Tag Archives: Health

The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz

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The Magic of Thinking Big by David J. Schwartz
– Big up Mr. Money Moustache for the recommendation.
– Talks about mediocrity and all kinds of excuse-itis – health, age, intelligence.
– Use big and positive words and phrases everywhere especially with people.
– Mostly pretty basic stuff like using creativity, always be open, try different things, work smart, etc.

How to use the magic of thinking big in life’s most crucial situations
A. When Little People Try to Drive You Down, THINK BIG
B. When That “I-Haven’t-Got-What-It-Takes” Feeling Creeps Up on You, THINK BIG
C. When an Argument or Quarrel Seems Inevitable, THINK BIG.
D. When You Feel Defeated, THINK BIG.
E. When Romance Starts to Slip, THINK BIG
F. When You Feel Your Progress on the Job Is Slowing Down, THINK BIG

Contents
1 – Believe You Can Succeed and You Will
2 – Cure Yourself of Excusitis, the Failure Disease
3 – Build Confidence And Destroy Fear
4 – How To Think Big
5 – How To Think And Dream Creatively
6 – You Are What You Think You Are
7 – Manage Your Environment: Go First Class
8 – Make Your Attitudes Your Allies
9 – Think Right Toward People
10 – Get The Action Habit
11 – How To Turn Defeat Into Victory
12 – Use Goals To Help You Grow
13 – How To Think Like A Leader

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The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller & Jay Papasan

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The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results by Gary Keller & Jay Papasan
​Every chapter ends with a summary of the big ideas. Big up Charles Poliquin for the recommendation. The main point of the book which you should ask for everything is ‘What’s the ONE THING I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?’. I thought just focusing on one thing was too simple or would be easy but it takes conscious practice.

Notes:
“Be like a postage stamp— stick to one thing until you get there” Josh Billings

Where I’d had huge success, I had narrowed my concentration to one thing, and where my success varied, my focus had too.

Extraordinary results are directly determined by how narrow you can make your focus.

When one thing, the right thing, is set in motion, it can topple many things. (Example of small domino find front on consecutive bigger ones.

The ONE Thing becomes difficult because we’ve unfortunately bought into too many others—and more often than not those “other things” muddle our thinking, misguide our actions, and sidetrack our success. The real solutions we seek are almost always hiding in plain sight; unfortunately, they’ve usually been obscured by an unbelievable amount of bunk, an astounding flood of “common sense” that turns out to be nonsense.

Frog hot water, fish smelling from head down and burning ships stories are examples of non-truthiness. Repeat a lie long enough it starts sounding like truth.

THE SIX LIES BETWEEN YOU AND SUCCESS
Everything Matters Equally
Multitasking
A Disciplined Life
Willpower Is Always on Will-Call
A Balanced Life
Big Is Bad

While to-dos serve as a useful collection of our best intentions, they also tyrannize us with trivial, unimportant stuff that we feel obligated to get done—because it’s on our list. You don’t need a to do list you need a success list. Paretos principle/Jurans rule … 80:20 so from a to-do list, prioritise and it becomes a success list. And then ‘extreme Pareto’ it by narrowing down to just 1.

Multitasking is about multiple tasks alternately sharing one resource (the CPU), but in time the context was flipped and it became interpreted to mean multiple tasks being done simultaneously by one resource (a person). It was a clever turn of phrase that’s misleading, for even computers can process only one piece of code at a time.

It’s not that we have too little time to do all the things we need to do, it’s that we feel the need to do too many things in the time we have

Switching between two simple tasks—like watching television and folding clothes—is quick and relatively painless. However, if you’re working on a spreadsheet and a co-worker pops into your office to discuss a business problem, the relative complexity of those tasks makes it impossible to easily jump back and forth. It always takes some time to start a new task and restart the one you quit, and there’s no guarantee that you’ll ever pick up exactly where you left off. There is a price for this. (Something I kept telling a manager!)

If you were trying to talk a passenger through landing a DC-10, you’d stop walking. Likewise, if you were walking across a gorge on a rope bridge, you’d likely stop talking.

Researchers estimate we lose 28 percent of an average workday to multitasking ineffectiveness.

Once a new behavior becomes a habit, it takes less discipline to maintain.

The results suggest that it takes an average of 66 days to acquire a new habit. The full range was 18 to 254

WHAT TAXES YOUR WILLPOWER
Implementing new behaviours
Filtering distractions
Resisting temptation
Suppressing emotion
Restraining aggression
Suppressing impulses
Taking tests
Trying to impress others
Coping with fear
Doing something you don’t enjoy
Selecting long-term over short-term rewards
More on willpower in this posts – Willpower: Rediscovering Our Greatest Strength by Roy F. Baumeister & John Tierney

A balanced life is a lie, it doesn’t exist. Focusing on one means others will be neglected. Instead of balance, counterbalance. Like balancing 2 buckets.

When you’re supposed to be working, work, and when you’re supposed to be playing, play. It’s a weird tightrope you’re walking, but it’s only when you get your priorities mixed up that things fall apart.

“We are kept from our goal, not by obstacles but by a clear path to a lesser goal.”
—Robert Brault

What’s the ONE THING I can do such that by doing it everything else will be easier or unnecessary?

Think big and specific e.g. How can I double sales in 6 months.

There is a natural rhythm to our lives that becomes a simple formula for implementing the ONE Thing and achieving extraordinary results: purpose, priority, and productivity. Bound together, these three are forever connected and continually confirming each other’s existence in our lives. Their link leads to the two areas where you’ll apply the ONE Thing—one big and one small. Your big ONE Thing is your purpose and your small ONE Thing is the priority you take action on to achieve it. The most productive people start with purpose and use it like a compass. They allow purpose to be the guiding force in determining the priority that drives their actions.

Those in one group were told to visualize the outcome (like getting an “A” on an exam) and the others were asked to visualize the process needed to achieve a desired outcome (like all of the study sessions needed to earn that “A” on the exam). In the end, students who visualized the process performed better across the board—they studied earlier and more frequently and earned higher grades than those who simply visualized the outcome.

4 proven ways to battle distractions and keep your eye on your ONE Thing.
Build a bunker.
Store provisions.
Sweep for mines.
Enlist support.

Research that individuals with written goals were 39.5 percent more likely to succeed. But there’s more to the story. Individuals who wrote their goals and sent progress reports to friends were 76.7 percent more likely to achieve them. As effective as writing down your goals can be, simply sharing your progress toward your goals with someone regularly even just a friend, makes you almost twice as effective.

THE FOUR THIEVES OF PRODUCTIVITY
Inability to Say “No”
Fear of Chaos
Poor Health Habits
Environment Doesn’t Support Your Goals

CONTENTS
1. The ONE Thing
2. The Domino Effect
3. Success Leaves Clues

PART 1
THE LIES
THEY MISLEAD AND DERAIL US
4. Everything Matters Equally
5. Multitasking
6. A Disciplined Life
7. Willpower Is Always on Will-Call
8. A Balanced Life
9. Big Is Bad

PART 2
THE TRUTH
THE SIMPLE PATH TO PRODUCTIVITY
10. The Focusing Question
11. The Success Habit
12. The Path to Great Answers

PART 3
EXTRAORDINARY RESULTS
UNLOCKING THE POSSIBILITIES WITHIN YOU
13. Live with Purpose
14. Live by Priority
15. Live for Productivity
16. The Three Commitments
17. The Four Thieves
18. The Journey

Putting The ONE Thing to Work
On the Research
Index
Acknowledgments
About the Authors
Resources
Copyright

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25 Ways to Win with People: How to Make Others Feel Like a Million Bucks by John C. Maxwell, Leslie Parrott

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25 Ways to Win with People: How to Make Others Feel Like a Million Bucks by John C. Maxwell, Leslie Parrott

Summary from – http://www.gowland.ca/25-ways-to-win-with-people

1: Start With Yourself

  • You can’t give what you don’t have.
  • Accept yourself as you are (RWG:God’s child), not trying to become what you are not.
    • Identify your insecurities and their source then hold them up to the truth.
    • RWG: What have these insecurities held me back from? Are there any opportunities I can still seize?
  • “Increase your value to others by solving as many of your problems as you can.”
    • Identify areas you need to improve in order to be more valuable to others and develop a plan to accomplish them.

2: The 30 Second Rule

Chapter Notes

  • Within the first 30 seconds of a conversation, say something encouraging to a person.
  • To be successful at this, you have to plan to do it.
  • People need attention, affirmation, and appreciation to be motivated to do what is good and right
  • Upon doing this regularly, people will light up when you simply walk into the room.
  • RWG: Praising the good things in a person increasingly draws them out of that person.

Implementing this habit:

  • Open up my calendar. Who are the people I will be meeting this week?
    • What can I say to them that will encourage them? What have they done for me? What have they done that is worthy of praise? Are they discouraged in any way?
  • Rehearse what I will say to them.

3: Let People Know You Need Them

Chapter Notes

  • People need to be needed. They need to know they helped at a meaningful level.
    • RWG: You may have to connect the dots for them.
  • “Who specifically can help me do a better job than I can do alone?”
  • “Who is just waiting to be asked to join in what I am doing?”

Implementing this habit:

  • Scan your calendar for events where you can let people know that you need them
  • Identify areas where you need help (either due to time or due to ability)
  • List the people who are involved in the same activities, and for each person, identify any strengths that are being underutilized

4: Create a Memory and Revisit It Often

Chapter Notes

  • Revisit existing memories with people
  • Plan experiences to commemorate milestones and create mementos.

Implementing this habit:

  • Who do I want to encourage and/or connect better with (people who work with me, people who work for me, my spouse)? Are there any upcoming events that I can use to create a memory?
  • What are some mile stones coming up that I can create an experience or a memento for?
  • What are some everyday things that I can turn into a memorable occasion?
  • What are some existing memories that I can revisit with someone?

5: Compliment People In Front Of Other People

  • When you compliment someone’s attitudes you can reinforce that attitude and make it more consistent.
  • Find/create opportunities to do so.
  • “Who can I spotlight in front of others?”

6: Give Others a Reputation to Uphold

Chapter Notes

  • Have a high opinion of people (Eg. Linda Eggers “represents me well”, John Hull is “Mr. Relationship”).
  • Back your high opinion up with action; give them responsibility and its associated privileges.
  • “Elite performers usually need 10 years of dedicated and consistent practice before they obtain any recognizable level off excellence,” but this can be cut dramatically if the performer sees that they are forming a recognizable reputation.
  • Start by asking “What is special/unique about this person?”
  • RWG: Most people have given themselves at least one negative name, or have accepted one from others. This will hinder them. Re-enforcing a positive reputation will give them something to live up to.

Implementing this habit:

  • For each organization where you are a leader, list all the people you lead. For each person list all theirs strengths and identify a strength that is unique among within that organization. Find a short phrase that captures that strength and start using it around them and about them.

7: Say the Right Words at the Right Time

  • Forget about what you want to say and ask yourself what you would like to hear if you were in the other’s shoes.

8: Encourage the Dreams of Others

  1. Ask others to share their dreams with you
  2. Affirm the person as well as the dream
  3. Ask about the challenges they must overcome to reach their dreams (RWG: This helps them solidify the steps they need to take to get there. Most people aren’t good at this.)
  4. Offer your assistance
  5. Regularly revisit their dream with them
  6. Return to Step 1

9: Pass the Credit on to Others

  • John Wooden, UCLA coach, taught his players when they scored a point to smile, wink, or nod at the player who gave them the pass.
  • Verbal praise in front of others is powerful, but written praise lasts.
  • Passing on credit changes the recipient’s brain chemistry and creates “and emotional stamp that forever associates you in their minds with their success.”
  • Ask yourself, “who has made me more successful than I would have been on my own?” Then pass on the credit.

10: Offer Your Very Best

  • Give beyond what is required of you.

11: Share a Secret With Someone

  • It makes the other feel special and valued and connected to you.
  • Let them know you are sharing it only because you trust them.

12: Mine the Gold of Good Intentions

  • Being suspicious of others causes me to behave differently toward them, and it makes interacting with them worse.
  • People generally give you what you expect from them.

13: Keep Your Eyes Off the Mirror

  • Serving others from a place of emotional health is a source of contentment.
  • RWG: “What are the needs of those closest to me that I could fill?” (Wife, family, friends, ministry, church, further out.)

14: Do For Others What They Can’t Do For Themselves

  • “The more I give away, the more I seem to get to give away.”
  1. Introduce others to people they can’t know on their own.
  2. Take others to places they can’t go on their own.
  3. Offer others opportunities they can’t reach on their own.
  4. Share ideas with others they don’t possess on their own.
  • Self determination theory: helping others reach their goals cements the relationship
  • What do I have to share? Who could benefit from it?

15: Listen With Your Heart

Chapter Notes:

  • Roadblocks to effective listening:
    • Distractions
    • Defensiveness / close-mindedness
    • Projection / assumptions
    • RWG: Unforgiveness
  • When someone feels I am understanding them, they will be more interested in understanding me, so don’t focus on getting your own point across.

Implementing this habit:

  • Is there anyone who I don’t get along with or would like a deeper relationship with?
  • Take a week for each of these questions and ask them every day:
    • Did I pay attention today?
    • Did I show I was listening today?
    • Did I seek to understand today?
    • Did I respond honestly and appropriately today?
    • Did I ask questions today?

16: Find the Keys to Their Hearts

  • What do they dream about, cry about, find joy in, value, believe to be their strengths?
  • Establish common ground.
  • “Turn the key only when you can add value to that person.”

17: Be the First to Help

  • A good question to ask is “How can I best serve this person?”

18: Add Value to People

  • Learn to value people
  • Learn what those closest to you value from you the most and deliver

19: Remember a Person’s Story

Chapter Notes:

  • The time taken in asking for and listening to someone’s story:
    1. will be entirely focussed on them: their dreams, disappointments, interests, etc..
    2. will be enjoyed by that person
    3. will give you insight into that person
    4. will build a stronger relationship
  • If asking these types of questions is awkward for you, start practicing on people you’re not likely to see again, like cab drivers, waitresses, people in line.
  • Don’t interrupt: replace “That reminds me of…” with “Go on” or “I see”
  • Repeat back what you heard, “Let me see if I understand…”
  • Bring up some aspect of the person’s story the next time you see him.

Implementing this habit:

  • Every day for a month, answer this question in your journal: “Did I interject my own annecdotes or opinion into someone else’s story today?”
  • Every day for a month, answer this question in your journal: “Who will I talk to today who I can ask for a story? Did I ask anyone for their story yesterday?”

20: Tell a Good Story

Chapter Notes

  • Tell us a story rather than just relaying the facts.
  • The goal is connecting and sharing yourself, not just making yourself look good.

Implementing this habit:

  • Ask “How did I convey facts today that I could have shared as a story?”
  • Ask “Did I tell stories today to make me look good rather than to better others?”

21: Give With No Strings Attached

  • I would not be where I am if others had not given freely to me; others need me to do the same for them.

22: Remember Your Mailman’s Name

  • S – Say the name 3 times in a convesation
  • A – Ask a question about the name (eg. spelling) or person
  • V – Visualize the person’s prominent physical or personality feature
  • E – End the conversation with the name
  • A person’s mood and self evaluation improve when another remembers him personally.

23: Point Out People’s Strengths

  • Every person has some ability they are good at (they are at least 1 in 10,000).
  • People are more highly motivated when working in an area of strength
  • RWG: People form an identity either out of their strengths or their weaknesses. Pointing out their strengths promotes the former, which in turn will make them more effective.

24: Write Notes of Encouragement

  • Take the time to handwrite personal notes on a regular basis.
  • A handwritten note is evidence of your investment in that person.
  • Written notes can have a long lasting effect; longer than an email.

25: Help People Win

  • When you help somebody win, you will be that person’s friend for life.
  • Focus on the process, not just on the win. Don’t just hand him the win, help him win so next time maybe he can win on his own.
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How to raise kinder, less entitled kids (according to science)

Author: Richard Weissbourd, a Harvard psychologist with the graduate school of education, and the Making Caring Common Project have come up with recommendations about how to raise children to become caring, respectful and responsible adults.

1. Make caring for others a priority

Why? Parents tend to prioritize their children’s happiness and achievements over their children’s concern for others. But children need to learn to balance their needs with the needs of others, whether it’s passing the ball to a teammate or deciding to stand up for friend who is being bullied.

How? Children need to hear from parents that caring for others is a top priority. A big part of that is holding children to high ethical expectations, such as honoring their commitments, even if it makes them unhappy. For example, before kids quit a sports team, band, or a friendship, we should ask them to consider their obligations to the group or the friend and encourage them to work out problems before quitting.

Try this
• Instead of saying to your kids: “The most important thing is that you’re happy,” say “The most important thing is that you’re kind.”
• Make sure that your older children always address others respectfully, even when they’re tired, distracted, or angry.
• Emphasize caring when you interact with other key adults in your children’s lives. For example, ask teachers whether your children are good community members at school.

2. Provide opportunities for children to practice caring and gratitude

Why? It’s never too late to become a good person, but it won’t happen on its own. Children need to practice caring for others and expressing gratitude for those who care for them and contribute to others’ lives. Studies show that people who are in the habit of expressing gratitude are more likely to be helpful, generous, compassionate, and forgiving—and they’re also more likely to be happy and healthy.

How? Learning to be caring is like learning to play a sport or an instrument. Daily repetition—whether it’s a helping a friend with homework, pitching in around the house, or having a classroom job—make caring second nature and develop and hone youth’s caregiving capacities. Learning gratitude similarly involves regularly practicing it.

Try this
• Don’t reward your child for every act of helpfulness, such as clearing the dinner table. We should expect our kids to help around the house, with siblings, and with neighbors and only reward uncommon acts of kindness.
• Talk to your child about caring and uncaring acts they see on television and about acts of justice and injustice they might witness or hear about in the news.
• Make gratitude a daily ritual at dinnertime, bedtime, in the car, or on the subway. Express thanks for those who contribute to us and others in large and small ways.

3. Expand your child’s circle of concern

Why? Almost all children care about a small circle of their families and friends. Our challenge is help our children learn to care about someone outside that circle, such as the new kid in class, someone who doesn’t speak their language, the school custodian, or someone who lives in a distant country.

How? Children need to learn to zoom in, by listening closely and attending to those in their immediate circle, and to zoom out, by taking in the big picture and considering the many perspectives of the people they interact with daily, including those who are vulnerable. They also need to consider how their
decisions, such as quitting a sports team or a band, can ripple out and harm various members of their communities. Especially in our more global world, children need to develop concern for people who live in very different cultures and communities than their own.

Try this
• Make sure your children are friendly and grateful with all the people in their daily lives, such as a bus driver or a waitress.
• Encourage children to care for those who are vulnerable. Give children some simple ideas for stepping into the “caring and courage zone,” like comforting a classmate who was teased.
• Use a newspaper or TV story to encourage your child to think about hardships faced by children in another country.

4. Be a strong moral role model and mentor

Why? Children learn ethical values by watching the actions of adults they respect. They also learn values by thinking through ethical dilemmas with adults, e.g. “Should I invite a new neighbor to my birthday party when my best friend doesn’t like her?”

How? Being a moral role model and mentor means that we need to practice honesty, fairness, and caring ourselves. But it doesn’t mean being perfect all the time. For our children to respect and trust us, we need to acknowledge our mistakes and flaws. We also need to respect children’s thinking and listen
to their perspectives, demonstrating to them how we want them to engage others.

Try this
• Model caring for others by doing community service at least once a month. Even better, do this service with your child.
• Give your child an ethical dilemma at dinner or ask your child about dilemmas they’ve faced.

5. Guide children in managing destructive feelings

Why? Often the ability to care for others is overwhelmed by anger, shame, envy, or other negative feelings.

How? We need to teach children that all feelings are okay, but some ways of dealing with them are not helpful. Children need our help learning to cope with these feelings in productive ways.

Try this
Here’s a simple way to teach your kids to calm down: ask your child to stop, take a deep breath through the nose and exhale through the mouth, and count to five. Practice when your child is calm. Then, when you see her getting upset, remind her about the steps and do them with her. After a while she’ll start to do it on her own so that she can express her feelings in a helpful and appropriate way.

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Summary from the Longest Study on Happiness – The Harvard Study of Adult Development

Click to get the book or ebook

TED Talk video at the bottom of this page

– Over 80 percent said that a major life goal for them was to get rich and another 50 percent of those same young adults said that another major life goal was to become famous.

– For 75 years the lives of 724 men were tracked, asking about their work, their home lives, their health, and of course asking all along the way without knowing how their life stories were going to turn out.

– About 60 of the original 724 men are still alive, still participating in the study, most of them in their 90s. And we are now beginning to study the more than 2,000 children of these men.

– Since 1938 the lives of two groups of men were tracked. The first group started in the study when they were sophomores at Harvard College. They all finished college during World War II, and then most went off to serve in the war. And the second group that we’ve followed was a group of boys from Boston’s poorest neighborhoods, boys who were chosen for the study specifically because they were from some of the most troubled and disadvantaged families in the Boston of the 1930s. Most lived in tenements, many without hot and cold running water.

– Every two years, patient and dedicated research staff call the men and asks them if one more set of questions about their lives can be sent to them.

– They are interviewed in their living rooms. Medical records from their doctors are acquired. Drawing blood, brain scans, talks with their children, video taping them talking with loved ones about their deepest concerns. About a decade ago, the wives were asked if they would like to be interviewed, many of the women said, “You know, it’s about time.”

– The lessons aren’t about wealth or fame or working harder and harder. The clearest message is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.

– 3 big lessons about relationships. The first is that social connections are really good for us, and that loneliness kills. It turns out that people who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community, are happier, they’re physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less well connected. And the experience of loneliness turns out to be toxic. People who are more isolated than they want to be from others find that they are less happy, their health declines earlier in midlife, their brain functioning declines sooner and they live shorter lives than people who are not lonely. You can be lonely in a crowd and you can be lonely in a marriage, so the second big lesson that we learned is that it’s not just the number of friends you have, and it’s not whether or not you’re in a committed relationship, but it’s the quality of your close relationships that matters. It turns out that living in the midst of conflict is really bad for our health. High-conflict marriages, for example, without much affection, turn out to be very bad for our health, perhaps worse than getting divorced. And living in the midst of good, warm relationships is protective. Following the men all the way into their 80s to see if we could predict who was going to grow into a happy, healthy octogenarian and who wasn’t. It was how satisfied they were in their relationships that predicted how they were going to grow old. The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80. And good, close relationships seem to buffer us from some of the slings and arrows of getting old. The most happily partnered men and women reported, in their 80s, that on the days when they had more physical pain, their mood stayed just as happy. But the people who were in unhappy relationships, on the days when they reported more physical pain, it was magnified by more emotional pain. And the third big lesson that we learned about relationships and our health is that good relationships don’t just protect our bodies, they protect our brains. It turns out that being in a securely attached relationship to another person in your 80s is protective, that the people who are in relationships where they really feel they can count on the other person in times of need, those people’s memories stay sharper longer. And the people in relationships where they feel they really can’t count on the other one, those are the people who experience earlier memory decline. And those good relationships, they don’t have to be smooth all the time. Some of our octogenarian couples could bicker with each other day in and day out, but as long as they felt that they could really count on the other when the going got tough, those arguments didn’t take a toll on their memories.

– The people who were the happiest in retirement were the people who had actively worked to replace workmates with new playmates. Just like the millennials in that recent survey, many of the men when they were starting out as young adults really believed that fame and wealth and high achievement were what they needed to go after to have a good life. But over and over, over these 75 years, the study has shown that the people who fared the best were the people who leaned in to relationships, with family, with friends, with community.

– Solutions for you right now are endless. It might be something as simple as replacing screen time with people time or livening up a stale relationship by doing something new together, long walks or date nights, or reaching out to that family member who you haven’t spoken to in years, because those all-too-common family feuds take a terrible toll on the people who hold the grudges.

What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness | Robert Waldinger

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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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