Tag values

The Link Between Power, Courage & Empathy …*

The Link Between Power, Courage & Empathy ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

If you draw a series of parallel lines closely together, and then another series across them at an angle, you have the simplest visual example of the dialectical process. Cross-hatching as they call it. You have the first series of line, then you have the second series in opposition to the first. But out of the two you get a series of diamonds.

Now, if you look at these diamonds, remembering that every one has had to be drawn, you are overwhelmed by the length and complexity of the task. The diamonds are like the future we work for. Yet, courage. The first series of lines is there. All we have to do is to cross them.

– John Berger, A Painter of our Times, 1958

In a fascinating article recently published on The Greater Good Science CenterWhen Courage Goes Bad, Jeremy Adam Smith examines Cynthia Pury’s research on courage–how we experience, perceive and attribute it to others. Courage, it turns out, is often used as a currency of power–we attribute it to those who share our goals while withholding it from those whom we perceive as being outside our self-defined groups.

In the article, Adam Smith examines a recent social media post which stated, “As I see post after post about Bruce Jenner’s transition to a woman, and I hear words like, bravery, heroism, and courage, just thought I’d remind all of us what real American courage, heroism, and bravery looks like!” The post was accompanied by a picture of toy soldiers and went viral, being shared almost a million times. This is a prime example of how we tend to frame courage as a zero-sum game–by calling Caitlyn Jenner courageous, the author of that social media post felt we were detracting from the ‘real’ courage of American armed forces. The withholding of attributing courage to someone’s actions is very much linked to an absence of empathy for their experience. The good news is that how we frame courage is very much a choice. We can choose to see it as a finite resource and guard it jealously only for our own self-perceived groups, or we can choose to acknowledge the vast plurality of human experiences and understand that ultimately, courage depends on the series of lines we each choose to cross.

. . . *

Pury’s research suggests that courage is something we grant to validate certain goals and withhold to invalidate others. While it might seem as though Jenner and an American soldier could both be courageous, in fact we appear to feel a strong impulse to treat courage like a finite resource that goes to some people but not others. Just as we sometimes withhold empathy or compassion from out-groups, so we will refuse to grant that people can be courageous if we don’t approve of their goals or values.

[ … ] 

Pury’s research has found that courage is more likely to emerge when a person sees a meaningful goal and then believes he or she has the ability to achieve that goal, a product of cognitive appraisal she calls “process courage.”

A man is more likely to run into a burning building to save kittens if he has the training and equipment to do so. A man who runs into the building without those things might be seen as courageous—but not, perhaps, very smart. A third man who has the training and equipment but doesn’t see saving kittens as a worthy goal would simply stand on the sidelines. So whether to take action depends on a person’s goals, as well as evaluations of personal risk and his own ability to achieve the goal.

But how will observers view that private decision? Here’s where things get interesting—and debatable.

Much, argued Pury, depends on whether other people share the goal in question. To the community of people who have transitioned from one sex to the other, Jenner is a hero: an accomplished male athlete who was willing to embrace a new celebrity identity as a woman. In this view, it took personal courage to go public with a very intimate decision—and by doing so, pave the way for others with less social power and wealth to follow the same path. She had the resources to create an image for others to pursue.

The conservative reaction was very different. To conservatives, Jenner’s goal—to raise the visibility of transgendered people—is socially destructive.

To a degree, it’s a problem of empathy and group affiliation. “If it’s your lived life, you know that that transition is really important and you value that goal because you’ve pursued it yourself,” said Pury. You would also know firsthand all the barriers and hostility that Jenner would face. Knowing something about her struggle might make her courageous in your eyes.

But to conservatives, all of that pales in comparison to the goal of maintaining rigid barriers between men and women, a dichotomy on which they say the American family depends. In the pages of the National Review, Doug French framed courage as resistance to the trend Jenner represents.

“By refusing to speak, we contribute to the notion that even conservatives understand that something is wrong—something is shameful—about our own deepest beliefs,” he writes. French (an Iraq veteran) is not willing to attribute courage to Jenner, instead granting it to members of his own self-defined group, people who share his values, experiences, and goals.

Source: When Courage Goes Bad by Jeremy Adam Smith via The Greater Good, published July 16, 2015

{ Managing the Fear of Change } 7 Interventions to Make Big Changes Feel Small & Achievable …*

In this TEDxTalk, conflict mediator and strategist, Priya Parker shares seven interventions to overcome the fear of change that so often paralyzes and keeps us from living the deeply meaningful and impactful lives we long for. The seven experiments that Priya suggests are based on research in neuroscience, business management, conflict resolution and the arts and share the common aim of making big changes feel small and achievable:

  1. The Obituary Test
  2. The Passion Comic Strip
  3. The Backward Elevator Test
  4. The Life Sentence
  5. The Dwindling Cash Experiment
  6. The Habit of Helping Others
  7. The Farewell Party Evite

watch, experiment & rethink …

“Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished” – The Psychology of Your Future Self …*

Human beings are works in progress that mistakenly think they’re finished. The person you are right now is as transient, as fleeting and as temporary as all the people you’ve ever been. The one constant in our life is change.” – Dan Gilbert

In this short TED talk, psychologist Dan Gilbert examines some of the prevalent misconceptions that we have about change over time in our lives and which often lead to poor decision-making. Gilbert highlights what he calls the “end of history illusion,” which refers to the fact that people of all ages vastly underestimate how much change they will experience in the future.

All of us are walking around with an illusion, an illusion that history, our personal history, has just come to an end. That we have just recently become the people that we were always meant to be and will be for the rest of our lives. 

As Gilbert demonstrates with various studies, this disconnect between how much we predict we will change and how much we actually do change touches upon nearly all aspects of our lives–from our personality, our values to our preferences. I really enjoyed this talk and its deeply growth mindset oriented message. When change is the only constant in human experience, when we can accept that we are never fully “finished,” it frees us to embrace the learning process, to admit that we are not who we strive to be…yet. And in striving to bridge that yet, we are able to keep learning and growing throughout our lives, each day becoming slightly fuller and richer versions of ourselves.

embrace change & rethink …

Dan Gilbert: The Psychology of Your Future Self

What’s the one thing that you learned in the last decade that you wished someone had told you 10 years ago?

What's the one thing that you learned in the last decade that you wished someone had told you 10 years ago? | rethinked.org

Stikman – photograph: my own


In January 2013, Wooster Collective, which showcases and celebrates ephemeral art placed on streets in cities around the world, celebrated its tenth anniversary. In honor of that happy occasion, they ran an interview series where they asked a group of artists whom they had showcased in the beginning of their website the following question: “What’s the one thing that you learned in the last decade that you had wished someone had told you 10 years ago?”

Being an immense fan of both ‘street art’ and good questions, I was thrilled to browse the various artists’ answers. Below, are some of my favorite insights from the 10 Years of Wooster series. I’d love to hear your own answer to that question — What’s the one thing that you learned in the last decade that you had wished someone had told you 10 years ago? As for me, I need to sit on that a bit, but I sense a new post coming, stay tuned.

reflect & rethink …


“Ignore opinions, even when they favor you.” – Logan Hicks

 – – – – 

“To live and let live, to not criticize what the others do, and spend your time doing your own work and what you believe in.” – TVBOY

– – – – 

“If I have to choose between them, the one thing that I tried to follow in life, I think of the words of Mahatma Gandhi: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever” – Microbo

 – – – – 

“I always had the idea that you find the thing you like doing the most in life and you hook yourself to it like a mule to a cart and grind away until you reach some pinnacle…but it turns out that in the end it never arrives.  Life isn’t a mountain. The journey is the only reward.” – Mark Jenkins

 – – – – 

“Let it go” Is probably the best lesson I was given these last 10 years. The lesson was in connection to painting, but it also works in life.” – DHM

– – – – 

“I think it should be to learn to put things in perspective, see what’s really important and what’s just there to stress you out and would show up every day in a hundred ways just to ruin the day or the week.” – Calma

 – – – – 

I believe that embracing the unknown is a critical element in my work and I seek discovery as a profound influence. I am glad for all of the new stimulations as I walk down the street. But upon reflection of this topic I realized I wish someone had told me how fast the last ten years would go by. I know it is only a perception issue but the pace of change has caused time to seem like it is speeding by faster and faster with each passing year. Everything is new today and forgotten tomorrow. Everything is available twenty four hours a day and it all bleeds together like never ending mash-up. This is neither a bad nor a good thing but it does have the effect of making ten years ago seem like just yesterday. I tried to address this problem in my art in 2007 by starting a ten year Tribal/Primordial cycle of stik figures. This has allowed me to slow down my thinking and take a long view of a project instead of my usual manic approach. Each year I produce a new unique figure which I install over and over again during that calendar year. I am now in the seventh year of the cycle.” – Stikman

 – – – – 

“In that edge… Is where creation lives […] I have as many regrets as I do fond memories of the last 10 years, but the best piece of advice I’ve ever seen given by anyone is Ice T’s ‘Fuck it’ theory. ‘Fuck it’ gets you across that line. Push the limits. Take more risks.”- Mysterious Al

 – – – – 

“The one thing that I learned long time ago is to respect and be curious about what other artists do and never ever be in competition with anyone… Never being jealous or criticize the career, the decisions and the style of other artists…being sure of what you are doing or being sure about yourself and know that what you are doing is right and pure… Never make art for money but let the money come in the direction of your art and life. Struggle and fight every day about your freedom as an artist and forget about the roller coaster of emotions that life imposes to everyone.. Always be happy and instinctive about what you are doing or just stop, skin up and start again…” – Galo

 – – – – 

“I finished my Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2003. I wish someone had told me then that boredom, oil and canvas are not the only ways of making Art. ” – Vinz

– – – – 

“Seriously thats a tough one to answer, theres so much that i’ve learnt over the last 10 years, mainly through trial and error, but I guess the principal to them all is DO IT YOUR WAY, I think in many respects the early, somewhat innocent years, were the best years and in hind sight some of the lessons i’ve learnt have shown me that we had it right in those early years. Also to Live YOUR Dream and stay true to it, over a decade ago no one could have imagined where this scene would take us, the twists, turns, peaks, pitfalls and so long as when you search your heart, you’re comfortable and at ease with the decisions you’ve made then there’s really very little else that matters.” – D*Face

 – – – – 

“to not forget that DREAMS COME TRUE!” – Vómito Attack

– – – – 

“The one thing I wish someone had told me would of been; Don’t panic. Don’t worry. Just keep working. I am a natural worrywort, everything seems on the cusp of collapse. It’s difficult to impart perspective. In my formative years each project and idea appeared to be make or break. I think people probably told me, but I didn’t listen, that actually it’s a long game; the game of making art for a living and avoiding traditional employment. There are up’s and down’s and placid plateaus of inactivity and it’s completely normal. Just keep being bloody minded and focus on making great work and things will fall into place around you. I think it helps to be proactive, forward thinking, presentable, persistent and polite too, of course. The spaghetti randomness of the whims and tastes of the outside world can never be satisfactorily untangled. Just work, with glee and enthusiasm, it’s the only thing we can truly directly dictate.” – Jon Burgerman

– – – – 

“To be open to influence but ultimately don’t deviate from your aim.” – Toasters

 – – – – 

“During these years I have been told many things and in many ways, I have to say, I am very happy I did not listened to them. Often. I have been given advice and opinions on how to proceed in my career …and don’t get me wrong, I find this very useful and I’m always interested to hear other people’s experiences and advice. At the same time, keeping in mind what I was told, I have always preferred to find my way in things, and if nothing else, I’ve always had the need to try it for myself to make my own opinion. Sometimes I was wrong but I was always ready to change my point of view and it happened a few times. Many other times, however, my intuition was right and even though at the time seemed absurd and wrong, time has proved me right. Probably this has happened, thanks to the strong values ​​that were given to me by my family, good friends and my life experiences over the years. I never chose the easy way, I never made ​​choices based on money, fame and notoriety, I never believed the hype. but instead, I decided to follow my values​​, my heart and my passions trying to compromise as little as possible and stay true to my beliefs…. and Havin’ Fun! These are things that I learned a long time ago and they will stay with me for the rest of my life.” – BO130

{ Civic Hacking } The idea that if you see a problem, you work to fix it and not just complain about it …*

Hacking is really just any amateur innovation on an existing system. And it is a deeply democratic activity. It’s about critical thinking, it’s about questioning existing ways of doing things. It’s the idea that if you see a problem, you work to fix it and not just complain about it.” – Catherine Bracy

Does Code for America’s Catherine Bracy‘s definition of hacking remind you of any other term we’re super fond of around here? Yes, rethinking * of course! I’ve always thought of hacking and rethinking as interchangeable terms and was glad to hear that confirmed by Bracy’s TEDCity2.0 talk on civic hacking.

The elements that are at the core of civic hacking–it’s citizens who saw things that could be working better and they decided to fix them and through that work they’re creating a twenty-first century ecosystem of participation. They’re creating a whole new set of ways for citizens to be involved besides voting or signing a petition or protesting–they can actually build government.

Catherine Bracy: Why Good Hackers Make Good Citizens, published February 2014.

Tina Roth Eisenberg on Living the Creatively Courageous Life …*

Tina Roth Eisenberg on Living the Creatively Courageous Life ...* | rethinked.org


“Life is all about the people you meet and what you make with them.”

“So many good things have come out of collaborating. Just the amount you learn from each other and the things you can build when you find likeminded people with complimenting skills.”

“I think inspiration comes from being aware of even the most mundane things, like how a teabag seeps into the napkin you just placed it on. You might see a pattern, or just beauty in it, and that gives you an idea. If you narrow it down, it’s life. It’s being a curious person. That, in the end, is all the inspiration you need.”

“If I’m aiming to do one thing, it’s to have one set of values that I can apply both at work and at home, because at the end of the day, work and home—you’re just being you.”

“Creativity, to me, means not shying away. I have this personal rule, if I’m afraid of something, I really need to do it, because that means that I will learn a lot from it. That’s what I live for. I live for that feeling that I’ve dared, I’ve tried something new, and I’ve learned something new.”

“I think my biggest life lesson is that generosity always pays off; generosity of spirit, attention or time.”


Head over to PSFK to read the complete interview and delight in Tina’s brilliant insights on living the creatively courageous life.

make & rethink

[ Source:Why Confronting Deep Fears Is Essential To Creativity via PSFK’s Free Radicals Series  ]

{ Traveling Lightly …* } How Might We Thrive & Flourish Within Tensions & Contradictions?

{ Traveling Lightly ...* } How Might We Thrive & Flourish Within Tensions & Contradictions? | rethinked.org

“My dream is to walk around the world. A smallish backpack, all essentials neatly in place. A camera. A notebook. A traveling paint set. A hat. Good shoes. A nice pleated (green?) skirt for the occasional seaside hotel afternoon dance.” – Maira Kalman

Mine too (dream–down to the pleated skirt; definitely green). I have always felt quite strongly l’invitation au voyage, the compulsion to wander and explore, to pack up and walk into the unknown, yielding to restlessness. During my teenage years, I imagined Bruce Chatwin’s essay, The Nomadic Alternative, my personal manifesto. Having grown up in three different countries and across two continents, I have always fancied myself a true nomad. Flying back and forth between the United States and France, three times a year, every year until I turned eighteen, I remember looking at the little GPS monitor on the plane, feeling there must have been an error on my passport: I was not French, I belonged nowhere and everywhere–I was the child from the middle of the Atlantic.

Of course, I fully realize that there is a fair degree of romanticizing in my conception of nomadism in my life. I am well aware that, practically speaking, it would be more difficult than I like to think it, to pack everything up one crisp fall morning and walk into the unknown. There are leases and bills and my unimpressive muscles which would soon tire of a backpack, however neatly arranged, all of which would very much restrain my ability to live on the go. But the idea of nomad, not as daydream, but as value–the idea of treading lightly through life, of being nimble, curious and prone to exploration and unhousing at a moment’s notice–is and has been for as long as I can remember a core value in my worldview and sense of self.

So what happened? How is it that two weeks ago, I found myself drowning in my stuff, trying to cram an endless amount of things into far too few boxes. I was moving out of my apartment and decided that the move would be a good time to shed what I imagined to be my very few bulky possessions — a couch, a large bed, maybe store a few books with my parents. Yet once I started attempting to pack, taking things out of their designated spaces to place them in boxes, I was surrounded by things, my treasures, which taken collectively were suffocating me. Paper cranes, sculptures of matchsticks and clay, poster boards, countless stashes of notebooks and loose torn out pieces of paper covered in paint and words, my grandmother’s broken jewelry, boxes of letters, photographs, markers, books–everywhere–crawling like ants in every corner of every room. So many things, which, individually, delight and reassure me but when taken out of the nooks and closets in which they hide, thrown together, made me sick, literally, dizzy and nauseous. How could there be such a disconnect between how I imagine and desire my life and how I actually live it? And how I might I begin to align the vision and the reality more closely?

I have no answer to this question that I ask, which is a little bit about how to live lightly, but very much about how to exist productively within tensions and contradictions? For me, one of those tensions is how to reconcile the need for comfort and delight that things can provide with my need to feel free and light. We all exist within webs of such interlocking tensions, whatever they may be. I would love to hear your insights on how to flourish in this very human space…*

Friday Link Fest…*




Skipping Out On College And ‘Hacking Your Education ~ #Knowmad via NPR, published March 5, 2013.

Of Artists and Entrepreneurs: The Second Renaissance is Now ~ via Big Think, published March 7, 2013.

The Benefits of Optimism Are Real ~ via The Atlantic, published March 1, 2013.

The Future Of Education Eliminates The Classroom, Because The World Is Your Class ~ #Knowmad via FastCo.Exist , published March 4, 2013.

What Do You Have in Common with a Low-Income Indian Mother? More Than You Think ~ via GOOD, published March 1, 2013.

Embracing the Shake: Why Limitations Drive Creativity ~ via FastCo.Create, published March 5, 2013

Finding the Just-Right Level of Self-Esteem for a Child ~ via the Wall Street Journal, published February 26, 2013.

How Serious Play Leads To Breakthrough Innovation ~ via FastCo.Design, published March 4, 2013.


Raymond Williams Rethinking Materialism…*

It is often said that our society is too materialist, and that advertising reflects this. We are in the phase of a relatively rapid distribution of what are called ‘consumer goods’, and advertising, with its emphasis on ‘bringing the good things of life’, is taken as central for this reason. But it seems to me that in this respect our society is quite evidently not materialist enough, and that this, paradoxically is the result of a failure in social meaning, values and ideals.

It is impossible to look at modern advertising without realizing that the material object being sold is never enough: this indeed is the crucial cultural quality of its modern forms. If we were sensibly materialist, in that part of our living in which we use things, we should find most advertising to be of an insane irrelevance. Beer would be enough for us, without the additional promise that in drinking it we show ourselves to be manly, young in heart, or neighborly. A washing-machine would be a useful machine to wash clothes, rather than an indication that we are forward-looking or an object of envy to our neighbors. But if these associations sell beer and washing-machines, as some of the evidence suggests, it is clear that we have a cultural pattern in which the objects are not enough but must be validated, if only in fantasy, by association with social and personal meanings which in a different cultural pattern might be more directly available. The short description of the pattern we have is magic: a highly organized and professional system of magical inducements and satisfactions, functionally very similar to magical systems in simpler societies, but rather strangely coexistant with a highly developed scientific technology.

-Raymond Williams, Advertising: The Magic System


Source: Williams, Raymond. “Advertising: The Magic System”. The Advertising and Consumer Culture Reader. Eds. McAllister, Matthew P., and Joseph Turow. New York: Routledge, 2009. 13-24. Print.

The Importance of Positive Rituals in Freeing Creative Energy



A few weeks ago I was writing about Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz’s book, The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal. The premise of Loehr and Schwartz’s book is that energy, rather than time, management is the key to an engaging and fulfilling life. We have a limited amount of energy that we draw from with each thought, decision or action. It is therefore of supreme importance that we manage this precious, limited and overused resource fiercely. In the weeks since reading the book, I have been working through the steps that Loehr and Schwartz outline as part of their Full Engagement Personal Development Plan:

  •  Identify your key values
  • Develop a vision (personal & professional)
  • Identify primary performance barriers
  • Create rituals that address your primary performance barriers
  • Hold yourself accountable each day to your commitments.

To be able to fully engage with our deepest held values on a daily basis, Loehr and Schwartz recommend building small, incremental, highly precise rituals–behavioral expressions of our values–in all dimensions of our lives to be able to fully engage and strategically disengage when necessary. According to Loehr and Schwartz,

“Positive energy rituals are powerful on three levels. They help to us insure that we effectively manage energy in the service of whatever mission we are on. They reduce the need to rely on our limited conscious will and discipline to take action. Finally, rituals are a powerful means by which to translate our values and priorities into action—to embody what matters most to us in our everyday behaviors.” (166)

WHAT ARE POSITIVE RITUALSprecise, consciously acquired behaviors that become automatic in our lives, fueled by a deep sense of purpose

Once you have identified your key values and primary performance barriers, Loehr and Schwartz ask you to develop several rituals fueled by your higher purpose in life to address each of your performance barriers. For example, one of my five primary performance barrier was low concentration. To address this issue, I identified five positive rituals, aligned with my values, that would stress my ‘concentration’ muscle, much like a bicep, while accounting for an adequate recovery period afterward, so that my capacities to focus would grow over time.

The rituals I delineated for that particular performance barrier were as follow:

  • Exercise 4x a week
  • Eat three balanced meals at set hours each day
  • Take a multivitamin each morning
  • Spend 20-30 minutes at the start of your workday to schedule the various things that need to get done in 90 minute chunks of focus followed by rest periods

Because there is a thirty- to sixty day adoption period, in which positive rituals have not yet become automatic behaviors, Loehr and Schwartz stress the importance of the specificity of timing (defining precisely when each ritual will occur) as well as the precision of the behavior (what the ritual entails precisely). My ritual “eat three balanced meals at set hours each day”, for example, needs to be refined and clearly state when exactly I will eat each of these three meals and what they should entail to be considered “balanced”. A better iteration of that ritual would therefore be:

Eat three balanced meals at set hours each day:

  • Breakfast: 8:00 a.m. Have a  ‘green’ smoothie (ginger, kale, cucumber, green apple, parsley)
  • Lunch: 1:00 p.m. Eat a salad, switch it up by incorporating different colorful vegetables each day. Include lots of dark leafy greens. (and no, I’m not a rabbit, but a vegetarian so I get most of my protein from dark leafy greens)
  • Dinner: 7:00 p.m. Start with soup or salad. Include carbs & protein.

 Another important element of the rituals is that they be incremental.

“The sustaining power of rituals comes from the fact that they conserve energy. […] In contrast to will and discipline, which imply pushing ourselves to action, a well-defined ritual pulls us. We feel somehow worse if we don’t do it.” (168)

If following through on a ritual demands a monumental effort on your part and/or you find yourself unable to commit to it on a regular basis the most likely explanation is that you have not defined the ritual properly: either it is too vague in what it should accomplish or when it should occur; it is not properly aligned with your values and sense of purpose; or perhaps you decided to change too much too quickly and following through is a matter of scaling back. As the quote above expresses, rituals should pull rather than push you. You should feel compelled to follow through on your rituals–not from a sense of will or discipline or social pressure–but because following through feels good, because the ritual adds to your life and allows you to live it the way you want.


The limitations of conscious will and discipline are rooted in the fact that every demand on our self-control—from deciding what we eat to managing frustration, from building an exercise regimen to persisting at a difficult task—all draw on the same small easily depleted reservoir of energy. (168)

Our brains, it turns out, do not discriminate between ‘thoughtless’ and ‘thoughtful’ (for lack of better adjectives) tasks and decisions, so that when we decide what to wear today we are drawing from the same source of mental energy that we use to make life changing decisions, such as, for example, whether to have a child, get married or move to a different country. Mental energy is a zero-sum game. The energy I allocate to making decisions about what to eat for breakfast or which shoes to wear today is energy that I am directly taking away from potentially more fulfilling and creative endeavors. It is therefore crucially important to manage our energy, in terms of both how we allocate it and ensuring proper time for recovery between periods of exertion.

The most important role of rituals is to insure an effective balance between energy expenditure and energy renewal in the service of full engagement. All great performers have rituals that optimize their ability to move rhythmically between stress and recovery. […] The same stress-recovery balance is critical in any venue that demands performance. The more precise and effective our recovery rituals, the more quickly we can restore our energy reserves. (170)

Rituals are tremendously helpful in managing this limited and often over-tapped resource. By routinizing activities through positive rituals, we free up mental energy that would otherwise be used making ‘petty’ decisions that contribute nothing to our overarching life mission and sense of purpose. Without rituals, we also run the risk of becoming predominantly reactionary beings where we invest our energy, without any forethought, to simply staying afloat and attending to the myriad and seemingly never ending flow of demands in our lives. By implementing positive rituals, we ensure that we will be attending to the tasks that matter to us and that we will have the capacity to engage our full creative energy in the most salient areas of our lives.

Incidentally, last week, the Internet was ablaze with articles about this peculiar benefit of rituals in regards to creativity and mental energy following Michael Lewis’s profile on President Obama in this month’s Vanity Fair. Turns out, Obama is a big fan of rituals and routinizing the routine, for example, he only wears grey or blue suits, because “I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make” such as, for example, how to run America, deal with nuclear weapons and world hunger. Two articles of note if you’re interested in finding out more about routines and mental energy are Maria Popova’s article How We Consciously Form New Habits (published September 25, 2012 via The Atlantic) and Boring is Productive by Robert C. Pozen on The Harvard Business Review (published September 19, 2012)


The last critical element of successfully implementing positive rituals into one’s life is the issue of accountability.

“At its best, accountability is both a protection against our infinite capacity for self-deception and a source of information about what still stands in our way.” (181)

It is not enough, warn Loehr and Schwartz, to define rituals and stick to them for the purpose of sticking to them. It is crucial that these principles align with our life goals and vision. To ensure that your rituals are aligning with your values and sense of meaning, Loehr and Schwartz recommend that you follow two behaviors, which they term Basic Training and which, ” serve as the ground upon which successful rituals are most effectively built.” (179)

The first Basic Training behavior is Charting the Course: ” This practice can take many forms, but the aim is always the same: to launch each day’s ritual-acquisition mission by revisiting our vision, clarifying not just what we intend to accomplish, but how we want to conduct ourselves along the way.” (179)

The second is Charting the Progress: ” The second key to building rituals that lead to sustaining change is holding yourself accountable at the end of each day. Accountability is a means of regularly facing the truth about the gap between your intention and your actual behavior. (180) To do this, Loehr and Schwartz recommend the use of an ‘Accountability Log”:

Defining a desired outcome and holding yourself accountable each day gives focus and direction to the rituals that you build. For many of our clients, the best way to do this is to create a daily accountability log. This exercise can be as simple as a yes or no check on a sheet kept by the side of your bed. (180)

However you choose to keep yourself accountable, remember that accountability is a positive metric, it should be used to chart progress and identify areas that still need to evolve and grow. In no way should you use your accountability log, or whatever method you elect, to beat yourself up and reinforce your notion that you have no willpower or self-discipline and that change is impossible. (I’m looking at you, perfectionists)

“measuring your progress at the end of the day should be used not as a weapon against yourself, but as an instructive part of the change process. We can derive as much value from studying and understanding our failures as we can from celebrating and reinforcing our successes.” (181)


Some of the rituals I have selected for myself occur every day (waking up and going to sleep at the same hour), while others occur only once or a few times a week (taking a class in something that scares me). Some are brand new behaviors (meditating) while others are a way to build in more time doing things I already do and love (journal for 30 minutes each day first thing in the morning). The issue is that I have identified a total of 17 new rituals to implement into my life and the mere thought of keeping track of all of them makes me want to run out, buy a beautiful planner, perhaps download a new productivity app, promptly forget this whole energy management idea and call it a day. Luckily, I followed Loehr and Schwartz’s advice, aligned my rituals to my deepest held values and higher purpose in life so that I am willing to push through and experience the minimal discomfort necessary to grow my capacity in areas holding me back from living my life in harmony with my values and purpose.


Starting tomorrow (procrastinators unite!), I will do my best to adhere to the ‘mega schedule’ that I have delineated for myself based off of the principles in Loehr & Schwartz’s book. To help the automation process along, I have made individual fill-in-the blank schedules for each day of the week. Monday/Wednesdays and Tuesday/Thursdays are the same, while Friday is its own Adventure day. There are therefore three versions of my schedule, each containing a step-by-step description of every item in my morning & night routines and broken down by time chunks from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep. Each version of the schedule incorporates predetermined blocks of 90 uninterrupted minutes (the amount of time in which, Loehr and Schwartz claim, we can sustain full and deep engagement), followed by recovery periods ranging from 15 minutes to an hour.

Each morning, I simply have to print out the schedule for that day of the week and fill in the things I want to accomplish during my ‘focus’ and ‘recovery’ periods for that day. The rest can all be performed on autopilot, there are no decisions to make, no petty detail to attend to. I have already decided how to allot my time, and more importantly my energy  and can focus on engaging fully with the project at hand without having to attend to the nagging sensation that I should also be thinking about/working on other tasks and commitments. I am hoping that this will help me be more productive and engage more fully with projects in the time that I do have to work on them as well as achieve better balance amongst all my project.


I have kept my weekends completely unstructured. This means that some of the rituals I have outlined will not be attended to right away. I think adapting to this new highly structured schedule for five days a week is challenging and pushing past my comfort zone enough, without adding the weekend. I have decided to focus on adapting to this new schedule for the next sixty days at which point I will reevaluate  If I still feel it is a challenge to stick to my rituals on a daily basis I might want to rethink…* some of the rituals to ensure that they are aligned with my greater sense of purpose in life. I would also push off adding more rituals to a later time. If at the end of these sixty days, I feel I have successfully managed to incorporate the rituals, I will start adding the ones I am currently leaving out.

Source: Loehr, Jim and Tony Schwartz. The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal. New York: Free Press Paperbacks, 2003. Print.

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