Book Report: “Give & Take” by Adam Grant

I thoroughly enjoyed Adam Grant’s “Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success” and think everyone should read it – particularly those of us who feel awkward about networking or doing something that would benefit from promotion but feel skeeved by that idea.

High level summary:

A book based on tons of behavioral science research (including some original work by the author) which examines “reciprocity styles.” While the popular understanding is that you have to be a taker to succeed in the world, that’s because the takers are more visible – they are generally more assertive and promote themselves better. Further research shows that givers can also be successful – and they can also be total doormats and failures.

The key differentiators between champs and chumps are: Successful givers include themselves when considering what to take on and know how to avoid burnout; successful givers build a culture of givers often inspiring others to give who might not have done so otherwise; successful givers know that they’re playing a long game, one in which trust and reputation are key.

Finally, Grant’s motivation for writing this appears to be to decrease the stigma of being a giver in business settings, and to challenge the belief that success=taking.

Key terms:

  • Takers: like to get more than they give
  • Givers: prefer to give more than they get
  • Matchers: strive to preserve an equal balance of getting and giving (the majority of people are matchers)
  • Otherish: having others’ interest in mind. (Not the same as being selfless)

Key takeaways:

  • Unsurprisingly, the bottom of the success ladder is overpopulated by givers. Surprisingly, so is the very top of the ladder – even higher than takers. Matchers are in between.
  • “Successful givers, it turns out, are just as ambitious as takers and matchers.”
    • Reid Hoffman: “It seems counterintuitive, but the more altruistic your attitude, the more benefits you will gain from the relationship. If you set out to help others, you will rapidly reinforce your own reputation and expand your universe of possibilities.”
  • The giver advantage grows over time.
    • “Being a giver is not good for a 100-yard dash, but it’s valuable in a marathon.”
  • [at least in the U.S.] an increasing number of jobs are team- and service-oriented. In these, givers naturally have an advantage.
    • “Teams depend on givers to share information, volunteer for unpopular tasks, and provide help.”
    • “As the service sector continues to expand, more and more people are placing a premium on providers who have established relationships and reputations as givers… You hope your doctor, lawyer, teacher, dentist, plumber, and real estate agent will focus on contributing value to you, not on claiming value from you.”
  • “The fear of being judged as weak or naïve prevents many people from operating like givers at work.”
  • How to Spot a Taker who’s a good Faker:
    • “Although takers tend to be dominant and controlling with subordinates, they’re surprisingly submissive and deferential towards superiors.” “When kissing up, takers are often good fakers.”
    • In person (as well as in all public forums), takers are more likely to use first-person singular to describe anything they’ve accomplished. Givers are more often using first-person plural.
    • “As takers gain power, they pay less attention to how they’re perceived by those below and next to them.”
    • “The true measure of a man is how he treats someone who can do him absolutely no good.” — Samuel Johnson
  • “Givers are able to develop and leverage extraordinarily rich networks. By virtue of the way they interact with other people in their networks, givers create norms that favor adding rather than claiming or trading value, expanding the pie for all involved.”
    • “The presence of a single giver was enough to establish a norm of giving.”
    • “When takers build a network, they try to claim as much value as possible for themselves from a fixed pie. When givers like [Adam] Rifkin build networks, they expand the pie so that everyone can get a larger slice.”
      • Note: Adam Rifkin is the source of the “five minute favor” concept. He asked everyone he helped to help someone else, even just by making an introduction or answering an informational question.
  • Caveat: Givers have the best reputations, but they risk paying a productivity price. To be successful, they must leverage their networks.
  • There are two fundamental paths to influence: dominance and prestige. Dominance is a zero-sum game, prestige is not.
    • Expressing vulnerability can build prestige.
    • “takers specialize in powerful communication: they speak forcefully, raise their voices to assert their authority, express certainty to project confidence, promote their accomplishments, and sell with conviction and pride.”
    • The opposite of powerful communication is powerless communication. Powerless communicators speak less assertively, expressing plenty of doubt and relying heavily on advice from others.
    • Team members saw the [leaders who were ] powerful speakers as threatened by ideas, viewing the powerless speakers as more receptive to suggestions. Talking tentatively didn’t establish dominance, but it earned plenty of prestige. Team members worked more productively when the tentative talkers showed that they were open to advice.
    • Expressing vulnerability can make an expert appear human and approachable (and therefore more likable), as opposed to superior and distant.
      • Caveat: “Expressing vulnerability is only effective if the audience receives other signals establishing the speaker’s competence.”
  • The second key axis to pay attention to is level of self-interest vs. level of other-interest. Self-interest and other-interest are completely independent motivations; you can have both of them at the same time.
    • Selfless givers are people with high other-interest and low self interest… Selfless giving is a form of pathological altruism.”
    • “Successful givers are otherish: they care about benefiting others, but they also have ambitious goals for advancing their own interests.”
  • Giver burnout has less to do with the amount of giving and more with the amount of feedback about the impact of that giving.
    • It’s possible to reduce burnout by having a giver give more – in a way that lets them see their impact.
    • “Givers…burn out when they’re working with people in need but are unable to help effectively.”
    • The perception of impact serves as a buffer against stress. [for all reciprocity types]
    • “a firsthand connection to impact can tilt people of all reciprocity styles in the giver direction.”
  • Caveat: “Giving has an energizing effect only if it’s an enjoyable, meaningful choice rather than undertaken out of duty and obligation.”
  • “Otherish givers may appear less altruistic than selfless givers, but their resilience against burnout enables them to contribute more.”
    • Selfless givers are uncomfortable receiving support and receive far less support than otherish givers.
    • “people who regularly seek advice and help from knowledgeable colleagues are actually rated more highly by supervisors than those who never seek advice or help.”
  • Being agreeable or disagreeable is separate from being a giver or a taker.
    • “We tend to stereotype agreeable people as givers, and disagreeable people as takers.”
    • “Giving and taking are based on our motives and values, and they’re choices that we make regardless of whether our personalities trend agreeable or disagreeable.”
    • Agreeable takers are the most dangerous.
    • Disagreeable givers are the most surprising.
  • Givers avoid getting burned by becoming matchers when they’re dealing with takers.
    • “Being otherish means that givers keep their own interests in the rearview mirror, taking care to trust but verify.”
  • Givers characterize success as “individual achievements that have a positive impact on others. They see success in terms of making significant, lasting contributions to a broad range of people.”
  • “This is what I find most magnetic about successful givers: they get to the top without cutting others down, finding ways of expanding the pie that benefit themselves and the people around them. Whereas success is a zero-sum in a group of takers, in groups of givers, it may be true that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. As Simon Sinek writes, ‘Givers advance the whole world. Takers advance themselves and hold the world back.’


In a company’s annual report, the larger and more prominent the CEO’s photo, the more likely they’re a taker. Watch out if they’re agreeable! (example: Ken Lay, Enron)

“Matchers tend to build smaller networks than either givers, who seek actively to help a wider range of people, or takers, who often find themselves expanding their networks to compensate for bridges burned in previous transactions.”

“Givers are the top sellers, and a key reason is powerless communication. Asking questions is a form of powerless communication thatt givers adopt naturally.” “It’s the givers, by virtue of their interest in getting to know us, who ask us the questions that enable us to experience the joy of learning from ourselves. And by giving us the floor, givers are actually learning about us and from us, which helps them figure out how to sell us things we already value.”

“in direct persuasion, the audience is constantly aware of the fact that they have been persuaded by another. Where self-persuasion occurs, people are convinced that the motivation for change has come from within.”

“Takers have a knack for generating creative ideas and championing them in the face of opposition. Because they have supreme confidence in their opinions, they feel free of the shackles of social approval that constrict the imaginations of many people.”

Expedition Behavior involves putting the group’s goals and mission first, and showing the same amount of concern for others as you do for yourself. [key trait for highly talented givers working with teams]

“Highly talented people tend to make others jealous, placing themselves at risk of being disliked, resented, ostracized, and undermined. But if these talented people are also givers, they no longer have a target on their backs.. Instead, givers are appreciated for their contributions to the group.” For example, by taking on tasks that others didn’t want, a giver builds trust so that when they show their skills they still don’t elicit envy.

“When people act generously in groups, they earn idiosyncrasy credits — motive impressions that accumulate in the minds of group members.” Group members with idiosyncrasy credits gain license to deviate from a group’s norms or expectations. “Givers get extra credit when they challenge the status quo.”

Responsibility Bias: exaggerating your own contributions relative to others’ inputs. “It’s a mistake to which takers are especially vulnerable, and it’s partially driven by the desire to see and present ourselves positively.” “Responsibility bias is a major source of failed collaborations.”

Reciprocity styles in mentoring/coaching:

  • “takers harbor doubts about others’ intentions, so they monitor vigilantly for information that others might harm them, treating others with suspicion and distrust.”
  • “the matcher’s mistake lies in waiting for signs of high potential. Since matchers tend to play it safe, they often wait to offer support until they’ve seen evidence of promise.”
  • “in their roles as leaders, managers, and mentors, givers are inclined to see the potential in everyone. By default, givers start by viewing people as bloomers.”
  • “Givers are the least vulnerable to the mistake of over investing in people” because of the sunk cost fallacy. In sunk cost fallacy, “the single most powerful factor is ego threat… Due to their susceptibility to ego threat, takers are more vulnerable to escalation of commitment than givers.”
  • “Givers don’t excel only at recognizing and developing talent, they’re also surprisingly good at moving on when their bets don’t work out.”

“because of their dedication to others, givers are willing to work harder and longer than takers and matchers.”

“Whereas powerful communication might be effective in a one-shot job interview, in a team or a service relationship, it loses the respect and admiration of others” Although takers are perceived and highly effective leaders, “takers actually undermine group performance.”

“People bond to givers, like electromagnetism.”

“Advice seeking has four benefits: learning, perspective taking, commitment, and flattery.”

“When we give our time, energy, knowledge, or resources to help others, we strive to maintain a belief that they’re worthy and deserving of our help. Seeking advice is a subtle way to invite someone to make a commitment to us.”

“Regardless of their reciprocity style, people love to be asked for advice. Giving advice makes takers feel important, and it makes givers feel helpful. Matchers often enjoy giving advice of different reason: it’s a low-cost way of racking up credits that they can cash in later. As a result, when we ask people for advice, they tent to respond positively to us.” Caveat: Advice seeking only works if it’s genuine.

“Trust is one reason that givers are so susceptible to the doormat effect. They tend to see the best in everyone, so they operate on the mistaken assumption that everyone is trustworthy.” “Successful givers need to know who’s likely to manipulate them so they can protect themselves.”

“The ability to recognize agreeable takers is what protects givers against being exploited.” “The inclination to give first and ask questions later often comes at the expense of sincerity screening.”

“Empathy is a pervasive force behind giving behaviors, but it’s also a major source of vulnerability.”

“when we empathize at the bargaining table, focusing on our counterparts’ emotions and feelings puts us at risk of giving away too much. But when we engage in perspective taking, considering our counterparts’ thoughts and interest, we’re more likely to find ways to make deals that satisfy our counterparts without sacrificing our own interests.”

Adopt an outlook described as generous tit for tat: Never forget a good turn, but occasionally forgive a bad one.


There’s so much more in the book. Go buy “Give and Take” on Amazon now.


NY Times article: Is Giving the Secret to Getting Ahead?

HBR article: In the Company of Givers and Takers

How to Help a Solo Mom (and other full-time caregivers)

Newborn Isaac This is for all the friends and family of a solo parent who want to help but may not know what to do. It’s drawn from my own experience being a friend and a roommate to many new parents over the years, including some women who were doing it on their own.

[A few quick notes before I start: First, I’m going to write this about supporting solo moms because that’s my experience, but I imagine that a list of things to support solo dads would look similar, and some parents with partners and other full-time caretakers have told me this list resonated with them, too. Second, I prefer the term “solo parent” to “single parent” because “single” has other connotations that may not feel right for that person. Lastly, if you know a parent who has a partner who’s away a lot for long periods of time (e.g., travels for work) much of this list still applies.]

What I’m sure you already know and have thought about: The birth of a child is a wonder-filled, awe-inspiring event. It ushers in a period of radical change in a new parent’s life – one that is much more extreme for the parent who is flying solo.

What you might not know if you haven’t been through it: The first few months are simultaneously blissful, exhausting, exciting, and boring. Between all the cute moments that get caught on camera and are posted publicly are much longer minutes and hours of mostly mundane daily life. And many things about how to manage that daily life are not taught in the baby classes.

In thinking about how to support a solo parent, consider all the things that you would find it difficult to do if: You couldn’t use one of your arms (because it’s holding a baby), you were distracted or frequently interrupted, you were not in control of your own sleep, and/or you had to think on behalf of another person 24/7 for an extended period of time. If you’re like me – the kind of person who already forgets to do things like make a doctor’s appointment or put gas in the car or buy lightbulbs or floss her teeth – you can imagine that these become even more difficult when you’re a solo parent.

Here are some ideas for things you can do to help out a solo parent, particularly during first few months of the baby’s life:

  • Go to her house and cook dinner (or breakfast or lunch!) for her. Be prepared to eat it alone if she has to attend to something else. Wash all the dishes and put them away afterwards. Put well-labeled leftovers in the freezer.
  • Do grocery runs. Or be the second adult on her grocery run so you don’t have to stress about getting exactly what she wants and she doesn’t have to stress about juggling the baby and grocery bags at the same time.
  • Watch the baby so mom can take a shower. (Taking a shower is a waaaay more complicated deal than you can imagine for new solo parents.)
  • Watch the baby so mom can sleep. Really.
  • Take the garbage out, put the cans on the curb, then return the next day and bring them back.
  • Take care of the garden.
  • Watch the baby while mom gets a massage or a pedicure or does something else that pampers her. After so much time taking care of another person, caregivers often find it hard to allow themselves to be pampered.
  • Watch the baby so mom can meditate, take a yoga class, go hiking/running/rock climbing/swimming/cycling – whatever would make her feel like she’s in her own body and would give her a mental break at the same time. The best here is to think about whatever she was doing before she got pregnant. Whatever gave her joy and mental space then would be a nice thing for her to have again.
  • Bring her new music. Don’t expect her to get a chance to listen to it.
  • Fill the gas tank in her car. Or do maintenance on her bike.
  • Wash and fold the laundry.
  • If it’s close to the holidays, offer to do gift wrapping or take her packages to the post office along with your own.
  • Take note if she mentions things around the house that are broken and/or annoying. Fix them, or help her arrange to get them fixed.
  • Learn how to change a diaper if you don’t already know how.
  • Start taking mental notes of which restaurants/cafes/event spaces are cool about kids so you can make solid suggestions when she wants to get out of the house. Meaning: Don’t make it only her responsibility to think about that. It’s all about being a good host/friend, in the same way you think about whether or not a place has enough vegetarian food for your friends, or is near public transportation, or is affordable, etc. It’s considerate.
  • Invite her to events, even ones with non-parents. Remember to factor in the baby nap time if possible. Don’t pressure her to come. Be delighted if she makes it.
  • Don’t make parenting suggestions unless she asks your advice.
  • Learn how to breathe through a baby’s crying jags. They’re normal.
  • Take photos of her, both alone and with the baby. Solo parents generally get a lot fewer candid photos of these early days than parents with partners.

In short: Most parents find that even with two people there aren’t enough hours in the day to take care of all the details of daily life, and being a solo parent only makes this more true. Yes, “it takes a village to raise a child,” and that village can also reach out and support the solo parent.

With love and mad respect for all the parents out there,

p.s. If you have other suggestions, please send them to me. I’m happy to expand this list!

p.p.s. Re-reading the list, I realized most of it is also very applicable to someone who’s a primary caregiver of an ill person. I’ve done that, too, so I know.

Happy Mother's Day Weekend!

Sidebar: A mom and I were recently talking about how Months 2-3 of a baby’s life are especially trying for a new parent because the honeymoon rush has largely faded, the friends and family have mostly returned to their regularly scheduled programming, the sleep deprivation is starting to really sink in, and many things that were ok to ignore for a month are not so ok to ignore for longer than that. Beyond that, the baby still isn’t very interactive or smiley or laughing or doing all the super-cute and endearing things that help keep a parent going. Thankfully, this period is followed by months and years of a child with way more personality and parents (generally) find a rhythm that works for them. The end of Month 3 also usually marks the end of maternity leave and a return to work (at least in the U.S.) – which ushers in both a lot of adult conversation and an entirely new list of things to negotiate. All this to say: If you’re looking to support a solo parent, be especially sure that they have support during Months 2-3.

The Power of Listening

I’ve been thinking and talking a lot about communication – primarily between individual people, and between businesses and their customers/clients/partners.

It’s important to create the space to listen. “Creating space” certainly includes staying quiet so that someone else can speak. Even more than that, it means being ready to hear what they have to say.

It means staying curious enough to be open to surprise.

It means not just waiting your turn to talk.

It means encouraging those who have something to say but don’t know how.

It means choosing your mode of communication based on what’s easier for who you want to hear – not just what’s easiest for you.

It means listening without jumping ahead and guessing what someone means or saying what they “should” do.

It means finding out what tools your customers are using before investing in and launching a campaign to reach them.

It means responding when someone reaches out so they know they were heard and are more likely to trust you to hear them the next time, too.

It means staying responsive and flexible in your communication, your product design, your way of working in the office, your choice of restaurants for meetings.

It means getting off your soapbox, putting down the bullhorn, and rearranging the theater chairs into a circle.

It also means being ready to hear that someone else’s way of thinking is just as valid as yours.

It also means enjoying each other, not just ourselves.


When Regret is in the Way

For years I played music and it gave me great joy. It was one of my primary activities, something I did both for fun and in my studies. Then I discovered theater and by the time I was in college, the two started to compete for my time and attention. As my interest in theater grew, I gave music less attention and started to enjoy it less. Eventually, I chose theater and gave up music.

All these years I’ve ranged from somewhat- to very-sad that I no longer play. I know that I could have continued to dabble, but somehow that made me feel worse. I just stayed away. I would occasionally sit down at the piano and gingerly pick out a tune, thinking about how comfortable the keys used to feel, noting how awkward I now felt. I would listen to tunes I used to play and remember, with regret, that time of my life.

For the past few years I have been missing playing music more and more. I’ve been thinking about bringing it back into my life but felt nervous and shy. I berated myself for having given it up, looking at the people who have continued to play and thinking how good I could be now If Only I Hadn’t Made That Choice…

And herein lies the crux of this post. So many of us (if not all) have Made A Choice at some point, one that eventually led us to thoughts of regret. “If Only…” fills our mind and we consider all the possible paths our lives could have taken if we’d made The Other Choice. All too often these thoughts are accompanied by recrimination because regret can be mean and unforgiving.

A couple of weeks ago I bought a ukulele. I was with a friend who’s a great teacher, who managed to sidestep my nervousness and doubt, who got me to start playing before I could stop myself with all those negative thoughts. And the craziest thing happened: I enjoyed myself! Rather than get lost in feelings of past regret, I got lost in the here and now and just played music with him. When we stopped playing, I started to get excited about learning more. And I realized just how much hanging on to that regret was stopping me from enjoying myself now, and from future possibilities.

Yes, maybe I would be a great musician now if I kept at it. Then again, maybe not. The important thing is the past won’t change, and so it doesn’t matter. Right now I have the option to make choices about my future. And whether or not I’m going to be “great” at music is kinda irrelevant. I’m choosing to play music for as long as I’m having fun with it. And after a while I might change my mind again, and that’s going to be just fine.

Dealing with your Inner Critic

In my work with people on how to stop complaining, we always get to a point where they ask, “I get how to control what I say, but how do I stop complaining about myself? How do I shut up this voice in my head?”

Just about everyone I know struggles with an inner critic, no matter how “enlightened” or “growth-oriented” they are. Often, this voice is the meanest one that we’ll put up with, the one that speaks and reinforces our core fears and insecurities, the one that makes us feel small, inadequate, and unworthy. If a person talked with us like the inner critic does, we’d get infuriated and stand up for ourselves, maybe even haul off and punch them in the face. But since it’s inside of us, we don’t stand up, we collapse.

I’m sorry to say that I have no secret that will swiftly and permanently silence that inner critic. But I can offer some tools that I’ve learned to help disempower mine, making it less able to hurt me, enabling me to recover more quickly.

The first and most important tool I learned was to think of that voice as separate from me so that I can start to respond to it. It’s a technique that I know many others use and is foundational for everything else I’ll talk about here. Some people do this by picturing their inner critic sitting in a chair across from them. Others create a mental picture of their brain or body and find the location of the source of the voice somewhere in or around it. Others name the critic. Choose whatever works for you to get a little distance on your inner critic. This is also something that often works best when you have help, such as working with a coach, therapist, or someone like that.

Next step is to respond when the critic shows up. The nature of that response varies greatly, based on your own levels of emotions and what the critic is saying.

Some take a strong protective stance. They get stern and loud, yelling “Shut Up! No one talks to me like that!” Sometimes this can feel necessary, particularly the first time you talk back at it when it’s shaming you and hurting you deeply. It can be very cathartic, finally standing up to a bully that’s been tearing you down your entire life.

That technique feels great for me to stop a heated attack from my inner critic, but it doesn’t work as well in a lasting way to get it to stop showing up in the first place. For that, I’ve learned to become understanding of what my inner critic is trying to do, and grateful for the love it’s showing me. I know that sounds weird, but I’ve learned that mine is often trying to protect me from getting hurt. It’s afraid that I’ll get ostracized or criticized and it’s trying to stop that from happening. It’s carrying the memory of childhood times when I felt like an outsider and was hurt by it. My inner critic hates to see me cry. I can feel so much love coming from it in those moments. I have conversations with it where I thank it for loving me enough to protect me – and I make sure that I feel that thanks, not just say it. Then I gently remind it that those are old memories and old hurts and I point out that I’m all grown up now. I tell it that I’m stronger and that I have to take some risks in order to grow even more, that I know I’m likely to get hurt and I’m ok with that. I ask it to trust me, to believe I’ll figure out a way to recover. I also tell it that I don’t like that language, that I no longer respond to someone tearing me down, that I won’t listen to it if it’s mean. I know that I once believed things more if they were mean, but I no longer tolerate it.

Lastly, I thank my inner critic for holding out a dream for me. I can hear frustration and disappointment underneath the words – and I know that it wouldn’t feel these things if it had no expectations or hopes for me. It’s only because of those expectations that it can feel disappointment.

My shorthand reminder:

Every time you beat yourself up for not being the person you want to be, take a moment and thank yourself for having the ability to dream of a greater future for yourself.

I hope that this helps, and I’d love to hear your own techniques for dealing with your inner critic. Leave me a comment or a question and let me know your thoughts. Let’s all face down our inner critics and start engaging with the love and dreams we carry around inside us instead!

Cianna P. Stewart is Founder of the No Complaining Project and a resilience coach based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She also spends a lot of time producing events and dancing. Connect with Cianna on Google+.

5 Modes of Interacting

I’m fascinated by how we all learn how to be with each other. I’ve spent a good portion of the past few years reading books on psychology, neurology, self-development, behavioral economics, sociology, and philosophy. I’ve also been taking classes, doing a lot of coaching, and learning interpersonal meditation.

Through all of this, I’ve developed an understanding of what I call the “5 Modes of Interacting.” These are not “stages” because it’s not a progression from one mode to another. Also, as you’ll see, different situations can send us into different modes.

In Reactive Mode, we receive an external stimulus and react immediately, without thought. We wear our emotions on our sleeves and lack any kind any kind of social filter. We are all like this when we are babies, feeling cold and immediately crying, seeing sunlight and laughing without inhibition. As adults, we can drop into Reactive Mode when we are in a state of reduced cognitive ability, such as when we are hungry, exhausted, stressed, furious, or drunk.

We are in Responsive Mode when we have a sense of self and of social norms, but are still greatly affected by external stimuli. We know what is expected of us and have established our own personalities, filtering our actions and thoughts through these as we make our way through the world. How we express ourselves about things like taking a new job, seeing a sad movie, or having our home team win the big game depends both on our feelings and on our sense of who we are and how we want to be perceived. Even as we are being ourselves, we may still be Responding, meaning we are primarily motivated by the situations presented to us externally.

For many people, there comes a point when we start to question who we are and why we are here. This is the Reflective Mode. In Reflective, we examine ourselves internally, questioning the truth of how we have been behaving, what we believe, and whether or not we agree with what the world has been expecting of us. We encounter external stimulus and don’t react right away, taking time to pause and consider what we really want. We start to develop a more long-term vision for our lives. We may even start to question our personality and whether or not it is fixed or if it could be changed. This is often the time when we seek out help in the form of mentors, therapy, or spiritual guidance. While reflection happens often to varying degrees, being deep in Reflective Mode is often triggered by major life events such as the birth of a child, the death of someone close to us, graduation, an accident, terminal illness, or new love. In the popular mindset the extreme form of this is often referred to as a crisis of some kind, such as a “mid-life crisis,” a “crisis of conscience,” a “post-college slump,” a “Saturn return,” or some other term for radical-break-from-what-has-been. We may sell everything and travel the world, do a walkabout, hole up in a remote cabin, or take some other extreme action to “get away and find ourselves.” There are also less extreme ways of being in Reflective Mode, such as meditation, prayer, hiking, or another way of setting aside time for contemplation without abandoning everything.

I believe that most people live the vast majority of their lives in a combination of Responsive and Reactive. It can feel like a luxury to take time for the Reflective Mode, and sometimes that time feels justified only when we start to feel acute strain or pain from living our lives primarily in response to what we are offered.

When we have a good sense of who we are and why we are here, we are able to live a Realized Life, to be in the Realized Mode. This can come directly out of being in Reflective Mode. We have a vision for our lives, often one that goes beyond ourselves. In this mode we know what we want to offer to the world and we start creating a life that fulfills the soul. We may give up everything we were doing before Reflection, or we may just have a shift in our mindset, our approach to everyday life, finding ourselves filled with renewed wonder and joy without making any external changes. Instead of primarily reacting to external situations, we are internally motivated, creating and generating what we send out into the world. We touch this whenever we experience a state of flow, being fully absorbed in the task at hand, feeling inspired, and forgetting time. In a fully Realized state, we are engaged with external situations but they do not change our sense of who we are. This means that even if we change our actions in response to another’s request, we do so only in alignment with our internal compass, never leaving the path to our life’s vision. There’s plenty of room for play, but there’s little chance of forgetting.

Once we know who we are and how we want to be in the world, we are able to fully Relate with another person, to interact and share while maintaining that sense of self. When two people are Relating while both are in Realized Mode, they are fully themselves at the same time that they are with each other. Anything that they decide to do together will support each person’s vision for their lives. They are authentic, open, honest, and true. They operate from a  place of curiosity, ready to discover the other person in every moment. They leave the interaction feeling even more alive.

While our understanding of each Mode builds on the foundation of the previous one, the Modes are not linear, nor is “progression” through them fixed. All kinds of triggers can send us from one mode to another. For example:

  • Encountering something (or someone) new is often a trigger for dropping into Reactive or Responsive mode
  • Extreme states of emotion (fear, anger, giddiness, grief) inhibit our ability to be Reflective
  • When one person is in a Realized state, they may drop out of it when encountering a Responsive person – or they may help move someone Responsive into a state of Reflection
  • Two people may be Relating, but then one or the other may find themselves unable to hold their sense of self in the face of the situation
  • Without taking the time to be Reflective, it is difficult if not impossible to develop and sustain the Realized Mode
  • It is possible to get stuck in Reflective Mode, unable to take action and live a Realized life
  • A person can be in different Modes in different circumstances, e.g., Realized in their career, but Responsive in romantic relationships

These 5 Modes are useful as tools for understanding and discussing how we are interacting with the world. They are not fixed, just as we are not static beings. I find them particularly useful for understanding why I feel more myself or not in certain situations, what it is that is solid or lacking in my ability to be in the world the way that I would like to be. I also find them inspirational in terms of why I am doing all this reading and this work, helping me focus on what I want to do next.

I would love to hear your comments and thoughts on the 5 Modes. Do they make sense to you? What do they make you think of?

Cianna P. Stewart is Founder of the No Complaining Project and a resilience coach based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She also spends a lot of time producing events and dancing. Connect with Cianna on Google+.

2012 Themes

It’s the start of 2012 and in addition to resolutions, I’m thinking about two themes for what I want to get out of this year.

In keeping with the sentence stem that I’m using to start all my resolutions (“I resolve to express love for myself by ____”), I’m declaring that a theme for me for this year is to place a focus on self-care. (I have no doubt some of you are going to be happy to hear that.)

The other theme feels hard to admit to myself and also feels important to say out loud: I’m working on accepting the fact that I inspire people. I have it that I always hope I inspire, that it’s a goal of mine. The difference is for me to recognize that it’s already happening. Or (more true) to recognize that it’s been happening for years now.

Why put this focus on accepting it? Because I think that this will open up other possibilities for me, and because I think that it’s necessary in order to step into some of the work that I intend to do this year. I need to own my voice and my impact, and not expend much (or any) energy trying to prove it. Once I take it as a given, then I can move on to what I can do with that influence.

In so many ways it seems obvious yet I have had a hard time accepting it. Maybe that’s because I would then have to deal with the responsibility of my impact, maybe it’s because truly I’m most afraid of already being the person I hope to become. No matter what the cause it’s not really serving what I want to accomplish.

Even more, it’s not realistic for me to shy away from believing that I have, do, and will continue to influence and inspire others with my thoughts and actions. Thank you all for being persistent about continuing to tell me that over and over. It’s taken a while for it to get through. I might still forget, but at least it’s my intention to let it sink in this year.


Yes, I am thinking of this most famous quote from Marianne Williamson as I consider my theme:

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Resolutions Coming From Love

Today I’m thinking about New Years Resolutions. I’ve also been thinking about how often in the past I made resolutions out of a sense that I “should” be doing something, that I was imperfect and wrong, that I had to be better.

One of my resolutions is to show myself more love, to be kinder and more forgiving when I make a mistake or fall short of the (admittedly high) bar I set for myself. To treat myself with the same caring and understanding that I want others to treat me, in line with how I strive to treat others. This may be the underlying resolution for the whole year.

So in keeping with this I am going to start each of New Years Resolutions with the sentence stem: “I resolve to express love for myself by…”

For instance: I have been feeling heavy, out of shape, unhealthy. So I started out making my usual kind of resolution, about my weight, exercise, etc., one that felt like an order. After reconsidering how I’m thinking, these are my resolutions around that:

I resolve to express love for myself by caring for my body.

I resolve to express love for myself by taking steps to ensure that I have enough energy and stamina to get out in the world and do the things that bring me joy.

Those feel so much more inspiring to me. Yes, I have yet to see if I can keep them in mind – and I imagine that if I can, I’ll experience far more than weight loss.

How would you finish that sentence?

“I resolve to express love for myself by…”


This post written with many thanks to Brene Brown and her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, for helping lead me to this understanding.

The No Complaining Ride

In my first 12 hours in NYC I went through quite a little challenge to myself in the realm of “no complaining” so I thought I’d share it all of you.

Last night I arrived in New York just in time to catch up with friends who were going out dancing to celebrate a birthday. We went to an upscale nightclub in Manhattan. Beautiful place. Our group was dancing and drinking and goofing around. I’ve rarely laughed so much out in club like that.

I was using my iPhone to snap photos and stashed it in the front pocket of my jeans. At some point it started to annoy me, feeling like it was in the way of my dancing so I switched it to my back pocket. We were all dancing as a group and I had my back to the main part of the room. Suddenly I felt my iPhone lift out of my pocket in a quick smooth motion. I immediately knew someone swiped it. I turned quickly but the crowd was too dense and I couldn’t see the phone. I caught a waiter who was passing by and told him my phone was stolen. We looked around the floor just in case it fell instead of getting stolen, but no such luck. He then called over a security guard and the manager so I could report it. That was about all that could be done. I turned so I could return to my group, but I was in no mood to just jump back in to the dancing and laughing.

I started to wonder what I should do. I was upset and angry but also couldn’t do anything more. The phone was gone and I didn’t want to dwell in my upset – the night had been so much fun. I also didn’t want to damper the group on a birthday night. I vented to one friend who asked what we had been looking for and felt better that someone knew, but it felt kind of incomplete because I didn’t fully release any anger and I was grappling with the realization that I still couldn’t actually change the situation. I could hear my own teachings in my head and didn’t want to start telling the story over and over again but it also felt fake to just ignore it. I decided to get away from the group for a moment and just be quiet.

I got centered and started to think my way through the situation bit by bit. I wanted to enjoy the evening. I couldn’t make the phone be un-stolen. In the morning I could go get a new iPhone (an upgrade!). I didn’t have to reach anyone that night. I had backed up before I got on the plane so there was no data loss. The phone was locked and I could erase it remotely so I wasn’t really at risk of having my identity or passwords stolen.

In short, there was nothing to do until the morning. I took a deep breath and gave myself permission to wait until the morning to think about it. I returned to the group and pretty quickly was feeling playful and laughing again.

At the end of the evening I told my other friends what had happened and also that I was ok, I’d get a new phone in the morning. I still wasn’t all the way through my upset but I was feeling settled.

In the morning, I woke up thinking about it again. I also wanted to be fully done with the negative feelings so I wouldn’t keep thinking about them. I replayed everything and then suddenly it struck me: Buying a new iPhone was an option! I was flooded with feelings of gratitude. Not long ago I would have not have had enough money to be able to just walk into an Apple store and buy a phone. I had been struggling financially, cutting every expense down to the bone. I had to carefully plan out how to pay for all meals, even choosing some days not to have three in order to make my cash last. And today I had enough money saved to go get a phone. It was an amazing feeling.

As soon as this thought hit me, I felt completely released from the upset and anger of the night before. I was clear that if I had my preference, none of this would have happened. But none of the feelings associated with the theft had any power over me any more. I felt lighter, grateful for all the things that have happened in the last few months to turn my finances around, and appreciating myself for what I did to make them stick.

It was quite a ride – and I’m glad I held on until the end.