Happiness: Inside? Outside? You Decide.

“Given all that, the next time you have the choice between meditating and sitting in a bar with your friends complaining about meditation class, you should probably seriously consider going to the bar, no matter what your happiness app says.”*

Oh come on. Please tell me she was kidding. The author of this anti-mindfulness article, Ruth Whippman, is highly praised for her humor, so who knows. She is an author, journalist, and filmmaker. It does not, however, appear that she is a licensed clinician – so here’s a perspective from one who is.

Of course, Ms. Whippman is right that people spend too much time with their phones and their apps and whatever else cloisters them away from the real joys and challenges of other people. As Aristotle said, we are social animals, so it is also true that our health and well-being depends largely on the quality of our relationships with other people in our lives.

In fact, the Harvard Grant Study, a one of a kind longitudinal study, found that love is the key to a good and happy life. In the words of the study’s pioneering researcher, George Vaillant:

As Vaillant puts it, there are two pillars of happiness. “One is love,” he writes. “The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.”

And therein lies the real key – and where mindfulness can help. How we cope with life. Surely we all know people who may not even know how much they stand in their own way of giving and receiving love. I don’t mean any old crap that passes for love, but the kind of love that nourishes, the kind that Vaillant is talking about.

One woman** told me that, just as the article suggested, she drinks with her friends at the bar to lift herself up when she feels down. But she noticed that while she was with her friend…she was not really with her friend – mostly because what ailed her on the inside distracted and removed her from the very human connection she craved. Intoxicating maybe. Nourishing not. She realized that her happiness would have to be as much an inside as outside job, and came to me to figure out how to cope with life on the inside in ways that did not prevent love.

That’s one end of the spectrum. At the other end, there are clients who aim to become perfect on the inside so they can feel worthy enough to risk an attempt to find and keep love. For them, the work is in finding the courage on the inside to get them out there to practice, practice, practice, as I like to say. This is how we grow. In relationship, I agree. Surely there is growth in our relationships, for my clients and me, but at some point they need to enact the learning in the real world for the real thing to happen for them out there for real.

For some, the inside needs caring and careful attention. For others, the outside job needs more of the mind’s attention that it’s been getting so far. Different strokes. Either way, all of my work is mindfulness-based, which is to say geared toward increasing present moment, non judgmental awareness of how the mind works, what makes us tick, and what gets in the way.

So, even though a number of experts I happen to respect make the point themselves that mindfulness is not for everyone and everything, they add that there are enough well crafted studies to indicate that there are ways in which it really can help. Some of it is in cultivating the kind of focus, calm, and compassion that finds and fortifies connection to inner and outer world love.

Don’t take their word for it, but let’s not throw this baby out with the bathwater either, just because someone has had some fun with it in print. Over time you might find that life begins to ease or even transform. I know mine did. But don’t take my word for it either. Practice, Practice, Practice…And See What Happens.

For help with this or something else (by videoconference from anywhere you are), or to let me know what you think, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* Whippman, Ruth. “Happiness is Other People.” New York Times, October, 27, 2017. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/27/opinion/sunday/happiness-is-other-people.html

** Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.


Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.



70% Mind Wandering: Who’s in Charge?

“Researchers in the United States have investigated mind wandering….the volunteers reported mind wandering 70% of the time.”*

Scientists may refer to it as ‘stimulus independent’ or ‘default network’ thinking. Mindfulness tutors may liken the wandering mind to a bunch of drunken monkeys, or a 2-year-old who is winning and wreaking havoc all over the house. Whatever we call it, we do it a lot. In this study of simulated driving* the mind wandered a whopping 70% of the time, a lot of the time without people even realizing it. It’s like dreaming our lives away; daydreaming, as it is sometimes called.

So who’s in charge here? Shouldn’t it be us? It’s not like the mind is bad. Just needs some discipline. After all, mind wandering can be a very nice break from the stresses of the day, and can make good space for planning and creativity that more intense focus on a task cannot. In this way, some amount of daydreaming can make us more, not less, productive than we might otherwise be.

Too often, though, the mind wanders off on a fool’s errand to resolve the unresolved (unresolvable?) whatever it is…in our past, present, future. When this happens then we are worrying and wasting our time. Shoulda Woulda Coulda’s in the past. What If’s in the future. What Now’s in the present. Brain drainers. So what can we do? A few things

Is There Something To Be Done Here? When regrets about the past, worries about the future, or complaints about the present intrude, it can be useful to ask this question about the thing we are thinking: Is there something to be one here? Sometimes the answer is Yes but not by you, or not right now. Then you can make a plan to delegate whatever is needed or do it later yourself. Sometimes the answer is Yes by you right now, as in, car coming get out of the way! And sometimes the answer is a flat No, either because you or someone else has already done it, or there really was nothing to be done – so we can just let it go.  My clients have used this one well;** particularly useful for What Now complaints about a job s/he knows to be the right job for right now but maybe not forever. Is there something to be done here? Yeah, focus on the task that is before us. Do good work now, and see how much happier that can make us. And make a date with self, for a later time, to honor any discontent and plan the where to from here, if we still want one.

Make it Happen. If it’s hard to let things go even if we know there is nothing to be done, let’s say it is the right job just not as perfect as we’d hoped, then we can set aside a certain amount of time at a regular time each day dedicated to regret, worry, or complaint. What we resist persists, so some recommend letting the mind have its way like this for a period of time each day, to help ease it away (‘til it comes back anyway).

Pleasant Dreams. What if it’s not even regrets, complaints, or worries? What if it’s pleasant thoughts that take the mind away from what you are doing or supposed to be doing in the present moment. You know what to do. Same Same. Go back to #1 or #2 or something else you might devise. Distractions are distractions no matter how pleasant. There is a time and a place for everything. And there is a whole lot of productivity and real happiness in our focus on the task before us when it is the right time for that.

Practice, Practice, Practice…and See What Happens.

For help with this or something else, or to let me know what you think, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* Mind wandering is common during driving. August 31, 2017 in Medicine & Health / Psychology & Psychiatry.  https://medicalxpress.com/news/2017-08-mind-common.html

** Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.



Play is Not the Opposite of Work

“Dr. Brown, is…the founder of the National Institute for Play, and he states, ‘when employees have the opportunity to play, they actually increase their productivity, engagement and morale.’….There is good evidence that if you allow employees to engage in something they want to do, (which) is playful, there are better outcomes in terms of productivity and motivation.”*

Hmm, something they want to do, (which) is playful. I hope this means that, at work or outside of work, no matter where, no matter what, doing things we really want to do is nourishing and fun like play. Or even better, doing things we want to do is play, just because we want to do them. Unfortunately, people often talk about work and play as though they are separate and different. Work Hard. Play Hard. All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy. Teddy Roosevelt said, “When you play, play hard; when you work, don’t play at all.” But Einstein and others would disagree:

Albert Einstein: “Play is the highest form of research.”

Richard Brandson: “I don’t think of work as work and play as play. It’s all living.”

Simon Sinek: “The goal is not simply to ‘work hard, play hard.’ The goal is to make our work and our play indistinguishable.”**

Work and Play Indistinguishable…Amen! We have already looked at some of the benefits of play for work in “Let’s Play. Here’s Why.” Here we are looking at how to mush the two together to make play useful and work fun, all jumbled together so that if someone asked us whether we were working or playing, we wouldn’t know and wouldn’t care. Sound like a great way to live?

Look at Google, all employees have access to and can play during their workday. They have all sorts of activities like bowling, meditation, wall climbing, volleyball and more. Facebook, LinkedIn and Ideo also provide opportunities for play time at work, anything from ping-pong to arcade games and a few take it one step further by instilling a culture of play. These fun activities are not just for lunch, employees can get up and go play when they get tired of working on a project or answering emails.*

And, as the article goes on to say, trainers and consultants are bringing fun and games right into learning activities to help the learning stick. Contrasted with flatter types of spoon fed learning activities, emotional learning experiences get tagged in the brain, easier to retain. But these examples are at the group level, and I’m thinking too of folks I know who just wish with all their might they could wake up in the morning wanting to go to work. Of course, if they could make it workplay chances are they would, I mean if they are going to go in anyway, why not?***

Life is what our thoughts make it (Aurelius). So how can we use our thoughts to make work (a something we want to do) play. Well, it’s not really enough to just want to do it. We have to actually be into doing it while we are doing it. And that means we have to be paying attention, exquisite attention, to create what Csikszentmihalyi calls FLOW, the joyful state of optimal experience when we lose ourselves in what we are doing by paying attention to it. We all know what it is like to be reading a book and 3 pages later have no idea what we just read. Or driving to our destination without any recall of anything on the road that took us there. Boring. But ahh…attention, attention to what my philosophy tutors have called the working surface – where my fingers meet the keyboard when I am typing to you, where my listening receives the sound of my client’s voice, or my sight receives my client’s face and body language. Is there joy and play in this work I do? You bet there is and can be for you in yours too, all through the power of your attention. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202- 617-0821

* The Power of Play at Work, The Huffington Post, 9/14/2016 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/great-work-cultures/the-power-of-play-at-work_b_12011462.html

**Above quotes found via Work play internet images: https://images.search.yahoo.com/yhs/search;_ylt=A0LEV7p8NbBYxHQAroUPxQt.?p=play+work&fr=yhs-adk-adk_sbnt&fr2=piv-web&hspart=adk&hsimp=yhs-adk_sbnt&type=ma_appfocus29_ff#id=84&iurl=http%3A%2F%2Fi.quoteaddicts.com%2Fmedia%2Fq2%2F456111.png&action=close

***Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.



Happy Now: App and All!

happynow “Unlike other animals, human beings spend a lot of time thinking about what is not going on around them, contemplating events that happened in the past, might happen in the future, or will never happen at all. Indeed, “stimulus-independent thought” or “mind wandering” appears to be the brain’s default mode of operation…Although this ability is a remarkable evolutionary achievement that allows people to learn, reason, and plan, it may have an emotional cost.”*

Human minds wander all over the place – to plan, to reason, to learn – and to be able to hit the ground running anytime. It’s like a car with motor running all the time so, instead of fumbling around trying to find our keys, we can just get in and go. In Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers, neuroscientist Robert Zapolsky tells us that’s what zebras do. They just do what they have to do. Fight, flight, freeze. Boom. Done. On to the next activity.

Not us. We do so much ruminating about the past and worrying about the future, that we are hardly if ever in the present moment of our lives, where all the happiness resides. Says who? Says ancient philosophy and religion, and its modern day progeny, Mindfulness, which may be defined as:

…a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.**

Take Tracy.** Tracy, who came to me unhappy in work and love, realized quickly how little of her focus and attention she was investing in either her relationship or her work. Tracy spent most of her ‘mind’ on the past, trying to figure out what was wrong with her, or in the future trying to figure out who to be, what to do, where to go if she could ever get out of the now. Since she had convinced herself that nothing in her present would bring her pleasure, it took practice for her to be able to bring her attention to the moment she was in, to see if there was anything to this idea that now is where our true happiness is found. No surprise to me, as a mindfulness teacher and practitioner myself, Tracy found that actually living in her own life, connecting to it moment by moment, enriched her experience, lifted her darkness, and brought happiness her to life. All because she took charge of her attention, and put it where it belonged more often than not – in the here and now.

But don’t take my word for it. You can try this yourself. And, guess what, there’s an App! Go here for the “Track Your Happiness” App and, if you like, to participate in Killingworth’s and Gilbert’s Happiness study at Harvard.* So far, they are finding that we are out of the present moment almost as much as we are in it, and that ‘out of it’ typically bums us out. If an App is not your thing, you can keep a log, let’s say every hour on the hour noticing and jotting down what you are doing, whether you are focused on it, and what kind of mood you are in. Do this at work and at home, and anywhere else you may roam. Then, on the premise that increasing happiness feels good and is good for you, you can use this information to guide your attention toward that end. And finally, if you find you are having troubling directing to your attention to where you think it belongs, you can try mindfulness meditation (App for this too), which builds brain fitness for that. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

To work on this or something else, would love to hear from you:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

* A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind. Killingsworth, M and Gilbert, D. November 12, 2010, VOL 330 SCIENCE

**Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/basics/mindfulness

***Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.

Other People Matter: Ask ‘The People Walker’

people-matter“[P]sychologists have shown…better health and lower burnout….determined to a large extent by our social relationships in the workplace—and, more particularly, the social groups we form there.“*

Good relationships are good for our health; while loneliness kills and costs, as a public health hazard draining our health care dollars. Being alone per se is not the problem. And being with other people is not always the cure – we’ve all heard the expression “Being lonely in a crowded room.” Loneliness is more a feeling of being left out. We humans are hardwired to suffer greatly from this, emotionally and physiologically, because in the environment of evolutionary adaption, when our social brains were formed, being left out could mean being ‘left for dead’. Ever wonder why you felt so bad when you didn’t get invited to that party or that meeting. Maybe you didn’t even really want to go, and still you felt bad.

Enter the The People Walker, Chuck McCarthy – who walks human beings for $7 per mile. Mr. McCarthy’s service has been so well received that he has hired more people walkers to help out, and the idea has already spread to Israel, Britain, and New York. McCarthy says there are numbers of reasons why someone might hire a people walker:

“Need motivation to walk?” they ask from lamp posts. “Scared to walk alone at night? Don’t like walking alone at all? Don’t want people to see you walking alone and just assume you have no friends? Don’t like listening to music or podcasts but can’t walk alone in silence, forced to face thoughts of the unknown future, or your own insignificance in the ever expanding universe?”

I’m seeing a common denominator here. Just as evolutionary psychology would suggest: People may want to be with other people, even a people walker, to feel emotionally and physically SAFE. As our study below suggests*, we may find nourishment and health in our relationships at work. But what if we don’t work, or don’t work in an office, or work in an office more toxic than not. Is there a healthful connection to be found among family or friends? And, if for some reason, like one client who comes to mind,** let’s say you are away from your family and new in town without many friends, then what? Help is on the way.

At a recent professional conference, one speaker presented a finding that a strong mental representation of a supportive other, someone who really cares, can lead to better health and well being. Doesn’t even matter if the person is still alive. It’s the heartfelt thought that counts. So…if you ever find yourself feeling left out or cast aside, connect, connect, connect with someone who cares, real or imagined, to help you feel safe, as part of something larger than yourself. Graft something warm and wonderful onto a lonely moment. This is how people change. Grafting. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

To work on this or something else, would love to hear from you:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

* N. K. Steffens, S. A. Haslam, S. C. Schuh, J. Jetten, R. van Dick. A Meta-Analytic Review of Social Identification and Health in Organizational Contexts. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 2016; DOI: 10.1177/1088868316656701

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.

To Be or Not To Be? To Do or Not To Do? Says Who?

do-good“It’s the person’s radical choice about the kind of person they are to be that should help him or her navigate through these various forces that tell us what to do”*

Organizational Politics: Theory and Practice, Practice, Practice… is a training program I first designed and delivered at Harvard Medical School. One of the program’s exercises is the 5 Why’s, credited to Toyota, but dating back to Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. The idea is that asking “why” after the answer to the first question, and then asking “why” after each subsequent answer, will lead us to a root cause understanding of who we are and why we do what we do – or not. Here below is a case example**

Case Illustration: 5 Why’s and the Sleepy, Grumpy CEO

Q1: Why does it bother me so much that my adversary is not on board?

A1: Because I am wasting so much energy trying to bring him on board.

Q2: Why do I need to stop wasting energy trying to bring him on board?

A2: Because I could use that energy to move the project along. (Now the very grumpy CEO is getting annoyed with what seem like stupid questions but persists.)

Q3: Why do I need to move the project along?

A3: To fulfill the organization’s mission.

Q4: Why do I need to fulfill the organization’s mission?

A4: To make everyone happy, even though I know that’s not possible.

Q5: Why do you need to make everyone happy?

A5: So I can feel like a good person.

Time after time, person after person, regardless of age and gender, no matter how high up the organizational ladder – the answers were the same. Everyone wanted to be, to feel, and to be seen as a good person. According to Aristotle, the ultimate aim of human behavior is happiness. From an evolutionary perspective, a 6th question on why people want to feel like good people may very well reveal that our goodness makes us feel happy. As we have seen in earlier posts, from an evolutionary perspective, reputation counts. We reap what we sow, and so on.

But, but, but… Guidelines for goodness are not always clear. So many of my clients** are searching for these guidelines outside of themselves, only to finding conflicting opinions, none of which feel authentic. And, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that whatever is not authentic stands little chance of making us feel good about ourselves in any way that sticks. Others find the whole thing so arbitrary as to give up the search altogether, in a rules-don’t-apply-to-me kind of way. These, it seems are the saddest of all, the ones so jaded they don’t even try.

But for those who do try and are still searching for guidelines beyond the ones already familiar to them, where can they turn? Who says what good is? Our article today* suggests that the consideration of others should be our guiding light. But then, using the examples of Fred Astaire and Steve Jobs, the article goes on to ask whether those who spend their time bringing their genius to others, compared with those who spend their time in more direct charity to others, stack up as morally good. So, murky as it may be, if we want to be and do good and, in so doing, experience the happiness this brings; where can we find our answers and guidelines. In his essay on Self Reliance, Emerson provides:

A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.

That ‘light which flashes across his mind’ is, of course, inside ourselves. To thine own self be true. If only we can quiet the mind enough to detect these truths. You know what to do. Quiet the chaos. Quiet the noise. Fall still and breathe. In through the nose. Out through the nose. Belly out on the in breath. Belly in on the out breath. And listen for the sounds and sights of your own guidance on how to be and do good. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

To work on this or something else, would love to hear from you:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

* Book considers the extent morality should have over people’s lives. September 27, 2016 by George Diepenbrock, http://phys.org/news/2016-09-extent-morality-people.html#jCp

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.


It’s All About Attention (& Happiness): Yours!

attention“What’s it take to become happy very quickly without dramatically changing your life…? The key to happiness really comes down to one word: Attention.” *

“What are you going to do to make yourself happy today?” Years ago, someone who cared about me very much asked me that question. I remember thinking then what an interesting concept it was that there was something to do about my sadness that could and should be done by me. I doubt he meant that I should get control of my attention to make myself happy. Again, this was a long time ago before mindfulness became as mainstream in America as it is now, and certainly before I started practicing and teaching it myself.

Even now, though, we know that there is a time and a place for happiness. So, for example, the full-blown mourning of a major loss may not be the right time to expend one’s precious energy trying to cheer oneself up. Mourning is a process to be respected, and trying to resist one’s sorrow can impact this process in ways that only complicate and extend it.

That said, more generally, there are significant benefits to happiness in love, work productivity, creativity, health and longevity. And there is more of it to be had by each of us than many of us may think. It’s not like happiness is a pie, so if one person takes a piece there is less for another. Au contraire. Happiness multiplies. You smile and the whole world smiles with you. Well, maybe not the whole world, but more of it because that’s how we humans are built: to smile when you smile, to laugh when you laugh, even to yawn when you yawn. The simple act of smiling can thereby make us feel happier than we otherwise might. So can gratitude; so can giving; so can tracking your mood/activities to get a better idea of which activities in your life actually make you feel bad or good; so can slowing down to smell the roses* – which brings us to ATTENTION.

People are often unhappy with their lives until they realize that the reason they are so unhappy is because they are not even in their own lives.** Their attention is elsewhere. You know how that is. Maybe you just read a few pages and, if asked what you read, you would flunk the test. Or, while driving, you got where you were going and could not remember a thing about how that happened. It is not possible to enjoy our lives if we are not in our lives because a wandering mind has taken us somewhere else, in some past regret or future worry, too much of the time. Some experts say to bring the attention back to something present positive, but people sometimes find that approach a little contrived. Last thing they want is to feel like, or to look like, they are living in La La Land. So, I’m saying something else, which is to notice when the attention wanders and bring it back to the present, positive or not. This taking charge of the attention is fitness for the brain, shown to produce changes in the brain and corresponding beneficial emotional effects. But that’s not all.

Being in charge of the placement of our attention (focus) strengthens our self-control. And numbers of studies show a strong link between happiness and self-control. So there we have it, all the many ways that taking charge of our attention can make a happy difference in our lives. Just about everyone can do this, i.e., to get good at noticing that the mind has wandered and, each time we notice, to gently bring it back. Practice, practice, practice, and see what happens.

To work on this or something else, would love to hear from you:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

*Eric Barker, “Why Attention Might Be The Key To Happiness,” http://theweek.com/articles/554899/why-attention-might-key-happiness

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.


Cooperation w/o Calculation. Good for You. Good for your Rep.

CooperationWe often help others without weighing the costs and benefits…. People even risk their own lives for a stranger, acting without considering the danger. This presents an evolutionary puzzle, because such uncalculating cooperation seems to ignore self-interest. So why do people help others without calculating, even when doing so might come at a great cost?”*

Why do people help others for nothing in return? The answer is: It’s not for nothing. For one big thing, unselfish regard for others, altruism, is not 100% unselfish, when we consider that it helped perpetuate our species, with the mother/infant relationship being a primary example of that. Here and now – in work, play, love, and life – giving without expectation of return makes us look good and who doesn’t want that? ‘I’ll scratch your back. It’s fine; you don’t have to scratch mine. In fact, I hope you don’t because it’ll make me look really good if I give you something for nothing in return.’ This is exactly what the North American Indian Potlatch is about. The potlatch is an over the top gift-giving feast arranged precisely for the purpose of making the party giver look good. S/he who gives the most wins the most status and best reputation. Evolutionary psychology tells us that those with the best reps have the best access to resources and the most power to divvy them up. Big part of why we see people snuggling up to high status others. If we can’t be one, it’s good to be in good favor of one, and I suppose we could say that’s a form of cooperation too. In fact, we may be altogether more wired for cooperation than we may think.

According to the Yerkes National Primate Research Center studies, chimps picked cooperation over competition 5 times as much, which they suggest is the way it is for humans too. Other scientists have even discovered a “generosity” part of our brain, the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex, which was seen to activate when people were learning to help others. And get this: Turns out the gray matter in the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex is significantly smaller in people who are depressed. Wait…could that be why we hear so frequently that giving to others is a great way to cheer yourself up?

Trouble is that sometimes we think too immediate and too small to give unselfishly because fairness matters too. There is even a part of the brain, the striatum, found to be associated with fairness. So we do calculate sometimes, tit for tatting, to make sure we are getting our due, to make sure things feel fair. But then, there goes our opportunity to experience and express cooperation without calculation, and all the benefits to self and others that go along with that.

What to do? Well, setting one’s mind to do more good for others, without expectation of return, could show us how good that feels, encouraging us to do more. On the other hand, making oneself do it to feel good can feel calculating in and of itself. But, for many people** there are times when, without forcing themselves at all, there has been an urge to do a kindness for another that was met with a strong and swift “Why should I?” inside their head. The answer to “Why should I?” is that it does no good for anyone to be hoarding goodness, if we are doing too much of that too much of the time. So, especially when the urge to do good for another comes up naturally, we may express this part of our humanity, simply saying to ourselves, “Oh, there goes ‘why should I’ again,” taming it to move forward in kindness instead. We may even begin with something as simple as extending a heartfelt smile. Practice, practice, practice, and see what happens.

To work on this or something else, would love to hear from you:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

* “Reputation improves for those who give without calculation,” http://phys.org/news/2016-07-reputation.html

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.

Great Listening: Not Just Sponging

ListeningPeople’s appraisal of their listening ability is much like their assessment of their driving skills, in that the great bulk of adults think they’re above average….While many of us have thought of being a good listener being like a sponge that accurately absorbs what the other person is saying, instead, what these findings show is that good listeners are like trampolines….They make you feel better not merely passively absorbing, but by actively supporting. This lets you gain energy and height, just like someone jumping on a trampoline.”*

Who ever thought listening was supposed to be fun? What could be fun about either being a sponge or being with a sponge? More like something boring we are supposed to do to be a good person – and deep down we pretty much all want to be (at least seen as) a good person. Still, as motivational speaker Steven Covey said, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply,” possibly, probably, to make the thing feel like a more interesting, less deadly, use of our time. And then we tell ourselves we listened. Good for us. Unless we really did listen, and then it really was good for the other and good for us. Good chance it was even fun.

Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman* did a study of 3,492 participants to identify the differences between great and average listeners. To summarize a bit here:

Four Main Findings

1.     Good listening is more than one person talks, the other doesn’t. It is a dialog. Those who were considered the best listeners in the study would listen quietly but then also periodically ask questions to help the speaker challenge old assumptions, indicating as well that the speaker really has been heard.

2.     Good listening creates an open, safe environment that helps build self-esteem, in a way that just sitting there like a sponge or, worse, being critical, does not.

3.     Good listening is cooperative and conversational rather than a debate during which the listener is gathering information to further his/her own point or agenda.

4.     Good listening includes good feedback and suggestions, which the authors surmised held true more when the other features of good listening were present, so it did not feel as if the listener was just jumping in with his/her own urge to solve a problem.

We see from this study that there can be a lot more action to great listening than we may have thought. But not always. The authors are clear that not all conversations require the highest levels of listening. Sometimes the speaker just wants to vent, and really does want you to just sit there like a sponge, if that’s okay for you. You may even find it relaxing to know that quiet, compassionate listening is all that is needed from you at that time. But sometimes the listener is simply not in the mood, maybe antsy about other things.

So, let’s add to their great piece on great listeners something for the speaker that comes up in my practice a lot – and that is that people are often enough reluctant to ask for the kind of ear they need when they need it. One client** wants dearly to be understood by a man she is considering marrying someday, but is reluctant to speak her concern to him because she believes he may judge rather than understand. The awareness of her self-judgment in the mix brings her closer to being able to speak with him more often about a variety of matters. He can’t be a great listener if no one is talking and, in this case, great listening may be simply an acknowledgement that he heard and understood, absent any what to do’s for which she has not asked.

Now, what if we made it a natural, habitual part of our communications (in work, play, love, life) to ask for what is needed from a particular conversation at the outset of that conversation. When our listeners have a chance to actually consider whether they are in the right space to provide what is needed, all kinds of unsatisfying encounters could be prevented before they even begin. Something to try. Something to practice. Practice, practice, practice, and see what happens.

To work on this or something else, would love to hear from you:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

*”What Great Listeners Actually Do,” Zenger and Folkman, July 14, 2016https://hbr.org/2016/07/what-great-listeners-actually-do

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.



Can We Change? Yes We Can!

Change“The beliefs, assumptions, expectations that you’ve gotten from your friends, family, culture — those things, Mischel explains, are the filter through which you see the world. Your mind stands between who you are, your personality and whatever situation you are in. It interprets the world around it, and how it feels about what it sees. And so when the stuff inside the mind changes, the person changes.”*

That’s it folks. That simple. All you have to do is change your mind. To quote again from the article, “People can use their wonderful brains to think differently about situations….To reframe them. To reconstruct them. To even reconstruct themselves.” Back in the day the idea was that personalities were stable. Once a cheater. Always a cheater. Once a hothead. Always a hothead. This despite psychologist Walter Mischel’s findings to the contrary. Walter Mischel is the marshmallow guy, who told children in his studies that they could have one marshmallow, but if they could wait a bit they could have two. Then he tracked the kids’ lives, over 40 years, and found that the kids who could wait were more successful in life on a variety of measures than the ones who couldn’t. The subtitle of his book is Why Self-Control is the Engine of Success.

But Mischel laments that this has been taken by many to mean that personality is set at an early age, stable over time, unable to change. Not what he thinks because what appears to have gotten lost in the mix was how flexible and situational ‘who we are’ really can be. So, for example, the kids who were told to just pretend the marshmallow wasn’t really there were able to hold off and get two marshmallows, just by this simple change of the situation and trick of the mind. This is what we mean by reframing the situation, changing the mind, changing ourselves. There was a 1928 study putting kids in a situation where they could cheat or steal. This study found that a child who might cheat in math class didn’t cheat in other classes. And how many otherwise sweet, kindhearted mothers do you know who wouldn’t tear the eyes out of someone who threatened to hurt her baby. Nothing set here. Situation matters a lot.

So what about you? Have you ever noticed how different you can be in different situations? Of course, you are not going to behave exactly the same in a job interview as you do with your friends at happy hour, are you? Different situation. Or how about with different people? Over and over again I notice that, as my clients** begin to ease up and enjoy themselves more, they begin to want to spend more time with other people for whom happier, healthier, more productive is the norm. No one tells them to do this, exactly. It just happens. Somehow they figure out, maybe because they have felt themselves changing, that we humans are not so set in stone; that to a greater extent than they knew they were who they were with. There is a great book on this: Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives — How Your Friends’ Friends’ Friends Affect Everything You Feel, Think, and Do.

But now that we are on the subject, why wait for it to just happen. Why not make it happen. Start wherever you like. Start big or small. Change something about a situation, or the people in it – or simply how you think about it without actually changing anything else at all. Begin to notice where, when, and with whom you are your very best you. Practice, practice, practice, and see what happens.

To work on this or something else, would love to hear from you:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

*Source: NPR http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/06/24/481859662/invisibilia-is-your-personality-fixed-or-can-you-change-who-you-are?utm_source=npr_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20160626&utm_campaign=bestofnpr&utm_term=nprnews

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.





Functional Stupidity: Really? Really.

"Brilliance, Stupidity" Road Sign with dramatic clouds and sky.“Functional stupidity in the workplace is best described as when smart people are discouraged to think and reflect at work. The ramifications can ultimately be catastrophic, leading to organisational collapse, financial meltdown and technical disaster….However, a dose of functional stupidity can be useful and produce good, short-term results: it can nurture harmony, encourage people to get on with the job and drive success. This is what the authors refer to as the stupidity paradox [title of their book]….

Examples included:

  • Executives who [were] more interested in impressive power point shows than systematic analysis.
  • Companies ran leadership development initiatives which would not be out of place in a new age commune.
  • Technology firms that were more interest[ed] in keeping a positive tone than addressing real problems.
  • Schools focused more on developing impressive strategies than educating students.
  • Marketing executives who were obsessed with branding when all that counted was the price.
  • Corporations that would throw millions into ‘change exercises’ and then when they failed do exactly the same thing again and again.
  • Senior defence officials who were more interested in running rebranding operations rather than military operations.”*

Wait a minute. Wonder if that second bullet about the “new age commune” refers to the mindfulness programs sweeping Corporate America (Google, General Mills, Target, Apple, Nike, Procter & Gamble). If it does, with all due respect, as a mindfulness instructor in corporate settings myself, dumbing down is neither the intent nor the result. On the contrary, mindfulness clears, calms, and sharpens the mind so brilliance can emerge! Ask my client who said the gigantic publishing error she found and was able to stop would have surely gone to press had she not taken my training program, “Managing Your MIND.” **

Moving on from this rant, they do have a point, of course, reminding me of an earlier book on my shelf, Narcissistic Process and Corporate Decay, detailing a tendency in employees to focus more on satisfying the boss’ ego than on producing their finest quality work. We know these as “Yes” men and women, who yes it up pretty much for the reasons The Stupidity Paradox authors say – for the comfort, safety, and harmony of a smooth, humming organizational machine. Until it crashes because too many corporate leaders are hanging onto policies of the past no matter how bad they are, and too many employees and leaders alike prefer to live in some kind of Lala land, rather than to face the hard facts, choices, and conflicts necessary to survive and to thrive.

What to do? Keyword: Functional. There are times when decisions have been made, action plans charted; we go along to get along and get the work done. Too many brilliant ideas at that point can slow everything down. Other times are times for brilliance, let’s say when the voice inside your head is saying over and over again that something is or is not very much right. “The Man Who Knew Infinity,” a movie about the gifted mathematician, Srinivasa Ramanujan, who gained admittance to Cambridge University during WWI, is a stunning depiction of one man’s triumph in bringing the inner voice of his brilliance to the world. Can you hear yours? Or has it been muted for so long by a noisy, and perhaps fearful, mind that you can barely hear it at all. We can begin to clear that noise away, as you may know by now, by turning your attention to your breath. In through the nose, out through the nose, belly out on the in-breath, belly in on the out-breath, quieting the mind and creating a space for the voice of your own brilliance to emerge, there for you to use in that right time and place, as you see fit. Practice, practice, practice, and see what happens.

To work on this or something else, would love to hear from you:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

*”Researcher discusses ‘functional stupidity’—when smart people are discouraged from thinking at work” June 15, 2016 http://phys.org/news/2016-06-discusses-functional-stupiditywhen-smart-people.html

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.




Phubbing v Loving: As We Mourn, Remember Love

phubbingResearch from psychologists at the University of Kent suggests people’s internet addiction is leading them increasingly to ‘phub’ – and experience being ‘phubbed’ – in social situations. This, in turn, leads them to view this phubbing behaviour as normal.*

Today we mourn the many lives lost in the Orlando terrorist attack. Tragedy this horrific reminds us how easy it is to forget, to take for granted, how much we love and need one another. Enter Phubbing – which is snubbing or ignoring someone in favor of your mobile phone or other device. Perfect example. How did outright ignoring the one we are with ever become this okay? So okay that, for all the issues my clients raise in love and work, I cannot recall a single one of them even mentioning phubbing, although I surmise they have all suffered it at some point along their way.**

I have done it myself. Stickler about this that I am, hadn’t thought so, and only learned this after slamming a friend for doing it herself on repeated occasions. After I let her have it, this friend, who had been my travel companion in Europe last year, nicely and rightly pointed out how many times she had lost me in a crowd because I had stopped to text the man I love. She hadn’t said much of anything that I can recall at the time. After all, it’s not that easy to complain about something we do ourselves. But I was somehow (I don’t know how) unaware that what I was doing counted as phubbing too, nor that there even was a word for it. So, complain I did when she explained she had to take what’s his name’s phone calls because he already texted that evening about Memorial Day plans weeks away. Really? She couldn’t call him back later on her own time.

FOMO: Fear of Missing Out, rampant these days, manifest in facebook and other social media addiction and, coupled with a lack of self-control according to these authors, accounting for phubbing. I am going to stop phubbing. I think I can. I know I can. Let’s all try together to not do that anymore. There is no greater gift that we can give to one another than the gift of our attention. Mindfulness: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally” (Jon Kabat Zinn).

That is love. The gift of our attention. As we mourn together today, let us remember love and especially to love the one we are with. Practice, practice, practice, and see what happens.

To work on this or something else, would love to hear from you:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

* “How did ignoring people for our smartphones become the norm?” June 7, 2016 http://phys.org/news/2016-06-people-smartphones-norm.html

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.




What’s New? MRM (Mind Reading Motivation)

Mind readingMRM is the tendency to engage with the mental states and perspectives of others. But it’s much more than just a means of passing idle time. Being high in MRM leads to many social benefits, including better teamwork… *

Mind Reading (called Theory of Mind) is not new but the study of the motivation to do it is. We are talking here about what goes on in our minds about other minds – especially to help us figure out what actions another person might take. Sounds useful, doesn’t it; which is why, starting at about 4 years of age, we humans use non-verbal cues like body language or facial expression to figure out what’s going on in the minds of other people. Some of us are better at it than others, but we are not talking about ability here. We are talking about the socially beneficial motivation to read the minds of others, which also seems to vary among us.

Teams high in MRM reported significantly more enjoyment, cooperation, and equality of contribution in working together on a task. Although it remains to be studied whether the quality of work is superior among high MRM teams, my own clients** tend to stress more about other people at work than the work itself. How we work together matters. Everything is connected to everything else. Work stress impacts everything in our lives, including but not limited to our health.

People with high MRM actually enjoy speculating about what other people are thinking. So, if you want to increase your own MRM, increase your enjoyment of it. Make it a game. You can do this with stories (guessing about what the characters are thinking, feeling, doing next), just as is recommended for parents who want to help their kids get better at reading social signals. Or you can bring it closer to home and play guessing games with your partner. This would be especially useful for couples who feel they may have trouble understanding one another, or for coworkers too.

Keyword: Guessing. All we can do is guess. It is hard enough to know our own minds with 100% accuracy, let alone someone else’s – why I try to convey to my clients that what I suggest to them about themselves is only hypothesis, for them to confirm or disconfirm. But even if and when we are wrong, does it not feel mighty good, just as the study found, to know that someone else cares that much about what is going on inside of us. And when they get it right, then we really feel known – and I believe it is only when we really feel known that we can really feel loved. So try it. You may like it. Make it a game so you can enjoy it. Practice, practice, practice, and see what happens.

To work on this or something else, would love to hear from you:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

* “Research examines the social benefits of getting into someone else’s head” June 1, 2016 http://medicalxpress.com/news/2016-06-social-benefits.html

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.



That’s Your Story; Doesn’t Have To Be.


We make a particular sense of our lives and of our world that allows us to process and retain information and to decide what to do….Our drive for sense-making can make us hostile to alternative points of view that might suggest that our world, and even our lives, makes less sense than we thought.*

It’s our story. Our central organizing principle. Everybody has one. Everybody needs one to function at all. Just as the brain regulates body temperature, it regulates and simplifies sensory inputs so our brains don’t explode. Alright, maybe that’s a bit much, but you all know what too much information feels like. It almost hurts, makes you want to take a nap, or a drink, or a bag of cookies, or something. It’s too much. Our little brains can’t work with all that, but we need something to work with so, by nature and by nurture, our brains pick and choose us a manageable view of the world and our place in it.

The best story I know to illustrate the point is The Elephant and The Blind Men. Six blind men are told that there is an elephant in the village. They all go to the elephant to ‘see’ with their hands what an elephant is. Each touches a different part of the elephant. Here’s what they said:

“Hey, the elephant is a pillar,” said the first man who touched his leg.

“Oh, no! it is like a rope,” said the second man who touched the tail.

“Oh, no! it is like a thick branch of a tree,” said the third man who touched the trunk of the elephant.

“It is like a big hand fan” said the fourth man who touched the ear of the elephant.

“It is like a huge wall,” said the fifth man who touched the belly of the elephant.

“It is like a solid pipe,” Said the sixth man who touched the tusk of the elephant.

And then they argued, each convinced that he was right. Because he was – but only partly. And herein lies the rub that makes us so unwelcoming, if not downright hostile, to that which we cannot ourselves ‘see’. Six different stories, all of them true and only partly true, as many different stories as there are people in the world, one of which is yours. And just as an actor/actress has a script and role to play, so do we. That is, our story, which gives meaning and coherence to our lives, also directs our action, unless we actively, mindfully, intervene.

Virtually everyone I have worked with has come to our work initially boxed in by a story: “I will never love again…. I’m just not an entrepreneur…. I’m socially awkward…. I’ll never write that book.” ** On and on it goes. And, many if not most of us don’t even know what that story is! But you can. Here is a mini version of an exercise I use in my Managing Your Mind workshops. When you fall still, turning your attention to your breath, belly out on the in breath, belly in on the out breath, thoughts will come. We do not hold them but rather let them come and go like clouds in the sky. Now for this variation, The Movie Room, we again let the thoughts come but this time, before we let them go, we hold the thought momentarily to notice and name it. In this way, we begin to notice recurrent thoughts and patterns, and in so doing can give a title to this movie we have produced and directed as a creation of the mind.

One woman’s movie is “The Planner,” a future oriented default that, when she is not mindful, can hijack her right out of her all-important here and now. Sure, this role of heroine as planner may have helped her at a time when her here and now was largely painful, but she’s worked hard, and she’s made it. She’s where she wants to be now and it would be good if she could enjoy the fruits of all that. So what is yours? What patterns of thought can you notice in your story that may limit your life. Doesn’t have to be your whole story. If you care to, it is possible to reconsider, to edit, to tweak the beginning, middle, ending and live in this newer better one instead. Practice, practice, practice, and see what happens.

To work on this or something else, would love to hear from you:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

* Nick Chater et al. The under-appreciated drive for sense-making, Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization (2016). DOI: 10.1016/j.jebo.2015.10.016

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.

You Can’t Make Me…But Free Will Can

Remove the perception of choice and you’re in fact more likely to recoil from cooperation and go a different direction altogether*.

Who doesn’t know this? Who doesn’t use it? Many of us. Much of the time. Except my mother, who said about my father: “I always made him think it was his idea.” It was a happy marriage after all. But her approach has been awkward at best for the straight shooter I like to think I am—even if it is an approach more consistent than my own with the study referenced here below.

Using “Public Goods,” an economic contribution game (participants put money in a pot to later split), this study shows that corrupting our sense of free will corrupts our natural inclination to cooperate along with it. Nice to hear them say, “…people are intuitively cooperative.” Reminds me of Matt Ridley, who said so too, in The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation. I cut my Evolutionary Psychology teeth on Ridley, and try to pass along to my clients as much as I can that we are wired up as much to take care of each other as we are to take care of ourselves**.

So what to do when we have stepped on someone else’s sense of free will, even if it was only a request that made that person feel like it was not so much his/her idea? Well, we have options. Option 1: Breathe (3 beautiful breaths, in through the nose, out through the nose, belly out on the in breath, belly in on the out breath), and wait…because the selfishness that accompanies a corrupted sense of free will is only a temporary corruption of one’s otherwise sweet self. And if we can’t or don’t feel like waiting, Option 2: Take care of whatever it is ourselves—if our cost-benefit analysis suggests that what we get via our own agency (plans, actions) outstrips the cost of the other noticing we took matters into our own hands.

Same thing in reverse when someone else has stepped on our own sense of free will. First we breathe the selfishness away; then we do the right thing, which sometimes, albeit not always, means doing the thing we have been asked to do. As usual, all about responding rather than reacting, all about pausing long enough to kick the matter upstairs to put the higher brain in charge. People step on each other’s sense of free will all the time. Opportunities abound. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

To work on this or something else, call or write at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:  202.617.0821

“Do we have free will?” March 1, 2016 http://medicalxpress.com/news/2016-03-free.html

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2016. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.


Decisions and Time (wasted) to Make Them

Not What You May Think…

Maybe you think that the harder the decision, the more time you should take making it? Think again. Better yet, you may want to quit that endless thinking, thinking, thinking altogether. Too much thinking. Not just you. It’s what we do. More or less. Take (Jean) Buridan’s Ass, a paradoxical, philosophical thought experiment that dates at least as far back as Aristotle, and goes something like this: An equally hungry and thirsty donkey, placed exactly halfway between a stack of hay and a pail of water, cannot decide which way to go. Paralyzed with indecision and, therefore, approaching neither the food nor the drink while he tries to decide, the donkey dies. In Irrational Time Allocation in Decision-Making (Oud et al), we read about a study (Burns) in which fast moving, less accurate bees wind up with more nectar than the slower, more accurate bees. They cite this study in relation to their own finding that human subjects earned greater rewards (snack food, dollars) when a deadline was imposed on the subjects to break any deadlock like the one suffered by the ass.

I believe and teach that the reason some decisions are so darned hard is because there is equal or near equal merit on both sides. You’ve heard of buyer’s remorse, not so much when the one you bought was a lot better than the one you didn’t. But when it was ‘six of one, half a dozen of the other’, it’s tougher. And the toughness of that decision is expensive; for example, when while you were going back and forth in your head afraid to make a mistake, someone else stepped up to the plate and took your one that got away – a home, a mate, whatever it was that you obliterated out of existence by thinking it to death. Just like the donkey.

So here is the other thing I live, breathe, and teach: It is not the decisions we make but what we make of these decisions once we have made them that makes all the difference in our lives. When people come to believe in themselves, to know that, whatever it is, they can and will throw everything they have at making it work, they jump for joy into new people, places, and things. I marvel at the changes my clients* make – new homes, new jobs, new love interests – often without even talking about these particular decisions directly in our work. All because they all of a sudden realize they can do this – they can make changes in their lives and feel all the better for it because they know, love, and trust the self in charge. I think I can. I think I can. Do something, make a change, make it work, to know you can. And then do it again. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

For help with this or something else, call or write at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:  202.617.0821

“Irrational Time Allocation in Decision-Making,” Bastiaan Oud, Ian Krajbich, Kevin Miller, Jin Hyun Cheong, Matthew Botvinick, Ernst Fehr. 13 January 2016. DOI: 10.1098/rspb.2015.1439

*Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2016. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.