“Plan out your path.” With Beau Henderson & Dr. Orin Davis

We tend to be more effective at accomplishing goals when we plan out paths for achieving them. One major part of those paths are the guard rails that keep people on track, and we can contribute by being an accountability partner. We can check in with one another on how we’re doing in pursuit of […]

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We tend to be more effective at accomplishing goals when we plan out paths for achieving them. One major part of those paths are the guard rails that keep people on track, and we can contribute by being an accountability partner. We can check in with one another on how we’re doing in pursuit of our goals, and be a cheering section to encourage and push each other to stay on course and cross that finish line (or bow out with grace, as above).

Asa part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Orin Davis.

Orin Davis earned the first doctorate in positive psychology and is a self-actualization engineer who enables people to do and be their best. He consults for companies worldwide on hiring strategies, culture, innovation, diversity/equity/inclusion, and employee well-being, and coaches people at all levels on building self-knowledge and developing personal growth trajectories. In addition to being the Principal Investigator of the Quality of Life Laboratory (www.qllab.org), Dr. Davis also serves as an adjunct professor of business, psychology, entrepreneurship, and creativity, and gives workshops and lectures globally.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Iwas always interested in human potential, but I took the long, meandering route of analyzing people from the micro level to the macro, studying chemistry, neuroscience, psychology, and organizational behavior along the way. I was particularly intrigued by selection processes, connecting the right people to the right education programs, jobs, and opportunities, and the factors that enable them to maximize their experiences and contributions to the world through those positive fits. I draw heavily upon my Jewish background for inspiration in the philosophy and theory (following in the footsteps of a number of humanistic and positive psychologists), and likewise in my artistic pursuits of ballroom dance, non-fiction writing, and poetry.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

I was teaching an executive class, and during the hiring unit, a company VP volunteered (in context) that he wouldn’t want to hire a pregnant woman because she would just go on maternity leave and cost the company money. You probably could have heard a pin drop in there, but I consider it a testament to everyone in the room that there was no explosion of outrage, and not even a groan or an eyeroll. The goal of the class was to learn, and there’s no way for that to happen when people can get nailed for discussing their authentic views on things. The respectful culture of the room allowed me to engage the VP in an open dialogue about the pro’s and con’s of hiring a pregnant woman, and for me to demonstrate that the pluses actually outweighed the minuses to the extent that the VP conceded the point.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

Assume that everyone you hire actually wants to excel at the job and will do so by default. Set your hiring process, company policies, performance management, and corporate culture accordingly.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I’ve lost count of the number of fascinating discussions I’ve had with people when they find out that I love the book. It’s amazing how many people don’t realize that you can love a book without agreeing with it, and how many people are willing to judge the content of a book without reading it carefully. What I like most about the book is how much I have learned and thought about by giving it a critical read.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. From your experience or research, how would you define and describe the state of being mindful?

As I discussed in an article I wrote with Dr. Vera Ludwig, there are a lot of definitions of mindfulness, not all of which play well together. I would contend that mindfulness cannot be defined without reference to the Buddhist concept of sati, which is more about memory or keeping things in mind/heart (somewhat interchangeable organs in non-Western traditions) and is part-and-parcel of cultivating positive traits like lovingkindness and compassion. It involves attending to one’s sensory experiences and the environment as a means to perceiving the authentic nature of reality and freeing oneself from earthly and quotidian attachments that might hinder one’s pursuit of enlightenment. There’s a lot of religious context and overtones that I am omitting here for simplicity’s sake, but that are very much a part of the cultivation of mindfulness.

This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to spell this out. Can you share with our readers a few of the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of becoming mindful?

There are a variety of purported benefits, depending upon how one operationalizes mindfulness. Looking across a few different studies (not all of which use the same construct), research suggests that mindfulness can reduce stress, which can have a host of effects on cardiac health and immune response, and also that developing mindfulness promotes greater mental self-control. The latter allows people to reduce depressive and intrusive thoughts, reduce rumination and anxiety, and allow for focusing more deeply on a topic of interest. People who practice mindfulness also tend to co-develop compassion and lovingkindness, which promotes more positive emotions and acceptance of all that we encounter.

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. The past 5 years have been filled with upheaval and political uncertainty. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop mindfulness and serenity during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.

1. Accept that things are going to change.

2. Accept that we have the power to navigate through the chaos.

When you go swimming in the ocean and a huge wave looks like it’s going to crash on you, the desire not to get your head wet is probably the worst mentation to have at that moment. Trying to keep your head out of the water is going to invite you to swim away, swim across, or swim forward in attempt to get over or away from the wave. This wave and this force are bigger than you, and there’s nothing you can do to change or avoid either. But, once you accept that you are going to have to dunk your head, and that your situation must change indelibly because of this wave crash, then you focus your energy and calmly dive through the wave. You come out the other side buffeted, wet, and probably wiping salt out of your eyes (with some attendant sting). But, you got through on your own terms and are unperturbed by the effects of your actions because they were accepted before you moved. For all of these crises, we must accept that we did not set the forces in motion, and we do not control them, either. We must also accept that we cannot, under any circumstances, retain our status quo and position. We need to accept that we must experience the water [crisis], and we must move, and our only choices are whether we do that of our own volition through our chosen ways and means, or whether the forces move and drench us in unpleasant ways.

3. Acknowledge that almost all people are good people.

Hanlon’s Razor states: Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity. It’s a mite harsher than I recommend taking to heart, but it’s certainly true that much of the division that occurs in the world comes from being unable to accept that different people have different experiences, obtain different data, and have developed different hierarchies of what is “unacceptable” or “wrong.” For instance, which is more wrong: preventing a woman from deciding what happens to her body, or permitting a fetus (conceived of as a human life) to be destroyed? If the former, you’re pro-choice, and if the latter, you’re pro-life. Critically, making peace between these two camps begins by acknowledging that just about everyone believes that both constructs are bad things. I’ve never heard a pro-lifer say that denying women control over their bodies is a good thing, and I’ve never heard a pro-choicer say that aborting a baby is a good thing. In fact, both sides tend to view their preference as the lesser of two evils, and once we look at our differences in that light, we begin to see that those who disagree with us aren’t immoral or bad people. They see all the same ills as we, and label them all as such, but others may be ignorant of what we have discovered, learned, seen, or encountered that has inspired us to decide which ills are worse.

4. “Love is as bold as death.”

An alternate translation of Song of Solomon 8:6 (the Hebrew “aza” refers to boldness as well as strength), this phrase offers us much in highlighting the power of love. When we have a path to destruction, we necessarily also have a path of love, if we have the boldness to take it. How many times in this Covid-19 crisis have we looked up and seen demonstrations of love? We have seen people go to great lengths to show love, even renting a bucket truck to hold up a sign to a window so that a man could express his love for his quarantined wife. We have seen neighbors and community members help each other in myriad ways. We have reached out to those in our lives who might be marginalized for any number of reasons. Believe it or not, each of these is an act of love that is just as bold and effortful as dropping the ball on relationships, ignoring those in need, and brazenly going on with our lives as if we live in a vacuum. Those who doubt that the two paths are equally effortful often miss the fact that the efforts of destruction sometimes come afterwards (such as loss of connection, loneliness, etc.), and that the pretense of not caring and being unaffected takes a lot of energy to maintain.

5. The spirit of the vision supersedes the letter.

In Derek Sivers’s famous TED talk, he pointed out that “leadership is over-glorified.” We can’t all be leaders, and most of us don’t want the job anyway. Being in charge, having responsibility, and going down with the ship (as the captain is wont to do) is more headache than most of us can stomach (mixed metaphor intended!), even though many of us would gladly enjoy the attendant honors on their own. When we view leadership this way, we forget that the main purpose of leadership is to create an inspiring vision that others will follow and execute upon. That doesn’t mean internalizing the letter of the vision, but rather ascertaining its spirit and meaning in our own lives and finding the parts of it that are resonant. We may, for instance, disagree with a world leader’s vision for how the country should be run, but we best serve ourselves, our country, and our leader by finding the meaningful part of the vision that we can execute upon in an authentic way.

From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?

1. Remember that it is OK to feel hurt, stressed, and sad.

In an article like this, we’re talking about how to transcend the stress, sadness, and the like that we encounter, and that is certainly the ideal. Straight up: we’re not going to hit it. Neither are the people around us. We’re going to be much better off if we are accepting and forgiving of both our momentary descents into negative emotions and the moments that others have. We can do a lot for one another by saying, “It’s OK that you’re stressed” or “It’s OK that you’re crying.” It might also make it easier for us to tell ourselves the same thing!

2. “If you shoot for the eagle, and bag a pheasant, you don’t have to eat crow.”

My father said this all the time, and I think it’s one of the best pieces of advice he ever gave me. We have lofty ideas for what we are going to be able to accomplish while we’re navigating these crises, and it’s important that we have them! We should be striving for the best we can accomplish, but we also have to recognize that it’s OK to achieve less than what we hoped if we managed to accomplish something substantial. Recognizing that for ourselves is asking a lot (I take the Fifth on how I know that…). But, we can certainly help other people to see that they have indeed accomplished substantial things (and by their own standards, no less!).

3. Listen. Nonjudgmentally.

People need to think aloud. Human thoughts can be very nuanced and complex, and it can be helpful to vocalize them out loud, and to have them mirrored back so that we can examine them outside of our own heads. By listening nonjudgmentally and reflecting back what we have heard, we give people the chance to understand their own thoughts and situations more deeply and more clearly. We also give them the requisite psychological safety to take the necessary risks to be inventive and creative in ways that can make their lives better.

4. Hold people accountable when they want you to…gently.

We tend to be more effective at accomplishing goals when we plan out paths for achieving them. One major part of those paths are the guard rails that keep people on track, and we can contribute by being an accountability partner. We can check in with one another on how we’re doing in pursuit of our goals, and be a cheering section to encourage and push each other to stay on course and cross that finish line (or bow out with grace, as above).

5. Enjoy being with people, and make sure they know how much enjoyment their presence brings you.

My mother isn’t much for rollercoasters. Whenever we went to an amusement park, she would bring a book/activity to do while the rest of us went on the rides. I asked her about it once, because she could surely have enjoyed the activities at home, gotten some quiet time, and saved a bit of money in the process. She pointed out that, while she wasn’t going on the rides, she was spending the rest of the time with us: going from ride to ride, waiting in line, eating lunch and dinner, playing skill games (she definitely has a flair for Skee-Ball), et cetera. Best of all, she said, she gets to enjoy all of the rides by proxy when we all come off of them excited, laughing, smiling, and talking up our experiences. She’s part of it all — everything but the few minutes we spend on each ride. I think that was one of the best lessons in “being present” and sharing in experiences that I ever encountered, and it made me glad that she came with us for the day. How often do we think that, just because we can’t be in the room with the person in the moment, we can’t share in the moment? Virtual presence may not be the best, but it can be deeply meaningful if we focus on how much we really do get to share.

What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?

Flow — Csikszentmihalyi: https://amzn.to/3dD8uYS

Positivity — Fredrickson: https://amzn.to/2w6Xcva

Zig Zag — Sawyer: https://amzn.to/2UvzXEr

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten — Fulghum: https://amzn.to/2Kjr76J

If you’re religious, make sure you also read core texts, be it the Vedas, the Qur’an, the Torah, etc. If you know the book(s) well, give yourself a lesson in comparative religion. It’s amazing how much you can learn when you see a different take on the same construct (such as god, sanctity, love, food, etc.).

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

One of my first jobs comprised a significant amount of scut work. I was a teenager, and while I understood that I needed to do my work well to make money, I wasn’t particularly enjoying the tasks. On one of my weekly calls with my grandfather (of blessed memory), he asked me about the job and I told him I found it very boring. I can still hear his response in my ears like it was yesterday:

“So, what are you doing to make it interesting?”

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Know thyself (γνῶθι σεαυτόν in the original Greek, or temet nosce in Latin). The better we know ourselves, the more we can pursue and express the values that resonate with us most deeply, and thus develop ourselves to the fullest and make a unique and lasting contribution to the world.

What is the best way our readers can follow you online?

Website: www.qllab.org

Twitter: https://twitter.com/DrOrinDavis

Medium: https://medium.com/@DrOrinDavis

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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