Archive for the 'Learning' Category

Will Power Alone is not Enough

Summary of The Secrets of Self-Improvement by Marina Krakovsky

A study published in Psychological Science, 2009 showed that “participants with the highest opinion of their self restraint were the most likely to give into temptation.  Those with the most modest, realistic assessment of their own abilities fared best.” This article points out that both self-awareness and self-motivation are key components of successful change.

Most of the time, people make significant changes on their own without the help of doctors or programs. Based on some of the latest neuroscientific research, this article highlights some of the key steps for making changes – long beyond the week after New Year’s Eve.  In summary they are:

  1. Maintaining realistic expectations
  2. Aligning with your deep motivators
  3. Taking baby steps
  4. Formulating Action Plans

According to Perth based psychologist, Martin Hegger, it’s easier to justify our actions and much harder to align our actions with our thoughts. Habits being hard to break is what makes them useful, so it’s not easy to change.  For instance, being in places aligned with a habit will have a big impact on our unconscious processing, making old habits easy to fall in to.  Ex-smokers know this when they go to an old pub, or house where they used to smoke.

Some pointers to keep in mind when forming new habits…

  • Lapses Are Normal. Don’t treat them as failure, just make adjustments to get back on track as soon as possible.
  • Mental Contrasting. There are two ways that mental imaging can help you break old habits The images to contrast are:
  1. A picture of the successful result.
  2. The specific obstacles that can get in the way.

For example, when resolving to save money, it helps to a) imagine the larger bank balance and b) wrestling with the decision to join friends on an expensive dinner.  This mental contrasting can help you “procrastinate less and tackle challenges more enthusiastically.”

  • Engage Your Autopilot. Imagine yourself taking steps to support your new habit in simple practical terms.  Seeing yourself stopping at the shop on the way home to buy three kinds of vegetables will help make the change easier.  This planning backfires when we attach rationale statements like “because I want to lose weight.”  Such rationalisations involve the thinking mind and the opportunity for doubt and old habitual mental processes can hijack the change process.  Using positive language, “will” as opposed to “will not,” is also key.
  • Find Your Own Why.  “Should do’s” without a link to personal values are hard to sustain.  When looking at new habits, ensure they are aligned with your psychological needs – such as those posited in humanist theory such as competence, contribution, closeness and autonomy. People who spent time finding their own personal motivations were far more successful than those incentivised by external motivators, such as financial gain.
  • Take Baby Steps. If completing the task you set is questionable, then it’s not a good start.  Breaking down goals into small achievable steps can help both give quicker wins and reduce the impact of setbacks. Developing coping skills such as effective scheduling and realistic goal setting are two key ways to support change.

Finally, remember that change is never easy and not all these steps will work for everyone or every habit.  This latest research suggests that the most important thing is to find your own way, and particularly ensuring these changes are aligned with your own values.  It’s not going to happen overnight, but it is never the wrong time to start taking steps toward a better life. Enjoy!

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Learning How to Learn

Accelerated Learning Comes Down to Attitude:

A recent study at Michigan State University has revealed that those who believe in learning, learn faster.  This means that attitude may be as importance as ability in the learning process.

Tracking electrical impulses in the brain has allowed researches to identify two responses to learning: One, the moment of awareness and; Two; what to do with that awareness.  Those that believed intelligence to be pliable put more “brain energy” into learning and so improved.

The good news is that this attitude or approach can also be developed, we can learn how to learn.  How? By focusing on the process, rather than the outcome.  Or concentrating on the “throw,” rather than the “catch.”  And that approach may be even more important than the skill itself.

see: The Oops! Response by MW Moyer

Emotions

Here is a link to a test put together by the University of Cambridge on reading emotions.

http://www.darwinproject.ac.uk/emotions/

Reflexive Leadership – Shifting Balances

As a provider of leadership and management training, with endorsements from  Train to Gain, I believe it is important to lay out what I mean by leadership development.  There is a big buzz about “leadership” following Iraq, the financial crisis and even climate change issues.

There are at least two forces challenging notions of leadership that are facing us today.  They include:

  1. The dissatisfaction with current models of political and organisational power that have led us into the calamities listed above.
  2. A matter of definition – one that remains, perhaps necessarily, mercurial and oblique.

The first of these two issues is a matter of some debate and energy, particularly in current think tanks.  Matthew Taylor of the RSA is adamant about challenging the current and outdated models of “leadership by deference.”  One of the challenges here is that to step beyond a culture of deference requires an extra degree of self-responsibility.  This is an interesting challenge and one that can be explored on his blog here.

Elements of Reflexive Leadership

The second one, of definition, is the main purpose of this entry.  It is also one that will be forever changing, so it is with a degree of predicted obsolescence that I attempt to name what I mean by leadership, or specifically, Reflexive Leadership.  It includes the following elements:

  • Awareness
  • Reflection
  • Creativity
  • Knowledge
  • Access to resources
  • Vision, and
  • Accountability

Reflexive leadership is based on the increasing awareness of the value of self-reflection in practice – whether it be as a therapist, student or business person. This practice is commonly seen in Kolb’s learning cycle and occurs when attempting to learn any new skill or conquer arising challenges.  The value of reflection has long been acknowledged, but in time-poor environments, it is often the first thing to go.

However, this can be a costly mistake in the long run.  As pointed out by David Allen, this thinking time. named “knowledge work” is often THE work that needs to be done.  Take yourself – as a skilled practitioner in whatever field you have chosen.  Let us say, something arises that is challenging your performance or objective.  Nine times out of ten it is not your lack of skill or know-how that is the problem, the problem is based on either one of two elements:

  1. It is relational.  Something is affecting you, your colleagues or your clients and is having an impact.  Chances are it is not directly related to the current content of your delivery or objective.  These matters may seem to be unprofessional distractions, but we ignore them at our peril.  Clearing such matters up can unblock many obstacles and put your delivery back on track.  If this is something that cannot be done by you, an acknowledgement of this as a genuine support need can go a long way to increasing your team’s performance.
  2. There is something outside of your awareness that is affecting the issue.  Take for example you are exploring diversity with your team for the day – and have hired a building that looks like a courthouse to do so.  It may happen that some of the people have not had good experience with the law, or may just feel intimidated by the setting.  Without realising why, you notice some of the people involved are closed or even irritated.  As people from minorities often experience oppression directly or indirectly from such institutions, the venue may be having an unitended impact on the day.  This is not to say that one shouldn’t use courthouses or avoid symbols of contention, rather an awareness of them needs to be brought in – and in fact, when done well, can make for transformational discoveries.

Addressing either of these two elements takes reflection and thinking time.  Building time in before and after to reflect on choices can go a long way in supporting solid leadership.

In any situation, it may also just be that the communication loop is not connected and that somewhere something is not coherent.  This may be between:

  • your intention and your message;
  • your message delivery and it’s perception;
  • or perhaps in missed feedback from your recipients.

Again, being a reflexive leader will help identify these shortcomings and address them.

Reflexive Leadership isn’t just confined to reflection and thinking time.  It also demands a more immediate sense of “response-ability.”  That is, good leaders are able to respond to unavoidable and unpredictable challenges.  While this ability can be improved through reflection, it also requires creativity, support and knowledge.  Moreover, it is not essential that these are present in a single person – a designated “Leader” by one title or another.  On the contrary, a good team will have multiple resources of these elements. Good leadership recognises where they are available and utilises them.

Another crucial ingredient of good reflexive leadership is vision.  Having a view for the bigger picture is crucial in knowing which of the resources is worth utilising at any point, given the circumstances.  Awareness of such goals and objectives provides good leadership in any context.

Finally, what really stands out in leadership is accountability.  Not shying away from this element is in fact one of the inspiring elements that draw people to one choice over another.   Developing an organsiation is about getting others to trust it – to invest in it.  Without accountability, leadership is trivial and unsustainable.  It is a lack of accountability that has created the disturbances in our financial system that we are experiencing today.

Leadership as “Role”

Above and beyond these elements of leadership, is recognising its shifting nature and that leadership is a role rather than an individual’s title.  This means that anyone in a team or organisation may exhibit leadership qualities.  For example, a receptionist may have insights gathered from interacting with customers that lead to important organisational change.

Optimum leadership is necessarily fluid and a shared responsibility that is not confined to the designated few, but available to all.  Such a concept may seem challenging to many organisational structures.  However, that is not the intention, organised structures create opportunities for fantastic achievements.  Rather, it seeks to promote a way of thinking that maximises the potential of a group rather than limiting it to the thinking of a few – this can be done while maintaining agreed structures and avenues of communication.  Importantly, recognising the mutable nature of leadership will support us in understanding how best to step into its role.

Using Reflexive leadership will help us find our leaders in the shifting balances of power and information that constantly challenge organisations today. By finding ways to respect both agency and community, groups and individuals, reflexive leadership will help us come to terms with the current challenges of leadership.