Are you IN or OUT?

We may be the most connected and simultaneously disconnected we’ve ever been.

Imagine that it’s 1955 and you’ve just pulled up to your house. Your neighbor is outside. What do you do? In 1955, you would have gotten out of your car, talked “shop” with your neighbor, asked about the kiddos, discussed tips for the pork roast, and perhaps offered a social engagement opportunity for later that week.

Now, fast forward to 2014. Your neighbor is outside as you pull up to your house. What do you do? It’s too late to duck, so you wait in your car to see if he’ll go inside. If he doesn’t, you’ll scramble up the stairs as fast as you can, mumbling “hello neighbor,” while staring at your iPhone to avoid any meaningful dialogue.

We work to get money to buy things to make us happy. But, the #1 predictor of Happiness is your Social Network. Your REAL social network, not the one on Facebook.

And, here’s the thing. Robert Putnam, Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, states that a healthy marriage causes an increase in happiness equal to a quadrupling your salary. Making a new friend – equal to tripling your salary. A good social group or club – to doubling your salary. And, that office picnic? Well, if you go at least 3 times a year, it’s the same as a 10% raise – in terms of its impact on Happiness, that is.

The top predictors of performance at work also include our social networks. According to Shawn Achor, Intelligence and Technical Skill – the things we almost exclusively focus on when hiring associates – only account for 25% of success on the job! I have friends who work for consulting firms that almost exclusively offer consultation in these areas. 75% of performance is determined by 3 “umbrella” factors:

1) Optimism, 2) the way you filter stress, and 3) your social connections.

And, this is huge – for me. Because, studies of Mindfulness have shown that contemplative practices like meditation or daily gratitude’s can 1) dramatically increase optimism, 2) can fundamentally alter the way we perceive stress, and 3) can guide us back to one another – disconnecting us from our iPhone and connecting us back into to a sense what’s happening now.

In fact, I am betting my entire career on it. I left corporate America because I believed in it so much. The research is amazing. Case studies of mindfulness have shown that 80% of managers (practicing meditation) make better decisions; 90% become better listeners and communicators; 90% feel they are able to innovate more; 70% report increases in strategic thinking… and that’s just the tip of the top of the iceberg. Meditation can increase cognitive power (neuron mylenation), awareness, attention, and right-left brain interaction speed (alpha wave coherence). It can reduce stress levels among all employees by over 50%, and health costs by as much as 80%. Leaders who share gratitude, simply thanking their employees, can garner 50% more productivity from their associates.

In this sense, we use Mindfulness also as an “umbrella” concept, meaning not only the practice of meditation or sitting in lotus position, but also connecting deeply, being authentic, using intuition, leading from the heart, and engaging acutely with the world.

So the question is – why are we checking out rather than in? Why are we disconnecting from one another instead of doing what would help us the most – connecting authentically?

Part of it has to do with basic Psychology. One of the most common habits of the brain is to create “In” groups and “Out” groups. Think about it. We define ourselves in categories - race, culture, gender, age, religion, political affiliation, country. And, these are imaginary boundaries. There is really no such thing as a “Tennessee” – separate from “Kentucky” except for arbitrary lines on a map. These imaginary lines on our maps create “real” separation. I’ve seen Kentucky fans spit on the shoes of those wearing Tennessee colors.

And while this sport-worthy example may seem benign, the underlying degrees of separation are not. Wars are fought over these imaginary lines. People die every day in Gaza. Close to home in Ferguson, we see the dividing lines of race and inequality. Why? Because our tendency is to believe our in-group is right and the out-group is wrong. In fact, we unconsciously seek out information that proves that our in-group is right and our out-groups are wrong. A scholarly review of Religions, for example, reveals little difference between faiths on the principle teachings – love, forgiveness, equanimity.

This is why contemplative practices like Loving Kindness meditations are so important, because we disconnect from empathy for those in our out-group. We literally don’t feel the pain of those suffering if we see “them” as “other.” The time has come for us as a people to wake up - to look across the aisle at our fellow humans and to engage as one human family.

What we desperately need now – more than anything – is one another. We need to come together, to lay down the swords of right and wrong, and to hold one another in the spirit of our humanity.

Jon Kabat-Zinn says that we should breathe “like our life depended on it.” And, it very well may. Life as we know it is scarily uncertain. We’re out of balance in so many areas. Breathing – like our life depended on it – is really about taking a pause. Interrupting the space between stimulus and response. Looking up into another’s eyes rather than down into the phone. Being present for the lives we are actually living. Here’s a simple practice to help you look at your social roles and to help get you into balance.

The Practice:

  1. Make a list of the roles you play - dad, mom, sister, brother, teammate, coach, friend, etc… list as many as you can.

  2. Next, count and rank each role from the most important (list it as a “1”) to the least important role to you (this will be your bottom # depending on how many roles you listed).

  3. Finally, indicate the 3 roles (with an *) where you spend the most personal resources - time, energy, money, effort, etc

  4. Journal / Reflect on what you notice.

  • In what areas do you feel in alignment? In what areas are you putting in effort and not getting the outcome you want? Are you investing time, energy, or resources in roles that you don’t value as your most important? What can you do to shift? In what areas are you putting the work in (effort) and you are getting the outcome you want? What’s one thing you can do today to connect in to what’s most important to you? What’s the one thing you can do right now to prioritize the roles/people most important to you?


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