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A Psychologist Explains Why Changing Your Life Isn’t as Hard as You Think

When Sheryl Sandberg’s husband died unexpectedly two years ago, she was devastated. In her new book Option B, coauthored with organizational psychologist Adam Grant, Sandberg recounts her process of discovering resilience in the face of loss and upheaval.

The story of Sandberg—Facebook’s chief operating officer, a mother of two, and the author of Lean In—might seem like an outlier. According to the prevailing cultural narrative, change is incredibly hard, whether it involves recovering from the death of a loved one, getting over a breakup, quitting an unhealthy lifestyle, or otherwise turning your life around. But research suggests that we are actually much more adaptable than we give ourselves credit for.

Our mistaken beliefs about change can be explained by the philosophical conundrum devised by the Ancient Greeks known as the “paradox of the heap.” This paradox, first presented by the ancient Greeks around 400 BC, asks a seemingly simple question: At what point do single grains of sand become a heap of sand?

One grain of sand is clearly not a heap of sand. Neither are two grains or three grains or four. But if we keep adding single grains on top of one another, eventually...

Creating an Executive Corps for All of Government

The following is one of a series of chapters Government Executive is excerpting from a new book, Building a 21st Century Senior Executive Service, published by the National Academy of Public Administration. Click here for more information about the project.

When I joined the Obama administration as the deputy director for management at the White House Office of Management and Budget, our team focused on making government more effective and efficient for citizens and businesses through our support of the President’s Management Agenda. We looked across government and set up structures that encouraged collaboration and the exchange of best practices between agencies, within agencies, and even within teams. Instead of the focus on the day-to-day operations that comes with leading one organization or initiative, it was our job to take a whole-of-government, enterprise-wide view and encourage other senior executives around government, both political and career, to do the same.

Then, in the summer of 2015, I found myself in a different role. As acting director of the Office of Personnel Management, I was at the center of the response to a serious cybersecurity intrusion against the U.S. government, a breach which resulted in the compromise of millions...

America’s No. 1 Health Problem is Not What You Expect

Many organizations are interested in the wellness and wellbeing of their people. They promote wellness programs that encourage exercise and mindfulness. Few, however, address the No. 1  health problem.

In a 2016 interview with Politico, U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said the most common illness today isn’t heart disease. It isn’t diabetes. It isn’t cancer.

It’s loneliness and social isolation.

“We underestimate how prevalent isolation is,” Murthy said. “We underestimate the impact it has on our health. In fact, we know that social isolation—science tells us, in fact—that social isolation is linked to shorter lives, to cognitive decline, to increased rates of cardiovascular disease, as well as other healthcare concerns.”

The media is catching on. Articles are appearing with greater frequency in the press about rising loneliness. In April 2017, Atlantic featured an interview with loneliness expert John Cacioppo from the University of Chicago in an article titled “How Loneliness Begets Loneliness.” The previous month in the Boston Globe, Billy Baker wrote a thoughtful, and at times humorous, article titled, “The biggest threat facing middle aged men isn’t smoking or obesity. It’s loneliness.”

In recent years we’ve seen articles...

Trump’s Separate Pursuit of Two Government Reform Plans Will Hurt Both

The Trump administration has launched two important initiatives to reform—even transform—government. The President’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner is leading the new Office of American Innovation, with the mission to “make recommendations to the president on policies and plans that improve government operations and services, improve the quality of life for Americans now and in the future, and spur job creation.” Additionally, the Office of Management and Budget has instructed agencies to soon present plans to restructure their operations to improve efficiency and reduce costs.

Let’s leave aside the hyperbole accompanying the OMB directions (“rebuilding from scratch”) and the fact that much of the language associated with the launch of the OAI has a familiar ring—such is normal with any administration. The reality is that both initiatives have real potential if they are well executed; neither has to result in massive mission elimination or a dilution of service to the taxpayer; and both are based on sound principles.

A number of experts—including Deloitte’s Bill Eggers, Don Kettl of the University of Maryland, and Grant Thornton’s Robert Shea—have articulately described some of the opportunities and challenges these initiatives present, including that...

The 15-Minute Weekly Habit That Eased My Work Anxiety — and Made My Boss Trust Me More

I once had a boss who would send me a series of two-word emails throughout the day, each one bearing the same message: “Call me.” Each time I received one of these emails, the hairs on the back of my neck would stiffen and my stomach would churn violently. This reaction made no sense—I was reliable and organized, consistently ranked in the top performance tier at work. Still, when I saw those ominous words, I feared the worst.

When I did call my boss, our conversation was always friendly. It might be that he wanted to get an update on a project, or ask me a quick question, or even compliment me on a presentation. It was almost never bad news. But I still experienced unnecessary stress because of the difference in our communication styles. My manager’s approach was very spur-of-the moment, which made sense because he had many reports and a slew of fast-moving responsibilities on his plate. But I found this style of communication anxiety-provoking; it put me on the defensive, even though I was a responsible worker. Eventually, I realized that there was a solution—I needed to learn more about how to manage up...

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