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.


vision = act as if


“To believe in the things you can see and touch is no belief at all; but to believe in the unseen is a triumph and a blessing.”
~ Abraham Lincoln


by renita kalhorn

Too often, we get it backwards. We think it’s when we reach our big goal – the seven-figure revenues, ideal body or championship trophy — that we can believe it’s possible.In fact, we have to embrace our vision before it actually happens: “You’ll see it when you believe it,” said Wayne Dyer.

That’s what Roger Federer proved when he won Wimbledon again this year, after not winning a major tournament for five years (!), even as many publicly expressed their belief that he couldn’t.” I kept believing and dreaming,” he said afterwards. “If you keep believing you can go really far in life.”

The thing is, “believing and dreaming” is hard because our brain does NOT want to imagine a different reality than the one in front of us. “That’s a waste of valuable mental energy,” says the brain, waving its calculator. “Let’s just keep scanning the current environment for potential threats and react the way we always do. More efficient that way.”

So how do you get around that?

Start from where you are with what you have.

When Jake Jacobs, founder of Winds of Change Group, wanted to take his company to $5M in annual revenues, he and his team began behaving like a $5M company wherever they could in the way they were currently conducting business: who they had as clients, what services they were offering, how they closed deals and how they delivered upon promises.

Start with tiny actions.

Even the smallest change can have a ripple effect. I spoke with a technology entrepreneur who feels in limbo while he waits for funding to come through. Once it does, he told me, he wants to get a receptionist, upgrade the office environment and showcase the artwork of up and coming artists (he showed me one of them, sitting on the floor, unhung). “Hang the picture!” I told him. “Put a table where the receptionist will sit. Send a signal to yourself (and your team) that things are happening NOW.”

Start with how you talk.

Another entrepreneur is seeking funding to develop a crucial piece of her technology. Though what she says sounds positive — “I’m going to get the money” — those words actually put her in a place of always being about to get the money, not actually having it. Instead, if you say, “I’m getting the money” it starts you thinking about what you’ll do when you receive the payment (in her case, prioritizing a to-do list for the developer).

The good news is you don’t have to be utterly convinced, beyond a shadow of a doubt, of your invincibility. Golfer Jordan Spieth said after coming back from three bogeys to win The Open Championship: “Michael Jordan and Michael Phelps are the greatest to ever do what they did, and I’m not. But if you believe that you are, then you’re almost as good as being that. And it’s so hard in that situation to believe that, but just having just the slightest bit of belief in it makes you so confident.”

That’s what “act as if” really means. It’s not about faking it, pulling the wool over people’s eyes or shirking your current responsibilities. It’s about cultivating the slightest bit of belief, one tiny action at a time.

“The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once.”

~ Albert Einstein


by renita kalhorn

If you’re a working human being in the modern world, you’re keenly, maybe even obsessively, aware of time, with thoughts like: “I don’t have enough time.” “This is taking too long.” “I’m falling behind.” For sure, it’s hard not to come from a place of scarcity around time when our success seems to revolve around it.

But before you read another article about time management or productivity hacks, first understand this: Your brain perceives lack of time as an actual survival threat. Which means every time you imagine an unwanted consequence related to time, you’re likely triggering a “fight or flight” response.

You think: “How are we going to get this bug fixed before the client meeting tomorrow morning?” (Your brain registers: Death is imminent!) You think: “We’re not going to make our quota this month.” (Your brain registers: Death is imminent!)

Now, think about the hundred other ways you can be triggered by time scarcity during a typical work day: you need to hire that rock star salesperson before your competitor does, get through traffic to a client meeting, finish a meeting in time to make your flight, get home in time to see your kids before they go to bed, and the list goes on.…

The thing is, there’s a cost, a sort of bandwidth tax, associated with this “time scarcity” mindset. According to economist Sendhil Mullainathan and psychologist Eldar Shafir, authors of Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much, our perception of being overwhelmed or feeling behind induces a kind of shortsightedness that makes us “less insightful, less forward-thinking, less controlled.” Not exactly the recipe for stellar decision-making.

And remember, fight-or-flight reaction produces a rush of stress hormones like adrenaline or cortisol and, over time, we can become as addicted to this state of scarcity as we do to caffeine, alcohol or other chemical substances. So even though you may think you want to feel less stressed and more calm, your body has other ideas — it’s craving its adrenaline fix and is not going to easily let you change your habits.

So while you can’t eliminate the fight or flight response, you can train yourself to interrupt and neutralize it. Here’s how:

Step 1: Recognize the false alarms. Because so much of our behavior is automatic and deeply conditioned, most of the time we’re not even conscious of what sets us off. But you can start to notice your signature “fight or flight” triggers: Do you feel a pit in your stomach when you see the CEO walking toward you? Panic a little when a certain name comes up on your phone? Each time, ask yourself whether your survival is literally, actually, in danger: “Am I being chased by a sabertoothed tiger?” “Is my hair on fire?” If not, you can tell yourself: “False alarm! My life is not in danger.”

Step 2: Get back to the present moment. For most of our waking hours, we’re in our heads, reliving the past or transposing it into the future. When we’re in a meeting, we’re thinking about getting back to work; while writing an email to the team, we’re rehashing what someone said in the meeting; in a call with the client we’re wondering what to eat for lunch…we’re never really fully present in the moment that’s right here, right now.

And yet, all our power to solve our perceived problems is in the present moment: “It’s easy to miss a potential piece to your innovation puzzle when it’s right under your nose if you aren’t there,” says Angela Benton, founder of NewME Accelerator. As I’ve said before, a ridiculously simple but effective way to bring your attention back to the moment is to simply narrate the facts of what you’re doing (leaving out the emotional content): “I am listening to the conference call…” “I am calling the client…”

Step 3: See time as a tool not a threat. “Time and space are not conditions in which we live but modes in which we think,” said Albert Einstein. That’s the difference between being in survival mode and working well under pressure. If you see time as a condition that you can manage, you will feel out of control when you perceive that you can’t. Instead, use time as a tool to manage something that is in your control: your attention. Decide how much time you’ll spend answering emails (15 minutes), brainstorming new sales prospects (30 minutes). Try the pomodoro technique.

You’ll have the same amount of time as before, but you’ll feel more in control, less in survival mode.

“By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin

cat and dog negotiate

by jennifer bezoza

So often the anticipation of having a “difficult conversation” is worse than the reality of actually having the conversation. We build it up in our heads, avoid it and imagine the worst case scenario for it. We may feel too emotional about a topic to hold a productive conversation or we may anticipate the subject may be too emotional for the other person so we may avoid it for too long.

I recently had the opportunity to teach a few half-day classes for a financial services client; this particular client is going through a major transformation in how they provide technology services internally.   As a self-described “nice” culture, the organization’s leadership wanted to enhance technology leaders capacity to confront business leaders productively and transparently, and help business partners to own the change implementation process alongside the technology function; thus, they needed to build managers confidence and competence in leading delicate conversations with the internal client groups they serve.

So often, what makes the difference between a difficult and productive conversation is our level of care and planning in advance of the conversation. What I increasingly appreciate in reflecting on this topic intensely over the last several weeks is that our tolerance and savvy for difficult conversations grows exponentially the more we do it.

Here are some questions you can ask yourself and also practice answering with a thought partner when you are thinking about broaching a difficult conversation with someone else at work or in your life:

1/How could having this conversation positively advance the cause?

2/What could be the worst case scenario of having this conversation?

3/What would be ideal outcome of having this conversation?

4/Do you care enough about this person, this work and the beneficial outcomes to broach this topic?

5/What is the most constructive, positive next step(s) you can take to prepare for the conversation?

In teaching this topic, I have had to ask myself whether I am fully seizing every opportunity I have to be a positive change agent as a coach and consultant, a parent, a friend and colleague, and as a concerned citizen. I realize that with lots of practice, it has become much easier and even seamless for me to regularly confront difficult topics, and also to make those “difficult” conversations natural, respectful and even enjoyable.

Especially in today’s climate, where political outcomes and decisions in Washington, DC may have thrown us for a loop, it’s grounding and affirming to be able to speak up and impact change in our sphere of influence.   It seems there is no better time to be able to navigate and confront meaningful topics, in face of an increasingly volatile national and international climate.

Want more? You might also enjoy reading our entry the road from ‘no’ to ‘yes’.

by renita kalhorn

“If someone comes along and shoots an arrow into your heart, it’s fruitless to stand there and yell at the person. It would be much better to turn your attention to the fact that there’s an arrow in your heart…”

Pema Chodron, American Buddhist nun


Standing at the crowded coffee bar, I waited patiently to catch the attention of the server frantically busy filling orders. A tall German woman strode up next to me and, with no hesitation, called out her order for two cappuccinos. I looked at her, incredulous, feeling the urge to slap her arm and say: “Are you serious?! Do you not see the rest of us waiting here?”

The thing is, I wasn’t in New York, where a moment of indignant rage might make sense in a relentless “survival of the fittest” kind of environment. I was at a hotel in a sleepy resort town in Verona, Italy, two days into a four-day meditation retreat where we had been meditating for hours starting at 6:00 am. In fact, we were just coming out of a meditation session — and yet, I was still immediately triggered.

“If you can’t stop that emotional reaction, then you’re addicted to that emotion,” Dr. Joe Dispenza, the neuroscientist leading the retreat, had told us. (Because, as I’ve mentioned before, emotions are simply chemical reactions in our body and we can become as addicted to them as an external substance like nicotine or caffeine.)

So, with newfound clarity (probably from all that meditation!), I saw how interactions like the one at the bar — where not only am I quick to feel slighted, judgmental and self-righteous, but I think my reactions are totally justifiable — were simply insidious ways to feed my addiction to those emotions.

If you’re human, you, too, probably have hundreds of seemingly justifiable emotional reactions to what happens every day: Colleagues [spouses, children, friends, strangers] take credit for your ideas, call in sick (again!), dismiss your suggestions, talk over you in a conversation, criticize your work, make annoying sounds when they eat, fight with their siblings, invade your privacy…

It’s these emotional patterns that keep us tethered to the past. So if we want to create a new future for ourselves, we have to get beyond them — to recognize our typical reactions and choose different ones. Which isn’t easy because: 1) we are in autopilot for most of our waking day, our reactions driven by our unconscious thoughts and beliefs; and 2) we associate those reactions with our identity — “I am someone who gets upset when others don’t follow the rules” — and no matter how unpleasant or uncomfortable they may be, we don’t know who we are without them.

But, with practice, it is possible (and you don’t need four days of meditation). Just start by identifying one of your signature emotional reactions — you know, the usual suspects like frustration, guilt, anger, regret, overwhelm. What are the situations that typically trigger them? Now, what’s one small way you could change your reaction?

Me, I’m learning to recognize the first signs of an emotional charge, like the first rise of a wave, and catching it before it gathers momentum and, hard as it is, instead of giving someone the death stare, saying, “Let it go, just let it go