Author Archives: Eric Karpinski

Taking on the Voices in Your Head

Let’s be real here.  We ALL hear voices in our head. They tell us all kinds of things – that that we should try harder, how we can be “safe” and sometimes, if we’re lucky, they tell us we did a great job.  But often these voices trigger a negative spiral, taking one minor thing and fabricating an entire story that makes us feel bad about ourselves.

Today we’ll be discussing some tactics for quieting those voices (or at least minimizing their impact!).

Be a detective

First take time to listen in on what you are saying to yourself.  Sometimes our thought patterns turn so quickly with our negative emotions, that we don’t even realize we’re causing the downward spiral ourselves.  Next time you find yourself becoming demotivated, nervous or sad, listen in to those thoughts carefully.  What are you saying to yourself?

For example, last week I didn’t even start a project that I’d planned on finishing, and I noticed I was feeling stressed and down on myself.  So, I listened in to the flood of thoughts that was quietly going on in the background… “I never stay on schedule. I let myself get distracted too easily.  I ALWAYS take so much more time to do things than I should.   I just have to face that I’m lazy and unfocused.  I’m never going to get this new project launched.  I may as well not even try.”

Put it in neutral

Research shows that we do our best self-assessment when our brains are set to neutral or positive; when we’re in a negative space, we do a poor job accurately assessing a situation. I had to break that grip of rumination (link) with a healthy distraction, so I accelerated my planned lunchtime walk.  When I got back, I felt better and ready to tackle my negative self-talk.

Externalize that voice and ARGUE with it

Imagine an actual person is saying those things to you.  Would you let a work colleague talk to you like that?  Would you just sit and take it if your neighbor started in with those statements?

Heck.  No.

You’d stand up for yourself and counter each of their arguments.  So don’t let the voices in your head get away with speaking to you in that tone or saying those outrageous things.  Fight back.

It took me over 30 years to realize that not every thought that went through my head was true or worthy of believing.  Sometimes, my mind can be mean-spirited and aggressive.   So when the voices in your head are taking you down a path you don’t want to go, turn and fight those assertions.  Dispute those thoughts like a good lawyer by using the following:

Use the real facts

What’s true about your situation and what is conjecture?  For me, I missed my deadline.  That’s true.  But the idea that I never meet my deadlines?   Completely false.  As soon as I start to look for evidence to the contrary, I find it.   When I bring up the fact that I’ve posted my newsletter on time EVERY WEEK for the past 6 months, the idea that I can’t meet deadlines is laughable.

So take a good look at that negative self-talk and seek out the evidence to refute those statements.  You will often find that your mind isn’t playing fair. It’s your job to show it the big picture.

Alternative interpretations

Most events have many causes.  What are the other possible explanations for why an event happened?

Did I click over to CNN or Facebook when I should have been working this week?  Sure.  But it was also our first week back after vacation and I had ALL of my clients scheduled on the same week.  I also lost a whole work day because the kids were off school on Friday.   I didn’t get that project started because I had a lot less time than usual, not because I am lazy or too easily distracted.

Remember that it won’t be as bad as you think

Our minds are great at taking a few real facts and leading us down dark paths.   Yes, I missed a deadline, but does that mean I should quit the whole project?  Or, as I think in some of my darker times, that I should quit this whole happiness thing and go back to the comfortable money of my old career?  No way.  Yet when our brains are set to negative, potential catastrophes can seem reasonable.  Once out of the fog, ask yourself the likelihood that the worst case scenario will actually come true.

Even if the worst case happens, will it be as bad as we imagine?  Here, the research is very clear.  Work from Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert, shows that we are terrible at estimating how bad we are going to feel.  When a relationship ends or we don’t get that promotion, we feel bad, yes, but not nearly as bad or for as long as we imagined.

Thousands of years of evolution have made us really good at adapting to even the most extreme circumstances.   Often knowing that you’ll be able to adapt to the worst case scenario takes away some of its power to produce fear and anxiety.

Your task this week:  Listen in a little more closely to those voices.  Evaluate those statements as if they are coming from someone external.  Then explore how reasonable they are and practice some of the tools above.  These are some of most powerful ways to fight gratuitous negativity (link) and they will get stronger with practice!

Check in next week as we explore some more ways to counter those voices.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach
 
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Rumination: Your Brain on a Hamster Wheel

I woke at 3:30 this morning with a wave of anxiety and stress.  Since I’ve been reading a lot about anxiety recently (in my on-going “exploration” of insomnia and perfectionism – link), I took a minute to listen to my self–talk.  It sounded something like this:

“It’s Wednesday morning and the first draft of the newsletter is not even done …I’m going to be scrambling right up to the deadline again…   I’m not going to have time to do a good job with all my other commitments today…  I bet there will be a ton of un-subscribers after this crappy newsletter comes out… Maybe doing a post every week is too much…  Maybe I should just quit writing; I’m not good at it anyway…   I’ve been planning on getting ahead of the newsletter schedule for months.  Ha!… What a failure I am …  Now I’ve wasted another hour lying in bed, not sleeping and NOT making any progress… Why do I do this to myself? … How am I ever going to get this written?…”

This is rumination.  It’s your brain on a hamster wheel – cycling round and round and getting nowhere.  Studies show that when we are sad or angry or anxious, our brain selectively calls to mind negative thoughts which further intensify the negative emotion.  That’s what was happening to me in my groggy, middle-of-the-night awakening – the negative thoughts brought me more anxiety, which induced more intense negative thoughts, cycling into a deeper and deeper hole.

Negativity distorts our view of the world making it impossible to think straight or see the big picture.   Though we try to ‘think our way out’ of these challenges, our brains are simply incapable of doing this consistently.  So the key is to break the rumination cycle. Here are a couple proven ways to do this:

Healthy Distractions

Get engaged in something else, something that completely absorbs you.  Physical activities are great – go for a swim, do a little yoga or take a brisk walk.  Mini social opportunities are good too; call a friend and ask about something fun in their lives or engage in a game with your kids.  Make a list of engaging distractions that you can use – it can be something from your happiness list (link) that brings you joy but neutral activities such as reading articles for work or doing a Sudoku puzzle can make a difference as long as they engage you.

Since rumination can happen anytime, anywhere, it’s helpful to have these distractions with you wherever you are – so keep those running shoes in the car, load your iPod up with your favorite music, and have a puzzle app on your phone.  Just a couple minutes of fully engaging in another activity is usually enough to pull you out of your emotional nosedive.

Just Holler STOP

Another effective method is to yell STOP in your head.   Just telling yourself, “I should stop thinking this” isn’t enough.  It’s got to be your-child-is-running-towards-a-busy-street level of STOP.

When I started using this, I couldn’t get my internal voice strong enough to break my incessant thoughts, so I practiced by bringing up stressful thoughts on purpose and actually shouting ‘stop’ out loud (in a room by myself, of course, can you imagine my kids’ confusion otherwise?)

When you get enough energy into that stop, it literally stops all thoughts for a couple seconds.   That internal voice gets shocked into quiet.  Once you get there, focus on a couple deep belly breaths and bring to mind a positive memory (it’s good to make a list of 10-20 of these so you don’t wear out any specific one).   As I’ve moved forward with the practice, I’ve learned to retain the power of it, but silently (which is fortunate since I find myself using it out in public at times :)).  Once you get good at this, it can transition you out of rumination (or any undesirable thought pattern) in just a couple minutes.

Then What?

Once we break the grip of rumination, the power of those thoughts often recedes with little to no more effort on our part.  As you re-set your brain to neutral or positive, those invasive thoughts often seem silly and our path forward becomes clear.  (Most of us have experienced this the morning after a night of rumination: “Why was I up for hours worried about THAT?!”)

Other times, what set us spiraling down may be waiting in the wings for another chance at us.  This is when we tap tapping into other tools for managing those negative thoughts.  Stay tuned over the next couple weeks as we learn the art of arguing against our thoughts.

Eric K arpinski
The Happiness Coach
 
 

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Focus on What IS Working in Your Relationship

 

One of the most significant conclusions from the positive psychology research is that other people matter to our happiness.  Anyone in a committed relationship knows well that our partner can have a HUGE effect on our emotions.  In honor of Valentine’s Day, I’ve asked my good friend, San Diego relationship and intimacy expert, Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus, to be the guest writer for the newsletter this week.  She shares one of the best ways to bring more positivity into our primary relationship. – Eric

 

Complain. Bitch. Moan.

It is easy to complain when we have been in a relationship for a while. When dating, everything is new and exciting about our partner, and we are more likely to express our gratitude. However, in the long run, we often take for granted the positive aspects of the relationship. But before you start blaming yourself here, consider that this negativity bias is genetically influenced. As a survival mechanism, we are programmed, just like other animals, to notice what is wrong or not working. Unfortunately, this negativity bias can be a real drag in a relationship if you are on the receiving end of continuous complaints.

I suggest consciously making a shift from being in a relationship that is based on survival, to a relationship that is about thriving. Try focusing on what is working instead of what is not working. This is a strengths-based approach to perceiving your partner. When you consciously choose to see what is already strong and positive, you can break through your negativity bias and prime yourself for even more optimism. Choosing optimism is a much stronger foundation for the relationship to continue to grow and evolve.

A practical way to put this shift into action is to write a list of at least 20 things you appreciate about your partner. What are his/her strengths? Positive characteristics? What traits made you fall in love? Share your lists with each other, and post them in a place where you will see them often. Another way to integrate greater positivity into your relationship is to end each day with sharing two or three appreciations with your partner. What did he/she do that day that you appreciated? Did your partner nurture you? Spend quality time? Make you laugh? Take turns going first each night. If you find yourself continuing to struggle with negativity, every time you file a complaint, take on the challenge of also finding two ways to compliment your partner.

Making these activities a regular part of your interactions will infuse your relationship with a conscious positivity. Not only will this assist you both in recognizing each other’s strengths, it also makes you feel appreciated, and opens your hearts and brains to greater resiliency and creativity in the relationship. These are all key components to growing and thriving!

Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus, Sociologist, Relationship & Intimacy Counselor
www.DrJennsDen.com
Facebook, Twitter, & YouTube: DrJennsDen

 

P.S.  Dr. Jenn is the writer and host of an AWESOME video series about sex, intimacy, communication, relationships, and play.  It is fun, educational and highly entertaining.  Check it out here.   You can also sign up to her witty and informative monthly newsletter here.

Act the Way You Want to Feel

Did you know that an artificially induced smile (biting a pencil lengthwise without touching it with your lips) can make you happier?  Or that botox treatment, which paralyzes frowning muscles, makes it harder to feel angry or sad?

Most of us believe that our actions follow from how we feel, but in fact we often feel because of the way we act.   And this provides one of the simplest and most powerful tools for changing how we feel.

Last week we talked about how to differentiate necessary from gratuitous negativity [check it out here].  Today, we’re going to talk about one of the simplest ways to reduce gratuitous negative emotions: simply act the way you want to feel.

Your brain seeks consistency between your physical body and your emotional state.  When they are out of sync, your brain works to bring them into alignment with each other.

“Action seems to follow feeling, but really action and feeling go together; and by regulating the action, which is under the more direct control of the will, we can indirectly regulate the feeling, which is not.”   – William James

So next time you want to feel differently, try ACTING the way you want to feel, even if it feels forced at first.  If you want to feel happier, put on a fake smile– activating those smile muscles has been shown to release neurochemicals that make you feel happier.   If you want to feel more energetic, jump into an activity with both feet and fully participate.

If you want to feel confident, stand up straight, look people in the eye and use an assertive handshake.  If you want to feel relaxed, breathe deeply in the belly and systematically release the tension in your shoulders and face muscles.  These activities, even when they don’t initially fit with how you feel, can induce the emotion you want – to make you feel happier, more energetic, confident or relaxed.

 

 

Word of caution

This isn’t the same as the old adage, “Fake it ‘til you make it.”  Yes, go ahead and fake it, but only for a short period of time – a few minutes at most.  If it doesn’t take initially, try again a few minutes or an hour later, but if that still doesn’t work, STOP trying.  Studies have shown that maintaining this inconsistency causes a lot of stress within the body.  In fact, regularly faking emotions that you don’t feel, can be as bad for your health as the stress of continuous anger.

Implementing an act the way you want to feel stategy:

  1. First, acknowledge what you are feeling [review details here].
  2. Determine if the negativity you are feeling is necessary or gratuitous [review here]
  3. If gratuitous, try to act the way you want to feel as described above
  4. If that doesn’t work, move on to one of the other tools that I’ll be discussing in upcoming weeks.  (Watch for my teleclass on this subject in March, too!)

Stay tuned next week as we take a short break from managing negativity for a pre-Valentine’s Day edition of the newsletter with guest co-writer, Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus (http://www.drjennsden.com/), a relationship and intimacy counselor and educator.   We’ll be exploring how to get more happiness within your primary relationship.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

“Good Sad” vs. “Bad Sad”

We all know that negative emotions are a part of life.  Last week I posted about the importance of noticing negative emotions, naming them, and giving them space to be (see the post here).

Today I want to talk about the difference between two types of negative emotions: necessary (e.g. “good sad/mad/hurt/grief”) and gratuitous (e.g. “bad sad/mad/hurt/grief”).  Understanding which type of negativity we feel determines tools and processes to use to help us get back to a neutral or positive emotional state.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Necessary Negativity  (Some call this essential, authentic or appropriate negativity)

Some negativity is necessary to live a happy life.   It grounds us in reality; facing the truth allows us to move forward with our lives. For example, it is natural to mourn the loss of someone dear to you, to feel guilt when you do something you know is wrong, to be angry when you see an injustice done or disappointed when something doesn’t go your way.

These inescapable discomforts can be seen as the ‘first darts’ of human existence; they cannot be avoided.  If you are going to live and love in this world, you are going to feel these negative emotions.  The research is clear that if we suppress those negative feelings, they inevitably grow stronger and surface in other parts of our lives.

Learning how to acknowledge and experience these negative emotions in a healthy way has been well-studied and we’ll be talking about them in detail in a few weeks.

Gratuitous Negativity

As if these “first darts” aren’t enough,  our active little minds often multiply the negative emotions we feel by adding layer upon layer of gratuitous negativity.  These ‘second darts’ are the ones we throw ourselves.

For example, on top of an authentic disappointment that we didn’t get a promotion at work (first dart), we can add a cascade of second darts…

“I’m not good enough.”

“I knew I should have done x instead of y.”

“Why don’t I ever get anything I want?”

“He stole that promotion from me.”

“Oh God, this is the first step to me getting fired and then we’ll have to sell the house and move in with the in-laws.  Everyone will know what a failure I am.”

Sound familiar?  Our cute little brains make up all these stories about why something happened that over-generalizes an experience (“This always happens!”  “I never get to…”) or catastrophisizes it (“And then I’ll be homeless and alone…”) or assumes victim-hood (“She did this to me!”)

Here’s this week’s challenge: Next time you notice feeling bad (sad, angry, annoyed, frustrated, put upon, impotent, outraged, whatever), try to distinguish the necessary negativity (first darts from the outside world) from the gratuitous negativity of our reactions (second darts).

Listen to what you are telling yourself and ask: “What part of what I’m feeling is based on an outside, empirical fact that legitimately sucks?  And what part of what I’m feeling is based on unreasonable expectations or irrational stories?”   Many people find that just adding this awareness of necessary vs. gratuitous can significantly reduce the amount of negativity they experience.

Over the next several weeks we’ll be discussing some of the best tools for reducing gratuitous negativity.  Stay tuned!

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

 

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Learning to Be Sad Can Increase Your Happiness

A key component of being happy is learning how to manage our negative emotions: sadness, fear, anger, worry, guilt, grief, frustration, and all those other emotions that make us feel icky.  And let’s be clear; when I say “manage” negative emotions, I don’t mean “squash down into oblivion so that you can pretend like everything is rosy and be a fake, plastic kind of happy.”

We all know that if you are going to live and love in this world, you are going to feel negative emotions.  You have to give yourself permission to be human and not push away all these experiences, many of which will teach you valuable things and allow you to grow and learn.

But there’s a difference between being authentically disappointed that you weren’t chosen for that promotion/team/party/friendship, and expanding that disappointment into a story that you are worthless and no one ever liked you and no one ever will, etc. etc.  (We’ve all been there; don’t deny it!).

I’ll be talking about managing negativity for the next couple months.  To kick it off, I want to share some top-level ideas.

Be Aware

Noticing when we are in a negative emotional state is the first step; if you are not aware, how can you change?  Often when we are feeling negative emotions, they bubble along in the background.  When this happens, we sometimes react on autopilot and snap at loved ones or ruminate incessantly.  This keeps us mired in that negative space.  There is nothing you can do about your negativity if you don’t notice it.  So make a practice of checking in with your own emotional state on a regular basis.

Let’s check in now.  What are you feeling at this moment?

If you often fall into negative emotional space without noticing, spend a couple weeks actively checking in.  Set your phone alarm or outlook alert to go off every hour and see what you are feeling.  Or post little sticky notes around your house, car and on computer screen.  Each time you notice one, check in.  When I did this exercise a few months ago, I realized how often I had anxious feelings and was tightening my shoulders and catching my breath.  Awareness is the first step.

Name That Tune (or Emotion)

Brain scans show that verbal information almost immediately diminishes the power of negative emotions by engaging the thinking side of the brain.  Once you notice that you are in a negative space, call it out.  Pause and figure out which negative emotion you are feeling (is it disappointment or frustration?  Anxiety or nervousness?). Verbalize it to yourself or a friend. Consciously think, or say, “I’m feeling anxious,” “I’m feeling angry,” or “I’m feeling sad.”

After you name the emotion, pause for a minute and see what it feels like.  Where do you notice it in your body?  Is it butterflies in your stomach?  Is it tightness in the chest?  Are your muscles tensing?  What happens as you bring your attention to it, does it change?  Does it become more intense or less?  Whatever you feel, give it some space to be there, even if only for a few moments.

Let It Be

Often when we notice a negative emotion, we move to squash it as soon as we can. We react, “I don’t want to feel this! Go away!”  But the research is clear: when we suppress our negative emotions, our misery multiplies and (counter-intuitively) it inhibits our ability to feel positive emotions.  But when we give those negative emotions some space to be felt and to grow and change, it opens up the path for positive emotions to flow too.

Make a Decision

Once we notice, name and allow the negative emotion to exist, then we can decide what we want to do.  We may WANT to stay in that space for a while to be angry or sad.  That’s fine.  (You might take yourself away, however, to not inflict your own emotional pain on innocent bystanders or family members).

At some point, seconds or hours or days later, you will want to get back to a neutral or positive space.  We’ll be spending the next couple months going through the tools of how to move through this negativity and provide a healthy path to getting back to positive.  We’ll kick this off next week by categorizing the kind of negativity we are feeling – whether it is gratuitous or necessary.  This initial evaluation will set us on the best path forward.

BTW, If you have thought about inviting friends to join you on this list, this is a good time to do it.  What I’ll be sharing over the next couple months is powerful and worth taking some time with.  And it will be much easier to start at the beginning!

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

 

P.S.  To join the Happiness Infusion email  list, sign up in the form on the right hand side of this page.

P.P.S.  I love it when people share these posts on their favorite social media sites.  If you want to share this post, click on any of the links below:

Negative Emotions, or “Adventures in Insomnia…”

Some people find it interesting that I spend significant time in my workshops and talks discussing negative emotions:  “You’re supposed to be the Happiness Coach, right?”

But effectively managing negativity is a central strategy for becoming happier.  And it’s not about ignoring the bad stuff or covering over it.  In fact, it’s the opposite; research has found that the happiest people acknowledge their negative emotions and consciously embrace some of that negativity.

I’ve been getting a lot of practice with this recently (oh, joy…).  I have struggled with sleep maintenance insomnia (meaning I wake in the middle of the night and can’t get back to sleep) for years.  I’d managed my insomnia using Benedryl but wanted to get off the drug, so decided to quit cold turkey (on Thanksgiving, no less!).   Like most people, when I don’t get enough sleep, my mood tanks and the world looks like a hopeless/uncaring/overwhelming place.  After my sleep fell off precipitously, I cycled deep into negativity throughout December and these first weeks of January (merry Christmas to me…).

In a spurt of panic/proactivity (did you notice that re-framing?), I hired a coaching colleague*, who was a practicing psychologist in a past career.  In our work together over the last few weeks, I realized that my insomnia was a symptom of significant underlying anxiety.

Doh!  Double whammy.   Now I had two problems to manage rather than just one.  Not only was I sleep-deprived and cranky, but I had a diagnosable problem that shook the very roots of my own sense of awesomeness.  Now, I find myself faced with a tidal wave of negative emotions and thoughts: ‘I’ll never sleep again.’  ‘I’m such an impatient and anger-prone dad.’  ‘How am I going to get all this work done with so little energy?’ and ‘I don’t want to be feeling this!’

Before my revelation, I had been planning on using the newsletter during the next few months to share the best of the research on managing negative emotions.   Now I get to share that information while simultaneously USING much of it to manage my own negativity, anxiety and insomnia.  So tune in over the next few weeks to learn about necessary vs. gratuitous negativity, healthy distractions, disputation and when to act the way you want to feel.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

 

* BTW, my new coach, Sharon Esonis, Ph.D. is a leader in the positive psychology field.  She’s written a book on the subject and has a very useful and informative monthly newsletter.  You can learn about her book and sign up for her newsletter on her website here (sign up form is halfway down the left column).   ​

 

You can sign up to receive my weekly “Happiness Infusion” email directly to your inbox, just sign up on the form on the right.

 

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Transforming Resolutions into Lasting Habits, Part 2, the Science of Sustainable Change

Last week, I shared three proven ways to successfully transform a resolution into a sustainable habit:

1.      Pick one thing at a time

2.      Give yourself two months

3.      Start easy.

Click here to read more about the first three in detail.

I am offering a free teleclass on forming lasting habits THIS EVENING (Jan 5, 2012) at 6pm PT/9pm ET.  Sign up here and I’ll send call-in details. 

Here are five more scientifically supported methods for making lasting change in your life:

4.      Do the activity at the same time every day.  Decide exactly what you are going to do and commit to a specific time to do it.  Put it on your calendar and protect that time.  Multiple studies have shown that committing to a specific activity at a specific time doubles the likelihood of the committed action being performed.  We’re simply more likely to follow through when we decide ahead of time how and when it’s going to happen.  Over time, by performing the action at the same time each day, our bodies and minds adapt and prepare for the action.  This helps lock in new neuro-pathways more quickly, allowing the new habit to become more automatic and unconscious.  Whether it’s going on a jog as soon as you wake up, meditating immediately after dinner or writing in a gratitude journal right before bed, commit to exactly what you want to do and when you are going to do it.

5.      Reduce the activation energy for habits you want and increase it for habits you don’t want.  This simply means take away any barriers from the activities you want to do and increase the barriers to habits you want to break.   For example:

  • Decide your morning workout plan before you go to bed.  Sleep in your (clean!) workout clothes.  Put your shoes right next to your bed.  Have your gym bag fully packed and by the door with your car keys and wallet.  With no decisions to make in your groggy morning state, you’ll be much more likely to get up and do it.
  • Store the TV remote control in the closet.  Ask yourself during those 20 seconds it takes to fetch it, whether TV is really what you want to do with your time.  Even better — put that book you want to read in the place you usually put the remote.  See how it changes your behavior.

6.      Visibly track your progress.  You can control what you measure.  I used a sticker chart to get my kids to do their morning routines and it worked so well for them that I adapted it for my own use.  Each day that I perform the habit I’m trying to develop, I get a sticker on the blank calendar page taped to my bathroom mirror. It’s empowering to see my success (“Hooray!  I meditated for 3 whole minutes!  Sticker for me!”).    Sometimes I offer myself prizes – a night out dancing or a visit to Dave & Busters — if I can get a certain number of stickers in a month (notice I didn’t set my expectation as “every day”; cut yourself some slack and realize that missing a day – or three – isn’t a deal-killer.)  If shiny little stickers are a bit too silly for you, find some way of visibly tracking your progress.  The key here is that you put it in a place you’ll see it multiple times per day (on the fridge, in the hallway, in your written calendar, next to computer screen, etc.) and that you have some way to track whether you made it or not each day.  It will remind and motivate you to stick with that new routine as it develops into a habit.

7.     Get social support.  When you are committed to developing a new habit, tell some good friends, your partner or roommate.  Ask for their support and encouragement.  This is a role I play for my clients; when they tell me specifically what they are going to do, they are more successful at doing it.  It’s simply in our nature to follow through on commitments when made to others.  Even better is to have a buddy who is trying to integrate the same new habit.  You can do the activity together, if feasible, but a regular check-in can make a huge difference as you forge ahead.  This is particularly powerful in helping you through those days where motivation is not coming naturally.  Social support is an amazing thing.

8. Commit to it.  Once you’ve decided to develop a new habit, the most important thing is that you commit to it.  Really commit.  Visualize what success would look like and what benefits you’d receive by incorporating this new habit into your life.  Then take the time to make a detailed plan of what you are going to do and when.  Start easy and build up to your goal in small steps over time.  Then lock it into your schedule for at least two months.  Create a way to track your success and pull together a team of people who want you to be successful.  Throw your backpack over the wall so there’s no going back, and then start climbing!  Good luck!!!

If you want to read more detail about these ideas and the science that backs them, check out:

  • The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor (specifically principal #5 and #6)
  • The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz (specifically Chapter 10)
Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

 

You can sign up to receive my weekly “Happiness Infusion” email directly to your inbox, just sign up on the form on the right side of my website:  http://thehappinesscoach.biz/

 

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Transforming Resolutions to Lasting Habits, Part 1

Does your New Year’s resolution list look like this?

“Exercise 5 days a week.  Eat only healthy food.  Lose 25 pounds.  Be more patient.  Cure cancer.  Negotiate world peace. Etc. Etc.”

Or maybe you don’t make resolutions because you’ve never kept them for more than two weeks (two days?) in the past.

 

Long-term, sustainable change is hard.  We are creatures of habit; in fact, studies suggest that only 5% of our actions are consciously chosen.  We build strong neuro-pathways over years of repetition that make it so much easier to keep doing things the way we always have – scanning Facebook instead of meditating, pushing the snooze button instead of going for a run, or watching 30 more minutes of TV instead of going to bed.  We have sadly limited stores of discipline to overcome that inertia of do-it-like-we-always-do.

The good news is that a lot of research has been done on ways to make change stick.   With some concerted effort and focus, we can literally rewire our brain, developing and strengthening neuro-pathways towards habits that we want in our lives.  Over time and with consistent practice, the new pathway can become the default, the path of least resistance.  Then this new desired habit can become as ingrained as brushing your teeth before you go to bed.

Here are three proven steps to making lasting change.  Next week, I’ll share the next four steps and am also offering a free teleclass to help you develop YOUR detailed implementation plan.  Details and signup information are below.

1.       Pick one thing to change at a time. Seriously.  Just ONE and commit to it.  Developing a single new habit (and the neuro-pathways to support it) is hard.   Trying to change more than one thing at a time dilutes your effort and significantly increases the likelihood of failing which can lead to losing a sense of control and potentially giving up on making any change.  So prioritize the most important habit you want to bring into your life.  If done right, these changes can last a lifetime.

2.      Give yourself two months to make one change.  The research shows that it takes 30-60 days to make a new habit stick — to fully rewire your brain.  Give yourself enough time to really lock in the new desired behavior.

3.      Start easy. Take whatever goal you have, whatever habit you want to form and find an easy way to start – put on your running shoes and just make it out the front door, meditate for 60 seconds, do 2 short minutes of uninterrupted writing.  Stick with this initial goal for a few days.  By setting, achieving and celebrating small victories, our brains get the message that we are on track, that we are making progress and that builds our confidence, our sense of control and our focus.  Then add a little distance to your running or a little time to your meditation or focused writing.  The key is to make each step easily do-able from where you are now.

“Incremental change is better than ambitious failure”
– Tony Schwartz, author of the Power of Full Engagement

Decide and get started THIS WEEK.  Take January 1st to recover from ringing in the New Year, but make it happen on the 2nd (and 3rd and 4th).  Then join us on the 5th for a:

Free ‘Transforming Resolutions to Lasting Habits’ Teleclass, Jan 5 at 6pm PT (9pm ET)

Are you serious about making your resolutions stick?  I’m offering a FREE TELECLASS on this topic next Thursday evening (January 5) at 6pm PT (9pm ET).  Bring your resolutions with you and some blank paper.  Together we will develop a specific plan to integrate this new habit into your life.  If you want to join the call, sign up at the link below and I’ll forward you the call-in information.

Free teleclass link:  http://erickarpinski.com/

I know with busy lives and the start of the new year, some of you may not be able to join us for the call.  I don’t want you to miss this great opportunity to create lasting change, so I will be recording the call.  If you sign up on the form at the link above I will forward you the recording.

As an extra gift for signing up for the teleclass I will put you on the Happiness Infusion email list (if you are not already on it!).  These short weekly emails are full of tips and tools from the science of happiness that will go directly to your inbox each week.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

How to Truly Savor the Holidays

The holidays are fully here.  Christmas is just a few days away, there are two candles lit on the Hanukkah menorah and the Times Square ball drops in just 9 days.

This time of year has SO much potential for joy and happiness.  But so often we rush through these wonderful events, distracted by our mind chatter about what’s not right or what we’re supposed to do next.

But you can maximize the positive feelings you get from these good events by savoring them.  Savoring can generate more positive emotions and intensify and prolong those that we already feel.   And savoring is really easy to do — here are some key steps:

 

Slow down and focus on the now.  You’ve been planning, preparing, making and buying for weeks to get ready for the holidays.  Don’t let that do-do-do mentality prevent you from actually enjoying the experiences you’ve created.  During your celebrations, create space to let go of what you should be doing next and open up to what is happening NOW.

Find a way to remind yourself to slow down. Turn your watch or phone to beep every hour.  Tie a string to your wrist or finger.  Wear your watch on your other hand for the week.  Every time you notice the reminder, deliberately slow down, take a couple deep breaths and be with whatever experience is happening to you at that moment.

Open up to your senses.  The holidays are filled with sensual delights and positive feelings.  Let them fill up your awareness: 

  • Close your eyes and really smell the cake baking or the food roasting.
  • Watch how the tree lights twinkle off the shiny wrapping paper.
  • Feel the gratitude for that surprise present that was just what you needed
  • See the engagement and excitement as your niece plays with her new toy
  • Melt into the hug with the sister you haven’t seen in months
  • Taste the creamy sweetness of that cup of hot chocolate
  • Luxuriate in loved ones’ enjoyment of the experiences you’ve created for them

Once you notice, try to keep your attention on these experiences for 5, 10 or even 20 seconds.  Breathe into it.  Notice how it changes over time.  Enjoy it fully.

Build it up.  Use your active mind to expand the story and build up those positive emotions.  Some ideas:

  • Remember that this only comes once/year.
  • Celebrate that you worked hard to create this experience, and now is the time to enjoy it.
  • Remind yourself how lucky you are to have this amazing food, these incredible friends, a loving family, a warm home, a safe place to sleep.
  • Increase your appreciation by comparing your situation with others who are going through a harder time or with times in your life when you weren’t so blessed.
  • Recognize how awesome it is that you’ve got time off of work and other duties so you can be here to experience these things.

Share the experience.  When you notice something wonderful, share it with others.  This can multiply the amount of positive emotion you can glean from any experience.  According to the research, sharing is the strongest predictor of the level of enjoyment someone feels.  By talking about the good stuff, you keep your attention there.  Your positive emotions become infectious and you’ll help break others out of their busy minds and into the moment.  As their emotions ramp up, they’ll likely share positive things that they are experiencing further stoking your positivity.  Sharing creates an upward spiral of joy, excitement and appreciation.

So bring your attention to all the wonderful experiences of the holidays and really enjoy them.  It’s easy to get caught up in all the doing and forget to BE.

While I’m going end the main post here, I want to share a recent experience I had with holiday savoring and using it to break out of a funk.  If you are interested read on below.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach
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The transforming power of savoring

Earlier this week, I took Becca and the kids to a gingerbread house making party with my friend Karin Eastham.  Karin, a former biotech colleague of mine, has been pursuing her passions by publishing a cookbook around team cooking, called Cook the Part.  The book is awesome and her blog shares a ton of great recipes and ideas about how to throw a fun cooking party or team building activity in the kitchen.

As we settled into assembling the houses, I noticed I was feeling off.  I’d had a run-run-run day getting ready for Christmas festivities which had left me feeling a little anxious and cranky.  I brought that energy with me to Karin’s.  Are the kids being polite enough?  Did Becca really want to bring the family all the way up here instead of having a quiet afternoon at home?  What do these biotech colleagues think about my leaving the industry to be a coach?  I could feel the negative energy of these questions — the judging and worrying — start to take hold and make me more anxious.

Then I noticed what I was doing.  That I was taking what could be an amazing experience and tainting it with gratuitous negativity.  Yuck!  So I decided it was a great time to turn on my savoring tools.  I consciously slowed down with a couple deep breaths and became aware of my senses.  This helped me notice all the subtle positive things that were happening.  How my 9 year-old’s tongue stuck out a little when she was concentrating on her masterpiece.  How my 7 year-old was designing his house to maximize how much candy he could fit on it.   How proud I felt as my wife talked about her leadership roles at work.  How yummy the peppermint bark was.  How much fun it was to meet some new and interesting people.  Savoring brought me out of my worrying loops and into the wonderful experience we were having as a family.

Then I focused on building up the experience in my mind and sharing what I was feeling.  I expressed my appreciation of Karin for hosting and doing the baking ahead of time.  I shared my own memories of making gingerbread houses as a kid at my aunt’s house.   How little Piper, the two year old with us, looked just like Cindy Lou Who, with her big blue eyes and brilliant smile.  All of this helped increased the joy I was feeling and encouraged the others to share similar stories.

While I’d arrived grumpy and tired, I left Karin’s house energized and happy.  Savoring had helped me not only salvage a bad day, but imprint some great memories that I will hold onto for a long time.