by anne lueneburger

We spend a third of our lives sleeping. Not surprisingly, many of us are preoccupied with how to get the best shut-eye. Charles Dickens insisted on his bed facing North. Benjamin Franklin would have an extra bed on standby, so that should he wake up feeling hot, he could switch to a bed that was still cool and fresh. Michael Phelps sleeps in a pressure chamber that simulates an altitude of 9,000 feet to increase red blood cell production.

Most of us need anywhere between 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night. Sleeping less or more is not optimal unless you are part of a tiny minority. In a study of 3000 professionals the fewest sick days were reported with about 7.7 hours of sleep per night. An indicator of whether we are getting enough sleep is looking at the time it takes us to fall asleep: anything less than 5 minutes means we are sleep deprived, the typical time it should take is between 10 and 15 minutes.

Getting the right amount of sleep is closely related with mental and physical health. In fact, sleep has significant restorative qualities: it promotes white blood cell count and immunity and reduces the risk of stroke, heart attack and overall inflammation. Adequate sleep keeps our weight in check as it regulates appetite and increases metabolism. It functions like ‘spring cleaning’ for the brain, flushing out memory-robbing protein fragments, solidifying memories we wish or need to keep. Sleep reduces stress and boosts creativity by up to 20 percent. As Steinbeck said: “It is a common experience that a problem difficult at night is resolved in the morning after the committee of sleep has worked on it.”

In fact, during REM sleep, the dream stage, our brain’s neurons look for patterns and connections between new memories and existing knowledge. As we dream, the rational control center of the brain is deactivated, producing an amazingly creative state. Ideas pop up that we would normally suppress. Paul McCartney conjured ‘Yesterday’ following a dream.

Want to send your creativity in a certain direction? Contemplate a situation you are interested in solving (make sure it is not a problem that stresses you) and think about this conundrum as you brush your teeth before you hit the sack.

Here a few quick tips to boost your shut-eye:

Screen Shot 2018-07-16 at 10.45.51

If you still cannot get the shut-eye you need, consider seeing a professional such as Dr. Guy Meadows who runs London’s Sleep School.

Having said all this on how sleep is important, there are times when sacrificing sleep can be life affirming. This Sunday I got up at 3.45 am to catch the sunrise in London’s Richmond Park, a once in a life time spectacle I wouldn’t have wanted to miss:

Richmond Park_2 copy












by renita kalhorn

Screen Shot 2018-03-25 at 16.51.38

Dave Cooper, a Navy SEAL widely recognized for his ability to build high-performing SEAL teams says: “The most important words any leader can say are “I screwed that up.”

I learned this intuitive lesson at a young age from my parents. My dad was quick to laugh at himself and do a face palm when he tripped up  (“stupe, stupe, stupe”), which only engendered in me a sense of loyalty and safety. My mom, on the other hand, refused to allow even a hint that she had made a mistake and, in my childish quest for fairness, I created a lot of animosity trying to get her to admit she was wrong.

Now, however, I get it. There’s a very real biological reason for our aversion to being wrong, and it stems back to our cavemen days.  Back then, making one too many mistakes — you know, like telling the tribe “Hey, guys, I think there’s food over there,” and leading them into the camp of an enemy tribe instead — could lead directly to being thrown out of the tribe. Because back then, before the days of corner delis and Amazon Prime, exile from the tribe was a very real threat to physical survival.

So now, when we make a mistake, the primitive part of our brain still has the same “fight or flight” reaction, in essence, translating it instantly as “We are going to die!”

You know what I’m talking about, don’t you? That “oh, sh*t” moment of realization, when your heart begins pounding, your stomach gets queasy and your mind starts popping out justifications.So what we need to do first is ease that very real sense of danger. (That’s where our rational brain comes in handy.)  Here are three strategies to make it feel less threatening:

*Leave your self identity out of it.* If your ego had its way, you would never make mistakes. You would never have to apologize or admit any hint of imperfection. (Maybe you know someone like this?) Tell yourself, “I am not my mistakes. I am not my behaviors or decisions.”

Once you separate the implications from how you see yourself — you can be someone who makes thoughtful decisions, for example, and still have made a bad call this time — you can start to think more clearly (less defensively) and come up with better solutions.

*Pinpoint the mistake.* After the Columbia space shuttle explosion that killed seven astronauts, N. Wayne Hale Jr. said, “The bottom line is that I failed to understand what I was being told; I failed to stand up and be counted. Therefore look no further; I am guilty of allowing the Columbia to crash.”

Okay, while it’s laudable that Hale is accepting full responsibility, this is a very all-or-nothing, melodramatic approach — really, he didn’t understand anything that he was told?!

Better to be precise in your admission (and stick to the facts — there’s no need to bring guilt into it): “I take responsibility for not cross-checking the figures.” “I made assumptions about market conditions that were incorrect.”

In this way, you show that you understand what your role in the outcome was and also put boundaries around your mistake, which will solidify trust in your ability to do it differently going forward.

*Get more info.* In today’s fast-moving world, most decisions are made with imperfect information. Undoubtedly, your team saw inflection points or, with your encouragement, could share useful insights. Ask them: “If we’re in this situation again, what do you think we could do differently next time?”

Then create a system around getting their input. Ask them, “Am I missing anything? Are there assumptions I should question?”

The more you can show your willingness to take responsibility, the more your team/leadership/colleagues/clients will respect you and have your back. And that’s the ultimate mistake insurance.

My friend and colleague Hanneke Frese recently used this video in a senior leadership program she was running to show how rampant our inner critic can get. In one of the most famous Dove films, Real Beauty Sketches explores the gap between how others perceive us and how we perceive ourselves. Each woman is the subject of two portraits drawn by FBI-trained forensic artist Gil Zamora: one based on her own description, and the other using a stranger’s. Which one do you think will be more flattering do you think?


by renita kalhorn

racing mind

“We are always getting ready to live but never living.”

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Recently I’ve noticed my mind getting into a bad habit. A bad habit with three parts: thinking about how much I have to do, racing ahead to the next thing on the list, and feeling resistance to doing that next thing, because it’s standing in the way of the next three things I have to do after that.

So if I’m on my way to a meeting, I’m thinking about how I don’t want to be in the meeting. On the ride home from the meeting, I’m thinking about how I don’t want to work out. Basically, I’m taking a perfectly good present moment and tainting it with my resistance to a moment in the future, something that doesn’t even exist — sounds like insanity, doesn’t it? What’s even more ridiculous is that once I get to the meeting, to the gym, back to the laptop, I settle in and do my thing.

So what was the point of the resistance!?

It’s like Kerry Gleeson said: “This constant unproductive preoccupation with all the things we have to do is the single largest consumer of time and energy.”

If any of this resonates with you, here are two strategies you can use to rein in your racing mind.

First, think of your day in terms of segments. Getting ready in the morning, for example, can be one segment; the commute to work, each phone call, meeting or email session is another (30 minutes or less is the ideal length). This helps creates boundaries for your attention so you don’t feel like you have to think about everything at once. Now, when I catch myself rushing I say, “Hold on, we’re in the ‘getting ready for work’ segment.”

Second, pump up the sensory experience of your daily routine. We’re here in physical bodies, able to see, hear, smell, taste and feel the aspects of a physical world and, yet, when we’re in our heads, it’s like we’re snorkeling through life, not registering the full sensory input of what we’re doing.

Silly example: Here in France, the towel racks are heated. So when I get out of the shower, my towel — which is already unbelievably soft — is also toasty warm. At that point, I’m not thinking about the emails I have to write or the tasks I have to complete, I’m thinking, “I lovemy towel.” There are so many opportunities during the day to notice and appreciate — how the first sip of bulletproof coffee tastes, the ink of your pen flows, your daughter’s hair smells — and the ability to dive into the sensation is a really powerful skill.

Neither of these strategies will take time or slow you down. You’re going through your day anyway, what if you actually paid attention and appreciated it?


by anne lueneburger


Willpower    /’WIΙ paVe® = capacity to regulate our thoughts, feelings, and actions

Have you already made your New Years resolution for 2018? If you have and you do succeed, you are part of an elite minority of 8 percent that achieves their goal. What makes it so (damn) hard to succeed?

Slava Koza, a 33-year old chess instructor from New Jersey, led a pretty ordinary life. Everything changed when he fell madly in love with Alina, a New York City ballet dancer who did not love him back. Heartbroken, he was determined to prove that he would go to the end of the world for her. He started running 50 miles a day, first through the US, then Europe. Mile for mile he pushed forward, despite swollen feet, aching knees and a heavy heart. Even when Alina told him that she had started dating someone else, did Slava not stop running.

What allows one person to push through hardship where another would long give up? The phenomenon of willpower has long occupied psychology and neuroscience. Willpower as a psychological trait is the game changer in life: it is a key predictor of happiness and well-being. People who have superior willpower do get better grades in school, have higher levels of confidence, are more successful in their careers, have stronger relationships, and are physically healthier and live longer.

So if willpower carries so many benefits, why do we struggle to resist that extra helping of Tiramisu or getting out of our chair for a 5K run? While willpower varies based on our DNA, it does not really explain why we slouch on the couch. The reason we fail to achieve future dreams is that we frequently do not know how to use and strengthen our willpower in the here and now.

The bad news is: willpower functions like a muscle, it tires when overused. On average we spend about 4 hours a day challenging ourselves to make good choices and decision fatigue creeps in. The good news is: like a muscle, we can train and grow our willpower. Princeton trained psychologist Roy Baumeister shows in his research that with clever tactics we can increase our ability to achieve our goals by a whooping 89 percent. Here is how:

1. Set a measurable, achievable goal: the more specific you make your goal (i.e. what, by when, how) the more likely you are to stay on track.

Do: Read this if you want to learn more how to make change stick.

2. Get the basics right. Attend to your willpower physiology  such as sleep, following a healthy diet, and exercising. Without a basic life hygiene we are setting ourselves up to fail.

Do: Daily get 7-9 hours of sleep, aim for a minimum of 35 minutes of exercise, and, as Michael Pollen said: “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants”. We also know that keeping track of what we do helps to stay on target. So if your goal is weight loss, consider using a food diary where you record your daily weight, what you eat, how much you move.

3. Envision your future self. The more we feel that our future self is a stranger, the less likely we are to protect it. However, if we feel familiar with our future self we are twice as likely to invest in our long-term vision. We procrastinate less and we are more likely to make sacrifices in the here and now for a better future.

Do: Imagine yourself in your future daily life in great detail, even to the degree of imagining yourself grocery shopping. Write a letter from your future self to your present self: who you are, what you are doing, where you are living, what you care about. Thank your present self and why it matters. Be optimistic in this letter and imagine the positive effects of making that change. Create a 3-D avatar; what does your future self look like? Feel like that future self is real and in some way you. Also, think about what will it feel like if you do not make that change.

4. Plan for obstacles. Even if it is nice to envision success, be interested in how you might fail and plan your responses. Predict when you might be tempted to break your vow and it prepares you to make good decisions in the face of temptation. Optimism motivates, but a dash of pessimism can help us succeed and we can better manage the shock factor when we have a set back.

Do: Ask yourself: What will be the biggest obstacle(s)? When and where is this obstacle most likely to occur? What can I do to prevent it? What specific thing will I do to get back to my goal when this obstacle happens? One obstacle to staying strong can be a messy surrounding. Environmental cues influence our mind set. So consider either stepping out of your messy home for a bit or run a 20 min clean up session for the room that you plan to hang out in.

5. Practice self-compassion. The harder (shame & guilt) you are on yourself when you get off track, the more likely you are to fail again. We are human and set backs are bound to happen. In fact, studies show that when people are reminded of their to-date progress they are much more likely to do something that interferes with their future success.

Do: Go for encouragement over criticism: Think about what you would say to a friend if they failed. And reward yourself often. Just denying ourselves becomes a dreary venture.  Find your own little thing, make sure the reward is relevant for you.

6. Surf the urge. It is hard for us humans not to give in to temptation in the moment. During a 2007 study of chimpanzees and humans, both groups were offered two favorite snacks now or six favorite snacks later if they waited two minutes. While 72% of the chimpanzees were able to wait out the two minutes, only 19% of the humans were prepared to make the short term sacrifice.

Do: Notice your thought, craving or feeling. Accept this inner experience. Breathe in to the count of 5, hold on the count of 6, and breathe out on the count of 7. Do this several times a day and give your brain and body a chance to pause and plan. Broaden your attention, and look for the action that will help you achieve your goal. If this sounds too esoteric for you, try this: as you think about having a the extra fries with mayo, tell yourself that you can still order it if you crave it 10 minutes from now. Often the urge gets smaller, we move on and vice delayed can be vice denied.

7. Never break the chain twice.  Progress will happen even if you take baby steps. Say you want to stop eating meat but have set backs. As long as you make sure that you never have two set backs in a row (i.e. eating meat during two consecutive meals), you will slowly but surely get closer to achieving your goal by pure mathematics.

Do: Watch this.

And as for love-struck Slava, you might wonder? After running more than 10,000 miles, Alina finally went out with him for another date. Like a good fairy tale with a happy ending, Slava got the girl.

slava and alina

Slava is likely among the few lucky ones who are born with a high degree of determination. For the rest of us, while we are unable to draw on what Mother Nature didn’t give us, we can use the tactics described earlier and build good habits. Creating automated processes will help us overcome decision fatigue and use the willpower resources we have more effectively.

With this, borrowing from Star Wars, May the force be with you in 2018!

Read more:

The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal

Willpower: Why Self-Control is the Secret to Success by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney


by renita kalhorn


True life is lived when tiny changes occur. ~Leo Tolstoy

It’s that time of year, at least for me, where I look back and think, where did the year go — what did I accomplish?

I was reviewing my notebooks and seeing that I’d been writing about some of the same career, language and fitness goals for years. My first thought was: “Wow, nothing’s changed!” and my achievement-loving self felt a pang of despair.

Then I thought, “Wait a minute, a lot has changed:” I’ve created a bi-continental life between NYC and Paris, for one, and have made gains on all the Olympic lifts, for another. Once I started making a list, I saw there were, in fact, plenty of positive changes in my life, large and small, that signaled I was moving toward my goals.

Human nature strikes again, this time with “change blindness.” Research shows that we’re surprisingly capable of missing even major changes right in front of us. (In one hilarious study, 50%+ of the people who were asked directions on the street didn’t notice when the person they were talking to was replaced by someone else after construction workers walked between them.)

We have a kind of “change blindness” when it comes to our daily lives as well. For positive change, that is — we’ll notice negative change right away.

But as Harvard professor Teresa Amabile showed in her research, we feel most motivated when we have a sense that we’re making progress. So, in the same way we can catch people doing things right, we can focus on the tiny positive changes resulting from our efforts.

It’s easy enough when the change is concrete and quantifiable: when we can point to revenues increased, subscribers gained, pounds lost, errors reduced.

But when it comes to behavior or performance, there’s often no way to measure incremental progress. So we have to get good at noticing subtle differences — something I learned as a musician, when the only evidence of my hours of practice was a slight improvement in rhythmic control or melodic phrasing.

Did you bounce back from a disappointing email in minutes instead of hours? Catch yourself before getting defensive in the meeting? Manage to say no to your colleague who usually pressures you into saying yes? Make it through the workout with no breaks? Forget there was chocolate in the cupboard instead of obsessing about it? (That was a big tiny change for me!)

These are all signs of progress.

Then, as Professor of Psychology Todd Kashdan says, you have to savor it: “Stop for 10 seconds and soak up all the details. It requires 10 seconds for the brain to be Velcro with the win so it’s sticky in your brain.”

There is no progress too small to celebrate. What’s one tiny positive change you’ve noticed today?

And Happy Holidays from your North of Neutral team – wishing you and your loved ones a peaceful transition into 2018! 

by anne lueneburger


A few weeks ago a blog post went up: “Failure #2: Not being Anne Lueneburger”. Looking at the title, I giggled. Was that a joke? I soon realized its author, my friend Tricia, was being serious.

Reading on, I was perplexed that someone so accomplished, who has such a full life, would think she might be falling short. And I admired her courage of sharing her vulnerability so openly. Tricia is one of the most likeable, interesting and smart women I have met. Together with her husband Stan, she is raising three young daughters in rural Canada. She captures their life off the beaten path in her blog: Experimentingaswegrow.

My mood changed. Surprise was replaced by feeling flattered. Really, she thought I was interesting? That I was successful? Admiration feels good. But a feeling of discomfort soon followed. I recognized the voice Tricia shared as one that had created similar narratives in my own head: thinking that I have/am less [fill in the blank] than someone else. Most of us have moments of being tough on ourselves.

Psychology labels the emotion that results from unfavorable social comparison as envy. This emotion that so many of us feel, if not addressed, can lead to bouts of anxiety, feeling deprived and depressed.

The biology of “envy”

Envy lights up the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex part of our brain. Envy in humans intensifies especially with people who we perceive to be similar to us, such as age, job experience, or values. Not surprisingly, when we look at 360-degree feedback results, our peers tend to be our toughest critics, more than our boss or our direct reports.

Coming up short in social comparisons essentially conflicts with our need to maintain a positive self-image. The result is a two-fold emotional pain: self-social (disappointment in ourselves) and social exclusion (feeling inadequate as we look at others). The more we think the other person outshines us, the greater the pain. A sad reality is that when the coveted person gets unlucky, key reward nodes in our brains get activated. Envy goes, Schadenfreude comes.

How do we get out of this thinking trap?

Whether we resent our colleague’s ability to articulate confidently in front of the Board or a friend’s financial independence, envy is a mood hoover. But we can zap its power supply: feeling inferior.

Step 1: Start with compassion: If a friend at work gets passed over for promotion, you would feel for them. What then is wrong with some self-compassion when you are experiencing a tough stretch? Offer phrases that you might say to them to yourself: “No wonder you feel stressed/bored/frustrated when you look at [person x] who is the boss’s favorite. But they have been here twice the time you have, so allow yourself to be patient.” While we do not have a lot of control in life, we do have control over how kind we are to ourselves.

Step 2: Understand where your negative self-judgment stems from: Negative self-judgment precedes feelings of envy. Where does your tough inner critic come from? Possibly another person exemplifies what your parents envied or admired. For example, if your parents idealized a college education or financial success, you might be craving this in your own life. Looking at your ideal self and giving it a reality test is important. Maybe it is time for an overhaul when it comes to the standards you are measuring yourself against. What really matters to you?

Step 3 Count your blessings: As Buddha said, “the way to happiness is actually quite simple: the secret is to learn to want what you have and not to want what you don’t have.” Writing a gratitude journal is a powerful intervention that leads us back into a positive spiral.

Step 4: Wish the other person well: “May you be successful in your next role”. This can be hard. But it is the ultimate road to envy-less bliss: celebrating another person’s success.

And if everything else fails, why not run the thought experiment of how you would feel about exchanging your life 1:1 with that of the person you think has something you want. Cherry picking does not work, you gotta eat the whole cake.

I guess in the case of Tricia and me that would mean a bit of along the lines of the US reality TV show of Trading Places. Are we ready Tricia? I for one feel intimidated by the thought of stepping into your shoes, even for a week. Not sure I would be able to measure up.