TIME psychology

3 Things Psychopaths Can Teach You About Being a Happier Person

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

You’re a good person. Or at least you’re trying to be. Me too. But that doesn’t mean we can’t learn a thing or two from the bad guys.

And I mean the really bad guys — psychopaths. So let’s give the devil his due. And that’s why I gave Kevin a call.

Dr. Kevin Dutton is a researcher at Oxford and author of The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success.

You might be wondering what good we can learn from people who have no empathy. Actually, plenty.

In fact, Kevin found out what it was like to be a psychopath — firsthand. For a brief period he actually turned himself into one, literally. (More on that below.)

Okay, let’s see what good we can take away from some very bad people.

So What Is A Psychopath Really?

First off, psychopaths are not necessarily violent. And it’s not a black and white thing.

They possess an extreme amount of a number of traits we all can exhibit at times: ruthlessness, fearlessness, charisma, focus, and a lack of empathy. Here’s Kevin:

When psychologists like myself talk about psychopaths, we’re actually referring to a specific set of individuals with a distinct subset of personality characteristics such as: ruthlessness, fearlessness, charm, charisma, coolness under pressure, focus, and of course, those signature deficits in conscious empathy. The first conclusion you can arrive at, Eric, is that psychopathy is not an “all or nothing” construct. It’s not a case that you’re either a psychopath, or you’re not. Some people clearly are; those people who are at the high end of the spectrum.

(For more on the professions that have most psychopaths, click here.)

And this is where it gets really interesting. Kevin got to feel firsthand what goes on inside the mind of a psychopath.

What Does It Feel Like To Be A Psychopath?

Transcranial magnetic stimulation” (TMS) is when scientists apply a powerful magnet to a part of your brain. They don’t need to open your head to do it, either. It’s similar to an MRI.

With TMS they can “turn down” the electrical signals in particular parts of your brain with powerful results.

Target the amygdala and other specific areas and you can temporarily shut off empathy and fear, giving you a “psychopath makeover.”

Via The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success:

Turn down the signals to the amygdala, of course, and, as Ahmed Karim and his colleagues at the University of Tübingen did, to the brain’s morality neighborhood, and you’re well on the way to giving someone a “psychopath makeover.”

Kevin tried this in a lab, under test conditions.

He was shown horrifying images that made him recoil. Then, after the “psychopath makeover” he was shown the images again. This time he “found it difficult to suppress a smile.” They had no effect on him.

But what did it feel like in his head to briefly be a psychopath? Here’s Kevin:

It’s as if you’ve had a six pack of beer, but you don’t feel the tiredness and sluggishness that go with it. Your inhibitions are gone, but you’re very very alert… A lot of us drive around with a foot hovering over the brake pedal too much. Psychopaths drive around without any thought to the brake pedal at all, with their foot flooring the gas. It was a beautiful feeling, I must say. It was really really good.

That’s pretty scary, right? So why in the world would he think any good could come of this? Because, again, it’s all about how intensely you have those feelings and the context you are in.

At the far end of the spectrum, no doubt, these things are very very bad. But some of these traits, at the right time and in the right role, are beneficial or downright essential. Here’s Kevin:

In order to be successful, Eric, you need the requisite skill set, plus the right kind of personality traits to optimally operationalize that skill set. I’m not saying, as some of the media have pointed out, “Dutton is saying that psychopaths are brilliant.” I’m not. If you are a pure psychopath, say a Ted Bundy, and you’re unable to regulate those dials on your mixing desk, you are going to screw your life up, and the life of anybody you come into contact with. What I am saying is, at the right level, in the right combination, and in the right context, certain psychopathic characteristics can really benefit you.

(For more on how to be fearless, click here.)

Still on the fence? I don’t blame you. Wanna be convinced? For that we’ll need to look at a psychopath we all love, respect and envy…

James Bond.

James Bond — The Psychopath We All Love

Yes, James Bond is a psychopath. Here’s Kevin:

Confidence, charisma, ruthlessness, fearlessness, mental toughness, risk taking… that is the James Bond profile, there’s no doubt about it. That is 007. In his time, amongst other things, he’s skied off the edge of a mountain. Used crocodiles as stepping stones. Killed a man in a public lavatory and hurled another into a shark pit with a suitcase containing $2 million. He is an icon of icy ingenuity, lord of the beatifically brutal. James Bond’s brain packs some of the most psychopathic neurochemistry in cinematic history, and all, of course, for Queen and country.

And this isn’t just speculation. Academic research has been done on the psychopathic traits Bond possesses — and how they can be beneficial.

Via The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success:

Back in 2010, Jonason (then at New Mexico State University) and his colleagues published a paper titled “Who Is James Bond? The Dark Triad as an Agentic Social Style,” in which they showed that men with a specific triumvirate of personality traits— the stratospheric self-esteem of narcissism; the fearlessness, ruthlessness, impulsivity, and thrill-seeking of psychopathy; and the deceitfulness and exploitativeness of Machiavellianism— can actually do pretty well for themselves out there in certain echelons of society.

Clearly, Bond isn’t always nice. But given his job, he can’t afford to be. Here’s the trailer for Casino Royale. Skip to 1:10 in and give a listen:

Vesper: It doesn’t bother you? Killing those people?

Bond: Well, I wouldn’t be very good at my job if it did.

Yeah, yeah, I know: Academic research or not, James Bond isn’t real. But there are plenty of other areas where we need people with those psychopathic dials turned up a bit.

Do you want a surgeon who is so sensitive and empathetic that he can’t cut you open to save your life? I didn’t think so. Here’s Kevin:

In the presence of the necessary skill set, certain psychopathic characteristics actually make you better at your job. Let’s say that you’ve got a skill set to be a top surgeon. You’ve got the manual dexterity, you’ve got the spacial awareness, you’ve the medical know-how, but you cannot dispassionately disengage from the person that you are operating on. If you don’t have that last personality characteristic, then you’re not going to make it as a top surgeon. A great neurosurgeon told me, rather chillingly, “As soon as you start emotionally identifying with a person that you’re operating on, you are walking a professional tightrope.” That kind of ability to dispassionately disengage in surgery, the narcissistic self-confidence in law, the ruthless streak to fire someone in business… They’re all psychopathic personality characteristics. These are three examples of how certain psychopathic characteristics can really help you.

Yes, research shows there are “good” psychopaths. Many people in positively heroic professions have strong psychopathic traits.

Via The Wisdom of Psychopaths: What Saints, Spies, and Serial Killers Can Teach Us About Success:

…Diana Falkenbach and Maria Tsoukalas, at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York, have recently begun studying the incidence of so-called adaptive psychopathic characteristics in what they term “hero populations”: in front-line professions such as law enforcement, the military, and the rescue services, for example.

In fact, given the right incentives, research shows that psychopaths can actually be better team players than those of us with empathy.

And guess who has a brain and perspective most similar to psychopaths?

Buddhist monks. Seriously. Here’s Kevin:

There are a number of similarities between the psychopathic brain state and the Buddhist brain state. Increased rationality, the idea of living in the present, and keeping cool under pressure. Psychopaths show significant greater activation in the left three frontal regions of their brains compared to non-psychopaths. There’s also cerebral symmetry in psychopaths associated with a lot of reduction of anxiety, enhanced positive effect, increased focus of attention, and also orientation to reward. There are elements in that kind of profile in elevated spiritual states as well. Richard Davis discovered the same kind of profile in Buddhist monks when they’re immersed in deep meditation.

(For more on the science of what makes James Bond so impressive — and how to be more like him, click here.)

So psychopaths are not always so bad. So when should we be a little bit more like them?

What We Can Learn From Psychopaths

Obviously, we don’t want to be running around like Ted Bundy. But what good can we take away from psychopaths, without the bad? Here’s what Kevin had to say.

1) Focus On The Positive And “Just Do It”

When Kevin used TMS to give himself a “psychopath makeover” he said he felt energized and confident. His foot “came off the brake.”

There are plenty of times where this type of drive can help us overcome fear, indecision and worry. Here’s Kevin:

Since going into this field, I focus on the positive a lot more. This is something that psychopaths do. People say, “I want to put in for a raise, but I’m really scared.” Why are you scared? You’re scared because you’re afraid that you’re not going to get it. You’re scared because you think that the boss is going to say “no.” You’re afraid of how embarrassing that would be, and how undervalued that would make you feel. Instead, focus on the fact that you might get it. If you think along those lines and act accordingly, you are more likely to get that thing you want.

What most people don’t know is that the famous Nike slogan “Just Do It” was actually inspired by the words of psychopath Gary Gilmore.

Via Imagine: How Creativity Works:

But then, just when Wieden was about to give up and go to sleep, he started thinking about a murderer named Gary Gilmore who had been executed in 1977. “He just popped into my mind,” Wieden says. “And so it’s the middle of the night, and I’m sitting at my desk, and I’m thinking about how Gilmore died. This was in Utah, and they dragged Gilmore out in front of the firing squad. Before they put the hood over his head, the chaplain asks Gilmore if he has any last words. And he pauses and he says: ‘Let’s do it.’ And I remember thinking, ‘That is so… courageous.’ Here’s this guy calling for his own death. And then, the next thing I know, I’m thinking about my shoe commercials. And so I start playing around with the words, and I realized that I didn’t like the way it was said, actually, so I made it a little different. I wrote ‘Just Do It’ on a piece of paper and as soon as I saw it, I knew. That was my slogan.”

(For more on how to develop confidence, click here.)

2) Live In The Moment

Remember how similar psychopaths were to Buddhist meditators?

While they’re not totally the same, both had increased rationality and kept cool under pressure.

Research shows meditation can help you get these good aspects without the psychopathic bad elements.

(For more on how to meditate and be more mindful, click here.)

3) Be Able To Uncouple Behavior From Emotion

Now you don’t want to do this all the time, but there are plenty of moments where this can really help.

Why do you procrastinate? Research shows negative emotions are a huge part.

When you can separate emotions from action you stress less and accomplish more.

Via The Good Psychopath’s Guide To Success: How to use your inner psychopath to get the most out of life:

Psychopaths aren’t ruled by emotions. In fact, they take a step back and surgically remove emotion from the situation. When stressing over a difficult task, ask yourself: what would I do if I didn’t feel this way? What would I do if I didn’t give a damn what other people thought? What would I do if it just didn’t matter?

How do you do that? Kevin has a simple, straightforward answer:

Next time you don’t want to do something, stop, pause, and ask yourself this, “Since when did I need to feel like doing something in order to do it?” And then just do it. It’s very very powerful. If we needed to feel like doing something in order to do it, we wouldn’t even get out of bed in the morning, right? You just bear that little mantra in mind for a month, and your life really changes.

(For more on how to stop being lazy and get more done, click here.)

Okay, we’ve learned a few things from the dark side. Let’s pull this all together.

Sum Up

Here’s what Kevin said we should learn from psychopaths:

  1. Focus On The Positive And “Just Do It”
  2. Live In The Moment
  3. Be Able To Uncouple Behavior From Emotion

And Kevin is the guy to trust on this subject. Not only has he done the research at Oxford, but he was a psychopath after that little TMS experiment.

Of course, he’s not a psychopath anymore. Or, as Kevin told me in our interview:

It has actually worn off, Eric, although if you talk to my wife, she might tell you otherwise.

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME psychology

The Best Way to Dress When You Want to Influence Someone

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Research shows you should either:

1) Dress formally or,

2) Dress like they do:

Via The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism:

In the 1970s, when young adults’ dress styles tended to fall into either the “hippie” or the “straight” category, researchers experimented with the effects of clothing choice. They approached college students on a campus, sometimes wearing hippie clothes and other times wearing straight clothes, and asked for change to make a phone call. When they were dressed in the same style as the student, the student said yes two-thirds of the time. When they were dressed in the opposite style, the student said yes less than half the time.

One company that understood this principle and used it to its advantage was American Express. They made their first good move when they started sending their salespeople to college campuses dressed like college students. They then went one step further. They didn’t just dress them like students, they hired students. And that’s when they saw their sales rates soar.

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME psychology

These Are the Two Most Common Tricks Advertisers Are Using to Manipulate You

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

1) Your “feared self.”

Via Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy:

In a surprising 2008 study, researchers at the University of Bath, UK, found that the fear of failure drives consumers far more than the promise of success; the latter oddly tends to paralyze us, while the former spurs us on (and pries open our wallets). In fact, as the study found, the most powerful persuader of all was giving consumers a glimpse of some future “feared self.”

And:

As Slate aptly pointed out, “Dove’s empowerment-via-shame marketing approach for Go Sleeveless has its roots in advertising techniques that gained popularity in the 1920s: a) pinpoint a problem, perhaps one consumers didn’t even know they had; b) exacerbate anxiety around the problem; c) sell the cure.” Among the many “feared selves” that have been historically planted by marketers, the article cites such concerns as “bad breath,” “smelly underarms,” and “the many troubles down there.”

2) Your “ideal self.”

Via Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy:

…marketing strategies centered on celebrity do the exact opposite: they appeal to fantasies about our idealized future selves.

And:

An interesting study carried out by researchers at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business and Canada’s University of Waterloo found that even fleeting exposure to an established brand—like Apple or Coke—can actually cause us to take on the behaviors championed or represented by those brands. For example, just being exposed to an Apple logo, a brand widely associated with creativity, made people think more imaginatively. So, since celebrities are fabulous, can’t exposure to their brands cause some of that same fabulousness to rub off on us, too? There’s no question that slathering on a movie star–endorsed face cream, perfume, or eye shadow makes us feel that much closer to our favorite celebrity and everything about that celebrity we envy. We carry him or her with us all day. And in turn, we adopt his or her values and attributes, too—his or her swagger, attitude, talent, individuality, coolness, or allure. In short, in effect we become that celebrity—in the deeper recesses of our brains, at least.

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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41 Simple Ways to Make Yourself More Creative

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Here’s what the scientific research says:

  1. Travel.
  2. Or just expose yourself to other cultures.
  3. Or stay where you are and learn their language.
  4. Don’t surround yourself with the color red, stick to blue.
  5. Get rejected.
  6. Buy a potted plant.
  7. Give the problem to someone else.
  8. Or pretend you’re solving problems for someone else.
  9. Or pretend you’re a child.
  10. Think about love, not sex.
  11. Take a break.
  12. And stop being so hard on yourself.
  13. Smile.
  14. Or frown while happy.
  15. But either way, be happy.
  16. Or a bit paranoid.
  17. Follow Jeremy Dean’s 6 steps.
  18. Add a little background noise.
  19. Team up with both old friends and strangers.
  20. And people who don’t know what they’re doing.
  21. But you should work toward becoming an expert.
  22. Don’t be too original.
  23. Stop brainstorming.
  24. Take a shower.
  25. Stop trying so hard.
  26. Watch Shrek.
  27. Do the unexpected.
  28. Dance.
  29. Look at the Apple logo.
  30. Get drunk.
  31. Stay up all night.
  32. Hang out with sarcastic people.
  33. Do everyday things in unconventional ways.
  34. Play video games.
  35. Have hope.
  36. Get some distance.
  37. Turn it into a competition.
  38. Don’t get paid.
  39. Let that mind wander (but be careful.)
  40. Work from home.
  41. Still not Picasso? Here are 29 more ways.

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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Yes, Science Shows Creative People Are More Likely to Be Crazy

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Fiction writers are 10 times more likely to be bipolar. In poets it’s 40 times more likely.

Via The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human:

In studies of deceased writers— based on their letters, medical records, and published biographies— and in studies of talented living writers, mental illness is prevalent. For example, fiction writers are fully ten times more likely to be bipolar than the general population, and poets are an amazing forty times more likely to struggle with the disorder. Based on statistics like these, psychologist Daniel Nettle writes, “It is hard to avoid the conclusion that most of the canon of Western culture was produced by people with a touch of madness.” Essayist Brooke Allen does Nettle one better: “The Western literary tradition, it seems, has been dominated by a sorry collection of alcoholics, compulsive gamblers, manic-depressives, sexual predators, and various unfortunate combinations of two, three, or even all of the above.”

In psychiatrist Arnold Ludwig’s massive study of mental illness and creativity, The Price of Greatness, he found an 87 percent rate of psychiatric disorders in eminent poets and a 77 percent rate in eminent fiction writers— far higher than the rates he found among high achievers in nonartistic fields such as business, science, politics, and the military. Even college students who sign up for poetry-writing seminars have more bipolar traits than college students generally. Creative writers are also at increased risk of unipolar depression and are more likely to suffer from psychoses such as schizophrenia. It is, therefore, not surprising that eminent writers are also much more likely to abuse alcohol and drugs, spend time in psychiatric hospitals, and kill themselves.

Why bipolar? Research shows the highs help produce new ideas:

…bipolar disorder, an illness in which people oscillate between intense sadness and extreme euphoria, is so closely associated with creativity. Andreasen found that nearly 40 percent of the successful creative people she investigated had the disorder, a rate that’s approximately twenty times higher than it is in the general population. (More recently, the psychiatrist Hagop Akiskal found that nearly two-thirds of a sample of influential European artists were bipolar. ) The reason for this correlation, Andreasen suggests, is that the manic states lead people to erupt with new ideas as their brains combust with remote associations.

What about the lows? Obsessively thinking about things is connected to depression but it’s also correlated with creativity:

Because rumination may allow an idea to stay in one’s conscious longer and indecision may result in more time on a given task, it was expected that these two cognitive processes may predict creativity.

This rumination/perseverance connection is a double edged sword for creative people:

“Successful writers are like prizefighters who keep on getting hit but won’t go down,” Andreasen says. “They’ll stick with it until it’s right. And that seems to be what the mood disorders help with.” While Andreasen acknowledges the terrible burden of mental illness— she quotes Robert Lowell on depression not being a “gift of the Muse” and describes his reliance on lithium to escape the pain— she argues that, at least in its milder forms, the disorder benefits many artists due to the perseverance it makes possible. “Unfortunately, this type of thinking is often inseparable from the suffering,” Andreasen says. “If you’re at the cutting edge, then you’re going to bleed.”

ADHD is connected with creativity as well:

Surprisingly, those students diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) got significantly higher scores. White then measured levels of creative achievement in the real world, asking the students if they’d ever won prizes at juried art shows or been honored at science fairs. In every single domain, from drama to engineering, the students with ADHD had achieved more. Their attention deficit turned out to be a creative blessing.

Should we be afraid of creative people? Are they crazy psychopaths?

Quite the opposite. Psychopaths are actually more prevalent in corporate America:

…we had a unique opportunity to examine psychopathy and its correlates in a sample of 203 corporate professionals selected by their companies to participate in management development programs. The correlates included demographic and status variables, as well as in-house 360° assessments and performance ratings. The prevalence of psychopathic traits – as measured by the Psychopathy Checklist – Revised (PCL-R) and a Psychopathy Checklist: Screening Version (PCL: SV) equivalent – was higher than that found in community samples.

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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10 Keys to Job Satisfaction, Backed By Research

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join over 180,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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Here’s What Science Says About How You Can ‘Dress for Success’

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Different color clothing says different things about you

What you’re wearing definitely affects whether people follow your lead or do what you say.

Via 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People:

You’ve probably heard the phrases “Clothes make the man” and “Dress for success.” These are two sayings that actually have research to back them up.

Lefkowitz, Blake, and Mouton (1955) had an experimenter in a city cross the street against the traffic. When he was dressed in a suit, three-and-a-half times as many people followed him as when he was wearing a work shirt and trousers. Business suits are a form of authority clothing.

In a study by Bickman (1974), the experimenter stopped a person on the street, pointed to an accomplice 50 feet away, and said, “You see that guy over there by the meter? He’s overparked but doesn’t have any change. Give him a dime!” The experimenter would then leave. The “guy over there” was part of the experiment. When the experimenter was wearing a uniform (for example, a guard uniform), most people complied with the instruction to give the other person money for the parking meter. When he was dressed in regular street clothes, compliance was less than 50 percent.

Clothes really do make a difference. In fact:

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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The Secret to Never Being Frustrated Again

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

It’s as simple as ABCD

We all get frustrated.

The guy in front of you is driving like an idiot. Your boss is being a jerk. Your partner isn’t listening.

And sometimes these all happen to you on the same day.

What’s the fix for this? One guy came up with a solution that deals with all of these problems — and more.

Albert Ellis was quite a character. He was controversial. Outspoken. A bit of a rebel. In fact, the book he’s most famous for was titled: How To Stubbornly Refuse To Make Yourself Miserable About Anything-yes, Anything.

Clever but a bit unprofessional, right? Here’s the thing: according to a survey of psychologists he was the 2nd most influential psychotherapist ever. Sigmund Freud came in third.

Here’s what Wikipedia says about his system:

In general REBT is arguably one of the most investigated theories in the field of psychotherapy and a large amount of clinical experience and a substantial body of modern psychological research have validated and substantiated many of REBTs theoretical assumptions on personality and psychotherapy.

His stuff works. And it’s as simple as ABCD — quite literally, as you’ll see below.

So how can you never be frustrated again? Let’s break it down.

The Tyranny Of “Should”

Let’s cut to the chase, shall we? Here’s what you need to take away from Ellis’ work:

You don’t get frustrated because of events. You get frustrated because of your beliefs.

And where did this idea start? Ancient philosophy. Stoicism. That’s where Ellis found the concept. And then he proved it really worked.

Via How To Stubbornly Refuse To Make Yourself Miserable About Anything-yes, Anything:

…if you understand how you upset yourself by slipping into irrational shoulds, oughts, demands, and commands, unconsciously sneaking them into your thinking, you can just about always stop disturbing yourself about anything.

You’re stuck in traffic and that makes you angry, right? Wrong.

Traffic happens. But you think it shouldn’t happen to you. And the thing that’s making you miserable is that word “should.”

Here’s an example. I say, “This headache remedy probably won’t work but give it a shot.” So you try it. And it doesn’t work. You’re not frustrated.

Okay, same situation but I say, “This always works.” It fails. Now you’re annoyed. What changed? Your expectation.

Or you tell a five-year old to stop yelling. They don’t listen. You don’t get that bothered. After all, the kid is five.

But if you tell me to stop yelling and I don’t listen, you get angry. What’s different? “Eric should stop. He’s an adult.

Again, nothing changed but your belief.

Pretty straightforward, right? But that leads to a question: how do you change your beliefs? Ellis has an answer.

(For more on a fun way to be happier and more successful, click here.)

The Universe Is Not Taking Orders From You. (Sorry.)

It’s as simple as ABCD. Really.

A is adversity. Traffic is awful.

B is your beliefs. And often they’re irrational. “This shouldn’t happen to me.” Well, guess what, Bubba? It is happening.

C is consequences. You get angry, frustrated or depressed.

In very few cases can you change A. But you can change B. And that will change C. So let’s bring in the 4th letter.

D: Dispute your irrational beliefs.Wait a second. When did the universe guarantee me a trouble-free existence? It didn’t. Traffic has happened before. It will happen again. And I will survive.”

Look for beliefs that hold the words “should”, “ought” or “must.” That’s where the problems lie.

You’re allowed to wish, want and desire. Nobody is saying you need to be an emotionless lump.

Via How To Stubbornly Refuse To Make Yourself Miserable About Anything-yes, Anything:

“I would very much like or prefer to have success, approval, or comfort,” and then end with the conclusion, “But I don’t have to have it. I won’t die without it. And I could be happy (though not as happy) without it.”

But you can’t demand the universe bend to your will. That’s where the frustration and anger creep in — because that godlike insistence isn’t rational.

Via How To Stubbornly Refuse To Make Yourself Miserable About Anything-yes, Anything:

When you insist, however, that you always must have or do something, you often think in this way: “Because I would very much like or prefer to have success, approval, or pleasure, I absolutely, under practically all conditions, must have it. And if I don’t get it, as I completely must, it’s awful, I can’t stand it, I am an inferior person for not arranging to get it, and the world is a horrible place for not giving me what I must have! I am sure that I’ll never get it, and therefore I can’t be happy at all!”

When you’re angry, frustrated or depressed look for those irrational beliefs.

People should treat me kindly and fairly all the time.” Sound rational? Hardly.

I ought to succeed at this. If I don’t, I’m a failure and a loser.” Really?

This person must love me back or I’ll die.” No, no, no you won’t.

Via How To Stubbornly Refuse To Make Yourself Miserable About Anything-yes, Anything:

What were you anxious or overconcerned about? Meeting new people? Doing well at work? Winning the approval of a person you liked? Passing a test or a course? Doing well at a job interview? Winning a game of tennis or chess? Getting into a good school? Learning that you have a serious disease? Being treated unfairly? Look for your command or demand for success or approval that was creating your anxiety or overconcern. What was your should, ought, or must?

Is disputing your irrational beliefs going to immediately change everything? No.

But when you start disputing you’ll see that your expectations aren’t in line with reality. And with a little work, those expectations will start to change.

(For more happiness lifehacks you can learn from ancient philosophy, click here.)

Sum Up

It’s as simple as ABCD. Next time you’re turning red and clenching your fists, give this a shot:

A is Adversity. Like traffic. Sorry, no genie can let you wish it away.

B is Beliefs. Look for beliefs with these troublesome words: should, ought and must. “Traffic shouldn’t be this bad.” Not rational. Traffic is what it is. Sorry.

C is Consequences. You banging the steering wheel with your fist and sending your blood pressure into the stratosphere.

D is Dispute. Are you demanding the universe and everyone bend to your wishes? Is that rational? No way. You can want, you can wish and you can definitely try your best in the future, but you cannot demand if you want to stay happy and sane.

Life is not perfect. People aren’t perfect. You, dear reader, are not perfect. And that’s okay. But having beliefs that any of these things “should” be the way you want causes you a lot of unnecessary suffering.

Many of your irrational beliefs are not immediately obvious. Sometimes you’ll have to dig to find them. And you’ll need to dispute them a fair amount before new reasonable beliefs kick in. But you can definitely make progress.

What did Epictetus, the great Stoic philosopher, say way back in the first century AD?

People are disturbed not by things, but by the views they take of them.

What did Shakespeare write in Hamlet?

There’s nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.

How about the Buddha?

We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.

Rarely can you change the world. But you can always change your thoughts.

And that can make you very happy.

Join over 161,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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The Simple Thing That Can Dramatically Improve Your Life

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

It helps if you like nature

Spend more time outdoors.

Nature has a myriad of incredible positive effects that have demonstrated by research:

You might be inclined to discount this. I know that because another study has shown people consistently underestimate how much better being in nature would make them feel…

Join over 161,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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A Special Forces Officer Teaches You 5 Secrets to Overcoming Adversity

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Make sure to laugh along the way, too

Life can be really difficult sometimes. We all deal with it. But how do top performers overcome challenges? And what can we learn from them? I figured I’d call an expert.

Who knows about overcoming adversity? Special Forces.

So I called Mike Kenny. Mike’s a Special Forces Lieutenant Colonel with 22 years of service under his belt. For most of his career he was an 18 Alpha (Special Forces Officer) and is currently the Special Operations Forces liaison to the School of Advanced Military Studies.

Most of what you may think you know about Special Forces is wrong. You might be imagining summer movies and gun battles. But a lot of what they deal with isn’t all that much different from some of the challenges you face.

SEALs and Rangers specialize in “direct action” and “special reconnaissance.” Meanwhile, Special Forces is focused on “foreign internal defense” and “unconventional warfare.” That means preventing or assisting an insurgency. So, plain and simple, SF guys need a lot of people skills.

They’re good behind the gun, no doubt, but they spend a lot of their time working with people — and usually people who don’t speak their language and don’t share a common culture. Which means they face a lot of problems that you can’t just shoot or blow up.

Here’s what you can learn from Special Forces training about overcoming adversity.

1) Prepare, Prepare, Prepare

We often wait until the hurricane hits us to think about how we’re going to cope with it. Special Forces, on the other hand, is very big on preparing.

Via Masters of Chaos: The Secret History of the Special Forces:

The Special Forces are not a rapid deployment force; the secret of their success is intensive preparation. The men studied the area they were assigned as thoroughly as any Ph.D. student. They sucked up every available open-source and classified assessment of the demographics, tribal clans, local politics, religious leaders and schisms, history, terrain, infrastructure, road maps, power grids, water supplies, crops, and local economy. They planned, debated, and rehearsed both combat and follow-on operations.

Many of the benefits that come from preparation are obvious. Nobody thinks preparing is bad. But Mike pointed out something that isn’t so readily apparent.

Not only does preparation get all your ducks in a row but prep changes your attitude. You’re more confident and this creates an upward spiral that improves performance. Here’s Mike:

Something that people underestimate is that preparedness is not only that you’re hardening and conditioning your body, but there’s a powerful mental aspect. Physically, you know you’re prepared. You and your mind are going, “I’m ready for this. This is what they said their standard was, and I know I can do that. I know I’m at this level so that whatever they throw at me I know I am adequately conditioned.”

Research shows this feeling of control neutralizes stress and builds courage.

When you do blood tests on soldiers during a challenging task, what do you find? The level of stress hormones in their bodies doesn’t match the difficulty of the task, it matches their perception of the difficulty.

Via Maximum Brainpower: Challenging the Brain for Health and Wisdom:

What mattered was how closely the anticipated challenge matched the soldiers’ actual capabilities. We took blood samples from the four groups to see how the experience affected each group’s stress hormones… The soldiers who never knew the actual length of the march were asked at the end to estimate its length. The levels of stress hormones in their blood corresponded to the length they thought it was, not the length it actually was.

And what’s the best way to prepare? Make your training as close to the real thing as possible. Here’s Mike:

In Army parlance they say, “train like you fight.” Don’t screw around and say, “Okay, when it’s for real then we’ll really ramp up.” No, you need to do that now. You need to train as hard and as realistic as possible, because this notion that when it’s for real and the stakes are high, that’s when we’ll really turn it on and rise to the occasion… that’s not what happens. You will not rise to the occasion. You will sink to the lowest level of your training. It’s the truth.

(For more on how Special Forces and other elites make themselves fearless, click here.)

So preparation is pretty straightforward. But Special Forces is also big on something you probably never expected to hear from a military unit…

2) Creativity Isn’t Nice — It’s Essential

When we think about the military we think following orders, not creativity. But that changes when you’re talking about Special Forces.

A small independent unit can’t always rely on a division of tanks backing them up. They’ll have many problems they need to solve quickly, in the field, with little or no support. So resourcefulness is vital.

Via Chosen Soldier: The Making of a Special Forces Warrior:

The Special Forces are looking for more than someone who is tough and smart and plays well with others. They are looking for adaptability and flexibility, men who can look at a given task and come up with any number of ways to solve it. Someone with good entrepreneurial skills is a good candidate for Special Forces, since the work of the Green Berets often involves calculated risk and creative thinking. If one solution to a problem fails, they have to immediately come up with another way to accomplish the mission.

The army calls this type of creativity “disciplined initiative.” It’s not wild and crazy risk-taking, but it definitely looks outside the conventional for how to solve difficult problems. Here’s Mike:

…in SF, and now the Army at large, you hear constantly we need agile and adaptive leaders and thinkers, critical and creative thinkers. Special Operations has always valued it, and I think out of necessity, because with smaller units you’ve got to be creative and adaptive, because you don’t always have all the resources at your disposal. What they want is a guy that can think on his feet and think somewhat unconstrained. To me, there’s always this tension between the cowboy that does crazy stuff for the sake of doing crazy stuff and those that can exercise what in Army mission command they call “disciplined initiative.” That means, “We want you to exercise initiative, but the discipline lies in keeping it within mission parameters to achieve the commander’s intent.”

But how does creativity allow Davids like small Special Forces units to overcome Goliaths like bigger groups of enemy soldiers? The key is what’s called “relative superiority.”

Objective superiority is more soldiers, more guns, more planes. Relative superiority is tactical, like using surprise or timing or a well-planned ambush. This is why creativity is so critical to SF.

Via Spec Ops: Case Studies in Special Operations Warfare: Theory and Practice:

Relative superiority is a concept crucial to the theory of special operations. Simply stated, relative superiority is a condition that exists when an attacking force, generally smaller, gains a decisive advantage over a larger or well-defended enemy… An inherent weakness in special forces is their lack of firepower relative to a large conventional force. Consequently when they lose relative superiority, they lose the initiative, and the stronger form of warfare generally prevails. The key to a special operations mission is to gain relative superiority early in the engagement. The longer an engagement continues, the more likely the outcome will be affected by the will of the enemy, chance, and uncertainty, the factors that comprise the frictions of war.

(For more on the four principles that will lead you to breakthrough creativity, click here.)

So SF is not just gung-ho testosterone. And that means they know how to deal with people.

3) Cooperate and Negotiate

Author Dick Couch, who followed a class of Special Forces cadets through training put it bluntly: Special Forces needs to know how to shoot people and make friends with people.

That separates them from most of the other special operations groups like SEALs and Rangers who are more focused on “direct action” missions.

Via Chosen Soldier: The Making of a Special Forces Warrior:

Since the work often involves working as a team or in a cross-cultural environment, the Special Forces are looking for candidates who have good interpersonal skills— men who are open to listening and working with other people and foreign communities. More crudely put, it may come down to whether a man is more comfortable in shooting people or trying to make friends with them. Some soldiers are very proficient in a tactical situation and very comfortable behind the gun, but they don’t really want to make the effort to communicate with someone different from themselves.

And this isn’t the kind of negotiation that involves the barrel of a gun. SF needs to empathize just like FBI hostage negotiators. Plain and simple, they need to get along with people and cut a good deal. Here’s Mike:

The negotiating comes in having humility. We want to cultivate a relationship, and do what’s mutually beneficial. So we can’t come in and say, “Okay, this is what you’re going to do for me.” The diplomacy lies in convincing these guys that a relationship is going to be mutually beneficial. That’s one. Number two, we want to add value. We want to bring certain things to the table and find some common ground, because a lot of people are going to think, “You’re just going to tell me what to do” or “I’m not going to be your pawn, I’m not going to be your patsy.” We’re sensitive to what it is that they want. And we’ll help them get it, provided it’s not something that runs counter to what it is the US government needs to achieve.

(For FBI behavioral expert strategies on getting people to like you, click here.)

Collaboration and negotiation are so critical because SF works with and through others. And what are they doing most of the time with partners? Teaching.

4) Be A Teacher

Want to truly be the best? Want to be an expert? It’s one thing to be able to do but it’s another level to be able to do and teach it to others. That’s when you really understand something.

A fundamental concept to all SF soldiers is that they are teachers. Here’s Mike:

We’ll tell guys up front, “Hey, your primary job is as a teacher, as an instructor.” Our bread and butter mission is unconventional warfare. The Surgical Strike portion of our portfolio is important no doubt, but the Special Warfare part of that portfolio is what people need to understand. It implies that we’re going to be working through proxies. That means I have to be able to teach. I need to be able to convey information. I need to be able to influence diplomatically, because these are partners. They’re not subordinates where I say, “You do this.” You’ve got to win them over. You’ve got to be able to convince them, so if you can’t instruct, if you can’t work through a proxy, through another party, and you’ve got to do everything unilaterally yourself, as an SF guy I don’t want to say you’re worthless, but you’re not that valuable.

And your ability to teach well is always limited by how much you actually know. So Special Forces are always looking to improve themselves. Here’s Mike:

To be a professional you have to be a lifelong learner. You’re always getting better. You’re always trying to get better. A buddy of mine was saying, “Good, better, best. Never let it rest until your good is better and your better is best.”

How good do they need to be? A good example is the “pile test.” To qualify as an 18 Bravo (a Special Forces weapons expert) they dump a huge pile of weapon parts in front of you. You have a limited amount of time to assemble them all into nine guns.

Via Masters of Chaos: The Secret History of the Special Forces:

As a weapons sergeant his job was to know everything about all the small arms and crew-served weapons in use around the world: Soviet-made systems, black-market weapons, customized weapons. He had to know how to use them, train on them, fix them, clean them, dismantle them, and disable them. Part of the final exam for his course was the “pile test,” which required assembling a massive jumble of weapons parts into nine guns. Randy could do it in forty-five minutes.

(For more on the science of being the best at anything, click here.)

This is a lot of stuff SF is working at. So how do they get it all done?

5) Be Motivated — And Then Make A Plan

Want to be in SF because it’s “cool”?

You’ll never make it. The guys who pass are the ones who have a deep-seated desire. The vetting is too punishing for anyone who isn’t 100% committed. Here’s Mike:

I saw so many guys showing up at Ranger School and SFAS on day one and you could tell they really weren’t switched on. Then there were guys that were laughing and really really cavalier. A lot of times those guys didn’t make it, because they really weren’t serious about being there. The only thing that’s going to sustain you then is not, “I thought it would be cool” or “I want all my friends to be impressed” or whatever lame reason you have for putting yourself through that. The thing that’s going to keep you motivated is when you really internally want it, when you have that desire.

Of course, whenever someone talks about motivation they always say, “you have to want it.” But what’s that really mean to SF?

For them, motivation needs to translate into a plan for readiness. It’s not all talk. If your motivation doesn’t turn into a blueprint for how to handle things then it’s just cheerleading.

What conditioning will you need to pass SF training? The guys who make it are motivated to find out ahead of time. Then they do diagnostic runs to see where they’re at and what it will take for them to get there.

The motivation becomes a plan. Here’s Mike:

Develop that plan and break it down into steps, so, using the SFAS model as an example, you can say, “Okay, I’ve got to do 12 miles with 70 pounds. Okay, great, I’m going to do it,” and then you realize, “Oh my God, I can’t do this.” So you need to break it down and build. Start out, doing a six-miler with 35 pounds. Then when your conditioning goes up, extend the mileage, increase the weight, and then at the end of a six-month process or so you should be at that goal.

(For more on how you can motivate yourself, click here.)

Let’s round this up and learn the last critical factor for overcoming adversity like Special Forces.

Sum Up

Here’s what we can learn from Special Forces Officer Mike Kenny:

  1. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
  2. Creativity Isn’t Just Nice — It’s Essential
  3. Cooperate and Negotiate
  4. Be A Teacher
  5. Be Motivated — And Then Make A Plan

A lot of this sounds very serious. But in the preparation for every post about the various special operations units I’ve talked to, one thing comes up again and again that isn’t so serious: the power of humor.

Ranger Joe Asher said it:

I said, “You know what? If I can laugh once a day, every day I’m in Ranger School, I’ll make it through.”

Navy SEAL James Waters said it:

You’ve got to have fun and be able to laugh; laugh at yourself and laugh at what you’re doing. My best friend and I laughed our way through BUD/S.

The formal research backs them up. And in researching Special Forces, sure enough, I heard it again.

Via Chosen Soldier: The Making of a Special Forces Warrior:

This training is serious business, and it will demand your best effort to be successful, but every day, try to smile at least once. A little humor will help you to get through this, and it might even help some when it starts to hurt.

Work hard. Be diligent. But make sure to laugh along the way.

Join over 161,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Related posts:

A Navy SEAL Explains 8 Secrets To Grit And Resilience

New Harvard Research Reveals A Fun Way To Be More Successful

How To Stop Being Lazy And Get More Done – 5 Expert Tips

Read next: 3 Things the Greatest Generals of History Can Teach You About Strategy

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