TIME psychology

Would Winning the Lottery Solve All Your Problems?

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Via the documentary Lucky:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are lottery winners happier than paralyzed accident victims?

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

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

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

What the authors of the study found was that:

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

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

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

But you still want to be rich, right?

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

Think about this for a second:

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

Correct answer: they’re both equally happy.

And this:

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

Correct answer: Calcutta, hands down.

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

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

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

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

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

Buy your tickets as early as possible.

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

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

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME psychology

The Absurd Cost of Overreaction

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Honduras' Health personnel screen arriving passengers for the deadly Ebola virus at Tegucigalpa's Toncontin international airport on October 20, 2014. ORLANDO SIERRA—AFP/Getty Images

Marty Nemko is a career coach, writer, speaker and public radio host specializing in career/workplace issues and education reform.

Whether it's Ebola, Malaysia Flight 370 or the shoe bomber, our post-disaster spending efforts may not be the wisest

A guy puts a plastic explosive in his shoes and now millions of us must take off our shoes at the airport. Terrorists know that, so the chance of shoe-bombing a plane is infinitesimal. With 100% certitude, we’re wasting millions of minutes of people’s time. We don’t think probabilistically.

One person in the U.S. has died of Ebola and we’re now spending a fortune on special training for every hospital worker in the country, screening passengers additionally at major airports, and talking of a worldwide travel ban. Congress, the Executive Branch, the CDC and related federal agencies, not to mention the news media, have reallocated much of their time and effort to Ebola. What is the probability that all that will save lives? Minuscule. Think of how many more lives could be saved if we directed all that money and effort, for example, to reducing the number of bicyclist deaths because car drivers aren’t conditioned to look for them? But we don’t think probabilistically. We overreact to the disaster du jour.

We spent a fortune trying to find Malaysia Flight 370 in the middle of the Indian Ocean, which covers 28.4 million square miles, 20% of Earth’s water surface, in hopes of finding information that could prevent future crashes. What are the odds of finding it, let alone providing information that ends up saving lives? Near zero. If you wanted to improve airline safety (not particularly necessary—it’s much safer to fly than to drive a car), you’d more likely do it, infinitely less expensively, by reviewing pre-flight inspection procedures to see if they might be improved. But we don’t think probabilistically. We overreact.

Even when respected leaders err, we overreact. For example, David Petraeus, a highly decorated four-star general, went on to be Director of the CIA, where he was respected by both Republicans and Democrats. Yet, when it was uncovered that he was having an extramarital affair with his biographer, he was forced to resign.

Some governmental overreaction isn’t unwillingness to think probabilistically. It’s politics. The administration feels the need to show that government is doing something—even if the cost is absurd. Alas, somehow, the media rarely discusses the cost-benefit ratio, let alone the opportunity costs of such efforts.

We are not immune

Of course, we, in our private lives, aren’t immune to overreaction:

You get dumped by a romantic partner or three and so fear you’re doomed to a life of celibacy. Overreaction.

You’re searching for a career. Someone tells you that one is bad. You then cross it off your list, failing to recognize that a sample size of one has little validity. Overreaction.

You apply for four jobs and don’t even get an interview. You assume you’re doomed to a McJob or less. Overreaction.

In 1982, when seven people died of Tylenol that had been laced with cyanide, the value of Tylenol’s manufacturer, Johnson & Johnson’s stock price lost 17.5% of its value in the first five trading days following the Tylenol incident, but in a little more than two months, it had gained it all back.

The takeaway

It’s not easy, but we should replace visceral reactions to a single experience or three with probabilistic thinking: What is the probability of such an event occurring in the future? What’s the cost-benefit of accepting that possibility? Of trying to prevent it? What could that effort otherwise be spent on? What action would yield the most good for you, your family, workplace, the larger society? Few exhortations could do more good for humankind than: Replace overreaction with probabilistic thinking.

Marty Nemko is an award-winning career coach, writer, speaker and public radio host specializing in career/workplace issues and education reform. His writings and radio programs are archived on www.martynemko.com.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME health

Why So Many Women Are Crying at the Gym

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For a generation of stressed-out working women, exercise is as much about emotional release as it is physical training.

“Let it out! Let out the sludge!”

It’s 7am on a Tuesday, at a small dance studio in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood, and Taryn Toomey is stomping her feet into the floor like thunder. “Get rid of the bullsh*t!” she shouts. “Get rid of the drama!”

Two dozen women in yoga pants and sports bras sprint in place behind her, eyes closed, arms flailing. Sweat is flying. The Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” is blaring in the background. There are grunts and screams. “Hell yes!” a woman bellows.

When the song ends, Toomey directs the group into child’s pose, torso folded over the knees, forehead on the floor, arms spread forward. Coldplay comes on, and there is a moment of rest. “Inhale. Exhale. Feel your center,” Toomey says. Heads slowly come up, and suddenly, tears are streaming down the faces of half the room. A woman in front of me is physically trembling. “I just let it all out,” a middle-aged woman in leggings and a tank top whispers.

This is “The Class”—one part yoga, two parts bootcamp, three parts emotional release, packaged into an almost spiritual… no, tribal… 75 minutes. It is the creation of fashion exec turned yoga instructor Toomey, and it is where New York’s high-flying women go for emotional release (if, that is, they can get a spot).

“During my first class I didn’t just cry, I sobbed,” says McKenzie Hayes, a 22-year-old New Yorker who has become a regular in the class. “Whether it’s your job or your relationships, I literally picture my emotional problems being slowly unstuck from my body and moved out.”

Toomey calls that “sludge”: it’s the emotional baggage we carry in our muscles that has nowhere else to go. She’s not a doctor. But week after week, she encourages participants to sweat, scream and cry out those emotions, in the company of a group of mostly women who are doing the same. “I’ve had classes where people are literally on all fours sobbing,” Toomey says. “But it’s not just my class, it’s happening everywhere. Emotional release in public can feel very uncomfortable. But I think there’s a growing movement of people who want to find a space for it.”

Indeed, the message to women has long been to hide your tears lest you look weak. (Among the tactics: jutting out your jaw. Breathing exercises. Chewing gum. Drinking water.) Yet while crying in the office may remain a feminine faux pas, tears at the gym seem to have lost their stigma — to the extent that there are a bevy of fitness courses that even encourage it.

For Asie Mohtarez, a Brooklyn makeup artist, it began in hot yoga. The music was on, the floor was warm, the instructor was standing over her encouraging her to let go. “I was in child’s pose and I just lost it,” she says. Then, two weeks later, it happened again – this time at Physique 57. The Dirty Dancing soundtrack came on and it was waterworks again. “There’s something about these classes that feel safe,” says the 33-year-old. “I can’t cry at work. I’m not emotionally distraught enough to cry in the shower. I can’t just burst into tears in front of my husband. So, what does that leave you with?”

You could go to therapy – or you could hit the gym. Women are getting teary in SoulCycle, and misty-eyed at Pure Barre. They are letting out wails in yoga and rubbing the shoulder of the weepy woman next to them at CrossFit. “I think people have started to notice that their clients are just showing up to class and just unloading, and so they’re tailoring their classes to create space for this,” says Hayes, who is a pilates instructor by day. “When I take private clients I end up feeling like a therapist for them.”

These fitness instructors aren’t trained in that, of course. But they’ve probably been there.

“I usually just go over to the student after class and quietly ask how they’re feeling,” says Kristin Esposito, a yoga instructor in Los Angeles who sees criers often. “My classes are focused on release so it feels pretty natural.”

Physiologically, it is: Exercise releases endorphins, which interact with serotonin and dopamine, the chemicals that impact mood. In yoga, deep hip openers – like the “pigeon pose” – are meant to stir emotions (yogis believe our emotional baggage lives in our hips).

But many of the newer courses are specifically choreographed to release emotion, too – making it all that much more intense. The lights are dim, candles flicker in the background. It’s not an accident that just as you’re starting to relax, coming down from the adrenaline, you’re blasted with a throaty ballad. Those playlists are meticulously constructed. “I’ve been teaching for almost 20 years, so I’ve basically seen it all: crying, laughing, throwing up, overheating,” says Stacey Griffith, a Soul Cycle instructor. “There are moments in the class that are directly programmed for that reason – but it’s not like we’re trying to get people to cry. We’re giving them the space to step outside of themselves.”

And indeed, that may be necessary. We’re busier, more stressed and more connected than we’ve ever been. Simply finding the time to have that “space” can be near impossible, making the release that these courses offer – packaged neatly into an hour – a kind of fix. “The night before, I can’t wait,” says Hayes of Toomey’s class. “I already know what will be the flood that I’m working through. And sometimes conversations with friends just don’t cut it.”

Getting those emotions out is a good thing – at least in moderation. Emotional tears contain manganese, potassium, and a hormone called prolactin, which help lower cholesterol, control high blood and boost the immune system. Crying reduces stress, and, according to one study, from the University of Minnesota, actually improves the mood of nearly 90 percent of people who do it. “You really do feel lighter after,” says Hayes.

“To me, it’s a sign of being present, it’s a sign of feeling your feelings, of being in the moment,” says Toomey, just after “the class” has ended. Plus, shoulder to shoulder in a hot room, there is almost a sense of communal release. Of high-charged emotional camaraderie. “I so needed this,” a woman tells her on the way out, with a hug. And, of course, with that much sweat, the tears are almost hidden anyway.

Read next: I Taught Fitness and Failed a Fat Test

TIME psychology

How Can You Use Technology to Make You Happier?

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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

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

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

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

You do it with television:

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

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

You do it with your phone:

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

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

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

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

No way.

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

So how do you get the good without the bad?

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

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

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

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

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

Summing up:

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

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join 25K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME psychology

How to Get Respect: 5 Points Backed by Science

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

We all want to know how to get respect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And these negative characteristics are valuable in some roles:

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

In fact, research shows feeling powerless makes you dumber.

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

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

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

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

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

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

How-To-Get-Respect

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

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

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

2) We Love Mr. Nice Guy… Sometimes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3) It’s A Balance

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

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

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

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

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

You actually like them more because it makes them human.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can… but that’s tricky too.

4) Don’t Be A Method Actor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5) How To Get Respect

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

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

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

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

But be warm.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be the best version of who you are.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME psychology

How the Most Successful People Manage Their Time

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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

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

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

How do the most successful people manage their time?

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

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

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

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

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

1) Do A Time Log

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

What else could I do with that hour?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Via What the Most Successful People Do at Work:

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

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

Here’s what Laura told me:

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) Plan The Whole Week

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Via What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast:

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

Research shows we have more willpower in the morning.

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

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

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

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

4) Yes, You Even Need To Plan The Weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s Laura:

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

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

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

Via What the Most Successful People Do on the Weekend:

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

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

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

5) How To Conquer The Sunday Night Blues

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

Here’s Laura:

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

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

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

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

Sum Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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4 Things Millionaires Have in Common, Backed by Research

Dollar currency sign puzzle
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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

What do millionaires do differently?

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

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

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

Here are a few patterns the researchers saw:

1) Most Millionaires Are Self-Employed

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

Via The Millionaire Next Door:

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

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

Via The Illusions of Entrepreneurship:

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

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

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

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

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

millionaires

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

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

Via The Illusions of Entrepreneurship:

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

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

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

2) Millionaires Choose Their Careers Strategically

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

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

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

Via The Illusions of Entrepreneurship:

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

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

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

Via The Illusions of Entrepreneurship:

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

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

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

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

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

Via The Millionaire Next Door:

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.9 out of 4.0.

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

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

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

Via The Millionaire Mind:

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

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

Via The Millionaire Mind:

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

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

Via The Illusions of Entrepreneurship:

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

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

Via Mind in Context: Interactionist Perspectives on Human Intelligence:

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

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

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

“Most dependable.”

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

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

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

4) They’re Cheap

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Via The Millionaire Next Door:

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

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

Via The Millionaire Next Door:

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

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

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

Via The Millionaire Next Door:

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

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

Via 100 Simple Secrets of the Best Half of Life:

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

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

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

Via The Millionaire Next Door:

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

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

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

Sum Up

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

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

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

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

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join over 120,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

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Harvard Research Reveals a Fun Way to Be More Successful

Success
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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

We all want to be more successful.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s Shawn:

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

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

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

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

We all chase success hoping it will make us happy:

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

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

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

Here’s Shawn:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) See Problems As Challenges, Not Threats

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

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

Here’s Shawn:

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

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

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

Here’s Shawn:

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

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

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

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

Once again the answer is the exact opposite.

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s Shawn:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s Shawn:

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

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

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

It’s simpler than you think.

4) Send A “Thank You” Email Every Morning

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

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

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

Here’s Shawn:

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

What other little daily happiness habits does Shawn recommend?

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

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

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

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

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

Shawn has a great answer for this too.

5) The 20-Second Rule

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

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

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

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

Here’s Shawn:

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

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

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

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

Sum Up

Here’s what we can all learn from Shawn:

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

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

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

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

Here’s Shawn:

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

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

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

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

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

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join over 120,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

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

6 Things The Most Productive People Do Every Day

8 Things The World’s Most Successful People All Have In Common

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How to Go From Dreaming to Doing: 4 Steps to Motivation

Impossible to possible
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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

You have stuff you know you should be doing. But it doesn’t get done. You need to go from dreaming to doing — but it’s hard.

You want to accomplish more at work, hit the gym, get a new job or study harder at school… but it’s not happening.

I’ve talked about strategies to make challenges easier like the 20 second rule. But what if you’re just not starting in the first place?

What gets you going when you’re not motivated to reach those longer term goals?

There’s a solution that can help you not only make change easier, but boost motivation. What’s the secret?

WOOP.

Yes, WOOP. It’s an acronym for 4 steps to achieving any goal based on research by Gabriele Oettingen:

  1. Wish
  2. Outcome
  3. Obstacle
  4. Plan

Can a method with the silliest name in social science really work? Yeah.

People who say they want to exercise more and use the WOOP method do dramatically better:

dreaming-to-doing

How does it work? I’m here to break it down for you.

The first step is wishing. We’re all pretty good at that — but it’s only part of the solution. In fact, if you do it wrong it can actually make things worse.

Here’s how to do it right.

1) Wish (But Don’t Stop There)

Everything starts with a wish. But if that’s all you do, you’re in real trouble.

Having a positive attitude is pretty much essential because a negative attitude makes us more likely to quit — or to never start in the first place.

But when that positive outlook become fantasizing, things go south really fast. Yes, dreaming about success is bad.

Via Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation:

Again and again, much to my surprise at first, the results turned out to be the same. Positive fantasies, wishes, and dreams detached from an assessment of past experience didn’t translateinto motivation to act toward a more energized, engaged life. It1 translated into the opposite.

Why? Derek Sivers has a great TED talk that explains it here.

Your emotional brain just can’t tell the difference between fantasy and reality.

When you fantasize, those older parts of your brain think you’ve actually achieved your goal. So rather than ramping up, motivation dials back:

Results indicate that one reason positive fantasies predict poor achievement is because they do not generate energy to pursue the desired future.

(Sorry, fans of “The Secret” — it just doesn’t work.)

Dreaming turns positive thinking into mere wishful thinking.

So if it doesn’t work, why in the world do we do it? Plain and simple: it feels good.

Just like stuffing your face or checking your email for the 216th time this hour, it feels great — but is counterproductive to long term achievement.

Via Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation:

Dreaming about a positive future seemed to protect against sadness in the short term but promote it over the long term. It coincided with a short-term hit of pleasure that ultimately wore off and predicted increased depression.

Want to lose weight? Those who merely wished “lost 24 fewer pounds lessthan those who pictured themselves more negatively.”

Want to meet that special someone? “The more students…indulged in positive fantasies…the less likely they reported initiating the relationship.”

Trying to get a new job? “The more frequently students had experienced positive fantasies, the less success they had.”

(For more on how to motivate yourself, click here.)

Okay, so wishing by itself can be very bad. What did the research say the missing pieces were?

2) See A Specific Outcome

This part isn’t hard. Oettingen‘s work says you need to take your wish and crystalize it. Be specific.

So if “more money” is your wish, the desired outcome might be “get a raise at work.”

Wishing for better work-life balance? Your outcome could be “No work on weekends. Ever.”

(For more on setting goals, click here.)

So your wish is now clear. But this is when things get trickier. It’s time to go negative.

3) Envision Your Obstacles

Oettingen calls this “mental contrasting.” You need to deliberately think about the obstacles that might prevent you from achieving the outcome.

Now here’s what’s really fascinating: some people do this and get more motivated. But others end up less motivated afterward.

Does that mean this technique is less powerful? No, it means it’s trulyawesome. Why?

The people who did not get a boost were the ones who realized their current goal was unrealistic.

Mental contrasting didn’t only motivate people — it also helped them realize which goals were actually worth pursuing.

dreaming-to-doing

When people looked at obstacles and realized they had a good chance of overcoming them (“I want to get a raise”), motivation increased.

Those who reviewed obstacles and realized their goals were unrealistic (“I want to be Prime Minister of Australia by Thursday”) reported less motivation.

The latter were dissuaded and didn’t waste their time. So outcomes for both groups that used mental contrasting were positive.

And this isn’t just egghead science — it lines up with ancient wisdom. The Stoics were saying it thousands of years ago.

(You never heard about it? Those guys are dead and don’t have a big social media presence. That’s why you have me.)

Ryan Holiday, author of the excellent book The Obstacle Is the Way explains the Stoic perspective:

…we look to envision what could go wrong, what will go wrong, in advance, before we start. Far too many ambitious undertakings fail for preventable reasons. Far too many people don’t have a backup plan because they refuse to consider something might not go exactly as they wish.

Today this technique not only helps CEO’s close deals, it saves lives.

Dan Coyle, the expert on expertise, says it’s an essential part of how US Special Forces prepare for every dangerous mission:

…they spend the entire morning going over every possible mistake or disaster that could happen during the mission. Every possible screwup is mercilessly examined, and linked to an appropriate response: if the helicopter crash-lands, we’ll do X. If we are dropped off at the wrong spot, we’ll do Y. If we are outnumbered, we’ll do Z.

(For more on the power of negative visualization to improve decision making, click here.)

So you’ve stared your obstacles in the face. There’s just one more step to getting what you want…

4) Make A Plan

Mental contrasting is so powerful because it juxtaposes wishes with reality. It stress-tests your desired outcome.

Questioning your wishes leads to insights about how to proceed in the real world.

Dan Pink explains the power of questioning colorfully in his great book “To Sell Is Human.”

In a sentence: Ignore Napoleon Hill and listen to Bob the Builder.

Yeah, that guy.

Napoleon Hill said “think positive.” Tell yourself you can do it. Like saying, “I will make a million dollars.” It’s The Secret all over again.

But Bob The Builder doesn’t make a statement. He asks kids a question: “Can we build this?”

Seems like a tiny difference but questions are powerful. It makes you realistically consider the problem.

Via To Sell Is Human:

Those who approached a task with Bob-the-Builder style questioning self-talk outperformed those who employed the more conventional juice-myself-up declarative self-talk.

Questioning builds plans. And plans help you be more productive, beat stress and even increase happiness.

What does the research say is the best way to make sure your plan addresses your obstacles?

The study of “implementation intentions” shows you should create little “If-Then” responses to known stumbling blocks.

For instance:

If I’m on my diet and I’m offered dessert, then I will just order a cup of coffee.”

Research has shown this method even helps recovering drug addicts get back on their feet and into the workforce.

Via Rethinking Positive Thinking: Inside the New Science of Motivation:

…eight of the ten addicts who had formed implementation intentions had written their resumes. Of the ten addicts who hadn’t framed a prior plan, none had done so.

(For more on how to get the most out of “If-Then”, click here)

So you understand the four parts of WOOP. Now how do we round all this up and actually get it working in our lives?

Sum Up

Try it now. I mean right now. Reading is not doing.

Watching football doesn’t make you a quarterback, 60 years of sitcoms hasn’t made people funnier and watching Bruce Lee won’t teach you to kick ass.

You want to go from dreamer to do-er? Try it now:

  1. Wish: What do you dream of achieving in the future?
  2. Outcome: Be specific. What form will that result take?
  3. Obstacles: What’s in the way?
  4. Plan: When that obstacle comes what will you do about it? “If ____ happens, then I will _____.”

Can you see how this takes simple dreaming and puts you on a path to getting what you want?

WOOP reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from Steven J. Ross:

There are three categories of people: the person who goes into the office, puts his feet up on his desk, and dreams for 12 hours; the person who arrives at 5 A.M. and works 16 hours, never once stopping to dream; and the person who puts his feet up, dreams for one hour, then does something about those dreams.

Blog posts don’t change your life. You do. Now go WOOP.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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10 Ways Science Can Make Anyone Sexier

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Good looks help, there’s no denying. We make up our mind about people in 100 milliseconds and decide whether they’re hot in 13 milliseconds.

Beautiful people are more successful. We’re more likely to forgive attractive people. Cute folks are less likely to be convicted of a crime and more likely to get a shorter sentence.

Have people’s opinions toward appearance changed over the years? Yes, we value attractiveness more than ever.

So what can you do to make sure you’re looking good during that critical first impression?

  1. Beauty sleep? Yeah, it’s real. Get some.
  2. Red clothes. Men, women, whatever. Wear red.
  3. Glasses make you look smarter but less attractive.
  4. Your left side is your best side. Here are tips for making yourself more attractive in photos.
  5. Happiness is attractive in women but not in men. Pride is attractive in men but not in women. The fundamentals of what we find attractive do not change as we age.
  6. A strong sense of meaning in life makes people more attractive. Here‘s how to work on that.
  7. Eat right. More servings of fruits and vegetables made people more attractive.
  8. Tattoos are interesting. One tattoo isn’t very telling. Multiple tattoos and highly visible tattoos are highly correlated with deviant behavior. Students like college professors with tattoos more than those without ink. People with tattoos and body piercings have sex at younger ages, have sex more often, have more oral sex, and are far less likely to be religious.
  9. Eye contact can make people fall in love with you. You can tell which couples are in love by how long they stare into each others eyes.
  10. Is none of this helping? Here’s a trick that doesn’t ask you to change anything about yourself: bring along a friend who has your basic physical characteristics (similar coloring, body type, facial features), but is slightly less attractive than you. It works.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join over 125,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

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10 ways science can make *men* sexier

10 ways science can make *women* sexier

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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