fear

Why singing improves well-being

People singing

I'm sometimes asked why we use singing in our sessions. I'm not surprised – and not only because singing is, ahem, a touch unusual in leadership development. Thing is, however natural it might be, singing comes with baggage. It’s always a loaded concept, whether that's with feelings of joy or outright fear, or something in between.

And actually, in our work, all of that is useful.

That element of fear and exposure can help you notice how you respond to risk and uncertainty. And do so in a way that’s not only immediate, but that is all-encompassing: physically, intellectually and emotionally. In pulling you out of your comfort zone, singing can take you to a place of stretch. And that, we know from recent research, is where most of us learn best and most memorably.

It's even likely that, because it’s a bit risky, singing actually increases your resilience. We're currently collaborating with neurobiologists at Ashridge Business School to find at whether public singing creates templates in your brain that help you tackle other challenges more easily. We'll keep you posted on our findings!

So I embrace that element of fear. And one of the things I find fascinating about singing is how quickly it can take you from that place of fear to one of connection, trust, and well-being. And for lots of people, it can happen within the space of a single song.

There’s a growing body of research into the impact of singing on well-being. We now know, for example, that group singing raises your pain threshold. And that it releases oxytocin into your bloodstream, which helps promote feelings of trust and safety.

Singing also enables fast social bonding. It breaks the ice so you feel closer as the group, even if you don’t yet know anything about each other. The team behind this research also suggest that the social bonding effect of singing may even have been vital in enabling modern humans to sustain larger social networks than their evolutionary ancestors. And that, in turn, may have helped them colonise risky environments worldwide. Those early singers were no slackers.

When you sing with other people your heartbeats sychronise – which may explain why singing together can create a sense of shared perspective. Choral singing can certainly improve mood, enhance quality of life, and lead to greater happiness, reduced stress and better emotional well-being. But, whether you sing alone or with others, the simple act of singing raises your heart rate variability, which in turn improves both your well-being and social cognition.

And we think that singing with someone else improves your social intelligence. with, again, an impact on well-being. We're currently developing research with neuroscientists at University College London to examine brain activity during joint singing, and its impact on interaction and well-being.

As you might have gathered, I find the science fascinating. I find it hugely exciting to understand what happens in our brains and bodies when we sing, and how we can use that to enhance our lives at work or at home.

But, in some ways, we don’t need the science.

Singing is thought to be how we first communicated, even before we had speech. It's found across the world – a truly global phenomenon. It's a fundamental to the human condition. So why not give it a whirl? Even if you find it stressful you'll probably be boosting your resilience! And all you need is yourself.

This piece is an excerpt from our session for Roffey Park Institute's Well-being Forum in November 2017. Do drop us a line if you'd like to find out more about the session or our research.

Why tight schedules can help you confront your fears

A few weeks ago I was asked at the last minute to come in and run a conference session. The booked speaker was ill and they needed someone else. Fast. A couple of hours later I was on stage delivering a just-planned session to 200 people. It's fair to say that none of us – the organisers, the delegates... me – knew quite what to expect.

Why we should lean into risk in Brexit Britain

"Brexit tea"  by  frankieleon  is licenced under  CC BY 2.0

"Brexit tea" by frankieleon is licenced under CC BY 2.0

I was going to write a blog about risk. I’d whip through the theory, focus on the practice, and back it up with science.

Then the referendum happened. And now, depending on your view, the country’s either deep in the mire, or free to succeed. The markets have crashed, but might bounce back. Hate crime is up, but might be a blip. We're living in uncertainty, and we don’t even know how long it’ll last.

All of that feels uncomfortable and risky. So to write about risk without acknowledging the uncertainty around us feels a bit absurd. We’re already awash with political analysis, so I won’t add mine. But whether you’re delighted, devastated or unmoved by these events, it’s an interesting moment to take a look at the parallels with organisational and personal change.

Major change throws the status quo in the air. Before it settles, as it inevitably will, we can make some choices. We can pretend it’s not happening. We can choose to step back and see where the pieces fall. And we can choose to take a risk and lean into uncertainty. These are decisions organisations are making now – as they’ve done before and will again. Individuals are doing the same.

Unless you’re very lucky, pretending nothing’s changed will leave you baffled, and your colleagues disengaged. It’s also, counter-intuitively, a lot of effort. Our ability to adapt is part of what defines us as human. So while adapting might be hard, refusing to is exhausting. Sometimes, of course, the wisest move is to hold your horses and wait for a new normal. But you forfeit the chance to shape it, and risk being left behind.

Choosing to shake hands with uncertainty can be complicated and uncomfortable. It can also be profoundly creative. If you can lean into that, there’s scope to experiment with new ideas and products, have different conversations and make unexpected connections. You might fail, you might succeed, you might create something a bit… ‘meh’. But you only find out if you take the risk. And whether or not it’s sparked by external events, embedding a culture of testing, adapting and improving will reap benefits well into the future.  

Thing is, it’s not easy. There’s a gap between intention and doing. And however much you want to, crossing it can seem boring, painful and hard work. And once you do cross it, there’s no guarantee it’ll work. Ugh. Why bother? It’s somehow easier to feel disrespected afterwards than to challenge in the moment. To feed back to your friends instead of your colleagues. To work within stasis than to venture an alternative.

But that 'ugh' is worth the bother. It’s when things shift, and when you learn. Plus you reinforce in yourself and colleagues that, whatever the outcome, you are people with the agency to create change. You’ll be more likely to do it again, helping build a culture of creativity in yourself and others.

So where to begin? Here are three initial suggestions.

1. Acknowledge fears, but don’t draw them out. Give yourself three minutes to project the potential range of outcomes from best to worst. Then begin, ditch or adapt. You’ll only find out what actually happens by taking the risk, so don’t waste time on the fundamentally unsound, or delay the great.

2. Solicit feedback; ask, listen, learn, adapt. And be specific: work out exactly what you want feedback on, and ask questions within a clear remit. This shifts the focus away from egos (easily crushed, despite denials) and towards ideas. Seeking feedback can feel like a massive risk in itself. But the more you do it, the easier and more useful it becomes.

3. Build networks. It’s exhausting taking a risk on your own and it takes ages. Talk to people who disagree: diverse opinion makes for robust ideas. And test the idea as soon as you can, drawing on your network for support. Make sure your network includes people unconnected to your idea, but who can help you reflect on progress and remain resilient. Action learning sets and peer mentors are ideal.

I’m not suggesting all ideas are sensible or risks worth taking. But change is definitely coming. New systems, new products and even new industries may emerge. I hope that as organisations and individuals we’ll be inspired to lean into risk when we encounter it. Start experimenting, adapting, innovating. The status quo has been shaken, and will rebuild. The space in between is yours to shape.

 

Learn more about how to embrace risk, innovation and experiments with our free Chirp Guide. Sign up to receive your download.

 

 

Risk series: Julie Noon on working in the world's most dangerous places

Film-maker Julie Noon

Our latest podcast on risk features the acclaimed journalist and film-maker, Julie Noon. A world away from a day at the office, Julie's work has risk at its very heart – personal, professional and physical. In this podcast Julie talks about what draws her to this work, and how she weighs up the risks, both potential and terrifyingly real. She also explains why the person who isn't scared is the biggest risk of all.

Julie Noon is a freelance journalist and documentary filmmaker who specialises in foreign affairs and filming in hostile environments. Her career has spanned live political programming and documentaries in politics, current affairs and news. Julie has worked, lived and travelled in over 60 countries around the world, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, to South Sudan and Afghanistan, where she spent months embedded with British Forces in Helmand over the duration of the campaign.

Julie has produced, directed and series produced on award-winning series and critically acclaimed strands including Channel 4’s Dispatches and Unreported World, and the BBC’s This World. Her work has been nominated and shortlisted for awards including the Rory Peck Award for Impact and Broadcast Award’s Best Current Affairs Documentary. Many of her films have been shown in Parliament and some have prompted policy and legal change. Passionate about developing new talent in foreign affairs, Julie also teaches filmmaking for organisations including One World Media, and on Hostile Environment training courses.

 

Learn more about how to embrace risk, innovation and experiments with our free Chirp Guide. Sign up to receive your download.

 

 

Is risk the secret to success? We could always ask Prince...

'Prince!'  by  Scott Penner  licenced under  CC-BY-SA 2.0

I’ve been running some workshops lately to help colleagues be bolder, experiment, and take a few risks. And they've neatly coincided with the return of Prince. Or 3rdEyeGirl, or TAFKAP, or TAFKASquiggle. Now there’s a man who’s danced with risk/reward ratios in his time. Of which more later.

At each of these workshops the individuals were lively, capable, and pretty confident. They were good at their jobs and high achievers. Yet even the most assured had something outside their comfort zones. Some task or action perpetually consigned to ‘to do’ list purgatory.

It’s not really about productivity, nor whether you do your job well. And, luckily, these unappealing tasks are rarely the same for everyone – be they ringing clients, making new contacts, or pitching fresh ideas.

Most of us get by surprisingly well without having to do the things that make us nervous. We use e-mail instead of the phone. We network within established spheres. We take a deep breath, get on with it, and avoid a repeat for as long as possible.

Yet, as Prince arguably knows, change is often integral to success. Rather than stick to a reliable formula, he has continued to experiment, change, test, and play throughout his long career. Not simply with music, but with his very identity. Not every risk brought rewards – many did; others didn’t. Nonetheless, those bold decisions have been instrumental in his continued success.

Thoughtful experiments won’t always pay off – though experiments that don’t work can prove equally as valuable. Either way, it’s only by giving it a bash that we find out how much better, more exciting, even easier our work could be. By shaking things up, taking the odd punt on a possibility. (Don’t fiddle the LIBOR rates, though. There are limits.)

So, while no one’s looking, why not fish out that neglected ‘to do’ list? Pitch your barmy-yet-brilliant idea to the CEO. Pick up the phone to new clients. And long forgotten ones, too. If nothing else, you’ll at least be able to tick it off that list. I will if you will!

 

Learn more about how to embrace risk, innovation and experiments with our free Chirp Guide. Sign up to receive your download.