Think of Conversation as Travel

Within every individual, there is an entire world within them, a universe of experiences, knowledge, joy and adversity. Think of conversation as travel, as an exploration. And just like actual travel, a deep conversation is also an adventure, an opening to new ideas and other ways of seeing the world.

“Almost every crisis we’re facing right now is a crisis of belonging.”

—Joe Keohane

I haven’t always talked to strangers, but I try more often now. At our local grocery store, the kind person bagging groceries always asks the same series of questions. “How heavy would you like your bags?” “Would you like your milk in a bag?” “Would you like your cleaning products in the same bag with your produce?” “Would you like your ice cream in a separate bag?”

I understand they are being polite. I usually tell them, “You can decide. You’re an expert. You have much more experience. I trust you.” Then I can go back to asking the clerk about her tattoo. That’s another level of interaction. Try asking a complete stranger about their tattoo. A few years ago I never would have done this. Are you kidding? For many people a tattoo is a sacred icon, a cherished memory, a badge of identity. I wouldn’t dare.

I was wrong to assume people don’t want to talk about their tattoos. A tattoo is a powerful and permanent reminder of an event or expression of identity. In my experience, people light up with enthusiasm if I ask. It’s their daughter’s birthday, their life motto, their favorite quote, an ancient symbol. Tattoos reflect powerful emotions and life choices. I’ve never yet met anyone unwilling to tell me the story of their tattoo.

There’s an expression in social psychology called the Lesser Minds Problem, which is short-hand for the common, impatient and reflexive assumption we make about unknown people. Namely that strangers:

  1. Have less world experience than we do (“They’re so foolish!”)
  2. Make decisions that are less informed because of their lack of experience (“They don’t know what they’re doing!”)
  3. Have a less nuanced and unrefined understanding if the world because of their lack of experience (“They don’t understand how the world works! Idiots!”).

If I have a headache and it is painfully debilitating, and then you tell me you have a headache, I may likely think, “Sure but it’s nothing like this headache!” Our own subjective pain is usually more painful than someone else’s. Which is why almost everyone buys “extra strength” pain medication. We believe our experiences are deeper, more meaningful, more enlightening, than other’s experiences.

In a research paper called “More Human Than You”, Nick Haslam and his colleagues show that we ascribe more human characteristics to ourselves than strangers. When asked to evaluate how curioussympathetic or imaginative a stranger was compared to themselves, participants consistently described themselves as possessing more of these human nature traits. People tend to see themselves as more dimensional, and more mentally complex, than the strangers we encounter in the world.

The obvious secret to finding the humanity in others is to talk to strangers so they’re not so strange any longer. When you interact with people, their humanity becomes undeniable.

With over 60% of younger people (18-25 years old) now experiencing moderate to severe loneliness, we need to recognize that connecting with other humans is an essential human need, like breathing, exercising and thinking. In Joe Keohane’s new book The Power of Strangers: The Benefits of Connecting in a Suspicious World, he offers ideas on how to break the silence, connect with others, and enrich understanding.

Start by finding safe places to start a conversation with a stranger. The “cosmopolitan canopy” is an expression coined by sociologist Elijah Anderson at Yale University to mean safe public and semi-public places where starting a conversation isn’t considered weird or too out of place. Coffee shops, libraries, grocery stores, public squares and markets are all environments where initiating a conversation isn’t too odd or off-putting.

Shared experiences are also good environments. If you’re both watching a baseball team winning, or your local high school team losing, you have a shared point of departure.

Answer greetings honestly. A few years ago my mom died of cancer. Within an hour of hearing the news I went for a walk by myself. A neighbor walked by and asked, “Hi, how are you?” I hesitated and then told her the truth. My mom had just died. My neighbor gave me a hug and we spoke about the fragility of life. It’s the most meaningful brief interaction we have ever had, and yet to this day we always share a kind moment when we see each other in the community. And I believe that kindness can be traced back to that one moment of human honesty.

Perhaps one of the most accessible tips Keohane gives is to break the script. Our script is the pro forma things we say every day to talk, and yet not talk. We say Hello, how are you? as a throwaway comment to fill dead air. We don’t actually intend someone to answer. Try breaking the script and actually answering the question truthfully. “Oh, I’m alright. I didn’t sleep too well but I had a fun yoga class. I’d say I’m about a 6 or 7 right now.

When you answer truthfully, it’s a cue to the other person that this could be interesting. This could go somewhere. It’s playful, audacious, and an invitation to deepen the conversation. Take a chance. Open a conversation with someone new.

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Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful online micro-learning experiences to drive the human change that propels your team. You can find our catalog of high-impact courses here. And if you want something more tailored, you can learn about our custom work here.

My book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now.

And if you want to learn to apply some of these ideas and be an effective coach for your team, we wrote a course on that too. It’s called Coaching for Managers available over at UDEMY for Business.

It’s OK, You Should Ask. They Will Say Yes.

Welcome back! If you prefer, you can receive this newsletter when first published over here on LinkedIn. This week I show that you can – and should – ask for help, along with a few tips on how to ask from the research of Vanessa Bohns.

Recently my wife and I wanted to visit our son, a first year student at a university about a 7-hour drive away. He had only been there a few weeks, and we thought it would be nice to visit him at school for parent’s weekend, meet his new friends, and take in the fall college scene in New England.

In the end, we didn’t go. We have two dogs who would not have enjoyed 14 hours in a car, and a younger daughter who would need a place to stay for the weekend. She certainly wasn’t interested in a getaway with her parents on a long car ride, just to visit her brother. Yuck.

So what happened? We didn’t ask for help. It would have been easy. When I explained this to some friends, every single person said they would have taken our dogs for the weekend, including our old sweet yellow lab who we couldn’t bear to leave at a dog boarding kennel. Our daughter could have easily spent the night with friends. It would have taken two phone calls. We just didn’t ask.

In general, people hate to ask for help, or ask favors from other people. Our aversion to even interrupting someone else can be so strong, Vanessa Bohn has demonstrated in her research that we don’t like to approach strangers just to give them compliments (“Your sweater looks great on you!”), because we are concerned we might not express ourselves well to others. We believe we might appear awkward, strike the wrong tone, or be misinterpreted. So we say nothing. We ask for nothing.

But we shouldn’t be so worried. People will agree to requests more often than we think, particularly if the request is benign, or well-intentioned.

There’s a guy named Jia Jiang who tested this theory by spending 100 days asking random people for pretty benign, but often unusual requests. He called his experiment Rejection Therapy, and during the experiment, he made many requests of strangers. He went to a high school track and asked a random person to race him (yes), asked a police officer if he could sit in the squad car (yes), asked a Wal-Mart greeter if he could hug her (yes), asked a Subway sandwich maker if he could go behind the counter and make his own sandwich (no), asked a car salesperson if he could test drive an $80k BMW (yes), and even asked if he could give the flight safety announcement on a SouthWest flight (sort of).

The point is that people are more agreeable, and more willing to say Yes to our requests than we think they are. And because of this fact, we should be careful of the requests that we do make, and ensure they are well-intentioned, and designed for positive outcomes.

So, once you’ve figured out what you want to ask for, that comes from a place of good intent, here are a few tips from Vanessa Bohn’s research on how to make a successful ask.

Be direct: A mistake we often make is that we think it will be more polite to hint at the request, or drop clues that the other person is supposed to understand and interpret, to allow them to intuit our request, and volunteer to help. So instead of asking outright, we suggest or hint at it. People don’t always pick up on our hints. Be direct, and plain, in your requests instead.

Don’t overthink the ask: We often think we need to craft the perfect email, with compelling arguments, and carefully selected words, to gain their attention and get someone else to Yes. Actually, you don’t. The most compelling asks are direct, simple, and in-person.

Ask in-person, or at least by phone: It is very difficult for people to say No to someone else in person. Our default response is to agree, mostly because we don’t want to create conflict, adversity or disappoint someone else. And emails are easily ignored.

Don’t water down your request: In a series of studies at Columbia Business School, participants engaged in negotiations who thought they were being too assertive, or too pushy in their requests ( the “line-crossing illusion”), were more often viewed by the other person as being appropriate, and fair, in their ask. So don’t ask for half of what you actually want.

It’s OK. You can, and should, ask for help. Asking strengthens relationships, expands connections, and gives someone else a chance to give. Because giving someone an opportunity to give is a good thing.

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Still trying to figure out what you want? We wrote a 5-minute microlearning course on that. Enjoy!

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Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful online micro-learning experiences to drive the human change that propels your team. You can find our catalog of high-impact courses here. And if you want something more tailored, you can learn about our custom work here.

My book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now.

And if you want to learn to apply some of these ideas and be an effective coach for your team, we wrote a course on that too. It’s called Coaching for Managers available over at UDEMY for Business.

You Are More Influential Than You Think

Hello there! I have a new-newsletter I’m publishing over at LinkedIn. It’s about how we show up, interact with people, and make a difference every day with small changes. I will post it here on my site, but you can also subscribe over here to receive it on LinkedIn. Enjoy!

Most of us walk through our daily lives thinking no one really pays attention to us. At the sandwich shop, standing in the grocery checkout line, attending the same weekly meeting, or watching the middle school soccer game, we often think we don’t have much influence over people and circumstances. Sometimes we even think we’re invisible.

Yet simply being present and sharing an event, a meal, a checkout line, or a meeting – even if you don’t say anything – will deepen the experience for everyone and make it more memorable.

Showing up can change the outcome of events, influence how other people think, and even change the way you think.

When two violins are placed in a room
if a chord on one violin is struck
the other violin will sound that same note.
Know how powerful you are.
Know you can make music in the people
around you, simply by playing your own strings.
   – Andrea Gibson

The truth is that people are paying attention to you more than you are aware of. But the other strange truth is that people aren’t paying attention to what you think they’re paying attention to. If you are having a bad hair day, wearing the wrong shoes, or worried about your complexion, that’s not what other people are noticing at all. Other people don’t really care about the t-shirt you decided to wear or the zit on your forehead. At least not in the way you think the t-shirt is ridiculous and the zit is enormous.

Studies show that when you are watching a movie with someone else, attending a high school sports event, or just sitting in a meeting with other people, your mere presence with others intensifies the experience and makes it more memorable for everyone.

The reason is that when you show up, others will tune their messages and ideas to you to reflect what they think you want to hear, or try to influence you. When you attend that weekly team meeting, your boss is tuning her message to the group taking into account that you are there and listening. In this way your mere presence is affecting the outcome of the dialogue and events to come. Your presence is affecting what other people say.

We also tend to underestimate how much other people will ruminate on conversations and interactions other people have with us. When we leave a meeting, or a conversation, we often think about the friend, the boss, the colleague that we just met – what they said, how they made us feel, who they are – but we don’t often think that they are likely doing the same thing.

Meanwhile, they are reflecting on their conversation with us. This is something called the thought-gap bias. We tend to underestimate how much others are thinking about us after we leave an interaction. We think about them, but we don’t consider they are doing the same thing.

It happened to me just this morning. I was walking my dog in the forest and bumped into my friend Dominique. We started talking about this idea, and the notion that we have more influence than we believe. She told me a story of walking into a Goodwill store and discovering a beautiful, lightly-used set of Calloway golf clubs that would be perfect for her son.  She chatted with the clerk, asked about her day, and then inquired how much for the golf clubs? The clerk said, “How about six dollars for the set?”

Dominique was stunned. The golf clubs were worth hundreds of dollars. She asked, “Why would you let them go so cheaply?” The clerk said, “Because you are the first person today to be nice to me.”

You have more influence that you think. Use your superpowers for good.

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Our company Mindscaling, is busy building powerful online micro-learning experiences designed to drive the human change that will propel your team. You can find our catalog of high-impact courses here. And if you want something more tailored, you can learn about our custom work here.

My book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now.

Get Inspired. Then Inspire Someone Else.

I have a friend who suffers from depression. He says it comes and goes. And when it comes, he describes it as a great dark weight, like a heavy winter blanket suffocating his mind, robbing him of energy, depleting his will. He says his only choice is to fight back.

Fight? I was confused. Fight how? I asked him how does he overcome it? What does he do? Does he say certain things to himself, or do something specific, like maybe go to a particular place with a meaningful view, or a place in his mind?

He says his way out of depression is to seek awe, the kind of awe you feel when you hear an exquisite piece of music, watch a powerful bit of filmmaking, witness someone doing something beyond comprehension, immerse in a painting so arresting it feels otherworldly. He seeks beauty, he seeks the sublime, the transcendent excellence that gives him hope and joy, and inspires him to swim to the surface of the inky haze that’s trying to drown his mind.

According to psychologists Todd M. Thrash and Andrew J. Elliot, the cycle from inspiration to action often starts with openness to experience. In order to be inspired, you have to be willing to place yourself in a novel environment – at the edge of a cliff watching a sunset, before a magnificent painting, in the presence of a master musician – before any inspiration occurs. You have to start by being willing to go to a place of deep experience.

In this place of openness, and experiential adventure, you have the opportunity to recognize beauty or excellence. The next step is action. You have to do something. You have to act on that inspiration.

According to Thrash and Elliot, inspired people possess a heightened belief in their own abilities, elevated self-esteem, and greater optimism for the future. And because inspired people have greater confidence in their capabilities, they persist in their tasks, gain deeper absorption and creativity in their work, and – as a result – are viewed by others as having greater mastery of their work.

If you recognize someone in your life who is wandering, lost, alone, or depressed, you should certainly encourage them to seek help and counseling. But one of the very first things you can do is to take action yourself and facilitate their own inspiration. Take them to a place of beauty, bring them to a museum, take them on a beautiful walk, immerse them in a meaningful conversation. We can all start by creating the circumstances to build inspiration in others.

Here is their research paper describing their study, and here is the Inspiration Scale they created based on their work

Are you stuck? Trying to figure out what you want? Or paralyzed by too many choices? Here is a sample lesson from our new series Making It Happen: How to Figure Out What You Want

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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.

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.

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.

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.

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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.

Yes, Life is Crazy but You Don’t Need to Be Alone

Hi there! Sorry its taken a while to write you back. My life is insane right now. I can’t focus on anything and sometimes I feel like I can’t breathe. But you know how crazy life is these days!
My commute is a white knuckle mess and my work is a disaster. I swear any second I’m going to get fired. Then what?! I can barely pay my bills now. But the weekends have been gorgeous, right? We took the kids hiking on Sunday to make up for my total meltdown in front of them. I’m convinced I’m a horrible parent. I know I only screamed at the kids because I can’t sleep. Anyway, enough of that. Let’s have coffee soon. I miss you.

We don’t tell the whole truth. We conceal ourselves because we’re scared of humiliation, or shame, or burdening others with our stories. Or maybe of appearing weak. Yet when we consistently conceal our feelings, we also alienate ourselves from those around us. We start to check out. And that sense of personal isolation is increasing year over year. The result is that we are all feeling a little more detached, alone, and polarized. There is a strong correlation between that feeling of isolation and decreasing empathy around the world.

The strength of our society, our communities, our companies, and the collaboration which drives our innovation, is all based on the power of us to connect, communicate, and ideate together. Our shared imagination is, indeed, our most powerful human trait. Our complex language allows to talk about things that do not exist at all – except in our collective imaginations.

Things like currency, the United Nations, or Roman Gods exist only in our minds. Two lawyers who have never met, can still collaborate on the civil rights of someone arrested, because of their shared belief system. Karl Benz patented his first Motorwagon in 1886, and Mercedes-Benz today employs about 145,000 people – most of whom are complete strangers to one another, yet all united in one shared vision and goal.

An important place to connect with others is in our communal settings, like coffee shops and grocery stores. But even simple things like grocery shopping can be outsourced and automated. The result is that our world is becoming more and more transactional and anonymous.

It’s time to start paying attention to our social relationships the same way we pay attention to our diet and exercise.
– Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD

Urbanization is increasing. Now, over 82% of Americans live in urban settings. People are migrating to cities and leaving the countryside. In a strange irony, cities have a much higher percentage of people claiming to feel lonely than rural environments.

Loneliness makes our lives shorter, our bodies more subject to disease, our minds vulnerable to depression and mental illness, and our lives generally less joyful.

Empathy is a simple term but a complex idea. It’s about how one person responds to the emotions to another. It’s about recognizing what someone else is feeling and catching their joy, fear, or pain. Empathy is a concern for another person and desire for them to have greater well being.

We are all leaders somewhere, in some capacity – in our book clubs, in our town halls, on our sports teams, in our families, or at work. As leaders, we all have a responsibility and opportunity to guide the culture of that environment to be more connected, more empathetic.

Here’s a quick and fun exercise to deepen empathy on your team. Think of someone on your team and finish a sentence below. It’s not only an affirmation of the other person, it’s also an empathetic thought process.

  • Something I learned from you recently is . . .
  • I like your personality because . . .
  • I know I can count on you when . . .
  • I really appreciate it when you . . .
  • Some adjectives that describe you are . . .
  • I always am impressed by the way you . . .
  • I look forward to seeing you because . . .
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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.