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Kevin Neilson

Bullying Is More Complex Than You Think

October 6, 2014

We often view bullying as an interpersonal phenomenon. It’s something that happens between two kids. One kid bullies another kid, or maybe even several other kids. But peer aggression goes beyond the bully and the bullied.

sticks and stones

In Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy, Emily Bazelon offers a highly nuanced view of the social and behavioral context of bullying. Emphasis here is on context. Rather than focusing on just kids and their parents, Bazelon also examines law, technology, school administration, and the responsibilities of peers who witness acts of peer aggression.

Tough questions, no easy answers

In addition to addressing the larger context of bullying, Bazelon poses challenging questions:

“One of the lessons of this book is that kids often bully because they stand to gain by it, in terms of social status. Maybe they’re after a laugh from another kid they want to impress, or induction into a clique; maybe they want to publicly distance themselves from a friend they sense is now seen as a loser. How can families and schools dismantle that kind of informal reward system? How do you convince kids that they can do well by doing good?”

These are difficult questions, especially when considered against the backdrop of real-world school environments and our status-conscious popular culture.

The healing power of friendship


When we confront the complexities of bullying, it’s easy to forget that there are small ways for us to make a big impact in a person’s life. One of the best aspects of Bazelon’s book is the reminder of the enduring power of friendship. Even a simple act of kindness can be protective against the effects of bullying:

“In one important survey, high school students who’d been bullied were asked to describe the best thing another student had done to help them, and victims consistently mentioned peers who’d called them at home or spent time with them after they’d been mocked. One thirteen-year-old wrote of a friend who didn’t desert her, ‘It made me feel more confident that I would be able to keep being myself and not let this ruin my life.’”

Bystanders are often reluctant to intervene in a bullying situation. They fear injury or reprisal. But there are easy and “cheap” ways, in terms of social currency, for them to offer support and kindness to a peer without putting themselves at risk. Something as simple as sending a text message or checking in with someone at school or even after school can be very helpful to a peer who’s hurting.

Is technology to blame?

Bazelon takes a pretty harsh view of technology, in particular of social networking platforms like Facebook. She quotes the late researcher Clifford Nass:

“Face-to-face contact is the best way to learn to read other peoples’ emotions. It’s how kids learn empathy. So it’s as if the in-person socializing is the healthy food, and Facebook is the empty calories. It’s like junk food, and the more of it kids have, the less time they may have for the healthy stuff.”

Bazelon argues that Facebook should be doing more to combat cyberbullying. Fortunately, in the past couples of year, Facebook has been doing some thoughtful work on this issue, partnering with the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. They’re testing their ideas here, and I encourage you to take a look.


When it comes to bullying, there are no simple answers or magic bullets, but Bazelon’s work provides an important service. By clarifying the social and behavioral complexities of bullying, she orients parents, educators, and technologists to the landscape of relevant issues, putting them in better position to find and explore solutions to this vexing issue.


Overcoming the Enemy Within

September 22, 2014

Every life is a story, and every story has a hero. In The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, the hero is your genius, a special unique talent that belongs to you alone. But like all good stories, your genius has a rival, someone who seeks to undermine your creativity and highest aspirations. Guess what? You are this rival. You are your own biggest obstacle, your own worst foe.

Fight the tide of resistance

Fearless discipline: fight the tide of Resistance. © HopeLab

Resistance isn’t futile

In his book, Pressfield explores the ways we sabotage ourselves, undermining our creativity and our highest purpose through procrastination, rationalization, fear of failure, a lack of humility, a lack of discipline, and other self-inflicted wounds. Pressfield labels this “Resistance,” his all-encompassing term for the “inside” game we play against ourselves when confronted with life’s challenges.

Because we are the source of our own Resistance, we’re also the key to overcoming Resistance and staying focused on our most important work in the world.

“Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives,” writes Pressfield. “There never was a moment and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second, we can turn the table on Resistance. This second, we can sit down and do our work.”


One of the things I admire most in Pressfield’s book is the reminder that it’s within our control to shift our attention from white noise and petty concerns and refocus on our highest purpose in life. Admittedly, it’s not always easy to summon this strength of will. But the power of choice is always there, just waiting to be made, and there’s great reassurance in that.

Resistance and community

In addition to control and purpose, Pressfield identifies the role of social connection in the struggle against Resistance.

“If you find yourself criticizing others,” he says, “you are probably doing it out of Resistance…. Individuals who are realized in their own lives almost never criticize others. If they speak at all, it is to offer encouragement. Watch yourself. Of all of the manifestations of Resistance, most only harm ourselves. Criticism and cruelty harm others as well.”


Although Pressfield discusses Resistance at an individual level, I also believe that Resistance can affect entire groups. For instance, a leader—a CEO, a politician, an educator, a parent, and so on—whose struggle with Resistance leads to poor decision-making and actions can result in widespread cruelty and unnecessary suffering. This is one of the reasons why I’m so interested in developing tools and practices that help leaders stay on purpose and engaged with curiosity and compassion in their work.

Liar, liar

If there were only one thing to know about Resistance, it’s this—Resistance does everything in its power to foul you up and keep you from your work.

“It will perjure, fabricate, falsify, seduce, bully, cajole,” according to Pressfiled. “Resistance is protean. It will assume any form if that’s what it takes to deceive you… If you take Resistance at its word, you deserve everything you get. Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.”

Ritual and Routine

To combat this persistent foe, Pressfield urges us to focus on routine, discipline, and avoiding unnecessary drama in one’s life. I often find myself thinking about Pressfield’s advice in protecting my own highest aspirations. Even simple tasks, like folding the laundry and making the bed in the morning, help create a sense of order and place.


His advice has also helped me prioritize daily exercise, which is so critical for my health and well-being. These small actions matter. They contribute to a spirit of discipline and control that helps me manage my energy and focus on my most important goals in life.


Advice from a Mother Whose Son Had Cancer

September 17, 2014

Every month is a good month for gratitude. ChildhoodCancerAwareness

But Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in September is an especially good time to celebrate and honor the courage of others. Those of us who have fought cancer ourselves and with loved ones stand on the shoulders of those who have fought cancer before us. Your fight inspires us to continue. We are grateful to you. Thank you.

In addition to expressing my gratitude, I’d like to share some advice drawn from my own experience with my son’s cancer, in the spirit of warmth and encouragement.

Practical tips in the fight against cancer

Don’t do Internet searches late at night. Things look scarier when you’re alone and tired.

Simplify your life to reduce stress. As you try to balance medical appointments with family time, choose activities that are close to home so transportation is easier.

Keep a bag full of activities (for your child and for yourself) in the emergency overnight bag—you never know how long the hospital stay will last.

Ask friends and neighbors for help. Often people are afraid of being intrusive. Communicate your needs clearly so others can determine how best to meet them.

Ask everyone to wash or sanitize their hands and wear a mask (if they’re sick) around your child.

Friends of families in the fight, be proactive. Set-up play-dates. Keep them short and make sure your kids are healthy. Help shop for groceries, prepare meals, and run the household smoothly. It takes a village to help a child fight cancer.

Caregivers, take time to care for yourselves in order to be effective. Your health is important, too!

If tomorrow looks daunting, focus on the hour, then the one after that.

What I’ve learned on our journey

Fighting cancer has taught me that every day is a gift. Every smile is a gem. Tucking everyone in bed under the same roof is a joy. Weekends with nothing to do are good. Children with cancer just want to be “normal” and “normal” is great. We don’t have to be extraordinary. We can be content with simple pleasures.

We’re all “mother bears” protecting our young: Every parent whose child has cancer thinks that their kid is the most courageous person they know, and every parent is absolutely right!

Liz Poux is a mom of three with a Biology degree from Yale and an MBA from the University of Chicago. Her son Nico is a leukemia cancer survivor. Drawing on her own experience, Liz is writing a book about the challenges of caring for a child with cancer. When she isn’t advocating for bone marrow donations or supporting families in their fight against cancer, Liz loves woodworking and making beautiful furniture.

Kevin Neilson

HopeLab Wants Your Vote for SXSW

August 27, 2014

Each year in mid-March a pilgrimage to Austin, TX takes place. Film buffs, music enthusiasts, and technologists convene at SXSX to explore the latest trends in art and technology. Because we’re a pilgrim at heart, HopeLab wants to go, so we can share our vision of the power of technology to help us thrive. But we need your help. We need your vote. Interested? We hope so! Take a look at our proposed panels. And vote your way to a happier and healthier world.

Beyond BFFs: Tapping Into the Power of Texting to Promote Empathy   


Janxin Leu, Ph.D., Director of Product Innovation at HopeLab, explores the development of new SMS tools designed to help build empathy for others, even beyond our friends, family and colleagues. >>More

Resilience Through Tech: Designing to Help People Flourish 

ResilienceThroughTechJanxin Leu and Fred Dillon, Director of Product Development at HopeLab, share the research and development strategies we’re pioneering at HopeLab to create mobile apps that foster resilience. >>More

Re-Humanizing Work: Creating Workplaces Where People and Businesses Flourish


Chris Murchison, VP of Staff Development & Culture, explores how one Silicon Valley company is re-humanizing the workplace by adopting tools and practices that any organization can use. >>More

Gaming for Good: Using Games to Create Change


Fred Dillon and other panelists explore the power of gaming to educate, motivate, and even improve health and wellbeing, with a special emphasis on case studies. >>More

We hope to see you at SXSW!

Chris Murchison

Does Your Job Make You A Better Person?

August 12, 2014

We tend to think of our professional lives as distinct from our personal ones.

Outside the office, we may be cooks or gardeners, coaches, dancers or photographers. Whatever we care deeply about happens outside of the office, away from our desk and colleagues, after hours and with people that matter most to us. We compartmentalize, keeping work separate from life and aiming to keep them “balanced.”


But the distinction between professional and personal cheats us. It assumes there’s one “you” who shows up for work and another one who shows up at home or on the weekend, in the real world. This assumption robs us of being whole and fully human in both contexts, a loss to our co-workers and our family and friends.

Engaging the whole person

In a Deliberately Developmental Organization (a term recently coined by authors on the Harvard Business Review blog), one of the most important strategic goals is to tap the potential of the whole person, her hopes and fears, her strengths and weaknesses. It’s a belief that work can be a place where your full potential can be realized and where you can also become a better person, not just earn money to pay the bills.

We take the goal of deliberate development seriously at HopeLab.

It starts in the interview process, where we go beyond job experience and competencies to learn what motivates candidates and inspires them. Questions in the interview might include, “What are you passionate about?” “What makes you laugh out loud?” Or “What activities do you lose yourself in?” Answers to these questions say a lot about potential fit as well as areas where a new employee might contribute in broader ways to our mission and culture.

We also focus on deliberate development by creating supervision and performance management practices that support the whole person. In addition to encouraging regular check-ins, we’ve moved away from the annual performance review. Instead we have an annual conversation, where supervisors and supervisees reflect on achievements and challenges, and prioritize meaningful activities for the year ahead, and have an authentic conversation that sparks honesty and clarity.

Lastly, at HopeLab we recognize that how we work with others is also a rich opportunity for deliberate development. We’ve experimented with Myers-Briggs, the Enneagram, and other tools to help us become more aware of personality types and work styles. One of my favorite practices at HopeLab is our use of staff development funds. Although this money is spent in different ways—on life coaching, physical training, or photography classes, to name a few—they all have one thing in common: igniting a sense of purpose and meaning in staff. Employees return to the office with a renewed excitement that infuses their work and interactions with others.

All of these efforts help create a workplace that supports deliberate development. The result? A workforce that is open to growth, strives to excel, and has increasing capacity to meet your organization’s mission.

Chris Murchison

Can Business Be a Force for Good?

July 24, 2014

Negative business practices earn splashy headlines, e.g., Enron, AIG, and others. But I’ve always believed that business can be a force for good, both for the individuals that make up the organization and society at large.

In May, the University of Michigan’s Ross Business School hosted the first annual Positive Business Conference, drawing over 350 scholars, business executives, HR leaders, and others to hear about research, stories and practices in successful and positive businesses across the globe.


“We develop leaders who make a positive difference in the world,” states Allison Davis-Blake, the Dean of the Business School. “We can solve our most complex challenges by empowering those who believe that business can, and should, be a force for good.”

The power of positive organizations

According to conference organizers, positive business is built on three foundations, (1) creating positive value in the world, (2) creating great workplaces, and (3) being a good neighbor in your community and to the planet. Participants at the conference were introduced to scholarship and practice in all three domains, everything from responsible supply chain management to positive accounting to building high-quality connections in workplace communities.

As a longtime believer in the necessity of building positive workplaces, I found that the conference was an incredible opportunity to better understand different organizational aspects that must work together to support a system that creates positive value in the world.

I was impressed by executives who shared stories about how they’re revamping employee rewards systems, crafting unique programs to support disadvantaged community members, catalyzing innovations to support environmental sustainability, and more.  I was also inspired by faculty whose research shows so beautifully the impact of positive business practices today.

Weeks after the conference, one particular quote stands out to me. “It’s not just about culture, it’s about changing the world,” says Dan Hendrix, CEO of Interface. His comment is a great reminder that positive workplaces tap the full potential of people and that an engaged workforce enables an organization to achieve its mission and make a positive impact in the world.


For any leader who wants to learn about culture and business impact, I highly encourage you to attend next year’s conference.

I will definitely be there.

Fred Dillon

How a Sense of Empowerment Can Improve Health

July 14, 2014

When bad things happen to us, we often feel powerless to change them. Our sense of control is threatened by the circumstances of the world around us. Conversely, experiences that give us a sense of control – that help us see how we can affect our circumstances – tap into our psychological resilience and even support our physical health. Can we design technologies that bolster our sense of control in life? And what would that look like?

empowermentHere’s one example. Imagine you’re a kid diagnosed with cancer. You likely feel very little control over what’s happening inside your body. You may even question your ability to fight your disease. At HopeLab, we asked ourselves, how might we give kids with cancer a greater sense of control and support their belief that they could do what it takes to fight cancer and win? Those questions led to our Re-Mission game projects.

In Re-Mission and Re-Mission 2, we’ve made an invisible enemy – cancer – visible and given kids the power to fight back at their disease. Through game play, kids can blast away cancer cells, battle infections, and manage side effects associated with cancer and cancer treatments. The games don’t cure cancer, but they do boost kids’ self-efficacy and give them a sense of greater control. And that sense of control can translate into healthier behavior and measureable biological outcomes.

In a randomized clinical trial, young cancer patients who played Re-Mission stuck to their medications more consistently. Cancer patients who played the game had a greater sense of self-efficacy, or belief that they could influence their own cancer outcomes. And they were more motivated to beat their cancer by sticking to their prescribed meds. In fact, a follow-up Stanford neuroimaging study showed that the part of the brain that reflects motivation lit up in kids who played the game, more than in kids who were just watching the game. The study also demonstrated that the interactive nature of game play was key in delivering that sense of motivation. So it’s not surprising that the kids with cancer who play Re-Mission games feel a greater sense of control, which makes them more likely to take their medications and improve their chances for full recovery.

These kinds of results can be replicated beyond cancer, in any scenario where a healthy sense of control might bolster resilience in the face of adversity. This suggests an opportunity space for developers and designers. There are plenty of apps that help you gain control over your pill schedule or track your weight loss – but what apps have you seen that help you gain a sense of control over your destiny.

What might those apps look like?

Kevin Neilson

The Power of Positive Organizations

June 25, 2014

Last month at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, HopeLab was honored to be named one of five finalists for the Positive Business Project, a contest designed to celebrate exceptional businesses and business leaders that make a positive difference in the world.

“Positive business practices can—and do—have transformative results within organizations and the entries are proof of that,” said Wally Hopp, senior associate dean for faculty and research at Ross.

Please take a moment to watch our video submission.

Questions and curiosities—they’re all welcome!

Leah Weiss

Three Tips for Fostering Resilience in Children

June 23, 2014

I’d like to tell you a story. Tell me if it sounds familiar.

worried parent

Before my daughter was born, I researched everything we purchased for her, deciphering implications of materials and potential off-gassing risks. Changing tables, mattresses, clothing—everything.

When she was born, I pored over parenting books, intent on finding the perfect solution to the challenge of the week, whether it was sleep, nursing, weight gain, reflux, you name it.

Now that she’s four, I worry about how to raise an exuberant girl to be true to herself and resilient as she confronts the harried perfectionism and success-driven ethos of our culture.

Sound familiar? Here’s what to do about it – or at least, here are a few things I try to keep in mind on my own parenting journey.

Admit it: things fall apart

When parents think about fostering resilience in children, we often focus on how to best to support our kids, not ourselves as parents. This increases the risk of ignoring a few fundamental truths:

We cannot line things up to create a perpetually optimal experience for our children.

We cannot get things right for them all of the time.

We cannot keep our children in a bubble to mitigate their experience of the world.

Life will intrude despite our best efforts. It always does.


Case in point: my heart broke the first time I witnessed an older group of children telling my daughter she couldn’t play with them. I teach mindfulness and compassion, and still I wanted to throw it down right there in the playground with a freckled, puffy-haired four-year old boy.

Instead, to avoid a truly embarrassing situation, I took a few deep breaths and focused my attention on the emotions I was experiencing. Once I calmed down, I put the situation in perspective and remembered that moments like these are exactly the experiences that will help my little girl tap into her resilience. When I asked her how she was feeling and invited her to think of ideas for different responses, we were both able to approach the conversation with more perspective and creativity.

Show, don’t tell

We know from research that modeling is one of the most successful ways to transmit values to children. No matter how hard we try, we’ll never succeed in teaching children to be curious, disciplined or resilient if we consistently exhibit counter-examples to the values we encourage them to live by.

This doesn’t mean we have to be perfect. But it does suggest that parents should start with their own experience.

To promote resilience in children, show them how it’s done in the face of life’s adversities. Here are some practical tips parents can start using today:

Focus on yourself—sounds crazy, right? But when you commit to your own well-being, your child sees first-hand the values by which you live. Behavior is so powerful because it shows what we value without our having to talk about it.

Be transparent—when you fall short of your own expectations, fess up. Be candid with your children. If you’re snide with your partner in front of your children, take it as an opportunity to say that you got frustrated, that you did something you regret. Think out loud about how you want to apologize, about how you want to do something different next time. This way they see that you’re working with the same tools you’re preaching to them.

Catch yourself—notice the habit of skipping over your own experience to focus on your child. When your children are fraying your nerves, you can pause and bring awareness to yourself in the situation. Is your heart racing? Take a deep breath or even a grown-up time out. Then, when you engage with your child, you’ll be more likely to respond skillfully rather than react out of frustration.

Frame challenges—look for opportunities to contextualize difficulties as a learning experience, not a problem to be fixed. When a child complains about homework or piano lessons, use the opportunity to model perseverance and commitment. Identify areas of incremental growth. Notice how skills improve over time with practice. And praise effort rather than performance outcomes.


Resilience starts with you

As a parent, I often catch myself falling into the mental trap that there’s a right way to parent, and if I can only find it, somehow, miraculously, I’ll keep my daughter happy, well, and whole. Focusing on myself and practicing these few things help me reorient myself to what will support me in being a better parent so that I can then focus on my daughter. Not only are self-attention and self-compassion helpful here; they’re also critical in fostering resilience for both parent and child.


The Gift of Resilience

June 18, 2014

Life is unpredictable, but one thing is certain: adversity. We all experience struggles, losses, and grief. Yet people react to adversity in different ways: the same trauma that emotionally scars one person and prevents them from moving forward may lead another to grow, to make a new start.

That inspiring way of adapting to a setback and settling into a new normal is called resilience. Resilience isn’t about “bouncing back,” since life after a “bad” event is never quite the same. Rather, it is about incorporating that event and beginning a new chapter in life. Resilience helps people find real meaning, even strength, in effectively dealing with adversity.

Practice makes perfect

Resilience isn’t a rare quality. Rather, it’s a process that takes time, and for each person, it unfolds differently. That’s because resilience combines inner and outer resources, like skills, habits, personality traits, beliefs, relationships, and social networks and communities of like-minded and/or supportive others. So for one person, resilience might consist of optimism, self-awareness, a love of music, and a circle of friends. Another might draw upon an ambition to achieve and a strong religious faith. Still another may be motivated by a fierce determination to prevent similar tragedies in others’ lives.

Because resilience has many strands and many pathways, it isn’t just something you’re born with. It’s something you can cultivate, and one of its key components is the skill of emotion management. You can learn to recognize, understand, label, and express emotions in a healthy way—and, importantly, you can learn to shift emotions and put yourself in a more pleasant or even in a higher-energy state. Managing emotions may be tricky to master, but, like a muscle, it gets stronger with practice.

Build your emotional intelligence

The new Mood Meter App for iOS is the perfect tool to help you practice self-awareness leading to emotion management and ultimately to boost your resilience.


You can check in with the app as often as you like through the day. Each time, the Mood Meter App prompts you to consider what you feel at that moment, then record why you feel that way. It then asks you to decide if you want to stay with your current emotion or shift to a more positive one.

That shift—that decision to self-regulate and energize—is at the heart of emotion management. And emotion management is at the heart of resilience. Here the Mood Meter App helps you shift when you chose to, with an array of inspiring quotations and photos. You can also build up a personal archive of words and images that you can draw from when you want to shift your mood.

To help you gain perspective, the Mood Meter App makes it easy to chart your past feelings, whether it’s just today’s or a week’s worth. To help you label and thereby discriminate one feeling from another, the Mood Meter App helps you enhance your emotion vocabulary. And, since another crucial part of resilience is the support and love of other people, you can share your results.

Life isn’t easy—that’s a given. But the gift of resilience can help anyone make the very best of a bad situation, and that gift is within everyone’s reach.

# # #

The Mood Meter App was developed by the authors of this blog in partnership with HopeLab and Reliable Coders. It is anchored in decades of research on emotional intelligence and was deeply informed by the perspectives of potential users.

Robin Stern, Ph.D.

Marc Brackett, Ph.D.

Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence