July 2011
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Month July 2011

Does she or doesn’t she?

Here’s a nifty little test of empathy, thanks to  Northwestern social psychologist Adam Galinsky and friends. Ask your boss [or anyone, for that matter] to draw the letter E on her forehead. Before you read more, do it yourself. [Index fingers work as well as pens.]

Now … which way did you draw the E: so it’s legible to you and backward to others, or legible to others and backward to you?

According to Galinsky and crew, people who draw the E so it’s legible to others

What is a tesselation?

It shows up in nature




and in art




… in everyday walks of life



and in exotic places.




It’s just a pattern with no gaps or overlaps … from the Latin tessela, which means “small square.” Think chickenwire or patchwork quilts. Tesselations.

Language. It’s almost as fascinating as the world it represents.


And the list goes on …

I’ve been researching a new public seminar on overcoming disabling thoughts. A lot of problems arise from our cognitive distortions and biases, so I typed “cognitive bias” into the search box on Wikipedia. Wow! I hit the jackpot: Wiki lists over 100+ forms of cognitive bias!! And that doesn’t include those perceptual brain teasers like the classic one here [which horizontal line is longer?].

Think about this: over one hundred ways that we skew and distort events in the world behind our eyes. Some involve our behavior and decision-making, like

It’s now or never

Ever put off scary or unpleasant things until you’re better equipped to handle them, only to find you’re never quite there? If yes, then consider Kelly McGonigal’s experience. She’s a Stanford meditation and yoga teacher. As she says, our imagined self and the “magic time known as not-now” never arrive. She delayed the removal of her wisdom teeth for 14 years [no pun intended, I’m sure]. Read her story.

What and for how long have you been delaying?

Learning to learn

Several years ago, I read an article by learning and business theorist Chris Argyris. It stuck with me. He talked about how smart people typically succeed at whatever they try … and as a result, they never learn how to learn from failure. So when their usual problem-solving strategies don’t work, they can’t learn from the experience. They repel criticism and get defensive and blame others. Whoa! He was talking about me! So I reread it every few years. And every time, I discover something new.

If you want to learn about your own defensive reasoning process, give it a read.

Ain’t misbehavin’ enough

I remember thinking, when I was young, that I didn’t want to look back on my life with regrets about what I did NOT do. The thought made such an impression on me that I’ve lived much of my life under its shadow. I became a high achiever. But I rarely ran risks. I lacked courage.

So I really enjoyed a recent post by Marcia Reynolds on fearing regret more than failure. She offers 4 points for increasing our courage and comfort with risk. I’ve gotten pretty good at 3 of them. Now it’s time to misbehave.

On another note, look who flitted through the back yard this week and then leaped over the rooftop in a single bound.

Up on the roof …

My friend Jodi is curious and introspective, so we’ve had lots of conversations over the years about what goes on in the world behind our eyes. The other day she sent me a story, saying, “This happened yesterday. It’s titled ‘Judgments.’ I want to know what you think.”  Here it is.

I got on the elevator in the parking garage and a nicely dressed woman got on too. She was talking pretty loudly on her cell phone. I heard her say things like, ‘Please don’t raise your voice to me. I’m trying to help you.’ I figured she was talking to her husband and it was going to get good!

A little exercise that pays big returns

I’m always looking for practical ways to improve relationships, and I came across a powerful one recently in a new book by Marty Seligman, the grand old man of psychology and one of the masterminds behind the burgeoning field of positive psychology.

A decade ago, Seligman wrote a book called Authentic Happiness. Despite its unfortunate title, it was a great treatise on what he considered the key elements of happiness: positive emotion, engagement, and meaning.

In April, he published Flourish. It pushes beyond happiness into  new territory: the science of well-being. And it has five key elements: