Your Stubborn Optimism Is Contributing to Your Success

One day, the farmer’s horse jumps the fence and runs off. The farmer’s neighbor stops by and says, “I’m so sorry. That’s terrible news.”

The farmer shrugs and says, “Who knows if it’s good or bad news.”

Several days later, the horse returns with six other wild horses who have followed him home. The neighbor stops by and says, “That’s amazing! What wonderful luck!”

The farmer shrugs and says, “Who knows if it’s good or bad news.”

Soon after the wild horses have come to live in their pasture, the farmer’s son is thrown from a horse while trying to tame it. He breaks his leg in the fall and is bound to a wheelchair while he heals. The neighbor stops by and says, “What a horrible accident. I’m so sorry for your son and your family.”

The farmer shrugs and says, “Who knows if it’s good or bad news.”

While his son is healing in his wheelchair, the militia marches through the town, conscripting all able-bodied young people to serve in the war. The farmer’s son is spared from serving in the military. Again, the neighbor stops by and says, “What fortune that your son does not have to join the army.”

The farmer shrugs and says, “Who knows if it’s good or bad news.”

You get the point. This fable can go on and on. It’s about how our interpretation of events is a result of our view of the world, our innate sense of hope or despair. But hope and optimism aren’t quite the same thing. According to researcher Tali Sharot:

Hope is what you want to happen. Optimism is the belief that what you want to happen will happen.
– Tali Sharot, Ph.D.

Some people say the key to happiness is low expectations. The idea being that if we keep our expectations low, we aren’t likely to be disappointed, and therefore when things do go our way, we’ll be pleasantly surprised. But it turns out that most people aren’t pessimistic. Only 4% of us claim to be full-on pessimists, and that’s a good thing.

We (and by “we” I mean everyone – men, women, old, young, western culture, eastern culture, rich, poor…) commonly overestimate our own optimistic outlook of the world. Statistically we think we are more attractive, more likely to get promoted, more likely to stay married, and less likely to get in a car accident because we’re better drivers than most other people too. And through it all, we think we’re more modest than the next person too.

Privately, we hold more optimistic expectations for ourselves, our loved ones, and our children, yet hold more pessimistic expectations for strangers. Although the actual chance of getting some form of cancer during your lifetime is about 35%, most people think it will happen to the other guy.

This optimism bias turns out to be a good thing because – although it can lead us to underestimate our chances of developing illness, getting divorced, or getting in a car accident – it also leads us to be more cheerful and excited about our own future.

That innate optimism bias allows us to have more favorable expectations of upcoming events in our lives, which in turn, lets us be happier and healthier in the long term, in part because we expect it. According to the scientist Tali Sharot, it’s optimistic anticipation that keeps us cheerful, and that sunny outlook on life comes from the belief that we have control over our future.

The reason we are more optimistic about ourselves is because we believe we have control over our lives. And the reason we are more pessimistic about bigger ideas like the economy, climate change, or real estate markets because we believe we have no control. So when we think about the upcoming weekend, we can get excited about the plans we have made and when we think about the giant project we are on, we might believe it’s going to fail because we have little control over the outcome and success.

Here’s the big idea. When we take a moment to reflect on how our own decisions, efforts and emotions make a positive difference in the world around us, we are more likely to be optimistic about the outcome, which actually makes it more likely to happen, precisely *because* we take control. It can be a self-fulfilling prophesy.

Go forth and never apologize for your smile.

Start one small act at a time. Try our course Small Acts of Leadership to build action into your life every single day.

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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.

Last summer, my 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 Can’t Build a Reputation On What You’re Going to Do

A little northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona is a desert of volcanic ash and rock from an eruption near the year 1065. It’s now called Cinder Lake. It’s a desolate, barren landscape with porous, ashen soil, pockmarked with divots and potholes.

In July of 1967, NASA engineers “improved” the landscape by blasting over a hundred craters in the middle of Cinder Lake to make it more accurately look like the moon. It was here for a couple years thereafter that NASA conducted a series of lunar training trials with Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong and other astronauts and engineers. They brought in their space suits, vehicles, and crazy-looking apparatus to conduct experiments and stress tests on the lunar buggys.

One day they encountered a Navajo elder who inquired what they were doing. The astronauts explained that they were practicing and training for a trip to the moon. The Native American man was astonished at what he heard, and then fell silent, quietly contemplating what the astronauts told him. After a few moments he spoke.

“The people of my tribe believe that there are holy and sacred spirits that live on the moon. Would you please pass a message to them?” And then he uttered a few sentences in his native language, carefully repeating each line until the astronauts memorized and repeated it back accurately.

“But what does it mean?” the astronauts asked.
“That I cannot tell you. It is a sacred message for only my people and the moon spirits to know.”

When they returned to the training facility they found a Navajo translator who listened to their secret message, and then laughed and laughed. He said, “It means, ‘Don’t believe a word these people tell you. They have come to steal your lands.'”

We would all like a reputation for generosity and we’d all like to buy it cheap.
– Mignon Mclaughlin

It’s a cute story. It’s not true, but illustrates the point that your reputation precedes you. Like it or not, people talk. And your actions say much more about who you are than any marketing brochure you write about yourself. Which is why one of the most important things you can do to generate good will among those you have worked with, and high expectations for those who are interested, is to actively live your values.

It’s hard to live up to our own expectations. We know that mobile devices detract from the quality of our conversations, but we look at them anyway. We know that waiting to talk isn’t the same as listening, and yet it’s hard to quiet our inner dialogue. We know that self-compassion is important, and yet we beat ourselves up over the silliest things.

Eric Kandel, a neuroscientist at Columbia University who received a Nobel Prize for his work on memory, was once pressed to say how much of the mind works unconsciously. He guessed between 80 to 90%. The broader point is that real change is difficult since much of our thought process is unconscious.

You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.
– Henry Ford

Pick one thing. About ten years ago I was so consumed with my work I would prattle on to anyone who would listen about what projects we were working on, what fabulous things we were trying to accomplish, what we were excited about. Some people were interested, but many weren’t. Many people would just tune out. So I started asking questions instead. It made a big difference in the quality of my relationships when I led with questions instead of statements – particularly more powerful kinds of questions.

Reinforce the change. Whatever small change we choose to act on, when we see it elsewhere in the world, reinforce it. In my own example, I wanted to lead conversations with questions instead of statements. Now, when I see other people around me begin conversations with questions (for example; “How are your kids?” or “You just went to Detroit. What did you learn about the city?”). I point out their considerate questions and say “Thank you for asking.” Or even better, “That was a thoughtful question.”

Build your reputation one small act at a time.

Building cultures of leadership, trust and innovation starts one small act at a time. Try our course Small Acts of Leadership to move the needle a little in your 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.

Last summer, my 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. Grab a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Real Moments Will Not Be Televised

The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.
– George Bernhard Shaw

It’s school vacation week here in New England and we’re out skiing with the family. It’s pretty cold, and early afternoon yesterday, we sat on the chairlift chatting about taking a break and warming our toes. There was a lull in the rhythm of the day, and our minds started to drift on to the next thing. Someone next to me on the chairlift pulled their hand out of a warm glove and reached for their phone. We weren’t quite present.

Minutes later, we bumped into a few friends on the hill. And then a few more. Within half an hour we were a posse of eight racing through the woods, bouncing among the mogul fields, carving down the mountain, and drifting among each other having new, interesting conversations. It went on for a couple hours. We forgot about our toes and chilled cheeks, and instead deepened our play, deepened our conversations. We were very present and alive. We also created new relationships and deepened others, all in the span of a couple hours.

These are the moments we search for, the moments of meaning and companionship. It’s reflexively easy to reach for a phone and wander through the fast food of social media seeking a quick dopamine hit. Scrolling through Twitter or Instagram in a passive fog never quite finding satisfaction or joy in the effort. Quite a few studies have shown that taking a digital detox from social media predictably improves our sense of happiness and well-being. Other studies clearly show that social media just increase stress and anxiety.

Here’s a useful way to look at it. Nothing substitutes for in-person face-to-face human connection and time together. So think of your digital life as supportive tools to help create more meaningful human interactions. With location services and social updates you can easily triangulate where your friends and family are so you can meet up with them and have in-person, face to face human interactions. I discovered my friend was in town so we texted to have a coffee. In moments together we experience the nuance and joy of real human connection – the tonal inflection, facial changes, gestures, posture and gaze.

Albert Mehrabian, author of Silent Messages, famously posited that 93% of our communication isn’t even in the actual words we use. He found that 7% of any message is conveyed through words, 38% through vocal intonation, and 55% through nonverbal elements, such as body language and posture. I think the truth varies but whoever true communication happens, we won’t find deep communication through Facebook.

As Cal Newport describes his approach to digital minimalism, first ask yourself What are my values? and What kind of life to I want to be living that is fulfilling? and then layer in a digital life that supports those goals. So instead of asking yourself whether you prefer Instagram or Twitter, instead ask yourself if Twitter serves a purpose that supports your life goals.

It’s important to understand that how we consume media affects the way our brain is wired for deep thinking. Fast media doses of high speed, low attention, vacuous, binge watching media disrupts our ability to think deeply and creatively. Try slow media instead.

“If every moment of potential boredom in your life — say, having to wait five minutes in line or sit alone in a restaurant until a friend arrives — is relieved with a quick glance at your smartphone, then your brain has likely been rewired to a point where it’s not ready for deep work.”
– Cal Newport

Interested in a learning experience on being present and mindful as a leader? Try Karen Hough’s new course, The Art of Leadership Presence.

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I founded Mindscaling, a company 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.

Last summer, my 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. Grab a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

The Magic of Bill Murray

“If you can consciously let yourself get taken and see where you go, that’s an exercise. That’s discipline. To follow the scent. Let yourself go and see what happens, that takes a bit of courage.”
– Bill Murray

The comic legend Bill Murray has created decades of urban folklore by simply showing up in odd, random places and interacting with people. Did he really take a french fry from someone’s plate and whisper, “No one will believe you.” Did he really ride a bike in a Walmart wearing a fireman’s uniform, squirting a water pistol? Who knows for sure.

But there is video of him washing dishes at a party in Scotland, playing tambourine at a house party in Austin, and crashing a private karaoke room in New York. And there is a beautiful story from a father who met Bill outside of a hospital and watched him spend half an hour on his knees in the cold, comforting and talking to his son in a wheelchair after brain surgery.

Or this story. Bill gets into a cab in San Francisco and starts chatting with the cab driver, and discovers the cab driver is a saxophone player. Bills asks when he gets to practice his instrument, and the taxi driver says he doesn’t get to practice much because he drives the taxi all the time. So Bill finds out the saxophone is in the trunk and tells the driver to pull over so Bill can drive the car while the taxi driver gets to practice his saxophone in the back seat. They wander the streets of San Francisco with the taxi driver blowing saxophone in the back, and then cross over the bridge into Oakland after midnight to have barbecue together at a diner, and play saxophone for a crowd in the parking lot.

Whether Bill is dropping in to a game of kickball or reading poetry at a construction site, he is showing up to be present, not to entertain. He’s not there to juggle, tell jokes, or get on stage. He’s there to be alive in that spontaneous, inventive moment. In his own words, Bill says when it works best he finds a way to wake people up in their lives. He says he might encounter someone sleepwalking through their life, and hopefully he can help create a moment to wake them up. He also says sometimes he gets lucky himself, and wakes up to a new truth or new understanding.

Universally, everyone who tells these stories describe him as kind, present, and able to bring levity and joy to a moment. But the moments are fleeting and unpredictable. He’s famously impossible to track, or pin down. Even Sofia Coppola who wrote and directed Lost in Translation said that Bill told her he “might think about it” without ever actually committing to doing the film. So Sofia sent him the production schedule, flew to Tokyo to start filming, and then just hoped that Murray would show up, which of course he did.

Katie Calautti, a reporter for Vanity Fair, was asked to do a story on Bill Murray at the Toronto Film Festival. She said he was impossible to coordinate with because he has no entourage, no people, no team to interact with. He just shows up, and since you don’t know when or how he is going to appear, it’s pretty hard to write about his comings and goings. She said she spent most of her time at the film festival chasing a ghost. She said later that reporting on Bill Murray is like reporting on jazz. You just have to show up and see what happens.

It’s easy to be inspired by, and learn from Bill Murray. Show up, listen, give kindness, don’t seek the spotlight, look for opportunities to ease pain, or provoke new ideas. And when it works right, maybe something will happen to transform the moment, and allow an awakening.

“We’re in this life, and if you’re not available, the sort of ordinary time goes past and you didn’t live it. But if you’re available, life gets huge. You’re really living it.”
– Bill Murray

If you have a quiet hour, I recommend the documentary The Bill Murray Stories: Life Lessons Learned from a Mythical Man.

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I founded Mindscaling, a company 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.

Last summer, my 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. Grab a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Reinventing Yourself One Story at a Time

We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.
– Kurt Vonnegut

I had an interview a few years ago with the great Irish philosopher Charles Handy. He talked a lot about the importance of reinventing yourself every few years, why it’s so difficult, and why most people don’t.

We tell ourselves stories about who we are, such as programmers, or lawyers, or exercise people, or activists, or vegans, or cyclists, or parents, or whatever. Over time, our actions and behaviors strengthen, become habitual, and harden to reinforce that identity. That identity is reassuring, but it’s also a constraint. We can begin to be defined by this self-imposed persona.

It’s all a story we tell ourselves about who we are. And we start to believe that story.

As a result, we can become blind to opportunity and closed to self-reinvention because we overvalue what we have invested in, and undervalue what our friends, family, and colleagues find most appealing and powerful about us.

In that interview, Charles Handy encouraged us to seek out friends and family, listen and trust their assessment of our strengths and to take time to ask what they think best defines us, and what they think might be strong opportunities for growth. You might be surprised when their version of who you are is quite different from your own version.
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Chasing Dawn, our new book, is coming out in a couple weeks. I co-authored this with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. It’s about cycling across America with our teenage kids. Grab a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Our company Mindscaling, builds powerful leadership development experiences based on the work of best-selling authors. My book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post #5 bestseller. Woot! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? I can help. Let’s talk.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: shawn@mindscaling.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

You Don’t Suck. Give Yourself Compassion.

We’re never good enough, smart enough, thin enough. Pharmaceuticals are dispensed, and therapist calendars are booked solid. Most people, when asked, say they are more kind to other people than they are to themselves.

I’m such an idiot…why did I say that?…I look fat and ridiculous…I’ll never succeed…It’s so obvious I have no idea what I’m doing…

If your close friend starting talking like this, what would you say to them? You would build them up, and tell them they are worthy. You would tell them they were smart, talented, and resourceful. You would tell them to stand tall, take a deep breath, close their eyes and envision a stronger, more resilient self. You would send them on their way feeling emboldened.

And if your child came home with a poor test grade you would ask, “How can I help? What do you need? Can I find you a tutor?” You wouldn’t belittle and degrade them. You would be kind, understanding and compassionate.

So why do we talk to ourselves differently? We should use the same internal self-talk we use with our closest friends, our family, and our children. People who are compassionate to themselves are much less likely to be depressed, anxious, or stressed out, and are much more likely to describe themselves as happy, resilient, and optimistic about their future.

In one study, combat veterans who practiced self-compassion suffered less from post-traumatic stress after returning from combat zones. These combat veterans with higher levels of self-compassion showed better functioning in daily life, and fewer symptoms of post-traumatic stress. In fact, self-compassion has been found to be a stronger predictor of PTSD than level of combat exposure. That’s right: PTSD rates are higher among those who tell themselves they deserve it, or are not worthy.

Self-compassion is not self-esteem. Our self-esteem is our sense of worth and value, and is often derived from external validation factors such as comparing ourselves to others. Comparison is the death of joy. Even being referred to as “average” feels like an insult these days, which is why the most negative form of chasing self-esteem often involves putting others down to create a manufactured sense of self-worth. Narcissism has recently been described as an epidemic.

Self-compassion is kindness to ourselves when things go sideways. It’s a caring, thoughtful response to difficult circumstances or adversities. Self-compassion is the act of mindfully acknowledging whatever pain, ill thought, or difficulty we are confronted with, and treating ourselves with humanity and care. It’s the very opposite of the harsh, critical language we often use on ourselves. So stop telling yourself, “You suck! Come on. Pull it together, you loser” and start giving ourselves more thoughtful and compassionate counsel when we feel beat up by life.

For more on the power of self-compassion, follow Kristin Neff, associate professor at the University of Texas, Austin, who has been studying the positive effects of self-compassion for over ten years.

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SmallActs-3DShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

Break the Cycle of Loneliness at Work

Do you ever feel like you don’t really connect with anyone at work? Do you feel as if your relationships at work are superficial? Do you feel as if people at work don’t really understand you? You’re not alone.

“It was an average morning. I was up at seven, helped get the kids their breakfast and hustled them to get ready for school. They left, and I went back upstairs to get dressed for work. But that’s not what I did. I got back into bed, and lay there for another hour, staring at the ceiling. I’m lonely at work and staring at the ceiling for an hour was about as much as I could face.”
– Anonymous

According to a new survey of 20,000 Americans conducted by health care provider Cigna, we are at an all-time alarming high in terms of feeling lonely and isolated. Almost half of us (47%) feel as if we are left out, which also means that only the other half (53%) feel as if we are having meaningful, connected and valued conversations.

Don’t blame it on social media. According to the study, use of social media wasn’t a big predictor of feeling isolated and alone. Those who describe themselves as regular social media consumers had social loneliness scores nearly identical to those who don’t use social media at all.

The implications for work are enormous. People who feel disconnected socially at their jobs, also feel disengaged from their work. Loneliness in the workplace isn’t a private and personal issue, it’s an organizational culture issue.

“It’s critical that employers create a space where employees can connect face-to-face and form meaningful relationships with their co-workers.”
– Douglas Nemecek, M.D.

Be an Emotional Catalyst
You can start by being the instigator of positive emotional contagion. In order to feel more connected at work, we have to start by being more connected ourselves. I’m suggesting that solving our sense of isolation starts by taking social initiative. Our emotions are contagious, and the more we reach out with intentional empathy and connection to others, the more likely we are to be graciously received. It starts a virtuous cycle and elevates the mood state of our team.

Signal Emotional Fit
When it looks like someone is retreating emotionally and psychologically, be that person who first reaches out. Even better, create an institutional expectation that we support, connect and affirm one another. On the playground, at our daughter’s elementary school there is something called the “Buddy Bench.” By sitting on the Buddy Bench you are signaling to others you don’t currently have someone to play with. As our daughter describes it, there is no stigma associated with it, kids go sit there all the time.

Create a Connective Environment
I’ve been reading a number of interviews with Zappos founder and CEO Tony Hsieh, who claims one of the key ingredients in a successful company with highly engaged people, and high levels of innovation, is to create more moments of casual, unpretentious human to human conversations, or “collisions” as he calls them.

“Research has shown that most innovation actually happens from something outside your industry being applied to your own. And those are the results of random conversations at bars or coffee shops or just when you have collisions with other people.”
– Tony Hsieh

Positive group environments are linked to elevated sense of satisfaction, cooperation with others, heightened work engagement, and performance outcomes. I’m not suggesting we remain constantly positive and ignore failure, give false praise, or overlook adversity. In fact, sharing negative feelings can create solidarity and unify a group. But that shared negativity needs to be brief, specific, and then set aside to move on.

Have a look at our new micro-learning series Raising Resiliency featuring bestselling author Jen Shirkani. Message me if you’re interested and we’ll send you a preview. Enjoy!

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SmallActs-3DShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, (Routledge) just released. You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

You Don’t Want What You Think You Want

It’s a straightforward question, “What do you want?”

And depending on the situation, time of day, who we are with, etc. the answer can also be pretty straightforward. “I want to go for a run,” or “I want to talk to my brother,” or “I want you to speak to our boss about our concerns on the project,” or “I want to drink Chardonnay and stare at Netflix for an hour.”

We can understand these wants, but we may not always understand the motivations behind them. According to Marshall Rosenberg, Ph.D., expressing our wants is just a surface expression of a deeper need. And according to Rosenberg, we only have seven foundational needs we are trying to satisfy:

  • Connection (communication, nurturing, intimacy, be understood)
  • Play (joy, humor, elation)
  • Well-being (shelter, food, rest)
  • Peace (beauty, harmony, inspiration)
  • Honesty (integrity, presence, authenticity)
  • Meaning (clarity, contribution, self-expression)
  • Autonomy (choice, freedom, spontaneity)

When someone says, “I want you to talk to the boss about all the bugs in the software,” they might really be saying “I want support and safety,” or they might be asserting their sense of identity, “I want you to understand I’m in control.” And if your girlfriend says, “I want to go for a walk,” she might be saying “I want to be understood,” or she might be saying “I want to share a sense of meaning and beauty with you.” Or maybe both.

The point is that we rarely ask for what we actually want. We talk around the edges, in cryptic phrases, because we don’t understand what we really want, or we don’t know how to ask for it.

Once we satisfy those eight core needs we feel better, and we feel better in just a few specific ways. We feel one of these emotions:

  • Affectionate (compassionate, loving, friendly)
  • Confident (empower, proud, safe)
  • Grateful (appreciative, thankful)
  • Inspired (amazed, awed, exhilarated)
  • Hopeful (encouraged, optimistic)
  • Peaceful (centered, trusting, calm)
  • Refreshed (rejuvenated, enlivened)

That’s it. Here’s the exercise: look for those feelings which start to emerge when our central needs are not met. We may start to feel anxious, embarrassed, fatigued, vulnerable, or a whole host of emotions. The trick is to ask “What do you want?” and then work to discover the underlying need behind it.

Even better, when you say to someone “I want ______,” understand you are probably asking for something else. When in doubt start with kindness, it’s the #1 most desired trait, all around the world, for those looking for a long-term partner.

Start building new habits today. Check out our new micro-learning series Small Acts of Leadership on Mindscaling

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SmallActs-3DShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, (Routledge) just released. You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.

Twitter: @gshunter
Say hello: email@gshunter.com
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

Cycling Across America with Teenagers: Indian Spirits

Hello everyone. Over the summer of 2017, myself with two other dads and four of our teenage kids cycled across the United States from Seattle to Yarmouth Maine. The point was to learn something about ourselves, our world, and provide a learning adventure for our kids. I’m publishing a few excerpts from the journey on this blog, but if you are interested, you can grab a copy of the book here. Enjoy.

The warnings started at Devils Tower. We met Linus, a twenty year old from Germany, who had saved up for two years for his solo adventure of cycling across the United States. He left New York two months earlier and was on his way to San Francisco. He had a few bike problems, but in short order we (mostly Erich) helped to repair a handful of issues with his bike. It was a rough machine, not well maintained, but we tightened his hubs, switched his tires, adjusted his brakes, headset, and even tweaked his saddle to Linus’ delight.

Then we started talking about routes, he said, “Oh, you’re not intending to ride through the reservation, are you? I didn’t. I was told it was dangerous. I was told not to go there.”

Over the course of the next day we encountered various locals as we edged closer to the Cheyenne reservation who all said some version of “It’s full of addicts and thieves, you shouldn’t cross, and if you do, don’t stay there, watch your bikes, be wary.”

The hotel proprietor said, “Oh, I wouldn’t advise you spend the night there, no. You’ll be OK to cross in the daytime, preferably in the morning, but I wouldn’t stay there.”

I pressed a little, “Have you been there recently?” She said, “No, haven’t been on the Res for years, no reason to.” Hmmm.

We have a habit on this trip of trusting local knowledge. We mine for details about the road ahead, the landscape, the hills, where to stop, where to eat, so we paid attention as numerous people cautioned us about crossing through the Cheyenne Reservation. It was going to be 95 miles to cross the entire reservation, a big day. It was 95 miles from Faith, SD to the Missouri River on the east – 95 miles through headwinds to transact he Reservation. We packed extra water, I awoke early, we left quietly and spun the group up to cruising speed.

What we encountered was completely different from expectations. We received more friendly waves, more horn honks, and more gentle, warm people than ever throughout the reservation. It turned into a magical day.

At the first town on the reservation, Dupree, we encountered an older gentleman who leaned back on his pickup truck and told story after story about his history there, about the cyclists he once picked up and gave a lift in a thunderstorm. Further on down the road we chatted with a thoughtful local Lakota who talked about the pipeline, talked about visiting Washington DC to fight the pipeline.

We came across an Indian on horseback walking on the side of the road. He gestured to us and asked if we had water. We pulled over and Hobbit jumped off his bike bring him a bottle of water. He drank deeply and reached to hand the water back. Hobbit protested, “No, we have plenty, take more.” He took a few more swallows and gave the bottle back. Water out here is scarce and valuable, he refused to take the bottle.

This routine of being approached by waving, friendly people in cars went on for hours until late afternoon when we approached the Missouri River, the eastern border of the reservation. It was late in the afternoon, the sun drifting low in the sky.

Up ahead an immense Indian approached us walking directly toward our group on the shoulder of the road. Tall, strong, with jet black long hair he strode intentionally at us. I was unsure what to do and drifted toward the middle of the road to ride around him. He adjusted, and walked straight at us holding something in his outstretched hand.

We slowed, stopped, and he handed me sprigs of sagebrush. “This is for you. This is for safe passage beyond our land. Be safe my friends.”

And then he turned, walked to his car, and said “I will guide you across the border.” He started his car and rolled slowly over a hill just beyond our sight. When we reached the top of the hill to peer over, he was gone. He vanished, like a ghost, like a whisper.

And just like that we rode together across the Missouri River, blessed by those who had sheparded us through the Cheyenne homeland.

Be the Calm in the Storm

My sister is sick. It’s cancer, and it’s well along. It was hiding and gaining strength for some time before it showed itself. And it showed itself only a couple months ago.

She is doing all the right things. She is consulting doctors, reaching out to family and friends, undergoing painful surgery, working in rehab, and preparing for chemotherapy.

Yet as terrifying as this all could be, as anxiety-inducing, nerve-wracking, scary as hell as this all could be, she is calm. She is calm when the nurse asks her to sit up on the edge of the bed, when she knows the movement of her surgical wounds will ignite fire in her abdomen. She is calm as she waits in a wheelchair for an ambulatory team to arrive in a transport van. She is calm as the nausea prevents her from eating. She is calm when she greets friends and family. She is calm when they go. She is always grateful for the companionship.

I’ve flown down to Maryland a couple times to visit. I don’t really know what to do. I just show up, listen, drive her places, attend doctor meetings, listen to nurses talk about medications, buy her green smoothies and hope it helps.

For those around her this is a terrifying time, and yet she is a calming presence. It’s quite remarkable. She is teaching those who love her to remain calm, to focus, to be resilient, to persevere. To breathe.

I called yesterday and she told me what a nice view she has from her window. I called the day before and she told me how pleasant everyone at the rehab center was. Her voice never betrays any sense of fear, or anxiety, or foreboding. A couple weeks ago I asked her that question. I asked her if she was afraid of all of this, if she was scared.

She said no. She said whatever will happen, will happen. She is leading us. She is showing everyone around her not to freak out.

It is an act of love to be at the epicenter of a storm and yet tell everyone that things are going to be OK, that things are going to be all right, whatever may happen. When we are faced with adversity, and have the capacity to calm those around us, that is an powerful gift of generosity and caring.

I’m learning.

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SmallActs-3DShawn Hunter is President and Founder of Mindscaling, a company building beautiful online learning courses based on the work of best-selling authors. My new book Small Acts of Leadership, (Routledge) just released. You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.

Twitter: @gshunter
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