How do you reliably separate thinking from feeling?

This is the second post on Ray Dalio’s book “Principles.”

In this post I’d like to focus on the difference between thinking and feeling. How do you make decisions? How do you make the right decision? Ever had a gut reaction that lead you to make the wrong decision? Read on to learn the one secret tactic we humans have been using for centuries to separate our thinking from feeling, allowing us to examine our thoughts to determine the best thing to do every single time.

Over the past few years I’ve been meditating as often as possible – two times a day for 20 minutes. Sometimes when I get out of the meditation a thought or a new avenue to pursue a solution will come into my mind.

After such a therapeutic and restorative meditation new ideas seem magical and destined. But it’s not until you implement some of the ideas that you learn that not all epiphanies gotten through meditation are equal.

Imagine my surprise when I read that Ray Dalio meditates and has his own sifting system to separate the good actionable ideas from the duds:

“When thoughts and instructions come to me from my subconscious, rather than acting on them immediately, I have gotten into the habit of examining them with my conscious, logical mind. I have found that in addition to helping me figure out which thoughts are valid and why I am reacting to them as I do, doing this opens further communication between my conscious and subconscious minds. It’s helpful to write down the results of this process. In fact that’s how my Principles came about.” – Ray Dalio

Like Dalio, I’ve found that writing things out allows my amygdala to shine in private. Also like Dalio, I’ve found that writing further shines the thought and most importantly holds it up to the light of day to see if it’s worth anything.

When you find that your best intentions are not always best, how do you find out if your feelings are close to reality? You need to test your feelings against reality before implementing them publicly:

“Know that the most constant struggle is between feeling and thinking. There are no greater battles than those between our feelings (most importantly controlled by our amygdala, which operates subconsciously) and our rational thinking (most importantly controlled by our prefrontal cortex, which operates consciously).” – Ray Dalio

How do we go from thinking with our amygdala to thinking with our prefrontal cortext? I believe that we humans have been using a single effective  method to test our ideas for centuries – we write things out!

“Writing is nature’s way of letting you know how sloppy your thinking is.” – Dick Guindon

Here’s my challenge to you – next time you have a great idea, before you start implementing it, before you demolish the house, before you empty your 401k, write it out. Write out the why you need to move now. Write out what you think will be the outcome.

Then, and only once you’ve written it out, implement your idea. If the idea doesn’t work out the way you thought it would, you have a blueprint for how to move forward and try something else next time.

By writing things out before you do anything you give yourself time to consider how prepared you are to take on this task.

And finally, written thoughts will allow you to have a concrete document that you can use to make less mistakes.

Do you write out your task list? Do you journal to figure out how you’re feeling before you act? Contact me if you need any help getting started.


If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything.

This is the first in five posts on Ray Dalio’s book “Principles.”

What is it that makes a mistake catastrophic? How do you keep yourself from making mistakes if they’re the only way to learn new things? How do we manage the fallout that occurs when our best intentions don’t turn out the way we want? Read on to learn more.

Mistakes are tricky. Mark Zuckerburg made the pursuit of mistakes Facebook’s goal. Facebook’s motto is: “Move fast and break things.” But what if we break the wrong things? What if we move too fast that we break the entire system?

“Former Facebook employees say the engineering-driven, ‘move fast and break things’ approach worked when the company was smaller but now gets in the way of understanding the societal problems it faces. It’s one thing to break a product, but if you move fast and break democracy, or move fast and break journalism, how do you measure the impact of that—and how do you go about trying to fix it?” – Mathew Ingram, The Facebook Armagedon

What is is about mistakes that makes them so bad? Why do we feel the need to hide them? I believe the worst parts of mistakes are the unforeseeable consequences our mistakes  can wreak on those we’re trying to help. Mistakes are looked down on because they are  painful.

“Pain instructs.” – Benjamin Franklin

Mistakes as a way to learn something new. To test the limits. To locate the fuzzy boundaries of our understanding and figure out exaclty how reality works.

Whenever I make mistakes I try to hide them. I don’t want others to know that I don’t do immaculate work. I want to always show that I am on top of things, that I get it, that I’m capable, and that I don’t need help. Perhaps I need to pursue mistakes more openly.

In “Principles” Dalio says,

“Mistakes will cause you pain, but you shouldn’t try to shield yourself or others from it. Pain is a message that something is wrong and it’s an effective teacher that one shouldn’t do that wrong thing again. To deal with your own and others’ weaknesses well you must acknowledge them frankly and openly and work to find ways of preventing them from hurting you in the future. It’s at this point that many people say, No thanks, this isn’t for me – I’d rather not have to do deal with these things. But this is against your and your organizations’ best interests – and will keep you from achieving your goals. It seems to me that if you look back on yourself a year ago and aren’t shocked by how stupid you were, you haven’t learned much.” – Ray Dalio

When you make mistakes take some courage from Dalio who writes, “Everyone makes mistakes. The main difference is that successful people learn from them and unsuccessful people don’t.”

If that’s not enough of a suggestion to make mistakes, consider that every mistake you make now will save you from it in the future: “Every mistake that you make and learn from will save you from thousands of similar mistakes in the future.” – Ray Dalio

So take some advice from Jeff Bezos who says,

“You must not let your need to be right be more important than your need to find out what’s true.” – Jeff Bezos

Don’t let your ego get in the way,

“Intelligent people who embrace their mistakes and weaknesses substantially outperform their peers who have the same abilities but bigger ego barriers.” – Ray Dalio

So to wrap it up, make sure that you’re always pursuing mistakes because they will save you from making them in the future, make sure you constrain the fallout of your mistakes by only experimenting in safe spaces and with things that can safely go wrong, and make sure you clean up after yourself when you’re through.

Do you have any suggestions on how to make the regular pursuit of mistakes easier, safer, and more valuable? Contact me

If we want people to accept our original ideas, we need to speak up about them, then rise and repeat.

71q7mhjgucl-_ac_ul160_sr108160_This is the fifth in 5 blog posts I will be doing on Adam Grant’s fantastic book “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World.”

A big part of my job is to research new technologies and determine how they can be leveraged to engage as many students as possible in thinking, planning, and reflecting on their student employment and cooperative education.

In this post I’d like to suggest 2 pro tips to get other people to believe in your original ideas:

  1. If we want people to accept our original ideas, we need to speak up about them, then rise and repeat.
  2. Lead with the limitations of an idea: it makes you look smart.

When Facebook launched Farmville, I created a Facebook scavenger hunt game called OSAville (for the Office of Student Affairs). When Snapchat filters were big, I researched OpenCV and Python and created a computer vision visualization that superimposed a green mustache on the viewer. And when students commented that our social media posts were sounding too “businessy,” I created a Twitter clone and had a contest to find out who could write the best tweet.

Each idea required careful study to determine what outcomes I wanted to generate. On top of that, I had to pitch the idea to my supervisors. Some might say this is the hardest part of creating original ideas,

“This is the core challenge of speaking up with an original idea. When you present a new suggestion, you’re not only hearing the tune in your head. You wrote the song. You’ve spent hours, days, weeks, months, or maybe even years thinking about the idea. You’ve contemplated the problem, formulated the solution, and rehearsed the vision. You know the lyrics and the melody of your idea by heart. By that point, it’s no longer possible to imagine what is sounds like to an audience that’s listening to it for the first time.” – Adam Grant

That’s not to say that all of my ideas were approved. Some were approved the first time and some took more research and reframing to get at the heart of the idea.

Grant likens this necessary process to “the exposure effect – the more often we encounter something, the more we like it.”

Grant also provides step by step details on how to bring up your original idea often:

“Liking continues to increase as people are exposed to an idea between ten and twenty times, with additional exposure still useful for more complex ideas. Interestingly, exposures are more effective when they’re short and mixed with other ideas, to help maintain the audiences curiosity. It’s also best to introduce a delay between the presentation of the idea and the evaluation of it, which provides time for it to sink in. If you’re making a suggestion to a boss, you might start with a 30-second elevator pitch during a conversation on Tuesday, revisit it briefly the following Monday, and then ask for feedback at the end of the week.” – Adam Grant

His final tip on getting your ideas pitched and approved over time is to do something irrational – start with reasons why this is a stupid idea, why it’ll never work, or why it’s doomed to fail.

“When you are pitching a novel idea or speaking up with a suggestion for change, your audience is likely to be skeptical. Investors are looking to poke holes in your arugments; mangers are hunting for a reason why your suggestion won’t work. Under those circumstances, for at least four reasons, it’s actually more effective to adopt powerless communication by accentuating the flaws in your idea.” – Adam Grant

Why does this irrational approach work? Grant goes on to explain,

“When we’re aware that someone is trying to persuade us, we naturally raise our mental shields. Rampant confidence is a red flag – a signal that we need to defend ourselves against weapons of influence.” – Adam Grant

So maybe starting with the worst parts of your idea is better than looking like you discovered the fountain of youth:

“Unbridled optimism comes across as salesmanship; it seems dishonest somehow, and as a consequence it’s met with skepticism. Everyone is allergic to the feeling, or suspicious of being sold.” – Adam Grant

Be a prophet of doom with a killer idea:

“When people presented drawbacks or disadvantages, I would become an ally. Instead of selling me, they’ve given me a problem to solve. Prophets of doom and gloom appear wise and insightful while positive statements are seen as having a naive polyanna quality.” – Adam Grant

So now you know: you’re going to need to repeat your original ideas over and over again before other people start to accept them. Now you also know to lead with the potential deal-breaking attributes of your idea to look less manipulative.

I hope this post helped equip you for going out there and selling your ideas.  Got any questions? Contact me.


Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.

71q7mhjgucl-_ac_ul160_sr108160_This is the fourth in 5 blog posts I will be doing on Adam Grant’s fantastic book “Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World.”

A few years ago, I read an interesting story in the book “Art and Fear: Observations On the Perils (and rewards) or Artmaking” by David Bayles. The story stuck with me. In the book, Bayles tells a story of a ceramics teacher who decided to try something new with his students.

At the beginning of the class the instructor split the group in half and said, “This half of the room will be judged and graded on the number of clay pots you create in this class.”

Then he gestured to the other side of the room saying, “And this half of the room will judged on how well they made a single clay pot at the end of the class.”

At the end of the class, who got the better grade? Think you know the answer? Hold on, I’ll tell you the answer at the end of this post.

Imagine my surprise when I heard the same lesson echoed in “Originals”:

“The best way to make good art is to make a lot of it. The odds of producing an influential or successful idea are a positive function of the total number of ideas generated. If you want to be original, the most important possible thing you could do is do a lot of work. Do a huge volume of work.” – Adam Grant

Now do you feel like you know who got the better grade? The students who made tons of clay pots ended up getting the better grade. When the students who were to be judged on a single pot were given their task, the pending judgment prevented them from making a single clay pot. They were goaded in a state of paralysis.

Bottom line: don’t get caught up in thinking about the final result. Focus on the next step. Hell, if you have the resources, make many drafts. Your first few drafts will stink of hesitation and clumsiness. Keep pushing through those shitty drafts and soon you’ll start to see less of your lumbering, plodding, doubt. And the finesse and elegance of your self-editing will make the art sing.

Be like the poet Mandy Kahn when she says, “I never think further than the single poem I’m working on when I’m working.”

Keep your head down and remember,

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” – Adam Grant

Did this post help you get started? Email me, I’d love to hear about it.