The Challenge of Behavioral Change
About a year ago, I began driving to and from work on a daily basis. Consequently, I have become an avid audiobook listener. I enjoy reading non-fiction, and I focus on topics including business, management, social science, and health.
I've read a lot of books focused on personal improvement. While the information is always beneficial, here are three books that stood above the rest. They include convincing arguments for making positive life changes, straight talk about personal accountability, and specific steps to take to take needed action. In fact, each of these books was so helpful that I initially listened to them, then bought them in a hard copy to have access to the exercises and as a reference moving forward. Here they are in the order that helped me to take best advantage of the information.
1. Emotional Well-Being: Not Nice
Full book title:
Not Nice: Stop People Pleasing, Staying Silent, & Feeling Guilty... And Start Speaking Up, Saying No, Asking Boldly, And Unapologetically Being Yourself
Dr Aziz Gazipura
What I expected:
I was looking for a book on being a better conversationalist. After a couple of false starts with other books that focused on rehearsing conversations and strategies for coping with severe social anxiety, I stumbled across this book.
What I got:
This book is about being more authentic as a person, which can increase personal confidence and make it easier to move freely about the world--including having conversations with people you don't know very well. At it's core, it is about our misconceptions about being nice, and how we "nice" ourselves into insecurity, resentment, and unhappiness.
Dr. Aziz's personal stories resonated with me, and encouraged me to reexamine my attitudes and behaviors. The book includes exercises on everything from evaluating your personal "rules" for interacting with others to thinking through alternative ways to handle common situations. After going through these exercises, I am better at prioritizing what matters to me and living more authentically. As an extra added bonus, having a better sense of myself is helping me commit to the life changes I want to make. By giving myself permission to say no to things that don't appeal to me, and feeling more comfortable really committing to what I care about most, I'm making progress towards healthy eating and fitness.
2. Nutrition: How Not to Die
Full book title:
How Not to Die: Discover the Foods Scientifically Proven to Prevent and Reverse Disease
Michael Greger, MD
What I Expected:
I was looking for a book about nutrition. While I knew the basics, I wanted to eat better, and I thought having more information on nutrition would help. I also thought it had a high probability of being painfully boring.
What I Got:
I got nutritional information formatted in a way that I cared about it and decided to change my whole diet. Given family history of obesity, pain management, and limited mobility, I wanted to take positive steps to position myself for a long, healthy life where I could skip having to take multiple medications, increase my overall level of fitness, and bypass health issues.
This book guides the reader through health conditions and studies showing how healthier eating can minimize chances of getting the disease, or even provide treatment. Using scientific studies, and even acknowledging the shortcomings of some of them, this book lays out the "why" for the way of eating it advocates. The "why" is positioned not as fear mongering or shaming the reader into making positive life changes, but on the benefits of making eating changes that are completely within your control.
The author, Dr Greger, is an advocate for a Whole Foods Plant Based (WFPB) diet, which emphasizes leafy greens and lots of fruits and vegetables. He also mentions that even if people don't become strict in their adherence to this diet, including more fruits and vegetables will have positive results. I would have never seen myself completely change my eating, but this book gave tangible, specific reasons to upgrade my diet for the better and never look back.
I got more than a dry book on nutrition. Instead, I got the motivation and key strategies I needed to make positive, healthy lifestyle changes. As an extra bonus, the Daily Dozen (also available as an app) is a helpful tool to make sure I'm planning my diet around these core requirements.
3. Fitness: The Little Black Book of Workout Motivation
Full book title:
The Little Black Book of Workout Motivation
What I expected:
I will be completing an inline marathon later on this year, and I am making plans for my workouts leading up to the event. I also know that the last time I signed up for an inline half marathon, I managed to not make a training plan and ended up not even doing the event. I went in looking for motivation (and not even really knowing what I expected that to be). I was also not entirely convinced that I could get motivation from a book, but I was willing to give it a shot.
What I got:
This book is the stern talking to I needed to commit to a goal, take steps to motivate me to achieve it, and the "just do it" mentality to take action towards that goal. The focus is not just on thinking positive thoughts, but on doing the work to make success happen. Like with many books focused on personal improvement, there aren't a lot of new and unusual ideas. It does, however, bring together useful ideas and package them together to motivate action. It includes useful tools and exercises to get from "I should maybe sort of kind of do a thing" to "I'm going to the gym right now, and I'll continue to fine-tune my plan as I go."
There are a few helpful exercises to help empower people to get out of their own way. So often, people sort of, kind of commit to a goal, then find every reason not to follow through. Personally, I think of all the excuses I can come up with for not going to the gym. Using the techniques included in the book, helped me to eliminate many of those lame excuses and motivate myself to go even if I don't totally feel like it on a given day.
What Do You Think?
What books have influenced you to make positive life changes? Share your thoughts in the comments.
'Tis the Season for Movie Watching
It's the time of year when it's cold outside, but warm and generally festive inside. The girl (now 15) and I have mother/daughter movie night on a regular basis. The week before Christmas until the new year is holiday-movie-palooza. Here are my three all time favorite holiday movies, and three honorable mentions for your viewing pleasure.
When I look back at the movie that I have seen the most times, hands down, over my lifetime, the winner is Die Hard. I first saw it when my sister videotaped it from HBO long, long ago. It has stood the test of time as my favorite movie ever.
The storyline holds together well all these years later. Even the comment in the opening scene (making fists in the carpet with your toes) causes John McClain (Bruce Willis) to end up barefoot throughout the movie. Holly (Bonnie Bedalia) using her maiden name at work prolongs Hans (Alan Rickman) not figuring out her relationship to the rogue cop until near the end. Al Powell(Reginald VelJohnson) and his backstory culminate in him causing a key bad guy's downfall as Sgt Powell overcomes his fears. Everything is tied together.
As an extra added bonus, it's genuinely funny. From Ho-Ho-Ho, to Yippee kay yay, people lacking self awareness (Agent Johnson and Agent Johnson, no relation), and a few characters that make you want to punch them in the face, this movie has it all--including at little Run DMC and Argyle (De'voreaux White), the best new limo driver a guy could be so lucky as to have on his side.
While You Were Sleeping
This is one of the best romantic comedies ever made. Sandra Bullock is Lucy, a delightful, but lonely, woman who works for the Chicago Transit Authority. She has a crush on a man she has never talked to who takes the train each day. Heroism and hilarity ensue as she saves her crush, Peter (Peter Gallagher), and his giant wacky family thinks she's his fiance.
Add a coma, an estate furniture business, Peter's brother Jack (Bill Pullman), her landlord's bumbling son Joe Junior (Michael Rispoli) and Lucy trying to come clean and failing, and you have this clever feel-frustrated then feel-good movie.
Throw in a little memory loss, the Callahan family's amazing banter, and neighbor Saul (Jack Warden) trying to help, and you have a movie with the romantic comedy payoff you want after this wild misunderstanding fueled ride.
When Harry Met Sally
This movie is not only a classic, but includes at least two Christmas holiday seasons. It's the story of Harry (Billy Crystal) and Sally (Meg Ryan) through their meetings over the years and the changes in their relationship.
This movie poses big questions. Can men and women be just friends? What is the right amount of cuddling time after sleeping together? Will a man ever leave his wife for his mistress? Can a man tell when a woman is "faking it"?
This movie's comedic timing is epic. In an early scene, we see Harry having an initial conversation with Sally as he spews diatribes and spits grape seeds out the window. Later, Harry and his best friend Jess (Bruno Kirby) discuss Harry's impending divorce at a football game pausing intermittently to do the wave There's also the amazing scene where Jess and Harry have a phone conversation at the same time as Sally and Marie (Carrie Fischer) and the conversations overlap. All of this is punctuated by interviews of couples explaining their relationships, ending with Harry and Sally telling their story. It's a cinematic wonder.
With movies, it's hard to pick just three. For good measure, here are three more that I love.
What About You?
What are your favorite holiday movies? Include them in the comments.
Just Eat Healthy. Duh.
We all know that we should eat a “healthy” diet. What does that mean? It’s easy to get caught up in the whirl of diets that are popular today—be it Keto, Paleo, DASH, Atkins, Whole 30, or something totally else—and feel like whatever changes you make might be the wrong ones. So now what?
Words of Wisdom on Eating Healthier
Life changes are hard. Everything is new, and everyone has an opinion on what you should or shouldn’t do. We all know that we should move more and eat less, but we often get in our own way when it comes to making a healthier life happen. Here are three mindset tips that helped me stop overthinking and start making better dietary choices.
Tip 1: Never Miss Two in a Row
Over the years, I’ve dieted a ton—including Weight Watchers, Naturally Slim, TOPS, SlimFast and other ridiculous things I have blocked out. While I had success some (but not all) of the time, the effects were short lived. Changing your diet in the short term, but not looking at how to create sustainable changes, leads us right back where we started and leaves us feeling defeated because we succeeded, then failed. Such is the issue with going on a diet with the goal of losing a set amount of weight in a set amount of time.
Instead, it’s better to focus on changing your overall diet, and on a larger scale, your lifestyle. This means the possibility of fewer results right away, but a better chance of real deal, longer term success. Instead of lying to yourself that you’ll never eat [insert thing you absolutely love] again, figure out how to make better overall choices with food that will become just regularly schedule life longer term.
Steve Kamb, founder of Nerd Fitness, has advice to help stop the spiraling before it starts. One of the core tenants of Nerd Fitness is “Never miss two in a row.” Basically, if you miss a workout, or eat a not-so-healthy meal, instead of giving up, consider it the blip that it is and keep on going. Instead of eating a donut at work, deciding you are a horrible person who can’t commit to anything, and make abysmal food choices for the rest of the day—and perhaps forever—commit to not missing two in a row. So you had a donut. Make your next meal or snack better. That’s it. Instead of labeling yourself a “failure”, label yourself “human” and get back to your bigger plan of healthier living.
Tip 2: Get It Right 80% of the Time.
For every identified way of eating that could be successful, there is someone who is ready to proclaim that whatever you’re doing is not “right” or in keeping with said established diet. Instead of listening to the voices online, in your family, or simply in your head trying to convince you that you’re not a good enough paleo/vegan/pescatarian, tune out the unhelpful voices out and focus on eating more things that are better for you more often. Other people can pound their tiny fists as much as they want to, but they are not living your lives, and, honestly, they don’t get a say in your choices.
Dr Michael Greger, author of “How Not to Die”, is an advocate of the benefits of a Whole Food Plant Based (WFPB) diet, which he backs up with scientific research. However, he also points out that making positive changes can be iterative. For example, if you’ll eat salad greens (which have multiple health benefits), but you need to have Bacos on it (which are processed and not great for you), make that iterative, positive change! More than once, I’ve had a big salad loaded with vegetables and a side order of french fries. In short, improve your diet, don’t beat yourself up for doing things you want to do. That’s the path to self-loathing and general unhappiness, not an overall healthier you.
Over time, as you eat more things that are better for you, your body will start to crave healthier food and not have any time for the Bacos/fast food/whole entire cake that you would have eaten routinely in the past. That 80% gets you where you need to be in spite of a “keeper of the label” making uninvited commentary on your choices.
Tip 3: Sometimes, You Have to Eat Like a Dog.
When you start to look at making a chance in how you eat, everything in life gets harder. If you’re no longer picking up a burger at the drive though, now what the heck do you eat? How much do you have to figure out how to cook? What do you even buy at the grocery store? Where is the grocery store anyway?
Enter my personal trainer, Colin, with the best, most practical advice ever. When I told him that I struggled with meal planning, he simply stated “sometimes, you have to eat like a dog.” He went on to explain that I don’t have to make something elaborate for every meal. Instead, I should pick a few staples and move up from there. He pointed out that we feed our pets the same thing every day for a reason—they need certain health needs met, and we know their food will do that for them. Why not do the same thing for ourselves?
When looking for recipes, we see many options that are colorful and beautiful and elaborate. We also tend to forget that every day is not a holiday, and we don’t have to make the equivalent of an elaborate Thanksgiving Dinner three times a day, every day. Instead, find a few basics that you don’t hate and that have nutritional value, build a routine, and then modify as you have the desire (and mental bandwidth) to do so. For me, I went with the following:
Done! I know I’m getting the nutrition I need, and I’m not spending an inordinate amount of my life trying to figure out what to eat. Problem solved. For others, it may be cooking up a whole bunch of chicken, boiling a dozen eggs then creating meals to take to work each day that include protein, frozen vegetables, an orange, and string cheese as a snack. For me, now that I have basic, go-to meals, I am starting to research additional meals I might want to make. The better you are at having at least a basic game plan for what you’re going to eat, the better set up you will be for success.
What Do You Think?
What are your best go-to pieces of practical advice for healthy eating? Share your thoughts in the comments.
For the third year in a row, a friend and I went to a yoga festival. It's always a great opportunity to try out new yoga styles and revisit poses I haven't done for a while. This year, I had a chance to do three of my favorite poses. The opportunity to stretch and reinvigorate through these poses reminded me of why yoga is such an important component of my overall health and well-being.
A few years ago, I developed what I affectionately refer to as "old lady hip." In short, sometimes, one of my hips decides that me being able to stand upright and walk like an able-bodied human being is highly overrated. Fortunately, I discovered pigeon pose. Pigeon pose is a hip opener that stretches out the hip flexors and the hip rotators, meaning that it helps strengthen both aspects of my hips. Doing this pose on a regular basis has eliminated this problem.
I find twisting moves energizing. The supine twist, where one leg is straight and the other is bent, not only stretches my back, but stretches everything along the side, too. This pose, which is easy to hold for an extended period of time, minimizes back pain and promotes a general feeling of calm. As an extra added bonus, I can also stretch my neck and arms during this pose.
Upward Facing Dog
While downward facing dog gets all the attention, I'm a fan of upward facing dog. As someone with a desk job, upward facing dog stretches and strengthens all the muscles that sitting at computer doesn't. This pose activates the abdomen, chest, shoulders and back.
What Do You Think?
What are your favorite yoga poses? Share your thoughts in the comments.
From Job Applicant to Hiring Manager
Six months ago, I was in transition and searching for the next great position in my career. Now, I'm at a great company, in a job I love, and I'm in the process of hiring two new employees to be a part of the team I'm creating.
Having researched resume format and tweaked my resume again and again, and then sifting through the pile of resumes of people possibly interested in working for me, I have gained new insights into how to make your resume most effective.
Your Resume Goals
First, let's talk about what success looks like. In it's most simple form, the goal of your resume is to get you a job. However, let's break that down a bit and look at the first mini-goal in that whole process--getting a recruiter or hiring manager to want to get in contact with you to find out more. Let's focus on how you get to that critical first step.
The Initial Sorting: Yes, No or Maybe
As a hiring manager, I really want to hire someone amazing. Each time I see that I've received a new application, I'm little kid excited that this might be just the right person to round out the team and do the work that I need done. On that initial scan, I'm deciding which camp you fall into.
Yes, yes, a thousand times yes!
Sweet. They look like a great candidate! Let's contact them immediately to find out more!
No. Just no.
Ugh. Work experience doesn't seem related to this role. Long, rambly resume. No thanks.
I'm just not sure.
Not great, but may be worth exploring--or maybe not. I'm going to have to think about this.
Questions Your Resume Needs to Answer
As a hiring manager (or recruiter) who scans every resume submitted for the two positions for which I am hiring, I am looking for answers for the following critical hiring questions. Answering yes to most, if not all, of these questions, gets you into the "yes" pile.
Question 1: Does this person have the skills needed to do this job?
Does their work experience and education line up with what is needed for the position? Do they have the technical ability and interpersonal skills to succeed? Have the job responsibilities they have had previously positioned them well for what is required of this position? Did they paraphrase the job description and help connect the dots between their qualifications and the available position?
Question 2: Does this person actually want this job? Or are they looking for any old job?
Is the job application personalized at all? Do they look like they are mass-applying for jobs, or like they actually want this position with this organization? Does their summary of what they are looking for match what the job is? Does this position seem like a logical step from their current position? If not, did they explain that this makes sense for them? (Like emphasizing how their background in manufacturing has prepared them for this job in your industry?) Do they live in the city where the job is, or mention that they plan to move? Do they emphasize how their skills will help them do the job? Do they mention wanting to work for a company like yours or doing a job like the one that is open? Is this job really their thing?
Question 3: If they took the job, would they be successful?
Does the content of their resume or summary align with what the open job requires? Are things like the level of responsibility, travel percentages, expectations for remote work or managing or not managing people what they want to do? If they have worked at larger companies with a slower pace, will the fast-pace of a start-up energize or overwhelm them? Can they be self-directed, or follow directions, as will be dictated by the role? Does this fit in with their career trajectory? Are they taking a job that isn't really ideal for them? If so, are they going to leave right away to take the job that is a better fit? Does the improvement in job responsibilities, work culture, industry or opportunity create an environment that they will really enjoy? Have they addressed any of these possible concerns in their resume or cover letter?
Getting to the "Yes" Pile
While there is no magic formula to create the perfect resume for every situation, here area few resume best practices that can help you get to the "yes" pile. Here are a few characteristics of what I think "good" looks like:
Tip 1: Include a summary front and center.
Whether you call it a "professional highlights", "summary of qualifications" or something else, this section is the Cliff Notes for the rest of your resume. This targeted, concise summary should be tailored to the job. As a resume screener, this helps me know if I should bother to keep reading. For me, not having this quick paragraph really hurts your chances of moving on. It's like having a long, dry user manual handed to you with no table of contents. Give me a your quick elevator speech on what you bring to the table so I can see if the book is worth continuing to read. Address those critical questions so I know it's worth the time to connect with you personally.
Tip 2: Keep the length to two pages.
I have seen far too many 3 page and up resumes. One key skill I'm looking for is the ability to summarize and prioritize. Skip your street address, references, and information about the high school you attended. Get rid of the extras that add length, but not value. Your resume, which may need to cover 5-30 years of relevant work experience, is one way you can demonstrate your ability to discern and highlight the most important points.
Tip 3: Be clear, specific, and precise.
Write in coherent bulleted points or sentences. Include relevant industry keywords without overusing jargon to try to impress. I'm hiring educators who need to be able to take a complex topic (everything relevant you've ever done) and show me the parts that will be most directly related to the job. This includes formatting. Make sure I can, at a glance, tell your job titles from the company names from your job responsibilities. Use white space to make it readable. Show me that you can make even complex content easy to navigate.
What Do You Think?
What other tips do you have for getting your resume into the "yes" pile? Include details in the comments.
Why Gluten Free?
I've been gluten free for a couple of years now. While it was a struggle at first (hello, donuts), I feel significantly better. Since I have Hashimoto's Thyroiditis, which sounds awful, but is totally manageable, eliminating gluten is one strategy that can help immensely. I also find that when I have to make special effort to eat things like bread, pasta and baked goods, I make way better food choices consistently since fruits, vegetables and lean protein are all naturally gluten free. Ordering at restaurants is also significantly easier since "salad with chicken" is now my go-to meal.
As a side note, I know people who shudder at the though of being gluten-free--and I get that. I'm not one to foist my diet on others (my daughter and coworkers often call dibs on my gluten, which is all good.) For many, the though of giving up bread is unthinkable. Personally, I also hate being the person who has to pipe up and announce that I have dietary needs. (Can I please call extra attention to myself while also being perceived as difficult? Ugh.) While initially I was also in that camp of both loving cake and not wanting to rock the boat, I now realize that I'm willing to do a great many things if the benefit is that I don't feel terrible all the time.
Sources of Gluten
So what is gluten? In short, "Gluten is a family of proteins found in grains like wheat, spelt, rye and barley." (See "Learn More" for additional details.) Here are the typical sources of gluten that are commonly present in the grocery store and on restaurant menus everywhere:
Some people suggest that "just this once" I should be able to eat gluten. That seems completely reasonable, but is not so much how it work. Upon the accidental ingestion of cookies and cream ice cream or a wayward crouton, bloating and a general feeling of yuckiness result. In cases where I have eaten something over the course of a few days that I later learned contained gluten, the condition intensifies to what I would ever-so-politely call "severe intestinal distress." It is not pleasant to say the least.
Sneaky Sources of Gluten
I now read labels like crazy. Fortunately, most labels have "contains wheat" at the bottom of the ingredients list. Other items will be labeled as "gluten-free"--sometimes even things like carrots. (Really, carrots? You're bragging about being gluten-free? By that logic, shouldn't you also be bragging about not being made of meat? I'm dissappointed in you, carrots.)
However, there are a few things I would have never have thought to check to see if they contained gluten. News flash: some of these are not even food.
Food You'd Never Suspect
Vitamins, Medications and Pills
I would have never expected to have to look for gluten in medications. (I'm not sure what I thought "pills" were made of, but it never occurred to me that it might be something I need to check.) Now, when I shop for vitamins or supplements, I make sure that they are listed as gluten-free. At one point, I bought melatonin in chewable form--which I now know not to take since "chewable" often equals "gluten." It's also worth asking your pharmacist to clarify that medications are gluten-free. Who knew?
Makeup and Personal Care Items
Now I feel like the glutens are just out to get me. After doing a bit more reading, even though personal care products (like shampoo, makeup, and lotions) sometimes contain gluten, they probably aren't going to have much of an impact (see "Learn More" for additional details). The main concern is ingestion gluten, not having it absorbed through the skin. Since gluten-free has become a buzz word, I'm sure that putting "Gluten Free" on items enables companies to charge more for them and promote that they are possibly better. Regardless of whether this is a legitimate concern, personal care items like cosmetics, hair care products and lotions may contain gluten. There are also companies, like Jason, who promote their products as Gluten Free.
Personally, I tend to use products that contain less (for lack of a better term) crap, many of which also do not contain gluten. See "learn more" for additional details on what to avoid in cosmetics.
What Do You Think?
Were you surprised by any of the items possibly containing gluten? What other gluten-containing products are available? Include your thoughts in the comments?
Adulting is Hard
One of my goals as a parent is to help prepare my now teenage daughter to be a functional adult who makes good decisions and is happy and healthy. Here are my top 5 focus areas to position her for adulting success.
Tip 1: Plan ahead to avoid creating emergencies.
Tip 2: Take control of your personal safety and security.
Tip 3: Have positive interactions and build healthy relationships.
Tip 4: Attend to your overall health and well-being.
Tip 5: Commit to personal growth and positive change.
What do you think?
What are your top pieces of adulting-related advice? Include your thoughts in the comments.
My Taste in Music
My musical tastes are often a little off the beaten path. Since a couple of years ago, when my household started watching Ditty TV on our Roku, I've really enjoyed listening to Americana music. Shawn James (with or without his band, The Shapeshifters) has been one of my favorites. Shawn James, along with fiddle player Sage Cornelius, recently played their first Minnesota gig at the Turf Club in St Paul, and I got to see him play live. Here are three of my favorite songs featuring Shawn James for your listening pleasure.
"Hellhound" by Shawn James
This is the first song by Shawn James I ever heard. In this video, it's amazing to me that this larger than life song is generated by one guy playing at least 3 instruments and singing in room full of weird stuff.
Cover of John Legend's "Who Did That to You?" by Shawn James with Sage Cornelius
I've heard the John Legend song (featured in the movie D'jango Unchained). Here, Shawn James does the song the way he thought it should have been done in that scene--a little angrier. Fiddle player Sage Cornelius is also ridiculously good.
"The Bear" by Shawn James and The Shapeshifters
I love this video. It has great music, fire and moonshine, so what's not to like? Near the end, as the lot of them are dancing around the fire, the guy on the left is jamming harder than perhaps anyone else has jammed in the history of playing an instrument while dancing. This song and video feature not only Shawn James, but The Shapeshifters as well.
Bonus: "John the Revelator" by Shawn James
Here is my fan filmed, poor lighting video of Shawn James singing an a cappella version of "John the Revelator" with the audience stomping and clapping along. Mad props to Sage Cornelius who is microphoneless, but jamming his heart out onstage. Video taken at The Turf Club in St Paul on 3/19/2018.
The Obligatory Nerd Girl Fan Photo
My husband, and extrovert, struck up a conversation with Shawn James before the concert, and took my picture with him. Now my daughter, who is particularly fond of "The Bear" video, will definitely think I'm super cool.
Death by Lecture
As humans in today’s fast-paced world, we often value getting the job done as quickly as possible. When it comes to helping people learn, lecturing’s, aka “just tell them everything they need to know,” becomes the unfortunate default mode of information delivery. Unfortunately, the process of knowledge transfer doesn’t work like a bank deposit, and we can’t just extract knowledge from one person and implant it in another. Instead, individuals need to engage with information so they understand what to do with those details and make them into their own, internalized knowledge.
Grandpa, Tell Me a Story
You know who loves stories? Little kids. Do you know why? They are trying to figure out what the world is all about and what to do with all of the things they are experiencing for the first time. Just like adults use stories to help children understand the world, stories help adults make the transition from bland best practice or potentially useful technique to thing-I-actually-do. Let’s look at three examples of how stories can be incorporated into training to engage people in the learning process and help adults actually learn.
Reason 1: Stories Help Concepts Become Real
In training, many times we’re covering abstract ideas, and sharing models for how to apply those ideas. Stories help us make that jump. Here's an example:
During a training with customer service professionals, we're trying to help them understand the importance of getting to know individual customers and catering to their unique needs.
"Each customer is different. Every person who calls us on the phone has their own point of view and personal struggles that we may know nothing about. We need to find out what matters to them and emphasize those points as we speak to them. Overall, be careful about making assumptions about people’s wants and needs based on your personal preferences."
Story to make the idea real:
"Here’s an example of learning about our customers and tailoring our approach to their wants and needs.
While working at a table at a church conference, my job was to discuss health insurance benefits with pastors currently working in congregations. I was there to promote a great new benefit where pastors could earn $250 for completing an online health assessment quiz. For me, taking the health assessment was a no-brainer, because I thought, “Yay! Free money!”
I quickly learned, though, that this was not the prevailing opinion among the pastors. Several stopped to express outrage that the church was trying to BRIBE them to take the health assessment. Since many of the pastors prided themselves on being more concerned with doing good in the world than with money, having a financial reward for doing something that they should do anyway became a disincentive.
One church leader realized that a different approach was needed. She used the concept of stewardship—which means taking care of the gifts God has given to you, including your money and your own personal health. She told pastors that it was their duty as leaders of the church to model good stewardship by taking the health assessment (especially since another benefit was helping their congregation to earn a discount on their health insurance premiums).
By keeping the wants and needs of the audience in mind, and realizing that they may be very different from our own, we figured out how to position this benefit in a way that resonated with our audience. "
How the story helps:
This story takes an abstract concept (everyone is different) and drives it home. Since many people may identify with the person who would gladly take the health assessment to earn money, seeing a completely different, and often unexpected, viewpoint can be shocking. Adding details about people and context for why they have the values they do, can be eye-opening.
Reason 2: Stories Help People Learn from Other People's Experiences
When you first learn a concept, it may sound good in the abstract, but you're not sure how to apply that idea in the real world. In professions like being a police officer or a fire fighter, stories are a way that seasoned staff help rookies learn from other people's experiences. Here's an example of how to use stories to share real-world examples.
With new corporate trainers, using proximity technique to deal with disruptive students in a classroom environment.
"When trying to manage students who are disrupting the classroom, using proximity can be helpful. In short, standing near a student can help them to realize that they need to change their behavior."
Story to share one person’s experience using the technique:
"During student introductions at the beginning of a sales training class, Alice, a branch manager sitting at a table in the back of the room, was explaining what she hoped to gain from class.
In the middle of Alice’s introduction, Jim (the top insurance salesperson in the region) answered his phone. He was sitting at the front table in the classroom, and there was no way for the whole class NOT to hear his conversation as he loudly explained the concept of accident forgiveness.
I asked Alice to pause for a moment, then walked over to Jim, and stood next to him for a moment. He looked at me, I smiled at him, and then he put his hand over his phone long enough to say, “I’ll step outside to finish this call.” I nodded to let him know that I appreciate it. Once he left, Alice finished up, and the next person did their introduction.
In this case, standing next to Jim was the cue he needed to realize that he was doing something disruptive and self-correct his behavior."
How the story helped:
The story involves people with names and characteristics. This shows on sometimes challenging student, a high performing salesperson, and a situation that may resonate with students. It also shows how using a relatively simple solution can solve the problem, and help the trainer maintain control of their classroom. This story shows students how they can apply the skill, which may also help them identify when they could use a specific skill in their classroom.
Reason 3: To Give Context for Technical Training
When I’ve observed technical trainers, most of them are great at taking people through the step by step process needed to make something work. However, many times the question “why would we ever do this?” is missed. If people don’t get why the process matters, they will have a hard time mustering up enough energy to pay attention. Here's an example of how to use a story to set up a scenario within a technical training course.
Showing students in an intermediate Microsoft Word class how to use the mail merge feature to create mailing labels.
"We’re going to create mailing labels. This would be helpful if you needed to mail the same item, like a marketing campaign, to multiple people. You could even use a mailing list that you had saved in Excel as the starting point for your mailing labels."
Story to illustrate why you'd complete this process:
"Joanie and Chachi are getting married and having the big wedding of Joannie’s dreams.
Now that it’s time to address invitations, her best friend, Jenny Piccalo, points out that addressing 500 envelopes by hand is going to be excruciating.
Joannie has a great idea! Why not use the Excel file they’ve created and use the Mail Merge feature in Word to create mailing labels! They can even use one of those handwriting style fonts to help them match the script on the invitations.
Let’s look at how to set that up."
How the story helped:
Especially in technical training, sometimes we get so caught up in the “click here, click there, GOOD LORD NOT THERE” aspect of it that we forget to tell students why they’d ever bother to do the process we’re explaining. Giving them a why, in this case a why that aligns with concepts people know (the joys of managing the postal aspects of a big event) and incorporating fictional characters (who doesn’t love a little Happy Days reference?) adds a layer of lightheartedness that is often missing from technical training.
What Do You Think?
Why do you think telling stories in training is beneficial? What is your favorite story to tell? How does it enhance the learning process? Include your thoughts in the comments.
I Am Sooooooo Tired!
In adult life, “I’m so tired” is a common complaint, second only to “I am so busy.” Of course, we are so tired and busy because of how important and in-demand we are, therefore we don’t have time to take on one more thing because, for goodness sake, we don’t even have time to sleep!
#Humblebrags aside, there are certainly many life habits adults have that can mess up the ability to sleep—including our 24/7 culture, using our smart phones late in the evening and that cursed show we’re watching on Netflix that somehow tricks us into watching the next episode. Once you do call it a night, here are three tactics for getting yourself from being physically in bed to actually asleep.
I read way more non-fiction than fiction. I read books on time management, making better business decisions and promoting positive behavior change. While I love these books because they help me improve my work skills and excel in life, reading non-fiction activates me. I usually take notes, make observations and think of all of the things I should DO. While this a helpful mindset for overall life success, it’s not going to do my sleep any favors.
Now, I read non-fiction during the day, and fiction at night. I read stories that are entertaining and engaging, but help my mind wind down. So far, my teenage daughter (a voracious reader) has gotten me hooked on dystopian young adult fiction trilogies including Hunger Games, Divergent, Matched, Uglies and more. They are quick reads that are well paced with interesting plots. They also serve as entertainment that helps me transition from awake, functioning adult to ready to go lights-out adult.
Not sure what to read? Grab something from an area little free library, grab a book at the local coffee shop’s free shelf or get thee to the library. Check out what friends and family are reading and get recommendations. Pick something and start. If it’s not your thing, pick something else.
Write It Down
Admittedly, the world “journaling” makes me throw up a little bit in my mouth. These days, journaling is often the go-to remedy for everything from being more grateful for what we have to figuring out why we do the crazy things we do. Do you know why journaling is recommended so much? Because it works. Getting information out of your head and on paper has huge value. It helps you not only process your ideas, thoughts and feelings, but it enables you to take part in the process of taking a thought your mind is stuck on and physically put it somewhere else. Offloading that thought—at least until morning—frees up our minds to get some damn sleep.
When I’m supposed to try to sleep, my brain liked to occupy itself by rehashing every dumb thing I’ve ever said, revisiting movie trivia I can’t quite remember and stewing on problems I can’t quite solve. Keeping those thoughts inside my head (or trying to will them away) only results in more tossing and turning and less actual sleep.
The answer? Write it down. Next to your bed, keep a pen and a writing surface—no matter if it’s a proper journal, half used notebook or the back of an envelope. Trying to pinpoint why that project failed? Write it down. Finally remember the name of your coworker three jobs ago? Write it down. Finally figure out the right way to word that paragraph? Write it down. Instead of either stewing on a topic (and not sleeping) or trying to hold on to that thought until morning (which I never manage to do), you guessed it—WRITE IT DOWN! It also frees up your mind to wander and dream and sleep instead of turning a problem over and over in your head until morning, when you’re thinking even less clearly due to lack of sleep.
If I’m having a tough time sleeping, or even dealing with a stressful situation, I will often take deep breaths. Recently, I attended a training session about resilience. The presenter referenced 4-4-8 breathing and mentioned this technique helped soldiers in the special forces handle stressful situations. As an extra added bonus, it also works as a way to get your mind to calm down and get to sleep.
Here’s how it works:
Variations on this idea abound—including 4-4-8 breathing, 4-4-4 breathing or Circle 7 Breathing (7-7-7). Regardless of the numbers you use, the whole point is to help your mind focus, pay attention to your breathing and calm yourself down. If you’re in a stressful situation, using this exercise can help clear your head so you can deal with the task at hand. If it’s bedtime, tactical breathing can push you from pre-bedtime routine to sound asleep.
What Do You Think?
What are your tried and true tips for getting to sleep? Include your thoughts in the comments.
I learn for a living. I distill my research into useful blog entries. Geek, parent, knitter, yogi, writer, educator, businessperson, health advocate, & skating nerd.