Monday, February 17, 2014

Get the picture?

Quick - Woman business leader - what image comes to mind?  If you follow popular media the picture you probably have is of a woman in a tailored suit carrying a briefcase in one hand and possibly a baby in the other.  Get ready to get real, because as Sheryl Sandberg says, “you can’t be what you can’t see,”.   

According to a recent New York Times article Sandberg’s nonprofit is partnering with Getty Images to provide images that show the true multiplicity and variations of women (and men) at work and home breaking down the stereotypes we've become accustomed to but which are no longer (if they ever were) reflective of reality.

There’s plenty wrong with media and the way it distorts and distracts us from what’s important, but there’s no denying the power of media to open up a portal in our minds to a place where something brand new becomes possible, then acceptable, and at some point very normal.   I don’t think it is coincidental that there were black presidents portrayed in movies long before Obama was elected and that several hit programs featured likable gay characters as we watched the national support for gay rights soar.
I love the idea of seeing more real images of powerful women and nurturing men included in our daily mashup of images.  

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Leadership Lessons - Letters to my Teenage Son: A Valentine

I love you!  And please remember…

1.  I will always be behind you.
2.  I am not as dumb as you think I am.
3.  My name isn't Rover.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Vacation Space

It was not just my inbox that was over-crowded - every facet of my life seemed to be bursting at the seams, including my heart and my head.  The tools that should help me control my life  were instead controlling me.  And then I went on vacation.  I did check email every couple of days but I only answered one time-sensitive critical message. The rest were simply sorted into 4 categories - Urgent (to be dealt with Day One upon my return), Important (by the end of Week One upon my return),  It Can Wait (and still is), and Junk which I immediately dispatched to the trash with delight.  But that was it.  The only other apps I used were Harbor Master (don’t judge), Kindle (still blows my mind how much easier it is to pack when you don’t need space for reading material!!!), and an atlas app to help me understand where in the world we were (it actually holds promise for remediating my embarrassing deficit in geographical grounding).
I came home a changed woman.  The buzz that was the accumulative ricochet of millions of often useless but ambitious data bits screaming for my attention had died from neglect.  To wake up with the only decision being where to ski and who gets to choose a dinner spot is bliss.  A space opens up where everything slows down and  you can actually pay attention to one thing, one person, one strand of thought for more than a minute.  It’s a blessing and a cure.  Now the trick is to see how long I can hold on to this peace.   No illusions.  I’m 5 days back and I’ve already been pulled into the deep end of overload, but I’m aware of both the falling, and the coming back to center.  I’m aware of both the need to retreat and the way to do it.  See it, distance it, let go and breathe.  
One of the first things I did when I returned was to sign up for a mindful leadership retreat.  If there’s one thing I need for myself that will also do the most to benefit my work, my family, and my friends is to hold onto this space, for the clarity it provides feels like intelligence, the calmness like joy.
Alba di Canazei -Photo by Steve Silk

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Happy Tetris

When I spend the weekend working on a portrait I find it impossible to sit politely with anyone for days after  without analyzing their facial bone structure and how I would translate that onto canvas.   “Hello?” my patient husband asks when he catches me just staring at him across the dining room table rather than answering a question.   After reading Shawn Achor’s book “The Happiness Advantage”  I realized this is the Tetris Effect, and I plan to put it to use in my life, my business, and my relationships.   
He explains that when we play video games for long stretches our brains habituate.  He describes a study wherein students were asked to play Tetris for several hours three days in a row after which they found they couldn’t turn it off.   The students describe seeing Tetris blocks falling and fitting into the landscape around them be it buildings on the horizon or cereal boxes on the grocery shelves.   Think about what that means to those of us who tend to focus on the negative - the bad, the sad, or the people who irritate the snot out of us.  Achok talks about the problem that professionals face when they are trained to find problems (lawyers, accountants, IT network troubleshooters…):  If all day every day you’re looking for problems you’re playing Problem Tetris.  And not only is it less fun than Happy Tetris, it reduces your creativity, raises your blood pressure, and comes home with you - oh joy - Mom’s home with another suggestion for how to improve domestic efficiency!  
The good news is you can retrain your brain.  Achok reminds us that our brains have very sophisticated spam filters to protect us from having to absorb the bazillions of data bits coming at us every day.  So we can (with focus) take charge of what get’s our attention and what gets filtered out.  And when we train our brain to focus on the positive, screening out the unnecessary crap we benefit in three important ways:   Happiness, Gratitude, and Optimism.  And if having more happiness, gratitude and optimism in your life isn’t reason enough, studies demonstrate that these emotions lead to greater material success as well.  
A simple method for retraining your brain is to make a daily list of the good things that happened at work and at home.    By writing down just three positive things you’re forcing (retraining) your brain to scan for the positive.   Or rather than journaling about the problems you’re facing spend 20 minutes writing about a positive experience.   Studies show that not only do changes in your happiness quotient appear quickly, they last.  Count me in! 
The Happiness Advantage explores six other principles of positive psychology and how it applies to home and work.   Read it and smile :>)