Change your life in 5 minutes a day

I try to avoid sensational titles, and I don’t mean for this week to be an exception. “Change your life in 5 minutes a day” is based on my own experience. Sometimes, it only takes me three minutes.

Ancient wisdom

I’m referring to keeping a gratitude journal. Each morning, the first thing I do when I wake up is to reflect on what made yesterday a great day, and what three things would make today great. It’s so simple it verges on trivial, and yet so useful I never miss a day. I’ve been writing in it for over a year now. I even take it with me when I travel, just for those few minutes each day. 

Ever since the advent of positive psychology in the late 1990s - "the scientific study of positive human functioning and flourishing on multiple levels” - there has been a wealth of research on the benefits of varying gratitude practices. (You can find popular summaries here and here.) It’s not a new idea, though. Practicing gratitude falls into the category of “ancient wisdom,” and has long been advocated by a wide array of sources.

“He is a wise man who does not grieve for the things which he has not, but rejoices for those which he has." - Epictetus

“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was, “thank you,” that would suffice.” - Meister Eckhart

“When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the morning light, for your life and strength. Give thanks for your food, and the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies with yourself." - Tecumseh, Shawnee Chief

“A grateful mind is a great mind which eventually attracts to itself great things.’ - Plato

“Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others. - Marcus Tullius Cicero

In The Book of Joy, practicing gratitude is listed as one of “the 8 pillars of joy” by the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu. In The How of Happiness, it’s one of 12 practices advocated by Prof. Sonja Lyubomirsky.

My own results

By the time I saw an ad for The Five-Minute Journal, I was convinced and ready to start, though it wasn’t easy in the beginning. I would forget to write in it, or find myself saying the same things a few days in a row. Then I put the journal in a place where I knew I would see it when I woke up, and writing in it gradually became something I looked forward to doing. It became a habit.

Over time, I became aware of certain patterns. The things that appeared on the list most often were particular people in my life, and the time I could spend with them. Searching for new things to write, I became more aware of just how many precious basics - good health, food, and shelter to name a few - I had taken for granted. The act of listing what I was grateful for day after day helped to shift my perspective from overly-negative to something more balanced, and that made me happier.

Writing down my intentions - What will make today great? - had a somewhat different effect. It helped me to focus my attention on what mattered at different points throughout the day, and that helped me to make better, more mindful, choices. When I reflected on a prior day, I noticed how doing what I intended always provided a sense of fulfillment or completeness. Instead of being buffeted about by things out of my control, I found I could “live intentionally,” and it proved to be extremely satisfying. 

I’ve found this simple practice so helpful that I included it as one of the five self-care practices in WOL-SC.

Getting started

You don’t need The Five-Minute Journal in particular to practice gratitude. Some of my German friends use Das 6-Minuten Tagebuch. (Though I do wonder why they need an extra minute.) A blank book will do, or even placing notes in a jar. 

You might also try DayCatcher, a more visual and creative way to practice gratitude which I started using just last week. At the end of a day, you choose a photo that captures one special moment from that day, and add a short note or caption. Doing this has already attuned my attention to look for my “catch” each day. It helps me to savor the best moments and be thankful for them right before I go to sleep. At the end of the year I can use it to create a beautiful album of memories.

Your mother or grandmother probably told you to “count your blessings.” And now science has caught up with her, explaining why the advice she gave was so good.

But do you put that advice into practice? Why not start today?

workingoutloud.com now in German

It’s fitting that I’m writing this on a train from Bonn to Stuttgart. I’m heading to #WOLCON18, a joint event organized by Bosch and Daimler for 400 of their employees.

It’s a good time to announce the newly bi-lingual version of workingoutloud.com. You can now toggle between German and English by using the new language switcher in the upper right-hand corner, and it should work on your phone as well. (There are still a few pages being translated, and more content I intend to add.)

I’m often asked, “Why is WOL big in Germany?” I usually respond that there’s nothing particularly German about the method. It’s just that Bosch, based in Stuttgart, was the first company to embrace it. That was three years ago, and they ignited a trend in their home country. Since then, they spread it to employees in over 45 countries, and WOL is now in a wide range of organizations around the world, from corporations and non-profits to schools and governmental groups.

Almost from the beginning, local communities sprang up where people would share their experiences with WOL or look for Circle members. (These are in addition to the WOL groups I created on Facebook and LinkedIn.) There’s a Yammer group in German, and a @WOL_de Twitter account. There was also an early attempt at a German website that proved difficult to maintain, and having up-to-date information was my main reason for finally making workingoutloud.com bi-lingual.  

For sure, these groups help raise awareness and create a sense of connection for German speakers, and I’m grateful for that. I’m also grateful to Claudia Kaspereit for her translation work on the website, and to the Bosch team for the first-ever WOL translation of the Circle Guides a few years ago. 

Having the website available in another language is just a small, long-overdue step. But each time WOL content is translated into other languages - the Circle Guides, journals, book, subtitles on videos - we are able to reach more people. That makes each step worth it.


“Back in the game”

I almost passed over it because it was in Italian. But I clicked on the translation button, and even the mechanically generated prose was beautiful.

Marcello had participated in a Working Out Loud Circle in Bologna, organized by the same group that produced the Italian translation of the Circle Guides. He had put together a short video describing what the experience meant for him, and someone shared an excerpted quote of his.

“…an opportunity to put me back in the game, rediscover some skills that I had inside me, reconnect relationships, reactivate myself with a new enthusiasm to realize projects I care about…”

We could all use that kind of “reactivation” sometimes. Maybe your company is re-organizing again. Or you took time off for parental leave. Or you need to find a new job. These can be challenging times. Your confidence and even your sense of identity can be impacted.

Your inclination might be to withdraw, to wait for something better to turn up. But a better approach can be to do the opposite. To purposefully connect with people and create your own web of support and encouragement. Your network can be a lifeboat in a sea of change, helping you explore opportunities you would never reach otherwise. It can be a source of confidence, emotional support, and friendship. 

Marcello found all of that in his WOL Circle. It’s not the only way, of course. But small steps in a safe, confidential space can often be just what you need in times of change. Your Circle members, even when they’re complete strangers, can show you things about yourself you’ve stopped seeing or believing. They can also show you possibilities you haven’t considered. Week after week, as your network grows, so do you.

If you want more out of work and life, waiting on the sidelines is no place for you to be.

INTERVISTA A MARCELLO FINI BIBLIOTECARIO ARCHIGINNASIO BO

“The best diet is the one you don’t know you’re on.”

What if, instead of constantly trying to fight against some of our cognitive and behavioral weaknesses, we could use them to our advantage?

In praise of mindlessness.png

Hidden persuaders

The title of this post is taken from the last line of Mindless Eating, by food researcher Brian Wansink. In the book, he writes that we make over 200 food decisions each day, and that we aren’t aware of most of them. The result is that what we eat and how much we eat are determined by an astounding array of “hidden persuaders.” Here are a few of them:

  • size of the plate or container

  • shape of the glass

  • distance to the food/convenience of accessing it

  • variety of food

  • number of people you’re eating with

  • distractions present (tv, radio, phone, reading, etc.)

  • labels/descriptions of the food

  • presentation of the food

The most famous example might be the popcorn study. Wansink gave people a free bucket of popcorn at a movie theater. Some had a medium bucket and some had a large bucket, though each was big enough that no one could finish all of it. Importantly, all of the popcorn was stale, having sat in sterile conditions for five days. Despite patrons saying, “It was like eating Styrofoam peanuts,” people with large buckets ate 53% more - an average of 21 more handfuls (or 173 extra calories). 

Study after study show the impact of hidden persuaders. If you eat with one person you’ll eat 35% more, and up to 96% more when you eat with a group of seven. If you’re given a half-pound bag of M&Ms you’ll eat an average of 71, but you’ll eat 137 (or 264 more calories) from a one-pound bag. Even experienced bartenders mistakenly pour 37% more alcohol into short, wide glasses than into tall, skinny ones.

How to avoid a lifetime of suffering

If you’re like me, you may believe you’re not fooled by such things, that you’re in control of your own choices. Alas, two decades of Wansink’s research shows that everyone thinks this way.

“We all think we’re too smart to be tricked by packages, lighting, or plates. We might acknowledge that others could be tricked, but not us. That is what makes mindless eating so dangerous. We are almost never aware that it is happening to us.”

Instead of fighting with yourself to become more disciplined, Wansink suggests you adopt simple “reengineering strategies” that make it easier for you to choose what you believe is in your own best interests. Want to eat more vegetables? Serve them family style or on larger plates. Want to drink a bit less wine? Serve it in taller, thinner glasses and keep the empties on the table.

“As all of our research suggests, we can eat about 20 percent more or 20 percent less without really being aware of it. You can eat too much without knowing, and you can also eat less without knowing it. The goal is to make small changes in our environment so it works with us rather than against us.”

Beyond popcorn

Reading Mindless Eating has already inspired me to change my environment when it comes to food. But the core idea applies to all sorts of things - from how much we use our phones to what kinds of media we consume.

Yes, our innate human tendency for doing things in a mindless, habitual way can lead to unhealthy choices - choices that may well be driven by external influences and the interests of others. But a short period of making mindful adjustments to your environment can help you create a kind of “positive mindlessness,” one that leads to choices that serve you well.

The next time you overindulge on popcorn or social media, don’t waste time berating yourself. Think instead of how the things around you may have led to that behavior. Choose to control your environment rather than have it control you.

Confessions of a public speaker

The universe, it seems to me, is a teacher with a perverse sense of humor. The latest evidence I have of this is my most recent presentation in Germany.

The day started off well enough. I rehearsed my talk, had a fine breakfast, and caught my taxi on time. I remember smiling to myself at my good planning. 

The first hint of trouble was when the driver asked, “North or South?” I had no idea what he was talking about, so he explained that it was a big conference center and there were multiple entrances. Since we were ensnared in traffic, and I could see signs for the North Entrance, I told him I would get out there.

The instant I stepped onto the curb, I knew I’d made a mistake. There were no signs for the event, no crowds. I walked the hundred yards or so to the door and asked a lone attendant for help. “Ah, that’s the South entrance,” she said cheerfully, and told me how to get there. “Just five minutes,” she assured me.

I started walking, looking up at the bright blue sky, squinting at the sun. It was starting to get hot. Then I looked down and noticed a white splat on my shoe. How did a bird do that? I wondered. On closer inspection, though, it wasn’t a bird’s doing. It was fresh paint. And it wasn’t just on my shoe.

There’s paint on the bottom of my pant leg, on the back of my other shoe, and on my other pant leg. I consider going back to the hotel and changing but I’m afraid it’ll take too long. I assess the damage, hope it might not be noticeable on stage, and head towards the South entrance.

Ten minutes later, I’m wandering around in a park of some kind. When I turn right as instructed, I’m at a highway on-ramp. By this time the sweat is dripping down my face and neck. I take off my jacket, and notice there’s paint on my thigh now too, spreading like a rash across my blue suit. Where is it coming from?! I frantically look for a source, and see wet paint on the straps dangling from my backpack.

I begin to panic. Gingerly holding my bag at arms length, I check and recheck Google maps as I walk, and I eventually find the elusive entrance. It’s now a full 30 minutes after exiting the cab. Wet from perspiration and paint-speckled like a robin’s egg, I’m eager to get to a sink and clean up as best I can. Perhaps no one will notice, I think. 

On my way to the restroom, I see someone I haven’t seen for a year. “John!” he shouts out, smiling broadly. He extends his hand, and then leans in close to me and whispers, “You have something on your trousers.” I smile a frozen, awkward smile, and quickly move on. I curse to myself and look heavenward.

In the crowded mens room, I mop myself up with wet paper towels, Then I take off my shoes and scrub each one. Don’t touch the pants! Don’t touch the pants! I keep repeating to myself, imagining how much worse large cloudy white swirls will look on stage. 

At this point, I’ve done all I can do, and it’s getting close to the time for my talk. I head towards the stage. 

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about what happened that day is that, details aside, it wasn’t so extraordinary. In the past year, I’ve prepared a workshop for hundreds of people only to have 8 show up. At the end of one long conference day, I had to compete with alcohol and food for a crowd’s attention, and lost badly. I’ve experienced a cornucopia of devious problems with slides, room configurations, and technology - and now paint. 

What’s the universe trying to teach me with all of this?

I think the point is that it’s all part of the practice. Not the practice of becoming a better speaker, but the practice of accepting anything that might happen in work and life. All you can do is work on your craft as best you can, focus on offering your gift instead of focusing on the outcome, and try your best to embrace the universe’s lessons with humility and a sense of humor.

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Note: This post is inspired in part by a funny, insightful, and practical book of the same name by Scott Berkun. I’m grateful to Scott for sharing his own lessons, as they helped me.











WOL Circle Guides now in Italian!

I never met my grandparents, Vito and Angelina Bruno. They emigrated from Piaggine, Italy to New York City about a hundred years ago by boat. No jobs, not much money or education, unable to speak English. I suspect they would be thrilled about this latest development: WOL in Italy.

 The first Circle members in Bologna sharing their experiences with an audience

The first Circle members in Bologna sharing their experiences with an audience

I first heard from Samantha Gubellini in February of this year. She works at a management consulting firm, SCS Consulting, and she told me she hoped to do a pro bono experiment with the city council in Bologna, applying the WOL method in a “smart city program.” As part of that test, they would translate the guides into Italian. 

The first Circles just ended, and Circle members recently shared their personal experiences in a gorgeous room in Bologna. Below are two translated snippets from posts on LinkedIn. (See here, here, and here for some of the original posts in Italian.)

“During the 12 weeks we laughed, we cried, we celebrated the progress, shared the failures and we supported ourselves to overcome the obstacles. We have learned the basics of working aloud, but we do not want to stop here: our intention, and our challenge, is to continue to use these tools in our professional and personal path.” 

“What was WOL for me? So many things.. Live the emotions without brakes, understand the point of view of your colleagues, share the experiences - even the deepest, but above all show yourself without being judged! I laughed, I cried, I discussed, I shared.. In practice I opened the heart to people who until recently were unknown!” 

It was Teresa Arneri and Maria Chiara Guardo who took on the extraordinary work of translating the thirteen Circle Guides, and they’re now publicly available. Teresa wrote me a note about what motivated her to do it.

“As you could seen on LinkedIn,  the WOL experience ended in one of the most beautiful and emotional ways!

The WOL Circle Groups’ testimonials were impressive and able to spread the importance of WOL to those who still didn’t know anything about the project. The result was quite surprising, as we know that the WOL method is something difficult to convey! But the audience showed enthusiasm and seem to understand this innovative approach.

Since the beginning, when I first met the WOL methodology while surfing on the web, I immediately felt that this kind of practice was meant to be successful. In fact, the methodology plays with such elements that no other classical training (that also teaches how to build collaboration) is able to transmit.

WOL is based on simple, common things that are part of a system of natural rules that human beings have acquired since the beginning of time, in order to be able to coexist and survive within a community.

This is for me the power of WOL. Therefore it was impossible to not collaborate to the spread of this method by our contribution of the Italian translation of the guides! 

Thank you so much John (Giovanni) 😊

Teresa”

I hope to meet Teresa, Maria, and Samanta in Bologna someday, and give them my thanks in person, along with a heartfelt “Grazie mille!” from Vito and Angelina.

How to say no

This is, in part, a public apology to Martijn. I’m sharing it in the hope that the lessons I learned might spare you from some potential humiliation and suffering.

It started with a simple request. Martijn is a student in the Netherlands, and he sent me a message on LinkedIn.

“Currently am I writing a paper about the effect of Working Out Loud on collaborative working and sharing in organizations. If it's possible I really want to ask you a few questions about it…every answer is helpful and we are very grateful for your help and sharing your knowledge with us!”

“What a nice note!” I thought, and replied right away that I would be happy to help him.

“Thanks for your quick and enthusiastic answer! I just sent you the email with our questions.”

That was in March. Then, I had a few business trips, and took a week off with the kids for Spring Break. 

In late April he sent me a gentle reminder. “Do you still have time?” At this point, I was embarrassed. I was also in the middle of a project. I looked again at his questions and figured it would take me an hour to answer them. Not so long that I couldn’t find the time, but long enough that I didn’t do it right away.

More time passed. Week after week, I thought about Martijn and my failure to do what I said. Finally, in June, my mounting guilt drove me to write him an apology and ask if my answers would still be useful. In a gracious reply, he told me they already completed the paper. I felt terrible.

Right around that time, I came across this post from Seth Godin from 2009 titled “Saying No”:

“You can say no with respect, you can say no promptly, and you can say no with a lead to someone who might say yes. But just saying yes because you can’t bear the short-term pain of saying no is not going to help you do the work.”

It made me realize that, like the now-ubiquitous “Yes, and…” exercise, my saying “no” could feel different and lead to better outcomes if I reframed it slightly. Instead of viewing “no” as a rejection of the other person, it could be an opportunity to offer something else, including attention, appreciation, and alternatives. Offering any of those to Martijn would have been better than my ill-thought-out “yes" that only led to disappointment and bad feelings on both sides. 

Next time you receive a request from someone, honor yourself and them by asking these three questions. 

How much effort will this require?

When will I do it?

What else could I do with that time instead?

Take a moment to really think it through before responding, and you’ll both be better off. “No, and…” is always better than “Yes, but I don’t really mean it.”

No and....png

Insincerely yours

It’s such a common practice at this point that most people don’t think about it. Even professional advice about the topic is misguided. As a result, well over 90% of the people who send me email make this mistake. Though it would only take a few seconds to correct it. they repeat the error over and over every day, missing an opportunity each time.

What is this egregious mistake? They don’t personalize the closing of their message.

Insincerely yours.png

Some people are the victims of technology. They use an automated email signature, and so the same bland phrase (and lengthy contact information) is appended to each and every email. Whether their note is an urgent complaint or a beautiful compliment, their message will end with “Yours faithfully” or some other banal phrase that sounds “business-like,” one they entered long ago and forgot about. (For my German friends, the favored choice seems to be “Mit freundlichen Grüßen / Kind regards.”)

Some do it out of habit. Perhaps they once read somewhere that it’s the professional thing to do, and they’ve been typing it ever since without questioning it. Others may be slightly lazy. Faced with an ever-increasing email burden, the thought of having to customize each closing is too much for them to bear.

Well, as my mother used to say, just because everyone else does it doesn’t mean you should do it too.

The final closing of your message is a signal. If it’s an automated or otherwise impersonal closing, it tells the recipient that they’re nothing special, not worth the trouble of a few seconds to sign off with something just for them.

Choosing to avoid the scripted “Kind regards,” on the other hand, offers an additional opportunity for a sense of connection and relatedness. Think of it as a small exercise in empathy. How would I feel if I received this? Your closing needn’t be long or intimate, and certainly shouldn’t be inauthentic. You’re just adding a few personal words relevant to the context of the message.

“Thank you again for your kind note. I appreciate it.”

“Have a wonderful weekend. Cheers from NYC!”

“I’m looking forward to our call on Thursday. I always enjoy our conversations.”

Be different. The world is already full of impersonal communications. When you humanize yours, you will distinguish yourself in a wonderful way. 

Who will you be when your company takes away your ID?

When someone asks what you do, what do you say?

My first full-time job was at Bell Laboratories, famous for inventing the transistor and discovering evidence of the Big Bang, among other things. I worked on more mundane projects that didn’t amount to much. So when people asked me what I did, I instead proudly responded with where I worked.

As my career progressed, titles became important. “Vice President,” “Director,” “Managing Director.” They all seem meaningless now. But at the time my sense of self-worth depended on them. With each step up the ladder, I would rush to order new business cards, eager to hand them out and show off the newly-upgraded me. 

Other people treated me differently too based on what it said on my badge. They didn’t know me or my work. It was the brand and my position in the hierarchy that determined whether I was relevant or interesting.

I learned the hard way that basing your identity on where you work is inherently risky and unstable. When my last company’s successes turned into scandals and fines, my pride turned to shame. When I was laid off, there was no longer a company or title to define who I was. It was just me.

It took me a long time to realize that I had a choice, that I could step out from behind a business card, make my work visible, and shape my own reputation. It took me a long time to accept that being “just me” was enough. I wish I had started sooner.

What about you? When they take away your ID, who will you be?

Who will you be when your company takes away your ID? .png

Bernadette’s purposeful discovery

Sometimes you know the direction you’re heading in isn’t quite right for you. But, unsure of where else to turn, you keep going anyway, saddled with growing discontent and dissatisfaction.

Bernadette Schreyer tried a different approach. Her initial idea was just to find a new job. After a series of small steps, however, she gradually became more confident. She started considering alternatives that made the most of her talents and aspirations. Soon she let herself dream, and she decided to change course in dramatic fashion.

“This just feels so good,” she wrote, “It feels like ‘me’.”

I found her story remarkable and inspiring, and included it in full below. While our paths may differ from Bernadette’s, we can all take steps towards finding more meaning and fulfillment in our lives. 

"Headed to Italy soon where the boat is waiting for the first passage to Corsica. I attached a picture of our first photo shoot on board :-)" You can follow Bernadette and her journey on sailingfoxes.com & bernifoxmusic.com and even watch Bernadette on YouTube

 

About Dreaming Out Loud and a letter from my future self: sometimes you have to take a bigger step towards your goal. 

Have you ever thought about how it will feel to realize your big dream?

I work at a big firm and joined a WOL circle some months ago. WOL is very popular where I work and all our KickOff workshops are fully booked after two hours with more then 500 people on the waitlist. People start to get together from various departments and learn how to coach themselves and to do something good - for themselves and others. I am more than thankful about this movement to lead people to a better life and career - we definitely need this mindset!

I joined a circle with the goal to find a new job within the firm. I am an acoustics engineer, composer and musician and landed a job in sound development for exhaust pipes but I realized quite quickly that I am not on the right track. By joining a circle one year after joining the company I started working on my network and looking for new opportunities. My network is strong, but there was no new job, and a lot of wishes and dreams inside my heart. And then there was week 7. The best week ever. I wrote a letter to myself. It was incredibly easy. I was listening to my heart and the text was just growing by itself. Well, I already had that particular dream years ago but I never took the first step because I thought the time wasn't right. But in my situation, ideas started to form and grow: the plan to realize what's inside of me. To break out and do something absolutely DIFFERENT.

Some weeks ago I finished my circle and said goodbye to my colleagues at work. I finally took the big step I was first afraid of and I am looking forward to changing my life upside down. Together with my partner, I will set sails soon. As an adventurer and musician, I want to go on a big journey on our 41ft sailboat with a piano on board composing music. My message for the world out there is: "Listen to your heart and live your dreams, even if it's hard!

I want to share my story to show people that it's possible to live dreams and to help them achieve what they are longing for. I am currently working on my first videos to share on Facebook and YouTube and I wrote my first blog posts. I am not used to be active online and it felt a bit weird at first to write in public but the principles of WOL helped me to feel more confident and to share my story in the process. It's normal that it takes some time to get used to new things in life, but it is amazing to explore and learn about the world, and especially about yourself.

If you have a question or are worried about taking a big step, feel free to contact me on bernifox@sailingfoxes.com or visit https://sailingfoxes.com. I am happy to help! 

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