It can be just a little nudge, almost imperceptible. Or it can be a full-on heart pound that makes you wonder if you’re gonna need a trip to the emergency room. You’ve been triggered. Maybe it’s a snarky comment in a meeting, a critique from your partner about how you might’ve scrambled those eggs better, the tipping point of a crushing workload, or your manager just found a mistake in your analysis. If it’s a little thing, it might distract you from what you’re doing for a bit. If it’s a big thing, it can bring an out-sized sometimes regrettable reaction, or cause you to shut down. And it doesn’t feel so good.
We’re drowning in this stuff. Ten steps to this, four ways to that. I like that Gallup has for decades teamed up with other organizations, economists, psychologists, and scientists, to understand the elements of a life well-lived — how we experience our lives and the things that are important to us — and they’ve kept it data-based and fad-free. While global well-being research informs broader societal decisions for employees, communities, and countries, it’s helpful for us to be reminded of what really matters, as we often operate on autopilot in our busy and distracted lives.
The only thing we know for sure about the stories we tell is that they’re not true. Not completely, anyway. Our make-believe can range from getting the details surrounding an emotional event wrong to being unshakably sure of the stories we tell about ourselves that are often turn out to be mind-made.
Integrity is such a big word. It’s the most common value people and organizations cite as “table stakes,” a have-to-have. We want to have it, we want those around to have it, we want our organizations to have it. It’s hard to live up to, especially when we’re challenged and our emotions get the better of us, and our blind spots can get in the way.
Malcolm Gladwell’s 2008 book Outliers begins with Roseto, a small town in the foothills of Eastern Pennsylvania, named for the place in Italy where its residents immigrated from. In the late 1950s, when heart disease was ravaging the nation — the #1 cause of death in men over 65 — men in Rosetta showed no sign of heart disease at 55, and were experiencing it at half the rate of the US at 65. A local physician, Stewart Wolf, discovered this, got to work conducting careful research, and brought in friend and colleague John Bruhn, a sociologist. Bruhn recalled, “There was no suicide, no alcoholism, no drug addiction, and very little crime. They didn’t have anyone on welfare. Then we looked at peptic ulcers. They didn’t have any of those either. These people were basically dying of old age. That’s it.”
A river is a wonderful metaphor for life — melting snow from a mountain, just a drop at a time, grows to a trickle that develops into a stream and before you know it, it’s a river full of life with blind spots, hairpin turns, exhilarating and sometimes treacherous rapids and waterfalls that instantly transform into brilliant still pools of water full of fish and teaming with birds and wildlife, all surrounded by beautiful vegetation.
The credit for this one goes to Lucy Kaplan, the badass octogenarian teacher/coach and faculty member at the Berkeley Executive Coaching Institute (BECI) who is a dynamic blend of humor, compassion, honesty, and rigor. She artfully packaged one of the (let-me-count-the) ways our brains have of holding us back from doing what really want to do in an easy-to-understand acronym that helps us resist our resistance.
There’s a regular feature in the Harvard Business Review near the back of each issue that showcases a wide variety of people, from successful venture capitalists to small store owners. I just noticed it recently, read a couple of them, and loved the format — short, yet it painted an intimate picture of the person. Then I thought, hmm… this is a good way to shine light on what we do in our daily lives — to do a little “check-up” of sorts on ourselves. Is what we do in sync with who we think we are, or want to be?
Remarkable, really. And I thought it was just me until client after client who gave it a try reported how much of a difference it made to adopt the simple daily practice of writing down three things that went well, and what made those good things happen. This 5 to 10 minute habit seems to have an outsized effect — sort of like a personal “butterfly effect” — where a very small action can have a profound systemic effect.
Jim and I were catching up as it had been a few years since we worked together. He is the founder and former CEO of Benetech, a Silicon Valley non-profit that has had far-reaching social impact through software for social good. He had been introduced to mindfulness and meditation through his participation in The Wellbeing Project and it stuck. When I asked him about it, he said, “Meditation? Oh, it’s that thing that keeps me from digesting my stomach lining on a daily basis.” Best explanation ever.