Focused Habits

earth_and_moon_from_space-wallpaper-800x600

When things are chaotic and crazy, when the world can feel like it’s falling apart, this is when we need to create structure. Eisenhower famously said that freedom was properly defined as the opportunity for self-discipline, and so it is with disorder—it’s an opportunity to create order.

Maybe right now you’re stuck at home, maybe you’re not working. Your kids might be home with you. Certainly the normal way of doing things has been significantly altered. Well, now is the time to follow the Stoic practices more than ever, to follow the kind of routines that Marcus Aurelius followed every day (like we detail in this video) or the practice that Seneca followed with his evening journaling. Get up early. Be deliberate. Exercise. Set up and stick to a diet. Create limits and order. Clean your house. Attack problems or projects that have piled up.

Marcus said that we must concentrate like a Roman, and there is no time to do that like the present. There is not a lot of good that can come out of a global pandemic, but one positive can be that we use it as an opportunity to get our act together, to adjust and fine tune our habits while we have the time. More importantly, one of the best ways to cure anxiety, to deal with stress, and to become present is to really throw yourself into some means of self-improvement. Don’t allow yourself to be crushed by life as a whole, Marcus said; start with what’s in front of you.

Create some order today. Focus on your habits. You’ll find it does wonders.

Dedication to a Cause

merlin_171186720_0de52f07-15a2-4693-8c15-b69ea3cbf63a-articleLarge

Most of us are looking for inspiration during this dreadful pandemic. Here is a story that will make you stop and think. Here is how it begins:

Try the parable of the blind man who gave up political glory for Jesus Christ.

He quickly climbed the rungs of power, became the lieutenant governor of the state of Washington at 35 and had reason to believe that he’d be governor someday, maybe even before he turned 40.

His ascent impressed people all the more because of his disability. At the age of 8, he lost his sight: A rare cancer forced the removal of both of his retinas. He spent the next decades proving to the world — and to himself — that he could nonetheless accomplish just about anything that he set his mind to.

He attended Columbia University. He won a Rhodes scholarship. He graduated from Yale Law. “From Braille to Yale” was how he often described his journey. It made for a great political speech.

Then the man, Cyrus Habib, had an awakening.

“I was in talks with a top literary agent in New York about a book deal, and it was all predicated on my biography, my identity,” he told me recently. He could feel himself being sucked into “a celebrity culture” in American politics that had nothing to do with public service. He could feel himself being swallowed by pride.

“How many ways,” he said, “can you be called a rising star?”

He decided not to find out. Last month Habib, now 38, announced that instead of being on the ballot in November for a second term as lieutenant governor, he would soon leave office to become a Roman Catholic priest.

Want more? You can read the full article here

Looking Ahead – Post-Pandemic

00VIRUS-FUTURE1-articleLarge

It is fair to say that no issue has dominated our news – likely for a generation or maybe two – the way the coronavirus has. With over a million infections in the United States and more than 60,000 deaths, this should come as no surprise.

But that said, much of the reporting in online and print media has been anecdotal at best, confusing and ill-informed at worst. That is why I was delighted to read a recent piece entitled, “The Coronavirus in America: The Year Ahead.” It did just what I hoped it would, it looked ahead to the future. Here is how it begins:

In truth, it is not clear to anyone where this crisis is leading us. More than 20 experts in public health, medicine, epidemiology and history shared their thoughts on the future during in-depth interviews. When can we emerge from our homes? How long, realistically, before we have a treatment or vaccine? How will we keep the virus at bay?

Some felt that American ingenuity, once fully engaged, might well produce advances to ease the burdens. The path forward depends on factors that are certainly difficult but doable, they said: a carefully staggered approach to reopening, widespread testing and surveillance, a treatment that works, adequate resources for health care providers — and eventually an effective vaccine.

Want more? You can read the rest of the piece here

Pixar Magic

pixar

While most of the world is in a virtual lockdown as we muddle through the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us are using that time to enjoy new movies or old movies we love.

Full disclosure, like many of you, I am a huge fan of Disney’s Pixar movies (hard to believe that the first one, Toy Story, was released in 1995 – a quarter-century ago!)

Why have they been so successful? We all see and enjoy the animation, but at the heart of each movie is the story.

That is why I was so happy when a screenwriter friend of mine shared the Pixar storytelling secrets with me. As a writer, reading them was an “ah ha” moment.

See for yourself

Reading Imperative

Books George Galdorisi

Many “smart” people aren’t actually smart. They just know a lot of trivia. Sure, they can tell you all sorts of facts, they have a library of big thick books filled with enormous words, or they can give you the up-to-the-minute news about a political race. But can they tell you what any of this means? Do they do anything important with this information? Of course not.

And these types have always existed. Seneca spoke critically of literary snobs who could speculate for hours about whether The Iliad or The Odyssey was written first, or who the real author was (a debate that rages on today). He disliked hearing people chatter about which Roman general did this or that first, or which received this or that honor. “Far too many good brains,” he said, “have been afflicted by the pointless enthusiasm for useless knowledge.”

Harry Truman famously said that not all readers are leaders but all leaders are readers—they have to be. And they certainly aren’t reading to impress people or for the mental gymnastics. It’s to get better! It’s to find things they can use. Not at the dinner table or on Twitter, but in their real lives.

The same must be true to us. We have to learn how to read to be better leaders, better people, better citizens. We must learn how to read for our own benefit—and so that we might have aid to offer to a friend in pain, or a soul in crisis. Seneca’s point was that only knowledge that does us good is worth knowing. Everything else is trivia.

Changing Minds

B3-GD802_WEBCOV_750RV_20200220165018

Whether you are a leader at work trying to get people to do what they think they can’t (or don’t want to) do, or a worker trying to get a colleague to cooperate, or a gig worker trying to get someone to buy what you are selling, we are all in the business of sometimes trying to change people’s minds.

That is why I was drawn to a Wall Street Journal piece, “How to Change Anyone’s Mind.”

The subtitle, “People instinctively resist being forced to do things differently. Instead of pushing, try removing the barriers that stand in their way.” Here is how it begins:

Everyone has something they want to change. Employees want to change their bosses’ minds, and leaders want to transform organizations. Salespeople want to win new clients, and startups want to revolutionize industries. Parents want to change their children’s behavior, and political canvassers want to sway voters.

But change is hard. We pressure and coax and cajole, and often nothing moves. Could there be a better way?

When trying to change minds, organizations or even the world, we often default to a particular approach: pushing. Boss not listening to that new idea? Send them another PowerPoint deck. Client isn’t buying the pitch? Remind them of all the benefits. When people are asked how they’ve tried to change someone’s mind, my own research finds that the overwhelming majority of the answers focus on some version of pushing.

The intuition behind this approach comes from physics. If you’re trying to move a chair, for example, pushing usually works. Push it in one direction and it tends to go that way. Unfortunately, people and organizations aren’t like chairs; they often push back. Instead, it helps to look to chemistry, where there’s a proven way to make change happen fast: Add a catalyst.

Catalysts convert air into fertilizer and petroleum into bike helmets. But most intriguing is the way they generate change. Instead of adding heat or pressure, they provide an alternate route, reducing the amount of energy required for reactions to occur. Rather than pushing, they remove barriers.

This approach is equally powerful in the social world. I’ve spent over 20 years studying the science of change, interviewing leaders to understand how they change organizations and helping some of them do it. I’ve learned from superstar salespeople how they converted customers, from a hostage negotiator how he got hostage-takers to surrender by understanding what they sought to accomplish, and even from a Jewish clergyman who helped a white supremacist renounce the KKK.

Want more? You can read the article here

Work Dilemma

00sl-compassionate-directness-superJumbo

While many of us “shelter in place” or practice social distancing at work, once this health crisis passes, we’ll all likely be back at work trying to catch up – and likely stressing out.

We will need to deal with co-workers again and in an environment where we are stressed and trying to catch up, manners can break down – big time.

I was taken by a recent piece in the New York Times. The title is self-explanatory: “Give Compassionate Feedback While Still Being Constructive.”

And the subtitle says more: “People want feedback that helps them grow and improve. But how you deliver it matters, too.”

Here is how it begins:

Imagine a company where directness is prized above all else. Managers deliver blunt, harsh feedback in the name of efficiency.

Now, imagine another company with a very different culture. Here, directness is nowhere to be found. Managers are accommodating and kind, overlooking mistakes or issues so as not to hurt feelings.

What’s the problem with each? The first creates a toxic culture of brilliant jerks that drives people out and eats itself from within. The second ignores issues until they build up and affect business metrics.

We have all seen these companies in the news, as a trending topic or even firsthand. You may be at one now! But it’s when we combine directness and compassion that we create a culture in which people can truly thrive at work.

At Thrive Global, the behavior-change tech company I founded, we call this compassionate directness. It’s our core value — the one that fuels all the others.

Compassionate directness is about empowering employees to speak up, give feedback, disagree and surface problems in real time. But it has to be done with compassion, empathy and understanding. It’s what allows us to course-correct, improve and meet challenges while also building teams that collaborate and care for one another.

Want more? You can read the rest of the piece here

Worry?

00sl-stress-worry-anxeity-superJumbo

Do you worry? Who doesn’t? But how far does worry go…does it lead to stress and even anxiety? Sometimes it’s helpful to try to sort all of this out.

That is why I was drawn to a recent article, “Getting a handle on Worry, Stress and Anxiety.” Here is how it begins:

You probably experience worry, stress or anxiety at least once on any given day. Nearly 40 million people in the U.S. suffer from an anxiety disorder, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Three out of four Americans reported feeling stressed in the last month, a 2017 study found. But in one of these moments, if asked which you were experiencing — worry, stress or anxiety — would you know the difference?

I reached out to two experts to help us identify — and cope with — all three.

What is worry?

Worry is what happens when your mind dwells on negative thoughts, uncertain outcomes or things that could go wrong. “Worry tends to be repetitive, obsessive thoughts,” said Melanie Greenberg, a clinical psychologist in Mill Valley, Calif., and the author of “The Stress-Proof Brain” (2017). “It’s the cognitive component of anxiety.” Simply put, worry happens only in your mind, not in your body.

What is stress?

Stress is a physiological response connected to an external event. In order for the cycle of stress to begin, there must be a stressor. This is usually some kind of external circumstance, like a work deadline or a scary medical test. “Stress is defined as a reaction to environmental changes or forces that exceed the individual’s resources,”

What is anxiety?

If stress and worry are the symptoms, anxiety is the culmination. Anxiety has a cognitive element (worry) and a physiological response (stress), which means that we experience anxiety in both our mind and our body. “In some ways,” Dr. Marques said, “anxiety is what happens when you’re dealing with a lot of worry and a lot of stress.”

Want more? You can read the article here

Too Much Political Passion?

merlin_65295080_343f376d-03c3-42f5-91eb-ce7255f4db28-superJumbo

Few would argue that the level of political discourse in America today is perhaps more toxic than most people remember.

That said, some of us do remember a time in the 1960s and 1970s when things were equally – if not more – toxic.

That all came back when I read Mark Rudd’s Op-ed, “I Was Part of the Weather Underground. Violence Is Not the Answer.”

His subtitle, “Fifty years ago, a deadly explosion in Greenwich Village forced me to confront our warped sense of morality,” tees up his piece. Here is how he begins:

Fifty years ago, on March 6, 1970, an explosion destroyed a townhouse on West 11th Street in New York’s Greenwich Village. Three people — Terry Robbins, 22, Ted Gold, 22, and Diana Oughton, 28, all close friends of mine — were obliterated when bombs they were making exploded prematurely. Two others, Kathy Boudin, 26, and Cathlyn Wilkerson, 25, escaped from the rubble.

I was not there, fortunately. But I knew what was being planned, and I did nothing to stop it.

My friends and I were members of the Weather Underground, a militant outgrowth of the Weathermen, itself a radical faction of the left-wing Students for a Democratic Society. We saw ourselves as contemporary John Browns, full of moral fervor to stop the senseless war in Vietnam. We also wanted to show solidarity with black revolutionaries ruthlessly targeted by the police and the federal government.

Unlike the vast majority of the millions-strong antiwar movement, our tiny band had rejected peaceful protest and politics, clinging to the delusion that violent revolution was imminent. Determined to “Bring the War Home!” we believed that we were reflecting back onto our fellow Americans the extreme violence of the war and of white supremacy. The bombs that detonated the morning of March 6 were intended, to my and my comrades’ shame, for a dance that night at an Army base in New Jersey.

We didn’t realize that the violence we claimed we hated had infected our souls: At the time, I’m not sure we’d have cared. No one is innocent, we thought.

Want more? You can read the rest of the piece here

Time Alone – Good?

04sl_alone-superJumbo-v2

I am a big believer in the Myers Briggs type indicator, a way that we tend to “sort” our deepest inclinations that define who we are.

There are sixteen “types” based on a binary sorting of four criteria. The first one, and the most important according to experts, is whether we are an introvert of extrovert.

Most of you reading this likely put yourself in one of those two categories – and you likely didn’t have to think about it for a long time.

That’s why I was drawn to a recent article, “Why You Should Find Time to Be Alone with Yourself: Don’t confuse loneliness with time by yourself.” Here is how it begins:

Being lonely hurts — it can even negatively impact your health. But the mere act of being alone with oneself doesn’t have to be bad, and experts say it can even benefit your social relationships, improve your creativity and confidence, and help you regulate your emotions so that you can better deal with adverse situations.

“It’s not that solitude is always good, but it can be good” if you’re open to rejecting the idea — common in the west — that time by yourself is always a negative experience you’re being forced into, according to Thuy-vy Nguyen, an assistant professor in the department of psychology at Durham University, who studies solitude.

“We have some evidence to show that valuing solitude doesn’t really hurt your social life, in fact, it might add to it,” she said, pointing out that because solitude helps us regulate our emotions, it can have a calming effect that prepares us to better engage with others.

Choosing to spend time doing things by yourself can have mental, emotional and social benefits, but the key to reaping those positive rewards comes from choosing to spend time alone. In a culture where we often confuse being alone for loneliness, the ability to appreciate time by ourselves prevents us from processing the experience as a negative thing. In fact, getting better at identifying moments when we need solitude to recharge and reflect can help us better handle negative emotions and experiences, like stress and burnout, said Emily Roberts, a psychotherapist.

Want more? You can read the rest of the piece here