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Mind the Gap! Assess Your Culture.

21 May

If you’ve ever taken a train you’ve probably heard the term Mind the Gap. It’s a precautionary warning to note the gap between where you currently are and where you want to be. In terms of a train or airplane jet way the idea is to avoid falling into the crevice – that would be quite unfortunate!

Expanding the idea of Minding the Gap to other areas of your life – work, family, community or personal – is there a gap between:

  • Where you say or think you are
  • Where you actually are
  • Where you want to be

Sometime we begin to believe our own press – if we say if often enough, loud enough or emphatically enough – it will be true.

“I am an optimistic person who watches what I eats and takes care of myself.”
“Yes, our family is very close, there are no secrets or arguments.”
“Our corporate values are Trust, Respect, Collaboration, and People First.”
“All viewpoints and opinions are encouraged and welcomed.”

Really? Is that what everyone experiences day-in and day-out?

In Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, she lists 10 questions you might want to pose to help determine if there is a gap, and if so, how big it is. This is a great exercise for individuals, a family, schools, work teams, a department or company.

  1. What behaviors are rewarded? Punished?
  2. Where and how are people actually spending their resources (time, money, attention)?
  3. What rules and expectations are followed, enforced, and ignored?
  4. Do people feel safe and supported talking about how they feel and asking for what they need?
  5. What are the sacred cows? Who is most likely to tip them? Who stand the cows back up?
  6. What stories are legend and what values do they convey?
  7. What happens when someone fails, disappoints, or makes a mistake?
  8. How is vulnerability (uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure) perceived?
  9. How prevalent are shame and blame and how are they showing up?
  10. What’s the collective tolerance for discomfort? Is the discomfort of learning, trying new thing, and giving and receiving feedback normalized, or is there a high premium put on comfort?

A few perspectives to consider when looking at the questions:

  • What do you espouse to be true? Your values, mission, beliefs or self-press?
  • What do you, or others, experience day-in and day-out?
  • What’s the size of the gap?
  • What is the cost of the gap on relationships, moral, reputation, personal wear and tear, resources, etc.?
  • What will you do about the gap?

You have choice!! Print off the questions. Take the quiz for yourself. Ask your family members a few of those questions. If you’re really curious and brave take the questions to your next staff meeting and see what people think!

Live life out loud! It keeps shame at bay.


Wholehearted Living!

11 Apr

I believe passionately that we are all created uniquely and perfectly so that we can contribute to the world in a meaningful way – that our unique abilities and contributions are needed to create completeness.

I also know that the wear and tear of life tarnishes our beautiful, unique brilliance.  The norms of our cultures try to convince us that in someway we are not enough.  You know the drill; what advertising tells us, our work culture rewards, people answer their phones and text while we’re talking to them, and the commonplace eye-roll.  These not enough messages attack on every front and, they miss the most important truth.  You were born perfectly and uniquely – you are worthy just as you are.

My passion in life is to help clear away the rubble and let true brilliance shine!  To that end, I totally resonate with Brene Brown’s message of Wholeheartedness!

Wholehearted Living:  Engaging in our lives from a place of worthiness and ability to be resilient to shame; facing uncertainty, exposure and emotional risk, and knowing that I am enough.  Wholeheartedness is defined by compassion, courage, and connection.

What Wholehearted people have in common:

  1. Cultivate authenticity:  Letting go of what people think
  2. Cultivate self- compassion:  Letting go of perfectionism
  3. Cultivate a resilient spirit:  Letting go of numbing and powerlessness
  4. Cultivate gratitude and joy:  Letting go of scarcity and fear of the dark
  5. Cultivate intuition and trusting faith:  Letting go of the need for certainty
  6. Cultivate creativity:  Letting go of comparison
  7. Cultivate play and rest:  Letting go of exhaustion as a status symbol and productivity as self-worth
  8. Cultivate calm and stillness:  Letting go of anxiety as a lifestyle
  9. Cultivate meaningful work:  Letting go of self-doubt and “supposed to”
  10. Cultivate laughter, song, and dance:  Letting go of being cool and “always in control”

Today’s choice, which I strongly recommending you do!

  • Print a couple of copies of the Wholehearted list (I’m serious!).
  • Read through the list.  Note where you currently engage in Wholehearted Living and where you allow our culture or others to rob you of your unique brilliance.
  • Connect with friends and family members; ask them to do the same.
  • Ask those friends and family members to help you be honest about where you are engaging and being robbed.

Research indicates that if you call out and name something you dramatically increase your ability to do act on it.  If there is shame involved, speaking it out loud robs the power.

If you’d like to read more by Brene Brown, check out the Daring Greatly Book Report.  Enjoy!


31 Jan

Mindfulness is a hot topic these days (check out the Time Magazine cover story for Feb.2014)  Many people are unfamiliar with the term, but probably recognize the behaviors.

Scientists define mindfulness as the experience of paying close attention to our present in an open and accepting way, or directly knowing what is going on inside and outside of ourselves moment-by-moment.  FYI, this would be the opposite of scarfing down a piece of stale chocolate cake you didn’t really want – just because it’s there, or letting your brain run wild creating a fictitious negative scenario about some jerk at work.

In our uber busy worlds our brain is most often projecting forward or rehashing backwards.  We’re considering what isn’t yet done, how an event will go or what went wrong with the last event.  None of those thoughts help us to be effective in this moment or even in the next moments.

Mindfulness is about learning to direct our attention rather than living in our heads.  “It is our ability to pause before we react,” Dr. Siegel explains.  “It gives us the space of mind in which we can consider various options and then choose the most appropriate ones.”

Mindfulness is a skill that can be learned.  It is not difficult to do it, it is difficult to remember to do it.  The challenge with being mindful, or fully present, has everything to do with the autopilot narrative, or storytelling, going on in our brains (see Oct. 31, 2013 post).

Research has found that people who can stop and be aware of their internal experience (thinks about what you’re thinking about) heal more quickly from operations and skin disease, are less anxious and can decrease recurrence of depression by 75 percent.  Basically they are physically and mentally more healthy.

Dr. Yi-Yuan Tnag’s conducted a study where two groups of 40 individuals underwent training for twenty minutes per day for five days.  One group was trained in an integrative body-mind technique (mindfulness), the other in relaxation.  The mindfulness group had almost 50 percent greater immune function on average and cortisol levels were also lower.  Mindfulness apparently is more than just relaxation.

So, how to become more mindful?  One, pay attention to what you are thinking!  Switch off your autopilot.  Thoughts are simply “mental events”, they do not need to control you – you don’t have to believe all of your thoughts!

Two, take time each day to practice being mindful:

  • At least once a day, pay attention to what you are eating.  What is the texture and taste, what does it look like, smell like and taste like?  We tend to ‘think’ about food more in the past and future than we actually experiencing it in the present.
  • Pick one activity a day and stay fully present – possibly driving to work, taking a shower, walking the dog.  Turn the autopilot off and notice what is going on around you.
  • Believe it or not, breathing is critical.  Practice breathing slowly and thoughtfully (see May 2, 2013 post).  The best is if you can take 15 min. once a day and literally just pay attention to your breathing and nothing else.  If that is too daunting to start, take 60 seconds and breath deeply while focusing on your breath.  Do this at the beginning and end of each day, meeting, meal or when you feel stressed, it changes the physiology of your body and your brain!

Your choice for today…RIGHT NOW make a note or do something that will remind you to practice being mindful today and tomorrow!

Additional resources to consider.  Your Brain At Work book report.  There are tons of on-line resources, here is one example:

Multitasking and Distractions

14 Jan

Do you pride yourself in being good at multitasking?  Guess what, research indicates you can’t do it very well!  When people do two cognitive tasks at once, their cognitive capacity can drop from that of a Harvard MBA to that of an eight-year-old. A University of London study found that constant emailing and texting reduces mental capability by an average of ten points on an IQ test.

Multitasking isn’t a skill issue; it’s a brain design issue.  While you can hold several chunks of information in mind at once, you can’t perform more than one conscious process at a time without impacting accuracy or performance.

When it comes to conscious activities your brain works in a serial way – one thing after another.  Research by Harold Pashier found that people attempting to perform two basic tasks at once took twice as long. Practice did not change the results (you aren’t actually saving time!)

A second study by Pashier found when participants were asked to do one simple mental task and one simple physical task simultaneously their performance dropped by 20%.  When asked to do two tasks that required very simple cognitive ability, their performance dropped by 50%. So, you can’t look for your favorite pen and listen attentively at the same time, and thinking you can skim your email while participating on a conference call is a fallacy!

“No, I did not get that email.”  “What?  I didn’t agree to that on our call!” – Are you sure??

Get a load of this!  One study found that office distractions eat up an average 2.1 hours a day.  Another study found that employees spend an average of 11 minutes on a project before being distracted.  After an interruption, it takes 25 minutes to return to the original task, if they do at all.  People switch activities every 3 minutes, either making a call, speaking with someone or working on a document.

Studies show that a person who is interrupted takes 50% longer to accomplish a task and they make up to 50% more errors. Any distraction, however small, diverts your attention.  It then takes effort to shift your attention back to where it was before the distraction, especially when a circuit is new or weak.

 Whether you are multitasking or being distracted by text, emails or calls, “always on” is not productive; it forces the brain to be on “alert” far too much.  This creates an artificial sense of constant crisis, which can cause the fight or flight system to kick in.

A few choices you might act on…

  • Catch yourself trying to do two things at once and slow down.
  • The only way to do two mental tasks quickly, if accuracy is important, is doing them one at a time.
  • Find ways to decrease external distractions.
  • Turn your phone OFF for a few hours each day!  No, the world will not stop twirling if your phone is off!
  • Read the full book report Your Brain At Work by David Rock.

Hooked – The Science of Sex

11 Apr

Yes, another Brain Book – but this one is about SEX!  Hooked, New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting Our Children. 

If you have kids under the age of 20 this book is a must read (I seldom recommend the actual book!)  Even if you don’t have kids the book report is definitely worth 20 minutes of your time.

Hooked does an excellent job of explaining why so many youth, and adults, get into troubling sexual situations AND why so many adults don’t seem to be able to stay connected to their partner.

From a brain perspective, sex is optimized when you have one partner for life. In fact the authors, both MD’s and researches, would go so far as to say the only healthy sex there is (according to your brain), is within the confines of marriage.  Your brain chemistry and neurotransmitters want you to bond for life.  Having multiple sexual partners literally damages the emotional bonding mechanics build into our systems. (Does that mean you’re doomed if you’ve gone beyond one partner – of course not, but it has, or will have, an impact.)

When it comes to thinking, decision-making and affecting your brain, sex often starts waaayyy before intercourse and doesn’t even require it for the brain to be impacted.  Brain studies define sexual activity as any intimate contact between two people that involves arousal, stimulation and/or a response by at least one of the people.  Arousal is the point at which chemicals start to be released and emotional bonding begins!

The author’s main purpose in writing Hooked is to inform parents about the inner workings of the adolescent mind and body with regard to sex. There is an awful lot of unconscious science going on that can dramatically impact behavior and decisions.  Yes, of course, there are hormones raging around, but it’s also about the chemical make up of how our brains and body’s do sex as well as general brain development. With that said, research shows that the home environment has a greater influence on behavior than hormone levels with regard to risky sexual behavior in puberty.  Parents, this is where you come in.  The authors are quite passionate about helping you avoid the impact ignorance can play on your child’s long-term ability to do relationships well.

For those that have already passes the youth decision making point, this book can offer insights and possible focus for restorative options.

There are a slew of interesting statistics:

  • Approximately 75% of graduating high school seniors have had sexual intercourse (I wonder how many non-graduating students had sex?)
  • Approximately 70% of college students have had sex with at least one partner in the last year (remember, multiple partners in a life time damages your bonding mechanics.)
  • 80% of unwed fathers don’t marry the teen mother of their baby.
  • 80% of unwed teen mothers eventually receive welfare.
  • Individuals who have sex before marriage are less likely to experience marital happiness.
  • In the 1960’s there were only two sexually transmitted infections – gonorrhea and syphilis, both treatable.  Today there are more than 25 sexually transmitted infections, most of which are viral and cannot be cured.

This book is a surprisingly easy read.  The writing style and format is well suited for its intended audience.

Your primary choice today is about information!  Check out the book report to decide if you might need the whole book!



SPECT Scans, Book Report Part 2

4 Mar

From This is Your Brain on Joy by Dr. Earl Henslin

If you haven’t seen a SPECT scan of the brain, seriously – do it!!  So cool!!, you can see brains on meth, marijuana, AD/HD, etc.

Henslin, like many therapists and pastors, assumed that all brains are created equal, meaning everyone has the same capacity to choose and functions from the same level of free will.  Based on the brain’s inner workings, it is now evident that all brains are not equal and not everyone has the same power to choose.

If a brain isn’t working correctly, all the counseling, trying, discipline and theology will only work partially, at best.  (This does not take people off the hook for their anger, anxiety, depression or hyperactivity; however, understanding how their unique brain is wired can offer new insights and answers.)

Much of Henslin’s book is based on Dr. Amen’s area of expertise, SPECT scans (Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography) – a type of imaging that shows how blood flows through the brain. SPECT scans might be more sensitive to brain injury than either MRI or CT scanning because it can detect reduced blood flow to injured sites.   To read more about the scans:

The book examines common brain issues associated with ADD/ADHD, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), depression, anger and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).   SPECT scan can offer enormous insight into these issues.  For example it is quite common to find a person with rage issues has had damage done to their temporal lobe, causing reduced blood flow.  This is often correctable.

As cool as it would be to get a SPECT scan, not everyone can afford one. Even if you lived by one of the Amen Clinics, they reportedly cost $3,300 and health insurance probably isn’t going to help.

There is a no cost alternative that you might want to look at.  Dr. Amen has created a questionnaire, or a checklist, to help establish if there is an imbalance that might require medical assistance.  Here is a link to the questionnaire.   The ‘key’ for the checklist and instruction for taking the quiz are in the book report on page 5.

The choice I’d ask you to focus on today has to do with judgment.   We are often quick to judge those that behave in ways we do not appreciate.  We might assume they are not trying hard enough to change or aren’t disciplines enough or don’t have enough faith to be better.

Today’s point of choice, identify 3 people whose behaviors bug you enough to distract you.  Can you consider the possibility that they really are doing the best they can with the brain they are working with?  Can you cut them some slack?  If you are in a position to help them, will you help them?  Maybe you just start with the questionnaire.

Outlier Trivia – A Book Report

23 Dec

If you’re tired of the same old stories at holiday parties a quick read through this book report, Outliers, will equip you with fun new trivia to share.

Malcolm Gladwell does a great job of using interesting research and stories to build a case. In the book Outliers, he builds the case that extraordinary success is not so much about hard work as it is time, location and heritage. He suggests people do not rise from nothing – they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages.

Here are a few topics…

The Matthew Effect – people that start out a little bit better than their peers get special treatment, training and advantages that lead to special opportunities. For example in sports, date of birth dramatically impacts likelihood of elite success. Seventy percent of elite Canadian hockey players are born in the first six months of the year (40% in the first three months.)

The 10,000-Hour Rule – apparently 10,000 hours of practice are required to achieve world-class mastery in almost any discipline; music, sports, writing, chess, etc. You only need 4,000 hours of practice to teach.

Bill Gates, while admittedly talented, smart and hard working, succeeded in part because he had unusual opportunities based on chance, and being born at the right time in history.

Wealth – of the 75 riches people in human history (starting with Cleopatra), 14 of the richest were American born within 9 years of each other in the mid 1800’s! How does one explain 20% of the richest people EVERY being clumped together like that? Opportunity – the railroad and Wall Street emerged.

IQ is good to a point (about 120), but does not translate into measurable real-world success. A study started in 1921 showed that the highest IQ kids in the class do not become Outliers or Nobel Prize winners.

Practical Intelligence is typically gotten from family. An extensive study examining a child’s ability to succeed in the world, based on economic factors, showed that children of poorer families were often better behaved, less whiny, more creative in making use of their own time and had a better sense of independence than kids from wealthier families. However, they are less able to advocate for themselves causing them to miss many opportunities.

Place and Time. There was a perfect birth date for New York Jewish lawyers – 1930. Based on the educational system at the time, the Depression, non-Jewish birth rates and Wall Street snobbishness, being born a poor Jewish immigrant in 1930 offered an opportunity that changed law firms forever.

Cultural Legacy. Feuds between families in Kentucky in the late 1800’s still affect well-educated, affluent descendents that never lived in the area,100 years later. In 1999 Korean Air nearly went out of business due to their inordinate number of plane crashes. The problem was not a lack of skill or equipment it was cultural norms. Apparently it was not OK to give the Captain negative feedback, which includes basic information.

Your only choice today is to expand your repartee of interesting facts and stories! If you like the book report, buy the book.
Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Thankfulness and Stuff

25 Nov

I recently heard this question posed, “What would your life look like if you only got to keep today – what you thanked God for yesterday?”

I have to admit my devious mind thought – whaoo, great way to get rid of a few extra pounds, annoying people, car problem or a crummy project.

Quickly, however, I realized those problems would only be an issue if I had remembered to be thankful for: all the food I have to eat and a healthy body to absorb those calories, my job, family and community that contain those annoying people, the car I have that needs fixing and my house, work or yard that are associated with the crummy project.

Seriously, what would your life look like today if your daily level of thankfulness dictated what stuff, situations and relationships you got to keep?

You may not think being grateful for your shampoo, hot water, clean water, clean underwear, carrots, kids, computer, health, family, schools, electricity or phone is important – everyday – but ask someone who doesn’t have access to those items and see how grateful they’d be to have yours.

A little science to support the sappy sentiment.  Based on how the brain works… experiencing a true sense of gratitude or appreciation releases chemicals into your body that repairs your immune system and put you into a state of well-being.  On the flip-side, thinking negative or fear based thoughts (anxiety, stress, worst case scenarios, panic) pour different chemicals into your body that attack your immune system, dumb you down and wears you out.

(If you didn’t read the book report, Who Switched Off My Brain” the last time I posted it, check it out now!)

Even if nothing physically disappears due to your lack of thankfulness– you might be missing the overwhelming wealth, abundance and blessing you are living in.

You have choice about what you think about.  Today:  choose to be thankfulness for all of the beauty, people, stuff, health and blessings surrounding you.  Say it out loud!  List things you’d like to have tomorrow, one at a time! It is your choice!

Be an Effective Complainer!

28 Jun

Having the ability to appropriately present a complaint is good for relationships as well as keeping your personal stress and sanity in check.  Get a load of this!  According to Dr. Gottman’s research, 69% of all conflicts in a marriage are perpetual, meaning they aren’t going to be solved.  However, they can be managed, so learning to complain-well is critical.  (Page 11 of book report.)

I’m going to start with a choice… think of 2 or 3 complaints you have.  Work through them as you read on.

Preparation for complaining:

  1. Check your emotional state.  Before you send the email or text, start the conversation, or blurt out your side of the story make sure you are in a calm, objective, resourceful state.  Based on how the brain works, if you are frustrated, angry, anxious, or overwhelmed you are less likely to be able to listen effectively to others and, you are less able to entertain new options and ideas.
  2. Check your assumptions (a thought we believe to be true or certain without proof.)  Many of our assumptions operate at an unconscious level.  Stop and ask yourself a few questions; “what do I know for sure, what do I think I know, and what don’t I know” about this situation.  Clarifying assumptions is a great way to talk about a complaint situation!
  3. Be honest, do you really want to solve, or at least manage, this problem?  Or do you really want the other party to submit, gravel, cower, etc.?  If you can authentically listen, learn and consider options – you’re ready to go!

Getting down to complaining…

First and foremost, avoid a harsh start-up.  Gottman says “Discussions invariably end on the same note it began, which is why 96% of the time he can predict the fate of a conflict discussion within the first 3 minutes.”  (Page 13 of book report)

Second, try to depersonalize the complaint i.e. what is the actual problem or issue you’d like to resolve?  Examples:


Personalized (criticism?)

I’d like the checkbook balanced 

I’d like the house to look clean

What time should we leave

Who’s in charge of doing…

The kids can/cannot do…

You never enter your deduction. 

You never pick up your clothes.

We’re always late because you…

I have to handle everything

You’re a push over, I’m always the bad guy

When we personalize a complaint the other person’s brain is likely to feel attacked.  An attacked brain will go into fight or flight mode, creating little opportunity for a resourceful, option-rich discussion.

Many complaints are based on misinformation or missed information.  Before you start finger pointing and blaming it would be really helpful to make sure you both know what problem or issue you’re trying to fix.  “What time do we leave” can be a proactive discussion.  “You’re always late” is an argument.

Here is one idea to keep things objective and less personal.  Friends of mine used an apple – yes, an apple.  When one or the other wanted to voice a complaint they put the apple out in the open between them and said they’d like to discuss a situation.  Making the apple synonymous with the problem helped keep things focused on the issue rather than the people.  Don’t worry about appearances or being corny– find something that works for you and your spouse, children, siblings, co-workers or friends.  This is about building healthy, long-term relationship!  The big idea;  don’t avoid complaints and try to do it well!

Coming soon – When You’re STUCK, complaints that don’t go away!  In the mean time checkout the book report (or book) The Seven Principles of Making a Marriage Work Whether you’re married or looking to be more effective in any long-term relationship the book is full of great tools, research, assessments and exercise.

How’d you do on your choice?  Ready to move forward?

Who Switched Off My Brain? A Book Report

13 Feb

Isn’t that a great book title?

Have you ever been in a situation where you read an email, left a meeting or conversation and felt put down, misunderstood, slighted or even slammed? Let me ask you this.  What do you tend to do after that encounter?

If you’re like most of us, at the very least, you replay it in your head a few times.  Maybe you obsess about it – you replay the scenario to others word for word (well as accurately as your self-protective brain can remember it.  *Hint you are probably adding color commentary with a slant for making the other person look bad and you victimized. Just saying!) You might replay the story numerous times, creating elaborate follow-up conversations or “what I should have said” versions.

All of this is normal; it just isn’t healthy or helpful! Did you know that 80% – 90% of our health care cost and overall health problems in this country are directly attributed to stress?  And stress is directly linked to how we choose to think?

As you might know, our brains are super amazing and come equipped with all kinds of features to keep us safe, minimize energy usage, figure out complex problems, etc.  However, if you don’t choose to direct your brain activity your brain will stick to its number one priority – protecting you from predators.   Survival is so important that your brain has a dedicated part in charge of keeping you safe – the amygdala (ə mígdələ).

Your amygdala is very serious about keeping you safe.  At the first sign of danger it will give the go-ahead to have chemicals pumped into your body that will allow you to run really fast or fights like a warrior, this is your fight or flight system.  All the chemicals are brilliant if a crazed-animal is chasing you or an avalanche of rocks is falling on your head.  You need all of those chemicals to help you survive; they make you fast and strong.

What does this have to do with being ‘slighted’ by your co-worker or family member?  Plenty! Your amygdala doesn’t know the difference between real and perceived danger– an insult can be views the same as an avalanche of rocks.  “Squirt chemicals first, ask questions later.”  Your body doesn’t need all of these chemicals to combat an insult, they are suppose to help you physically run like a jaguar or fight for your life – literally!  If you don’t physically burning those chemicals up, they are running around in your body wondering what to do – so they attack your immune system and stress your heart.  In our daily language, we call this feeling stressed.

Here is where it get’s really crazy.  Every time you retell or replay the situation your amygdala thinks it’s being attacked AGAIN – “squirt more chemicals, incoming danger!”  You are now literally attacking yourself!  By retelling and embellishing the story you are choosing to dump more immune attacking chemicals into your system, causing more stress and damage.

You have choice.  First of all, you can influence what your amygdala reacts to.  If you don’t embellish the ‘slight” as a personal attack, your amygdala won’t need to give you a chemical infusion. Your amygdala will only override your thinking if your physical life is in danger. Second, stop repeating the story!  You’re killing yourself! Resolve it and move on.

This book report of Who Switched Off Your Brain provides great information, ideas and concepts for taking charge of your brain and your health.

Read the Book Report CLICK HERE    The book of course provides much more detail and can be ordered on Amazon or check out the website