Archive for the 'Learning' Category

“Everyone can relate to a story”

“[O]ne of the best ways to relate to somebody is not to lecture them, but to tell them a story….” —Mitch Albom

“The reason that I never fear when they say journalism or print journalism is dead is that the world has always told stories, and it will always have to tell stories. The first thing I would say to leaders of any kind is everyone can relate to a story, and if you learn how to tell a story, whether that is your vision for a company, or just a way to be empathetic toward your customers or a way to just understand the world, if you put it in a storytelling form, as opposed to a didactic, factual PowerPoint presentation, everyone will be able to relate to it.” —Mitch Albom

A village was having a celebration on the banks of a river when someone noticed that a child was being swept past the picnic grounds in a torrent of water. A line of citizens was quickly formed, and the child was pulled to safety.

Moments later someone observed that several more children were being swept past in the river. Again a line was formed, and the children were rescued.

But soon more children filled the fast-moving river, so many in the fact that the villagers no longer had the strength to pull them out.

In their exhaustion a citizen of the village pointed out that aerobic and strength training should be offered in the village hall so that should this happen again they would be stronger and better prepared. Someone else said that a CPR class should also be scheduled.

A final voice was heard with the suggestion that the village should quickly make its way upstream to find out who or what was throwing the children into the river.

This story, which I heard told many years ago, illustrates at least two points:

  • “System problems,” that is problems that have their source in interacting variables larger than the current circumstance, cannot be solved by training alone.
  • The power of a story to make an important point about a complex idea. People tend to “lean into” stories and away from fact-laden lectures.

What is your experience in using stories to make important points?

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?

Have “mindful conversations”

It might not matter what I say, since some American conversations resemble a succession of monologues. A 2014 study led by a psychologist at Yeshiva University found that when researchers crossed two unrelated instant-message conversations, as many as 42 percent of participants didn’t notice. –Pamela Druckerman

Like most of us, I sometimes find myself in “conversations” with people who are far more interested in what they have to say than what’s on my mind.

Likewise, I have participated in too many “conversations” that remain on the surface as they move quickly from topic to topic.

I have also participated in conversations that were deep, meaningful, and, in some cases, life changing for me and others.

Participants leave these conversations with a greater appreciation of and respect for one another, altered views regarding important subjects, and solutions found for what seemed like intractable problems.

In the conversations I prefer participants have an openness to being influenced as well as a desire to influence. Participants listen carefully and seek to better understand themselves as well as each other.

Such conversations are unpredictable because they are likely to take on lives of their own, which makes them the kind of conversations in which resilient people thrive.

Druckerman points to the primary underlying skill required in these conversations:

“A lot of us — myself included — could benefit from a basic rule of improvisational comedy: Instead of planning your next remark, just listen very hard to what the other person is saying. Call it ‘mindful conversation,’ if you like.”

What kind of conversations do you prefer, and how do you create them?

Habits of resilient people

The first step is learning how to do it. Finding and obtaining the insight and the tools and the techniques you need. Understanding how it works. But step two is easily overlooked. Step two is turning it into a habit. Committing to the practice. Showing up and doing it again and again until you’re good at it, and until it’s part of who you are and what you do. —Seth Godin

Learning about something is only the first step.

Understanding an idea or practice deeply requires more of us.

Learning to do something correctly is harder still.

Learning to do it consistently until it becomes a habit is even harder. Such learning is founded on discipline and practice.

Here are a few habits we are likely to see in resilient people:

• Seeking clarity in the midst of confusion regarding purposes, values, goals, and next actions.

• Acting with integrity, particularly in speaking their truth and keeping their promises.

• Accepting responsibility for their actions.

• Taking calculated risks that move them out of their comfort zones.

• Learning from their mistakes.

• Using their strengths.

• Having empathy for the experiences and perspective of others.

What would you add to this list?

What are the ingredients of pre-traumatic growth?

Resilience is the strength and speed of our response to adversity, and we can build it. It isn’t about having a backbone. It’s about strengthening the muscles around our backbone.” —Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant 

In the wake of the most crushing blows, people can find greater strength and deeper meaning. I also believe that it is possible to experience pre-traumatic growth—that you don’t have to experience tragedy to build your resilience for whatever lies ahead.” —Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy

Is it possible to grow in preparation for tragedy or other forms of adversity—that is, to strengthen the muscles around our back bones prior to needing to draw on that strength?

Or, is suffering an essential prerequisite to such growth? That is, without suffering we wouldn’t have the opportunity or motivation to learn those things.

If pre-traumatic growth is possible, what are its ingredients?

Here are a few I would put on my list:

• Recognizing that life is essentially unfair and that inevitably we will experience some of that unfairness in our own lives.

• Building a community of relationships that can offer emotional support and practical assistance in times of adversity.

• Establishing healthy eating, exercise, and other health habits to sustain our bodies and minds during inevitable difficult periods.

• Reading biographies and autobiographies to broaden our perspective regarding how others have dealt with significant life challenges.

• Gaining confidence by inventorying strengths acquired and used during previous difficulties.

• Remembering that: “This, too, shall pass.”

What would you add to this list?

Developing positive emotions and resilience

Is it possible for people to develop skills associated with emotional and social intelligence?

The answer is “yes.”

More specifically, is it possible for people to increase their positive emotions and, in turn, their resilience in the face of illness and other adversity?

The answer is also “yes.”

“[N]ew research is demonstrating that people can learn skills that help them experience more positive emotions when faced with the severe stress of a life-threatening illness,” Jane Brody reports.

“Judith T. Moskowitz, a professor of medical social sciences at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, developed a set of eight skills to help foster positive emotions….”

“An important goal of the training is to help people feel happy, calm and satisfied in the midst of a health crisis. Improvements in their health and longevity are a bonus. Each participant is encouraged to learn at least three of the eight skills and practice one or more each day.

The eight skills are:

■ Recognize a positive event each day.

■ Savor that event and log it in a journal or tell someone about it.

■ Start a daily gratitude journal.

■ List a personal strength and note how you used it.

■ Set an attainable goal and note your progress.

■ Report a relatively minor stress and list ways to reappraise the event positively.

■ Recognize and practice small acts of kindness daily.

■ Practice mindfulness, focusing on the here and now rather than the past or future.”

I encourage you to experiment with one or more of these strategies for at least a week and to note their effects on your mood and ability to deal with adversity.

How adults can boost their resilience

While resilience is an essential skill for healthy childhood development, science shows that adults also can take steps to boost resilience in middle age, which is often the time we need it most. Midlife can bring all kinds of stressors, including divorce, the death of a parent, career setbacks and retirement worries, yet many of us don’t build the coping skills we need to meet these challenges. 

Scientists who study stress and resilience say it’s important to think of resilience as an emotional muscle that can be strengthened at any time. While it’s useful to build up resilience before a big or small crisis hits, there still are active steps you can take during and after a crisis to speed your emotional recovery. —Tara Parker-Pope

Given that resilience is an “emotional muscle” that can be strengthened at any time, and given that human beings can learn important skills throughout their lives, it is enabling to know that there are practical ways to boost our resilience, such as these suggested by Parker-Pope:

Practice Optimism… Optimism doesn’t mean ignoring the reality of a dire situation. After a job loss, for instance, many people may feel defeated and think, ‘I’ll never recover from this.’ An optimist would acknowledge the challenge in a more hopeful way, saying, ‘This is going to be difficult, but it’s a chance to rethink my life goals and find work that truly makes me happy.’

“While it sounds trivial, thinking positive thoughts and surrounding yourself with positive people really does help. Dr. Steven Southwick, a psychiatry professor at Yale Medical School and Dr. Charney’s co-author, notes that optimism, like pessimism, can be infectious. His advice: ‘Hang out with optimistic people.’”

Rewrite Your Story…. Study after study has shown that we can benefit from reframing the personal narrative that shapes our view of the world and ourselves. In expressive writing studies, college students taught to reframe their college struggles as a growth opportunity got better grades and were less likely to drop out. A Harvard study found that people who viewed stress as a way to fuel better performance did better on tests and managed their stress better physiologically than those taught to ignore stress.

Don’t Personalize It. We have a tendency to blame ourselves for life’s setbacks and to ruminate about what we should have done differently. In the moment, a difficult situation feels as if it will never end. To bolster your resilience, remind yourself that even if you made a mistake, a number of factors most likely contributed to the problem and shift your focus to the next steps you should take.

Remember Your Comebacks. When times are tough, we often remind ourselves that other people — like war refugees or a friend with cancer — have it worse. While that may be true, you will get a bigger resilience boost by reminding yourself of the challenges you personally have overcome.”

Parker-Pope concludes: “The good news is that some of the qualities of middle age — a better ability to regulate emotions, perspective gained from life experiences and concern for future generations — may give older people an advantage over the young when it comes to developing resilience, said Adam Grant, a management and psychology professor at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. “There is a naturally learnable set of behaviors that contribute to resilience….”

What specific behavior, if consistently practiced, would strengthen your resilience?


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