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How to Stay Positive in the Face of a Dreaded Situation

As most of you know, I believe in using play to help us grow. I especially love to apply play to heavy and dark moments. Whether it’s an email from your boss that it’s time to talk (gulp) or a look of anger and outrage from your significant other (uh-oh), you might consider arming yourself with a play mindset instead of battle gear…and see what happens.


So how do you do that? Well, earlier this year, I gave my first TEDx Talk in Anchorage, Alaska, where I spoke about the Play Instinct and its possibilities for problem solving. I really believe it’s our play instinct that will help us navigate difficult social situations like loneliness and vulnerability. Watch the video for more on that. Meanwhile, here’s a quick-trick method—using the word PLAY as a memory-jogging acronym—of how to step into the play mindset and face some unpleasant situations with ease.


Permission: Give yourself permission to be playful, and set that intention

Automatic thought: “Ugh, I have to have this conversation.”

Play mindset:  “Great, I get to have this conversation.”

You’re simply shifting your mindset from obligation and dread to lightness and the unexpected. 


Let go of judgment and stay curious

Automatic thought: “This is going to suck. He’s probably mad, and I must’ve screwed up.”

Play mindset: “Okay, let’s see where this goes. I wonder what’s going on.”

It’s a matter of leaving yourself open to possibilities. You have no idea what you’re in for, so why assume the worst.


Acknowledge your feelings (to yourself)

Automatic thought: “Get me out of here.”

Play mindset: “Hmmm, I’m feeling a little vulnerable or uncomfortable right now.”

It’s natural to want to escape uncomfortable situations. Play Instinct is about embracing the unknown and being hyper-present—because being aware of how you’re feeling will help you avoid generating resistance to your thoughts and getting lost in your head.


Yes it is to what comes up

Automatic thought: “But, you don’t understand.”

Play mindset: “I will listen to what you’re saying AND hear an additional perspective.”


By being open to the other person’s perspective, you not only allow yourself to hear what’s being said (without your internal defensive monologue getting in the way) but also to be heard when it’s your turn to talk. Starting with “Yes, and…” immediately diffuses any tension in the air. Also, this is a common improv technique; adopting a play mindset leaves you open to all kinds of possibilities because you’re not instantly assuming the worst or placing a right-or-wrong template over the situation.

I hope you ennjoy my TEDx Talk. As always, I would love to know what you think!

My best,


How to Turn Life into More of a Game


When I lived in Brooklyn, everyday I’d have a 15-minute walk to the subway. It wasn’t the most scenic walk, if you know what I mean—garbage and litter everywhere; graffiti on every surface (and not even inspiring graffiti!)—and quite frankly, I pretty much dreaded it. There were never any cabs around (this was Brooklyn, after all), so really, walking was my only option. At some point on one of those daily trudges, I started to play a game in my mind—as a distraction and to help time pass. And that’s when my world changed…at least for those 15 minutes.  

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was doing a form of gamification! And if there’s some unavoidable activity or event in your daily grind that could benefit from being converted into a game, you are going to love this week’s chat with my friend, Gabe Zichermann. 

Gamification is a concept that transposes the best aspects of game-playing (think: straight-up rules, a winning objective, incentive and reward) onto a task in order to incentivize behavior—and ultimately, make that task more fun to do. And Gabe is co-founder and CEO of Dopamine, Inc., a firm that specializes in advising businesses on their best use of gamification. He is considered one of its “founders,” having written several books on the topic, including Game-Based Marketing.

 Gamification is being adopted in practically any and all industries from tech, to banking, to healthcare, to education and it's being utilized across departments from HR to Marketing. It's for anyone who is interested in incentivizing behavior. 

As someone more than a little interested in always being and doing your best, you are in for a real treat. So, get ready, check out the video…and prepare to be blown away!

Afterward, let me know what you think. Have you had an opportunity to experience gamification yet? Has your company utilized its techniques? Will you bring the topic to the next ideas meeting in the office?! I would love to hear about your experiences and get your feedback. I do love getting those comments!





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5 Ideas To Bring the Thanks to Your Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. But I find it’s so easy to get obsessed with all the food and totally neglect to celebrate what this holiday is actually about: gratitude, abundance, life! So, for those of you who want to make this special occasion more meaningful, consider these creative ways to get the thanks going at Thanksgiving.

1. Transform your place cards into mini gratitude notes

Write your guest’s name on one side of the card, as usual. Then on the reverse side, write your personal ode to that person: what you appreciate about him or her, how this person has given you something to be grateful for. (I suggest you first draft your sentiments for each person—and give yourself time to think about it all—before committing pen to place card.)

2. Share a tale of giving and receiving
In any flourishing system, there is some giving and some receiving. Thanksgiving—which celebrates the harvest and the concept of sharing a meal (the original potluck, if we believe the apocryphal tale of the first Thanksgiving)—exemplifies this cycle: the land receives water, sunshine and care and in time gives us its fruits. Between courses, go around the table and ask your guests to share a moment from this past year when they felt especially grateful to receive and/or to give. 

 3. Revel in the bounty
As everyone is enjoying their more-than-abundant meal, ask your guests to talk about other ways in which their lives have been particularly bountiful. To encourage participation and inspire more ideas (and not put anyone on the spot), be the one to start this go-round of appreciating life.

4. Show and tell it forward

 Email or text your guests several days in advance of dinner, asking them to think of one thing they would like to do this year to make the world a better place—whether something to do for a particular person, a particular organization or whatever. Ask them to write it down and bring something reminiscent of the impending good deed—such as, a picture of the person they intend to help or a print-out of the place’s website (this helps make the concept more tangible). Then at some point near the end of the meal, ask for volunteers to share their plans and thoughts. Expect to be blown away by the amount of infectious goodwill this little idea can generate.  

5. Create a self-appreciation "time capsule" station

This concept is a bit more ambitious but worth the creative effort: Pick a spot enough out of the way to give your guests time to reflect, and stock it with paper, pens, envelopes and a pouch (or container of some kind). In advance of dinner, write up a set of instructions for them to read, along the lines of this: “There are many people in each of our lives to be grateful for…not the least of which is yourself! Where would you be without you? Time for some written self-adulation: Go on, give yourself some love! When done, seal your letter in an envelope, address it to yourself and place it in the pouch. You will receive this letter by mail at some future time…hopefully, when you least expect it.”  


Then, after dinner as your guests are milling about (but well before they’re getting ready to leave), ask each one to stop by your makeshift writing station, read the directions posted and follow suit. Then you, as host, will slap a stamp on each envelope and put the pouch away for several months. (Don’t forget where you’re storing it.) Write yourself a reminder months in the future to mail them. Your guests will be delighted to receive their self-love letter, and more often than not, the letter will arrive just when some of your guests could use a little love. Chances are, you’ll get to hear all about it!

I hope you’ll want to try at least one of these ideas at your Thanksgiving dinner. If you do, please drop me a line and let me know how it went—or write in the comments to get a whole dialogue going. 

Here’s wishing you a very thankful Thanksgiving!





How to Embrace Your Dark Side

What do you want out of life? Most people answer, “I want to be happy.” Unfortunately, my friends, happiness is a problematic request. Why? Because it’s not a realistic goal. Happiness is not a constant, in fact, it can be pretty fleeting. And defining what we need to make us happy can be as elusive as achieving it. So, rather than attempt the impossible by trying to sustain a a state of happiness, it’s a much better and more positive idea to shoot for being whole…which is far more fulfilling than “just” being happy.

That’s the brilliant proposal from Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener, two luminaries in the field of positive psychology, whose most amazing book was just published. This is the book I’ve been waiting for! The Upside of Your Dark Side: Why Being Your Whole Self—Not Just Your "Good" Self— Drives Success and Fulfillment! I had the chance recently to speak with Todd about their latest work. You can watch the video here.

I highly recommend you grab a copy of this book. In it, you will learn how to get in touch with all of your emotions and accept them without judgment. In other words, to not feel badly for having “bad” feelings. In the book, the authors explain how our negative emotions, such as anger, sadness, anxiety, guilt—so much of what we’d rather not feel—are there to serve a purpose….The point is to learn to see our “more dark” emotions in this more productive way.

Kashdan and Biswas-Diener have identified the three most common ways humans typically deal with things that bring out these darker emotions. Which one is your go-to?

Suffering: trying to deny or ignore what’s bothering us

Tolerating: white-knuckling it or holding our breath, trying to just get through it

Harnessing: feeling and using our negative emotions elicited by the incident to create a more favorable outcome

Choosing, however subconsciously, suffering or tolerating as a coping strategy in order to not have to experience our dark side (aka, our negative emotions) actually denies us opportunities and resources and can make us feel powerless. For example, when we acknowledge our sadness (or anger or whatever darkness we’re feeling), we have a better chance of determining what’s causing it and then working on a positive or productive resolution. But when we try to deny our sadness (or anger or whatever…) or just tolerate it, we have less to no chance of addressing the underlying issues and effecting any kind of favorable outcome.

That’s why it’s ESSENTIAL, explain the co-authors, to develop our emotional vocabulary: to discern what we’re truly feeling and have a language for describing the feelings. All too often these days, we lump our negative feelings together under the label “Stressed” instead of identifying it. How can we expect to fix a problem without actually knowing what it is and why we’re feeling this way?

The big take-away: Being whole may not magically solve all problems, but it does give us a complete arsenal of emotions and insights with which to more effectively take things on and deal with them.  

Watch this video—it’s a bit on the long side but so worth it. (The sound is a bit off in the beginning but it clears up). Then read the book! Would love to get your thoughts and feedback afterwards.







Positive Coping Skills for Dealing with Negative Emotions

Hi Everyone,

This week’s conversation deals with a topic that’s been in the collective consciousness lately, an offshoot prompted by the sorrowful news of Robin Williams’ suicide last August. Which in and of itself is an example of something positive resulting from something tragic...but I’m getting a little ahead of myself here.

I’ve found that this subject of sadness, negative thoughts, depressive emotions particularly resonates with perfectionists and overachievers, which describes pretty much most of you, plus many (if not most!) of the people you associate with. (We do tend to hang with our own kind....) 

Which is why I’m happy to introduce you to Andrea Kuszewski, a behavior therapist and research scientist who I like to call a “convention challenger.” Together, we talked about the benefit of negative emotions. It’s not as oxymoronic as it sounds once you hear some of the ways we can learn to reframe our negative thoughts and emotions in order to feel better. It’s like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for the 21st Century. You’re going to want to watch this video more than once to really internalize the ideas, but here are just three “brain-reframing” strategies Andrea discusses:

  • Talk to yourself. (Seriously!) Make it a little meditative session, as often as you need: Lie on the floor and say out loud all the negative things you’re hearing in your head (what Andrea calls, “the inner A-hole”). When you actually hear these “loser lines” spoken, they begin to sound ridiculous. Then follow up with saying your accomplishments and your strengths out loud. Slowly, this helps put things in a whole different perspective.
  • Face your worst-case scenario with some fantasy. Andrea calls this “catastrophic thinking.” You know how you can obsess about something that could have a negative outcome (like, last week’s job interview or a promotion you put in for)—and how if it doesn’t go your way, your whole life will be ruined? Hold that thought and come up with two fantasy scenarios as a result of the worst happening (say, finding an even better job in an exciting city or starting your own business). Play out the scenarios, even think up more things you’ve always wanted to do. Suddenly, you realize good things can follow failures, that a negative outcome is not the end of the world.
  • Come up with a list of your greatest hits. Create a folder, journal, or file filled with references to your past unexpected triumphs, remind yourself how you successfully resolved situations that hadn’t gone according to plan before. This is guaranteed to build resilience!

For more information on Andrea, go to her website:

Let me know what you think of the ideas in the video—as well as your own coping strategies. Post a comment here and let’s get a whole dialogue going, or email me at 

With love,