Why You Need to Protect Your Sense of Wonder — Especially Now

Why You Need to Protect Your Sense of Wonder — Especially Now

via the Harvard Business Review by David P Fessell and Karen Reivich

Summary: As the pandemic era goes on, more than ever we need ways to refresh our energies, calm our anxieties, and nurse our well-being. The cultivation of experiences of awe can bring these benefits and has been attracting increased attention due to more rigorous research. At its core, awe has an element of vastness that makes us feel small; this tends to decrease our mental chatter and worries and helps us think about ideas, issues, and people outside of ourselves, improving creativity and collaboration as well as energy. The authors, a physician and a psychologist, have facilitated hundreds of resilience and well-being workshops; they suggest a number of awe interventions for individual professionals as well as groups.

We may be slowly returning to our offices (more or less), but the strains of the pandemic are hardly over. As we enter a transitional stage after a year of trauma and strain, more than ever we need ways to refresh our energies, calm our anxieties, and nurse our well-being. One potentially powerful intervention is rarely talked about in the workplace: The cultivation of experiences of awe. Like gratitude and curiosity, awe can leave us feeling inspired and energized. It’s another tool in your toolkit and it’s now attracting increased attention due to more rigorous research.

As a physician and a psychologist, we have facilitated hundreds of resilience and well-being workshops both before and during Covid for the military, physicians, educators, law enforcement, and in the business world. Helping participants to explore, experience, and recall moments of awe is one of the key scientifically supported strategies we engage in during our workshops and it’s been rewarding to see our participants benefit and bring what they’ve learned to their own organizations.

Awe and Its Benefits

University of Michigan psychologist Ethan Kross defines awe as “the wonder we feel when we encounter something powerful that we can’t easily explain.” Often the things which bring us awe have an element of vastness and complexity. Think of a starry night sky, an act of great kindness, or the beauty of something small and intricate. During your workday the colors of the leaves outside your office or an act of sacrifice by a colleague could prompt a similar feeling — especially if you are attuned to it. In the United States and China especially, experiences of awe are frequently related to the virtuous behavior of others: an act of dedication, skill, or courage.

Cultivating experiences of awe is especially important and helpful now as we renew our energy and make plans for a more hopeful future. That’s because beyond physical effects like tingling and goosebumps and a lowered heart rate under stress, awe also affects us emotionally. One experimental group, when asked to draw pictures of themselves, literally drew themselves smaller in size after having an awe experience. Such an effect has been termed “unselfing.” This shift has big benefits: As you tap into something larger and your sense of self shrinks, so too do your mental chatter and your worries. At the same time, your desire to connect with and help others increases. People who experience awe also report higher levels of overall life satisfaction and well-being.

Let’s look more closely at the effects on stress and resilience. Experiences of awe are associated with lowered levels of reported stress and recent experimental research suggests that this may be a causal relationship: That awe can actively help reduce stress. Recent research using fMRI has also shown that experiences of awe, such as watching awe-inspiring videos (compared to neutral or pleasant videos) decreases activity in the brain’s default mode network (DMN), which is associated with self-focus and rumination. The result is decreased mental chatter.

Awe’s benefits extend beyond stress relief, however. Research has shown that experiencing something bigger than us helps us transcend our frame of reference by expanding our mental models and stimulating new ways of thinking. This can increase creativity and innovation, and facilitate scientific thinking and ethical decision making.

It also helps us build relationships. Though feeling awe frequently happens in solitude, it draws us out of ourselves and toward others and inspires pro-social behavior like generosity and compassion. Some scientists theorize that it has evolved to aid group cohesion and provide survival advantages. For work groups experiences of awe can lead to increased collaboration, team building, and social connection.

There are many ways you can cultivate experiences of awe during the course of your workday.

For Individuals

A simple and powerful way to experience awe if you can step away from your desk is to take an “awe walk.” …

… keep reading the full & original article HERE