Emotional AlchemyI’ll start with the ending, a closing keynote by Todd Kashdan, Mason professor, psychologist, and senior scientist at the Center for Consciousness and Transformation. Kashdan adds a vertical dimension to the discussion, taking business-as-usual and giving it depth.
“It’s time we dip outside the field of what we call positive psychology into related, scientifically-informed disciplines,” he urged.
Kashdan presented some experience sampling research conducted by his Laboratory for the Study of Social Anxiety, Character Strengths, and Related Phenomena, showing that having sex the night before can lower levels of social anxiety by up to 25% the next day. “We have natural interventions: people,” he said. “No therapists needed.”
Kashdan spoke of a concept he calls emotional alchemy as a way to build emotional intelligence, a skill he says we are conditioned to believe we finished learning in kindergarten. His definition of social anxiety is our need to belong gone awry, plus an avoidance-focused lifestyle that results in an erosion of positive experiences.
Chris Peterson and Nansook Park gave the lunchtime keynote and spoke of resilience as “struggling well.” As an example of emotional alchemy that takes us away from the old “bounce back using your own boot straps” mentality and gives us permission to be human, they closed with the following video, showing Derek Redmond achieving real-time resilience with the help of his father.
Rick Hanson’s talk, “Taking in the Good,” addressed the notion of self-directed neuroplasticity: changing the mind to change the brain to change the mind. Our minds are our experience (thinking, feeling, sensing), and our brains are the organismal totality of our nervous systems.
A simple experience of focusing attention on the feeling (not just the thought) of something good has enormous impact, activating the insula, a part of our brains used for knowing ourselves and having empathy for others. Focusing this way has been shown to lessen cortical thinning, thus reducing the cognitive decline that often comes with aging.Practical Applications
The conference included many sessions on the practical applications of positive psychology in the world, including Beth Cabrera’s session on good transitions, secrets of resilient entrepreneurs, and positive leadership strategies. Beth Cabrera is a positive psychology practitioner and wife of Angel Cabrera, incoming president of George Mason University.
I gave a talk on SOcial-eMOtional Leadership, an intervention I’m facilitating in partnership with the Center for Consciousness and Transformation (CCT). I was delighted to be joined at the conference by one of the first partners of SOMO Cleveland, Adele DiMarco-Kious.
Co-Chairs of MasonLeads, Nance Lucas (Dean, New Century College and Interim Director of CCT) and Pam Patterson (Asst. Vice President, University Life and Dean of Students) are thrilled with this year’s turnout. “A magical day of inquiry, scholarship, and practice,” Patterson says.
2012 Living and Leading with Resilience Conference was convened by Mason Leads and the Center for Consciousness and Transformation
Some references for keynote speakers:
Pressman, S.D., & Cohen, S. (2007). The Use of Social Words in Autobiographies and Longevity. Psychosomatic Medicine, 69, 262-269.
Publications by Todd Kashdan, including several written with students and many with links to the article online
Publications by Nansook Park, many with Chris Peterson
Hanson, R. (2009). Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom. New Harbinger Publications.
Cameron, K. & Spreitzer, G. (2011). The Oxford Handbook of Positive Organizational Scholarship. Oxford University Press.
Resilient Growth was the logo image for the 2012 Living and Leading with Resilience Conference.
Todd Kashdan image from the CCT scholars web site.
Other images courtesy of Louis Alloro