On Being One… And Of Being In Control Of Your Happiness (Part I)

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Control! We all want it. Some of us, particularly those running for political office, crave it. The same could be said for happiness… we all want it and some of us crave it. In fact, many studies have shown that the perception of being in control is crucial for happiness. Long-Term Effects of a Control-Relevant Intervention with the Institutionalized Aged on this subject was conducted with residents of an old age home. These residents, all of an advanced age, felt better and lived longer when they were given control over even trivial decisions. One example is whether they could have a plant in their room and, if so, which plant and whether they were allowed to take care of the plant. Another example is control of which movies to watch. Trivial decisions perhaps, but it goes to show just how important it is for most us to feel like we are in control.

So, our feeling of being in control has a direct correlation to both our emotional and physical health. Little wonder then that we seek to be in control. As it turns out, seeking some degree of control is actually beneficial. Studies show that those with a higher desire for control tend to have higher goals in life and accomplish more. Problems arise, however, when we overdo it. When we try to control everything and everyone.

overcontrolStudies show that being over-controlling not only lowers our own happiness level, but also the happiness level of those around us… after all, who likes to be around someone who wants to control us? More importantly, studies show that it also lowers our ability to make good decisions. So what do you do if you’re overly control-seeking a la Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and many others.

An antidote to this tendency has been shown to be taking responsibility for your own happiness.  But what does this mean? Well, it means that you never blame others for how you feel. While simple in concept, it is definitely not easy in practice mainly because we all carry internal obstacles for doing so.  The most important of these obstacles is being unable to imagine being in control of our feelings if something extreme was to happen to us. For example, how could we remain “happy” if we broke a leg, lost a job, became homeless, ended a long-term relationship, etc. So we feel that we are not capable of taking personal responsibility for our happiness. Another important obstacle is the feeling that we may be taken advantage of by those around us. However, neither of these two obstacles is valid if you can remember that you cannot gain the ability to control your feelings overnight or in a few sessions of mediation. Like all skills, this one will take time and practice. Start by imagining that you can remain happy when everyday occurrences happen such as being late for a meeting, stubbing your toe in the middle of the night, or running out of milk for your cereal. As you discover that you can retain your peace of mind in such events, you’ll be able to take on ever bigger “challenges” (remember, challenges are opportunities by another name), a la Nelson Mandela (RIP) or Mahatma Gandhi (RIP). Similarly, just because you won’t hold others responsible for how you feel, it doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t hold them accountable for the outcome of their actions or inactions. In fact, according to studies, this is likely to make others respect you more. Best of all, because you will be in control of your emotions, you are likely to make better decisions.

If you want to know whether you’re overly control-seeking, there are two “tests” you can take. The first is named the “desirability of control scale” and the second is named the “maximer scale (the “test” is on page 4). “ Feel free to take both and let us know how you came out and whether you’ll try to correct this tendency.

In Part II of this post, we’ll explore why taking personal responsibility for your happiness mitigates the tendency to be overly controlling.

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Happiness to all in this coming new year as I leave you with a little ditty to remind us all to take life with a grain of salt as change is constant: The duck song

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On Being One… And Of The Illusion Of Communication

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Researchers at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business recently tested whether, in general, we are as good communicators as we tend to think we are. Their research, published in Journal of Experimental Social Psychology[1], provided some startling results. In essence, most of us think we’re much better at communicating than we actually are. Even those of us who deem ourselves as “good” communicators are, in actuality, poor communicators. It turns out that we’re even worse communicators when it comes to communicating with people we know well!

The researchers paired people who knew each other well and again with people who didn’t know each other. Results showed that neither group understood each other any better. In fact, people who knew each other well tended to overestimate their ability to communicate. According to researcher Nicholas Epley, that’s because “Our problem in communicating with friends is that we have an illusion of insight [which] appears to create the illusion of understanding more than actual understanding.”

As I am fond of saying: “What I say is often not what you hear.” That’s because we all listen through our filters and we are busy listening so that we can reply with our own thoughts. This is exacerbated when we communicate, or attempt to, with people we know well make we make assumptions about what they understand, something we don’t do with people we don’t know. Of course, the tendency to overestimate how well we communicate leads us to overestimate how well we’re understood. This tendency is so well known among psychologist that they named it “Closeness-communication bias.”

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To communicate effectively, it is important not to assume what the person who’s listening  knows. Or, as study lead Kenneth Savitsky stated: “’What I know is different from what you know’ is essential for effective communication.” We fail to communicate effectively because we “get rushed and preoccupied, and [] stop taking the perspective of the other person.”

This tendency is also exacerbated by differences in gender. Men and women have evolved to communicate very differently (see, On Being One… And Of The Genetic Evolution Of Men-Women Communication, Part 1). Man evolved as a hunter-gatherer without much need for the spoken word. Hence, for example, men view silence as a reward. Women evolved as nest protectors, caring for the dwellings, the young ones and gathering berries, fruits, etc. Time was spent among the young, the elderly and other women. Verbal communication was very important and silence was a form of punishment. Yet, it takes a man an average of 9 minutes of silence from his partner to being to think there could be a problem. During that time, the woman has been seething “knowing” that the man is being punished and “couldn’t care less.”

So how are we to communicate so we are understood?

Well, beyond the usual “cliché” that you have two ears and one mouth so use them in the same proportion, and to listen like you want to hear, there are few things to keep in mind.

Listen without interruption. Ooooh, that’s a hard one as we want to put our 2 cents in. But when you’re listening in order to express your thoughts, you’re not listening at all. This can quickly become a frustrating exercise in communication as each person interrupts to other to express their own thoughts. After all, we all want to be heard.

Listen so others will talk. Communication is a two-way street. So, picking up on the same theme as above, we all want to be heard and that includes the person you are speaking with (not “to”). Give him/her the opportunity to express their thoughts, to speak their minds. Try not to have the last word in a conversation… or at least, not all the time.

Remember that listening involves more than hearing. Actually, most of our communication is non-verbal. Scientist believe that some 70-80% of our communication is actually done through body language; 10-20% through voice tonality; and the rest are the words. So, when you listen, pay attention to the other person’s, don’t just strive to hear the words.

Remember that what is not being said may also be important. This really requires intent listening skills for you are now paying attention to what is not being said. What is the message that is not being conveyed? But you can’t hear what is not being said, if you’re focusing on how you will respond.

Stop multi-tasking. The efficiency of multi-tasking is a myth. Experiment after experiment has proved time and again that, while women are more efficient at multi-tasking than men, neither gender is very good at it. Our brains simply don’t have the capacity to process that much information simultaneously. So, when you’re speaking with (not “to”) someone stop whatever else you’re doing and whatever other distractions could be interrupting you (e.g., close the door and sit next to the person so you can focus; don’t speak on the phone and type an email at the same time; etc.)

Connect emotionally. Maya Angelou said it best: “People will forget what you said and did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” Effective communication requires emotional connection. That requires you to be vulnerable… a very difficult task for most men who don’t understand that vulnerability requires strength.

Remember that you can agree to disagree.  Intelligent people can disagree on how they view events, facts, etc. Intelligent people understand and accept the fact that everyone is entitled to their opinions and beliefs and can agree to disagree.

Remember that you can both be right. Because your reality is what you chose to believe, you can both be right in your opinion. This is a difficult concept to accept. But, once you do, communication and life become much, much easier.

Don’t assume you understood. We go through life making assumptions. For example, we assume that drivers will stop at a red light, or that other drivers are paying attention (i.e., not multi-tasking), etc. Sometimes when these assumptions prove to be erroneous, the results can be catastrophic. Communication is no different. Don’t assume you understood what was said. Ask a question if you’re not sure. Better, reframe what the other person said.

So, let me hear from you. How do you communicate effectively? Is it different, and if so how, when you’re speaking with your friends, significant other, co-workers, parents, in-laws, etc.? What great/terrible communication experiences can you share?

 

With love,

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[1] The closeness-communication bias: Increased egocentrism among friends versus strangers, Savitsky, K., Boaz, K., Epley, N., Carter, T., Swanson, A. – Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Vol. 47, Issue 1, Jan. 2011, p. 269-273.

On Being One… And Of Women And Compliments

Compliments, or rather the way we accept them, are a reflection of our sense of self-worth. Paradoxically, while most of us like hearing praise, we have difficulty accepting compliments. because both are at the core of our self-estee, women have difficulty accepting compliments about their looks, whereas men have difficulty accepting compliments about their skills .

Today, I would like to review women and compliments. Let me start by inviting you to view one of Amy Schuman short video which is perhaps a hilarious example of this (Warning: Graphic language).

From an evolutionary standpoint, women evolved to be “givers.” This makes sense since women were, and continue to be, the ones to become pregnant and have to nurture their progeniture, not just for the 9 months of pregnancy, but up to the time the child was of an age when s/he could fend for him/herself. In general, givers have a difficult time accepting things, whether it be a compliment, a gift or even attention from other people and particularly their mate.

Because we can only define ourselves when compared to others, compliments have a way to get to the heart of our discomfort, our sense of insecurity about who we are, and our place in the world. So rather than accepting a compliment, women (and to a great extent men) have been conditioned/programmed to reject the message that she is worthy.

Part of the responsibility lies with the media, social and otherwise, which does its best to destroy a woman’s self-esteem in order to make sales. Perhaps too many women believe they won’t be “beautiful” unless they wear a certain brand of make-up (for the record, the cosmetics industry is a $230 billion a year industry!), carry a certain brand of purse, wear a certain brand of shoes, or are a certain body type (for the record, the weight loss industry is a $60 billion a year industry!). From Madison Avenue’s perspective this approach makes sense since if advertisers can convince you of their message you will buy their products.

Family is also responsible inasmuch as girls are usually taught to be modest. However, I would encourage all women (and men) to stop blaming their parents for who they are and to take responsibility for who they choose to be.

Of course, we men don’t make easier since we are evolutionary programmed to be visual. Because we evolved as hunter-gatherers we developed a very keen sense of imagery. Of course, Madison Avenue has also done a “good” job of convincing us that we are “worthy” if we have the “right” looking mate on our arms. But Madison Avenue is not solely to blame. Most movies brand “winning” men as the one who is the toughest and always gets the pretty girl. Even less than “macho” movies carry the same message. Perhaps the “guiltiest” party here is Disney where the fair (and usually helpless) maiden falls in love with prince charming (or other hero-type). Seldom do the characters exchange any semblance of an intelligent dialogue (Shrek being, for example, an exception). Rather, they look into each others’ eyes and walk into the proverbial sunset to live happily ever-after. Really?

Circling back to our evolutionary process, because women evolved to be nurturers, they also evolved to be conflict-avoiders. Receiving a compliment can be perceived as becoming the center of attention and creating tension with others around you. Women then tend to deflect the compliment back to the person who offered it as a means to make others feel more comfortable since you then believe you will not be perceived as superior to the rest of the group.

Perhaps hardest of all is accepting a compliment from your partner. This is interesting insomuch as your partner, perhaps even more than your parents, knows (or should) you intimately and is best placed to offer a compliment. Yet, most women find it difficult because, if they have a low self-esteem, they will feel obligated to live up to the expectation offered through the compliment and fear, of course, that they will not measure up. Exacerbating the problem may be the belief that your partner will leave (i.e., stop loving you) if you fail to live up to the compliment (i.e., your partner’s love is conditional). In fact, by rejecting your partner’s compliment(s) you are more likely to cause the relationship to end, either because of the stress you feel over having to live up to the assumed expectations or because your partner begins to either resent the way you reject the compliments or stops complimenting you all together since you won’t accept them.

However much difficult it may be, I would encourage all women to gracefully accept sincere compliments (i.e., no cat-calls or fake compliments meant to get into your pants), whether offered by men or other women, with a simple “thank you” and a smile. Accept the fact that you are “good enough” or “pretty enough.” In fact, even if it is an insincere or back-handed compliment, simply say “thank you” and smile and let it roll off your back for an insincere or back-handed compliment speaks more about the person who uttered it than it does about you. Cut yourselves some slack. Try it… you may be surprised at how it affects your self-esteem.

With love,

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