Being home for Christmas in my family means getting the “what are you doing with your life” questions over and over. My life happens to make more sense on paper these days (graduate school! software consulting firm!), so these conversations make me feel less vulnerable than in years past. But I still don’t really know what I want to do when I grow up.
I feel allergic to the cultural assumption that people should “settle down” into a singular, unchanging story. I’m still waist-deep in a process of refining what I’m passionate about, and figuring out what form the next phase of my journey might take. And maybe that doesn’t make me flaky or ungrounded. Maybe that means I’m being true to myself, however difficult that may be. I wrote earlier about research that shows how happiness is really about being engaged in an ongoing process of discovery and transformation. This wisdom is starting to sink in for me. Maybe I don’t ever need to be a finished product.
In school at BGI, we’re talking a lot about how to support students in developing career plans. But the notion of a “plan” sounds wrong to me. It feels more like discover > prototype > refine > reinvent > discover > repeat. Planning your life is like writing a business plan: the only thing you know for sure is that you’re going to be wrong.
Its been wonderful the past few months to explore the realm of happiness, personal growth and development as they pertain to the business world. I feel pretty open-ended and a little lost with these questions, but I know I’m still passionate about this space. I think I’m at the stage of finding my context and framing, and finding the right question within that framing to explore.
As my friend Jean Russel says, “Everything is always just a prototype.”
In the last 20 years, the study of happiness has moved from the realm of poets and philosophers and into the psychology lab.
A recent book called “The Happiness of Pursuit” by Shimon Edelman suggests that,
…a changing, growing self, constantly shaped by new experiences, is happier than the satisfaction any end goal can give us. It turns out the rewards we get for learning and understanding the workings of the world really make it the journey, not the destination, that matters most.
(Excerpt from a Salon.com article)
Some of the research he cites tells us that more money, a new spouse, or a new car can make us happier, but usually only for a very short period of time.
We’ve mismatched the ends and the means.
Happiness itself should be the ultimate goal, not the intermediate stuff like new cars or even meditation that we seek to achieve it through. The word “end” doesn’t really work for me- it elicits the same falsity that there even is an end. In nature this would be homeostasis, which is another word for death.
Below is Herman Daly’s Ultimate Means – Ultimate Ends spectrum. It makes a lot of sense to me:
Purpose? Personal development in teams? Happiness?
I’m circling around a bit in my inquiry. I have this hunch that it will pencil out if companies and organizations invest in the personal growth and happiness of their employees. My thinking is that resulting improvements in team communication, drive and creativity will more than pay for the efforts to support those qualities. Oh yeah, and its the right thing to do. Oh yeah, and maybe the purpose of our companies should be to make the people within then (and without them) happier.
The issue is, “personal growth” is horribly vague and subjective, and a culturally loaded term.
It has something to do with people finding deeper meaning in their lives, and showing how that ripples positive effects all around them- including through their work.
I’ve been doing a lot of reading about psychology and behavior change but I feel like I’m just scratching the surface. I would love to sit down with someone who is a PhD in behavioral psychology or brain science or consciousness studies and learn all the established facts about how people tick.
One thing I have learned is that happiness appears to be a fairly objective and observable phenomenon using EEG machines to monitor brain activity. So perhaps I need to switch to talking about happiness.
I need a stronger framing for how I’m looking at this question. Perhaps I need to learn more about the flow state, positive psychology, the benefits of meditation, etc. and begin to look at how companies can create work environments that help people get into those states. Is that it? Is anyone already doing that?
I’m running up against the limit of what I can do as a guy reading books and writing blog posts. I need to talk to other people who are actually doing this stuff! Help me out!
(For the lineage/background of this post, check out the posts that have led up to it in the “co.purpose” tag)
I’m obsessed with motivation. It can be such a slippery quality- there one moment, gone the next. Some of the most frustrating times are when we know we need to do something, and yet somehow we spin circles of avoidance and procrastination around ourselves.
This is because our rational mind is only the rider of an elephant – it has limited power to direct.
Behavioral research has found that the vast majority of human decisions are made based on emotions. Emotions are the Elephant.
I’ve been reading this book called Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. The basic premise is this:
Our emotions are in control, so we’d be smart to take heed and craft our change-making efforts around cat-herding our emotions.
An except from Switch:
- Direct the Rider. What looks like resistance is usually a lack of clarity. If the Rider doesn’t know where to go, they spin the Elephant in circles. To direct the rider, create a crystal clear vision of the outcome. This includes when or how much, along with a specific set of actions and tactics to get there.
- Motivate the Elephant. What looks like laziness is often exhaustion. Make your audience feel the need for change. Analytical appeals don’t cut it. Knowing is not enough. Get beyond the knowing and make it possible for people to feel the impact. Win the heart and the mind follows.
- Shape the Path. What looks like a people problem is often a situation problem. Make it easy to embrace the change. Make instructions simple with step-by-step guidance. Provide support groups. Create training. Pair people up with mentors. Create peer pressure and social proof. Behavior is contagious.
Since emotions drive behavior, smart companies will learn to use this to their advantage not to manipulate customers, but to genuinely motivate employees.
As Daniel Pink shows us, when it comes to creative problem-solving, people don’t perform better because of monetary incentive. People perform better when they find meaning in what they are doing. They perform better when their emotions are aligned with the task at hand.
This all leaves me with a big question:
How exactly do we leverage our emotions toward desired outcomes?
I don’t know! Lets figure it out together! What other tools have you found that might help us make positive use our emotions?
Let’s continue this journey into how our work can become our Calling.
Many of us have at least a vague sense of what makes us feel most alive — the thing you would do for the rest of your life if money were no object. The tricky bit is actually DOING it! So let’s learn a little bit more about behavior change, and hack ourselves to happiness.
I just finished reading Influence by Robert Cialdini.
The six strongest psychological factors that can be used to influence other people’s behavior are:
1) Reciprocity : once someone gives us something we feel compelled to give back to clear the debt.
2) Commitment and Consistency : once we do something we want to act in a fashion that is consistent with the original action to maintain our self-image
3) Social proof : we do things because other people do them. The lemur effect & “first follower” phenomenon.
4) Liking : we are more influenced by people who we like
5) Authority : this is about duty and obligation
6) Scarcity : when something is limited we can be more easily influenced to try to get it
This book is about how to influence other people, but I’d like to experiment with how to use these cognitive biases to influence our own behavior toward the desired goal of a more purposeful work life.
I think this is all about Self-Image. We need to be more aware of how we see ourselves and how this affects what we think we should do in the world.
We might start with Liking: how can we treat ourselves better and slow down the self-badgering that many of us do to ourselves?
Then we might use Social Proof by surrounding ourselves with people who get our deeper and more intimate sense of purpose, and can model the good behaviors that we want to join. Just hanging out with these people who impress a “positive influence” on us continues to shift our self-image.
Now that we have sufficiently altered our self-image, we might start using Commitment and Consistency to act in accordance with that new mental models of ourself. We can reinforce this by doing one-time new activities that chip away at the calcified self-images that no longer serve us. Instead of trying to do a month-long health fast, just drink one smoothie. Instead of committing to a Yoga Teacher training, go to one class. Then, celebrate the small win and fall in love with yourself a little more.
My hunch is that Scarcity is not a good way to shift toward a more meaningful life. But it is good to keep in mind that you have only one life to live.