Messaging: Love, Brilliance, and the American Way

In each of us, is a story, an experience, a message we want to share with the world. Regardless of whether or not we share that story while formally running for office or not, we want to make a difference. In order to do that, we need to make sure that how we say it is in a way others can hear it.

In the political arena, it is particularly challenging because the way the campaign trail is set up is counter to demonstrating two important points: Listening and Serving. Yet this is why we have politicians. They are here to listen to our needs so they can speak for us and make decisions on our behalves. However, the trail is focused on raising money and sharing one’s message. And I would argue, these activities run counter to the ultimate message.

So if we wanted to change the outcome, how might we do that? What would we alter?

Step 1: Recruiting tactics: Who do we train? As I thought about it, I was reminded of a question I was recently asked, “Do we train the welder to scuba dive or the scuba diver to weld?” Answer: We teach the welder to dive because ultimately, we need effective welding in a complex, difficult atmosphere. Translated to politics, “Do we train politicians to be knowledgeable about a variety of issues or do we train content experts the rules of politics?” Currently, we do the former, but I’d argue we need to do the latter because ultimately, it is most important to make effective improvements to our nation’s biggest issues.

Find brilliant cheerleaders – people who can balance the need to deliver clear messages with the ability to deep dive into extensive singular and meta-issues.

Step 2: Messaging: the ability to clearly, efficiently, and effectively share messages with our people. As a psychologist, I see messaging differently than has historically been the practice. I see it as a way to collaborate and invite involvement from constituents rather than an opportunity to convince others to support.

Remember, people don’t like you because you are amazing, they like you because they feel amazing around you.

So here is my general five-step process:

  • #ANALYZE: There is no PC in Self Analysis: Know your audience, know your opponent, know yourself….entirely. This is not the time to sugarcoat. Constituents are #1 and that includes the ones that disagree with you. Recognize too that your opponent has strengths and that you have weaknesses. Of course the opposite is also true too but in order to best understand constituents’ needs and opponents’ actions, we have to analyze, honestly.
  • #PREDICT: You don’t have to outrun the bear, you only have to out think him! I had a student who in a moment of frustration said, “JJ, it’s not like I can read your mind.” After a bit of questioning, he realized that in fact, he could. Being able to predict your opponent’s actions and reactions will help you play better political chess. Remember, thinking three steps ahead and planning your moves before you need them is powerful.
  • #TRAIN: This is the Intellectual Olympics – Your mind is your greatest asset and requires a training regimen as intense and intentional as training for the Olympics. That means practicing your messaging, your ability to debate, your ability to listen, every day, with purpose, goals, and coaching. No one makes it to the Olympics on talent alone. Being able to control your emotions and focus your mind takes deliberate practice.
  • #SERVE: Focus on others – Our goal is to serve our country but on the campaign trail, we spend most of our time asking for support. It can have the unintended effect of suggesting we care about ourselves more than others. We need to find a way to listen, collaborate, and demonstrate our true focus to serve our nation.
  • #PROMOTE: Speak quietly and carry a big stick (–Roosevelt) – Few people are as interested in politics and solving problems as you are. Resist the urge to defend your position by providing every minute detail about why you are right….because, of course, when we defend our positions, we imply others are wrong. Listen, learn, and always remember that others frequently have ideas you haven’t yet considered. Promote them!

Most of all, love our people, display your brilliance, and promote the American Way…

And together we can inspire our Nation to greatness!

Photo credits: Stephanie McCabe Aaron Burson Jon Tyson

School Shootings: What do we DO?


There is no debatable way to say this, there are no political sides, there are no exceptions: Killing children in school is terrible, sad, wrong. Full stop.

Yet, the questions often left unanswered are: WHAT DO WE DO ABOUT IT? HOW DO WE STOP IT?

Having buried a child myself, I know what it’s like to miss her every day. I know what it’s like to read a children’s book to a tombstone. I know what it’s like to imagine her growing up….and know you will only ever imagine it, it will never be real, she will never return. Maybe it matters how you lose a child at some level – I mean, losing a child who is defending our country is certainly different than losing a child to cancer or being killed senselessly at a school. But at the end of the day, us parents grieve, miss, remember no matter how they rise to Heaven.

So I count myself among the parents who know the loss and feel compelled to protect our children – all our children. And yet, as a psychologist, I find myself asking…HOW?  It is easy to see that we are always trying to raise money for and do more research to improve cancer treatments. We feel good about our efforts. While we don’t save all children, we do feel that we are doing our best as a society to reduce the number lost. But when it comes to shootings, we feel more helpless, confused, and frankly, nationally divided.

The issue has become one about gun access rather than about mental health…and the distinction matters. It’s no surprise that parents of victims are beyond upset. They have every right to be. But, like in medicine, if we treat the wrong illness, we fail to improve the situation. If we take away guns, the kids make bombs.

It is absolutely imperative that we diagnose and treat the right problem. But how? Psychologists can only predict at a certain level of accuracy. Law Enforcement can only act on known threats, not perceived or anonymous ones. So then we turn to the only thing we can control: gun laws. Yet, there are many, many fully against sanctions in this area – why?

How do we balance the rights of our people? The second amendment grants the right to bear arms yet we also have a right to a safe education and a duty to protect our people. My instinct and my training run first always to the victim. No amount of sport justifies killing. Yet, I also recognize we could ban all guns in this nation and still have these deadly outcomes. I’m reminded of an earlier quote I wrote:

Access to weaponry makes destruction possible but it’s the mind that triggers the event…

We, as a nation, need to come together and understand both sides of the issue. While access is an enabling situation, it is the mental health of the person wielding the weapon that does the killing.

We need to be asking for mental health laws. We need to better understand how to identify issues in childhood. We need research dollars to improve treatments. We need law enforcement, attorneys, school officials, and our general public to be better informed, and we need to protect our people – both those who are not fully aware of their actions and those who are affected by them.


I send so much love to the families of the children taken last week. Our nation grieves with you.


Now the question is: How will we take action?


Photo credits: Element5, Nicola Tolin 

Olympics: Using Sport to Avoid War

  There just aren’t enough threatening tigers to chase anymore and our people are left without enough outlets for their aggressions. I frequently tell a metaphorical story about a high speed training moving at a breakneck speed that is running toward a predictable outcome. You cannot simply stand in front of it and put up your hand and yell, “STOP!” It will, quite predictably, run you over. But this is most frequently how we handle so many issues – we try, oftentimes desperately, passionately, to explain to people why they must stop something – could be drugs, sex, relationships, or even war. But all of these things have a biological drive attached to them and because of that, humans will not stop just because you tell them to.

Redirecting behavior has the highest chance of success because it fulfills the underlying biological need but with a socially acceptable outcome.

So I reiterate the title and ask, “How do we use sports to avoid war?” We may not like it, we may not agree with it, we may not want to believe it but the bottom line is this: we need strife in our lives and the opportunity to expend our aggressive energy as well as heighten our arousal through competition. We also get the added bonus of a group of people being part of a winning “team,” even if that team is really an entire country.

Thus, essentially, if we can identify another activity that has the elements of war, at the biological level, we may not be able to stop it fully but we have a real chance at reducing the frequency and severity of it. In other words, we have a shot at saving lives.

We need a team – can be small or large, we need competition, we need people to win sometimes and lose sometimes, we need all people bought in so that even those not playing have a needed support role, we need the experience to add to our country’s and our personal story, and we need to feel part of something bigger than ourselves. “Idle hands do the Devil’s work.” We consider this point when we think of teenagers and keep them busy with work and afterschool activities to keep them out of trouble – and to keep them participating in the greater society. Why do we stop once we become adults?

It is not reasonable nor recommended to become a sedentary society that merely survives. We need to evolve into a society that thrives.

We need competition and outside of work and family goals. We need to take out our aggression on something other than politics, our children, our coworkers, and our spouses.The Olympics should be the pinnacle international competition but in sport and in spirit, we should have significantly more state-wide, nation-wide, and international competitions and they should be recognized at every level.

We as a whole nation need to learn the value of our people feeling fulfilled and having meaning in their lives outside of work and family. When we do so, we inspire people to be their best selves…and in doing so, optimize our nation’s power!


To be continued….



Photo by Simon Connellan, Olga Guryanova, Andre Hunter

Olympics: UNITY? Or Political Statements?

 The athletes have worked incredibly hard and sacrificed so much to have the opportunity to compete at the Olympics. But at the same time, the specialness of this event is that it is also a platform where the athletes compete not only as individuals but on behalf of their nations. This reality is a double edged-sword, brining both great pride and energy to the athletes and fans but also inviting discussion of social and political issues around the world.

Is this a good thing? Or does it allow issues to overshadow the sports competition?

Only you can decide your position but I vote a strong YES to believing it’s good to have arenas where politics and social issues are brought to the forefront but outside the regular space in which they are discussed. It brings more people into the discussion and forces people to be calmer in their discussions than when they are in designated arenas for arguing. I would much rather see us be faced with the realities of our arguments, rather than just the need to prove we are right. You see, it’s too easy to feel the compulsion in an argument to have to win….and in doing so, lose the real purpose of the fight.

So when we have places and events that allow us to discuss and act differently about important issues, we should. Two gay American athletes shared their stories and their frustration with the current administration’s positions on social rights. North Korea sent Kim Yo-Jong, Kim Jong Un’s sister, as a representative of the nation. Additionally, North and South Koreans played together on the same team in women’s hockey. And athletes from around the world are getting to know each other and work together.

The nations that play together, learn to work together, and find ways to appreciate one another’s differences and talents.

Global stability is enhanced by increased global connections.

Thus, these events, and even the political and social issues they highlight, are enormously important and impactful to the progress of our world community.

Photo by Charles Deluvio, “My Life Through A Lens, Jerry Yu

Ask it again…but differently….

When something isn’t working, we look for a new solution. When something is working not exactly well, but good enough, we say, “don’t fix what ain’t broke.” But what if we can do better? What if even though where we are today is good enough, what if we can make it better? Our Government ebbs and flows over the decades and even when we feel that we are in a high state of chaos, we are a strong nation and we have many safety measures in place, thanks to our founding fathers’ forethought.

All that said, I reiterate the question, “Can we do better? And if so, what would that look like? How would we get there?”

I argue, strongly, that we can, and I believe significantly so. Many of our adversaries are excited about the revolution the technology age has brought and are plowing forward to ensure their cities are progressing, their people are learning what they need to operate in the future world, and in many ways, the adversarial nations have an advantage over us – their people are all working toward a common goal. Namely, they work as a unit to support the state or the sovereign ruler. BUT – we have creativity, freedom of thought, and the benefits of diversity in our American Toolbox.

Inspiration will motivate greater than fear and result in better outcomes in nearly all circumstances.

THIS is why America is such a successful nation and it is why we have every reason to be hopeful for the future. So how do we inspire our country? Our politicians? Our neighbors? Our people? And how do we look at the problems over which we argue…but differently than we have in the past?

We start thinking and approaching them differently, that’s how.

For example, many are asking how we can sue the opioid pharmaceutical companies. But what if we additionally asked how we could leverage HUD to motivate life change and reduce addiction? Many ask about how we can bring back old jobs in our nation? But what if we developed a new education system that tied high school course work to specific jobs of the future both in and out of the U.S.? What if we allowed our next generation to be prepared for the jobs that will be available and also to bring new cash flow into our American market? What if we improved immigration relations through an underlying tax reform plan? What if we used telemedicine and no bed hospitals as well as modeling and simulation techniques to improve healthcare, while reducing the cost?

Rubik’s cube problem solving means stepping back, assessing the situation, and finding a new path, a better path, one that focuses on prevention over reaction.

I like to say, “Stop running from individual fire to individual fire. Step back, hire a marketing team, and create a cartoon bear that teaches people how to not start them in the first place.” THAT’s how real change occurs.

Photos by Clark Tibbs Andreas Klassen Xan Griffin

Can’t tell if you’re selling doughnuts or changing the world

Ever heard the quote “speak softly, and carry a big stick”? It’s a quote from Theodore Roosevelt as he discussed his theory on foreign policy. At times, the willingness to not force change or prove one’s position but instead to allow it to evolve over time, can be very powerful. One might even argue that it’s more effective than working hard to convince someone of your beliefs. Why?

Few people in this world truly wish to knowingly be controlled.

We want to decide for ourselves what we think, what we believe is the right path, what we want to happen next. I think in most contexts, most people can understand this. But when it comes to politics, we often throw this understanding of basic human nature out the window. Why?

If we break it down, the most likely reasons people become so adamant about convincing others to think like them is 1. Deep affection for our nation and 2. Fear that if we leave the decisions to others, they’ll muck it up. Both points are reasonable and fair. When the world around us is chaotic, the normal person will first try to wrestle with it, control it….and if they exhaust every reasonable option, they will either give up or launch into hyper-drive. We’re seeing both outcomes in our society right now. The opposing frustrations felt by members of both partners are so high that the emotions have begun to blind many.

For some, it’s so infuriating yet they feel they have so little power to affect any of it that they just tune it all out. For others, they’ve turned to social media sites or marches to vent their frustration.

Oddly enough, both sides express the same goal…they want to do *something*. But I ask – as I have asked repeatedly, is venting the something that is actually impactful? Or is it just cathartic. Preaching to those who already agree with you isn’t going to change anything. And yet, the political energy and intent of these folks who are trying to find a path to support their position is not only measurable but to be honest, it’s exciting to see so many people fighting hard to save the nation we love so much.

Perhaps then what we need is not to analyze who is right or which memo we should consider or which candidate was the winner – but rather, perhaps we should focus forward and determine the metaphorical yellow brick road. What is the pathway to a more unified state? I struggle to imagine an argument against unity. So instead, we should be asking ourselves,

“What does that look like if it doesn’t look like one side caving to the other’s demands?”

Now *that’s* the right question.

To be continued…..

American Dream to Experience: Part III

Something I’ve been observing is the shift from a one-size-fits-all “American Dream”, which treats life like a destination, to an experience that treats it like a journey. But additionally, I think there is another layer and it has to do with the finite goal, the proverbial “dream,” that apparently we all share. Yet, of course, we don’t. Ever heard someone say, there is no normal? I’m afraid that’s not exactly true…there is. Normal is defined by the normal curve, a statistical graph of how people act, think, believe, or look. In the middle of the graph (defined as 66 2/3% of people) is called “normal”. It’s where the majority of people agree on something, anything. Life is most commonly focused on people in this section. What I mean by that is that shoes are produced in a higher abundance to the normal size of shoes, school is paced to fit mostly with those in the normal range of intellect, and even joint “dreams” are born out of the most common set of beliefs held by those in the normal space. This makes sense for a variety of reasons but mostly because quite frankly, it’s where the majority of people preside.

BUT – when we value *only* those ideas, thoughts, beliefs, sizes, people, etc that lie within that normal space, we miss out on the exceptionalities of those who think, act, or believe differently. When we try to convince everyone to live and think the same, we are literally trying to compel them to live within the statistically normal range. Outliers tend to reject this notion, at times vehemently, why? Simply put, it goes against their true nature. Telling someone to be different then their true self will never work in the long run and the years spent trying desperately to conform, to fit in, to be approved of will not only hurt their personal development, but I would argue, our entire nation misses out.

You see, to be exceptional, is to be different. If we, as a nation, can learn to value those differences, instead of trying to control them…we will see brilliance shine. We will see a nation that runs like a well-oiled machine. We will see the best and the brightest leading the way.

And remember…every single one of us has something that is exceptional, we just have to find it and have the strength of character and fearlessness to share it!

Inspirational story:

Peter Diamandis is a founder/co-founder of the XPrize Foundation, Singularity University, Human Longevity, Inc. and Planetary Resources. Dedicated to the radically optimistic ideas of #abundance and teaching humanity to be #bold, Peter builds and leads teams whose goal is to improve the lives of at least a billion people. A kid who wanted desperately to be an astronaut, Peter was undeterred when he realized that the odds against realizing that dream were slim. Propelled by his belief that there are no limits, he started a contest that ultimately made private space travel a reality, and in the process created a platform to encourage innovators to solve billion-person problems. Hear Peter discuss his personal philosophy here.

Photo credits: Rob Curran Ashley Knedler Roman Kraft