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Create your Kipuka

Create your Kipuka

Kilauea is an active volcano on the Big Island of Hawai‘i where I live; she has been erupting and sending rivers of molten lava to the sea continually since 1983. (I say “she” for in Hawaii legend attributes our volcanic eruptions to the goddess Pele.)

In the earlier years of her eruption, Kilauea did quite a bit of damage to homes, forests and wildlife. However now, something wonderful is happening. Something bountiful. Kilauea has stopped taking, and started to give back.

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Since claiming her fiery path to the sea, and as her lava continues to flow, Kilauea has begun to give us the gift of creation Her eruption shows no sign of stopping, and I suspect it will be many years beyond our lifetime before the vast landscape of glistening black rock left in the lava’s wake becomes hospitable and inhabitable again. However meanwhile, we bear witness to the very birth of the land itself. The land mass of our island has grown substantially in these past twenty three years.

As the lava flows to our ocean it chooses a certain path; it does not cover everything as a heavy rainfall might sheet a window. Within the areas of destruction burned and scarred by the slowly advancing lava there are these pockets of land which are spared. The trees and wild grasses continue to grow there, and while some other plants may succumb to the surrounding heat, because the ground itself was untouched the soil remains fertile, and new growth will begin fairly quickly. Birds find refuge in the trees of these older land pockets, and it is their song which you first hear. Upon closer inspection, you discover these spared sections of land are teeming with life.

We call these oases of vegetation kipuka. They beckon all life to return to their nourishment so that life can thrive again. They are places of hope and of promise; of survival. They are tranquil places of calm and serenity. They are places of preserved histories which hold the seeds for renewed beginnings.

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Some will swear that when you sit quietly within a kipuka and look to the skies, you will see images in cloud formations you have never seen before, for the land was spared to connect all on earth to the heavens. It is true that the kipuka get the most rainfall, for they attract our tropical rain clouds like magnets pulled into their verdant green targets.

Many island watermen use the word kipuka as well. They refer to a calm place in high seas where rolling swells seem to part for their canoe, or deep places in a shoal where they can find the prized pāpio playing when they are fishing.

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Within our lives, we all have kipuka. They are our havens and safe harbors. They are those places where we feel we are our best, where we have the most energy, and where we can be our most resilient selves. They are those places where we feel creative, and we seem to get our best ideas. Within our kipuka we feel a kind of abundance, knowing there are so many new possibilities just waiting to emerge.

Every workplace, and every home should be a kipuka, a place conducive to having the very best in us take root in fertile soil, so it will continue to grow and flourish. However in our case, nature may not provide them for us as she does in the lava fields of The Big Island. We have to create them.

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Imagining your best possible kipuka, and committing to creating it, could well be the most important thing you ever do for yourself. A place where you enjoy learning and growing. A place where it seems you always get your best ideas. A place where you give birth to who you are meant to be.

Better yet, you can be the kipuka. You can be the one who provides the nourishment others need to they can prosper and thrive. It’s a good goal to write for ourselves, don’t you think?

Rosa Say is the author of Managing with Aloha, Bringing Hawaii’s Universal Values to the Art of Business. Rosa is the founder and head coach of Say Leadership Coaching, a company dedicated to bringing nobility to the working arts of management and leadership. She also writes online at the Talking Story blog.

Rosa’s Previous Thursday Column was: Literal Life Hack: Cut your window of time in half.

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Rosa Say

Rosa is an author and blogger who dedicates to helping people thrive in the work and live with purpose.

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Last Updated on July 17, 2019

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

What happens in our heads when we set goals?

Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

The Neurology of Ownership

Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

The Upshot for Goal-Setters

So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

Reference

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