TIME psychology

8 Techniques Ready to Stop Bad Behaviors

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Karen Pryor’s book Don’t Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training explains the fundamentals of behavior change. And these methods are effective whether the subject is a dog, a dolphin or your neighbor, Larry.

The main lesson for getting people to do what you want is that positive reinforcement — rewarding behavior you like — is king. Whether it’s with a smile, a cookie or a bribe, rewards work.

But what about getting rid of behaviors you don’t like? This can be far trickier. Pryor lays out the 8 methods that you can use to stop bad behavior.

Method 1: “Shoot the animal.” In our case, we don’t mean that literally. It means firing an employee or dumping a partner. It works, but it’s extreme.

Via Don’t Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training:

“Firing an employee, divorcing a spouse, dealing with a messy roommate by changing roommates: all are Method 1… Fundamentally they eliminate the behavior by restraining the subject physically from the performance, or by eliminating the presence of the subject. The vital thing to understand about Method 1 is that it teaches the subject nothing.”

Method 2: Punishment. (Everybody’s favorite, in spite of the fact that it almost never really works.)

Via Don’t Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training:

“Punishment does not teach a child how to achieve a better report card. The most the punisher can hope for is that the child’s motivation will change: The child will try to alter future behavior in order to avoid future punishment.”

If punishment almost never works, why do we do it? We have an ulterior motive: “…establishing and maintaining dominance. The punisher may be primarily interested not in behavior but in being proved to be of higher status.”

Method 3: Negative reinforcement. (Removing something unpleasant when a desired behavior occurs.)

Via Don’t Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training:

“People use spontaneous negative reinforcers on each other all the time: the warning glance, the frown, the disapproving remark. Some children’s lives, and some spouse’s lives too, are filled with constant daily effort to behave in such a way as to avoid disapproval.”

Method 4: Extinction, letting the behavior go away by itself.

Via Don’t Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training:

“Extinction in human interactions best applies, it seems to me, to verbal behavior — whining, quarreling, teasing, bullying. If these kinds of behavior do not produce results, do not get a rise out of you, they extinguish.”

Method 5: Train an incompatible behavior. (This method is especially useful for athletes and pet owners.)

Via Don’t Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training:

“…training a dog to lie in the dining-room doorway when people are eating… Going away and lying down is incompatible with begging at the table; a dog cannot physically be in two places at once, and so begging is eliminated.”

Method 6: Put the behavior on cue. (Then you never give the cue. This is the dolphin trainer’s most elegant method of getting rid of unwanted behavior.)

Via Don’t Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training:

“…when the organism learns to offer the behavior in response to some kind of cue and only then — the behavior tends to extinguish in the absence of the cue. You can use this natural law to get rid of all kinds of things you don’t want, simply by bringing the behavior under the control of a cue… and then never giving the cue.”

Method 7: “Shape the absence”; reinforce anything and everything that is not the undesired behavior. (A kindly way to turn disagreeable relatives into agreeable relatives.)

Via Don’t Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training:

“I used Method 7 to change my mother’s behavior on the telephone… The conversations were usually, and sometimes excessively concerned with my mother’s problems… I deliberately let her complaints and tears extinguish – Method 4…I then reinforced anything and everything that was not a complaint… within two months the proportion of tears and distress to chat and laughter in our weekly phone calls became reversed.”

Method 8: Change the motivation. (This is the fundamental and most kindly method of all.)

Via Don’t Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training:

“Smokers quit when their motives for smoking are met in other ways or when motivations to stop – fear of cancer, say – outweighs the reinforcers of smoking.”

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree. Join over 145,000 readers and get a free weekly email update here.

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TIME psychology

How to Eat Healthy: 5 Easy New Tips From Research

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

You know you should eat healthier. But it’s not easy. Temptation is all around and willpower, well, isn’t.

The solution is in making better choices. Psychology. But most of the answers we hear aren’t legit.

So I called a guy who knows the real deal: Brian Wansink.

He leads food psychology research at Cornell University and the White House chose him to revise US dietary guidelines.

He has a great website and is author of two smart books on the subject of tricking yourself into eating better:

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think

Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life

I posted about his work before but this time I wanted answers straight from the man himself. And, man, did he ever deliver.

What you’re going to learn in this post:

  • The easy thing to do while shopping that prevents you from buying junk food.
  • How to not fall for the tricks and traps of restaurants.
  • The 2 secrets to not snacking too much at the office.
  • How to stay disciplined at events and holiday gatherings — without making the host feel bad.
  • How superheroes can help you make better food choices.

Yeah, I said superheroes can help you eat better. Seriously. In fact, let’s start there…

Ask “What Would Batman Eat?”

Cookies calling your name? Ask yourself “What would Batman eat?”

Brian’s research showed this got kids to pick apple slices over french fries. Here’s Brian:

We found we could get kids to choose the healthier food much more often if we simply asked what their favorite superhero or their favorite princess would do. Even if they responded “french fries”, half the time they took the apple slices. It simply causes an interruption in their thinking that causes them to pause, hit the reset button inside their head and think again.

Sound crazy? Research really does show that thinking about fictional characters we love can help us make better decisions.

In fact, thinking about superheroes can even make you physically stronger. (I’ll be asking “What would Batman lift?” at the gym tomorrow.)

But some of you might be thinking, “He said that works for kids, Eric.”

Doesn’t matter. It’ll work for you too. Here’s Brian:

The same thing works for adults. If you’re faced with a decision like, “Should I eat dessert?” think of an admired person in your life. Say to yourself, “What would my cool friend Steve do?” You’ll find that about a third of the time it will be easier for you to make healthier decisions.

Ladies, feel free to envision Wonder Woman — unless you’re more the Catwoman type. (Hey, I don’t judge.)

(For plenty more awesome tips from Brian’s books click here.)

Okay, so you’re thinking about Batman when you eat. (I’ll bet you look dashing in a cape.) But the food war is often won or lost at the supermarket.

So what can you do to make sure you’re buying the right food in the first place?

Chew Gum While You Shop

Crazy, right? Believe it or not, a stick of gum in your mouth prevents junk food from entering your shopping cart. Here’s Brian:

We found that when people popped sugarless gum in their mouth it made them less hungry. It soothed cravings and some people even reduced how many snack foods they bought by about 90%.

Here’s the important thing to remember: not all gum is created equal. Go for sugar-free bubble gum or sugar-free mint gum. Other kinds can actually increase appetite. Here’s Brian:

But one of the things we also found is that it can’t be sugared gum or even flavored gum because that can work in the opposite direction. The stuff that works best is sugar-free bubble gum or sugar-free mint gum. Those are the two craving killers.

(For more on how the magic of gum can change your life — including make you smarter — click here.)

With superheroes on your mind and gum in your mouth you’re well on your way. But what about when you’re in a restaurant?

Now you need to think like a real estate agent: location, location, location.

Navigating The Treacherous World Of Restaurants

Watch where you sit. Did you choose a booth? You’re 80% more likely to order dessert and 80% less likely to order salad.

Sitting by the TV? You’re much more likely to order BBQ. Sitting closer to the bar? Guess who’s going to be drinking more than they thought?

Where are you safe? Head for a window seat. Here’s Brian:

People who sat in booths were about 80% more likely to order dessert than people sitting in a normal table and you’re about 80% less likely to order salad. People sitting near windows were much more likely to order salads. People sitting at tall tables were almost two to three times as likely to order chicken or fish. If you’re sitting within ten feet of a TV set you’re much, much more likely to order barbecue than not. If you are seated at a table close to the bar, on average, your table’s going to be ordering three more beers than the table that’s farther from the bar.

And those menus aren’t haphazardly thrown together. They are often marvels of psychological trickery.

Anything highlighted, in a box or a different font is going to catch your eye and you’ll be more likely to order it.

Be careful when reading the descriptions. Clever names and appealing adjectives make you 28% more likely to pick something. Here’s Brian:

Anything that’s in the corners or in a box or highlighted or in a different font or has an icon next to it has a huge leg up in its likelihood of being chosen. The description of a menu item has a tremendous impact not only on whether we’re going to order the item but also on how much we’re going to like it. In our research we found a real difference between calling something “Succulent Italian Seafood Fillet” instead of just “seafood fillet.” People are about 28% more likely to take it. And they’re also willing to pay about fifteen to twenty percent more for it.

So how do you find something that’s healthy and tasty? Ask the server, “What are three of your lighter items that are most popular?” Here’s Brian:

If you want to get something a little bit healthier ask the server, “What are three of your lighter items that are most popular?” You don’t want to say “What are your healthiest things?” because all she’s going to do is point at salads.

(For more of Brian’s advice on how to eat smart at restaurants, click here.)

So you’re good in the supermarket and at restaurants. But what about all that eating you do at work?

How To Stop Snacking At The Office

Keep two words in mind: distance and happiness.

As we’ve talked about before, distance is a big, big deal. You eat less when food is farther away and more when it’s closer. Here’s Brian:

People ate half as much if we simply moved the candy dish off their desk and placed it six feet away.

Simple barriers have the same effect.

As Dan Ariely said in my interview with him, when Google’s New York office put M&M’s in containers people ate 3 million less of them in one month:

Here’s an experiment that Google did recently. The M&Ms in their New York office used to be in baskets. So instead they put them in bowls with lids. The lid doesn’t require a lot of effort to lift but it reduced the number of M&Ms consumed in their New York office by 3 million a month.

So that’s distance. What about happiness? It’s important to understand the psychology of workplace eating.

When you aren’t having fun at work you often tell yourself you deserve to eat more because you’re working hard.

If you enjoy your job more (or have fun going out to eat with colleagues at lunch) you’ll find this happens less. Here’s Brian:

You see food as a reward you deserve because you’re doing something you don’t want to do. “I’ve been working all day so I deserve a snack” or “I deserve more to eat tonight at dinner.”

(For more on how to be happier at work, click here.)

And now we come to the most sinister and dangerous of all the scenarios: get-togethers, dinner parties and holiday gatherings.

Say “no” to food and you could insult the host… and that often turns into an excuse to binge. What to do? Brian has answers.

How To Avoid Gorging At Events And Holiday Gatherings

Here are the two tricks:

  1. Only eat the food the host prepared themselves. No chips, pretzels or stuff out of a box or bag.
  2. Take a tiny amount of what they prepared — but make sure to ask for seconds. You don’t eat much, but the host knows you liked it.

Here’s Brian:

Our research found that people ate 11% of their calories at Thanksgiving before they even eat dinner. The peanuts, the Chex Mix and stuff like that. One of the biggest reasons that people say they overeat at Thanksgiving is they don’t want to offend their host. So the easiest way to not offend your host and eat 10% less is just don’t eat the stuff that she bought at the store. And the second thing is that nobody remembers how much you take of something but they do remember whether you asked for seconds. So just take a little bit the first time but make sure you ask for seconds and that she hears you. All she’s going to remember is that you really appreciated what she made and asked for more.

(For more tips on how to handle eating at gatherings, click here.)

Armed with these tips you should be ready for anything. Let’s round them up and get more insight from Brian.

Sum Up

Brian’s great tips for healthy eating are:

  1. Ask “What would Batman do?” (Fill in the name of anyone you admire… though Batman is an excellent choice, in my utterly biased opinion.)
  2. Chew sugarless bubble gum or mint gum while you shop for groceries.
  3. At restaurants, be careful where you sit and watch out for menu tricks. Ask the server for popular lighter options.
  4. Enjoying your work and distance from food can prevent you from overeating at the office.
  5. At get-togethers only eat what your host actually prepared. Eat a small amount but ask for seconds.

Research shows we have a crazy relationship with food sometimes. But you can overcome a lot of this with simple deceit and trickery.

What makes this so much fun is that the person you need to trick is you.

Brian and I talked for a while so there are a number of other great tips that I’ll be including in my weekly email (including the one sentence that helps people stop overeating immediately.) Join now to learn more.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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Does Your Mind Wander? Here’s Why That Can Be Your Greatest Asset

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Wandering minds are associated with creativity. Popular wisdom tells you to live in the moment.

Huh?

So is it better to be unfocused or focused?

Let’s look at the research.

The Upside of Mind Wandering

You spend up to 8 minutes of every hour daydreaming. Your mind will probably wander for 13% of the time it takes you to read this post. Some of us spend 30-40% of our time daydreaming.

Via The Science of Sin: The Psychology of the Seven Deadlies (and Why They Are So Good For You):

Do you remember what the previous paragraph was about? It’s OK, I’m not offended. Chances are that your mind will wander for up to eight minutes for every hour that you spend reading this book. About 13 percent of the time that people spend reading is spent not reading, but daydreaming or mind-wandering. But reading, by comparison to other things we do, isn’t so badly affected by daydreaming. Some estimates put the average amount of time spent daydreaming at 30 to 40 percent.

So why do we do it? It may be a form of problem-solving:

…the content of people’s daydreams reflected the kinds of coping strategies that they typically employed to solve problems. This suggests that the wandering mind might actually be off searching for ways to cope with the stresses of everyday life. You may not know exactly how to deal with your man troubles, but your wandering mind is working on it…One of the most interesting things about this slothful pastime is that it involves the same brain regions that are active when people are solving insight puzzles.

In fact, people whose minds wander a lot are more creative and better problem solvers.

Via 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People:

Mind-wandering allows one part of the brain to focus on the task at hand, and another part of the brain to keep a higher goal in mind. Christoff (2009) at the University of California, Santa Barbara has evidence that people whose minds wander a lot are more creative and better problem solvers. Their brains have them working on the task at hand but simultaneously processing other information and making connections.

In Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation, Steven Johnson makes it pretty clear that creativity is messy.

Ideas need to be sloshing around or crashing in to one another to produce breakthroughs:

Hold on though — this doesn’t mean daydreaming is all good.

The Downside of Mind Wandering

As Daniel Gilbert, author of Stumbling on Happiness, explained in the Harvard Gazette, a wandering mind is not a happy mind:

People spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing, and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy. So says a study that used an iPhone Web app to gather 250,000 data points on subjects’ thoughts, feelings, and actions as they went about their lives.

And:

“Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people’s happiness,” Killingsworth says. “In fact, how often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged.”

And yes, it’s a cause, not an effect:

Time-lag analyses conducted by the researchers suggested that their subjects’ mind-wandering was generally the cause, not the consequence, of their unhappiness.

And recent research shows a wandering mind may be associated with poor health, perhaps due to that unhappiness and stress.

So What’s The Deal?

A wandering mind takes more in: good and bad. This leads to new ideas. But it can take you up — and it can take you down.

Focus doesn’t allow the noise in. But the noise is what allows creativity to spark.

What you want to do is spend most of your time focused but have rituals that allow your mind to wander on cue.

You have coffee in the morning and get ready to go. You unwind at night to get ready for bed.

You already have rituals that put you into a zone, you just may not realize it. What you want to do is use them deliberately.

This is the secret the pros know. Michael Jordan was able to do it during games.

And research shows these rituals are powerful for creativity too.

Via The Winner’s Brain: 8 Strategies Great Minds Use to Achieve Success:

A 2008 study by the University of Toronto’s Chen-Bo Zhong and his colleagues found that doing something habitual, such as going for a walk, washing the dishes, or taking a nap, enables you to unconsciously access peripheral information your brain may not readily consider during an intense state of Focus.

How do you get focused? How do you unwind?

Start using these more deliberately and you can make yourself happier as well as more creative when you need to be.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join over 140,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

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Here’s the Secret to Communicating With Irrational, Angry or Crazy People

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

We all have to deal with our share of hotheads and crazies. What does research say works with them?

First off, you can’t get angry too. Because then there are two crazy people arguing. While very entertaining to onlookers, this doesn’t accomplish much.

Tell yourself they are having a bad day and that it’s not about you:

Telling yourself that an angry person is just having a bad day and that it’s not about you can help take the sting out of their ire, a new study suggests… the researchers monitored participants’ brain activity and found that reappraising another person’s anger eliminated the electrical signals associated with negative emotions when seeing angry faces.

They’re being crazy. You’ll want to shut them up or talk over them. Don’t. It’s a natural reaction but it doesn’t work.

They don’t think they’re wrong. They’ll just interpret it as a status game where you’re trying to win. Stop being so sure you’re right and listen.

But here’s the important part: just shutting up is not enough.

Listening isn’t just listening. It’s letting the other person know you’re listening.

This is “active listening.”

Keep in mind that good listening is “non-evaluative.” Don’t judge or analyze what the person is saying at first. Just focus on trying to understand their perspective.

It has three components: paraphrasing, inquiry and acknowledgment:

• Paraphrase: “It sounds as if you’re satisfied with our component overall. But if I understand correctly, you need me to assure you that we can increase production if large orders come in. You’re also concerned about our proposed per-unit price and our willingness to work with you to create an acceptable arrangement. Have I captured your main points?”

• Inquire: “You mentioned that you found our proposed price to be unacceptable. Help me understand how you came to this conclusion. Let’s also talk about how we might set up a pricing structure that you find more reasonable.”

• Acknowledge: “It sounds as if you’re quite disappointed with various elements of our proposal, so much so that you have serious concerns about whether we’ll be able to work together over the long haul.”

Active listening is the first thing FBI hostage negotiators use to de-escalate incidents and save lives.

BCSM consists of five stages: active listening, empathy, rapport, influence, and behavioral change. Progression through these stages occurs sequentially and cumulatively. Specifically, the negotiator proceeds in sequence from Stage 1 (active listening) to Stage 5 (behavioral change). However,in order to establish rapport (Stage 3) with the subject, active listening skills (Stage 1) and empathy (Stage 2) must first be demonstrated (and maintained throughout) by the negotiator. As this process continues, influence (Stage 4) and behavioral change (Stage 5) follow. The latter stage refers to the successful resolution of the crisis that can only occur when, and only when, the previous stages have been carried out successfully.

It’s not all in your words. Body language is vital.

Via The Most Human Human: What Artificial Intelligence Teaches Us About Being Alive:

Language is an odd thing. We hear communication experts telling us time and again about things like the “7-38-55 rule,” first posited in 1971 by UCLA psychology professor Albert Mehrabian: 55 percent of what you convey when you speak comes from your body language, 38 percent from your tone of voice, and a paltry 7 percent from the words you choose.

You don’t want to have serious arguments via email or phone. Communicating via email makes you more likely to act like a jerk. You lie more via text message.

Steven Johnson suggests that by stripping away the emotional information in faces and intonation, email and text messaging might be simulating autism.

Via Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life:

…when you look at most electronic communication through the lens of neuroscience, it’s hard not to think that autism might be a more appropriate “poster condition” for the digital society. (The cultural critic Harvey Blume made this argument nearly a decade ago.) When we interact with other humans via communication channels that are stripped of facial expressions and gestures and laughter, we are unwittingly simulating the blank emotional radar of the mindblind.

If you can’t just listen and need to reply to a direct question, what should you say?

You have to make sure you get out of your head and see where they’re coming from if you don’t want them to just blow up again.

In Words That Work political expert Frank Luntz gives a pithy but powerful line:

It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.

You may have to deal with someone who does this on a regular basis. What’s important to remember is you need to ignore the anger and hysterics. Don’t reward them. Give positive reinforcement only when they calm down.

In Karen Pryor’s book Don’t Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training she explains the fundamentals of behavior change. And these methods are effective whether the subject is a dog, a dolphin or your neighbor, Larry.

A good strategy she uses is to positively reinforce anything and everything that is not the undesired behavior. In fact, she used this technique to get her mom to stop complaining:

The conversations were usually, and sometimes excessively concerned with my mother’s problems… I deliberately let her complaints and tears extinguish …I then reinforced anything and everything that was not a complaint… within two months the proportion of tears and distress to chat and laughter in our weekly phone calls became reversed.

(If it can stop a mom from complaining, it’s pretty powerful.)

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join over 140,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

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The One Word That Sums Up Everything You Need to Do to Be Happier

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

That word is “PERMA.” It’s an acronym for:

  • Positive Emotion
  • Engagement
  • Good Relationships
  • Meaning
  • Accomplishment

Martin Seligman is a professor at the University Pennsylvania and one of the foremost experts on the study of happiness. He gave the following talk in 2011 explaining “PERMA”, the research behind it, and how we can use it to improve our lives. I’ll break it down after the video.

For the longest time the model of happiness we’ve had has followed how we look at health: If you’re sick, we try to make you not-sick. If you’re depressed, we try to make you not-depressed.

But can’t we do more than merely eliminating suffering? Can’t we try to go from normal to happier? Can we flourish?

Seligman explains that the things we need to do to be happier are all tied up in PERMA. So let’s break down what Seligman has to say.

P: Positive Emotion

We need 3 positive things for every negative thing in order to thrive.

Via Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain: How to Retrain Your Brain to Overcome Pessimism and Achieve a More Positive Outlook:

Psychologist Barbara Frederickson is an expert on flourishing and has been an advocate of finding ways to bring more positive emotions into our lives. In her research she discovered a critical 3 to 1 ratio, indicating that we need to have three positive emotions for every negative one in order to thrive.

And:

Frederickson has found out that if we really want to prosper, we shouldn’t try to eliminate negative emotions, rather, we should work on keeping the ratio at three positive for every one negative. Most of us, she has found, have two positive experiences for every negative. This gets us by, but it is effectively languishing.

This also ties in to what Seligman explains is one of the most powerful happiness boosting exercises: 3 blessings.

This technique has been proven again and again. Seligman explains it in his book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being:

Every night for the next week, set aside ten minutes before you go to sleep. Write down three things that went well today and why they went well. You may use a journal or your computer to write about the events, but it is important that you have a physical record of what you wrote. The three things need not be earthshaking in importance (“ My husband picked up my favorite ice cream for dessert on the way home from work today”), but they can be important (“ My sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy”).

Next to each positive event, answer the question “Why did this happen?”

E: Engagement

This is what is often called flow. It’s when you’re so wrapped up in what you’re doing that the world fades away:

Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity… The hallmark of flow is a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task although flow is also described… as a deep focus on nothing but the activity – not even oneself or one’s emotions.

When do you usually feel flow? It’s when you’re challenged but not beyond your skill level. Passive activities don’t create flow. Neither do overwhelming challenges.

There are a handful of things that need to be present for you to experience flow:

Via Top Business Psychology Models: 50 Transforming Ideas for Leaders, Consultants and Coaches:

  • Clear goals that, while challenging, are still attainable.
  • Immediate feedback.
  • Knowing that the task is doable; a balance between personal skill level and the challenge presented.
  • Strong concentration and focused attention.
  • The activity is intrinsically rewarding.

More on creating flow here.

R: Relationships

Seligman talks about a relatively recent discovery in what makes good relationships. Often it’s not how you fight, it’s how you celebrate:

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

Shelly Gable, professor of psychology at the University of California at Santa Barbara, has demonstrated that how you celebrate is more predictive of strong relations than how you fight.

He also covers the type of speaking that improves relationships. It’s called “active-constructive.”

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

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

M: Meaning

Meaning comes from belonging to and serving something that is bigger than you are.

Can we build meaning in our lives? Yes. Seligman explains one exercise is to write your own obituary. What do you want your legacy to be?

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

Asking people to spend just a minute imagining a close friend standing up at their funeral and reflecting on their personal and professional legacy helps them to identify their long-term goals and assess the degree to which they are progressing toward making those goals a reality.

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

In the past I’ve encouraged my students to draft their obituary as part of an extra-credit exercise, asking them to write it as they wished it to appear after a long life. I know it sounds morbid, but this assignment is an excellent way to expose the gap between how people live their lives and how they want to be remembered. It’s a sobering experience at any age. The real benefit, of course, is that the writer gets to confront any such inconsistencies before it’s too late. I can’t tell you how many students have told me that this experience was a real wake-up call for them— one that I hope has changed many lives. We all must ask ourselves, if our obituaries were written today, would we be happy with what was written?

9 minutes in to his famous Stanford commencement speech Steve Jobs discusses the importance he placed on thinking about death during life:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.”

A: Achievement

What has research shown is most tied to success? Seligman says it’s “grit“. Perseverance.

Via Dan Pink’s excellent book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.

The best predictor of success, the researchers found, was the prospective cadets’ ratings on a noncognitive, nonphysical trait known as “grit”—defined as “perseverance and passion for long-term goals.”

Researchers have found that grit is more predictive of success than IQ in a variety of challenging environments from Ivy League schools to military academies to the National Spelling Bee.

More about grit (and how to be “grittier”) here.

Want to learn more about how to use these ideas to be happier? Check out this post.

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10 Videos Guaranteed to Inspire You

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

1) How to be happier

Harvard professor Shawn Achor is the author of the wonderful book The Happiness Advantage.

2) Is it better to come in first… or third?

Malcolm Gladwell is the author of the bestsellers Blink, Outliers and The Tipping Point.

3) Why do we lie? And why do we lie to ourselves?

Great interview with Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational and The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone—Especially Ourselves.

4) What’s it take to free yourself of bad habits?

A fantastic interview with Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit.

5) Are there two kinds of happiness?

An excellent presentation on happiness by Daniel Kahneman, Nobel Prize winner and author of Thinking, Fast and Slow. In it, he draws an insightful distinction: there may be two very different types of happiness.

6) Is vulnerability the key to connecting with others?

One of the most popular TED talks of all time is Brené Brown‘s presentation on vulnerability.

7) What do you want to do before you die?

Candy Chang gives an inspirational talk about a project that asked people to finish the sentence: “Before I die I want to…”

8) Can trying something new for 30 days change your life?

Matt Cutts gives a great talk about how trying new things for 30 days not only helped him learn new skills but also changed him as a person.

9) What motivates us?

Dan Pink, author of the excellent book Drive, explains what makes us do what we do.

10) “What’s more dangerous: incompetent idiots or overconfident experts?”

Malcolm Gladwell, author of the bestsellers Blink, Outliers and The Tipping Point, gives a great talk about why the overconfidence of smart people can be far more dangerous than the incompetence of stupid people.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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6 Secrets of Top Performing Work Teams

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Don’t just throw the best people together. How members get along is far more important than their capacities as individuals.

What makes for smart teams?

It’s not average IQ. It’s social skills. From MIT:

A new study published in Science found that three factors were significantly correlated with a group’s collective intelligence — in other words, its ability to perform a variety of tasks collectively, from solving puzzles to negotiating.

The three factors are: the average social sensitivity of the members of the group, the extent to which the group’s conversations weren’t dominated by a few members, and the percentage of women in the group. (The women in the study tended to score higher on social sensitivity than the men.) In other words, groups perform better on tasks if the members have strong social skills, if there are some women in the group, and if the conversation reflects more group members’ ideas. The groups studied were small teams with two to five members.

What’s the best predictor of team success?

How the team members feel about one another.

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

The better we feel about these workplace relationships, the more effective we will be. For example, a study of over 350 employees in 60 business units at a financial services company found that the greatest predictor of a team’s achievement was how the members felt about one another. This is especially important for managers because, while they often have little control over the backgrounds or skill sets of employees placed on their teams, they do have control over the level of interaction and rapport. Studies show that the more team members are encouraged to socialize and interact face-to-face, the more engaged they feel, the more energy they have, and the longer they can stay focused on a task. In short, the more the team members invest in their social cohesion, the better the results of their work.

How well do they need to get along?

Remember the 5 to 1 ratio.

From 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…

Do people touch each other more if they like each other or does touching actually increase performance?

Can’t be sure but we do know one thing: “The teams that touched the most cooperated the most, and won the most.”

Via Subliminal: How Your Unconscious Mind Rules Your Behavior:

So are touchy-feely people more successful at getting things done? There is no data on whether bosses who dole out the occasional pat on the head run a smoother operation, but a 2010 study by a group of researchers in Berkeley found a case in which a habit of congratulatory slaps to the skull really is associated with successful group interactions. The Berkeley researchers studied the sport of basketball, which both requires extensive second-by-second teamwork and is known for its elaborate language of touching. They found that the number of “fist bumps, high fives, chest bumps, leaping shoulder bumps, chest punches, head slaps, head grabs, low fives, high tens, half hugs, and team huddles” correlated significantly with the degree of cooperation among teammates, such as passing to those who are less closely defended, helping others escape defensive pressure by setting what are called “screens,” and otherwise displaying a reliance on a teammate at the expense of one’s own individual performance. The teams that touched the most cooperated the most, and won the most.

For creativity, mix it up a bit. The most creative teams are a mix of old friends and new blood.

Via Imagine: How Creativity Works:

“The best Broadway teams, by far, were those with a mix of relationships,” Uzzi says. “These teams had some old friends, but they also had newbies. This mixture meant that the artists could interact efficiently— they had a familiar structure to fall back on— but they also managed to incorporate some new ideas. They were comfortable with each other, but they weren’t too comfortable.”

Teams with men and women performed better:

We investigate whether the gender composition of teams affect their economic performance. We study a large business game, played in groups of three, where each group takes the role of a general manager. There are two parallel competitions, one involving undergraduates and the other involving MBAs. Our analysis shows that teams formed by three women are significantly outperformed by any other gender combination, both at the undergraduate and MBA levels. Looking across the performance distribution, we find that for undergraduates, three women teams are outperformed throughout, but by as much as 10pp at the bottom and by only 1pp at the top. For MBAs, at the top, the best performing group is two men and one woman. The differences in performance are explained by differences in decision-making. We observe that three women teams are less aggressive in their pricing strategies, invest less in R&D, and invest more in social sustainability initiatives, than any other gender combination teams. Finally, we find support for the hypothesis that it is poor work dynamics among the three women teams that drives the results.

A team is only as strong as its weakest link. Team trust is not determined by an average of the members, it’s at the level of the least trusted member:

In a team negotiation context, the authors empirically explored how judgments of team-level trust are derived from individual-level trust. Basing their argument on both the negativity bias and the discontinuity effect, the authors posit that people will focus most on the least trustworthy individual member of a team when making judgments about collective team-level trust. Findings from two studies demonstrate that perceptions of team trust are indeed lower than the average ratings of individual trust and are statistically equivalent to the least trusted member. In addition, compared with average individual trust levels, perceptions of collective team trust were found to be more predictive of (a) impasse rates in distributive negotiations and (b) the level of joint gain in integrative negotiations.

What inspires team morale? Great stories:

“Institutions that can communicate a compelling historical narrative often inspire a special kind of commitment among employees. It is this dedication that directly affects a company’s success and is critical to creating a strong corporate legacy,” said author Adam Galinsky, Morris and Alice Kaplan professor of ethics and decision in management.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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5 Secrets to Clicking With People

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Improving any relationship is as easy as actively showing interest in the other person or sharing with them

How can you make a good first impression?

First impressions matter even more than you think. They’re the most important part of any job interview. And once they’re set, they are very hard to resist.

Most advice on the subject is defensive, just telling you how to not offend. How can you strategically make a good impression?

From the outset, frame the conversation with a few well-rehearsed sentences regarding how you want to be perceived. This will end up being the structure the other person forms their memories around.

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

The take-home point is that having the appropriate schema or context for encoding information helps us understand and recall this information, but only if we get the schema at the outset… If you start out with a few well-rehearsed sentences about why you are the right person for the job, this first impression can help set the tone for your interview and for what is taken away from the meeting… Schemas determine how this new information is stored and what is actually remembered.

And keep in mind that whenever you’re speaking emotionally, the words you use almost don’t matter at all. Voice tone and body language are far more important.

Via The Heart of Social Psychology: A Backstage View of a Passionate Science:

One often quoted study (Mehrabian & Ferris, 1967) found that of all the information conveyed to another person when we say something that is emotional (not informational), only 7 percent is contained in the actual meaning of the words we use.

What makes us click with other people?

In Click: The Magic of Instant Connections Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman (authors of the interesting book Sway: The Irresistable Pull of Irrational Behavior) explore how people connect and give some solid insights.

They discuss a number of the more obvious causes of connection like proximity and similarity but what struck me most was their emphasis on vulnerability.

Via Click: The Magic of Instant Connections:

Allowing yourself to be vulnerable helps the other person to trust you, precisely because you are putting yourself at emotional, psychological, or physical risk. Other people tend to react by being more open and vulnerable themselves. The fact that both of you are letting down your guard helps to lay the groundwork for a faster, closer personal connection. When you both make yourselves vulnerable from the outset and are candid in revealing who you are and how you think and feel, you create an environment that fosters the kind of openness that can lead to an instant connection — a click.

How can you improve any relationship?

Just try. Put a small amount of conscious effort into trying to be a better friend, spouse, whatever. That’s it. Sounds ridiculous but:

How do you win over someone who doesn’t like you?

Here’s what Robert Cialdini, author of the must-read book Influence, had to say:

1. Give Honest Compliments. It may not be easy, especially if the person has been distancing themselves from you for a while. But if you’re objective, they probably have some qualities you admire. If you take a positive action and compliment them, it may well break the ice and make them re-evaluate their perceptions of you.

2. Ask for Their Advice. Cialdini notes this strategy – which involves asking for their professional advice, book suggestions, etc. – comes from Founding Father Ben Franklin, a master of politics and relationship building. “Now you’ve engaged the rule of commitment and consistency,” says Cialdini, in which they look at their actions (giving you advice or a book) and draw a conclusion from it (they must actually like you), a surprisingly common phenomenon in psychology. “And suddenly,” says Cialdini, “you have the basis of an interaction, because now when you return it, you can return it with a book you think he or she might like.”

How do you keep relationships strong over time?

Remember 5 to 1.

From Richard Conniff’s interesting book, 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…

More on strengthening friendships here.

Other tips to keep in mind:

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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

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The 4 Most Common Relationship Problems — and How to Fix Them

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Relationship problems. Everybody has them. And sometimes you have them over and over and over.

Most of the people giving advice don’t know the research. So where are the real answers?

I decided to call an expert: Dr. John Gottman.

You might remember him as the researcher in Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink who, after just a few minutes, could predict whether a couple would end up divorced.

John is a professor emeritus at the University of Washington and co-founder of the Gottman Institute. He’s published over 190 papers and authored more than 40 books, including:

He’s also a really cool guy. John’s gained powerful insights from studying couples that thrive (who he calls “Masters”) and couples that don’t (who he calls “Disasters.”)

So what are you going to learn here?

  1. The four things that doom relationships.
  2. The three things that prevent those four things.
  3. The most important part of any relationship conversation.
  4. The single best predictor of whether a relationship is working. (It’s so easy you can do it yourself in 2 minutes.)

Want to be a Master and not a Disaster? Let’s get to it.

1) The Four Horsemen Of The Relationship Apocalypse

John has studied thousands of couples over his 40-year career. Four things came up again and again that indicated a relationship was headed for trouble. The Disasters did them a lot and the Masters avoided them:

#1: Criticism

This is when someone points to their partner and says their personality or character is the problem. Here’s John:

Criticism is staging the problem in a relationship as a character flaw in a partner. The Masters did the opposite: they point a finger at themselves and they really have a very gentle way of starting up the discussion, minimizing the problem and talking about what they feel and what they need.

Ladies, are you listening? Because criticism is something women do a lot more than men. (Don’t worry, we’ll get to how the guys screw up soon enough.)

#2: Defensiveness

This is responding to relationship issues by counterattacking or whining. Here’s John:

The second horseman was defensiveness which is a natural reaction to being criticized. It takes two forms: counterattacking or acting like an innocent victim and whining. Again, the Masters were very different even when their partner was critical. They accepted the criticism, or even took responsibility for part of the problem. They said, “Talk to me, I want to hear how you feel about this.”

#3: Contempt

It’s the #1 predictor of breakups. Contempt is acting like you’re a better person than they are. Here’s John:

Contempt is talking down to their partner. Being insulting or acting superior. Not only did it predict relationship breakup, but it predicted the number of infectious illnesses that the recipient of contempt would have in the next four years when we measured health.

#4: Stonewalling

It’s shutting down or tuning out. It passively tells your partner, “I don’t care.” And 85% of the time it’s guys who do this.

(Want to know a shortcut to creating a deeper bond with a romantic partner? Click here.)

Okay, that’s what kills a relationship. Naturally, you want to know what stops those things from occurring, right?

3 Things That Make Horsemen Go Bye-Bye

From looking at the Masters, John saw what prevented the downward spiral of the 4 Horsemen:

#1: Know Thy Partner

John calls this building “love maps.” It’s really knowing your partner inside and out. It was one of the Masters’ most powerful secrets. Here’s John:

A love map is like a road map you make of your partner’s internal psychological world. The Masters were always asking questions about their partner and disclosing personal details about themselves.

Why is this so rare? It takes time. And the disasters didn’t spend that time. In fact, most couples don’t spend that much time.

John cited a study showing couples with kids talk to each other about 35 minutes per week. Yeah, 35 minutes.

And even most of that was just logistics — “When will you be there?” “Don’t forget to pick up milk.” — not deep personal stuff like the Masters.

#2: Responding positively to “bids”

No, this has nothing to do with eBay. We all frequently make little bids for our partner’s attention.

You say something and you want them to respond. To engage. It can be as simple as saying, “Nice day, isn’t it?”

It’s almost like a video game: when the person responds positively (“turning towards a bid”) your relationship gets a point.

When they don’t respond, or respond negatively, the relationship loses a point… or five. Here’s John:

The couples who divorced six years later had turned toward bids only 33% of the time. The couples stayed married had turned toward bids 86% of the time. Huge difference.

Couples with high scores build relationship equity. They’re able to repair problems. They’re able to laugh and smile even when arguing. And that makes a big difference. Here’s John:

If you turn toward bids at a high rate, you get a sense of humor during conflict. Humor is very powerful because it reduces physiological arousal during arguments and that’s been replicated in several studies.

#3: Show admiration

Ever listen to someone madly in love talk about their partner? They sound downright delusional. They act like the other person is a superhero. A saint.

And research shows that is perfect. Masters see their partner as better than they really are. Disasters see their partners as worse than they really are.

(For more on the science of sexy, click here.)

Admiration is about the story you tell yourself about your partner. And that leads us to how to predict whether your relationship is working…

The Best Predictor Of How Good A Relationship Is

You can do this yourself: have someone ask you about the history of your relationship. What kind of story do you tell?

When your partner describes your relationship to others, what kind of story do they tell?

Does the story minimize the negatives and celebrate the positives? Did it make the other person sound great?

Or did it dwell on what’s wrong? Did it talk about what that idiot did this week that’s utterly wrong?

This simple “story of us” predicts which relationships succeed and which fail. Here’s John:

Our best prediction of the future of a relationship came from a couple’s “story of us.” It’s an ever-changing final appraisal of the relationship and your partner’s character. Some people were really developing a “story of us” that was very negative in which they really described all the problems in the relationship. They really emphasize what was missing. Masters did just the opposite: they minimized the negative qualities that all of us have and they cherish their partner’s positive qualities. They nurture gratitude instead of resentment.

(For more on what research says makes love last, click here.)

Is there a part of a relationship conversation that’s critical? Actually, there is.

The Most Important Part Of A Relationship Conversation

It’s the beginning. 96% of the time John can predict the outcome of a conversation within the first three minutes. Here’s John:

Negativity feeds on itself and makes the conversation stay negative. We also did seven years of research on how Masters repair that negativity. One of the most powerful things is to say “Hey, this isn’t all your fault, I know that part of this is me. Let’s talk about what’s me and what’s you.” Accepting responsibility is huge for repair.

How you start those serious relationship discussions doesn’t just predict how the conversation goes — it also predicts divorce after 6 years of marriage.

Via Principia Amoris: The New Science of Love:

…it went on to predict with high accuracy their fate over a 6-year period of time. The predictions we made about couples’ futures held across seven separate studies, they held for heterosexual as well as same-sex couples, and they held throughout the life course.

So you’re talking and you’re starting off positive and calm. Great. Now you should stop talking. Why?

When I asked John what the best thing to do to improve a relationship he said, “Learn how to be a good listener.”

The Masters know how to listen. When their partners have a problem, they drop everything and listen non-defensively with empathy. Here’s John:

In really bad relationships people are communicating, “Baby when you’re in pain, when you’re unhappy, when you hurt, I’m not going to be there for you. You deal with it on your own, find somebody else to talk to because I don’t like your negativity. I’m busy, I’m really involved with the kids, I’m really involved with my job.” Whereas the Masters have the model of, “When you’re unhappy, even if it’s with me, the world stops and I listen.”

And sometimes the best thing to do at the beginning of a relationship argument is to end it immediately. Why?

69% of a couple’s problems are perpetual. They won’t be resolved.

Beating a dead horse, asking someone to fundamentally change who they are isn’t going to work — but it will make them angry. Here’s John:

In the studies that Bob Levenson and I did, we brought couples back into the lab every couple of years to find out what they are arguing about. And people resolved only about 31% of their disagreements. You can edit these videotapes together and it looked like the same conversation over and over for 22 years. Masters learn to accept what will not change and focus on the positive. They seem to say, “There’s a lot of good stuff here and I can ignore the annoying things.”

(For more on how to listen like an expert, click here.)

Okay, that’s a lot of great stuff. Let’s round it up and finish with the thing John said that impressed me the most.

Sum Up

So here’s what John had to say:

  1. The 4 things that kill relationships: Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt and Stonewalling.
  2. The 3 things that prevent them: Know your partner, respond positively to “bids”, and admire your partner.
  3. The best predictor of relationship success is how you and your partner tell your “story of us.”
  4. The beginning of the conversation is crucial. Negativity compounds. Keep a cool head and resist emotional inertia.

One last thing that really blew me away: what makes for happy relationships sounds a lot like what makes for happiness in general.

Research shows, happy people seek out the positive and are grateful for it. Unhappy people find the negative in everything.

There’s a very similar dynamic in relationships: Masters scan their relationship for good things, disasters are always noting the bad.

And not only that — the Masters’ way of looking at the world is actually more accurate. Here’s John:

People who have this negative habit of mind miss 50% of the positivity that outside objective observers see. So the positive habit of mind is actually more accurate. If you have a negative habit of mind, you actually distort toward the negative and you don’t see the positive. People with the positive habit of mind, it’s not that they don’t see the negative — they do, they see it — but they really emphasize the positive in terms of the impact on them. That’s the difference.

Choose to see the positive. It can cause a cascade:

  • It’s fuel for your good “story of us.”
  • You’ll probably start relationship conversations on a good note.
  • You’ll admire your partner.
  • And on and on…

Some of the same things that make you happy can improve your relationships — and vice versa. What’s better than that?

John and I talked for over an hour, so there’s a lot more to this.

I’ll be sending out a PDF with more of his relationship tips in my weekly email (including the two words that can help make arguments dissolve.) So to get that, sign up for my weekly email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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How to Live a Long Happy Life — 8 Insights Backed by Research

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join over 145,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

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Read next: How Do We Find Meaning in Life?

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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