Category Archives: Psychological health in a post-globalized world

Why Humble Leaders Are More Successful

Screen shot 2014-10-24 at 11.10.41 AMOctober 28, 2014

It’s increasingly evident that business leaders who are capable of experiencing and demonstrating such qualities as empathy, compassion, and humility have greater success. Research as well as direct business experience confirms this. One recent example is a study of 1500 leaders and their employees. It found that humble leaders, who have increased self-awareness and insight, receive greater commitment and performance from their employees.

According to the research findings, “Leaders with a strong self-insight demonstrate a good understanding of their own needs, emotions, abilities and behavior. On top of that, they are proactive in the face of challenges.” The study found that when employees experience this type of leadership, it has a positive effect, and that’s especially true when the leader is humble.

More broadly, other research in recent years indicates that the capacity for compassion and empathy are innate, and it can be strengthened through conscious effort and focus. These capacities reflect letting go of ego-driven attitudes and behavior; and they enhance positive, effective relationships. We are now seeing evidence that they are linked with greater business success, especially in the form of increased competitive advantage. For example, founder/CEO of Virgin Group, Richard Branson has pointed out that “In business… companies that want to survive…are smart enough to know that caring and cooperation are key.”

Today’s organizations require what the New York Times columnist Adam Bryant has described as a “quick and nimble” management culture. This, in turn, requires leaders to let go of focusing so much on themselves; to let go of the “alpha male” role, as Georg Vielmetter of the Hay Group has called it. Then, they are more able to engage with diverse employees, and from a more humble perspective. Vielmetter pointed out that “The time of the alpha male — of the dominant, typically male leader who knows everything, who Continue reading

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Millennials Reject Marriage…Some Adults Want Polyamory…What’s Happening?

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October 21, 2014

As our society, culture and world become increasingly co-mingled and diverse, I think we’re witnessing a corresponding evolution in what men and women — straight, gay; younger and older — look for in a relationship that they want to enter and build with a partner. Part of this shift includes the variety of ways people are constructing their intimate partnerships. It’s important to understand and learn from — whether one “approves” or not; or rejects as “unacceptable,” based on one’s own point of view.

For example, baby boomers’ children are accustomed to varieties of relationships that their midlife parental generation opened the door to. Today, we see LGBT relationships; interracial relationships; permanent cohabitation rather than marriage, even after having children; open relationships; redefining what “family” is; even polyamory as well as a movement to decriminalize polygamy. The capacity to understanding and make sense of change is important in life, but it’s especially crucial today as the definition of love relationships as well as families steadily evolve.

One part of the societal shift towards more open diversity of relationships includes changing views among millennials of how they perceive the relevance of marriage. Continue reading

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Psychological Abuse of Children: It’s as Harmful as Physical or Sexual Abuse

Screen shot 2014-10-14 at 9.31.09 AMOctober 14, 2014

Based on my work over the decades, I find that the conclusions of this recent study from the American Psychological Association are right on target: “Given the prevalence of childhood psychological abuse and the severity of harm to young victims, it should be at the forefront of mental health.”

In fact, in my view there are many forms of psychological abuse that parents subject their children to. Some are more visible than others. Among them are:

  • Indifference
  • Humiliation
  • Denigration
  • Neglect
  • Unrelenting pressure to serve parental expectation.

There are more. And all damage the child’s sense of him/herself, as well as the subsequent adult that emerges. Psychological abuse has a very long tail. Moreover, it also creates greater tendency towards physical illness, as well, in adulthood, according to this UCLA study.

The report from the APA find that “Children who are emotionally abused and neglected face similar and sometimes worse mental health problems as children who are physically or sexually abused, yet psychological abuse is rarely addressed in prevention programs or in treating victims.”

From the report: Continue reading

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Feeing Depressed? Take A Hike!

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October 7, 2014

It’s true: A new, large-scale study has found that taking a walk in nature diminishes depression and stress. This isn’t surprising. Our minds, emotions and spirit are interconnected with our physical environment. The restorative powers of connecting with the natural world have been well known for millennia, and now there is a bit of empirical research that demonstrates it.

The study, led by the University of Michigan and a team of British researchers, found that group nature walks were linked with significantly lower depression, less perceived stress and enhanced mental health and well-being. Although the research focused on the effects of group nature walks, it’s likely that walking by oneself has similar impact upon your mental health.

“We hear people say they feel better after a walk or going outside but there haven’t been many studies of this large size to support the conclusion that these behaviors actually improve your mental health and well-being,” says senior author Sara Warber in a summary of the research reported in Medical News Today and Science Daily. “Walking is an inexpensive, low risk and accessible form of exercise and it turns out that combined with nature and group settings, it may be a very powerful, under-utilized stress buster. Our findings suggest that something as simple as joining an outdoor walking group may not only improve someone’s daily positive emotions but may also contribute a non-pharmacological approach to serious conditions like depression.”

Moreover, the study found Continue reading

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Can Distancing Yourself From A Conflict Help A Relationship?

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September 30, 2014

By “leaving” a conflict you can gain the expanded perspective needed to solve it. That means stepping out of your limited ego, and some new research shows how that can help.

It’s easy to become rigidly fixed and sclerosed within a view of who you are (“This is just the way I am”) — unable to envision possibilities for expanding your personal capacities, your thinking or emotions — outside of that fixed view. Unfortunately, that disables you from enlarging your perspective, which can be essential for solving conflicts or problems that you feel stuck inside of, unable to change or alter. That’s especially true for solving relationship difficulties.

President Eisenhower once said that if you’re having difficulty understanding a problem and how to solve it, “enlarge” the problem. Certainly that applies to life beyond the battlefield. That is, “enlarging” how you envision the problem or situation you’re stuck within can free yourself from the limitations of the perspective that imprisons you to begin with.

How can you do that? Some new empirical research shows that, in effect, distancing yourself from a problem or conflict enhances your reasoning; it helps you find new solutions through a broadened perspective. And that provides greater wisdom to bring to bear on the conflict. Researchers from the University of Waterloo and the University of Michigan, as reported in Psychological Science, examined “the ability to recognize the limits of one’s own knowledge, search for a compromise, consider the perspectives of others, and recognize the possible ways in which the scenario could unfold. The research found that you may think about a conflict more wisely if you consider it as an outside observer would.” Continue reading

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A Sense Of Fairness: Part of Human Evolution

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September 23, 2014

Research has been honing in on establishing that a sense of fairness among humans evolved naturally. This new study reveals that an important element of fairness is a willingness to sacrifice personal gain in the service of long-term cooperation with others. This is something some of our politicians should heed and absorb.

In essence, the researchers found that giving up an outcome that benefits you in order to gain long-term benefits from the relationship requires not only an ability to think about the future, but also the self-control to turn down a reward. Only a few species are able to make the leap to this second step, which leads to a true sense of fairness — that is, a willingness to give up a benefit in order to reach equal outcomes and stabilize valuable, long-term cooperative relationships. It’s been found only in humans and their closest relatives, the apes.

This study, from Georgia State University and Emory University, and published in the journal Science, looked at how responses to inequality evolved, through studies of primates. “This sense of fairness is the basis of lots of things in human society, from wage discrimination to international politics,” according to Sarah Brosnan of Georgia State. “What we’re interested in is why humans aren’t happy with what we have, even if it’s good enough, if someone else has more. If you are cooperating with someone who takes more of the benefits accrued, they will do better than you, at your expense. Therefore, we began to explore whether responses to inequity were common in other cooperative species.”

The research was summarized in Science Daily: (Researchers) found that Continue reading

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How Positive Relationships Help You Grow And Thrive

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September 16, 2014

It’s always good to see research that reveals how and why positive human connection in necessary for emotional and physical health, wellbeing, and growth — especially during adverse circumstances. A new study, reported in Personality and Social Psychology Review does that.

The researchers, Brooke Feeney of Carnegie Mellon University and Nancy Collins of University of California at Santa Barbara, looked at the ways in which relationships can promote or hinder “thriving” in life. That is, not just with what helps people “cope with stress or adversity, but also in their efforts to learn, grow, explore, achieve goals, cultivate new talents, and find purpose and meaning in life,” said Feeney.

The researchers focused on five aspects of thriving: : happiness and life satisfaction; having purpose and meaning in life and progressing toward meaningful life goals; psychological well-being (positive self-regard, absence of mental health symptoms/disorders); social well-being (deep and meaningful human connections, faith in others and humanity, positive interpersonal expectancies); and physical well-being (healthy weight and activity levels, health status above expected baselines).

They found that positive relationships fuel thriving in two ways: One is enabling the person to embrace and pursue opportunities that enhance positive well-being, broaden and build resources and foster a sense of purpose and meaning in life. Here, the “support provider” serves as an active catalyst for thriving. This form of support emphasizes that the promotion of thriving through life opportunities is its core purpose.

The other function relates to situations of adversity. Here, positive support not only helps buffer individuals from negative effects of stress, but also by enabling them to flourish either because of or in spite of their circumstances. “Relationships serve an important function of not simply helping people return to baseline, but helping them to thrive by exceeding prior baseline levels of functioning,” Feeney said. “We…emphasize that the promotion of thriving through adversity is the core purpose of this support function.” Continue reading

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Less Stress Among Managers With Positive Employee Relationships

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September 10, 2014

Many studies in recent years show the connections between positive, collaborative relationships at work; a positive, supportive management culture; and higher levels of creative, productive work. I think the findings of this recent study from Norway of 3000 managers, conducted by researchers at BI Norwegian Business School, add to this knowledge, and are relevant both to managers and those being managed here in the U.S.

The study examined stress among mangers, and found, In essence, that managers who enjoy a good relationship with their employees suffer less dangerous stress at work. “The best thing a manager can do to prevent work stress is to develop good relationships with the employees at work,” concluded lead researcher Astrid M. Richardsen in a summary of the findings.

The research found that more than six out of ten Norwegian managers (61.8 per cent) indicate that they often or all the time experience time pressure or a heavy workload. Fewer than five per cent say they rarely or never have time pressure at work. Most relevant to U.S. organizations is the finding that managers experience significantly less stress when they feel they have a good relationship to their employees, and the employees show a positive conduct and confidence in their managers. That is, according to the research summary, when the employees are happy with what the manager does, understand his or her challenges and participate actively in solving the problems, the manager will have less stress. This will probably be because the manager trusts the employees more and delegates more tasks to them. Hence the work pressure will decrease, Richardsen believes.

Although differences exist between managers and workers in Norway and the U.S. culture regarding work-life stress and organizational pressures, one commonality is the Norwegian finding that managers who feel they have control of their work situation and great freedom to make decisions experience less work pressure and emotional strain. They also suffer considerably less role stress than managers who do not have such control. Most U.S. managers would resonate with that, as well as the finding that Continue reading

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Why Do We Enjoy Sad Music?

Screen shot 2014-09-03 at 4.14.17 PMSeptember 2, 2014

I’ve always been drawn to music in the minor key. This interesting study sheds some light on what happens, emotionally, when listening to “sad” music: It can actually stimulate positive emotions. I think this research should be considered along with other new studies showing what happens within the brain when we experience different kinds of music. But this study, by Japanese researchers and published in Frontiers in Psychology, may help explain why people enjoy listening to sad music, according to a summary in Science Daily.

Ai Kawakami and colleagues from Tokyo University of the Arts and the RIKEN Brain Science Institute, Japan explained that sad music evoked contradictory emotions because the participants of the study tended to feel sad music to be more tragic, less romantic, and less blithe than they felt themselves while listening to it. “In general, sad music induces sadness in listeners, and sadness is regarded as an unpleasant emotion. If sad music actually evokes only unpleasant emotion, we would not listen to it,” the researchers wrote.

“Music that is perceived as sad actually induces romantic emotion as well as sad emotion. And people, regardless of their musical training, experience this ambivalent emotion to listen to the sad music,” added the researchers. Also, unlike sadness in daily life, sadness experienced through art actually feels pleasant, possibly because the latter does not pose an actual threat to our safety. This could help people to deal with their negative emotions in daily life, concluded the authors.

“Emotion experienced by music has no direct danger or harm unlike the emotion experienced in everyday life. Therefore, we can even enjoy unpleasant emotion such as sadness. If we suffer from unpleasant emotion evoked through daily life, sad music might be helpful to alleviate negative emotion,” they added.

For the study, Kawakami and colleagues asked 44 volunteers, including both musicians and non-specialists, to listen to two pieces of sad music and one piece of happy music. Each participant was required to use a set of keywords to rate both their perception of the music and their own emotional state. The sad pieces of music included Glinka’s “La Séparation” in F minor and Blumenfeld’s Etude “Sur Mer” in G minor. The happy music piece was Granados’s Allegro de Concierto in G major. To control for the “happy” effect of major key, they also played the minor-key pieces in major key, and vice versa.

 

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Does Your Sex Life Improve By Fighting With Your Partner?

Screen shot 2014-08-26 at 12.02.38 PMAugust 26, 2014

“Of course, we fight!” John said, “All couples do; that’s normal!” He looked at me incredulously, as Mary quickly added with a tight smile, “But then we have ‘make-up sex. And that makes things better.” Nevertheless, they sought therapy over their concern about the long-term impact of this “normal” pattern.

Perhaps you share John and Mary’s experience views. Many do. But the sex lives and relationships of couples today often descend over time into diminishing sexual excitement and passion; and increasing boredom and routine. Call it “marital sex,” in contrast to what couples often experience at the beginning of their relationship. In “marital sex” you’re bringing into the bedroom all the other parts of your relationship – the logistics, disagreements over finances or even over trivial things, like where to place the furniture or where to vacation. Or parenting challenges, which become a large part of any couples’ relationship. And aside from your relationship and family issues, each of you have your own, individual concerns – about your career, perhaps your own aging parents, or sibling relationship issues (“I don’t want us giving money to your dysfunctional sister!”)

Couples often assume that fighting and conflict are inevitable – “normal,” even, to be tolerated and managed, at best. They may not recognize that their diminished sexual and romantic life is interwoven with how and why they conflict as they do in their relationship overall. Then, they may focus on ways to re-energize their sex life, as though it’s disconnected from the rest of their relationship; and as though that will compensate for their relationship conflicts.

There’s a huge marketplace for that: Volumes of books and articles; websites like Your Tango, all of which offer ever-“new” techniques purporting to bring back passion and better orgasms. Of course, if they worked, there wouldn’t be an endless stream of them. This disconnect between what people want and what they do is visible, for example, in a recent survey of women who go to Ashley Madison in search of an affair. It found that most were looking for more sexual excitement, but they also wanted to keep their relationship with their partners.

Why Fighting Is Destructive

Most couples who seek help for their relationship conflicts want to stay together but often assume that they need to accept a slow downhill slide; inevitable conflict and fighting. And that if they can just learn how to manage it better, things will be fine; as “good as it gets,” perhaps. But they’re wrong. Emotional and physical damage accrues from how couples relate to each other while dealing with conflict and disagreement. And that has direct bearing on their emotional sexual intimacy.

Think of fighting as different from Continue reading

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Do Couples Who Share Housework Have Less Sex?

Screen shot 2014-08-19 at 11.13.29 AMAugust 19, 2014

Well, now, this is interesting: A previous study found that couples who divide housework along traditional gender lines have more sex than those in which the man does traditional “female” work. But a different picture emerges from a new study that took a closer look at the evolution of marriage relationships. It found that division of labor in the home does not lead to a decrease of sexual frequency or satisfaction. In fact, the researchers found that the early study failed to accurately depict the current state of American relationships.

The previous study examined data from the late ’80s and early ’90s, but the new research used data from a 2006 Marital and Relationship Survey. It was conducted by Georgia State researchers Daniel Carlson, Amanda Miller, Sarah Hanson and Sharon Sassler. They revisited the idea of housework and couples’ intimacy in their new study, “The Gender Division of Housework and Couples’ Sexual Relationships: A Re-Examination.” Their results show an equal division of labor in the home does not lead to a decrease in sexual frequency and satisfaction. Egalitarian couples have similar and sometimes better sex lives than their conventional counterparts.

Although women still do most of the housework in most households, the research suggests that this is steadily evolving. Carlson believes this new research proves Americans have grown to favor flexibility not only professionally, but personally. “Attitudes are a big difference,” he said. “Couples today have role models to look at to make this work. In the ’80s, egalitarian couples were at the forefront of change. Today’s couples have those examples to look to. It makes it a lot easier, resulting in higher quality relationships. I think we’ve moved to a place where a very stark division of labor is not something people want nor is it something couples want. It is clear what the vast majority of people want,” he said. “It’s just that right now our social institutions are lagging behind our cultural values. Eventually, as people continue to argue and fight for policies that promote gender equality at home and at work, people will be able to achieve their desires.”

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So Much Work, And No Time for Vacation? Here’s Why!

Screen shot 2014-02-25 at 10.34.49 AMAugust 12, 2014

Do you work increasingly long hours, maybe even pride yourself on taking little, if any, vacation time? If so, you’re in pretty good company. Some recent surveys confirm – again — that U.S. workers tend to take relatively little vacation time, and they work increasingly longer hours. With more heightened awareness of the damaging effects of work-life “imbalance,” physically and emotionally, one wonders, what maintains this unhealthy way of life for so many?

It’s easy to cite the fact that U.S. companies provide very little paid vacation time as a matter of policy compared with other industrialized nations. We’re the only advanced economy in the world that doesn’t guarantee its workers paid vacation days and paid holidays, says John Schmitt, co-author of a report by the Center for Economic and Policy Research. And the Bureau of Labor Statistics finds that, even after 10 years of employment, about 65 percent of workers have less than 2.5 weeks of paid vacation.

But the lack of vacation time provided by employers is both a cause and effect: It reflects something about our social values to begin with. For example, how we define success and personal worth can include taking little time away from work. And that, in turn, is reinforced by company policies. But beneath the surface, psychologically, is often a sense of being trapped in a way of life that one can’t break free from. Or, as one person told me, “I don’t like who I’ve become.”

According to one survey, the median vacation time is 12 days. And 40 percent take a week or less. Yet, the impact of overwork is well-known: Higher levels of stress, which can create both physical illness and emotional conflicts. It fuels marital and family conflicts. In fact, a Gallup survey found that nearly 70 percent who take no vacations at all report that they struggle to balance work and life. And, while another survey found that about 50 percent claim to be satisfied with their work-life balance, 81 percent also said that work-life balance would be a critical factor in deciding whether to accept a new position. Ironically, overwork and little time off leads to less productivity and less effective decision-making, as well as diminished focus and clarity. That’s become worse in today’s world, as recent research shows the cost of being online and available 24/7, thanks to digital technology.

As the saying goes, no one on their deathbed says they wished they had spent more time at the office. So, what propels people to diminish time away from work — even short breaks to recharge and reboot their energy and life balance? We need to look at some of the social and psychological motives that give rise to this paradoxical picture. Here are some that Continue reading

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At Midlife, Arguing Can Kill You!

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August 5, 2014

This is worth heeding, if you’re in midlife: Frequent arguing with partners, children, other relatives or neighbors may significantly increase the risk of middle-aged death from all causes, according to a new study. Reported in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Healththe study is described in Medical News Today

All of us have engaged in arguments with others in the past, whether it is with partners, relatives, friends or neighbors. Although these experiences are stressful, we do not necessarily think about the health risks they pose. But a new study suggests that frequent arguing may dramatically increase the risk of middle-aged death.

According to the research team, led by Dr. Rikke Lund of the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, past research has indicated that good social relationships with others have positive effects on general health and well-being. But they say there are limited studies looking at how negative relationships impact health. With this in mind, the investigators set out to determine whether there was a link between stressful social relations with partners, children, other family members, friends and neighbors, and all-cause mortality. Continue reading

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Why Compassion Gives You a Competitive Advantage In Business

Screen shot 2014-07-29 at 9.04.47 PMJuly 29, 2014

Accumulating research and observational evidence show that the capacity for compassion and empathy are innate, and can be strengthened through conscious effort and focus. That these capacities enhance positive, effective relationships as well as greater internal wellbeing. It’s also becoming evident that these emotional attitudes and corresponding behavior are linked with greater business success, especially in the form of increased competitive advantage.

It’s good to see examples cited by successful business leaders, such as billionaire founder/CEO of Virgin Group, Richard Branson: “In business, as in nature, companies that want to survive aren’t mindlessly pursuing profits at the expense of people and the planet; they are smart enough to know that caring and cooperation are key.”

Branson was writing in Entrepreneur, in response to a question by a business owner about the reluctance of business leaders to consider anything but profit. According to Branson, “Business used to be a cutthroat world where the only thing that mattered was profit — but that’s changing quickly. It has become easier for people to learn which companies pursue profits at all costs and which behave ethically, and to make purchases based on those decisions.”

He emphasizes, “Don’t spend time worrying about organizations that don’t welcome or accept change — they’re not going to be around for long. Just keep looking for people who are willing to listen to your message and who genuinely care about something greater than themselves — those are the investors and partners you’ll be working with in the years ahead.”

And, “…recent research demonstrates the strategy’s benefits. Continue reading

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Does Short-Term Meditation Work? Here’s What New Research Found

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This updated and expanded version of my July 15 article originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

I regularly encourage the people I work with to practice meditation. It builds a kind of inner “shock absorber” that helps you maintain calm and focus in the midst of daily stress and the multiple demands of living in today’s world. While that’s not the true purpose of meditation (another subject altogether), it’s certainly a by-product benefit. The problem for many people is that they say it takes too much time to devote to regular meditative practice.

Well, some new research looked the results of short-term meditation for your thought processes — your judgment in making decisions — and also your level of resilience in the face of negative emotional states. Here’s what they discovered:

Research conducted at INSEAD and The Wharton School, and published in Psychological Science, found that even short-term mindfulness meditative practice of about 15 minutes can help you make wiser choices when making decisions. In mindfulness meditation, you build awareness of the present moment and try to let go of other thoughts that intrude and distract.

The researchers found that meditation can help counteract the tendency to people to “have trouble admitting they were wrong when their initial decisions lead to undesirable outcomes,” according to the lead author Andrew Hafenbrack, from INSEAD. “They don’t want to feel wasteful or that their initial investment was a loss. Ironically, this kind of thinking often causes people to waste or lose more resources in an attempt to regain their initial investment or try to ‘break even.'” The researchers referred to this tendency as the sunk-cost bias — commonly known as “throwing good money after bad.”

Co-author Zoe Kinias added: “We found that a brief period of mindfulness meditation Continue reading

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30 Minutes of Meditation Reduces Anxiety And Depression

Screen shot 2014-07-15 at 10.01.07 AMJuly 15, 2014

I regularly encourage the practice of meditation to people I work with. It builds a kind of inner “shock absorber” that helps you maintain calm and focus in the midst of daily stress and the multiple demands of living in today’s world. While not the true purpose of meditation (that’s another subject), more effective management of stress and distressing emotional states is a byproduct that benefits many people – and with minimal investment of time.

Some new studies find that even 30 minutes of daily meditation has a noticeable impact upon symptoms of anxiety and depression — at least equal to antidepressant medications; without the side effects of the latter. Such studies add to the growing research on the multiple effects of meditation upon our mind-body system.

One recent study is the first to show that brief mindfulness meditation practice — 25 minutes for three consecutive days — alleviates psychological stress. Researchers investigated how mindfulness meditation affects people’s ability to be resilient under stress. Published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, this study was in contrast to most research that has focused on lengthy, weeks-long training programs.

In the study, conducted by J. David Creswell and his research team at Carnegie Mellon University, participants went through a brief mindfulness meditation training program; for 25 minutes for three consecutive days. Mindfulness meditation is a practice that focuses on nonjudgmental attention to the moment at hand. It emphasizes acceptance of feelings and thoughts without judgment and relaxation of body and mind. In subsequent testing, participants were found to experience reduced stress, indicating that the mindfulness meditation fostered increases resilience.

In another study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers focused on 47 clinical trials performed among 3,515 participants underwent what was typically an eight-week training program in mindfulness meditation. Researchers found evidence of improvement in symptoms of anxiety, depression and pain after just 30 or so minutes per day of meditation. The findings held even as the researchers controlled for the possibility of the placebo effect.

“in our study, meditation appeared to provide as much relief from some anxiety and depression symptoms as what other studies have found from antidepressants,” says Madhav Goyal of Johns Hopkins University, and a lead researcher in the study. He adds, “A lot of people have this idea that meditation means sitting down and doing nothing. But that’s not true. Meditation is an active training of the mind to increase awareness, and different meditation programs approach this in different ways.”

 

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Having Trouble Resolving A Conflict? Detach Yourself From It, Says New Research

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July 8, 2014

We can become rigidly fixed and sclerosed within a view of who we are (“This is just the way I am”) — unable to envision possibilities for our personal capacities, thinking, and emotions outside of that fixed view. That also disables us from an enlarged perspective, which is necessary to solve conflicts or problems that we feel stuck inside of; unable to change or alter. President Eisenhower reportedly said that if you’re having difficulty understanding a problem and how to solve it, “enlarge” the problem. And that applies to life beyond the battlefield — “enlarging” how you envision the problem or situation you’re stuck within can free yourself from the limitations of the perspective that imprisons you to begin with.

Some new empirical research demonstrates this. It shows that, in effect, distancing yourself from a problem or conflict enhances your reasoning, and helps you find new solutions through a broadened perspective. That provides greater wisdom to bring to bear on the conflict. Researchers from the University of Waterloo and the University of Michigan, reported in Psychological Science, examined the ability to recognize the limits of one’s own knowledge, search for a compromise, consider the perspectives of others, and recognize the possible ways in which the scenario could unfold. The research found that you may think about a conflict more wisely if you consider it as an outside observer would.

“These results are the first to demonstrate a new type of bias within ourselves Continue reading

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“Don’t Disrupt My Negative Mood!”

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July 1, 2014

Our view of ourselves — and the world — creates our reality. When that’s negative and anticipates failure, one tends to draw to oneself “evidence” that confirms and reinforces it. That is, when people become fixed within their negative view of themselves, they recreate and reaffirm it to themselves, as they go along in life. And they resist — even oppose — any efforts to help them examine the roots of their view of themselves, and work towards, in effect, changing their inner world. Here’s a new study that gives some empirical underpinning to this. Published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the study was conducted by researchers at the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University.

They found that people with low self esteem will often maintain their negative view of themselves and the world, and will oppose efforts to help them reframe how they think and feel. They will interpret critical feedback, romantic rejections, or unsuccessful job applications as evidence of their general unworthiness, according to the researchers. “People with low self-esteem want their loved ones to see them as they see themselves. As such, they are often resistant to their friends’ reminders of how positively they see them and reject what we call positive reframing-expressions of optimism and encouragement for bettering their situation,” said Professor Denise Marigold, the lead author of the study.

Science Daily‘s summary of the findings added: 

These individuals usually prefer negative validation, which conveys that the feelings, actions or responses of the recipient are normal, reasonable, and appropriate to the situation. So a friend could express understanding about the predicament or for the difficulty of a situation, and suggest that expressing negative emotions is appropriate and understandable.

The researchers found no evidence that positive reframing helps participants with low self-esteem. And in fact, the people providing support to friends with low self-esteem often felt worse about themselves when they attempted to cheer up their friend.

Some study participants indicated that supporting friends with low self-esteem could be frustrating and tiring. The researchers found that when these support providers used positive reframing instead of negative validation in these situations, they often believed the interaction went poorly, perhaps because the friends with low self-esteem were not receptive and the efforts didn’t work.

“If your attempt to point out the silver lining is met with a sullen reminder of the prevailing dark cloud, you might do best to just acknowledge the dark cloud and sympathize,” said Professor Marigold.

 

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Can Business Leaders Activate These Dormant Capacities?

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In a business environment where surveys find 70% of employees saying they hate their work; and in which the demographics of leaders and employees are rapidly changing, it’s no surprise to hear — as a senior executive asked me, recently — “How can I prepare for what I can’t prepare for?”

Some recent research points the way. Several studies find that most people can arouse and apply seemingly contradictory capacities for different leadership purposes, as needed. They are latent or dormant capacities, dimensions of oneself that are both emotional and cognitive. They include the more linear, data-based, and structured; and those that are more improvised, non-linear and creative.

Research shows that activating them builds an important, broader mentality, not just a fixed set of actions. The challenge for leaders is learning how to activate and utilize these dormant capacities needed in today’s fluid, unpredictable environment.

Some examples:

The Capacity To Shift Focus At will, As Needed For The Task
Research finds that we can learn to activate and apply both linear and nonlinear capacities, as needed. One study examined this in terms of leadership orientation. Researchers at Case Western University examined a common assumption that one is fixed within either a “task” or “team-building” orientation: an analytic, linear focus on people completing tasks; or an empathic orientation, supportive of workers development and open to their ideas.

Based on brain research they published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, the research team found that those capacities actually co-exist. According to lead researcher Anthony Jack, “Every normal brain contains both modes, with the flexibility to go to the right mode at the right time.” The researchers indicated that this fluidity enables a leader to shift between a more operational, linear focus, and a nonlinear focus, supporting innovative ideas and actions that enhance team collaboration and performance.

The challenge, then, is to learn how to develop and strengthen both capacities. Moreover, Continue reading

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Your Emotional Attitudes Affect Your Entire Being

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In a previous post I described new research showing that a sense of purpose in life is linked with greater longevity. That’s just one of an increasing number of studies that add to the recognition that we are biological-psychological-spiritual-social beings. All dimensions – internal and external – interact with each other and shape our total experience of life: our overall health, level of wellbeing, growth of our capacities – or stagnation and illness.

Here are some other new findings that add to this picture. All have implications for our emotional attitudes, our mental perspectives our physical health and our behavior through life.

Materialistic People Have A Higher Likelihood Of Depression

This research, conducted at Baylor University, found that the more materialistic your attitudes and behavior are, the more likely you are to be depressed and unsatisfied with life. Published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, the research suggests, according to the researchers, that materialistic people find it more difficult to be grateful for what they have, which causes them to become miserable. Gratitude appears to be the key.

That is, a news release from Baylor reports that the research found those who rated low on gratitude were more likely to be materialistic and less satisfied with life. “Materialism tends to be “me-centered. A material outlook focuses on what one does not have, impairing the ability to be grateful for what one already has,”researchers said.

The new research, they reported, is similar to previous findings that materialists, despite the fact they are more likely to achieve material goals, are less satisfied overall with their lives. They are more likely to be unhappy and have lower self-esteem. They also are more likely to be less satisfied with relationships and less involved in community events. Meanwhile, those who are grateful are likely to find more meaning in life, previous research shows.

Frequent Arguing Increases Risk of Mid-Life Death

This research indicates Continue reading

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Why Having A Vision Is Important — In Business And Life

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Writing in Entrepreneur, Virgin founder/CEO Richard Branson cites the importance for a company to develop a vision. I find Branson’s views relevant not only to business, but to life itself.

In response to a reader’s question, he writes, “You do need to develop an overall vision for your company — one that is strongly supported by a more targeted strategy at each business that falls under your umbrella. The two things are not mutually exclusive, but complementary: One should not override the other.” And, “…we have started up more than 400 companies…and as the success of our group has proved, your vision for your company should not be so restrictive that it limits your team’s imagination.”

This applies to one’s personal development, as well, in my view. That is, we need an overarching vision of what we’re living for; a sense of meaning and purpose to our lives that provides overall integration and direction. And that requires flexibility and adaptability as we “evolve” along the way. Branson reflects this same perspective with respect to business, writing that “Starting up a business is always an adventure, and not everything comes together for every entrepreneur in the same way. As you face the challenges of keeping your business going, you may find that your vision for the company needs to be adjusted as you go.”

That’s a valuable perspective for your life development, as well — in your relationships, your career, your life goals. Branson adds, “Looking back, our goals certainly changed and expanded over time, but there was a key element that was common to all of those enterprises: They were created to enhance people’s lives.” I think that latter point is relevant to your personal and societal development as well, because in out interdependent world personal success is interwoven with support of and enhancement of others’ lives — the larger common good. It’s clear that this reality is stirring major turmoil in business, public policy and personal lives, today.

For Branson’s full article, click here.

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Cynical? You’re Increasing Your Risk Of Dementia

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Science continues to demonstrate the active interconnections between all “parts” of ourselves and the physical/social environment that we experience and deal with throughout life. This is more than “brain-behavior” or “mind-body” connection: we are biological-psychological-spiritual-social beings. All dimensions of ourselves are constantly at play. A recent study reveals a new connection between a personality dimension — cynicism — and the likelihood of dementia. The research, published in the journal Neurology, found that people with high levels of “cynical distrust” were three times more likely to develop dementia than people with low levels of cynicism.

I think such research shows the system-wide impact of the emotional attitudes and perspectives about life that we consciously create and shape — or let take root from unexamined, unresolved life conflicts — upon our entire being.

The researchers, led by Anna-Maija Tolppanen at the University of Eastern Finland,  defined cynical distrust as the belief that others are mainly motivated by selfish concerns. They assessed level of cynicism by asking people how much they agreed with statements such as “I think most people would lie to get ahead,” “It is safer to trust nobody” and “Most people will use somewhat unfair reasons to gain profit or an advantage rather than lose it.” The researchers adjusted for other factors that could affect dementia risk, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking. Moreover, the link between cynicism and dementia was not accounted for by depression; they appear to be independent factors. Continue reading

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Materialism and Depression Are Linked

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Research conducted at Baylor University finds that the more materialistic you are, the more likely you are to be depressed and unsatisfied with life. It’s good to see another example of empirical research that confirms observational evidence. Published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, the research suggests, according to the researchers, that materialistic people find it more difficult to be grateful for what they have, which causes them to become miserable.

The research was summarized in a news release from Baylor:

Gratitude is a positive mood. It’s about other people,” said study lead author Jo-Ann Tsang, Ph.D. “Previous research that we and others have done finds that people are motivated to help people that help them — and to help others as well. We’re social creatures, and so focusing on others in a positive way is good for our health.”

The research found that those who rated low on gratitude were more likely to be materialistic and less satisfied with life. Materialism tends to be “me-centered.” A material outlook focuses on what one does not have, impairing the ability to be grateful for what one already has, researchers said.

“Our ability to adapt to new situations may help explain why ‘more stuff’ doesn’t make us any happier,” said study co-author, James Roberts. “As we amass more and more possessions, we don’t get any happier, we simply raise our reference point. That new 2,500-square-foot house becomes the baseline for your desires for an even bigger house. It’s called the Treadmill of Consumption. We continue to purchase more and more stuff but we don’t get any closer to happiness, we simply speed up the treadmill.” Continue reading

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Having a Life Purpose Increases Your Longevity

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In the “all things are connected” department, a large-scale longitudinal study has found that people who having a sense of purpose live longer. The research, published in the journal Psychological Science, found that those who had died over the course of the study had reported lower purpose in life and fewer positive relations than did survivors.

Summarized in a report from the Association for Psychological Science, the study also found that having a life purpose consistently predicted lower mortality risk across the lifespan, whether for younger, middle-aged, or older participants.

According to the lead researcher, Patrick Hill, the findings indicate that creating “…a direction for life, and setting overarching goals for what you want to achieve can help you actually live longer, regardless of when you find your purpose.” The study examined data from over 6000 people, including their self-reported level of purpose in life, across a 14-year follow-up period.

The study also found that a sense of purpose had similar benefits regardless of retirement status, a known mortality risk factor. And, that the longevity benefits of life purpose held up even after other indicators of well-being, such as positive relations and positive emotions, were taken into account. “These findings suggest that there’s something unique about finding a purpose that seems to be leading to greater longevity,” says Hill.

Can Your Create a Sense of Purpose?

I think he’s right, but it’s more likely that they are interwoven factors: A sense of purpose is likely inseparable from a positive spirit about living, which infuses both physical and emotional wellbeing over the long-run.

So how can you create a sense of purpose within today’s turbulent, often confusing world? Most people acknowledge there are “parts” of themselves – desires, imaginative capacities — that remain stifled or dormant. Family experiences and conditioning into your beliefs and values often result in a limited, constricted definition of who you are. For example, Continue reading

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Humble Leaders Support Greater Employee Innovation and Engagement

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Google’s SVP of People Operations, Lazlo Bock, says humility is one of the traits he’s looking for in new hires. A new study by Catalyst supports this, finding it a critical leadership factor. Jeanine Prime and Elizabeth Salib’s Harvard Business Review Blog describes these new findings, which indicate that altruism makes employees more innovative and engaged – especially when working with employees from diverse backgrounds, which is increasingly common. The authors write:

In a global marketplace where problems are increasingly complex, no one person will ever have all the answers. That’s why Google’s SVP of People Operations, Lazlo Bock, says…“Your end goal is what can we do together to problem-solve. I’ve contributed my piece, and then I step back.” And it is not just humility in creating space for others to contribute, says Bock—it’s “intellectual humility. Without humility, you are unable to learn.”

recent Catalyst study backs this up, showing that humility is one of four critical leadership factors for creating an environment where employees from different demographic backgrounds feel included. In a survey of more than 1500 workers from Australia, China, Germany, India, Mexico, and the U.S., we found that when employees observed altruistic or selfless behavior in their managers — a style characterized by 1) acts of humility, such as learning from criticism and admitting mistakes); 2) empowering followers to learn and develop; 3) acts of courage, such as taking personal risks for the greater good; and 4) holding employees responsible for results — they were more likely to report feeling included in their work teams. This was true for both women and men.

Employees who perceived altruistic behavior from their managers also reported being more innovative, suggesting new product ideas and ways of doing work better. Moreover, they were more likely to report engaging in team citizenship behavior, going beyond the call of duty, picking up the slack for an absent colleague — all indirect effects of feeling more included in their workgroups.

For the full article, click here.

 

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In a Depressing Marriage? Here’s Why

 

Screen shot 2013-05-22 at 12.30.57 PMThis is an updated and extended version of my previous post on Progressive Impact. This current version was for The Huffington Post.
May 10, 2014

This is a no-brainer, but it’s always good to see research that confirms what seems obvious — or resonates with your personal experience. This study found that stress within your marriage can make you more vulnerable to depression.

That is, people who experience chronic stress within their marriages have diminished enjoyment of positive experiences, as well as a higher incidence of depressive symptoms. I think these findings are important for two reasons: First, they add to the accumulating research showing the interconnections of all “parts” of ourselves, and how our mind/body system is affected by our “outer” life experiences and situations.

The second reason is that the findings point to a crucial question: What happens in so many marriages today that depression, unhappiness and stress often arise? This is not only important to unravel, but increasingly timely: Another recent study finds that midlife depression is linked with higher incidence of dementia.

Based on the first study, researchers are looking at what might help people become more resilient to stress and strengthen their ability to enjoy positive experiences. These are good steps, but I think it’s important to uncover the sources of stress and depression in marriages today to begin with. And, how partners could learn to relate to each other in ways that increase positive connection and vitality over the long-term. Doing so in today’s stressful world is especially challenging. Continue reading

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Depressed and Married? Here’s Why

 

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This is a no-brainer, but it’s always good to see research that confirms what seems obvious — or your personal experience.

This study found that stress within your marriage can make you more vulnerable to depression. It found that people who experience chronic stress within their marriages have diminished enjoyment of positive experiences, as well as higher incidence of depressive symptoms.

The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Wisconsin and published in the journal Psychophysiology. In a summary by the University of Wisconsin News, Richard Davidson, founder of the Center for Investigating Healthy Minds at the UW’s Waisman Center states that “This is not an obvious consequence, if you will, of marital stress, but it’s one I think is extraordinarily important because of the cascade of changes that may be associated. This is the signature of an emotional style that reveals vulnerability to depression.” He adds that the findings are important because “…they could help researchers understand what makes some people more vulnerable to mental and emotional health challenges.”

By understanding the mechanisms that make individuals more prone to depression and other emotional disturbances, Davidson is hoping to find tools — such as meditation — to stop it from happening in the first place. “How we can use simple interventions to actually change this response?” he asks. “What can we do to learn to cultivate a more resilient emotional style?”

As reported by the UW’s News, the researchers thought chronic marital stress could Continue reading

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Walking Increases Creative Thinking

Screen shot 2014-04-29 at 1.48.01 PMAnother bit of research adds to the continuing empirical evidence for the interconnections of mind/body/spirit/behavior. This study found that the act of walking increases one’s creative thinking. In this study, Stanford University researchers examined creativity levels when people walked versus sitting. They found that one’s creative output increased by 60% when they walked. The research was published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology, and described by May Wong in a Stanford University release. She writes:

Steve Jobs, the late co-founder of Apple, was known for his walking meetings. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has also been seen holding meetings on foot. And perhaps you’ve paced back and forth on occasion to drum up ideas. A new study by Stanford researchers provides an explanation for this. Creative thinking improves while a person is walking and shortly thereafter, according to a study co-authored by Marily Oppezzo, a Stanford doctoral graduate in educational psychology, andDaniel Schwartz, a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Education.

The study found Continue reading

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New Poll Reveals The Continuing Toll of Workplace Stress

Screen shot 2013-04-06 at 10.51.03 AMA version of this article also appeared in The Huffington Post.

It’s déjà vu time once again: A new poll of nearly 7000 people by the job-search site Monster found high levels of unrelenting stress among workers, which mirror findings form other, periodic surveys. There are many reasons for work-related stress, but I’m struck by the continued lack of focus on the management and workplace culture of too many organizations marked by a debilitating, emotionally damaging environment.

One finding is especially striking, in this respect: Asked “What does your office do to help alleviate stress in the workplace?” 66%, answered “nothing.”

The new poll was summarized by Kathryn Dill in Forbes. She quotes Monster’s Mary Ellen Slayter, who says that “People feel stressed out because there’s that continuing pressure to do more with less. Workers feel pressure to get more accomplished. People know they’re not happy, but they’re not clear on whether or not it would be better somewhere else.” However, nearly 50% report having changed jobs to escape the stress. In her Forbes article, Dill cites a separate survey of more than 900 workers that found an employee’s relationship with their boss as the most common cause of workplace stress, followed closely by workload, work-life balance, and relationships with coworkers. She adds:

Nearly half of employees surveyed report having missed time at work due to work-related stress, and an even greater number, 61%, say that workplace stress has caused them actual physical illness, with insomnia, depression, and family issues cited as results. Seven percent of employees report having been hospitalized as the result of work-related stress.

In another summary of the poll, Constantine von Hoffman writes in CBS Money Watch that

It’s not only workers who are affected. Nearly 85 percent said it had an impact on their personal lives, with 21 percent saying it had caused problems in their family or in other relationships. More than a third said they dealt with it by eating, according to the study, while a quarter resorted to drinking after work. By contrast, many workers also sought to defuse tension through exercise or by stepping away from work and taking a day off.

Nevertheless, there’s the fact that when asked “What does your office do to help alleviate stress in the workplace? 13% noted additional time off and 11% cited the opportunity to work from home. But — the majority, 66% — answered “nothing.”

In her Forbes article, Dill cites Slayter’s observation that people who find themselves regularly overwhelmed to a level that’s unbearable might want to contemplate a job–or career–switch, to something that makes better use of their talents or involves fewer tasks that cause distress. “Make sure that overall your career is a good fit,” says Slater. “If you find yourself thinking that every day is stressful, if everyday is unpleasant, if it feels like that chronically, its time to sit down and ask yourself, ‘Is this the right fit?

I think that’s good advice, per se. But easier said than done. Moreover, the sources of work-related stress are pervasive, across many companies. Failure to build more positive management cultures in our organizations will lead to yet more surveys that will cite similar findings.

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We Need To Wake Up To ‘The Next America’

Screen shot 2014-04-17 at 2.22.27 PMThe new report from the Pew Research Center describes significant shifts and ongoing evolution in American culture. This emerging face of “the next America” will have profound impact upon our lives, work and politics. I plan to write a longer piece about the implications of the Pew report as they relate to new challenges for personal relationships, careers and public policy. But among the basic findings are that America is becoming less white, more diverse and older.

The Washington Post‘s Chris Cillizza has summarized the key findings and their implications, writing, ” The America of today bears little resemblance to the country of 50 years ago. It is older. It is less white. And those two demographic trends will only accelerate over the next 50 years.” Cillizza quotes Paul Taylor of the Pew Research Center: “Each of these shifts would by itself be the defining demographic story of its era,” writes “The fact that both are unfolding simultaneously has generated big generation gaps that will put stress on our politics, families, pocketbooks, entitlement programs and social cohesion.”

For Cillizza’s full article, click here.

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The Passing of Peter Matthiessen

Screen shot 2014-04-08 at 12.41.47 PMSo sad…the unexpected passing of Peter Matthiessen at 86. A great literary figure, non-fiction & fiction; Zen teacher, environmentalist, human rights advocate…

My personal contact with him was minor, really, and scattered over the years. But he’s always been a model for me – disciplined and focused; a gifted writer, keenly aware of the nuances of human character. Always generous with his time, I found him humble and wise; open and authentic…

The New York Times obituary appeared, ironically, on the same day a scheduled retrospective of his career and life was published in the Times Sunday Magazine. From the obit:

Peter Matthiessen, a roving author and naturalist whose impassioned nonfiction explored the remote endangered wilds of the world and whose prizewinning fiction often placed his mysterious protagonists in the heart of them, died on Saturday at his home in Sagaponack, N.Y. He was 86.

His son Alex said the cause was leukemia, which was diagnosed more than a year ago. Mr. Matthiessen’s final novel, “In Paradise,” is to be published on Tuesday by Riverhead Books. Mr. Matthiessen was one of the last survivors of a generation of American writers who came of age after World War II and who all seemed to know one another, socializing in New York and on Long Island’s East End as a kind of movable literary salon peopled by the likes of William Styron, James Jones, Kurt Vonnegut and E. L. Doctorow.

In the early 1950s, he shared a sojourn in Paris with fellow literary expatriates and helped found The Paris Review, a magazine devoted largely to new fiction and poetry. His childhood friend George Plimpton became its editor.

A rugged, weather-beaten figure who was reared and educated in privilege — an advantage that left him uneasy, he said — Mr. Matthiessen was a man of many parts: littérateur, journalist, environmentalist, explorer, Zen Buddhist, professional fisherman and, in the early 1950s, undercover agent for the Central Intelligence Agency in Paris. Only years later did Mr. Plimpton discover, to his anger and dismay, that Mr. Matthiessen had helped found The Review as a cover for his spying on Americans in France.

For the rest of the obit, click here. For the Sunday Times Magazine article, “Peter Matthiessen’s Homegoing,” click here.

 

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Meditation Changes The Expression of Your Genes

Screen shot 2014-04-01 at 10.54.46 AMEvidence continues to mount that how one’s genetic tendencies or vulnerabilities, are actually expressed — or not — is highly shaped by our life experiences, both those that we choose and those that are handed to us. A new study demonstrates how the practice of meditation affects the expression of genes that are involved in one’s stress response and inflammation, which underlie a wide range of health conditions, physically and mentally. It found evidence that meditation results in beneficial changes at the molecular level.

The research was reported in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology and conducted with meditators who engaged in an intensive 8-hour session of mindfulness meditation. They were compared with a group of 21 others who engaged in quiet non-meditative activities for the same period of time. Both groups gave blood samples before and after their activities. When researchers analyzed the samples at the molecular level, they found that the expression of genes which are involved in inflammation, and generally in the body’s stress-response, were down-regulated.

Moreover, tests of cortisol levels in participants’ saliva revealed that the expert meditators were able to recover quicker after an induced stressful event than the control group. In a summary of the research Richard Davidson, one of the authors of the study, said, “To the best of our knowledge, this is the first paper that shows rapid alterations in gene expression within subjects associated with mindfulness meditation practice. Our genes are quite dynamic in their expression and these results suggest that the calmness of our mind can actually have a potential influence on their expression.”

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The Rapid Transformation Of Business Leaders Is Underway

Screen shot 2014-03-29 at 5.48.05 PMA version of my article previously appeared in The Huffington Post
Some recent studies reveal a dramatically changing face of business leaders already underway; and, what the leadership needs of the future will look like. I see these and other related observations coinciding with a broader shift in our society, and perhaps worldwide. It’s towards heightened interconnection and interdependence, desire for diversity, collaboration as part of the DNA, and a major shift in attitudes about hierarchy and success.

One study of Fortune 100 executives, featured in the Harvard Business Review, found that the majority of senior executives today went to state universities, not the more elite schools. A Washington Post report of the study pointed out that “In 1980, just 32 percent of leaders went to a public university. By 2001 that had grown to 48 percent, and in 2011 the number reached a majority, with 55 percent of corporate leaders going to state colleges.”

Moreover, nearly 11 percent are foreign born. And while women still deal with the glass ceiling, they have a more rapid rise to the top ranks, today. Nevertheless, it’s significant to note that nearly 87 percent of corporate board seats are held by white workers. According to research by DiversityInc and the think tank Catalyst, six African Americans are Fortune 500 CEOs, and 7.4 percent hold corporate board seats; eight Hispanics are Fortune 500 CEOs, and 3.3 percent hold corporate board seats.

Even so, it’s clear that a shift is underway along many fronts. For example, Continue reading

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Emerging Leadership Needs Of The Future

Screen shot 2014-03-27 at 9.35.56 AMA fascinating study by the Hay Group and German futurists at Z-Punkt identifies six trends that their research indicates will shape leadership needs in the years ahead.

I think their findings about leadership needs are very consistent with an ongoing, significant evolution in all sectors of society and in individual lives today, towards heightened collaboration, connection, emotional attunement to others, interdependency and diversity.

The report, Leadership 2030, speaks of the rise of the “altorocentric” leader: In a Washington Post interview by Jena McGregor, Georg Vielmetter of the Hay Group, explains that “Altrocentric” means “…focusing on others. Such a leader doesn’t put himself at the very center. He knows he needs to listen to other people. He knows he needs to be intellectually curious and emotionally open. He knows that he needs empathy to do the job, not just in order to be a good person.” And, “…leaders in the future need to have a full understanding, and also an emotional understanding, of diversity.”

Vielmetter points out that “…positional power and hierarchical power will become smaller. Power will shift to stakeholders, reducing the authority of the people who are supposed to lead the organization.” Perhaps most significantly, “The time of the alpha male — of the dominant, typically male leader who knows everything, who gives direction to everybody and sets the pace, whom everybody follows because this person is so smart and intelligent and clever — this time is over. We need a new kind of leader who focuses much more on relationships and understands that leadership is not about himself.”

Regarding the younger generation, he adds that, “With the Baby Boomer generation, you understood you climb up the ladder and you’re the boss at the end. The new generation has less and less interest to do this….for them it’s just not so important to become the boss. That causes a big problem for organizations. They offer people big jobs, and they don’t want them. They value their private life more.”

For McGregor’s full interview with Vielmetter, click here.

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How To “Grow” Your Mental Health

Screen shot 2014-03-21 at 7.50.11 PMDespite our advances in understanding and treating emotional problems and the more serious mental disorders, we don’t know much about what mental health is, in contrast. I’ve been thinking about this issue for the last several years, and it was brought to mind again recently by the comments of two psychotherapy patients. As I reflected on them, in relation to some recent research findings from outside the mental health field, it struck me that we can identify some features of a psychologically healthy life in today’s tumultuous, stressed-out, digitalized world.

In fact, there’s a great deal of information that you can use and apply in your daily life to increase your mental health. But you’re more likely to find it from outside the mental health profession than within it.

To explain, consider this 40-year-old woman. Her career and family life feel to her like running on a permanent treadmill. She’s been depressed for years, and her long-standing use of anti-depressant drugs don’t make much of a dent. Moreover, they create many side effects. Nonetheless, she won’t consider how some research-based alternatives suggest ways she might help herself. She’s terrified that she’ll become more depressed if she tapers off her medications.

Then there’s the man with a successful career and seemingly stable marriage. He tells me that despite feeling “pretty normal,” now – he had several years of therapy in the past that helped him with some lifelong relationship issues – he experiences a kind of dullness in life. He works hard, is engaged with his wife and children, but feels little spark or excitement about his day-to-day existence, now or in the future.

Neither person knows what a fully healthy life would look like, or that they might be able to “grow” it. That’s understandable: Ironically, the mental health field doesn’t really deal with mental health. Continue reading

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How The Younger Generations Can Leap Into The Future

Screen shot 2014-03-19 at 11.10.37 AMHere are some insightful perspectives — and suggestions — for the younger generations, from management strategist Umair Haque. Writing in his Harvard Business School Blog, Haque addresses the dilemma facing young people today:

Imagine a towering, sheer cliff. Imagine a deep canyon below, full of ruined cities. Now imagine, on the canyon’s other side, a bountiful plain, rippling in the breeze, stretching into the sunset. Welcome to the economy of the twenty-first century. For young people today, the economy basically feels something like the portrait above, and they’re the ones stuck at the bottom of the ravine.

After citing four conditions that young people face — a broken global economy; overwhelming debts; difficulty getting a job or career track; and the jobs available are not very good — Haque says welcome to “Generation F” — i.e. you’re getting screwed. He points out that

We are all here, in every moment, to make the most of our limitless potential—but your human potential is being squandered, wasted, thrown away.

But he then presents some positive directions that young people can take to deal productively and proactively with the reality they live in. They’re worth heeding. In his full article, “The Great Leap Generation F Needs to Make,” he writes: Continue reading

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Why Empathy Triggers Physical Pain

Screen shot 2014-03-11 at 11.28.22 AMEvidence from empirical research continues to demonstrate that we are one organism, interconnected with our environment. Our consciousness and physical structure are one entity, and our whole being is, in turn, interwoven with our “external” experiences. Much research using MRIs has already shown a core aspect of this — that our brains and consciousness react to the emotional experiences of others: the “mirror neurons” that activate when we experience another’s emotional state. This latest study, published in Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience provides another dimension of this link. In essence, it found that social pain we experience in others (we can call that empathy or compassion) and in ourselves triggers physical pain.

It’s good to see Western science demonstrate and confirm the perspective that’s been part of Eastern and mystical traditions. Researchers in the current study found that when a person experiences social pain in another, a region of the brain associated with physical pain is aroused. In two separate experiments, researchers found that that both situations activated that brain region that processes physical pain. As in other studies, brain activity was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). The research was summarized in Medical News Today. It joins with findings from a previous study that when a spouse experiences chronic pain, the other spouse may be affected by lack of sleep and may develop health problems.

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The Value Of Not Going It Alone

Screen shot 2014-03-05 at 11.36.53 AMThe Virgin Group founder and business visionary Richard Branson provides some interesting and — in my view — valuable perspectives about the importance of building connections, both in business and in life. He highlights a theme that I think is part of a psychologically and socially healthy life in today’s fluid world. In EntrepreneurBranson writes, “To achieve your goals, you need to be on the lookout for the opportunity to make connections wherever you go. Welcome chance encounters and opportunities to dream up outlandish plans. The person with the skill set you need to get your new business idea off the ground may be sitting at the next table in the cafe. Go over and say hello.”

In his full article Branson writes:

I love bumping into people and finding out who they are and what they’re working on. You never know who you’re going to meet. Such encounters can be valuable: If you think about how your most important relationships began — with business partners, your spouse, with friends and mentors — the stories will almost all involve chance meetings. My curiosity about others and ability to connect with people have helped me to succeed — after all, if people don’t know who you are, they are not going to do business with you.

Many people think that an entrepreneur is someone who operates alone, overcoming challenges and bringing his idea to market through sheer force of personality. This is completely inaccurate. Few entrepreneurs — scratch that: almost no one — ever achieved anything worthwhile without help. To be successful in business, you need to connect and collaborate and delegate.

Finding ways to meet with people in the real world and build business relationships is becoming ever more important in the digital age. Continue reading

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“Your Money Or Your Life!”

Screen shot 2014-02-25 at 10.34.49 AMIn one of Jack Benny’s classic comedy skits, a robber confronts him, demanding, “Your money or your life!” Benny — in character as a notorious tightwad — pauses for a long moment. The robber shouts his demand one more, with urgency. Finally, Benny says slowly, “I’m thinking it over!”

Many people today are caught up in a real life version of this dilemma. They acknowledge the stress, the physical and psychological perils of our prevailing view of success. The Third Metric movement is raising awareness of this, and surveys continue to document it. But, while most would prefer a more balanced, integrated life, they also feel reluctant or frightened to alter their endless pursuit of money and related measures of success. One of the reasons many keep “thinking it over” is visible in a lament coursing through the lives of many successful careerists: That “I don’t like the person I’ve become,” as one corporate executive expressed it to me.

George is an example. A highly successful executive in his mid 50s, he’s had a solid educational background, a steady career rise, and a functioning though not especially energized marriage, and two children. As he worked with me to deal with chronic anxiety and general malaise in his “always on” life, he awakened to having always “followed the program” in his life. That is, performing well, shaping his values, personality and goals along a path that was laid down and expected by his parents.

George was drawn to public service and journalism when younger, but that wasn’t part of the “program.” He craved Continue reading

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The Fast-Changing Face of Corporate Leaders

Screen shot 2014-02-18 at 12.15.38 PMWho are the people in senior leadership roles today? An interesting report by Jena McGregor in the Washington Post sheds light on this. She summarizes the findings of a new study, published by the Harvard Business School, of Fortune 100 executives. It finds that the majority of senior executives were educated at state universities, not at the elite schools. Nearly 11 percent are foreign born. And while women still deal with the glass ceiling, they have a more rapid rise to the top ranks, today.

I think these findings have potentially significant implications for corporate cultures. For example, what will be the impact on outlook, vision, and management perspectives from ever-increasing numbers of ever-increasing diverse people? Moreover, what will emerge from this rising diversity of executive leaders in conjunction with a growing shift in worker’s orientations to the job, to what they look for from management, and to what they define as “success?” There are several moving parts.

The study was conducted by researchers from Penn’s Wharton School and from the IE Business School in Madrid. For McGregor’s article, click here. For the full report in the Harvard Business Review, click here.

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Feeling Self-Determination Increases Health And Longevity

Screen shot 2014-02-11 at 10.24.04 AMA new study by Brandeis University and the University of Rochester, published in Health Psychology, finds that people who have a sense of “control” in their lives and believe they can achieve their goals — despite hardships — are more likely to live longer and and healthier lives. This was found to occur even among less educated people, which contradicted previous research that indicated shorter, less healthy lives among less educated people.

However, what’s meant by a sense of “control?” What constitutes it?

I think the research findings reveal the importance of having a vision, an ideal, to aim for and pursue — “control” in that sense. That’s different from a belief that one is in control of, or can dominate and bend circumstances, to one’s will. Or, the need to control and cling to what inevitably changes and evolves in life. That is, positive “control” means maintaining a belief in what is possible. That’s what sustains energy and flexibility in pursuit of an ideal or goal in life, whatever one’s current circumstances.

 

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Six Traits Common To Empathic People

Screen shot 2014-02-04 at 11.37.48 AMAs the impact of empathy and compassion upon social and personal wellbeing receives more public attention, it’s good to see accumulating research that documents it. A recent article by the sociologist and empathy researcher Roman Krznaric, “Six Habits of Highly Empathic People,” describes six attitudes and behavior common among empathic people. They illustrate, as well, how those patterns can be cultivated by most anyone. The article was published in  Greater Good, from the University of California, Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, which “studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being, and teaches skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society.”

Krznaric writes, “…empathy doesn’t stop developing in childhood. We can nurture its growth throughout our lives—and we can use it as a radical force for social transformation. (Research) reveals how we can make empathy an attitude and a part of our daily lives, and thus improve the lives of everyone around us.”

The six habits he describes are, in essence: curiosity about strangers; searching for commonalities beneath differences and prejudices; envisioning oneself in the life of another; two-way openness — giving and receiving; active engagement with some purpose larger than yourself; and putting yourself in the mindset of those whom you disagree with. To me, this last feature is similar to the third, but all are practices that build positive emotional connection with others and are worth cultivating.

For the full article, click here.

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Why Your Therapist Should Go “Back to the Future”

Screen shot 2014-01-28 at 9.22.27 AMI recently spoke to psychology doctoral students about the innovative contributions of some pioneering psychoanalysts in New York and Washington and who collaborated during the 1930s -1950s. Several found commonalities in their work to expand traditional psychoanalytic understanding about emotional conflicts and their treatment. Some were European, having fled the Nazis; others, American. Among the most prominent were Erich FrommKaren Horney and Harry Stack Sullivan. Their ideas were often rejected—or attacked—by the psychoanalytic establishment back then.

After I spoke to the students about the contributions of those three, it struck me that both the emerging generation and current psychotherapists could help patients by reclaiming their legacy. And not just their creative mindset, but an overlooked, core part of their contributions.

That is, most therapists today recognize the significance of interpersonal and relationship issues that those three contributed: that our sense of self and much dysfunction is rooted in the web of relationships we experience from birth. That part isn’t overlooked. What many ignore is that Fromm, Horney and Sullivan also drew attention to social and cultural forces in our “outer” world, forces that shape—for better or worse—who we become: Our values, attitudes, personalities and level of emotional health or dysfunction. That dimension of their work became increasingly marginalized and disregarded over the decades, with few exceptions. That loss diminishes therapists’ capacity to discern the roots of patients’ conflicts and provide effective help.

Ironically, those early analysts’ insights about social conditioning are highly relevant to life conflicts in this second decade of the 21st Century—a time of great transition and turmoil affecting peoples’ relationships, career and life challenges. It would benefit psychotherapy patients if more therapists went “back to the future” in two ways:

First, Continue reading

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Why Companies Benefit From “Outlier” Employees

Screen shot 2014-01-21 at 2.19.59 PMA recent post on the Harvard Business School Blog by Robert D. Austin and Thorkil Sonne argues that seeking out “outlier” employees bring great benefit to companies. I think this is an important perspective. Companies and organizations need creative innovation to address challenging and changing conditions, whatever their service, product or mission. The authors write,

Most companies don’t perceive the value of people who think or behave differently. Managers are unaware that outliers can create enormous value if they’re placed into environments that maximize their ability to contribute. By bringing out the best in people who think differently, you position your company for greater advantage. That’s because innovation, which is a critical skill for businesses today, is driven by diversity of thought. When you can’t foresee the biggest opportunities and problems coming your way, then your people assets must provide your company with the ability to adapt. This ability arises from employees who see things from new perspectives—people from different backgrounds, and those with different cognitive, developmental, and neurological endowments.

They being with an example of a company that hired employees with autism, and why. The full essay follows: Continue reading

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Research Finds That Green Spaces Improves Mental Health

Screen shot 2014-01-20 at 11.47.58 AMMore evidence that everything is interconnected and interdependent: A new British study, published in the journal Environmental Science & Technologyexamined the impact of green areas in one’s living environment. It found that green spaces not only improved people’s mental health, but that the effect continued over time – even after people moved. However, those who moved back to more congested, less green urban areas, their mental health declined, measurably. The study was summarized in Science Daily as follows:

Analyzing data that followed people over a five year period, the research has found that moving to a greener area not only improves people’s mental health, but that the effect continues long after they have moved. The findings add to evidence that suggests increasing green spaces in cities — such as parks and gardens — could deliver substantial benefits to public health. The research is one of the first studies to consider the effects of green space over time and has used data from the British Household Panel Survey, a repository of information gathered from questionnaires filled in by households across Great Britain.

Using data from over 1,000 participants, the research team at the University of Exeter Medical School focused on two groups of people: those who moved to greener urban areas, and those who relocated to less green urban areas. Continue reading

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What Do Companies With the Happiest Workers Look Like?

Screen shot 2014-01-07 at 10.07.43 AMThe latest survey of how employees view their companies provides more evidence that the most engaged, energized and “happiest” workers are those whose workplaces and careers provide a sense of meaning, opportunity for growth, development and creative innovation — more than just pay or career advancement. This survey, conducted by Glassdoor, was summarized in a Fast Company story by Drake Baer about six “secrets” of the happiest workplaces.

Baer writes,”Rather than showing a focus on perks, compensation, and other incentives, the best-rated workplaces had a range of intrinsic motivators, like challenging work, impact upon society, and an opportunity to work with brilliant colleagues.” This year’s overall winners were the consultancy Bain & Company, who was named best large company to work for. The investment website the Motley Fool won for best medium-sized company, while Twitter was named the best tech company to work for.

Unsurprisingly, tech firms were overrepresented in the top 50–though the results have little to do with Silicon Valley perks. “Rather than ‘it’s because they pay a lot’ or because it’s ‘hey, we’re Facebook, and we give everyone as much food as they possibly eat,'” says Glassdoor SVP of People Allyson Willoughby, “the reasons people like where they work were much deeper.”

Click here for the full report and listing of top companies from the survey.

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Caught Between “Longing” vs. “Settling” In Your Midlife Marriage?”

Screen shot 2013-12-24 at 11.50.23 AMOnce the world was new
Our bodies felt the morning dew
That greets the brand new day
We couldn’t tear ourselves away
I wonder if you care
I wonder if you still remember…

The Moody Blues, “Your Wildest Dream

Linda, a 53 year-old psychotherapy patient, was talking with me about a recent New York Times article about the rising numbers of midlife men and women who are divorcing. That, despite other data that the overall divorce rate has dropped somewhat, to around 40 percent. Linda was worried. She and her husband had been experiencing more conflict lately, especially since their two children had finished college and were off on their own. She said it felt like they were on different wavelengths about nearly everything – sex, money, lifestyle. “Sometimes I think we’re ‘on the brink’…” Linda said, not wanting to use the “D” word. “Maybe we’d both be happier going separate ways. Life is short…”

Linda is prone to anxiety, and has a lot on her plate with her career as a public relations executive. But given the rising numbers of midlife divorce, marital conflict is an understandable concern. (Disclosure: I’m a midlife baby boomer; been there, done that). There are several likely reasons for this trend, but I think there’s a particular dilemma that may remain under the radar. It’s that many midlife baby boomers are caught between feelings of longing for a relationship ideal that they think might be real but unfulfilled; and a pull towards settling for what they have, with all it’s imperfections and disappointments. This is a huge conflict. It’s worth understanding what it reflects, in order to deal with it in a healthy way; especially in the context of transformations occurring in people’s emotional and sexual relationships today.

Linda and her husband know of couples who had announced they were getting divorced, often to the surprise of many: “They seemed perfectly fine; no hint of trouble.” They knew of more than one couple in which one partner said, “I just felt the need to experience more of my own life, at this point.”

Linda wondered, were she and her husband mismatched to begin with and just didn’t realize it, back in their 20s? Had they grown in such different directions that they no longer wanted or cared about having a life together in their years ahead? Or had their work become their true “lover” rather than each other?”

Good questions for any long-term couple. But what is it that’s made baby boomers more prone – or receptive – to divorce? Continue reading

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“Husbands” and “Wives” Who Don’t Marry…And Want It That Way

Screen shot 2013-12-17 at 6.17.14 PMAnother part of evolving views about intimate relationships, as well as the definition of family in our society, is this emerging trend: Couples who chose not to marry, but continue to use the terms “husband” and “wife.” Koa Beck’s recent article in Salon describes it. She cites Brian: “Having been with his ‘wife’ for five years, he does not intend to legally marry her any time soon. He views marriage not so much as ‘a path to happiness,’ but simply a legal contract that doesn’t innately legitimize a commitment, which he feels he doesn’t need.” Brian says, “I don’t think that it’s a good fit for me, and the usage of the term ‘wife’ lets other people know about the permanence of my relationship, despite our legal standing.”

Beck describes another person, Frances, who “uses ‘partner’ interchangeably with ‘husband’ when referring to her children’s father, but reverts to nuptial language when in the presence of those from a ‘certain generation’ due to lingering social expectations. Frances, the mother of three, says that “The main reason that we use these words is to avoid the judgment that people have for unmarried couples with kids.”

I think this trend reflects a broader movement towards more diverse attitudes, values and behavior about how people define their relationships and the forms they take. Our society and culture is becoming more diverse, and more accepting of that diversity. That includes people who choose to be less confined by conventions that have, in many cases, constrained healthy development in personal and family relationships. For the full article, click here.

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In Search of Solutions to Life’s Complexity

Screen shot 2013-12-11 at 9.17.13 AMA recent article in The Economist  discussed the impact of complexity in business. It highlights, indirectly, some themes that I think infiltrate all segments of society and that raise new challenges for personal lives as well as organizations. The Schumpeter column points out that “…managing complexity is at the top of businesspeople’s agenda. Businesspeople are confronted by more of everything than ever before. They have to make decisions at a faster pace.” For example, new products have a more uncertain future. “Harvard Business School’s William Sahlman warns young entrepreneurs about ‘the big eraser in the sky’ that can come down at any moment and ‘wipe out all their cleverness and effort’.”

The article contrasts two different views of the solutions to growing complexity: One is to recognize and accept it. It cites Don Tapscott, of “Wikinomics” fame, who observes that “…the information revolution is replacing one kind of management (command-and-control) with another (based on self-organising networks).” And John Hagel of Deloitte has talked about “…the growing disconnect between “linear institutions and the non-linear world that is developing around us.” That is, “Organisations built for this new world may look complex and unwieldy but they have an inner logic and powers of self-organisation.” The alternative solution is to impose simplicity, which the column suggests is a more persuasive strategy: “It is striking how many of the world’s most successful businesses thrive on simplicity of some sort.” And, “The biggest threat to business almost always comes from too much complexity rather than too much simplicity. The conglomerates of the 1960s crumbled because they tried to manage too many businesses in too many different industries.” For the full article, click here.

I think these observations raise broad questions, beyond business: What constitutes the most adaptive, flexible, productive and psychologically healthy ways of dealing with complexity within our individual lives, at one end of the spectrum; and for public policy, at the other? The ongoing, systemic transformation impacts personal relationships, career decisions and dilemmas, one’s values and mental outlook, one’s role as a participant citizen in society; and how to conduct one’s life, overall, in this changing world. What’s the end-game is, so to speak? These are psycho-social questions that need to be addressed as a whole. They are, well…complex.

 

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As Sexual Relationships Change, So Do Families

Screen shot 2013-12-03 at 12.29.20 PMMy ongoing writing project aims to recast what we think describes and supports a psychologically healthy life in today’s world — one of interconnection, uncertainty and rapid change technologically, culturally and socially. In my view we need to reformulate and describe the emotional attitudes, mental perspectives, values and conduct that will support career success, internal well-being and also contribute to the common good, all within the context of our changed — and changing — world. Doing so includes combining new thinking and empirical research that joins Western and Eastern perspectives about human growth, development and “evolution,” psychologically and spiritually.

One major part of this transformation includes rethinking psychologically healthy relationships in general, but also within one’s sexual and romantic relationships. A recent New York Times special section, by Natalie Angier, focused on the changing notions of “family.” I think those articles portray the implications for families of an ongoing shift in how people conduct their intimate relationships. That is, how what people seek and want in their sexual and romantic lives is affecting family life; what “family” really means. This New York Times special section is right on target about that.

From the Times article: “Families are more ethnically, racially, religiously and stylistically diverse than half a generation ago — than even half a year ago.” And, “Researchers who study the structure and evolution of the American family express unsullied astonishment at how rapidly the family has changed in recent years, the transformations often exceeding or capsizing those same experts’ predictions of just a few journal articles ago.” For the full series of articles, click here.

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