When Our World Falls Apart.

When Our World Falls Apart.

When external factors shift, we have an opportunity to rediscover our core, the only truly safe place to call home.

There are times when our whole world seems to be falling apart around us, and we are not sure what to hold onto anymore. Sometimes our relationships crumble and sometimes it’s our physical environment. At other times, we can’t put our finger on it, but we feel as if all the walls have fallen down around us and we are standing with nothing to lean on, exposed and vulnerable.

These are the times in our lives when we are given an opportunity to see where we have established our sense of identity, safety, and well-being. And while it is perfectly natural and part of our process to locate our sense of self in externals, any time those external factors shift, we have an opportunity to rediscover and move closer to our core, which is the only truly safe place to call home.

The core of our being is not affected by the shifting winds of circumstance or subject to the cycles of change that govern physical reality. It is as steady and consistent as the sun, which is why the great mystics and mystical poets often reference the sun in their odes to the self.

Like the sun, there are times when our core seems to be inaccessible to us, but this is just a misperception. We know that when the sun goes behind a cloud or sets for the night, it has not disappeared but is simply temporarily out of sight. In the same way, we can trust that our inner core is always shining brightly, even when we cannot quite see it.

We can cling to this core when things around us are falling apart, knowing that an inexhaustible light shines from within ourselves. Times of external darkness can be a great gift in that they provide an opportunity to remember this inner light that shines regardless of the circumstances of our lives.

When our external lives begin to come back together, we are able to lean a bit more lightly on the structures we used to call home, knowing more clearly than ever that our true home is that bright sun shining in our core.

By Madisyn Taylor

Unlocking Collective Intelligence

Unlocking Collective Intelligence

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By Christian Greiser, Jan-Philipp Martini, Liane Stephan, and Chris Tamdjidi

Does mindfulness foster an organization’s collective intelligence? A recent study conducted by Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Awaris demonstrated a connection: 31 teams (totaling 196 people) that participated in a ten-week mindfulness program showed an average increase of 13% in collective intelligence, as measured by tests developed by the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence

The concept of collective intelligence—the capability of a group of people to solve complex problems—is not new. But the increasing interconnectedness of knowledge work and the growing variety of problems have raised the profile of collective intelligence as a competitive differentiator. So, companies need to understand the concept more systematically and scientifically. 

One key to unlocking the potential of collective intelligence is mindfulness—a state of being present in the moment and leaving behind one’s tendency to judge. Leading companies have introduced programs to unleash the power of mindfulness among their employees. But most of these companies have not focused explicitly on the opportunities to use mindfulness to foster collective intelligence. 

Solving Today’s Complex Problems Requires Collective Intelligence

Companies today must manage rapid innovation cycles and the deep interconnectedness of knowledge work. To address the challenges, many companies are investing in setting up cross-functional, agile teams. But to transition to truly dynamic ways of working, a company must fundamentally transform how cross-functional teams interact and collaborate. This requires bringing forth an emergent property of their system: the collective intelligence of their teams

We define collective intelligence as a group’s ability to perform the wide variety of tasks required to solve complex problems. Collective intelligence is not dependent on team members’ IQ, knowledge, or ability to think logically or on the team’s composition. Instead, it is largely driven by team members’ unconscious processing: their emotional intelligence (people’s awareness of, and ability to manage, their own emotions and those of others) and emergent properties such as trust, emotional and psychological safety, and equality of participation. This description is supported by studies conducted by the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence and Google’s Project Aristotle. BCG’s experience across a large number of transformations to new ways of working and agile methods also points to emotional and noncognitive factors as the key drivers of collective intelligence. 

Tapping into the Power of Diversity

Diversity is among the foundational elements of a team’s collective intelligence. In this context, diversity should not be limited to gender or functional and educational backgrounds. What’s required is a diversity of cognitive styles—that is, different ways of thinking about, perceiving, and remembering information or simply different ways of solving problems or seeing the world. 

To tap into the power of diversity—with respect to both expertise and world views—a company must create an environment in which individuals are willing to risk stating their opinions and to be receptive to listening to others. This requires integrating a team’s diversity. 

Teams whose members are not well-integrated exhibit many dysfunctions. Members often lack a sense of joint purpose and struggle to engage in teamwork. The failure to properly integrate a team’s diversity can actually diminish its collective intelligence. 

Mindfulness Provides a Potential Solution 

Companies already apply approaches that foster collective intelligence. They are increasingly proficient at setting up diverse teams, breaking down organizational silos, and implementing open information systems. However, companies often do not explicitly recognize how these efforts relate to collective intelligence and thus they fail to capture the full benefits.

Most notably, companies are not doing enough to identify and address inadequate emotional safety and trust among team members. That is because most companies are not sufficiently aware of people’s unconscious interactions and do not understand how unconscious factors influence team performance. Most companies also lack the skills and perseverance to constructively address issues related to emotional safety and trust.

Mindfulness provides a potential solution for meeting these challenges. Many companies have introduced mindfulness into their organizations, primarily to help their employees maintain well-being and improve their clarity of thinking, cognitive abilities, and ability to stay calm. However, only a few organizations (progressive entities including the European Commission, Google, Hilti, and SAP) have also applied mindfulness to transform the collective capabilities of teams. 

Most people who regularly practice mindfulness have an intuitive understanding of its connection to collective intelligence. What’s more, the effect of mindfulness practice on collective intelligence is objectively measurable. Awaris and BCG conducted extensive research to confirm the hypotheses of this article. We measured the collective intelligence of 31 teams, totaling 196 people, from a large German automotive company and a political organization. We took measurements twice—before and after a ten-week mindfulness program. (See the sidebar “About the Study.”) After the mindfulness program, the teams’ collective intelligence—measured through four diverse problem-solving tasks—increased by an average of 13%. (See the exhibit.) Moreover, we found that mindfulness is significantly associated with emotional intelligence and that individual and group mindfulness scores predicted a team’s collective intelligence.

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Mindfulness practice fosters collective intelligence by allowing us to redirect our mental attention skills (for example, capabilities of the working memory or our ability to focus on the task at hand) toward more expansive, awareness-based skills. More specifically, mindfulness practice strongly influences a person’s self-awareness of the body’s internal state (interoception) and mental processes (metacognition). Interoception and metacognition help us regulate our reactions to emotions and behaviors. By improving our ability to get in touch with our own emotions, we also enhance empathy—our ability to vicariously share the experiences of others. 

By increasing self-awareness and empathy, mindfulness impacts two areas that directly promote collective intelligence: 

  • Communication and Prosocial Behavior. Team members who embrace mindfulness are better listeners and can react in an emotionally intelligent way when tension or disagreement arises. Their style of interaction encourages other team members to speak up and participate in creative processes and allows them to integrate their diverse cognitive styles. 
  • Leadership. Mindfulness training helps leaders improve their ability to self-reflect. Mindfulness is also associated with important leadership capacities such as flexibility, authenticity, and humbleness.

Three Steps to Applying Mindfulness 

To use mindfulness to foster collective intelligence, a company must take three steps. 

  1. Provide mindfulness training. Mindfulness practice comprises a set of mental and emotional exercises that affect the functioning of the brain in a measurable way. Several proven methods of mindfulness training can help team members and leaders establish a personal mindfulness practice.   
  2. Anchor mindfulness in teams. Mindfulness can evolve from a practice to a state and eventually become a trait—when the various underlying skills have become embedded in a person’s mental and emotional makeup. Team interactions provide valuable opportunities to embed these skills. To promote mindfulness, organizations must clearly state that teams should practice three simple types of habits that foster psychological safety and collective intelligence: 
  • Attention and Focus. Teams need to establish specific habits that promote attentiveness. For example, a team can observe one minute of silence before the start of each meeting. In addition, how team members deal with devices, listen to each other, and speak can significantly affect the degree of presence and openness in the meeting.  
  • Care and Positivity. When people feel trust, efficacy, and appreciation, they engage and contribute. When they do not, they hold back and divert their energy to other things. As a result, demonstrating care and positivity in teamwork—noticing what colleagues have achieved and done well and appreciating their contributions—can be very important to improving the sense of bonding and community. 
  • Emotional Awareness. Allowing emotions to surface and be expressed becomes a natural part of what it means to work together. Processes for surfacing emotions include having check-ins during which team members share how they feel emotionally before a meeting, as well as regular retrospectives in which members share their feelings on the interactions within their team. 
  1. Establish metrics and track behavior changes. Just as manufacturers meticulously track physical safety on their shop floors, companies should track emotional or psychological safety in their knowledge environments. As a starting point, companies can use surveys and interviews to ask employees whether they believe the company has clearly articulated that emotional safety and psychological safety are goals and whether they understand how to create such safety. 

Learning more: About the Study 

Thirty-one teams, composed primarily of people with managerial responsibilities, participated in a ten-week mindfulness training program that was specifically adapted to the work context. The study focused on investigating whether a team’s collective intelligence can be enhanced by mindfulness training of its members.

To measure collective intelligence, we used a set of four diverse tasks developed for this purpose by the MIT Center for Collective Intelligence: 

  • Moral Reasoning. Teams received a case study of a problem that presented conflicting interests among several parties. We asked the teams to determine, from an ethical perspective, the most suitable solution for all parties. Responses were scored by the degree to which the groups considered the balance of competing perspectives in the problem.
  • Creativity. Teams had to build a complex Lego structure while taking into consideration tight constraints relating to size, quality, and aesthetics. The resulting Lego structure was scored on the accuracy of meeting those constraints. 
  • Output Optimization. Teams were scored after performing a shopping exercise in which they had to maximize the quantity and quality of goods purchased while minimizing the costs of goods and time spent shopping. 
  • Judgment. Teams had to estimate and agree upon quantities for 20 diverse questions (for example, “What was the highest recorded temperature in the US?”). Teams were scored based on the accuracy of their estimations. 

The selection of the tasks was based on Joseph McGrath’s model of group tasks. This ensured that we covered major aspects of collective intelligence, such as decision making, task execution, generation of innovative ideas, and negotiation. 

In the first session of the program, we randomly assigned one, or in some cases two, of the tasks to each team. We scored each team’s performance of its task. During this initial session, we also conducted an individual assessment of each team member’s mindfulness (using the “Five Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire”) and emotional intelligence (using the “Reading the Mind in the Eyes” test). 

In the final session of the mindfulness program, we repeated the process. We asked each team to perform one or two of the tasks that it had not previously performed. We then scored its performance on the new task and conducted another assessment of mindfulness and emotional intelligence. 

At the conclusion of the study, we used the arithmetic mean of the improvement of teams’ performance scores for the four tasks to determine the increase in collective intelligence. We also correlated the results of the individual assessments of mindfulness and emotional intelligence to determine the extent to which these two attributes are associated and predict collective intelligence.  

About the Authors

Christian Greiser is a managing director and senior partner in the Düsseldorf office of Boston Consulting Group. You may contact him by email at greiser.christian@bcg.com. Jan-Philipp Martini is a consultant in BCG’s Düsseldorf office, supporting clients around the world on enterprise-wide agile transformations.  You may contact him by email at martini.janphilipp@bcg.com. Liane Stephan is a co-founder and managing director of Awaris. You may contact her by email atliane.stephan@awaris.com. Chris Tamdjidi is a co-founder and managing director of Awaris and is responsible for the organization’s efforts relating to neuroscience research and technology. You may contact him by email at chris.tamdjidi@awaris.com.

Next Normal.

Next Normal.

One possible next normal is that decisions made during and after the crisis lead to less prosperity, slower growth, widening inequality, bloated government bureaucracies, and rigid borders. Or it could be that the decisions made during this crisis lead to a burst of innovation and productivity, more resilient industries, smarter government at all levels, and the emergence of a reconnected world. Neither is inevitable; indeed, the outcome is probably more likely to be a mix. The point is that where the world lands is a matter of choice—of countless decisions to be made by individuals, companies, governments, and institutions

A Circle of Women.

A Circle of Women.

Women’s circles perfectly illustrate the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Women’s circles are formal or informal gatherings in the interest of bonding, sharing energy, and creating ritual. The origins of women’s circles are ancient, but their applications are as modern as the women who participate in them.

There are no hard and fast rules as to how to form a women’s circle or how to run one. Some circles invent their own agendas, rituals, goals, and ceremonies, while others borrow ideas from sources as far-ranging as Buddhist or Native American cultures. Some circles are open to new members at all times, while others prefer to practice with a set number of members, closing the circle once that number is reached.

In a typical gathering, the women who are present sit in a circle. Generally, for the sake of cohesiveness, one woman is chosen to lead the circle each time. Allowing a different woman to lead each meeting allows for a multi-perspective approach to the process. One circle leader may choose to create and teach a ritual involving using the voice to release negative energy, while at the next meeting another leader may feel inspired to lead a silent meditation.

On the other hand, a circle may choose to be more focused over the long term and gather around a particular intention, such as working together to determine a course for healing Mother Earth. When the healing feels complete, the women may choose to stay together with a new focus for their work, or the circle may disband.

At their best, women’s circles perfectly illustrate the idea that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The work that can be accomplished within the loving embrace of our sisters is far more powerful than what we could achieve on our own.

If you are not already part of a circle, you may want to start one. Follow your intuition as to the women with whom you’d like to work, reach out to them, and set a date to begin. After that, you can simply allow the circle to create itself.

Men need not be forgotten when it comes to circles and they, too, can come together to form their own circles and create strong bonds and healing in a way that is specific to all men.

By Madisyn Taylor
Making Time

Making Time

It’s a common dilemma. There never seems to be enough time. In my twenties and well into my thirties this was a frequent complaint of mine. “I just don’t have enough time”! Or “I will when I find the time.” As if time was playing hide and seek with me and I just needed to keep looking for it.

I was obsessed with time. Always wearing a watch, always checking to see where those precious hands were pointing. And scared to waste a mere minute on something trivial or, God forbid, fun. Scheduled to the minute with no breathing room, time was my nemesis.

My relationship with time began to change when I had my first child. Time began to change right in front of my eyes. It became more treasured and precious. But it also changed consistency and become more malleable.

It appeared I could change my perception of time, stretching it out. I couldn’t do the impossible, and add more minutes into my day, but I could slow down the time I had been given.

Unconsciously at first, I began to make small changes that seemed to give me the time I thought was missing. I felt like a child in a candy-shop at first, like I’d uncovered special sci-fi secrets that bent time against its will.

These three changes have stuck with me over the years and are tools I always lean on if I find myself out of time.

1. Single-tasking

Having children meant more to do. More laundry, more mess, more everything. And at first pass, it’s tempting to buy into the illusion that multitasking will help save time. Washing the dishes, while baking the cookies. Hang the washing and pull those weeds that have popped up.

But what I found (aside from burnt cookies), was that rather than helping, multitasking just made me feel chaotic and even more pressed for time.

Instead, what I found was that by doing just one thing at once, and finishing it before starting the next thing, I felt calmer and more relaxed. And it made me feel like I had been gifted a few more minutes!

2. Overestimating

I have been a chronic over-scheduler my whole life. And when I thought about why I was doing this (and consequently running late, or feeling robbed of time), I realized it was often because I was underestimating how long tasks or appointments would take.

So I started to overestimate. Hair appointment? Three hours. I have very thick hair! Grocery shopping? At least an hour in a small town where I know every third person.

And this overestimating did two things. It automatically reduced the length of my daily to-do’s. With each task taking an average of 30 minutes more, I simply didn’t have space for so many.

And second, it made me feel as though I had the luxury of more time. Sometimes we forget that it’s only ever ourselves in charge of how we spend our time.

3. Noticing

I also found myself noticing more. Rather than rushing through each task on autopilot, I found that if I paid closer attention to what I was doing, time seemed to go a little slower.

From little tasks, like watering a plant, to bigger ones like making a meal, I paid deeper attention to the mini-tasks inside each job. I took closer notice of what the plant looked like, and I paid attention to the texture and smell of each vegetable I cut.

This deep noticing, a mindful activity, gave time a sluggish feel. I began to feel a sense of happy meandering instead of thoughtless rushing.

And I began to feel as though I had found more time.

Change your perception. Change your life.

Neuroscientist David Eagleman has called time a ‘rubbery thing’, stating; “It stretches out when you really turn your brain resources on, and when you say, ‘Oh, I got this, everything is as expected,’ it shrinks up.”

Research by Eagleman and others in this field has shown that mindfulness meditation increases the perceived duration of a task. Essentially slowing down the feeling of time.

When we focus our attention on the here and now we can change the way our brain stores information via attentional processes.

For me, this change in perception is life-changing. The freedom that comes with no longer feeling so rushed, busy and out of time is priceless.

Of course, there are still times when I slip back into autopilot, but now that I know the secret to slowing my time, it doesn’t take long to pull out my tools again.

And it’s no longer a secret. Extra time is available to anyone willing to turn off autopilot and try something a little different.

You don’t need to hunt for lost time anymore. Just pay deeper attention to the time you have. It works. I promise.

By Emma Scheib

When is enough?

When is enough?

Where do you derive your sense of enough?

Is it from feeling full after a delicious meal or from reaching a certain distance during an afternoon run? Perhaps you measure enough by how many tasks you accomplish at the office, how many likes your new post gets, or how many smiles you give and receive over the course of a day.

Enough is defined as “as much as is necessary; in the amount or to the degree needed.”

But for many, enough falls short. To put it simply, enough is not enough. What’s necessary or needed is ignored in favor of what will bring us fleeting highs, external validation, or temporary admiration.

As we continually push the bounds of enough, we might lose sight of what matters: the roof over our head, the shoes on our feet, the car, bus, or bicycle we rely on for transportation, the long-term relationships we cherish, the clean bill of health we easily take for granted, the water in our faucets, the food on our table.

Instead, we focus on how we’ll achieve our next milestone, mistakenly believing that each new accomplishment will solidify our standing, or better yet, improve it. We seek bigger spaces to fill with bigger and better things, hoping that more square footage will lead to lasting contentment. We chase novelty in fleeting trends and passing crazes, forgetting that these too are designed to leave us in a constant state of yearning.

When enough is no longer enough, we’re destined for disappointment.

Hedonic adaptation refers to our tendency to quickly return to a relatively stable level of happiness despite major recent positive or negative events or life changes. When we graduate college, get a promotion, or buy a new television, our expectations and desires rise accordingly. In other words, we’re no longer satisfied with the way things were because we grow accustomed to the way things are now, and the degree of freedom, choice, and privilege they afford.

Rather than seeking long-term happiness, fulfillment, success, and recognition through short-term pleasures, we can reimagine our understanding of enough.

We can stop confusing essentials with excess and start celebrating being able to meet our basic needs. We can ask ourselves:

  • What do I need to do to keep my body healthy?
  • What do I need to eat to ensure I don’t go hungry?
  • Where do I need to cut back so I can pay my bills/ reduce my debt/ save for something enjoyable?
  • What relationships are most important to me and how can I help them flourish?
  • Where in my home do I feel most joyful/ energized/ relaxed/ inspired? How can I tap into this feeling with what I already have?
  • How does my present job enable me to find a greater sense of meaning or purpose?
  • Which of my belongings/ hobbies/ relationships detracts from my recognizing that what I have is enough?

Most importantly, we can acknowledge that our deepest source of enough must come from within ourselves. Before we can expect any person, place, or possession to contribute meaningfully to our lives, we must know and believe that we alone will always be enough; that nothing external will make us whole or our lives complete; that our value is not determined by what we do or what we own; that seeking to feel like we’re enough through any other means will not replace our need to be enough for ourselves.

Knowing that you are enough is not an invitation to stop growing or striving, but an opening to honor these qualities within yourself. It allows you to find enrichment in the midst of difficulty and encourages you to make the most of what you’re given.

When we are enough for ourselves, we gravitate toward creating lives that prioritize our values over our possessions; that foster healthy, supportive relationships; that enable us to recognize what we have control over and what we don’t; that continually allow us to connect with and share our strengths; and that provide a model for others to do the same.

Today, instead of seeking more, I invite you to seek enough. When you fill your plate, let one helping be enough. When you spend time with loved ones, let their mere presence be enough. When you exercise, let your efforts be enough. When you work, let what you get finished be enough. When you check social media, let one time be enough. When you walk in the door, let your surroundings be enough. When you go to bed, remember that you alone are enough.

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About the Author

Emily Rose Barr, of A Soul Awake, is a lighthearted creative who pauses to take note… of laughter, color, conversation, open doors, and finer details.

Life’s natural rhythm.

Life’s natural rhythm.

By Madisyn Taylor

Slowing down and listening to your own natural rhythm can quickly connect you to the Universe.

Nature’s natural rhythms orchestrate when day turns to night, when flowers must bloom, and provides the cue for when it is time for red and brown leaves to fall from trees.
As human beings, our own inner rhythm is attuned to this universal sense of timing. Guided by the rising and setting of the sun, changes in temperature, and our own internal rhythm, we know when it is time to sleep, eat, or be active.
While our minds and spirits are free to focus on other pursuits, our breath and our heartbeat are always there to remind us of life’s pulsing rhythm that moves within and around us.

Moving to this rhythm, we know when it is time to stop working and when to rest. Pushing our bodies to work beyond their natural rhythm diminishes our ability to renew and recharge. A feeling much like jet lag lets us know when we’ve overridden our own natural rhythm. When we feel the frantic calls of all we want to accomplish impelling us to move faster than is natural for us, we may want to breathe deeply instead and look at nature moving to its own organic timing: birds flying south, leaves shedding, or snow falling.

A walk in nature can also let us re-attune is to her organic rhythm, while allowing us to move back in time with our own.
When we move to our natural rhythm, we can achieve all we need to do with less effort.
We may even notice that our soul moves to its own internal, natural rhythm – especially when it comes to our personal evolution.

Comparing ourselves to others is unnecessary. Our best guide is to move to our own internal timing, while keeping time with the rhythm of nature.
The Science of Gratitude.

The Science of Gratitude.

We are all generally aware of the benefits of gratitude—which include a more positive outlook on life, and even physical benefits such as a reduction in the symptoms of stress. Especially as we approach the Thanksgiving holiday, we make a mental note to be more grateful. Less appreciated, however, are the potential organizational benefits of practicing gratitude.

A summary of the science of gratitude by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley sheds light on how being grateful can improve both performance and culture in the workplace. Formal research into gratitude is a relatively new field. In 2000, there were only three peer-reviewed articles on the subject.

Fifteen years later, there are hundreds of such papers. Of particular interest to business leaders is research on what social scientists call “upstream reciprocity”—basically a fancy way of talking about paying it forward.

Gratitude connects us

When someone is nice to us, and we return the favor, that is a form of direct reciprocity that we expect. However, it turns out that people who are the recipients of acts of kindness and thoughtfulness, and who make a point of feeling grateful, are also more likely to help a third party.

The ripple effects of that kind of indirect reciprocity are a powerful tool for business leaders looking to build a strong organizational culture.Robert Emmons is the world’s leading scientific expert on gratitude. As he points out, feeling grateful is a two-step process. First, we recognize the presence of something positive in our lives. Second, we acknowledge it comes from an external source, often another person.

Gratitude involves a humble recognition that we are interdependent, that we need one another. In this way, gratitude can become a kind of “social glue” connecting not just individuals, but organizations. One study suggests the potential for organizations to “institutionalize” gratitude by making such expressions part of workplace culture.

The authors note a “significant relationship between gratitude and job satisfaction” and suggest that “organizational leaders can boost job satisfaction by regularly prompting grateful emotions.”

This is your brain on gratitude

In its summary of the benefits of gratitude, Berkeley’s Great Good Science Center cites recent research showing how feeling grateful enhances functioning in regions of the brain governing social bonds, and our ability to read others. Moreover, even though we think of gratitude as an emotional state, it also enhances cognitive functioning and decision-making.

In one study, writing gratitude letters produced measurable brain changes that lasted months after the intervention.This research confirms Barbara Fredrickson’s assertion that gratitude has a “broadening” effect on how we think, and at how we look at the world. It allows us to “discard automatic responses and instead look for creative, flexible, and unpredictable new ways of thinking and acting.”

When we are grateful, we are more inclined to seek support from others, to reframe challenging situations through a positive lens, and to engage in creative problem-solving.

Gratitude is a kind of mindfulness

It is no accident that the benefits of gratitude resemble those of mindfulness. Both practices ground us in the present. If we are thankful for what we have, we are less likely to ruminate over the past, or anxiously anticipate the future. 

Gratitude is similar to mindfulness in another respect as well: it helps increase our resistance to stress. As one researcher states, it is an extremely effective way “to fill the resilient tank.” Other research finds that gratitude acts as a natural anti-depressant.

We are just beginning to tap into the benefits of deliberate gratitude. Organizations that practice gratitude will attract and retain top talent and create a culture conducive to innovation and thriving.

By Naz Beheshti

Belonging vs. Fitting in.

Belonging vs. Fitting in.

Excerpt from Elisha Catts.

Have you walked into a room and suddenly felt like you don’t fit in? Perhaps you’ve been the only woman in a male-dominated field, or the only guy wearing a suit while everyone is in jeans. Perhaps the difference has been internal rather than external—a subtle feeling that everyone else is connecting and you don’t quite “click.”

These experiences can make you question whether you belong—in your workplace, among your friends, in a room of strangers, and even in your own home. They can leave you feeling empty, hurt, and even questioning your purpose in life.

The missing link in situations like these is having a sense of belonging—knowing that there is space for you, the real you, in every place you walk into.

World-renowned author and researcher, Brene Brown, says this about belonging:

“A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people. We are biologically, cognitively, physically, and spiritually wired to love, to be loved, and to belong. When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to. We break. We fall apart. We numb. We ache. We hurt others. We get sick.” —Brene Brown.[1]

Belonging is an intrinsic need for all humanity. Without a confident sense of belonging, we stumble around and end up settling for something far more dangerous to our well-being, acceptance.

Fitting in to find acceptance

The greatest imitator of belonging is acceptance. It is easy to believe that if people accept you and your lifestyle that equals belonging. This simply isn’t true. Belonging, despite its name, isn’t found in an external location. Belonging and acceptance are two entirely separate entities.

Acceptance is pursued through the act of “fitting in”—choosing to act the way others would expect, want, or even need you to act. Acceptance-seeking can only be satisfied when the desired response of the people you are trying to fit-in with is achieved. The challenge that comes from acceptance-seeking is that you end up on a roller coaster of emotions, dictated by another person’s approval.

Not only is this unhealthy because you are compromising or burying your very own identity, but it is dangerous because you have no control over the approval of others. You are putting your entire well-being into the fickle whims of other humans.

The major division between acceptance and belonging is that belonging doesn’t come from without, it begins from within.

Author Parker Palmer writes, “Long before community assumes external shape and form, it must exist within you.”

Before community, and that elusive sense of belonging can exist, it must take shape inside you. I’ve heard it said that one must find belonging within oneself, but I believe it is far more than that.

First, you have to find your self.

The first step on the journey of belonging is to discover who you are, and stop believing that belonging is given to you by somebody else or something else.

Find your “onlyness”

An author on TEDideas wrote that belonging is found when we discover our “onlyness”—the very things that make us unique. Onlyness is the sum of your personality, your history, your hopes, your loves, and all that you are; it is the essence of you.

Finding your onlyness is a journey, not a destination. A person doesn’t wake up and suddenly know the beginning, end and in-between of their self. It takes time, and a multitude of experiences, good and bad, that begin to shape the unique facets of your soul. And honestly, the journey isn’t always easy or pleasant.

Sometimes it requires that you learn some harsh realities of life. Other times, it might mean you need to stop sabotaging yourself and get out of your own way.

Brene Brown describes this process as walking through a wilderness. It’s wild and sometimes incredibly uncomfortable.

“Belonging so fully to yourself that you’re willing to stand alone is a wilderness–an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching. It is a place as dangerous as it is breathtaking, a place as sought after as it is feared. The wilderness can often feel unholy because we can’t control it, or what people think about our choice of whether to venture into that vastness or not. But it turns out to be the place of true belonging, and it’s the bravest and most sacred place you will ever stand.” —Brené Brown

What is belonging?

Brene Brown is an expert on the subject of belonging. She describes it as, “the innate human desire to be part of something larger than us.” But it extends beyond that to something internal as well. It is the willingness to bravely acknowledge we belong to something greater than ourselves, and that our belonging isn’t dependent on our actions or the approval of others. It simply is our human right.

Belonging is in direct contrast to fitting in. It has roots that go deep and are unshakeable, whereas acceptance is shallow and fickle. Belonging brings emotional security, but acceptance-seeking is undependable ground that is constantly shifting beneath you.

A true sense of belonging comes when you can be unapologetically you, and know there is a place for you in the world that isn’t dependent on whether people accept you or reject you. It is also a place where growth happens—because you can be vulnerable about your own weaknesses, without shame, and choose to learn from others and improve in those areas.

When you walk confidently and humbly in this way, you build trust in your relationships because the people in your life are secure in knowing the truth of who you are. This establishes strong bonds within your relationships. If you are simply trying to fit in, it compromises your own personal integrity and erodes trust and emotional connections.

Belonging is not dependent on others

A common misconception is that it is up to other people to make you feel like you belong. Belonging begins with the willingness to stand alone and take ownership of your own life and decisions.

Does this mean you should never take into account the thoughts and feelings of others? Of course not. But believing that you have to be someone else to belong will never work.

The reality is no one is perfect. While you’re berating yourself for having a messy house, just remember, there’s someone breathing a sigh of relief, because their house is messy too—and you just reminded them that we’re all imperfect, together.

Despite our greatest desires, other humans have a great BS detector. When we attempt to project ourselves as someone that we’re not, it will be known, even if it’s intangible. True relationships and belonging cannot be built on a lie.

Belonging can be developed

To overcome the desire to settle for acceptance, we all must push past years of conditioning by our peers and the world around us. We are constantly told that we need some product, some look, something, to make us who the world wants us to be; when all we really need is to be ourselves.

However, we can use this to our advantage by recognizing that everyone else feels the way we do. Everyone is afraid of being rejected. Everyone is afraid of not fitting in. Turn this upside down. Accept everyone. Treat everyone like you would want to be treated. Invite them to belong as their true selves.

Even if you don’t feel like you belong yet, you can practice by inviting others to belong. You can accept others for who they are, in every different situation you walk into. While belonging starts with taking a deep look at who you are, it also takes form as you make space for other people to really be themselves too. The more you make space for others’ unique-ness, the easier it becomes for you to hold space for yourself.

You belong

Regardless of where you start, searching for a sense of belonging is a natural human experience. It is integral to our lives and is part of everything we do. So whether you start by helping others or diving into personal introspection, remember that belonging is already yours. You belong just as you are. Right where you are. You don’t need anyone or anything else to give you a sense of belonging.

Did you know that there are over 7 billion people in the world?  But there is only one you. You have a place on this earth that no one can take away. You have experiences and knowledge that are uniquely yours. All of who you are—your onlyness—cannot be replicated. Whether others choose to accept you or not, you can bring yourself to the table with the confidence that you belong, right where you are and just as you are, simply because you are.

So walk out into the world, your workplace, and your relationships with the confidence of knowing that you belong. Because you really do.

[1] Brené Brown (2010). “The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are”, p.40, Simon and Schuster

[2]Mother Teresa (2010). “Where There Is Love, There Is God: A Path to Closer Union with God and Greater Love for Others”, p.329