Good morning sunshine!
What will your bright, sunny morning look like?
It depends on how it starts. Are you starting from a place of abundance or scarcity?
Scarcity means there isn’t enough. It’s a dysfunctional belief that can become a driving force in most of our lives. What if you instead started from a place of abundance? What if you believed there is enough?
Well then, it’s no longer one and done. Instead, it becomes clear that you can continue to grow and change across the span of your entire life. And that there are multiple futures available to you. Not just one.
In fact, over the course of a career, you can have roughly a dozen jobs and seven lives.
That means, the myth that you have to find the one dream job/perfect career or else you are destined for a life of misery is just that - a myth. But really, that myth was WAY too much pressure anyway.
In reality, there are many options from which to choose. The good news, you get to make these choices. No one else.
But you do need to give it your time and attention. You need to think and reflect on who and what you want to become. Because if you don’t think about it deeply, if you don’t define it, how can you possibly reach it, right?
So, what futures do YOU want to live? Who do YOU want to become?
Use this site as a resource to think about and define what you want your bright, sunny mornings to look like.
Let’s get this morning started...
Why we need to help college students find career goals now
If you want grit, you need a goal. A reason to stick with it. Studies show that the difference between people who stick with something when it gets hard vs. those who give up lies in having a clear goal.
According to the Strada Institute for the Future of Work’s Education Consumer Survey with Gallup “[college students] who do not have a work outcome as their primary motivation are less likely to persist. Those who fail to complete their educational programs are more likely to say their main reason for enrolling was ‘to learn’ or ‘to gain knowledge.’ Meanwhile, those who complete programs are more likely to identify work aspirations as their main motivation. Learning and work are inseparable.” (Weise, Michelle “Unlocking the ‘Black Box’ of College Outcomes.” April 12, 2018)
The article goes on to state that “One way out of this false choice is for colleges to evolve campus offerings to better prepare students for the changing world of work. In McKinsey’s report, “A Future that Works,” the authors rightly assert that learning providers will have ‘to improve basic skills in the STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and put a new emphasis on creativity, as well as on critical and systems thinking. Developing agility, resilience, and flexibility will be important for everyone at a time when everybody’s job is likely to change to some degree.’”
We need to help college students find their goal, their reason for sticking with and graduating from college. While at the same time building their resiliency and agility (i.e., ability to adapt and be flexible). This is not new. This concept was introduced by Austrian psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor Viktor Frankl in his book Man’s Search for Meaning. He realized that to survive, he had to find some purpose. (Frankl, Viktor, Man’s Search for Meaning. Boston: Beacon Press, 1959.)
As the world grows ever more complex, we need to prepare students for the future by balancing the theoretical with the practical. According to Yuval Noah Harari in “21 Lessons for the 21st Century,” the year 2050 will require different skills than were required in 1950. “….Schools should switch to teaching the four Cs — critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity… Most important of all will be the ability to deal with change, learn new things, and preserve your mental balance in unfamiliar situations. In order to keep up with the world of 2050, you will need not merely to invent new ideas and products but above all to reinvent yourself again and again.” (p. 266; Harari, Yuval, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century.New York: Penguin Random House LLC, 2018.)
Students who can reframe failure, manage adversity, and believe they can change, learn new things, and improve will unlock their full potential. They will also leave college feeling more prepared, confident, determined, and hopeful.
why your mindset matters to your success
For those who know Dr. Carol Dweck’s groundbreaking research on Growth Mindset, you know that our mindsets really do matter.
If you haven’t met Dr. Dweck, check out this video:
YET is a simple but powerful word.
For those of us who tell ourselves” “I’m not good at math” or “I am not a math person.” Instead, we can say: “I’m not good at math YET. But I can get better by applying myself.” Or for those of us who say: “I’m not a people person.” Instead, let’s start telling ourselves “I’m not a people person YET. But I’m going to work on it by stretching myself and putting myself in situations where I get better with people.”
The point here is that if we work hard enough and give ourselves a long runway, we WILL get to our end goal. We can become better at things when we believe in ourselves and apply ourselves. In other words, when we change our mindset. While we might not become the best at math or the best people person, we can improve. We can get better. We can grow and develop with intentionality and effort and faith in ourselves. That’s the point.
And it matters because according to Dr. Meg Jay in her book “The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter--And How to Make the Most of Them Now:” “In a longitudinal study of college students, freshman were evaluated for fixed mindsets or growth mindsets and then followed across their four years of enrollment. When the students with fixed mindsets encountered academic challenges such as daunting projects or low grades, they gave up, while the students with growth mindsets responded by working harder or trying new strategies. Rather than strengthening their skills and toughening their resolve, four years of college left the students with fixed mindsets feeling less confident. The feelings they most associated with school were distress, shame, and upset. Those with growth mindsets performed better in school overall and, at graduation time, they reported feeling confident, determined, enthusiastic, inspired, and strong.” (pp. 158).
Why Journaling Matters
Author Hayley Phelan wrote a great piece in The New York Times titled “Writing in a Journal Can Help”.
Not just an outlet for teen angst anymore, journaling is a legitimate way to build resilience. In the NYT article, the author talks about how journaling can help elevate our mood, reduce illness, improve sleep and aid our memory. Plus, it offers a safe space to reflect on mistakes and failures. And it is only through reflecting on and processing our mistakes and failures that can we learn and grow from them.
The author even gave journaling a shot herself and found that it completely transformed her life. In the short term, it was a great outlet for her anxiety, and over the longer term it led to better relationship and career choices.
So why not give it a try? What’s the worst that could happen? What’s the best?
are you DEVASTATED by criticism or feedback? check your mindset
Let’s return to Dr. Carol Dweck’s research for a moment. In her seminal book ”Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” Dr. Dweck asserts that women put too much trust in and assign far too much value to other’s opinions of them. This could explain why we tend to be so devastated when criticized or given negative feedback.
According to Dr. Dweck, it may stem from our childhood where expectations were set and a mindset ingrained. But why should this disproportionately affect women?
Dr. Dweck provides the answer: “This vulnerability afflicts many of the most able, high-achieving females [because]…When they are little, these girls are often so perfect, and they delight in everyone’s telling them so. They’re so well behaved, they’re so cute, they’re so helpful, and they’re so precocious. Girls learn to trust people’s estimates of them. ‘Gee, everyone’s so nice to me; if they criticize me, it must be true.’ Even females at the top universities in the country say that other people’s opinions are a good way to know their abilities.
Boys are constantly being scolded and punished. When we observed in grade school classrooms, we saw that boys got eight times more criticism than girls for their conduct. Boys are also constantly calling each other slobs and morons. These evaluations lose a lot of their power.” (pps. 78 - 79)
The problem is that this can become so ingrained so early that it is hard to shake as we grow up. Maybe we should just hang out with the boys more? If nothing else, it might help us right size criticism.
Why having a FWD-4 possibility Mindset(TM) matters to your success
Sound decision making requires activating the right mindset. There are four key mindsets: Seeker, Failure Resilient, Shame Resilient, and Growth (see Dweck above). And we want to activate all these mindsets when we are facing or in the midst of uncertain situations.
When we activate the right mindset, we remove the biases and blinders that typically obscure or trip up our decision making. We detach ourselves from the decision, which strips the emotion out, and allows us to look at the data as cool, calm data scientists, processing it properly and objectively. By distancing ourselves from the decision or dilemma, we can right size it and see it for what it is.
We can make better life decisions. It’s easier said than done. Keep practicing and you’ll get there!
why having a seeker mindset matters right now
In the recent article “Why Do People Fall for Fake News?”, authors and psychologists Gordon Pennycook and David Rand discuss the real-world implications of the seeker mindset:
“People who think more analytically (those who are more likely to exercise their analytic skills and not just trust their “gut” response) are less superstitious, less likely to believe in conspiracy theories and less receptive to seemingly profound but actually empty assertions (like “Wholeness quiets infinite phenomena”).”
The authors go on to say “This is not just an academic debate; it has real implications for public policy. Our research suggests that the solution to politically charged misinformation should involve devoting resources to the spread of accurate information and to training or encouraging people to think more critically. You aren’t doomed to be unreasonable, even in highly politicized times. Just remember that this is also true of people you disagree with.”
Binaries are a false construct. Because they force us to choose either this OR that - to be either this OR that.
And while it seems harmless on the surface, it’s seeping more and more into our political discourse and our world-view. And it’s actually insidious and harmful.
Nobel prize-winning economist, psychologist, and the father of Behavioral Economics, Dr. Daniel Kahneman would most likely say it’s the fault of our System 1 brain. The System 1 brain is our lazy brain that’s always looking for short-cuts. This is the brain system that finds it far simpler to label and group people along stark (black and white) lines rather than do the mental heavy lifting of reflecting, researching, and looking at the problem rationally.
We are busy people with busy lives, and we just want to group ideas into easy categories and move on. But over the long-term this is bound to hurt us individually and as a society. Binaries divide us. When we label people by saying “you are that whereas I am this” OR “I belong to this group and you belong to that group.” We cease finding common ground. We ignore the possibility of BOTH/AND. And we end up pushing the “other” further away, which only further reinforcing false binaries.
To break out of this toxic pattern, we need to activate the System 2 brain. System 2 is our analytical brain system, which is both logical and and attentive.
We activate System 2 by asking questions and getting curious. Questions turn off lazy System 1 and turn on System 2, allowing us to think rationally, sidestep thinking traps, and process a situation without the usual bias and blinders that trip us up again and again.
Curiosity lights up System 2. When binaries rear their ugly head, we activate System 2 by thinking critically and questioning their accuracy and validity. Why does it have to be this OR that? Why do you have to be Republican OR Democrat? Why do you have to be a left-brain thinker OR a right-brain thinker? Why do you have to be an introvert OR an extrovert? Why do you have to be pro-choice OR pro-life? Why do we have to choose between clean water OR jobs? Why do we have to choose between helping young boys succeed OR young girls succeed? Why do we have to choose between being a doctor OR an entrepreneur? You get the point!
When we get curious and start pushing against these false EITHER/OR categories, we send blood to parts of the brain that juice it up. We begin to think more deeply. We see that we are falling prey to dysfunctional beliefs. And so, we flip the script by replacing EITHER/OR with BOTH/AND. And that is how we begin to change the collective narrative.
has your team hit dysfunction junction?
If you’re a member of or leading a team that has gone a bit off the rails, you are not doomed.
You know something is wrong, and admitting you have a problem is the first step. The next step is to excavate the root causes. High-performing teams need diversity, shared goals, regular, two-way communication, balance of strengths and power, trust, and shared norms. Which of these is your team lacking? Or which of these is currently broken?
Is the team diverse? Teams need a diversity of knowledge, views, background and perspectives in addition to a diversity of age, gender, and race. This helps prevent group think and simply doing the same thing over and over again with little to no material progress. High-performing teams foster a diversity of opinions, encouraging everyone on the team to share ideas, because they know it’s the best way to produce fresh, innovative ideas. To adapt and survive.
Are all team members clear on and working toward a shared goal(s)? High-performing teams have alignment around what they are trying to accomplish and why they are trying to accomplish it. Everyone needs to know the goal and understand where the finish line is as well as why it’s the finish line in the first place. Team members also need measurable outcomes for tracking progress and a way to reach the goal. Basically, teams need the what, why and how. What is our goal? Why is this our goal? How are we going to reach this goal? This sets the team’s North Star.
Does your team have open, honest, two-way communication? Or are team members afraid to speak up? It’s not enough to communicate from time to time or when you feel like it. Teams need to OVER-communicate. Over-communication ensures everyone has the right information and is moving in step with each other. High-performing teams schedule formal meetings where members can communicate openly and honestly with each other, but they also establish informal, ad-hoc communication channels (e.g., leveraging chat tools like Slack).
Do all team members feel engaged and appreciated? Everyone wants to be heard to feel that they matter. If members do not feel like they matter, they will slowly disengage and eventually quit. High-performing teams balance strengths and power to mitigate this risk. Individual team members don’t have to possess superlative technical or social skills to be a valued member of the team. Instead it’s the balance of skills that matters. Having members with a balance of strengths and skills helps distribute the work and the contributions each individual makes to the team. Likewise, one member should not hold all the power. A team’s power dynamic team needs to be balanced so that everyone feels equally valued and heard.
Do team members trust each other? High-performing teams trust one another. Trust is a tricky thing. It takes a long time to build and it is not easily gained. But it can be easily lost. And once you’ve lost trust, you’re sunk. You will really need to work hard to re-build it. And this is where open, honest communication is critical. If you’ve lost trust, you’re going to have to face this reality head on as a group and have some really tough conversations about why it was lost and how it can be re-built. Only by having the tough conversations can you get back on track.
What are your team’s shared norms? Teams are little ecosystems. And every healthy ecosystem follows a shared set of norms. Shared norms might include transparency, trust, accountability, honesty, etc… An important norm is assuming the best in all team members. Assume everyone on the team is doing the best s/he can with the tools s/he has been given. If we assume the best in people, we have a hope of improving the team dynamic. If you’re going in assuming is that the team is just a bunch of jerks who are out to get you, you’re probably not going to have great deal of luck fixing things. Check your mindset.
The good news: If you’re on a team that lacks any of these conditions, you CAN fix it. Identify the source of the problem and then bring it to the group to work on together.
imagine a life where you no longer fear failure
What might that life look like?
First, we need to get our terms straight. So let’s start by distinguishing between a failure and a mistake.
Mistakes are faults of omission whereas failures are faults of commission. We make mistakes when we are rushing or angry or overwhelmed or not paying close enough attention. We make mistakes by, well, mistake. They are within our control and have varying degrees of impact on our lives.
By contrast, we fail when we miss a goal. The goal could be getting a good grade in a class or running a multi-million-dollar business or marrying our sweetheart. When we do not reach this set goal, we have failed. It may be our fault or the result of forces outside of our control.
While mistakes and failures are an unavoidable part of the human experience, we typically forgive ourselves for our mistakes while we beat ourselves up for our failures. And we can beat ourselves up for a long time. Decades even.
How we respond to failure is up to us. If we choose defeat and retreat, we can lose our bearings, live a life forever stunted and fall into depression and despair. A better response is to return to who we were before we failed. But the best response of all is to reflect on the experience, extracting wisdom and learning, and then adapt and transcend the ordeal, armed with a greater resolve and purpose.
If you have been living your life and making choices to avoid failure, you might want to flip your mental script. Failure helps us learn and adapt, which is necessary to our survival. If we don’t run away from it, failure can actually help us become wiser, stronger, more empathetic and more confident. And this actually increases our chances of success and happiness.
One way to flip the script is to catalog your failures. By examining each failure like a scientist or a detective, you can extract key learnings which you can then apply to make yourself stronger and wiser. Cataloging these experiences can be very cathartic, helping release tension and unburden you from the weight of shame or embarrassment. In addition, cataloging or journaling can help you identify patterns in your life that you may not otherwise see and help you right size experiences that your imagination may have overblown or catastrophized.
If we stop hiding from our failures because of shame or embarrassment, and instead move into them, we gain forward momentum, growth opportunities, and resilience. These are the key building blocks for success.
If failure is not an option, then most of the time, neither is success. Just consider the professions that depend on failure as a means of progress or forward momentum (e.g., science, innovation, creative arts, and comedy).
When we reframe failure we flip the script in a way that leads to a happier, more fulfilling life. And maybe instead of fearing failure we are grateful for it. Maybe it’s a gift to help you grown into your full potential.
Everyone is so afraid of failing - it’s not just you - but failure may just be the greatest advancement toward wisdom you can have, the sooner we figure that out and stop being scared of failing, the faster we get to success.
Sources: Dweck, Carol, Mindset: The New Psychology of Success; Graham, Linda, Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain For Maximum Resilience and Well-Being; Hanson, Rick and Hanson, Forrest, Resilient: How to Grow An Unshakeable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness; Jay, Meg, The Defining Decade; Kearns Goodwin, Doris, Leadership in Turbulent Times; Seligman, Martin, Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life
How to lead a happier life
We all want to lead a happy life, right? No one wants to be miserable, I hope. But wanting it and doing it are two very different things. So how do we go about leading happy life?
At the Positive Psychology Center, Dr. Martin Seligman and his research partner and fellow professor Dr. Karen Reivich, found that to lead a joyful life we need to start with our own mind.
As humans, we are not wired to process situations and interactions as rational, objective observers. Instead, we look at situations through filters and biases and our own flawed interpretations. And this is where the rational mindset meets the resilient mindset.
Drs. Karen Reivich, Daniel Kahneman, and Amos Traversky all found that we easily and often fall into mental traps, like negativity bias and sunk cost fallacy without even realizing it. We process the input we are receiving from the world not based on actual evidence but based on past experiences and emotions. And as you can imagine, what comes out the other end of our processing is pretty wonky and weird. And we are all doing it all the time. Even right now.
It’s because we can’t possibly process all the data coming at us. Every second, the brain is taking in millions of pieces of data but can only process 40 pieces of it at a time. To function in society and get anything done, we had to find shortcuts to process all this information coming at us, but unfortunately, these shortcuts short circuit from time to time.
A very common example is confirmation bias. We are much better at noticing and remembering evidence that confirms our beliefs than evidence that disproves it. Once beliefs or biases are established, we look for and internalize any data that confirms them, ignoring and downplaying whatever may contradict them. The most obvious example is in our politics. We tend to ignore or reject data that contradicts our political views.
We scan our environment looking for constant reinforcement of our beliefs about the world and our beliefs about ourselves. For example, someone with a negative view of themselves (maybe they think they are stupid or a weirdo or unattractive) will constantly scan the world to confirm these beliefs without even realizing s/he is doing it, which is the insidious part of it. As a result, the negative view gets more and more firmly entrenched over time. What you focus on is what you will get.
When we are aren’t looking at reality clearly, we fall into all sorts of cognitive traps and make cognitive errors. And the traps we fall into are different for each of us.
What are cognitive traps?
According to Dr. Reivich, we fall into a fixed set. You may fall into just one or two to three.
Cognitive traps include:
Jumping to conclusions (i.e., inferring a conclusion without having the actual facts to back up that conclusion; this often leads to rash or bad decisions)
Developing tunnel vision (i.e., focusing narrowly on just one part of what someone or the situation is telling us, in other words, missing the forest for the trees),
Magnifying the problem,
Overblowing the negative (e.g., if a romantic relationship ends, you might amplify and exaggerate the negative and conclude you are unlovable when the data is ONLY that one relationship ended),
Personalizing (which means blaming ourselves) the situation or attack,
Externalizing (which means blaming others),
Overgeneralizing (i.e., drawing a conclusion or making a statement about something or someone that too broad or narrow than justified by available evidence), and
Mind reading (i.e., when we assume we know what another person is thinking when we really don’t have a clue what anyone is thinking ever!). This is often manifest by having arguments with yourself. When you find yourself doing this just remember that you can NEVER actually know what another person is thinking. And the fight isn’t real!
Good news: We CAN break free of these unhappy and unhealthy patterns. When we know better, we do better. We just have to start catching ourselves in the act.
Sources: Kahneman, Daniel. Thinking Fast and Slow; Reivich, Karen. The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life's Hurdles; Seligman, Martin. Authentic Happiness: Using the Power of Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential For Lasting Fulfillment.
You Matter and that really Matters
Resilient people believe they matter.
But what does it mean to “matter?”
Think of it like a math problem. Mattering = feeling valued + adding value
Feeling valued means having a purpose (knowing yourself and your strengths and how/where you can contribute).
Adding value means living a life with meaning (helping your community, your family, an organization - it is where you contribute).
The more you feel you matter to yourself, your family, your community and/or in your relationships, the more you will give to these areas. The more you give, the more you get in return. And the more you get, the more you feel like what you do matters because it is having a positive impact on the world. This is a virtuous cycle. And it builds resilience. Knowing that you can control the outcomes of your decisions and actions will help you weather any storm.
If on the other hand, when you feel like you don’t matter (i.e., you feel you don’t have control over your life or that what you do or say doesn’t matter to your group, your community, your world), this lowers your resilience. If you feel you don’t matter, you won’t seek out resources to help you thrive and succeed. Without these resources, you won’t have a solid support structure. And so, when you fail, stumble, or struggle, you won’t have the safety net you need to help get back up, which will be taken as further proof that you don’t matter. The tape unwinds more and more. This is a vicious cycle. And it depletes resilience.
It is much more difficult to pick yourself up and move forward when you feel like nothing you do matters.
Believing YOU matter, and thus, can have a positive impact on the world gives you a happier outlook on life and makes you a happier person. Believing you matter will help you weather the storms of life.
Of course, you WILL face setbacks. You WILL face difficult people. We all need to both expect and accept this reality.
Resilient people are able to recover from setbacks and becomes stronger because of them. Being resilient is what separates those who get up and keep going no matter what from those who get knocked down and start making excuses and give up. EVERYBODY gets knocked down in life. That’s just part of the human experience. What matters is whether you get back up. You get back up when you know it matters that you get back up. That it matters to you, to your future, to your family, to your friends, to your community and the world.
There are a few key things you can do to build a reservoir of resilience:
Develop healthy, positive habits (e.g., eating well, getting enough sleep, and contributing to your community)
Find your voice and make it matter (and if your voice matters, then VOTE. Register to vote at whenweallvote.org)
Connect with others - family, friends, classmates, and so on…
Build strong coping skills (see article)
Take to heart that the world is a better place because you are in it. Because it is true. There will never be another you on this planet. You DO have control over your life and what you do MATTERS. If you believe you matter, you no longer have to play it safe. You can stretch and grow and dare to do great things.
Why Knowing Yourself and Your Strengths matters
Instead of focusing on what is wrong with you, focus on what is RIGHT with you. When you leave school, an employer doesn’t ask about your worst academic subject and your most annoying behavior and then create a job involving those features! In fact, it is just the opposite. It is through our strengths and interests that we find joy, pleasure, and success in life. Work and play are more fun when you’re leaning into your strengths.
Identifying and developing your strengths builds self-esteem and motivation. When you work in an area or on a project that demonstrates your strengths, your self-esteem and confidence increase. Keep focusing on your strengths and your confidence will continue to build. There’s a direct, positive correlation between building upon your strengths and building confidence.
how to develop better coping skills
According to best-selling author and historian Dr. Yuval Harari, “to survive and flourish in [the 21st century], you will need a lot of mental flexibility and great reserves of emotional balance.” (pp., Harari, Yuval, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. New York: Penguin Random House LLC, 2018.) You need coping skills.
A place to start is to pay attention to your self-talk. Do you talk kindly to yourself? Or are you your own worst critic? Sometimes we say things to ourselves that we would never say to anyone else. The words we use to talk to ourselves are harsh and horrible.
According to Dr. Rick Hanson, most of us are a better friend to others than we are to ourselves. We care about others pain, see positive qualities in others and treat others fairly and kindly. But…we are tough on ourselves, critical, second-guessing and self-doubting, tearing down rather than building up. (Hanson, Rick and Hanson, Forrest, Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness. New York: Harmony Books, 2018.) Think about what a typical day would be like if you were on your own side. What would it feel like to appreciate your good intentions and good heart?
Practice being kind and fair to yourself. Go easy on yourself. Give yourself time. Practice what it feels like to treat yourself as you might treat a friend. Think: What would I say to a friend in this situation? Or a brother or sister? This affords you the opportunity to step outside of any given situation and gain greater perspective.
This negative self-talk comes from an internal data processing glitch. We tend to separate out the positive and focus solely on the negative. Our brains haven’t evolved away from some pre-modern reactions or processing. Early or pre-modern humans had to be hyper-alert to any negative signals and quickly figure out how to respond (fight? or flight?). Unfortunately, it’s still baked into our DNA.
While we don’t have to worry about a tiger attack in our modern lives, our bias toward the negative means we are always scanning for danger or paper tigers. We give much more weight to our perceived flaws, mistakes, and shortcomings than to our successes. It leads us to needlessly replay an awkward interaction or repeatedly revisit that one stupid comment we made. You can see how this is not helpful, right? What a waste of time! Yet we all do it.
“Self-criticism can take a toll on our bodies and minds,” says Dr. Richard Davidson, founder and director of the Center for Healthy Minds at UW- Madison.
To combat this, we need to
Practice self-compassion. Go easy on yourself. Combat negative self-talk with compassion and kindness. Compassion for yourself is fundamental. If you don’t care how you feel and want to DO something about it, it is hard to make an effort to become happier and resilient
Try to avoid stress when possible. I know that’s easier said than done. But look for ways to reduce the stress in your life. Say you are facing a big hairy problem - break it down into pieces and just take it one piece at a time or get started on projects earlier so you can mitigate unnecessary stress and reduce sleepless nights
Let some things go, especially things you don’t have the power to change (keep in mind the famous adage: grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference)
Exercise & take care of your body - remember it’s the only one you get!
Take time to relax and recharge
Release emotional tension in healthy ways (e.g., exercising, taking a walk, or talking with trusted friends)
Take to heart that the world is a better place because you are in it. You DO have control over your life and what you do MATTERS.
Want to build resilience, creativity, and a design-thinking mindset the fun way?
Unlike traditional theater, improv does not require scripts, learning lines, rehearsal or really much of anything other than you!
And unlike stand up, improv is not a one woman show. It’s a communal activity, which means you build bonds with others when you improvise. And as we know, having a group we trust makes us more resilient.
Improvisation actually draws on key elements of resilience. If we deconstruct both improv and resilience, we see that both require you to think on your feet, adapt, let go or go with it, and get creative. Plus, improv forces you to be vulnerable. In an improv scene, you have no idea what is going to happen next. It is out of your control. And that’s a good thing! Because that’s a lot of life.
A simple but powerful phase drives improv: “Yes, and…” Much like “YET” in growth mindset, “Yes, and…” can help shift our mindset. “Yes, and…” forces an improv team to build on each other’s ideas and be supportive. It builds trust, and it silences criticism and judgement. Improv does not work if you judge your teammates, bigfoot them, criticize their ideas, or try to shut them up. That kills improv. So it cannot exist.
Even if you’re not the next Stephen Colbert, Amy Sedaris, or Amy Poehler, you can still practice improv to strengthen your resilient mindset. Improv builds your mental agility because you can’t freeze in improv. You just have to go with it and see where the scene takes you and your teammates (i.e., scene partners). Because you do not have time prepare, you must respond and react in almost total uncertainty. And that can be quite liberating and energizing.
According the recent article Mental Health Benefits of Improvisation Training: Games and Exercises, the author writes: “…improv skills are a way to continually grow and strengthen skills for navigating increasingly ambiguity and complexity. The skills for dealing with [sic] the unfamiliar provide a pathway for managing difficult life transitions and psychological struggles.” (livesinprogress.net)
Improv can teach you how to explore new possibilities and expand your current limits. With practice, improv can train you to cope with uncertainty, cede control, focus on how and where you can contribute in the world. Improv emboldens, empowers, and unleashes creativity. Sounds pretty great, right? Why not give it a try? Whether you succeed or fail you’ll develop greater resilience. And scene!
Want your change initiative to stick?
Start with design thinking and bake in resilience, you’ll get change that sticks.
As disruption and change become woven into the DNA of our economy, the traditional approach to change management is no longer sufficient. We cannot approach change using the old ways but hoping for better results (i.e., adoption without resistance).
Because traditional change efforts are patriarchal and top-down, they tend to face resistance from the very people they want to change. People unsurprisingly don’t like being told what to do or yelled at to do it, and so, they naturally resist. To mitigate resistance and gain buy in, we need to shake things up. We need to meet people where they are and actually design for change.
Designing for change means grounding it in design thinking. In many ways, design thinking is the perfect complement to traditional change initiatives because design thinking is the optimal solution to any problem that is human-centered, messy, uncertain, and novel. And that’s what change is, right?
Because all change initiatives ultimately impact actual human beings we can help ourselves and our efforts by starting to take a more human-centric approach.
Prior to launching a change initiative, we should start with a design thinking approach which involves the following:
Empathy – think of this as the Atticus Finch approach "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view....Until you climb into his skin and walk around in it."
Listening to the end user to help define the change initiative and rollout
Prototyping & iterating, coming up with at least three implementation solutions using design thinking tools such as enthnograhy, brainstorming, mind mapping
Conducting Learning Launches (sort of like a pilot) to test whether the change initiative succeeded or failed and if it failed where and how it failed so that you can iterate or pivot and try again
Starting with design thinking can lead to more successful outcomes because it is scientific (which makes it ok to test and fail), people-centric (which helps with engagement), and iterative (which provides a continuous feedback loop of test, pivot, learn, repeat rather than a straight, linear approach).
And if you overlay resilience on top of the design thinking + change management paradigm, you can push through any obstacles or hurdles. Resilience includes (a) shame resilience whose antidote is empathy and (b) failure resilience which gives you the courage & strength to do any of this, especially the hard stuff and heavy lifting.
We know innovation will never be as slow as it is today. It is only going to pick up pace. Thus, we need to come up with a better way to lead people through the change and disruption.
But we needn’t throw out the baby with the bath water. Let’s not dismiss change management as old fashioned. Instead, we can layer on new tools and ideas like design thinking and resilience.
We need to remember that people are at the heart of any change. And so, we need to approach change with empathy and resilience; an approach traditional change management tended to ignore or bigfoot.
In our disruptive 21 century world, we can expect and accept change. But we can take control of it and make it stick by designing for change with resilience and empathy.
Sources: Brown, Brene, I Thought It Was Just Me (But It Isn’t). New York: Penguin Books, 2008. Lee, Harper, To Kill a Mockingbird. New York: Harper & Row, 1961. Liedtka, Jeanna and Ogilvie, Tim, Designing for Growth: A Design Thinking Tool Kit for Managers, New York: Columbia University Press, 2011. Reis, Eric, The Lean Startup: How Today's Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses. New York: Crown, 2011.
What is design thinking?
Design thinking, which was developed at IDEO and serves as the backbone of Stanford’s design school, is a creative way to solve problems. According to IDEO founder and Stanford design school Director, David Kelley, we can all be creative when we activate the right mindsets. Having the right mindset lies at the heart of innovation and it will help us get through the tough stuff, the challenges, the bumps in the road to innovation.
And the good news it that innovation can happen anywhere. It’s not confined to the Silicon Valley or Stanford or Boston, Innovation is fueled by curiosity, optimism, and a bias toward action (i.e., trying things). The Moses Myth where innovation is a miracle that results when a special, anointed person raises his or her hands to the heavens and the Red Sea parts or the iPhone is born is complete bunk. It is a dysfunctional belief. Anyone can be an innovator because anyone can be creative.
Seismic shifts are taking place in the 21st century that require creative problem solving and flexibility. Design thinking is an ideal way to tackle complex problems in complex times. It is a very straight-forward, easy-to-follow, human-centric approach for innovating routinely and systematically. And by human-centric we mean that the people you are designing for are always at the center of everything. They hold the key to all the answers. You are creating innovative new solutions for them and WITH them.
The methodology has 5 stages: (1) empathy, (2) define, (3) ideate, (4) prototype, and (5) test.
It all begins with empathy. We build empathy for people by talking with them, engaging with them, and seeing the world through their eyes.
Stage 2 - Define - is where you scope a problem worth solving. Here you unpack you empathy findings to scope a meaningful solution. You’re looking for a goldie locks problem: not too big, not too narrow, but just right.
The next stage - Ideation - is where you generate lots of ideas. Here you transition from identifying a problem to exploring solutions to that problem. You go wide and flare out rather than curate ideas. You are aiming for quantity over quality of ideas.
The 4th stage is Prototyping. This is where you get the ideas in your head out into the world. A prototype can be anything that gives a physical form to your idea. You do not want to waste your time and money on building perfect prototypes, you simply want something the people you are designing for can interact with and react to with you.
And finally, Test is stage 5. Based on your feedback from your prototypes, you adapt, iterate and pivot to a workable solution. Testing is your chance to gather feedback, refine solutions, and continue to learn how people want to use your product, service, or system.
Developing shame and failure resilience is critical. Creative confidence depends on your ability to separate yourself from what you create. If you fear judgment or being laughed at shamed, you will not lead with creativity. Similarly, you cannot innovate without failure. They are part and parcel. And the earlier you find and face failures and weaknesses in the innovation cycle, the faster you can fix them and improve your solution(s).
The design-thinking methodology is deceptively simple and amazingly powerful. It can help you identify problems worth solving and the tools to create real, lasting solutions.
Design thinking favors trying things in the real world with real people over exhaustive planning in a dorm room or office or library. As long as we remember, we are designing for real people - not ideal or imagined versions of them - and get out and interact with these people in the real world, we can begin to tackle some of wickedest, messiest problems. We don’t have to wait on divine inspiration. We can start today.
Source: Kelley, David and Tom. Creative Confidence. New York: Random House, 2013
wait, so you’re saying you don’t agree with me?
Awesome! Let’s talk about it. Let’s get curious and find out how and where we disagree.
Let’s flip the script on the dysfunctional belief that people disagreeing with our viewpoint(s) is an egregious act. One that must be silenced and shut down. Disagreements and dissension shouldn’t cause us to run away from each other but rather toward each other.
Listen, I didn’t always believe this to be true. I was mired deep in the cognitive trap of confirmation bias. And I tried my best to avoid problems and disagreements because they seemed both irritating and inefficient. It’s seemed so much easier if people could just get on board with my ideas and realize I’m right. It seemed to me we reach our end goal much faster this way. While this *might* lead to a faster solution, it does not lead to a better solution.
Research shows that we should view problems and disagreements in a more positive light because they actually drive us to better solutions. We need to start viewing them for the opportunity or opportunities they hold. Disagreements offer a path to better, more diverse ideas. Disagreements mean disruption and innovation. They shake up the status quo and challenge anti-social norms.
According to public policy and president of the American Enterprise Institute Arthur Brooks: “You might be tempted to say we need to find ways to disagree less, but that is incorrect. Disagreement is good because competition is good. Competition lies behind democracy in politics and markets in the economy, which — bounded by the rule of law and morality — bring about excellence. Just as in politics and economics, we need a robust “competition of ideas” — a.k.a. disagreement. Disagreement helps us innovate, improve and find the truth.” (Brooks, Arthur C. “Our Culture of Contempt" New York Times, 2 March 2019)
We need healthy disagreements where both sides listen and learn. Where we wrestle with the messy and hard problems facing us, our society, our world in a compassionate way. And we also need smart, talented people like you to find solutions to the myriad problems out there. Because that is what will birth the jobs of tomorrow and the innovations we need. But they only come to those who are brave enough to listen, especially to others with divergent or contradictory viewpoints.
And when we look at it this way, we realize there’s not a scarcity of ideas or solutions but an abundance. We have much to solve: climate change, poverty, education, disease, and so on…So let’s start listening to others, to different points of view, to different ideas, to people who are not exactly like “us.” As Dr. Brene Brown would say: “Let’s rumble!”
A Student’s Guide to Starting a Startup
Interested in starting your own business or social venture, but not sure where to begin?
Start with what’s bugging you. For two weeks, jot down all the things that bug you until you have a robust bug list.
Once you have 25 – 30 items that really bug you, review the list and decide which of these problems you actually want to solve. Winnowing down the list to only the problems you want to solve should reduce the list considerably to 5 – 7 items.
Once you’ve reduced this list from 25 to 5 or so, think about why these particular problems matter to you. You are more likely to stick with and work on problems that matter to you, especially when you face obstacles, challenges, or setbacks. Working on problems that matter most to you helps you find your grit and resilience when you most need it.
Once you have a list of problems that matter to you, you need to decide which are problems worth solving. Ultimately, we want to arrive at problems worth solving, right? Because we will only get people to buy or pay for our product or service if this problem matters to them as well.
How do we find a problem worth solving?
Innovators find problems worth solving. That’s the very definition of innovation. But how do we find these problems?
We get curious, empathize with others, engage our mindsets, and use our imagination.
We get curious by asking questions and reflecting on accepted norms or unchallenged approaches:
Do others have this problem, too? Or does NO ONE have this problem?
What is causing people pain? What might help people sleep better at night?
Ask probing, exploratory questions (e.g., How Might We remix or recombine existing solutions to solve this problem? How Might We make a current user or service experience better?)
We empathize with others by:
Observing people (Is the problem visible to them? Is it right in front of them? Or do they not see it?)
Engaging with people (Ask them questions about the problem - is the problem urgent to them? Or do they feel hopeless that it can never/will never be solved? Is it too big and overwhelming? How are they currently solving the problem?)
We activate our growth and seeker mindset:
Check your cognitive biases, blinders, and filters
Seek out your customers cognitive biases (What assumptions are they making about the problems they have? What solutions or workarounds have they cobbled together? Where are they falling into cognitive traps?)
Remind yourself that it’s ok to be wrong in the service of learning – you haven’t identified the problem or the solution YET, but you will get there
Look at the world with fresh eyes by actively engaging System 2
Imagine the future:
Start by believing a better (or at least different) future is possible
Imagine your world WITHOUT your pain points
Create a story about the future (What future do you want to live in? How will you make that future happen? What problems might people have in the future?)
Live into the future, and then look back, identifying what is missing or what gaps exist between the future and current state
The last approach might be especially appealing to sci-fi fans.
In design-thinking parlance, a problem worth solving is one that is feasible, viable, AND desirable. If you plot this on a 2 x 2 matrix (see graphic above), you can see the sweet spot lies at the intersection of a problem people WANT solved and a problem that CAN be solved.
As the 2 x 2 matrix clearly shows, we always want to be mindful of gravity problems. Design thinking can tackle almost all problems save for one: gravity problems. Because a gravity problem is a problem that is not actionable.
Think for a moment about top companies through the lens of the problem they are solving. What problem does Airbnb solve? What problem does Amazon solve? What problem match.com solve? What problem does GrubHub solve? What problem does Tesla solve?
You’ll find each of these companies found a problem worth solving. A problem that (1) could be solved with current technology, (2) people were willing to pay money for, and (3) people wanted solved (even though they might not have known it at the time!).
What problem will you solve?
Source: Entrepreneurial Endurance by Director Patricia Thomas © 2019 Patricia Thomas All Rights Reserved
We build a forward-thinking, possibility mindset when we learn new ideas and challenge ourselves, our beliefs, and our assumptions. Reading new books provides the easiest and most direct means to this end.
Each of following books gave us insight and wisdom into our past, present, and our very uncertain future. Happy reading!
Berman, Lea and Bernard, Jeremy. Treating People Well: The Extraordinary Power of Civility at Work and in Life. New York: Scribner, 2018.
Brown, Brene. Rising Strong: How the Ability to Reset Transforms the Way we Live, Love, Parent, and Lead. New York: Random House, 2015.
Catmull, Edwin. Creativity, Inc. Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration. New York: Random House, 2014.
Gladwell, Malcolm, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2013.
Harari, Yuval, 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. New York: Penguin Random House LLC, 2018.
Jay, Meg, The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How to Make the Most of Them Now. New York: Hachette Book Groupw, 2012.
Kahneman, Daniel, Thinking Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2011.
O’Reilly, Timothy F., WTF?: What’s the Future of Technology and Why It’s Up to Us. New York: Harper Collins, 2017.
Seligman, Martin. Authentic Happiness: Using the Power of Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential For Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Atria, 2002.
Sinek, Simon. Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. New York: Penguin, 2009.
Share Your Bright Ideas With Us
Do you have ideas for a bright sunny morning post? Or are you just interested in learning more? Then, reach out and let us know.
Because expanding our community, sharing ideas, and advancing the social good is what we’re all about!