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The myth of self-control & Here’s what actually works … thanks Poppy

“THERE’S A STRONG ASSUMPTION STILL THAT EXERTING SELF-CONTROL IS BENEFICIAL … AND WE’RE SHOWING IN THE LONG TERM, IT’S NOT”

Studies have found that trying to teach people to resist temptation either only has short-term gains or can be an outright failure. “We don’t seem to be all that good at [self-control],” Brian Galla, a psychologist at the University of Pittsburgh, says.

If we accept that brute willpower doesn’t work, we can feel less bad about ourselves when we succumb to temptation. And we might also be able refocus our efforts on solving problems like obesity. A recent national survey from the University of Chicago finds that 75 percent of Americans say a lack of willpower is a barrier to weight loss. And yet the emerging scientific consensus is that the obesity crisis is the result of a number of factors, including genes and the food environment — and, crucially, not a lack of willpower. 

If we could stop worshiping self-control, maybe we could start thinking about diluting the power of temptation — and helping people meet their goals in new ways with less effort. 

The case against willpower

 Photo by Rochelle Brodin/Getty Images for De Re Gallery

Many of us assume that if we want to make big changes in our lives, we have to sweat for it. But if, for example, the change is to eat fewer sweets, and then you find yourself in front of a pile of cookies, researchers say the pile of cookies has already won. 

“Our prototypical model of self-control is angel on one side and devil on the other, and they battle it out,” Fujita says. “We tend to think of people with strong willpower as people who are able to fight this battle effectively. Actually, the people who are really good at self-control never have these battles in the first place.” 

This idea was crystallized in the results of a 2011 study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. The study tracked 205 people for one week in Germany. The study participants were given BlackBerrys that would go off at random, asking them questions about what desires, temptations, and self-control they were experiencing in the moment. 

The paper stumbled on a paradox: The people who were the best at self-control — the ones who most readily agreed to survey questions like “I am good at resisting temptations” — reported fewer temptations throughout the study period. 

To put it more simply: The people who said they excel at self-control were hardly using it at all. Psychologists Marina Milyavskaya and Michael Inzlicht recently confirmed and expanded on this idea. In their study, they monitored 159 students at McGill University in Canada in a similar manner for a week.

If resisting temptation is a virtue, then more resistance should lead to greater achievement, right? That’s not what the results, pending publication in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Sciencefound. 

The students who exerted more self-control were not more successful in accomplishing their goals. It was the students who experienced fewer temptations overall who were more successful when the researchers checked back in at the end of the semester. What’s more, the people who exercised more effortful self-control also reported feeling more depleted. So not only were they not meeting their goals, they were also exhausted from trying. 

“There’s a strong assumption still that exerting self-control is beneficial,” Milyavskaya, a professor at Carleton University, tells me. “And we’re showing in the long term, it’s not.” 

What we can learn from people who are good at self-control

 Max Griboedov / Shutterstock

So who are these people who are rarely tested by temptations? And what can we learn from them? There are a few overlapping lessons from this new science:

1) People who are better at self-control actually enjoy the activities some of us resist— like eating healthy, studying, or exercising.

So engaging in these activities isn’t a chore for them. It’s fun. “‘Want-to’ goals are more likely to be obtained than ‘have-to’ goals,” Milyavskaya says. “Want-to goals lead to experiences of fewer temptations. It’s easier to pursue those goals. It feels more effortless.”

If you’re running because you “have to” get in shape, but find running to be a miserable activity, you’re probably not going to keep it up. That means than an activity you like is more likely to be repeated than an activity you hate. 

2) People who are good at self-control have learned better habits 

In 2015, psychologists Brian Galla and Angela Duckworth published a paper in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, finding across six studies and more than 2,000 participants that people who are good at self-control also tend to have good habits — like exercising regularly, eating healthy, sleeping well, and studying.

“People who are good at self-control … seem to be structuring their lives in a way to avoid having to make a self-control decision in the first place,” Galla tells me. And structuring your life is a skill. People who do the same activity — like running or meditating — at the same time each day have an easier time accomplishing their goals, he says. Not because of their willpower, but because the routine makes it easier. 

A trick to wake up more quickly in the morning is to set the alarm on the other side of the room. That’s not in-the-moment willpower at play. It’s planning.

This theory harks back to one of the classic studies on self-control: Walter Mischel’s “marshmallow test,” conducted in the 1960s and ’70s. In these tests, kids were told they could either eat one marshmallow sitting in front of them immediately or eat two later. The ability to resist was found to correlate with all sorts of positive life outcomes, like SAT scores and BMIs. But the kids who were best at the test weren’t necessarily intrinsically better at resisting temptation. They might have been employing a critical strategy. 

“Mischel has consistently found that the crucial factor in delaying gratification is the ability to change your perception of the object or action you want to resist,” the New Yorker reportedin 2014. That means kids who avoided eating the first marshmallow would find ways not to look at the candy, or imagine it as something else. 

“The really good dieter wouldn’t buy a cupcake,” Fujita explains. “They wouldn’t have passed in front of a bakery; when they saw the cupcake, they would have figured out a way to say yuck instead of yum; they might have an automatic reaction of moving away instead of moving close.” 

3) Some people just experience fewer temptations 

Our dispositions are determined in part by our genetics. Some people are hungrier than others. Some people love gambling and shopping. People high in conscientiousness — a personality trait largely set by genetics — tend to be more vigilant students and tend to be healthier. When it comes to self-control, they won the genetic lottery. 

4) It’s easier to have self-control when you’re wealthy 

When Mischel’s marshmallow test is repeated on poorer kids, there’s a clear trend: They perform worse, and appear less able to resist the treat in front of them. 

But there’s a good reason for this. As University of Oregon neuroscientist Elliot Berkman argues, people who grow up in poverty are more likely to focus on immediate rewards than long-term rewards. Because when you’re poor, the future is less certain. 

Researchers want to figure out if self-control could feel effortless

 Tetiana Yurchenko / Shutterstock

The new research on self-control demonstrates that eating an extra slice of cake isn’t a moral failing. It’s what we ought to expect when a hungry person is in front of a slice of cake. “Self-control isn’t a special moral muscle,” Galla says. It’s like any decision. And to improve the decision, we need to improve the environment, and give people the skills needed to avoid cake in the first place. 

“There are many ways of achieving successful self-control, and we’ve really only been looking at one of them,” which is effortful restraint, Berkman tells me. The previous leading theory on willpower, called ego depletion, has recently come under intense scrutiny for not replicating.

(Berkman argues that the term “self-control” ought to be abolished altogether. “It’s no different than any other decision making,” he says.)

The new research isn’t yet conclusive on whether it’s really possible to teach people the skills needed to make self-control feel effortless. More work needs to be done — designing interventions and evaluating their outcomes over time. But it at least gives researchers a fresh perspective to test out new solutions. 

In Berkman’s lab, he’s testing out an idea called “motivational boost.” Participants write essays explaining how their goals (like losing weight) fit into their core values. Berkman will periodically text study participants to remind them why their goals matter, which may increase motivation. “We are still gathering data, but I cannot say yet whether it works or not,” he says. 

Another intriguing idea is called “temptation bundling,” in which people make activities more enjoyable by adding a fun component to them. One paper showed that participants were more likely to work out when they could listen to an audio copy of The Hunger Games while at the gym. 

Researchers are excited about their new perspective on self-control. “It’s exciting because we’re maybe [about to] break through on a whole variety of new strategies and interventions that we would have never thought about,” Galla says. He and others are looking beyond the “just say no” approach of the past to boost motivation with the help of smartphone apps and other technology.

This is not to say all effortful restraint is useless, but rather that it should be seen as a last-ditch effort to save ourselves from bad behavior. 

“Because even if the angel loses most of the time, there’s a chance every now and again the angel will win,” Fujita says. “It’s a defense of last resort.”

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An Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth by Mohandas Karamchand (Mahatma) Gandhi

Click to get the book, ebook or audiobook

Gandhi Autobiography
First of all a lot of people have ‘heard’ about the book or some of the perverse experiments and judged the man on it. One friend even claimed that he started reading the first few pages and threw it away. If you are the kind that is attracted to the perversions and judgements, may I direct you to the story of Guru & Disciple Cross the River ;oP

I always like to find out for myself and keep an open mind instead of being a parrot or person to cast the first stone. Plus my life has been a chain of experiments too. I had also heard that he used to keep a day of silence every week but not found in this book. The table of contents are already a great summary.

Update: I just found out there is another book that someone else wrote which seems to focus only on the perversions. In that case may I direct you to the story of the Elephant and The Blind Men

Notes:
– Gets into how his mother would fast according to the moon and sun.
– Married 4 times.
– Issues with handwriting and learning Sanskrit. Talks about the importance of learning Sanskrit, Persian and/or Arabic.
– Conspiracies to make locals start eating meat as it makes people stronger… just look at the westerners! Phases of eating meat and stealing stumps of cigarettes from his uncle or stealing from the servants to buy some fags. Attempts to commit suicide looking for datura seeds to do so.
– The reader is obviously not familiar with pronouncing the words. For entertainment purposes I may make a list here. Haveli -> Ha-vuh-lee, Ravi > Rayvah, Sheth > Shaeyt, Musalmân > Musclemun, Darbar > Durbur, Dayanand > Dyernaan, Bhai > bye, Kalyandas > Kulyawndus, Janmasthmi > Jaanmushtaami, Vande Mataram > One day maduhraaaaam … and many more.
– Using the knowledge in Manusmriti to return good for evil. Manusmriti – important and most studied ancient legal text among the many Dharmaśāstras of Hinduism.
– In his early days he was made an outcast by his own people because he wanted to go to England.
– He became vegetarian after reading Henry Salt’s – A Plea for Vegetarianism book and started his passion for dietetic studies. I had heard about his ‘experiments’ of eating bitter things and this is where he gave up tea and coffee and condiments.
– He exercised strict economy and balancing his funds every night which helped him save more and be more conscious of what he spent on.
– A man of few words is thoughtful in his speech. Love it!
– He met people who convinced him to read the Gita and Bible. The latter he found difficult to read and understand but the Sermon on the Mount did find a special place in his heart.
– Issues with working with his brother and barrister dramas.
– Not too sure what he was on about when he visited Kenya and going inside some woman’s room and his shame or ignorance?!
– When Whiteys would not call Indians as Coolies they’d call them Sami (Telgu Swami) but Indian’s didn’t like that either so would tell Whitey that they’re calling them Master.
– He does his own Rosa Parks with 1st Class train compartment in S. Africa.
– Debates with a Christian fanatic friend.
– At some point he knew every Indian or their condition in Pretoria.
– Law: If you take care of the facts of the case, the law with take care of itself.
– His studies of religions opened his mind and friends would give/send him loads of books related to spirituality and belief.
– Revelations of finances when it comes to public institutions.
– Brahmacharya is a virtue, where it means celibacy when unmarried, and fidelity when married. It represents a virtuous lifestyle that also includes simple living, meditation and other behaviours. Fasting wasn’t enough and control of the senses in thought, word and deed needed to be practised too. Gandhi found endless difficulty. His step into Vanaprastha – part of the Vedic ashram system, which starts when a person hands over household responsibilities to the next generation, takes an advisory role, and gradually withdraws from the world. Gradually because of all this Satyagraha came to him naturally. Satyagraha – loosely translated as “insistence on truth” (satya “truth”; agraha “insistence” or “holding firmly to”), is a particular philosophy and practice within the broader overall category generally known as nonviolent resistance or civil resistance. The term satyagraha was coined and developed by Mahatma Gandhi.This also includes his dietetics to move to limited, simple, spiceless and uncooked food if possible. Times he lived on fruits and nuts alone but had to go back to milk as he did not find a fruit substitute to sustain muscles.
– He studied on washing his own clothes and started practising it. His first attempt was a loose-starched shirt ridiculed by his fellow barristers. Then cutting his own hair and more ridicule.
– He thinks educated men should travel 3rd class on the train so they can see what needs reform and to go for it non-stop.
– The Bhagwad Gita became his dictionary of life. Especially the concept of Aparigraha – non-possessiveness, non-grasping or non-greediness. Ahimsa is another key concept – ‘not to injure’ and ‘compassion’.
– Earth treatment – wet earth placed in layers of fine cloth – wrapped around the abdomen and held there for 8 or more hours. This worked wonders for his diet and constipation issues. Later on got ice treatment too but didn’t get into details about it.
– Indian Opinion – newspaper established by Gandhi. Important tool for the political movement led by Gandhi and the National Indian Congress to fight racial discrimination and win civil rights for the Indian immigrant community in South Africa.
– Coolie means something like untouchables in South Africa.
– How he got the name Bhai (brother) and liking the sweetness to how it sounded.
– He translated John Ruskin’s tract on political economy, Unto This Last into Gujarati and called it Sarvodaya. It had very important schools of thought for him. 3 main points: 1. The good of the individual is contained in the good of all. 2. A lawyer’s work has the same value as the barber’s, as all have the same right of earning their livelihood from their work. 3. A life of labour, i.e. the life of the tiller of the soil and the handicrafts-man is the life worth living.
– Talks more about Brahmacharya and how without it we are mere animal. As difficult as it is one still needs to continue practising it increasingly. The more he practised it the closer he got to his realisation of Satyagraha. This name was coined by him and Maganlal Gandhi.
– Kasturba (Gandhi’s wife) went through lots of health issues which were mostly cleared by home remedies. At some point the doc recommended beef-tea!?!? But she declined and would rather die in Gandhi’s arms.
– Salt was not necessary and was a saltless diet was better according to some reading. Milk stimulated animal passion but giving up milk was difficult until after reading the tortures of acquiring the milk. Gradually going towards fasting only on water. Fasting is futile unless it is accompanied by an incessant longing for self-restraint.
– How his fasting made people change their ways and does not condone fasting to change pupils delinquencies.
– Hindu foolishness when it came to selective superstitions, untouchables and a cow with 5 legs (one of which was a calf’s leg just grafted on the shoulder). Why he did not wear the sacred thread and how it bothered people. Including many more dramas regarding such thought and getting people to change their thinking if they wanted to be part of his team, group, ashram or journey.
– He goes into a fast which stops strikes after 3 days. Sweets get distributed under the tree where the pledge had been taken but his people couldn’t stay disciplined and scrambled for the sweets.
– Around the time he helped set up schools of civil disobedience his diet only consisted of nut butters and lemons. One day he indulged in ghee and mung beans which resulted in near death dysentery. He refused medical aid and decided to pay for his weak willpower. Talks about his anal tract getting extremely tender and other good stuff.
– Prison experience.
– After the partition massacre he had issues with Punjabi’s having him visit Punjab even getting threats of assassination.
– Muslim/Hindu drama’s about cow slaughter.
– Khadi: Hand woven cloth. Gandhi and team discarded their normal clothes and learned how to weave their own. The frustrations of finding an expert and getting things going. Gandhi described it as the panacea for the growing pauperism of India.
– Shares his thoughts on the Hindu/Muslim/Untouchables issue and Swaraj – Gandhi’s concept for Indian independence from foreign domination.

(Private FB post ;oP
www.parasuniversal.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/unnamed.jpg
Cheat post (like a cheat meal but in reverse): So after reading Gandhi’s autobiography and starting to read Willpower … AND overdoing the work sizzle. I thought I’d do a day without meat and managed to do a day and a half … and most recently 3 days. Feeling good and one step closer to posting indirect/passive posts about how you meat eaters are spiritually and morally beneath me. Can’t wait for when I can spoil my own mood and then yours by poking my nose in your plate and my beliefs in your SINFUL FACE! Too much, too soon?)

Contents
Chapter Page
– Introduction
– Editor’s Note
– Publisher’s Note

Part I
I. Birth and Parentage
II. Childhood
III. Child Marriage
IV. Playing the Husband
V. At the High School
VI. A Tragedy
VII. A Tragedy (Contd.)
VIII. Stealing and Atonement
IX. My Father’s Death and My Double Shame
X. Glimpses of Religion
XI. Preparation for England
XII. Outcaste
XIII. In London At Last
XIV. My Choice
XV. Playing the English Gentleman
XVI. Changes
XVII. Experiments In Dietetics
XVIII. Shyness My Shield
XIX. The Canker of Untruth
XX. Acquaintance With Religion
XXI. ‘Nirbal Ke Bal Ram’
XXII. Narayan Hemchandra
XXIII. The Great Exhibition
XXIV. ‘Called’ – But Then ?
XXV. My Helplessness

Part II
I. Raychandbhai
II. How I Began Life
III. The First Case
IV. The First Shock
V. Preparation For South Africa
VI. Arriving In Natal
VII. Some Experiences
VIII. On the Way To Pretoria
IX. More Hardships
X. First Day In Pretoria
XI. Christian Contacts
XII. Seeking Touch With Indians
XIII. What It Is To Be A ‘Coolie’
XIV. Preparation For The Case
XV. Religious Ferment
XVI. Man Proposes, God Disposes
XVII. Settled In Natal
XVIII. Color Bar
XIX. Natal Indian Congress
XX. Balasundaram
XXI. The £3 Tax
XXII. The Comparative Study Of Religions
XXIII. As A Householder
XXIV. Homeward
XXV. In India
XXVI. Two Passions
XXVII. The Bombay Meeting
XXVIII. Poona And Madras
XXIX. Return Soon

Part III
I. Rumblings Of The Storm
II. The Storm
III. The Test
IV. The Calm After Storm
V. Education Of Children
VI. Spirit Of Service
VII. Brahmacharya – I
VIII. Brahmacharya – II
IX. Simple Life
X. Boer War
XI. Sanitary Reform And Famine Relief
XII. Return To India
XIII. In India Again
XIV. Clerk And Bearer
XV. In the Congress
XVI. Lord Curzon’s Darbar
XVII. A Month With Gokhale – I
XVIII. A Month With Gokhale – II
XIX. A Month With Gokhale – III
XX. In Benares
XXI. Settled In Bombay?
XXII. Faith On Its Trial
XXIII. To South Africa Again

Part IV
I. ‘Love’s Labor’s Lost’ ?
II. Autocrats From Asia
III. Pocketed The Insult
IV. Quickened Spirit Of Asia
V. Result of Introspection
VI. A Sacrifice to Vegetarianism
VII. Experiments in Earth and Water Treatment
VIII. A Warning
IX. A Tussle With Power
X. A Sacred Recollection and Penance
XI. Intimate European Contacts
XII. European Contact (Contd..)
XIII. ‘Indian Opinion’
XIV. Coolie Locations or Ghettoes ?
XV. The Black Plague – I
XVI. The Black Plague – II
XVII. Location in Flames
XVIII. The Magic Spell of A Book
XIX. The Phoenix Settlement
XX. The First Night
XXI. Polak Takes The Plunge
XXII. Whom God Protects
XXIII. A Peep into the household
XXIV. The Zulu Rebellion
XXV. Heart Searchings
XXVI. The Birth of Satyagraha
XXVII. More Experiments in Dietics
XXVIII. Kasturbai’s Courage
XXIX. Domestic Satyagraha
XXX. Towards Self-Restraint
XXXI. Fasting
XXXII. As Schoolmaster
XXXIII. Literary Training
XXXIV. Training of the Spirit
XXXV.Tares among the Wheat
XXXVI. Fasting as Penance
XXXVII. To meet Gokhale
XXXVIII. My Part in the War
XXXIX. A Spiritual Dilemma
XL. Miniature Satyagraha
XLI. Gokhale’s Charity
XLII. Treatment of Pleurisy
XLIII. Homeward
XLIV. Some Reminiscenes of the Bar
XLV. Sharp Pratice?
XLVI. Clients turned Co-Workers
XLVII. How a Client was saved

Part V
I. The First Experience
II. With Gokhale in Poona
III. Was it a Threat?
IV. Shantiniketan
V. Woes of Third Class Passengers
VI. Wooing
VII. Kumbh Mela
VIII. Lakshman Jhula
IX. Founding of the Ashram
X. On the Anvil
XI. Abolition of Indentured Emigration
XII. The Stain of Indigo
XIII. The Gentle Bihari
XIV. Face to Face with Ahimsa
XV. Case Withdrawn
XVI. Methods of Work
XVII. Companions
XVIII. Penetrating the Villages
XIX. When a Governor is Good
XX. In Touch with Labor
XXI. A Peep in to the Ashram
XXII. The Fast
XXIII. The Kheda Satyagraha
XXIV. ‘The Onion Thief’
XXV. End of Kheda Satyagraha
XXVI. Passion For Unity
XXVII. Recruiting Campaign
XXVIII. Near Death’s Door
XXIX. The Rowlatt Bills and My Dilemma
XXX. That Wonderful Spectacle
XXXI. That Memorable Week! – I
XXXII. That Memorable Week! – II
XXXIII. ‘A Himalayan Miscalculation’
XXXIV. ‘Navjivan’ and ‘Young India’
XXXV. In the Punjab
XXXVI. The Khilafat Against Cow Protection?
XXXVII. The Amritsar Congress
XXXVIII. Congress Initiation
XXXIX. The Birth of Khadi
XL. Found at Last
XLI. An Instructive Dialogue
XLII. Its Rising Tide
XLIII. At Nagpur
XLIV. Farewell

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Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University

What You Will Learn

  • Lesson 1

    Super Saving
    Common Sense for Your Dollars and Cents

    Dave explains the Seven Baby Steps that will guide you throughout Financial Peace University. You will also learn the three key reasons why you should save money—and why you must start now!

  • Lesson 2

    Relating With Money
    Nerds and Free Spirits Unite!

    Learn why it’s important for spouses to communicate and work together toward success. Also, singles will learn the importance of teamwork, and parents will find out how to teach their kids about money.

  • Lesson 3

    Cash Flow Planning
    The Nuts and Bolts of Budgeting

    Unlock the secret of developing a monthly spending plan that really works. Learn how to live on less than you make, pay your bills, allow for entertainment, AND still have money left over at the end of the month.

  • Lesson 4

    Dumping Debt
    Breaking the Chains of Debt

    It’s time to debunk some common debt myths! Dave reveals the truth about credit lies and gives you a plan to walk out of debt with confidence.

  • Lesson 5

    Buyer Beware
    The Power of Marketing on Your Buying Decisions

    Dave draws on decades of experience to reveal the power and influence that marketing has on your everyday buying decisions.

 

  • Lesson 6

    The Role of Insurance
    Protecting Your Health, Family and Finances

    In this lesson, Dave walks you through the world of insurance, carefully explaining what you need—and what you need to avoid.

  • Lesson 7

    Retirement and College Planning
    Mastering the Alphabet Soup of Investing

    Dave walks you through the maze of retirement options and helps you figure out your best retirement plan. You will also learn how to plan for college so your kids can graduate debt free!

  • Lesson 8

    Real Estate and Mortgages
    Keeping the American Dream From Becoming a Nightmare

    Dave draws on over 20 years of real estate experience to teach you how to win when buying or selling your home, and the ins and outs of mortgages.

  • Lesson 9

    The Great Misunderstanding
    Unleashing the Power of Generous Giving

    Learn how generous giving can completely revolutionize your attitude and improve your finances, business and relationships.

 

Click to get the Financial Peace University DVD Home Study Kit

Click to get the Dave Ramseys Financial Peace University Membership Kit Audio CD – Box set

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bonus: One of my favourite parts – Dave Ramsey Live 7 Baby Steps

If you’re like me and you want to know the point without all the fluff you can click here to see the 7 baby steps

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Why Goal Setting Doesn’t Work

We have all heard this advice: Set goals if you want to accomplish anything substantial. That advice comes from personal coaches, self-help gurus, management consultants, managers and executives and is deeply imbedded in leadership practices.

In organizations, “stretch goals,” or “hairy audacious goals,” as a management motivational and performance strategy, is widely practiced.  Yet, there is evidence that goal setting may actually be counter productive if not a waste of time.

Our society, at both the individual level and in organizations, has an obsession with goal setting, particularly “stretch” goals or “audacious goals.” We tie goals to accomplishment. In our culture, an individual or organizations cannot be considered successful unless goals are achieved. And the usual motivation method used by leaders to achieve these goals is the continual focus on “improvement,” “bigger and better,” through harder and harder work, and increased productivity. And the way to measure that success is to measure goal attainment.

The following is a typical template for goal setting:

  • Write down the goals;
  • Make goals specific and clear;
  • Indicate how you’ll measure goal accomplishment;
  • Have goal timelines and deadlines;
  • State goals in terms of specific outcomes or results;
  • Attach rewards, incentives for attainment and punishment for failure.

The support for setting goals has reportedly come from both academic/research sources and popular self-help sources. With the respect to the first, researchers reportedly surveyed the graduating seniors from the class of 1953 at Yale University. They asked if the class members had written goals for their future. Three percent did. The rest did not. Twenty years later, researchers were said to have gone back to the surviving members of the class. They discovered that those with written life goals had accumulated more wealth than all their classmates put together.

The only problem with this powerful finding is that there was no such study. Researchers at Yale and members of the class of 1953 all swear they never conducted or participated in any such study.

The second source of support has come from such self-help sources as The Secret, which encourages people to set ambitious goals through a process of visualization. There is no study that I am aware of that demonstrates a causal link between visualizing goals and their attainment.

Despite the popularity of goal setting, there is compelling evidence that regardless of good intentions and effort, people and organizations consistently fall short of achieving their goals. More often than not, the fault is attributed to the goal setter. But the real problem may be in the efficacy of goal setting itself.

What’s Wrong With Setting Ambitious Goals?

Click to get the book or ebook


Aubrey Daniels, in his book, Oops! 13 Management Practices That Waste Time And Money,(link is external) argues that stretch goals are an ineffective management practice. Daniels cites a study that shows when individuals repeatedly fail to reach stretch goals, their performance declines. Another study showed 10% of employees actually achieved stretch goals. Daniels argues that goals are motivating people only when they have received positive rewards and feedback from reaching them in the past.

The Center For Disease Control estimates that 34% of Americans are overweight and a further 34% are obese, which means almost 70% of the population are dangerously unhealthy. That’s a curious result, despite the proliferation of weight loss programs that usually focus on weight-loss goals. The easy explanation would be to attribute fault to individual for lack of will or effort. But the problem may be inherent in the validity of goal setting.

Sim Sitkin a Duke University business school professor, completed a study(link is external) of stretch goals, and found they were most likely to be pursued by desperate, embattled companies that would have difficulty adapting if the goals failed. He says: “We conclude that stretch goals are, paradoxically, most seductive for organizations that can least afford the risks associated with them.”

L.A. King and C.M. Burton in an article entitled, The Hazards of Goal Pursuit(link is external), for the American Psychological Association, argue that goals should be used only in the narrowest of circumstances: “The optimally striving individual ought to endeavor to achieve and approach goals that only slightly implicate the self; that are only moderately important, fairly easy, and moderately abstract; that do not conflict with each other, and that concern the accomplishment of something other than financial gain.”

Adam Galinsky, a professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and one of the authors of a Harvard Business School report called Goals Gone Wild(link is external),” argues that “goal setting has been treated like an over-the-counter medication when it should really be treated with more care, as a prescription-strength mediation.” He argues that goal setting can focus attention too much or on the wrong things and can lead people to participate in extreme behaviors to achieve the goals.

The authors of Goals Gone Wild, have identified several specific negative side effects associated with goal setting: “An overly narrow focus that neglects non-goal areas; a rise in unethical behavior; distorted risk preferences; corrosion of organizational culture; and reduced intrinsic motivation.”

Maurice Schweitzer of the University of Pennsylvania and Lisa Ordonez of the University of Arizona, co-authors of Goals Gone Wild, have studied the psychology of goal attainment, and in several experiments have shown that when people self-report their achievement of goals, if they are not entirely successful, a significant percentage of them lie to make up the difference.

One inherent problem with goal setting is related to how the brain works. Recentneuroscience research shows the brain works in a protective way, resistant to change. Therefore, any goals that require substantial behavioral change, or thinking-pattern change, will automatically be resisted. The brain is wired to seek rewards and avoid pain or discomfort, including fear.  When fear of failure creeps into the mind of the goal setter, it becomes a “demotivator,” with a desire to return to known, comfortable behavior and thought patterns.

Examples of Goal Setting Gone Wrong

In the early 2000’s , General Motors had set a goal to capture 29% of the American auto market. It even produced corporate pins for people to wear with the number 29 on them. Needless to say they never achieved that goal, and without a government bailout, GM may not have even survived.

In the early 1990s, Sears gave a sales quota of $147 per hour to its auto repair staff. Faced with this target, the staff overcharged for work and performed unnecessary repairs. Sears’ Chairman at the time, Ed Brennan, acknowledged that the stretch goal gave employees a powerful incentive to deceive customers.

Or take the Ford Pinto. Presented with a goal to build a car “under 2,000 pounds and under $2,000 by 1970, employees overlooked safety testing and designed a car where the gas tank was vulnerable to explosion from rear-end collisions. Fifty-three people died as a result.

In the late 1990s, specific, challenging goals fueled energy-trading company Enron’s rapid financial success. Dan Ackman(link is external), writing in Forbes compares Enron’s incentive system to “paying a salesman a commission based on the volume of sales and letting him set the price of goods sold.” Even during Enron’s final days, Enron executives were rewarded with large bonuses for meeting specific revenue goals. In sum, “Enron executives were meeting their goals, but they were the wrong goals,” according to employee compensation expert Solange Charas. By focusing on revenue rather than profit, Enron executives drove the company into the ground.

Max Bazerman, a Harvard Business School professor and co-author of Goals Gone Wild, argues the following in the study:

  • People can focus so much on reaching the stretch goal that they fail to realize how this has dumped other work on their co-workers.
  • With goals, people narrow their focus. This intense focus can blind people to important issues that appear unrelated to their goal;
  • A related problem occurs when employees pursue multiple goals at one time. Individuals with multiple goals are prone to concentrate on only one goal;
  • Overemphasis on short-term thinking. Goals that emphasize immediate performance (e.g., this quarter’s profits) prompt managers to engage in myopic, short-term behavior that harms the organization in the long run;
  • People motivated by specific, challenging goals adopt riskier strategies and choose riskier gambles than do those with less challenging or vague goals;
  • Goal setting can promote two different types of cheating behavior. First, when motivated by a goal, people may choose to use unethical methods to reach it; second, goal setting can motivate people to misrepresent their performance level—in other words, to report that they met a goal when in fact they fell short;
  • Goals create a culture of competition. Organizations that rely heavily on goal setting may erode the foundation of cooperation that holds groups together;
  • As goal setting increases extrinsic motivation, it can harm intrinsic motivation – engaging in a task for its own sake;

So What’s The Alternative?

In his classic article, “Small Wins(link is external),” psychologist Karl Weick argued that people often become overwhelmed and discouraged when faced with massive and complex problems. He advocated recasting larger problems into smaller, tractable challenges that produce visible results, and maintained that the strategy of “small wins” can often generate more action and more complete solutions to major problems because it enables people to make slow, steady progress.

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In their recent book, The Progress Principle(link is external), Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer build on the same argument and clearly demonstrate how even the smallest, most mundane steps forward — for example, achieving clear consensus in a meeting — can motivate and inspire workers. Ever wonder why people will so often write down an item they’ve already completed on theirto-do-list? It’s so that they can have the satisfaction of immediately crossing it off and experiencing the sense of progress(link is external).

Focusing on small wins in combination with process improvement will driveyourorganizationforward without the negative consequences of stretch goals. However, this approach requires a willingness to abandon the “ready, fire, aim” approach to problem solving. The heavy lifting has to be done at the outset(link is external) — a deepunderstanding of the current condition is a prerequisite for true improvement. This approach also requires a subtle — but critical — shift in focus from improving outcome metrics to improving the process by which those outcomes are achieved.

If You Must Set Goals

If you must set goals, consider these questions to guide you, suggested by Max Bazerman:

  • Are the goals too specific? Narrow goals can blind people to important aspects of a problem. Be sure that goals are comprehensive and include all of the critical components for firm success (e.g., quantity and quality);
  • Are the goals too challenging? What will happen if goals are not met? How will individual employees and outcomes be evaluated? Will failure harm motivation and self-efficacy? Provide skills and training to enable employees to reach goals. Avoid harsh punishment for failure to reach a goal;
  • Who sets the goals? People will become more committed to goals they help to set. At the same time, people may be tempted to set easy to reach goals;
  • Is the time horizon appropriate? Be sure that short-term efforts to reach a goal do not harm investment in long-term outcomes. For example, consider eliminating quarterly reports as Coca-Cola did;
  • Consider how might goals influence risk taking? Be sure to articulate acceptable levels of risk;
  • Consider how might goals motivate unethical behavior? Goals narrow focus, such that employees may be less likely to recognize ethical issues. Goals also induce employees to rationalize their unethical behavior and can corrupt organizational cultures. Multiple safeguards may be necessary to ensure ethical behavior while attaining goals (e.g., leaders as exemplars of ethical behavior, making the costs of cheating far greater than the benefit, strong oversight);
  • Can goals be idiosyncratically tailored for individual abilities and circumstances while preserving fairness? Strive to set goals that use common standards and account for individual variation;
  • How will goals influence organizational culture? If cooperation is essential, consider setting team-based rather than individual goals;
  • Are individuals intrinsically motivated? Assess intrinsic motivation and recognize that goals can curtail intrinsic motivation;
  • Consider the ultimate goals of the organization and what type of goal (performance or learning) is most appropriate? In complex, changing environments learning goals may be more effective.

The Psychological Manifestations

Finally, there are psychological manifestations of not achieving goals that may be more damaging that not having any goals at all. The process sets up desires that are removed from everyday reality. Whenever we desire things that we don’t have, we set our brain’s nervous system to produce negative emotions. Second, highly aspirational goals require us to develop new competencies, some of which may be beyond current capabilities. As we develop these competencies, we are likely to experience failures, which then become de-motivational. Thirdly, goal setting sets up an either-or polarity of success. The only true measure can either be 100% attainment or perfection, or 99% and less, which is failure. We can then excessively focus on the missing or incomplete part of our efforts, ignoring the successful parts. Fourthly, goal setting doesn’t take into account random forces of chance. You can’t control all the environmental variables to guarantee 100% success.

The other problem is that goals are often cast in the image of the ideal or perfection, which activates the self-judging thinking of “I should be this way.” This counteracts the positive need for self-acceptance.

And if the goal is not attained, we can often engage in thinking we are failures, not good enough, not smart enough, not beautiful enough, etc. So the non-attainment of goals can create emotions of unworthiness.

We must also make a distinction between our intentions vs. goals. An intention is a direction we want to pursue, preferably with passion. My experience is that people are often confused, and unclear about the intentions of how they want to live and achieve, and therefore a focus on goals doesn’t assist them with clarifying their intentions.

When I work with people as their coach and mentor, they often tell me they’ve set goals such as “I want to be wealthy,” or “I want to be more beautiful/popular,” “I want a better relationship/ideal partner.” They don’t realize they’ve just described the symptoms or outcomes of the problems in their life. The cause of the problem, which many resist facing, is themselves. They don’t realize that for a change to occur, if one is desirable, they must change themselves. Once they make the personal changes, everything around them can alter, which may make the goal irrelevant.

There’s an old saying: “you don’t get what you want in life, you get in life what you are.”

Ray Williams
Paras note: Even though I still think it’s good to have an intention to reach your ‘goal’ I found something better. Jaydeep shared a great post which I’m still getting my head around. The feeling with which you sow the seeds of your actions, you will reap the same kind of results too – Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. Says a lot for people who do good and still suffer. A spiritual version of Newton’s 3rd law.
Feelings Reap Sow
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Scientifically Proven Ways to be Happier … thanks Ahmed

 

More Exercise

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In a study cited in Shawn Achor’s book, The Happiness Advantage, three groups of patients treated their depression with exercise. Although all three groups experienced similar improvements in their happiness levels to begin with, the follow up assessments proved to be radically different:

The groups were then tested six months later to assess their relapse rate. Of those who had taken the medication alone, 38 percent had slipped back into depression. Those in the combination group were doing only slightly better, with a 31 percent relapse rate. The biggest shock, though, came from the exercise group: Their relapse rate was only 9 percent!

You don’t have to be depressed. It can help you to relax, increase your brain power and even improve your body image, even if you don’t lose any weight.

study in the Journal of Health Psychology found that people who exercised felt better about their bodies, even when they saw no physical changes:

Body weight, shape and body image were assessed in 16 males and 18 females before and after both 6 × 40 mins exercise and 6 × 40 mins reading. Over both conditions, body weight and shape did not change. Various aspects of body image, however, improved after exercise compared to before.

Exercise releases proteins and endorphins that make us feel happier, as you can see in the image below.

More Sleep

Sleep helps our bodies to recover from the day and repair themselves, and that it helps us focus and be more productive.

In NutureShock, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman explain how sleep affects our positivity:

Negative stimuli get processed by the amygdala; positive or neutral memories gets processed by the hippocampus. Sleep deprivation hits the hippocampus harder than the amygdala. The result is that sleep-deprived people fail to recall pleasant memories, yet recall gloomy memories just fine.

In one experiment by Walker, sleep-deprived college students tried to memorize a list of words. They could remember 81% of the words with a negative connotation, like “cancer.” But they could remember only 31% of the words with a positive or neutral connotation, like “sunshine” or “basket.”

Another study proves sleep affects our sensitivity to negative emotions. Using a facial recognition task over the course of a day, the researchers studied how sensitive participants were to positive and negative emotions. Those who worked through the afternoon without taking a nap became more sensitive late in the day to negative emotions like fear and anger.

Using a face recognition task, here we demonstrate an amplified reactivity to anger and fear emotions across the day, without sleep. However, an intervening nap blocked and even reversed this negative emotional reactivity to anger and fear while conversely enhancing ratings of positive (happy) expressions.

make yourself happier

Another study tested how employees’ moods when they started work in the morning affected their work day.

Researchers found that employees’ moods when they clocked in tended to affect how they felt the rest of the day. Early mood was linked to their perceptions of customers and to how they reacted to customers’ moods.

And most importantly to managers, employee mood had a clear impact on performance, including both how much work employees did and how well they did it.

Shorter commutes to work

According to The Art of Manliness, having a long commute is something we often fail to realize will affect us so dramatically:

… while many voluntary conditions don’t affect our happiness in the long term because we acclimate to them, people never get accustomed to their daily slog to work because sometimes the traffic is awful and sometimes it’s not. Or as Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert put it, “Driving in traffic is a different kind of hell every day.”

We tend to try to compensate for this by having a bigger house or a better job, but these compensations just don’t work:

Two Swiss economists who studied the effect of commuting on happiness found that such factors could not make up for the misery created by a long commute.

Spend time with loved ones

Staying in touch with friends and family is one of the top five regrets of the dying. If you want more evidence that it’s beneficial for you, I’ve found some research that proves it can make you happier right now.

Social time is highly valuable when it comes to improving our happiness, even for introverts. Several studies have found that time spent with friends and family makes a big difference to how happy we feel, generally.

Harvard happiness expert Daniel Gilbert explains it perfectly:

We are happy when we have family, we are happy when we have friends and almost all the other things we think make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends.

George Vaillant is the director of a 72-year study of the lives of 268 men.

In an interview in the March 2008 newsletter to the Grant Study subjects, Vaillant was asked, “What have you learned from the Grant Study men?” Vaillant’s response: “That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”

The men’s relationships at age 47, he found, predicted late-life adjustment better than any other variable, except defenses. Good sibling relationships seem especially powerful: 93 percent of the men who were thriving at age 65 had been close to a brother or sister when younger.

A study published in the Journal of Socio-Economics states than your relationships are worth more than $100,000:

Using the British Household Panel Survey, I find that an increase in the level of social involvements is worth up to an extra £85,000 a year in terms of life satisfaction. Actual changes in income, on the other hand, buy very little happiness.

Actual changes in income, on the other hand, buy very little happiness. So we could increase our annual income by hundreds of thousands of dollars and still not be as happy as if we increased the strength of our social relationships.

The Terman study, which is covered in The Longevity Project, found that relationships and how we help others were important factors in living long, happy lives:

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 neighbours, advising and caring for others, tended to live to old age.

Go outside

In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor recommends spending time in the fresh air to improve your happiness:

Making time to go outside on a nice day also delivers a huge advantage; one study found that spending 20 minutes outside in good weather not only boosted positive mood, but broadened thinking and improved working memory…

Twenty minutes is a short enough time to spend outside that you could fit it into your commute or even your lunch break.

A UK study from the University of Sussex also found that being outdoors made people happier:

Being outdoors, near the sea, on a warm, sunny weekend afternoon is the perfect spot for most. In fact, participants were found to be substantially happier outdoors in all natural environments than they were in urban environments.

The American Meteorological Society published research in 2011 that found current temperature has a bigger effect on our happiness than variables like wind speed and humidity, or even the average temperature over the course of a day. It also found that happiness is maximized at 13.9°C, so keep an eye on the weather forecast before heading outside for your 20 minutes of fresh air.

Help others

100 hours per year (or two hours per week) is the optimal time we should dedicate to helping others in order to enrich our lives.

If we go back to Shawn Achor’s book again, he says this about helping others:

…when researchers interviewed more than 150 people about their recent purchases, they found that money spent on activities—such as concerts and group dinners out—brought far more pleasure than material purchases like shoes, televisions, or expensive watches. Spending money on other people, called “prosocial spending,” also boosts happiness.

The Journal of Happiness Studies published a study that explored this very topic:

Participants recalled a previous purchase made for either themselves or someone else and then reported their happiness. Afterward, participants chose whether to spend a monetary windfall on themselves or someone else. Participants assigned to recall a purchase made for someone else reported feeling significantly happier immediately after this recollection; most importantly, the happier participants felt, the more likely they were to choose to spend a windfall on someone else in the near future.

study of volunteering in Germany explored how volunteers were affected when their opportunities to help others were taken away:

Shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall but before the German reunion, the first wave of data of the GSOEP was collected in East Germany. Volunteering was still widespread. Due to the shock of the reunion, a large portion of the infrastructure of volunteering (e.g. sports clubs associated with firms) collapsed and people randomly lost their opportunities for volunteering. Based on a comparison of the change in subjective well-being of these people and of people from the control group who had no change in their volunteer status, the hypothesis is supported that volunteering is rewarding in terms of higher life satisfaction.

In his book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, University of Pennsylvania professor Martin Seligman explains that helping others can improve our own lives:

…we scientists have found that doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested.

Smile

Smiling itself can make us feel better, but it’s more effective when we back it up with positive thoughts, according to this study:

A new study led by a Michigan State University business scholar suggests customer-service workers who fake smile throughout the day worsen their mood and withdraw from work, affecting productivity. But workers who smile as a result of cultivating positive thoughts – such as a tropical vacation or a child’s recital – improve their mood and withdraw less.

Of course it’s important to practice “real smiles” where you use your eye sockets. It’s very easy to spot the difference:

make yourself happier smiling

According to PsyBlogsmiling can improve our attention and help us perform better on cognitive tasks:

Smiling makes us feel good which also increases our attentional flexibility and our ability to think holistically. When this idea was tested by Johnson et al. (2010), the results showed that participants who smiled performed better on attentional tasks which required seeing the whole forest rather than just the trees.

Smiling is one way to reduce the distress caused by an upsetting situation. Psychologists call this the facial feedback hypothesis. Even forcing a smile when we don’t feel like it is enough to lift our mood slightly (this is one example of embodied cognition).

One of our previous posts goes into even more detail about the science of smiling.

Plan a trip – but don’t take one

As opposed to actually taking a holiday, it seems that planning a vacation or just a break from work can improve our happiness. A study published in the journal, Applied Research in Quality of Lifeshowed that the highest spike in happiness came during the planning stage of a vacation as employees enjoyed the sense of anticipation:

In the study, the effect of vacation anticipation boosted happiness for eight weeks.

After the vacation, happiness quickly dropped back to baseline levels for most people.

Shawn Achor has some info for us on this point, as well:

One study found that people who just thought about watching their favourite movie actually raised their endorphins levels by 27 percent.

If you can’t take the time for a vacation right now, or even a night out with friends, put something on the calendar—even if it’s a month or a year down the road. Then whenever you need a boost of happiness, remind yourself about it.

Meditate

In one study, a research team from Massachusetts General Hospital looked at the brain scans of 16 people before and after they participated in an eight-week course in mindfulness meditation. The study, published in the January issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, concluded that after completing the course, parts of the participants’ brains associated with compassion and self-awareness grew, and parts associated with stress shrank.

This graphic explains it the best:

calming-mind-brain-waves make yourself happier

According to Shawn Achor, meditation can actually make you happier long-term:

Studies show that in the minutes right after meditating, we experience feelings of calm and contentment, as well as heightened awareness and empathy. And, research even shows that regular meditation can permanently rewire the brain to raise levels of happiness.

Be grateful

There are lots of ways to practice gratitude, from keeping a journal of things you’re grateful for, sharing three good things that happen each day with a friend or your partner, and going out of your way to show gratitude when others help you.

In an experiment where some participants took note of things they were grateful for each day, their moods were improved just from this simple practice:

The gratitude-outlook groups exhibited heightened well-being across several, though not all, of the outcome measures across the 3 studies, relative to the comparison groups. The effect on positive affect appeared to be the most robust finding. Results suggest that a conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits.

The Journal of Happiness studies published a study that used letters of gratitude to test how being grateful can affect our levels of happiness:

Participants included 219 men and women who wrote three letters of gratitude over a 3 week period.

Results indicated that writing letters of gratitude increased participants’ happiness and life satisfaction, while decreasing depressive symptoms.

Last fact: Getting older will make yourself happier

As we get older, particularly past middle age, we tend to grow happier naturally. There’s still some debate over why this happens, but scientists have got a few ideas:

Researchers, including the authors, have found that older people shown pictures of faces or situations tend to focus on and remember the happier ones more and the negative ones less.

Other studies have discovered that as people age, they seek out situations that will lift their moods — for instance, pruning social circles of friends or acquaintances who might bring them down. Still other work finds that older adults learn to let go of loss and disappointment over unachieved goals, and hew their goals toward greater wellbeing.

So if you thought being old would make you miserable, rest assured that it’s likely you’ll develop a more positive outlook than you probably have now.

 

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