Negative Thoughts Are More Dangerous Than We Realize

“If you realized how powerful your thoughts are, you would never have a negative thought.” So read the Instagram post I saw yesterday, which reminded me of a post I wrote in 2014 on the science behind the power of belief.

Negative thoughts have powerful negative effects. It’s that simple. Yeah, you’re probably thinking, but everyone has them.

Which is precisely why our world is so messed up. The path to a better life and world is to give negative thoughts less time in your brain.

Your Oversights Can Have Horrific Consequences

It was late in the afternoon and I was hiking through the woods in Utah’s Unita Mountains. I smelled smoke, then spotted the remains of a campfire, still smoking. As you probably know, wildfires are a growing problem in the West and it only takes a small spark to start a horrific blaze. I spent the next ten minutes making certain someone else’s campfire was truly out.

It might not have spread. It might not have been a big deal. Or it might have been someone else’s small oversight that caused a disaster.

Don’t make other people clean up your messes. Pay attention.

Who You Live Near Is More Important Than Where You Live

Reflecting on my life, I realize that most people make real estate decisions based on real estate. Do I like this house? Would it be easy to commute from this neighborhood? But strong human relationships are what make us happy, and we ought to give more thought to the people we want to be near. In my last neighborhood, I got very lucky… but I didn’t know that when we moved in.

This doesn’t necessarily mean picking people just like us, or those with whom we share values. It depends on who you are. Sometimes the vibrancy of a community stems from its diversity.

Zoom Out to Get Perspective

At 7 a.m., I boarded a Delta flight out of JFK, headed for Salt Lake City. A few hours later, we were over desolate portions of Colorado and Utah. From 34,000 feet up, you could see how vast expanses of dirt have drifted over fields and even roads.

From the ground, it’s much harder to see these patterns. Just like in daily life, it can be hard to recognize the larger patterns that are occurring. To see them, you need to zoom out and gain perspective.

Why Leaders Don't Lead And Employee Loyalty Is Dead

In recent decades—especially in the United States—job security, retirement security, and employee loyalty have all declined dramatically. Said another way, companies have completely and utterly abandoned their employees. We are not in this together; we are in this on our own.

Along the way, leaders have either failed to acknowledge the magnitude of these shifts or have mangled their reactions. Way back in 1996 at Ogilvy & Mather, I watched WPP leader Martin Sorrell assure hundreds of employees that he, in fact, was taking care of employees, and that those he cared about had already been compensated appropriately. The vast majority of employees in the room did not fit onto Martin's "worthy" list, yet he still droned on and on with the same BS pep talk. In fairness, maybe he had jet lag... but it was my first exposure to what seemed like truly heartless leadership.

As business has become all about the investors, anyone with intelligence has learned that—all too often—leaders say one thing but do another. Companies are set up to funnel cash to private equity investors, VCs, and also individual investors. Technically, any of us can participate. But the average American hasn't saved enough money for retirement even after 30 years, so how much cash do you have to profit from an "investors first" approach to business? Not nearly enough.

Putting investors first means that employees come last, or close to it. So when leaders start talking about teamwork, collaboration, responsiveness, and adaptability... what does it mean?

It means: do whatever leaders say, regardless of whether that is in your interest.

We all need income, so on the surface, we go through the motions. We try to be "customer responsive" and "adaptable". We read career guides and management bestsellers, to stay at the leading edge, or at least to be able to guess when a flaming arrow is heading for our forehead.

If this sounds a tad negative, I apologize. But it strikes me as schizophrenic that leaders go through the motions of being visionary and inspirational without acknowledging the new reality of the degree to which we are all on our own.

This is not how human society is supposed to function...

In The Knowledge Illusion: Why We Never Think Alone, Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach make the case that human beings depend on community knowledge to survive. One person knows how to kill the deer, another knows how to skin and preserve it, another cooks the meat, and still another protects the camp. They point out that the least capable among us tend to overestimate our knowledge and skills, while only the most expert tend to understate it. This means it is easy to forget how dependent we are on others, and how little we know on our own.

A freelancer-based world in which each worker has to navigate the world alone? This is not how to maximize human achievement or output. If leaders want to build great teams and great companies, they must figure out new ways to unite together the interests of diverse groups of people. Until then, employee loyalty will be dead, customer loyalty will continue to decline, and we will all accomplish only a portion of what we are capable of achieving together.

What do you think? I'd love to hear from you.

(Photo credit: Bruce Kasanoff… Alone is the woods is no way to lead your career. )

This article originally appeared on Forbes.

Looking for a Job? Sell Your Destiny, Not Your History

It's a simple question, and you've probably answered it hundreds of times. "What do you do?" If you're like most people, you probably get the answer dead wrong.

Your standard reply is probably a factual description of your current job.

The right answer is: what you want to do.

Most job candidates get so caught up in retelling the past that they fail to paint a compelling picture of the shared future they (you) could co-create with a new employer.

Let's break down the end of that last sentence.

Paint a compelling picture: If good is the enemy of great, then boredom is the enemy of getting hired. Hiring managers have to slog through countless interviews with people who drone on and on about things that don't interest the manager. Interview 10 people and I guarantee you'll have a hard time remembering what at least six of them said.

Before you do anything else, you need to engage others. That means being interesting and memorable. Jerry Seinfeld spent over a year crafting a new stand-up comedy routine after his TV show ended; essentially, he was preparing to get a new job. If the most successful comedian in the world needs to invest that much time and effort, what makes you think that simply reciting your previous "shows" will be sufficient? Would you be satisfied if Jerry simply got up on stage and said, "I played Philadelphia on July 12, 2005. Then I played Detroit on July 15, 2005. Then . . ."?

Of the shared future: Let's consider what's actually happening when you are "job hunting." You and your potential employer have been spending 99.9999% of your time apart, pursuing separate interests and objectives. Suddenly, you will be spending half your time together. What will that look like? Can you describe it vividly and in a highly compelling manner?

Most people can't for two reasons.

The first is that you haven't done your homework. You don't know much about the organization or people with whom you are talking. Not just their sales, but also their culture, customers, habits, challenges, opportunities and quirks. Especially their quirks. So do your homework, even though it takes a ton of time.

The second reason you aren't painting a compelling story around your potential is that you are in the habit of talking about your history, rather than your destiny.

Sure, I care that you know how to code and that you worked in the oil and gas industry. But have you always dreamed about building something big, something into which you could pour your heart and soul, something so important that nothing—absolutely nothing and no one—will stand in your way? Say that.

You could co-create with a new employer: Our world is far too complicated to go it alone. This is as true for Apple as it is for you. When talented and perceptive people pursue new opportunities, they understand the true nature of what is happening: together, you are exploring what you could co-create.

Exploring co-creation is nothing like interviewing for a job. In a co-creation conversation, you move quickly past your history and excitedly start to explore possibilities. Together, you start to envision an idealized future. Together, you recognize each others' strengths and weaknesses; it dawns on all of you that together you have a brighter future than any of you do apart.

This, by the way, is why some people with basically the same qualifications earn $1 million a year while others earn $100,000.

If you want to elevate and accelerate your career, don't just interview. Co-create.

Image: Bloody Nick/Flickr

This post was part of Forbes’ Career Challenge: Get Job-Search Ready In 15 Days.

How to Be Ridiculously Likable (This Really Works)

If you want people to like you, be 100% comfortable in your own skin. Hands down, there’s no more attractive quality than a person who is utterly comfortable with who they are. This quality transcends physical appearance, intelligence, education, income or personality. It is the cornerstone of success in business and in life.

Now, would you like the good news or the bad news?

The bad news, as you already suspect, is that your internal life is insanely complicated. Maybe your mother didn’t let you play with toys until you were 11, so you have low self-esteem. Maybe you grew up in the Pacific northwest and only saw the sun on every third Thursday, so you tend towards gloom and doom.

Maybe you are just brutally honest with yourself and have recognized that your hair isn’t quite as soft and supple as your most popular colleagues at work.

Just because I say “be comfortable in your own skin” doesn’t mean that — POOF! — you can instantly do it.

Now for the good news: your internal “comfort level” is not fixed; you can change it.

In the spirit of complete disclosure, if today you are insecure and self-critical, overnight you are not going to change into George Clooney. But you can certainly move in the right direction, and the more that you do, the more other people will like you.

To make progress, you need to do three things:

1.) Accept your qualities you cannot change. Don’t waste any psychic energy on all that stuff I said up top, such as how your parents raised you or whether your feet are too large. (If this is a sensitive point for you, I apologize and mean no offense.) By definition, being comfortable in your own skin means accepting your vulnerabilities as well as your strengths. For example, I have the skinniest ankles of any grown adult male you have ever seen, and it doesn’t bother me one whit.

2.) Recognize your ability to change is FAR greater than you once thought. You can’t change your height, but you can change how hard you work, how grateful you are for your blessings, how open you are to new ideas, how you approach difficult challenges, and how willing you are to pay the price for what you most want in life. This does not mean change is easy; it means change is possible.

3.) Be persistent. It takes time to build both confidence and competence.Invest the time, even on days when you feel as though you are sliding backward. Can you become utterly self-assured in a week? Nope. Can you do it over several years? Probably. Can you do it over a decade? Absolutely.

Why does this work?

To generalize a bit, no one likes incoherent thinking. We hate it when an attractive person complains about being unattractive. We dislike hearing someone make empty promises over and over again. Although we may not understand exactly what’s happening, we are not attracted to people who have obvious internal conflicts.

Or at least I’m guessing that’s what happens. All I know for sure is that most folks love people who accept who they are. You know what I mean: we’ve all seen people with obvious limitations utterly charm a room because they focus on their blessings rather than on their curses.

Personally, I’ve learned a lot about this subject by watching actors. How is it that Paul Giamatti can appear to be either totally charismatic and self-confident or weak and a total loser?

In 2001, the New York Times called Giamatti “an avatar of averageness: medium height and medium build, a little pale and unathletic-looking, with a receding hairline and not much of a chin.”

I’m no head-turner, but I can compete with that. Or maybe not. Here’s the rest of the NYT paragraph from which I lifted the above quote:

…his intense, friendly, nebbishy manner — he might remind you of Wallace Shawn or Woody Allen — along with his elastic features and infectious laugh have made him, if not a household name, at least one of the most employable supporting players in the business.

17 years later, Giamatti pretty much is a household name. This is a triumph of talent and confidence. He doesn’t have leading man looks, but his IMDB filmography just goes on and on and on.

When I have a bad week, I’m sometimes tempted to watch a big Hollywood star playing a complete loser. Think of Michael Douglas in Falling Down, where he plays an unemployed defense worker. The guy seems like such an average, pitiable loser… but in the back of my mind, I know he’s married to Catherine Zeta-Jones and that the two are Hollywood royalty.

Such a performance demonstrates that being comfortable in your own skin is not a function of how your skin looks; it is a function of what you believe inside.

My greatest lesson in life, bar none, is that people have a much greater ability to change than most recognize. So you have two choices.

  1. You can spend the rest of your life sorting through ten million theories (a rough guess) about ways to be likable. You will discover that most are hopelessly confusing and complex.

  2. You can follow my simple strategy: accept yourself, and others will do the same.

Image: roger_mommaerts/Flickr

Honesty without Compassion is Cruelty

While in a meeting several years ago, I saw the words "honesty without compassion is cruelty" posted above the other person's desk. It so struck me that I paused the conversation for a moment to absorb the intent.

People like to say that honesty is the best policy, and many segments of society are increasingly focused on getting at the truth. Schools are obsessed with standardized tests. Companies want better metrics to measure, well, everything. Nearly everyone is connected to everyone else... and these connections produce data that provide an honest picture of reality.

I'm worried that these honest snapshots of the truth could lead us to a far crueler world.

For example, think about the last couple of years and ask yourself whether our public discourse is getting kinder or harsher?

(I rest my case.)

In a civilized world, honesty and compassion need to go hand in hand. You must use honesty to help other people, not to hurt them. And you must be extremely cautious not to accidentally harm others.

When you meet up with a friend you haven't seen in a year, you wouldn't immediately say, "You are 17 pounds heaver than you were last year."

Why not?

Doing so would be tactless and cruel, so instead you say something like, "It is so great to see you again," while you might think to yourself that your friend looks a bit on the heavy side.

Technology allows us to gather massive amounts of data on human beings. If you take a test online, a system is theoretically capable of not only revealing how many answers you got correct, but also whether it took you more time (or less) to take the test versus others.

You don't need to know that you were slower than 42% of the people who took that test... and neither does anyone else.

If we are going to gather more data about our collective lives, we will also need to muster more compassion.

What can you do to move us in the right direction?

  1. Be discreet. Resist the movement to document every aspect of your work or personal life. There are true advantages to preserving gray areas in which people can let their hair down and relax.

  2. Be human. Recognize that humanity is more important than the absolute truth. Use facts to help another improve his or her life, rather than to do something that might destroy their life.

  3. Be cautious. Recognize that the "truth" is always subjective. Each of us sees "facts" through a haze of beliefs, attitudes and experiences. No single test can judge the worth or potential of another human being.

  4. Be generous. Ask more of yourself. The best skill is bringing out talent in others, so rather than judging others, do your best to help them.

How to Lead a Startup Like a Superhero

Forget 300-page business books. In reality, comic books contain all the insights you need to create a spectacular startup.

Unlike business strategy books, comic book wisdom is packed into the fewest words possible. Translation: if you give me three minutes, I can save you a lot of time...

1. Listen harder than normal people do. If you had to send a superhero nine emails and four phone calls just to get on his calendar, he wouldn't be much of a superhero. Don't hide in your office.

To create an outstanding startup, you—and everyone in it—have to be proactively listening for problems, like Superman or Spider-Man. In fact, you have to recognize that something is wrong while everyone else is still happily going about their business.

Of course, the best way to launch a startup is to focus on solving specific problems you have heard specific people say really, truly drives them crazy.

2. Help people even if you do not know them. Does Iron Man only help people in his immediate family? Of course not! (That was a trick question; he has no immediate family.)

Superheroes care about all people. If a steel girder is falling from a building towards a crowd below, the hero won't stop to ask, "Are you on my target list? Which segment are you in? Do you have budget?"

Do not ration your proactive efforts. Help more people than you can count, even if they never help you back.

3. Focus on the needs of others more than your own needs. If you want to have a business, care deeply about the needs of others.

If all you care about is going public, you never will.

You don't see Wolverine agonizing over what his stock options are worth, do you?

4. Be highly creative in your efforts to save the day. The same solution won't work every time. There's always a bigger problem, or a fiercer villain. Giving all you have to give one week won't be nearly enough the next. Get used to outdoing yourself.

5. Be relentlessly optimistic. It's okay to grumble and wisecrack in the face of obstacles, but your basic mindset has to be a hardcore belief in yourself and your allies.

The odds will always be against you, but you don't care. That just makes life interesting. Laugh at the odds.

6. Maintain a great sense of urgency. When was the last time you saw a memo to Damsel in Distress... I will be able to help you early next quarter, once we finish our product roadmap?

No way!

Drop... what... you...are... doing! "Save the day!" means today, not some random day in the future.

7. Never tolerate bullies. When a superhero encounters a bully, one thing is certain: sooner or later, that bully is going to get what he deserves. You cannot tolerate loud, obnoxious, mean, ugly jerks. There is no room for such people in a superhero's orbit.

Translation: don't partner with them. Don't hire them. Don't work for them.

8. Don't stop trying until the job is done. Your job is not to try. It is to succeed. "I'll do my best to save the planet" is not an option.

9. Take no pleasure in the misfortune of others, even if they sorta deserve it. No matter how much pain and suffering you have endured, take no joy from watching others suffer.

When you vanquish your enemies, do so with a bit of reluctance. Do not gloat over your superpowers. Respect them, and use them only as necessary.

When you win - and you will win - be noble and reserved. You don't see superheroes doing self-congratulatory dances in the end zone.

And now, a bonus lesson from reader Sara Jacobovici...

10. Know your Achilles Heel. Think: kryptonite. If you ignore your weaknesses, they can kill your career. Superheroes know what makes them vulnerable and that it could be used against them. Don't try to use superpowers you do not possess.


Images by Charles Nicholas

Bruce Kasanoff is a social media ghostwriter for entrepreneurs.

Three Powerful Ways to Stop Wasting Time

Since the whole point of this article is to help you make the most of your time and career, I won't waste words here. All three of these techniques work well, but you should pick the one that best fits your personality and personal situation:

1. The Repeat Test

Take a piece of paper or a spreadsheet, and make a column of numbers representing the hours of the day that you are awake. Mine goes 7, 8, 9, 10 11, 12... and  all the way back to 11. Leave enough room for a wider column to the right of the first one.

At the top of every hour, stop for one minute and consider how you spent the past hour. Was it useful or a waste of time? Would you repeat the same action again, or are you frustrated that it was an incredible waste of time?

Now jot a few words next to the number that represents that hour. You might write: ran six miles, feel fantastic. On the other hand, you could observe: dept. meeting accomplished nothing... 30 people in one room is far too many.

Be careful not to let this exercise transform you into a selfish jerk; sometimes wonderful uses of your time are inefficient and require patience and/or generosity. For example, after I met with a young assistant, I wrote: it took three tries, but was worth it; Dave gets it now.

You can use this technique to improve your own performance. If you make the mistake of dominating a meeting and offending others, you might write: I need to listen a LOT more.

Try this for a couple of days, and see how it works. At the very least, you will gain immediate insight into the ways that you use your time.

If you keep at this, The Repeat Test will give you a valuable record of how you spent your week, month or year. In my experience, it is much more useful to have a What I Did list than a To Do list. The former is based in reality, while the latter is often a pipe dream.

2. Take 10 at the Hour

For some, The Repeat Test is too judgmental; they don't feel comfortable evaluating every meeting and personal interaction. If this describes you, try this technique that is utterly non-judgmental.

At the top of every hour, take 10 long, slow deep breaths. While you do this, clear your mind of everything. Don't analyze your day, and don't start spinning your plans about what you are going to do three minutes from now. Just stop.

The benefits of Take 10 don't occur while you are pausing, so don't expect immediate miracles. But I find that after such a break, my stress level shrinks and good ideas tend to pop into my head.

And, yes, sometimes it becomes clear to me that I am using entirely the wrong tactics to get what I want.

3. Go Slower

This may be the most counter-intuitive advice you have ever received: by going slower, you can save time.

Instead of rushing to send a cryptic email that results in three or four back-and-forth exchanges before the other person understands your intent... go slower and compose a clear and complete message that the other person understands the first time.

Instead of rushing out a report that triggers alarm bells across your business... go slower and "socialize" your conclusions before you release the report, giving others the opportunity to influence - and understand - your conclusions.

Instead of rushing to furnish your apartment, buy a new house or plan a vacation... go slower and figure out what will really make you happy over the long run.

It takes far less time to do something right the first time, than to suffer through countless rushed efforts.

Treat time as the most precious of all gifts, because it is.

Image: David Gallagher/Flickr

Never Allow Your History Alone to Define You

When I first met Dex, we were alone together in a vet's examination room; he had been wandering the streets of Brooklyn, starving almost to death. I was thinking about adopting him, but he was considering a quick escape.

He jumped up against the closed door, so that his head and front paws were just above the door handle. He looked at me. He looked at the handle. He looked at me. He looked at the handle.

That did it. Any dog that calculates whether to open the door or stay with a new human was smart enough for me.

By the way, once home, Dex quickly started opening the door to let himself out into the yard. I wasn't imagining it.

For a few years afterwards, I would find food under my pillow: a loaf of bread, dog biscuits and the like. Dex was hiding food, to be prepared in case he ever ran out again.

And so it went.

This forsaken, emaciated dog never stopped using his head instead of his brawn. He wasn't bitter at being abandoned. He didn't dwell on his unfortunate past. (Many rescue dogs do.)

Dex looked so much like a wolf that my neighbor once threw her body over her toddler to protect the child. I was there, and Dex and I both smiled as she lay on the ground and slowly realized she might have overreacted a bit.

Dex looked dangerous to some, but the only danger was that if your head got low enough, he would lick your face.

There were so many reasons that this creature could have allowed his past to define his future, but that never happened.

I can hear some of you grumbling right now: why do I care... he was a dog... this belongs on FB.

If you pay attention, you can learn a great deal by observing what happens around you. You can learn from dogs, the flow of water, the way ice melts. If you remain curious and open, you can learn; today, I'm sharing what I learned from Dex.

So many humans—and dogs—have a rough start and never escape it. Almost every week, I hear someone talk, more or less, about how their parents' lack of ______ explains why they can't be confident, get promoted, handle intimacy or exhibit compassion.

In fact, I had another dog who lived to be 15 and never escaped the after-effects of abuse that haunted her first two years.

But I'd like to believe that we can choose to leave behind the portions of our history that no longer serve us, if we are willing to work hard enough to accomplish that.

"Hard enough" can be very hard indeed. I'm not downplaying that. It might be brutally difficult.

But it's possible.

Dex Kasanoff passed away this morning at age 16, well-fed and well-loved.