Fight the Frazzled Mind

shutterstock_696061069.jpg

All content from Scientific American Mind, September/October 2011 issue

A new study suggests that preventive, proactive approaches are the most helpful—and that our stress management IQ is painfully low
— Robert Epstein

“Desserts” spelled backward is “stressed.”

Isn’t life like that? Even the good things in life—fine wine, rich food, sex—can stress you out.

There is just no escaping stress, and some experts even suggest that a little stress is good for you. In my view, that idea is flawed—the misleading result of averaging data across many individuals. Yes, high levels of stress are harmful to most people, adversely affecting health, mood and productivity. And yes, most people perform and feel better when faced with moderate levels of stress. And sure, very few people know how to be productive when they are not being pushed by stressors—but it can be done. Just as some people are able to perform well under highly stressful conditions (think Olympic athletes), it is also possible to perform well when relaxed (think masters of kung fu). That should be the goal, in my opinion: a life that is productive but also virtually stress-free.

Bear in mind that there is only an approximate relationship between stress— our internal, adverse reaction to stimuli we perceive as threatening—and stressors—the threatening stimuli that actually surround us. A traffic jam might make us feel stressed one day but not the next. This is good news because it suggests that with the right training and preparation, we might be able to face any stressor with equanimity.

Fast Facts Stress Test

  1. few people receive formal training on how to manage stress, which may explain why many of us turn to destructive ways of coping.

  2. Although commonly practiced relaxation techniques such as yoga and meditation help, they may not be as effective as learning to side-step potential stressors before they happen.

  3. receiving training in stress management will make us better at handling the ups and downs of daily life.

I have been investigating this issue for nearly two decades now, and in a study I presented recently at the annual meeting of the Western Psychological Association in Los Angeles, I compared different stress-management techniques to see which are the most helpful.

In real life, unfortunately, although we receive intensive formal training in writing and math, learning how to manage stress is left entirely to chance. Many people, overwhelmed by bills, flat tires and abusive bosses, resort to destructive ways of coping, drugs and alcohol being the most common. But research conducted over the past few decades suggests that there are at least four broad, trainable skill sets or “competencies” people can use to manage stress non-destructively: source management (reducing or eliminating the sources of stress), relaxation (practicing techniques such as breathing exercises or meditation), thought management (correcting irrational thinking and interpreting events in ways that don’t hurt you), and prevention (planning and conducting your life so that you avoid stressors).

My new study looked at how an ethnically and racially diverse group of 3,304 people managed stress. The subjects ranged from 10 to 86 years old (mean 34.9), and about 85 percent of them were from the U.S. or Canada, with the remainder from 28 other countries. They participated in the study by completing an online test accessible at http://MyStressManagementSkills.com.

Participants were asked to answer various demographic questions and then to rate, on 10-point scales, how stressed they were, how generally happy they were, and how much success they had had in both their personal and professional lives. I conjectured that people with good stress-management skills would be not only less stressed but also happier and more successful both personally and professionally. Stress can really wear you down, after all, and it is brutal on relationships, even affecting the quality of parenting [“What Makes a Good Parent?” by Robert Epstein; Scientific American Mind, November/December 2010].

Although we receive formal training in writing and math, learning how to manage stress is left entirely to chance.

The main body of the test consisted of 28 questions about different practices that fall into the four broad competency areas I mentioned earlier, with the questions asked in a random order. “I often reinterpret events to reduce the stress I’m feeling” is an example of a test item that fits into the thought-management category. (To take an abridged version of the test, see the box above.) For each test item, people indicated on a five-point scale how much they agreed or disagreed with the statement. On completion of the test, participants were immediately given a total score, along with results in each of the four competency areas and information about what the scores meant.

A Surprise, A Lesson and A Dire Need

I thought I could predict the outcomes of this study fairly well (a presumptuous attitude in science), but in one respect—an outcome that has important practical implications—my prediction was way off. If anyone had asked me which of the four competencies were most important, I would have said relaxation, followed by thought management. After all, a number of studies confirm what common sense tells you about relaxation: people who learn and practice techniques such as breathing exercises, muscle-relaxation exercises, yoga, meditation, and so on benefit in multiple ways. Meditating regularly, for example, has been shown to lower blood pressure and also to help people feel “immunized” against stressors. As for thought management, it is perhaps the main thing that therapists and counselors teach their clients: how to reinterpret events in your life so that they stop bothering you. It is empowering to learn how to do that.

But the new study showed clearly that prevention is by far the most helpful competency when it comes to managing stress. I determined this using a statistical technique called regression analysis, in which scores in the different competency areas (known as subscales on a test of this kind) are used to predict various outcomes, in this case the answers to those questions about happiness and success. Prevention—doing things such as planning your day or year and trying to avoid stressors before they can affect you—was by far the most powerful predictor of all four of the outcome questions.

On average, people get a grade of F when it comes to managing the inevitable stress they face in their lives.

Also suggestive, the second most powerful predictor was source management, which is sometimes reactive but usually proactive. This broad category includes practices such as delegating tasks, organizing your space and scheduling your time well, all of which can be considered preventive measures.

Least predictive were those other two competencies, relaxation and thought management—the competencies that people who are concerned about stress are most likely to try to improve through counseling or training. Relaxation, which can be practiced both proactively and reactively, fared better than thought management, which is almost always reactive. (My favorite example comes from Aesop’s Fables. Frustrated that he can’t reach the bunch of grapes, the fox reframes his thinking and concludes, “They are probably sour anyway.” Problem solved! Stress relieved!)

The lesson here is to manage stress proactively. Taking a deep breath or counting to 10 when you are stressed is all well and good, but you will be much happier in the long run if you can find ways to avoid the situations that make you feel stressed in the first place [see the Test Your Stress-Management Competence section at the bottom of this page].

Can we actually learn to fight stress more effectively? Fortunately, my study shows that (1) people who have had training in stress management are better at it than people who have not and that (2) the greater the number of training hours, the better the skills. This suggests that no matter what our natural re- actions are to stress, learning stress-management skills is likely to be beneficial. That said, only 17 percent of the subjects in this study had had any stress-management training—a figure that is probably much lower in the general population. Even more disturbing, the new data show that people are poor at prevention; it ranked third out of the four competencies in our test scores.

The worst news, though, has to do with the overall scores I found. On a 100-point scale, people scored 55.3 on average on a test of simple, basic stress-management techniques. If you think of that as a score on an exam at school, that means that on average, people get a grade of F when it comes to managing the inevitable stress they face in their lives.

The Importance of Stress Management

A few years ago I conducted a seminar on stress management at a mental health facility in Massachusetts. Before we started, I asked the attendees—administrators and staff members at the clinic—to take a test of stress-management competence similar to the one I used in the present study. One disturbing result: the director of the clinic—a personal friend—had the lowest score in the room. He also had the most stressful job, and he had suffered some significant health problems in recent years, very likely brought about or at least made worse by stress. The physiological mechanisms by which stress damages health have now been well established.

The inability or unwillingness to manage stress can have a devastating effect on people’s lives. One of the most dramatic results of the new study was a high positive correlation between test scores and the overall level of happiness people reported. To put this another way, the study suggests that nearly 25 per- cent of the happiness we experience in life is related to—and perhaps even the result of—our ability to manage stress. I also found a strong negative correlation between the test scores and the level of stress people were feeling, as well as strong positive correlations between test scores and both the personal and pro- fessional success people had experienced.

The bottomline is that stress management is both trainable and beneficial, and individuals reap the greatest benefits by fighting stress before it starts. That insight leaves us with a great challenge: to teach techniques for managing stress to a public that knows little about them and, especially, to educate our children before the big stressors hit.

An Ounce of Prevention

Here are six strategies for fighting stress before it starts, which are suggested by the new study:

1. Seek and kill.

Take a few minutes every day to identify stressors in your life and find ways to reduce or eliminate them. Does that old cell phone of yours make you swear because the battery keeps dying? Get a new phone!

2. Commit to the positive.

In our culture, people often try to cope with stress in self-destructive ways, mainly by drinking, taking drugs or overeating. Commit to avoiding the self destructive solutions—for a day, a week or whatever you can handle—and replacing them with positive, healthful ways of managing stress. Yoga class, anyone?

3. Be your own personal secretary.

People who keep lists of things to do really do more things. So use your smartphone or, in a pinch, a pen and paper (remember those?) to keep a list of things you need to do. You’ll never walk out of a supermarket again having purchased everything except what you went there to buy.

4. Immunize yourself.

Through exercise, thought management and the daily practice of relaxation techniques, you will be in a better position to face stressors without feeling stress. Lion tamers manage to remain calm when working with lions, after all. With the right preparation, you can face almost any situation calmly.

5. Make a little plan.

Spend a few minutes every morning planning your day. You will waste less time, get more done and feel less stressed.

6. And make a big plan.

The famous behavioral psychologist B. F. Skinner not only planned his day and year, he even maintained a 10-year planner. You don’t need to go that far, but planning your future is a great way of exercising more control over your life. The more control you have, the less stressed you will feel.

Test Your Stress-Management Competence

Here is a selection of items from the Epstein Stress-Management Inventory (ES MI-i). To get a rough measure of your competence in the four areas measured by the test, check off items that apply to you. If you are able to check off three or four items in a category, you are probably reasonably competent in that category. To compute your overall score, add up the number of check marks you made. If you scored under 12, you might want to consider taking a stress-management course. To take the full version of the test, visit http://MyStressManagementSkills.com.

Competency I - Manages Sources of Stress

___ I have adequate shelf, file and drawer space to serve my needs.
___ I consistently put important tasks ahead of unimportant tasks.
___ I try to schedule appointments and meetings so that they won’t overlap.
___ I have no trouble keeping my work area organized.

Competency II - Practices Relaxation Techniques

___ I schedule some relaxation time every day.
___ I sometimes visualize soothing scenes to relax.
___ I sometimes use special breathing techniques to help me relax.
___ I sometimes tense and relax my muscles as a way of fighting stress.

Competency III - Manages Thoughts

___ I regularly examine and try to correct any irrational beliefs I might have.
___ I’m aware that my thinking is sometimes unclear or irrational.
___ I keep myself calm by being selective about what I pay attention to in my environment.
___ I often reinterpret events to reduce the stress I’m feeling.

Competency IV - Prevents Stress from Occurring

___ I try to fight stress before it starts.
___ I keep an up-to-date list of things I’m supposed to do.
___ I spend a few minutes each morning planning my day.
___ I have a clear picture of how I’d like my life to proceed over the next few years.

GRAND TOTAL______

5 Commons Mistakes That Cause New Habits to Fail

shutterstock_1010179987.jpg

James Clear
January 26, 2015

Welcome to 2015. Depending on where you get your numbers, somewhere between 81 percent and 92 percent of New Years Resolutions fail. 

Translation: At least 8 times out of 10, you are more likely to fall back into your old habits and patterns than you are to stick with a new behavior.

Behavior change is hard. No doubt about it.

Why is that? What are the biggest reasons new habits fail to stick? And what can we do to make positive changes easier?

I don’t claim to have all the answers, but after two years of researching and writing about the science of behavior change, let me share the most practical insights I’ve learned so far.

PROBLEM 1: Trying to Change Everything at Once

SOLUTION: Pick one thing and do it well.

The general consensus among behavior change researchers is that you should focus on changing a very small number of habits at the same time.

The highest number you’ll find is changing three habits at once and that suggestion comes from BJ Fogg at Stanford University. Let’s be clear: Dr. Fogg is talking about incredibly tiny habits.

How tiny? Suggested habits include flossing one tooth, doing one pushup per day, or saying “It’s going to be a great day” when you get out of bed in the morning. So, even if you keep your new habits that small, you should work on no more than three habits at a time. 

Personally, I prefer to focus on building one new behavior into my life at a time. Once that habit becomes routine, then I move on to the next one. For example, I spent six months focusing on going to the gym every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Once that felt like a routine, then I moved on to my next habit, which was writing a new article every Monday and Thursday. This time, I spent eight months focusing on the new habit until it became part of my lifestyle. Next, I moved on to flossing every day. And so on. You get the idea.

BONUS SOLUTION: Pick a keystone habit.

Still struggling? When in doubt, pick something that could potentially be a keystone habit.

A keystone habit is a behavior or routine that naturally pulls the rest of your life in line. For example, weightlifting is my keystone habit. If I get to the gym, then it creates a ripple effect in other areas of my life. Not only do I get the benefits of working out, I enjoy a wide range of secondary benefits. I focus better after the workout. I tend to eat better when I’m working out consistently. I sleep better at night and wake up with more energy in the morning.

Notice that I didn’t try to build better habits for my focus, my nutrition, my sleep, or my energy. I just did my keystone habit and those other areas were improved as well. This is why keystone habits are powerful. They cascade into other areas of your life. You’ll have to figure out what your keystone habit is for you, but some popular examples include exercise, meditation, or budgeting your monthly finances.

PROBLEM 2: Starting With a Habit That is Too Big

SOLUTION: As Leo Babauta says, “Make it so easy you can’t say no.”

If you were to map out the motivation needed to perform a habit, you would find that for many behaviors it looks like this:

In other words, the most difficult part of a new habit is starting the behavior. It takes a lot of motivation to head to the gym for a workout after an exhausting day at work, but once you actually begin the workout it doesn’t take much willpower to finish it. For this reason, one of the best things you can do for building a new behavior is to start with a remarkably small habit.

New habits should be non-threatening. Start with a behavior that is so small it seems easy and reasonable to do it each day.

  • Want to do 50 pushups per day? Start with something easy like 5 or 10.
  • Wish you would read more books? Start by reading two pages every night.
  • Want to finally start meditating? Meditate for one minute each morning. After a month, you can move up to two minutes.

PROBLEM 3: Seeking a Result, Not a Ritual

SOLUTION: Focus on the behavior, not the outcome.

Nearly every conversation about goals and resolutions is focused on some type of result. What do you want to achieve? How much weight do you want to lose? How much money do you want to save? How many books do you want to read? How much less do you want to drink?

Naturally, we are outcome focused because we want our new behaviors to deliver new results.

Here’s the problem: New goals don’t deliver new results. New lifestyles do. And a lifestyle is not an outcome, it is a process. For this reason, all of your energy should go into building better rituals, not chasing better results.

Rituals are what turn behaviors into habits. In the words of Tony Schwartz, “A ritual is a highly precise behavior you do at a specific time so that it becomes automatic over time and no longer requires much conscious intention or energy.” 

If you want a new habit, you have to fall in love with a new ritual.

PROBLEM 4: Not Changing Your Environment

SOLUTION: Build an environment that promotes good habits.

I have never seen a person consistently stick to positive habits in a negative environment. You can frame this statement in many different ways:

  • It is nearly impossible to eat healthy all of the time if you are constantly surrounded by unhealthy food.
  • It is nearly impossible to remain positive all of the time if you are constantly surrounded by negative people.
  • It is nearly impossible to focus on a single task if you are constantly bombarded with text messages, notifications, emails, questions, and other digital distractions.
  • It is nearly impossible to not drink if you are constantly surrounded by alcohol.
  • And so on.

We rarely admit it (or even realize it), but our behaviors are often a simple response to the environment we find ourselves in.

In fact, you can assume that the lifestyle you have today (all of your habits) is largely a product of the environment you live in each day. The single biggest change that will make a new habit easier is performing it in an environment that is designed to make that habit succeed. For example, let’s say that your New Year’s resolution is to reduce stress in your life and live in a more focused manner.

Here is the current situation:

Every morning, the alarm on your phone goes off. You pick up the phone, turn off the alarm, and immediately start checking email and social media. Before you have even made it out of bed, you are already thinking about a half dozen new emails. Maybe you’ve already responded to a few. You also browsed the latest updates on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, so those messages and headlines are swimming around in your mind too. You haven’t even dressed yet, but your mind is already distracted and stressed.

If this scene sounds familiar and you want to change your habit, then the easiest way to do it is to change your environment. Don’t keep your phone in your room. The phone is the thing that causes all of the problems, so change the environment. Buy a regular alarm clock (shockingly old school, I know) and charge your phone in another room (or, at least, across the room away from your bed).

You can change the digital environment too. Turn off all push notifications on your phone. You can even remove your email and social media apps from the home screen and hide them somewhere else on the phone. I deleted all of my apps from my phone for a month just to see how it would go. I missed them very little.

If your environment doesn’t change, you probably won’t either.

PROBLEM 5: Assuming Small Changes Don’t Add Up.

SOLUTION: Get one percent better each day.

If you listen to nearly anyone talk about their goals, you’ll hear them describe the minimum that they want to achieve.

  • “I want to save at least $5,000 this year.”
  • “I want to read at least 30 books this year.”
  • “I want to lose at least 20 pounds before summer.”

The underlying assumption is that your achievements need to be big to make a difference. Because of this, we always talk ourselves into chasing a big habit. “If I want to lose at least 20 pounds, I need to start busting my butt and working out for 90 minutes a day!”

If you look at your current habits, however, you’ll see a different picture. Nearly every habit you have today, good or bad, is the result of many small choices made over time. It is the repeated pattern of small behaviors that leads to significant results. Each day we make the choice to become one percent better or one percent worse, but so often the choices are small enough that we miss them.

If you’re serious about building a new habit, then start with something small. Start with something you can stick with for good. Then, once you’ve repeated it enough times, you can worry about increasing the intensity.

Build the behavior first. Worry about the results later.

Content from here.

10 Powerful Ways to Master Self Discipline

shutterstock_340343957.jpg

Deep Patel
February 22, 2017

Like everything else that brings progress, the greatest struggle is always with ourselves.

It may be hard to believe when you’re facing a hot-fudge sundae or the prospect of sleeping in versus hitting the gym, but studies show that people with self-discipline are happier.

People with a higher degree of self-control spend less time debating whether or not to indulge in behaviors that are detrimental to their health, and are able to make positive decisions more easily. They don’t let impulses or feelings dictate their choices. Instead, they make level-headed decisions. As a result, they tend to feel more satisfied with their lives.

There are things you can do to learn self-discipline and gain the willpower to live a happier life. If you are looking to take control of your habits and choices, here are the eight most powerful things you can do to master self-discipline.

1. Know your weaknesses.

We all have weaknesses. Whether they’re snacks like potato chips or chocolate chip cookies, or technology like Facebook or the latest addictive game app, they have similar effects on us.

Acknowledge your shortcomings, whatever they may be. Too often people either try to pretend their vulnerabilities don’t exist or cover up any pitfalls in their lives. Own up to your flaws. You can’t overcome them until you do.

2. Remove temptations.

Like the saying goes, “out of sight, out of mind.” It may seem silly, but this phrase offers powerful advice. By simply removing your biggest temptations from your environment, you will greatly improve your self-discipline.

If you want to eat healthier, toss the junk food in the trash. If you want to improve your productivity at work, turn off social media notifications and silence your cell phone. The fewer distractions you have, the more focused you will be on accomplishing your goals. Set yourself up for success by ditching bad influences.

3. Set clear goals and have an execution plan.

If you hope to achieve self-discipline, you must have a clear vision of what you hope to accomplish. You must also have an understanding of what success means to you. After all, if you don’t know where you are going, it’s easy to lose your way or get sidetracked.

A clear plan outlines each step you must take in order to reach your goals. Figure out who you are and what you are about. Create a mantra to keep yourself focused. Successful people use this technique to stay on track and establish a clear finish line.

4. Build your self-discipline.

We aren’t born with self-discipline--it’s a learned behavior. And just like any other skill you want to master, it requires daily practice and repetition. Just like going to the gym, willpower and self-discipline take a lot of work. The effort and focus that self-discipline requires can be draining.

As time passes, it can become more and more difficult to keep your willpower in check. The bigger the temptation or decision, the more challenging it can feel to tackle other tasks that also require self-control. So work on building your self-discipline through daily diligence.

5. Create new habits by keeping it simple.

Acquiring self-discipline and working to instill a new habit can feel daunting at first, especially if you focus on the entire task at hand. To avoid feeling intimidated, keep it simple. Break your goal into small, doable steps. Instead of trying to change everything at once, focus on doing one thing consistently and master self-discipline with that goal in mind.

If you’re trying to get in shape, start by working out 10 or 15 minutes a day. If you’re trying to achieve better sleep habits, start by going to bed 15 minutes earlier each night. If you want to eat healthier, start by prepping a bag lunch the night before to take with you in the morning. Take baby steps. Eventually, when you’re ready, you can add more goals to your list.

6. Eat often and healthy.

The feeling of being hangry--that angry, annoyed, irritated sensation you get when you’re hungry—is real and can have a substantial impact on willpower. Research has proven that low blood sugar often weakens a person’s resolve, making you grumpy and pessimistic.

When you’re hungry, your ability to concentrate suffers and your brain doesn’t function as well. Your self-control is likely weakened in all areas, including diet, exercise, work and relationships. So fuel up with healthy snacks and regular meals to keep yourself in check.

7. Change your perception about willpower.

According to a study by Stanford University, the amount of willpower a person has is predetermined by their beliefs. If you believe you have a limited amount of willpower, you probably won’t surpass those limits. If you don’t place a limit on your self-control, you are less likely to exhaust yourself before meeting your goals.

In short, it may be that our internal conceptions about willpower and self-control determine how much of them we have. If you can remove these subconscious obstacles and truly believe you can do it, then you will give yourself an extra boost of motivation toward making those goals a reality.

8. Give yourself a backup plan.

Psychologists use a technique to boost willpower called “implementation intention.” That’s when you give yourself a plan to deal with a potentially difficult situation you know you will likely face. For instance, imagine that you’re working on eating healthier, but you’re on your way to a party where food will be served.

Before you go, tell yourself that instead of diving into a plate of cheese and crackers, you will sip a glass of water and focus on mingling. Going in with a plan will help give you the mindset and the self-control necessary for the situation. You will also save energy by not having to make a sudden decision based on your emotional state.

9. Reward yourself.

Give yourself something to be excited about by planning a reward when you accomplish your goals. Just like when you were a little kid and got a treat for good behavior, having something to look forward to gives you the motivation to succeed.

Anticipation is powerful. It gives you something to obsess over and focus on, so you’re not only thinking of what you are trying to change. And when you achieve your goal, find a new goal and a new reward to keep yourself moving forward.

10. Forgive yourself and move forward.

Even with all of our best intentions and well-laid plans, we sometimes fall short. It happens. You will have ups and downs, great successes and dismal failures. The key is to keep moving forward.

If you stumble, acknowledge what caused it and move on. Don’t let yourself get wrapped up in guilt, anger or frustration, because these emotions will only drag you further down and impede future progress. Learn from your missteps and forgive yourself. Then get your head back in the game and refocus on your goals.

Content from here.

7 Ways to Make Good Habits Stick

shutterstock_576016501.jpg

By Rhett Power
March 10, 2017

It takes dedication, discipline, and a deep desire to change

We all have dreams and visions of the life we want to live. But we also know that getting there requires dedication, discipline, and most importantly change. So how do we make these changes in a way that makes them last for the long-term? Here are a few Suggestions.

Related: The Entrepreneurs Book of Actions: Essential Daily Exercises and Habits for Becoming Wealthier, Smarter, and More Successful

1. Start Small and Go Slow

Don't overwhelm yourself trying to walk a mile a day, when you've barely been successful walking around the block. It's not necessarily that the new habit is hard. It's that we aren't accustomed to putting in the level of effort required to accomplish them. Take time to train yourself by approaching each new habit as a process rather than a "do it all now" mindset.

2. Why Do You Want It

It's very hard to devote yourself to something that you are not entirely invested in emotionally. Being clear on why you want the new habit, and what benefit it offers you will help make sure your heart is truly in it.

3. Give it Life Support

Do your daily activities make it easy to perform your new habit? Perhaps integrating the new habit into something you already do will help put this new activity into regular practice.

4. One at a Time Please

It takes a lot of time to work on just one habit. Don't frustrate yourself by trying to focus on too many things at a time. You'll only serve to overwhelm yourself, which will definitely not make you successful in getting any of them stick.

5. Make a Plan

Without a clear plan for how you intend to make your new habit stick, you'll only stumble around and most likely fail to accomplish your goal. Take the time to write your plan down and keep it someplace where you'll you see it every day. Seeing it every day will reinforce the new habit and will remind you why it's important.

6. Who Cares

Well, obviously you do. But, having at least one other person who supports your goal will also help make the habit stick. Try to find someone who will not only support your new habit but encourages it. Success certainly is a lot easier when we have someone cheering for us.

7. Make it Fun

It's no use beating yourself up when you don't meet all of your goals. This is only going to make you angry with yourself. It's easy to walk away from something when we are mad or disappointed in ourselves. So try to take the frustration out of by rewarding yourself for sticking to it for five days, ten days, etc.

Sticking to a new habit doesn't have to cause you stress, and it shouldn't feel like a burden that keeps you from living the life you want. If you are working towards the right goals, you should feel happy with yourself for making progress. You should feel good about yourself and the future.

Content from here.

How to Live a Happy Life: 10 Things to Say Yes to Starting Today

shutterstock_514951309.jpg

by Henrik Edberg

Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking.
— Marcus Aurelius
Most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.
— Abraham Lincoln
If you want happiness for an hour — take a nap.
If you want happiness for a day — go fishing.
If you want happiness for a year — inherit a fortune.
If you want happiness for a lifetime — help someone else.
— Chinese Proverb

Saying no is often the easier way out.

When you say no you can safely stay within your comfort zone. You don’t have to fear failing or being rejected. The scary unknown and sometimes difficult change can be avoided.

But if you say yes your life can expand and deepen. The yes allows you to open up your life to more happiness.

Today I would like to share 10 things that I have said yes to and that have helped me to become happier in my life.

Pick one of these that resonate the most with you and focus on making it a part of your life.

1. Being imperfect.

Trying to be perfect is setting the bar too high. It will be impossible to reach. And so you’ll lower your self-esteem. You may not feel very happy about how things are going in your life. Even though they might be going very well indeed.

Perfectionism is mindset that eats at you and your happiness. Saying yes to being imperfect can turn that around.

How to do it:

 

  • Realize the costs of buying into myths of perfection. 
    By watching too many movies, listening to too many songs and just taking in what the world is telling you it is very easy to be lulled into dreams of perfection. It sounds so good and wonderful and you want it.But in real life it clashes with reality and it can harm or possibly lead you to end relationships, jobs, projects etc. just because your expectations are out of this world. I find it very helpful to remind myself of this simple fact.
  • Go for good enough. Aiming for perfection usually winds up in a project or something else very slowly or never being finished. So go for good enough instead. Don’t use it as an excuse to slack off. But simply realize that there is something called good enough and when you are there then you are finished with whatever you are doing.

2. Being you.

Not being able to be yourself, always trying to change for others or censoring yourself don’t feel good at all. It makes life feel so small and limited.

So how can you be yourself? Your environment plays a huge part.

How to do it:

  • Supportive people. Spend more time with the people who support your dreams, values and you. Or are at least neutral. And spend less time with people who always criticize you or you simply aren’t a good fit for.
  • Supportive and life-expanding influences outside of your everyday life. Change your environment not only close to you. Go further and spend more time with sources of information that supports your dreams and can give you information that expands and makes your life happier and more exciting. Find support from people you have never met via books, movies, blogs, forums and music. And spend less time with negative and limiting influences.

3. The things that make you come alive.

It is important to find some time and energy for the things that you feel makes you come alive.

How to do it:

  • Mix it up. Try something new, even if it is just something small each week. Eat the vegetarian dish at lunch if you always eat meat. Listen to some music that isn’t your normal cup of tea. Go out to a movie, café or pub with friends if you usually stay in at night. Or vice versa. Create variation and expand your comfort zone regularly in small ways to live a happier life.
  • Reconnect with what you used to love if it has fallen by the wayside. If you used to go fishing, paint or play the guitar and it really made you come alive then reconnect. Use an hour for it this week and see if it still brings you joy and makes you come alive.

4. Optimism.

Pessimism can really limit your life and bring it to a standstill. It can make it feel like there’s no point in trying because it won’t make a difference or you’ll just fail. It can create ceilings and walls made out of glass where there really are none.

Saying yes a more optimistic way of thinking can on the other hand open your life up.

How to do it:

  • Ask yourself optimistic questions. When you’re in what seems like a negative situation then make something better out of it by asking yourself questions that promote optimism and helps you to find solutions. Questions like: What is one thing that is positive or good about this situation? And what is the opportunity within this situation?
  • Start your day off on the right foot. As mentioned in tip #2, the influences in your life can make a huge difference. So choose to spend your breakfast time with an optimistic influence like for example a book, a blog or your mom. Or talk to someone early in the day that most often supports and cheers you up like a co-worker or a friend in school.

5. Turning negative self-talk around.

It is very important to keep your motivation and your self-esteem up to live a happier life.

Your inner critic may be one of biggest obstacles standing in your way of that. If you make a mistake or fail, if someone criticizes you or if you are just getting tired then that small inner voice can become louder and louder and drag and keep you down.

It can tell you that you are stupid or lazy. That you will not succeed. That you are worse or uglier than someone else.

Being able to turn the inner critic around or to shut it up as soon as it pops up is a very helpful skill.

How to do it:

  • Say stop. Simply create a stop word or stop-phrase that you say or shout in your mind whenever your critic pipes up with a distorted and self-esteem hurting thought. Say: Stop! Or: No, no, no, we are not going there again!
  • Explain to yourself what this will lead to over the next year or more. As I mentioned in tip #1, reminding yourself of the cost of buying into myths of perfection is a powerful way to replace those thought habits. This works very well for other self-esteem hurting thought patterns too. Remind yourself of how the inner critic has shaped your life so far. And in your mind see the cost of letting it roam free for another year or five.

6. Saying no when you feel it is the right thing for you to do.

To have the time and energy to say yes to the most important things you have to say no to some things too.

How to do it:

  • What do I truly want to focus my time and energy on? When you get an offer or an opportunity arises ask yourself this question. When you look over your schedule ask yourself this question. Think about and look at what your top priorities are and what you deep want before you say anything.
  • Disarm and then state your need. It becomes easier for people to accept your no if you disarm them first. You could for example do that by honestly saying that you are flattered or that you appreciate the kind offer. Then you, for instance, add that you do not have the time for accepting and doing what they want. Or say that you do not feel that this offer is a good fit for your life right now.

7. Forgiveness.

Not clinging to the past and to the hurt that is there but to let it go and look to the now and the future is an essential thing to find more happiness in your life. Forgiving is not always easy and can take time but there are some things that can make it a little easier.

How to do it:

  • Remind yourself that you forgive for your own benefit. As long as you don’t forgive someone you are linked to that person. Your thoughts will return to the person who wronged you and what he or she did over and over again. The emotional link between the two of you is so strong and inflicts much suffering in you and – as a result of your inner turmoil – most often in other people around you too. When you forgive you do not only release the other person. You set yourself free from all of that agony too.
  • Make a habit of forgiving yourself. Do not just forgive others but also yourself. By forgiving yourself – instead of resenting yourself for something you did a week or 10 years ago – you make the habit of forgiveness more and more of a natural part of you. And so forgiving others becomes easier too.

8. Making someone else happy.

Making someone else happier has many benefits. The happiness spreads back to you as you see his or her face light up and as you know you did the right thing.

It spreads back to you as people have a strong tendency to want to give back when you have done something good for them. And it spreads out into the world as that now happier person may spread his or her happiness to other people.

How to do it:

  • Help out practically. Lend someone a hand when they are moving. Or give them a ride in your car. Or if they need information, try to find a solution by asking the people you know or via Google.
  • Just listen. Sometime a friend or someone close to you may just want to vent or for someone to listen as he or she figures things out. It may not seem like much but it can be an immense help for someone who needs it. So be there fully – don’t sit there thinking about something else – and listen.

9. Openness and growth.

Saying yes to being open to the good things in life and growing as a person plays a big role when it comes to happiness.

The other things in this article will help you with that. But here are two more tips that will make your journey a little easier and simpler.

How to do it:

  • Change one thing at a time. Changing many things or your whole life at once sure sounds good. But willpower is something we often overestimate and everyday life tends to come in the way. So to make sure you have a much better chance of changing a habit or area of your life change just one thing at a time.
  • Start small. Just say no to one small thing you don’t want to do this week. Or forgive one person for one thing. Or help and make someone happy in some small way. Take just one small step outside of your comfort zone.

10. To living your life fully despite setbacks.

When things have been standing still for while or you hit a bump in the road then it’s easy to back down. To shrink. To give in or give up. But a better way to say yes to happiness in those situations is to say yes to living your life fully.

How to do it:

  • Keep going. When you fail or make a mistake don’t give up. Reconnect with optimism by using the questions further up in this article. Find inspiration from books and blogs and the people around you. Don’t beat yourself up. Instead nudge yourself back on track again.
  • Remember, it’s not too late to change your life. I didn’t really try to improve my life very much until I was 25. And many throughout the world and history have made positive changes far later in life than that. So if you want to make a change then start today. Work with what you have where you are right now. Start small and take the first step towards something new.

Content from here.

7 Science-Backed Strategies for Building Powerfu Habits

shutterstock_762804607.jpg


Lydia Belanger
Entrepreneur Staff

You're not alone. Science can help.

Achieving a goal often involves developing a new routine and sticking to it. Whether you want to network more, take on more consulting work, wake up earlier or exercise regularly, you’ll have to cement your intention by making it a habit.

Switching up your schedule can be unsettling and inconvenient. Life gets in the way, and it can be tempting to make excuses about why you have to break your habit.

That’s why some scientists dedicate their careers to figuring out what influences human behavior. If we know how we’re hardwired to respond to our own actions, we can set ourselves up for continued success.

1. Discover what triggers you.

In his book The Power of Habit, author Charles Duhigg describes a simple neurological loop at the core of every habit, a revelation MIT researchers originally discovered. The three steps in the loop are “cue,” “routine” and “reward.”

To carry out a specific action regularly, you’ll need a reliable reminder (cue). If you aim to stick to a certain time of day, set an alarm. A consistent location also helps. Also, places you already frequent will likely trigger your existing habits (e.g., sitting on the couch triggers you to want to watch TV).

Other people are some of your biggest behavioral influences and can be cues, too. Try to surround yourself with individuals who already behave how you aspire to.

If you perform on cue over and over, you’ll develop your routine. And once you’re immersed in your routine, you’ll start to reap the reward that comes from following through with your intentions.

2. View your goal as an obligation rather than a desire.

Sometimes we’re motivated more by the negative repercussions of not doing something than we are by the possible benefits of doing it.

Tory Higgins, a professor of psychology and business at Columbia University, has spent more than 20 years studying what makes people reach their goals. He is also the director of Columbia’s Motivation Science Center. He describes two categories of goals: promotional goals and prevention goals. Promotional goals are ones we hope to achieve, while prevention goals are ones we are afraid not to achieve.

You can look at the same goal and frame it in a promotional manner or a prevention manner. Prevention is more effective, Higgins has said. So, tell yourself, “I have to achieve my goal because otherwise I won’t X.” The first time you carry out the activity necessary for your habit and goal, it will become your new status quo. You will feel worried that slipping up at any point in the future will disrupt that status quo.

Conversely, framing it in a promotion way, such as “I have to achieve my goal because X good thing will happen if I do,” doesn’t hold you accountable. If you have an off day, you’ll become discouraged that the “X good thing” you’re working toward will never materialize.

3. Work on one habit at a time.

Even if you’ve determined your triggers, or a schedule for carrying out your new habit, you will be far less likely to keep it up if you try to make more than one big routine change at a time.

If you’re trying to master more than one habit at a time, studies have shown that you’ll be far more likely to fail than if you were just working on one. Know that you don’t need to revamp your entire life all at once, and you probably won’t be able to, anyway.

4. Stack one habit on top of another.

Keep in mind that you already have a lot of habits. But don’t worry: They don’t have to get in the way of the new ones you’re trying to establish.

In fact, your existing habits can serve as the basis for your future habits. Certain actions are already second nature to you -- from showering to brewing a pot of coffee -- because you have developed neural pathways in your brain that take you through the steps.

Experts suggest that you “stack” your habits. For example, if your goal is to practice gratitude regularly, when you go to the kitchen to make your coffee in the mornings, you might think of one thing you’re grateful for. Why try to carve a new path when you can follow a well-worn one?

5. Don’t confuse your habit with your goal.

In other words, don’t dwell on what you’re working toward in the long term. If you successfully perform your habitual task, consider that a win in and of itself.

This is the “routine” part of the neurological habit loop. You can’t expect to see dramatic fitness results after only going to the gym a handful of times, and the same goes for any other type of goal and habit. Focus on the ritual, rather than the result. Over time, the process will become second nature, and your desired outcome will follow.

6. Minimize decision-making.

Making choices is tiresome. There’s even a term for the exhaustion you feel after making too many: Decision fatigue.

One study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that participants demonstrated reduced self-control -- less physical stamina, reduced persistence in the face of failure and more procrastination -- after making several decisions about what types of goods to buy.

If your goal is to read more, for instance, create a short list of books or articles you’re interested in, then rank them in order of which you want to read first. Simply wandering over to your bookshelf every time you’re ready to crack open a book will make you feel overwhelmed.

Streamlining your routine and narrowing your choices -- in as many aspects of your life as possible -- will save you the mental energy you’ll need for the activity you’re trying to turn into a habit.

7. Reward yourself.

This doesn’t mean you need to provide yourself with external rewards such as small personal gifts (although you might find that effective). Your brain chemistry has its own reward system.

Every time you check off a task on your to-do list, your brain secretes the hormone dopamine, which corresponds with pleasure, learning and motivation. This is what makes you feel good about yourself when you do something you intended to do.

In pursuit of more dopamine, you’ll be driven to perform that same task again. Success begets success.

But keep in mind that little successes build up to big ones, as Stanford researcher B.J. Fogg has found. For instance, if your goal is better time management, commit to working on a project for just 10 minutes a day at first. If you set the bar at a height you can consistently clear, you’ll be more likely to succeed, get that dopamine rush again and keep your momentum going.

Content from here.

5 Triggers That Make New Habits Stick

shutterstock_467426768.jpg

From jamesclear.com

In his best-selling book, The Power of Habit (audiobook), author Charles Duhigg explains a simple three-step process that all habits follow. This cycle, known as The Habit Loop, says that each habit consists of…

  1. The Trigger: the event that starts the habit.
  2. The Routine: the behavior that you perform, the habit itself.
  3. The Reward: the benefit that is associated with the behavior.

The image below shows how these three factors work together to build new habits.

a.jpg

Each phase of the loop is important for building new habits, but today I’d like to discuss the first factor: habit triggers.

There are five primary ways that a new habit can be triggered. If you understand each of them, then you can select the right one for the particular habit that you are working on. Here’s what you need to know about each trigger…

Trigger 1: Time

Time is perhaps the most common way to trigger a new habit. Common morning habits are just one example. Waking up in the morning usually triggers a cascade of habits: go to the bathroom, take a shower, brush your teeth, get dressed, make a cup of coffee, etc.

There are also less commonly recognized ways that time triggers our behavior. For example, if you pay attention you may notice that you repeat certain tasks mindlessly at different points during the day: heading off to get a snack at the same time each afternoon, taking a smoking break at the same time each morning, and so on.

If these patterns are bad habits, then you may want to take stock of how you feel at this time of day. In many cases, your habits are a signal of how you feel. Bored? Maybe your afternoon snacking habit is a way of breaking up the monotony of the day. Feeling lonely? Maybe your smoking break is a way to connect with fellow co-workers. The point is, if you understand the reason why these habits pop up at the same time each day, then it can become easier to find a new habit to fill the void. Bad habits are replaced, not eliminated.

How I use it: Time-based triggers can also be used to stick with routines over and over again. This is my preferred method. For example, every Monday and Thursday I write a new article and post it on JamesClear.com. The time and date drive this pattern. It doesn’t matter how good or how bad I feel about the article. It doesn’t matter how long or how short the article is. All that matters is that I stick to the schedule. The time triggers the habit.

Trigger 2: Location

If you have ever walked into your kitchen, seen a plate of cookies on the counter, and eaten them just because they are there in front of you, then you understand the power of location on our behavior.

In my opinion, location (i.e. environment) is the most powerful driver of mindless habits and also the least recognized. In many cases, our habits and behaviors are simply a response to the environment that surrounds us. The famous study on water versus soft drink consumption is one example of how our environment can either promote good habits or lead us toward bad ones.

However, location-based triggers are not simply things we respond to, they can also be things we create. Multiple research studies by David Neal and Wendy Wood from Duke University have discovered that new habits are actually easier to perform in new locations.

One theory is that we mentally assign habits to a particular location. This means that all of the current places that you’re familiar with (your home, your office, etc.) already have behaviors, habits and routines assigned to them. If you want to build new habits in these familiar locations, then you need to overcome the triggers and cues that your brain has already assigned to that area. Meanwhile, building a new habit in a new location is like having a blank slate. You don’t have to overcome any pre-existing triggers.

How I use it: When I arrive at the gym, I head to the same spot each time to get ready, change into my lifting gear, and start my warm up. This location in the gym is a simple trigger that helps prompt my pre-workout routine (more on the power of a pre-game routine). There are bound to be some days when I don’t feel like exercising, but the location-based trigger helps me overcome that and get into my workout ritual as painlessly as possible.

Trigger 3: Preceding Event

Many habits are a response to something else that happens in your life. Your phone buzzes, so you pick it up to check your latest text message. The little notification bar lights up on Facebook, so you click it to see what it signals. These are examples of habits that are triggered by a preceding event.

When it comes to triggers that are useful for building new habits, I find preceding events to be one of the most useful. Once you understand habit stacking you can develop all sorts of ways to tie new habits into preceding events. (Example: “When I make my morning cup of coffee, I will meditate for one minute.”)

How I use it: For over two years, I have used a preceding event to stick with a daily gratitude habit. Each night, when I sit down to eat dinner, I say one thing that I was grateful for that day. (It’s worth noting, one reason I believe I have been able to stick with this habit so consistently is because it is so small. The smaller the habit, the easier it is to build into your life.)

Trigger 4: Emotional State

In my experience, emotional state is a common trigger for bad habits. For example, you may have a habit of eating when you feel depressed. Or, you may default to online shopping when you feel bored. The emotional states of depression or boredom are triggers for these negative habits.

Unfortunately, although emotions are very common triggers for our behavior, I find that they are harder to control and utilize for building good habits. Mostly, I think this is because if you want an emotion to trigger a positive habit, then you often need to be consciously aware of the emotion as you are experiencing it. In other words, you have to be emotional and aware at the same time … and that can be hard to do. Paying attentionis a powerful, but difficult, way to build better habits.

How I use it: I’m trying to get better about noticing when I am holding tension in my body and experiencing stress. When I do notice that I’m feeling particularly stressed, I’ll use this emotional state to trigger a deep breathing habit.

I like to follow a 3-1-5 breathing pattern: three seconds in, pause for one second, five seconds out. I’ll usually repeat this sequence three to five times. I find this little breathing exercise to be a great instant stress reliever. It’s particularly useful because you can literally do it anywhere.

Trigger 5: Other People

It is probably no surprise to you that the people you surround yourself with can play a role on your habits and behaviors. What may be a surprise is just how big of an impact these people can make. One study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that if your friend becomes obese, then your risk of obesity increases by 57 percent — even if your friend lives hundreds of miles away.

As far as I can tell, the best way to make use of this information is to surround yourself with people who have the habits you want to have yourself. As Jim Rohn says, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”

How I use it: I’m not a heavy drinker, but nearly every time I go out with friends I get a drink. Why is that? If I’m not yearning for a beer, why get one? It’s simply a response to the environment that I am in and the people I am around. 

Before You Choose Your Trigger

No matter what trigger you choose for your new habit, there is one important thing to understand. The key is to choosing a successful trigger is to pick a trigger that is very specific and immediately actionable.

For example, let’s say you want to build a new habit of doing 10 pushups each day at lunch time. You might start by choosing a time-based trigger and saying something like, “During my lunch break each day, I’ll do 10 pushups.” This might work, but it’s not very specific. Do you do your pushups at the beginning of your lunch break? At the end? Any time?

Alternatively, you could create a trigger around a very specific preceding event that happens right around your lunch break. For example, “When I close my laptop to leave for lunch, I’ll do 10 pushups.” In this case, the very specific action of “closing the laptop” is a perfect trigger for what to do next (your 10 pushups). There is no mistaking when you should do the new habit.

As always, self-experimentation is the only real answer. Play around with these five habit triggers and see what works for you.

Understanding Grief

shutterstock_603769481.jpg

By Jane E. Brody
January 15, 2018

Although many of us are able to speak frankly about death, we still have a lot to learn about dealing wisely with its aftermath: grief, the natural reaction to loss of a loved one.

Relatively few of us know what to say or do that can be truly helpful to a relative, friend or acquaintance who is grieving. In fact, relatively few who have suffered a painful loss know how to be most helpful to themselves.

Two new books by psychotherapists who have worked extensively in the field of loss and grief are replete with stories and guidance that can help both those in mourning and the people they encounter avoid many of the common pitfalls and misunderstandings associated with grief. Both books attempt to correct false assumptions about how and how long grief might be experienced.

One book, “It’s OK That You’re Not OK,” by Megan Devine of Portland, Ore., has the telling subtitle “Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand.” It grew out of the tragic loss of her beloved partner, who drowned at age 39 while the couple was on vacation. The other book, especially illuminating in its coverage of how people cope with different kinds of losses, is “Grief Works: Stories of Life, Death and Surviving,” by Julia Samuel, who works with bereaved families both in private practice and at England’s National Health Service, at St. Mary’s hospital, Paddington.

The books share a most telling message: As Ms. Samuel put it, “There is no right or wrong in grief; we need to accept whatever form it takes, both in ourselves and in others.” Recognizing loss as a universal experience, Ms. Devine hopes that “if we can start to understand the true nature of grief, we can have a more helpful, loving, supportive culture.”

Both authors emphasize that grief is not a problem to be solved or resolved. Rather, it’s a process to be tended and lived through in whatever form and however long it may take.

“The process cannot be hurried by friends and family,” however well meaning their desire to relieve the griever’s anguish, Ms. Samuel wrote. “Recovery and adjustment can take much longer than most people realize. We need to accept whatever form it takes, both in ourselves and in others.”

We can all benefit from learning how to respond to grief in ways that don’t prolong, intensify or dismiss the pain. Likewise, those trying to help need to know that grief cannot be fit into a preordained time frame or form of expression. Too often people who experience a loss are disparaged because their mourning persists longer than others think reasonable or because they remain self-contained and seem not to mourn at all.

I imagine, for example, that some adults thought my stoical response to my mother’s premature death when I was 16 was “unnatural.” In truth, after tending to her for a year as she suffered through an unstoppable cancer, her death was a relief. It took a year for me to shed my armor and openly mourn the incalculable loss. But 60 years later, I still treasure her most important legacy: To live each day as if it could be my last but with an eye on the future in case it’s not.

Likewise, I was relieved when my husband’s suffering ended six weeks after diagnosis of an incurable cancer. Though I missed him terribly, I seemed to go on with my life as if little had changed. Few outside of the immediate family knew that I was honoring his dying wish that I continue to live fully for my own sake and that of our children and grandchildren.

Just as we all love others in our own unique ways, so do we mourn their loss in ways that cannot be fit into a single mold or even a dozen different molds. Last month, James G. Robinson, director of global analytics for The New York Times, described a 37-day, 6,150-mile therapeutic road trip he took with his family following the death of his 5-year-old son, collecting commemorative objects along the way and giving each member of the family a chance to express anger and sadness about the untimely loss.

Ms. Devine maintains that most grief support offered by professionals and others takes the wrong approach by encouraging mourners to move through the pain. While family and friends naturally want you to feel better, “pain that is not allowed to be spoken or expressed turns in on itself, and creates more problems,” she wrote. “Unacknowledged and unheard pain doesn’t go away. The way to survive grief is by allowing pain to exist, not in trying to cover it up or rush through it.”

As a bereaved mother told Ms. Samuel, “You never ‘get over it,’ you ‘get on with it,’ and you never ‘move on,’ but you ‘move forward.’”

Ms. Devine agrees that being “encouraged to ‘get over it’ is one of the biggest causes of suffering inside grief.” Rather than trying to “cure” pain, the goal should be to minimize suffering, which she said “comes when we feel dismissed or unsupported in our pain, with being told there is something wrong with what you feel.”

She explains that pain cannot be “fixed,” that companionship, not correction, is the best way to deal with grief. She encourages those who want to be helpful to “bear witness,” to offer friendship without probing questions or unsolicited advice, help if it is needed and wanted, and a listening ear no matter how often mourners wish to tell their story.

To those who grieve, she suggests finding a nondestructive way to express it. “If you can’t tell your story to another human, find another way: journal, paint, make your grief into a graphic novel with a very dark story line. Or go out to the woods and tell the trees. It is an immense relief to be able to tell your story without someone trying to fix it.”

She also suggests keeping a journal that records situations that either intensify or relieve suffering. “Are there times you feel more stable, more grounded, more able to breathe inside your loss? Does anything — a person, a place, an activity — add to your energy bank account? Conversely, are there activities or environments that absolutely make things worse?”

Whenever possible, to decrease suffering choose to engage in things that help and avoid those that don’t.
 

Content from here.