Want to Be Happier? Live Longer? It’s Not Kale and Exercise.

“The importance of friendship has been hiding in plain sight.”

– Lydia Denworth, author of Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond

Our daily priorities often go like this: family, work, exercise, chores. And then if there’s any time left over, or cracks in the day, we fit in a moment with a friend to have a coffee, or take a walk together. Our friendships, while important to us, sometimes come lower in our priorities. Rethink that.

Friendship is as important as diet and exercise for our mental and physical health. We often think of friendship as enjoyable, nice, and comforting, but we don’t often think of friendship and social connection as being essential to our ability to thrive. We don’t think of our friendships as critical to boosting our immune system or staving off long-term mental ailments.

Chasing health and longevity, we puree kale smoothies, listen to meditation apps, read Brené Brown, and wake up for morning boot camp classes. But the secret sauce to long term mental and physical health might not just be the planks you do in your workout class, but the friends you see and spend time with.

According to author Lydia Denworth, the reason friendship and social connection has largely been ignored by scientists, until recently, is because it has been hard to define what friendship is. Scientists like to measure things they can define, and pin down. In her research, Denworth interviewed biologists and anthropologists, and found that their agreed definition of friendship is a relationship which is stable, positive and reciprocal.

Friends make time for each other consistently, leave meetings feeling buoyed and uplifted, and have their past interactions to build upon. In this way, the layers of a friendship are built over time such that with each repeated contact we get to reinforce past interactions, and then add new stories, ideas and values to edify one another.

In the 1950s, John Bowlby theorized the idea of maternal imprinting and the power of child contact and connection for their psychological health and growth. He was ridiculed and stopped attending professional conferences. The prevailing parenting philosophy at the time was that love and affection to children would weaken them. Mothers were advised not to pick up their kids. They were told it would soften and spoil them.

His work led to inquiry in the 1970s, to what happens after those first formative years, when we learn trust, loyalty, and cooperation, the building blocks of friendship. In this same era researchers started studying the intersection between the strength of social networks and overall health.

Fast-forward to today, Denworth points out that we now understand friendships are absolutely critical to our overall health and well-being. She expresses some concern that, as parents, we might over emphasize academic achievement or athletic performance, when, in fact, what really matters to the health of our children is the strength, and reciprocity, of their friendships.

Millennials today state that their #1 long-term goal is more money and less debt. Yet we know the answer to the question of what gives us long term health, prosperity and personal happiness is readily available. The Harvard Study of Adult Development has tracked the life of 724 men since 1938 – their careers, their marriage choices, their health, their wealth and achievements (or lack of), and importantly, how they self-describe their happiness and fulfillment.

For over 75 years, both Harvard graduates, and impoverished children from the inner city of Boston who did not have the privilege and opportunity of the Harvard participants, participated in this life-long study. According to Robert Waldinger, currently the lead researcher on the project, the results are clear.

People who are more socially connected to friends, to family, and to community, are happier, physically healthier, and live longer than people who are less well-connected. Period.

– Robert Waldinger, Harvard Medical School

In the 40s and 50s of our lives we tend to lean in to work, chase promotions, maximize our retirement contributions, fret over our kids’ college applications, and worry about our parenting skills. Yet the best predictor of how healthy and happy we are in our 80s is the strength of our social network in our 50s.

Call a friend. Schedule time with them. Then load the dishwasher.

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Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now.

In other news, our son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Buy a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Are “Should” Statements Ruining Your Life?

This kind of thinking will destroy your motivation, and make you less likely to actually do these things.

  • “I should work out more often.”
  • “I should figure out how to meditate.”
  • “I should hug my kids more.”
  • “I should make more healthy dinners.”

The last time I posted something here was May 4, 2020. It was fairly early in the pandemic. Those were the days of warily touching doorknobs and railings, then saturating your hands in disinfectant until they were red and dry, the days of wondering if COVID was somehow lurking on our groceries or on our mail. You never know.

Back then I wrote about Victor Frankl and Michael J. Fox, and themes of hope and resilience, and spiritual growth through crisis and adversity. And then I went silent. I read expert interviews about the virus, the distant hope of vaccines, the increasing death tolls. I made meals for my family. I focused on my growing company. I went for bike rides. I turned off the news.

I also expended energy thinking I really should write something publicly. I should keeping connecting through this blog. What I didn’t know is that berating myself with shoulds is demotivating energy. It’s a cognitive distortion that only compounds the external pressures that make us anxious. So on top of worrying that humans are under attack by a novel virus, our democracy is in peril, and our planet is suffering catastrophic climate change, I decided to worry about all the things I should be doing, but aren’t doing. It’s not useful energy.

It’s no surprise that stress is up across the board – from teens to parents – and includes professionals from pretty much every industry segment. Anxiety, stress, substance abuse, suicidal ideation are all up.

Now, people are suffering from something experts are calling COVID Anxiety Syndrome, a condition in which people, who have been vaccinated, still won’t venture out into the world. Post-pandemic stress disorder is real.

And if, on top of all that, we start to layer in I should or I ought to self-talk, it can paralyze us. According to behavioral therapists, there are straightforward solutions to help us change our language, change the way we think, and move toward meaningful action.

Should statements typically only make you feel more hopeless about your situation. Should self-talk reinforces your sense of procrastination and lack of agency. Stop it. Become aware of your shoulds, oughts, and musts and try to replace them with thoughts about what you CAN and WILL do.

Reframe your should statements. Turn I should into I want to, or I can, or I would like to. The expression I should conveys to your brain something that you feel is an obligation you aren’t living up to – an unfulfilled promise to yourself or someone else. I want to and I can are more powerful statements of intention. They convey power, agency, and choice.

Finally, be aware of others who use similar burdening language. When someone says to you, You ought to or You should… they are probably talking about themselves anyway. Let it go.

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Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now.

In other news, our son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Buy a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Yes, Posttraumatic Growth is a Real Thing

In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning.
—Viktor Frankl

Most people say they don’t like adversity. If you ask, many of us would say that this Covid19 situation, right now, sucks. And the last thing we want to hear is, “You’ll grow from this.” Please. Don’t start with that.

Yet history is littered with stories of triumph and growth through adversity. Van Gogh was tortured with madness. Beethoven went deaf. Roosevelt suffered from polio and paralysis. Victor Frankl was imprisoned in Auschwitz, his family murdered by Nazis. More recently I was reminded of Michael J. Fox, who has advanced Parkinson’s Disease, and yet now his foundation has become the largest donor to Parkinson’s research – over $650 million thus far. Frida Kahlo, who suffered through polio, a near death accident, and chronic unrelenting pain, and yet found solace in her art. Our world religions of Hindu, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity all have stories of the transformative power of suffering.

But what’s the path to enlightenment through crisis and trauma? Is it as simple as waking up one day in the middle of a crisis and just creating art and meaning? Well no, it’s not that simple. But there is a path we can follow.

Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun have done years of research on how people deal with traumatic events and crises in their lives, and how some people successfully grow and thrive, while others merely cope, and some fold under the weight of psychic trauma.

They define “posttraumatic growth” as an increased appreciation for life, more meaningful relationships with family, friends and community, positive shifting of priorities, and a more meaningful spiritual life. They also point out that growth isn’t a binary choice, it’s a journey. And like any journey there are ups and downs.

Common initial reactions to cancer, death, job loss, divorce, or similar seismic events include profound sadness, yearning for the deceased, longing for a life denied, loss of self identity, guilt, anger, irritability and distraction. In a minority of cases, significant trauma and life crisis can trigger serious mental instability.

Spiritual and emotional growth isn’t a de facto result of crisis, of course. It’s the result of intentional choices about how we respond to traumatic events. The way we frame the next sequence of choices and personal narrative matters a great deal in how we can emerge from trauma stronger and more resilient.

Acknowledge your point of departure.
We all have our own starting point prior to a traumatic event, our own personal status quo. When a crisis strikes it disrupts our personal narrative, it challenges our belief system about what is normal, what is fair, what is real and consistent in our world. When crisis strikes it creates own emotional distress, curtails our goals, and interrupts our normal trajectory. It’s important to acknowledge that you won’t go on your vacation to Belize, or see your son’s graduation ceremony from high school. Mourn that loss, but don’t dwell on it.

Examine your self-talk.
In Tedeschi and Calhoun’s model, our next immediate phase is rumination. We muse internally about the event, and the way in which we talk to ourselves matters a great deal. Do we curse the gods, and tell ourselves we deserve it? Or do we chalk it up to random misfortune, and uncaring powers beyond our control. Often we internalize events in the form of keeping a journal, or praying, or meditating. It’s important to avoid blame. Blame simply exacerbates feelings of being a victim.

Be aware of how you share your story to others.
Once we have built our own personal narrative of the event, we try these stories out on others. We test these narratives with our partners, our friends, and family. We lean on our sociocultural muses. We revisit our trusted voices in the news, in social media, to reinforce our emerging storyline. The language you use with others is contagious. If you focus on complaints and what you have lost, you will reinforce the same feelings in others. Focus on the positive.

In these early phases of rumination, self-talk, and then sharing these developing narratives with others, it’s critically important to use words that emphasis self-compassion (“it’s not my fault”), it’s temporal (“this isn’t going to last forever”), and to emphasize what you can do to contribute to the emotional stability of those around you (“I think I’ll help John with his homework tonight”).

Build meaning and purpose through giving.
In study after study, helping others and contributing to your community goes much farther in building purpose and meaning than merely the pursuit of happiness. Even the simple act of expressing gratitude to someone is itself and act of giving because you celebrating someone else and lifting them up.

If you’re interested in tracking your own traumatic growth progress through this strange dystopian moment in time, Tedeschi and Calhoun have created this simple scorecard to help us examine our growth.

Our company Mindscaling is giving away this course we created on Resiliency with Jen Shirkani. We hope you are safe, healthy and sane in this strange time. And we hope this will help.

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Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now.

Before the pandemic, in a more free world, our son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. If you need a good escape at the moment, grab a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Keep up the Fight

Remember on March 13, the scenes of Italians singing together from their balconies while on lockdown. Throughout the city graffiti everywhere proclaimed “andrà tutto bene” (everything will be alright). Six weeks earlier, on January 28 throughout Wuhan citizens leaned out of their apartment buildings and chanted together “jiāyóu” (keep up the fight).

Remember 2012 Hurricane Sandy, when New York was under water. On October 30, Mayer Corey Booker tweeted “Police have reported ZERO looting or crimes of opportunity in Newark. And ceaseless reports of acts of kindness abound everywhere. #Gratitude.”

Remember immediately in the wake of 9/11 in New York City, hundreds of people spontaneously formed the “Bucket Brigade” to remove debris in search of remains.

At the time Hurricane Katrina hit the gulf coast it was the deadliest storm to hit New Orleans since 1900. Although in the wake of the storm there were indeed stories of looting, rioting, hoarding, and even violence, a powerful study conducted in 2008 revealed that acts of prosocial generosity and caring far outweighed the negative behaviors. Conditions were especially dire for the 700,000 displaced survivors because only 26 days later Hurricane Rita hit the same geographic area stalling rescue and relief efforts.

Yet even in that incredibly adverse environment, tales of human camaraderie, altruism, generosity and care are numerous. Read this harrowing personal account: “There is nothing that I had ever witnessed in the United States to which I could compare the scene outside the New Orleans Convention Center.”

Or read this perspective from a medical worker on the front lines: “Our group received an offer of special rescue, which we did not accept until each and every one of our patients had been evacuated.”

It goes on and on. And if you’re reading this and thinking, “Yes that’s heroic and comforting but what about the looting, the hostility, the selfishness, the scarcity thinking…” I say the more good we see in the world, the more good we create in the world. The more love, charity, and kindness you witness in your community, the more you will create it yourself.

Got it? And now a word about blind optimism, and irrational exuberance.

U.S. Navy Admiral James Stockdale was captured by the Vietnamese, tortured over twenty times, and imprisoned for eight years during the Vietnam War. During that time he observed that those POWs with a deep sense of pessimism and dread would lose hope, succumb to their conditions, and eventually die. But he also observed those who were wildly optimistic eventually became overwhelmed with despair, and false hope.

“You must never confuse the faith that you will prevail in the end… with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they may be.”
– Admiral James Stockdale

According to Stockdale, “The wildly optimistic were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come go, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

Those who persevere in the face of daunting obstacles are those who have a sense of realistic idealism. They have the ability to visualize and identify an ideal outcome, yet also an ability to realistically face challenges, including the unexpected challenges which will surely arise.

Another trait of those who possess realistic optimism is they lift other people up. During the depths of despair during their incarceration, James Stockdale used an alphabetic communication code by tapping on the walls of the prison cells. In this way the prisoners were able to communicate and not feel completely isolated in captivity.

Our world view is not simply a fixed condition of our situation. We have the power to choose our reaction to this current dystopian madness, and also to decide whether or not we have the ability to make a difference.

Things are sideways, yet remember that this pandemic is temporary. It won’t last forever, it’s not someone’s fault and you can make a difference in someone’s life each and every day simply in how you show up with discipline and faith that we will endure and see each other through.

  • Our company Mindscaling created a course on resilience with the fabulous Jen Shirkani. Message me and I’ll send access to the course. No charge of course. I just hope it helps us work through this.
    • ____________________________________________________

    Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? I love to work with groups large and small. Let’s talk.

    In other news, our son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Buy a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

    A Little Mindfulness Goes a Long Way

    You walk in for your appointment.

    You greet the receptionist. She says, “Just have a seat. We’ll call you when we’re ready.” You turn around and there are three chairs, two of them already occupied by people reading a magazine or looking at their phone. You take the empty seat and wait.

    A few minutes later a woman on crutches, with a clunky orthopedic boot on, comes hobbling down the corridor toward the waiting room. She struggles with the door, enters, looks around, and seeing no empty chairs, she slumps against the wall, wincing in pain.

    What do you do? Do you stand up and hold the door for her? Do you offer her your seat? Of course you do, right? That’s what any conscientious and thoughtful person would do. In fact, when David DeSteno and his researchers asked people what they would do in that circumstance, the overwhelming majority said they would stand and offer their seat.

    Then they staged the experiment, with an actor on crutches and actors in the other chairs instructed to ignore the injured woman. Initially, they picked 19 people to go through the experiment. The participants thought they were in a room waiting for the experiment to begin, but the waiting room was the experiment. Of those 19 people, only 3 actually stood and offered to help. Three. That’s 16%. The researchers were so surprised they repeated the study and got the same results.

    I know. It’s appalling. But in his research, DeSteno admits that they stacked the deck a little. Since the other actors were told to ignore the person on crutches, they had set up a classic bystander effect in which it’s hard to act against the behavior of those around them.

    But still, 16%? That’s pretty disappointing. Then the researchers added just one change to the experiment. The next group of research participants were asked to engage in eight weeks of meditation training before they entered the waiting room. For eight weeks participants met regularly with Buddhist master Lama Willa Miller who offered instruction and guidance in meditation practice. Lama Miller also provided audio recordings for participants to practice at home.

    That’s it. That’s the only difference. All participants had no prior meditation experience at all. Half of the participants meditated regularly for eights weeks. The other half did not. The results? Fifty percent (50%) of the group that meditated acknowledged the woman’s distress, stood up, engaged her in conversation, helped her with the door, and offered her their chair.

    DeSteno has been researching the impact of regular mindfulness practice on human behavior for years, and what he has discovered is that simple meditation and mindfulness leads consistently to empathy and compassion for others. That compassion for others leads to a sense of self-control, willingness, and ability to make a difference to others.

    In short, then, our research suggests that mindfulness’s most profound benefit may not be the one that’s most often touted—adapting to a stressful, competitive, even unkind 24/7 world. Instead, meditation might fundamentally alter how we treat those around us.
    – David DeSteno, Ph.D.

    Don’t be put off or intimidated by the idea of meditation. You don’t have to get into the lotus position, invoke a deity, and unlock your third eye chakra. The basic ingredients of meditation are simple and readily available – even in the midst of a crazy day. You need only a quiet place, focused attention, relaxed breathing, a comfortable position, and an open attitude.

    Grab a copy of David DeSteno’s book here. It’s packed with research and ideas on the power of leveraging emotion – not just sheer willpower – to live a more connected and fulfilling life.

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    Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? I love to work with groups large and small. Let’s talk.

    In other news, our son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Buy a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

    You Adore Quality. So Why Consume Garbage Media?

    We revere quality. From artisanal beers and small batch kombucha to bespoke boots and $200 Diesel jeans, the world seems obsessed with quality. But if we are willing to carefully shop for only the very best cars, organic food, and hand-crafted clothes, why are we willing to consume low-quality news and information? Why do we fill our brains with crap?

    We thoughtfully admire and compare the quality of our shoes, our merino sweaters, our WarbyParker glasses, and yet gleefully scroll through the mindless waterfall of Twitter or Facebook. Most of it is crap. Most of it is designed to hijack your attention, not inform or educate. Truth is, most often the product is you.

    Media noise is echoing around us constantly. And while some of the stories are real, much of the interpretation is fiction. So while it is true that over 4000 Ukrainian soldiers died in 2019 fighting to maintain the legitimacy of their country, what that means to Russia or the rest of the world is the subject of much debate, spin and opinion.

    Have you kept track of the movies you have watched, books and newspapers you have read, or music you have listened to over the years? Probably not, yet all of that media has shaped the way you think about love, death, joy, kindness, mourning, and more. Your interpretation of relationships and the world is the culmination of years of ingesting information. The phrase “garbage in, garbage out” in computer science is a reference to the fact that if you put garbage data into the equation, you get garbage results. The same is true in your head.

    It has always been true that change is the only constant, yet the pace of change continues to accelerate. Which means our own adaptation and growth is a necessary part of recreating ourselves for tomorrow. If someone describes the future to you and it doesn’t sound like fantasy or science fiction, it probably isn’t realistic. That’s how fast things are changing. It you’re not confused, you’re not paying attention.

    Big data is fueling artificial intelligence at such an astonishing rate that your technical skills will likely no longer be relevant soon. Especially since AI will learn to code better and faster than a human. I was at a conference recently and maintained a continuously flowing conversation with a Chinese speaking participant by using a real-time language translation app. We never spoke in each other’s native language, yet maintained a clear conversation. It was both amazing and a little disconcerting.

    According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the most important soft skills needed now and in the foreseeable future are problem solving, innovation, creativity, dealing with ambiguity, and the ability to effectively communicate your ideas to others.

    And how will you generate powerful new ideas, learn how to effectively problem-solve, and communicate your ideas with others, unless you consume powerful new ideas and information? My recommendation is step into the Slow Media Movement. Similar to the slow food movement, but for your brain.

    • For starting your slow media journey try a media detox with Cal Newport’s Digital Minimalism.
    • For personal change and research data on the power of gratitude and compassion, I recommend David DeSteno, Emotional Success.
    • For organizational change and fun stories on high performing teams, read Daniel Coyle, The Culture Code.
    • For innovation and seeing the world through fresh eyes check out Stephen Shapiro’s new book, Invisible Solutions
    • For stories of radical breakthrough I recommend Safi Bacall, Loonshots.
    • And finally, I have been greatly enjoying Jill Lepore’s engrossing book on American History, These Truths.

    Speaking of building an intentionally-designed life, check out Mindscaling’s new series on Civility in the Workplace.

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    Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? I love to work with groups large and small. Let’s talk.

    In other news, our son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Buy a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

    Turn off Your Notifications. Seriously. Do It.

    Casey just commented on a post you are following!

    Turn off your push notifications. The alerts, app banners, pocket vibrations, ringtones, the little email preview pop-ups. Do you depend on them for your job? Is it really urgent? Is it? Turn them off. All of them.

    “The effectiveness of communication is not defined by the communication, but by the response.”
    – Milton Ericsson

    If you know your daughter is going to text you and you welcome her note, go ahead and leave your text alerts on. Or maybe you’re expecting an important call from your office. OK, leave your call ringer on. This is an example of purposely using technology designed around an intentional life. You are driving. But when you leave indiscriminate push notifications on, you are no longer in control. You just put yourself in the back seat and gave the keys to a schizophrenic.

    Kim viewed your profile!

    Understand that for each notification you permit – be it a welcome text from your daughter or an alert from Twitter – you are allowing someone else to dictate your time. You are allowing some company, service, product, or marketing department to hijack your time.

    Polly likes your comment!

    The creators of push notifications claim they exist for your benefit. Wrong. The alerts are not designed exclusively for your benefit. Remember, you are the product. The notifications exist for the benefit of Instagram, or Facebook, or LinkedIN, or WhatsApp, or TikTok, or whatever RSS river you are standing waist deep in. The goal is not to enrich your life. The goal is to slow you down, steal your attention. The goal is to drive you to their platform, because their platform is where they can redirect your attention again. Pretty soon you are way downstream from where you were a minute ago. And the view is very different.

    The problem is not the device. Devices are useful. My Mom used to call her laptop her “cognitive prosthesis.” It’s an apt description. Your phone is a computational appendage right there in your pocket, and it’s incredibly powerful when in service of an intentionally designed life.

    Luca likes your photo!

    Many people claim they don’t mind the noise. Maybe you are interested in vacations in Italy. So you wander through a few websites looking at Italian villas, and suddenly ads showing photos of Tuscany are following you around the web. Some people say they enjoy being stalked by ideas and products that interest them. It’s like having your own conversational elf perched on your shoulder who chimes in periodically on your favorite topic, and reinforcing your urges. That’s fine. Just understand that you are the target. You are the mark.

    Evelyn shared a post!

    Push notifications originated in 2003 by Research in Motion. They built a “feature” into the Blackberry in which users didn’t have to go check for email, they could receive a notification altering them that they received one. So convenient! So easy! Apple was paying attention and in 2009 rolled out their own “APNS, the Apple Push Notification Service.” Pretty quickly responding to notifications became the default manner in which we interacted with our devices. No longer did we need to take control and decide how to navigate and interact with our devices. The device would simply tell us what to do.

    Congratulate Chris for starting a new position!

    Digitally triggered distraction is making our conversations less meaningful, our attention more splintered, and our decisions less satisfying. The research is towering. We’ve known for years that old-school analog note-taking and handwriting reinforces retention and comprehension. And nearly 90% of us understand that the mere presence of devices detracts from the quality of our conversations, and yet we do it anyway.

    Take control. Use technology around a life you design, not a life designed by algorithms.

    Speaking of building an intentionally-designed life, check out Mindscaling’s new series on Civility in the Workplace.

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    Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? I love to work with groups large and small. Let’s talk.

    In other news, our son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Buy a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

    Gratitude Is Not About the Past. It Guides Our Future.

    We think gratitude is about the past. It’s not. Gratitude feels like an emotion in which we reflect on a past event, or previous moment, or sometimes a specific person, and what they did for us or how they made us feel.

    We think about that past place and time and person and feel a sense of appreciation and thankfulness. But gratitude isn’t just a passive, reflective experience. It’s an active driver of what we’re going to do next, how we are going to cooperate with others, treat people around us, and take action.

    Gratitude is an emotional driver that guides our future action. Gratitude may be born of a reflective and thoughtful moment, but that emotion is a psychological driver of our own future behavior toward others.

    Feeling indebted is not feeling gratitude. Feeling indebted is a feeling of Oh crap, now I have to pay them back, or What a hassle. I guess I have to go rake their leaves now. It’s obligation without the thankfulness. It’s personal demand without the joy.

    We feel grateful when we think others have invested in us and we feel a joyful calling to reciprocate. Sociologist Georg Simmel calls gratitude the “moral memory” of humankind. When we feel grateful, we are more willing to act on behalf of someone who helped us, because if we don’t, the relationship dies. That’s the nature of relationships. And we all need relationships in life to thrive.

    David DeSteno and his colleagues at Northeastern University wondered how people would behave if they could induce a feeling of gratitude in a laboratory. DeSteno and his team brought pairs of students into his lab – one was an actual research participant, the other person was secretly an actor hired by the lab team.

    Sitting side by side, researchers asked both participants to complete a long, boring task on a computer. Just as they were completing the task, the student’s computer was programmed to crash, and the participant lost all of their work. They would often curse or groan in frustration. Meanwhile, the actor happily completed the assignment, pressed a button to submit their work, and prepared to leave.

    A researcher would enter the room, see that the computer had crashed, and tell the participant that unfortunately they had to do it all over again, saying, “Sorry, there’s really no other choice.” They would then leave the room.

    The actor was coached to observe this interaction and say something like, “Well I might be late for my work-study job, but I’m pretty good at computers. Maybe I can fix it. Let me help.” The actor would then pretend to work hard at fixing the problem for a few minutes, then strike a secret set of keys, and magically ‘fix’ the problem. As you can imagine the research participant was delighted they didn’t have to do the entire onerous job over, and deeply grateful for the help.

    So, it’s no surprise what happens next. The researchers asked the actor in the experiment to later stand outside the building and pretend to be working on a school project and asking for volunteers to fill out a brief survey. The grateful research participants happily filled out the survey and spent 30% more time contributing to help.

    You’re thinking, Well sure, they’re just paying it back. Well, maybe. In the next version of the experiment, the actor standing in front of the building was a complete stranger, the research participant had never met. Yet now, newly infused with a feeling of gratitude after the savior rescued them when the computer crashed, that grateful research participant was not only more likely to volunteer to help a complete stranger, but they also spent significantly more time on the survey than the control groups who were not induced for gratitude.

    This is but one small experiment, of many, that DeSteno has conducted on the power of gratitude to cause people to be more generous, invest more time, and contribute more often to loved ones, as well as complete strangers. Gratitude doesn’t just make you happier. It also makes the world a happier place, because you will feel joyfully compelled to be helpful to others.

    “Gratitude really isn’t so much about paying it back, as it is paying it forward.
    – David DeSteno, Ph.D.”

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    Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? I love to work with groups large and small. Let’s talk.

    In other news, our son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Buy a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

    Stop Complaining. Take Control. Reprogram Your Brain.

    Two workers sit down and open their lunch boxes. The first one says, “I got a meatloaf sandwich for lunch. I hate meatloaf.” The next day she opens her lunchbox, and exclaims, “Another meatloaf sandwich! I can’t stand meatloaf.” On the third day, yet another meatloaf sandwich shows up in the lunchbox.

    Her friend says, “Why don’t you just ask your husband to make something else for lunch instead of complaining about it every day?”
    “I make my own lunch.” She replies.

    If you’re unhappy, change something. You are in control.

    You look out the window and see that its rainy and cold. That’s an observation. But then you say out loud, “It sucks that it’s rainy and cold today.” Now you’re adding a negative descriptor. On the other hand, if you add “Looks like winter is coming. I can’t wait to go skiing!” then you’ve added a positive twist.

    Complaining is self-reinforcing. Complaining begets complaining. And the more you complain, the more you look for things to complain about. The more we reinforce those negative neural pathways, the more available and accessible they become. Sound like anyone you know if your life?

    Even if you’re not naturally a complainer, the topics you choose to talk about can set you down a negative mental path. About 30 times a day, we complain about all kinds of things. Topics such as our weight, the weather, traffic, prices, crime, politicians, health care, government, the image of America in the world, environment pollution, and views on the police, all prompt more negative inclinations in our minds.

    Initiating discussions on these topics are more likely to put you in a bad mood, and more likely to bum out the people around you, because our moods are contagious. Constantly focusing on what goes wrong, or what you don’t like, or who offended you, or how the chef ruined your meal, simply perpetuates a conversation about what’s wrong.

    The average person has no awareness of their own complaining. According to Will Bowen, it’s like bad breath. You are only aware of someone else’s, not your own.

    This isn’t a message to shut up, and suck it up. This is a message to stick to the facts, not indignation. When you say to the waiter, “Why did you serve me cold soup?” you are saying How dare you offend me like this? When you say to the waiter, “Did you know the soup is cold?” you are saying Would you please warm this up for me? Focusing on complaining is focusing on the problem. Focusing on facts is focusing on solutions.

    Guy Winch, Ph.D. says people enjoy complaining because they find it a bonding mechanism. Winch says, “complaints can make us feel like we connect with someone because we have a mutual dissatisfaction about something.”

    The most important thing to remember is that you are responsible for making your own luck.

    Here’s a trick to get started. Take the 21-day Complaint-Free Challenge. It’s pretty straighforward. You put on the bracelet on either wrist. If you complain, you switch to the other hand. It gives you an instant awareness of your complaint level.

    And if you think your life is too stressful and crazy to start a challenge like this, I’ll tell you I’m only going to the gym after I get in shape. The time for taking charge of your life is always now.

      ____________________________________________________

    Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? I love to work with groups large and small. Let’s talk.

    In other news, our son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Buy a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

    Your Idea Wants to Live

    “There’s a rule they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School: if anything is worth doing, it’s worth doing to excess.”
    – Edwin Land

    Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak famously started Apple Computer on April 1, 1976. It’s hard to imagine, but Jobs had his own innovation hero. If Jobs was the wiz kid of the 1970s and 1980s, that was Edwin Land of the 1930s and 1940s. At 17, Land enrolled at Harvard but quickly became bored after discovering it was populated with wealthy kids without ambition.

    Edwin Land had no patience for idleness. His mind was racing constantly. One of his early employees said of Lamb, that he could “see into my head. It was really a kind of interesting sensation of having your head briefly searched for content.”

    Since he was a child at summer camp, he was fascinated with optics and light. He slept with a copy of Physical Optics under his pillow, and spent his teenage years fixated on creating a man-made polarizer. A polarizing lens today reduces glare and significantly increases your ability to see in bright conditions – on water, on snow, or even blinding oncoming headlights. Polarizing filters help pilots see in the clouds, anglers see fish in the water, and photographers capture beautiful color in stark light.

    But in the the 1920s polarizing filters only existed in nature, discovered by accident when holding tourmaline crystals up to the sunlight and watching the filtered light shine through. Edwin Land believed he could create such a filter in a laboratory.

    He persisted and eventually synthesized his own polarizer by embedding millions of fragile tiny crystals within lacquer (the shiny gooey stuff you spread on guitars that makes them shine) and then aligning all of the crystals in the same direction using magnets. Voilà! Polarized light streamed forth. He was 19 years old and described the moment as “the most exciting single event in my life.”

    That was in 1928. Fifteen years later, in 1943, he would have his famous epiphany while taking a family photograph at the Grand Canyon with his family. It was in that moment, after taking a family photograph, that his daughter asked, “Can I see the photo now?”

    The question stopped him. He mused, “What if we could build a darkroom inside a camera?” That question led him to conceptualize the Polaroid camera, which was released only four years later in 1947.

    “The problem is not the problem. The problem is your attitude about the problem. Do you understand?”
    – Jack Sparrow

    Often we are halted by our doubts, hesitations or comparisons to others. But remember, your competition is not your competition. Your competition is yourself, your ego, your procrastination, your lack of discipline, your indecision, your eating choices, your lack of follow through, or that person in your life who is living rent free in your head.

    Dispel your fears. Your idea is yearning for life. Stay in motion.

      ____________________________________________________

    Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful human and digital learning experiences for companies of all sizes. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? I love to work with groups large and small. Let’s talk.

    In other news, our son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a new book about it called Chasing Dawn. I co-authored the book with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Buy a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.