Using ACT in Career Change

Why do bright, motivated people get stuck in their careers? I’ve spent the last 10 years or so thinking about the issue and working with people who are stuck in this way. I write about this in my other blog, Headstuck. I find ACT is useful for people who are stuck because it helps them not only get unstuck but to move forward with purpose in a direction they choose. ACT liberates people.

I put together a presentation on this and it struck me that it might be of interest to readers of this blog.  Hope you enjoy!

How to Build A Cooperative Team

Whenever we work in a team there is a tension between getting the outcomes we want and contributing to the outcomes that others need.

If I spend time giving John the information he needs to get his board paper written, then I might have to delay my meeting with my direct report, Sarah, and as a result she doesn’t meet her deadline. I will need to trust that, at some point in the future, John will return the favour.

Humans are incredibly good at quickly recognising whether to cooperate with others or whether to just look out for ourselves. Within minutes of joining a group we size up the situation and adjust our level of contribution accordingly. We have learnt this skill because being cooperative in a competitive environment is a really bad idea.


David Sloan Wilson has been doing some cool research on this in his home town of Binghamton. He has found that the culture of the suburb where teenagers live determines to a large extent how prosocial they are (i.e. how readily they will take voluntary actions to benefit others, such as sharing, comforting, helping, rescuing). If teenagers move from a harsh suburb to a more nurturing environment, they often become more prosocial.

It looks like certain environments encourage people to be cooperative, trusting and kind and other environments don’t.

So what does this mean for you and your team? If your team aren’t very cooperative; it may not be because they are selfish or difficult; it may be because the environment isn’t set up to encourage prosocial behaviours. How do we create those environments?

Press conference with the laureates of the mem...
Press conference with the laureates of the memorial prize in economic sciences 2009 at the KVA: Elinor Ostrom. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In his work with groups at Binghamton, Sloan Wilson uses Elinor Ostrom‘s design principles, which are:

  1. Strong group identity and purpose
  2. Clearly defined boundaries
  3. Getting rewarded for contribution. Members of the group agree a system that rewards people for their contribution to group outcomes
  4. Group members create their own ground rules and make group decisions by consensus
  5. Monitoring – a process to check for free-riding or active exploitation by individual group members
  6. Graduated consequences for inconsiderate or selfish behaviour
  7. Mechanisms for fast and fair conflict resolution which are cheap and easy to access
  8. Local Autonomy – The group (and subgroups within the larger team) have some authority to manage their own affairs
  9. Where the group is part of a larger system, they are organized as multilayered nested enterprises. Each group has its own governance that fits within the larger group. Local efforts are linked together.

Ostrom found that groups that have these principles in place are more likely to work together to look after group resources rather than compete for and ultimately deplete them.

Sloan Wilson has been applying these principles to create changes in schools and neighbourhoods with surprisingly good effect.

My experience is suggesting they are helpful for workplace teams too.


Sadly Elinor Ostrom passed away on June 12th. My hope is that her contribution will live on, helping us to improve the way we interact with each other and the world.

A Start

Sometimes it’s hard to know how to start things.  Especially big, important things.  It feels like that first step has to be right or the plan has to be bottomed out, or the whole thing will fall apart.

But one of the enduring lessons mindfulness has taught me is the simple value of returning to my intention. Start again.

So here’s a start. It isn’t perfect.  But it is returning to my intention.

On Holding Our Feelings Gently

This post is based on some writing by Dr Hank Robb. Hank is a deeply wise psychologist based in Oregon. You can see a video of him here.

Sometimes, when we act to make something important in our lives, we experience painful emotions. And, we can choose to feel them willingly.

There are, really, two important aspects to that willingness. There is “willingness with your feet” and also “willingness with your heart.” If you think about “flight phobics” you see
 both kinds. Some won’t get on the airplane – they lack “willingness with their feet.” However, many who do get on the plane are then “white knuckleflyers” – they lack “willingness with their heart.” Both kinds of willingness are choices.

To give you a sense of “willingness with your heart”. Cup your hands. Imagine holding a feather in your cupped hands, it will be gentle. And, you can hold it gently. Now imagine putting the fruit of a prickly pear cactus in your cupped hands. It will not be gentle. And, you can still hold it gently. Willingness with your heart is holding gently whatever is there to be held.

Prickly Pear Cactus a kind of common vegetatio...
Prickly Pear Cactus a kind of common vegetation found in the hills of Balaghat Range (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Whatever feelings turn up, you can choose to treat them with compassion and gentleness.

What would that be like? Which are the emotions that are hardest for you to hold with gentleness? For me anger is really tricky.

Can you catch yourself when you harden your heart against your pain…and soften?

If You Had a Couple of Extra Hours In The Week, What Would You Spend Them On?

Just imagine, something magical happens and you suddenly find yourself with two extra hours in the week. Empty…waiting to be used. What a delicious thought!

How would you choose to spend those hours?

Romanian Family
Romanian Family (Photo credit: JoshLawton)

Would you:

  • Work on a pet project that matters to you?
  • Spend more time with loved ones? Doing what?
  • Look after yourself a little better – perhaps exercising more often; cooking healthier food; getting more sleep?
  • What would it be…..?
And…what wouldn’t you choose to do with that time?

I invite you to sit with those questions. To let them be with you over the next few days and see what turns up.

If you want to find time for an important but neglected activity, then I encourage you to start small. Just pick one action and commit to focussing on that area for 10 minutes more each week.

If that change seems to give your life more vitality, you might then choose to gradually increase it over time.

This question comes from an interesting book: Power Questions: Build Relationships, Win New Business, and Influence Others by Andrew Sobal and Jerold Panas