What you’ll learn in this podcast:
- Science Says—Learn about a intervention for building self-compassion, self-efficacy, and self-regulation.
- Life Hack—What does it mean to become more compassionate to oneself?
- Practitioner’s Corner—Learn about a movement that is helping people all over the world spread the word that other people matter.
Read the interview from the Practitioner’s Corner:
Emiliya: Hello everyone, and join me in welcoming Cheryl Rice to today’s Practitioner Corner. Cheryl Rice is a leadership coach, author, social entrepreneur, and a speaker. She is coming in to us from right outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Cheryl is the proud parent of a dog named Gracie, a cat named Boa, and two beautiful stepchildren. She is doing some really, really remarkable work in the world that I’m so excited to share with you guys.
A little known fact about Cheryl is that, while she’s doing all sorts of work in the world and spreading positive psychology, she also looks to make an impact in the smallest of ways, including that she’s a litter picker-upper. When she’s walking down the street and she sees something that doesn’t belong there, she’s the type of person that will just go up and throw it away, which, someone who is a dog owner, who seems to think that cigarette butts look like the same shape as her dog treats, I very much appreciate that Cheryl. On behalf of other dog owners out there, we thank you for the litter picking-upping that you do in the cities. Cheryl, we’re so excited to have you here.
Cheryl: Thank you Emiliya. It is a pleasure and a privilege to be here.
Emiliya: Cheryl, tell us a little bit about how you got started in positive psychology.
Cheryl: I actually got started in positive psychology years ago, when I was exposed to Martin Seligman’s work. I actually followed him from the beginning, when he was positing the theory of learned helplessness, and then I just continued to follow his work in positive psychology and had the pleasure of actually auditing a class he did at Penn years ago. This was well before there was positive psychology programs and certificates. Then, after my youngest went back to college, or left for college, I decided it was time for me to really take a deeper dive into the area of positive psychology, not just as a layperson, but as a practitioner. That’s when I signed up for The Flourishing Center’s Positive Psychology Certificate program, and, boy, did it change my life.
Emiliya: Thank you, Cheryl. Tell us, what are some of the ways in which you’ve been applying positive psychology personally?
Cheryl: Hmm, well, personally I would say I used the techniques I learned in gratitude every single day. I am a gratitude journaler. I list three things at the end of every day that I’m grateful for, and I also add why I’m grateful and what my contribution may have been to elicit that experience that I’m grateful for. I found, actually, that doing that leads me in my days to be more mindful of, “Oh, that’s something I want to include in my gratitude journal tonight.” It’s not just become a task, but really a way of being and enhancing my experience of life as it flows.
Another aspect of positive psychology that’s really permeated my day-to-day life is kind of ironic. I’m going to say sleep. Sleep hygiene has improved monumentally, and I just love the different behaviors that I can do, such as keeping a sleep and wake schedule that are consistent. For instance, I now sleep with darkening shades on my eyes. I look pretty hideous, but it does help me to get a good night’s sleep. Having some sleep hygiene practices has been a big deal.
I would say, sometimes I do suffer from anxiety moments of thinking what if. What if this presentation doesn’t go well? What if this podcast doesn’t go well, and I’ve found the technique of looking at best and worst thing that could happen, and then looking at what actually might be happening, helps me in the moment reframe and get with reality and perform at my best.
Emiliya: That is so beautiful. Thank you for sharing that, Cheryl, and a reminder that positive psychology is about those moments, or the specific little contributions that we make little by little by little, to put the science into practice, and those are great practices. Thank you.
I’m curious how positive psychology has set up your trajectory. You’ve created a marathon, a social movement. Tell us more about the You Matter Marathon, and what you’re up to professionally.
Cheryl: Well, I’d be delighted to tell you about the You Matter Marathon, because it’s astounded me, to be honest, and basically the best way I can tell you about it is with a story. About two years ago, now, a colleague gave me a business-sized card with only the words You Matter on it. I really felt, at the time she gave me the card, that I’d been hugged. I came back home, and I ordered my own cards off of Vistaprint, and I started giving them out, first just to family and friends, who were delighted when they received a card, and then I started sharing the cards in my community to people who make a difference, and I see regularly, but I may not always take the time to acknowledge, like the person who sells me my fruit at the farmer’s market, or my dry cleaner.
Then I started getting a little mischievous and leaving the cards in places where I wouldn’t know who would find them, but frankly I took great delight in imagining the person, for instance, at the gas station, when I would put a card in the credit card holder at the gas station, just imagining the next person … They fill up their tank of gas and get a You Matter card. I was enjoying that, when one day I was in my local grocery store, and I was standing in the checkout line, behind a woman, who looked to be in her mid 60s. It was clear the cashier knew her just a little bit. The cashier asked her how she was doing, and she said, “Not so good.” She looked down. She said, “My husband just lost his job, and my son is up to his old tricks again. I just don’t know how I’m going to get through the holidays.”
She went to pay with food stamps. At that moment, I didn’t know what to do. My heart ached for her, and I wasn’t sure. Was it appropriate to pay for her groceries, to ask for her husband’s resume? I didn’t do anything. She leaves the store, and I complete my transaction and check out. It just so happens, we’re both in the parking lot, the only ones there returning our carts. I went up to her and I said, “You know, I couldn’t help but overhear you’re going through a really hard time right now. I’m so sorry. I just want you to have this,” and I gave her a You Matter card. She started to cry, and she said, “You have no idea how much this means to me,” and we hugged.
Then I went back to my car, and I started to cry. It was at that moment … I mean, I really can’t convey the mix of feelings that I was experiencing in my tears. I just knew that this was profound and incredibly moving, and that we had had an interaction that wasn’t about her, and it wasn’t about me. It was something transcendent, to be quite honest with you, Emiliya. It was then I knew that I wanted other people. Other people needed to feel this.
Then, I had the great, great gift. My positive psychology class, through The Flourishing Center … We were called on to do a final project. I had, at that point, thought I was going to do something about incorporating positive psych in my work as a leadership coach, which is totally relevant, and I’m doing that. My classmates, who, of course, I had given You Matter cards to, really called me forth and said, “You know, Cheryl. There’s something about you and these cards. Can you think of a way of connecting these cards with your final project?” It was that interaction in the grocery store–combined with my classmates really saying, “Go for it; follow your heart, not your head”–that led to the idea of a You Matter Marathon where’d I’d invite people to give out one card a day during November with the goal at that time, which seemed like an incredibly challenging goal, of giving out 10,000 cards in November 2016.
Emiliya: Wow, Cheryl, and to date, I know that you’ve been doing your best to track how many lives might have been touched or at least how many cards have been printed and possibly given out. Can you tell us more about the ways you’ve been trying to match and track this impact?
Cheryl: Yes, one of the things we did to invite and incent people to participate is I said, “I will give you … I will mail you 30 cards for free, 30 You Matter cards for free, no matter where you are in the world, if you sign up.” Little did I know how many people would take me up on that offer, but, gratefully, over 14,000 people participated last year, and we gave out almost half a million cards. People from all 50 states and 59 countries participated in the marathon. When I say participate, that means that we had almost half a million card shares, but every card share, again, is an interaction between two people.
That number is conservative, Emiliya, because people still come up to me and they tell me, or they write to me and say, “I continued to order more cards on my own.” That’s a conservative number, and I’m really more than proud. I’m in awe of it and the amount of people who want to spread this vital, vital, vital message. That’s what we know. This year, our goal is to share one million cards during November. We can talk a little bit later, if you’d like, about how people can get involved and be part of the magic.
Emiliya: Wow, Cheryl, incredible. Thank you so much. I know that you’ve also received some profound stories from those who have participated in the You Matter Marathon, about the impact that it’s made to them to, on the one hand, do a very simple act, which is to hand out a card that says, You Matter. On the other hand, it’s an act of vulnerability. You’ve heard some really profound stories. Can you share some of them with us?
Cheryl: Sure. One story that touched me greatly … This really speaks to you just never know, Emiliya. We have a Facebook community for You Matter Marathon, and people would share their experiences, day in and day out, of giving out the cards, and for some people, it was a real challenge to give a card to a “stranger,” and so they’d be encouraged by others to, well, start … Just give it to a friend or family member.
Interestingly, for other people, giving a You Matter card to a family member was even more of a challenge. One of the stories that touched me and, I know, our community members, greatly, was a woman, who was talking about her estrangement from her adult son, who had really had a difficult time grieving the loss of his father and got into some trouble that landed him in jail. He was estranged from his mom, and his mom was so afraid that their relationship was permanently severed.
He comes out of jail, and he’s living in a halfway house, and they had not been having good conversations. She, one day, risked giving him a You Matter card. He welled up with tears, and she said it was the first time she felt that they had connected in years, and that he actually asked for more cards, so he could give them to people in the halfway house. She said, now they’re on a path to reestablish a relationship. That just blew me away, moving, moving, moving.
Another story from a wonderful You Matter marathoner in New Zealand, who works with people whose spouses are dying and in hospice, and what she did was just so creative. She worked with her local pharmacy in New Zealand to have the pharmacist put You Matter cards in with the medicine, so when those caregivers came in to pick up their medicines for their loved one, who was dying, they also received You Matter cards, again. We have a picture of the pharmacist in New Zealand, with these You Matter cards.
Finally, a story from a woman, who works in community service out in California, and she works in a center that works on suicide prevention and gang prevention out there. She told me that, when she gave these cards to these gang members, that they just opened up in a way that they hadn’t. They felt seen and valued, and she said literally it had been the most successful program they’ve done in 40 years, was to share You Matter cards, which leads to the point. One point I want to make is people can sign up as individuals, Emiliya, and they can sign up as what we call ambassadors to groups, whether it be a church group, a school system, a company, or even a family. That’s one way that the You Matter magic gets spread out even further. Those are just three stories, and I could go on and on and on.
Emiliya: Thank you. I’m curious. When you use the words “you matter,” what does that mean to you?
Cheryl: That’s a great question. I’ve thought about this a lot, especially because the first You Matter card that was given to me had a heart on it, which is beautiful, and, as I said, it moved me. The cards we use in our design are a white card with black letters that say, “You Matter,” nothing else. That’s part of the power and the elegance of these words to me, is they are a complete sentence. You matter. In this case, and I can’t speak, Emiliya, to what’s in the heart of everybody who gives a You Matter card. From my perspective, and the message that I’m wanting to share in the world, is that we are all essential. It’s a way of saying, “I see you. I honor you. You are significant.”
It’s not, “I love you,” which his interesting, and sometimes we give it to people we love, but this message is independent of that. This message is saying, “I don’t even need to know if I like you.” It’s just saying, “As a human being, you’re a human being. What a miracle is that? That we happen to be human beings on the same planet at the same time, and we’re seeing each other on the same train platform,” or, “You give me my coffee every day, and it makes a difference to me.” It’s just honoring, honoring the inherent integrity of our humanity. That’s what this is saying, from my perspective, Emiliya.
Emiliya: Wow, thank you, Cheryl. Cheryl, I know that, as you have been going through this marathon and sharing this work with the world, you’ve been identifying all the many elements of positive psychology that are showing up in the stories that you here and the impact that it’s making. What are some of the positive psychology concepts that stand out the most for you?
Cheryl: Oh, there’s so many. This is why it’s such a big bang for the buck. If you’re a positive psychology person, this delivers, because one of the things it does is help broaden and build positive emotions. I believe this is the work of Barbara Fredrickson, who gave us this concept of how emotions broaden and build our capacity for problem solving and more positivity. I would say that’s one theory or model that this is speaking to.
Another, again from Barbara Fredrickson, are micro-moments of positivity. Every interaction is a micro-moment of positivity. I believe the world is starving for micro-moments of positivity. We’re all inundated with micro-moments and macro-moments today of negativity and helplessness and sorrow, and man, oh man, are we looking for ways that we can shift the energy. This is a big, again, incredible, powerful, potent … It’s medicine. It’s absolutely medicine for the spirit and the soul, micro-moments of positivity.
Another one, certainly, is gratitude. We do this in November, purposefully, because it does, at least in the States, tie in with the holiday of Thanksgiving, and a lot of educators and families are looking for ways, original ways, powerful ways, of extending gratitude. We find that this is a beautiful way of saying thank you, again, to people we know or know tangentially or people we just are grateful are in the world. Those are some that come to mind. I could think of more, and I certainly welcome your ideas, as well, as a scholar in this field.
Emiliya: Thanks, Cheryl. It’s such a powerful example of the domino effect, the ripple effect of what happens within us, when we are slightly uplifted, but it’s also what happens when other people witness an act of kindness. When we receive kindness, when we receive someone’s act of gratitude, we are inspired and motivated to want to pay that forward. I can just see the ripples upon ripples that just such a simple act can make.
Cheryl: Yes, and also that just brings to mind something a friend of mine said. She said, “Cheryl, since I have the You Matter cards, I feel like I have a super power in my pocket.” I think that builds to some of the, or eludes to some of the, positive psychology literature around self-efficacy and agency and how people are looking for ways to feel empowered, and that they have an ability to make a difference in this world. This gives people that sense of, “I can make a difference, and if I can do this–wow!–what other ways can I make a difference?”
Interestingly, a lot of people who are attracted to the You Matter Marathon are people who, I believe, probably have a high strength of kindness and gratitude. Interestingly, they think they’re signing up because they want to spread gratitude and kindness in the world. What they don’t always recognize is what a powerful gift this is to themselves. Dr. Stephen Post talks and studies the area of altruism, and he’s done amazing work in this area that really speaks to this, that when we reach out and do good for others, the health benefits, the psychic benefits of what it does for ourselves, people who participated, who would say, “Wow! This was the most positive personal growth experience I’ve ever had,” or, “This was the best November of my life.”
Emiliya: Thank you, Cheryl, and how can people get their own copy of the You Matter cards? How can they get involved, if they’re inspired by the work that you’re doing and that everyone is out doing today?
Cheryl: youmattermarathon.com. On that website, you can sign up, either as an individual, and we will mail you 30 You Matter cards for free, while supplies last. Cards are mailed out the middle of October, and we also tell you how you can get more than 30 cards if you want them. You can sign up, again, as an individual or as an ambassador for a group or a large organization.
Emiliya: Beautiful. Thank you so much, Cheryl. Cheryl, any closing words, anything that you want people to know?
Cheryl: You matter.
Emiliya: Thank you, Cheryl.
Cheryl: Thank you.
Emiliya: Thanks for catching our episode today. As you can see, kindness counts, whether it be a simple act of kindness for oneself or reminding other people that who they are matters. You can pass this kindness on in the world. Every time we do so, our mind expands, our heart expands, and we remember our sense of connection to others. Thanks for listening, and wishing you a flourishing day.