Inspiration Brain Candy
The Harvard McLean and Institute of Coaching annual conference on the research, science and practice of coaching is an inspiration engine for me. It is something I look forward to every year and can only describe as “brain candy.”
The first time I attended the conference was in 2008, the inaugural year. Unlike other professional conferences I had previously attended to, where everyone was of similar backgrounds and interests, this community of participants was thoroughly interdisciplinary. There were researchers, social scientists, social workers, therapists, organizational development practitioners, health care professionals, and more – all united by their interest in the research and practice of coaching. They recognized its potential as a process that could add value in an interdisciplinary way across many different industries. At that time, in 2008, only a handful of research studies had been published on the practice of coaching. Today, there are hundreds.
Finding My Tribe
I remember walking into that conference room the first day back in 2008 feeling exhilarated. Deep in my heart, I knew that these were “my people”, and I felt a profound sense of belonging: coaching and being coached provided me with a serious spark of inspiration.
That spark has strengthened into and fueled a career creating a positive impact on individuals and teams through the coaching process. I haven’t missed a conference since; every year I get re-sparked, the connection to my community is re-ignited, and my learning and practice are elevated through the scientific inquiry and discussion.
Mindfulness: the Antidote to Your Next Amygdala Hijack?
This year, the first two keynote speakers, Daniel Goleman and Susan Cain, focused on the power of quiet, calm kindness. Amidst the craziness and flurry that we all experience thanks to forces like the rapid changing of technology and influx of information from our smartphones, this topic seemed well timed.
Goleman, whose 1995 book Emotional Intelligence, popularized a term previously only known chiefly in academic circles, spoke about mindfulness. He had a lot to share on the topic- his new book, Altered Traits, was written with the Dalai Lama. The three benefits of mindfulness practice he mentioned are:
1. Better focus (clarity)
2. More stress resilient (calmness)
3. Enhanced caring (kindness)
What stood out to me most prominently from his talk was how mindfulness is an antidote to the “amygdala hijack” that can run rampant in organizations. Goleman described depression and anxiety as essentially the body being in a constant state of amygdala hijack; he defined emotional resilience as when someone can go from a hijacked state back to calm, quickly. Meditation practice, a form of mindfulness, decreases the time it takes for someone to go from a state of emotionally hijacked to calm.
This new knowledge was a piece of inspiration brain candy for me because I work with many clients who struggle with being emotionally hijacked; while mindfulness may seem like an indulgent practice in their busy lives, perhaps it’s the antidote needed to allow them to be more focused and effective at work.
The Power of Quiet, Calm Kindness
The second keynote speaker, Susan Cain, shared her research about the power of introversion. Without disparaging extroverted qualities, she made the case that organizations and schools today have thrown into the dustpan many introvert-friendly practices and that without them, we lose great contributions and creativity from both introverts and extroverts. She made the case that we could benefit from a “quiet revolution”.
As an example, she talked about the phenomenon of meetings and brainstorming. Numerous studies have demonstrated that people are subject to peer influence and that group brainstorming tends to yield less creative and effective ideas. And yet, organizations and schools both tend to emphasize the importance of collaborative idea generation and group work without giving individuals time to think independently first. What gets lost in this setup is the power of creative thinking that happens solo, where one can get into the flow of an idea.
Cain’s research aligns closely with one of our inspiration engines, unstructured think time, something many may think of as indulgent but could prove critical to generating the creativity to solve today’s big problems.
The next time you’re grappling with a complex problem take the time to do some daydreaming- consider it a candy break for your brain. It could spark the inspiration you need to find the best solution to your problem.