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.

A Little Mindfulness Goes a Long Way

You walk in for your appointment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Adore Quality. So Why Consume Garbage Media?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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, 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.

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

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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.

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
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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.

Small Acts Video: The Leadership Skills of the Future

Transcript:
– [Narrator] Do you ever wonder if your technical skills are up-to-date? Do you worry you don’t have what it takes to be a leader in this changing world? You may find the most powerful skill you can develop is not technical, but human-to-human.

– No doubt, it is a chaotic, fast-changing time we live in. Automation, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, cyber threats, business bots, the internet of things. I mean, it would seem that in this age of hyper acceleration, and technology, and change, and innovation, we would need technical skills to keep up, right? Well, maybe, maybe not.

Earlier in 2017, Deloitte completed a survey of 8,000 millennial professional workers all around the world to get their view on the future of business, and the study revealed that it’s actually not technical skills that are needed. Analytic skills, IT skills, financial skills, even language skills, all ranked below the importance of leadership, mental flexibility, creativity, critical thinking, and collaboration in the workplace. See, technical skills, they can be sourced or they can be learned as needed, on demand, for specific purposes. Leadership skills are universal, they’re constant.

That’s right, the strongest traits needed in the future are not technical skills, they are human-to-human skills. Leadership and relationships drive progress in the world and they matter today more than ever before.

– [Narrator] Sergei’s team has been assigned a new and complex project. He realizes the project will involve several strong personalities, and there may be challenges with subject matter experts. Sergei decides to spend time at the onset of the project, talking about ground rules and offering support for team collaboration. On a scale of one to 10, how good are your human-to-human skills? Consider these four, listening, creating, critical thinking, and collaborating. Where do you most need skill development?