TIME psychology

5 Tricks for Beating Procrastination

man-playing-with-newtons-cradle
Getty Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

  • Use short, painless dashes of effort. Just have at it for five minutes and feel free to watch the clock. Chances are you’ll realize it’s not so bad.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join over 150,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

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

6 Things The Most Productive People Do Every Day

New Harvard Research Reveals A Fun Way To Be More Successful

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

Living Life Without Regret: 3 Secrets From Research

Silhouette-girl-jumping
Getty Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

First, what do we regret the most?

And for the big picture: what do people regret the most before they die?

1. “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

2. “I wish I didn’t work so hard.”

3. “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”

4. “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”

5. “I wish that I had let myself be happier.”

So what can you do to live a life without regret?

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join over 150,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

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

6 Things The Most Productive People Do Every Day

New Harvard Research Reveals A Fun Way To Be More Successful

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

5 Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Someone: Backed By Research

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Here are the things you can tell just by looking at someone

Want to be able to read people like Sherlock Holmes? Go here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join over 150,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

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

6 Things The Most Productive People Do Every Day

New Harvard Research Reveals A Fun Way To Be More Successful

Read next: This Body Language Makes You Look Like a Leader

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

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

Research Shows These 5 Simple Things Can Help You Live to 100

100-candles-lighted
Getty Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join over 150,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

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

6 Things The Most Productive People Do Every Day

New Harvard Research Reveals A Fun Way To Be More Successful

Read next: 14 Timeless Rules to Keep You Sane

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

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 Things Most Parents Are Dead Wrong About: Backed By Research

closeup-bedtime-reading
Getty Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join over 147,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

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

6 Things The Most Productive People Do Every Day

New Harvard Research Reveals A Fun Way To Be More Successful

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

Read next: The 3 Comments Adoptive Parents Hate To Hear

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 Be Compassionate: 3 Research-Backed Steps to a Happier Life

cats
Getty Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Science points to a crazy number of benefits from being more compassionate:

Not too shabby.

Which raises a good question: if it does all this great stuff, why the heck aren’t we more compassionate?

The World Is Working Against You

Our lives are a lot more focused on numbers and economics than love and compassion these days. Everything is dollars and cents, hours and minutes.

Economics is an incredibly powerful tool but when you assign a price to everything and dismiss feelings, you can enter dangerous territory. Homo economicus is a sociopath.

I’m sure some of you think this is naive or silly. That things have always been like this. You’re wrong, by the way.

The Google Ngram viewer is an amazing tool that allows us to look at how often terms have been mentioned in books over the past few hundred years. (Big thanks to my friend Spencer Glendon for his insight here.)

How does “economic” fare against “moral” and “compassion” lately? Um, well…

economic-moral-compassion

Are we focused on our compassionate ethical duties to one another? Or the stuff we want want want?

i-want-i-must

Are we thinking more about principles and charity — or markets?

market-principles-charity

(For more on how giving can make you more successful, click here.)

There aren’t many forces pushing back, reminding us to be compassionate in today’s market-driven world.

What does the research say still teaches us compassion?

Grandmom does. Seriously. But Grandmom, as awesome as her oatmeal cookies are, can’t fight the whole world by herself.

So what do we do?

The Solution Is All in Your Head (Kinda)

Here’s what’s interesting: research shows compassion is contagious. When we feel it toward one person we’ll extend it to others around us even without realizing it.

This idea might be new to you and me but Buddhists have known it for over 1000 years. (I’m late to the party on a lot of stuff, frankly. Still not caught up on Mad Men, either.)

Buddhists call it “metta” (there’s actually some funky punctuation to it but there’s no way I’m gonna find that on my keyboard so just roll with me here). More commonly it goes by the name “loving-kindness meditation.” Buddhists use it to increase compassion.

Here’s the problem: LKM is pretty much the ground zero of self-help corniness. What does Buddhism say are some of the benefits of loving-kindness meditation?

Via Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness:

Devas [celestial beings] and animals will love you.

Devas will protect you.

External dangers [poisons, weapons, and fire] will not harm you.

You will be reborn in happy realms.

My first reaction? I think we’re done here. Thank you for calling.

Scientists have recently figured out something about LKM though: it actually works.

No, you’re not gonna be immune to fire and poison and, no, woodland elves will not build you a treehouse. But as for that compassion part? Yeah, it really does the job.

Via Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation:

The researchers also found that both meditating groups showed greater thickening of the insular cortex, a part of the brain associated with regulating emotions, and more activity in the amygdala, the part of the brain that assesses the emotional content of incoming stimuli, than did the non-meditating control group. The investigators concluded that the practice of lovingkindness meditation trains the brain to make us more empathic and more capable of reading subtle emotional states.

And that’s far from one isolated piece of research. A 2012 Harvard study showed:

Overall, these results are consistent with the overarching hypothesis that meditation may result in enduring, beneficial changes in brain function, especially in the area of emotional processing.

No, you don’t have to convert to Buddhism or believe in funky celestial beings. It’s an effective secular exercise for your compassion muscle.

(For more on the benefits of mindfulness meditation and how to do it, click here.)

So we have the answer right? Loving-Kindness Meditation to the rescue. But how do we do it?

The “How To”

Like I said, the process comes off as way corny — but it makes sense.

How do you feel when you think about loved ones? Warm and fuzzy. Why keep pictures of your kids or your partner on your desk or in your wallet? Even more fuzzies.

That’s the goal here, really. We want to broaden the fuzzy. Fuzzy momentum, if you will. Extend the fuzzy feelings from those you already are compassionate toward to neutral and even to difficult people.

The best instructions I’ve found (that have no scientific jargon or mentions of woodland spirits) come from 10% Happier, the great book by Dan Harris:

1. This practice involves picturing a series of people and sending them good vibes. Start with yourself. Generate as clear a mental image as possible.

2. Repeat the following phrases: May you be happy, May you be healthy, May you be safe, May you live with ease. Do this slowly. Let the sentiment land. You are not forcing your well-wishes on anyone; you’re just offering them up, just as you would a cool drink. Also, success is not measured by whether you generate any specific emotion. As Sharon says, you don’t need to feel “a surge of sentimental love accompanied by chirping birds.” The point is to try. Every time you do, you are exercising your compassion muscle. (By the way, if you don’t like the phrases above, you can make up your own.)

3. After you’ve sent the phrases to yourself, move on to: a benefactor (a teacher , mentor, relative), a close friend (can be a pet, too), a neutral person (someone you see often but don’t really ever notice), a difficult person, and, finally, “all beings.”

Yes, it sounds silly but studies show it works.

Don’t get too worried about details. It’s not a magic spell and this ain’t Hogwart’s. You can customize it. The important thing is wishing others well and expanding that feeling from those you feel strongly about to a wider and wider circle of people.

(For my interview with Good Morning America anchor and meditation-skeptic-turned-believer Dan Harris, click here.)

Time to round this up and build a path forward.

Enough Reading. Time For Doing.

Give loving-kindness meditation a shot. Or you can go straight to the next step and help others. Support. Give.

Volunteering makes us happier. Too busy? Ironically, studies show giving our time to others makes us feel less time-strapped.

Seriously too busy? Then show a little compassion by buying lunch for a friend. It’ll make you happier too.

Via Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending:

By the end of the day, individuals who spent money on others were measurably happier than those who spent money on themselves — even though there were no differences between the groups at the beginning of the day. And it turns out that the amount of money people found in their envelopes — $5 or $20 — had no effect on their happiness at the end of the day. How people spent the money mattered much more than how much of it they got.

The great TEDx talk by Harvard professor Michael Norton explains it here.

Whatever you do, the key word here is exactly that: do. It’s not think compassion and you will act more compassionate. It’s act more compassionate and you will feel more compassionate.

Meditation expert Sharon Salzberg recounts an old story that sums it up better than any research abstract.

Via Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation:

A grandfather (occasionally it’s a grandmother) imparting a life lesson to his grandson tells him, “I have two wolves fighting in my heart. One wolf is vengeful, fearful, envious, resentful, deceitful. The other wolf is loving, compassionate, generous, truthful, and serene.”

The grandson asks which wolf will win the fight.

The grandfather answers, “The one I feed.”

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join over 151,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

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

6 Things The Most Productive People Do Every Day

New Harvard Research Reveals A Fun Way To Be More Successful

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

3 Steps to Minimizing Stress at Work

man-stressed-sitting-desk
Getty Images

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.

Join over 151,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

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

6 Things The Most Productive People Do Every Day

New Harvard Research Reveals A Fun Way To Be More Successful

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

Here’s the Secret to Fast and Efficient Teamwork

f1-pit-crew
Getty Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

It might be to forget about trying to be fast at all and to just focus on being smooth.

A Formula One pit crew — a group that depends on efficient, fast teamwork — found that they weren’t at top speed when they concentrated on speed. It was when they emphasized functioning smoothly as a group that they made their best times.

Via Oliver Burkeman’s wonderful The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking:

Bosses are more frequently persuaded, though, by Shapiro’s other argument: that getting rid of goals, or focusing on them less fixedly, is often also the best way to extract results from employees. He seduces them with anecdotes about the effectiveness of operating goalessly, such as the tale of the Formula One pit crew with whom he worked, whose members were told that they would no longer be assessed on the basis of speed targets; they would be rated on style instead. Instructed to focus on acting “smoothly”, rather than on beating their current record time, they wound up performing faster.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join over 151,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

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

6 Things The Most Productive People Do Every Day

New Harvard Research Reveals A Fun Way To Be More Successful

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 10 Biggest Mistakes You Can Make in a Job Negotiation

business meeting
Getty Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

1) Not Negotiating

Via The Essentials of Job Negotiations: Proven Strategies for Getting What You Want:

…the overarching theme to successful job negotiations is to be respectful and reasonable at all times. Be sure to keep this guiding principle before you, and then jump in. There is some truth to the adage that you get half of what you ask for, and none of what you don’t.

2) Not preparing effectively for the job negotiation

Via The Essentials of Job Negotiations: Proven Strategies for Getting What You Want:

…Preparation involves knowing your minimum needs and your alternatives to the negotiation (another offer in the wings, staying put at your current job, unemployment, etc.). In addition, you should do your homework and know a lot about the company, their business, and their style of negotiating (in part by talking to as many insiders as you can both before and during the interview process)

3) Talking about numbers (that is, negotiating) too soon in the process

Via The Essentials of Job Negotiations: Proven Strategies for Getting What You Want:

don’t jump the gun by either putting your own numbers on the table first or by getting too far in the process without written confirmation of the details.

4) Paying too much attention to the base salary number at the expense of other issues

Via The Essentials of Job Negotiations: Proven Strategies for Getting What You Want:

Focus on a good balance between the long-term gains (career building, relationships and/or family needs) and short-term gains (salary, bonuses).

5) Not explaining why you want what you are requesting, and not framing it to seem fair

Via The Essentials of Job Negotiations: Proven Strategies for Getting What You Want:

Remember that you will want to provide a rational justification for every one of your requests. Not only does it make you seem more reasonable, but it may help the hiring manager justify the concession to other inside the firm, or finding another way to meet the underlying interests.

6) Asking for too much “just to see”

Via The Essentials of Job Negotiations: Proven Strategies for Getting What You Want:

Remember that the company you are dealing with is looking at you as a potential colleague in addition to negotiating your contract, so pay attention to the impression that you are making.

7) Missing details by not listening carefully or by getting overwhelmed

Via The Essentials of Job Negotiations: Proven Strategies for Getting What You Want:

Make sure you place your full attention on everything the other side is saying, and are not thinking ahead to the next question you want to ask. Take a break from the negotiation any time you feel emotions getting the better of you, or feel your attention waning for any other reason.

8) Sending unclear signals

Via The Essentials of Job Negotiations: Proven Strategies for Getting What You Want:

Remember that you are in sales from the moment you send your resume until the day you start the job. Part of what you need to sell is your enthusiasm for the job and the company. Don’t fall into the all-too-common trap of letting your negotiating nerves come across as indifference about the job.

9) Giving too much information to a headhunter or other intermediary

Via The Essentials of Job Negotiations: Proven Strategies for Getting What You Want:

Two general strategies will help you use a headhunter most effectively: 1) as much as possible, proceed offer by offer without giving absolutes about where your actual cutoff values are (that is, the minimum you would take); and 2) maintain a direct line of communication with the hiring manager even when going through a headhunter. This way, there is a “backup” channel of communication in case things do not proceed smoothly through the headhunter.

10) Lying or misrepresenting yourself in any way

Via The Essentials of Job Negotiations: Proven Strategies for Getting What You Want:

This strategy could work for you, but it could also backfire and have some pretty unpleasant consequences.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join over 151,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

6 Hostage Negotiation Techniques That Will Get You What You Want

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

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

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 Science Behind Why Dogs Might Just Be Man’s Best Friend

dog
Getty Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Dog owners experience a wide range of health benefits.

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

After carefully following the recovery rates of patients who had suffered a heart attack, Friedmann discovered that those who were dog owners, compared to those without a canine pal, were almost nine times more likely to be alive twelve months later. This remarkable result encouraged scientists to explore other possible benefits of canine companionship, resulting in studies showing that dog owners coped well with everyday stress, were relaxed about life, had high self-esteem, and were less likely to be diagnosed with depression.

In fact, they’re more health promoting than a spouse is.

Via 59 Seconds: Change Your Life in Under a Minute:

The participants had lower heart rates and blood pressure and made far fewer errors on the counting task in the presence of dog than they did if their partner was present—scientific evidence, if any is needed, that your dog is better for your health than your husband or wife is.

And this isn’t true for cat owners.

Via 59 Seconds: Change Your Life in Under a Minute:

Interestingly, the same cannot be said for cats. Some studies show that living with a cat may help alleviate negative moods but is unlikely to make you feel especially good, and others suggest that cat owners may actually be more likely than others to die in the twelve months following a heart attack.

And it’s causal, not correlative.

Via 59 Seconds: Change Your Life in Under a Minute:

She assembled a group of city stockbrokers who suffered from hypertension, randomly divided them into two groups, and gave each person in one group a dog to look after. Both groups had their blood pressure monitored over a six-month period. The results revealed that the stockbrokers with dogs were significantly more relaxed than those in the control group. In fact, when it came to alleviating the effects of mental stress, the dogs proved more effective than one of the most commonly used drugs to treat hypertension. More important, as the people were randomly assigned to the “dog” and “no dog” condition, there was no difference in personality between the groups, and so that factor could not account for the findings. In addition to feeling less stressed, the hard-nosed city types had become emotionally attached to their animals, and none of them accepted the opportunity of returning their newfound friends at the end of the study.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join over 151,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

5 things you didn’t know about pets

Can people distinguish pâté from dog food?

Are there personality differences between “dog people” and “cat people”?

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.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser