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7 Lessons on How to Hack Your Own Brain

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How you can make yourself more confident, more generous, and less likely to succumb to stress

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Would you like to be smarter, more confident, kinder, more resilient under stress, and more successful? Of course you would, and you can. In a fascinating series of TED Talks, social psychologists describe ways we can trick our own brains to make ourselves better in almost every way. Here are some of the most compelling.

1. Stop fearing stress.

A couple of years ago, health psychologist Kelly McGonigal made a disturbing discovery. For years she’d been warning people that stress kills. And it does, new research showed–but only if you expect it to. People who experienced a lot of stress and believed that stress was harmful were indeed much likelier to die than those who experienced little stress. But those who experienced great stress but believed itwasn’t harming them were in no more danger than the stress-free, she explains in atalk that may change your whole relationship with the stressors in your own life.

2. Recognize your own optimism.

How do I know that you’re an optimist? Because we all are, as cognitive neuroscientist Tali Sharot explains. Being optimistic makes us happier and more resilient–and without a heavy dose of optimism, no one would ever start a business. However, problems arise when we make bad decisions out of excessive optimism, as happened before the financial crisis, for example. The solution? Stay unreasonably optimistic–but keep in mind that you are.

3. Use body language to increase your own confidence.

Social psychologist Amy Cuddy explains how in this moving talk. Besides communicating confidence to others, when we adopt confident body language we fool our own brains into actually being more confident. Something as simple as going someplace private and adopting a confident stance (legs apart, arms extended) for a few minutes before going into a meeting or making a presentation can make a big difference. Try it and see.

4. Remind yourself to be generous.

A rigged game of Monopoly shows what many have observed in life: The more fortunate and richer you are, the more entitled you feel, and the less likely you are to offer help to those who need it. But, social psychologist Paul Piff tells us, it doesn’t have to be that way. A small reminder, such as a 46-second video on child poverty, is enough to reverse that nasty piece of human nature. So provide yourself with those reminders and you’ll remain a good person, no matter how rich and successful you become.

5. Don’t put too much faith in your own memories.

The number of eyewitness accounts and identifications that have been proved wrong by DNA or other evidence is only one example of how unreliable human memory is, as psychologist Elizabeth Loftus describes in her TED Talk. Not only that, it’s surprisingly easy to implant false memories in people, as some psychologists have unintentionally done when they thought they were unearthing repressed memories. So think twice next time you’re “sure” about something you remember.

6. Surround yourself with people you want to emulate.

Everybody cheats, at least a little, at least some of the time. An elaborate series of experiments explores just how much and when, as described by behavioral economist Dan Ariely in a thought-provoking talk. One intriguing finding: People are more likely to cheat if they see someone doing it who they consider part of their own group, such as someone wearing a sweatshirt with their school’s logo. If the cheater is wearing a different school’s logo, it has no effect. On the other hand, people are less likely to cheat if they’ve been asked to recite the Ten Commandments–whether or not they are religious, and even if they can’t remember most of them.

Obviously, our ideas about right and wrong are not as fixed as we think they are. We’re highly suggestible, and easily influenced by the people around us. We should select those people carefully.

7. Learn to delay gratification.

In a Stanford experiment, 4-year-olds were left alone in a room with a marshmallow. If they could resist eating it for 15 minutes, they were told, they’d be given a second one as well, speaker and author Joachim de Posada tells the audience in this short and entertaining talk (complete with hidden-camera footage of the kids).

Only about a third of the kids had the self-discipline to resist. When researchers followed up more than a decade later, those who had were significantly more successful than those who had succumbed. There’s a lesson here for us all.

This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article above was originally published at Inc.com.

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The 9 Traits That Define Great Leadership

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Extraordinary leaders are accountable to everyone's performance, including their own

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Many leaders are competent but few qualify as remarkable. If you want to join the ranks of the best of the best, make sure you embody all these qualities all the time. It isn’t easy, but the rewards can be truly phenomenal.

1. Awareness There is a difference between management and employees, bosses and workers. Leaders understand the nature of this difference and accept it; it informs their image, their actions, and their communication. They conduct themselves in a way that sets them apart from their employees–not in a manner that suggests they are better than others, but in a way that permits them to retain an objective perspective on everything that’s going on in their organization.

2. Decisiveness All leaders must make tough decisions It goes with the job. They understand that in certain situations, difficult and timely decisions must be made in the best interests of the entire organization, decisions that require a firmness, authority, and finality that will not please everyone. Extraordinary leaders don’t hesitate in such situations. They also know when not to act unilaterally but instead foster collaborative decision-making.

3. Empathy Extraordinary leaders praise in public and address problems in private. a genuine concern The best leaders guide employees through challenges, always on the lookout for solutions to foster the long-term success of the organization. Rather than making things personal when they encounter problems, or assigning blame to individuals, leaders look for constructive solutions and focus on moving forward.

4. Accountability Extraordinary leaders take responsibility for everyone’s performance, including their own. They follow up on all outstanding issues, check in on employees, and monitor the effectiveness of company policies and procedures. When things are going well, they praise. When problems arise, they identify them quickly, seek solutions, and get things back on track.

5. Confidence Not only are the best leaders confident, but their confidence is contagious. Employees are naturally drawn to them, seek their advice, and feel more confident as a result. When challenged, they don’t give in too easily, because they know their ideas, opinions and strategies are well-informed and the result of much hard work. But when proven wrong they take responsibility and quickly act to improve the situations within their authority.

6. Optimism The very best leaders are source of positive energy. They communicate easily. They are intrinsically helpful and genuinely concerned for other people’s welfare. They always seem to have a solution and always know what to say to inspire and reassure. They avoid personal criticism and pessimistic thinking, and look for ways to gain consensus and get people to work together efficiently and effectively as a team.

7. Honesty Strong leaders treat people how they want to be treated. They are extremely ethical and believe that honesty, effort, and reliability form the foundation of success. They embody these values so overtly that no employee doubts their integrity for a minute. They share information openly and avoid spin control.

8. Focus Extraordinary leaders plan ahead and they are supremely organized. They think through multiple scenarios and the possible impacts of their decisions, while considering viable alternatives and making plans and strategies–all targeted toward success. Once prepared, they establish strategies, processes, and routines so that high performance is tangible, easily defined, and monitored. They communicate their plans to key players and have contingency plans in the event last-minute changes require a new direction (which they often do).

9. Inspiration Put it all together and what emerges is a picture of the truly inspiring leader: someone who communicates clearly, concisely, and often, and by doing so motivates everyone to give their best all the time. They challenge their people by setting high but attainable standards and expectations, and then giving them the support, tools, training, and latitude to pursue those goals and become the best employees they can possibly be.

This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article above was originally published at Inc.com.

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The Surprising Secret That Can Make You Happier at Work

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You might achieve more when you care less

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The number of hours in the day stays constant, but your to-do list is ever expanding.

You start the day worrying about how you’ll get everything you need to do finished, and end it by worrying if everything you’ve accomplished is up to your standards.

Your daily stress is only interrupted by occasional spikes of anger at your colleagues, boss, or employees and their unreasonable expectations or inability to take some of this mountain of work off your plate.

Does this sound like you? If so, author and blogger Kelly O’Laughlin has some advice for you. Recently on the blog Quiet Revolution, which accompanies Susan Cain’s hit book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, O’Laughlin shared the story of her friend who, like many entrepreneurs, found herself utterly overwhelmed by her work–so overwhelmed, in fact, that she was seriously considering quitting.

O’Laughlin had another suggestion, however. Don’t leave; just care less.

You are probably trying too hard

Wait, what? How could phoning it in be good advice?

O’Laughlin points out that if you’re the type to be so stressed about your work in the first place, your phoning it in is probably the same as others’ measured consideration of the right level of effort. “If you relate to this story [of her overworked friend],” she writes, “I’m willing to bet that your 80 percent of effort is most people’s 100 percent. So, by caring less, you’re actually caring just enough.”

Perfectionism, she goes on to say, isn’t just bad for the perfectionist herself (though it can, of course, be miserable for those afflicted). Counterintuitively, it’s also often bad for your work.

“It’s great to want to be helpful and make a difference at work, but you have to take care of yourself first,” O’Laughlin explains. “You aren’t helping anyone if you burn out and quit. Putting in slightly less effort in times of high stress doesn’t mean you don’t care about your job; it means you care about yourself more.”

She adds: “And here’s a bonus: You might achieve more when you care less. When you reduce the pressure on yourself to attain perfection, you can flow more quickly and easily through your tasks. Trust that your intuition and experience will guide you. Freedom from the weight of perfection can be creatively liberating.”

What’s your ‘minimum effective dose’?

O’Laughlin’s prescription might seem heretical to some stressed-out strivers, but she’s not the only expert urging those overwhelmed by work to take a long, hard look at whether their intense levels of effort are really necessary. Dr. Christine Carter, an author and happiness expert, has pushed a similar idea, the ‘minimum effective dose.’

“We need to accept that more is not necessarily better,” she has written. “The first step in dialing back the busyness of everyday life is to figure out your minimum effective dose of everything. Figure out how much time you actually need to spend on your email, going to meetings, driving your kids to their activities, etc., in order to be effective at home and at work.”

Are you brave enough to try simply caring a little bit less?

This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article above was originally published at Inc.com.

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How to Impress Anyone in 30 Seconds or Less

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Be mindful of body language

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Some experts estimate that 85 percent of your financial success comes not from your skills or knowledge but from your ability to connect with other people and engender their trust and respect.

Within seconds, everyone you meet forms an impression that largely determines whether they’ll like, trust, and respect you.

Whether you’re job-hunting or fundraising or leading an organization, making a good impression is absolutely critical. (No pressure, right?)

So whether you are looking to raise money for your company, or you are managing your team or leading your business, connecting to people and making a great impression is very important.

Here are some tips to help you win hearts and minds in 30 seconds:

Neutralize the fight-or-flight response.

The first few seconds of a first encounter are driven by instinctive reactions. Each person makes unconscious immediate appraisals that center around how safe they feel. Be mindful of your immediate signals, and make sure they could never be perceived as threatening.

Respect boundaries.

Be mindful of personal space and respect the boundaries of others. If in doubt, follow the other person’s cues: if they lean in, you lean in; if they stand back, you do the same. Remember that concepts of appropriate personal space vary by culture.

Feed expectations.

In business, first impressions are frequently colored by expectations. We expect people to live up to the image we have created in our minds from their reputation, phone calls, emails, or texts. We expect consistency with that general image — and without it, we feel some degree of disappointment and confusion. It’s not the time to surprise others with a new side of your personality.

Be mindful of body language.

It accounts for more than half of what others respond to initially — so it literally does speak louder than words. Hold yourself in a way that signals attention and an open heart, and keep a facial expression that combines authority with approachability and eye contact.

Stay positive.

The language of the brain is pictures, sounds, feelings, and to a lesser extent, smells and tastes. It’s much more difficult to translate negatives into brain-friendly imagery than positives. Work to develop a positive explanatory style.

Keep control of your attitude.

The general energy you give off is one of the first unconscious things people respond to. If you’re frazzled, project calm. If you’re distracted and unenthusiastic, project positivity. (You’ll not only make a better impression, but you can influence your own mood.)

Manage your moods.

People are drawn to warmth, enthusiasm, and confidence more than anger, arrogance, and impatience. Whatever is going on around you, manage your responses to get the best response from others.


Make sure your words, your tone of voice, and your body language are all saying the same thing. Mixed messages put off others, but consistency gives you clarity and credibility.

Use sensory language.

Activate people’s senses, and mix up your imagery to make sure you hit their strength. Whenever possible, use descriptions of visual images, sounds, textures, motion, and feelings to add meaning to what you’re saying.

Be curious, open-minded, and interested.

If you can get the other person talking and keep them talking, odds are they’ll be drawn to you. Be interested and open-minded; ask questions that spark their imagination and ignite conversation.

Dress for success.

Find a personal style that represents who you are and the message you want to send about yourself. Look at your dress and appearance as packaging a product.

Have a personal statement.

Have a personal statement prepared and memorized so you can tell others concisely and eloquently what you do, what it means to you, and why it makes a difference. Think of it not as a sales pitch but an engaging and artfully crafted mini-presentation.

Work through these points and you should have a great first impression all lined up.

One final tip as you get out there:

Treat every connection you make as if it’s the most important thing you’ve ever done. Because, frankly, you never know when it actually will be.

This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article above was originally published at Inc.com

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The Remarkable Power of Doing Absolutely Nothing

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Sometimes you can accomplish more by doing less — far less

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When was the last time you took a moment to breathe? Can you recall the last time you felt well rested? Or had a day to do absolutely nothing?

Sadly, most people can’t.

Now, more than ever, people fill their schedules to the brim with tasks that feel so necessary in the moment but which, in reality, are so trivial. They make to-do lists that run miles long, packing them with reminders to get an important assignment done at work, call the hair salon for an appointment, buy some groceries on the way home, and so on.

You tell yourself that you constantly take on a plethora of activities in order to improve your life. It makes sense to take on a second job, to join another club at school, and to help out every family member on Saturday even if you haven’t had the time in your schedule to sleep eight full hours in months.

It’s much easier to do almost anything incessantly than to spend time doing nothing.

What people don’t realize is this: Doing nothing gives you the chance to grow. Being alone without obligation–without the nagging feeling that you’re doing less than you should–allows you to look inward. Without an activity to distract your mind, you must think about yourself.

The famous financier J.P. Morgan used to insist on taking two months off every year. “I can get done in 10 months what I could never do in 12,” he used to say.

It seems that the secret to success in business and in life is actually in finding the ability to be comfortable just being.

Many companies today–including Apple, Google, Nike, and AOL Time Warner–offer employees a variety of programs to help them find a healthy headspace, from meditation to yoga to stress reduction.

When you have the time to think about yourself, you will inevitably return to your obligations refreshed and work calmly and exponentially more productively.

Questioning your daily activities forces you to reevaluate where you are in life, and most important, why you do everything you do. If you have the time to remind yourself why you are passionate about your work, you will–without question–be able to improve your performance.

Take a step back from being overwhelmed, take a deep breath, and take the time to reach your full potential.

This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article above was originally published at Inc.com.

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6 Things Millennials Say at Work (and What They Really Mean)

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Sometimes it requires a bit of reading between the lines

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If you have Millennials on your staff, then I guarantee on more than one occasion you’ve thought to yourself, “I just don’t understand them.” It’s OK–lots of people feel that way.

The average age in my office is 25. I’ve learned a few things when it comes to Millennial speak. Here’s something you should know:

When Millennials keep it short, something’s up!

When Millennials keep their responses to a minimum, they’re trying to tell you something. They were raised by parents who trained them to be very sensitive to people’s feelings. They don’t like conflict–especially at work!–and in most cases, they’ll do whatever they can to avoid confrontation and uncomfortable conversations. With that in mind, these short little comments by Millennials mean a lot more than you realize.

1. “That could work.”

This really means “I don’t think that will work at all, but I don’t want to be rude and tell you it’s a bad idea.” Millennials were raised to be highly collaborative. When you come to them with an idea or task they weren’t a part of developing, they aren’t going to just smile and say “OK”–especially if they don’t agree. So, this tactful response is meant to allow them to open up the conversation to alternatives you can discuss and agree upon.

2. “I’d like your feedback.”

They aren’t asking for a fake compliment like “nice job” or “that’s great.” They also don’t want to be ripped to shreds. They want you to explain specifically what they’re doing right (appreciation) and what could be better (advancement). They’re asking for you to pay attention to their career. They’re asking for coaching–something they’ve been given their whole lives. They expect it. They don’t see the need for coaching as a sign of weakness, but as a path to greatness. Give them the feedback they want (in the way they want it!), so they can exceed your expectations.

3. “Maybe we should try it like this.”

Again, this is code for “I think your idea isn’t good, and I don’t want to hurt your feelings, so I’m going to suggest an alternative.”

4. “Sure.”

A one-word answer for “I’ll do it, but I’m not psyched about it.” Millennials want to do meaningful work all the time. When given a task that doesn’t thrill them, they can’t hide their feelings that well. Hence, they keep their response to one word–absolutely the least amount of communication possible. Which leads to them often saying the next comment a short while later…

5. “Why do we need to do this again?”

This translates to “Help me understand the bigger picture here, because I’m not seeing how this is a good use of my time.” When you’ve been coached your entire life, things are often explained to you in how it relates to your personal success. If a Millennial can’t see how the task being assigned contributes to their career growth or professional success, they’ll want some help seeing it. Getting them to understand how important the task is to the success of the business, and in turn how that will be reflected in the way they’ll be viewed as a performer, can help them get excited about what they’re being asked to do.

6. “That’s interesting.”

This is a conversation shut-down tactic. What they’re saying is, “Actually, it’s not interesting at all and I don’t want to get into a conversation with you about it.” You may need to expand on what you’re sharing so they can see the connection. They aren’t always going to understand what you’re saying and why you’re excited about it, but they don’t want to look ignorant. They may need more context to find what you’re sharing worth discussing.

The takeaway from the above translations?

If you care enough to read beyond Millennials’ reserved responses, you can tap into their mindset and use it to improve your interactions.

This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article above was originally published at Inc.com.

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10 Ways Successful People Deal With Stress Differently

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Plan out your motivation

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Any given day as an entrepreneur is the best or the worst. It’s often both.

The day you win a big award could be the day you’re struggling to meet payroll. The day you lose a big client could be the day you get your biggest one ever. These days can be confusing, and they happen all too often.

What separates successful entrepreneurs from unsuccessful ones is not the challenges. We all have them.

A critical trait that separates successful entrepreneurs is the ability to take setback and after setback without any loss of motivation.

Rather than being some innate thing we’re born with, this is a skill that can be developed.

I interviewed emotionally resilient, successful entrepreneurs to get their perspective…

1. Avoid Hitting Bottom By Reflecting On Death Daily Cameron Herold, author of Double Double, CEO coach, and globally renowned speaker

In January of 2000, I noticed a metallic taste in my throat. Soon after, I collapsed in an elevator and had a near-nervous breakdown. That experience taught me to take stress seriously and take business less seriously. About 95% of what we think is SO SO stressful, really isn’t. We make up that story for ourselves.

So I developed habits that continuously help me keep my life in perspective:

Habit No. 1: Pondering Death. For me, the key is to remember that when I’m dead, none of this work matters. It’s all just a game. It’s what I do to make money so I can enjoy life. Dozens of studies have found that death awareness can lead to decreased aggression, better health decisions, increased altruism, and reduced divorce rates.

Habit No. 2: Taking Time Throughout The Day To Do What’s Important. I remind myself of the things that are important outside of business (things like time with friends, time with family, quiet time alone, time to pursue hobbies, and exercise). Throughout the day, I remember to take stock in how healthy my immediate family is. I breathe. I go to the gym. I went for a 5 mile run this morning. I make time in the middle of the day to chat with my wife.


2. Give Yourself Compelling Reasons Not to Quit Doug Conant, former CEO of Fortune 500 company Campbell Soup Company and founder and CEO of Conant Leadership

In the stormy seas of decision making, I refer to my personal mission statement often. It should include a clear and thoughtfully crafted intention that guides all your actions and specific bullet points that define how you will fulfill that mission. Research shows that without a good reason to keep pushing through tough times, we quit.

I have mine prominently placed near my desk so I can refer to it in moments of adversity. I share it with those closest to me so I am accountable to them as well as to myself. When thorny issues present themselves I can refer to the promise I’ve made myself and then compare my actions to the behaviors I’ve explicitly outlined.

After over 35 years in the corporate arena (most recently as a Fortune 500 CEO), and as a husband and father, I can’t emphasize enough the power of a personal mission statement.

The Franklin Covey Mission State Builder is a great resource for building and refining your statement.


3. Trigger A Mindset Reset With A Little Help From YouTube Benji Rabhan, founder of AppointmentCore

I personally like watching 5-6 short YouTube comedy videos that get me laughing out loud. I’ve found that this is enough time to take my mind off bad news and regain my positivity.

I call these my dopamine breaks. In a related and fascinating study, a Stanford research team found that funny cartoons activated a cluster of areas in the brain deeply involved in the regulation of dopamine, which positively impacts motivation and mood.

In order to find videos, I recommend going to YouTube’s most popular videos page, which shows newly trending videos. It has many categories so you can view based on your mood. If you like funny, there is funny. If you like music videos, they have that. It also serves to keep you in the loop of the current events from a video perspective.


4. Plan Out Your Motivation So It’s There When You Need It Sevetri Wilson, CEO of Solid Ground Innovations

I’m single. I don’t have any kids. Both of my parents are deceased, and I’m the CEO of a company I started. So having a source of daily inspiration that affirms my journey is critical.

I create 30-90 day inspirational themes that I rely on a daily basis. I find it’s less taxing when I know where my inspiration will come from so it becomes a fixed part of my day rather than something that’s ad hoc. Different examples of themes I’ve taken on are:

Reading daily affirmations for 10 minutes before I start my day.

    • Reading a few pages out of motivational books. I have a 50-day motivational journey book, Strength for Every Moment by T. D. Jake. Each day it reveals a question.
    • Following inspirational social media. I like Beats Reloaded, @drtiffanybrown, and @joelosteen.
    • Participating in community projects. In January, my base church went through a time where the entire congregation fasted and prayed 3 times a day for 30 straight days.


5. Smile To Boost Your Energy. It’s EasyJason Duff, founder and CEO of COMSTOR Outdoor

In the last year, there were a lot of reasons I didn’t want to smile. I lost a key mentor in my life. I’ve been dealing with health issues with family members. Still, I think the easiest and, therefore, first thing that anyone should do when life gets challenging is to smile.

It transforms both the person smiling and people who see that smile. In fact, smiles can even predict longevity.

Smiles also serve as an indicator of how things are going in company and in my life. It’s a red flag if I notice that people in my organization aren’t smiling at each other or I’m not smiling at other people. That’s when I know it’s time to do a gut check and find ways to light that internal fire again.

One of the first books I read when I first became an entrepreneur is Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff, and its principles have stuck with me. If I can’t smile, I know that I’m probably taking life and business a little too seriously.


6. Smile At The Beginning Of Meetings Aaron Steed, CEO of Meathead Movers

Similar to Jason, I believe in the power of smiling. Smiling is the simplest, easiest and fastest way to deal with stress. So why isn’t everyone doing it all the time? Remembering or wanting to smile is unnatural if you’re feeling stressed. That’s why I do the following three actions to make sure I’m smiling:

Have Accountability For Smiling. It may sound silly, but I’ve asked my employees to hold me accountable on smiling. I’ve told them, “If you don’t see me smiling, call me out on it!” This has worked on multiple levels. It has turned into a fun little game around the office. I smile more, and my employees smile more. A research study analyzing real-life behavior of over 1,000 males and females shows that more than half of people smile back at a smile.

Smile At The Beginning Of Meetings. I smile when I start new conversations. If I’m smiling, I project a friendly presence and demeanor, which inspires the other person to reciprocate, which then loops back to me. All of a sudden, we’re in a positive feedback cycle. So, 10 seconds of smiling can have a huge impact on a meeting. Given that the average person has 5.6 hours of meetings per week, you can begin to see how this small change could have huge consequences.

7. Do Multiple 1-Minute Meditations Daily Ryan Simonetti, co-founder of Convene

The benefit of meditation is widely known.

What’s hard for most people is consistently doing it.

What’s helped me is doing 1-minute sessions throughout the day and on commutes rather than one long session. Research by Stanford Professor, BJ Fogg, shows that when hard activities are broken into smaller ones that are easier, people are more likely to take action.

Here’s the process I go through:

  1. Visualize myself standing alone at the summit of a tall mountain. See the clear blue sky and feel the sun beaming down on me.
  2. Focus on feeling only the bottoms of my feet grounded to the floor.
  3. Take 5 deep breaths. 3 seconds in–3 seconds out.

A great app to use if you’re just getting started is Headspace. Headspace helps you consistently meditate through guided programs and exercises.


8. Use The WOOP Framework To Visualize Rohit Anabheri,founder of Circa Ventures

I do 10-minute “Guided Imagery” sessions every two hours throughout the day and have been doing so for years. I visualize using the WOOP framework, which is backed by15 years of academic research:

1. Wish. I imagine the future state of the business’ success.
2. Outcome. I visualize the biggest benefit of that future state.
3. Obstacle. I identify the main obstacle to achieving my wish.
4. Plan. I think through a key action I can take right away to overcome the obstacle.

This approach recharges me and moves me toward my vision of success. I can then share that positivity across my team. I specifically like the WOOP framework because it grounds my vision in reality and immediate action.

Contrary to popular opinion, positive thinking about the future, by itself (i.e. positive fantasies), leads to poor performance and success. This finding is based on 100 studies performed by NYU psychologist, Gabriele Oettingen.

On Gabriele’s site, you can listen to a 5-minute audio that walks you through the process.


9. Visualize What You’re Grateful For Now And In The Future Brian Scudamore, founder and CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, You Move Me, and Wow 1 Day Painting

I visualize two things in vivid detail:

1. Now. What I’m most grateful for, such as my family doing fun things together.

2. Future. Our company’s Painted Picture, which is a brilliantly detailed snapshot of what the business will be like in three years. It includes what the company will look, feel and act like in every aspect, from revenue down to the way the company trucks will look. Creating a painted picture is purely a visionary process that does not focus on the how.

It’s a simple, quick exercise that always reminds me of what is most important and keeps my perspective in the positive realm, no matter how challenging the day might be.

Taking the time to visualize what you’re grateful for with all of your senses has a much larger impact than simply listing what you’re grateful for. In one incredible study, it was found that simply visualizing yourself doing exercise had a measurable impact on muscle strength!


10. Take Very Deep Breaths Kay Koplovitz, founder, USA Network and Syfy

I close the door to my office, lean back and take deep breaths for several minutes. It’s very calming, and puts things in perspective.

Breathing is our body’s built-in stress reliever. It can profoundly impact our physiology, and several studies have shown that it affects the heart, brain, digestion, and the immune system.

Special thank you to Ian Chew for being an integral part of putting this article together.

This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article above was originally published at Inc.com.

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11 Ways Remarkable Storytellers Create New Worlds

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Become the next Elon Musk

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I can’t get this idea out of my head:

If something catastrophic happens to Earth, we lose billions of years of evolution and thousands of years of advanced human civilization. Colonizing Mars isn’t just something we can do-it is also something we should do.

Seven years ago, I couldn’t have imagined myself saying those words. I’m not a space geek. I’m not obsessed with science.

But a handful of minutes listening to Elon Musk’s story and vision at the Inc. 500 conference in 2008 changed all of that.

Elon Musk and Steve Jobs are both known for their seemingly mystical power to distort reality. What gives them this ability isn’t a quirk of a charismatic leader; it’s a learnable skill called storytelling.

The better at storytelling someone is, the more that readers and listeners are transported to a whole new world. According to studies conducted on this transportation phenomenon, great stories alter beliefs, result in the loss of access to real-world facts, evoke emotions, and significantly reduce ability to detect inaccuracies. To understand this phenomenon, you don’t need to look any further than your own personal experience desperately rooting for an immortal, time-traveling mutant in X-Men or another equally impossible character and plot from your favorite movie.

To understand how to develop this storytelling superpower and use it for good, I interviewed 11 top online storytellers who collectively generate hundreds of millions of page views every month and asked them to share the secrets of how they craft stories.

1. Balance the universal with the specificMichael Margolis, Founder and CEO of Get Storied

When I first started using social media in 2009, I was in the midst of a divorce, and my business had been pulled into the divorce. I was basically $100,000 in debt and on the verge of personal bankruptcy.

Sharing my life stories on social media was like therapy, only cheaper. The unreconciled part of your story is your greatest source of untapped power. What I learned is that one of the keys to social media is balancing the universality of your experience with the specifics that are your own. I do this by:

Tapping into universal themes. I ask myself, “How do I increase the likelihood that people are going to identify with my story?” The idea that your journey is unique is actually a false construct of our own ego’s need to differentiate. Research shows that if we empathize with the characters in a story, we are more likely to accept a story’s main message (e.g., being an organ donor or dealing with cancer better).

Being specific. While we share similar themes as we journey through life, it’s the details that set us apart and make us unique. It’s essential to share those specifics. When you get into the specifics, what you’re actually doing is transporting people into that world. It’s like, “Oh, I’m traveling through time and space into that moment with you, because you’ve given me enough specifics to color the experience.” These are what any good movie or book does. Two decades of academic research have affirmed the power that a detailed narrative has on readers.

2. Be unapologetically authentic Jordan Harbinger, cofounder of The Art of Charm, iTunes top 50 podcast

I am all about unapologetic authenticity. I don’t mean it like, “This is what I am saying because I don’t give a fuck.” I think that’s kind of self-serving. I mean it like, “This is what I truly feel, and I’d like to share it in a way you can relate to.”

The difference is going from “I learned not to hire my friends because when I did my business failed” to “Yeah, I hired my friends, and it’s the most painful thing I’ve ever done, and here’s why. They stole from me, and they made me feel bad about myself.”

The second type of story is more relatable because many people have experienced it for themselves. No one has the story “This bad thing happened to me, but I am great now!” That’s the story people have when they either haven’t dealt with it, or they’re lying about it, and they want to spit-polish their personal brand. Even the most successful people in the world constantly face huge challenges behind-the-scenes.

Being unapologetically authentic means asking yourself, “What’s something that people wouldn’t necessarily expect to learn from someone like me?” and sharing the following parts of your story:

  • the mistake I made and its repercussions;
  • my raw and mixed feelings I had about it;
  • what I learned or would do differently if I had another chance; and
  • the positives that came from the lesson.

If you want to listen to examples of unabashedly genuine storytelling, listen to the THE MOTH Podcast.

3. Test your story until it’s a wow every time Emerson Spartz, founder & CEO of Spartz Inc.

The first iteration of the pitch you use to sell your idea, product, or company is usually garbage. Borrowing the lean startup methodology from the tech world, it’s key to get real world feedback on that story as fast as possible and then keep making improvements. If you do this, it will rapidly get better and better. If you don’t, you will waste valuable time promoting an ineffective story and lose windows of opportunity.

Eventually, after dozens of iterations, you’ll get a wow every time. I’ve used this approach every time I’ve raised capital, and we’ve raised $9.5 million so far. The difference between going with my first story and my wow story has been remarkable.

I recommend first testing your pitch on your friends and family who are closest to your target audience-tell them the story, watch their reactions, and ask for feedback. When I’ve finished a story, I ask “What parts resonated with you the most? What didn’t resonate as much?” Asked this way, it’s safe for them to give you the critical feedback they otherwise might be afraid to share. You’ll see patterns emerge as people mention the same parts over and over. This feedback tells you which parts to expand on, cut, or further develop.

Professional comedians understand that going with your first story is the equivalent of doing a prime-time special after only one or two warm-up shows. In reality, star comedians like Amy Schumer, Kevin Hart, and Jerry Seinfeld do hundreds of small, underground shows to test their material. Once their material is ready, they perform to sold out venues globally. If the top storytellers in the world follow this process, that’s a clue that you should too.

4. Do a double punch with visual stories Nadine Hanafi, Founder and CEO of We Are Visual

As much as we like to think of ourselves as rational creatures, we are not. If we were, no one would throw away their perfectly working iPhone 5s to go pick up the latest Apple toy. We largely make decisions based on emotions, and then rationalize them later with logical arguments.

So how can you incorporate emotion into your facts and data? Use a visual story.

Imagine I am asking you to make a donation to a charity that builds water wells in the developing world. I may tell you that 750 million people don’t have access to clean water today. That number is just another faceless statistic that you will probably forget tomorrow.

However, if I show you a picture of a little boy drinking out of a puddle of what looks like sewage water and add the caption, “1 in 7 people don’t have access to clean water,” suddenly, it has a lot more emotional weight. It has a face.

Now I add a story. “This is James, he is 6 years old and he lives with his mother and seven siblings. His mother walks 20 miles every day to fetch drinking water from the nearest well. Sometimes the well is dry and James gets thirsty so he drinks from nearby puddles without realizing how dangerous it could be for him. There are 750 million people like James.”

Now this statistic is a lot more powerful because I have armed it with the persuasiveness of a visual story. It makes people feel the need to take action.

5. Add incertainty to your plot Marshall Ganz, Author of Why David Sometimes Wins, senior lecturer at Harvard University who is credited for devising President Obama’s 2008 grassroots organizing model

Everywhere around the world, there are three components to a story; plot, character, and lesson learned. The big question is, “What makes a plot a plot?”

Consider two stories about the same thing:

Story 1

I got up this morning, got my car, and then came to school.

Story 2

I got up this morning and went outside. My car was gone. Instead of my car, there was one wheel on the ground. “What happened here?” I wondered.

Which one is better? If you asked 10 people, they all would give the same answer-number 2.

What got you interested? The unexpected! A plot is not a plot until something unexpected happens. That’s when our brain goes out of autopilot and pays attention.

As human beings, we operate with an expectation of what will happen next. For example, let’s imagine that I’m driving along on autopilot and a truck pulls out. If I stay on autopilot, I am a goner. So the surveillance system in our brains detects the unexpected. My brain starts shouting, “Truck! truck! truck!” The emotion breaks through habit. Without that sort of a break, the story is uninteresting.

The surveillance system detects the anomaly and our experience of that is anxiety. The big question then is how readers respond to the anxiety. Do they “react” with fear for which they are hardwired (fight, flight, freeze), or can they access emotional resources (hope, solidarity, self-efficacy)? Our cultures developed stories to help us access the emotional resources of the protagonist and take purposeful action.

6. Disrupt your industry’s fairy tale stories Derek Flanzraich, founder and CEO of Greatist

At Greatist, where we have 10 million visitors per month, our approach to storytelling is to turn fairy tales into the authentic stories our very specific audience is aching for.

The most common type of story you’ll find in the media is the fairy tale story:

I had a challenge.

I overcame it.

Things are perfect.

The problem with this is that it doesn’t fit the messiness of most people’s reality. Authentic stories resonate more because they hit on a specific challenge your audience is facing, which hasn’t yet been told at the level of depth they desire.

For example, instead of just telling the classic before and after fairy tale (e.g., overweight person gets confidence boost by losing weight), we share the story of “Before,” “After,” and then “Ever After” with an emphasis on the latter. We talk about how most people going on diets actually feel more insecure. We talk about how they realize that what they want is confidence regardless of their weight. These body-positive stories make up one of the most popular categories on Greatist.

The more you understand your audience’s specific challenges, the more deeply your authentic story will resonate. This is exactly how we wrote an article, “31 Healthy and Portable High-Protein Snacks,” that was shared 999,000 times. This article isn’t a storytelling article per se, but it does solve the story that busy mothers live daily: the struggle of finding healthy on-the-go recipes that can keep their kids engaged.

7. Come from a place of stillness Amber Rae, founder of The World We Want

People often look externally to create content; getting distracted and losing focus in the process. They think, “OK, what is this person doing?” or “How do these people think about what I should do?” Really the process should be, “What do I feel at the deepest level that I want to express to the world?”

Vulnerable storytelling cuts through the noise online and connects with people at a deeply human level. Through introspection, we gain deeper self-insights, subsequently helping us to communicate more authentically.

Here’s a process you can use to create content that is authentic to who you are:

  • Figure out your process to help yourself get to a place of stillness: whether it’s journaling, whether it’s meditation, whether it’s exercise, whether it’s cooking, or something else altogether. Research shows that journalling is especially powerful as a tool to understand ourselves, improving our physical and mental health in the process.
  • Create raw and vulnerable content that is not aimed to validate or prove yourself. When you do that, you’ve reached a place of comfort within yourself.
  • Be clear on your “why.” When using social media, be sure to ask yourself, “Why am I using this and how is it adding value to whatever it is I’m trying to create?” I’m obsessed with Instagram. I love Facebook. But I am very clear about what my intentions on these platforms: to inspire.

8. Use open loops to create anticipation Andre Chaperon, founder of AutoResponder Madness

Ever watched 24? Lost? Game of Thrones?

Ever wondered how they keep the attention of millions week-after-week?

Every show subtly starts multiple open loops, closes most of them by the end of the episode, and leaves at least one big open loop that the next episode resolves. An open loop is basically plot or subplot that has been started but not finished.

Nothing grabs our attention faster than the need to know what happens next. Our mind is wired to want to close these open loops.

We can all easily use open loops to tell stories even though we aren’t Hollywood storytellers with big budgets. The main way I communicate with people online is through newsletter emails, which are read three to four times more than the average email newsletter. This is because I create open loops that intrigue people. One simple open loop I created with just a few sentences in one of my emails went:

In 2007 I ran an evil experiment. The result of the experiment bumped my opt-in rate from 20 percent to 50 percent. I may show you the whole experiment at some point if you are interested, but I digress. The point is…

Jesus! I got so many emails asking, “Tell me, what is this thing?”

When most people create articles, social media posts, and email newsletters, they tend to make the mistake of not connecting each post to their larger narrative. Therefore, I recommend creating the overall plot of your content upfront just like a TV show plans all of its episode. Here’s the exact process I use:

  • Write multiple emails at once. I’m a very visual person, so I put multiple windows across my one screen and start writing across them.
  • Move story elements around. Once I have written an email out, I start moving around story elements, and playing with them.
  • Open loops. I then decide how to open and close each story element.

9. Use quotes to build characters Dorie Clark, CEO of Clark Strategic Communications, author of Stand Out

When most nonfiction writers think about storytelling, they focus on plot and ignore the importance of developing a character. Yet readers prefer stories where they can relate to the main character. Developing those characters is how they become relatable.

I’ve now written two books of interviews with dozens of entrepreneurs and professionals to capture their best practices about professional reinvention (Reinventing You) and how they became recognized experts in their field (Stand Out).

The biggest thing I learned about developing characters is to let their voice shine through. The way someone speaks is incredibly distinctive, and it can tell you a lot about who they are. While you need to paraphrase at times, I love to let interesting, original quotes shine through. Bestselling author Daniel Pink told me about his practice of responding to every fan email personally, admitting, “On a tactical level, it’s insane.”

Here is the specific process I use:

  • Record the full interview. I record interviews (with my smartphone if we’re meeting in person, or on Skype) so I don’t have to rely on abridged notes I’m jotting down.
  • Notice when passion spikes. If there’s an area where they seem particularly passionate, I’ll make note of it. When someone is speaking in a unique voice, you can tell it’s them and not a corporate spokesperson.
  • Let great quotes go long. Typically you don’t want to bore readers with long block quotes from someone, but if their personality shows through, it’s worth it-they get a payoff from getting to know the speaker better.

10. Find and reverse-engineer the emotions behind great stories Todd Wiseman, co-founder and president of Hayden 5 Media

My boutique video production company, Hayden 5, has created viral videos with tens of millions of views, award-winning videos, and films. What I’ve learned is that no matter how simple or complicated a story is, you can reverse-engineer the emotions.

When we start working on a project, we always tell our clients to tell us about a story in a video that made them emotionally react in a certain way. Then we take a look at why it stood out. It usually comes back to two questions:

1. What’s the basic emotion?

2. What made you feel it?

Why are emotions so important? When stories effectively trigger emotions, people:

  • Remember things better. A study that analyzed the responses of 414 young adult participants found that emotional stories were 29 percent more remembered and recalled by the respondents than neutral stories.
  • Are more empathetic and understanding. A joint analysis of speakers and listeners’ brain scans demonstrated that the listener of a story tends to be in sync with the speaker in terms of brain activity, indicating a deep sense of empathy in conversations.

A great video that triggers very raw and real emotions is “Going to Visit Mum.” For me, it was that relatable feeling of being missed. Here’s how I would describe it:

It’s that scenario when you were a kid, and homesick on some trip away from “mum,” or a loved one. There’s something about that phone call, and something even more special about finally reuniting. In this case, the mother and son have been away from each other for so long, and when they reunite, you know it’s going to be emotional. In my opinion, the filmmakers here took a basic emotion that many people can immediately relate to, and amplified it. On top of that, it was real.

Other great videos that are great to practice your emotional deconstruction skills with are below:

11. Bring them through an emotional roller coaster Neil Patel, founder of Quick Sprout

I like to take people through an emotional rollercoaster. From ups and downs, to happy moments and even sad ones-you want your story to be like a roller coaster in which people won’t know what to expect next.

By taking people through different emotions they are more likely to bond with you, just as in a relationship. For example, you’ve bonded with your significant other or family members because you’ve been through a lot of emotions with them. For example, in an analysis of 108 Super Bowl ads, the dramatic plot structure (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, conclusion) was the most well-received form of plot development.

Through emotional roller coaster storytelling you can do the same thing. It not only will help capture and grab your reader’s attention, but it will help you convert more readers into customers.

This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article above was originally published at Inc.com.

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10 Effective Ways to Give Feedback

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Be tough-minded on standards and tender-hearted with people

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It was a little past 1:00 a.m, and I sat alone at the dining room table. If only I had listened to my tired body and gone to sleep, I might have saved a friendship and a business partnership.

Instead, I pushed through and gave overly harsh feedback on a letter. It took me only a few minutes to send my feedback, but it damaged that relationship forever. The person never came back to me for feedback, and it contributed to a negative spiral in the relationship that ultimately failed.

That’s when I learned the stakes of giving bad feedback. As leaders, parents, and friends, if we chronically give bad feedback we destroy relationships, make other people feel stupid, and stunt their growth.

Giving feedback incorrectly is one of the worst mistakes smart people are particularly prone to make. Experts tend to…

  • overestimate their expertise and give feedback in areas where they don’t have expertise;
  • feel compelled to give feedback as a result of their expertise;
  • be condescending as a result of thinking something is obvious to others when it isn’t; and
  • be too general as a result of forgetting the little insights that make up ideas.

These disadvantages are collectively known as the curse of knowledge.

I interviewed 10 world-class leaders (including the founder of two television networks, a former Fortune 500 CEO, and similarly successful entrepreneurs) to get their perspective on how to give feedback in the best way. In the few minutes it takes to read this article, you’ll have a whole new toolkit, which will immediately improve how you give feedback to others.

1. Help employees think like ownersJason Duff, founder and CEO of COMSTOR Outdoor

I think the best way for a CEO to give feedback is by letting his or her employees experience what it’s like to be an owner.

I used to want to shield my team from the hard parts of what I do. The unintended result was employees who made poor decisions and developed beliefs that everything is easier than it actually is.

To inspire an ownership mindset, I follow two practices that work really well:

Job shadowing. I’m a big believer in the idea that you can’t really understand someone’s perspective until you walk a mile in their shoes. I shadow my employees, and they shadow me as well as each other. This helps us understand each other, but also be nimble and step in when necessary.

Open-book accounting. We recently moved our business to open book accounting, which means we share all of our financial numbers with our employees. This was a very difficult decision for me but I’ve been impressed with the outcome so far. Misconceptions about the money that I was, or was not making, have been completely put on the table. Many of my employees had a lot of sympathy with some of the financial goals, challenges, and tax consequences that the company was facing. They offered great ideas and suggestions about their roles and their compensations to help the company be more successful. I highly recommend The Great Game of Business to learn about the power of open book accounting and how to implement it in your company.

2. Put on your welcome faceRyan Simonetti, co-founder of Convene

I have one core belief, based on research in Drive, that structures how I give feedback: People are intrinsically motivated to do a great job. They don’t intentionally do bad work.

Most people I know take a tremendous amount of pride in their work and have an emotionally vested interest in both their success and that of their company.

What this means is that my job isn’t to reprimand or judge people. My true job is to empower them. Given that most communication is nonverbal, the most important thing I can do is to be in the right state of mind before I give feedback. I call this putting on a ‘welcome face’. To me this signifies “I’m open, compassionate, and excited to listen.” If I can’t immediately get myself to be authentically in that state, I will sleep on it.

Finally, I lead feedback discussions with an open-ended question like, “What is it about this project that you’re especially proud of?” My goal is to put myself in the other person’s shoes before I make judgments.

3. Follow the NORMS of objectivityRohit Anabheri, founder of Circa Ventures

I use what I call the “NORMS approach” to keep the feedback objective rather than subjective. Here’s how it works:

Not an interpretation. Describe the behavior, don’t interpret why someone did something.

Observable. Focus on specific behavior or outcomes that are seen or heard.

Reliable. Two or more people independently agree on what they observed.

Measurable. Use facts to describe the behavior or result rather than superlatives like ‘all the time’ or ‘always’.

Specific. Based on a detailed description of the event (e.g., who was involved, where and when it happened, and what was the context and sequence of events).

As a result of going through this process, “John is always late,” turns into, “John was late for the leadership meeting three times last week.” This helps avoid emotions and exaggerations, as well as the disagreements that come when someone naturally tries to defend their behavior.

4. Put on your coaching hat Benji Rabhan, founder of AppointmentCore

When I’m about to give feedback, I put on my coach hat. Here’s what I do:

Strike while the iron is cold. To be effective, I must wait until I have emotionally separated myself from the equation. This way, I can proceed calmly and collectively, so as to not engage the employee’s fight or flight reflex.

Ask for permission. Once we sit down together, I say, “I’m going to wear the coaching hat as we talk about the project. Is that okay?” With their agreement, I explain, “There’s been something I’ve been trying to figure out, and I need your help. I am betting there is something I did not tell you, or there is a difference between our past experiences in this area. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions to see if we can figure out what I’m missing?” Doing this sets the context of the discussion as mutual improvement and prevents defensiveness.

Challenge assumptions with open-ended questions. I ask questions to help me understand their process for creating the work. Rather than ask, “Did you know that you did this wrong?” I’ll say, “Tell me about how you went about this assignment.” As they’re sharing, I’ll ask follow-up questions such as “What was the thought process of why you did it that way?” I keep going until I run out of questions. Open-ended questions help me discover what went wrong on the assignment, and how to correct the missteps. They also help the employee see the gaps in their own logic without me even having to say anything. And sometimes, I realize that I’m the one with the gap or that we both are.

In the end, I believe the key to making the process work is a sincere curiosity and desire to:

  • Understand what you personally could do better.
  • Get to the root of the problem.
  • Help the other person solve their own challenges in a peaceful way.

I recommend the book, Nonviolent Communication. It details great processes for having difficult conversations without sparking negativity.

5. Forget motivation. Stop demotivating Sevetri Wilson, CEO of Solid Ground Innovations

I am a very “straight to the point” person, and I’ve learned the hard way that this can really hurt morale.

Constant criticism, without an environment that praises great work, leads to employees becoming demotivated because they feel like they can never be ‘good enough.’ In a study that surveyed 1.2 million employees at primarily Fortune 1000 companies, they found that employees often don’t need motivation. It is constant critique without recognition that causes them to be demotivated.

When I give constructive criticism, I always emphasize that I believe in the person and their work. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t have hired them. I make it a point to let my team members know that I’m fully aware of their capabilities, and I won’t accept anything less. I try to transform the conversation’s energy into something constructive by reminding them of what I loved about their other more successful projects and work. Whether that’s creativity, attention to detail, or content, it’s important to get people to dig deep down and pull out the work that made me hire them in the first place.

6. Give the conversation over to the employee Brian Scudamore, founder and CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, You Move Me, and Wow 1 Day Painting

My approach is to turn the conversation over to employees to lead – and hopefully – resolve.

I start by asking “How do you feel about your work?” or “Is this your best?”

Then my role becomes, “How can I help you?”

This leads to more employee ownership over problems and solutions. By taking myself out of the equation, I avoid negative feelings, but more importantly I believe the team grows and becomes capable of solving even greater challenges on their own.

Ultimately, this has led to a culture where our team looks forward to getting negative feedback because they know they will benefit from it. This mirrors the approach taken by Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors, who proactively seeks out and listens to negative feedback.

7. Be tough-minded on standards and tender-hearted with people Doug Conant, former CEO of Fortune 500 company Campbell Soup Company and founder and CEO of Conant Leadership

When I give feedback, I often start with the four magic words of leadership, “How can I help?” Next, I ask additional questions to get to the root challenge. For example, “What can we do better?”

By asking these questions with sincerity, commitment, and a desire to help, leaders can be tough-minded on standards and tender-hearted with people. Most people unnecessarily sacrifice one for the other, but it is imperative that leaders incorporate both in a meaningful way, if they hope to achieve sustainable high performance.

The power of this approach is that it:

  • Sets the purpose of the conversation as solving the problem, not attacking the person.
  • Positions myself as a resource rather than a combatant.
  • Empowers the person to productively work through the issue.

8. Sandwich your feedback and spread it out Cameron Herold, author of Double Double, CEO coach, and globally renowned speaker

I “sandwich” the constructive criticism inside the good stuff and spread it out throughout the day:

  1. Tell them what they’re doing well.
  2. Tell them what specifically needs to improve.
  3. Tell them something else they’re doing well.

I learned this 30 years ago in the One Minute Manager, and it still holds up today. It’s also a great way to raise kids too – and I have four. Here’s why it works:

It is crucial to give MORE positive feedback than negative feedback. According to one study, top performing teams give each other more than five positive comments for every negative one.

It is crucial to give feedback immediately. Stanford University researcher on behavioral change, BJ Fogg, shares, “It’s critical for people to give feedback during or immediately after the behavior so that people’s brains will wire it correctly.” In other words, the tighter the feedback loop, the more immediately that feedback can be incorporated into and influence future behavior. How much more slowly would your golf swing improve if someone told you to ‘square your shoulders’ a week after a practice session vs. after your first few swings?

9. Direct your passion to competitors and your heart toward employees Aaron Steed, CEO of Meathead Movers

We all have passion and heart about our businesses. That passion is critical for the success of the company. It’s good for employees to see. However, the mistake that many founders make is directing that energy negatively toward employees with harsh feedback that employees can’t help but take personally.

The goal isn’t to kill the passion; it’s to redirect it.

When giving feedback, I direct my passion toward competitors, and my heart toward employees. When I do this, meetings turn from defensive to inspirational. Here’s how I do it:

I set my default to always come from a place of love, gratitude and curiosity (LGC).

I write “LGC” on the top of my personal, printed meeting agenda, if I’m stepping into a serious meeting. This helps me focus on why LGC is important. Our environment unconsciously triggers certain emotions. One study even found that holding a warm cup of coffee can increase the odds of us being more warm to others.

10. Show a funny video before giving feedback Kay Koplovitz, founder, USA Network and Syfy

A great way to relax someone is to find a cartoon, funny video or something else of interest to share to help the person let down their defensive guard. From there, it is easier to direct conversation to why their performance was subpar, and how to improve.

Beyond the immediate impact on everyone’s mood, laughter has long-term health benefits as well. And it may not only help the person you’re giving feedback to! It may help you. If you’re resisting confronting a lackluster performance, keep in mind a fascinating study, which found watching comedy videos increases willpower!

Special thank you to Ian Chew and Luke Murray for being an integral part of putting this article together.

This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article above was originally published at Inc.com.

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How to Motivate Yourself in 10 Easy Steps

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Develop a habit that works for you

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It’s 2:00 p.m. Your lunch sits snugly in your stomach causing fog to settle over your brain. Your energy is low. Thought processes stop mid-stream. You know what needs to get done, but your body is resisting it.

We can all relate to this feeling, but the similarities stop there.

Some people fall prey to chronic procrastination and fail to turn their intentions into actions. Others consistently power through low-energy moments and lead more impactful lives.

What separates these two groups?

According to a growing body of academic evidence, the divide is not some unchangeable character trait; it’s our habit, and habits are flexible.

To get insight into what actually works, I interviewed many of the country’s most successful entrepreneurs and business leaders whose records speak for themselves. The list includes a former Fortune 500 CEO, the founder of USA Network and the Syfy channel, the founder of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, and many other successful entrepreneurs who have built multimillion dollar companies.

1. Leverage the Chameleon Effect
Brian Scudamore, founder and CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, You Move Me, and Wow 1 Day Painting

When focus fails me, I find an empty desk in the office and sit next to a focused employee who I don’t really know. This approach keeps me focused in three ways:

It helps me feed off the person’s concentration.
The well-studied chameleon effect shows that we unconsciously copy the postures, mannerisms, facial expressions, and other behaviors of people around us.

It makes me want to be a good role model.
We often try to please the people we know the least more than the people we’re closest to. As the leader of our organization, I feel extra pressure to stay focused when I’m sitting right next to someone I don’t know as well.

It gets me out of mental ruts.
“Many of our repeated behaviors are cued by everyday environments,” according to studies conducted by Wendy Wood and James B. Duke, professors of psychology and neuroscience. So changing my workstation changes my behaviors.

Even if you don’t have lots of employees, you can still find the right people to sit next to at co-working spaces and cafes.

2. Turn Your Vendor Into Your Accountability Partner
Aaron Steed, CEO of Meathead Movers

The constant motivation to enhance your image to others is a core part of what it means to be human and has been widely studied. I’m a big believer in channeling this never-ending pool of motivation into important things I want to get done. I do this through finding the right accountability partners and adding positive and negative consequences.

For example, I’ve been a nail biter for as long as I can remember. It became so much of an insecurity that I hid my hands under the table during business meetings.

Finally, one day, I was getting a manicure, and I noticed that my manicurist bit her nails too. In a friendly manner, I teased her on the irony and we hit it off. That’s when I got my big idea: “What if we stopped biting our nails together?”

Here’s the deal I came up with:

  • If I bit my nails, I would pay double for my next manicure.
  • If she bit her nails, my manicure would be free.
  • If we each win or lose, it would be normal cost.

We shook on it, and three months later, I have yet to pay for a manicure.

Imagine how you could transform your relationship with your vendors (accountant, lawyer, employees, etc.) by becoming accountability partners.

3. Precommit When You Know You’re Going to Procrastinate
Rohit Anabheri, founder of Circa Ventures

I can tell what I’m going to procrastinate on before I procrastinate on it. We all can.

Feeling resistance when I think about doing the task in the future is a solid indicator. When this happens, rather than waiting, I snap into action and precommit. Precommitment means that I very specifically:

Decide what I’m going to do.
Instead of writing down “Work on XYZ,” I will either write “Work on XYZ for one hour” or “Complete ABC.” It should be very clear when the task is finished.

Plan when and where I’m going to do it.
Instead of hoping I’ll have enough time, I make time by scheduling the task on my calendar.

This type of planning is known as if-then planning in the academic world. In a review of 94 studies on the topic, researchers Peter Gollwitzer and Paschal Sheeran found that if-then planning increased success rates at an astounding level.

I use StickK to manage my precommitments. StickK was developed by Yale University economists Dean Karlan and Ian Ayres, and has been shown to more than double follow-through when people add an accountability partner and a consequence.

4. Reconnect With Your Deepest Reservoir of Inspiration
Doug Conant, former CEO of Fortune 500 company Campbell Soup Company and founder and CEO of Conant Leadership

When I feel resistance, I find it helpful to take five minutes to completely stop what I’m doing to reconnect with my purpose by visualizing the parts of it that inspire me the most.

My purpose is: to help build world-class organizations that defy the critics and thrive in the face of adversity. It is what drives me in a unique and profoundly personal way. I developed it over time, in part, by answering the questions below:

1. Why do you choose to lead?

2. What leaders throughout history have inspired you the most?

3. Which of their qualities do you admire the most?

4. Why will it be worth the steadfast devotion to spending more of your waking hours at work than anywhere else?

5. Why will it be worth tackling the challenges that come with that commitment to work (i.e., hand-wringing over forecasts and budgets, the reports, the travel)?

Studies show that having a purpose leads to being happier at work, which leads to being more productive. If you do something you love, you’ll have a reservoir of vitality to draw upon when the going gets tough. This reservoir is often what separates great leaders from mediocre ones.

5. Be Like Steve Jobs. Set Aside Time to Think in Places That Spark Creativity.
Ryan Simonetti, co-founder of Convene

I do a weekly 90-minute “one-on-one” with myself where I think strategically about my life and business and plow through critical tasks I’d honestly prefer to avoid.

Having consistent one-on-one meetings with your team is a leadership best practice. For example, I have one-on-one meetings with the top leaders of my 150-person company weekly. They’re essential. So it only made sense for me to do this with myself!

Similar to Steve Jobs’s approach of holding walking meetings to get the creative juices flowing, I go to an offsite place that inspires me to be creative and focused: the Smyth Hotel lounge in New York City. The space is amazing and really helps me get into the right state of mind.
For every one-on-one, there are two fundamental questions I ask myself over and over:

  • What is the most important thing I need to get done this week to help me achieve my goal (or my company’s goal)?
  • Why is it important?

With compelling answers to these two questions, I’m excited and ready for the week.

6. Take a Daily 15-Minute Walk to Eliminate Brain Fog
Sevetri Wilson, CEO of Solid Ground Innovations

I take a daily 15-minute walk through the neighborhood where my business is located in order to clear my head. The extra space helps me creatively:

Reflect on my “why”
Think about “big picture” goals
Focus on critical, non-urgent needs

Counterintuitively, mental fatigue isn’t caused by the exhaustion of the part of our brain that focuses. It is actually caused by the exhaustion of the part that blocks distractions. Studies show that taking a walk (especially in natural settings) helps restore our brain’s ability to block distractions because it allows our mind to wander.

7. Work Out Before Making Hard Decisions
Kay Koplovitz, founder, USA Network and Syfy

When I have a tough choice to make and execute, I go to the gym for 30 minutes in order to get my heart rate up and feel more energized. This helps me when it is something I’ve got to get myself up to do.

A 2006 study published in the British Journal of Health Psychology found that a consistent exercise regimen has a significant positive impact on willpower.

8. Make Following Through a Core Value
Cameron Herold, author of Double Double, CEO coach, and globally renowned speaker

I believe that the most important productivity hack is making follow-through a core value by developing an image of yourself as someone who follows through.

Once something is part of your identity and you share that with other people, research shows that you will become very motivated to make sure your actions are consistent with your identity.

To solidify your self-identity as someone who follows through, I suggest:

Promoting your core value of follow-through to others.
By letting all of your stakeholders know how important follow-through is, it becomes much harder to not follow through.

Practicing following through on all of your small commitments.
Stanford researcher on habits BJ Fogg has found that every action you take builds your identity. He’s found that even very small actions have a surprisingly big impact.

Success largely comes down to execution. And execution cannot happen without following through on commitments to yourself and others.

9. Get the Ripple Perspective
Benji Rabhan, founder of AppointmentCore

When I have a task that I don’t enjoy doing or that depletes my energy, I dedicate two to five minutes to writing down:

How the task fits into the bigger picture.

The impact to other people, dependent tasks, and clients.

How the task fits into my audacious goals.

The long-term worst-case scenario of not completing it (for particularly mundane tasks). For example, this includes things like our company going under, a department losing an important team member, or a client leaving us.

I call this “Getting Ripple Perspective” because it helps me see how my immediate actions create positive or negative ripple effects over time throughout my business.

The process is powerful on two levels:

  • I take action. The benefit of getting it done and the pain of not getting it done become significantly larger than any resistance I have to doing it.
  • I can more easily delegate the task. I can very compellingly explain why the task is critical to help my team avoid motivation-related issues.

10. Start the Day by Closing Open Loops
Jason Duff, founder and CEO of COMSTOR Outdoor

Contrary to popular time-management approaches, I set aside the first hour of my day to work on tasks that are sucking my energy–not the ones that are most important. I set aside this time in the morning since that’s when daily reserves of willpower are the highest.

With each task, I force myself to either delegate it, delete it, or complete it. Once all of these open loops are closed, I move on to my most important tasks of the day.

When we have open loops in our brain, we perform worse. This is known as the Zeigarnik Effect. By closing the loops in my head, I set myself up for success on my most important goals for the day.

This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article above was originally published at Inc.com.

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