Category Archives: Coaching

Form Lasting Habits, Part I

So, you’ve decided it’s time to make a change — to start meditating or writing in a gratitude journal or to add more mood-boosting exercise to your week.  So you decide, start doing it 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.  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.

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 four more ideas for forming lasting, constructive habits.

  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 enough.   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 go out the front door, meditate for 60 seconds or do 5 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 we are now.
        “Incremental change is better than ambitious failure”
                   – Tony Schwartz, author of the Power of Full Engagement

Tune in next week for more proven ideas for making happiness –or any other – habits stick.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

 

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A Positivity Ratio to Tip You to Flourishing?

Or “The Happiness Tipping Point”

NOTE:  The idea of Positivity Ratio of 3:1 as a magic gateway to flourishing was challenged in a 2013 American Psychologist article by Brown, Sokal and Friedman.  Losada, who managed the non-linear mathematical equations, was not able to mount a mathematical rebuttal to this critical review.   A response by Fredrickson in the same American Psychologist issue stepped away from the 3:1 ratio as a defining turning point.  However when looking at the raw data (and not the complex mathematics), Losada’s qualitative conclusions still show that higher numbers of positive interactions are associated with higher performing business teams.  And Fredrickson’s data (and many others) show that more experiences of positive emotions are associated with personal flourishing.  – Eric Karpinski, December, 2013

One thing that science has shown — and all of us have experienced — is that when we feel a positive emotion, it often leads to other positive emotions.  When we’re happy, we naturally focus on the good things in our lives and feel grateful for what we have, which further increases our happiness.  When happy, we approach other people with a smile and a sense of trust which makes them want to help us, and again our happiness increases.  This upward spiral of positive emotions can help us live the life we want.

Negative emotions follow a similar pattern.  We’ve all had experiences where a frustration at work causes self-doubt which leads to not doing our best.  Sometimes, we can bring this frustration home and overreact angrily to a family member or friend.  This can lead to guilt which further compounds our negative feelings.  Because negative emotions have a strong physiological component, these negativity spirals can knock us down for hours or even days.

Researchers have studied this interplay of positive and negative emotions and have recently discovered a tipping point in our emotional life.  A tipping point is a place where a small change can have a disproportionately large effect.  A good example of a tipping point is ice and water.  At -1ºC H20 is solid ice but raise the temperature just two degrees and it turns into flowing water.  In psychology this magic number is expressed as a positivity ratio — the number of positive emotions you feel over a given time divided by the number of negative emotions you feel in that same time period. This graph illustrates this idea:

Below 3:1 the effect of increases in positivity on our overall sense of well-being are relatively small.  Our positive emotions here are more fleeting and susceptible to being squashed by negative emotion.  But above 3:1, we’re in a world of many upward spirals that feed on each other and keep our overall happiness high.  Above this ratio, setbacks are easily dealt with or seen as longer-term challenges rather than insurmountable blocks to what we want.  In short, above 3:1, we enter what scientists call flourishing; a state of optimal human functioning that is marked by creativity, growth, productivity and resilience.

This 3:1 ratio was first discovered by Marcial Losada through an in-depth study of 60 business teams.  He and his assistants carefully observed and recorded each team in an hour-long business meeting and coded every single statement as positive or negative (among other dimensions).    Later he evaluated each team on profitability, customer satisfaction and evaluations by superiors/peers/subordinates.   Those teams that were independently shown to be high performing – highly profitable and well regarded by those with whom they did business — had positivity ratios around 6:1 (the number of positive to negative interactions in this case).  By contrast, low performing teams had positivity ratios well below 1:1 and mixed performance teams had ratios around 2:1.  Losada developed equations that modeled this nonlinear dynamic system and found that the tipping point that transformed a business team from middling to flourishing was 2.9013 : 1, which for simplicity we round to 3:1.

Losada joined with Barbara Fredrickson, one of the leading researchers in positive psychology, to evaluate this positivity ratio in individuals.  They conducted a series of analyses and found that this same 3:1 ratio is a tipping point that pushes individuals into flourishing.  They showed that people with ratios higher than 3:1 feel more alive, creative and resilient.  They have a palpable sense of personal growth and of making a positive difference.  Below 3:1, the people in these experiments are in a state of languishing where their life is rather ordinary. They get by, but are hardly growing and not moving toward what they want most in life.

The great news here is that most people have positivity ratios around 2:1, not far from the magical 3:1 number.  Using tested positive psychology tools and habits for increasing our share of positive emotions and decreasing gratuitous negativity, getting to a 3:1 ratio is feasible.  If you can increase your ratio, it will open you up to a flourishing, more engaged and happier existence. Stay tuned next week as I share one of the simplest and most powerful tool for increasing your happiness.

So, are you curious about your own positivity ratio?  You can test it on Fredrickson’s website, click on “Take the Test”.  Try it out for a few days and see where you are.   I tracked my own positivity ratio for several months earlier this year.  I found it to be a powerful way to bring more awareness to my day-to-day emotional state.

I also highly recommend Fredrickson’s book, Positivity.  It is full of the most recent and powerful science in positive psychology and it is presented in a warm and accessible way that non-scientists can understand.

Eric Karpinski

The Happiness Coach
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Is there a SCIENCE of Happiness?

“There’s a SCIENCE of Happiness?” is a question I get all the time from people who have always thought of happiness as something based on luck or life circumstance or even Prozac.

For the last century, psychological science has been focused primarily on fixing what was broken — helping depressed or anxious people get to a functional place.  But in 1998, the American Psychological Association expanded the mission of psychological science to also include what makes life worth living.  As a result top psychologists and neuroscientists started rigorous studies in people who are happy, well-balanced and making a positive difference in the world.  They uncovered what habits and ways of looking at life were core to these people's emotional success then systematically tested them in more typical populations.

These scientists have discovered how each of us can increase our level of happiness in an enduring way.  More importantly, the studies have shown that increasing our happiness isn’t just a “frivolous” pursuit that is about “feeling better,” but that living our lives in a more positive emotional state makes us more creative, more resilient, healthier and more successful at everything we do.  Increasing our positive emotions can transform us from a languishing state of “getting by” to truly thriving in our health, careers and relationships.

Through weekly “Happiness Infusion” emails, I share key ideas and tips from this exciting new science with you.  I share powerful conclusions backed by controlled studies published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.  My goal is to make these fully accessible to those with little scientific training and succinct enough that a two-minute read will get you something thought-provoking or useful in YOUR life.

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