Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What My Rescue Puppy Taught Me About the Power of Together

Recently, I adopted a rescue dog - a one year old German Shepherd - and as is true of most rescue dogs, he was an anxious, insecure puppy. Nonetheless, as I stood in front of him and gently petted his head, I was surprised when he cringed and backed away. Then I remembered that his experience with humans before his rescue had been less than ideal. Much less. Try “chained outside to a post” less.

So I tried another approach. I waited a moment, then stood by his side, facing in the same direction that he was facing. I reached down and petted his head. No cringing. I petted his long neck, and down his back, and soon he was leaning against me, content, no longer insecure.

Ah, the power of together!  A recent management study by Priyanka Carr and Greg Walton of Stanford University showed that participants who worked on a task in separate rooms, had no visual or other contact, but were told that they were working “together” with other participants on the task in question, worked longer, solved more problems correctly, and felt better at the end of the task, than participants who simply worked on the task alone, without any mention of “together.”

When I stood next to my dog, my body language said that I was his ally, one with him, energetically speaking. We were working “together.” What you can do with your mate, your friend, your co-worker, your employee, your family, anytime you want to accomplish something that requires someone else’s participation.

For example, you are at odds with your spouse over something. You don’t agree on the purchase of a big-ticket item, or on the choice of schooling for your child, or even on how to get the housework done. Instead of sitting across a table from each other, or worse - yelling across the room at each other - let your body language signal “we’re in this together.”

Sit side-by-side at the table, or on the couch. Share a single notepad or tablet on which you both jot down your ideas, or fill in the “pro” and “con” columns. These simple physical adjustments are all it takes to get the energy of “together” going in your discussion, which will make a satisfying resolution flow far more easily.

Besides, it’s so much more fun to be facing life side by side, pointing in the same direction, don’t you think? My dog certainly does.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Happiness Is A 5:1 Deal - It's Scientific!

Your spouse says "You’re gonna wear that?!" Your child, in a fit of frustration, yells out "I hate you!" Your boss says "This'll never fly. Where’s your creativity?"

Whether important or not, life-altering or just annoying, why is it that a single critical comment from your spouse, child or business partner hurts more than the compliment or appreciative words they offer? Why does that criticism linger while the compliment fades away almost immediately?

It's not like your spouse or child doesn't love you. They do! And tell you so in many ways, throughout the days and years. Your boss or business partner values your contribution, and has told you so often. Yet somehow, that one critical comment sticks with you, brings you down, pretty much ruins your day. How can that be?

It’s all about body chemistry. Truly! Negative or critical, rejecting, comments produce higher levels of cortisol in our brains, which shuts down much of the thinking portions of our brains and activates conflict aversion and protection behaviors. Our sensitivity to slights increases, we become reactive, sometimes anxious or depressed. And the more we ruminate about the negative comments, the worse it feels and the longer our unhappiness continues.

On the other hand, appreciative words, compliments and positive conversations increase the production of oxytocin, a feel-good hormone that allows us to better communicate, collaborate and trust others. Seems like one would wash out the other, right? Ah, but here’s the problem. Oxytocin metabolizes more quickly than cortisol, so the feel-goods disappear far more quickly than the not-so-feel-goods.

In the problem, lies the solution. Truly! All you have to do is think more about the positive interactions and appreciative comments you receive - past, present or hoped-for in the future - than you do about any negative ones. Again, from your past, present or feared-about future.

The think-more solution is actually scientifically based. As a result of extensive, in depth live research on couples, Dr. John Gottman came up with a ratio of positive to negative comments/interactions, which allowed him to predict with incredible accuracy those couples who would divorce. That ratio has continued to remain true through study after study not only with couples, but in the workplace as well: 5 positives to 1 negative. 

Don’t give a criticism more power than it deserves! Examine it for a possible grain of truth, deal with that in a constructive manner, and then release the criticism to the land of “never will think about that again.”

Soothe yourself by remembering at least 5 positive appreciative good-feel interactions, and you will have put the power of both chemistry and psychology to good use for your happiness.