Models for Happiness

Our usual modes for happiness- the hedonist who only lives for pleasure in the moment and the rat racer who postpones gratification for the purpose of attaining some future goal- do not work for most people, because they ignore our basic need for a sense of both present and future benefit.

More to come about Happiness and Tal Ben-Shahar.

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Just Do It

In his 1980 book, The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, Millman writes: To change the course of your life, choose one of two basic methods:

1- You can direct your energy and attention toward trying to fix your mind, find your focus, affirm your power, free your emotions and visualize positive outcomes so that you can finally develop the confidence to display the courage to discover the determination to make the commitment to feel sufficiently motivated to do what it is you need to do.

2- Or you can just do it.

Too many people say that they want to change. “I want to go on a diet… I want to start going to the gym… I want to spend more time with my kids”. But most are unwilling to put in the work because that’s the hard part. As you develop your plan for how you want to change, you become overwhelmed. You’ve also expended the energy you could have used to enact the change by only thinking about the change. JUST DO IT. You want to go to the gym? Then go to the gym. Don’t be intimidated by your plan. You are only convincing yourself to do it tomorrow at best. More likely tomorrow becomes next week, then next month, then next year. Be the change you want in your life and start now.

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Commitment versus Meaning

From “The Joy of Leadership” by Tal Ben-Shar:

Meaningfulness is about the connection we feel toward an activity- whether we experience it as personally significant and aligned with our ideals. Commitment is about the motivation or energy we bring to the activity- and consequently, how likely we are to persevere in what we’re doing. In his book, which was focused mostly on how young people chose the direction their lives would take, Damon categorized people into four groups- the disengaged, the dreamers, the dabblers, and the purposeful.2019-09-05_12-53-35

So often, many of us speak about the “Grind.” The daily routine… putting your nose to the grindstone… some would even call it “hustle.” But for what purpose? Is there meaning to your commitment? Are you focused on a goal or a purpose? Goals are incremental steps that take us from one place to another. Purpose is the why that describes our actions.

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Embracing a Learning Culture

Received job tasking this morning to provide feedback to headquarters consolidating tools, resources, initiatives, and best practices that complement a “Culture of Excellence.” I found the tasking striking for two reasons. First, relating to a book I’m currently reading, “The Evolution of Everything: How Culture Emerges” by Matt Ridley, trying to identify and engineer culture changes from the top-down is a failing effort. Many leaders are unwilling or unable to accept that many ideas, whether culture, language, or ideas, develop and evolve from the bottom-up. In many cases, there is no engineer or architect directing the efforts of the lesser entities. The bottom-up concept is hard to accept for many because we want to see cause and effect. Most are unwilling to accept that some things just are.

The second reason I found this tasking interesting is that included in the tasking was an internal study conducted of industry-leading companies. This study identified the attributes and characteristics of organizations that embrace a learning environment. Leaders of these companies also cite that it is impossible to focus efforts are multiple areas of culture, but rather by focusing on one area of culture, learning or safety for example, they would often see dividends in other areas of culture, such as productivity or morale. By establishing well thought out goals, and reinforcing “correct” behavior, culture was able to slowly evolve.

The tasker I received strikes at the heart of a top-down approach where leaders want to identify the “tools, resources, initiatives, and best practices” so that they can be emulated. While the intention is good, I strongly feel that a bottom-up approach is more effective. Furthermore, the “Industry Best Practices and Learning Culture” materials highlight that a key component in any learning culture change is Leadership.

Where psychological safety was discussed as a precondition for realizing a true learning culture, leadership was cited as its most important criterion. Without the right leaders, culture change and other large, transformative initiatives are likely to fail. The corporate leaders prioritized finding top talent and stressed the need for organizations to acknowledge that effective leadership is a skillset of its own. Technical competence is not, in itself, enough to merit promotion to a leadership position. Only the best and most ideally suited leaders consistently live the values and exhibit the desired behaviors of the organization, properly engage and coach employees, create and communicate a sense of purpose, and define and execute the vision of these companies. These leaders are genuine in their approach to the obligations of leadership, taking pride in their ability to positively influence and develop their employees, and by extension, the trajectory of the organization. In identifying these traits and promoting the leaders who exemplify them, organizations nurture loyalty to the institution in a self-reinforcing cycle.

 While the leadership described above can be inspirational, truly “transformational” leadership requires an additional step. The corporate leaders explained that leaders who are self-aware are the best types of leaders – those who are able to not only notice performance trends in their employees and provide effective feedback, but are also able and eager to receive the same type of feedback. After establishing psychological safety and human factors as a foundation, transformative leaders further differentiate themselves by embracing the practice of self-awareness. Where other managers merely accumulate knowledge and feedback, truly effective leaders go beyond. These high performers are able to overcome the mental blocks others commonly display when receiving criticism, such as defensiveness or self-justification. These successful leaders accept, internalize/acknowledge, and take action to correct identified shortcomings or blind spots. They constantly re-define themselves, acquiring new ideas, perspectives, and skills, while jettisoning others that are no longer relevant.

Thank you Jocko and Extreme Ownership for highlighting that all problems can be solved by leadership. It takes a special person to be a true leader. A true leader must be humble, self-aware, and most importantly, must be willing to take ownership of everything in their world. The study goes on to further stress the importance of failure in a strong learning culture. Chris Argyris from “Teaching Smart People How to Learn” (Harvard Business Review, May-June 1991) says:

“Put simply, because many professionals are almost always successful at what they do, they rarely experience failure. And because they have rarely failed, they have never learned how to learn from failure. So whenever their single-loop learning strategies go wrong, they become defensive, screen out criticism, and put the “blame” on anyone and everyone but themselves. In short, their ability to learn shuts down precisely at the moment they need it the most.”

One final thought; try to keep things simple, not easy. Thanks again Jocko. (Extreme Ownership Fundamentals). Instead of focusing on the tools, processes, and best practices of other High Performing Organizations, take some easy advice from The Armed Forces Officer, and treat everyone with dignity and respect. Make employees feel important, define their tasks clearly, and eliminate the roadblocks in their way to execute. “Happy” workers are more productive, but satisfaction, whether professional or personal, comes from having control of your destiny, being free to encounter some failure along the way, and being a stakeholder in your company’s success.

Organizations falter in creating a culture of engagement when they solely approach engagement as an exercise in making their employees feel happy…Happiness is a great starting point, but just measuring workers’ satisfaction or happiness levels and catering to their wants often fail to achieve the underlying goal of employee engagement: improved business outcomes. Organizations have more success with engagement and improve business performance when they treat employees as stakeholders of their future and the company’s future. They put the focus on concrete performance management activities, such as clarifying work expectations, getting people what they need to do their work, providing development, and promoting positive coworker relationships.

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“Discipline Equals Freedom: Field Manual” by Jocko Willink

What better time to remind ourselves of the importance of discipline than as the holidays come to full swing. The distractions and off-ramps that take us farther from our goals are abundant. I’m not saying that these distractions are bad. Time with family, travel, holiday commitments, are all things that take us away from our daily comforts and routines. Maintaining self-discipline during these times is challenging, if not impossible for some. Unhealthy foods, sleeping in, not working out. The holidays serve as a perfect excuse for us to justify taking some time off or letting our discipline crumble. In Jocko’s Field Manual, “Discipline Equals Freedom,” there are numerous examples of how and why maintaining that self-discipline is critical to our progress. The comforts of the easy path are just that, easy. In this book, Jocko’s prose, bordering on poetry in some cases, provide a multitude of reminders to keep us motivated and on the “war path.”

  • To reach goals and overcome obstacles and become the best version of you possible will not happen by itself. It will not happen cutting corners, taking shortcuts, or looking for the easy way. THERE IS NO EASY WAY. There is only hard work, late nights, early mornings, practice, rehearsal, repetition, study, sweat, blood, toil, frustration, and discipline. DISCIPLINE.
  • People are not who you want them to be. Kill your idols. Sure there are things we can learn from people—but people aren’t going to be what you think they are—what they should be. People, even those people you have put up on a pedestal, are going to be faulted, weak, egomaniacal, condescending. They are going to be lazy, entitled, shortsighted. They will not be perfect. Far from it.
  • The only person you can control is you. So focus on making yourself who you want you to be.
  • You have control over your mind. You just have to assert it. You have to decide that you are going to be in control, that you are going to do what YOU want to do. Weakness doesn’t get a vote. Laziness doesn’t get a vote. Sadness doesn’t get a vote. Frustration doesn’t get a vote.
  • A person’s strength is often their biggest weakness. But, their weaknesses can become strengths. Me? I am weak, in all those ways, I am weak. BUT I don’t accept that. I don’t accept that I am what I am and that “that” is what I am doomed to be. NO. I do not accept that. I’m fighting. I’m always fighting. I’m struggling and I’m scraping and kicking and clawing at those weaknesses—to change them. To stop them. Some days I win. But some days I don’t. But each and every day: I get back up and I move forward. With my fists clenched. Toward the battle. Toward the struggle. And I fight with everything I’ve got: To overcome those weaknesses and those shortfalls and those flaws as I strive to be just a little bit better today than I was yesterday.
  • If the stress is something that you can control and you are not, that is a lack of discipline and a lack of ownership.
  • Don’t fight stress. Embrace it. Turn it on itself. Use it to make yourself sharper and more alert. Use it to make you think and learn and get better and smarter and more effective. Use the stress to make you a better you.
  • It takes both emotion and logic to reach your maximum potential, to really give everything you have, to go beyond your limits.
  • When it just doesn’t make any logical sense to go on, that’s when you use your emotion, your anger, your frustration, your fear, to push further, to push you to say one thing: I don’t stop.
  • Fight weak emotions with the power of logic; fight the weakness of logic with the power of emotion.
  • It is never finished. You always have more to do. Another mission. Another task. Another goal. And the enemy is always watching. Waiting. Looking for that moment of weakness. Looking for you to exhale, set your weapon down, and close your eyes, even just for a moment. And that’s when they attack. So don’t be finished.
  • Discipline calls for strength and fortitude and WILL. It won’t accept weakness. It won’t tolerate a breakdown in will. Discipline can seem like your worst enemy. But in reality it is your best friend. It will take care of you like nothing else can. And it will put you on the path to strength and health and intelligence and happiness. And most important, discipline will put you on the path to FREEDOM.
  • Knowledge is a powerful tool. It is the master of your tools. It is where your tools come from, because without knowledge, there is nothing. Let’s take that one step further: Knowledge is the ultimate weapon; it trumps all other weapons. Thought is what wins—the MIND is what wins—knowledge is what wins. And you gain knowledge by asking questions. Which questions should you ask? Simple: Question everything. Don’t accept anything as truth.
  • Question yourself every day. Ask yourself: Who am I? What have I learned? What have I created? What forward progress have I made? Who have I helped? What am I doing to improve myself—today? To get better, faster, stronger, healthier, smarter? Is this what I want to be? This? Is this all I’ve got—is this everything I can give? Is this going to be my life? Do I accept that?
  • I don’t view aggression as an outward attitude. I view aggression as an internal character trait. A fire in your mind that says: I am going to win. I am going to battle and I am going to fight and I am going to use every tool I have to crush my enemy. And that tool might be fists, but it might be guile. It might be a frontal attack, but it might be a flanking maneuver. It might be an undeniable display of force—but it also might be a subtle political maneuver. And that is what aggression is to me: The unstoppable fighting spirit. The drive. The burning desire to achieve mission success using every possible tool, asset, and strategy and tactic to bring about victory.
  • The people who are successful decide they are going to be successful. They make that choice.
  • FEAR OF FAILURE IS GOOD. Fear of failure will keep you up at night, planning, rehearsing, going over contingencies. Fear of failure will keep you training hard. Fear of failure will stop you from cutting corners. Fear of failure will keep you working, thinking, striving, and relentlessly trying to be more prepared for battle.
  • Are there things I regret and things I wish I had done differently? Of course. Hindsight is 20/20 and looking back, who wouldn’t want to take another go at something and improve by doing it again? And then why not do it again, and again, and again? Who wouldn’t want to do things over until you have it perfect? But the fact is: You don’t get that chance. You get one shot. We get one shot at this gig right here: Life. One life—that’s all we’ve got. And the most important thing to understand about regret is that in and of itself, regret is worthless. It does nothing for you. In fact: The only thing valuable in regret is the lesson you learned. The knowledge you gained. But walking around filled with regret gets you nothing. So. Learn and move on. Don’t let regret beat you down. Don’t be a slave to regret.
  • When things are going bad, there’s going to be some good that will come from it.
  • Death is horrible and death is wretched and death is cruel. And: Death isn’t fair. And I don’t know why the best people seem to be taken from us first. Death is also inescapable. There is no way out. No one gets out alive. Death is part of life, like the contrast between the darkness and the light. Without death, there is no life. And the people that I have lost: They taught me that. They taught me how precious life is. How blessed we are to have every day. To learn. To grow. To laugh. To live. To Live. To live every day with purpose and passion. To wake up in the morning and be thankful—thankful for that morning—thankful for that opportunity to go into the world and live.
  • Don’t worry about motivation. Motivation is fickle. It comes and goes. It is unreliable and when you are counting on motivation to get your goals accomplished—you will likely fall short. So. Don’t expect to be motivated every day to get out there and make things happen. You won’t be. Don’t count on motivation. Count on Discipline. You know what you have to do. So: MAKE YOURSELF DO IT.
  • Everyone wants some magic pill—some life hack—that eliminates the need to do the work. But that does not exist. No. You have to do the work. You’ve got to hold the line. You’ve got to MAKE IT HAPPEN. So. Dig in. Find the Discipline.    Be the Discipline. ACCOMPLISH. That’s it.
  • We all have limitations. I don’t have the right genes to be an Olympic weightlifter. I don’t have the right genetics to be an Olympic sprinter. Or gymnast. Sure, if I trained my whole life, perhaps I could have become fairly decent in those sports. But the best in the world? No. I simply do not have the DNA to be the best in the world in those categories. But what does that mean? Does that mean I give up? Does that mean I quit? Of course not. Not at all. It means that I am going to try to be the best that I can be. The strongest. The fastest. The smartest human being that I can become. That is what I am going to go for. And it doesn’t matter that I will not be better than others when I compare myself to them. No, I will look at others who do achieve greatness in a category, and I will say: Look at what is possible. How close can I get to that greatness? How close can I get to that glory? But my glory, it doesn’t happen in front of a crowd. It doesn’t happen in a stadium or on a stage. There are no medals handed out. It happens in the darkness of the early morning. In solitude. Where I try. And I try. And I try again. With everything I have, to be the best that I can possibly be. Better than I was yesterday. Better than people thought I could be. Better than I thought I could be.
  • We are taken apart, slowly. Convinced to take an easier path. Enticed by comfort. Most of us aren’t defeated in one decisive battle. We are defeated one tiny, seemingly insignificant surrender at a time that chips away at who we should really be. It isn’t that you wake up one day and decide that’s it: I am going to be weak. No. It is a slow incremental process. It chips away at our will—it chips away at our discipline.
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“Battle Leadership” by Adolf von Schell

Pulled a few lessons from “Battle Leadership” by Adolf von Schell. Interesting perspective considering von Schell was an active German Army Infantry officer. This book is a collection of lectures given by von Schell to the U.S. Army Infantry School during the interim time period between World War I and World War II.

  • The psychology of the soldier is always important. No commander lacking in this inner knowledge of his men can accomplish great things.

Knowing the people in your organization is critical to nearly all leader’s success. The motivations that drive individuals can be as unique as the people they reside within. Having, at the very least, a cursory knowledge of those motivations will allow the adept leader to shift and adapt their leadership approaches toward the individual. This is particularly challenging when the number of people being led increases above ten.

  • Dangers that are thus foreseen are already half overcome.

Most of us fear the unknown. When those unknowns are encountered, either by design or not, they become less threatening. By removing the fear of the unknown, the legitimate fear of that danger can actually be addressed. Additionally, planning and realistic training can help people cope with their fears when they encounter them in the “real” world.

  • It is comparatively easy to make a correct estimate if one knows the man concerned; but even then it is often difficult, because the man doesn’t always remain the same. He is no machine; he may react one way today, another way tomorrow.

Under stress and extreme situations, even the most level man can behave unpredictably. Regardless of the training situations that the individual may have encountered, a leader cannot fully expect for the individuals response to be the same in the “real” world. Quality, realistic training can help remove some of this uncertainty, but not entirely. Also, people are crazy and we are not robots. Our moods, desires, and motivations can shift daily if not even quicker, making our reaction to the same situation variable.

  • This desire to act is, in my opinion, the reason why soldiers go so willingly on patrol. I repeat that it is extremely difficult to lie in hostile fire and wait, because one feels exposed to blind chance. On a patrol it is different. The soldier feels that his destiny rests in his own hands.

Defense is more difficult than offense. In the defensive situation, the individual ultimately must wait for the enemy to attack. However, on offense, the attacker has the initiative. The offense is by design one step ahead of the defense. Well trained and thoughtful defense can counter the best offense but it is still reacting to the moves of the offender. The default aggressive mindset comes to mind because even if playing defense, those players must be proactive, attacking their own weaknesses before their opponents can.

  • It is certainly evident from training in peace that the more freedom allowed a subordinate leader in his training, the better the result will be. Why? Because he is made responsible for results and allowed to achieve them in his own way.

No one likes to be micro managed. As he discusses later, plans must be simple and the commander’s intent must be clear. If given the guidance, resources, and training necessary to achieve the commander’s intent, then subordinates must be allowed to accomplish objectives in the manner they see fit. That freedom to maneuver must be earned and trust must first be established between the senior and the subordinate.

  • War is governed by the uncertain and the unknown and the least known factor of all is the human element.

As we said earlier, people are crazy. With that craziness, they are inherently unpredictable. Most of us, even in daily life, do not make logical decisions. Right or wrong, there are internal motivators, both conscious and unconscious that drive our minds to make decisions. Snap decisions especially, as noted in “Thinking Fast and Slow” are made so quickly that our conscious brain sometimes does not even have time to process everything we think we see. See also “Blink.”

  • Our mission and our will are often the only things untouched by obscurity. These will frequently form our only basis for an order. If a leader awaits complete information before issuing an order, he will never issue one.

Many times the 90% solution is good enough. It’s not perfect but it will get you close. Do not be trapped by analysis paralysis. You may be wrong. That final 10% of information could be critical, but you don’t know that, and you never will until you act. Additionally, in most situations, we are not going to know when we have 100% of the information.

  • Difficult situations can be solved only by simple decisions and simple orders.

We must remind ourselves that decisions and orders must be simple. Simple does not mean easy. Clausewitz write extensively about the frictions in war and that everything is very simple in war, but the simplest thing is difficult.

  • One of the most difficult things we have to do in war is to recognize the moment for making a decision.
  • It is usually more difficult to determine the moment for making a decision than it is to formulate the decision itself.

The decision to act is often the most difficult decision to make. Sometimes the most successful leader is the one who is able to act without knowing the entire situation.


  • There is tragedy in the fact that the soldier must learn from examples of the past and only rarely from the present.

Some call this “corporate knowledge,” others may call it “lessons learned.” Sadly, those lessons are easily lost if not reiterated and discussed. The past is our greatest teacher, but it should not be our only teacher. The present moment has her own lessons and one must not be looking so far to the past at the expense of the present.

  • When all is said and done, it is the infantryman who makes the attack and in whose hands rests the decision of victory or defeat. It is his back which sustains the heaviest burden; his body which suffers the greatest hardship, and his life which is suspended by the most tenuous thread. Therefore, it is he who is most vitally concerned with the enemy, with the hostile position, with the terrain over which he must operate, with the artificial obstacles which he will have to overcome, and with a thousand and one schemes for the conduct of the attack.

When making decisions, the leader must not forget the cost and toll that their decisions will have. In this case, von Schell reminds us that the infantryman will bear the burden of his leadership’s decisions. Hence, the infantryman must have a vote. Additionally, the infantryman is the expert; his life depends on it. As a leader, remind yourself of the implications of your decisions and take into consideration the opinions and expertise of the front line troops. Those troopers will be the ones executing your orders.

  • At the very beginning of the war, all armies learned that far more time is required to prepare an attack than had been thought. They also learned that once battle is joined the opportunity to issue detailed orders is gone. For this reason, orders should cover everything that can be foreseen.

There are countless quotes about the usefulness of planning. Eisenhower said, “plans are useless, but plans are indispensable.” Others have said “failure to plan is planning to fail.” Whatever quote of your choosing, understand that at the time of action, the planning phase is complete and the execution phase has begun. During the planning process, attempt to identify and mitigate all of the contingencies that you can imagine. Be detailed, be specific, but understand that as soon as you shift to execution, you will realize that you overlooked something. React to those issues but keep your reaction simple.

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“Kitchen Confidential” by Anthony Bourdain

When my wife and I heard about Anthony Bourdain’s death, we were both shocked and saddened. To learn that he had taken his own life was even more shocking. Sadly, the impetus for reading “Kitchen Confidential” was his death, although the book had been residing on my bookshelf for many years. Not only was it a brash look at the dark underbelly of the cooking industry, it was also an insightful glimpse into the world of Bourdain himself, clearly passionate about an industry that kicked him around for many years. While reading “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield, I could not help but think about Bourdain’s prose. Bourdain’s attitude, approaches, and demeanor did not immediately scream PROFESSIONAL, but his commitment and dedication to an art certainly did. Below are just a few notes from this book that I captured, more out of entertainment than insight for myself although there is deep meaning within.

  • Food had power. It could inspire, astonish, shock, excite, delight and impress. It had the power to please me . . . and others. This was valuable information.
  • Practicing your craft in expert fashion is noble, honorable and satisfying.
  • Good food and good eating are about risk. Every once in a while an oyster, for instance, will make you sick to your stomach. Does this mean you should stop eating oysters? No way.
  • never order fish on Monday, unless I’m eating at Le Bernardin — a four-star restaurant where I know they are buying their fish directly from the source. I know how old most seafood is on Monday — about four to five days old!
  • Vegetarians, and their Hezbollah-like splinter-faction, the vegans, are a persistent irritant to any chef worth a damn. To me, life without veal stock, pork fat, sausage, organ meat, demi-glace, or even stinky cheese is a life not worth living. Vegetarians are the enemy of everything good and decent in the human spirit, an affront to all I stand for, the pure enjoyment of food.
  • A proper saute pan, for instance, should cause serious head injury if brought down hard against someone’s skull.
  • All the food was simple. And I don’t mean easy, or dumb. I mean that for the first time, I saw how three or four ingredients, as long as they are of the highest and freshest quality, can be combined in a straightforward way to make a truly excellent and occasionally wondrous product.
  • I like to hear different accounts of the same incident from different sources. It adds perspective and reveals, sometimes, what a particular source is leaving out, or skewing to leave a particular impression, making me wonder: Why?
  • Appreciate people who show up every day and do the best they can, in spite of borderline personalities, substance abuse problems and anti-social tendencies;
  • Don’t blame others for my mistakes. I am attentive to the weak but willing, if merciless to the strong who are not so eager to please.
  • When they’re yanking a fender out of my chest cavity, I will decidedly not be regretting missed opportunities for a good time. My regrets will be more along the lines of a sad list of people hurt, people let down, assets wasted and advantages squandered.
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