Sunday, April 21, 2013

REPOST: The History of Mister Rogers’ Powerful Message

The late television personality and presbysterian minister Fred Rogers had an enduring reputation among the younger generation of Americans, mainly due to the popularity of his program, Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, which enchanted many generations of children during its run, the youngest of which comprise a new generation of adults facing hard times. Aisha Harris writes about how one kindly man's message (itself coming from his mother) can still resonate in the times it is needed the most. The article (and accompanying videos) can be accessed here.

In the wake of yesterday’s Boston Marathon bombings, many took to social media to comment on the tragedy. One of the sentiments repeated again and again came from Mister Rogers.
When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” To this day, especially in times of “disaster,” I remember my mother’s words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.
Rogers’ recounting of his mother’s advice dates back at least 30 years. In 1983 it appeared in his book Mister Rogers Talks With Parents, where he explains that his mother was prompted to tell her son about helpers after seeing disasters reported in newspapers and newsreels. (Rogers did not encounter television until after his senior year in college, when his parents bought one.) After that book was published, Rogers shared the message through other mediums many times. And others began to share it as well. In 1995, a USA Today article on “Easing Kids’ Fears” in the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombings began with a portion of the quote, and it appeared in the Boston Globe after Sept. 11, 2001, in a piece headlined “What Do We Tell Our Children?”
With the advent of social media, the quote has spread even wider, recapturing our attention each time a national tragedy occurs on American soil. Following the Aurora movie theater shooting last July and the Newtown school shooting in December, the comforting words of Rogers’ mother were shared again and again. After the Boston Marathon bombing, Patton Oswalt tweeted an abbreviated variation on the saying, which was retweeted thousands of times. (Oswalt later wrote a Facebook post very much in the spirit of Mister Rogers’ words; that post has been shared by hundreds of thousands of people.)
There is not much information online about Nancy Rogers, the woman who is credited with this powerful and influential message. Her maiden name, fittingly, was McFeely, which was passed on as a middle name to her son, Fred. (He, in turn, gave it to a recurring character on his TV show, Mr. McFeely, the deliveryman.) As the New York Times mentioned after Rogers died, Nancy Rogers also hand-knitted many of her son’s signature cardigans.
Rogers spent much of his life learning about the ways children respond to words and images. He worked with child psychologists when creating his show, and, in 1968, served as Chairman of the Forum on Mass Media and Child Development as part of the White House Conference on Youth. That same year, he addressed the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy on his show. “I’ve been terribly concerned with the graphic display of violence which the mass media has been showing recently,” he told parents. “And I plead for your protection and support of your young children. There is just so much that a very young child can take without it being overwhelming.”

Today his foundation keeps his commitment to youth education and counseling alive and has made his mother’s wise words a significant part of its message. It’s clear each time her thoughts are passed along on Twitter and Facebook and elsewhere that it serves not only as a comfort to kids, but to adults as well, a reminder to ourselves that there is still much good amid the bad.
Leila Mulla finds inspiration from the world's many positive thinkers and doers. Visit this website for more updates.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

REPOST: Eight Leadership Lessons From The World's Most Powerful Women

Women empowerment is increasingly evident in society today. Previously male-dominated jobs and industries now have a significant portion of women pulling the weight. This Forbes article outlines some sound advice for hardworking women from the leading examples themselves.

Today I had the great pleasure of speaking at The Innovation Enterprises’ 2013 Women in Strategy Summit, which brings together 75 high-level women in marketing and strategy, about the leadership secrets of the world’s most powerful women. With women comprising just 4% of corporate CEOs, 14% of executive officers and 20% of America’s government officials, we’re facing a persistent leadership gap at the highest echelons. To move forward, we must first take stock of whatis working. The following eight leadership lessons, synthesized and updated from a keynote I gave last year, come directly from the women who know what it takes to get to the top.
Stay Determined
The world’s most successful women really want it–and remain determined even in the face of obstacles. They have the skills, and they put the time in. But more importantly, they have the desire to do something great. Beth Brooke, global vice chair of Ernst & Young, was diagnosed with a degenerative hip disease at age 13 and was told by doctors she may never walk again. Before going into surgery she promised herself she would walk—no, she would run—and aspired to become one of the best young athletes the world had seen. Not only did she walk, she went on to play several varsity sports at her high school, earned multiple MVP awards, and later played Division I basketball in college. She made up her mind, and she didn’t quit. She brought that same determination to her career and today ranks among the 100 most powerful women in the world.
Be Courageous
Women at the top aren’t fearless. They move toward their fear to continually challenge themselves. That takes courage. In 2011, Beth Mooney, CEO ofKeyCorp, became the first woman ever to lead a top-20 bank in the U.S. Mooney began her career as a secretary at a local Texas bank, making just $10,000 a year, but soon realized she wanted something more. In 1979, she knocked on the door of every big bank in Dallas and asked for a spot in their management training programs. At the Republic Bank of Dallas, she refused to leave the manager’s office until he offered her a job. After waiting for three hours, he finally agreed to give her a chance if she earned an MBA by night.
That was a turning point in her career, one of many, powered by a courageous call to action—to champion herself and what she knew she was capable of. Later, she had the courage to move into roles she’d never done before, to pick up and move across the country, and to stick with it for three decades. If you’re not a little bit scared every day, you’re not learning. And when you’re not learning, you’re done.
Think Bigger
In order to achieve big success, you have to have big impact. When Michelle Gass, who is now leading 33 countries for Starbucks, started at the coffee chain, she was asked to architect a growth strategy for a just-launched drink called the Frappuccino. Her mantra: “Let’s think of how big this can be.” After countless hours testing ideas, she decided to position it as an escapist treat and added ice cream parlor fixings and new flavors. What began as a two-flavor side item is now a $2 billion platform with tens of thousands of possible combinations. Gass repeated her go-big-or-go-home strategy when she took over Seattle’s Best Coffee. She decided to take the sleepy little-sister brand to new heights by partnering with Burger King, Delta, Subway, convenience stores and supermarkets. In one year, the brand exploded from 3,000 distribution points to over 50,000.
Take Calculated Risks
As CEO of Kraft Foods and now Mondelez International, Irene Rosenfeld is very familiar with this one. A couple years ago she completed a hostile takeover of British candy company Cadbury. Not long after, she surprised the business community again with a plan to split Kraft into two separate companies, a North American foods company and a global snacks company. To move the needle, you have to make a big bets—but never rash—always based on a careful study of the outcomes. You have to know what you have to gain, and if you can afford to take the hit if it doesn’t go your way.
Remain Disciplined
It takes discipline to achieve and maintain success. You simply can’t do everything, and the world’s most powerful women stay focused on the areas that will have the biggest impact—from both a leadership perspective and a career management perspective. Sheri McCoy, the new CEO of struggling Avon Products, is currently implementing a huge turnaround at the century-old beauty company. Interestingly, when I asked what the biggest challenge would be, she said: “Making sure people stay focused on what’s important and what matters most.” It is very easy to get distracted by new trends, new markets, new projects—but when you extend yourself too far, the quality of your work suffers across the board.
Hire Smart
Over and over again women at the top say their best strategy for success is to hire people who are diverse, passionate and smarter than themselves–and then listen closely to their perspectives. Hala Moddelmog, president of Arby’s Restaurant Group, believes surrounding yourself with people of different backgrounds—including gender, race, geography, socio-economic and personality types—will help round out your conclusions. “You really don’t need another you,” she says. Similarly, staying open to different viewpoints keeps you ahead of the curve. Claire Watts, the CEO of retail and media company QVC, schedules open door times every Tuesday, so that anyone in the company who wants to come talk to her, ask her a question or share something they’ve noticed can do it then.
Manage Your Career
Denise Morrison, the CEO of Campbell’s Soup, knew from a very young age she wanted to eventually run a company, so she asked herself what are the kinds of things I need to do to prepare for that? That might mean management experience, global exposure or revenue responsibility. She always looked at her career as: Where have I been? Where am I now? Where am I going, and what are the right assignments to get there? If her current company would work with her to deliver those assignments, she was all-in. But if it didn’t, she knew she needed to move on. “We apply these skills in business, and yet when it comes to ourselves we rarely apply them,” she said.
Delegate At Work And At Home
The most successful women have learned that they have to have help, and they have to have faith in the people around them—at work and at home. It’s not easy, but it’s critical over the long-term. Katie Taylor, the CEO of hotel brand Four Seasons, admitted to me that she is a bit of control freak, but for the good of her and everyone around her, she tries to delegate. “Sit on your hands, if you have to,” she said. “Get yourself to that place.”
Optimists like Leila Mulla tend to succeed because of maintaining positive thought. Follow this Twitter account for continued inspiration.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Fact: Real men do buy women flowers

Image source:
In a world that is patriarchal and fuelled by machismo, the simple idea of giving women flowers seems to be a taboo to most men—or at least the idea of walking on a busy street while holding a conspicuous bouquet of flowers.

Actually, it is not really distasteful or unattractive. It is just that most men do not want attention—or any kind of attention for that matter that would subject their romantic side to public scrutiny. Vulnerability—men fear it.

Image source:

Men think, women think

Men think that flowers are a cliché and a mushy idea taken straight out of a Hugh Grant film, and that they are expensive and just eat a considerable windowsill space. On the contrary, to most women, flowers represent thoughts and show that the giver, the men, know how to pay attention. Women understand how difficult it is for men to spend time at a flower shop. To women, the simple act of men knowing secretly the specific type of flower they want is already a special treat, as though the men have given up an immense fraction of time that they should have spent on “manly” stuff like watching a sports show or attending a golf game with their bosses.

Image source:

Spare the all the clichés about how men are designed and how the norms classify women as weaker individuals. Real men are secured about their sexuality, are confident of themselves, and do not care about what the public thinks.

Real men care about women’s feelings. Real men don’t mind giving women flowers. Real men love giving women flowers.

Learn more positive thoughts from Leila Mulla by following this Twitter page.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Old age: The best is yet to come

Image source:
Like fine wine, optimism tends to grow more in old age. Wisdom seems to have enabled older adults to slow down, not sweat the small stuff, and look at the brighter side of things.

An article published in Time suggested that old people who are receiving pension are one of the happiest groups of people in society. In another article from the same publication, it was suggested that retirement and unemployment bring joy to old people.

Image source:

The reason for this newfound optimism is that oldies are no longer pressured to meet the society’s expectations on pursuing a career. While the workforce is stressed out by earning money to make a living and please the people around them, the senior citizens have ample time to pursue lifelong passions.

Optimistic seniors have also learned to let go of the hurts and frustrations from their past. They have accepted these experiences as part of life and have moved on to more important things.

Image source:

Optimism also inspires old people to be enthusiastic for new experiences and to be awed and delighted by the things around them. This is the energy that leads them to enroll in new hobbies, like ballroom dancing or painting classes. Being active is also a way to keep themselves physically and mentally healthy.

Old age does not equate to old spirit. There are still a lot of things that a person can do in old age, as long as he or she remains committed to lifelong learning and positivity.

How can people develop a positive approach towards life? Visit this Leila Mulla blog to learn more about living a life in positivity.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

How to Make New Year’s Resolutions Stick: Q&A With Expert on Change

This article by Maia Szalavitz appeared in the online edition of Time Magazine. It discusses tips on how to make New Year’s resolutions stick.

It’s time to set goals for the coming year, and a psychologist has some hints for helping you to make those changes last.

John Norcross, a professor of psychology at the University of Scranton, is one of the world’s leading experts on how people change addictive behaviors. Over the last 30 years, he and his colleagues have studied people who successfully quit smoking, cut back or quit heavy drinking, lost weight or started exercising regularly— including those whose lasting change began with a resolution to start on January first. He outlined some of his strategies in his new book, Changeology and discussed how to make resolutions work.

What are some of the most important things you can do to make your New Year’s resolutions stick?

First is believing that it can be done. There’s a lot of cynicism surround New Year’s resolutions and it’s unwarranted. Our research indicates that somewhere between 40% to 46% of New Year’s resolvers will be successful at six months. That’s probably a bit higher than the proportion who actually [succeed] because calling people every couple weeks [the way we did for the research] tends to help and thereby increase success. Still, the success rate is much higher than most people presume it would be for a single attempt to change behavior.

The second key [to success] is being realistic. Many people confuse fantasy with reality. Resolutions are supposed to be specific and realistic and measurable. In the book we talk about the acronym SMART, which comes from business. It stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Time sensitive.

So, let’s say someone wants to cut down on drinking. First of all, is that a realistic goal for heavy drinkers?

This year, about 2% of resolvers [who were surveyed] picked that one and about 90% of people who have curbed their problem drinking have done so on their own. We make the distinction between hardcore addictions on one hand and more problematic drinking on the other. For problematic drinking, 90% who have done so have done so on their own, so sure, that’s realistic.

So why do we think that everyone needs professional help or at least need to attend a support group?

First, people who change on their own, we call them self-changers, are not usually getting any media attention. But 90% of people who stopped smoking did it on their own and the same thing is true with problem drinking, [through] either abstinence or moderation. We don’t want to mislead people about hard core alcoholics but even some of them do self-change.

Tell me about the five steps towards lasting change that you lay out in the book?

Over last 30 years, we’ve been investigating how people change on their own, including several studies on New Year’s resolvers. It occurs quite naturally over a series of steps. It begins with “psych,” which is becoming motivated, specifying the goal, and understanding motivation. [We see it as] the two headed llama—being disgusted with our problem, but also drawn toward the new goal. So, rather than just harnessing the power of one, we tell people to do both.

In the psych stage, you [would] also start tracking behavior to see the frequency, when it occurs and what precipitates it.

What’s the next one?

Prep is the second stage. That’s planning, starting to practice the new behavior. You can’t just root out the old. So if the goal were, say, to reduce drinking, what behavior will replace it? At this stage, you also begin to arrange for a support system and make a public declaration [of your goal]. Like any other lengthy journey, you have to do a fair amount of planning.

And the third step?

The third is ‘perspire.’ It’s January 1st, you’re actually changing your behavior. Our research has demonstrated that it’s not [insufficient] willpower, it’s rather a series of learned skills that distinguishes successful resolvers from unsuccessful ones.

What would be an example of one of those skills?

One is countering; that is, mastering healthy alternatives. A second is rewarding successes and the flip side of that, not rewarding failures. Some would even say withdrawing the rewards if you don’t get it done.

Isn’t that punishment, which is not very effective?

That’s a huge area of controversy for psychologists. We prefer to withdraw rewards and make them contingent on behavior. ‘Time out’ is short for ‘time out from reinforcement.’ While kids may experience it as punishment, we’re really taking away free time and activity so if they’re not doing what they are supposed to do, we don’t say go and enjoy. We would like those thing to be contingent on behavior and withdrawing rewards is an excellent strategy.

If someone isn’t on track for whatever they’re supposed to be doing, let’s say losing weight, which is this year’s number one resolution, that could be not watching your favorite TV show. Some say that’s punishment, but it’s technically withdrawal of reinforcement. So you reward yourself when the behavior is on track and withdraw that reinforcement when it is off. It can be anything: reading, playing with the dogs, getting a foot massage. It doesn’t have to be expensive.

It’s all about rearranging the environment. Putting things in to remind you [of the new behavior] and taking things out that trigger the problem. For example, ridding the house of alcohol, not keeping a few in the fridge because someone might come around and putting yellow stickies around the house to motivate yourself.
In 30 years of research, we’ve found [that these types of strategies are] the least frequently used catalysts for change and yet one of most successful. I think part of the myth is that change has to come from willpower. Our lesson of the last 50 years is that our environment can help or hinder our behavior.

If you give people huge drinks, they drink more; with a massive buffet and large plates, people eat more. When you package smaller snacks, people don’t complain.

What’s the fourth step?

Persevere. That’s overcoming slips. There will be obstacles and slips. One of my favorite results from any of our studies is that a majority of successful resolvers said that their first slip actually strengthened their resolution. [We had thought] this is failure. But 71% of resolvers said that their first slip strengthened their desire to change. It’s an erroneous belief that slips lead inevitably into falls.

So what should you do if you slip?

Most immediately, tell yourself that a slip does not need to become a fall. [Instead, think] “This can be my wakeup call and I can immediately get back on track.” We have four to five different things people should be doing. One is analyzing what led up to it.

What about coping with cravings?

For big urges, we have [something] called urge surfing. We know that the most intense urges and cravings last anywhere from 2-4 minutes. Rather than standing up and letting them crush you like a wave, just surf it, go with it without going into it. It’s like big wave: within 2-3 minutes, it’s nothing.

And the final step?

Persist. We should mention here the importance of [supportive] relationships. These are wonderful at any time, of course. But while we want people to get their “change team” up and ready early on, in the early stages, most people can make it [without much help]. When people really need [support] is a couple of weeks into the New Year. That’s when you really need support and that’s when slips start coming on.

Who should you get to support you?

It can be someone else who makes the same resolution; it can be an online community, a family member, someone at work or school. There’s lots of support out there and people say that it’s quite flattering to be asked. That’s the other side of making a public commitment. It ups the ante in terms of accountability.

How long does it typically take to make a change that sticks?

Typically, it takes several months to stabilize and solidify any new behavior. It’s not a 100 yard dash; it’s going to take some time. If anyone said you could succeed by taking one whack at calculus or playing the piano for a few weeks, [you wouldn’t believe them]. When it comes to behavior change, people have been promised miraculous results. Our minds are not set realistically about what behavior change takes. On one hand, it’s very encouraging that people can now harness the science of change. On the other hand, we need to be a tad more realistic.

So, do you have any resolutions for yourself?

Yes, it’s to exercise 5 times a week even when I’m traveling. I travel 25 plus times a year and I’m usually overeating when I’m traveling so it’s a double whammy. We suggest building on last year’s resolutions if they were successful and then tweaking them a little.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Leila Mulla: Playing the part of an optimist

Leila Mulla Image Credit:

Optimists like Leila Mulla explain that optimism is actually a learned skill and there are a variety of ways to acquire it. Various life experiences have taught optimists skills that enable them to better cope with daily stressors and hassles. For example, an optimist suffering from the blues will recognize it as a passing cloud. Optimists who are dissatisfied in their work or relationships believe that better times lie ahead. They can acknowledge when a situation stinks without concluding that the universe is permanently conspiring against them. Thus, it comes as no surprise that people who look at life in a positive manner are less likely to be depressed or anxious.

But what if a person is not a “born optimist?”

Psychologists explain that by acting like an optimist such as Leila Mulla, even cynics can enhance their sense of optimism. Here are some tips:

Leila Mulla Image Credit:

Setting goals
There are no big or small goals for optimists. What is crucial is the internal motivation. Optimists tend to pick a goal they can personally invest in.

Being persistent
It is the persistence—not the cheeriness—that paves an optimist’s path to a better life. Optimists believe they will eventually succeed, so they keep pursuing their goals.

Tackling problems head-on
Optimists and pessimists cope differently when adversity strikes. The optimist goes into active problem-solving mode, while the pessimist avoids, ignores, or disengages from challenges.

Psychologists say it takes just about four to six weeks to really change a habit. Thus, positive thoughts and behavior will eventually catch up with the cynic.

Leila Mulla Image Credit:

For more updates on Leila Mulla, follow this Twitter account.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Leila Mulla: Women and the happiness gene

For optimists, like Leila Mulla, happiness is a matter of choice. But a recent study reveals that there may be more to just wanting to be happy.

Leila Mulla Image Credit:

A University of South Florida research shows that women may be more inclined to be happy than men because it is in their genes. It reveals that a low-expression form of the gene monoamine oxidase A (MAOA)—the “happiness gene” as Dr. Henian Chen, lead researcher of the study, calls it—seems to give women good feelings, but it doesn’t have the same effect in men. MAOA controls the activity of an enzyme that breaks down serotonin, dopamine, and other feel-good brain chemicals.

If there is one thing certain in Leila Mulla’s life, it would be the fact that she loves filling her life with positive thoughts and vibes.

Leila Mulla Image Credit: Simplehealthguide

The low-expression version MAOA leads to higher levels of monoamine, which, in turn, allows larger amounts of these neurotransmitters to stay in the brain and boost mood. The researchers found that women with even just one copy of the low-activity type of MAOA were much happier than women with no copies. Meanwhile, men who carried a copy of the “happy” version of the MAOA gene reported no more happiness than those without it. Dr. Chen and his co-authors suggest that the presence of testosterone may cancel out the positive effect of MAOA on happiness in men.

Perhaps not all may subscribe to what Dr. Chen and his team revealed. After all, there have been numerous attempts to define happiness and identify its sources. But whatever school of thought one may adhere to, for Leila Mulla and her fellow positivists, happiness is for everybody’s enjoyment.

Leila Mulla Image Credit: Elaine.Smith10

For more happy musings, follow this Twitter account.