In Love: Play Together, Stay Together

  “Play refreshes a long-term adult relationship. In a healthy relationship it is like oxygen: pervasive and mostly unnoticed, but essential to intimacy. It refreshes by promoting humor, the enjoyment of novelty, the capacity to share a lighthearted sense of the world’s ironies, the enjoyment of mutual storytelling, the capacity to openly divulge imagination and fantasies….these playful communications and interactions produce a climate for easy connection and deepening, more rewarding relationship – true intimacy.

Take play out of the mix and, like a climb up the oxygen-poor ‘death zone’ of Mount Everest, the relationship becomes a survival endurance contest. Without play skills, the repertoire to deal with inevitable stresses is narrowed. Even if loyalty, responsibility, duty, and steadfastness remain, without playfulness there will be insufficient vitality left over to keep the relationship buoyant and satisfying.”*

Someone I know** once said that couples do all this vacation, theater, movies stuff because they are bored out of their minds with each other. If people are really into each other, she said, they don’t need all that. And if they’re not into each other without all that, they shouldn’t be together. She makes adult play sound lame. Researchers on play make it sound not only normal and natural, but really, really smart. Here’s why.

In American anthropologist, human behavior researcher, and self-help author Helen Fisher’s Why We Love, we learn about phases of love:

“Lust, the craving for sexual gratification, emerged to motivate our ancestors to seek sexual union with almost any partner. Romantic love, the elation and obsession of “being in love,” enabled them to focus their courtship attentions on a single individual at a time, thereby conserving precious mating time and energy. And male-female attachment, the feeling of calm, peace, and security one often has for a long-term mate, evolved to motivate our ancestors to love this partner long enough to rear their young.”

As you may know, there is a bit of a trade off over time. Rather like wine pairing for multi-course meals, different wines for different phases of the meal, Fisher tells us about the different hormones accompanying different phases of love. So the crazy, wonderful, roller coaster buzz we feel at the beginning, left to mother nature, over time not so much. She has other things, like the long-term stability of our nest, in mind for us. Hence the calm, peace, and security that can morph into boredom if we are not mindful of the potential for just that. Boredom.

Fortunately, a lot of people know this. They know what to do, and they do it. All manner of adult play together, including, according to Bloggers Brett and Kate McKay: Body play (dancing), Object play (golf), Social play (dining with friends), Pretend play (role play), Narrative play (sharing stories), Creative play (trip planning), Attunement play (viewing together TV, sports, movies, theater, the Grand Canyon…). Whatever feels to the two of you like play, meaning that even if there is some point to it (like sex for procreation), if the delight of it outweighs the point of it, it can qualify as play.

To repeat: “…these playful communications and interactions produce a climate for easy connection and deepening, more rewarding relationship – true intimacy. Take play out of the mix and, like a climb up the oxygen-poor ‘death zone’ of Mount Everest, the relationship becomes a survival endurance contest.”*

Okay, so in truth, just because there is no apparent point to the play other than for the fun of it, there really is a point to it. That’s a good thing. Play is a good thing, although theories abound on what the fundamental and enduring point of play is. Studies have shown playfulness in adults to be positively associated with academic performance, work performance, stress management, sense of well-being, physical health, social bonding, and problem solving abilities, to name a few. Nice outcomes. They go on to posit that the positive emotions associated with these outcomes may explain at least in part why men and women rank playful, fun loving, and sense of humor so highly when asked what they are looking for in a mate. That is, playfulness would be seen as good for the relationship, the well-being of each individual partner, and their long term excitement and affection for each other – to help us to pair bond and reproduce in ways that helped us to survive and to thrive as a species, no less.

But alas, not only do too many couples get buried in the daily grind of everyday life, as in, Who has time for play?, but researchers have mentioned as well that it is hard to get funding for research on play – precisely because it’s all so positive in the face of a hardwiring for negativity, known as the “negativity bias.” Here’s how that goes: In what we call the environment of evolutionary adaptation, millions of years ago when our modern brains were forming, if something great happened (like a mating opportunity) and we missed it, oh well, too bad, but there will be another. If, on the other hand, something terrible was coming down the pike and we missed it, no oh well, too bad’s about it; we just became somebody’s lunch. So it makes sense we’d be more vigilant about the negative than the positive as a survival rule. Trouble is we’re no longer in that environment and, though it may feel at times that we are about to become someone’s lunch, we’re not, not really. There are, therefore, much happier, healthier, more productive ways to spend our energy and our time than in the default of this normal, natural negativity mode.

Some of us live more in the negativity mode than others. Someone has to keep an eye out for danger and, if your partner has taken on that role more than you have, it would be nice if you expressed your gratitude (Thank you for your service) and took some of it on yourself some of the time. Just to be nice. And nicer still, would be if, as a team, you acknowledged that the normal hormonal shifts over time in relationships, coupled with the negativity bias in humans in general, are significant forces to contend with, together. Then, you two can, on purpose, plant play into your lives, as a habit forming staple from the start and for the long haul. Then you two can be and stay happy in love.

So how are you as an individual and as a couple going to Play today just to Play? Start today? Why not? Play Together. Stay together. For a happier, healthier, more productive Love. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

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

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202 617-0821

* Brown, Stuart, M.D., Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. New York: Penguin, 2010, p..166

**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.

 

 

After LOVE; Let Us PLAY

To the brain, getting dumped is the pain equivalent of getting burned by a hot cup of coffee….merely looking at a photograph of an ex-partner energized the neurological regions…that also process physical discomfort. Defensively, the dejected brain also signals the release of the stress hormone cortisol, and amplifies the body’s immune defenses as though warding off emotional pathogens. Indeed, as additional research further confirms, matters of the heart and mind are intimately connected.*

Ouch. That sounds serious. And it is. In love – and at work too, let’s say when we are let go or are unhappy enough to leave on our own – when our deeply held connections are severed and our dreams for a future in that connection are dashed – it hurts. The heart hurts, and the mind hurts, and sometimes we feel that loss of connection all over our bodies. So don’t let anyone tell you that you are not supposed to feel exactly as crummy as you do when you break up with the one you love. We are wired for this. By and for nature and nurture, in an effort to survive and reproduce, Pair Bonding matters to humans, and when the pair bond is ruptured that incredible urge to either repair it or replace it tells us all we need to know about how much we want to pair. Yes, there are what the attachment theorists call avoidant types. But it seems the wish to bond was once there in them too before ‘Enough is enough; I’m going it alone’ set in because s/he was either mistreated or ignored by an attachment figure too much of the time. By the way, try having a relationship with an avoidant type, and see how kicked in the stomach it feels every time you try to get close. Not a bad reason to break up, if things cannot be improved. You deserve better, you say. And you do.

Or maybe you two were close and really enjoyed being together. Maybe even though you both loved the same music, loved to hike or bike together, to take in the theater, or sit by the fire, or walk on the beach; maybe there was always something that didn’t feel good or right. Maybe it was the pain of incompatible core values that derailed you. As numbers of clients** have explained, they loved being together in the moment but for the long haul the plain truth was that their life plans and core values did not match. She embraced commitment; he embraced independence. She embraced intellectual and financial career success. He embraced simplicity and serenity via his art. Core values are the virtually unshakeable rules by which we live, and living long together by fundamentally different rules can sometimes, not always, but often enough make things too damned hard. So then they breakup – talk about hard.

Before we get to what makes breaking up so hard, and what we can do to make it easier, here are some interesting stats on breakups compiled from Facebook status updates*:

  • When: the most common day for breakups is first Monday in December, cleaning up mess before not during the holidays. Early March, spring break, a popular time for breakups too.
  • How: People born before 1975 tend to breakup in person 74% of the time. People born after 1984 breakup in person only 47% of the time, more likely by phone (30%), text (14%), email (4%).
  • Why: Everything from soup to nuts: Cheating, unsatisfying sex, not enough time together, loyalty, support, just not feeling it, “economy, politics, boredom and even vocal pitch as the final straws for various couples.” Kind of makes me wonder how many people really even know.
  • How Long: By this I mean how long does the grieving process take. “Eight weeks after getting dumped, 40 percent of people in one study exhibited signs of clinical depression, and 12 percent appeared moderately or severely depressed.” Remember, it’s supposed to hurt because evolution and culture want us to want to bond.
  • Who: Women initiate two-thirds of divorces and have the statistical breakup edge. Of course, sometimes her life partner left emotionally way in advance of the actual breakup, so it’s not clear who actually dumped whom.

In any case…Breaking up is hard to do. Hormonally hard. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, or pleasure inducing drug, that can send us soaring, make us crazy, and boy does that feel good. The mere sight of a romantic partner can stimulate the brain’s reward system and flood us with this love drug. The realization that the loved one is gone deprives us of the drug. To avoid this deprivation we may find ourselves out of our minds motivated to repair the relationship to get the love drug back. Being with the one we love, also produces endorphins, and with endorphins comes that “general sense of well-being, including feeling soothed, peaceful and secure.” Without that drug we’re in withdrawal and, until we grieve a bit and restabilize, we feel none of the above.

So how do we grieve? Pioneering attachment theorist, John Bowlby, gave us 4 stages of grief: Numbness, Yearning, Disorganization and Despair, Reorganization. The more widely known psychiatrist, Elizabeth Kübler Ross, gave us 5: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, Acceptance. It appears that in Bowlby’s model the anger pretty much rolls into the yearning, that phase of bargaining to get the love back, and the anger associated with the frustration this fruitless effort entails. So these two models are very much alike, stages beginning with ‘make it not be over’ and ending with the acceptance that it is. Turns out the stages are not any more neat and clean than any relationship is. They can be a mess. No sooner do we think we’ve moved along to acceptance than something happens, let’s say a facebook post, and we are hurled back into the throes of painful emotion all over again. The brain does not forget that easily and can be triggered by almost anything, as you may know.

But visits by feelings from earlier stages of grief do not necessarily mean that we haven’t moved along in the grief process. We may think of these visits as all part of the process instead. Rumi has a wonderful poem, The Guest House, to help us think about all emotion in this way. And one of the best things I ever heard, may sound obvious to you, but hit me hard in a good way when I needed it, came from a philosophy mentor who said, “You know, Madelaine, it is possible to be happy and sad at the same time.” Great. So tears of frustration or sadness are not necessarily a setback. They are okay. In fact, studies have indicated that emotional tears calm our breathing and heart rate, and carry stress hormones that can be cleansed from our bodies when we let ourselves cry. So live it up. Don’t hold back. Go on. Have a good cry.

And then Play. Because, even if we can’t get back with the one we loved, there are plenty of other ways to get the peaceful, joyful lovin’ feeling back. Romantic love and sex are not the only ways to get the love drugs back. No sir. Exercise and playing games, video games, card games, varieties of challenging or competitive play – can increase dopamine levels. Dopamine (the pleasure drug) motivates us to achieve and rewards us with pleasure when we do, making us want to set and reach goals all the more. So after love, when it can feel like all is lost and you hate that deep, dark, foggy pit you’re in – Get up, Get out, and Play. And then your dopamine will motivate you to do even more of the kinds of things that increase endorphins, the inner morphine that can ease our pain and help us to feel happy again.

How to increase endorphins: Get out of the bed. Get off the couch. Hang out with people you like. Laugh. Go to the beach. Take a sauna. Play volleyball. Dance. Eat (dark chocolate, hot peppers, alcohol in moderation, and to some extent just about anything you enjoy). Help someone (helper’s high). Exercise. MEDITATE. Yes indeed, studies have found every one off these to impact our chemistry in ways that make us feel good when we might otherwise have felt nothing but bad. How to be happy and sad at the same time. How to lift oneself up and out, to help oneself to Play for the benefits to our overall health and happiness. And okay, who knows, maybe even to find that oh so delicious high, romantic love, out there in the playground once again. You never know what can happen when we least expect it, with an aura of health and joy on our side. Play, play, play. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

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

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* Conger, Christen, How Breakups Work. congerhttp://people.howstuffworks.com/breakup.htm/printable

**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.

Love at Work

Chartered Psychologist (Occupational) Dr. Fiona Beddoes-Jones, in a study of over 300 managers/leaders, found the majority of respondents were dissatisfied with the level of warmth and care displayed at work and believed that their wellbeing would be improved if there was more ‘love’.”*

Not what you thought? Maybe you thought ”Love at Work” would be about affairs, 85% of which were found to begin in the workplace. Or maybe you thought we were talking about finding true love and marriage at work. Turns out a lot of people do meet their spouses at work, around 10% in 2009, down from 20% in the 1990’s, due to the rise of internet dating, one study finds. But affairs at work and finding true love at work are not what this piece is about. What we are talking about here is love at work about the work, for both the work, and the people who are doing it.

In business school there was a course called “Managing Work Groups,” which was in essence a T-Group. T-Groups “use feedback, problem solving, and role play to gain insights into themselves, others, and groups.” One of the men and one of the women** in the group seemed to lock horns every time the class met. So one day one of the students asked, “What do you two think is underneath all the fighting?” The answer was affection. The truth beneath the fighting was that these two had a crush on each other – and that no one in the group had any idea what to do with affection at work, no doubt a large part of why, if not exactly why, warmth and care (aka love) tend to get withheld at work. Awkward. Doesn’t feel appropriate. Doesn’t feel safe. And to some extent it’s not if it is not mindfully managed, especially with people working such long hours and traveling together so much of the time. So what kind of love does it take to enrich the work, to enrich the worker’s experience of it, and to enrich the relationships in and out of the workplace, all at the same time. Let’s take a look at Hot Groups.

Hot group members behave like people in love…. The excitement, chaos, and joy generated in hot groups make all the participants feel young and optimistic regardless of their chronological age. In hot groups, the usual intellectual and social inhibitions are relaxed. These qualities almost re-create the sense of exuberant confidence people feel as children. Many people may have felt the excitement of a hot group when they were at school, putting together a show or a school magazine. It may have been in the military in a squad fighting its way up an impossible hill. Perhaps it was in a research group on the trail of an elusive gene or in a cross-functional new product team building the next generation of pasta makers. We have even received unsubstantiated reports of hot groups taking root in boardrooms. Overall, however, hot groups are rare, especially within traditional organizations.

Note the wording “sense of exuberant confidence people feel as children.” That’s what is too often missing in the workplace, that sense of exuberant confidence. But it doesn’t come from warmth alone. The bird wants to fly. The tree wants to grow. So do we and, as children or adults, to grow and to fly we need clear guidelines and boundaries, as much a part of loving as anything else. As the study found,* “People want clarity from a logical and pragmatic manager, but they also what to feel that a manager and the organisation genuinely care about them and that is often what is missing.” So for example, Hot Groups can be too heavy on emotion and not heavy enough on the guidance and boundaries they need to help them protect their outside relationships and to avoid burnout altogether from the intensity of it all. Everything, including love at work, in good measure, I guess we could say, and for this we need to pay attention to the work, to the work relationships, and to the impact of these on everything else. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

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

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202- 617-0821

*“Leaders and managers should be taught how to ‘love’ their staff,” January 5, 2017 https://phys.org/news/2017-01-leaders-taught-staff.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.

 

Why I Have to Be Right and So Do You.

Few people saw Donald Trump’s victory coming, including Donald Trump. There are easy culprits to blame for the surprise win (skewed polls and fake news come to mind), but the biggest enemy might be our own egos. It’s natural to ignore everything we disagree with, and many of us don’t realize that we’re biased until we’re shocked into noticing that things are not like we expected. That’s true regardless of who you ultimately voted for.” *

This is not just about politics. Let me tell you about my people. Anthropologist and psychologist, Robin Dunbar, tells us that there is a limit to how many people we can manage as our own ‘my people’. This is a bit of a digression but so interesting, I think, that I want to share it with you, here below on the Dunbar number:

The Dunbar number is actually a series of them. The best known, a hundred and fifty, is the number of people we call casual friends—the people, say, you’d invite to a large party. (In reality, it’s a range: a hundred at the low end and two hundred for the more social of us.) From there, through qualitative interviews coupled with analysis of experimental and survey data, Dunbar discovered that the number grows and decreases according to a precise formula, roughly a “rule of three.” The next step down, fifty, is the number of people we call close friends—perhaps the people you’d invite to a group dinner. You see them often, but not so much that you consider them to be true intimates. Then there’s the circle of fifteen: the friends that you can turn to for sympathy when you need it, the ones you can confide in about most things. The most intimate Dunbar number, five, is your close support group. These are your best friends (and often family members). On the flipside, groups can extend to five hundred, the acquaintance level, and to fifteen hundred, the absolute limit—the people for whom you can put a name to a face. While the group sizes are relatively stable, their composition can be fluid. Your five today may not be your five next week; people drift among layers and sometimes fall out of them altogether.

Back to my people…can’t think of a single one of them, not a single person I know, who doesn’t think s/he knows something. Kind of like the 10 blind Chinese men asked to say what an elephant is by touching it, each describing it differently based on which part of the elephant he was touching. All are right, of course, but only partially right, given the limitations of what he can ‘see’. The truth but not the whole truth, and yet each is completely convinced that he is entirely right – and that everyone else is wrong. It was certainly that way with my people and the election, and, as I said, not limited to that. That’s pretty much just the way (my) people are, including but not limited to the one** who saw the print out of this “How the brain tricks you…” article sitting on my desk and laughed, haha, thought he had me now, somehow missing that it kind of applied to him too, as it applies pretty much to us all.

Now why is this? What is wrong with us? Nothing. It’s a strategy. Our beliefs tie us together. Strength in numbers. They are a vital part of how we know that we are not alone in this chaotic world. Anything, like new and accurate information, that threatens the strength of these beliefs threatens the strength of the social bonds on which we depend psychologically for our sense of well-being in the world. Our beliefs define us as individuals too, or at least we think so, even if my philosophy tutors are quick to point out that’s just the Ego talking, and the Ego talks too much. They call it the Ahamkara, aka the personality, that becomes so full of itself it doesn’t even know how little it knows. But try to diddle with the Ego, and it fights for it’s life. It’s right and you’re not. Simple as that.

So here’s the good news: People want to be right, but they also want to be good. Robert Wright, in The Moral Animal, tells us so and I have seen it myself again and again in written responses on exercises in organizational workshops I have run. Maybe because if we are not good our reputations can suffer and people with bad reps in the environment of evolutionary adaption were left to die, seems we are hardwired to think we are good even when we are not until and unless we get exposed. Then we get defensive. Then we have to be right.

But not really. No one is perfect. No one has to be. We are all just a bunch of humans trying to get through the day in the best way we know how. And if we want to draw people near, instead of pushing them away with our opinions on politics and other things, then here is what we can do. First thing is that we can remember the 10 blind Chinese men. Thoughts are not facts; they are events of the mind. The more recurrent they are, the stronger we feel them, and the more we think they are true even if they are not, especially if our thoughts are shared by people whom we think really matter to us.

So the next time you may find yourself mired in a ‘groupthink’ belief that is potentially obnoxious to others, or even obnoxious to a part of your own more rational self, good time to pause and remind: There goes thinking – thinking, thinking, thinking. Thoughts are not facts. They are events or ideas of the mind. Other people’s thoughts are events and ideas of their own. We are all right, based on what we can see, and not so much on what we cannot. But we can be more on-purpose curious about ideas and information outside of our own awareness – to at least try to see what we can’t see – for the good of all. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

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

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

* “How your brain tricks you into believing you’re the reasonable one: It’s so natural to ignore everything we disagree with,” Angela Chen, Nov 23, 2016, http://www.theverge.com/2016/11/23/13718636/donald-trump-psychology-confirmation-bias-truth-backfire

**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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Judge Much? Too Much?

judgyA well-known saying urges people to ‘not judge a book by its cover’. But people tend to do just that – even after they’ve skimmed a chapter or two, according to Cornell University research….First impressions formed simply from looking at a photograph predicted how people felt and thought about the person after a live interaction that took place one month to six months later.”*

Who knew? Wouldn’t we all like to think that, even if we are judgy from the get-go, at least we can revise our impressions after actually meeting the person. Let it please be true, only according to this study it’s not. Instead they found that people looked at photographs of faces, some faces smiling some not, then participants made a determination that stuck for a good long time. The smiling people were considered liked and cloaked in all kinds of other positive attributes, e.g., they were assumed to be competent, with marriages and kids better off, just for smiling nicely in a photo. Faces in unsmiling photos were presumed unlikeable, unstable, disagreeable, narrow-minded. Yikes.

And this was just from photos. We have much bigger problems in real life where things get interactive with multiplier effects as a result. Here’s an example. When I moved here to DC I was struck by how smiley and friendly people seemed on the street. When I asked around about it, I kept hearing that here in DC one never knows, could be anybody, could be somebody really important, better safe than sorry, people pretty much networking all the time. Of course, I was new here, full of curiosity, head up in wide-eyed delight looking all around. And this may have made all the difference in the world – because I know people** who feel just the opposite about DC. These people who find DC people horribly unfriendly, say “no one ever looks up from their phones,” let alone to cast a warm and welcoming smile. No surprise that these people who see things so differently also happen to be people who wear BRF’s. Click here for an earlier post on BRF, what the kids call Bitchy Resting Face. Projection, projection, projection, we might say. We get what we give. Goes around comes around. Golden rule. Seems obvious once we know how much a simple smile can count. Ask Oprah who launched a whole campaign on smile.

But look, humans are judgy. We just are, and it’s not going away anytime soon. Judgy has helped us to survive and to thrive. It’s how we knew the difference between what we could eat and what could eat us. Who was friend and who was foe. So judge away we will. We are hard wired for it. Even so, as with all things of the mind, it is helpful to remember that the mind is an instrument for our use, not the other way around, and that we have a right and responsibility to use this instrument well. So, if we and the people on the street with us can have this much impact on one another, just by the judgments the mind makes in response to the expressions on our faces, think what a difference can be made in our work and home lives in face to face interaction with the people there. We can be mindfully in charge of what ‘face’ we bring to the world, so we don’t misrepresent ourselves in a way that we now know can stick for a very long time. And, conversely, we can cut a little slack for anyone with a BRF on, to judge not (or at least to judge less) lest ye be judged. My philosophy tutors have said, “Treat each person, no matter how many times we have been with this person, as if we are meeting him/her for the very first time.” I have tried this and liked it. You can too. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

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

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

* “When judging other people, first impressions last,” November, 28, 2016. http://scienmag.com/when-judging-other-people-first-impressions-last/

**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.

Food Friending in Work and Love

Food friending“How do you build rapport with a new employer or someone on a first date? It turns out that there may be a simple strategy that’s often overlooked: eat the same food as your companion.”*

Who among us hasn’t heard that food is love and eating together is good for us…mind, body, and soul. So, for example, students in families who eat together are generally less obese, are less prone to drug abuse, are less truant in school, get better grades, and feel closer to parents. But we are not talking about just eating together. Here we are talking about eating the same thing together – just as our ancestors did in the environment of evolutionary adaptation, way back when the big brain, aka The Social Brain, was formed to help us cope with the growing complexity of our social systems. Through food sharing of a single carcass we learned together about cooperation, fairness, and trust over who got what, and how we would resolve our conflicts over who got what. And, there we sat around the fire, eating together, telling stories, bonding in community to keep us safe and warm.

In last week’s post we looked at the human love of landscapes, some would say due to their reminiscence of our early days on the Savannah. Here we see University of Chicago researchers* suggesting a beneficial effect with eating behavior (eating the same thing together), possibly reminiscent of those earlier, formative days as well. That is, study participants eating like-foods reached negotiated agreements quicker than pairs who did not eat like foods, and participants who ate similar foods gave more money to individuals with whom they were paired, contrasted with participants who were paired but ate dissimilar foods.

A story told by one woman I know comes to mind. We will call her Mary.** Mary loved lamb chops. Her mother did not make them too often, both because her mother did not like to cook and because her family did not have the means to buy too many lamb chops too often. Mary grew up remembering her brother as quicker and somehow more entitled to take as many lamb chops as he liked, always getting more. One day, as adults, her brother said, “I remember that you never liked the lamb chops so there was always more for me.” Mary was stunned to learn, not only how wrong they had both been in their perceptions, but what an opportunity for this little family – to talk, to learn, to grow, to love, to build trust, to cooperate and bond together – had been right there on the plate before them – but missed.

In the workplace, “People tend to think that they use logic to make decisions, and they are largely unaware that food preferences can influence their thinking,” says Ayelet Fishbach, a professor in the business school at the University of Chicago. “On a very basic level, food can be used strategically to help people work together and build trust.”*

Some suggestions from the researchers for the workplace include limiting food choices at group luncheons to encourage eating similar foods, or purposely ordering food similar to the other at a business lunch. Can you think of others? Other ways in love and work to build trust and cooperation, maybe to heal wounds, to resolve conflicts, to remind us of our humanity, to build bridges…with food. Practice, practice, practice, and see what happens.

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

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

* “A recipe for friendship: Similar food” July 8, 2016 http://phys.org/news/2016-07-recipe-friendship-similar-food.html. This study will appear in the January, 2017 issue of the Journal of Consumer Psychology.

**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.

Attraction in Love and Work? Try magnets.

Magnets

“ ‘Like a river flows

   Surely to the sea

   Darling, so it goes

   Some things were meant to be.

– Elvis Presley, Can’t Help Falling In Love

….The love Elvis sings about is an overwhelming force, motivating him to defy the counsel of ‘wise men’ and ‘rush in’. Recent empirical work…suggests that conceiving of love as a physical force may actually affect the experience of love….The current studies thus examine whether exposure to a physical force (magnetism) influences the experience of love (i.e. relationship satisfaction, commitment, intimacy and attraction).” *

And, by golly, it does. First, we will talk a little bit about the study. Then we can talk about how this can matter for you – not just in love – but in love and work too. So for this study conducted at Texas A&M, participants reported to be in romantic relationships were told they would each take a physical “mental break” and then fill out a variety of questionnaires, with items like “I feel a great deal of sexual desire for my partner” or “I can only share my deepest thoughts and feelings with my partner.” During the so-called “mental break,” before the questionnaires, each participant would bring two blocks together repeatedly for one minute. For one-third of participants, the magnets attracted each other; for another third, the magnets repelled; and, for a final third, the blocks were not magnets, just blocks. From this and a second study (using only attracting and repelling blocks), the researchers found that the participants using attracting magnets reported “greater satisfaction, intimacy, attraction, and commitment.”*

It is unclear to the authors exactly why this is so. Based on a concept called metaphoric transfer, they suggest it could be: 1) that the conceptual similarity of magnetic and romantic attraction simply brought the romantic attraction more to mind; or 2) that the physical force of the magnets actually enhanced the romantic attraction to one’s partner. Right now what we know is that playing with attracting magnets increased romantic attraction among participants in this study, and here is why we care.

Time after time, I hear from clients** either that they are worried about going forward with someone lacking that irresistible magnetic force. I love him/her, but I’m not in love with him/her. I hear this from people trying to decide whether to get married to this great guy/gal, and from people who are already way down that road and just not feeling it anymore, not so sure they ever did. And, I hear it from people about their work too, just not doing it for them anymore – bringing to mind a classic Harvard Business Review article on “Hot Groups.” Sometimes people on a project, committee, or in a start-up together are so consumed by each other and what they share that it feels just as exhilarating as falling in love. Quite possibly it is mixed with the same exhilarating catecholamine hormones as the ones Helen Fisher talks about in her book on the nature and chemistry of romantic love.

Novelty is the spice of life they say (releases one of the wonderful happy hormones, dopamine), but it’s just not that practical to keep switching out partners or jobs every time the exhilaration hormones give way to something more stable. That’s what adventure vacations are for but you can’t just get up and go on one of those any old time either. So what can you do? Well, you can play with magnets, which for all we know could enhance attraction in general, maybe even to love of work too? Someone should study that, although one has to wonder if attraction magnets would over time lose their power to transfer or stimulate attraction, when the activity is no longer as novel as it once was. Then what?

Then try grafting. Psychologists are starting to talk about grafting to mean that instead of trying to force out an unwelcome feeling (let’s say boredom), we let it come and at the same time couple it with something better. So, unless of course you have good reason to leave the situation, how about conjuring up an image of the kind of attraction you once felt or would want to feel and grafting it onto the blahs when they arrive. Neurologists tell us that neurons that fire together wire together; so go ahead and graft the wished for feelings of attraction on top of the same ole same ole feelings there. Try this, practice this, let the blah feeling come, and keep it there long enough to graft something you find attractive to it. Get into it. Do it again and again. Repetition is key. Practice, practice, practice, and see what happens.

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

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

* Christy AG, Hirsch KA, Schlegel RJ (2016) Animal Magnetism: Metaphoric Cues Alter Perceptions of Romantic Partners and Relationships. PLoS ONE 11(5): e0155943. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0155943

**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.

 

 

 

 

 

Why Be NICE??

Why be NICEA 2012 UC Berkeley field study… found that people driving BMWs, Mercedes, Priuses and other high-end cars were four times more likely than drivers of less prestigious models to cut off other vehicles at a busy four-way intersection, and three times more likely to cut off a pedestrian waiting to enter a crosswalk. In the same study, participants helped themselves to twice as much candy reserved for children as did their less wealthy counterparts…. *

Not you, of course. But enough about you. What about everybody around you? And what does that mean for you? But then we are back to you again, aren’t we. It’s ok. Doesn’t have to be either/or. In fact, it is not and cannot be either/or because no (wo)man is an island. We are all part of something larger – and are bumping into each other all over the place like bumper cars. Now maybe you thought bumper cars were fun. I know I did. But there we had at least a little awareness and control. We knew what we were doing. We were there precisely to bump and be bumped. By contrast, what these studies are observing is, I believe, largely outside of the awareness and control of the ones who are doing most of the bumping.

Turns out there really is an interesting thing that can happen to people with power. When they get it their hormones can change in a way that makes them a bit manic or crazed. Surely you have noticed this in politicians. But it’s not just them. The McGuire studies of the 1990’s found serotonin elevations (associated with self esteem, confidence, gregariousness, assertiveness…as if to befit for leadership) in both monkeys and college fraternity presidents after their ascent to leadership, followed by a return to previously lower levels when their ‘terms’ had ended. Recognition of serotonin fluctuations can help us get and keep a mindful grip on the relative insensitivity to others we may exhibit when we are on this kind of high ourselves.

In love, how many marriages have suffered this hit when one partner succeeded in just the way they both had always dreamed.** But then all of a sudden, the couple feels hopelessly out of sync. Where is the love? Isn’t this what we always wanted? Why aren’t we happy? And neither has any idea that a shift in hormones may be, at least in part, why. At work, people may notice a similar effect, when someone gets promoted to the corner office. Again, too often painfully, emotionally, hormonally out of sync with those left behind. One newly appointed CEO told me, “People are practically kissing my ring. I never felt more alienated from everyone in my life.” He also told me how much he ached to be seen as a good person and one of the guys.

Why be NICE? The high of success relative to others around us can quickly turn sour absent a mindful awareness of the potential for dehumanizing contempt and alienation from self and others. And the antidote is kindness. Random and not so random acts of kindness that put us in touch with others in a way that makes us feel good about them and good about ourselves. Most folks are busy but, guess what, most folks find time for what they believe matters. So make NICE matter – because it really does. We smile and the world smiles with us. Practice, practice, practice, and see what happens.

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

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

* “How to win friends and influence people? Be kind” May 18, 2016 http://medicalxpress.com/news/2016-05-friends-people-kind.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.

 

BFF: Not So Fast & Why You Care

Most of us think that friendship is a two-way street — but that’s true only half the time….If researchers can understand this limitation, companies and social groups that depend on social influence for collective action, information dissemination and product promotion could improve their strategies and interventions.*

These researchers found that reciprocal friendships have more sway than money over us and our behavior. That’s right, not everything is about money. Trouble is that, although 95% of participants considered their friendships reciprocal, this matching study found that only about 50% of these relationships actually were. This reminds me of something called “Illusory Superiority,” which means that we all pretty much think we are better than we are (better drivers, better looking, better friends?…) because not a lot of people give us authentic feedback, and it helps with our mental health to just go along with the self-delusions.

Maybe you already knew this, hard as you may have tried not to. After all, how can we hit 5,000 on Facebook if we get picky about things like quality and depth of relationship? The more the merrier some would say. Only deep down where it counts, it isn’t really merrier to fill ones life with so-called friends who aren’t really that at all. No matter how much we may try to reassure ourselves that we are not alone, and that we matter, good chance amassing friends who matter to you more than you matter to them just won’t do it.

Here’s the good news that I notice with my clients.** Many of these high functioning men and women begin our work together with some sense that something is just not right. What we find, again and again, is that people are trying with all their might not to feel what they feel, in a way that creates the very disconnect and void they are trying hopelessly to fill. You’ve heard of lonely in a crowded room. And, yes it is terribly lonely to be disconnected from ourselves, driving us to seek out whatever crumbs we can find to fill us up and make us feel okay, even if there is no end to it because it just doesn’t do it. And then they figure out that befriending the self with whatever feelings may arise this kind of self-respect and acceptance brings a feeling of worthiness that makes them want more than crumbs. A pruning process begins that results in real friends, true friends who care. It is a beautiful thing to watch.

So, if you care to, you may take an inventory to see how many of your ‘friendships’ provide that nourishing reciprocity rather than being the kind of relationship that can make us feel rejected, unworthy, and empty inside. Too many of the latter? Clear indication that it is time to become a more caring, connected, respectful friend to yourself. When unwanted feelings arise, rather than heaping rejection upon ourselves, we may greet them as worthy and welcomed parts of ourselves. What we resist persists. Better to let the feelings come, ask ourselves if there is something to be done, and let the feelings go like clouds in the sky. There is a wonderful Rumi poem, called “The Guest House,” that might help. Practice, practice, practice, and see what happens.

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

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:  202.617.0821

*Abdullah Almaatouq, Laura Radaelli, Alex Pentland, Erez Shmueli. Are You Your Friends’ Friend? Poor Perception of Friendship Ties Limits the Ability to Promote Behavioral Change. PLOS ONE, 2016; 11 (3): e0151588 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0151588

**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.

 

 

 

 

Way Into You: New Take on Love

Most everyone has experienced near instant attraction to someone else, whether of a social or sexual nature, but few are able to pin down exactly why they felt that attraction. Based on two experiments they conducted with human volunteers, the researchers suggest it may have to do with matching neural circuitry*.

So then, what is “chemistry?” Not just looks? Not just smell? Now it’s “matching neural circuitry.” How romantic. And yet, in a way it kind of is, if we consider how romantic it can be to feel deeply connected to another person in a magical, inexplicable way. Have you ever wished your needs could be understood without having to say a word, like a baby who gets fed just because the baby wakes up. Works in friendship too. Grey’s Anatomy’s Meredith and Christina referred to each other as their “Person,” the one who knows what you feel and what you need sometimes before you may know these things yourself. Although the authors define it as a similarity of neural circuitry, i.e., activity in the brain’s reward (feel good) center when one person’s mental representation (understanding) of the other person’s affective (emotional) state actually matches that person’s emotional state — I think I just want to call it Love.

Maybe you’ve heard of The Five Love Languages: Gifts, time and attention, words of affirmation, acts of service, physical touch. All are gifts of one sort or another. And some matter more than others to one or another of us. But who among us would not love for there to be someone who really gets you, someone who is really into you, way into you in the deepest of deep, nonverbal, life of its own, matching brain waves kind of way. It’s that “I just love being with you…I feel so close to you” thing that can happen without anyone exactly putting it there nor even knowing why it is – sometimes without even knowing that it is – there!

It’s the thing in the relationship, I would submit, the most important thing in a relationship, that we don’t even have to ‘work on’ because it’s just there. Now, of course, not everyone has been lucky enough to find his/her “Person” yet. But how many have and have either not known it, or not valued it enough to have and to hold it, so it could nourish and delight them in return. One woman I know** is just beginning to grasp the miracle of this exquisite connection amid a multitude of complaints about her guy that begin to lose their punch each time she can bring her mind back to the reality of the magical love they share. The Buddhists say that, notwithstanding the waves on the surface of the ocean, there is great stillness beneath. Sometimes we just get lucky in “matching neural circuitry,” a kind of love in which this stillness can reside if only we can try to let it. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

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

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:  202.617.0821

*”Researchers find a brain link between affective understanding and interpersonal attraction” April 5, 2016 http://medicalxpress.com/news/2016-04-brain-link-affective-interpersonal.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.

Good Looks: Beware your resting face!

“Attractive people are often perceived as more intelligent, but we wanted to investigate how individuals can change their perceived intelligence, regardless of their attractiveness. The solution seems to lie in subtle differences in a resting facial expression that are related to sleep – namely eyelid droopiness and subtle frowning.” *

Eyelid droopiness and subtle frowning. Ewww… My kids call it BRF for Bitchy Resting Face. That’s what we get when we don’t get sleep, and study here below shows how these effects of tiredness can impact our lives. That is, the unrested resting faces with the droopy lids and frowns were judged less intelligent than the rested faces of these same people. Good to know for job interviews, performance evaluations, meetings, and parties where you may want to attract new love into your life. Especially if you are tired, beware of your resting face and perk it up a bit if you can.

A lot of people go to great lengths to perk up their faces. This year’s cosmetic industry revenue is estimated at $62.46 billion dollars to get rid of that droopy looking face. The so called ‘attractiveness halo’ sets more attractive people up to be thought more competent, intelligent, and successful than the less attractive among us. And simply because they are thought more competent and intelligent, often enough they actually are more successful. Little wonder, then, that so many people go to so much pain and expense to fix their faces.

But it doesn’t always work. Attractiveness is not just about the muscle and skin tone on our faces. How people feel around us, via the warmth and positivity we convey, has bearing on the qualities other people attribute to us as well. One woman I know** had an idea that plastic surgery, to fix the turned down jowls she thought made her look angry all the time, would significantly improve both her work and love lives. She went ahead with the plan, and not much changed, because she was in fact at least annoyed with pretty much everyone and everything much of the time. These things can show on our resting faces, tired or not.

We know that sleeping well is a good thing all around and, as the study shows, can actually prevent the misrepresentation of the intelligent, competent people we are. Sometimes, though, there is the what’s causing sleeplessness that can show on our faces and that needs our attention too. Notice your resting face, and be mindful of what it says about you – most importantly, to yourself. If you notice any BRF, you may ask yourself if there is something going on with you that you need to tend to for yourself. Or you may want to practicing noticing and then just changing your resting expression to something more pleasant for the whole world to see, and see how that goes for them and for you. As always, Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

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

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:  202.617.0821

*Sean N. Talamas et al. Eyelid-Openness and Mouth Curvature Influence Perceived Intelligence Beyond Attractiveness, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General (2016). DOI: 10.1037/xge0000152

**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.