Sunday, February 26, 2017

Being in it together

I will repeat: running it's tough and it hurts. And yet I keep doing it and this is the day I've completed my 2nd half-marathon. Now, not only is running tough on the body, it is also tough on the mind - and by tough the mind, in the case of today's run - Meia Maratona de Cascais - means .. yeah, positively tough!!

It seems that our will to run is innate and humans evolved as we did because of our ability to run (as Christopher McDougall's defends in his bestselling book "Born to Run" a theory devised by Harvard scientists). Beyond the physical aspects, plenty has also been said and written about running being a sort of road to self-awareness and reliance, allowing a person to push itself to extremes and learn about its own physical and mental limitations. This is also a part of our evolution as we learn more on what are, how to accept and put in perspective limitations. 

When you are cognizant of your limitations you can use them to move forward in life - this means the more conscious we become of what limits us, the more limitless becomes our life.

Now, me and my good friends Rita, Sara and Paula have taken a compromise and made a pledge together on something that, even being a limitation for all (except for Sara that meanwhile has run a Marathon!!)  would allow us to share a breakthrough experience; to run an half-marathon together.  And yes, TODAY three of us crossed the end line together, new road that reinforces our bonding. This has got me thinking about the commitments we make, and how we keep or break them. 

When we promise something only to ourselves, it's easy to back out.
But when we make a commitment to other persons (and specially when those persons mean a lot to us) that is something that raises the stakes! We become invested in accomplishing the promise made together,  supporting each other in whatever struggles each one experiences to keep the promise, creating bonds, caring and and encouraging who ever is involved in reaching the common goal. 

So, now running is more; is about surpassing challenges that are creating a sense of connectedness, a sense of being in it together. Is about feeding a "place in my mind" of deeper level of self-awareness that supplies ways to work with limitations and even so, allowing freedom of mind that serves as key to self-motivation. 

Thank you Rita and Sara! 
Paula; we'll see you on March!

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

What is happiness anyway?

As humans, we typically strive for happiness, most of the times a condition that we perceive to be the opposite of suffering - meaning, if suffering is, by definition, the state of undergoing pain, distress or hardship then you do not want to be in that state but instead want be to in the state of being happy.

One may tend to discussed then if these can be experienced as two as separate states of being - meaning, are we really only able to feel happy when we do not suffer? and conversely, when one is suffering is it then not possible to feel or be happy?

From my own experience, happiness isn’t a thing  - instead, happiness is the result of the combination of feelings of the things we live and experience. You are not happy - you feel (or not) happy.

For the ones that may agree with this perspective, this means that the pursuit of meaning, purpose and fulfillment in life as a long lasting challenge may not make that much sense... Sustaining this perspective is the body of 
research that suggests that happiness is a combination of how satisfied you are with your life (for example, finding meaning in your work) and how good you feel on a day-to-day basis.

Seems also that our general happiness is more genetically determined than anything else  but the good news is that with consistent effort this can be offset. So, while it could take years of persistence to deeply transform life (if even possible), there are some scientifically-tested strategies that have been shown to provide an immediate happiness boost. And even if such activities provide a modest increase in happiness, when practiced consistently they become happiness habits, energizing people to live their dreams and passions. 

In summary, do try to remember that under normal conditions, daily life is filled with simple things (and miracles); from the wonderful people that surrounds us to computer games or a peaceful walk in the park. Somehow we tend to take all for granted after a while, putting in front of us the challenge of thinking about a better way to appreciate and savor the good things of life. If that is the case, try this framework at Happify were you can practice, right now, and get a shot of healthy psychological nutrients.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Extended travel affects personality; becoming a different person when hitting the road

In some ways we are all the same - we all have the same human nature and we all share a common humanity. We all have human bodies and human minds; we all have human thoughts and human feelings. What makes us different seems to be the characteristics we think of as personality, many of the times sufficient enough to describe differences between people. 

PEDES is a research project launched by the Department of Personality Psychology and Psychological Assessment at the Friedrich Schiller University aimed at contributing to a better understanding of personality development in general. One of the fields of study has been the interplay between personality and international mobility experiences in young adulthood. 

The research focus has been on the basic personality traits (referred to as the Big Five traits) which include a broad variety of characteristics people use to describe themselves and others:

- Openness (characteristics such as openness to ideas, to actions, and to values)
- Conscientiousness (dutifulness, self-discipline, achievement striving)
- Extraversion (gregariousness, warmth, assertiveness),
- Agreeableness (altruism, trust, compliance),
- Neuroticism (anxiety, hostility, vulnerability to stress)

Authors argue that international mobility is a relevant life event for the personality development of young adults. Extended foreign travel takes people outside of their comfort zone, since travelers have to adapt to new people and new cultural practices and
also implies to gain perspective on life, which made them less emotionally reactive to day-to-day changes. Overall, studies have confirmed the fundamental importance of personality characteristics with regard to mobility decisions.  

Monday, November 28, 2016

Girls; we can have it all! (want we can not is to do all ...)

More gender equality within the business sector and a reduction of the gender pay gap can only be sustainably realised if companies follow a comprehensive approach including corporate strategy, management, operational implementation by business units and HR work organisation and monitoring, said António Ramalho, CEO of Novo Banco last Thursday November 24, at Universidade Católica.

Key-note speaker at the conference "Liderança Feminina" (with an agenda aimed at inspiring the next generation of executives with experiences&advices from professionals with solid careers and leadership), António Ramalho made a review of the last 30 years, underlining that in Portugal, women represent more than half of the total population, graduate high school at a higher rate than men and hold domain in all areas of study except engineering and industry ... still, despite that, the country ranks poorly when it comes to corporate sector, as very few women hold top management positions in companies.

Diversity continues to be a much debated topic and, regarding gender, while there's a growing consensus that it is an imperative, the progress is painfully slow. Understanding and identifying how men’s involvement in gender equality issues, both in private and public spheres, is still a key question in the Portuguese contemporary society - and, as António Ramalho said, any father will be truly interested in this discussion as many changes are still required specially in traditional male domains. Amongst those many, responsability of corporations on talent retention and future thinking business strategies.

The conference was then followed by panels and by an interesting number of role-model testemonies from women in different sectors, with quite different and interesting experiences. If there is a summary for the common realms that were discussed, I would point to the inescapable fact that change only happens when one starts demanding that it does. This means that it, when it comes to gender diversity, change also depends on "each woman (own) decision".

And with that, if I may say (and share), we women (and mothers and fathers) need to accept that each of us is part of this! So, let's tell ourselfs and our daughter:

Yes, we can have it all. (what we can not is to do all.. and that's OK).

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Can we build Artificial Intelligence without losing control over it?

Last Thursday October 27, I had the chance of listening to João Valente Cordeiro, Professor of Health Law and Ethics, Science and Technology, as key-note speaker at SAS FORUM Portugal 2016.  

"On the next day, no one died - Digital Revolution, Health and (i)mortality" was the title of his captivating speach, starting on the Pale Blue Dot (taken on Feb 1990 by Voyager 1), Professor Cordeiro led the audience on a trip about our past, our present and our (possible) future and on how the exact same incredible technology developments can impact, in a myriad of forms, both positively and negatively in humanity.

Far is the old discussion of "strong vs weak artificial intelligence" - just consider that as a minimum, an AI system must be able to reproduce (mimic) aspects of human intelligence (human cognitive functions) and you will find that is the current state-of-the-art; AI (agents) are now designed to perform specific tasks such as speech recognition, natural language processing, facial recognition, internet searches, driving a car, etc...  This "specific domain AI"  allows "machines" to outperform humans at whatever specific task one can imagine; playing chess, Jeopardy or GO are examples that allow us to foresee applications of current AI systems and from personal assistants (like SIRI), to solving equations or self-driving cars, AI is progressing rapidly, encompassing a wide range of capabilities, from Google search algorithms to IBM’s Watson features and to autonomous weapons.

Though most people involved in the field of artificial intelligence and cognitive computing are excited about these developments, many worry that without proper planning and reflection advanced AI could destroy humanity; and in more recent years philosophers and ethicists  - like Professor Cordeiro - have given a step forward on the sincere and open discussion about the worries of the long-term future of artificial intelligence as its represents fascinating controversies for humanity.

The threat of uncontrolled AI,  Sam Harris argues in a recently released TED Talk, is one of the most pressing issues of our time. Yet most people “seem unable to marshal an appropriate emotional response to the dangers that lie ahead.” Harris explains that one only needs to accept three basic assumptions to recognize the inevitability of superintelligent AI:
  • Intelligence is a product of information processing in physical systems.
  • We will continue to improve our intelligent machines.
  • We do not stand on the peak of intelligence or anywhere near it.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Positive and negative emotional attractors and Intentional Change Theory

Intentional change theory (ICT) explores the process by which individual change occurs and offers a new understanding on the role of positive and negative emotion in the process of intentional change. The positive emotional attractor (PEA) triggers constructive cognitive and physiological responses that enhance an individual's motivation, effort, optimism, flexibility, creative thinking, resilience and other adaptive behaviors. On the other hand, the negative emotional attractor (NEA) triggers another process by calling attention to current social and environmental stressors that may compromise an individual's effectiveness. 

The "PEA–NEA theory" brings together and integrates work on emotion and on the self with the advances in physiological measurement and neurological activity; using complexity theory, Boyatzis (2008) argues that these two states are strange attractors, each characterized by three dimensions: (1) positive versus negative emotional arousal, (2) hormonal arousal; and (3) neurological activation. 

In this video, Boyatzis explains the distinct psycho-physiological states of PEA and NEA and correspondet emotional, psychological, physiological, and neurological characteristics, summarized in the above table. 

In other words, PEA and NEA are self-regulating states and therefore, once a person is in either a PEA state or a NEA state, that person will remain in that state until a tipping point provokes a shift to the alternate state. And, since self-regulating systems are inherently homeostatic, unless the system is perfectly efficient (which is not the case for humans) deterioration will occur over time. 

Seems fair to assume that unless the PEA state is actively maintained over time, a person will eventually move toward the NEA even without noticing.  

Friday, September 2, 2016

Stress ... again and again

Again a post about stress - yes, because we all know stress has been made into a public health enemy. But hold on - this is something new... 

Here is a distinct perspective, from psychologist Kelly McGonigal; "the upside of stress"  with many arguments about why stress is good for us and what makes us good at stress. 

Watch this talk, filmed on June 2013 at TEDGlobal were Kelly shares and urges us to see stress as a positive, introducing a mechanism for stress reduction: reaching out to others.