The lost art of joy – Thanks

“Gratitude is one of those rare things you get more of by giving it away” ~ John Kralik

What’s the first thing you do when you get a Christmas present? Do you try and guess what’s inside by tapping it, feeling it, weighing it in your hands or shaking it? Or do you excitedly rip it open without stopping to think?

Usually at some point, either before or after the ceremonial mutilation of wrapping paper, there would be a ‘thank you’ to the person who gave it to you. Saying thank you is second nature to most of us. It’s a social norm, a sign of good manners.

We may say thank you fairly often, but are we practicing gratitude?

As I was randomly trawling the internet one day, I read this: “Have I always been thankful for everything in my life? Of course. But I never practiced gratitude until then.” I hadn’t thought about it quite like that before. The article was about John Kralik, whose story has inspired many in the business world. He was a lawyer in LA who was struggling. It wasn’t that Kralik was impolite and never said thank you, but he decided to make a deliberate effort to practice gratitude, so he made a resolution to send one handwritten thank you card to a different person every day for a year. As all good stories go, this simple act helped to turn around his business and his relationships.

Kralik’s story demonstrates that expressing our thanks is one part of the greater whole of gratitude.

Gratitude is a broad behavioural skill which has a number of different aspects, including:
(1) understanding individual differences in the experience of gratitude
(2) appreciation of others
(3) a focus on what you have
(4) feelings of awe when encountering beauty
(5) behaviours to express gratitude
(6) appreciation rising from understanding that life is short
(7) a focus on the positive in the present moment, and
(8) positive social comparisons

The research suggests that people who are naturally grateful tend to be less angry and hostile, less depressed, less emotionally vulnerable, and experienced positive emotions more frequently. Gratitude also correlates with traits like positive social functioning, emotional warmth, gregariousness, activity seeking, trust, altruism, and tender-mindedness. Grateful people also had higher openness to their feeling, ideas, and values, and greater competence, dutifulness, and achievement striving.

Like mindfulness, these effects may be simply an association of gratitude with other personality traits. In other words, people who are naturally optimistic or conscientious are also more likely to be thankful, rather than the thankfulness causing someone to be more optimistic or conscientious. There are a few studies that show that gratitude interventions improve self-worth, body image, and anxiety, although the evidence is that while gratitude was better than doing nothing, it was equal to, not superior to, currently accepted psychological interventions.

What gratitude does do is open you up to joy by intentionally drawing your focus on to the enriching elements in your life. And, if you express your gratitude to others through things like Thank You cards, then other people will reciprocate! Gratitude is joy gone viral.
It’s easy to start practicing gratitude. You can do what Kralik did and write a thank you note. Of you can do a gratitude journal, which is the best studied gratitude intervention. A gratitude journal simply involves writing something down every day that you’re thankful for. It doesn’t have to be long. A single sentence or phrase is good enough.

It doesn’t even have to be written, if that’s not your thing. I had a friend who was determined to do a gratitude journal, but she also had a love of and a knack for photography. So, she decided to take a photo a day of something that she was grateful for, and then post it on Facebook. She had her moments when she doubted herself, when she struggled to find a subject of her gratitude, or struggled to find something unique (especially after day 300), but the end result was amazing. She grew in her gratitude and her photographic skill, and I often found myself blessed by her beautiful images and insights.

So, grow in gratitude and express it in your own unique way, maybe even spreading the joy of gratitude to those around you.

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The power of trust

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go in a team.” ~ African Proverb

Melbourne … rain.  It’s so cliché, but here I am in Melbourne, staring out at the dismal misty greyness enveloping the city, displacing all warmth and joy.

Perhaps it was the dreariness combined with the light stupor that comes from being in a meeting all day, but as I was watching the incessant drizzling, I drifted into a contemplative trance, pondering the power of water.

By itself, one drop of water can do very little.  No one notices the effect of one drop of rain.  Though with more and more drops comes more and more change.  Wet ground grows puddles, then tiny rivulets, then streams of water which, when they combine, can form a raging torrent strong enough to change entire landscapes in a day.

And then I wondered, what allows something so individually weak to be so forceful en masse?  I don’t want to sound like a B-grade motivational speaker, but I think this is so important for any single person or organisation that wants to achieve anything of significance.

There are two properties that give a stream of water its power.
* A common direction
* A strong bond

As the sheer might of a violent surge so aptly demonstrates, there is immense power when small drops all combine to move together in one direction.  Yet the former property is only possible because of the latter.  Without the strong molecular bonds between them, water molecules would simply dissipate, along with all of their power.

So how can we apply this analogy to an organisation?  Well, if an organisation wants to be successful in achieving whatever plans it has, each part of that organisation needs to be moving together in the same direction.

Ok, that’s rather trite, but bear with me, because my cathartic discourse isn’t about the power of common direction, but about the bonds that confer the power to the forward momentum.

The molecular bond of any powerful organisation is trust.

Stephen Covey wrote that, “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication. It’s the foundational principle that holds all relationships.”

Peg Streep, writing in Psychology Today, wrote, “Trust is the foundation of all human connections, from chance encounters to friendships and intimate relationships. It governs all the interactions we have with each other. No one would drive a car or walk down a sidewalk, or board a train or an airplane, if we didn’t ‘trust’ that other people took their responsibilities seriously, and would obey whatever rules applied to the endeavour at hand. We trust that other drivers will stay in their lanes, that conductors and pilots will be sober and alert. And that people will generally do their best to discharge their obligations toward us. Culture, civilization, and community all depend on such trust.”

Trust means that we have confidence in the intentions and motives of others.  For example, patients trust doctors because they have confidence that the doctor knows what they’re doing and has the patient’s best interest at heart.  A recent meta-analysis showed that patients were more likely to have more beneficial health behaviours, less symptoms, higher satisfaction with treatment and a higher quality of life when they had higher trust in their doctor.  Trust enables positive progress.

Trust brings cohesiveness organizationally as well as socially.  If employees don’t trust each other or their managers then all sorts of problems start to arise: collaboration and communication stagnates, innovation ceases, employee engagement declines, productivity falls, and in general the workplace becomes unsuitable to be around.

Paul J. Zak is a neuroscientist that has studied the neuroscience and value of trust in the employees of Fortune 500 companies and in mountain tribesman.  His data shows that employees who feel trusted perform better at work, stay with employers longer, and are significantly more innovative.

In order to foster trust, organisations have to build confidence in the intentions and motives of others – between workers and managers and between the workers themselves.  When you have the confidence that your co-workers are going to pull their weight and do their jobs, it makes it easier to get on with yours.  When you know management aren’t going to make arbitrary, selfish or irrational decisions, it’s much easier to follow their lead.

So how do you build trust within a relationship or an organisation?  There are many ways to inspire confidence, but conflict resolution expert, Dr Aldo Civico suggests five different strategies:

  1. Trust generously – or in other words, trust first.
  2. Be patient and flexible. Trust is built over time.
  3. Be dependable and be reliable. Take your own words very seriously. Don’t make up excuses, take responsibility for mistakes.  Don’t be afraid to apologise.
  4. Be consistent.
  5. Be open and transparent in your communication. Don’t undermine or backstab.

The rain has stopped here, now it’s just cold!  I hope that you can grow trust in within your organisation so that you and your team can move forward with strength and purpose.

Bibliography

Streep, P., (2014) “The Trouble With Trust”, Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/tech-support/201403/the-trouble-trust

Birkhäuer J, Gaab J, Kossowsky J, Hasler S, Krummenacher P, et al. (2017) “Trust in the health care professional and health outcome: A meta-analysis”, PLOS ONE 12(2): e0170988. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0170988

Smallwood, A., (2017) “This neuroscientist says work culture can’t thrive without trust”, Collective Hub. https://collectivehub.com/2017/06/this-neuroscientist-says-work-culture-cant-thrive-without-trust/

Civico, A., (2014) “5 Strategies to Build Trust and Increase Confidence”, Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/turning-point/201404/5-strategies-build-trust-and-increase-confidence

 

Dr Caroline Leaf and the Sound Mind Meme

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Caroline Leaf is a brave woman.

Dr Caroline Leaf is a Communication Pathologist and self-titled Cognitive Neuroscientist.  She regularly publishes memes on her social media sites like FaceBook and Instagram that are supposed to reinforce her main teaching.

Her recent post declared:

“Your mind is all-powerful.  Your brain simply captures what your mind dictates. 2 Timothy 1:7”

We’re supposed to smile and nod, and accept that it must be right on face value alone.  Like, “Trust me, I’m a cognitive neuroscientist”.

But if we peel away the thin veneer of trust that covers the surface of this meme, we see that there isn’t much in the way of substance that supports it.

For a start, the only reference that Dr Leaf supplies is the scripture from 2 Timothy 1:7. She’s used this scripture in her work before, stating in her 2013 book, “For now, rest in the assurance that what God has empowered you to do with your mind is more powerful and effective than any medication, any threat, any sickness, or any neurological challenge.  The scripture is clear on this: You do not have a spirit of fear but of love, power and a sound mind (2 Tim 1:7).” [1]

So, first things first: the scripture 2 Timothy 1:7 says: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”  (KJV)  But what does it actually mean?

Studying the full context and the original Greek reveals that this verse is not a reference to our mental health, but to the courage to perform the work that God has given us.

The Greek word for “fear” in this scripture refers to “timidity, fearfulness, cowardice”, not to anxiety or terror.  The Greek word that was translated “of a sound mind” refers to “self-control, moderation”, not to serenity.  So Paul is telling Timothy that God doesn’t make him timid, but full of power, love and self-control.  Paul teaches that through the Holy Spirit, we have all the tools: power, love and the control to use them, so we don’t have to be afraid.

In addition, looking at the verse in its context, and in a different translation, shows it in a completely different light to the way Dr Leaf promotes it.  From the NIV, “I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.  For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.” (2 Timothy 1:5-8)

The scripture doesn’t say that our minds are more powerful than medication, sickness or “neurological challenge”.  It clearly doesn’t say that our mind is all-powerful, and that our brains simply capture what our minds dictate.  This scripture doesn’t have anything to do with our mental health (nor is there any scientific evidence to suggest that our mind is all-powerful or that the brain captures what our mind dictates, although that is another blog entirely (see also: Dr Caroline Leaf and the Myth of Mind Domination)).

Scripture is the inspired word of God.  It’s poor form to knowingly misquote someone to support your position, but it’s a very brave person that would misquote scripture for the sake of their argument.  And the inaccuracy of Dr Leaf’s use of both scripture and science surely calls into question the accuracy of all of her other memes.  Perhaps those who follow Dr Leaf’s social media feeds should also start taking them with more than a pinch of salt.

References

1.         Leaf, C.M., Switch On Your Brain : The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking, and Health. 2013, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan:

(New Testament Greek lexicon used for the word search was the Blue Letter Bible Strongs Lexicon, Reference: Greek Lexicon: G1167 (KJV). Retrieved from http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G1167&t=KJV and Greek Lexicon: G4995 (KJV). Retrieved from http://www.blueletterbible.org/lang/lexicon/lexicon.cfm?Strongs=G4995&t=KJV)