TIME psychology

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

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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

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

Via Honest Signals: How They Shape Our World:

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

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

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

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

Via Honest Signals: How They Shape Our World:

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

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

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TIME psychology

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

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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

Frontal assaults against prepared defenses are stupid.

Via How Great Generals Win:

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

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

Via How Great Generals Win:

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

And:

Via How Great Generals Win:

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

2) Always attack from multiple angles

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

Via How Great Generals Win:

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

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

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

Via How Great Generals Win:

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

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TIME psychology

What Obama Could Learn About Negotiating With Iran From My $2,000 Used Car

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Eyal Winter is the author of Feeling Smart: Why Our Emotions are More Rational Than We Think.

Countries led by religious conviction always have an advantage when it comes to bargaining with their liberal, democratic counterparts

Years ago, less than a week before going on leave from Washington University, I put my car on the market. I had bought the car used for $5,000 a year earlier, but to sell fast I knew I had to be flexible. My asking price was $4,000, but the first serious buyer who got in touch smelled a bargain — he immediately offered $1,000 less than the asking price. Then, in spite of living just a couple of blocks away, he took two days to come and look at the car. “So, when are you leaving?” he asked. “Two days,” I said, giving in to the instinct to tell the truth. The remaining negotiations were short. He got the car for a mere $2,000. The reason that I got such a bad price for my car was that I had been perfectly rational: I knew I couldn’t wait long (and admitted as much), and I was unwilling to take a risk.

Volumes of research in game theory, behavioral economics, and psychology show that these two attributes are deadly when it comes to success in bargaining: honesty and rationality. These findings are relevant to all types of negotiations — from haggling in a bazaar to multi-billion dollar deals between corporations to political negotiations between states. What follows from these findings is that countries and organizations that are led by a religious conviction always have an advantage when it comes to bargaining with their liberal, democratic counterparts. This insight is hardly ever considered in regard to the US–Iran negotiations. But it should be.

Take these two findings:

  1. While common wisdom hails and praises rationality in negotiations, it is usually the more emotional party who ends up on top. Maya Tamir from Boston College brought pairs of subjects to the lab to negotiate the allocation of sums of money between them. Some of these subjects were manipulated to enter the lab slightly angrier by being made to listen to irritating music. Those who entered the lab angrier eventually left it with more money.
  2. The readiness to take a risk provides a negotiator with enhanced bargaining power. Nobel laureate Alvin Roth from Stanford University and his associates simulated negotiations in laboratory experiments after testing subjects for their propensity to take risks. Subjects who were more prone to take a risk in the test did substantially better in the negotiations. They insisted on getting a larger share of the pie and made the other party cave in.

The bargaining power of a negotiator is directly determined by his ability to make credible commitments. Nobel laureate Thomas Schelling discusses this important insight extensively in his famous book “The Strategy of Conflict.” Negotiations are a tricky game of threats and concessions. The more credible your threats are, the fewer concessions you will need to make. A credible commitment to a certain red line below which no further concessions are possible is, in a nutshell, the essence of bargaining power.

When God is on your side, or when you believe that He is, credible commitments are easy to make. Here is the brief manual that the religiously extreme negotiator typically follows: (1) If your demands aren’t met, be patient. Don’t rush to agree to anything. You don’t need to report to anyone but God. Let your counterpart sweat. (2) You don’t have to worry about taking a risk. No one you care about will blame you for relying on God to make the coin fall on the right side. (3) Allow yourself to be emotional while referring to your religious conviction. Words such as “honor,” “pride,” “insult,” and “humiliation” should rule the day.

Emotions tend to work well for negotiators because they defy rationality. An emotional negotiator is a moderate version of the insane hijacker: Any threat he makes should be taken seriously. This is precisely what led the leader of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, to publicly announce last summer during ceasefire negotiations with Israel: “We are a people that love death for the sake of Allah as much as our enemies love life.” A research paper by Marwan Sinacuer from Stanford University and Larissa Tiedens from INSEAD, entitled “Get Mad and Get More than Even,” beautifully documents this effect with laboratory experiments.

Though it might turn out to be too late for the current negotiations with Iran, Western negotiators should know that they can also draw red lines and commit to them. It requires them to be determined and to give liberal moral sentiments a weight similar to that of religion. It requires that liberal negotiators explain to their counterparts that execution of women for infidelity or persecution of ethnic minorities and homosexuals drives us liberals mad just as much as Charlie Hebdo‘s caricatures drive Muslim extremists mad. It requires that their counterparts understand that our “irrational” concern about their nuclear capability is just as serious as their irrational tendency to feel humiliated.

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 Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: March 25

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. ISIS can be beaten. But we need to think and plan now for what happens after that.

By Robert Joustra in the Globe and Mail

2. Facebook is still experimenting on you. It’s time to bring back informed consent.

By Ilka H. Gleibs in Psychology@LSE

3. What happens when we pay elected officials better? They start caring about voters more than special interests.

By Ian Chipman at Stanford Graduate School of Business

4. How can we spur innovation in U.S. advanced industries? Think beyond our borders.

By Kenan Fikri and Devashree Saha at the Brookings Institution

5. To cheaply reduce carbon in the atmosphere, we can reforest the planet — using data and drones.

By Emiko Jozuka in Wired.co.uk

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

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

TIME psychology

Research Shows These Four Things Will Make You a Peak Performer

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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

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

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

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

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

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

2) Don’t be passive.

Testing yourself is far better than just reviewing.

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

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

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

3) Practice is not just repetition.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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TIME psychology

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

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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

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

Across the board multitasking lowers productivity:

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

Neither gender is better at it:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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TIME psychology

The Two Techniques You Can Learn From Naturally Happy People

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Naturally happy people unconsciously engage in:

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

Via Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth:

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

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

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

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

Via Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth:

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

Or only compare yourself to those worse off than you:

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

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

Via Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth:

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

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

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

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

TIME psychology

The 5 Daily Rituals That Will Make You Happy

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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

17%.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay, but what do we actually need to do?

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

 

1) Take Recess

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Via Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much:

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

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

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

 

2) Switch Autopilot On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From my interview with Shawn:

If you can make the positive habit three to 20 seconds easier to start, you’re likelihood of doing it rises dramatically. And you can do the same thing by flipping it for negative habits. Watching too much television? Merely take out the batteries of the remote control creating a 20 second delay and it dramatically decreases the amount of television people will watch.

(For more on how to build good habits, click here.)

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

 

3) Unshackle Yourself

Do less.

Really, you can. Christine puts it pretty simply:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

4) Cultivate Relationships

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

5) Tolerate Some Discomfort

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sum Up

Here’s Christine’s five step formula:

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

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

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

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

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Seneca on Wisdom

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Shane Parrish writes Farnam Street

"It sets a watch over our words and deeds, and makes us invincible by either good or evil fortune"

In Seneca’s Morals: Of a Happy Life, Benefits, Anger, and Clemency, the famous stoic philosopher Seneca, who brought us combinatorial creativity, illuminates real wisdom.

Wisdom is a right understanding, a faculty of discerning good from evil, what is to be chosen and what rejected; a judgment grounded upon the value of things, and not the common opinion of them. It sets a watch over our words and deeds, and makes us invincible by either good or evil fortune. It has for its object things past and things to come, things transitory and things eternal. It examines all the circumstances of time, and the nature and operation of the mind. It stands to philosophy as avarice to money — the one desires and the other is desired; the one is the effect and the reward of the other. To be wise is the use of wisdom, as seeing is the use of eyes, and speaking of the tongue. He that is perfectly wise is perfectly happy; nay, the very beginning of wisdom makes life easy to us. It is not enough to know this; we must print it in our minds by daily meditation, and so bring a good will to a good habit.

Philosophy, after all, is a guide to living your life.

We must practise what we preach, for philosophy is not a subject for popular ostentation, nor does it rest in words, but in deeds. It is not an entertainment to be taken up for delight, or to give a taste to our leisure, but it should fashion the mind, govern our actions, and tell us what we are to do and what avoid. It sits at the helm and guides us through all hazards; nay, we cannot be safe without it, for every hour gives us occasion to use it. It informs us in all the duties of life : piety to our parents, faith to our friends, charity to the poor, judgment in counsel; it gives us peace by fearing nothing, and riches by coveting nothing.

A wise man, will always be happy …

… for he subjects all things to himself, submits himself to reason, and governs his actions by counsel, not by passion. He is not moved with the utmost violences of fortune, nor with the extremities of fire and sword; whereas a fool is afraid of his own shadow, and surprised at ill accidents, as if they were all levelled at him. He does nothing unwillingly, for whatever he finds necessary, he makes it his choice. He propounds’ to himself the certain scope and end of human life: he follows that which conduces to it, and avoids that which hinders it. He is content with his lot, whatever it be, without wishing for what he has not, though of the two, he had rather abound than want.

The business of his life, like that of nature, is performed without tumult or noise: he neither fears danger nor provokes it; but from caution, not from cowardice; for captivity, wounds, and chains he looks upon as unreal terrors. He undertakes to do well that which he does. Arts are but the servants whom wisdom commands. He is cautious in doubtful cases, in prosperity temperate, and resolute in adversity; still making the best of every condition, and improving all occasions to make them serviceable to his fate.

Some accidents there are which, I confess, may affect him, but they cannot overthrow him; such as bodily pains, loss of children and friends, or the ruin and desolation of his country. One must be made of stone or iron not to be sensible of these calamities; and besides, it were no virtue to bear them if one did not feel them.

There are three degrees of proficiency in the school of wisdom:

The first are those that come within the sight of it, but not up to it: they have learned what they ought to do, but they have not put their knowledge into practice; they are past the hazard of a relapse, but they are still in the clutches of disease; by which I mean an ill habit, that makes them over-eager upon things which are either not much to be desired, or not at all. A second sort are those that have conquered their appetite for a season, but are yet in fear of falling back. A third sort are those that are clear of many vices, but not of all. They are not covetous, but perhaps they are passionate; firm enough in some cases, but weak in others; perhaps despise death, and yet shrink at pain. There are diversities in wise men, but no inequalities; — one is more affable, another more ready, a third, a better speaker; but the felicity of them all is equal.

Read more: Seneca’s Morals: Of a Happy Life, Benefits, Anger, and Clemency which is available online for free.

This piece originally appeared on Farnam Street.

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Why Modern Civilization Is a Vicious Circle

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Shane Parrish writes Farnam Street

Our society has its priorities messed up

“When we compare human with animal desire,” writes philosopher Alan Watts in The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety, “we find many extraordinary differences.” Watts offers an interesting perspective on an age-old argument — that our society has its priorities messed up, that we need to live in the moment.

The animal tends to eat with its stomach, and the man with his brain. When the animal’s stomach is full, he stops eating, but the man is never sure when to stop. When he has eaten as much as his belly can take, he still feels empty, he still feels an urge for further gratification. This is largely due to anxiety, to the knowledge that a constant supply of food is uncertain. Therefore eat as much as you can while you can. It is due, also, to the knowledge that, in an insecure world pleasure is uncertain. Therefore the immediate pleasure of eating must be exploited to the full, even though it does violence to the digestion.

Human desire tends to be insatiable. We are so anxious for pleasure that we can never get enough of it. We stimulate our sense organs until they become insensitive, so that if pleasure is to continue they must have stronger and stronger stimulants. In self-defence the body gets ill from the strain, but the body wants to go on and on. The brain is in pursuit of happiness, and because the brain is much more concerned about the future than the present it conceives happiness as the guarantee of an indefinitely long future of pleasures. Yet the brain also knows that it does not have an indefinitely long future, so that, to be happy, it must try to crowd all of the pleasures of paradise and eternity into the span of a few years.

This is why modern civilization is in almost every respect a vicious circle.

The root of this frustration is that we live for the future. Yet the future is never, as we move forward it becomes the present.

To pursue (the future) is to pursue a constantly retreating phantom, and the faster you chase it, the faster it runs ahead. This is why all affairs of civilization are rushed, why hardly anyone enjoys what he has, and is forever seeking more and more. Happiness, then, will consist, not of solid and substantial realities, but of such abstract and superficial things as promises, hopes, and assurances.

Thus the “brainy” economy designed to produce this happiness is a fantastic vicious circle which must either manufacture more and more pleasures or collapse-providing a constant titillation of the ears, eyes, and nerve ends with incessant streams of almost inescapable noise and visual distractions.

Watts argues that one of the ills of modern society is that we believe sleep to be a waste of time, that life is short. Interestingly, we’d rather watch TV and chase our fantasies than rest.

Animals spend much of their time dozing and idling pleasantly, but, because life is short, human beings must cram into the years the highest possible amount of consciousness, alertness, and chronic insomnia so as to be sure not to miss the last fragment of startling pleasure.

Our quest for never-ending stimulation comes with a high cost. We become “incapable of real pleasure, insensitive to the most acute and subtle joys of life.” The more common the pleasure the less it interests us. We’d rather watch TV.

Watts tears into our wants and makes us question our desires.

Generally speaking, the civilized man does not know what he wants. He works for success, fame, a happy marriage, fun, to help other people, or to become a “real person.” But these are not real wants because they are not actual things. They are the by-products, the flavours and atmospheres of real things-shadows which have no existence apart from some substance. Money is the perfect symbol of all such desires, being a mere symbol of real wealth, and to make it one’s goal is the most blatant example of confusing measurements with reality.

Based on this we cannot, says Watts, call ourselves materialistic. We are in love with not things, but “measures, not solids but surfaces.”

The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety is one of those books that makes you question not only yourself but the fabric of civilization.

This piece originally appeared on Farnam Street.

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