The Smoke and Mirrors of Positivity

rejection-620x412We live in a world awash with the need to be positive and the need to play nicely with one another. Organisations, institutions & positivity guru’s have, according to Barbara Ehrenreich, hijacked positive psychology to espouse the virtues of “if you have nothing positive to say – don’t say anything at all“. Ehrenreich’s book “Smile or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World” makes a compelling argument to suggest that positive thinking resulted in the misguided invasion of Iraq, global financial crash, the collapse of Lehman Bank and the sub prime mortgage scandal. Anyone brave enough to counter the positive delusions or the belief in the mandatory positivity, optimism and cheerfulness were told to shut up, sidelined or fired. The proposed collective wilful ignorance highlights that if the negatives were ignored then all would be fine. Clearly they were not fine.

The film “Up in the Air” (2009) George Clooney’s character Ryan Bingham showcases the art of spinning a positive scenario for people facing redundancy. The workforce will still feel the pain, rejection and abandonment but the business has been conducted positively for the company making the workers redundant.

Smoke & Mirrors

However, the illusion of positivity creates a sense of control upon us, that ensures that we inculcate all involved into the belief it will all be OK if we believe in positive thinking. Indeed there is a sense that we can change our world by just thinking positively – almost as if we have a positivity magnet that will attract whatever our hearts desire.

Positive thinking suggests a better life will suddenly appear when the latest positivity guru pop’s up with the next vacuous clichéd pseudo-inspirational quote to help us feel great.  By simply adjusting our attitude. Needless to say, it won’t happen. We may feel great for a little while but the guru has no more investment in you other than getting you to buy their next book, or attend the next nauseating “Billy Graham-esque” evangelical positivity conference. Indeed this perspective is akin to the Pollyanna Syndrome (or positivity-bias), defined as being when someone who is blindly or foolishly optimistic, almost delusional.

Its Never as Simple as Negative and Positive

Clearly, not everyone will agree with Barbara Ehrenreich’s world view. However, we arrive at a point that rational realism and an emotional agility is missing from or organisations and within our daily lives. There are countless common sense ideas on how to become positive and happier; be kind, count your blessings,work less, spend more time with friends and family & everything in moderation. Of course there is every reason to believe that this is not a panacea to becoming happier. According to positive psychologists Dr Todd Kashdan & Dr Robert Biswas-Diener (2015) we have gone about promoting happiness and positivity in all the wrong ways. We are encouraged to ignore negativity and focus upon the positives. Indeed we don’t actually need to choose between a negative or positive but move toward a more emotionally agile to match our emotions to the situation.

Clearly being happy & positive is a good thing and beneficial to us all in our lives. However, “in a world where rejection, failure, self doubt, hypocrisy, loss, boredom, annoying and objectionable people are inevitable (the authors) reject that the notion of positivity is the only place to look for answers” (Kashdan & Biswas-Diener 2015).  So what is the answer to gain an emotionally agile life, to be in a better position to embrace both positive and negative emotions to promote “wholeness”  (Kashdan et al 2015). Indeed the authors go on to cite a number of evidenced based studies that extol the virtues and how the affects of negative emotions are in fact more beneficial and life affirming than positive in some instances. Moreover a  great deal of memories and learning experiences develop when we are experiencing negativity or dis-comfort in one shape or form. Learning to live with negative emotions and giving them space to help us see that boredom is the affect of not enough stimulus (but can stimulate creativity), or feeling guilt because we have crossed a moral line somewhere. This information is telling us we just need to adjust something in our lives and, more to the point, we can tolerate these emotions and the discomfort they sometimes bring.

The belief we need to control our perceived negative emotions may be wrong, and that the cult of the positive is stifling emotional growth. Without promoting the emotional intelligence necessary to be able to feel guilt, shame, disgust or fear etc, and how to use the action tendencies or feedback being given we will just have an indeterminate “bad” feeling. As a result want to move away from the pain and discomfort that may just help us become balanced and emotionally happy.

More often than not we can’t actually categorise human emotion we feel so cannot use the information provided by them as we do not have a construct for them. Just end up with a bad feeling or just don’t have the words to describe how we feel.  So although at times we may have a preponderance of negative emotions in our lives, the key is the become more aware and to clarify them. As a result these emotions no-longer have the toxicity that we associate with them.

And Finally………………..

I appreciate that if you got this far with this post you have gone way beyond the call of duty. However, the positivity illusions lead us to suppress those range of negative emotions that will help us grow and hopefully listen to a fear or anxiety that things may going wrong around us. How many times have we been to an interview and felt the disappointment of not doing very well or the entrepreneur who is narcissistic or the arrogant belief that their business will succeed.

Optimism & positivity serves a purpose and will help the job seeker and the entrepreneur however, without these repackaging so-called negative emotions the entrepreneur is unlikely to make the business work or the next interview will go better as we need these motivations. Negative emotions do not need to be enacted upon so acknowledging this is what anger feels like for example is enough, or maybe we need to use the triggers of the feeling to understand how we have arrived at the point of anger and frustration. Therefore having a choice to take time out to recognise things aren’t great currently and not being bamboozled by those espousing positivity, will give us all the space to know we will be just fine and we will survive these feelings.  Indeed our emotions act as a metaphysical thumbs up or thumbs down, letting us know how we are doing and what to pay attention to.  Recognising these negative emptions will help us to become healthier and more emotionally agile to manage situations and have the tools to springboard us to happier positive life.

 

References 

Ehrenreich, B. (2010) “Smile or Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World” Granta, London

Kashdan, T. B & Biswas-Diener, R. (2015)  “The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self” Plume Books, New York

At Home at Work (and how to stay sane!)

images (27)Having worked from a home-base whilst employed and now working at home working for myself, I do thoroughly understand what it takes to stay sane working at home. Having said that I am sure my friends and family may doubt my sanity, let alone the home working part. Less said about that the better.

Now according to the Office of National Statistics report (http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/lmac/self-employed-workers-in-the-uk/february-2013/index.html accessed 5/06/2014) here in the UK 58% of self employed people rely on working from a home base on a day-to-day basis  By June 2012 there were an estimated 4.2 million people in the UK who regarded themselves as self employed, compared to 3.8 million just before the start of the recession in 2008.

The detailed figures are –

  • 15% = 630,000 people work from home
  • 5% = 210,000 worked on the same grounds as their home (office in the garden)
  • 38% = 1,600,000 of self employed used their home as a base.

Delving a little deeper into the figures, self employed people work longer hours than employed people. Indeed a third of people stated they are working more than 45 hours per week, compared to just over a fifth of employed people. Needless to say there are some extremes in the hours worked, both of which show it is not easy to find a happy medium when self employed whist working at home.  At one end of the spectrum, 10.8% said they wanted to do more hours. At the other end of the scale, 22% are working more than 45 hours per week. So longer hours and a reliance of working in the place that they call home. Probably not a great combination if there is a family involved that may need the attention of the home worker involved.

So with the growth of home based working for a number of different jobs (farmers, plumbers & builders occupy largest proportion), how can we manage our working week successfully and stay sane? Here are a few tips to help you focus upon getting the job done whilst balancing your home-work life.

  • Try an independent co-working or hot-desking – Co-working will give you the opportunity to meet new people, work and talk about issues rather than mull over a problem or isolate yourself. Hot-desking is generally a desk or two kept clear in your organisation so you can attend the office during the week.
  • Socialise – try not to isolate yourself during your working week. Meeting people or even popping to the shops to clear your mind and help you to refocus on your work and help you keep connected to the face-to-face world.
  • Maintain your wellbeing – do some exercise and eat well. Avoid going to bed with your smart phone – you will not sleep well with technology in the room. Nothing more miserable than not sleeping well.
  • Find a workspace at home – sometimes harder said than done. Some lucky souls have a bespoke office at the end of the garden, plumbed in and powered up. Most of us make use of a spare bedroom or even a corner of a living room. Help your family manage the space so you can feel as though you are at work.
  • Commute to “work” – this may mean walking the dog, going for a run or buying a paper. Helps move you from home mindset to work mindset and vice versa. May help manage the separation between your home and work life as well.
  • Trial working from home before committing – not sure working from home is for you – trial it first. Give yourself a chance to experience it before committing. You will need a number of skills including, great time management, support from your organisation, dedication and commitment from your family to make it work.
  • Risk Assess your work space – make sure you are safe in your home office & comply with Health & Safety (H&S) policies and procedures.
  • Get some training in H&S – your line manager can help you out here
  • Get appropriate insurance – working at home may effect your home insurance (refer to previous point).
  • Eyesight Tests – if you use a computer or use display screen equipment get an eye test to make sure you can concentrate properly.

These are just a few of things you will need to consider for a sane life at work at home. Its not easy, but with most things in life its all about planning, planning and more planning. Start as you mean to carry on with a structure you can work with that manages your home life and work life. Learn to balance the needs from work, your wellbeing & your family commitments. Need more support on how to make this transition then just drop me a line for an informal chat about working at home and staying sane!

References

Office of National Statistics – Self-employed Workers in the UK, February 2013

http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/lmac/self-employed-workers-in-the-uk/february-2013/index.html

The Dependency of Work – work to live or live to work?

images (24)Now I have to admit the title is quite provocative but hopefully posed an interesting question for you. That question then is, are some of us dependant or even addicted to work and working? We may be perhaps but for many different reasons. Our life choices will probably mean we need to earn money to pay for a mortgage, a car, food etc, all pretty legitimate reasons to be in employment of course. Our patriotic contribution toward national taxation will support our countries economic status and services etc. So all worthy and wholesome activities to be engaged in. However, do we trade the security of paid employment for the dependency we then have on our employer?  Do we sometimes experience poor self esteem and lack of confidence that drives us toward poor mental wellbeing; as a result become addicted to the work we do?

Whist cogitating for this blog, I stumbled across a recent article by Adrian Furnham “Work Addiction” that seemed to trigger off a few more thoughts of my own. These latent thoughts had been there for some time, following my work designing & delivering employability programmes, meeting & coaching many people along the working spectrum. There is a balance between enjoying work and being enthusiastic about what you do, toward tipping over into distorted career & personal thinking, overwork, job insecurity, perfectionism and over competitiveness is difficult and may well depend upon circumstance and work culture.

The need to continually prove oneself in conjunction with an organisation that encourages rampant competition & toxic presenteeism, is likely to encourage the addictive and dependant work attitudes and beliefs. Thus a work-life balance is disapproved of and actively discouraged by the organisation and group culture. As Mr Furnham suggests ‘Studies on workaholics showed they held various beliefs. Work is about win-lose not win-win’. ‘ nice guys finish last’; ‘you prove yourself at work’. They strive against others and certain targets”. Easy to then imagine the link between poor organisational culture and addictive & dependant behaviours for the employee.

So the workaholic may well be addicted to work or more to the point the bolster it gives the poor confidence and self-esteem, job insecurity, competitiveness, control freakery and other distinct issues. Work over 50/60 hours per week these days suggests then there may well be addictive or dependant tendencies, but how can anyone recognise the signs.

  • Perhaps find it difficult to switch off and give more time to work than is necessary
  • Needing approval and the constant need for affirmation, power and position
  • Mobile devices on all day & night for the fear of missing out (FOMO) on important news or information
  • Compelled to “work to finish” regardless of the work/life consequences
  • Poor family & personal relationships
  • Stress and other health related conditions

Many symptoms that we all recognise at one point or another I am sure. Question is what do we do about it now that we are embedded in the highly pressurised work environments today. Primarily, knowing thy self can help. Take the cognitive behavioural models that help individuals recognise the events or the work is having an effect upon negative thinking styles (catastrophising), how you feel (stressed, anxious), the physical changes (feeling sick, headaches and nauseous) and behavioural ramifications to the environment. Indeed, the behaviour change can emanate its self in unhealthy self medication with drink or smoking. Though more to the point be able to recognise the toxic events and take action to mediate them with positive and active problem solving and actions.

With our coaching support or self-help, this model will help you understand the reason for the work dependency and either support a transition toward healthier work/life balance or coming to terms with the work you do and managing it accordingly. Also consider mindfulness, stress relieving exercise, socialising with friends and family and any other activities that can help regain a sense of perspective between the work and life balance.

Of course no one size fits all, though it is clear enjoyable and fulfilling work, whatever you do is beneficial for wellbeing. Being dependant & addicted to your work with all the consequences may not be, that will sadly have a negative impact on both the person concerned and the people around them too.  So is it working to live or living to work…………..over to you!

 References
A Furnham, In Psychology Today, Work Addiction – A Sideways View (Accessed 2/06/2014) http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/sideways-view/201405/work-addiction

Mind Over Matter – Mindfulness meditation for day-to-day life

images mindMindfulness is the next big thing. Hell of a statement I know but with the internet awash with evidenced based models such as cognitive behavioural mindfulness & less evidenced based more aligned to spiritual meditation, how do people use mindfulness techniques? Clearly, neither technique is more or less successful just the model that works for an individual. Now then I have to declare my hand here, I subscribe to cognitive behavioural models of coaching and subsequently mindfulness. That said mindfulness is mindfulness and the premise is the same – to help people to relax, be less anxious, have less stress and to balance thinking to help to be in the moment by paying purposeful attention to the present moment.

There are two main mindfulness-based programmes. Both of which currently have a significant evidence base to support their effectiveness. These are the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Programme (MBSR) developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, and the Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy Programme (MBCT) developed by Mark Williams, John Teasdale and Zindel Sigal. Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn developed the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme in the early 70′s at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. This approach was initial thought as a programme to help sufferers of chronic pain and chronic medical conditions. Since its inception, MBSR has evolved into a common form of complementary medicine addressing a variety of health problems.

There’s increasing evidence that Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) could help to reduce our anxiety levels and teach us new ways to manage stress. The results of various clinical studies and research speak for themselves, highlighting benefits such as:

  • A 70 per cent reduction in anxiety
  • Fewer visits to your GP
  • An ongoing reduction in anxiety three years after taking an MBSR course
  • An increase in disease-fighting antibodies, suggesting improvements to the immune system
  • Longer and better quality sleep, with fewer sleep disturbances
  • A reduction in negative feelings like anger, tension and depression
  • Improvements in physical conditions as varied as psoriasis, fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome.

The evidence in support of MBSR is so strong that almost three-quarters of GPs think it would be beneficial for all patients to learn mindfulness meditation skills (http://www.bemindful.co.uk/ – accessed 8/04/2014)

So with the weight of evidence how can we use mindfulness in our day-to-day busy lives. Having completed the training for Cognitive Behavioural Mindfulness to help my coaching clients focus upon stress at work and at home, I have a few quick and easy exercises to incorporate into your day-to-day life.

  1. Walking Meditation – this is not easy as people can feel very self-conscious. However, feeling your feet on the ground as you walk and being quiet concentrating on your breath, can help to cultivate relaxed attention.
  2. Mindful Break – day-to-day activities at work can be time consuming and stressful. For a few moments turn away from your work station, close your eyes, clear your mind and focus on your breathing. Try to remain “in the moment” allow thoughts to flow into your mind and let them flow out, accept them and let them go. Bring yourself slowly back into the present and remember mindfulness is to help you to pay attention to the moment and not necessarily make sense of anything particular.
  3. Breathing – I remember when in training a great way to focus upon your breathing for mindfulness. Take your left or right foot, focus upon breathing in and up through your foot, leg, belly, chest and out though your head. Odd I know but really good relaxation. Try reversing the breathing – though your head and out through the sole of your foot.
  4. Get outside –  try to do your walking meditation in an open green space if you have one. Feel the environment and the grass beneath your feet, rather that the day-to-day worries. Hear the birds, the rustling of the leaves and the breeze on your face and skin. This will allow you to enjoy the moment and the place your are in rather that the “auto pilot” nature of modern life.

So there you are just a few tips to help you with a few mindfulness techniques that will not necessarily draw too much attention to what you are doing. As mindfulness expert, Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, says:

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”

Don’t feel limited by these techniques feel free to mix and match to fit them into your life anyway you can. When you apply yourself almost anything can be done mindfully, I will leave that thought with you! Individually these steps may seem small, but you might be surprised at the effect they can have. If you would like more information or more techniques please drop me a line and tell me what you think about mindfulness.