Tuesday, 13 March 2007

More on Your Legacy and Your Contribution

The other day I came across the most fantastic video-blogger on Youtube – a 79 year old called Peter, aka Geriatric1927 . You must listen to this interview with him on the World Service , which is also posted on Youtube. Musing on the fact that what started out as a bit of fun has turned into quite a responsible role, Peter says “I do believe that I’ve encouraged more older people to copy me and have a go and therefore widened the age range of people who use video-blogging, and so I could go out of this world feeling that I have contributed something”.

What a brilliant contribution to have made.

On a similar note, I heard Charles Handy speak last year, he’s one of my favourite management gurus. (he brought “unconditional positive regard” into management-speak years before anyone else). Anyway, the point is that, reflecting on his life and his contribution to the world, Handy mentioned that he writes letters about his view on life, as well as everyday stuff, for his grandchildren to read when they’ve grown up. I thought what a fantastic “legacy” idea this was, a bit like Geriatric1927 on Youtube.

In the meantime, I can thoroughly recommend having a go at writing your own legacy (see this blog entry for details). We use this technique with many of our coaching clients; here are some of their comments:

“It was a very creative way of finding out what really matters to me”

“I was surprised by what came to mind, it wasn’t what I was expecting and it has helped me get my work:life balance sorted out”

Thursday, 8 March 2007

Counting your blessings and Writing Wrongs– how to increase your well-being

When Jenny and I were completing our Certified NLP Practitioner’s course, one of the exercises we were required to do was to write a Daily Journal. Part of the Daily Journal focussed on confirming 3 outcomes for the following day, the other part focussed on reviewing the past 24 hours, identifying the best bits and the learning points. John Seymour , our trainer, was confident that this exercise would make a difference to our lives, and informal research amongst our peer group at the time confirmed this to be the case.

Around the time I started writing my journal, I read an article, ‘Writing Wrongs’ , in the first issue of Psychologies magazine by Professor David Servan-Schreiber of the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. In the article, about the value of writing things down, he quoted a clinical study which showed that “...those (patients) who had spent just 20 minutes a day writing about their problems, for three days in a row, were feeling better, taking fewer drugs to relieve their symptoms and seeing their doctor less often”. His ‘journal rules’ are as follows:

1. The journal must remain strictly confidential
2. It must be honest (don’t waste time lying to yourself)
3. You must write it on a regular basis…and stick to your timetable.

As a Positive Psychology student, my interest is weighted more towards counting my blessings than writing about the negatives. Nevertheless, I don’t doubt the value of ‘Writing Wrongs’ in specific contexts (and, interestingly, I thought Servan-Schreiber’s explanation of the impact of the process of writing on images stored in the brain made sense of why NLP works).

If, like me, you are keener to try identifying good things in your life than you are to dwell on the bad things, here are the instructions for a 10-15 minute exercise, courtesy of Chris Peterson*

1. At the end of each day, before going to sleep, write down 3 things that went well during the day. Do this every night for 1 week.
2. The 3 things can be of relatively small importance (my friend told me a brilliant joke) or relatively large importance (my friend just got married).
3. After each positive thing, answer in your own words the question “Why did this good thing happen?”

You may be interested to know that Peterson’s own research shows that if you continue to do this exercise beyond the suggested 1 week, you can increase your happiness and decrease your symptoms of depression over the long-term. 10-15 minutes of your time every day doesn’t seem like a lot to ask for such a reward, does it? Go on, have a go, you know you’re worth it....

* Peterson, C, A Primer in Positive Psychology(2006) p38.

Your Legacy

I was reading Professor Chris Peterson’s “A Primer in Positive Psychology” book last night – this was light relief after many nights of trying to get to grips with the terminology in the academic papers for my MSc in Applied Positive Psychology – anyway, he outlined a well known personal development technique called ‘Your Legacy’. It’s a different slant on Seligman’s January Retrospective, which we talked about on the blog a few weeks ago.

Here is Peterson's version of the Legacy exercise:

• Take a clean sheet of paper and a pen (or create a new document on your PC)
• Think ahead to your life as you would like it to be, and especially how you would like to be remembered by the people closest to you. What would you like them to say about you? What accomplishments and personal strengths would they talk about? Try not to indulge in fantasy, but don’t be modest about what you would like your legacy to be either.
• Write a couple of paragraphs, maybe 100-150 words or so.

• Look back at what you’ve written and ask yourself the following two questions: What can I realistically do to bring about my legacy, which is within my control? What am I currently doing now which will move me towards this goal?

Keep what you have written safe, and read it again in a few month’s or a year’s time. Ask yourself whether you have made progress towards your goal. If not, feel free to change your legacy if new goals have emerged – it belongs to you, after all.

And then here is our version of the Legacy exercise, which you may want to do with a close friend in case you find it unsettling. In our experience, the difference between the writing exercise and the doing exercise can be very illuminating, so you may want to do both, and compare results after:

1. Establish a timeline somewhere in the room, noting where the present and the future is represented.
2. Step onto the timeline wherever today is represented, and move along it until you get to the day of your funeral.
3. Stand there for a moment, noticing what is going on: what are people closest to you saying about you? How are they remembering you?
4. What are you saying about yourself?
5. When you have noticed everything there is to notice, move back to the present.
6. In the present, ask yourself what aspects of your legacy you have noticed. How is your legacy different to what you expected? How might you want your legacy to be different? What can you do now to bring about a different legacy?

What our coaching clients find is that this exercise helps them get things in perspective, helps them focus on what they really want out of life, and often brings into sharp contrast the difference between how they are living their life now versus what they really want it to be.

We'd be very interested to hear how you get on with these exercises, and if you experience different results using them.

Friday, 2 March 2007

Children, well-being and leadership

I was alarmed to read in the Times on 14 February 2007 that Britain’s children are the least happy in the Western World . This is the conclusion of a UNICEF study across 21 industrialised nations in Western Europe.

Professor Jonathan Bradshaw of the University of York, one of the authors of the report, links these results to child poverty.Between 1979 -1999 child poverty in the UK rose rapidly (from 14% to 33%) , the numbers of children living with unemployed parents/carers rose rapidly and the numbers of children not in education and training also rose.

In March 99, the government set a target to eradicate child poverty by 2020, and to reduce child poverty by one million (i.e. 25%) between 1998 and 2005; however it missed this target by 300,000, achieving only a 17% reduction. In 2007, child poverty in the UK is still double the rate it was in 1979 (27% vs 14%). For further details, see this report by the Child Poverty Action Group.

Professor Bradshaw goes on to say that the main reason for Britain’s overall well-being rating, which is lower than relatively poorer / less developed countries like the Czech Republic, Greece, Poland and Hungary is inequality; he states that “the more unequal a society, the relatively deprived people will feel”. In other words, it’s the comparison effect. There is plenty of research (e.g. Michalos (1985), Myers (1992), Wood (1996), Buss (2000)) on the effect of comparison, and in particular how comparing yourself with others less fortunate (downward comparison) can make you feel good, whereas comparing yourself with others more fortunate (upward comparison) has a negative effect on your well-being.

Vital though it is to eradicate child poverty, I don’t believe that the answer is that simple – for a start there is plenty of research which shows that, above a level to meet basic needs, more money really doesn’t make you happier.

In commenting on this UNICEF study, Dr Tony Sewell, director of the charity Generating Genius, wrote in the Independent on Sunday (18 February 2007) , that ‘one of the major problems is a lack of sympathetic adults, whether they are role models or just sounding boards’. There is definitely some truth in what he is saying, and I know that Jenny, who has experience of mentoring young people for Oxfordshire County Council, agrees.

My own view, based on casual observation of adult/parent/child relationships in the 13 Western European countries I have visited, is that it has a great deal to do with the culture of the country and societal norms and values with respect to parenting, family life and having children. In the UK generally we seem to have a different relationship with our children than other WE countries, and furthermore, parenting is not a highly valued activity in our society. Has the UK attitude really moved on from the time when children should be seen and not heard? It would seem that children are not, generally speaking, treated as individuals in their own right and included in adult life in the UK; instead they are treated as belongings, things which can be and should be controlled by adults. I’m not an advocate for allowing children unrestrained freedom of choice, however; there is considerable research (e.g. Schwartz 2000) that finds this is equally damaging to well-being.

In the countries I’ve visited, children tend to be better integrated into adult life, are given consideration and guidance by other adults, and are frequently encouraged to engage in a positive way with adults, including those other than their parents/carers, for example teachers, youth leaders, mentors, neighbours and so on.

So if we want to increase child wellbeing in the UK, getting rid of poverty is only part of the answer. There is also an important question about whether our culture and societal norms and values about parenting and children need to change too. And in the words of Tony Sewell, perhaps we need to ‘show our children some leadership’.