uncertainty

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 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.

 

 

Innovation series: Marieluise Maiwald on the challenge of the new

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In the second of our innovation podcasts Kamala speaks to Marieluise Maiwald, who's putting innovation into practice by challenging herself to do something new every week this year. They talk about the appeal of the new, why stepping away from comfort can reap rewards and why constant maximisation can be the enemy of innovation.

Marieluise Maiwald is an internationally experienced leadership development professional and coach with a background in consulting. She currently works as a Project Director for Duke Corporate Education in London and is responsible for designing and delivering learning programmes for executives around the world.

Alongside programme delivery, Marieluise offers coaching and workshops to people wanting to bring real change to their lives. To stay credible and authentic for her clients, Marieluise has decided to delve into a different challenge every week in 2016, from speaking at Speaker’s Corner to swimming in icy waters. She posts her experiences and learning in weekly blogs and videos on Defying Gravity.

Risk series: Melanie Harrold on how we experience risk

Singer songwriter Melanie Harrold performing live

In the last of our podcasts on risk (at least for now), Kamala spoke to the artist Melanie Harrold. They talk about the risks Melanie's taken in her own career, and how she helps other people to remain grounded while reaching forward into the unknown. Melanie also explains the central role your voice, breath and body can play in building your capacity not only for taking conscious risks, but also for managing them resiliently.

You might want to take a breath before reading on, because Melanie is... a singer-songwriter who's performed with artists including Gerry Rafferty and Don McLean, a teacher, choral director, body psychotherapist, Voice Movement Therapist (and professional trainer) and founder of The Singing Body who has worked and performed across the world. Phew, and breathe... Which is appropriate, really, because much of Melanie's work explores how our breath, bodies and movement can help us to take more conscious risks and push the boundaries of what we think we can achieve. Alongside her private practice working with individuals and small groups, Melanie directs several choirs including Trade Winds and Vocal Chords.

 

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

 

 

Risk series: Helen Walton on gaming and business

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In the first of our podcast series about risk, we talk to Helen Walton, Co-founder and Marketing Director at Gamevy. As an entrepreneur who runs a gaming start-up, Helen encounters risk in different guises on an almost daily basis. We talk to her about the human urge to gamble, the importance of knowing your bottom line, and the biggest risks she's taken. We also hear about one of Gamevy's less conventional investment decisions!

Helen Walton is a writer and marketing manager who enjoys solving problems, trying out ideas and making things happen. She started out in Unilever, (back in the glory days when advertising budgets meant long, boozy lunches). Since then her work has included a column in the Daily Mail, naming lipsticks, saving literature (a game that won a NIBBIE) and writing an IT course. Helen is Co-founder and Marketing Director at Gamevy, an award-winning company whose games combine skill, chance and life-changing jackpots for the ultimate in fun.

 

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