Choice, Happiness and the Quarter-Life Crisis

Last month’s post ~ Does Choice make us Happy? ~ attracted a lot of attention. Thank you for your excellent feedback. Some of the comments I received prompted me to consider this issue further, but this time from the point of view of the younger generation, particularly Generation Y.

Alice Stapleton writes sensitively and authoritatively about the phenomenon of the Quarter-Life Crisis. Unlike the well-documented mid-life crisis, which afflicts people in their forties or fifties, and is linked to feelings of stagnancy and a desire for radical change, the quarter-life crisis stems from anxiety about change, expectations, instability and identity.

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How do you know when coaching has been successful?

As a professional coach, I regularly take coaching issues and dilemmas to supervision. These sessions are an essential part of every coach’s development, growth and emotional maintenance. I thought I’d share something important that came up for me in my most recent session with my coaching supervisor, in the hope that you may too get something from it.

courtesy: Maurizio Pesce, under Creative Commons, Flicker

courtesy: Maurizio Pesce, under Creative Commons, Flicker

The dilemma I expressed was around exploration of vision. Some of my clients move naturally towards vision. They are comfortable with the language and for them it is not a threatening or challenging conversation when we explore what it looks, feels or even smells like. Other clients struggle to talk in terms of vision. Even the concept of aspiration, dream or goal can be challenging. This is particularly true for some of my clients who find themselves in custody as young offenders. Many express the view that they do not like to think too much about dreams or visions as it only results in them becoming disappointed. They say that they do not want to build up their hopes only to be let down, and as a result they content themselves by living in a world of very low expectations.

When I put this issue on the table in my supervision session, the statement that my supervisor came back to me with was “It is not our job as coaches to breed optimism.”

I let this statement sink in, and my first instinct was to rail against it.  Some of the clients I work with have very low levels of hope or positivity, and I believe that people do their best work when positive neural circuits are switched on. My coaching often focuses on work around beliefs, particularly limiting beliefs, and how those give rise to thoughts, words and actions that generate negativity. Surely the work of the coach starts from the basis that people want to seek improvement, do ‘better’ than they are currently doing (whatever that means), and fulfil their potential? Why wouldn’t we encourage them to look toward alternative futures and choices?

The Power of Optimism

A great deal of pressure was heaped on the young shoulders of Matt Biondi in the run up to the Seoul Olympics in 1988.  He was one of the United States great hopes for multiple medals in the swimming pool. Comparisons were being drawn with the legendary Mark Spitz who had won seven golds in the 1972 games.    In his first event, the two-hundred-metre freestyle, he finished a creditable third.  Great by most people’s standards, but disappointing for Biondi and the hard-to-please media back home.  The next event was the one-hundred-metre butterfly.  Having blasted into an early lead, and dominated the race all the way, he made an error of judgement on his final stroke. One more stroke squeezed in with a metre to go would have seen him home, but he chose to coast and stretch for the wall instead.  In doing so he was pipped by a fingernail and beaten into second by an unknown swimmer, Anthony Nesty, from Surinam, not a country renowned for swimmers, let alone gold medals.

biondiThere was much gnashing of teeth and criticism levelled at Biondi from afar. This was not the start to an assault on seven gold medals that the American public expected, and many started to write him off.   There was at least one person who did not, however.  Marty Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology, watching proceedings on his television, had belief, and evidence, that Biondi had what it would take to come back from these disappointments and go on to achieve success.  Continue reading

Getting back to Why

“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” ~ Nelson Mandela

The current Scottish Independence campaign has highlighted many questions and parallels with the world of leadership and inspiration. Reading this post about the importance of Getting Back to Why, I was reminded of Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle. People are inspired by “Why” and not by “What” or “How”. To gain a greater understanding of how the golden circle model works, this TED talk is well worth watching.golden-circle

The independence campaign has almost exclusively been conducted on the question of How. “How will Scotland run its economy?” “How will it balance its books?” “How will it ensure its security?” How…! How…! How…! Questions that do not inspire, that do not contribute answers, and which, in the main, generate doubt, uncertainty and fear. It is little surprise, therefore, that a predominantly pro-union press and media have allowed the how question to dominate the campaign.

Simon Sinek has shown that the great companies, organisations, politicians and leaders inspire, generate energy and instil hope with “why”. Martin Luther King did not start his speeches by telling people how everything would work in a world after civil-rights was achieved, he started by telling people about his Dreams. Inspiration and hope comes not from having all the details known beforehand, but by being clear on the bigger vision, the grand purpose. No major change in history has ever been made where people have known clearly what lay ahead beforehand. They rarely know how things will work out, but they have known why they wanted to make the change. When purpose and vision is clear, then anything becomes possible. Being clear on the how is of less significance. Those details will emerge, they will evolve, driven by the energies of an inspired and optimistic people who know clearly why they want change to happen.

A Few Kind Words

Back in January I wrote about how it seemed to me that the question Why? is so much more fundamental to the independence referendum than the question How? Yet the mainstream of the debate has been framed almost entirely by How.

The reason’s not hard to see. It’s simpler to place practical obstacles – in this case mainly economic and political – in someone’s path than to convince them of the moral, philosophical or emotional benefits of the status quo. Yet whichever way you plan to vote you must surely be clear about why you do or don’t want independence before you start to consider how it might or might not come about.

I was reminded of that post this week by a friend at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. It made me think that I myself have been too easily caught up in the How? of late, and that…

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What’s your Calling?

Would you describe what you do as a job, a career or a calling?  I guess many might say that… “it’s all about the paycheck!!”,  and may go on to say, “….if only I had the luxury to think about what I do as anything other than just a job.”   For many people, finding a job, any job, that will pay the bills is all they are after.  Some might see what they do as a part of a career. One stage in a long-term plan.  For these people, while the paycheck is clearly important, it is not the only motivation for them doing what they do. Promotion, status, power, amongst other expectations, also serve to drive people’s ambitions.  So, what is a calling?  It is tempting to think about ‘a calling’ in spiritual terms, perhaps conjuring images of people who devote their life to serving God, or perhaps a scientist, who believes passionately in a particular theory, and commits her life to proving its validity.

thehappyproject.com

thehappyproject.com

Experiencing what you do as ‘a calling’ need not be so extreme however.  Martin Seligman in his superb book, “Authentic Happiness” (2003), examines the scientific evidence pertaining to this area, and the conditions necessary to create meaningful and fulfilled lives regardless of the type of work one does. One of the key studies discussed in Seligman’s book relates to hospital cleaners. Some within the group describe their ‘job’ simply as ‘cleaning up rooms’, while others defined the work more in terms of a ‘calling’ by making it meaningful.  They viewed what they do as “critical in helping patients to heal”, they time their work to be maximally efficient, and try to anticipate the needs of doctors and nurses to allow them to spend more time with the patients.  In extreme cases, some even ‘added tasks’ to what was expected of them, for example, by brightening up patients’ rooms with cheerful pictures and prints.

Living a ‘meaningful life’ is one of the core pillars underpinning Positive Psychology and which is closely linked to happiness and mental health. Despite real income in the western world having risen dramatically (at least in the most prosperous nations) in the last 50 years or so, wealth has a low correlation with happiness. So too does job promotion or good job prospects. Physical attractiveness and physical health also fail to pass any positive correlation test. Other ‘seemingly happy’ factors such as age (youth), education level and climate also fail to predict greater happiness or sense of well-being.So, what is the secret?  The answer is not simple (if only it were!), but the concept of Flow  (I recommend the excellent and seminal work on this topic by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi)  provides an excellent model to help us start to understand the conditions necessary to achieve a meaningful life.  When people describe experiencing ‘flow’, they report total absorption in the task at hand, a feeling akin to a suspension of consciousness.  It feels like time has stopped. Many of us have experienced this extreme Continue reading