Komen Crisis: How to Kill a Movement

When I stood in the radiologist office and heard the news of my breast cancer, I wasn’t concerned about anyone else’s potential right to life. I was concerned about my own, actual, life. If I didn’t have health insurance at the time I wouldn’t have had that screening. I was young and without risk factors. Without early detection, I would be dead today—that is not hyperbole, it’s a fact.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure® has spent years and millions of dollars building a unified and powerful social movement, a “Komen Community,” fighting against breast cancer. The Komen Foundation itself is a powerful force for positive change. Literally, millions of women and men walk, run, raise and give money in a pink branded, “Race for the Cure.”

They do this because they want to find a cure for breast cancer, because they have a personal relationship with the disease, and because they want to be part of that pink-clad cadre of people actively doing “the right thing.” It is a movement built on the values of compassion—“we care,” inclusivity—“everyone can help and receive” and commonality—“breast cancer doesn’t discriminate.”

When you attend a rally, race or banquet, you see faces of every color and memorials of women who have the disease, or who died, being honored by their family and friends. It is an emotional afternoon, evening or three-day walk with these women never far from the minds of the participants. I don’t know about in the executive suite or boardroom, but on the streets, Komen stands for the 99%, not the 1%. Here in lies the betrayal and, hence, the outrage about recent decisions made by the CEO and her team.

Alignment to the Mission? No.

Komen’s promise is to provide access to preventive breast care to women who need it the most, and to work tirelessly to “end breast cancer forever.”  On January 31, 2012, Komen announced its decision to change its funding guidelines for allocation of funds generated by the community. As a result, no further funding would be given to:

1) Planned Parenthood programs to provide subsidized access to mammograms for poor women;

2) Institutions that do research on stem cells.

All hell broke loose with the news and the organization found itself on its proverbial back high heel. Denying poor women access to clinical breast exams and mammograms at Planned Parenthood was widely interpreted as a strategic move pushed by politically conservative people—most notably recently-hired Senior Vice President for Public Policy, Karen Handel– a defeated Republican candidate for Governor in Georgia who set her sights on punishing an old enemy in the anti-abortion movement. A second, related decision was also announced, albeit more quietly, to not fund stem cell research. The impact of this new policy is to cut off a promising stream of exploratory research that may actually find the cure we are all racing for.

Planned Parenthood and stem cell research are red flag issues for the political right, anyone with a television knows this.

When a leader of an organization makes decisions directly out of step with the organization’s espoused values, that they loudly and consistently promote, you have trouble—big trouble in this case. The irony here is that the pink-clad Komen Krusaders who are mad, are mad because they have been listening to and inspired by Komen: the shared values and the pink community. Other organizations would kill for this kind of engagement and attention. But what did Komen do? They made the two big mistakes so many other leaders of successful companies and organizations have done through the years: the Komen for the Cure leadership took their supporters for granted and are now having trouble admitting they did anything wrong.

Lack of Attunement Breeds Crisis of Confidence

Komen’s supporters are now thrown into disarray by a leadership team that got it wrong—and then wrong again.

  • How can an organization that is all about inclusivity—it is a fund-raising organization after all—decide to exclude a major vehicle for preventive screening services for poor women?
  • How can Komen raise literally millions and millions of dollars for research and then make politically-based decisions about stem cell research, effectively not-funding one of the most promising areas of innovative research?

The Krusaders can understand the need to make discernments based on quality of research or likelihood of finding meaningful contribution to finding a cure, but to say “stem cell” into today’s environment is to wave a red flag at a bull in a bullfight. It’s politics. For a CEO to pretend otherwise is not a reassuring expression of social awareness and to do so with a former gubernatorial candidate, who ran on a platform of getting rid of Planned Parenthood on your staff, and in charge of the decision, stretches the disingenuousness of your surprise at our reaction even farther. Who do you think the Krusaders are? We can read, we do have opinions, and you ask us for our time and money. Remember, the Komen Krusaders volunteer for you, they don’t pull a paycheck from you.

CEO Disease Is Now CEO Dis-ease

Komen is a story of a great organization that, despite having been built on the enthusiasm and concern of literally huhdreds of million dedicated volunteers, allowed a handful of highly compensated executives to make policy that, while defensible and logical in the boardroom, is utterly indefensible and counterproductive in the eyes of millions of others. The CEO Nancy G. Brinker may be suffering from CEO disease—a term Teleos has coined for instances when a CEO thinks she is attuned to the organization but is, in reality, badly out of sync and unaware of that fact.

Often such a CEO surrounds herself with like-minded people who agree with her and shield her from the bigger picture, which includes diverse perspectives. You may jump to a cynical conclusion that she doesn’t care what others think, but from her videos it seems she does, and in our experience CEOs usually do—to a point. So this is likely not a situation of heartless lack of concern, at least by her. She allowed herself to get isolated and insulated—never a good move for a leader.

So, where was everyone else at the top of the organization? Where was her team of executives, and where was the Board of Directors? It is clear not only from the actual decision, but from the next days after the crisis emerged, that they are missing in action. Crisis communications experts can and will debrief how the organization handled the next days.  It has already started.

A Movement Is More than an Organization

This crisis erupted as a result of serious disagreement about “what is the right thing to do” by powerful, emotionally engaged groups (employees, volunteers, the Board, the Executives, grant recipients, etc.) Conflict by definition is emotional. To try and mollify or obfuscate the emotions and complexity of the situation, is a mistake. Movements are powerful because of the shared emotions and beliefs of the people within them. Leadership is judged by the degree of perceived alignment between espoused values and action.

Traditional organizations can often rely on their hierarchy, structure and processes to manage through difficult times (frequently losing the hearts and minds of their employees along the way).

Whether organization or movement, or as with Komen, organization and movement, trouble occurs when the leader or leadership team is out of sync with the values, emotional reality, dreams and pains of the people who do the work—under-attend to the emotional reality of these different, powerful, constituencies at your own risk.

You don’t want to end up with an organization and no movement—that is the situation with many of our struggling, large organizations that are having trouble engaging their employees. Top down simplistic responses to upset—“get back to work, “we will get through this,” “you matter,” “it was a policy decision,” don’t work in today’s world of internet-driven communication, decentralized and disaggregated organizations, and instant news.

Leadership miscues and missteps erode faith in an organization. No faith? Dispirited action. Leadership behavior and decisions do matter, and in today’s world, are increasingly apparent. This begs the need for proactive empathy and transparency, and raises the bar for the need for communication and personal emotional intelligence on the part of leaders.

If you are awake, aware and attuned to your own values first, and then to what is happening with all the groups around you and not just listening to one or two constituencies, you will be able to make decisions you can passionately and authentically explain.

We are hearing more and more often that the rank and file workers, or in this case passionate volunteer, are suspicious of the motives of executive leaders, and feel disengaged at work. Komen is playing with its essential life-fire—its volunteer army—it can’t afford to lose their commitment and loyalty. The fact that they are huge, socially oriented mission-driven organization/movement makes the potential risk here even more stark, but the message is true for all organizations.

People want to believe in the goodness of their leaders, in the alignment of a leader’s values and the work of the organization, and they want their feelings to count—or they will walk away.

From Apolitical to Now Political

To act surprised that people might construe these recent announcements as having a political element, is to insult the very women who are the heart and soul of the organization. Komen leadership’s stated surprise at the response is particularly dissonant in this situation because Komen is an organization built on emotion, relationship, and caring. Nancy G. Brinker, the founder and CEO of the foundation, assures us in her straight talk video that this decision was not in response to political pressure. She herself then appears to have hurt feelings that anyone could question Komen. This makes me wonder if she is out of touch.

Her appeal to logic—that these decisions were not political, but rather a result of a standard leadership review of policy—misses the emotional point entirely and feels disingenuous. Any decision that cuts off access to care for poor women will be experienced as heartless by a volunteer army built on the basis of compassion. Anticipating and understanding the emotional impact of a decision on your followers is essential.

So What’s Next?

First, if I were coaching Nancy G. Brinker, I would suggest she consider a forthright explanation of what happened with this decision. Tell the whole story about how and why she chose to let her team make this policy change. Empathize with the Krusaders—find out why they got upset. Don’t blame them for a lingering emotional reaction. Admit that a mistake was made. Assure them that you believe that politics and breast cancer should NEVER mix, and that you will be more careful of this line in the future.

Second, take your team on a retreat and have an open debate about this issue. Work hard to make sure everyone tells you everything they think. Do an after-action review like the military does and figure out what mistakes were made along the way. Then have your team fan out and hold dialogue sessions with the affiliates. Have them listen and learn. Avoid defensiveness. Only then will the organization truly move on. Then, and only then, you may recapture the hearts and minds of your Krusaders. In the meantime, my network and I will send our money to the other local breast cancer organizations. I will be watching to see what you do.

See more blogs by Teleos founder, Fran Johnston.

News Flash: Good Guy Wins!

Beyond the Pink: Wake Up Calls and What I Learned from Cancer

 

 

 

 

 

 

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NBC Story on Teleos’ Medical School Partner: Doctors with Emotional Intelligence Make House Calls

 

Teleos has had the great privilege of supporting the emergence of a new medical education model for up-and-coming physicians. This new program, SELECT, is a collaboration between University of South Frorida College of Medicine and Lehigh Valley Health Network, in PA to create physician leaders and change agents into the world of US healthcare.

Teleos has brought our leadership, curriculum design and emotional intelligence expertise to the core of the program, beginning with Behavioral Event Interviews that assess emotional intelligence in applicants, to the key EI experiential immersion sessions for each cohort, and the building lock on development of EI skills, such as empathy, social awareness, collaboration, coaching. Read more…

Excerpted from NBC:

“House calls are an antiquated practice for doctors, but for medical students at the University of South Florida they are a critical part of the curriculum.

“I get to hear things I would not be able to crunch in to a 5-10 minute visit in a doctor’s office,” says first year medical student Chris Pothering.

Pothering is in the “Select” Program at the University of South Florida.

Not only did he have to pass the MCAT to get in, he had to pass an emotional intelligence test commonly taken by CEO candidates.

“We want to make sure that these students exhibit not only the qualities that will make them outstanding physicians, outstanding clinicians, but also leaders,” explains Dr. Alicia Monroe, Vice Dean of Educational Affairs at USF’s College of Medicine.

The heart of the program is making sure doctors have a heart.

There’s a strong emphasis on teaching the students to see things from a patient’s perspective, to get to know them and learn how their job, family and social life affect the decisions they make about their health.

That’s why Pothering is taking the time to get to know patient Emma Donahue in her home environment.”

Watch the NBC video

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Keeping Your Commitments to Yourself

Angela Scalpello is the Senior Vice President of Human Resources at PR Newswire in New York City.

A number of years ago, a professor for whom I was doing research said to me, “You are the most responsible and dependable person I know.” At the time I didn’t realize that wasn’t how most people were because it had been drilled into me as a child – you keep your word, you do what you say you will. Now, many years later, I like to think that my friends and family and colleagues would agree with my professor’s evaluation of me.

However, truthfully the one person to whom I don’t keep my commitments is myself. I allow the needs and wants of others to overshadow, if not thwart, my self-care.

So as 2012 began, I set the goal of exercising every day for 30 days straight. I called it my exercise “streak.”

Today is Day #33. For me this has been more about keeping my commitment to myself than it has been about exercising. It’s been about making my intention clear and then not backing down because of the needs of others. It hasn’t been about excluding concern about, or responsibility to, others. However, it has been about proving to myself that I can be there for me in the same way I’m there for others.

For many women this is one of the hardest things to do. But hard doesn’t mean impossible.

The challenge remains although my next “streak” is about exercising my mind. My commitment is to read at least one substantive article a week for the next four weeks about a subject or in a field that is TOTALLY outside my usual realm of interests. Again, it will be about the “streak” itself but, it will also be about honoring a promise to myself.

See what commitments you can make, and keep, to yourself. I’d love to hear about them and cheer you on.


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Teleos Client Spotlight: Creative Commons on a Shared Culture

We have had the incredible pleasure of working closely with the Board of Directors and leadership at Creative Commons, an organization with the following mission:

Our vision is nothing less than realizing the full potential of the Internet — universal access to research and education, full participation in culture — to drive a new era of development, growth, and productivity.

Teleos is committed to the mission and vision of Creative Commons and we would like to invite you to get connected and share your best ideas through Creative Commons licensing options. For a brief overview of Creative Commons, check out their new video.

From Creative Commons website:

“Our 2008 fundraising campaign, Creative Commons has released “A Shared Culture,” a short video by renowned filmmaker Jesse Dylan. Known for helming a variety of films, music videos, and the Emmy Award-winning “Yes We Can” Barack Obama campaign video collaboration with rapper will.i.am, Dylan created “A Shared Culture” to help spread the word about the Creative Commons mission.

In the video, some of the leading thinkers behind Creative Commons describe how the organization is helping “save the world from failed sharing” through free tools that enable creators to easily make their work available to the public for legal sharing and remix. Dylan puts the Creative Commons system into action by punctuating the interview footage with dozens of photos that have been offered to the public for use under CC licenses. Similarly, he used two CC-licensed instrumental pieces by Nine Inch Nails as the video’s soundtrack music. These tracks, “17 Ghosts II” and “21 Ghosts III,” come from the Nine Inch Nails album Ghosts I-IV, which was released earlier this year under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license.”

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Come See Annie McKee Speak at the 2012 HRPS May Event in NYC

 

 

 

 

 

Click below for full brochure with details of this exciting conference.

HRPS_GC2012_Program

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Positivity: If this 3 year old can do it, what about you?

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Happiness Matters. Got Some?

You know things are changing when the cover topic for Harvard Business Review is Happiness at Work. What? Those of us working in leadership with a focus on emotional intelligence, resonance and neuropsychology research have long seen conclusive links. Performance, loyalty to an organization, discretionary effort—it’s all linked to a person’s happiness—both at work and in life. That’s right: Happiness matters, in a very big way.

Teleos is grounded on the firm belief that professional development requires personal growth. Why? Because to become different at work, we must become different. Period. If I want to be less conflict averse at work, I need to become less conflict averse as a person. Research shows that we are who we are. At home. At work. Core behaviors, core skills, core defaults or tendencies are true for us across contexts.

But it begs the question: So what about people who really do act differently at work than home?

Say the person who rules the roost at home, but seems to be deferential to a boss. We all know them: quiet in meetings, agrees with the CEO, doesn’t seem to lose his/her temper at work. But at home, it looks different. That same person talks over a spouse, sets rules and expects them to be followed—no questions asked or watch out! Doesn’t that disprove this core assumption: as at home, as at work?

Actually, no. Sure, we may see someone who is more deferential to a boss than to a spouse, but that’s about power, not capability. The deeper issues calling out for development appear in both places: not letting power determine levels of openness, kindness, listening or participation. And addressing that requires personal development. If done, it will allow for a more authentic, more effective worker who can respond to a boss with respect, and still not defer. And a  person who can listen, or respond, to a spouse or kids with respect, and not expect deference.

And this circles back around to happiness. We are a social species. We are built to be in groups, not solo like polar bears, eagles or jaguars. We are emotional creatures, we are wired to receive data from our environment on an emotional frequency that helps inform and protect us. Therefore, we tend to live and work in groups, and we tend to respond to emotions. Happiness is connected to both of these realities about our species—we are at our best when we are in satisfying emotional relationships with other people. We are at our best when we are happy. At work, and at home.

So, I share with you an excerpt from HBR, this month. If this speaks to you, I invite you to read a piece Annie McKee and I wrote a few months back: Good-Bye Adam Smith; How Empathy and Awareness Just Might Save the Planet.

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Money isn’t everything. But for measuring national success, it has long been pretty much the only thing (other than, of course, sports). The specific metric that has prevailed since World War II is the dollar value of a country’s economic output, expressed first as gross national product, later as gross domestic product. This is an improvement over ranking by military victories—the most time-honored gauge. And the era of GNP and GDP has been characterized by a huge global rise in living standards and in wealth.

At the moment, though, GDP is embattled. Economists and national leaders are increasingly talking about measuring a country’s status with other metrics and even with a squishy-seeming concept like “happiness.” A 2009 study on alternatives to GDP, commissioned the year before by French president Nicolas Sarkozy and led by the economists Amartya Sen, Joseph Stiglitz, and Jean-Paul Fitoussi, has become a global wonk sensation. In October 2011 the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)—a club of the world’s wealthy nations—followed with a “How’s Life?” report on “well-being” in its member countries. Each year since 2007 the private Legatum Institute has published a global Prosperity Index, a sophisticated mix of economic and other indicators. Individual nations are getting into the game, with Prime Minister David Cameron of the UK making the biggest waves by unveiling plans to measure national well-being. There are decades-old challenges to GDP as well, such as the United Nations’ Human Development Index and the Kingdom of Bhutan’s insistence that it is out to maximize not GNP or GDP but GNH—“gross national happiness.”

As everyone in business knows, you manage what you measure. So although the replacing-GDP discussion may seem a little airy, its growing credibility in important circles could give it a real impact on economic policy. And it parallels efforts in some boardrooms to use new metrics to measure overall success. So it’s worth exploring where the movement is coming from and where it might be headed. (For more on how the expansion of performance metrics leads to new management priorities, see “Runaway Capitalism,” by Christopher Meyer and Julia Kirby, HBR January–February 2012.)

 

The story usually begins with Jeremy Bentham, an Englishman who in 1781 outlined a philosophy of utility that assessed the merits of an action according to how much happiness it produced. This was during the Enlightenment, when thinkers sought to replace religion-based rules with rational, scientific guides to decision making and life. Bentham suggested creating a sort of happiness calculus for any action by balancing 12 pains (the pains of the senses, the pains of awkwardness, and so on) and 14 pleasures (the pleasures of amity, the pleasures of wealth).

Although the basic idea of utility took off, Bentham’s approach to it did not. Calculating pleasure and pain in a way that could be compared from person to person was too difficult and messy. Economists, the most enthusiastic adopters of the concept, came to focus instead on the tangible expression of people’s needs and desires: what they were willing to spend money on.

This work reached an apotheosis in the 1930s, with Paul Samuelson’s attempt to explain welfare economics in purely mathematical terms. At about the same time, the economists Simon Kuznets, in the U.S., and Richard Stone, in the UK, were developing the systems of national accounting from which GNP and GDP are derived. They were not really concerned with utility; the main goal was to make it easier for policy makers to manage a national economy through financial crises and wars. But the combination of a straightforward metric, the belief among economists that spending patterns revealed all, and the rise in economists’ clout and prestige was a powerful one. In the 1940s GNP was adopted by the newly formed International Monetary Fund and World Bank as the key indicator of economic growth, and over the years it took on deeper connotations of success and well-being.

For its original purpose—measuring short-term economic fluctuations—GDP is not likely to be supplanted anytime soon. It may even be gaining ground: A major discussion is under way concerning whether the U.S. Federal Reserve and other central banks should in times of crisis focus not on inflation but on GDP growth.

When one moves beyond short-term ups and downs, though, things get more complicated. “Our gross national product…counts air pollution and cigarette advertising and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage,” Robert F. Kennedy said on the presidential campaign trail in 1968. “It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for the people who break them. It counts the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl.…Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play.” Read full piece.

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Want more?  Read Good-Bye Adam Smith, by Annie McKee and Suzanne Rotondo

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Sustenance in Today’s World: The Difference between Appetite and Hunger

These days, we often get very little nutrition out of our lives. From the food we eat to the products we consume to the work we do, it seems that we have barely scratched the surface of the value they provide before we are busy consuming something else. I had barely learned how to use the word processor on my computer before I found myself “needing” a bigger, better, faster one with more advanced programs and a memory space I will never come close to filling. It is the same way at work—jumping to the next priority, the next big idea to fill our voracious appetites, but before we even finish chewing, we are looking onto the horizon for the next big thing.

As a result, we find ourselves with insatiable appetites, dwindling attention spans, and in a constant state of stress and fatigue. And I wonder—how much of what we consume escapes us? How much goes into the toilet, the trash, and the bookshelf of forgotten ideas? We can extract every bit of goodness out of even the most meager of rations if it is necessary for our survival. In an age of unprecedented consumerism, we are constantly told that if we do not buy into the newest gadget, activity, and designer medication invented, that our economy will collapse. Aren’t we good enough consumers?

At the same time, economies of scale have challenged us as producers. Disappearing in many parts of the world are handmade crafts and locally-produced items. In the agribusiness of the western world, many farmers can’t make a living on 20 acres of land—or even 50. A sack of potatoes that would keep a starving family alive for a week routinely goes on sale at the supermarket for a dollar. And many of those potatoes end up soft and with eyes wildly growing out of them, seeking soil for roots but finding only garbage. What really is the value of a potato? It depends on who you ask.

Just as everything in life, there is a balance in opposition. Sometimes we need to starve, and sometimes we need to feast—but mostly, we need moderation. Is this not what the major religions have been teaching us through practice and words for thousands of years? Is this not the secret to a happy life that we constantly forget as we burn ourselves out?  In the end, the lesson is this—sustainability is survival. And no doubt, in a time of unprecedented waste, more crises are bound to emerge that will teach us this lesson again and again.

So what does this mean for leaders? In the busy pace of today’s world, it is more important than ever to save some energy for mindful reflection. There is a great deal of knowledge to be gleaned from even the smallest experiences and by exploring our daily surroundings in a compassionate quest of learning. I am reminded of a something I once heard that when someone in the modern world complains of hunger, what he is referring to is his appetite. Perhaps this is the reason why we digest so little of what we consume, both literally and metaphorically. Hunger is a powerful motivator, while appetite—the wanting that is not tied to need—is not. Hunger drives the learning curve; it keeps us mindful and in a state of heightened awareness. Appetite keeps us in a perpetual state of craving with no resolution or enduring sense of satisfaction. Is it no wonder that too often we seem to have an appetite for new ideas but no real hunger. In such conditions even the best training may not take hold and catalyze the organization for needed change.

Relationships are another area where appetites rage. In a networked world, it is not uncommon to have hundreds or even thousands of “relationships” on LinkedIn and Facebook. How many of these are interactional relationships? Social networking is an important, powerful, and meaningful tool, but it does beg the question—how can one person maintain so many relationships in a sustainable and respectful way? At the very least, it is essential we do that with the people we lead, those we serve, and those with whom we spend our lives.

This is done through increasing our self awareness and awareness of the needs of others through developing the skills of mindfulness and empathy. An ancient proverb says, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” Although it is important to know what kind of organization we want to lead, it is just as important to consider what kind of organization we want to return to the next generation of leaders we are borrowing it from. When we make these considerations—when we choose to lead in a sustainable way—we find ourselves honoring the sacrifices and commitment of those we lead—and those we follow—rather than trivializing them.

Adam Smith famously said, “All production is wealth.” But in the same sentence, he also said something most people forget, “and there can be no wealth without human exertion.” It is critical we not lose the connection between the two statements. In this connection is a lesson to be learned about the relationship between work and wealth. Relationships take work—an amazing amount of work. The same goes for change initiatives, leadership development, stress management, and other things we care about. In a hard economy and a time of unprecedented uncertainty, it is prudent for each of us to take stock of what truly maters to us personally and allocate resources—attention, time, and commitment—to ensure they nourish us and those around us over the long term.

What nourishes and sustains you?

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The Five Minute New Year’s Resolution

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

Lao Tzu

Last year my resolution was to meditate. It seemed so simple. I wanted a consistent, daily, meditation practice. Yet the only real practice I had was telling everyone I wished I had a meditation practice (hey, at least I was honest!).

After a conversation with one of my Teleos colleagues, I was given two pieces of advice: tie my new meditation practice to something I do everyday (like brushing your teeth or driving to work) and do it for five minutes a day. I had doubts that this would make a difference, I mean, what could I possibly accomplish in five minutes? But who doesn’t have five minutes a day to spare…so, I decided to give it a try.

After a month, I was amazed at how successful I was and how much I looked forward to the five minutes of mindfulness each night before bed. And, even more surprisingly, how much of a difference it was making. That five minutes made me a calmer person in ways that showed up throughout my life including the checkout line, waiting at the doctor’s office and while driving – it even helped me fall asleep. Imagine the kind of person I could be after 10 or 15 minutes a day!

So Why Does This Work?

A car uses more gas when it’s accelerating than it does once it’s in motion. We’re the same way. Very often beginning is the hardest part, so we fail before we start. One of the reasons this happens is because our brain thinks it’s going to be worse than it is. Therefore, by limiting our action to five minutes, we actually trick our brain into thinking it won’t be that bad and we are able to follow through.

When financial advisor, Dave Ramsey, works with people having money problems he tells them to pay off their smallest debts first so they build momentum and get small wins. Using this rationale, if you’re cleaning your house, he would say to finish the smallest room first so you feel a sense of accomplishment. Doing something for five minutes a day does this for habit-building. After a few days of succeeding at this small goal, your brain experiences you’re making progress and you continue to stay engaged, which leads to habit formation.

So, with this as the foundation, here are some tips for building habits:

Be Specific

The simpler and more specific you make your goal, the more likely you will succeed. Often people fall into a trap called decision paralysis described in the book, “Switch.” When we give ourselves too many options, this ambiguity actually paralyzes us and we wind up doing nothing. In contrast, when things are transparent and actionable, we have little room for question and we do them.

For example, rather than saying, “I will eat healthier,” decide on three to four healthier choices you will make each day, such as eating two servings of fresh or cooked vegetables as part of your lunch, drinking 8 glasses of water, eating smaller meals more often, or eating meals at home rather than at restaurants. Or similarly, rather than saying that you are going to exercise more, state that you will walk for 30 minutes every morning before work

Be Intentional and Be Positive

If you don’t have a resolution yet, it might be a good time to explore the Intentional Change Model from research done by Richard Boyatzis and presented in the book co-authored with Teleos co-founders Annie McKee and Fran Johnston, Becoming a Resonant Leader. This model suggests you imagine your ideal self – the self you want to become – and create a vision for how you see yourself in the future. Then, using this future self as a motivator, you can work on actions that take you in that direction.

An important element of the intentional change model is that you frame your goal in a positive way, rather than stating your goal as a negation of an existing habit – e.g., I will not waste time, I will not smoke, I will not overeat, etc. Instead try: I will be productive with my time, I will feel strong when I’m not smoking, I will eat things I love until I am full and then stop. Stating things with a positive intention and positive emotions actually creates energy for our actions and makes us feel good, and that is what ultimately leads to lasting change.

Use Your Self-Control Wisely

Research by Roy Baumeister at Florida State University suggests that our self-control is a limited resource – we only have so much of it for a given day – and therefore it can become depleted. This means it’s important to reduce your temptations throughout the day and use your energy for self-control in ways that support your goals rather than wasting it. Two ways he says it can be replenished are sleep and through positive emotional experiences. This is why we may have more self-control in the morning and less when we’re under stress. It also suggests that emotional regulation in the form of mindfulness may help.

Practice Gratitude

The following finding by Emmons and McCullough really amazed me. People who write down five things they’re grateful for each week “reported more progress on their goals, fewer physical complaints, more frequent physical exercise, more optimism and higher overall well-being,” as compared to groups that recorded only stressors or major events in their week. Wow, all that from practicing gratitude! So if you don’t have any other goals you want to work on, why not give gratitude a try?

My resolution for 2012? I will do five minutes of yoga before lunch four days a week. Is there something that you could start doing for five minutes a day that would improve the quality of your life? Remember, be specific, be positive, be intentional, be clear, be grateful and take a moment to acknowledge your progress each time you complete your goal.

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Gratitude (and Gifts): The Parent of All Virtues

I look forward to December. I enjoy wrapping up a year, and the festivities of the transition from one year to the next. I especially love the traditions that remind us of our relatedness to one another, and those that focus us on gratitude.

Cicero held that “gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”

Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu philosophers all speak of the importance of gratitude as a human virtue.

Gratitude is derived from the Latin word gratia, meaning grace, graciousness, and gratefulness. Gratitude is a state of mind-heart that has elements of wonder, appreciation, and thankfulness.  We know that the ability to experience and express gratitude are essential for emotional health and well being.  In fact, Maslow identified this ability as core to the success of “self-actualized” human beings. When we can experience and express gratitude we see wonder and find joy in even the most mundane things, and in the face of great hardship.

 

The other day, a former client referred me to another person with a positive note about me and the coaching I had provided him. I felt appreciation, “Thank YOU!” and a sense of wonder and awe that he had taken the time to remember me with kindness and then act on this feeling.

On my part, I feel grateful because I have gained something from the thoughtful action of another person.  My beliefs about his intentions and the sacrifice or risk he may have made on my behalf are part of what creates my warm feeling of gratitude. There is no quid quo pro here. That is the spiritual nature of gratitude.

On Giving Gifts

I love to give. Giving makes me feel good. I love to think of people, to consider who they are, what they enjoy, what they dream about, and what they need.  This act of empathy, filled with love and good will, makes me feel good. Gift giving for me affirms my connection to people – those I love, those I enjoy and those I don’t even know.  Throughout the year, during my travels and when I am home, I see things that remind me of people I keep in mind and heart. When I can manage it, I try to buy or capture those images, things, and ideas and bring them home or send them to the person my mind.

All gifts are not material. A gift of your self can be moments of time, acts of consideration like the one my client gave to me, or taking the time to write a letter to someone who had a significant positive impact on you, someone you are grateful for.  Social media sites such as Facebook enable my gift giving in the form of letting people know I am thinking of them as I send a note or a photograph.

On Receiving Gifts

Anyone who lives with children knows that selfless, benevolent, mindful gratitude, is not innate. Too often, well-meaning friends of mine have brought my children gifts when they come to visit. When the expectation of a gift amps up the emotions and then the gift is a disappointment, young children can be brutal.  “I hate that!” or only slightly better, the child in question bursts into tears and runs upstairs. Researchers say that true gratitude emerges spontaneously sometime during the ages of 7-10.

There are still children inside each of us. So, here’s a tip:  Even if you don’t like the gift, you will feel gratitude if you focus on the positive intention of the giver. That rush of gratitude is the gift, not the casserole dish you don’t need, that lame pair of gloves that aren’t your style, or the disappointingly mundane kitchen gadget. Practicing mindful-attention on the positive intention of the giver will complete the exchange and bring smiles to you both.

Gratitude Makes the World a Better Place

Adam Smith, the renowned political economist, wrote in 1790 that human behavior has a logic to it and that gratitude was an essential social emotion: “The sentiment which most immediately and directly prompts us to reward is gratitude,” Adams wrote.

Other theorists have explored the belief that receiving a gift triggers indebtedness and a feeling of reciprocity as a result. My client’s referral has left me in a positive state of “debt” to him. This desire to acknowledge his belief in me is the positive, resonant cycle.  I want to ensure that his good word is honored by providing excellent service to the people he referred me to.  In this way, we create a social network linked by the act of mutual gratitude and generosity. In my estimation, this is a far better kind of network than the traditional alternative, built out of self interest and negotiated material contracts.

I hope you will focus on the positive impact of gratitude in your life. Here are my gratitude-related gifts for you:

Take time in these next few days to record what you are grateful for. This act alone will lead to a positive mental outlook.

  • Pay it forward by giving generously to others – both those you know and those you don’t know personally.
  • Focus on the positive intentions of others as you receive acts of kindness and gifts of acknowledgment.
  • Self manage your disappointed inner child.
  • Weave a web of gratitude and gratefulness by expressing your appreciation out loud and to others besides the giver.

Thank you.

 

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