What the Brain Wants

Emily and Paul are just trying to get some work done. But they don’t do it very well until they learn to understand their brains. Author David Rock uses their stories to illustrate how the brain works in the fascinating book “Your Brain at Work.”

To think and work effectively, it is important to understand the brain and be aware of our thought processes. In the first act of the book, the author uses a metaphor for what goes on in the brain. In this metaphor:

  • The Stage is our attention
  • The Actors are our thoughts
  • The Audience is the thoughts already in our brain

The Five Functions of Conscious Thought

  1. Understand: put new actors onstage and hold them long enough to see connections to audience.
  2. Decide: hold actors onstage and compare them to one another, making value judgments.
  3. Recall: bring audience members onstage to interact with actors. (it’s easier to get recent thoughts back onstage)
  4. Memorize: get actors offstage and into audience. (practice, practice, practice: go over connections frequently)
  5. Inhibit: keep actors offstage that aren’t contributing to the story.

All of these functions require a lot of resources. It is best to tackle these tasks at times when your energy levels are high, and to use strategies to focus, gain insight, eliminate distractions, and manage emotions. There is only room onstage for so many actors, so choose them wisely. (Yes, you are the director, as we learn in the intermission.)


To Focus: be aware of energy levels, and do tasks in the best order. This usually means doing important work first. Develop routines so attention reserves aren’t used up by non-essentials, and use that brainpower for more important thought.

To Gain Insight: add interest with some novelty, (but not too much) choose to be curious, know when to take a break, take a walk, change perspective, and use visuals.

To Manage Distractions: Novelty gets our attention, and the brain is easily distracted. (which is summed up beautifully in this clip from the movie “Adaptation.“) Distractions have a big energy cost, and vetoing distractions also takes energy. Practice braking by learning to veto impulses before they turn into action. Stop impulses so that distractions are kept off the stage before they get on it. Once they are on stage they like to stay there.

The Director

In the intermission part of the book, we learn about the director. Awareness: the ability to observe our own thought processes, is central to managing them.


Mind map of “Your Brain at Work” by David Rock created with mindmup. Click image to download.

The Brain is Social

After the intermission, we learn about five things that are powerful drivers in our social interactions. These are things that we want, and move toward. If we don’t get them, we feel pain and move away.

The SCARF model

  • Status-our relative position, confidence in our abilities
  • Certainty-the ability to predict what’s next
  • Autonomy-the ability to make choices
  • Relatedness-connection with others, belonging
  • Fairness-equal and just treatment

An increase in any of these is viewed as reward and desired. Loss of any of these is viewed as threat and avoided. To handle a loss of any of these, first label the emotion, then reappraise by looking at the situation from different perspectives. Handling threats is easier when you practice emotional awareness, reappraise, and have strong self-esteem. If you are tired or your attention is fragmented by many demands, it is harder to handle them.

To reappraise, ask: What’s going on with the other person? Are you interpreting the situation accurately? Are expectations realistic?

Reappraisal is the Killer App

  1. re-interpret (re-frame)
  2. normalize (for example, expect to experience stress when starting a new job)
  3. re-order (increase or decrease value placed)
  4. re-position (get a different perspective)

Things to do when working with others: start off with icebreakers to connect, be open and transparent about your goals, outline expectations upfront, make it visual, ask questions that will lead to insights, focus on solutions (rather than problems), use humor, use your strengths, play against yourself (rather than compete with others), take steps to correct unfairness like volunteering for a cause.

Knowing what the brain wants and how it works may be the best thing you’ve ever done for your productivity.

To learn more, read David Rock’s book and watch his TED Talk, Learning About the Brain Changes Everything.


The Perils of Criticism

I have a confession to make: I sometimes rather enjoy a well-written snarky movie review. Like this one about Jupiter Ascending that made me laugh out loud. And this one about Fifty Shades of Grey. Opinions will vary and viewpoints can be quite different. It’s far easier to be the one dishing it out than to be the one who put their hard work out there and now sees it being unappreciated.

Critics can definitely get it wrong sometimes, as “12 Classic Books That Got Horrible Reviews When They First Came Out” from the Huffington Post demonstrates. Many people who went on to become famous persisted through failures and rejections.

“You’re Awesome: Firms Scrap Negative Feedback” from the Wall St. Journal reflects a movement away from performance appraisals to more of an emphasis on developing strengths. Why Evaluate Performance from The Huffington Post mentions maintaining a ratio of more positive feedback than negative, similar to research on predictors of survival or failure in marriage from researcher John Gottman.

How Are You Doing?

Walking the line between constructive criticism, appreciation and feedback can be like balancing on a tightrope. Feedback and appreciation are both keys to engagement at work. We need to know how we’re doing. Though it can be difficult to listen to, at times we may even need to hear about areas where there is room for improvement. Requesting feedback is one way to take charge of our own engagement at work. We can also devise ways to build in feedback on our progress with checkpoints on goals and projects to see how we’re doing. Learn more about The Art and Science of Giving and Receiving Criticism at Work at Fastcompany.

Whole Life Fitness

Whole Life Fitness is a fun and simple way to develop strengths in all dimensions. It’s  compasspersonal development for busy people.

The world faces an energy crisis. Levels of engagement at work are abysmally low (only 29% in the U.S. and 13% worldwide are actively engaged at work according to Gallup Surveys!), and few people know what they are passionate about. It’s not too surprising that many employers say applicants are lacking soft skills like communication, creativity, and collaboration. The very skills that employers say they want, are not often taught.

Our brightest stars do not learn how to shine, but instead are becoming dimmer as they are drained of energy. I believe this should be changed, and take a stand for teaching skills and developing the strengths that people need. If you agree, please join us and make a difference. The world becomes a little darker every day, and we must fight back to increase the light by connecting with our greatest renewable energy source. Let’s open the door to a brighter future!


Start a Whole Life Fitness group to learn from personal development experts with informative videos, hands on activities & discussions of ideas in meetings with monthly topics based on a Year of Personal Development. This framework could work well for organizations involved in workforce development, community assistance, and career & life coaching.

Be a star! Learn to shine! Develop your strengths with Whole Life Fitness.


You can’t help but learn skills if you do the weekly activities in twelve topics for a year of personal development. And if you join others for a monthly meeting on the topics, you will connect with others interested in continuous learning and personal development to learn even more.


The goal of Whole Life Fitness is to light up the sky with stars.

While I love Coldplay, the lyrics of “Sky Full of Stars,” may not completely fit this movement. Do you think “Shine” by Take That is a better choice for our theme song? Let us know at the Daily Planit Facebook page!

To summarize, Whole Life Fitness is:

  • A way to develop strengths in all dimensions. A solution for learning the skills needed to succeed and creating more engagement at work through personal development.
  • A meeting that combines informative videos, and hands on activities to discuss ideas from personal development experts.
  • Based on topics from a Year of Personal Development: Mental, Emotional, Spiritual, Physical, Relationships, Social, Financial, Organizational, Recreational, Career, Character, Purpose.
  • Personal development for busy people, to discover talents and learn skills like communication, setting goals, time management, and understanding emotions.

Join us in the fight to amp up energy levels and save the planet!

Tools to Get Started

Good luck on your journey!


It’s Not Just Who You Know (Book Review)

'It's Not Just Who You Know'“It’s Not Just Who You Know” by Tommy Spaulding is the May choice of the 12 Books group at Goodreads.

The author starts out strong with engaging stories that describe how the relationships he developed helped him to overcome a learning disability and become a leader. However, by the time I reached the middle of the book I was worn out by the level of connection and amount of networking involved. The author is connected to many well-known people, and my thoughts turned to discouragement that this was way more than the average person could ever expect to manage. One review on Amazon describes Tommy Spaulding’s approach as “extroversion on steroids,” and after awhile introverts like me will likely begin to find the ideas daunting. Yet, there is useful information that can be employed on a smaller scale and I’m glad I read the book.

The Five Floors of Relationships

The author’s model of understanding relationships is retrofitted from the five levels of communication commonly studied in communication theory. Relationships range from the basic transactions of the First Floor to the high level of Fifth Floor relationships.

The Back of the Business Card

The book shows how to build relationships beyond the basic information that is on the front of a business card. Think about turning the business card over to the back and filling in the blanks by discovering more about a person’s interests with observation, questions, and listening. He coins the term netgiving rather than networking for a focus on what we can give rather than what we can get in our interactions with others. Many of the articles I’ve read about networking also recommend this approach.

Nine Key Traits are helpful in achieving real relationships: authenticity, humility, empathy, confidentiality, vulnerability, curiosity, generosity, humor, and gratitude. With short chapters on each of these traits, the author shows how many of the traits can be developed.

There is a need for information about how to develop relationships, and this book provides insights beyond Dale Carnegie’s classic book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”


A First Look at Communication Theory

Altman & Taylor’s Social Penetration Theory at Wikipedia


The Surprising Truth About the Workforce Gap

…and the secret reason for it. Why Soft Skills are Lacking and What You Can Do About It.

Soft Skills are LackingThe Surprising Truth About the Workforce Gap

In a recent State of the Economy and Employment Survey conducted by Adecco Staffing US, 44% of respondents cited soft skills as the area with the biggest gap. Some studies show 60% of employers think applicants are lacking communication, critical thinking, creativity, collaboration and other soft skills. More articles about the soft skills gap:

The Secret Reason: Why is there a lack of soft skills in the workforce? We aren’t teaching them!

Take a look thtop10skillse top 10 skills employers want.  As I worked on this series of posts with links to resources to learn the skills, it became painfully obvious to me that:

1) there aren’t enough of these resources.

2) there is a large gap between what employers want and what is taught.

The Bad News

Many of the top 10 skills employers want are not often taught in traditional education.

Were you taught goal setting and time management in school? Did you have a class in communication, understanding emotions and problem solving? You may have learned a little about these things along the way, but these skills are rarely purposely taught.

And not only are these skills important to employers, many are critical to success in other areas of our life…and they usually aren’t being taught.

That really doesn’t make sense to me.

We say we need workers with these skills, that we need to increase employment, but we don’t take the steps needed to make it happen.

Why Aren’t Soft Skills Taught? Teaching soft skills may not be easy…but it can and should be done.

The Good News

Can you imagine a world full of people living at maximum potential? Life is so much better when people know what their talents are and how they want to use them, do work they love, earn the money they need, communicate well, understand and manage emotions, have strong relationships and friendships, develop physical strength and energy, connect with spiritual beliefs, develop character, and set goals and manage time effectively.

I believe these skills can be learned and developed for an optimal life and a better world.

What You Can Do About It

If you believe this too and want to get involved, consider connecting with others interested in personal development by forming your own Whole Life Fitness group.

Skills Employers Want #10 – Ability to Sell or Influence Others

The ability to sell or influence others is the number ten skill on the list of top ten skills employers are looking for. Selling is something we all must do at times, whether we are at a job interview or pitching an idea to a supervisor or investor. It involves communicating clearly who you are, what you want to do and why in a captivating way.

Resources for learning sales skills:


Presentations are often a critical part of selling an idea or pitching a product. Learn how to develop an effective presentation with the following resources:

The ability to tell a story is an important part of communicating a message. Check out Entrepreneurial Selling with Craig Wortman at Kauffman Founders School.

From the article “6 Easy-to-Steal Rituals of Extremely Successful People” at marcandangel.com:

“Selling is convincing other people of the benefits of working directly with YOU.”

All of the successful business owners they interviewed feel that the ability to sell themselves, their ideas, and what they have to offer is the one skill that most contributes to their success. The resources in this post can help you learn and develop these skills.


Compelling People

I began following the books chosen by the 12 Books group at Goodreads with the April choice, “Compelling People: the hidden qualities that make us influential” by John Neffinger and Matthew Kohut. Compelling

The authors are partners in KNP Communications, a firm specializing in presentation coaching and communications strategy for corporate and political clients. They conclude that people who are the most effective at influencing others possess the ability to project both strength and warmth, a task that can be difficult. Communicating these two qualities can be at odds, and those who are compelling can swiftly switch between them.

Strength=competence, confidence, mastery

Warmth=likeability, interest, belonging

Strength and warmth can only be conveyed if they are genuine. This book shows how we can remove obstacles that prevent us from 1)being aware of strength and warmth and 2)expressing them well. We can improve how we connect with emotions and align our actions for authentic expression of them.

Body language plays a large role, and posture is key in projecting strength. Standing tall is often half the battle. Prior to situations where we wish to project strength, we can stretch up and out. The TED Talk by  Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are describes how this works.

A smile with flinty eyes conveys strength, and a smile with a twinkle in the eyes conveys warmth. Strength and warmth are energies, and to better convey them we can psych up our energy level by connecting with memories that remind us of a time we felt strong and warm. We can play or think of music that evokes those feelings. We can learn from watching others who excel at this and notice their body language, voice and message.

In presentations stories naturally project strength and warmth together. Stories work best when they feature people doing and feeling things, moral dilemmas, good and bad characters. When done well, humor can also be helpful.

The best way to be our own coach and improve is to record our efforts while practicing.

When we connect and express our strength and warmth, we become compelling to ourselves and to others too.

Business Insider Qualities That Make People Influential


Skills Employers Want #9- Ability to create and edit written reports

The ability to create and/or edit written reports is number nine on the list of the top ten skills employers are looking for. Writing is one form of communication that requires a certain set of skills.


More courses on writing beyond reports…

Skills Employers Want #8 – Computer Software Knowledge

Proficiency with computer software programs is the eighth of the top ten skills employers are looking for. There are many computer software programs, and many resources for increasing skills. A printable outline of levels of proficiency in Microsoft Office programs is available at Concordia University (a five page pdf). There are also MS Office Skills Checklists at danarmishaw.com.

A good place to start is with basic knowledge of Microsoft Office programs like MS Word.word

Goodwill Community Foundation’s website,  gcflearnfree.org, is an awesome free resource for learning Microsoft software programs (plus computer basics and a lot more.) gcfLearnFree

computerIllinoisworknet.com provides skills for computer literacy.

Here are more links to resources for learning Computer Skills with links to Basic, Intermediate, and Advanced resources, and Computer Tutorials.

Explore more possibilities for online courses at the Smart Skills page.

Skills Employers Want #7 – Technical Knowledge Related to the Job

Technical knowledge related to the job is the seventh of the top ten skills employers are looking for. These skills vary depending on the job, as shown at the Technical Skills part of the Skills at illinoisworknet.com. See also Industry Competency Models at careeronestop.org

Career Search Process

Discover job related knowledge for various occupations with these resources that are part of the career search process.

1. Explore Skills

2. Explore Interests


Holland Codes:


Career Clusters:

3. Look for a career that matches interests:

4. Look at the skills required for the career:

5. Get the education needed to learn the skills required for the job:

See also Career Search Skills: Resumes, Cover Letters & Interviewing.