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Category: Positive Psychology

Struggling with generativity?

The brilliance of psychologists

The best skill that you will learn as a student of psychology is to “operationalise” fuzzy ideas.  In plain language, we beceome brilliant at writing questionnaires.  What is an extravert? Someone likes going to parties. And so on.

Warmth is less valued

The skill that you will not learn as a student of psychology is to “encourage” or “enthuse” others.  You might have thought when you started your studies that that is what psychologists do. Sadly, warmth and connection will be beaten out of you as sin of “measurement error”.

And what of generativity?

So you may be really struggling with the idea of “generativity”.  At least know that you are in good company.  We all have to relearn what is means to help others see possibility and goodness, connection and meaning, in their lives.

Generativity step-by-step

To help you understand the meaning of generativity, as it plays out in our lives, here is a letter that seems to have entered the web via Harvard.

And as a good psychologist, note the elements:

  • The impact of chance on our lives
  • The effect of cutting away on defining who we are
  • The constant effort to broaden-and-build, nonetheless
  • The richness of connection to others to whom we are loyal and dreams we hold sufficiently dear to work at night and day
  • The vulnerability to the disloyalty and treachery of others whom we love and causes to which we have devoted the best years of our lives

And then poetically

And then read the whole.  The poetic quality of language is important.  I was never particularly poetic.  Sadly learning to operationalise didn’t particularly help.

Read the original and then take that step of thinking generatively about your lives and the lives of those you touch.


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. . .unless it comes out of your soul like a rocket. . .

Dear Benedict XVI: I want to be free, and ride my bike into the sunset! by Ed Yourdon via FlickrDavid Whyte

The antidote to exhaustion is wholeheartedness.

These are the words of contemporary poet, David Whyte, quoting his associate, Benedictine monk, Brother David.

Whatever you plan is to small for you live.

Charles Bukowski

Says the same but in his inimitable harsher style.

So You Want To Be A Writer

if it doesn’t come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don’t do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it for money or
don’t do it.
if you’re doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don’t do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don’t do it.
if it’s hard work just thinking about doing it,
don’t do it.
if you’re trying to write like somebody
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you’re not ready.

don’t be like so many writers,
don’t be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don’t be dull and boring and
pretentious, don’t be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don’t add to that.
don’t do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don’t do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don’t do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.

Trust what you will do wholeheartedly?

Do you have the patience to do what you can be bothered to do wholeheartedly?

I don’t always but I am glad when I do.

Think you are bound hand-and-foot to task you have to do, should do, and nevertheless hate doing?

Try this exercise. Nightly, add to your gratitude diary a line on

Style. The style you wrote to your life today.

Simplicity. An activity you conducted with aplomb and elegance (or more than you do usually).

Story.  Re-write the story of your day in a few lines with you in charge being the person you want to be (I designed this for employees turned entrepreneurs – put your employee story aside and write as an entrepreneur and business owner.)

Simultaneity. Note when you panicked about living wholeheartedly and ask why you cannot make your choice and act your choice at exactly the same time (the way an owner must make a business decision and take the fame or blame or whatever).

Is this impatience?  Hmm.  I don’t thinks so.  It’s just stopping our storyline wandering off into impatience.  And we begin to trust the world a little more.

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I don’t believe in charity – I believe in solidarity

Rock Shoes (Good Shoes) by Tatjana Ruegsegger via Flickr

Timely advice as we advance into the eye of the financial crisis

“Fleas dream of buying themselves a dog, and nobodies dream of escaping poverty: that, one magical day, good luck will suddenly rain down on them – will rain down in buckets.

But good luck doesn’t rain down, yesterday, today, tomorrow or ever.

Good luck doesn’t even fall in a fine drizzle, no matter how hard the nobodies summon it, even if their left hand is tickling, or if they begin the new day on their right foot, or start the new year with a change of brooms.

The nobodies: nobody’s children, owners of nothing. The nobodies: the no-ones, the nobodied, running like rabbits, dying through life, screwed every which way. Who are not, but could be.

Who don’t speak languages, but dialects. Who don’t have religions, but superstitions. Who don’t create art, but handicrafts. Who don’t have culture, but folklore. Who are not human beings, but human resources. Who do not have faces, but arms. Who do not have names, but numbers. Who do not appear in the history of the world, but in the crime reports of the local paper.

The nobodies, who are not worth the bullet that kills them.”

Eduardo Hughes Galeano, The Nobodies

“Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution”

Clay Shirky

“I don’t believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is so vertical. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other person. I have a lot to learn from other people.”

Eduardo Hughes Galeano

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Oh! The roots of postive organizational scholarship in Henry Thoreau and American transcendentalism

Sept2010 by anjanettew via FlickrWalden Pond .   .   .

I had to rummage around on Wikipedia to disentangle my memory traces.  Walden Pond is the home of Henry Thoreau, the American poet.   On Golden Pond is a Fonda movie.

Henry Thoreau .   .  .

I am sure that all well brought up Americans have read Thoreau in the original. The rest of us come to him by the way of quotations.

Dwell as near as possible to the channel in which your life flows .  .  .

Henry Thoreau was an “transcendentalist”, which Wikipedia informs me was a New England movement in reaction to the intellectualism of Harvard and the utilitarian church.  To my naïve ears, this sounds like the basic thrust of the French Revolution that rejected the supremacy of priests and their dictates,.  Once we have rejected the priests as the authority in all things, we needed a way to think about secular authority         and social sciences and psychology arose as formalized ways of describing how we each discover our own truth (Remember the Pope anyone?  Not surprisingly, he is not enthused by this venture.)

Transcendentalism underpins much of contemporary positive organizational scholarship

This is an important read.  We see here the essence of dominant aspects of American culture and at least part of the foundations of positive psychology.

Ralph Emerson, I believe, was one of the early proponents.

“So shall we come to look at the world with new eyes.

It shall answer the endless inquiry of the intellect, — What is truth?

And of the affections, — What is good?

By yielding itself passive to the educated Will. .  .

Build, therefore, your own world.

As fast as you conform your life to the pure idea in your mind, that will unfold its great proportions.

A correspondent revolution in things will attend the influx of the spirit.”

As fast as you conform your life to the pure idea in your mind, that will unfold its great proportions.

A correspondent revolution in things will attend the influx of the spirit.

We bring about the world by what we attend to and value.  The world blossoms under the attention of what we value and love.  Whatever situation we are in (like it or not), we move in the direction of the questions we ask and so does it.

This is more appreciative inquiry (Case Western) than positive psychology (Pennsylvania).

It is the start point and as you read the now not so young Thoreau describing his life at Walden Pond, you hear the same complaints that we have about life today.  You hear the echoes of Joseph Campbell who followed a similar experiment with life. You hear British poet David Whyte who reconciled his life a marine biologist and NGO worker with is poetry.  You hear Gen Y Tim Ferris and The Four Hour Work Week.

I am enjoying this!

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3 quotations on mindfulness and action

A good year ago I jotted down these three quotations.  Then I abandoned the draft. Now I am tidying up my blog, I wonder, what was going through my mind that day.

David Whyte on the willfulness of the world

And I thought this is the good day you could meet your love, this is the black day someone close to you could die.

~ David Whyte from The House of Belonging in River Flow, p. 7.

Was I thinking about the essential unknow-ability of the world and importance of living in the world as it unfolds and both tempts us and taunts us?

Goethe on the universe conspiring to help us

The moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.

~ Goethe

Was I thinking about the need to be active and the magic that happens when we cross the Rubicon and move towards irrevocably towards what we want?

Isaac Newton on following our dreams in the large world around us

I don’t know what I may appear to the world; but to myself I seem to have been only a boy playing on the seashore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, whilst the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me.

~ Isaac Newton

Was I thinking about the impossibility of understanding the universe yet finding a corner within it where we live our lives heroically and magnificently?

What sense was I making about mindfulness and action?

Did I come to the conclusion that world likes us to engage quite forthrightly following our interests yet understanding that others will be doing so too? Did I come to the conclusion that life promises us nothing yet demands our full attention?  Did I come to the conclusion that we will always be significant yet what we do is important?

Did I come to the conclusion that is OK to ask and the world loves us for it? Did I come to the conclusion that it is OK to be small ~ we all are?

What was I thinking that day?


3 steps when goals seem out of our reach

I think back to the most frustrating times of my life and I felt exactly like David Whyte standing in front of a ravine, desperate to be the other side and with palpitations because it seems impossible.

Whenever we feel frightened it helps to visualize the ravine.  And draw the ravine on a piece of paper.

  1. What is on the other side that we want so deeply?
  2. What is the gap and the frayed rope bridge that seems too dangerous to use?
  3. And where are we now?

I want to be clear: when we are really frightened, we forget to do this.  And we chide ourselves for forgetting!  But we shouldn’t – we are anxious because our dream is important!

When we remember, our task is to imagine the ravine and draw, or jot down, our answers to all 3 questions.

Then we concentrate on question 3 and write down everything we can think about where we are now.  We might want to concentrate on the other two questions.  That is understandable but we should write down point after point about HERE & NOW.  Set a goal – write 1, then write 2 more, then write 2 more, until we are on a roll.

Lastly we underline the parts that work well. This is important.  We go through our list of HERE & NOW and underline what works well.

And if you don’t think of something that will move you forward, write to me and complain!

But I guess you will write to me to say how well this method works.

Come with me!

  • Think of your biggest dream that you have put aside to attend to your obligations or because you think you have to be cautious during the recession.
  • Feel your fear and honor it!  You only feel fear because this goal is important to you.
  • Then draw the diagram and remember to write down in detail where are now  Finally, underline what works well.

Are you feeling better?  Can you see a way forward?

Prepare for a winning week!

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From anger to effective action

Anger: Stage Two of the Banking Crisis

Today, senior bankers fronted up to a Select Committee to make their apologies.  Shortly afterward, BBC ran a chat show and asked the public whether apologies were enough.  The public had a lot to say and the BBC presenter was clearly testing the depth of our anger.

Anger is Stage Two in the FIVE stage process of receiving bad news: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

So what does acceptance look like and how do we get there?

David Whyte, corporate poet, tells a good story that helps us understand the beginning and end of the five stage process, what we have to do to move from start to finish,  and why it is so difficult to take the first steps.

Whyte was trekking in Nepal.  He had left his friends and came, alone, on a ravine with a rope bridge in poor state of repair.  He was horrified.  It was too dangerous to use the bridge and too late to turn back and rejoin his companions.

So many situations are similar. We are stuck. It is too dangerous to do what we want to do and we cannot immediately see a way out of our predicament.  We are overcome by a mix of frustration, anxiety, shame and fear, and are in Stage One and Stage Two.  We are ‘all emotion’, and reasonably so.  After all, we are in trouble.

But in that funk, we cannot think clearly and cannot find a way out of our dilemma.

Tomorrow, I’ll break the situation into psychological terms and point out what we have to do if we are ever to move on.

Come with me!

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Your frontiers

David Whyte takes about finding the frontiers of your life: the place where you face the unknown in an expansive way. I like the correspondence with Paulo Coehlo‘s horizon.

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