Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Simon Sinek: The Secret to Leadership and Millennials Is Simply Purpose

We have millions of disaffected but purpose-driven young people who need to be treated with dignity, as individuals not numbers.
Michael Mooney


When Simon Sinek speaks, he’s quite convincing. It’s not just that he looks and sounds so smart. Alhough his spiked hair and thick-framed glasses do sort of make him look like a cartoon avatar for a modern brainiac, and his ever-so-slight British lilt does kind of imbue him with an extra air of sophistication. It’s that he’s always careful with his words and thoughtful about the way he presents them. Whether he’s talking about the chemicals in your brain or what he learned from his barista or how longtime General Electric CEO Jack Welch cast a plague upon modern society, Sinek’s arguments are informed by scientific research and his voice has all of the flair of a Juilliard-trained thespian.
Last winter, a video of Sinek talking about millennials went viral, racking up tens of millions of views on both Facebook and YouTube in a matter of days. It was shared by both older generations and millennials themselves. In an age of infinite distractions, getting millions of people to sit still and watch someone talk for 15 minutes is no small feat. (Some versions of the clip are even longer.) But Sinek deploys the perfect blend of humor, compassion and blunt, resonating truth. At 43 years old, he’s one of the nation’s most sought-after leadership consultants. His 2009 TED Talk is the third most popular of all time. He’s written three best-selling books—another book due out soon—and he’s worked with everyone from the military to massive international conglomerates to members of Congress. Only recently, though, has he turned his attention to what he calls the Millennial Question.
That’s what he’s addressing in that viral video. The clip begins with Sinek listing a lot of the stereotypical complaints about the generation born in and after the early 1980s: “They’re accused of being entitled and narcissistic and self-interested and unfocused and lazy,” he says to an audience of mostly young people who alternate between snickering and staring, transfixed. “But entitled is the big one.” He explains that millennials were subject to “failed parenting strategies.” They were given participation trophies—“a medal for coming in last”—and they were constantly told they were special.
This, he postulates, has made millions of young people ill-equipped to deal with the brutal realities of the working world. And as a result, this generation has turned to social media for fiendish escapism—the way an alcoholic turns to the bottle, Sinek says—and that has led to more people struggling with personal relationships and job fulfillment.
As he explains it in the video, the audience nods along. It all makes so much sense.
But now he’s sitting on a couch in the living room area of a suite in a luxury hotel, next to a window overlooking downtown Dallas. He’s in town to talk about leadership to thousands of managers at American Airlines, but at the moment he and I are talking about the assessments he made in that video.
I mention that I was born in the early ’80s. I was often told I’m special. And I got at least a few participation trophies as a kid. I tell him I was always able to distinguish those from the bigger trophies I got on other occasions, when I’d actually won something. (Or, more likely, got second or third.) I tell him I think it’s one of those things the generation gets a bad rap for, and that millennials are all different—which I concede even as the words leave my mouth, sounds like a very millennial thing to say.


“There are things that happen in the formative years of our lives that affect the way we view the world.”

Sinek, amused by the irony, emits a high-pitched cackle. “Of course people are all different,” he says. “However, there are things that happen in the formative years of our lives that affect the way we view the world. You can say that of every generation. So if you grew up in the Great Depression and during the Second World War, you’re probably a little miserly. You grew up during rations. If you’re a baby boomer, your formative years were during the Vietnam War and Richard Nixon. Of course you’re cynical of power.”
He says there are certain patterns that are “absolutely legitimate and fair across a generation because a generation came of age when certain things were happening in the world.” With millennials, he says, the world was altered by technology. “Access and connectivity didn’t exist before. And it absolutely affected the way a generation sees the world. Every kid? Of course not. But if we weren’t able to make generalizations, we wouldn’t have fields like psychology or sociology. Of course you can make generalizations about human behavior. Is it absolute? Of course not.”
Within minutes I forget whatever point I was trying to make about trophies not ruining kids, and now I’m re-evaluating not only my generation, but my own life and the way I form relationships.
Like I said, he’s very convincing.
***
Before he comes out, half a dozen people warm up the crowd, firing T-shirt cannons. Hundreds of middle-managers from the world’s largest airline stand up with their hands the air, reaching for the flying shirts. Then Sinek walks out in a stylish gray jacket, designer blue jeans and skater shoes, with a headset microphone wired over his right ear. He forgoes introductions and starts instead with a story.
We’re in a massive hotel ballroom, with rows and rows of tables and mugs and lanyards, and a stage at the front of the room painted with the American Airlines logo. In the lobby, greeting attendees, is a scale model of a new Boeing 777. Sinek says the company brought him in to help change the corporate culture. In front of him is a room full of airline employees who supervise other airline employees, but Sinek’s story, similar to a TED Talk he gave in 2014, is about something that happened in Afghanistan in 2009.
A column of American and Afghan troops was moving through a valley when it was ambushed. Army Capt. William Swenson would eventually be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions that day, repeatedly running through enemy fire to rescue the wounded and recover the dead. One of the rescues happened to be caught on the camera of a medevac pilot, Sinek explains, and what was captured on video is extraordinary. As Swenson loads the fatally wounded soldier onto the helicopter, right before returning to battle, he leans over and gives the man a gentle kiss on the head.“I asked myself, ‘What is that?’ ” he says. The room is quiet and Sinek’s voice is soft. “Where do people like that come from and why is it that I don’t have people that I work with like that?” He lets the question linger for a moment.
The difference comes down to environment, he says. Those people aren’t born that way. A love so deep has to be cultivated over time.
“In the military, they give medals to people who are willing to sacrifice themselves so that others may gain,” he says. “In business, we give bonuses to people who are willing to sacrifice others so that we may gain.” The crowd responds with affirming nods.
This level of trust and self-sacrifice, Sinek explains, is a callback to our tribal ancestors, to a time when tribes of Homo sapiens were surrounded by things that could kill them, such as the weather or a lack of resources or vicious, carnivorous beasts. He turns to a massive pad of paper resting on an easel, picks up a marker, and draws a big circle. Outside of the circle he writes the word danger and inside he writes the word safe. Then he points to the paper and says, “Nothing has changed.”We have the same brain chemicals as our ancestors, and they’re released for the same types of reasons. He turns the page on the oversized notepad and starts a list. Endorphins, Sinek explains, mask physical pain. Dopamine comes naturally with a sense of accomplishment, he says, which can keep us focused on our goals. But it can be highly addictive, associated with drugs, alcohol, gambling and smartphone notifications. Serotonin is what he calls “the leadership chemical,” associated with pride and public recognition. Oxytocin, he explains, is associated with the good feeling you get when you’re with someone you trust. “It’s why we’re willing to make a handshake deal without a contract, but not a contract without a handshake.”
In hunting-and-gathering societies, the biggest and strongest could eat first. And the smaller guys “might be more willing to take an elbow in the face once in a while” if they knew that, when danger arrives, the bigger, stronger people would rush to defend the group. Leadership in our society works the same way, he says. If you’re the smartest or strongest—if you’re the leader—you might get the nicer office and the higher salary, but in exchange, it’s your responsibility to run toward danger.
“When your people believe that,” Sinek tells the crowd, “they love you.”
He says one of the most important sentiments any leader can express to someone in their charge is “I’ve got your back. There’s nothing you can break that I can’t help put back together. I believe in you even when you no longer believe in yourself.”

The audience is rapt. As he talks, I write in the margins of my notebook: very smooth delivery and very dramatic.
Then Sinek, standing in front of the American Airlines logo, on a stage facing hundreds of longtime American Airlines employees, adds this:
“That’s why people love flying Southwest.”
From the audience there are audible gasps.




Monday, July 10, 2017

My Way: 16 Things That Help Me Embrace Change

We need to be lifelong learners. We need to be constantly pulling in new information and staying curious.
Jesus Jimenez
 

My Way: 16 Things That Help Me Embrace ChangeWho?

Jenny Dearborn, senior vice president and chief learning officer of SAP

Where?

Silicon Valley, California

What?

At SAP, the world’s largest business software company, Dearborn is accountable for the learning opportunities of the company’s more than 85,000 employees worldwide. Through the Fortune Most Powerful Women Network, she is a mentor for the U.S. State Department to female entrepreneurs in developing countries. She was recognized by the National Diversity Council as one of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Technology in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Her second book, The Data Driven Leader, is due out in November.

My Way: 16 Things That Help Me Embrace ChangeI never leave the house without…

An up-to-date audiobook on my phone. I’m pretty addicted to listening to books.

I couldn’t stop reading…

The War that Ended Peace by Margaret MacMillan. It was absolutely gripping.

I really love…

Bose’s QuietComfort 25 Acoustic Noise Cancelling headphones. My Way: 16 Things That Help Me Embrace ChangeI travel so much I have to have noise-canceling earbuds.

A mantra that I try to live by is…

“There’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help each other.”
Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State

I love to pursue…

My Way: 16 Things That Help Me Embrace ChangeCreative endeavors. Whenever I have free time I paint, I paint large-scale, acrylic, on-canvas pop art.

My favorite podcast is…

This American Life.

The last Netflix binge I had was on…

Breaking Bad. I was completely obsessed. I would dream that Walter White was cooking meth in the conference room next to my office.

Everyone should try…

A mindset to do something new every day, even if it’s not something big and scary. Architect Buckminster Fuller used to say he would walk home from work a different way every time. There’s not a lot of risk, but it’s a mindset that makes us open to change.

When I was younger, I wanted to grow up to be a…

A professional skateboarder. I’m still really good. At my age, I can still shred it pretty good.
My Way: 16 Things That Help Me Embrace ChangeMy Way: 16 Things That Help Me Embrace Change

To me, there’s nothing as rewarding as…

Growing and developing the talent of other people and really making other people shine.

My go-to playlist includes…

My Way: 16 Things That Help Me Embrace ChangeClassic ’80s rap. I love Run DMC.

I try to look at disappointments as…

A learning opportunity. Nothing is truly a failure or a waste of time if you learned from the experience. Every disappointment is an opportunity to regroup and be better next time.

Integrity is...

Core to all other values. Everything comes from that. I value creativity, but you can’t be creative if you don’t have integrity for the creative process. I value innovation, too, but you need to have integrity to follow innovation.

You shouldn’t hide…

Anything about you because all of the pieces of who you are make you the amazing leader that you are. Don’t hide the [negative] because the outcome is you and the outcome is fantastic.

Embracing change is…

Important because learning is a change process. We need to be lifelong learners. We need to be constantly pulling in new information and staying curious.My Way: 16 Things That Help Me Embrace Change

My aha moment was…

My Way: 16 Things That Help Me Embrace ChangeRecognizing that I was incredibly bright and talented, and I was put on Earth to make a very significant contribution to the world in a positive way. Throughout my K-12 schooling, it was reinforced to me by the authority figures in my life at school that I wasn’t good enough and I wasn’t smart enough. The aha moment was recognizing that they were wrong.

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Become a Servant Leader in 4 Steps

Am I truly working to serve the people around me, or for personal gain?
Dan Price
 

It’s time for your annual performance review. You walk into your boss’s office, sit down and prepare for the litany of clich├ęd critiques and uninspiring atta boys. You try to decipher the feedback and pull out some actionable items, but grounding the theoretical appraisal proves difficult. You leave the room with your intrinsic motivation weakened by the encounter.
Now imagine this: Instead of a performance review, your boss sits you down and asks you how she can improve, how the company can flourish and how both can stay truer to their values. You’re naturally full of ideas, so you take the opportunity to launch into new concepts you’d been keeping in the back of your mind. You work with your boss to come up with a plan to improve the company and help her elevate her performance. You leave the meeting motivatedby the prospect of working with your boss to create something great.
Every six months at Gravity Payments, we do this type of review. We seek to turn the boss-employee relationship upside down and create an environment in which leaders exist to serve those around them. Historically leadership has been about amassing power in order to operate paternalistically at best and tyrannically at worst. The notion of servant leadership has since permeated the business world, but too often it is used only as a more efficient way to gain authority, not as a way to truly serve.
 Real servant leadership is about giving without the expectation of receiving. It’s not an incremental change; it’s a complete paradigm shift.
 Real servant leadership is about giving without the expectation of receiving. It’s not an incremental change; it’s a complete paradigm shift. Many people struggle with this because they are used to being the ones with all of the answers. Making this leap requires a certain level of vulnerability, but those able to challenge the leadership status quo will reap the benefits.
If you succeed in shifting to the role of servant leader, you will find the surprises you receive are far more impressive and humbling than you expected. When I made the decision to implement a $70,000-a-year minimum wage at Gravity Payments, I expected our business to take a financial hit. I took the risk, and my team surpassed my expectations. Not only did our business accelerate, but a year after the implementation of the policy, our team banded together and bought me a Tesla to thank me. Ask yourself, Am I truly working to serve the people around me, or for personal gain? If the answer is personal gain, try beginning the journey to servant leadership by requesting to be held accountable, rather than the other way around.
Follow these steps to become a servant leader:
  1. Instead of spending your time defining expectations for your team, spend it identifying how you can support them.
  2. Have your team keep an eye on your actions rather than the other way around.
  3. Ask for feedback rather than telling your team what to do.
  4. Resist the urge to accumulate power. Focus on giving it away.
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✅ ROBERT KIYOSAKI GREAT INTERVIEW 2017 ✅

Tuesday, July 4, 2017


How I Plan & Organize My Life to Achieve Goals

Was It Luck, or Was It... You?

Sara Fabian

I have always considered myself lucky because of the many gifts I’ve received in life: a loving husband, a loving family, great friends (not many, but true ones). A healthy body and a healthy mind. The home I live in, nice vacations I can afford, doing the work I love. For all of this, I am truly grateful. And the more grateful I am, the more I feel spoiled by the universe.
However, I have decided to stay in my truth and say what I think, with no apologies. I’ve stopped pretending this was all about “luck.” I am now brave enough to step outside my fake humbleness and start celebrating myself and my achievements.
You see, most of us have been conditioned to feel the need to “improve” ourselves continuously, and focus on our flaws and perceived limitations while taking our strengths for granted. Although we are all learning from our experiences and mistakes, we also need to know our gifts and talents that make us truly special and unique. Knowing who we are, detaching ourselves from the toxic habit of comparing ourselves to others and celebrating our uniqueness. Sounds beautiful, doesn’t it? Why is it easier said than done for so many people? What makes it so hard to accept our own brilliance?
Let’s be honest: Women generally have a bigger problem seeing their worth compared to men. Men tend to attribute their achievements to their skills and capabilities. Women tend to connect their successes to other people who helped them to be where they are, or to pure “luck.” No wonder women don’t get the same paycheck as men for doing similar work. It starts with how we perceive ourselves and our level of self-worth.
I spent many years of my life thinking I wasn’t good enough. Perfection, as it turned out, was my worst enemy. I considered myself pretty but not beautiful, somewhat smart but not truly intelligent. In other words, I thought of myself as “average,” not outstanding.
I can look back in time and see myself at age 10. I believed I was stupid just because my brain couldn’t work out physics and math. I was good with literature, arts and foreign languages, but that wasn’t a sign of brilliance in the Eastern European culture in which I grew up.

I didn’t grow up in a society that celebrated individuality, so I’ve never seen myself as “some kind of special.” My parents encouraged me in school but always hinted at a “need for improvement,” which was their way to motivate me to achieve more. I grew up with the fear of getting bad grades because if I did, that would be another reason for me to feel ashamed and unworthy.
My parents did the best they could at the time, the society did the best it knew at the time. So I am not blaming, but instead I’m looking for hidden and limiting beliefs that worked against me.
Twelve years ago, I was working for a big multinational company in my home country, Romania. I started as a travel assistant, making flight and hotel bookings for my colleagues. One day, a manager in the company asked if I wanted to join his team and start doing “real business.” At that time, I was holding a university diploma in literature and foreign languages, so I knew nothing about logistics and supply chain. But I decided to take the opportunity and give it a try. I learned everything from scratch and, I’m telling you, it wasn’t easy. Four years later, I was offered a job at the company headquarters in Sweden. Eight years later, within the same corporation, I was leading a business team in Shanghai. I was successful and my results were great. My family was proud; my friends were admiring me. I loved my status and my business card.
But let me tell you this secret: I sometimes felt like a fraud. So lucky to be chosen and on board! Out of so many other candidates, they wanted me! Imagine, me! Too good to be true! Pure luck! That’s how my inner talk sounded at that time, and here’s what I know to be true today: It wasn’t luck; it was all me.
I was the one who spent many nights and long weekends learning a new job from scratch. I was hard-working, committed, curious and ambitious. I was the one who successfully passed many job interviews and competence assessments. I was the one who always wanted to grow, develop, and see different parts of the world and work abroad.
As a child, “abroad” was a mystery to me. I grew up under Ceausescu’s system when traveling outside Romania was restricted. My mother was dreaming to see me leave my small town and get a good job in Bucharest. I wanted more for myself because I knew my past had nothing to do with my future. Because I knew I could make it, despite my circumstances, in full integrity and without compromise.
Today, I know that no one employed me because they liked my smile. I was offering a set of capabilities, skills and talents, and by that, I was adding value to my employers. It wasn’t about me being lucky to get those nice jobs abroad; it was always a win-win solution with mutual benefits.
Yes, I deserved it. Yes, I worked hard. I am saying it out loud now because I got sick and tired of hiding behind my “luck” as if being proud of myself was something shameful.
If anything in here sounds familiar and you also tend to take your achievements for granted, here’s my longing for you: I want you to know that you are a magnificent human being and it is OK to be who you are. Become aware of your strengths and talents and learn how to build on them in your private life and career. Stop feeling ashamed for your achievements. Do not get scared by your greatness. Instead, embrace it with dignity and joy. And always remember that sometimes in life, you need to acknowledge there’s been a lot of hard work behind your “luck.”
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Saturday, July 1, 2017

The Best Career Advice, From Successful People Who Made It to the Top

Success leaves clues. No. 1: Start by taking a hard look at yourself and deciding what you want.
Bruce Harpham

Building a successful career draws from several important disciplines. These time-honored practices, proven to work in every industry, are vital to those striving to achieve success. Whether you need inspiration to start a new practice or a boost of motivation to get back on track, take and use these four leaders’ experiences to bolster your own.

1. Self-knowledge is the foundation.

Without self-knowledge, the pursuit of success is frustrating. In the ancient world, philosophers encouraged their followers to reflect. Today’s leaders use their self-understanding to define and reach success.
  • “At several points, my mentors have served as a mirror for me and helped me to understand myself better,” says Kim Ulmer, regional president of Royal Bank of Canada. Ulmer’s responsibility includes managing more than 170 branches and 3,000 staffers.
  • Dave Kasabian, chief marketing officer at Tagetik, a management software company, says, “My philosophy of growth is to look inside myself: What do I enjoy? What are my skills and passions? Based on that knowledge, I make decisions on how to develop.”
  • Assessment tools provide helpful insights in understanding strengths. For example, Michael Hyatt, author and entrepreneur, referred to StrengthsFinder 2.0, a personal development favorite, as he exited a corporate career to start a new chapter as an entrepreneur. His strengths, according to the model, included a focus on achievement and the future.
Self-knowledge requires reflecting on your experiences, good and bad. Think about last week and take note of when you felt the greatest satisfaction. You might take greater satisfaction from solving thorny business problems. Or you might relish the challenge of guiding a new graduate through their first few months at work.

2. Curiosity is powerful.

 “Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.” —Jim Rohn
 An open and curious mind is vital to make the most of learning opportunities. Curiosity means looking for an opportunity to learn and apply ideas outside of the classroom. And engagement and focus is increasingly vital in leadership roles because your actions and words will quietly influence many around you.
  • “I usually take one or two courses per year at a business school to keep my skills sharp,” says Rich Crawford, CEO of Global Integrated Services.
  • “I have a thirst for knowledge and regularly go out to meet with business owners to understand their situation,” Ulmer says. “Recently, I found David Zinger’s “10 Principles of Engagement” and have found that to be a helpful resource. It has encouraged [reflecting] on my work several times per day to see if I am truly engaged.”
  • “One of the most valuable books I’ve read in my career is Peter Drucker’s The Effective Executive, says Ben Sawa, director of marketing at GEI Consultants Inc., one of the largest engineering firms in the U.S.
  • Entertainment executive Brian Grazer—producer of Apollo 13The Da Vinci Code and J. Edgar—attributes much of his professional success to curiosity and learning from those around him as he describes in his book, A Curious Mind: The Secret to a Bigger Life.

3. Mentors provide new perspectives and better questions.

Successful leaders consistently reach out to mentors throughout the course of their careers. The conversation might start with business, but the lessons are often applicable to a range of concerns and issues.
  • “I have had several mentors over my career including family mentors and those in the business community,” Ulmer says. “Mentors have helped me to adopt a broader perspective and ask questions such as, ‘Have you taken the time to understand the situation before acting?’”
  • “Every meaningful mistake I have ever made has involved poor communication. [That’s] a lesson I learned from a CFO who mentored me. That was an important insight,” Sawa says. “I also think it is valuable to seek mentors who are different from you because they can provide a fresh perspective.”
  • “My mentors have helped me to get outside of the day-to-day flow of work to ask bigger questions,” Kasabian says. “In 1994, I was given a powerful question from a mentor: ‘Draw where you want to be in five years.’ That exercise helped me to think about my career and the direction of my life much more deeply. I ended up making a move to another state, among other decisions as a result. It was a powerful experience.”
  • “I’m a huge believer in mentors,” Crawford says. “At present, I’m working with two mentors and I’m learning much from both of them. I learn about industry best practices from one and work life matters from another. YPO [Young Presidents’ Organization] had an excellent mentorship program that I found valuable.”

4. Keep the right company to achieve your goals.

The company you keep has a major impact on your success and self-concept. Jim Rohn’s observation that “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with,” rings true for many leaders.
  • “My participation in Young Presidents’ Organization has been tremendously valuable. It is rare to find so many other executives and CEOs who are facing similar challenges,” Crawford explains. In addition to informal networking, Crawford has benefited from YPO’s mentorship program and specialized educational programs that serve the needs of executives.
  • “It is important to choose thoughtfully when it comes to joining organizations,” Ulmer says. “I’m currently involved with Junior Achievement because they operate on a national level and work on major problems. I’m also involved with the Manitoba Business Council.”
Where do you find peers to challenge you and help you grow?
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Work on YOURSELF - Oprah Winfrey (@Oprah) - #Entspresso

Tony Robbins: Winning Habits for Success (Tony Robbins motivation)

Saturday, June 24, 2017




Being kind to yourself


Being kind to yourself is one of those things that sounds easy in conversation but difficult in practice. Last year I spent a month being generous toward others in the hope that I would find fulfillment and increased happiness (I did). So my editor asked me to turn that generosity inward. Spend a month doing acts that allow me to appreciate myself, reflect and grow.

But the truth is, saying some Hallmark-worthy phrases to yourself isn’t an exact science for increasing your feelings of self-worth. At least not that we feel right away. But that doesn’t mean it’s not working. Growth—in any form—is never easy. It takes patience, persistence and… yes, self-compassion, a reminder we need more than once per day.

I failed (a lot) during this challenge. There were days I didn’t even want to get out of bed, let alone make it. There were times when I robotically performed my self-kindness acts just to check them off the list. It didn’t feel like I was accomplishing anything. But we can’t always trust our emotions, can we? That goes both ways. In the same way I can’t trust that this exercise isn’t working, I also can’t trust that negative voice inside my head that tells me it’s pointless and definitely not working.

Being kind to yourself isn’t about feeling good. After all, doing what feels good isn’t always what’s best for us. But taking the time to compliment myself, to nurture my self-compassion—no matter how annoying in the moment—sends a message to future me that she, in all her imperfect 45-year-old glory, matters. That’s a gift worth giving.

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How Two Entrepreneurs Used Minimalism to Inspire Millions


Friday, June 23, 2017





I Spent 30 Days Practicing Self-Kindness—Here’s What I Learned
Cecilia Meis

I hate making my bed. Not in the sullen, rebellious teenager kind of way; I just want to get my day started, and spending time doing chores in the morning seems to impede that. So here I am on Day 6 of my 30-day self-kindness challenge, staring at a crumpled bed, toothbrush in hand, listing all the perfectly valid reasons to ignore it and try again tomorrow.

Jolie Kerr is passionate about bed-making. The cleaning expert, Esquire advice columnist, best-selling author and host of the podcast Ask a Clean Person, dedicated two episodes to the topic in conjunction with her annual 30-day challenge: Let’s All Make... Our Beds (#LAMOB). She argues that bed-making is part of being an adult and exponentially more beneficial than the simple act might at first seem.

I added “Make my bed” to the self-kindness list because it’s a habit I’ve never succeeded in keeping—and of course because my mom told me to. I can make my bed in 49 seconds. I counted. I have it down to a four-step science: Hiss at the cat until she runs, un-wad the top sheet and comforter from the floor, curse at the uselessness of top sheets, fling the pillows at the headboard. Forty-nine seconds flat. Kerr says she can do it in 30, but she’s had more practice and probably doesn’t believe in the messiness of cat-ownership.

While I procrastinate, Kerr’s words come to mind: “It’s a small thing,” she says. “But also not so small, because coming home to a tidy and pulled-together-looking bedroom will make you feel a whole bunch of positive things.” Among those are in-control, calm and grown-up. That last one sounds nice.

I quiet the excuses and reach for the cat. The reminder wasn’t always effective, but she was right. On the days I spent 49 seconds being a grown-up, I did feel more put together. And I’m not alone. In a survey conducted by Hunch.com, 71 percent of consistent bed-makers reported feeling happier. Sliding between close-but-not-Martha-Stewart-approved layers at night was hotel magical. Kerr says this feeling helps shift our mindset from bed-making as a chore to bed-making as a gift. What if I could apply that logic to every unpleasant task?

As that mindset evolved, I became more at peace with my journey to be kinder to myself. I learned some surprising benefits in the process; most important, that being kind to ourselves isn’t about feeling good in the moment, it’s about doing things we might not like right now as a gift to our future selves. It wasn’t easy; 45-year-old me had better appreciate this.

1. Complimenting yourself helps you see the positives Not just in yourself, but in your surroundings.

March 7, 2017:
I appreciate that you’re more comfortable wearing less makeup.
I appreciate that you took time to check on my friend Maggie even though you’re busy.
I appreciate that you attempted to write a third appreciation.

Harvard University researcher and SUCCESS Happiness Guy Shawn Achor touts the benefits of logging three things you’re grateful for each night because it trains your brain to scan the past 24 hours for positive things while pushing minor annoyances to the background. I turned the exercise on myself.

I wrote 93 nice things about myself in March. OK, I tried to write 93. It was more like 60. Some are heartfelt and thoughtful. Most lack inspiration. This exercise, intended to combat the flow of negative self-talk naturally produced in our brains, is just ridiculous enough to be effective. Science agrees. In one study, participants reported increased happiness at one-, three- and six-month follow-ups, even when they didn’t continue the exercise every day.

I can’t claim causation. After all, the Three Good Things exercise is competing against 30 others for the spot of “definitely increased happiness.” But I smile as I reread the scribbled compliments about having a good volleyball game or remembering to work on my posture (“so you won’t look 80 at 50”).

2. Saying no allows me to live on my own terms.

I’m a mean person. I hear this fact, sometimes paired with a high five but mostly a sad smile, often. Maybe it’s because of the way the edges of my mouth turn down—a maternal gift spanning at least three generations. Maybe it’s because I don’t always think before I speak, especially during times where sarcasm is appropriate, which—to me—is all the time. To balance that image, I often say yes to everything. Edit your 87-page master’s thesis? Sure. Drive 45 minutes to the airport at 4:30 a.m.? Love to.

I complain later. I promise never to say yes again. (I always say yes again.) But now, armed with this challenge, I set out to say no 20 days in a row. I made it to nine and that’s mostly because you can’t tell your boss no, challenge be damned. I avoided three awkward lunches, two editing favors and four nights out, which I spent with takeout and several chapters of Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari.

I feel guilty saying no. As if I’m rejecting the person rather than the request. Christine Carter, Ph.D., a senior fellow at the Greater Good Science Center in Berkeley, California, says every time we say yes to something we don’t have the time, energy or desire to do, we say no to ourselves. We send a message to our brains that our well-being and happiness fall second to a grammatically correct paper about the importance of a business marketing plan.

It’s true. I have spent dozens of nights doing favors for friends at the expense of my sleep and relaxation. Carter offers strategies for saying no without offending the friendship, such as “I want to do that, but I’m not available until next month. Will you ask me again then?” and “I really appreciate you asking me, but my time is already committed.” I’m writing this section at 1:30 a.m. because I spent the past 2.5 hours explaining the basics of Photoshop to my friend’s mother. The tactics work about 50 percent of the time, but that’s 50 percent more than no tactics. Progress.

3. I have failed, but I’m not a failure.

One day I sit down to write myself a love letter. The blank page stares at me and suddenly I feel incapable of writing anything, much less a love letter. Of course you can’t finish the challenge, I think. You never finish anything. The words swirl through my head, familiar and abrasive.

The voice in our heads can propel us forward or cripple us with fear and doubt. Kevin Gilliland, a Dallas-based clinical psychologist and author of Struggle Well, Live Well, says it’s about being active and purposeful with our thoughts. “The space between stimulus and response is a gift,” he writes. “When we think passively, we allow horrible, catastrophic thoughts to run around in our heads unchecked as if, No. 1, they’re true and No. 2, they’re having no impact on us.”
Maybe forgiveness, like kindness, is a habit that requires patience, understanding and—there it is again—a little compassion.

I never stopped to analyze how my negative self-talk impeded progress until I imagined saying the same words to a friend—an exercise Kristin Neff, Ph.D., a pioneering self-compassion researcher, uses with her clients. What I really needed to learn was self-compassion. It’s hard to stop the initial self-critical thoughts that pop up, but I can learn to respond with understanding and empathy.

I picture my best friend, Hannah, who recently landed a full-time job at an advertising agency right out of college. The week before her first day, she was stressed and nervous. I picture her face. “Of course you’re nervous. You don’t deserve this job,” I imagine saying to her. The words feel like a knife coming off my tongue, but it works. I would never say those things to her. I wouldn’t even say them to someone I don’t like. Instead, I imagine what Hannah would tell me about writing a love letter to myself. First she would laugh, because that’s what best friends do. Then she would say I’m the most talented writer she knows, because that’s what best friends do.

4. You might not feel the benefits. That doesn’t mean it’s not working.

Of the 470 boxes on the spreadsheet I use to track my self-kindness acts, 183 are marked red, incomplete. Improving yourself is hard. There is no secret recipe or easy shortcut. It takes time to build a habit and to forgive the times you don’t stick with the habit.

It’s easier to forgive other people. We don’t know their lives or the things they were going through when they wronged us. We don’t let ourselves off the hook so easily. When I fail, especially when I intentionally choose to put off something that will better me, the negative self-talk is deafening. So on Day 22, I set out to find self-forgiveness.
Step 1: Recall a mistake. Easy, I have a million to choose from. The worst of the worst surface and sets my heart on a sprint.
Step 2: Write down the mistake. Use detail. Cue rumination.
Step 3: Verbally forgive yourself.
Step 4: Wait.

My heart is still racing and I don’t feel better or healed or less embarrassed by the mistake that I refuse to have published in these pages. But forgiveness isn’t a binary state. No matter what words I say to myself, the feelings of guilt, hurt and embarrassment remain. Was I missing a step? In a study published in The Journal of Positive Psychology, researchers found that participants who imagined receiving forgiveness reported “alleviated guilt and negative emotion, increased perceived control, decreased heart rate and increased parasympathetic activation.” My heart rate begs to differ.

Maybe, like most things in life, this process takes time. Although it was a relatively minor slip-up, I have spent more than 10 years reliving The Mistake That Shall Not Be Named. It seems unreasonable that I would expect relief after a two-minute exercise. Maybe forgiveness, like kindness, is a habit that requires patience, understanding and—there it is again—a little compassion.
5. Don’t take life (or yourself) too seriously.

I’m lying on a mauve couch in a secluded corner of my office attempting to take a guilt-free afternoon nap. If you’ve ever tried to nap at work, you’ll understand that it’s not as easy as it sounds. My thoughts wander; I picture my to-do list; I imagine my boss—who isn’t the kind to keep tabs—wondering where I am.

Every time we say yes to something we don’t have the time, energy or desire to do, we say no to ourselves.

I spend the whole 20 minutes adjusting my aching neck on a couch that was clearly built more for looks than nap sessions, instead of thanking the journalism gods for a challenge that includes taking naps at the office and being late to work because I had to watch the sun rise. I’m not sure if either of them are scientifically proven to boost my happiness, productivity, likeability, etc. But that morning on my back patio, phone still by my bed, hot coffee in hand, cat in lap, was glorious.

This challenge is a sobering reminder to stop taking myself so damn seriously. Seriously.

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