Posts Tagged Mindfulness

Psychology of Performance #61: National All is Ours Day Celebrating Appreciation of Nature!

“National ‘All Is Our’s Day’ can be looked at as a time to reflect on all of the beauty of nature and all the wonderful things in life.  All the natural wonders of the world are there for all to enjoy.  Become aware of all of the beauty in your surroundings.  All of these spectacular gifts we have been given are shared by all.” http://www.nationaldaycalendar.com/days-2/national-all-is-ours-day-april-8/

This is a great time to reflect on the psychological and health benefits of being in nature. The benefits extend to our performance in all areas of life. There is research that suggests that walking in nature reduces stress, reduces the risk of cancer and chronic illnesses such as diabetes, reduces anxiety and depression symptoms, lowers blood pressure and cholesterol, and is linked to longevity. (Source: https://www.fs.fed.us/pnw/about/programs/gsv/pdfs/health_and_wellness.pdf )

Furthermore, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation listed the following benefits:

  • Boosts immune system
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Reduces stress
  • Improves mood
  • Increases ability to focus, even in children with ADHD
  • Accelerates recovery from surgery or illness
  • Increases energy level
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Improves sleep (Source: dec.ny.gov/lands/90720.html )

These studies mentioned are focused on trees and forests. However, many of the benefits accrue being outside regardless of environment or climate, including parks in urban areas (assuming air pollution is at a minimum).

To enhance your experience outside, there are several mindfulness exercises that you can practice while being outdoors. Thich Nhat Hanh, or Thay as people know him, and many others have written about these exercises. I have provided a partial list for you to try.

  1. Mindful Walking: This is a wonderful meditation for moving and mindfulness in nature.
  1. Thich Nhat Hanh mindfulness video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ms6EylTW-2o This is literally a video of one of his talks, so be patient and allow a couple of hours to watch it. Also, remember this is about mindfulness, not religion, just in case you have an initial reaction to it.
  1. ‘The interdependence of all of us and the earth’ meditation. Thay suggests we can meditate on the interconnections of ourselves and the earth through mindfulness. (https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/zen-thich-naht-hanh-buddhidm-business-values ) “Breathe in, be aware of your body and look deeply into it, realize you are the Earth and your consciousness is also the consciousness of the Earth.” (https://creativesystemsthinking.wordpress.com/2015/10/24/realize-you-are-the-earth-thich-nhat-hanh/ )
  1. Nature Meditations: These meditations focus on the experience of nature, sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste. (http://www.meditationoasis.com/how-to-meditate/simple-meditations/nature-meditations/ )
  1. Mindful Eating Meditation: This meditation focuses on eating, food, and the interconnection of all required in nature and our lives for us to be able to practice the mindful experience of eating. http://www.gaiam.com/discover/412/article/zen-your-diet/

Mindfulness can enhance our experience of nature, which can enhance our health, which can enhance our performance in all areas of our daily lives. We only have this moment, be present with it…mindfully.

 

 

Have a day filled with mindfulness, the benefits of nature and extend kindness to all you meet.

Bob

Robert A. Mines, Ph.D. Chairman, and Psychologist

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Psychology of Performance – 38: Cognitive Bias Part 3

In this installment of the role of cognition in performance, Arielly has noted in his book, Predictably Irrational, that there are a number of salient variables related to performance in various domains. For example, a version of “where your mind goes the energy goes” is related to honesty. When people are asked to think about honesty, their awareness of honesty goes up as well as their honest behavior. He has further examples related to how an honor code can decrease cheating behavior. On the other hand performance in this area decreases (more cheating) as the distance in time, value, and so forth increases.  Another variable worth noting in the psychology of performance is that “loss aversion” appears to be a more powerful motivator on performance than potential “gain.” This has other implications for performance.

What are the implications? As a leader, manager, executive, or coach, it is relevant to have clear expectations that your group thinks about actively. The standards of behavior required to achieve the goals, and how to behave in the workplace, need regular mental rehearsal to increase compliance with the types of performance expected. To neglect this may result in group drift which results in under-performance. The implications of the “loss aversion” have many applications. For example, in the area of wellness and benefits, the fear of losing a benefit will predictably result in greater compliance than the allure of a reward. This is also true for individual work performance. People will work more to avoid losing their job than to get a reward. This is counter-intuitive from many business practices related to motivation and performance.

Remember to extend love and happiness to everyone you meet,

Robert A. Mines, Ph.D.,
CEO and Psychologist

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Psychology of Performance – 37: Leadership and Thinking

In the last Psychology of Performance blog, I introduced you to Kahneman’s seminal work (Thinking, Fast and Slow) on cognitive bias and decision making. This blog post continues that discussion.

System 1 continuously monitors all input and information. As a function of this it produces assessments of the variables of the situation with no specific intention and little effort. Kahneman refers to these as basic assessments (p. 90). The important point about basic assessments is that they are easily substituted for more difficult questions.  He goes on to say that basic assessments evolved to provide continuous assessments on questions of survival: How are things going? Is there a threat or a major opportunity? Is everything normal? Should I approach or avoid? We use a “mental shotgun” approach to situations and produce more computations than we need.  With this as background, we are vulnerable to substituting questions without knowing we did so.

Kahneman stated that if a satisfactory answer to a hard question is not quickly found, System 1 will find a related question that is easier and will answer it (p. 97). The danger is that System 2 is lazy, and following a path of least effort, will endorse an answer to a simpler question from System 1 without much evaluation or analysis regarding whether the answer actually is for the original question asked.  Furthermore, people do not tend to realize that this substitution has occurred.

How does this relate to leadership and thinking? From a psychology of performance perspective, leadership in organizations is just as vulnerable to these thinking errors as anyone else. Awareness of these processes requires intentional System 2 thinking about business and organizational problems. It also puts the burden on the leader to listen carefully to the answers provided by their reports and colleagues as they may be giving right answers to different questions than the original and not even be aware of it. This has potential to further negatively impact the performance of the organization or the individuals involved.

Have a day filled with mindfulness,

Robert A. Mines, Ph.D.,
CEO and Psychologist

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Psychology of Performance – 36: Leadership, Black Swans, and Thinking

Ill-Structured Problems and Business Decisions

Leadership articles often focus on a variety of variables. These variables may include personality traits, born or made, demographic variables, attractiveness, communication skills, vision, and intelligence. These variables have varying degrees of research behind them. One aspect of leadership that is universal in business is that leaders get to make complex decisions on ill-structured problems for which there are better and worse answers, rarely right or wrong answers (Mines, Hood, Wood and King, 1990). Given the number of “Black Swans” business leaders have run into, a discussion of some of the cognitive and thinking errors that can be made follows in this article (Taleb, 2007).

Kahneman has written a ground breaking book on thinking heuristics and errors in thinking. As business leaders look at their success and failure rates, it is a reasonable question to ask why so many decisions result in under-performance, if not outright failure. Kahneman’s work contributes to our understanding of these predictable thinking errors. This blog is a partial summary of Kahneman’s work. All acknowledgement of its scholarship goes to Dr. Kahneman and any errors attributed to the author of this summary.

Thinking Fast and Slow: The Operating System

Kahneman described two systems related to thinking.

System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort. System II allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration. System 1 effortlessly originates impressions and feelings that are the main sources of explicit beliefs and deliberate choices of System 2. The automatic operations of System 1 generate complex patterns of ideas, but only the slower System 2 can construct thoughts in an orderly series of steps (Kahneman, 2011, p. 20-21).

These two systems constantly interact. System 1 runs continuously and System 2 is normally in a comfortable, low-effort mode, in which only a fraction of its capacity is engaged. System 2 is a “lazy system.” System 1 continuously generates suggestions for System 2, impressions and intuitions, intentions and feelings.  If System endorses them, they are turned into beliefs and impulses turn into voluntary actions. System 2 endorses the suggestions of System 1 with little or no modification. System 2 is utilized is called into play in order to proved more specific and detailed processing. It is mobilized to control impulses, to increase effort when it detects that an error is about to be made. System 1 has biases, however, systematic errors that it is prone to make in specified circumstances. It sometimes answers easier questions than the one it was asked and it has little understanding of logic and statistics. It cannot be turned off (p. 24).

Bias and Thinking Errors

In order to give the reader a flavor of the types of thinking errors and to encourage the reader to study the book in more depth, the following are a partial list of bias and thinking errors.

People who are cognitively busy are also more likely to make selfish choices, use sexist language, and make superficial judgments in social situations. An effort of will or self-control is tiring, requires effort, and is unpleasant – known as ego depletion (Kahneman, 2011, p. 42).

Association. The Associative Machine is in play when two ideas are associated and System 1 tries to make them associatively coherent. An idea that has been activated does not evoke just one other idea, it activates many other ideas which in turn activate even more ideas. Only a few of these will be conscious.

Priming. Words and events can “prime” the next sequence of words or thoughts in a way that they are related and we don’t even know it. Priming can also affect our behavior. People who were asked to think about aging, walked slower down the hall than people asked to think about another topic, for example. Common gestures such as nodding yes or no prime our emotional responses to a situation. Money-primed people become more independent, more reluctant to be involved with others, less willing to depend on others, or to accept demands from others, than they would be without the associative trigger.

Cognitive Ease/Cognitive Strain.  The mind is constantly monitoring.  Ease is a sign that things are going well – no threats, no major news, no need to redirect attention, or mobilize effort. Strain is affected by both the current level of effort and the presence of unmet demands.  Cognitive ease is connected to a number of variables such as clarity and ease of understanding which is commonly implemented by marketers when choosing fonts, colors, and copy. When you feel strained, you are more likely to be vigilant and suspicious, invest more effort in what you are doing, feel less comfortable, and make fewer errors, but you also are less intuitive and less creative than usual.

Illusions of Remembering. Memory and thinking are vulnerable to illusion. Familiarity as an experience has a simple but powerful quality of ‘pastness’ that seems to indicate that it is a direct reflection of prior experience. Words or names you have seen before produce greater cognitive ease and it is this ease that gives you a greater sense of familiarity.

Illusions of Truth.  Predictable illusions inevitably occur if a judgment is based on an impression of cognitive ease or strain. Anything that makes it easier for the associative machine to run smoothly will also create bias. A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth.

Strain and Effort. Performance is better when there is strain as it mobilizes System 2, which is more likely to reject the intuitive answer suggested by System 1. The mere exposure effect, pairs an arbitrary stimulus and mild affection for the stimulus. It does not depend on conscious experience of familiarity. It does not depend on consciousness at all.

Ease, Mood and Intuition. Good mood, intuition, creativity, gullibility, and increased reliance on System 1 form a cluster. At the other end, sadness, vigilance, suspicion, an analytic approach, and increased effort go together. A happy mood loosens the control of System 2 over performance: when in a good mood people become more intuitive and more creative but also less vigilant and more prone to logical errors.

Summary
As a business leader, it starts becoming apparent where your executive team and subordinates may be vulnerable to thinking errors and not even know it. Kahneman reviews many other cognitive errors and bias. It is incumbent upon all leaders to be as aware as possible of these errors and review decision processes in strategic planning, operations, and within the finance arena closely so as to avoid your organization’s own personal black swans.

Robert A. Mines, Ph.D.
CEO & Psychologist

Over the next three months future blogs will address further cognitive bias categories and provide business examples.
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Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking fast and slow. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux.

Mines, R.A., Hood, A., King, P., & Wood, P., (1990). Levels of Intellectual Development and Associated Critical Thinking Skills in College Students. Journal of College Student Development, 31 538-547.

Taleb, N. (2007). The black swan: the impact of the highly improbable. New York: Random House.

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What is Organizational Mental Health?

Our organization’s theme for May is “Mental Health Matters.” In our world of BizPsych we are deeply involved in and committed to supporting overall organizational health. In our work this typically means things like:

  • Productivity
  • Efficiency and effectiveness
  • Collaboration
  • Morale
  • Satisfaction
  • Healthy life span development
  • Effective systems and procedures, etc.

However if we try to focus on the mental health of an organization – what exactly could that mean?  A dictionary search of “mental health” brings up a couple definitions:

“psychological well-being and satisfactory adjustment to society and to the ordinary demands of life”

the condition of being sound mentally and emotionally that is characterized by the absence of mental disorder (as neurosis or psychosis) and by adequate adjustment especially as reflected in feeling comfortable about oneself, positive feelings about others, and ability to meet the demands of life”

For now, removing references to “psychological, mental, and emotional,” which will reference a little later, we can begin to piece together aspects of mental health in business:

  1. A satisfactory adjustment to society and demands of life – The organization has a legitimate place in meeting needs of groups of people i.e. “society.” The organization adjusts according to its place or position in the social order and adjusts to the needs of the society it serves. A great example is Facebook. This organization is constantly challenged to adjust its practices as it shifts in impact and importance to the society. What began as an informal social networking interest on a college campus has now become a society changing force with billions of dollars impact. Is Facebook mentally healthy?
  2. Absence of neurosis or psychosis – Is the organization obsessed with its internal workings and anxieties? This may be characterized by fearfulness to make any moves or changes forward. The organization becomes paralyzed and ineffective. The organization may be so stuck on a single definition of itself that it fails to adjust, or is so insecure about “who” it is that it constantly redefines itself so no one else knows who it is. These “neurotic” organizations don’t thrive. In order to thrive they must address these neuroses.  A step beyond this is the organization gone psychotic – confusing internal reality with objective reality. Enron, Bernie Madhoff – say no more…
  3. Feeling comfortable about oneself – This can be reflected in the culture of the workers of the organization. Ever been to Discount Tire? The employees typically appear to feel empowered, have ownership over their work, and make you, the customer, feel comfortable. Comfort is a rather elusive term as applied to business. However, an organization that is comfortable “about itself” should be reflected in a workforce that is comfortable and proud of the organization.
  4. Positive feelings about others – Do we care about our customers? Do we feel positive about the contributions we are making to our customers? Do we feel positive about the contributions we are making to the community? Numerous small nonprofits come to mind. In addition, we work with several health care organizations; the commitment to the patients they serve gets them through many rocky times.
  5. Ability to meet the demands of life – In addition to what is stated in #1 above, perhaps this is like organizational “work-life balance.” We must meet the demands of our customers and at the same time make money, keep the doors open, survive the recession, grow and change, and not become so stressed that health declines. Look into your organization and question if it is achieving this balance. What needs to shift to achieve balance?

One note about the “mental” and “psychological” language in the definitions of mental health. (Don’t you hate it when the definition contains the word that is being defined?)  We ran across a wonderful CD series in our research for a health care project that BizPsych was involved in. It is entitled “Mindfulness and the Brain” and is essentially a conversation between Jack Kornfield, the Buddhist Psychologist who has specialized in mindfulness meditation practices, and Dan Siegel, an Interpersonal Neurobiologist. In the course of this discussion Dr. Siegel references that despite the thousands of “mental health” practitioners and volumes of “mental health literature” there seems to be no shared definition of the “mind” (presumably responsible for our mental health vs. merely the brain). He offers a definition which he states has been accepted and agreed upon by a good number of stubborn academics. The definition he offers is that the mind is “an embodied and relational process that regulates the flow of energy and information” (Mindfulness and the Brain 2010). If this is an acceptable definition of the mind, then perhaps the psychology or “mind” of the organization is that somewhat intangible “heart and soul” of the organization that is the shared relationships and how they regulate the energy and information flow of the business. Supporting relationships then, is key to achieving the balance suggested in the mental health applied definitions in this blog.

One last note: The Webster Dictionary search did not yield a definition for “mental health.” The only thing that came up was “mental health day.” This was defined as “a day that an employee takes off from work in order to relieve stress or renew vitality.” So then, how does an organization take a mental health day?

Patrick Hiester, LPC
Vice President, BizPsych 

Reference: Sounds True Audio Learning Course. Mindfulness and the Brain: A professional Training ion the Science & Practice of Meditative Awareness. Jack Kornfield, PhD and Daniel Siegel, MD. Sounds True 2010.

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