DUMB PHONES AND THE POWER OF CHOICE

The other day a friend of mine stood before me, totally perplexed. Her i phone in hand, she was caught in a moment of draining indecision. Should she send an update to her friends about the dinner she was organising via WhatsApp, Facebook or text?

That small incident struck me as emblematic of something much bigger that is going on with many of our lives right now, and it relates to choice.

Choice is like a chisel. It carves out our lives. Who we become and how we live is shaped out of a formless flow of potential made up of all the possible choices we could make in any given moment. So it’s a powerful thing, choice. It defines our existence.

The same way that a chisel in the hands of a sculptor is a vehicle for their creativity, choice in the hands of any human is a primary way in which we can express our own creativity each day. It’s how we create our lives.

It’s my observation that the energy and creative power that lies in our ability to make choices is being siphoned away from us by a consumer culture that seems to have reached its metastatic stages. £20 billion was spent in the UK last year on ads, on ways to make us make consumer choices. Our heads are turned by every upgrade, we’re seduced by endless promises that if we buy this or spend that, then our lives will be better, that we will be better, and better liked. The abundance of consumer choice that we navigate every day is dizzying, like a carousel it goes round and round and it is relentless in its demands on our attention.

And while this goes on, a lot of the choices that would be genuinely meaningful and impactful on our lives, on our relationships with ourselves and other people, pale and step onto the sidelines. We are often unaware of their very existence, busy as we are making choices about myriad, noisy things that do not matter.

So I’ll end on a question: what has the potential to impact your life more: choosing between a Samsung, an i Phone or a Google pixel X-L, or choosing a dumb phone that costs you £5 a month, and seeing what occurs in the space that’s created by making that choice?

LEADERSHIP AS SPIRITUAL PRACTICE

Through the course of my fellowship on the Clore Leadership Programme, I have come to understand that good leadership is not simply a series of principles and examples of best practice to be applied only to working life. Instead, it can be looked as an integral way of being that has the potential to permeate all aspects of life, both personal and professional.

As the year has progressed I have been struck by the parallels that exist between leadership and Buddhist philosophy. In particular, the concepts of ‘Three thousand realms in a single moment of life’, ‘Oneness of self and environment’, ‘Buddhahood’ and ‘Practicing for oneself and others’, shed light on how leadership cannot be reduced to a mechanical skillset that only certain people need to apply in certain situations. Rather, it is about the potential of all people in all situations. In short, it is the ambition to move towards perfecting the conduct of human life.

THREE THOUSAND REALMS

‘Three thousand realms in a single moment of life’ is the principle that each person’s life contains infinite potential. We tend to impose limits on those possibilities, however, in the form of limiting beliefs about situations, others or ourselves. For example, “I’ll never fit into a group” or “The funding environment is so competitive now we will not be able to obtain the amount we need to go on,” can restrict our actions and predetermine negative outcomes. In this way, potential can go unrealised.

Choices that would have yielded the most value are not made, as they remain obscured by a sense of passive resignation to these limiting beliefs. There are many instances where we are surrounded by choices but blind to all but one of them: the one that our habitual mindset leads us to.

The ability to identify and challenge our own limiting beliefs and those of people around us is therefore an important aspect of leadership. It ensures that the potential to do things differently and better does not lie dormant and that we remain ever alert to all the choices before us in each moment of life.

ONENESS OF SELF AND ENVIRONMENT

The Buddhist concept of ‘Oneness of self and environment’ asserts that at the most fundamental level of life itself, there is no separation between ourselves and the environment. According to this perspective, everything around us, including work and relationships, is the reflection of our inner lives. Everything is perceived through the self and alters according to the individual’s inner state of life.

Consequently, if we change ourselves, our circumstances will inevitably change also. As esoteric as this might sound, it is a perspective that has practical applications. Challenging the concept of separation enriches leadership. It is an antidote to egotistical action. It invites us to anticipate the repercussions of our decisions on those that we lead, and to look beyond our own personal gratification and gain. It enables us to connect with those we work with in a more meaningful way, and truly inculcate the sense within the organisation or team that ‘we are all in this together.’

The environmental, economic and social crises that now loom so large can only be challenged by increasing our awareness of the interconnected nature of our lives and the systems they exist within. At this time, cultural leaders need the perspective and broadness of vision that a belief in the ‘Oneness of self and environment’ bestows.

BUDDHAHOOD

The term ‘Buddhahood’ describes the combined qualities of vitality, courage, wisdom and compassion. Acknowledging that these qualities have a dynamic relationship with one another and brings further insight to the requirements of robust leadership.

VITALITY

To lead well, we need to be able to generate vitality and tap into the creative life force that allows us to throw ourselves wholeheartedly into a task and stick with it to its conclusion. This takes energy, the sort of energy that is brought to bear by taking consistent action, especially through challenging times. Lethargy and inertia can be viewed as the enemies of strong leadership, so leaders need to know the means by which they can tap into and generate vitality.

Most importantly, this includes knowing when to rest. Many of the leadership experiences people have shared with me over the course of the Clore Leadership Programme, are marked by periods of burn-out and avoidable ill-health; a sort of energy-martyrdom. Commitment to leading is sometimes mistakenly measured by the willingness of a leaders to neglect and abuse their health and vitality levels in order to get things done.

Applying reason and intelligence alone will never be sufficient to lead. Knowledge and ideas have to be animated, and only vitality, vitality that is cultivated and respected, can bring them to life.

COURAGE

Courage is an important leadership quality because it takes courage to take risks and move into new territory. This is one of the biggest distinctions between the role of manager and the role of leader. A leader must not be afraid to disrupt thinking and systems and to depart from norms. To try and achieve anything that has not been done before makes us vulnerable to failure. Beginning something in spite of this awareness takes courage.

We can help define courage by looking at what it is not. Courage is not recklessness. It is not necessarily about bold gestures and heroic action in times of danger. Courage can be quiet. It can be sticking to your guns when people around you are voicing doubt. It can be ongoing, mundane exertion to keep moving in the right direction even when there are no indications of success.

In leadership especially, courage is related to conviction. Being values-driven and having a strong enough vision to cut through insecurity and setbacks keeps courage alive. Most importantly, courage inspires courage. The test of great leadership is whether a leader can inspire people to look beyond their own fears towards something bigger that motivates them to keep going in spite of those fears.

WISDOM

A good analogy that describes the role of wisdom in leadership is likening the relationship between knowledge and wisdom to that of a pump and water. A pump that does not bring forth water, i.e. knowledge without wisdom is of little use.

Knowledge is clearly important in leadership but in many ways it is a neutral asset. It can do good but equally it can do harm. The role of wisdom is to guide knowledge towards creating value. It does this by lending a sense of perspective that releases us from the habitual, narrowly focused ways of looking at things that can leave us stuck inside situations.

Being able to impartially evaluate a situation by taking into account as much objective information as possible increases our ability to get to the heart of any given issue and bring forth wisdom. A leader needs the wisdom to realise that they do not always have all the answers, and the wisdom to acknowledge that there is insight to be gained from listening to those with more experience. Leadership requires mentorship, and a wise leader knows this.

COMPASSION

Compassion is a counterbalance to the thing that undermines good leadership perhaps more than anything else. One of the strongest desires we seem to have as humans is to have power over other people and have them comply with our will. Psychoanalytic theory identifies this basic quality as ego, and the unchecked ego has a tendency to regard other people as merely there to serve its own needs. Contrast this with the principle of ‘Oneness of self and environment’, and we can see that the ego has a very isolated conception of self.

Compassion, on the other hand, stems from a sense of fellowship and solidarity with others and a genuine desire for mutual benefit and fulfilment. Unlike condescending pity, compassion views other people as peers and engenders a sense of shared suffering and shared joy. It speaks of respect for others and recognises the dignity and value of each person’s life. It acknowledges the unique contribution each person can make.

It is critical that a cultural leader has an eye for the strengths and potential of of the people that they serve and a commitment to invest in them. If a leader promotes the confidence and autonomy of the individuals that they serve, they can avoid inadvertently promoting dependence in their efforts to support their team. For example, over-advising and resolving a difficult situation on someone else’s behalf can actually weaken them, leaving them less self-reliant and confident than before. Facilitative leadership i.e. a leader with the the time and ability to coach people rather than jump in with all the answers, is a practical application of compassion in the work place.

Compassion can be used as a tool to empower another to bring forth vitality, wisdom, courage and compassion from within their own life in order to surmount difficulty and keep growing. Compassion is not a soft or relenting quality but a hardened belief in the worth and ability of both ourselves and other people.

PRACTICING FOR YOURSELF AND OTHERS

‘Practice’ is about being strongly committed to one’s own personal growth and fulfilment while at the same time seeking to promote the growth of others. Viewing self-development as life’s ongoing and vital work while avoiding the pitfalls of self-absorption may seem like a difficult balance to strike. However, it is the cultural leader’s very action of staying engaged with the lives and needs of other people that creates the arena in which their own personal development takes place. Viewed this way, distinctions begin to break down and the picture becomes more integrated. Serving others serves ourselves and leading ourselves leads others. A way of life

The relationship between these aspects of Buddhist philosophy and leadership illustrate how leadership can be viewed as a spiritual practice, or, if you prefer, a ‘way of life’. It can serve as a guide to anyone at any time, in any situation. Who we are as leaders at work should mirror who we are as leaders in our families, friendship groups, neighbourhoods and within ourselves. All the areas of our lives are inextricably linked and leadership is a quality that when bought forth can flow freely through them all and elevate us.

 

PEDAL POWER!

The wind rushing by me. Fresh air and trees all around. The sun is shining and the view is beautiful.
Bristol is a fantastic city to live in, not only because it’s vibrant; full of life, excitement and diversity; but because it is also surrounded by beautiful countryside.

Away from all the hustle and bustle, all the people and urban cityscape there awaits green rolling hills, woodland, rivers, canals, wildlife and space. And the best way to get there – if you can – is by bicycle.
A country lane, birds singing, passing little cottages. Leisurely pootling along. Not a care in the world.

Not only is travelling by bike completely free, it offers you the opportunity to:

• Appreciate beauty
• Take notice of your environment
• Bring movement into your life
• Get some headspace away from urban life into green spaces
• Have fun

All of these things are what we talk about at The Happiness Project; they are all scientifically researched to improve your physical, emotional and mental wellbeing and they are all achieved by a cycle ride. If a box ticking activity exists, cycling out of the city is it.

Heart pumping, legs, arms and stomach muscles are working. A rush of good feeling and endorphins flood my body. The top of the hill. Wow. The view is amazing, and I feel like it is great to be alive.
There are so many routes around the neighbouring countryside. Each route has a number and as long as you know where to start, you can set off and follow the signs for that route. At first, when cycling a new route, there can be a bit of losing the signs and getting lost, but that’s all part of exploring the area we live in.

The more you do it, the better you get at following the signs. After a few hours out on the bike I feel like I have been on holiday for a week; new scenery, exploring unfamiliar places, having fun and getting active.  Not to mention there’s usually a good old country pub to get some lunch.

A sense of achievement. Still huffing and puffing, sweating and needing to sit down to recover. Feeling proud of myself. Inspired to try the hill again next time. Fitness growing before my eyes.

If you’re going to cycle for a long day, bring plenty of snacks – a banana, a handful of almonds or any other nut you like, a peanut butter sandwich, dried fruit, or a few fig biscuits are great health snack to keep your energy up. Keep hydrated, bringing plenty of water with you. You can add half a teaspoon of salt to 750 ml bottle of water for added re-hydration, and a tickle of squash makes it taste better.
Rolling back into Bristol after a long ride. Happy, energised and satisfied. The sense of achievement and the rest bite from the city. Feeling relaxed and positive.

A personal favourite route is Route 33. It starts in Queens Square, out of the city centre, right next to Ashton Park School and then down festival way. I usually ride about 10 miles to (and 10 miles back from) a wonderful friendly little pub called The Blue Flame Inn – which has got more character than you could shake a carrot at and sells a mean pork pie, they also have a big garden that you can camp in if you wished to make it a real adventure.

Ten miles will take you less than two hours at a leisurely pace, and is not too strenuous as it is pretty flat. Follow the signs for Route 33 all the way to Nailsea, the pub is just the other side.  Travelling past Long Ashton and Flax Bourton, the route is mainly on traffic free paths but there are some short on road sections. Before arriving in Flax Bourton, you can also take a short detour to Wraxhall to visit the beautiful Tyntesfield House. It is pretty flat, no major hills.

Look for other routes here:  www.sustrans.org.uk

Here are some clubs where you can meet others and cycle on guided rides to build your confidence:
The Avon Outdoor Activities Club is a Bristol multi-activity outdoor pursuits club with about 400 members. Anyone (over the age of 18) is welcome. It is run by its members for its members and offers you a chance to take part in and organise many activities. You don’t need to be an expert (complete beginners are encouraged and are very welcome) but if you are an expert you will find yourself in good company. They organise regular activities including Walking, Mountain Biking, Road Cycling, Canoeing/Kayaking, Sailing, Skiing and Boarding, Rock Climbing, Windsurfing, Wild Swimming and Caving.
Thursday Old Time Cyclists are a group of mostly (but not all) retired men and women with a shared passion for cycling.

Cyclebag East is a Touring Cycle Club based in Fishponds. They do regular fortnightly rides from 30 – 60 miles starting from the Portcullis opposite Morrisons on Fishponds Road, just by the Bristol Bath Railway Path with pickups at either Mangotsfield station on the Path or the Central Library, college green or Amcor at the junction of Winterbourne Road and Old Gloucester Road, depending on the direction of the ride. As a touring club they also do weekends away in spring and autumn with a week tour in the summer.
North Bristol Cycling Club are a very friendly and laid back road cycling group, their aim is to enjoy our cycling with others who share their passion. They are based in the North Bristol and South Gloucestershire area. All of their Sunday rides start from Costa in Bradley Stoke at 10.00am but we do occasionally start from other local locations. They are not a competition orientated group and vary our rides to suit the pace of the members on each run. Rides usually take place on a Sunday morning and cover a range of 40 to 55 miles with stops from time to time depending on the terrain and the capability of the group.

Feel the Power of the Pedal! Happy Riding.

By Ava Maginnis

HOW TO DEAL WITH DIFFICULT PEOPLE

A man called Marshall Rosenberg grew up in a violent and poverty stricken neighbourhood of Chicago in the 1950’s. When he asked himself the question: ‘Why is there all this conflict?’ he came to realise that all the aggression and poor relationships around him happened often because of breakdowns in communication. Now he had grasped the problem he got to work on a solution and came up with Non Violent Communication, or NVC as it’s known.

Virtually all people have the potential to listen to reason and use their rational brain to solve all sorts of problems, including the conflicts of interest and emotional clashes that can happen between people.

This potential is often not realised though, because the emotional reactions that take place in a specific part of the brain called the amygdala – the fight or flight bit – short-circuit our ability to process a situation rationally and communicate about it in a non-confrontational way.
When communication becomes confrontation it escalates conflict in the following ways:
Criticism – criticising someone’s character instead of simply stating the specific situation that you are unhappy about and telling them the rational reason that  you don’t like it. For example: ‘You’re late again, that’s so typical of you,’ versus ‘When you come half an hour after you said you would it means we have to rush the meeting and I’d rather we could have the time to talk things over properly instead of rushing so no mistakes are made.’

Insults or contempt – Insults can sometimes be snide or subtle so watch out for ‘letting one slip’. For example saying ‘Your behaviour is inappropriate’ is pretty insulting even if not as outright an insult as calling someone a stupid fool. If your not sure whether something is going to sound insulting or not, imagine someone saying it to you and your reaction should give you a good clue as to whether you should say it to someone else. Sarcasm and certain facial expressions and body language can communicate contempt too, like think eye rolling, pursed lips, frowning, hands on hips, folded arms and so on.
Counter attack – This is our Fight Reaction. It is when ‘they start it’ and you carry it on. As tempting as it is to respond in kind when someone confronts you, don’t do it. Diffuse don’t detonate. If you need to remove yourself until they’ve calmed down you can simply say ‘I hear what you are saying and would like us to talk it over later over a coffee if that’s okay with you.’

Stonewalling – This is our Flight Reaction. It is when we tune them out, stop listening and even ignore the person completely. It’s when we are thinking while they are talking ‘blah, blah, blah yeah whatever’. Or cutting them off with ‘Yeah whatever, forget I said anything,’ or ‘I’m going to bed.’ Withdrawal might seem like a convenient escape but it deepens the bad feeling both ways.

Instead of falling into those habitual ways of responding use non-violent communication instead. It is a basic, five stepped process with two golden rules behind it. Any one can learn how o do it and when it is used properly it starves conflicts of the fuel they need to keep on burning.

So here is how NVC works…

First rule of NVC:
Replace criticism with an objective statement of facts. e.g. Saying ‘you’re doing a poor job’ puts the other person on the defensive and makes them emotional. Imagine you are Captain Spock! Think as rationally as you can. Seek to describe the situation in as objective and specific a way as possible. For example replace ‘this report isn’t good,’ (which will be taken as a criticism) with ‘ In this report there are three ideas needed in order to communicate our message which seem to be missing. Instead of criticism this will be taken as a conversation starter.

Second rule of NVC:
Avoid any judgment of the other person and concentrate totally on what you feel. If you talk about what you feel no one can dispute it. For instance if you say, “You took all the credit for that sale and you never seem to think about the team,’ the person can only challenge what you have said. On the other hand if you say, “The team and I put in the research and helped to set up that sale and when you didn’t mention that to the boss in the meeting I felt unappreciated,’ the person can not question your feelings.

The key here is to describe the situation with sentences beginning with ‘I’ rather than ‘you’. The openness and honesty of expressing your own feelings is disarming and makes the other person more likely to co-operate.

Rule two has an important caveat though; when you talk about your emotions never say you felt angry. Anger is nearly always interpreted as an attack. Anger is also often a reaction to another feeling and there is usually a hidden emotion lying behind anger: identify that feeling and talk about that instead.

The steps:

->Don’t whinge about the grievance it to other people first. If it gets back to the other person that you have done this it might ruin attempts you have at NVC later. Go to the source.

->Do not try to start the NVC if you’re still feeling very emotional about it yourself and do not start it in front of other people. Chose the right time and place.

->Be friendly in your approach by using their first name at the start of the communication. This also ensures they are listening. Then begin with something positive about them and your relationship, even if it is a stretch. Beginning on a positive might stick in your throat but it opens the doors to communication with the clear message you are not on the attack.

->Once you’ve told them how you feel about what happened, say what you would have preferred to happen and ask them what they think about it.

->No matter how well or badly you feel the communication went, always thank them for listening at the end. This increases the chances that they will go away and take in what you have said to them.

This method will feel strange when start using it. Changing communication habits of a lifetime feels weird so if this is something you would like to try out the message is persevere! The more you do it the more natural it will feel until one day you stop noticing you’re doing it at all. All you will notice is that you now have the knack of dealing with difficult people.

THREE EASY STEPS TO THE FUTURE YOU WANT

It is well known that having goals is good for us. Sometimes though, with all the will in the world, it can be difficult for us to achieve those goals because our existing habits get in our way.

For example, I might have a goal to save £200 a month for a dream holiday. As that trip to Japan has been a life-long dream for me, you would think that would be enough motivation for me to be able to stick to the saving plan, right?

Wrong!

However much we want to achieve certain goals, our will often fails us and the reason is this: we are all creatures of habit. If I am in the habit of spending £4 a day on a massive coffee on my way to work, and I like that coffee in the morning because it is a ritual that I take pleasure in and find rewarding, then no matter how much I want to save up to get to Japan, that habit of spending my extra cash on coffees is going to trip me up every time.

The good news is that although we can not get rid of habits we can replace them. If we deliberately repeat an alternative behaviour a sufficient number of times it becomes automatic. It becomes a new habit that overwrites the old one.

The tricky bit is when the alternative behaviour has not yet become a habit. That is the critical time when our stubborn, old habits tend to scupper our best made plans.

Unless we use a secret weapon. The secret weapon called Mental Contrasting. Mental Contrasting is a scientifically validated tool developed in 2010 by Gabrielle Oettingen and Peter Gollwitzer at New York University. This technique can get us through the tricky patch of sticking with a new behaviour long enough for it to become a habit. Let me use my example of saving for Japan to walk you through it.

1. Vividly imagine or write down (using all your senses and being as descriptive as possible), the personally valued aspects of the the goal. So for me that would be actually being in Japan, experiencing the particular sights, smells and sounds I’d associate with the trip, and the feeling of adventure and excitement.

2. Vividly imagine or write down (again, using all your senses and being as descriptive as possible), the obstacles that get in the way of achieving the goal.  In my case that would be the daily coffee that I buy and enjoy. So I’d imagine specifically ordering it at the counter, handing over the cash and then enjoying the aroma and the taste, feeling the warmth of the cup in my hands and getting a sense of comfort and satisfaction from the drink.

3. Flip back and forth between the two images at least three times, repeatedly contrasting them. Do this twice a day, every day.

By applying this simple mental tool, you will considerably increase your chances of goal-success. So in my case, I’d find myself reaching my saving targets with greater ease. Then, once the behaviour has become a habit you can still use Mental Contrasting to help keep it going, but there will be less need to as the behaviour is now automatic and more effortless.

Knowing how to replace our old, unwanted habits with new ones opens the doors to the future we wish for, and using Mental Contrasting helps us do just that. It takes under two minutes a day, it’s stood up to scientific testing, but there’s a catch:

It only works if you use it!

THE SURPRISING MATHEMATICAL SECRET OF GOOD RELATIONSHIPS

Even if we like a person, it is difficult to predict whether we will continue to get on in the long run and make it through all life’s challenges with our relationship intact.  For example, few couples getting married anticipate that one day they fall out and yet 45% of marriages end in divorce.

In the eighties a researcher called John Gottman set up a ‘love lab’ to try to get to the bottom of this mystery. He studied the relationships of hundreds of married couples and incredibly he was able to predict with 94% accuracy which couples would get divorced and which couples would last the distance.
So how did he do it?

With a golden ratio. He noticed that if the amount of positive feedback the couple gave one another outnumbered the negative feedback at a ratio of three nice and positive things said for every one less nice and negative thing said, their relationship tended to stay strong, whatever the weather. The couples who dipped below that ratio of good to bad things said didn’t fare so well.

John Gottman’s findings fascinated the social science and psychology community and his studies were replicated in different settings.  In businesses and colleges the exact same ratio of positive to negative feedback, 3:1, was an accurate predictor of whether a group would succeed and flourish, or become weakened over time by disharmony from within. Wherever the golden ratio is tried it seems to have an effect.

Apply the Losada ratio to your own life and see if the results hold true.