See the funny side

Happy Diverse Office Workers Team Laughing Together At Group Mee

This week I’m turning my attention to humour and how it generates the positive emotions that can support us through the chaos of the current global pandemic.

In the midst of stress, uncertainty and overwhelm it’s essential for our wellbeing that we focus on the positive. According to Shawn Achor:

“Your brain at positive is 31% more productive than your brain at negative or neutral.”

He calls this the happiness advantage.

Increasing our happiness improves our intelligence, creativity and energy levels. And since our external circumstances only account for 10 per cent of our happiness levels; to become happier we must consciously retrain our brains to scan the world for the positive. Achor suggests we can do this in just 21 days with a range of approaches such as keeping a gratitude journal, exercising and mediating.

One of the quickest ways to generate a positive state is to ask a question that focuses on the positive. And one of the simplest to ask – according to Robyn Stratton-Berkessel – is:

What’s the best thing that happened to you today?

Her TEDx talk demonstrates how focusing on this question elicits a range of positive emotions.

Having fun at work has its advantages. It builds trust, diffuses tension and helps people be more efficient. It can also fuel innovation since both humour and creativity are about making non-obvious connections.

According to Paul Osincup humour can even make us better leaders, although I recommend that women treat this one with caution. It’s been shown to be easier for men to navigate the tricky balance between gravitas and approachability (but that’s a topic for another blog). Even if you’re not currently a leader 75% of your job success can be predicted by your levels of happiness and positivity according to Achor.

Laugh a little

Seeing the funny side of a situation – and being able to laugh about it – is a strategy that’s helped me navigate various stressful circumstances thrown at me by life. And one of my favourite talks on the subject of managing stress with humour is this TEDx talk by Loretta Laroche.

According to researchers laughter is good for us both physiologically and psychologically. It relaxes our bodies and makes us breathe more deeply. According to Sohpie Scott it’s also an essential bonding mechanism that helps us connect with others. Apparently we’re thirty times more likely to laugh in company than when we are on our own.

Women have always instinctively known this. Our natural response to stress is to ‘tend and befriend’. That means we cope by reaching out to others (often our female friends) to talk through our challenges. Very often we find ourselves laughing at the situation as a result.

In these challenging times it can be hard to maintain our sense of humour. When we lose it we risk also losing our power; and feeling like victims rather than creators. If you’re struggling why not join Ida Abdalkhani in a session of Laughter Yoga. For, as she says: we deserve to laugh.

 

 

Making better decisions

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When our lives fall out of balance our decision making will suffer. Psychologists Irving Janis and Leon Mann developed a theory of decision making under stress which describes five patterns of coping behaviour dependent on the degree of decisional conflict and stress involved. It seems that both extremely low and extremely high stress levels lead to poor decision making while moderate levels of stress are more likely to result in carefully made decisions.

In Janis & Mann’s first scenario no decisional conflict is perceived and little or no stress experienced. The individual complacently chooses to continue with a current course of action while ignoring any information about potential risks or losses.

The second scenario arises where an individual reacts to a challenge or threat by precipitously switching to a new course of action without giving the matter much thought. Her strategy is the uncritical adoption of whichever new course of action she considers most relevant, or has been most strongly recommended to her.  Again, the belief that no risk is involved means there is no conflict regarding alternative choices and accordingly little or no stress.

The third scenario occurs when a person believes there are serious risks involved both in staying with a current course of action and in moving to a new one.  A state of decisional conflict arises, compounded by pessimism about finding a good solution to the dilemma. The individual then attempts to reduce this distressing emotional state by one of three strategies collectively labelled ‘defensive avoidance’:

  • Procrastination enables her to postpone the decision, turning her attention away from the conflict to other, less distressing matters.
  • Shifting responsibility to someone else (buckpassing) enables her to evade the dilemma and provides her with a handy scapegoat should the decision turn out poorly.
  • Inventing fanciful rationalisations in support of one of the alternative choices she wards off stress by selectively attending to only the good aspects of that alternative and by ignoring negative information about it.

In the fourth scenario the stress is further increased by the severity of risk inherent in competing courses of action. The decision maker believes a better solution might be found, but also that she has insufficient time to search for and evaluate that solution – compounding her distress. She adopts a strategy of ‘hypervigilance‘, impulsively seizing a hastily contrived solution which appears to offer immediate relief and overlooking the full implication of her choice. In its most extreme form, this state of hypervigilance looks like panic.

The fifth scenario – considered the optimum by Janis & Mann – is one of vigilance. The decision-maker is in a state of mental conflict since she recognises there are serious risks associated with the competing alternatives.  However, she is also able to confine the stress surrounding her decision-making to moderate levels, confident that she will find an adequate solution and believing she has adequate time to do so.

What can you do if you recognise the behaviour described in scenarios two to four either in yourself or in your work colleagues? Firstly, you need to realise that the very stresses which are causing faulty decision making are also likely to inhibit the recognition that someone is under extreme stress. Following a good stress management routine will help.

Secondly, recognise that time pressures increase the stress in decision-making.  However, it’s the perception of having too little, rather than the amount of time itself, which is important. Tell yourself that you have enough time; and if you genuinely feel this is not the case then ask those who are waiting for your decision(s) for an extension.

Finally, try not to be too hard on yourself. None of us is perfect, and nobody can predict exactly how a complex decision will turn out. Recognise that even with a strategy of vigilance you may not always get it right. And keep in mind the wise words of Theodore Roosevelt who observed that “The only man who never makes a mistake is the man who never does anything“.