Episode 13 - Giving and Resolutions
Jen: Hey Peter.
Peter: Hello Jen.
Jen: Happy holidays, my friend.
Peter: Happy Holidays from my side of the globe to your side of the globe.
Jen: And happy holidays to all of you, our listeners. We are so grateful that you have tuned in today for this special holiday episode.
Peter: The holiday edition of The Long and the Short of it. Thank you everybody.
Jen: There are two things I'd like to discuss with you today, Mr. Shepherd.
Peter: Okay. Two things - you come prepared.
Jen: Yes. The first is the season of giving, and the second is resolutions.
Peter: Both relevant and timely for this time of year.
Jen: Shall we dig in?
Peter: We shall. This is The Long and The Short Of It.
Jen: You're not in the pitch black today.
Peter: I know, it's cause it's 7:30, so you know I've got a bit of natural light coming in. It's like, the next week - I know we're off topic here - our week forecast is like all eighty-five to ninety degrees. It's the best.
Jen: Thank you for translating that into Fahrenheit for me.
Peter: Do you like how I've gotten so good at that?
Jen: You really have.
Peter: Yeah. Yeah.
Jen: And guess how much effort I have put into learning to translate into Celsius? In typical American fashion: zero, zero percent effort.
Peter: At least you see that. I like that you see that and call yourself out on it.
Jen: Oh my gosh, okay. Should we get to the task at hand for crying out loud?
Peter: Let's do it. Sorry. Let's do it.
Jen: I've been noodling on this idea that it is "the season of giving," and I would like for us to really examine the connotation of "the season" of giving. I'm concerned. I am concerned, because I want us to be giving all the time. What does it suggest we're doing the rest of the year? If this is the season of giving, all other eleven month: "the season of taking."
Peter: Like, "alright everybody, enough taking, now for the next week, it's giving time. It's the season."
Jen: Right, and for these purposes, "giving" is going to mean investing in crazy commercialism and giving things that people don't actually need so that we can, again, like, build this weird status hierarchy of who gave the best gift. Gosh.
Peter: How's your present-shopping going.
Jen: It's actually going pretty well. So as I was thinking about this, I was reminded of something I heard Adam Grant speak about on a, I can't remember if it was his podcast Work Life with Adam Grant (which is so good, highly recommend), or if he was a guest on someone else's podcast. But he was talking about this study that he conducted around gratitude and giving. So I don't know if this is a thing in Australia, but in America it is very popular to keep a gratitude journal: at the end of a day, to identify three things that you're grateful for before you go to bed. It's a beautiful practice.
Peter: Yeah, I do it myself.
Jen: Oprah keeps a gratitude journal, so if it's good enough for Oprah, it's good enough for us.
Peter: Yeah, copy that.
Jen: So what Adam was interested in figuring out is: do gratitude journals actually help people make progress in their own life? So he had one group of subjects who kept gratitude journals, and another group of subject who - subjects, plural - who kept contribution journals. So the gratitude group recorded three things per day that they were grateful for, and the contribution group recorded three things per day that they contributed. Now, unsurprisingly, the gratitude group felt grateful, they felt happy, they felt fulfilled, they were pleased. But in terms of progress and productivity, their numbers were pretty static. However, the contribution group, the people who were actively recording their contributions that they were making to other people and to the world around them reported an average of twenty six percent increase in productivity and progress. And because they were so energized by recognizing their own contributions, they were actively seeking new ways to contribute, which of course increases productivity and progress and it becomes this virtuous cycle. So, the question I want to ask you, me, all the listeners is, "Can we make every day part of 'the season of giving?' Can we actually look for meaningful ways to contribute?" Meaningful doesn't necessarily have to be epic, it can be tiny but meaningful ways to contribute every single day.
Peter: It's interesting hearing you talk about the contribution versus the gratitude. What stands out is that a contribution is about, I mean this is probably an obvious thing to say out loud, but a contribution involves another person. Like it's an extrinsic thing that you've contributed to, whereas something you're grateful for, it doesn't necessarily need to leave your own head. Like it's very intrinsic, very internal. So I love that idea that we should be focusing on not just what we're grateful for, I don't think we should throw away that, but this idea of each and every day, how can we contribute something to someone in some way? And I actually wrote a post about this the other day on my blog around asking ourselves the question, I think I referenced this in the season of giving, but let's expand it out across three-hundred sixty-five days a year because, why not? And the question was basically like, "How could I spark joy in someone's day today?" And that to me is the similar question to, "What have I contributed to someone today?" because sparking joy in someone's day is as simple as, you know, seeing them and saying, "Thank you for the cup of coffee" - you've referenced that I've called this "good finding" before - it's like, "I see you doing this thing, making this coffee. I appreciate that. Thank you so much," and actually, genuinely meaning the compliment that you give, not just an offhanded "Thanks," and walking away. Or complimenting someone on the fancy socks they're wearing, or - I like to wear fancy socks.
Jen: I did not know this about you because it's very rare that I see your ankles, unless we're standing in the same room, in which case my eyes are at your ankle height.
Peter: Alas, I like to wear happy socks. They make, as you would imagine, me happy. In any case, these really simple acts, I think these really simple ways that we can spark joy in other people exist, but it's almost like we're not looking out for them. And so the question of either, "Who can I contribute to today," "What can I contribute to someone today," or, "How could I spark joy in someone else today?" are, like, almost questions that we should be asking ourselves every morning.
Jen: Indeed. I have a friend who works in the personal development space, and I brought him in to talk to a bunch of actors who were in long-running shows, and I can't remember exactly how this came up, but essentially someone asked him, you know, "I do this long running show, I'm doing it eight times a week, and there are just some days where I'm like, 'Ugh, gotta go to work.'" And his piece of advice I thought was so cool. He said, "Go ahead and buy two goldfish bowls." Why goldfish? I dunno - but fishbowls - "and buy a bag of marbles. Into one bowl place the number of you have left in this year or on this contract." So let's say it's, you know, January or February, for someone who's doing a Broadway show, they've got like four-hundred something marbles to put in. And then he said, "The other bowl should start empty, and at the end of each performance, before you leave your dressing room, I want you to pick up one marble and look at it and ask yourself, 'Did I contribute something today?' And if the answer is yes, you place the marble in the other bowl. And if not, if the answer is no, you must walk this marble to the garbage can and deposit it in the trash because that is what you just did with the opportunity to make an impact on someone else's life."
Jen: And there are going to be days where you throw the marbles away, because we're not always perfect and we're not always at our best. But the goal would be for the overwhelming majority of days to be days on which you can take that marble and say, "Yes, I contributed something meaningful during this performance," and put it in the other bowl, and then see the accumulation of all these contributions that you've made. And I love that idea of turning it into something tangible like that.
Peter: Yeah, a ritual. It's interesting because as you were talking about that it made me realize that, you'd have to be, we as human beings need to be clear on what a contribution looks like, because it's like, it goes back to one of my favorite sayings, which I think I've mentioned on this podcast, which is, "It's not about you." Like, the contribution, it's almost like, who are you to judge whether you've contributed to someone else in some way? And so that practice is, like, it could be difficult because you might think you've had the worst performance ever, but if you got through one message to one particular person, then yeah, you have contributed to someone in some way. So there is a, I guess a small balance there of like, I think about it as the opposite of, to me it's, if I was a perfectionist, for example, which I'm not, and I was undertaking that practice, I might have a lot of trouble moving one stone into the bowl, because my definition of "contribution," my definition of "being my best" is almost so high that I'm very rarely going to hit it. In fact, I'm probably not going to hit it every single day for sure. So I think all of this to say, I love the practice. However, I think we also need to realize when we're thinking about contributions is that almost removing our own bias from it in some way, and being like, "It's not about me, it's about helping one other person in one small way. Did I do that?" I think that is an easier question to answer than, "Did I contribute to the thousands of people in the theater today in that room?" in your example. Is that kind of making sense?
Jen: Yes. It's making me want to look up this Brene Brown quote about perfectionism.
Peter: Oh, please do.
Jen: "Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment and shame. It's a shield. It's a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us, when in fact, it's the thing that's really preventing us from flight.
Peter: Brene Brown. That is a quote and a half. Thank you very much.
Jen: Isn't it so good? She's got great, great ideas about perfectionism, but that one immediately came back to me. And then one - I'm going to give you one other, one other Brene Brown perfectionism quote: "Perfectionism is a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought. If I look perfect and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment and blame." Very similar quote, but I think important to recognize that she labels perfectionism as an addictive belief system.
Peter: Yeah, I also like that she calls herself out as being a struggling perfectionist as well.
Jen: Yes, oh yeah, the reason she can talk about this is because she identifies this way.
Peter: Yeah, which I find quite refreshing, cause like, even someone as quote unquote "successful" - I don't know why I said quote unquote quote "successful" unquote, it's Brene Brown. I feel like that's a separate episode: why is it that we say, "quote unquote?"
Jen: "Quote unquote, quote unquote," before we "unquote," what is up with that? Okay. Topic number two is resolutions. I think this came up during our live episode, which is going to be released shortly, that someone asked us about resolutions. Is that right?
Peter: Yeah, I think we're going to try and release it next week on New Year's Eve, but yes, we did get asked this question.
Jen: Okay. Well, as people are planning to resolve, I'd, I'd love to double down on the question, which is: Peter Shepherd, how do you feel about New Year's resolutions? Do you make them, how do you make them, how do you commit to them, et cetera, et cetera?
Peter: It's a hot topic. So, I've "ummed and ahhed" and "to-ed and fro-ed" a lot about this, and read a lot about whether they're beneficial, why they're not beneficial, why people make them, go to the gym for the first two days of the year and then don't ever go to the gym again, and all I keep coming back to for me is - I make them because I find them, I find them helpful, but a resolution for me is not something that I take lightly. It's, you know, it's, "I'm going to go to the gym more," like, it's not measurable. It's almost back to our very first episode, honestly, where we talked about a good goal is something that is within our control that is really measurable and that is something that gives us a benefit regardless of whether we achieve it or not. So, I had talked about this in the Q and R episode, but for me, I look at my resolutions as almost like themes. So my practice is, I'll look back at the year that has been. I'll actually look at my gratitude journal, I'll look at my calendar and I'll look at my photo reel in my, in my phone, and - not exhaustively, I'll just flick through it - and my assertion is, the things we take photos of are often the things that have brought us joy or have been memorable in some way that have got us to a point where we've got our phone out and taken a photo, so I'll look at basically the things that I was grateful for, the things in my calendar that I remember really well and the things that took photos of which were meaningful to me. And I'll just list them out on a piece of paper, and then I'll just look at them and think, like, what are the themes within these? And there's always themes. And so last year's, one of the last year's themes, for example, was to get outside more, because I had all these moments that I was grateful for:it was like a walk in the park, or like playing golf, or being at the beach or, you know, walking to work, all these things. And the theme was, I was outside, I wasn't in a train, I wasn't in a car, I wasn't in an office, I was outside. So one of my resolutions was, get outside more, and I don't necessarily go much more specific than that. I try and have like five themes, and I revisit them on a quarterly-ish basis, but I'm also, I'm quite good at sticking to things that I promised myself, which I know not many people are.
Jen: You're an upholder.
Peter: That's the one. So Gretchen Rubin's framework labels me an "upholder," which means that I uphold the promises I keep to myself. So if I say to myself, "Get outside more," I'm pretty confident that I'm going to get outside more. And I know that that is somewhat unique to my personality type. All of that to say, yes, I look at New Year's resolutions as beneficial - as a beneficial thing to do. And I know we've both read a book recently by Dan Pink that has some science behind why the first of January is actually a good time to create new habits, which you can go into, cause I know you know that better than I do, but I, yeah, I find it beneficial to reflect on the year that was, and to pause to think about the year that might be.
Jen: Well, I'm not an upholder, I'm a questioner, so I've never been big on resolutions because I've always found them to be made on an arbitrary date.
Peter: Of course.
Jen: But as you said, yes, Dan Pink's book When talks about how important it is to be able to mark beginnings, that beginnings offer you a new opportunity to commit to something, have a clean slate, et cetera. So, after reading that book, I was like, "Huh, maybe I need to reconsider resolutions." But of course, as a questioner, it's just not quite good enough for me yet. I don't see the logic in once a year doing this. So I am working on my email situation, my email habit being pretty dysfunctional, and that is something I really want to get a hold of in the new year. So I am resolving to have a quarterly look back on the new practices that I'm putting in place to make my email relationship a little more functional. So four times next year, I'm going to look at how the behavior changes have actually impacted my relationship with my email, and then adjust accordingly. That is what I'm resolving. But recently I heard a psychologist talking about the difference between a goal and a promise, and the way the language really changes our feeling about this. And so I started thinking about in my own life, things that I've set as goals versus promises I've made to myself, and what's really interesting is the promises that I've made to myself often do not have a tangible finish line. They're just things that I know to be really good and important, and I promised myself I'll do them. Like for example, I promised myself couple of years ago that I would have a minimum of one conversation about race every day.
Jen: So I've kept this promise to myself, probably to the annoyance of many people, but this is something I really believe in that I think we should be talking about, so I made this promise and I keep it. Similarly, when I learned about the importance of affirmative self-talk, I promised myself to be aware when I use words like "can't," "don't," "won't," "mustn't," "shouldn't," to the point where I've almost eradicated it from my vocabulary.
Peter: Yeah, you're very good at rephrasing everything that I say slash write.
Jen: So these are promises that I've made, and they are sort of independent and free from any sort of finite goal. So I'm wondering if I need to make a new promise to myself for the new year and beyond, not just for 2019 but in the infinite.
Peter: That's so interesting, Jen, because I've never thought about mine as "promises," I've thought about them as themes, but they are a lot more aligned to what you just described as a promise to myself to get outside more, not a goal with an end date. And I don't stop on the thirty-first of December and say, "Okay, I don't need to get outside anymore, I need to do this instead." It's almost like a "yes, and..." at the end of every year. Like, yes, I need to keep getting outside more, and I also need to do this thing as well because I've reflected on the last twelve months, so -
Jen: - ooh, I love that. Yes, and...
Peter: I'm obsessed with this idea of promises, though. It's, it feels a lot different in my head for some reason.
Jen: Yes, because the connotation of the word "promise" is that it has something to do with who you are, with your integrity, and people of integrity keep their promises.
Jen: People of integrity often miss their goals.
Jen: And they keep their promises.
Peter: Yes. Alright, so then you use promises.
Jen: Yes. "New year's promises."
Peter: As reframed by Jen Waldman right now.
Jen: So I have a resolution, and that is email-based, and my promise that I am making to myself in the new year is -
Peter: Oh, you're going to come out with it.
Jen: I haven't thought of it yet. I'm making it up as I go along. When I look at what's really, when I look at what is really important to me, a product of this last year that I would like to build on and magnify is stating opinions that I would have previously only shared in a safe space group more publicly. Because if I really want to help my own industry and the people in it and the people beyond it to change for the better, I have to be willing to call out what I see. So that is a promise I can make to myself.
Peter: I love it. We can also keep you accountable to that promise on the podcast.
Peter: Because you have to make assertions on this podcast.
Peter: Boom, the Jen Waldman promise.
Jen: What's your promise?
Peter: I guess I need to come up with one now too don't I?
Jen: Yeah. What's important to you?
Peter: Okay. I promise to continue to make myself feel like an imposter, because I know, and my assertion is, as per the episode that we've done on this, that if I feel like an imposter, I am doing work that is worth doing, I'm trying something that I haven't tried before, and that the only thing that can come from that is growth. So, I promise to continue to run towards the bang and feel like an imposter. Now I've got butterflies in my stomach, which is weird.
Jen: Run toward the butterflies, Sheperd, run toward butterflies. Well, we did it.
Peter: We did. We covered off "season of giving" and "resolutions."
Jen: And the next time, beloved listeners, you hear our voice, it will be next year, 2019.
Peter: Will it be, or will it be the thirty-first?
Jen: Oh geez. Time zones.
Peter: No, no, you're right. Unless we release it a day early, which I don't think we'll do. Look, it might be the thirty-first, it might be the first. It might be March, 2019 when you hear this.
Jen: Yep. Maybe I could take a more global viewpoint in the new year.
Peter: Sounds like a promise.
Jen: And seek to understand how other people tell time.
Peter: And that is The Long and The Short Of It.