Leaning to Action

Nuttin’ Like the First Cuppa Tay


Towards the latter years of her life, my great-grandmother lived with my grandmother in Cork City, Ireland. I remember as a young boy that she had a saying: “Dere’s nuttin’ like da first cuppa’ tay!” (Translation: “There’s nothing like the first cup of tea.”) And so, using her Irish logic, she chose a huge mug with which to enjoy that first tea in the morning… and so made it last longer.

I was reminded of my great-grandmother’s habit when I came across a study into what urges us to keep going. Apparently, researchers noticed that it is largely negative factors. In a paper in The Review of General Psychology, these researchers argue that bad inputs have a more powerful impact on us that good ones.

From this study, behavioural psychologist, Nir Eyal, in his book Indistractable, summarises four psychological factors that make our satisfaction temporary. These might answer the question: Why is there nothing like the first cup of tea in the morning?

These are:

  1. Boredom. We repeat something often enough and it becomes more tedious with each repetition. It spurs us to experiment. (Hat tip to Taylor Swift and her song, “Shake it Up”!)
  2. Negativity Bias, where our natural alertness to the down-sides help us seek safer, surer, easier alternatives. Fear can change what we do, but only temporarily
  3. Rumination, where we dwell on past negative events and outcomes. We can replay them in our minds over and over again. So, we seek a better outcome this time, and
  4. Hedonic Adaptation, the experience we all have that a pleasurable experience first time is less so as it is repeated. Like that first cup of tea, it wanes in pleasure with later cups. So, we return to the wisdom of Taylor Swift.

However, “Enough of the dark side,” I say.

I believe there are positive equivalents to these four that can maintain, even increase, our satisfaction and maybe even help motivate us to improve as well.

  • Instead of boredom, we can excite a sense of curiosity. For example, before reading any new book now, I write down three questions I want the author to answer. This helps me focus as I read, and it respects the way the human brain works, which seeks to close open loops (questions). Rather than starting a book with vague hopes, like “Impress me,” or “Entertain me,” I read hunting for clues. I give my mind permission to be curious.
  • Instead of giving in to a default negativity bias, I cultivate gratitude. In my daily journal, I hunt for three things for which I am grateful and explain to myself why I am thankful for them. As well as raising my level of emotional contentment—as it invariably does—this helps me in the present moment to contribute to tomorrow’s gratitude statements, such as while I am writing this article, for example. This too helps spur me on.
  • Instead of negative rumination, I practice what Cal Newport describes in Deep Work as savouring: allowing myself to remember and dwell upon a happy event or sensation. Such meditation spurs me to take actions such as put aside some cash for my family celebrations and holidays. I do this, because savouring helps me realise the bliss of those experiences with my loved ones.
  • And rather than giving in to hedonic adaptation, I take joy in the familiar, in the present moment. I encourage myself to laugh with family and friends. Joy rises in me when I am walking outdoors. And we all need to laugh more. Children get it. We adults have forgotten to laugh.
Ben White on Unsplash

So, maybe our defaults are negative, but we can exercise agency, by choosing consciously positive practices. These may need us to be a little more intentional, but these routines can help us sustain, or even increase, our levels of satisfaction , our physical and mental health, and motivate us to live fuller, richer lives.

So, if you identify with a lifestyle of boredom, negativity and fear, dwelling on past hurts and failures, and finding the familiar now somewhat less than exciting, you don’t have to buy a huge mug; just be more Taylor Swift!

The Seven Keys to Exceptional Work


This fourth edition of my ebook shares more on the Seven Keys to that I have discovered that lead to exceptional work and outcomes.

Leaning to Action Positive Outliers Self-Awareness

For the Love of Work

Photo by Michel Stockman on Unsplash

When a friend invited my wife and me for lunch recently, I had the opportunity to talk more deeply with another guest, a friend of mine called Mike who, among other things, invents electronic gadgets.

However, Mike is different. He describes himself as retired, but his love of working on technical challenges in his workshop was palpable and infectious. He is a quiet man, and he shared with me what he is working on.

My mind quickly returned to the potential rewards of his inventions, but Mike was content simply to invent. He didn’t want, he explained, the irritation and stress of attempting to patent and defend his patents. He just loved to work in his workshop. His reward was being allowed to work. His motivation was not financial.

For the last few posts, I have been focusing on dreams, desired outcomes, and on the motivation that comes from imagining those outcomes as reality. In so much of business writing, success is assumed to be financial. But what if there is another reward to work, not focused on financial rewards and threats?

The influential psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, describes Mike’s state of being as Flow. The indicative criterion for flow is pursuing work for its own sake, not for the reward it brings. There is a transcendent fulfilment in work when we experience flow, according to Csikszentmihalyi.

Now, pause for a moment.

How do you find yourself reacting as you read this?

  • Is all this totally foreign to you? Have you never experienced work that was a pleasure in and of itself to do?
  • Or do you read this with all kinds of ‘yebbuts’ rising in you? “Yebbut, this is unrealistic!” “Yebbut, in the real world…” 
  • Do you feel work is only legitimate if has a clear consequential reward at the end or avoids some key risk, or else it is just frivolous indulgence?
  • Or does your heart resonate with Mike’s working lifestyle?

According to Susan Cain, in her best-seller Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, your response may have as much to do with whether or not you are an introvert, as it has to with your background and current circumstances. She writes:

If you’re an introvert, find your flow by using your gifts. You have the power of persistence, the tenacity to solve complex problems, and the clear-sightedness to avoid pitfalls that trip others up.

Susan Cain, Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
Photo by Matthew Fournier on Unsplash

Craig Lambert, the world-class rower, describes this in his autobiography this way:

Your ability to generate power is directly proportional to your ability to relax.  Rowers have a word for this frictionless state: swing. . . . Recall the pure joy of riding on a backyard swing: an easy cycle of motion, the momentum coming from the swing itself.  The swing carries us; we do not force it.  We pump our legs to drive our arc higher, but gravity does most of the work.  We are not so much swinging as being swung. The boat swings you.  The shell wants to move fast: speed sings in its lines and nature.  Our job is simply to work with the shell, to stop holding it back with our thrashing struggles to go faster.  Trying too hard sabotages boat speed.  Trying becomes striving and striving undoes itself.  Social climbers strive to be aristocrats but their efforts prove them no such thing.  Aristocrats do not strive; they have already arrived. Swing is a state of arrival.

Mind Over Water: Lessons on a Life from the Art of Rowing

Maybe the key, then, is not so much to abandon any attempt to imagine the desired outcome but rather to work as if you have already arrived.

The Seven Keys to Exceptional Work
The Seven Keys eBook

The Seven Keys eBook

Revealing the Seven Key Areas that High Performers Pay Attention

Leaning to Action Positive Outliers Resilient Hope Writing

Whatever you do, do it with all your heart

I saw this quote recently via Bernadette Jiwa on her blog, The Story of Telling:

In the past jobs were about muscles, now they’re about brains, but in future, they’ll be about the heart.

Minouche Shafik, Director of the London School of Economics

I appreciate this statement because it is saturated with wisdom and hope.

The narrative common in our media is that, as AI (artificial intelligence) increases, we will lose jobs. Machines will be able to diagnose better than doctors, design better than architects, and drive better than most of us. As Bernadette comments:

The truth is our best work always has been about the heart.

And the good news is that we all start with the same advantage.


So, if you write, write from the heart. If you work from the heart, you serve better. If you lead, lead from the heart, and you will find you are a more effective leader. It is all heart work.

We may think that this heart writing only applies to novelists, to writers of fiction. I say no. In my business books, I have written them from the heart. The reason for writing them came from the heart, from pain, from hope.

Heart work is a good thing. Maybe machines will encourage us to become fully human rather than work like a machine… and lose.

Leaning to People

Change or Die!

If you were told that unless you made a lifestyle change you would die, would you change?

Would you, though?

Research shows that you’re probably wrong.​

In this video, I report on some fascinating research first made known by Alan Deutschmann. The results are surprising but hopeful.​

What emerges is an unlikely but compelling story of how we are influenced much more effectively through our hearts than our heads.

One of my favourite quotes comes out of this research:

Joy is a more powerful motivator than fear.

Dr Dean Ornish
The Seven Keys to Exceptional Work
The Seven Keys eBook

The Seven Keys eBook

Revealing the Seven Key Areas that High Performers Pay Attention