Striving for *Best* is Killing Your Mojo. Choose Good Enough.

Have you purchased something recently? Something major like a new laptop, a car, a bicycle, or even a minor thing like a toaster, or a shirt? And when you bought it, did you pore over the reviews and try to pick the very best one, with the most options, coolest color, or lightest design?

If you struggled through the decision process before your purchase, you are more likely to keep looking around even after you bought it, and more likely to have buyer’s regret about your purchase later. You know that feeling after you bought a Toyota. You start to see them everywhere. You also see the competitors you thought about, but didn’t buy. There’s always a better camera, a faster processor, a brighter shade of blue.

Between 1975 and 2008, the number of products in the average supermarket swelled from about 9,000 to almost 47,000. If you go to a supermarket today, you will be confronted by up to 80 types of cookies to choose from, and up to 100 types of toothpaste. Crest alone has 61 varieties depending on whether you are interested in breath quality, whitening, gingivitis, sensitive gums, soft enamel, or even if you’re over 50 years old. Seriously 61.

I’m talking about the tyranny of choice, the curse of options. If you are presented with 61 flavors of ice cream, you are more likely to make a slower choice, and a choice that you are more likely to regret, than if you are presented with 5 options. There is a price we pay for all those choices. The price is not just the time you spend anxiously deciding, but the nagging suspicion that you may have made a wrong choice.

Sheena Iyengar, author of The Art of Choosing, did a little study in which she and her students set up a jam and cracker tasting table at a grocery store. In one version of the tasting, they offered 6 different jams for people to taste. In the second version, they offered 24 different types of jam. After the first tasting, 30% of people bought a jar of jam. After the second tasting, only 3% bought a jar. More choice can lead to paralysis, indecision.

We worry that each choice we make says a little something about who we are. Each selection is a small reflection of what we believe, what we hold dear. What if we make the wrong choice? We’re not perfect, and we sometimes beat ourselves up trying to be stronger, sharper, more present, more focused, more caring. We should be more compassionate to ourselves, and we shouldn’t punish ourselves by over-evaluating our choices. After all, we’re constantly changing anyway.

The word is satisficing. It means choosing something that’s good enough, will do the job, will suffice. Those who try to maximize every single choice are likely be less happy about their choices, and less happy about themselves. They also tend to be perfectionists.

Comparison is the death of joy.
– Mark Twain

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

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

Don’t Let Your Grit Become Workaholism

What comes easy to you? What do you love? After you’ve sat through 4 meetings, done the dishes, taken out the garbage, or stood in line at the Division of Motor Vehicles, what are you excited to escape to?

I have friends who find solace in yoga, escape into reading, or immerse in deep conversation. Their version of self-reward is to get a group together and share ideas over lunch. I also have introverted friends who dread the idea of hosting a big meeting. My friend Chris’ idea of joy is to curl up in a chair and knit and knit and knit. She says they will find skeins of yarn untouched after she’s gone. She can’t get enough. My friend Jeff clocks whole afternoons lost in his workshop shaping cabinets. Hopper can spend an entire week swimming in the open ocean.

In order to get good – really good – at something we have to work at it, put in the long hours, maybe even ten thousand of those hours. And if you’re going to put ten thousand hours into something, you deserve to enjoy it. So start with something you feel drawn to, something that comes easy.

A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.
– Richard Bach

If you start with what comes easy, the work becomes passion. “Grit is the combination of perseverance and passion for long-term goals.” Angela Duckworth goes on to say, “It’s not simply working really hard and being resilient, it’s working toward something that gives you a sense of purpose and meaning.”

Workaholism, on the other hand, is working compulsively at the expense of other pursuits, and possibly at the expense of physical or psychological health. A work-obsessed individual pursues power or control until it becomes a compulsive addiction to gain approval or public recognition of success.

The primary difference here is that workaholism is work for work’s sake. It’s also work for external validation – like getting affirmation or money or power. Grit involves the pursuit of a higher calling, a striving to achieve something of meaning beyond the work itself.

Choose what comes easy. Then the work becomes joy.

May you and your loved ones have a joyous holiday season, and a wonderful new year.

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My new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post bestseller! You can grab a copy now. Have a meeting coming up? Let’s talk.

Last summer, 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 this with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Grab a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Don’t Let Someone Else Define Who You Are

Right now, over 2 million high school seniors all around the United States are applying to college. And many of those apply early, to receive an early response, and to possibly increase the odds of getting in to their dream school. Those who applied for Early Decision or Early Action, are hearing the news right about now. Hope abounds, and I understand. Our son, a senior in high school, understands.

If you are a high school senior, or have a high school senior, you should know something that matters much more than acceptance at your dream school. The choices you have made, and who you have become by the time you are 18, matter way more than any decision by a college admissions board. And whatever acceptances or rejections you receive, they are temporary and they do not define who you are or who you can become.

The friends you have made, the adventures you have embarked on, the books you have read, the challenges and adversities you have confronted, and the small acts of kindness you have given over your years leading up to age 18, define you far more than the seemingly arbitrary and confounding decisions of college admissions professionals. Don’t let a small group of people who have never met you, define who you are. You get to decide that.

There are a lot of schools you can attend, and have an equally marvelous experience. What matters, of course, is not where you are, but what you think, and who you play with, and share time with. So remember, whatever school you are accepted at, choose to attend, or life choice you make, the most important thing you can do is to make a difference where you are. Solidify your intentions. Light a candle where you are, and let it burn brightly.

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Last summer, our son and I bicycled across America with two other dads and their teenagers. We published a book about it called Chasing Dawn. (Because, you know, we were cycling east. Get it?) I co-authored this with my cycling companion, the artist, photographer, and wonderful human jon holloway. Grab a copy. I’ll sign it and send it to your doorstep.

Our company Mindscaling, builds powerful leadership development experiences, and curriculum, for companies big and small. My other new book Small Acts of Leadership, is a Washington Post #5 bestseller. Woot! You can grab a copy on Amazon. Have a meeting coming up? I can help. Let’s talk.

Reinventing Yourself One Story at a Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wanting to Be Someone Else Is a Waste of the Person You Are

We rode into the small town of Lincoln, New Hampshire and stopped at a small grocery. The owner came outside excited to look at our bicycles, adorned with panniers and travel bags from our ride across the United States. After 3000 miles we were lean, our bikes were well used and covered in stickers and personal touches. We looked the part.

We explained to the store owner we intended to camp and then head up and over the Kancamagus Pass in the morning. He furrowed his brow and nodded. “Good plan,” he said. “The Kanc is steep and long. Leave early and take your time. It will be work to get up over the pass.”

We woke early to attack the pass, and after about an hour and fifteen minutes of climbing we topped out at the peak, pulled over at a scenic rest stop and took some photos. My son Charlie (16) and I didn’t think it was much of a big deal at all. After seven weeks of cycling across the United States it didn’t seem a big climb.

That version of myself that was in better shape. If I rode up that mountain today it would be a much different story. Today, I’d wheeze and labor up the climb. It would take me twice as long. I’d probably stop to stretch and breathe. Instead of lamenting that I’m no longer in that physical shape, I should instead embrace who I am now.

“Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are.”
–Kurt Cobain

Unlike our puppy Wally, who doesn’t appear to have any self-conscious thoughts, we humans have an ongoing relationship with ourselves – a constant inner dialogue about our sense of self-worth. It is, of course, why people pursue fame, fortune, and power, in the false belief that we will achieve satisfaction through adoration, money, or control over external forces.

What we really long for is to be understood, loved, and appreciated. Since this is true, we should afford the same thoughtful care to ourselves. Stanford Professor Christian Wheeler did a study which examined our idealized attitudes versus our actual attitudes and behaviors. In other words, he examined what happens when our more perfect version of ourself is in conflict with our actual behavior.

When our behavior is incongruent with our idealized attitudes, we feel worse about ourselves, and we often cheat our behavior to better match the version of ourselves we want to be. For example, if we idealize ourselves as fit and attractive and we aren’t currently, that tension makes us feel worse about ourselves. Which is why Spanx is a thing.

In another example, Wheeler asks us to imagine someone who wants to like their job, but their job actually makes them miserable. They may spend time convincing themselves the job is fun and meaningful, but if they cannot bridge the gap, the incongruency will only make them more despondent.

Meet yourself where you are. Self-compassion will fuel your personal change far better than beating yourself up. Just imagine what you would say to a dear friend in a difficult situation. Say those same things to yourself.

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

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

You Don’t Suck. Give Yourself Compassion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Do You Create Something Special?

Almost anything I have ever created, built, designed or written that anyone else in the world cared about, I did on my own initiative, out of love of the work, love of the process, love of the team, and the sheer enjoyment of the experience of creating something new.

I’m not saying everything I’ve ever created of value was easy or fun. Creating something that didn’t exist before is hard. Building a company is hard, frustrating, yet sometimes deeply rewarding. Cycling across America can be difficult, exhausting, yet interrupted by moments of elation. Writing a book about the experience is time-consuming yet gratifying.

Robert Berger is a strategic planning professional who has spent his professional career building teams, running successful government initiatives and projects. But the most gratifying and engaging work he does is pro bono. Through the Taproot Foundation he gets engaged with projects he cares about and applied his project management skills for free. He has dedicated over 800 hours of time, and says it’s the most rewarding work he has done in his entire life.

When we do things that we aren’t expressly being paid for, we are more creative and engaged in our efforts. If we are being paid to deliver a specific piece of work, we ask our client lots of questions about what they want. We ask how long the article should be, or what color the image should be, or where the painting will hang in the house when we deliver it.

In other words, when we work for someone else, we are working to their expectations. And the result is that we stifle our own curiosity and creativity in the process. We subsume our own creative inclinations and instead try to figure out “what the client wants.”

I did it for the pure joy of the thing. And if you can do it for joy, you can do it forever.
– Stephen King

Almost twenty years ago, Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile and her colleagues conducted an interesting study. They asked 23 artists to randomly select 10 of their commissioned works and 10 of their non-commissioned works. That is, 10 works of their art that they were paid to create, and 10 works of art they created entirely on their own initiative.

They then took the 460 works of art to a big room where they could be displayed and evaluated by a team of art curators, historians, and experts. All of the experts evaluating the art had not been told which was commissioned (paid) art, and which art was created at the self-direction and initiation of the artist.

Amabile and her colleagues reported their findings:

“Our results were quite startling…the commissioned works were rated as significantly less creative than the non-commissioned works, yet they were not rated as different in technical quality.”

It was the non-commissioned, self-directed art that was found to be more creative, interesting, and valuable to the experts. Do more work you care about, and other people are likely to be more interested. If you care.

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

The Astonishing Ignorance, and Brilliance, of Henry Ford

Henry Ford is heralded today as a technological genius, a brilliant capitalist, even a kind and generous moralist fighting for the rights and wages of commoners. He is often referred to as the inventor of the modern age.

Quotes from Henry Ford are plastered on notecards and in boardrooms everywhere.

“If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.”

“Quality means doing it right when no one is looking.”

“You can’t build a reputation on what you are going to do.”

Great quotes from a great inventor.

Look again. The remarkable things you know about Ford are true. What you may not know is that during his lifetime, Henry Ford was famously ignorant. There was no end to what he didn’t know. As historian John Stadenmaier put it, “he was revealed to be pathetically inarticulate and ill-informed. The stuff he didn’t know was amazing to people.” He lived his entire life near Detroit, and showed little interest in the world outside the walls of his mind.

Ford was ridiculed by the Chicago Tribune for his shocking idiocy. The world became enthralled by his obtuse ideas. Ford believed the earth could not carry the weight of skyscrapers. He believed Benedict Arnold was a writer. He had no sense, or interest, in history whatsoever. As he put it, “I don’t know much about history, and I wouldn’t give a nickel for all the history in the world. It means nothing to me. History is more or less bunk. It’s tradition. We don’t want tradition.”

Ford was oddly eccentric. He refused to vote, citing complete lack of interest in politics. He became infatuated with soybeans, and would wear suits made of soy, and serve nothing but soy meals to his guests. He attempted to purchase a tract of land in the Amazon and name it Fordlandia, with the sole purpose of supplying his company with rubber for his tires. He created a newspaper based on the notion of assembly-line writing, in which one writer contributed facts, another writer the opinion, another writer the humor, and so on. It was ghastly boring, prompting one critic to call his paper, “the best weekly ever turned out by a tractor plant.”

Henry Ford certainly did take action. He got things done. Early in his career, young Ford launched a car manufacturing company with a paltry $28,000 sourced from a variety of private investors, but ran into opposition from bigger manufacturers who claimed Ford was infringing on their patent. A few years earlier, in 1895, George Selden applied for, and was granted, a patent for the basic design of an automobile before the car industry even got off the ground.

Ford and his investors contested that patent for eight years, and finally won the right to produce their own automobiles. Ford’s final testimony included the comment, “It is perfectly safe to say that George Selden has never advanced the automobile industry in a single particular…and it would perhaps be further advanced than it is now if he had never been born.”

And with that legal win, Ford and his investors set off to build the Ford Motor Comapny empire, which made automobiles affordable and accessible to middle and lower-class Americans, and cemented his iconic name into the history books as a master capitalist, and brilliant inventor. He is even attributed a social and economic theory known as “Fordism” which, among other things, professes to create unskilled employment, adaptive assembly-line construction of goods, and – perhaps most importantly – the notion that the workers themselves could afford to purchase the goods they created.

Ford did indeed make remarkable contributions to our modern lives, and helped to transform industrialized economies. But my point here is that there is always more to the story. It’s worth a second look, a deeper dive.

Question what you know. It’s how things change.

Want to change the way you see the world? See Stephen Shapiro’s fast track course on Innovation. It will question everything you, and your team, think you know about how innovation happens. Message me if you’re interested and we’ll send you a preview. Enjoy!

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

Twitter: @gshunter
Web: www.shawnhunter.com

The Problem with Stereotypes

“A single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. When we stereotype others, we reduce them. We imprison them in our own small view, a dark and tiny place with no light and no room for growth.”

novelist Chimamanda Adichie

 

 

Isn’t that the truth. When we only see the world through our own fixed lens and refuse to listen deeply and empathetically to those we encounter along this path of life, we reduce and belittle them.

Measure your success by what you give and not what you get for it will make everyone – yourself included – happier in the long run.

Check out our new micro-learning series Small Acts of Leadership. Message me if you’re interested and we’ll send you a preview. Enjoy!

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

Who Does Not Move Forward, Recedes

I spent this past weekend visiting with dear college friends, reminiscing, laughing, and catching up. Of course, we’ve all changed over time. But back in the day we thought we were special, unique.

The term is chronocentrism. It’s the belief that our group, our cohort, at a particular moment in time is special, and poised on the brink of history, as if we are locked in a remarkable and magical moment. It’s pretty common for graduating classes to feel this way, or groups of employees at a company to feel this way when working together during a period of change or growth. During these times we solidify our values, deepen our identities.

It’s a good feeling and creates lasting bonds among the group that can persist for a long time. But it’s also important to move on. It may have been a watershed moment in your evolution, but who you are then is not who you will become.

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

Never believe that you are done learning, or done changing and evolving. The choices we make today will lead to who we become tomorrow.

En francais, “Qui n’avance pas, recule.” Which means, “Who does not move forward, recedes.”