TIME psychology

The Lazy Way to an Awesome Life: 3 Secrets Backed by Research

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

We all want an awesome life. And very often you know what you need to do to improve it… but you don’t do it.

I don’t blame you. Hey, some of that stuff is hard. (I should know. I write about it all the time.)

Isn’t there an easy, passive way where your flaws start correcting themselves, you gain respectable goals and become much, much happier?

Well, at least in theory, there just might be. I called somebody to find out.

Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD, MPH, is a professor at Yale University and directs the Human Nature Lab there. He is the author (with James Fowler) of Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives.

Here’s his TED talk:

Tons of research (and common sense) shows that the people around you influence your behavior. In fact, they influence it a lot more than you might think and probably more than you’re comfortable with admitting.

But here’s the really crazy part: not only do your friends affect your behavior, so do their friends. And their friends’ friends. Here’s Nicholas:

Across many different kinds of behavior: voting, cooperation, smoking, weight loss and weight gain, happiness, cooperative behavior, public health behaviors, we and others have been able to show that people are very meaningfully affected by the behaviors of other people to whom they’re connected. And here’s the kicker: they are also affected by the behaviors of people to whom they’re not directly connected. When your friend’s friends quit smoking or your friend’s friends friend become nicer and more cooperative, this ripples through the network and affects you. Similarly, when you make a positive change in your life, when you start running for example, or you participate in our democracy and you vote, it ripples outward from you and can affect dozens, hundreds, perhaps even thousands of other people.

So if you spend time with different people, could you become a different person?

Want the laziest way to improve your life? The prescription is simple…

 

1) Hang Around The People You Want To Be

The Longevity Project, which studied over 1000 people from youth to death had this to say:

The groups you associate with often determine the type of person you become. For people who want improved health, association with other healthy people is usually the strongest and most direct path of change.

In Charles Duhigg’s excellent book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business:

In a 1994 Harvard study that examined people who had radically changed their lives, for instance, researchers found that some people had remade their habits after a personal tragedy… Just as frequently, however, there was no tragedy that preceded people’s transformations. Rather, they changed because they were embedded in social groups that made change easier… When people join groups where change seems possible, the potential for that change to occur becomes more real.

Many researchers I have spoken to, from Duke’s Dan Ariely to Cornell’s Brian Wansink, have emphasized context as the most powerful (and most ignored) catalyst for changing your life.

But what if you’re not even trying to make big changes in your life? What if you just want to be treated well? Turns out altruism and jerk-itude also move through networks. Here’s Nicholas:

We’ve shown that altruistic behavior ripples through networks and so does meanness. Networks will magnify whatever they are seeded with. They will magnify Ebola and fascism and unhappiness and violence, but also they will magnify love and altruism and happiness and information.

And the workplace isn’t much different. Behavior is contagious there, too.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People:

Psychologists have observed that bad habits can spread through an office like a contagious disease. Employees tend to mirror the bad behaviors of their co-workers, with factors as diverse as low morale, poor working habits, and theft from the employer all rising based on the negative behavior of peers. – Greene 1999

When I spoke to Stanford GSB professor Bob Sutton, he told me his #1 piece of advice to students was this:

When you take a job take a long look at the people you’re going to be working with — because the odds are you’re going to become like them, they are not going to become like you.

(For more on how to get people to like you, from an FBI behavior expert, click here.)

So the people around you can unconsciously affect your behavior in many ways — positive and negative. Let’s focus on one thing we’re all interested in: happiness. Because this is where it gets really interesting…

 

2) Making Friends = Making Happiness

Would an extra $10,000 dollars a year make you happier? I’ll assume you’re nodding. Research shows 10K only provides a 2% increased chance of happiness.

Meanwhile, being surrounded by happy friends makes you 15% more likely to be happy.

Even if a friend of a friend of a friend becomes happier, that means a 6% chance you will become happier.

So the happiness of people you have never met — and may never meet — is three times as powerful as money.

Via Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives:

An extra $5,000 in 1984 dollars (which corresponds to about $10,000 in 2009 dollars) was associated with only a 2 percent increased chance of a person being happy. So, having happy friends and relatives appears to be a more effective predictor of happiness than earning more money. And the amazing thing is that even people who are three degrees removed from you, whom you may have never met, can have a stronger impact on your personal happiness than a wad of hundreds in your pocket.

A happy friend increases the likelihood of you being happy by 9%. An unhappy friend means a 7% decrease.

You don’t need a degree in accounting to figure out what that means: overall, more friends = more happiness.

Spending time making friends has a higher happiness ROI than time spent making money. So next time you meet up with a happy pal, ask them to bring a friend. Even a lazy person can manage that.

Via Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives:

We found that each happy friend a person has increases that person’s probability of being happy by about 9 percent. Each unhappy friend decreases it by 7 percent. So if you were simply playing the averages, and you didn’t know anything about the emotional state of a new person you just met, you would probably want to be friends with her. She might make you unhappy, but there is a better chance she will make you happy. This helps to explain why past researchers have found an association between happiness and the number of friends and family.

Here’s the really interesting part: you can totally rig the system. It’s the scientific version of karma.

With the effect spanning three degrees, there’s a good chance making a small effort to make friends happier will flow back to you.

Nicholas found that if a friend became happy in the past six months there’s a 45% chance your happiness will increase.

(For more on what you can learn from the happiest people in the world, click here.)

So, lazy bones, are you willing to send a couple emails or texts to dramatically increase your happiness? Here’s how.

 

3) Introduce Friends To Friends

Unsurprisingly, people at the periphery of a network have fewer friends and are more likely to be lonely.

And yes, that loneliness can flow back three degrees to you. (And no, you can’t easily track these people down and kick them out of your network.) Know what you can do? Introduce your friends to each other.

Again, happy friends means a 9% gain, unhappy friend means a 7% loss. All other things being equal, I’ll take those odds in Vegas any day. This strengthens the network, and increases everyone’s chance of staying happy.

Via Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives:

At the periphery, people have fewer friends; this makes them lonely, but this also tends to drive them to cut the few ties that they have left. But before they do, they may infect their friends with the same feeling of loneliness, starting the cycle anew. These reinforcing effects mean that our social fabric can fray at the edges, like a strand of yarn that comes loose from the sleeve of a sweater. If we are concerned about combating the feeling of loneliness in our society, we should aggressively target the people at the periphery with interventions to repair their social networks. By helping them, we can create a protective barrier against loneliness that will keep the whole network from unraveling.

(To learn the 4 most common relationship problems — and how to fix them, click here.)

So a few tiny efforts can yield massive positive change in your life. Let’s round up the details and learn two other fascinating tidbits that can change the way you see the world — and make that world a better place.

 

Sum Up

Here’s what we can learn from Nicholas:

  • Hang out with the people you want to be: Behaviors spread like a virus. Make sure it’s one you want to be infected with.
  • Make more friends. Time spent making friends has a higher happiness ROI than time spent making money.
  • Introduce friends to friends. Friends becoming happy increases your chance of happiness by 45%. Keeping the network happy protects you against unhappiness.

Other research Nicholas did turned up something truly heartwarming: friends are family. Quite literally. Here’s Nicholas:

We looked at the genetic similarity between friends and we found that on a very deep level you resemble your friends genetically. What this means is that, basically, your friends are kin that you choose. What we found in one of our papers was that, roughly speaking, your friends are something like your fourth cousin.

And one last thing: keep in mind that Nicholas’ research also gives you great power. And, as all good Spider-Man fans know, with “great power comes great responsibility.” Here’s Nicholas:

It’s very important for people to understand that when they make a positive change in their lives it doesn’t just affect them. It affects everyone they know and many of the people that those people know and many of the people that those people in turn know. If you make a positive change in your life it actually ripples through the social fabric and comes to benefit many other people. This recognition that we are all connected and that in our connectedness we affect each other’s lives I think is a very fundamental and moving observation of our humanity.

When you make a positive change in your life, it affects the people around you and ripples out to others.

So you can be lazy and see benefits by surrounding yourself with great people — but you can also choose to make strides in your life, even small ones, and contagiously pass those benefits to those you care about.

Making yourself a better person isn’t a gift you only give to yourself. It’s a gift you give to the world.

Spread the happiness virus! Share this with friends (and friends of friends, and friends of… you get it.)

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME psychology

5 Things You Need to Know About Habits

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

5 tips with links to the research that backs them up:

  • The secret to breaking bad habits is to not try to eliminate them but to replace them.

For more on the scientific way to build good habits, click here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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

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TIME Business

5 Things You Need to Know Before Changing Jobs

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

5 insights with links to the research backing them up:

For more on how to find the perfect career for you, click here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join over 190,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

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

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TIME psychology

8 Powerful Things That Will Inspire You

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Eight ways to inspire yourself to get to the next level in life, with links to the research behind them:

  • To have meaning in your life you need a story. You need to reflect on how things could have been and why they turned out the way they did. Seeing that things had a direction and a purpose provides meaning.
  • Need something to help you act in line with your beliefs and values? To make sure you stay you? Buy a mirror.

For more on the best way to be both happier and more successful, click here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join over 195,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

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

How To Get People To Like You: 7 Ways From An FBI Behavior Expert

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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.

TIME psychology

How to Help Others the Right Way

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

I’ve posted a number of times about how helping others makes you happier. But I know this leaves some people scratching their heads:

How much should I help others? How often? Will I be exploited? Will I end up resenting people I love if they don’t reciprocate?

We all know selfless givers who are taken advantage of and taken for granted. Nobody wants to feel like a sucker.

So this simple thing doesn’t seem so simple — and it feels safer to just be selfish no matter what fancy research and your conscience might tell you.

Adam Grant has a wonderful book, Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, which directly tackles this issue and provides some firm answers grounded in research. To help others the right way, give these tips a shot.

 

Constant Selfless Giving Is Not The Way

Being a martyr stresses you out and is actually bad for your health.

Via Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success:

Research shows that on the job, people who engage in selfless giving end up feeling overloaded and stressed, as well as experiencing conflict between work and family. This is even true in marriages: in one study of married couples, people who failed to maintain an equilibrium between their own needs and their partner’s needs became more depressed over the next six months.

 

Chunking Beats Sprinkling

Want to be happier? Do all your giving one day a week.

Via Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success:

The chunkers achieved gains in happiness; the sprinklers didn’t. Happiness increased when people performed all five giving acts in a single day, rather than doing one a day. Lyubomirsky and colleagues speculate that “spreading them over the course of a week might have diminished salience and power or made them less distinguishable from participants habitual kind of behavior.”

And this is exactly why selfless givers end us stressed out and overloaded.

Via Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success:

…selfless givers are more inclined to sprinkle their giving throughout their days, helping whenever people need them. This can become highly distracting and exhausting, robbing selfless givers of their attention and energy necessary to complete their own work.

 

So How Much Should You Give?

Remember The 100 Hour Rule. One hundred hours a year — in other words, 2 hours per week.

Via Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success:

One hundred seems to be a magical number when it comes to giving. In a study of more than two thousand Australian adults in their mid-sixties, those who volunteered between one hundred and eight hundred hours per year were happier and more satisfied with their lives than those who volunteered fewer than one hundred or more than eight hundred hours annually. In another study, American adults who volunteered at least one hundred hours in 1998 were more likely to be alive in 2000. There were no benefits of volunteering more than one hundred hours. This is the 100-hour rule of volunteering. It appears to be the range where giving is maximally energizing and minimally draining.

A hundred hours a year breaks down to just two hours a week. Research shows that if people start volunteering two hours a week, their happiness, satisfaction and self-esteem go up a year later.

 

What’s The Best Kind Of Giving To Do?

A kind that is meaningful to you. No, you can’t fake it if you want the benefits.

Via Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success:

Psychologists Netta Weinstein and Richard Ryan have demonstrated that giving has an energizing effect only if it’s an enjoyable, meaningful choice rather than undertaken out of duty and obligation.

 

Sum Up

Breaking it down:

  1. To be happier and healthier you need to give to others.
  2. Don’t be a martyr. Constant selfless giving is not the answer.
  3. 100 hrs a year is the minimum to increase happiness, so do about 2 hrs per week or a little more.
  4. You need to do it because you want to, so find a way to help others that is meaningful to you.
  5. It’s better to cluster those activities than to spread them out.

What do I personally plan to do? I’m going to designate a DAY OF GIVING per week and make sure I’m clustering my 2hrs of meaningful helping.

In a few weeks I’ll post my results. Please give it a try yourself and let me know how it works for you. You can write me here.

This is going to be fun. :)

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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

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TIME psychology

This Is the Quickest Way to Become an Expert Negotiator

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Be nice.

We often associate negotiation with being tough or manipulative. While there are certainly situations where that’s the case, a great deal of the recent research says we can improve our results by thinking more about making friends than waging war.

A great deal of what it takes to influence others, gain their compliance and lead successful negotiations is just good advice on how to be a decent person.

Could you be taken advantage of? Yes, but in the long run a good reputation pays off. And if you find that being nice isn’t working, then there is always the darker side of negotiation technique.

For more on how to be a better negotiator, from the former lead international hostage for the FBI, click here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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

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TIME psychology

This Is the Top Predictor of Success in Life

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Increase self control to increase success

Self control predicts success even better than IQ.

From Charles Duhigg’s excellent book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business:

Dozens of studies show that willpower is the single most important keystone habit for individual success… Students who exerted high levels of willpower were more likely to earn higher grades in their classes and gain admission into more selective schools. They had fewer absences and spent less time watching television and more hours on homework. “Highly self-disciplined adolescents outperformed their more impulsive peers on every academic-performance variable,” the researchers wrote. “Self-discipline predicted academic performance more robustly than did IQ. Self-discipline also predicted which students would improve their grades over the course of the school year, whereas IQ did not.… Self-discipline has a bigger effect on academic performance than does intellectual talent.”

Conscientiousness is the fundmental personality trait most closely tied to self control and it tracks with nearly every type of success across your lifespan.

It’s pretty crazy really:

Money and job satisfaction? – Check.

“Measured concurrently, emotionally stable and conscientious participants reported higher incomes and job satisfaction.

Finding a job? – Check.

“…the personality traits Conscientiousness and Neuroticism have a strong impact on the instantaneous probability of finding a job, where the former has a positive effect and the latter has a negative effect.”

Long marriage? – Check.

“…our findings suggest that conscientiousness is the trait most broadly associated with marital satisfaction in this sample of long-wed couples.”

Healthier life? – Check.

“Among adults over age 45 (n = 2,419), Neuroticism and low Agreeableness were associated with metabolic syndrome, whereas high Conscientiousness was protective. Individuals who scored in the top 10% on Conscientiousness were approximately 40% less likely to have metabolic syndrome…

Long life? – Check.

“Conscientiousness, which was the best predictor of longevity when measured in childhood, also turned out to be the best personality predictor of long life when measured in adulthood.

And let’s not forget good grades and staying out of jail.

Via How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character:

…conscientiousness was the trait that best predicted workplace success. What intrigues Roberts about conscientiousness is that it predicts so many outcomes that go far beyond the workplace. People high in conscientiousness get better grades in school and college; they commit fewer crimes; and they stay married longer. They live longer – and not just because they smoke and drink less. They have fewer strokes, lower blood pressure, and a lower incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.

So maybe you’re not the most conscientious person. Maybe you can be impulsive and often lack self-control. Me too.

This does not mean either of us should be shopping for a cardboard box on skid row.

Unlike IQ, self-control can easily be increased. Here’s how.

 

How to increase self-control

“…the very true beginning of wisdom is the desire of discipline…” — Wisdom of Solomon 6:17

I interviewed Roy Baumeister, the leading expert on self-control and author of Willpower: Resdiscovering the Greatest Human Strength to learn about how it works.

Willpower is like energy — using it burns it up, and you have to replenish it. Anything that involves self-control draws on that one willpower fuel source: so dieting takes energy away from your ability to hold your tongue in a conversation — and vice versa.

(SNEAKY TIP: Want to persuade someone? Offer them something tempting they’ll say no to. Resisting urges uses up willpower, leaving less for them to fight persuasion with.)

Like a muscle, exerting willpower makes your self-control ability stronger over time.

I’ve posted many scientifically supported willpower tips over the years but I’m just going to focus on my favorite ones here.

1) Use willpower to build willpower.

Just a little bit of practice every day can increase self-control and improving self-control in one area of life tends to improve all areas of life.

From Willpower: Resdiscovering the Greatest Human Strength:

Those in the fitness program got fitter; those working on study discipline got more schoolwork done; the people in the money-management program saved more money. But—and here was a truly pleasant surprise—they also got better at other things. The students who did the study-discipline program reported doing physical workouts a bit more often and cutting down on impulsive spending. Those in the fitness and money-management programs said they studied more diligently. Exercising self-control in one area seemed to improve all areas of life.

2) Automate your behavior.

When something is a habit and you don’t have to make decisions or even think about it, it doesn’t use much willpower.

The more you can make something habitual, the less self-control you burn.

And you can further improve your self-control by planning.

Decide ahead of time how you will respond when willpower is taxed and you’ll be much more likely to default to that. Without a clear plan in your head you’re more likely to succumb.

Via Christian Jarrett at BPS Research Digest:

When your willpower levels have been drained by an earlier test, that’s when you’re most vulnerable to temptation. One way to protect yourself is to form so-called ‘if-then’ plans… willpower depletion had no such adverse effect on students who followed the additional, more detailed plan: ‘…And if I have solved one anagram, then I will immediately start work on the next!’.

3) Pre-commit to good behavior.

Daniel Akst, author of We Have Met the Enemy: Self-Control in an Age of Excess, explains how we can use “precommitment devices” to rein in desire:

How can you use precommitment to keep yourself from giving in to unwanted desires? You’re probably already doing so—for example, by asking your significant other, on the way to a restaurant, not to let you order dessert when you get there. Dan Ariely, that tireless student of human irrationality, has collected several interesting precommitment anecdotes from regular people, including one who placed her credit card in a container of water in the freezer, thereby requiring a cooling off—er, that is, warming up—period before use, and another who, before a date with a guy she knew she shouldn’t sleep with, wore her “granniest” underwear—presumably to deter herself from disrobing…

So give a friend $500 and tell them to keep it if you don’t follow through with your goals.

Need more willpower for the day? Simply making decisions burns willpower so reducing the number and difficulty of decisions you make is an easy way to conserve it. That’s what President Obama does.

Need to quickly replenish willpower? Eat something. Yes, it’s that simple.

In fact, kids who skip breakfast misbehave more than kids who eat their Wheaties. Give them a snack and they’re little angels again.

Via Willpower: Resdiscovering the Greatest Human Strength:

All the children in a class were told to skip breakfast one morning, and then, by random assignment, half of the children were given a good breakfast at school. The others got nothing. During the first part of the morning, the children who got breakfast learned more and misbehaved less (as judged by monitors who didn’t know which children had eaten). Then, after all the students were given a healthy snack in the middle of the morning, the differences disappeared as if by magic.

 

A Final Note

You’re not a machine. And the goal here isn’t to turn you into one.

There is a powerful human element underlying self-control that should not be ignored.

Willpower improves relationships:

…the more total self-control, the better the relationship fared. Multiple benefits were found for having mutually high self-control, including relationship satisfaction, forgiveness, secure attachment, accommodation, healthy and committed styles of loving, smooth daily interactions, absence of conflict, and absence of feeling rejected.

And relationships improve willpower:

Which recruits pass Hell Week and go on to become Navy SEALS? They’re not necessarily the ones with the biggest muscles but they’re often the ones with the biggest hearts.

From Willpower: Resdiscovering the Greatest Human Strength:

…self-control is not selfish. Willpower enables us to get along with others and override impulses that are based on personal short-term interests. It’s the same lesson that Navy SEAL commandos learn during a modern version of Stanley’s ordeals: the famous Hell Week test of continual running, swimming, crawling, and shivering that they must endure on less than five hours’ sleep. At least three-quarters of the men in each SEAL class typically fail to complete training, and the survivors aren’t necessarily the ones with the most muscles, according to Eric Greitens, a SEAL officer. In recalling the fellow survivors of his Hell Week, he points out their one common quality: “They had the ability to step outside of their own pain, put aside their own fear, and ask: How can I help the guy next to me? They had more than the ‘fist’ of courage and physical strength. They also had a heart large enough to think about others.”

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join over 190,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

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

How To Get People To Like You: 7 Ways From An FBI Behavior Expert

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TIME psychology

4 Principles That Will Make You More Innovative

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Combing through the research, what are the overarching principles that we need to know to be more innovative thinkers in everyday life? Here they are, with links to the research backing them up.

1) Relax

What is most likely your daily creative peak? Your morning shower. For many of us it’s the most relaxing part of our day — and the most creative.

Just being happy can make you more creative for days; seriously, just smile. Watching comedy clips helps, trying too hard hurts. If you tend to be hard on yourself, being less critical can make you more creative. Anger can boost originality in the short term — but it doesn’t last.

It’s probably no surprise that boring work is better done at the office and creative work is better accomplished at home. Hopeful employees are more original. Trust can even make your hairstylist more creative. On the other hand, rudeness from superiors craters original thinking as does time pressure. Thoughts of money often bring pressure and the best art is created when there’s no cash involved.

Being in nature relaxes us and even a mere potted plant in the office can increase creativity. Or just the color green for that matter.

Sleep is good. Taking breaks aids your idea-generating. Daydreamers are more original thinkers.

2) Expose Yourself To New Ideas And New Perspectives

Unusual or unexpected events increase creativity. A proven way to stimulate this effect is travel. Living in a foreign culture can make you more creative. Countries with more international business travelers patent more. Merely having friends from other cultures can get the muse going.

Imagining you’re a child again or that you’re solving a problem for someone else was enough to increase creativity. Even frowning when you’re happy — creating dissonance between your mind and body spurred original thinking. Doing everyday things in unconventional ways can do the trick.

Being exhausted or drunk increases creativity because they make you look at the world differently. Bilinguals are more creative, probably as a result of their dual perspective. Even sarcasm is enough of a perspective shift to help.

3) Get Ideas Crashing Into Each Other

Overlapping different projects allows new connections to burgeon at the margins, helping to create innovative ideas. Bill Gates reads all his books for the year in two weeks because this allows new information to be better juxtaposed and contrasted. Just being curious offers a boost.

A disorganized brain is often a more creative brain — and this may be why those with ADD and wandering minds are gifted idea generators. Larger cities are disproportionately innovative as are people with bigger networks.

You want a mix of fresh and classic. The most creative teams are a mix of old friends and new blood as well as experienced and inexperienced workers. The most creative ideas are fresh but also fit into a recognized formula. Originality requires both freedom and constraints. Make little bets and iterate, iterate, iterate.

And brainstorming’s mantra of refraining from judging or negating ideas is wrong. Let ideas duke it out.

4) Work Hard

As Chuck Close said, “Inspiration is for amateurs.”

You don’t need fancy degrees to be a creative genius. Some of the most brilliant artists of all time had the equivalent of a college-dropout level of education — but you do need to work hard at your craft. Studying your field extensively doesn’t reduce creativity, it increases it. Future geniuses are often unpopular in high school because they spend so much time working on their projects.

Chris Rock relentlessly tests and tweaks new comedy acts onstage over a period of months to get them right. “Some historical studies of patent records have in fact shown that overall productivity correlates with radical breakthroughs in science and technology, that sheer quantity ultimately leads to quality.”

Artists are more likely to have mood disorders. What’s the connection? Depression makes you obsess about things — which is a benefit when you’re trying to make breakthroughs. Dwelling on your problems makes you more creative.

The most original thinkers work very hard and know the secrets to becoming an expert. Literally being forced to write made writers more productive and more creative.

Sum Up

Four principles:

  • Relax
  • Expose Yourself To New Ideas And New Perspectives
  • Get Ideas Crashing Into Each Other
  • Work Hard

Challenge yourself to use them today. :)

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME psychology

Genius and Insanity: Do You Need to Be Crazy to Be the Best?

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Research says experts practice for 10,000 hours. That’s a lot of hours. A crazy amount of hours, one might say.

I’ve posted a lot about “deliberate practice” and the work habits of geniuses. They’re relentless.

Via Daily Rituals: How Artists Work

“Sooner or later,” Pritchett writes, “the great men turn out to be all alike. They never stop working. They never lose a minute. It is very depressing.”

Here’s the question:

Is that just something that obsessed, crazy people do? Does this prove the often-theorized connection between genius and insanity?

We assume 10,000 hours of practice means passion or dedication. How often does it just mean stone-cold obsessed?

 

Brilliant, Famous — And Utterly Obsessed

Steve Jobs? Brilliant and obsessed.

Via America’s Obsessives: The Compulsive Energy That Built a Nation:

He insisted that the walls all be painted white. “No white was too white for Steve,” stated Coleman. Jobs would also don white gloves to do frequent dust checks. Whenever he spotted a few specks on either a machine or on the floor, which he was determined to keep clean enough to eat off, Coleman had to arrange for an instant scrubbing.

That was in Apple’s factory — not someplace consumers would ever see.

Dying of cancer didn’t make a difference. He demanded the oxygen mask the doctors put on him be redesigned.

Via America’s Obsessives: The Compulsive Energy That Built a Nation:

When the sedated cancer patient was lying in his hospital bed, he once ripped off his oxygen mask, railing that he hated its design. Much to the surprise of his doctors, Jobs then ordered them to begin work on five different options for a new mask.

But there was no doubt this obsessiveness made him great.

Via America’s Obsessives: The Compulsive Energy That Built a Nation:

Apple’s stupendous growth in the first decade of the twenty-first century occurred precisely because Steve Jobs was both an obsessive like Ray Lane and a narcissist like Larry Ellison; he was a two-for-one. While obsessive innovators also possess the grandiosity and self-absorption characteristic of narcissists, they are driven primarily by their particular obsessions and compulsions; and it is precisely this connection between unremitting internal pressures and extraordinary external achievements that has received surprisingly little attention.

Thomas Jefferson read fifteen hours a day in order to complete college in 2 years. He kept track of every single cent he ever spent in his life.

Via America’s Obsessives: The Compulsive Energy That Built a Nation:

And in his account books, which he maintained for nearly sixty years, he kept track of every cent he ever spent. “Mr. Jefferson,” the overseer at Monticello once observed, “was very particular in the transaction of all his business. He kept an account of everything. Nothing was too small for him to keep an account of it.”

Alfred Kinsey, groundbreaking sex researcher, recorded sex histories on almost 8000 people, put together the world’s largest collection of sex books and, deciding that the Dewey Decimal system was inadequate, created his own method of classification.

Via America’s Obsessives: The Compulsive Energy That Built a Nation:

…he also amassed the world’s largest collection of sex books. The Dewey Decimal Classification System, this iconoclast decided, would not do, so he devised his own. Kinsey placed brown tape at the bottom of the spines upon which he wrote in white ink one of his thirty designations— say, FM for modern fiction and AN for anthropology. He also stashed away in the institute every erotic artifact and factoid he could lay his hands on, including ceramic art from Peru, bathroom graffiti, and some 5,200 penis measurements. This chase consumed him right up until his death. “It is a shame,” he noted in 1956, after gathering his final two sex histories— Numbers 7984 and 7985—“ there comes a time that you have to work up data and publish it instead of continuing the gathering. Frankly, I very much enjoy the gathering.”

I’ve posted about Paul Erdos, the “all-roads-lead-to-Rome” of the mathematics world, being obsessive at the extreme, wandering the world in search of new challenges with numbers.

Genius and insanity? Yup.

Via The Man Who Loved Only Numbers: The Story of Paul Erdos and the Search for Mathematical Truth:

He lived out of a shabby suitcase and a drab orange plastic bag from Centrum Aruhaz (“Central Warehouse”), a large department store in Budapest. In a never-ending search for good mathematical problems and fresh mathematical talent, Erdos crisscrossed four continents at a frenzied pace, moving from one university or research center to the next. His modus operandi was to show up on the doorstep of a fellow mathematician, declare, “My brain is open,” work with his host for a day or two, until he was bored or his host was run down, and then move on to another home.

Baseball legend Ted Williams didn’t just obsessively swing a bat, he also zealously amassed data to perfect his skills, long before “Moneyball.”

Via America’s Obsessives: The Compulsive Energy That Built a Nation:

…he began gathering info on opposing pitchers, which he kept in a little black book. Like a dogged investigative journalist, he would dig and dig and dig. To get the full scoop on a given pitcher’s habits, he would quiz not only any veteran who would listen to his flood of questions but also umpires… His fieldwork also included a visit to the physics lab at Cambridge’s Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he learned about the trajectory of baseballs upon impact. “Some people called it monomania,” Richard Ben Cramer observed in his landmark 1986 Esquire article, “What Do You Think of Ted Williams Now?” of the thoroughness with which Williams studied hitting, “but with Ted it was serial (multimania?) in eager furtherance of everything he loved.”

(To learn how to make people like you, click here.)

 

Beyond “A Good Work Ethic”

Here’s where we stop saying “genius and insanity” loosely. There are connections between creativity and mental disorders.

More specifically, 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/perseverence connection can be 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.”

Obsessive people can be hell to be around, genius or not. What did Ted Williams’ second wife, model Lee Howard, say at their divorce hearing?

Via America’s Obsessives: The Compulsive Energy That Built a Nation:

When asked by the judge at her divorce hearing whether there was any chance of reconciling with her husband, a startled Howard responded, “Are you kidding?

(To learn the secret to being happier and more successful, click here.)

 

The Dark Side

Harvard’s Howard Gardner studied a number of creative geniuses and found that to reach those heights requires enormous sacrifice in other areas of life — what amounted to a Faustian bargain.

Einstein lived in self-imposed isolation, Freud had an ascetic existence and Picasso became a selfish monster.

And Gardner’s study reveals that without these personal sacrifices they would not have been capable of their great achievements.

If hours alone determine genius then it is inevitable that reaching the greatest heights will be indistinguishable from pathological obsession.

Via Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity Seen Through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Ghandi:

In general, the creators were so caught up in the pursuit of their work mission that they sacrificed all, especially the possibility of a rounded personal existence. The nature of this arrangement differs: In some cases (Freud, Eliot, Gandhi), it involves the decision to undertake an ascetic existence; in some cases, it involves a self-imposed isolation from other individuals (Einstein, Graham); in Picasso’s case, as a consequence of a bargain that was rejected, it involves an outrageous exploitation of other individuals; and in the case of Stravinsky, it involves a constant combative relationship with others, even at the cost of fairness. What pervades these unusual arrangements is the conviction that unless this bargain has been compulsively adhered to, the talent may be compromised or even irretrievably lost. And, indeed, at times when the bargain is relaxed, there may well be negative consequences for the individual’s creative output.

(To learn how Navy SEALs develop grit and never give up, click here.)

 

Back To Reality

Personally, you probably don’t need to worry about the line between genius and insanity.

You’re not going to get tied up in a Faustian bargain with your work, and let everything fall by the wayside to perfect your art.

But you can still learn from the crazies.

They did what they loved. They spent the time, probably enjoying the process much more than yet another hour of Netflix, and they became great.

If you want a healthy amount of what they had, what should you do next?

Start educating yourself. Which of the below is your weak spot?

Click, read and improve:

Join over 195,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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

How To Get People To Like You: 7 Ways From An FBI Behavior Expert

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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.

TIME psychology

How to Attract Good Luck: 4 Secrets Backed by Research

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Ever had a run of bad luck? It feels like the world is actively conspiring against you.

Ever wonder if you can improve your luck? And I don’t mean with voodoo or magic crystals.

Turns out somebody has done scientific research on luck. So I gave him a call.

Richard Wiseman is a professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire and the bestselling author of many books including: Luck Factor. (His excellent YouTube channel is here.)

Richard studied over 1000 people. And, yes, it turns out some people are very unlucky. Here’s Richard:

One woman reported having 8 car accidents in one 150 mile journey. She was also unlucky in love. After joining a dating agency, her first date fell off his motorcycle and broke his leg. The second date walked into a glass door and broke his nose. Eventually she met her future husband and the church they were going to get married in burned down the day before the wedding.

Ouch. Can you change your luck? Yes, you can. Here’s Richard:

What the work shows as a whole is that people can change their luck. Luck is not something paranormal in nature. It’s something that we are creating by our thoughts and behavior.

Richard ran a series of experiments he called “Luck School” and taught unlucky people how to act more like lucky people do. The result?

Via Luck Factor:

In total, 80 percent of people who attended Luck School said that their luck had increased. On average, these people estimated that their luck had increased by more than 40 percent.

And not only were they luckier afterward, tests results showed they were also happier.

Okay, so you don’t want the church to burn down before your wedding day. Want to go to “Luck School”? Here’s what Richard said about how you can get lucky…

 

1) Maximize Opportunities

It makes intuitive sense: if you lock yourself in your house, how many exciting, serendipitous things are going to happen to you? Not many.

In his book Luck Factor, Richard wrote: “Lucky people create, notice, and act upon the chance opportunities in their lives.” Here’s Richard:

Lucky people just try stuff. Unlucky people suffered from paralysis by analysis. They wouldn’t do anything until they walked through every single angle and by then the world had moved on. They don’t gain the benefits of learning through doing. I’m a big fan of starting small, trying lots of projects, seeing what works and what doesn’t, and iterating based on feedback.

Certain personality types are luckier because they tend to create scenarios that maximize opportunities and thereby increase luck. Who is more lucky?

  • People who are extroverted: More time with others, more interesting possibilities.
  • People who aren’t neurotic: Tense, anxious people are less likely to notice and take advantage of opportunities.
  • People who are open to new experiences: If you resist the new, you’re probably not going to have many interesting things happen.

And research shows that the old saying is true: “You regret most the things you did not do.” Over time, we tend to rationalize our failures. But we cannot rationalize away those things we never tried at all.

So keep trying new things. If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you always gotten.

(To learn how to make people like you, click here.)

Okay, so you’re doing more stuff. Great. But what about when it comes time to make decisions? What can we learn from lucky people?

 

2) Listen To Hunches

Lucky people act on their intuitions across many areas of their lives.

Via Luck Factor:

Almost 90 percent of lucky people said that they trusted their intuition when it came to personal relationships, and almost 80 percent said it played a vital role in their career choices… About 20 percent more lucky than unlucky people used their intuition when it came to making important financial decisions, and over 20 percent more used their intuition when thinking about their career choices.

And intuition isn’t magic. Research has shown it’s often valid. Here’s Richard:

What intuition seems to be most of the time is when you’ve got expertise in the area, that somehow the body and the brain have detected a pattern that you haven’t consciously seen… When we were talking to our lucky people they would often say, “If I get a gut feeling about something I stop and consider it.” Even when unlucky people got those feelings, they didn’t follow them because they didn’t know where they came from. They were anxious about the world.

Want to increase luck in your life? Go with your gut more often.

(To learn the secret to being happier and more successful, click here.)

So what mindset should you take toward life if you want a visit from Lady Luck?

 

3) Expect Good Fortune

Plain and simple — it’s optimism.

You’re more likely to try new things, follow through on opportunities and have them succeed if you believe they’ll work out well.

Via Luck Factor:

On average, lucky people thought that there was about a 90 percent chance of having a great time on their next holiday, (and) an 84 percent chance of achieving at least one of their lifetime ambitions…

And that optimism gives lucky people more “grit.” When you think things will work out, you persevere. And when you’re resilient, you give possibilities more time to work out in your favor.

Skeptics might be shaking their heads right now: But we all know people who aren’t just optimistic — they’re utterly deluded. Are you saying we should lie to ourselves?

Um… kinda. Turns out that while pessimists do see the world more accurately, optimists are more likely to be lucky because those delusions push them toward opportunities. Here’s Richard:

Lucky people are buying into positive superstitions. In studies we’ve seen that good luck charms do improve performance, whether it’s physical skills like playing golf or mental skills like memory tasks.

You heard that right: research shows that good luck charms work.

Via The Courage Quotient: How Science Can Make You Braver:

The researchers found that by activating good luck beliefs, these objects were consistently able to boost people’s self-confidence and that this up-tick in self-assurance in turn affected a wide range of performance. Lucky thinking, it turned out in this study, positively affected people’s ability to solve puzzles and to remember the pictures depicted on thirty-six different cards, and it improved their putting performance in golf! In fact, people with a lucky charm performed significantly better than did the people who had none.

A number of studies have shown that being a little deluded does bring benefits:

The world can be hard. Sometimes life feels random. But research shows feeling you have some control — even if you don’t — is powerful.

(To learn how Navy SEALs develop grit and never give up, click here.)

But what happens when things still go wrong? What should you do when you’re acting like a lucky person but bad luck still whacks you in the face?

 

4) Turn Bad Luck Into Good

Lucky people aren’t always lucky — but they handle adversity differently than unlucky people.

Via Luck Factor:

  • Lucky people see the positive side of their bad luck.
  • Lucky people are convinced that any ill fortune in their lives will, in the long run, work out for the best.
  • Lucky people do not dwell on their ill fortune.
  • Lucky people take constructive steps to prevent more bad luck in the future.

How do you respond to disappointment?

Giving up, getting gloomy and locking yourself in the house won’t help the world offer you better opportunities. Here’s Richard:

When things get tough you’ve got two choices: you can either fold or you can keep going. Lucky people are very resilient. I remember talking to one lucky person that had fallen down some stairs and broken his leg. I said, “I bet you don’t consider yourself quite so lucky now.” He said the last time he went to a hospital he met a nurse and they fell in love. Now the two of them are happily married twenty-five years later. He said, “It was the best thing that ever happened to me… So, yeah, things can look bad now, but the long term effect of this might be very, very positive.” That’s a very resilient attitude. Lucky people tend to have that sort of approach.

Find the silver lining behind the cloud. And don’t assume there’s a cloud behind every silver lining.

(To learn how to overcome regret, click here.)

Let’s round this all up and learn the final (and most important) benefit of believing in luck.

 

Sum Up

Here’s what Richard had to say about how to attract good luck:

  1. Maximize Opportunities: Keep trying new things.
  2. Listen To Hunches: Especially if it’s an area where you have some experience, trust your intuition.
  3. Expect Good Fortune: Be an optimist. A little delusion can be good.
  4. Turn Bad Luck Into Good: Don’t dwell on the bad. Look at the big picture.

So maybe you’re still a skeptic. Even if luck is real, you don’t want to give in to delusion. Give it a shot anyway. There are other benefits. A little delusion can improve relationships.

People with positive illusions about their significant other are more satisfied, score higher on love and trust and have fewer problems. In fact, believing in luck might actually make you more fun.

Via The 7 Laws of Magical Thinking: How Irrational Beliefs Keep Us Happy, Healthy, and Sane:

Magical thinking is also important for letting loose and having a good time. Brugger finds a positive correlation between magical ideation and the ability to find pleasure in life. More magic, more fun. (As long as reality stays within arm’s reach.) “Those students who are not magical are not typically those who enjoy going to parties,” he says. “To be totally unmagic is very unhealthy.”

In the relatively brief time Richard spent with his test subjects he experienced a similar thing first-hand.

People who feel they are lucky are more charismatic. It felt good to be around them. Here’s Richard:

Through doing countless interviews with lucky and unlucky people I found you could tell within seconds which type of person you were about to interview. The lucky people were more engaging and upbeat. And emotions are contagious. After some time with a lucky person you feel good about yourself and you start to see the world in a very positive way. You spend time with an unlucky person and you start to focus on that back pain you’d almost forgotten about but now appears to be ten times worse. We have some research coming out which shows that one of the major factors is not how you yourself feel, but how you can make other people feel. It’s very closely related to charisma.

So put a good luck charm in your pocket. It looks like science is telling us that believing in luck might not only be the best way to be deluded, it might also be the key to a better life.

And if you enjoyed this post, share it with friends. We could all use some good luck. :)

Join over 195,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Related posts:

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

How To Get People To Like You: 7 Ways From An FBI Behavior Expert

New Harvard Research Reveals A Fun Way To Be More Successful

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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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