What are you doing to find margin?

I had the chance to listen a speaker talk to a group of school district administrators about the importance of finding balance recently. A few were on their devices as he made his plea for the group to spend more time working at “finding margin.”

As I share this, I am fully aware that I am also in a constant struggle to ensure that I am the appropriate level of balance. Finding the best way to be fully present both professionally and personally is important. While I believe we can have both I also believe that we must prioritize the personal over the professional and come to an understanding that we are not our jobs. Ultimately, we will be replaced in our professional positions, but there is no one who can ever replace us in our personal positions as spouses, partners, siblings, friends, etc.

With this in mind, I think it is important that leaders model the importance of finding margin. There are so many ways that this can happen:

  • It can be a commitment to exercise a few times a week
  • A few minutes of meditation
  • Keeping a gratitude journal
  • A regular technology disconnect
  • Time dedicated to learning something new
  • Dinner with loved ones or friends regularly

The session reminded me of a couple of quotes from Brené Brown’s Dare to Lead :

“Self-awareness and self-love matter. Who we are is how we lead.”

“At some point, if everything on the list is important, then nothing is truly a driver for you.”

While the focus of the session was on leadership, I know that all of this is equally true for classroom teachers who lead our students each day. The to-do lists just seem to get longer and on most days they will not get fully completed. Without finding some margin for yourself, the only thing you assure is that you will not be there for the people who most need you. I am always drawn back to the analogy of the oxygen masks on the airplane. We need to keep ourselves breathing first.

ACES – Info we all need

I recently finished The Deepest Well by Dr. Nadine Burke Harris and the implications of the work of Dr. Harris are something that every community needs to consider. The book delves into the work Dr. Harris has done in looking at the impacts that childhood trauma have on the the longterm health of individuals. The terminology that she uses for these traumatic events is Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES). The fact of the matter is more of us have them than not. Research show that nearly 70-percent of us have had some type of Adverse Childhood Experience. In addition, they have a proven impact on our health outcomes, 4.5 times more likely fo have depression and 12 times more likely to have suicidal thoughts.

What’s your score on the ACE Screening for Adults?

For those working in schools it is important to understand the research on ACES because of the effect of adversity on both brain structure and function in children. Children with ACES are over 30 times more likely to be diagnosed with learning and/or behavioral problems. With this in mind, how could ACE screening and subsequent interventions help us support students and their families?

As Harris states in her TED Talk below, “This is not a social problem or a mental health problem. As Robert Block, former president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, has been widely quoted as saying,

‘Adverse childhood experiences are the single greatest unaddressed public health threat facing our nation today.”‘

The 15-minute TED Talk below from 2015 is well worth the time, as is an investment in reading The Deepest Well.

Preparing For Darker Days

As we head into days with more darkness and “the most wonderful time of the year,” as the lyrics from the old Andy Williams song describe the holiday season, I can’t help thinking about the bumpier road that so many people will have due to the change in seasons, the decreased exposure to natural light, or just a raised anxiety level due to pressure that is either real or imagined. Whether you are talking about seasonal affective disorder or some other form of depression, one of the common threads is the increasing darkness, which at its worst, seems like it will envelop you. This darkness can appear to smother our last glimmer of light as one event seems to compound the next. When this occurs, the voice in your head can become imbalanced with a steady stream of negative messages about both your current state and the chances for optimism on the road ahead. I was reminded about this in a recent post by Jay Michaelson on the the 10-percent Happier blog. Michaelson described the voice in his head as a parade of monsters:

It was impressive to watch the variety of monsters that showed up. Some made me feel lonely. Others recited the superior accomplishments of my peers. A few accused me of being a bad parent — after all, good parents don’t have the luxury of self-loathing…my favorite monsters of all were the meta-monsters: the ones judging me for having a monster attack in the first place.


It’s important to realize that we all sometimes have those voices in our heads and it is equally important to remind ourselves that those voices are not who we are. As Eckhart Tolle stated, “What a liberation to realize that the “voice in my head” is not who I am.” Even more important is our ability to assure ourselves that this darkness will pass.

Abbreviating Dark Days

There is one thing that is a certainty and that is the fact that we will all have dark moments. It is beyond our control. What we can do to be proactive is put down some insulation to try to minimize the depth of the darkness and muffle the critic who lives in our head. The antidote is building a routine of constructive habits when you are feeling strong. Whether it is a mindfulness practice, exercise, healthy eating, a social group or some other positive outlet that helps keep you feeling a sense of balance, these are the positive practices that can keep you going when the dark clouds approach.

Encouraging Calmness in the Storm

While there are a number of important skills that we need to reinforce with kids, I am wondering where this one ranks in a time where seemingly non-stop consumption of social media is the norm. How do we get our children to take a step back and realize the power accessible to them if they can pause, reflect, and learn to enjoy minutes of solitude without defaulting so quickly to the all-to-familiar “I’m bored” mindset?

Well, for me and I am sure many parents, it starts with a look in the mirror. How are we setting up ourselves (and our kids) for success when it comes to the phenomenon that Mr. Rogers mentioned above. As Shawn Achor points out in The Happiness Advantage, “Americans actually find free time more difficult to enjoy than work.” We function much better under the confines of our professional lives where we are required to use our minds, set goals and be focused on our work. While we fall into our work routines rather easily, our leisure pursuits are a bit more problematic because we are not accountable to colleagues or a boss for these personal pursuits.

“Because there is no leisure boss…we follow the path of least resistance, and that path inevitably leads us to the couch and the television. And because we are ‘mere bundles of habit,’ the more often we succumb to this path, the more difficult it becomes to change directions.”

Shawn Achor

A great deal of the insights on this come from Csikszentmihalyi’s research on happiness in flow. It is clear that active pursuits like sports and other physical pursuits are much more likely to heighten levels of enjoyment for longer periods of time, but because the television clicker and the iPhone are so much easier to access, we tend to give in to these defaults.

Here’s the catch according to Achor, “Studies show that these (passive) activities are enjoyable and engaging for only about 30 minutes, then they start sapping our energy and creating what psychologists call “psychic entropy” – a listless, apathetic feeling…American teenagers are two and a half times more likely to experience elevated enjoyment when engaged in a hobby than when watching TV, and three times more likely when playing a sport.”

For me, there is a clear need for more mindfulness so that individuals can be more deliberate about their passive and active pursuits. We should spend a few days (or weeks) tracking our active and passive pursuits and how we are feeling on days when we do not have some balance. Are we being reflective about our own actions and reactions or are we so antsy that we can’t enjoy the moments of solitude that we all need to be able to handle the stress and pitfalls that are a normal part of life?

I have a lot more questions than answers, but I know that I am in favor of more wonder in my life and the life of my kids.

Priming People for Success

When we believe we can do more and achieve more (or when others believe it for us), that is often the precise reason we do achieve more.

Shawn Achor, The Happiness Advantage

Sometimes we forget how important some of the signals we send are to the mood and success of the people we interact with. I was struck by a couple of examples that Shawn Achor provided in the The Happiness Advantage and how a renewed focus on the tone, body language, facial expressions and the little things we say along the way could be a factor in increasing positivity and success.

One example from Achor’s book described a study done at the Yale School of Management where students were put on teams to work together for an imaginary company. Each team had an actor who was their manager and they each spoke to their teams in a different tone. The tones used on the four teams were the following: cheerful enthusiasm, serene warmth, depressed sluggishness and hostile irritability. It is not hard to figure out which of the two groups made the most profit during the exercise.

Check your tone at the door

While it may seem like a no-brainer, how much do we really pay attention to our tone and body language during our interactions? We often take energy from a previous interaction into our next interaction and if the prior interaction was a negative one, we may be emitting some of that negative energy into the mix. Doug Smith recommended that one hack for this is thresholding. Whenever you pass through a threshold, focus on what is within that room.

The second example from The Happiness Advantage was the discussion about the importance of our words. “A few key words here and there can make all the difference,” Achor noted. “For instance, when researchers remind elderly people that cognition typically declines with age, they perform worse on memory tests than those who had no such reminder.” Achor also referenced the 1968 study Pygmalion in the Classroom where teachers were told that a group of “ordinary” students were the ones with the greatest potential for growth. At the end of the year, these students posted off-the-charts on tests of intellectual ability.

Our lives are greatly impacted by the stories that we believe to be true and many times these are stories that have been told to us by others. As I look at the post above and share the fact that every “we” is used to take away the vulnerability that would be present if it were replaced with an “I”, I think it is worth the time to make sure that my story is not fixed and that it is not inhibiting others to write beautiful ones for themselves.

Gratitude and the Flourishing Life

I felt gratitude this weekend for quality time with family.

In the last week, I had the good fortune of finishing The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. At the same time, an opportunity arose to listen to Doug Smith, another expert on the topic of Positive Psychology. Smith, the author of Happiness: The Art of Living with Peace, Confidence and Joy, did a series of talks called The Flourishing Life last week. In the sessions, Smith emphasized the importance that gratitude plays in the lives of people who maintain a more positive mindset.

Smith had those in attendance do a quick exercise where he asked them to scan the room for everything that was the color blue. After about 30 seconds, he stopped us and asked us how many green things we saw. The point here was that we saw what we were looking for and it can be the same with our mindset if we are spending too much time citing all that is wrong with our lives and just seeing the negative behaviors of those around us.

“Gratitude blocks toxic emotions, such as envy, resentment, regret and depression, which can destroy our happiness.”

Robert Emmons

The best news is that we can improve our ability to show gratitude. Start a daily ritual of sharing one thing you are grateful for at dinner each night or start a daily gratitude journal. If you are a leader, think about ways to infuse opportunities into meetings so that people can share gratitude. If you are a teacher, look for regular opportunities for students to share gratitude.

For some research on the benefits of gratitude, check out this study from the University of California, Davis.


At the end of last week, I was feeling a bit drained and negative when I was reminded of this TED Talk by Tim Ferris in his weekly Five-Bullet Friday post. Tim had this to say about Sam’s talk:

“This video hit me really hard. Despite some tears, it was exactly the reset I needed. This kid is a total stud. Just watch it, and do not rush. Also, do *not* read the description beforehand, only afterward.”

I agree 100-percent that if you are looking for a reset that you just need to watch this video and think about Sam’s three keys to a happy life.

  1. I am OK with what I can’t do because there is so much I can’t do.
  2. Surround myself with people I want to be with.
  3. Keep moving forward…If I am feeling bad then I let it in and then do what I need to do to move past it.