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.



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.


Power of Will: New Years Tip

Just as we should seek joy by engaging in enjoyable pursuits, we can receive the benefits of willpower indirectly, by removing the need to expend it in the first place. Instead of focusing on willpower, we should look to the power of will.” *

Right on!! Love that. Power of Will. And what’s wrong with Willpower? Well, turns out there is considerable debate in the literature on whether the faculty of the mind we call willpower is like fuel in a fuel tank that gets depleted and needs to be refilled (maybe with a cookie or bowl of ice cream) – or more like an emotion (say, joy) that comes and goes and can be taken as a guide to inform our optimal living. Not a matter we will settle here; the studies are ongoing. But, what this author contributes is the notion that when we don’t feel like doing something we know we should, or we feel like doing something we know we shouldn’t – we should take heed, pay attention. There is important information here.

His example is good. He is a writer. Sometimes he doesn’t feel like writing. Sometimes it just pours out of him. He says he could use his willpower (no good) to force himself to write the stupid thing, but it won’t be nearly as good as a piece he really wants to write. The great piece is driven by the power of his natural will to write it. Feels like it practically writes itself. The not-as-good piece drains enormous amounts of time and energy, as he forces himself to just get the thing done. Of course, he feels depleted. He just wrung himself out doing something he didn’t want to do, propelled by nothing more than some idea from who knows where that he was supposed to do it.

Pay attention. If everything in us is saying we don’t want to do this whatever it is, then maybe there is not a thing wrong with our willpower. We just don’t want to do it. And then maybe we shouldn’t. Not right then anyway, because forcing it is bound to deplete us, maybe even make us resentful. Now we have to deal with that too, being all pissed off. And maybe we want to make it up to ourselves, to feel better whatever it takes, let’s say by mindlessly overindulging in some feel good in the moment no good person, place, or thing – like a bag of potato chips, I mean the whole thing. We know we do all kinds of things we know we shouldn’t to ourselves when we are tired or mad or both. People do this.** What Kelly McGonigal, PhD calls the “What-the-Hell” Effect. Once we have fallen already somehow, what-the-hell, and then there’s hell to pay for that. Excess drinking, eating, spending, couch surfing… So what’s a better way?

Well, what if every time we felt like we were forcing our will instead of being powered by it, we paused to ask ourselves how we would rather spend that moment of our lives – and go with whatever that is instead. Wouldn’t life be grand? Doing and not doing exactly what we do or don’t want to do all day long, every day for the rest of our lives. Wouldn’t work that way all the time would it? Not in love. And not in work. Sometimes we just have to do or not do things that go against our felt wishes at the time. Then what? Okay, so what if for that we paused and gave ourselves choices. What if we added two alternative courses of action to the one we felt pressured (and potentially drained) by. Then we could do a modified Lewinian Force Field Analysis. To keep it simple, quick, and propelling instead of inhibiting, instead of listing both the forces “for” and “against” each option, we could just list the forces “for,” pick the one that turns us on the most, and then use the power of that will to take us where we decided to go – like a magic carpet ride.

It’s a New Year. I am going to try this myself on a couple of fronts, and believe that it will work, which raises another point of the article for this post. Belief matters. People who believed humans run out of willpower felt depleted and performed less well on tasks they were assigned. So here’s to you and your own Power of Will to help you create the life you want to live. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

To work on this or something else (including new program on Mindful Emotional Eating: Jump Start to Effectiveness) would love to hear from you:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

*“Have We Been Thinking About Willpower the Wrong Way for 30 Years?“ Nir Eyal https://hbr.org/2016/11/have-we-been-thinking-about-willpower-the-wrong-way-for-30-years

**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.







CLH: Career Limiting Habit – And It’s Not Just Career

failure “One VitalSmarts study of close to 1,000 managers found that 97% of us…have at least one career-limiting habit, a habit that keeps us from greater success or enjoyment in our career. Unfortunately, our research also shows that while most of us have been aware of this deficiency for years, few make much progress in overcoming it.”*

It’s not that we aren’t talented in the ways that we think we are. It’s that no matter how talented we may be there might be something in the way, a CLH holding us back. As the study shows, we may even know what it is, but find it so hard to change that we go on hoping our strengths will compensate. They do, to a point, but only to a point. Dog on a leash. The meat is 2 inches away, but the dog can’t reach it. The dog can see it and smell it but cannot reach it. Ever feel like that? CLH may be why. So, here below are the study’s top 5 Career-Limiting Habits, which you will see can be just as much RLH’s, Relationship-Limiting Habits, too.

  1. Unreliability
  2. “It’s not my job”
  3. Procrastination
  4. Resistance to change
  5. Negative attitude

The study also suggested a number of ways to begin modifying these habits, perhaps with a brave and bold exploration of who, what, and where you will wind up – if you do not change your CLH (or RLH). Other suggestions had to do with the company we keep. If you don’t believe you are who you hang out with, check out some science on this in 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. Another relevant good read is Stumbling on Happiness, in which Daniel Gilbert suggests finding like-minded others who share your values, maybe even exemplify your values and show you how and cheer you on. Mentors are good. So are friends and loved ones to the extent that they are either pointed in the direction you want to go, if not already there with some know-how to share.

Here is what one client is doing to break his self-inflicted limiting habits in love and work. Sam** is a handsome, charming, middle-aged, physician functioning well below the level of satisfaction and success possible for him. He does not have a mutually loving and committed relationship. Nor has he performed professionally consistent with his potential. Sam is working with me to change the habits that are holding him back. All of the above would apply. But good for Sam for coming up with the same idea as the study’s #6. Control Your Workspace. Sam already moved his office and is step by step putting everything in place to change where he lives, intentionally positioning himself for the better company and opportunity he seeks. He has also opened himself to the assistance and suggestions of friends and office personnel. They are helping him to bring better discipline and organization to his life, at work and at home, in a way that makes him feel like a man more deserving of the kind of success and satisfaction he dreams about. If he keeps it up, and I believe he will, step by step, some big, some small, he will have changed his CLHs and RLHs and made his dreams come true.

Back to you. If you are feeling limited in work or love, and you know what’s in the way but think it doesn’t matter, think again. And if you don’t know how your way of being in the world is limiting your satisfaction and success, ask someone. Find someone who is where you want to be, or find others who share your dreams and want to buddy up with you to work on overcoming the habits in the way. Practice, practice, practice, and see what happens.

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

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

*Joseph Grenny. “Almost All Manager Have At Least One Career-Limiting Habit” https://hbr.org/2016/07/almost-all-managers-have-at-least-one-career-limiting-habit

**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.

Workplace Incivility: Contagious and Costly

Civility cost nothingPeople who are recipients of incivility at work feel mentally fatigued as a result, because uncivil behaviors are somewhat ambiguous and require employees to figure out whether there was any abusive intent….This mental fatigue, in turn, led them to act uncivil toward other workers. In other words, they paid the incivility forward….workplace incivility has doubled over the past two decades and has an average annual impact on companies of $14,000 per employee due to loss of production and work time.*

Incivility lives – not just in the workplace – but all over the place in America. If the 2016 election process doesn’t tell you so, take a look at the Civility in America 2016 findings:

95% [of Americans] say civility is a problem, with three-quarters (74%) saying  civility has declined in the past few years. 70% also say that incivility in this country has risen to “crisis” levels, up from 65% in 2014.

This is not good, not for anything nor anybody. Victims of incivility are depleted of the resources needed to do and feel well in their lives. In other words, they burn out. And, because they are too fatigued to control their own frustrations, even the most well meaning among them can wind up doing unto others the same kinds of rude and impatient behaviors as had been done unto them. Workplace incivility is a disease that spreads from one person to another and, in that, is contagious.

No surprise, then, that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported on workplace incivility, making recommendations to include making civility an important part of the performance appraisal system. Pay and promotion tied to this aspect of behavioral performance could be just what the doctor ordered to turn an uncivil workplace into a happy, fertile place of civility, productivity, and excellence overall. But what if our organizations are not ready to take that step? Is there something we can do ourselves? Actually, there is.

Notice that I chose an image to plant the solution word, ‘civility’, over the problem word, ‘incivility’, in our brains. The CDC is with me on this in its additional recommendations that organizations focus more on creating civility than on eliminating incivility, and on posting visual signs and sayings about civility around the workplace: on walls, in newsletters, in paychecks… The brain is like a garden. Neurons that fire together wire together. What we think and do is what we plant. What we plant – and what we water by thinking and doing it again and again – is what grows and spreads. From one person to another, as we know. If your organization is not there yet, how about a grass roots civility movement to help move things along. Civility can start with a seed of your own. Create the world you want to live in. Practice, practice, practice, and see what happens.

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

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

* Johnson, R. Michigan State University. “How incivility spreads in the workplace” August 10, 2016 http://phys.org/news/2016-08-incivility-workplace.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.



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.


“ ‘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.






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.




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.


That’s Not Fair!! Your Voice & Your Health


The finding suggests that fairness at work is a crucial aspect of the psychosocial work environment and that changes towards greater fairness can improve employees’ health*.

But what is “Fairness”? Turns out, from this study anyway, that fairness is more about process than outcome – something called procedural justice. So, for example, if an employer announces a new policy in a way (process) that leaves people feeling considered and affirmed in whatever their concerns may be, in a way (process) that leaves them feeling respected and dignified, people are more likely to accept outcomes they may not even like. Take medical malpractice. Stuff happens in the world of medicine. And sometimes people sue, but less so when they have been granted the consideration, affirmation, respect, and dignity of an apology than when they have not. Process really matters. And it matters for our health, well-being, satisfaction, and productivity, as this study suggests.

Let’s just be fair then, for the good of one and all. But “life isn’t always fair,” you may say. Well, that’s right, we can’t always have what we want, but why can’t we be treated fairly in the process. “Because some people are just, well, you know, jerks,” you may say – and you would be right that we might want everyone to be fair and kind, even when, especially when, we can’t have what we want, and we can’t have that either, not all the time just because we want it. People are who they are for whatever reasons they are. But we can move a mountain stone by stone, have to start somewhere, why not let it begin with ourselves. Fairness of the people, by the people, for the people, and let it begin with you. We can create the world we want to live in one stone at a time.

Except, we don’t always. Mostly, we go with the flow, which could be a lot better than it is, if only we put our minds to it. One of the first things I notice and address in my work is how judgy and dismissive people can be with themselves.** Where’s the love? Where’s the kindness and consideration that makes our little internal world a fair and healthy place to be? Buried no doubt by this other harsher voice that thinks it’s the boss of us and everyone else. Doesn’t have to be that way. We can begin today to listen to our own voices. Begin to notice our voice in words and tone, whether in our head to ourselves or out loud to the people at home and at work. How fair, kind, considerate, respectful, affirming is our voice in tone and word, in general and especially in the conversations we may find hard. Yes we can modulate our tone and words to something more soothing for the benefit of all. Listen to the sound of your voice. 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

* “Fairness at work can affect employees’ health” May 10, 2016 http://phys.org/news/2016-05-fairness-affect-employees-health.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.


At Work For Work: Online Mindfulness that Works!

“Our results suggest that mindfulness training is more than just an effective stress management solution but an efficacious intervention for the development of positive organizational behavior….widespread application has the potential to result in significant employer competitive advantage through a combination of improved employee well-being, enhanced human performance, and decreased health care costs.*

Who wouldn’t want that? You’d be surprised. Or maybe you wouldn’t. A recent New York Times article highlights a common concern that mindfulness, well mindfulness meditation anyway, will make us go soft. Not so. Just ask the woman** at a large prestigious university who told me she found a major publication mistake she was sure she would have missed minus the clarity and focus she gained over the 4 one-hour sessions in my workshop on Managing Your MIND. Human Resources said then that, on the second round of this offering, “we had to beat them away with a stick,” for all the people who heard about and wanted what she and the others got..improved well-being, enhanced performance. Why not?

Don’t have the time? Please. Time is something we made up ourselves long, long ago to help us to survive and to thrive (let’s say for agricultural purposes to track the flooding of the Nile) — not something we made up to torment us the way we let it today. And besides, there is plenty enough time when you have plenty of energy, which mindfulness can give you, so what you really need more of is energy not time. And speaking of time, one of the really nice findings is that “results were either maintained or further improved” after 6 months, although it is unclear whether it was continued at-home practice or the initial integration of the cognitive concepts that accounts for this effect. Either way, it is a commonly held view that new habits stick best in partnership with others, so the idea of learning mindfulness in the workplace may well have a powerful effect of its own. Even if it was online, there was a common language and mindset being learned.

Now, if you are new to this, you may ask: How do I do it, how often, and for how long per sitting? Do I even have to sit? (Actually you don’t.) My clients typically begin with a simple instruction I call The Breathing Room. Although I hear there are studies underway on how long is long enough, the real question is how long is long enough for you? That you can and should fiddle around with for yourself. You can start small; say 5 minutes 2x/day, until you may want to increase your way up to 20-30 once or twice a day. As always, practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

To work on this in your organization, in a smaller social group, or individually, would love to hear from you. Write or call:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:  202.617.0821

*Mindfulness goes to work: Impact of an online workplace intervention, Aikens KA, et al. J Occup Environ Med. 2014. Jul; 56(7):721-31.

**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.