Be Who You Needed When You Were Younger

Hello and welcome back to my newsletter! Last time I was writing about how a practice of gratitude helps us make better decisions for our future self. Basically, you should try to make daily choices in the interest of Future You. It’s sounds obvious, but you can read more here about why it’s hard to do. 

This week I’m featuring a conversation with the fabulous Brook Raney, founder of One Trusted Adult. We were in the studio yesterday recording content for a brand new online course Mindscaling is building for them. We got into a discussion about how to become the kind of person we needed when we were younger. Once the course is done, we’ll send along some snippets of the beautiful course. In the meantime enjoy a brief interview with Brook!

Shawn: Brook, so grateful to work with you. You wrote a book called One Trusted Adult, and then you started a company called One Trusted Adult. What brought you to this work?

Brooke: Well, my mission began one afternoon as I sat in an auditorium filled with students and educators and listened to the third prevention program in a month—suicide prevention, substance abuse prevention, and bullying  prevention. All of them ended with the same sound advice: If students had a worry, concern, or question, they should seek out a trusted adult

After hearing this message for the third time, I had to stop and wonder: Did the students in that auditorium see me and my fellow educators as the trusted adults these programs advertised? And did the adults in the room, me included, embrace this role and do all we could to build relationships of trust with our students?

Even if we do view ourselves in this role, are we adults trained and prepared to be the trusted adult our young people need? Do WE have the skills and the capacity to support what these prevention programs are prescribing?

Since that moment, I’ve learned through my research that young people who can name a trusted adult INSIDE their home as well as a trusted adult OUTSIDE of their home are LESS LIKELY TO bully or be bullied, suffer from depression, or abuse substances, and MORE LIKELY TO be able to turn toxic stress into tolerable stress, and remain calm in the face of challenges. They also build key capacities, such as the ability to plan, monitor, and regulate behavior, complete tasks they start, show interest in new things, volunteer in their community, participate in physical activities, and engage in school and be available for learning. 

Shawn: In your work, you emphasize the importance of creating healthy boundaries with youth, and that sometimes these boundaries can get blurry. What do you mean by that?

Brook: Yes, building healthy boundaries creates opportunities for everyone to grow. But sometimes adults can blur those lines even with the best intentions. Here’s an example – at a summer camp I run we have a rule where at meals campers sit at designated tables and camp counselors at other tables. This is so that each can have time to process, chat, catch up, and so counselors can get some important details on the schedule. This was a shared and declared boundary and all of the staff worked together to uphold it. 

One summer, a new counselor didn’t see the importance of the rule, and chose not to uphold it. She allowed her campers to come over to the counselor table and braid her hair, put stickers on her hands, and give her pictures they drew. As they did this she looked at me and mouthed the words, “look…they love me!”  I then asked to speak to her privately. I shared my observation that she had centered herself in the experience of the campers. Instead of being on the outside, facilitating their experience, she had made herself so integral that they couldn’t operate without her for even 20 minutes. She immediately recognized that her desire for their admiration had clouded the important work of educating, empowering, and supporting them that she was there to do. 

It’s a small simple example of how sometimes leaders can have the best intentions, but instead hinder the growth of the youth they are working with. We have found that those who are fueled by the admiration of young people (being liked and loved rather than trusted and respected) are far more susceptible to boundary blur than those who name sources of strength and affirmation from their personal lives. In other words, when we seek to gain, heal, or be affirmed by and through our interactions with young people, we have lost our way. From here it is easy to slip into unhealthy power dynamics, inappropriate relationships, oversharing, or savior syndrome. 

Shawn: Other than go out and buy your book, what’s one thing people can do now to start on the path of becoming a trusted adult?

Brook: Well, one of the first things we can do is change our assumptions. Don’t assume young people have Trusted Adults in their lives. Instead, ask them to name them. I met a teacher once who was really struggling with a student who sat in class every day with his hood pulled up and his head facing down. When I asked her if she thought he could name a trusted adult at school she said, “Of course he can! He has me, his advisor, his coach, the school psychologist… he is surrounded by trusted adults!” I said, “Great! But why don’t you ask him?” The next day she did… and he answered, flatly, “No.” He told her he couldn’t name anyone who he’d describe as a trusted adult.

Join me on this mission, and let’s ensure that every young person on this planet can name an accessible, boundaried, and caring trusted adult. And when in doubt, just try to…. Be who you need and Be who you needed

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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.

Oh, There You Are!

David Sedaris wanted to quit smoking. So he moved to Japan for three months. It worked, and it only cost him $23,000. He read a book that told him the best way to change a habit is to change the environment. The author suggested that if you wanted to stop doing something difficult, perhaps addictive, you should move to another location temporarily. Change the environment, change your surroundings. Either that, or the author suggested move your couch.

We know that willpower can only take us so far. Willpower is so fragile, that the people who are best at self-regulation seldom use willpower as a lone tactic. Two researchers at the University of Toronto did a series of studies and concluded that willpower didn’t even help participants achieve their stated goals, it mostly just exhausted them from the effort of resistance.

Which explains why David Sedaris moved to Tokyo, where everything was not only strange and new, but also officials have banned almost all smoking in the city, except in specifically designated areas (which don’t look very inviting…).

Sedaris didn’t have to use willpower. He removed the temptation. Just like avoiding the bakery section at the grocery store. And while you should always be wary of your triggers, also seek out your glimmers. A glimmer is a sign, a cairn, you may find on the road to Future You. It could be a thoughtful conversation, a beautiful sky, or a quiet walk. It’s something that is representative of where you are going.

Changing your environment is similar to the advice of pruning your social environment as well. You may have to do some careful peer de-selection, at least for the short term. If you have a goal of losing weight, its hard to have a group of friends who want to go out for pizza and beer every Friday night. You could go, but then there you are having water and a salad with your friends and their pizza and beer. For some people that works, but likely not at the beginning when the goal is still fresh, and the temptation still strong.

Stopping something, or avoiding an ingrained behavior is also harder than starting something, particularly if you make that new something very easy. James Clear calls this the Two-Minute Rule. If you want to stop sitting on the couch and start running, a Two Minute rule might be “pick out what to wear for my run.” That’s it. You don’t even have to run. Or if the goal is to do more cooking, in two minutes you could probably read a couple recipes. That’s it. It’s about getting on the path. It’s about slowly becoming the kind of person who goes for a run, or cooks a meal.

Change your mental landscape, show yourself more self-compassion, and recognize that your gratitude practice is only partially about expressing thanks, and more about committing to an enhanced version of a future you. Your gratitude toward someone else is an expression of who you want to become in the future.

All of which – if you’re still reading – brings me to the point I’ve been trying to get to. When we get on the path, the path of starting something, pushing through, persevering, finishing the thing, or perhaps stopping some poisonous relationship or detrimental habit, we should do so in plain sight, out loud. And the reason for living out loud with your progress open for your friends and family to see, is because then they will see what you see.

When you can envision your future you, and you tell those you love, they will see it too. They will recognize who you are becoming.

In the movie Hook, there is a scene in which Robin Williams goes back to Neverland, and tries to convince the lost boys that he really is Peter Pan. No one believes him, until one small boy goes up to Robin Williams, takes the glasses from his face and starts to smush, and stretch Robin’s face and look deeply into his eyes, until he finally exclaims, “Oh, there you are Peter!”

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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.

If There Are No Monsters in the Closet, Why Am I Still Afraid?

Hello and welcome back to my newsletter! Last week I was writing about why we can’t pay attention, and also wondering who would make it to the end of my article. Turns out, many of you did, after taking a few breaks along the way.

This week I’ve got conspiracy theories on my mind. Why do people believe them? How do we understand those who fall into these mental traps? How do we have a conversation with them? How do we avoid these cognitive traps ourselves. I provide an overview of my research, with plenty of deeper links of you want to go to the source. Hold on, and enjoy.

Eric Oliver’s young son was having anxiety attacks because there were monsters in his closet. One night he was terrified. It was late. Eric was tired. His son was tired. Eric did everything he could to convince his son that there were no monsters in the closet. They opened the closet. They searched the closet with a flashlight. They listened carefully to the walls of the closet. They barricaded the closet. And still, Eric couldn’t convince his son there were no monsters.

Finally his son said, “If there are no monsters in the closet, why am I still afraid?”

One of biggest predictors of whether or not you are susceptible to conspiracy theories, is whether or not you also believe in paranormal and supernatural activity – you know, ESP, levitation, telepathy, demons, werewolves, zombies. That sort of thing.

The unifying theme of paranormal events is that there is an unseen, unexplainable force affecting the world, and we accept that instead of an explanation that is scientifically verifiable. It’s also known as magical thinking; the belief that seemingly unconnected events are affecting outcomes.

People who work in highly unpredictable, chaotic environments, often believe in magical thinking. Offshore fisherman, baseball players, restaurant owners for instance. Or your nutty uncle who won’t let you move chairs if his team scores a touchdown. Outcomes in these environments are hard to scientifically predict, so we substitute superstition.

Sometimes ritual and superstition can be useful. Marshall Goldsmith has been known for years for his signature green polo shirt he always wears for presentations. Tiger Woods always wears red and black on Sundays during tournaments. They know it’s superstitious, but it builds confidence, and puts them in a high-performing state of mind. These are ways of managing anxiety in the face of uncertain, and changing, circumstances. It’s a way of gaining surety in the face of chaos.

To use Eric Oliver’s example, if you live near a volcano and every year you throw two teenagers into it to appease the volcano gods, that actually is science up until the point when A. it doesn’t work any longer, and B. someone explains to you plate tectonic subduction, and magma pressure from within the earth’s mantle. After that awareness, if you continue to throw the teenagers into the volcano every year, that’s magical thinking.

What about conspiracy theories, and the people who believe them. Let’s take flat-earth believers. Or in their words, those who have been “flat-smacked.” You know how easy it would be to debate a flat-earther? So easy. You just drop a few truth bombs on them, get them to question their own crazy ideas, and boom! You could change their mind on the spot. Just ask, “What about the tides? What about the horizon? Explain a lunar eclipse? I mean, just explain the seasons!?” Pow. Game over.

“It takes more information to make you believe something you don’t want to believe, than something you do want to believe.”

– Peter Ditto, Ph.D, University of California Irvine

Nope. Not even close. The flat-earth community has prepared rebuttals for everything you can throw at them. Earth looks curved from high altitudes because of wide-angle lenses. The arctic circle is at the center of the disc, and the antarctic ice at the edges go on forever. What’s underneath, holding us up? More earth, and it goes down, forever. And the sun? The sun is not 92 million miles away burning as a nuclear fusion star. It’s electric and about 4000 miles away underneath the protective dome that encloses our earth disc.

There’s a couple problems with debating conspiracy theorists. You are on their turf, they have an answer for everything, and they don’t trust you. Pick any conspiracy theory – anti-evolution, 9/11, Chemtrails, moon landing, JFK, Roswell – and all belief adherents follow a formula. Research by John Cook and Stephen Lewandowski identifies five primary elements of conspiracy believers: cherry-picking evidence, belief in conspiracy theories, illogical reasoning, reliance on fake and fringe experts, and belief that science should be perfect.

Let’s just take the last point, that science is supposed to be perfect. Yet science isn’t about absolutes. Science requires constant questioning, doubt, experimentation, and recognition of new truths in light of new evidence. All good scientists are eternally curious, and inquisitive, trying to hone their understandings.

So after listening thoughtfully to a conspiracy theorist, your question should not be to ask them to contradict a counter point (“Oh yeah, well how do you explain time zones? Huh?“). The best approach is to ask them, “What evidence would you need to disprove your belief?” That’s a very different question. You are acknowledging their skepticism, their interest in following science and finding the truth. You are asking them to critique their own world view.

Our inherent cognitive biases make us ripe for manipulation and exploitation by those who have an agenda to push, especially if they can discredit all other sources of information.

– Lee McIntyre, author Post-Truth

We are experiencing an epidemic of unreason, and that irrationality is exploding, in part, because of the unpredictability and uncertainty that is unfolding before our eyes. We all feel an increasing instability in the world. That emotional anxiety, fueled by an increased lack of attention, is propagating conspiracy thinking.

I don’t need to tell you. We see it everywhere, all the time. Covid, climate change, Ukraine, artificial intelligence, deep fakes, and so on. If you get lost in a hole on the internet and become convinced that a cabal of the illuminati, big pharma, and the deep state have engineered Covid to control people, well that becomes an easily accessible way to understand not only Covid, but also how THEY are subjugating YOU.

If you believe we are in end times, the world suddenly is potent with symbols everywhere. And if our attention is scarce, our critical thinking absent, and our fear on red alert, almost any easy explanation becomes warm and comforting. But that doesn’t make it true.

For more on understanding conspiracy theories, and science deniers, I recommend Lee McIntyre’s book. And if you prefer podcasts, any – or all – of these interviews on conspiracy thinking are, well, illuminating.

Here, just for you, have a micro-learning course we recently published on Being an Agile Critical Thinker.
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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.

Better Questions Build Friendships

Hello and welcome back to my newsletter! Last week I was writing about how most of the successful people I know don’t focus on being successful. Instead they focus on taking on projects that help them become a better version of themselves, which then leads to (sometimes surprising) successes.

Here’s my question this week: In this holiday season, how do we deepen and grow our relationships with friends and family? Because our relationships are among the most important parts of our lives. 

We tried a social experiment recently. My wife and I hosted a few friends for dinner. After people arrived and got situated and caught up with greetings and small talk, we introduced a conversation game.

In the days leading up to our gathering, my wife and I composed a stack of questions designed to help us learn more about one another. Keep in mind all of us have known each other for years — at least fifteen years or more. I had a bowl of cards with light and fun questions such as “Do you have an amusing or embarrassing Thanksgiving story?” and “If you could go back in time, what year would you like to visit?

We also had a deeper set of questions which asked things such as, “What is one of the biggest risks you have taken in life? How did it turn out?” And “What’s a memorable experience from childhood that you think shaped who you are today?

Everyone agreed the game was a success. We took turns asking each other questions we had never asked before, and as a result we had meaningful conversations, everyone had a balanced opportunity to contribute and listen, and we all learned something new about our friends.

I’ve been enjoying Kat Vellos’ book We Should Get Together: The Secret to Cultivating Better Friendships. She points out that there’s nothing wrong with small talk. Small talk is fine as an on-ramp to more meaningful conversations, but small talk alone doesn’t allow relationships to deepen and grow.

We often fall into conversational habits in which we ask the same questions, and provide the same answers. To build meaningful relationships and friendships, we can accelerate that by asking more powerful questions. Powerful questions are open ended and allow the person responding to choose the direction of the conversation. Powerful questions create possibilities and encourage discovery, understanding, and insight.

“The importance of friendship has been hiding in plain sight.”

Lydia Denworth, author of Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond

Friendship is as important as diet and exercise for our mental and physical health. We often think of friendship as enjoyable, nice, and comforting, but we don’t often think of friendship and social connection as being essential to our ability to thrive. We don’t think of our friendships as critical to boosting our immune system or staving off long-term mental ailments.

Chasing health and longevity, we puree kale smoothies, listen to meditation apps, read Brené Brown, and wake up for morning boot camp classes. But the secret sauce to long term mental and physical health might not just be the planks you do in your workout class, but the friends you see and spend time with.

According to author Lydia Denworth, the reason friendship and social connection has largely been ignored by scientists, until recently, is because it has been hard to define what friendship is. Scientists like to measure things they can define, and pin down. In her research, Denworth interviewed biologists and anthropologists, and found that their agreed definition of friendship is a relationship which is stable, positive and reciprocal.

Friends make time for each other consistently, leave others feeling buoyed and uplifted, and have their past interactions to build upon. In this way, the layers of a friendship are built over time such that with each repeated contact we get to reinforce past interactions, and then add new stories, ideas and values to edify one another.

For the holidays, ask the kinds of questions that bring us closer together. Looking for ideas? Try Vertellis. They have awesome questions you can try out. Happy New Year!

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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.

Why Successful People Don’t Focus on Success

Hello and welcome back to my newsletter! Last week I was writing about how gratitude is more about defining our future and who we will become, not only celebrating the past. This week I’m thinking about a mind shift to focusing on projects we can control, instead of big successes we can’t control.

Here’s my question this week: If most successful people say they never predicted their own successes, what did they do to get there?

You know the 1973 song “Ooh La La” by The Faces. Yes, you do. With that famous refrain:

I wish that I knew what I know now
When I was younger
I wish that I knew what I know now
When I was stronger

It’s a great song. But there’s something wrong with that lyric. No, you don’t really want your younger self to know what you know now, do you? Right now, I don’t want to know what 80-year old me knows. Not yet anyway.

We persevere on projects because we don’t know yet what is going to stick and what isn’t. And even if we try to predict what’s going to work, how do we know it wasn’t the series of projects that came first which set the stage, built our experience, honed our craft? We don’t want to skip to the end. We want to live the best version of our life that’s happening now.

Stick to Your Short-Term Choices

We don’t know what we don’t know. And not knowing is both the angst, and supreme joy, of being 10, or 20, or 30 or __ years old.

My Dad had this bit of advice I always remember: When you think of where you are right now, you can easily trace it back in time. At school I met this teacher, who gave me a job, where I met Andre, who I went camping with, and we met those travelers from New Zealand…

It’s like cairns in a forest, breadcrumbs on the path. It’s so obvious from where you stand now. The opportunities and situations of your childhood, the choices you make in your teens and twenties, the schools you attend, the clubs and sports you participate in, the teachers, coaches, pastors, and mentors you listen to, all lead to the long line of choices that bring you to now.

And while each choice takes you down a path, you can’t really foresee where it will go. You don’t know who you will meet, what you will learn. So see it through – the adventure, the school, the class, the project you’re on at the moment. Commit. Or at least micro-commit to the experience.

Dan Gilbert and his colleagues did an experiment years ago at Harvard. They created a photography course, and invited the students to go around campus and take 12 black and white photos of their favorite people and places – faculty, buildings, classmates, etc.. Then they set up a dark room and invited the students to develop their own photographs and enlarge just two of them into big beautiful prints.

Then the teacher said, “OK, one of the photos you can take with you to keep. The other photo stays with the school and goes into the archives.” Half the group were told they had to decide immediately, and the choice would be final. The other half of the group was given fours days to think about it, and they could change their mind at any time. If they wanted the other photo instead, no problem. They could switch if they wanted to.

Those who had to make an immediate, irrevocable choice, reported that they were much happier with their choice than the other half of the students who had the opportunity to change their mind over the next few days.

If you can bail out, change your mind, second guess yourself, you can rationalize that decision and it can make you crazy. Stick with your choice, and see it as a small project, an experiment, a building block for something bigger to come.

You Can Control Projects, Not Outcomes

Instead of focusing on the goals you want to accomplish, start asking who you want to become.

Reframe the story you tell yourself. Stop focusing on running a 4-hour marathon, instead become a runner. Stop focusing on publishing a bestseller, instead become a writer. Goals aren’t a bad thing, but set it aside. Instead of focusing on the end result, focus on becoming the kind of person who can accomplish that goal. Ask yourself, what are the types of projects this person would take on?

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

Neil Gaiman, the fabulous writer, said once that when he sits down to write, he gives himself just two choices. Write, or look out the window. That’s it. There’s no choice called scroll through twitter, check email, call Mom, or clean the kitchen.

The control he sets on his writing process is: Write, or look out the window. That’s it. It’s what he can control. He wrote great books by becoming a writer, not by focusing on writing a great book.

Stop focusing on the goal itself. Become the kind of person who accomplishes the goal you envision.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get Inspired. Then Inspire Someone Else.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Want to Be Happier? Live Longer? It’s Not Kale and Exercise.

“The importance of friendship has been hiding in plain sight.”

– Lydia Denworth, author of Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond

Our daily priorities often go like this: family, work, exercise, chores. And then if there’s any time left over, or cracks in the day, we fit in a moment with a friend to have a coffee, or take a walk together. Our friendships, while important to us, sometimes come lower in our priorities. Rethink that.

Friendship is as important as diet and exercise for our mental and physical health. We often think of friendship as enjoyable, nice, and comforting, but we don’t often think of friendship and social connection as being essential to our ability to thrive. We don’t think of our friendships as critical to boosting our immune system or staving off long-term mental ailments.

Chasing health and longevity, we puree kale smoothies, listen to meditation apps, read Brené Brown, and wake up for morning boot camp classes. But the secret sauce to long term mental and physical health might not just be the planks you do in your workout class, but the friends you see and spend time with.

According to author Lydia Denworth, the reason friendship and social connection has largely been ignored by scientists, until recently, is because it has been hard to define what friendship is. Scientists like to measure things they can define, and pin down. In her research, Denworth interviewed biologists and anthropologists, and found that their agreed definition of friendship is a relationship which is stable, positive and reciprocal.

Friends make time for each other consistently, leave meetings feeling buoyed and uplifted, and have their past interactions to build upon. In this way, the layers of a friendship are built over time such that with each repeated contact we get to reinforce past interactions, and then add new stories, ideas and values to edify one another.

In the 1950s, John Bowlby theorized the idea of maternal imprinting and the power of child contact and connection for their psychological health and growth. He was ridiculed and stopped attending professional conferences. The prevailing parenting philosophy at the time was that love and affection to children would weaken them. Mothers were advised not to pick up their kids. They were told it would soften and spoil them.

His work led to inquiry in the 1970s, to what happens after those first formative years, when we learn trust, loyalty, and cooperation, the building blocks of friendship. In this same era researchers started studying the intersection between the strength of social networks and overall health.

Fast-forward to today, Denworth points out that we now understand friendships are absolutely critical to our overall health and well-being. She expresses some concern that, as parents, we might over emphasize academic achievement or athletic performance, when, in fact, what really matters to the health of our children is the strength, and reciprocity, of their friendships.

Millennials today state that their #1 long-term goal is more money and less debt. Yet we know the answer to the question of what gives us long term health, prosperity and personal happiness is readily available. The Harvard Study of Adult Development has tracked the life of 724 men since 1938 – their careers, their marriage choices, their health, their wealth and achievements (or lack of), and importantly, how they self-describe their happiness and fulfillment.

For over 75 years, both Harvard graduates, and impoverished children from the inner city of Boston who did not have the privilege and opportunity of the Harvard participants, participated in this life-long study. According to Robert Waldinger, currently the lead researcher on the project, the results are clear.

People who are more socially connected to friends, to family, and to community, are happier, physically healthier, and live longer than people who are less well-connected. Period.

– Robert Waldinger, Harvard Medical School

In the 40s and 50s of our lives we tend to lean in to work, chase promotions, maximize our retirement contributions, fret over our kids’ college applications, and worry about our parenting skills. Yet the best predictor of how healthy and happy we are in our 80s is the strength of our social network in our 50s.

Call a friend. Schedule time with them. Then load the dishwasher.

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

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

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.