Social Capital and what goes around

Have you ever stopped to think about why some people seem to take things in their stride? You know the kind. They seem to be jolly in most things, quite light-hearted and seem to enjoy life more than others. Yeah, them. The tree-huggers. Them and those bloody smiles. Well you can do it too! And all for free… hang on that quip didn’t quite work.

Here’s the thing. It is for free. But importantly it’s within your power to make a difference. It’s your social capital. It works for you because you make it work. If you want to get all zen about it, you could argue it’s karma. But karma is slightly more complicated than that. And if you wanted to get all universal about it, you could argue it’s the natural way of the things. But the universe is definitely more complicated than that.

At a more understandable level, it’s to do with what you choose to do on your way home. When you go home this evening, or go about your business this evening, what are you doing with your interactions with other people? Are you creating experiences which will serve you well in the future? Are you making a concerted effort to help someone else? Are you genuinely being involved in someone else’s life for the better?

Your social capital that you develop is only down to you. Those people in the first paragraph, they’ve worked at building their social capital. Not because they’re conceited or opportunists. But because they see the value in it. They see the value in being genuine, positive and helpful in society. Ah, yes, in society. Social capital goes beyond just individual interactions. It’s about how you interact with society.

And how does it come back to you? You think differently about the opportunities presented to you. About the circumstances you’re faced with. About the people you meet. About the life you lead. About your friends. About your family. About your life partner. About your work place. About your commute. About the train service. It all changes. Not because they’ve changed. But because you see other possibilities.

So, how’s your social capital?

What’s your day been like?

Some people are naturally ‘people people’. I don’t mean they are extraverted, or introverted. I mean they just like people. I’m like that. I just like people. I like talking, I like listening, and I like to learn about others. When I’m on holiday, I’ll ask 101 questions to tour guides and the like so I get what it’s like to be in that place.

One of the best things that positive psychology tells us about improving our wellbeing is that seeking out the company of others is of huge benefit to our psychological wellbeing. In a previous post, I spoke about positive energy networks. But that was focused at work. Personally though, there are some very pertinent actions we should be encouraging to help each other understand how to live a better life, and to be happier in this life.

If you recall, originally, therapy and the likes aims to take people suffering from some sort of depression or other mental anxiety from a state of ‘-1’ to ‘-5’ to a state of ‘0’. ‘0’ in this instance meaning ‘normal’. Positive psychology aims to take you from a state of ‘0’ to a state of ‘+5’. And that’s what fascinates me. That’s where I think we can do so much more in our lives to truly make a difference to ourselves.

There’s plenty to personally do in terms of the food we eat, the exercise we take, the work/life balance we try and achieve. But there’s also something very conscious we need to do about the people we connect with. And this is quite possibly the hardest thing to be conscious of, while at the same time being the most rewarding.

When I leave home in the morning, and I start that daily routine, at what point am I connecting with someone, and at what point am I just a passer-by? Mostly, I won’t care about my fellow commuters, we happen to be in the same space because of circumstance, not through choice. But then someone falls over. Or someone falls ill. Or someone gets irate with another passenger. Or someone sneezes. Do we intervene? Should we? What benefit is there to us? What difference does it make if I offer assistance?

You arrive at work. You say pleasant hello’s to the security guard. Walking to your desk/office you do more of the same. And then you start to do your work. Where have you connected with any one of those people? Do you need to? Are they important enough to you? And what about when you go about your work. Bob comes to have a chat with you. Brenda sends you an email asking for that information. Billy needs an urgent response to that question. Are these transactions or are these times to connect and make a difference?

You talk with your friends at some point. You share some banter. Talk about something trivial. Make an effort to remember events and let them know you care. If you didn’t talk to them would your day have passed any differently? Would you have missed them? Would they have missed you?

There’s a clear bias to my questions, and it’s in line with what I want to get you to think about. This isn’t just about ‘active listening’ or ‘great customer service’. This is about your wellbeing, through the connections you actively choose to, or not make. And at the same time being mindful that your connection will have an impact on the person you’re with. Everyone gains something by being connected to.

Do you recognise it when you see it?

Over recent months I’ve seen some significant changes happen on a personal, family and work level. It’s interesting to see how people cope with change and what it means for them. In particular though, I marvel at those who seem to be able to take change, deal with it, and move on with their lives in ways that are inspiring and humbling.

There’s a lot of factors I think enable someone to be able to act like this, and one of those in particular is the capacity for resilience. I don’t think it’s limited to resilience in and of itself. I think you have to have the capacity for it. I consider myself to be a fairly resilient kind of person, but do I always have the capacity for it? Now there’s an interesting question.

There’s a bucket analogy I’m reminded of. We all have things going on in our lives that fill our ‘bucket’. And sometimes you might go through something that means your bucket has run out of capacity and you are simply overflowing and struggling. It seems to me that those who have the capacity for resilience are those who have learned how to keep the bucket from overflowing and allowing themselves to manage it as they see fit.

How do they do this? Do you recognise it in others when you see it? Do you envy them for having it? I have no easy answer for this, but I’ll bet there’s a fair few things going on they have in common.

Support Network

I’ve talked about this before relating to other topics, but the power of a support network is not to be overlooked. This is why groups such as AA (Alcholics Anonymous) and Weight Watchers and the like are so powerful – they have a strong message and an equally strong support network ready to help you.

Positive Mindset

Y’all know I have a bias towards positive psychology. But here’s the thing. It bloody works. Negative thinking takes you down roads of cynicism, despair and negative thoughts. A positive mindset allows you to stay in a place of hope, possibilities and constructive thought.

A Release Valve

It’s important to understand in the bucket analogy above, that those with the capacity for resilience also understand that the bucket needs a release valve (see how I kept that from you? Very sneaky.) The water level doesn’t decrease on its own, it has to be released. That release activity should equally in kind be something which is supportive to your lifestyle.

Living a full life

I’ll take a leaf from Sikh teachings for this one. In Sikhi, we’re taught to live a constructive life (kirat karna). This means working for the good of your family, and in a role that helps society. It also means doing work which does not harm yourself or others.

Being self-aware

Those who have capacity for resilience are self-aware enough to know when they need to do something different. Be it on a day to day basis or a life changing event, they ‘get’ that something isn’t working as it should be for them, and they set about to make it happen.

Consideration for others

This might be a contentious one. Particularly because some people don’t understand the benefit in helping others. Far too many people have a ‘look out for number one’ attitude. And this isn’t about karmic retribution either. Research into positive psychology shows us that when people carry out an act of gratitude or consideration, the lasting effect of that act can be up to weeks later. This helps to build capacity by allowing you to have a positive experience.

This is far from exhaustive, I’ll bet there’s things I’ve certainly missed. And before I end this post, I’m going to extend the bucket analogy by adding this. We can also expand the capacity of the bucket by growing the bucket. As life goes on, so does the bucket continually have more poured into it. Our capacity for resilience in turn needs to grow with this so it doesn’t overflow.

Using positive psychology to create change at work

Continuing my learnings from #HRD11, one of the sessions I found truly useful was delivered by Sarah Lewis. She is a psychologist and has a particular focus on using concepts such as social constructionism, positive psychology and strengths based views. She has published a book called Positive Psychology at Work. Regular readers will know I have a bias towards positive psychology, and I was glad to not be let down by Sarah.

The following is a summary of various actions that can be used within a work context. As usual, this is only intended to provide a base level of information, there are nuances and details that I won’t be going into, and as such, this should provide some thoughts for things currently happening that you would like to change.

Sarah reinforced the importance of seeking positive experiences as part of building an environment of positivity. Previously, psychology used to be about helping those with issues increase their wellbeing from a state of -5 to 0 (-5 being unhealthy, 0 being healthy). Positive psychology aims to help individuals move from 0 to +5 (healthy to vibrancy). As such, we should aim to have a ratio of positive experiences higher than negative at about 3:1 at minimum, and at a maximum 12:1.

In organisations, there needs to be increased connectivity. A powerful motivator for a lot of people (be you an introvert or an extrovert), is to be able to connect with others. This is not exclusive to physical connections, particularly now in the ‘connected’ world we live in. Organisations have to allow for their people to be able to connect in meaningful ways. This is not to be confused with making people connect. People simply need to know there are options available, and they are fully capable themselves of deciding how they want to connect.

We should build social capital. An interesting turn of phrase with a good list of benefits:
– Reduces transaction costs
– Facilitates communication and cooperation
– Enhances employee commitment
– Fosters individual learning
– Strengthens human relationships and involvement
– Enhances organisational performance
– Facilitates organisational resilience

If we allow ourselves to act virtuously and positively, we create around us a network of people who see this happening. People are easily influenced by others’ actions, and we have long known that phenomena like peer pressure are incredibly powerful in directing how individuals will behave. Similarly, if you see someone doing something positive and virtuous, you understand there is a benefit to this, and are likely to seek out doing something yourself.

We should create micro-moments of High Quality Connections. This is about intimate, meaningful connections where we enable positive behaviours to happen. The way to do this is to allow ourselves to recognise when someone needs our time. We had an expression at my old workplace called ‘be here now’. By doing this, you build a connection with the person you’re talking to, allowing these micro-moments to happen.

Positive Energy Networks. This was really interesting for me. Who is a positive energy network? What is it? Perhaps the way to answer this is by looking at what a PEN can create:
– A stimulated environment
– Attentive to others
– Energising those around them
– Responsive behaviours
– Being hopeful and allowing others to have the same
– Generating new ideas
– Willing to devote discretionary time

In relationship to change, this was a useful way for Leaders to think about it: Most successful approach to change is to understand and work with it as an emergent phenomena.

Nourish your soul

I wasn’t in the best of moods this morning. The weekend has been a tough one on different counts. Being at work has been an effort, and I’ve not been myself really.

In a rut, I decided to break free of the chain that keeps me at my desk. I went out for a walk and was very glad I decided to get some fresh air. It felt bloody marvellous. And I missed my family, so I gave them a call. Twin 1 told me about falling onto the floor when he was having his lunch, Twin 2 told me about eating his lunch all by himself, and my wife told me about what T has been doing. And I’ve been talking with my friends, which is always a good thing to happen. And I did a little thing to help someone.

And now, after lunch, I feel nourished. My soul feels better. I feel better. I’m ready to get my head down and tackle my to-do-list.

And that’s it. Today, I offer you this. Nourish your soul. If you recognise that you are in a rut and that you aren’t being productive, force a change. In our industry, no-one is going to die, or have anything critical happen to them. So, do it. Take the time to nourish your soul. Do those things that you know will help alleviate your mood. Not just one or two things, but like I did today, a host of things. Because it’s all additive. And when you’re nourished, go back and do what you set out to achieve.

A post about appreciation

True, unadulterated, non-judgemental, uncynical, appreciation.

Not easy my friends, not easy at all. We, as humans are full of contradictions and fallacies. We have double standards galore, our behaviour is erratic, and our thoughts uncontrollable. There are few individuals inhabiting this world who can truly say they appreciate others. By and large, you and me, we’re not anywhere near it.

We have too many things going on. Politics at work, commitments to friends, responsibilities to family, conflict in society > none of these lend themselves to being appreciative. On an individual level, our bodies are amazing things. It’s a scientific miracle the human body actually exists and is able to thrive. Our minds are an added complexity. Conscious thought, unconscious thought, subconscious thought. It’s all a big pile of fuck-up.

But here we are. We exist. We live. You and I have the capacity for intelligent thought and ability to do something with it. But showing appreciation seems to never be high on our list of priorities. Strange really when one of the biggest motivators in a person’s life is to be appreciated. Instead we focus on getting to work on time. doing the daily toll, grumble, moan, bitch, having a beer, eating a meal. Life, it just gets in the way.

When did you last take a moment? Not to see the world through fresh eyes, but to appreciate that you are here at all? Have you? I had an opportunity to do that this week. I’ve had a busy 3 months. Kicked out of house, family stayed with my in-laws for nearly 3 months, moved to a new house, birthday parties, and big changes at work. It’s been tough at times. Yet, here I am.

So I’m taking the time to write down what I appreciate. I appreciate my wife. We have vastly contrasting views on so many of life’s things, but by God does it make me appreciate her. I constantly find I have to re-evaluate what I thought I understood, and that only causes greater appreciation. I appreciate my children. They show me what innocence is all about and how delicate life really is. Without them I would die inside, and I wish I never have to experience their loss. I appreciate my friends. I’m not an easy person to be friends with. I make demands and can be quite unaccommodating. And they don’t put up with that shit and tell me to shut the fuck up. Fuck yeah! I appreciate the rare position I’m in to enjoy the work I do. I haven’t had to graft to get to my position, not like many have. I’ve had a fairly easy ride of things. And that’s pretty rare in the main. And I appreciate my parents. They have taught me so much about what it means to act humbly, I can only hope I am able to teach my family the same.