As a human being, not just a human resource

Our goal is to seek efficiency with things and not with people.

So it’s important that we give each other full acknowledgement of the whole person, not just our roles. That means being brave enough to interact and connect with people holistically, actually engaging their full self, and not just the small part of the self that the company finds useful and important.

My friend who runs an advertising agency has a brilliant mantra for this. She tells her staff, why start with the customer in mind when you can just start with the customer?

No wonder their client and employee turnover are so low. Humanity starts at the top.

Here’s one daily habit that’s good to get into:

Make a point not to ask for something.

Approaching people with a zero agenda mindset. That way, rather than solely coming to team members when we have a request, we come to them with an interest in who they are as a person. As a human being, not a human resource.

It’s a subtle practice, it won’t get you promoted, and some people probably won’t even notice. But it goes a long way in not making people objectified and makes you feel like a better person.

Harvard recently conducted a poll of a thousand workers, asking for top complaints about their leaders. And in the survey, not surprisingly, the management offenses that the employees most pointed to centered around a striking lack of emotional intelligence.

Leaders didn’t participate fully in their team’s experiences. They were so focused on achieving that they forgot to connect.

Apparently, it really is that hard to ask someone how their day is going before getting down to business.

Apparently, we really are so results oriented that we can’t stop to take a breath, look someone in the eye and make someone feel seen for thirty seconds.


Are you efficient with things or with people?

Skilled at finding unfriendly forces to blame

Isn’t it amazing how it’s always the other person who’s being difficult?

The disillusionment of love is always blamed on the other. We’re never the crazy ones.

Psychologists researched an interesting phenomenon called the actor observer bias, where people tend to attribute their own behavior to their circumstances, but attribute other people’s behaviors to their dispositions.

When somebody else does it, it’s their fault, but when you do it, it’s because of the situation you’re in.

Or as my old boss used to say, nobody comes home from work thinking they’re the asshole.

And so, clearly, taking extreme ownership is not the most natural response for human beings. It’s easier, more effective, and frankly more fun, to unholster our fingers and direct them outward.

Dilbert’s boss comes to mind. His project failed massively, and he needed to avoid taking responsibility, so he marked his employee with the plunger of blame. Dilbert was then told by the janitor:

Eventually your body will absorb the plunger of blame and turn it into the wrinkles of experience, then you die.

Your failures probably won’t be as severe, but the lesson still stands. If we become too skilled at keeping our defenses up, ducking blame and avoiding initiative, eventually, it’s going to catch up with us.

Someone is going to call us out, and we’ll have no leg to stand on.

One strategy that’s helpful is to find ways to make it your fault. To do so, adopt an attitude of wonder instead of blame. Some questions you might ask. 

What was my role in this problem? What have I done to bring this misfortune upon myself? What is about me or in me that has invited or attracted this into my life?

Even if you think your hands are clean, dig deeper.

Surely there is some contribution to the problem that’s worth owning and learning from. 

Are you aware of your personal bias that get in the way of taking extreme ownership?

Making an investment in our future peacefulness

It’s amazing, people will go to the end of the earth to protect their money, their possessions, their property and their loved ones.

But when it comes to the assets of their time and attention, they’re about as protected as a screen door in a windstorm.

That’s why so many people feel whipped back and forth wherever the force of life directs them. They have no boundaries.

What’s more, they have no understanding of what boundaries actually are in the first place.

This skill is less about saying no to others, and more about saying yes to ourselves.

Think of it as a psychological insurance policy. When we put hard edges on our time and attention, we are making an investment in our future peacefulness.

By respectfully declining that destination bachelorette party of your college friend you barely even talk to anymore, you free yourself to say yes to more meaningful opportunities down the line.

The wave of peacefulness washes over you.

Whereas, committing yourself four months in advance out of your codependent need to please people, makes you feel trapped. The feeling of creeping dread begins to seep under the door like a fog.

Which scenario sounds better?

As my mentor used to say, you are the only person who values your time.

Measure twice and cut once. Protect the most valuable asset you have.

Is there anything exhausting and expensive that you’re still doing because of guilt?

P.S. Prolific, my Personal Creativity Management (PCM) software, has an entire series of tools on setting healthy boundaries. Try it for free here!

It wasn’t your fault, you just didn’t know who you were

The basic tool for setting boundaries is acquiring more knowledge of self.

That critical foundation of information goes a long way in setting limits on your physical, mental and emotional world.

Just think back to all the times you were taken advantage of when you were young. It wasn’t your fault, you just didn’t know who you were. Happens to the best of us.

But let’s consider the implications of that dearth of knowledge.

When you don’t know what you value, then it’s hard to protect yourself from people who want you to be like them.

When you don’t clarify what’s important to you, then every decision becomes an exhausting argument.

When you don’t understand how you feel about things, then it’s easy for others to superimpose their emotional reality onto you.

When you don’t know how your existence fits into the grand design, then anyone can convince you that they know your life better than you do.

When you are desperately searching for meaning instead of actively making it on our own, then you will be easily threatened by all the inaccurate reflections in the mirror of expectation.

When you don’t decide how to focus your energy daily, then technology will continue to deliver other people’s priorities to your attention.

Speaking of not setting boundaries, let’s talk about cult recruitment.

West’s renowned study on persuasion techniques found that certain predisposing factors may facilitate someone’s attraction to a cultic system, including an intense desire to belong, a desperate search for approval and an unstable identity.

What do all three of factors have in common?

Lack of knowledge of the self. The number one source of all boundary violations.

Therefore, if you don’t have a strong sense of who you are; or if your sense of self has drifted away in the undertow, then do whatever it takes to recover it.

Because that knowledge is our existential primer.

It’s the base layer that prevents the absorption of all future paint and rust. 

Where in life do you feel the need for more effective boundaries?

Why are we starving while he prints money?

There’s a fascinating term in public relations called advertising value equivalency.

It supposedly measures the benefit to a brand a from the media coverage of a campaign. You simply take the size of the coverage gained and its placement, and then calculate what the equivalent amount of space, if paid for as advertising, would cost.

Not surprisingly, there have been many criticisms about this metric over the years. Academics and businesspeople alike have rejected the premise as arbitrary, unscientific and obsolete.

Which is fair, as public relations is not an exact science.

But just for laughs, one of my old marketing professors helped me calculate my advertising value equivalency. And my number came out to somewhere around ten million dollars.

That’s how much of an advertising budget it would have taken to reach the number of people who ultimately heard about my nametag story, over the past two decades.

It almost seems unfair. In fact, back when giving speeches to big companies was my full time job, many people in my audiences would be resentful of my public relations success. I could feel it in their eyes.

What the hell? Some dorky guy who wears a sticker every day can capture the imagination of the mainstream media, for multiple years on end, without paying a dime; meanwhile our brand shells out millions a year only to get peanuts?

But that’s the reality of modern media. As my marketing professor famously told me, if you have a good story, you don’t need to ask for a favor.

Because think how many brands out there with mediocre products who are trying to game the system and work the lists and optimize the algorithm to create their lightning in a bottle.

It’s an uphill battle. And believe me, the media has long since moved on from the story about the guy who wears a nametag every day. They’re too busy peddling outrage porn.

But yes, there was a time when my narrative moved straight to the front of the public relations line.

Not because of the strategy, but because of the story.

Nolan said it best in his award winning movie:

The subconscious motivates through emotion, not reason. We have to translate every idea into an emotional concept. 

Talk about value equivalency.

Are you hoarding favors like airline miles, or creating a life worth writing about?

Not making life more difficult than it needs to be

Pressure is a choice.

If we complain that life is crazy and we’re stuck in the weeds and we’re feeling so far behind in everything, that’s on us.

I’ts nobody else’s fault that we’re bogged down.

Pressure is an elected attitude. And yet, we act as if the fear of missing out is some disease we catch like the common cold.

But it’s really just a self inflicted wound. Television is the example that enrages me most. People devote entire weekends to catching up on shows. They put all this unnecessary pressure on themselves to binge watch so they can avoid social shame.

What do you mean you haven’t seen all six seasons of Bangkok Realtors? 

But this absurd first world pressure has reached clinical proportions.

Hulu recently did a survey that found people frequently lie about having watched a particular show. Out of a thousand people, about fifty percent admitted to lying about having watched a particular program. Because god forbid somebody feels left out when their friends are gabbing about the latest show.

And so, they just go along with it. And they wonder why they’re stressed.

It’s because pressure is a choice. People are organizing their lives based on arbitrary social standards, not what they actually want. They’re building their schedules around other people’s purposes, not their own.

Weiss writes in his book on life balance that time is either valuable or wasted, depending entirely on your discretionary use of it. We’ve lock ourselves into an uncomfortable penitentiary, where we agonize in self inflicted hard labor to maintain what we believe to be our proper home.

But it’s just a story we tell ourselves. This isn’t about not watching television, this is about not making life more difficult than it needs to be. 

How would your life be different if you accepted that pressure was a choice?

Surviving happily in spite of our frustrations

Few things in this world cause more emotional and existential distress than the thoughts we think.

It’s our biological inheritance, for better or for worse. And if we have any intention of living fulfilled and flourishing life, then we are obliged to learn how to orient ourselves around these thoughts.

To do so, it’s helpful to view those responses on a continuum.

We introduce calm by having an awareness of the impulse. Because even if our control fails and we give in, that moment is still a sign of progress.

We continue calm by working on expanding the gap between impulse and reaction. Because even if it only lasts a minute, it still represents our growing maturity.

We advance calm by seeing if we can experience our impulses without acting on them. Because even if we feel anxious and sweaty while that emotional weather pattern passes, we know that no feeling lasts forever.

We deepen calm by having forgiveness and compassion for our impulses. Because we know that the guilt about having our thoughts is much more damaging than the thoughts themselves.

We maintain calm by wondering what might be behind our urges. Because even if the stones in our river of thought trip us up, we can survive happily in spite of our frustrations.

We expand calm by separating irrational, bizarre and hostile thoughts from our identity. Because we trust that who we are is not at the mercy of the absurd movies playing inside our heads.

We sustain calm by releasing thoughts that don’t serve us and replacing them with one that do. Because no matter what these feeling say they wants from us, we are the ones who control the narrative in the movie of our minds.

This continuum is imperfect and incomplete, but building out the different points along it is a useful exercise. It’s a reminder that we select each moment of our lives from an infinite pool of adjacent possible futures.

And if we remain calm, we can always decide on the next right action.

How have you learned to stay balanced and unperturbed by the passing thoughts?

Where there is one, there is a ton

Why couldn’t it have been me?

We have all asked that question before. It’s the broken record that envy keeps spinning inside our heads.

Because apparently, the conditions of our happiness have not been met. We are seeing the difference between life as it is, and how much better it could be. And we’re simply not having it.

But the problem with envy, contrary to our puritanical origins, is not that it’s one of the seven deadly sins. It’s not that we’re being evil and selfish. And it’s not that we’re trying smear shit on other people’s joy.

The problem with envy is that it turns the insides of our heart into a rocky place where the seeds of gratitude can find no purchase.

It’s the opposite of presence and prosperity.

How can we appreciate our own abundance if we’re obsessing over somebody who seems to be getting what is rightfully ours?

How can we experience joy in if we resent those who are attaining what we’re too frightened to reach for?

Why couldn’t it have been me?

The broken record plays on. Smothered by our desire for a different past, and blinded by our yearning for a better future, reality gets the short end of the stick.

Our job, then, is to nip envy in the bud by reframing our thoughts of bitterness and scarcity and gratitude and prosperity.

Here are some mantras from my own personal collection.

The pie is infinite.
Where there is one, there is a ton.
The fact that this happened at all means that it’s possible.

Ultimately, if someone’s accomplishments surface a part of ourselves that wants to take form, then that is a precious gift.

What if, where others were upset, envious, possessive and greedy, you were grateful, calm, present and clearheaded?

The shield of the scoundrel and the weapon of the adventurous

One of the claims of my nametag manifesto is the end of incivility.

If everybody wears nametags, we are instantly and consistently accountable. We lack constant invitations for selfish behavior. There’s less incentive to get away with bad behavior, because there are always people watching to positively modify our behavior through healthy doses of social pressure.

It’s actually one of the reasons lying is so hard for me. Not that it was my default behavior before wearing a nametag, but the sticker certainly keeps me honest.

But my experiment is not the first to make this claim.

Zimbardo was the first scholar to explore the effects of anonymity on individuals instructed to engage in antisocial behavior. His famous study from the late sixties involved participants who were asked to wear either identifying name tags or lab coats and hoods to conceal their identity.

All participants were then given a sanctioned opportunity to administer electrical shocks to another individual.

Not surprisingly, the subjects wearing lab coats and hoods administered longer shocks than the subjects wearing name tags.

Never underestimate the power of human nature, right? Zimbardo used the word deindividuation, which meant, the state of decreased evaluation due to anonymity. That’s what led to increased antisocial and antinormative behaviors.

Because back in the day, people could be anonymous, free to walk about in relative uncertainty, and could be anyone they chose, or no one if they chose.

But thanks to the internet, it seems like everyone is wearing a nametag. It might not be a sticker, but it sure sticks.

Dilbert, the great arbiter of moral rectitude, writes:

In the old days, evil people did evil things whenever they thought they wouldn’t get caught. However, today, social media takes away the opportunity for most types of anonymous evil. If you’re evil these days, you’d better own it, because social media is coming for you.

In my opinion, this is ultimately a good thing for society. The more nametags the better. The internet may invite tons of trolling, but overall, people’s newfound inability to get away with bad behavior is a net gain for our culture.

As long as we don’t start administering electric shocks to each other, we can paint ourselves into an accountable corner.

What microstructure could you put into place to limit yourself to practicing honorable action?

We will surely get eaten, beaten or starve

Divine discontent is part of our biological endowment.

According to evolutionary theory, dissatisfaction has survival value. The endless treadmill of the human mind has hardwired biological pressures to always be on the lookout for the bigger better deal.

Because without that motivational drive for perpetual bliss, we will surely get eaten, beaten or starve.

Just look back at our earliest ancestors. Those who attained perfect contentment were typically left in the dust. Because there’s no future in happiness.

Naturally, the marketers of the world know and exploit this fundamentally human tendency.

Lasch, the great historian, moralist, social critic and history professor, once wrote that advertisers manufacture the real product, which is the consumer who is perpetually unsatisfied, restless, anxious and bored.

That’s the role of the modern marketing industry, he explains. To try their hardest to create a discrepancy between what we have and what we might have. To stoke the overwhelming sense of urgency that we are only one purchase away from happiness.

Dissatisfaction, then, is ultimately good for business.

Unfortunately, it’s not good for our psyches.

For nearly a century, we’ve been seduced into not understanding the evolutionary naturalness of our distress. And it’s driving us insane.

My friend just finished his first musical album, which took him over two years to compose and produce. It’s fantastic. He was deeply proud of the work, and he had every reason to be entirely satisfied with himself.

But he wasn’t. Joy could get no grip on him. In fact, a few months after the initial release, as his album rapidly blended into the background of the hundred thousand other album that come out this year, he made a joke that nearly broke my heart.

It’s like you instantly go from a guy who recorded an album, to a guy who’s only recorded one album.

That’s the sound of the dissatisfaction response being triggered. My friend is now trapped in the preoccupying game of constantly comparing his deeds and his self to those of other people. His happiness isn’t measured by what he has, but by how much he has in relation to his peers.

Clearly, this specter of dissatisfaction is not our fault.

But it is our problem. And we’re all guilty of it. Our constant pursuit of betterment cuts deeply into our appreciation for goodness. Just when we think we’re proud and grateful for all that we’ve become, we start comparing our life to somebody else’s.

And suddenly, we’re shit. Even if we do win the comparison test, part of us feels smug.

And whatever we victory we have is short lived, because another object soon enters our orbit and starts the process all over again.

Are you aware that your ego is a fickle little demon that gorges itself on your perpetual discontent?

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