Cognitive Journaling [Ragnarson]

Continuing our recent arc on feedback/self-reflection, this piece by Richard Ragnarson does a great job introducing in detail one highly-effective self-reflection practice: 

Cognitive Journaling  

Journaling is making a comeback these days alongside specific journaling techniques and (obviously) customized journaling products. While some journaling techniques aim to be more forward-looking (aka “planning”) others are more reflective. The good news is that the hype is leading to more innovation in the space and making effective techniques more accessible. While the obvious downside is the increased difficulties separating signal from noise: techniques that are truly effective from ones that are merely popular. 

Ragnarson’s technique sits on a very solid evidence-based basis in the form of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (or CBT for short). His article is an extensive primer on the technique, walking the reader through the motivation behind the technique, the model of the mind on which it is based, key constructs, high-level principles, a step-by-step guide to the process, a practice program for developing habit and mastery, ways to measure progress and last but not least — an FAQ and troubleshooting guide. Incredible work just putting all of this together. 

In this post, I will only cover the high-level principles and the technique itself. If it resonates, reading the whole post by Ragnarson is highly encouraged. 


  • Falsifiability — describe internal and external facts. Facts can be falsifiable with a yes/no question on whether it happened or not. Falsifiable: “I only have two hours per day to work on my project”. Not-falsifiable: “I have no time to work on my project.”
  • Nonjudgment — describe events, thoughts and feelings, avoiding inferences/deductions regarding their possible causes. Nonjudgment: “I feel demotivated”. Judgment: “Feeling demotivated is bad.”
  • Detail — describe contexts, events, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors with as much detail as possible, while being mindful of not violating the first two principles. 

Putting it all together — journaling while following the principles: 

I went to the supermarket. I met my boss Chris by chance. We spoke and he brought up my work. I thought, “Why can’t he leave me alone even when I am not at work?” I felt annoyed. I thought, “I don’t like feeling like this.” I felt angry. I thought, “I can’t stand getting annoyed anymore,” and then I thought, “I need to change jobs.”

Journaling while not following the principles: 

I was out and met Chris; he’s such a jerk. I can’t stand dealing with him. I need to quit this job.”

The ABC Process

ABC refers to a model of cognition based on the view that any life experience is constituted of a series of activating events, beliefs, and consequences (ABCs): Activating event → Beliefs → Consequences (emotions + behaviors).

The journaling process, however, follows a different sequence: 

  1. Start with the C (consequences): emotions and behaviors: writing down the emotion or behavior that you want to reflect upon, in the form of “I felt [insert emotion]” or “I did/behaved [insert behavior], applying the three principles (falsifiability, nonjudgment, and detail).
  2. Describe the A (activating event): Describe the situation you were in when you experienced the consequence from before, in the form of “This [insert event] happened” or “The situation was [insert situation or place], applying the three principles.
  3. Find out the Bs (beliefs): With the consequence and activating event at hand, try to remember the thought that you entertained in your reaction. Express it in the form of “I thought that [insert belief]”, applying the three principles. 
  4. Challenge the Bs (beliefs): You challenge a belief by evaluating its validity, doubting it, and finding a better alternative. Consider its flexibility, logic, congruence, and usefulness. 
  5. Write down good alternative Bs (beliefs): Ask yourself: Which alternative thought can I think? Which alternative thought is logical, reality-based, flexible, and useful in pursuing my goals and feeling good? The following table, also created by Ragnarson, illustrates this distinction well: 
Source: Ragnarson

In sum

Ragnarson did an incredible job putting together a comprehensive and detailed guide for cognitive journaling, addressing many of the nuanced points needed to start building this powerful self-reflection having and strengthening our self-reflection muscle. 

Well worth a read!

Cognitive Journaling [Ragnarson]

Fostering responsible action by peers and bystanders [Rowe]

I was hoping to write the post about the feedback ↔ self-reflection polarity this week, but upon attempting to do so, realized that it needs a bit more percolation time. So instead, I’m picking something slightly less cognitively taxing (for me). 

Still connected to the meta-theme of the previous post around diffusing the monolithic single-hierarchy org structure, I strongly believe that key behaviors that are typically attributed to leaders (at the top-tiers of the monolithic hierarchy) are in fact, basic acts of “good corporate citizenship” and we’ll be better seeing these behaviors democratized/spread out throughout our professional working community. While specialization/division-of-labor is essential to any large-scale collaboration effort, the purist form in which it is typically practiced has some painful drawbacks (more on that here). 

This rather abstract preamble is just meant to set the context that existed in my head when I encountered Mary Rowe’s work, and specifically: 

Fostering Responsible Action with Respect to Unacceptable Behavior: Systemic Options to Assist Peers and Bystanders 

Because it’s a concrete example of the more abstract point I was making above. Conflict resolution and dealing with violation of the group’s laws, norms and code of conduct is often viewed as the job of HR and managers. And it is. BUT. That does not mean that anybody else in the org, namely, peers and bystanders, don’t have a role to play as well. But as we all know too well, whether peers and bystanders will act is in many ways a byproduct of the context or system in which they operate. Under one set of circumstances, they tend to act. Under a different set, they won’t. Rowe set out to identify the attributes of the system that will increase the likelihood of peers and bystanders taking responsible action. In her own words: 

Peers and bystanders are important in organizations and communities. Peers and bystanders can help to discourage and deal with unacceptable behavior. They often have information and opportunities that could help to identify, assess and even manage a range of serious concerns. Their actions (and inactions) can “swing” a situation for good (or for ill)… [bystanders] often have multiple, idiosyncratic, and conflicting interests — and many feel very vulnerable. As a result, many potentially responsible bystanders do not take effective action when they perceive unacceptable behavior. Bystanders are often equated with “do-nothings.” However, many bystanders report thinking about responsible action, and say they have actually tried various responsible interventions… Many peers and bystanders might do better if they had a conflict management system that takes their needs into account. A central issue is that peers and bystanders — and their contexts — often differ greatly from each other. As unique individuals, they often need safe, accessible and customized support to take responsible action, in part because of their own conflicting motivations. They often need a trusted, confidential resource. They frequently seek options for action beyond reporting to authorities.

She first defined or decomposed taking action as a 4-step process: 

  1. Perceiving behavior that may be unacceptable
  2. Assessing the behavior
  3. Judging whether action is required
  4. Deciding whether and how to make a particular personal response (or responses.)

Which in turn allowed her to distill the key reasons for why bystanders do not act or come forward: 

  • The bystander does not “see” the unacceptable behavior
  • The bystander cannot or does not judge the behavior
  • The bystander cannot or does not decide if action should be taken
  • The bystander cannot or does not take personal action

Conversely, bystanders do take responsible action if: 

  • They see or hear of behavior they believe to be dangerous, especially if it seems like an emergency, and especially if they think that they or significant others are in immediate danger
  • They perceive that an apparent perpetrator intends harm, especially if that person is seen to have hurt or humiliated family members or people like themselves
  • They wish to protect a potential perpetrator from serious harm or blame 
  • They are angry, vengeful or desperate enough to ignore the “barriers to action”
  • They are certain about what is happening, and they believe they have enough evidence to be believed by the authorities

With the spectrum of drivers that discourage and encourage actions more clearly mapped out, she was able to identify and prescribe 8 systemic leverage points that are likely to create the context that will encourage bystander action: 

  1. Provide training and discussions sponsored and exemplified by senior leaders
  2. Build on safety and harassment as issues of special importance
  3. Share frequent and varied success stories
  4. Appeal to a variety of socially positive motives
  5. Discuss the potential importance of imperfect “evidence”
  6. Provide accessible, trusted resources for confidential consultation
  7. Provide safe, accessible and credible options for action
  8. Improve the credibility of formal options

If this is a topic that’s particularly relevant in your own organization, the full paper is well worth the read. 

Fostering responsible action by peers and bystanders [Rowe]

Care Pods [Enspiral]

Source: Boyatzis (2006)

A big hurdle in adopting alternative organizational “operating systems” (roles, responsibilities, etc.) instead of the traditional, single-hierarchy, authority-driven system has been the incomprehensiveness of those alternative systems. 

Some core elements of the collaborative efforts are simply left unaddressed by the alternative systems. Oddly enough, those gaps often have to do with the human aspects of the collaborative effort: compensation, performance management, hiring/firing, professional development, etc. — you know, the “easy” stuff…

So when I stumble upon a practice that seems to be filling some of these gaps, without relying on the traditional structures — it is certainly worth sharing.  

And such is the case with Enspiral’s Care Pods which offer a very compelling alternative for driving personal and professional development in a way that is not dependent on a manager (as-a-coach) role, or cumbersome feedback cycles. 

At their core, Care Pods aim to “operationalize”, or implement, Richard BoyatzisIntentional Change Theory (ICT) through a series of 8 sessions (that can then be run iteratively, in perpetuity) carried out by a small group of 4–6 people (aka the Core Pod). The slightly more detailed session plan with high-level agendas for each session and supporting exercises, is available in the original doc but here’s the summary of the summary: 

  • Session 1: Overview
  • Session 2: Getting started
  • Session 3: Ideal self
  • Session 4: Real self 
  • Session 5: Developing a learning plan for change
  • Session 6: Implementing the learning plan
  • Session 7: Care pod retrospective
  • Session 8: Iteration

To me, this seems implementation-ready in its current form and already a massive step up compared to the way 99% of organizations are handling personal and professional development today. It’d also offer a few additional tweaks to make it even better, in my opinion at least: 

  • I do think that this approach skews a bit too heavy towards the “self-reflection” pole of the “feedback”<->”self-reflection” polarity (more on this next week). What this means in practice, is that a thoughtful, well designed peer-feedback exercise that extends beyond the members of the Care Pod and carried out between sessions 3 and 4 can provide fantastic fodder for the formulation of a more accurate “real self” picture in session 4, leading to a more effective learning plan in session 5.
  • I would also either extend or split session 5 to create the space to introduce Immunity to Change as a core framework for understanding our “default” behavior, and using it to design behavioral experiments that are more likely to yield the change that we seek.
  • Lastly, I’d sprinkle in 1–2 purely “social” sessions, to strengthen connections between the Care Pod members in a more informal setting (drinks, dinner, some other outside-the-office activity). 

Net-net this is a fantastic practice that I’d be eager to implement in either the future org that I’ll join or the organizations that I’ll be consulting with. 

Care Pods [Enspiral]

Inclusive hiring: a short primer

As the debate about diversity metrics and quotas rages on, I’d like to share my attempt to find common ground and a path forward. 

To do that, let’s start by defining our “north star” first: 

A fully inclusive hiring effort is an effort in which we engage and attract all relevant candidates for the role, evaluate them fairly for exactly what the role requires (nothing more, nothing less) and give them a clear picture of what working at our company is like, so they can evaluate the opportunity fairly.

Note that it doesn’t include any references to diversity, identity, minority, etc. 

Now we can ask: what gets in the way of this ideal end-state? And the answer: our own “humanity”. Our susceptibility to certain biases in our thinking and actions which eventually manifest themselves as selection bias: either we end up selecting/rejecting candidates, or candidates selecting/rejecting us based on attributes, knowledge or actions that have no impact on their ability to do well in the role that we’re hiring for. 

Selection bias tends to creep up across 4 different dimensions of the hiring process. While they may have some overlap between them and are not fully mutually exclusive, discerning between them helps move us forward: 

  1. The way we attract/reach out to candidates
  2. The way we define what success in the role requires (and doesn’t require)
  3. The way we conduct the assessment of the candidate’s performance
  4. The way we evaluate the candidate’s performance in the assessment

With these dimensions in mind, we can now consider specific hiring practices and articulate their impact on helping us create a more inclusive hiring process. While these practices have a compounding impact when used together, they have little dependencies between them and can certainly be used in a more piecemeal or a-la-carte way.  

The list below is not comprehensive and I’m continuously adding to it, but I believe it to be a good start: 

Inclusive hiring: a short primer