Tag Archives: psychology

The December 2012 End of the World IMPROVEMENT CHALLENGE

lucy-dec3(Image Credit: Lucy Glover of Lucy Glover Photography, San Francisco CA. Used with permission.)

Hey everybody, remember last month when everyone was posting things they were thankful for in the twenty-odd days leading up to Thanksgiving? (They might still be doing it… I don’t know.) I thought that was a great idea. So I started doing something similar this month that I’ll tell you all about now!!

But as many of you know, the Mayan Calendar is coming to an end, and we’re moving into a new world of completely undetermined proportion. Some predict a doomsday scenario, which means it will be very easy to see what’s changed. Others predict a BIG NOTHING, a non-event kind of like Y2K (well… that one actually had some ripple effects for me. But that’s another story that I’ll post later. I diverge.)

A non-event means IT’S UP TO US TO CHANGE THINGS. So my challenge to all of you for December 2012 is: let’s get in the habit of improving a least ONE thing a day between now and the much hyped “end of the world”. If the world does end, it will end being just a little better than it was at the beginning of December. And if it doesn’t end, we might have 1) developed a new habit or mode of self-reflection that will serve us well moving ahead into 2013, and/or 2) built some very useful social capital that will enhance the resilience of our individual communities.

(Disappointed that you didn’t get to the party on December 1st? Don’t worry! Make your improvement for today to START IMPROVING ONE THING A DAY, starting NOW!)

I’ll toss out some ideas for your own DAILY IMPROVEMENT CHALLENGE at the end of this post.

But in the meantime, let’s broadly consider what would happen to our sociotechnical systems (composed of people, products, processes, and projects) in the event of a massive shift or change (of any variety, “new age” or “old age”!) The products will change. The projects will change. The processes will be adapted to make projects to create the new products, and since we don’t know what the environment will be like, or what the new products we’ll need will be…

… the only STABLE element in this mix is the PEOPLE.

When the world disruptively changes around us without killing us, we’re still left behind. Which means our personal capabilities and our capabilities working together in groups and communities – our social capital – becomes increasingly more important.

My friend Daniel Aldrich, who’s been seriously researching this for several years, has determined that social capital is the number one thing that helps communities revitalize after disasters. So if you think there’s a possibility of a major change, you could prepare by stockpiling food and fuel, or you could just work on building your own self-reliance and the social capital within your community.

So I challenge you to DO ONE THING EVERY DAY between now and December 21, 2012 to accomplish one of the following improvement goals, all of which are related to increasing positive feelings:

  • improve how YOU feel
  • improve how someone ELSE feels
  • improve something about your ENVIRONMENT, as long as it make YOU or someone else feel good/better
  • do something courageous to improve your SELF-CONFIDENCE or self-image (or someone else’s!)
  • improve your AWARENESS of other peoples’ beliefs, situations, circumstances, or beliefs
  • improve your BURDEN by getting rid of a grudge or negative feelings… even if only for a day

Think about the many sources of waste, or maybe read about 5S, to get you started with ideas for where you might begin. Scott Rutherford (@srlean6) also recommends this post  as well as this one for some background on 5S.

(For example, yesterday, I decided to improve someone’s day! We went to a restaurant grand opening, and the place was packed like sardines. Our server was rushing around from table to table, sweating profusely but still maintaining an admirably positive vibe. When he got to our table, smiling with enthusiasm, and asked us what we wanted – I told him I wanted him to close his eyes for a minute, and take three DEEP breaths! He thought this was a bizarre request, but he did it. After all, I was the customer… right? After his third deep breath he said “Wow! I really do feel better. Just that minute of standing still is really going to help me get through this big grand opening night.” He was visibly more relaxed with everyone the rest of the evening. See how easy it can be?)

The world changes when we change. So let’s go!! Let’s start some improvement habits that will spread good feelings and inspire ourselves and others. Let’s use this time to learn how to make it a daily practice.

And post in the comments – tell us what you have chosen to improve from day to day!

The Positivity Trap

(Image credit: Doug Buckley of http:/hyperactive.to)

Positivity (pioneered by researcher Barbara Fredrickson) can help you become more productive, more fulfilled, and more creative and innovative — by expanding your ability to see and perceive opportunities. So of course, as a quality professional, I want to get it, and be it.

A few weeks ago, I was on a road trip with one of my best friends in the world. We were talking about continuous improvement and self-improvement when he suggested that I take Fredrickson’s little quiz to see where my positivity ratio was. According to her research, a ratio greater than 3:1 indicates that your psyche is in a regime to flourish.

I have always been an optimistic and highly positive person, but I’ve also been plagued by depression, limiting thoughts, and self-defeating behavior. But! I’d also just had one of the most wonderful days of my life (ever EVER in the history of history) so I thought this would be a good opportunity to see how HIGH my positivity ratio could be. Woohoo! Slam dunk!

I took the positivity test by answering the following 20 questions. It only takes a couple minutes. It’s at:

http://www.positivityratio.com/single.php

Imagine my shock when, after one of the most positive and fulfilling days of my life – one imbued with joy, hope, potential, and the wild excitement of being totally aligned with who I am and connected to what I am becoming — that my positivity ratio was a miserable 1.67!!

How could this be?? I looked more at the 20 questions, and realized that I had some pretty mean negative emotions getting in my way. Contemptuous, scornful, or disdainful? Check. Disgust, distaste, revulsion? Check… jealousy will do that, and I have issues with jealousy. Hate, distrust, or suspicion? Yeah, unfortunately. Scared, fearful, and afraid? Yep… any time you have a situation in life that you’re not quite totally accepting, it can lead to anxiety.

My positivity test was really depressing. But, as a belligerent optimist by nature, I asked myself what useful opportunity for improvement might this provide? The answer: don’t worry about getting more positive… see what you can do to manage — and eliminate — some of those negative, yucky feelings. Apparently they are more poisonous than I’d been aware of.

Fast forward to a month or so later, and I decided to take the positivity test again. I’ve been consciously managing my jealousy issues (haven’t succeeded yet, but I’m making the effort) — so the negative emotions associated with jealousy are saturating my life a little less. However, I am definitely nowhere near as fun-loving, amazed, hopeful, optimistic, inspired, serene, content, or in the zone of complete awesomeness and loving life as I was last time I took the test. I would suspect that my positivity ratio would be around the same as it was last time. But not so!!

The result? 2.67. Still not in the zone of flourishing, but enough point evidence for me that my strategy of managing negative emotions (and not working so much on trying to be fluffy and fun-loving) is paying off.

I had thought that positivity was all about being more positive. Now I realize the trap: it’s just as much about not being as negative, and not letting the negatives burn their cancer as deeply into your body.

Why Positive Psychology is Essential for Quality

(Image Credit: Doug Buckley of http://hyperactive.to)

This semester, I’m sitting in on a Positive Psychology course offered by the JMU Department of Psychology. A lot of friends and colleagues have asked me why I’m taking a class in psychology when my research and teaching interests are, in contrast, related to quality and process improvement. But in my opinion, there’s no way you can be ultimately quality-minded, optimally productive, or blissfully innovative unless your psyche is relaxed, engaged, stimulated, and happy – and that’s what positive psychology is all about.

My favorite definition of quality originally comes from ISO 8402:1994 – “the totality of characteristics of an entity that bear upon its ability to satisfy stated and implied needs.” As quality professionals, we tend to focus on four types of entities: products, processes, organizations and teams. Although there have been some efforts to focus on the individual as an entity, in particular through the efforts of ASQ’s Human Development and Leadership (HDL) division, it hasn’t really caught on that the totality of characteristics of YOU will bear upon your ability to help create other entities that satisfy the stated and implied needs of a variety of stakeholders!

Your health and well being is a critical component of the chain, if not THE most important part! Think about you at your professional and emotional best, and imagine yourself on a team with other people who are working at the same level. Then, envision creating organizations where a spirit of quality will flourish. It’s a pretty powerful, innovative, inspired picture!

But then — think about how drastically the picture changes when you come to work distracted, emotionally drained, or unmotivated – in addition to just feeling down, you’ll drain the members of your workgroup or anyone else you interact with because of your own struggle to get through the day.

All of the following passages come from “Positive Psychology: An Introduction,” by Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in the January 2000 issue of American Psychologist. When I read these passages, it is clear to me that the science of POSITIVE PSYCHOLOGY can provide QUALITY PROFESSIONALS with great insights about how to self-manage, how to cultivate high performance teams, and how to create high impact, innovative organizations and institutions. I’ll comment on all of these in later posts, but for now, I’m interested to hear what sorts of things the little voice in your head says as it thinks about these statements from positive psychology:

A science of positive subjective experience, positive individual traits, and positive institutions promises to improve quality of life and prevent the pathologies that arise when life is barren and meaningless.

… the social and behavioral sciences can play an enormously important role… they can show what actions lead to well-being, to positive individuals, and to thriving communities. Psychology should be able to help document what kinds of families result in children who flourish, what work settings support the greatest satisfaction among workers, what policies result in the strongest civic engagement, and how people’s lives can be most worth living.

The field of positive psychology at the subjective level is about valued subjective experiences: well-being, contentment, and satisfaction (in the past); hope and optimism (for the future); and flow and happiness (in the present).

At the individual level, it is about positive individual traits: the capacity for love and vocation, courage, interpersonal skill, aesthetic sensibility, perseverance, forgiveness, originality, future mindedness, spirituality, high talent, and wisdom.

This science and practice will also reorient psychology back to its two neglected missions – making normal people stronger and more productive, and making high human potential actual.

At the group level, it is about the civic virtues and the institutions that move individuals towards better citizenship: responsibility, nurturance, altruism, civility, moderation, tolerance, and work ethic.

People and experiences are embedded in a social context. Thus, a positive psychology needs to take positive communities and positive institutions into effect.

The Secret to Innovation = A Cure for Depression?

I really like Doug Buckley’s Facebook posts (he’s from http://hyperactive.to). Our connection was purely accidental – he tagged a picture of the back of my husband’s head on Facebook as his own, and after a short online debate (where he finally acknowledged that I was probably an expert in recognizing the back of my own spouse’s head) we friended one another. Doug posts great photos and images (like the one on the top left of this post), insights, quotes and music about 40 or 50 times a day. One of Doug’s recent gems was “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” ~ Winston Churchill

The ability to move from one failure to another (presumably, using each as a valuable learning experience) with no loss of enthusiasm! Wow, I thought… not only is that the secret to innovation, but… I am SO not good at doing that. When I’m facing a failure, I do what any sane, logical person in the grips of Chinese handcuffs will do… I pull harder. I rearrange the deck chairs faster. I get really &$^#&^$& angry. Then I pretend like everything’s OK. And when I can’t deal with pretending any longer, I break down into tears (hopefully not around other people).

Then, in the words of Fred and Ginger, I pick myself up – dust myself off – and start all over again.

(I just read this again, and just so you don’t miss the point of that last sentence… after I dust myself off, I’m starting again on the negative pattern of trying even harder. What, you think I’d give up that easily?)

It’s a miserable approach, though, regardless of how noble it sounds. Pulling harder or pushing harder (whatever you’re doing) requires more effort and rarely generates better results. And if you’re pushing against someone else who’s not ready to see your light, or pushing on a project that other people just aren’t ready to play within the bounds of, well… good luck.

I’m a smart person. I’m solution oriented. I can make things happen!! As a result, I doggedly pursue my goals. And when I’m meeting with resistance (especially when that resistance doesn’t seem to make sense to me), I don’t respond very gracefully at all. (Sometimes I even turn psycho-chick, which makes me feel even more disturbed, because I’m pretty level headed in general and I wouldn’t act like that, would I?)

The illusion of control is an affliction that’s unique to humans. Bears looking for salmon will move on if their favorite spot in the river isn’t producing. If people were bears, we’d stick around, keep waiting, commit to a positive attitude, convene a quality circle or tiger team, rehash past data that proves the salmon used to be there (or extrapolate to show they will be there again, really), wish real hard that the salmon are still there, pretend nothing has changed, craft convincing arguments that the cost/benefit of moving to another place in the river is prohibitive (or my favorite, just cost neutral), curse the river, wish we’d never gotten into the habit of eating salmon in the first place, lose all motivation, lose sense of the meaning in one’s life without the salmon, or sit on the riverbanks weeping over the ephemeral salmon who just won’t show up no matter what we do. Pretty pathetic. Nowhere near as agile as moving to another spot in the river where the salmon may have moved on to themselves.

Professor of psychology Jonathan Rottenberg has hypothesized that this resistance mechanism is also what compels depressed people to stay in bed – hiding under the covers, retreating into sleep or alcohol or drugs (pick your poison) – is just a way to deal with one’s inability to disengage from efforts that are failing. He writes:

So this alternative theory turns the standard explanation on its head. Depressed people don’t end up lying in bed because they are undercommitted to goals. They end up lying in bed because they areovercommitted to goals that are failing badly. The idea that depressed people cannot disengage efforts from failure is a relatively new theory. It has not been much tested in research studies. However, the idea is well worth exploring. It fits well clinically with the kinds of situations that often precipitate serious depression — the battered wife who cannot bring herself to leave her troubled marriage, the seriously injured athlete who cannot bring himself to retire, the laid off employee who cannot bring herself to abandon her chosen career despite a lack of positions in her line of work. Seeing these depressions in terms of unreachable goals may be useful clinically, and may help us better understand how ordinary low moods can escalate into incapacitating bouts of depression.

To be innovative, we have to learn how to detach from failure quickly and move on with the next stage of our ideas with enthusiasm. If Rottenberg’s new hypothesis has merit, to escape depression we have to learn how to detach from failure quickly and move on to our next goals or the next phases of our lives – with enthusiasm.

Can a futuristic mental health intervention increase our personal innovative potential?

My hunch is yes. There are always other fish in the sea.