How to Go to Bed Tonight Happier (and Feeling Richer)

Techniques that made Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, and Charles Schwab feel better are guaranteed to work for you too.

Seeing Steve Jobs‘s life slip away was breathtaking, but the lessons offered can be life changing. It struck me as strange that I’d never seen him happier more often than in his last decade, which arguably was his hardest health-wise and yet his most successful professionally, as he transformed four different industries.

I started to notice practices that he embraced that enhanced and lengthened his life. The cynic in me would have considered these too Pollyanna-ish had it been anyone else. What the world’s great entrepreneurs know that most people don’t is that optimism isn’t naive, it’s more productive. Steve didn’t succeed on pessimism, so why should any of us indulge exclusively in our brains’ natural catastrophic bent toward depression?

It’s seductive to think that the bad news we get every day is the whole truth, when, in practice, negativity tends to help us indulge in the luxury of tolerating learned helplessness. Why make the effort to intervene when it’s hopeless? But that’s quite the opposite of the action-oriented mindset of entrepreneurs, whose attitude is tilted more toward the audacity of believing we can actually have impact and make things better if we think different.

1. What Worked for You Today, and Why?

What that means for you tonight, as you head to bed, is that you need to not only understand what went wrong, but finish your day practicing the skill of thinking about what worked and why. This first principle was something that worked for Steve and comes from positive psychologist Martin Seligman, who, with the University of Pennsylvania, conducted ground-breaking research into changes in life-satisfaction and depression levels that have been validated in random-assignment, placebo-controlled experiments.

“It makes sense to analyze bad events, so that we can learn from them and avoid them in the future,” Seligman says. “For sound evolutionary reasons, most of us are not nearly as good at dwelling on good events as we are at analyzing bad events. Those of our ancestors who spent a lot of time basking in the sunshine of good events, when they should have been preparing for disaster, did not survive the Ice Age. So to overcome our brains’ natural catastrophic bent, we need to work on and practice this skill of thinking about what went well.”

The truth is that primitive people who welcomed the good news, while also re-engineering their communities to work better collaboratively, lived the longest because they had a strategy to defend against or avoid tomorrow’s disasters and prosper over the rest of the animal kingdom.

The problem with our primal, reptilian habit of perpetual pessimism in a modern world is that we’re rehearsing doom. That impulse ironically could help us become more effective at repeating the nasty episode, rather than being optimistically strategic about the future. At best, the bad news increases anxiety, doesn’t prepare you for better days, and doesn’t make you fun or attractive to people around you.

Here’s a better practice: “Every night for the next week, set aside 10 minutes before you go to sleep,” Seligman advises. “Write down three things that went well today, and why they went well. You may use a journal or your computer to write about the events, but it is important that you have a physical record of what you wrote. The three things need not be earthshaking in importance.”

Write down why those three good things happened. For example, when I wrote down that a close friend referred a great customer to me, it was important to make a note that it happened because I often remember to call him with good news and referrals. It may seem silly at first, but it has been easier for me to focus on a positive insight like this one than it has been for me to practice meditation as regularly as I should. This procedure has the added benefit of being useful at a practical level, because it gives me something I can actually do to achieve better results again tomorrow.

I’ve found this is a helpful habit to build in our personal lives, too. While friends and family resisted it at first, it’s clear we never were hesitant with complaints! The inverse was much more rewarding, and what a refreshing twist to have people you care about actually go out of their way to say something constructive. By the way, these ideas and a lot more are available in Seligman’s book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being, which is well worth keeping on your e-reader.

2. Who Helped You Be Successful Today, and Why?

A second practice that pays incredible dividends is to write a testimonial to someone every week. It’s not something Steve Jobs did, but I’m grateful to see it all the time with world-class thought leaders, like former Ford CEO Alan Mulally and No. 1 executive coach (and bestselling author of Triggers) Marshall Goldsmith, whose encouraging emails warm my heart and frankly help me stay on course and do more than I ever imagined. And I’ll never throw away the sweet notes I’ve received from my friend and mentor Richard Branson (who recently also wrote a heartwarming note to his new grandkids) or my former boss, Charles “Chuck” Schwab, who always knew intuitively how writing an authentic note–that simple act–could permanently improve and energize relationships. When I’m gone, those notes will still be there on my desk.

On a personal level, imagine the impact it can have when a father sends a fact-based (not fluffy) endorsement to his teenager daughter for all the ways that she inspires him, or a son sends a thank you note to mom for real stuff she did for you?

Surely you haven’t achieved what you have in your life and career all by yourself!> In my research project on how people become more valued, respected, and admired for what they do, we asked high-achieving executive coaching clients to remember all the people who make them successful. (You can find a copy of the research in Admired: 21 Ways to Double Your Value, a book I co-wrote with my wife, Bonita S. Thompson.)

Here’s how it works, in Seligman’s words: “Close your eyes. Call up the face of someone still alive who, years ago, did something or said something that changed your life for the better. [Thank] someone who you never properly thanked; someone you could meet face-to-face next week. Got a face? Your task is to write a letter of gratitude to this individual and (if possible) deliver it in person. The letter should be concrete and about 300 words: Be specific about what she did for you and how it affected your life. Let her know what you are doing now, and mention how you often remember what she did. Make it sing! Once you have written the testimonial, call the person and tell her you’d like to visit her, but be vague about the purpose of the meeting; this exercise is much more fun when it is a surprise. When you meet her, take your time reading your letter.”

Do it now. “When we feel gratitude, we benefit from the pleasant memory of a positive event in our life,” Seligman predicts with virtually certainty. “Also, when we express our gratitude to others, we strengthen our relationship with them. But sometimes our thank you is said so casually or quickly that it is nearly meaningless.” This exercise gives you a “do-over” of epic proportions, and makes it incredibly hard to be depressed that day.

The bottom line is that highly effective leaders focus on what they’re for, rather than what they’re against. When you do that at home and work, you’ll get more done, feel richer, and, yes, you’ll even sleep better!

What If I Don’t Have Passion?

Six Questions to Identify Your Passion

Passionate Heart of Fire

Passionate people try hard to achieve their goals, and are happier. In the office they’re more productive, creative and innovative–they’re even paid more, but they’re worth more. It’s so important to identify your passions because if you continue to do what the powerful people in your life want you to do at the expense of pursuing your dreams, you will never achieve your highest potential.

When we don’t spend much time focusing on our passions, they’re often difficult to identity. But we all have passion; it’s just a matter of discovering it. My co-author of Admired: 21 Ways to Double Your Value, Bonita Thompson and myself identified six fundamental factors that can help you determine when passion is present in yourself or any of your MVPs (Most Valued People).

  1. Flow: If you lose track of time while doing or thinking about something, you’re often in a state of passion.
  2. Failure: You will persist despite failure when you’re passionate.
  3. Free: We’re not suggesting that you work for free, but the truth is that you go above and beyond when your’e passionate about the outcome.
  4. Distraction: Pay attention to what is distracting you; it could be a passion.
  5. Against the Grain: A passion is something you’re drawn to even when your MVPs are not. It’s something you’d like to do even it’s not popular.
  6. Irritation: Everyone has a short list of things that really annoy them when done poorly. Tune in; these are things you care about.

You may notice that many of the tests of passion appear negative. That’s because when the things you value are violated, you become upset. Listen carefully; your irritation may lead you to your passion!

In the words of Warren Buffet, “…putting off passion is a little like saving up sex for your old age. Not a good idea!” Column: Why Jeff Bezos, Tony Hsieh, and Al Gore Told Me to Stop Networking

5 Awesome Ways to Win or Lose the Most Valuable Relationships

The worst thing about networking books is the advice often feels so manipulative, mercenary and self-serving. The world’s best entrepreneurs routinely tell me that a better way to think about growing your business is to “seek to build a community — to make better choices in the people with whom you partner — that’s the only way to have greater long-term impact on the world,” Jeff Bezos told me as we tromped through the snow at the World Economic Forum in Davos. It’s time to shift to a longer view of relationships, rather than seeing everyone in the room as this quarter’s target for business development.

(Read article on

Traditional networking leans too heavily on creating short-term contacts intended to meet your momentary needs and ambitions. Long-term success is not just about quick wins; it’s about going deep to find the people who matter most and to learn what’s happening out there in the market that is likely just out of your field of vision. Consider theses five ways to shift your thinking in favor of a bigger, longer-term Return on Relationships:

1. Don’t confuse transactions with relationships! says Tony Hsieh, the founder of Zappos and What if you knew when you first met someone that they would be a long-term colleague and resource? Would it shift the way you approach that conversation? People can smell superficiality. “Go deep to find out why you’re better off working together,” Hsieh said.

2. Don’t ask for anything until you’ve added value, Al Gore mused as we stood in line on the way into a TED session. I asked him about how he felt about networking. He shook his head, then shrugged: “The only way to earn reciprocity from anyone else is for you to show generosity first.”

3. Don’t make this about you. “An appreciative listener is always stimulating,”Agatha Christie once famously quipped about how much people are moved by the rare person who can shut up long enough to hear and understand what others are saying. If you’ve ever wondered about how to interest people in talking with you, then embrace a critically important piece of advice: No matter how cliché this may seem, it’s absolutely true that the best way to be interesting is to be interestedAbraham Maslow’s historic “Hierarchy of Needs” research ranked “being understood” as one of humanity’s most desperately treasured desires.

4. Don’t go after the biggest network. Strive for quality in your network, not quantity. Networking can be overwhelming and often pointless if you simply try to amass a large number of people. Instead, select fewer, deeper, more interesting folks. Invest in your Most Valuable People, or MVPs, as they’re called in Admired: 21 Ways to Double Your Value. In a national survey of Gallup’s Most Admired People and Fortune’s Most Admired Companies, it was clear that most people “don’t know what is valued by the few people who are the most important to their success.” It’s a simple matter of reciprocity to know what others value before expecting them to value you!

Make a list of the people who are essential to your future and find out what they love. Are you spending the time necessary to understand what they value? Could you be devoting more attention to this relationship? Is there someone new you would like to add, but haven’t put time into that connection yet? When you focus on being more valuable to your network of MVPs, the natural result is more value flows back to you.

5. Don’t just go along for the ride with any network. Yahoo! founder Jerry Yang suggests that you find out what your MVPs care about and help take a leadership role in the community organizations that are most important to them. For example, most nonprofit groups are “hungry for help,” he said. “No one will ever turn down your offer for genuine support for a worthy cause.” You’re always welcome as a volunteer to manage or do work for free. If you commit to a sincere effort, you will be invited to lead something valuable to them, or to join the board for an event or for the group — and in so doing you will have the opportunity to deepen or expand your visibility and community.

Let’s hope you’re next!

(Read more…) Column: How to Make Sure You’re on Larry Page’s 2015 Wish List

Here are four ways to become an irresistible acquisition target for the search giant…

When we received an offer from Google to buy our company, you can imagine the excitement. Like most startups, an exhausted crew of unshaven entrepreneurs had been throwing themselves at the task 24/7 and the tiny firm was growing by leaps and bounds. It’s obviously huge validation to have your firm acquired by Google or other innovator, but it’s not as rare as you might think. They’ve been buying more than 50 companies per year–we were just one week’s purchase! (Read article on


Why do Facebook, Yahoo and other notables continue to buy companies at a blistering pace, and how can you make yourself irresistible for their next offer?

Solve these four problems first:

1.  Can You Pass The Toothbrush Test? Google CEO Larry Page is legendary for saying he won’t buy your company unless the product or service is something people need and use throughout the day–the toothbrush test. But it’s not only that. The service has to be something people ‘want’ as much as they need, so for more than a dozen years Page has insisted that startup teams demonstrate first-hand experience with solving customers’ most compelling problems. Before Google tapped YouTube to come aboard, founder Chad Hurley would often lament “the great pain of uploading video and the great joy that came from seeing your stuff instantly online,” he mused. “At that time, there was no easy way for the mass of consumers to do this. The solution was born from our own frustration!” Back then only a few visionaries (like Google) could see just how enormous that business would become. I sat next to Larry Page in the audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos after the Google/YouTube deal had closed. On stage there were a bunch of tech prognosticators showing off for the cameras, expressing dismay at Google paying more than a billion for YouTube (back when that was rare). Page turned to me with a smirk: “I think we’re going to do okay on YouTube,” the Google cofounder chuckled. “Don’t worry about us,” he started to whisper. “No one seems to realize yet just how necessary it will be for people to broadcast themselves every day!” (Broadcast Yourself was one the original YouTube slogan.) I told Larry Page that even the stock market was smarter than the critics in the snowy Swiss Alps that day, as Google’s stock price had leapt almost $2 billion after the deal was announced.

2.  It’s The Ugly Stepchild Not The Sexy Stuff That Wins Long-Term. While some successful businesses capture the public’s imagination and dominate the media’s attention at the beginning, those companies often become the rare, few victors in fiercely competitive markets. More often it’s better to solve a problem that may be less glamorous, but still necessary to a market niche. At the turn of the century, “bandwidth was limited, so it would take forever to upload even YouTube videos, and playback was haltingly slow,” Hurley observed. YouTube was an ugly stepchild in the sexy media industry, but it would soon become a necessity.

3.  The Dirty Little Secret About Innovation. Innovation requires experimentation, but what’s the most likely result from most bold new tests? Failure! Do big company managers enjoy high-profile flops with their bonus and reputation on the line? Nobody does, with one notable exception: startups that lack the scale, experience, customers and resources–they don’t have the obvious competitive advantages of their bigger competitors–so they have no other choice but to take disruptive action and embrace daring risks to solve problems, please customers and win market share. For all the lip service given to innovation and entrepreneurship, almost no well-established leaders do it in a serious way because they have to deliver quarterly earnings and are burdened by regulatory complexities and peer pressure at their own companies. There isn’t much incentive to innovate if you’ll be fired for doing it!

4.  If You Can’t Beat Them, Buy Them. For many risk-adverse firms, the solution is to hunt for startups whose businesses are have done the pesky R&D for them. Why not buy a company that has already slogged through the humiliating setbacks and taken the research and development risks and demonstrated successful traction? Google is a master at this kind of talent search. As Darwinian economic forces cull the vast majority of the herd of entrepreneurs in any emerging industry, the visionary buyers have the opportunity swoop in to acquire and integrate the most promising, road-tested survivors.

As an executive coach and angel investor, I often lay half-awake at night with dreams about getting that exciting call from an acquirer. I’m grateful to have been a part of more of dozen happy exits–along with dozens of happy entrances by visionary managers at big companies. Each time I’m amazed to see how great leaders embrace risk so that the company and their customers win over and over again.

Let’s hope you’re next! Column: What Elon Musk, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates Told Me about Getting Out of My Own Way

Billionaire entrepreneurs relate the warning signals they wished they had seen before making bad decisions. 

When I ask self-made billionaires what they wish they knew when they started out in business, one of the insights they most frequently share points to a common experience for all leaders when it comes to decision-making: They struggle to get out of their own way.


(Read article on

1. You don’t get paid to make all the decisions.

“You can’t grow or scale your business quickly if you’re making all the decisions. It’s not about you,” warned Vinod Khosla. The billionaire has had a few notable failures, but is best known as a co-founder of SUN and a pioneer in venture capital at Kleiner Perkins and his own firm, Khosla Ventures. “It’s too risky to bet year after year on a company that depends entirely on one ego.” The job of a leader is to “recruit and develop people who can make better decisions than you. What you’re looking for in leaders is the ability to build the teams that can make decisions on their own–while the leader asks great questions and provides guidance. They’re more of a beacon than a commander,” he smiled.

“If they are proactive CEOs,” he continued, “just the fact that they asked a particular question may change the direction in which his or her team thinks. Of course, the leader has to be there to resolve differences between team members, but most of the time a leader’s job is putting together the right team, and putting the right questions in front of them to change their inherent internal built-in biases.”

2. You don’t get paid to do what others are doing.

At the turn of the century, market analysts wrote about how Amazon was going out of business. “They had low margins and the company was under enormous pressure. Amazon started to raise prices for a little bit, and that made Wall Street happy temporarily,” Khosla shrugged. “Jeff Bezos realized it was the wrong long-term strategy, so he reversed that decision. ‘We’re going back to low prices,’ Amazon announced, which earned greater customer loyalty, but thinner margins. They took a pummeling in their stock price.” But the long-term decision he made was correct and today Amazon is the world’s biggest store.

“To me, leaders are too influenced by what Wall Street and the press have to say,” Khosla insisted. “This gets worse the bigger a company gets. Overreacting to what someone writes (who hasn’t run a business like yours) is risky. When the press criticizes your direction, it’s likely because they’re following conventional wisdom, which is what everybody else is doing it anyway.”

Steve Jobs showed great counterintuitive “courage in announcing the iPhone in 2007 at a price point everybody thought would be disastrous and with no keyboard, which everybody thought would fail,” Khosla reminded. “You should look at December of 2006 and see how the press predicted doom for the iPhone. Everybody wanted them to follow BlackBerry and Nokia. Guess what would have happened if they’d followed those two other market leaders at the time?” It’s not your job to follow the crowd.

I shared that story with Khosla’s disruptively brilliant friend Elon Musk. “You don’t get paid to copy the other guy,” he laughed. “It’s too easy to fall hopelessly behind; it’s your job to have the courage of your convictions and dare to disagree,” the founder of Tesla and SpaceX said.

Musk’s sentiment is reflected in the headline on the opening page on Khosla Ventures’ website: Change depends on unreasonable people.”

3. You don’t get paid to chase the next crisis.

“When you sit down Sunday night to look at your week, what percentage of your calendar is focused on being proactive?” Khosla asks. “What direction do you want to lead that will create a clearer path to growth and profitability, as opposed to just responding to one meeting request after another, or an emergency here or there? There will always be crises that must be managed. But the difference between being proactive rather than reactive is making the time to really decide” where you want to lead your organization.

“How will you help others solve problems to build a better future, not obsess about the past?” Bill Gates once admonished me when I whined about a crisis that had wiped out my day. We were at the World Economic Forum in Davos to talk about reinventing business and America’s richest man thought I was missing the point. “You have to learn from your problems, but stay focused on the road ahead, not just what’s in the rearview mirror.”

That’s what your clients are counting on when they give you their hard-earned time and money to do business with you. That’s why investors will take a bet on you. And that’s why the best employees and leaders risk their careers to come to work for you. What are you creating that’s bigger than you are?

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