Category Archives: Positive Mind

be kind to yourself

From Eric Barker:


You’re compassionate with others all the time. You need to start showing more self-compassion, and treating yourself the way you would a friend in need.

Self-compassion boosts happiness and reduces stress, makes you less likely to procrastinate, and even improves romantic relationships.

So how do you do it? Next time that voice in your head starts saying critical things, reframe the thoughts into something positive and forgiving.

From Self-Compassion:

The best way to counteract self-criticism, therefore, is to understand it, have compassion for it, and then replace it with a kinder response… Reframe the observations made by your inner critic in a kind, friendly, positive way.

Imagine someone who loves you (like Grandmom) saying the kind words. Research shows this delivers serious results.

From Self-Compassion:

Practitioners first instruct patients to generate an image of a safe place to help counter any fears that may arise. They are then instructed to create an ideal image of a caring and compassionate figure… The training resulted in significant reductions in depression, self-attacking, feelings of inferiority, and shame.

You need to dispute negative thoughts and reframe them into something positive. Every time that critical voice starts yammering, instead imagine Grandmom giving supportive advice.

This is only a small part of his post about how to be your best self.  The whole thing is worth a read.


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Negotiation Tactics

Of course some of this is right up to and maybe over the line of manipulation.  But a lot of it is NOT, and is just dealing with how we are wired as humans in a way that is constructive for everyone.  The Chris referred to in this post is Chris Voss.  He was the FBI’s lead international hostage negotiator and he’s the author of an excellent new book: “Never Split The Difference.”


  • Don’t be direct: Direct usually comes off as rude, no matter your intentions. Be nice and slow it down.
  • Don’t try to get them to say “yes”: Pushing for a “yes” makes people defensive. Try to get a “no.”
  • Do an “accusation audit”: Acknowledge all the negative things they think about you to defuse them.
  • Let them feel in control: People want autonomy. Ask questions and let them feel like they’re in charge.
  • The two magic words they need to say: Summarize their position to trigger a “That’s right.”
  • Listen for levers: They might only need the orange peel. Listen, listen, listen.
  • Keep asking “How am I supposed to do that?”: Let them solve your problems for you.

Emotions are critical. Most deals end because of negative feelings and most deals close because people like one another. So don’t alienate the other side — unless you are trying to kill the deal. (And that’s an effective technique as well.)

But what you really want to do is what that magic phrase “How am I supposed to do that?” accomplishes so well. It allows you to say “no” without making an enemy. Chris sums it up nicely in his book with a quote.

From Never Split The Difference:

“He who learns to disagree without being disagreeable has discovered the most valuable secret of negotiation.”

Discussions and negotiations aren’t about war or winning. It’s about finding a way for everyone to get what they want and to be happy with what they get. For the people closest to us, it’s also about understanding them better through listening.

And that’s what builds relationships that last.

A little more detail on the keys I found most interesting:

1) Don’t be direct

Straightforward and honest are good qualities. But when you’re too direct in a negotiation or heated discussion, it can come off as blunt and rude. You sound like you don’t care about the other side and just want what you want.

Skipping listening, empathy, and rapport is what turns an easily resolved dilemma into a fight. And you never want to turn a discussion into a war. Be nice and slow it down. Here’s Chris:

Don’t think, “I’m a very direct and honest person. I want people to be direct and honest with me, so I’m going to be direct and honest with you.” Well, that happens to come across as being very blunt and overly aggressive. If I’m not aware that my direct and honest approach is actually offensive to you, then I’ll be mystified as to what your problem is. Meanwhile, dealing with me might feel like getting hit in the face with a brick.

“Cutting to the chase” can feel like an attack. So slow down. Smile. Use a friendly tone or a calm voice.

3) You need to do an “accusation audit”

If it’s an argument with a loved one or a business negotiation that’s headed south, the other side probably has made some accusations about you. “You don’t listen” or “You’re being unfair.

And the common response is to start your reply with “I’m not ____.” You deny their feelings. Boom — you just lost the patient, doctor. They now assume you’re not on the same page. That they can’t trust you.

So what does Chris say to do instead? List every terrible thing they could say about you.

6) Listen for levers

Sometimes you feel you have no leverage. But Chris believes there is always leverage. You just have to find it. And you do that by listening and asking questions — which nicely builds rapport and makes your counterpart feel in control at the same time.

Negotiation is not a fight. It’s a process of discovery. When you know their real needs, the real reasons they are resisting you, then you’re able to address those directly and problem-solve.

What’s interesting to me is that they use the word “levers” and “leverage.”  I guess you can look at it that way, but really you are looking for points of agreement and ways to make a situation win-win.

7) “How am I supposed to do that?”

Playing dumb works. In fact, being helpless works too. Asking “How am I supposed to do that?” is deceptively powerful.

It gets them to solve your problems for you and in a way they deem acceptable. 

From Never Split The Difference:

Calibrated “How” questions are a surefire way to keep negotiations going. They put pressure on your counterpart to come up with answers, and to contemplate your problems when making their demands… The trick to “How” questions is that, correctly used, they are gentle and graceful ways to say “No” and guide your counterpart to develop a better solution — yoursolution.

By getting the other side to think about your situation it very often gets them to grant concessions. And they’re concessions that they’re okay with and will likely stick to because it was their idea to offer them. Here’s Chris:

You want to make the other side take an honest look at your situation. It’s the first way of saying “no” where you’re doing a lot of things simultaneously. You’re making the other side take a look at you. You make them feel in control, because it’s a good “how” question. You don’t want to say it as an accusation. You want to say it deferentially, because there’s great power in deference. You want to find out if they’re going to collaborate with you. 9 times out of 10, you get a response that’s really very good.

Keep asking it. In hostage negotiations Chris would ask it over and over: “How do we know the hostage is safe?” “We don’t have that kind of money. How are we supposed to get it?” “But how do we deliver the ransom to you?”

Now I know what some of you are thinking… Eventually they’re going to say, “You’re just going to have to figure it out.” And that’s fine. That’s the signal you haven’t “left any money on the table.”

This last point is a great one.  It’s the classic way that women get their ideas heard in meetings.  One important point that he left out here is that you can steer the “how” questions to lead to the idea that you have.  Of course, as women are painfully aware, this leads to you getting credit for exactly zero ideas.

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Making and Keeping Friends

From Eric Barker:

This is how to make emotionally intelligent friendships:

  • Know thyself: To get the friendships you want, you have to know what you want.
    • How many friends would you optimally have? What level of closeness do you need? How frequently do you want to communicate? You want to ask yourself, “What features of a friendship will be most fulfilling to me in the long run?
  • Make time: More accurately, make it a priority. We all waste time. So, uh, just don’t waste time alone.
  • Must, Trust, Rust, Just: The first two are key. Strengthen the “must” and try to elevate the “trust.”
    • “Must” friends: The inner circle. The closest of the close.
    • “Trust” friends: Not inner circle, but people you trust, share confidences with and know are there for you.
    • “Rust” friends: They’re pals simply because you’ve known them a long time. (If it had more than that, they’d be “must” or “trust.”)
    • “Just” friends: Closer than acquaintances and you may see them regularly with a group, but you’re not tight with them and don’t have a big shared history.
  • Be proactive: In case you need confirmation, waiting for the phone to ring does not, in fact, make the phone ring.
  • Communication: Create safety, be vulnerable, be emotionally expressive and use active listening. And a sincere compliment never hurt either, beautiful.
  • Upkeep: You’re not too busy to send a text message every two weeks. If you think you’ll forget, put it in your calendar.

And what should you look for when meeting new folks who might become future “must” or “trust” friends? All the research agrees: similarity is key. Not only does it draw us to people, it also makes friendships more likely to last.

From Buddy System:

Similarities also occur when tastes and interests match up, and similarities make friendships easier to maintain. And, unless you are interested in hanging out with people who make you feel bad about yourself (not a good interest to have), finding someone who conveys that you are likeable to them will be very reinforcing to your self-esteem.

Beyond similarity, you should also look for people you want to learn something from. Since you took the time to sit down and “know thyself,” think about the person you want to be. Your best self.
Who do you want to rub off on you? To make you a better spouse, parent, worker or human being?

Research shows your friends often know you better than you know yourself. So not only does being closer to friends make your life better, it’s also the path to getting to know yourself better.

Read the whole thing.  The details are important.

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Critical Thinking

From Scientific American

University of Waterloo psychologist Igor Grossmann and his colleagues argue that most intelligence tests fail to capture real-world decision-making and our ability to interact well with others. This is, in other words, perhaps why “smart” people, do “dumb” things.

The ability to think critically, on the other hand, has been associated with wellness and longevity. Though often confused with intelligence, critical thinking is not intelligence. Critical thinking is a collection of cognitive skills that allow us to think rationally in a goal-orientated fashion, and a disposition to use those skills when appropriate. Critical thinkers are amiable skeptics. They are flexible thinkers who require evidence to support their beliefs and recognize fallacious attempts to persuade them. Critical thinking means overcoming all sorts of cognitive biases (e.g., hindsight bias, confirmation bias).

Critical thinking predicts a wide range of life events. In a series of studies, conducted in the U.S. and abroad, my colleagues and I have found that critical thinkers experience fewer bad things in life. We asked people to complete an inventory of life events and take a critical thinking assessment (the Halpern Critical Thinking Assessment). The critical thinking assessment measures five components of critical thinking skills including verbal reasoning, argument analysis, hypothesis testing, probability and uncertainty, decision-making, and problem-solving. The inventory of negative life events captures different domains of life such as academic (e.g., I forgot about an exam), health (e.g., I contracted a sexually transmitted infection because I did not wear a condom), legal (e.g., I was arrested for driving under the influence), interpersonal (e.g., I cheated on my romantic partner who I had been with for over a year), financial (e.g., I have over $5,000 of credit card debt), etc. Repeatedly, we found that critical thinkers experience fewer negative life events. This is an important finding because there is plenty of evidence that critical thinking can be taught and improved.


How to teach critical thinking:

The Foundation for Critical Thinking

Our conception of critical thinking is based on the substantive approach developed by Dr. Richard Paul and his colleagues at the Center and Foundation for Critical Thinking over multiple decades. It is relevant to every subject, discipline, and profession, and to reasoning through the problems of everyday life. It entails five essential dimensions of critical thinking:

  1. The analysis of thought.
  2. The assessment of thought.
  3. The dispositions of thought.
  4. The skills and abilities of thought.
  5. The obstacles or barriers to critical thought.

Critical Thinking.NET

Underlying Strategies

(The three underlying strategies are “Reflection, Reasons, Alternatives” (RRA):

1. Urge students to be Reflective, to stop and think, instead of making snap judgments, or accepting the first idea that comes into their heads, or automatically accepting whatever is presented in the media.

2. Gently ask such questions as “How do you know”, “What are the reasons?” and “Is that a good source of information?” thus prodding them to have good Reasons for their views and to seek reasons for others’ views.

3. Emphasize alertness for Alternative hypotheses, conclusions, explanations, sources of evidence, points of view, plans, etc.


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Neuroscience & Module Model

From Eric Barker:

Both neuroscience and psychology are starting to agree. Sometimes you don’t act like you because there is no singular “you.”

Here’s noted science author Robert Wright:

In this view, your mind is composed of lots of specialized modules—modules for sizing up situations and reacting to them—and it’s the interplay among these modules that shapes your behavior. And much of this interplay happens without conscious awareness on your part. The modular model of the mind, though still young and not fully fleshed out, holds a lot of promise. For starters, it makes sense in terms of evolution: the mind got built bit by bit, chunk by chunk, and as our species encountered new challenges, new chunks would have been added. As we’ll see, this model also helps make sense of some of life’s great internal conflicts, such as whether to cheat on your spouse, whether to take addictive drugs, and whether to eat another powdered-sugar doughnut.

Now modules aren’t physical structures in the brain, just like apps aren’t hardware in your phone. They’re software; the human nature algorithms that Mother Nature coded over thousands of generations of evolution.

Whichever module has the most emotional kick attached to it at any point wins the competition to be “you.”

Buddhism recognized this problem over 1000 years ago. And it also came up with a solution: mindfulness meditation.

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Posted 3/14/17 by Ben Carlson.  He works with Barry Ritholtz and Josh Brown.  If I were young and ambitious again, I would pound down their doors to work there.    I’m stealing the whole thing, because it’s short.

Some Lessons For Living From Older Generations

The Guardian recently ran a piece written by 94-year-old Harry Smith. Smith waxed poetic on his description of what growing old has meant to him:

People should not look at their approaching golden years with dread or apprehension but as perhaps one of the most significant stages in their development as a human being, even during these turbulent times. For me, old age has been a renaissance despite the tragedies of losing my beloved wife and son. It’s why the greatest error anyone can make is to assume that, because an elderly person is in a wheelchair or speaks with quiet deliberation, they have nothing important to contribute to society. It is equally important to not say to yourself if you are in the bloom of youth: “I’d rather be dead than live like that.” As long as there is sentience and an ability to be loved and show love, there is purpose to existence.

All of you, when young, will make your own history: you will struggle, you will betray some and others will betray you. You will love and lose love. You will feel profound joy and deep sorrow and during all of this you will grow as an individual. That’s why it is your duty when you get old to tell the young about your odyssey across the vast ocean of your life. It is why when death does come for me – even if it mauls me with decrepitude before it takes me – I will not lament either my old age or my faded youth. They were just different times of the day when I stood in the sun and felt the warmth of life.

After reading Smith’s piece I was reminded of the book 30 Lessons For Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans. It’s been a few years since I read it but the ideas have stuck with me. Professor Karl Pillemer interviewed thousands of people over the age of 65 to glean some wisdom on all sorts of life lessons on things from kids to careers to marriage, money and much more. I found my notes on the book and really liked his passage on what this group didn’t say about their experiences:

No one – not a single person out of a thousand – said that to be happy you should try to work as hard as you can to make money to buy the things you want.

No one – not a single person – said it’s important to be at least as wealthy as the people around you, and if you have more than they do it’s real success.

No one – not a single person – said you should choose your work based on your desired future earning power.

Now it may sound absurdly obvious worded this way. But this is in fact how many people operate on a day-to-day basis. The experts did not say these things; indeed almost no one said anything remotely like them. Instead they consistently urged finding a way of earning enough to live on without condemning yourself to a job you dislike.

These ideas do seem obvious but it’s not easy to think this way when others around you put so much value on money or material possessions.

Everyone has regrets about things they wish they would have done differently if given the opportunity to go back and do things over again. Pillemer listed five things he learned from this group about regret reduction that can be applied to young people:

  • Always be honest. Avoid acts of dishonesty, both big and small. Most people suffer from serious regret later in life if they have been less than “fair and square.
  • Say yes to opportunities. When offered a new opportunity or challenge, you are much less likely to regret saying yes and more likely to regret turning it down.
  • Travel more. Travel while you can, sacrificing other things if necessary to do so. Most people look back on their travel adventures (big and small) as highlights of their lives and regret not having traveled more.
  • Choose a mate with extreme care. The key is not to rush the decision, taking all the time needed to get to know the prospective partner and to determine your compatibility over the long-term.
  • Say it now. People wind up saying the sad words “it might have been” by failing to express themselves before it’s too late. Don’t believe the “ghost whisperers” – the only time you can share your deepest feelings is while people are still alive.

One of the best ways to plan ahead for the future, financial or otherwise, is to ask people who are older than you what they wish they would have done at your age to better prepare for what’s to come. Looking back on it now, what do you wish you would have done differently in your 20s, 30s, 40s, etc? I’m still relatively young but my short list includes things like saving for retirement at an earlier age, avoiding negative friendships, taking a few more career risks early on, not wasting my time on the last three seasons of Shameless and not stressing about things that were out of my control.

Some of the other timeless advice I’ve received over the years includes the following: time is more important than money, autonomy at work is highly underrated as is being nice to people, almost everything in life is a tradeoff, you have to have balance and splurge every once and a while, quit worrying so much about the past and the future at all times and try to enjoy the present.

It can be difficult to think this way in the heat of the moment. I know that’s true for me. But these types of lessons and wisdom provide a nice reminder to put things into perspective.

Don’t Dread Old Age (Guardian)
30 Lessons For Living

Further Reading:
The Jeff Bezos Regret Minimization Framework

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Decision Journal

Another great post from Farnam Street Blog.

Whenever you’re making a consequential decision either individually or as part of a group you take a moment and write down:

  1. The situation or context;
  2. The problem statement or frame;
  3. The variables that govern the situation;
  4. The complications or complexity as you see it;
  5. Alternatives that were seriously considered and why they were not chosen; (think: the work required to have an opinion).
  6. A paragraph explaining the range of outcomes
  7. A paragraph explaining what you expect to happen and, importantly, the reasoning and actual probabilities you assign to each. (The degree of confidence matters, a lot.)
  8. Time of day the decision was made and how you feel physically and mentally (if you’re tired, for example, write it down.

Odds are you’re going to discover two things right away. First, you’re right a lot of the time. Second, it’s often for the wrong reasons. This can be somewhat humbling. It’s also how we learn.

Obviously you need to review the journal periodically.  He suggests every 6 months or so.  He also included a template form to use for this, in the original post.

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