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New Paper and Radical Positivity

Hello friends, This week, a new paper and the case for radical positivity.
New Paper and Radical Positivity
By Mustafa Sultan • Issue #18 • View online
Hello friends,
This week, a new paper and the case for radical positivity.

New Paper
We studied the neurological and neuropsychiatric complications of COVID-19 in the UK. Our key findings: 1) cerebrovascular events predominate in older people and 2) altered mental status was overrepresented in younger people.
Media Coverage
Severe COVID-19 Can Damage the Brain, Preliminary Study Finds — The New York Times
Radical Positivity
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about radical honesty. An unprecedented number of you wrote back — three to be precise. Comments included “sounds nice but I think I’d cry” and “why does your newsletter keep on going to spam?” #reach.
Radical honesty means giving totally honest feedback. Sending supportive emails like this to your boss:
Ray- you deserve a “D-” for your performance today in the ABC meeting and everyone that was in the room that saw you agrees on that harsh assessment
Principles: Life and Work, Ray Dalio. Read the full message.
I want to talk about the opposite — radical positivity.
USA 🇺🇸
It’s always a surreal experience meeting Americans in person. On the TV screen — totally normal — but in person, they always seem larger than life.
“HOW ARE Y'ALL DOING?” was how my new Business School Professor introduced herself. Apparently she’s considered ‘introverted’ back in the States 🤨
I’d been really excited about studying business — but this was the Organisational Behaviour and Human Resources Management (OBHRM) module. Every course has one of these modules. Our equivalent in Medical School is called Patients, Doctors and Society.
Giving Feedback
Surprisingly, OBHRM turned out to be one of my favourite modules. Here are some things we were taught about giving feedback (summarised from this Harvard Business Review article).
Where We Go Wrong 😡
Assumptions we make when giving feedback:
1. We are reliable raters of other peoples’ performance. We know something about the other person that they don’t. Relates to the Johari Window.
2. Our brains are like an empty glass of water. We learn by ‘filling it up’ with knowledge. Something wasn’t there, and now it’s there after we’ve been given feedback.
Why These Assumptions Are Wrong 🤔
1. We are not reliable raters of people. In fact over half of our rating of someone is actually a reflection of ourselves (the idiosyncratic rater effect).
2. Personal development and knowledge gain is not like filling a glass of water, it’s more like growing a plant. It requires nurture not brute force.
In one experiment scientists split students into two groups. To one group they gave positive coaching, asking the students about their dreams and how they’d go about achieving them.
The scientists probed the other group about homework and what the students thought they were doing wrong and needed to do.
While those conversations were happening, the scientists hooked each student up to a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine to see which parts of the brain were most activated in response to these sorts of attention.
In the brains of the students asked about what they needed to correct, the sympathetic nervous system lit up. This is the “fight or flight” system, which mutes the other parts of the brain and allows us to focus only on the information most necessary to survive. Your brain responds to critical feedback as a threat and narrows its activity. The strong negative emotion produced by criticism “inhibits access to existing neural circuits and invokes cognitive, emotional, and perceptual impairment”.
Focusing people on their shortcomings or gaps doesn’t enable learning. It impairs it.
The Feedback Fallacy, Harvard Business Review
How To Give Feedback 😍
According to the paper, it’s better to consider ourselves as a coach and not a conductor.
Tom Landry turned around the failing Dallas Cowboys. Not by criticising his players, but by creating highlight reels. After each game, he made a short montage of his players’ greatest moments — times when they effortlessly did something well: “We only replay your winning plays”.
You’re far better off nurturing positive actions than trying to iron out negative ones.
In light of this, make a compliment your highest-priority interrupt. It’s tempting, almost natural, to interrupt someone when they’re doing something wrong. Try doing it the other way around.
Radical Positivity vs Radical Honesty ☯️
I don’t share this as an instructive guide. There are problems with radical positivity:
1) The quality of the psychology papers used as evidence is generally low:
Consider that a recent effort to replicate the hundred psychology papers in “prestigious” journals of 2008 found that, out of a hundred, only thirty-nine replicated.
Skin in the Game, Nassim Taleb
2) In Medicine (and life), there are times in which clear, direct criticism is necessary. For example, if there is imminent patient harm.
My Experience
My mentor and academic supervisor has never criticised me. And looking back, some of my early work for him was pretty poor.
I consider him to be a great motivator of people — and by and large, radically positive. He never shuts down any of my ideas — it’s never an “if” — it’s always a “how?”.
I like this approach a lot. But I also like radical honesty. So how can we reconcile both?
A friend said something clever. Radical honesty only works if there’s a culture of radical honesty. Otherwise, radical positivity may be the best default.
What are your thoughts?
#016: Medical Cannabis 101 — Dr Benjamin Viaris de Lesegno CMO Cellen
All the best,
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Mustafa Sultan

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