Today's Reading


Have you ever bought a new car and then noticed every car on the road that looks like yours? This phenomenon is called reticular activation—a function of your brain that filters information. Your reticular activating system is at work when you are in a noisy room, someone mentions your name, and you snap to attention. You can use reticular activation to confirm the power of creating choice, connection, and competence.

Through reticular activation, you will probably see children through new eyes. A baby grabbing a spoon to feed himself—even when he can't find his mouth—is creating choice. A two-year-old who's talking to you when you're not looking at her creates connection by grabbing your face and turning it so she can see your eyes. A toddler learning to walk creates competence when he gets up after he falls, without crying—expressing his joy of learning something new and exciting.

You can also recognize how creating choice, connection, and competence plays a role when you are moved emotionally by a movie, book, or news story. In 2011, I teared up while watching a CNN interview of fourteen-year-old Malala Yousafzai. She had gained fame in Pakistan by speaking out for her rights. She claimed her right to play, sing, and go to the market. But her voice was loudest for her right to education, which was forbidden to females by the Taliban. She explained how her people needed her and how, by speaking out, she could make a difference, especially to young girls who she felt had the right to learn. My reticular activating system went on high alert: Malala was clearly articulating her need to create choice (to choose her own path), connection (to make a difference in the world), and competence (to learn, grow, and be educated).

A year later, Malala was shot in the head by a terrorist to silence her voice.

But she didn't die. Her story, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban, is an eloquent expression of our need for choice, connection, and competence. In 2014, she became the youngest person to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize. As an international advocate for children standing up for their rights, finding meaning in their lives, and making education a priority, Malala continues to inspire millions to create choice, connection, and competence.


Has someone ever tripped your trigger, pushing all the right buttons, and you didn't handle it well? Unfortunately, my story—how I failed to self-regulate and eroded any chance of creating choice, connection, and competence—may sound too familiar.

A director of sales, whom we will call Stacy because that's her real name, asked me to consult as a subject-matter expert (SME) with a potential new client. We'll call the potential client Diane, which isn't her real name. Stacy scheduled a one-hour call for 2:00 p.m. the following Wednesday. I prepared diligently, as I don't take being an SME lightly. I studied the notes Stacy sent me. I reviewed information about the organization from a variety of sources, including its website and latest annual report. I took the time to generate thoughtful ideas to discuss.

Stacy and I were on the call early to be sure we were prepared. At 2:10 p.m., Stacy pinged Diane to see if there was a problem or misunderstanding about the time. We were about to give up when a beep-beep announced Diane was finally joining the call. Stacy graciously greeted Diane: "Diane, I am so glad you could make the call today. As you know, I invited Susan Fowler, our subject-matter expert on motivation and engagement, to discuss ideas with you. She's read the notes from our previous meeting and done her homework, but first, let me introduce you and clarify your expectations for today."

Before Stacy could complete her introduction, Diane interrupted: "Stacy, I don't have time for this. I have a hard stop at 2:30. Besides, I have changed my mind. I've decided to go in a different direction."

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