Feed Your Soul at Work!

The other night I met a gentleman named Curt.  “Mind you that’s Curt with ‘C’,” he said as he reached across the table and took my hand.  I was having dinner with Curt and his lovely bride Jean, both of whom I was meeting for the very first time that evening.  I also met Jim and Lynn who my wife and I would also break bread with.  One more couple, Greg and Angie, good friends of ours, completed our group of eight.   After the introductions, a number of us attempted to read the MoosePie times.  I say attempted because the low lighting and our advancing age had us all manipulating the one page newsletter to find the right angle and distance to maximize both light and focus.  Entertaining to watch I’m sure for those a little younger in the room.  Along with the ‘times’, our place setting also included a fake $20 bill that could be used to bribe one of the cast members for a clue.

As you may have guessed, we were all at a whodunit comedy dinner theater, The Mystery Café (cue Toccata and Fugue in D Minor).  This particular show was a spoof on the X-files, and our challenge was to solve the mystery of how last Tuesday had disappeared from everyone’s memory.  And, as it turned out, this evening’s show was the last of this production and the cast was especially engaging.  They story was hysterical and entertaining (yes, I’m now at the age where these are things I enjoy doing.  I’m sure the buffet at Golden Corral is soon to be next on my hit list), but the highlight of the evening was meeting Curt.

You see, once Curt learned that I worked for Medtronic, he proudly informed me that he was now on his second Medtronic pacemaker.  Throughout the evening during the various breaks in the show, he appreciatively informed me about his journey that started with his first implant in 1992 and his later diagnosis of atrial fibrillation which required his new pacemaker to use only one of his two leads he had implanted.  He was current on recent technology advances, informed about his care and disease, and he kept track of all the research and business practices of the company I work for. He was so proud to not only have his device but also so appreciative for it keeping him alive – “I’m pacemaker dependent,” he said.  “I wouldn’t be here enjoying each and every moment if it wasn’t for this,” he said tapping his chest and smiling at his wife. When the show was over and as we put on our coats to leave, Curt grabbed my hand, pulled me close and whispered conspiratorially, “after I had my first pacemaker replaced, they cleaned it up and gave it back to me with my named engraved on it.”  He squeezed my hand, pursed his lips holding the emotions in as his eyes welled up, and then turned and left.

Curt with a ‘C’, his name engraved on his pacemaker and forever in my heart.

As you can imagine, this not only made my day, but Curt’s story will always be with me.  Then again, as time passes, Curt and his story are at risk of becoming distant memory.  And on those work days when nothing seems to be going right, Curt and his story are far from my conscious mind which is when I need it the most.  I need that reminder of the positive impact of what I do can have on the the previous and future Curt’s.

How can you keep similar experience close to your heart and mind and have the emotional charge that stories like Curt’s are there when you need them?  Below, I’m going to share some of the things I do for just this purpose.

External Mental Hard Drive

Years ago, a good friend and I were talking about the power of stories in teaching.  The problem I had was anytime I was preparing for a talk, I couldn’t recall any relative stories to share.  That when she suggested I start a “story box” so that each time I read or experienced something that might prove to be a good story to share later, I could capture the story in Evernote along with tags that describe the essence of the story (e.g., teamwork, leadership, change, creativity, etc.).  Then, in the future, I would have a ready library of stories easily searchable in the cloud.  Since that time, I have amassed over a thousand stories in Evernote, some from web pages I’ve clipped, books I’ve read, discussions I’ve had with others, or experiences I’ve had personally.

Then I realized I could expand my external hard drive to also capture those stories of thanks, gratitude, attaboys, and other experiences that impacted me no matter how small (more on that in a minute).  If I have pictures or an illustration, I include them as well and put all of these in a special folder in Evernote.  I make sure that at least once I week I look through this folder and pick a few items out and not just read but take the time to revivify with the thoughts, feelings, and emotions that I can recall to feed my soul.  More importantly, on those days that have gone particularly poorly, I’ll take a fifteen-minute break and reopen this folder to recharge my emotions and reset my perspective.

Frequency is More Important that Size

Scene from “A Bug’s Life” when the Ants realize there huge numbers are more powerful than the few large grasshoppers

Dr. Ron Friedman writes in The Best Place to Work, that “Small, frequent pleasures can keep us happy longer than large, infrequent ones.”  Researchers, Dunn, Gilbert and Wilson reported in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, on several studies on this phenomenon –

  • “Another advantage of small pleasures is that they are less susceptible to diminishing marginal utility, which refers to the fact that each unit increase in the magnitude of a pleasure increases the hedonic impact of that pleasure by a smaller amount than did the previous unit increase. Eating a 12 ounce cookie is not twice as pleasurable as eating a 6 ounce cookie because the first X% of a cookie’s weight accounts for more than X% of its hedonic impact. People can therefore offset diminishing marginal utility by ‘breaking up’ or ‘segregating’ a pleasurable experience such as cookie-eating into a series of briefer experiences (Kahneman, 1999; Kahneman & Tversky, 1979; Mellers, 2000; Thaler, 1999).”
  • “Nelson and Meyvis (2008) asked participants to sit in a chair equipped with a massage cushion. Half the participants experienced a continuous 180 second massage, while the others experienced a massage of 80 seconds, followed by a 20 second break, followed by a another 80 second massage. Compared to participants who experienced one longer massage, those who experienced two briefer massages (interrupted by a break) found the overall experience more pleasurable and were willing to pay about twice as much to purchase the massage cushion.”

[Ref: https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/danielgilbert/files/if-money-doesnt-make-you-happy.nov-12-20101.pdf]

What was also found in this last study was that the participants had all predicted prior to their experience that they would enjoy the one long massage more than the discontinuous massage.

This finding is so key, because like those participants, most of us think we need that big experience, car, or trip to ‘make us happen.’ When research repeatedly shows that frequency wins over size every time. That means that you should fill your hard drive with as many experiences and thank you emails, large and small throughout the day.  The other benefit of this practice is that the more you do this, the more you start looking for these little positive nuggets.  We train what is called the reticular activating system to focus on these experiences, much like when you buy a new car and suddenly find that everyone else on the road has the same car.

Pay It Forward

Finally, pay it forward.  Who knows, you may be someone’s Curt and transform their day when they most needed it!



This Simple Change Will Transform Your Workday – Love Your Job Part 2!

I’m the occasional reader of Stephen King novels, not so much the horror genre, but books like Misery, The Stand, and a few years ago, Under the Dome.  I could only hope to be a fraction of the writer that King is, with more than 350 million copies of his book sold, he is in the top ten best-selling fiction writers of all time [ref: http://www.top10base.com/top-10-best-selling-fiction-writers-time/].  In his book, On Writing, King reveals the inspiration for his books – the fusion of two divergent ideas.  Take Carrie, according to King –

“I’d read an article in LIFE magazine some years before, suggesting that at least some reported poltergeist activity might actually be telekinetic phenomena – telekinesis being the ability to move objects just by thinking about them. There was some evidence to suggest that young people might have such powers, the article said, especially girls in early adolescence, right around the time of their first —

POW! Two unrelated ideas, adolescent cruelty and telekinesis, came together, and I had an idea …”

It is his powerful opening premise that hooks me into his books.  His subsequent prose, character and world building, action, and plot twists keep me reading well into the early morning hours.

Yet I am only an occasional reader – why?

It’s his endings.

More often than not, they are an enormous letdown for me.  When I read, The Stand, I became completely enveloped in his post-apocalyptic world, and the practical challenges around putting a viable society back together in the wake of such a tragedy.  I even appreciated the supernatural overtones peppered throughout the narrative.  But the ultimate climax left me wishing I had simply not finished the book.  After investing so much time and emotional energy into this 900-page tome, I avoided King for years.  That is until I picked up, Under the Dome.  As I stood in the bookstore flipping through the first few pages, I found myself just moments later well into the opening chapter as I sat at the store’s café with my new purchase.  As I read this even longer 1000-page book, the narrative and setup were so captivating I lost all track of time.  The entire premise was so intriguing and watching how society degenerated under these extreme conditions, I had to know not only how the inciting event came to be but how all of this would resolve.  Unfortunately, the ultimate answer and ending were even worse than I could have thought possible.  Apparently, I am not alone as there are posts on Reddit and Quora discussing this issue [ref: https://www.reddit.com/r/books/comments/2btyjk/what_stephen_king_book_has_the_worst_ending/].

Regardless, the result is that I have yet to pick up another Stephen King book since Under The Dome.

Here Comes the Science!

Serial Position Effect

My experience with King’s books have a deep psychological underpinning known as the Serial Position Effect.  Over fifty years ago, in 1962, Bennet Murdock reported on research where participants were asked to recall word lists of different lengths 10-2, 20-1, 15-2, 30-1, 20-2, and 40-1; where the first number was the list length and the second number was the presentation time in seconds.  In order words, 10-2 denoted a list of 10 words presented at a rate of 2 seconds per word.

The graphic below illustrates the result from these tests with the probability of recalling a word on the Y axis and the serial position of the word on the X axis (the first word would be in position 1 and the last word would be in the right most position) –

What is clear from this data is regardless of the length of the word list, participants were likely to remember the first few and last few words in the list.  It also shows how dominant the last words are in our memory.  The number of words and probability of recalling them is substantially higher than any other words in the list.

Remembering the first few words is known as Primacy.  Basically, these early words have nothing else competing with them and stand alone in our memory.

Recall of the last few words is known as Recency.  The simple graphic to the right illustrates this phenomenon.

The effect of Recency exists beyond word list recall.  It applies to our experiences.  Our last experience carries a strong position in our minds and how we view the experience as a whole.  This is the case with my reading of Stephen King books.  I remember the beginning but while I recall some of the concepts and plot twists in the middle, what stays with me the most is the end.  Keep this fact in mind while we talk a bit more about Primacy.

Primacy and Starting Strong

If 1962 wasn’t far back enough for our first research article, we’re going back even further to 1946.  It was in this year that Solomon Asch published “Forming Impressions of Personality” in The Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology [ref: http://thenewschoolhistory.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/asch_formingimpressionsofpersonality-web.pdf].  Of particular interest for us is experiment number five.  In it, participants were placed in an A or B group and then read a list of six characteristics that described a person.  They were then asked to write their impressions about that person in a short paragraph.  Before I show you the two lists, here are some typical examples of the responses from both groups:

Series A

  • A person who knows what he wants and goes after it. He is impatient at people who are less gifted, and ambitious with those who stand in his way.
  • Is a forceful person, has his own convictions and is usually right about things. Is self-centered and desires his own way.
  • The person is intelligent and fortunately he puts his intelligence to work. That he is stubborn and impulsive may be due to the fact that he knows what he is saying and what he means and will not therefore give in easily to someone else’s idea which he disagrees with.

Series B

  • This person’s good qualities such as industry and intelligence are bound to be restricted by jealousy and stubbornness. The person is emotional. He is unsuccessful because he is weak and allows his bad points to cover up his good ones.
  • This individual is probably maladjusted because he is envious and impulsive.

What were the two lists?

  • Group A: intelligent – industrious – impulsive – critical – stubborn – envious
  • Group B: envious – stubborn – critical – impulsive – industrious – intelligent

If you look carefully, the six characteristics are identical.  The only thing that is changed is the order in which they are presented.  Yet the perception and judgement of the participants about these two people were different.  The author writes:

A considerable difference develops between the two groups taken as a whole. The impression produced by A is predominantly that of an able person who possesses certain shortcomings which do not, however, overshadow his merits. On the other hand, B impresses the majority as a “problem,” whose abilities are hampered by his serious difficulties. Further, some of the qualities (e.g., impulsiveness, criticalness) are interpreted in a positive way under Condition A, while they take on, under Condition B, a negative color. This trend is not observed in all subjects, but it is found in the majority.

This starting bias made by the first few words colors the entire belief for the type of person they were reading about.  This is why first impressions are so important because they anchor our believes about a person or an experience.  Again in the case of Stephen King books, the beginning and premise are so strong, you can’t help but get hooked in.  Otherwise you wouldn’t even get past the first pages and the book would go unread.  In the latter case, there is no opportunity for recency because you never get past the beginning.

Putting Recency and Primacy to Work @ Work!

In order to transform your workday, you need to manage your day to start strong and end even stronger.  That means, your first activity of the day should be something that you are really enjoy doing – a hook if you will.  This is not the time to do the worst task you have planned for the day.  How you start will affect the rest of your day and the energy you bring to it.

Similarly, end your day with something powerfully positive.  For some this might be a 1:1 with a favorite mentor, completing a particularly satisfying action item, it might mean working out at your company gym, or in my case, walking to the parking garage with my best friend at work and laughing all the way to my car.  These final activities at work are the ones that will weigh the most in your memory, they will affect your mood and how you both view your day and your work.   The opposite is also the case.  If you end the day on a horrible event, meeting, interaction, or project, this will negatively paint the entire day’s experience and you will start to see your work as nothing but negative.

If for some reason, you can’t adjust your calendar each day to take advantage of Primacy and Recency,  make sure you use Prediction and Anticipation as I wrote about in How to Love Your Job (Part 1).  These can be used in any situation, meeting, event, activity and can greatly alter your perspective for the positive.

Together, these neuroscience based hacks are the foundation for transforming how you see your work and soon you will have programmed yourself to Love Your Job!

The Real Reason Why Your Goals Aren’t Working!

A number of years back, in a fit of uncontrollable impatience during an event we now refer to simply as “The fence incident” I made the unwise decision to vault myself over the backward fence instead of using the gate which would, at least in my mind, take too much time.  Looking back, I’m still impressed with the amazing height I achieved to ensure I would easily clear the top of the chain links. Unfortunately, I also lost all control resulting in an unscheduled trip to the emergency room.  Turns out my shoulder isn’t supposed to be positioned where my sternum normally resides.

That was over fifteen years ago and in the last few years I’ve really noticed that the flexibility in the dislocated shoulder has substantially diminished.  Wanting to improve my joint and connective tissue health, I came upon something called gymnastic strength training.  I’ve always wondered how men’s gymnastics can do positions on rings where they seem to defy the laws of physics.  How is it their shoulders doesn’t rip out of their sockets?

The key is mobility which is a combination of strength and flexibility.  Former US Junior Olympic Gymnastic coach, Christopher Sommer, created a program (https://www.gymnasticbodies.com/) for normal people to learn joint, connective tissue, and strength training.  He calls the training ‘foundations’ because all of the exercises progress toward doing seven foundational gymnastic positions including manna and straddle planche.







Now honestly, take a look at these pictures.  Actually performing a planche or manna is not my goal.  My goal is to improve my mobility not to mention getting through just the first foundation level takes an average of 18 months.  I’ve done a lot of different exercise programs, but I have stayed with this one three times longer than anything else (currently 9 months in).  What makes this program so different and what can this teach us about goal setting?

Let’s take a look at the science of goals.  SMART goals aren’t the only key to success.  In fact the science has evolved a lot in this space and what you may have learned historically about goal setting may actually drive the opposite of what you are working to achieve.

Three Types of Goals

First, we should ground ourselves on the different types of goals.  Research in this area tends to categorize goals into the following three categories –

Do Your Best Goals – You can probably discern from the name that these types of goals have no measurements associated with them.  One is simply instructed to ‘do their best’.  Using a sports analogy, if one were learning to shoot a free-throw, a do your best goal would be to improve their free throws over the course of a training period.

Performance / Outcome Goals – This goal has a specific outcome such as achieving a free throw percentage of 80% or better by the end of the training period.

Process / Learning Goals – An example of learning goals would be to learn the various fundamentals associated with a good free throw – for example learning the correct footwork on the line, how to aim the ball, the position of the shooting arm and elbow, the use of the legs, the importance of achieving a fluid motion, and the appropriate release and follow through of the shot.

Almost all goals in the business setting are of the performance or outcome nature.  They are easiest to measure – grow revenue by 5%, close 10% more deals, produce 25% more product, release new product by X date, and so on.  These are the types of goals that have run factories for years and increased productivity.

However, these goals don’t always work as intended.

The Role of Complexity

Some of you may be familiar with Daniel Pink’s TED talk about motivation.  In it, he talks about an experiment where participants were given a candle, thumbtacks and matches and instructed to attach the candle to the wall so that wax won’t drip onto a table.  In some experimental conditions, participants were told they would receive money if they scored a time within the top 25%.  The actual average time for these groups actually took 3.5 minutes longer than those who weren’t offered any monetary incentive.  In fact, study after study shows that extrinsic rewards don’t work for complex, creative tasks. https://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation/transcript?language=en]

My favorite story on this topic involves the Marshmallow Challenge.  Tom Wujec’s TED talk describes this challenge in which teams of four are given 20 sticks of spaghetti, one yard of tape, one yard of string and one marshmallow, and the teams are to build the tallest freestanding structure with the marshmallow on top in only 18 minutes.  On average, team achieve a 20-inch-tall structure.  However, when Wujec offered a $10,000 reward for the highest structure, the winning structure didn’t reach 20 inches.  It didn’t even 15 or even 10 inches in height.  At the end of 18 minutes, there was no winner.  None of the team’s had a standing structure when the time expired.
[reference: http://www.ted.com/talks/tom_wujec_build_a_tower/transcript?language=en]

A meta-analysis by Wood et. al. looked at numerous studies and found that the effects of goal setting becomes less pronounced as the task becomes more difficult
[reference: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Robert_Wood15/publication/232486726_Task_Complexity_as_a_Moderator_of_Goal_Effects_A_Meta-Analysis/links/0deec539511bc608c9000000.pdf].

So what works for complex tasks? What goals drive achievement?

In 2005, Seijts and Latham reported in the Academy of Management Executive about their research in which participants were asked to play what is known as the cellular industry business game.  It is a complex game with multiple variables and changing conditions where the goal is to improve market share by the end of the game.  Three groups were formed with three different goals –a ‘do your best’ group was instructed to simply ‘do their best’ to improve market share, the ‘performance/outcome’ group was asked to improve their market share by 20%, and the ‘learning/process’ group was asked to identify three effective strategies to drive market share.  The result of this studied showed no difference between those with the “performance” and “do your best” groups.  However, the “learning/process” group achieved twice the market share of those in the other two groups.
[reference: http://www-2.rotman.utoronto.ca/facbios/file/22%20-%20Seijts%20&%20Latham%20AME%202005.pdf]

But are learning or process goals always the best?

Next we need to consider environmental factors.

Challenge versus Threat Environment

My youngest son told me a story recently about a friend in his math class that has struggled mightily with his grades.  He had not gotten a passing score yet and his parents had taken away all privileges (extrinsic rewards) until he got A’s on his work (Performance / Outcome goal).  Unfortunately, his friend’s grades didn’t improve.  In this situation, the boy was operating under a “threat environment”.  That is, his situation was not seen as a positive challenge to achieve a new skill but a threat to avoid further punishments and loss.  Work by Dweck et. al. has shown that when people adopt this threat mindset, they interpret their inability to achieve the desired outcome as an indicator of low ability that severely impacts their self-esteem [references: Dweck & Legget, 1988, Heiyman & Dweck, 1992; Mueller & Dweck, 1998).

Similarly, in The Best Place to Work, Ron Firedman writes that when people are in the threat mindset “…[they] had to exert significantly more mental energy than participants in an approach [challenge] state just to accomplish the same level of work… The avoidance [threat] group also overestimated the difficulty of the task before getting started.”

In their paper “Challenge versus threat effects on the goal-performance relationship”, researchers Drach-Zahavy and Erez conducted studies where participants were placed in one of three stress conditions – low, threat (negative), and challenge (positive) and assigned one of three goals – do best, difficult [outcome/performance], and strategy [learning/process].

Their results found that difficult or outcome/performance goals were superior in every scenario but one. Performance dropped substantially in the Threat [difficult] goals condition [reference: https://ie.technion.ac.il/~merez/papers/dz.pdf].

So What Goals Should You Use and When Should You Use Them?

At present, research indicates that when someone is first learning the skills necessary to tackle a complex project, process or learning goals are superior.  And then, once they have learned these fundamental skills, outcome/performance goals are superior unless a “threatening” environment exists.   We have all seen employees who are struggling to perform.  They are put on a performance improvement plan usually consisting of specific performance/outcome goals (vs. learning goals) and their performance usually gets worse.  They take longer, second guess themselves and begin a spiral into poorer and poorer performance, just like the study above illustrated.

These lessons also explain my success at sticking with my exercise program.  The weekly goals built into the program are learning goals that have kept me motivated to keep learning achieve the next progression.

So the next time you are creating goals for yourself or those you work with, consider current skill level, task complexity, and whether there is a challenge or threat mindset.

And if I ever achieve that planche hold, I’ll let you know.

Chen Yibing of China competes in the men’s rings final during the artistic gymnastics competition at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games August 18, 2008. REUTERS/Hans Deryk (CHINA)/

Anxious @ Work? 90% of People Get This Wrong!

The Year Was 1976

I was a kid growing up in the small town in of Mishawaka, Indiana. My dad worked as a union plumber at one of the two remaining large manufacturing plants. We called it “Dodges” though technically I suppose it was the Dodge Manufacturing Facility. One day just after Thanksgiving that year, my dad came home from work and as I sat at the kitchen table he handed me an envelope. I peered inside and there were three tickets. Inspecting them I saw that one was for a hot dog, another for a pop (or soda, or coke depending where you are from) and the last one for admission. Admission where you ask?

Hold your breath…

Rainbow Roller Rink!

It was the annual Christmas party for the Dodge worker’s kids. Up until now I had only been able to go to the Christmas movie party the company sponsored.

But this was the year.

I was at the age where I graduated to the roller rink party! It was a rite of passage. The older cool kids got to go to the roller skating party. Now I was one of them. You can see from the picture of the place why I was so excited. By the way, this is an actual picture of the building which hasn’t changed a lick on the outside, except now it’s a bingo hall instead of a roller rink.

Once inside, I put on my skates which was awesome because now I was good 3 inches taller at least until everyone else put on theirs. I met some new friends and we skated around in circles weaving in-between other kids, we went too fast, and occasionally got the whistle blown at us as a warning to slow down or we would be put in the penalty box. About twenty minutes in, one of my friends came back from getting a drink of water and tells me about Judy (name changed to protect the innocent and my embarrassment) and how she likes me and wants to ‘slow skate’.

Before I know it, the lights dim down, the spotlight hits the mirror ball and the song “If You Leave Me Now” by Chicago starts playing.

To get the full effect of the moment, turn on your sound and click the arrow button.

Go ahead. I’ll wait.

In a moment of supreme confidence and excessive prodding from friends, I ask Judy to skate. She says yes, and the following 4 minutes we skate around holding hands, my heart is racing, my breath is fast, I’m feeling clammy, and my stomach is in knots.

It was amazing.

To this day I can’t hear that song without thinking about roller skating.

Fast Forward – The Year is 2014

Again it is the winter season, but this time I am in my car next to a small but beautiful park just south of downtown Minneapolis. The massive flakes of snow glide gently down in what could not have been a more picturesque scene. Ahead and to my left is my destination – the Pillsbury Mansion. Inside the gracious owners of this home are hosting local and state politicians, media leaders, CEOs of local businesses and other luminaries for an informal dinner event with the Mexican ambassador to the United States. Through a tortured series of circumstances and my own big mouth, I’m to attend and represent my company at this event but I’m also to tasked with finding a one on one an opportunity to talk with the ambassador about a project we have going on in his country.

Now if you recall the story above, I’m from a blue collar background. Hanging out with politicians and ambassadors is not my thing. How does one address an ambassador? Was I supposed to bring a gift of some sort or would that constitute a bribe? Fortunately, the State Department website answered some of these questions (for future reference, the options for addressing this position are “Mr./Mrs. Ambassador” or “Your Excellency”). Some of my DC colleagues were also helpful and thankfully one warned me to have a question at the ready because after the ambassador’s remarks we would likely have the opportunity to publicly address him.

Still outside, I watched as others arrived. Taking a deep breath, I left my car and approached the house. Here it was many years later, and those same roller rink feelings – the racing heart, fast breathing, clammy hands, and knotted stomach are all there just as strong as ever. The exception this time was that it wasn’t an amazing feeling, it was awful.

So what’s going on here? My physical reactions in both situations were the same (minus Peter Cetera in the background), but the way I felt about each of the events was very different. Fortunately, science can help explain this and even better, this same science provides the secret to instantly transform an anxious situation into an exciting opportunity.

Time for the Cool Brain-Hacking Science

Jane McGonigal writes in SuperBetter

  • “If we notice these physical sensations, we may start to rack our brains for something specific to be nervous about… But without a conscious story about what might go wrong next, these symptoms are just physical sensations. They become an emotional feeling of anxiety only when we actively start to imagine terrible things happening in the future.”

This is called the misattribution of arousal first reported back in 1962 by Schacter and Singer (reference: Cognitive, social, and physiological determinants of emotional state. Psychological Review, Vol 69(5), Sep 1962, 379-399.). In 2013, Alison Wood Brooks built on this much earlier work by realizing that anxiety and excitement are what are called arousal congruent – that is they are both high arousal states that feel essentially identical – that the misattribution phenomenon could be used to transform one feeling to another through very simple means. In other words, instead of trying to transform an anxious state (high arousal) to calm sate (low arousal), Brooks believed it would be easier to transform anxiety to excitement since they are both high arousal states. [reference: http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=].

Brooks conducted a series of experiments first validating that over 90% of people currently believe that the best advice to managing an anxious situation is to “try to calm down”. Her next three experiments included hundreds of participants randomized usually to one of three conditions, a neutral condition, a group that verbally declared “I am [calm]/[anxious]”, and a final group declaring “I am excited” before a given task. Prior to and during each task, Heart Rate was monitored to determine arousal state. The experimental tasks included singing in front of a group, giving an impromptu public speech, and completing a series of complicated math problems.

In each outcome not only did the participants who declared “I am excited” report a greater belief of self-efficacy but their actual task performance and outcome was statically better than the “calm/anxious” and control groups. Specifically, the Karoke singers had an 80% accuracy rate versus the neutral group at 69%. But take a look at the “anxious” group. Their accuracy rate was only 53% – this shows how detrimental negative self-talk can be.

In the public speaking task, participants were video recorded. These recordings were then shown to an independent group of assessors who were unaware of the experimental conditions (that is they had no idea what group the participants on the video recordings were in.) The assessors rated participants on their persuasiveness, competence, confidence, and persistence. The graph below shows that the “I am excited” group statistically outperformed the “I am calm” group in every category.

In the math task, even though the arousal state / heart rate remained high during the exam for every condition, the “excited” group statistically got more math problems correct. This shows that high arousal can be transformed from a negative to a very powerful state and attempts to ‘be calm’ are ineffective at changing arousal.

In her final experiment, Brooks evaluated the psychological reasons as to why the attribution shift from anxiety to excitement works. The results of her research indicate that shifting attribution creates a shift from Threat mindset to an Opportunity mindset. As such, after one first reappraises their internal state “I am excited” they then can more easily reappraise their external situation as an opportunity instead of feeling threatened.

Conclusion and “I” vs “You”

Brooks research suggests that anxiety is best managed through a misattribution shift from anxiety to the arousal congruent state of excitement. The way to do this is through verbalizing “I am Excited” and/or “Get Excited” and internalizing the belief through this self-talk.

While this may seem too simple to work, substantial sports psychology research exists in support of self-talk and subsequent enhanced outcomes and performance. In addition, recent research from Dolcos and Albarracin (reference: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Sanda_Dolcos/publication/263429185_The_inner_speech_of_behavioral_regulation_Intentions_and_task_performance_strengthen_when_you_talk_to_yourself_as_a_You/links/53fe31ef0cf283c3583bcf46.pdf) suggests, that use of second person (“You”) versus first person (“I”) during self-talk creates event greater outcomes.

Putting these two pieces of research together, using “You are Excited” may be even more powerful than “I am Excited” in helping transform anxiety into excitement state.

So the next time you are feeling that cold clammy, heart racing, stomach knotting feeling of anxiety don’t “Keep Calm and Carry On” instead GET EXCITED!


How To Love Your Job – 2 Simple Science Secrets to Success!

Over the Christmas break, my oldest was home from college and the whole family was back together again.  For many years when the kids were younger, we strived to have dinner together almost every night.  But now that there are older, one is away to college, one has a job and another has frequent basketball practice, so dinner with all six of us is fairly uncommon.  That is until holidays roll around.

The dynamic, energy and overall excitement around the table definitely amps up.  Although my wife and I struggle to understand the various meme references or quotes from YouTube ‘stars’ we’ve never heard of.

Quick side (or indented) note – up until 18 months ago, I had never heard of the word “meme” but my kids use it all of the time. Curious, I looked up meme’s origin and found it was coined by an evolutionary biologist, Richard Dawkins, in 1976 to describe how ideas replicate similar to an organism [reference: http://mentalfloss.com/article/61843/what-origin-word-meme].  So it’s been around a long time, and ironically its growth in use is actually the perfect example of what a meme is!

Now, back to the action.  Post evening meal, my kids all retired to the basement to play some multi-person video games from their recent Christmas haul.

There had been a time when I did Dance Dance Revolution with them (sorry I just created that mental picture for you) but my overall skills in video games in general have dramatically dropped off since playing the original Tomb Raider PC games years ago.  Undaunted I joined them in the basement and asked to play.  Turns out playing Super Mario 3D World was not so much fun for me.  Not only did I have no idea what I was doing, but I frequently lost track of my character and more often than not I either fell off, jumped off, or was picked up and thrown off a ledge.

Death comes swiftly and frequently in Mario land.

I was frustrated, didn’t know what I was doing, felt stupid because I wasn’t catching on and if I’m being honest, I was feeling left out from the fun everyone else was clearly enjoying.

Things changed when I asked if maybe there was a game that required cooperation to get tasks done versus all out competition.  And frankly, I needed someone to take the time and teach me.

Enter the game Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze and lessons from my youngest son.  Turns out I died just as often as I did before, maybe even more often, but it was an entirely different experience now. I learned each time what did and did not work in the game, especially as my son taught me when to shake the nunchuck, how to jump and climb the vines and most important, how to time my jumps.  Each new experience was just at the edge of my ability and sometimes I succeeded and other times I didn’t but I always learned and progressed forward.  Now I was having fun and the time was screaming by.

So what does Donkey Kong have to do with loving the job you have?  Turns out there are key neuroscience lessons from this experience that can be leveraged in the world outside of video games.

Prediction Power Principle

My experience with video games is not unique and has been studied extensively.

Neurologist Judy Willis has shown that playing progressively challenging video games increases the dopamine levels in our brains – basically we get a shot of this reward hormone over and over again.  Furthermore, Neuroscientist and researcher Jane McGonigal in her book Superbetter explains how ‘prediction’ is the foundation for this dopamine cascade:

“Making a prediction is one of the most reliable and efficient ways to prime and stoke the reward circuitry of the brain. “Every prediction you make—no matter how trivial—increases the level of the dopamine in your brain,” says neuroscientist Dr. Judy Willis.

Dopamine, of course, is the “reward” neurochemical responsible for motivation, learning and desire. And every time you make a prediction, two rewarding outcomes are now possible. You might be right—which will feel good! Or, you might be wrong—which will give you information that will help you make a better prediction next time. Surprisingly, the possibility of being wrong also feels good—because your brain loves learning.”

That’s because every time you make a move, or fire a weapon, in a videogame, your brain treats it like a mini-prediction.

How can you leverage the power of prediction at work?

It’s actually quite easy since a lot of our work experiences tend to tread fairly familiar ground each day supplying us all with ample opportunities to predict what our experiences will be like. We all have co-workers and someone usually talks about the weather or is late to a meeting or receives a package and so on.  We also have a daily commute, frequent meetings, ‘talks about empowerment’, lists of corporate buzzwords (the endless search for synergy and game changing opportunities), such that one can almost predict who might say what in various settings.  So the easiest way to leverage prediction is make a list of the different work related experiences you might have in a day and see how many you get correct.  Whether your predictions are positive or negative, you’ll get a jolt of dopamine each time.

Looking for something more fun than a simple list?  More to come after secret #2.

Anticipation Amp Up

I’ve always wondered how musicians feel when their songs born from personal hardship end up being used in cheesy commercials.  Back in the 70s, Carly Simon wrote a heartfelt ballad about what the future held for her and her partner, and the importance of savoring the now.

That same song, Anticipation, became even more popular after being forever fused and associated with Heinz Ketchup.  For a nostalgic trip back to 1979, check out this clip:

Fast forward to now.  Researchers have extensively studied the effects of anticipation and what it does to our brains.  In one experiment, participants were asked to rate their feelings about future and past events [reference: http://psych.colorado.edu/~vanboven/VanBoven/Publications_files/vanbovenashworth2007.pdf].  It seems we consistently rate the anticipation or looking forward to an event higher and more intensely than past events we have actually experienced.  In fact, most of our pleasure comes from the anticipation versus the actual event itself.

Furthermore, different types of events impact the intensity of anticipation as well.  Ninety-seven participants were asked to rate an upcoming experiential or a material purchase (e.g., experiential could be going to a concert, out to dinner etc. versus material would be buying an item like a purse, clothing, and so on).  Their anticipation was rated on ‘excitement’ and ‘pleasantness’ scales [reference: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/0956797614546556].  They found that anticipating experiential events is more exciting and pleasant than material purchases.

Combining prediction and anticipation at work will increase your overall job satisfaction.  Each day, there should be at least one activity or event that you are positively anticipating – it could be a new assignment, completing a particular task, learning something new but it must be something specific to that day.  And doesn’t even have to be strictly work task related, it could be taking a coffee break, having lunch with or taking a walk with a friend, whatever.  It just needs to be something you know you will look forward to.  A lot of people make their next day’s to-do list at the end of the day.  If you are one of them, take a few moments to make sure you plan in an activity you will look forward to.

Ready Made “Prediction and Anticipation” Activity

I’ve given you a few ideas above, but for those of you looking for a ready-made activity that is simple, fun and leverages the science of both Prediction and Anticipation, here it is – Office Bingo!

I’ve borrowed this concept from a story shared in the book SuperBetter referenced earlier.  In the book, McGonigal describes a friend who knew he was going to be having a challenging job interview and to prepare, he created a bingo card of all of the different questions he predicted he might be asked.  The next day during the interview, each time he was asked a question that he predicted, he mentally checked it off and turned what could have been an uncomfortable situation into a dopamine charged game not to mention being better prepared for the interview.

Office Bingo!

Below are two “Office Bingo” cards.

There are numerous ways to use the Office Bingo cards.  Some ideas to get you started are listed below.

  • Solo Prediction Game: The first is to ‘play’ on your own by choosing one card and, similar to the interview situation above, predict at the beginning of the day the items you are likely to encounter. At the end of the day, see how many you got correct and the next day see if you can increase your score.
  • Solo Bingo: In this game, you play a more traditional Bingo game and simply fill the card in throughout the day to try to get a Bingo. Try different Bingo games – down, across, diagonal, postage stamp, four corners, etc.
  • Partner Prediction Game: Enlist a partner in crime and have each of you choose a card. Play the prediction game above by having each of you predict the items on your own cards you believe you will encounter. The winner is the one with the most predictions correct that day.
  • Partner Bingo: Play a normal Bingo game versus your partner and see who can get a Bingo first.

The different options have varying degrees of anticipation and prediction built into them.  Experiment with these and other options you come up with on our own.

As you use these cards, you’ll soon find other non-Bingo ways to use Prediction and Anticipation and Love the Job You Have!


Want to know if it is ever a good idea to Fake It?  Check out this post !

Should You Fake It?

During the holiday break, my kids were home from school and our family dog, used to being mostly alone during the day, was now in the company of all of us for more than a week and his tail was wagging like crazy wondering who of the six of us would play with him or take him for a “W”.

Quick aside: I can’t say the word ‘walk’ otherwise the dog will hear and immediately run to the door and whimper ready to go out and see the sites of the neighborhood. Once that switch is turned on there is no turning it off. So please, when you come over, make sure and use the code letter “W” when referring to this activity.

While you would think with so many of us in the house, there would be plenty of attention to go around. However, for that day after gift opening, there were many other distractions – laptops, new video games, tablets, etc. and the dog, well, he wasn’t getting quite the attention I think he thought he might get. He would go grab his treat holder or his rope or some other toy and prance (yes, I used the word prance, I’ve never really seen a dog do this before) into the room and lay the toy by one of us, nudge us with his nose, and if that didn’t work a bark or two would get us looking his way.

Reluctantly, one of the kids would grab the end of a rope and start to ‘play’ with the dog. I put the word ‘play’ in quotes because while they would do tug of war, throw the rope, and so on, they weren’t really engaged in the activity. Usually a phone or other electronic device was holding their attention and the dog and rope play was really just a perfunctory act. They wouldn’t look at the dog, be excited and really interact other than pulling on the rope and throwing it without any enthusiasm while looking at their phone. Finally, only a couple of throws into the ‘play’, the dog just left the rope on the floor, ambled over to the corner of the room behind a chair with his head and ears hung low. There, he laid down and let out a big sigh.

Ironically, as I write this article, he came over to play (see photo!).

And yes, I took a break from the computer to play with him.

I think you all see where this is going. Being really engaged, really present, and really authentic makes all of the difference. My dog knew that my kids really didn’t want to play and so he just gave up. Similarly, as humans we can tell when someone is not being authentic with us as well, and we certainly read a lot about authentic relationships, leadership and such.
No surprise right.

But here is where some research may surprise you and certainly shocked the scientists who studied it.

Scientists at the School of Psychology at Cardiff University and the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Jacobs University, Bremen, conducted two experiments on trustworthiness (Kumbhuber, Eva “Facial Dynamics as Indicators of Trustworthiness and Cooperative Behavior”, Emotion 2007, Vol. &, No. 4, 730-735). Participants in the study played a “Trust Game” where they were given a set amount of money. They could then choose to give this money to a counterpart who could get even more money and share it with the original participant or the counterpart could keep everything. Participants were told ahead of time that some of their counterparts were trustworthy and others were not. So if they choose an untrustworthy counterpart and shared their money, they could be left with nothing. Therefore, they could choose not to engage the counterpart at all and just keep their original amount. The only information the participants were given about their counterparts was a picture of them. Depending on the experimental condition, the participants saw one of three videos of their counterparts – one where their counterparts had a neutral facial expression, one with a true or real smile, and one with a fake smile.

Similar to my dog story earlier, participants were able to see differences between real or fake smiles and found those with real smiles more trustworthy and they were more likely to engage them in the experiment than those counterparts with fake smiles.
However, what they also found was that participants found those with a neutral expression to be least trustworthy, even compared to those with a fake smile who would be thought to potentially be the most likely to be duplicitous and deceitful. Take at the results of the two experiments below:







In fact, the participants found those with a fake smile to be more likable, attractive, along with being trustworthy than the counterparts with neutral expressions. In the second experiment, they would also be more likely to meet the fake “smilers” in real life. It is true, that authentic smiles were the best in every category, but the fakers made out better than no expression at all even though participants could tell the difference between real and fake smiles.

What this means for us is even if you aren’t feeling it, sometimes even a fake smile is better than no smile at all and even a fake smile has a halo effect on a number of perceptions others have of you. And, oddly enough, faking a smile more often than not eventually translates into true positive feelings and the fake smile converts to a real one.   Manoush Zomorodi news anchor and author of Camera Ready, has an informative video about what she calls “The Benign Smile” which can help you move from a neutral face to one that is more engaging on its way to being authentic.  Check out her video below –

Finally, one caution and that is real vs. fake smiles don’t seem to have the same effect if you are communicating over the phone – check out the post “One Awesome Nonverbal Phone Tip” for more on this phenomenon.

What Alec Baldwin Doesn’t Want You To Know About Match Game and Sarah Palin (a lesson in communication)

When I was growing up, we didn’t have cable.  In fact, I think we were only able to watch the three network channels and occasionally PBS if we lined up the giant antenna on our roof in just the right direction.  Fortunately, the networks had just enough shows to keep me entertained during the summer months and my favorite shows were Lost in Space and and Match Game hosted by Gene Rayburn.

Looking back and now being able to rewatch some of those Match Game episodes on YouTube thanks to The Game Shown Network, I realize I missed most of the adult humor, but I remember laughing a lot mostly because everyone on the show was having such a good time.  For some reason, my favorite episodes were those at the end of the year where Gene and ‘the cast’ would ceremoniously change out the Match Game sign (if you are feeling nostalgic, check out this clip from New Year’s Eve 1974).  Recently and quite by accident while flipping through the hundreds of channels I now have on Comcast, I saw Alec Baldwin in a reincarnated version of my beloved childhood show.

I was quickly sucked in when I saw one of the celebrity panelists was Sarah Palin (okay, I didn’t see that coming).  What I also learned quickly is this version’s adult humor is a lot less subtle and as others have described somewhat raunchy.  So I was wondering how this was possibly going to work between Baldwin and Palin and the general tenor of the show.

Contestant 1, a prim and proper motherly woman chose the first question. It went something like this – “When Superman was a young boy, he was frequently sent to the principals office for using his X-ray vision to stare at Wonder Woman’s [blank].”

The audience laughter and quick nodding and writing of the celebrity panel indicated there was an obvious and correct answer.

Contestant 1’s answer – “underwear”.

The audience summarily booed her and the celebrities hung their heads.  One after the other, they turned around their cards almost all having a variation of an answer involving Wonder Woman’s chest (fill in PG rated words to get the true answers they gave).

Almost all had this answer except for one celebrity.

Sarah Palin.

She matched contestant 1.

I didn’t finish the episode but I did think about the important lesson in communication this game and other game shows like Password and Pyramid teach us about communication.

I talk, teach, and write frequently on the use of nonverbals in communication and the power they have to enhance or detract from our messages.  Unfortunately, many times when learning about body language, people assume there are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ nonverbals and they don’t take into account context and the person they are communicating with.

Researchers at Columbia and Michigan State conducted a study where they showed a ‘persuasive’ video individually to ninety students about a new after-school assistance program [reference].  Students were randomized to watch one of two videos.  In both videos, the words used, the script, was identical.  The only difference was the presenter’s body language – in one video, their body language was “eager” and in the other “vigilant” (see below).

“Eager” Body Language
“Vigilant” Body Language









Most body language articles and courses teach that an “open hand” stance like that in the “Eager” example is more inviting and therefore preferred.  However, what Cesario and Higgins found in their study is depending on the students (those watching the videos) goal orientation (whether the student was ‘wired’ to work toward or away from something) the type of nonverbal used had significant impact on the student’s receptivity to the video’s message.  [For more details on goal orientation and ‘regulatory fit’, see the end of this article].

In fact what worked well for one orientation was the exact opposite for the other.  There was no universally effective nonverbal.

So what does all of this mean and what do Match Game and Sarah Palin teach us?

It means there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ nonverbal skill, it all depends on connecting with people where they are, not where you are.  The motherly prim and proper contestant on Match Game was not going to give the raunchy answer most of the other celebrities gave, that wasn’t where she was coming from.  Sarah Pain made a match because she was already in the same frame of mind as the contestant.

To really communicate and connect with someone and meet them where they are, you have stop thinking about your message and what you are trying to say, and take in all of not just their words, but what the other person is doing and saying when they are expressing different emotions.  Do they raise their voice, lean in, talk faster, use their hands, flash their eyebrows, tap their feet, flare their nostrils, breath faster… you get the idea.  The key is to pay close attention, listen, and watch.  If you are truly doing this and putting them first, your own physiology and brain waves will start to sync with them.  This will create something frequently referred to as mirroring.

However, as I’ve written before for The Science of People, mirroring can go terribly wrong.  To do it right, here are four quick ways to get you started and if you remember nothing else, remember this:

Your Key to building rapport and a strong connection is to first feel that connection yourself. If you aren’t feeling it, they aren’t feeling it.

Your Key to building rapport and a strong connection is to first feel that connection… Click To Tweet
Here’s how:

  • Fronting: To start, you want to give the other person your complete attention. Start by fronting the other person, that is, squaring your body so you are directly facing them. They need to literally be the center of your universe.
  • Eye Contact: A funny thing about eye-contact, too little and you will seem tentative and too much you might seem creepy. Go for the middle ground. This not only demonstrates your interest level in the other person through your undivided attention, but according to Dr. Kerstin Uväs-Moberg in his book The Oxytocin Factor, making eye contact releases Oxytocin, the hormone that creates those warm feelings we feel when making a close connection.
  • Triple Nod: The triple nod does two important things. First, research shows when you do the triple nod, the other person will speak 3 to 4 times longer making them feel listened to and important. And second, when you nod, you are basically agreeing with what the other person is saying and this builds what scientists call a “yes set”.  It is like when a salesperson asks you a couple of simple questions like “Is it still June?”, or “It sure is warm today isn’t it?” you say yes (even if only in your mind) and research shows once you start saying yes, the more likely it is you will continue to do so. Yes sets build connections. So when you nod, you build your own yes set and further strengthen the connection you are making.
  • Pretend, then stop pretending: At this point, you are fronting the person, making appropriate eye contact and using your triple nod. Likely you are already feeling a very strong connection, but to fully complete it, use the power of your imagination. Do this by pretending the person you are with is the most interesting person you have ever met. Really imagine it and act accordingly. Then stop pretending.

These steps will help you build amazing connections and meet people where they are.  As a bonus, the next time you are sharing the stage with Alex Baldwin, you have the knowledge to go all the way to the final Match Game!


Want to know how to Ace your next interview?  Check out these tips!


The referenced study by Cesario and Higgins, categorized the ninety students viewing the videos by their ‘regulatory fit’.  Regulatory fit theory suggests that a match between orientation to a goal and the means used to approach that goal produces a state of regulatory fit that both creates a feeling of rightness about the goal pursuit and increases task engagement (Higgins, 2001, 2005).  There are two orientations – promotion focused and prevention focused which are best described through the following illustration:


The Secret Behind The Midas Touch

the midas touch

How much money would you spend on a pair of earbuds? $25.00? $100.00?

How about a pair that runs $14,995?!  

There’s good news if you have that kind of money to spare. Beverly Hills artist Hugh Power runs the House of Gold and is dubbed the “real life Midas.” He can turn anything you might want into gold… but at a price.

the midas touch, house of solid gold

What’s that? You don’t have that kind of cash?

midas touch, how 2 win

That’s okay. Even if you don’t have tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, you too can have the Midas Touch. Okay, maybe it won’t transform objects into gold, but it can transform your power to connect and influence.

For the rest of this article, please check out its original post on The Science of People!

The Power of Mirroring

4 Steps to Mirroring Successfully-2

This guest post is by Todd A. Fonseca, a twenty-year medical device executive, published author, columnist, international speaker and Science of People Certified Body Language Trainer specializing in developing leaders at all levels. You can follow him on Twitter and along with countless others, take advantage of the free content he offers on his website

In May of 2013, Malaysian Male Model Chee Yu Sam, also known as Sam Insanity (pictured right), posted a YouTube video in response to a challenge Ellen Degeneres gave to her audience.

Screen Shot 2015-07-15 at 4.03.11 PM

What was the challenge?

Ellen asked viewers to record themselves secretly mirroring others and then post their videos online.

Not one to shy away from the camera, Sam took to his hometown streets of Kuala Lumpur and snuck up behind or beside people and mirrored their actions while his buddy captured it all on camera. He sat next to a businessman who was having coffee and mirrored drinking one of his own even though he didn’t have a cup. He crawled on the ground below a girl sitting on the edge of a fountain and mirrored her checking out her cell phone. He blanketed the city capturing these and other moments and his final video, complete with a soundtrack consisting of ‘Paint my love’ by Michael Learns to Rock, is funny, which is exactly why Ellen put forth the challenge. But as Sam points out, people he mirrored didn’t always think so. In fact, a number of his victims looked like they wanted to beat him up!

Ellen’s original challenge:

Please see the rest of the article at my guest post at The Science of People!