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.
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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.

    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.

    Your Vulnerability is an Act of Courage

    Imagine you just got in a disagreement with your colleague. You had one idea, they had another. In the moment, the stakes were high. You were adamant. You were right! And besides, they were being ridiculous.

    Or imagine you got in an annoying little passive-aggressive argument about nothing with your partner. Something small like who fills the gas tank more often, or who does the dishes, or who takes the trash out more often – a petty kind of argument about keeping score, the greatest of losing games.

    In either example, now imagine you are the first to apologize. You are the first to reach out and say words of kindness, or words of reconciliation. How does that makes you feel? You might feel vulnerable, or weak, or embarrassed perhaps. But definitely hesitant. Now imagine something even more vulnerable. Imagine confessing romantic feelings or deep personal doubts or weaknesses to our partner. It can be scary right?

    When we admit fault or show vulnerability, we often feel inadequate or shameful.

    Now imagine it’s the other person that comes to you first. Your colleague or your partner steps up and says, “I’m sorry that happened. I see your point. I’m sorry I was frustrated and upset.”

    When we imagine ourselves showing vulnerability in these situations, we cringe. It often makes we feel small and weak and scared. But when we see others act in these very same ways, we are often inspired and attracted to that person. We see strength in their honesty. While we feel embarrassed or ashamed by revealing ourselves, we can be inspired and impressed when others do it.

    When we see others show vulnerability, we often see courage. We see the beautiful, honest mess of a human being that we all are on some level. Yet when we practice vulnerability ourselves, we feel inadequate. Here are a few ideas to help our courage in moments when we reveal we are, in fact, a beautiful, complicated mess of a human being.

    Call it what it is. Awkward! You go into a department store and try on a jacket. It was the jacket of another customer. You’re checking out at the grocery store. The pregnant cashier says, “Have a nice day.” You say, “Have a nice baby.” {Smack forehead} These true stories of idiocy go on.

    Make fun of your situation. When you call out the comedy and hilarity of a vulnerable moment, you diffuse the tension and appear more confident and courageous to others.

    Practice self-compassion. 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.

    Let it go. Seriously, blow it off. Whatever silly or embarrassing comment you made will linger much longer in your own head than in others. Other people, particularly those who care about you are much more likely to assume best intentions and let it go. You should too.

    For some people the craving for authentic interactions and relationships is so strong they join the “Authentic Revolution” and attend regular meetings in which the goal of the evening is to be open, forthright and honest. According to participants it can be quite a rush.

    “Just revealing something vulnerable about yourself can be its own rush, it can be its own thrill.”
    – Bryan Bayer, co-founder of the Authenticity Revolution

      ____________________________________________________

    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.

    The Source Code of Grit

    A couple weeks ago I was out doing my favorite thing – riding a bicycle on the local roads I know so well. It was a gorgeous afternoon. Blue skies, light air, 80 degrees. Descending a hill at about 30mph, I heard a loud crack on my right and looked up to see a 20 foot dead tree falling directly in my path. With no time to touch the brakes, and barely time to acknowledge what was happening I crashed into the tree less than a second later, before it even came to rest in the road. I vaulted over the bars, and catapulted, spinning majestically through space, to land on my back in the middle of the road.

    Cars stopped in both directions blocked by the tree, and I lay in the middle of the lane, staring up at the sky, taking inventory. I was gently touching my collarbone and thinking, “It feels a little funny, but I’m sure it’s fine,” when I heard footsteps running toward me. A woman appeared above me, blocking the sun, looked down and said, “I’m Jill! We’re visiting from Florida! That was incredible! Are you OK?”

    Oddly enough, in that moment all I could think about was that I was going to be late to pick up our daughter. She was having a play date with a friend. I needed to get home and go pick her up. I asked if I could call my daughter. Jill paused and said, “How about we call 911 instead.”

    The next few hours involved EMTs, an ambulance, the Sheriff, a fire truck, hospital technicians and doctors to finally arrive at the conclusion that I had a nasty collarbone fracture. Have a look.

    Of course the following days were painful and frustrating. Every physical movement alarmed my shoulder, every gesture was measured. It took hours to find the nerve to take a shower. Sleeping was horrid. But all I needed to do was be a little grittier, a little tougher, right? And then I could push through the obstacles, push through the frustration, be a better patient. C’mon suck it up. Just choose a better attitude, right?

    Here’s the point I’m getting to. A lot of the contemporary literature in popular psychology has co-opted this notion of grit to apply to everything from parenting to coaching to managing. If only our students could be grittier, our players tougher, our employees more determined – everything turns out better. Here’s another article about all the magic that comes with grit.

    The more you examine this idea, the more it seems like a gross simplification. Even Angela Duckworth, who popularized the notion of grit, has reservations that the idea has been over-applied and misunderstood.

    When I reflect on my bike accident, and think about how to persevere through my own setback, I find the work of David DeSteno much more relevant and applicable. His basic argument is that grit is difficult to summon, and even harder to maintain on its own. Grit alone, demands self-reliance and willpower, which is lonely and difficult. Willpower wanes over time, and when it does we are more likely to succumb to self-disappointment and frustration.

    Instead think about the origins of grit. DeSteno’s research demonstrates that you can set the conditions to become grittier, but those conditions are more social in nature. Compassion, Gratitude, and Pride of a job well done, are the engine of that grit we’re all striving for. The operating system of that flinty stick-to-itiveness is social reliance, not self-reliance.

    In a series of experiments, researchers demonstrated that self compassion – not self-esteem or even happiness – was a stronger influence for high work performance, ethical choices, and overcoming personal weakness. The root of performance, morality and personal mastery starts with compassion.

    And think about gratitude for a moment. Gratitude for what someone did for you encourages us to think about what we will do in the future, to aspire to a better version of ourselves, to imagine ourselves delivering a meal for someone in need.

    On the deepest, unconscious level, gratitude is really about being grateful for the actions that are yet to come.
    – David DeSteno
      ____________________________________________________

    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.

    Add Gratitude to Your Grit. Stir.

    We’re told if we can only be a little grittier, a little tougher, we can keep our promises to ourselves, go to the gym more, finish the book, and generally be a better version of ourselves. “Stick-to-it-iveness” can be an excellent predictor of achievement and success for some people. Just look at Michael Phelps, Shaun White, or Lindsey Vonn. Hours upon hours of quiet toil at their sport. And then they win.

    Must be the grit, right? Who *wouldn’t* expect these superstars to have grit? But willpower alone is demanding and exhausting. Willpower will likely wane over time and can be harmful to our emotional and physical well-being.

    Stress, anxiety and loneliness are increasing globally, and in those circumstances, emphasizing grit can have a negative effect. When you tell someone who is stressed-out to simply work harder, and lean in to their work, you’re telling them to rely on their internal willpower. And when that gives out, they often wind up telling themselves that they aren’t good enough. That’s where a good dose of self-compassion comes in.

    David DeStano has been studying the intersection of grit (self-focus) and gratitude (social-focus) for years and has discovered there are some powerful side effects when you combine the two. Grit is your own perseverance and passion for long-term goals. Gratitude is appreciation and thankfulness for others. When you combine the two, you get individual excellence plus generosity and collaboration.

    Gratitude is not only an emotion experienced in the past, it’s an emotion that guides future action. The reason you go over to your friends house on a rainy Sunday at 8am to help move their furniture into a truck is because you care for them. Over the years your friend has made numerous gestures of kindness and generosity. You feel grateful. And the reason you want to help is to maintain the strength of your relationships.

    In a series of DeStano’s studies, he found that when you feel a sense of gratitude towards someone, you don’t just want to help them in return, you want to help just about anyone – even complete strangers.

    In one amusing study, he and his colleagues took a group of graduate students and divided them in pairs. Each pair had to go into a quiet computer room and perform a difficult and tedious task on a computer. It was an awful task that took half an hour.

    The two of them were left alone to chat and get to know each other while they performed the task. However, one of the two people in the room was a confederate, secretly an agent for the researchers.

    While they both worked on the task, the confederate would finish first. As they were leaving, the computer of the research subject would crash and go blank, ruining all of their work. The confederate would then offer to help “fix” the computer, claiming they had some IT expertise. After working on the computer for several minutes, the confederate would strike a secret set of keys and *surprisingly* reset the computer, saving all of the long and arduous work.

    The research subject is grateful of course. And later, when the confederate asks for help on a separate school-related project, the person primed for gratitude was more likely to be helpful, and help for a longer period of time. That’s no surprise.

    The surprise came when the researchers introduced complete strangers who then asked for help on a school project. In that circumstance, research subjects primed to be grateful were almost twice as likely to help a complete stranger, and spend more time helping them.

    In DeStano’s work, he has discovered that a sense of gratitude is linked to achieving longer term goals because gratitude is a social emotion. It’s a feeling that comes from experiencing, or thinking about, others in our lives. And when we reflect on our gratitude toward others, we reinforce our commitment to them and want to strengthen those bonds.

    That sense of community and gratitude then strengthens our own resolve to persevere toward our own goals. It’s a reinforcing cycle.

      ____________________________________________________

    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.