Simplicity is a sound ambition but in a complex world we should also check for unintended consequences.
Tim Hartford

Optional soundtrack for this practice: “Simple Gifts” by Cantus

I value simplicity. That said, the status quo is simple. Fearfulness is simple. Passivity is simple. Anything, unexamined, seems simple.

Unconscious bias means people favor those who look like them (gender bias, racial bias) and sound like them (class bias), an unintended consequence. Unless it’s intended.

Practice: Identify a value you hold. Now look where it has led, and whether those consequences are ones you also value.

Related practices: Fresh Peaches, Fluency

Practices for a Pandemic: Tracking

All is not well, but today is a good day, good at the personal level and beyond. I even know the steps that led to me feeling good, that is, I can track what led to my current emotions. Treating tracking as a practice and doing it regularly — I feel good; how did I get here? I feel bad; how did I get here? — reduces the odds of getting blindsided.

1)I got an email from a woman in Oakland that read:

Thinking of you and hoping you are safe and feel safe with the awfulness going on in Portland.

Continue reading


Please select one of the following and then we’ll move on: Life is hard; life is cruel; life is random; sometimes good people are forced to do bad things; sometimes innocent people die; yes, Myron, you screwed up, but you’ll do better this time; no, Myron, you didn’t screw up, it wasn’t your fault; everyone has a breaking point and now you know yours.
Harlan Coben

Harlan Coben

Clichés and platitudes crowd the brain, making genuine thought and authentic emotion harder to access.

Practice:When you’re about to say something hackneyed, don’t. Go silent instead.
Wait for something else to surface. The words that come next may sound awkward or even embarrassing. They will also enliven you in a way that no cliché can.

Advanced practice: When an exchange leaves you feeling dissatisfied, locate where you shorted yourself — either by saying less than you actually meant or by making an all-purpose response when you could have been specific.

Related practices: Fresh Peaches, Fluency

Sweeping the Staircase

In the intelligence tests given immigrants at Ellis Island, “they were asked how a staircase should be swept: Do you sweep from bottom to top, top to bottom, or toward the sides. A Polish girl answered, “I haven’t come to this country to sweep staircases.”
Eduardo Galeano

860678_origKathleen Nestor Owens

You get to decide what you have — and have not — come here to do. Where does skipping  breakfast fall?  How about running yellow lights. Failing to vote. The list is as personal as you’re willing to make it.

Practice: Chose something you don’t approve of but find yourself doing anyway. Then decide whether it’s something you “came here to do.”

Applying unfamiliar language to a familiar behavior can help you work with it more effectively.

Related practices: Trousers, Author’s Statement, Permission


Never in the history of calming down has anyone calmed down by being told to calm down.
Hoda Kotb

Rick LePage

True. But taking slow, deep breaths with long exhales has been known to work. Also effective: going for a walk, loading up on salsa (the capsicum relaxes your airways), helping others.

Practice: Initiate conversations about what helps you calm down. Going public can aerate your relationship to stress.

Related practice: Self-care, Fluency, Anger

Bright Blue Sailboat

There was a rude remark I could have made back to her right then
and I watched it go by like a bright blue sailboat on a long gray river of silence
Tony Hoagland

Such a lush portrait of restraint. To me, Hoagland’s bright blue sailboat is a fitting tribute to his — my, your, our — judicious decision not to add to the world’s distress.

Practice: Observe a conversation that’s going well and notice how many times each participant decides not to say something they were about to say. Skill involves selection.

Related practices: Seek silence, No easy jobs

Viking hat

Sometimes you just need to wear a Viking hat to respond to a difficult email.
Tina Roth Eisenberg, as quoted by Grace Bonney

Or your lucky socks. Your favorite ring. Whatever emboldens you.

Something that works for me is picturing people I admire: Their company helps me live up to my expectations for myself.

The email may remain challenging but seeing Tina in her helmet, you in your special socks and me in good company can transform any of us into especially capable versions of ourselves.

Practice: Take a deep breath and summon your boldest self. Costume optional.

Related practices: Need, Fluency


It was as if I had outgrown a good pair of trousers, my favorite pair of trousers, and I had no others to put on.
Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Gates goes on to list the tasks he faced:

I wanted to learn how to be a free Negro and to be a man, how to be in the world and with God, how to question values and traditions without being kicked out of the fold, how to value community and order, family and the group, yet not to have to suppress my uncertainties, doubts, ambivalences in order to be accepted.

Practice: Notice which of the daunting tasks on the list has your name on it. (“Community” bears mine.)

Advanced practice: Act on the task you selected. Start small — these are lifelong tasks, after all — but start.

Related practices: Authentic, Fluency, Tuesday Nights


I can’t be everything to everybody. Send me your specs.
Mo Rocca

Practice: Identify the specs that people need to meet for you to let them into your life.

(If you have none, Ooops. Ditto if you’ve never identified what they are.)

Then consider how close you come to meeting your own specs. You can’t be everything to everybody but you can take steps to meet your own specs.

Author’s Statement

I write to shine a light on an otherwise dim or even pitch-black corner, to provide relief for myself and others.
Laura Munson

Luis Tosta

Munson says she takes her author’s statement seriously. I suspect we all do — whether or not we know what ours says.

Practice: Come up with a sentence-long statement for yourself. Go broad, defining what you are here to do in general, or get specific by identifying the intentions that underlie something you do regularly.

Advanced practice: Ask a few carefully selected people whether they think the author’s statement you have created accurately reflects choices they see you make.

Related practices: Shrug, Perfect, Play