TIME psychology

3 Lessons From History’s Greatest Geniuses That Will Make You More Creative

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

1) Reflect On What You Are Trying To Accomplish

Don’t rush in. Plan. Think about what you’re trying to do and what it takes to succeed.

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

…the lessons that the rest of us can learn from individuals who are highly creative. I culled three: (1) 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).

2) Leverage Your Strengths. Ignore Your Weaknesses.

Forget being well-rounded. Double down where you are great.

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

(2) Creative individuals leverage their strengths. They determine their strongest area and build their achievements around these potent intelligences. They do not worry about what they do not do as well; they can always get help from others and perhaps barter their areas of strength with those who have complementary skills.

Pete Drucker’s work agrees, saying we’re usually better off enhancing our strengths than improving our weaknesses.

And leveraging signature strengths is also a path to flow and happiness.

3) See Failure As A Chance To Learn

Don’t be a quitter or a whiner when things don’t work out. Creative geniuses learn from their mistakes and use them to improve.

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

(3) Creative individuals frame their experiences. Such people are highly ambitious, and they do not always succeed, by any means. But when they fail, they do not waste much time lamenting; blaming; or, at the extreme, quitting. Instead, regarding the failure as a learning experience, they try to build upon its lessons in their future endeavors. Framing is most succinctly captured in aphorism by French economist and visionary Jean Monnet: “I regard every defeat as an opportunity.”

This is reminiscent of “grit.” There are techniques for achieving this level of resilience.

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TIME psychology

This Simple Thing Can Make You Much More Convincing, According to Research

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Research shows that consistency in tone is extremely persuasive. People who don’t get shaken up and maintain a smooth approach have a natural advantage.

Stuttering, long pauses, pitch of the voice going up and down… none of these inspire confidence. Avoid emotional variability in how you carry yourself when presenting. A narrow tonal range conveys a high degree of control and certainty.

Via Honest Signals: How They Shape Our World:

…the consistency of one’s emphasis and timing is an honest signal of a focused and smoothly functioning mind.

When we looked at salary negotiations with the sociometer, we found these same patterns. That is, the more consistent people were in their pattern of emphasis, the better they did in the salary negotiation. This was true for both the boss and the new employee-showing variability weakens your negotiation stance. We found the same to be true for business executives pitching business plans. The more consistent they were in emphasis and rhythm while giving their pitch, the more convincing they were to others. That was not the only benefit; people with greater consistency were also perceived as having better ideas and a better presentation style.

That said, this is not the best approach for all scenarios.

If the spotlight is not on you and you need to be open to the ideas of others, it can backfire. In those situations a softer, more open attitude wins the day. Here, a less consistent, less focused approach shows you are open to the ideas of others.

Via Honest Signals: How They Shape Our World:

Consistent emphasis, however, is not always a good thing. It indicates focus and determination, but that is the opposite of what you want to signal when you are in the role of the listener and helper. In these situations, you want to be open to the concerns and ideas of others. In handling sales inquiries from customers where the potential customers are already interested enough to call an agent, for example, a soft sell attitude of helpful listening is better than a hard sell pitch. In fact, when we studied sales inquiries to a major retail chain, we found that variability in emphasis together with the amount of listening time predicted a successful sales call with extremely high accuracy.

And so variability in emphasis and pace appears to be an honest signal that you are open to the contributions of others, perhaps because it is the opposite of the consistent emphasis that signals that you have made up your mind. Even at a fine level of interaction, variability seems to signal an openness to input from other people. Indeed, when we looked at thousands of hours of recorded conversations, we found that the simple signal of variable emphasis, together with the length of time you had already spoken, accurately predicted places where other people would jump into the conversation.

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TIME psychology

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

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

1) Don’t do what your enemy is prepared for.

Frontal assaults against prepared defenses are stupid.

Via How Great Generals Win:

From the beginning of organized warfare, frontal attacks against prepared defenses have usually failed, a fact written large in military history for all generals to see… great generals strike where they are least expected against opposition that is weak and disorganized.

Almost all successful attacks have hit enemies from the rear, from the flank, or anywhere it is not expected. Do not fight fair.

Via How Great Generals Win:

Because enemy response is so unpredictable, commonplace or mediocre generals often do not understand the full significance of flank or rear attacks and, usually because of strong enemy resistance, find themselves drawn or provoked into a direct strategy and frontal attacks, which are rarely decisive. One of the factors that make a general great, and therefore make him rare, is that he can withstand the urge of most men to rush headlong into direct engagements and can see instead how he can go around rather than through his opponent. One reason such generals are few is that the military profession, like society as a whole, applauds direct solutions and is suspicious of personalities given to indirection and unfamiliar methods, labeling them as deceptive, dishonest, or underhanded.

And:

Via How Great Generals Win:

B. H. Liddell Hart epitomizes much military wisdom in two axioms. The successful general, he says, chooses the line or course of least expectation and he exploits the line of least resistance.

2) Always attack from multiple angles

One big mess of soldiers charging forward is not strategic. Split your forces and hit the enemy from multiple fronts.

Via How Great Generals Win:

The essential formula of actual battle is a convergent assault. A commander achieves this by dividing the attacking force into two or more segments. Ideally each segment attacks the same target simultaneously and in close coordination, but from a different direction or approach, thereby holding all enemy elements in the grip of battle and preventing any one from aiding others. Sometimes one part of a force fixes the enemy in place or distracts him while the other part maneuvers to gain surprise and break up the defense.

3) Don’t focus on the fight. Focus on the end goal and you may not need to fight.

Realize that war is no one’s end goal. If you can break the enemy’s will or ability to fight, and you can win without conflict. Think about the politics of situation.

Via How Great Generals Win:

Yet the purpose of war is not battle at all. It is a more perfect peace. To attain peace, a belligerent must break the will of the enemy people to wage war. No nation goes to war to fight. It goes to war to attain its national purpose. It may be that a nation must destroy the enemy’s army to achieve this purpose. But the destruction is not the end, it is only the incidental by-product or the means to the end. If a commander looks at the peace he is seeking at the conclusion of war, he may find numerous ways of attaining it by avoiding the enemy’s main force and striking at targets that may destroy the enemy’s desire or ability to wage war.

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Research Shows These Four Things Will Make You a Peak Performer

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

It’s all about the way you practice the skills key to the task at hand. Research has shown that “Deep Practice” (or Deliberate Practice) is how experts train. Here is the four parts to focus on:

1) Make your practice as similar to the real life scenario as possible.

Via The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How:

“One real encounter, even for a few seconds, is far more useful than several hundred observations.” Bjork cites an by psychologist Henry Roediger at Washington University of St. Louis, where students were divided into two groups to study a natural history text. Group A studied the paper for four sessions. Group B studied only once but was tested three times. A week later both groups were tested, and Group B scored 50 percent higher than Group A. They’d studied one-fourth as much yet learned far more.

Via Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To:

Practicing under the types of pressures you will face on the big testing day is one of the best ways to combat choking… During the initial shooting practice, all of the officers missed more shots when firing at a live opponent compared with firing at the stationary cardboard targets. Not so surprising. This was true after training as well, but only for those officers whose practice had been limited to the cardboard cutouts. For those officers who practiced shooting at an opponent, after training they were just as good shots when aiming at the live individuals as they were when aiming at the stationary cutouts. The opportunity to “practice under the gun” of an opponent, so to speak, really helped to hone the police officers’ shots for more real-life stressful shooting situations.

2) Don’t be passive.

Testing yourself is far better than just reviewing.

Via Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success:

Good decision making is about compressing the informational load by decoding the meaning of patterns derived from experience. This cannot be taught in a classroom; it is not something you are born with; it must be lived and learned.

Testing yourself is the best way to learn — even if you fail the tests.

3) Practice is not just repetition.

Be ruthlessly critical and keep trying to improve on the constituent elements of the skill.

Via Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else:

Deliberate practice is characterized by several elements, each worth examining. It is activity designed specifically to improve performance, often with a teacher’s help; it can be repeated a lot; feedback on results is continuously available; it’s highly demanding mentally, whether the activity is purely intellectual, such as chess or business-related activities, or heavily physical, such as sports; and it isn’t much fun.

Via The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How:

“Our predictions were extremely accurate,” Zimmerman said. “This showed that experts practice differently and far more strategically. When they fail, they don’t blame it on luck or themselves. They have a strategy they can fix.”

Via Bounce: Mozart, Federer, Picasso, Beckham, and the Science of Success:

When most people practice, they focus on the things they can do effortlessly,” Ericsson has said. “Expert practice is different. It entails considerable, specific, and sustained efforts to do something you can’t do well—or even at all. Research across domains shows that it is only by working at what you can’t do that you turn into the expert you want to become.”

A negative attitude, not a positive attitude, makes you more likely to learn from your mistakes. In fact, the shift to focusing on negative feedback is one of the marks of an expert mindset.

Ruthlessly critical in practice, blindly optimistic on game day. It’s irrational, but it works.

4) Practice a lot: 10,000 hours worth.

Via Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else:

One factor, and only one factor, predicted how musically accomplished the students were, and that was how much they practiced.

And when the big day comes, make sure you know the methods to resist choking under pressure.

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TIME psychology

Science Says This is a Fun Way You Can Get Better at Multitasking

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

First, the bad news: your brain was never designed to multitask well:

To put it bluntly, research shows that we can’t multitask. We are biologically incapable of processing attention-rich inputs simultaneously.

Across the board multitasking lowers productivity:

Our results show that multitasking is bad for productivity even if one is not concerned with average duration.

Neither gender is better at it:

We do not find any evidence for gender differences in the ability to multitask.

But if multitasking doesn’t work, why do we do it so often? It makes us more emotionally satisfied, even if it makes us less productive:

“…they seem to be misperceiving the positive feelings they get from multitasking. They are not being more productive – they just feel more emotionally satisfied from their work.

So you’re probably going to keep doing it anyway. Is there any way to get the emotional boost and not have it reduce your productivity so much?

Yes. Playing video games might makes you a better multitasker:

We examined the relation of action video game practice and the optimization of executive control skills that are needed to coordinate two different tasks. As action video games are similar to real life situations and complex in nature, and include numerous concurrent actions, they may generate an ideal environment for practicing these skills (Green & Bavelier, 2008). For two types of experimental paradigms, dual-task and task switching respectively;we obtained performance advantages for experienced video gamers compared to non-gamers in situations in which two different tasks were processed simultaneously or sequentially. This advantage was absent in single-task situations. These findings indicate optimized executive control skills in video gamers. Similar findings in non-gamers after 15 h of action video game practice when compared to non-gamers with practice on a puzzle game clarified the causal relation between video game practice and the optimization of executive control skills.

Source: “Video game practice optimizes executive control skills in dual-task and task switching situations” from Acta Psychologica, Volume 140, Issue 1, May 2012, Pages 13–24

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The Two Techniques You Can Learn From Naturally Happy People

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Naturally happy people unconsciously engage in:

  1. Social comparison (or the lack thereof)
  2. Retrospective judgment

Via Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth:

Sonja Lyubomirsky identified ways in which dispositionally happy people think in ways that bolster their moods: social comparison and retrospective judgment.

Even if you’re not a naturally happy person you can use these techniques to increase positive feelings.

So what the heck do those fancy words mean and how can we leverage them?

1) “Social comparison” means don’t compare yourself to others:

Via Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth:

Unhappy people became upset more easily by their own inferior performance, while happy folks virtually ignored how other people performed. In short, Lyubomirsky’s research suggests that more upbeat people tend to engage less in social comparisons, and that they are less sensitive to information about other people’s performance.

Or only compare yourself to those worse off than you:

“Generally if people compare themselves to those who are worse off, they’re going to feel better,” continues Bauer, now a research associate at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and a clinical psychologist at Cognitive Behavioural Therapy Associates of Toronto. “When they compare themselves to people who are better off, it can make them feel worse.”

2) “Retrospective judgment” means reevaluating events and putting a positive spin on them:

Via Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth:

Lyubomirsky showed that happy people naturally reinterpret events so that they preserve their self-esteem.

This is very effective with the minor problems of everyday life:

Across studies, spouses’ tendencies to form positively biased appraisals of their stressful experiences predicted fewer depressive symptoms over the subsequent 4 years among individuals judged to be facing relatively mild experiences…

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

The 5 Daily Rituals That Will Make You Happy

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

You know what percentage of people are really happy? Not “oh, life is pretty good”, I mean people who are flourishing. They feel their lives are fulfilling, meaningful and brimming with potential.

17%.

Via The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work:

Only 17 percent of the adult population is said to be flourishing, fulfilling their potential for happiness, success, and productivity.

Less than one in five. And the question that follows is, of course: how do I become one of those people?

I’ve been accumulating the research on happiness for a while. Good news is: there’s a lot of it. Bad news is: who can remember to do all that stuff?

Well, one expert finally put it together into a simple 5-part formula.

Christine Carter is a sociologist at UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center which studies the psychology and neuroscience of well-being. She looked at the research and exhaustively compiled it into her book, The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work.

So what’s this formula to find your “sweet spot” of happiness — without completely overhauling your life?

Via The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work:

Take Recess + Switch Autopilot On + Unshackle Yourself + Cultivate Relationships + Tolerate Some Discomfort = The Sweet Spot

Okay, but what do we actually need to do?

Don’t worry; it’s pretty easy. Let’s break it down:

 

1) Take Recess

Most of what we do all day is “instrumental.” What’s that mean? It gets something done. It’s practical. It achieves a goal.

But these days we seem to be doing more and more that’s instrumental and a lot less that’s just fun. We forget to play. Is that so bad?

Actually, you have no idea how bad it is. Noted psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi tried an experiment: he told people to just do instrumental activities all day long. No fun allowed, literally.

The old saying is “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” It’s more accurate to say, “All work and no play gives Jack a clinical anxiety disorder in under 48 hours.” Seriously.

Via The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work:

Csikszentmihalyi unintentionally induced textbook cases of generalized anxiety disorder in people simply by instructing his subjects as follows: From the time you wake up until 9: 00 p.m., he explained, “We would like you to act in a normal way, doing all the things you have to do, but not doing anything that is ‘play’ or ‘non-instrumental.’” …Following these instructions for just forty-eight hours produced symptoms of serious anxiety in research subjects—restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability, muscle tension—all by eliminating flow and play from their lives. In other words, we get anxious when we aren’t having any fun.

After 2 days he ended the experiment because of the extreme negative effects it was having on the test subjects.

So by trying to be so productive and get so much done you’re probably stressing yourself out. What to do?

Schedule a little bit of fun every 90 minutes or so. Nothing productive allowed.

Via The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work:

Today, take a good old-fashioned recess in the middle of the day. Go ahead and do your hardest or most dreaded work— or whatever you need to do— but after about sixty to ninety minutes of focused attention, honor your ultradian rhythms and take a break. Rest… The only rule is that what you do during recess must be restful or playful; it can’t be “instrumental” in any way.

You can actually get more done sometimes by being a bit of a slacker. Vacations make you more productive.

By working 60 hour weeks you can get a lot done. But when you work that hard for too long, your productivity drops off. After 2 months of 60 hours a week you’ll actually accomplish less than if you’d only been working 40 hours a week.

Via Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much:

One study, on construction projects, found that “where a work schedule of 60 or more hours per week is continued longer than about two months, the cumulative effect of decreased productivity will cause a delay in the completion date beyond that which could have been realized with the same crew size on a 40-hour week.”

(For more on how to be happier and more successful, click here.)

You might be worried that taking breaks will mean you still get less done. But we’ve got a solution for that.

 

2) Switch Autopilot On

You spend 40% of the day on autopilot, engaging in habits, not actual decisions.

Via The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business:

One paper published by a Duke University researcher in 2006 found that more than 40 percent of the actions people performed each day weren’t actual decisions, but habits.

And we get more done when we’re on autopilot, actually. Not having to make decisions uses less willpower.

So start building better habits. You don’t “decide” to brush your teeth, it’s just something you do and it’s not a struggle. With more habits like this you can get a lot more done in less time with little stress.

At first, just try little habits. Connect them to things that are already part of your routine.

Via The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work:

“After I start the dishwasher, I will read one sentence from a book.”

“After I walk in my door from work, I will get out my workout clothes.”

“After I put my head on the pillow, I will think of one good thing from my day.”

Another easy way to break in a new good habit is to use what happiness expert Shawn Achor calls the “20 second rule.”

Anything you want to accomplish, find a way to make it 20 seconds easier to get started on (like putting your workout clothes next to the bed). Anything you want to stop doing, make it 20 seconds harder to start (hide the candy where it’s hard to reach).

From my interview with 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 on how to build good habits, click here.)

You’re having more fun and becoming more efficient by turning routine tasks into habits. Great. What else will bring you more happiness. The answer is “less.”

 

3) Unshackle Yourself

Do less.

Really, you can. Christine puts it pretty simply:

Decide on your five top priorities and say “no” to everything else.

We spend so much time reacting rather than following through with our goals.

Whenever I tell people they need to do less the reaction is pretty much like I told them to grow wings and fly: “That’s impossible!”

But then I ask them 4 questions about a task and very, very rarely can they honestly answer “yes” to each one:

  1. Does this thing really need to be done at all?
  2. Do you absolutely have to be the one to do it?
  3. Does it need to be done perfectly or will “pretty good” actually be enough?
  4. Does it need to be done right now?

Like I said, very few tasks get a “yes” for all four. And that means you can either ignore it, delegate it, do it quickly or make it one of tomorrow’s top five.

You can do less. And less means less stress and more time for fun.

(For more on achieving work-life balance without driving yourself crazy, click here.)

So that means less on your plate. So what should you fill your plate with?

 

4) Cultivate Relationships

Christine pulls a quote I love from the wonderful book Triumphs of Experience:

…there are two pillars of happiness revealed by the seventy-five-year-old Grant Study…. One is love. The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.

If you ask psychology researchers, economists, insurance adjusters and old people they will all agree on the single most important key to happiness:relationships.

That’s not hard to believe. What is surprising is just how far that truth extends.

Michael Norton and Elizabeth Dunn (authors of the book Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending showed that merely talking to the barista at Starbucks makes us happier.

Via The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work:

Researchers sent people into a Starbucks with five dollars each to buy themselves a latte. Half were instructed to get their beverage as fast as they could, to “get in, get out, go on with the day.” The other half were instructed to “have a genuine interaction with the cashier ”— to smile and initiate a brief conversation. The folks who smiled at the barista left Starbucks feeling more cheerful. In the words of the study authors Michael Norton and Elizabeth Dunn: “Efficiency, it seems, is overrated.”

So you can do that if you’re a daily Starbucks drinker but just like with networking, the easiest way to work on relationships is to first strengthen the ones you already have.

Via The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work:

Little cracks appear in our relationships all the time, and while we can certainly spend a lot of time and energy examining fissures and assigning blame— or pretending they aren’t there or never happened—often the easiest thing is to just repair the crack. Without getting into it again, without raising past hurts, without projecting into the future. Often a hug and an “I love you”— or an apology and a heartfelt expression of gratitude— is all it takes.

You don’t need to buy gifts or go out of your way. Just give your attention. Listen. Ask about the good things that have happened to them lately and be happy for them. It’s that simple.

(For more on how to get people to like you, click here.)

Okay, last one coming up. And it’s a bit ironic. Want life to happier? Then make it a little harder…

 

5) Tolerate Some Discomfort

Many of us come home from work and think, “I just want to sit down and do nothing.”

And that’s understandable if you’re overworked and burned out. But “doing nothing” is really not what will make you happier.

Sitting on the couch watching TV does not make your life better:

…heavy TV viewers, and in particular those with significant opportunity cost of time, report lower life satisfaction. Long TV hours are also linked to higher material aspirations and anxiety.

Research shows we’re generally not inclined to do what makes us happiest, actually. We do what’s easy.

Via The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work:

Studies have found that American teenagers are two and a half times more likely to experience elevated enjoyment when engaged in a hobby than when watching TV, and three times more likely when playing a sport. And yet here’s the paradox: These same teenagers spend four times as many hours watching TV as they do engaging in sports or hobbies. So what gives? Or, as psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi put it more eloquently, “Why would we spend four times more time doing something that has less than half the chance of making us feel good?” The answer is that we are drawn—powerfully, magnetically—to those things that are easy, convenient, and habitual, and it is incredibly difficult to overcome this inertia. Active leisure is more enjoyable, but it almost always requires more initial effort—getting the bike out of the garage, driving to the museum, tuning the guitar, and so on.

One of the things research has consistently shown makes us happy is striving. Making progress in things we find meaningful is incredibly motivating.

Engaging in things you’re good at has been shown to powerfully boost happiness. People who deliberately exercised their “signature strengths” on a daily basis became significantly happier for months.

Via The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work:

When 577 volunteers were encouraged to pick one of their signature strengths and use it in a new way each day for a week, they became significantly happier and less depressed than control groups. And these benefits lasted: Even after the experiment was over, their levels of happiness remained heightened a full month later. Studies have shown that the more you use your signature strengths in daily life, the happier you become.

But how do you prevent this from becoming yet another stressful chore?

This isn’t your boss forcing you to do something. This is you choosing to push yourself so you get better.

Navy SEALs treat problems like a game. Similarly, Shawn Achor says to see obstacles as a challenge, not a threat. And Christine agrees.

Via The Sweet Spot: How to Find Your Groove at Home and Work:

When we use our minds to “reappraise our stress response,” as scientists call it, from stress to challenge, we can actually change the typical physiological response itself from a stress response to a challenge response… Researchers have found that when people reframe the meaning of their physiological response to stress as something that is improving their performance, they feel more confident and less anxious. Moreover, their physical response to the stress actually changes from one that is damaging to one that is helpful.

(For more on how to get better at anything, click here.)

Let’s tie it all together into something simple that we can use.

 

Sum Up

Here’s Christine’s five step formula:

  1. Take Recess: Going two days without anything fun creates anxiety. Take breaks.
  2. Switch Autopilot On: Make unpleasant tasks into habits. Tie them to things you already do.
  3. Unshackle Yourself: Decide your five priorities for the day and say NO to everything else. Does it have to be done? Do you have to do it? Does it have to be done perfectly? Does it have to be done now? Probably not.
  4. Cultivate Relationships: They are the single biggest happiness booster. Celebrate the successes of those you love.
  5. Tolerate Some Discomfort: Push to keep getting better. Mastery brings joy. Striving creates smiles.

One of the secrets of the happiest people isn’t merely that their brains are wired that way, but they also engage in activities on a daily basis that keep them flourishing.

Try the above five things on a daily basis for a few weeks and see if they can make you happy. As Aristotle said:

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

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TIME psychology

4 Scientific Steps To Facing Your Fears

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

In his book The Courage Quotient: How Science Can Make You Braver, Robert Biswas-Diener shows how we can use science and research to be more brave.

He explains that there are two factors to courage:

  • Fear
  • Willingness to act

They can both go up or down. Courage = “Willingness to act” divided by “Fear.”

To increase bravery you must either:

  • Reduce fear.
  • Boost willingness to act.
  • Do both of the above.

What steps can we take in the moment to be more courageous?

1) Reduce uncertainty

The more we understand about a situation, what could realistically occur, and our position in it, the more able we are to think clearly. We are consumed by worry and fear when we don’t understand what is going on, don’t know what to do and or how to get control:

via The Courage Quotient:

In many cases, just filling in the mental question marks with basic information is all it takes to move you forward… Reducing fear by reducing uncertainty, then, can be a matter as simple as asking some questions or visualizing the future.

2) Relax

You need something to calm your body so you don’t panic. Interestingly, this was also one of the techniques the Navy SEALS used to increase passing rates:teaching “arousal control.”

Yoga, prayer, meditation — anything that helped people keep calm proves valuable.

via The Courage Quotient:

Rather than trying to talk yourself out of fear, you can confront it head on by getting control of your heart rate, blood pressure, and muscle tension. Members of the Courage 50 frequently pointed to mental practices related to self-soothing. Some exercised or practiced yoga on a regular basis. Others meditated or prayed when they found themselves in fearful situations. Many of them had developed personal breathing rituals through which they could slow their heart rate and relax.

3) Get angry

I’ve posted before how anger focuses attention on rewards, increases persistence, makes us feel in control and more optimistic about achieving our goals. When we want to be courageous, that’s exactly what we need.

via The Courage Quotient:

If fear is the emotion that holds us back from action, then it makes sense that a stronger emotional reaction can overpower that fear and lead us to swift action… It turns out that angry people were far more likely to see themselves as having control of situations, more likely to see outcomes as certain, and more likely to be optimistic that risks would pay off…

4) Alternately, accept the possibility of failure

If it’s life or death, anger might be great. If it’s just public speaking, rage may not be an option. So we must shift from a defensive “prevention focus” to a reward-oriented “promotion focus.” And that means accepting the possibility of failure and seeing life as a learning opportunity.

via The Courage Quotient:

People with a high courage quotient understand that failure is a risk much of the time and unavoidable some of the time. Rather than trying to tiptoe around failure, they simply accept it as part of the process of success. Failure is a fantastic learning opportunity.

People performed best at public speaking not when they feared making mistakes or even when they were willing to forgive their own mistakes. They felt great and were rated most highly when they took a “novelty” perspective: deliberately making mistakes and then incorporating them into the presentation.

via The Courage Quotient:

The first was a “mistakes are bad” condition, in which participants were warned not to make a mistake during their presentations. The second was a “forgiveness” condition, in which they were instructed to purposefully make a mistake and reassured that such mistakes were OK. The final condition was a “novelty” condition, in which the participants were instructed to purposefully make a mistake and then incorporate such mistakes into the presentation itself. After completing their public presentations the participants in the novelty condition reported being more comfortable while on stage and gave their own performances a better rating than members of the other two conditions did. Not only that, but the audience judged the presenters in the novelty condition as being more intelligent and effective.

Can these types of strategy really work? 82% of the people surveyed who had committed acts of bravery said they used some sort of courage-enhancing strategy before their big moment.

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

10 Ways to Make Sure You Never Choke Under Pressure

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

So what we can do to prevent it?

  • Distraction. Choking is frequently caused by thinking when we shouldn’t be thinking. Counting backwards from 100 has been shown to occupy the conscious mind and allow competitors to perform uninterrupted by worries.
  • Adapting to self-awareness. By repeatedly being videotaped while performing, subjects adapted to being watched and no longer found themselves choking. So regular practice in front of an audience (or whatever type of pressure you expect to deal with) can reduce anxiety.
  • Be quick: Don’t rush, but prolonging the challenge allows anxiety to build up. Err on the side of being quick to head off the overthinking that can hurt your efforts.
  • Focus on the goal or target, not mechanics: If you’re doing something physical, like playing golf, don’t get hung up on the intricacies of your swing. That will be your undoing. Concentrate on what you want to achieve.
  • Don’t focus on high stakes, think about the big picture: From Annie Murphy Paul: “Reminding yourself of the high stakes makes intuitive sense as a motivational strategy—but it will actually impede your performance. Instead of spurring you to new heights, it’s likely to increase anxiety and undermine your confidence. Research shows that reminding yourself how unimportant the event is in the big scheme of things is a better tactic…”
  • Find something to focus on: Letting your mind wander and jump about isn’t a good idea. Focusing on something specific can tame a worried mind.
  • Allow some anxiety in when you practice: Ironically, training with a little worry can prevent you from choking when it counts: “It is concluded that practicing perceptual-motor tasks under mild levels of anxiety can also prevent choking when performing with higher levels of anxiety.”

For more on the subject, check out Sian Beilock’s book Choke: What the Secrets of the Brain Reveal About Getting It Right When You Have To.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME psychology

Here’s the Most Powerful Technique for Following Through on Your Dreams

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

“If-then” planning.

Via Nine Things Successful People Do Differently:

It’s called if-then planning, and it is a really powerful way to help you achieve any goal. Well over a hundred studies, on everything from diet and exercise to negotiation and time management, have shown that deciding in advance when and where you will take specific actions to reach your goal (e.g., “If it is 4 p.m., then I will return any phone calls I should return today”) can double or triple your chances for success.

And:

Via Nine Things Successful People Do Differently:

How effective are these plans? One study looked at people who had the goal of becoming regular exercisers. Half the participants were asked to plan where and when they would exercise each week (e.g., “If it is Monday, Wednesday, or Friday, then I will hit the gym for an hour before work”). The results were dramatic: weeks later, 91 percent of if-then planners were still exercising regularly, compared to only 39 percent of nonplanners!Similar results have been shown for other health-promoting behaviors, like remembering to do monthly breast self-exams (100 percent of planners, 53 percent of nonplanners), and getting cervical cancer screenings (92 percent of planners, 60 percent of nonplanners).

Why are these plans so effective? Because they are written in the language of your brain—the language of contingencies. Human beings are particularly good at encoding and remembering information in “if X, then Y” terms, and using these contingencies to guide their behavior, often below their awareness.

And:

Via Nine Things Successful People Do Differently:

Making If-Then Plans

1) Identify a critical action you need to take to reach your goal.

2) When and where should you take this action? What is the critical situation?

3) Put it all together:

If (or When) _________________________, then ___________________. (Example: If it is 8 a.m. on Monday, then I will go for a run.)

4) Now, think about an obstacle that might derail you. This could be a temptation, a distraction, or some other factor that would interfere with your progress.

5) When that temptation or distraction comes calling, how will you handle it? What will you do instead?

6) Put it all together: If (or When) __________________________, then ____________________.

(Example: If an e-mail from a coworker makes me angry, then I will wait thirty minutes before answering so I can respond calmly.)

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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

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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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