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Stanford B-School's Tools To Cut Stress, Boost Soft Skills And Productivity

Updated: Mar 5, 2019

Psychology was one of the first subject I learned in the United States. Whether in my first class - Fundamentals of Psychology - or the topic of an event I attended at the Commonwealth Club hosted by Leah Weiss, author of How We Work and former Director of Stanford's Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. Perhaps this is because it is one of the most important skills needed when a person undergoes a major life change and starts business studies.

Professor Weiss talked about cutting stress and boosting soft skills and productivity in our hectic world. Lately, she pointed out, organizations have been addressing this topic to benefit employees and increase happiness in the workplace. Employee happiness could be correlated with the performance and well-being of the organization as a whole. She elaborated by explaining several useful tools, which I summarize in this article.

Purpose and Mindfulness: ‘Purpose’ combined with ‘Mindfulness’ gives an individual the ability to maneuver over the hurdles of stress. ‘Purpose’ means the pursuit and futuristic sight of a worthy ideal. It contains values and beliefs that an individual can relate to deeply. These values are a light and guide during easy and tough times alike. ‘Purpose’ makes decision making easy. ‘Mindfulness’ is the intentional allocation of an individual’s attention. In a world where we are distracted almost every second of our lives, mindfulness without a doubt has become a soft-skill we all need to master. And it’s not about locking oneself up in a room, closing one’s eyes, and meditating for hours. It’s rather a simple process of plugging out from a routine behavior, handling emotions, and increasing emotional intelligence. Keeping our emotions in check can help our overall outlook and keep behavior positive.

Emotions are handled in three ways: ‘Acting-Out’; ‘Suppression’; and ‘Reframing’. We live in an environment where we grew up being encouraged to show the best of our emotions in an acceptable manner and not to act out on our worst emotions, as the world penalizes us greatly for doing so. ‘Suppression’ of these emotions, on the other hand, can be equally dangerous from within. It could contribute to unhealthiness and untimely outbursts.

‘Reframing’ of an emotion is the moderating spot. We all have a short amount of time between the perception of a situation, good or bad, and the time we decide to react to it. And this is the Reframing playground. This window of time, from perception to reaction, is what we get to control the outcome of. It is our opportunity to take any particular situation and have a say on its impact on us and our behaviour towards it.

Eudaimonia and Hedonia: Satisfaction attained through meaning and realization of the self which is in line with ‘Purpose’ is known as ‘Eudaimonia’. ‘Hedonia’ is satisfaction through attainment of pleasures and avoidance of pain. Science has shown that the ‘Eudaimonia’ approach towards life and work has increased long-term happiness and overall health of an individual. The approach focuses on development of meaning in day-to-day activities and fulfillment of one’s potentials, thus creating long- term value and sense of accomplishment. It is no wonder, then, that it contributes to increased health and decreased chance of illness. The ‘Hedonia’ approach exchanges effort for pleasure and tends to take the road of no pain. An approach to gain satisfaction from short-term pleasure doesn’t create robust values for long-term health and often diverts us from a path to happiness.

- Ashi M. Idicula

Credits - Leah Weiss, Ph.D, MSW

You can find an audio recording of the event here.