"The Dog" Journal

Welcome to the Dog Journal, a Sunday afternoon blog, where I'll share my best finds of the week for taming those puppies that gnaw at your planner.

Could be a quick time management tip, a smell-the-flowers moment, a comment overheard on the elevator. Whatever the inspiration, I hope you'll blog right along with me by commenting and sharing your tips and stories for taming an overbooked life.

Why Sunday afternoon? That's time I call "white space," a block of time I set aside for reflecting on the week before and planning the week ahead.

E-Mail Birth Control

January 8th, 2013

e-mail artI don’t know about you, but my e-mails are having babies. It seems that every vendor I’ve favored over the holidays, either online or in person, is my new best friend. And what are friends for if not for letting you in on the latest clearance sale with free shipping or – in case you’ll soon be cruising – some can’t-miss summer items for the ship.

True, some of the offers are educational. I never knew – till yesterday, when it was offered at 63% off – that green-coffee-bean extract might may “reduce the release of glucose into the blood to support healthy blood-sugar levels and aid in weight reduction.”

The most effective mode of birth control seems to be Unsubscribe. But the New Year’s Un-Subscription drive can be rocky. Here’s a shout-out to those who make it easy with “instant unsubscribe.” One click and you’re done. Not so much happy shouting to those who are sure you didn’t really mean it and want you to verify. And a giant groan to those who need you to dig out your password, change your settings or review of list of 15 possible message types you would still like to receive.

A positive thought in all this grousing. Asking the question, “Is this clutter or useful in moving me forward?” is good practice for cleaning closets, managing time, and reviewing relationships as we launch into 2013. What else in your life do you need to unsubscribe to?

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Thanksgiving Travel Tip: Be Grateful. Duh….

November 19th, 2012

Couple embraced in a busy airport while people are in motion bluOK. This sounds too simple for words. But the best empirically tested wisdom positive psychologists may have to offer for surviving Thanksgiving travel may be to practice gratitude, with a good share of kindness thrown in.

This is not simply because gratitude and kindness is the reason for the season. Rather, these are two of the most powerful positivity builders in our arsenal of building well-being. But like many simple schemes in life, this one is not easy. Particularly in the middle of a crowded airport, seated on the floor by the back wall, after the third cancellation of your flight. Throw in a few harried travelers with high-pitched, in-your-face screams – the kind my mom would have called “extra pushy” – and kindness and gratitude are the farthest from your mind.

So why should we try, and how should we do it? The best scientific reason is that some very good research out of University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, teaches us that having at least three positive emotional reactions to each negative one is the tipping point for well-being. According to professor/researcher Barbara Fredrickson, positivity opens us up, makes us feel good and changes the way our mind works for the better. To make it easy to monitor and increase positivity, she offers a website that lets you test and record your own positivity ratio for free.

She cautions that we’re not talking about faking it. The old grin and bear it doesn’t cut it. We’re talking the genuine article. So how? Two excellent research-based strategies are (1) to prep ourselves for the coming holiday season by recording three things that went well before turning in for the night at least a few times a week and (2) make that travel day a “counting kindnesses” day – in other words a day we focus on doing kind things for others and write them down.

So head to the airport already feeling grateful for those things that have gone well, and pack a paper and pen for counting those kindnesses you do for other harried travelers and maybe that customer service rep trapped behind the airline counter.

Finally, don’t forget to comb travel day for humorous ironies, and be willing to laugh at the global impatience of it all.  Here we are, annoyed with people on our way to a place of gratitude 10,000 miles away. Can we shorten the trip by practicing gratitude before we get there?

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Prosocial Behavior In Hocking Hills

October 30th, 2012

PA140014Positive psychologists talk a lot about the merits of engaging businesses in “prosocial” behavior. Wharton professor Adam Grant, for example, believes that when employees believe what they are making a difference for others, they are motivated to work harder and more creatively.
Usually, big examples come to mind. Starbucks contributing a few cents from each bottle of its Ethos water to aid water purification projects. Or the Pepsi Refresh project, contributing its SuperBowl advertising budget to fund prosocial projects of others.
I didn’t expect to bump into a prosocial project at a four-employee enterprise in Ohio’s Hocking Hills. But in Logan, Ohio, the Columbus Washboard Company has undertaken its own brand of altruism. Since 2004, it’s collected donations to send 4,000 Washboard Troop Kits to soldiers. The kits, packed in a washtub, include a washboard, clothesline, clothespins, soap and foot powder, all for a $25 donation. Pictured here is Lisa, who not only assembles the washboards by hand, one at a time, but also leads tours.
Does making a difference at work make a difference to her? One word sums up her response to that question.

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We Are Young

April 30th, 2012
Off The Beat

Off The Beat

I never imagined that at this stage of life I’d be spending Sunday afternoon in a classroom in Philadelphia, singing We Are Young.

But learning to sing a capella with Penn’s undergrad group “Off The Beat” was just the latest of many surprises for the 32 of us who came to Penn monthly since last September from around the world to study what’s right with human beings. – the grand finale of our master of applied positive psychology (MAPP) classes.

Mostly, we were surprised by the passion of our fellow students, exemplified over and over, for making the world a better place. One traveled from China, another from Jerusalem and another from Scotland every month for the rare privilege of learning from Martin Seligman and other luminaries in the field how to bring out the best in individuals, organizations and institutions. Two others, from Germany and Singapore, pulled up stakes for the year and settled in near the Penn campus. One simply added Philadelphia to a regular itinerary that already included China and London.

In a class intentionally mixed to represent diverse cultures, ages and domains, we so marveled at our good luck to be MAPPsters and teared up, when the director assured us at the opening session that admissions hadn’t made a mistake. “You belong here,” he said, along with “Trust the process,” which hung in our heads during an intense year.

In a discipline that applauds the value and vulnerability of human relationships, we gradually peeled ourselves back like onions during campus on-sites. At home, we drank gallons of coffee to keep up with reading that in the end was stacked nearly as tall as we were and write papers till no more words could come. And in this final session of a humanities class (still more papers to come), we learned from an undergrad a capella group how to become a musical hive.

Although I have felt very old on a few morning after only a few hours sleep, the stimulation of a year with such impassioned positive thinkers makes We Are Young seem right at any age. And the refrain, I really don’t want to get out of my head:

“Let’s set the world on fire. We can burn brighter than the sun.”

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