The Flourish Bulletin November 2022
In this Bulletin…
Larry the cat for PM? What makes a political leader great? | Neuroscience #1: Why performance drops as it gets darker | Government help for small business leaders | Psychology: The downside of extroversion | Productivity hack #1 How to get more done in less time Neuroscience #2: What makes fireworks so appealing? | The role of intentions in mindfulness | Productivity Hack #2 Using your energy wisely | Recommended reading for November | Productivity Hack #3 What’s your Purpose in life?
What makes a PM Great?
At a time of turmoil in British politics, humour is a great antidote to the anxiety and mixed emotions triggered in recent months. This poster, featuring No 10 Downing Streets resident mouser, Larry the cat, made me smile.
If this campaign had been for real rather than a spoof, I wonder how many people would have voted for Larry? Teenage musician Screaming Lord Sutch received 585 votes the in the 1966 general election, and achieved his highest poll and vote share at Rotherham in 1994 with 1,114 votes. If screaming Lord Sutch can do it, why not Larry?
On a more serious note, this got me pondering on what it takes to make a Prime minister (PM) great?
In 2014 Researchers explored the leadership traits of British PMs from 1902 to 2004. Using Hermann’s Leadership Trait analysis (LTA). PMs were ranked against seven characteristics: the need for power, distrust, in-group bias, conceptual complexity, belief in the ability to control events, self-confidence, and task orientation. They concluded that PMs who project traits associated with strong LTA measures are usually viewed as ineffective leaders while in office. I wonder how Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and the great unknown, Larry the cat would have measured up against these metrics? With the appointment of Rishi Sunak my hope now is for a period of stability, calm and wisdom in UK politics.
If you’d like to read more about this research, here is the link. Enjoy!
Making mindfulness more intentional
This month I am busy at work preparing for two workshops that I am running on the importance of intention in mindfulness teaching and practice.
The first for the Black Asian and People of Colour (BAPOC) Mindfulness and Contemplative Practice Symposium: Finding Solidarity in our Intersectional
It’s on the 4th and 5th of November 2022, online. I will be running a one-hour workshop on Saturday 5th November at 4pm. The conference cost is £50, but they have £5 bursaries available.
The second is for the Dutch Mindfulness Association on Thursday, November 24 on The Importance of Intention in mindfulness. The session will be taught in English, and is open to anyone who is interested. Participation is free but the association would greatly appreciate any a voluntary contributions
Government help for small business leaders
I received an email today that said “Thank you for signing up as a mentor as part of the government's Help to Grow: Management Course. You're now part of a national effort to support small businesses.” I am proud to be volunteering as a mentor on this scheme.
The leadership development program has been designed by entrepreneurs and industry experts at world-class business schools. The program aims to provide time away from the challenges of running a business to invest in personal development as a leader, and to learn how to take businesses to the next level.
The programme is 90% funded by the government so entrepreneurs and small business owners only pay £750 for a top notch 12-week course. If you or someone you know would like to know more, or book their place, here is the link
Productivity hack #1 How to get more done in less time
Too much work? Too little time? In my coaching work I often work with clients who tell me they “just don’t have enough hours in the day”.
Every day consists of 24 hours, a third of which should be devoted to sleep to allow the brain to do essential repairs and consolidate learning into our long-term memory. That leaves 16 hours. Although many of us now work from for part or all of the week, some still spend four hours commuting for work. That leaves 12 hours. If you work 10 hours a day (which some of my clients do on a regular basis) that only leaves you 2 hours to spend with your family, relax, and recharge your energy cells. What happens when work demands increase or there are deadlines that must be met?
I can hear you sighing as you answer the question in your head “give up my personal time, and reduce my sleep”. This pattern of work is unsustainable in the long term as failure to have enough downtime is linked to burnout and serious chronic illnesses.
Whats the answer?
Get serious about the way you use your working hours.
Set a maximum number of working hours and stick to it.
Always allow enough time for sleep and relaxation.
Not so easy, I hear you say, but my work with clients proves that it is possible. I created a guide which I am happy to share with you. It’s on the ‘more free resources’ section of my Resources page.
Here are my five top tips, extracted from the guide:
1: Plan out each day.
Plans change, but planning is still very important.
There are many ways to plan (a number are listed in the guide), so take some time out and experiment to find the planning method that works best for you. Make sure you leave enough unallocated time for unexpected tasks that will inevitably arise. If you are a manager, allocate time in your week to support and develop junior staff you are responsible for. This will reduce the possibility of junior staff with urgent questions interrupting your flow at inconvenient moments.
2: Identify which tasks are urgent, and which are important
Great time management means being effective as well as efficient.
In other words, we must spend our time on things that are important and not just the ones that are urgent.
To do this, and to minimise the stress of having too many tight deadlines, we need to understand this distinction:
Important activities have an outcome that leads to us achieving our goals, whether these are professional or personal.
Urgent activities demand immediate attention and are usually associated with achieving someone else's goals. They are often the ones we concentrate on and they demand attention because the consequences of not dealing with them are immediate.
When we know which activities are important and which are urgent, we can overcome the natural tendency to focus on unimportant urgent activities, so that we can clear enough time to do what's essential for our success. This is the way we move from "firefighting" into a position where we can grow our businesses and our careers.
3. Determine your productive times
Are you a morning person, a night owl, or do you fall somewhere in between? Identify when you are most awake, alert, and motivated. Allocate this time to do your deep work and accomplish more of your daily tasks.
4. Avoid multitasking whenever possible
Research shows that multitasking does not work.
In fact, one study found that only around 2.5 percent of the population can multitask successfully.
One of the main reasons why multitasking does not work is because it impairs your best thinking. It divides your attention, and this can have a number of negative knock-on effects. It negatively impacts your attentiveness and doing too many different things at once can impair your cognitive ability. Scheduling in tasks allows you to single task more often and get more done in less time.
5. Learn to say “No” more often
To get things done and prove your worth as an employee it’s easy to say yes to too many things. In the long term this can lead to you working long hours to fit it all in, stress and eventually burnout.
If you often find yourself overworked or bogged down by too many responsibilities, you may need to start saying “no”.
Saying no opens a world of possibilities for you to manage your time more effectively and improve the value of the work you do.
My clients are nearly always sceptical when I suggest they should tactfully say no, but they quickly discover that many tasks can wait, and its ok to push back when unreasonable demands are made.
Some discover that their perfectionist traits are leading them to do more than is required. Clients also report that when they discuss their workload with their seniors, most are unaware of the volume of work their employees have. This is because a high proportion of excess work is imposed by others they do not report to. When seniors know the true extent of their workload, they normally offer support and help employees push back on non-essential tasks.
More ways to improve your productivity can be found on our resources page
Psychology: The downside of extroversion
In last month’s bulletin I discussed the advantages and disadvantages of being an introverted leader. I lean towards introversion, which can be tough at times in workplaces that are largely set up for extroverted employees. So, this month I wondered if there are any downsides to being extroverted?
A 2019 academic study of 97 robust studies exploring links between extraversion scores and workplace success concluded that extraverts were more motivated to do well, got on better with others, felt more positively about life (including challenges at work), and got better employer evaluations than introverted employees.
The researchers also noted the downside of being extroverted. Highly extrovert employees drive for sociability sensation-seeking often detracts from workplace success.
Extraversion is associated with all kinds of benefits and advantages, but these do have their limits.
Extroverts are no more trusted at work than introverts. Employees who are too overtly extrovert can be viewed negatively by colleagues. A US study found that more extraverted people are perceived to be poorer listeners. Participants in this study felt that extraverts were better at controlling and modifying how they come across to others. Another study of employees working for a large retailer concluded that extroverted leaders that are especially warm and enthusiastic, can be viewed as overwhelming by their subordinates.
My view is that there are up sides and downsides of both introversion and extroversion. I would like to see those who are on the introverted end of the human spectrum added to the neurodiversity portfolio. In an ideal world employers should value the neurodiversity of all staff, not just those who learn differently than others. Small workplace adaptations and changes in working culture can have a huge impact on neurodiverse employee’s happiness, productivity and coverall contribution. or more information you might like to read this British Psychological Society article.
Neuroscience #1: Why performance drops as it gets darker
I live in the flat Fenlands of rural Cambridgeshire in the UK. On the 1st of November the sun rose at 6.54. The sun set at 16.30, giving me 9hours and 36 minutes of daylight. By the time I get to the Winter solstice (the shortest day of the year) on the 21st of December the sun will not rise until 8.06, and set at 15.48, just 7 hours and 43 minutes of daylight.
As we move through autumn and the days get shorter you may start to feel sluggish. This is because shorter autumn and winter
days mean less light exposure, causing changes to your circadian rhythm. Your circadian clock is governed by how much light your body is getting in the day. It tells you when to be asleep and awake. Your body and internal organs are aligned to match the environment. The suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the brain coordinates your daily rhythms of alertness and sleepiness. Changes to your circadian rhythm as a result of reduced light intake can affect a number of functions in your body.
Darker days can:
Slow your metabolism
Decrease your levels of serotonin and dopamine leading to changes in emotions.
Lead to a decrease in your alertness and cognitive functioning
Lead to an over production of melatonin, making you feel fatigued
Lead for Seasonal affective disorder
Feeling hungry, foggy, and sluggish is a normal response to shorter days. There are several things you can do to mitigate the impact. These include:
Exercise to release endorphins that boost your mood and increase your metabolic activity
Limit access to blue light from electronic devices to help you sleep better
Taking in more natural light by making time to go outside, even for a short while
Eat mindfully by planning what you eat to reduce cravings for high sugar and high carb foods.
Go green - invest in some houseplants to improve your homes air quality and improve productivity
Look for opportunities to bring a bit of light and sparkle into your life. Maybe watch some fireworks (see below) or make the most of Christmas lights (more about the neuroscience of Christmas in next months edition).
My advice? Embrace the changing seasons and grasp any opportunity for fun, brightness and sparkle as the days get shorter.
What’s your intention as we head towards the winter solstice?
Neuroscience #2: What makes fireworks so appealing?
As the nights get longer, I enjoy any excuse for a bit of brightness and sparkle. I live in a small village with a population of less than 500. Every year we organise a village fireworks display. In previous years I have helped to organise it. This year I have the luxury of just being a spectator.
What is it about fireworks makes them so appealing and joyful?
The answer is intriguing.
Researchers say the reason we like fireworks so much is because they frighten us. Bright flashes like fireworks and lightning and sounds like the clap of thunder or the pop and whistle of a firework warn us something is about to happen. This activates the amygdala; the brains fear centre. The flashes of light activate the brain to anticipate threat. The pops, whistles and booms confirm to the brain that the threat is real. In response, our reward centres release dopamine into our bloodstream. As many of you will know dopamine is a chemical connected with the emotion of pleasure.
So why does fear generate delight in this instance?
According to Daniel Glaser, a neuroscientist and the director of Science Gallery London at King’s College, Fireworks evoke a slightly different form of fear. Unlike fear of the unknown, the fear generated by fireworks is controlled. After seeing fireworks light up, sparkle, pop and bang, our brains anticipate the sudden loud noise that follows the flashes of light. This explains why these fireworks often scare animals. While we know a sound is coming after the firework takes flight, animals are caught off guard by the sudden, loud noise.
“People seem to be excited by the anticipation of a slightly scary experience,” Glaser says. “Fireworks repeatedly set up this expectation. Each flash generates the anticipation of a bang, and that satisfaction seems to be what’s exciting about the display.”
Another reason we find fireworks so appealing is their novelty. As we watch fireworks explode, we witness sudden flashes and pattens of new wavelengths of colour we don’t normally see, which the brain treats as novel. The brain is constantly scanning our environment for anything new and novel, so allocates a lot of attention to it.
When we watch fireworks “live,” we’re witnessing an authentic representation of colour that are very different from the RBG-combinations we are used to seeing on TVs, tablets, and mobile phones.
The unexpectedness of colour combinations is another reason why fireworks are so enthralling. The rapid-fire noises and bright, novel pigments force us to freeze as the brain investigates the sudden influx of sound and colour.
Enjoy! I know I will.
Productivity Hack #2 Using your energy wisely
Maya Angelou, the well-known American author, and civil rights activist famously said
“What you're supposed to do when you don't like a thing is change it. If you can't change it, change the way you think about it. Don't complain.”
This may have been the inspiration for this Action for happiness poster.
"If you can't CHANGE it, change the way you THINK about it."
I frequently refer to this adage in my teaching and coaching work. Its about using your time, energy and attention wisely.
What things in your life that you have no power to change bother, niggle, or irritate you?
How could you change the way you think about them?
Note: For some people Christmas is a source of stress, worry or anxiety. If you are suffering from ‘housebarrassment’, anxiety about being judged by your friends or family, or societal pressures to spend more money than you have, I invite you to my popular annual Flourish at Christmas workshop. Flourish Bulletin readers get a 20% discount. Contact me for further information.
Productivity Hack #3 What’s your Purpose in life?
As you know, intention is a subject very dear to my heart. I spend hours researching it, writing about its practical applications, and helping organisations and individuals to live and work in a more purpose led, intentional manner.
People often ask me what the difference between Purpose and Intention is.
Purpose is your ‘WHY’ in life.
It is the highest and most powerful form of Intention that you can have. It shapes all other intentions in your life. It underpins WHY you do what you do. It may be small or expansive in scale.
Below this sit your intentions. These are specific things you WANT AT A VERY DEEP LEVEL in your life.
Intentions shape HOW you live your life. They focus your conscious and subconscious cognitive processes to make things happen.
To illustrate the power of intentions, here are some examples of Purpose and Intention statements.
Example: Corporate Purpose and Intention
Ultimately, the underlying purpose of all organisations is to make money. Not for profit organisations are no exception, they seek to make or raise money to benefit their chosen cause. Setting this aside, each organisation has in implicit or explicit purpose for existing.
Using IKEA as an example:
Purpose: “To create a better everyday life for the many people.”
Intention: “Offer a wide range of well-designed, functional home furnishing products at prices so low that as many people as possible will be able to afford them.”
Ikea’s purpose and intention drive business activities and performance and unite staff in an effort to fulfil their purpose and achieve their intentions.
Example of an Individuals Purpose and Intention
Ultimately all humans want to survive and strive towards thriving. Setting this aside we all have unique individual drivers.
The following example is from an individual I worked with this month. Tom* is under 30, a newly qualified chartered accountant, working very long hours for one of the Big 4 global accountancy firms. At this moment he’s feeling a little stressed and anxious and is questioning if working in accountancy is the career for him, as he feels little ‘passion’ for the job. After some time working together, discussion and refinement, he came up with the following:
Toms Purpose: To find contentment and prosperity
To find passion in my career
To travel and see more the world
To be happy and content in a loving relationship
To feel happy, calm, and confident
To build my resilience, adaptability, and perseverance
To find a balance between my home and work commitments.
Notice how both the purpose and intentions are broad and expansive in nature?
At this moment he does not know what he wants his career to be, but he does know that the most important thing in his life is “to find contentment and prosperity”. He also knows he wants to “find passion in my career”.
* Name and a couple of other details changed to protect my clients identity
These statements will now act as his inner GPS: focusing his attention at both a conscious and subconscious level to trigger decisions and actions that will help him to align his life for success.
These deep desires will lead him to find a life full of contentment and prosperity, a career he feels passionate about, build his resilience, confidence, and happiness.
From a cognitive neuroscience perspective, intention triggers a number of cognitive processes that occur at a subconscious level. This primes the brain to be hyper vigilant for any opportunities that might lead you towards the achievement of your intention. Once opportunities are spotted your brain will prompt you to pay attention and act. In my experience intentions often take shape in very unexpected ways.
The difference between goals and intentions
People often ask me if Intentions and Goals are the same thing. They are not. Goals are focused on future results. They keep you on track but often inhibit creativity and innovation. Sometimes, they turn out to be barriers to achieving what’s really important or needed at work, at home or in life in general.
Intentions focus on present moment, something you live and breathe every day. Working with intention allows you to be more flexible, agile, and resilient.
From an early age at school, we are taught to set goals and work towards them. These goals must be SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time bound. Whilst SMART goals might help to meet a performance target at work or deliver a project, they can also be highly restrictive. Their tight focus is both a help and a limitation, depending on the circumstance—and the intention!
Instead of setting SMART intentions, I invite you to experiment with identifying your purpose and intention. Become clear on the things you MUST have in life, your deepest desires in life, and see what unfolds.
Intention setting is a powerful tool, and its freely available to all. Its my intention to increase awareness of the power of intention so more people can benefit from it. If you’d like to know more about Purpose and Intention, I’d be happy to help or point you in the direction.
November recommended read: Flow
This months recommended read is ‘Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’
This book combines over 40 years of ground-breaking research with practical advice. The author argues that the key to optimal experience is a state of flow.
The book argues that the human brain is most happy when engaged in the meaningful pursuit of an intention.
Csikszentmihalyi demonstrates that the need to focus and lose yourself in the moment is the key to finding inner peace, happiness, and order in the midst of our chaotic lives.
Lots of gems and wise words of wisdom in this book.
Wishing you a great November.
With best wishes, Juliet