Positively Emotionally Mindful

Last week at Learning Live, I was quite keen on hearing the talk on Being Brilliant, by Andy Whittaker. His business partner, Andy Cope, has studied positive psychology at PhD level, and so I was quite curious what the talk would help share. Most of my readers are aware I have a keen interest in this topic, and there are a good many practitioners developing this skill, so I enjoy hearing how people describe this field, and what insights they share.

I enjoyed Andy Whittaker’s style. On his Twitter bio, he describes himself as a “frustrated comic”. This came through in his talk, and gave it a lot of levity, and I thought he balanced it quite well in it not becoming a comedy act. He shared some useful insight into how positive psychology is about helping people live happy lives. Remember, traditional psychology is about helping people move from a position of feeling sad to ‘normal’, and positive psychology is about helping people move from ‘normal’ to ‘vibrant’.

Andy shared that in Andy Cope’s research he found that only 2% of people are capable of being happy and vibrant. The rest of us are caught up in life’s regular slog, and we have natural ebbs and flows that mean we experience good or bad days. Whittaker also talked about those people around us who are ‘mood hoovers’. I’ve heard this expression before, and it describes the kind of person that responds to most questions with a healthy dose of cynicism and negativity which leaves you feeling drained and your own mood being lowered. With this, I also found it helpful when he talked about people who are at times ‘too happy’ and don’t know how to keep a bottle on their enthusiasm they’re experiencing.

As I’ve been thinking about it some more, there’s some more aspects which I think are important, and lend itself to thinking about this are of self-development and self-awareness quite keenly.

I recall being on the Emotional Skills and Competence course last year, and how we spoke about the importance of having positive relationships in our lives. By recognising emotions in others, in particular micro-expressions, we can allow ourselves to moderate our own feelings and emotions, and respond in a way which helps us to get the best out of others. As we get to know others more intimately, we may also start to recognise which particular events trigger a certain emotion in the other person, and either we change our behaviour to ensure we don’t do those things (if it elicits a negative response) or we purposefully act in a way to bring out an emotion (if it elicits a positive response).

Remember, all emotions are useful, and they all help us to live a healthy life. Emotions themselves aren’t positive or negative, it’s our reaction to and experience of our own emotions which we interpret as being either positive or negative. For example, I might elicit the emotion of surprise in my wife by buying her an unexpected gift and her response is to give me a kiss. In another example, I might elicit the emotion of surprise by telling her something unexpected which annoys her and she becomes angry with me. (Both fictional I hasten to add!) The emotion of surprise is the same, but the trigger that lead to a subsequent action was different.

In Whittaker’s talk, when he talked about how people can sometimes be unaware of their impact on others, this for me is where we can learn to be skillful by understanding what it means to be emotionally intelligent. We use the information available to us to help us to determine what the other person is likely to be feeling, and then respond in a way which gets the best out of them. Some may argue we do this naturally. I would argue, only some people do this naturally. For many others, it is about learning how to recognise a set of emotions, interpret them, and decide on a course of action.

The final piece for me, which adds to the level of self-awareness we have, is in how we practise the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is about being present in the moment, and being aware of all the things your being can intake. Your surroundings, your thoughts, other people, the sounds, the quiet, your breathing, your movements, and so much more. When we can be mindful, truly mindful, we open ourselves to the possibility of opportunities which become immediately present. At the coffee shop, in a queue waiting to be served, where does our attention go, and where does our attitude focus? Do we urge the barrista to be more efficient? Do we see the people talking round a table? Are the food options the ones you want? Is the background music your style? Are you feeling hot or cold? In being mindful about such things, we are more likely to make a better informed decision for what is best for you, and you are more likely to feel positive about the outcome.

Mindfulness for me, then, helps us to understand that we are responsible for our actions. These actions are based on active decisions we have made, and therefore we can either be positive about them or regret them. If we regret them, then this dwells on the mind, and keeps us in a place which is not helpful, and may be harmful to the psyche if prolonged. If we are positive about them, we will be more likely to be positive about other interactions we make as our day continues.

In thinking about these three topics/subjects/ways of thinking, it’s helping me to remain conscious of the many things we learn in the L&D profession, and how we can either be purposeful in our understanding of them, or we blindly take the accepted wisdom.

Content is king

Content is king! Who knew, huh?

Yesterday, I had the genuine pleasure of being at the Learning and Performance Institute Learning Live conference. It was a great example of how to provide great content, at reasonable cost, and access to some inspired and knowledgeable speakers.

The format of the conference was no different to others I’ve attended – there were exhibitors, there were multiple conference sessions to attend, multiple workshop sessions, and a good venue with free WiFi.

There are some things worth mentioning on the practical side of things which makes a difference. There was free water, tea and coffee available to everyone – no one had to pay a vendor for this all day. In the morning there was breakfast made available by way of croissants, and at lunch time we were given a full selection of hot lunch options. This was all included in the cost of the ticket. This is taking care of people, and I enjoy not having to worry about it. This isn’t the only conference I’ve been to where they’ve provided lunch and breakfast, it’s worth mentioning how much of a difference it makes.

Onto the content then.

First up, the keynote. I’m not a fan of them. I understand how they are the main attraction piece of an event like this, but I just don’t see the benefit of it. Here’s why. I’m at the conference to learn about a new way of doing something, learning about other thinking, hearing stories about how people do things, talking with my peers. I don’t need to be inspired or motivated at the beginning of the day. You’re eating into my attention span, and you’re eating into your own timetable. You know where I’d like to see a keynote? At the end of the day. Or, at a dinner which all are invited to. In either of those, I’ll have heard lots from the day, taken some time to assimilate, and be ready to have my thinking pushed even more. That same thinking applies to having a keynote at the beginning of the day but in the reverse.

Anyhow, I enjoyed listening to Spencer Kelly, from BBC Click, and hearing about all the ways technology is being used, and what’s around the corner. 3D pens and printers are pretty bloody cool! The absolute challenge we face in L&D is getting people to use technology at all for their learning. For all the talk about social learning, and “look how many thousands of YouTube videos there are on every topic”, and “look how many millions of people are watching TED videos”, this is a global phenomenon. It’s not happening in the workplace, unless the company has set up purposeful and well implemented ways of allowing people to share what they know internally.

“Everyone has a smartphone!” Well, a lot of people do. This doesn’t mean they want to use them for work purposes. “It can all go on mobile!” Yes, but I don’t want to spend my spare time watching e-learning to improve my performance at work. “The technology is available now!” Yes, but what about people’s day job?

I’m totally an advocate of using technology to help people learn better. The way some quarters of the L&D world carry on, you’d think everyone is a luddite who doesn’t get on board with it. The reality is, the technology is available, but we have not devised the right learning solutions which allow for the technology to be used. In pretty much every well established case – take Khan Academy as an example – the problem we have is that the solution exists to a problem L&D haven’t cracked. I love the idea of Khan Academy, but how do I make it work for every single employee in my organisation? That’s the nut which needs to be cracked.

Next, the speakers on the day. I loved them. I listened to Andy Whittaker talk about Being Brilliant, Neil Denny talk about the Delicious Discomfort in Not Knowing, and Craig Taylor talk about how to move from Courses to Campaigns. I’ll delve into their respective talks at a later date. What impressed me so much was what they talked about. It wasn’t case study based. I hate case studies. They piss me off. They mean nothing and are nothing more than a PR exercise for every brand that decides to do this. About the only thing I have gained from a case study is that every company and brand that presents has done it well, they are a blinding success, and they will never fail anything. What these speakers offered was their personal experience of their subject matter, and how it can make a difference to your day to day life, with concrete examples and illustrations of what you can do. Their delivery style was unique, personal to them, and they owned the stage. This is what conference speakers should concentrate on.

Conference organisers have a lot of work to do in this regard. Speakers need to be given clear guidance about how to make their presentation something special. I’ve written about this before. If a conference organiser is reliant on the success of the speakers to entice people to come back the following year, and create PR-able content, they have the absolute responsibility in helping speakers do this well.

Lastly, the conversations I had. I really enjoyed the space between sessions. I had time to do what I wanted between sessions and no pressure to move quickly to get to the next one. What this meant was I got to discuss the content of the session I was in with people at the conference, and hear about what other people listened to without being eager for them to distil it into golden nuggets. I also used this time to do my networking. It’s always great (for me) to meet with others and strengthen connections.

Well done, the LPI team, and thanks for asking me to be a Live Reporter. I’ll be posting more content in the coming days about the talks I listened to.