Effective Leadership: What to Look For in a Leader, and To Work Toward if You Are One

By Shannon Thompson

“Sometimes you have to watch somebody love something before you can love it yourself. It’s as if they’re showing you the way.”

- Donald Miller

What makes a great leader?  Most of us have thought about this question at least a handful of times in our lives.

Why do we care?  

We care because we recognize the vital role of the leader.  Nations rise or fall on the strength of their political and military leaders.  Sports teams win or lose, in large part, by the strength of the coach. Classrooms learn or languish, based on the strength of the teacher.

Leaders matter, unequivocally.

Recognizing this, it’s important for each of us to consider the qualities we want most in a leader—not just so that we can be led, but also so that we can lead.  In this blog, I will focus on the commonalities I’ve witnessed in successful leaders in numerous domains throughout my time as an athlete, and as a mental...

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Iterating Quickly, Iterating Perfectly

By Angela Duckworth

Do you want to do things perfectly?

I do. Striving for perfection is what high achievers do. The good is the enemy of the perfect: high achievers are never satisfied with what they’ve done. No matter how good they get, they are constantly searching for ways to get better. The Japanese call this kaizen— “continuous improvement.” 

As legendary basketball coach John Wooden put it, it’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.

But more commonly, it is said that the perfect is the enemy of the good. This is also true. How so?

Because the secret to kaizen is short cycles of full-throated effort, followed by feedback and reflection, followed by an adjustment, leading to another round, and another, and another. In each cycle, you try your very best to reach perfection. You do as well as you possibly can before the clock runs out. You scan your email for typos before you send it, you think and rethink your strategy...

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The Science of Planning: How to be Super Productive

By Danny Southwick

About a month after I moved to Philadelphia to work full-time at the University of Pennsylvania, my advisor, Dr. Angela Duckworth, offered me some frank feedback:

“If I had to give you performance feedback right now, it’d be that you’re not a very good planner.”  

It wasn’t just what she said—It was the way she said it.  I knew she was annoyed with my work thus far.  

I was a little surprised by Angela’s no-nonsense feedback because I had come to know her as unusually supportive.  It was her encouragement, after all, that inspired me to pursue a PhD in the first place. But the reality was that I was falling short.  I was up to my ears trying to manage the uneven transition from being a professional athlete to being an academic at an Ivy League university.  And, despite working long, hard days, my projects were moving at a glacial pace. Even worse, I had no plan for exactly when they would be...

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Becoming Home

By Shannon Thompson

I awoke with sand in my hair, and a damp freshness to my skin. I didn’t know that dew visits the desert. The Colorado River conversed beside me. All night I’d been eavesdropping on this conference between water, stone, and air – a communion as ancient as the earth itself. This conversation with the canyon is precisely what I’d come for. Yet six months ago, if you’d suggested that I stay up all night to watch the world, I would have replied with an empty stare. Something has changed within me that I didn’t ask for, and that I never would never have predicted. My relationship with the desert is different now. This is my story of that change.

As a child, I believed that for the most part, the course of my life was in my hands. I was a devout proponent of cliche agency. You know, “if you can dream it you can do it;” “shoot for the moon and you’ll land among the stars;” “the future belongs to...

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On Being a Great Listener

By Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener

In an era cluttered with life hacks and self-improvement advice, are people really listening?

Listen up: An introduction

Among my favorite studies in all of psychology is one that examines a difference between men and women. Since time immemorial people have loved the Venus-versus-Mars dynamic. Comedians riff on perceived differences between the sexes, champions of social change lament such differences, and social scientists examine them. The particular study that tickles me so was conducted by a collaborator of mine, Sara Hodges. In it, Sara and her colleagues asked a very simple question: are there differences in the levels of the empathy of men and women? The researchers wanted to know if women or men showed more concern for others or different amounts of “accuracy” (that is, the ability to correctly understand the emotions of others).

As you might guess, they hypothesized that women might show more concern and accuracy than do men. If...

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Why Your Brain Is Hardwired for Coaching

By Jess Hopkins 

Neuroplasticity is perhaps the most ground-breaking and revolutionary finding in modern neuroscience. For many years, the consensus was that once you reached adulthood, the human brain couldn’t generate new cells and you were more or less in a state of neural decline. Santiago Ramón y Cajal, the so-called father of neuroscience, made a gloomy prognosis 1928 that would persist throughout the majority of the 20th century: “In adult centres the nerve paths are something fixed, ended, immutable. Everything may die, nothing may be regenerated.”

Thanks to modern science, we now know that this notion is false, and it turns out that an old brain can learn new tricks! Everyone has the capacity to change his or her brain for the better by harnessing the power of self-directed neuroplasticity. 

What does neuroplasticity mean, anyway?

Neuroplasticity refers to the ability of the adult brain to generate and integrate new brain cells...

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I think, therefore I am…. probably going to be successful

By Dr. Robert Biswas-Diener

You spend a lot of time in your head, thinking about stuff. You wonder if you’ll finish painting the deck, you try to remember your colleague’s name, you fantasize about winning an academy award, you consider how best to ask your boss for a raise. You spend so much time rooting around the attic of thought, in fact, that it might be fair to say that you are your thoughts. I don’t mean to get weirdly metaphysical on you so early in the writing, but whatever “you” are, it is largely about your mental processes.

For as familiar as you are with your own thoughts—your own values, choices, temptations, and fantasies—I wonder if you have ever stopped to consider how thinking works. I mean, I know you have a lot of experience thinking. You have a running commentary on everything. “Are these jeans too tight?” “Hey, she has a widow’s peak!” “Do adults have favorite colors, or only...

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The Necessary Surrender: A Call For Rest

By Shannon Thompson 

This piece is about motivation, inspiration, drive, and energy. It’s about their loss and their return. This is also about tiredness, and humanness, and honesty. This is a conviction and an empathy. It’s about the rhythm of nature, and our perpetual inhale and exhale. It’s about the rhythm of you my friend. Yes, you have one.     

I’m tired, truly. So are many who work with me. We’ve shared a dense, long year of striving within crafts we love. But no matter how complete our devotion, or divine our call, or hot our passion, we’re only people, and people get tired. 

May I ask, what is it like to be you today my friend? Do you feel like you should be doing something else more productive, more innovative, more ambitious than reading this slow beginning? Perhaps you’re fresh and fiery, committed and consistent, driven and tireless… is that what you’re telling me? But, you’re...

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Ten Mistakes that Unsuccessful People Make

By Shannon Thompson

Is there someone in your life who appears to be chronically unsuccessful? Who, despite apparent effort, just can’t seem to make progress toward his goals? This article, which highlights commonalities of performers who struggle, takes an unusual turn from the topics I normally address. Although I almost always prefer to emphasize what should be done as opposed to what should not, I feel these pitfalls are worth illuminating so that they can be avoided. This article is the second part of a series, which summarizes my observations following three years as a mental performance consultant. The first component, “What Makes The Best The Best,” explored the commonalities I’ve witnessed among those who consistently perform well. The final installment will cover effective and ineffective coaching strategies. So, grab your most objective internal looking glass and read on!

1. Those who struggle place undue importance on single performances.

Is there...

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Why We Suck at Productivity and How to Fix It

By Jess Hopkins 

Everyone I know wants to be more productive— including myself. Even though I consider myself to be a highly productive person, I still find myself saying things like:

  • There just aren’t enough hours in the day!
  • How is it already the end of the week?! I still have so much to do!
  • I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time _______ (surfing the internet, stalking Instagram accounts of puppies, etc.)

Sound familiar? We tend to blame external factors like limited time and frequent distractions for our poor productivity. But the reality is that this is precisely our reality: we live in a fast-paced, high distractibility world that makes being productive a challenge. When we convert this context into excuses, we relinquish accountability and set ourselves up to fail.

Interestingly, high performers operate within this exact same reality, but still manage to achieve next level productivity. What is it that they do they do differently? They create...

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