live it active

Manage people? The Big Cheese? Read this.

I’ve been reading a lot about motivation lately. If you’re in need of an interesting read, I suggest Drive by Daniel Pink. It’s well-written, well-researched, and engaging.

For quite some time (a seriously long time), employers and managers have utilized the stick and carrot method to get people to do things. Do something right, you get the reward…perhaps a carrot (likely only if you’re a horse). Do something wrong, you get punished…a wee bit of stick.  It’s the way to go, right? Wrong.

The three most important things when it comes to motivating people, according to Pink, are autonomy, mastery and purpose. As an employee, I am fortunate to have a boss who allows me to work and make decisions independently, develop my skills and work towards mastering a number of business functions. In addition, I feel a great sense of purpose and direction from the work I do. Most of us understand the importance of these factors within our own lives. So why, when we move into the management role, do we so often forget these three factors? Why do we typically revert back to the stick and carrot method? Here are some examples of an old school management style:

  • Establishing and maintaining strict work hours for employees
  • Watching the punch clock – Who’s late? Who’s on time? Who’s taking a longer break?
  • Generating motivation through external reward, usually money
  • Placing time pressure on creative tasks

For those who are managers you may be squirming in your seats and saying “but if I don’t do this, people will take advantage of me, Morgan!” Maybe. Likely not. I’ve had the pleasure of working in three environments that did not rule the old school way – the employee engagement was unbelievable. Staff were willing to work longer hours or on the weekend to finish projects. They wanted to go the extra mile. And the retention level – unprecedented.

Research has shown time and time again that the stick and carrot method doesn’t work. In fact, it tends to do the opposite of what you want. Employees start to resent the control that you’ve placed on them. They only do exactly what is asked and nothing else. Their willingness to help on projects outside their daily tasks is non-existent.

There’s no doubt that some individuals, a fairly small group, are completely governed and motivated by external reward. I’m talking very few. And yes, you may have 1-2 employees who will take advantage of flexible hours and other perks, but the benefits will largely outweigh the costs.

Employers who have implemented “results-only-work-environments” or ROWEs, the brainchild of Cali Ressler and Jody Thompson, can speak to the positive returns. Gmail, Google Talk, Google Sky and Google Translate are all products derived from a ROWE environment where engineers are given the opportunity to spend 20% of their time on unique projects – projects that have nothing to do with their regular work. ROWEs, as the name clearly suggests, focus solely on the results. Such environments do not care when or how the work is done, but the end product. Employees working in these environments experience lower stress levels relative to those in non-ROWE environments and a greater work/life balance. And, as the majority of us know, a reduced stress level can have significant and positive impacts in all facets of work and life.

So why are stuck on the stick and carrot? It can be attributed to a number of reasons:

  • Fear of change
  • Why change something that, from an outside view, seems to work
  • It won’t work in all environments (true, but it will work in a large number of them)
  • Fear of being taken advantage of
  • Fear of change
  • Fear of change
  • Fear of change

I think the greatest barrier to implementing a ROWE is, you guessed it, fear of change. We humans don’t like change all that much and prefer the confines of routine. While routine is often beneficial, it can also lead to stagnation – something that all businesses want to avoid.

If you’re the big cheese, how do you motivate staff? Do you develop intrinsic motivation (the best kind) within your staff by fostering an environment that encourages autonomy, mastery and purpose? Or are you still reliant on the old stick and carrot? Be honest with yourself. Regardless of your answer, find a way to become a stronger leader (even if you’re already pretty awesome). I’d encourage you to take a chance and have some faith in the work ethic and loyalty of your employees. They deserve it.



What if money didn’t matter?

I watched a short, yet very profound movie this morning that begs the question, “What would you like to do if money were no object?”

The narrator explains that he regularly poses this question to students wrapping up a degree who are unsure of what they want to do. He asks them “how would you really enjoy spending your life?” Watch below to hear what students said…

So what would you do?

And why aren’t you doing it?

As cliche as my next words will sound I must say them – do what you love. Don’t wait until your kids grow up or your mortgage is paid off. Don’t wait because you’re too afraid of failure. Do what you love and do it now.




Book Review: Stress Solutions for Pregnant Moms

Don’t get excited folks, I’m not pregnant. I wrote a post during the summer on the topic of healthy fetal brain development and shortly thereafter was contacted by a publicist to review this particular book.

As the title suggests, this book is directed at pregnant moms. Midway through the book, I came to the conclusion that this book should be directed at women contemplating motherhood in the near future. Let me explain.

The author, Dr. Susan Andrews, does an excellent job of explaining stress and its numerous consequences on both the mom and the baby (within the womb and after birth). While the author is a clinical neuropsychologist, the use of academic language is kept to a minimum, making this book applicable and enjoyable to a wide audience. I would have liked a little more reference to research, especially in the section “Childhood Problems Related to Stress”; however, the book is well laid out and makes a strong case for reducing stress during pregnancy.

The author references the internationally known Avon Study or more commonly, the Children of the 90s study. This cohort study is following children born between 1991 and 1992, documenting every facet of their life from pregnancy, birth, to adulthood. Researchers are investigating how the individual genotype combines with environmental pressures and the effect on health and development.

Andrews references a finding from the Avon study that prenatal anxiety (anxiety experienced by the mom while pregnant) is predictive of emotional and behavioural issues at age 4, independent of postnatal depression or anxiety in the mom. More specifically, mothers with the highest anxiety rating (measured at 18 and 32 weeks of gestation) were 2-3x more likely to have a child with significant emotional problems and attention and conduct problems at age 4. Andrews does reiterate that high stress moms will not always have a child with emotional or conduct problems; the association is not causal, but that the risk increases the higher a mom’s stress and anxiety level.

Some of you may be wondering how anxiety was measured in this particular study. Anxiety was determined by the Crisp Crown Index of Phobic Anxiety that asks questions such as “Do you find yourself worrying about getting some incurable illness”. Each and every one of us will experience bouts of stress and anxiety throughout our lives, but the anxiety referenced here is much more severe and often debilitating. Furthermore, women who reported high anxiety during pregnancy are likely anxious by nature – they were anxious long before pregnancy and will likely remain so without an intervention of sorts. Throughout the book, Andrews makes it clear that her concern is not with the natural stress response we experience on a daily basis, but stress that has become chronic – when the flight/fight/freeze response never dissipates.

Thankfully, Andrews doesn’t just talk about how stress is bad, she actually provides the reader with tangible and practical solutions to address the issue. Andrews has created her own survey assessment tool and formula to help pregnant moms get a sense of how much stress they experience on a regular basis and how they can address it.

The first survey, The Baseline Stress Level Scale, measures, as the name suggests, one’s baseline stress level using a rating scale from “never” to “always”. Questions include, “I feel guilty about resting or taking time for myself” and “My mind restlessly moves from one thought to the next”. The second survey, the Daily Hassles Worksheet, asks the reader to document the number of hours dedicated to a particular daily hassle. For example, I may give “Feeling aggravated or frustrated” a rating of ‘3’ which corresponds with 2-3 hours. After completing the two surveys, readers then tally their score. Using Andrew’s formula, the reader determines how many relaxation points they need to accumulate per day to counter their baseline stress + daily hassles. Andrew’s even provides you with a fairly comprehensive list of stress-reducing activities which she outlines in detail at the end of the book.

My score on both surveys left me feeling rather…stressed. And I can only imagine, if pregnant, I would have felt even more stressed. Thus my suggestion, that this book be directed at women contemplating motherhood in the near future, is to prevent the response that Andrews so fervently wants to mitigate. If stress is as harmful as the research says it is (which it is), women need to start making changes prior to becoming pregnant. In fact, stress can significantly hamper a couples efforts to become pregnant, so women need to get things in check prior to the initiating the process of conceiving. Similar to the suggestion from my new doctor, that I should start taking folate now to ensure the healthy brain development of my future child (seriously, this isn’t happening for a while folks), doctors should be recommending to anxious women (and men, as Dads have a significant impact on their partner’s stress level) to start engaging in relaxation techniques long before getting pregnant.

Recently, I had the pleasure of becoming an aunt. The mother and father have the gift of a relatively calm baby. A baby who likes to sleep, on a fairly regular schedule, and is already smiling in response to mom and dad. The relative calmness of this baby, I believe, is reflective of the environment she experienced in the womb. The mom, a calm woman by nature and a woman that ensured a calm environment for her baby for all nine months, is a clear example of what Andrews speaks to throughout her book.

In summary, Andrews provides her readers with a practical solutions to monitoring and addressing stress during pregnancy. Even better, the strategies implemented during pregnancy can be continued long after to create an even more relaxed mom, baby, and family as a whole. Her straightforward writing style helps keep readers engaged. My only suggestion, target women in the contemplation phase of becoming pregnant. Give soon-to-be moms the opportunity to assess, monitor and take steps to address their stress level which, in turn, will give the baby the appropriate chance they deserve.

Overall, I highly recommend the book. It’s beneficial for anyone, regardless of pregnancy status. And Dad’s (or partners), I recommend the read. As Andrew’s suggests, with a better understanding of the consequences of unmitigated stress, partners can take on the role of the coach (a friendly one) and help soon-to-be moms establish routine, manage stress, and find some peace each and everyday.


How to relieve low back pain

My back and hip flexors have been in agony lately. It’s not as though I am living an overly active life at the moment – I skied on the weekend, run 2 times per week, and get to the gym for weights at least 1-2 times. If I’m lucky, I’ll get some Zumba in as well (1-2 per month at the moment). But these activities are nothing new.

What I am doing a lot more of is sitting. I sit all day at work and then I come home and sit in the evening.

Last night after stretching for close to 1-2 hours (while watching re-runs of Scrubs…hilarious show) I was fed up. I drank 1/2 a glass of wine to relax my muscles and…nothing. Before going to bed, I took an Advil. I know, I know, bad form mixing alcohol and drugs, but I was desperate. This morning I woke up with the same tightness and decided to take a bath. Still nothing.

It seems as though I am completely out of options but alas, I am not. There are a few other tricks I’ve got to try before I allow hopelessness to set in.

Over the course of the next 3 weeks I pledge to do the action items listed below. At the end of three weeks I will update you on whether these actions helped to alleviate the tightness and pain I am currently experiencing in my low back and left hip flexor.

  • Stretch every morning, afternoon and night (following a light warm-up of course). This video gives 5 different stretches for the back – I did them all last night and plan to for the next 3 weeks.
  • Get back to a regular Yoga schedule – I have no excuse as my gym is literally a block away and there is a Bikram studio two blocks away. NO EXCUSE.
  • Remember to stretch my hamstrings and glutes. Tight hamstrings can have a major impact on your low back.
  • Take more walking and standing breaks at work. I am fairly vigilant about this; however, I can be better.
  • Increase my lunchtime activity. I try to run 1x per week but over the next 3 weeks I plan to increase my activity to 2x per week. This may be running or walking.

Hopefully the information collected in this mini, quasi study will provide you with some tips and tricks to help alleviate your own low back pain. If you already have a few tips and tricks, please feel free to share!

Happy Wednesday!



Skiing burns how many calories?

Winter is upon us…well, in more northern parts of Canada. For some, i.e. my family, it is still a balmy 15 degrees. Add a negative to that number and you’ve got a taste of what we’re being hit with out west and slightly to the north.

This weekend we went skiing. That’s right, it’s ski season out here. While I may be a bit apprehensive of enduring a 6-8 month winter, I am fairly certain that regular trips to the mountains to ski down their snowy slopes will help to keep me in good form – both mentally and physically.

As winter approaches we tend to go into a milder version of torpor. Our activity levels become drastically reduced to what they were in the summer. Yes, we may be heading to the gym a little more regularly, but we’re not walking to dinner or the library. We’re driving. And I get it. I walked home in -19 on Friday and my face was the colour of a tomato and unable to move in certain locations upon my arrival home. Baby, it’s cold outside.

Yet, as I mentioned in a previous post, we need us some vitamin D (Mom, I know that’s bad grammar, I’m doing it on purpose). Thus, it;s important that we brave the cold every now and then.

As motivation, if getting adequate amounts of vitamin D and improving your physical and mental health isn’t enough, I thought I would provide you with the caloric expenditures of a variety of winter activities. Perhaps the number will help you to dress yourself (warmly) and head outside.

The information presented below has been taken from the Compendium of Physical Activity which is a long long list of all activities under the sun and their respective intensity level. It’s important to note that while this compendium has proven helpful in the scientific community, it is not a perfect science and thus, there will be some error.

The compendium expresses intensity as a metabolic equivalent of task (MET). A MET value indicates the intensity that a person is working at for a given activity which can be translated into oxygen consumption (ml/kg/min) or caloric expenditure (kcal/kg/hr). To give you an idea of intensity range:

  • 0-0.99 METs – Sedentary
  • 1.0 – 2.99 METs – Light intensity
  • 3.0 – 5.99 METs – Moderate intensity
  • > 6 METs – High intensity

Now that you have a better sense of what a MET means, let’s look at the METs for a given winter activity:

  • Skating (general) – 7 METs
  • Cross-country skiing (moderate at 4 – 4.9 mph) – 8 METs
  • Skiing downhill (moderate) – 6 METs
  • Sledding – 7.0 METs
  • Snowshoeing – 8.0 METs
  • Sitting in a church, attending a ceremony – 1 MET (just in case you’re interested…it was the next activity on the list after snowshoeing)

They’re all fairly high intensity activities, minus the church going. To figure out the caloric expenditure for each activity, take a look at the formula below.

An easy formula to figure out caloric expenditure is as follows:

kcal = (Intensity (METs) x bodyweight (kg)) / 60 min

Let’s calculate how much I would have burned during my day of skiing this weekend.

Kcals burned during downhill skiing = (6 METs x 64 kg (my bodyweight)) / 60 min

= 384 / 60

= 6.4 kcal / min or 384 kcal per hour

Thus, in just four hours, I burned approximately 1526 calories. And I had an absolute blast doing it.

So get out there and brave the cold. Your mind and body will thank you.

Happy winter!


Smartphone Apps – Could they be life saving?

Are you the proud owner of a Smartphone? If so, you are part of the Canadian majority with approximately 54% Canadians owning one of these ego-boosting, ever-useful, shiny hand gadgets. We’ve come along way in a short period of time. In 1995, my family was exposed to the world wide web – a very exciting time for my grade 3 self…well, not really. It was exciting, but I had a very limited understanding of what it all meant. In just 17 years we have advanced to the technological world we live in today, spending an average of 2.8 hours per day on our Smartphones. I’m excited/nervous to see what the future holds for us.

Many of you will have a number of applications (apps) on your respective Smartphones. I assume the majority are collecting metaphorical dust, especially any of the health related ones (if you do in fact use one, please tell me which one). It seems, however, that health apps may be changing. That’s right, people may actually start to use them.

Researchers at Mount Sinai Hospital-University Network have been investigating a new and interactive app for Blackberry. The Smartphone app is connected to a blood pressure cuff. When reminded, by their Smartphones no less, participants take their blood pressure and the cuff sends the reading to the phone, providing information for the participant and the researcher. If a reading is dangerously high, their doctor will be notified.

Over the course of a year, researchers have documented a significant drop in participants blood pressure relative to those in the control group. To quote Cafazzo (one of the researchers), “in real terms, it means their risk of cardiovascular mortality has dropped by 20 per cent”. That’s a significant drop.

While one participant found the constant reminders and readings somewhat anxiety inducing, another commented that this has been one of the best experiences of her life.  With the reminders and the instant feedback, this participant began to clearly understand the relationship between her eating/lifestyle habits and blood pressure.

In theory, I like this idea, but I’m uncertain about the longevity. It definitely has more staying power than most other devices and products due to the fact that we take our Smartphones everywhere. They are our small, rectangular babies after all. Yet, people get bored. They become agitated with reminders and alarms. Well, I do. How long will it take someone to turn off the app or delete it altogether?

Perhaps this extrinsic motivator leads to the development of intrinsic motivation. Perhaps users, initially motivated by the sound of the alarm and the pleas of the researcher, develop a better understanding of their body and the necessity to take care of it. They may even begin to like the feelings associated with improved self-care – improved mood, more energy, better sleep, weight loss.  Thus, perhaps this tool will help to foster the necessary internal motivation to stick with it. If that’s the case (which I sincerely hope they are measuring) than there is definite hope for this type of app.

What do you think? Would you use the app?


Tell me, what’s your favourite position?

I am referring to weight-lifting position, just in case you needed some clarification…

Typically, I provide you with a Wednesday Workout tip, yet I am in need of some inspiration. I am asking you, my wonderful readers, what exercises, routines, activities you have been doing to stay fit and healthy. Feel free to comment on the post or send me an email. With your permission, I will write about your exercise/routine/activity on the following Wednesday Workout posts. Don’t worry, you’ll definitely get the credit.

Happy Wednesday!




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