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.

Are “Should” Statements Ruining Your Life?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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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, You’re Smart. Don’t Let It Make You Crazy.

You’re smart. It’s normal. Most people think they are better than average. But have you ever ordered the chocolate brownie sundae explosion for dessert, and then when it arrives you realize you’re too full. And then eat it anyway because you paid $12 for it? That’s your “sunk-cost bias.” It’s the same reason a lot of really smart executives spent 27 years and 1.3 billion on the Concorde Jet before finally pulling the plug.

We like to praise smart people. She’s sooo smart. He’s brilliant! But intelligence doesn’t insulate us from our own crazy ideas. And sometimes we use our own smarts to simply reinforce our own biases. And our biases can be pretty loco.

Kary Mullis died recently in August, 2019. He was known as an “untamed genius”. With a brilliant and soaring mind he won the Nobel Prize in 1993 for his work developing a technique called polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, which is the same technology that allows for the reality of Jurassic Park (DNA cloning), designer babies (gene manipulation), predicting Alzheimers (hereditary gene monitoring), and paternity testing.

PCR has numerous applications across a broad number of fields from agriculture to archeology, and was named “one of the most significant scientific inventions of the 20th century.” Clearly Mullis was a heavyweight egghead.

He was also a little nuts. He believed the ozone hole in the atmosphere was an illusion, climate change was a hoax, the HIV virus had nothing to do with AIDS, and astrology was a much better predictor of human behavior than the entire discipline of psychology. He liked to experiment with LSD, and once described his own personal alien encounter. The morning he was awarded the Nobel Prize, he got drunk and went surfing. Clearly, some of his ideas were untethered from reality.

For years we have popularized a myth that sheer intelligence is one of the primary predictors of success. We laud the mercurial genius and praise our kids’ SAT scores. Yet that same intellectual horsepower can handicap rational thinking. Smart people can, of course, do stupid things. Smarter people tend to drink more, for example.

IQ tests measure analytical thinking – the kind of thinking that requires deduction, reasoning, and comprehension. It’s the ability to break down complex problems into simple, solvable elements.

But what about creative intelligence? This is your ability to conjure up a science fiction story about time travel and sorcerers. It’s your ability to imagine alternatives, see through the noise, connect the dots, write compelling ad copy, or perform a jazz solo.

Or what about cultural intelligence? This is our ability to pick up on subtle social cues, be empathetic listeners, and notice cultural differences. Are you confident you know when to shake hands, bow, or kiss on the cheek when you greet someone from another country? Wait, is it a kiss on each cheek or just one? And do you start with the right cheek, or the left? Well, it matters because if you don’t know you might pick the wrong cheek, meet in the middle and…

You know what practical intelligence is. It’s your “genius” neighbor who can’t screw in a lightbulb, or clean his own gutters, or put together an IKEA cabinet.

And what happens when there is no right answer? When the answer isn’t clear. When there are many ways to solve the problem, and the decision is subjective. This requires creative problem-solving, not finding one right answer. Arguably, that genius next door with the 1550 SAT won’t be able to use her analytical intelligence when a complicated issue comes along because there are lots of ways to solve the problem, and a good answer requires thinking laterally.

These kinds of dimensional intelligences are critical to avoiding irrational mind traps. An irrational mind trap is when we get so fixated on a particular notion that we bring our singular analytical intelligence to bear on propping up that crazy idea.

It’s the same reason roughly 5% of us can still argue the moon landing was a hoax, and about 1.5% of us believe the world is flat.

Argue as if you are right, and listen as if you are wrong. When you listen with humility, you’re more likely to hear the other person more clearly, and more likely to allow new ideas in your head.

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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.

Small Acts Video: Change the Environment

Transcript:
Disney’s Animal Kingdom has an attraction called Kilimanjaro Safaris. It’s one of their premier attractions. And if you take the 18-minute safari in the propane-powered Jeep, you’ll be awed by the sight of black rhino and cheetah, elephant, flamingo, gazelle, giraffe, hippo, lion, even wildebeest. And when you come around a corner near the end of the safari, there above you on the side of the mountain are two lions laying majestically, looking out over the savanna.

It is awe-inspiring. It looks like a scene from “The Lion King.” And so you take a few photos with your son’s mouth gaping open. But if you think about it, how in the world do you get a lion to sit majestically on a rock when maybe it’s 98 degrees Fahrenheit in the middle of the summer, or maybe it’s a chilly 40 degrees in the middle of winter even in Florida? Well, the designers of Animal Kingdom Kilimanjaro, they’ve engineered that rock to be cool in the summer and warm in the winter. That’s right, they engineer the rock to be more attractive, more enticing, in the same way that buildings are designed to redirect people traffic and roads are designed to manage car traffic.

Sometimes to build innovative solutions, we need to change the environment, chance the circumstances to find new insights and create new kinds of conversations.

Passion Doesn’t Appear. You Create It.

Do you know anyone who has been called ‘gifted’? Anyone ever call you a ‘natural’? To begin with, being called gifted or a genius at anything can be a curse. It can also set you up for a nasty case of Imposter Syndrome.

I’m suggesting that not many people start out being “gifted” at much of anything. We develop interests. Interests lead to dedication and work. The work pays off. We get skilled. We deepen our focus. We get even better. Now we’ve developed a passion that someone else starts to call a gift. But the passion started with work.

Some studies designate only the top 3% as actually gifted. But even among those identified as gifted and talented, there is quite a bit of debate about how to handle them, and guide them in development.

The one thing that is clear is that ‘giftedness’ presents itself in different ways. IQ tests alone can benefit students from particular backgrounds and be biased for cultural specificity. For example, you could take a highly intelligent person from the Amazon rainforest who can identify and correctly use medicinal plants, and yet they might be baffled by a standard IQ question such as: “4, 9, 16, 25, 36, ?, 64. What number is missing from the sequence?” (Answer and explanation here.)

Back to the point: While people might start with a mental or physical attribute that allows them to be more inclined toward excellence at something, the truth is that almost all of the excellence you may witness is generated by hard work and showing up day after day to put in the hours. Passion doesn’t often arrive fully formed, but instead is cultivated over time.

Evidence also suggests that we learn what we are passionate about not through dogged persistence of one singular goal, but through experimentation, failure, learning, and then moving on. David Epstein chronicles the story of Roger Federer who, unlike the Tiger Woods story, did not specialize in tennis at all. In fact, Federer bounced from swimming to badminton to soccer to skateboarding before finally deciding to pursue tennis. Epstein calls this a “sampling period” and argues it’s much more common that the heralded stories of Tiger Woods.

Not only is the sampling period important, but the simple fact of allowing the child to choose the sport, or the instrument, or the academic area, or the profession, or whatever – is critically important to maintaining and developing that passion. This allowing-my-kid-to-quit debate has certainly struck a nerve with some people. I have some thoughts on the matter as well.

There is some evidence to suggest that if you’re on the fence, maybe you should take the leap and quit. Steven Levitt, the author of Freakonomics, conducted a study online in which participants who were considering a career change could flip a coin, heads for quit and tails for stay. He found that six months later, those who flipped heads and changed jobs reported that they were substantially happier. (The more consumer friendly podcast version is here)

We know Vincent van Gogh as a famously gifted artist. But he didn’t decide to paint until he was 27. Prior to that he studied theology, worked as a clerk, a bookseller, and aid to an art dealer. It seems the strongest path to finding your passion is not determined specialization, but instead intentional exploration. Consider that Nobel laureates in science are 22 times more likely to have artistic pursuits outside their field, than their less recognized colleagues.

Stay curious my friends.

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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.

Small Acts of Leadership: You Can Ask for More Than You Think

Transcript:
– [Narrator] Have you ever asked for more and then instantly regretted asking? Like asking for more responsibility or promotion and immediately feeling like you are not worthy? Try to move beyond it. Research suggests you can ask for more than you think.

– People who are seen by others as getting assertiveness right often mistakenly think they’ve gotten it wrong. In 2014, there was a study by some students at Columbia Business School and they’ve found that 57% of those who believed that they were appropriately assertive in their requests, their negotiations, their conversations, they were actually seen by the other party as not really very assertive at all and not really very demanding at all. In other words, more than half didn’t ask for enough. On the other hand, those who believed that they’ve been overly assertive, overly demanding in their requests, they often fall victim to believing they’ve crossed the line, they’ve gone too far, they’ve overstepped their bounds, and the result is that they backpedal. They try to smooth things over. They try to acquiesce. They accept a lesser deal, and that’s a bummer, because in the study, those who were assertive and demanding were often then interpreted by the other party as being very fair, very appropriate. According to the research, we should go for it. We should ask for a little more. We should not back off, and we should not feel badly about what we do ask for. The research tells us you can ask for more, and you are probably more valuable than you think.

– [Narrator] Terry’s team is under a lot of pressure to meet tight deadlines. He has noticed many team members are stressed and overtired. Terry decides to ask the client for some extra time in delivering a project deadline. This request seemed perfectly logical to the client, and Terry’s team felt relieved and grateful. Take a small step in learning to ask for more. Maybe something simple in a coffee shop, a store, or a hotel. Identify something that would greatly improve the quality of your experience. Make the request reasonable, but don’t apologize or backpedal. If you ask for it and get it, be grateful. And if you ask for it and get turned down, think about what you can do differently next time.

A More Powerful Way to Build Habits

I’m trying to play more guitar. So I took the guitar out of the closet, tuned it up, and keep it by my desk, within reach. It works. I play more. It’s a small, simple habit stack that helps me achieve a small goal. But what about longer term goals, bigger goals – the kind which require persistent effort, and the outcome is unclear and far away? Like saving monthly for retirement, or eating kale?

Previously I wrote about the notion of activation energy – which is basically the idea that if you make something bad for you harder to do, you will be less likely to do it. And inversely if you make something good for you easier to do, you will be more likely to do it.

So, for example, if you want to go running tomorrow you place your running gear next to your bed so it’s the first thing you see in the morning and it’s easily accessible to put on. Or if you want to stop eating ice cream, you simply stop buying it, so in order to eat ice cream at 9pm it would require you put on go-in-public clothes and drive to the corner store and buy it. You might, but it would be a hassle.

The ability to delay gratification, and value the future more than the present, seems to be the holy grail for better health, better relationships, and better careers. But the prevailing themes we keep hearing in the media are about grit, tenacity, and perseverance. And often the advice to be grittier comes across as the importance of being more robotic, more cerebral, and more disciplined.

This is an argument in which we try to remove temptation, remove emotion, and take away the stress of dealing with temptation and bad choices, and create better habits simply by applying some self-discipline, and some cool tricks and life hacks. James Clear has lots of habit tricks that I greatly enjoy and apply.

David DeSteno, professor of Psychology at Northeastern University, has different ideas. His research suggests that the disciplined habit-tweaking approach described above is basically a form of impulse control. If our impulse is to do something that has long term negative consequences, then we need only change the environment and circumstance, and be a little mentally tougher, to help control that impulse.

DeStano argues that exercising self-control as a rational, logical approach to solving an emotional self-control dilemma is another way of suppressing our immediate desires. It’s not really human, and it’s not our instinct. DeStano suggests that we may get more powerful results not by rejecting, controlling or diminishing our emotions, but instead by activating the right kinds of emotions and leaning in to those, and using emotion as fuel instead of denying it.

Let me explain. We do have self-control, but our self-control did not evolve to maximize our 401k. Self-control evolved to make us better collaborators with other people. Because if you are viewed as sharing and compassionate and generous, then you are trustworthy and others will work with you, help you and share with you. And when you can figure out how to be a trustworthy collaborator, you are more likely to be part of a tribe and survive longer when the hyenas come around.

The kind of self-control to avoid buying a new car in order to maximize our 401k is an intellectual, rational kind of control. It’s not always easy to simply will ourselves to not eat the ice cream, or not have another drink, or to go to the gym after work. This is because we naturally devalue the impact of our short-term choices and we have a hard time imagining the long-term impact on our future selves. Basically we have a hard time envisioning our future selves because we think we won’t change.

Yes, we recognize that in the past we did change. Look at those photos of young me. I was so silly and naive. But now that we’ve evolved into who we are today, we think we’re all done changing.

It’s easy to look back on our past selves with a kind of bemused, slightly embarrassed recollection, because we can see how far we’ve come, how much we’ve learned and developed. But at the same time we are terrible at imagining our future selves. We think who we are today is who we will be in the future. Wrong. We are always changing.

Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting and as temporary as all the people you have ever been.
– Dan Gilbert

The key to envisioning a positive and healthy future version of you is to tap into those emotions which activate future thinking. Gratitude is a powerful emotion for envisioning a positive future self. We often think of gratitude as a reflective emotion, as in “I’m so grateful Sally and Barbara helped me through my difficult break-up with Marcus.” But gratitude is a powerful emotion for guiding our future actions. If we’re so grateful for Sally and Barbara, we are likely to envision ways to reciprocate. We’re likely to imagine who we will be in the future when we are helping Sally and Barbara because of our sense of deep gratitude.

The emotion of gratitude relies on our connection to others. The emotion exists to ensure that we reciprocate and continue building our relationships. If Sally and Barbara help us out, and we never reciprocate because we don’t care or we don’t understand empathy, then the relationship dies.

DeStano argues that the right kinds of emotions to drive the choices and habits that create a better version of ourselves are the morally-toned emotions of gratitude, compassion and authentic pride of a job well done. Morally-toned emotions are the kinds of emotions that make us feel connected with one another, and help us envision a shared future together, and therefore help us value longer term benefits.

In DeStano’s research they asked participants to place values on immediate versus future rewards, and found that on-average, people valued $17 right now as roughly equal to receiving $100 in a year. In other words, almost everyone would rather have a little bit now instead of a lot more later.

Then they primed their research participants to think of something they are grateful for, and found that participants began to almost double the value of future benefits. After priming for gratitude, it would take nearly $33 right now in order to have the same value as $100 in a year. Gratitude and compassion seem to have the capacity to encourage people to place a higher value on their future selves, and thus encourage people to make better long term decisions.

But don’t get lost in focusing on just future benefits. Gratitude and compassion have been demonstrated to reduce blood pressure, increase immune responses, allow people to sleep better and a whole host of other immediate mental and physical benefits.

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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.

Achieve Your Goals by Focusing on This One Idea

“Habits are not a finish line to be crossed, but a lifestyle to be lived.”
– James Clear

What is something you want to accomplish? Maybe give a great presentation? Write a book? Start a new business? Now think about who that person is who achieved that. That person is a public speaker, or a writer, or an entrepreneur.

Stop focusing on the goals you want to accomplish, and start asking who you want to become. Reframe the story you tell yourself. Stop focusing on running a marathon, instead become a runner. Stop focusing on publishing a book, instead become a writer. Goals aren’t necessarily a bad thing, but instead of focusing on the end result, focus on becoming the kind of person who can accomplish that goal.

Ever since Jim Collins coined the acronym BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal), it gets floated around strategy meetings and sales departments, and then drifts over to personal goal conversations about completing triathlons, getting 6-pack abs, or becoming a yoga master.

It’s fairly easy to draft a spreadsheet and lay out the incremental steps to accomplish goals. So, for instance, if you want to run a marathon, you can search for marathon running plans and easily pick a plan that will get you there. But all that careful contemplation and planning to get to the starting line of a marathon doesn’t make you a runner. It’s the habit of running that makes you a runner.

So, instead ask the question, what would a runner do? Well, a runner would have a habit of stretching. A runner would run when it’s raining or cold (or both). A runner would learn how to hydrate for long runs. A runner would lay out their gear the night before.

Or if you want your sales team to reach a quarterly goal of X dollars, you can create a plan that requires Y number of phone calls and Z number of proposals submitted. Your team could execute on the plan, and you might make the financial goal that quarter, but that occurrence doesn’t make a great sales team. You aren’t magically transformed into a great sales leader. It takes time, and it takes building small incremental habits over time by practicing them every day.

Instead ask, how would a great sales leader behave? Well, a great sales leader would lead by example, would be an active listener, would be empathetic to individual styles of team members, and become good at providing specific feedback and coaching.

Life isn’t lived in a singular future achievement, life is a collection of moments lived one day at a time. Who you are is the accumulation of the habits you have been practicing over time.

James Clear says one of the most common questions he gets is, “How long does it takes to build a habit?” And your google search will tell you it takes 18 days, or 21 days, or 66 days, but the honest truth is that it takes forever. Because the moment you stop doing it, it’s no longer a habit.

Change starts 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.

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.