TIME Careers & Workplace

5 Things Successful Leaders Do in a Crisis

Chief Executive Officer Of Yahoo! Inc. Marissa Mayer Joins Key Speakers At Cannes Lions International Festival Of Creativity
Marissa Mayer, chief executive officer of Yahoo! Inc., gestures as she speaks at the Cannes Lions International Festival Of Creativity in Cannes, France, on Tuesday, June 17, 2014. Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Here are the traits you'll need to remain a successful leader during challenging times

This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

By Murray Newlands

A lot of people believe that the true leadership capacity of a person is tested during times of crisis. Performance under stress can show how quick witted or level headed a person is, or on the contrary, it can show where their weaknesses lie. As a business owner or as an entrepreneur, it’s important that you always keep your wits about you and stay cool in difficult situations. These are the five things that every successful leader does in times of crisis, and traits to you should always keep in mind when running a business.

Successful Leaders Don’t Let Their Emotions Get In The Way

The most important thing to do during a crisis is to maintain an example for your employees by keeping cool, calm, and collected, which will allow you to think about the curveballs being thrown your way.

Successful Leaders Are Brave

Many people respond to a crisis by being overwhelmed by stress, which turns to fear. It is easy to be afraid when you have a crisis situation in your business, as it is your entire livelihood on the line, but if you remain brave, then your employees will be too, and together a strong team will be able to turn anything around.

Successful Leaders Are Accountable For Their Victories And Their Losses

Good leaders own up to when they make mistakes. After all, we are all human, and someone who is too proud to admit their own mistake is not likely to be someone that others will follow. Taking responsibility for any actions that you have taken that could have contributed to the crisis will be a good way to prompt your employees into working on the situation with you wholeheartedly, instead of just because they have to.

Successful Leaders Don’t Take Failures Personally

By separating your personal feelings from the matter at hand, you are better able to focus on what is happening and take care of it in a manner that is going to be most successful for you, your employees, and the rest of your business. Crises can also bring out power dynamics in the workplace, and a successful leader does not let those office politics get in the way of taking care of business!

Successful Leaders Possess Positive Attitudes From Start To Finish

The end of the crisis is not just when you pull yourself out of the muck that it had put you in. The end of the crisis is when the team has started to recover and is moving on, which might take a bit. Keeping a positive attitude on your face and pushing the excellence of your team will keep morale high, which will put things right back on track in no time at all, and will also earn you the trust and respect of your employees.

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TIME Careers & Workplace

Top 10 Qualities of Extremely Successful People

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Martin Barraud—Getty Images/OJO Images RF

This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

By Lolly Daskal

If you really want to bring success into your life, you should cultivate yourself just as you’d cultivate a garden for the best yield.

The attributes here are shared by successful people everywhere, but they didn’t happen by accident or luck. They originate in habits, built a day at a time.

Remember: If you live your life as most people do, you will get what most people get. If you settle, you will get a settled life. If you give yourself your best, every day, your best will give back to you.

Here are the traits that the highly successful cultivate. How many do you have?

1. Drive

You have the determination to work harder than most and make sure things get done. You pride yourself on seeing things getting completed and you can take charge when necessary. You drive yourself with purpose and align yourself with excellence.

2. Self-reliance

You can shoulder responsibilities and be accountable. You make hard decisions and stand by them. To think for yourself is to know yourself.

3. Willpower

You have the strength to see things through–rather than vacillate or procrastinate. When you want it, you make it happen. The world’s greatest achievers are those who have stayed focused on their goals and been consistent in their efforts.

4. Patience

You are willing to be patient, and you understand that, in everything, there are failures and frustrations. To take them personally would be a detriment.

5. Integrity

This should not have to be said, but it’s seriously one of the most important attributes you can cultivate. Honesty is the best policy for everything you do; integrity creates character and defines who you are.

6. Passion

If you want to succeed, if you want to live, it’s not politeness but rather passion that will get you there. Life is 10 percent what you experience and 90 percent how you respond to it.

7. Connection

You can relate with others, which in turns makes everything reach further and deepen in importance.

8. Optimism

You know there is much to achieve and much good in this world, and you know what’s worth fighting for. Optimism is a strategy for making a better future–unless you believe that the future can be better, you’re unlikely to step up and take responsibility for making it so.

9. Self-confidence

You trust yourself. It’s as simple as that. And when you have that unshakeable trust in yourself, you’re already one step closer to succeeding.

10. Communication

You work to communicate and pay attention to the communicators around you. Most important, you hear what isn’t being said. When communication is present, trust and respect follow.

No one plans on being mediocre; mediocrity happens when you don’t plan. If you want to succeed, learn the traits that will make you successful and plan on living them out every day.

Be humble and great. Courageous and determined. Faithful and fearless. That is who you are, and who you have always been.

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TIME Careers & Workplace

5 Ways to Drastically Improve Your Brainstorming

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Compassionate Eye Foundation/Noel Hendrickson—Getty Images

Screen Shot 2014-08-19 at 9.57.31 AM This story was originally published on StartupCollective.

If you expected rain, you would bring an umbrella, right? The same preparedness applies to brainstorming. If you want a hurricane of ideas, you’ll need the right variables. It all begins with a rain dance — you have to inspire others to channel the right energy. As soon as it starts to storm, break out that paper and soak up the flood of ideas. Most importantly, allow the storm cloud to travel beyond the office. That is often when the most powerful lightning will strike.

Brainstorming sessions, when done correctly, can be one of the most powerful tools in your business. Oftentimes, however, a meeting held with the intention of generating groundbreaking ideas turns into an hour of wasted time and you’re left scratching your head over what went wrong. Here at Brandberry, we make it rain cats and dogs, so we thought we’d share what it is that makes our sessions so successful.

  1. Switch things up. The most productive brainstorming sessions occur when there is a vibrant and palpable energy in the room. Creative juices rarely flow on command, especially after a day filled with emails and packed to-do lists. This is why transforming your workplace is vital. Don’t be afraid to mix it up a bit. Go off site for your session, incorporate props, magazines, or other inspiring visuals. And turn off those cell phones. You want your team to be 100 percent present.
  2. Warm up the room. Do you remember when your favorite elementary school teacher would begin the day with a hands-on activity? We may not be kids anymore, but that same concept still applies. Every now and then, we could use an interruption from the routine. Start your sessions off with a warm up exercise. Get creative; have your team compile a list of the five worst things to discover in the trunk your car, or play a wild round of Mad Libs. Make them laugh and get their blood flowing. You’re guaranteed to see those mental gears begin to churn.
  3. Write everything down. Everyone should be taking notes. The faster the ideas begin to flow, the more difficult it can become for each opinion to be heard, so encourage your team to write down any and all thoughts they have for future reference. Make it fun by incorporating unconventional ways to jot down ideas. Go ahead and cover the table with a roll of paper or plaster giant sticky notes on the wall to be inscribed upon with oversize markers. Remember, imagination breeds ingenuity, so don’t discourage doodling. Some of Brandberry’s best ideas have derived from the random scribblings drawn during team meetings.
  4. Set the tone. While it is important to arrange certain parameters in order to ensure productive meetings, avoid making too many rules. This can restrict innovation. Urge participation from all levels of the company. If you limit your contributors to a room full of senior executives, you will likely miss out on a multitude of valuable opinions and diverse perspectives. Set the tone from the beginning to be that of a relaxed, think tank assembly. Don’t make it competitive but rather create a safe space for any and all ideas to be shared. Sometimes the best ideas are the craziest ones.
  5. Allow it to continue. The ideas don’t have to stop flowing the second the meeting is over. Some of the best ideas originate in the shower, before you go to bed, or while driving — basically any time you’re not working. This is why digital platforms that allow the conversation to continue past the original brainstorm session are so valuable.

A version of this post originally appeared on the author’s blog.

TIME Careers & Workplace

5 Ways Successful People Avoid Freaking Out

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Compassionate Eye Foundation/Martin Barraud—Getty Images

This post is in partnership with Inc., which offers useful advice, resources and insights to entrepreneurs and business owners. The article below was originally published at Inc.com.

By Jessica Stillman

If you spend much of your days being frantic in your pursuit of success, you should know that research shows that the vast, vast majority of high performers are actually very calm. Being hectic (if not downright panicked) isn’t a hallmark of success; it’s a sign you’re making it difficult to reach your own peak level of performance.

That’s the message of a recent LinkedIn post from TalentSmart president Travis Bradberry. “TalentSmart has conducted research with more than a million people, and we’ve found that 90 percent of top performers are skilled at managing their emotions in times of stress in order to remain calm and in control,” he writes.

In the post he not only lays out his company’s findings about the emotional state of super achievers as well as a round-up of recent research on stress, but also suggests some tips on how the rest of us can emulate their calm. Here are a few to get you started.

Gratitude

If you’re never satisfied, you’re never calm. A fact high performers have figured out, according to Bradberry. Top-tier talent may be strivers, but they also understand the importance of gratitude for what they already have, he contends.

“Taking time to contemplate what you’re grateful for isn’t merely the ‘right’ thing to do. It also improves your mood, because it reduces the stress hormone cortisol by 23 percent. Research conducted at the University of California, Davis found that people who worked daily to cultivate an attitude of gratitude experienced improved mood, energy, and physical well-being,” Bradberry reports. Another recent study found gratitude can also improve decision making by making us less impatient.

Disconnect

“Given the importance of keeping stress intermittent, it’s easy to see how taking regular time off the grid can help keep your stress under control. When you make yourself available to your work 24/7, you expose yourself to a constant barrage of stressors. Forcing yourself offline and even–gulp!–turning off your phone gives your body a break from a constant source of stress,” Bradberry says.

High performers know that if you’re always on, you’re never at your best and unplug accordingly. Best-selling author Tim Ferriss, for example, recommends leaving your smartphone at home (or otherwise out of reach) at least one day a week.

Sleep

You probably know this one already, so come on, why aren’t you acting on it? “I’ve beaten this one to death over the years and can’t say enough about the importance of sleep to increasing your emotional intelligence and managing your stress levels,” insists Bradberry. Need more convincing? I could link to studies about the horrors of sleep deprivationall daywithoutbreaking a sweat, as well as posts from people you admire urging you to go to bed already!

Self-Talk

How you talk to yourself (in your head) matters. High flyers know this and nip negative self-talk in the bud. Bradberry suggests a way to follow their example and do just that: “The more you ruminate on negative thoughts, the more power you give them. Most of our negative thoughts are just that–thoughts, not facts. When you find yourself believing the negative and pessimistic things, your inner voice says, ‘It’s time to stop and write them down.’ Literally stop what you’re doing and write down what you’re thinking. Once you’ve taken a moment to slow down the negative momentum of your thoughts, you will be more rational and clear-headed in evaluating their veracity.”

Breathe

“The easiest way to make stress intermittent lies in something that you have to do everyday anyway: breathing. The practice of being in the moment with your breathing will begin to train your brain to focus solely on the task at hand and get the stress monkey off your back. When you’re feeling stressed, take a couple of minutes to focus on your breathing,” writes Bradberry.

TIME Time/Real Simple Poll

Why Failure Is the Key to Success for Women

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Results from a new poll suggest that women need to take more risks

When I bodysurfed with my three brothers as a kid, I didn’t hate wiping out as much as I hated my brothers’ laughing at me when I emerged from the wash of a big wave spluttering and gasping for air, swimsuit askew. I had a choice, I could either stop bodysurfing (and thus get left behind) or get used to getting dumped. Eventually I figured out a solution: wipe yourself out so you get used to it and don’t dread it as much.

What I discovered after a few self-imposed poundings was that if you can find the sand, you can find the air; it’s in the exact opposite direction. And the wave is always happy to introduce you to the sand. Usually it was right where my face was planted. So, if you let the surf fling you about a bit, you can eventually get the sand under your feet and emerge from the water with your swimsuit and composure more or less intact. I still got dumped, but I did it with a little more dignity.

What I now realize I was learning to do, was fail.

Women need to fail. They need to fail hard and they need to fail often. It’s the only way they’re going to succeed. It seems cruel to say that. For many women, lack of success is as familiar as breakfast cereal, except they eat it three meals a day. But a new poll conducted for Time and Real Simple magazines suggests that an unwillingness to fail or a fear of doing anything that could lead to a washout might be one of the pinch-points that is impeding women’s progress to the head office. Failures happen to everyone, but these poll results suggest that women fear them more and perhaps don’t bounce out of the surf from them quite so readily.

As part of an ongoing national conversation about why women occupy leadership roles in much smaller numbers than their education, their ability and just simple math would suggest, the polling company Penn Shoen Berland asked 1000 women about success, what it meant to them and what they felt it took to be successful. They also asked 300 men some of the questions to offer a point of comparison. The women ranged in age from 20 to 69 and about 40% of them were in paid employment.

Some of the poll data confirmed what our gut tells us: for women success is less like a spearfishing trip and more like collecting shells on the beach. It’s not a linear process, with just one goal in mind. Secondly, motherhood has a huge influence on women’s outlook, both in her definition of success (it widens) and in her bandwidth (it bifurcates). Other results were more surprising: being good at their jobs was vastly more important to women than men in our survey. And almost half of them believe they are paid less than men for doing an equivalent job.

The biggest bogeyman in the discussions about what’s holding women back is a lack of confidence. Why do women not ask for higher salaries when negotiating? Confidence. Why are women the last to put up their hands for a promotion? Confidence. Why don’t more women run for office? Confidence. Plus all the guff they’d have to take about their hair.

That idea may need refining. One of the clearest finding to emerge from the Time/Real Simple poll is that women aren’t much less confident than men. About 45% of people regardless of gender regard themselves as confident. But many more women—nearly 80%—say it’s an important part of success. Only 63% of men do. That is, women and men are confident in equal measure. But more women think it’s important.

Female workers, the poll numbers show, labor just as hard, believe they are just as qualified, and have as much professional respect as their peers. That sounds a lot like confidence. Yet they just don’t seem to swim for the waves the men do. Roughly three quarters of both men and women said they would not want their boss’s job. But, if offered the position, more than half the men would take it anyway and fewer than a third of the women would. Why do the men believe they could do the job and the women don’t?

The demands of motherhood may be one of the forces at play here, but it’s not the only one. According to the poll, women’s hunger for success dwindles as they age. Almost 75% of women in their 20s regard it as very important to be successful. By their 40s and 50s—the age at which people often become senior executives—only 50% of the women feel the same way. About half the 20 year old women surveyed considered it vital to get promoted. Less than a third of women in their 40s felt the same way.

If this were all just because women wanted time and energy and bandwidth for that resource-intensive home-based start-up called parenting, then it follows that their desire to contribute to the success of their team or to work as hard would ebb too. But it doesn’t wane at all, no matter the age. Women seem to want to put in the time and effort, but not to expect the rewards. Or the status.

Perhaps there’s an answer in women’s attitude to innovation. More than 40% of women believe the ability to innovate is one of the passports to success. But only a few women think they carry that passport. What do confidence and innovation have in common? They can’t be learned without making mistakes. Acquiring them without going through failure is not an option. Failure often hurts, but as Lawrence of Arabia said (in the movie, at least) “the trick is not minding that it hurts” and swimming back through the swell to try again. Women seem less eager to do this. What is innovation, after all, but failing to solve a problem a little less badly each time?

One nugget from the poll encapsulates this quite neatly: to prepare for a big presentation women are more likely than men to do a lot of research and give themselves a pep talk. Men, on the other hand, were more likely than women to give themselves a treat, take meds or practice their power pose in the bathroom. The men are much more likely to revel in the high wire act, to enjoy the risk, than women. (Either that or their meds are amazing.)

It makes sense that women are risk averse. That tendency has protected them and their offspring for centuries. It fortified those pioneering female business leaders who were under a higher level of scrutiny even as recently as this decade. But if women hope to get to the corner office, to that mythical realm that smells like Y chromosomes and golf shoes, they have to be prepared to fall on their faces. And get back on up again.

So here’s a suggestion. Go forth, ladies and louse up. Muff it. Make a blunder. Botch it up royally. Make a complete balls of it. The guys do it all the time. Just before they get promoted.

 

Take Our Poll: What Does Success Mean to You?

TIME psychology

4 Life Lessons That Lead to Happiness, Success and Longevity

University of California professor Sonja Lyubomirsky details the things research shows the happiest people have in common.

Via The How of Happiness:

  1. They devote a great amount of time to their family and friends, nurturing and enjoying those relationships.
  2. They are comfortable expressing gratitude for all they have.
  3. They are often the first to offer helping hands to coworkers and passersby.
  4. They practice optimism when imagining their futures.
  5. They savor life’s pleasures and try to live in the present moment.
  6. They make physical exercise a weekly and even daily habit.
  7. They are deeply committed to lifelong goals and ambitions (e.g., fighting fraud, building cabinets, or teaching their children their deeply held values).
  8. Last but not least, the happiest people do have their share of stresses, crises, and even tragedies. They may become just as distressed and emotional in such circumstances as you or I, but their secret weapon is the poise and strength they show in coping in the face of challenge.

I guess the blog post could end here. You’ve got your answer. But did you just want trivia? Or do you actually want to get happier?

The internet has become a firehose of ideas we never implement, tricks we forget to use.

Reading a list of things is easy. Implementing them in your life can be hard.

But it doesn’t have to be. Let’s get down to business.

 

“Happiness Subscriptions”

Here’s an interesting fact about happiness: frequency beats intensity. What’s that mean?

Lots of little good things make you happier than a handful of big things.

Research shows that going to church and exercising both bring people a disproportionate amount of happiness. Why?

They give us frequent, regular boosts.

Stanford professor Jennifer Aaker says it’s really that simple: the things that make you happy, do them more often.

We have designated work hours. We schedule doctor appointments. Heck, we even schedule hair appointments.

We say happiness is the most important thing but fail to consistently include it in our calendars.

Research shows 40% of happiness is due to intentional activity. You can change your happiness by up to 40% by what you choose to do every day.

happiest-people

And much of what you do, you do on autopilot. 40% of what you do every day isn’t the result of decisions, it’s due to habits.

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.

See where I’m going with this?

Happy things need to be a habit. Part of your routine. Part of your schedule.

Stop waiting for random happy events, you need a “happiness subscription.”

So how do we take that list and make them things we actually do every day instead of more forgotten trivia? Let’s get started.

 

1) Wake Up And Say ARG!

Even scientific happiness advice is often corny. I’ll say that now so we can get it off the table…. But it works.

And this is why you might want to say ARG when you wake up. It’s an acronym that stands for:

  1. Anticipation
  2. Recollection
  3. Gratitude

I’ve written about the importance of a morning ritual and how research shows your mood in the morning affects your entire day. So start right.

Anticipation is a powerful happiness booster. It’s 2 for the price of 1: You get the good thing and you get happy in anticipation of the good thing.

So think about what you’re looking forward to. Got nothing you’re looking forward to? Schedule something.

Recollecting great moments has a related effect. Memories allow us to relive the good times and kill stress.

Via The How of Happiness:

People prone to joyful anticipation, skilled at obtaining pleasure from looking forward and imagining future happy events, are especially likely to be optimistic and to experience intense emotions. In contrast, those proficient at reminiscing about the past—looking back on happy times, rekindling joy from happy memories—are best able to buffer stress.

And gratitude is arguably the king of happiness. What’s the research say? Can’t be more clear than this:

…the more a person is inclined to gratitude, the less likely he or she is to be depressed, anxious, lonely, envious, or neurotic.

And the combo often leads to optimism. Another powerful predictor of happiness.

So, corny as it may be, wake up and say ARG! And then do a quick bit of anticipation, recollection and gratitude.

(For more on optimism click here.)

All that’s fine and dandy. But what do you do once you’re out of bed?

 

2) Savor Your Morning Coffee

Take a moment and really enjoy it. Smell it. Taste it. Appreciate it. Corny? Maybe.

But other research shows savoring — appreciating the good moments – is what separates the happiest people from the average Joe.

I imagine some of you are saying, “Well, I don’t drink coffee.” And please imagine me saying, “That’s not the point.”

It can be anything you do every morning.

And embedding savoring in our little daily rituals is powerful becausestudies show rituals matter.

Here’s Harvard professor Francesca Gino:

You can think about rituals that you yourself might engage in prior to consumption experiences. What they do, they make us a little bit more mindful about the consumption experience that we are about to have. Because of that, we end up savoring the food or whatever we are drinking more, we enjoy the experience more, and in fact, we’re also more willing to pay higher prices for whatever it is that we just consumed. Once again,rituals are beneficial in the sense that they create higher levels of enjoyment in the experience that we just had.

(For more on how savoring can make you happier click here.)

So what other habit can we build into our schedule that boosts joy? How about one that can make you as happy as sex does?

 

3) Sweat Your Way To Joy

When you study people to see what makes them happiest you get three answers: sex, socializing and exercise.

Via Engineering Happiness: A New Approach for Building a Joyful Life:

Their findings confirm what had been found previously: happiness is high during sex, exercise, or socializing, or while the mind is focused on the here and now, and low during commuting or while the mind is wandering.

People who exercise are, across the board, mentally healthier: less depression, anger, stress, and distrust.

Via Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain:

A massive Dutch study of 19,288 twins and their families published in 2006 showed that exercisers are less anxious, less depressed, less neurotic, and also more socially outgoing. A Finnish study of 3,403 people in 1999 showed that those who exercise at least two to three times a week experience significantly less depression, anger, stress, and “cynical distrust” than those who exercise less or not at all.

Don’t like exercise? Then you’re doing the wrong kind.

Running, lifting weights, playing any sport… Find something you enjoy that gets you moving.

(For more on how sweating can increase smiling — and make you smarter too — click here.)

Okay, time to head to work. What’s the best thing to do when you start the day? It’s not about you — but it will make you happier.

 

4) The Five Minute Favor

Who lives to a ripe old age? Not those who get the most help, ironically it’sthose who give the most 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.

And a great way to do that without taking up too much time is Adam Rifkin’s “5 Minute Favor”:

Every day, do something selfless for someone else that takes under five minutes. The essence of this thing you do should be that it makes a big difference to the person receiving the gift. Usually these favors take the form of an introduction, reference, feedback, or broadcast on social media.

So take five minutes to do something that is minor for you but would provide a big benefit to someone else.

It’s good karma — and science shows that, in some ways, karma is quite real.

Yes, some who do a lot for others get taken advantage of. But as Adam Grant of Wharton has shown, givers also succeed more:

Then I looked at the other end of the spectrum and said if Givers are at the bottom, who’s at the top? Actually, I was really surprised to discover, it’s the Givers again. The people who consistently are looking for ways to help others are over-represented not only at the bottom, but also at the top of most success metrics.

(For more on the best way to get happier by being a giver, click here.)

Alright, you have to start work for the day. Ugh. But there are ways that work can make you happier too.

 

5) Life Is A Game, And So Is Work

Like the research shows, the happiest people have goals.

Via Engineering Happiness: A New Approach for Building a Joyful Life:

In his studies, the psychologist Jonathan Freedman claimed that people with the ability to set objectives for themselves—both short-term and long-term—are happier. The University of Wisconsin neuroscientist Richard Davidson has found that working hard toward a goal and making progress to the point of expecting a goal to be realized don’t just activate positive feelings—they also suppress negative emotions such as fear and depression.

Many of us feel like work can be boring or annoying but the research shows many of us are actually happier at work than at home. Why?

Challenges. And we reach that state of “flow” only when a challenge presents itself. So how can work make us happier?

Three research-backed things to try:

  1. To the degree you can, do things you’re good at. We’re happier when we exercise our strengths.
  2. Make note of your progress. Nothing is more motivating than progress.
  3. Make sure to see the results of your work. This gives meaning to most any activity.

(For more on getting happier by setting goals click here.)

Enough work. You’ve got some free time. But what’s the happiest way to use your free time?

 

6) Friends Get Appointments Too

You have mandatory meetings in your schedule but not mandatory time with friends? Absurd.

One study says that as much as 70% of happiness comes from your relationships with other people.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Happy People:

Contrary to the belief that happiness is hard to explain, or that it depends on having great wealth, researchers have identified the core factors in a happy life. The primary components are number of friends, closeness of friends, closeness of family, and relationships with co-workers and neighbors. Together these features explain about 70 percent of personal happiness. – Murray and Peacock 1996

Why does church make people so happy? Studies show it has nothing to do with religion — it’s about the socializing. It’s scheduled friend time.

Via The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More:

After examining studies of more than three thousand adults, Chaeyoon Lin and Robert Putnam found that what religion you practice or however close you feel to God makes no difference in your overall life satisfaction. What matters is the number of friends you have in your religious community. Ten is the magic number; if you have that many, you’ll be happier. Religious people, in other words, are happier because they feel connected to a community of like-minded people.

And if you have the cash, pay for dinner with a friend. Money definitely can make you happier – when you spend it on other people.

Via Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending:

By the end of the day, individuals who spent money on others were measurably happier than those who spent money on themselves — even though there were no differences between the groups at the beginning of the day. And it turns out that the amount of money people found in their envelopes — $5 or $20 — had no effect on their happiness at the end of the day. How people spent the money mattered much more than how much of it they got.

Harvard professor and author of Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, Michael Norton explains in his TED talk:

Don’t have the cash for that? No problem. Take turns paying. Duke professorDan Ariely says this brings more happiness than always paying half.

(For more on how to have happy friendships click here.)

What’s the final thing happy people have in common? They cope with adversity. So what should we do when life gets tough?

 

7) Find Meaning In Hard Times

Research shows that a happy life and a meaningful life are not necessarily the same thing.

It’s hard to be happy when tragedy strikes. But who lives longer and fares better after problems? Those who find benefit in their struggles.

Via The How of Happiness:

For example, in one study researchers interviewed men who had had heart attacks between the ages of thirty and sixty. Those who perceived benefits in the event seven weeks after it happened—for example, believing that they had grown and matured as a result, or revalued home life, or resolved to create less hectic schedules for themselves—were less likely to have recurrences and more likely to be healthy eight years later. In contrast, those who blamed their heart attacks on other people or on their own emotions (e.g., having been too stressed) were now in poorer health.

In many cases, Nietzsche was right: what does not kill us can make us stronger.

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

A substantial number of people also show intense depression and anxiety after extreme adversity, often to the level of PTSD, but then they grow. In the long run, they arrive at a higher level of psychological functioning than before… In a month, 1,700 people reported at least one of these awful events, and they took our well-being tests as well. To our surprise, individuals who’d experienced one awful event had more intense strengths (and therefore higher well-being) than individuals who had none. Individuals who’d been through two awful events were stronger than individuals who had one, and individuals who had three— raped, tortured, and held captive for example— were stronger than those who had two.

So when you face adversity, always ask what you can learn from it.

(For more on how to make your life more meaningful — without terrible tragedy — click here.)

See that? I took the eight things happy people do and squeezed them into just seven habits. You can thank me later.

Now how do we tie all of these happiness boosters together?

 

SUM UP

If you want every day to be happier try including these seven things in your schedule:

  1. Wake Up And Say ARG!
  2. Savor Your Morning Coffee
  3. Sweat Your Way To Joy
  4. Do A Five Minute Favor
  5. Make Work A Game
  6. Friends Get Appointments Too
  7. Find Meaning In Hard Times

We’re all quick to say happiness is the most important thing… and then we schedule everything but the things that make us happiest. Huh?

So what’s going to make you happy today? Have you thought about it? Is it on your calendar?

Reading happiness information is useless trivia unless you use it and you won’t use it unless it’s part of your routine.

If happiness is the most important thing then make it the most important thing.

Join 85K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

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

How To Make Your Life Better By Sending Five Simple Emails

4 Lifehacks From Ancient Philosophers That Will Make You Happier

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME Parenting

Kids Value Success Over Caring Because Parents Do

The co-author of a new Harvard study reveals what parents can do to increase their children’s caring quotient

Last month a team from the Harvard Graduate School of Education issued a study—based on a survey of 10,000 middle and high school students—which showed that teenagers value achievement more than caring, in large part because they think their parents do. The authors described a “rhetoric/reality gap” in which parents and teachers say they prioritize caring, but kids are hearing something different.

The study drew quite a lot of attention—most of it focused on this key finding: Eighty percent of the students chose high achievement or happiness as their top priority. Only 20% picked caring for others.

I recently circled back to co-author Richard Weissbourd, a psychologist, co-director of Harvard’s Making Caring Common Project and a father of three, to explore what parents can do to increase their children’s caring quotient.

1. Given economic realities today, it seems understandable that parents are focused on their children’s success. And yet the underlying premise of your study is that focusing on success is a problem. Why is that?

We are not making the case that achievement and success are not important. It is “Success at what cost?” that we are concerned about. We are seeing a rise in depression, anxiety and drug use in kids, especially in affluent communities. And a big factor is the pressure to achieve.

These kids are strung out. We’re also troubled that achievement comes at the cost of caring for others. In life we always have to balance our concern for others with our concern for ourselves. If you are playing basketball, you have to pass the ball. If you are studying for a test, it is important at times to help a classmate. But we are moving too far in the direction of self-interest.

2. You and your colleagues have created a guide to help parents raise “ethical caring kids,” Your first suggestion is to “make caring a priority.” How would you advise parents to do this?

It begins early in kids’ lives. When you’re at the playground, it means tuning into other kids and encouraging your kid to do the same—to reach out to a child who doesn’t have anyone to play with, for example. Ask your kids to write thank you notes; require them to be respectful to you and other adults; don’t let them fudge their community service; make them honor their commitments (if they’ve RSVPed yes to a party, make them go even if something more preferable comes along). It is the quiet, subtle, daily, steady stream of messages that parents give their kids that matter.

3. You say parents should “provide opportunities for children to practice caring and gratitude.” Can you explain?

Kids should pitch in as a part of everyday life and not expect to be rewarded. This means they should set or clear the table, do the dishes, pick up their clothes, take the garbage out. Save the rewards for uncommon acts of kindness, like helping a few neighbors dig their car out from the snow. Caring is like playing an instrument or a sport; you have to practice it all the time. That’s how it becomes deep in your bones—it’s how it becomes a part of who you are.

4. Kids naturally care about their family and friends, but you say parents need to expand “children’s circle of concern.” How do we do that?

It is harder for kids to care for people who are different from them: Boys may not care about girls. Privileged kids may not care about kids who are struggling. Kids may not care about people with disabilities. Teaching them to care for those who are vulnerable or marginalized is important in and of itself, and it also is the basis of justice. There are always opportunities to talk because these issues come up all the time—it’s about what’s on your radar. It’s not letting your kid treat the bus driver, or custodian or waitress as if they are invisible. It is the way in which you steer a conversation about the new kid at school, or point out an unkind act you witness on TV. It’s just noticing and having the conversation day to day.

5. You suggest that mom and dad each “be a strong moral role model and mentor,” for their children because kids learn by watching the actions of adults they respect. Can you elaborate?

One of the big pathways for kids to become moral people is that they want to be like their parents. Parents have to live these values—they can’t just espouse them. Teens especially have razor-sharp antenna toward hypocrisy; they are attuned to when we are not doing what we say. You have to be appreciative of the bus driver and the waitress. You have to help a neighbor. You have to not tell “white lies” a lot. And you need to listen to your kids and connect your beliefs and values to their moral questions. You also have to be willing to learn from them. Sometimes they are going to have a more mature moral understanding than you do. As parents we need to be able to admit our mistakes and talk about them. The goal is not to demonstrate that you are perfect. The goal is to demonstrate that you are an imperfect human being who is committed to becoming better.

6. Your final suggestion is that parents need to “guide children in managing destructive feelings.” What do you mean by that?

When parents around the country are asked how they help develop their kid’s morality, they usually talk about teaching kids right from wrong and core values. But the reality is that by the time kids are 5 or 6 years old, they usually know the values and have a general sense of right and wrong. The problem is that they sometimes have trouble managing their behavior when they feel angry or envious or ashamed or inferior or helpless. That’s what causes them to violate others. The key is to give kids a range of strategies to help them manage these difficult feelings—from teaching them to take a deep breath or a time out to learning how to ask for help from a trusted adult.

7. You and your colleague reported that 96% of parents from earlier studies say that developing moral character in children is “very important, if not essential,” but that 80% of the teenagers you surveyed said parents “are more concerned about achievement or happiness than caring for others.” Besides role modeling the right behaviors, what can parents do to make sure their kids are getting the message they mean to be sending?

Parents often tell kids, “The only thing that matters to me is that you are happy.” They are not saying, “The only thing that matters to me is that you are kind.” Changing course is about changing the steady stream of messages—verbal and otherwise—that parents are sending their kids. The truth is, our children’s moral development is much more under our control than their happiness.

8. The irony about your study is that although happiness is rated as more important than caring, most experts agree that caring leads to happiness. So should kids be more caring because it will make them happier?

I don’t think we should tell kids to be caring because it is going to make them happy. I think we should tell them to be caring because it is the right thing to do. But I also think that caring is going to make them happier in the long run, because when you are more empathetic, you have better relationships. And it is really deep relationships with people who you appreciate and who appreciate you that are perhaps our most important source of happiness in life.

I should also note that in our study,caring was ranked second by a high percentage of teens. Almost all kids say that caring is important to them. But it gets sidelined with all this pressure to achieve. It is evident that kids—and their parents—value caring. It just needs to be drawn out more. It needs to be prioritized. That is the encouraging part of this.

TIME psychology

Here’s the Schedule Very Successful People Follow Every Day

All too often, productivity tips are a dime a dozen. Some even conflict with each other. What we need is a system.

What schedule do the pros use? What system does science say allows us to be most productive?

What’s key is feeling in control and making sure your energy levels are matched to the importance of the task at hand.

Let’s assemble the expert ideas and research we’ve covered into a more cohesive schedule you can apply to your day.

How do you do that? You may want to get your calendar out. We’ve got some changes to make.

 

1) The Morning Ritual

Laura Vanderkam studied the schedules of high-achievers. What did she find? They rise early. Almost all have a morning ritual.

You need to wake up before the insanity starts. Before demands are made on you. Before your goals for the day have competition.

If you want to achieve work-life balance you need to determine what is important and focus on that. (And research shows goals make you happier.)

Having concrete goals was correlated with huge increases in confidence and feelings of control.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People:

People who construct their goals in concrete terms are 50 percent more likely to feel confident they will attain their goals and 32 percent more likely to feel in control of their lives. – Howatt 1999

As I’ve discussed before, the second part of your morning ritual is about mood. That feeling of control is what produces grit and makes people persist.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People:

Research comparing students of similar ability finds that the distinguishing feature between those who maintain a strong work ethic in their studies and those who give up is a sense of control. Those who express a sense of control receive scores that are a full letter grade higher than those who do not. – Mendoza 1999

(For more on morning rituals, click here.)

You’ve got your goal and you’re in control. Cool. But what about when you get to work? I recommend you find somewhere to hide. Here’s why…

 

2) Important Work First Thing — With No Distractions

Many people arrive at the office and immediately get busy with email and meetings, leaving real work for later in the day… Rookie error.

Research shows that 2.5 to 4 hours after waking is when your brain is sharpest. You want to waste that on a conference call or a staff meeting?

Studies show that alertness and memory, the ability to think clearly and to learn, can vary by between 15 and 30 percent over the course of a day. Most of us are sharpest some two and a half to four hours after waking.

When I interviewed willpower expert Roy Baumeister, what did he have to say?Early morning is also when you’re most disciplined:

The longer people have been awake, the more self-control problems happen. Most things go bad in the evening. Diets are broken at the evening snack, not at breakfast or in the middle of the morning. Impulsive crimes are mostly committed after midnight.

But does this really work? In studies of geniuses, most did their best work early in the day.

“But why did you say I need to hide somewhere?”

Because distractions make you stupid. These days it’s hard to do much real work at work.

Jason Fried explains the modern workplace is an endless stream of interruptions. (Short on time? Watch the first 5 minutes):

Can’t do the work of your choice when the day starts? Get in early or work from home before you head into the office.

(For more on using your peak hours right, click here.)

So you’re making progress on the thing that matters. But you can’t sprint for miles. What do you do when your brain gets tired?

 

3) Regroup When You Slow Down

Afternoon brain fog. We’ve all felt it. Why does this happen? Working too hard? Food coma? Often it’s just our natural circadian rhythm:

schedule

First, take a break. Get a snack or a power nap if you can.

What you need next is a mini-version of your morning ritual. Review your goals and the progress you’ve made this morning.

Harvard research shows nothing is more motivating than progress. Appreciating how far they’ve come is what very persistent people do.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People:

Comparing people who tend to give up easily with people who tend to carry on, even through difficult challenges, researchers find that persistent people spend twice as much time thinking, not about what has to be done, but about what they have already accomplished, the fact that the task is doable, and that they are capable of it. – Sparrow 1998

(For more on fighting procrastination, click here.)

You got a break, reviewed your goals and achievements, and now you’re ready to work again. What do you focus on now?

 

4) Meetings, Calls and People Stuff In The Afternoon

When energy is high, that’s when you want to focus on creative, challenging work. When energy is low, do busy work.

Scott Adams, creator of “Dilbert“, makes comics in the morning. By the afternoon, his brain is fuzzy and he shifts his objectives.

Via How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big:

One of the most important tricks for maximizing your productivity involves matching your mental state to the task… At 6:00 A.M. I’m a creator, and by 2:00 P.M. I’m a copier… It’s the perfect match of my energy level with a mindless task.

And research shows the afternoon really is the best time for meetings —specifically, 3PM.

Need to power through some busy work but you can’t muster the willpower? This is when distraction can benefit you.

When tasks are dull and you’re feeling distractable, friends can make you more productive — even if they’re not helping.

Via Friendfluence: The Surprising Ways Friends Make Us Who We Are:

Just having friends nearby can push you toward productivity. “There’s a concept in ADHD treatment called the ‘body double,’ ” says David Nowell, Ph.D., a clinical neuropsychologist from Worcester, Massachusetts. “Distractable people get more done when there is someone else there, even if he isn’t coaching or assisting them.” If you’re facing a task that is dull or difficult, such as cleaning out your closets or pulling together your receipts for tax time, get a friend to be your body double.

(For more on how to work smarter, not harder, click here.)

So the work day is over. Is that it? Nope. There’s an optimal way to handle your schedule after the sun goes down too.

 

5) A Relaxing Evening

Though successful people do work long hours, the greats almost all take the evening off to recharge.

Before dinner, Tim Ferriss recommends writing down your big goal for tomorrow. This will get your mind off work and allow you to relax.

What does research say can help you chill out? Hint: don’t trust your instincts.

The things we frequently choose to reduce stress are often the least effective.

What does work? Seeing friends and active hobbies. What doesn’t? More passive activities like TV, video games and eating.

Via The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do To Get More of It:

According to the American Psychological Association, the most effective stress-relief strategies are exercising or playing sports, praying or attending a religious service, reading, listening to music, spending time with friends or family, getting a massage, going outside for a walk, meditating or doing yoga, and spending time with a creative hobby. (The least effective strategies are gambling, shopping, smoking, drinking, eating, playing video games, surfing the Internet, and watching TV or movies for more than two hours.)

Past that, get to bed. Studies of world class performers show they have boundless energy, so get those zzz’s to be one of them.

No, you can’t cheat yourself on sleep and not see negative effects.

What does brain research tell us about cutting corners at bedtime? You’re basically making yourself stupid:

The bottom line is that sleep loss means mind loss. Sleep loss cripples thinking, in just about every way you can measure thinking. Sleep loss hurts attention, executive function, immediate memory, working memory, mood, quantitative skills, logical reasoning ability, general math knowledge.

(For how to make your weekends awesome, click here.)

So how do we bring this all together to be more successful?

 

Sum Up

Here’s what a successful schedule looks like:

  1. Your Morning Ritual
  2. Important Work First Thing — With No Distractions
  3. Regroup When You Slow Down
  4. Meetings, Calls And Little Things In The Afternoon
  5. A Relaxing Evening

Sadly, we can’t all dictate our own schedule. That’s why there are no specific times listed above.

But we can all opt to do some things before or after others. Stop focusing on just getting lots of random things done to pretend you’re making progress.

All moments in your day are not equal, and all tasks are not of equal importance.

Knowing the best time to get the right things done is key.

What will this schedule do for you? Well, when the day ends you’restill going to find that you didn’t get everything done.

But that won’t bother you much because you did the things that mattered, and did them well.

(If you want a nice PDF of this schedule, join my weekly update here. I’ll be sending one out with next week’s update.)

Join 45K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

6 Things The Most Productive People Do Every Day

How To Achieve Work-Life Balance In 5 Steps

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

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME psychology

10 Life Lessons You Can Learn From the Smartest Older People

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Matt Hind—Getty Images/OJO Images RF

I’ve posted before about research into the most important life lessons we can learn from older people, taken from Karl Pillemer‘s excellent book, 30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans.

Here’s another take on the same subject:

Before the 50th reunion of Harvard Business School’s class of 1963 they asked them what lessons they would pass on to younger people.

This isn’t firm scientific research — but we ignore it at our peril. We can learn much about life from those who have seen it to the end.

The site has a lot of content but I’ve gone through and curated the bits that I felt were most useful and insightful. Hat tip to my friend Nick for the pointer.

 

LEADERSHIP

ANONYMOUS:

I would have been a better leader if I had been less cocky in my early career, and more confident in my middle career.

 

ROBERT K. BOWMAN:

A successful leader:

  • Knows as much as he can about his organization’s mission
  • Believes in the mission
  • Communicates the mission clearly
  • Points the way
  • Gets out of the way

 

CAREER

RON LESLIE:

Steps to find fulfilling work:

  1. Take the initiative to investigate the places you think are of interest. Ask good questions.
  2. Go with the self-assurance of having written on an index card each of your past accomplishments(including where you simply helped other people do their thing) in three forms:
    1. A simple phrase; e.g., “top salesman in New York office for three years”
    2. A three-sentence statement of the problem, your solution, and the result
    3. A one-page explanation or anecdote to share if asked to give details
  3. Use those cards deftly to encourage people to talk to you — showing you listen on their level and understand whatever they tell you. Remember: The more they talk, the smarter they’ll think you are.

 

MARRIAGE & FAMILY

RALPH LINSALATA:

  • Tell your spouse and children that you love them every day, no matter how you feel.
  • Do not bring your problems home with you.
  • Realize the joy that comes from helping your spouse and children excel in their fields of interest and enjoy themselves.
  • Develop within your family a sense of obligation to help others.
  • Spending quality time with your family — not just time — is critical.
  • Choose a spouse who will understand and support you, and one for whom you will do the same. Life is much better if you can help each other grow and expand your knowledge, experiences, friends, and capabilities.

 

RON LESLIE:

The sweetest words in the English language are, “Granddad, would you like to …?”

 

BUSINESS

DONALD P. NIELSEN:

  • Not all decisions turn out well. Be prepared to deal with problems over which you have no control.
  • Almost everything will require more money and more time than you think.
  • Never settle for “good enough.” Always strive for excellence.
  • Set high expectations for yourself and those with whom you work.
  • Move quickly to deal with people issues.
  • Hiring smart, driven people is a ticket to your own success.

 

WEALTH

WARREN BATTS:

I was born in 1932 and grew up during the Depression. In the beginning, poverty was the level to which I aspired. When I reached it, my next goal was to get out of debt. That took several years. Then my goal was to become financially independent. After reaching independence, more money was not a great motivator for me. My interest became trying to make a difference — making the company I worked for successful, and working for my church and other volunteer organizations.

 

GROWING OLDER

ANONYMOUS:

Retire to something — not from something. Stay engaged. Be physically active and intellectually curious.

 

CHARITY & SPIRITUALITY

J. LAWRENCE WILSON:

If one is devoted solely to promoting the welfare of himself, his family, and his friends, life can be barren. Charity, faith, and spirituality enrich one’s life. Faith or the belief in a power greater than oneself seems to be important for humans, for spirituality is a part of every culture. If this spirituality fosters concern for the welfare of others, it is of great benefit to society. No matter what a person’s professed faith, I admire him if he is charitable.

 

HAPPINESS & SUCCESS

HENRY A. GILBERT:

Success and wealth are being a lover and being loved.

Success is using your tools and powers to enhance the lives and success of others.

Success is capitalizing on economic opportunities yet treating others with over-reaching kindness.

 

J. LAWRENCE WILSON:

When I think back over my career, I am struck that my fondest memories are of people rather than experiences, places, or accomplishments.

 

TURNING POINTS

RALPH LINSALATA:

What did I learn from the turning points in my life? Look for great colleagues, role models, and teachers. Be certain to understand the opportunities relative to the risks, and how the risks can be avoided. Recognize your strengths and weaknesses, and act accordingly. Play to your strengths while you work, but work on your weaknesses.

 

GERALD (JERRY) WOLIN:

Many things that happened in my career were the result of random acts. The important thing is to keep your eyes open to recognize the right moves.

 

LIFE’S LESSONS

JOSE M. FAUSTINO:

I switched fields twice in my academic career — I believed the entire experience was part of growing up. The lesson here for young people: Do not hesitate to switch interests, majors, or fields of concentration. Find your preference or your passion, then focus on it to your heart’s content.

Success is a journey – not a race. Prepare well, retain good practices, and make a habit of effective strategies:

  1. Do not be content to be average. Mediocrity breeds boredom, poor opportunity, and an unsatisfactory lifestyle. Instead, decide to excel in everything you do, and be distinctive, if not unique, in your approach.
  2. Take well-analyzed risks, particularly when there is everything to gain and little to lose. Do not be afraid of rejection when you have competently and ethically tried to succeed.
  3. Be skilled in political strategy. Interpersonal, leadership, and motivational skills are all important for success, but few consider political strategy. In my mind, there is organizational politics in any group with more than three people.

 

JOHN A. MOELLER:

An important lesson in life is learning whom you can rely on, depend on, and trust, and whom you cannot. Only experience and “gut feel” can teach this. Human nature and values — whether of business owners, top management, associates, or staff — vary all over the place. Steering your life, family, career, time, investments, and loyalty toward those you can trust and rely upon is a priority.

Never forget where you came from, and always remember what you are here for. Be true to your values and faith. We are here for a purpose. Enjoy the ride.

Here are more life lessons from the wise.

Join 45K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

Related posts:

What’s The Most Important Life Lesson Older People Feel You Must Know?

How To Make Your Life Better By Sending Five Simple Emails

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

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME psychology

Sun Tzu’s Art of War: How Ancient Strategy Can Lead to Modern Success

Everyone reveres The Art of War.

1500 years old, this ancient Chinese text is still utilized by both militaries and business schools around the world.

And it should be — research shows those unconventional tactics work.

When Davids don’t fight by Goliaths’ rules they win 63% of battles.

Via David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants:

When the political scientist Ivan Arreguín-Toft did the calculation a few years ago, what he came up with was 71.5 percent. Just under a third of the time, the weaker country wins. Arreguín-Toft then asked the question slightly differently. What happens in wars between the strong and the weak when the weak side does as David did and refuses to fight the way the bigger side wants to fight, using unconventional or guerrilla tactics? The answer: in those cases, the weaker party’s winning percentage climbs from 28.5 percent to 63.6 percent.

If the US and Canada went to war and Canada chose to fight Sun Tzu style, what would happen? The smart money would bet on Canada.

Via David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants:

To put that in perspective, the United States’ population is ten times the size of Canada’s. If the two countries went to war and Canada chose to fight unconventionally, history would suggest that you ought to put your money on Canada.

What do I think? I go a step further:

I believe Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is the essential strategy guide of our time. Why?

We are relentlessly reminded this is the “information age.”

Well, one of the primary themes of Sun Tzu’s classic strategy guide is:the power of information.

I know: you’re not a general or a CEO. But we all wage metaphorical “wars” all day long.

“Fighting” to get that promotion or new job? Waging a pitched “battle” with your significant other over a delicate issue?

Sun Tzu can help you claim victory in all those skirmishes. And scientific research agrees with him. Let’s dive in.

 

Knowledge Is Power

The crucial theme throughout the The Art of War is the power of accurate information.

Re-reading the book I was struck by how Sun Tzu hits this one idea again and again from so many angles.

He really doesn’t beat around the bush: knowledge wins wars.

Via The Art of War:

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

Do you need infantry? Maybe. Snipers? Perhaps. Pilots? Could be.

What do you definitely need? Spies to get you information.

Via The Art of War:

Unless you are kept informed of the enemy’s condition, and are ready to strike at the right moment, a war may drag on for years. The only way to get this information is to employ spies, and it is impossible to obtain trustworthy spies unless they are properly paid for their services.

Sun Tzu does not believe in fighting fair. He feels deception is at the very heart of war. But what is deception?

All it means is making sure your information is accurate and your enemy’s is not.

Via The Art of War:

Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.Hold out baits to entice the enemy. Feign disorder, and crush him.

And when you look at military history, Sun Tzu’s emphasis on information-based strategy has guided most every great general since.

Via How Great Generals Win:

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… B. H. Liddell Hartepitomizes 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.

You might argue that back then information was so important because it wasscarce.

We’re drowning in information now. So maybe it’s no longer a problem…

But research actually shows nothing has changed since Sun Tzu’s era. In fact, the problem may have gotten worse.

 

Sun Tzu For The 21st Century

Google brings us a library full of data with a keystroke. Our bursting inboxes scream “information overload.”

But that doesn’t mean it’s relevant or accurate info. What do the best leaders of the modern era still spend much of their time doing?

Trying to get the information they need to make good decisions.

Via John P. Kotter on What Leaders Really Do:

The breadth of topics in these discussions is extremely wide. The GMs do not limit their focus to planning, business strategy, staffing, and other “top management concerns.” They discuss virtually anything and everything even remotely associated with their businesses and organizations…. In these conversations, GMs typically ask a lot of questions. In a half-hour conversation, some will ask literally hundreds.

The primary challenge of a leader has not changed much since Sun Tzu’s era.

Getting accurate, relevant information can be difficult because you’re never on the front lines and there is too much data.

Via John P. Kotter on What Leaders Really Do

(The problem is) Figuring out what to do despite uncertainty, great diversity, and an enormous amount of potentially relevant information.

You might think that with enough money you can leverage surveys, focus groups and manpower and arrive at useful info.

Probably — but you’re still not out of the woods because we’re all still prone to the same biases humans always have been.

What does research show is the biggest error leaders make?

Harvard Business School professor Gautam Mukunda, author of Indispensable: When Leaders Really Matter says it’s hubris

And what’s an essential part of hubris? Thinking you know everything.

Leaders can get great information these days. But as former Harvard professor Richard Tedlow explains, they often just don’t want to hear it.

Via Denial: Why Business Leaders Fail to Look Facts in the Face—and What to Do About It:

I have been teaching and writing about business history for four decades, and what is striking about the dozens of companies and CEOs I have studied is the large number of them who have made mistakes that could and should have been avoided, not just with the benefit of hindsight, but on the basis of information available to decision makers right then and there, in real time. These mistakes resulted from individuals denying reality.

So how can you avoid the eternal problems of getting and using good information?

 

How To Wage A Sun Tzu War From Your Cubicle

So Sun Tzu was right — and still is. What does that mean for you and me?

Before that job interview, research the company. Before that meeting, find out who they are. Before that negotiation, research their previous deals.

I’ll distill it down to four core, actionable ideas:

  1. Do your homework. Information is easy to get but good information can still be elusive. Spend the time.
  2. Talk to people. Maybe you don’t have Sun Tzu’s “spies” but lots of info you need is not online; it’s in people’s heads. Call them.
  3. Don’t get cocky. Hubris is the enemy. Confidence is great but never fall into the trap of thinking you know it all. Question yourself or, better yet, have a friend do it for you.
  4. Don’t give up easy. You may lack for money or manpower but who knows what crazy information the opposition might be working from? As Sun Tzu said, great leaders don’t just gather information, they actively exploit and manipulate the assumptions of the other side.

Lawrence of Arabia didn’t have better info than the Turks. In fact, he didn’t objectively have anything better than the Turks.

But he knew one thing the Turks absolutely assumed was true: Nobody would attack Aqaba from the desert. It was suicide. It was insane.

Knowing that assumption, Lawrence had all the information he needed to surprise the enemy — and devastate them.

Via David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants:

When they finally arrived at Aqaba, Lawrence’s band of several hundred warriors killed or captured twelve hundred Turks and lost only two men. The Turks simply had not thought that their opponent would be crazy enough to come at them from the desert.

History’s greatest minds have always been accused of being crazy.

But you’re not crazy if you know something that they don’t.

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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