Every now and then I run a little social experiment. When I’m walking down the street, I make a point to smile at everyone I walk past. Now, I don’t mean I get in anyone’s face or do anything particularly weird or unusual, just a casual smile and meeting of eyes as you walk on by.
What I love about this is that pretty much everyone responds. Instantly. With a smile.
If they don’t, well, it means they’re in a seriously bad mood or trying very hard not to reciprocate.
This is because smiling is an automatic response and one that occurs so rapidly in the brain, that the mechanism is activated before we realise. It’s a simple and very beautiful thing, this natural human reflex to respond to a smile with a smile.
Unfortunately, when we’re under a lot of stress or we’re having a bad day, the last thing we really want to do is break into a big broad beaming smile. It’s a little like looking back on those family gatherings where someone decides to take a whole group shot and you have to say “cheese” for the camera. By the time the shot gets taken, those broad grins somehow slip into surly grimaces.
Yet we know from the research, that a smile, along with a little humour, offers us one of the fastest ways to re-set, re-balance and re-establish equilibrium through the course of the day.
The good news too is that the smile doesn’t actually have to be real! So the grimace you make as you glare at the camera can actually work. As long as the corners of your mouth are lifted, this physical movement of the facial muscles is enough to pour a wonderful chemical cocktail that cascades through the brain and body to give yourself a little lift.
So next time you’re feeling under the pump, stressed out of your mind, or just plain grumpy, take just one second to stop and life the corners of your mouth.
So here’s to saying “Cheese”!
I’m one of six kids. In the pecking order, I’m number four. Technically I’m a middle child. Yet, not only am I sandwiched between four brothers, I even had to share the middle position with one of them!
Growing up was chaotic to say the least and those who shouted loudest or fought the hardest usually won. The prize…well, the first piece of pizza, the most chips, the front seat of the car…the usual stuff kids bicker and banter about.
In this environment, what I learnt was to speak up and speak out. To stand up for myself. To argue my point of view or justify my position. Holding my own against four brothers was no mean feat and I regularly joke that I had the princess well and truly knocked out of me by the time I stepped into the big bad world.
And I got very good at holding my own, asserting my view and articulating my arguments.
In an environment where there were so many of us, vying for whatever we needed in that moment – be that airtime, attention, treats or sweets – what we focused on was being heard, arguing, forcing our point of view and talking over the top of each other.
What I was absolutely woeful at, however, was listening. We all were. In such a noisy space, there was never a pause or a moment of silence. Just lots and lots of noise.
This realisation dawned on me when I was about twenty. I was participating in a tutorial at university. I was so caught up formulating what I wanted to say, that I completely missed what was actually being said by someone else in the class. I wasn’t listening at all.
And this is a dangerous inner world to indulge because it very quickly degenerates into a one-sided conversation – with myself! Not only was I formulating a very one-sided, and potentially very limited, view of the world, I was cutting my nose to spite my face. Without having fully heard and understood what the other person shared, how could I effectively participate in a full and dynamic conversation? What value would my response have, if it did not fully appreciate, encapsulate, and respond to the other persons ideas or point of view?
This was a vividly formative moment in my life. It was the moment that I first recognised that I was an absolutely terrible listener. Second, it was the moment I decided that I was going to learn to listen.
Ever since then, I have put in a concerted effort to really listen. To be fully present and give the person my full and undivided attention. To try to receive whatever it is that they share without judgment and without being busy inside my head formulating what I want to say in response.
It’s been challenging, because if you’re used to talking, being quiet isn’t such a comfortable place. Moreover, just because I wanted to become a better listener, didn’t mean I was good at it or always got it right. And I still need to put in a concerted effort to listen.
When I met my partner, I showed him the DISC model of Behaviour Styles and we shared some insights from a simple assessment. He ticked an item that went something like “I like to listen”. He was shocked and surprised to see that I had not ticked the same item. I had to explain, that while I really do like to listen to people, the way I’m built and the way I was raised, does not naturally predispose me to listen first and speak after. Rather I’m more inclined to shoot from the hip and just keep talking.
What emerges here is the classic difference between introverts and extroverts. Individuals with extroverted tendencies show an inclination to talk through, or verbalise, their thinking. Those with introverted traits on the other hand, may prefer to fully think things through before sharing their ideas or opinions.
These different modes of thinking and working create the fast chatter that comes from one side, often with people talking over one another, and the silence of the pause on the other side. Those who prefer to talk, find that silent pause excruciatingly uncomfortable and can’t help but fill the space with, well yes, more chatter.
Those inclined to introversion tend to be more naturally reflective. They fundamentally like to listen first, to observe and absorb what it being said or shared around them. Then they like to sit with that for a moment while they process and formulate their thinking. When they do finally decide to speak, they tend only to speak up if they truly believe what they have to say has legs and is worthwhile sharing.
These are admirable qualities that form the backbone of great listening. And the people I have observed most closely through the course of my career, and sought to emulate, are the more introverted individuals who do exactly this.
I find the dynamics of introversion and extroversion fascinating and fundamentally believe that we have tipped the scales in our working world too far towards the extroverted scale – valuing primarily those who speak first, dominate the conversation, or assert their views most powerfully and forcefully. This leaves little or no space for the more measured thinkers and listeners in the room. It also means, if we indulge, and ultimately reward, these behaviours too much, we may be missing some of the best ideas in the room, ending up with a very one-side and potentially limited, view of the world.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic!
The M.A.D. Team.
Happy International Day of Friendship!
Try this recorded exercise for more details on how to master this breathing technique.
Let us know how you go. And of course, we’d love to hear what you do to stress down too, so do share your ideas.
With gratitude, from all of us at M.A.D. Mindworks.
Why not try this simple practice? We’d love to hear how you go. Use this simple breathing to start with https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rS5RvOyk2E&feature=youtu.be
My daughter was terribly excited about making me breakfast in bed on Mother’s Day. It was all her idea and she was very decided about it. When the day finally came I let her loose in the kitchen under the supervision of my partner.
With an enormous smile of pride on her face she served me two types of cheese with corn on toast.
Perhaps it’s the makings of a new craze in breakfast. It might even dethrone the famed avocado and feta smash. Or not.
It doesn’t really matter. What mattered was she made a genuine effort to show me that she loved and appreciated me.
Science shows that feelings like gratitude and appreciation set off a cascade of feel-good neurotransmitters in our brain. It feels good to do good. It also feels good to tell others that what they did made you feel good. And it feels good to hear that what you did made someone feel good.
It’s an all-round win:win really. Whether you’re showing appreciation or feeling appreciated.
The problem is that sometimes we don’t always, or easily, recognise when someone is trying to show us they appreciate us. That’s because we all have different ways of showing we care – be that words, gestures, actions, gifts, quality time etc (Gary Chapman, 1995). And if the way we show appreciation doesn’t line up with the other person, things can easily go awry.
What might start out as a genuine effort to do good or be kind could be completely misconstrued.
If I was judging breakfast in terms of the avocado-and-feta-smash-trend, then my daughters innovative and novel take on breakfast might seem completely outlandish and something café society isn’t quite ready for. But looking at breakfast as the results of some incredibly creative thinking on the part of a little girl working with a poorly stocked fridge and her sheer determination to make mum breakfast in bed – well, this leads one to an entirely different conclusion.
What’s useful here is stepping outside of our own world view when it comes to what we define as “good” and simply stepping back to observe the intention behind someone’s words and actions.
Then recognise and value that for what it is.
If we all did this just a little more often at work, we might even have better working relationships with those around us.
Think about someone you work with.
What opportunity do you have to tell or show them you really appreciate them?
For more information refer to:
The Neuroscience of Gratitude
Giving Thanks can make you feel happier
The Five Languages of Love, Gary Chapman 1995
Everyone has different things they do to help switch from work mode and wind down. My partner gave me this 6000-piece puzzle for my birthday last year and I absolutely love it! I often find myself sitting in the evening sorting pieces, matching colours and slowing working on one part or another. It sounds a little strange, but it really grounds me and the sense of satisfaction I get when I place a piece is positively extraordinary. My partner and I can spend hours working on it together too. I know, I know, some people head off to swanky restaurants to hang out, but we prefer the quieter time the puzzle affords us together. Quietly working away until one or the other fits a piece, then we share this lovely moment of excitement as we acknowledge we now have “one piece less to go!” The awesome thing about doing something like this is that it helps you switch on your right brain, the side of the brain responsible for seeing the whole picture, for immediate sensory experience and creative problem solving. And you can feel it too, as you start to completely immerse and absorb yourself in the exercise and “see” how things fit together.
What do you do to switch mindset or relax on your own or with your loved ones? We’d love to hear your ideas and suggestions.
Many of us sit slumped in chairs for long periods of time. This gradually starts to weaken the core. When this happens, we also lose essential support to help the spine stay upright and in a healthy position.
This video demonstrates a simple technique you can engage periodically through the day to re-build your core strength and start to support your spine again.
We teach loads of simple practical techniques like this as part of our Wellbeing & Mindfulness Sessions. If you’re interested to know more, we’d love to hear from you.
Where are we:
We service clients across Australia, New Zealand and the APAC Region with a network of world-class facilitators who bring M.A.D. Programs to you wherever you are.
Our head-office is based in Sydney CBD on the North Shore.
+61 402 444 240