Food for Thought

Tara Parker-Pope, the founding editor of Well, The New York Times’s award-winning consumer health site, shares 10 ways to calm down.

Peak Anxiety? Here Are 10 Ways to Calm Down

Can’t concentrate? Losing sleep? Binge-eating your feelings?

In a year of unprecedented stress, the nation collectively appears to be heading toward peak anxiety this week. People are sharing stories of stress eating, clearing their calendars (who could sit through a Zoom meeting during a time like this?) and threatening to stay in bed for a week.

The stress has consumed both sides of the political aisle. A poll released by the American Psychological Association showed that 76 percent of Democrats and 67 percent of Republicans are finding the 2020 election to be a significant source of stress.

While there’s nothing you can do to speed election results or a coronavirus vaccine, you do have the power to take care of yourself. Neuroscientists, psychologists and meditation experts offered advice about the big and small things you can do to calm down. Here are 10 things you can try to release anxiety, gain perspective and gird yourself for whatever comes next.

As you feel your anxiety level rising, try to practice “self interruption.” Go for a walk. Call a friend. Run an errand. Just move your body and become aware of your breathing.

“Interrupt yourself so you can shift your state,” said Ms. Williams. “Get your attention on something else. Focus on something that is beautiful. Get up. Move your body and really shift your position. I think people really need to move away from wherever it is they are and break the momentum.”

When you feel your stress level rising, try this quick calming exercise from Dr. Judson A. Brewer, director of research and innovation at the Mindfulness Center at Brown University:

“It’s a different way to ground yourself,” said Dr. Brewer. “Anxiety tends to be in your chest and throat. Your feet are as peripheral as you get from your anxiety zones.”

It just takes a short burst of exercise — three minutes to be exact — to improve your mood, said Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist and lecturer at Stanford University whose latest book is “The Joy of Movement.” Do jumping jacks. Stand and box. Do wall push-ups. Dance.

“If you give me three minutes, it works, as long as you’re moving your body in ways that feel good to you,” said Dr. McGonigal, who suggests picking an inspiring song to get you moving. “Anytime you move your muscles and get your heart rate up, you’ll get a boost in dopamine and sense yourself as alive and engaged. Movement for me is a way I sense my own strength and feel connected to hope and joy.”

Get rid of clutter, make a scrapbook, get a new comforter, hang artwork.

“It’s not frivolous to do something like declutter, organize or look around your space and think about how to make it a supportive place for you or anyone else you live with. It’s one of the ways we imagine a positive future,” said Dr. McGonigal, whose TedTalk on stress has been viewed nearly 24 million times. “Anything you do where you take an action that allows you to connect, whether consciously or not, with this idea that there’s a future you’re moving toward, that’s like a hope intervention. It’s something you’re doing now to look after your future self.”

This simple practice is easy to remember and is often taught to children to help them calm themselves in times of high stress. (I tried this the other day in the dentist chair, and it helped a lot!) Dr. Brewer has created a video explaining the technique, which works by engaging multiple senses at the same time and crowding out those worrying thoughts.

Step 1. Hold your hand in front of you, fingers spread.

Step 2. Using your index finger on the opposite hand, start tracing the outline of your extended hand, starting at the wrist, moving up the pinkie finger.

Step 3. As you trace up your pinkie, breathe in. As you trace down your pinkie, breathe out. Trace up your ring finger and breathe in. Trace down your ring finger and breathe out.

Step 4. Continue finger by finger until you’ve traced your entire hand. Now reverse the process and trace from your thumb back to your pinkie, making sure to inhale as you trace up, and exhale as you trace down.

Spend time outside. Watch birds. Wander amid the trees. Take a fresh look at the vistas and objects around you during an “awe walk.” Recent research shows that consciously taking in the wonders of nature amplifies the mental health benefits of walking.

Numerous studies support the notion that spending time in nature and walking on quiet, tree-lined paths can result in meaningful improvements to mental health, and even physical changes to the brain. Nature walkers have “quieter” brains: scans show less blood flow to the part of the brain associated with rumination. Some research shows that even looking at pictures of nature can improve your mood. Our brains, it seems, prefer green spaces. One small study found that exercisers exposed to the color green found it easier to exercise and were in a better mood than exercisers exposed to gray or red.

Many of us are vertical breathers: When we breathe, our shoulders rise and fall, and we’re not engaging our diaphragm. To better relax, learn to be a horizontal breather. Inhale and push your belly out, which means you’re using your diaphragm. Exhale and your middle relaxes.

For a deep (and somewhat complicated) dive on belly breathing, grab a tape measure and take this “breathing IQ” self-exam from Belisa Vranich, a clinical psychologist and author of “Breathing for Warriors.

“If you’re breathing with your shoulders, you’re using auxiliary muscles, and you’ll have a higher heart rate, higher blood pressure and higher cortisol,” Dr. Vranich said. “If you breathe diaphragmatically, you’re more apt to be calmer.”

Give your mind a break by watching this cat comfort a nervous dog, or check out the jellyfish cam at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. You’ll find more fun diversions on our new interactive Election Distractor, including a digital stress ball, a virtual emotional support dog and Donald J. McNeil Jr., the Times’s infectious disease reporter, giving you optimistic news about the coronavirus vaccine.

Take a lavender foot bath, burn a scented candle or spritz the air with orange aromatherapy. It’s only a temporary reprieve, but it just might help get you through election night.

A study of 141 pregnant women found that rubbing or soaking feet with lavender cream significantly reduced anxiety, stress and depression. Another study of 200 dental patients found that orange or lavender aromatherapy helped them relax before treatment. Lavender baths lower cortisol levels in infants. Even antidepressants work better when combined with lavender therapy.

Why does aromatherapy, particularly lavender, appear to have a calming effect? Some research suggests that lavender reaches odor-sensitive neurons in the nose that send signals to the parts of the brain related to wakefulness and awareness.

Accepting the result of the election doesn’t mean giving up if things don’t go your way. In fact, you’ll be more effective at pursuing change if you accept the situation. “Our anxiety comes from the desire to have things be different,” said Ms. Williams. “There’s going to be the day after the election. And the day after that. We need to be present to what is, regardless of the outcome you want.”

Thinking about history and those who have faced seemingly insurmountable hardship in the past can help you gain perspective, accept current events and make plans to pursue change.

“My ancestors had to prepare themselves, over and over again, for moving toward a freedom that was nowhere in sight,” said Ms. Williams, referring to Black Americans. “We prepare for life as it unfolds, not our ideal image of it. That is, literally, the only path forward.”

Lots of ways the bad guys can get in. Are all of your doors locked?

code projected over woman

Mike Foster shares how they are getting into your IT systems and how to prevent it in this short read.

An attacker can plug into any network port in your building and, within 3 seconds, take control of your entire network.

The attacker does not need to know any passwords; they do not even need a username. They plug in a cable, and 3 seconds later, they’ve completely compromised your network. An attacker posing as a visitor, a copier repair person, or a member of a cleaning crew can all compromise your organization. They can steal sensitive information, install ransomware, and can shut down operations entirely. They bypass the majority of, if not all, of your other protections because now they’re a Domain Administrator.

This exploit is so severe that the Department of Homeland Security directed all federal agencies to apply the patch in accordance with the Federal Emergency Directive 20-04.

Take these three steps ASAP:

First, ask your IT team if they’ve backed up your Domain Controller servers and applied Microsoft’s patches that address the Zerologon exploit CVE-2020-1472. They must do this immediately. Be compassionate if they’ve not. IMPORTANT: Realize that if an attacker already took over a network, the patch doesn’t help.

Second, if you have Domain Controllers using operating systems older than Windows Server 2008 R2, your IT professionals must shut them down for good. Be sure to migrate any mission-critical services to other servers.

Third, does your organization rely on third parties to support you? What if one of your major suppliers, a distributor, or your biggest customer falls prey to an attack? Prepare your organization now for an interruption of their operations. Be sure their executives know about this flaw and these three steps. You do not want a catastrophe at their organization to domino and cause a disaster for you, even though you’ve protected your systems.

Additional steps:

Inform your work-from-home team members that, in some cases, the attacker can take over your network using a VPN connection. Do you have an armed guard at every work-from-home user’s home to watch visitors? Of course not. But your entire organization might rely on their security. What if a teenager’s friend feels like playing around, experimenting, with this new cool exploit on a mom or dad’s computer?

The patches only protect you from attacks from Windows devices. If an attacker accesses a network port or cable with a non-Windows machine, the attacker can still take control of your network. Microsoft will release a second patch on February 9, 2021. Ask your IT team to configure alerts now to monitor security log events 5827 thru 5831 to see when connections are allowed or denied.

The average time for IT Professionals to apply critical security patches is five months, but you need to help yours be above average. Ask them what you can do to help them have time to test and install all critical security patches within 14 days or sooner. They might want to have a patch management tool. They might need more time to devote to applying updates.

Confirm that your IT Team disconnects or disables all unused Ethernet ports, including those in conference rooms. Lock doors to any offices and conference rooms that contain active Ethernet ports. Train everyone to be proactive and remove opportunities for anyone, including guests and repair people, to plug a device into a network port.

Keep in mind that 911 systems, airlines, governments, and every organization that you depend on are at risk for Zerologon exploit CVE-2020-1472 until they take action too.

Please forward this to fellow executives you care about so they can support their IT Professionals successfully backing up servers and applying the emergency patch.

What opportunities can you take advantage of in the new world regarding real estate.

Kellogg School of Management has some insight.

The COVID crisis has thoroughly upended how people live, work, and shop. And this, in turn, has upended real estate markets.Add Insight
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Whether it’s tech workers abandoning dense urban cores for more space in the countryside, restauranteurs converting from dine-in to takeout, or companies suddenly going virtual while locked into an office lease, it’s clear that the ways we are using space—and the amount we’re willing to pay for it—are changing.

“The COVID crisis has led to a pretty big reallocation in the shares of goods that people spend money on,” says Charles Nathanson, an associate professor of finance at the Kellogg School.

“For a lot of people, it makes sense to dramatically increase the amount they are spending on the shelter because they’re spending so much more time at home,” he says. But, of course, the calculus looks quite different for companies renting office space for a workforce that may not be coming back anytime soon.

So what might we expect from residential and commercial real estate as we head into the year ahead?

“The key to the real estate markets now is knowing how temporary or permanent the effects of the pandemic are going to be,” says Nathanson.

Residential Sales Are a Bright Spot

When cities across the U.S. went into lockdown in early 2020, several things happened that ended up having a positive effect on housing sales.

First, people suddenly working from home became less dependent on living near their workplace, so they could consider buying beyond what they had previously considered a reasonable commute. Second, with whole families now cooped up at home, larger spaces—and yards—became more desirable. And third, many of those same people, in the absence of vacation and entertainment spending, have more money to invest in housing.

“There is a substitution effect, where all of a sudden people want way more residential space than they wanted six months ago,” Nathanson says. “So that’s why I think of why we may have situations where we see big house-price increases, even as a lot of people are losing their jobs.”

Still, despite the notable boost in demand, housing developers are taking a more wait-and-see approach. New-housing starts are up over historical averages, but this may be due more to developers playing catchup after a big dip during the spring and early summer lockdowns than to an enduring trend in new suburban housing.

“Building a house is a pretty long-term investment,” Nathanson says. “You don’t want to do that if this is all over in a year. Which is why, to me, this situation is so unique. There’s a huge short-term demand shift for where people want to live. But if it’s all going to revert in a year, then it won’t make sense to build new developments.”

Given the combination of higher demand and tighter inventory, Nathanson predicts that the residential housing market is likely to see prices continue to rise—and unlikely to experience the volatility of 2008–2010.

“Some people might lose their jobs and, they might not make payments, but in markets where prices are rising, they should be able to sell their house and pay back a lot of their mortgage. Or if the bank repossesses it, it won’t be as big of a financial hit to the bank because the offset value will not have fallen—so I wouldn’t be worried about a big foreclosure crisis,” Nathanson says, “or the ripple effects in neighborhoods when you have lots of vacant houses and it hurts property values.”

Rentals Will Fluctuate

While home sales are likely to remain robust, the residential rental market faces a more uncertain future, particularly as government support for renters—including eviction moratoria—begin to expire and the job market continues to lag.

“Rents are more about the here and now,” Nathanson says, making them more volatile in response to shorter-term uncertainty.

He notes that an uptick in move-outs and evictions, if owners can’t find renters to replace them, could put stress on the residential real estate markets.

So while building owners may want to take advantage in the near term, the fact that much of the rental stock is in cities—many of which are seeing an exodus—means that demand may eventually dry up. And if the U.S. sees another spike in unemployment, landlords may need to renegotiate leases with tenants—and mortgages with banks—to avoid foreclosures.

“If the uncertainty is longer lasting, you might see a very significant decline in economic activity in central cities,” Nathanson says, which could make residential rentals in those areas less attractive.

Commercial Real Estate Is Up for Grabs

The future looks most uncertain in the commercial real estate market, which has experienced a significant decline in economic activity.

“In commercial real estate, there are all these long-term financial obligations that are based on the assumption that the demand would continue, which … it just fell off a cliff this spring,” Nathanson says. “So now it’s a question of who’s going to take the loss.”

If, for example, a mom-and-pop clothing store that holds a 20-year lease on a storefront can’t open, it may reach out to the landlord to see if it can make partial payments instead. And rather than kick them out at a time when few other retailers may be looking to replace them, the landlord may renegotiate to at least collect something. In turn, the landlord may look to its own bank to adjust the terms of its mortgage.

“All the parties involved have pretty strong incentives to try to work things out,” Nathanson says.

If indications seem to point to a longer slog—perhaps a new normal where safety concerns or work-from-home habits make retail stores and office spaces less desirable—we are likely to see dramatic changes in the way commercial real estate is utilized. Landlords facing a radically altered long-term outlook for commercial real estate may opt for a “rip off the band-aid” approach.

“We might see a lot of commercial property turning into residential housing,” Nathanson says. “You already see it in those old factories that got turned into loft apartments. But you would just see way, way more of that.”

Or, if urban cores also become less attractive to residents, those same commercial properties might be converted into distribution centers for a delivery-centric commercial economy.

“You may have areas of huge office buildings that are now just giant Amazon warehouses, so they have tighter distribution networks,” Nathanson says. “If we all knew for sure this would last 20 years, my guess is we would start to see that immediately. But because we don’t, I think people are just waiting.”

The proposed changes in this pending legislation could impact employees and employers as this article from Forbes explains.

A bipartisan bill has been introduced in the House that would make significant changes to 401(k), 403(b), IRAs and other retirement plans. From increasing the required minimum distribution (RMD) and catch-up contributions to expanding automatic enrollment and the Saver’s Credit, the legislation is poised to expand retirement savings options for millions of individuals.

Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and Ranking Member Kevin Brady, (R-Texas) today introduced The Securing a Strong Retirement Act of 2020. Referred to as the Secure Act 2, it follows the Secure Act that was passed into law last year.

Here are some of the key changes proposed in the legislation.

Expanded Automatic Enrollment

Regulations have permitted employers to automatically enroll employees in retirement plans since 1998. Automatic enrollment, which employees can opt out of, has boosted employee participation, particularly for Black, Latinx, and lower-wage employees, according to the House Ways and Means Committee. One study even found that automatic enrollment nearly eliminated the racial gap in enrollment rates among employees.

Increase in Saver’s Credit

The Saver’s Credit currently provides a credit of up to $1,000 for low and middle-income individuals. The new legislation would simplify the rate structure by implementing a single rate of 50%. It would also increase the credit to $1,500 per person and increase the maximum income eligibility amount.

RMD Age Increased to 75

The Secure Act generally increased the age when required minimum distributions (RMD) must be taken from 70.5 to 72. The Secure Act 2 would further increase the age when RMDs must begin to 75. The RMD would be waived for those with less than $100,000 in retirement plans and IRAs on December 31 of the year before they turn 75.

IRA Catch-Up Limit Would Rise

The current IRA catch-up limit allows those 50 or older to save an extra $1,000 a year in an IRA. Because the amount is not indexed to inflation, it never changes. Under the new law, the IRA catch-up contribution would be indexed to inflation beginning in 2022.

401(k) Catch-Up Limits Would Rise

Those 50 or older can make catch-up contributions to workplace retirement plans. The current limits for 2020 are $6,500, except that the limit is $3,000 for SIMPLE plans. The legislation would increase these limits to $10,000 ($5,000 for SIMPLE plans) for individuals who are 60 or older.

Student Loan Payments Would Qualify for Matching Contributions

Many employer retirement plans offer matching contributions. While the rules can vary from plan to plan, many match some level of the contributions employees make to the retirement plan. For many young workers, however, the cost of repaying student loans prevents them from contributing to their employer’s retirement plan and therefore taking advantage of the match.

The legislation would change this. It would allow employers to make matching contributions under a 401(k), 403(b) or SIMPLE IRA based on “qualified student loan payments.” Thus, employees could receive matching contributions by repaying their student loans.

Other Retirement Savings Changes

The legislation provides for a number of other changes:

  • Increases the credit for small employer pension plan startup costs increased;
  • Eliminates additional barriers to multiple employer plans that help small businesses manage the cost of 403(b) plans;
  • Offers additional tax credits to employers who, among other things, make military spouses eligible to participate in their retirement plans within two months of hire;
  • Enables employers to offer small financial incentives to employees who contribute to a retirement plan;
  • Eases the penalties for corrections of employee elective deferral failures;
  • Removes certain limitations on qualified longevity annuity contracts (QLACs) that have prevented the growth of QLACs.
  • Creates an online registry designed to make it easier for individuals to locate retirement savings from employers who have moved, changed names or merged with a different company.

I’ve been doing some personal Positive Intelligence work, and this article from Fast Co reinforces the ideas to decrease how anxiety impacts you.

Chances are you’re experiencing some stress and anxiety right now. Between the pandemic, politics, and the economic downturn, there are plenty of potential calamities out there.

But what is actually happening in your body? When you notice a threat, you engage your avoidance motivational system, which gives you energy to engage in activities that will help you to evade that threat. Research pioneered by Tory Higgins and his colleagues finds that when you are trying to avoid a particular threat, it also makes you more sensitive to other threats in the environment. As a result, the whole world can seem like a more stressful and dangerous place when you’re dealing with a particular problem than it does when you are focused on pursuing a desirable outcome.

In many situations in the past, you could ultimately deal with the stress and anxiety by avoiding the threat. If you were stressed about something at work, you could finish the report, correct the error, or deal with the client that was causing the potential problem. And after that, you could focus your energy on something else.

In this environment, though, many of the factors that engage your avoidance motivation are things you can’t fix by yourself—and some of them won’t go away quickly. Here are four things you can do to deal with this anxiety (presented in the order that goes from easiest to hardest, but also least to most effective in stopping the anxiety for the long run).


Whenever your motivational system engages a goal, you have motivational energy that is put against the goal. That energy is there to spur action. If there was a dangerous animal in your environment, you could run from it or fight it off. When there isn’t a specific action you can take, then that energy just intensifies the emotional response without allowing you to accomplish anything.

That is where energy reduction techniques come in. You can either engage in meditation and mindfulness techniques aimed to calm the motivational energy, or dissipate that energy through an activity such as exercising or going for a walk.

Calming that energy reduces anxiety in the short run, but you haven’t done anything to remove the threat from the environment. As a result, you’re likely to build up stress and anxiety again. You’re treating the symptom, but it will return.


One of the other reasons to engage in mindfulness techniques (rather than just exercise) is that by paying attention to your pattern of thoughts, you become able to recognize when you start a cycle of negative thinking about what you find stressful. This pattern of repeated thoughts is called rumination, and it can lead you to maintain your anxiety.

As you become better able to recognize when you are ruminating, you can then explicitly focus on something else. Write about what is bothering you so that you don’t feel like you have to keep thinking about it. Call a colleague and have a conversation about something else. Read an article about a topic you are eager to learn about.

By learning to redirect your thoughts rather than ruminating, you can decrease the duration of the episodes where you feel anxious.


Part of why many people are anxious right now is because there are many threats out there you can’t do anything about. That can lead to feelings of helplessness.

That is when you should find something on your to-do list that’s easy and doesn’t require a lot of effort to complete successfully. It always feels good to finish a task. So, do something that doesn’t require your best work self (because the anxiety may make it hard to summon that best self) and get it done. The combination of completing something and taking an active role in your work will reduce your level of stress. It might even let you get to work on something more difficult.


Finally, the most effective (and hardest) way to deal with anxiety is to focus on something desirable you want to achieve. It is difficult to do that, because your avoidance motivation will cause you to see the flaws and problems with any course of action you want to take. And so, it can be difficult to truly engage with a goal to achieve a desirable work outcome.

But, when you do start putting energy toward something desirable, you actually flip your motivational system from the avoidance mode that led to the stress to the approach mode that you use to go after desirable outcomes.

Getting into the approach mode has two desirable outcomes. First, pursuing a particular desirable outcome helps you to notice other potential desirable things in the world. The whole world will look better and more hopeful when you are energized to achieve something positive.

Second, your motivational system signals that you are in the approach mode with a different set of emotions than the avoidance system uses. When you are pursuing a positive outcome, you experience anticipation. And when you achieve it, you feel happy, joyous, or satisfied. Even if you don’t succeed, you’ll feel disappointed rather than stressed.

Ultimately, you want to develop skills in using all of these techniques so that you can handle the next several months as the pandemic continues as well as that time off into the future when the pandemic is over, but there are still undesirable outcomes in the world you want to avoid.

Courage isn’t the lack of fear, it is action in the face of fear. Venus Williams shares how she took lessons from the Tennis Court to the Boardroom in this Forbes article.

Tennis champion and Olympic gold medalist Venus Williams has some advice for the more than 30 million small business owners and entrepreneurs across the U.S. struggling to find their footing in the new normal: Don’t let fear take over. It’s a lesson she learned at the age of 19 while competing with sister Serena, then 17, at the 1999 U.S. Open. Williams only made it to the semi-finals—her sister went on to win the tournament.

“I let fear take over, and that’s where I should have just let go and would have been my best,” she says. “You want more, and you work very hard for more, so less than that is just not acceptable. That was my biggest loss.” 

Speaking to Forbes ahead of the American Express “Business Class Live: Summit for Success” on October 20, Williams drew parallels between her experience playing tennis and running various businesses during the pandemic. “Even though it’s a very challenging time it’s an opportunity to really refine your business and make it something that is a service or a product that is really needed and not just wanted,” says Williams, the founder of full-service commercial and residential design firm V Starr and activewear brand EleVen by Venus Williams. “This year showed all of us that we need to be a product or service that you can’t say no to.”

All entrepreneurs can benefit from that guidance right now. As of August 31, more than 163,000 businesses have closed as a result of the pandemic, according to Yelp’s September Local Economic Impact report. This represents a 23% increase from July 10. Even more alarming: 60% of closed businesses have permanently shuttered due to Covid-19 and the resulting restrictions in many states. The Q3 Yelp Economic Average Report released on October 22, however, points to a hopeful rebound: More than 210,000 businesses have now reopened amid a significant increase in consumer interest for outdoor related services and activities. 

For those businesses that have managed to stay afloat, the path forward will require the will to adapt in an ever-changing environment. In fact, about 76% of small and medium-sized businesses have had to pivot their business models to maintain revenue, according to the latest Business Resilience Survey of 1,000 business owners by American Express. Of those surveyed, 73% expect to pivot again in the next year. More than 80% still believe the benefits of owning their own businesses outweigh the challenges. 

“It’s okay to be afraid, but it’s not okay to let it ruin your decision-making process. There’s always a reason to be afraid. But should you let that take over? Hell, no.” Venus Williams, Tennis champion & Olympic gold medalist

When it comes to overcoming obstacles, small business owners can’t afford to doubt themselves. Williams learned this, and the importance of mental preparation, long ago. “It’s okay to be afraid, but it’s not okay to let it ruin your decision-making process,” she says. “There’s always a reason to be afraid. But should you let that take over?,” she says. “Hell, no.” 

The hard-earned lessons from the court have translated to the boardroom as she’s set out to become a multi-venture entrepreneur. Inspired by her father, who ran his own security company, and her mother, who encouraged her creativity as a child, Williams found her second calling in fashion and interior design. In 2002, she founded V Starr, which recently collaborated with Airbnb partner Niido to design its first-ever apartment complex. In 2009, Williams and her sister became the first African American women to buy a stake in a NFL franchise when they joined the ownership group of the Miami Dolphins. Three years later, she launched EleVen by Venus Williams and earned her associate degree in fashion design from the Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. Earlier this year, she partnered with Credo Beauty to launch a line of clean, mineral-based SPF products for EleVen by Venus.  

Williams says running her businesses in the current environment has been one of the greatest challenges she’s ever faced, but she still appreciates the silver linings. “The world of business is really lending a hand to African Americans and women and minorities during this time. And that has also been unprecedented—so opportunity comes out of this really crazy hardship as well. You have to look at that as a challenge—you need to accept it and run with it. There’s no time to waste.”  

If you haven’t already voted, please vote tomorrow. See this compelling letter from Michael Bush at Best Places to work.

November 3 has always been an emotional day for me. This year will be no different.

On November 1, 1988, my wife and I were at the hospital with my father who, until a few days earlier, seemed physically indestructible. On that day, doctors told him he had just three to four months to live.

My father was a man of few words. I learned at a young age that each word he said really mattered and when he spoke, I should listen. That night he said three things to me:

First, “Take care of your mother.”

He continued, “I might not get to see your son, but that’s your fault for waiting too long to start your family.” My father was tough, but very funny. My wife was seven months pregnant with our first son Matthew at the time, so I knew this was his way of telling me that he was excited and happy for me and that he was looking forward to meeting his grandson, but preparing me for the likelihood that he wouldn’t.

Last, he said, “You need to vote.”

This became my mission. To understand why, you need to know a bit more about my father. You see, he was in the newspaper multiple times because he was always the first person in line to vote in Alameda County, California. The polls would open at 7 a.m., but he would be at the polls at 5 a.m. to ensure he was first to cast his vote. Everyone in our community knew his story. He was raised in the overtly racist South in Barnesville, Georgia and few things were more important to him than education and voting. Both were not optional.

Two days later, on November 3, 1988, we brought him his ballot and with the nurse as his witness, he marked an “X” and cast his vote. It was jarring to witness because that was all that the physically strongest man I have ever known could do. In just two days, his health had rapidly deteriorated and his three to four months to live became seven days, with November 8 being his last.

My father’s last conscious act on this earth was to vote. The importance that he placed on doing his part to shape the country we live in helped to shape the man I’ve become.

I vote. I encourage my family, friends and colleagues to vote. I do this because I know it matters. I do this to honor my father’s memory and to ensure that my children, and their children, will never have to endure what he did. He loved Martin Luther King Jr. and his peaceful protests, so I am sure they are together in heaven, but feeling disappointed at the America their children and grandchildren are living in right now.

I voted about ten days ago and delivered my ballot to city hall to ensure that I had met my father’s standard for self-responsibility. Most of you reading this have probably already voted as well. If you haven’t, get out there!

So now what?

I have already set up two post-election listening sessions for all employees at Great Place to Work. One will be on the morning of November 4 and the other on November 11. We will join together virtually and go from there.

Why? Because I expect things to be unresolved for a while. I know that many of us will be anxious, nervous, stressed, perhaps sad or happy, frustrated or feeling like a winner or an unjust loser. I know emotions will run high and yet almost everything will be out of our control.

How will we get past that?

We are going to come together and acknowledge all of the emotions and fears that are present. We will support everyone on their individual journey. There will be no happy ending on Election Day. Too much damage has been done. Society is weaker. There are passionate and emotional “winners” and “losers” fueled by years of fear and “us” versus “them” positioning. No matter the result, the overwhelming feeling among the “losers” will be that the outcome was rigged. When the emotion-filled chasm between “winners” and “losers” is as large as it is today, we all lose.

Well, what can we do? Better yet, what will we do? At Great Place to Work, we will stand on our values of Integrity, Excellence, One Team One Mission, Curiosity, and Care — For All. We will recognize the pain of millions of people who have been living with and impacted by two viruses: COVID-19 and racism. We will acknowledge the need for healing and that it will take a lot of time. I hope you will do the same for, and with, your people. As we’ve seen, our workplaces can be the safe haven that society isn’t.

As For All leaders we must:

  1. SPEAK: Leaders at all levels need to state what they believe and stand for in terms of your organization’s values.
  2. LISTEN: Create safe ways for people to state what they are confused about, frustrated by, afraid of, as well as hopeful for. Ask how to make your people’s experience a more psychological and emotionally safe one. Take note of their comments and suggestions.

Ask people to be thoughtful, compassionate and careful not to pour gasoline on the fire that exists for some. Everyone needs to behave like mature adults, and those who decide to dish out pain need to be held accountable.

  1. LEARN: In the months ahead, laws will be tested and society will be tested. So organizations should do their best to get the facts, as we have all tried to do regarding COVID-19.
  2. ACT: Vote now. Encourage your teams to take time to do so if you haven’t already!

Ask your leadership team what you’re going to do for your people and what your organization is going to do to help rebuild our nation.

Add representation targets at the highest level of your organizations, knowing only the best will be chosen.

Partner with non-profits and purpose-driven organizations that can help create more inclusive, fair and equitable communities.

As an optimist, I believe that nobody can stop this nation from being a just nation for all. I mean NOBODY.

So, on this November 3, no matter who “wins or loses” let’s join together and recommit to this work in our organizations and communities to take care of one another. For leaders, the next wave of change starts now. Our people need our leadership more than anything else and it is our responsibility to provide it. This means that everyone, including you, will need to be a bit of a leader now.

If we can help you, let us know. We are better together.

Michael C. Bush
Chief Executive Officer | Great Place to Work

I admit I own a 5 Minute journal to practice gratitude at the beginning and end of the day.

It helps, especially in this time of challenge and disruption in our lives.  

Here are 10 benefits of gratitude that can make your circumstances more bearable, and maybe make you more bearable too! How can you add more Gratitude to your life?  

1. Gratitude makes you optimistic and giving
2. Gratitude reduces materialism
3. Gratitude enhances happiness and resilience
4. Gratitude improves psychological well-being
5. Gratitude improves our relationships
6. Gratitude increases social support
7. Gratitude improves work performance
8. Gratitude improves work satisfaction
9. Gratitude improves mental health
10. Gratitude improves physical health

Communication is the root of all problems and all success. When it’s done right, things flow. How many unwritten rules have caused issues in your organization?

HBR shares areas you might have some that need to be acknowledged.

Every workplace has unwritten rules. If you’re on a video call with 20 of your colleagues, is it okay to turn your camera off? When you email your boss, do you include a bunch of emojis? 

During stressful times (i.e. right now), it’s good practice to write down the unstated cultural and emotional norms that exist within your team or company. They might have changed since you all started working from home, or perhaps they’ve never been explicit to everyone. You might know that it’s okay to take a walk in the middle of the day to clear your head, but it might not be as obvious to your colleagues, especially if they’re new hires. These seemingly small uncertainties (“Can I step outside to take a short break?”) can become major stressors. Combating them is crucial to helping everyone on your team feel secure and supported, especially in the current climate.

In our book No Hard Feelings, one of our most popular suggestions is to write an “It’s okay to…” list. We heard about the idea from the writer Giles Turnbull, who wanted to emphasize to new employees at the U.K. Government Digital Service that it was always okay to do things like ask for help, make mistakes, and have off days. He drafted a list, asked his colleagues to add other ideas, and then designed posters that he hung all over his office. His final list included things like “It’s okay to…”:

  • Say you don’t understand
  • Not know everything
  • Have quiet days
  • Ask why, and why not
  • Ask the management to fix it

Lists like these surface permissions that already exist within workplace cultures, but that not everyone is aware of or that people often need reminding of. Matt Reiter, director at World 50, a private community for C-suite executives, created a list with his team. “It was clear things had changed since my team started working from home but no one had acknowledged them,” he said. “There are things I know it’s okay to do, but that knowledge comes from my seniority and time at the company. If it’s okay for me to take a mental health day, it’s okay for you as well.”

Even the simplest reminders can lead people to change their behavior. Researchers at Google sent new hires an email reminding them that top performers at the organization regularly “Ask questions, lots of questions!” and “Actively solicit feedback — don’t wait for it.” Just listing that out helped new hires practice and develop those skills, increasing their productivity by 2%, an increase of about $400 million per year.

Given that many of us suddenly shifted to remote work earlier this year, we encourage teams to write Covid-specific “It’s okay to…” lists. You might include things like “It’s okay to…”:

  • Turn off your video if you need a break during longer calls
  • Shift your hours earlier or later to take care of family commitments
  • Have a child or pet pop into the video screen
  • Block off no-meeting time on your calendar for focused work

We’ve also heard of a few organizations in the U.S. that are creating election-specific lists ahead of November 3 that include items like “It’s okay to…” form discussion support groups, take the day off to vote, or ask for help prioritizing work if you feel overwhelmed.

Here are a few areas to consider when putting together a list for your team or organization:

Digital communication norms

Hopping on back-to-back video calls is draining. Be explicit about when people can turn off their cameras and when they should plan to have them on. For example, in small groups where you’re doing a lot of discussion or collaboration it may be important to have everyone visible. But at many workplaces, video calls have become the default, even for meetings when a phone call or no-video call would suffice. Or maybe your team agrees that everyone should turn on video for the first 10 minutes of a call to establish a connection, and then make it okay to turn it off for the remainder of the meeting. During the pandemic, business events organization PCMA created an “It’s okay to…” list to give their employees permission to dress comfortably and request a voice rather than video call.

We also recommend thinking through whether it’s okay to… have kids pop up, answer the door if a package arrives, or get up during a longer meeting to stretch or get a drink. These can all alleviate anxiety and level the playing field among employees. 

Emotional support

These are tough times. We’re not always going to perform at our best. Consider making it okay to have an off day, or to take a break in the afternoon. Beth Heltebridle, a branch librarian at the Frederick County Library in Maryland shared with us that she made a list with her Branch Leadership Team during their library closure due to Covid. Beth told us, “We shared our list out to build morale in these trying times, and have been sending it to new hires now that we are onboarding again. One of the hardest things is that our days look so different, and we miss interactions with other team members. Some of these ‘unsaid rules’ may be missed in our current situation, so we wanted to be sure to state them to new members and remind the rest of the team that our culture remains unchanged.”

The library’s list includes items such as it’s okay to… not check your email at off hours, say yes when someone offers to grab you coffee, ask for patience, and make space to concentrate.  

Psychological safety

New hires are the most likely employees to lack a sense of belonging and psychological safety. That’s why it’s especially important to emphasize to new hires that it’s okay to ask lots of questions and not feel like you know everything a week into starting your new job. Being remote makes it harder to get answers to small questions. And given the economic climate, many people feel lucky to even have a job or are terrified of losing theirs, which may make people feel especially hesitant to reach for fear of coming across as needy, slow, or annoying. 

But if people aren’t asking questions, they either aren’t doing their job as well as they could be, or they’re spending precious brainpower on worrying about how they are being perceived. These lists give permission for everyone to ask questions. You may even want to include specifics, like it’s okay to… ask questions, even if you think they are silly, or ask clarifying questions about questions you’ve already asked. 

Work styles

We often work with people who have very different work styles — think extreme extroverts, cautious decision makers, and assertive debaters. And often the work styles that gets most normalized at an organization are those people in power or in the majority. For example, if most people are extroverts, especially leaders, an organization may default to large meetings and collaborative sessions.  

You could use an “it’s okay to…” list to make people with different work styles feel more comfortable, emphasizing that they don’t have to adapt to belong. 

For example, you could make it okay for introverts to rely on the chat function in a video call rather than unmuting themselves and speaking, or to ask for more time when making an important decision. Briley Noel Hutchison, a program manager at Girl Scouts — Diamonds of Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas, told us that her program team made it okay to be direct, have space for silence, and to follow up with people to help projects stay on track. 

As an added bonus, these lists can turn into recruiting tools. Giles Turnbull told us, “Several people said they’d applied for jobs at the Government Digital Service as a direct result of seeing the blog post about the posters, or of seeing images of them on social media. One photo of one poster became a powerful recruitment asset.” 

The act of making a list is a simple exercise that has positive benefits for new, tenured, and future employees — and allows you to reinforce your culture even when the nature of work changes. 

As leaders we always make decisions with limited information. Fast Company shares 5 ways to do that more strategically.

Business often requires bold actions on important decisions such as launching an innovative idea, creating a new advertising campaign, or changing the direction of a company. These decisions offer a rare opportunity to acquire a valued “psychological currency,” in the form of a mental payoff: courage.

Courage might even be viewed as one of the psychological enticements of doing business. It’s a reward people receive for taking bold actions, whether it comes to buying stocks, becoming an entrepreneur, or changing the direction of the company. The motivational force of courage might even contribute to the recent spurt in new businesses being started at the fastest rate in a decade, hoping to capitalize on an evolving economy.

Conventional wisdom states that people are generally risk-averse, especially when it comes to monetary losses from gambling. People generally choose smaller, safer bets over larger, riskier ones. However, recent research that David Gal of the University of Illinois at Chicago and I conducted shows a different pattern of results when people make major or important life decisions. People exhibit a preference for larger and risky options, such as leaving the security of a safe job to start a business. A potential contributing factor is that people want to feel, see themselves as, and ultimately be, courageous.

Boldness is a fundamental requirement of pursuing high-risk, high-reward outcomes in many endeavors. In our research, we observed people were more prone to take riskier options such as putting themselves all in to win or lose by making a gusty call in a football game instead of playing for overtime, or opting for riskier medical treatments with more positive payouts versus safer alternatives with less-positive payouts.


Too often, people mistakenly assume courage is pursuing something without fear. Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is acknowledging fear and going forward with your eyes open despite that. Business abounds with such opportunities: buying a risky stock, starting your own business, or engaging in a hostile takeover.

There are other aspects to courage as well. Aristotle linked courage to the pursuit of a higher purpose. For those in business, this could be accomplished by important decisions that allow growth, mastery, and realizing potential. Courage is enhanced by making the choice for yourself—an act of free will feels courageous.

Courage is not all risky actions. It’s the result of measured and appropriate actions. Granted, at times it’s hard to discern between pursuing something with heroism versus reckless abandon. Given the natural attraction we have to see ourselves as courageous, how can we help ourselves make good decisions over reckless ones? Here are five steps to take.


Don’t do anything purely in the service of courage. Ask yourself: What am I doing and why am I doing this? This simple approach can help build the muscle of self-awareness. Balance the desire for boldness with business acumen. Weighing the risk/reward of your actions can increase your odds.


A useful person to give you feedback is a powerful ally. Even more important is to solicit that feedback from someone who is neutral—who is uninvolved in the outcome of your decision (e.g., not a partner or coworker). A neutral mentor increases your chances of receiving unbiased feedback.


It’s easy to get caught up in the end goal. Even more important than winning the game, however, is the successful execution of every play. Focus on the success of each step in launching and scaling your business as opposed to purely the end objective.


Business decisions often include a number of options, each associated with different levels of risk. Weigh the risk/reward of each option to identify what straddles the line between feasible and fulfilling.


With each success or failure, reevaluate your decisions. If you’re diligent, you will likely see a pattern. Are you too focused on making big bets so that you appear bold? Or do you appreciate the importance of the smaller bets until that opportune big move comes along? Assessing your results will help you fine-tune your decision-making.

As a leader, you’ll need to instill courage throughout the organization to keep innovation alive and ideas fresh. However, it is important to assess whether your actions reflect blind obedience to the desire to feel courageous or reflect sound and wise business decisions.