network)
• Practice optimism when thinking about the future. Forget what everyone else is saying and focus on a positive future.
• Live in the present. Try to make sure that you are really in the moment wherever you are; at work, with friends, or just relaxing. Stop yourself from thinking about what’s on the ‘To do’ list, enjoy life and just be.
• Exercise. The latest neuropsychology tells us that exercise not only makes you look and feel better, it strengthens the neural pathways helping them to repair themselves as well as protecting you from the onset of dementia. Add this to the mixture of feel good endorphins that your brain releases into your body when you exercise and you’re onto a winner.
• Have lifelong goals & ambitions. Set yourself goals, what have you always wanted to do? How will you get there? Break it down into small steps and watch yourself grow. As Brian Tracy says ‘You can’t hit a target you can’t see’. Setting and achieving your goals will help you to build your self esteem, resilience and efficacy.

So now you’re armed. You know what to do to make happiness a habit and improve the level of joy in your life. Let me know how you get on!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

If only a woman were more like a man?

It seems that the infamous words of good, old Henry Higgins, ‘Oh why can’t a woman be more like a man?’ are ringing hollow in the workplace. Research published today in the British Psychological Society, Occupational Psychology Journal suggests that, for women, being ‘like a man’ may not be all that it’s cracked up to be after all.

In ‘Macho’ Women Face Backlash At Work’ research by Olivia O’Neill from George Mason and Charles O’Reilly from Stanford found that women who displayed stereotypical male behaviours were at a disadvantage in the workplace. So what exactly were these macho women up to in offices up and down the country?  Belching? Inviting colleagues to fisticuffs at dawn over handbags? Notching up their office conquests on their desks? Nope. The stereotypical male behaviour under investigation was in fact self-confidence, assertiveness and dominance – all traits that are associated with successful management. Reilly & O’Neill suggest that this perceived lack of traditional female traits may go some way to explaining why women are less likely to be promoted to top posts, creating a ‘backlash’ effect.

Using personality and management questionnaire data collated over 1986 and 1987, involving 80 MBA students, 47% of which were women, with a follow up questionnaire seven years later, Reilly & O’Neill came to an astounding conclusion. Women from the study who had initially displayed masculine characteristics but had ‘self monitored’ theses traits, bringing them back into line with traditional female stereotypes over the seven year career period were more likely to have been promoted to senior positions of power. This was not the same for men. Those who did not self monitor were perceived to have harmed their chances for promotion in the workplace – even though the characteristics they displayed were the exact same traits associated with successful managers and leaders.

The jury’s out on this one. There may, after all, be more to it than Reilly & O’Neills research implies. We’re not convinced that if you wear your best flowery dress, cry at the drop of a hat and offer to make everyone in the office a really nice cuppa (‘Aw, go on, go on, go on’) you’ll end up CEO….but do let us know if this is a strategy that has worked for you, we’d love to hear about it………

Posted in Business Psychology, Employment, Job Search, organisational change, Personal Development, personality assessment, Psychology, Psychometrics | Tagged , , | Leave a comment