Category Archives: Positivity

Photo du Jour: Rays


“Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces us up, snow is exhilarating; there is really no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.”
John Ruskin


Turning Pain into Pleasure

(#23 of 27, continuing on the discussion of how optimists and pessimists choose to use their memory and imagination)

A smart optimist knows that it would be a mistake to blithely tell someone who is in a dark place to simply “look on the bright side.”   Glass half empty half full whatever, there is such as thing as reality. The reality is that some people have an experience of pain — past or present — that is coloring their ability to see into the future.

icy trees

With enough tact, class and emotional intelligence, a smart optimist can navigate those situations, demonstrating grace and empathy, with no need to “fix” the other person or “teach” them a “better way to see things.”

But what happens when the smart optimist is feeling the pain themselves?  What happens when “they should know better,” but nevertheless, don’t?    This is where cognitive restructuring comes in.

Cognitive restructuring is the ultimate Jedi mind trick that all smart optimists must be equipped with.  Simply put: cognitive restructuring is a way to turn pain into pleasure. 

All thinking is subject to reframing — it is impossible to think something without somehow giving it meaning and context. Every time we remember something, we reassemble the memory and give it shape, color, flavor, texture.  Same goes for thoughts of the present and imaginings of the future.

Given that there’s no way to avoid reframing, it behooves us to get good at doing it.  Cognitive restructuring is the smart and optimistic way to channel our natural propensity to reframe thoughts.

Once we get good at this skill, we can perform magic. Pain can be transmogrified into pleasure. Humiliation converts into honor. Agony can be made exquisite.


There is no pain, there’s only the frame.

Timing is anything

(#22 of 27, a collage and re-assembly of elements from a post from last year on the importance of choosing the right timing to make a strong effort, and the importance of a strong effort to making the timing right)

Yesterday I wrote about bluffing, bourbon and brotherly love. Today under the blanket of a blizzard I’ll briefly continue with the love theme, tie it back to the concept of time and add in a dash of mysticism…

Blizzard Window Triptych

Falling in love — love of any kind, being, thing, idea or person — is a conscious effort.*

The exertion of love creates something like a field of gravity or energy. When delivered with just the right amount of effort, it’s a force that seems to slow down time… and bend space.

Blizzard Sliding Door Glare 1

A strong effort driven by love will, all by itself, open up tiny windows of opportunity and turn them into doorways of fortune.

Blizzard Sliding Door Glare

It’s never too late and it’s never too early.  It’s just a matter of focusing the energy into those little blips of timing that keep presenting themselves.  Blip.  There goes one.  Blip. Nearly missed it.

Blizzard Window Horiz Blinds

By seeing the available window and leaping through it, the Wizard arrives precisely when he means to.

Making the most of your MTA (Money, Time & Attention)

Every day we’re issued an “MTA” ticket – a ticket that allows us to earn and spend three precious commodities: money, time and attention.

Everything we have – and everything we have to give to others – boils down to one or more of those ultimate resources.

How can we get (and also, provide others with) the best possible ride for our MTA ticket?

MTA - NYC subway station

Last year I looked at the “good problem to have” of having too much to do, time allocation being a recurring theme of this blog (e.g.. this post here… and this one here among others).  Now as I cycle back over last year’s posts, in this post (#15 out of 27) I’d like to take a stab at things from a slightly wider and more structured perspective.

The inspiration for this post comes from Thales Teixeira, Assistant Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School, who was quoted in a recent New Yorker article as follows:

“There are three major fungible resources that we as individuals have. The first is money, the second is time, and the third is attention. Attention is the least explored.”

– Thales Teixeira

I’d add that, in addition to being the least explored, attention is the most real of those three resources.  Money and time are abstractions used to explain aspects of human reality. Attention is arguably, all by itself, human reality.

But never mind the philosophy. Let’s keep things practical and look at how each of those resources work for us:

Earn Money.

Like math, money is not a real thing but nevertheless is incredibly well understood, documented and learnable. In fact, when a superior understanding of money and mathematics are put together, the resulting combination can move mountains. Yes, actual mountains.

To be effective in most endeavors, we as individuals must have a basic facility with money. The following simple diagram provides a good starting point, whether you’re looking to earn for yourself or contribute to others:

Earn Money

It’s a simple diagram, but how well do you manage it?  Here are just a few of the questions you can ask yourself:

  • How can you improve the quality of your income, both actively and passively?
  • How can you maximize the quality of your purchasing power, both fixed and variable?
  • How can you best develop, invest and/or diversify your assets?
  • How can you best manage, reduce and/or leverage your debt?

Making money is easy… if that’s all you want to do.

In fact, I recommend that every person spend a chunk of their life focused primarily on making money. Those who know me may think this a strange statement coming from a guy whose message is often about being mindful, being grounded in reality and having sense of higher purpose, but, um, yeah… just go ahead and do it. Make money.

Feel what it’s like to be the off-the-boat immigrant with nothing but the shirt on your back.  See what’s it’s like to be the hyper-caffeinated Wall Street investment banker. Listen to the impatient voice of your inner entrepreneur. Walk in the shoes of Ecclesiastes or Siddhartha, who in their seeking of Ultimate Truth spent some years accumulating riches, appreciating the goodness of material existence and also facing squarely into its limitations.

As you devote yourself to concentrated efforts of financial gain, just be sure of three things:  Keep it legal, keep it ethical, and save up enough money to pay for all the therapist bills that will come later.

Pro-tip: Of all the ways to generate wealth, one of the surest strategies is to leverage time, especially other’s people’s time. Which brings us to the next resource:

Make Time.

There are innumerable ways of looking at and conceptualizing time.  Since this is a topic that I touch on a lot, for the purposes of this post I’m just going to focus on two simple aspects of time:  Quality and Duration.

My definition of “Quality” here will be based on whatever you choose to value. Good quality time means you’re getting what you value.  Poor quality time means you’re not getting it, or even worse, getting the opposite of what you value.  “Making time for yourself” implies an effort to experience quality time.

As for “Duration,” I’m referring to the standard units of time that we typically anticipate or reflect upon, e.g. minutes, mornings, evenings, days, nights, weekends, weeks, months, quarters, and so on. On the short end there are micro-moments, which may only last a fraction of a second. On the long end there is a lifetime, which is an accumulated impression of innumerable micro-moments, as well as a good number of days, decades, and life stages.

Here’s the graph:

Make Time

My current theory of Quality Time:  For any given person within a population, the quality of time that they experience has greater variability on the shorter and longer time frames. Some people are masters of making even the smallest moments (“micro-moments”) matter, whereas other fail miserably at those little moments.  The same is true over the long haul, the span of a lifetime — there is a great deal of variation in how effectively people anticipate and reflect on the “bigger picture” of their lives.  However, where people tend to average out in their experience of time is in that middle range of multiple years or decades.

The implication of this theory is that we have more to gain by getting better at how we think about the shorter and longer time spans, how we control our focus, how we detach from the things that don’t matter, how we apply ourselves to the things that do matter, etc. The other implication is not to sweat the mid-sized spans too much as they’ll tend to average out based on whatever milieu we happen to be in.  Also – and paradoxically – the less we worry about those mid-sized spans, the better they will tend to be.

I’ll have to come back to this idea at some point.  My time is currently being crunched by self-imposed deadline of getting this blog post done today.

Which brings us to the most real and yet most fleeting resource of them all…

Pay Attention.

If life is wave, then our material experience (aka, inputs/outputs of money) is the tip of that wave… and we surf that wave with varying degrees of success at different times. However the force driving that wave – the animal spirit driving all of our micro-moments and fleeting fortunes – is our attention.

This is how our attention is configured:

Pay Attention

Thales Teixeira and others are spending a tremendous amount of money, time and attention trying to figure out how to capture our attention in order to get us to spend our time and money on advertiser’s products.   They are working on elaborate theories to modify the environment that fills our ambient awareness, in order to direct our conscious focus and unconscious anchors.

In his HBS working paper, “The Rising Cost of Consumer Attention: Why You Should
Care, and What You Can Do about It,”  Teixeira advises marketers to modify their advertising approach based on the level of focus vs. distraction in a given audience.

He calls it the Attention‐contingent Advertising Strategy (ACAS) and provides the following diagram in his paper:

Teixeira-Attention‐contingent Advertising Strategy-ACAS

Seeing this makes me want to reverse-engineer it to provide us “consumers” a strategy for becoming something more than just “consumers,” i.e. to become individuals capable of enjoying meaningful experiences and becoming better “producers,” aka, life contributors.

What I’d like to do is turn Teixeira’s ACAS into a BCAS (Being Carefully Attentive Strategy), factoring in my earlier diagram and outlining strategies for its three areas of concern:  Where we put our conscious focus, what we allow into our ambient awareness (e.g. the environment and people we surround ourselves with), and how we direct our unconscious mind.

As an example, having now explored the Money-Time-Attention triad and having looked at a few simple sub-structures of those concepts, I’m going to park these musing into my unconscious mind so it can go to work on it at its own pace.  My conscious mind is closing all the open browser tabs I’ve got around these topics, making a mental note to re-read this post at some later date, and is moving on to my next task.

In other words, “to be continued.”

Surround Sound

Our experience of life is, for the most part, the result of the stories that we tell ourselves.

…and the mood of that story is colored by the soundtrack playing in the background, sung by the people surrounding us.

Situational MotivatorsThis post (#10 out of 27) revisits a quote from Winston Churchill about what to do when you’re going through hell. Recently, I positioned that quote just above the base camp of a metaphorical mountain, depicted here on the left.

When I originally posted the quote last June, it was during a particularly challenging time in my life. While I was experiencing some time-demanding Professional Bests, I was also experiencing some soul-testing Personal Worsts. Gritting my teeth and relaying that quote was pretty much all I could offer for blogging purposes. Beyond that, I went on a strict social media diet, deactivated Facebook and pretty much stopped reading the news. Looking back at it now, I see I was operating in pure survival / perseverance mode.

Half a year later, I find myself back online and back up at the Strong Performance (aka “Madonna Ciccone”) side of the metaphorical mountain both professionally and personally. Yet, I’m once again feeling like turning off Facebook and the news. Yeah, all it took was a few months.

Social Contagion

[*grumbles something about correlation not implying causation and too much Pharell*]

Our electronic media have gotten too good at creating a single instantaneous worldwide Hive Mind… and the emerging collective psyche is highly susceptible to infection… or hijacking. Loud voices of blame and punishment shout down the softer words of praise and encouragement, causing good people to waste their efforts on backwards-looking concerns.

As a single human being — a mere synapse among 7 billion others —  I want to protect my mental and emotional bandwidth and focus on more productive pursuits.

That said, I don’t want to check myself into a permanent Laughter Yoga retreat either. I still want to learn. I still want to be challenged. My friends post fascinating, inspiring and thought-provoking stuff on Facebook… from time to time. Once in a while (though more rarely), an interesting article will even show up in my news reader.

There’s an incentive for me to venture out into the din of negativity so that I can hear some wise voices. But then, why should the price for enjoying a few fleeting notes of a beautiful melody be a barrage of angry screeches which cannot be un-heard?

(Social media plug-in idea: Rose-tinted-lens Social Media Reader, kind of like an ad-blocker for negativity.  Yeah, yeah, I know… deeply Orwellian and would just lead to even further degradation of public discourse due to selective listening. Also, sort of already exists thanks to the balkanization of media publishing. Even still… it could be one more tool in the growing set of social media coping mechanisms, e.g. Social Media Cleanses, Facebook Friend Purges, Digital Sabbaths, and so on.)


Selecting our connections

“You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

-Jim Rohn


That quote from Jim Rohn — which provides a neat summary of Social Constructionist theory — holds especially (and exponentially) true in a world characterized by large quantities of social media exposure. Like it or not, the newsfeed on your mobile device counts as one of those five people… and as it scrolls past your thumb that ‘person’ is dragging down your average. 

Last night I had a wonderful non-social media (aka, “real world” or “meatspace”) experience that I’d like to have more often:  Hanging out with people who inspire me and who make me want to become a better version of myself.

Specifically, last night I was at a dinner event honoring two of my friends who are outstanding role models and community volunteers. They are wise, potent and ambitious individuals who inspire others to be the same.

In other words, they are exceptional leaders.

I’d like to listen to the soundtrack of exceptional leaders, more often. Exceptional coaches, too.

In conclusion, to revise the Churchill quote:

If the music is starting to suck, turn the dial and keep dancing. 

(Just not always the same song.)

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