What I’m Learning


NaBloPoMo 2018


ACK!  It starts!

As usual, I have a whole list of ideas for the daily posts this month, and I will likely use none of them.  Who knows, right?  The goal is to practice daily writing and publishing, and do my best to make it non-drivel.

2018 has turned out to be a thick, challenging, and tumultuous year, among other things—would you agree?  What have you learned?  What lessons continue to revisit you?  Is it not all just so fascinating?  What would you write about if you had to publish something every day for 30 days straight…  And try not to bore people to tears every time?

For now, I will start with the books I’m hearing (because I don’t read books as much as I listen to them these days).  So many gifted writers out there, so many ideas—and they all connect in my experience, stimulating insight, understanding, humility, and inspiration.  I’ll list the books here that I’ve ‘read’ this year, and then bring in articles, presentations, etc. the rest of the month—things that have meant something to me personally or professionally—often largely overlapping circles of a Venn diagram.

I predict that the overarching themes will center around self-awareness, integrity, leadership, and relationship (surprise).  We shall see!  As I described to my friend tonight, this will be a practice in discipline, vulnerability, and brevity.  So here goes!  I list the books of 2018 below, in roughly the order that I consumed them.   Starting tomorrow, I will start pulling central tenets and key learnings, exploring how they apply to personal experiences in the every day.  Or maybe I’ll ditch this idea and do something totally different, tomorrow, next week, or whatever.  That’s the beauty of writing every day, I can just go wherever it takes me.

And so the journey begins again (continues!)—thanks for coming along!


Braving the Wilderness by Brené Brown

A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo by Marlon Bundo and Jill Twiss

The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt

Big Potential by Shawn Achor

Switch by Dan Heath and Chip Heath

Originals by Adam Grant

Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss

Better Than Before by Gretchen Rubin

The Will Power Instinct by Kelly McGonigal

Mindset by Carol Dweck

The Big Sort by Bill Bishop

Do the Work by Steven Pressfield

How Stella Saved the Farm by Vijay Govindarajan, Chris Trimble

The Art of Possibility by Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Dare to Lead by Brené Brown

Born A Crime by Trevor Noah

Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box by the Arbinger Institute

A Year of Living Kindly (still reading) by Donna Cameron

Hopey, Changey Hero Making

IVY Litt 11-8-17

NaBloPoMo 2017: Field Notes from a Life in Medicine, Day 8

Funny how I just wrote last night about connecting new dots to old dots.  It just happened again tonight!  A couple of weeks ago I responded to an online ad for an IVY Ideas Night with David Litt, author of Thanks Obama: My Hopey, Changey White House Years, entitled, “How to Inspire, Persuade, and Entertain.”  Litt was a senior speechwriter for President Obama, so I thought I could learn new tips for presentations, and feel a little closer to the president whom I miss so much.

I’ve done public speaking since eighth grade, when our speech teacher first taught us abdominal breathing and I discovered the thrill of holding the attention of a room full of people with only my words.  I work at an academic medical center and I hold zero publications, but my CV documents over 10 years of professional presentations to various audiences.  I thought I was pretty good at this speaking thing.

Three years ago I came across this TED talk by Nancy Duarte, whose ‘secret structure’ of great presentations I have used since I subsequently read her book, Resonate.  Essentially, she recommends that we invite audiences on adventure stories, create active tension between what is and what could be, and most importantly, make the audience the hero.  I have done this better and worse since then, but I always recognize the framework when I see it.  Those familiar with this blog know that I am also a fan of Simon Sinek, whose central message is that we perform at our best when we are crystal clear about our Why.  “People don’t buy what you do, they buy Why you do it,” he says.  Barack Obama employs both authors’ principles with eloquence and finesse, which I noticed reading We Are The Change We Seek, a collection of his speeches as president.  The best speeches delivered in this construction create audiences who are inspired, motivated, and empowered to hail a meaningful call to action.

Obama is could be core values

That’s basically what David Litt conveyed tonight.  When asked what advice he was given that served him best, he said, “Imagine someone in your audience will tell their friend tomorrow about your talk.  What is the one thing you want them to say about it?”  What is the Why of your talk?  Even though he no longer writes speeches for the most powerful person in the world, he expressed a desire to continue inspiring, empowering, and promoting personal agency in all whom his work touches. Make each and every audience member their own hero.

It turns out, however, that this approach applies to much more than public speaking.  On my 50 hour, 500 mile, aspen-pursuing weekend in Colorado last month, I described to my dear friend my favorite moments at work.  At the end of a patient’s day-long physical, after I have spent 90 minutes listening to their stories of weight gain and loss, work transitions and complex family dynamics, and reviewing their biometrics and blood test results, I meet with them for an additional 30 minutes to debrief.  This is when I present an integrated action plan compiled by the nutritionist, exercise physiologist, and myself.  It is a bulleted summary of our conversations throughout the day, centered on the patient’s core values and self-determined short and long term health goals, and crafted with their full participation.  I get to reflect back to my patients all that I see them doing well, and shine light on areas for potential improvement.  It’s an opportunity to explore the possible—to Aim High, Aim Higher, as the United States Air Force exhorts.  I often present the plan with phrases like, “Strong work!” “You’ got this,” and “Can’t wait to see what the coming year brings!”  My friend turned to me as we wound through autumn gold in the Rocky Mountains, a bit tearfully, and said, “You make them the hero of their own story.”  Yeah, I do, I thought, and I got a little teary, too.

Words are powerful.  They are our primary tool for relating to each other, for making another person feel seen, heard, understood, accepted, and loved.  You don’t have to be a public speaker or a presidential speechwriter to make a positive difference with your words.  At work, in your family, with your friends, with people on the street and in the elevator—what is the one thing you want someone to remember from their encounter with you?

Books! Thankful for books!

November Gratitude Shorts, Day 18

Yesterday I meant to post about books!  There are so many, how can we ever read them all?  Thank goodness for all these authors, who take the time and expend the energy to create and publish for the benefit of us all!

I keep a list of my favorites:

  1. The Art of Possibility, Rosamund Stone Zander and Benjamin Zander
  2. Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting, Jon and Myla Kabat-Zinn
  3. Healing From the Heart, Mehmet Oz, MD
  4. Now, Discover Your Strengths, Buckingham and Clifton
  5. The Power of Mindful Learning, Ellen Langer
  6. A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink
  7. The Five Love Languages, Gary Chapman
  8. On Gratitude, Aaron Jensen
  9. Complications, Atul Gawande, MD
  10. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell
  11. Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath
  12. Positive Psychology in a Nutshell, Ilona Boniwell
  13. Kitchen Table Wisdom and My Grandfather’s Blessings, Rachel Naomi Remen, MD
  14. The Inner Game of Tennis, W. Timothy Gallwey
  15. The Heart Speaks, Mimi Guarneri, MD, FACC
  16. Proof of Heaven, Eben Alexander, MD
  17. Peaceful Piggy Meditation, Kerry Lee Maclean
  18. The Timekeeper, Mitch Albom
  19. The Social Animal and The Road to Character, David Brooks
  20. Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engaging With Everyday Life, Mihalyi Csikszentmihaly
  21. The Mind’s Own Physician, ed. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Richard J. Davidson
  22. Daring Greatly and Rising Strong, Brené Brown
  23. Resonate, Nancy Duarte
  24. Start With Why and Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek
  25. Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert

During visits with patients, many of these titles routinely come up either in my mind or in conversation.  I found myself sharing them so often that I finally decided to keep them on a Word file to share electronically, and I add to it regularly.   Often, people have already read one or more, which is when I know I am connected with a like soul.  I love when that happens!

There are so many books I have yet to read, indeed that I am dying to read–I have bought most of them already!  My bookshelves are almost out of space, and the books are spilling out onto most other horizontal surfaces in the house.  Here are some titles I plan to read in the next year (the next few months, ideally!); please feel free to suggest others:

  1. The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho
  2. Being Mortal, Atul Gawande
  3. Drive, Daniel Pink
  4. The Book of Forgiving, Desmond Tutu & Mpho Tutu
  5. How the Body Knows Its Mind, Sian Beilock

I have yet to read most of the ones on this shelf, though I have dipped into many of them a few times.  I like to dig deep, mark them up, and take them down over and over again when I make connections between them.


The book post was meant to be lighthearted…  Books bring joy, wisdom, knowledge, connection, learning, laughter, pictures–it’s all good!

Today feels heavier, and my focus on reading and writing takes a serious turn…  More on that for Day 19…