Lighten Up


I just finished a glorious two-week vacation. The weather was almost too perfect, if that’s possible. After a week of blue skies, with temps in the low 80s, I was ready to take a day off and putter around the house. But I’m not complaining. It was exactly the vacation I had envisioned. Plus I got a chance to read an interesting book that floated to the top of my stack just before heading to the Vineyard.

I’d planned only to read novels this vacation but this book by Peter Bregman caught my attention. First of all, the title was intriguing: “Four Seconds: All the Time You Need to Stop Counter-Productive Habits and Get the Results You Want.” Who doesn’t want that in just four seconds?

Okay, it sounded a little over the top in its promises. However, I thought there might be some useful ideas to complement other books I’ve been reading about establishing productive habits. Plus I’d heard the author interviewed on HBR IdeaCast and he had some interesting things to say. The book turned out to be a series of two to three page essays, each with a thesis worthy of reflection.

Not only was it a great beach read but it also had some real gems of insight illustrated by memorable stories.

I’ve found myself thinking about and sharing a number of his essays. Three of them, in particular, stood out for me. Maybe it’s because they highlight some of the work I need to be doing. Interestingly, all three had an underlying theme of “lighten up.”

Here are a few quotes that crystalize each of the three topics:

  • Stand Back and Do Nothing: “In some situations, doing nothing—forever—is the right response. Sometimes, not trying to fix something is precisely what’s needed to fix it.”
  • Walk Away from an Argument: “Arguing achieves a predictable outcome: it solidifies each person’s stance, which, of course is the exact opposite of what you’re trying to achieve with the argument in the first place. It also wastes time and deteriorates relationships. There’s only one solution: stop arguing.”
  • Take the Blame Instead: “…there’s a simple alternative to blaming others: Take the blame for anything you’re even remotely responsible for. This solution transforms all the negative consequences of blaming others into positive ones…It’s as close as I’ve ever seen to a panacea.”

I’ve already tried two of the ideas that struck me. I decided to give my injured shoulder a rest after trying unsuccessfully to cure it with weight training, physical therapy, yoga, dance, and various doctors.

I took the blame in a lighthearted disagreement with my husband that had the potential to escalate into a real argument, only to find that the tension that was building completely dissolved.

I have yet had a chance to try walking away from an actual argument, but I am eager to try Bregman's foolproof alternative to arguing: listening. I think of myself as a good listener but the real test is to step back and listen when I’m dying to prove that I’m right or to justify my behavior.  Maybe someday I’ll successfully practice the advanced skill sequence of first listening, then taking the blame. For a clue to how far I have to go on this one, take a look at my blog post “Three Dreaded Words.”

Have you read any books recently that you’d recommend to others? If so, please share the title, author, and why you recommend it in the Comments section below.