DO THIS: 30 days of Thank You

New Year, New exercises for your well lived life.

One of the most impactful category of exercises and practices for me in 2016 were those related to Gratitude.  For 2017 I am building on those with a specific practice around “Thank You”.  While many Gratitude exercises are internally focused on building your OWN CAPACITY FOR GRATITUDE, the Thank You practice turns gratitude outward and includes the objects of your gratitude in the practice.  In some ways externalizing gratitude is a “next step” or “advanced” gratitude practice as you are taking a risk putting yourself out there to other people.  While there is very little downside to this (and lots of potential upside!) I would not recommend the Thank You practice as a first step gratitude practice.  This is best done from a place of quite confidence built on a solid Gratitude foundation.

Lots and lots and lots of other bloggers have written similar challenges, but I like mine because it is all notes to people.  External.  Not just a list of cues for a personal journal.

The Exercise:

Every day for 30 days I send an asynchronous “Thank You” note to someone who has done something for which you are thankful as part of your morning routine.

Try to be specific.  Thank them for something specific.  Like “remember the time you came and brought flowers to the hospital when my daughter was born? Thank you.”  You can go general, but the more personal the connection, the more authentic.  Do NOT include anything else with the thank you.  Focus on sincerely expressing the gratitude.  You can catch up in the follow up.  And remember to leave out the weasel words.

In my case, I wanted this to take less than 5 minutes each day from beginning to end, so I allowed the Thank You to be either a text, email, phone message, thank you card in the mail, Slack message, Facebook message, Instagram comment, or any other form of asynchronous communication.  No phone calls.  Why Asynchronous?  Because I didn’t want to blow the 5 minute budget catching up or getting off topic.

Pro TIP:  Because I am a nerd, I actually brainstormed a list of almost 100 people and created a google spreadsheet of the 30 I was going to do this exercise with before hand.  I listed what I am going to thank them for and I am tracking the reactions also.  I put them into three categories, Family, Close friends, Acquaintances with 10 in each.  I wanted to have a balance of close, near and far to see if there is any material difference in the reactions or the feeling of different categories.  You don’t have to plan it out that much if you are more spontaneous (and less of a data nerd).  You should be intentional about it though. Think through who you are going to include and why.  Try to reach a bit to people who you should have thanked long ago, but have not talked to in quite a long time.  The oldest “thank You” in my list is 40 years ago.

Results Hypothesis:

My hypothesis is that the exercise will:

  1. Build gratitude and overall happiness of myself with my life and friend network through the regular recognition of thanks to other people.  I hope that engaging with the network will reinforce the internal feelings of overall gratitude in life (and replace the negative monkey).
  2. Re-ignite conversations with some network nodes (ok friends/acquaintances yes I am a nerd) that have been dormant.  (excuse for connection). I am interested in the long term network effects here.  How many people will get “infected” and do something similar?  How many dormant connections will be reconnected?
  3. Make each day happier by starting off with memories of someone I am thankful for and acting on that thanks.
  4. I also believe this exercise has a chance to reinforce resilience.  Or build some resilience.  When the day shovels me a pile of shit I can remember that just earlier that day I had something to be thankful for. That should make the pile of shit easier to dig through.

Actual Results:

Not complete yet, will post in Feb.

Initial results (after five days) include:

  • My daughter Finn (16) cautioned: “You should probably tell people why you are sending the notes up front so they don’t think you are going to kill yourself.”  A highschool student in our town had sent a series of “thank you” texts just hours before committing suicide earlier in the year.  Result:  This post and linking to it in my messages as explainer.
  • Since I planned the whole thing in advance and had a list much longer than 30 people to thank, the exercise of planning was very interesting as well, figuring out the categories of people, who to include and who to drop.  Who would make your list?  Who will you cut?  Why?  I prioritized the top 30 as the “greatest” appreciation I had for the event. Sure it i subjective.  And not all the things I am most thankful for in life have gotten thank you cards in this exercise, it is more related to finding 30 people who I am most thankful for.
  • I read a good blog post and added the guy to my list for that day, dropping him a email just saying “thank you for writing that post”.  Not asking for anything. He sent back a nice note as well.  Small connection.  Authentic appreciation.  Maybe I will email him again about something else, but the start was not an “ask” it was authentic thankfulness, gratitude.

 

Summary:

Gratitude is a well documented good life enhancement.  Externalizing this with outbound thank you notes is an advanced practice with interesting potential network effects.

More coming in Feb.

The Science:

Harvard wrote about this

There is a 26 study round up here.

Berkeley is doing good work here.

 

 

References:

There is a Coach.me 30 day thank you exercise here (slightly different as they tell you what to be thankful for each day).

There is of course lots of Pintrist boards on this  (also typically giving ideas of what to be thankful for each day rather than focusing on people).

 

Measure and Understand Your Resilience

DO This: How I prepare for conflict situations

Conflict-photo

2016-05-30 15.43.10Monday was haircut day.  I mean seriously dude?  Cut that hair.

Ok, I have been busy.  Conflict.  I am getting there.  As I walked into Rudy’s on Capital Hill (no I didn’t use the damn app to book an appointment – you shouldn’t need a damn appointment for a barber shop), a buddy of mine was sitting in the chair finishing up.  I had been thinking about this friend lately and meaning to connect.  Love that about Seattle.  The desk guy said it would be a half hour wait, so I ask my buddy if he has time for a coffee.  He says “How about a beer?  Or five?”  Seeing as it was well past noon (around 2:30) I say “Sure.”

Turns out my friend was staring down the barrel of a potentially explosive rendezvous with his girlfriend on Thursday who he had the distinct impression was trying to dump him in the middle of a bunch of other shit at work.  He had about a dozen tactical offensive strategies tumbling around in his head and wanted some advice.  Less than half a beer in it was clear that his monkey mind was in full-blown panic.   Summoning my best practices over the years I directed him toward strategies I have found successful.  Three beers later (thankfully it didn’t take all five) we had agreed on an approach which was not originally on his list and in fact was about 180 degrees from the direction he was going.

This episode has caused me to think about and organize (somewhat) my thoughts on how to prepare for upcoming potential conflict.  Here goes.

While every type of potential conflict has a different fact pattern, I have found that this framework can significantly reduce the fireworks and generate a greater percentage of “win-win” (hate that term) results. I have used this basic approach both when I am the instigator/aggressor of the conflict (firing a poor performing employee, talking to a family member about money, collecting a debt, etc.) and when I suspect to be the target of aggression (the board member wants an impromptu  “update” on company performance, the girlfriend wants to “talk”, a key employee wants to “have a coffee” just before bonus time, my daughter says “dad, do you have a minute?”).

The Old way: Outcome Oriented Offense.

Until very recently, my normal response to impending conflict/danger was:

Delay/Deflect.  Try to avoid conflict at all costs. Change the subject.  Move the meeting.  Deny everything.  Cut the conversation short.  Have sex instead.  Turn on the TV.  Take a trip.  Bring up a much larger problem involving someone else.  This avoided 60-70% of the conflict.

If defensive fails, move to offense.

Ready.  Figure out who/what was the threat.  Demonize them.  Remind myself of my superiority and righteousness.

Aim.  Plan an offensive attack.  Rehearse all the reasons I was right.  Be clear on what I wanted/needed out of the situation.  Be prepared to fight to the death for the win.

Fire.  Go in with guns blazing.  Do not listen (that is weakness) or only listen as a delay/distraction tactic.  When faced with arguments that diverged from my own beliefs, double down on beliefs, say them louder.  Win with superior force, will and might.  Win at all costs.  Never retreat.

Move on.  If I win, gloat.  Do not be gracious in victory, maybe even flip the looser off, give them a kick in the ass out the door.  If I lose, cut that person/thing out of my life as irrelevant and continue on with my own original beliefs intact. Conflict was not a learning experience, it was win/loose.  Win/Win is just what winners say, not an actual desired outcome.  Keep moving at all cost.

This was basically the approach my friend was taking to his upcoming potential conflict with the girlfriend.  This approach is very outcome oriented – Win, stay alive.  In certain existential situations (war with a clear enemy trying to kill you, the tiger trying to eat you) our natural fight of flight response serves us very well.  Unfortunately about 95% of the conflicts we face are not truly existential, yet we tend to respond as if they are.

The New way: Process oriented empathy and understanding.

I have heard many people express a fear that focusing on process over outcomes (taking your eye off the ball) will lead to less goal achievement.  In my experience stacking up a bunch of wins while everyone else looses eventually leaves the winner very alone, unfulfilled and wondering what went wrong.  This process orientation strengthens my life force and my interpersonal network rather than weakening it through solo victories and cutting off the looser.

Here is what I (try) to do these days which I have found to be much more successful in resolving conflict (I still hate “win/win”).  Occasionally I even learn something or grow (imagine that).  This approach is definitely preferred with anyone who you must continue to deal with over time (family, friends, co-workers).   Fewer people will feel like you are an asshole.  Even a few may appreciate your problem solving skills and want to hang out more often (a particular benefit with the girl/boyfriend).

When facing a potential conflict situation:

Prepare.  Get the facts straight.  Focus on the facts.  Try to remove any judgement or critique about the situation.  Answer these questions for yourself.  In fact write them down on one side of a blank piece of paper.

  1. What do I think happened (or is going to happen)?  If the boss calls you into the office and you start catastrophizing that he may want to fire you, ask this question.  What really happened?  He asked for a meeting.  Nothing more.
  2. What feelings are you having about the situation?  Name every feeling you are having.  Use a feeling list.  Believe it or not there are more feelings that fear and anger and happiness.  Keep away from judgments about the feelings.
  3. What do I want out of this situation?  Not the tactics, like I want the fight to be over as soon as possible.  Or I want to win.  What is your real motivation here? What is your deepest desire for an outcome here?  Do I want to win against my girlfriend, or do I want us to grow in understanding of each other?  Again do not judge.  One good tactic is imagine the optimal outcome of the conflict and list the feelings you would have about the outcome and the other person involved (yes another feeling list is useful).  You may decide you just want the win and don’t give a shit about the consequences.  Just be crystal clear.

Now do the same for the other person who will be in the conflict. Write those down on the other side of the paper.  Exercise your empathy muscle.  While you can’t absolutely know someone else’s motivation, their feelings or what they want, you can certainly try to figure it out.  Many conflicts have started over misunderstandings and without clear motivations on either side.  While some differences are irreconcilable, the severity and intensity of conflict can be significantly minimized when there is empathy for the opposition.

Listen First.  Especially if you are on the receiving end of the aggression.  Put your own feelings and desires aside and listen.  Really fucking listen.  Do not interrupt.  Keep eye contact.  Nod your head.  Yea some call it “active listening“, but you damn well know how it feels when someone is really paying attention to you.  Do that.  Put your own thoughts aside, especially if you are a guy and constantly want to jump in and solve the problem. There will be plenty of time for that.

Focus on understanding.  In the “old way” I listened as a delaying tactic, as a rope a dope while I prepared the main offensive attack. Don’t do that.  Stay curious.  Is what you are hearing what you expected from the person during your preparation?  Do you really understand what feelings, needs and desires they have?  Do you really understand what they want out of the situation?  Keep the judgement out.  Even if what you understand they want is totally fucking stupid and useless.  Try to dig down the real basic needs being expressed not the surface needs.  For example if your girlfriend says “I just need you to take out the trash once in a while” the old me would be just like “sure I can do that” end of conversation.   If you focus on understand what is really underneath the requests, you might get to the core issue.  Like “I need to feel loved or appreciated.”  Often times the real needs and motivations are buried under hurt, distrust and layers of daily details.  Focus on understanding the true needs and motivations. Focus on understanding not winning. The “win” is the understanding.

Remain mindful.  This could be the first step, or a step that underlies the entire situation.  Basically stay awake and engaged with listening/understanding. Your monkey mind will want to bust in with your own feelings, needs, wants, desires, solutions.  Your monkey mind will want to tune everything out as it prepares offense.  Stay focused.  There is time for everything the monkey mind wants to do, but your goal here is to stay focused on process not outcome.

Pro Tip:  For the Really BIG conflicts, the ones much further down the existential fear scale, you should employ role-playing.  Talk the situation and your approach through with a friend, mentor or in extreme circumstances, actually role play with them.  Start the expected conversation and play the scene through.  This is what Presidential candidates do for the big debates.  For big conflicts, this investment will pay off.

What often happens to me in armed conflict situations when I deploy the process oriented approach is that the opposition is quickly disarmed and we start working together from a position of empathy on a solution we are both happy with.  In situations where mutual happiness is not possible (firing an employee, breaking up with the girlfriend, collecting the debt), the wounds of the conflict are significantly reduced.  No one limps away mortally wounded.  The opposition may be wounded but they probably still have their dignity.  Over time they may even appreciate the conflict as a turning point.  Today’s looser needs to have the confidence and ability to be tomorrows winner.  The world is not well served by armies of wounded losers zombie walking through life.

Sometimes with all the empathy and understanding of the other’s needs, I still can’t give them what they want.  I can’t keep the employee.  I can’t take out the trash.  But with the understanding and empathy the parties can leave the conflict feeling understood.  Feeling that they were not steamrolled.  Far fewer grudges arise later.  The Process Orientation of conflict resolution still has an outcome.  The negative outcome you fear may still happen.  In many ways there is still a winner and loser.  But there is less damage to both sides.

Well that certainly is much more organized than the three beer advice I gave my buddy, and it was produced with coffee instead, but I am happy with it.  I certainly will admit to having changed my approach to conflict over time and the results are 10x better when the process approach is deployed.  Meditation is the superpower that has given me the ability to pause and choose a strategy.  While sometimes I may still choose the “old way”, I know have an option and the skill to choose.  Those have been steps in the right direction.

DO this: Breath exercises + Cold shower = improved immune response and more GRIT

Image result for cold shower

A couple of years ago I read that taking a cold shower first thing in the morning would be good for me (yea right).  I recently found a fairly lively “cold showers are bullshit” contingency out there, so time for a second look.  Breathing exercises (a mix of hyper ventilation and holding the breath) have also been bantered about among my climbing, surfing and yoga friends for various health benefits.  The major proponent of combining these (with an emphasis on the cold parts) is a crazy Dutchman named Wim Hof.  He has even commercialized his “method” if you have an extra $200 to spare.  There is some third-party validation SCIENCE behind the practice (a necessity for me to try anything).  He recently did an AMA on Reddit which is quite self promotional, but fairly educational.  I found an abbreviated explanation of a morning ritual version of the “method” in the June issue of Outside Magazine.   For the last week I have been doing this every morning.  Here is an explanation of my “modified Hof method” and a first impression.

METHOD:  The Martin Tobias modified Hof method of breathing and cold immersion.

Follow these steps in the morning immediately before picking up a device, having coffee, eating, or training.  Initially do it lying down, with a friend near by who you trust enough to hear you scream like a little girl.

  1.  Lie on the ground/floor (not in your bed).
  2. Inhale deeply but not quickly, pulling in as much air as you can.  When you think your lungs are full, suck in some more.
  3. Exhale fully but not quickly (you may pass out); simply let the breath out.
  4. Repeat in/out for 30 to 40 rounds at whatever pace is comfortable.  If you start to feel light-headed, slow down.
  5. On the last round, exhale and then hold your breath until your body feels the need to breathe.  For me this is about 1-1:30 minutes, your mileage will vary.
  6. Inhale deeply but not quickly, then hold your breath for 10 seconds.
  7. Repeat steps 3-6 for three or four rounds.  Total of 90-160 breaths.
  8. After your final round, hop in a cold shower.  Put your whole damn body in there, move around. Do not just have the water hit one arm or side of your body.  If the you feel the water warming up after a few seconds, turn it down.  Try to stay in initially for at least 30 seconds (this is where the screaming like a girl comes in), over time try to work up to 3-5 minutes and maybe even use a little soap or shampoo to have something to do.

EVALUATION:

I have done this for seven days now.  The breathing part has been easy and even enjoyable.  I have to remember to slow down or hyperventilation makes me too light-headed (hence the floor).  The cold shower is the hardest part and there has been alot of screaming.  First day I only lasted about 20 seconds.  After seven days I am up to 3 minutes and can get a fairly productive shower done in that time including taking the shower wand down and getting the cold all over.

No noticeable mental or physical benefits, but I didn’t expect to see/feel any.  I have a distinct feeling of accomplishment.  Of beating back the fear.  Every day of practice makes it easier and builds overall confidence.   Total morning time is about 7-8 minutes.  It is actually less total time than my prior long hot lazy showers were.  I think I will stick with it for the next month and re-evaluate.  It adds very little overhead, has proven science upside, and delivers a daily small victory first thing in the morning.  This one is a keeper for now.

As with all tools I write about here, your mileage may vary.  I only pass along the ones I have personally found to be helpful or interesting or carry very little downside with fairly meaningful potential upside.  I encourage your own examination and experimentation.  Your path is your own and you have to take your own steps.  But DO TAKE STEPS.

RESOURCES:

Becoming the Iceman

 

DO This: Practice beating fear and facing the flinch. 

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A couple of months ago my 15-year-old daughter asked me how she can overcome some of her fears.  The “I don’t like to be home alone at night or walk down a dark alley” type.  At the time I was stumped. As a manly man if a buddy had asked that question the obvious answer would be “grow a set you pansy!” Followed by endless shaming until the guy admitted he wasn’t a wuss anymore. As a man I have been shamed out of fear my whole life.

A little birdie (years of therapy) in my hypothalamus sat up and urged me to take a different tack with my daughter.  So I mumbled something about “you only get good at things you practice” and proceed onto google.  Four months, much reading and many trials later I actually have found a few things that are appropriate for exactly the situation I have: a 15-year-old girl with normal age related anxiety  in a few areas and a desire to get a little more gritty and tough.

We tried the first fear buster test at home tonight.  Watch the video of my attempt below.  Hat tip to Julien Smith in The Flinch for this technique that I have added onto.

Directions are simple.  It takes less than two minutes.  Get up right now and go to your cupboard.  Pick out a little used but once loved coffee cup or glass.  Hold it out in your hand at arm’s length, shoulder height.  Now drop the cup!  Yes you heard me drop the damn cup!  Now clean it up.  Sit down and write a list of every feeling that you felt before during and after dropping the cup.  Use a feeling list like this if you have to.  Naming feelings in detail reduces their power over you.  You can just notice them like anything else.  “oh, there is dread.  And his friend fear.  How interesting.”  This exercise takes you through (slight) emotional distress, into analysis and onto (hopefully) some increased awareness and confidence all in less than 10 minutes with very little risk to life or limb.

It took my daughter a couple tries before she could drop the cup.  The flinch made her arm go limp a few times before she pushed it aside. All the training to be careful and don’t break things.  Yet there was her father giving her permission to break stuff and there would not be any consequences.  The monkey mind couldn’t deal. Couldn’t reconcile the conflict.  Multiple disaster scenarios raced through her head. Fear and dread took over. But with my encouragement she pushed through and found out that nothing bad happened.  She stared down the flinch and won.  One step at a time. Keep building and practicing and larger fears will lose their sway.

Like anything else the journey starts with the first step. If you want to get tougher try the cup drop challenge. All you have to lose is a little fear and a cup you don’t use anyway.