Get some more (or better) sleep. There is abundant research that connects rest to happiness. Starting the bedtime process by turning off our computers earlier and making sure the room is dark and quiet has immense influence over the quality of rest. There are several great self-hypnosis techniques and simple breathing exercises available to help you sleep. Again, we have many of these techniques available to members on the Take2Minutes website.
As a part of my series about the “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing Marc S. Fussell, Co-Founder and Lead Developer of Happiness for Take2Minutes.
Marc started his career over 25 years ago as a software developer and technical architect working for multiple Fortune 500 companies in the financial and healthcare industries, focusing on architecting autonomous solutions. Marc began practicing yoga and daily meditation about eight years ago to create a greater sense of balance. His passion for spreading messages of positivity has helped inspire what he has created with Take2Minutes — a free web- and text message-based service that provides subscribers with daily positive messages, gratitude exercises, guided meditations, and more at the exact moment they would like to receive them.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Ever since I was a kid and first started using computers, I was motivated to build something that people wanted, was helpful, and was needed. I have made other efforts in my career that did not quite hit the nail on the head. As things happen sometimes, Take2Minutes seemed to bloom out of nowhere and incidentally became what I was seeking to build for years. Take2Minutes, as it exists today, began in 2014/2015 and was inspired by a few separate events.
First, my older son was in high school and going through what many might consider “typical” teenage problems. I say “typical” because most can relate to the issues. They were all struggles similar to what I faced in high school, as do many others. However, he was struggling to deal with it all. Often, he was down and sad, even depressed. I took it on myself to begin texting him a positive message each day. I was also dropping my younger son off at school and started sending him off with a positive statement. After a while, others asked if I would share the messages with them, so I wrote an app that would do this.
I think Take2Minutes is the solution I have always wanted to build. Many people need the activities offered by Take2Minutes to help generate a sense of calm, find positivity, and create happiness. Most people also utilize the activities because they are becoming self-aware and feel the importance of being healthy and more mindful. They need tools to learn how to respond and not react, and they appreciate the daily doses of positivity.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I believe my career has been full of exciting stories, and I say that honestly. I could probably talk for hours about the achievements I have had that make me feel good and that I think are noteworthy. I have loved the career I have had and what I am still creating today.
One of my success stories involves a time when I led a team of architects. The team was needed to enforce standards and help build systems, but the team was not well-liked because they had a habit of simply saying “no” to solutions. I was able to shift their mentality to become helpful and trusted partners for everyone. I took the team from being reluctantly engaged by obligation to being willing allies. I facilitated a group mindset in which “no” is not a productive answer, and that everyone should work instead to seek a solution.
In another case, a CIO had abruptly quit and took his team, leaving six network appliances around the country with root passwords that no one knew. I built a password cracking rig to find the password. The machine I created was able to achieve around 40 million attempts per second. After nearly three weeks, it was able to successfully crack the 13-character password and gain control of the company’s devices. While new machines can produce much higher rates, it was a massive success at the time.
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
I have made so many mistakes and experienced failure, especially in my early years as a young developer. There were times when I deleted the incorrect file or accidentally formatted the wrong disk. Mistakes that make your heart sink, and you think to yourself, “Oh, that was bad.”
There was one time I took an entire network down, and this was later in my career when I was more knowledgeable and experienced. What made this humorous, in retrospect, was that I had no idea that I had mistakenly caused a loop in the network. It was about 5 p.m. on a Friday after a long work week at this facility, and I was about to leave for the airport to return home. As we boarded the plane, our phones started blowing up that no one was getting any calls in the 500-seat call center, and no one could access anything on their computers. After about five minutes of staring at each other and wondering what we should do, I decided that we needed to get off the plane and help. I quickly found the problem when we returned, but that was the start of a long night of fixing other issues once we missed our flight. We did not get to a hotel until 9 a.m. Saturday morning for some rest.
The important thing is that mistakes and failures happen while the world continues to spin. They help us grow and learn. Each mishap is a learning experience.
There are a couple of quotes that stand out when anyone asks me about mistakes. One is from Thomas Edison, who said, “I have not failed 10,000 times — I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways that will not work.” Another one of my favorite quotes that I have seen attributed to multiple people with variations is, “You gain success through good decisions. Good decisions come from experience. Experience is gained through bad decisions.”
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful toward who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
There are two people with whom I have been good friends for over 20 years; we met around the same time in 1999. We do not get to talk as often as in the past, but they have both had a positive impact on me over the years. It is essential to surround yourself with people who help you learn and grow. I have learned much from both of these individuals over the years. I am grateful to know them, and I always look forward to working together.
My family also plays a significant role with where I am and what I have become. For each of us, every little aspect of our lives from childhood plays a part in becoming who we are. We must each learn to accept and appreciate what has led us to this point. Not every element is glamorous nor is every aspect seemingly positive, but you must learn from it and grow. You are who you are because of your past. Accept that, embrace that, and grow because of it.
In regards to Take2Minutes, I knew I had the technical skills to create it but didn’t have the positive psychology background to back it up. I reached out to Matt Zemon, a former colleague of mine. I discovered that he was interested in working on Take2Minutes, and he knew Dr. Bryan Sexton (who is a resilience expert at Duke University). Once the three of us started discussions, things clicked. Dr. Sexton introduced me to a variety of evidence-based activities that would be helpful for students and young adults. Dr. Sexton’s input and guidance throughout the process has been incredibly valuable.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
There is an old story about three different bricklayers in the Middle Ages. The only one who was happy was the one who didn’t view his task as simply laying bricks; he saw it as building a cathedral. There are times we must all do things we don’t want to do. If every day were smooth and effortless, then we would not appreciate the good days. However, by focusing on why you do something or the bigger picture, you can completely change your outlook.
More importantly, make time for yourself. While this may seem selfish, it is not. When you feel better, the quality of your relationships improves, you perform better at work or school, and hopefully, you live longer. The days I make time for my morning yoga and meditation, I’m in a more positive mood and am more productive. You must find your thing. Maybe you are a runner or you like working out, or perhaps long walks make you happy. Whatever it is, be sure to give meditation a try. Keep in mind that there are many types of meditations. It may take a few attempts for you to find what is right for you. Through Take2Minutes, we offer a new guided meditation every day to our subscribers. Journaling is another helpful exercise that I see many successful people doing each day.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Buddhism has what is called the eightfold path. I think five of those relate well to the modern workplace:
- Right intention: Are we all executing our mission?
- Right view: Do we see things as they are?
- Right speech: Are we speaking the truth in a warm, friendly, and gentle way?
- Right action: Are we working on the right things and treating others kindly, compassionately, and honestly?
- Right effort: Are we working to improve ourselves?
Also, trust your employees. You need to hire those whom you feel confident in and let them do the work. Be purposeful in whom you hire for which tasks, and once you choose those people, let them do their job. Along these same ideas is not to micromanage everyone. Instead, communicate your goals well and empower people to work with you to achieve those goals. Everyone should be part of the same team and working to achieve the same goals.
Okay, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Mental health is often looked at in binary terms: those who are healthy and those who have mental illness. The truth, however, is that mental wellness is a huge spectrum. Even those who are “mentally healthy” can still improve their mental wellness. From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to improve or optimize our mental wellness? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Mental illness is an interesting term. We think of illness as a disease, but it’s not that simple when it comes to mental health. The general issue is that your mind is always demanding your attention and rarely lets you be. The noise in your head is a sign that we all have a lack of balance. Our way of dealing with this is to say it is normal, but it is not.
Here are five popular actions that have been researched by scientists at Duke University, The University of Pennsylvania, The University of North Carolina, the University of California Berkeley, and many more:
#1: Decide that you want to live a more fulfilling, less stressful life. Don’t worry about how yet. Just conclude that this is what you want. Determine that you will act and take time for yourself in some way.
#2: Observe your mental chatter. Our minds are always talking and telling us stories. These stories often keep us focused on the past (regret) or the future (worry). In either case, it isn’t real, because all that exists is the present moment. A great way to observe your mind and become aware of all that chatter is to meditate. Meditation does not need to be hard or complicated. Setting aside just a few minutes each day to meditate has been proven effective.
#3: Keep a gratitude journal. Carve out a few minutes to write down the things for which you are thankful. It’s not difficult, and you don’t have to do it every day. It can be a list or a narrative, whichever comes naturally. The act of taking time each week to practice gratitude helps reprogram your mind to think more positively.
#4: Try a 3 Good Things exercise. 3 Good Things is another popular activity where you write down three good things that happened and what role you played. You do this every day for a set period (typically two weeks). Again, the idea is to change your focus from the negative to what is positive. A 2018 research paper published in the BMJ showed 3 Good Things producing better results than SSRIs like Prozac by 490%.
#5: Get some more (or better) sleep. There is abundant research that connects rest to happiness. Starting the bedtime process by turning off our computers earlier and making sure the room is dark and quiet has immense influence over the quality of rest. There are several great self-hypnosis techniques and simple breathing exercises available to help you sleep. Again, we have many of these techniques available to members on the Take2Minutes website.
Much of my expertise focuses on helping people to plan for after retirement. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In addition to the ideas you mentioned earlier, are there things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.
We are all on a journey. Those lucky enough to see retirement age get to explore another set of roads on the journey. Choosing what you do in retirement is no different from the choices you make beforehand, except (hopefully) you have financial stability. Also, because you are not working at a traditional job, you may have extra time to spend doing whatever you choose.
To optimize your mental wellness after retirement, ask yourself a simple question: how do you want to live for your remaining years on Earth? Recognize that you can make choices to make this time fulfilling or not. The power to make this happen doesn’t rely on external factors or how much money you have. It all depends on how you look at the world.
There is an exercise that applies to retired people that I call the “if/then” exercise. Decade by decade, think back and write down what you were doing and things that, at that moment in time, you would have considered a success. For instance, I was working for X company, and IF I could have had ___, I would be happy/successful.
For most people who do this, they see that the “if/then” changed continuously. The takeaway is that there is nothing specific that you can get (or be) to be happy.
Next, make a list of where and when you have experienced great calm or serenity, a sense of purpose. When we accept life for what it is, we have a higher capacity to experience calm and serenity. When our efforts align with our hearts, we feel that there is more purpose to what we do. These exercises are meaningful at any stage in life but are quite relevant in retirement.
How about teens and pre-teens? Are there any specific new ideas you would suggest for teens and pre-teens to optimize their mental wellness?
As mentioned earlier, the initial effort that grew to eventually become Take2Minutes was inspired by teens to help teens. Most teens and young adults grow up these days with a phone or electronic device in hand. They prefer texting over any other method of communication; that’s their comfort zone.
Many of our activities are to help teens recognize self-worth and practice gratitude. To provide tools for training their minds to see the positive aspects of life, build resilience, and have a better balance in life with school or work. To find and enjoy greater happiness.
Our prehistoric minds quickly focus on what is negative so that we can prepare for danger. In the modern age, though, it’s much more important to think positively. The purpose of gratitude exercises is to heighten our awareness of positive things in our everyday lives.
Teens also can’t count on the “system” to support them. Colleges do not have a sufficient number of counselors to meet the demand. Even if they receive therapy, there are typically days or weeks between sessions when they are on their own. Whether they choose Take2minutes or another wellness program, these activities can help them take positive steps on their own, whenever it is most convenient for them, without the risk of the stigma that sometimes comes with receiving mental health care.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
I am going to go with Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig. This book was my first introduction to what it means to be present and thoughtful about spending time. To this day, I look back at some of the passages.
A quote that stuck with me is, “There’s nothing up ahead that’s any better than it is right here.” I love this and what it means, not just for desires but also for comparison in general. The happiest people I know don’t compare themselves to others.
As frequently mentioned in many of the Take2Minute messages, I also appreciate Pirsig’s perspective on taking time for yourself. He said, “Peace of mind produces right values, right values produce right thoughts. Right thoughts produce right actions and right actions produce work, which will be a material reflection for others to see of the serenity at the center of it all.”
Finally, toward the end of the book, I love when he explains, “The real cycle you’re working on is a cycle called yourself. The machine that appears to be ‘out there’ and the person that appears to be ’in here’ are not two separate things.” With everything I do, I try to keep that in mind.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Can I start more than one movement? Because I can think of 3–4 that I would like to get behind!
If I had to pick one, it would be teaching that taking time for yourself every day is a path to happiness. That is ultimately the meaning behind the name Take2Minutes. We have 1,440 minutes available to us on any given day. Can’t we at least take two minutes for ourselves? It is essential to do so!
These two minutes that we are taking for ourselves are also for other people. It is for our family. It is for our colleagues. It is for the causes about which we are passionate. The healthier and happier we are as individuals, the more present and supportive we can be as we interact with the world. It’s conducive to creating a positive outlook and helps us demonstrate love.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
“What you think, you become. What you feel, you attract. What you imagine, you create.”
I practice thinking positively, and people who meet me today would probably say I am a positive person. I feel a strong sense of love and am optimistic about the world. It is no coincidence that my friends, family, and work associates are all similarly minded. I can see a world where the tools I build matter, and everyone takes time for themselves. With Take2Minutes, I am helping to create that world.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
Take2Minutes has a presence using the name Take2Min on: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn. I can also be found on LinkedIn as Marc Fussell. Subscribers to Take2Minutes can also reach out to me directly as my email address is available within the members area.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!