Category Archives: Coaching

Making Happiness (or any) Habits Stick

You’ve decided to take on one of the happiness habits I’ve been talking about .  Whether it’s starting to meditate, writing a gratitude list or adding more mood-boosting exercise to your routine, all you have to do is decide to do it, start and then BOOM!  You are fit, balanced and grateful.  It’s that easy, right?  No?

We’ve all had experiences of making a New Year’s resolution and letting it go before two weeks (two days?) have elapsed.  Long-term, sustainable change is hard.  As I mentioned last week, 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 – flipping on the tv instead of meditating or pushing the snooze bar instead of going for a run.  We have very limited stores of will and discipline to overcome that inertia of do-it-like-we-always-do.

Fortunately, there is a lot of great research on how to turn the tide and make these new habits stick.

Choose just one habit at a time.  Lots more about this in last week’s post .

Make it EASY to start.  Most of the 5 habits take just a few minutes a day.  But if it’s exercise or some other habit you are trying to develop, start easy and build it up over time.

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 time doubles the likelihood of follow-through.  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 the 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.

Reduce the activation energy for habits you want and increase it for habits you don’t want.  This means work to remove 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 same place you usually put the remote.  See how it changes your behavior.

Visibly track your progress.  We used sticker charts to get our kids to do their morning routines without 258 reminders from us (“Brush your teeth!  Put on your shoes!  Get your backpack!”).  It worked so well that I adapted it for myself.     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 the computer screen, etc.) and that you have some way to track whether you made it or not each day.

Get social support.  When you are committed to developing a new habit, tell some good friends, your partner or a roommate.  Ask for their support and encouragement.  This is a role I often play for my clients; when they tell me specifically what they are going to do, they are so much 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.

Find positive motivation.  Envision what life could be like if you consistently do this habit.   Tap into this vision of you being happier, more fit, more compassionate, more focused or more self-aware whenever you need a boost or a goose to get you doing your new habit.

That’s lots of ideas of how to lock in a new habit.  Pick those that sound good to you as you start on this path.  And while developing a new habit can be challenging, once these new behaviors and patterns are locked in, it is equally hard to dislodge them.  And that makes the focused effort worthwhile.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

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Good Night, Insomnia! Part 2. Negative sleep thoughts.

“Oh my God, I’ve been in bed most of the night and haven’t even slept 3 hours.  I’m going to be a ZOMBIE!”

“Oh no, I’m awake again.  I’m going bomb that presentation tomorrow.”

 “Here we go again.  Awake at 3am.  I’m going to feel exhausted and cranky ALL DAY.”

These are just a few examples of what can go on in my head when I have trouble sleeping.  Calming thoughts that help ease me back to sleep, right?  HA!

While everyone has trouble sleeping sometimes, insomniacs make it SO much worse by stressing about not sleeping enough.  This can turn a natural middle-of-the-night wake-up into a stress-filled night of minimal sleep.

These over-the-top pessimistic thoughts hold a lot of sway in our tired middle-of-the-night brains.  But they are often wrong.  Here’s some of the science behind insomnia to help you dispute these negative thoughts and replace them with facts that can help you get back to sleep.

You CAN maintain performance on just 5.5 hours
We hear “People need 8 hours of sleep!” all the time in the media.  But the research tells a very different story.  Studies from many top sleep researchers show that performance on alertness, memory and problem-solving tasks can be maintained for extended period of time with about 70% of normal sleep (or about 5.5 hours).  In two of these studies, college students were restricted to 5.5 hours of sleep for multiple months and there were “no detrimental effects on cognitive, behavioral or physiological functioning.”

Did I FEEL at my best when I was at the height of my insomnia earlier this year?  Heck, no.  I was crankier and less patient and I got distracted more easily.  But looking back objectively at those sleep-deficient months, I realized I had one of the most productive periods of my life.  I built a new collaboration, rocked presentations in front of large groups, threw a big fundraiser, and maintained a full coaching schedule.

If you’ve been struggling with insomnia and concerns about your productivity, take some time to look objectively at what you have accomplished.  You may be surprised.  Make note of your progress on projects and bring those top of mind when you panic that a lack of sleep will ruin your performance tomorrow.

You are getting more sleep than you think
A large study in the Stanford sleep lab showed that insomniacs consistently overestimate the time it took them to fall asleep by 30 minutes and underestimate their total sleep time by a full hour.   Here’s the deal, light phases of sleep are hard to differentiate from being awake and your perceptions of time get skewed in a sleepy state.

So give yourself the benefit of the doubt when evaluating how much sleep you are really getting.

And if you are a data junkie like me and really want to know more about your sleep, you can buy a fun little tool called the ZEO which will monitor what sleep stage you are in.  Though be prepared to get the occasional chuckle from your bedmate when you are wearing the ultra-cool headstrap.

“I know why you are here, ZEO”

The data easily transfers to your computer so you can analyze how your sleep patterns compare to the average for your age group.  This gives you a much better read-out on your total sleep and tells you how many minutes you were in deep and REM sleep.

By using the ZEO for a couple months, I was able to see that even when I was only sleeping 5 hours, I was getting more than the average amount of deep sleep and nearly as much REM sleep as my age cohort.   These are the two most important and restorative stages of sleep.  Seeing this data did wonders for me in terms of lessening my worries about sleep.

Replace those negative thoughts with more positive ones
I opened this post with some of the thoughts that swirl around in my head when I can’t sleep.  It’s important to do your own self-study.  What are you saying to yourself when you can’t sleep? (see post about this here)

If you are in the midst of a bout of sleep troubles, here is your assignment for this week:  Record those thoughts in a journal and then in the light of day, use the research above to argue against them.  Or find less anxiety-producing interpretations of the same facts.  Here are some examples:

“I always fall back to sleep sooner or later.”
“I need less sleep than I thought.”
“My sleep is getting better and better.”
“My sleep will be improving as I implement more of these techniques.”
“If I get my core sleep, I’ll be able to function fine during the day.”

Yes.  Getting less than 8 hours of sleep will likely leave you sleepier and less happy at times during the day.  But you are probably getting more sleep than you think and those worries about your productivity are likely overblown.  Take the time to listen in to your negative thoughts and provide some less-stressful alternatives!

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

P.S.  To receive these posts directly into your inbox each week, simply sign up in the form on the right hand side of this page.  You’ll also receive access to my most recent free webinar on the science of happiness (positive psychology).

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Building Love and Compassion through Meditation

I’ve been focusing a lot of time on mindfulness over the last few weeks (overview here and here). Today, I’m going to talk about another type of meditation that has an equally storied history (it’s been practiced for over 2000 years) and has been shown to significantly increase happiness and positive emotions.

Loving-kindness meditation focuses specifically on increasing your capacity to love and be loved. It’s a simple meditation where you repeat well-wishing phrases quietly in your mind. It can be your primary meditation practice, or it can be interspersed or integrated into a regular mindfulness practice.

 

Scientific Results
Barbara Fredrickson, one of the top positive psychology researchers, recently completed a controlled 7-week study testing loving-kindness meditation in over 200 people. One group was assigned to regular 20 minute meditations where they followed instructions similar to the ones I relay below and filled in daily surveys on their emotions. The control group filled in the same surveys but didn’t do the meditations.

After 3 weeks of this regular practice, the meditation group started to show significant increases in feelings of love and social connection as expected. But they also showed significant increases in other positive emotions including joy, serenity, gratitude and hope among others. And the positive emotions continued to rise steadily throughout the study. This is the biggest controlled study showing how valuable a loving-kindness meditation practice can be.

My experience
This is one of my favorite meditation practices. When I focus on it, it opens me to a greater sense of connection and community. I find it wonderful to informally practice when I’m out in the world — sending positive wishes out to others while I’m waiting in a line or walking somewhere or even sitting in traffic. When I’m in this space, I find that more people smile at me and things come more easily; that sense of connection brightens my day even more than the meditation itself does.

How to do it
Like with mindfulness meditation, find a comfortable place to sit with your back straight. Focus for a minute or two on the sensations of your breath — you can even imagine your breath coming in and out of your heart.

Then picture someone you love – a loving grandparent, a favorite niece or nephew, a mentor, special teacher or even a pet can work. The key is to start with the simplest love possible, a love that is not complicated with day-to-day stress.

Picture the recipient of your good wishes in your mind and repeat these simple phrases:

May you be loved and feel love for others
May you be healthy and strong
May you be safe and protected from danger
May you be happy, truly happy and free

It’s important to try to open up to those feelings of love, let the words be felt rather than just repeated. After a round or two of going through the phrases, you can move on to other people you love in your life, even those with some complications (i.e. your partner, your kids, parents or good friends.)

You can stay with these people for the whole session if you want or you can expand the practice further by moving on to more neutral people you’ve met — neighbors, workmates, the guy who works the register at the grocery store. And finally you can expand to all people or all beings everywhere.

Give it a try
Give loving-kindness meditation a try and see how it feels. It can be good to start with a guided version of a loving-kindness meditation, click here to access a 9-minute version that was recorded at UCLA. Try it a couple times this week. Next week I’ll be providing a few additional ideas that can help use this practice to be less self-critical and more forgiving.

Some people take to loving-kindness immediately; for others it takes some time to get the hang of it. The key is simply to create opportunities to expand the amount of love you feel.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

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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

 

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Multiply the Joy of Giving AND Receiving

You were on a business trip and found the perfect present for your nephew.  You buy it for him, wrap it and bring it over.  It’s not Christmas or his birthday.  When you arrive, he sees the box in your hand and you see his smile.  You let the anticipation build for a few minutes while you greet your sister.  Your nephew is bouncing, excited to see what’s in the box.  When you finally give it to him, he rips open the paper and as he sees the cool dump truck, his smile widens into a full-on grin.  He jumps up and throws his arms around you, thanking you over and over.  Then the two of you move piles of stuffed animals from one side of his room to another with his cool new truck.  The animated play and his focused excitement fill both of you with joy.

This is the magic of gift-giving.  Surprise.  Excitement.  Gratitude. A shared experience.  A true gift.  This kind of gift exchange locks in wonderful memories that can last a lifetime.

Unfortunately, during the holidays, we’ve turned this idea on its head.  Instead of giving from the heart out of love or appreciation, we give because we’re expected to – out of obligation and some warped sense of barter and reciprocity.  We make our holiday gift list by those we ‘have’ to get a present for.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.  Here are some ideas for recapturing the happiness in gift-giving (and receiving)!

The Joy of Giving

Focus on the people who you want to give a gift to.  Start with a blank piece of paper and think about who you want to show your love to.  Who is going through a hard time and could use a little pick me up?  Who are the people that are always there for you?  Who did something meaningful for you this year and you want to show your appreciation?  These are the people to put on your holiday gift list.

Find meaning within obligation.  If you feel you must give someone a gift this year, find some meaning in that relationship.   What does this person mean to you?  What gratitude can you bring up for them?   Let go of “I need to give them a present [sigh]” and replace it with, “I want to show them my appreciation for being in my life,” or “This will really make a difference to them.”  This simple change of perspective can bring so much more happiness to both of you.

Remember the meaning as you shop/make the present.  Reminding yourself of the appreciation and love you feel for the recipient of the gift can multiply the positive emotions you feel.  Tap into those emotions as you shop for or make their present.  These positive emotions may give you that extra dose of patience you need to find a parking spot at the mall or give you that motivation to mix that final batch of cookies.  Putting together presents in this way can take the chore out of the effort and make it fun.

Give in-person.  When you go through the trouble of buying or making a gift for someone, be there to give it to them.  Imbue the gift with all the love it has by telling them what they mean to you or by sharing stories of how they have been helpful or what you see in them.  Even if you are uncomfortable, soak in the joy and appreciation that your words and the gift provide.  Your thoughtfulness created those positive emotions.  Let yourself feel them!

The Joy of Receiving

Find the meaning.  See the gift, whatever it is, as a little packet of love.  Even if they don’t use the words, find the meaning that the gift represents. This person went through the trouble of acquiring this gift and bringing it specifically to you because of who you are and of what you mean to them.  Let yourself open up to that meaning when you receive the gift.

Let go of reciprocity.  Gifts are meant to make us feel good.  If we get a gift and respond with apology (“Oh, I didn’t get you anything”) or obligation (Now I need to buy them a gift) we drain all the good feelings out of the interaction.  Instead of being energized by your appreciation, they feel bad that their gift made you feel guilty.  Yuck!  What a wasted opportunity.  Let go of obligation and be gracious in your thanks.  They got you something because they wanted to not to get something in return.

Receive generously.  Receiving a gift well – with gratitude and excitement and appreciation – is one of the greatest gifts you can give someone.

Let me say that again…  receiving a gift well is an incredible gift to the giver.  Be that nephew in the story above.  It’s not the object that you are appreciating, but the effort and thought that went into putting you on their list and spending their precious time and/or money finding or making a gift for YOU.  When you light up and share honest appreciation for that effort you multiply the positive feelings for that single generous act.

If you liked the Crap or Cone talk from John Styn I shared a few weeks ago, watch the part of his TED talk on gifting.  (Watch for about a minute from this link.)

The holidays are filled with opportunities for thoughtful giving and gracious receiving.  Take advantage of these endless sources of happiness!

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

 

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Put More Happy in Your Holidays

Remember when holidays were the happiest time of the year?  When all you had to do was write (and re-write!) your Christmas list or wonder what treat the fourth night of Hanukkah would bring?  Maybe you lay under the Christmas tree and looked up at the lights or got to stay up late to ring in the New Year.

For many of us, all that original holiday joy has been buried under a giant list of “shoulds” and “have tos”:  I have to cook amazing holiday meals, I need to have the perfect Martha Stewart Christmas Tree, I have to send a witty and individualized holiday letter, I should deliver holiday cookies to everyone I know and I need to find a perfect gift for 20+ people.  (All while continuing to take care of the work and family obligations we have every other month of the year, by the way). 

We get SO busy doing all these “shoulds” that we miss the opportunity to really soak in the good stuff and savor this joyful time with loved ones.

How can you re-capture the simpler joy of the holidays?  First of all, figure out the things that authentically make you happy in December. Make a list of all the things that you truly look forward to (or would look forward to if you had the time to focus on it!).  Then schedule enough time for these big rocks that you can slow down and really enjoy them.

So what about all that other stuff that fills up your holiday season?  How can you clear out time to really savor the parts you love?  Here are some ideas:

Ditch the “shoulds.”    Got a holiday tradition that brings you nothing but stress?  Don’t do it.  Are your neighbors really going to run you out of town if you don’t put up lights?  Do each of your officemates really need a rum cake? Let it go. Don’t get pulled into something you don’t enjoy just because you have always done it that way or other people expect you to.  These are YOUR holidays.  Own them.  (Sound scary?  Start small with 1-2 things to cut this year, and commit to what you’ll eliminate next year.)

Enlarge the part that makes you happy and minimize the rest.  Is gathering with friends and loved ones really important to you, but the meal planning and cooking stresses you out?  Change it up.  Co-host with someone who likes to cook but needs a house like yours to pull it off.  Make it a potluck.  Order take-out.  Meet at a restaurant or roller rink or somewhere else unexpected and fun.  Get creative with ways to get more of what you want and less of what you don’t.

Change the timeline.  Who says the things you love (or even feel obliged to do) around the holidays have to happen in December? My wife loves to send out a creative and snarky holiday card.  But she rarely gets it done by Christmas.  We routinely send out New Years or MLK Day, or even spring solstice cards.    Love to bake cookies?  Do it for Valentine’s Day instead.  Is finding that right gift fun when you have time for it?  Focus on birthdays and skip December.

Just Say No.  If an event doesn’t sound *more* fun than something on your favorites list, just say no.  An invitation is not an obligation. Our friends don’t want us to go to something we won’t enjoy. We throw a kooky New Year’s Eve party and, every year, some of our best friends say no.  Welcoming the new year with just their family makes them happy.  Or if your friends always invite people that push your buttons, give it a pass this year and enjoy a night savoring something that gives you joy.

Limiting your activities to those things that you really love can make all the difference in enjoying your holidays.  And it will give you time to slow down and really savor the best parts.  And don’t forget that happiness is infectious – as you reduce your holiday stress and increase your happiness, your friends and loved ones will become happier too.  And what better gift can you give during the holidays?

Tune in next week for tips on making gift-giving a joyful experience, not a dreaded, stress-filled chore.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

Include More “Thanks” in your Thanksgiving

Tomorrow is the big day.  Thanksgiving.  It’s often a holiday of family time, over-indulgence and maybe some football.  It’s also a day traditionally set aside to celebrate gratitude.  Today I want to offer some ideas to help keep the “thanks” in Thanksgiving and bring more meaning to a wonderful day.

Share gratitude.  The simplest tradition is to go around the table during the meal and have everyone share a couple things that they are grateful for.  Encourage people to give some details either directly or by asking questions (e.g. “Why are you grateful for your mom?”)  .

Pull out gratitude cards.  Sometime before the meal, have everyone fill out three cards sharing something they are grateful for.  Make a game of pulling out a card throughout the meal and reading it.  After the meal, you can pick a selection of them to go into a scrapbook that can be added to each year, so you create a historical gratitude tracker.

Pull out gratitude cards, option 2.  Ahead of the meal, write down several different categories on small cards or sheets of paper: include things like day, place, experience, food, person, item, health, etc.  Then go around the table and have each person draw out a card and share something they are grateful for in that category and why.

Say grace.  Many families thank God or the Universe for the bounty on the table and the blessings in their lives.  You can add to or modify that tradition by thinking about and thanking everything and everyone involved in the meal:  the rain, the sun and the soil that allowed the food to grow;  the people who tended the fields or cared for the animals; those who picked the ripe produce or processed it; everyone who transported the food from the farm to the stores;  those who unloaded the trucks and stocked the grocery store and ran the checkout.  You can get even more personal by appreciating the person who went to the store, bought the food and prepared it with love for the celebration, and all the people around the table who came together to enjoy the meal in love. (This is a particularly fun one to do with kids, or if your family has a little competitive spirit: “Who or what else do we need to thank?”

Show and tell gratitude.  Have everyone bring items to the dinner table that represent good things in their lives.  This method can be particularly effective with kids who might otherwise not be able to come up with something on the spot.

Write thank you notes.  Have notes or stationary and colorful pens and markers available throughout the day and encourage everyone to write a thank-you letter or note to someone they are grateful for – a friend, family member or teacher.

Gratitude speed writing.  Sometime before the meal, get some paper and pens and a timer and have everyone come to the table.  Set the timer for four minutes and then read the following instructions “Make a list of everything that you are grateful for.  List anything that comes to mind by speedwriting.  This means you write as fast as you can without stopping.  Include things both large and small.  Don’t judge your answers.  Just let things flow in a stream-of-consciousness way.”  You can have people share things from their list then or prime the table with questions about the list over the course of the meal.  It can be fun to ask for some of the sillier or smaller things that came up in the exercise.

If some of your guests tend to shyness, you can send an email today to let them know if you are going to do one of the exercises above.  Having them spend a day thinking about what they are grateful for can be a great way to increase their happiness!

No matter how you celebrate Thanksgiving, may you have a wonderful meal full of connection, good stories and delicious food!

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach
 
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Only Sociopaths and the Dead Don’t Feel Bad at Times

Or “Happier, NOT happy all the time”

I created this newsletter because there is a LOT we can do to sustainably increase our happiness and decrease our negative emotions.  Choosing happiness in this way can help us achieve the incredible benefits of living our lives in a more positive emotional space.  But as you embark on your own path towards more happiness, I want to make clear that this work is about becoming happier, NOT about being happy all the time.

If we are going to live and love in this world, we are going to feel negative emotions.  They are simply a part of being human.  One of the most powerful things we can do in our quest to become happier is paradoxically to give ourselves permission to be human and let those negative emotions be experienced and felt.

Bad things happen.  The happiest people embrace the negative emotions that come with these real challenges and problems.  Science has shown conclusively that if we suppress those negative feelings, they inevitably grow stronger and surface in other parts of our lives.

Some negativity is necessary to live a happy life.   It grounds us in reality. 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 physical or mental discomforts can be seen as the ‘first darts’ of human existence and are examples of necessary negativity.  They should be acknowledged and given space to be fully experienced.

These first darts can be unpleasant, to be sure, but we often add layer upon layer of gratuitous negativity that multiplies the amount of negative emotions we feel.  These ‘second darts’ are the ones we throw ourselves and is where we can significantly reduce our own negativity.  For example, on top of a disappointment that we didn’t get a promotion at work, we can add a cascade of second darts…

“I’m not good enough.”

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

“Why do I never 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.”

And on and on and on.

Next time you notice feeling bad, try to distinguish the necessary negativity (first darts from the outside world) from the gratuitous negativity of our reactions (second darts).  Many people find that just adding this awareness of necessary vs. gratuitous can significantly reduce the amount of negativity they experience.

There is a lot of great science on how to reduce  gratuitous negativity.  I will be sharing this in the newsletter early in the new year.  But if you are eager to jump in right now, check out chapter 9 of Positivity by Barbara Fredrickson.

The key take home point for today:  Our goal is to become happier, not to completely eliminate negative emotions.  Give yourself permission to be human. Allowing ourselves to feel necessary negative emotions gives us the ability to fully experience our positive emotions.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach
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My Cinderella Story

After the last few posts of tips and tools, it’s time for a story…

 

 

 

 

nce upon a time…

there was boy who didn’t have the pressure from parents that some people have – to Be a Doctor or Join the Business or anything.  He just knew he wanted to be happy.

This boy was a big fan of television so he grew up with endless images of happy people.   He saw that happy people drove cool cars and owned beautiful houses and went to fabulous parties and dated gorgeous women and had minty fresh breath and clear skin.  And it became glaringly obvious to our young hero that the way to become happy was to become successful.

So he went for success with everything he had — he studied hard and worked extra jobs to help pay for his education.  This effort paid off with a Biochemistry degree from Brown University and a prestigious consulting job.  He leveraged that experience into an MBA from the Wharton School and a sought-after job in venture capital and biotech.  He married a beautiful woman, bought a lovely house and had two great kids.  At 35, after 20 years of hard work and toil, he found himself successful beyond his wildest dreams.

 

He’d arrived.

 

But he wasn’t happy.

 

And he didn’t know why.

 

He’d done all the things he was supposed to do. He was externally as successful as he possibly could be.  So where was that happiness he’d been promised? Where was his ‘happily ever after?’

He started hunting for answers.  If success wasn’t the path to happiness, then he was determined to figure out what was.  He took happiness quizzes in his wife’s Glamour magazine; he tried out Oprah’s Happiness Plan and explored Buddhist meditation.  While he had some success feeling happier, his efforts felt sporadic and incomplete.

Then one day, he stumbled upon the book, Authentic Happiness, by Martin Seligman and discovered that there was an entire field of science focusing on happiness.  This new science of happiness was systematically evaluating what made people happy,  what each of us can do to be happier and the amazing benefits of living our lives in a more positive emotional state.

From this new science, he learned that happiness isn’t a destination and isn’t a result of achieving our dreams.  That happiness is found in the little things we do every day and in the way we CHOOSE to look at the things that happen to us.

He’s a lot happier now.  He still gets his share of disappointments, frustrations and sadness.  But they don’t take him down for nearly as long as they did in his old life.  He has many more good days now than he did when he was trying to succeed his way to happiness.  And while there is no “happily ever after” he now finds himself living very happily for hours, days and sometimes even weeks at a time, which is a pretty good way to keep on writing his story.

 

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

 

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Form Lasting Habits, Part II

Last week, in part I of this post, I shared some of the real challenges of making any new habit stick and several proven ways to successfully lock in a new habit.  These are:

1.      Pick one thing at a time

2.      Give yourself two months

3.      Start easy.

Click here to review them in detail.  Here are four more methods and tips 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 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 the 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 to 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 same place you usually put the remote.  See how it changes your behavior.

6.      Visibly track your progress.  We used sticker charts to get our kids to do their morning routines without 258 reminders from us (“Brush your teeth!  Put on your shoes!  Get your backpack!”).  It worked so well that I adapted it for me.     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.

7.      Get social support.  When you are committed to developing a new habit, tell some good friends or your partner or roommate.  Ask for their support and encouragement.  This is a role I often play for my clients – when they tell me specifically what they are going to do; they are so much 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.

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 the backpack over the wall and then start climbing!  Good luck!!!

Feel free to post any questions to me here or to share your experiences using these ideas. And 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
 
 

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