Category Archives: Consciousness

Breaking the Cycle

By Chelsea Elkins, Simple Intentions Program & Marketing Manager

033017_BreaktheCycleThe term ‘vicious cycle’ has always peaked my linguistic interest, both attracting and repelling me. I find more and more that there is a callous reality to the phrase that exists in my day to day world. It reflects a biological concept I learned in high school – a social translation of positive feedback. To pull straight from the textbook (since I got a C in that class), this process is characterized by “the enhancement or amplification of an effect by its own influence on the process that gives rise to it”. In other words, it’s a system or cycle that intensifies by creating a stimulus which triggers an effect that causes more stimulus which triggers a greater effect and so on.

In biology, positive and negative don’t translate to good and bad. Positive feedback just means that a cycle continues to grow by feeding and stimulating itself until it reaches its peak. An example in nature is the process of childbirth: a laboring mother releases the hormone oxytocin which stimulates contractions which causes more oxytocin to be released until the baby is born.

Recently, I can’t help but apply the concept of positive feedback to social systems around me. When cycles, whether internal thought patterns, workplace practices or societal systems, feed on themselves, enhancing and amplifying in the process, it can make a good thing better and a bad thing worse.

Our lives are surrounded by systems and cycles, some that benefit society and others that do not. The latter I’ll label as unhealthy positive feedback and takes the form of damaging systems or detrimental cycles in our world. Some recent acclaimed examples in American media include the still embedded justice systems that promote sex and gender discrimination that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg speaks to in her book, My Own Words, as well as Academy Award nominated documentary 13TH which addresses systemic racism through mass incarceration. On a smaller scale, a workplace example that comes to mind is the system of rewarding employees who work long hours. This reward system often encourages employees to work longer hours and more frequently, which offers more rewards, etc…

How then do we break out of a cycle that’s not serving us personally or that isn’t serving a certain group or society as a whole? This question can feel daunting on the best of days. A sense of helplessness may swell at the thought of how to incite change in an unhealthy system, especially when it has been in place for a long time. Luckily, the first step is relatively simple.

I believe, truly, that the first and I’d argue most important step towards changing a cycle is to simply be aware. Really, just that. When we cultivate awareness around what unhealthy cycles or systems are around us, we start to shine a light on them, however dim that light might feel at first. This may be as simple as keeping up with current events, reading the written works of someone who inspires you, or asking your hard-working co-worker how she’s feeling with the never ending long hours. Collect data on the impact of the system in question – who does it negatively impact? Who does it positively impact? Do the benefits outweigh the cons? There’s no action to take – simply become aware of what cycles are around you and if they benefit or harm you, and if they benefit or harm others.

Once a basic awareness foundation is laid, the next step is to expand it. Go beyond the effect of the cycle and determine what your part is in the system or cycle in question. Acknowledge, without judgement, the ways in which you might feed the cycle. Did you give a shout out to your co-worker who’s been working 12 hour days at your last meeting? Explore all corners openly and honestly – and recognize that the cycle may very well be needed right now. Perhaps this is the busiest time of the year and long work days are currently needed. Just maintain awareness. If 6 months go by and the norm is still a 60-hour work week for your team, it’s time to reassess if this is a system that is still serving you and is still serving the whole.

To stress a point, creating awareness does not mean to blame (others or self). The purpose here is to become acutely (maybe uncomfortably) aware of what the cycle is, who the cycle impacts, and how we personally fit in the cycle. With that knowledge in place, we can make an informed decision on how to proceed to the next step. This step is still simple but at last requires some action: simply, to make a choice. It’s time to choose to either continue moving with the cycle or to make a new choice, even if small, that may help disrupt it. Perhaps in the next team meeting, you still give your co-worker a shout out for her hard work – and then start a discussion around team capacity and how to create sustainable success going forward. The smallest of choices may inspire others to do the same, creating its own positive feedback system – one whose results are more desirable.

Positive feedback in nature is extremely important and many of our social systems are incredibly needed. But it is up to us to determine when an internal thought cycle is damaging. When a workplace system is no longer sustainable. When an ingrained societal cycle is, well, vicious. And when it is not. It is up to us to first cultivate our awareness and shine a light on an unhealthy system. Something as small as that may start its own domino effect – and eventually break the cycle.

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Work/Life Balance: The Elevator Energy Test

By Vahé Torossian, Corporate VP at Microsoft and Friend of Simple Intentions

[Note: This post originally appeared on LinkedIn Pulse]

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Throughout my career, I have been blessed to mentor some very talented people. No matter the region of the world — from France to the United States and Asia to Central and Eastern Europe — a topic that comes up with almost everyone I’ve mentored is how to find the right work/life balance.

It is a very personal question. Back when I first started at Microsoft in 1992, work/life balance was very different than it is today. If there was work to do, you stayed until it was completed (usually accompanied by a pizza). When you went home, it was easier to switch out of work mode because you didn’t have emails coming right to a mobile device in your pocket. You had to make a conscious choice to open up your briefcase or, later on, connect your modem and dial in to the Internet.

Today, finding balance can be extremely challenging, especially when our technology gives us the ability to do business from anywhere. It’s easy for work to enter our home lives unconsciously. You look at your phone, and before you know it your head is back in the office. This connectedness can really blur the lines between work and home, making it hard to focus on just one at a time.

I don’t claim to have the whole recipe for success. Rather, the right work/life balance depends on who you are as an individual and where you are in life. But I do have one trick I’ve been using for many years that helps me choose how I show up at work and how I show up at home: Every day, I commit to returning home with the same energy with which I left. The “elevator energy test” is my way of making sure I follow through on that commitment.

I developed this test for myself while living and working in Paris. I lived on the eighth floor of my building, and I’d take an elevator between my apartment and the basement garage where I parked my car. The inside of the elevator was covered in mirrors, so every morning while I descended to the basement, I’d take a good look at myself to honestly evaluate my energy level. I would actually go so far as to score my own energy level on a scale of one to 10. Then, after work, as I rode the elevator from the basement back up to my apartment, I would consciously recalibrate back to the number I had given myself in the morning so that I brought back home at least the same level of energy as I had when I left.

In my own experience, at the end of a long, hard day it was a great refresher for me to bring that vitality back to my spirit and demeanor. It felt great to leave the workday behind in the basement garage, and my family appreciated it too. When the elevator doors opened, I would enter my apartment and spend the rest of the evening with them — feeling just like the person who had said goodbye that morning. I am not saying it’s always easy, but this state of mind helped me a lot especially during tough times.

Of course, you don’t need an elevator to do this test. You can do it anytime, in all sorts of situations. For example, you can look at yourself in your rearview mirror before heading to work each morning and again before heading home each night. I do the test before and after a tough business review, receiving bad news or taking a long multi-country business trip — every situation that might take a toll on my energy.

Throughout my career, I’ve tried to be an energy giver and not an energy taker. And there is a certain discipline to living that way. It’s the same discipline I learned as an international rower, where I had to be fit and prepared not only to help my own performance, but also to help inspire energy in my teammates. I have found that sustaining that kind of discipline is hard, but I always try because I feel strongly that the people around me shouldn’t have to pay the price for me being off-balance — not my employees and especially not my family.

So, my advice to people who are looking for a better balance is to make it a conscious choice again. Try the elevator test. It works for me.

 

Vahé Torossian is a Corporate Vice President at Microsoft Corp. For 30 years he has driven business transformation and turnarounds in high-growth and economic crisis environments.

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Conscious Ingestion

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder and CEO

[Note: This post originally appeared in Huffington Post]

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What do you consciously ingest each day? If you are like most people, food is the first thing that comes to mind – as humans we intentionally consume food daily. It could be said that those who follow trends like mindful eating and elimination diets have a higher consciousness about what they ingest – meaning only that they are very intentional about the food they put into their bodies.

What happens if we expand the concept of ingestion beyond food and consider the content of the world you ingest each day? For example, what type of music plays in your car or office, what type of news do you read and from what source, what type of technology do you interact with and what people and environments do you source from each day?

Now consider, how the content you consume impacts your energy and attitude. Just like with consuming food, not all content gives energy or sits well internally. This can lead to a feeling of emotional or mental indigestion. (And just like with food, sometimes people keep consuming that which is causing discomfort, even after they discover how their body reacts to the input.)

If you feel like you might have emotional or mental indigestion and are curious to explore what types of content may be the source, start by creating awareness around the content you consume each day. For each person the answers will be different – but the questions are the same.

  • What type of sound do you intentionally and unintentionally ingest each day? (Think television, music, YouTube, background noise in your office, the soundtrack on your commute and so on.)
    • What type of information do you intentionally and unintentionally feed your eyes, ears and brain each day? (Think Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, E-mails, magazines, books, cookbooks, children’s homework, newsstands in grocery stores, advertisements, signs in stores and so on.)
  • What type of people do you intentionally and unintentionally interact with each day? (Think people at work, on your commute, in your home, in the market and malls, in your neighborhood, your children’s friends (and their parents) and so on.)
  • What is the first content you ingest in the morning? (Your phone, your dog, your spouse, your children, yourself and so on.)
  • What is the first content you ingest before falling asleep? (Your phone, your dog, your spouse, your children, a book, a magazine, yourself and so on.)

Once you have developed awareness around what content you are consuming each day, you can begin to see what content may be linked to any feelings of emotional or mental indigestion. Once you see the link, explore the connection.

The difference between emotional or mental indigestion and physical indigestion is that the solution for content indigestion isn’t always elimination. Instead, it can be an illumination of an aspect of yourself to explore more deeply, which could lead to elimination of that content or in some cases a deeper yearning to consume more.

How could your life be different if you were to create more consciousness around what your eyes, brain, body and heart ingest each day?

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