The Big Idea
We can’t control what happens to us, but we can choose what we do with our circumstances.
Questions I Answer
- How can I be more optimistic?
- Who should I get support from when life feels hard?
- How do I recover from a big set back?
- How can I live with intention?
Actions to Take
- 3 Questions to Ask Yourself Daily:
- Why me? Why am I so lucky? Why am I so blessed? Why do I have this opportunity in front of me today?
- Who cares? Who cares if it’s hard? It’s worthy.
- What more can I do? What more can I do to ensure tomorrow is even better than today?
Key Topics in the Show
Leading a more intentional, inspired life by seeking joy and contentment
How to find happiness in the little things
Choosing the lens with which we see the world
Needing the right people in our lives to provide guidance at the right time
Dealing with trauma or difficult life experiences
The three questions you should ask yourself daily
Resources and Links
- Listen to Live Inspired Podcast with John O’Leary to wake up from accidental living and: Live Inspired
- Read John O’Leary’s book, On Fire: The 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life
- Connect with John on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter
Welcome to season seven of Productivity Paradox a podcast focused on using productivity not just to get more done, but to accomplish what’s most important. Join Tanya this season as she focuses on cultivating happiness through the power of productivity.
To get her free checklist, Five Minutes To Peak Productivity, simply go to Press.com/podcast. And now, here’s your host, Tanya Dalton
Tanya: Hello, hello everyone. Welcome to Productivity Paradox. I’m your host, Tanya Dalton, owner of inkWELL Press, and this is episode 89. Today, I have a special treat for you, because I have an amazing guest on the show that I absolutely know you’re going to love John O’Leary. Now, if you’re not familiar with John, let me give you a little bit of his background. When John was nine years old, he suffered burns over 100% of his body and he was expected to die. He’s now an inspirational speaker, podcaster, and bestselling author, teaching more than 50,000 people around the world each year how to live inspired. I cannot wait for you to meet John O’Leary. So let’s get started. Well, John, I am so pleased to have you on the show today.
John: Tanya, this is a thrill, so thanks for making time for me.
Tanya: Absolutely, absolutely. All season long, we have been discussing cultivating happiness in our lives. I know you encourage people to wake up from accidental living and lead an inspired life. I think that a lot of happiness that people experience comes from these intentional
moments in their lives rather than just kind of making it through each day. Often, we have to make these moments for ourselves. How do you think that people can start leading a more intentional inspired life?
John: Well, there’s a lot to that question. I think the idea of intentionality, just because we know how to use that word doesn’t mean we actually know how to leverage the power within it. When I was a child, and you know the story of Tanya, but your audience may not, I was burned in a garage fire on 100% of my body. It happened when I held a piece of paper up to a can of gasoline modeling an experiment I had seen other little boys doing.
We can come back to that story, but long story made very short, decades later, my mom and dad wrote a whole book about that. In that book that described what happened and they refer to it as John’s accident, John’s accident. Although that is true, right, I was in an accident as a child. What do you think happens, Tanya and listeners when you hold a piece of paper that is on fire to a can of gasoline in a garage? That’s not an accident. It’s a choice. It’s a sad choice. It’s a tragic choice. We can unpack that, but it is a choice. I think too
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frequently, we give up our choices to the Weatherman, to delays at the airport, to challenges outside of our control. Intentionality and really living a purposeful life is about embracing the miracle, the gift that is alive and well within you every day, harnessing that gift and then living into the best version of your life each day after.
Tanya: Absolutely. I completely agree, because I really feel that life is a series of choices, right? We have this learned helplessness that we don’t feel that we have choices, that other people own our calendar or own our day and that we don’t get to make choices. When making a choice is a choice and not making choices is also a choice.
John: Let me speak to that just for a moment. In the last United States general election, and the one thing you never talk about on podcasts, of course it’s politics, so let’s get into it right away. Whether you’re on the left or right, it doesn’t really matter for the point I’m about to make. Only 39% of the general population voted. The rest of the population, 61%, the vast majority liked neither candidate, so they sat at home, making a choice. They thought they were making a choice, showing everybody how indifferent they were, but what they were really doing was they were electing one person or they were going to elect the other one by not participating. Just recognize in every choice or lack of choice we make, we are making a choice and that matters. Don’t give that away to some other voter, some other neighbor, some other leader within your organization just harness the power of your life and the gift of these choices we have in front of us.
Tanya: Absolutely. I really think that’s so important to look around. I think sometimes when we don’t feel like we have choices, we don’t push those boundaries, we don’t push outside of that box to see that there are opportunities to find happiness or is it to find the life that we really want because we feel so boxed in. We often don’t feel empowered to step outside of our current situation and really look at ourselves with new eyes or with different eyes.
John: Well, I agree. I love the term happy. I think what we’re seeking there, it’s kind of twofold. One is contentment, just like the joy of the moment. The second thing we’re looking for and happiness is that word I just used, which is joy. I think happy. I have four kids, Tanya, but when I give them my cell phone, they’re happy, and 15 minutes later when I tuck it away, they’re sad. When I give them an ice cream cone, they’re very happy, but if they eat too much to get a tummy ache or if it melts on their hands, they get mad. This idea of happy is very fleeting. This idea of
contentment, I think it’s so rich and that idea of joy, it’s not based on something we get, it’s based more on a decision we make before that thing even shows up in our life. It’s a decision we make on the front side of a day.
Tanya: I love what you said there about contentment. I think that’s so true. There’s a lot of richness to that word, contentment. Feeling content. It
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really, it’s almost like it stretches out and you’re able to really savor those moments a regular basis. I think that’s so true. I love what you said there.
John: Awesome. Well, thank you. I’ll write it down and put your name below it.
Tanya: Right? Anytime we say something good, we’ve got to write it down so we don’t forget it, and we can remind everyone that we said it
John: Well, I’m thinking about changing my name to Anon and so I can just have credit for about half the great quotes ever spoken. Just refer to me for the rest of the podcast as Anon. we’re going to move forward from there.
Tanya: That works. That works. Now we have discussed that sometimes for some people, happiness doesn’t feel like it’s a choice, right? They feel like that they can’t choose to be happy. You’ve obviously lived through a very trying season of your life when you were almost killed in that fire, it sounds like. When you had burns over 100% of your body, it must’ve been really hard to find that happiness. You seem to have found a way not just to cultivate it in your own life, but to inspire others to find it as well. How do you think people can cultivate happiness after they go through a traumatic life experience?
John: Well, you ask awesome questions. Again, this one, there’s a lot of layers to both the question and the answer. Rather than viewing it through first the traumatic event, we can come back to that. I think if you can model this in the little stuff, you’ll be able to tap back into it in the big stuff. Sometimes the big stuff the cancer diagnosis, the explosion, the divorce, that bankruptcy, the job loss that can awaken within us what we did not know we had access to the entire time. It was always there. We just never leveraged it. My encouragement to your listeners and to me sharing this advice is don’t wait for it, don’t wait to get blown up, don’t wait for the diagnosis, don’t wait for the divorce, don’t wait for it. Start now.
How do you find happiness in the little stuff? I would encourage you, all of us to recognize it’s a muscle. How do some people run a race? Well, I bet occasionally they watch what they eat. I bet occasionally they rest effectively at night. I bet occasionally they train up for it. I bet when the race finally begins, they’re exhausted afterwards, but there they had been training their entire life for that moment. Not dissimilar from that, happiness is the same. The way you then expand your happiness gene, if you will, is to, in my mind and you do a very good job teaching this to your training, is to keep a journal. It’s a track where you’ve been, what turns you off, what turns you on, what makes you happy, what fills your heart with joy and contentment, and then expand that going forward.
I encourage my kids and my wife and our audience through it. We have a podcast as well and you’re going to be on that. We have a speaking
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platform. I encourage everybody that we have access to to take notes on their life by asking themselves a question everyday, which is simply, why me? Why me? Today, what am I grateful for? Today, what are the talents that I have? What is the gift of the change in season? Fresh water, hot water, the shower, clothes to wear, the freedom of our citizenship, all these gifts that if we’re not careful, we miss. We won’t see them until it’s too late, I think frequently. Rather than, like I said earlier, Tanya were other than waiting, tap into that daily. It is a choice. You have to be very intentional in it, but as you begin making this choice, you’re going to begin to realizing and also that as that muscle stretches., it feels you not only with more gratitude and more happiness, but also more joy, which is very sustaining.
Tanya: Absolutely. I like what you said there about it really is the little things that and we miss out on these opportunities for gratitude. I mean it is. It’s the little things in life. The fact that we have access, I can guarantee that all of my listeners have access to fresh water. There are millions of people around this world who don’t. We forget to be grateful for the fact that all we have to do is walk over to our sink and turn the tap. We lose sight of that. I think that’s so true. I love that idea of the muscle because it’s something you do have to strengthen app and you have to continually stretch, right? Otherwise, it atrophies.
John: When you and I were talking before we even hit record and went live and just kind of getting to know each other a little bit better even, and we talked about the media and how they’re so focused on what’s wrong and bad and burning and all this stuff out there. You need to be aware of it but not hyper aware of it. The point is that whatever you focus on will expand. If you only focus on the shootings and the stabbings and the fires and the tragedies, all that you will then see and feel and think and act on are the shootings and the stabbings and the fires and everything else to go with that. However, if you are also taking inventory, the stuff that matters and you’re great at this, by the way, Tanya and the things that you have that list and what it represents and the muscles to bear even more that going forward and to share that with those that you care for and love and influence that to shall expand. It’s a choice.
Tanya: It really is. I think that we are constantly scanning our environment and taking things in. It’s really the choice of the lens you want to view the world with, right?
Tanya: Do you want it to be negative or do you want it to be a positive place? I do think when you get really entrenched with things, especially the news lately, it’s really hard to see the positive because there’s so much negativity. Even right now is we’re bracing for a hurricane around here, everything is so sensationalized. It’s easy to look at all the negativity around us. There’s this concept called frequency illusion. It’s the idea
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where, like when you’re wanting to buy a car and all of a sudden the car that you are interested in is everywhere, right?
Tanya: It’s at the stoplight, It’s at the bank. It’s at the gas station next to you. That’s simply because your body or your brain is scanning constantly for information. It’s picking things out. I love that idea of the muscle
because if you’re training your brain to scan for what is positive and what is good and which you are grateful for, I think that can really make a huge difference in all the different areas of our lives.
John: There was a study done, and your listeners can Google it later on, but it’s called the Nun Study, so type that in later on. What they did is they took a group of nuns, I think it was Sisters of Notre Dame, and these ladies kept a journal of their lives for decades. You cannot find a more qualified group of people who live similar lives. It’s a very controlled group. They all wore the same uniforms, ate the same food, set, hung out at the same convent, and taught the same kids. Some, it turned out, would have these great long lives and others would die even younger. A group of researchers collected all of the journals with the permission of the order and they asked the question, did it matter how these women view their days, because they ate the same food, slept in the same beds, breathe the same air, taught the same kids. Did it matter how they viewed those days and those training sessions and the food and the sisters they lived and worked with? Did it really matter? What they found was shocking.
I believe, those who are most negative, meaning commenting on how lousy the kids were or what a pain in is to wear a habit or sleep in these convents were alive at age 85, about 30% less frequently than those who are more positive, more optimistic, more passionate about the work they did. The only difference was the lens, to use the term you used earlier, the lens with which they viewed their day. It has a profound effect not only in longevity, which is nice if you want to live to be 100, I think we should all strive toward it, but also we want to be influential in your work and in your parenting and as a son, as a daughter, as a leader in life.
Tanya: I think that’s so true. I love that. I haven’t heard of that study, so I’m definitely going to look that up. We’ll put a link to that in the show notes. I think that’s fascinating. You’re right. That’s a very controlled group.
Tanya: They are eating the same things and wearing the same things and so it really is this idea of the lens that we’re using. That’s a choice, as you said. I think that one of the things that we forget to scan for when we’re talking about these little things in our lives that are really big things that
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we forget about. I think oftentimes we forget about the relationships that we have with people and how grateful we are for the people that we have in our lives that we want to have in our lives. We’ve been exploring over the last few episodes, the importance of this idea of connection with others. I think many people undervalue the relational part of their lives in the all-encompassing pursuit of doing so much more, right, in being productive in the traditional sense. They think they have to do so much that they’re cramming their day’s full. They’re not leaving room for the people they really love. I believe that connection is the key, not just to productivity, but living this full and intentional life. I know that in your book On Fire, you share that we need the right people in our lives to help provide guidance at the right time. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
John: Yes, buckle up listeners. We’re going to spend the next hour and a half talking about the people in my life, so a pour yourself a coffee or a stiff, stiff drink and we’ll see where this goes. I think we learn an awful lot from those who raised us, sometimes on what not to do. I mean we can learn an awful lot on who we don’t want to be by our parents and guardians and teachers. I was super blessed to learn exactly what to do and who I wanted to be in and what actually matters in life from those who are most influential to me as a little one. I’m one of six kids, but my mom and dad raised us all. I think they’ve raised us extraordinarily well.
The story that I think is most appropriate for your question. My mom, she just was … My mom was awesome and is awesome. She’s alive and well. She was a tough lady. I got burned terribly and tragically at age nine. Spent five months in the hospital after that, fighting to get out of this thing, losing my fingers to amputation, coming home in a
wheelchair. The key thing there is I came home, right? I made it. The miracle took roots. I’m at home on Saturday night after coming home earlier that day, my mother made my favorite dinner, which was au gratin potatoes and chicken. I mean, I’m a strange kid, but that’s what I loved. Au gratin, these cheesy, cheesy potatoes. They’re in front of me.
Tanya: Sounds good to me.
John: Oh man, they were awesome. Families around. Our golden retriever’s at one side of the table. Life is good. We’re back to “normal.” The only issue that night was, Tanya, I could not pick up a fork. I didn’t have fingers to do it. My sister, Amy, who I know is listening to your podcast right now, Amy grabs my fork, she scoops up some cheesy goodness, starts moving it toward my mouth. On the way up about halfway toward my mouth, I hear my mother from my right say, “Amy, put that fork down. If John is hungry, he’s going to feed himself tonight,” I remember looking to my right thinking, “What? What is she talking … How can I possibly ever feed myself. Had she not heard what happened to me as a kid. I’ll never ever hold a fork or do anything else for myself ever again, but I’m home.” I called my mom out on that. She’s like, “Baby, if you’re hungry, feed yourself.”
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The very truncated down story is this. By the end of dinner, I had cried for probably two hours. My siblings were all already off doing their own things. My father was putting a couple of them to bed. The dog was still there begging for leftovers. My mom was at the head of the table looking at me lovingly as a little nine year old boy in a wheelchair on a morphine drip with no fingers was feeding himself potatoes. Now this is a painful story. It was painful to live. It’s probably painful for some of you to hear, but when you think about how do you encourage those around us to become the best versions of themselves, it’s not by feeding them. It’s not by doing the easy thing for them. It’s by reminding them, sometimes painfully, that they can do amazing things, that we’re not going to leave them, that we will walk with them every step along the way, but you’ve got to pick up the fork. You got to do it yourself
sometimes. My mom is exhibit A of a of the man that I became later on in life, but the little boy that that led to that. She’s just an awesome example of someone that I was able to lean into.
Tanya: Yeah, that’s amazing. A lot of times, it’s a little bit of that tough love, but at its heart, it’s about the love part of it, right?
John: I know.
Tanya: I know you said it was painful for you. It was painful for your siblings. I guarantee that was painful for your mom. I can guarantee without question that was a hard moment for your mom to do that and to say that to you, but what a strong woman to really help push and encourage you that way.
John: I know you’re a mom, yourself. I’ve seen the pictures online. I’ve heard about your love for your family. I remember that day as a child while looking to my right and seeing through my own tears, my mom crying and thinking to myself not verbalizing it, but thinking it, “What is she crying about it? I’m the one that can’t eat here.” Then you become a parent yourself or you grow in your own understanding of what
empathy and compassion and real love is really all about and my gosh, it was much, much harder for my mother to go through that then for me. It just speaks volumes, I think of not only the kind of parents she was, but the kind of leader she is.
Tanya: I think that’s so true. Really, that’s such a great story honoring your mom. I love that. I love the sound of your mom. She sounds like an amazing woman and an amazing mother, so I can see why you turned out to be such a strong person. I like what you said there about you felt that way as a child and then we change as we get older and we shift our perspectives, we begin to see things differently, right, as we become clearance or as we take on these life experiences. I think that’s always happening to us, this shifting of perspectives. I think that’s an important part of finding happiness and allowing that to grow and to really flourish in our lives. How do you think listeners can shift their perspective when
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they’re dealing with trauma or a difficult life experience, so that it doesn’t impact them in a negative way?
John: Perfect. It’s another beautiful question. The first thing I would do is be okay with the trauma, because that’s one of the words you used, shifting your perspective and your life in a very negative way in the short term. When you lose a spouse or you’re diagnosed with something or you lose your job or the sale does not go through and you’re really upside down financially, if that doesn’t bug you, you’re not paying attention. I am very okay as a man, but also as a teacher, encouraging folks to be okay in that struggle, in that despair, in that longing for something different than what you currently have. Number one, be okay there, but don’t stay there. I think the problem for many individuals and families and
communities and our culture is we live as victims. That’s not okay. It’s okay to be mad when you get burned, but it’s not okay to remain mad the rest of your life. That is not okay. That’s your choice now.
How do you shift that choice up purposefully daily? I think victims love to ask three questions. Do not write these down, because these are not the ones I want you to write down. The first question that victims love to ask themselves is, number one, why me? Why did I get burned as a kid? Why did I lose my fingers? Why did my parents split? Why didn’t I get what I needed from that first relationship? Why me? The second
question they ask us, who cares? It’s that great question of indifference that leads ultimately to death. That’s what they do. They cross their arms, look down, don’t vote, don’t show up and ask who cares? Then the third question is, what more can I do? I’m only one. I’m middle aged. I’m not talented enough. I’m not connected enough. I’m not wealthy
enough. I’m not gifted enough. What more can little old me do?
Today, and you know this to be true because you’re exhibit A of it, Tanya, we ask three different questions. These ones are worth writing down. They are worth asking daily. They will shift your focus daily. If you do it daily, it’s going to shift your life, long term. Number one they ask is, why me? Why am I so lucky? Why am I so blessed? Why am I here? Why do I have the opportunity in front of me today? Why did the sun rises in the east? Why did it push back the tides of darkness one more time? Why me? The second question they ask is, who cares? Who cares if it’s hard? It’s worthy. Who cares if I feel like I’m doing more and more and more with less and less and less? I have this great opportunity in front of me every day to become a better version of myself. It’s not easy, but it is worthy and so am I. It’s a mission play. The third question is, what more can I do? What more can I do to ensure tomorrow is even better than today?
For those who are really leaning into their podcast right now, they may have recognized that theme there. They’re the exact same questions, but it turns out the manner in which you asked that question will transform, like utterly transform what you see, how you feel, what you think, your beliefs around it, the words you speak, the actions you take
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and the results you get. I encourage our listeners and our platforms to ask the question, why me in the morning. Who cares throughout the day. And then thirdly and finally, and maybe most importantly, what more can I do every night to ensure tomorrow is even better than today? In that incremental shift done daily over time will, and you teach this yourself, will absolutely transform your business, your relationships, your spiritual journey, your marriage, your singleness, your lives.
Tanya: Absolutely. I love how you’ve taken the same questions and you’ve turned it on its head, which is shifting perspectives, right? It’s making a choice to look at those questions in a different way. I love the way that you inspire people. I love the way that you have turned what many would see as a trauma or almost a life event into this springboard, into really being a catalyst for change for so many. I know your podcast is amazing. Your podcast is Live Inspired with John O’Leary. It helps people live a more intentional life. I would love for you to tell my
listeners a little bit more about that.
John: Well, I mean, my whole life is just the sum result of grace and great people showing up in my life. Really that … When I tell … I’m a keynote speaker primarily. Now I travel the world and speak to audiences of 25,000 at a time sometimes and other times three girl scouts. I’m not picky. I’ve been blessed to speak to some really, really, really significant groups and now more than a million people live in audiences, 50 states, 17 countries. I don’t brag about myself. I don’t brag about how I eat dinner with my own hands, that not. I brag about my mom and I brag about the doctors and the nurses and the custodian, the therapist and how they showed up and what my brother did when he saw me on fire and what my dad did when he came into the emergency room and I knew he was going to kill me because I played with fire and gasoline and how we responded differently and how his response changed me. In borrowing from all these great men and women, what they taught me, and ultimately what it means for each of us.
Every step along the way, it’s actually a selfless play on reflecting goodness back and then embracing what we can do with this in our own lives. Well, if you ask yourself, so what more can I do to elevate this message? It starts with speaking. Then I said, well, what more can I do? I wrote a little book called On Fire. It became a number one national bestseller, which is awesome. Then you’ve got to ask yourself, what more can I do? We ask ourselves that question. We ask it daily. One of the responses was what if you could create a cool podcast where you interview the people that you look up to, you like Tanya, where you hear their life story, where you talk about their mistakes and their failures, what they learned and what it means for the rest of us listening at home or at work or on the bus ride to either one, and so I’ve …
My very first podcast was 106 episodes ago with a lady named mom. That’s very intentional. I didn’t bring her on because of her platform. I brought her on because she’s the most influential lady in my entire life.
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She’s just an amazing, amazing woman. Then I brought on the Dave Ramsey and astronauts and actresses and people that I really respect. I asked them about their life. It’s really cool. When people are real about this, you will learn so much about who they became by who they once were, because we’re the same person. It’s like a little ring in the tree. We’re just a bigger version of ourselves today. The podcast has now been listened to in more than 60 countries. It’s top 10 on iTunes
Business. It’s an awesome show that has nothing to do with the host and everything to do with our listeners ultimately, so it’s called Live Inspired with John O’Leary. After they listen to your podcast, I hope they, if they have any extra free time, they check us out over there.
Tanya: Definitely, and I’ll be sure to post a link in my show notes so that everyone can head over there. It has a great podcast. I would really encourage you guys to give a listen, because it is so inspiring when we strip away the facade of who people appear to be and you get to the heart of who they really are and the struggles they’ve been through. You, a lot of times, can see yourself in these people that maybe you look up to or that you admire. I think that’s really inspiring. It’s, it’s an
amazing podcasts, so I would definitely Google it.
John: Let me just say a plug for the host today. The great Tanya Dalton will be on this show soon. Yes, we do bring on people that I look up to and respect. If you don’t know Tanya’s story, you’re about to note when you check us out. I’m excited for that. You also made another really good point there. What is most personal is also most universal. I think CS Lewis wrote something like, you know, you have a good friend when you share something extraordinarily personal about yourself and they look back at you and the response is, “You too?” We think we’re the only ones that struggle or we’re the only ones that have these thoughts or we’re the only one’s addicted to this or that. The reality is we’re all doing less and we’re broke but trying to get better together. I think the best way to get better is to do it together. The best way to do it together is to be vulnerable around it.
Tanya: Absolutely. We’re all beautifully imperfect. I think it’s nice to see that in other people. We see it an awful lot in ourselves. Well John, I really appreciate you coming onto the show. I can’t tell you how much it means to me that you made the time to come and speak to my listeners. Again, I’m going to be posting the links, so you can get to know John a little bit better on my show notes. Everyone be sure to listen in. All right. Didn’t I tell you John is an inspiration. I’m so pleased he was able to come onto the show. I hope that you really got a lot out of our interview together. Now, I will have John O’Leary’s links to his podcast and his social media on my show notes, so if you’d like to check those out, just go to inkWELLpress.com/podcast and look for episode 89.
Next week on the podcast, we are going to be talking about disconnecting so we can connect with others. We’re going to be
continuing talking about cultivating happiness through productivity. We ©Productivity Paradox Page 10 of 11
have a couple more episodes left in the season and I’m really excited about how we’re closing it out. In the meantime, I would love to see you in my Facebook group. Please feel free to get a request to join by going to inkWELLpress.com/group. All right. Until next time, have a beautiful and productive week.
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