Hi reader

How contagious are you?

In mid-August, New Zealand plunged back into a strict Level 4 lockdown, due to a single case of Covid-19 being found in the community. The single case quickly expanded into the hundreds - a real-life object lesson in mathematics and epidemiology.

By early September, most of the country was starting to move through the lockdown levels, while Auckland, where I'm based, will be continuing under Level 4 for at least another week, because the city is still seeing cases popping up.

And this community outbreak got me thinking - microbes aren't the only things that are contagious amongst humans. So are ideas, attitudes, values, behaviours, and beliefs.

Did you know that if you have a friend who becomes obese, you have a 57% chance of also gaining weight? This research ran the numbers on a decades-long study involving over 12,000 people. And they found that the effect stretches beyond your immediate contacts - there is an influence for up to three links in a chain. So your friend's friend's friend has an effect on you, even if you've never met them!

Another piece of research, using a sample of almost 4,800 people from the same study as above, found that if you have a friend living within 1 mile (1.6km) of your home and they become happier, the probability of you being happy increases by 25%. A similar effect occurs with spouses, siblings, and next-door neighbours, to varying degrees of strength. This one also upholds the multi-link effect.

This is sometimes known as 'social contagion' or 'the ripple effect', and as you can see, it can have a positive or a negative influence. And once we know about social contagion and ripples, we can put the principles to work in our lives - not only by thinking carefully about who and what we surround ourselves with, but also by thinking about how we can act and speak in ways that positively "infect" others and send out positive ripples.

So, what can you do today to spread some contagious positivity? Do something that brings you joy and share a pic on social media. Call up a friend whose mere existence makes you smile. Read or watch something that makes you laugh, and share the link with someone else. Wave to your neighbours. You're limited only by your imagination (and local physical distancing restrictions, of course!)
Photograph of three bookshelves filled with colourful books - like you'll read in the Personal Mastermind

Lockdown life: buried in books

I don't know about you, but lockdowns always send me headfirst into the bookshelf. I read physical books (not as easy when the library is closed!), Kindle books (that 1-click purchase button was a genius invention for making it ever-so-easy to buy on the spur of the moment), and I listen to audiobooks (Auckland Libraries has a fantastic range).

Here are a few of the books that have caught my attention recently:

    Picture of five book covers
    • 'Deep Work' by Cal Newport - this book builds the case for developing your ability to go focus without distraction and do high-quality and meaningful work. In the face of the distractedness and surface busy-ness that characterises modern life, this is a pretty radical notion!
      Key takeaway: building a schedule that prioritises deep work is vital - it won't happen by accident. It might take some negotiation with your loved ones and/or boss, but it will be worth it.
    • 'The Fifth Discipline' by Peter Senge - a deep and insightful read about systems thinking and the learning organisation. This book is a classic business text, and for very good reason - it gives us a whole new way to see, and act on, the world around us.
      Key takeaway: we are part of every system, so when we say we want the system to change, that means we need to change too.
    • 'Upstream' by Dan Heath - a great introduction to systems thinking (although I found it strange that the author doesn't reference The Fifth Discipline!). Lots of practical examples of where 'upstream thinking' can solve tricky problems, and practical tips for implementation.
      Key takeaway: prevention is the best cure, but it isn't always easy to convince others of the value, so run measurable, practical experiments to win support.
    • 'Smarter, Faster, Better' by Charles Duhigg - a great read, covering productivity, motivation, and how to avoid common mistakes when we're trying to perform. One of my favourite anecdotes was about an organisation that believed that their staff would be more productive if they used SMART goals. They gave each staff member a target number of "SMART" goals to complete each year. An office worker set a SMART goal for a business-as-usual stationery order, just so they could make up their numbers!
      Key takeaway: merely setting a target doesn't drive value-adding behaviour - we need to ensure that the target is meaningful, and the behaviours it will drive align with our desired outcomes.
    • 'Braiding Sweetgrass' by Robin Wall Kimmerer - a fascinating and poetic piece of writing about science, indigenous wisdom, and what plants can teach us about the world and the way we live in it. I listened to the audiobook, which is narrated by the author, and I highly recommend this way of experiencing it!
      Key takeaway: when we focus too heavily on "scientific" ways of knowing, we tend to miss the complex interconnectedness of the natural world. Nature is a series of interrelated balancing systems, and when we mess with one system, we should be prepared for other systems to react in unexpected ways (also known as 'the law of unintended consequences').
      Bonus takeaway: I noticed a link between the above takeaway and one of the principles from The Fifth Discipline: "cause and effect are not closely related in time and space". That is, the effects of our actions don't always show up close in time and space to where we took action, so we need to cast a wide net when assessing the impact of our actions (or inaction).
    Note: all links are non-affiliate
    I'd love to hear what you're reading. What have you loved? What have you hated? What's something that you can read over and over again, without getting tired of it (mine's 'The Alchemist', by Paulo Coelho)

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    I choose joy over despair. Not because I have my head in the sand, but because joy is what the Earth gives me daily and I must return the gift

    Robin Wall Kimmerer

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