“Being happy doesn`t mean that everything is perfect. It means that you have decided to look beyond the imperfections” - Gerard Way
Despite what you will be reading in these first few paragraphs, this post has nothing to do with being a parent or raising children, not directly at least. But as mentioned a few times before here, given I find parenthood an educational and formative experience, some of my latest learnings come right from the fact that almost 2.5 years ago I became a mum (while staying everything else :).
As many who prepare for the birth of their first child, during my first pregnancy I invested way too much money and time in all sorts of books, pregnancy books, first months books, books about routines, sleep patterns, feeds, clothes. All sorts of experts, mostly childless, where lined up on my bedside table for months, all ready to share their…opinions, based on their, often little, experience.
Once we came back from the hospital with our little bundle of joy sleeping in his car seat, I realized that none of what I had read for months was based on the two things that in my opinion matter most when you become a parent: gut feelings and research based advice. I am now expecting my second baby and the only `baby` book I have gone back to over and over again in the past months and years is “Brain Rules for Baby” (J. Medina). This is because the whole book offers a wealth of knowledge and research based advice on how to raise happy children while being a happy parent who needs to also very much rely on his/her instincts and experience. The book goes beyond the mere babyhood and childhood years and gives great insights on many different aspects of the so called behavioural sciences.
As someone interested in the topic I researched a little bit beyond the book what could give me more knowledge on the topic, how can the principles of the book be applied to more fields, to different types of people. And mostly…what does behavioural science cover anyway?
I started asking myself the question: if I took a professional course in behavioural sciences, what would I learn and for what reasons, useful to whom, myself, my employer, my family? It turns out there is a huge offer out there when it comes to learning all about this discipline and its latest discoveries.
I ended up “choosing” an “Executive MSc Behavioural Science” at the London School of Economics (LSE). Here is what it offers:
“The Executive MSc Behavioural Science is offered jointly by LSE’s Departments of Social Policy and Management. The programme is delivered in a modular format and aims to provide a suite of high quality integrated courses for individuals seeking to advance their career in behavioural science while continuing to work.
The MSc Behavioural Science executive cohort will have a diverse academic background, such as – but not limited to – economics, geography and environmental studies, management, medicine, philosophy, political science and government, psychology, public policy, social policy, and sociology.
Executive students will have relevant work experience in the public, private or third sector, including businesses, charities, government, local authorities, and international organisations (such as the OECD, the European Commission and the World Health Organisation).
Many organisations now engage with the idea of applying behavioural insights to their organisational challenges. After all, these challenges ultimately require behaviour change of some kind. Further, many companies, charities and public bodies are recognising the power of ‘live testing’; testing their products and policies in real world environments. The motivation for this comes from increasing recognition of the limitations of traditional research methods, like market research and customer insight.”
It sounds promising and fairly impressive, especially given the increasing number of organizations looking into this. Also studies on the topic do seem to be of fairly high importance for pretty much everyone around us.
“Behavioral science is the systematic analysis and investigation of human and animal behaviour through controlled and naturalistic observation, and disciplined scientific experimentation. It attempts to accomplish legitimate, objective conclusions through rigorous formulations and observation. Examples of behavioural sciences include: psychology, psychobiology, criminology and cognitive science.” (Wikipedia)
While I would love to attend different courses and list a few more masters on my CV, I have very little time currently to enroll in any of the many interesting formative offers out there, so books, interviews, podcasts and reaching out to a few experts are the key activities that for now allow me to expand my knowledge and satisfy my curiosity.
Why would more knowledge on behavioural sciences be of interest to me personally? The answer to this allowed me to drill down and select the parts of this discipline that at this point in my life would be more beneficial. In short, behavioural sciences are directly linked to the way we (and our children, families, colleagues, etc) observe and perceive the world and in turn behave, learn and develop. Enough for me to decide it was worth to find out more.
In the past two years I have read different books and listened to different experts on the topic, here is my current line-up of top three “luminaries” when it comes to this topic:
Dr. Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D., is one of the world's leading researchers in the field of motivation and is the Lewis and Virginia Eaton Professor of Psychology at Stanford University. Her research has focused on why people succeed and how to foster success.
Olivia Fox Cabane, a Harvard, Yale, Stanford, MIT and United Nations lecturer, executive coach to the leadership of Fortune 500 companies. From a base of thorough behavioural science, Cabane extracts the most practical tools for business, giving her clients techniques she originally developed for Harvard and MIT.
Alex Ikonn and UJ Ramdas, the creators of the Five Minute Journal.
I could add many names, books and lectures to this list, but I think the above names and their work sum up the key points I have learnt to carry with me daily.
One of Dr. Carol Dweck`s masterpieces is “Mindset”. I had already read about many experiments on children`s mindsets in Medina`s work, here I found a comprehensive research-based work on how the type of mindset you are born with could influence your life.
As a young researcher Dweck was obsessed with understanding how people cope with failures, so she decided to study this by watching how students grapple with problems, specifically with easy first, then hard to solve puzzles. She expected the children to cope in different ways with difficulty, but was not prepared for what she saw. Confronted with hard puzzles, some of the children seemed to enjoy and be excited about the challenges they were facing. What was wrong with them? One either can cope with failure or can`t, so were these children onto something? They seemed to love failure!
These children, many children, and many adults of course too know that human qualities, such as intellectual skills, can be cultivated through effort. And this is what these kids were doing, getting smarter. Dweck, on the other hand, thought that human qualities were carved in stone. Either you were born smart or you were not and if you failed it meant you weren’t. So what are the consequences of thinking that your intelligence or personality is something you can develop, as opposed to something that is a fixed trait?
Robert Sternberg, the present-day "guru of intelligence", says that the major factor in whether people achieve expertise “is not some fixed prior ability, but purposeful engagement”. Or in other words, it is not always the people who start out the smartest who end up smartest. So what does this mean for us? For over 20 years Dweck`s research has shown that the view you adopt for yourself profoundly affects the way you lead your life. It can determine whether you become the person you want to be and whether you accomplish the things you value. But how can a simple belief have the power to transform your psychology and as a result, your life? We have seen a similar principle in the Placeboeffect, a cognitive bias.
Believing that your qualities are carved in stone – the fixed mindset – creates an urgency to prove yourself over and over. Our society values intelligence, personality and character, so you want to have these traits, and you want to have a healthy dose of these. But what if you fail, if you are not always accepted, if you don`t look and sound always as smart as you would like? Frustration kicks in at best.
There is another mindset, based on the belief that your basic qualities are things you can cultivate through your efforts: the growth mindset. People with this mindset believe that a person`s true potential is unknown, that it is impossible to foresee what can be accomplished with years of passion and training. Dweck`s research confirms that the willingness to take some risks and to put extra efforts into projects, to challenge yourself, come directly from the growth mindset, a mindset that can be learnt and achieved. The many self help book out there telling us what the “secrets” of many successful people are, do not give us a reading pattern, they are often scattered points (believe in yourself, enjoy life, etc) but they do make a whole different sense if you think of how (some) of these “successful” people might approach life and with which mindset.
Similarly, “The Charisma Myth: Master the Art of Personal Magnetism” (Olivia Fox Cabane) is another of my all time favourite books. Olivia Fox Cabane is an inspiring source for me for effective, frills free meditation and concentration techniques (a post on this soon, watch this space) and for her theories on charisma.
Can charisma be learnt?
“Charisma can be a huge asset if you're applying for a job, improving your relationships, or leading other people. The Charisma Myth shows you how to become more influential, more persuasive, and more inspiring. Soon you'll be able to move through a room and have people say: 'Wow, who's that?'"
Many believe that charisma is unchangeable, and now we know that this sounds like a fixed mindset approach, you either have it or you don't. But is that really the case?
Far from many of us (and far from me) the wish to move through a room raising constant attention. But from networking events, to gatherings, to meetings, to presentations, to family conversations, we want to come across and express ourselves in the best possible way and to show we can draw the right attention and discuss our reasons with a little influence, we want to have that amount of charisma that seems to work magic for some. This book shows us that this is too a skill we can learn, if of interest to us. We are born to learn.
“The Charisma Myth is a mix of fun stories, sound science, and practical tools. Cabane takes a hard-science approach to a heretofore mystical topic, covering what charisma actually is, how it is learned, what its side effects are, and how to handle them.”
Finally a little gem I have found very useful over the past few months and that I would like to share with you, the Five Minute Journal.
What is it and why am I mentioning it here?
The Five Minute Journal was created by Alex Ikonn and UJ Ramdas and is based on the most recent researches on behavioural sciences. They designed a type of diary that helps to achieve concentration, have more productive days, and possibly, to feel happier. Before jumping to conclusions, it is suggested to try it out for at least 5 days.
The Five Minute Journal is available in both a paper version and an app (my personal choice). The diary is built on proven principles of positive psychology: priming your brain, cultivating gratitude, having a growth mindset.
Begin the day right: When you start the day on the right note, things automatically start to fall in place. (At least on most days?)
Cultivate Gratitude: Gratitude is the opposite of depression and anxiety. It's the conscious experience of appreciation of the gifts in our lives and the results are tangible.
Introspection: Ending the day on the right note can be essential to a good night's sleep, eliminating negative thought loops and learning more about yourself.
It’s been proven that shifting your focus to the positives that many life events bring with them can dramatically improve your happiness, or the way you perceive it. The key is consistency. This journal has been created by combining the different elements of what is known as positive psychology: it might not work for you and if it does it might not work daily, but surely it is worth a try?
It is probably not a coincidence that, among many, Tim Ferriss, author of the “4 Hour week” (see post here), is a big supporter of this type of diary.
The key parts of this diary are the following:
1. What would make today great?
2. List 3 amazing things that happened today
3. Weekly Challenges
6. How could you have made today better?
Of course not all parts need to be written daily. For “affirmation” I often ask myself, “where do I see myself in 1 year? In 3? In 5?” “What project should I invest time on next?, and so on.
Question nr 6 is particularly important for me: projecting our minds towards self-improvement, especially at the end of the day, is a powerful tool for our brains to elaborate the main facts of the day, visualize them, gain clarity and assess again what could have been done better or just differently. This is no pseudo-science, our brains are wired and obsessed with questions, they need to answer them, it is just a matter of feeding them the right questions and answers.
Sources: “Mindset” by C.Dweck, “The Charisma Myth: Master the Art of Personal Magnetism” by Olivia Fox Cabane, “Five Minute Journal” by Alex Ikonn and UJ Ramdas.