Categories for Optimism

The Most Important (Countercultural) Steps for Making 2021 a Success

Individuals who do well in life commonly utilize four key skills to help their lives move forward in a healthy direction. That is, people who achieve healthy personal goals tend to incorporate the same tools to assist them in moving toward their aspirations.  Unfortunately, some of these tools are not valued or embraced in our culture, which makes consistently utilizing them more difficult. Yes, believe it or not, we need to acknowledge that some of the beliefs and values of the majority Western culture are actually not helpful to us in living our lives well. Four Important (but often Countercultural)... Continue reading...

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January 4, 2021 9:00 am
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Reflections: What Is the United States of America?

As a country, we are in the midst of a number of events which have upset our (until recently) normal, daily life activities. This unsettledness has created the opportunity to rethink “who we are” as a country – and who we want to become. I’m not the most reflective person, but I have been thinking about the United States – our history (good and bad), our current status, what makes us the country we have become, and how we are similar to and different from other countries (either current, or those in the past.) What is a Country? Countries are... Continue reading...

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June 29, 2020 8:52 am
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Change Goes Better When Staff Feel Appreciated

Change in the workplace is often inevitable. Previously, changes had to be made in response to external circumstances, like marketplace forces, or they were part of a larger institutional plan to create growth and improvement. Now, with the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, change seems to be the only constant in the workplace. Changes in the foundations of how we work and where we work are ever evolving and they can take their toll on employees — which leads to uncertainty, anxiety, resistance, low morale and more. The good news is, managing reactions to change can be made easier if... Continue reading...

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May 18, 2020 9:00 am
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Feeling Overwhelmed? Stressed? Emotionally worn down? Here’s why (and some tactics to help)

Are you (like me) feeling overwhelmed? You are “tired of this.” You don’t know how to make decisions because you don’t know what information to believe? Are you sick of all the “newness” in your life, and the constant adjustments you have to make as a result? Welcome to life in the USA COVID-19 2020. Stressed. Emotionally drained. Feeling unsettled. All of these reactions are normal, given what is going on around us. But they still aren’t fun. What’s Going On Let’s take a quick look at the factors that have turned our lives upside down: 1.Unpredictability and instability. In... Continue reading...

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May 11, 2020 9:00 am
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Encouragement, Support, and Staying Connected During Quarantine

Last week we conducted a small survey to see how our readers were feeling supported and encouraged, how they were supporting and encouraging others and what has helped them stay positive. We were overwhelmed by the positive answers and examples you gave us. First, we asked you: How much have you felt supported and encouraged by someone with whom you work since the COVID-19 crisis has developed? The average of all responses was a “4” (1 = Not at all; 5 = Extremely)! We were glad to learn that many of you are feeling supported and encouraged during this difficult... Continue reading...

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May 4, 2020 9:00 am
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How Do You Successfully Encourage Employees During Difficult Times?

Anxiety. Discouragement. Feeling disconnected. Worried about the future. All are currently common experiences for hundreds of thousands of workers in the U.S. We are told “we’re all in this together,” “we’ll get through this,” “it will get better soon” – all of which are true (to some degree). But almost all of us have moments when we are emotionally worn out, lose hope, and want to give up. Some of us cycle through these periods rather quickly, others linger in the dark space for a while, and some of us have difficulty climbing out of the cave. Enter: the need for encouragement and... Continue reading...

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April 27, 2020 9:00 am
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Spring and the Importance of Newness in Our Lives

Spring is late in coming in my part of the country. The mornings have been cold; the days are often cloudy and dreary. And Spring – the vibrancy and newness of life – has been put on hold across the country due to shelter in place and social distancing policies. Being able to get out and about, get together with friends and family, and go “do something” has been essentially written out of our lives. As a result, many people feel stagnant. Bored. Unstimulated. All of which can lead to depression and irritability. These feelings, coupled with the underlying anxiety... Continue reading...

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April 20, 2020 9:00 am
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Why Relational Connection Is So Important During the Coronavirus Pandemic

The novel coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in the need for social distancing, quarantine and isolation so that vulnerable individuals are not exposed to the virus and healthcare systems are not overwhelmed. Collectively, we understand the goodness of “flattening the curve” by each of us doing our part to slow the spread of the virus. COVID-19 is not the only epidemic we are facing. Separating ourselves because of COVID-19 comes at a time when America and many other nations are in the midst of an epidemic of loneliness whose antidote is greater positive social connection. Our current situation—the simultaneous need... Continue reading...

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April 13, 2020 9:00 am
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Understanding and Managing Anxiety

Life in the twenty-first century is often colored by anxiety— not major, life-crippling anxiety, but those small, little worries about daily life activities and events. And now, with the onset of the COVID 19 pandemic, anxiety has been brought front and center for many of us. If we don’t take steps to combat it, anxiety can rule our days and distract us from the things we need and want to be doing. Defining Anxiety First and foremost, anxiety is fear. We are afraid we are going to become sick. We worry about our financial future. We are concerned about what... Continue reading...

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March 30, 2020 3:11 pm
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Why “Thinking Outside of the Box” (by itself) Doesn’t Work

Most of us would agree that we all have a certain way of thinking. We’ve been taught our whole lives that our own way of thinking is thinking “inside the box.” We’ve been told many times that we need to learn to think “outside the box.” I contend that this doesn’t work. When we’re in a box (our way of thinking), we may hear or see something that encourages us to make a change. We are encouraged, and we decide to attempt to get outside of our normal way of thinking. But when we get outside of our box, we... Continue reading...

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February 3, 2020 9:00 am
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Setting Goals for the New Year? Consider Finishing Some of Last Year’s Instead

It’s that time of the year again – when we think about resolutions for the new year. Rather than considering a new list of “to do’s,” I’ve been thinking more about the role of perseverance in our lives, and in the lives of those who accomplish meaningful goals. While resolving to start new habits or achieve new goals is obviously a worthy endeavor, I believe sticking to and finishing those tasks not yet completed may be a better use of our time and energy. Our culture idolizes the “new” and really doesn’t think much of the boring, “steady as she goes,” day in... Continue reading...

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December 30, 2019 10:06 am
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Revisiting the Meaning of Vacation

In the summer months, I often reflect on the idea of “vacation” — what it is, what it means, and what it has come to mean in our culture. Vacation means “to vacate” — to leave, to get out of here, to get away from your daily setting and responsibilities. We get a different perspective on life when we get away from our daily routines. Fortunately, the growing popularity of the stay-cation has allowed even those in a tight financial situation to enjoy the benefits of ‘getting away.’ Vacation implies that you aren’t working. You are taking a vacation from work. At times, I... Continue reading...

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July 22, 2019 9:00 am
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Reflections on the Fourth of July: Our Freedoms and Rights

I love the 4th of July holiday largely because we have a legacy of wonderful family get togethers that are a lot of fun (and we have done so for several years, which evoke a large number of fond memories for me). And our family celebrations have involved several traditions that I enjoy: being outside playing games, shooting fireworks, barbecuing with great grilled meat, swimming and boating, and watching a large firework show. So, almost always, the Fourth is a fun time. Celebrating the anniversary of our country’s Independence Day is also a great time to reflect on the numerous freedoms... Continue reading...

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July 1, 2019 9:00 am
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5 Misconceptions about Workplace Culture (And How You Can Make a Difference)

Workplace culture is both a “hot” and important topic in the world today.  Companies, organizations, and government agencies are all struggling with the reality that they have seriously unhealthy workplace cultures.  Yet many people (including leaders) have significant misconceptions about what creates “workplace culture” and whether or not (or how) it can be changed.  Frequent results of these misconceptions include: a) individuals within the organization giving up trying to improve the culture because they view the situation as hopeless; b) they want to do something to make a difference but don’t know where to start, or c) their attempts to... Continue reading...

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November 12, 2018 9:00 am
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Out of the Rut

Have you ever felt like you were in a rut or experiencing a particularly low point in your life? It’s times like these when we feel down, hopeless and stuck. This can run the spectrum of significance, such as being bored at work to grieving the death of a family member or friend, but the symptoms are the same. We become disengaged and cannot fully focus or show up with our best selves. The key to getting out of a rut is self-care, even when that feels like your lowest priority and the last thing you have time for. But... Continue reading...

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August 13, 2018 9:00 am
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Revisiting the Meaning of “Vacation”

In the summer months, I often reflect on the idea of “vacation” — what it is, what it means, and often what it has come to mean in our culture. First, vacation means “to vacate” — to leave, to get out of here, to get away from your daily setting and responsibilities.  As my wife has commented, she gets a different perspective on life when she gets away from the daily routine.  Even if you are in a tight financial situation, getting away for a few days to a cheap cabin close-by can be sufficient. Next, vacation implies that you aren’t working.  You... Continue reading...

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August 7, 2016 3:42 pm
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What We Can Learn From Rainy Days

July and August in the Midwest are usually the “dog days of summer” — hot, intense sun, and humid. It is uncomfortable and physically draining. But we have had some unusual weather lately — cloudy, cooler and rainy. So, as a result, I’ve had the opportunity to reflect on rainy days, how they represent other aspects of our lives, and what we can learn from them. We are not in control of everything. There are obviously aspects of our lives that we do not control. Weather is one. Global economic forces is another. Random events of nature and the choices that... Continue reading...

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July 5, 2016 1:35 pm
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Reflections on the 4th of July: Our Freedoms and Rights

I love the 4th of July holiday largely because we have a legacy of wonderful family “get together’s” that are a lot of fun (and we have done so for several years, which evoke a large number of fond memories for me.) And our family celebrations have involved several traditions that I enjoy: being outside playing games, shooting fireworks, barbecuing with great grilled meat, swimming and boating, and watching a large fireworks show.  So, almost always, the Fourth is a fun time. Celebrating the anniversary of our country’s Independence Day is also a great time to reflect on the numerous freedoms... Continue reading...

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June 29, 2016 9:48 am
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The Battle between Positive and Toxic Workplaces

An interesting juxtaposition has developed — the simultaneous focus in the world of work on toxic workplaces and creating positive work environments. Our book on toxic workplaces and the subsequent training we created on how to avoid becoming a toxic workplace (or survive one you are currently in) are growing in popularity and interest.  And I am asked more and more to speak to professional associations and write on the topic. At the same time, there is a growing body of literature on how to create a positive workplace environment (sometimes labeled as workplace culture or climate). One might mistakenly... Continue reading...

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May 10, 2016 8:32 pm
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An Antidote For Disengagement: Being Appreciative For Your Job

Gallup reported on January 13 that only 32% of U.S. employees are actively engaged in their work from a mental, emotional and volitional (a choice of the will) point of view.  Conversely, 50.8% of employees were found to be “not engaged” and 17.2% are “actively disengaged”.  This latter group is a dangerous one — they are actually actively working at cross-purposes with their employer, doing things to make things worse in their workplace. Much of the blame for this sad state in our work environments is being placed fully and solely on the shoulders of supervisors, managers and employers, a position... Continue reading...

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January 28, 2016 9:48 am
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So You Want to Work at Google? How to Make Your Workplace “The” Place to Work

So you want to work at Google? Or Apple? Or one of the “cool” places where they have free food, flexible work hours, and an informal work environment?  But the challenge is – you don’t live near Silicon Valley or have the skill set they require. (The second issue is the real limitation, isn’t it?) So what can you do where you work currently?  Even though you may not be the owner of your company, or even a high level executive, you can help make your workplace become “the” place to work.  Really. It is all about influence. We all... Continue reading...

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April 20, 2014 8:39 pm
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Solution #2 for Finding Good Employees: Train Your Current Employees

In a prior post on the challenges employers are having in finding qualified applicants for the positions they need to fill, I shared that there are three strategies that, over time, can help employers and managers address this problem.  The first solution is to keep your valued employees by making sure they feel appreciated. The second way to fill empty slots in your organization is to train and mentor current employees who have potential but who need to grow. We often have employees who are “okay” but who have an area of deficiency or a character quality they need to... Continue reading...

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April 7, 2014 10:34 am
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Do 70 Million Workers Really Hate their Jobs?

     This past week headlines of newspapers, website posts, and the talking heads on TV screamed about how U.S. employees hate their jobs (and that it is the fault of their managers).  Here are some actual titles: Millions of Bad Managers Are Killing America’s Growth (The Chairman’s Blog) Workplace Morale Heads Down: 70% of Americans negative about their jobs   (Subtitled: “Bosses from hell’ are giving U.S. Worker the Monday blues.)  (NY Daily News) Most Americans hate their jobs or have ‘checked out’ (LA Times) So the headlines and news reports went last week, about a recent report released by Gallup... Continue reading...

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January 2, 2014 8:19 am
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An Antidote for Disengagement: Being appreciative for your job

As I wrote recently, research was released by the Gallup organization that found only 3 out of 10 U.S. employees are actively engaged in their work from a mental, emotional and volitional (a choice of the will) point of view.  Conversely, 52% of employees were found to be not engaged and 18% are actively disengaged.  This latter group is a dangerous one — they are actually actively working at cross-purposes with their employer, doing things to make things worse in their workplace. Much of the blame for this sad state in our work environments is being placed fully and solely... Continue reading...

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July 2, 2013 9:00 pm
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5 Tips for Improving Your Workplace

Labor Day used to be a day to recognize the benefits of organized labor and, more broadly, celebrate the American work ethic. More recently, however, it serves as a painful reminder of the deterioration of the American workplace. The national statistics, with unemployment between 9 percent and 17 percent depending on whom you ask, are bad enough. But even for the employed, work has become a barely bearable chore, with only 45 percent of workers in a recent survey saying they were happy with their careers. Many companies have withheld raises and bonuses over the past two years while reducing... Continue reading...

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September 5, 2011 12:26 pm
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Lessons Learned from Media Interviews

In the past two weeks since the launch of Dr. Chapman’s and my book, the 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, I have had over 20 media interviews — radio (mostly), TV, and print.  It has been a fun and interesting experience — and I have more to do in the coming weeks. I thought I would share some of the lessons and observations I have made from these interviews with radio & TV hosts, and magazine writers. Most people understand and agree that appreciation in the workplace is needed and can be extremely impactful. Everyone sees that the... Continue reading...

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August 13, 2011 11:04 am
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Making Difficult Decisions – Some Principles for Our Leaders to Consider

Our political leaders have some very difficult issues to manage: Not enough tax revenue to pay for commitments made; The need to cut expenditures, with the accompanying result of displeasing (and even angering) constituents in the areas reduced; Seemingly unrealistic expectations from the general public – wanting “less government” and reduced taxes, but still wanting the same level of services provided; Rules and regulations which have accumulated over the years that, on the one hand, provide some protection for consumers but, on the other hand, drive up the costs of production for goods and services; Probable inefficiencies and waste in areas of... Continue reading...

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February 24, 2011 4:26 pm
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Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen,… Understanding Social Change

If you are like me, you may be intrigued by the events of the past two weeks in the Middle East.  The rapid social change that is happening (or trying to happen) in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Jordan, and potentially other countries is both fascinating, curious, and sometimes scary. I clearly have little knowledge or expertise of Middle Eastern politics or of Arab cultures (they are not unitary, you know.  Just like there are cultural differences among Western countries.)  But there are some common themes that may be helpful to watch for as we watch, hear or read the news. People... Continue reading...

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February 4, 2011 8:22 pm
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The Economic Downturn and The Psychology of Our Culture

I am not an economist (thankfully). But economists, meteorologists (those who try to predict the weather), and psychologists are somewhat in the same situation — our ‘sciences’ are not very “hard” — that is, they often are not solidly grounded in data and they lack power to predict. For example, last night there was no prediction at all of any precipitation and we had a major rain and hailstorm in our area (up to baseball sized hail!). Part of the problem for all three of these sciences is that there are numerous inter-related factors (many of which are still unknown)... Continue reading...

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July 9, 2009 5:19 am
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Healthy (and Less Healthy) Responses to the Economic Situation

As a psychologist, I naturally find myself observing people’s behavior — their choices, what they are saying, and how they are feeling.  And this is the case now, in the midst of the difficult economic times in which we find ourselves (I am consciously choosing not to use the term “financial crisis”.) There are three core aspects to any situation that involves human perception and response: Reality.  What actually “is” — the facts of the situation. (Using a non-related example: the temperature — which is about 30 degrees F. on a mid March day.) Perceptions. How people perceive, view, and... Continue reading...

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March 12, 2009 10:46 am
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