Strategies for Gratitude

I know I should be more grateful.  Science shows that thankfulness makes us healthier, happier, stronger, and improves our relationships.

So when I sit down to my journal in the morning, I try to answer the question: “What am I grateful for?”

And, despite all the abundance in my life, I struggle.  When I’m tired, or grouchy, or busy, I find it difficult to be grateful.

So – here are some questions I’m using as better ways to tap into the gratitude and abundance in my life.

  • What was worth savoring today?  What great moments do I want to hold on to?
  • What hidden thing worked magically well?  What tough-to-notice story or well-designed object was worth remembering?
  • What small-world moment did I notice today?  What was connected over space and time in a way that I did not expect?
  • What about today was I not promised?  What was an unexpected gift that I received but didn’t earn?
This is an out of the way place in the world that always fills me with gratitude

I found a few resources helpful on this topic lately:

I hope these questions can encourage you in your day!




Reflection Season: Themes–Energy, Accountability, Creating More

I wanted to write a third post on Reflection Season and resolutions.  Previously, I shared the idea of reflection season, and some frameworks and ideas I’m using.

As I was thinking about what I want to accomplish this year, I chose three themes: Energy, Accountability, and Creating More.  

I settled on themes because there are many areas of my life where I want to make changes.  My life feels pretty crazy right now: kids and dogs, a complicated work portfolio, interests outside of work…   lots going on. My themes apply across many of these areas.

Here’s how I’m thinking about them:

Energy – optimizing for what engages me.  I’ve noticed that what I accomplish is mostly independent of the time and effort I’ve invested.  When I’m engaged and interested, or I feel like I’m learning and making progress, I have much more to show for my effort.  There are a lot of things in work and life that drain my energy and make me less productive.  So I’m paying more attention this year to what activities and behaviors energize me, and I’m giving myself permission to focus on the things that are fun and make me happy.  Common advice is to focus on fewer things to make more progress.  This year, I’m going to worry less about a narrow focus, and more about whether I’m enjoying the things I’m working on.

Accountability – keeping track of how I’m doing.  This year, I’m going to be more intentional about tracking my behaviors and results.  Tactically, I’ve started a spreadsheet on google-docs to keep track of the behaviors I’m working on: how often I exercise, what I’m reading, the best and worst parts of each day.  For many, this will seem like an obvious step.  But – it’s not something I’ve done in the past, and it’s an opportunity.  I’ll share updates as the year goes on.

Creating More – making finished products, no matter how imperfect.  Since I have a lot of interests, and tend to have a lot going on, I often don’t finish what I start.  The “drafts” folder in my inbox is full of unsent emails, my workbench is covered in half-finished products, and I have two dozen books open on my Kindle.  This theme is my reminder that the extra effort to create a finished product is worth it.

Taken together – I’m giving myself permission to work on whatever energizes me this year–with the agreement that I’ll finish the projects I’m enjoying and keep track of the progress I make.

There are a few specific areas I’m going to focus on this year with these themes.

First is my health.  For me, that includes running and lifting, but also working on my mindset, wellbeing, and calm.

Second is work.  I continue to want more fulfillment, calm, and abundance at work: I’ll continue to share lessons and insights here.

Third is finances.  The last five years have been a bit crazy on the financial front, as we’ve had kids, gone to graduate school, moved, started new jobs, etc.  This feels like a year to gain a better grounding and perspective.

Fourth is the logistics of family life.  Things like cooking and activities with the kids can be a source of joy, but also incredibly stressful.  I’m going to try to find more peace and fun in this area of life in the year to come.

I hope you find these ideas encouraging as you work on your own life!



Simple Exercise for Handling Change

I attended a workshop last week with David Morelli on the “Neuroscience of Change.”  I wanted to share a simple exercise from that session on processing ambiguity.

“When we face uncertainty, we fill it in with our fears.”

These steps are designed to help us build helpful connections within our brains, so that we can handle challenges productively.

Here’s the exercise:

  • Think about time when you handled change really well.  Describe the situation.  Why did things go so well?
  • Share this moment in a conversation with a friend.
  • Now, consider how that situation is like what you’re currently going through.  What is common between the two moments?  How are they similar?
  • Share your reflection with a friend, and listen to their reflections.
  • Write down what you learned.

By doing this simple exercise, you’re building a connection between those two situations in your mind:  in a small way, you’re rewiring your brain to handle this situation better.

Photo by Chris Lawton on Unsplash

This works because your brain is a machine where the software writes the hardware.  Over time, our intentions build the neural pathways to bring themselves into reality.

I thought it was a great exercise, and an important reminder as we face the challenges in our lives.

Stay encouraged!

Reflection Season: Frameworks and Ideas

Yesterday, I shared the concept of reflection season.  Today, I wanted to share a few ideas I’m using as I think about my goals and resolutions for the year ahead.

First – it’s my practice: I should do what works for me.  At the start of the new year, there’s no shortage of opinions on resolutions.  Whether you should set them or not, what you should do to be successful, and how many people fail.  I think it’s important to remember growth is an individual process: each person needs to do what works for them–and that will change with the season they’re in and what they’re working on.  The right resolution is whatever you can implement that will bring you back next year, excited for more–even if it seems absurdly small.

Vary your time horizons.  One of the most fulfilling exercises I’ve ever done was setting 3-year goals as a family, instead of one-year goals.  We were in the midst of graduate school with a toddler at home and another on the way.  Things like buying a house, potty training the kids, or taking a vacation seemed impossibly out of reach.  By taking  a longer time horizon, we opened our minds to what we were really excited about, and the possibilities we should consider.  Most of the goals we thought were impossible we achieved far sooner than we thought.

But sometimes short term goals are better.  For 2019, I plan to run a half marathon in August.  I can put that on the calendar now, with a defined date to register and schedule a 3-month training plan.  If you’re making resolutions, consider whether a longer or shorter time horizon would help you implement.

Pivoting your approach.  Sometimes, when planning, I forget to give myself permission to change my approach.  This helps me with goals that involve a regular practice.  Here’s a few questions to help.

  • Can I make this simpler or easier?  I’m planning to do this with fitness.  Instead of trying to complete a workout, I can commit to one rep with a very light weight, or to simply putting on my running clothes on a certain frequency.
  • Would re-framing to lower the benefit help?  If I’m working on project with an expected return, and it takes longer than I expect, I often get discouraged and quit.  Lowering expectations can help.  Instead of writing for readers, consider writing only to become a better writer.  Instead of exercising for looks, consider working out to be able to enjoy a walk with friends.  Instead of committing to an annual project, consider a 3-month experiment.  You’ll be more likely to follow through.
  • Can I make a more substantial investment?  I might do this with something I’m learning or recommitting to.  I could purchase a course, or a hire a coach.  Or I could sign up for a future event that feels like a stretch.  When we make an investment, it can increase our level of commitment.
  • Can I create a system to hold myself accountable?  I could calendar a sustainable rhythm to revisit my progress. Perhaps I can chart how I’m doing each week or month, or I can ask a close friend to share this journey with me.

Choose a framework you love.  I’ve really enjoyed reading about the reflection processes of mentors and friends over the past few months.  Here’s a few.

Write down your plan.  Finally, I am continually amazed by the value of writing down my thoughts and plans.  And, I was shocked to find that–even with all that I do to think about personal growth and change–I couldn’t find my 2018 goals in my files when I was reflecting recently.  So – whatever you commit to, write it down, post in a place you can see, or email it to yourself and a close friend.  You’ll be able to return to it in the future, check how you’re doing, and see how you’ve grown–you’re likely to be amazed at what changed and what stayed the same.

In the next few days I’ll share a few of the insights I had from my reflection season this year.  Stay encouraged, and enjoy your work!


Reflection Season

Recently a friend, through their writing, introduced me to the idea of Reflection Season.  From Thanksgiving through the New Year, they focus on  a period of reflection over the past year and preparation for the year to come.

I love this idea for a few reasons.

First – Most of us pause during the holidays.  It’s a time when work slows down, we travel, see friends and family, and have the opportunity to step away from our daily routine and have the conversations needed to reflect.

Second – Reflection should be paired with gratitude.  If we don’t have the right frame of mind, it’s easy to take the wrong lesson from a situation.  By having more time, and extending reflection through a season of generosity, gratitude, and deep relationships, we are more likely to take the right lessons from our reflection.

Finally – A season of reflection gives the chance to experiment.  If I’m considering a new routine or commitment, I can start during this season and make adjustments before the new year if it’s not working out.

Most of  us probably already set resolutions over the past few days.  If that hasn’t been a fulfilling process, consider what a season of reflection might look like next year, and prepare for it now.

I’ll share a few thoughts I came away from this reflection season with in the next few days.  Until then, stay encouraged and enjoy the start to the new year.



The Promoted Version Of You

A common piece of advice in large companies goes like this: “To get promoted, you’ll have to first perform in the job that you want earn.”  Successful work comes before recognition.

Normally, when I hear that, I think that means to work harder, stay longer, and do more.

Recently, I’ve been challenging that story.  Here are some other things you might do:

  • Ask for more.  The promoted version of you (TPVOY) would probably ask for more without worrying about being out of line.  They would have a bigger budget, worry less about exceeding it, and think more about spending in ways that produce value.
  • Go slower.  TPVOY would take time to be intentional.  They would solve problems once, and keep them solved.  They would use words like “To really do this right, we need to….
  • Less meetings, more finished products.  TPVOY would be more scalable.  They would create products and references once that could be used for a long time.  They would probably create them with more simplicity and less effort, but not sweating the small stuff so much.
  • More time really learning the business.  TPVOY would think nothing of the organization making a big investment in their learning and development: for someone at the next level up, that sort of investment would just make sense.
  • More initiative. TPVOY might go first without thinking twice.  They would ask for time on the agenda at important meetings; they would schedule gatherings and know that people would come.  They would update the really important people regularly–the VP, the SVP, the CEO, the Board–because the really important people would be concerned about what they were doing.  They would have a bias for action.
  • More gratitude and more generosity.  TPVOY would take the time to express gratitude, celebrate achievement, and recognize success.  They would find ways to do it that fell more extravagant than expected.

Of course, some of these things don’t work when you’re new in a role.  But – if you’ve been in your role for a while, and you’ve earned some level of trust, maybe it’s time to start acting like the promoted version of you in a few areas.

Stay encouraged as you begin!