What I Learned the Week of March 4th, 2022

From a Podcast – Squiggly Careers

It was a tough choice this week as there were three top contenders in this spot. Stacy Abrams’s interview from The Armchair Expert was really good – loved her messages on the difference between being a winner versus “not quitting”. I also was drawn to an older podcast from Brene Brown with Glennon Doyle from 2020 focused on Glennon’s new book Untamed. Super powerful and still digesting some of those stories – particularly about the cheetah! 

I landed on Bruce Daisley’s Eat Sleep Work Repeat interview with two career coaches from the UK, Helen Tupper, and Sarah Ellis. Their first book The Squiggly Career I had not heard of but will be adding to my book list. However, I did get a chance to watch their very popular TED Talk. The new learning for me was the new lexicon of Squiggly Careers versus the more traditional Career Ladder. The concept is pretty simple – career ladders are limited perspective and should be replaced with “squiggly” careers which are dynamic and more open-ended growth paths based on an individual’s needs, talents, or ambitions. 

This is worth exploring if you are one of the millions of people who are considering changing jobs/careers in the near future and in particular if you are rethinking what your career means to you beyond just a paycheque. More than anything this might be validation for many of us who have not been on the endless pursuit to the top of the ladder and felt like we were somehow less than for not having this as our goal. It embraces the popular concept already in corporations of growth mindset but expands the possibilities to be beyond just up in a more positive framework. Too many organizations still have the explicit or implicit expectation of “up or out”. It’s time we permanently toss that concept out the window.

From a Book – Our Nostrils have Erections?

I finished the book Breath this week by James Nestor. It has been on my reading list for quite some time. My default pattern for a book is if someone recommends the book and it sounds compelling I’ll add it to the list. When a 2nd, random person, recommends the same book I add it to my Audible collection. When a third person recommends then I fast-track listening to it ASAP. That was Breath just a few weeks ago.

If you have never heard of the book your first reaction might be similar to my husband – “A book about breath? Isn’t that something we all do just naturally?” .

The answer is debatable. Yes, we all do it naturally but ancient wisdom and scientific research over the past few decades tell us that how many of us naturally do it is not super great for our bodies’ health. The short version of this is that the species prior to sapiens’ heads were set up in such a way that our nasal canals had more space and as such the more natural way to breath was in/out through our nostrils. Then we started having bigger brains and as of the industrial revolution started chewing our foods less which overall created smaller more narrow heads thus limiting nasal passages. So our natural breathing pattern adapted to be more through the mouth. Unfortunately, that new breathing pattern is not so beneficial to us. The book shared what felt like hundreds of side effects this causes ranging from snoring to very debilitating illnesses. Many of which were confirmed by very strong empirical research studies with several thousands of people and multiple times. I’ll leave it to you to go explore further.

Besides learning that our nostrils have erections – which play a key part in the regulation of airflow and are somehow actually tied to our other more well-known body parts with erections – I learned a lot about optimal breathing patterns and the benefits to retraining yourself. If you are like me you have possibly heard conflicting recommendations about how you should breathe. Or you have gone to yoga/meditation classes and had the instructor suggest various breathing patterns which possibly caused a bit of confusion on how to breathe. The good news is that it is quite simple – our default pattern should always be in/out through the nostril, fewer breaths per minute is better (e.g., just under 6) and, some alternative breathing patterns such as alternate nostril breathing done on occasion to balance out what part of your brain is being stimulated through breath (or something like that). 

I learned quite a bit about how breathing through your mouth at night, which I do, leads to all sorts of unwanted side effects. For me waking up with a dry mouth and increased need for urination. For my husband – you guessed it – he has to put up with my snoring. But a neat trick of simply taping your lips shut while you sleep for a few weeks can build the new habit of breathing only through your nostrils at night. I have tried this for the past week and already finding some benefits. I simply use a small piece of medical tape that I place vertically over the center part of my lips. This leaves a little opening on either side so I could mumble something if I wanted. I was surprised by the first night I used the tape, that for the first five minutes I actually felt a little claustrophobic. But it slowly went away and I haven’t felt that again. 

I’ve also changed my morning meditation to practicing more box breathing that will ideally help me get to fewer breaths per minute. I found one that really works for me on Insight Timer meditation app. 

From Social Media – How Inventive We Can Be To Help Others

You probably already the very creative ways both individuals and companies are finding to help those in Ukraine. The one that caught my eye on Twitter was individuals booking AirBNB accommodations in Ukraine in effort to get money directly to Ukrainians in need. While there were a few cautions in the Twitter feed it mostly appears that it is working as intended. And yes I know there are other ways already in place for people to easily donate to the cause such as through reputable organizations like The Red Cross. However, what I appreciated so much by this was how important it is for people to have that full connection to their action and who it is helping. The owner of the AirBNB messaging immediately back with their gratitude. The responses even of AirBNB mobilizing their platform to help make it even more impactful (removing their fees) and of course their offer to host refugees in neighboring countries.

I found all of this such a positive example of how social media can inspire both action and creativity. Sure there will be some ideas that might not be so great – and people very quickly provide that feedback of potential flaws in the idea and make it better. In the end, there is no one “right” way to help but millions of ways we can help each other. This is just one example that left me smiling.

From a Real Person – Active Constructive Responding

This week I had the pleasure of meeting almost thirty new people as part of a Mastermind group sponsored by the Canadian Positive Psychology Association and led by the founder and president of CPPA Louise Jewel. This was my first experience with a Mastermind group so I was not entirely sure what to expect. So far I’m very intrigued by both the collection of individuals that have joined and what I can potentially learn from them, how I can potentially support them on their journey and, they for me. Louse was great at facilitating and shared a tool that I had been introduced to informally as part of my coaching training many years ago but had never been given the formal name or credit to the originator.

In the workplace, and as a parent or friends, we are given many opportunities to celebrate with others for their accomplishments or good news. Unfortunately, we do not always do that in a way that is supportive of the person celebrating. At work, I’m not sure if that is tied to our competitive mindset or simply not appreciating the fine nuance of language. I do believe we all genuinely want to celebrate each other’s achievements. We just often get it wrong if we are trying to strengthen the relationship with this person.

Dr. Shelly Gable provided a structure called Active Constructive Response. You can find a short 5-minute video and article below that further describes both the positive response and other not-so-positive responses. In short form, it involves listening actively and with empathy. Follow up with showing genuine interest in what they have just shared by asking a deeper question. 

Simple Example 1: My son comes home from golf and shares he had a really round. I say “Congratulations! What was your favourite hole?”. 

Simple Example 2: A work colleague shares they just crushed a presentation given to their client or senior leadership. You say “That’s amazing. What shall we do to celebrate?”

5 minute video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRORihbXMnA or you can read this article: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/gables-responses-to-good-news.htm#:~:text=Here%20are%20Gable’s%20four%20possible,m%20so%20pleased%20for%20you.

From My Reflections – Can Positive Psychology and Destruction Co-Exist

A few months back I read the book Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari. I found it immensely fascinating in new data points shared and shifting of perspectives around “the stories” society has bought into – or at least I had accepted as truths to confirm with. Unfortunately, I also came away from reading that book a little pessimistic about the survival of our species. I was pessimistic that we would ever figure out how to get along with each other and the millions of other species that exist on this earth (much less the universe). Despite this, I also had a sense of peace about it. Resolved that me living my purpose would still have a positive impact in one of three ways: helping humans live better by creating more awareness for themselves and the interconnectedness to the rest of the world; increasing their wellbeing without negatively impacting the world further; and creating enough genetic changes in our wiring so that the next species that evolves after us starts off as more empathetic, with increased awareness of their impact and a stronger resolve in their decisions/actions to “do no harm”. 

I’m certainly empathetic to how hard it is to be a good human. The Netflix series “The Good Life” provides ample scenarios demonstrating this. I do believe a fair number of us generally do want to be respectful of each other and this planet, until it comes to buying that really cheap plastic doohicky that is the latest fad. Or its valentines day and they cave and buy a dozen roses for their girlfriend; Or like me, continue to go on your annual vacation trip to Hawaii. Very few of us seem to be immune to letting our wants/desires get the better of us from time to time despite the impact they are having. 

So I’ve been sitting with content pessimism for a few months now which felt a bit “anti” positive psychology mindset. Then this week I was listening to another podcast that despite being released in 2020 caught my eye. Brene Brown’s interview with Glennon Doyle on her last book launch – Untamed. I haven’t read the book, though I did read her first book. It wasn’t really on my list to read though I generally appreciate the courageous messages she and her wife, Abby Wambach, put out in the world. In the podcast, there were several stories shared that struck an emotional chord in me and ultimately left me feeling very fired up.

As it happened I had listened to this podcast just before I joined a new Mastermind group where the compulsory introductions are made including sharing our goals. I quickly drafted up a goal for 2022 “To clearly establish my brand outside of IBM and find my clients that are ready to dare to break away from traditional norms to create workplaces that allow everyone to thrive.” This felt authentic and yet not quite the bold, radical, fierce Julie that others often use to describe their experience of me. 

As I listened to others share their goals I continued to muse my own. One person shared a goal that was similar to mine with a great phrase “end cubicle suffering – one conversation at a time”. I loved it and disliked it all at the same time. I realized at that moment that I definitely believed we could “end cubicle suffering” thus changing workplace cultures to something far more positive and beneficial to the world. I just didn’t believe doing it one conversation at a time was going to get us very far in the speed we needed. 

This awareness sparked new aliveness in me and optimism. At that moment I casually changed my goal to build upon this other person’s goal except I changed it to “blow it all up and start over”. While that felt liberating to say, it also felt very anti-positive psychology mindset. And it felt pretty insensitive to the people of Ukraine, and other war-torn countries, where they are literally being blown up. I noticed the quiet from the other participants on the Zoom and assessed it as a mix of amazement and fear. 

There are “stories” that we have all bought into, as noted by Yuval Harari, that we must quickly let go of and collaborate together on creating new ways of thinking and working together that is the next revolution. I’m motivated that there are enough people having this dialogue that we can collectively make this very significant shift. A recent article about the new kinds of leadership offers similar thoughts. However, it is going to be very uncomfortable. 

I’m not sure anyone has figured out the exact tools we will need to achieve what is next. However, I know my willingness to bring bold ideas, and what might seem like ludicrous ones, to the workplace environment gets the collective conversations started. My willingness to share uncomfortable truths and hear uncomfortable truths back – enables these conversations to have more impact. I’m still learning like the rest of us. And that gives me optimism.

Can positive psychology and destruction co-exist? I believe they can and do. I was reminded on a hike this week of a lecture I sat in on the topic of resilience. There are hundreds of definitions of resilience that exist and they all generally fall into three categories. The traditional “bounce back” presumes you want to return to the original state. The ability to stand strong in the face of struggle – again presumes not much is changing. Or to rebuild/grow from what is there now after some form of destruction. In the forest, there are so many examples of destruction and growth co-existing that are breathtakingly beautiful. My goal for 2022 is to embody this lesson from nature, that destruction can be both harsh and beautiful. That growth from death is magical and serene and full of rich possibilities. We just have to start believing more in that story.

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