Tag Archives: Happiness

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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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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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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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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Gratitude Part 2: Expanding gratitude into more of your day

Once you’ve started your daily gratitude ritual, then the REAL fun can begin – expanding gratitude into other parts of your day.  As your daily habit of documenting your blessings starts to strengthen those benefit-finding neuro-pathways, you’ll start noticing more to appreciate.  Let it expand further by trying some of the following:

Family mealtime gratitude.  Dinner time is gratitude time at our house.  We go around the table and share one or two ‘thankfuls’ or high points from the day.  It’s good for us to share something from our days and it helps reshape the kids neuro-pathways towards benefit-finding.

Of course, being kids, they sometimes resist; we try not to ‘force’ them to find something to be grateful for since that’s probably NOT the best way to increase family happiness ;) .  But we keep modeling the practice even when they don’t participate.

Some families practice this with their kids before bedtime stories instead.  This mealtime strategy can work with partners, roommates, even cats.

Get a gratitude buddy.  One of my clients shares gratitude lists with her sister in a distant city via email a couple times a week.  Not only does it enhance their connection, it’s also a great way to consolidate her “Best of” from the week and she gets a double dose of positivity – one from writing hers and one from reading her sister’s celebrations.  It also motivates them to connect on the phone or plan trips to see one another.  It’s a win-win-win!

Transform complaining.  Most of us are really good at finding something wrong with any particular moment.  I work at  monitoring that complaining side of me, and  whenever I catch myself falling into those old ”Ugh, of course this is going wrong,” habits, I specifically look around for something I can appreciate at that moment.

When stuck in traffic, how lucky I am not to be part of the accident slowing us down, and I get to finish another chapter of the audiobook!  When it seems like I have to wash every pan in the cupboard, aren’t I lucky that my wife loves to cook?  When the computer craps out, what a good excuse to meditate, take a walk or play Legos?

Bring heartfelt gratitude into our everyday ‘thank yous’.  In our culture, we say thank you all the time.  But it is often a rote comment with little meaning.  Try imbuing those little thank-yous with some real energy and meaning.

When someone holds open a door for you, REALLY notice it.  Slow down a bit to feel the appreciation well up in you, then look them in the eye and smile and offer a heartfelt thank you.  Let those little moments be time to appreciate and connect with those helping you.  When you start to look, you’ll notice these things happen all the time.

Allow yourself to receive thanks.  One of the best gifts we can give someone is to accept their heartfelt thank yous.  Often in this culture, we deflect those thank yous, minimize our contribution or — worse — look uncomfortable, which inadvertently increases negativity.  Now the thanker worries that they said something wrong or offended you in some way.  Next time someone thanks you for something you did, accept their gratitude.  Let it fill you up.  Appreciating their gratitude is an incredible gift.

Write your thanks.  My wife makes a habit of sending out a few short handwritten notes or emails each week to colleagues at work, appreciating their contribution.

Not only does it make her reflect on the varied and often unnoticed contributions of those around her – “I really appreciate that you took the time to explain the new policy,” or “Thank you for arranging all the materials for that training” – but she gets pleasure from knowing how meaningful such appreciation is, judging by the number of her notes she sees posted or displayed on people’s desks. (Do you keep a file or box with the thank you notes you’ve received?  Or post them where you see them every day? You should!)

As you expand your gratitude into more parts of your day, you will build and strengthen those neuro-pathways that see what’s good in your life.  You will feel gratitude in places where before you felt only complaints.  As you become more grateful, you will become more optimistic and hopeful.  You will start seeing more opportunities for personal and professional growth.  And it all starts with a little thanksgiving…

 
Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

 

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
 
 

You can sign up to receive my weekly “Happiness Infusion” email directly to your inbox, just sign up on the right form on the right.  You’ll also get access to my free Happiness Training video series.

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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

 

You can sign up to receive my weekly “Happiness Infusion” email directly to your inbox, just sign up on the right.  You’ll also get access to my free Happiness Training video series.

 

Negative Media: Is it worth the cost?

Earthquakes!  Murder!  Genocide!  Environmental destruction!  Lions!  Tigers! Bears!  Oh, my!  The media – from news to television series to popular novels – often feeds us a continuous diet of violence, destruction and suffering.  What’s the effect of this?

Research has shown that the more television a person watches, the more violent they judge the world to be and the less happy they become.  News broadcasters are masters at pulling our emotional strings with stories of tragedy and violence that feed off our fears.  Novelists and movie-makers come up with some pretty outrageous ways people can treat one another (yes, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I’m talking about you!).  While this keeps us tuned in and buying tickets – it comes at a significant cost to our emotional well-being – that fear, sadness and anger really register in us and make it difficult to reach that 3:1 postivity ratio that can lead us to living a flourishing life.

Several years ago, I made the conscious decision to stop listening to NPR during my commute.  Instead of getting riled up about the most recent political decisions, I decided to listen to books about how to be happier in my life.  I kept up-to-date on the outside world from a 10-minute look at CNN.com each day where I could consciously decide which stories got my full attention.  My worry that I wouldn’t be as educated about the world was put aside when I saw the results of another set of studies: it turns out that people who watch less TV are more accurate judges of the degree of risk we all might encounter each day.   TV gives us a sensationalized and one-sided version of news that makes the world feel significantly less safe than it is.

And it’s not just about news.  Other forms of media – video games, movies and even fictional books – can have the same effect.  Personally, I saw my own negativity skyrocket this past spring when I got sucked into an epic fantasy series with grand battles of good vs. evil.  I was so engaged in the story that it started taking over my mindspace even when I wasn’t reading it.  I started blowing off my daily gratitude journaling and meditation to spend more time reading; I even rushed through story time with my kids to get to ‘my time’ with the books.  This constant feeding of conflict, narrow escapes and evil deeds kept me in an adrenaline-infused negative space.  And that leached into other areas of my life.  I started being more suspicious of everyone – empathy and kindness fading to distrust — and kept seeing what was likely to go wrong in every area of my life.  After about a month, my world view became bleak and I felt the fear of failure get a strong hold on me.   When I finished up the series, it took me a couple months to dig myself out of this negativity trap I’d fallen into.  That a series of fictional books was able to have such an effect on my real life was a shock.

This has been a difficult post for me to write.  I don’t like how preachy this topic sounds –”Halo is bad for you!” or “Watch less TV” – but our elders who tried to get us outside and doing anything more active were on to something.  We do take on the emotions of what media we consume – both real and fictional.  So if video games or tv is a good way for you to decompress, you don’t have to completely remove them from your life.  But notice how you really feel during and after these experiences and ask if it is how you want to spend your time.  If you are serious about upping your ratio, reducing violent media exposure is a relatively easy way to lower needless negativity.

Stay tuned over the next couple weeks as we talk about how to make long-term changes in your life – whether it’s starting an exercise routine, bringing on a gratitude practice or watching less tv.  I’ll be sharing scientifically proven ways to implement new habits into your life.

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

 

You can sign up to receive my weekly “Happiness Infusion” email directly to your inbox, just enter your name and email into the box at the right.   You’ll also get access to my free Happiness Training video series.

 

Exercise: It’s not just about health and beauty!

Losing weight and getting sexy, it turns out, isn’t the only reason to tie on your running shoes. Regular exercise is another powerful tool for living a happier life. And it doesn’t take much to see a real difference. In recent studies, moderate exercise of 30 minutes three times per week can be as effective as our best anti-depressant medications (yes, Prozac, we’re talking about you!).

Moderate exercise releases dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine – the brain’s happiness chemicals — and has been shown to lift mood for up to 12 hours. Exercise is also a healthy way to distract yourself from your problems when you are stuck in a negative rumination cycle.

Exercise can easily be combined with other happiness boosting activities. If the weather is nice, go outside and walk or run through a park or at least near some trees in the neighborhood; good weather and exposure to nature both increase mood in addition to the benefit you get from exercise. If you can exercise with others or even just smile as you pass people on the street (both forms of social interaction, another key happiness booster), you’ll get a double shot of happiness. I often make a game of smiling and saying hi to everyone on my runs – their mirror neurons make it hard for them not to respond in kind. And it always gives me a boost to see others smiling – especially when I helped cause it.

Exercise doesn’t have to be a grind at the gym either. Any activity that gets your heart rate up gives you the benefit. Is there a sport you loved to play when you were younger? Find a team and make the time to do it. Do you like gardening or taking a walk? Make the time in your busy schedule. Consider walking during your lunch hour – you can even bring a coworker along if you need some time brainstorming or checking in on a project. Get in the habit of taking the stairs instead of the elevator or park your car at the back of the lot and walk a little more.

In our exercise-obsessed culture, it’s hard not to see exercise as one more “should.” We already spend so much time beating ourselves up over going to the gym so we can lose weight or “be healthier.” Instead see if you can put exercise in the same category as other things that make you happy – listening to good music, savoring a glass of wine, catching up with a friend. Take on the perspective that exercise is simply another tool to help improve your mood and generate more happiness.

Struggling with how you can regularly fit exercise into your life? In a couple weeks, I’ll talk about how happiness habits are formed. For now, play with this theory. How do you feel on days you get some exercise compared to the days you don’t?

 

Eric Karpinski
The Happiness Coach

 

If you’d like to receive my weekly “Happiness Infusion” emails directly to your inbox, just fill in your name and email address at the top right of this page.  Then look every Thursday morning for you weekly dose!

 

Also, I’m also looking for more ways to give the gift of happiness.  I LOVE to give a 30-60 minute talk that summarizes the BEST of the science of happiness.  If you have a group/club/company or association of 10 or more people in San Diego County that would appreciate a dynamic and passionate speaker, send me a note at karpo3(at)Gmail(dot)com and I will make it happen!