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Sunday, May 8, 2016

Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges

 Overview: To be more productive, Duhigg suggests paying attention to motivation, goal setting, focus, and decision making. 1. Motivation:  Make a simple choice early on that allows you to take the first step, and connect your choice to things you care about. 2. Goal Setting: Set BIG aspirational, stretch goals that kick your ambition into high gear. Then apply specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-bound (S.M.A.R.T.) goals to break down your BIG stretch goals into more chewable, digestible ones. 3. Focus: Draw a mental map of your day. What will it ideally look like? How will it go? Strategize how you could deal with obstacles that might get in the way. 4. Decision Making: Envision more than one potential future. Consider seeking out different experiences of others; reach out and objectively consider the data. Sit with it for some time and then decide.
2.     Motivation: When we feel like we’re in control, we’re happier. Psychologists have long known that happy people see the locus of control within them—they get to call the shots—and depressed people see the locus of control outside themselves, thus often feeling like victims. Duhigg discovers this first tenet of his book by talking to, of all people, the Commandant of the Marine Corps. The Corps discovered this motivational insight and used it to reshape boot camp by allowing more choice, asking “why,” and praising freedom of action rather than robot-like rule adherence.  Insights:
a.     Make a simple choice early on that allows you to take the first step: I’m going to check my email only three times a day.
b.      Connect your choice to things you care about: If I limit my email checking, I’ll have more time with my kids.
3.     Goal Setting: We all want to accomplish big things. We might want to get a graduate degree or get in shape, even run a marathon. Duhigg calls these stretch goals because they force us to reach beyond what might feel comfortable. And to get to such stretch goals you need S.M.A.R.T. goals (or objectives) that lead you there. Not new, S.M.A.R.T. goals are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound.
a.     Stretch Goals: Set BIG aspirational goals that kick your ambition into high gear. I’m going to get in shape and run a 5K.
b.     SMART Goals: Take the BIG stretch goals and break them down into more chewable, digestible ones that don’t scare you, and put real specifics around them.
4.     Focus: As we live our lives and pursue our goals, obstacles get in the way. As they say, life happens when you’re planning something else! We’re bombarded with distractions—the internet, social media, YouTube, email—and if we keep wandering down those rabbit holes, we’re less likely to reach our stretch goals or any goals for that matter. Focus happens when we form mental models of where we want to go—much like having a story or a map in our heads to guide us amidst all the life distractors.
a.     Draw a mental map of your day. What will it ideally look like? How will it go?  Today, I’ll have an awesome meeting with the CEO.
b.     Strategize how you will deal with obstacles that might get in the way.
5.     Decision Making:  You can have all your ducks in a row, like being motivated, having goals big and small, and being focused, but still not be able to make timely or good decisions. As the saying goes, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.  So how to translate good intentions into good decisions?
a.     Envision more than one potential future. You might want to get a new car. You think about either turning in your car (reducing the hassle of selling it yourself), or you consider all the money you might make by being your own sales person.
b.     Consider seeking out different experiences, reach out and consider the data. Then sit with it for some time before deciding. So, maybe you call up a few friends who have sold their own cars and find out what that takes and mull over that data before making your final decision.
6.     More Stuff: The book also addresses things like managing others and encouraging innovation.
a.     Manage How Teams Operate—People have an equal voice to express ideas, decisions get pushed to the person closest to the problem, people have a sense of control, and the environment is safe.

b.     Encourage Innovation—Combine two old ideas into a new one, watch your own biases, note that stress can create the energy to accomplish things, and be aware that creating something new can make us unwilling to take the next creative step. 

Smarter Better Faster: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg (Penguin Random House, 2016). Reviewed by Steve Gladis, May 2016.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Presence: Bringing your boldest self to your biggest challenges

Overview: Whether it’s Wonder Woman or Superman—transforming from everyday folks into
superheroes—those superheroes can serve as basic examples to help us all become our best, or what I call our “super-selves.” Harvard social scientist and professor Amy Cuddy burst onto the scene with her now famed 2012 TED Talk, “Your Body Shapes Who You Are.” She’s expanded her TED Talk into this deep, research-based bestselling book that further proves her central claim: Your body and your thinking can change your personal chemistry, which can move you from feeling powerless to powerful—changing your mindset, behavior, and even your life. Cuddy teaches us about how to be authentic and present to better connect to others. Then she provides a plethora of studies and stories to hammer home her points as she teaches us how to prime ourselves before critical events to boost the power hormone, testosterone, in men and women alike. Thus, by priming ourselves with simple but powerful exercises and showing up as who we are—our authentic selves—we craft a winning strategy to us help nail our next presentation, meeting or job interview.
1.     Presence: What is presence?  It’s “…the state of being attuned to and able to comfortably express our true thoughts, feelings, values and potential.” Being committed to your own values, emotions, and beliefs helps. You must sell the real you to yourself before trying to sell yourself to others. By being true to yourself (authentic), you project power, passion, confidence and enthusiasm, and others catch those feelings from you.  When you’re fully present, your speech, posture, and non-verbals align and get in sync, and people notice. And when you’re not “present” people spot incongruities at an unconscious, but strongly felt, level.
2.     The Authentic Self: Being authentic makes us feel powerful, positive, engaged and filled with purpose. To identify your best self, try this self-affirmation exercise. Write down: 1. Three words that best describe you; 2. What’s unique about you that leads to your best performance; 3. When at work or home do you feel natural; 4. What are your big strengths and when and how can you use them. Speakers and students who do this exercise show less anxiety and perform better in speeches and tests than others. The power of engagement comes from self-affirmation—telling yourself your authentic story, believing it, and projecting it. Presence breeds confidence and the ability to take in contrary information without being defensive.
3.     The Imposter Syndrome: When we feel like we don’t belong or don’t deserve to be where we are despite our accomplishments. In short, we often feel like a fraud with self-doubts, especially prevalent among high-performing men and women. With the imposter syndrome, we feel like life controls us (external control) rather than us controlling life (internal control). Concerned about not living up to our billing or perfection, we spend much of our time on our image and not our authentic selves. Such self-monitoring keeps us from being who we are authentically. We get isolated, and the feeling of isolation actually activates the same part of the brain that pain does!
4.     Powerlessness and Power:  With change comes self-perceived loss of power, then insecurity and anxiety—this is why we hate change.  Power activates our behavioral “approach” system and makes us open to opportunity and optimism—acting as our best, most authentic selves. But powerlessness activates the inhibition or “avoidance” system making us feel anxious and pessimistic—less likely to act as our best, most genuine selves. And when we feel powerless (and anxious), even if we want to show our best selves, we can’t. We’re inhibited from taking in the kind of data we need to make better decisions. Powerlessness makes you not able to focus, more self-absorbed (alienates you from others).  When you feel like the control in your life is external and not internal, you start to feel powerless. That leads to an array of negative things —poor focus, reasoning, memory and being self-absorbed. Anxiety causes self-absorption which alienates us from others and makes us less attractive—negative and depressed—to be around. On the other hand, feeling powerful works the opposite way. For example, people primed to feel powerful before a test or a presentation do far better than others who are not so primed. Moreover, believing that the locus of control is internal, note external (beyond our control) makes us feel powerful, in control, and more open to suggestions to improve.
5.     The Body Shapes the Mind:  When we strike a power pose—become spread out and larger, not smaller and more contained—it affects our brain and the way we show up. Holding an expansive pose for two minutes, especially before a critical event (test, speech, interview), raises your testosterone, lowers cortisol, puts you in a dominant frame of mind, and improves your performance. By contrast, when you are hunched over an iPhone or wrapped up in a cross-armed, self-protected stance and strike a low-power pose, you experience the opposite of power. In sum, power poses make people feel better, more powerful, and more optimistic.

6.     Nudging: Gentle self-nudging can move us toward greater presence.  Nudging yourself to at least slow down and not make snap decisions under pressure can save you from the consequences of poor judgment. Power posing nudges up your set point of power and the more we do it, the more it reinforces our mindset.  Nudge yourself to not set big goals—start small and keep it up. And, rather than telling yourself not to be anxious, tell yourself to use the “excitement” to do your best—experiments support this tactic. Just reframing our emotions pushes us from feelings of powerlessness to being powerful. 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Smile. Breathe. Listen.

As a busy executive, you might think you don’t even have the hour it takes toSmile. Breathe. Listen: The 3 Mindful Acts for Leaders. Here are some highlights that might just encourage you to read the entire book or at least recommend it to your team.


  • We are hard-wired to smile. We’re even smiling in the womb. Kids smile like crazy, and mirror neurons allow us to “catch” smiling from others.
  • Smiling is good for your long-term health and for a longer and more engaged life.
  • Smiling reduces stress, helps us work better, and makes people want to be around us.
  • The “Duchenne” smile—a smile that engages the muscles of the eyes as well as those of the mouth―is viewed as genuine and authentic.
  • Smiling makes us appear more likable, courteous, and competent.
  • Leaders who smile put people at ease, spread positive emotions like a virus, and create an environment in which people can do their best work.


  • Breathing is automatic. However, leaders who understand how to control their breathing will be much more effective.
  • Mindful Breathing is the “Big Switch” that helps us move from mental rumination or anxious thinking to more a more thoughtful, relaxed state.
  • Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a research-based, highly successful program based on mindful breathing and consistent, regular practice.
  • Regularly sitting or lying quietly starts the “practice” of mindfulness.
  • The impact of mindful breathing can be seen in our personal, team, and corporate health.
  • Leaders who learn mindful breathing not only help themselves become better people but also help those around them to do the same.


  • Listening is a skill possessed by the very best leaders.
  • Listening represents an important gift that every leader can give―a leader’s time and attention are highly valued by those around the leader.
  • Good listening consists of presence, technique, and practice.
  • Presence is demonstrated when leaders are fully engaged, focused, and not distracted when talking to people.
  • The Speaker-Listener Technique focuses on the listener fully understanding the speaker’s concerns.
  • The Ladder of Inference demonstrates how anyone, including leaders, can jump to conclusions based on their own often erroneous assumptions and beliefs.
  • Despite a prodigious amount of data and statistics about how important listening is, a number of leaders—in business, medicine, and any other profession—have poor listening skills.
  • Unfortunately, the prognosis for whether people will become more focused, better listeners is not good, because of technology intrusions (emails, texts, phone calls vying for our immediate attention.

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