This blog, written by our co-fonder Claire, explores how creativity and experimentation boosts our health and wellbeing.
According to Action for Happiness one of the important ’10 keys to happier living’ is Trying Out “learning new things is stimulating and can help lift your mood…learning affects our well-being in lots of positive ways. It exposes us to new ideas and helps us stay curious and engaged. It also gives us a sense of accomplishment and helps boost our self-confidence and resilience”. During the Covid-19 pandemic, I have certainly learnt a lot. I imagine a lot of us have had to try doing new things that we never expected we would have had to try. So if learning is good for us, how can we continue to reap the benefits in the new normal? I want to consider two things that might help: how can we get into the mindset for learning and how can we maximise learning on the job.
Getting into the mindset
When I did my PhD, I focussed on exploring the role of emotions and cognitions in how we interpret and experience the world of work. I found that progress toward and attainment of work goals was associated with happiness and positive affect such as enthusiasm (Harris, Daniels & Briner, 2010). My interest in emotions has continued in my role as coach, facilitator and trainer and was rekindled when I began to design workshops on creativity. I was particularly interested in Barbara Fredrickson’s broaden and build theory. In her 1998 article, she talked about different positive emotions, their precursors and behavioural outcomes. For example, she talks about play eliciting joy and joy eliciting approach behaviours. She concluded that positive emotions shared a pattern, and it was different from the one that was elicited by negative emotions – in other words positive emotions are not simply the absence of negative emotions and vice versa.
Negative emotions lead to specific action tendencies; thus, they narrow emotions to what Fredrickson calls the momentary thought-action repertoire. Negative emotions tend to occur in threatening situations and narrow our options due to our evolutionary fight or flight response. Positive emotions have a broadening effect on the momentary thought-action repertoire: They allow us to discard automatic responses and instead look for creative, flexible, and unpredictable new ways of thinking and acting (Fredrickson 2004). So positive emotions broaden our options and allow for more creative cognitive processing.
So, learning new things can elicit positive emotions and if we are experiencing positive emotions, we are more open to learning.
When I work with teams or delegates on programmes, I do a few things to help people tap into positive emotions before learning:
- Ask ‘take out a piece of paper and write down everything that’s distracting you right now, and put the paper in your bag, I will remind you at lunch and at the end of the day to review that piece of paper’
- Ask for ‘one good thing that’s happened over the past month that you are proud about’ (Frederickson and Losada 2005, suggests that we need to experience 3:1 positive to negative emotions to flourish).
Learning on the job
Back when I did my BSc in Psychology, I did my dissertation on flow “optimal psychological state that people experience when engaged in an activity that is both appropriately challenging to one’s skill level, often resulting in immersion and concentrated focus on a task. This can result in deep learning and high levels of personal and work satisfaction” (Csíkszentmihályi, 1996). Flow is an optimal state for learning, as it is where skill level and challenge level of a task are at their highest. This creates an opportunity for learning and intense focus, where learners can even feel that they lose track of time because they are so immersed in the task. If we think about work, urgency has tended to trump the luxury of learning, aligned to the important but not urgent pile. According to a recent Harvard Business Review article knowledge workers carve out just five minutes of formal learning each day. Bersin and Zao Sanders (2019) go on to introduce a new idea called ‘Learning in the flow of work’. This recognises that for ‘learning to really happen, it must fit around and align itself to working days and working lives’. They recommend some ways to enhance flow at work:
- Practice mindfulness – be aware and be present as you go about your daily job, inquire about what colleagues are doing, how and why
- Maintain a too learn list – write down a list of concepts, thoughts, practices, and vocabulary you want to explore, book mark them in your browser, and add them to your list
- Put dedicated learning time into your diary
- Subscribe to a number of high quality newsletters, publications
- Contribute to a learning channel where work actually happens – e.g. teams, slack, sharepoint – create one if your company doesn’t have one.
They cite Helen Smyth, Group Digital Learning and Design Manager at Sainsbury’s “Too often, learning opportunities and technology deployments are developed based on what centralized groups think would be useful, or on what is possible, rather than on what would actually enable someone to do something better or differently at work. To overcome this, it’s important that we spend more of our time as learning professionals understanding the practical realities of daily work for people, and ensuring that our products and services are in tune with those realities.”
Today has never been more important to protect and maintain our wellbeing. As one of the keys to happier living, our ability to keep learning in the new normal will be key to adapting and bringing about a better future.
Bersin, J & Zao Sanders, M (2019). Making learning a part of everyday work. Harvard Business Review, Sept 19.
Csíkszentmihályi, M. (1996). Flow and the psychology of discovery and invention. New Yprk: Harper Collins. Chicago
Fredrickson BL. (1998). What Good Are Positive Emotions?. Rev Gen Psychol. 2 (3): 300‐319.
Fredrickson BL. (2004). The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 359(1449): 1367‐1378.
Fredrickson BL, Losada MF (2005). Positive affect and the complex dynamics of human flourishing. Am Psychol. 60 (7): 678–86.
Harris, C., Daniels, K & Briner, R. (2003). A daily diary study of goals and affective well‐being at work. Journal of Occupational and Organisational Psychology. 3 (76): 401-410.
HWBInspiration co-founders, Su & Claire, are grateful to our Associate HWBI Ninjas for sharing their knowledge, skill and insights.