Well-Being in Meetings #2: Outlook

According to neuroscientist Richie Davidson the four factors or ingredients of well-being are resilience, outlook, attention, and generosity.

Last week we investigated resilience. This week let’s look at outlook and its role in meetings.

Outlook refers to our customary point of view or frame of mind. Do you maintain a high level of interest and engagement even when things don’t go your way? Are you able to appreciate and even dwell on positive experiences? Do you tend to see the positive in others more than the negative?  Or, do you tend to hold a cynical or pessimistic view of things and struggle to see anything positive? When thinking about a co-worker do you focus more on what he or she needs to improve or on what he or she is doing well?

We nurture or diminish people’s sense of well-being in meetings through our outlook. Our outlook also plays a role in the first ingredient of well-being: resilience, or how long it takes us to recover from setbacks or meltdowns in meetings. The more pessimistic our outlook, the longer it takes to recover from setbacks, because they can feed our negativity.

Here are three tips on how to develop a more positive outlook and maintain interest and engagement in meetings. Each of these practices strengthens the connections between the prefrontal cortex and the ventral striatum; and generates activity in the ventral striatum, which is part of the brain’s reward circuit. According to Davidson, high activity in the ventral striatum is a mark of a positive outlook, while low activity is sign of a negative one. In addition to helping to generate a sense of well-being, a more positive outlook rewards you in other ways, like more productive and life-giving meetings.

First, plan your meetings: clarify what you want to get done and how to go about accomplishing that with others. Or, if you’re not convening or leading the meeting, think through beforehand how you want to participate. Clarify your intention?

Second, to boost your ability to sustain a positive outlook, periodically inventory the people or circumstances in your life for which you feel grateful. Several evenings a week (when I remember!), I walk through the things that happened during the day that I appreciate. I include everything from the taste of warm oatmeal at breakfast to a warm smile from a colleague during a meeting to the opportunity to interact with the people I worked with that day. I notice a sense of greater spaciousness and contentment in me when I do this.

Third, as part of the meeting closing, compliment people for what they said or did during the meeting (Thank you for bringing up the important issues we needed to look at.) or some quality or characteristic they contributed to it (a “we can do this” attitude or making it more engaging by asking others for their perspectives).

Each of the four elements of well-being—including outlook— is rooted in neural circuits. This means that, because of the plasticity of our brains, when we practice holding a positive outlook we get better at it. We can promote higher levels of well-being in ourselves and in our meetings.

Davidson is the founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at University of Wisconsin-Madison where he and his colleagues are identifying the biological and behavioral underpinnings of well-being. The tag line for Davidson’s center is “Change Your Mind, Change the World.” This blog adds an instrumental middle step: change your mind, change your conversations, change the world.

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