Understanding Leaders Through Followers’ Eyes

From the earliest studies until today, major concern in leadership has been leaders’ figure, characteristics, or their influential role. However little is said about the role of followers. A leader is a leader, only through the acceptance of authority and influence by his/her followers. That is what law of influence –as John C. Maxwell says, “If you can’t influence people, then they will not follow you. And if people won’t follow, you are not a leader. ” Analyzing leaders alone would provide scarce understanding; therefore we ought to consider leaders together with their followers, and their influence on each other. Followers are at key position in a leader’s influential role; where leaders and followers are inseparable parts of a single entity –i.e. manager and team of subordinate, political influencer and voters/supporters, column writer and readers, classroom teacher and students, etc. Leaders being aware of their followers’ characteristics, knowing who they are, and what makes them as followers, will make themselves far greater leaders. I, with a reversed perspective, will attempt to bring new understanding and awareness, by providing leaders a self-reflection through their followers, and remind that every leader, while being followed, is as well a follower, to other leaders or him/herself.

 

In my previous article –Outstanding Leadership Through Positive Development Approach, I introduced the importance of positive development approach for outstanding leadership; however did not explain how. So, why not explore it now… To begin with, any development approach, whether positive or not, begins with self-awareness, and leads on with self-management. Let aside leaders’ development, these are pivotal aspects for individual’s healthy and goal-directed functioning.

 

I now invite you to have a fresh glance at yourself, as a leader. Have a look at your leadership style… Observe your followers; who they are, their characteristics –such as their unique skills, abilities, knowledge and experience. Just think, what is the particular context that brings you together? It may be part of a million-dollar project at work… a social welfare project within a non-governmental organization… or an empowerment program as part of a social responsibility volunteering… perhaps as part of a self-managed team, where all team members are both leaders and followers.

 

This means that while being a leader with followers, you may as well be a follower –even the follower of your own leadership! It may sound weird… Well, who do you think is the single person that you are responsible or in charge of? You! You are the unique follower of your own leadership. It’s quite unusual to consider yourself in such a reversed role! Looking at yourself this way may be a valuable opportunity to explore about yourself as a leader, as the unique follower of your own leadership. The question is how… Please think about the steps you take to create leaders out of your followers. With your best possible intention, you help them strive and struggle to find out who they are, what they are, what they want to be, and what they wish to do in life. For that particular purpose, you encourage them for training and development, guide them for goal achievement, and you reward in success, criticize in failure, and provide help at setbacks. Aren’t these the exact steps you do for yourself? You actually lead yourself! Therefore, when it comes to leader-follower relationship, you are no different than your followers. In that sense, you and your followers are inseparable parts, where you may be the perfect personal example.

 

The most powerful leadership tool you have is your own personal example.

– John Wooden

 

Even though we perceive and ground ourselves in our current role –as a leader or a follower, we actually take both roles in different contexts, times and circumstances. For example, a doctor at certain point in life becomes a patient; a sales person becomes customer, and any leader is as well a follower of another leader… A corporate CEO, let’s say, will let go his leader’s role in front of a doctor! Now, looking from this perspective, I invite you to explore on the kind of a follower you are, and would like to be… placing yourself within various contexts, times, and circumstances, where you are actually at the role of a leader, follower, or even a simple observer who has no particular influence. Your explorations will help you better know and understand yourself; find out the drives you struggle for; be aware of the risks you take; realize what you do and what you dare for…

 

Real leaders must be ready to sacrifice all for the freedom of their people.

– Nelson Mandela

 

Part of this exploration, serves to understand how much you are ready to dare, as a leader or a follower, for your own sake and others. Because great leaders are the ones who risk themselves for the sake of others… Their well-being, prosperity, freedom, rights, life, etc. Leaders must be willing to give up more than the people they lead; and even give up for the people they lead. Leaders at front, ahead of his/her people, do not only open the pathway for followers, but they risk and sacrifice themselves for their people, against a challenging or dire situation. Emotionally intelligent followers see this; and that awareness creates a higher level of loyalty in followers.

 

The way you treat yourself sets the standard for others.

– Sonya Friedman.

 

So, what’s in here to take? We need to accept that we are what our followers are. We follow each other because of our shared qualities. We associate ourselves and connect with each other through our common characteristics. We mirror, influence, and lead each other through those shared qualities. Despite the designated context that brings us together, we are connected and loyal to each other because of our common values, shared beliefs, and motivation. That’s what makes leaders and followers loyal to one another. For this particular reason, you ought to “treat others the same way you want them to treat you.” (Luke 6:31). Now, within this perspective, I invite you to be mindful of your own personal qualities, both as a leader and a follower; observe your style in leadership and followership; think of practicing more positive attitude and behavior –such as compassion, kindness, and empathy, towards yourself and others. This may bring you to a greater level of leadership –that is an outstanding leadership!

 

And, finally, emphasising that outstanding leadership (and followership) is through self-awareness and self-management, I’d like to conclude with the Chinese Taoist philosopher Lao Tzu’s wise words, “Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.”

 

 

 

Outstanding Leadership Through Positive Development Approach

Being a leader in today’s challenging world is quite a difficult role. It requires self-accountability, engagement, and will. It involves empowering others, rather than exercising power. Regardless of duty or work position, in essence, leaders have a responsibility and a sense of ownership derived from internal locus of control. Most leaders take a leadership role due to their job requirements, and ‘do the right thing’, rather than ‘doing things right!’ Meanwhile, some assume leadership beyond authority, by taking further initiatives beyond their task-role, due to their sense of responsibility, involvement, and care for deed doing. I would call them as ‘outstanding leaders’. Who may these outstanding leaders be? What differentiates them from others? How can you be one? Is it your skills, yours sources of power, motivation…? Perhaps your calling…

 

Not long ago, leadership research has tried to explain leadership by distinguishing leaders from managers; today further differentiation is made among leaders, highlighting outstanding leaders on the basis of humanistic and positive development approach. Long-years’ research and investigation sought to solve the dilemma of “leaders born or made”, to understand leaders’ power sources, and to identify the critical roles leaders played while influencing followers. In essence, it’s been concluded that, while managers, through their positional power, produce order and consistency –i.e. planning, organizing, staffing, controlling and problem solving; leaders, using both positional and personal power sources, produce change and movement –i.e. establishing vision and direction, aligning, inspiring and empowering people. Furthermore, leadership has been identified as a dispositional trait open for development, where some leaders are born, and with the adequate nurturing, all leaders can be made! Hence, with the humanistic approach, the scientific and technological developments, changes in the social and work life culture, and the growing demand for higher sense of responsibility, consideration of leadership and leader’s role shifted towards nurturing and development of human skills, resources and attitude.

 

Leadership is not defined by the exercise of power but by the capacity to increase the sense of power among those led. The most essential work of the leader is to create more leaders.

– Mary Parker Follet.

 

Today, leaders’ role is shifting from ‘leader-follower relationship’ towards ‘leader-follower empowerment’, which involves producing self-engaged and committed leaders out of own followers. Here lies the question “How?” How would you, as a leader, both meet the needs of the society and empower your followers –let’s say the subordinate, when are expected to deliver an outstanding leadership? This is a great challenge… Being a leader is already challenging enough! So, naturally, outstanding leadership may seem beyond your ability. The truth, it is not! It simply requires certain personal skills and characteristics, such as authenticity, social and emotional intelligence, self-engagement, mindful attitude, and passion, which you may nurture and embody all in one! These characteristics, in essence, are the foundation to your ‘Personal Power1’ that you use as source for your leadership. No such leader is born overnight, however through positive development approach, they are made!

 

So, let’s get back to ‘how.’ According to research2, leaders with high level of positive psychological capacities (hope, optimism, resilience, self-efficacy), and self-awareness and self-management skills, have greater ability to exert authentic leadership. Such leadership style involves genuine, transparent relationship and future oriented behavior, and enables positive motivational direction and empowerment –that is the critical elements for change making and leader creating. Perhaps among the most prominent example from field of practice is Google’s Search Inside Yourself Leadership3 (SIYL) program. Since 2007, Google has been cultivating social and emotional intelligence, in cooperation with mindfulness4 practices. Why? To achieve stellar work performance, outstanding leadership, and well-being at Google.

 

It all began through identifying the magical touch of emotional intelligence and mindfulness: that these skills make people better leaders, who create positive work climate, more emotionally expressive, genuine and more sociable, friendlier and more democratic, more cooperative, more likable, and ‘fun to be with’, more appreciative and trustful5; and that these practices cultivate mindful attitude, develop self-regulation and management skills, and foster internalized positive attitudes and behaviors, such as empathy, awareness, compassion, openness, curiosity, and acceptance without judgment6.

 

What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.

–Dr. Jane Goodall

 

That is not all! In fact, these interventions foster and flourish another important personal characteristics for outstanding leadership –self-engagement. Self-engaged leader has a very high sense of responsibility, commitment, and accountability over his/her work, such that own performance, as well as the outcome matters a great deal7. In a way, it brings forth the awareness of one’s calling; which involves the energy, power and motivation to making a difference; dedicating time and effort for meaningful and purposeful cause, finding ways to be able to do what he/she does, and feeling that what he/she does is the right thing to do! So, such interventions for positive development serve not only to the development of authenticity and outstanding leadership skills in current leaders, but also to the creation of new and more leaders.

 

The person who influences me most is not he who does great deeds but he who makes me feel I can do great deeds.

–Mary Parker Follet.

 

Follet8, long years ago, has expressed the vitality of leader’s role in transforming followers into leaders, and inspiring them to great leadership. Although it’s been precisely 100 years after her words, both academia and practice world still discuss leader’s influential role, and seek ways for establishing outstanding, empowered, and empowering leaders. I believe we have progressed immensely in the past century, through shifting from exercising power to increasing sense of power in followers; from employing positional power to enhancing personal power, and from authority as means of influence to using knowledge for mutual growth and development.

 

You might now be wondering about your place and state of being… Where are you, as a leader? You may be an influencer who brings out the leader in others. Or, you might be an influencer who has been created by an outstanding leader… Or, you are simply struggling to nurture your leadership skills, going along a lonely path, without the empowerment of a leader! No matter your position or field of authority, no doubt that you are an influencer at a leader’s role. How I know it? You have read these lines, all the way till the end! And I believe that once you take the ride of positive development approach, grow your awareness on your self-engagement level for what matters to you; cultivate your positive characteristics, such as empathy, mindful attitude, compassion, gratitude, together with positive psychological capacities, the outstanding leader deep within you will naturally surface, blossom and flourish.

Good luck and enjoy the ride!

 

How? By…

  • Being fully aware of your resources, skills, abilities, aspirations, values and causes that matter to you.
  • Identifying the meaning and purpose to your efforts, in making what you do.
  • Predicting the source of the energy, motivation and power to do what you do.
  • No matter what, doing the right thing, rather than doing things right.
  • Making a difference, for the benefit of yourself and all around you.
  • Empowering the sense of self-engagement and passion for what you do.
  • Cultivating positive psychological capacities, social and emotional intelligence skills, and positive developmental approach, through receiving support – such as training, coaching, mentoring, etc.
  • Instilling and nurturing all the above in others, so as to create new outstanding leaders.

1 French and Raven’s Five Forms of Power – Understanding where power comes from in the workplace.

2 Luthans, F. and Avolio, B.J. (2003) Authentic Leadership: A Positive Developmental Approach. In: Cameron, K.S., Dutton, J.E. and Quinn, R.E., Eds., Positive Organizational Scholarship, Barrett-Koehler, San Francisco, 241-261.

3 Tan, C. M. (2014). Search Inside Yourself, the unexpected path to achieving success, happiness (and world peace), HarperCollins, e-book.

4 Understanding Mindfulness, Dr. Shirli Ender Buyukbay, August 7, 2017

5 Bachman, W. (1988). Nice guys finish first: A SYMLOG analysis of U.S. Naval commands. In R.B. Polley, A. P. Hare, & P.J. Stone (eds.). The SYMLOG practitioner, 133-153. New York: Praeger.

6 Shapiro, D. (1992). A preliminary study of long term meditators: Goals, effects, religious orientation, cognitions. Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 24, pp. 23-39.

7 Britt, T.W., Dickinson, J. M., Greene-Shortridge, T. M. & McKibben, E. S. (2007). Self Engagement at work. In Positive Organizational Behavior Ch. 11, edited by Nelson, D.L. & Cooper, C. L., Sage Publication, London.

8 Mary Parker Follet, The New State (1918)

Mindfulness in Talent Management: Talent Management Focused Mindfulness? Or, Mindfulness Focused Talent Management?

On May 4th, 2018, I was invited to Istanbul Bilgi University, in Istanbul, for its 7th Annual Conference on the Latest Approaches & Trends in HR Management. This year it was on Mindfulness within the work context. So, I delivered a 35-minute speech/presentation on Mindfulness, within Talent Management scope, with the attempt to challenge Human Resource (HR) Management professionals with the question: How should mindfulness be grounded; within a “talent management focused mindfulness, or mindfulness focused talent management” perspective? After all, mindfulness has become the latest trend all over the world, where it is taken and implemented on its own; whereas for many it is concept that is related with other concepts, that may be implemented in combination with other interventions. In my presentation I shared the principles of mindfulness, its scientific background, its relation with talent management, and how human resources (HR) professionals may best implement mindfulness at their daily work life. Last but not the least, I slightly mentioned the study results of my Doctoral thesis, proposing a new employee well-being model –Employee Wholeness. The presentation is below. Enjoy…

 

 

Happiness Against All Odds…

[:en]One of my readers left a comment at my previous article –“There’s no Way to Happiness. Happiness is the Way!” Hereby quoting him: “Nice topic… that’s what we need to discuss these days. If the society we live in (small or big) is not happy, can an individual be happy? In todays world it looks like that whatever we do individually to feel happy, if we cannot stop or prevent major problems, issues which is affecting millions, how can we be happy?” In deed, how can we be happy, or even find happiness, while there are so much suffering around us? What about the guilt feeling bothering us at our merriest moments; and the sequence of numerous thoughts running in our mind, how life is unfair, unjust, and unequal…? Where is the balance? Is there a balance anyway? May there be happiness, despite all odds?

To find answers to these tricky questions, I would suggest facing our perspective to the nature; observe how it maintains its balance. That’s what Yuval Noah Harari, the author of the best sellers Sapiens and Homo Deus, does in his books; he takes the nature to ground our thoughts and reasoning; that is the nature of Homo Sapiens, the nature of all livings, and the universe we live in. To begin with, nature and all its living, in fact, has an impeccable balance within itself. Not a single deer questions the unjust relationship with a lion chasing its prey. Its mere aim is to feed itself in every possible way, and not get caught to the hunter lion! Neither the lion ever questions the unjust fact that its preys are so skillful in running off, where its mere aim is to feed itself in every possible way, and run faster than its preys! That’s the sheer balance in nature…

Further taking nature as example, where justice, fairness, nor equality exists, there is a sort of balance within imbalance; order within disorder; and an individualistic way of living within a holistic system. We, human beings, are part of a greater whole, while being and acting completely as individuals. Despite being part of the community, we lead an individualistic life. Did you know that among the factors affecting our happiness, only ten percent (10%) accounts to the environmental factors? So hard to believe, but true! According to social sciences, on the basis of Sonja Lyubomirsky’s study “The How of Happiness”, between 50% impact on happiness is our genes and the way we are hardwired –that is our nature; while the other 40% is our personal choices and decision for a positive outlook –that is our nurture. In other words, individual factors, compared to the external ones, have way greater impact on our positive existence. Quantum physics and mechanics, on the other hand, would assert consciousness as the facilitator to happiness.

Let’s have a closer look at the individual. We humans are part of a great cooperative network that live along a shared belief, the so-called imagined order. Harari, in the Sapiens, explains this shared myth, where we collectively cooperate, within an inter-subjective drive; such as money, democracy, law, gods, economy, banks, corporations, etc. (Sapiens, p. 132). Since the cognitive, and later agricultural revolution, Homo Sapiens (the wise ones) have created constructs of imaginary entities, where we cooperate in networks (human cooperative networks). Think of any corporate employee, citizen, bank account holder, believer, etc.; he/she is part of these entities, and actively cooperates through believing in the shared myth and its rules. These imaginary entities are unreal realities! Harari suggests how to distinguish the unreal imaginations from real ones. He proposes to look at those phenomena with the perspective of “real entity”, through pain; prompting the question “How do you know if an entity is real? Very simple, just ask yourself, ‘can it suffer’?” (Homo Deus, p. 206).

Imagine the following scenarios: The euro or stock exchange dramatically going down, does the euro or the economy feel pain? When legislations against human rights or freedom of speech pass in a parliament, does the democracy or law suffer? When a company goes bankrupt, does the company suffer? Or, when a country suffers from an economic crisis or defeat in war, does it really suffer? No! Neither suffers real pain! But when soldiers are wounded in battle, they really suffer; when a single mother has difficulty paying her mortgage within a fluctuating currency, she really suffers; when employees are laid off for bankruptcy, they really suffer; or when journalists are locked up in jail for defending human rights, they really suffer! Looking from this perspective, perhaps we ought to ask what really is that we suffer or feel pain from; which in a way blocks us from keeping a balanced, stable, and happy life. We ought to check if it is the external factors of the environment we live in, or it is our own personal internal resources that keep us away from happiness.

I’d like to emphasize and make it clear that by happiness, in exchange to pain and suffering, I do not refer to the Hedonic type of happiness, where the individual seeks for pleasure, and avoids pain or suffering. On the contrary, I refer to the Eudaimonic type of happiness, mentioned by the positive psychologists, where the individual seeks and finds meaning and purpose; creates an environment that he/she can authentically function; is ready for life challenges that will facilitate personal engagement and growth; and perhaps constructs the internal strength that will manifest as the actualization of the self. Going further, through the philosophy of Sufism and Rumi’s words –“we come spinning out of nothingness, scattering stars like dust”, becoming both everything, and nothing! By the way, spinning out of nothing is you… me… all of us!

I’d like to revisit the main essence of this article –happiness, against all odds, through the “observing consciousness” concept of quantum mechanics. According to the rules of quantum mechanics, our observations influence the universe at the most fundamental levels, asserting that the moon does not exist when we don’t look at it. This perspective sees us as the consciousness that observes… Observes what? The reality? The reality, as Deepak Chopra states, corresponding with Harari’s imagined order, is a human made-up construct. The only reality, that is fundamental reality, is our awareness of the moment. That’s the presence. Our experiences –such as happiness or pain, are based on the sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts (SIFT) we observe at the moment. Every moment entails a different observation, as both us as the observer, and the phenomenon we observe –that is the observed, changes from moment to moment. Hence, our experiences through SIFT change… So, our possibility to be happy or sad, enjoy or suffer, all depends on the momentary awareness of our observed reality.

This all may seem hopelessly abstract. It is not easy to grasp in one read, nor single practice. To ground it a little to daily life, as response to how we may maintain satisfactory level of happiness, against all odds, we need to,

(1) accept the fact that life is unjust, and equality does not exist;

(2) feel gratitude to what we possess and experience, rather feel guilt over what others suffer;

(3) internalize the “Mind the Positive” philosophy for attaining and maintaining happiness;

(4) share our positive outlook, perspective, and attitude, with those around us, deliberately letting the virus of positivity spread around, with small gestures of kindness; help; smile; thanks giving; forgiving; forgetting; etc.

(5) train our mind, body and soul for presence and awareness;

(6) expand our thoughts and understanding on our presence within the universe, where the universe itself is a human construct, that it doesn’t exist, but only exists through our experience in our consciousness;

(7) and finally, choose to construct our own reality, through observations and modified forms of experiences.

And last but not least, I’d strongly recommend viewing the 39-minute talk of Deepak Chopra, on the Human Universe, where he explains our reality as human made construct, us the observer within that reality, which is a total experience in our consciousness, providing his following statements:

  1. Everyday reality is a human construct.
  2. Fundamental reality is the awareness, the excitations of which, are the experience of observer and observed in the timeless moment of now.
  3. The fundamental experience of both observer and observed is sensation, images, feelings, and thoughts –SIFT.
  4. Systems of thought (human constructs) are many –religious, theological, philosophical, scientific, economic, political, mythological, etc.
  5. Therefore no construct has a privileged position over others.
  6. The construct is real for the being embedded in it.
  7. Excitation of awareness in the form of sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts constitute all experience.
  8. Excitations are in time; awareness is not in time.
  9. Birth, death, body, mind, brain, universe, God, stars, galaxies, Big bang, anything that has been given a name, by humans (itself a label) are constructs.
  10. Freedom is now in –Being! Without constructs! And it’s now!

[:]

There’s no Way to Happiness. Happiness is the Way!

[:en]Today is March 20, International Day of Happiness; the day United Nations attributed to celebrating and striving for happiness for all. Throughout history of mankind, despite great losses, tragedies, and sufferings, pursue for happiness has always remained. It is a state that we all seek to get to or be in. We perceive it as a destination we wish to arrive. We strive so hard and struggle so much along the path that we wear ourselves out; we suffer with the frustration of not having reached our point of arrival as we wished to. Imagine a small kid desires for a candy apple; failing to get it, feels as though having ended up with its stick! Failure in meeting our aspired expectation, sometimes, leads to even higher level of frustration and unhappiness. Huge inner conflict and dilemma! Despite that, we do not give up on our expectations, or striving to attain them.

In this piece of article, I aim at bringing diverse perspectives towards the “happiness” issue. I have no intention, whatsoever, to argue a “Pollyanna” style of optimism through a “no matter what happens, we should be happy” message. After all, what we want for ourselves, for our family, and for everyone around us is to be happy. So as the United Nations! This is why the UN, as of 2013, attributed a particular day to happiness, among other days to celebrate or honor –such as professions (teachers, dentists, doctors), social roles (such as mothers, fathers, women), or attitudes (zero discrimination -March 1st, compassion day -November 28th, gratitude day -September 21st).

Obviously, these days receive a distinctive attribution, for promoting awareness. From an optimistic perspective it is valuable to have a special day; however from the pessimistic side, it signifies that there is a serious lack! Still, a single day in a year for raising awareness on the importance of happiness in the lives of people around the world is far too little. We need to remember, seek, and strive, everyday, “to end poverty, reduce inequality, and protect our planet –three key aspects that lead to well-being and happiness” (UN’s Sustainable Development Goals – 2015). Nonetheless, it all starts first with us.

A complex phenomenon, to characterize and implement: Happiness.

So, what is happiness anyway? Is it something –even a “thing!” that we can define, describe, or characterize? The truth is that happiness is a complex concept, difficult to explain. UN has recognized happiness through the above three key aspects. Science and philosophy explains happiness in two distinct ways: Hedonic and Eudaimonic. Epicurus for example, defines happiness as having a good life, experiencing good events and pleasures. It involves pleasure seeking, and pain avoidance, where the goal of life is achieving maximum level of pleasure, satisfying appetite and self-interest. This is the Hedonic way, where happiness is viewed as subjective evaluation and concerns over one’s experiences from good and bad elements of life. Meanwhile, the Eudaimonic view explains happiness as achieving one’s potential, fulfillment of oneself through living in harmony with own self; or self-actualizing –the famous 5th level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Among the famous philosophers, Plato describes it as being moral and just, where one may find happiness by caring about others’ happiness. Aristotle describes it as finding the meaning and purpose of life. Socrates explains happiness with the wisdom of knowing oneself (self-awareness), where the more the person knows him/herself, the greater will have the ability to reason and make choices to bring happiness.

Let aside all science and philosophy, assuming that our truth and perception of reality is subjective; our own definition of happiness –based on our own experience, life circumstances, and aspirations, is the valid one! Lend your thought to the following questions… What is your view of happiness? If I asked you to think of happiness, which concepts or words would appear in your mind? Perhaps some shapes, figures, or images… Maybe colors or tones… It might be a place, moment, or event… Do they have any time zone? Perhaps in the past, present, or maybe future…

There is no way to happiness –happiness is the way.”  – Thich Nhat Hanh

 

There is one thing I am sure of, is that we signify our happiness more on things, events, and places based on past experiences or conditioned to future expectations. We have all uttered such phrases at some stage of our lives: I’ll be happy… when I get a (better) job; when I find a life partner”; when I recover back my health. The truth, there is no way to happiness; all we know that we may experience happiness while walking along the way. Conditioning our happiness on future experiences is a complete mystery. We do not even know whether the job, partner or new health conditions will make me feel happier, or not! Such conditioning involves hope (which is fabulous to have!), however it reminds me of the expectation of the candy apple and ending up with the stick! The question I ask myself in such moments is, “what is it that I feel happy about, now, despite my current employment or health condition?” In a way, it is transforming my future expectations into hope, and focusing on the resources the present moment offers.

Another way of happiness we commonly experience is through ruminating on or talking about past experiences with nostalgic state. It is like looking back and remembering a past moment of enjoyable talk with friends at a party, nice thrilling movie, fascinating sightseeing tour, or engaging activity at work; and saying, “ooh we had such great time!” with a soft smile in the face. Does that sound familiar? Isn’t it phenomenal?! We tend to experience more the sense of happiness when we recall of the time that we were feeling happy. What’s bothering me in this “phenomenal thing” is that while we live in the present, with the pursuit of happiness, we are less aware how we miss the joys of the momentary experiences; and only some time later, we recall and cherish the pleasant, fulfilling, and joyous experience.

We do so for a particular reason: despite physically being in the present time, our mind and subjective evaluation travels through past and future. In reality, we commute and literally re-live sorrows and regrets; and pre-live worries and hopes. What we need, as a matter of fact, is to stick to what there is now, at the present moment, where we actually are; and cherish and fully enjoy what present moment offers (To recall how you may enjoy the present moment, refer to my previous articles “Understanding Mindfulness”; “Attention to Attention”; and “Awareness First”). Keep in mind that, after all, we are the creators of our own life; we have impeccable skills that we may make ourselves miserable, or happy! So, besides commuting through time, there are other things we practice, intentionally or unintentionally, that eliminate us from having a fulfilling happy life. Below are a few among many of them that we commonly do. I now invite you to self-rate yourself on them… How much of them do you do? Read each bullet by addressing them with: “Do you…?”

  1. Have certain expectations; and after having reached them, before cherishing your success, you immediately build new ones.
  2. Set yourself immeasurably high target/s; failing to achieve, you judge yourself on being a “loser!”
  3. Extend or condition your level of satisfaction on your attainment of your set targets.
  4. Compare yourself with others’ success, targets, goal achievement, skills, etc., and not with your own self.
  5. Perceive life as a set of destination-points to get to, the sooner you get there the better it is!
  6. Believe that joy of life is hidden in the things that are at the external environment.
  7. Ask for more, target for higher, and seek for what others strive.
  8. Look at the mirror and ask yourself who you are; what you can, what you really want.
  9. Feel grateful for what you have, what you accumulated through time, and the experiences you posses.
  10. Praise and reward yourself for how much you have achieved, despite great challenges and failures; and pat your shoulder with a “Good job! I am great!”
  11. Give presents to people you care about, show acts of kindness, and make surprises to cheer them.
  12. Help people you do not know, as act of kindness and compassion.
  13. Say “I love you”, “I care about you” to people you care and love.
  14. Share your positive thoughts and words with people around, as giving feedback.
  15. Observe and recall three good things that happened everyday.
  16. Engage in physical activity, regularly.
  17. Have a hobby.
  18. Engage in voluntary work, social responsibility, or any field of social contribution where people would benefit from your expertise.
  19. Start the day with a positive attitude; SMILE J
  20. Find your passion (the meaning and purpose) that drives your strength to get up and do what you do everyday.
  21. Train your mind, attention and awareness to be at the present moment.
  22. Plan your life as if you’ll never die; dream and live as if you’ll die tomorrow.
  23. Lend an ear to people’s stories, feelings, and experiences.
  24. Have a bucket list! Each phase of your life, you realize one of its items.
  25. Accept yourself as you are, with all the highs and lows, successes and flaws, rights and wrongs.
  26. Learn new things, skills, places, languages, expressions, and ways.
  27. Always do your best; even if your best is not perfect, give yourself the credit that you did your best at the given circumstances.
  28. Act true to yourself, through being impeccable with the words you use for yourself and for others.
  29. Take each moment, event, situation, and acts of others independently, and most importantly impersonally; but as an opportunity for self-growth.
  30. Make sure that you are clear and as objective as possible with your feelings, thoughts and behavior; where you refrain from making assumptions.

If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” – John E. Lewis

 

Now please, go back and read again those bullets, and ask yourself which of these may help cultivate your well-being, contribute to your happiness, and facilitate you to have a more purposeful, meaningful, and flourishing life… There is no recipe. Every one of us has our own style, preferences, and strategies to attain and maintain our happiness and well-being. Those you find as most appropriate “dos” and “don’ts”, they are yours; practice them! Cherish them! Take action! Because those are your actions for happiness… As John E. Lewis said, “If not us, then who? If not now, then when?

 

[:]

Which Track Are You On, Acceptance Or Resistance?

In my previous article –“Accept or Perish!” I tried at my best to reflect on the power of acceptance. Though seems apprehensible and noteworthy, it is partly easier said than done! In fact, it is easier to “talk” about acceptance, whereas highly demanding to literally take the course of actions towards getting over with a situation. It is most frustrating when we live in between acceptance and resistance; while cognitively willing to accept, we subconsciously resist to what is challenging us. My mere intention is to open a window, for living an accountable and in charge life; where we may realize that “Not all storms come to disrupt our life, (but) some come to clear our path.” So, it is up to us whether we choose between two distinct tracks –the track of resistance or the track of acceptance, which each leads us to different directions. Once we decide on which to take, the rest is easy!

To begin with, let’s acknowledge ourselves with the fact that, every little thing that we newly experience or attempt doing, at first, is difficult! Naturally, with each try of ‘baby steps’, we accumulate new learning and experiences. The acquired knowledge leads to simpler practice, and finally, “practice makes perfect!” The task gets as easy as “piece of cake!” This is applicable for every little piece of task we have: a student’s math problem, a skilled employee’s novice working technique, or a conventional person’s shift in thoughts! Nonetheless, it is pivotal to understand the whats, whys, and hows, so as to choose… So, let’s see where those two tracks –resistance and acceptance, take us.

Please think of a situation that has been challenging you for some time; that you have either resolved it somehow, or it is still on hold waiting to get resolved. I call this a stimulus that demands your reaction or response. In other words, it is your attitude towards the challenging situation. Please recall your attitude. Which track have you taken, an automatic reaction of resisting or a conscious response of accepting? They are quite distinct from one another. Each leads to a totally different direction. To experience the difference, I invite you to a tiny exercise: If you are in a sitting position, get up and stand in front of a wall, keeping one-step distant. Lift your dominant arm –if you are right handed, then your right arm– and place your palm against the wall. Let your palm touch the wall, feel the cold and texture, and its stillness. Now give pressure onto the wall, pressing it with force. Pay attention to the sensations you feel in your palm, arm, and shoulder. Observe whatever there is when you press lightly; or a little more strongly; and perhaps forcefully… How does it feel; does the wall stand still, or does it feel as though it pushes back?

How can it push back? It’s just a wall, standing still!” you must be wondering. Please; pause for a moment and pay attention to the sensations on your palm, arm, and shoulder; and try to mindfully sense a slight feeling of push-back from the wall. The stronger you press, the more you’d feel its force; when you press lighter, it would feel less resisting back to you; and when letting it go (not pressing at all, but slightly touching), you would simply have no sense of pressure on your shoulder, arm, or palm. You have literally reciprocated a degree of force with a non-living standing wall! What does this all mean, especially in relation to our attitude in the face of a stimulus?

What happens when we adopt a resisting attitude? The stimulus that we are trying to stop, ignore, or push away resists and pushes back; with equal to higher degree of force. You may feel the sensations on your upper arm and shoulder when observing the wall’s resistance; even slightly more strongly compared to your resistance. After letting the pressure go, although the force is no longer present, the effect would still remain! This is because, we are less mindful of momentary sensations or events, therefore we feel the effect hours or even days after our reaction. What else occurs when we take the track of resistance? Through automatic reaction of judging, labeling, or categorizing as good-bad, right-wrong, etc., we get into the loop of negative emotions, where we choose to ignore the factual reality, and try to stop it from intervening our life. We may find ourselves making up stories that temporarily ease the situation, however distorting our perception of the reality. This path leads us to lose our ability of managing our resources –thought, emotions, observations, clarity, etc. In a sense, we shut down, and narrow down our functioning within a closed system, where minimum interaction occurs with the external environment.

Let’s find out what occurs when we take the track of acceptance… The whole process of functioning leads to an entirely opposite direction, where the individual adopts a conscious response. In this path, through observation, receptive open awareness, curiosity for exploration, and non-judgmental attitude, we free ourselves from the loop of negative emotions, guiding towards ‘neutral’ area, where we feel willing to deal with the situation, and have the power to take charge. We feel accountable of our actions and their consequences; because we take deliberate course of action and behavior, where we carefully observe and consciously manage our resources –thought, emotions, observations, clarity, etc. Here we build healthy relationships with others and ourselves –that is, broadening our functioning within an open system.

Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson explains this mechanism through the Broaden-and-Build theory. The theory claims that negative emotions or challenging situations may block and narrow the thought and action capacity of the person. This causes to quick and decisive moves, where these actions or ‘reactions’ may carry immediate benefit or loss. However, in state of positive emotions, or feeling of confidence, person’s thought and action processing is broadened. The thoughts and actions the mind generates are widened with more potential outcomes; the broadened state allows individuals to grow the capacity to generate more alternative thoughts and actions, and maintain more enduring psychological, physical, intellectual, and social resources. To summarize, while the track of resistance narrows and blocks our capacity of thought and action, the track of acceptance generates an infrastructure to broadening and building it. So, whatever present moment has for us, it is better to accept and then act, for a positive transformation and well-being.

Acceptance involves two major concepts: ‘let go’ and ‘let be’; that may also be associated with forgive and forget. Let’s imagine two scenarios. Scenario 1: You are driving in the rush hour. Despite checking the routes, you have deliberately taken the one with heavy traffic. Feeling frustrated of your wrong choice, you get angry with yourself and wish you hadn’t taken that last turn! Perhaps, swept away into the negative emotions with “if only I hadn’t taken that turn!!!” and judging or scolding yourself until you arrive your destination. What is it that you have done to deserve such self-treatment? You had chosen among many alternatives and went on with your choice! It’s unfortunate that your pick turned out to be a wrong one! It could have been the opposite. Meanwhile, this doesn’t change the fact that, once you have picked one choice, you let the other alternatives go. So, you had already let them go! Why now, is it so difficult to let the negative emotion of wrong decision-making go? Aren’t we, allowed to make mistakes, and to forgive ourselves? Who prevents us from doing that? It is us who will ban or allow ourselves from forgiving and accepting. Bottom line; acceptance is directly related with forgiving and letting go!

Scenario 2: You are again driving in the rush hour; have taken your usual route. Unfortunately, you are ‘stuck’ in traffic for more than an hour, at the exact same spot! Unable to move to any direction, you feel frustrated, overwhelmed, and want to break free. You have nothing to do, and need to wait until traffic clears. It is an undesired situation, where you seem in the wrong place at the wrong time; however not! Your presence there has nothing to do with any wrong decision or choice you have taken. It means that you have nothing (choice, decision, or action) to let go. You simply need to accept the fact that you are supposed to be there at that particular moment! Instead of struggling against it, why can’t you let it be? Eckhart Tolle says that we should be accepting what present moment contains, as if we had chosen it; always work with it, and not against; because there lays the opportunity of a miraculous transformation. So, just for once, have a pause and let the situation be! Surrender to what there is! This will allow all thoughts, ideas, and resources you may need come to you. So, if you cannot let it go -you certainly would if you could- then just let be!

I will now leave you with a practical tool to help you with the process of acceptance, against a stimulus. It is a simple 5-step process: pause, inhale, notice, articulate, and respond (PINAR).

  1. When faced with a challenging situation –the stimulus, simply give yourself a short moment of pause, put all thoughts, movement, or emotions on hold for a slight moment (P).
  2. This pause will give you an opportunity to back away one step from a potential drama. Once you are ‘out of the box’, take a few breaths, inhaling fresh air into your body and exhaling toxic thoughts, feelings, labels, judgments, conclusions, and even intentions (I).
  3. Once you let some toxic out, allow yourself to neutrally notice and observe what the present situation offers you. Allowing yourself to notice brings the awareness on what there is within yourself (emotions, bodily sensations, thoughts, expectations, intentions, attitude etc.) and within the situation. At this stage, all you need is to notice, observe, and take whatever comes (N).
  4. Now it is time to articulate your observations, reflecting on them through your questioning, reasoning, and target setting. As a result of your articulation, you formulate new insights towards deliberate actions. You are more aware of what your intention is, and you are more in control of the consequences of the move you are about to take (A).
  5. At this final step, instead of a reaction, you are ready to take your action within a conscious, auto-control, and responsive attitude. It is up to you whether you take the track of acceptance or resistance (R).

Remember, “practice makes perfect” is always possible through baby steps… The only reminder we need is to Pause! Once we are able to remember a slight momentary pause, at times of adversity, struggle, or challenge, the rest follows…

Enjoy each try; enjoy the learning; and enjoy life!

 [:]

Accept or Perish!…

There are times when we are so deeply consumed with our issues, we forget the little detail that the universe surrounding us is vast, and we are so very small. Reflecting on its vastness, compared to our tiny being, our lives –joys and sorrows, success and concerns, certainties and confusions, or solutions and conflicts, can all seem utterly insignificant. Within this cosmic perspective, what we experience may seem totally insignificant; however from an individual perspective, it is our reality that we cannot ignore. What a dilemma! In one hand is our insignificance in the face of the universe; on the other, there is the reality of our being. What can we do? Is there a balance? Is there a way where we can be significant despite our size in the universe? Yes, there is! Accept!

 

To accept whatever is, and whatever may be… That is, whether good or bad, big or small, pleasant or unpleasant, success or failure, accepting whatever there is in our reality. Acceptance gives us a moment of free breath and feeds us with new energy to move on. It creates an infrastructure to generating new alternatives; producing constructive choices; bringing healthy decision-making into the reality. Accepting, in essence, is stepping one step back from the reality, gaining clarity of vision and strategy, and stepping a few steps forward for firmer and more desired way of action taking. The counter attitude to acceptance is resistance, where we resist breathing, thinking, and trying to stop whatever there is.

 

You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”    – Jon Kabat-Zinn

 

In between these backward-forward steps, there are a few fundamental principles involved: intention, attitude and receptiveness. In previous articles, I have discussed how intention and attitude determine our course of life at any particular move or action (click for articles: How Would You Want to Lead Your Life? Accidentally or Intentionally… & Show Me Your Attitude, I’ll Show You The Way!); and how a receptive attention and awareness brings joy and marvels into our life (Attention to ‘Attention’). While intention guides us with the direction (goal/objective), attitude guides us within the process, and receptiveness brings us clear detailed vision. It is our choice whether to be judgmental, resistant, or accepting the reality at hand. We can either go on struggling with the waves/storms in our life, through resisting or ignoring their existence; or learn to find ways for survival by accepting the blunt fact of their presence! Thus, intention and a non-judgmental, receptive accepting attitude go hand in hand.

 

So what is acceptance? It is a concept derived from the word “accept” that has a much broader sense that it actually reveals. Etymologically it roots to the Latin word acceptare (accipere) that means “take something to oneself”, “take or receive willingly”, or “get or receive without effort.” Giving a little more thought, in a context where there is acceptance, there is naturally receptiveness! Hence, acceptance involves acts of receiving in return to giving; where in deep sense it as well involves many other related attitudes: forgive, forget, understand, empathize, embrace, let go, and let be!

 

Let’s think of the simplest example of acceptance. Imagine a beautiful gift that you receive. It is beyond your thought –in size, value, or fit. You are dazzled with delight! You love it! What would you do? Accept it with gratitude; say “Thank you!”; perhaps reciprocate with a kind gesture of sending flowers. Now I invite to think of a situation that a genuine friend complements you on how well you balance your work and personal life, that you create strong connections with people around you, and you maintain a positive outlook towards life. How would you respond? You would probably accept them all, with open heart! This time I invite you to consider your supervisor/manager at work, the teacher at school, the not-so-friendly neighbor next door, or the distant family relative giving you a “strong” feedback telling you that you do not balance your work and personal life well; you do not create strong connections with people around you, and you do not maintain a positive outlook towards life… What would your reaction be? Would you open heartedly accept them all; even ask for more?!

 

Your acceptance would probably not be as easy as in the first case. Why? Of course the feedback giver has a lot to do with your response. In general, within a deep authentic relationship, we have a more accepting attitude towards the feedback we receive. Nonetheless, does it really matter where it comes from; or the content –whether positive or negative? In fact it doesn’t, at all! There are many people who struggle with receiving positive or negative feedback; specifically on how good they look, how beautiful they are in a particular outfit, or how nice is their new style. Instead of simply saying a genuine “Thank you…” they try to find justifications to their positive look. It is mostly due to lack of self-awareness and self-acknowledgement. I know it, because I used to be one! Therefore, it is not about our response towards feedback, but it is our capacity in embracing ourselves as we are, accepting ourselves with our highs and lows, success and flaws, together with our insecurities and ultimately being whole. Brian Tracy says that the greatest gift we can give others is our unconditional love and acceptance; and I add that before expecting others giving us that gift, we can give it to ourselves: unconditionally accepting and loving ourselves!

 

Even though we are all equipped with the competence of unconditional love and acceptance, why is it that we cannot accept ourselves, others and things around us as they are? From the mindfulness perspective, where acceptance is directly related with attention, awareness, receptiveness, intention, and attitude, we have the tendency to label most stimuli as good or bad, with a judgmental attitude that resists whatever is coming. In fact we do so for the sake of protecting ourselves from the bad. Just like any double-sided sword, while we attempt to block ourselves from the negative, at the same degree we sterilize ourselves from the positive. Remember, everything comes in dualities, once we shut to one; we shut ourselves to the other! Simpler to say, labeling and having a deterministic conclusion, we eliminate the possibility towards a positive tendency. In other words, once we do not free ourselves from labeling in any way, we prevent our attention and awareness to be receptive enough to catch the stimuli that may help us generate potential alternatives, choices and marvels of what life has to offer. Literally, we shut our eyes, ears, and sensory skills to all the wonders of life.

 

On the other hand, when we are able to accept, we come to a point of surrendering, where we no more resist or struggle. At that very moment, because we are not resistant to whether good or bad, we become more receptive to the agents that we may make use of; we grow to be aware of their presence; we develop our mind to be aware of the potential they may bring in our life; and finally we are better able to set our course of actions towards our intention. So, while acceptance opens us new possibilities and ultimately chances for life; resistance and non-acceptance closes us doors, pathways, and ultimately takes us to the a dead-end route towards perishing. I am sure that knowing this simple fact may be valuable in choosing to accepting path rather than perishing!

 

P.S. This piece of article has attempted to touch and be a channel to understanding acceptance as a concept. Obviously, neither words nor articles are enough to deeply analyze its essence. It would take ages to thoroughly study and understand, perhaps through the Zen philosophy of the East –Mindfulness; the philosophical understanding of the Jewish traditions –Kabbalah (an ancient spiritual wisdom that seeks to understand and describe the divine living and being, guiding individuals and the world as a whole to improve); or through the mysticism within Islam –Sufism (seeks the Truth through experiencing the selflessness of the truth). Distinctively, Kabbalah, the word itself, etymologically means ‘receipt’ or ‘acceptance’, from the Hebrew root kabel (lekabel as verb). Against all backgrounds, it is obvious that all mystic philosophies seek for a better living and a healthier being of all kind. So as should we!

 

Do You Know What You Don’t Know?

Throughout the history of mankind, human beings –mostly philosophers have questioned the essence of knowledge, our thought systems, and how we process information. Perhaps, Socrates’ phrase “All I know I know nothing” is one of the best known philosophical quotes of all times. Socrates, in essence, emphasizes that one cannot know anything with absolute certainty, but can feel confident about certain things. However, within a philosophical perspective, it is open discussion, especially when analyzing how we know what we know. I will be discussing the Theory of Knowledge within the attention and awareness (mindfulness) perspective; attempting to explain how mindfulness may be related in the mechanisms of learning –that is, the transfer of information into knowledge.

Today, information and knowledge has become the most valuable asset. Despite its abstract form, it has more value than any tangible agent –such as land, machinery, etc. Looking back in history, during technological revolution era (20th century) it was the weapons, vehicles, and tools; in the industrial revolution era (19th century) it was the machinery; and in the medieval era (13th-18th century) it was the land that majorly seen as the most valuable asset for the power holders. Today, none of the tangible agents -land, machinery or technological vehicles, is as worth as the agents that involve information and knowledge. This argument justifies itself even more, when considering current leading companies –Uber, Airbnb, Facebook, Whatsapp, Google, etc., whose market worth rely on the basis of information and knowledge they manage. When looking into future, the power agent is transforming towards information, knowledge, management of “Big Data” and a collective knowledge. Soon, not later than 20 years, we will be sharing and “enjoying” our life with the artificial intelligent (AI), where robots will be replacing our jobs, and possession of information and knowledge will no longer be the valid asset.

I feel your sense of frustration and sense of helplessness from afar. We either shut our eyes to it, or accept the bitter truth of the reality. If you are interested in getting more into it, I recommend you Noah Yuval Harari’s latest talk at the World Economic Forum 2018, at the link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hL9uk4hKyg4. Nonetheless, with all the bitter truth, while the world has its own pace of development, my intention is to shed a light and share a bright-sight on what’s available for us, and what we can do in regards to information and knowledge.

Another weirdly bitter truth that made me utterly surprised to find is the “not so recent” developments in the field of Epistemology (Theory of Knowledge). Scientists –such as Jean Piaget, Joseph Jaworski, Ernst von Glaserfeld, Jere Confrey, have proposed that the knowledge we possess actually may not be absolutely correct, asserting that knowledge is subjective. They explain the theory of knowledge, as well as the mechanisms of learning within a Constructivist approach. This approach sees learners as active agents, who construct and internalize new knowledge based on their observation, interaction, and experience with objects, rather than passively receiving from the environment. It is how we transfer information to knowledge. Since this process is based on “experiential reality”, that differs from person to person, knowledge is regarded as subjective. So, according to the “new” understanding of knowledge and learning, what we know might not be absolutely true; whereby we better constantly revise our knowledge through seeking validation. But how?

The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know”                                                                                                   – Albert Einstein

Is there a way we can know what we don’t know? What does “I don’t know that I don’t know” mean? How can we be aware of our knowledge? Sounds like a trap: you do not know that you do not know! This trap-like state brings to mind Albert Einstein’s famous words –“The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” This, in fact, knowing what we know, as well as knowing what we don’t know, is only the open and clearly visible tip of a giant iceberg. Underneath lays a whole world of the unknown!

So, the key to bringing what’s in the unknown onto surface is attention and awareness. It is our awareness that keeps us at the clear open space, and our attention that assists us in the mechanism of processing information. In order to widen our awareness of knowledge, we need to pay attention to the pieces of information scattering around us. It is easier said than done! Because, while constantly bombarded with information –valuable or useless, we either give attention to, or ignore what’s approaching. Our attitude –attention or ignoring, changes over context, needs, interests, or even sometimes coincidence. We frequently find ourselves randomly come across various streams of information –such as a billboard, book cover, paper headline, social media post, web link, or a word of mouth, that have a triggering effect on our attention towards transforming a piece of information into knowledge.

The process goes through the four stages of learning, called conscious competence. James Atherton has explained this process using a self-awareness tool that is used for better understanding others and ourselves (Johari Window – Joe Luft and Harry Ingham, 1955). Atherton, modeled the Johari window for the “knowing and not knowing” issue, explains knowledge within the conscious competence framework (see figure below). Most learning (knowledge acquisition) takes place when we get to a conscious competence from a conscious incompetence level; or move from the “knowing that we don’t know” area (Blind) to “knowing that we know” area (Clear).

 

Now just think of a time you had a weird physical or emotional sensation bothering you: you were aware of it, however you did not know what the feeling exactly was; or could not name it. When giving enough attention and awareness, you could come to the stage of consciously identifying the feeling, and become to feel and know the sensation you were surrounded with.

The “knowing and not knowing issue”, within the four stages of competence

 

While the above example is an easy one, a more complex and challenging task is identifying a physical or emotional sensation that is there within, however you are neither aware nor know of its existence. This is hidden in the Unknown area. Imagine a stressful and tough day. You have gone through unpleasant experiences, and finally are at the end of the day, sitting “calmly” eating your dinner. All of a sudden you begin feeling stiffness on your shoulders and back, uneasy turning your head sideways. This sensation is most probably an outcome of the stressful day you had. By the time you had it, you most probably had experienced some sort of tension at your muscles, however you neither sensed it, nor knew of it. It was there all along, but hidden, at the unconscious incompetence level. The tension revealed itself with a much worse pain, unexpectedly, grabbing your attention. Starting from that moment, the pain (piece of information) has been a triggering agent to revive your awareness towards finding its source and remedy.

We may generate plenty more examples to refer to our unconscious incompetence level. For instance, have you ever done mountain climbing, or scuba diving; written a book in Chinese, or a movie script; maybe baked a wedding cake, or a royal meal? You have no idea whether you know how to do them, or if you have any interest at all. You might want to learn and do them. Interesting part is that, the idea itself might have not even occurred to you until you read the above lines.

This unknown unconscious incompetence area is as deep as the ocean. Millions of ideas, activities, or competencies are hidden deep in there. It all depends on a “random” stimulus to get your attention tangled towards an idea, realization, or point of attraction that would lead you towards the conscious incompetence. Once an idea, a piece of information, or a skill-set drop into the conscious incompetence area (Blind), it provides the opportunity of knowledge acquisition, that would widen the clear are. Of course, it is up to our choice and interest, to go forward in the observation, interaction, and experience process of constructing knowledge. At this point we may move on to the Clear area, or stay at the Blind. Such path of transfer is applicable for all sorts of skills and competence –manual, cognitive, and physical. For further read on “knowing what you know issue” click the link to Atherton’s article http://doceo.org.uk/tools/knowing.htm.

If you have read so far till the end, you deserve the truth about what “knowing what we know” issue is connected with today. Or why it is important to be aware of. Today, knowledge and managing information is the agent of power. To be strongly accountable in holding this power, one first needs to know him/herself, be attentive and aware of own skills and competences; and later be competent to know and manage others. Mindfulness –attention and awareness– practices are among the most powerful tools to bring what’s hidden in the unknown area, which may lead the individual to conscious competence through self-exploration.

Hence, in your next meditation session, I invite you to let the meditation process surface and reveal what there is hidden within the Unknown. Let yourself explore the unexpected stimulus to reveal itself, give your focused attention to it, as the Zen Philosophy says “sit on it” with awareness. This attention and awareness to a new piece of information will guide you towards clarity, to the Clear zone. Hence, you’ll be transferring that piece of information into knowledge through exploring, observing, interacting, and experiencing.

Enjoy it!

 

Show Me Your Attitude, I’ll Show You The Way!

Yin-Yang is a fascinating symbol in the Chinese philosophy, describing how the opposite forces –i.e. black-white, dark-light, hot-cold, good-bad, etc. are interconnected, complementary, and interdependent. They go hand-in-hand. In fact, their relation with one another intensifies and gives rise to each force. We may sense heat, through the presence of cold. We may perceive light, if only darkness is present. The darker it is, the stronger we are able to identify the light. The presence of these opposite forces, as in the yin-yang, is called dualities. We are surrounded within dualities, where an impeccable balance exists.

Despite the marvelous balance in life, we tend to lose, or simply are unaware of its presence. Have you wondered why? First, we better clarify what balance is. Semantically balance is; (1) an even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady; or (2) a situation in which different elements are equal or in the correct proportion. Our sense of balance or imbalance is very much linked to our capacity in managing our internal resources –such as self-awareness, self-confidence, self-regulation, autonomy, authenticity, hope, resilience, (self) compassion, gratitude, etc. In cases where we fail equal or proportionate allocation of energy, time, weight, attention, or significance to elements around us, we gradually lose our strength in managing these resources that actually are vital for our optimum functioning and well-being.

What makes us maintain or lose our balance? Think of each event we encounter or experience, people we converse with, or a feeling or thought we have. What do we do? We automatically evaluate and conclude with a judgment. We evaluate and judge all that is around us. We have a particular attitude towards the phenomena in our life –mostly positive or negative, and sometimes neutral.

Let’s clear this with a simple example: think of a thermometer that says it is +13 Celsius. Relatively, based on our experiences and contextual environment, we tend to come up with a positive or negative judgment. Through a process of evaluation we judgmentally conclude that it is hot or cold, good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant. However it doesn’t change the objective fact that it is +13 Celsius. Nevertheless, in more complex and emotionally charging situations –such as when involved in conflict of thought or a disagreement with someone or with own self, we may find ourselves fiercely reacting, or peacefully responding. The more emotionally triggered we are, the less we get to have a positive or neutral attitude.

So what is attitude? Semantically, it is a ‘settled way of thinking or feeling about something.’ Colloquially, it is how we respond –or at the verge of responding with feeling, thought, or behavior, to a phenomenon. We may create balance through adopting a particular way of attitude towards what we encounter in life -negative or positive; good or bad; beneficial or threatening; or neutral. The more we have negative attitude, the greater we grow to be off-balance. In fact, by nature, we are genetically hardwired towards a negative tendency –the so-called negativity bias. Our mind is highly skillful in spotting the negative –as threats, dangers, etc. to keep us safe, as well as prepare us for fight or flight. Despite our natural inclination, we have the ability to regulate and adopt a particular desired attitude, even at emotionally challenging situations.

So here comes the golden question: what sort of attitude are we to adopt, so as to maintain an impeccable balance in our life?

From a mindfulness perspective, Jon Kabat-Zinn emphasizes the importance of a non-judgmental attitude in a purposeful attention to the present moment experiences. Interestingly, during the process of a focused attention practice, we explore a lot of things -that we like, or do not like. We judge ourselves with a negative attitude, realizing that our attention has drifted away to thoughts. Similarly, we tend to praise ourselves for doing so well in the practice; nonetheless our attention has already drifted away –into a positive judgment! Either way, our mind and attention wanders, and it will always drift away into thoughts or stories. Neither positive nor negative judgment, but a neutral attitude facilitates our practice; through realizing that the mind goes off and we’ll bring it back. Just as in the +13 degrees Celsius example, our attitude towards the mind wandering, need to be an objective (neutral) one. Once we are able to adopt such attitude towards new explorations, new experiences, and new feelings, we may become more skillful in minding the positive.

 

Show me your attitude, I`ll show you the way!

So, our optimum functioning and well-being rely on our ability of regulating our behavior. And our actions and behaviors have direct link with our intention and attitude. In my previous article (How would you want to lead your life? Accidentally or Intentionally?), I tried my best to explain how our intention is the antecedent of our outcomes –or end result. It is manifested with our actions or behaviors. Likewise, our attitude defines the characteristics of our behaviors, determining the path towards our desired outcome.

If these concepts displayed on a linear path, it would start with intention, following attitude, then action or behavior, which all lead to outcome. [Intention -> Attitude -> Action/Behavior -> Outcome.] So, while our intention to reach an outcome has deterministic effect on our actions and end result, our attitude –linked to our behavior, has crucial impact on the quality of the end result.

A long story short, now that we know we are able to develop our skills in regulating our attitude, why shouldn’t we!!! This way we can facilitate our course of life, through adopting a desired attitude along the process of setting our intention and behavior towards our goals. We are built in with the ability to manage our perception and ourselves over what is happening around us. It is not what happens, but how we react to it that counts! So, meanwhile our mind keeps spotting the negatives –errors, failure, flaws, threats, etc., we are able to consciously choose to take a neutral attitude, by simply taking the phenomenon objectively and as it is. Such attitude is vital, as long as we do not let the mind entirely do its job, but take charge. This way we may create a great impeccable balance –opposed to a huge imbalance; where all phenomena will seem more pleasant, rather than depressing.

Let’s conclude with a practice –as practice makes perfect! In your next meditation practice, I invite you to particularly observe your attitude. At each inhale and exhale, focusing on your breath, observe your attitude and how it reacts/responds when your mind drifts away to thoughts, feelings, or stories. Ask yourself whether you are taking it compassionately (positively), or judgmentally (negatively); or may be just (neutrally) accepting the fact that it has wandered off, again! With each exploration (positive-negative-neutral), guide and train your mind in adopting a gentle, compassionate and if possible neutral attitude towards its acts.

How Would You Want to Lead Your Life? Accidentally or Intentionally…

“To be or not to be! That is the question!” These are Hamlet’s famous words, in his overthinking between the two extremes –life and death. He essentially questions the very purpose of his existence, seeking the meaning in living. Shakespeare, genius of all times, may have not been aware that Hamlet’s quotes would be valid for all times. However, it seems that it is so! Don’t we all find ourselves, every now and then, questioning the meaning of our existence, and often wonder our life purpose. In my perspective, what happens between birth and death is the essence of life, so we better make the best of it. And our very existence lies on our intentions: the intention to live, to explore, to learn, to enjoy, and to make the best of it!

“Our intention creates our reality.”  – Wayne Dyer

You might be wondering how… Before getting to that, first we better clarify what intention entails. Intention is directly linked with a purposeful life, as Carol Ryff explains, that involves clear comprehension of own goals and sense of direction. According to Jon Kabat-Zinn it represents the act of engaging and responding with a purpose. We give direction to our life, set goals, and choose what to happen and experience through our intentional acts. Every choice we make –or do not, involves some sort of intention that determines the course of life. It is the seed that creates the future.

Think of the last meeting you had at work; or the last conversation you made with someone. How did it go; or what did you start with? Do you think you had a total random course of direction and result, or you had a purposeful set of ideas and actions towards a desired outcome? Most probably it was purposeful –intentional, rather than –accidental! It is the intention with which we sit at a meeting or engage in a conversation, that determines the desired outcome. As Gary Zukav states, we continually perform, consciously or unconsciously “fundamental creative acts” that are relied on choice of intention, and create consequences, which the chooser takes on responsibility.

Intention is the seed, action is the plant, and outcome is the flower!

In concrete cases, such as business plans, we are more clearly aware about our intentions, both in terms of setting them and putting them into action. However, in cases where emotional aspects are involved –such as an unresolved conflict within ourselves or with someone we care for, we are less aware of our intentions. Unconsciously skipping the intention-action steps, we may find ourselves ending up with the outcome, unaware how we got there! At that point, if we are happy with the result, we get to be lucky; but if unhappy, we try altering the outcome.

So what do we do? Are we to live by on automatic, letting our path be determined by randomly chosen attitudes and behaviors? Or are we to take the lead and choose for ourselves; draw the paths we wish to walk through; and form the desired attitude and behavior, which will turn into action and later on to outcomes? If your pick is for the first one, no need for any action taking; keep on living as you do! However, if you prefer the latter, then read on!

“Every intention sets energy in motion, whether you are conscious of it, or not!” – Gary Zukav

Scholars such as Jon Kabat-Zinn, Shauna Shapiro, Ellen Langer, Denise Reid, etc. emphasize the importance of intention within the mindfulness field of study. They commonly propose that a mindful state of being involves a purposeful attention on what is available at the present moment. Though differently defining, they highlight intention as inseparable component: “paying attention on purpose” (Reid, 2011), “active attention to intention and awareness…” (Langer & Moldoveanu, 2000), and “attention in a particular way, on purpose…” (Kabat-Zinn, 1994). Scientific research in mindfulness show that, the act of “paying attention on purpose, in the present moment in a non-judgmental way” (Kabat-Zinn, 1994) leads to a peaceful, balanced, and relaxed state of mind; and physical, psychological and emotional health and well-being.

In colloquial terms, intention –as a vital component of mindfulness, is important for our health and well living. For a mindful state of being –or in practicing mindfulness, the activity of paying attention is suggested to involve a purpose, a goal, or a determined direction, rather than random one. Think of a short practice of mindfulness… Focusing on the breath… The action would be paying attention on the breath… The intention would be keeping the attention on the breath… Each time our mind in thoughts, ideas, or feelings drift away from the breath, we would simply be taking our attention back to the breath… While the mind would have its own agenda –as drift away to other thoughts or time and place, our job –through our self-determined intention, will be to bring it back!

Paying attention to the breath, with the intention to keep it there, is among many practices of mindfulness. In what do they serve us? They allow us to be aware of our intention. They open our sight to clearly notice our energy in motion; help us to consciously make our choices, and assume the responsibility; and finally enable us to be less surprised and more pleased with the result!

Here is a practice sample. Very simple… Sit in a comfortable seat, spine and back straight, keep your eyes closed –or half open (to avoid any stimuli taking your attention away!); let your shoulders, arms, and hands loose; and take a deep breath… Let it go… Take one more deep breath, and let it go again… Take one last breath; this time let it go slowly! Your breath is what is with you at all times, in the here and now. Use it as the anchor to the present moment. While breathing in and out, focus your attention on your breath… At each inhale, observe your chest rising; and at each exhale observe it going down… Notice the cool air you breathe in through your nostrils, and the likely warmth of the air you breathe out… When you notice that your mind has gone wandering, notice that it has wandered. Since the intention during this practice is to keep the attention on the breath, gently bring it back to your breath.

You may use a timer, programed to five minutes, and gradually increase by a minute, every two-three days. Enjoy the practice!