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  • feedwordpress 11:00:48 on 2019/03/21 Permalink
    Tags: author interview, , , Catherine Burns, , Occasional Magic, storytelling, The Moth   

    “If We Do Nothing But Try to Manage Well What We Do Have Control Over, We’ll Find We Have More Control Than We Think.” 


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    Interview: Catherine Burns.

    I met Catherine Burns when we had an hour-long conversation at a rooftop deck party thrown by a publishing house. Not long after that, we did an event together about podcasts. Every time I see her, I love getting the chance to talk about storytelling, speaking, audience engagement, and every other topic we wander into.

    She's the long-time Artistic Director of The Moth, which is a non-profit group in New York City dedicated to the art of storytelling. They're best known for their storytelling events, where a group of people each tell a carefully crafted story—a true story—around a theme.

    The Moth is a live event, a podcast and a radio show. And now there's a new book: The Moth Presents Occasional Magic: True Stories About Defying the Impossible. "From storytelling phenomenon and hit podcast The Moth—and featuring contributions from Meg Wolitzer, Adam Gopnik, Krista Tippett, Andrew Solomon, Rosanne Cash, Ophira Eisenberg, Wang Ping, and more—a new collection of unforgettable true stories about finding the strength to face the impossible, drawn from the very best ever told on its stages."

    I couldn't wait to talk to Catherine about happiness, habits, and productivity.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Catherine: Hands down: exercise. It really is medicine for me. If I can get either 10,000 steps in or a vigorous 2- or 3-mile walk in, I feel like a different person. It reduces my anxiety and seems to make my brain cylinders fire faster. I used to think I didn’t have time to exercise, but I’m so much more efficient on days when I work out that I now feel that I don’t have time not to exercise! I’ve been trying to add a longer walk on weekends—there’s a six-mile loop that goes from from my house in Brooklyn over the Manhattan Bridge, through Chinatown, then back over the Brooklyn Bridge to home. Doing that walk makes me so happy!

    What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    That nobody is coming to save me, and that happiness is a choice. I used to have this fantasy (Well, I see it as a fantasy now. At the time, I thought it was a fact.) that if I did X, Y, or Z the world would just fall into place. When people did things that made my life more difficult, I took it very personally—it would hurt my feelings and I’d feel like a victim, which was exhausting for me and also for the people around me. Now I know that my happiness comes from how I choose to react to the circumstances of my life, not from the circumstance itself. Most of us are lucky in that we have more agency in our lives than we may realize. If we do nothing but try to manage well what we do have control over, we’ll find that we have more control than we think. This realization makes it easier to deal with the things we actually can’t control.

    You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you—or your readers—most?

    My work at The Moth involves people telling stories from their own lives in front of live audiences around the world. The best stories end up on our radio show and podcast and in our books. There’s a narrative being shared in the media right now that we are a country divided, and that the damage of that division is beyond repair. But I find again and again that what connects us to one another is almost always bigger than what separates us. I’ve seen people from very different backgrounds, with differing belief systems, bond deeply after hearing each other’s stories. On our first national tour, our storytellers included a retired NYPD detective and a former pickpocket who had spent years in Attica. Back in the day, their turf was Greenwich Village and they definitely would have been at odds with each other. But through telling their stories night after night they became close friends. We see this again and again. More recently, there’s David Montgomery, who has a story in our new book, Occasional Magic, about quitting his job to follow the Spice Girls around on their last world tour. The story is really about him becoming comfortable in his own skin as a gay man and how he and his mother were able to repair their strained relationship. After the story aired, he received several emails from parents of gay children who heard his story and then reached out to their own estranged children. We were all blown away by this!

    Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    I have pretty much cut out sugar and I no longer drink soda. I was able to do it by focusing on how much better and more energetic I feel without it!

    Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

    I am definitely an Obliger, though I wanted to resist that when I first heard about the Tendencies. What gave me pause is that I’m very often Obliger-like, but I also have a pretty strong streak of Rebel in me at times. One day I heard you talking on your podcast about Obliger Rebellion and a big lightbulb went off. I realized I’d been obliging for so long that in some ways (as I later joked with my friends) my life had become one big Obliger Rebellion. Embracing this has helped me bring about some meaningful change in my life. For instance, I’m working on eating healthier and exercising, and as an Obliger I benefit from outward accountability. But it doesn’t entirely work without a few Rebel rules thrown in (like telling myself that I’m the kind of person who runs in the park every morning, or that I’m the kind of person who sets a healthy example for my nine-year-old son).  

    Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g., travel, parties, email)

    The disease of busyness is always a threat to my habits. When I’m away from work and completely in control of my own time, I tend to do well. I wake up early, read, meditate, walk daily, cook, and eat healthfully. I hear about people indulging too much on vacations, but for me it’s usually just the opposite. But when things get busy it’s very easy for my healthy habits to fall by the wayside. It helps me to remember how much happier I am when I stick with my habits, and actually doing things every day keeps me from the dreaded “decision fatigue.”

    This is a little embarrassing to admit, but I have quotes and poems that inspire me set to pop up regularly on my electronic “to-do” list so that I re-read them daily/weekly/monthly and then check them off as “done.” The quotes change depending on what I’m working on right then, and they help keep me in touch with my deepest values instead of getting dragged down by the details of daily life. One of them is actually a quote from you, Gretchen, that speaks to this: “Habits are freeing and energizing because they get us out of the draining, difficult business of making decisions and using our self-control. When something’s important to us, and we want it to happen frequently, making it into a habit means that it does happen, and without a lot of fuss.” Amen!

    Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    I am stumped by this question, but I will say that thousands upon thousands of Moth stories are about a lightning bolt moment—something that happened that forever changed the storyteller.

    Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)

    “The price of glory is high.” My high school marching band director used to say that, and it’s true. When I’m feeling overwhelmed by my to-do list, I try to remember how lucky I am to have a job that I love, doing work that’s meaningful to me. So it’s worth the occasional sacrifice.

    Has a book ever changed your life—if so, which one and why?

    Yes: Here If You Need Me by Kate Braestrup. I always say that if I could force everyone I love to read just one book it would be that one. Kate is the chaplain for the Maine game wardens, so she’s the person sitting with you if your child is lost in the woods. She also takes care of the game wardens themselves when things go wrong. The book is about how to hold space for your community during difficult times, and I read it during a particularly challenging period in my life, when I was trying to show up for our staff after a tumultuous event. Kate’s work has helped me find the courage to lead and show up as my best self even when I’m not feeling particularly strong or capable in the moment. She writes about a lot of serious things, but she’s also one of the funniest people I know, so the book is a joy to read. Kate has gone on to tell a number of riveting stories at The Moth.

    In your field, is there a common misperception or incorrect assumption that you’d like to correct?

    People think that by practicing telling a story it won’t feel spontaneous and you’ll make the story worse. But the opposite is true. The more you know the beats of your story, the more you can have fun with it and play with it on stage. You need to have the scaffolding in place and really know where the story is going if you want to be able to improv and play on stage. Moth stories aren’t memorized, but a great deal of time goes into crafting them so they can be told well in ten minutes. Ironically, it takes a lot of practice to appear spontaneous on stage!

     
  • feedwordpress 09:00:11 on 2019/03/19 Permalink
    Tags: author interview, , , , , Julie Zhou, , , The Making of a Manager,   

    “It’s Okay for a Manager to Say, ‘I Don’t Know, But Let’s Figure It Out Together.’” 


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    Interview: Julie Zhuo

    Julie Zhuo is one of Silicon Valley’s top product design executives. She leads the teams behind some of the world's most popular mobile and web services used by billions of people every day. She writes about technology, design, and leadership on her popular blog The Year of the Looking Glass and in publications like the New York Times and Fast Company. She graduated with a computer science degree from Stanford University and lives with her husband and two children in California.

    Now she's written a terrific book about her insights, experiences, mistakes, and conclusions called The Making of a Manager: What to Do When Everyone Looks to You. It's a fascinating look at how to manage—especially when your team keeps getting bigger and bigger.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Julie about happiness, habits, and productivity.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Julie: I take 10 to 20 minutes every night before I go to bed to do something that’s just for me. Seventy percent of the time, it’s me lighting a candle and reading a few pages of my “book of the moment,” (I’m currently reading The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas), but I also sometimes do crossword puzzles, watch a video, or catch up with friends over text. I started to do this during a period of my life when I was extremely stressed after coming back to work from parental leave, which I talk about in my book, The Making of a Manager. I was having trouble falling asleep at night because I was furiously working until my head hit the pillow. I realized I needed a “transition” period into sleep—some time that was solely for me where I could do anything I wanted without feeling guilty about it. So that’s where this habit started. I’ve slept a lot better since.

    Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Julie: That as time passes, happiness feels less like pure joy and more like deep satisfaction or contentment. It’s like the flavor has changed from fireworks to a lovely scenic view.

    Gretchen: Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    Julie: Fitness is my Achilles heel. I love the idea of being strong and healthy and having a daily regime. I hate the actual feeling of exercising. All of those people who rave about getting that “runner’s high” where you’re in this blissful state where it feels like you can just keep on going forever? Nope, that is the opposite of my experience. Every time I am exercising (and I have tried many, many times to get on that bandwagon), the only thing that is in my mind is, “Wow, this sucks. When can I stop?” I’d start classes or set New Year’s resolutions or train for a 5K over the course of weeks, sometimes even months, but inevitably I’d slip back into my old habit, and I’d lapse into months of no exercise again. This was the pattern until about four years ago, when I stumbled upon an insight of building "tiny habits." I started to set a goal of exercising for 10-15 minutes a day every morning. It felt like so little time that there really was no excuse. I could always manage to squeeze it in right before a shower. And it was short enough that the pain would be relatively contained. I found I was able to keep this habit going indefinitely.

    Gretchen: Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

    Julie: Upholder. I take my obligations to others and to myself seriously. If you come over for dinner, I will stuff you silly with great food but also stuff myself silly.

    Gretchen: Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties, email)

    Julie: I’m pretty good at staying present, but I am been known to succumb to the power of an overactive phone lighting up with pings and e-mails. I’ve found the best solution is to quarantine the phone for specific hours of the day, especially weekends, so I can focus on spending time with my family.

    Gretchen: Have you ever been hit by a "lightning bolt," where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    Julie: I love January and the feeling of the the promise of a New Year, so my husband and I have a tradition called “Cleanuary,” where we try to create a recurring lightning bolt. For the month of January, we set ambitious health and cleaning goals and stick to them for 31 days as a cleanse from the excesses of the holidays. On the health side, we’ve done things like Whole30, a month of yoga, a Paleo diet, running every day, etc. On the cleaning side, we go through and Marie Kondo our entire house. Since it’s only a month, we ask our friends for suggestions on the latest health and lifestyle trends and incorporate them into our Cleanuary experiment. It’s much less daunting than the “stick- to-a-resolution-for-a-whole-year,” and sometimes little habits will emerge that change our lives beyond the month. For example, we eat much less sugar now than we used to, we learned to love black coffee, and we live with less stuff.

    Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)

    Julie: I don’t have a particular favorite saying or motto, but in starting my blog, one of the quotes I happened upon was from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass: "I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.” I liked it because it carried the whimsy of Wonderland, and also because it suggested growth—that every day we can learn and change and become better. I ended up calling my blog “The Looking Glass” because I wanted it to be a reflection of my personal growth.

    Gretchen: Has a book ever changed your life—if so, which one and why?

    Julie: This one is easy. Mindset by Carol Dweck. I grew up as a perfectionist with the notion that there was a “correct” or “best” way to do everything. I believed life was a series of tests where you tried your best to achieve that “best” way. When I read Mindset, I was stunned to discover that this mentality had a name—fixed mindset—and was an incredibly limiting way to think about the world. The alternative mindset was growth mindset, which meant adopting the stance that there is no such thing as perfect. Everything can be improved with will and effort. This was so powerful to read and completely changed my perspective on how I approach failure, how I give or receive feedback, how willing I am to take on new challenges. Every day, I see examples of tension or lack of confidence in the workplace, and so much of it boils down to people’s mindsets. Recognizing and addressing this is something I talk a lot about in The Making of a Manager.

    Gretchen: In your field, is there a common misperception or incorrect assumption that you’d like to correct?

    Julie: The Making of a Manager is about management, so here’s one of the biggest misconceptions: that managers know all the answers. This is a huge fallacy, and makes many early career managers feel secretly inadequate or come to the table with a case of savior’s complex. A manager’s job is to help a group of people get to an answer, not to know everything herself. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know, but let’s figure it out together.” It’s okay to express vulnerability. In my experience, doing so wins you more credibility and nets you a stronger team effort than pretending like you’ve got that perfect master plan.

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:09 on 2019/02/21 Permalink
    Tags: Ashley Whillans, author interview, , Harvard Business Review, , , , Time for Happiness,   

    “If Time is Money, Money Can Also Buy Happier Time.” 


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    Interview: Ashley Whillans

    Ashley Whillans is a Harvard Business School professor and behavioral scientist whose research explores the connection between how we spend time to how we experience happiness. Her recent Harvard Business Review series "Time Poor and Unhappy" looks at why we feel so starved for time today when, in fact, we have more discretionary hours than ever before.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Ashley about happiness, habits, and productivity.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Ashley: My colleagues and I have conducted survey and experimental research with nearly 100,000 working adults from around the world. Across studies, we find that the happiest people prioritize time over money. People who are willing to give up money to gain more free time—such as by working fewer hours or paying to outsource disliked tasks—experience more fulfilling social relationships, more satisfying careers, and more joy. Overall, people who prioritize time over money live happier lives. Importantly, the benefits of choosing time over money emerge for the wealthy and less wealthy alike. Even spending as little as $40 to save time can significantly boost happiness and reduce stress. Our research suggests that even small actions—like savoring our meals, engaging in 30 minutes of exercise, or having a 5-minute conversation with a colleague (vs. focusing on work) can significantly shape happiness, more than most of us predict.

    Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you—or your readers—most?

    Ashley: Over and over, I find that prioritizing time over money increases happiness. Despite this, most people continue striving to make more money. For example, in one survey, only 48 percent of respondents reported that they would rather have more time than more money. Even the majority of people who were most pressed for time—parents with full-time jobs and young children at home—shared this preference for money over time. In another study, the very wealthy (i.e., individuals with over 3 million dollars of liquid wealth sitting in the bank) did not always prioritize time over money either. These data suggest that a key challenge to reducing feelings of time stress and increasing happiness for a broad range of the population is psychological: most people erroneously believe that wealth will make our lives better. Research shows that once people make more than enough to meet their basic needs, additional money does not reliably promote greater happiness. Yet over and over, our choices do not reflect this reality.

    Gretchen: Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    Ashley: As a happiness researcher, I should know better than to choose money over time. Yet, admittedly, like most people, I make these trade-offs suboptimally. I worked for an hour during my wedding reception and I can often be found typing on my laptop or taking work meetings in spa locker rooms. However, a recent experience solidified for me the importance of focusing on time over money. Two weeks ago, one of my closest friends from graduate school shared some devastating news: Her 32-year-old, fit, healthy partner was dying. Out of nowhere, her partner was diagnosed with terminal metastatic cancer. He was given three months to live. In her fundraising page my friend wrote, “We thought we had all the time in the world.” Today, my friend and her boyfriend ‘immediately-turned-husband’ are trying to savor every second of their time together before the inevitable. As a 30-year old myself, who has focused most of the last 10 years on my career (often at the expense of my sleep, my health, and my personal relationships), this experience was a wake-up call. None of us know how much time we have left, and we cannot take money with us. I have studied the importance of prioritizing time for years. And now, I have started truly trying to live this priority.

    Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)

    Ashley: Benjamin Franklin wrote “Time is Money.” My personal mantra is a play on this familiar quote: “If Time is Money, Money Can Also Buy Happier Time."

    Gretchen: Has a book ever changed your life—if so, which one and why?

    Ashley: The book that changed my life is Dan Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness. This book introduced me to the scientific study of well-being. Dan Gilbert argues that we often mispredict what will make us happy. His persuasive arguments and energetic, insightful and witty writing inspired me to become a social scientist. Specifically, this book solidified my interest in conducting research to learn how to successfully nudge all of us to spend our time and money in ways that are most likely to promote happiness.

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:27 on 2019/02/14 Permalink
    Tags: , author interview, , , , Cozy: The Art of Arranging Yourself in the World, , , Isabel Gillies, ,   

    “Making One’s Bed In My Mind Is the Most Direct Road to a Happier Life.” 


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    Interview: Isabel Gillies

    Now, how do I know Isabel Gillies? The answer is lost in the sands of time. We have several mutual friends, perhaps that's how.

    She has had a very interesting, varied career. She is an actor who appeared, among other places, on the TV show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and in the movie Metropolitan.

    She's also a highly successful writer. Her bestselling memoir Happens Every Day: An All-Too-True Story recounts the story of how her first marriage broke up, while A Year and Six Seconds: A Love Story is about the challenge of getting on with her life after the divorce; her young-adult novel Starry Night is about the passion of first love.

    Now in her latest book, she's tackled a different kind of subject: Cozy: The Art of Arranging Yourself in the World.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Isabel about happiness, habits, and productivity.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Isabel: Making one's bed in my mind is the most direct road to a happier life. It's manageable, satisfying and cozy.

    What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    As I edge closer to 50, I find that happiness comes from trying the best you can to stay right in the very moment you are in. Don't worry about the past or future, just be in the moment. Noticing the light, or a smell, or the sound of the dog breathing will help you just be right where you are.

    You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you—or your readers—most?

    I did a lot of research for Cozy, and what tickled me the most was that when I asked people what makes them cozy, everyone smiled.

    Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    YES! I quit smoking. I used a nicotine patch. Right before I turned 25 I thought, "It's kind of sexy to see a young woman smoking, it's really not sexy to see an older woman smoking." I marched to the drug store, got the patch and never smoked again. It was about making up my mind, and committing.

    Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

    Upholder (just took the quiz).

    Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties, email)

    TEENAGERS! No, it's not them per se, it's my inability to stay in the moment, and put everything in its right place. Someone once told me that teenagers are on a roller coaster and as a parent your job is NOT to get on the roller coaster with them—just stand on the side. Sometimes I get on.

    Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    Even though I'm healthy (knock on wood), recently my doctor told me I had gained 12 pounds in 2 years. I have always eaten anything I wanted, whenever I wanted—but I guess when I hit menopause that all got turned on its ear. I walked out of his office and decided I would think more about calories in, calories out, and act on it daily—I got an app! I'm having radical acceptance about it. We change—what is there to do but deal with it?

    Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”) Or a quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful?

    "Radical Acceptance."

    Has a book ever changed your life—if so, which one and why?

    Stephen King's On Writing. When I decided to become a writer, I read his book and followed his lead. I'm dyslexic and was an actress. I never had any expectation of becoming a writer so I never took a class or workshop. King was my teacher.

    In the area you’re writing about, is there a common misperception or incorrect assumption that you’d like to correct?

    I'm writing about being cozy. I think people believe coziness is about fires, hot chocolate and cashmere sweaters. I'm making the case that coziness comes from the truth of who you are. You can be cozy on the subway; I always am. If you know what you like, your beat, your point of view, you can carry that anywhere you find yourself and call upon it to find coziness, even challenging circumstances like a hospital.

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:19 on 2019/02/07 Permalink
    Tags: author interview, , , Brave Not Perfect, Girls Who Code, , Reshma Saujani   

    “Sometimes I Have to Remind Myself that Being the Best Me Doesn’t Mean Saying ‘Yes’ to Every Meeting.” 


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    Interview: Reshma Saujani

    Reshma Saujani founded a tech organization called Girls Who Code, and she served as the Deputy Public Advocate in the Office of the Public Advocate here in New York City.

    In addition to that, she's just written a new book: Brave, Not Perfect: Fear Less, Fail More, and Live Bolder.

    So many of my favorite Secrets of Adulthood are observations along these lines. Don't get it perfect, get it started. Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good. If I'm not failing, I'm not trying hard enough. Enjoy the fun of failure. The best time to start is now. Wherever I am, and whenever it is, I'm in the right place to begin. Etc.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Reshma about happiness, habits, and productivity.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Reshma: Getting in my morning workout! I know that I feel my best and I do my best when I’ve spent an hour sweating it out and showering before sitting down at my desk in the morning. And my favorite part? I schedule it to be inconvenient to others! Sure, my dog Stan needs to go for a walk and my son Shaan wants to play Rescue Bots with me, but I take that hour for me—and I’m a better mom, a better thinker, and a better boss for it.

    Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Reshma: When I was 18, I thought I had it all figured out—I was going to change the world, and that meant hitting every checkpoint along the way perfectly. I had to be the perfect immigrant daughter—I was going to go to Yale Law School like so many other politicians and I was going to get 100% in every class and do everything just right. And even though it took a few tries, I did that. I got into Yale and graduated with a law degree, but I still wasn’t happy. It wasn’t until I did something that totally terrified me—quitting my cushy job and running for office—that I realized that bravery (and sometimes failing!) really was the secret to living my best life.

    Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you—or your readers—most?

    Reshma: I did a ton of research when writing Brave, Not Perfect, and one story that I can’t get out of my head right now is how deeply ingrained that impulse to please really is. One study from ABC News, with the help of psychologist Campbell Leaper from the University of California, is especially powerful—and the video is even better! The researchers gave groups of boys and girls a glass of lemonade that was objectively awful (they added salt instead of sugar) and asked how they liked it. The boys immediately said, “Eeech . . . this tastes disgusting!” All the girls, however, politely drank it, even choked it down. Only when the researchers pushed and asked the girls why they hadn’t told them the lemonade was terrible did the girls admit that they hadn’t wanted to make the researchers feel bad.

    Gretchen: Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

    Reshma: I think I’m an Obliger! [Gretchen: Yes, that certainly seems correct.] I’ve always struggled with perfectionism, and trying to do everything that was expected of me, but a lot of the times, I’ll give up on listening to myself. I’ve definitely been working on that, and I’m a lot better at doing things for me than I used to be.

    Gretchen: Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties, email)

    Reshma: If anything, I’m usually the one standing in the way of my own happiness! I’m a notorious vacation email-checker, and sometimes I have to remind myself that being the best me doesn’t mean saying yes to every meeting. There are definitely times where I’ve taken a look at my calendar and had to put on my brave face and email people to change my RSVP to no! It’s always a balance—and I’m still working on getting that right.

    Gretchen: Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    Reshma: My lightning bulb moment came in 2008. I was in a job that I hated, miles away from the life I thought I would be living and definitely not changing the world. I’d done everything “right”—gone to the “right” schools, met the “right” people, and taken the “right” jobs. But I was crying myself to sleep every night and dreading work every morning. When I heard Hillary Clinton giving her concession speech after the losing the primary, something she said struck me: that just because she failed doesn’t mean that the rest of us should give up on our goals and dreams. And I realized that there was no reason not to do exactly what I had always wanted to do: run for office! I called my dad, and I was so afraid to disappoint him, since there’s such a big pressure as a child of immigrant parents to have this perfect life. And what did he say when I said I was quitting my job? “It’s about time!” We’re our own harshest critics and so much of our perfectionism is actually self-imposed. The people in our lives, we think we are doing it all for them—but really they just want us to be happy.

    Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)

    Reshma: One small thing that has totally been a game-changer for me is the word “yet.” Sometimes I get stuck in a rut of negativity, thinking “I’m not good at building my son’s toys,” “I can’t fix the broken setting on my computer,” or even “I’m just not good at saying no.” Tack on the word yet—and it’s a whole new mindset. Psychologist and motivational pioneer Carol Dweck referred to this as embracing the “power of yet” as opposed to “the tyranny of now.” It’s one of my favorite strategies for getting a little braver in my everyday life—I might not be there yet, but I will be one day.

    Gretchen: In your field, is there a common misperception or incorrect assumption that you’d like to correct?

    Reshma: First: I think we mistake perfection for excellence—and they are two different things. Excellence is a way of being, not a target you hit or miss. It allows you to take pride in the effort, regardless of the outcome. The irony is that perfectionism can actually impede excellence because the anxiety about screwing up that comes with perfectionism can actually be crippling.

    Second: there’s also a difference between striving for success and striving for perfection. So many women today are ambitious. But being a go-getter doesn’t make you gutsy. Perfectionism leads us to following the “expected path” without questioning if it’s genuinely right for us.

    brave not perfect

     
  • Crystal Ellefsen 21:15:39 on 2019/01/31 Permalink
    Tags: author interview, , , , , Mollie West Duffy, No Hard Feelings,   

    “Caring Too Much About a Job Is Unhelpful and Unhealthy.” 


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    What is the role of emotions in the workplace? How do you stay happy when other people are grouchy or stressed out? How do you unplug from work concerns to enjoy true leisure?

    I think about questions like these all the time, so I was very interested to hear about a new book, No Hard Feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work.

    Liz Fosslien is a strategy and design consultant who has worked with companies including Salesforce, Ernst & Young, and the Stanford d.School.

    Mollie West Duffy is an organizational designer at IDEO New York. She has helped companies and start-ups such as Casper develop good workplace culture.

    If you love a great self-assessment quiz, you can take their quiz about "Emotions and You" to help you understand yourself, your team, and your organization better. Also, if you preorder their book, they have a special bonus for you here.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Liz and Mollie about happiness, habits, and productivity.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Liz: I take photos of any design that I find interesting. I recently photographed: lotion packaging at Trader Joe’s, a tiny neon snail graffiti, some vibrant bricks, a sparkly Peet’s coffee cup, tangled white and gray wires, and a patch of floor dust. When I feel stuck in a creative rut, I scroll through my weird photos for inspiration.

    Mollie: Exercising first thing in the morning. It can be a run, barre class, or even reading my email and the news on my ipad while walking on the treadmill. Even if I only do it for 20 minutes, it gives me energy for the day, and no matter what else happens the rest of the day, at least I’ve accomplished that.

    Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Liz: I wish I knew that happiness doesn’t mean always being happy. I used to fall into I’m-going-feel-like-this-forever spirals, which only made my bad feelings feel worse (e.g. I would get anxious about feeling anxious). Now when I have a blue moment, I realize it’s ok, and that I’ll feel better again soon.

    Mollie: That we have control over our own thoughts and thought patterns. I love the quote by Deepak Chopra: “There are only two things we can put our imagination to: one is anxiety, which is a form of imagination, and one is creativity. And we have to choose creativity in order to transform the world.”

    Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you—or your readers—most?

    Liz: I knew that interviews aren’t the best way of assessing job applicants, but I was still surprised by this study: Yale Professor Jason Dana and his colleagues asked two groups of students to predict their classmates’ GPAs. One group only had access to past grades and current course enrollment, while the other was also allowed to conduct interviews. The students who interviewed their classmates were significantly worse at predicting future GPA. Even scarier, most didn’t notice that some interviewees had been instructed to give random and sometimes nonsensical responses.

    Mollie: Our readers are surprised to learn that emotions can also go viral. Researchers at Baylor University found a nasty coworker not only makes you and your family grumpy but may have a ripple effect that extends as far as your partner’s workplace. It happens like this: I come home irritated because of my crabby colleague and snap at my husband. He catches my bad mood and goes to work the next day equally irritable. My colleague’s sour attitude might then spread to my husband’s coworkers.

    Gretchen: Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    Mollie: I’m constantly working at being a better sleeper. I often have a hard time falling asleep, even though I go to bed early. I have created an elaborate bedtime ritual that usually helps. I watch 10-15 minutes of a slow British TV show (I highly recommend Escape to the Country on Netflix) in bed to unwind, and then listen to a boring audiobook on a 30-minute sleep timer. I also sleep with an eye mask, earplugs, and a white noise machine. My husband is a comedian, and he has worked this ritual into a joke he tells on stage.

    Gretchen: Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

    Liz: I am a Questioner—I find it hard to work on something when there isn't a clear goal. The upside is that I can use specific and sometimes overly ambitious goals to motivate myself. When I wanted to learn HTML, I sketched out a complicated website design, and with that vision in mind, was able to slog through a bunch of tutorials and documentation and actually build it.

    Mollie: I am definitely an Upholder. My mom has been telling me to “do less” since I was a small child. I am such a creature of habit, so the Upholder “discipline is my freedom” motto really resonates with me. Liz and I worked well together with this tendency combination. With the help of many Google Drive folders and documents, I made sure that we met all our deadlines (our editors were shocked when we handed our manuscript in ahead of schedule!), and Liz saw that our finished product was pithy and punchy by questioning until each section was necessary and helpful.

    Gretchen: Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties, email)

    Mollie: As an Upholder and an introvert, I can take on too much. There are daily habits like exercise, reading, and meditation, that I need to do for myself. But I also like to meet work, social, and book obligations. When I get overscheduled, I get overwhelmed.

    Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”) Or a quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful?

    Liz: I’ve always loved this line by Toni Morrison: “You wanna fly, you got to give up the sh*t that weighs you down.” It’s a good reminder to say no sometimes and to stop listening to the “you can’t do this” monster that lives in your brain.

    Gretchen: Has a book ever changed your life—if so, which one and why?

    Liz: I started drawing comics because of Calvin & Hobbes. There is a storyline where Calvin finds an injured raccoon and tries to nurse it back to health, but the raccoon doesn’t make it. Calvin and Hobbes mourn the raccoon and confront what it means to die. The entire story is told in black-and-white drawings, but it made me cry. To me, Calvin & Hobbes is such a shining example that you don’t need anything fancy to create a thing that will stick in someone’s heart forever.

    Gretchen: In your field, is there a common misperception or incorrect assumption that you’d like to correct?

    Liz and Mollie: We’re so often told to “pursue our passion.” It’s easy to assume that means we have to love every aspect of our job, and that work should consume us. But caring too much about a job is unhelpful and unhealthy. It makes small problems seem exceptional and throwaway remarks feel appalling. One of our new rules of emotion at work is to be less passionate about your job. This doesn’t mean don’t care, it just means keep a little more emotional distance between your identity and your work. This offers a solution to a lot of anguish! You won’t hyperventilate before a big presentation. You won’t be frustrated to tears by incompetent teammates. You will actually put your phone away on date night and you won’t be haunted by work FOMO as you backpack through Machu Picchu.

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:23 on 2019/01/15 Permalink
    Tags: , author interview, , , , , Joy Enough, , Sarah McColl   

    “A Life of Contentment and Joy Doesn’t Mean Avoiding Experiences with Loss and Pain.” 


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    Interview: Sarah McColl

    Sarah McColl is a writer who has been published by a wide range of publications, and she also was founding editor-in-chief of Yahoo Foods.

    Her first book just hit the shelves, a memoir called Joy Enough.

    In it, she tackles her experience of simultaneously going through a divorce and losing her mother to cancer—a double blow.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Sarah about happiness, habits, and self-knowledge.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Sarah: When I moved to Los Angeles a little less than a year ago, I started attending a boot camp at the nearby recreation center three mornings a week. There’s a core group of the same women every day. We don’t know the details of one another’s lives, and many of us don’t speak the same language, but I love our sense of community. I know that every morning, rain or shine, we’re going to groan together during glute work and then high-five when it’s over.

    Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Sarah: In my first job after college as an editorial assistant, my boss would walk into my cubicle in her low-heeled Ferragamos, drop off a manuscript, and offer some unsolicited advice. There are many I still rely on, but one that’s come up time and again is: People think relationships will make them happy, but you have to bring happiness to the relationship.

    I knew intellectually what she meant, but it wasn’t until I was in my thirties that I really got it. To have a sense of wholeness on your own—to have passions and friendships and desires and curiosities and ambitions that are all your own, that belong solely to you, and then to choose to be in relationship with someone, someone who you don’t need for those feelings of aliveness in your life, but who brings them all the same—not to mention support, affection, companionship, all the good stuff of loving—that brings so much life and air and, yes, happiness to the dynamic between two people.

    Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you—or your readers—most?

    Sarah: A life of contentment and joy doesn’t mean avoiding experiences with loss and pain. Experiences with death, in fact, can heighten our awareness of and gratitude for living.

    In her book The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky reports on a study in which 70 to 80 percent of people who had lost someone they love reported finding “benefit” to the experience. I don’t think we want a happy life so much as a meaningful one, and the meaning comes from the experience of feeling fully alive.

    Joseph Campbell said this pretty well: “People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”

    I think death, loss, grief, and pain bring us in touch with the rapture of being alive as much as ecstatic happiness and joy.

    Gretchen: Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

    Sarah: Well, apparently I’m an Upholder! These results are interesting to me, and also a bit surprising. Sometimes my self-imposed deadlines and goals get in the way of doing what others want or expect from me, and I have a fear that I let people down as a result. But if something is important to me—like writing time, or alone time—I don’t have a problem creating those boundaries for myself.

    If I took this quiz and thought solely of health and exercise, I might turn out as an Obliger or a Rebel. If I say I will meet you for a 6 a.m. spin class, I’ll be there, but if the promise of an early morning exercise class is just to myself, I will hit snooze. Three times. The idea of a diet that tells me what to eat when makes me want to totally rebel. I definitely have a contrarian streak.

    Gretchen: Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    Sarah: My mother lived with Stage IV cancer for more than a year. It’s very clarifying when the stakes are life and death for someone you love. I moved home to be with her, to tend her garden and cook dinner, to talk about her fear of death and what I was going to do with my life. Everything became urgent, and if there was something I wanted to do, what was I waiting for? With her encouragement, I applied to graduate school to study writing, and quit my job as an editor-in-chief to attend school time full-time. This decision divided the people in my life into two categories: the people who thought this was brave, exciting, and wonderful and the people who thought I was crazy. But I knew I had to devote myself to what I had most wanted to do since I was a child, which was to write, and that I had to do it now.

    Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to Be Gretchen.”) Or a quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful?

    Sarah: You got this is one I turn to in times of trouble, large and small. Driving in scary rush hour traffic? You got this. Pitching a big magazine? You got this. Pushing out those last reps? You got this. (Actually, I say, “Light weight, baby. Light weight,” which I stole from a weight lifter friend.)

    But someone told me something recently that really struck me with its beauty: Feelings are powerful, and they pass.

    My mother used to say, “Feeling is living to me,” and that’s my experience, too. The world of my mind and my heart is the world to me. Everyone’s experience is filtered through consciousness, of course, but what I mean is that I trust my feelings. I’m invested in them. The guy next to me on the bus doesn’t and needn’t care about my inner life—he’s got his own—but I care a lot.

    There are obvious downfalls to this, one of which is that’s a lot of emotional labor to be doing all of the time. So learning how to navigate that intense emotional world is really part of my work as an adult. How do I live and experience and love deeply in ways that make me braver, more powerful, more resilient?

    Writing is a huge part of this for me. If I can investigate on the page why I feel the way I feel and what it means, whether in a poem or a story or an essay, then I’ve created something artful and made a discovery about what it means to be alive. Boom! Net positive. I think the very practice of being vulnerable to our emotional lives—allowing and experiencing our feelings, and knowing we have the strength to feel things deeply and still survive—that’s the practice. That’s the work I’m up to. (You got this.)

    Gretchen: Has a book ever changed your life—if so, which one and why?

    Sarah: Every book I love changes me. Reading is so intimate. We take someone else’s words inside our body. So reading something that fills me with awe and wonder, that opens my eyes to something I’ve never considered, or puts its finger on a thing I have always felt but have never articulated—I live for that! The poem “What the Living Do,” by Marie Howe; Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner; the poem “Meditation at Lagunitas” by Robert Hass; the poem "We Are Both Sure to Die" by Wendy Xu; the recently-released second volume of Sylvia Plath’s letters; Maggie O’Farrell’s I Am I Am I Am; Sheila Heti’s Motherhood; I Love Dick by Chris Kraus; The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm. All I ever want to read about is what it all means, what other people are making of life. Or, as Miranda July writes in the also changed-me It Chooses You, “All I ever really want to know is how other people are making it through life—where do they put their body, hour by hour, and how do they cope inside of it.”

    Gretchen: In your field, is there a common misperception or incorrect assumption that you’d like to correct?

    Sarah: Aside from marketing and sales reasons, I don’t understand a commitment to genre in writing or in reading. “I only read nonfiction,” I heard someone say recently. Or, “I expect more from novels than I do from memoirs.” Wait, what? Why, I wondered? I love when writers blur the lines or ignore them or invent something new: autobiographical fiction, lyric prose, prose poems. I love surprising structures and forms, like an essay in the form of Trivial Pursuit answers. Maybe it’s because I like variety or because I’m greedy, but I want all the beauty, all the insight, all the awe. Who cares what it’s called. So maybe I am a Rebel after all.

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:56 on 2019/01/08 Permalink
    Tags: author interview, , , Julie Morgenstern, , , ,   

    “Humans (Including Children) Thrive on Short Bursts of Focused Attention—Literally 5 to 20 Minutes at a Time—Delivered Consistently.” 


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    I got to know Julie Morgenstern's terrific work from her many bestselling books on order, productivity, time management, and organization. In particular, I'm a big fan of Organizing from the Inside Out: The Foolproof System for Organizing Your Home, Your Office and Your Life. At the end of Outer Order, Inner Calm, I suggest just a few books for further reading, and this book is one of them. It's concrete, practical, and realistic. I also love Shed Your Stuff, Change Your Your Lifereally, I like all her books.
    Now Julie Morgenstern has tackled an order/organization/productivity subject that bedevils many of us, in her new book Time to Parent: Organizing Your Life to Bring Out the Best in Your Child and You.  

    How do we manage the family schedule? How do we use smartphones wisely? How do we give kids a lot our care and attention, but also take care of ourselves? Julie tackles issues like these and puts these issues into perspective.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Julie about happiness, habits, and productivity.
    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Julie: Every morning I do a 5 to 7-minute exercise routine. It’s a combination of sit-ups, push-ups, Pilates moves, and aerobics that I’ve been doing, religiously, since I was 13 years old. I do it no matter where I am—on a trip, at home, overnight at a friend’s house—all it requires is enough floor space for the length of my body, some width to kick and that’s it. This little routine is as natural to me as brushing my teeth or making my bed: my day doesn’t feel complete (or off on the right foot) without having done it. For me, it ensures that I’ve started the day by doing something for myself; strengthening my body and getting centered. I pull on that well of strength all day long, no matter what I’m doing.

    Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Julie: How much having a balanced life leads to happiness. At 18, I was intensely, some may say myopically, focused on work accomplishments. I haven’t necessarily lost that ability to hyper-focus, but for a long time—probably well into my thirties—I felt most invigorated by what I was able to get done. I thought fun was frivolous, a waste of time. My dad, who was quite committed to fun, used to ask me all the time, “Jul, what are you doing for fun?” And I’d say, “Dad, are you kidding me? I’ve got things to do! No time to waste!” Eventually, I  realized that to really be happy and fulfilled, I couldn’t possibly put all my eggs in one basket  (in my case, work; but for other people it might be a relationship or a role as a parent).

    When it comes to happiness, I’ve learned it’s good to diversify your sources. Balancing your time and energy across a bunch of different things that bring you fulfillment—work, friendships, family,  self care-creates a strong foundation, a safety net for joy at any given moment. If one category is under-delivering, you can turn to another reliable source for happiness, and stay resilient as each department of your life goes through natural ups and downs. I know my dad would approve.

    Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you—or your readers—most?

    Julie: When I set out to write my latest book Time to Parent, the instruction manual on how to organize and manage our time during the child-rearing years, my burning question was this: How much time and attention do kids need to feel loved and secure? While I had 30 years of extensive experience coaching and organizing parents around the world, I wasn’t a parenting expert, so I had to turn to the experts on human development and the science to see what the research had to say.  I got lost in the stacks—for about eight years! I read hundreds of studies, volumes of books and interviewed leading  experts in every field from pediatrics to psychology to sociology and education.

    The research was astonishing—science is exploding with discoveries about the power of time and attention to human development—and it helped me land on two central lessons of the book. The first is that quality connections between a kid and a caregiver are as essential a nutrient for a child’s development as food and sunshine. Quality, connected time contributes to a child’s self esteem, social competence, academic and career success, executive function and resilience. It even inoculates us against the onset of chronic disease as adults. (This last one really blew me away!) The second lesson is that humans thrive on short bursts of focused attention—literally 5 to 20 minutes at a time—delivered consistently. The book helps parents build space for those bursts in the chaos of every day life. It’s easily the most surprising and liberating thing for parents to understand, because with intention, everyone can make sure kids are getting what they need to thrive and be happy.

    Gretchen: Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    Julie: I started smoking as a teenager and by the time I finally got around to quitting, I was up to two packs a day. Besides the fact that I smelled like a walking ashtray, my entire day was organized around when I could have a cigarette. At some point in my early twenties, I got scared when I noticed how out of breath I got while walking up a set of stairs. What would become of middle-aged me if 20-something me could barely make it up two flights of stairs? After a few false starts, I finally tried hypnosis. The hypnotherapist asked me two simple questions: When do you smoke? What do you get out of smoking? I loved that second question because it helped me realize that every bad behavior has a positive intention. I used smoking as a shot of courage before I had to do something that made me nervous—write a paper, schmooze at a cocktail party, speak in front of a crowd. Once I understood what smoking did for me without judgement, the hypnotherapist asked me to come up with something else. Getting a hug from my parents before school had always done the trick, so she hypnotized me to feel that hug--by just squeezing my fist every time I needed that shot of courage. It worked! And I never smoked again.

    Gretchen: Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    Julie: I was having dinner maybe 12 or 15 years ago with my client and friend, Harriet. We were in a restaurant on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, when an elderly woman, who was a friend of Harriet’s, happened to pass by. Harriet called out to the older woman, Mary, to come in say hello. Mary must have been 93 years old, but she was full of zip and smarts. Harriett, who delighted in people, said, “Mary, you’re 93, what wisdom have you learned in your life?” Mary said “Don’t pay good money for expert advice and not take it.” I instantly internalized that nugget of wisdom and from that day forward have never wasted time paying for good advice and not taking it. I just take it. It saves an enormous energy, second-guessing and worry—all time that can be put to much better use.

    Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)

    Julie: Like everybody else on the planet, I struggle with the lure of distraction; especially when I’m working on a particularly challenging or daunting project. It’s easy to give into shiny objects in close proximity—my email, the Internet, anything else. When I feel myself gravitating away from a given task to my cell phone, I have a simple phrase that pulls me back into the moment: “Is that the highest and best use of my time?” The minute I ask myself that, I’m able to halt the gravitational pull from my iPhone (or my inbox) and be more engaged with the person or project at hand.

    Gretchen: In your field, is there a common misperception or incorrect assumption that you’d like to correct?

    Julie: Oh, yes! Two big things. First, people think organizing is about getting rid of things. That’s wrong. Decluttering is about getting rid of things. Organizing is about designing systems that give you access to what you use and love. It’s about designing systems that help you pursue your goals and live your life by making you more efficient in everything you need and want to do—whether it’s cooking a meal, getting dressed, running a business, getting your kids to soccer practice on time.

    The second misperception is that running the logistics for a family should be manageable for one person. Not so! Organizing for one person is hard enough. Setting up multi-user family systems—for people with different personalities, changing abilities and skills, goals—is incredibly hard for anybody, let alone mere mortals. The solution is to make systems that are simple, automated (when possible) and maintainable by a five-year old. And to share the workload of creating and maintaining a family’s systems—that’s one of the best ways for family members to take care of each other.

    timetoparent

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:56 on 2019/01/08 Permalink
    Tags: author interview, , , Julie Morgenstern, , , ,   

    “Humans (Including Children) Thrive on Short Bursts of Focused Attention—Literally 5 to 20 Minutes at a Time—Delivered Consistently.” 


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    I got to know Julie Morgenstern's terrific work from her many bestselling books on order, productivity, time management, and organization. In particular, I'm a big fan of Organizing from the Inside Out: The Foolproof System for Organizing Your Home, Your Office and Your Life. At the end of Outer Order, Inner Calm, I suggest just a few books for further reading, and this book is one of them. It's concrete, practical, and realistic. I also love Shed Your Stuff, Change Your Your Lifereally, I like all her books.
    Now Julie Morgenstern has tackled an order/organization/productivity subject that bedevils many of us, in her new book Time to Parent: Organizing Your Life to Bring Out the Best in Your Child and You.  

    How do we manage the family schedule? How do we use smartphones wisely? How do we give kids a lot our care and attention, but also take care of ourselves? Julie tackles issues like these and puts these issues into perspective.

    I couldn't wait to talk to Julie about happiness, habits, and productivity.
    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Julie: Every morning I do a 5 to 7-minute exercise routine. It’s a combination of sit-ups, push-ups, Pilates moves, and aerobics that I’ve been doing, religiously, since I was 13 years old. I do it no matter where I am—on a trip, at home, overnight at a friend’s house—all it requires is enough floor space for the length of my body, some width to kick and that’s it. This little routine is as natural to me as brushing my teeth or making my bed: my day doesn’t feel complete (or off on the right foot) without having done it. For me, it ensures that I’ve started the day by doing something for myself; strengthening my body and getting centered. I pull on that well of strength all day long, no matter what I’m doing.

    Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Julie: How much having a balanced life leads to happiness. At 18, I was intensely, some may say myopically, focused on work accomplishments. I haven’t necessarily lost that ability to hyper-focus, but for a long time—probably well into my thirties—I felt most invigorated by what I was able to get done. I thought fun was frivolous, a waste of time. My dad, who was quite committed to fun, used to ask me all the time, “Jul, what are you doing for fun?” And I’d say, “Dad, are you kidding me? I’ve got things to do! No time to waste!” Eventually, I  realized that to really be happy and fulfilled, I couldn’t possibly put all my eggs in one basket  (in my case, work; but for other people it might be a relationship or a role as a parent).

    When it comes to happiness, I’ve learned it’s good to diversify your sources. Balancing your time and energy across a bunch of different things that bring you fulfillment—work, friendships, family,  self care-creates a strong foundation, a safety net for joy at any given moment. If one category is under-delivering, you can turn to another reliable source for happiness, and stay resilient as each department of your life goes through natural ups and downs. I know my dad would approve.

    Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you—or your readers—most?

    Julie: When I set out to write my latest book Time to Parent, the instruction manual on how to organize and manage our time during the child-rearing years, my burning question was this: How much time and attention do kids need to feel loved and secure? While I had 30 years of extensive experience coaching and organizing parents around the world, I wasn’t a parenting expert, so I had to turn to the experts on human development and the science to see what the research had to say.  I got lost in the stacks—for about eight years! I read hundreds of studies, volumes of books and interviewed leading  experts in every field from pediatrics to psychology to sociology and education.

    The research was astonishing—science is exploding with discoveries about the power of time and attention to human development—and it helped me land on two central lessons of the book. The first is that quality connections between a kid and a caregiver are as essential a nutrient for a child’s development as food and sunshine. Quality, connected time contributes to a child’s self esteem, social competence, academic and career success, executive function and resilience. It even inoculates us against the onset of chronic disease as adults. (This last one really blew me away!) The second lesson is that humans thrive on short bursts of focused attention—literally 5 to 20 minutes at a time—delivered consistently. The book helps parents build space for those bursts in the chaos of every day life. It’s easily the most surprising and liberating thing for parents to understand, because with intention, everyone can make sure kids are getting what they need to thrive and be happy.

    Gretchen: Have you ever managed to gain a challenging healthy habit—or to break an unhealthy habit? If so, how did you do it?

    Julie: I started smoking as a teenager and by the time I finally got around to quitting, I was up to two packs a day. Besides the fact that I smelled like a walking ashtray, my entire day was organized around when I could have a cigarette. At some point in my early twenties, I got scared when I noticed how out of breath I got while walking up a set of stairs. What would become of middle-aged me if 20-something me could barely make it up two flights of stairs? After a few false starts, I finally tried hypnosis. The hypnotherapist asked me two simple questions: When do you smoke? What do you get out of smoking? I loved that second question because it helped me realize that every bad behavior has a positive intention. I used smoking as a shot of courage before I had to do something that made me nervous—write a paper, schmooze at a cocktail party, speak in front of a crowd. Once I understood what smoking did for me without judgement, the hypnotherapist asked me to come up with something else. Getting a hug from my parents before school had always done the trick, so she hypnotized me to feel that hug--by just squeezing my fist every time I needed that shot of courage. It worked! And I never smoked again.

    Gretchen: Have you ever been hit by a lightning bolt, where you made a major change very suddenly, as a consequence of reading a book, a conversation with a friend, a milestone birthday, a health scare, etc.?

    Julie: I was having dinner maybe 12 or 15 years ago with my client and friend, Harriet. We were in a restaurant on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, when an elderly woman, who was a friend of Harriet’s, happened to pass by. Harriet called out to the older woman, Mary, to come in say hello. Mary must have been 93 years old, but she was full of zip and smarts. Harriett, who delighted in people, said, “Mary, you’re 93, what wisdom have you learned in your life?” Mary said “Don’t pay good money for expert advice and not take it.” I instantly internalized that nugget of wisdom and from that day forward have never wasted time paying for good advice and not taking it. I just take it. It saves an enormous energy, second-guessing and worry—all time that can be put to much better use.

    Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)

    Julie: Like everybody else on the planet, I struggle with the lure of distraction; especially when I’m working on a particularly challenging or daunting project. It’s easy to give into shiny objects in close proximity—my email, the Internet, anything else. When I feel myself gravitating away from a given task to my cell phone, I have a simple phrase that pulls me back into the moment: “Is that the highest and best use of my time?” The minute I ask myself that, I’m able to halt the gravitational pull from my iPhone (or my inbox) and be more engaged with the person or project at hand.

    Gretchen: In your field, is there a common misperception or incorrect assumption that you’d like to correct?

    Julie: Oh, yes! Two big things. First, people think organizing is about getting rid of things. That’s wrong. Decluttering is about getting rid of things. Organizing is about designing systems that give you access to what you use and love. It’s about designing systems that help you pursue your goals and live your life by making you more efficient in everything you need and want to do—whether it’s cooking a meal, getting dressed, running a business, getting your kids to soccer practice on time.

    The second misperception is that running the logistics for a family should be manageable for one person. Not so! Organizing for one person is hard enough. Setting up multi-user family systems—for people with different personalities, changing abilities and skills, goals—is incredibly hard for anybody, let alone mere mortals. The solution is to make systems that are simple, automated (when possible) and maintainable by a five-year old. And to share the workload of creating and maintaining a family’s systems—that’s one of the best ways for family members to take care of each other.

    timetoparent

     
  • feedwordpress 10:00:21 on 2018/11/29 Permalink
    Tags: author interview, , , Erica Meloe, , , physical therapy, Why Do I Hurt?   

    “The Relationship of Our Body to Our Mind Is More than Just a Tagline. It’s a Real Thing.” 


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    Interview: Erica Meloe

    Fortunately for me, I've know Erica Meloe for years. From time to time, for no apparent reason, I start to have a lot of pain in my neck—or more rarely, shoulder. Usually this pain goes away on its own, but there have been occasions when the pain was bad and didn't seem to be on the mend.

    In those cases, I turn to the brilliant, super-effective Erica Meloe. She's a physical therapist who has made such a difference for me—and for my husband, father-in-law, and brother-in-law, among others.

    She really understands the body in an extraordinary way.

    She just wrote a terrific book, Why Do I Hurt? Discover the Surprising Connections that Cause Physical Pain--and What to Do About Them.

    I'm particularly interested in this book because I've developed a minor preoccupation with the subject of pain (a frightening subject, but interesting).

    I couldn’t wait to talk to Erica about happiness, habits, and productivity.

    Gretchen: What’s a simple activity or habit that consistently makes you happier, healthier, more productive, or more creative?

    Erica: I have been doing a lot of Spinning at Soul Cycle these days and I have never felt more exhilarated! I believe that movement in whatever form, is good for your body, mind and soul. I get an enormous amount of inspiration from exercise. Whether it is the community, the movement or just the feeling of sweating through a good workout, it stirs up my creative juices and I feel more alive. Another habit that I do almost every night is read. I am a huge Jane Austen fan, and try to read something from the Regency period fairly often. It really grounds me.

    Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

    Erica: This is a great question! The first thought that comes to mind is, “That it doesn’t just happen to you, you have to create your own happiness." I think that our definition of happiness changes, as we grow older. And one of the biggest lessons for me is that what I think will make me happy, actually doesn’t make me happy.

    We think if "we get or achieve" certain things or goals, that is the ultimate in happiness. And what I have found, is that it is the little things that make me happy and fill me with gratitude. For example, going to see “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” with my niece, learning something new, or going to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see the “Versailles” exhibit, this is what makes me happy.

    Professionally, helping a patient to problem solve their persistent pain and get them moving better is so rewarding. And even more recently, seeing my book Why Do I Hurt? finally published!

    Making beautiful memories is what happiness is all about for me.

    Gretchen: You’ve done fascinating research. What has surprised or intrigued you – or others – most?

    Erica: What continues to intrigue and motivate me to search for more evidence is that the relationship of our body to our mind is more than just a tagline, it is a real thing. The body has amazing healing powers if we only tap into our own internal resources.

    As a physical therapist, I see so many people affected by persistent pain as is evidenced by the rising rates of consumer opioid abuse. When someone has persistent pain, more often than not, the source of that pain lies somewhere other than their symptomatic body part. Our bodies are such great compensators, that long after an injury or painful part has healed, there are some people who still experience pain.

    What surprises many of my patients is the fact that we also need to treat at least one or two other regions of the body in order for them to achieve any long lasting change. That is the epitome of treating the source versus just treating the symptom.

    What I also find extremely fascinating is that when you give someone a diagnosis, in my field for example, like a “herniated disc” or “your hip or knee is bone-on-bone,” this can be seen as a placebo or alternatively as a nocebo, which can be detrimental. The delivery of a diagnosis to a patient is the most important piece in health care delivery.

    I will stick to physical therapy, as it is my scope of practice, but think about this: “You have bone-on-bone in your hip which is seen on your most recent x-ray and you need a hip replacement." Versus, "You have some degenerative changes in your hip which are very common as you grow older. We call them the 'kisses of time.' You can rehab this or at some point in the future, you may choose to have a very common surgical procedure called a hip replacement. Your CHOICE."

    I believe the first one is a nocebo and the second one is a placebo. Being given a choice versus being told what to do has an enormous impact on how we process pain and ultimately in how we manage it. A health care professional’s words matter.

    Gretchen: What advice do you find yourself giving over and over? If you could wave a magic wand so that just about everyone followed certain habits or practices, what would you choose?

    Erica: I constantly find myself telling people that our body makes unconscious choices in how we move. We resort to old movement strategies or habits that our body sees as “normal.” Our bodies take the path of least resistance until we run out of options. We run a certain way (and we have been running that way for years) until we change something, like our environment, our shoes, our running pattern, and then breakdown occurs. It can manifest as fatigue, pain or lack of endurance as examples.

    Our old habit or strategy that has reached it’s “buckle point” as I like to call it, is now something that needs to be re-patterned or re-trained. I always tell my patients that we need to develop a new habit or a new normal. And that changes depending on the amount of load, stress or activity that we put on our bodies.

    Being open minded to developing new movement patterns, practices or habits is what makes us unique. If I could wave a magic wand (and I would use Hermione’s wand!) it would be to develop many habits or practices. The body responds really well to variance in the sense that if we vary our movements, positions and activities and make that a habit, our bodies would thank us!

    Gretchen: Would you describe yourself as an Upholder, a Questioner, a Rebel, or an Obliger?

    Erica: I thought I would be an Upholder when I took the quiz but my results showed that I am an Obliger! I am working at meeting my inner expectations and learning how to say “no,” more often! I do believe that when you work with patients and are in a healing profession, there is a tendency towards meeting others’ needs ahead of your own.

    Gretchen: Is there a particular motto or saying that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”) Or a quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful?

    Erica: “Faith and Courage” and more recently, “Bring the Joy.”

    Gretchen: Does anything tend to interfere with your ability to keep your healthy habits or your happiness? (e.g. travel, parties, email)

    Erica: As an Obliger, I tend to over-commit and take on too many obligations. Often times, I find myself saying no to certain things because of a deadline or expectation on my part that I have to get something done.

    Gretchen: In your field, is there a common misperception or incorrect assumption that you’d like to correct?

    Erica: Yes, thank you! The biggest misconception is that physical therapy is a uniform profession. That is, the same results will be achieved with any physical therapist. This is simply not true.

    Practices, techniques, and philosophies differ. I have heard many stories where patients have not gotten the results they wanted from a medical provider, but have achieved noticeable benefits when they see a good PT who looks at the body differently from a holistic and integrated perspective.

    So I would encourage all patients to try a new physical therapist if they have not gotten the results they wanted. Their experience may be vastly different with someone else.

    why do I hurt? cover

     
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