Monthly Archives: September 2015

My Family’s Digital Reboot

By Karen Starns, guest blogger and friend of Simple Intentions

[Note: This post originally appeared on]

I’ve been wrestling with my kids’ insatiable attraction to their screens and the knock on effect of less and less meaningful dialogue. Our limited time together (the kids live with their dad 50% of the time) started to feel like shared aloneness with everyone in their own mode. Car rides were accompanied with devices and ear buds, reducing communication to an occasional grunt or a request to turn the car radio down. You’d think everyone doing what they wanted — listening to their own playlist, bingeing on YouTube, playing Temple Run — would be a source of contentment. The reality, my husband and I admitted to each other, was that the kids were usually distracted and often irritable.

Over the weekend, Sherry Turkle wrote an excellent New York Times Op-Ed “Stop Googling. Let’s Talk.” Her piece speaks to our growing inability to have real conversations and its effect on relationships. Turkle has written about this for some time. In 2011 she authored “Alone Together,” a stark view of the shift that technology has brought into our society . The book’s subtitle, “Why we expect more from technology and less from each other” is as resonant and scary today as it was then.

Over-reliance on technology has become a source of tension at home. We realize we have been allowing our time with the kids, aged 13 and 10, to be stolen by their digital priorities. Looking in the mirror, we grownups had also fallen into the trap of filling our spare time with digital candy — satisfying in the moment, but forgotten in an instant. As a family, we were missing out on the goodness in life that doesn’t happen on a schedule.

Frank Bruni brought the idea to life in his recent New York Times Op-Ed “The Myth of Quality Time”, pointing out: “people tend not to operate on cue. At least our moods and emotions don’t. We reach out for help at odd points; we bloom at unpredictable ones. The surest way to see the brightest colors, or the darkest ones, is to be watching and waiting and ready for them.”

Looking at these interrelated situations — device dependency and the loss of meaningful conversation and the need for quantity, not just quality, time — spurred our family to action. The changes we’ve made at home seem to be working.

Our first step was to do what so many other families have already done: take technology out of the kids’ rooms and into public spaces. Their devices can only be used in family areas. They are both big readers, so Kindle’s are the only exception. This initial move made a meaningful difference, especially with our 13-year old daughter, who joins us on the sofa instead of disappearing into her room for hours. To be honest, she is often there with ear buds and a steady diet of YouTube — but she is there. A few weeks in, we asked the kids what good things had come about from our decision to take technology out of the bedroom. Our daughter was the first to respond and said she found it easier to go to sleep at night — and easier to wake up. We all agreed that we liked spending more time together.

Step two helped us make even more progress. For this change, we sought buy-in from the kids. Together, we committed to detach ourselves from our phones while at home. When each person comes in the door, the phone goes in a special basket — it doesn’t stay in our hand or get tucked into a pocket. This simple (yet huge) action demonstrates our commitment to being present with each other and creates the time and space for connections to bloom or quiet thoughts to prevail. We are respectful of this new practice and are already more tuned in to each other.

Personally, I’ve made some additional changes to reclaim and repurpose time. While the lines between professional and personal online presence are blurred for many of us, I looked at how I was filling spare moments and challenged myself to decide whether it was time well spent. As a result, I’m more deliberate and focused on Twitter and LinkedIn, I’ve dropped out of Facebook, and I’ve reduced my Instagram circle to direct family. Not only have I freed up time, I have uncluttered my mind. For me there’s no downside. I don’t worry about missing out and I’m not curating my life anymore — I’m just living it.

Embracing analog occasions and being intentional about digital tools has helped make life more rich. My family’s digital reboot has already made a difference in our moods, our conversations, and the quality and quantity of time together. It’s all new, and there will be bumps along the way, but I believe we’re headed down the right path.


For a Winning Team, Go With the Flow

Guest post by Judith Young, friend of Simple Intentions

Blue Shirt Fridays! 12’s everywhere! Yep, football season is back, and Seattle Seahawk fans are ready to go. And despite a losing record so far this season, you can bet the Seahawks are already going…with the flow.

Go with the flow? It’s not exactly what we might think when we consider the rigor required of a champion football team, the stamina, the expectation of excellence, the Legion of Boom!

Within the field of positive psychology, flow is a focused and energized state in which one’s thoughts and feelings are effortlessly aligned with actions. It’s a heightened state of presence. There is considerable research on what fosters or blocks this state.

The Seattle Seahawks have leveraged the philosophy of flow, as described in this article, and trained in team flow to reach their phenomenal level of success.

Work teams can also reach such extraordinary levels of success through developing flow. The three specific characteristics associated with team flow are listed below, along with tactics for fostering them:

  1. Clear and shared goals
    -Discuss goals at the team and individual levels. Invite open questions and dialog. Decrease avoidance, withholding and attitudes of resignation by engaging in conversations.
    -In small team discussions and 1:1s ask everyone their understanding of how their work impacts the team goals.
  2. Blended egos
    -Foster a collaborative team spirit in which shared success is both celebrated and rewarded.
    -Managers and peers compliment any signs and acts of team collaboration and spirit.
    -Whenever possible, reward individual contributions toward shared success and the team as a whole.
    -Have monthly or quarterly morale events with the team’s input regarding the activities and timing.
  3. Full team participation
    -Cultivate an atmosphere of accountability and authenticity through open dialog, input and feedback, getting to know each other’s strengths, challenges and needs.
    -Openly and positively leverage strengths and support weaknesses. Consistently address needs – both personal and others’ needs.

A fourth key to the Seahawks success is a highly empowered and optimistic attitude. They think like winners. They don’t think they might score or win; they know they will. And when they’re down 19-7 with less than 3 minutes left in the game, they still know they will – and more often than not, they do! It’s a relentless kind of resilience that many world-class athletes learn to live by.

Do you want to be a winning team? Then go with the flow like the champions do!


Asian Economic Growth: The Human Factor

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder

[Note: This post originally appeared on Huffington Post.]

Having just spent the last two weeks in Asia – China and Japan, specifically – discussing the impact of imbalance with employees at multi-national corporations, I was struck by the lack of conversations taking place about the impact of economic development on the very humans who drive much of the world’s growth. Issues like stress and burnout, traditional diversity as well as diversity in workstyles – and the impact the lack of these conversations is having on local workforces.

It’s no secret that employees in Asia work very hard. Ask anyone at a multi-national company in this region of the world how dedicated their teammates are, and they will smile and share a story or two: stories of super-human workweeks and sleeping at the office. In Japan, there’s even a word that translates to “death from overwork”: Karōshi.

For “traditional white collar” workers in Asia, Western countries’ concept of work-life balance isn’t really an option. And by “balance” I don’t mean vacations and flexible hours. I mean reasonable hours (sub-60), and feeling it’s possible to take care of basic health and personal needs like going to the doctor or attending kids’ activities.

A beautiful quality of most Asian cultures is the high value they place on the health and well-being of the system over the individual. So it was not surprising to hear, during my two weeks in Asia, that workers are highly aware of and accountable for the impact their individual choices have on their work team. I heard this expressed as, “If I leave early, then my colleague might have to work more. If I stay, we can finish sooner working together.”

Flipping the conversation to the impact of imbalance at the individual level met with resistance and reluctance to share experiences. This is quite the opposite of what I find in the U.S. and Europe, where it’s easy to discuss the impact of imbalance on individuals and more challenging to connect the impact of individual behavior on group dynamics and outputs.

Unlike past trips to Asia, this time I encountered an openness to discussing the paradox between Western and Eastern workstyles. The question of whose needs come first – the individual’s or the work group’s – was asked over and over again. Based on my experience, balancing both individual and system are equally important, and Western and Eastern philosophies can complement each other.

A healthy team helps each other accomplish goals. This happens best when each team member is healthy in body, mind and spirit, and is allowed and willing to share his or her needs and boundaries. And it’s a situation that can only happen when leaders support open conversations around goals and needs and acknowledge what is really going on inside the organization. In Asia, this means addressing the high volume of hours and levels of stress-related illness. In the West, it means taming the “what’s in it for me” mentality and creating organizational/team compassion.

As the Asian economy continues to drive huge growth opportunities for multi-national corporations the question of human sustainability needs to be addressed. This means challenging corporate systems to look more closely at individual needs, which can only happen if leaders – and employees – can talk openly about what is and what isn’t working within the current system.


Listen With Your Heart as Much as Your Head

By Kim Lowe, Simple Intentions Managing Editor

Have you ever felt like everyone has lost their hearing? Your colleague presents a fabulous idea during a team meeting – only it’s the same idea you presented weeks ago. Your boss adds you to a conference call – on exactly the same day you requested personal time off. Your spouse brings home the wrong dog food – again.

It’s likely their hearing is just fine. It’s their listening they’re losing.

I’ve yet to find a reputable study demonstrating a demise of our listening skills, but certainly our always-on, attention-fragmented society would suggest that listening – not just hearing – is getting harder to do.

And given the volume of articles, videos and other how-tos for improving our listening skills, I don’t think I’m alone in thinking we all need a serious tuning.

The common tips for improving our listening skills are typically bundled under “active listening” and include the following:

  1. Maintain eye contact.
  2. Ask clarifying questions.
  3. Summarize what the speaker says.
  4. Focus more on what the speaker says, rather than your response.

I don’t discount any of these tips; indeed, simply talking less – whether out loud or in our own heads – when we’re supposed to be listening would do wonders for our conversational abyss.

But I’d like to propose we get out of our heads and into our bodies when it comes to listening. True listening requires greater presence – of our whole being. If we truly want to “actively listen” we need to bring on as much physical energy as mental energy.

Imagine listening to your favorite music. Certainly your head is active – especially if, like me, you pay a lot of attention to lyrics – but your body is also engaged. Your heart syncs with the musical beat, your energy lifts, you might sway – or all out dance. With music, you feel it as much as you hear it.

What if we felt the words our boss, colleagues or spouse said? What if – like music – their words were palpable and we took them in with our guts and hearts as well as our minds? What if we felt their words in our hands and feet as much as in our heads?

True listening requires this holistic presence of mind and body. And it applies to all conversations – whether it’s over strategy with a colleague or dinner plans with your spouse. Just try to hear and feel the music in all they say.


Why Talking About Balance Matters

By Jae Ellard, Simple Intentions Founder

[Note: This post originally appeared on Huffington Post.]

I’d never talked about balance until I was well into my 30s, and then the topic came up only after I collapsed at work in front of my colleagues from adrenal fatigue. My first real conversation about balance was with my doctor, who told me I needed to quit my job as an executive producer at a Fortune 50 software company.

Yup, that was the first conversation I’d ever had about balance. And it left me with few options: I didn’t want to quit my job – I loved my job. Deep down I knew it wasn’t my job or the company that made me collapse. I had a role in it, too, but I wasn’t sure what role I played. I also knew I wasn’t alone in this experience, because after I collapsed many people approached me wanting to talk or introduce a loved one who had also collapsed, if not at work, then at the mall, the gym or in the kitchen.

Thankfully, I’m stubborn and I didn’t listen to my doctor. I kept working, but began to create awareness around why I was doing what I was doing. Like a scientist, I made myself a research subject. I spent a year learning to set boundaries, owning my yes’s and no’s, meeting with people who shared similar stories, and studying all I could on the topic – from brain and body science to mindfulness – to help me understand why I and many others around the world were doing what we were doing.

What I discovered during that year of research inspired me to start my own business seven years ago with the purpose of helping others make talking about balance a habit. I learned most people don’t know what balance means for them, so talking about it often happens too late – when a balance crisis hits.

I envisioned what could happen if talking about balance was a proactive, ongoing conversation in our homes, schools and especially at work. I made it my calling and career to promote talking about balance in workplaces across the globe.

To talk about balance is to express who we are and what we need as our lives shift and change, as circumstances, events and personal growth take place. In talking about balance we tell others what we need to feel supported and to sustain ourselves so we can thrive at whatever we choose to do.

To talk about balance is to be human. And we do not stop being human when we walk into our workplaces.

Talk about balance – especially at work – is a conversation many of us avoid. It’s not because we don’t want to share our feelings and experiences; rather, for most people, it’s a conversation we’re not in the habit of having. Moreover, it comes with a mix of fear and shame of being perceived as weak if we dare set a boundary around our human capacity.

But if we can’t talk about balance, then how can we expect to create sustainable environments – at home, school or work – where humans thrive and prosper, rather than repeat the burnout-recover-burnout cycle?

If we don’t talk about balance, we can never hope to attain it. Let’s get talking.


The masks we wear

By Jennie Sze, contributing writer and friend of Simple Intentions

My close friend, who resides in the U.S., recently surprised her parents with an unexpected visit home to Asia. She recorded her father’s reaction as he walked out of his bedroom and saw his daughter sitting in the living room. “What on earth is going on?” he questioned, “What are you doing here? What did you come home for?”

I know my friend’s father well. I know how much he loves and misses his daughter. Yet, his reaction upon seeing her was not a loving hug, not “I’m so happy to see you. I’ve missed you.” Instead, in that moment, he donned a mask of strength and composure, even while I know his heart was smiling so bright. At that moment, he was unable to free his heart.

We all wear masks, and often, we wear different masks with different people. Fathers wear masks of strength and dignity in front of their wives and children. Mothers wear masks that show “everything is under control” among other mothers. Young women wear masks of perfection: perfect hair, make-up and dress – a perfect balance of beauty and intelligence. Young men wear the joker or macho mask in front of their buddies.

At work we wear masks of professionalism and responsibility – even if our internal dialog says, “God forbid anyone finds out I have no idea what I am doing!”

We often wear the most impenetrable masks in front of people closest to us. We are so afraid of disappointing them, so afraid they will not like what they see beneath our masks. How many times have we hid tears from close friends and family? How many times have we pushed ourselves to be more perfect, more worthy of the masks we bear?

Sometimes, we have worn our masks for so long, we no longer know what we look like without them. We believe it’s impossible that others will accept us without our masks. Or perhaps we have allowed our true selves out – sans mask – yet shied away from others’ attention, feeling undeserving of their love.

How can we begin to remove our masks and embrace our true beings?

There is a saying, “We leak the truth.” Perhaps the journey of removing our masks begins by looking deeper at how we show up. Are we leaking our truth? My friend’s father may have donned a mask of dignity upon seeing his daughter, but I know he felt loving joy at that moment. It is probably true that none of us is wholly successful at masking our truths.

Ask people how you show up. Have them describe their impressions of you. What specifically did you do to form the good – and the bad – impressions?

When I asked, I first was upset that people only saw my strong, capable side, and not my kind, caring self. But allow yourself to receive feedback without judgement. Accept it, let it sink in. When we embrace what other people see in us, we begin to see our truth.

Let’s put aside our masks and allow light to shine on our true selves.