When We Are FULLY Immersed In Activity

I thought of it last Tuesday as I went to bed

I was in Hartford/Connecticut, at a book event for my book The Difference. Time flew. That was one of the beauties of that evening.

It flew. I was not conscious of time. Was fully immersed in the proceedings. Time became immaterial.

Mihalyi Cziskzentmihalyi is one of the giants of behavioral thought. When I think of my favorite books of all time, I invariably think of Cziskzentmihalyi’s Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. 

Full immersion. Optimal experience. Time flies by.

That is FLOW.

Allow me to whisk you to another moment from my life.

1991. I left Manhattan to live on the tiny island of Tobago. 30,000 people. You can drive around the entire island in a day. 

I moved to Tobago for many reasons. One was to become a windsurfer. There was only one place on the island where you could learn how to windsurf. Pigeon Point. And there was only one guy who could teach you how to windsurf. His name was Power.

Flow is being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz.” 

Mihalyi Cziskzentmihalyi

Here’s the moment. After 4 lessons during which I would climb on my board, try to stand up, hold onto my sail and fall off, and try again, and try again, and fall off, I had my first time when I did not fall. I held on to the sail, stayed firm on the board, and somehow I caught the wind. Whoosh.

Off I raced into the Caribbean Sea. My heart was pounding so hard. Waves of water were hitting my chest. I felt the wind whipping me. I held onto my sail, I stayed on the board, and I felt my entire being race like a demon across the ocean. It was exhilarating.

Eventually, of course, I fell off. When I looked back the beach, and Power, were far far away. 

I have no idea how long that ride took. I just know that I was fully, deeply immersed in it.That was FLOW.

I want more optimal experiences. Don’t you?

When I mention my “windsurf high” you might think to yourself “well, that’s windsurfing.” That’s not everyday work. Understood. Why don’t we consider 3 pernicious myths about flow and everyday work!

Myth #1: FLOW is a lucky accident. It happens when it happens.

Let’s be clear: Flow happens when we create conditions that allow for Flow. It happens when we have to stretch. In the windsurf moment I mentioned, I exceeded what I had been able to do before that moment. That’s when Flow kicked in. I had just enough skill to perform this new task and soar to my personal next level. Flow is less likely in a task that is too easy for us. And it is impossible when a task is too difficult.

Solution: Seek work that takes you to your personal edge. Covet stretch assignments. Surround yourself with people that are smarter, faster, more experienced than you. Couple this with the deliberate and repeated practice of new skill sets. That’s your windsurf mindset. A pathway to more Flow.

Myth #2: The Way My Job Is Structured, FLOW is Not Possible.

I empathize. There’s a lot of distraction, unnecessary busy work and plain insanity that goes on in some places of work. You will find yourself in circumstances where you may not be able to affect how activities unfold. Consider a 50/50 mindset: There’s the 50% that you may truly have no control over. And there is the other 50% - the small little moment-by-moment choices you and I make every day – that you surely have a say in. That’s our 50% Flow opportunity.

Solution: Flow is more likely when we create opportunities for deep work. Create chunks of time when you can engage deeply in tasks. Bundle like-minded tasks. Be radically mindful of your distraction habits. Minimize distraction.

Myth #3: My work is very logical and analytical. It does not lend itself to FLOW.

Analytical work is powerful work. And yes, an over-reliance on thought can inhibit us from fully engaging in an activity. At its worst, it may lead to overthinking and obsessively picking matters apart. Thought, of course, also has the power to positively shape the way we experience any activity. Cziskzentmihalyi’s writings on Flow draw heavily on the practices of artists and athletes, and their reliance on muscle memory to reach states of Flow.

Solution: Flow accelerates when we pay more attention to intuition, reflex, inner wisdom. These sources of knowing do not supplement logical or analytical work. Develop practices that facilitate access to non-cognitive wisdom. Many of these practices are not about further sharpening the mind – they involve a deeper connection to the body. Yoga, mindful meditation, tai chi, qi gong, hypnosis, swimming are just a few.

You have lived the following kind of day once or twice.

That’s a day WITHOUT Flow. On the other hand, I hope that you also remember the sort of day when …

That’s what Flow feels like. More successful people are simply more adept at activating more of it. They have more optimal experiences.

Consider my Post a primer. I urge you to read Mr. Cziskzentmihalyi’s classic book.

And get ready to flow some more.

Great Leaders MOVE Energy. Do You?

The energy was GREAT.

We’ve all had that thought at the end of a terrific meeting or a satisfying conversation.

We may, in fact, have uttered those very words.

I facilitated a corporate retreat a few months ago. I enjoyed my group immensely. Good energy, I thought to myself. My language of choice. As we said our good-byes, however, a few of the folk in my group also commented that the energy was good. That touched me. It wasn’t just me. The energy WAS good. And it was felt.

Old-school leadership experts like Brian Tracy (No Excuses! The Power of Self-Discipline) break the notion of personal energy into physical energy, mental energy, and emotional one. I have these dimensions of energy, and everyone else who’s in my immediate space has them, as well.

As these energies interact in one space – physical or virtual - they merge, mingle, ignite each other. Hopefully my body is energized, my thoughts are sharp, clear, intentional, and positively directed toward others. And hopefully my emotions are in support of what I wish to accomplish in this gathering.

The more you lose yourself in something bigger than yourself, the more energy you will have.”

Norman Vincent Peale

Cool. But let’s delve a little deeper into our understanding of energy. If you’re metaphysically inclined, you know that all of us have what we might term spirit or soul energy, whether we consciously experience it or not. At the meta level, everything is and has energy. Plants have energy, objects have energy, rooms have energy. My computer screen has energy. So does my phone.

I remember a conversation I had with Brad, a limousine driver in Chicago, as he was taking me from Lombard to O’Hare. We were noting how the dark, dreary skies that day had an impact on our mood. Then Brad linked the impact the weather had on both of our spirits to a previous profession of his.

I used to be a housing inspector, Brad said. I have inspected hundreds of houses. Don’t let anyone tell you that houses don’t have energy.

Energy. Everywhere. If we hold any sort of formal leadership role, it behooves us to know how to move some of this energy. I no longer believe that good energy is a mere luck of the draw. Sure, with some folks we feel more in sync than with others. But good energy is something we ignite, capture, circulate and recirculate.

We MOVE it.

Here are some of the ways in which we do so. I call these The Touches. I like this word because we cannot “force” collective energy. I realize the notion of moving energy can sound a little woo-woo. Allow me to un-woo-woo this notion a bit.

Ways of MOVING Energy

1. The Light Touch.

Choose light over somber. Choose playful over pedantic.

I do not propose that we take a serious concern and trivialize it. “Make light” of it. But when we treat a matter, a concern, a person, a group with a light touch, we move the energy of the moment toward a playful exchange. Our lightheartedness invites more lightheartedness. This moves energy instead of keeping it stuck. And it tends to stir our souls at their very core.

2. The Improvisational Touch. 

When something isn’t going as planned, choose flow over fighting the moment.

An improviser sees a creative opportunity in any event. Even in the conversation that seems to go nowhere, the meeting that veers off on a tangent. Instead of resisting the unexpected, folks with an improvisational touch ride the wave of the moment. They explore the unexpected instead of trying to contain it. The moment we improvise, energy moves, in a big way.

3.  The Boomerang Touch. 

Choose to notice instead of ignoring. Choose to “pick up on it” instead of rejecting.

With a boomerang mindset, I pay attention to everything an individual or group of folks is sending my way. Their sense of humor. Their language rhythm. Their tone of expression. Their physicality. I hit the “same wavelength” button. I intentionally use the language of others. I match their rhythm. I send it right back to them. I surrender to their tone (unless I decide it needs shifting). Energy suddenly feeds upon energy. It, indeed, boomerangs.

4.  The Expanding Touch

Choose to seize a micro-stimulus and amplify it.

It’s the boomerang touch on steroids. I notice an impulse, a spark, a theme, and I decide to run with it. Someone mentions the word success, and I go on a riff on the connotations of success. Someone makes an extravagant gesture, and I reciprocate with a cavalcade of extravagant gestures of my own. I enlarge, magnify, turn it into something. Small energy is amplified and becomes infectious. And infectious energy is near impossible to resist.

Energy movers aren’t control freaks or energy dictators. They simply notice energy. Catch it. Run with it. Sounds like a sports metaphor now that I think of it, right? A sport in which everyone wins.

And most sports, played at the highest levels, are terrifically energizing tp boot, aren’t they!

This Labor Day, I Have Some Thoughts.

Labor Day.

Penultimate American holiday. Long week-end. Summer shifts toward fall.

There is a deeper meaning, of course. Truth is, I usually don’t give it all that much thought. This year feels a little different.

Every first Friday of the month, I hold a virtual drop-in for folks who have been involved in my Mastermind community. I call it First Fridays. Just an hour. I never know who will show up. Only Mastermind “graduates” are invited.

That’s what kicked off this Labor Day weekend for me. Friday, 2 pm.

The beauty of a First Fridays is that amazing peeps who were in one Mastermind hang out with other exceptional peeps who were not in their Mastermind.

And we mastermind around whatever wants to be discussed.

I thought to myself on Friday, I just love these folks. How blessed are we that we get to hang out with each other.

It’s the people, stupid. It always is.

This particular tribe has mastered a conversational form that allows for depth, for honesty, vulnerability, wisdom. We know this form. Know how to fill it. And we do.

How blessed am I.

To hang out with smart, accomplished, and conscious fellow humans. To have the courage to have Big Talk (a term coined by Karina Silverman as an antithesis to “small talk”).

How fortunate am I that I get to do this for a living. That’s how my Labor Day weekend began.

The Rewards of Mentorship

Friday night, Leandra Campbell and I went out for a meal at the marvelous Carmela’s in Hollywood/Florida where I live.

Leandra is a Licensed Social Worker in private practice. For 8 years, she was the Relationship Manager in my first firm. I hired Leandra when she was a young woman of 24. While helping run my firm, Leandra went back to school to get her MSW.

Our conversation at Carmela’s was many things. It most certainly was a trip down memory lane.

8 years is a long run.

I can be a mercurial boss. But my Relationship Managers all stay with me for a long time. Leandra and I reflect on Dan Oropesa who preceded her and Hugo Sanchez who works with me now. I am confident that each is a better person because we worked together. I know that I urge them to grow, continue to learn, return to school, pursue their passions.

I mentor well. And I encourage my peeps to leave for their next act when it’s time.

On Labor Day weekend, this feels immensely gratifying.

Yes, blessed.

It’s Not Just Business, It’s Life

An individual I coach just got married. Last week was Ben’s (not his real name) first week back at work.

One of the joys of being an Executive Coach for CEOs and C-Suite leaders is that I get to coach folks who are already very successful.

We have formal coaching goals for our work, and the goals are rarely about being “more successful.” They are, invariably, about being a more vulnerable, more authentic, more strategic, more caring leader. A more fully human leader which, in turn, allows others to be the same.

Because that’s when we tend to do our best work.

I sometimes take the fact that I get to do this sort of work for granted. A few months ago, when I checked in with Ben about how he was applying the skills we were working on, he said: I have been using them all weekend in my personal life.

How very cool is that.

My clients and I get to play in the personal excellence playground. We do this at work. It’s always about all of life.

Work is about people, stupid. It always is.

That is what I celebrate this Labor Day. With appreciation and immense gratitude.

Onward, for more.

When A Blind Spot Derails Your Career

Raul Vargas, the newly-minted CEO of the venerable Farmers Insurance company, made a fatal decision. This May, he decided that the majority of Farmers employees would be required to be back in the office at least 3 days a week for in-person work.

His decision reversed the policy announced by the preceding CEO a year ago that the vast majority of Farmers employees would remain remote workers, post-pandemic.

This is the sort of tough decision we want a new CEO to make, right? Take bold new action. Change the status quo. Right the ship.

Well, not really. Poor Raul wasn’t quite prepared for what hit him. His decision sparked worker outrage. After the previous CEOs announcements, many Farmers employees had sold their homes. Moved to other parts of the country, lowered their cost of living, simplified their lives.

Over 2000 employees posted enraged comments on Farmers employees’ internal social-media platform. Left angry and crying emojis. One employee called Vargas’ move a power move that is frankly disgusting. (Chris Morris, Fortune, 6/6/2023).

Mind you, this is not an essay about the benefits of working remotely. No, this is about one CEO who, new to his role and company culture, didn’t quite understand context.

Raul clearly has a few blind spots in his own inner operating system. In the midst of a major personal career shift, with the performance pressures of a new role, the blind spots suddenly became visible.

If you want to be successful, you must respect one rule. Never lie to yourself.

Paulo Coelho

A blind spot, so goes the APA (American Psychological Association) definition, is a lack of insight or awareness - often persistent - about a specific area of one’s behavior or personality, typically because recognition of one’s true feelings and motives would be painful. In classical psychoanalysis, it is regarded as a defense against recognition of repressed impulses or memories that would threaten the patient’s ego.

I find myself thinking of all the ways in which you and I at times get in our own way. We cling to blind spots to protect ourselves from who we really are. In the act of this self-protection, we inflict more personal pain on ourselves and the people we engage with. Ouch.

In his classic leadership book “What Got You Here Won’t Get You There,” Marshall Goldsmith describes 20 archetypal behaviors of leaders who have moved up the ranks into roles of increasing authority. 20 behaviors that don’t serve them now. They likely didn’t work too well in their past, either. Personal blind spots.

Here is my own list of the 7 major blind spots that I witness in my work as an Executive Coach, informed by 20 years of doing this work. Raul, in his rash move to reverse remote-work policies at Farmers, was animated by more than one of these.

All of us are susceptible to these blind spots. Because we’re human. Because we want to succeed. Because we carry pain that longs to be masked. 

7 Must-Avoid Blind Spots

7. Forcing Outcomes

You want to succeed. Badly. Chances are, you have been rewarded for this desire to succeed. They have called you a go-getter. A winner. Because of this strong desire, you may at times get impatient with colleagues who challenge your ideas. You may cut short discussion or conversation that seems to interfere with what you have in mind. You may be tempted to promise outcomes that others tell you are not possible to achieve. And when what they have warned you about becomes reality, you drive your colleagues even harder to make it work.

Your ambition, no matter how well-intentioned, has just met your dark side.

6. Acting Grandiose

Grandiosity means firmly believing that you’re smarter than others. Know more than you perhaps actually know. You disregard tribal knowledge because you view yourself as an innovator and not a tradition-worshipper. Devalue the contributions of those who are perhaps not as articulate or energetic as you.

Even if you are the smartest person in the room, smart never gets you much of anything. You run danger of becoming the jerk in the room. And in business, as in all of life, we don’t create sustained success when others don’t want to play with us.

5. Avoiding Complexity

You believe that the best solutions are simple. You don’t like people that complicate things. You affirm that great leaders know how to simplify complexity. True. But please remember that they only do so by embracing complexity first. Walking into it. Welcoming ambiguity. Fully facing all that is not easily understood or codified. They lean in. They do not avoid.

There is a fine line between simple and simplistic. Know where that line is.

4. Not Making Decisions

It’s the opposite of forcing outcomes, acting grandiose, avoiding complexity. We keep conducting more and more data research before we believe we’re ready to decide. We ask for more scenario planning, more risk analysis. We hire yet another consultant and speak to one more group of Key Opinion Leaders. We don’t ever feel like we have enough information to make a well-considered decision. We habitually second-guess ourselves. We live in perpetual mental overwhelm.

Enough. We think we can predict outcomes. Memo from the pandemic – we can’t.

3. Trying Too Hard

You’re doing all the right things. You praise people. Involve your team in decision-making. You have a genuinely positive outlook. You take great steps to make sure you’re likeable. You go the extra-mile to communicate well with everyone.

All the right things. For many, it’s all just a bit too much. Too perfect. They want to scream Enough already. Relax and stop trying so hard. So relax, please.

2. Trusting the Wrong People

The wrong people? That’s the people who maybe don’t have the very best ideas. The greatest integrity. Or perhaps don’t even have your back. They DO know how to ingratiate themselves with you. They play you well. They make you feel good. You, in turn, reward them with plum assignments or a speedy promotion.

Trust substance over flash, integrity over joviality. Above all, know the difference.

1. Making It About YOU

This, in many ways, is the shadow of all shadows. The Blind Spot that encapsulates most of the others. You’ve been encouraged to take ownership of your accomplishments but somehow it comes across as grandstanding. You have been told that ambition is a wonderful thing – but what you didn’t “get” is that it’s ambition for the collective success they want, not your own. And anything you say – even when it is about THEM – somehow always sounds like it’s about you.

Humility escapes you. Because deep down, very deep down, you fear that you will never be enough.

We need to forget what we think we are so that we can really BECOME what we are."

Paulo Coelho

There is only one remedy to overcoming blind spots. Radical self-awareness.

When the Farmers employee revolt at the decision made by Raul Vargas became fully evident, Raul tried to explain himself. He made a public statement, saying he believed in the importance of office work because it fosters “collaboration, creativity and innovation.”

Poor Raul.

Know that I believe in the sentiment Raul expressed. In the context of what happened, however, it sounds like lame justification. Corporate gobbledygook.

No self-awareness, No comprehension of context. More blind spots exposed.

Last thing I heard, Raul is still in his CEO role. His effectiveness as a leader, however, has been irrevocably damaged.

Shine a light on your blind spots. Make the invisible visible. Invite frequent feedback. From the right people, not the wrong ones. Work with a therapist or a coach. Engage with support communities where the engagement is never about your personal success.

Fewer blind spots will be your reward. More everyday ease. And you will, in the words of Paulo Coelho, BECOME more of what you are.


Will You Please Just RELAX?

Just relax.

How often have you muttered those words to yourself as you feel stressed, under pressure, tense and gnarled in your body, or worse yet, don’t feel like you’re in your body at all?

Just relax. If only it were that easy.

Before I begin a coaching engagement with a client, I invariably have two key conversations. One with the individual I am about to coach, another with that individual’s boss. These are the conversations where we articulate the goals for the coaching journey.

I had one such conversation last week. Arturo is a boss, and our chat was reminiscent of similar conversations I’ve had. We spoke of Stephanie, the individual I am about to support. After praising the many things Stephanie does well, Arturo recounted some of the scenarios where he felt Stephanie’s behavior had gotten her into trouble. Then, after a bit of a pause, Arturo ended with this statement: I think I just want her to relax.

You cannot always control what goes on outside, but you can always control what goes on inside.”

Dr. Wayne Dyer

I ponder Arturo’s words as I sit in my car that evening, driving to Miami, tuning my radio to NPR. A certain radio program host is on. I have always enjoyed this host’s keen mind and rich, sonorous voice. And I have always been a little distracted by his slight over-articulation of words. Clipped. Arch. Trying a little too hard. This evening, the archness in the voice is gone. My host sounds less announcer-ey, more conversational.

He has learned to relax, I think to myself.

It often is such a fine line, isn’t it, between relaxed and not? I don’t wish to review basics like taking a breath, meditating, slowing down with you here. Practicing mindfulness.

Yes, DO those things.

Here, however, are some additional behaviors you may wish to consider when the stakes are high, time is tight, you have an agenda and want to get stuff done. When a relaxed way of showing up seems to fly out the window.

Stop forcing.

Notice when you’re pressing just a little too hard for an outcome, for consensus, a resolution. When it is not happening in your ideal time-frame. Notice when others may need a different pace, additional time to reflect, or a pause. Reality is not matching your ideal-outcome storyline. Notice how you’re suddenly driving conversations with an irritated edge, an annoyed tone, a slight petulance. Just a little too hard.

Notice, and pull back.

Muscle-memorize your most relaxed self.

Muscle memory is a powerful thing. Athletes know. Even on a day when our mind may not feel as sharp as we’d like, our body performs. It remembers. Muscle memory kicks in. So, go and begin to remember what your body feels like when you’re at your most relaxed. For me, that’s when I step out of the pool after I have just had a robust lap-swim, when I lounge on my daybed and read, sit on the stool at my kitchen counter and conduct business from there. My job is to show up that relaxed, as often and whenever I can.

Remember, and drop into that state.

Allow for silence.

 Some folks go quiet when they’re not relaxed. Most folks go hyper. They talk more. Talk faster. Their talk is likely to become repetitive. It becomes noise. Allow for silence. Don’t fill every second with chatter. In the silence new wisdom appears. In the silence we better observe what’s really going on. In the silence we hear, and reconnect with, our heartbeat – and the energy that emanates from our hearts.

Shut up for a moment, and settle into silence.

Make it about them.

 An I, I, I storyline undercuts relaxation faster than anything else. I have to get this done right. I need to finish these 5 items before 3 o’clock. I know more about these matters than the rest of the team. I would rather work on something else. I, I, I. Me, me, me. Whenever possible, direct your attention to the person or persons in front of you, what they are saying, what they may need, and how you can be of service. Shift your focus from you to them. Every moment instantly gets simpler. Suddenly, we’re engaged with what is actually real, in front of us, in this moment, not our random storylines. Exhale.

Focus on others, and feel your body unwind.

Have faith. 

It is difficult to relax when I believe that every outcome is dependent on my behavior, my actions, my efforts. Whew, what pressure. I don’t advocate for a fatalistic mindset, mind you. I believe in my ability to affect outcomes. I equally believe that if something doesn’t work out just as I wished, that outcome is the outcome that was meant to happen, in that moment. The one that will lead us to the next right outcome. That sort of faith allows me to relax.

This, of course, is the paradox: When I relax, I am able to more potently affect the outcomes I envision and desire. Go figure.

We’re talking relaxation consciousness here, and we’re talking relaxation practices. They’re intertwined. In case of doubt, allow your muscles to remember your most relaxed self. This remembering will require a mental prompt.

Yes, connected. Consciousness and action. Such fun to play with.

And choose to relax as you play.

Will I See You On The Road?

THE DIFFERENCE: Essays on Loss, Courage, and Personal Transformation is my fourth book. It was published on June 1 by Balboa Press, a Division of Hay House. I had the pleasure of co-editing this book with a seasoned and consummate pro – my friend Rosemary Ravinal.


Now comes the most joyous part of launching a book: We get to hold live book events. We get to meet you, our readers, in-person.

I hope this includes you. As a lover of books, you know that the meaning of the work deepens in conversation with the authors. Consider yourself invited to the Miami and New York events. THE DIFFERENCE events in Hartford/Connecticut and Durango/Colorado are in the works. Details to come.

Books & Books is a storied independent bookstore in Miami and THE bookstore in town. The August 11 event is your opportunity to meet four prominent voices from the book who have inspired millions of followers around the world to lead more authentic, wholehearted, and expansive lives. Their essays, combined with those penned by Rosemary and me, represent six of the ten unforgettable essays in the anthology.

You will hear from:

On September 10, we will gather for our New York City book event at the world-famous Gleason’s Gym in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood. Words cannot describe how over-the-moon thrilled I am to hold a book event in a boxing gym.

We’re at Gleason’s because Malissa Smith, author of the extraordinary essay “How Boxing Uncaged Me” in THE DIFFERENCE, is one of the world’s most famous authorities on women’s boxing. Her passion for boxing was ignited when, as a woman in her 40s, she walked through the doors of Gleason’s for the very first time and began to train.

Because Malissa knows every celebrated women’s boxing champion in the world, one of these champions will join us as a special guest on September 10. How very cool is that!!!

You will hear from:

Please hold the date for this truly one-of-a-kind New York book event to celebrate THE DIFFERENCE. Online registration information for this event will be released soon.

Your company on August 11 in Miami and September 10 means so much to me and the authors whose unvarnished and provocative stories grace the pages of THE DIFFERENCE.

With gratitude,


About THE DIFFERENCE: www.thedifference-book.com

How To Manage a PILE-ON Day

You know this day.

Meeting after meeting after meeting. By early afternoon, your head starts to swirl. By evening time your brain feels like it will explode. Incapable of thinking one more thought.

The entire day has seemed like one long ride on a runaway train.

How do we slow down the pile-on madness?

I learned about the power of transitions several decades ago when I was a trainer for Langevin Learning Services, the largest train-the-trainer company in the world. I delivered 20 different programs, each designed by a professional instructional designer.

Here’s what the designers built into each program. After learners returned from a break, I would not immediately delve into teaching new content. I would, instead, deliver a short and hopefully enjoyable brain teaser to allow learners to transition from hallway chit-chats, phone calls and email catch-ups, back to the focus of a learning environment.

Honor the space between no longer and not yet.” 

Nancy Levin, best-selling author

This was the thinking behind this convention, based on heaps of research about how adults learn: A brain teaser would take no longer than 5 minutes. When you don’t build in a transition and go straight to content, learners are not ready to fully focus on what the trainer is about to present. Their mental energy is still on what they were thinking about in the hallway.

By incorporating a transition (the brain teaser), learners transition with more ease from what had happened outside of the room to what is happening in the room. 5 minutes buy a much higher degree of learning focus. Much better work happens in class because participants are able to transition into a learning state-of-mind.

Mind you, this is not a Post about brainteasers or training programs. I’m not proposing you do puzzles all day, just as I’m not suggesting you start each meeting with soft chit-chat, as often happens in a business meeting these days.

No. Go ahead and start to create, and incorporate, YOUR own transitions.

Have a transition mindset. And consider the following specific ways of putting transitions into action throughout your work day.

4 Transition Practices

The Morning Preview

Instead of launching into your day first thing in the morning with a crucial meeting, schedule 30 minutes of private time before you “go public.” Think of these 30 minutes as your preview time. You look ahead to your day, the meetings that are in store, the deadlines you must meet. You consider what you need to do to bring your Best Self to all of these circumstances.

While a Preview is not a transition, it affords you the opportunity to consider your transitions for the day. What do you need to do, at any given moment, to be mentally, emotionally and spiritually present? What do you need to do to remain energized until the final meeting? Sure - review key documents that will help you to contribute meaningfully in a meeting, but also consider the sort of transitions that will help you to move with grace from one situation to the next throughout your day.

Prepare with data and information. And prepare for flow.

The 5-Minute Regenerator

Where can you find 5 minutes in-between meetings, tasks, obligations to simply stop? 5 minutes is the magic number I followed at Langevin. 5 minutes facilitated a much richer engagement in the minutes that followed a break. The moment we decide, we will always find the 5 minutes, no matter how busy we are. Trust me.

Only you know what will be regenerative for you in 5 minutes. Close your eyes and meditate? Step outside and enjoy a change of scenery? Look at a bit of nature? Have a quick jog? Eat a power bar? Chances are, going on social media or chit-chatting with colleagues, no matter how much you like them, won’t do the trick.

Know what regenerates you. Choose an activity that is realistic and do-able for you. Make this activity a habit. If success in life is predicated on simple habits that set us up for success, make your 5-minute regenerators a habit you don’t negotiate away.

The 1-Minute Focus Moment

Surely you can take a minute, just ONE minute, to focus yourself before you join a meeting. A minute in which you mentally and emotionally put yourself into an optimal state of mind for the meeting you are about to attend.

What do we do in that minute? What will help us focus? If our mind is chattering away with fears and predictions, consider taking a few deep breaths, eyes closed, to bring yourself back to fully being in your body. If you want to make sure that you will be a helpful thought partner in the meeting, affirm that it will be so. I am a thoughtful and valuable contributor to each meeting I attend. Affirm this quietly, a few times over, in the minute before you join. It will calm you and affirm that it will be so.

Anchoring techniques (an affirmation IS an anchoring technique) are powerful self-management techniques that quickly put us into an optimal state of mind. They are the sort of techniques actors use before they need to act and athletes before they enter a race or competition. Visualize the perfect meeting with an impeccable exchange of ideas. Listen to your favorite piece of music that instantly lifts you into a great mood. Curious about anchoring techniques? I urge you to do a google research. Anchoring techniques are perfect helpers in your 1-Minute Focus Moment.

The 15-Second Reset

Meetings tend to shift and swerve. Sometimes they veer into unexpected directions. We have all sat in that meeting where a topic was covered, the conversation has moved on, and someone harps on something that was talked about and tabled 15 minutes ago. Dude, you think to yourself, we’re done with that one. Move on!

The individual who harks back to previous matters has not transitioned to where the conversation has evolved. They simply have not noticed. They have not adjusted or transitioned with theflow of the conversation.

A 15-Second Reset is internal. It happens in the midst of a conversation. It is based on our observation of the collective mood of the moment. This topic is done. There is no collective appetite to kick this around anymore, even though it really matters to me. Let me switch along with the group.

Simple. Helpful. Quick. And most importantly, conscious.

A transition mindset is an essential self-management mindset.

Simple stuff. Powerful.

Please go do it.

The Nurse Lessons

On June 6, I had a successful heart-valve-replacement surgery at Cleveland Clinic in South Florida. I was discharged after 8 days. 3 days later I went back in for another 3 days to treat a phlebitis in my lower right arm, caused by an a-line stick gone wrong during my initial stay.

A month has passed. I have recovered very nicely from both the surgery and the phlebitis, and I am filled with gratitude.

As someone who has never had a surgery before, here’s what stands out as I reflect on the experience: I was taken care of by over 100 nurses during these 2 weeks. The shift nurses that rotated in and out of my room. The nurses that manned the hall stations. The techs that supported the nurses. The nurses that showed up at 5 am to do labs. The floating nurses who were there to trouble-shoot for a more junior nurse.

I am perpetually intrigued about what makes for exceptional job performance: Anywhere. All of these nurses, I am certain, share a comparable baseline of nurse training. They all possess the same essential nursing skills. Many of them did a superb job. Yet some truly stood out. One or two did not.

It is not enough to be compassionate – you must act.”

The Dalai Lama

What are the hallmarks of the exceptional performer? What are the factors and traits that make the biggest difference between doing a “good” and doing a “great” job?

I am writing about nurses but these observations, of course, apply to pretty much any professional in any profession. They apply to you and me.

A bit of context: I am what nurses call a “tough stick.” The veins in my arms are weak and useless for blood draws or any sort of sticks. I have for decades now had my blood drawn from my hands or veins just above my wrists.

In a hospital room where lines run into your body 24/7 and blood is drawn daily, I am the sort of patient where you better know what you’re doing. I’m a tough customer.

Encounter after encounter, as one nurse after another floated in and out my room to do their job and perform their tasks, here is what I noticed about the great ones.

Traits of the Exceptional Performers

Possess Superior Skills

That means you’re not afraid of a “tough stick.” You don’t flinch when I tell you that you can’t draw from my arms. You have drawn from every imaginable vein before. You know how to get this done. You’ve got this.

This is where experience comes into play. Experience with every potential professional circumstance. The embodied knowledge and skill that come with years of practice.

Well-honed, earned experience is a beautiful thing. In acting we call this “having a range.” Exceptional nurses have range.

Inspire confidence

Confidence is not an easy quality to describe. Hopefully you are fully confident in your ability to perform the tasks at hand – but how is this confidence conveyed to me, the recipient of your service? How do I know that I can trust you and safely put myself in your hands?

You perform a task matter-of-factly, without hesitation. You make what you do look like second-nature. Like a well-trained athlete, you perform with impeccable muscle memory. And while you make second-by-second decisions about what to do and what not to do, your thinking process is invisible to me.

You just do what you do. You don’t second-guess yourself. If you have a moment of doubt and uncertainty, this moment is yours and yours alone. All I see as I witness you is ease. A lack of undue effort.

You are comfortable in your own skin. THAT inspires confidence.

Solve problems

When you’re not up to performing a specific task, you acknowledge it. Quickly. Don’t fumble, don’t fall apart. Get help, immediately. It leaves you off the hook. It comforts me. And it makes the individual who comes in to help you feel good.

Exhibit A: When my surgeon came in and told nurse M, my nurse for that particular shift, that she needed to insert another line into my body, I noticed the panic in M’s face. After the surgeon left, M asserted that when I can’t do a stick I won’t do a stick. Well, confidence had just flown out the window. You need to find someone else to do this! I told her and thought to myself, huhmm, I can’t believe I had to explain that to her. M disappeared; 5 hours later I still did not have the new line in my body.

Exhibit B: Nurse V was asked to insert a new line. I explained to her the challenges of finding a good vein in my body. V took a quick look at my veins and said I know who can do this. She reappeared 5 minutes later with T, a phlebotomist. A quick stick. Done.

Be an Exhibit-B-person please, in every facet of your professional life.

Be present

Nurses enter room after room during their 12-hour shifts. Each room, each patient, each circumstance, each health challenge is different. It is so very easy to absorb the energy of the assorted rooms. Couple that with things that may be on your mind from your own life. Thoughts that pre-occupy you. Perhaps weigh you down.

I get it. I had nurses who entered my room a little rushed, a little flustered, a bit distracted. Their mind was clearly on something that had just happened. Their mind was not on my room. This did not serve me.

Switch gears. Transition. Leave the outside outside. Don’t be that person who brings distractions, no matter how minute, into new situations and encounters.

Have habits for being fully present. Clear your mind. Use anchoring techniques, breathing, prayer, whatever works for you. But learn how to clear your mind.

Show up present, please.

Show you care

I learned during my 2 hospital stays that folks express caring in different ways. As I got ready to leave the hospital my first time around, my partner asked so who are the nurses that stood out for you the most? We tossed about a bunch of names and both landed on two male nurses who worked together as a team in the ICU where they took care of me on 2 consecutive days. J was the one who moved around the room and took care of all the physical transactions with me. He struck me as an introvert. J didn’t chat much and moved about with a quiet intensity and keen focus on every task he was performing. This singular focus was the ultimate expression of caring. It was calming. It was powerful.

M came in frequently but tended to stand back by the door. He always inquired how I was doing and reminded me that I could call on him at any time if I needed help. M provided what we jokingly called the concierge service. I truly felt that M would, and could, take care of absolutely anything.

Potent stuff.

Nurses are sometimes described in mystical terms. Hailed as “the angels” who show up to take care of us.

I get it now.

When we lie in a hospital bed, hooked up to machines and fueled by tubes that run into our bodies, it is easy to feel helpless. We are truly at the mercy of others.

My emotional low-point came when Nurse M had disappeared and not come back, and more importantly, the new infusion that my surgeon had ordered was, hours later, not in my body.

That is when Nurse D entered the room. I had never seen D before. D had likely shown up because my very persuasive partner had had a conversation with the nursing staff at the hall counter.

D had a big beaming smile on her face, a smile of kindness. She was a nurse of a certain age, with spunky, spikey grey hair. D exuded an earthy benevolence. I like to use the phrase “the light was on” to describe folks who are lit up from within. Folks who seem to have a connection to spirit and the divine.

D’s light was on.

I explained my situation. I help the nurses who are newer and need a little bit of support, D said without any trace of ego. I float around from floor to floor.

Then she took my hand, did a stick, put in the line.

Please call me anytime, D said, and disappeared.

I found myself getting emotional. She is the angel who showed up today, I said to my partner. The light was on. And we all get to be that angel, any time.

In Praise of Impeccable Training

This Wednesday, I will have a heart-valve-replacement surgery.

It’s a significant surgery, but it is also a rather routine surgery these days and not high-risk.

It will be performed by Dr. Jose Navia, the Director of the Heart and Vascular Center and Chairman of Cardiothoracic Surgery at Cleveland Clinic in Weston, Florida. Cleveland Clinic is the top hospital in South Florida. Cleveland Clinic’s mother campus is ranked the best cardiology hospital in the world on Newsweek’s World’s Best Hospitals 2023 list. Their Weston Hospital, as well, is ranked among the Top 250 hospitals in the world.

I am in good hands.

Here’s what I am re-learning as I go through my pre-op visits and testing: It takes more than hiring skilled talent. It’s training, stupid.

My first contact with the clinic is with a telephone operator on the hospital’s general phone line to book an appointment with their top surgeon. I have no history with Cleveland Clinic. Don’t know anyone there.

The individual speaks with clear diction and authority. Conveys competence. Is efficient without rushing me. I am in the presence of a skilled communicator.

I have had numerous calls with other operators since that first call. Different people, but each experience very much matches that first call: Clear communication. No mumbling. Complete sentences. No robotic recitation of a learned script. Simply an efficient and unforced sense of competence conveyed by the operator.

I didn’t just get lucky. My experience transcends hiring great people. No - everyone has clearly been trained to a certain communication standard. They embody and execute this standard.

That’s the power of impeccable training.

What Good Training Does.

My first appointment with Dr. Navia is scheduled on a Wednesday afternoon at 4 pm.

At exactly 4 pm, Michelle, a nurse, opens the door to the waiting room, calls my name and ushers me into a patient room. Within the span of an hour, I interact with 4 individuals. Michelle, Lauren, a Nurse Practitioner, Dr. Navia, and Anthony, the care coordinator.

I don’t go to their offices, they come to the patient room to engage with me.

They come in a carefully orchestrated sequence. But here’s what really stands out for me:

Did I simply get lucky? Heck no. Each person – individually gifted, no doubt – has been trained to a certain performance standard. This standard is embodied and lived.

Within an hour, I have met with 4 very busy people and never felt rushed. That’s what happens when there is a process that works. That’s the outcome of impeccable training.

When I go back to Cleveland Clinic to have an angiogram done, my partner, who is accompanying me, notes: Nobody here is rushing. I actually feel myself relaxing.

That is by design.

The wide check-in desks in each lobby and hospital department are fully open, without partitions of any sort, much like registration desks in an upscale hotel.

That is by design.

The hallways in the buildings are extra wide and spacious. Visitors and staff can move about with ease, and without worry of bumping into others.

That is by design.

Lobbies are super-sized, with ample, modern, individual beige-and-chrome lounge chairs, a variety of seating areas, ample wall outlets for getting some work done, and tastefully bold, modern wall art. Like what you would find in the lobby of an upscale hotel.

Yup, by design.

“Empathy by design” is a Cleveland Clinic motto. It’s a culture choice. It is tangible. I feel it while I am there.

Here’s why I take pains to describe my experience at Cleveland Clinic for you. If Cleveland Clinic can do it, so can you and I.

I know you don’t run a hospital. You, perhaps, do not actually have a staff or team that you need to train. But what sort of experiences are you creating, on your own, by design, by choice?

When we create experiences by design, enhanced experiences are the outcome. Impeccable training is a key success differentiator. It brings a standard to life.

I have had some moments of anxiety leading up to my surgery on Wednesday. There have been loads of tests to get done and preparations to make. I have, however, no anxiety about the surgery itself. Absolutely none. And I’m not in denial. I simply have full and unwavering confidence.

That is the power of well-trained professional excellence.

The Beauty of Power Sprints

It’s been crazy, Rhonda, VP of Talent Management at a global pharma company, said to me last month.

3 nights in a row I have been working until 1 in the morning. Sigh. Too much. Too much.

Yup. Crazy. Rhonda knows this can’t go on. The situation screams under-resourced. And as is the case in every under-resourced scenario, it begs the question of how we make use of our time.

The following morning, I sat in my car at 5:30 am (now you might think THAT is crazy), driving to meet my trainer for a work-out. I was listening to an old episode of my colleague Meredith Bell’s marvelous “Strong for Performance” Podcast. Episode 100. Meredith was chatting with renowned Business and Life Coach David Wood.

David and Meredith talk about Power Sprints.

The basic idea is this. Work in chunks of 4 Power Sprints. 25 minutes of focused work, followed by a 5-minute break. 3 more of these chunks, followed by a longer break of 15 - 30 minutes.

The bad news is Time flies. The good news is you’re the pilot."

Michael Altshuler, motivational speaker

Power Sprints remind me of the function of sprints in the Scrum Agile work methodology. They are the building blocks of the Pomodoro technique, a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s in Italy. Pomodori are 25-minute bursts of focused work, followed by a 5-minute break.

Power Sprints make me think, as well, of what I know as an Instructional Designer for training programs. Give people too much information too quickly, and the brain shuts down. Overload. Great instructional design delivers information in manageable chunks, followed by time to absorb and synthesize. Sprints. Breaks.

We’re talking personal energy management here.

All the Power Sprints in the world will not save Rhonda in her extreme resource crunch. But as I listen to David Wood and Meredith Bell in the car, my mind is reconnecting a couple of dots. We have time, and we have personal energy. More successful people harness these 2 dots, and their synergy, better than others.

Let us dissect the rewards of being a power sprinter, shall we?

4 Benefits to Working in Sprints

I use time consciously. 

By dividing my work time into small, manageable chunks, I set myself up to be successful in accomplishing my tasks. And by making these chunks deliberately shorter than the traditional 1-hour time unit embedded in corporate life, I heighten my focus and minimize the urge to distract.

The psychology of it? I like to feel like I have accomplished something in my 25 minutes. I want to step into my 5-minute break with a sense of completion. And because I commit to my 5-minute break and don’t like to have “unfinished business” looming over me, I have fortified my drive to complete a task or sub-task. Most importantly, I don’t negotiate away my 5-minute break as I have done with all of the lunch breaks I promised myself I would take and never do.

I generate flow. 

By working in manageable sprints, I make it easier for myself to fully surrender to a task. This full surrender supports a sense of complete engagement. I am less likely to dilly-dally, more likely to commit. Because I know that a break will be coming up. My commitment, at its finest, leads to a state of flow. Flow is the ultimate work-joy experience where I am so immersed in what I am doing that I, ironically, lose all sense of time. Which leads us to the next benefit.

Either run the day or the day runs you.” 

Jim Rohn, motivational speaker

I track my use of time. 

When I keep a timer running as I work, I stay mindful of the passing of time. While you might think, gosh, doesn’t that create a lot of pressure?, it actually does the opposite. I don’t have to obsess about time because a gadget is tracking it for me. But because I am tracking how I spend my time, I remember the choices I make within that time. This mindfulness encourages constant recalibration and adaptation. Time doesn’t just “get lost” or disappear. I generate a higher sense of accomplishment with my time which feels GREAT.

I rejuvenate myself. 

Sounds wonderful, right? By incorporating frequent breaks in between Power Sprints, I prevent mental and physical fatigue. Beware, however. You will be tempted to “power through” your breaks, especially when a task is not yet completed. Taking a break goes against how many of us are conditioned to work. We push and push and push until we crash.

The biggest opportunity for many of us aren’t the Sprints. No, it’s the breaks. We don’t know how to take a break. We want to check more emails, go on line, catch up on news. You know. What does it look like for you to actually STOP? For just 5 minutes? What might you do in those 5 minutes that is not about further stimulating your brain? Gaze out at nature? Listen to calming music? Meditate? Go for a quick run around the block? Experiment. Explore new habits for your breaks. Fully stopping may be your new revolutionary frontier amid the Power Sprints.

About Rhonda.

Here’s what she and I kicked around. We had the classic “do you really need to attend all those meetings conversation.” You know that one, as well. For the need-to-be-present but not top-tier-critical meetings, consider this. Let the leader of the meeting know that you’re eager to attend but due to other pressing deadlines, can only stay for the first 25 minutes.

Whenever possible, power-sprint that meeting. Take your break. Move on. Makes a heck of a lot of sense, doesn’t it?