Monday, September 28, 2009

Basic Principles of Motivation

I recently saw an AMA video on “how to motivate” employees. I always appreciate a chance to review this topic. While the video’s examples and descriptions were unique, I was glad to see that its conclusions were identical to my own--and these same principles are also reflected in research (Csikszentmihalyi, Maslow and others).

Here are those principles:
  • Make the task clear and doable.
  • Make the task meaningful.
  • Make the task a vehicle for growth.
  • Empower your workers to perform on their own.
  • Provide recognition and rewards based on individual preferences.
  • Keep recognition and rewards timely and specific.

© 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Talking about Self-disclosure

I've been dialoging with a reader about self-disclosure. Thought I'd share a bit on this blog.

Ute writes:
I totally relate to your article.I often don’t want to share my REAL feelings, because I’m uncomfortable about what they are. Although, as a trainer, when I do self disclose, the most positive feedback I receive is when participants say that they really related to what I have said, and they appreciate my honesty.
Almost always, people say that they don’t tell their true feelings (particularly at work) because they will be vulnerable and they fear it will be used against them. I have never found a satisfactory reply to this comment. Because people do make fun of us and put us down for being open and vulnerable. What can I say to people when they ask me about this?
Laura Lewis-Barr Says: September 23rd, 2009 at 5:43 am
Thanks for your reply Ute. I also appreciate your honesty!My thoughts to your question: For me, part of EI is working to understand when a situation is truly unsafe, and when it is only my exaggerated fears (based on unrealistic thoughts) that create feelings of vulnerability. Learning to discriminate between my subjective inner world and the outer world is a lifelong process for me. Through practice and observation, I do believe we can learn to recognize when a situation is truly unsafe. That doesn’t mean that we don’t disclose at all, but we can be careful. We can also learn to withstand aggression from others and not take their words to heart. But it is very difficult!If we are able to stay in dialogue with the aggressors, we can possibly change the situation through our clarity, strength and courage. But it is hard!!!

What are your thoughts and concerns about self-disclosure?
© 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Self-disclosure--we crave it.

We honor writers, musicians, and artists who bare their souls. We gravitate to peers who share their deepest selves, warts & all. If that's true, why is it so hard to disclose ourselves? There is so much to gain.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Empathy Upgrades for "Digital Natives"

Dr. Gary Small’s iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind suggests that current brain research reveals that “digital natives” may be developing different brains than Baby Boomers. A Newsweek article explains:

Small says these differences are likely to be even more profound across generations, because younger people are exposed to more technology from an earlier age than older people. He refers to this as the brain gap. On one side, what he calls digital natives—those who have never known a world without e-mail and text messaging—use their superior cognitive abilities to make snap decisions and juggle multiple sources of sensory input. On the other side, digital immigrants—those who witnessed the advent of modern technology long after their brains had been hardwired—are better at reading facial expressions than they are at navigating cyberspace.

Small speculates that when younger people spend lots of time using technology, they may be neglecting the neural circuits that we use in social situations. Through practice with others, we learn to read nonverbal cues. But what happens if young people are spending much less time with others? Since there is a “pruning away” of under-used synapses during adolescence, Small wonders if younger generations may be deficient in social skills like empathy because they are spending so much time online. He describes one study in which students played violent videogames before viewing facial expressions. After playing the games, the students had a marked reduction in their ability to accurately recognize the faces. Dr. Small suggests that digital natives may need "empathy upgrades." © 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Friday, September 11, 2009

Emotion, Learning, and Attention

Here's a helpful quote from Kagan Online Magazine about how emotions "sear" info into our brains. This explains why upsetting emotions can over-ride our ability to think clearly and focus (the amygdala hijack discussed yesterday). It also explains why traumatic events can continue to haunt us long after the upset.

Why does emotion activate our attention and memory systems? Emotion is evoked when something is either good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant, painful or pleasurable. In brain lingo, emotion is a signal that something is either an opportunity or a threat. The brain is geared to pay attention to and remember opportunities and threats because that enhances our probability of survival. When there is emotion, the neurons in the brain actually fire at a higher frequency, signaling the reticular formation:"Pay Attention!" and signaling the hippocampus: "You better remember this!" Most of us remember where we were when we heard about the attack on the World Trade Center on September 11th. Why? Because the event was associated with strong emotion.

You can read the entire article here.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

More on Mindfulness and "Affect Labeling"

I love it when “soft” skills (emotional literacy) are confirmed by hard science. I recently discovered more brain research confirming EI principles and the benefits of “mindfulness” (a form of meditation).

David Creswell and Matthew D. Lieberman, from UCLA, conducted brain scans of adults. Their studies found that naming emotions decreases activity in the amygdala (the emotional sentinel of the brain) and increases activity in the prefrontal cortex.

This explains a lot!

When our amygdala is aroused, our body sends out chemicals and hormones that create our emotions. This happens so fast that we may act inappropriately and respond with a fight, flight, or freeze reaction—called an “amygdala hijack.” Conversely, the prefrontal area of the brain is associated with “executive functions,” i.e. the ability to manage emotions and make well-reasoned decisions. Naming emotions then, can calm us down and help us think more rationally. This may be why journaling or talking through our reactions with a friend is often very helpful. Such self-awareness and "affect labeling” is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence competencies.

The study also measured the impact of mindfulness and found that this practice creates the same effect. This isn’t surprising since mindfulness leads to recognizing all our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions. When practicing mindfulness, I'm naming my emotions in each moment--“I’m feeling upset, now I’m feeling relaxed, etc.”

Even five minutes a day of this "being in the moment" can have profound effects on our health and well-being.

For an abstract of the original study seek link below.
Lieberman MD, Eisenberger NI, Crockett MJ, et al. Putting Feelings Into Words: Affect Labeling Disrupts Amygdala Activity in Response to Affective Stimuli Psychol Sci. 2007 May;18(5):421-8. [Abstract]

© 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Sharpening the Saw

I have a million writing/training ideas floating in my head, pleading for my time. Meanwhile, Rick and I are readying our home for sale. On Thursday I woke up feeling weak. Not sick, but worn out and tired. I forced myself to work but by the afternoon, feeling spent, I left early and went to bed. I slept hard for 3 hours. I expected a cure but the next day I felt the same: listless, weak, worn-out. I completed some simple tasks and begged off my more taxing duties. I took an excess of vitamins but nothing seemed to help. I continued to rest.

That evening I poured out some deep and powerful worries to Rick. Old vulnerabilities, shame and frustrations suddenly erupted. I struggled not to project these feelings onto Rick and to trust in his support and compassion. We talked for a long time. Then, after some time, I felt much better, and lighter.

On Saturday I woke up revitalized. I had a very productive day and was still going at 12:30am (very unusual). I finally forced myself to stop working and go to bed.

Such a complete change! Perhaps I just needed a rest from my many duties. Perhaps my weakness was psychological and I needed to unload some (previously unconscious) worries. Either way, despite the mountain of duties demanding my time, I needed to stop. It was easier to give myself the first (half) day and much harder to be patient the second day. But that self-care is vital, not merely to stay healthy but also to reach new breakthroughs. (My progress on Saturday night was a step forward on a long term project.)

How do you give yourself breaks to keep healthy and to produce your best work? © 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Many Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation

Just finished listening to a great interview on Shrink Rap Radio with Psychologist Elisha Goldstein. Dr. Goldstein’s work focuses on the power of mindfulness meditations to help us combat stress, addictions, and other psychological maladies. Did you know that regular meditation can actually change the brain?! Dr. Goldstein shared research from Sara Lazar, Ph.D.

Using MRI brain scans, she (Sara Lazar, Ph.D.) found thicker regions of frontal cortex, regions responsible for reasoning and decision making, in those who had a consistent mindfulness practice compared to those who did not. Additionally, she found a thicker insula, considered to be the central switchboard of the brain that helps us coordinate our thoughts and emotions. She suggested that because our cortex and insula normally start deteriorating after age twenty, mindfulness meditation might help us make up for some losses as we age.

I bolded the text in my excitement. These are great findings. Meditation is a free resource we can all use to make very practical and positive changes in our lives. Dr. Goldstein continues….

This all makes sense because rather than just falling into an old habitual way of reacting to something, when we are present, we are more likely to be aware of all the options and possibilities and actually make better decisions. When we are present, we are more likely to regulate our emotions and act from a great place of calm and balance. As we practice this, we are more likely to remember to do it and as we remember to do it, brain lays the tracks for that to happen again and again. (for the entire article read here)

But how do we find time to meditate? Dr. Goldstein offered two choices: “formal,” (sitting down for a specific time) and “informal” practices. The latter focuses on noticing the present moment. A person showering would direct their attention away from future thinking (worries or plans about the day ahead) and to the present moment—the feel of the water or soap on their skin. Dr. Goldstein described a busy mother who used this informal method. She practiced being present with her children, slowing down to look them in the eyes and really listen to their responses. She savored their breakfast time together, noticing each element. This slowing down and meeting each moment is a form of meditation that even busy people can integrate into their lives.

Whether at work or at home, taking time to practice formal or informal “mindfulness” will have powerful effects. Research suggests that even 5 minutes of daily meditations can help us be healthier, happier and more productive, creative, and resilient.

© 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Digger Deeper into our Reactions

A colleague, “Jody," was complaining that her out of town nieces never send thank you notes for gifts. Despite her careful words, she seemed quite upset. “Pat” began offering advice such as, “Don’t feel bad, that’s how kids are.” Eventually Jody changed the subject and left. The problem with asking for (or offering) advice is that we miss the deeper messages of emotions.

Our reactions are based on a complex mix of our history, psychology, and the minute unconscious signals we perceive. Knowing Jody, I’d guess her reactions illustrate a desire for closer ties to her nieces. The thank you notes are only symbolic of that longing. If she examines these feelings, she can learn more about these underlying desires and what they reveal about her life.
© 2009 Laura Lewis-Barr all rights reserved