Funny situation. I was part of a team that was consulting to a large group. We each had responsibility for a section of the large group. I had grown to like the people in my section a lot. The people were visiting our town and were wondering what nooks and crannies to explore. So a few of us had a light-hearted and fun idea: for each of us consultants to write down our favorite, personal recommendations about the city, and to hand it out to the people we were working with.

There was just one problem.
Not everyone got the memo.

Not a literal memo. There was no literal memo. Not everyone heard the idea. So one person who volunteered to collect all the information and print it out to give to our people did something funny. She removed each of our identifying names. So instead of —

“Senia recommends this bakery on the corner of X and Y, and says “make sure to go to the chocolate shop on Z Street and ask for a chocolate-covered strawberry to go.” ” …

Instead of that, we got this —

Bakery – Corner of X and Y
Chocolate Shop – Z Street

Ladies and gentlemen, these two are not the same.
One had a heartbeat. The other didn’t.

How to Give Good Recommendations (for Places, People, Things)

RULE NUMBER 1: Make the recommendations personal. Why is this your FAVORITE place? Why is it the BEST chocolate? What does this place have the MOST of? (Try using the first-best-most language).

RULE NUMBER 2: Ask them how it was. That way you can taylor your next recommendation to them.

I used to have a big mouth when I was a kid. A huge mouth. When people would tell me secrets, I used to tell them to other people right away. I was a jerk.

And when I was a teen, one specific person told me that she couldn’t trust me to not tell things to others. I’d realized she hadn’t told me something crucial to her, and we were good friends at the time. That made me really sad and upset for weeks….
Until I realized she was right. And then I realized I needed to change my ways. And did immediately.

And it was hard. Until with practice, it became easy.

So it only fits that I went into a career in which I can never tell anyone anything about anyone. Coaching.

The first phone call I ever have with any client or potential client, I tell that person, “Anything you say will be only between me and you. If I’m going to refer you to another coach, I will clear with you in advance what I can say about you (typically describe your career and what you’re interested in coaching for).” Beyond that, I don’t say a word. I make that clear up front. And that’s how it goes. And to do that, I’ve had to get comfortable not telling things about people.

I know someone who works in a sensitive area. Let’s call this person a lawyer in a discreet practice. I took a wonderful example from him. He never recognizes a client in public. If this lawyer is sitting next to his client at a restaurant, he won’t say hi. He won’t make eye contact. He won’t even smile. And he tells his clients this in advance. A lot of his clients are celebrities. And people often don’t want other people to know what they’re coming in for. I love that.

Some coaches talk about their clients: “I’m coaching so-and-so, and I’m coaching so-and-so.” Unless the client himself tells people that he’s being coached by me, nobody will ever know who my clients are. This is why it’s difficult when I’m contacted by media or press. I go to my clients and ask them if they’d be interested in this press opportunity (when the press wants to cover, for example, entrepreneurs being coached by a positive psychology coach), but it’s often hard because I won’t describe what my clients are doing except in a general way unless the client also wants to be interviewed. But clients do tell their friends they are working with an Executive Coach, and they talk about me. So, yes, the information can come out, but not from me.

Why do I say all this? Because it’s hard to keep confidences. Unless you know that that’s your rule. … That’s it. It’s my rule, There are no questions. I just keep confidences and don’t tell anything to anyone.

But what if you have an amazing story? Or what if you want to share the experience of one client with another client because they are related experiences?

“My friend Emily”

This is my answer. If I want to tell a story about a client that will not identify them, I will say, “I have another client who was also going through job interviews right around the December bonus season. Let’s call my client Emily. Emily found out that she could do job interviews in the early morning by phone because she was applying to jobs in Europe. Maybe that’s something you could go since you’re looking for jobs in London while living in NY.”

If I want to tell a story about a friend, same thing. “Oh, I know what you mean about messing up socially in front of your boss. I have this one friend. I’ll call her Emily. Emily was once at a Christmas party, and she….” Fine. No problem. No way this friend could identify your “Emily” friend. And if you think the friend might be able to identify your “Emily,” then see suggestion #5 below.

Look at my examples above: “when I was a teen, one specific person….” and “Let’s call this person a lawyer in a discreet practice.” The lawyer could be a lawyer or someone who deals with sensitive information. And the teen example doesn’t give away anything personal about my friend.

In short, YOUR WORD = YOU. If you break your word, or talk about people, or spread gossip, YOUR WORD gets broken down. Your social capital goes down the drain. YOU become less trustworthy and less desirable to talk to. All you have is your name in this life. Keep it clean. Keep it spotless. Keep it trustworthy.

How to talk about secret confessions:

  1. Don’t mention identifying information.
    You may not want to say, “I have a friend who’s a laser surgeon” or “I have a friend who works at the Department of Energy.” Those are identifying. “A doctor” or “works for the government” is less identifying. “A friend” is even less identifying.
  2. Don’t say where you physically were when you talked to the person.
    “When I was visiting my friend in Florida, he told me…” The friend you’re talking to may know your friend in Florida. “Oh, Richard?” “Doh!”
  3. Be careful about “he” and “she.”
    Here’s how I get around this. I say, “A friend of mine told me this story. Let’s call my friend Emily.” I always use the name Emily. Even if it is a guy. It’s easy for me because I have practice doing this, but it will be hard the first few times you try to explain a story about a guy by saying, “So I was talking to Emily and he – she said that her boss was telling her to work 100 hours a week. Her mom was sick at the time, and Emily needed to visit her mom often. Here’s how she handled the situation….”
  4. Time frames can be identifying.
    If Yahoo wanted to buy your friend’s company in 2003 but the deal fell through, maybe it’s better not to mention 2003. If you don’t want to give out someone’s identity, just be aware that time frames – like locations – can identify a situation.
  5. Most importantly, DON’T TELL the story if you have even the slightest hunch that this could result in something uncomfortable.
    Trust your gut. If you have a sense that someone could be unhappy with you telling this story, DO NOT TELL THE STORY. It’s just that simple. This is part of being a confidant. This is part of being a friend.

And you can always talk about your friend Emily.
It’ll be interesting to see a bunch of Emily friends popping up.

On PPND, we’re having a discussion this month of what additional strengths may be worth pursuing.

Here are the nominations so far:

Are you high in one of these strengths?

Are there others you may propose?

Full list of strengths is here.

Sometimes I forget.

I get caught up in “This is the most important project I should be working on!” And I forget. And then things go downhill: my mood changes (I feel rotten, don’t want to be around people, get sad more often), my attitude changes (“everything sticnks”), my drive and motivation change.

And then, one morning, I wake up and say, “Hey! I haven’t exercised all week.” What kind of example is this to clients that I’ve worked with? Whenever I’ve worked with a coaching client, he/she has “homework” between each session: a Body Exercise as well as a Mind Exercise. Ask any effective coach: the best progress for a client happens between sessions. When people are focused on gradual, deliberate change (often in the same time at the same place: more on this below). There is something to be said for consistency in life. What we do each day is what we can see as results in hindsight.

That’s why exercise seems trivial, and at the same time, exercise can decrease depression, anxiety, and stress. Even more interestingly (!), not only can exercise make us healthier, but lack of exercise can make us feel depressed (I searched for the specific result I wanted [that not doing 30 min of exercise per day is linked with increased depression], and cannot find it right now, but will find it for you later and update here; the closest immediate result I found is that lack of exercise is the key between depression and cardiovascular disease).

Just last week, 2,000 adults polled in the UK turned out to not have been exercising enough. This article says that minimum exercise for adults is 30 min per day for five days. Others say 10,000 steps per day is a good metric of exercise. Still other fitness devotees say interval cardio three times a week for 20 minutes each time, and weight lifting three times a week for under an hour.

Whatever your choice of HOW is great as long as the choice is TO DO. I’ve just returned to my choice of TO DO. I cannot believe I dropped the ball on exercise.

Me who says it’s the second most important thing towards happiness here and here.

The last thought as I go back to the large project I’m working on is based on the research by Dr. Wendy Wood at Duke: a habit is something people do at the same time in the same place. Think of brushing your teeth: same time, same exact location. How can you make exercise a habit? For me, it’s running when I wake up, and running generally the same path, but with increasing the number of minutes each week. What’s your trick?

Great summer to you!
(Or winter if you’re in Oz or NZ). :)

This is one of the coolest videos I’ve ever seen (no audio in there so don’t worry about checking your speakers):

Here’s an article that describes this. BTW, this past week, the NYT wrote an article about twitter as a rallying or gathering mechanism, and – most interesting to me – as a monitoring mechanism. There’s already a couple that had a baby kicking generate a twitter post that read: “I kicked Mommy at 08:52 PM on Fri, Jan 2!” Patients could hook up measurements like blood pressure or heart rate to twitter alert doctors of their status (remember that twitter accounts can also be private – you don’t have to be alerting the whole world).

You can follow the brain-writing-to-twitter account: @uwcbi.
You can follow me: @senia.

Some questions I will be asking on “Live! With Lisa Radio”:

  1. Once I have a goal, I can usually plan how to reach it
  2. I have personal standards, and try to live up to them
  3. I can usually find several different possibilities when I want to change something
  4. I have trouble making plans to help me reach goals
  5. I have so many plans that it’s hard for me to focus on any one of them
  6. It’s hard for me to notice when I’ve had enough (alcohol, food, sweets)

1 point each for numbers 1-3. -1 point for numbers 4-6.

These are from a self-regulation questionnaire. Source: A psychometric analysis of the self-regulation questionnaire
Kate B. Carey*, Dan J. Neal, Susan E. Collins. Addictive Behaviors 29 (2004) 253 – 260.

Business Week

Here’s the story online:

If you want to leave comments at the article, please feel free to. Would love to see them.

IF YOU ARE NEW TO MY WEBSITE and are coming over from Business Week, Welcome!

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An excerpt:

Once an entrepreneur knows his or her strengths, it’s time to put them to use. That’s what Melanie Morlan, owner of, a wellness and athletic training company in Spokane, Wash., needed to do. She spent a decade working with the U.S. Olympic Committee and professional cyclists, including Lance Armstrong, before taking time out to raise her son.

She wanted to reenter the workforce by building a larger consulting practice than she’d once had, offering nutrition counseling, coaching in weight loss and stress reduction, and building a Web site and blog. But she couldn’t get started. “I’d get scared and set up roadblocks,” she says, telling herself she’d never succeed and ignoring her to-do list. She eventually called on Senia Maymin, a coach and, like Pollay, a graduate of Seligman’s program. Maymin [Editor-in-Chief at] also holds an MBA from Stanford University, and she knows family business and entrepreneurship firsthand, having worked alongside her father and brother at their hedge fund and co-founding three tech startups. Maymin helped Morlan exploit her strengths, of which creativity is first. So if Morlan lost a valuable client or made a bad decision, instead of spending the afternoon moping, she would turn to designing and building her Web site. “Creativity stimulates me,” she says.

Coach Maymin delves into this with her clients, many of whom seek her out when they are between ventures. She says that to be able to get routinely into the mental state that Mihály Csíkszentmihályi (pronounced “cheeks sent me high”), another founder of positive psychology, calls “flow”—complete absorption in a task—entrepreneurs must craft a workload that’s challenging but not too tough. Its demands should fully use an entrepreneur’s abilities, the same way endurance athletes train just at their physical limit. “In the athletic domain, everyone can see it,” she says. Psychologically, too, “self-regulation is a muscle you can train over time.” She assigns her clients a small, daily exercise challenge each week, based on research that says if you accustom your body to pushing just past its comfort zone toward ever-retreating goals, “you can do the exact same thing in your company”—push past your comfort zone and achieve goals once thought to be out of reach.

Senia’s twitter profile for updates on happiness, jobs, and entrepreneurship.

A few questions:

  1. 1) If left to your own devices, would you eat the dessert at around 6pm, and then have dinner later around 8pm or so OR the other way around?
  2. If you have two credit cards overdue (one has $300 due and the other $1,200), which do you make payments on first?
  3. What’s the first thing you do when you wake up or get to work: check email or attend to the most important things?
  4. Do you prefer to exercise in the morning or later in the day?

What do you think today’s post is about?




It’s about finishing!

negative imageI have a presentation to give, and I’ll tell you my style – I’m not sure it’s the best style. I finish the thing that is quickest to finish and then move on to the harder part. That way, part is already done.

  • I exercise in the morning – or I feel guilty toward myself until I do.
  • I eat veggies first – except on the weekends! I am like a negative image of myself on the weekends! I do everything the opposite – no exercise, lots of sweets. Two different people: weekend Senia and weekday Senia.
  • I pay off the easier to pay off due amounts first. So in the case above, it would have been the $300.
  • BUT … I check email first. Just to make sure there are no fires. And… this is probably one big mistake because people are different, and people are productive at different times. I am productive early mornings and late afternoons. I should be – for productivity reasons – going straight at the papers and research in the morning, and then doing the emails as a fun break around a later breakfast. So on this email/good work habits spectrum, I know where I am, and I know where I want to work towards. I sound to myself on this post like Dave Seah and his productivity tips! That’s cool!

I’m not even certain these are all on the same spectrum. I would assume these are the easier steps (exercise early, eat veggies, pay off $300, and don’t check email), but I do the opposite on the last one. How about you? What do you do? 1) Exercise, 2) veggies, 3) pay off amount, 4) email or prioritized work?

I like to finish. One year, my NY resolution was about finishing. Since I like finishing, I like learning tricks and techniques to finish. One of them so far is doing the easier thing first, and then the harder thing.