Archive for the 'Emotional Intelligence' Category

Viewing life as improvisation

I have yet to find anybody who finds their gift…. [I]t’s much better to think of something you want to attain and then get the help of teachers and parents to start you on the path of creating that. On that path, you may decide you want to go in a different direction. That’s fine. But you haven’t simply been waiting around for something that would allow you to instantaneously become good because that’s never happening. And I think the process of really seeing how you can improve is something that will transfer even if you try to improve in some other domain. —Cory Turner

Many young people, and older ones as well, are paralyzed by the belief that there is one true path in life that will fulfill their destiny.

As a result, they drift in a kind of limbo waiting for that path to reveal itself.

Another way to think about important life decisions, however, is to view them as a series of experiments or prototypes.

This improvisational perspective is one that resilient people often apply in their lives.

A New York Times article about a new book, Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life, by Bill Burnett and Dale Evans, addresses this issue:

“A common mistake that people make … is to assume that there’s only one right solution or optimal version of your life, and that if you choose wrong, you’ve blown it,” the article points out.

“Design thinking, as rendered in the book, is about treating life in a more improvisational way….

“Their method is experiential and accepts that failure is part of the process.

“Central to the philosophy is prototyping, a concept borrowed from how product designers work. Let’s say you’re thinking of changing careers. Interview someone who does the job you’re considering. Better yet, ask to shadow them for a day, or work in the field on weekends. If it feels right, take it a step further; if it doesn’t, move on.

“‘It’s a classic form of design,” Mr. Burnett said. ‘You build a lot of stuff, you try a lot of stuff. But it’s always less than the whole product.’”

There are many possible paths in life that can make use of our talents and interests, that will be alighted with our values, and that will be deeply satisfying..

Which means that finding our life’s purpose is to a large degree a process of well-designed experiments paired with an openness to follow emerging opportunities.

What has your life taught you about the role of experimentation and improvisation in creating a meaningful life?

What is resilience, and how do we get it?

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places. That line of Hemingway’s is famous for good reason. What sticks in most people’s minds is the phrase “strong at the broken places.” It’s also important to remember his qualifier: many. Not all. Not all of us are strong at the broken places. To be strong at the broken places is to be resilient. Being broken, by itself, does not make us better. Hardship can create a helpless person or a heroic one. – Eric Greitens, Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life

Is resilience simply a synonym for perseverance or strength in the face of hardship? Or is it just another way of looking at concepts like grit or emotional intelligence?

Is resilience something we are born with, inherit from the early modeling of elders, or acquire as a result of challenging life events?

Does it mean “recovery” to a previous way of being after a disrupting event, or does it mean “growth” to a stronger, more resourceful way of life?

Can we cultivate resilience in ourselves in preparation for life challenges by intentionally stretching ourselves into a new and even transformative way of being?

What is resilience?

The Resilience Research Centre defines resilience as a return to normalcy:

“Most commonly, the term resilience has come to mean an individual’s ability to overcome adversity and continue his or her normal development,” the organization says.

Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy in Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back, see resilience as learning how to live effectively in a “new normal”:

“[A]ny number of sudden and serious disruptions might cause you to be ‘flipped’ over the threshold separating your present context and a new one…. Unfortunately, many of these thresholds may be crossed only in one direction: Once forces have compelled you into a new circumstance, it may be impossible for you to return to your prior environment. You’ll have entered a new normal.”

An example: Individuals who have lost a loved one to death often use the term “new normal” to describe their lives after the loss.

On the other hand, Eric Greitens, in Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life, views resilience as an expression of growth:

“Resilience is the virtue that enables people to move through hardship and become better. No one escapes pain, fear, and suffering. Yet from pain can come wisdom, from fear can come courage, from suffering can come strength—if we have the virtue of resilience….

An example: After a traumatic life event such as a divorce or loss of a job some people say in retrospect that “it was the best thing that ever happened to me” because it enabled possibilities that were not previously seen.

For my own purposes I have synthesized this working definition:

re·sil·ience\ri-ˈzil-yən(t)s\ noun: the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful after misfortune or disruptive change

That is, resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity, sometimes in a new and stronger form, to not only survive, but at least in some circumstances to thrive.

In many ways resilience is an organizer for understanding and integrating the qualities that enable individuals and organizations to persevere and sometimes thrive in the face of change and even hardship.

Those ideas and practices include but are not limited to emotional and social intelligence, positive psychology, a growth mindset, and grit, ideas and practices that can be found in many of my posts.

Perhaps the most important question is: Can we develop resilience in preparation for life’s inevitable challenges?

The Mayo Clinic says we can:

“Resilience won’t make your problems go away — but resilience can give you the ability to see past them, find enjoyment in life and better handle stress. If you aren’t as resilient as you’d like to be, you can develop skills to become more resilient.’

In Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back Andrew Zolli and Ann Marie Healy reach a similar conclusion:

“New scientific research suggests that personal, psychic resilience is more widespread, improvable, and teachable than previously thought. That’s because our resilience is rooted not only in our beliefs and values, in our character, experiences, values, and genes, but critically in our habits of mind—habits we can cultivate and change.”

Perhaps resilience is no more complicated than this:

• In life we have hard times. Sometimes we recover from them, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes when we recover we are as strong or even stronger than before.

• Resilience may stimulate growth. Such growth requires reflection on our experiences and perhaps actively seeking and acquiring new ways of thinking and behaving.

• If we are fortunate, we learned along the way from role models—for instance, family members or mentors—who teach us through example and provide encouragement and hope.

As you think about your own resilience or the resilience of those close to you, do you see examples of growth to new levels of strength and competency? 

In your experience, can resilience be intentionally cultivated?

The link between “deep thought” and solitude

Depth of thought matters in classrooms, in meetings for decision making, and in meaningful professional learning.

While depth requires time, a lack of time is not a sufficient excuse. There is always time to do what matters, and depth always trumps superficiality.

Depth requires:


Habits of mind and behavior that value slowness over speed, focus over multi-tasking, nuanced understanding over superficiality, and problem-solving over complaining;

Protocols that keep participants focused on paying attention to both the accomplishment of tasks and the quality of relationships; and

• Solitude.

Most of all, solitude.

Cal Newport offers 2 “lessons” about solitude:

“Lesson #1: The right way to define “solitude” is as a subjective state in which you’re isolated from input from other minds.

“When we think of solitude, we typically imagine physical isolation (a remote cabin or mountain top), making it a concept that we can easily push aside as romantic and impractical. But as this book makes clear, the real key to solitude is to step away from reacting to the output of other minds: be it listening to a podcast, scanning social media, reading a book, watching TV or holding an actual conversation. It’s time for your mind to be alone with your mind — regardless of what’s going on around you.

“Lesson #2: Regular doses of solitude are crucial for the effective and resilient functioning of your brain.

“Spending time isolated from other minds is what allows you to process and regulate complex emotions. It’s the only time you can refine the principles on which you can build a life of character. It’s what allows you to crack hard problems, and is often necessary for creative insight. If you avoid time alone with your brain your mental life will be much more fragile and much less productive.”

What are the conditions in your personal and professional lives that enable depth of thought?

Teachers are our first responders

I can no longer listen to the names and abbreviated life histories read out on radio and TV after yet another massacre of children

A New York Times article offers this straightforward explanation for mass shootings such as the one that occurred last week at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida:

“After Britain had a mass shooting in 1987, the country instituted strict gun control laws. So did Australia after a 1996 incident. But the United States has repeatedly faced the same calculus and determined that relatively unregulated gun ownership is worth the cost to society….

“‘In retrospect Sandy Hook marked the end of the US gun control debate,’ Dan Hodges, a British journalist, wrote in a post on Twitter two years ago, referring to the 2012 attack that killed 20 young students at an elementary school in Connecticut. ‘Once America decided killing children was bearable, it was over.’”

I don’t know if the United States has crossed a line from which there is no return because too many politicians have calculated that the sacrifice of children’s lives is an acceptable cost to bear so that Americans can possess 300 million guns, many of which are designed to kill as many people as quickly as possible.

When elected leaders lack the political courage to place reasonable limitations on gun ownership because of their fear of the gun lobby, teachers become this nation’s first responders both during and after these tragedies.

I try to imagine what it is like to be be a teacher who knows that no community is immune from gun violence as he or she seeks to reassure students that their schools are safe places.

They cannot help but see the faces of their students and of their own children in the  images they view on television.

How, I wonder, do teachers take care of their students and themselves and each other during times like these?

5 “truths” about teaching as a career

Resilient teachers understand that:

1.Those who can simultaneously do many complex tasks, teach; those who can’t go elsewhere (or at least we hope that they do). Teaching is intellectually, emotionally, and physically demanding. When done well, is a career-long marathon, not a sprint.

2. It is better to teach as part of a high-functioning team than alone. Having respected and trusted colleagues, preferably as teammates, makes the intellectual, emotional, and physical requirements of teaching  sustainable across decades.

3. Continuously changing circumstances (student characteristics, curriculum, and so on) require new understandings, beliefs, and skills.

4. Therefore, teachers have a professional obligation throughout their careers to improve their knowledge and skills through deliberate practice and feedback from students and colleagues.

5. All of the above require skillful leadership on the part of both teachers and administrators, particularly in creating cultures of continuous improvement.

What have I missed?

If ignorance is not the problem, what is?

[I]gnorance is rarely the problem. The challenge is that people don’t always care about what you care about. And the reason they don’t care isn’t that they don’t know what you know. The reason is that they don’t believe what you believe. The challenge, then, isn’t to inform them. It’s to engage and teach and communicate in a way that shares emotion and values and beliefs. – Seth Godin

It is common to blame ignorance for what we view as someone’s wrong-headed behavior.

Not knowing something important, of course, is sometimes the problem.

But more often than not when people argue about ideas or goals or strategies, especially with strong emotion, they are as likely arguing about underlying beliefs, which are often invisible to participants in the “conversation.”

Resilient people listen attentively for the beliefs that are often hidden beneath the surface of conversations, and they engage others in respectful conversations about their beliefs.

Such listening is challenging, of course, because of the emotions that may be attached to often invisible beliefs.

But unless we listen deeply and have dialogue about our beliefs we will continue to repeat the same frustrating conversations, conversations that not only diminish our influence but may damage important relationships.

What skills or processes enable you to “engage and teach and communicate in a way that shares emotion and values and beliefs”?

5 things I know now I wish I had known then

Last fall’s PBS documentary series on the Vietnam War by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick evoked in me, as it did in many others, deeply emotional memories from that era.

Fifty years ago, in January 1968, newspaper headlines and the evening news, the CNN of that era, provided updates on the Tet Offensive in Vietnam.

During the next 6 months, American troop levels in Vietnam were increased, Civil Rights and anti-war demonstrations filled American streets, President Lyndon Johnson announced he would not seek reelection, and Martin Luther King, Jr. and Bobby Kennedy were murdered.

It was far more than many of us could absorb yet alone understand.

That spring I received a new draft status, 1A, which meant I was immediately eligible for the draft. Hoping for the best, I signed my first teaching contract in the Detroit suburbs. And in June I graduated from college.

Everything within and around me and in the country and world seemed foggy and frightening.

I could not see more than a few weeks into the future, and I could not have imagined then what it would be like to look back on those 6 months from the perspective of 50 years.

Reflecting on that intense period reminds me that sometimes things work out better than we think they will in our darkest hours. But 50 years of history have also taught me that sometimes for some people they don’t.

While I didn’t go to Vietnam, hundreds of thousands did, often not of their own choosing, and millions of lives were lost and others destroyed in the United States and Southeast Asia.

From the perspective of 50 years, I glean these lessons:

1. Our lives are shaped by powerful forces much larger than ourselves, which means that the life circumstances of any individual cannot simply be reduced to “personal choice.” Bad things do happen to good people through no fault of their own.

2. We can’t control everything, but we can affect many things that really matter, most of which are life-style related. Those factors include, but are not limited to, paying attention to important relationships and having a healthy diet and sufficient physical activity.

3. One of the most important things we can control is our attitude, with gratitude for things both large and small being first among the attitudes that can make a significant difference in the quality of our lives.

4. In the long run experiences we share with family and friends are far more important than things.

5. While life can be lived one day at a time (or hour or minute), there is value in both planning for the future (while holding those plans loosely) and on finding meaning, purpose, and a sense of continuity by reflecting on the past.

What has your life taught you that you wish you had known then?

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