Category Archives: Reflection

Creating your own weekly review: Robert Cooper on finding ways to be exceptional.

Living up to your potential sounds pretty fancy. It's something we all want, right? Live up to your potential. Maximize your potential. Be all that you can be. 

But how, exactly, do you do it? How does an intangible life objective become manifest into your daily routine? For Robert Cooper, author of The Other 90%: How to unlock your vast untapped potential for leadership and lifeaccessing our own hidden intelligence and achieving our potential lies in better understanding neuroscience and trusting our brains in order to unlock our full capacity.

What did you do last week?

What did you do last week? What did you do yesterday?

A friend of mine was chatting with me recently, and he confessed that he'd get to the end of his day and he would forget what it was that he had done during the day. He'd look at his to-do list and realize, "Oh, right—I did some account desk settings, some client help, answered emails, built my next list..."—but when prompted with a question, he couldn't remember. Nothing stood out.

Our brains are designed to help keep us safe and warm—comfortable and secure. Cooper describes how this part of our brain works:

"A powerful part of the brain, the amygdala, wants the world to run on routine, not change. Located within the limbic system, an ancient area of the mind that deals with the way you perceive and respond to the world, the amygdala relentlessly urges us to favor the familiar and routine. It craves control and safety, which at times can be vital."

The amygdala serves as the center of our brain to keep us safe and secure. When deciding between doing something new and something familiar, we'll be steered to the familiar. This is helpful in many ways—but in terms of growing beyond your comfort zone, not so much.

"The amygdala's instincts, which have evolved over thousands of years, tend to spill over into every aspect of life and promote a perpetual reluctance to embrace anything that involves risk, change, or growth."

And here's the kicker:

"Unless you choose to consciously override this brain tendency, you're consigned to repeating the past." 

After understanding how our brains operate to keep us safe, he devised a simple mechanism to "overcome our natural resistance to growth." By regularly asking two questions—whether it's by taping them to our bathroom mirror; scheduling a meeting with ourselves weekly, or having a journaling practice—we can begin to override the amygdala's tendency to keep us safe and secure.

He recommends asking yourself two questions:

What did you do last week that was exceptional? 

What can you do next week that no one expects of you? 

Defining exceptional:

Exceptional might be loving more; it might a tender moment. It might be resting more, or doing less. What is exceptional for you—taking your child to school and holding his hand and listening to his stories—might be different for the next person.

For me, this week, I'll follow up with my clients and prospects and touch base with people just to let them know I'm thinking of. This week, I'll plan a brand-new webinar and teach myself a new software program to run more online classes. And this week, I'll do week 6 of The Artist's Way, a project still in fruition for me. Those are the exceptions to my week. Those are the pieces that are somehow difficult for me, and that will make this week above and beyond last week.

Breaking down 'exceptional' into weekly increments—noticing what's different from one week to the next; understanding how a little bit more, or a little bit different this week can be the work that matters—is both tangible and do-able, and keeps you on track.

That way, when fifty-two weeks add up to a year as they always seem to do, you can look back and think, wow. That year was great.

What will you do this week that's exceptional? 

Finding the little bliss(es): this is it.

Where is happiness? Where do you find it? The $7 coffee pot we bought the day we moved in together–because we knew that functioning properly as a team might require adequate dosages of caffeine in our morning routines. Stretching my toes against the curb while waiting for the light to change. High-fiving the blinking walkContinue Reading

A little note on letting go…

Clear your plate. Let go of things that don’t serve you. That don’t inspire you. Give up things that aren’t working. Release. Let out a deep sigh. Pause. Inhale. Exhale. Take a shower. Dunk in a waterfall. Wash it clean, letting water drip down around you, pour over your head. Feel the world rinse you off, like aContinue Reading

Project hangovers, self-criticism, and the necessity of making messes.

I have a confession. Sometimes–more nearly like every time–after finishing a project, I hate it. My writing class? Sucks, obviously. Last week’s essay? Good God, that could have been better. All those open and empty drafts waiting to be finished? Seriously, could have worked harder to get those done.  And on and on… My brainContinue Reading

Darkness and light: why writing is an act of bravery.

“Only when we’re brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our life.” — Brene Brown Writing is an act of bravery. Each year, when I teach our writing workshops, I get to work with a small group of twenty-some writers, thinkers, and creatives. Inevitably, the process gets difficult in weeksContinue Reading

What’s in the trunk? A mysterious tunnel inside the house… and some of the things I’m so grateful for.

What’s in the trunk?   My dad just moved to Colorado and I’m here for the week, visiting for the first time. The cold, snowy mountains outside of Denver are filled with deer, elk, and other creatures that wander up to the backyard and say hello. (There’s also a new dog in the family that’sContinue Reading

Winter workshop: cultivating gratitude, opening to grace. Begins December 1. Join us.

Crack. That moment, when your heart swells in open with thanks. When a stranger sends you a smile and a whisper. The unexpected brush of a hand against yours.  The warmth of the subway air after a walk through frozen city streets. A free coffee from the barista. When a taxi driver waves you forward andContinue Reading

The Bali journey: in photographs.

I’m a little bit at a loss for words. I’m back from Bali, landing back in the USA after a flight pulled me 13 hours backwards in time, depositing me into the winter hemisphere. While I was gone, our city decorated the streets of Brooklyn with holiday lights, and folks have pulled out their hatsContinue Reading

The power of breath: why breathing happens before anything else.

It’s not always easy to breathe. Breathing—the intake of oxygen and the exhalation of carbon dioxide—is life’s essential force. It’s the first step our physical bodies take towards making all other actions possible, including thinking. In swimming, the rhythm of breathing is essential: you only have a few opportunities to catch a breath; it’s aboutContinue Reading

What would you bring with you into the woods? Reflection questions on your own fire, the art of creation, the necessity of destruction, and your intrinsic value.

Central Park by Vivienne Gucwa on NY Through The Lens. Reflection, rejuvenation, and three questions. This weekend, I left the city to join one hundred other entrepreneurs, creatives, and innovators to shake off some digital dust and retreat in the Poconos Mountains of Eastern Pennsylvania. In addition to the typical packing instructions — sleeping bag,Continue Reading

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