TIME psychology

7 Research-Based Ways to Save Time

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Don't waste time filing emails away Michael Kelley—Getty Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Don't be fast, be smooth

1) Use The 20 Second Rule

Make things you shouldn’t do take 20 seconds longer to accomplish (moving the ever-buzzing phone across the room) and the things you should do 20 seconds easier.

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

I like to refer to this as the 20-Second Rule, because lowering the barrier to change by just 20 seconds was all it took to help me form a new life habit. In truth, it often takes more than 20 seconds to make a difference—and sometimes it can take much less—but the strategy itself is universally applicable: Lower the activation energy for habits you want to adopt, and raise it for habits you want to avoid. The more we can lower or even eliminate the activation energy for our desired actions, the more we enhance our ability to jump-start positive change.

2) Have A Solid Daily Ritual

Via 18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done:

STEP 1 (5 Minutes): Your Morning Minutes. This is your opportunity to plan ahead. Before turning on your computer, sit down with the to-do list you created in chapter 22, “Bird by Bird,” and decide what will make this day highly successful…

STEP 2 (1 Minute Every Hour): Refocus. …Set your watch, phone, or computer to ring every hour and start the work that’s listed on your calendar. When you hear the beep, take a deep breath and ask yourself if you spent your last hour productively. Then look at your calendar and deliberately recommit to how you are going to use the next hour. Manage your day hour by hour. Don’t let the hours manage you.

STEP 3 (5 Minutes): Your Evening Minutes. At the end of your day, shut off your computer and review how the day went, asking yourself the three sets of questions listed in chapter 27, “It’s Amazing What You Find When You Look.” Questions like: How did the day go? What did I learn about myself? Is there anyone I need to update? Shoot off a couple of emails or calls to make sure you’ve communicated with the people you need to contact.

3) Don’t Be Fast, Be Smooth

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

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

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

4) Know The Best Times To Do Things

Know the optimal time to do things so you don’t waste time. Some notable highlights:

  • Best time to send emails you want read: 6AM.
  • Best time for thinking: Late morning.
  • Creative thinking: Creativity can be improved when we’re tired so try brainstorming when daytime sleepiness peaks at around 2PM.
  • Best day of the week to eat dinner out: Tuesday (freshest food, no crowds)
  • Best day to fly: Saturday (fewer flights means fewer delays, shorter lines, less stress)

Full list is here.

5) Hold Meetings Standing Up

Sick of time-wasting meetings? Bob Sutton’s great book Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best… and Learn from the Worst points to a great trick. Hold your meetings standing up:

Sit-down meetings were 34% longer than stand-up meetings, but they produced no better decisions than stand-up meetings. Significant differences were also obtained for satisfaction with the meeting and task information use during the meeting but not for synergy or commitment to the group’s decision.

6) Get More Sleep

Cheating yourself on sleep reduces willpower and it’s this same store of self-control that helps us resist all those bad behaviors like aimless web-surfing:

Researchers have previously argued that sleep is a means of recharging our regulatory resources, and these studies confirm that less sleep does indeed make us prey to counterproductive activities like cyberloafing.

7) Stop Sorting Email

Sorting your email into folders? Don’t bother: “…researchers discovered that those who did no email organizing at all found them faster than those who filed them in folders.

If you’re the type to meticulously file your emails in various folders in your client, stop, says a new study from IBM Research. By analyzing 345 users’ 85,000 episodes of digging through old emails in search of the one they needed, researchers discovered that those who did no email organizing at all found them faster than those who filed them in folders.

By using search, the non-organizers were able to find the email they needed just as easily as filers. They also didn’t have to spend any time filing email in folders, putting them ahead overall.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME drinking

Science Explains Why Men Get Wasted Together

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Marcus Richardson—Getty Images/Flickr Select

A new study may shed light on why men seem to like getting drunk together more than women do

Male bonding over booze is a ritual as old as booze but modern science may have finally shed some light on why getting sloshed with your mates can seem like a particularly male pursuit.

Smiles are contagious in a group of men sitting around drinking alcohol, according to a study announced Tuesday in the journal Clinical Psychological Science. This suggests that booze serves as a social lubricant for men, making them more sensitive to social behaviors, like smiling, and freeing them to connect with one another in a way that a soda can’t.

Lest that strike you as laughably obvious, consider this: the effect does not hold if there are any women in the group, according to the study authors.

Researchers divided 720 “healthy social drinkers” — half men, half women, all ages 21 to 28 — into three groups. Each group received either an alcoholic drink (vodka cranberry, regrettably for any lab rats with refined taste, but so it goes), a placebo or a non-alcoholic drink. They found that, among men, smiles — and associated increases in positive mood and social bonding — tend to catch on, leaping from face to face, as it were, but only in exclusively male groups.

“Many men report that the majority of their social support and social bonding time occurs within the context of alcohol consumption,” said lead researcher Catharine Fairbairn. “We wanted to explore the possibility that social alcohol consumption was more rewarding to men than to women — the idea that alcohol might actually ‘lubricate’ social interaction to a greater extent among men.”

More importantly — get ready to never hear the end of this one, boyfriends and husbands of the world — researchers note that genuine smiles are perfectly contagious among sober women, just not sober men. A cold one merely evens the score for men, allowing them to catch smiles from each other, so long as there are no women present.

The authors don’t posit a guess as to why the presence of a woman keeps drunk men from catching smiles from one another, except to say that booze seems to disrupt “processes that would normally prevent them from responding to another person’s smile.”

Nice work, dudes. There’s nothing a girl likes more than an unsmiling humorless dolt.

TIME health

How to Get Over Your Fear of the Gym

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Getty Images

This article originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

Gym + Intimidation = Gymtimidation, and I’ve had a bad case of it for years. As a big girl, gym culture can be intimidating for a variety of reasons. I know I need to lift weights and build strength, but that testosterone-filled section of the gym doesn’t always feel fat-girl friendly, especially when I’m not exactly sure what I’m doing.

But, it’s not just the free-weight room that gives me anxiety. I’m a strong swimmer, but when I head to my gym’s pool, I’ve had lifeguards ask if I’m looking for the slow lane — before I even get in the water. I’ve noticed that the women who look fit are offered free personal-training sessions, while instructors size me up and simply dismiss me because I’m bigger.

I’m on a plus-size fitness journey, though, which means I need to get comfortable at the gym. In order for me to do this right, I need to work out often and try new things. If I only stick to the exercise classes and workouts I’ve always done, my body’s going to get used to those exercises, essentially making them less effective. And, I intend to meet my fitness goals — not shy away from them.

(MORE: Why Body Confidence is Complicated, No Matter Your Size)

Because of my tendency to get nervous at the gym (and practically run out before I start sweating), there have been many times when I’ve had to give myself a pep talk: “CeCe, get over it!” Lately, when I head to the gym, I have to take a quick minute to remind myself that it’s ok to ask for help. That I must get over my fear of the guys in the weight room. I’m also working on getting more comfortable with getting undressed in the main locker-room area, which is a heck of a lot easier than doing it behind the doors of a cramped stall.

Getting over my gymtimidation is an ongoing process. Every time I think I’ve shed my fears and anxieties, there’s something new I have to conquer: a new machine, a new instructor, or even my desire to try new classes, like Spinning.

When I first braved a Spinning class, I didn’t know anyone in it, so I made sure to arrive 30 seconds before class started to stay as anonymous as possible. I jumped on a bike in the back corner of the room and watched the regulars exchange hugs and kisses before the lights dimmed and class began.

(MORE: Why I Dated a Guy Who Hated My Body)

The next 45 minutes were awful. My shoes got stuck in the pedal straps, I kept turning knobs on my bike without knowing what they did, and, perhaps worst of all, my butt really hurt. When the class ended, I ran out of there as fast as I could and didn’t return.

But, the fact that I couldn’t bring myself to attend another Spinning class meant only one thing to me: I was letting gymtimidation rob me of a good workout. So, last week, I got back on that bike. I arrived early this time, chose a bike in the front row, and when the instructor walked in and asked if I was new, I admitted that I was and asked for help. He taught me how the bike worked and how to set up my seat and handles. The class was definitely intense, but every step of the way, the instructor gave me the attention I needed to keep up. He even instructed me to sit back on the seat a bit, because, as he said, my butt was probably hurting. How did he know?

Forty-five minutes later, I walked out of the studio feeling sweaty, motivated, and, above all, proud of myself. I had finally gotten out of my own way and unlocked a new workout option for myself. Who knew what other workouts I’d try next? As I headed to the locker room, the instructor called out after me: “Great job today! I’m glad you mentioned that you were new; most people don’t do that.” I guess I’m not the only one with gymtimidation!

(MORE: Please Stop Calling Yourself a Fat Girl in Front of Me)

On her blog, Plus Size Princess, CeCe Olisa has detailed everything from what it’s like to be the only big black girl in a yoga class (fine, thanks!), to her adventures in plus-size dating in the Big Apple. Now, the New York City transplant is lending her poignant, often-hilarious voice to R29.

TIME psychology

5 Top Secrets to Getting More Done

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Cavan Images—Getty Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Make decisions more automatic, so they require less energy

1) Be a Machine

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

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

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

Build routines and habits so that you’re not deciding, you’re just doing. When you first learn to drive it’s 1000 activities like steering, shifting, checking mirrors, braking — but with practice you turned it into autopilot and it’s no stress at all.

2) Sleep is king

Get enough sleep:

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

3) Checklists are magic

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

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

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

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

4) Beat Procrastination

The two secrets to overcoming procrastination are dashes and precommitment devices.

Dashes are:

“…a dash, which is simply a short burst of focused activity during which you force yourself to do nothing but work on the procrastinated item for a very short period of time—perhaps as little as just one minute.”

Precommitment devices take the form of:

Give your friend $100. If you get the task done by 5PM, you get your $100 back. If it doesn’t, you lose the $100.

These scale powerfully and work well.

5) Mood Matters

Happiness increases productivity and makes you more successful.

As Shawn Achor describes in his book The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work:

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

And don’t be confident — be overconfident. Overconfidence increases productivity:

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

Thinking about what you need to do, Rocky-montage style, is more powerful than envisioning how good it will feel to be done. Progress motivates you more than anything else.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join more than 100,000 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

What Are the 3 Quick and Easy Ways to Boost Self-confidence?

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Body language plays an important role in confidence Image Source—Getty Images/Image Source

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

“Trash talk” works

As a general rule, you’re better off being moderately overconfident. Overconfidence is performance-enhancing and increases productivity.

But what about when you’re not feeling so high on yourself? What can quickly and easily boost your self-esteem?

1) Look At Your Resume

Reviewing your credentials can remind you how talented you are and induce a “reverse stereotype threat” that boosts confidence.

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

I immediately think about my research credentials, a trick I developed after discovering that getting people to think about aspects of themselves that are conducive to success can actually be enough to propel them to a top performance and prevent choking.

And:

The mere act of realizing you aren’t just defined by one dimension— your SAT score or a speech or a solo— can help curtail worries and negative thoughts. In essence, thinking about yourself from multiple perspectives can help relieve some pressure that you feel.

2) Stand Up Straight

Your mind moves you, but how you move also affects your mind.

Recent research in the area of embodied cognition confirms we can improve how we think and behave by changing how we sit, stand and move.

The military makes soldiers stand up straight for a reason: there’s an implicit connection between posture and power that has been demonstrated time and time again.

Want to increase confidence? Make yourself tougher? Write a better self-evaluation? Impress others? Stand up straight.

3) Talk To Yourself

Might seem crazy but it works.

Talking to yourself out loud can make you smarter, improve your memory, help you focus and even increase athletic performance.

What should you say to increase confidence? Be positive. And when you have doubts about your ability, you should doubt your doubts.

Self-talk is one of the skills that helped Navy SEAL candidates pass their grueling “Hell Week.”

And talking to yourself isn’t the only type of talking that can boost confidence. Seeing your opponent as inferior improves your own performance as well. So, yes, “Trash talk” works.

Are You Confident About Confidence?

Is confidence really that vital?

People prefer others who are prideful. Self-esteem can be sexy.

Some research shows people prefer confidence to actual expertise. Confidence can be enough to get you made leader of a group — even if you don’t know what you’re talking about:

Via The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intuitions Deceive Us:

So in this experiment, group leadership was determined largely by confidence. People with dominant personalities tend to exhibit greater self-confidence, and due to the illusion of confidence, others tend to trust and follow people who speak with confidence. If you offer your opinion early and often, people will take your confidence as an indicator of ability, even if you are actually no better than your peers.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Join more than 100,000 readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

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TIME Pets

Yes, Dogs Can Get Jealous Too

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Dog Zwergpinscher Simone Ciaralli—Getty Images/Flickr RF

A new study offers scientific backing to a long-reported anecdotal phenomenon. But canine envy is a little different from the human kind.

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

We’ve long treated our dogs like humans, dressing them in sweaters, letting them sleep in our beds—even painting their nails. So it makes sense that we’re eager to attribute their canine behavior to human emotions, crediting a wagging tail to joy or lowered eyes to shame. Yet while research has shown dogs feel love and affection, more complicated emotions like embarrassment and guiltdon’t seem to be in their repertoire.

(MORE: 8 Scientifically-Backed Ways to Feel Happier Right Now)

But here’s one that might be: Scientists at UC San Diego have found evidence suggesting that dogs could actually be capable of jealousy.

Although Charles Darwin wrote about dogs’ jealousy in 1871 and dog owners have been quick to offer anecdotal evidence ever since, there’s never been scientific proof of the phenomenon.

This experiment involved 36 dogs and their owners. The owners petted an animated toy dog while their real dog was in the room. They also petted and played with a jack-o-lantern, and sat reading a noise-making children’s book. Observers wrote down and cataloged the dogs’ reactions to each of these three situations, which ranged from biting, barking, and pushing at either the toy or the owner.

(MORE: 40 Classic Children’s Books)

The dogs were more likely to show signs of aggression, attention-seeking behavior, and a heightened interest in their owners when the fake dog was the object of affection. Most of the dogs clearly thought the stuffed dog was real: 86 percent inspected and sniffed its butt at some point during the experiment.

“We can’t really speak to the dogs’ subjective experiences, of course,” study author and psychology professor Christine Harris said in a release. “But it looks as though they were motivated to protect an important social relationship.”

So is this behavior really the green-eyed monster as we know it? Not quite. Researchers called the envious emotion that dogs experience a “primordial” type of jealousy rather than the complicated thoughts that torment adult humans.

Infants show this instinctive kind of jealousy, too, when their mothers shower affection on another baby. The scientists behind the study say this could be evidence that jealousy is an innate emotion, like fear or anger, that humans share in common with other social creatures.

So if it seems like Fido is giving you the cold paw after you’ve shown some love to another dog, it might not be your imagination.

(MORE: How Not to Apologize)

TIME psychology

Why Aren’t You Doing What Really Makes You Happy?

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Thomas Barwick—Getty Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Mastering skills is stressful in the short term and happiness-boosting in the long term

The path to happiness and the path to being an expert overlap.

Here’s the problem though: research shows that you don’t usually do what really brings you joy or makes you an expert — you do what is 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.

Sitting on the couch watching TV does not make you happy:

“…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.”

You are happier when you are busy and often have more fun at work than at home.

How is that possible? You spend a lot more time in high-challenge, high-skill situations that encourage flow states during work hours. You’re more likely to feel apathy during leisure time at home.

Via Sonja Lyubomirsky’s The How of Happiness:

the study found that while at work (relative to home/leisure), these individuals spent a great deal more time in high-challenge, high-skill situations (that is, those situations that foster flow) and less time in low-skill, low-challenge situations. Indeed, they were inclined to experience a sense of efficacy and self-confidence during work hours but to experience apathy at home. However, when probed about what they’d rather be doing, these participants uniformly stated that they’d rather be doing something else when working and that they preferred to continue what they were doing when at leisure.

Thinking and working can beat sad feelings. But you avoid those because they take effort.

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

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

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

Problem is, a wandering mind is not a happy mind:

“Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people’s happiness,” Killingsworth says. “In fact, how often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged.” …subjects’ mind-wandering was generally the cause, not the consequence, of their unhappiness.

Your default is to do what is easy, but you’re happier when challenged. You need to fight your instincts.

What should you be doing?

Things you’re good at.

Signature strengths” are the things you are uniquely talented at and using them brings you joy. 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.

Signature strengths are the secret to experiencing more “flow” at work and in life. Exercising them is why starving artists are happier with their jobs.

But isn’t this a lot of hard work?

Mastering skills is stressful in the short term and happiness-boosting in the long term. Ambitious goals make you happier.

But maybe you’re afraid of failure. This is why you do what is easy and why your instinct is to play it safe. Fear of failure is one of the most powerful feelings.

Via Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy:

In a surprising 2008 study, researchers at the University of Bath, UK, found that the fear of failure drives consumers far more than the promise of success; the latter oddly tends to paralyze us, while the former spurs us on (and pries open our wallets). In fact, as the study found, the most powerful persuader of all was giving consumers a glimpse of some future “feared self.”

Thinking about what happens to you in terms of your self-esteem will crush you — look at life as growing and learning:

“A key to alleviating depression is fostering a shift from self-worth goals to learning goals and from the beliefs underlying self-worth goals to the opposite beliefs.”

When challenged, focus on “getting better” — not doing well or looking good. Get-better goals increase motivation, make tasks more interesting and replenish energy.

Via Nine Things Successful People Do Differently:

Get-better goals, on the other hand, are practically bulletproof. When we think about what we are doing in terms of learning and mastering, accepting that we may make some mistakes along the way, we stay motivated despite the setbacks that might occur…

But what is the end goal you should focus on? Is there an easy way to think about what you should be heading toward?

Yes. Think about the best possible version of yourself and move toward that.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME psychology

What 5 Things Can Make Sure You Never Stop Growing and Learning?

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Mike Chick—Getty Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Probably the most important thing in your environment is supportive friends

1) Keep Trying New Things

Having lots of hobbies is one of the secrets of the most creative people.

Via Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation:

Legendary innovators like Franklin, Snow, and Darwin all possess some common intellectual qualities— a certain quickness of mind, unbounded curiosity— but they also share one other defining attribute. They have a lot of hobbies…

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

2) Don’t Fear Failure

In Eric Ries’ acclaimed bestseller The Lean Startup he makes it clear that little bets, or “experiments”, are critical to moving a business forward in a safe fashion:

…if you cannot fail, you cannot learn.

Getting it wrong helps you get it right. Making mistakes is vital to improvement.

Via Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation:

…Jevons is making a more subtle case for the role of error in innovation, because error is not simply a phase you have to suffer through on the way to genius. Error often creates a path that leads you out of your comfortable assumptions. De Forest was wrong about the utility of gas as a detector, but he kept probing at the edges of that error, until he hit upon something that was genuinely useful. Being right keeps you in place. Being wrong forces you to explore.

Taking tests increases performance – even when you fail the tests. Deliberately making mistakes during training led to better learning than being taught to prevent errors.

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

…the group encouraged to make errors not only exhibited greater feelings of self-efficacy, but because they had learned to figure their own way out of mistakes, they were also far faster and more accurate in how they used the software later on.

3) A Supportive Environment

The most effective way to change your behavior over the long term is to manipulate your environment. Change your surroundings to make what you should do easy and what you shouldn’t do hard.

And I’m not just talking about moving furniture around. Probably the most important thing in your environment is supportive friends.

Via The Longevity Project:

The groups you associate with often determine the type of person you become. For people who want improved health, association with other healthy people is usually the strongest and most direct path of change.

And when it comes to learning there’s nothing more valuable than a good mentor. How do you pick the right one?

Via Daniel Coyle’s excellent book The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills:

1) Avoid Someone Who Reminds You of a Courteous Waiter

2) Seek Someone Who Scares You a Little

3) Seek Someone Who Gives Short, Clear Directions

4) Seek Someone Who Loves Teaching Fundamentals

5) Other Things Being Equal, Pick the Older Person

4) Focus on the Long Term

Merely deciding you’re committed for the long-term vs the short-term dramatically increases progress and improvement.

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

The differences were staggering. With the same amount of practice, the long-term-commitment group outperformed the short-term-commitment group by 400 percent.

5) Make It Fun

There are 1000 ways to improve but the truth is, you’re probably not going to follow through with anything too complicated, difficult or outside your normal routine.

Understand this, accept it and work with it. Fit new things in to your current habits and make them enjoyable. Playing and learning are not opposites. In fact, playing is the most natural way to learn.

Via Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul:

Play creates new neural connections and tests them. It creates an arena for social interaction and learning. It creates a low-risk format for finding and developing innate skills and talents.

In fact, there’s some anecdotal research that shows we may need play.

Via Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul:

But when play is denied over the long term, our mood darkens. We lose our sense of optimism and we become anhedonic, or incapable of feeling sustained pleasure.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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What Can Studying People From Birth to Death Teach You About Living the Good Life?

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David Jakle—Image Source/Getty Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

The good do not die young, as the old saying goes. In fact, they live longer

One of the most interesting books I read this year was The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study. They studied over 1000 people for the duration of their lives – from childhood until old age — giving them regular physical and psychological tests and tracking the results.

What they discovered confirmed some things we all believe about what it takes to live a good, long life — and more interestingly they found out where our common beliefs are wrong.

One of the things that I found most fascinating was the link between what it takes to live a long life and what it takes to have a happy life.

Via The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study:

…many (but not all) of the recommendations for happiness are nearly identical to recommendations for maintaining health.

For example, those trying to improve their happiness are advised to do the following things:

• Watch less TV

• Improve social relations— spend time with friends

• Increase levels of physical activity— go for a long walk

• Help others and express gratitude to those who have helped you

• Take on new challenges to remain fresh and in-the-moment

If there was one main takeaway from the study and the book, it was how important relationships are:

…connecting with and helping others is more important than obsessing over a rigorous exercise program.

And it wasn’t getting help from others that conferred a long life. It was giving help.

Via The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study:

We figured that if a Terman participant sincerely felt that he or she had friends and relatives to count on when having a hard time then that person would be healthier. Those who felt very loved and cared for, we predicted, would live the longest. Surprise: our prediction was wrong… Beyond social network size, the clearest benefit of social relationships came from helping others. Those who helped their friends and neighbors, advising and caring for others, tended to live to old age.

The good do not die young, as the old saying goes. In fact, they live longer.

Via The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study:

…there’s no real evidence that the good die young. In fact, although there are always some exceptions (which are therefore notable), generally speaking, it’s the good ones who can actually help shape their fate; the bad die early, and the good do great.

Want to make your life better? This study shows it’s your relationships that can determine whether or not you succeed.

Via The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study:

The groups you associate with often determine the type of person you become. For people who want improved health, association with other healthy people is usually the strongest and most direct path of change.

Another more recent study confirmed this.

Via Charles Duhigg’s excellent book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business:

In a 1994 Harvard study that examined people who had radically changed their lives, for instance, researchers found that some people had remade their habits after a personal tragedy, such as a divorce or a life-threatening illness. Others changed after they saw a friend go through something awful…

Just as frequently, however, there was no tragedy that preceded people’s transformations. Rather, they changed because they were embedded in social groups that made change easier… When people join groups where change seems possible, the potential for that change to occur becomes more real.

A long, happy life doesn’t come from a perfect diet or exercise regimen. You’ll find it in those you surround yourself with.

My compilation on what it takes to live a long life is here.

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.

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What 7 Things Can Geniuses Teach Us About Being More Creative?

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Steve Prezant—Image Source/Getty Images

Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Keep lots of ideas banging around in your head

Work hard

Hard work (often more than 10,000 hours worth) is vital.

Via Creating Minds: An Anatomy of Creativity Seen Through the Lives of Freud, Einstein, Picasso, Stravinsky, Eliot, Graham, and Ghandi:

…the lessons that the rest of us can learn from individuals who are highly creative. I culled three: (1) Creative individuals spend a considerable amount of time reflecting on what they are trying to accomplish, whether or not they are achieving success (and, if not, what they might do differently).

This type of Deliberate Practice and dedication is what it takes to become an expert. Formal education isn’t as important: most creative geniuses had the equivalent of a college dropout level of schooling.

Be curious and driven

For his book Creativity, noted professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi did interviews with 91 groundbreaking individuals across a number of disciplines, including 14 Nobel Prize winners. In 50 Psychology Classics Tom Butler-Bowdon summed up many of Csikszentmihalyi’s findings including this one:

Successful creative people tend to have two things in abundance, curiosity and drive. They are absolutely fascinated by their subject, and while others may be more brilliant, their sheer desire for accomplishment is the decisive factor.

Live in a big city

There’s a reason you’re more likely to find artists in cities. Cities are more creative and their inhabitants are too.

Via Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation:

A city that was ten times larger than its neighbor wasn’t ten times more innovative; it was seventeen times more innovative. A metropolis fifty times bigger than a town was 130 times more innovative… the average resident of a metropolis with a population of five million people was almost three times more creative than the average resident of a town of a hundred thousand.

Balance creative teams

The most creative teams are a mix of old friends and new blood.

Via Imagine: How Creativity Works:

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

Keep lots of ideas banging around in your head

Having multiple hobbies allows your brain to subconsciously compare and contrast problems and solutions, forming new connections at the margins of each.

Via Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation:

Legendary innovators like Franklin, Snow, and Darwin all possess some common intellectual qualities— a certain quickness of mind, unbounded curiosity— but they also share one other defining attribute. They have a lot of hobbies… That cognitive overlap is what makes this mode so innovative. The current project can exapt ideas from the projects at the margins, make new connections.

Similarly, reading multiple books at the same time vs serially lets your brain juxtapose new ideas and develop new connections.

Via Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation:

By compressing their intake into a matter of days, they give new ideas additional opportunities to network among themselves, for the simple reason that it’s easier to remember something that you read yesterday than it is to remember something you read six months ago.

Work on projects because of passion, not money

This is what produces the best art and, eventually, the most success.

Via Daniel Pink’s very interesting book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us:

“Those artists who pursued their painting and sculpture more for the pleasure of the activity itself than for extrinsic rewards have produced art that has been socially recognized as superior,” the study said. “It is those who are least motivated to pursue extrinsic rewards who eventually receive them.”

Everything you need to know to be more creative is here.

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.

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