Dip into “The Vital Edge”

Fancy a taster of what you can expect from my recently released book, “The Vital Edge”? Have a look through the attached presentation to see what topics are covered and which sports people feature. If you have already purchased the book, many thanks for doing so. I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments on the subjects raised in “The Vital Edge”, either by leaving a review or rating on the Lulu.com site or here in the comments section of this blog.

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.



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

Are you ‘On the Bank’ or ‘In the Flow’?

“It is not required that we know all of the details about every stretch of the river. Indeed, were we to know, it would not be an adventure, and I wonder if there would be much point in the journey.” ― Jeffrey R. Anderson

Where do you find yourself most often as you wend your way on life’s journey?  Are you firmly in the midst of the river, going with the flow, navigating the hazards and enjoying the thrill of the ride?    Or are you bumping along the banks, stopping regularly to re-appraise the situation, before venturing tentatively back in to the turbulent currents in mid-stream.

source: sea2summit.net

source: sea2summit.net

The ‘river’ metaphor is very useful, and works on many different levels. I listened this week to Dan Siegel (the neurobiologist and author of Mindsight, among other recommended reads) as he discussed the nature of the mind. He spoke about the healthy mind as being integrated and harmonious (‘in flow’), and characterised the troubled mind as tending toward being either ‘chaotic’ or ‘rigid’ in manifestation.  He refers to these two states as being like opposite banks of a river. When we drop out of ‘flow’ – the balanced state of coping, experiencing well-being, and functioning optimally – we tend to drift toward one or other bank. (see Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi for a detailed treatment of ‘Flow’). Which bank you end up on will depend on the condition and situation being experienced, but people also tend to have a dominant bank they gravitate toward. Continue reading

Is the Internet changing the way our brains work?

According to an article in Newsweek (Monday Jan 18th 2010) the answer is no. But, it may be altering the way we think.

Shortened attention span. Less interest in reflection and introspection. Inability to engage in in-depth thought. Fragmented, distracted thinking. These are all ways that the Internet supposedly affects thought. 109 philosophers, neurobiologists, and other scholars were asked “How is the Internet changing the way you think”.

The general consensus of scholars who study the mind and the brain is that the Internet hasn’t changed the way we think. Neuroscientist, Joshua Greene of Harvard, argues that it has provided us with unprecedented access to information, but hasn’t changed what our brains actually do with it. Cognitive psychologist, Steven Pinker of Harvard, is equally uncertain that any fundamental changes have happened. “Texters, surfers, and twitterers have not trained their brains to process multiple streams of novel information in parallel, as is commonly asserted but refuted by research”.

And yet, many scholars do believe the Internet alters thinking. Howard Rheingold (a Communications expert) believes the Internet fosters shallowness and distraction, with the result that our minds struggle to discipline and deploy attention in any concerted way. It is also argued that the Internet is causing the disappearance of retrospection and reminiscence. Evgeny Morozov, an expert on the Internet and politics, claims that our lives are increasingly lived in the present, completely detached even from the most recent of the pasts.

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (the author of the work on Flow – referenced and discussed elsewhere in this Blog) argues that since online information is often decontextualized it satisfies immediate needs at the expense of deeper understanding, resulting in more superficial thought. With facts (whether true or false) only a click away, the Internet allows us to know fewer facts, reducing their importance as a component of thought. But that increases the importance of other components such as correlating facts, distinguishing between important and secondary matters, knowing when to prefer pure logic and when to let common sense dominate.

In other words, more than ever, we need to apply judgement to what is important and what is not. I don’t believe this is fundamentally different to what has gone before (apart from in terms of volume). All sources of information are subject to interpretation, and are conveyed through the filter of someone’s brain. Judgement will become an ever more critical skill; but our brains, our thinking, and the way we process information, is tried and trusted and will serve us well.