Why Jennifer starts (and ends) with gratitude

Several years ago, I was preparing a webinar on strategic planning and stumbled upon a business parable called “The Gardener’s Badge.” In the story, employees at a thriving landscape store always seemed to have a positive outlook and wore buttons that said, “Business is great!” Through economic cycles of ups and downs, the business persisted along with the wellbeing of those who worked there. People around them assumed that the shopkeepers and tenders were happy because they ran a successful business. Instead, the moral was a twist: that their positive attitude contributed toward the success of the business. When pressed for details, they always had something they could appreciate: connection with their customers, companionship of their coworkers, learning new things, and the basic acknowledgement of having a job. 

At the time I read this story, I was going through some personal challenges that left me feeling, well, less than great. To be honest, feeling “less than great” was a state of being that was familiar and comfortable to me. But I was also curious to try an experiment (as a social scientist, I love trying small experiments in my own life). I remembered the maxim “fake it ‘til you make it” from the acting classes I took in my teenage years. And though it was not second nature for me, I decided to try keeping a gratitude journal.

Every night at bedtime, I mentally scanned through my day and challenged myself to list five things that I could appreciate and express gratitude for. On some days, the list flowed easily and I even surpassed my minimum of five. Other days it was struggle, but I did it anyway. Sometimes I felt like I was just going through the motions. I did it anyway, even on the most stressful days, even if it was just being grateful for the fact that the day was over and it was time to go to sleep.

After a few months of this practice (yes, months!), it seemed like there was a shift in the world around me. In reality, it was more likely a shift in my perspective. Research shows that attention and mindful practice change neural pathways. Specifically, the more you practice a certain pattern of thought, the easier it is to access that pattern of thought in the future. Over time, it can become second nature to find things to appreciate rather than complain about.

In particular, gratitude is associated with regions involved in social bonding and pain relief. In addition to the mental and emotional benefits, gratitude is associated with a host of effects on the physical body and relationships, including:

  • Better sleep
  • Heart health
  • Improved relationships
  • Reduced stress
  • Less aggression
  • Sense of wellbeing
  • Work performance
  • Positive effects on every major organ system
  • Structural and neuro-chemical changes in the brain

Dr. Robert Emmons describes gratitude as an affirmation of “goodness” and a recognition that the source of goodness comes from outside yourself. My experience of gratitude is as a state of being that allows me to be more connected, creative, and curious. It’s not just a matter of finding the silver linings and turning my back on the challenges. Instead, gratitude gives me a solid rock to stand on in a flow of life that inevitably includes turbulence. It allows me to take a broader perspective rather than getting stuck in the negative (our nervous system has a “negativity bias” which makes it easier to tune into perceived threats).  

The effects of gratitude practice take time, but have fundamentally transformed my relationship with life. Fifteen years later (yes, years!), I’ve explored various ways of practicing gratitude. Here are some practices you might consider:

  • Write thank you notes (even if you don’t have anyone to send them to).
  • Express appreciation in the moment when things feel like they are working out well.
  • Start with gratitude when you feel stuck. When I don’t know how to move forward (on a project or a decision), I take a pause and make a list of what I appreciate. Paradoxically, instead of slowing me down, it often creates a new pathway forward with lots of momentum.

Want to learn more?

With gratitude,


PS – Watch this 6-minute Gratitude Short Film by filmmaker Louie Schwartzenberg. It always fills me with awe. 

Why Tara Wants To Be More Like A Navy Seal

Part of the approach we use at Emerging Perspectives involves slowing down to create space. If you visit our website, you’ll see this at the top of our Approach page:

And yet, I often find myself trying to rush toward the finish line. In the back of my mind are items to check off my to-do list. My life is busy, just like yours. I have family, work, errands, chores – people, pets, emails, appointments, dishes and laundry vying for my attention.
So, why, then, do we at Emerging Perspectives emphasize the value of slowing down? Surely faster is better?
Aside from creating unnecessary anxiety, rushing through work doesn’t create better results. In fact, the opposite is often true. I sometimes think that more effort will take me further, but this isn’t always the case. Paradoxically, slowing down often makes us faster (and more effective) overall. For swimmers, a slower stroke makes them more streamlined and helps them go faster. When evacuating a building, exits clog when people move too quickly. Slower movement gets people out to safety faster.
The Navy Seals have a saying: “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.”
When you slow down, you’re more intentional and things go more smoothly. Smooth means high-quality and better progress in the long run.  Aside from making fewer mistakes, slowing down allows space for innovative and creative ideas to emerge.
And, yet, slowing down is hard sometimes. I frequently have to ask myself, “What’s the rush? Is this truly urgent?” Given that I’m not a first responder and have never had to rescue anyone from a burning building, the answer is almost always no. The sense of urgency is all in my head.
Slowing down is something I have to work at. Maybe it is for you, too? One way I do this is by trying to only do one thing at a time. Or I remind myself to pause and re-read an email before hitting send. And when I feel my body speeding up, I try to do the opposite and slow my breathing. Slow and steady.

Want to learn more?


Robin’s Quest to Boost Her Memory

How is your memory these days? About the same as always, getting better, or getting worse? Memory is something I think about a lot because I have always believed I have a terrible memory. My go-to fix for this has been to be a consummate note taker. I write down everything. Note taking only goes so far though.

Recently, I read that no one has a bad memory, just one that hasn’t been trained! Our memory is like any other skill; it can improve with practice and good habits. That sparked my curiosity and sent me on a mission to improve my own memory.

In addition to learning that with training we can improve our memory, I learned that our over reliance on technology can also have a negative impact on our memory. Have you heard of digital dementia? This term refers to how our short-term memory pathways can start to break down with the overuse of technology. We can look everything up on the internet in seconds, store hundreds of phone numbers on our phones, or use GPS to get from point A to B without having to think about it – and, all of this may be to the detriment of our long-term memory. While I’m not ready to go cold turkey on technology, I do want to focus on improving my memory.

I have been reading Jim Kwik’s book, Limitless, about ”unlimiting” our brains, in which he shares many ideas and tips on improving one’s memory. He starts with the mnemonic MOM:
M = Motivation – We have to be motivated to remember something, so figure out what your motivation is to remember something.
O = Observation – Many times we don’t remember something, like the name of the person who was just introduced to us, because we weren’t really paying attention. As Kwik states, “Most of the time when we fail to remember something, the issue isn’t retention but attention.”
M = Methods – There are numerous methods and tools that we can use to remember something (some links below). Learning and using these tools is a matter of practice and the more one practices, the easier they become to implement.

Below are some methods/tools for improving memory (and learning):

  • Using active recall to improve your memory – Pause after you read or listen to something, think about what it means, and then write down a summary of what you just learned.
  • Association – Attach visual pictures or create a story linking together the words or ideas you are trying to remember. Make it as vivid as possible in your mind and have fun. Do you remember Do-Ra Me-Fa-So-La…? Do, a deer, a female deer, Ra, a drop of golden sun, Me, a name, I call myself… ­­– Yep, that’s using association to remember the musical notes!
  • The AGES Model a method for long-term learning from The Neuroleadership Institute. It stands for Attention, Generation, Emotion & Spacing. This method can help people learn more quickly and retain information over the long haul.
  • Learn about the importance of sleep when it comes to memory – Matt Walker: Hacking your memory — with sleep | TED Talk
  • Here are 7 Ways to Keep Your Memory Sharp at Any Age ­– For example: “Use your senses. The more senses you use in learning something, the more of your brain will be involved in retaining the memory.”

I don’t know that I have improved my memory yet, but I am motivated to keep working at it!


P.S. Here’s a quick tip for keeping your motivation up.   

movement and the mind

Here at Emerging Perspectives, we enjoy learning about the ways our brains and our nervous systems contribute to both personal and professional well-being. Understanding our “operating system” helps us create habits that align us with our goals and sense of purpose. Since each of us also values physical activity as a component of a meaningful life, it’s been exciting for us to follow the emerging research on the profound impact that exercise and movement can have on the brain. In this TED Talk, neuroscientist Wendy Suzuki talks about why she believes that exercise is the most transformative thing you can do for your brain. 
For years, researchers have touted the many physical benefits of exercise on the body. Now, the list of mental, cognitive, and emotional benefits is becoming extensive. For example, physical activity improves mood, focus, energy, memory, and reaction time. For most people, a single 10-minute walk releases mood-boosting chemicals in the brain and body. The American Psychiatric Association now even recommends exercise as a treatment for depression. Research has shown that thirty minutes of movement, including walking, dancing, swimming, running, or cycling can improve focus and other cognitive benefits for at least two hours after engaging in the exercise.  
The Body-Brain Connection
Our brains are constantly receiving signals from our bodies. As a result, physical activity can change the structure and function of the brain. Exercise and movement creates new brain cells in the hippocampus, which increases memory and promotes long lasting increases in good-mood neurotransmitters (a chemical that transmits nerve impulses in the brain). Physical activity also protects your brain as you age. Your pre-frontal cortex and hippocampus, the areas most susceptible to neuro-degenerative diseases and normal age-related decline, get bigger and stronger with exercise. In other words, exercise can help us create new brain cells and connections as we age rather than lose them.
While the benefits of sustained physical activity are clear, physical activity does not need to be aerobic to be beneficial. “Non-exercise” movements can help us be more mindful. It can balance our nervous systems, enhance our perspectives, and slow down our racing minds to help us be centered so that we can be more present in our interactions with life. We’ve used gentle movement activities in meetings to energize people and create a sense of embodiment in the work we’re doing. 
Finding the Motivation to Move
Learning about the benefits of exercise can motivate us to start something new, but it often isn’t enough to keep us going long enough for it to become a habit. Finding a form of activity that you enjoy and your own intrinsic motivation can help. For example, each of us has different reasons that keep us moving. For Robin, her morning run is her chance to clear her head and start her day on the right foot (pun intended). Swimming and hiking have brought KKaye a sense of challenge and adventure over the years. Jennifer notices that, for her, short movement breaks throughout the day can help her relieve tension, boost creativity, and often lead to breakthrough ideas. Tara finds that listening to podcasts helps add pleasure to long walks or runs. 
Move when you can—the minutes and benefits add up
Whatever form of physical activity works for you is a great place to begin. To achieve cognitive benefits, you can start by aiming for 30-minutes of exercise, 2-3 times per week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic activity (where you can talk but not sing during the activity). Scheduling activity in your calendar helps to create the time, space, and commitment.
For added benefit, get active outdoors in the morning. Viewing sunlight within the first hour of waking up triggers cortisol, which puts your nervous system into a more focused state for the day. It also benefits your immune system and your sleep cycle. 
We know that many people and organizations are going through big transitions these days.  Whatever you are working on, we encourage you to find some time to make movement part of your care practice and to invite those around you to join you. 
If you want to learn more about how Emerging Perspectives can help you or your work, contact us or explore our website

How to Flex Your Creative Muscles

Tara recently had the honor of judging a short story competition. As she read story after story centered around the theme “tree,” she began to see some commonalities emerge. By the fourth story told from the perspective of a tree, she began to suspect that… maybe sometimes we’re not as original as we think we are.

And that’s okay. An idea doesn’t have to be completely unique to be implemented well. But there are ways we can enhance our originality and learn to think more creatively.

According to organizational psychologist Adam Grant, original thinkers have three surprising habits:

1) Originals take their time.

People who are moderate procrastinators tend to be rated the most creative. Why? A bit of procrastination can let your ideas percolate in the back of your mind, allowing you to make unexpected connections and new links. 

(We at Emerging Perspectives call this slowing down to create space.)

2) Originals improve on existing ideas, as opposed to trying to create entirely new ones. 

Originals open themselves up to something new. Being open allows you to look at old ideas with new eyes. According to Adam Grant, Vuja de is the opposite of déjà vu. Vuja de is when you look at something you’ve seen many times before and all of a sudden see it with fresh eyes.

Our perspectives and development can be limited by our assumptions and past experiences, creating habits of thinking and reacting. Cultivating openness can help us become more comfortable with uncertainty and prime our brains and nervous systems for out-of-the-box thinking and to be more expansive. Being open allows us to look at an old idea in new ways. 

“New ideas come from interconnections among old ideas.” 

-Robert Epstein, research psychologist

3) Originals are afraid of failing, but they try anyway. 

The greatest originals fail the most because they try new things the most. They generate more ideas. Some ideas will work, some won’t. The more you create, the more you find the really great ideas. 

This is where imagination comes in handy. Expanding our capacity to imagine alternatives and possibilities before taking action generates more options and confidence for moving forward.

Want to learn more about creativity and being an original thinker?

Watch Adam Grant’s TED Talk The Surprising Habits of Original Thinkers here

Build on an existing concept and learn to Steal Like an Artist

Read about five science-backed ways to be more creative

Here are six more things you can try to boost your creative thinking

Learn more about the neuroscience of creativity in this Q & A.

Learn more about how Emerging Perspective’s approach to cultivating openness, curiosity, imagination, focus, and reflection can help you be more creative and approach your work or projects in new ways.

Simple Rules

Simple rules can ease our minds

Our brains seek to simplify information and processes so we can better respond to unfamiliar or complicated aspects of our lives. Parts of our brains are devoted to habit formation and create habits very easily, even when we’re not aware of it. One natural response to change and complexity is to try to pay attention to and manage every little detail. However, this isn’t an approach our brains manage very well, especially if we already feel depleted. As perception of stress increases, our cognitive capacity decreases even while we might try to control as many details as possible. Instead, we can prime our brains and nervous systems ahead of time by determining what is most essential—whether in a project workflow, a meeting or relationship. 

In Simple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex Worldprofessors Kathleen Eisehhardt and Donald Sull describe simple rules as shortcut strategies that save time and effort by focusing our attention and simplifying the way we process information. Simple rules help us zoom out to the big picture and focus on what matters and what we have influence over. They give us flexibility to adapt to a changing environment while also having a sense of consistency (which can help put our nervous systems at ease). Read this Stanford Business Review post for a concise overview of the book.

Simple rules for simple rules

You already have simple rules in your life that were taught to you as a child like Stop, drop and roll in the event of a fire, or Look left; look right before crossing the street. Whether you know it or not, you likely have developed simple rules for your own unique journey. Consider:

  • Fewer rules are better than more rules. Most minds can hold about three seconds of information or three chunks of information.
  • Offer guidance rather than prescription to allow for creativity and responsiveness to unique situations. 
  • Develop simple rules to address a specific challenge or goal and tailor them to the situation.
  • Reflect on your simple rules periodically and adapt or let go as circumstances and you (or your team) change.

Design simple rules to fit the situation

  • How-To Rules like Focus on what’s working well and build from there or Ready, fire, aim.
  • Boundary Rules like  Do what’s yours to be done or If it’s not a ‘hell yes,’ it’s a no.
  • Priority Rules like First, do no harm or The customer is always right.
  • Timing Rules like Schedule meetings between 10am-2pm or Check email twice daily.
  • Exits and Letting Go Rules like If you haven’t used it in two years, get rid of it or Let go of anything that doesn’t spark joy.

align your goals and ease bottlenecks

Reflecting on where you want to go and what’s tripping you up can help you make sure your simple rules are aligned with what your vision and goals. Consider: What really matters to you in the context of a project, situation, or relationship? Where do you have influence and potential for impact? 

Pay attention to situations and activities in which you and your team feel energized, motivated, in the flow, or “alive.” This can give you information about areas that are working well. Perhaps you already have simple rules in place that you can make note of and apply to other areas. 

Also notice those times when you or your project feels blocked or gets pulled off course (this is sometimes referred to as finding the “bottlenecks” in the process). Where would you like to have more ease? This is one way to identify areas that could benefit from simple rules. What patterns do you notice? Are there actions you can take of let go of to maximize impact and minimize bottleneck?

Start by trying out one new simple rule for yourself and your team and stick with it for a month. Be curious about what changes and make adjustments if needed.  

Don’t Believe Everything You Think

Perspective taking seems more important than ever in our increasingly complex and interconnected world. As program planners and evaluators, much of our work centers around gathering and making sense of multiple perspectives on a program or challenge. We’d like to share a simple story along with some ideas and resources we’ve curated.

A few years ago, Jennifer was strolling through Pike Place Market in Seattle, Washington. She was heading to a women’s leadership retreat and arrived early to explore the area. As she wandered through the maze of fish and flower stalls, she found a tucked away corner where artists and artisans displayed locally-made crafts. A small gray ceramic dish with bold, black spirals and lettering caught her eye so she went in closer to investigate. When she was close enough she read could the words etched into the clay: 

Don’t believe everything you think.

Jennifer picked up the dish so she could take a picture of it and send it to Robin, Tara, and KKaye. For the four of us, Don’t believe everything you think is a reminder of the importance of perspective taking, the ability to look at information or a situation from multiple points of view. Perspective taking helps us become more aware of our biases as we try to make sense of the complexities of the in which world we live. It’s an art, a skill, and a practice that can benefit everyone in almost all circumstances. 

Join Jennifer for a 45-minute online community call on Monday, March 28 at 4:00pm (Central Time) to explore and practice tools for perspective taking. She’ll create space to explore the nuggets from in this newsletter, offer tools for personal reflection, and invite community conversation. Register here and share with colleagues and friends to invite them to join! 

A belief is a habit of thought

“Neurons that fire together, wire together.” Simply put, the more a pathway in the nervous system is activated, the stronger that pathway becomes. This is true for behavioral habits as well as habits of thought (aka beliefs). Additionally, the way we perceive a situation strongly influences how we act. Check out this article published by the Wharton Neuroscience Initiative to learn more about how perspective-taking helps us by both giving us access to more information than we would have without it, and also by increasing activity in the brain centers involved in creative problem-solving.

Perspective taking can expand our story

Our minds create stories about the world based on our own experience and observations. Once we’ve created a narrative about a person, situation, or problem, we become attuned to things that confirm the story we already believe to be true. In other words, we see it when we believe it more often than the other way around. This is often referred to as confirmation bias. 
Perspective taking forces us to pay attention to biases and ask questions that can disrupt habitual patterns of thought. Taking on new perspectives as a simple thought experiment can be a powerful tool for building empathy, opening up to new insights, and expanding possibilities for collaboration and action.  
Simple rules for navigating perspective taking
1. Slow down to create space. 
Perspective taking requires us to pause, disrupt our habitual patterns of thinking and observing the world, and use intention to get inside a different point of you. Watch this 17-minute TED Talk in which Roger Aronsen uses examples from mathematics to illuminate the ways slight change in perspective can reveal patterns, numbers, and formulas as the gateways to imagination, empathy, and understanding 
2. Be open to what emerges.
As you consider different points of view, ask curious questions and journal about the answers or discuss with your team. Some suggestions include:  

  • What is the story I/we are telling? What’s another story that could be true? 
  • What assumptions am I/we making? In what ways might we be wrong or misguided? 
  • What would the situation look like from the perspective of….my friend? my arch rival? my client? my boss?

Know that it’s natural for discomfort to come up as you consider perspectives different from your own. Explore more about how beliefs form a part of your identity in this interactive online tool created by Clearer Thinking to support critical thinking. 
3. Move forward with clarity, intention, and courage. 
Ultimately, practicing perspective taking can broaden our scope of understanding. Over time, we can we can feel more confident that the decisions we make—both personally and in collaboration with others—are aligned with what matters most. This article on perspective taking by AMP Creative outlines the benefits of making perspective taking a practice both in personal and professional life. They include a daily practice that can be used any time you encounter a challenge, misunderstanding, or disagreement.