Mental Toughness: A Review

First, a three-sentence review of the idea of “mental toughness”:

  1. I want it, I work toward it, and I want my kids to have it—especially given the global and local challenges facing us in 2022.
  2. As a practicing Christian, I wonder what “mental toughness” looks like in light of 2 Corinthians 12:9: “And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my strength is made perfect in weakness.’”
  3. Those lines come from the Apostle Paul, who was as mentally tough a person as I know of, and yet he rejoiced in his weakness, because—perhaps counterintuitively—his weakness was the site of God’s strength made perfect.

Even with that re-framing in mind, “mental toughness” is a desideratum for me. So I read in its entirety HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Mental Toughness, from Harvard Business Review Press. At 160 pages—and with compact trim size—it’s one of the shorter volumes in the 10 Must Reads series, but it’s full of powerful and inspiring ideas.

Here’s the list of 10 (actually 11, counting the “bonus” article) articles in the book:

  1. “How the Best of the Best Get Better and Better,” by Graham Jones
  2. “Crucibles of Leadership,” by Warren G. Bennis and Robert J. Thomas
  3. “Building Resilience,” by Martin E.P. Seligman
  4. “Cognitive Fitness,” by Roderick Gilkey and Clint Kilts
  5. “The Making of a Corporate Athlete,” by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz
  6. “Stress Can Be a Good Thing If You Know How to Use It,” by Alla Crum and Thomas Crum
  7. “How to Bounce Back from Adversity,” by Joshua D. Margolis and Paul G. Stoltz
  8. “Rebounding from Career Setbacks,” by Mitchell Lee Marks, Philip Mirvis, and Ron Ashkenas
  9. “Realizing What You’re Made Of,” by Glenn E. Mangurian
  10. “Extreme Negotiations,” by Jeff Weiss, Aram Donigian, and Jonathan Hughes
  11. “Post-Traumatic Growth and Building Resilience,” by Martin Seligman and Sarah Green Carmichael

Every article has good ideas worthy of implementation. And across the 160 pages there are a handful of ideas I could probably do without. Here are some highlights:

  • In Martin Seligman’s “Building Resilience,” he talks about “post-traumatic growth” (my emphasis), a phrase I’d never heard before reading this book. He mentions post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and then asks: what about the growth that can ensue after traumatic events? The best sentence in the whole book describes people who have post-traumatic growth: “They, too, first experience depression and anxiety, often exhibiting full-blown PTSD, but within a year they are better off than they were before the trauma” (29). Better off than they were before the trauma!

  • Similarly, “Crucibles of Leadership” (Bennis and Thomas) is encouraging, as it tells stories of leaders who “emerged from the crucible stronger and more sure of themselves and their purpose” (11).

  • “Cognitive Fitness” (Gilkey and Kilts) offers a two-page spread (48-49) titled, “Exercising Your Brain: A Personal Program.” Many of the ideas they offer are common sense but easy to forget (“ready funny books,” “play games,” “try new technologies,” “learn a new language or instrument,” etc.).

  • “Stress Can Be Good Thing If You Know How to Use It” (Crum and Crum) was such a good article, I emailed a link to it (with my own reflection) to my church’s elders right away. Best line: “[W]hat did you expect—that climbing Everest would be a walk in the park?” (73) The authors recommend “reframing anxiety as excitement” (74).

  • Scattered throughout some articles are pep-talky ideas I’m ambivalent about. On the first page of the first article (“How the Best of the Best Get Better and Better”), for example, there is, “[I]n sports as in business, the main obstacle to achieving ‘the impossible’ may be a self-limiting mind-set” (1). Yeah, may be. But for some things “mind over matter” may itself be a limiting approach, since it may fail to take into account external factors.

  • “How to Bounce Back from Adversity” (Margolis and Stoltz) is excellent, although I disagree with the authors’ conclusion that when analyzing setbacks, we need to stop thinking about their causes and focus instead on our response. Why not both? Interestingly, another article (“Rebounding from Career Setbacks”) has a section called “Figure Out Why You Lost” (90). On the upside, Margolis and Stoltz’s “resilience regimen” offers a series of practical and empowering questions that almost ensure forward movement. For example:

       “Visualizing: What do I want life to look like on the other side of this adversity?

       “Specifying: What can I do in the next few minutes, or hours, to move in that direction?

       “Collaborating: What sequence of steps can we put together as a team, and what processes can we develop and adopt, to see us through to the other side of this hardship?” (86)

  • Glenn E. Mangurian’s “Realizing What You’re Made Of” is the most inspirational of the articles. It begins with the provocative (ridiculous?) claim: “Those who have survived a traumatic, life-altering event often convey a curious sentiment: They wouldn’t have it any other way” (97). He then talks about working through (and with, not against) his own experience of paralysis. It’s a moving read. “In my new life,” he says, “I am able to use all of my assets, including my paralysis, to be a new kind of leader” (106).

  • There is some overlap between this and other published HBR collections. As HBR continues to publish its 10 Must Read series, and multiple other best-of collections, they’ll want to keep an eye on not overusing certain articles.

I’ll refer back to this volume again, and it took me about a year to work through it, because I kept savoring/procrastinating working through the ideas and exercises.

Find the book here, and thanks to HBR Press for sending the review copy, which did not (at least not consciously) affect how I reviewed the book.

Review: HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Public Speaking and Presenting

You probably already realize how much of in-person communication is non-verbal. But did you know that audiences perceive non-verbal signals as having more weight than the words you are actually saying?

Nick Morgan notes as much in his Harvard Business Review article, “How to Become an Authentic Speaker”:

If your spoken message and your body language are mismatched, audiences will respond to the nonverbal message every time.

Why?

You’re probably coming across as artificial. The reason: When we rehearse specific body language elements, we use them incorrectly during the actual speech—slightly after speaking the associated words. Listeners feel something’s wrong, because during natural conversation, body language emerges before the associated words.

Recently in a natural conversation I tried to notice which came first—my hand gestures or the words they accompanied. And Morgan is right!

So if you’re going to script non-verbals into your public speaking, well… maybe just don’t. Those need to be natural, or the listeners will know something is off.

Morgan’s article is in HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Public Speaking and Presenting, a compelling and informative read that has already helped me as a preacher.

Here is the list of articles included:

  • “How to Give a Killer Presentation,” by Chris Anderson
  • “How to Become an Authentic Speaker,” by Nick Morgan
  • “Storytelling That Moves People: A Conversation with Screenwriting Coach Robert McKee,” by Bronwyn Fryer
  • “Connect, Then Lead,” by Amy J.C. Cuddy, Matthew Kohut, and John Neffinger
  • “The Necessary Art of Persuasion,” by Jay A. Conger
  • “The Science of Pep Talks,” by Daniel McGinn
  • “Get the Boss to Buy In,” by Susan J. Ashford and James R. Detert
  • “The Organizational Apology,” by Maurice E. Schweitzer, Alison Wood Brooks, and Adam D. Galinsky
  • “What’s Your Story?” by Herminia Ibarra and Kent Lineback
  • “Visualizations That Really Work,” by Scott Berinato
  • (“bonus” article) “Structure Your Presentation Like a Story,” by Nancy Duarte.

I don’t think there’s a dud in here. Chris Anderson’s lead article is an inside look into the world of TED Talks. As the curator of the conferences, he’s coached plenty of speakers, and here distills some of his advice.

I especially appreciated the focus in a few articles on good storytelling. Even if data is part of a presentation, tell a story about it, rather than presenting it in drab charts and graphs. (Or use charts and graphs, but make them visually compelling.) “What’s Your Story” is about how to frame and re-frame career transitions—especially relevant to the so-called “Great Resignation” happening across workplaces today.

Harvard Business Review and its books have always appealed to me, though as a church leader I often have to translate the wisdom into a somewhat unique context. This particular volume, however, is immediately relevant to anyone speaking or presenting to people.

Check it out here.

Yeah, But He’s *Our* Hananiah: When the One Who Misleads Is One of Us

The Prophet Jeremiah, by Gustave Doré (1832–1883)

I keep coming back to this arresting passage in Jeremiah:

For from the least to the greatest of them,
everyone is greedy for unjust gain;
and from prophet to priest,
everyone deals falsely.
They have treated the wound of my people carelessly,
saying, “Peace, peace,”
when there is no peace.

— Jeremiah 6:13-14

Any declaration of peace calls for discernment. Anyone can say there is “peace” in a place when there’s really not. In fact, folks with positions of power (formal or informal) have a vested interest in “saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace.”

That way they can preserve the status quo (from which they benefit). They can avoid “conflict” (or taking a long, hard look at reality and themselves). They can curry favor with those who love to hear that there is peace (don’t we all?).

In Jeremiah it was prophet and priest who were “dealing falsely,” saying “Shalom!” when shalom was decidedly not God’s word for the people. Shalom did not reflect the hard realities.

I find it sobering to remember that prophet and priest are appointed, sacred offices, established by God.

Yes, even sacred communities are susceptible to the abuse of lying leaders who declare peace where there is none.

A hard truth, but I think the even greater challenge is to think about how these verses might apply to our own settings.

It’s easy to call out Jeremiah’s Hananiah, his nemesis who persuaded the people “to trust in lies.” It’s easy to point at pastors, priests, and bishops who have lied and misled people in other communities. It’s easy to call for the resignation of a deceitful and unrepentant church leader in another faith community (or president of a country). Indeed, we should.

But what about when the false prophet is my false prophet? What about when the fake peace proclaimer is our fake peace proclaimer? What about when the deceit is coming “from inside the house”?

We might try to minimize:

  • Yeah, but she’s been a huge part of our community for decades!
  • Well, he thinks there is actually “peace” here, and he’s prophesying sincerely.
  • They’re doing the best they can under the circumstances; how about some grace?

Or the even more insidious: “Who can even know what peace is?”

It’s harder to navigate when Hananiah is one of us… when we have worshiped with Hananiah… when we have shared meals with Hananiah… when we have done mission together… when we celebrated birthdays and holidays and baptisms together. We might even think that Hananiah has somehow earned the right to be wrong, the right to (occasionally?) misrepresent God to the people. Jeremiah’s Hananiah is clearly in the wrong but my Hananiah gets a mulligan.

Jeremiah 6:16 goes on:

Thus says the LORD:
Stand at the crossroads, and look,
and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way lies; and walk in it,
and find rest for your souls.

Instead of an uncritical acceptance of our Hananiah’s lying, instead of asking, “How can we even know?”, God calls the people to stand and look and ask. (“Seek and you shall find.”) And then to walk in “the good way.”

And then there is the last line of Jeremiah 6:16—indeed, it often goes unquoted:

But they said, “We will not walk in it.”

May God have mercy on us, for all the times we choose not to walk in God’s good way. And may God give us the discernment and the courage to acknowledge the truth about Hananiah and his prophecies, even when he’s “one of us.”

Gossip Destroys, Especially When We Think We’re Not Gossiping but Really Are

From HBR, via ICHIRO/Getty Images
From HBR, via ICHIRO/Getty Images

I recently saw a survey given to young people that asked them something like, “Do you use your computer inappropriately?” The number was low, 10% or so of respondents answering yes. The next question was something like, “Do your peers use their computer inappropriately?” The number was much higher; if I recall, close to a majority of respondents said yes. In other words, I don’t do that, but they do.

I suspect that pattern holds with other destructive habits. Take gossip, for example. Deborah Grayson Riegel points out that in her coaching work, her clients often deny participating in workplace gossip, “with a look on their faces that indicates that they are insulted to have been asked such a question.” But when Grayson Riegel reframes the question, the response changes:

When I ask them whether they have ever participated in a “confirmation expedition” — whereby they 1) ask a colleague to confirm their own negative or challenging experience with a third colleague who is not present, or 2) welcome a similar line of confirmation inquiry from another colleague about a third colleague who is not present, most admit that this is, in fact, a regular part of their daily work life.

She talks about the importance of naming gossip (or a “confirmation expedition”) as such:

First, call gossip “gossip” to stop it in its tracks. If you are engaging in “informal and evaluative talk in an organization, usually among no more than a few individuals, about another member of that organization who is not present,” — especially if the aim is to confirm your experience rather than get constructive solutions — then you are participating in gossip.

The intertestamental book of Sirach goes further than just calling gossip “gossip.” It says, “Curse the gossips and the double-tongued, for they destroy the peace of many” (Sirach 28:13, NRSV). Gossip destroys the well-being of persons and disrupts whole communities.

The apostle Paul also warns his first century churches about “gossips,” which in Greek sure seems like an onomatopoeia: psithuristēs (whisperer). Think: “whisper networks,” but not the good, truth-telling kind that rightly bring down folks like Harvey Weinstein et al.

One of the dangers of gossip is that it seeks to confirm information (or at least claims to), but it risks getting reality wrong, because not all the involved people are in the room, including folks who may know more about a situation at hand. Not to mention that such furtive whispering is hard to hear, and often inaccurately conveys information when passed from one person to another (as happens in the kids’ game of “Telephone”).

Grayson Riegel has excellent advice for what to do about this dynamic (see her Harvard Business Review article here). I especially appreciate her “Let people know that you have a policy of ‘if you have a problem with me, please tell me first.’” (Although I think we need to be ready for the unfortunate possibility that some may simply ignore this request.)

I would add this prayer from Psalm 139:23-24, which could help us avoid doing what we are sure only others do:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts.

See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Deep Work… for Parents?

 

A working mom and productivity app publicist Tweeted, “How to do #DeepWork even when you have deep responsibilities (spoiler alert: that means kids) – by @lvanderkam.”

The accompanying image was Vanderkam’s right-on-the-money critique of Cal Newport’s Deep Work, which held up Carl Jung as an example for shutting himself off to do “deep work.” Translation: he neglected his kids?

Newport starts by writing (in a laudatory fashion) about Carl Jung secluding himself in a tower so he could ponder his breakthrough ideas. Newport notes that there were sacrifices involved in his decision. For instance, it “reduced the time he spent on his clinical work.” Not mentioned: when Jung bought this retreat property in 1922, he and his wife had five children. It’s safe to say locking himself off from the world locked himself off from those responsibilities. And while perhaps that was par for the course for a man in 1922 (and maybe especially for Jung, who was allegedly an unfaithful husband), someone had to be around the family.

Newport is a working father, but as journalist Brigid Schulte suggests in Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, working fathers don’t carry the same load at home as working mothers. Maybe Newport has this all worked out with his family and work in a fair and agreeable way. But as I’m reading it, Schulte’s work is making a strong case that the ability to perform deep work is a gendered phenomenon. Culturally (in the U.S., at least) it’s still easier for dads than moms to get away and carve out large blocks of uninterrupted, focused time.

Be that as it may, “deep work” for any engaged parent can be hard to come by. Working from home is a beautiful thing, but how often have I felt tinges of guilt as I told my children I couldn’t play right now because I was working, barely glancing up from the computer to let them know? In that case both the work and (more important) the child receive less than what I would hope to give.

Someone needs to write a Deep Work for Parents book. Who knows? Maybe that will be Newport’s follow-up. And Vanderkam has great ideas here. (Her website is sub-titled, “Writing about Time Management, Life, Careers & Family.”)

How about you, working parents who read this blog? How do you get focused, high-level work done when your “job” isn’t your only job? How do you handle interruptions if you work from home? How do you find energy to cook dinner and do bedtime routines after working all day outside the house?

All ideas welcomed in the comments below.

The Busy Pastor’s Guide to Inbox Shalom

Screenshot 2017-07-24 14.58.10

 

I’ve recently had a new article published at CTPastors.com: “The Busy Pastor’s Guide to Inbox Shalom.”

It begins:

A ministry supervisor once told me a quick way to lose respect in ministry: Don’t return people’s phone calls. The same holds true for email.

The article suggests how pastors (or anyone) can reset to Inbox Zero in two minutes, and then recommends some strategies for keeping your Inbox in a state of shalom.

You can read the whole article here.

3 Months of Todoist Premium, Free!

 

This post is a giveaway of three months of Todoist Premium. First, some background.

While OmniFocus has been a constant task-tracking companion for the last two years, a couple of unacknowledged and then acknowledged-but-still-unfixed bugs have been just vexing enough to send me back to other productivity apps.

I mass exported all my data from OmniFocus to 2Do (easily the best aesthetic of any task tracking app), which has been my new go-to.

However, the pull of Todoist is strong. (See my review from fall 2015 here.) I can, for example, write:

Take out the trash every Thursday at 4 #church

And it uses natural language input to set up the time (and a recurring task, no less) and project.

 

No need to manually go through my projects or a date and time picker. It’s fast.

Todoist Premium adds more features: labels (which are tags, essentially), filters (which are saved searches that can help you sort your tasks in really neat ways), and a lot more.

My “Todoist Karma” (I know, cheesy… but I like having a continually rising score to track my productivity) got high enough that Todoist sent me a free code for three months of Premium. They also sent me a code to give away.

Here’s how you can get that second code.

I’ll randomly select a recipient from the comments below. For one entry, simply answer the question, “What app or system are you using now to track tasks and projects?” For a second entry, share a link to this post on Facebook or Twitter (or whatever the kids are using these days), and come back here to the comments to tell me you did. I’ll announce the winner on Saturday, March 25.

Laura Vanderkam’s Time Tip #48: If you dislike a particular task, time it.

I got this great advice in my inbox the other day from Laura Vanderkam:

If you dislike a particular task, time it.

Yea, verily. She explains:

While knowing that unloading the dishwasher takes you 6 minutes won’t get this chore of your plate, it will make it seem like less of a burden.

It’s funny that this is her example, because this (the kitchen) is really the ONE place where I’ve practiced this tactic already, and it really does help.

And when you do dishes for 25 minutes (because there are so many), your sense of accomplishment will be all the greater!

Habit List: A Sophisticated iOS Habit Tracker

I noted in September that the App Store has seen quite a few habit tracker apps of late.

Why not just use your task management app, you might ask?

Well, one can get tired of seeing the same “Update YNAB” task every day. Or the same “Study Greek” reminder. Habits and tasks aren’t the same per se.

This may be splitting hairs, but since getting past my initial skepticism, I’ve been using one habit tracker or another for much of the fall. The interface of Streaks is unparalleled, and Productive makes a cool sound when you complete a habit.

Habit List, on the other hand, is the most powerful and customizable of the three.

 

Options Galore

 

Habit List takes the cake in what it allows you to do with regard to scheduling your habits. Every potential use I imagined I could accomplish with the app.

You can set up a habit with just about any frequency imaginable, whether certain days or x times per week, and set a reminder. If I want to work out three times a week, I can set up a habit for that, without it having to be the same three days in a given week.

 

Habit Frequency

 

Set Habit Reminder

 

I came to Habit List from another app and could easily backdate edit my habits-in-progress so I didn’t have to start at zero just because I was using a new app. This was unexpected and a great touch.

This also means that if you are completing the habit but forget to track it for a few days, you can easily make the manual adjustment in Habit List.

You can view stats for individual habits, presented in a variety of ways:

 

Calendar Stats

 

Monthly Stats

 

There is no limit (at least that I could find) to the number of habits you can track. So, sure, why not go ahead and add, “Take out trash Friday mornings”?

Here is a look at more app settings:

 

App Settings

 

For Future Updates?

 

Marking the completion of habits in Habit List feels very much like crossing off a list. The interface is exactly that. You swipe your finger across a habit to signify you’ve done it. No filled-in circles, no animations, no sounds. This will be fine for many, but there may also be more aesthetically pleasing user interface options for future updates to explore–whether color changes, distinct habit icons, etc.

Maybe this is draconian or just Pavlovian on my part, but I found myself wanting more from the UI that would give me a sense of satisfaction when crossing off a habit. (I know… what do you want, people cheering??? Well….)

 

Final Words and Where to Get the App

 

TL;DR: Habit List doesn’t quite have the pretty layout of some other similar apps. But it has the most functionality of any habit tracking app I’ve tried. There are no limits on what you can track, as well as a great degree of flexibility. If you’re serious about tracking some specific habits and don’t mind a minimalist layout, you may have found your app.

Find Habit List in the App Store here.

 


 

Thanks to the good folks who make Habit List for the review copy of the app, given to me for this review but with no expectation as to its content.

MacSparky’s OmniFocus Video Field Guide

OmniFocus

 

Last week I finished watching every minute of David Sparks’s OmniFocus Video Field Guide.

 

OF In Action

 

The video is of professional quality. You don’t even really think about this as you watch, which is a good thing. It is just David Sparks, his OmniFocus (Mac and iOS, excellent explanations, and you.

Sparks covers all of the basics, and then some. You get in-depth tutorials on how to use Due Dates (sparingly!) or Defer Dates, navigating your way through Projects, what Contexts are and how to use them, keeping your Inbox clear, integrating OF with other workflows like email and TextExpander, and much more. From Capture to Review, the Field Guide has it covered.

There are two nice touches that I especially appreciated:

  1. Sparks is funny. You see him working on a project called Flat Earth Manifesto in the video. But he avoids the pitfall that some tech writers get into, which is being overly cute or annoyingly glib. He uses humor perfectly.
  2.  

    Custom Perspectives
     

  3. He shows you some of his unique Custom Perspectives in OF. This alone may be worth the price of the field guide. I have already copied his settings that he shows to set up my own Perspectives like his. Even though I have been using the app for a good while now, and consider myself fairly proficient with it, my productivity with OmniFocus has definitely increased since adding these Perspectives.

 
Chapter Titles
 

As you can see in the above shot, you can navigate by chapter, and scroll through all of them to see a sort of Table of Contents of the whole Field Guide.

Here is a short clip so you can get a feel for the approach and content.

Learning OmniFocus is an investment of time. Some people will balk at spending money to learn how to use the software they already spent good money on. But for $10, with well over two hours of top-notch content, the serious OmniFocus user should get to this field guide as soon as possible. Easily 5/5 stars.

Find it here.

 


 

Thanks to MacSparky/David Sparks, for giving me a download of the Field Guide for this review.