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Your Automatic Self Versus Your Aware Self

Bethany, a leader in a Fortune company, knew she had an issue with expressing quick and deadly (metaphorically speaking) anger. It would come out of nowhere in a flash that silenced her stakeholders.

Dirk, the CEO of a nonprofit, interrupted people. He cut them off or talked over them to get the first, second, and last word in.

Amy, a middle manager in a government organization would roll her eyes in impatience and cross her arms over her chest in disagreement with others.

Perhaps these seem like insignificant behaviors, but as organizational leaders, they had become barriers to effectiveness and were keeping these leaders from making the kind of impact they were capable of. Their behaviors had become automatic habits—something we all have that are difficult for most of us to change.

Your Automatic Self

Your body and your brain love to be on automatic, to have habits that are fine-tuned through years of unintentional practice that become ingrained and often work well for you. Even bad habits like those described above can work to your advantage, but the downside is that they will also—at some point—work against you.

These automatic habits conserve your energy, literally. When ...

The Economic Case Against Majoring in Fun Things

For many, the reality of student debt doesn’t hit home until you make your first payment. Though you may have read your paperwork and done the math on how much monthly debt repayment will cost, in practice, paying the piper can come as a shock. The impact is, unsurprisingly, more acute for new grads at the bottom of the pay scale.

Standard loan repayment lasts about 10 years, but the burden of these monthly dues eases considerably the longer you’re out of school, since wages tend to rise with professional progress. While starting salaries vary by major, total student-loan debt doesn’t vary that much at all, leaving creative-writing majors with about as much debt as someone who majored in something more lucrative, such as finance. In 2012, average student-loan debt amounted to about $26,500, according to the Department of Education’s National Postsecondary Student Aid Study.

Earnings rise fairly rapidly within the first five years after college, increasing by about 65 percent across all majors, according to a new study by the Hamilton Project at the Brookings Institute. That’s good news, but for those who start on the lower-end of the pay scale, the relief ...

An Incredibly Simple Way to Defuse Political Fights

“It’s Official,” said the headline on a Bloomberg News article from last month, “Partisan Rancor Worst in Over a Century.”

The good news is that this headline is slightly misleading. According to therancor index that the story cited—which is based on the frequency of newspaper reports of disagreement among federal politicians—peak rancor was actually reached last year, during the government shutdown. Still, if you look at the whole 33-year rancor graph, you will see that, by historical standards, things remain really rancorous.  

Philadelphia Fed

But cheer up! There is now actual scientific evidence that points to a way to dampen the rancor—dampen it a little bit, at least.   

The evidence grows out of a series of video debates that ran on this site earlier this year as part of a collaboration between The Atlantic and, which I run. The series, which was supported by the Democracy Fund, was called “The Good Fight.” The idea was to encourage the debaters to discuss not only what they disagreed about but what they agreed about. (I stole the idea from Mike Kinsley, who, back when he co-hosted CNN’s Crossfire, told me he wanted to start ...

5 Things to Do When You’re Riding the Struggle Bus

Are you riding the struggle bus right now? Yeah, me too. Heck there are days when it’s like I’m driving that stinkin’ bus. Life has handed me a handful of setbacks over the past months. Taken on their own, each challenge is easy enough to tackle. But when they all pile up? It’s a bit overwhelming.

Can you relate?

Here’s what I’ve learned: For me, the default mode of “hunker down and just gut it out” isn’t so effective anymore (if it ever really was effective). So, if I’m not quite as physically tough as I used to be, thank heaven I am smarter.

So for this trip on the struggle bus, here’s my plan:

1. Take Steven Snyder’s book Leadership and the Art of the Struggle off my bookshelf and refresh my memory on the benefits of the “struggle”—yes, there are some.

2. Take a mental “time out” to figure out what parts of my struggle are truly worth the effort. I’ll think about:

  • Why is this so hard?
  • What do I believe about myself (“I’m not good at ____”) that’s getting in the way of ...

Video: The Case for Napping at Work

  • By Katherine Wells and James Hamblin, MD
  • November 20, 2014
  • Leave a comment
Most Americans don't get enough sleep. More and more employers are trying to help address that.

(Top image via bikeriderlondon/