5 Rules for Better Relationships from Cafe Gratitude


On Wednesday night I had the pleasure of listening to Cary Mosier speak about how Cafe Gratitude was founded and some of their business practices.

For those of you who don’t live in Los Angeles or the Bay Area, Cafe Gratitude is a restaurant that serves organic, plant-based vegan food. It was founded by two spiritual hippies (Cary Mosier’s parents) who wanted to open a cafe so people could play the board game they made based on the spiritual principals they lived by.

Over the past 13 years Cafe Gratitude has grown into an incredibly trendy restaurant that serves dishes with names like I Am Humble and I Am Grateful. Their food is delicious (I’m a customer) and the vibe is right. 

Business, especially the restaurant business, is really about relationships, so it’s no surprise that the most powerful takeaways from the talk had to do with how we approach one another. 

I’m going to share with you the insights I found to be most powerful, and how you can apply them to your life. 

1. I’m responsible for my own experience
This is the foundational perspective behind much of Cary's message. Deciding that we are responsible for our own experience means we’ve chosen to show up to life. We’re saying that nothing is happening to us but is happening for us.

Why this is important:
If you often find yourself playing the victim (and maybe even then denying that you are playing the victim) this is a big one to begin working with. Victims are disempowered.

Taking responsibility for our experience gives us the power to change our lives, and if you’re here reading this, this is ultimately what you’re seeking.

How you can use this in your life:
Reflect on the ways you choose to be the victim. Be willing to try on the notion that you are responsible for the experience you’re having. The following tips will give you ways to work with this perspective actively.

2. Clear it out
Each morning, as employees come into work, they see two questions written on the wall that change daily. Getting with a partner they sit down for 5 minutes and do their “Clearings.” 

The first question might be something like, “Where are you feeling stuck?” One person answers and the other listens (no coaching/advice is allowed) and recites back to the sharer what they heard, teaching true listening skills.

The clearing ends with the second question which might be something like, “What are you grateful for in your life?” This practice creates immediate intimacy and connection which helps build the team.

Why this is important:
Being seen and heard is a deep human longing, and one that is often lacking. When you look into someone’s eyes, truly listen to them, and recite back what you hear, they will feel like they’ve given a piece of themselves to you and gotten a gift back in return.

Being seen creates a sense of belonging, connection, and safety. 

How you can use this in your life:
Ask a friend or your partner to do daily or weekly clearings. You can set a time limit or even choose to do it through text message. Notice how it makes you feel and what it does to your relationship.

3. Always assume the best
I really loved this one. Cary was asked how he handles dealing with employee “bad” behavior. His response?

“Always assume people intend to do the best they can.” 

If this is an assumption we are willing to make, it means that we have to take responsibility for our role in what is happening. This doesn’t always mean it’s true, but it creates space for a healthy resolution to emerge. 

Instead of blaming someone for not showing up in the way we want, Cary will often begin talking to an employee by using the phrase, “I am making up the story that…” It feels a little strange, but because it comes from the assumption that I might not giving you the tools you need to do your job, it reduces defense and tension.

Why this is important:
This kind of communication will dramatically transform the way we perceive and respond to one other. Typically, when someone isn’t doing what we think they should be doing we begin to build a story about why they are wrong, we are right, and they need to change. This method of communication is lead from the heart instead of the ego.

How you can use this in your life:
Are you more interested in being right than you are in coming to an agreement and/or connecting with someone? When people feel attacked they shut down. Communicating from a place of compassion and non-blame creates a safe environment for the truth to emerge.

4. Be willing to apologize
In response to the same question, Cary also said that he committed  himself to always telling the truth and taking complete responsibility. Most of us want to run from conflict. When something is going wrong in a relationship we tend to avoid it until it gets so big that it explodes or become even more challenging to deal with.

If you commit to telling the truth and telling it right away (and in the manner described in #3) tension doesn’t build until it bursts. One of the ways Cary was able to do this was by accepting that he would fuck up. But fucking up was OK if he was willing to take responsibility for it.

If an employee wasn’t showing up on time, he’d face it head on, do his best in the conversation, but would walk away feeling shitty about how he’d handled it (#3 is a process!). So he’d go back to the person and say something like,

“I totally fucked that conversation up, and I’m sorry.” He'd keep having the conversations, fuck them up a little bit less, and continue apologizing until he got really good at taking responsibility and having tough conversations. 

Why this is important:
We avoid dealing with things that feel uncomfortable, and then they build into resentments that destroy our relationships. We often avoid these conversations because we don’t know how to have them, and we’re afraid of the defense the other person will put up. 

Accepting that you’re going to fuck it up the first many times you attempt these difficult conversations and knowing that you’ll apologize when you do, lightens things up. It’s part of accepting that we’re human. We’re not going to do it right most of the time, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.

Plus, doing it right isn’t really the point. 

How you can use this in your life:
Any relationship you have will inevitably create an opportunity for a conversation like this. If you have a tough time being “wrong” practice apologizing as often as you can.

I also love this approach because it’s a pathway into humility. It almost feels like a game. “Let me see how many tough conversations I can have until I get really good at taking responsibility for myself in the moment and seeing the good in people.” Everyone wants to win at that game, right?


5. It’s 100/100
Another Cafe Gratitude rule for relationships: It’s not, “I bring 50% and you bring 50%.” It’s, “I bring 100% and you bring 100%.” It’s another way of saying we each take full responsibility for ourselves.

If you’re willing to say that this problem is 100% your responsibility than you are willing to see the way that you have participated in making it happen and, therefore, the way you can solve it.

Why this is important:
Most of us like to point our finger which instigates conflict or creates an imbalance of power in relationships (think one meek person and the other strong-willed ego).

These kinds of relationships harbor resentment and have an energetic imbalance.

The meeker person will feel like they can’t be themselves and the strong-willed person will continue to assert their power and build the story that they are always right.

How you can use this in your life:
Look back at your relationships and see if you are the type of person who let people walk all over you or if you are the person who is unwilling to take responsibility for yourself. Seeing yourself clearly, go back through these tips and see how they can apply to your life.