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Tag: phase states

Ingratitude is sooner or later fatal to its author

The language of morality, character and virtue is back!

And gratitude is one of the most popular concepts to be given wholehearted support by Martin Seligman and positive psychologists.

Write a gratitude diary daily (or at least weekly), we feel a positive mood more often, we detect more easily positive events in the noise of negativity, and we fell more energetic and hopeful.

Tipping our hat to the positive, not matter how bad the negative, is fun and gives us the energy to cope with whatever the world throws at us.

But this is motherhood and apple pie, as Americans would say.  What of the opposite?

The test of morality is the desirability of immorality

Positive psychologists don’t like talking about the opposite of morality, character and virtue because many of them are clinical psychologists, and they are, well, sick of that stuff.

But what will the absence of gratitude, or ingratitude, do to you?

Here is a Twi proverb, courtesy of @africanproverbs.

Ingratitude is sooner or later fatal to its author.

Maths of chaos theory

Chaos theory will predict just so.  Initial conditions predict final conditions.  In mathematical language, x at time 2 is equal to x at time 1 plus/minus or times/divide something.

When we start out ungrateful, we will continue ungrateful until something changes.  We may simply make our lives so unpleasant that we decide to mend our fences and start to say thank you.

Phase states

Sadly, chaos theory also predicts that when we are in a sufficiently sour mood, we change states from one where we can recover, and will recover, to one where we move into a narrow space that is hard to get out of.   Ultimately we might reach a third state which is a dark cell of solitary confinement of our own design.

Simply put, we cannot expect ourselves to be infinitely resilient.  Shit happens, but sufficient shit overpowers our ability to cope.  The moral of this observation is not to make life harder for ourselves.  It is hard enough already.

Kindness is not self-indulgence

There is no point in beating ourselves up, though, for being ungrateful.  Sometimes we are. We know we shouldn’t be careless or resentful but when we are irritated for some reason, we may find our generous spirit has left us.

Then the gratitude diary comes into play again. It is quite surprising what good things are happening around us while we are taken up with inconvenient, churlish and distasteful aspects of our lives.

And sadly, when a gratitude diary is not a discipline that we do whether we feel like it or not, we might go days without writing it, our mood lowering and the rubbish in our lives slowly displacing the good.

When we have got it bad, then, as poet David Whyte says, “The truth is found in a walk around the lake.”  It is time to gain perspective and we do that from getting back in touch with nature and the good in our lives.

The discipline to respect the positive in the world is an important discipline.  We cannot, and do not function without it.

Mandelbrot

And apparently off the point but not, TED has posted Mandelbrot talking about his career.  Gratitude is in the same class of phenomena as cauliflowers (yes it is!).  To get an inkling of the maths, watch the video.  To get a sense of what mathematicians do for a living, watch the video.  To get a sense of enormous gratitude and humility in a career that could have been frustrating other than for attitude, watch the video!

And then watch the second on African fractals!  Mandelbrot worked on fractals and they are seen all over Africa in design of buildings, artwork and . . . democracy.  Go on . . . watch it!

Ron Eglash

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Oh! What poiesis taught me about auto-poiesis

Poiesis

I learned something very interesting just now.  The Greek word for poetry is poiesis – ‘making’.

That wouldn’t have been too dramatic a discovery but management theorists are fond of the word auto-poesis.

Auto-poiesis

Autopoiesis literally means “auto (self)-creation” (from the Greek: auto – αυτό for self- and poiesis – ποίησις for creation or production), and expresses a fundamental dialectic between structure and function.

We like this word in management because it expresses the constant interplay between our relationships with the world and ourselves.

Autopoiesis vs allopiesis

An autopoietic system is to be contrasted with an allopoietic system, such as a car factory, which uses raw materials (components) to generate a car (an organized structure) which is something other than itself (the factory).

Management theory in the 21st century

Much of the management theory I grew up with was about allopoietic systems.  How do we turn inputs into something that we will send out or away?  X and Y.

Indeed, even allowing for the transformation of X into Y is somewhat of a novelty for a psychologist.  To have a feedback loop from Y to X is so challenging that the loop mysteriously disappears from some text books!

When we think of ourselves as autopoietic, we allow that “if organization of a thing changes, the thing changes.”  Here we are saying that every time a bolt and a washer, or indeed anything enters a factory, or a car leaves a factory, the factory itself has changed.

We are less concerned with what goes in and what goes out and more concerned with way the factory reinvents itself minute-by-minute.

An example of an autopoietic system

It’s a bit giddy-making when we switch from one idea to the other.

For the research minded

It is easier for research, stats-minded people to see the idea when they think of Losada’s work on the maths of happiness.  Happiness is made up of three things yet any one these is not happiness, or even the beginning of happiness.  The three things are a positivity/negativity ratio of around 5 to 1, slightly more curiosity than advocacy, and slightly more interest in the outside world than ourselves.  We don’t add up these three variables.  Rather, they “feed” off each other. At any one time their coordinates (x,y,z) can be anywhere in a 3D space shaped like a 3D butterfly.

Happiness means we have a big plump space and the coordinates swoop around.  Unhappiness means they have a repetitive circle or limited space.  Here we see the dialectic between structure and function.

We are healthy when we are constantly regenerating ourselves in response to the world around us and what we were a minute ago.

We become ill when we don’t look after who we were one minute ago (right now in other words) and we don’t attend to what is going on around us.  We are ill when our head is anywhere except here and now.

There is room for day dreaming, planning and reminiscing.  But as the icing on the cake.  Devoting space to what we are not is not healthy. A healthy mind is asking what is going on now and celebrating what is rather than what is not.

For the non-research minded

For the non-research minded, lets think of a cake made of flour, eggs and sugar.  We can vary the proportions, or at least good a baker can, and by varying proportions we get a good range of delicious cakes.   To have one type of cake all the time is boring.  Happiness, in this analogy, is a wide variety of cakes from plain biscuits to luscious forest cakes.   We have a plain biscuit today and we feel like a rich cake tomorrow, and vice versa.

Life becomes grim when the recipe never changes or we try to swap eggs for something else (like potatoes).  We need constant variety within broad rules.

We need to enjoy each cake for what it is.  A dry biscuit is that.  It is not chocolate cake. It never will be.

We also need to bake the cake. Happiness is the cake. Not a line of eggs, sugar and flour on the kitchen table.  It is a baked cake.  It is the product of interacting parts mixed sensibly.

Poiesis

I didn’t know that poetry means makingAuto-poiesis is the poetry of ourselves. The constant interplay between structure (me) and function (the world).

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Is it fair to puncture someone’s anger with active listening?

Writing to understand

I’ve been writing myself into this this morning.

Does active listening work? And who for?

When someone is angry, and we are genuinely curious about what led to their anger, won’t they calm down?

Is active listening fair?

Do they have any other choice?  If they have no choice, are we bullying them?  Do they lose out, in real terms or in psychological terms, when we really listen to them?

Will passive-aggressives let you listen to them?  Won’t that spoil their fun?

Of course, someone who is in the habit of passive-aggression, or who habitually plays a “double-bind”, might be very disconcerted.  They might feel deprived.  But how long will that last?  I think we need some clinical psychologists to comment on that!

Aren’t misunderstandings the key to getting along?

Earlier today, I wrote on the value of misunderstandings. If we go around the world looking for misunderstandings, relishing them, enjoying them, then aren’t we able to listen to people who seem to blunder from one misunderstanding to another?

So what can we do about people who enjoy being angry?

To give my thoughts a more real-world test, I ran my mind over several people I know who really enjoy being angry. It is their modus operandi.  I think they would prefer not to be.  But they daren’t not be.

When we listen to persistently angry people, they won’t let us listen.

They quickly side-step any inquiry about who they are or what they want from life.

Yes, we do have to hear their anger first.

  • We have first to deal with the immediate situation that has got them going.
  • And then the general situation about what made them feel disrespected by the world.
  • And then with what is deeply valuable about their contribution to our well-being.

Modern day maths helps explain being in love with anger

The maths of phase-states might help. This is a relatively new form of maths for me and I hope I don’t mis-explain or misunderstand it.

When we are healthy, we loop about through all moods  adjusting to reality and because of reality.  It makes no more sense to be permanently cheerful than it does to be permanently angry.

Systems flip out of control though.

We can get in a rut where we use a very limited range of emotions.  We go in circles, rather literally when our moods are drawn on a graph.

And when we are in a very bad way, we get stuck on a single point.  Let’s assume that people who are in a very bad way will get the help of a professional and put them aside for a moment. We don’t help them on a day-to-day basis.

Let’s just think about ourselves when we flip out of the swooping 3D butterfly that is normal and healthy and limit ourselves to an endless repetition of happy-sad, happy-sad, never growing and doomed to repeat ourselves rather precisely, often in the sad belief that this is normal.

Still thinking in numbers and graphs ~ it is quite normal to have fluctuations – a zig zag – Zig zags will remain and it is unhealthy when they are not there. Remember that!  The first sign of ill heath is the lack of a zig-zag – you know like the line on the heart monitor – when there is no zig zag you are dead!

Let’s keep using that as an analogy. Imagine your pulse is racing. We want it to slow down to a more normal level – for the graph to point downwards. For the line to move downwards, it must zig zag down. It is the zig-zagging that brings it down. If it was dead straight down you would wonder where it will stop – your instinct, and accurate instinct – is that you must slow-down the freefall – you’ll introduce some zig-zagging in other words!

We don’t wnat the zig zag to be so wild that we can’t zig afte a zag, or vice versa. But it should zig zag.

That’s why misunderstandings are so important.

Misunderstandings, however uncomfortable, reveal what is “true and good and better and possible”.  They are zig which we can turn into a zag.  And after a while we realize the line is going up (more mental health) as we muddle along.

Endless circles

People get on an endless repetitive circle when they shut down negative feeling rather than explore it.

And they shut it down, when no one believes in them enough to listen to them. Learning ends and they repeat themselves in an effort to be heard.

If only someone somewhere would just listen!

If only someone somewhere would afford them the respect of assuming their temper tantrum is about something important!

If only someone somewhere would give them the respect of assuming that their temper tantrum is valid because they are valid.

Then they have a chance of learning from the zag.

And we would too.  Misunderstandings tell us a lot when we start by assuming the other person’s point of view is valid.

I hope that active listening is not unfair

I hope I don’t spoil the day of the passive-aggressives.

No that is not quite true! When they are annoying me, I probably do hope I spoil their day because they are making mine worse.

But from the luxury of a sunny English autumn morning, I hope I don’t spoil their day. I just want them to be happy. I don’t mind that they are angry. Anger is a legitimate emotion. I just want to say that to them. It is OK. Be angry. We understand.  You are still important to us . You are still one of us.

Endless curiosity

And being endlessly curious, I’ll learn what they are about and why they are so important to our story on this earth.

Irrepressible enthusiasm. Damn, you can’t keep an exuberant person down!

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Lose weight by weighing less: bad taunt, good science!

Lose weight by weighing less

So said The Atlantic in a side-swipe at Gary Hamel, the management professor.  They meant to damn him  They meant to say he was being tautological – or in plain language – saying black is black.  Unknowingly, they were being profound!  What they don’t realize is that management theory has moved on.  Like modern psychology, it has expanded its horizons.  The mathematical models we use have changed and to say we lose weight by weighing less is sound modelling.

Cause-and-effect was our first question

One hundred years ago, we were captivated by questions of cause-and-effect.  What causes overweight, we might ask. And we came up with models that said the more food went in the more fat on our body.    Food is is food.   Fat is fat.  They are different and one causes the other.

And so it went on.  We said intelligence led to success in later life.  We said that eating well led to intelligence.  On and on.

Actually few of these factors are independent of each other.  Fat is transformed from food.  And intelligence is a make-believable variable that exists only because it is associated with success.

Now we ask how a phenomenon changes over time

That said, we aren’t that interested in these models any more or the general question of what causes what.

These days we are more interested in recursive models.  Lose weight by weighing less is exactly what interests me.  Today I might way 60 kg.  Tomorrow I may weigh 59.9 kg or 60.1 kg.  What is the natural fluctuation in my weight and what leads to the weight getting greater (or less) and then reversing direction.

We know weight is caused by what goes in and what goes out.  And both of those are dependent on each other.  I will eat more more I have skipped meals and I will exercise less when I’ve had too much or too little to eat.    We are interested in all the relevant factors change in time and how they interact with each other in a highly fluctuating yet essentially self-correcting and stable system.

What doesn’t change may well be sick

Illness comes from lack of fluctuation. We should worry about utterly static weight and a completely constant appetite.

How do we shift systems?

Anyone who has tried to shift their typical weight, for vanity or to please their doctor, knows that it is quite hard to do.  There seems to be homeostatic levels which remain fairly constant given any set of circumstances.  Complexity theorists know that systems are self-replicating.  They also know the “shape” of the system matters.    We expect a system to fluctuate a lot but like our weight, in a general range.  When we get no fluctuation, or when our weight rockets or plummets, then we are ill!

Shifting entire systems requires a different form of thinking.  More on that another day.

For now, yes – we can lose weight by weighing less.  It is a weak system of change to look at the scales each day.  But it will work.  Just weigh less every day and you will lose weight.  Perfect mathematical model. Perfect science.

Sorry The Atlantic.  Misguided taunt.  Another one of these areas where the world has changed a lot in the last five years.  Now we do recursive models not cause-and-effect models.

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Happiness and research: looking for a research buddy

Breakthrough work on happiness

Happy networks

The blogosphere this week has been awash with comments on the article on happiness published by the British Medical Journal on happiness in social networks.  What does it mean that happiness is collective?   Are we also affected by our friends’ happiness online in networks like Facebook?

Expansive, successful business teams

Getting a lot less press, over at Pos-Psych, Marcial Losada has published two reports about increasing the emotional space in business teams and improving business performance.   Losada aims to develop teams whose positive to negative talk falls between 3:1 to 11:1.

New stats and new ways to think about psychological phenomena

The BMJ article relies on network theory and analysis.  Losada’s work relies on recursive differential equations.  Lost you? Exactly.  Few psychologists, and that includes me,  studied this type of statistical modelling  in their undergraduate years.

Moreover, these aren’t just new statistical techniques that we can plug into SPSS and go.  Both techniques offer epistemological and ontological revolutions in the way we think.

A zeitgeist

The ontological revolution is also happening in the qualitative areas of our field.  Take this phrase used by The Economist yesterday to describe India’s democracy: a political system that can cope with disgruntlement without suffering existential doubts.

That is a brilliant definition of happiness, though we might want a little more for flourishing!

Invitation

I started a wiki laying out the methodologies used by Losada in some detail and I would love a collaborator.  If you are interested, please drop me a comment and I will send you its name and password.

We are entering an interesting time in psychology and I can see all the textbooks being rewritten!

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