TIME health

3 Reasons Why Your Relationship With Food is Crazy

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1) You ignore the importance of context

You ate more because you were hungry? Maybe, but you’re probably not giving nearly enough credit to how context affects you. I’ve posted many times about how context is far more influential than you think.
From Paul Bloom’s How Pleasure Works:

  1. Protein bars taste worse if they are described as “soy protein”
  2. Orange juice tastes better if it is bright orange.
  3. Yogurt and ice cream are more flavorful if described as “full fat” or “high fat.”
  4. Children think milk and apples taste better if they’re taken out from McDonald’s bags.
  5. Coke is rated higher when drunk from a cup with a brand logo.

How much you eat is strongly affected by how much those around you eat, but you rarely realize it. Dining with friends? You’ll probably eat twice as much.

Via The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement:

At restaurants, people eat more depending on how many people they are dining with. People eating alone eat least. People eating with one other person eat 35 percent more than they do at home. People dining in a party of four eat 75 percent more, and people dining with seven or more eat 96 percent more.

Eating with overweight friends? You’ll eat more. Is your waitress overweight? You’ll eat more. Are you a woman eating with a man? You’ll eat less. Wide variety of food? You’ll eat more.

Smaller serving sizes make you eat less overall. The order of items on a menuaffects what you eat. The color of plates can affect how sweet dessert tastes.

Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, instructs us to tell the guests that wine is from California, not North Dakota:

It was all the same $2 cabernet. And we found that if people thought it was from California, they rated the wine as better, they rated the food as better, they stayed at the restaurant about 10 minutes longer, and many of them made reservations to come back.

When we served them the North Dakota wine, it poisoned the entire meal. They didn’t rate the food as good, they left 10 minutes earlier, and they didn’t make reservations to come back.

When you serve dessert, put it on some fancy china, not a napkin:

If they ate it on the napkin, they’d say, “Wow, this is really good.” On a paper plate, they said, “This is really, really good.” If they ate it off of Wedgwood china, they would say, “This is the greatest brownie I’ve eaten in my entire life.” And the amount they were willing to pay for it tripled.

And give them silverware, not plasticware:

Consumers’ quality and liking judgments concerning identical yoghurt samples differed significantly when tasted either with a metallic plastic spoon or else with a stainless steel spoon, the latter resulting in significantly higher scores.

Don’t feel guilty – even dieticians are inaccurate about how much they eat. (And only 7% of shoppers obey the “10 items or less” rule at the supermarket.)

2) You forget that so much of what makes food good or bad is in your head

Comfort food really does comfort you. Grandmom’s cookies do taste better than other cookies. You can’t tell pate from dog food. Coffee junkie? When you haven’t had your joe anything with caffeine tastes better. Dieting actually makes food look bigger.

Eating organic food might turn you into a jerk. Anything that affirms your feelings about your own morality (“I eat organic, therefore I’m a good person.”) your brain may subconsciously use to justify doing something immoral. (“I’m generally a very good person so it’s okay if every now and then I…”)

Why do people order a cheeseburger, fries, dessert and a *Diet* Coke?

It’s called a “health halo effect.” As long as we have the feeling we’re doing something healthy, we extend it to everything during that meal. Due to this, most people surveyed estimated that a cheeseburger with a salad had fewer calories than the cheeseburger alone.

Via The Willpower Instinct:

We feel so good about ordering something healthy, our next indulgence doesn’t feel sinful at all. We also see virtuous choices as negating indulgences— literally, in some cases. Researchers have found that if you pair a cheeseburger with a green salad, diners estimate that the meal has fewer calories than the same cheeseburger served by itself. This makes no sense, unless you believe that putting lettuce on a plate can magically make calories disappear.

(And, no, those fortune cookies aren’t very Chinese.)

3) Food and hunger affect your judgment whether you realize it or not

Hungry judges give harsher sentences. Lemonade can reduce racism. Eating something disgusting can make you feel morally disgusted. Hungry men prefer heavier women and Playboy playmates are thicker during economic recessions.

Kids who skip breakfast misbehave more than kids who eat their Wheaties. After given a snack, all the children are little angels again.

Via Willpower: Resdiscovering the Greatest Human Strength

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

People who have low blood sugar are far more prone to criminal and violent behavior:

…hypoglycemics were more likely than the average person to have trouble concentrating and controlling their negative emotions when provoked. Overall, they tended to be more anxious and less happy than average. Hypoglycemia was also reported to be unusually prevalent among criminals and other violent persons, and some creative defense attorneys brought the low-blood-sugar research into court.

Across the board, yeah, food puts you in a better mood. To be more exact, research has shown that 2 cheeseburgers = one orgasm. Smiling gives the brain as much pleasure as 2000 bars of chocolate.

Via Smile: The Astonishing Powers of a Simple Act (TED Books):

They discovered that smiling stimulates our brain’s reward mechanisms in very powerful and surprising ways. How did the power of a smile stack up against other “well-regarded” pleasure-inducing sensations? Depending on whose smile you see, the researchers found that one smile can be as pleasurable and stimulating as up to 2,000 bars of chocolate!

(Health-wise, a little starvation can be good for you, actually.)

So what can you do?

Use this info to help you:

  1. If you need to concentrate or something is going to require good judgment, make sure to eat something.
  2. Use your knowledge of the way certain foods make you feel to control and improve your mood.
  3. Use context to control your eating.

You probably utilize the first two points from time to time but maybe not often enough. The third is very powerful but you probably don’t put it into action.

From Mindless Eating author Brian Wansink:

The good news is that for every external cue that messes people up in our studies, you can solve the problem by doing the opposite. If going from a 10-inch to a 12-inch plate causes you to eat 22 percent more, use a 10-inch or 91/2-inch plate.

Use smaller bowls. Don’t rely on your willpower or the power of education. Don’t say, “Now I know that I’m three times more likely to eat the first thing I see in my cupboard than the fifth thing I see in my cupboard … but I won’t let that influence me.” It absolutely will!

The solution is to make sure that the first thing you see–the thing that’s front and center–is healthier than that chocolate-covered foie gras.

People eat food that’s on the table much more frequently than food that’s off the table, so just put the salad and vegetables on the table. Leave everything else on the counter or stove.

 

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME psychology

5 Secrets to Improve Learning and Memory

I’ve already posted a research round-up on becoming an expert at anything. That was focused on the big picture of how to master something over a period of years.

This time let’s get less macro and focus more on the nitty-gritty of what you need to do when you sit down, roll up your sleeves and try to learn something new.

Yeah, It’s Gonna Take Effort

No, I’m not going to lecture you like Grandpa about the virtues of hard work, but your brain takes in a lot every day and remembering everything isn’t realistic. Research consistently shows effort is how you let your grey matter know something is worth retaining.

The more effort you expend, the better you learn:

…undergraduates in the study scored 29 to 63 percentage points higher on tests when they used study techniques like recording complete notes, creating comparative charts, building associations, and crafting practice questions on their screens.

You’re not going to learn much passively. Re-reading material four times was not nearly as effective as reading it once and writing a summary. Even just writing by hand is beneficial. More effort, better results.

There is a system for developing a near-photographic memory and it works, but takes some practice.

The two key things to remember here are testing yourself and spacing out learning over time.

In more than two dozen studies published over the past five years, he has demonstrated that spaced repetition works, increasing knowledge retention by up to 50 percent. And Kerfoot’s method is easily adapted by anyone who needs to learn and remember, not just those pursuing MDs.

Get Invested

Feeling a connection to the material is powerful. Finding an angle on the subject that makes you curious about it is gold.

Is it too boring? Get invested by betting on your ability to remember it. Yeah, like gambling. Promise yourself a reward before you go to bed and you’ll learn more as you sleep.

Don’t just try to drill knowledge in, connect it to things you already know. Really try to understand it, not just memorize it. This is why teaching someone else is a great way for helping you learn. If you can’t explain it, you don’t know it.

Steroids For Your Brain

Save the healthy eating for another time, coffee and a donut is steroids for your brain. Yes, it’s science. Yes, Red Bull isn’t just for partying, it’s also for studying.

I don’t want to recommend cigarettes to anyone but if you’re already a smoker, light up before you learn. Nicotine does improve cognitive performance.

Fundamentals

We’re always looking for a magic bullet. Truth is that just as with getting in shape, fundamentals like getting enough sleep and regular exercise have far greater effects than well-marketed supplements. Seriously, naps after learningare powerful.

You need to calm down and concentrate. Turn off the music. No group studying. Stop kidding yourself — you can’t multitask. (Guys, when studying stay away from pretty girls. Don’t even think about them.)

Little Tricks

There are lots of little tips that can help as well:

Too lazy for all this? Get a good luck charm. Seriously, they work.

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TIME psychology

How to Be Happy at Home and Fulfilled at Work

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Do what you’re good at.

Using your “signature strengths” — those qualities you are uniquely best at, the talents that set you apart from others — makes you stress less:

The more hours per day Americans get to use their strengths to do what they do best, the less likely they are to report experiencing worry, stress, anger, sadness, or physical pain…

Using your strengths makes you feel better:

Americans also gain a boost in positive emotions the more they use their strengths. The more hours per day adults believe they use their strengths, the more likely they are to report having ample energy, feeling well-rested, being happy, smiling or laughing a lot, learning something interesting, and being treated with respect.

Using your signature strengths on a daily basis can make you 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.

A job that lets you use your talents will make you consistently happier at work:

The more signature strengths were applied at the workplace, the higher the positive experiences at work. This study showed that character strengths matter in vocational environments irrespective of their content. Strengths-congruent activities at the workplace are important for positive experiences at work like job satisfaction and experiencing pleasure, engagement, and meaning fostered by one’s job.

Increasing the amount of flow you experience at work is largely the result of using your unique talents. That may be one of the reasons the most creative people focus on doing what they’re good at:

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.

 

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TIME psychology

5 Ways to Strengthen Your Friendships

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Harvard happiness expert Daniel Gilbert identified friends as one of the biggest sources of joy in our lives. Seeing friends and family regularly is worth an extra $97,265 a year:

So, an individual who only sees his or her friends or relatives less than once a month to never at all would require around an extra £63,000 a year to be just as satisfied with life as an individual who sees his or her friends or relatives on most days.

Not feeling socially connected can make you stupider and kill you. Loneliness can lead to heart attack, stroke and diabetes. Good relationships are more important to a long life than exercise.

Not spending more time with friends and family is one of the things people regret the most.

So what does the research tell us about how to strengthen and improve our friendships?

The Basics

Want to improve any relationship? The first step is try. Yeah, so easy you forgot to do it.

Simple things can have the most profound impact, like actively showing interest in the other person. Listen to what they have to say and ask them to tell you more.

Enthusiastically respond when they share good news with you. The best responses are active and constructive. What’s that mean?

It is engaged, enthusiastic, curious and has supportive nonverbal action. Ask questions. Be excited. Ask for details. Smile. Touch. Laugh.

Share your own good news when you have some:

…sharing good news with others increases the perceived value of those events, especially when others respond enthusiastically, and that enthusiastic responses to shared good news promote the development of trust and a prosocial orientation toward the other. These studies found consistent support for these effects across both interactions with strangers and in everyday close relationships.

Show gratitude. Gratitude is a miracle drug:

Stay in touch. Communicating every two weeks keeps friendships alive:

…“the leading cause of persistent relationships is reciprocity — returning a friend’s call.” Further, they said friends ’til the end tend to touch base at least once every 15 days.

Leverage technology to improve your relationships, don’t let it replace them.

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.

The typical reaction to all of the above statements is: That’s obvious. I know that. And then guess what?

People don’t do them for six months and wonder what happened. Knowing and doing are two different things.

Work On Yourself

Improve your self control. People more in control of themselves have better relationships.

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

How do you strengthen those self-control muscles? Go here.

Trust beats out not trusting. Expecting others to be selfish can be a self-fulfliing prophecy:

The expectations people have about how others will behave play a large role in determining whether people cooperate with each other or not… One’s own expectation thereby becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: those who expect people to act selfishly, actually experience uncooperative behaviour from others more often.

Don’t be a conversational narcissist. What’s that? “Conversational narcissists always seek to turn the attention of others to themselves”

Conversational narcissists always seek to turn the attention of others to themselves. Your first reaction to this statement is likely, “Oh, I don’t do that, but I know someone who does!” But not so fast. Conversational narcissism typically does not manifest itself in obviously boorish plays for attention; most people give at least some deference to social norms and etiquette. Instead, it takes much more subtle forms, and we’re all guilty of it from time to time. Everyone has felt that itch where we couldn’t wait for someone to stop talking so we could jump in; we pretended to be listening intently, but we were really focusing on what we were about to say once we found an opening.

Here‘s how to be a better listener.

Scientific Insights

Keep the 5 to 1 ratio in mind. Five good experiences for every bad one.

Via The Ape in the Corner Office: How to Make Friends, Win Fights and Work Smarter by Understanding Human Nature:

It turned out that the fifteen high-performance teams averaged 5.6 positive interactions for every negative one. The nineteen low-performance teams racked up a positive/negative ratio of just .363. That is, they had about three negative interactions for every positive one…

And:

What’s even scarier is that Losada’s five-to-one ratio also appears to be essential when you get home and try to muster the energy for a successful marriage. John Gottmann at the University of Washington has found that couples with a ratio of fewer than five positive interactions for every negative one are destined for divorce.

Also:

Curiously, the magic number also seems to have a close parallel in the ratio of positive behaviors…and negative behaviors…among monkeys and apes.Thus the five-to-one ratio begins to look suspiciously like a basic primate need.

Don’t take that to mean you always have to be positive: Sharing negative feelings about a third party can increase closeness between two people.

We all value warmth over competence in friends but we often forget this:

  1. When assessing someone else, warmth plays a more important role than competence.
  2. When assessing ourselves, we believe that competence (the capability of someone to carry out intentions) is more important.

So stop trying to be useful and just be kind.

What’s the best way to give a friend advice? You need to provide a suggestion without it feeling like you’re telling them what to do:

Say “When I’ve had that problem in the past what I’ve done is…” instead of “You should do this…

And you’re gonna screw up. We all screw up. Know the keys to a good apology.

Turning Enemies Into Friends

Similarity is very powerful. Always always always always always be thinking about things you have in common.

How can you win over someone who already doesn’t like you? Compliment them or ask their advice.

Even fierce enemies can be turned into friends by working together to achieve a common goal. Robert Cialdini’s must-read book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion references this study:

…superordinate goals (goals so large that it requires more than one group to achieve the goal) reduced conflict significantly more effectively than other strategies (e.g., communication, contact).

Trying To Make New Friends?

Here are 4 things to keep in mind:

Want to improve your relationships right now? Share this post with a friend. :)

 

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME psychology

4 Secrets to Reading Body Language Like an Expert

How important is body language?

55% of what you convey when you speak comes from body language. In fact, when you’re speaking about something emotional only about 7% of what the other person hears has to do with the words you use.

More often than not you can tell what a politician thinks about an issue just by watching their hands. Psychopaths can tell who would be a good victim just by watching them walk.

In five minutes you can often evaluate people with approximately 70% accuracy… but obviously we’re wrong often, and that 30% can be very costly.

What can the research teach us about better reading people’s body language?

What You’re Doing Wrong

In The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help–or Hurt–How You Lead the author points out a number of common errors people make.

Here’s how I interpreted the findings:

  • Ignoring context: Crossed arms don’t mean as much if the room is cold or the chair they’re sitting in doesn’t have armrests. Everything has to pass the common sense test given the environment.
  • Not looking for clusters: One of the biggest errors people make is looking for one single tell. That’s great in movies about poker players but in real life it’s a consistent grouping of actions (sweating, touching the face, and stuttering together) that is really going to tell you something.
  • Not getting a baseline: If someone is always jumpy, jumpiness doesn’t tell you anything. If someone is always jumpy and they suddenly stop moving — HELLO.
  • Not being conscious of biases: If you already like or dislike the person it’s going to affect your judgment. And if people compliment you, aresimilar to you, are attractive… these can all sway you, unconsciously. I know, you don’t fall for those tricks. Well, the biggest bias of all is thinking you’re unbiased.

What To Focus On

What signals can and should you trust when trying to get a “read” on someone? They need to be unconscious behaviors that are not easily controlled and convey a clear message.

In Honest Signals: How They Shape Our World, the authors point out three to keep your eye on:

  • Speech mimicry and behavioral mimicry: Are they using the same words you use? Speaking at a similar speed and tone? Are they sitting the way you sit? Is a subtle, unconscious game of follow-the-leader going on? This is a sign the other person feels emotionally in sync with you. It can be faked but that’s rare and difficult to pull off consistently across a conversation.
  • Consistency of emphasis and timing: This is a sign of focus and control. Someone who is less consistent is less sure of themselves and more open to influence.

Specifics To Look For

Contextually vetted, baseline adjusted clusters are your best bet… but research has shown some specifics are often decent indicators.

Crossed legs are a very bad sign during negotiations.

Via The Silent Language of Leaders: How Body Language Can Help–or Hurt–How You Lead:

Crossed legs can have a devastating effect on a negotiation. In How to Read a Person Like a Book, authors Gerard I. Nierenberg and Henry H. Calero reported that the number of times settlements were reached increased greatly when both negotiators had uncrossed their legs. In fact, they found that out of two thousand videotaped transactions, not one resulted in a settlement when even one of the negotiators had his or her legs crossed.

There’s a consistent cluster that has been seen among people who are trying to cheat you.

Via Wray Herbert, author of On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind’s Hard-Wired Habits:

Again and again, it was a cluster of four cues: hand touching, face touching, crossing arms, and leaning away. None of these cues foretold deceit by itself, but together they transformed into a highly accurate signal. And the more often the participants used this particular cluster of gestures, the less trustworthy they were in the subsequent financial exchange.

Who should you trust? Look for people who are consistently emotionally expressive in their body language:

These results suggest that cooperators may be more emotionally expressive than non-cooperators. We speculate that emotional expressivity can be a more reliable signal of cooperativeness than the display of positive emotion alone.

And look at people’s hands. Palm down gestures indicate power. Palm up shows submission.

The New York Times cites Adam Kendon, author of Gesture: Visible Action as Utterance, on the deeper meaning of hand positions:

Gestures of the Open Hand Prone or “palm down” family are used in contexts where something is being denied, negated, interrupted or stopped, whether explicitly or by implication. Open hand Supine (or “palm up”) family gestures, on the other hand, are used in contexts where the speaker is offering, giving or showing something or requesting the reception of something…

Keep in mind that men and women differ in body language. For instance, they flirt differently:

Via Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation:

A female begins fascinating a male by smiling at him, raising her brows to make her eyes appear wider and more childlike, quickly lowering her lids while tucking her chin slightly down, in an effort to bring him closer. After averting her gaze to the side, she will, within moments and almost without exception, put her hands on or near her mouth and giggle, lick her lips, or thrust out her chest while gazing at the object of her intended affection. And it’s consistent, regardless of language, socioeconomic status, or religious upbringing. For men, says Rodgers, the fascination ritual is less submissive but no less standardized. He’ll puff out his chest, jut his chin, arch his back, gesture with his hands and arms, and swagger in dominant motions to draw attention to his power…

How To Get Better At Reading Body Language

First, pay attention. Sounds obvious but you’re probably not doing it consistently throughout the conversation.

Dynamics change, especially when you’re dealing with someone who is actively trying to deceive you. Unless they’re very good, inconsistencies will arise (“leakage”) and you can get insight into how they really feel.

You’ll improve dramatically by addressing the four weaknesses pointed out in The Silent Language of Leaders:

  • Consider context: Should someone in this situation be acting like this?
  • Look for clusters of actions, not isolated ones: All three of those behaviors are associated with…?
  • Get a baseline: How do they normally act?
  • Be aware of your biases: Are you tempted to cut them slack and they haven’t started speaking yet?

Your abilities will make a quantum leap if you realize that body language is part of a bigger context and a bigger cluster and you start monitoring the other facets of behavioral interaction: voice, appearance, clothing, etc.

These can help you evaluate the whole package:

 

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME Music

10 Facts You Didn’t Know About Music

Music Facts You Didn’t Know:

  • And of all the fun music facts I’ve presented here, this is my favorite: “An Italian singer wrote this song with gibberish to sound like English. If you’ve ever wondered what other people think Americans sound like, this is it.”

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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More from Barker:

How To Be Resilient: 8 Steps To Success When Life Gets Hard

What 10 things should you do every day to improve your life?

How To Make Your Life Better By Sending Five Simple Emails

TIME career

6 Things That Will Make You More Productive

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You’re only productive at work three days out of the week:

People work an average of 45 hours a week; they consider about 17 of those hours to be unproductive (U.S.: 45 hours a week; 16 hours are considered unproductive).

So how can you improve that?

Make It Automatic

The secret to getting more done is to make things automatic. Decisions exhaust you:

The counter intuitive secret to getting things done is to make them more automatic, so they require less energy.

It turns out we each have one reservoir of will and discipline, and it gets progressively depleted by any act of conscious self-regulation. In other words, if you spend energy trying to resist a fragrant chocolate chip cookie, you’ll have less energy left over to solve a difficult problem. Will and discipline decline inexorably as the day wears on.

You need to break bad habits and develop solid routines. The secret to this is to do both at the same time: replace one with the other.

The things that effect our behavior perhaps more than anything else is context:

Manipulate your environment so as to make what you should do easy and what you shouldn’t do hard.

First step? Hang out with friends who are productive.

A morning routine can be really good. Here are steps for creating one for yourself. A good example of one is here.

Get your head right

Mood matters. Happiness increases productivity and makes you more successful. As Shawn Achor describes in his book The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work:

…doctors put in a positive mood before making a diagnosis show almost three times more intelligence and creativity than doctors in a neutral state, and they make accurate diagnoses 19 percent faster. Optimistic salespeople outsell their pessimistic counterparts by 56 percent. Students primed to feel happy before taking math achievement tests far outperform their neutral peers. It turns out that our brains are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive.

Proven methods for increasing happiness are here.

Imagining the stereotype of someone who excels at what you’re attempting can improve your performance. And don’t be confident — be overconfident. Overconfidence increases productivity:

We conduct maze-solving experiments under both reward structures and reveal that overconfidence is a significant factor in increasing productivity. Specifically, subjects exhibiting progressively higher degrees of overconfidence solve more mazes.

Being overconfident often gives better results than being objective and rational:

…moderate overconfidence in a contest can improve the agent’s performance relative to an unbiased opponent and can even lead to an advantage for the overconfident agent in absolute terms.

A little self-deception is one of the keys to optimal performance. In fact, a littlesuperstition won’t hurt. Someone wishing you luck actually does increase performance. Good luck charms inspire confidence which improves performanceon a variety of tasks.

Thinking about what you need to do, Rocky-montage style, is more powerful than envisioning how good it will feel to be done. Progress motivates you more than anything else. The best methods for beating procrastination are here.

Stop Multitasking

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 you do it so often? It makes you more emotionally satisfied, even if it makes you 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 if you’re drinking coffee, listening to music and checking your email as you read this blog post, try focusing on one thing at a time.

Tools And Environment Matter

Use checklists. Yeah, everybody says that. And you probably don’t consistently do it.

Harvard surgeon Atul Gawande analyzed their effectiveness in his book The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right. What happens when you consistently use checklists use across in an intensive care unit?

The proportion of patients who didn’t receive the recommended care dropped from seventy per cent to four per cent; the occurrence of pneumonias fell by a quarter; and twenty-one fewer patients died than in the previous year. The researchers found that simply having the doctors and nurses in the I.C.U. make their own checklists for what they thought should be done each day improved the consistency of care to the point that, within a few weeks, the average length of patient stay in intensive care dropped by half.

What makes for a good checklist? Be specific and include time estimates.

And sometimes you don’t need a to-do list, you need a not-to-do-list. Jim Collins, author of Good to Great makes just that suggestion:

…while puzzling over the research data on 11 companies that turned themselves from mediocrity to excellence, from good to great. In cataloguing the key steps that ignited the transformations, my research team and I were struck by how many of the big decisions were not what to do, but what to stop doing.

Environment matters too. Do creative work at home and boring work at the office. A disorganized mind makes you more creative but a disorganized officemakes you less productive.

Rest

Get enough sleep:

All told, by the end of two weeks, the six-hour sleepers were as impaired as those who, in another Dinges study, had been sleep-deprived for 24 hours straight — the cognitive equivalent of being legally drunk.

You’ll probably waste less time on the internet if you get enough shut-eye. Having your sleep schedule off kilter can seriously reduce your effectiveness.

Everything you need to know about sleep is here. Naps and web breaks make you more productive too.

Keep Getting Better

How do you keep improving over time? You need feedback. Monitor what you do and what gets results over time. As Pete Drucker, author of The Effective Executive writes:

The only way to discover your strengths is through feedback analysis. Whenever you make a key decision or take a key action, write down what you expect will happen. Nine or 12 months later, compare the actual results with your expectations… Practiced consistently, this simple method will show you within a fairly short period of time, maybe two or three years, where your strengths lie—and this is the most important thing to know.

Want to improve your ability to learn? Go here. Would you eventually like to be an expert? More here.

You should also review: how to set goals, be a great leader, improve teamwork, give an awesome presentation, and deal with lousy meetings.

Oh, and if you’re one of those people who sorts all your email into folders? Stop it.

 

Related posts:

How To Be Resilient: 8 Steps To Success When Life Gets Hard

What 10 things should you do every day to improve your life?

How To Make Your Life Better By Sending Five Simple Emails

 

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join over 90,000 readers and get a free weekly update via email here.

TIME psychology

5 Things That Make Love Last

I’ve posted before about John Gottman. He can listen to a couple for 5 minutes and determine, with 91% accuracy, whether they’ll divorce. He was featured in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Blink.

What system do they use in his lab for quickly telling who will stay together?

Via What Makes Love Last?: How to Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal:

We’ve settled on five basic dimensions that I believe express the richness of the subjects’ stories. Called the Buehlman Scoring, this assessment is extraordinarily accurate in predicting the death of a relationship. When applied to couples in another of my studies, which looked at 120 couples with preschool-aged children, the scoring predicted with 94 percent accuracy whether a couple would break up within the next four years

In the book, Gottman explains the five points that allow his lab to make such spectacular predictions.

#1: Fondness and Admiration

Happy couples tell their tales with warmth, affection, and respect for each other… Spontaneous compliments are common… couples with a weak fondness and admiration system tend to recall unfavorable first impressions of their partner.

#2: Me-ness vs. We-ness

Happy couples tend to relate stories where they worked well as a unit. The sense that they are “in this together” is palpable… The clue to the dead romance… is not that they aren’t able to resolve an argument. It’s why they are stuck in it: They are both focusing on me, not we.

#3: Knowing your partner

…Detailed descriptions indicate that they continue to understand and respect what makes the other tick: what their partner cares about, what makes him or her sad, or happy. We also note whether there is positive energy or a lack of it in their descriptions…Couples who lose this connection…remain impersonal and guarded when recounting their history, mentioning nothing specific about each other. Their view of their past is “generic” rather than individualized.

#4: Glorifying Your Struggles

Couples who describe their relationship history as chaotic are usually unhappy in the present. They don’t tell stories of pulling together or learning from their negative experiences. There’s no sense in their descriptions that their past troubles and conflicts strengthened their mutual trust... happy couples express pride over having survived difficult times. They glorify the struggle by emphasizing how it strengthened their commitment. They believe they steered their own course together, based on their common goals, aspirations, and values. They have built a system of shared meaning and purpose. Whether couples display this positive energy when recalling past hardships is not at all dependent on the depth of the difficulties they faced. How they interpret the negative and positive events is the key.

#5: Disappointment vs. Satisfaction

When couples are at risk for splitting, at least one of them will express disappointment that the relationship isn’t what it promised to be. Often, when reviewing the choices they made in the past, they express cynicism about long-term commitment… satisfied partners believe that their relationship has met their expectations.

And there is a point where the rift cannot be undone:

…once the Negative “Story of Us” switch is thrown, it is very hard to reverse. Any intervention is almost certainly too little, too late. Even if there’s a positive change in one partner’s behavior, the other remains suspicious, thinking something like, Well, the demon finally did something nice, but this relationship is still hell.

What’s the core takeaway you should keep in mind?

Either they emphasize their good times and make light of the rough spots, or they accentuate their failures and not their successes. Likewise, they either underscore their partner’s positive traits in favor of their more annoying characteristics (cherishing), or they do the opposite (trashing).

 

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More From Barking Up the Wrong Tree:

The Science Of “Happily Ever After”: 3 Things That Keep Love Alive

What are the four things that kill relationships?

What should you look for in a marriage partner?

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME Business

10 Scientific Steps to a Successful Career

Is your job not really doing it for you? Doesn’t have everything you need to feel satisfied, challenged and proud?

Or are you job-hunting but the options don’t seem that appealing?

You’re not alone. In fact, it’s an epidemic.

Job satisfaction is at its lowest rate since anyone started measuring it and nearly two-thirds of people would choose another career if they could.

Via How to Find Fulfilling Work:

One cross-European study showed that 60 per cent of workers would choose a different career if they could start again. In the United States, job satisfaction is at its lowest level – 45 per cent – since record-keeping began over two decades ago.

We’re not satisfied with our jobs but we feel more and more rushed, cravingwork-life balance.

You know the Spanish “siesta”? It’s nearly extinct. Only 7% of Spaniards take one. We’re all just too busy.

Via How Should We Live?:

Around a quarter of Americans ‘always feel rushed’ according to a national survey, a figure which rises to over 40 percent for working mothers. In Britain 20 percent of workers say they don’t have time for a lunch break, while the siesta has almost disappeared from Spanish life: only 7 percent now indulge in the traditional afternoon nap.

But the funny thing is when you ask older folks for the most important lesson they’ve learned, what do they say? “Don’t stay in a job you dislike.”

In the Harvard Business Review Daniel Gulati broke down the top career regrets people have. #2 was “I wish I had quit earlier.”

In fact, people with no job are happier than people with a lousy job:

fulfilling-career

But we’re not getting much help. Personality tests like Myers-Briggs are supposed to predict your perfect career. Problem is, that test doesn’t work.

Via How to Find Fulfilling Work:

…there is ‘no evidence to show a positive relation between MBTI type and success within an occupation… nor is there any data to suggest that specific types are more satisfied within specific occupations than are other types’.

Wouldn’t it be great to have someone ask “What do you do?” and be able to reply with a smile because you feel so good about it?

There are fulfilling careers out there and you can get one. But first you need to know what makes jobs fulfilling and how to find the right one for you.

As Mark Twain said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”9

So let’s dispel a few myths you might have about meaningful careers.

 

1) Money Isn’t Meaningful

Plenty of research says money doesn’t make us all that happy once you can pay the bills. I know, you’re skeptical.

But you don’t need to believe the pointy-headed researchers; ask people about their jobs and you hear the same thing.

Via How to Find Fulfilling Work:

…when people are asked about what gives them job satisfaction, they rarely place money at the top of the list. In the Mercer global-engagement scale – drawing on interviews with thousands of workers in Europe, the US, China, Japan and India – ‘base pay’ only comes in at number seven out of twelve key factors.

Having meaning in your life increases life satisfaction twice as much as wealth.

Via 100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life:

Those with a modest income who felt there was meaning in their lives were twice as likely to experience life satisfaction as were those who were wealthier but who felt that their lives lacked a sense of meaning. – Debats 1999

Can you guess what Harvard Business Review says is the #1 career regret? “I wish I hadn’t taken the job for the money.”

Despite low pay and high unemployment artists have higher job satisfaction than most people.

In fact, artists are more likely to suffer from depression and other mood problems – and yet they’re still happier with their careers.

(For more on the biggest career regrets, click here.)

So money isn’t meaningful. What about prestige? Well, one kind is, the other kind isn’t.

 

2) Status Isn’t Meaningful — But Respect Is

Being in a top dog profession is nice but you don’t get meaning from it.

What you need is respect — where people appreciate what you do and admire you for it.2

Don’t be the head of the hospital; be the nurse who doctors ask for and patients trust.

Via How to Find Fulfilling Work:

While most of us wish to enjoy a dose of social status, the feeling that we are respected by others for what we do and how we do it is one of the keys to having a meaningful career. As the sociologist of work Richard Sennett explains, respect enables us to feel like ‘a full human being whose presence matters’.

People are so busy looking at compensation they don’t think about the relationships they have at work. Research shows this is crazy.

A boss you trust is better than a 30% pay raise. Getting along with co-workers means promotions — and might save your life.

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

Okay, okay — so chasing money and status doesn’t lead to a meaningful career. What does?

 

3) Making A Difference Makes A Big Difference

People who do work that benefits society show high levels of job satisfaction across the board.

Via How to Find Fulfilling Work:

A major study of ethical work by Howard Gardner, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and William Damon showed that those doing what they call ‘good work’ – defined as ‘work of expert quality that benefits the broader society’ – consistently exhibit high levels of job satisfaction.

When you look at some of the happiest jobs do you see a pattern? Clergy, firefighters, special ed teachers, physical therapists… They help people.

Research shows those who are other-focused are happier.

Via Shiny Objects: Why We Spend Money We Don’t Have in Search of Happiness We Can’t Buy:

Researchers have: they’ve found that happy people are ten times more likely to be other-oriented than self-centered. This suggests that happiness is a by-product of helping others rather than the result of its pursuit3.

(For more on a career that makes a difference, click here.)

Making a difference might involve a huge career change. Is there any way to find more fulfillment in the job you already have? Yes.

 

4) Use Your Talents

Aristotle once said, “Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation.”28 He was way ahead of his time.

One of the most proven elements in work research is that using your strengths makes you feel great:

Americans also gain a boost in positive emotions the more they use their strengths. The more hours per day adults believe they use their strengths, the more likely they are to report having ample energy, feeling well-rested, being happy, smiling or laughing a lot, learning something interesting, and being treated with respect.

fulfilling-career

(To find out what you’re naturally talented at, click here.)

But maybe you don’t like doing what you’re good at. What then?

 

5) Pursue Your Passion

Doing what you’re passionate about has wide-ranging positive benefits.

Via Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined:

Elderly individuals who were harmoniously passionate scored higher on various indicators of psychological adjustment, such as life satisfaction, meaning in life, and vitality, while they reported lower levels of negative indicators of psychological adjustment such as anxiety and depression.

Cal Newport points out a weakness in the “follow your passion” argument: most people’s passions are quite difficult to make a living at.

What’s interesting is that most often it is passion that leads us to “10,000 hours” of deliberate practice and subsequent expertise.

Via Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined:

The researchers also looked at the role of passion among 130 undergraduate students enrolled in a selective psychology course. They found a direct path from harmonious passion to deliberate practice: the students who were more harmoniously passionate about their work were more likely to engage in deliberate practice.

So following your passion and working hard may eventually make you great at what you love — leading you back to step 3.

(For more on finding your passion in life, click here.)

So when you use your talents or pursue your passion what is it you’re hoping to achieve? How do you know a job is the right one?

 

6) Find Flow

Flow is when you’re so wrapped up in what you’re doing that the world fades away — like when athletes are in “the zone.”

If you find a job where you’re spending most of your time in “flow”, you’ve got a winner.

Via How to Find Fulfilling Work:

In a typical flow experience, we feel totally engaged in the present, and future and past tend to fade away – almost as if we were doing Buddhist meditation. In his renowned study of surgeons, Csikszentmihalyi found that when performing operations, 80 per cent of them lose track of time or feel that it passes much faster than usual. They’re in the zone.

(For more on flow, and how to achieve it, click here.)

Being “in the zone” is great. What else screams “this is a fulfilling job”?

 

7) We All Want Freedom

Autonomy is one of the keys to a great job. You want to feel you have control over your time and effort and aren’t always told what to do.

Via How to Find Fulfilling Work:

For decades, industrial psychologists have observed that job satisfaction is directly related to ‘span of autonomy’, meaning the amount of each day during which workers feel free to make their own decisions.

Dan Pink, author of Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, emphasizes the need for autonomy in his TED talk

 

So what have we learned about fulfilling careers?

They aren’t about money or status but offer respect and the chance to use your talents and follow your passion with autonomy.

I know what you’re thinking: Great. Now how do I find that job?

 

8) Stop Looking For Your Soulmate

There is no one perfect job you were meant to do.

There are many “yous” with many passions and many talents and therefore many jobs you could be fulfilled by.

Thinking about what you were “born to do” gets in the way because you’re waiting for some magic “click” and not busy developing skills.

How often does natural talent control what you can achieve in everyday life? In ~95% of cases, it doesn’t.

Via Mindset: The New Psychology of Success:

“After forty years of intensive research on school learning in the United States as well as abroad, my major conclusion is: What any person in the world can learn, almost all persons can learn, if provided with the appropriate prior and current conditions of learning.” He’s not counting the 2 to 3 percent of children who have severe impairments, and he’s not counting the top 1 to 2 percent of children at the other extreme… He is counting everybody else.

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

So you’re not fixated on some “perfect” job. How do you find the one that’s right for you?

 

9) Use A “Personal Job Advertisement”

In How to Find Fulfilling Work, Roman Krznaric recommends writing a job advertisement — but what you’re selling is you.

Talk about your talents, passions, values and personal qualities.

Don’t mention specific jobs but do include important things like salary requirements or geographic restrictions.

Then send it to 10 friends in different careers, from different walks of life. Askthem to tell you what jobs you are best suited for.

When people independently mention the same job, or there’s a trend, you know that’s an area worth further exploration.

(For more on how to find out what career is right for you, click here.)

Okay, but now how can you be sure they know what they’re talking about? There’s really only one way.

 

10) Ready, Fire, Aim

Here’s something you rarely hear: “Do not plan ahead. Do not start thinking.” Because you don’t know anything yet.

The problem with careers is when we make the decisions, we rarely know much about the thing we’re choosing.

35% of college graduates end up in a job that was not their major. Planningsounds good but as the old saying goes: “The map is not the territory.”

Ever talk to a cop or a lawyer and learn their job is not like it looks on TV? Exactly.

It’d be great if you could go try a bunch of different jobs for a month each. But that’s just not realistic for most of us.

So you need to talk to people, the people who are doing the job you think you want.

Via How to Find Fulfilling Work:

A final form of experimental project is conversational research. Perhaps less daunting than a radical sabbatical or a branching project, it can be just as effective. It simply requires talking to people from different walks of life who are engaged in the types of work you might imagine doing.

Is the job what you expected? Did they sound energized about it? Did it offer respect, use of your talents, passions and provide autonomy?

If the answer is no, keep looking. If it’s yes, and it fits everything else above, you’re probably onto a career that could be perfect for you.

(Here’s how to network, how to find a mentor and how to interview like a pro.)

So what’s all this mean in the end?

 

Sum Up

Here are the steps to finding a fulfilling career:

  1. Money Isn’t Meaningful
  2. Status Isn’t Meaningful — But Respect Is
  3. Making A Difference Makes A Big Difference
  4. Use Your Talents
  5. Pursue Your Passion
  6. Find Flow
  7. We All Want Freedom
  8. Stop Looking For Your Soulmate
  9. Use A “Personal Job Advertisement”
  10. Ready, Fire, Aim

Dostoyevsky once said:

The thought once occurred to me that if one wanted to crush and destroy a man entirely, to mete out to him the most terrible punishment, one at which the most fearsome murderer would tremble, shrinking from it in advance, all one would have to do would be to make him do work that was completely and utterly devoid of usefulness and meaning.

And guess what? Research by Duke professor Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational, agrees. Watch his talk here.

 

In the end, I see it like this: You’re going to spend 80,000 hours working over the course of your life.

Yeah. 80,000.

Might be nice if you enjoyed it.

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More From Barking Up the Wrong Tree:

How To Be Resilient: 8 Steps To Success When Life Gets Hard

What 10 things should you do every day to improve your life?

How To Make Your Life Better By Sending Five Simple Emails

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME psychology

10 Things That Can Predict Whether Your Spouse Will Cheat on You

Join over 90,000 readers and get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

How To Be Resilient: 8 Steps To Success When Life Gets Hard

What 10 things should you do every day to improve your life?

How To Make Your Life Better By Sending Five Simple Emails

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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