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Next to perhaps a layoff, a performance review is probably
the least eagerly anticipated event in the office, both for the manager and the
employee. No one enjoys giving difficult feedback or receiving it. Worse yet,
studies have shown that reviews rarely result in improved performance.

While positive feedback is enjoyable, it doesn’t
improve performance because we’re internally driven to do the best we
can. Negative feedback either has no effect or makes performance worse.

According to brain science, the reason is that rather than
record our experience of the world, our minds create it. Each of us has our own
unique version of events. Managers tend to see things one way and employees
another, particularly when it comes to shortfalls in performance and the
feedback we use to address it.

Here’s how it works. Over our lifetimes, each of
us builds up a self-image, and a positive one is critical to our well-being. Feedback
in conflict with it creates an uncomfortable situation psychologists call href="">cognitive
dissonance. We are then motivated to do everything we can to reduce the
dissonance, and we take the path of least resistance.

While we could admit we’re just not as good as we
thought we were, it’s much easier to rationalize or discount the
feedback instead. So we either blame the shortfall in performance on factors
beyond our control, like defective customers, or we discount the source of the
feedback. We are not the problem, we reason, but our bosses.

So the effect of the manager’s feedback is not at
all what is intended. For example:

“This review is an opportunity to
offer you a little feedback to help you improve.”

Your employee thinks: “This review is an
opportunity to blame your failings as a manager on me.”

You say: “Your performance is not meeting
expectations in this area.”

Your employee thinks: “God couldn’t
meet your ridiculous expectations.”

Even just a seemingly objective observation doesn’t
produce what’s expected.

You say: “You didn’t meet your
sales goals for the year.”

Your employee thinks: “How could anyone
sell such lousy products?”

Nor does the discussion of the objectives for the following
year work any better.

You say: “Here are your goals for next

Your employee thinks: “Once again, I’m
being set up to fail.”

When salary is discussed in the same meeting as performance,
the employee hears even less of what’s being said. They’re
focused on what’s important to them, and that’s their

The only solution is to turn management on its head.
Overcome the perceptual conflicts by reversing the roles. Let the employee
drive the discussion by asking, rather than telling, when it comes to both
performance feedback and goal setting.

Have the employees do their own appraisal prior to the
review. Then start the discussion not with your evaluation of their
performance, but with the question, “How did you do last year?”
Questions force people to come to terms with what is being said, so they avoid
the problem of misinterpretation.

Where there are shortfalls, ask the employees to come up
with ways to address them. Not only will they have some interesting ideas, they
will be far more willing to own them and take responsibility for their success.
The same psychological dynamic holds when employees generate their own

This isn’t turning the asylum over to the inmates.
Whether it’s performance evaluation, development plans, or
objectives, it’s still your prerogative to decide if they are
adequate. When you make your decision, however, it only makes sense to
incorporate the employee’s view.

Not only does this leverage the way the mind works, it’s
a much easier and less stressful way to manage. The responsibility for managing
performance is placed where it belongs — on the employee. The manager
is no longer the driver, but the coach.

But you can’t ask questions the way a prosecutor
cross-examines a hostile witness. The employee will become even more defensive.
Since the tone of voice and body language must be in sync with the words, you
must really believe your role is to coach your people to success. There’s
no way to fake it.

While this approach will work with the overwhelming majority
of people, there are some that just won’t own up to their
responsibilities. Should you encounter one, you then need to deliver a straight
message, but only as a last resort.

This doesn’t mean that you don’t hold
people rigorously accountable for results. In fact, it’s much easier
when they’re the ones setting the objectives and evaluating
performance. But sometimes as managers, the best we can do for people is to
give them the opportunity to pursue career options elsewhere.

Charles S. Jacobs is
the founder of the Amherst Consulting Group, founder and managing partner of
Partners, and the author of “Management Rewired: Why
Feedback Doesn't Work and Other Surprising Lessons from the Latest Brain

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I tried the 'The Miracle Morning' productivity routine for a month. Here's what happened.

It was just a few weeks into when I began to feel overwhelmed. I’d already written out my goals for the new year, along with monthly intentions and daily to-do’s that would help me achieve them. I’d accomplished (almost) everything I’d set out to do the year before, and I’d set the bar high for

However, as January wore on, I wasn’t feeling as energized and productive as I wanted to be. And I think I knew why.

Like many millennials, I found myself beginning each day by looking at my phone. I’d sit in bed, scroll through social media, and check email, losing track of time as the minutes ticked by. Then at the last possible moment, I’d leap up and hurry to a workout class, call into a meeting or hop on my computer.

I also work from home as a freelance writer, which means I essentially set my own schedule. This flexibility is lovely in many ways, but it also lends itself to procrastination and a lack of productivity far too often. I simply wanted to feel more motivated and energized to get up every morning and go after my goals — not sit in bed and scroll.


A Solution to the Productivity Problem

When a friend told me about "The Miracle Morning", a popular productivity book by Hal Elrod, I was intrigued. First published in , the book promises to reveal a “not-so-obvious secret” that’s “guaranteed to transform your life” — before 8 a.m.

The author claims his book has transformed the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, helping them wake up each day “with more energy, focus, and motivation” to tackle their goals.

And Elrod seems to know what he’s talking about. Despite multiple challenges in life, including two brushes with death and bankruptcy, Elrod became an ultramarathoner, international keynote speaker, author, and grateful husband and father, all by age

As I downloaded the book and began reading. I was sold. I wanted to “level up my life,” as Elrod calls it. I wanted to feel productive, happy, and healthy each morning when I woke up, as he promised. I wanted to experience success in all areas of my life, and achieve every audacious goals I’d set for myself in

I began February with a mission in mind: Complete the “Miracle Morning” routine every day — and see how it (hopefully) transforms my life.

The Six Practices of the Miracle Morning

Below is a brief overview of the six practices in the "Miracle Morning" routine. Elrod abbreviates them as “S. A. V. E. R. S.” and says they’re “guaranteed to save you from a life of unfulfilled potential.”

1. Silence

I know, it sounds sort of silly to wake up, then just sit silently. But, given that meditation has a nearly endless list of proven health benefits for your body and mind — from less stress and anxiety to more creativity and clarity — there’s clearly more to sitting in silence than it seems.

My take: For my “silence” practice, I recommitted to Calm, a daily meditation app. I’ve used it on and off in the past, and I’ve always enjoyed the minute morning meditations (whenever I managed to press play!).

2. Affirmations

An affirmation is a sentence or two in alignment with what you want to accomplish and who you need to be to accomplish it. Elrod suggests repeating your affirmation daily, ideally out loud. “They immediately make an impression on your subconscious mind,” he explains. “They transform how you think and feel so you can overcome your limiting beliefs and behaviors and replace them with those you need to succeed.”

My take: I wrote out my affirmation and taped it above my desk: “I’m an accomplished, successful writer, author, and speaker. My work helps others feel less alone, and empowers them to make the choices and decisions that lead them to their best life.”

3. Visualization

Via visualization, you train your brain to see things as you would like them to be instead of as they are. Elrod says that for five minutes, you should “visualize living your ideal day, performing all tasks with ease, confidence and enjoyment.”

My take: In addition to picturing my “ideal day,” I also tried to visualize my affirmation coming true — becoming that “future self” I so wanted to be.

4. Exercise

Yep, you knew this was coming. However, you don’t need to run 8 miles or even go to the gym at all (unless you want to). “Exercise” can be something as simple as a minute yoga routine or set of bodyweight exercises you do on your living room floor. You just need to get moving and get the blood and oxygen flowing to the brain, Elrod says.

My take: I typically do a yoga class or work out at the gym in the mornings. So I saved this practice for last on the list — you can change the order of the practices in order to suit your schedule, Elrod says. If I didn’t make it to a class, I would do a quick yoga video at home.

5. Reading

This practice fast tracks transformation in any part of your life, Elrod says. “Don’t reinvent the wheel,” he reminds us. “The fastest way to achieve everything you want is to model successful people who have already achieved it.” He recommends a minimum of 10 pages per day, and suggests choosing a personal development book or a religious text.

My take: I tend to read more at night, so I chose a book with bite-size daily meditation passages, called Journey to the Heart by Melody Beattie. Reading her inspirational stories and heartwarming advice was a wonderful way to start my day off on the right foot.

6. Scribing

Scribing just means “writing,” but a “W” would have ruined the acronym. This could mean journaling, jotting down ideas, making a gratitude list — really, putting whatever is on your mind on paper (or on a screen!)

My take: I went with the virtual version of a journal — the Google Doc. I opened up a new document, wrote “Scribing” at the top, and left it open on my computer at night so I’d be prompted to start writing in the morning.


My Top 5 Miracle Morning Takeaways

1. You can actually “trick” yourself into feeling more energized in the morning.

This was probably my biggest breakthrough, as someone who loves sleep. Even at age 30, I savor sleeping in on weekends, and getting in bed at night is often the best part of my day. But I still wish I had more energy in the mornings. Luckily, Elrod says this is possible — even on less sleep than you’re used to.

“Whether you currently consider yourself to be a ‘morning person’ or not, you’re going to learn how to make waking up every day easier than it’s ever been before,” he writes. To do so, he suggests setting an intention at night that you’ll feel energized and excited to take on your day when you wake up in the morning. This can essentially trick your mind into feeling more awake. “The mind-body connection is a powerful thing,” Elrod notes.

Believe it or not, the mind game worked. It was a bit jarring for my alarm to go off at 7 a.m. the first morning, but after just two or three days, I started waking up naturally before my alarm. As soon as I woke up, I would tell myself I was excited and grateful for a new day. And sure enough, I began to feel far less groggy and way more awake in the mornings.

2. Meditation — or simply sitting in silence — helps calm an anxious mind.

For my “silence” practice, I choose to listen to Calm, a meditation app. I used to have more of a meditation routine, but it had fallen off. And luckily, as I rediscovered it, I remembered how much I loved these little moments of silence, introspection and simply breathing. Even when things got stressful (more on that below!), I still made time for mediation throughout the month.

3. Keeping a routine when life gets crazy feels nice — but also impossible at times.

About a week into February, I fell while skiing and tore my ACL — a pretty major injury. Unsurprisingly, my daily structure and schedule got a bit off track after that. However, after taking the weekend off from the Miracle Morning when it happened, I found myself happy to begin again on Monday.

With way too many thoughts going through my mind (I need to schedule physical therapy! When will I get surgery? Will I be able to dance at my friend’s wedding in April?), it was refreshing to return to a routine when I was feeling stressed. In particular, the meditation sessions helped me keep things in perspective and start my crazy days feeling relatively calm.

That said, trying to build in six new practices into my mornings was sometimes a bit too much to handle during such a disruptive time. Between doctor’s visits and physical therapy sessions, an injury sucks up a lot of time, as I quickly learned.

So I’ll be honest: There were several days during my Miracle Morning month when I didn’t get to do some (or all) of the steps in the routine. Plus, I quickly fell off with the “scribing” habit. As a writer in my “day job,” the prospect of writing down my thoughts when I wake up started to seem like an unnecessary hassle during such a busy time in my life.

4. Affirmations and visualization work.

Here’s where things got really interesting. I have been wanting to write a book for quite some time. The #1 goal I had written down for ? “Submit proposal and write book.” I had planned to start on the proposal in the spring, and hoped to have a fully written manuscript by the end of the year. And if you recall, I also wrote out and repeated, “I am an author,” during the affirmation step.

Well, just about one week into my Miracle Morning month, I received an email from an editor at a nonfiction publishing house. She asked if I’d be interested in writing a book. And three weeks later, I have a book deal. While the book may not have been on a topic that I would have necessarily chosen, it’s a great start! And by the end of the year — November, in fact — I’ll be a published author with a book on the shelf.

Now, I’m not saying that writing down and visualizing a goal is all you need to do to make it happen. Obviously, years of hard work in my field also helped me get this book deal. But I think that this sort of “mystical” practice can be that final push we need for the universe to catch up and align with our goals.

5. Gratitude really can enhance your happiness.

Throughout The Miracle Morning, Elrod talks a lot about gratitude. “The simple act of writing down the things I was grateful for lifted my spirits,” he says. And science agrees: Many studies have shown that practicing gratitude can help people feel happier, less anxious and less depressed.

Whether or not you write out a gratitude list in the mornings, the mere act of focusing on the good things in your life — rather than the negatives — every morning can truly change your mindset, as I quickly discovered.

When the skiing accident happened, I could have let my dark thoughts and fears take over my mindset. Instead, I immediately started listing the things I was grateful for — even as I was lying there in the snow! I was grateful that it wasn’t a worse accident. I was grateful for the man who waited with me until ski patrol came. I was grateful that I lived nearby. I was grateful for my friend who met me in the clinic and made me laugh as I awaited x-rays. Sure, my ski season may have ended, but I still had a lot to be thankful for.


Moving Forward

The tenets and theories behind the Miracle Morning routine are tried-and-true. There’s no doubt in my mind that these practices will enhance your life by boosting your productivity and improving your well-being. But in reality? Integrating six new habits into your morning — especially during a chaotic time — can just feel like added stress.

In the future, I plan to continue to incorporate much of the Miracle Morning into my life. And some mornings, when I have enough time and I feel like I need a bit of a reset, sure, perhaps I’ll do all six. But for now, when it’s just about all I can do to check things off my ever-growing to-do list, I’m planning to stick to the four practices that are working for me: silence, affirmations, visualization, and exercise, and I’ll continue to add in reading and writing when I can.


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CTC: Circulating tumor cell; RT-PCR: Reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction; EMT: Epithelial-mesenchymal transition; MET: Mesenchymal-epithelial transition; TRAIL: Tumor necrosis factor-related apoptosis-inducing ligand; CEA: Carcinoembryonic antigen; CUP: Cancer of unknown primary; CAP: College of American Pathologists; AMP: Association for Molecular Pathology; ASCO: American Society of Clinical Oncology.


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