Rested is resilient

Positive psychologists Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielen share this snippet in their recent Harvard Business Review piece, “Resilience Is About How You Recharge, Not How You Endure”:

“The misconception of resilience is often bred from an early age. Parents trying to teach their children resilience might celebrate a high school student staying up until 3AM to finish a science fair project. What a distortion of resilience! A resilient child is a well-rested one. When an exhausted student goes to school, he risks hurting everyone on the road with his impaired driving; he doesn’t have the cognitive resources to do well on his English test; he has lower self-control with his friends; and at home, he is moody with his parents. Overwork and exhaustion are the opposite of resilience. And the bad habits we learn when we’re young only magnify when we hit the workforce.”

And for any naysayers who dismiss that advice as leaving our kids unprepared for a competitive world, you might note that Achor and Gielen earned their graduate degrees from two of the most selective universities in the world, Harvard and UPenn respectively.

How to beat cell phone distraction

Cal Newport is a professor of computer science at Georgetown University and author of six books ranging from study skills tips for high school and college students to the role intense focus plays in producing great work, and most recently, the New York Times bestseller Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World. In this 2 ½ minute video interview with Dan Pink, Newport shares three tips to prevent our phones from becoming a distraction.

While I know very few adults my age or younger who would not benefit from these tips, the evidence is piling up that technological distractions—along with the accompanying social pressures—are having significantly detrimental effects on teens in the form of diminished attention spans, altered cognitive development, and increased rates of depression and anxiety.

I can imagine people of all ages dismissing some or all of the tips as being impractical or even impossible. But the truth is that constant connectivity is a comparatively new expectation. It wasn’t all that long ago that everyone somehow found a way to survive being unreachable unless they were near a landline. I won’t call for a return to those days as I think it’s safe to say the world has changed. But with the possible exception of those for whom being unreachable could carry serious or tragic implications, just about everyone in the developed world with the means to own a smartphone could probably benefit from allowing it to distract you a little less often.

Classroom comradery

This week, I had the opportunity to spend an entire day training the managers from one college’s admissions office. We’ve spent a lot of time at Collegewise developing our management philosophy, training and programming, and I was really excited about the opportunity to share it. But I also had some trepidation. Professional development sessions can be tricky. You don’t know the people, the dynamics, or the particular challenges they’re facing. In fact, you don’t even know if the audience actually wants to be there, as they’re often not given the choice.

But almost within the first five minutes, it was clear this group showed up happy to be there and eager to learn. They asked great questions. They were open and honest about the challenges they’re facing. They even asked if we could stay an extra hour to talk about how they could best start implementing what we’d just spent the day covering.

And that attitude, that eagerness, that willingness to lean in and do their part to extract value from the time they were spending created an important transformation: it made me a better presenter. Their energy refueled my energy throughout the nine hours we spent together. Both sides giving so much created a classroom comradery, a feeling that we were in this together and committed to making it count.

It’s tempting for students to evaluate their educational experiences based only on the teacher. But that’s only one side of the learning equation. What are you bringing and sharing when you show up? What are you doing to create that classroom comradery? How are you coaxing even more benefit?

Here are two past posts on how to do just that, one about things teachers notice about you, and another about the intangible elements of classroom performance. I hope they help you create more classroom comradery and benefit even more from the time you’re spending learning.

The choices are all yours

Height is decided for you. Whether you view yours as a gift, a curse, or an unremarkable trait, your DNA has already made its decision. You get no say.

But punctuality, reliability, empathy, honesty, flexibility, respect, effort, trust, curiosity, initiative, passion…

Those are choices we all get to make. Some of us may have more natural inclination in some areas. And some have had the good fortune to be exposed to positive examples who showed us what those elements look like in practice.

But these are not traits. They’re choices, and each of us gets to make them. Every day, with every project, with every interaction.

Instead of lamenting that you’re too short for the basketball team, or not a good standardized test taker, or not mathematical or artistic or musical enough, think more about the choices you still get to make and where you can best apply them.

Genes are decided for you. But the choices are all yours.

Legal (and free) performance enhancement

Justin Verlander, a pitcher for the Houston Astros, throws a fastball well over 90 miles an hour. He’s an eight-time All-Star, winner of the 2011 American League M.V.P. and Cy Young Awards, and he helped pitch his team to a Word Series title in 2017.

One of his self-professed secrets to his success? Sleep. Verlander regularly sleeps as many as 10 hours a night. And he so vocally champions others doing the same that he’s become his teammates’ unofficial sleep consultant, as profiled here. It certainly seems like he’s onto something–even beyond his personal performance. When the team’s third baseman took Verlander’s advice and started sleeping more, he went from struggling to get on base to hitting 30 home runs.

Sometimes Verlander sleeps more than 10 hours. Sometimes, less. He listens to his body and lets it tell him how much sleep he needs.

Neomi Shah, a sleep medicine doctor at The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York who’s quoted in the article, says this about sleep:

“It’s a legal way to improve athletic performance. . .and it goes beyond it, too, in terms of better well-being and an ability to make decisions.”

If it has that effect on a professional athlete, what effect could it have on you?

Happier if you do

Dóra Guðmundsdóttir studies happiness and well-being at the population level. Her research uncovers how different groups within a country are faring and helps policymakers understand the needs of their citizens. And her work uncovered something interesting that might be a good lesson for both parents and students, as related in “What We Can Learn About Happiness from Iceland,” a recent piece in Greater Good Magazine:

“When we studied the effects of the banking system collapse in Iceland, we found that happiness among adolescents went up after the collapse, even though the happiness levels of adults went down. That’s because after the collapse, adults were working fewer hours, which meant parents had more time to spend with their adolescents. As it became easier for the adolescents to get emotional support from their parents, their happiness increased, even though working less may have resulted in a lower GDP [Gross Domestic Product] for the country.”

It’s worth mentioning that her research also found those who have trouble making ends meet have the lowest happiness score of all groups, so I don’t believe the intent of that insight is to encourage parents to ignore their jobs entirely to focus on their kids.

But what I found interesting was that there was no mention of parents having more time to manage homework, secure tutors, or drive other educational outcomes. They simply provided more “emotional support.” And while that support is undefined in this article, my guess would be that asking thoughtful questions, listening to the answers, and even just spending quality time together is a good start.

And teens, if your parents were to make themselves available to support you in ways that have nothing to do with preparing for the ACT, would you walk through that door? Will you give them more than the universal teen one-word answer? Will you actually tell them what’s on your mind, where you need advice, or what they could do to support you?

Research shows you’ll be happier if you do.

A reminder to express thanks

From Don Daake’s latest column, a great reminder for students:

“This summer I’m going to my 50th high school reunion to celebrate with my classmates. I have attended nine out of nine of my 5-year class reunions. We spend a lot of time reflecting and savoring, and that brings joy and happiness… But a warning here. During all those years we NEVER invited our teachers and administrators to join us. What a big mistake. We never had the opportunity to say thanks for their dedication and influence… After 50 years probably almost none of them are left. So if you are a younger reader, urge your class to learn from our mistake.”

A wake-up call about sleep

From a recent article, “You’re not getting enough sleep–and it’s killing you.”

“‘The decimation of sleep throughout industrialized nations is having a catastrophic impact on our health, our wellness, even the safety and education of our children. It’s a silent sleep loss epidemic. It’s fast becoming one of the greatest challenges we face in the 21st century.’ Walker, an expert in sleep at UC Berkeley and author of the best-selling book Why We Sleep, told a rapt TED audience on Thursday.”

Long positive from a brief negative

“I didn’t know.”

“I made a mistake.”

“I tried and failed.”

“I was wrong.”

“I apologize.”

For all but the most egregious transgressions, most statements like those refer to something that happened in a comparatively brief period of time. Maybe even in an instant.

But the learning, growth, and resilience that those moments serve up on the other side can last a lifetime.

If you’re dealing with a brief negative, do what it takes to turn it into a long positive.

Take time away

Sometimes, the best way to get unstuck from a project is to take some time away.

I’m traveling this week, and when doing so, I usually schedule a few posts ahead of time to go live on designated dates. It minimizes the potential risk of internet difficulties that can make it harder to write a post on the run. But one post in particular just didn’t feel right. The clarity of the messaging, the order of the paragraphs, the overall flow–none of it seemed to be coming together. So I forged ahead, saved a workable draft, and then took time away.

Because I’d started early enough, I had the luxury of coming back to the draft the next day with fresh eyes and renewed perspective. I moved a few sentences. Changed a few words. And everything fell into place. Five minutes (plus a previous night of sleep) was all it took.

Sometimes, sleeping on it works the other way—your fresh eyes the next day reveal that something you thought was good isn’t quite what it could be. I wrote about this method back in 2011, and still find it works today. But my experience this week was a timely reminder of just how much good time away can do.

The technology, connectivity, and ever-present buzzing of today’s world has left many of us trying to produce more with less time. But time is a critical ingredient for truly great work. A master craftsperson wants to build something right, not build it fast. An artisan baker can produce a great loaf of bread, but not without enough time to let the ingredients do their work. Athletes, thought leaders, writers, orators, scientists—they all may face deadlines or other real-world realities. But they also need and depend on time to prepare, create, and ultimately deliver work they’re proud of.

I’m a fan of deadlines. I think they motivate us to get started, to push through, and to ship instead of stalling. I’ve even written about the power of creating an artificial deadline to overcome inertia and get you moving. Sometimes sprinting is the antidote for too much standing still.

But if you’re constantly racing from one deadline to the next, and if you feel a pattern developing of repeatedly churning out work before it’s quite what you want it to be, consider building in more time to not work on the project.

Sometimes the surest path towards great work is to take time away from it.