The story of how Willard quit smoking is legendary in our family.
He had started smoking as a teenager in the 1950’s, picking up the habit while working as a caddy with his friends. They would hide cigarettes in a haystack where they could pick them up on their way to the golf course.
By the time he was a young professional, married and working as an economist, cigarettes had become a constant accessory. They dangled from his mouth or from his hand whether he was at work, at home, in the car, out with friends, or elsewhere.
His addiction eventually had him smoking up to a pack and a half a day.
And then something changed in his life.
It’s a new year.
Like many people, I never start a new year without spending some time reflecting on the last one.
It’s an opportunity to learn from past experiences, to decide what to take forward and what to leave behind.
Usually my new year’s reflecting is more solitary and personal — about my own lessons learned, the things I want to celebrate, the occasional sighs of relief as I put difficult chapters behind me, my goals and wishes for the coming months.
But this year — I hope you don’t mind — I’ve done some reflecting on your behalf too.
Like most Americans this Thanksgiving week, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about gratitude and the many things I’m thankful for in my life.
(This awareness has been helped along by a gratitude practice I started recently with a group of friends. Every day we email the others a list of # things we’re grateful for on the #th day of the month. Or that’s the goal anyway. It gets harder as we get closer to the end of the month, so sometimes we need to scale back on especially busy days.)
One of the most profound gratitude experiences I’ve ever had was after I finished reading Victor Frankl’s classic Man’s Search for Meaning for the first time about 15 years ago. Frankl’s accounts of life in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany — and the scraps of beauty, hope, and purpose some prisoners were able to find there against all odds — made me acutely attuned to the simple blessings in my life.
At the heart of that gratitude experience was something social psychologists refer to as “social comparison”. It’s often just below the surface of our awareness, but we human beings are constantly comparing ourselves to other people — even to alternate versions of ourselves — to get a sense of who we are, how we’re doing, and what’s possible for us. Continue reading
Unless you only started using email a couple weeks ago, you’re more than familiar with email overwhelm.
It happens to even the best of us every once in a while…
Hundreds of messages piled up in your inbox: a jumble of things you keep meaning to tend to, stuff you’re waiting for, things you want to be able to reference later, and messages you’ve frankly forgotten about because they’ve become lost in the clutter.
In contrast, I’ve had “inbox zero” as an ongoing goal for myself for a long time now.
What’s inbox zero?
I’m visiting friends in Sonoma this week, and I’m up before dark again today, my internal clock still on Virginia time.
Sipping tea in my friends’ cozy living room, listening to the sounds of distant roosters and the gently trickling fountain outside, I’ve been flipping through my journal, reading recent entries.
In looking through what I’ve written of late, I was struck by how my use of this tool has shifted over the years — and by how indispensable it’s become for me as a productivity tool at work.
I admit, it’s a little surprising:
When you think of getting your work done in a way that’s efficient and strategic, the first image that comes to mind is not of settling down with a bound journal, a pen, and a mug of tea, and writing longhand about how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking.
But I’ve discovered that is sometimes the smartest thing I can do.
Often it takes a lot of hard work to make a big improvement in your life. Ok, let’s be honest: It almost always takes a lot of hard work.
But every once in a while, what it takes instead — or at least what makes it suddenly easier to do all that hard work (or to know exactly what the hard work is that you should be doing) — is a mental breakthrough.
A sudden transformation in the way you look at things. A fresh perspective that leads you in new, more positive directions. A powerful insight.
And how cool is it when something as low-effort as watching a video or movie can result in said mental breakthrough?
So here I present for your viewing pleasure four videos (or, more precisely, three video-recorded talks and one documentary film) that have that power… Continue reading
Last week’s post was about recognizing overwhelm before it gets out of control.
I shared a list of mental, physical, and environmental clues to watch for as early warning signs that things are getting too intense.
Because not only does that over-intensity damage our sense of peace and well-being, it also sets us up for failure. We can’t think, work, or relate to others as effectively when we feel like we’re drowning!
But once you’ve recognized that you’ve gotten to that stage and desperately need to take some things off your list, what do you do? Continue reading
I’m normally a sunny, glass-half-full kind of person. A “gosh am I lucky to do the kind of work I do” sort of person. I get excited about my latest project, eager to dive in, and utterly absorbed by what I’m working on.
So I knew something was up when a cloud of gloom and hopelessness descended upon me recently.
Actually, I knew exactly what was up. That is my classic response to Too-Many-Things-On-My-List Syndrome. Continue reading
Want to be a truly compassionate person? You need good boundaries.
That’s what author and social work researcher Brené Brown says, anyway — and I’m inclined to think she’s right.
I’ll explain (with some help from Brené), but first let’s get our terms straight here. Continue reading
I know you’re a kind and compassionate person. I am too.
But as human beings, both of us are regularly making assumptions about other people that can damage our relationships and our interpersonal effectiveness.
Don’t judge yourself too harshly, though; our brains all work this way. But do take steps to try to correct it. Things will go much more smoothly if you do.
What are these two assumptions you’re making? Continue reading