Coping With Quarantine: Be Happy Now

Being stuck inside during this quarantine has been trying on my patience because I’m so used to getting out and working at the restaurant, speaking, and doing comedy, I’m ready to pull out the few hairs I have left on my head… but I’m not going to do that – it’s going to be awhile before I can get a haircut.

Being cooped up at home, I decided, “Why not do something to help others who are cooped up?” so I decided to go through some old notebooks and I found notes from the book The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. It’s an easy and interesting read about positive psychology – the science of happiness – and it’s the book that got me interested in becoming a speaker in the first place. (For a general idea of the topic of the book, check out Achor’s 12-minute TED Talk here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXy__kBVq1M)

The book begins by talking about how most people follow a formula that we learn when we’re kids, and we keep learning it in school, the media, and our workplaces.

That formula: if we work hard, we’ll become successful, and when we become successful, then we can be happy.

This formula is broken.

If you say, “If I’m successful, then I’ll be happy,” that keeps pushing our happiness further and further out when happiness and optimism actually fuel our performance and achievement. Think about it: do you do better when you’re feeling good, or when you’re stressed out, pissed off, or have coronavirus?

The formula we’re conditioned to believe is actually backwards because, it turns out, it’s happiness that leads to success. If we keep telling ourselves “I’ll be happy when…” then our happiness will always lie in the future because our brains only understand right now, which is why it’s so important to ask ourselves, “How can I be happy now?”

When I first read this, it blew my mind because it made too much sense.

What is positive psychology?

Positive psychology breaks from traditional psychology’s focus on what makes people unhappy and returning them to “normal,” while positive psychology focuses on what makes people thrive and excel. Achor refers to this as “escaping the cult of the average” because typical psychology sees average as the goal for those who fall below that curve instead of looking at those above the curve and asking:

  • “How can we raise the average?”
  • “What makes those above the average so happy and how can more people achieve    that?”
  • “How do their brains work? How do they talk to themselves?”

This spoke to me, man.

Okay, so what are the benefits?

In one study, doctors that were put in a positive mood before making a diagnosis showed almost three times more intelligence and almost three times more creativity than doctors in a neutral state. The positive doctors even made accurate diagnoses 19% faster. Who needs coronavirus tests when you have happy doctors?

Optimistic salespeople outsell their pessimistic counterparts by 56% – that’s pretty good.

Our brains are hardwired to perform at their best when they’re positive, and that’s because of the dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins that counteract the cortisol (the stress chemical) that limits our perspective.

The moral of the story

“Once I get out of the house, I’ll be happy.”

“When I get back to work, I’ll be happy.”

Cool, but right now, you’re not out of the house. You’re not working. Saying the above is going to make this quarantine feel like forever. Instead, move that happiness into the present and start looking for even just one thing that makes you happy right now. For example, I have food in my refrigerator, I’m grateful for that, and that gratitude makes me feel good. Saying, “I’ll be happy when…” is like saying, “I’ll be full once I eat,” when you have food right in front of you.

Take a few minutes a day and make a list of things that make you happy, so that when you do get back to work, you’ve got a mental edge and you can help bring others into that frame of mind.

Choose to be happy NOW, so start by finding things that make you happy NOW.

Comment, reach out if you have questions, and share with people you think may benefit from a happiness injection.

When it Comes to Jokes, How Soon is Too Soon?

Life is full of ups and downs. Without the ebbs, we wouldn’t appreciate when things seem to be in a state of flow, and when things are down, they seem really down. In the face of tragedy and trauma, sometimes the last thing we want to do is laugh, but sometimes, that’s the jolt we need to shake ourselves out of a slump. At the end of the opening monologue for the first episode of Saturday Night Live after 9/11, executive producer Lorne Michaels asked Rudy Giuliani, “Can we be funny?” Giuliani quipped back, “Why start now?” which immediately broke the tension and heaviness that hung in the air. Collectively, it seemed as though Americans breathed a sigh of relief.

In the age of social media and constant content, when tragedy strikes, comedians, personalities, and basically anyone with access to a smart phone take to Twitter to joke about the tragedy. Many are in poor taste, many are cringeworthy, and very few actually do what the Giuliani did on that night in 2001. As he was flanked by first responders, he cut the tension with one punch line.

Which begs the question: how soon is too soon to joke about something?

The answer to this question has been debated for forever, and it can’t measured in days, months, or years. Whether a joke is too soon is determined on a case-by-case basis.

Too soon can be better measured by combination of the teller’s intent, the target audience, the trust built with that audience, the framing of the joke, and the target of the punch line. Whether you’re a comedian on stage, a random person tweeting about a tragedy, or searching for a way to console a friend or coworker, these are the question you should ask yourself:

What is the intent of your joke?

A comedian’s job is to make people laugh. Even though sometimes it may seem to be to shock, offend, or gross out an audience, the goal of these jokes is always laughter, and through a trial and error process at open mics and bar shows with very few laughs, the goal of funny is either reached, or the joke is abandoned. For me, the biggest reward of getting a laugh is the fact that I have succeeded in making a connection with others. I’ve shown them that funny does exist, even in the darkest corners of life, and that from that darkness can come release. If the goal is simply to offend, shock, or disgust, think twice about opening your mouth or hitting “send.”

Who is the audience?

If you want to make your audience laugh, you first have to know who your audience is.

One of my first speaking gigs was for a group in Richmond, Indiana. In that presentation, I had a joke about the negative spirals our brains can take us down when we’re stressed, and the joke ends with me joining a cult because “I can never turn down free Kool Aid,” which almost always gets a laugh. In this case, the audience stared back with nary a smile, and I had no idea why until we reached the Q&A portion of the program. A woman’s hand shot up in the air, and with anger in her voice, she scolded me, “Jim Jones is from Richmond. Some of us in this room lost loved ones in the Jonestown Massacre.” My face turned fruit punch red; I had no idea.

“Maybe you should do some research on your audience before making insensitive jokes.” And since then, you better believe I read the room and adjust my material accordingly before I get on stage. A few weeks ago, I spoke at a luncheon, and as the meeting was about to start, the meeting planner made me aware of a table of nuns seated in the front of the room. Instead of powering through the program, I switched out a few of the more PG-13 punchlines and had a great presentation without alienating anyone. I even snuck in a double entendre at the end that made the table of nuns double over in laughter. Why? Because before I told the joke, I asked the question:

Have you built trust with the audience?

I could spend 1000 words talking about how building trust with someone is more important than the content of your funny line, but I’ll boil it down to just a couple of points.

  • Communicate that you empathize with your audience. See where they’re coming from before you share where you’re coming from. This is vital whether you’re performing at a comedy show, or just having a 1-on-1 interaction.
  • Be sure to approach them from equal footing – if you make it seem like you’re preaching or talking down, it makes it harder for the two of you to see from the same angle.
  • Do they know you’re funny? If I’m in front of an audience, I never start with the edgy material until we’ve all shared a laugh at my own expense or at the absurdity of everyday life, so we’re now on the same page. If you barely know someone and you find out they’re going through a rough patch, even if you want to make them laugh, it’s abrasive to just introduce yourself, then go right into your jokes.

How are you framing the joke?

Again, your goal is to make your audience laugh, but the tragedy or trauma in itself isn’t funny. It rarely is, even if there is humor to be found. For example, Giuliani’s joke wouldn’t have worked if it weren’t for such a heavy tragedy. Without explicitly mentioning 9/11 in the setup or punchline, though it was implied, that way, when the punch came at the expense of Michaels and SNL, everyone exhaled deeply. More recently, Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash along with eight others. Since then, I’ve been using that tragedy as the vehicle of a joke about my mom always calling me to deliver bad news. The joke isn’t framed to make light of the tragedy, the tragedy is framed to make light of my experience of it.

Who is the target of the punchline?

The intent of the above Kobe joke is to make people laugh, I perform it in front of audiences who want to laugh, I place the joke at the end of my set so that the audience trusts that I’m funny, I use the tragedy as a vehicle to get to the punchline, and the punchline never comes at the expense of the victim. It takes the tension and releases it in a way that makes the audience feel better for having laughed. After my Aunt Kristie was killed in 2009, I was able to make light of the situation, not by making light of the tragedy or by poking fun at her, but by making light of the weird ceremonies we have to mourn the dead, by making light of the idiocy of her murderers, and about how I don’t have the tact to make people laugh in the face of tough times.

You don’t have to be a comedian to practice these tips. The next time you want to break the tension after a tough meeting, someone’s hard day, or after a tragedy, ask yourself the above questions and help make the world a better place by making one person smile at a time.

Hear more on the topic and listen to the above Kobe joke in this bonus episode of “You Can’t Laugh At That” on Spotify. If you enjoy, follow the podcast on Spotify – we post new episodes every Monday.

Thanks for reading and enjoy!

You Can’t Laugh at That Recap: Comedy and the Power of Words

Episode 2 of You Can’t Laugh at That was released yesterday, and it’s a topic that has both inspired and infuriated me for years: the power of words. Growing up, I was confused by the fact that certain words hurt others, but didn’t hurt me, and that other words have hurt me, but didn’t hurt others. Comedy legend George Carlin said it best when communicating his confusion with an arbitrary list of “bad” words: You never know what’s on the list because it’s always somebody else’s list… People’s lists even change day-to-day. 

I’ll never forget discovering my first swear words as I marched into my parents’ kitchen after a rigorous day in kindergarten. They had some friends over and I wanted to share my new vocabulary with an audience, so I put my bag on the floor, proudly proclaimed, “Fart penis!” and was whisked into the bathroom to learn what soap tasted like. Though those words aren’t considered bad by most people, that was the day I discovered there are “curse words” that you can get in trouble for saying, but also that these words aren’t cursed by everyone.

In this episode, fellow comedian Steve Mers and I invite the outspoken Dave Flynt onto the show to ask and answer the questions:

  • What even are words?
  • Why are some words offensive to some and not to others?
  • As artists and entertainers with the ability to influence, do we have a responsibility to avoid offending others?
  • How can we lessen the power of these words so that they don’t hurt anymore?

Words are…

  • Literally just noises out of your mouth that creates emotions and actions in others through their subjective understandings and interpretations of them.  Because the interpretations are subjective, a word doesn’t have the same effect on one person as it would another person hearing or seeing that word. Society is based on shared stories that bring people together, and we’re a social species, so we needed a shared method of communication, so we decided certain sounds would mean certain things, and language was formed. This caused the exponential growth of the human race, but the subjectivity of meanings can also cause disagreements and conflict.
  • Tools you can use to do whatever you want, from asking someone to grab you a beer from the fridge, to starting a movement, it all depends on who’s using the tools and what their intention is.

Some words are offensive to some and not to others because…

  • When it comes to the words we use, we have to remember that others have different life experiences, and that certain words will cause them pain when they mean nothing to the person who uses them. To paraphrase the eloquence of Flynt:”Some people have emotional stuff that makes them feel a certain way. You could be listening to a rap song called “I Fucked Your Bitch,” and if your girl cheated on you 2 weeks ago, that hurts. If you could be the dude who fucked his bitch and you listen to that song, you’re like, “I feel good.”
  • When we have a conversation, tell a joke, or write a tweet, we have to remember that other people’s feelings are at play and that we don’t share the same experiences and aren’t riding the same emotional wave they are.

As artists and entertainers with the ability to influence…

  • We have to realize that a comedy set is a roller coaster ride for the audience. If each line has the audience in stitches, those laughs will diminish as the set progresses – there has to be a natural ebb and flow.
  • We have to realize that the show can be an emotional experience for some. I once did five minutes of funeral jokes and was approached after the show by the woman who booked me that I wasn’t welcome back to present to the group because they had recently lost a member to cancer. At another presentation, I did the funeral bit with rewritten material, and afterwards, an older man who had just lost his wife to cancer shook my hand and thanked me for making it okay for him to laugh. Being wary of the potential sensitivity of the audience pushed me to be more creative in expressing myself.

We can lessen the power of words by…

  • Realizing that much of the offense comes from societal inequalities. Steve hypothesizes that if we treated everyone equally, there’s less of a reason to feel offended about something because they don’t feel like they’re being subjugated.
  • Changing the narrative behind the words to dilute their power. Since language is a manmade concept, changing language to move us forward is also a manmade process. If there’s a word that brings people pain, the question isn’t, “How can we stop using the word?” It’s going to be difficult to convince ignorant people to stop using “retarded” negatively, so changing the meaning of the word or creating a new word to describe someone who is developmentally disabled may be a better option.
  • Stopping the prohibition of certain words. Steve asks an incredibly intriguing question: “Are words like drugs where if you make them legal, they lose their power?” When we dwell on something “offensive,” we give the culprit power over our emotions. It’s not the words that cause the emotion from the listener, it’s the listener’s thoughts about what is said. In eighth grade English class, I used the word “dingus” in a sentence and the teacher and I got two completely meanings out of the word. The word “dingus” is used to refer to something whose name the speaker cannot remember, is unsure of, or is humorously or euphemistically omitting. Even after showing her this definition, she was still furious because she assumed I was referring to a penis and I was given two detentions.
  • I was totally referring to a penis.

As a comedian, your sole job above all else is to make people laugh. If you’re trying to shock, offend, or subjugate, you’re not doing your job. Remember that certain words trigger certain people, and that you can still make your point – and probably in a much more creative way – if you find a better way to communicate your ideas and what’s funny to you. As Steve puts it, “If you’re not an asshole, convince people you’re not an asshole before you say something that makes people think you’re an asshole.”

This goes for comedy and everyday life.

Listen, comment, follow, and share on Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/episode/0uivwpcpfokYkTBsOKepz5?si=8CA86iyAST6Nj86Whc5T1g

or Apple Podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/episode-2-the-power-of-words/id1495600197?i=1000463781993

Anxiety: The Attack No One Sees Coming And 5 Ways You Can Help

I never thought it would happen to me.

To David Horning – the dude who preaches mental toughness, emotional intelligence, and leadership when others experience stress. I had my first anxiety attack earlier this week, and, for a moment, it crashed my entire worldview.

For awhile, I resisted it, throwing away everything I’ve learned and taught others about dealing with stress, overcoming adversity, and accepting reality. It shook me to my core, crumpling up my identity like a discarded joke premise and throwing it into a California wildfire, then dousing it with hundreds of gallons of water, and backing over the ashes with a big rig. After all of these years of preaching to “Accept the present moment,” “Look for the opportunity,” and “What can I you with what you know?” I became someone who was saying, “You’re a piece of shit,” “You’re not worth it,” and “Everyone should feel bad for me.”

Talk about a 180.

After a few days of reaching out to people around me – my family, my girlfriend, and my roommates – I came to the realization that this was a test to challenge the mettle of the identity I had created for myself over the years. And now, sitting in a crowded coffee shop as the aroma of chai lattes and the sounds of ambient music fill the air, I realize that now I have a chance to create a connection with those struggling to connect with others experiencing difficulties – whether they’re colleagues, friends, or family. All it took was a fresh perspective, and that’s what I hope to share with you through the 5 things you can do when someone you know is suffering from anxiety.

1. Communicate That You’re There To Support Them By Listening

This can be as simple as a comforting hand on their shoulder, eye contact, or a smile. It can be verbal reassurance that you’re willing to take the time to simply be in the room. It can be in the form of a card, a voicemail, or an invitation to lunch to just hear their side of the story without any judgment. Sometimes just offering an ear can help them verbalize what they’re going through in a way that helps them discover the light at the end of the tunnel.

2. Don’t Give Advice Unless They Ask For It

The last thing you want to do is to tell a person going through a bout with anxiety what they should do. Sure, what you’re saying may make objective sense, but someone going through anxiety’s fight-or-flight response cannot see the full picture, no matter how sensible you are. It’s not that they don’t want to feel better – they do (duh) – but if they’re not ready, you’re only going to contribute to the anxiety. Giving advice will make them resist what you’re saying through argument (fight) or simply shut off to you and turn elsewhere (flight). Or they’ll just punch you and run away (fight-AND-flight). Unless they explicitly ask for your help, simply being there is the best action you can take.

3. Share Your Experience

Be real. Share the most gut wrenching story from your life; was there a time you faced crippling anxiety? Depression? Even suicidal thoughts? The moment that began shaking me were hearing from my dad – one of my role models – share how he couldn’t sleep for days at a time, had lingering pains in his chest, and cold sweats while he struggled to raise a young family amidst unemployment and a bad economy. Then, a good friend reached out to me about how he contemplated suicide amidst the worst anxiety attack in his life. Finally, my roommate – whom I’ve known for all of two months – opened up about his bouts with anxiety. Sharing that you’ve experienced the same symptoms, but have a different story offers a fresh perspective that can shake the sufferer out of their current tunnel vision. Notice how none of this involves giving advice.

4. Offer Perspective

Whatever they’re going through, there’s someone, somewhere who has had it worse and overcome it. When someone is experiencing extreme anxiety, all they’re thinking about is how bad they have it in that moment, and it’s incredibly difficult to shake this perspective. Telling a story about someone you know, someone you’ve heard of, or even sharing a humorous anecdote can provide a jolt of, “It could be worse.” The other night, I was wandering aimlessly through the grocery store on the phone with a buddy of mine. As I tried to pick out the Holy Grail of avocados (why are they only ripe for seven minutes!?), he put the image of living in the Middle Ages through the bubonic plague in my head. As stupid as it seems, it made me feel silly for thinking my problems were so bad and shook me out of my funk for the time being. Oh, and I found the perfect avocado.

5. Ask Open-Ended Questions

When they ask for your help, it may seem natural to simply tell them what to do next, but that’s not what they really want. They just want to know how to break out of their funk, but doing it in a way specific to them, and the best way to point them in that direction is to ask them open-ended questions that will help them find their own answers (no closed-ended questions that lead to yes or no answers). The goal is to help them discover answers that make them feel better about themselves, reframing the situation so they can find a path up, and asking them what actions they can take to get there. In doing this, I was able to see that the anxiety I was feeling was all self-inflicted, that I’ve overcome every roadblock ever put in front of me, and that I have growth opportunities all around me. Now, I have an action plan in place to grow myself, discover new things, and use this experience to help others. That’s why I’m posting this now – I was in the middle of reaching out to secure new speaking gigs when inspiration struck from a question my dad asked me: “What are some things you can do now?” If I can leverage my experience to offer ideas to people who are dealing with others with anxiety (or dealing with anxiety themselves), I have to take the opportunity to do so.

Without others lending a hug, empathy, perspective, and asking perspective-expanding questions, I’d be in a much worse place right now. If you know someone going through anxiety, reach out, and at the very least, let them know you’re there and just listen.

Who knows? You may be saving a life.

4 Reasons Why It’s Important to Say “I Don’t Know”

The 2020 presidential election is in full swing and with it, all of the platitudes, cliches, and mudslinging that accompanies it. Watching politicians jockey for position by having answers to every question, even though it’s evident they’re beating around the bush to avoid admitting they don’t have the answer, is one of my favorite parts of elections. Appearing to have the answer when they don’t actually hurts them in the long run as leaders. When was the last time you watched a political leader respond to a question with an “I don’t know. I’ll have to do further research to answer that question.”? I know I don’t remember.

We can learn from this in our everyday lives, whether we’re in a leadership position or we’re looking for relationship advice. In the quest to look like the smartest person in the room, we miss out on opportunities to say “I don’t know” and open ourselves up to new information. Though it seems counterproductive on the surface, the willingness to admit that you don’t know something has some advantages. Here’s 4 of them:

1. NOT KNOWING SPARKS INNOVATION

We’re on the precipice of a new era because of the advances in technology based on automation. This is a technological revolution that will dwarf the industrial revolution, which required more algorithm-based thinking and management. Change is already occurring at rates we’ve never seen, and with people in previously untouched places around the world like Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East logging on, that change is only going to exponentially increase. This means you will be competing with, not only people around the corner, but companies in Manila, Dubai, and Buenos Aires. With so much information being uploaded at any given moment, if you want to inspire innovation within your organization, it is vital for you to admit to not knowing what you don’t know. Even if you’re 100% sure you’re right, being open to the fact that there’s constantly new information that can counter your current position is key to growth. Besides, if your mindset is already fixed, then where is the room to expand?

2. UNCERTAINTY BREEDS CONFIDENCE FROM OTHERS

Though this may seem like a stretch, there is a big difference between “I have all the answers,” then being proven wrong, and saying “I don’t know.” Though our egos want to make us appear at the top of our game, shutting out new information with this “I’m right, you’re wrong” mentality lowers the confidence that others have in you. This loss in confidence means that people will be hesitant to approach you with new ideas, limiting your potential as a team. Saying “I don’t know,” makes them more comfortable with their own levels of not knowing, creating an openness to new ideas and collaboration that isn’t present with the barriers that come with having all of the answers.

3. IT EXPANDS PERSPECTIVE

By being unsure about something, it activates our intrinsic human desire to explore and learn. When we are actively trying to solve a problem by trying new things, it activates  our brains in a way that expands our perspective. This opens us up to more pathways to solutions, rather than the limited strategies we can use when we already know “everything.”

4. IT CAN COUNTERACT STRESS

By being steadfast in how sure we are, it closes us off from discovering new things. When we do discover a new solution to an old problem, our brains release dopamine, a neurochemical that limits the stress chemical cortisol.  Less stress means better health, strengthened relationships, and more creativity, and achieving that “Aha!” moment can be a life hack to the creation of excitement while your stress levels dwindle.

6 Ways To Introduce Humor In Your Workplace, Even If You’re Not Funny

Many workplace studies conclude that integrating humor into your leadership strategy can actually make your employees more creative, productive, and successful (7 Reasons Why Work Is The Time And Place To Laugh). Now you want to incorporate these findings into your office, but you don’t have a funny bone in your body, which you learned long ago when you gave that speech at your friend’s wedding, and it’s given you PTSD.

You’re not alone. Though, according to humor researcher Scott Weems, 94% of people believe they have a good sense of humor, only around 50% of people would rate above average.

It looks so effortless on Netflix when those comedians are making their audiences double over with laughter for a whole hour, but they have been perfecting their craft onstage every night for decades. Meanwhile, you’ve been stuck in the same routine at your job for the same amount of time and you’re looking to spice things up in the boardroom.

Here are 6 simple ways to introduce humor to your workplace, even if you’re not funny:

1. Know your limits and poke fun at them

You’re not funny, and that’s fine, but acting like you are when you aren’t can drive others away while owning up to it can make you more likable. In fact, owning up to any of our shortcomings can make us more likable and more relatable, especially if we’re in a leadership position. If we can laugh at our own weaknesses, stress, and mistakes, this subconsciously communicates empathy. Though laughing at ourselves may seem counterproductive, it helps others to stop striving to be perfect, own up to their pitfalls, and shows that you’re approachable in times of duress. Now it’s up to your leadership skills to work together on filling in each others’ weaknesses with your unique strengths. That’s leadership.

2. Foster a creative culture; stop saying no

You want your team to be creative, take risks, and come to you with ideas, but you keep saying no. If someone keeps telling you no, do you want to keep coming to them with ideas? NO! When people approach you to pitch their ideas, from their perspective, they are working to make your organization better and their day easier. Even if the idea is outlandish and implausible, at the very least, listen to them and ask questions. Take some time to explore together why they think it’s a good idea and see if your added perspective can guide them to the solution they’re looking for. At the very least, this will give them more confidence to come to you the next time they have an idea instead of pocketing it in fear you’ll shoot them down. Who knows? Maybe it’ll be the idea you’ve been looking for.

3. Know who your class clowns are and give them the freedom to work their magic

Keep an eye out for groups of people laughing together in your office and remember that this is a good thing – let your employees be human and bond. In fact, look to see if the same people are often involved in these shenanigans. As long as their humor is uplifting and open to all, not only should you let them keep doing their thing, but give them a platform, because keeping the office happy keeps them energized, and that’s when your people are at their best. Not only that, their sense of humor can work as a glue to bring people together during tough times and challenging projects. If it’s something they’re interested in, see if they’d take the responsibility of heading up a humor program to keep laughter as part of the everyday workplace culture. When people are laughing, it’s important to facilitate that culture, even if you aren’t the comedian in the room.

4. Share what makes you laugh

Did you see a funny clip on Facebook? Did you scroll through a thread on Reddit that had you rolling with laughter? Why are you keeping it to yourself? You don’t have to create the content, but sharing what makes you laugh may just be what the doctor ordered to break any tension in the room.

5. Delegate creative projects

Your creative team members are chomping at the bit to break from the routine and flex their creativity. Let them! This falls in line with knowing your people and knowing who to trust with what – you’re looking for the people who, instead of saying “no,” look for novel ways to approach problems. When a new, exciting project comes along, be sure to seek these people out to help with the creative planning stages and watch their eyes light up and their work become more inspired.

6. Organize events that will foster laughter

Does your team seem to be in a funk? Are you not getting the creative input from your people that you’re looking for? This is the perfect time to shake them out of their ruts by hosting an event or putting together a project that focuses on the fun. We’re all children at heart, and to activate that energy, sometimes we need to forget that we’re at work and let loose. Bring in an improv coach and play games that you don’t need formal training to participate in, organize a murder mystery dinner, hire comedians to turn your workplace into a comedy club and break up the workday, host a roast of yourself, someone else in a leadership position, or even the company in general to loosen people up.

There are many activities that can get your team laughing, activating their creative juices – all you have to do is give the okay and be open to the ideas of others. It’s one thing to be funny, but it’s even more important to appreciate what’s funny and foster an environment where people can lean into that.

If You Have Writer’s Block, Just Start Writing

If you write creatively, you’ve experienced writer’s block.

About a week ago, I sat down to write new stand-up material and drew an absolute abyss of a blank. It got to the point where I was referring to my tweets from three years ago for new ideas. A gem like “When it comes to wearing a black belt, black shoes matter,” is NOT making into one of my sets today.

When we get writer’s block, all we tend to think about is the fact that you have writer’s block, so no wonder writing is hard.

Then comes the brilliant thought of, “I need to write something brilliant and hilarious.”

No pressure, David.

One of the biggest obstacles to writing something creative and funny is the thought, “I need to write something creative and funny,” because the first thing that we type out is going to be weighed against those lofty expectations. For this reason, the creative process is stifled, and you’ve created an uphill battle for yourself.

The last couple of months have been a bit of a letdown on what I’ve written based on my own standards, and the longer I go without writing something that gets my creative juices flowing, the higher I set my expectations. Because I’m overthinking everything so much, instead of just writing, I look at the pen and paper in front of me as an enemy, as something that has to be overcome, rather than embracing the moment and running with it.

Three nights ago, I sat down with a basic idea I’ve been kicking around in my head for a good two months, and instead of overthinking what I would write, I just started typing.

I didn’t write an outline, I didn’t demand myself to “write something hilarious,” I just started writing. At first, the act of typing inspired a starting point, but the more and more I began to give into my thoughts without judging them as good or bad, the clearer I could see the direction I was heading. Once I made it from the starting point to the conclusion of the bit, I read through what I had written, deleted what wasn’t truthful to me in the moment, rewrote some sentences that would disappoint my high school English teacher, and re-read it out loud. I had to stop a couple of times to laugh.

Success!

For two months, I had refused to elaborate on an initial idea because it wasn’t perfect, but all it took was three hours of just writing without judgment, refining what I had written, rehearsing the bit, and making final adjustments, I had a working bit.

Get out of your own head and just write. That’s it.

The only secret is to just keep writing, whether it’s a comedy bit, a blog post, a journal entry, a policy proposal, a product or marketing idea, a poem, a research paper, or a script – IT DOESN’T MATTER WHAT IT IS. JUST START WRITING AND SEE WHERE IT TAKES YOU.

Creativity is messy. To strive for perfection means to judge, but judgment and creativity don’t work well together.

Remember: you can’t be creative by telling yourself to be creative. Just start writing and allow your creativity to flourish.

We’re All Irrational. Here’s Why (And How We Can Fix It):

Humans believe they are rational, when in reality, we act based off of our emotions and then rationalize our actions in hindsight.

Then we claim we’re rational.

We don’t like to “look bad” in front of other people, so we rationalize our behavior when we act in a way that may go against our beliefs, when we belittle another person, or when we get into trouble.

“I fell behind at work because my girlfriend is stressing me out.”

“I was speeding because everyone else was speeding. Besides, the police are preying on people to meet quotas. I’M THE REAL VICTIM HERE!”

“That audience wasn’t there to think, which is why they didn’t laugh. No wonder no one is happy at work, they’re all stuck in the old way of thinking.”

We’ve all looked back at something and thought along the lines of “It couldn’t have been me” or “Something else has to be at work here,” when really, we don’t want to admit that we’ve allowed our emotions to overtake us, and that’s why we acted how we did.

That’s okay! It’s human nature.

It has been wired into our brains since animals have had brains in the first place.

Fight or flight was vital for our survival, but now that we live in safe and abundant environments, our brains have kept this old technology and there’s a disconnect between our emotions and cognitive thought.

The rationalization of emotion-based irrational behavior does three things:

  1. Makes us veer toward ideas that soothe our ego
  2. Makes us look for evidence that confirms what we already want to believe
  3. Makes us see what we want to see, depending on our mood

IT MADE SENSE FOR ME TO PUNCH THAT WALL, WALK OUT OF MY JOB, AND GET IN AN ARGUMENT ABOUT THE PRESIDENT ALL WITHIN 5 MINUTES.

The key to avoid giving into the emotions that lead to doing things we regret is to take a moment and ask ourselves the question “What is objectively true?” Answer with no emotional keywords and no rationalization, just objective facts.

I had a recent presentation not go well, and at first, I rationalized why it didn’t seem to have the impact I wanted. For instance, the audience had just sat down with their lunches the moment I was getting introduced, so it was hard to connect with them since most of their focus was on their food. All of the participation bits and my jokes fell flat because of this… at least that’s what I told myself. Then I watched video of the presentation and realized that the story I was telling myself soothed my ego, was focused on evidence that confirmed my beliefs, and made me see what I wanted to see. None of this helped me other than making me feel temporarily better. However, here are the facts:

  • I gave a presentation in front of an audience of 100.
  • It was my first time giving this particular presentation.
  • I had been up until 3 AM the night before, making changes.
  • I only ran through the presentation once before actually giving it.
  • The audience didn’t laugh at my jokes or give me energy.
  • I stumbled over middle parts of my presentation, had to refer to my notes multiple times, and forgot some important points
  • The feedback I received reflected these objective facts

Allowing my emotions to dictate my perspective to make me feel better about myself made it impossible to do anything about what had happened. But looking at those objective facts showed me a clear course of action in order to continue to grow as a speaker.

With this knowledge, I gave the same presentation a month ago and have received positive feedback and inquiries about follow-up speaking gigs.

All because I chose to take a step back, admit my irrationality, and look at things as objectively as possible, I improved my long-term situation. We can use our emotions as a tool to ask ourselves “What else could be true?” and “What can I do about it?” That’s how we can bridge the gap between our lizard brain and cognitive thought.

What are the objective facts of a situation in your life that didn’t go your way? How are you rationalizing what happened? What can you do about the new facts you have in front of you?

Taking Short-Term Risks for Long-Term Reward

When competing in a comedy competition, it’s wise to use safe material, that is, material that you KNOW works with crowds of all shapes and sizes. But as a performer, sometimes hitting the same laugh lines over and over can get exhausting and feel less rewarding.

I was in a comedy competition in New York City last week, and the rules stated that if you advance to the next round, you can’t use any of the material you had already used. I have three ten-minute sets that have historically held up in front of all kinds of crowds, so I initially planned on using these three sets. But once I moved on from the first round to the semifinals and was prepared to use my second killer set, I called an audible at the last second.

I had thought of some new jokes a few days prior and was itching to try them out in front of a live audience. Sure, I knew set number two was going to work, but I had been milking that set for so long (see what I did there?), my itch to be creative won out.

I tried an entire new set in the semifinals and failed to move on to the finals.

You’re probably thinking, “What’s the point of writing a post about taking risks when the risk you took didn’t pay off?”

The point is that, sure, I suffered a short-term setback.

Sure, after opening up my set strong, the next two minutes fell painfully flat, with little to no laughter from the audience. But after lightheartedly drawing attention to this elephant in the room, the rest of the set concluded strong.

The moment I got off stage, I knew I wasn’t moving on in the contest, but it felt liberating to try out something new.

The next day, I listened back to my set, took notes, made adjustments, then worked out the material at three open mics. By the time the third one rolled around, I had a fully functional, laugh-worthy set ready to go.

It killed.

Even though I fell flat during the second round of the competition, I now have a brand new ten minute set that I can confidently take to the stage, knowing I can get laughs.

When we play it safe, eventually it becomes rote, routine, and incredibly boring, even if at one point it was rewarding. When we take risks, life becomes much more exciting, it’s just important to remember that when we fall short of our goals the first time, it isn’t the end of the world. There’s always a chance to learn, improve, and achieve that internal (and external) reward by adjusting and adapting. Don’t let taking a risk stop you when the reward can be that much greater.

What’s one risk you can take that makes you feel uncomfortable? What’s the potential long-term reward if you see it through?

Micromanaging? That’s SOOOOO Industrial Revolution

When I step outside in my Victorian era tailcoat, vest, and top hat, I tend to get some concerned looks, but it’s when I take a leisurely ride through the park on my comically lopsided penny-farthing that I end up on a lot of Instagram stories. Why?

I look like an idiot.

If my roommates’ parents were to take a steam-powered locomotive from San Francisco to visit Cleveland, I’d be perplexed. Doing that instead of taking a plane would be like Frodo taking the One Ring to Mordor on foot… rather than just using GIANT EAGLES. Seriously – Gandalf had giant freaking eagles at his disposal. The quest to save Middle Earth from destruction could’ve been over in days!!! Why would you take such an outdated, antiquated method of transportation when there are GIANTE FREAKING EAGLES called AIRPLANES!? You could even take Amtrak, make a stop at every single goddamned town, and still be more efficient in your travel.

It doesn’t make sense to rely on 19th century practices when there are so many better ways to do things, does it? So why do many of today’s creatively stifling management practices run on 19thcentury thinking?

With the dawn of factory work, companies relied on measurement and monitoring in order to control thousands of workers. According to the book Alive at Work: The Neuroscience of Helping Your People Love What They Do, managers created policies that stifled employees’ natural desires to explore and try new things so that they would focus on narrow tasks. This system was crucial to production and reliability, but it hampered self-expression, the ability to experiment and learn, and withered away their connection to the final product, thus eliminating meaning and engagement from work.

Now, we live in a world that’s evolving at an unprecedented rate where thinking outside of the box, taking risks, and innovation are key qualities that employees need… but the old industrial management practices are still entrenched in most workplaces.

Employees are unable to leverage their unique skills. They’re shoehorned into a system that creates stress, fear, and encourages office politics so that there are constant missed opportunities for collaboration, breakdowns in communication, and a rampant lack of meaning.

The Industrial Revolution discovered new ways to innovate technology so that people could work more efficiently, but if factories were still relying on the same machinery from 150 years ago, they’d actually be hurting their efficiency.

Most workplaces are still relying on the same management practices from 150 years ago, yet little effort has been made to change this entrenched system. Time continues to pass and we’re heading into a new, automation revolution. IT’S TIME FOR CHANGE!

There are workplaces out there that engage their people in ways that gives them the freedom to explore, take risks, make mistakes, and learn from those mistakes. This makes their teams much more innovative and their people much more fulfilled by their work, thus creating the production that Victorian era managers were looking for without the sacrifices to their employees’ humanity. These workplaces, however, are few and far between…

If advancing our technology allowed mankind to take such a giant leap forward during the Industrial Revolution, imagine how big of a leap mankind would take by advancing how we treat other people – you know, the ones who use and innovate the technology. Giving humans the opportunity to take advantage of the biological need to explore our creativity at work is our GIANT FREAKING EAGLE; let’s work together and USE IT!

Think About It:

Do you work better when you’re free to be creative or when you’re micromanaged and every part of your work is monitored?

Think of a time you were able to think outside of the box on a project: how did it engage you? How did it make you feel? Were you able to come up with solution ideas more quickly?

If you’re a leader, how can you communicate to your people that it’s okay to stretch themselves creatively and take risks? If you had just a little more creative freedom with your work, what would you do differently?

How can you spread this shift in workplace thinking at your job?

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