TIME psychology

Are You Only as Young as You Feel?

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

In her book Counterclockwise, Harvard professor Ellen Langer recounts a groundbreaking study she did in 1979 that has since become the stuff of legend.

She took a group of male research subjects in their 70’s and 80’s on a retreat. The environment had been manipulated to make it seem like it was twenty years prior.

The residents were all aware of the real year but being immersed in the world of 1959 and being encouraged to act like they were younger men had powerful effects on them:

The experimental group showed greater improvement on joint flexibility, finger length (their arthritis diminished and they were able to straighten their fingers more), and manual dexterity. On intelligence tests, 63 percent of the experimental group improved their scores, compared to only 44 percent of the control group.There were also improvements in height, weight, gait and posture. Finally, we asked people unaware of the study’s purpose to compare photos taken of the participants at the end of the week to those submitted at the beginning of the study. Those objective observers judged that all of the experimental participants looked noticeably younger at the end of the study.

Other research shows people who held positive beliefs about getting olderlived 7.5 years longer and were healthier.

Women who dye their hair not only report feeling younger but their blood pressure drops and they are rated as looking younger in photosphotos where their hair is cropped out.

“Will to live” has been shown to make a difference in when you die.

Langer cites studies showing that women with younger spouses live longer and those with older spouses die younger. How we think about aging affects how we age:

The psychologist Bernice Neugarten suggested that we are deeply influenced by “social clocks” — that we gauge our lives by the implicit belief that is a “right age” for certain behaviors or attitudes.

Our mind may have more control over our body than we think. Processes we long believed to be out of our control, like heart rate and blood pressure, proved not to be.

Via Counterclockwise:

In 1961, Yale psychologist Neal Miller suggested that the autonomic nervous system, which controls blood pressure and heart rate, could be trained just like a voluntary system, which allows us to raise and lower our arm and other deliberate acts. His suggestion was met with a great deal of skepticism.Everyone knew that the autonomic nervous system was just that, autonomous and beyond our control. Yet his subsequent work on biofeedback — which makes autonomic processes such as heart rate visible by hooking people up to monitors — found that people could be taught to control them.

Radiolab did an amazing piece explaining how exhaustion is more in the mind than the body and how athletes manipulate this to complete marathons and Ironman competitions.

How strong is the power of belief in our lives? Can we make our lives better by changing what we believe?

Placebo Effect

We’ve all heard of the placebo effect. If I give you a sugar pill and tell you it’ll improve X, X often improves just because you believe the pill is working.

The placebo effect means that voodoo curses really can kill you, AXE body spray can make men sexier, and fake steroids can make you stronger.What’s truly amazing is the placebo effect can work even when you know it’s a placebo.

The placebo effect might even have a role in exercise and health. Four weeks after being told their efforts at work qualified as exercise women studied had lost weight and were healthier vs a control group.Researchers speculate that believing something is exercise may make it have the results of exercise.

In Counterclockwise Langer cites studies that showed that when a medical therapy was believed in, it was 70-90% effective but only 30-40% effective when the patient was skeptical. Subjects exposed to fake poison ivy developed rashes and fake caffeine spiked heart rate and motor performance.

Priming

Priming is when you’re unconsciously influenced by a concept and it affects how you behave.

There has been a torrent of priming studies in recent years showing just how much words and ideas in our environment can affect how we act:

And these aren’t just theoretical. They can be used to improve performance.

Being primed to feel happy before a challenge can make us perform better. Thinking about college professors before a test can get you a better grade.

Overconfidence

I’ve posted before about the multitude of benefits a little delusion can offer:

Optimism

Just believing you can become smarter and can become a better negotiator have both been shown to increase improvement.

Optimism is associated with better health and a longer life. It can make you happier. The army teaches soldiers to be optimistic because it makes them tougher and more resourceful. Hope predicts academic achievement better than intelligence, personality, or previous grades.

Being socially optimistic — expecting people to like you — makes people like you more. Expecting a positive outcome from negotiations made groups more likely to come to a deal and to be happy with it.

Dangers of Too Much Belief

Being totally delusional, paranoid or believing in things that are patently untrue is obviously not good. I’m not recommending that.

Optimism can blind us. The happiest people and the most trusting people both had sub-optimal outcomes. Those who think they have the most willpower are actually the most likely to give in to temptation. The reason you can predict your friends’ behavior better than they can is because we are all realistic about others’ actions and optimistic about our own. Some priming studies have been disputed.

Recommendations

So what can we do to improve our lives with belief? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Manipulate your context to feel younger and feel better. You don’t need to make it look like 1959 but don’t act like your surroundings don’t matter.

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.

TIME psychology

How Can We Spur Innovation at Work — And in Ourselves?

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

In order to innovate in a way that is both practical and effective you need to make “little bets.”

What’s a little bet?

A small experiment that tests a theory. It’s just big enough to give you the answer you need but not so big that it wastes too much precious time, money or resources.

Rather than going all-in on the first idea you have and risk losing everything, a little bet allows you to break out of your comfort zone and try something new knowing that if it doesn’t work out you can quickly recover and try something else.

Little Bets

The best book on the subject is the aptly titled Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries. Peter Sims explains why it’s such a strong concept:

Little Bets is based on the proposition that we can use a lot of little bets and certain creative methods to identify possibilities and build up to great outcomes. At the core of this experimental approach, little bets are concrete actions taken to discover, test, and develop ideas that are achievable and affordable. They begin as creative possibilities that get iterated and refined over time, and they are particularly valuable when trying to navigate amid uncertainty, create something new, or attend to open-ended problems. When we can’t know what’s going to happen, little bets help us learn about the factors that can’t be understood beforehand. The important thing to remember is that while prodigies are exceptionally rare, anyone can use little bets to unlock creative ideas.

It’s an excellent book but what really struck me was when I saw this same underlying principle popping up again and again in different arenas.

In Business

In Eric Ries’ acclaimed bestseller The Lean Startup he makes it clear that little bets, or “experiments”, are critical to moving a business forward in a safe fashion:

…if you cannot fail, you cannot learn.

He tells the story of how Nick Swinmurn, founder of Zappos, tested his theory that selling shoes on the web would work.

Swinmurn could have started the company, raised venture capital, aligned partners and then found out if it was a terrible idea. Instead he went to local shoe stores and took pictures:

His hypothesis was that customers were ready and willing to buy shoes online. To test it, he began by asking local shoe stores if he could take pictures of their inventory. In exchange for permission to take the pictures, he would post the pictures online and come back to buy the shoes at full price if a customer bought them online.

Zappos began with a tiny, simple product. it was designed to answer one question above all: is there really sufficient demand for a superior online shopping experience for shoes?

And, obviously, it worked.

The Arts

So little bets make sense for formal things like businesses but can they help someone in a more creative arena?

The more creative an artist is the more likely they are to use this method:

Via Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries

In a study of thirty-five artists, Getzels and Csikszentmihalyi found that the most creative in their sample were more open to experimentation and to reformulating their ideas for projects than their less creative counterparts.

Howard Gardner studied geniuses like Picasso, Freud and Stravinsky and found a similar pattern of analyzing, testing and feedback:

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

Creative individuals spend a considerable amount of time reflecting on what they are trying to accomplish, whether or not they are achieving success (and, if not, what they might do differently).

Chris Rock makes “little bets” in order to improve his comedy:

Via Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries:

For a full routine, Rock tries hundreds (if not thousands) of preliminary ideas, out of which only a handful will make the final cut… By the time Rock reaches a big show— say an HBO special or an appearance on David Letterman— his jokes, opening, transitions, and closing have all been tested and retested rigorously. Developing an hour-long act takes even top comedians from six months to a year.

Everyday Life

What about for normal people with normal lives? It works for the rest of us too.

In Cal Newport’s book So Good They Can’t Ignore You he recommends little bets for someone trying to develop their skills and create a career:

The important thing about little bets is that they’re bite-sized. You try one. It takes a few months at most. It either succeeds or fails, but either way you get important feedback to guide your next steps. This approach stands in contrast to the idea of choosing a bold plan and making one big bet on its success.

As Dan Pink explains in his excellent career guide The Adventures of Johnny Bunko:

There is no plan.

Life is too complicated to be able to predict the future. All-in bets on your career are too risky. You need to make little bets and experiment.

Keep in mind that feedback is critical. If you want to test a theory or master a subject you need solid feedback and you need it fast. This is what the best mentors provide. So have some system in place that will tell you whether or not the little bet is meeting your goal.

Picking a “Little Bet”

Okay, so which bets do you make? How do you use them to get where you want to go?

Peter Sims lays out a straightforward process for coming up with little bets and how to best execute them to learn and get results.

Via Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries:

  • Experiment: Learn by doing. Fail quickly to learn fast. Develop experiments and prototypes to gather insights, identify problems, and build up to creative ideas, like Beethoven did in order to discover new musical styles and forms.
  • Play: A playful, improvisational, and humorous atmosphere quiets our inhibitions when ideas are incubating or newly hatched, and prevents creative ideas from being snuffed out or prematurely judged.
  • Immerse: Take time to get out into the world to gather fresh ideas and insights, in order to understand deeper human motivations and desires, and absorb how things work from the ground up.
  • Define: Use insights gathered throughout the process to define specific problems and needs before solving them, just as the Google founders did when they realized that their library search algorithm could address a much larger problem.
  • Reorient: Be flexible in pursuit of larger goals and aspirations, making good use of small wins to make necessary pivots and chart the course to completion.
  • Iterate: Repeat, refine, and test frequently armed with better insights, information, and assumptions as time goes on, as Chris Rock does to perfect his act.

What’s a little bet you can try today?

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.

TIME psychology

What Makes Something Funny? Can Humor Improve Our Lives?

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Ever notice that we take our comedians seriously and we think our politicians are liars? Is something wrong there?

Chris Rock, Louis C.K., and Patton Oswalt not only make you laugh but they usually have you nodding your head thinking, “Yeah, life is like that.” Meanwhile, you take everything an elected official says with a grain of salt.

Research is finally starting to catch up to what you’ve known for a long time.

Why do you find things funny?

Humor is the brain rewarding us for finding errors and inconsistencies in our thinking.

Via The Boston Globe‘s review of Inside Jokes: Using Humor to Reverse-Engineer the Mind:

Hurley and his coauthors begin from the idea that our brains make sense of our daily lives via a never ending series of assumptions, based on sparse, incomplete information. All these best guesses simplify our world, give us critical insights into the minds of others, and streamline our decisions. But mistakes are inevitable, and even a small faulty assumption can open the door to bigger and costlier mistakes.

Enter mirth, a little pulse of reward the brain gives itself for seeking out and correcting our mistaken assumptions. A sense of humor is the lure that keeps our brains alert for the gaps between our quick-fire assumptions and reality.

This is why you think good comedians are also telling the truth about life. They’re pointing out the inconsistencies and craziness, the errors we take for granted until they’re pointed out.

You know the old saying “it’s funny because it’s true”? It’s correct. We laugh more when we feel the jokes are true. The more error correction, the bigger the reward.

Chris Rock’s humor about how men and women relate is so accurate it’s been written up in scientific papers. Tina Fey’s Palin imitation changed how people voted.

All forms of play are about learning.

Via Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul:

Play creates new neural connections and tests them. It creates an arena for social interaction and learning. It creates a low-risk format for finding and developing innate skills and talents.

Most animals stop playing and learning once they reach adulthood. Humans are unique in that they have the capacity to play all their lives. Why? Nature designed us to be lifelong learners:

We are designed to be lifelong players, built to benefit from play at any age. The human animal is shaped by evolution to be the most flexible of all animals: as we play we continue to change and adapt into old age.

So making laughs and guffaws sounds a lot more impressive now, huh? It probably doesn’t surprise you too much to hear that funny people are smarter than average. Students who are playful do better in school:

Playfulness was associated with better academic performance (i.e., better grades in an exam). Also, students who described themselves as playful were more likely to do the extra reading that went beyond what was needed to pass the exam. This can be seen as first evidence of a positive relation between playfulness in adults and academic achievement.

Why do women always cite “sense of humor” as something they find attractive in a man? Because humor is a hard-to-fake sign of intelligence. (In fact, you can predict how many women a man has slept with by how funny he is.)

Humor can improve your life

Humor isn’t just an entertaining distraction. It improves many facets of life and we’d be better off with more of it.

Couples who reminisce about shared laughter are happier. In his book Just Kidding: Using Humor Effectively Louis Franzini presents research that salespeople who use humor close more deals.

A fun workplace was more attractive to prospective employees than compensation or opportunities for promotion. Researchers believe that humor can help teams bond, as well as increase the quantity and quality of communication while building trust.

Via Little Bets: How Breakthrough Ideas Emerge from Small Discoveries:

A host of studies indicates that humor creates positive group effects. Many focus on how humor can increase cohesiveness and act as a lubricant to facilitate more efficient communications, like Bob Petersen’s story team. Researchers have developed a general view that effective humor can increase the quantity and quality of group communications. One reason for that is that humor has also been demonstrated to increase trust.

Humor improves our mood because it makes us think, which interrupts negative emotions. (Jokes can actually mentally disarm us because the brainpower required to process the laughs can take away from critical thinking during an argument.)
People who use humor to cope with stress are healthier.

Via Richard Wiseman’s excellent book 59 Seconds: Change Your Life in Under a Minute:

People who spontaneously use humor to cope with stress have especially healthy immune systems, are 40 percent less likely to suffer a heart attack or stroke, experience less pain during dental surgery and live four and a half years longer than average…On the basis of the results, the researchers recommended that people laugh for at least fifteen minutes each day.

What’s interesting — and something we often forget as adults – is it seems we all may need fun in our lives:

Via Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul:

But when play is denied over the long term, our mood darkens. We lose our sense of optimism and we become anhedonic, or incapable of feeling sustained pleasure… There is laboratory evidence that there is a play deficit much like the well-documented sleep deficit.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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You want to laugh? Here are a few of my favorite bits of “error correction” (all NSFW):

-Louis C.K. on turning 40 and children.

-Patton Oswalt on why AA meetings are better than Weight Watchers meetings.

-Eddie Izzard on World War 2.

-Lewis Black on America and milk.

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

What Are the 3 Steps to Becoming Stress-Proof?

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

1) Know What Really Works

Most of the things you instinctively do to relieve stress don’t work.

Via The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It:

The APA’s national survey on stress found that the most commonly used strategies were also rated as highly ineffective by the same people who reported using them. For example, only 16 percent of people who eat to reduce stress report that it actually helps them. Another study found that women are most likely to eat chocolate when they are feeling anxious or depressed, but the only reliable change in mood they experience from their drug of choice is an increase in guilt.

So what does work?

According to the American Psychological Association, the most effective stress-relief strategies are exercising or playing sports, praying or attending a religious service, reading, listening to music, spending time with friends or family, getting a massage, going outside for a walk, meditating or doing yoga, and spending time with a creative hobby. (The least effective strategies are gambling, shopping, smoking, drinking, eating, playing video games, surfing the Internet, and watching TV or movies for more than two hours.)

2) It’s All About A Feeling Of Control

As is often said, stress isn’t about what happens to you, it’s how you react to it. This is true.

We’re not as stressed when we feel in control. Again, the emphasis is on feel. Even illusory feelings of control can eliminate stress. (This is the secret to why idiots and crazy people may feel far less stress than those who see a situation clearly.)

Anything that increases your perception of control over a situation — whether it actually increases your control or not — can substantially decrease your stress level.

Via Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long:

Steve Maier at the University of Boulder, in Colorado, says that the degree of control that organisms can exert over something that creates stress determines whether the stressor alters the organism’s functioning. His findings indicate that only uncontrollable stressors cause deleterious effects. Inescapable or uncontrollable stress can be destructive, whereas the same stress that feels escapable is less destructive, significantly so… Over and over, scientists see that the perception of control over a stressor alters the stressor’s impact.

Why do people choose to become entrepreneurs when working for yourself often means more hours for less money? Control:

A number of studies show “work-life balance” as the main reason people start their own small businesses. Yet small business owners often work more hours, for less money, than in corporate life. The difference? You are able to make more of your own choices.

Do things that increase your control of a situation ahead of time. According to one study, the stress management technique that worked best was deliberately planning your day so that stress is minimized.

The best way to reduce job stress is to get a clear idea of what is expected of you.

The trick to not worrying about work stuff while at home is to make specific plans to address concerns before you leave the office.

3) You Need Some Stress To Be Your Best.

Heavy time pressure stresses you out and kills creativity. On the other hand, having no deadlines is not optimal either. Low-to-moderate time pressure produces the best results.

Via The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work:

If managers regularly set impossibly short time-frames or impossibly high workloads, employees become stressed, unhappy, and unmotivated—burned out. Yet, people hate being bored. it was rare for any participant in our study to report a day with very low time pressure, such days—when they did occur—were also not conducive to positive inner work life. In general, then, low-to-moderate time pressure seems optimal for sustaining positive thoughts, feelings, and drives.

In his book The Art of Learning, Josh Waitzkin discusses one of the key elements that pro athletes like Jordan use to perform at their peak: spontaneous relaxation.

“…one of the most telling features of a dominant performer is the routine use of recovery periods.”

They’re not Zen masters who experience no stress. Far from it. But they’ve taught themselves to turn it on and off. The pros are able to fully relax during the briefest periods of rest. This prevents them from burning out during hours of play.

Via The Art of Learning:

The physiologists at LGE had discovered that in virtually every discipline, one of the most telling features of a dominant performer is the routine use of recovery periods. Players who are able to relax in brief moments of inactivity are almost always the ones who end up coming through when the game is on the line… Remember Michael Jordan sitting on the bench, a towel on his shoulders, letting it all go for a two-minute break before coming back in the game? Jordan was completely serene on the bench even though the Bulls desperately needed him on the court. He had the fastest recovery time of any athlete I’ve ever seen.

One Last Thing:

I’m stressed RIGHT NOW!!! What’s the quickest, easiest thing to do?!?!?!

Watching a video of a cute animal can reduce heart rate and blood pressure in under a minute.

Via Richard Wiseman’s excellent book 59 Seconds: Change Your Life in Under a Minute:

In an innovative study, Deborah Wells examined whether merely looking at a video of an animal can have the same type of calming and restorative effects as those created by being in its company… compared to the two control conditions, all three animal videos made the participants feel much more relaxed. To help reduce your heart rate and blood pressure in less than a minute, go online and watch a video of a cute animal.

Here you go:

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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Related posts:

During what average daily activity are you most likely to be full of potential creativity?

5 reasons why humor is more powerful than you would ever guess

Why do life-threatening situations make some people more calm?

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

Would Winning the Lottery Solve All Your Problems?

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Via the documentary Lucky:

Every year Americans spend $7 billion on movie tickets, $16 billion on sporting events, $24 billion on books… and $62 billion on lottery tickets. More than half of all American adults play the lottery making it, by far, the most popular form of paid entertainment in the country.

Odds you believe your best shot at getting rich is winning the lottery: 1 in 5.

Odds you will actually hit the jackpot in a Powerball lottery: 1 in 195,249,054.

People have a lot of irrational beliefs when it comes to the lottery. Many believe if they give a lottery ticket away it’s more likely to win.

What if you educate people about the statistics showing the odds are stacked against them when they gamble? Doesn’t change their behavior one bit.

And if you believe that winning the lottery will solve all your problems? You might be a little irrational too.

Are lottery winners happier than paralyzed accident victims?

Yes… but not by as much as you’d guess.

Some time after winning their money, lottery winners weren’t all that much happier than people who hadn’t won — and accident victims weren’t anywhere as unhappy as the researchers had assumed.

Shouldn’t lottery winners be ecstatic and paralyzed accident victims be miserable? No.

What the authors of the study found was that:

1) Much of happiness exists outside of objective life circumstances. Attitude and perspective mean a lot more than actual events.

2) We’re prone to a contrast effect. Events in our lives don’t have set values; they’re compared to other events. Winning the lottery is such a big deal it actually makes every other good thing in the winner’s life less enjoyable.

3) We’re also prone to habituation. Simply put, we can get accustomed to nearly anything, no matter how good or bad. After time, a wheelchair doesn’t seem so bad — and a million dollars doesn’t seem as good.

But you still want to be rich, right?

There’s no denying it: Yes, you would probably be happier if you were rich… but not by much. Past about 75K a year, money doesn’t bring very much extra happiness.

Think about this for a second:

Would you be happier of you were a billionaire or if you were Amish?

Correct answer: they’re both equally happy.

And this:

Do you think you’d be happier homeless in Fresno, California or homeless in Calcutta, India?

Correct answer: Calcutta, hands down.

Via Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being:

The downtrodden of Calcutta are far happier than you’d think, given their circumstances. How can these people possibly be happy?

The problem isn’t with them, it’s with us. We’re falling prey to what’s called a “focusing illusion.” All we’re thinking about is money and living standards and not the other factors that are often more responsible for happiness than we give them credit for: religion/meaning, family, marriage and friends.

Can you tell me the best way to play the lottery or not, Eric?

So back to the lottery. Can research give you any help on the best way to play the lottery? Actually, yes.

Buy your tickets as early as possible.

Because what you’re really buying is a chance to dream.

And the smartest thing to do is to prolong that enjoyment as much as possible.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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Related posts:

Cross your fingers and read this post – How to make yourself luckier

Here are the things that are proven to make you happier.

How can the slumdwellers, prostitutes and homeless people of the poorest place on Earth be happy?

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 Can You Use Technology to Make You Happier?

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Many say technology is tearing us apart but studies generally show that tech and the internet make us happier. What gives?

There’s certainly a near-term and long-term difference: your brain loves things that give you more options even if too many choices end up making you miserable. (Humans aren’t always rational. Welcome to Earth.)

More relevant, technology is a tool, and it’s all about what you do with it. Research has shown time and time again that what makes you happier is relationships with people.

Problem is we all have a tendency to use technology to replace relationships.

You do it with television:

Study 1 demonstrated that people report turning to favored television programs when feeling lonely, and feel less lonely when viewing those programs.

Television competes with friends for your free time and acts as a (poor) substitute. It fills the slot of real relationships so effectively that when your favorite TV shows go off the air, it can be the equivalent of a real life break-up. And more TV only makes you more unhappy.

You do it with your phone:

“The cellphone directly evokes feelings of connectivity to others, thereby fulfilling the basic human need to belong.” This results in reducing one’s desire to connect with others or to engage in empathic and prosocial behavior.

You’re not addicted to your phone — brain scans show it’s more like you’re in love with it. (There are now more iPhones sold than babies born in the world every day.) By stripping away the emotional information in faces and intonation, text messaging might be simulating autism.

Too much computer time can degrade social skills. Research shows Facebook often promotes weak, low-commitment relationships and it’s curated presentation of only life’s best moments can make us depressed. Email can stress you out and turn you into an asshole if you’re not careful.

So should we smash the machines and live like the Amish?

No way.

Like I said, it’s all about how you use it. In fact, research shows compulsive internet users have happier marriages. Overall, Facebook users get more emotional support than average.

So how do you get the good without the bad?

Technology can increase happiness and improve relationships if you leverage it to connect with other people:

The results were unequivocal. “The greater the proportion of face-to-face interactions, the less lonely you are,” he says. “The greater the proportion of online interactions, the lonelier you are.” Surely, I suggest to Cacioppo, this means that Facebook and the like inevitably make people lonelier. He disagrees. Facebook is merely a tool, he says, and like any tool, its effectiveness will depend on its user. “If you use Facebook to increase face-to-face contact,” he says, “it increases social capital.” So if social media let you organize a game of football among your friends, that’s healthy. If you turn to social media instead of playing football, however, that’s unhealthy.

So don’t just hit the LIKE button. Comment, interact and most importantly, plan face-to-face get togethers.

Your phone can make you happier too. (In fact, there’s an app for that.) Use your phone to make plans to meet with friends in person or to connect with those you can’t see face to face.

And when you’re with friends, put it away. Seeing friends and family regularly is worth an extra $97,265 a year. Whatever you want to check on that phone ain’t worth a hundred grand.

Summing up:

We frequently use technology to replace relationships. This is bad. Technology can increase happiness and improve relationships if you leverage it to connect with other people.

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.

TIME psychology

How to Get Respect: 5 Points Backed by Science

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

We all want to know how to get respect.

Research shows respect is key to both your love life and your career.

But it’s difficult. Others size you up very quickly. For instance, people evaluate how attractive you are in 13 milliseconds. Yes, milliseconds.

And first impressions matter more than you think. They’re the most important part of any job interview. And once set, they’re hard to change.

So how do you get respect? Let’s look at the research and see what works — and what doesn’t.

1) Power Is Respected… But There’s A Catch.

What makes us happier: money or power? Power. Do we prefer money or status? Status.

What do children say they want more than anything when they grow up? Fame.

Paraphrasing Machiavelli: if you have to choose between being loved or feared, pick feared.

Yeah, power gets you respect. So if you can make a billion dollars or become an international sensation by Thursday I highly recommend it.

But powerful people often behave badly. Power reduces empathy and often causes us to dehumanize others.

In fact, one of the most recognizable signs that someone is powerful is that they break rules. Why? They can get away with it.

And often this works in reverse — when we see someone who has the gall to break rules we assume they must be powerful.

Anger conveys competence. Narcissists are more likely to get promotions. Jerks earn more money:

…men who measured below average on agreeableness earned about 18% more—or $9,772 more annually in their sample—than nicer guys. Ruder women, meanwhile, earned about 5% or $1,828 more than their agreeable counterparts… “Nice guys are getting the shaft,” says study co-author Beth A. Livingston, an assistant professor of human resource studies at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations.

And these negative characteristics are valuable in some roles:

Several of the 12 “dark side” traits – such as those associated with narcissism, being overly dramatic, being critical of others and being extremely focused on complying with rules – actually had a positive effect on a number of facets of the cadets’ leadership development over time… “it appears that even negative characteristics can be adaptive in particular settings or job roles.”

In fact, research shows feeling powerless makes you dumber.

But respect gained through power and bad behavior comes at a cost.

Not laughing at other people’s jokes does make you seem more powerful. It also reduces social bonding.

Refuse to be impressed by others’ achievements? Definitely powerful. And in relationship research it’s classified as “destructive” behavior.

Congratulations, you’re killing your relationships and alienating the people closest to you.

What about the workplace? Do you need to strut around the office to show people who’s boss?

Research from Harvard shows people would rather work with a lovable fool than a competent jerk — even if they won’t admit it:

How-To-Get-Respect

Powerful people don’t listen. And doctors who don’t listen get sued more often. Intimidating leaders actually reduce team performance.

(To learn what the most successful people have in common, click here.)

Appearing powerful definitely gets you respect — but potentially at a very high cost. Is it better to just be nice?

2) We Love Mr. Nice Guy… Sometimes.

Can you be nice and get respect? Many people immediately think “nice guys finish last.” You’ll get walked on.

But research from Wharton professor Adam Grant shows “givers” are disproportionately represented at the top of success metrics.

But in some professions, like the military, you have to be tough… right?

Shawn Achor, author of the excellent book The Happiness Advantage, points out that top leaders in the Navy are supportive:

In the U.S. Navy, researchers found, annual prizes for efficiency and preparedness are far more frequently awarded to squadrons whose commanding officers are openly encouraging. On the other hand, the squadrons receiving the lowest marks in performance are generally led by commanders with a negative, controlling, and aloof demeanor.

Stanford’s Bob Sutton shows that when bosses say “thank you,” employees work 50% harder.

Powerful people won’t admit they don’t know something and don’t ask for help. They might look weak. But they also don’t learn anything.

The best way to learn also turns out to be a powerful influence tactic: just ask for advice.

How do expert FBI hostage negotiators get what they want? Listening and empathy.

Studies show nice guys have higher quality friendships, are better parents, have better academic and career performance, as well as better health:

…agreeableness, one of the Big Five personality dimensions, is linked with higher-quality friendships, successful parenting, better academic and career performance, and health… Based on the review of the literature, it is postulated that being agreeable may be the path to enduring interpersonal relationships, happiness, success, and well-being.

So is it just that simple? Be nice all the time? Sadly, no.

While givers do make the top of success metrics, they are also disproportionately found at the bottom:

What I find across various industries, and various studies is the Givers are most likely to end up at the bottom. That’s primarily because they end up putting other people first in ways that either burn them out, or will allow them to get taken advantage of and exploited by Takers.

While we have a great deal to learn from total altruists, it’s a dangerous path. In some cases, yes, “Nice guys do finish last.”

(For Adam Grant’s tips on how you can be nice while protecting yourself from being taken advantage of, click here.)

Research shows not being aggressive limits goal achievement but being very aggressive hurts relationships. So what should we do?

3) It’s A Balance

We don’t merely respect people because of power… or just because of kindness.

Research shows we judge people on the qualities of competence and warmth:

Social psychologist Cuddy, an assistant professor of business administration, investigates how people perceive and categorize others. Warmth and competence, she finds, are the two critical variables. They account for about 80 percent of our overall evaluations of people…

But the tricky part is we always assume a trade-off between the two: more competent means less warm, more warm means less competent.

This idea of balance is pervasive. What happens when you see that uber-perfect person screw up a bit?

You actually like them more because it makes them human.

The best leaders are a balance. Not too assertive, but not too passive. They must juggle kindness and toughness:

“If you’re too soft—no matter how competent and able you are—people may not respect your authority. But if you only have dominance and you don’t have great ideas, and you use force to stay in power, then people will resent you,” he concludes. “Being successful as a leader requires one to have both dominance and prestige.”

Harvard leadership professor Gautam Mukunda explains great leaders have supreme confidence — and humility. (Skip to 4:15.)

Of course, riding that line is extremely difficult. And there are biases that make it even harder.

When men show anger they’re seen as competent. But women displaying the exact same behavior are perceived negatively.

And on the flip side, society tells men it’s okay to be vulnerable and open up — but then punishes them for it. (Skip to 16:15.)

(For more on what the best leaders have in common, click here.)

Becoming someone who truly embodies all these qualities sounds impossible, right? Can’t we just fake it?

You can… but that’s tricky too.

4) Don’t Be A Method Actor

“Fake it until you make it.” A little of that is only natural. But I’m seeing it reach a whole new level: out-and-out acting and utter manipulation.

And it’s a mistake. People think they’re going to act powerful and tough get a reaction like this:

What they end up doing is losing friends and gaining allies who will only be allies as long as there’s something to be gained.

And those who show Machiavellian kindness often suffer a worse fate —trust is easy to lose and hard to regain.

But perhaps that sounds pious. Here’s a more concrete reason: it doesn’t work — or at least not for long.

In five minutes people can size you up with about 70% accuracy:

Across a wide range of studies, Ambady and Rosenthal found that observations lasting up to five minutes had an average correlation of r = .39 with subsequent behavior, which corresponds to 70 percent accuracy at predicting outcomes…

Maybe you enjoy gambling but I don’t like those odds — especially over the long haul.

Unless you have an Oscar for acting, faking for big stretches of time is hard. In fact, research shows acting smart makes you look stupid.

The only way to convincingly change how you’re perceived is to do it from the inside. (We often call this “being delusional.”)

And what’s even more insidious is that over time, we can become what we imitate.

Harvard leadership expert Gautam Mukunda, author of Indispensable, spoke about the limitations of impression management:

You’re performing. If you perform for long enough you can begin to inhabit the role. You can begin to change who you are… When you’re acting out these roles, what you’ve got to remember is you are changing yourself. Over time you will change yourself into that person, so it had better be the person you genuinely want to be.

(For more on the techniques of FBI hostage negotiators, click here.)

Being a powerful jerk is a risky tradeoff — but so is being a total nice guy. And balancing is really, really hard.

So when we pull all this together what really is the best way to get respect?

5) How To Get Respect

You don’t need to strut around like a jerk but we can learn something from powerful people: confidence is vital.

People love confidence so much that we sometimes prefer those who talk a good game over those who produce quantifiable results.

So be moderately overconfident. See the world accurately but have belief in your abilities.

And what’s the best route to this? Work hard and become an expert at your job. Competence breeds real confidence. A feeling of control kills fear.

But be warm.

This is what we can learn from the nice guys. And don’t fake it. You can learn to be more compassionate. Karma works and kindness scales.

It all starts with self-knowledge. Gautam Mukunda explains:

Changing yourself is not inauthentic. Part of what people do is they change. They evolve, they can grow, and they can change themselves.

So what it is to be authentic? It doesn’t mean you can’t change, but it does mean that the changes that you make, again, have to be aligned with the sense of who you really are, and who you want to be.

In fact, research shows that when you try to be your best self, you end up presenting your true self:

In sum, positive self-presentation facilitates more accurate impressions, indicating that putting one’s best self forward helps reveal one’s true self.

Don’t be a total jerk and don’t be an utter pushover. And don’t be a method actor.

Be the best version of who you are.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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How the Most Successful People Manage Their Time

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

“Where does the time go?” I say it. I’m sure you say it a lot.

We seek work-life balance but it seems there’s never enough time to get it all done.

And yet we all know there are people who accomplish a lot more than we do in a day — and they don’t have magic powers.

How do the most successful people manage their time?

Laura Vanderkam talked to a number of those people (including productivity expert David Allen and the former CEO of Pepsi) and found out their secrets.

She’s written about what she learned in a series of books:

  1. What the Most Successful People Do at Work
  2. What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast
  3. What the Most Successful People Do on the Weekend
  4. 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think

I gave Laura a call and we discussed what she learned from successful people about managing time and getting things done.

Here’s how you can get tons of stuff accomplished during the week, feel less stressed and even have more fun on the weekend.

1) Do A Time Log

Interviewing so many successful people, what did she hear some version of over and over? They all seem obsessed with one question:

What else could I do with that hour?

They plan their time, track their time and are always thinking about the opportunity cost of their time.

The first question you need to ask is “Where is my time actually going?” Not where you think it’s going, where is it actually going.

This does not involve leaning back in your chair and kinda sorta guessing about what you vaguely remember doing.

Write down what you do for every hour of the day.

Let’s just say seeing clearly in black and white how you spend your time can be sobering. Or, in some cases, downright depressing. But it works.

You can’t trust your head when it comes to time. You need to be accountable. Dieters who wrote down everything they ate lost an extra six pounds.

Via What the Most Successful People Do at Work:

One study of a year-long weight loss program, published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in 2012, found that women who kept a food journal lost about 6 pounds more than those who did not. Writing down what you eat keeps you accountable for what you put in your mouth. Likewise, writing down how you spend your time keeps you accountable for the hours that pass, whether or not you’re conscious of them.

There are other benefits to doing a time log. It helps you figure out how long things really take versus your optimistic underestimates.

Here’s what Laura told me:

It’s just a matter of observation and saying “What is it that I repeatedly do in my life, and how long did it really take each of those times?” If that regular Monday 10 a.m. meeting is scheduled for an hour but it has never taken less than 90 minutes, then you need to be realistic and stop scheduling stuff for 11:00.

The other benefit that comes from doing a time log is you can see the optimal windows for you to accomplish certain tasks.

Are you sharper in the morning? (Most people are.) Then you can schedule “deep work” for that time.

(For more on the six things the most productive people do every day click here.)

So you’ve started a time log (and you’ve probably spent some time crying after reading it) and now you’re ready to spend your hours better.

What’s the next step? You need a plan. And not some little one either.

2) Plan The Whole Week

In a study of CEO’s what correlated with an increase in sales? Not how much time they had, but how much time had been planned out.

Via What the Most Successful People Do at Work: A Short Guide to Making Over Your Career:

Preliminary analysis from CEOs in India found that a firm’s sales increased as the CEO worked more hours. But more intriguingly, the correlation between CEO time use and output was driven entirely by hours spent in planned activities.

Georgetown professor and super-organizer Cal Newport agrees: To-do lists aren’t enough. Things need to be assigned hours to really get done.

How do you create your plan? Think about two things: what are you good at and what makes you happy?

Successful people spend as much time as possible on their “core competency” and ignore, minimize or outsource everything else.

They spend time on that thing they’re best at which produces meaningful results.

Writers need to be writing. Accountants need to be working with numbers. And everything else (like email and meetings) just gets in the way.

Laura also suggests creating a long list of things that bring you joy. Yes, you need to write them down.

Might sound silly but by having an actual list it’s easier to remember them and slot them into your schedule vs waiting for serendipity.

(For an example of the type of schedule very successful people follow every day, click here.)

So you’re putting your plan together. What’s another secret of successful people that delivers results over the long haul?

3) Morning Rituals Are For Things That Don’t Have To Happen

Morning rituals are for those things that are important but not urgent. Long term planning. Exercise.

The stuff we know we should do… but perpetually put off. These things don’t have a hard deadline and nobody will shout at us if they don’t happen.1

Via What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast:

The best morning rituals are activities that don’t have to happen and certainly don’t have to happen at a specific hour. These are activities that require internal motivation… The best morning rituals are activities that, when practiced regularly, result in long-term benefits.

Research shows we have more willpower in the morning.

One of the successful people Laura spoke to said: “Every day I have a job but in the morning, I think I have a career.”

Mornings are the time to make progress on those vital long term goals.

(For more on how the most organized people structure their time, click here.)

Time log: check. Weekly plan: check. Morning ritual: check. What else requires some forethought? Fun.

4) Yes, You Even Need To Plan The Weekend

Here’s where people freak out. They don’t want to plan their free time. But if you’re serious about your leisure time, then take it seriously.

I’m not talking about planning work or chores. I’m talking about planning fun — as in making sure you have some.

How many weekends have blown by where you didn’t get off the couch and, frankly, it wasn’t all that memorable? Exactly.

Research shows we’re happier when we plan our free time and that “doing nothing” doesn’t make us happy.

More importantly, studies have shown that you often don’t do what makes you happiest — you do what is easy. So you need to plan if you want to have fun.

What’s a weekend plan look like? Nothing draconian. Laura says you just want 3-5 “anchor events” to make sure you’re having a good time.

Here’s Laura:

Just three to five anchor events can really make the difference between feeling that a weekend was spent well, and that a weekend merely happened. And these don’t have to be huge things. It could just be, “I’m going to go for a run on Saturday morning. I’m going to try get together with this friend on Saturday evening. I’m going to go to church on Sunday morning.”

Looking to be happier? By planning fun stuff ahead of time you get to anticipate it. And research shows anticipation makes us very happy.

Best part is even if you don’t follow through and do the anchor event, you already got the anticipatory happiness. Happiness and laziness!

Via What the Most Successful People Do on the Weekend:

One study by several Dutch researchers, published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life in 2010, found that vacationers were happier than people who didn’t take holiday trips. That finding is hardly surprising. What is surprising is the timing of the happiness boost… The happiness boost came before the trips, stretching out for as much as two months beforehand as the holiday goers imagined their excursions.

(For more research based tips on how to make your weekends more awesome, click here.)

Weekend fun is locked in. What’s the most vital part of insuring you’re ready for the workweek to start again?

5) How To Conquer The Sunday Night Blues

You know the weekend is over and tomorrow it’s back to work. Instead of being filled with dread, plan something awesome for Sunday night.

Here’s Laura:

Even people who like their jobs can succumb to this: “Oh god the weekend’s over!” One way around that is planning something low-key but enjoyable for Sunday night — anything you can look forward to Sunday afternoon instead of thinking about Monday morning.

Research shows Sunday is the saddest day of the week. Plan something fun ahead of time and that doesn’t have to be the case.

(For more on how to achieve work-life balance, click here.)

Okay, we’ve got some great tips. Let’s pull this together.

Sum Up

Here’s what you can learn about time management from very successful people:

  1. Do a time log. See how long things take and when your best windows are.
  2. Plan the whole week. Focus on your core competency and what makes you happy.
  3. Have a morning ritual that gets you closer to your long term goals.
  4. Set 3-5 anchor events for the weekend.
  5. Plan something fun for Sunday night.

168 — that’s how many hours we all have every week. We need to get out of the mindset of “I don’t have time.”

We all have the same number of hours. Period. It’s what you choose to do with those hours that will shape your entire life.

To quote a video game franchise I worked on a while back:

We all make choices. But in the end, our choices make us.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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4 Things Millionaires Have in Common, Backed by Research

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

What do millionaires do differently?

Are they harder workers? Do they have brains that can bend spoons? Do they exhibit Bond Villain levels of cunning?

For their books The Millionaire Next Door and The Millionaire Mind the authors surveyed over 700 millionaires to find out.

80% were self-made, accruing all their wealth in one generation. And they were doing a number of things you and I probably aren’t.

Here are a few patterns the researchers saw:

1) Most Millionaires Are Self-Employed

Got a great idea for a business? Make sure the profits are going in yourpocket, not your boss’s.

Via The Millionaire Next Door:

Twenty percent of the affluent households in America are headed by retirees. Of the remaining 80 percent, more than two-thirds are headed by self-employed owners of businesses. In America, fewer than one in five households, or about 18 percent, is headed by a self-employed business owner or professional. But these self-employed people are four times more likely to be millionaires than those who work for others.

Sound risky? It is. Less than a third of new companies survive 10 years.

Via The Illusions of Entrepreneurship:

…no matter how you measure new firms, and no matter which developed country you look at, it appears that only half of new firms started remain in business for five years, and less than one-third last ten years.

But millionaires have a different perspective. They think it’s risky to work for someone else. You could get laid off. Your boss could make a bad decision.

They want to be in control of their own destiny and yes — they’re quite confident. And research shows confidence boosts your income.

But not only is entrepreneurship risky, it’s also hard work.

In only two countries out of all the ones surveyed did the self-employed not work harder than salaried employees:

millionaires

Why do something so risky and difficult? Research shows one of the main things that makes us love our work is autonomy.

And this is definitely true here. You’d need to earn 2.5 times as much money to be as happy as someone who is self-employed.

Via The Illusions of Entrepreneurship:

These studies have found that people are more satisfied with their jobs when they are working for themselves than when they are working for others. In fact, the studies show that to be as satisfied when he is working for others as he is when he is working for himself, the average person needs to earn two-and-a-half times as much money!

(For more on what the most successful people have in common, click here.)

So these aren’t salaried employees. But how do they decide what kind of companies to start?

2) Millionaires Choose Their Careers Strategically

They don’t start a business they’re necessarily passionate about. They don’t even do something they necessarily understand or have experience in.

They start a business that they think is going to make money. They look for areas of big demand and small supply.

Some of you are saying, “Duh. Of course that’s how you should pick a business.” Yeah, but that’s not what the vast majority of people do.

Via The Illusions of Entrepreneurship:

…there is no evidence that entrepreneurs select industries in which profits, profit margins, or revenues are higher.

63% of new business owners admit their venture doesn’t have a competitive advantage. Only a third say they really did a search for good business ideas.

And the industry you start a business in is very important: some industries are over 600 times more likely to be successful than others.

Via The Illusions of Entrepreneurship:

…between 1982 and 2002, start-ups in the software industry were 608 times more likely than start-ups in the restaurant industry to become one of the 500 fastest growing private companies in the United States—608 times more likely!

One of the authors of The Millionaire Mind is a business school professor. Every year he asks his students what the most profitable businesses are.

And every year the students can’t even name one correct answer. If smart, educated business students don’t know, why would the average person?

But millionaires pride themselves on thinking differently and looking for underserved markets and hidden opportunities.

And, frankly, the companies they start usually aren’t sexy. They fall into the category of “dull-normal.” But they make bank.

Via The Millionaire Next Door:

Many of the types of businesses we are in could be classified as dull-normal. We are welding contractors, auctioneers, rice farmers, owners of mobile-home parks, pest controllers, coin and stamp dealers, and paving contractors.

Despite thinking differently and doing things their own way, they’re not jerks. 94% of millionaires said “getting along with people” was key.

(For more on how not following your passion can be the smartest career strategy, click here.)

So they run their own shop and choose wisely what type of business to be in. But to make it a success don’t they have to be brilliant? Nope.

3) They’re Not Geniuses But They Have A Strong Work Ethic

We’ve all heard the old saying, “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” What was the average college GPA of an American millionaire?

2.9 out of 4.0.

(Not a lot of Phi Beta Kappa keys jangling around here, folks.)

Few were ever called intellectually gifted and many were explicitly told they didn’t have what it takes for medical school, law school or MBA school.

But what most people don’t know is that GPA is a very poor predictor of success.

Via The Millionaire Mind:

I find no substantial statistical correlation between the economic-productivity factors (net worth and income) and SATs, class rank in college, and grade performance in college…

And this may be part of the reason they’re so successful as entrepreneurs: “smarter” people are less likely to take such risks.

Via The Millionaire Mind:

Overall, there is an inverse relationship between taking financial risk and various measures of analytical intelligence such as SAT scores.

And maybe this is why former drug dealers are more likely to start businesses.

Via The Illusions of Entrepreneurship:

…people who dealt drugs as teenagers are between 11 and 21 percent more likely than other people to start their own businesses in adulthood. And their higher rate of self-employment isn’t the result of wealth accumulated dealing drugs, greater likelihood of having a criminal record, or lower wages.

In entrepreneurship, you’re the boss. So it requires leadership. And some research shows being super-smart actually makes you worse at being a leader.

Via Mind in Context: Interactionist Perspectives on Human Intelligence:

Cognitive ability tests have been notoriously poor predictors of leadership performance…. Leader intelligence under certain conditions correlates negatively with performance.

(Though research shows if you want to be a successful terrorist, definitely study hard in school.)

But future millionaires do work hard. When asked what their teachers did compliment them on, what was the most common response?

“Most dependable.”

When asked what they did learn in college, 94% replied “a strong work ethic.” And research shows self-discipline trumps IQ when it comes to success.

(To see the type of schedule successful people follow every day, click here.)

So we know how they bring their money in. Is there another part to the equation? Yeah. Don’t let that money out.

4) They’re Cheap

When the authors of The Millionaire Mind interviewed the wealthy, they didn’t want them to feel uncomfortable.

So they rented a penthouse in Manhattan, loaded it with four types of pâté, three kinds of caviar and plenty of fine wine.

The millionaires arrived… and felt completely out of place. All they ate were the gourmet crackers.

When offered the fancy wine one interviewee said he only drank two types of beer: free and Budweiser.

The researchers were stunned. They quickly realized the media images we see of millionaires aren’t representative.

Expect a millionaire to be a fancy dresser? 50% have never paid over $399 for a suit. (10% had never paid $195.)

In fact, if you do see someone wearing a $1000 suit, it’s more likely they’re not a millionaire.

Via The Millionaire Next Door:

For every millionaire who owns a $1,000 suit, there are at least six owners who have annual incomes in the $50,000 to $200,000 range but who are not millionaires.

Fancy car? More than half have never paid over $30,000 for a car. See someone in a Mercedes? They are probably not a millionaire.

Via The Millionaire Next Door:

…approximately 70,000 Mercedes were sold in this country last year. This translates into about one-half of 1 percent of the more than fourteen million motor vehicles sold. At the same time, there were nearly 3.5 million millionaire households. What does this tell us? It suggests that the members of most wealthy households don’t drive luxury imports. The fact is that two out of three purchasers or leasers of foreign luxury motor vehicles in this country are not millionaires.

Most millionaires live a lot more like you and me than Jay Z, Elon Musk or Donald Trump.

They’re thrifty, not very materialistic, and they think a great deal about how much they spend.

Via The Millionaire Next Door:

There is an inverse relationship between the time spent purchasing luxury items such as cars and clothes and the time spent planning one’s financial future.

And the more materialistic people are, the less satisfied they are with their lives.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life:

Among participants in one study, those whose values were the most materialistic rated their lives as the least satisfying. – Ryan and Dziurawiec 2001

Research shows people are better with their money when they think long term. Experts say you should have a system.

Are you as money-conscious as a millionaire? Most millionaires answer “yes” to these four questions. Can you?

Via The Millionaire Next Door:

  1. Does your household operate on an annual budget?
  2. Do you know how much your family spends each year on food, clothing and shelter?
  3. Do you have a clearly defined set of daily, weekly, monthly, annual and lifetime goals?
  4. Do you spend a lot of time planning your financial future?

(For more on research-backed ways to spend your money so it increases your happiness, click here.)

So it’s clear how millionaires make their money. But what should we take away from all of this?

Sum Up

Being a millionaire must be nice. But we won’t all get there. And that’s okay. Money isn’t everything.

So even if you don’t get rich, what lessons can we all learn from millionaires?

  1. Take control of your life as best you can.
  2. Plan and be strategic, whatever your career might be.
  3. Work hard.
  4. Watch your money.

That’s advice anyone can follow and everyone can benefit from.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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Harvard Research Reveals a Fun Way to Be More Successful

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

We all want to be more successful.

But everything you read probably sounds like a lot of work. Isn’t there a scientifically proven method that’s a little more… fun? There is.

Shawn Achor is the bestselling author of The Happiness Advantage and for years at Harvard he studied exactly that: happiness.

He gave an extremely popular (and, in my opinion, the all-time funniest) TED talk.

And his ideas even attracted the attention of Oprah Winfrey, who filmed aninterview with him.

What’s so special about Shawn’s work? His research shows that success doesn’t bring happiness — happiness brings success.

He did what a lot of researchers never do: instead of scrubbing the freak outliers from the data he aggressively studied them.

He wanted to know what people with happiness superpowers do that we don’t.

Here’s Shawn:

Instead of deleting those people that are weirdos in the data what we do is we intentionally study them. We try and find out why it is that while an entire sales force has low numbers, we’re finding three or four people whose sales are skyrocketing. Or we’re looking at a low socioeconomic school in Chicago, where the academic scores are below average, there are a couple students whose grades are skyrocketing. By studying those outliers, what we’re doing is we’re gleaning information not on how to move subpar performers up toward that average point, but how to move people from average to superior.

Shawn believes (and his research shows) that you can do things to be happier. And being happier will make you more successful.

I gave Shawn a call to find out what he’s learned. Want more joy and success in your life? Here’s what Shawn had to say.

1) Success Brings Happiness? No. Happiness Brings Success.

We all chase success hoping it will make us happy:

  1. I’ll be happy once I get that promotion.
  2. I’ll be happy once I get that raise.
  3. I’ll be happy once I lose 15 pounds.

But the research shows that isn’t true. You achieve a goal and you’re briefly happier… but then you’re looking toward the next big thing.

What Shawn’s research showed was when you flip the formula and focus on increasing happiness, you end up increasing success.

Here’s Shawn:

If we can get somebody to raise their levels of optimism or deepen their social connection or raise happiness, turns out every single business and educational outcome we know how to test for improves dramatically. You can increase your success rates for the rest of your life and your happiness levels will flatline, but if you raise your level of happiness and deepen optimism it turns out every single one of your success rates rises dramatically compared to what it would have been at negative, neutral, or stressed.

MET Life saw such great results among happy salespeople that they tried an experiment: they started hiring people based on optimism.

And that was even if those people performed poorly on the standard industry “aptitude test.” What was the result?

It turns out that the optimistic group outsold their more pessimistic counterparts by 19% in year one and 57% in year two.

How can this be? Shawn explained that intelligence and technical skills only predict 25% of success:

If we know the intelligence and technical skills of an employee, we can actually only predict about 25% of their job success. 75% of long term job success is predicted not by intelligence and technical skills, which is normally how we hire, educate and train, but it’s predicted by three other umbrella categories. It’s optimism (which is the belief that your behavior matters in the midst of challenge), your social connection (whether or not you have depth and breadth in your social relationships), and the way that you perceive stress.

And students who want success in their future should worry a little less about grades and more about optimism.

Shawn found that rolling a pair of dice was as predictive of your future income as your college GPA is. (And millionaires agree.)

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

So your attitude has a huge effect on how successful you are. What was the most powerful thing Shawn learned from looking at those happiness outliers?

2) See Problems As Challenges, Not Threats

Shawn did a study of bankers right after the huge banking crisis hit. Most of them were incredibly stressed. But a few were happy and resilient.

What did those guys have in common? They didn’t see problems as threats; they saw them as challenges to overcome.

Here’s Shawn:

What these positive outliers do is that when there are changes that occur in the economic landscape or the political landscape or at an educational institution, they see those changes not as threats, but as challenges.

So those people are just wired differently and our duty is to envy them, right? Nope. Shawn did an experiment that proved this attitude can belearned.

Just by showing the normal bankers a video explaining how to see stress as a challenge, he turned sad bankers into super-bankers.

Here’s Shawn:

And we watched those groups of people over the next three to six weeks, and what we found was if we could move people to view stress as enhancing, a challenge instead of as a threat, we saw a 23% drop in their stress-related symptoms. It produced a significant increase not only in levels of happiness, but a dramatic improvement in their levels of engagement at work as well.

(For more on what the happiest people do every day, click here.)

But what about when there’s just too much to do? Maybe there are more “challenges” than you can handle.

Should we just give up on any chance of work-life balance? Cancel those plans with friends and spend more hours at the office?

Once again the answer is the exact opposite.

3) Twice As Much Work Means You Need Friends Twice As Much

After doing his undergraduate work at Harvard, Shawn was a proctor there, helping freshman adapt to the often stressful, competitive environment.

Many students would respond to the workload by living in the library and eating meals in their bedrooms so they could keep studying.

Did those students perform better? No. Those were the ones who burned out; the ones who ended up wanting to transfer to another school.

Shawn would tell them what they had unknowingly done was cut themselves off from the greatest predictor of happiness.

Here’s Shawn:

The people who survive stress the best are the ones who actually increase their social investments in the middle of stress, which is the opposite of what most of us do.

Turns out that social connection is the greatest predictor of happiness we have when I run them in my studies. When we run social support metrics, they trump everything else we do, every time.

And what did we just learn about happiness? It predicts success. And it was no different here:

We found that social connection is extremely important for predicting academic achievement.

Want to resist stress, increase productivity and get a promotion? Then don’t just seek social support — provide it to others.

Confirming the research of top Wharton professor Adam Grant, people who provide social support get some of the greatest benefits.

Shawn saw this not only with his students at Harvard but he’s since advised over a third of the Fortune 100 companies — and it worked there too.

Here’s Shawn:

Work altruists were ten times more likely to be engaged than the bottom quartile of that list and the top quartile was significantly happier and 40% more likely to receive a promotion over the next 2-year period of time.

(For more on how work altruism can benefit you, click here.)

Some of you might be thinking, “Alright already, happiness makes you more successful. I get it. But how do I get happier?”

It’s simpler than you think.

4) Send A “Thank You” Email Every Morning

You might think happiness only comes from big wins or big achievements. You’re wrong. Research shows little things are more important.

So Shawn believes rather than focusing on big boosts like vacations, it’s smarter to build little, consistent habits akin to brushing your teeth.

What little habit gives a big happiness boost over time? Send a 2-minute “thank you” email or text as soon as you get into the office.

Here’s Shawn:

The simplest thing you can do is a two-minute email praising or thanking one person that you know. We’ve done this at Facebook, at US Foods, we’ve done this at Microsoft. We had them write a two-minute email praising or thanking one person they know, and a different person each day for 21 days in a row. That’s it. What we find is this dramatically increases their social connection which is the greatest predictor of happiness we have in organizations. It also improves teamwork. We’ve measured the collective IQ of teams and the collective years of experience of teams but both of those metrics are trumped by social cohesion.

What other little daily happiness habits does Shawn recommend?

  1. List the things you’re grateful for.
  2. Meditate.
  3. Exercise.

(For more on five emails that can improve your life, click here.)

Over 120,000 people receive my weekly email. And it’s sent from my real email address. People can reply. And they do.

What’s one of the most common things readers email me to say?

Eric, you suggest all these great things. I read them. I agree with them. But I don’t end up doing any of them. How can I follow through?

Shawn has a great answer for this too.

5) The 20-Second Rule

What stops you from making the changes you know you should? Shawn says it’s “activation energy.”

You know, like the activation energy it takes to initially get your butt off the couch and to the gym. The hard part is getting started.

If you reduce the amount of activation energy required, tough things become easy. So make new habits 20 seconds easier to start.

Shawn would sleep in his gym clothes and put his sneakers next to the bed and it made him much more likely to exercise when he woke up.

Here’s Shawn:

If you can make the positive habit three to 20 seconds easier to start, you’re likelihood of doing it rises dramatically.

And you can do the same thing by flipping it for negative habits. Watching too much television? Merely take out the batteries of the remote control creating a 20 second delay and it dramatically decreases the amount of television people will watch.

(For more easy ways to build new habits, click here.)

So how do we pull all this together? And what was the most inspiring thing Shawn told me about happiness and success?

Sum Up

Here’s what we can all learn from Shawn:

  1. Success doesn’t bring happiness. Happiness brings success.
  2. See problems as challenges, not threats.
  3. More work means you need more social support. And giving support is better than receiving.
  4. Send a 2-minute “thank you” email every morning.
  5. Use the 20-second rule to build the habit.

Some people might think it’s too hard to get happier. Maybe they’ve suffered from depression.

Or they’ve seen the research that we have a “happiness set point”, and our genetics ultimately decide how happy we can be.

You know what the most inspiring thing Shawn told me was? The latest research shows good habits might trump genes.

Here’s Shawn:

When you look at outliers on the graph, you find people who actually break the tyranny of genes and environment by creating these conscious positive habits that actually cause them to interact with life in a more positive way with higher levels of success, lower levels of stress, and higher levels of resilience. They do it by changing their mindset and changing their habits, and by doing so they actually trump their genes.

Most people accept that they’re just born some way and that’s how they’re going to be the rest of their life, and whatever they were last year is what they’re going to be this year. I think positive psychology shows us that that doesn’t actually have to be the case.

Send a gratitude email right now. It only takes 2 minutes. And send another one tomorrow.

That habit will make you happier. And being happier will make you more successful and deepen your relationships.

Happiness. Success. Strong relationships. What else really matters?

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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